Tag Archives: Israel

The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Gantz Escalates Israel’s War on the Dead 

On September 2, the Israeli government approved a proposal that allows the military to indefinitely withhold the bodies of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli army. The proposal was made by the country’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz.

Gantz is the main political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also serves the role of the ‘alternate Prime Minister.’ If Netanyahu does not renege on the coalition government agreement he signed with Gantz’s Blue and White Party last April, Gantz will take the helm of Israel’s leadership, starting November 2021.

Since his official induction to the tumultuous world of Israeli politics, Gantz, supposedly a ‘centrist’, has adopted hawkish stances against Palestinians, especially those in Gaza. This way, he hopes to widen his appeal to Israeli voters, the majority of whom have migrated en-masse to the Right.

But Gantz’s latest ‘achievement’, that of denying dead Palestinians a proper burial, is not entirely a novel idea. In fact, in Israel, bargaining with corpses has been the modus operandi for decades.

According to the Defense Minister’s logic, the withholding of bodies will serve as a ‘deterrent against terror attacks.’ However, judging by the fact that the practice has been in use for many years, there is no proof that Palestinians were ever discouraged from resisting Israel’s military occupation due to such strategies.

The new policy, according to Israeli officials, is different from the previous practices. While in the past, Israel has only kept the bodies of alleged ‘Palestinian attackers’ who belonged to ‘terror groups’, the latest decision by the Israeli government would extend the rule to apply to all Palestinians, even those who have no political affiliations.

Aside from Gantz’s attempt at shoring up his hawkish credentials, the military man-turned politician wants to improve his chances in the on and off, indirect negotiations between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. Israel believes that there are four soldiers who are currently being held in Gaza, including the bodies of two soldiers who were killed during the devastating Israeli war on the besieged Strip in July 2014. Hamas has maintained that two of the four soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Shaul Aaron – are, in fact, still alive and in custody.

For years, low-level talks between Hamas and Israel have aimed at securing a deal that would see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the detained Israelis. By withholding yet more Palestinian bodies, Tel Aviv hopes to strengthen its position in future talks.

The reality, however, is quite different. The Israeli army has not been returning the bodies of Palestinians who are accused of attacking Israeli soldiers for months, which includes all Palestinians, regardless of their purported political affiliations.

Undoubtedly, withholding corpses as a political strategy is illegal under international law. Article 130 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that persons who are killed during armed conflicts should be “honorably buried … according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.”

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, which quite often rules contrary to international law, resolved on September 9, 2019 – exactly one year before the Israeli cabinet’s decision – that the army has the right to continue with the practice of withholding the bodies of dead Palestinians.

While Israel is not the first country to use the dead as a bargaining chip, the practice in Israel has lasted as long as the conflict itself, and has been utilized in myriad ways with the intention of humiliating, collectively punishing and bargaining with Palestinians.

During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), tens of thousands of Argentinians ‘disappeared’. Students, intellectuals, trade unionists and thousands of other dissidents were killed by the country’s regime in an unprecedented genocide. The bodies of most of these victims were never recovered. However, the practice largely ceased following the collapse of the military junta in 1983.

Similar ordeals have been inflicted by other countries in many parts of the world. In Israel however, the practice is not linked to a specific military regime or a particular leader. The ‘desaparecidos’ of Palestine span several generations.

To this day, Israel maintains what is known as the ‘cemeteries of numbers’. Salwa Hammad, a coordinator for the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs, estimates that there are six such cemeteries in Israel, although Israeli authorities refuse to divulge more details regarding the nature of these cemeteries, or exactly how many Palestinian bodies are buried there.

The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center estimates that 255 Palestinian bodies are buried in these cemeteries, 52 of them being ‘detained’ there by Israeli authorities since 2016.

In the ‘cemeteries of numbers’, Palestinians are known, not by name, but by a number, one that only Israel can cross-reference to the actual individual who is buried there. In 2011, the body of Hafez Abu Zant was released after being held in one of these cemeteries for 35 years, Bernama news agency reported.

According to Hammad, “If the remains are in a ‘cemetery of numbers’, we get it back in a black bag – some bones, some soil and maybe their clothes.”

Following the Israeli cabinet’s approval of his proposal, Gantz bragged about his ability to apply “an extensive policy of deterrence since entering office”. The truth is that Gantz is merely posturing and taking credit for a protracted Israeli policy that has been applied by all previous governments, regardless of their political orientations.

If Gantz is truly convinced that holding dead Palestinian bodies — while maintaining the Israeli military occupation — will bring about whatever skewed definition of peace and security he has in mind, he is sadly mistaken.

Such policies have proven a complete failure. While Palestinian families are absolutely devastated by this hideous practice, the detention of corpses has never quelled a rebellion, neither in Argentina nor in Palestine. 

The post The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Gantz Escalates Israel’s War on the Dead  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Rogues in the Ranks

On May 25, 2020, African American George Floyd, was arrested and killed by a white Minneapolis police officer. The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt forcefully on Floyd’s neck, and in effect, crushing Floyd’s wind pipe. Three other officers were involved, two helping to restrain Floyd, and another standing guard between witnesses and the actual killing. Eight minutes passed and Floyd was dead. Video taken by onlookers was posted world-wide which led to protests and riots in Minneapolis and throughout the United States. Protests also broke out in countries around the world, most notably Europe. Absent the video, the question being asked is how many more killings are taking place at the hands of the police, specifically black men.

The cause of the protests and rioting, it is safe to conclude, has been the result of African American men and women being killed by police. George Floyd’s death unleashed rage and subsequently triggered protests which, at times, turned into violence, predominantly through the destruction of businesses and property. Yet the protest and rioting appeared different from the sixties. The African American uprising included whites, ostensibly millennial, a mixed-race, ethnic, gender identity, class struggle coalition of the discontent. In fact, while the immediate cause of the uprising was a concomitant reaction to lethal racist tactics by police, the “feel” of the uprising had deeper overtones. The protest was not only about deadly force used against African Americans, it was also, arguably, a continuation of what Reconstruction failed to do: eradicate the vestiges of white racism and its monuments dedicated to the South’s deviant overlords such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert E. Lee, and host of other lionized sociopaths.

The general trend of African Americans being killed, without justification, has been transpiring increasingly for decades. The ACLU has documented numerous accounts of police harassment, intimidations, 4th and 5th Amendment violations, civil rights and civil liberty violations, and excessive force and brutality. The Innocence Project has documented disproportionately high number of African Americans who have been charged, tried, and convicted, to only be exonerated at a later date. Clearly law enforcement, District Attorneys, and the criminal justice system have all acted in illegal and rogue fashion targeting African Americans. This is systemic racism, and African Americans have been, and continue to be, the primary target.

Rogue Law Enforcement

There is sufficient evidence that law enforcement in the US has been attracting alt-right extremists in law enforcement. An FBI report, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006, identifies that white nationalist and supremacist groups have been, and continue to be, hired by law enforcement agencies. They are recruiting, knowingly or otherwise, current law enforcement personnel from extremist groups. The investigation warned that skin head groups were directing such recruits to take on a covert identity as “ghost skins.” The secret identity for white supremacists is to obviously “avoid overt displays” of their true identities, assimilating into society, and then promote the values of white hegemony.

In 2006 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office discovered that a neo-Nazi gang had formed within the Department. Similar investigations around the country have revealed that officers, and entire agencies, had ties with hate groups in states such as IllinoisOhio Arizona and Texas. This has been corroborated by an October 17, 2006 Intelligence Assessment from the FBI Counterterrorism Division which detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police. Their point of their infiltration: to harass minorities and disrupt police investigations against racists and racist police themselves. The FBI report titled, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” found that the use of racist tactics of intimidation, brutality and protecting fellow racists cops from prosecution was, sadly, a highly effective recruitment tool for like-minded supremacists.

