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Muslim Hate: Muslim Americans Struggle To Prove Their Innocence

Thu, 17 Jul 2014 - 11:27pm

By Molly Knott

This week, a number of articles were published on various conservative websites claiming that the Obama Administration has not used it’s full authority to participate in “Muslim hate” and target Muslim Americans, more specifically, American Mosques–as one article puts it: “…where the terrorists are.”

While this kind of ignorant rhetoric is both disturbing and irresponsible; it is not the only time in recent years that Muslim-Americans have been held socially responsible for the moral deficiencies of radical extremists.

Who recalls Bill O’Reilly’s public unraveling when trying to argue against the Ground Zero mosque on The View circa 2010?

The first problem with these claims is the notion that run-of-the mill American mosques have anything to do with terrorist attacks inspired by radical Islamic fundamentalism. A look at the timeline of the history of U.S. terrorist attacks reveals that less than 5% of all terrorists who have carried out attacks on U.S. citizens are what is referred to as “home-grown,” meaning that they became radicalized here in the U.S. But Muslim hate has escalated.

The majority of Islamic terrorists come from war-torn, politically unstable regions in the Middle East. They are inspired and sponsored by large terror-organizations such as al-Qaida and Hezbollah, who offer them not only spiritual guidance, but financial support.

When a terror attack has taken place and we discover that one of the attackers was a U.S. citizen, there is an assumption that exists which says that their extremism is in some way linked to their American-Muslim community. We assume that they arrived here with innocent intentions, only to be corrupted in a Mosque where the environment is to teach extremist, radical ideals. However; the truth is, the relationship between Mosque and terrorist has consistently been the other way around, both pre and post 9/11.

Radical members of groups like al-Qaida seek citizenship as a means to their end, and had their goal of deadly Jihad set far before they ever set foot on U.S. soil.

There are seeming exceptions to this, though. Take the Tsarnaev brothers, who had no connection to larger terror cells, and exhibited no signs of Anti-American sentiment almost up until the attack. Or Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born man responsible for plotting the Times Square bombings. While in both cases the FBI has found no connection to larger terror organizations, they have also found no connection to radical Mosques teaching extremist ideals. Muslim hate towards innocent American Muslims is the result of being ignorant of the facts.

The problem of Muslim extremism does not begin or end in a U.S. Mosque. Resentments towards Americans are not supported there, and the westernized definition of “jihad” is simply not taught.

The desire of conservatives to hold a Salem witch-hunt and take Muslim hate behind the walls of U.S. Mosques is not only counter-productive, but reminiscent of a McCarthy-era America where fear overruled constitutional morality.

Edited/Published by:SB

Mirrored from Liberal America

This work by www.LiberalAmerica.Org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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TheRealNews: “Where’s the Outrage Over Spying on Muslim Civil Rights Leaders?”

Netanyahu’s Last Stand: Why he Cannot Win by Bombing Gaza

Thu, 17 Jul 2014 - 12:04am

Published on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 by Common Dreams




By Ramzy Baroud

When the bodies of three Israeli settlers – Aftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 – were found on June 30 near Hebron in the southern West Bank, Israel went into a state of mourning and a wave of sympathy flowed in from around the world. The three had disappeared 18 days earlier in circumstances that remain unclear.

The entire episode, particularly after its grim ending, seemed to traumatize Israelis into ignoring harsh truths about the settlers and the militarization of their society. Amid a portrayal of the three as hapless youths, although one was a 19-year-old soldier, commentators have failed to provide badly needed context to the events. Few, if any, assigned the blame where it was most deserved – on expansionist policies which have sown hatred and bloodshed.

Before the discovery of the bodies, the real face of Netanyahu’s notoriously right-wing government was well-known. Few held Illusions about how “peaceful” an occupation could be if run by figures such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon. But because “children” – the term used by Netanyahu himself – were involved, even critics didn’t expect an exercise in political point-scoring.

There was sympathy elicited for the missing settlers case, but it quickly vanished in the face of an Israeli response (in the West Bank, Jerusalem and later in a full-scale war on Gaza) largely seen in the crucible of world opinion as disproportionate and cruel. Rather than being related to the tragic death of three youths, this response obviously reflected Netanyahu’s grand political calculations.

As mobs of Israeli Jews went out on an ethnic lynching spree in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank that some likened to a “pogrom”, occupation soldiers conducted a massive arrest campaign of hundreds of Palestinians, mostly Hamas members and supporters.

The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas said it had no role in the death of the settlers, and this appears plausible since they rarely hesitate to take credit for something carried out by their military wing. Israeli military strategists were well aware of that.

This war on Hamas, however, has little to do with the killed settlers, and everything to do with the political circumstances that preceded their disappearance.

On May 15, two Palestinian youths, Nadim Siam Abu Nuwara, 17, and Mohammed Mahmoud Odeh Salameh, 16, were killed by Israeli soldiers while taking part in a protest commemorating the anniversary of the Nakba, or ‘Great Catastrophe’. Video footage shows that Nadim was innocently standing with a group of friends before collapsing as he was hit by an Israeli army bullet.

The Nakba took place 66 years ago when the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict emerged. An estimated one million Palestinians were forced out of their homes as they fled a Zionist invasion. Israel was established on the ruins of that Palestine.

Nadim and Mohammed, like the youths of several generations since, were killed in cold blood as they walked to remember that exodus. In Israel, there was no outrage. However, Palestinian anger, which seems to be in constant accumulation – being under military occupation and enduring harsh economic conditions – was reaching a tipping point.  

In some way, the deaths of these Palestinian youths were a distraction from the political disunity that has afflicted Palestinian leadership and society for years. Their deaths were a reminder that Palestine, as an idea and a collective plight and struggle, goes beyond the confines of politics or even ideology.

Their deaths reminded us that there is much more to Palestine than the whims of the aging Palestinian Authority ‘President’ Mahmoud Abbas and his Ramallah-based henchmen, or even Hamas’s regional calculations following the rise and fall of the ‘Arab Spring.’

The Israeli reaction to the settlers’ death has been different. After the discovery of the bodies, fellow settlers and right-wing Israelis began exacting revenge from Palestinian communities. The mob was united by the slogan “death to the Arabs”, reviving a long-disused notion of a single Palestinian identity that precedes the emergence of Fatah and Hamas.

Perhaps paradoxically, the grief and anger provoked by the death of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, 17, who was burnt alive by Israeli settlers as part of this lashing out, has furthered this reawakening of a long-fragmented Palestinian national identity.

This identity that had suffered due to Israeli walls, military tactics and the Palestinians’ own disunity, has been glued back together in a process that resembles the events which preceded the first and second uprisings of 1987 and 2000 respectively.

However, unlike in the previous Intifadas, the hurdles towards a unified voice this time seem insurmountable. Abbas is a weak leader who has done so much to meet Israel’s security expectations and so very little to defend the rights of his people. He is a relic from a bygone era who merely exists because he is the best option Israel and the US have at the moment.

In the aftermath of the Israeli violent response to the killing of the settlers, Abbas laboured to coordinate with the massive Israeli search. At times, he stayed away as Israeli troops brutalised Palestinians in the West Bank.

It is clear that there can be no third Intifada that leaves Abbas and his wretched political apparatus in place. This is precisely why Palestinian Authority goons prevented many attempts by Palestinians in the West Bank to protest the Israeli violence unleashed in the occupied territories, which finally culminated into a massive war against Gaza that has killed and wounded hundreds.

Whatever credit Abbas supposedly gained by closing ranks with Hamas to form a unity government last June has been just as quickly lost. It has been overshadowed by his own failures to live up to commitment under the unity deal, and the relevance of his ‘authority’ was quickly eclipsed by Israeli violence, highlighting his and his government’s utter irrelevance to Israel’s political calculations.

When Israel launched its massive arrest campaign that mainly targeted Hamas in the West Bank, Hamas’s political wing was already considering “alternatives” to the unity government in Ramallah.

Hamas’s objectives were not being met. The unity deal was meant to achieve several goals: end Hamas’s political isolation in Gaza, resulting from the intensifying of the siege by Egypt’s Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, solving the economic crisis in the Strip, and also allowing Hamas to revert to its old brand, as a resistance movement first and foremost.

Even if Hamas succeeded in establishing a new brand based on the resistance/political model, Israel was determined to deactivate any potential for Palestinian unity. Destroying that unity became almost an obsession for Netanyahu.

The disappearance of the settlers gave Netanyahu’s quest a new impetus. He immediately began a campaign pressuring Abbas to break away from Hamas.

But there is still more to Israel’s war on Gaza than this. Fearing an intifada that would unite Palestinians, threaten the PA, and slow down the construction of illegal settlements, Netanyahu’s war on Gaza means to distract from the slowly building collective sentiment among Palestinians throughout Palestine, and among Palestinian citizens in Israel.

This unity is much more alarming for Netanyahu than a political arrangement by Fatah and Hamas necessitated by regional circumstances. The targeting of Hamas is an Israeli attempt at challenging the emerging new narrative that is no longer about Gaza and its siege anymore, but the entirety of Palestine and its collectives regardless of which side of the Israeli “separation wall” they live on.

A true Palestinian unity culminating in a massive popular Intifada is the kind of war Netanyahu cannot possibly win.

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

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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

Mirrored from Commondreams.org

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The Pretender-Caliph and Islamic History: The Truth about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 - 11:27pm

By Asma Afsaruddin

So Muslims of the twenty-first century have a caliph, do they? According to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the abolition of the caliphate in 1924 has now been reversed and the institution has been revived after an interregnum of ninety years.

The new caliph is even called Abu Bakr, just like the first leader of the Muslim community who assumed office after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

This twenty-first century caliph also comes adorned with a self-proclaimed affiliation with the Quraysh, the Prophet’s natal tribe (although his last name, al-Baghdadi, betrays a non-Meccan origin). Moreover, he fights ruthlessly and butchers all those who stand in his way. He gives no quarter to his enemies and there is no satiating his blood-lust – all in the name of jihad.

After all, isn’t that how a Muslim caliph should comport himself?

Yes, indeed, but only if the job description was written by a career Islamophobe, of which there are plenty these days. Now add to the list our current pretender-caliph. Although the likes of Pamela Geller and Frank Gaffney have done plenty to besmirch the image of Muslims and all their cherished historical shibboleths (umma, jihad and yes, the caliphate), no one could have done a better hatchet job than al-Baghdadi.

What would happen if we wrote the job description for the caliphate based on history instead? Here goes.

The original Arabic sources which discuss the qualifications of the individual best suited for the office of the caliph emphasize the following traits: generosity, truthfulness, courage and, most importantly, superior knowledge, both religious and worldly. Abu Bakr, the first historical caliph, had these traits in abundance, as did the three remaining caliphs who are collectively called “the Rightly-Guided Caliphs.” The first caliph’s epithet was al-Siddiq, the “Truthful” which he earned on account of his unflinching honesty and devotion to the truth.

And how was Abu Bakr al-Siddiq proclaimed caliph? As the sources inform us, a crowd of Muslims gathered in Medina to discuss the selection of a successor to the Prophet immediately after his death. They debated the respective qualifications of the two primary candidates for the office of the caliph – Abu Bakr and ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin. The 60-plus year old Abu Bakr won out over the roughly thirty-three year old ‘Ali mainly on account of his greater maturity and the greater wisdom that came with it, for they were otherwise equally generous, truthful and courageous.

This process of consultative decision-making, known as shura in Arabic, is prescribed in the Qur’an and was practiced abundantly by the Prophet himself. Following this consultative process, the crowd offered their allegiance to Abu Bakr – another important act known in Arabic as bay’a, which confers legitimacy on the leader. In subsequent political and communal decisions made by the Rightly-Guided caliphs, these twin concepts of consultation (shura) and the offering of public allegiance (bay’a) by the people became enshrined as foundational principles for the legitimate governance of the Muslim community.

Upon his election, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq made it clear that he remained accountable to the people in a speech that has surely become one of the most famous in the annals of Islamic history. According to the well-known author from the ninth century al-Jahiz, Abu Bakr addressed the crowd thus: “Indeed I am a follower, not an innovator; if I perform well, then help me, and if I should deviate, correct me.”

Abu Bakr then went on to assert that the caliphate was deserved only on the basis of moral excellence; kinship to the Prophet or tribal affiliation (such as descent from the Quraysh tribe) was of no consequence whatsoever. His address has justly become a model of humility and moral accountability to the people that is meant to set a gold standard for political conduct in the Islamic milieu.

