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Obama: Climate change deniers endanger national security

Thu, 21 May 2015 - 11:26pm

WTNH News8 | (Video) –

“President Barack Obama says climate change deniers are endangering national security.”

WTNH News8 “Obama: Climate change deniers endanger national security”

As Palmyra Falls, Who Supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria? (Charles Glass)

Thu, 21 May 2015 - 11:21pm

VICE News | (Video)

“VICE News and the New York Review of Books have partnered to create Talking Heads, a series about the big issues of the day as seen by the Review’s distinguished contributors.

In this episode, Charles Glass discusses his essay “In the Syria We Don’t Know.” He drove through Syria in October 2014 to see how the country’s civil war had impacted daily life. With Bashar al-Assad benefiting from US-led airstrikes on the Islamic State, and large areas of the country under his regime’s control, Glass found people carrying on at a relatively normal pace amid the conflict. But signs of death and personal loss were inescapable, as resentment mounted among citizens who feel they have no choice but to support Assad or be slaughtered at the hands of Sunni radicals.

VICE News sat down with Glass to discuss America’s uncertain foreign policy in the region and the underlying forces propping up Assad’s government.

Read Charles Glass’s essay, “In the Syria We Don’t Know”

VICE News: “Talking Heads: Who’s Supporting Assad?”

Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age

Thu, 21 May 2015 - 11:17pm


Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford University Press, April 2015), by scholars Adi Kunstman and Rebecca Stein, has been called “a pioneering book, showing how information and communication technologies have turned into wartime arsenals, and the Internet and social networks into digital battlefields” and described as “a riveting guide to contemporary media strategies, improvisations, and accidents in the theatre of Israeli militarism.”

Kuntsman is a lecturer in information and communications at Manchester Metropolitan University whose work lies at the intersection of cybercultures/digital and social media; anti-colonial and feminist scholarship; queer theory; and social research on war, nationalism and colonialism.

Stein is an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University who studies linkages between cultural and political processes in Israel in relation to its military occupation and the history of Palestinian dispossession.

ISLAMiCommentary connected with Stein for this Q & A about their new book.

What is digital militarism and who named the trend?

This phrase — our own coinage — refers to the ways that social media tools, technologies, and practices can be employed in the service of militant projects by both state and everyday civilian users. Of course, digital militarism is a broad and flexible concept, with wide global applicability.

In this book, we consider the ways it has emerged in the context of Israel’s occupation. We are chiefly interested in everyday Jewish Israeli users, and the ways that social media functions as a toolbox for militarized politics – this within a society that has moved progressively rightward over the course of the last two decades. Digital militarism takes shape at the intersection of militant nationalism — now widespread in Israel — and very conventional, globalized modes of networked engagement: like liking and sharing, participating in meme culture, and posting a selfie. This interplay between nationalist violence and the social media everyday is at the core of our study.

When we began this study, digital militarism existed on the margins of social media — both in the Israeli and global contexts. Today, of course, it has become commonplace. We have become are accustomed to the integration of social networking into military arsenals, to calls for war issued en masse on social media platforms, to the presence of smartphones in military zones and battlefields, to social networking from scenes of atrocity.

In the Israeli context, we are now accustomed to damning Instagram images from soldiers, or to YouTube videos of violent confrontation between Israelis soldiers and Palestinians in the territories. Once, such events and media exposure surprised Israeli and international publics. Today, we have come to expect them. Digital Militarism is a chronicle of the emergence and naturalization of digital militarism as a social form.

A selfie from an IDF soldier last summer, calling for violent revenge against Palestinians. (click to enlarge)

What is the political and historical context in which the book was written?

Our research began in the aftermath of 2008-2009 Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, a bloody military campaign that marked the Israeli military’s first efforts to employ social media as PR tools. As readers may recall, the military began experimenting with YouTube during this time, chiefly videos of their aerial bombardment of Gaza shot from the vantage of the weapon; employed to justify and sanitize the ongoing assault. The military deemed this a substantial media success, lauding these efforts as some of the first official military engagements with social media in any geopolitical context, while social media pundits mocked the military’s ineptitude on popular networking platforms. This was a foundational moment in what we would henceforth call “digital militarism” — the beginnings of Israeli military experimentation with social media as a PR tool. These efforts would expand and develop considerably during subsequent years. Soon, social media would occupy the center of the military’s PR and self-branding projects.

Our book was still in its initial stages during the Arab revolts of 2011. Like other observers at the time, we were dissatisfied with “Facebook Revolution” as an explanatory narrative for these popular uprisings. Our projects was enlivened by this moment; we realized that the Israeli case could be employed to counter this anemic narrative by illustrating the myriad ways that social media could function as everyday tools of militarism and authoritarian rule, a phenomenon we were watching take shape and expand in the context of Israel’s occupation.

IDF Twitter Screenshot November 2012 (click to enlarge)

Your book suggests that “ordinary tools of social networking have become indispensable instruments of warfare and violent conflict.” We’ve seen this in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also with ISIS. How is social media changing the terms of violence?

As we have noted, digital militarism is now a global phenomenon – and one that we see perpetually unfolding with the savvy social media work of ISIS. In the Israeli case, we are interested in the ways that social media enables violence and racist nationalism to emerge in very ordinary, everyday cultural forms in the hands of Israeli social media users. This is not the kind of militarism we typically associate with Israel’s repressive rule in the Palestinian territories. Rather, digital militarism takes shape through Facebook status updates, through ‘likes’ and shares, in the hues of the Instagram retro-filter and the visual language of the selfie — the latter being a particularly popular genre amongst Israeli soldiers and civilians. This is not to say that repressive violence is no longer at work in the Israeli occupation context. But now it is aided and abetted in social media domains, within the global language and aesthetics of popular platforms.

IDF soldier’s Facebook post in 2010 (described at right) (click to enlarge)

In fact you have a chapter on “selfie militarism.” Explain this concept.

Here, we look at the ways that routine selfie conventions were used by Jewish Israelis to mount calls for bloody revenge against Palestinians in the lead-up to the 2014 Gaza invasion. At work is the interplay between two seemingly incongruous forms: the selfie and violent calls for retaliation. This interplay is increasingly common in Israel today. And this is the subject of our book.

Selfie militarism also has a longer history — that is, one that precedes the “selfie” as global social media genre. In our book, we discuss an infamous episode from the Israeli context in which the seeds of selfie militarism were sown. In 2010, an Israeli female soldier used Facebook to archive and share images of herself posed — smiling and with a sexy pout — with blindfolded and bound Palestinians. This was the first viral incident of selfie militarism in the Israeli context, and we use it as a barometer to consider a field that would expand massively afterwards. These kinds of militarized mobile self-portraiture are now ordinary and predictable, part and parcel of the everyday fabric of Israeli social media usage.

How have the Palestinians used social media to further their cause? How successful have these efforts been?

Palestinian use of social media as a political tool has increased markedly in the last few years — a measure of both the increasing penetration of digital communications technologies and, in turn, digital literacies into the Palestinian territories, and the growing global investment in social media as a tool-box for political claims-making.

We saw this at work last summer (2014) during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. As Israeli bombs fell, and as civilian fatalities inside Gaza mounted, Palestinians live-tweeted updates from the ground, providing minute-by-minute images and accounts of the growing devastation. Many Palestinian social media users watched their international followers grow exponentially during the course of the Israeli assault. Among international anti-occupation activists and critics of the bloody operation, there was a prevailing sense of optimism. There was a sense that these viral jpegs of dead bodies and destroyed neighborhoods — circulating widely on social media — might make new kinds of international witnessing and accountability possible where Israel’s occupation was concerned.

But our findings suggest that such optimism may be premature. The viral social media output from Palestinians living through the bombardment in Gaza did little to temper the brutality of Israel’s incursion. Nor did it do much to alter Israeli social media output. Rather, it seemed to fuel digital militarism in Israeli hands. As images of dead Palestinian bodies and destroyed Gazan neighborhoods were captivating global audiences, most Israelis were using social media to support rather than challenge the war efforts. As bombs decimated Gazan homes, Israeli Instagram photo streams and Facebook status-updates celebrated the “righteous” victory. And many used their social media feeds to laud the mounting Palestinian death toll in very explicit terms, egging the military on.

These forms of Israeli digital militarism are a reminder that we should not be too hasty in proclaiming the liberatory capacity of Palestinian social media – its capacity to effect political change. For where most Israeli social media users were concerned, such images fueled popular militancy, rather than buoying the internal (and increasingly marginalized) anti-occupation Israeli left.

I recall that during the events of last summer there was “a war of hashtags” — #GazaUnderAttack for Palestinians and their supporters and #IsraelUnderFire for Israel and its supporters. Didn’t Palestinian use of social media, which included graphic images, ultimately succeed in turning the international community against Israel as the bombardments continued and the death toll mounted?

Indeed, Palestinians were considered the clear victors in the social media domain during the violent Israeli assault of last summer. And without a doubt, the images of Israeli inflicted violence in Gaza were more viral and available than ever to international audiences. But let’s not confuse such global visibility with a shift in the terms of the military occupation itself — with a waning of its repressive force. Nor did this sudden shift in the visibility of Palestinian victims and Israeli perpetrators within a global arena succeed in altering popular Israeli sentiment. Rather, Israeli racist militarism and calls for retribution against Palestinians was on the rise that last summer. It should be noted that many Israelis doubted the veracity of the images of Gazan devastation that were circulating on social networks, charging Palestinian social media users with widespread doctoring and falsification as a means of framing Israel. This charge has a very long history — one that we trace and discuss in the book.

There is a large body of scholarship on the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. How is your approach to the long-running conflict different?

This book isn’t the standard story of the Israeli occupation. Both of us (Rebecca and Adi) have long been involved in activist campaigns against the Israeli occupation. This book is fueled by that activist project. But it is primarily a story about the very ordinary and banal ways in which Jewish Israelis live with, and perpetuate, Israeli military rule in the Palestinian territories through every day cultural practices — in this case, social media.