In 2009, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism and its relationship to “violent radicalization” in the United States. In the report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” April 7, 2009, Federal law enforcement agencies, according to the report, had been alerted to an extremist threat in which state and local law enforcement have infiltrated these agencies and that other personnel are sympathetic to these groups and their cause. An FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015, gave greatest priority to the investigation of “domestic terrorism” focusing on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists, whose identifiable links connected to law enforcement personnel. On June 4, 2019, an FBI report from the Counterterrorism Division, “Confronting White Supremacy,” and June 4, 2020, FBI “Domestic Terrorism Conference Report,” described in detail the threat that white supremacist groups present to minorities and the public at large. On June 17, 2020, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) described, in their report, the deepening concern that white nationalist groups present to democracy itself. And on July 11, 2020, the PBS News Hour, examined the growth of the Alt-right in a report, “Should the US designate racial violence as terrorism?” The conclusion was not only in the affirmative but also concluded that racial terrorism is as much a concern as Islamic terrorism.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, published an investigation in 2019, that found thousands of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers were members of militia groups ranging from Confederate-sympathizing, anti-Islam, or anti-government. They were both active and interactive with each other on Facebook. Members of these groups are unabashed racists. They have been linked to groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, whose purpose is to defend white Americans from “enslavement” and the flood of immigrants, legal or otherwise. The investigation reported that active membership in these groups included active-duty and retired law enforcement officers. They are highly involved with explicitly racist Facebook groups such as “Veterans Against Islamic Filth” (the group deliberately lowercases “Islamic” in its name) and “PURGE WORLDWIDE (The Cure for the Islamic disease in your country)”, and more subterranean groups such as the “Patriots for the Reclamation of America,” and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs, City of Compton, “Executioners.” Even Netflix in a series, “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” identifies the Alternative Right and the Aryan Brotherhood, and its ostensible leaders, Richard Spence and Jared Taylor, as incendiary in their goals to maintain white identity. They argue that white America is being destroyed by integrating different cultures and identities and that Western white culture is threatened with extinction.

The head of the Oath Keepers movement, Stewart Rhodes, proclaimed in 2009, that the anti-government group includes thousands of “retired and active” police, sheriffs, and marshals. On May 30, during protests in New York City, an NYPD officer was making hand gestures (similar to those used by gang members) that has been linked to white supremacist groups, later reported to the New York Attorney General’s office. The Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook comments made by nearly 2,900 current and former police officers in eight cities, suggests that nearly 1 in 5 of the current officers identified in the study made public posts or comments that appear “to endorse violence, racism and bigotry,” as reported by Buzzfeed News and Injustice Watch in a study of the database. In fact, there are 1269 identified problematic posts from active duty Philadelphia police officers on the site. Of the 1073 Philadelphia police officers identified by the Plain View Project, 327 of them posted public content endorsing violence, racism and bigotry. Of those 327, at least 64 hold leadership roles within the force, serving as corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.

Another example of racism and white supremacists in law enforcement can be traced to the 1990s in which a federal judge discovered that a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” of Los Angeles police deputies – “the Vikings” – operated in the police department with full knowledge of the leadership. In San Francisco from 2015 – 2016, law enforcement attempted to terminate the employment of 17 police officers after an investigations revealed racist text messages were being sent within the ranks. Moreover, the Ku Klux Klan historically has been connected to local law enforcement. In 2014 a police department in Central Florida terminated the employment of two officers, one being the deputy chief of police, for membership in the KKK. In 2015, a police officer in North Carolina was photographed giving a Nazi salute at a KKK rally. The failure of police leadership to take disciplinary action on their own officers regarding excessive force and/or racist conduct is inherent to these agencies.

Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with George Floyd’s death, had been under investigation for over 17 documented complaints. None of those complaints resulted in disciplinary action while only a few resulted in a letter of reprimand placed in his file. The Minneapolis Police Department refused to disclose the exact nature of the investigations or reprimands. The refusal to disclose these disciplinary actions speaks to a larger issue of transparency and public accountability. Between 2011 and 2015, the NYPD recorded 319 law enforcement offenses, including harassment and assault in many cases. All offenses were “cause” for termination. Thirty-eight law enforcement officers were found guilty by police tribunals of excessive force, unnecessary and unprovoked fights during arrests, or firing weapons unnecessarily. Apparently internal investigations took little to no action on accusations of favoritism, racism, and unlawful interrogations to force confessions and guilty pleas.

Large cities, such as Chicago, also have struggles in holding police accountable. According to the Citizens Police Data Project, only 7 percent of complaints have resulted in disciplinary action. These include allegations of law enforcement using racial slurs. In 2018, the chief of police in Elkhart, Indiana, failed to discipline an officer for racial slurs while simultaneously promoting him to sergeant. The chief had full knowledge that the officer was making numerous statements on “white power” on police communications according to ProPublica. The “white power” motto has also been identified with Minneapolis Lieutenant Bob Kroll, who is president of the Police Officers Federation. He was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by four black Minneapolis law enforcement officers against the Minneapolis Police Department for discrimination. In the complaint, the allegation by the plaintiffs alleged that the Lieutenant displayed a “White Power badge” on his motorcycle jacket. Kroll,rejects the characterization but has been heard frequently describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a “terrorist organization.”

The Obama administration made serious attempts to address police forces. In fifteen police departments throughout the United States, the administration legally forced these departments into consent decrees implementing reform. Under federal law the police departments were to commence with reforms from racial discrimination to brutality. In one case, the Justice Department report on its consent decree with Chicago, revealed that the police department received over 30,000 complaints of officer misconduct in five years and determined that a systematic pattern of excessive force has undermined confidence within minority communities. But the new Trump administration sought to undue these reforms.

On March 31, 2017, Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered the Justice Department to review Obama-era consent decrees on police department reform. Sessions then curbed their use by requiring political appointees to sign off on any future settlements. The Trump administration restriction on the use of the decrees was characterized as a transition away from protecting civil rights to instead promoting “law and order.” This was continued by Trump’s next Attorney General William Barr, who supported Sessions’ policy. To date, the Trump administration has not issued any new consent decrees against police forces within the United States.

Not all law enforcement officers are members of racist or white supremacist groups. Nor do all law enforcement support alt-right ideology. Notable examples of strong relations with citizens and community-led policing in response to this past several week’s protests include New Jersey police officers marching with Black Lives Matters protestors, police chiefs listening to and walking with protestors, and police in both New York City and South Florida kneeling in solidarity with protestors. In Flint, Michigan, Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson removed his riot gear and walked with marchers. In Long Beach, California, Chief Robert Luna fired a rogue officer for posting his picture on Facebook standing with his baton over blood.

*****

To be sure, there are other issues needing attention. Qualified immunity for police and district attorneys, police (unidentified) infiltration disguised as protesters assaulting protestors and damaging property falsely blaming protestors. Most disturbing is the fictional account of the Antifascists (Antifa) as a violent leftist terrorist group. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In an internal memorandum, FBI Director Christopher Wrey, found no evidence of Antifa’s involvement in national unrest, specifically with the George Floyd protests and riots as falsely reported by The Nation, June 2, 2020. The Washington Field Office memo states that “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement” was initiated during the protests, as erroneously stated from Trump, Attorney General Barr, and various right-wing news outlets such as FOX News. On June 12, 2020, the New York Times in “Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protests,” cleared Antifa and on June 22, 2020, the New York Times, “41 Cities, Many Sources: How False Antifa Rumors Spread Locally,” described how propaganda against Antifa was spread through the media community, most likely from conservative politicians and political action committees. The attempt was to falsely blame the uprising on an orchestrated group such as Antifa, according to Glenn Kirschner, former FBI, counterintelligence. Blaming a “left-wing” group was a ruse created to gaslight the public and divert attention from the “right-wing” police tactics condoned by the Trump administration.

Most disturbing is the training techniques — taught to American law enforcement by the Israeli Defense Forces — involving the neck suppressing technique used on George Floyd. The IDFs use the same techniques on Palestinians as reported by Amnesty International, and also documented in The Progressive in “US Police Are Being Trained by Israel – And Communities of Color Are Paying the Price.” The police training tactics are sponsored by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (A-DL), which in turn sponsors the American Jewish Committee Project Interchange Institution and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The term “systemic racism” means that institutions produce and perpetuate racially disparate effects in the case of minority populations. Professor Bernard Harcourt of Columbia University Law School has conducted and compiled several empirical studies of systemic racism in law enforcement agencies. These include a wide range of police tactics which include the use of policies such as “stop and frisk” and the disparate rates of police activities including traffic stops, searches of motorists during traffic stops, levels of respect shown during stops, misdemeanor arrests, marijuana arrests, use of SWAT teams, individuals jailed for inability to pay petty fines, militarized policing of targeted neighborhoods, resolution of murders of white versus black victims, sustained complaints against police officers, and unarmed victims of police shootings. The evidence of links to explicit white supremacist groups is only the tip of a racist iceberg, according to Harcourt.