Fast forward to fourteen centuries later and let us compare the historical situation of the seventh century with the contemporary one. There is no doubt that al-Baghdadi did a bit of homework before anointing himself caliph. In a sermon he gave at the Grand Mosque in Mosul, Iraq on Friday, 4 July (the sixth of Ramadan), he cited part of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq’s speech. He repeated the section about asking the people to correct him if he should go astray but, significantly, left out the part about the caliph being “a follower, not an innovator.” He also failed to mention that the people had a very important role in electing their caliph and that they had the right to be consulted in such matters before his appointment. Instead al-Baghdadi proclaimed thunderously that “I have been appointed [caliph] over you, even though I am not the best and the most morally excellent among you.”

With this last assertion, he brought the whole edifice of the Sunni caliphate crashing down over him, by mocking the very ideals that are supposed to shore it up. As history tells us, the caliph, also known as the Commander of the Faithful (a title dutifully adopted by al-Baghdadi), is expected to be consensually elected by the people or by their representatives (as in an electoral council) and he must be acknowledged to be the most morally excellent of his time. This is the documented Sunni position with regard to a legitimate caliphate, even as history took a different turn and dynastic rule set in.

So when al-Baghdadi confessed that “I have been appointed over you,” he spectacularly thumbed his nose at the principles of consultation and public allegiance that undergird the earliest legitimate caliphate.

That means he is one of two other kinds of rulers who emerged in history who do not depend on shura and bay’a for their legitimacy. The first would be a mere worldly king, who simply wants the trappings of political power and rules absolutely and tyrannically over his subjects. Such a king is designated in Arabic as malik, a pejorative term which immediately brands the individual as an illegitimate usurper of political power, for he rules his people without their consent. The Umayyad rulers who came to power after the “Rightly-Guided” caliphate in the late seventh century without instituting any process of election were therefore contemptuously dismissed as mere “kings” by official historians, despite their conscious adoption of the title of caliph.

The second possibility is that al-Baghdadi considers himself appointed by God, a status that no Sunni caliph could ever openly entertain. From the viewpoint of Sunni political theory, such a claim would make him the equivalent of a Shi’i imam or religious leader. In contrast to the Sunnis, the Shi’a did come to believe in the divine appointment of their leaders which, by definition, was not subject to the processes of consultation and ratification by the people. It is very likely that this is the model al-Baghadi is emulating. Given ISIS’s loathing for the Shi’a, such an assertion is richly ironical and confirms the old adage that a little learning is always a dangerous thing!

Most Muslims have received al-Baghdadi’s proclamation – when they are aware of it – with supreme apathy. This should come as no surprise. Al-Baghdadi can keep touting himself as the new caliph, but most Muslims know enough about their own history to recognize him for what he is – a murderous tyrant using religion as a cheap armour to acquire rank political power.

Kingly pretensions were never part of the real caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiq’s image. The current indifference and revulsion of the majority of Muslims towards the pretender-caliph speaks to their resolve not to take part in the degradation of that image and to keep the hope alive that political governance in their societies will continue to be based on consultation and the consent of the people. These principles constitute the true legacy of the historical caliphate and can easily translate into modern democratic systems – a point that a number of Muslims are now energetically making.

Asma Afsaruddin is Professor of Islamic Studies and Chairperson of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author of several books, including Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership, The First Muslims: History and Memory, and the recently published Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought.

Mirrored from Religion and Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corp.)

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Kurdish Diva Backs Independence Defies “Islamic State” Fundamentalists

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 - 11:23pm

Via RFE/RL

Kurdish pop singer Helly Luv has racked up more than 2.5 million hits since she released her "Risk It All" video in February urging independence for Iraqi Kurds.

The video, one of the few ever to appear in English on the subject, makes no bones about its message. "Let me out, let me go," Luv sings, as she flings Molotov cocktails, dances with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, hoists Kurdish refugee children from Syria in her arms, and salutes the flag of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region.

But the video has also proved controversial, not for its message but its provocative imagery. Dancing through the streets of Irbil, the region's capital, Luv risks it all in a way that would get most Kurdish women more than a few stares if they did the same.

Luv, who has a music career in Los Angeles, dances in a silver mini-dress across the walls of Irbil's ancient citadel, rides a motor scooter through the streets, and sits on a throne flanked by lions, an ancient Kurdish symbol of power. All to a mix of dance, hip hop, and traditional Middle Eastern music.

WATCH: Helly Luv's "Risk It All" 

YouTube

That's the kind of behavior conservatives disapprove of and Luv, 25, says she got death threats from many Islamic groups. Her managers have declined to identify which ones.

Still the singer, whose family left Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 when she was a baby, told Reuters she had no regrets. 

"I wanted my first single to be 'Risk It All' to let people know that's what I represent," Luv said. "My whole message is that, Kurdish people, we need to risk everything for our dreams and fight for our country."

Mirrored from RFE/RL

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Life In Gaza Explained (Video)

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 - 2:29am

“Gaza has been described as the world’s largest open air prison. Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip has had catastrophic results for average Palestinians living there. We look at the the unforgiving realities they face everyday.”

AJ+ Labs “Life In Gaza Explained”

Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 - 1:26am

Human Rights Watch

Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy

Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise. Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.
-Sarah Lea Whitson

(Gaza) – Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

Israeli attacks in Gaza since July 7, 2014, which Israeli officials said delivered more than 500 tons of explosives in missiles, aerial bombs, and artillery fire, killed at least 178 people and wounded 1,361 as of July 14, including 635 women and children, according to the United Nations. Preliminary UN reports identified 138 people, about 77 percent of those killed, as civilians, including 36 children, and found that the attacks had destroyed 1,255 homes, displacing at least 7,500 people.

“Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.”

Palestinian armed groups also should end indiscriminate rocket attacks launched toward Israeli population centers. Israeli media reported that Palestinian armed groups have launched 1,500 rockets at Israel, wounding five Israeli civilians and destroying property.

Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups conducted fewer attacks and rocket launches in May and early June. An Israeli airstrike killed an alleged member of an armed group and his son on a motorcycle in Gaza on June 11, sparking rocket launches by Palestinian armed groups, and leading to a massive escalation of Israeli attacks on July 7. Israel also blamed Hamas for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers near a West Bank settlement on June 12 and launched a military operation in the West Bank on June 13, killing at least six Palestinians. Hamas had praised the kidnappings but denied responsibility.

Human Rights Watch investigated four Israeli strikes during the July military offensive in Gaza that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain. Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties. In these cases, the Israeli military has presented no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.

Israel has wrongly claimed as a matter of policy that civilian members of Hamas or other political groups who do not have a military role are “terrorists” and therefore valid military targets, and has previously carried out hundreds of unlawful attacks on this basis. Israel has also targeted family homes of alleged members of armed groups without showing that the structure was being used for military purposes.

On July 11, an Israeli attack on the Fun Time Beach café near the city of Khan Yunis killed nine civilians, including two 15-year-old children, and wounded three, including a 13-year-old boy. An Israeli military spokesman said the attack was “targeting a terrorist” but presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.

In another July 11 attack, an Israeli missile struck a vehicle in the Bureij refugee camp, killing the two municipal workers inside. The men were driving home in a marked municipal vehicle after clearing rubble from a road damaged in an airstrike. Their relatives said that neither man was affiliated with an armed group, and that the driver had followed the same daily routine in the same vehicle every day since July 7. The explosion blew the roof off the vehicle and partly disemboweled a 9-year-old girl and wounded her sister, 8, who were sitting in front of their home nearby. Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military objective in the vehicle or in the area at the time.

An Israeli airstrike on July 10 on the family home of Mohammed al-Hajj, a tailor, in the densely crowded Khan Yunis refugee camp killed seven civilian family members, including two children, and wounded more than twenty civilians. An eighth fatality, al-Hajj’s 20-year-old son, was a low-ranking member of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, residents told Human Rights Watch. The Israeli military said the attack was being investigated. Even if the son was the intended target, the nature of the attack appears indiscriminate and would in any case be disproportionate.

“The presence of a single, low-level fighter would hardly justify the appalling obliteration of an entire family,” Whitson said. “Israel would never accept an argument that any Israeli home of an Israel Defense Force member would be a valid military target.”

A fourth Israeli airstrike, on July 9, killed Amal Abed Ghafour, who was 7-months pregnant, and her 1-year-old daughter, and wounded her husband and 3-year-old son. The family lived across the street from an apartment building that was struck with multiple missiles, according to witnesses. Residents of nearby homes said Israeli forces fired a small non-explosive “warning” missile at the apartment building minutes before the main missile strikes. However, the family did not know of the warning or have time to flee. Israeli officials have not said why they targeted the apartment building.

A brief initial statement on July 8 by the Israeli military spokesperson’s office asserted that military attacks had targeted “four homes of activists in the Hamas terror organization who are involved in terrorist activity and direct and carry out high-trajectory fire towards Israel,” without any further qualification. In subsequent statements, the military said that its policy is to attack homes used as “command and control” centers or “terrorist infrastructure” after warning residents to leave, but has provided no information to support these vague claims.

The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said on July 13 that the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson had changed the wording of statements concerning such attacks over the course of the current military offensive, but that in only one specific case did the military claim that weapons were hidden in a home it had attacked. An Israeli military official stated on July 12 that the military has targeted “more than 100 homes of commanders of different ranks” in Gaza, the Israeli news website Ynet reported.

Civilian structures such as residential homes become lawful targets only when they are being used for military purposes. While the laws of war encourage the use of effective advance warnings of attacks to minimize civilian casualties, providing warnings does not make an otherwise unlawful attack lawful.

For warnings to be effective, civilians need adequate time to leave and go to a place of safety before an attack. In several cases Human Rights Watch investigated, Israel gave warnings, but carried out the attack within five minutes or less. Given that Gaza has no bomb shelters, civilians realistically often have no place to flee.

Attacks targeting civilians or civilian property are unlawful, as are attacks that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants. Attacks intended to punish the family members of an enemy commander or fighter would also constitute unlawful collective punishment. Attacks causing the extensive destruction of property carried out unlawfully and wantonly are also prohibited.

“Warning families to flee might reduce civilian casualties but they don’t make illegal attacks any less illegal,” Whitson said. “The Israeli failure to demonstrate why attacks that are killing civilians are lawful raises serious questions as to whether these attacks are intended to target civilians or wantonly destroy civilian property.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council should hold a special session to address violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of the conflict, Human Rights Watch said. The Council should mandate the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to form a fact-finding mission to impartially investigate, report promptly and publicly on violations by all sides, and issue recommendations to the parties and the UN.

The European Union and its member countries should support convening a special session and formation of a fact-finding mission. They should also work for a resolution that:
 

  • Stresses the conflicting parties’ obligations under international law to protect civilians;
  • Stresses the need for borders to be kept open for humanitarian and medical assistance to reach those in need and permit them to leave;
  • Condemns violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties; and
  •  Stresses the need for accountability for grave violations.
     

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian authorities have ever taken serious action to investigate alleged war crimes by members of their forces in previous armed conflicts. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous serious violations of the laws of war by Israeli forces in the past decade, particularly indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

From 2005 to the end of 2012, Israeli military operations in Gaza resulted in the deaths of 1,474 civilians and the destruction of thousands of buildings. In the same period, Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza fired some 8,734 rockets at Israeli population centers, killing 38 civilians, including 26 Israelis, 2 foreign nationals, and 10 Palestinians when rockets fell short of their intended targets.

The Palestine Liberation Organization should direct President Mahmoud Abbas to seek the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed by all parties on Palestinian territory.

Governments that are providing weapons to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip should suspend transfers of any materiel that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material, Human Rights Watch said. The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.

“The longstanding failure of either side to prosecute war crimes in Gaza means that the only meaningful option for justice and accountability is legal proceedings before the International Criminal Court,” Whitson said. “How many more civilians will die as a result of unlawful Israeli attacks before President Abbas submits Palestine to this court?”

For details of the four attacks Human Rights Watch investigated, please see below.

Attack on the Fun Time Beach Café
At 11:30 p.m. on July 11, 2014, an Israeli attack on the Fun Time Beach coffee shop on the beach near Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza, killed nine civilians, including two 15-year-old boys, and wounded three, including a critically injured 13-year-old, survivors and family members told Human Rights Watch.