We believe that this story about Israel’s occupation — about its reach into the heart of everyday Israeli living, beyond the territories — has been left in the shadows of much academic scholarship. Digital Militarism, then, is less about the spectacular violence of military occupation, than about the terms of everyday Israelis living with and participating in military occupation. We are arguing that this use of social media functions as a kind of ordinary Israeli complicity with the military occupation — complicity evident not only in the actions of the Israeli solider deployed in the West Bank, but also in the everyday networking practices of the Jewish resident of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, for whom the occupation seems to exist at something of a distance from his or her life.

We are interested in the ways that such Israeli everymen and women are retooling global social media culture to do militarized work — work that takes the form of selfie aesthetics, memes, and debates over digital doctoring. The means may be sanitized, but the message and sometimes the effects can be violent — as evidenced in the social media “revenge” campaign of last summer, when Israelis used Facebook to call for violent revenge against Palestinians following the murder of 3 settler youth.

Digital Militarism aims to shine a light on this ordinary domain of military occupation.


More About the Authors:

Rebecca Stein

Rebecca L. Stein is the Nicholas J. & Theresa M. Leonardy Associate Professor of Anthropology at Duke University. She is the author of Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism (Duke, 2008); and the co-editor of Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture (Duke, 2005) and The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel, 1993-2005 (Stanford, 2006). Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford, 2015), co-authored with Adi Kuntsman, is her latest book. She is also core faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Stein is currently continuing her research on the ways that new communication technologies are meditating the everyday Israeli relationship to its military occupation,with a focus on the role of new photographic technologies and viral image networks within this political context.



Adi Kuntsman

Adi Kuntsman is Lecturer in Information and Communications at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is the author of Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Migranthood, and Nationalism in Cyberspace and Beyond (Peter Lang, 2009); the co-author (with Rebecca L. Stein) of Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age(Stanford, 2015); and the co-editor of Queer Necropolitics (Routledge, 2014); Digital Cultures and the Politics of Emotion: Feelings, Affect and Technologica Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); and Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/ Raciality (Raw Nerve Books, 2008). Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford, 2015), co-authored with Rebecca Stein, is her latest book.

Via ISLAMICommentary

Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein, “Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age”

Washington asks, “Who lost Ramadi?” But Washington never had Ramadi

Thu, 21 May 2015 - 2:28am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | —

The inside-the-Beltway debate set off by the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) on Sunday is, as usual, Dadaistic in its disconnection from reality. Republican talking points blame Barack Obama for withdrawing US troops from Iraq in 2011, as though Daesh suddenly began in 2012. The GOP figures typically don’t mention that it was George W. Bush who set the end of 2011 as the date for a total US withdrawal from Iraq, because that was all he could get from the Iraqi parliament.

But the whole debate about “who lost Ramadi?” assumes facts not in evidence, i.e. that Ramadi has ever been “pacified” or somehow a United States protectorate, sort of like Guam or Puerto Rico.

The United States has been for the Sunni Arabs of Iraq what the Mongols were to Baghdad in 1258, an alien invading force that came in and turned things upside down.

Bush invaded Iraq in spring of 2003.

Here is what I wrote at my blog in August, 2003, based on what I was seeing in the Iraqi press or hearing on shortwave radio in Arabic:

*Huge explosions at the US base at Ramadi west of Baghdad, but no word on casualties as I write. Guerrillas killed one soldier, wounded two others outside the police station at Baquba, northeast of Baghdad.

In November of 2004, Bush launched a massive attack on Falluja, just to Ramadi’s east. It was seen throughout the Sunni regions as a sign that Sunnis were going to be subordinated by the Americans to Shiites and Kurds.

In early 2005, I wondered if the Sunni insurgency could eventually turn into a “Third Baath coup.” By that I meant that the remnants of the Baath Party (socialist, nationalist) allied with Salafi Muslim hardliners were systematically killing members of the new political class being stood up by the Bush administration, and were angling to take back over the country. We now know that former Baath officers set up the so-called “Islamic State” as a means of gaining recruits for their ongoing insurgency, at a time when the Baath Party no longer had any cachet but political Islam seemed a growing trend. The ex-Baath/ Salafi cells of resistance were all along strong in Ramadi.

In summer of 2005 Shiite parliamentarians had the major share in the drafting of the constitution. The US military occupied Ramadi but did not control it. Darren Mortenson reported in 2005:

The Marines say they think there are about 2,000 potential insurgents in Ramadi, led by a hard-core cadre of about 150 full-time fighters from Iraq and other countries who have expertise in weapons, bomb-making and guerrilla tactics. Since they arrived in Ramadi in March, the battalion has lost at least 14 Marines and sailors in combat, mostly roadside bombs that do not give the survivors targets against which to fight back. “I don’t think the Battle of Ramadi can ever be won,” said one company commander, according to the recent article. “I just think the Battle of Ramadi has to be fought every day.”

Some 5000 people in Ramadi came out to demonstrate against the Shiite-Kurdish constitution, which the Sunnis voted down in all their regions. I was interviewed in the run-up to the referendum:

“Juan Cole, an Iraq expert who teaches Middle Eastern history and politics at the University of Michigan, said the U.S. cannot afford a bold military strategy or heavy hand in Ramadi, least of all now with the constitution and two upcoming elections in the balance. . . Cole said Ramadi will be an important place to watch to see if attempts at democracy can survive. “If you cannot get the Arabs of Ramadi to buy into it, you lose Anbar. And if Anbar province is lost to the government, then it means Iraq will be partitioned,” he said, offering little hope that a breakup could be avoided. “If there could be a breakthrough in Ramadi, then maybe there could be a breakthrough in other Sunni cities elsewhere. But I’m not going to hold my breath,” he said. “I think the whole thing is going south.”

People routinely used to call me unduly pessimistic back in the early days of the American occupation of Iraq, as if that whole thing was ever going to work out.

Al-Anbar Province solidly defeated the American-imposed draft constitution in mid-October, 2005. If you have three Sunni-Arab provinces that reject the national constitution, then you don’t have a country, you have a civil war waiting to happen.

Just after the referendum, in late October, Sabrina Tavernise wrote for the NYT:

“Still, more than two years after the American invasion, this city of 400,000 people is just barely within American control. The deputy governor of Anbar was shot to death on Tuesday; the day before, the governor’s car was fired on. There is no police force. A Baghdad cellphone company has refused to put up towers here. American bases are regularly pelted with rockets and mortar shells, and when troops here get out of their vehicles to patrol, they are almost always running. “You can’t just walk down the street for a period of time and not expect to get shot at,” said Maj. Bradford W. Tippett, the operations officer for the Third Battalion.”

Nor did the US do anything for the people of Ramadi. Their state-owned factories and enterprises were driven into bankruptcy by Paul Bremer’s neoliberal policies. Likely half of the men were thrown out of their jobs. At the end of the long American occupation, 23% of Iraqis, some 7 million out of 30 million, were living below the poverty line. All the killing had left behind large numbers of widows, and 4.5 million children and youth who had lost a parent. Many are now resentful young men old enough to hold a kalashnikov.

A poll taken of Iraqis by the British military in late October of 2005 showed:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified – rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
• 82 per cent are “strongly opposed” to the presence of coalition troops;
• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

If 82 percent of Iraqis in general didn’t want US forces in their country late in 2005, probably 100% of the people of Ramadi did not. And no one in Iraq thought that the US military had brought improved security with it.

Through 2006, Iraq fell into Sunni-Shiite civil war. On a random day in that year, I reported “Al-Zaman says that fighting continues between the US military and guerrillas in Ramadi, with 12 dead and 12 wounded on Tuesday.”

After the US military once again conquered Ramadi, an LA Times reporter visited it in 2007:

“No one underestimates the scope of the task, which is evident to anyone who drives through the city. Ramadi resembles a small-scale version of Berlin in 1945. Whole city blocks have been reduced to rubble by airstrikes, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and other munitions. The government center has been leveled, and heavy armored vehicles that rumbled through the streets have ruptured water mains in scores of places.”

During WW II, the US and Britain fire-bombed German and Japanese cities. That Ramadi looked like Berlin after the war is an indictment for an occupying power, not a compliment.

So it completely escapes me why John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Boehner or Tom Cotton (who helped personally with the berlinization of Iraq) think that if only US troops had remained in country after 2011, the people of Ramadi would have been delirious with joy and avoided throwing in with radical anti-imperialist forces.

No one in Washington “lost Ramadi.” Washington never had Ramadi.


Related video:

CNN: ” GOP slams Obama’s strategy after ISIS victory in Ramadi”

Israel: Court Permits Discriminatory Evictions of Palestinian-Israeli Villagers

Thu, 21 May 2015 - 1:05am

Human Rights Watch | –

Arab Villages in Israel, West Bank Face New Displacement

(Jerusalem) – Separate Israeli Supreme Court decisions issued on May 5, 2015, open the way for state authorities to forcibly evict residents of two Arab villages from their homes. The inhabitants of both villages, one in Israel and the other in the occupied West Bank, have previously been displaced following actions by Israeli authorities.

“It is a sad day when Israeli Supreme Court decisions provide legal cover for forced evictions, as in the case of these two villages,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “The Israeli government should let these communities stay where they are, not force them to move yet again.”

Between 750 and 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel who live in Umm al-Hiran, a village in Israel’s southern Negev desert, face removal. Israel relocated the villagers there under a 1956 agreement permitting them to live there in exchange for them dropping claims to land from which they say Israeli forces expelled them in 1948. Israeli authorities have refused to recognize the village, to supply basic services like water or electricity, or to develop a zoning plan to allow residents to obtain building permits. In 2009, Israeli authorities approved plans to use the land to build a Jewish community.

The Supreme Court ruled that the land belongs to the state and that it is entitled to withdraw permission for Umm al-Hiran inhabitants to live there, although the court rejected the government’s claim that the residents are squatters. It also ruled that replacing the village with a neighborhood “with institutions intended to serve the religious Jewish community” would not be discriminatory since, in principle, the Bedouin Umm al-Hiran residents could purchase homes there. Adalah, a nongovernmental legal center that advocates for Arab minority rights in Israel, represented the Umm al-Hiran villagers.

Salim Abu Qiani, a resident of Umm al-Hiran who spoke to Human Rights Watch after the Supreme Court ruling, urged Israel to hold to its previous agreement, allow the villagers to stay put, and recognize the village, or allow them to return to their original lands. “We don’t have a problem living next to anyone but they cannot move us by force to bring new people,” he said.