In The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens, 2018, Harcourt argues that the effort to reduce crime in the United States initiated a terror campaign on its citizens, specifically African Americans, in much the same way the United States supported terror tactics in the Third World. Modern militarized police officers with tanks and drones have become pervasive tools along with government surveillance and profiling. Social media also serves to distract and track citizens from the fact that they have consciously or unconsciously surrendered rights to privacy, unauthorized surveillance, and unlawful searches and seizures. All of these, Harcourt contends, are facets of a new and radical governing paradigm in the United States — one that is rooted in the modes of warfare originally developed to suppress anti-colonial revolutions and, more recently, to prosecute the war on terror. Harcourt provides a penetrating and disturbing account of the rise of domestic counterinsurgency, first as a military strategy, and secondly, as an increasing way of ruling ordinary Americans in an authoritarian manner.

Finally, Harcourt demonstrates how counterinsurgency’s principles — bulk intelligence collection, ruthless targeting of minorities, misleading, gaslighting and pacifying propaganda — have taken hold domestically despite the absence of any radical uprising, that is, till recently with the nascent Minneapolis rioting and subsequent uprisings in urban America. This counterrevolution against phantom enemies, he argues, is the tyranny of government at the behest of the power elite. For Harcourt, seeing and identifying this is the first step in resistance to the white nationalist police state within America. So the immediate task is twofold: demand an end the police killings of innocent black men and resist descending into a fascism.

The post Rogues in the Ranks first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel’s Friends at the RNC: “Christian Zionists” Dictate the Agenda of the Republican Party

It is difficult – and futile – to argue which American president has historically been more pro-Israel. While former President Barack Obama, for example, has pledged more money to Israel than any other US administration in history, Donald Trump has provided Israel with a blank check of seemingly endless political concessions.

Certainly, the unconditional backing and love declared for Israel is common among all US administrations. What they may differ on, however, is their overall motive, primarily their target audience during election time.

Both Republicans and Democrats head to the November elections with strong pro-Israel sentiments and outright support, completely ignoring the plight of occupied and oppressed Palestinians.

To win the support of the pro-Israeli constituencies, but especially the favor of the Israel lobby in Washington DC, Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have deviated even further from the low standards set by the Democratic Obama administration. Despite his generous financial support for Israel and full political backing, especially during Israel’s wars on the Gaza Strip, Obama dared, at times, to censure Israel over the expansion of its illegal Jewish settlements.

The Biden-Harris ticket, however, is offering Israel unconditional support.

“Joe Biden has made it clear,” Harris was quoted as saying in a telephone call on August 26, “he will not tie US security assistance to Israel to political decisions Israel makes, and I couldn’t agree more.” The call was made to what the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, termed as “Jewish supporters.” The Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel referred to this crucial constituency as “Jewish donors.”

The references above are sufficient to delineate the nature of the Democratic Party establishment’s current support for Israel. Although the view of the party’s rank and file has significantly shifted against Israel in recent years, the Democratic upper echelon still caters to the Israel lobby and their rich backers, even if this means molding US foreign policy in the entire Middle East region to serve Israeli interests.

For Republicans, however, it is a different story. The party’s establishment and the rank and file are united in their love and support for Israel. Though the Israel lobby plays an important role in harnessing and channeling this support, Republicans are not entirely motivated by pleasing the pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington DC.

The speeches made by Republican leaders at the Republican National Convention (RNC), held in  Charlotte, North Carolina, between August 24-27 were all aimed at reassuring Christian Evangelicals – often referred to as ‘Christian Zionists’- who represent the most powerful pro-Israel constituency in the United States.

The once relatively marginal impact of Christian Zionists in directly shaping US foreign policy, has morphed over the years – particularly during the Trump presidency – to define the core values of the Republican Party.

“This is apocalyptic foreign policy in a nutshell,” tweeted Israeli commentator, Gershom Gorenberg, on August 24. In Republican thinking, “Israel is not as a real country but a fantasyland, backdrop for Christian myth.”

Gorenberg’s comments were tweeted hours before the controversial speech made by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, America’s top diplomat, who delivered his brief notes from “beautiful Jerusalem, looking out over the old city.” The location, and the reference to it, were clear messages regarding the religious centrality of Israel to US foreign policy, and the unmistakable target audience.

Trump was even more obvious during an August 17 speech in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” Trump announced to a cheering crowd, “and so the Evangelicals – you know, it’s amazing with that – the Evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people … It’s really, it’s incredible.”

Unsurprisingly, 22 percent of Wisconsin residents identify as “Evangelical Protestants.”

This was not the first time that Trump has derided US Jews for not being as supportive of him as they are of his Democrat rivals. A year ago, Trump called Jewish Democrats “disloyal” to Israel. “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” he said in August 2019.

This was not a simple case of Trump’s typical political insensitivity but, rather, the cognizance that the real Republican prize in the coming elections is not the Jewish vote but the Christian Zionists.

In his speech before the RNC on August 27, Trump recounted to this same audience his pro-Israeli accomplishments, including the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018. “Unlike many presidents before me, I kept my promise, recognized Israel’s true capital and moved our embassy to Jerusalem,” Trump proclaimed.

The moving of the embassy, always a great opportunity to repeat the word “Jerusalem” before a jubilant crowd, was the buzzword at the RNC, repeated by all top Republicans, including former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. “President Trump moved our embassy to Jerusalem — and when the UN tried to condemn us, I was proud to cast the American veto,” Haley announced proudly, which generated an approving cheer.

In all of their references to Israel at the RNC, Republican leaders adhered to specific talking points: Iran, the US embassy move, the recognition of the Occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territories, the fight against anti-Semitism (silencing any criticism of Israel), and so on.

However, the Republican discourse seems to be detached from the traditional US foreign policy view that US support for Israel serves the geopolitical and geostrategic interests of Washington. This view, predominant among Democrats, seems to be almost entirely forsaken by Republicans, whose love for Israel is now dedicated to a purely religious mission.

In June 2015, when he was still a Congressman from Kansas, Secretary Pompeo once declared before a packed megachurch in Wichita, that the “battles” against evil is a “never-ending struggle,” one that will continue “until the Rapture,” a reference to what some Christians believe to be a sign of the end of times.

Addressing the RNC from Jerusalem on August 25, Pompeo must have felt that part of his spiritual mission has already been fulfilled.

The post Israel’s Friends at the RNC: "Christian Zionists" Dictate the Agenda of the Republican Party first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Dying to Fish”: How Israeli Piracy Destroyed Gaza’s Once Thriving Fishing Industry

On August 16, the Israeli navy declared the Gaza sea a closed military zone. A few days later, a group of Gaza fishermen decided to take their chances by fishing within a mere two or three nautical miles off the Gaza shore. No sooner had they cast their nets, Israeli navy bullets began whizzing all around them.

Soon after the incident, I spoke with one of these fishermen. His name is Fathi.

“My wife, my eight children and I, we all live off fishing. The Israeli navy shot at us today and asked us to leave the sea. I had to return to my family empty-handed, without any fish to sell and nothing to give to my children,” Fathi told me.

This fisherman’s story is typical. According to the Israeli rights group B’tselem, “about 95% of fishermen in Gaza live below the poverty line”.

Gaza’s fishermen are true heroes. Against numerous odds, they brave the sea every day to ensure the survival of their families.

In this scenario, the Israeli navy represents modern-day pirates opening fire at these Palestinian men — and, in some cases, women — sinking their boats sometimes and driving them back to the shore. In Gaza, this has been the routine for almost 13 years.

As soon as Israel declared the complete closure of Gaza’s fishing zone it prevented  thousands of fishermen from providing for their families, thus destroying yet another sector in Gaza’s decimated economy.