The New York Times reported that an Israeli military spokesperson, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said that the military had fired a “precision strike” with a missile and was “targeting a terrorist,” but did not provide information about the target’s identity or the timing of the attack on a crowded café.

Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims was a member of an armed group or that there was a military objective in the area.

About an hour before the attack, patrons and workers saw a small missile strike a second beach establishment, the Layali Café, about 150 meters away. They walked over and put out the small fire that was burning there, and returned to the Fun Time Beach café, where they planned to watch a broadcast of the World Cup at midnight. The patrons assumed that the small missile strike was a mistake or random shooting from Israeli naval forces, said survivors and relatives who had spoken to the victims shortly before the strike.

Relatives and survivors said the victims frequently went to the beach café. Khaled Qanan, 30, told Human Rights Watch that the attack killed two of his brothers, Mohammed, 25, a master’s degree student in Arabic, and Ibrahim, 28, who sold fish. Ramadan Sabbah, 37, the two victims’ brother-in-law, said:

They went to the beach café all the time, including every day since this operation started [on July 8]. They said they felt safer there than they did in Khan Yunis. But there was nothing to shelter them; it was just chairs and fabric. When we found the bodies, they didn’t have visible injuries. Ibrahim had only a small cut, but we found his body almost 200 meters away. Mohammed was found on the asphalt. The road is cracked from the explosion.
 

Human Rights Watch visited the site on July 12 and 13 but could not determine the weapons used in the attack due to extensive digging by relatives searching for the missing body of one of the victims.

The attack killed three members of the Astal family: Ahmad, 18, Suleiman, 15, and Mousa, 15, who died while being taken to the hospital, and severely wounded Mousa’s brother Naim, 13, relatives said. Human Rights Watch spoke briefly to Naim, who had extensive injuries, “I woke up in the hospital. I don’t know why they hit us,” he said.

Ramadan al-Astal, 19, Suleiman and Ahmad’s brother, told Human Rights Watch:

I was on the way to the café to watch the game but my motorcycle stalled. I called them at exactly 11:07 p.m. to tell them. They said there were four people there playing cards, and the three [relatives from the Astal family who died]. So I started to walk back home, and then I heard the explosion. I called my brothers, but they didn’t answer. I went there with my uncle. Three of the victims were still alive, but they died on their way to the hospital. There was a huge crater where the coffee shop was; the sea water was seeping into it. When we dug up the bodies the clothes had been burned off. I can’t understand why they targeted the café. Maybe they saw the lights go on when the guys turned on the generator, after they came back from [putting out the fire at] the Layali Cafe.
 

Family members said the other two survivors included Tamer al-Astal, 27, a construction worker whose back was broken; and Bilal al-Astal, the café owner.

Kamel Sawali, 37, said that the attack killed his brothers Ibrahim, 28, Homdi, 20, and Salim, 24, but that Salim’s body had not been found. The four men had worked together to run the café, which they had rented from Bilal al-Astal for the past five years. Sawali said:

I spoke to them 15 minutes before the strike, at 11:15 p.m., and they told me about how they’d gone to the Layali but that everything was fine. There was no reason to attack them. The café was just normal; some people went there to break the [Ramadan] fast, some were fishermen, some kids. The worst thing is that Salim is missing. We’ve called the Red Cross to coordinate with the Israeli military to search the beach again.
 

The brothers’ father, Bedaya Sawali, 61, said, “I lost my three youngest sons; I don’t care about the money we have lost on the café but one of them is still missing.”

Amna Serwana, 45, said that her son Mohammed, 18, was working at the coffee shop when he was killed. “He went there every summer to work for the last three years,” she said. “We tried to keep him home with us for Ramadan, but he said he liked the atmosphere there and that a lot of people were going to come to watch the game.”

Bureij Refugee Camp Killings
At around 12:30 p.m. on July 11, an Israeli airstrike with what witnesses and physical evidence indicate was a small missile struck a municipality vehicle from the Bureij refugee camp. The strike killed both of the municipal workers inside – Mazen Aslan, 52, and Shaharam abu al-Qaz, 43 – and badly injured Shaheed Girnawi, 8, and her sister Salwa, 9, who were in the front entry of their nearby home, witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch. Family members and witnesses said neither man was affiliated with any armed group. Human Rights Watch found no military objective in the vicinity of the attack.

Aslan worked for the municipality, his wife, Umm Khaled, 45, told Human Rights Watch. “In normal times he turned off and on the water valves to regulate the flow of water to different parts of the camp,” she said. “And during emergencies, he would go out in the municipality jeep to oversee the workers who cleared up the rubble from Israeli attacks.” Aslan had begun work at 10 a.m. every day since July 7, when the Israeli military offensive began, and used a Jeep Magnum painted white with a municipal logo and small flag, his wife said.

On July 11, Aslan drove the jeep to escort a bulldozer, operated by Abu Qaz, to a road that needed to be cleared of rubble from a prior airstrike. Aslan’s wife said:

But he had forgotten his official municipality employment paper, which he’s supposed to carry with him, so he called me to say he was coming to get it. He was driving back home in the Jeep and had brought [Abu Qaz] with him. I was just going outside to hand him the paper, but he went down the street a bit and then the missile hit. The Jeep flipped over. The missile hit my husband directly. There was nothing left to recognize him by. There was no reason to hit him. He would go out to work during every war; this is his third war [including the conflicts in 2008-09 and in 2012].
 

Human Rights Watch observed Aslan’s employment document [photo] and inspected the scene of the attack. A small crater was visible in the road where witnesses said the missile struck the Jeep, and there was what appeared to be dried blood on the outside walls of houses facing the street.

Abu Qaz’s brother Ismail said that he had spoken to his brother earlier that morning:

He and Mazen went out to clear the rubble. Shaharam drove the digger behind the jeep, and then they were coming back. My brother parked the digger in its municipality parking spot, and got into the Jeep. That was the routine: he would be driven back by whoever was in charge of overseeing the clearing work. There was nothing unusual that day.

Witnesses said that the force of the explosion blew the roof off the vehicle and into the doorway of a home where Shaheed and Salwa were sitting. Their older brother, Iyad Hilme Girnawi, 22, said in an interview on July 12:

My sisters were sitting in the corridor when the blast blew the roof into them. Shaheed was badly injured; everyone assumed she was dead. Her intestines were outside her body, and her head was open. She’s had three operations and is in the ICU [intensive care unit] but somehow she is still alive. They transferred her from Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Salwa was injured but should be discharged from the hospital in a day or two.

A third witness, Salem abd-Khalil Girnawi, a 20-year-old university student, said the explosion wounded him while he was walking nearby: “At around 12:30 p.m. a Jeep Magnum drove past, and suddenly I found myself with blood all over. I saw some shrapnel in my body, washed myself, and someone took me to al-Aqsa hospital. There was nothing going on. I don’t know why they attacked.” Human Rights Watch observed injuries to Girnawi’s throat and head.

Al-Hajj Family Killing
At around 1:15 a.m. on July 10, an Israeli airstrike in the Khan Yunis refugee camp destroyed the home of Mahmud Lotfi al-Hajj, 57, and killed all those inside: al-Hajj, a tailor, his wife Basma, 48, and their children Fatmeh, 12, Saad, 17, Tarek, 18, Omar, 20, Asmaa, 22, and Nijleh, 29, relatives told Human Rights Watch.

The Associated Press quoted Lt. Col. Lerner, the Israeli spokesman, as saying the incident was under investigation, but that Israeli forces did not provide warnings before targeting members of armed groups who “use civilian premises to perpetrate attacks.” Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims used the Hajj family home to perpetrate attacks.

Omar al-Hajj had joined Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, several months earlier, though he did not yet have a rank in the group, one of his relatives told Human Rights Watch. Even if Omar al-Hajj was the intended target, Israeli forces should reasonably have known that the harm to civilians and property from the attack outweighed any expected, direct military advantage, making the attack disproportionate if not indiscriminate.

A neighbor, Abdallah Kulab, told Human Rights Watch that two missiles struck the Hajj family home. Other residents of the refugee camp said they believe three missiles hit the house. Another neighbor, Hossein Nadi, said he was standing at his window “when I saw an explosion and then the force of it sucked me out of the window” and knocked him unconscious.

Al-Hajj’s son Yazid, 24, said that he had lived in the home but was out walking when the attack occurred: “As I was walking back home, the explosion happened. I was just a few hundred meters away. The house was still crumbling when I made it back.” Yazid said he had received an automated phone call from Israeli security forces earlier that same day. “It was one of the generic, robot messages, that just said, ‘Stay away from Qassam,’ so I ignored it,” he said.

UN officials told Human Rights Watch that they estimated several hundred thousand Gaza residents have randomly received similar automated phone calls since July 7, which warn residents not to store weapons in their homes, blame Hamas for the conflict, and state that the Israeli military does not want to harm civilians.

Yazid al-Hajj said he had been employed by the Hamas government – which recently dissolved with the formation of a Palestinian “unity” government – as a civilian security guard in Rafah, at the smuggling tunnels underneath the Egyptian border, but that he is not part of Hamas’s military wing and has not participated in any military activities. Armed groups have used tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza, but Yazid’s account is consistent with the fact that the former Hamas government, which created a “tunnels authority” in control of security and taxation at the smuggling tunnels, employed civilian guards at other tunnels used to smuggle consumer goods. Israel has not identified who, if any of the victims, was a target of the strike.

Al-Hajj’s daughter Fida, who lives in Rafah and was not at her parents’ home on the night of the attack, told Human Rights Watch: “That night, they all went over to my uncle’s house after iftar [the meal during which a Ramadan fast is broken], had tea and coffee, and went home at around 12:15 or 12:30 in the morning, and half an hour later they were all killed. We didn’t have any photographs to show at the funeral. They were all burned up.”

The blast damaged buildings up to 30 meters away, and sent concrete, metal doors, and part of a wall flying, wounding people in the street. Muna al-Halabe, 42, who lives next door, said she and her four children were at home when the Hajj home was attacked:

Some of the kids were watching TV, some were on the computer, everything seemed normal. But then, I felt a large blast, and something fell on me. I was screaming and afraid because I couldn’t find my daughter. My 18-year-old, we found her trapped under rubble and got her out. We were lucky that we were in the back part of the house. We only lived because of that. One of the kids had just called my 17-year-old daughter to come to look at something on the computer. That’s exactly when airstrike happened, and a wall collapsed right where she had been. We couldn’t open the door because of the blast. The men from the neighborhood came in and kicked down the door so we could get out.

The explosion blew out the front walls of al-Halabe’s home, which is now uninhabitable. The National newspaper quoted another neighbor, Tawfiq al-Halabe, stating that he found body parts from victims on his property, and that the explosion caused his wife, Nidaa, 28, to miscarry in her fifth month of pregnancy.

Hospital officials at the European Hospital and the Nasser Clinical Center in Khan Yunis told Human Rights Watch that they had treated around 23 people wounded in the attack.

Abed Ghafour Family Killings and Home Destruction
At around 12:35 p.m. on July 9, Israeli forces struck the home of Said Ghafour, in Khan Yunis, and killed his relatives Amal Abed Ghafour, 30, who was 7-months pregnant, and Nirmeen, her 1-year-old daughter, who lived in a home across the street. Relatives found their bodies in the back of the house, beneath two walls that the force of the blast had knocked over, they told Human Rights Watch. The explosion wounded Amal’s husband, Joudah Abed Ghafour, 47, and their 3-year-old son, Mohammed.

Shortly before the airstrike, an Israeli military aircraft fired a small non-explosive missile at Said Ghafour’s home, in a procedure the Israeli military refers to a “knock on the roof” warning, witnesses said.

Human Rights Watch visited the area on July 13. The airstrike had completely destroyed Said Ghafour’s home, and severely damaged two homes on its left- and right-hand sides as well as the home opposite. Residents said that another Israeli airstrike hit the open field behind Ghafour’s home on July 11.

Ghafour’s brother Mazen, 40, a former employee of the Palestinian Authority, said that a warning missile struck his brother’s home at around 12:30 p.m. “We had less than five minutes before four missiles hit the house. It’s not enough time for a whole block to clear out. I ran to my parents’ home, which is next door, because it’s stronger and deeper than my home.”

Human Rights Watch could not confirm whether Said Ghafour is a combatant with an armed group. Because there were civilian casualties, Israel should provide information as to why the attack on the home was a military objective.