In its other judgment, the Supreme Court refused to freeze demolition orders for Susya, a Palestinian village in the south Hebron Hills in the West Bank with 340 residents. The villagers built homes on their own agricultural land in 1986 after Israel declared the village’s original location nearby an archeological site and evicted them from caves that served as their homes.

In 2013, the Israeli Civil Administration, a military department with authority over land use in the West Bank, rejected a zoning plan that would have given villagers legal permission to build and extend their homes. Its rejection was based in part on the Israeli government’s contention that the distance of the village from the nearest urban center would keep villagers, and particularly women, trapped in a “cycle of poverty,” despite the fact that the center in question is less than three kilometers away.

The Susya villagers are challenging the Civil Administration’s rejection of the plan in the Supreme Court and sought to freeze the demolitions in the meantime, but the Supreme Court ruling – delivered in just three sentences – allows the authorities to demolish the villagers’ homes without waiting for the outcome. The court decided that the Israeli authorities’ stated willingness to “examine the possibility of promoting an alternative regional plan” in relation to the villagers was sufficient to allow them to proceed.

Nasar Mahmoud Nawaja, a 33-year-old resident of Susya, told Human Rights Watch after the Supreme Court ruling that he and other villagers are now “living in fear, we can’t sleep. [At any moment] they can come to expel us from our land, this is a nightmare.”

A Jewish settlement – also called Susya – which includes “outposts” built without Israeli government authorization, is now located near the archeological site, and includes at least 23 houses of Israeli settlers built on privately owned Palestinian land, according to Regavim, an Israeli pro-settlement organization lobbying for expropriation of such land. But the residents of the Palestinian village cannot build or extend their homes lawfully on the land they own because Israeli authorities have refused to prepare a zoning plan for the area.

Qamar Mashriki Assad, a lawyer from Rabbis for Human Rights, which acts on behalf of the Palestinian villagers of Susya, told Human Rights Watch that Regavim petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court in 2011 to demolish the Palestinian village. The petition came after Rabbis for Human Rights filed a case the previous year urging the Supreme Court to restrain alleged settler violence that prevented Palestinians from Susya from accessing their farmland. The court declared 12 percent of the residents’ land “closed to Israelis,” but the villagers allege that they continue to face settler violence on their remaining lands.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented how, in both the Negev and the West Bank, Israel authorities apply zoning laws in a discriminatory manner that frequently restricts the ability of Arabs to build lawfully. Around 80,000 Bedouin live under constant threat of demolition in 35 villages that Israel does not recognize in the Negev, under conditions similar to Umm al-Hiran.

In the West Bank, Israel has zoned only 1 percent of the area under its administrative control, called Area C, for Palestinian development. Israeli authorities approved fewer than 6 percent of the Palestinian building permit requests it received from 2000 to 2012. In contrast, Israeli authorities approved master plans for Jewish settlements covering 26 percent of the area.

Human Rights Watch has also found that Israeli authorities’ zoning and demolition policies in the West Bank, in some cases, can effectively amount to forcible transfer.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Israel ratified in 1991, requires the Israeli authorities to respect the right to adequate housing. The International Court of Justice has held that Israel’s human rights obligations extend to the occupied territories. The Committee responsible for interpreting the ICESCR has made clear that the right to adequate housing includes protection from involuntary removal from one’s home by the state (known as “forced eviction” under human rights law) unless the state can show it is a reasonable and proportionate step that complies with other human rights principles. The fact that an eviction decision is subject to a form of legal review does not necessarily render it permissible under human rights law. International human rights law prohibits countries from discriminating against minority groups, including with regard to land and housing rights. Governments must demonstrate that any differential treatment negatively affecting a group is proportionate to a legitimate aim. In the case of the residents of Susya and Umm al-Hiran, the forced relocation decisions are discriminatory since they are based on zoning law decisions that treat Arab inhabitants differently from Jewish ones in a manner that cannot be justified by a legitimate aim.

If Israel carries out its plan to evict Palestinians from Susya it would be a grave breach of its obligations under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the individuals responsible could be prosecuted for war crimes. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits “[i]ndividual or mass forcible transfers” unless required for their own safety or imperative military reasons. No Israeli authority, including the Supreme Court, has justified this displacement as being a temporary measure for the protection of the residents themselves or for imperative military reasons.

“The court decisions in the Umm al-Hiran and Susya cases ignore international law in upholding discriminatory evictions by the Israeli authorities in Israel and the occupied territories,” Whitson said. “The Israeli government should fundamentally change its policies so that Arab communities have the same opportunities for lawful construction as Jewish citizens.”

Via Human Rights Watch


See related: Ari Heistein, “Israel Pushes Negev Bedouin Palestinians into a Corner”


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV: “Israel’s Supreme Court allows demolition of Palestinian village in Negev”

Solar, Wind don’t do this: 21,000 Gallons of Oil Stain Santa Barbara, CA Coastline

Thu, 21 May 2015 - 12:34am

By Nicholas Sirianno | (Mountain Weekly News) —

About 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, CA Refugio State Beach, a quiet white-sand surf and popular family beach, turned black this morning from a crude oil spill that occurred Tuesday afternoon. The reported cause of the spill is a ruptured pipeline owned by the Houston,TX based Plains All American Pipeline company. The pipeline, built in 1991, designed to carry about 150,000 barrels of oil per day ruptured and an estimated 21,000 gallons of oil leaked from the pipeline into a storm drain that drains into the Pacific Ocean. Crude oil has already polluted over 4 miles of scenic Santa Barbara, California coastline…

Crews and volunteers are working tirelessly to clean up the beach in time for the Memorial Day weekend however there is a bigger issue at hand. Refugio State Beach is home to biologically diverse populations of fish, plants, plankton, crustaceans, birds, and sea lions that all play a pivotal role in health of the marine and coastline ecosystems. Even though a clean up is aesthetically possible, the long term effects of oil spills last well beyond what we humans can actually see. And, though relatively small, this spill is nothing compared to the 3 million gallons of oil that spilled into this region in 1969’s, of which Santa Barbara is still feeling residual effects.

Between the drought, and now another oil spill, it seems like southern California just can’t seem to get a break. If it isn’t our own wrongdoing, it is mother nature, if it isn’t gang violence, it is economic imbalance, if it isn’t a wild fire, it is a failed attempt to ban offshore drilling in Santa Barbara.

This spill marks just one more oil spill on American soil that could have been prevented by stricter regulations and improvements to the infrastructure and equipment oil companies use to transport the oil…

Currently the beach is closed and the campsite nearby has been evacuated.

Plains All American Pipeline said in a statement that the pipeline was shut down at about 3 p.m. Tuesday and that he culvert was blocked to prevent more oil from flowing into the ocean.

As with all the oil spills that have befouled our oceans and coastlines, you can expect to see volunteers, the Coast Guard, and Federal funds, aiding in an effective and timely clean up. As for Plains All American Pipeline, more information is surely to “spill” about the exact cause of the spill and if it could have been prevented.

Via Mountain Weekly News

Published under Creative Commons License 3.0

PS: Juan Cole adds that Santa Barbara residents who can afford one and don’t drive an electric or hybrid plug-in vehicle and who don’t fuel them from solar panels on their roofs should perhaps now rethink depending on petroleum for transportation.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS Evening News: ” California oil spill slick doubles in size”

Syrian Opposition, Caught between Assad & Extremists, Despair at World’s Neglect

Wed, 20 May 2015 - 11:46pm

By Haroro J. Ingram with L. T. Anthony | (The Conversation) | –

Syrian civilians are trapped in the middle of a holocaust: prizes in a ruthless contest for popular support and cannon fodder mercilessly slaughtered by forces with little regard for human life.

Despite many groups being implicated in actions targeting civilian populations, the greatest purveyor of carnage remains the Assad regime. As Amnesty International’s report on human rights violations in a single Syrian city, Aleppo, states:

These violations amount to war crimes and in the case of those committed by the Syrian government are so systematic and widespread that they constitute crimes against humanity.

And yet many insist that the West should appease the Assad regime using the old proverb of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” – as if it is simply a choice between Assad or Islamists. This is grotesquely simplistic and ignores perhaps the most important interest bloc in the conflict and the key to defeating Islamic State in Syria: Syrian civilians.

A longer history of terror

Having spoken to a broad array of Syrians, from Sunnis, Shias and Kurds to former regime members and opposition activists, three words capture their insights: despair, survival and abandonment.

The sense of anguish that many expressed regarding the failure of Syria’s Arab Spring is exacerbated by a belief that this was one of many missed opportunities to topple the regime. As Muhammed, from Idlib, explained:

We lived for over 40 years with this regime. The regime didn’t start its crimes today or yesterday, it started from the day it took power.

Syrians are acutely aware of the Assad dynasty’s history of terror. Fatima, a former resident of Daraa, stated that during the regime’s siege of her city in April 2011, residents feared that they would share the fate of Hama residents who, in 1982, were massacred in the tens of thousands by Hafez al-Assad’s forces.

As Bashar’s atrocities surpass those of his father, some Syrians, such as Anwar from Damascus, have come to believe that the key to peace – including the defeat of Islamic State – requires the end of the Assad regime.

Return to the cause of all this evil, which is having a dictator that is terrorising his citizens and preventing them from having a free life. We must clean this wound before closing it.

Focus on Islamic State misses bigger picture

A common sentiment, especially from those working for Syria’s opposition radio stations, was that the global media’s obsession with Islamic State and foreign fighters had reinforced false perceptions of the war.

Where is the revolution [in the media’s reporting]? It’s not our fault. The Syrian people keep fighting the regime but nobody cares about that now because they (the media) don’t want [to show] that.

Fear is pervasive amongst the civilian population. While it is easy from a distance to suggest the success of Islamist groups is indicative of a growing Islamisation of the conflict, this is too simplistic. Just as operational priorities (e.g. attacking the regime) rather than ideological congruency often drive inter-group cooperation, it is pragmatism not Islamism that often drives civilian ‘support’.