The Israeli military justified its action as a retaliatory measure against Palestinian protesters who have reportedly launched incendiary balloons into Israel in recent days. The Israeli decision, therefore, may seem rational according to the poor standards of mainstream journalism. A slight probe into the subject, however, reveals another dimension to the story.

Palestinian protesters have, in fact, released incendiary balloons into Israel which, reportedly, cause fires in some agricultural areas adjacent to occupied Gaza. However, the act itself has been a desperate cry for attention.

Gaza is almost completely out of fuel. The Strip’s only power generator was officially shut down on August 18. The Karem Abu Salem Crossing, which allows barely limited supplies to reach Gaza through Israel, has also been closed by an Israeli military order.  The sea, Gaza’s last resort, has, recently, turned into a one-sided war between the Israeli navy and Gaza’s shrinking population of fishermen. All of this has inflicted severe damage to a region that has already endured tremendous suffering.

Gaza’s once healthy fishing sector has been almost obliterated as a result of the Israeli siege. In 2000, for example, the Gaza fishing industry had over 10,000 registered fishermen. Gradually, the number has dwindled to 3,700, although many of them are fishermen by name only — as they can no longer access the sea, repair their damaged boats or afford new ones.

Those who remain committed to the profession do so because it is, literally, their last means of survival — if they do not fish, their families do not eat. The story of Gaza’s fishermen is also the story of the Gaza siege. No other profession has been as directly linked to Gaza’s woes as that of fishing.

When the Oslo Accord was signed between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Palestinians were told that one of the many fruits of peace would be the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone — up to 20 nautical miles (approximately 37 km), precisely.

Like the rest of Oslo’s broken promises, the fishing agreement was never honored, either. Instead, up to 2006, the Israeli military allowed Gazans to fish within a zone that never exceeded 12 nautical miles.  In 2007, when Israel imposed its ongoing siege on Gaza, the fishing zone was reduced even further, first to six nautical miles and, eventually, to three.

Following each Israeli war or violent conflagration in Gaza, the fishing zone is shut down completely. It is reopened after each truce, accompanied by more empty promises that the fishing zone will be expanded several nautical miles in order to improve the livelihood of the fishermen.

After the Egyptian negotiated truce that followed a brief but deadly Israeli campaign in November 2019, the fishing zone was expanded, again, to reach 15 nautical miles, the largest range in many years.

However, this respite was short-lived. In no time, the Israeli navy was sinking boats, firing at fishermen and pushing them back into the original small spaces in which they operated.

While Israel has redeployed its forces to the outskirts of Gaza in 2005, under international law it is still considered an Occupying Power, obligated to ensure the welfare and the rights of the occupied Palestinians living there. Of course, Israel has never honored international law, neither in Gaza, nor anywhere else in occupied Palestine.

In February 2018, Isma’il Abu Ryalah was killed by the Israeli navy while fishing in his small boat five nautical miles off the Gaza shore. Predictably, no Israeli was ever held accountable for Abu Ryalah’s murder. Soon after the incident, desperation — but also courage — prompted thousands of Gaza fishermen back to the sea, despite the impending danger posed by modern-day pirates masquerading as an army.

Netanyahu vs Gantz: Gaza Escalation as Reflection of Israel’s Political Rivalry

Only recently, the Palestinian group, Hamas, and Israel seemed close to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement, where Hamas would release several Israeli soldiers held in Gaza while Israel would set free an unspecified number of Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.

Instead of the much-anticipated announcement of some kind of a deal, on August 10, Israeli bombs began falling on the besieged Strip and incendiary balloons, originating in Gaza, made their way to the Israeli side of the fence.

So, what happened?

The answer lies largely – though not entirely – in Israel, specifically in the political conflict between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing political camp, on the one hand, and their government’s coalition partners, led by Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, on the other.

The discord between Netanyahu and Gantz is concentrated on a fierce budget conflict currently underway in the Knesset, which has little to do with government spending or fiscal responsibilities.

Gantz, who is supposed to serve his term as Prime Minister, starting November 2021, believes that Netanyahu plans on passing a one-year budget to disrupt the coalition agreement and to call for new elections before the leadership swap takes place. Therefore, Gantz insists on extending the budget coverage to two years, to avoid any possible betrayal by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu’s plot, which was revealed by the daily newspaper Haaretz on July 29, is not entirely motivated by the Israeli leader’s love for power, but by his mistrust of Gantz’s own motives. If Gantz becomes the country’s Prime Minister, he is likely to appoint new judges who are sympathetic towards his Blue and White and, thus, eager to indict Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial.

For both Netanyahu and Gantz, this is, perhaps, the most crucial fight of their political careers: the former fighting for his freedom, the latter fighting for survival.

One issue, however, is acceptable to both leaders: the understanding that military strength will always garner greater support from the Israeli public, especially if another election becomes inevitable. A successive, fourth election is likely to take place if the budget battle is not resolved.

As a military showdown in South Lebanon becomes unattainable due to the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4, the two Israeli leaders have turned their attention to Gaza. Moving quickly, as if on the campaign trail, Gantz and Netanyahu are busy making their case to Israelis living in the southern towns bordering the Gaza Strip.

Gantz paid the leaders of these communities a visit on August 19. He was joined by a carefully selected delegation of top Israeli government and military officials, including Agriculture Minister, Alon Schuster and Gaza Division Commander, Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni, who joined via video conference.

Aside from the customary threats of targeting anyone in Gaza who dares threaten Israeli security, Gantz has engaged in election campaign type of self-promotion. “We have changed the equation in Gaza. Since I entered office, there has been a response to every breach in our security,” Gantz said, emphasizing his own achievements, as opposed to those of the coalition government – thus denying Netanyahu any credit.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has threatened harsh retaliation against Gaza if Hamas does not prevent protesters from releasing incendiary balloons. “We have adopted a policy under which a fire is treated as a rocket,” he told the mayors of southern towns on August 18.

Netanyahu is keeping the Gaza war option open, in case it becomes his only recourse. Gantz, as Defense Minister and Netanyahu’s rival is, however, enjoying greater political space to maneuver. From August 10, he has ordered his military to bomb Gaza every night. With every bomb dropped on Gaza, Gantz’s credibility among Israeli voters, especially in the south, increases slightly.

If the current conflagration leads to an all-out war, it will be the entire coalition government – including Netanyahu and his Likud party – that will bear responsibility for its potential disastrous consequences. This places Gantz in a powerful position.

The current military showdown in Gaza is not entirely the outcome of Israel’s own political fight. Gaza society is currently at a breaking point.

The truce between Gaza groups and Israel, which was reached through Egyptian mediation in November 2019, amounted to nothing. Despite much assurance that besieged Gazans would receive badly needed respite, the situation has, instead, reached an unprecedented, unbearable phase: Gaza’s only power generator has run out of fuel and is no longer in operation; the Strip’s tiny fishing zone of barely three nautical miles was declared a closed military zone by Israel on August 16; the Karem Abu Salem Crossing, through which meager supplies enter Gaza through Israel, is officially shut down.

The 13-year-old Israeli siege on Gaza is currently at its worst possible manifestation, with little room for the Gaza population to even express their outrage at their miserable plight.

In December 2019, the Hamas authorities decided to limit the frequency of protests, known as Gaza’s March of Return, which had taken place almost daily, starting March 2018.

Over 300 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers during the protests. Despite the high death toll and the relative failure to ignite international uproar against the siege, the non-violent protests permitted ordinary Palestinians to vent, to organize and to take initiative.

The current growing frustration in Gaza has compelled Hamas to open up a space for protesters to return to the fence in the hope that it pushes the subject of the siege back to the news agenda.

The incendiary balloons, which have ignited the ire of the Israeli military recently, are one of several Palestinian messages that Gazans refuse to accept that the protracted siege is now their permanent reality.

While Egyptian mediation may eventually offer Palestinians a temporary fix and avoid an all-out war, Israeli violence in Gaza, under the current political arrangement, will not cease.

Certainly, for as long as Israeli leaders continue to see a war on Gaza as a political opportunity and a platform for their own electoral games, the siege will carry on, relentlessly.

