Tag Archives: Israel

Palestinians “Are Not Animals in a Zoo”: On Kanafani and the Need to Redefine the Role of the “Victim Intellectual”

Years before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, US media introduced many new characters, promoting them as ‘experts’ who helped ratchet up US propaganda, ultimately allowing the US government to secure enough popular support for the war.

Though enthusiasm for war began dwindling in later years, the invasion of Iraq had begun with a relatively strong popular mandate that allowed US President George W Bush to claim the role of liberator of Iraq, the fighter of ‘terrorism’ and the champion of US global interests. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted on March 24, 2003 – a few days after the invasion – seventy-two percent of Americans were in favor of the war.

Only now are we beginning to fully appreciate the massive edifice of lies, deceit and forgery involved in shaping the war narrative, and the sinister role played by mainstream media in demonizing Iraq and dehumanizing its people. Future historians will continue with the task of unpacking the war conspiracy for years to come.

Consequently, it is also important to acknowledge the role played by Iraq’s own ‘native informants’, as late professor Edward Said would describe them. The “native informant (is a) willing servant of imperialism”, according to the influential Palestinian intellectual.

Thanks to the various American invasions and military interventions, these ‘informants’ have grown in number and usefulness to the extent that, in various western intellectual and media circles, they define what is erroneously viewed as ‘facts’ concerning most Arab and Muslim countries. From Afghanistan, to Iran, to Syria, Palestine, Libya and, of course, Iraq, among others, these ‘experts’ are constantly parroting messages that are tailored to fit US-western agendas.

These ‘experts’ are often depicted as political dissidents. They are recruited – whether officially via government-funded think tanks or otherwise – by western governments to provide a convenient depiction of the ‘realities’ in the Middle East – and elsewhere – as a rational, political or moral justification for war and various other forms of intervention.

Though this phenomenon is being widely understood – especially as its dangerous consequences became too apparent in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan – another phenomenon rarely receives the necessary attention. In the second scenario, the ‘intellectual’ is not necessarily an ‘informant’, but a victim, whose message is entirely shaped by his sense of self-pity and victim-hood. In the process of communicating that collective victim-hood, this intellectual does his people a disfavor by presenting them as hapless and having no human agency whatsoever.

Palestine is a case in point.

The Palestine ‘victim intellectual’ is not an intellectual in any classic definition. Said refers to the intellectual as “an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion”.  Gramsci argued that intellectuals are “(those) who sustain, modify and alter modes of thinking and behavior of the masses”. He referred to them as “purveyors of consciousness”. The ‘victim intellectual’ is none of these.

In the case of Palestine, this phenomenon was not accidental. Due to the limited spaces available to Palestinian thinkers to speak openly and truly about Israeli crimes and about Palestinian resistance to military occupation and apartheid, some have strategically chosen to use whatever available margins to communicate any kind of messaging that could be nominally accepted by western media and audiences.

In other words, in order for Palestinian intellectuals to be able to operate within the margins of mainstream western society, or even within the space allocated by certain pro-Palestinian groups, they can only be ‘allowed to narrate’ as ‘purveyors’ of victim-hood. Nothing more.

Those familiar with the Palestinian intellectual discourse, in general, especially following the first major Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-9, must have noticed how accepted Palestinian narratives regarding the war rarely deviate from the decontextualized and depoliticized Palestinian victim discourse. While understanding the depravity of Israel and the horrondousness of its war crimes is critical, Palestinian voices which are given a stage to address these crimes are frequently denied the chance to present their narratives in the form of strong political or geopolitical analyses, let alone denounce Israel’s Zionist ideology or proudly defend Palestinian resistance.

Much has been written about the hypocrisy of the West in handling the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war, especially when compared to the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestine or the genocidal Israeli wars in Gaza. But little has been said about the nature of the Ukrainian messaging if compared to those of Palestinians: the former demanding and entitled, while the latter mostly passive and bashful.

While top Ukrainian officials often tweet such statements that western officials can “go f**k yourselves”, Palestinian officials are constantly begging and pleading. The irony is that Ukrainian officials are attacking the very nations that have supplied them with billions of dollars of ‘lethal weapons’, while Palestinian officials are careful not to offend the same nations that support Israel with the very weapons used to kill Palestinian civilians.

One may argue that Palestinians are tailoring their language to accommodate whichever political and media spaces that are available to them. This, however, hardly explains why many Palestinians, even within ‘friendly’ political and academic environments, can only see their people as victims and nothing else.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. It goes back to the early years of the Israeli war on the Palestinian people. Palestinian leftist intellectual Ghassan Kanafani, like others, was aware of this dichotomy.

Kanafani contributed to the intellectual awareness among various revolutionary societies in the Global South during a critical era for national liberation struggles everywhere. He was the posthumous recipient of the Afro-Asia Writers’ Conference’s Lotus Prize for Literature in 1975, three years after he was assassinated by Israel in Beirut, in July 1972.

Like others in his generation, Kanafani was adamant in presenting Palestinian victimization as part and parcel of a complex political reality of Israeli military occupation, western colonialism and US-led imperialism. A famous story is often told about how he met his wife, Anni, in South Lebanon. When Anni, a Danish journalist, arrived in Lebanon in 1961, she asked Kanafani if she could visit the Palestinian refugee camps. “My people are not animals in a zoo,” Kanafani replied, adding, “You must have a good background about them before you go and visit.” The same logic can be applied to Gaza, to Sheikh Jarrah and Jenin.

The Palestinian struggle cannot be reduced to a conversation about poverty or the horrors of war, but must be expanded to include wider political contexts that led to the current tragedies in the first place. The role of the Palestinian intellectual cannot stop at conveying the victimization of the people of Palestine, leaving the much more consequential – and intellectually demanding – role of unpacking historical, political and geopolitical facts to others, some of whom often speak on behalf of Palestinians.

It is quite uplifting and rewarding to finally see more Palestinian voices included in the discussion about Palestine. In some cases, Palestinians are even taking center stage in these conversations. However, for the Palestinian narrative to be truly relevant, Palestinians must assume the role of the Gramscian intellectual, as “purveyors of consciousness” and abandon the role of the ‘victim intellectual’ altogether. Indeed, the Palestinian people are not ‘animals in a zoo’ but a nation with political agency, capable of articulating, resisting and, ultimately, winning their freedom, as part of a much greater fight for justice and liberation throughout the world.

The post Palestinians “Are Not Animals in a Zoo”: On Kanafani and the Need to Redefine the Role of the “Victim Intellectual” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Cultural Warriors: Why Palestine’s Sports Victories Should Inspire Us 

The Palestine National Football Team has, once more, done the seemingly impossible by qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. By any standards, this is a great achievement, especially as the Palestinians have done it with style and convincing victories over Mongolia, Yemen and the Philippines, without conceding a single goal. However, for Palestinians, this is hardly about sports.

This accomplishment can only be appreciated within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In November 2006, the Israeli military prevented all Palestine-based footballers from participating in the final match of the Asian Football Confederation qualification group stage. The news had a major demoralizing effect on all Palestinians. Even rare moments of hope and happiness are often crushed by Israel.

As disappointing as the Israeli decision was, it was hardly compared to the collective shock felt by Palestinians everywhere when, in 2007, Palestinian players were not allowed to participate in a decisive World Cup qualifying game against Singapore. Instead of showing solidarity with Palestinians and condemning Israel, the International Football Association (FIFA) decided to award an automatic victory to Singapore of 3-0.

This is why Palestine’s latest qualification is historic, as it is more proof that Palestinian resilience has no bounds. It sends a message to Israel as well, that its unjust draconian measures will never break the spirit of the Palestinian people.

The latest achievement should also be placed within another context. It is the third time in a row that the Palestine national team qualifies for the Asian cup finals, thanks to an impressive squad that represents all Palestinian communities, at home and in the Diaspora.

This moment, however, is bittersweet. Many Palestinian footballers, who should have been present in the Sports Center Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – where the qualification rounds were held – were missing. Some are in Israeli prisons, others are maimed or killed. Much of the killings happened in 2009.

Indeed, 2009 was a terrible year for Palestinian football.

In January 2009, three Palestinian footballers, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtaha, were killed during the Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip. All three were seen as promising athletes with bright futures.

Two months later, Saji Darwish was killed by an Israeli sniper near Ramallah. The 18-year-old was slated to become a big name in Palestinian football, too.

In July of that same year, the tragedy of Mahmoud Sarsak began. Sarsak had only been a member of the Palestine National Football Team for six months when he was arrested and tortured by Israel in a painful saga that lasted for three years. He won his freedom after undergoing a hunger strike that lasted for over 90 days. The permanent health issues Sarsak was left with, however, meant that his once-promising sports career was over.