For example, many interviewees warned that Jabhat al-Nusra’s (JN) strategy of fighting the regime, providing charity and limited governance whilst placing Syrian members at the forefront of their “ground-level” efforts, was resonating strongly with people living in apocalyptic conditions. As one respondent stated:

Most of them (JN) are Syrians [so] when you (the West) fight them … when you bomb them, they get more supporters.

Western military operations that weaken one group (such as anti-regime rebels) create opportunities for their opponents (such as the Assad regime). And that may inadvertently perpetuate conditions for the civilian population that are counterproductive to broader Western strategic aims (such as diminishing the appeal of extremists). One Syrian interviewee summed up that situation:

When America blacklists, the Syrian people [are starting to] whitelist.

There are many Syrians who continue to struggle and fight for the founding principles of the Syrian revolution. However, global media coverage has tended to ignore those voices while coalition military (and political) responses risk creating an environment that is more conducive to the rise of extremists.

The belief that the world has abandoned Syria was pervasive in these interviews. Many Syrians’ morale was shattered when Obama backed away from his pledge that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons constituted a “red line” that might trigger a US-backed military response.

Indeed, it is almost impossible to convey the almost visceral sense of abandonment this issue stirs. Little wonder, then, that strong Western rhetoric is often scornfully dismissed:

Obama can cover the whole world in red lines. Who cares? We are dying here. And Ban Ki Moon? He is ‘worried’ all the time. Ban Ki Moon is worried, Obama is drawing red lines, everybody is talking and nobody is doing anything.

The West’s obsession with Islamic State has further fuelled these resentments:

The regime are killing people [with barrel bombs] … and they (the West and its allies) didn’t stop them. But they moved the whole world to destroy [Islamic State] in Kobane.

The plight of ordinary Syrians matters because they are not only a vital barometer for the region’s trajectory but they will drive and bear the burden for that trajectory.

Western nations would do more to thwart the rise of extremist movements, including Islamic State, if they demonstrated more consideration for the needs of civilian populations.

* Note: The identities of all interviewees featured in this article have been kept anonymous. All names of interviewees are pseudonyms. This article was co-authored by L.T. Anthony.

Haroro J. Ingram is Research Fellow, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at Australian National University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Haroro J. Ingram is Research Fellow, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at Australian National University

Related video added by Juan Cole:

From 5 days ago: ” Syria war bombing: Alleged government barrel bomb attack kills dozens in Aleppo – TomoNews”

Epilectic Girl moved to Denver for Medical Pot, Dramatically Improves

Wed, 20 May 2015 - 11:31pm

WCPO Denver | (9 on Your Side Video) | –

“Adam and Heather Benton uprooted their lives to move across the country this April to provide their daughter, Addyson, with medical marijuana for her myoclonic seizures.

From West Chester, Ohio to Castle Rock, Colorado, the Bentons are now able to provide their 3-year-old with cannabis medications that they say have greatly improved her quality of life.

For Addyson, doctors have prescribed an oil made from a strain of marijuana that is heavy in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-pyschoactive component of pot, and low in tetrahydrocannabinol, called THC, the chemical that produces a high.

WCPO reporter Lisa Bernard-Kuhn and photojournalist Emily Maxwell caught up with the Bentons in their new city a few weeks after their move.

Ohio voters may be determining whether the issue of marijuana legalization will be on the ballot this fall.

Read more about Addyson’s story and Ohio’s race to legalize marijuana at

Ohio Family Moves to Colorado for Daughter’s Medical Marijuana | Weed Revolution

2007: Progress Continues in Ramadi, Mullen Notes During Visit

Wed, 20 May 2015 - 12:59am

Just to show Iraq’s ups and downs, here is a celebratory article from the US Department of Defense about the apparent rollback in Ramadi of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (the parent organization of Daesh/ ISIS/ ISIL) from 2007

DoD News

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

RAMADI, Iraq, Dec. 19, 2007 – Driving through downtown Ramadi today is a strange experience for anyone who saw the city in 2006.

Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the city today and said he’s amazed at the differences from a year ago.

There is construction in the streets of the city; school is out of session and children play on playgrounds, including riding on a makeshift Ferris wheel that would give a safety inspector fits.

Ramadi, Iraq (Feb. 20, 2005) Ð U.S. Marines and Sailors, assigned to 1st Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, search Iraqi vehicles and their occupants at a Ramadi, Iraq checkpoint. Marines and Sailors are currently conducting Operation River Blitz to limit the movement of insurgents by use of checkpoints in vital entry points to the city. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Shane T. McCoy (RELEASED)

US Military Checkpoint, Ramadi, 2005 via Wikimedia

The firehouse stands full of trucks, and firefighters sit outside waiting for a summons. Iraqi police patrol the streets. The market is fully stocked, and shoppers search for bargains in electronics, household appliances and food.

Ramadi looks like a normal Middle Eastern city, albeit with a lot of buildings exhibiting bullet holes.

Ramadi in 2006 and into 2007 was al Qaeda in Iraq’s capital city, with a population ruled by fear, intimidation and terror. Only 200 Iraqis were brave enough to serve as police in Ramadi. The provincial government could not sit in the city, the provincial capital, because of the intimidation. The governor and his staff were a government in exile meeting in Baghdad.

Coalition servicemembers moving from one part of the city to another invariably received small-arms and mortar fire or struck improvised explosive devices. Many Marines and soldiers died in Ramadi.

Beginning in April 2007, tribal sheikhs and leaders and people of Ramadi decided enough was enough and found common cause with coalition forces against al Qaeda. “(Al Qaeda) has no support from the local population,” said Army Col. John Charlton, commander of 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, and operations in the area centered on Ramadi. “The people of Ramadi will not let al Qaeda get back in. They contrast the security they have now with the terror they had before, and they just won’t let that happen.”

Charlton’s comments came during a walking tour of Ramadi’s market for Mullen, who walked through the market surrounded by children, their parents and just plain shoppers.

Mullen also visited a joint security station in the heart of the city. Manned by a company from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, the station combines coalition forces with Iraqi security personnel and serves as a focal point for security operations in the market area.

“This is representative of what is going on all over Iraq,” the chairman told the Marines at the station following a meeting with company and battalion officers. “It is very powerful stuff, and we are very grateful for that. You are serving at a really vital time in a really vital part, not just of Iraq, but of the world…

Via DoD News

Iraq: 25,000 Shiite Militiamen gather for Battle of Ramadi

Wed, 20 May 2015 - 12:25am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | —

Al-Zaman (The Times of Baghdad) reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi met Tuesday with leaders of the Shiite militias to plan the retaking of Ramadi, a Sunni Arab city about 78 miles due west of Baghdad that fell on Sunday to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) as the Iraqi armed forces there collapsed.

Ramadi is potentially a base for attacking the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, with its tomb of the Imam Husayn, the martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Daesh could also use it to gain control of nearby Iraqi military bases and their weapons depots.

The Shiite militias have rallied, now that PM al-Abadi has lifted his earlier injunction against them operating in heavily Sunni al-Anbar Province, and are making plans to push Daesh back from Ramadi.

Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Corps and over-all leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces or Shiite militias, said Tuesday that the military task of taking back Ramadi is actually less complicated than campaigning north of Baghdad in Salahuddin Province (where the militias and the Iraqi Army have taken Takrit and Beiji from Daesh).

He said that 25,000 militiamen were already gathering for the fight, which would begin as soon as the volunteers could be assembled and armed. He said they would be joined by Sunni tribal levies and American advisers, and would be given close air support by the US and its anti-Daesh coalition.

The Badr Corps is the paramilitary of the Badr Organization, a pro-Iran Shiite party. It was founded as a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s and originally was attached to the what is now the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a political party founded at the instance of Ayatollah Khomeini.

So that al-Ameri is talking about cooperating with American military advisers on the ground and receiving American, Jordanian and other close air support is quite remarkable and a sign of the strange bedfellows that Daesh has brought together against itself.

Although some observers have stressed Sunni-Shiite unity insofar as some Sunni clans of Eastern al-Anbar have fought against Daesh, the clansmen are dejected about the fall of Ramadi and the ignominious retreat of the Iraqi army.

BBC Monitoring quotes from al-Mada, saying it reported that the head of the Sunni Al-Bu Fahd, Rafi Abd-al-Karim al-Fahdawi remarked: “Al-Bu Fahd tribes in Al-Khalidiyah areas, eastern Al-Ramadi, deployed around 4,000 fighters to protect their areas from any attack by Da’ish.” He added that they are in a “state of disappointment and despair” and that “the morale of his tribe’s fighters deteriorated after the security forces’ withdrawal from Al-Ramadi and the government’s failure to meets its promises to supply them with weapons…” Another clan leader said, “some tribes abandoned fighting because they did not get any weapons or support” from Baghdad.

At the same time, there are signs of Baghdad coordinating with Iran. PM al-Abadi met with the Iranian defense minister, Brig. Gen. Husain Dehqan, in Baghdad on Tuesday evening and underscored that the security of Iran and Iraq are inseparable as they fight terrorist extremism (i.e. Sunni terrorist extremism), pledging that Iraq would never allow an attack on its eastern neighbor.

Al-Abadi also said, “we do not support the war on Yemen” and urged that the conflict be settled by negotiations among Muslim countries. The statement might underscore his alliance with Iran, but it is sure to anger the Gulf Cooperation Council states led by Saudi Arabia, who see the Houthi rebels in Yemen as agents of Iran.

Iraqi President Fuad Masoum, an ethnic Kurd, visited Tehran and likewise underscored the common security of Iran and Iraq.

Al-Abadi plans to head to Russia, where he hopes for support and weapons from Vladimir Putin. Since Daesh has a Chechen contingent, the Russians want to see it crushed, lest it spill back over onto Chechnya, an ethnic Muslim province in the Caucasus that has repeatedly staged secessionist rebellions against the Russian Federation. They have been crushed brutally, provoking a terrorist backlash.

Russia has already provided some arms to Iraq for its current fight against Daesh.


Related video:

Euronews: “Shi’ite militiamen readying for Ramadi recapture”

Unlike Congress, Majority of Americans Oppose NSA Spying

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 11:26pm

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer | ( | –

Survey commissioned by ACLU shows “how disconnected members of Congress are from the feelings of a lot of the public.”

