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Can al-Abadi win over Iraq’s Moderate Sunnis?

Sat, 16 Aug 2014 - 11:07pm

By Juan Cole

Arguably, the so-called Islamic State (actually a vicious gang of serial killers) could never have taken over northern and Western Iraq if the largely Sunni Arab populations there had not been deeply alienated from the government in Baghdad by the openly sectarian politics of former Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki systematically marginalized and angered the Sunni Arabs, many of whom in the end prefered even the vicious criminals of IS to al-Maliki’s Shiite army lording it over them.

Now that al-Maliki has resigned in favor of prime minister-desigante Haydar al-Abadi, some prominent Sunni Arab leaders in the Sunni-majority provinces have offered to work with the new prime minister to fight the al-Qaeda offshoot, IS. (Most Iraqi Sunnis are relatively secular-minded, or, if religious, not Saudi style hard line fundamentalists).

But they have demands they want to see met by al-Abadi before they agree to the dangerous task of taking on IS. They want to see a more balanced, new government with regard to the security forces and civil society. I think they want more Sunni Arabs in the Defense Ministry and in the officer corps. They want more Sunni Arabs in the Ministry of Interior. The central, powerful ministries, they are saying, cannot be the preserve only of hard line Shiites. (Iraq has a spoils system, so jobs in the ministries go to members of political parties in coalition with the prime minister’s party. Since the dominant parties are Shiite fundamentalists, that’s who got the government jobs. The Sunni Arabs want in.)

They also want an end to continual government shelling of Sunni towns and cities, the release of thousands of Sunni Arab prisoners, and the withdrawal of hard line Shiite militias from largely Sunni cities.

They want the largely Sunni Arab provinces to be ruled by local Sunni Arabs, and they want a non-sectarian national army to be rebuilt.

For his part, al-Abadi has pledged an anti-corruption campaign and a new leadership style.

If al-Abadi can actually get the support of any significant number of Sunnis, it will make all the difference. For a mostly Shiite government and army to overrun Sunni Tikrit looks like an occupation. For a joint Sunni-Shiite alliance of tribal leaders and government fighters to take it looks like a national victory.

In fact, the fate of Arab Iraq as a unified state depends on whether this opportunity is real, and whether al-Abadi can take advantage of it.


Related video added by Juan Cole

The Telegraph: “Iraq PM ‘must re-engage the Sunni population in Iraq’”

Inside Mosul: A Yearning for Deliverance from IS Radicals

Sat, 16 Aug 2014 - 12:57am

By Khales Joumah | Mosul | niqash |

NIQASH listens in on a conversation between Mosul locals to find out how they feel about US air strikes on their city and the Sunni Muslim extremists controlling it. Some support the use of force, others fear what will happen if the extremists are driven out and other military return to the city: Will they take revenge, they ask?

Almost everyone living in Mosul is opposed to air strikes by the Iraqi air force. They are random and bring no real results, they say. However air strikes by the US government are a different thing altogether. Some support the idea, others are against it.

Three Mosul locals – Ahmed, Jalal and Abdullah – are good friends. However at the moment Facebook is the only way they can meet. The Sunni Muslim extremists from the Islamic State, or IS, group have forced them to separate. Ahmed has stayed in Mosul and Jalal, an Iraqi Kurd, took his family to the relative safety of the nearby semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Abdullah left Mosul recently too, when he heard reports that 30 of his relatives, Shiite Muslim by sect and Shabak by ethnicity, had been kidnapped.

The three friends all hold different opinions about US President Barack Obama’s decision to launch air strikes against the IS group. Their arguments make a good snapshot of the kinds of conversations going on in Mosul at the moment.

All the points where citizens used to be able to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan have closed now that the IS group is attacking the Kurdish, Ahmed says, and Mosul is more like a big prison for the around 1 million who still live there.

His main concern, which is shared by many ordinary people in Mosul, is that US strikes will help the Iraqi army and the Iraqi Kurdish military return to Mosul. If they do, they will take revenge on the people of Mosul because they welcomed the IS group at first, he says.

Many people in Mosul also believe that with the air strikes, the borders of the Sunni Muslim areas in Iraq are being redrawn.

His Iraqi Kurdish friend, Jalal, has a different opinion. Jalal had been hoping that the Iraqi Kurdish forces, also known as the Peshmerga, would drive the IS fighters out of his city. He was very disappointed when instead it was the Peshmerga who were driven back.

For this reason he supports the US air strikes – they came at the right time, he says, and they’ve raised the Peshmerga’s morale and allowed them to start winning in their fight against the IS group.

Jalal supports the air strikes as long as they don’t hurt civilians. “Unlike the Iraqi air force raids which were random and chaotic,” he notes. “Rather than doing any damage to the terrorist targets, they brought death to local people and damage to vital institutions in Mosul,” he complains. “The only time that Iraqi plans managed to hit a target directly it was the juvenile detention centre west of Mosul. The irony is that around 50 civilians were killed and only 20 extremists.”

Abdullah, a member of the Shabak minority, believes it is right to retaliate against the IS group, which has killed so many of his people and displaced thousands after confiscating their property. He is with the group that supports military action against the IS group, whom he describes as “criminals” – this group includes Christians, Yazidis and any Sunni Muslims that the IS group wants to prosecute or kill.

Many people from Mosul still retain some hope of being able to return to their homes and friends in the city – but they know this dream would never come true without the use of force against the IS fighters.