Arrests, torture and killings of Palestinian footballers became a regular headline in Palestine. This includes the killing of former Palestinian football star, Ahed Zaqqut, in 2014, and the deliberate shooting of the feet of Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd Al Raouf Halabiya, 17. The two players were attempting to cross an Israeli military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank to return home after a long training session.

These are but mere examples. The targeting of Palestinian sports is a constant item on the Israeli military agenda. Palestinian stadiums are often bombed during Israel’s brutal wars on Gaza. In 2019, the Israeli military attacked Al Khader Stadium in Bethlehem by lobbing tear gas at players during the match. Five players were hospitalized, as hundreds of fans rushed out of the stadium in panic. In 2019, Palestinians couldn’t hold the much-anticipated Palestine Cup final match, because Israel prevented the Gaza-based Khadamat Rafah team from traveling to the West Bank to compete against the FC Balata team. And so on.

Like every aspect of Palestinian life that can easily be disrupted by Israel, the Palestinian sports community learned to be resilient and resourceful. The Palestine National Football Team is the perfect example of this tenacity. When Gazan players are prevented from traveling, West Bankers come to the rescue. And when West Bank players suffer a setback of their own, Palestinian players in the Diaspora are dispatched to take their place. Luckily, Palestinian footballers, the likes of  Oday Dabbagh, are now gaining prominence in the international arena, giving them the chance to be available whenever duty calls.

When Palestine defeated Mongolia 1-0 in the Asian Cup qualifiers on June 8, Palestinian media reported about the sense of euphoria and hope felt throughout Palestine. But when the Palestinian team, known as the Fida’i – meaning the freedom fighter – won two more games with convincing victories of 5-0 and 4-0, hope turned into a real possibility that Palestine could perform well in the Asian Cup finals scheduled for June 2023. And maybe, the Fida’i could have a chance at World Cup qualifications for 2026.

For Palestinians, sports – especially football – remains a powerful platform of cultural resistance. Every aspect of a Palestinian football match attests to this claim. The names of the team, the chants of the fans, the images embroidered on the players’ jerseys and much more, are symbols of Palestinian resistance: names of martyrs, colors of the flag and so on. In Palestine, football is a political act.

While Israel uses sports to normalize itself and its apartheid regime in the eyes of the world, Tel Aviv does everything possible to impede Palestinian sports because Israel understands, and rightly so, that Palestinian sports is, at its core, an act of resistance.

It is heartbreaking to think that Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe, Wajeh Moshtaha, Saji Darwish and others were not there to witness the celebrations of their beloved team’s qualification to a major international tournament. But it is the spirit of these valiant cultural warriors that continues to guide the Fida’i in their struggle for recognition, their fight for dignity and their quest for glory.

The post Cultural Warriors: Why Palestine’s Sports Victories Should Inspire Us  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

If the Media can probe Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death, Why Not the Murder of Other Palestinians?

The New York Times published this week the conclusion of its investigation into the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

It was the fourth major US news organisation to look in detail at what happened to Abu Akleh during an Israeli army raid into the Palestinian city of Jenin last month.

The New York Times found a high probability she had been killed by an Israeli sniper, confirming the findings of earlier investigations by the Associated Press, CNN and the Washington Post. Like the other publications, the Times based its findings on video footage, witness testimonies and acoustic analysis.

“The bullet that killed Ms Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy [in Jenin], most likely by a soldier from an elite unit,” the Times concluded. A total of 16 shots were fired at the group of journalists that included Abu Akleh.

Last month, CNN said the evidence it unearthed suggested the veteran Al Jazeera journalist had been killed in a “targeted attack by Israeli forces”. Similar conclusions have been reached by human rights groups that have studied the evidence, including Israel’s respected occupation watchdog, B’Tselem.

A major blow

These probes are a major blow to Israel, coming from reputed media organisations that are usually seen as highly sympathetic to Israel rather than the Palestinians.

They have kept the killing of the journalist in the headlines when Israel had hoped interest would quickly wane – as is the case with the overwhelming majority of Palestinian deaths.

The investigations have made it much harder for Israel to obscure both its responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing and the intention behind it. The bullet that killed her was fired with the apparent goal of executing her, hitting a narrow, exposed area of flesh between her helmet and a flak jacket marked “Press”.

And the various probes have highlighted once again how unwilling Israel is to hold its soldiers to account for committing crimes if the victim is Palestinian.

Instead, Israel has had to twist and turn in defending its failure to identify the culprit. It initially refused to investigate, claiming a Palestinian gunman, not one of its soldiers, shot Abu Akleh during the military raid.

All the media investigations show that to be untrue.

Then Israel suggested that she might have been hit by the crossfire from an Israeli soldier being fired on by Palestinian gunmen. But all the investigations have shown that Palestinian fighters were nowhere near Abu Akleh when she was shot. She was, however, clearly visible to a unit of Israeli soldiers.

More recently, Israel has tried to shift the blame onto the Palestinian Authority, saying it has not cooperated by handing over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh or by agreeing to hold a joint investigation. As ever, Israel behaves as if the party accused of the crime should be the one to oversee the investigation.

The Palestinian Authority rightly refuses requests for cooperation, arguing that they are being made in bad faith. Israel would exploit any joint investigation to concoct “a new lie, a new narrative”, the PA observes.

A meaningful question

In reality, Israel already knows exactly which of its snipers pulled the trigger. The only meaningful question at this stage is, why? Was the shooting committed by a hot-headed soldier, or was it an execution carried out on orders from above? Was the intention to target Abu Akleh specifically, or did it not matter which of the group of journalists she was among was hit?

Israel, however, isn’t the only party discomfited by the media’s repeated investigations.

They have also served to embarrass Joe Biden’s administration. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has called for an “independent, credible investigation”, while his department has underscored the need for a “thorough and independent investigation”.

The New York Times and the other major media outlets have all proved that just such an investigation can be carried out. And yet the silence from the US administration at their shared findings is deafening.

There are two further, possibly less obvious conclusions the rest of us should draw from these efforts to identify who was responsible for killing Abu Akleh.

The first relates to the exceptional nature of the investigations conducted by the US media. Concern at the killing of a Palestinian is far from the norm. In this case, it appears to have been prompted by an unusual coincidence of facts: that Abu Akleh was a high-profile, internationally respected journalist and that she had US citizenship.

In other words, she was seen not just as any ordinary Palestinian, or even as a Palestinian journalist, but as one of the western media’s own.

Total impunity

In murdering Abu Akleh, Israel reminded journalists at the New York Times, AP, CNN and the Washington Post that the lives of their correspondents covering Israel and Palestine are in more danger than they possibly appreciate. In killing her, Israel crossed a red line for the western media – one premised on self-interest and self-preservation.

There are parallels with the media’s special treatment of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and for similar reasons. Khashoggi, who was working for the Washington Post, was murdered and his body dismembered during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

As with Israel, Saudi Arabia‘s leadership has an appalling human rights record and is not hesitant to jail and kill its opponents. But Khashoggi’s murder provoked unprecedented outrage from the media – outrage that Saudi Arabia’s many other victims have never warranted.

The fact is the US media could have conducted similar investigations into any number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israeli security services, not just Abu Akleh’s, and they would have reached similar conclusions. But they have consistently avoided doing so.

There is a danger inherent in focusing exclusively on Abu Akleh’s killing, just as there was with focusing exclusively on Khashoggi’s. Each has the effect of making it look as though their deaths are exceptional events requiring exceptional investigation – when they are each an example of a longstanding pattern of regime lawlessness and human rights abuses.

The special focus subtly reinforces too the impression that Palestinian accounts of Israeli abuses, even when the supporting evidence is overwhelming, cannot be trusted.

The veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has run a weekly column, the Twilight Zone, in the Haaretz newspaper for years in which he investigates the killing or serious wounding of Palestinians – often people whose names have never appeared in the western media.

Invariably he finds that Israel’s military lies – sometimes flagrantly – about the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed, or it initiates an inconclusive, stone-walling investigation.

The lies are needed because the truth would show something consistently ugly about Israel’s decades of military occupation: that Israeli soldiers often kill unarmed Palestinians in cold blood; or that they recklessly shoot Palestinian bystanders; or that they execute armed Palestinian fighters when no one’s life is in danger.

The common thread in Levy’s reports is the complete impunity of Israeli soldiers, whatever their actions.

Pilloried in public

But there is a further conclusion to be drawn. Blinken and the Biden administration keep insisting on a thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation, and say it is important to “follow the facts, wherever they lead”.

But who do they expect to carry out such an investigation?