A new survey which found that most Americans oppose NSA surveillance comes as some key sections of the Patriot Act near their expiration date. (Photo: mlliu/flickr/cc)

Most U.S. citizens across the political spectrum oppose the National Security Agency’s (NSA) expansive surveillance powers and want the Patriot Act reformed, according to a new survey by the ACLU released Monday.

A bipartisan pair of polling firms surveyed 1,001 likely voters around the country and found that by nearly a 2:1 margin, Americans believe the Patriot Act should not be reauthorized in its current form. Another 60 percent said they would like to see it modified “to limit government surveillance.”

The release of the survey (pdf) comes with only five days left in the legislative calendar before, absent congressional action, key provisions of the Patriot Act expire on June 1. Those include the controversial Section 215, which the NSA previously used to justify its widespread phone records collection program exposed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“With broad, bipartisan support across all ages, ideologies and political parties, voters are rejecting the argument that the Patriot Act should be preserved with no changes because of potential terrorist threats,” the survey found, referring to a familiar argument used by supporters of the bill.

Further, 82 percent of respondents said they were either somewhat, very, or extremely concerned that the government was “collecting and storing personal information like phone records, emails, bank statements, and other communication.”

ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Giuliani said on a press call announcing the survey that its findings show “how disconnected members of Congress are from the feelings of a lot of the public.”

“And it shows that the current legislative debate and the reforms being considered don’t really go far enough to address many of the significant concerns that many individuals have,” Giuliani added.

In a landmark decision earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s phone surveillance program is illegal and “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized” under the Patriot Act.

That ruling helped push NSA reform to the top of the political agenda in Congress, but even that debate has left lawmakers at odds. The House of Representatives approved the USA Freedom Act last week as a measure to reform the Patriot Act and rein in some of the NSA’s spying powers—but some privacy advocates warned that it does not go far enough to protect civil liberties because it includes a modified reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

“The fact that a lot of members of Congress are still pushing forward to try to reauthorize provisions of the law that many people find concerning is not reflective of the view of the vast majority of the public of both parties,” Giuliani said on Monday. “What the poll results tell us is that in order to be more reflective of the public’s views on surveillance and the Patriot Act, members of Congress should support … more aggressive reforms.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “NSA Surveillance Opposed by American Voters From All Parties, Poll Finds”

The National Security State gets Real: 9 Ways the US is becoming Bizarro World

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 11:25pm

By Tomd Engledhardt | ( | –

It’s commonplace to speak of “the fog of war,” of what can’t be known in the midst of battle, of the inability of both generals and foot soldiers to foresee developments once fighting is underway. And yet that fog is nothing compared to the murky nature of the future itself, which, you might say, is the fog of human life. As Tomorrowlands at world fairs remind us, despite a human penchant for peering ahead and predicting what our lives will be like, we’re regularly surprised when the future arrives.

Remind me who, even among opponents and critics of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, ever imagined that the decision to take out Saddam Hussein’s regime and occupy the country would lead to a terror caliphate in significant parts of Iraq and Syria that would conquer social media and spread like wildfire. And yet, don’t think that the future is completely unpredictable either.

In fact, there’s a certain repetition factor in our increasingly bizarro American world that lends predictability to that future. In case you hadn’t noticed, a range of U.S. military, intelligence, and national security measures that never have the effects imagined in Washington are nonetheless treasured there. As a result, they are applied again and again, usually with remarkably similar results.

The upside of this is that it offers all of us the chance to be seers (or Cassandras). So, with an emphasis on the U.S. national security state and its follies, here are my top nine American repeat headlines, each a surefire news story guaranteed to appear sometime, possibly many times, between June 2015 and the unknown future. 

1. U.S. air power obliterates wedding party: Put this one in the future month and year of your choice, add in a country somewhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa. The possibilities are many, but the end result will be the same. Dead wedding revelers are a repetitious certainty.  If you wait, the corpses of brides and grooms (or, as the New York Post put it, “Bride and Boom!”) will come. Over the years, according to the tabulations of TomDispatch, U.S. planes and drones have knocked off at least eight wedding parties in three countries in the Greater Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen) and possibly more, with perhaps 250 revelers among the casualties.  

And here’s a drone headline variant you’re guaranteed to see many times in the years to come: “U.S. drone kills top al-Qaeda/ISIS/al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula/[terror group of your choice] leader” — with the obvious follow-up headlines vividly illustrated in Andrew Cockburn’s new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins: not the weakening but the further strengthening and spread of such organizations.  And yet the White House is stuck on its drone assassination campaigns and the effectiveness of U.S. air power in suppressing terror outfits.  In other words, air and drone campaigns of this sort will remain powerful tools not in a war on terror, but in one that creates terror with predictable headlines assured.

2. Latest revelation indicates that FBI [NSA, CIA] surveillance of Americans far worse than imagined: Talk about no-brainers. Stories of this sort appear regularly and, despite a recent court ruling that the NSA’s mass collection of the phone metadata of Americans is illegal, there’s every reason to feel confident that this will not change. Most recently, for instance, an informant-filled FBI program to spy on, surveil, and infiltrate the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline movement made the news (as well as the fact that, in acting as it did, the Bureau had “breached its own internal rules”). In other words, the FBI generally acted as the agency has done since the days of J. Edgar Hoover when it comes to protest in this country. 

Beneath such reports lies a deeper reality: the American national security state, which has undergone an era of unprecedented expansion, is now remarkably unconstrained by any kind of serious oversight, the rule of law, or limits of almost any sort.  It should be clear by now that the urge for ever more latitude and power has become part of its institutional DNA.  It has already created a global surveillance system of a kind never before seen or imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the last century.  Its end goal is clearly to have access to everyone on the planet, Americans included, and every imaginable form of communication now in use.  There was to be a sole exception to this blanket system of surveillance: the official denizens of the national security state itself.  No one was to have the capacity to look at them.  This helps explain why its top officials were so viscerally outraged by Edward Snowden and his revelations.  When someone surveilled them as they did others, they felt violated and deeply offended.

When you set up a system that is so unconstrained, of course, you also encourage its opposite: the urge to reveal.  Hence headline three. 

3. FBI [NSA, CIA, DIA, or acronym of your choice] whistleblower charged by administration under the Espionage Act for revealing to reporter [any activity of any sort from within the national security state]: Amid the many potential crimes committed by those in the national security state in this period (including torture, kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, illegal surveillance, and assassination), the record of the Bush and Obama administrations is clear.  In the twenty-first century, only one act is a crime in official Washington: revealing directly or indirectly to the American people what their government is doing in their name and without their knowledge.  In the single-minded pursuit and prosecution of this single “crime,” the Obama administration has set a record for the use of the Espionage Act.  The tossing of Chelsea Manning behind bars for 35 years; the hounding of Edward Snowden; the jailing of Stephen Kim; the attempt to jail CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling for at least 19 years (the judge “only” gave him three and a half); the jailing of John Kiriakou, the sole CIA agent charged in the Agency’s torture scandal (for revealing the name of an agent involved in it to a newspaper reporter), all indicate one thing: that maintaining the aura of secrecy surrounding our “shadow government” is considered of paramount importance to its officials.  Their desire to spy on and somehow control the rest of us comes with an urge to protect themselves from exposure.  As it happens, no matter what kinds of clampdowns are instituted, the creation of such a system of secrecy invites and in its own perverse way encourages revelation as well.  This, in turn, ensures that no matter what the national security state may threaten to do to whistleblowers, disclosures will follow, making such future headlines predictable. 

4. Contending militias and Islamic extremist groups fight for control in shattered [fill in name of country somewhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa] after a U.S. intervention [drone assassination campaign, series of secret raids, or set of military-style activities of your choice]: Look at Libya and Yemen today, look at the fragmentation of Iraq, as well as the partial fragmentation of Pakistan and even Afghanistan.  American interventions of the twenty-first century seem to carry with them a virus that infects the nation-state and threatens it from within.  These days, it’s also clear that, whether you look at Democrats or Republicans, some version of the war-hawk party in Washington is going to reign supreme for the foreseeable future.  Despite the dismal record of Washington’s military-first policies, such power-projection will undoubtedly remain the order of the day in significant parts of the world.  As a result, you can expect American interventions of all sorts (even if not full-scale invasions).  That means further regional fragmentation, which, in turn, means similar headlines in the future as central governments weaken or crumble and warring militias and terror outfits fight it out in the ruins of the state. 

5. [King, emir, prime minister, autocrat, leader] of [name of U.S. ally or proxy state] snubs [rejects, angrily disputes, denounces, ignores] U.S. presidential summit meeting [joint news conference, other event]: This headline is obviously patterned on recent news: the announcement that Saudi King Salman, who was to attend a White House summit of the Gulf states at Camp David, would not be coming.  This led to a spate of “snub” headlines, along with accounts of Saudi anger at Obama administration attempts to broker a nuclear peace deal with Iran that would free that country’s economy of sanctions and so potentially allow it to flex its muscles further in the Middle East. 

Behind that story lies a far bigger one: the growing inability of the last superpower to apply its might effectively in region after region.  Historically, the proxies and dependents of great powers — take Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam in the early 1960s — have often been nationalists and found their dependency rankling.  But private gripes and public slaps are two very different things.  In our moment, Washington’s proxies and allies are visibly restless and increasingly less polite and the Obama administration seems strangely toothless in response.  Former President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan may have led the way on this, but it’s a phenomenon that’s clearly spreading.  (Check out, for instance, General Sisi of Egypt or Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.)  Even Washington’s closest European allies seem to be growing restless.  In a recent gesture that (Charles de Gaulle aside) has no companion in post-World War II history, England, Germany, and Italy agreed to become founding members of a new Chinese-led Asian regional investment bank.  They did so over the public and private objections of the Obama administration and despite Washington’s attempts to apply pressure on the subject.  They were joined by other close U.S. allies in Asia.  Given Washington’s difficulty making its power mean something in recent years, it’s not hard to predict more snubs and slaps from proxies and allies alike.  Fortunately, Washington has one new ally it might be able to count on: Cuba.    