“Palestine is Still the Issue”: UN Vote Exposes, Isolates Canada

The notion that ‘Canada is better’, especially when compared with US foreign policy, has persisted for many years. Recent events at the United Nations have, however, exposed the true nature of Canada’s global position, particularly in the matter of its blind and unconditional support for Israel.

On June 17, Canada lost its second bid for the coveted UN Security Council seat, which, had it won, would have allowed Ottawa the opportunity to become a world leader, pushing its own agenda — and those of its allies — on the global stage.

However, this, too, was a wasted opportunity. Only 108 countries voted for Canada while 130 and 128 voted for Norway and Ireland respectively. Both these countries will be admitted to the Security Council, starting January 1, 2021.

What is striking about Canada’s missed opportunity is that it was in retribution for Canada’s bias towards Israel, at the expense of Palestine, international and humanitarian laws.  Over the last twenty years alone, for example, Canada has voted against 166 resolutions supporting Palestinian rights, says Canadian author and human rights advocate, Yves Engler.

Moreover, Canada has lobbied — and continues to lobby — against the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of war crimes in Palestine. Along with Germany, Austria and others, Canada has challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction on the matter, erroneously alleging that Palestine is not a State.

Shortly before the June vote on new Security Council members was held, a group of human rights activists circulated a letter to all UN members, detailing Canada’s poor record on Palestine.  “Despite its peaceful reputation, Canada is not acting as a benevolent player on the international stage,” the letter read.

It added, “Since coming to power, the Justin Trudeau government has voted against more than 50 UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights, even though they have been backed by the overwhelming majority of member states.”

Among the signatories of the letter were renowned American intellectual, Noam Chomsky, famed rock star, Roger Waters and former Quebec National Assembly member, Amir Khadir.

The vote against Canada at the UN was understood to be a stance against Ottawa’s position on Israel and Palestine, despite Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Marc-Andre Blanchard, going on the defensive in a desperate attempt to dissuade member states from voting against his country.

In a letter sent to all member states, Blanchard argued that an earlier document written by “a group of Canadians regarding Canada’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict  … contains significant inaccuracies and characterizes Canada’s longstanding policy positions”.

This succession of actions is unprecedented in recent years, where a country like Canada loses the respect and support of other UN member states largely due to its failure to respect the rights of the Palestinian people. To better understand the significance of this event, we spoke to Yves Engler, who played a direct role in championing the Palestinian cause and pushing for Canadian accountability at the United Nations.

Engler has also authored several books, among them “Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid” and “Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada”.

“It is important for people to realize that this anti-Palestinian position that Canada pursues today is not new. It is grounded in at least a century of Zionist policy in this country,” Engler said.

The UN Vote

Explaining the context of the June UN vote, Engler said that “the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who is a liberal politician, expended a lot of energy into winning that seat; he undertook a huge campaign, called dozens of leaders around the world, lobbied very hard for that seat but, on the first round of voting, Canada was defeated resoundingly by Ireland and Norway.”

Engler added, “In my mind, there was no issue that contributed more to Canada’s loss in its bid for a Security Council seat than its anti-Palestinian record. And, more specifically, its voting against UN General Assembly resolutions that almost the entire world supports, isolated Canada with the US, Israel, Micronesia, and maybe one or two other countries.”

The Canadian setback at the UN should be directly attributed to grassroots activists and intellectuals like Engler.

“Activists’ groups — that I was part of — exposed records spanning the past two decades of the Canadian government voting consistently against the UN General Assembly resolutions. It voted against 166 UN General Assembly resolutions over the past twenty years. In comparison, Ireland and Norway did not vote against a single one of those UN General Assembly resolutions.”

The Media Lobby

“But how did Canada become pro-Israel?” we asked Engler.

“There is a very well-organized, pro-Israel lobby in Canada that is able to exert its influence over the media,” Engler said. “For instance, the pro-Israel group, ‘Honest Reporting Canada’, concentrates on criticizing every media source that expresses even a hint of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.”

However, compared with the dynamics of Israeli influence over Washington, Canada is quite different. Unlike the US, Engler continues, “Canada has much clearer restrictions on the funding of politicians, so there is nobody like Sheldon Adelson who gives a couple of hundred million dollars to Donald Trump which, then,  sway Trump to adopt even more extreme anti-Palestinian positions. This dynamic does not exist in Canada, but the dominant media has always been sympathetic to the Zionist movement.”

Encouragingly, pro-Palestinian sentiment in Canada has grown over the last twenty years or so, to become a large network, an organized movement in its own right, which has, according to Engler, to “some extent, countered the dominance of the Zionist narrative.”

Canadian media, however, is still unwilling to challenge Israel’s power in the country, leaving the stage open to “pro-Israel groups  … to attack pro-Palestinian activists.”  “There is an incredible amount of trepidation, even in the pro-Palestinian movement, of being labeled as anti-Jewish,” Engler said.

Grassroots Activism

Similar to the trend in other western countries, pro-Palestine groups in Canada are small, diverse and organized at grassroots levels. These groups “tend not to be particularly well-founded or institutionally strong, while the pro-Israel side is far better organized.”

Yet, despite the pro-Israeli influence in government and media, “polls show, repeatedly, that the public is increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than what appears in the dominant media or in the official protocol. A recent poll has revealed that Canadians are very sympathetic towards boycotting Israel for violating international law.”

A March 2017 poll indicated that 78% of all Canadians believe that “BDS is reasonable”. Engler sees much hope in these numbers, referring to them and to the vote at the UN as “small victories.”

The growing pro-Palestinian sentiment is now also seeping into politics. Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, 57 members of parliament strongly protested this decision, demanding action from their government should Tel Aviv proceed with its illegal measures.

The change is far more rewarding within labor unions in the country than in politics. “Forty years, ago… unions were aggressive in their support of Zionism; today, this is no longer the case, as many unions have passed resolutions supporting BDS campaigns.”

While Canada’s support for Israel is, to a certain extent, consistent with Canada’s own colonial past and present interventionist foreign policy, the Canadian people and the international community remain major obstacles, challenging the toxic affinity between Ottawa and Tel Aviv.

The hope is that the growing pro-Palestinian tide, predicated on respect for international law and human rights, will eventually prevail in order to sever the Canada-Israel rapport permanently, and allow Canada to earn its place as a global leader.

How the Israel-UAE Deal puts the Bogus Peace Industry Back in Business

If there is one conclusion to draw from the agreement this week between Israel and the United Arab Emirates – with Israel temporarily “suspending” its threat to illegally annex parts of the West Bank, in return for “full normalisation” with the Gulf state – it is this: The peace industry is back in business.

But this time, unlike the interminable Oslo Accords signed a quarter of a century ago, there won’t even be the pretence that Palestinians are needed for “Middle East peace” to proceed. This is a process that takes place over their heads, a dialogue from which they are entirely absent.

This peace process is not between Palestinians and Israel, Washington’s client in the region. It is between Israel and oil-rich Arab states loyal to the US. It is a process that allows them to end the pretence that they are enemies of Israel. It means that they can stop feigning support for the Palestinian struggle for a state – even one on the last remnants of Palestinians’ homeland.

This is a peace process that effectively rubber-stamps the occupation and the many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements Israel has built to steal Palestinian land over many decades.

This is a peace process that moves the ostensible goal posts from permanently ending the occupation to simply postponing – for a little longer – Israel’s ambition to permanently annex those Palestinian lands it has already stolen.

In short, this is a peace process in which Arab states, led by the UAE, formally join Israel in waging war on Palestinians.

‘Outside-in’ strategy

In that sense, this is a continuation of the process begun by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law, in developing the so-called “deal of the century”.

From the start, Kushner turned to the Gulf – to which he and the rest of the US political and economic elite have long been personally close – and sought to craft what became known as the “outside-in” strategy.

That meant recruiting as many Arab regimes as possible, starting with the oil-rich Gulf states, to sign up to the Trump “peace plan” and use their weight – and money – to strong-arm Palestinians into surrendering to Israeli diktats.

A White House dedicated to the politics of the used-car lot was bound to imagine that economics could be used to bludgeon Palestinians into compliance. That was why Kushner held an economic conference in Bahrain early last summer, even before he had a peace plan to unveil.

Saudis next in line?