The White House, of course, reflexively discounts the findings of the Palestinian Authority’s investigation that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers. It acts as if the investigations conducted by these four large media organisations do not qualify. Meanwhile, the administration itself shows precisely zero interest in conducting an investigation, despite pressure from Congress to involve the FBI.

Would Blinken prefer that the United Nations take on the task? Presumably not, given how the US and Israel responded to the last major independent investigation by the UN, one into Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza at the end of 2008. Israel refused to cooperate.

Richard Goldstone, a distinguished South African jurist, led a panel of experts who concluded that Israel had committed a series of war crimes during its attack, known as Cast Lead, as had Palestinian militias.

The UN panel’s report found that Israel had adopted a policy that intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, the vast majority of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Cast Lead.

Both the US and Israel worked strenuously to bury the report. Goldstone, who is Jewish, found himself publicly shamed and isolated by Jewish communities in the US and South Africa. He was even barred from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Eventually, he appeared to succumb to the pressure campaign, expressing regret over the report.

No one in Washington came to Goldstone’s defence over the UN’s thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation. Quite the reverse: he was publicly pilloried. The US administration thereby sent a message to other experts that investigating “independently” and “credibly” is certain only to bring ignominy on their heads if it exposes Israel’s war crimes.

Israel’s hands ‘tied’

Or maybe Blinken would prefer that the International Criminal Court at the Hague investigate.

And yet the US demonstrated the degree to which it appreciates full, independent, credible and transparent investigations by that body two years ago, when the ICC tried to turn the spotlight on to US war crimes in Afghanistan and Israel’s in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In response, Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, imposed sanctions on the court, denying staff entry to the US and threatening to seize its assets. The threat extended to anyone offering “material support” to the court – language more normally used in the context of terrorism.

The reality, as all parties understand, is that only an investigation overseen by Israel could ever count as “thorough, independent, credible and transparent” to the US.

The subtext is that an investigation cannot hope to reach the bar of “credible, independent and transparent”, as far as Washington is concerned, until the Palestinian Authority agrees to hold a joint inquiry with Israel.

But both Israel and the US know full well that the Palestinian leadership will never agree to such “cooperation” – because Israel’s role would not be to arrive at the truth but to engineer a cover-up.

The demand for a “credible, independent and transparent” investigation is the US administration’s code for an investigation that will never take place. It is the diplomatic equivalent of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But more importantly, it is the kind of impossible investigation that, conveniently for the US and Israel, they can blame the PA for obstructing. As long as the Palestinians refuse to “cooperate”, Israel’s hands are supposedly tied.

Abu Akleh’s murder has not just revealed the fact that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians, any Palestinian, with impunity.

It has revealed too that the Biden administration is not troubled by the killing, or by the impunity of the soldier who executed her. All that bothers the White House is the irritant of having to create the impression it cares about the truth and the impression that Israel is doing its best to investigate.

Until the matter can be swept aside, it will be a little harder for each to get on with business as usual: for the US to give Israel full-throated financial, diplomatic and military support; and for Israel to continue its incremental, decades-long work of seizing control of the Palestinians’ entire, historic homeland.

But at least for each of them, with Abu Akleh gone, there is one less fearless witness to expose quite how hollow their moral posturing is.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post If the Media can probe Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death, Why Not the Murder of Other Palestinians? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Masafer Yatta: Israel’s New Annexation Strategy in Palestine

The Israeli Supreme Court has decided that the Palestinian region of Masafer Yatta, located in the southern hills of Hebron, is to be entirely appropriated by the Israeli military and that a population of over 1,000 Palestinians is to be expelled.

The Israeli Court decision, on May 4, was hardly shocking. Israel’s military occupation does not only consist of soldiers with guns, but elaborate political, military, economic and legal structures, dedicated to the expansion of the illegal Jewish settlements and the slow – and sometimes not-so-slow – expulsion of the Palestinians.

When Palestinians state that the Nakba, or Catastrophe – which led to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel on its ruins – is a continuous, unfinished project, they mean exactly that. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the endless torment of Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab and, now in Masafer Yatta, are all testaments to this reality.

However, Masafer Yatta is particularly unique. In the case of occupied East Jerusalem, for example, Israel has made a fallacious, ahistorical claim that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people. It combined its unsubstantiated narrative with military action on the ground, followed by a systematic process that aimed at increasing the Jewish population and ejecting the original native inhabitants of the city. Such notions as ‘Greater Jerusalem’ and legal and political structures, like that of the Jerusalem Master Plan 2000, have all contribute towards turning the once absolute Palestinian majority in Jerusalem into a shrinking minority.

With the Naqab, Israel’s similar objectives were put into motion as early as 1948, and again in 1951. This process of ethnically cleansing the natives remains in effect to this day.

Though Masafer Yatta is part of the same colonial designs, its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is situated in Area C of the occupied West Bank.

In July 2020, Israel purportedly decided to postpone its plans to annex nearly 40% of the West Bank, perhaps fearing a Palestinian rebellion and unwanted international condemnation. However, the plan continued in practice.

Moreover, a wholesome annexation of West Bank regions would mean that Israel would become responsible for the welfare of entire Palestinian communities. As a settler-colonial state, Israel wants the land, but not the people. In Tel Aviv’s calculation, annexation without the expulsion of the population could lead to a demographic nightmare; thus, Israel’s need to reinvent its annexation plan.

Though Israel has supposedly delayed the de jure annexation, it continued with a de facto form of annexation, one that has generated little international media attention.

The Israeli Court’s decision regarding Masafer Yatta, which is already being carried out with the expulsion of the Najjar family on May 11, is an important step towards the annexation of Area C.  If Israel can evict the residents of twelve villages, with a population of over 1,000 Palestinians, unhindered, more such expulsions are anticipated, not only south of Hebron, but throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian villagers of Masafer Yatta and their legal representation know very well that no real ‘justice’ can be obtained from the Israeli court system. They continue to fight the legal war, anyway, in the hope that a combination of factors, including solidarity in Palestine and pressure from the outside, can ultimately succeed in compelling Israel to delay its planned destruction and Judaization of the whole region.

However, it seems that Palestinian efforts, which have been underway since 1997, are failing. The Israeli Supreme Court decision is predicated on the erroneous and utterly bizarre notion that the Palestinians of that area could not demonstrate that they belonged there prior to 1980, when the Israeli government decided to turn the area into ‘Firing Zone 918’.

Sadly, the Palestinian defense was partly based on documents from the Jordanian era and official United Nations records that reported on Israeli attacks on several Masafer Yatta villages in 1966. The Jordanian government, which administered the West Bank until 1967, compensated some of the residents for the loss of their ‘stone houses’ – not tents – animals and other properties that were destroyed by the Israeli military. Palestinians tried to use this evidence to show that they have existed, not as nomadic people but as rooted communities. This was unconvincing to the Israeli court, which favored the military’s argument over the rights of the native population.

Israeli firing zones occupy nearly 18 percent of the total size of the West Bank. It is one of several ploys used by the Israeli government to lay a legal claim on Palestinian land and to, eventually, years later, claim legal ownership as well. Many of these firing zones exist in Area C, and are being used as one of the Israeli methods aimed at officially appropriating Palestinian land with the support of the Israeli courts.

Now that the Israeli military has managed to acquire Masafer Yatta – a region spanning 32 to 56 sq km – based on completely flimsy excuses, it will become much easier in ensuring the ethnic cleansing of many similar communities in various parts of occupied Palestine.

While discussions and media coverage of Israel’s annexation scheme in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley have largely subsided, Israel is now preparing for a gradual annexation scheme. Instead of annexing 40% of the West Bank all at once, Israel is now annexing smaller tracts of land and regions, like Masafer Yatta, separately. Tel Aviv will eventually connect all these annexed areas through Jewish-only bypass roads to larger Jewish settlement infrastructures in the West Bank.

Not only does this alternative strategy allow Israel to avoid international criticism, it will also permit Israel to eventually annex Palestinian land while incrementally expelling Palestinians, helping Tel Aviv prevent demographic imbalances before they occur.

What is happening in Masafer Yatta is not only the largest ethnic cleansing scheme to be carried out by Israel since 1967, but the move should be considered a first step in a much larger scheme of illegal land appropriation, ethnic cleansing and official mass annexation.

Israel must not succeed in Masafer Yatta, because if it does, its original, mass annexation scheme will become a reality in no time.

The post The Ethnic Cleansing of Masafer Yatta: Israel’s New Annexation Strategy in Palestine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Constantly on the Verge of Collapse: How Palestinians Became a Factor in Israeli Politics

Israel’s coalition government of right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is on the verge of collapse, which is unsurprising. Israeli politics, after all, is among the most fractious in the world, and this particular coalition was born out of the obsessive desire to dethrone Israel’s former leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Netanyahu was successfully ousted in June 2021, Bennett’s coalition has been left to contend with the painful reality that its odd political components have very little in common.