6. Twenty-two-year-old [18-year-old, age of your choice] Arab-American [Somali-American, African-American or Caucasian-American convert to Islam] arrested for planning to bomb [drone attack, shoot up] the Mall of America [Congress, the Empire State Building, other landmark, transportation system, synagogue, church, or commercial location] by the FBI thanks to a Bureau informer: This is yet another no-brainer of a future headline or rather set of headlines.  So far, just about every high-profile terror “plot” reported (and broken up) in this country has involved an FBI informer or informers and most of them have been significantly funded, inspired, or even organized by that agency right down to the fake weaponry the “terrorists” used.  Most of the “plotters” involved turned out to be needy and confused losers, sometimes simply hapless, big-mouthed drifters, who were essentially incapable, whatever their thinking, of developing and carrying out an organized terror attack on their own.  There are only a few exceptions, including the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and the Times Square car bombing of 2010 (foiled by two street vendors). 

What the FBI has operated in these years is about as close as you can get to an ongoing terrorism sting-cum-scam operation.  Though Bureau officials undoubtedly don’t think of it so crudely, it could be considered an effective part of a bureaucratic fundraising exercise.  Keep in mind that the massive expansion of the national security state has largely been justified by the fear of one thing: terrorism.  In terms of actual casualties in the U.S. since 9/11, terrorism has not been a significant danger and yet the national security state as presently constituted makes no sense without an overwhelming public and congressional fear of terrorism.  So evidence of regular terror “plots” is useful indeed.  Publicity about them, which runs rampant whenever one of them is “foiled” by the Bureau, generates fear, not to say hysteria here, as well as a sense of the efficiency and accomplishment of the FBI.  All of this ensures that, in an era highlighted by belt-tightening in Washington, the funds will continue to flow.  As a result, you can count on a future in which FBI-inspired/-organized/-encouraged Islamic terrorism is a repeated fact of life in “the homeland.”  (If you want to get an up-close-and-personal look at just how the FBI works with its informers in the business of entrapping of “terrorists,” check out the upcoming documentary film (T)error when it becomes available.)

7. American lone wolf terrorist, inspired by ISIS [al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, terror group of your choice] videos [tweets, Facebook pleas, recordings], guns down two [none, three, six, other number of] Americans at school [church, political gathering, mall, Islamophobic event, or your pick] before being killed [wounded, captured]: Lone wolf terrorism is nothing new.  Think of Timothy McVeigh.  But the Muslim extremist version of the lone wolf terrorist — and yes, Virginia, there clearly are some in this country unbalanced enough to be stirred to grim action by the videos or tweets of various terror groups — is the new kid on the block.  So far, however, among the jostling crowds of American lone mass murderers who strike regularly across the country in schools, colleges, movie theaters, religious venues, workplaces, and other spots, Islamic lone wolves seem to have been a particularly ineffective crew.  And yet, as with those FBI-inspired terror plots, the Islamic-American lone wolf turns out to be a perfect vehicle for creating hysteria and so the officials of the national security state wallow in high-octane statements about such dangers, which theoretically envelop us.  In financial terms, the lone wolf is to the national security state what the Koch Brothers are to Republican presidential candidates, which means that you can count on terrifying headlines galore into the distant future.

8. Toddler kills mother [father, brother, sister] in [Idaho, Cleveland, Albuquerque, or state or city of your choice] with family gun: Fill in the future blanks as you will, this is a story fated to happen again and again.  Statistically, death-by-toddler is a greater danger to Americans living in “the homeland” than death by terrorist, but of course it raises funds for no one.  No set of agencies broadcasts hysterical claims about such killings; no set of agencies lives off of or is funded by the threat of them, though they are bound to be on the rise.  The math is simple enough.  In the U.S., ever more powerful guns are available, while “concealed carrying” is now legal in all 50 states and the places in which you can carry are expandingWell over 1.3 million people have the right to carry a concealed weapon in Florida alone, and a single lobbying group in favor of such developments, the National Rifle Association, is so powerful that most politicians don’t dare take it on.  Add it all up and it’s obvious that more weapons will be carelessly left within the reach of toddlers who will pick them up, pull the trigger, and kill or wound others who are literally and figuratively close to them, a searing life (and death) experience.  So the future headlines are predictable.

9. President claims Americans are ‘exceptional’ and the U.S. is ‘indispensible’ to the world: Lest you think this one is a joke headline, here’s what USA Today put up in September 2013: “Obama tells the world: America is exceptional”; and here’s Voice of America in 2012: “Obama: U.S. ‘the one indispensible nation in world affairs.'” In fact, it’s unlikely a president could survive politically these days without repetitiously citing the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nature of this country.  Recently, even when apologizing for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that took out American and Italian hostages of al-Qaeda, the president insisted that we were still “exceptional” on planet Earth — for admitting our mistakes, if nothing else.  On this sort of thing, the Republicans running for president and that party’s war hawks in Congress double down when it comes to heaping praise on us, making the president’s exceptionalist comments seem almost recessive by comparison.  In fact, this is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics.  It only took off in the post-9/11 era and, as with anything emphasized too much and repeated too often, it betrays not strength and confidence but creeping doubt about the nature of our country.  Once upon a time, Americans didn’t have to say such things because they seemed obvious.  No longer.  So await these inane headlines in the future and the repetitive litany of over-the-top self-praise that goes with them, and consider them a way to take the pulse of an increasingly anxious nation at sea with itself.

And mind you, this is just to scratch the surface of what’s predictable in the American future.  I’m sure you could come up with nine similarly themed headlines in no time at all.  It turns out that the key to such future stories is the lack of a learning curve in Washington, more or less a necessity if the national security state plans to continue to gain power and shed the idea that it is accountable to other Americans for anything it does.  If it were capable of learning from its actions, it might not survive its own failures.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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Writing History Before It Happens
Nine Surefire Future Headlines From a Bizarro American World
By Tom Engelhardt

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews from a couple of years ago: “US-led airstrikes kills 52 civilians, including 7 children”

Hip-Hop Hijabis: Spitting Rhymes About Being Muslim And Female

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 11:15pm

AJ+ | –

“Hip-hop is a male-dominated arena. In California, a hip-hop collective of Muslim women are challenging stereotypes about being Muslim, and women, through their lyrics.”

AJ+: “Hip-Hop Hijabis: Spitting Rhymes About Being Muslim And Female”

Vatican recognition of saints symbolic victory for Palestinians

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 11:13pm

By: Charlie Hoyle

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The grounds of the Carmel Convent in Bethlehem, home to blue-shuttered stone buildings on a hilltop facing the Nativity Church, are adorned with the image of Mariam Bawardy, one of two Palestinian nuns canonized by Pope Francis in Rome on Sunday.

Tucked away from the traffic-filled streets of central Bethlehem, the serene convent founded in 1876 is a testament to the life work of the Galilee-born nun, now home to 15 sisters from Palestine, Europe, and Latin America.

A portrait of Mariam Bawardy hangs in the Bethlehem convent she founded.(Charlie Hoyle)

“She was a very humble person, full of love and vitality, a complete human being,” one of the sisters at the convent told Ma’an, a sense of pride in her voice.

“She worked for people who had nothing, for justice. She had a difficult life, full of poverty, but it serves as a great message for people today.”

Her room at the convent has been well preserved by the sisters, with a white prayer gown hanging on the wall and the remnants of her bandages kept behind glass – the nuns say she suffered from stigmata, the wounds of Jesus Christ, until her death at the age of 32.

The historic ceremony at the Vatican, attended by an array of regional church leaders and President Mahmoud Abbas, celebrated for the first time the veneration of two Palestinian saints – Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, who was born in Jerusalem in 1846, then under Ottoman rule.

Giant portraits of the women hung high in St Peter’s Basilica facing the crowds, including 2,000 Palestinians, who had gathered for the canonization, with Pope Francis calling the two Palestinian women a “luminous example” for Catholics to follow.

Bawardy was born to a Greek Catholic family and lived in Egypt, France, and India before moving to Bethlehem. Orphaned and illiterate, she suffered dire poverty and tragedy in early life.

While living in Alexandria at the age of 12, she rejected her uncle’s attempt to marry her off and had her throat slit after she refused a servants’ demands to convert to Islam, with her recovery prompting her to enter the church and provide charity to poor families across the Middle East.

Ghattas, known for her piety and love, set out on an educational mission and founded the Congregation of the Holy Rosary, leaving behind a network of convents, schools and religious centers in the Middle East.

She is said to have performed many miracles in her life and to have seen the Virgin Mary in several apparitions.

A giant poster of the two new Palestinian saints, who lived under Ottoman rule.(Charlie Hoyle)

‘Palestine on the map’

The historic recognition of the first Palestinian, and indeed Arabic speaking, saints came only days after the Vatican announced the first bilateral treaty with the State of Palestine since official recognition two years ago.

With a stalled peace process, a decidedly right-wing Israeli coalition, and internal Palestinian division, the recognition of two Palestinian saints – the highest honor bestowed by the Catholic Church — has been interpreted as a positive intervention by the Vatican in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is a strong message from the Holy See, from his holiness, that he cares for Palestine and the Palestinians,” Ambassador to the Holy See Issa Kassissieh told Ma’an.

“We see it as a religious ceremony but it has a national message. After all, the two nuns are Palestinian Christians and we are proud that we have two saints from Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.”

Rifaat Kassis, a prominent political community activist and coordinator of Kairos, a local Christian group, says the canonization is significant on many levels, notwithstanding the recognition that Palestinians under Ottoman rule were part of a diverse, productive society, contrary to the mainstream sidelining of Palestinians from the region’s history.

“This puts Palestine on the map, among not only the catholic world, but the whole world, and I think this will also help people to understand Palestine and the occupation,” he told Ma’an.

Whether the Vatican recognition of the saints was politically motivated or not, the event signals a desire by Pope Francis to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kassis added, something he views as a “positive sign.”

A wooden icon of Mariam Bawardy inside the Carmel Convent.(Charlie Hoyle)

‘New hope for peace’

The treaty announced last Wednesday will deal with the “life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” according to the Vatican’s website, and essentially covers issues such as Vatican property, taxes and protocol at holy sites.

The treaty also made reference to diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine, as opposed to the PLO, a clear shift in direction.

“This a step forward for a two state solution, or a solution. The Vatican now recognizes the state, and this will make it easier for others to recognize it and forces Israel to make peace,” Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre, told Ma’an.