The IS group in Mosul hasn’t issued any official statements about the air strikes, although by all accounts, they have lost at least 25 fighters since the strikes began. However the group’s propaganda does seem to be trying to portray the US strikes as a “new crusade against Islam” in order to gain the sympathy of local Sunni Muslims – and especially the Sunni Muslims in local militias who fought to get the US troops out of Iraq and who would not welcome them back in.

Many of Mosul’s people also wonder if they, as Sunni Muslims, are the intended target of the air strikes and whether it is yet another plot against their sect.

One former traffic policeman, Nabil Jassim, told his friends that he feels sad. “The world doesn’t seem to care about the civilians in Mosul who are being shelled randomly and also persecuted by radical militants. Powerful countries are only defending the rights of certain people and we have realized that nobody can save us from this desperate situation.”

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

Iraq PM ‘must re-engage the Sunni population in Iraq’

Israeli Assault killed Half of all Chickens in Gaza, Damaged Agriculture

Sat, 16 Aug 2014 - 12:08am

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Food and Agriculture Organization on Thursday warned that the Israeli assault on Gaza had caused extensive damage to the coastal enclave’s agricultural sector and would have long-term consequences.

The FAO said in a statement that the five-week assault had “forced farmers and herders to abandon their lands and has paralyzed fishing activities, bringing local food production to a halt and severely affecting livelihoods.”

“The recent fighting has resulted in substantial direct damage to Gaza’s 17,000 hectares of croplands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats,” the statement continued.

The report added that Gaza had lost half of its poultry in the attack, “either due to direct hits on their shelters or lack of water, feed or care resulting from access restrictions.”

Losses among Gaza’s crucial fishing sector, meanwhile, were estimated at 234.6 tons, or about 9.3 percent of the yearly catch.

According to the organization, although Gaza imports most of its food needs, around 28,600 people in Gaza rely on farming (19,000 people), livestock raising (6,000) and fishing (3,600) for their livelihoods.

“Under the most recent ceasefire many farmers and herders are now able to access their lands, however resumption of food production faces serious obstacles given the damages sustained and shortages of water, electricity, inputs and financial resources, as well as ongoing uncertainty regarding the possible resumption of military activities”, said Ciro Fiorillo, head of the FAO office in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The organization also said that food prices had been extremely volatile over the last five weeks, with upward spikes in the price of eggs estimated 40 percent, potatoes at 42 percent, and tomatoes at 179 percent.

“With local food production halted and food imports curtailed, virtually the entire population of Gaza (about 1.8 million people) is currently reliant on food aid. WFP, together with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) regularly assists about 1.1 million people,” the report continued, noting that another 700,000 people were relying on emergency food distribution by the Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs, UNRWA, and WFP.

Gaza’s dependency on foreign aid is a direct result of the eight-year Israeli siege on the tiny coastal territory, which has had its imports, exports, and movements of people extensively restricted since 2006.

The lifting of the siege is a key Palestinian demand in ongoing negotiations for the end of hostilities .

Mirrored from Maan News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Medical Aid for Palestinians: “For the Children of Gaza ”

Is Climate Change Making us Ill?

Fri, 15 Aug 2014 - 11:57pm


“More extreme and recurring heat periods and weather events, spreading diseases: Climate change has a huge impact on the life on our planet. But what impact does it have on everyone’s health?
Read more

Dutch Lawyer who saved Jewish Boy in WWII returns Medal to Israel over Bombing of his Family in Gaza

Fri, 15 Aug 2014 - 11:05pm

By Juan Cole

Henk Zanoli, a 91-year-old Dutch attorney who in 1943 saved a Jewish boy from the Nazis, has returned to Israel the “Righteous among the Nations” medal awarded him three years ago by the Yad Vashem museum. Zanoli’s mother had sheltered the boy, Elchanan Pinto, at risk to her own life, until the end of the war.

Zanoli’s grand-niece married a Palestinian, Ismail Ziadah, who had a house in Gaza where some of his relatives continued to reside. On July 20, an Israeli fighter jet bombed Ziadah’s home, killing his mother, three of his brothers, his sister-in-law and a nephew. These were, as Zanoli noted in his letter to the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, the blood relatives of Zanoli’s mother’s own descendants: “The great- great grandchildren of my mother have lost their grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army…”

He said to the ambassador:

“I understand that in your professional role, in which I am addressing you here, you may not be able to express understanding for my decision. However, I am convinced that at both a personal and human level you will have a profound understanding of the fact that for me to hold on to the honour granted by the State of Israel, under these circumstances, will be both an insult to the memory of my courageous mother who risked her life and that of her children fighting against suppression and for the preservation of human life as well as an insult to those in my family, four generations on, who lost no less than six of their relatives in Gaza at the hands of the State of Israel.”

Zanoli added in support of a one-state solution:

“After the horror of the holocaust my family strongly supported the Jewish people also with regard to their aspirations to build a national home. Over more than six decades I have however slowly come to realize that the Zionist project had from its beginning a racist element in it in aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews. As a consequence, ethnic cleansing took place at the time of the establishment of your state and your state continues to suppress the Palestinian people on the West Bank and in Gaza who live under Israeli occupation since 1967. The actions of your state in Gaza these days have already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity…The only way out of the quagmire the Jewish people of Israel have gotten themselves into is by granting all living under the control of the State of Israel the same political rights and social and economic rights and opportunities.”

Zanoli’s personal connection with some of the many civilian victims of Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza provoked him to this gesture. But his endorsement of a one-state solution betrays his legal training. He is objecting to the Palestinians being stateless, and therefore lacking political, social and economic rights and opportunities. Populations that do not enjoy citizenship in a state lack, in Warren Burger’s words, “the right to have rights.” It was the Nazi stripping of citizenship from German Jews that laid the groundwork for the Holocaust.