On April 6, Israeli lawmaker Ildit Salman defected from the coalition, leaving Bennett and his temporary allies wrangling with the fact that their Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) coalition no longer has a majority. Now that the Knesset count stands at 60-60, a single defection could potentially send Israelis back to the voting booth, which has been quite habitual recently.

Two current Bennett allies, Abir Kara and Bir Orbach, are possible defectors. Even Bennett’s old Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) partner, Ayelet Shaked, could ultimately betray him, once his coalition ship begins sinking. And it is.

Both Bennett and Shaked left the Jewish Home in 2018 to form Yamina. Although the latter won only seven seats in the March 2021 elections, the far-right party proved to be the kingmaker, which allowed the anti-Netanyahu coalition to be formed. The only alternative to this current coalition would have been a government in which Netanyahu and Bennett would alternate the prime minister post. Though Bennett is a protegé of Netanyahu, the current prime minister knew too well that his former boss cannot be trusted.

So, instead, Bennett opted to join a hotchpotch coalition of political desperados, each joining an unlikely government for simply having no other option. For example, Yesh Atid (17 seats), and Kahol Lavan (8 seats), once part of the Blue and White center-right coalition, betrayed their political base by joining far-right Yamina and, consequently, leaving behind Telem of Moshe Yalon, which now has no Knesset representation.

The same can be said of Labor (7 seats) and Meretz (6 seats) who, earlier, were the backbone of the Israeli political establishment – in 1992 they had 56 seats combined. Losing faith in their own political base, they opted to join their supposed ideological nemesis, instead of enduring the painstaking process of breathing life into a dying camp.

The captivating part of the story is the United Arab List of Mansour Abbas, which is rightly perceived to have betrayed its Arab base in Israel and its own Palestinian people everywhere else. As the Israeli army is cracking down on Palestinian communities throughout historic Palestine, including Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Naqab – Mansour Abbas’ own base – this strange political creature remains committed to Bennett, though nervous about future possibilities, especially that the nature of the Israeli attacks on Palestinians are increasingly shifting towards a religious war.

Consequently, it is hard to imagine that Bennett’s government could realistically survive till 2025. In fact, it is quite rare in Israeli politics that any government coalition has served its full four-year term. Still, Israel’s historic political instability is worsening. In fact, Bennett’s government is the outcome of an agonizing political process that saw Israeli voters cast their votes in four different general elections in only two years.

Perhaps, what is keeping Bennett’s coalition together, though precariously, is the menacing image of Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, sinisterly watching from across the Knesset aisles while waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. Some Israeli analysts even argue that the defection of MK Salman was largely instigated by the abuse and intimidation she received from Netanyahu’s Likud party, which saw her as a traitor to their right-wing agenda.

Regardless of the fate of Bennett’s government, Israel’s political crisis will continue indefinitely, and there are reasons for this.

Though the Israeli right has dominated the country’s politics for many years, especially since 1996, it remains fractious and opportunistic. The constant need to feed the insatiable appetite of the country’s powerful right-wing constituency keeps pushing Israel’s right-wing parties further to the right. They are merely united around such values as the racial and religious supremacy of Israeli Jews, their hate for Palestinians and Arabs, the desire to expand the illegal Jewish settlements and the rejection of any mediated solution that would provide Palestinians with their basic human rights.

The left in Israel is, frankly, not a left at all. It is recognized as such, largely because of its ‘peace-process’ legacy, which died with the assassination of Labor Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. Tellingly, Rabin was not a peacenik but one of Israel’s most militant and violent leaders. However, the erroneous association, linking any Israeli leader with the ‘peace process’, automatically classified that individual as a ‘leftist’. According to Israeli analyst Oz Aruch, this also applied to Ariel Sharon. The name of the late notorious Israeli prime minister and Army General is associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, along with other horrific episodes.

Without a real ideology and without a ‘peace process’, or even the desire to engage in one, the Israeli left has become irrelevant.

The same applies to the center which, by definition, is the political camp that occupies the space between the right and the left. With the right being in constant redefinition and the left having no strong ideological base, the Israeli center has proven equally hopeless. The outcome of the April 2019 elections, when the center coalition Blue and White obtained 35 seats, should have been a watershed moment for Israel’s political center. This ultimately culminated to nil, and eventually led to the collapse of Blue and White itself.

While this is taking place in Israel, the Palestinian body politic has been slowly reanimating. Though Palestinian Arab parties in Israel remain divided, and Palestinian groups in the occupied territories are yet to find their common ground, Palestinian communities, especially the younger generations, have been articulating a new political discourse. With grassroots leaderships, they are coordinating their actions from occupied Jerusalem to Gaza, to the Naqab to the West Bank and to Palestinian communities in Israel itself.

For the first time in many years, Israel finds itself in a position where it is no longer the only party that is shaping events or determining outcomes in the country. Therefore, Israeli political instability will worsen. Contrastingly, Palestinians are finally becoming a factor in Israeli politics and, through their popular resistance, can mobilize to put pressure on Israel as has been the case in recent years.

Israel is now facing the dilemma of either ignoring this new Palestinian factor, at its own peril, or accepting the inescapable fact that Israel can never enjoy stability while Palestinians remain occupied, confined and oppressed.

The post Constantly on the Verge of Collapse: How Palestinians Became a Factor in Israeli Politics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Keir Starmer has returned western imperialism to the core of Labour policy

The local authority election results earlier this month in the UK were as bleak as expected for Boris Johnson’s government, with the electorate ready to punish the ruling party both for its glaring corruption and rocketing high-street prices.

A few weeks earlier, the police fined Johnson – the first of several such penalties he is expected to receive – for attending a series of parties that broke the very lockdown rules his own government set. And the election took place as news broke that the UK would soon face recession and the highest inflation rate for decades.

In the circumstances, one might have assumed the opposition Labour Party under Keir Starmer would romp home, riding a wave of popular anger. But in reality, Starmer’s party fared little better than Johnson’s. Outside London, Labour was described as “treading water” across much of England.

Starmer is now two years into his leadership and has yet to make a significant mark politically. Labour staff are cheered that in opinion polls the party is finally ahead – if marginally – of Johnson’s Tories. Nonetheless, the public remains adamant that Starmer does not look like a prime minister in waiting.

That may be in large part because he rarely tries to land a blow against a government publicly floundering in its own corruption.

When Johnson came close to being brought down at the start of the year, as the so-called “partygate scandal” erupted with full force, it was not through Labour’s efforts. It was because of relentless leaks presumed to be from Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former adviser turned nemesis.

Starmer has been equally incapable of cashing in on the current mutinous rumblings against Johnson from within his own Tory ranks.

Self-inflicted wounds

Starmer’s ineffectualness seems entirely self-inflicted.

In part, that is because his ambitions are so low. He has been crafting policies to look more like a Tory-lite party that focuses on “the flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”, as an internal Labour review recommended last year.

But equally significantly, he has made it obvious he sees his first duty not to battle for control of the national political terrain against Johnson’s government, but to expend his energies on waging what is becoming a permanent internal war on sections of his own party.

That has required gutting Labour of large parts of the membership that were attracted by his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist who spent his career emphasising the politics of anti-racism and anti-imperialism.

To distance himself from Corbyn, Starmer has insisted on the polar opposites. He has been allying ever more closely with Israel, just as a new consensus has emerged in the human rights community that Israel is a racist, apartheid state.

And he has demanded unquestioning loyalty to Nato, just as the western military alliance pours weapons into Ukraine, in what looks to be rapidly becoming a cynical proxy war, dissuading both sides from seeking a peace agreement and contributing to a surge in the stock price of the West’s military industries.

Broken promises

Starmer’s direction of travel flies in the face of promises he made during the 2020 leadership election that he would heal the internal divisions that beset his predecessor’s tenure.

Corbyn, who was the choice of the party’s largely left-wing members in 2015, immediately found himself in a head-on collision with the dominant faction of right-wing MPs in the Labour parliamentary caucus as well as the permanent staff at head office.

Once leader, Starmer lost no time in stripping Corbyn of his position as a Labour MP. He cited as justification Corbyn’s refusal to accept evidence-free allegations of antisemitism against the party under his leadership that had been loudly amplified by an openly hostile media.

Corbyn had suffered from a years-long campaign, led by pro-Israel lobby groups and the media, suggesting his criticisms of Israel for oppressing the Palestinian people were tantamount to hatred of Jews. A new definition of antisemitism focusing on Israel was imposed on the party to breathe life into such allegations.