Sensing how this was playing out, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas refused early on to engage with the Trump plan, and soon cut off all ties to Washington. It made no difference. This was a peace plan that did not need the Palestinian people to be involved in the haggling over their future.

The Trump plan, unveiled earlier in the year, offered Palestinians the promise of an eventual state on shards of the West Bank, after Israel had been allowed to annex swaths of their territory.

Now, Israel has put this move on temporary hold in return for normalisation with the UAE. Kushner says other states are expected to follow. Bahrain and Oman are likely to be close behind.

The agreement states: “The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together to achieve this goal.”

The real coup would be Saudi Arabia, which is presumably waiting to see how the deal with the UAE is received. It is hard to imagine, however, that the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, took this step without first getting the green light from Riyadh.

By contrast, the previous Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, championed a regional peace agreement in 2002 that offered Israel full recognition by the Arab states in return for Israel conceding Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories.

That offer exposed the true colours of Israel and Washington. Israeli leaders ignored the Saudi plan, and, taking their cue from Tel Aviv, US leaders refused to seize the opportunity to advance the bold Saudi offer as the basis for a peace agreement.

Biden jumps on board

Under Trump, things have rapidly worsened for Palestinians. Millions of refugees have been starved of aid; the US embassy has been moved to Jerusalem; Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been approved; and illegal settlements have continued to expand.

And yet, Israeli intransigence is paying off. The Gulf is ready to offer Israel normalisation not just without any meaningful concessions, but at the same time as the situation for Palestinians deteriorates significantly.

Trump has called the Israeli-UAE pact “a historic peace agreement between our two great friends”. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, described the UAE’s normalisation with Israel as “a significant step forward for peace in the Middle East”.

But anyone who imagines that this is simply a floundering, implausible last move by a lame-duck president – assuming Trump fails to win the presidential election in November – is likely to be in for a disappointment.

Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, has also excitedly jumped on board. He described the agreement as “a welcome, brave, and badly needed act of statesmanship”, adding that the alternative – annexation – “would be a body blow to the cause of peace”.

Bitter victory

In one sense, this is a victory, even if a very bitter one, for the Palestinian leadership. They denounced the agreement. Palestinians’ belated refusal to engage with the Trump plan – after long colluding in a US-dictated Oslo peace process that was designed from the outset to negate their right to live in dignity in their homeland – has flushed the real US-Israeli agenda out into the open.

Even with the best interpretation of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were never going to be allowed the semblance of a sovereign state, even on the remnants of their original homeland.

They were to have no control over their borders, their airspace, the electromagnetic spectrum, or their diplomatic relations with other states. And of course, they were most definitely not going to be allowed an army.

The peace process was always about keeping Israel in control of the entire space, with a segment of Palestinians allowed to live there as a caged, dependent people. They could either willingly agree to their subordination, or face further repression from Israel to crush their spirit.

Now, all of this is no longer being disguised, even if politicians and diplomats in Washington and the Gulf wish to mislead the rest of the world that this should still be called a “peace process”.

Signs that they may get away with this monumental deception were evident in the responses of major European capitals, which welcomed the agreement. Germany called it “an important contribution to peace in the region”, while Boris Johnson in the UK said it was “hugely good news”.

The message sent by Israel, the US and the UAE is that committing war crimes and violating international humanitarian law can pay handsome dividends over the long run.

A shared agenda

The gains in this deal for the UAE and the other Gulf states – assuming, as seems likely, that they follow suit – are simple. The Sunni Gulf has long wanted fuller integration into the US-Israeli security nexus in the Middle East.

The US, Israel and the Gulf states share a deep hostility towards Iran and its Shia coreligionist factions in the region – from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Yemen.

Israel opposes these Shia actors because they have proved most ready to resist it, as well as Washington’s imperial designs, centred on control over the region’s oil.

The Gulf, meanwhile, as the birthplace of Sunni Islam and the supposed guardian of its honour, has a separate interest in securing its sectarian hegemony in the region. Gulf states have been developing close, if semi-covert, ties to Israel in recent years while engaging more actively in wars across the region, either through proxies in Syria and Iraq or directly in Yemen.

They have been keen to go public with normalisation so that they can gain greater access to US-Israeli intelligence and improved military technology, which would naturally flow from increased levels of trust.

Imperial agenda

Aside from the bland, positive diplomatic wording, the agreement does not veil this goal: A new “Strategic Agenda for the Middle East” will be developed to “expand diplomatic, trade, and security cooperation”. The US, Israel and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability”.

Repackaging its role in this entirely self-interested deal, the UAE can also still present itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution, delaying annexation to another day.

The advantages to the Gulf run deeper still, however. Washington’s imperial agenda inevitably feeds and needs enemies, especially in an oil-rich region such as the Middle East, to justify endless wars and endless profits for its “defence” industries.

The Gulf states want to be on the right side of that military-industrial divide as the US moves into choppier waters ahead, facing oil shortages, a deterioration in the global climate, and the rise of China as a superpower.

Diplomatic coup

Washington’s interests in the deal, and Trump’s, are similarly clear. Pushing ahead with annexation has proved much harder than the Trump administration expected. European and Arab capitals were adamantly opposed to a move that would deprive them of the two-state cover story that, for more than two decades, had allowed them to pretend they were committed to Middle East peace.

And it became ever harder for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to muster support from the Israeli public for annexation as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changed priorities.

Months from a presidential election he is predicted to lose, Trump needed a diplomatic coup in the Middle East after promising so much and achieving so little with his much-trumpeted “deal of the century”. Now he has it.

This move will placate his large Christian evangelical electoral base, which is devoted to Israel and supports whatever it wants. Evangelical leaders lost no time in saying they were “elated” by the announcement.

It can also be spun, as his officials began vigorously doing from the outset, as an “historic peace agreement” – equivalent to the deals Israel signed previously with Egypt and Jordan. That can be used on the campaign trail to sell Trump to the wider electorate as one of the great US statesmen.

Sharpening the battle lines

But there are wider benefits for the bipartisan Washington foreign policy elite. They have long wished to cement ties between Israel and the Gulf states, having the US’ two most reliable regional allies publicly cooperating.

As the Gulf states have become more deeply and obviously enmeshed in wars across the Middle East – from Syria to Yemen – an agreement allying them to Israel helps Washington’s improbable narrative that they are really the good guys. It will sharpen the region’s battle lines and, it is hoped, convey greater legitimacy on these theocratic dictatorships.

The US hopes, too, that the agreement with the UAE – and other Gulf states later – will once again provide a plausible cover story as Israel entrenches its occupation, steals more Palestinian land and intensifies its repression of Palestinians.

It will allow Washington to revive its bogus claims of being an “honest broker”, seeking the best for Palestinians, even if their leaders are supposedly too dimwitted to understand what is good for them.

Pitting the Palestinian leadership against the Gulf – as well as other Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt, that dare not antagonise their oil-rich neighbours – will further isolate Palestinians. They can now be presented more convincingly as entrenched opponents of peace, at best – or, if they resist, as terrorists.

Netanyahu bailed out

Lastly, Netanyahu, who is in deep trouble at home, hopes this agreement can dig him out of his hole. He is up against a wave of protests that have rallied large sections of Israeli society, including on the right. He faces an unprecedented corruption trial. His handling of the Covid-19 pandemic looks increasingly catastrophic. The Israeli economy is imploding.

In this context, his focus on West Bank annexation alienated much of the Israeli public, and even failed to satisfy sections of the settler community, who want all of the Palestinian territories, not just large parts. A deal with the UAE – and implicitly one with the rest of the Gulf – allows him to climb down from an unpopular annexation plan.

Netanyahu has long declared himself Mr. Security, the protector of Israel’s interests, and the only Israeli leader capable of making dramatic moves on the global stage. Here, he appears to have done both. It has even forced his political opponents to praise his achievement.

Netanyahu has managed to pull all this off while being able to argue that annexation is still “on the table”, placating his supporters among the settlers.

The agreement may yet set the stage for him to win a winter election he is widely reported to be preparing for.

No price to pay

The abandonment of annexation – temporarily or otherwise – will not, of course, interrupt Israel’s continuing capture of ever more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, nor its relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Netanyahu has demonstrated to Israelis that he was right. Israel could violate international law, steal land, commit war crimes – and western and Arab states would stomach it all. Israel would have to pay no price for its behaviour.