The same conscience that drove Mr. Zanoli to intervene to save a Jewish life in 1943 is now driving him to call for an end to the victimization of the Palestinian people. It is typical of his courage and conscience that he did not stop with a simple condemnation of the reckless disregard for the lives of non-combatants exhibited by the Israeli army in Gaza. Rather, he insisted on pointing to a solution to the over-all problem, which is driven by Israel holding Palestinians as colonized subjects. That, he said, must end, and the exclusionary character of the Israeli polity, which advertises itself as primarily for Jews, is unacceptable. Zanoli seems to realize that the two-state solution is no longer plausible, given the hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatter settlements on the Palestinian West Bank and the physical isolation and siege of Gaza. He therefore has called for life for Palestinian children as citizens of Israel, just as he insisted on life and rights for Dutch Jews who had been denaturalized by the National Socialists.

Egypt’s Cover-Up: Rabia Massacre One Year Later

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 - 11:35pm

By Sarah Leah Whitson
Published in: Open Democracy

“Forget about Morsy, forget about Rab`a,” my Egyptian neighbourhood grocer told me the other day, expressing the loyalty to the president, Abel Fattah al-Sisi, shared by many of his countrymen back home. “We are saved from these people.”

Yet, one year later, there is no forgetting the massacre in Rab`a Square, in which Egyptian security forces killed at least 817 protesters, and probably as many as 1,000, in one of the largest mass killings of protesters in recent history. And there is certainly no forgiving.

The killings, and those of hundreds of other protesters in July and August last year, were the linchpin of the terror campaign of the military-backed government which followed the army’s removal of Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first—and still only—democratically elected president. The campaign appeared designed to send a single message to the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers: democracy, if that means a real political contest among diverse views, is finished in Egypt.

Systematic and deliberate

The Human Rights Watch report on these killings, just released, reveals the systematic and deliberate way police and soldiers ruthlessly fired on at least 80,000 overwhelmingly peaceful protesters in Rab’a Square. Our year-long investigation included interviews with more than 200 witnesses, monitoring of the protests themselves, visits to the hospitals and morgues, and a review of the physical and video evidence.

We documented that the police fired live ammunition to kill protesters, within minutes of ostensibly warning them to flee, yet without allowing them to exit safely. The police attacked the sit-in from each of the main entrances to the square, using armoured personnel carriers, bulldozers, ground troops and snipers. They even fired on makeshift medical facilities and positioned snipers to target people who tried to enter or leave Rab`a hospital. Toward the end of the day, the central stage, field hospital, mosque and first floor of the hospital were set ablaze, probably by security forces.

The Rab`a episode was not isolated but one of several attacks on protesters following Morsy’s removal, in which security forces killed hundreds. In each, dozens of witnesses described how unarmed protesters were shot at, in many cases without warning.

While the government has tried to pass off its conduct as self-defence, in the face of violence by protesters, the evidence-— even the government’s own statements—- indicates that only a very small number of protesters were armed and used violence. In Rab`a, for example, among tens of thousands of protesters, the government recovered only 15 guns and lost eight police to violence by protesters. It was hardly indicative of the massive, imminent threat to life that would have justified such wide scale recourse to lethal force and the massive death toll.

What’s more, the mass killings did not stem from chaos but were the product of a carefully orchestrated plan, reflecting a policy to fire on protesters. In the lead-up to the Rab`a dispersal, the Interior Ministry organised numerous meetings with senior government officials from various ministries before it executed its plans. It even publicised the fact that it anticipated a death toll of 10% of the protesters—3,500 people—indicating that the consequences were not just foreseeable: they were anticipated.

Soon after, the prime minister, Hazem al-Beblawy, told the media: “We expected much more than what actually happened on the ground. The final outcome was less than what we expected.” The next day, he told Al-Masry al-Youm: “The dispersal plan succeeded 100 percent.”

Crimes against humanity

Given their widespread and systematic nature and the evidence suggesting they were part of a policy to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds, these killings most likely amount to crimes against humanity—among the most serious violations of international law. And the authorities have failed, despite the horror they inflicted, to offer even a superficial show of accountability.

They have not investigated, much less prosecuted, a single police officer for what happened or provided any serious accounting. Instead, adding insult to injury, the government has rewarded members of the security forces involved in the dispersals with bonuses and promotions, and erected a monument in their honour at the site.

Today, the authorities are at pains to depict Egypt as a country where they have restored order and re-established its role as a bastion of stability in a pulverised region. Yes, there are occasional deadly attacks on police now but these rarely seep out of the Sinai, and, relative to the fighting in Iraq, Syria and Libya, represent more a nuisance than a crisis. Egypt is even back at the forefront of diplomacy, a reliable partner for the United States, helping negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Once the tourists return, it will be business as usual.

Massive political repression

This narrative of calm hasn’t come cheap of course, resting on the most massive political repression and brutality seen in generations of dictatorship. Since the coup, the military-backed government has jailed at least 22,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, depriving them of basic, due-process rights, and the courts have handed down shocking, mass death-penalty verdicts. Prosecutions extend to secular activists as well, with the space for critical views largely eliminated. Egyptian human-rights organisations have described the campaign against them as a “war on civil society”.

It’s doubtful this calm will last. Egypt’s imprisoned political opposition and the victims of the government’s oppression are unlikely to remain silent in the face of unaccountable, military-backed rule. The government’s failure to reconcile itself with an important segment of the polity and account for its lawless conduct may bring future instability.