But the damage was caused not just by Labour’s enemies. Corbyn was actively undermined from within. A leaked internal report highlighted emails demonstrating that party staff had constantly plotted against him and even worked to throw the 2017 election, when Corbyn was just a few thousand votes short of winning.

With Brexit thrown into the mix at the 2019 election – stoking a strong nativist mood in the UK – Corbyn suffered a decisive defeat at Johnson’s hands.

But as leader, Starmer did not use the leaked report as an opportunity to reinforce party democracy, as many members expected. In fact, he reinstated some of the central protagonists exposed in the report, even apparently contemplating one of them for the position of Labour general secretary.

He also brought in advisers closely associated with former leader Tony Blair, who turned Labour decisively rightwards through the late 1990s and launched with the US an illegal war on Iraq in 2003.

Instead, Starmer went after the left-wing membership, finding any pretext – and any means, however draconian – to finish the job begun by the saboteurs.

He has rarely taken a break from hounding the left-wing membership, even if a permanent turf war has detracted from the more pressing need to concentrate on the Tory government’s obvious failings.

Flooded with arms

Starmer’s flame-war against the left has become so extreme that, as some critics have pointed out, both Pope Francis and Amnesty International would face expulsion from Starmer’s Labour Party were they members.

The pope is among a growing number of observers expressing doubts about the ever-more explicit intervention by the US and its Nato allies in Ukraine that seems designed to drag out the war, and raise the death toll, rather than advance peace talks.

In fact, recent views expressed by officials in Washington risk giving credence to the original claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin justifying his illegal invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Before that invasion, Moscow officials had characterised Nato’s aggressive expansion across Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union, and its cosying up to Ukraine, as an “existential threat”. Russia even warned that it might use nuclear weapons if they were seen as necessary for its defence.

The Kremlin’s reasons for concern cannot be entirely discounted. Two Minsk peace accords intended to defuse a bloody eight-year civil war between Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and ethnic Russian communities in eastern Ukraine, on Russia’s border, have gone nowhere.

Instead, Ukraine’s government pushed for closer integration into Nato to the point where Putin warned of retaliation if Nato stationed missiles, potentially armed with nuclear warheads, on Russia’s doorstep. They would be able to strike Moscow in minutes, undermining the premise of mutually assured destruction that long served as the basis of a Cold War detente.

In response to Russia’s invasion, Nato has flooded Ukraine with weapons while the US has been moving to transfer a whopping $40bn in military aid to Kyiv – all while deprioritising pressure on Moscow and Kyiv to revisit the Minsk accords.

Nato weapons were initially supplied on the basis that they would help Ukraine defend itself from Russia. But that principle appears to have been quickly jettisoned by Washington.

Last month, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin declared that the aim was instead to “see Russia weakened” – a position echoed by Nato former Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The New York Times has reported that Washington is involved in a “classified” intelligence operation to help Ukraine kill senior Russian generals.

US officials now barely conceal the fact that they view Ukraine as a proxy war – one that sounds increasingly like the scenario Putin laid out when justifying his invasion as pre-emptive: that Washington intends to sap Russia of its military strength, push Nato’s weapons and potentially its troops right up against Russia’s borders, and batter Moscow economically through sanctions and an insistence that Europe forgo Russian gas.

The existential threat Putin feared has become explicit US policy, it seems.

Fealty to Nato

These are the reasons the pope speculated last week that, while Russia’s actions could not be justified, the “barking of Nato at the door of Russia” might, in practice, have “facilitated” the invasion. He also questioned the supply of weapons to Ukraine in the context of profiteering from the war: “Wars are fought for this: to test the arms we have made.”

Pope Francis, bound by formal Vatican rules of political neutrality, has to be cautious in what he says. And yet Starmer has deemed similar observations made by activists in the Labour party as grounds for expulsion.

The Labour leader has clashed head-on with the Stop the War Coalition, which Corbyn helped found in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The group played a central role in mobilising opposition to Britain’s participation, under Blair, in the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq.

Stop the War, which is seen as close to the Labour left, has long been sceptical of Nato, a creature of the Cold War that proved impervious to the collapse of the Soviet Union and has gradually taken on the appearance of a permanent lobby for the West’s military industries.

Stop the War has spoken out against both Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the decades-long expansion by Nato across Eastern Europe that Moscow cites as justification for its war of aggression. Starmer, however, has scorned that position as what he calls “false equivalence”.

In a commentary published in the Guardian newspaper, he denied that Stop the War were “benign voices for peace” or “progressive”. He termed Nato “a defensive alliance that has never provoked conflict”, foreclosing the very debate anti-war activists – and Pope Francis – seek to begin.

Starmer also threatened 11 Labour MPs with losing the whip – like Corbyn – if they did not immediately remove their names from a Stop the War statement that called for stepping up moves towards a diplomatic solution. More recently, he has warned MPs that they will face unspecified action from the party if they do not voice “unshakeable support for Nato”.

Starmer has demanded “a post 9/11” style surge in arms expenditure in response to the war in Ukraine, insisting that Nato must be “strengthened”.

He has shut down the Twitter account of Labour’s youth wing for its criticisms of Nato.

In late March he proscribed three small leftist groups – Labour Left Alliance, Socialist Labour Network, and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – adding them to four other left-wing groups that he banned last year. Stop the War could soon be next.

Starmer’s relentless attacks on anti-war activism in Labour fly in the face of his 10 pledges, the platform that helped him to get elected. They included a commitment – reminiscent of Pope Francis – to “put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international peace and justice”.

But once elected, Starmer has effectively erased any space for an anti-war movement in mainstream British politics, one that wishes to question whether Nato is still a genuinely defensive alliance or closer to a lobby serving western arms industries that prosper from permanent war.

In effect, Starmer has demanded that the left out-compete the Tory government for fealty to Nato’s militarism. The war in Ukraine has become the pretext to force underground not only anti-imperialist politics but even Vatican-style calls for diplomacy.

Apartheid forever

But Starmer is imposing on Labour members an even more specific loyalty test rooted in Britain’s imperial role: support for Israel as a state that oppresses Palestinians.

Starmer’s decision to distance himself and Labour as far as possible from Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights initially seemed to be tactical, premised on a desire to avoid the antisemitism smears that plagued his predecessor.

But that view has become progressively harder to sustain.

Starmer has turned a deaf ear to a motion passed last year by Labour delegates calling for UK sanctions against Israel as an apartheid state. References to it have even been erased from the party’s YouTube channel. Similarly, he refused last month to countenance Israel’s recent designation as an apartheid state by Amnesty and a raft of other human rights groups.

Last November, Starmer delivered a fawningly pro-Israel speech alongside Israel’s ultra-nationalist ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, in which he repeatedly conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

He has singled out anti-Zionist Jewish members of Labour – more so than non-Jewish members – apparently because they are the most confident and voluble critics of Israel in the party.

And now, in the run-up to this month’s local elections, he has flaunted his party’s renewal of ties with the Israeli Labor party, which severed relations during Corbyn’s tenure.

Senior officials from the Israeli party joined him and his deputy, Angela Rayner, in what was described as a “charm offensive”, as they pounded London streets campaigning for the local elections. It was hard not to interpret this as a slap in the face to swaths of the Labour membership.

The Israeli Labor party founded Israel by engineering a mass ethnic cleansing campaign, as documents unearthed by Israeli historians have confirmed, that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homeland.

Israel’s Labor party has continued to play a key role both in entrenching illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories to displace Palestinians, and in formulating legal distinctions between Jewish and Palestinian citizenship that have cemented the new consensus among groups such as Amnesty International that Israel qualifies as an apartheid state.

The Israeli Labor party is part of the current settler-led government that secured court approval last week to evict many hundreds of Palestinians from eight historic Palestinian villages near Hebron – while allowing settlers to remain close by – on the pretext that the land is needed for a firing zone.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper concluded of the ruling: “Occupation is temporary by definition; apartheid is liable to persist forever. The High Court approved it.”

Labour’s ugly face

The ugly new face of Labour politics under Starmer is becoming ever harder to conceal. Under cover of rooting out the remnants of Corbynism, Starmer is not only proving himself an outright authoritarian, intent on crushing the last vestiges of democratic socialism in Labour.

He is also reviving the worst legacies of a Labour tradition that cheerleads western imperialism and cosies up to racist states – as long as they are allies of Washington and ready to buy British arms.

Starmer’s war on the Labour left is not – as widely assumed – a pragmatic response to the Corbyn years, designed to distance the party from policies that exposed it to the relentless campaign of antisemitism smears that undermined Corbyn.

Rather, Starmer is continuing and widening that very campaign of smears. He has picked up the baton on behalf of those Labour officials who, the leaked internal report showed, preferred to sabotage the Labour Party if it meant stopping the left from gaining power.