Haaretz recalled on Friday that, when asked in 2018 whether concessions to Palestinians initiated in the Oslo Accords had gradually led to improvements in relations with the Arab world, Netanyahu responded that it was the “exact opposite”.

By first recruiting the West and Arab regimes to Israel’s side, he said, Israel would “become so strong” that it would force Palestinians to “understand that they have no choice but to compromise with us” – his term for absolute submission.

For Netanyahu, a strategic alliance with the Gulf – at the expense of Palestinians – has always been about more than just grabbing the occupied territories. It is central to his vision of an unreformed, maximalist, ethnic supremacist, Israeli state secure in the Middle East, serving as a regional hegemon alongside US global power.

Now, with this deal, Netanyahu believes he is in sight of the finishing line.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Don’t be Hoodwinked by Trump’s UAE-Israel “Peace Deal”

“HUGE breakthrough today,” crowed Donald Trump on twitter as he announced the new peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The deal makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state and the third Arab nation, after Egypt and Jordan, to have diplomatic ties with Israel. But the new Israel-UAE partnership should fool no one. Though it will supposedly stave off Israeli annexation of the West Bank and encourage tourism and trade between both countries, in reality, it is nothing more than a scheme to give an Arab stamp of approval to Israel’s status quo of land theft, home demolitions, arbitrary extrajudicial killings, apartheid laws, and other abuses of Palestinian rights.

The deal should be seen in the context of over three years of Trump administration policies that have tightened Israel’s grip on the Palestinians: moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the Syrian [Note: DV editor] Golan Heights as Israeli territory, and creating a so-called peace plan with no Palestinian participation or input. While no U.S. administration has successfully brokered a resolution to Israel’s now 53-year-long occupation, the Trump years have been especially detrimental to the Palestinian cause. Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi wrote on Twitter that with this deal, “Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation.” Indeed, with Donald Trump at the helm and son-in-law Jared Kushner as the primary strategist, even concessions for Palestinians have been done away with. To add insult to injury, while the deal had been couched in terms of a commitment by Israel to suspend annexation of Palestinian territories, in his Israeli press conference announcing the deal, Netanyahu said annexation was “still on the table” and that it was something he is “committed to.”

Among the most brutal aspects of this period for Palestinians have been the loss of support for their cause in neighboring Arab states. The Arab political party in Israel, Balad, said that by signing this pact, “the UAE has officially joined Israel against Palestine, and placed itself in the camp of the enemies of the Palestinian people.”

The UAE has previously held a position consistent with public opinion in Gulf and Middle East countries that the acceptance of formal diplomatic relations with Israel should only take place in exchange for a just peace and in accordance with international law. Back in June, Emirati ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba penned an an op-ed in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, the Israeli equivalent to U.S.A Today, appealing directly in Hebrew for Israel not to annex the West Bank. However, by working out an agreement with Trump and Netanyahu to normalize relations, the country has now made itself Israel’s partner in cementing de facto annexation and ongoing apartheid.

The UAE’s change from supporting Palestinian dignity and freedom to supporting Israel’s never-ending occupation is a calculated move by UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, a shrewd Middle East dictator who uses his country’s military and financial resources to thwart moves towards democracy and respect for human rights under the guise of fighting Islamic terrorism. His support for Israel cements his relationship with the Trump administration. Trump has already gone out of his way to push billions of dollars in arms sales to the UAE, despite opposition from Congress because of high number of civilian casualties associated with the use of those weapons in Yemen.

Secretary Pompeo has also defended the UAE from credible reports that U.S. weapons sold to the UAE have been transferred in Yemen to groups linked to Al Qaeda, hardline Salafi militias and Yemeni separatists. The UAE was also stung by revelations of secret prisons it had been operating in Yemen where prisoners were subjected to horrific forms of torture, including “the grill,” where victims were “tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.” In Libya, the UAE has been criticized for violating a 2011 UN Security Council arms embargo by supplying combat equipment to the LAAF, the armed group commanded by General Khalifa Haftar with a well-established record of human right abuses. So this deal with Israel gives the UAE a much-needed veneer of respectability.

But it is impossible to understand the impetus for this deal without putting it in the context of the ongoing hostilities between all three countries and Iran. Following the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” in recent years Israel has been negotiating with various Gulf states, including the UAE, to push back against Iran’s growing influence in the region. As the communique announcing the Israeli-UAE deal asserted, the U.S., Israel and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding threats in the region.” This dovetails with Trump’s anti-Iran obsession, which includes withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and his “maximum pressure” campaign designed to force Iran back to the negotiating table to make a “better deal.” In announcing the UAE-Israeli pact, Trump declared with ridiculous bravado that if he wins the elections, he’ll have a new deal with Iran within 30 days. Anyone who believes this must be almost as delusional as Trump.

The fact that this agreement between two Middle East countries was first announced thousands of miles away in Washington DC shows how it is more about shoring up Trump’s slumping electoral campaign and improving Netanyahu’s battered image in Israel than bringing peace to the Middle East. It also shows that Netanyahu and bin Zayed have a stake in seeing Trump win a second term in the White House. Instead of pointing out the hollowness of the pact, Joe Biden’s response was unfortunately to congratulate Israel and the UAE and try to take credit for the deal. “I personally spent time with leaders of both Israel and the U.A.E. during our administration, building the case for cooperation and broader engagement,” he said. “I am gratified by today’s announcement.”

The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, facilitated by the U.S., serves to prop up three repressive leaders — Trump, Netanyahu, and bin Zayed — and will cause further harm to Palestinians. It is both a shame and a sham.

The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?   

On August 4, hours before a massive explosion rocked the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued an ominous warning to Lebanon.

“We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. I suggest to all of them, including Hezbollah, to consider this,” Netanyahu said during an official tour of a military facility in central Israel.

Netanyahu’s warning did not bode well for Israel when, hours later, a Hiroshima-like blast devastated entire sectors of Beirut. Those who suspected Israeli involvement in the deadly explosion had one more reason to point fingers at Tel Aviv.

In politics and in war, truth is the first casualty. We may never know precisely what transpired in the moments preceding the Beirut blast. Somehow, it may not matter at all, because the narrative regarding Lebanon’s many tragedies is as splintered as the country’s political landscape.

Judging by statements and positions adopted by the country’s various parties and factions, many seem to be more concerned with exploiting the tragedy for trivial political gain than in the tragedy itself. Even if the explosion was the unfortunate outcome of an accident resulting from bureaucratic negligence, sadly, it is still inconsequential. In Lebanon, as in much of the Middle East, everything is political.

What is almost certain about the future, however, is that the political discourse will eventually lead back to Israel versus Hezbollah. The former is keen at undermining the group’s influence in Lebanon, while the latter is insistent on thwarting Israel’s plans.

But what is Israel’s plan anyway? After decades of trying to destroy the Lebanese group, the Israeli government is keenly aware that eradicating Hezbollah militarily is no longer feasible, certainly not in the foreseeable future. The Lebanese group has proven its prowess on the battlefield when it played a major role in ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in May 2000.

Subsequent Israeli attempts at reasserting its dominance on Lebanon’s southern border have, thus far, proven futile. The failed war of 2006 and the more recent conflagration of September 2019 are also two cases in point.

Hezbollah is uninterested in inviting another Israeli war on Lebanon, either. The country is on the verge of economic collapse, if it has not already collapsed.

While Lebanon has always been in the throes of political division and factionalism, the divisiveness of the current political mood in the country is more destructive than it has ever been. Losing hope in all political actors, the Lebanese people have taken to the street demanding basic rights and services, an end to the endemic corruption and a whole new social and political contract – unsuccessfully.

While stalemates in politics are somewhat ordinary occurrences, political deadlocks can be calamitous in a country on the brink of starvation. The Hiroshima-like cloud of explosives that shocked the world was a perfect metaphor for Lebanon’s seemingly endless woes.

Former Israeli Knesset member, Moshe Feiglin, was among many jubilant Israelis who celebrated the near-demise of the Arab city. Feiglin described the horrendous explosion as a ‘day of joy’, giving a ‘huge thank you to God. “If it was us,” meaning Israel being involved in the deadly explosion, “then we should be proud of it, and with that we will create a balance of terror.”