It is up to concerned governments—acting for example through an investigation at the UN Human Rights Council—to demonstrate to the victims of the Egyptian government’s abuses that truth and justice are real possibilities.

Sarah Leah Whitson is the director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. Follow on Twitter @sarahleah1

Mirrored from Human Rights Watch

Related Video added by Juan Cole

Human Rights Watch: “Egypt: Mass Killings by Security Forces”

Sexual violence as a war strategy in Iraq

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 - 11:34pm

By Nazand Begikhani via Your Middle East

“These are strategic theories of rape in wartime which have been deliberately practiced by IS jihadists in Syria and now in Iraq,” writes Dr Nazand Begikhani.

In the last few days, while the world has been overwhelmed by the flow of information about atrocities committed by Islamic State (IS) jihadists, public officials and local media channels have confirmed that hundreds of Yezidi and Christian women have been abducted, some of them buried alive and others subjected to rape and sexual slavery.

On 2 August, the IS attacked Sinjar and its surrounding areas, inhabited for more than 4000 years by peaceful Yezidi community, who practice a faith reminiscent of Zoroastrianism. Later in the week, the attacks were extended to other areas in the Nineveh plain, including Qaraqosh, Iraq’s Christian capital. The jihadists have murdered thousands of civilians, buried some alive in mass graves, burnt their homes, pillaged and destroyed their holy shrines, prompting a mass exodus.

We have seen long columns of women, men and children fleeing their homeland, trapped in barren Sinjar Mount without basic necessities and vital supplies and facing death. Many children have already died; on the second day of the invasion, UNICEF reported that the children died as a “direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration”.

Despite airdrops of humanitarian aid, the number dying continues to increase. Disturbing images of these crimes have been posted through social media. We have become witnesses to these atrocities, but an equally horrendous crime has gone largely unreported by the international and mainstream media: the abduction of women, their rape and sexual slavery.

According to an Iraqi lawmaker of Yezidi origin Vian Dakhil, who addressed the Iraqi parliament last week, with tears in her eyes, “IS militants have abducted five hundred Yezidis women”. Later the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry indicated that families of the captives had contacted them to report the abduction of their womenfolk.

Erbil-based media network Rudaw was one of the few local media channels that quoted eyewitnesses who survived the attack saying “hundreds of women were kidnapped and transferred by IS jihadists to an unknown place in Mosul”.

The whereabouts of the kidnapped women became known when the head of the Women’s Rights Commission at the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament, Evar Ibrahim, confirmed on Tuesday 6 August that “the number of kidnapped Yezidi women had reached five hundreds, and they were transferred to a sports hall opposite to the Nineveh Palace Hotel in Western Mosul”. She added that the women were kept in “distressing conditions”. Later, when Qaraqosh was invaded by jihadists, local media channels reported that Christian women had also been taken captive.

What has happened to those women? According to media reports, some were buried alive. On 6 August, a spokesman for the Iraqi Red Cross, Muhammad al-Khuza’ee, stated that the Yezidi and Christian women “were taken as spoils of war and exposed at a market for sale”. The women were reportedly subjected to sexual assault, gang rape and sexual slavery. By all definitions, these are highly militarized forms of crimes.
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It is not the first time that women have been subjected to such treatment by militia groups. In wartime circumstances, even when the army of the state is involved, women are not only taken as “spoils of war”, as the media put it, but their bodies have been used as a terrain of war. As so often happens in ethnic and sectarian conflicts they are raped and subjected to sexual slavery by their attackers as part of ethnic cleansing strategy. The ultimate aim of such acts is to weaken the integrity of the community.

In the case of the Yezidis, a coherent community that numbers an estimated 500,000, these forms of violence are used to subjugate the entire community, inculcate fear, undermine community and family structures, deliberately pollute the bloodline of the population, as well as to contribute to bonding of the perpetrators through the common act of rape. These are strategic theories of rape in wartime which have been deliberately practiced by IS jihadists in Syria and now in Iraq.

Although members of the IS organization come from different backgrounds with different cultures, experiences and histories, which might influence or even inhibit the behaviour of each individual, the group’s repertoire indicates that these patterns of sexual violence have been developed as part of the strategic aims of the IS. What is more, because in the Syrian and Iraqi societies, like most of the Middle East, women are generally perceived as carers and reproducers of their community, the jihadists seek to strengthen their control, split up and destabilise unified groups and stigmatize the women through abduction and rape.

This strategy sends a message to and instils fear among the other ethnic and religious minorities they seek to conquer. In the last few days, many parents, mainly men, who fled their homeland prior to the attack in Makhmur and Khzar, near Erbil, have been in a moral panic. They told me their main fear concerned the female members of the family. They didn’t want them to be captured by IS militants, “who will gang rape them”. One man repeatedly told me he did not mind being killed himself, but was frightened by the idea of his daughters and his wife being taken by IS jihadists. There have been reports of families throwing their children from the mountain to protect them from falling into the hands of the jihadists.

The despicable acts of the jihadists have many other consequences, not least the psychological and emotional damage which have to be overcome if the survivors are to heal and reintegrate into normal life. In the context of the Middle East in general and Iraqi as well as Kurdish communities in particular, the survivors face more dramatic consequences, because women’s bodies and sexuality embody family/collective honour. They risk murder at the hands of male members of their family and the community to preserve the group’s collective honour. If the women fall pregnant, their babies also risk death. Such violence, especially rape, can also be detrimental to perpetrating communities in the longer term; the anger desire for revenge it generates can last for generations.