His task is not just to ensnare those who wish to show solidarity with the Palestinians after decades of oppression supported by the West. It is to crush all activism against western imperialism and the state of permanent war it has helped to engineer.

Britain now has no visible political home for the kind of anti-war movements that once brought millions out onto Britain’s streets in an effort to halt the war on Iraq. And for that, the British establishment and their war industries have Sir Keir Starmer to thank.

First published in Middle East Eye

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The British Art of Black Propaganda

Never underestimate the potency, and deceptive malice, of the British political mind.  In responding to the threat posed by Imperial Germany during the First World War, the British propaganda campaign made much of the atrocity tale, the nun raping German and the baby bayoneting Hun.  The effectiveness of the campaign was so impressive it sowed doubt amongst a generation about the reliability of war crimes accounts.

In its efforts to try to win US support for its cause against Hitler in World War II, the train of British propaganda again operated with a concerted effect, demonising isolationists and denigrating supporters and members of the America First Committee.  The great hope there was that Britain would fight the Germans to the last American.  It led to one of the largest covert operations in UK history conducted under the auspices of an agency known as “British Security Coordination”.  During the course of its operations, BSC subject matter entered the American political bloodstream, aided by the injecting activities of Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, a radio station (WRUL) and the Overseas News Agency (ONA).

During the Cold War, the black propagandists were again in high demand.  In 2021, the Observer revealed that the Information Research Department (IRD) had done its bit to egg on the massacres of communists and sympathisers in Indonesia in 1965.  Pamphlets supposedly authored by seething Indonesian patriots but cooked up by the dark musings of the IRD, called for the elimination of the Indonesian communist party, the PKI.  The deaths that followed numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

The IRD, which had, at its height in the mid-1960s, a staff of 360, had a primary purpose: to counter Soviet propaganda and its effects in Britain.  It had its origins in the opening shots of the Cold War, established in 1948 but found itself behind the efforts of various sections of Whitehall already dedicated to the anti-Soviet effort.

Its program was more engaged and more ambitious than previously thought.  “It’s very clear now,” Rory Cormac, an authority on subversion and intelligence history, explained to the Guardian, “that the UK engaged in more black propaganda than historians assume and these efforts were more systemic, ambitious and offensive.  Despite official denials, [this] went far beyond merely exposing Soviet disinformation.”

The effects of propaganda can be perversely insidious.  Allies or friendly nations can be used and abused if the aim is to advance the security of the propagandist.  As Howard Becker laconically puts it in describing the consequences of black propaganda, “truth or falsity, as determined by any standard, is not raised.  Propaganda which achieves its end may be entirely true, it may be entirely false; expedient rationality alone governs the choice of means.”

The IRD shows that, while it was more modest in scale to its US, Soviet and East European counterparts, it could hold its own in terms of inventiveness.  It specialised in creating fake news sources and false statements designed to stir pots of racial tension, create instability, and foster social and political chaos.

A feature of the black propaganda campaign was the forging of statements by official Soviet bodies and entities.  The Soviet-run news agency Novosti was something of a favourite, given the release of 11 fake statements supposedly authored by the body between 1965 and 1972.

In the wake of Israel’s lightning victory during the Six-Day War of 1967, the outfit drafted a number of documents claiming to be authored by disgruntled Muslim organisations sore at defeat and seeking answers.  One did not have to look far for the culprit of godless Communism.  “Why is the Arab nation at this time afflicted by so much sorry and disaster?” asks a statement purportedly issued from the League of Believers, a fictional Islamist organisation.  “Why were the brave forces defeated in the jihad by the evil heathen Zionists?”  The reason: that “we are departing from the right path, we are following the course chosen for us by the communist-atheists for whom religion is a form of social disease.”

Other material focused on existing and influential organisations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.  One pamphlet from the IRD, supposedly issued by the group, takes issue with the quality of Soviet weaponry.  As for the Soviets themselves, they were “filthy-tongued atheists” who had little time for Egyptians, mere “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary superstitions”.

In Africa, propaganda efforts were made to malign the activities of Soviet front organisations such as the World Federation of Democratic Youth.  Nationalist, revolutionary figures were also targeted.  A statement from early 1963, forged by the IRD, has the WFDY falsely accusing Africans of being morally feeble, uncivilised, and “primitive”.  The theme is repeated in another forged statement three years later, and in a fake release by Novosti noting the poor quality of African students enrolled at an international university in Moscow.

These recent revelations do have a certain flavour of told-you-so obviousness, but serve as reminders that the news, however official, reeks when consulted between the lines (and lies).  Cormac reminds us that the current UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has her own “government information cell”, a distant echo of the IRD.  It pays to look behind the merits of the next news bulletin, if only to be disillusioned.

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Rogues and Spyware: Pegasus Strikes in Spain

Weapons, lacking sentience and moral orientation, are there to be used by all.  Once out, these creations can never be rebottled.  Effective spyware, that most malicious of surveillance tools, is one such creation, available to entities and governments of all stripes.  The targets are standard: dissidents, journalists, legislators, activists, even the odd jurist.

Pegasus spyware, the fiendishly effective creation of Israel’s unscrupulous NSO Group, has become something of a regular in the news cycles on cyber security.  Created in 2010, it was the brainchild of three engineers who had cut their teeth working for the cyber outfit Unit 8200 of the Israeli Defence Forces: Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie.

NSO found itself at the vanguard of an Israeli charm offensive, regularly hosting officials from Mossad at its headquarters in Herzliya in the company of delegations from African and Arab countries.  Cyber capabilities would be one way of getting into their good books.

The record of the company was such as to pique the interest of the US Department of Commerce, which announced last November that it would be adding NSO Group and another Israeli cyber company Candiru (now renamed Saito Tech) to its entity list “based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers.”

In July 2021, the Pegasus Project, an initiative of 17 media organisations and civil society groups, revealed that 50,000 phone numbers of interest to a number of governments had appeared on a list of hackable targets.  All had been targets of Pegasus.

The government clients of the NSO Group are extensive, spanning the authoritarian and liberal democratic spectrum.  Most notoriously, Pegasus has found its way into the surveillance armoury of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which allegedly monitored calls made by the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a fellow dissident, Omar Abdulaziz.  In October 2018, Khashoggi, on orders of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was butchered on the grounds of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a hit squad. NSO subsequently became the subject of a legal suit, with lawyers for Abdulaziz arguing that the hacking of his phone “contributed in a significant manner to the decision to murder Mr Khashoggi.”

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Defence Minister Margarita Robles, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, and 18 Catalan separatists are the latest high-profile targets to feature in the Pegasus canon.  Sánchez’s phone was hacked twice in May 2021, with officials claiming that there was at least one data leak.  This was the result of, according to the government, an “illicit and external” operation, conducted by bodies with no state authorisation.

Ironically enough, Robles herself had defended the targeting of the 18 Catalan separatists, claiming that the surveillance was conducted with court approval.  “In this country,” she insisted at a press conference, “no-one is investigated for their political ideals.”

The backdrop of the entire scandal is even more sinister, with Citizen Lab revealing last month that over 60 Catalan legislators, jurists, Members of the European Parliament, journalists and family members were targeted by the Pegasus spyware between 2015 and 2020.  (Citizen Lab found that 63 individuals had been targeted or infected with Pegasus, with four others being the victims of the Candiru spyware.)  Confirmed targets include Elisenda Paluzie and Sònia Urpí Garcia, who both work for the Assemblea Nacional Catalana, an organisation that campaigns for the independence of Catalonia.

The phone of Catalan journalist Meritxell Bonet was also hacked in June 2019 during the final days of a Supreme Court case against her husband Jordi Cuixart.  Cuixart, former president of the Catalan association Òmnium Cultural, was charged and sentenced on grounds of sedition.

The investigation by Citizen Lab did not conclusively attribute “the operations to a specific entity, but strong circumstantial evidence suggests a nexus with Spanish authorities.”  Amnesty International Technology and Human Rights researcher Likhita Banerji put the case simply. “The Spanish government needs to come clean over whether or not it is a customer of NSO Group.  It must also conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the use of Pegasus spyware against the Catalans identified in this investigation.”

Heads were bound to roll, and the main casualty in this affair was the first woman to head Spain’s CNI intelligence agency, Paz Esteban.  Esteban’s defence of the Catalan hackings proved identical to that of Robles: they had been done with judicial and legal approval.  But she needed a scalp for an increasingly embarrassing situation and had no desire to have her reasons parroted back to her.  “You speak of dismissal,” she stated tersely, “I speak of substitution.”