Mohammed Ghafour, 19, said that he was at home, about 30 meters from Said Ghafour’s building, at the time of the attack: “The missiles blew out our windows. This is a very crowded block, everything is apartment buildings with five or six apartments per building, and every family has five or six children. They hit Said’s house four times [on July 9]. We were surprised by the amount of damage. We thought that when they target a house, they only destroy it, not the ones around it.”

Several videos posted online appear to show small missiles striking the roofs of buildings shortly before large explosions, destroying buildings. One such video, which appears to have been filmed in Block 12 of al-Bureij Refugee Camp, a densely crowded are in Gaza, shows a small explosion followed less than one minute by a massive explosion. Human Rights Watch could not verify the date of the video. 

Mirrored from Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Truce talks crumble as Israel bombs Gaza

Gaza: Families destroyed by Israel’s bombs

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 - 12:34am

By: Orouba Othman

His whole life passed before his eyes like a film uncut by memory. He dived into the rubble of his home, hoping to find something to defeat the idea of his family’s death. But death is always stronger and here, the smell of blood fills the air.

Gaza – He calls them to slow down their march towards death but the sounds of their lives quiet down and their steps count down until zero hour. The hard truth appears in front of him, this earth can no longer hold them. A pile of dirt covers them, while he remains alone, devoured by sorrow. His fate is to be inhabited by pain, battling this life. This is the state we found the young Gazan man, Yasser al-Hajj, in. Beating his hands against each other, he is lost between the names of his family members, not knowing whom to cry over first.

It was 2 am when the noise of Zionist madness grew louder above the home of the Hajj family. Israeli warplanes dropped their venom on them without prior warning, as they were trying to steal a few moments of rest after a raucous day bursting at the seams with the tales of death. In a blink of an eye, the moments turned into a journey of eternal sleep, a journey that took away all the members of the family.

Only minutes kept Yasser from joining them on the train of death. He was about to enter his home in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, but the Israeli bombing got to his family before him, turning them into charred corpses and scattered carnage.

Mahmoud, Bassima, Asmaa, Najlaa, Tarek, Saad, Omar and Fatima, names worn out by this life and transported to the other, more expansive side. These people are Yasser’s little world, his parents, brothers and sisters. They lie now in front of him, bidding their final farewell before disappearing forever.

Yasser thought his eyes were deceiving him when he saw his mother Bassima (53 years old), with her legs cut off by the bombing. He was looking hysterically for the limbs and heads of his younger siblings. In a voice full of pain and sorrow, he told Al-Akhbar: “Life has no meaning after their death. I don’t know how I will adapt to this harsh reality. Everyone I shared my life and my feelings with are gone and I am left alone here.”

He wonders: “What objectives did the Israeli government accomplish? Killing unarmed civilians while they are sleeping is going to eradicate the seed of Resistance? On the contrary, the Resistance will grow stronger and we ask the Resistance forces to take revenge. My family’s blood is not cheap.” This is how Yasser will spend the rest of his life, haunted by the ghost of his family.

Yasser is not the only one whose entire family has been killed in this war. There are dozens of similar stories all over Gaza, even if the details differ. Sixteen-year-old Housam Ghannam shares Yasser’s fate except Housam is lying in the intensive care unit in the European Hospital in Khan Younis, his young body suffering from a serious injury.

After the dawn call for prayer last Friday, the sound of a huge explosion shook the Yibna refugee camp in Rafah in southern Gaza. The camp residents were awoken by the sound to find that the three-storey home of the Ghannam family had disappeared. His mother, father, grandmother and two little sisters were among the dead. They were all pulled from under the rubble amidst a giant cloud of smoke.

One eyewitness told Al-Akhbar: “F-16 warplanes fired three missiles at the house without a warning missile. The sight was harrowing as the house was leveled to the ground, erasing the identities and features of the family members, leaving only dismembered body parts behind.”

Despite everything, many Gazans have tried to overcome this bleak reality. As the attention of the world turned to Brazil and people were mesmerized before TV screens watching the world’s most important football event, Gazans followed suit. They have tried to carve out room for fun in the middle of a place enveloped by tragic news. Ibrahim and Mohammed Qanun, Suleiman, Ahmed and Mousa al-Astal, Hamdi, Ibrahim and Salim al-Sawali and Mohammed al-Aqqad, brought together by their passion for football, found death waiting for them.

They went out last Wednesday evening to get ready for the Argentina – Netherlands game and to have a good time in the town of al-Qarara on the coast of Khan Younis. The missile that targeted them turned this football celebration into a funeral and took all the fun away from them. Mohammed al-Sawali, brother of the three martyrs told Al-Akhbar: “I ran to the cafe to find my two brothers Ibrahim and Hamdi as still corpses. I kept looking for my brother Salim whose body I found the next day.”

Mirrored from Al-Akhbar English

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Related video:

Democracy Now! “Norwegian Physician Treating Wounded Civilians: Stop the Bombing, End Israeli Impunity in Gaza”

Border Wars in the Homeland “Stop Stepping on the Pictures”

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 - 12:22am

By Todd Miller

Shena Gutierrez was already cuffed and in an inspection room in Nogales, Arizona, when the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent grabbed her purse, opened it, and dumped its contents onto the floor right in front of her. There couldn’t be a sharper image of the Bill of Rights rollback we are experiencing in the U.S. borderlands in the post-9/11 era.

Tumbling out of that purse came Gutierrez’s life: photos of her kids, business cards, credit cards, and other papers, all now open to the official scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. There were also photographs of her husband, Jose Gutierrez Guzman, whom CBP agents beat so badly in 2011 that he suffered permanent brain damage. The supervisory agent, whose name badge on his blue uniform read “Gomez,” now began to trample on her life, quite literally, with his black boots.

“Please stop stepping on the pictures,” Shena asked him.

A U.S. citizen, unlike her husband, she had been returning from a 48-hour vigil against Border Patrol violence in Mexico and was wearing a shirt that said “Stop Border Patrol Brutality” when she was aggressively questioned and cuffed at the CBP’s “port of entry” in Nogales on that hot day in May.  She had no doubt that Gomez was stepping all over the contents of her purse in response to her shirt, the evidence of her activism.

Perhaps what bothered Gomez was the photo silkscreened onto that shirt — of her husband during his hospitalization. It showed the aftermath of a beating he received from CBP agents. His head had a partially caved-in look because doctors had removed part of his skull. Over his chest and arms were bruises from Tasering. One tooth was out of place, and he had two black eyes. Although you couldn’t see them in the photo, two heavily armed Homeland Security agents were then guarding his hospital door to prevent the father of two, formerly a sound technician and the lead singer of a popular band in Los Angeles, from escaping — even in his comatose state.

Jose Gutierrez Guzman’s has become an ever more common story in an American age of mass expulsions. Although he had grown up in the United States (without papers), he was born in Mexico. After receiving a letter requesting his appearance, he went to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Los Angeles and was promptly arrested and deported. Customs and Border Protection agents later caught him crossing the border in San Luis, Arizona, near Yuma, in an attempt to reunite with his wife and children.

“Stop… stepping… on… the… pictures,” Shena insisted.

As she tells the story, Agent Gomez looked at her shirt for a second, then looked up at her and said, “You have that mentality about us. You think we go around abusing.”  His tone remained faux-friendly, but his boots didn’t — and neither did those cuffs another CBP agent had put on her. Forcing her hands behind her back, they cut uncomfortably into her wrists. They would leave deep red circular marks.

On display was a post-9/11 world in which the usual rights meant to protect Americans from unreasonable search and seizure and unwanted, as well as unwarranted, interrogation were up for grabs.

While such constitutionally questionable intrusions into people’s privacy have been increasing at border crossings in the post-9/11 years, this type of hardline border policing has also moved inland.  In other words, the sort of intrusions that once would have qualified as unconstitutional have moved in startling numbers into the interior of the country.

Imagine the once thin borderline of the American past as an ever-thickening band, now extending 100 miles inland around the United States — along the 2,000-mile southern border, the 4,000-mile northern border, and both coasts — and you will be able to visualize how vast the CBP’s jurisdiction has become. This “border” region now covers places where two-thirds of the U.S. population (197.4 million people) live. The ACLU has come to call it a “constitution-free zone.” The “border” has by now devoured the full states of Maine and Florida and much of Michigan.  

In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement, and drug interdiction mandates. There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within 25 miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant. In these areas, the Homeland Security state is anything but abstract. On any given day, it can stand between you and the grocery store.  

“Border Patrol checkpoints and roving patrols are the physical world equivalent of the National Security Agency,” says attorney James Lyall of ACLU Arizona puts it. “They involve a massive dragnet and stopping and monitoring of innocent Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing by increasingly abusive and unaccountable federal government agents.”

Before she was so unceremoniously stopped and held, Shena Gutierrez shared the story of her husband at that 48-hour vigil. It was another story of the kind of pervasive abuse reported by people in the 100-mile zone. There were no cameras that night to record how 11 agents “subdued” Jose Gutierrez Guzman, as the CBP put it in its official report on the incident. Its claim: that Jose “struck his head on the ground,” a way perhaps of accounting for the hospital’s eventual diagnosis of “blunt force trauma.”

Considering the extent of Jose’s injuries, that CBP report is questionable indeed. Many Border Patrol agents now use the term “tonk” — the sound a flashlight supposedly makes when it bangs against someone’s head — as their way of describing border-crossers. Jose was also repeatedly “shot” with an “electronic control device,” aka a Taser. He was so badly beaten that, more than three years later, he still suffers seizures.

“Stop stepping on my pictures!” Gutierrez insisted again. But much like the CBP’s official complaint process, the words were ignored. The only thing Gomez eventually spat out was, “Are you going to get difficult?”

When Shena Gutierrez offered me a play-by-play account of her long day, including her five-hour detainment at the border, her voice ran a gamut of emotions from desperation to defiance. Perhaps these are the signature emotions of what State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has dubbed the “Post-Constitutional Era.” We now live in a time when, as he writes, “the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can.” The prototype for this new era, with all the potential for abuse it gives the authorities, can be found in that 100-mile zone.

A Standing Army

The zone first came into existence thanks to a series of laws passed by Congress in the 1940s and 1950s at a time when the Border Patrol was just an afterthought with a miniscule budget and only 1,100 agents. Today, Customs and Border Protection has more than 60,000 employees and is by far the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.  According to author and constitutional attorney John Whitehead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created in 2002, is efficiently and ruthlessly building “a standing army on American soil.”

Long ago, President James Madison warned that “a standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty.” With its 240,000 employees and $61 billion budget, the DHS, Whitehead points out, is militarizing police units, stockpiling ammunition, spying on activists, and building detention centers, among many other things. CBP is the uniformed and most visible component of this “standing army.” It practically has its own air force and navy, an Office of Air and Marine equipped with 280 sea vessels, 250 aircraft, and 1,200 agents.

On the border, never before have there been so many miles of walls and barriers, or such an array of sophisticated cameras capable of operating at night as well as in the daylight.  Motion sensors, radar systems, and cameras mounted on towers, as well as those drones, all feed their information into operational control rooms throughout the borderlands. There, agents can surveil activity over large stretches of territory on sophisticated (and expensive) video walls. This expanding border enforcement regime is now moving into the 100-mile zone.

Such technological capability also involves the warehousing of staggering amounts of personal information in the digital databases that have ushered in the Post-Constitutional Era. “What does all this mean in terms of the Fourth Amendment?” Van Buren asks. “It’s simple: the technological and human factors that constrained the gathering and processing of data in the past are fast disappearing.”

The border, in the post 9/11 years, has also become a place where military manufacturers, eyeing a market in an “unprecedented boom period,” are repurposing their wartime technologies for the Homeland Security mission.  This “bring the battlefield to the border” posture has created an unprecedented enforcement, incarceration, and expulsion machine aimed at the foreign-born (or often simply foreign-looking). The sweep is reminiscent of the operation that forced Japanese (a majority of them citizens) into internment camps during World War II, but on a scale never before seen in this country. With it, unsurprisingly, has come a wave of complaints about physical and verbal abuse by Homeland Security agents, as well as tales of inadequate food and medical attention to undocumented immigrants in short-term detention.

The result is a permanent, low-intensity state of exception that makes the expanding borderlands a ripe place to experiment with tearing apart the Constitution, a place where not just undocumented border-crossers, but millions of borderland residents have become the targets of continual surveillance.  If you don’t see the Border Patrol’s ever-expanding forces in places like New York City (although CBP agents are certainly present at its airports and seaports), you can see them pulling people over these days in plenty of other spots in that Constitution-free zone where they hadn’t previously had a presence.