Regardless of whether Feiglin is speaking from a position of knowledge or not, his reference to ‘balance of terror’ remains the basic premise in all of Israel’s dealings with Lebanon, and Hezbollah, in particular.

The convoluted war in Syria has expanded Israel’s war of attrition, but has also given Israel the opportunity to target Hezbollah’s interests without registering yet another aggression on Lebanese territories. It is much easier to target war-torn Syria and escape unscathed rather than to target Lebanon and pay a price.

For years, Israel has bombed many targets in Syria. Initially, it was unforthcoming about its role. Only in the last year or so, it has begun to openly brag about its military conquests, but for a reason.   The embattled Netanyahu is desperate to gain political credits, as he is dogged by multiple corruption charges, which have tarnished his image. By bombing Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, the Israeli leader hopes to garner the approval of the military elite, a critical constituency in Israeli politics.

Netanyahu’s comments before the Beirut explosion were in reference to a series of incidents that began on July 21, when Israel bombed an area adjacent to the Damascus International Airport, killing, among others, a senior Hezbollah member, Ali Kamel Mohsen.

This incident placed Israel’s northern borders on alert. The state of emergency was coupled with massive political and media hype, which helped Netanyahu by distracting ordinary Israelis from his ongoing corruption trial.

But Israel’s strategic interests in the Syria conflict go beyond Netanyahu’s need for a cheap victory. The outcome of the Syria war has the potential of yielding a nightmare scenario for Israel.

For decades, Israel has argued that an ‘axis of terror’ – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – had to be dismantled, for it represented Israel’s greatest security threat. That was long before pro-Iran forces and militias began operating overtly in Syria, as a result of the ongoing war.

While Israel argues that its recurring bombardment of Syria is aimed largely at Hezbollah targets – the group’s military cache and Iranian missiles on their way to Lebanon via Syrian territories – Israel’s war in Syria is largely political. As per Israeli logic, the more bombs Israel drops over Syria, the more relevant a player it will become when the conflicting parties engage in future negotiations to sort out the fate of that country.

However, by doing so, Israel also risks igniting a costly military conflict with Lebanon, one that neither Tel Aviv nor Hezbollah can afford at the moment.

Israeli policymakers and military planners must be busy trying to analyze the situation in Lebanon, to understand the best way to exploit Lebanon’s tragedy in order to advance Israel’s strategic interests.

The future of Lebanon is, once more, in the hands of war generals.

Reversal

Another Mother for Peace (Poster Credit: Lorraine Schneider, 1966)

With survival at stake, can weapon makers change course?

Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood.  At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the river being dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day turned the river red to symbolize the bloodshed caused by Boeing products. On the bridge outside of Boeing’s entrance, activists held placards urging Boeing to stop making weapons.

This summer, orders for Boeing’s commercial jets have cratered during the pandemic, but the company’s revenue from weapon-making contracts remains steady. David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO, recently expressed confidence the U.S. government will support defense industries no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Both presidential candidates appear “globally oriented,” he said, “and interested in the defense of our country.”

Investors should ask how Boeing’s contract to deliver 1,000 SLAM- ER weapons (Standoff Land Attack Missiles-Expanded Response) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “defends” the United States.

Here are excerpts from Jeffrey Stern’s account of a missile’s impact on the town of Arhab in a remote area of Yemen. In this case, the missile was manufactured by Raytheon:

Now, as Fahd walked into the hut, a weapon about the length of a compact car was wobbling gracelessly down through the air toward him, losing altitude and unspooling an arming wire that connected it to the jet until, once it had extended a few feet, the wire ran out and ripped from the bomb.

Then it was as if the weapon woke up. A thermal battery was activated. Three fins on the rear extended all the way and locked in place. The bomb stabilized in the air. A guidance-control unit on the nose locked onto a laser reflection — invisible to the naked eye but meaningful to the bomb — sparkling on the rocks Fahd walked over.

At the well, at the moment of impact, a series of events happened almost instantaneously. The nose of the weapon hit rock, tripping a fuse in its tail section that detonated the equivalent of 200 pounds of TNT. When a bomb like this explodes, the shell fractures into several thousand pieces, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of steel shards flying through the air at up to eight times the speed of sound. Steel moving that fast doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them. It removes appendages from torsos; it disassembles bodies and redistributes their parts.

Fahd had just stepped into the stone shelter and registered only a sudden brightness. He heard nothing. He was picked up, pierced with shrapnel, spun around and then slammed into the back wall, both of his arms shattering — the explosion so forceful that it excised seconds from his memory. Metal had bit into leg, trunk, jaw, eye; one piece entered his back and exited his chest, leaving a hole that air and liquid began to fill, collapsing his lungs. By the time he woke up, crumpled against stone, he was suffocating. Somehow he had survived, but he was killing himself with every breath, and he was bleeding badly. But he wasn’t even aware of any of these things, because his brain had been taken over by pain that seemed to come from another world.

In 2019, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen observed “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.”

These experts say “the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

A year and a half ago, were it not for a presidential veto, both houses of the U.S. Congress would have enacted a law banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Another end-user of Boeing’s weapons is the Israeli Defense Force.

The company has provided Israel with AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jetsHellfire missiles (produced with Lockheed Martin), MK-84 2000-lb bombs, MK-82 500-lb bombs, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that turn bombs into “smart” GPS-equipped guided bombs. Boeing’s Harpoon sea-to-sea missile system is installed on the upgraded 4.5 Sa’ar missile ships of the Israeli Navy.

Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems, and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and United Nations commissions, ruled these attacks to be human rights violations and at times war crimes.

I lived with a family in Gaza during the final days of the 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” bombing. Abu Yusuf, Umm Yusuf, and their two small children, Yusuf and Shahid, welcomed Audrey Stewart and me to stay with them. Once every 11 minutes from 11 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m., we heard an ear-splitting blast. Normally, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the sound of a Hellfire Missile exploding and that of a 500 lb. bomb dropped from an F-15, but soon I could tell the difference. Little Yusuf and Shahid taught us to distinguish one gut-wrenching sound from the other. They had been cringing under the bombs for 18 days and nights.

I don’t see how the sale of weapons to governments which use them against civilian populations, against people like Fahad, in Arhab or Abu Yusuf and his family in Gaza, defends people in the U.S.

Boeing’s vast resources for scientific know-how, skillful engineering, and creative innovation could, however, help defend the U.S. against the greatest threat we  now face, environmental climate catastrophe. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben predicts “a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through right now.” The main question, he says, is whether human beings can hold the alarming rise in temperature “to a point where we can at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization.”

“A rise of one degree doesn’t sound like an extraordinary change,” McKibben writes, “but it is: each second, the carbon and methane we’ve emitted trap heat equivalent to the explosion of three Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Boeing’s engineers, scientists, designers and marketers could help turn the tide of human actions destroying our earth. Their expertise could truly “defend” people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the river flowing outside of Boeing’s headquarters. It actually flows backwards. Long ago, brilliant engineers designed a way for the river to reverse its course. In doing so, they saved Chicago from sewage contamination of its drinking water supply – Lake Michigan. This action was hailed as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The City’s sewers discharged human and industrial wastes directly to its rivers, which in turn flowed into the lake. A particularly heavy rainstorm in 1885 caused sewage to be flushed into the lake beyond the clean water intakes. The resulting typhoid, cholera, and dysentery epidemics killed an estimated 12 percent of Chicago’s 750,000 residents, and raised a public outcry to find a permanent solution to the city’s water supply and sewage disposal crisis.”

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed at an estimated cost of over $70,000,000. After its completion, in 1900, waterborne disease rates quickly and dramatically improved, and its water supply system was soon regarded as being one of the safest in the world. With its water source made safe and dependable by the canals, Chicago and the region grew and prospered rapidly.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to dye the Chicago River red or green. We need to protect the river and all wildlife dependent on it. But, we must continually confront Boeing and other weapon manufacturers, and insist they not destroy lives, homes and infrastructures in other lands. We must urge Boeing, like the river, to reverse course and participate, with dignity and humility, in the pursuit of human survival.