All military conflicts involve principles of violence and are destructive, but capture of women, rape and sexual slavery are one of the most destructive aspects. Abduction and sexual violence in conflict are crimes against humanity and have been recognised by the UN Security Council as a threat to world peace and security. Recognition came when the UN adopted Resolution 1820 in June 2008. These crimes are not committed against individual women, but are used as a tactic of war and that requires international mobilization at state and organizational levels.

Such a mobilization should take numerous forms, including: immediate and effective intervention to stop the crimes; recognition by media channels and state agencies that women’s lives and their bodies are unacknowledged casualties of war; interventions to change the general culture and attitudes towards women and sexuality with public awareness programmes about consequences for individual and community health of sexual and gender-based violence. Finally, an end to impunity, with individuals as well as militia organizations and their leaders being held fully accountable for their crimes and punished accordingly.

Dr Nazand Begikhani is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol. She is also an international advisor on higher education and gender, and winner of the Emma Humphrey’s Prize (2000) for her activities and campaigns against honor crimes.

Mirrored from Your Middle East


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “ISIS: We’ve kidnapped Yazidi women and children”

Thirsty in Gaza: Israel Destroyed or Damaged 28 Miles of Water Pipes

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 - 11:27pm

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — The Palestinian Water Authority said on Thursday that the water distribution network in Gaza had suffered $34.4 million worth of damage as a result of the Israeli offensive over the last five weeks, including dozens of destroyed facilities.

The immense scale of the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure has only become increasingly apparent over the last two weeks, as a relative calm due to back-to-back temporary ceasefire has allowed authorities to survey the damage.

The water authority said in a statement that 11 water wells had been completely destroyed and 15 partially destroyed in the assault, while 17 kilometers of water supply networks were completely destroyed and another 29 partially destroyed.

The authority also said that 5 water containers were completely destroyed while 11 water containers were partially or severely damaged, while two desalination units were completely destroyed, and four were partially damaged.

In addition, more than seven kilometers of sewage networks were completely destroyed and more than 10 kilometers partially destroyed, while 12 pumping sewage stations were severely damaged and four waste-water treatment stations were partially destroyed.

$9 million worth of damages, meanwhile, were caused to water services vehicles and machinery.

The water network would also require some $32.6 million worth of emergency supplies to cover the Strip’s water needs for the next six months, the authority added, highlighting that because of the damage sustained by an Israeli airstrike on the territory’s sole power plant, fuel for the water network was an urgent concern.

The Gaza water sector needs $620 million worth to develop water services and facilities, the authority estimated in the statement, of which $240 million had already been provided for by donors for water desalination, sewage treatment projects and other short- and medium-term projects.

Mirrored from Maan News Agency


Euronews from 2 weeks ago: “Gaza shortages: food, water, electricity”

One Nation, under SWAT: The undemocratic Militarization of the Police

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 - 11:25pm

By Matthew Harwood via

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Bay Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa Bay police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.

In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars’ worth, and one legal handgun — the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.

Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam’s armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.

The War on Your Doorstep

The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic.  It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade’s turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman’s infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.

While SWAT isn’t the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide.  Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.

Nearly a half-century later, that’s no longer true.

In 1984, according to Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.

As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.

Upping the Racial Profiling Ante

In a recently released report, “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.

Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.

On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. When the ACLU could identify the race of the person or people whose home was being broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were for the purpose of executing a warrant in search of drugs. When it came to whites, that figure dropped to 38%, despite the well-known fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it seems, have a disturbing record of disproportionately applying their specialized skill set within communities of color.

Think of this as racial profiling on steroids in which the humiliation of stop and frisk is raised to a terrifying new level.

Everyday Militarization

Don’t think, however, that the military mentality and equipment associated with SWAT operations are confined to those elite units. Increasingly, they’re permeating all forms of policing.

As Karl Bickel, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Department’s Community Policing Services office, observes, police across America are being trained in a way that emphasizes force and aggression. He notes that recruit training favors a stress-based regimen that’s modeled on military boot camp rather than on the more relaxed academic setting a minority of police departments still employ. The result, he suggests, is young officers who believe policing is about kicking ass rather than working with the community to make neighborhoods safer. Or as comedian Bill Maher reminded officers recently: “The words on your car, ‘protect and serve,’ refer to us, not you.”

This authoritarian streak runs counter to the core philosophy that supposedly dominates twenty-first-century American thinking: community policing.  Its emphasis is on a mission of “keeping the peace” by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust with and in the communities served. Under the community model, which happens to be the official policing philosophy of the U.S. government, officers are protectors but also problem solvers who are supposed to care, first and foremost, about how their communities see them. They don’t command respect, the theory goes: they earn it. Fear isn’t supposed to be their currency. Trust is.

Nevertheless, police recruiting videos, as in those from California’s Newport Beach Police Department and New Mexico’s Hobbs Police Department, actively play up not the community angle but militarization as a way of attracting young men with the promise of Army-style adventure and high-tech toys. Policing, according to recruiting videos like these, isn’t about calmly solving problems; it’s about you and your boys breaking down doors in the middle of the night.