They are, for instance, in cities like Rochester, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, as well as in Washington State, Vermont, Florida, and at all international airports. Homeland Security officials are scrutinizing people’s belongings, including their electronic devices, from sea to shining sea. Just ask Pascal Abidor, an Islamic studies doctoral student whose computer was turned on by CBP agents in Champlain, New York.

When an agent saw that he had a picture of a Hezbollah rally, she asked Abidor, a U.S. citizen, “What is this stuff?” His answer — that he was studying the modern history of the Shiites — meant nothing to her and his computer was seized for 10 days. Between 2008 and 2010, the CBP searched the electronic devices of more than 6,500 people. Like many of us, Abidor keeps everything, even his most private and intimate conversations with his girlfriend, on his computer. Now, it’s private no longer.

Despite all this, the message politicians and the media generally offer is that the country needs more agents, new techno-gadgets, and even more walls for our “safety.” In that context, President Obama on July 7th asked Congress for an additional $3.7 billion for “border security.”

Since last October, in what officials have called a “humanitarian crisis,” 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended by Border Patrol agents. News about and photos of some of those children, including toddlers, parentless and incarcerated in warehouses in the Southwest, have led to a flood of articles, many claiming that border security is “strained.” A Border Patrol Union representative typically claimed that the border is “more porous than it’s ever been.” While such claims are ludicrous, all signs point to more money being packed aboard what Whitehead has called a “runaway train.”

Make no bones about it, every dollar spent this way works not just to keep others out of this country, but to lock American citizens into a border zone that may soon encompass the whole country.  It also fortifies our new domestic “standing military force” and its rollback of the Bill of Rights.  

Resistance Inside the 100-Mile Zone

The first thing Cynthia (a pseudonym) asks the supervisory agent with the green Border Patrol hat and wrap-around sunglasses who stops her car is: “Can I have your name and agent number please?” She’s been halted at a checkpoint approximately 25 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border on a road running east-west-running near the small town of Arivaca, Arizona, where she lives.

The agent pauses.  He looks like he’s swallowed a hornet before he barks, “We ask the questions here first, okay? Do you have some ID on you?”

This starts a tense exchange between the two of them that she videotaped in its entirety. She is only one of many challenging the omnipresence and activities of the Border Patrol in the heart of the 100-mile zone. Like many locals in Arivaca, she is sick of the checkpoint, which has been there for seven years. She and her neighbors were fed up with the obligatory stop between their small town and the dentist or the nearest bookstore. They were tired of Homeland Security agents scrutinizing their children on their way to school. So they began to organize.

In late 2013, they demanded that the federal government remove the checkpoint. It was, they wrote in a petition, an ugly artifact of border militarization; it had, they added, a negative economic impact on residents and infringed on people’s constitutional rights. At the beginning of 2014, small groups from People Helping People in the Border Zone — the name of their organization — started monitoring the checkpoint several days a week.

This Arivaca Border Patrol road barricade, one of at least 71 in the southwest, functions as a de facto enforcement zone away from the border.  In Border Patrolese, it’s “an additional layer in our Defense in Depth strategy.” This particular checkpoint isn’t exactly impressive — just a portable trailer with an attached tarp for shade, but it still qualifies, according to one of the Patrol’s informational brochures, as “a critical enforcement tool for securing the nation’s borders against all threats to our homeland.”

The agents manning it stop every car on the road, do a quick visual check of its interior, and ask the driver and passengers their citizenship. There are also dogs available to sniff each car for traces of drugs or explosives. “Our enforcement presence along these strategic routes reduces the ability of criminals and potential terrorists to easily travel away from the border,” the brochure explains. 

The Homeland Security surveillance gaze in the Southwest is, in fact, so pervasive that it has even nabbed singer Willy Nelson in Texas for marijuana possession. It detained 96-year-old former Arizona governor Raul Castro and made him stand in 100-degree heat for more than 30 minutes because a dog detected the radiation from his pacemaker. In the past three years in the Tucson sector, the Patrol has made more than 6,000 arrests and confiscated 135,000 pounds of narcotics at checkpoints.

But this is no longer just a matter of inland areas near the Mexican Border.  A Border Patrol agent forced Vermont’s senior senator Patrick Leahy from his car at a checkpoint 125 miles south of the New York State border. The ACLU of Vermont unearthed a prototype plan for CBP to operate checkpoints to stop southbound traffic on all five highways through that New England border state.

On Sunday afternoons in Sodus, New York, about 30 miles east of Rochester, green-striped Border Patrol vehicles can sometimes be found parked in front of a laundromat which farmworkers (many undocumented) use. In Erie, Pennsylvania, agents wait at the Greyhound bus terminal or the Amtrak station to question people arriving in town. These are all places where the Border Patrol was all but unknown before 2005. In Detroit, simply being at a bus stop at four in the morning en route to work or fishing in the Detroit River is now “probable cause” for an agent to question you.

Or perhaps it is simply the color of your skin. Arrest records from both bus terminals and railway stations in Rochester, New York, show that of the 2,776 arrests agents made between 2005 and 2009, 71.2% were of  “medium” complexion (likely of Latino or Arab background) and 12.9% “black.” Only 0.9% of those arrested were of “fair” complexion.

Back in Arivaca, the agent with the wraparound sunglasses tells Cynthia that she needs to get out of her car. Much like Senator Leahy, she responds that she doesn’t “understand why.”

“You don’t have to understand,” he says. “It’s for my safety. And yours. Do you understand that?”  

Then his tone gains an angry edge. He clearly doesn’t like having his authority challenged. “We don’t have time for this. We have criminals here, okay? If you have a political or an emotional situation here” — he makes an emphatic chopping motion with his hand — “I don’t want to hear about it. I want to see your ID.” He pauses. “Now!”

The adrenaline is obviously pumping and he is about to edge up on the limits of what an agent can do, even with extra-constitutional powers. He thrusts his hand through the open window and into the car and unlocks it. With a yank, he pulls the door open from the inside. When Cynthia is out of the car, he asks, his voice rising, “What do you think we’re looking for here?”

“I don’t know,” Cynthia responds.

“That’s where I’m gonna educate you a little bit. Okay?”

“Okay,” she says.

“What happens through this checkpoint is that we catch smugglers of aliens, smugglers of drugs, child molesters, murderers, and everything else. Okay? Does that make sense?”

This rural area of Arizona, he insists as they stand under a vast cloudless blue sky, is infested with bandits, criminals, and drug dealers. “We have methamphetamine being made and manufactured,” the agent explains. “Do you think methamphetamine is a good thing?”

“Personally, no,” she says.

“Personally, I don’t think so either. I think they’re poisoning our world, okay? So when we ask you just to do something simple, like uncover something, do it! It’s a relief for us that it’s not something dangerous or something else.”  By now, the agent is making the full-blown case for Homeland Security’s rollback of the Bill of Rights: the world’s a dangerous place, too dangerous for us not to have a free hand searching wherever we want whenever we want — and it’s your job to understand that new twenty-first-century American reality.  He ends with a final dig at her for her initial resistance: “You’re destroying your rights, because what happens is, is that the criminals take your rights away, okay?  Not us. We’re here to protect you.”

According to the ACLU’s Lyall, the fact is that the abuses of Customs and Border Protection in that Constitution-free zone are “massively underreported” and “far more prevalent than anyone has been able to document.” Many people, according to him, are simply afraid to come forward; others don’t know their rights.

In Shena Gutierrez’s case, she returned to the same Nogales “port of entry” with two other activists to lodge a complaint about the purse incident. When she refused to leave federal property (for which she now faces charges), the CBP arrested and detained her for hours. This time they did what she described as “an invasive body search.”

“I told them that I had not given my consent to be touched.” They nonetheless made her take off her wedding ring “for safety.” When she resisted, they said that they “would force it off her.” Again, the handcuffs cut into her wrists.  This time, an agent kicked her in the ankle from behind. A female agent searched her thoroughly, from head to toe and in her private parts, because she “might have drugs or contraband or documents.”

As the agent groped her, she told me, she began to think yet again about what her husband had gone through. If this can happen to a U.S. citizen, she told me, “Imagine what happens to a person without documents.”

Imagine what can happen to anyone in a realm where, increasingly, anything goes, including the Constitution.

Todd Miller, a TomDispatch regular, has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. His first book is Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Homeland Security. You can follow him on twitter @memomiller and view more of his work at toddwmiller.wordpress.com.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Todd Miller 

Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com

——–

Related video:

Immigration Activist Detained by Border Patrol (Jose Antonio Vargas)

What the West means by “stability” in the Middle East

Mon, 14 Jul 2014 - 11:33pm

By Victor Argo

“For them, a stable country is a country with a strong government favorable to the United States”:

When Western governments pompously talk about “stability in the Middle East”, the interest and the security of the people of the region are seldom on their minds, writes Victor Argo.

Stability, stability, stability. Comments on the recent events in the Middle East never miss to demand stability: for Iraq, for Syria, for Lebanon and for the Arab world in general. Stability as a remedy for all the woes that have befallen the Middle East.

What do these commentators mean when they ask for “stability”? What kind of stability do they talk about and who shall benefit from it?

Here is a possible definition: stability means to live in an environment that is predictable. An environment where one doesn’t have to fear to become the unexpected collateral damage of a bomb or a missile. Stability is order and security. Without them, everything else is naught.

“What kind of stability do they talk about?”

However, these commentators, writing for Western media outlets or speaking for Western governments, usually offer a different definition of stability. For them, a stable country is a country with a strong government favorable to the United States. Ideally all elements of society are represented in this government and it has a broad popular support. But these are not absolute prerequisites.

When the Unites States invaded Iraq in 2003 and removed Saddam Hussein and his entire regime, they deliberately destroyed the order that was holding Iraq together. Stability was smashed to pieces. A stable Iraq, albeit ruled and secured by an iron fist, descended into chaos and a civil war – the ultimate instability. Ever since that fateful year of 2003, Iraq is searching for a new equilibrium.

When the last US troops quit Iraq two years ago, they left behind a stable Iraq. Or at least that is what the Americans told themselves. It was an Iraq that allowed US president Obama to fulfill a campaign promise of 2008: to get the US boys home, no matter how wobbly that stable Iraq still was.

The so called stable Iraq was governed by a new authoritarian leader, the democratically legitimized Nouri al Maliki. Maliki was a Shia. The Shia had suffered under Saddam Hussein and Maliki himself had spent more than 20 years in exile. After Saddam was hanged, it was the Shia’s time, and Maliki’s turn, to take over what they had been deprived of before.

Not only that the United States wanted to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, they also – in their own words – pursued the noble goal of bringing democracy to this corner of the world. And since the biggest share of Iraqi society was Shia, an election naturally yielded a Shia victory. In Iraq, democracy became the dictatorship of the majority.

The United States is home to the best schools of political science but they deliver disappointing results. While everyone in Europe knows that democracy is basically synonymous with political instability – in the sense that governments come and go and prime ministers resign and are replaced by opposition figures – analysts in the US still seem to believe that democracy per se is the key to a stable country.

“The United States is home to the best schools of political science but they deliver disappointing results”

Are they dumb? Or are the playing dumb? Democracy in Europe (and in the United States) works because the political culture for democracy is there. It is based on robust institutions and a common understanding of what constitutes the nation, its people and its goals. It is an understanding that goes beyond personal interests. Democracy in Europe works because societies are not tribal and they don’t have to deal with repercussions of a schism in the Islamic faith hundreds of years ago.

What are the United States doing to promote stability in the Middle East? The stability that the people in the Middle East need, the stability that is based on order and security. Actually not a lot, and they often act to the contrary. After Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the US air force together with its NATO allies bombed away Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. This gave way to the country falling into the hands of various militias, one of them killing the US ambassador in 2012.

In Syria, the USA made great efforts to undermine the regime of Bashar al-Assad – certainly not a democrat, but a stabilizer – by initially supporting the same forces that are now threatening American pal Maliki in Baghdad: radical islamists. Spin-doctors in Washington are shaking their heads in despair: why don’t these bearded guys stick to the agreed plan and remain in Syria? The borders in the Middle East are more porous than shown on Google maps!