“We are very proud that our dear land has produced two important persons, humble poor persons who became sanctified by the Vatican.

“Recognition of the (Palestinian) state is also a good answer in the face of tyranny to peace that the Israeli election produced.”

A representative from the media office of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said that the canonization of the two Palestinian saints is at heart a spiritual event which could have a social impact in teaching Palestinians about how to “live with serenity in the midst of all our problems,” an existential inspiration rather than a political influence.

It is also a message to the world that the Middle East is not just about media headlines on IS and irrational violence, that the Arabic speaking people have a rich history and there are diverse communities in the Middle East, such as the Christian minority whose presence dates back to the time of Christ.

“It shows that this land is not a violent land, that there are people working for peace and tolerance. It is a land which stands for serenity too,” the Latin patriarchate representative said.

“The canonization is a new hope for peace in this land.”

Via Ma’an News Agency

Why does the Iraqi Army Keep Running Away from ISIL?

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 2:06am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Commen) | —

Baghdad was shaken by the news that the Iraq army and police in Ramadi ran away from the advancing forces of Daesh (ISIL, ISIS). As a result, good American weaponry again fell into the hands of the extremists.

Diya’ al-Wakil, former Iraqi military spokesperson, has the same question, and he attempted some answers.

He asks: Why did the army and police and counter-terrorism forces retreate before the advance of the Daesh fighters?

Was the retreat a result of strategic or tactical errors?

What about psychological warfare?

Why would forces supported by close air support and heavy artillery retreat before small guerrilla groups?

Al-Wakil explains that Daesh takes cover in densely populated urban alleyways and fights from them, so that it is impossible to bomb them. This technique, he says removed the advantage the regular army has, since it becomes impossible for the the coalition air force to strike the enemy or for heavy artillery to be deployed.

Next, there is poor coordination between units. The coalition’s air forces were not effective because thy did not give the required support to the fighters on the ground because of poor integration.

The political divisions in Baghdad over whether to arm Sunni tribal levies properly and over whether to allow Shiite militias from Iraq’s south to deploy in Sunni al-Anbar province took these ancillary forces out of the fight.

Poor morale in the Iraqi army and effective psychological warfare by Daesh. This must be effectively countered if the army is ever to make progress. (He means that Sunni troops and police in al-Anbar Province are targeted by Daesh as “apostates,,” playing on the guilt some of them feel because they are serving a Shiite government.)

Ahmad al-Shamari argues that the Shiite militias or popular mobilization forces are not nearly as undisciplined and sectarian as they are depicted in the press.

related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Islamic State takes Ramadi, thousands flee”

Jeb Bush & Schiavo Affair: Islamization of GOP?

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 1:03am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)| –

Michael Schiavo is speaking out about Jeb Bush’s determined, sustained and energetic intervention, as Florida governor, in the private medical decision of the Schiavo family to take Terri off life support after her brain showed no sign of activity. Politico says,

“Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward. For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state. “It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

The article raises questions about what sort of president Jeb Bush would be.

This is what Informed Comment said at the time:


The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called “bringing to account” (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, “Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion.” Hisba is a medieval idea that had all but lapsed when the fundamentalists brought it back in the 1970s and 1980s.

In this practice, any individual can use the courts to intervene in the private lives of others. Among the more famous cases of such interference is that of Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid in Egypt. A respected modern scholar of Koranic studies, Abu Zaid argued that, contrary to medieval interpretations of Islamic law, women and men should receive equal inheritance shares. (Medieval Islamic law granted women only half the inheritance shares of their brothers). Abu Zaid was accused of sacrilege. Then the allegation of sacrilege was used as a basis on which the fundamentalists sought to have the courts forcibly divorce him from his wife.

Abu Zaid’s wife loved her husband. She did not want to be divorced. But the fundamentalists went before the court and said, she is a Muslim, and he is an infidel, and no Muslim woman may be married to an infidel. They represented their efforts as being on behalf of the Islamic religion, which had an interest in seeing to it that heretics like Abu Zaid could not remain married to a Muslim woman. In 1995 the hisba court actually found against them. They fled to Europe, and ultimately settled in Holland.

Likewise, a similar tactic was deployed against the Egyptian feminist author, Nawal Saadawi, but it failed and she was able to remain in the country.

One of the most objectionable features of this fundamentalist tactic is that persons without standing can interfere in private affairs. Perfect strangers can file a case about your marriage, because they represent themselves as defending a public interest (the upholding of religion and morality).

Terri Schiavo’s husband is her legal guardian. Her parents have not succeeded in challenging this status of his. As long as he is the guardian, the decision on removing the feeding tubes is between him and their physicians. Her parents have not succeeded in having this responsibility moved from him to them. Even under legislation George W. Bush signed in 1999 while governor of Texas, the spouse and the physician can make this decision.

In passing a special law to allow the case to be kicked to a Federal judge after the state courts had all ruled in favor of the husband, Congress probably shot itself in the foot once again. The law is not a respecter of persons, so the Federal judge will likely rule as the state ones did.

But the most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ‘ The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo’s religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. “We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul,” Mr. Gibbs said. ‘

In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church. Both of these public bodies interfered in the private affairs of the Schiavos, just as the fundamentalist Egyptian, Nabih El-Wahsh, tried to interfere in the marriage of Nawal El Saadawi.

Like many of his fundamentalist counterparts in the Middle East, Tom Delay is rather cynically using this issue to divert attention from his own corruption. Like the Muslim fundamentalist manipulators of Hisba, Delay represents himself as acting on behalf of a higher cause. He said of the case over the weekend, ‘ “This is not a political issue. This is life and death,” ‘

Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn’t different from his counterparts in Iran.


Related video:

Terri Schiavo Documentary: The Case’s Enduring Legacy | Retro Report | The New York Times

Does Sen. Lindsey Graham want to Drone Americans for Thought Crimes?

Tue, 19 May 2015 - 12:08am

John Iadarola & Jimmy Dore | (The Young Turks) | –

“”Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is ready to join the crowded 2016 presidential race — and he’s having a blast in doing it.

The defense hawk and pragmatic Republican said Monday morning on CBS’s This Morning that he would make an announcement on June 1 about his plans, but he went on to dispense with all pretense of what that decision would be.

“I’m running because I think the world is falling apart,” Graham said.

His 10-minute address at the Iowa Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday was heavy on foreign policy, promising to be a tough hand on national security if elected.”

The Young Turks: “Lindsey Graham To Run As ISIS’s Worst Nightmare & He’s Not Wrong”

After fall of Ramadi to ISIL, does Iraq have a future?

Mon, 18 May 2015 - 11:55pm

By Brian M Downing | (Informed Comment) | –

Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, has fallen to forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL has now reversed a string of defeats since it swept into northern and central Iraq last summer. This will improve the movement’s recruitment and reaffirm its troops’ belief that they are the favored ones and that final victory will inevitably come.

The defeat also returns the future of Sunni Iraq to prominence. The Sunnis hold the key to defeating ISIL in Iraq, but the consequences are sobering.

Iraqi troops

ISIL took Ramadi by using shock tactics, large car and truck bombs, to overwhelm the Iraqi army troops, who then fled. The Iraqi army has been able to act in a disciplined, effective manner elsewhere, but the number of such troops is limited, probably greatly so. Other Iraqi units remain plagued by unprofessional officers and regional factions in the rank and file.

Ramadi is overwhelmingly Sunni and like Mosul last summer, locals may have been openly hostile to Baghdad’s presence, which they see as a Shia imposition backed by “Persia.” The same may be true of Sunni army officers who felt no duty to stand their ground for venerable foes to the east. Sunni hostility has been heightened in recent months by accounts of Kurdish and Iraqi mistreatment of Sunnis in areas retaken from ISIL. The accounts are likely magnified by sectarian sensitivities, but they will nonetheless make Shia and Kurdish operations in Sunni Anbar extremely difficult.

The Sunnis

The tribes of Anbar will be critical in the war for western Iraq. They have a martial heritage which includes overrepresentation in Saddam’s army and security forces, the basis of the anti-US insurgency, and keys to the Anbar Awakening which drove al Qaeda out of most of Iraq, at least temporarily.

Presently, some Sunnis serve alongside ISIL, others battle them. Most, however, are not engaged and are probably awaiting the proper inducement to fight ISIL. Sunnis look about the region and see states breaking apart, from Libya to Yeman. Just to their north, the Kurds have established autonomy and may be on the verge of independence.

The Sunnis have repeatedly asked to be armed directly by the US, but thus far Washington has deferred to Baghdad’s objections. The Shia government fears that if the Sunni tribes are armed by the US (or, say, Saudi Arabia), they will fight ISIL then turn against Baghdad and create a Sunni autonomous region, if not a breakaway state.

Foreign views

Iran strongly opposes arming the Sunnis as it will lead inevitably to a powerful buffer between the Shias of Iran and Iraq and their brethren in Syria and Lebanon. This will leave the two regions effectively isolated and vulnerable to sectarian attacks. In the case of Lebanon and Syria, they will be vulnerable to subjugation or even destruction.

Needless to say, any such Sunni region might well suit Riyadh, where sectarian passions are high. Indeed, Sunni separation from Baghdad would be a tremendous diplomatic achievement for the new head of the House of Saud, and the new region would enjoy substantial aid.

In recent years, Israel has aligned with Sunni monarchies in opposing Iran and its allies in Syria and Lebanon. The enmity with Iran is so profound, and blinding, that Israel is reportedly aiding the al Nusrah Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, in battles against Syrian and Hisbollah troops.

In recent weeks, the US senate has called for the arming of the Sunnis. Motivations in the rancorous body, as one might readily expect, are based far less on astute geopolitical considerations than on the urge to undermine the White House and heed allies who oppose Iran.

In so doing, the US may nonetheless be stumbling upon the optimal way to defeat ISIL in Iraq. However, it will further embed the US into sectarian rivalries that may handcuff the US in other diplomatic efforts and align it with another landlocked region engaged in an enduring conflict of limited importance to US security.