SWAT’s influence reaches well beyond that.  Take the increasing adoption of battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) for patrol officers. These militaristic, often black, jumpsuits, Bickel fears, make them less approachable and possibly also more aggressive in their interactions with the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

A small project at Johns Hopkins University seemed to bear this out. People were shown pictures of police officers in their traditional uniforms and in BDUs. Respondents, the survey indicated, would much rather have a police officer show up in traditional dress blues. Summarizing its findings, Bickel writes, “The more militaristic look of the BDUs, much like what is seen in news stories of our military in war zones, gives rise to the notion of our police being an occupying force in some inner city neighborhoods, instead of trusted community protectors.”

Where Do They Get Those Wonderful Toys?

“I wonder if I can get in trouble for doing this,” the young man says to his buddy in the passenger seat as they film the Saginaw County Sheriff Office’s new toy: a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. As they film the MRAP from behind, their amateur video has a Red Dawn-esque feel, as if an occupying military were now patrolling this Michigan county’s streets. “This is getting ready for f**king crazy times, dude,” one young man comments. “Why,” his friend replies, “has our city gotten that f**king bad?”

In fact, nothing happening in Saginaw County warranted the deployment of an armored vehicle capable of withstanding bullets and the sort of improvised explosive devices that insurgent forces have regularly planted along roads in America’s recent war zones.  Sheriff William Federspiel, however, fears the worst. “As sheriff of the county, I have to put ourselves in the best position to protect our citizens and protect our property,” he told a reporter. “I have to prepare for something disastrous.”

Lucky for Federspiel, his exercise in paranoid disaster preparedness didn’t cost his office a penny. That $425,000 MRAP came as a gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam, from one of our far-flung counterinsurgency wars. The nasty little secret of policing’s militarization is that taxpayers are subsidizing it through programs overseen by the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department. 

Take the 1033 program. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) may be an obscure agency within the Department of Defense, but through the 1033 program, which it oversees, it’s one of the core enablers of American policing’s excessive militarization. Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today’s warrior cops.

The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to U.S. law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops, according to the DLA.

In its recent report, the ACLU found a disturbing range of military gear being transferred to civilian police departments nationwide. Police in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance, received 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, two robots that can be armed, military helmets, and a Mamba tactical vehicle. Police in Gwinnet County, Georgia, received 57 semi-automatic rifles, mostly M-16s and M-14s. The Utah Highway Patrol, according to a Salt Lake City Tribune investigation, got an MRAP from the 1033 program, and Utah police received 1,230 rifles and four grenade launchers. After South Carolina’s Columbia Police Department received its very own MRAP worth $658,000, its SWAT Commander Captain E.M. Marsh noted that 500 similar vehicles had been distributed to law enforcement organizations across the country.

Astoundingly, one-third of all war materiel parceled out to state, local, and tribal police agencies is brand new. This raises further disconcerting questions: Is the Pentagon simply wasteful when it purchases military weapons and equipment with taxpayer dollars? Or could this be another downstream, subsidized market for defense contractors? Whatever the answer, the Pentagon is actively distributing weaponry and equipment made for U.S. counterinsurgency campaigns abroad to police who patrol American streets and this is considered sound policy in Washington. The message seems striking enough: what might be necessary for Kabul might also be necessary for DeKalb County.

In other words, the twenty-first-century war on terror has melded thoroughly with the twentieth-century war on drugs, and the result couldn’t be anymore disturbing: police forces that increasingly look and act like occupying armies.

How the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice Are Up-Armoring the Police

When police departments look to muscle up their arms and tactics, the Pentagon isn’t the only game in town. Civilian agencies are in on it, too.

During a 2011 investigation, reporters Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz discovered that, since 9/11, police departments watching over some of the safest places in America have used $34 billion in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to militarize in the name of counterterrorism.

In Fargo, North Dakota, for example, the city and its surrounding county went on an $8 million spending spree with federal money, according to Becker and Schulz. Although the area averaged less than two murders a year since 2005, every squad car is now armed with an assault rifle. Police also have access to Kevlar helmets that can stop heavy firepower as well as an armored truck worth approximately $250,000. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1,500 beat cops have been trained to use AR-15 assault rifles with homeland security grant funding.

As with the 1033 program, neither DHS nor state and local governments account for how the equipment, including body armor and drones, is used. While the rationale behind stocking up on these military-grade supplies is invariably the possibility of a terrorist attack, school shooting, or some other horrific event, the gear is normally used to conduct paramilitary drug raids, as Balko notes.

Still, the most startling source of police militarization is the Department of Justice, the very agency officially dedicated to spreading the community policing model through its Community Oriented Policing Services office.

In 1988, Congress authorized the Byrne grant programs in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which gave state and local police federal funds to enlist in the government’s drug war. That grant program, according to Balko, led to the creation of regional and multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces, which gorged themselves on federal money and, with little federal, state, or local oversight, spent it beefing up their weapons and tactics. In 2011, 585 of these task forces operated off of Byrne grant funding.

The grants, Balko reports, also incentivized the type of policing that has made the war on drugs such a destructive force in American society. The Justice Department doled out Byrne grants based on how many arrests officers made, how much property they seized, and how many warrants they served. The very things these narcotics task forces did very well. “As a result,” Balko writes, “we have roving squads of drug cops, loaded with SWAT gear, who get money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests, and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line.”

Regardless of whether this militarization has occurred due to federal incentives or executive decision-making in police departments or both, police across the nation are up-armoring with little or no public debate. In fact, when the ACLU requested SWAT records from 255 law enforcement agencies as part of its investigation, 114 denied them. The justifications for such denials varied, but included arguments that the documents contained “trade secrets” or that the cost of complying with the request would be prohibitive. Communities have a right to know how the police do their jobs, but more often than not, police departments think otherwise.