The democracy record of the United States is just as bad. The US supports democracy when it leads to the installment of governments that operate in their favor and they vehemently oppose the democratic process when its results are adverse to American interests.

The prime example is Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has many plans for the Middle East, and a lot of money to push them through, but none of them are democratic. Iran has Hezbollah as its proxy force? Let’s create ISIS as a counterbalance! And yet, despite the recent hiccups, Saudi Arabia keeps being one of Washington’s key partners in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to help the royal family crush a movement that asked for civil rights and a better inclusion of the majority Shia population. In Kuwait and in Qatar, people were condemned to long jail terms for having criticized their rulers on Twitter. In all these cases, the USA looked the other way, well aware that more democracy would mean less stability for the United States. Stability that the Americans need in order to have military bases in all of these countries, to secure energy supply lines and to check Iran on the other side of the Persian Gulf.

There is one country in the Middle East that seems to be immune against calls for democracy and stability: Lebanon. After the civil war that ended in 1990, the Lebanese have established a political system that is so inclusive, with all sects represented on all levels, that the country has become quite ungovernable. At the moment, Lebanon is once again without a president. Attempts to convene the parliament and to get it to vote on a generally accepted candidate to be the new head of state have failed in May and in June of 2014.

“The borders in the Middle East are more porous than shown on Google maps!”

However, the very inability of Lebanon to be governed has nurtured a political state unseen in any other country: the resilience of the chaos. There is no single strongman like in Iraq or Libya who can be disposed and the country will subsequently slide into an abyss. This is particularly true for the Lebanon after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Lebanon is a tightly woven rug where the lack of one thread – the president, for that matter – won’t lead to the dissolution of the entire rug.

Therefore, Lebanon is relatively stable, on a low level, and is shaking but not falling. But the chaos comes with a price: Lebanese are in perpetual expectancy of a central state to work and to provide the services that a “normal” state usually provides to its citizens.

And what is the USA doing to bolster the stability of Lebanon? They work against it. The United States tries to impose solutions for Lebanon that benefit them and their allies but not necessarily Lebanon. They favor one political block over another. They go after Lebanese banks, thus sapping one of the few functioning pillars of the Lebanese society, and accuse them of financing terrorism and doing bank services for Hezbollah.

The USA and the UK paid shallow lip service to the security of Lebanon by saying “we stand by Lebanon” when several suicide bombers holding Saudi passports entered Lebanon from Syria in June to blow themselves up at army checkpoints and in South Beirut. If the United States and the UK really want to stand by Lebanon they must stop arming the rebels in Syria and start getting tough with the House of Saud.

However, in the very same week, Obama requested $500 million from Congress to train and to equip “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition. This is a clear recipe to prolong the war in Syria, not to end it. But maybe that is precisely the goal. When Western governments pompously talk about “stability in the Middle East”, the interest and the security of the people of the Middle East must be first on their mind. Or else, big talk is just phony rhetoric.

Victor Argo (a pseudonym) holds a management position within a European ministry of defense. He uses an alias since his views are private and in no way connected with any official view of any European government. Victor is personally connected to Lebanon.

Mirrored from Your Middle East

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS from late last week: “International military aid to Iraq may offer little help”

Gaza War: Tunnels, Targets and Rockets: Hamas/ IJ Strategy & Tactics

Mon, 14 Jul 2014 - 11:28pm

Editor’s Note: Even Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas asked Hamas sarcastically what they expected to achieve with rocket attacks on Israel. As Human Rights Watch notes, Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of unguided rockets inevitably endangers innocent non-combatants and is therefore a war crime. The below article seemed interesting to me in explaining some of the tactical innovations and strategic goals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad with regard to the use of these rockets– I hadn’t seen this information elsewhere, I think because US media don’t report much directly on Hamas.

By Ahmed Hadi (al-Akhbar)

Gaza – Unlike previous wars, the Palestinian Resistance has kept out of sight. On the streets of Gaza, gunmen wearing military uniforms and carrying walkie talkies were completely absent. This strategy was adopted in the 2012 war. Targets related to the Resistance, such as rocket launch sites and arms depots, were kept hidden from intelligence services at the Israeli Defense Ministry, who were busy working on delivering a forceful blow to the [Resistance] factions.

On the ground, a clear division of tasks is apparent among the military wings battling Israel on more than one level. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are firing mid-range rockets deep inside Israel, under two different titles: al-Asf al-Maakoul and al-Bunyan al-Marsous. The other brigades and armed groups are responsible for providing them cover with short-range mortar shells on the perimeter of Gaza, as well as monitoring the movement of the occupation on the borders.

The security situation prevented Hamas and Islamic Jihad from forming a joint operations room to unify their plan for confrontation. However, several armed factions maintained that indirect coordination did not have a big impact on Resistance operations.

The Resistance is resorting to new strategies in dealing with the Israeli forces, according to a field commander in al-Qassam Brigades. The strategy uses tunnels as the main option for launching rockets, which had been placed there based on previous geographical data. “This is in addition to reliance on a heavy barrage of rockets in each launching operation, to ensure that the launcher’s load has been emptied completely. Israeli raids on them become pointless after the mission is completed.”

The field commander explained to Al-Akhbar that the rockets are launched using a timer, “which means the fighters do not have to remain close.” He maintained this reduced the number of casualties among Resistance fighters, in reference to the absence of news on preventing launchings or martyrs in this regard, like in previous wars.

As for coordination among different factions, the Qassam commander said they are in constant coordination with Islamic Jihad’s Saraya al-Quds (al-Quds Brigades) on long-range bombardment and mentioned that the other factions assumed the role of launching Grad and short-range rockets on settlements around Gaza.

In the meantime, a senior military source in the Saraya revealed that they are completely dependent on the rocket units on the ground. “This is in addition to the surveillance units deployed on the outskirts of Gaza, equipped with night vision goggles and sensitive cameras, to watch out for sea or land commandos, especially in al-Shujaiya to the east and Beit Hanoun to the north.”

The source indicated the presence of high level coordination between the leaders of al-Quds Brigades and al-Qassam Brigades, to identify a target bank and the regions inside Israel to be put under fire. He stressed that there is enough stockpile of rockets for a long confrontation, despite the occupation’s attempts at bombing locations thought to be rocket warehouses.

It is also worth mentioning that both groups have a good stockpile of medium-range rockets, as a result of an accumulated experience in manufacturing them, in addition to the military training they both received in Syria and Iran. The other groups, however, are only equipped with short-range mortar shells.

“The Resistance has done very well until now and there are other surprises awaiting the occupation.” – Popular Resistance Committees spokesperson
The two military wings also created special ground and marine forces. They made an appearance in the major clash on Saturday, which took place on the beach north of the Strip (al-Sudaniya region) and lasted for two and a half hours. The battle started with the involvement of al-Qassam Brigades. However, al-Quds Brigades soon announced that some of its units were then deployed to provide support.

In a televised statement, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zahri indicated that his movement supported Islamic Jihad’s calls for a nation-wide Palestinian meeting. He also stressed the presence of major coordination between resistance wings on the fields and “their long-term capacity to confront aggressions.” The two movements also had identical positions on the media leaks in Hebrew media, speaking about mediations and the conditions of an expected truce.

Abu Mujahed, Popular Resistance Committees spokesperson, agreed that the Resistance was able to confuse the enemy with its new strategy for confrontation. “The Resistance has done very well until now and there are other surprises awaiting the occupation,” he explained. He commended the coordination among the military wings on the ground, although he believes that coordination will automatically lead to a joint operations room in the event of a ground invasion by Israel.

“There is a difference between a ground war and an aerial war. In case of heavy air raids, the Resistance will be limited to rockets, which perform in a certain manner and are turned in a previously agreed direction,” Abu Mujahed explained. He added that “in a ground war, there is a direct confrontation of various fronts, which require high level coordination. This needs a joint operations room.”

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot published a report maintaining that Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and other factions have dug secret tunnels, “whose locations and targets are difficult to identify by military airplanes.” It concluded that “the only option left for the army is to conduct a ground operation to achieve the goals of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.” However, the newspaper explained that “a ground war requires several preparations, most notably, how to get out of the Strip after the incursion.”

Mirrored from Al-Akhbar English

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: ” Hamas: No flexibility in truce negotiations”

Quashing Jewish Dissent on Israel

Mon, 14 Jul 2014 - 11:25pm

By Shalom Goldman

A New Yorker cartoon of a few years back shows Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Looking at Moses, one Israelite says to the other, “Well, he’s alright, but I wish he were a little more pro-Israel.”

The leadership of American Jewish community organizations never has to worry about such criticism. For the officials of the self-described “major” American Jewish groups, “strong on Israel” is the first qualification of leadership, and “pro-Israel” means one thing: justifying and defending all actions of the Israeli government. And for the ADL and other leadership organizations, Palestinian hostility to Israel can only be explained by “incitement” and “race hatred.” In their view, the Israelis are so benevolent to the people who live under their rule that no other explanation is possible.

Even the dreaded word “occupation” must be put in scare quotes to render it kosher for an ADL announcement. Last week the ADL’s Abe Foxman wrote about that animosity: “Some justify this animosity, saying it is a natural result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of Israel’s ‘occupation’ of the West Bank.”

American Jewish critics of Israel are deemed dangerous, but criticism by Israeli Jews is the most feared and resented type, and the establishment Jewish organizations have worked hard for decades to keep such voices out of the American marketplace of ideas. But in the internet age that is increasingly difficult. A few weeks ago Israeli novelist and public intellectual Amos Oz dubbed the violent extremists among the West Bank Settlers as “Hebrew Neo-Nazis.” The outcry in the U.S. was quite loud. But wait—are there violent extremists among Israel’s Jews? According to those American Jews who describe themselves as pro-Israel, the Settlers, like all other Israeli Jews, are by definition victims, not victimizers. And if the Settlers get a little rowdy, it is only in reaction to the provocation of their “irrational” neighbors.

In the last decades of the 20th century there were Jewish intellectuals who could criticize Israel and still remain within the communal consensus. The late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who died in 2006, was one. Immediately after the 1967 War, Hertzberg—rabbi, historian, and author of The Zionist Idea—called for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a position that was an anathema to the Israeli government and to most American Jews. Decades later Hertzberg recounted with pride and pleasure his public battles with Israeli officials, including Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, over their policies toward the Palestinians.

I was largely in opposition to the dominant policies. I found myself restating this view year by year, as repeated attempts were made to silence me in Jerusalem and by its lackeys in New York and Washington. I insisted that we in the Diaspora could represent the best interest of the Jews worldwide—never mind the political and moral foolishness that governments in power might be proclaiming … I also had no fear that I was committing treason by denouncing what I knew was wrong and foolish, and I laughed off the label “maverick.”

But Hertzberg the dissident rabbi is an artifact of the past. Today there are no dissidents on Israel inside the major Jewish organizations; they have either resigned or been purged. By the mid-1970s, being “strong” on Israel and “tough on the Palestinians” were at the core of American Jewish identity. Identification with Israel (often expressed in emotional terms as “love for Israel”) replaced Judaism rather than augmented it.

From the late 1960s until today, much informed criticism of Israel’s occupation of the territories conquered in the 1967 War has appeared in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper of record. Like the New York Times and its liberal European counterparts, Haaretz stood, and stands, for liberal values in an increasingly reactionary society. And for that reason the paper was regularly condemned by American Jewish leaders. Now it is simply dismissed as “defeatist.” In the mid 1970s, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg conjectured that “if Haaretz was published in New York City, the local Jewish organizations would burn down the building in which it was published.”

Unlike American Catholics or members of the mainline Protestant denominations, the American Jewish community has no official hierarchy or representative body. The Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations—with fifty constituent members—is an umbrella organization of charities and advocacy groups, not a body that can speak with any sanctioned authority.

Despite this lack of central authority, a “checkbook leadership” has emerged, a leadership shaped by money and political influence, not by piety, sagacity, or scholarship. These leaders are not like Rabbi Hertzberg; they are neither scholars nor dissenters. In fact there is something of an inverse ratio at work here. The more these public figures assert to know about what is “good for the Jews,” the less they know about Judaism the religion, or about the Hebrew or Yiddish languages and Jewish texts. History, language, and religious customs are of no interest to many of them. What is of central importance is their “love and support” of Israel, a country they know little about, though many of the leaders have visited it many times.