While the implications for the Spanish government are distinctly smelly, one should not forget who the Victor Frankenstein here is.  NSO has had a few scrapes in Israel itself.  It survived a lawsuit by Amnesty International in 2020 to review its security export license.  But there is little danger of that company losing the support of Israel’s Ministry of Defence.  In Israel, cybersecurity continues to be the poster child of technological prowess, lucrative, opaque and distinctly unaccountable to parliamentarians and the courts.

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Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians

The execution of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli soldier in the Palestinian city of Jenin, along with Israel‘s immediate efforts to muddy the waters about who was responsible and the feeble expressions of concern from western capitals, brought memories flooding back from 20 years of reporting from the region.

Unlike Abu Akleh, I found myself far less often on the front lines in the occupied territories. I was not a war correspondent, and when I ended up close to the action it was invariably by accident – such as when, also in Jenin, my Palestinian taxi turned into a street only to find ourselves staring down the barrel of an Israeli tank. Judging by the speed and skill with which my driver navigated in reverse, it was not his first time dealing with that kind of roadblock.

Abu Akleh reported on far too many killings of Palestinians not to have known the risks she faced as a journalist every time she donned a flak jacket. It was a kind of nerve I did not share.

According to a recent report by Reporters Without Borders, at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces in the occupied territories since 2018. Three, including Abu Akleh, have been killed in the same period.

I spent part of my time in the region visiting the scenes of Palestinian deaths, trying to pick through the conflicting Palestinian and Israeli narratives to get a clearer understanding of what had actually happened. Abu Akleh’s killing, and Israel’s response, fit a pattern consistent with what I discovered when carrying out those investigations.

It was no surprise, then, to hear Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett immediately blame Palestinians for her death. There was, he said, “a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death”.

Settling scores

Abu Akleh was a face familiar not only to the Arab world that devours news from Palestine, but to most of the Israeli combat soldiers who “raid” – a euphemism for attack – Palestinian communities such as Jenin.

The soldiers who shot at her and the group of Palestinian journalists she was with knew they were firing at members of the media. But there also appears to be evidence suggesting one or more of the soldiers identified her specifically as a target.

Palestinians are rightly suspicious that the bullet hole just below the edge of her metal helmet was not a one-in-a-million chance event. It looked like a precision shot intended to kill her – the reason why Palestinian officials are calling her death “deliberate”.

For as long as I can remember, Israel has been trying to find pretexts to shut down Al Jazeera’s coverage, often by banning its reporters or denying them press passes. Infamously, last May, it bombed a tower block in Gaza that housed the station’s offices.

Indeed, Abu Akleh was most likely shot precisely because she was a high-profile Al Jazeera reporter, known for her fearless reporting of Israeli crimes. Both the army and its soldiers bear grudges, and they have lethal weapons with which to settle scores.

‘Friendly fire’

Israel’s suggestion that she was targeted by, or was collateral damage from, Palestinian gunfire should be treated with the disdain it deserves. At least with the advantage of modern GPS and satellite imagery, this kind of standard-issue dissembling is becoming easier to rebut.

The “friendly fire” defence is straight out of the playbook Israel uses whenever it cannot resort to its preferred retrospective rationalisation for killing Palestinians: that they were armed and “posed an immediate danger to soldiers”.

That was a lesson I learned in my first months in the region. I arrived in 2001 to investigate events during the first days of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, when Israeli police killed 13 protesters. Those killings, unlike parallel events taking place in the occupied territories, targeted members of a large Palestinian minority that lives inside Israel and has a very inferior citizenship.

At the outbreak of the Intifada in late 2000, Palestinian citizens had taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to protest the Israeli army’s killing of their compatriots in the occupied territories.

They were enraged, in particular, by footage from Gaza captured by France 2 TV. It showed a father desperately trying to shield his 12-year-old son, Muhammad al-Durrah, as they were trapped by Israeli gunfire at a road intersection. Muhammad was killed and his father, Jamal, seriously wounded.

On that occasion too, Israel tried its best to cloud what had happened – and carried on doing so for many years. It variously blamed Palestinians for killing Durrah, claimed the scene had been staged, or suggested the boy was actually alive and unharmed. It did so even over the protests of the French TV crew.

Palestinian children were being killed elsewhere in the occupied territories, but those deaths were rarely captured so viscerally on film. And when they were, it was usually on the primitive personal digital cameras of the time. Israel and its apologists casually dismissed such grainy footage as “Pallywood” – a conflation of Palestinian and Hollywood – to suggest it was faked.

Shot from behind

The Israeli deceptions over al-Durrah’s death echoed what was happening inside Israel. Police there were also shooting recklessly at the large demonstrations erupting, even though protesters were unarmed and had Israeli citizenship. Not only were 13 Palestinians killed, but hundreds more were wounded, with some horrifically maimed.

In one incident, Israeli Jews from Upper Nazareth – some of them armed, off-duty police officers – marched on the neighbouring Palestinian city of Nazareth, where I was based. Mosque loudspeakers called on Nazareth’s residents to come out and protect their homes. There followed a long, tense stand-off between the two sides at a road junction between the communities.

Police stood alongside the invaders, watched over by Israeli snipers positioned atop a tall building in Upper Nazareth, facing Nazareth residents massed below.

The police insisted that the Palestinians leave first. Faced with so many weapons, the crowds from Nazareth eventually relented and headed back home. At that point, police snipers opened fire, shooting several men in the back. Two, who were hit in the head, were killed instantly.

Those executions were witnessed by the hundreds of Palestinians there, as well as by police and by all those who had tried to invade Nazareth. And yet, the official police story ignored the sequence of events. Police said the fact that the two Palestinian men had been shot in the back of the head was proof they had been killed by other Palestinians, not police snipers.

Commanders claimed, without producing any evidence or conducting a forensic investigation, that Palestinian gunmen had been hiding behind the men and shot them by mistake while aiming for police. It was a blatant lie, but one that the authorities held to through a subsequent judicial-led inquiry.

Balance of power

As was the case with Abu Akleh, those two men’s deaths were not – as Israel would like us to believe – an unfortunate incident, with innocents caught in the crossfire.

Like Abu Akleh, those Nazareth men were executed in cold blood by Israel. It was intended as a stark message to all Palestinians about where the balance of power resides, and as a warning to submit, to keep quiet, to know their place.

The people of Nazareth defied those strictures in coming out to protect their city. Abu Akleh did the same by turning up day after day for more than two decades to report on the injustices, crimes and horrors of living under Israeli occupation. Both were acts of peaceful resistance to oppression, and both were viewed by Israel as equivalent to terrorism.

We will never be able to conclude whether Abu Akleh or those two men died because of the actions of a hot-headed Israeli soldier, or because the shooter was given an instruction by senior officers to use an execution as a teaching moment for other Palestinians.

But we do not need to know which it is. Because it keeps on happening, and because Israel keeps on doing nothing to stop it, or to identify and punish those responsible.

Because killing Palestinians – unpredictably, even randomly – fits perfectly with the goals of an occupying power intent on eroding any sense of safety or normality for Palestinians, an occupier determined to terrorise them into departure, bit by bit, from their homeland.

Taught a lesson

Abu Akleh was one of a small number of Palestinians from the occupied territories who have American citizenship. That, and her fame in the Arab world, are two reasons why officials in Washington felt duty-bound to express sadness at her killing and issue a formulaic call for a “thorough investigation”.

But Abu Akleh’s US passport was no more able to save her from Israeli retribution than that of Rachel Corrie, murdered in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer driver as she tried to protect Palestinian homes in Gaza. Similarly, Tom Hurndall’s British passport did not stop him from being shot in the head as he tried to protect Palestinian children in Gaza from Israeli gunfire. Nor did filmmaker James Miller’s British passport prevent an Israeli soldier from executing him in 2003 in Gaza, as he documented Israel’s assault on the tiny, overcrowded enclave.

All were seen as having taken a side by acting as witnesses and by refusing to remain quiet as Palestinians suffered – and for that reason, they and those who thought like them had to be taught a lesson.

It worked. Soon, the contingent of foreign volunteers – those who had come to Palestine to record Israel’s atrocities and serve, when necessary, as human shields to protect Palestinians from a trigger-happy Israeli army – were gone. Israel denounced the International Solidarity Movement for supporting terrorism, and given the clear threat to their lives, the pool of volunteers gradually dried up.

The executions – whether committed by hot-headed soldiers or approved by the army – served their purpose once again.

Error of judgment

I was the only journalist to investigate the first in this spate of executions of foreigners early in the Second Intifada. Iain Hook, a Briton working for UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency, was shot dead in late 2002 by an Israeli sniper in Jenin – the same northern West Bank city where Abu Akleh would be executed 20 years later.