Being the Police Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Report by report, evidence is mounting that America’s militarized police are a threat to public safety. But in a country where the cops increasingly look upon themselves as soldiers doing battle day in, day out, there’s no need for public accountability or even an apology when things go grievously wrong.

If community policing rests on mutual trust between the police and the people, militarized policing operates on the assumption of “officer safety” at all costs and contempt for anyone who sees things differently. The result is an “us versus them” mentality.

Just ask the parents of Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Around 3:00 a.m. on May 28th, the Habersham County Special Response Team conducted a no-knock raid at a relative’s home near Cornelia, Georgia, where the family was staying. The officers were looking for the homeowner’s son, whom they suspected of selling $50 worth of drugs to a confidential informant.  As it happened, he no longer lived there.

Despite evidence that children were present — a minivan in the driveway, children’s toys littering the yard, and a Pack ‘n Play next to the door — a SWAT officer tossed a “flashbang” grenade into the home. It landed in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s crib and exploded, critically wounding the toddler. When his distraught mother tried to reach him, officers screamed at her to sit down and shut up, telling her that her child was fine and had just lost a tooth. In fact, his nose was hanging off his face, his body had been severely burned, and he had a hole in his chest. Rushed to the hospital, Bou Bou had to be put into a medically induced coma.

The police claimed that it was all a mistake and that there had been no evidence children were present. “There was no malicious act performed,” Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen.” The Phonesavanhs have yet to receive an apology from the sheriff’s office. “Nothing. Nothing for our son. No card. No balloon. Not a phone call. Not anything,” Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told CNN.

Similarly, Tampa Bay Police Chief Jane Castor continues to insist that Jay Westcott’s death in the militarized raid on his house was his own fault.  “Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture,” Castor said. “If there’s an indication that there is armed trafficking going on — someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm — then the tactical response team will do the initial entry.”

In her defense of the SWAT raid, Castor simply dismissed any responsibility for Westcott’s death. “They did everything they could to serve this warrant in a safe manner,” she wrote the Tampa Bay Times – “everything,” that is, but find an alternative to storming the home of a man they knew feared for his life. 

Almost half of all American households report having a gun, as the ACLU notes in its report. That means the police always have a ready-made excuse for using SWAT teams to execute warrants when less confrontational and less violent alternatives exist.

In other words, if police believe you’re selling drugs, beware. Suspicion is all they need to turn your world upside down. And if they’re wrong, don’t worry; the intent couldn’t have been better.

Voices in the Wilderness

The militarization of the police shouldn’t be surprising. As Hubert Williams, a former police director of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick V. Murphy, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, put it nearly 25 years ago, police are “barometers of the society in which they operate.” In post-9/11 America, that means police forces imbued with the “hooah” mentality of soldiers and acting as if they are fighting an insurgency in their own backyard.

While the pace of police militarization has quickened, there has at least been some pushback from current and former police officials who see the trend for what it is: the destruction of community policing. In Spokane, Washington, Councilman Mike Fagan, a former police detective, is pushing back against police officers wearing BDUs, calling the get-up “intimidating” to citizens. In Utah, the legislature passed a bill requiring probable cause before police could execute a no-knock raid. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has been a vocal critic of militarization, telling the local paper, “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” Just recently, Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed with the ACLU and the Los Angeles Times editorial board that “the lines between municipal law enforcement and the U.S. military cannot be blurred.”

Retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has also become an outspoken critic of militarizing police forces, noting “most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills.” In other words, community policing. Stamper is the chief who green-lighted a militarized response to World Trade Organization protests in his city in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”). It’s a decision he would like to take back. “My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose,” he wrote in the Nation. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict.”

These former policemen and law enforcement officials understand that police officers shouldn’t be breaking down any citizen’s door at 3 a.m. armed with AR-15s and flashbang grenades in search of a small amount of drugs, while an MRAP idles in the driveway. The anti-militarists, however, are in the minority right now. And until that changes, violent paramilitary police raids will continue to break down the doors of nearly 1,000 American households a week.

War, once started, can rarely be contained.

Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor at the American Civil Liberties Union and a TomDispatch regular. You can follow him on Twitter @mharwood31.

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 Matthew Harwood

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Top 10 Mistakes of former Iraq PM Nouri al-Maliki (That Ruined his Country)

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 - 11:04pm

By Juan Cole

Now that Nouri al-Maliki has resigned as prime minister, it is worth looking at the way his two terms as prime minister (2006-2010, 2010-2014) shaped Iraq. Did his policies help create the country’s current impasse?

1. Al-Maliki was so partisan in 2006 when he first came to power that he denied that Shiite militias were a security problem. When Gen. David Petraeus came to him in late 2006 with a plan to disarm the Sunni and Shiite militias in Baghdad, al-Maliki insisted that he begin with the Sunni armed groups. The US acquiesced, but as a result, the Shiite militias came into disarmed Sunni neighborhoods at night when the Americans weren’t looking, and ethnically cleansed them. Baghdad went from some 45% Sunni in 2003 to only 25% Sunni by the end of 2007. Al-Maliki’s sectarianism led to the transformation of Baghdad into a largely Shiite city.