One example: In 1992, when Black-Jewish relations were at a low point after the Crown Heights riots, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York City invited former president Aristide of Haiti to address the council. Aristide, who had been deposed in an American-sponsored coup a year earlier, is a Catholic Priest whose graduate work in philosophy was done at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Aristide addressed his Jewish hosts in flawless Hebrew. When his speech was over the head of the council had to apologize to Aristide, for virtually none of the assembled understood what he said. Knowledge of Hebrew was not one of their qualifications for leadership.

But despite their ignorance of Israeli language, culture, and history these “leaders” claim to know what is best for Israel’s interests and claim to represent American Jews on the very complex issue of Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians. And curiously, their often belligerent rhetoric about what is best for the Jewish state often clashes with what Israeli experts think and say. “Strong on Israel” does not seem to mean acting with wisdom, intelligence, or discernment, but being “tough”—jingoistic in tone and militaristic in tone.

And to celebrate their militarism, scores of Israeli military officers are invited each year to make appearance at synagogues throughout the U.S. Many a Yom Kippur service is “blessed” by a high-ranking officer who assures the assembled that “Israel is strong.” I have witnessed, reluctantly, some of these blessings and can testify to the near ecstasy that the presence of an Israeli general generates. After blessing the congregation the general exits the building. Religious services, it seems, are for those foolish enough to believe in the power of the spirit and not in the power of the sword.

McCarthyism (“the practice of making unfair allegations in order to restrict dissent”) is the ideal tool for quashing dissent on Israel. Its methods—including fear mongering and intimidation—are “made in America.” And in their time—until McCarthy was faced down by Joseph Welch, general counsel for the army, in 1954—these methods were very effective in silencing progressive voices in politics, the academy, and the performing arts.

This dangerous mix of ignorance and militarism was again in evidence last month when the ADL pressured the Metropolitan Opera to stop the simulcast of John Adam’s opera “The Death of Klinghofer.” The Metropolitan Opera production was threatened with protests and a boycott by “pro-Israel” groups. That was a high-culture case of intimidation. There have been many cases of popular culture intimidation. Just few weeks earlier the rock and roll group The Shondes (their name means “disgraces” in Yiddish) were banned from the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center because they were outspoken in their opposition to the Israeli occupation. And in the realm of politics: weeks before The Shondes were banned, the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations denied the application of J Street (a “pro-peace/pro-Israel” lobbying group that supports the Two-State solution) to join the Conference.

Is this fear of criticism, especially Jewish criticism, a new phenomenon? By no means. It has been evident within the Conference leadership for decades. But as principled opposition to Israeli policy increases, McCarthyite methods are now being used on a large scale and more frequently. As a prominent rabbi told me over a decade ago, “In next week’s sermon I could question God’s actions in today’s world and no one would bat an eyelash. If I were to question the State of Israel’s actions I might not get out of the synagogue alive. At the very least I would lose my pulpit.” My conversation partner was a Conservative rabbi, but he could just as well have been a Reform or Modern Orthodox rabbi.

Strangely enough the Jewish consensus on Israel has moved so far to the political right that rabbis who may be dovish—but not dissident—are afraid to speak their minds. In 2013, 20 percent of rabbis surveyed said that they were more dovish on Israel than their congregants and were afraid to speak their minds in public lest they lose their jobs.

Along with other dissidents, I too have felt the lash of American Jewish “defenders of Israel” on many occasions. Among the more absurd of these attacks: In the late 1980s, I was invited to lecture at the “Festival of Faiths” in Louisville, Kentucky, an annual event run by the Center for Interfaith Relations. The topic was to be the Dead Sea Scrolls, a subject I taught in my courses at Dartmouth College. A week before the festival I received a panicked call from the director of the festival. He was embarrassed to say that he had been pressured to disinvite me. When I asked why, he said that he had been informed by a prominent Louisville citizen that I was “an enemy of the Jewish people.” My signature on an open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling for a change in Israeli policies toward the Palestinians had, it seemed, rendered me unfit to speak about the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relationship to Jewish and Christian history.

Since then, I, like many of my colleagues (especially those of us with Hebrew names and a deep personal knowledge of Israel) have been subjected to insults, boycotts, and hostility from more “loyal” Jewish colleagues and from activist students who are busy “defending Israel” from afar.

Any teaching about Israel that is not celebratory is rare indeed. So rare that it makes headlines because the mainstream Jewish organizations try to suppress it. In those elite American universities where there is a program in Israel Studies, the courses are advocacy courses, not courses worthy of great colleges and universities. And they are very well funded by wealthy foundations.

But according to the ADL and other American Jewish organizations, American campuses are riddled with anti-Semites masquerading as critics of Israel. Many academic critics of Israel have been denied tenure, fired, or simply never hired, and an atmosphere of fear and anxiety pervades the halls and offices of departments that dare to offer an objective course about Israel and the Palestinians. At Columbia University the cases of Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El-Haj are illustrative (the university administration backed these professors despite massive campaigns against them), as was the firing of Joel Kovel at Bard College and Marc Ellis at Baylor University. Alan Dershowitz’s successful campaign in 2007 to pressure DePaul University to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein is bitterly remembered by all whose courses about the Middle East are not prep courses for Birthright—the program that takes Jewish college students to Israel for a ten-day “infomercial” about one of the world’s most complex issues. And the campaign against University of Michigan Middle East historian Juan Cole, whose 2006 appointment to a professorship in Yale’s history department was blocked because of his “anti-Israel” writings, was a reminder that academicians, including the most senior and distinguished scholars, write and teach critically about Israel at their peril.

Shalom Goldman, Religion Department, Duke University

Mirrored from Patheos

=======

Related Video added by Juan Cole:

“A protest against Israeli attack on Gaza, Tel Aviv, 12.7.2014″

How its Iran Sanctions hurt US Economy: Cutting off your Nose to Spite Your Face

Mon, 14 Jul 2014 - 11:25pm

The National Iranian American Council

There are very few studies measuring the cost of sanctions to the sanctioning countries. In the case of Iran, where unprecedented U.S. and international sanctions may soon be lifted as part of a deal over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, understanding the cost of the policy is particularly important since any debate over whether to exchange sanctions relief for limitations to Iran’s nuclear program would be incomplete at best and misleading at worst if it did not address the cost of sanctions. This report aims to provide just that (click here).

Between 1995 and 2012, the U.S. sacrificed between $134.7 and $175.3 billion in potential export revenue to Iran. The United States is by far the biggest loser of all sanctions enforcing nations. From 1995 to 2012, the U.S. sacrificed between $134.7 and $175.3 billion in potential export revenue to Iran.

• These estimates reflect the loss solely from export industries, and do not include the detrimental economic effects of other externalities of Iran-targeted sanctions, such as higher global oil prices. Moreover, since sanctions have depressed the Iranian GDP, Iran’s imports would have been even higher in the absence of sanctions, which further would increase the economic costs to sanctions enforcing nations due to lost exports. Consequently, the full cost to the U.S. economy is likely even higher.

• There is also a human element, measured in terms of jobs needed to support higher export levels. On average, the lost export revenues translate into between 51,000 and 66,000 lost job opportunities each year. In 2008, the number reaches as high as 215,000-279,000 lost job opportunities.

• Texas and California are likely the biggest losers in terms of lost employment, due to their size as well as the attractiveness of their industries to Iran’s economy.

• Between 2010 and 2012, sanctions cost the EU states more than twice as much as the United States in terms of lost trade revenue. Germany was hit the hardest, losing between $23.1 and $73.0 billion between 2010-2012, with Italy and France following at $13.6-$42.8 billion and $10.9-$34.2 billion respectively.

The NIAC report is here

—–

related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA from a few days ago: “Iran Talks Enter Crucial Phase”

Electric Auto Sales Skyrocket as Oil Price Rises on Iraq, Libya Woes

Mon, 14 Jul 2014 - 11:22pm

By Christopher DeMorro

It’s no secret that electric vehicle sales are on the rise, but it seems that EV sales may have hit a turning point, both in America in abroad. The estimated number of EVs sold since 2010 have crossed the half-million mark, and the Energy Policy Information Center has released a set of graphs charting the exponential growth of electric vehicles.

Prepare to be impressed.

Following two record-setting months in May and June of this year, total American EV sales have surged past 222,000 units since late 2010, and while the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt remain the dominant players, there are many more options now. Ford, BMW, Toyota, and of course Tesla have all offered EV enthusiasts a wider range of options, from the short-lived RAV4 EV to the much-celebrated Model S. Monthly EV and plug-in hybrid sales are now over 10,000 units a month; compare that to the less-than-10,000 Nissan LEAF electric cars sold in 2011.

As you can see in this next chart, the year-over-year growth of EV and plug-in hybrid sales is even more impressive, especially compared to last year. So far over 54,000 plug-in cars have been sold in 2014, compared with just over 41,000 EVs and plug-in hybrids at this time last year. At this pace, sales are well on their way to setting and breaking even more records, with analysts estimating over 150,000 sales of plug-in cars this year.

This next chart shows that not every brand is benefitting from the growth in plug-in car sales though, with certain contenders dominating the chart. The Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF remain top dog, though the Toyota Prius Plug-In, Ford Fusion Energi, and Tesla Model S are all making a mark. Meanwhile though, cars like the Cadillac ELR, Ford Focus Electric and the Mitsubishi i barely register on the charts.

Finally we have a chart showing the explosion of EV sales often coordinates with rising gas prices, as people sick of paying $4.00 a gallon or more decide to try something different. As gas prices rise, so do EV sales in most cases though conversely as gas prices fall, so do to EV sales.

The lesson here? Higher gas prices mean more electric cars on the road, though the momentum behind EVs doesn’t seem to be settling anytime soon.

Christopher DeMorro A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, Chris can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

Mirrored from CleanTechnica

Creative Commons License 3.0

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Nissan delivers 50,000th all-electric LEAF in U.S. to Texas family

Brad Pitt Foundation to Build Solar Homes for Native Americans

Mon, 14 Jul 2014 - 12:29am

By Kimberley A. Johnson

Native News Online has reported that actor Brad Pitt’s Make It Right non-profit organization and the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of Fort Peck, Montana have formed a partnership to build sustainable homes, buildings and communities on their reservation.

Pitt’s organization Make It Right was established in 2007 to help those who are in need of housing. According to tribal officials, more than 600 people are waiting for housing on the reservation and that makes this partnership a perfect fit.

Taylor Royale, a spokesperson for Make It Right wrote: “Overcrowding is a chronic problem with multiple families commonly living together in two-bedroom homes due to lack of accommodation.”

The new homes will have three or four bedrooms, two or three bathrooms and will be solar powered. Housing will be available for tribal members whose income levels fall below 60 percent of the Area Median Income.

“As a tribal designer working in Indian country, I feel we have an obligation to design and build housing that is tied to the culture, community and place of Fort Peck,” says Joseph Kunkel, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow From The Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative.

Construction is set to begin in 2014.

Kimberley A. Johnson (BIO) is the author of The Virgin Diaries and an activist for women’s rights. Like her on Facebook, Twitter or follow her on FB HERE.

Mirrored from Liberals Unite

Creative Commons 3.0 License

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Related video added by Juan Cole

Native News Update


Israel and Palestine: An Animated Introduction

Sun, 13 Jul 2014 - 11:58pm

“Easy to understand, historically accurate Jewish Voice for Peace mini- primer about why Israelis and Palestinians are fighting, why the US-backed peace process has been an impediment to peace, and what you can do to make a difference. This conflict is essentially about land and human rights, not religion and culture. Endorsed by Palestinian, Israeli and American scholars and peace activists.”

Jewish Voice for Peace: “Israel and Palestine, an animated introduction”

Note by Juan Cole: I don’t agree with everything in the film, especially the history. Some 200,000 Jews settled Palestine before the Nazis amounted to anything, as a British settler colonial project, not a Jewish refugee one. And since Jordan had secretly agreed only to take the West Bank and not incur into areas promised the Zionists by the UN General Assembly partition proposal and since Hashemite Iraq sent only a small force in support of Hashemite Jordan — it was really only Egypt that actually invaded, not “some Arab states.” But on the whole it is a much more accurate overview than anything you’ll see or hear in US corporate media.

Netanyahu’s Bad Faith: From Gag orders to War as Bread and Circuses

Sun, 13 Jul 2014 - 11:40pm

By Carlyn Meyer

In a stunning revelation published by the Jewish daily news magazine, Forward, JJ Goldberg uncovers an almost pathological new low for PM Netanyahu’s deceptive ‘bait and switch’ style of political warfare. Goldberg reports that Israeli intelligence concluded the three Israeli Yeshiva students killed by Palestinian gunmen were slain within hours of being kidnapped. Yet, Netanyahu issued a gag order that prevented government officials and journalists who were privy to the knees from reporting it.