Just as with Abu Akleh, the official Israeli story was designed to turn the focus away from what was clearly an Israeli execution to shift the blame to Palestinians.

During yet another of Israel’s “raids” into Jenin, Hook and his staff, along with Palestinian children attending an UNRWA school, had taken shelter inside the sealed compound.

Israel’s story was a concoction of lies that could be easily disproven, though no foreign journalist apart from me ever bothered to go to the site to check. And with more limited opportunities in those days, I struggled to find an outlet willing to publish my investigation.

Israel claimed its sniper, overlooking the compound from a third-floor window, had seen Palestinians break into the compound. According to this version, the sniper mistook the distinctive, tall, pale, red-headed, 54-year-old Hook for a Palestinian gunman, even though the sniper had been watching the UN official through telescopic sights for more than an hour.

To bolster its preposterous story, Israel also claimed the sniper had mistaken Hook’s mobile phone for a hand grenade, and was worried he was about to throw it out of the compound towards the Israeli soldiers on the street outside.

Except, as the sniper would have known, that was impossible. The compound was sealed, with a high concrete wall, a petrol station forecourt-style awning as a roof, and thick chicken wire covering the space between. Had Hook thrown his phone-grenade at the street outside, it would have bounced right back at him. If it were really a grenade, he would have blown himself up.

The truth was that Hook had made an error of judgment. Surrounded by Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters hidden in alleyways nearby, and exasperated by Israel’s refusal to allow his staff and the children safe passage out, he opened the gate and tried to plead with the soldiers outside.

As he did so, a Palestinian gunman emerged from an alley close by and fired towards an Israeli armoured vehicle. No one was hurt. Hook fled back into the compound and sealed it again.

But the Israeli soldiers outside now had a grudge against the UN official. One of them decided to use a bullet to Hook’s head to settle the score.

Bad faith

The UN was obliged to carry out a detailed investigation into Hook’s killing. Abu Akleh’s loved ones will be unlikely to have the same advantage. In fact, Israeli police made a point of “raiding” her home in occupied East Jerusalem to disrupt the family’s mourning, demanding that a Palestinian flag be taken down. Another message sent.

Israel is already insisting on access to the forensic evidence – as though a murderer has a right to be the one to investigate his own crime.

But in fact, even in Hook’s case, the UN investigation was quietly shelved. Accusing Israel of executing a UN official would have forced the international body into a dangerous confrontation both with Israel and with the United States. Hook’s killing was hushed up, and no one was brought to book.

Nothing better can be expected for Abu Akleh. There will be noises about an investigation. Israel will blame the Palestinian Authority for not cooperating, as it is already doing. Washington will express tepid concern but do nothing. Behind the scenes, the US will help Israel block any meaningful investigation.

For the US and Europe, routine statements of “sadness” and calls for investigation are not intended to make sure light is shed on what happened. That could only embarrass a strategic ally needed to project western power into the oil-rich Middle East.

No, these half-hearted declarations from western capitals are meant to defuse and confuse. They are intended to take the wind out any backlash; indicate western impartiality, and save the blushes of complicit Arab regimes; suggest there is a legal process that Israel adheres to; and subvert efforts by Palestinians and the human rights community to refer these war crimes to international bodies, such as the Hague court.

The truth is that a decades-long occupation can only survive through wanton – sometimes random, sometimes carefully calibrated – acts of terror to keep the subject population fearful and subdued. When the occupation is sponsored by the main global superpower, there is absolute impunity for those who oversee that reign of terror.

Abu Akleh is the latest victim. But these executions will continue so long as Israel and its soldiers are shielded from accountability.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

By Redefining UNRWA, Washington Destroys the Foundation for a Just Peace in Palestine 

Palestinians are justifiably worried that the mandate granted to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, might be coming to an end. UNRWA’s mission, which has been in effect since 1949, has done more than provide urgent aid and support to millions of refugees. It was also a political platform that protected and preserved the rights of several generations of Palestinians.

Though UNRWA was not established as a political or legal platform, per se, the context of its mandate was largely political, since Palestinians became refugees as a result of military and political events – the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by Israel and the latter’s refusal to respect the Right of Return for Palestinians as enshrined in UN resolution 194 (III) of December 11, 1948.

“UNRWA has a humanitarian and development mandate to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight,” the UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) of December 8, 1949 read. Alas, neither a ‘lasting solution’ to the plight of the refugees, nor even a political horizon has been achieved. Instead of using this realization as a way to revisit the international community’s failure to bring justice to Palestine and to hold Israel and its US benefactors accountable, it is UNRWA and, by extension, the refugees that are being punished.

In a stern warning on April 24, the head of the political committee at the Palestinian National Council (PNC), Saleh Nasser said that UNRWA’s mandate might be coming to an end. Nasser referenced a recent statement by the UN body’s Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, about the future of the organization.

Lazzarini’s statement, published a day earlier, left room for some interpretation, though it was clear that something fundamental regarding the status, mandate and work of UNRWA is about to change. “We can admit that the current situation is untenable and will inevitably result in the erosion of the quality of the UNRWA services or, worse, to their interruption,” Lazzarini said.

Commenting on the statement, Nasser said that this “is a prelude to donors stopping their funding for UNRWA.”

The subject of UNRWA’s future is now a priority within the Palestinian, but also Arab political discourse. Any attempts at canceling or redefining UNRWA’s mission will pose a serious, if not an unprecedented, challenge for Palestinians. UNRWA provides educational, health and other support for 5.6 million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. At an annual budget of $1.6 billion, this support, and the massive network that has been created by the organization, cannot be easily replaced.

Equally important is the political nature of the organization. The very existence of UNRWA means that there is a political issue that must be addressed regarding the plight and future of Palestinian refugees. In fact, it is not the mere lack of enthusiasm to finance the organization that has caused the current crisis. It is something bigger, and far more sinister.

In June 2018, Jared Kushner, son-in-law and advisor to former US President Donald Trump, visited Amman, Jordan, where he, according to the US Foreign Policy magazine, tried to persuade Jordan’s King Abdullah to remove the refugee status from 2 million Palestinians currently living in the country.

This and other attempts have failed. In September 2018, Washington, under the Trump administration, decided to cease its financial support of UNRWA. As the organization’s main funder, the American decision was devastating, because about 30 percent of UNRWA’s money comes from the US alone. Yet, UNRWA hobbled along by increasing its reliance on the private sector and individual donations.

Though the Palestinian leadership celebrated the Biden Administration’s decision to resume UNRWA’s funding on April 7, 2021, a little caveat in Washington’s move was largely kept secret. Washington only agreed to fund UNRWA after the latter agreed to sign a two-year plan, known as Framework for Cooperation. In essence, the plan effectively turned UNRWA into a platform for Israel and American policies in Palestine, whereby the UN body consented to US – thus Israeli – demands to ensure that no aid would reach any Palestinian refugee who has received military training “as a member of the so-called Palestinian Liberation Army”, other organizations or “has engaged in any act of terrorism”. Moreover, the Framework expects UNRWA to monitor “Palestinian curriculum content”.

By entering into an agreement with the US Department of State, “UNRWA has effectively transformed itself from a humanitarian agency that provides assistance and relief to Palestinian refugees, to a security agency furthering the security and political agenda of the US, and ultimately Israel,” BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights noted.

Palestinian protests, however, did not change the new reality, which effectively altered the entire mandate granted to UNRWA by the international community nearly 73 years ago. Worse, European countries followed suit when, last September, the European parliament advanced an amendment that would condition EU support of UNRWA on the editing and rewriting of Palestinian school text books that, supposedly, ‘incite violence’ against Israel.

Instead of focusing solely on shutting down UNRWA immediately, the US, Israel and their supporters are working to change the nature of the organization’s mission and to entirely rewrite its original mandate. The agency that was established to protect the rights of the refugees, is now expected to protect Israeli, American and western interests in Palestine.

Though UNRWA was never an ideal organization, it has indeed succeeded in helping millions of Palestinians throughout the years, while preserving the political nature of their plight.

Though the Palestinian Authority, various political factions, Arab governments and others have protested the Israeli-American designs against UNRWA, such protestations are unlikely to make much difference, considering that UNRWA itself is surrendering to outside pressures. While Palestinians, Arabs and their allies must continue to fight for UNRWA’s original mission, they must urgently develop alternative plans and platforms that would shield Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return from becoming marginal and, eventually, forgotten.

If Palestinian refugees are removed from the list of political priorities concerning the future of a just peace in Palestine, neither justice nor peace can possibly be attained.

The post By Redefining UNRWA, Washington Destroys the Foundation for a Just Peace in Palestine  first appeared on Dissident Voice.