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, and author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam
. He can be reached at brianmdowning a_t gmail d o t com.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Shi’ite forces to battle ISIL militants in Iraq’s Anbar province”

Israel Pushes Negev Bedouin Palestinians into a Corner

Mon, 18 May 2015 - 11:38pm

By Ari Heistein | (Informed Comment) | –


Israel’s latest move to demolish a Bedouin village and replace it with homes for Jewish citizens is no surprise to anyone familiar with the state’s policies in the Negev. Beginning in the 1970s, the State of Israel launched a campaign to push the Negev Bedouin from their unrecognized encampments into government townships.  The state promised them a parcel of land and government services in exchange for renouncing all other land claims.  In addition to incentives, the government also uses threats—it employs a policy of home demolition and the denial of basic services for those Bedouin resisting the move into government townships. Thus far, over 80,000 Bedouin have chosen to move into the townships while about the same number have chosen to risk government harassment and home demolition to remain in the unrecognized villages.


Signs of the townships’ failure include dismal graduation rates, high crimes rates, high levels of hard drug use, and the distinction of being among the poorest cities in Israel year after year.  Indeed, things have become so bad that the Negev Bedouin have actually started to trickle from the government townships back into the ramshackle shantytowns known as unrecognized villages.


The government’s policies towards the Bedouin, which have ranged from neglect to outright hostility, have many worried about the potential backlash of creating parallel societies rather than one integrated society. News sources, including Israel’s Haaretz, have been predicting a Bedouin intifada for over a decade due to the Negev dwellers’ marginalization.


As in many countries throughout the Middle East, the government’s neglect has created an environment conducive to the growth of Islamic alternatives to the state. The Islamic Movement (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) provides numerous services and scholarships to Bedouin families and has stepped in to fill a void left by Israel. While one would imagine that the Islamic Movement’s provision of services defuses tension or resentment between the state and the citizens it neglects, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the Movement spreads an anti-Israel/anti-Zionist message and that its growing influence will undoubtedly lead to more hostile attitudes towards the state.  A 2011 article in Ynet noted that the Islamic Movement’s  increased presence in the Negev is one of the primary drivers behind increased pressure in the Bedouin society not to enlist in the Israeli military (at the present time, less than 1 percent of the population serves in the IDF).


Yet even those that do serve in the military have not been allowed to fully integrate. According to the IDF website, many of the Bedouin volunteers are placed in separate units:

Both the tracker and reconnaissance battalions are composed solely of Bedouin volunteering to serve in the IDF from both northern and southern Israel. A tracker’s job is to obstruct illegal breaches into Israeli territory including that of terrorists, illegal immigrants and smugglers. The skills required for tracking have been passed down generations of Bedouins, as they are essential for their everyday lives. Leading semi-nomadic, Muslim lifestyles, the values of peace of mind, enhanced senses, and an unparalleled familiarity with the land are entrenched in their culture.


The military’s statement is puzzling on a number of levels. First, while the official IDF position is that military service promotes Bedouin integration, the military generally puts Bedouin in separate units. Second, there seems to be a conflict within the Israeli government: on the one hand there is a romanticism of traditional Bedouin life on the IDF website, and, on the other, there is a concerted government effort to eradicate that lifestyle through forced urbanization.  Third, since some of the Bedouin enlisting in the IDF are from urban townships, there is no reason to believe that the Bedouin’s “tracking skills…are essential for their everyday lives.” They live in permanent structures and go to school—most likely they are not accustomed herding sheep or tracking animals. 

According to a 2002 report by Reserve Gen. Rafael Vardi, Bedouin attempts to integrate into Israel society through service in the IDF were largely unsuccessful.  The report noted that “rather than winning praise for going against the general anti-Israeli trend in Arab society, Bedouin soldiers suffer discrimination in the army, enjoy few opportunities for professional mobility and face difficulties in finding security-linked jobs after they are discharged.” Furthermore, despite their loyal service to the state, Bedouin IDF combat veterans from the unrecognized villages remain at risk of having their houses destroyed by the government. While the IDF has embarked on some recent efforts by to promote Bedouin integration into Israel society after military service, if successful this would effect only a fraction of a percent of the total population (with only about 450 Bedouin enlisting per year).

In civilian life, Bedouin attempts to integrate are also frustrated by the state. Bedouin do not necessarily have the “right” to rent or buy a home in non-Bedouin towns or villages.  Many of the Jewish communities (moshavim) use selection committees to ensure that Arabs, Bedouin, and other “undesirables” are not able to join– something along the lines of a racially restrictive homeowners covenant in America in the early 20th century. According to Adalah, an advocacy group for Arab rights, the Supreme Court upheld an Israeli law in 2014 which “allows for hundreds of Israeli Jewish communities in the Naqab (Negev) in the south and in the Galilee in the north to reject applicants for housing based on the criteria of ‘social suitability’ and the ‘social and cultural fabric’ of the town.”


So how can one expect them to feel any semblance belonging in a state when they are so often relegated to the margins?


As the Negev Bedouin community continues to grow at an astronomical rate (doubling approximately every 15 years), the Israeli government should be concerned about alienating such a large percentage of the Negev’s population (somewhere between one-third and one-half).  While there is a clear conflict between the Bedouin and Israeli ways of life in regards to land claims, women’s rights, etc., trying to undermine the community by pushing it into a corner will ultimately create hundreds of thousands of citizens hostile to the government. If Israel continues on the path of marginalization rather than integration, it is not hard to envision a scenario in which the state policy of asserting authority over Negev lands at the expense of the Bedouin ultimately costs the state stability and order in its southernmost region.

Ari Heistein is a translator and researcher.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Amos Gvirtz–Being Bedouin in a Jewish State

Who does Jerusalem belong To?

Mon, 18 May 2015 - 2:51am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

Far right Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commemorated Israel’s “Jerusalem Day” with a speech in which he said, “Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people only, and no other,” and warned that Muslim terrorism menaced it.

Jerusalem, Daru Shalem, was founded sometime between 6500 and 5500 years ago, by the proto-Canaanite people long before Judaism existed. It was dedicated to the god of dusk, Shalem.

The first mention of it was after 2000 BC, again, before Judaism existed, in an Egyptian text.

So I think we may conclude that the City of Shalem the god of dusk was probably the capital of a lot of peoples long before there was any religion called Judaism.

Roughly 1500-1200 BC, Jerusalem was ruled from Memphis in Egypt by the pharaohs, but the Canaanites remained their proxies.

Petty Canaanite kings continued to dominate the region after Egyptian control lapsed. Some of them over time gradually adopted practices later associated with Judaism, but many other streams of Canaanite belief remained. Probably there were petty tribal chieftains named David and Solomon after 1000 BC, but Jerusalem appears not to have been populated 1000 to 900 BC. and so they didn’t have a palace there.

Whatever the character of the various Canaanite tribal confederations in Palestine, including the proto-Israeli, in 900-770 BC, in the latter year the region fell to the Assyrians.

In 597 BC the Babylonians conquered Palestine and later transported at least some of its population to Babylon. Likely it was there that the Jewish religion became fully elaborated.

In 539 BC, Babylon falls to the Iranian Achaemenid Empire, which emancipates the Jews. The Achaemenids rule most of the civilized world, from Egypt to what is now Pakistan. Palestine is ruled by Iran for nearly 200 years, until 330, when Alexander defeats the Achaemenids.

The Greek Ptolemaic dynasty held sway over Palestine until 198 BC, when the Seleucids conquered it.

In 168 the Maccabean Revolt established a small Jewish state in the area. Aside from the Israeli clans of the pre-Assyrian period, this was the only premodern Jewish state to have Jerusalem as a capital. Even so, they were vassals from 40 BC to the Iranian Parthian empire. Herod became a vassal of the Romans in Palestine in 6 of the Common Era (AD).

Jerusalem was Roman/ Byzantine until 614 CE, when the Iranian Sasanid Empire again conquered it.

In 629 the Byzantines took it back.

The Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638 and ruled it until 1099, when the Crusaders conquered it it. The Crusaders killed or expelled Jews and Muslims from the city.

The Muslims under Saladin took it back in 1187 CE and allowed Jews to return.

So I think probably Jerusalem was the capital of, like, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. for several decades.

Muslims then ruled it until the end of World War I, or altogether over a millennium.

So Iran ruled Jerusalem altogether for some 250 years, and the Crusaders for about 200 years, and it was the capital of lots of peoples, including Canaanite kingdoms and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was also often a provincial capital under Muslim empires.

In the Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain during WW I, which shaped the Middle East, Jerusalem was awarded to Russia.

Lenin was outraged when he found the agreement in the Romanov palace after the 1917 October Revolution, and he had it published. He withdrew Russia from the war and forewent the prize of Jerusalem.

The city was awarded the British by the Versailles Peace Conference, as part of the British Mandate of Palestine.

In the 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan for Palestine, Jerusalem was designated a “Separate Body” to be administered internationally. It was not awarded to Israel by the UN. Although propagandists for Israel are always going on about how they accepted the UN partition plan, they did not, of course. They conquered a lot of territory that the GA did not award them, including West Jerusalem.

It was Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine who used violence to grab part of the city, disregarding international law and agreements. The city was mostly populated by Palestinians in any case, what with being a Palestinian city and all.

In 1967 the Israeli army took East Jerusalem, and ever since has squeezed the Palestinian population, driven them into poverty, usurped their property, and surrounded them by squatter settlements. There is no warrant in any part of any international agreement or law for the Israelis to behave this way toward the people who inhabited Jerusalem for over a millennium (and who are in any case almost certainly descendents of Palestinian Jews who converted to Islam). Violence is still a big part of the way Israel rules East Jerusalem, so Netanyahu warning of Muslim violence is rich.

Muslims consider Jerusalem the third holiest city of Islam. Despite Westerners constantly telling them they have no right to do that, they seem pretty attached to the doctrine. There are 1.5 billion of them, and their nerves are raw after centuries of Western colonialism during which they were told their religion was useless and backward. The occupation of Jerusalem was given by al-Qaeda as one reason for its attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The insistence of Jewish extremists on angering the Muslim world by invading the Aqsa mosque from time to time, and threatening to demolish it, is like those old Warner Bros. cartoons where the foolish little boy keeps teasing a tiger in its cage.


Related video:

RT: “RT crew attacked by Israeli police during Jerusalem day march”