Goldberg writes:

“The initial evidence was the recording of victim Gil-ad Shaer’s desperate cellphone call to Moked 100, Israel’s 911. When the tape reached the security services the next morning — neglected for hours by Moked 100 staff — the teen was heard whispering “They’ve kidnapped me” (“hatfu oti”) followed by shouts of “Heads down,” then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers’ abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA. There was no doubt.”

In addition, Netanyahu and others in the Israeli government knew from the beginning that the killings were carried out by a rogue Hamas-affiliated group from Hebron and was not ordered by Hamas leadership. The perpetrators eventually arrested were widely known to have taken other actions on their own in order to embarrass or discredit Hamas.

The entire narrative that Netanyahu has spun since this tragic kidnapping was first uncovered is false. Not only did the PM unconditionally charge Hamas for the kidnappings, he also set in motion weeks of house-to-house searches, deportations and over 800 arrests of Palestinians, all under the pretense of looking for the killers and the fake assumption that the three teenagers were still alive.

When non-Hamas militants launched rockets into southern Israel in response to the raids and arrests, Israel bore down harder, eventually bombing Gaza, drawing Hamas into the conflict and launching “Operation Edge”.

Pundits in both the US and Israel are fond of claiming that neither Hamas nor Israel will benefit from the current fighting, especially if Israel launches a ground war. In truth, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed or injured in service to the narrow political interests of a Prime Minister skilled at covering up his own weak leadership through dramatic displays of political and military pyrotechnics.

Netanyahu abdicated his responsibility to defuse an explosive situation. He could have done so by identifying key suspects and declaring, hard as that would be, that the three boys were murdered soon after being kidnapped. Instead of carrying out an investigation of killings by pathological extremists, Netanyahu treated the kidnapping as an act of war. Palestinian civilians are paying the price.

Carlyn Meyer, former editor of the blog Read Between the Lines writes on politics from her home in Chicago.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

TheRealNews: “Israeli Government and Press Knew Teenagers Were Dead For Weeks”

Helpless Giant: How Imperial US Elites Tied America Down All by Themselves

Sun, 13 Jul 2014 - 11:24pm

By Tom Engelhardt via Tomdispatch

For America’s national security state, this is the age of impunity.  Nothing it does — torture, kidnapping, assassination, illegal surveillance, you name it — will ever be brought to court.  For none of its beyond-the-boundaries acts will anyone be held accountable.  The only crimes that can now be committed in official Washington are by those foolish enough to believe that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.  I’m speaking of the various whistleblowers and leakers who have had an urge to let Americans know what deeds and misdeeds their government is committing in their name but without their knowledge.  They continue to pay a price in accountability for their acts that should, by comparison, stun us all.

As June ended, the New York Times front-paged an account of an act of corporate impunity that may, however, be unique in the post-9/11 era (though potentially a harbinger of things to come).  In 2007, as journalist James Risen tells it, Daniel Carroll, the top manager in Iraq for the rent-a-gun company Blackwater, one of the warrior corporations that accompanied the U.S. military to war in the twenty-first century, threatened Jean Richter, a government investigator sent to Baghdad to look into accounts of corporate wrongdoing.

Here, according to Risen, is Richter’s version of what happened when he, another government investigator, and Carroll met to discuss Blackwater’s potential misdeeds in that war zone:

“Mr. Carroll said ‘that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,’ Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit. ‘Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,’ Mr. Richter stated in his memo. ‘I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.’”

When officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, heard what had happened, they acted promptly.  They sided with the Blackwater manager, ordering Richter and the investigator who witnessed the scene out of the country (with their inquiry incomplete).  And though a death threat against an American official might, under other circumstances, have led a CIA team or a set of special ops guys to snatch the culprit off the streets of Baghdad, deposit him on a Navy ship for interrogation, and then leave him idling in Guantanamo or in jail in the United States awaiting trial, in this case no further action was taken.

Power Centers But No Power to Act

Think of the response of those embassy officials as a get-out-of-jail-free pass in honor of a new age.  For the various rent-a-gun companies, construction and supply outfits, and weapons makers that have been the beneficiaries of the wholesale privatization of American war since 9/11, impunity has become the new reality.  Pull back the lens further and the same might be said more generally about America’s corporate sector and its financial outfits.  There was, after all, no accountability for the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.  Not a single significant figure went to jail for bringing the American economy to its knees. (And many such figures made out like proverbial bandits in the government bailout and revival of their businesses that followed.)

Meanwhile, in these years, the corporation itself was let loose to run riot.  Long a “person” in the legal world, it became ever more person-like, benefitting from a series of Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unions and ordinary Americans even as it gave the corporation ever more of the rights and attributes of a citizen on the loose.  Post-9/11, the corporate world gained freedom of expression, the freedom of the purse, as well as the various freedoms that staggering inequality and hoards of money offer.  Corporate entities gained, among other things, the right to flood the political system with money, and most recently, at least in a modest way, freedom of religion.

In other words, two great power centers have been engorging themselves in twenty-first-century America: there was an ever-expanding national security state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by anyone, ever more deeply enveloped in secrecy, ever more able to see others and less transparent itself, ever more empowered by a secret court system and a body of secret law whose judgments no one else could be privy to; and there was an increasingly militarized corporate state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by outside forces, ever more sure that the law was its possession.  These two power centers are now triumphant in our world.  They command the landscape against what may be less effective opposition than at any moment in our history.

In both cases, no matter how you tote it up, it’s been an era of triumphalism.  Measure it any way you want: by the rising Dow Jones Industrial Average or the expanding low-wage economy, by the power of “dark money” to determine American politics in 1% elections or the rising wages of CEOs and the stagnating wages of their workers, by the power of billionaires and the growth of poverty, by the penumbra of secrecy and classification spreading across government operations and the lessening ability of the citizen to know what’s going on, or by the growing power of both the national security state and the corporation to turn your life into an open book.  Look anywhere and some version of the same story presents itself — of ascendant power in the boardrooms and the backrooms, and of a sense of impunity that accompanies it.

Whether you’re considering the power of the national security state or the corporate sector, their moment is now.  And what a moment it is — for them.  Their success seems almost complete.  And yet that only begins to tell the strange tale of our American times, because if that power is ascendant, it seems incapable of being translated into classic American power.  The more successful those two sectors become, the less the U.S. seems capable of wielding its power effectively in any traditional sense, domestically or abroad.

Anyone can feel it, hence the recent Pew Research Center poll indicating a striking diminution in recent years of Americans who think the U.S. is exceptional, the greatest of all nations.  By 2011, only 38% of Americans thought that; today, the figure has dropped to 28%, and — a harbinger of future American attitudes — just 15% among 18-to-29-year-olds.  And no wonder.  By many measures the U.S. may remain the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet, but in recent years its ability to accomplish anything, no less achieve national or imperial success, has shrunk drastically.

The power centers remain, but in some still-hard-to-grasp way, the power to accomplish anything seems to be draining from a country that was once the great can-do nation on the planet.  On this, the record is both dismal and clear.  To say that the American political system is in a kind of gridlock or paralysis from which — given electoral prospects in 2014 and 2016 — there can be no escape is to say the obvious.  It’s a commonplace of news reports to suggest, for example, that in this midterm election year Congress and the president will be capable of accomplishing nothing together (except perhaps avoiding another actual government shutdown).  Nada, zip, zero.

The president acts in relatively minimalist ways by executive order, Congress threatens to sue over his use of those orders, and (as novelist Kurt Vonnegut would once have said) so it goes.  In the meantime, Congress has proven itself unable to act even when it comes to what once would have been the no-brainers of American life.  It has, for instance, been struggling simply to fund a highway bill that would allow for ordinary repair work on the nation’s system of roads, even though the fund for such work is running dry and jobs will be lost.

This sort of thing is but a symptom in a country of immense wealth whose infrastructure is crumbling and which lacks a single mile of high-speed rail.  In all of this, in the rise of poverty and a minimum-wage economy, in a loss — particularly for minorities — of the wealth that went with home ownership, what can be seen is the untracked rise of a Third World country inside a First World one, a powerless America inside the putative global superpower.

An Exceptional Kind of Decline

And speaking of the “sole superpower,” it remains true that no combination of other militaries can compare with the U.S. military or the moneys the country continues to put into it and into the research and development of weaponry of the most futuristic sort.  The U.S. national security budget remains a Ripley’s-Believe-It-Or-Not-style infusion of tax dollars into the national security state, something no other combination of major countries comes close to matching.

In addition, the U.S. still maintains hundreds of military bases and outposts across the planet (including, in recent years, ever more bases for our latest techno-wonder weapon, the drone).  In 2014, it still garrisons the planet in a way that no other imperial power has ever done.  In fact, it continues to sport all the trappings of a great empire, with an army impressive enough that our last two presidents have regularly resorted to one unembarrassed image to describe it: “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

And yet, recent history is clear: that military has proven incapable of winning its wars against minor (and minority) insurgencies globally, just as Washington, for all its firepower, military and economic, has had a remarkably difficult time imposing its desires just about anywhere on the planet.  Though it may still look like a superpower and though the power of its national security state may still be growing, Washington seems to have lost the ability to translate that power into anything resembling success. 

Today, the U.S. looks less like a functioning and effective empire than an imperial basket case, unable to bring its massive power to bear effectively from Germany to Syria, Iraq to Afghanistan, Libya to the South China Sea, the Crimea to Africa.  And stranger yet, this remains true even though it has no imperial competitors to challenge it.  Russia is a rickety energy state, capable of achieving its version of imperial success only along its own borders, and China, clearly the rising economic power on the planet, though flexing its military muscles locally in disputed oil-rich waters, visibly has no wish to challenge the U.S. military anywhere far from home.

All in all, the situation is puzzling indeed.  Despite much talk about the rise of a multi-polar world, this still remains in many ways a unipolar one, which perhaps means that the wounds Washington has suffered on numerous fronts in these last years are self-inflicted.

Just what kind of decline this represents remains to be seen.  What does seem clearer today is that the rise of the national security state and the triumphalism of the corporate sector (along with the much publicized growth of great wealth and striking inequality in the country) has been accompanied by a decided diminution in the power of the government to function domestically and of the imperial state to impose its will anywhere on Earth.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Blackwater Made Death Threats To Keep Money Flowing & It Worked”

Is Pope Francis the Green Pope?

Sun, 13 Jul 2014 - 12:39am

By Robyn Purchia

Pope Francis is putting a smile on environmentalists’ faces again. In an address at the University of Molise on Saturday, an agricultural and industrial region in southern Italy, Pope Francis called for more respect for nature, branding the destruction of South America’s rain forests and other forms of environmental exploitation a sin of modern times.

“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation,” he told students, struggling farmers, and laid-off workers in a university hall.

In unprepared remarks he said that the Earth should be allowed to give her fruits without being exploited. “When I look at America, also my homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land . . . that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to give us what she has within her,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the Pope has called environmental exploitation a sin. Back in May he made similar remarks before a crowd in Rome. “But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?” The Pope’s remarks called on the listeners to be “Custodians of Creation.”

While Pope Francis should surely be credited with drawing awareness to environmental issues (with regard to deforestation, swaths of forests the size of Panama are lost every year), we at EdenKeeper have questioned whether the pontiff and the Holy See could do more to practice what they preach. The Catholic Church has made no indication that it intends to follow the many religious groups divesting from fossil fuels, even though the Pope received a multi-faith letter from religious groups requesting that the Catholic Church divest earlier this year. And its policies still advocate eating meat — one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions — and condemn contraceptive and family-planning policies.

Pope Francis has taken the name of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, and has repeatedly made it clear that he denounces environmentally harmful practices like fracking and mining. He definitely seems to advocate environmentalism on the surface. But there remains an important — and glaring — difference between the Pope and his namesake. Saint Francis lived the message he advocated, Pope Francis simply advocates.

Like his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has used words to urge environmental protection. But let’s pray that he takes it one step further and turns those words into action.

I’m an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

Mirrored from Eden Keeper

Creative Commons License 3.0

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Rome Reports: “Pope’s Audience: If we destroy nature, nature will destroy us”