2. Gen. Petraeus and others cultivated Sunnis who were alarmed at the rise of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (the predecessor of today’s so-called “Islamic State”), and created “Awakening Councils” of armed Sunnis willing to fight the extremists. Al-Maliki opposed this program and had shouting matches with Petraeus over it, fearing that the armed Sunnis would become a problem for his Shiite government after the defeat of al-Qaeda. (In fact, if only al-Maliki could get the Awakening Councils back now, he’d be very lucky). As the American forces withdrew from a combat role in 2009, US generals asked al-Maliki to hire the some 100,000 Sunni Awakening Council fighters. They could have been integrated into the police in cities like Mosul or Fallujah. Al-Maliki took about 17,000 of them, but left the other 83,000 twisting in the wind, without any stipends or pensions. Because they had fought al-Qaeda, they were targeted by the terrorists for reprisals and some were killed. In some instances al-Maliki actually prosecuted some Awakening Council fighters for anti-government activities they had engaged in before they joined the Council. Figure each of the 83,000 had a circle of 20 close relatives and friends. That was 1.6 million Sunni Arabs (out of some 5 million at the time) that al-Maliki alienated.

3. Although al-Maliki’s campaign in Basra against the Mahdi Army in spring of 2008 was a victory for the new Iraqi army, it only succeeded because the Shiite, pro-Iranian Badr Corps joined in on the side of the army, and because of American close air support. Al-Maliki is alleged in the aftermath to have brought thousands of Badr Corps fighters into the army, beginning a process of sectarianizing it. Ultimately, al-Maliki’s army from all accounts ended up being largely Shiite, which is one reason they were so unwelcome in mostly Sunni Arab Mosul (a city of 2 million) and that the Mosulis allied with the “Islamic State” against al-Maliki.

4. Al-Maliki allegedly kept the military weak for fear that a powerful officer might try to make a coup against him.

5. Al-Maliki played favorites with the Shiites of the south, his power base, and neglected to provide the Sunni Arab cities with key services, including enough electricity.

6. In late 2011, Al-Maliki abruptly declared his Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashimi, a terrorist, without any due process. He alienated a lot of Sunnis with this action.

7. Al-Maliki’s budgets were bloated and did not pay enough attention to investment, creating jobs, supporting local industry, or diversifying the economy away from its almost complete dependence on oil.

8. In 2010 when Sunnis enthusiastically joined the political process and voted in droves for the Iraqiya Party, al-Maliki froze it out of power in favor of a Shiite coalition put together under Iranian pressure (Iran is a Shiite state). The Sunnis were angry that they had the largest party in parliament but came away with nothing to show for it.

9. When the Arab Spring broke out in early 2011 and had its echoes in Iraq, with youth demonstrations against al-Maliki’s authoritarian ways among both Sunnis and Shiites, al-Maliki briefly pledged not to seek a third term as prime minister. (Arab Spring youth were particularly incensed by the power and prerogatives of presidents for life and their privileged children, who were being groomed to take over after them). Al-Maliki quickly reneged on his pledge and only on Thursday did he finally resign, having driven Sunnis into the arms of the “Islamic State.”

10. In winter-spring 2013 when Arab Spring-type demonstrations were mounted by the Sunnis in places like Falluja and Hawija in the Sunni Arab west and north, al-Maliki declared them terrorists and sent in military troops and helicopter gunships to brutally suppress the protests. Sunni Arabs, having been informed that they would be a perpetual defeated minority in parliament were now given the idea that even peaceable assembly would be denied to them as a political tactic. Al-Maliki’s policies gave them no incentive to remain within the system. In the end they allied with the al-Qaeda offshoot, the so-called “Islamic State.” Al-Maliki didn’t so much lose the Sunni Arabs as drive them into the arms of IS with systematic policies of marginalization.

Al-Maliki’s successor needs to make the al-Da’wa Party a party of pan-Islam and try to attract Sunnis into it (this happened in the 1960s)– or better yet needs to found a Labor Party that could unite Iraqis across ethnicity and sect. This Shiite rule business can’t hope to put Iraq back together.


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Evacuating Miami Beach: Can South Florida Save itself from Sea Level Rise?

Wed, 13 Aug 2014 - 11:37pm

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Only Mideast Democracy? In Midst of War, Israel Clamps Down on Dissent

Wed, 13 Aug 2014 - 11:35pm

By Sarah Lazare

As a tenuous ceasefire takes hold, the besieged Gaza strip must contend with the path of death and destruction left by Israel’s month-long military assault, including 1,939 Palestinian lives lost, 9,886 wounded, over 200,000 displaced, and more than 10,000 Palestinian housing units severely damaged or completely ruined.

Israeli critics of the “Operation Protective Edge” and occupation say the attacks have also unleashed a fury of pro-war, ultra-nationalist sentiment within Israel, escalating intimidation and violence towards those who dissent: from the firing of journalists to the beating of protesters to the harassment of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

“There has been a feeling in the air: it is dangerous to be outspoken against the war,” said Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist for +972 Magazine and a longtime activist against the occupation, speaking over the phone with Common Dreams from Tel Aviv.

Targeted for Being Palestinian in Israel

Mass protests throughout the West Bank against Israel’s attacks on Gaza have been met with severe Israeli repression, with at least three Palestinians killed by Israeli fire. The Alternative Information Center recently reported that over the past month, “more than 450 Palestinians from East Jerusalem have been detained in protests, and over 150 indictments have been filed.” The killings and arrests are in keeping with a well-documented history of Israel’s deadly attacks on Palestinian protests.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, already face second-class status in their own society, including legal discrimination, home demolitions, detentions without due process, and more.

Recent weeks have seen an uptick in repressive measures targeting this population. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently called for an economic boycott of businesses owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel who participated in a late-July general strike to show their solidarity with Gaza during the bombings. Numerous initiatives to monitor the online activities of Palestinians have sprung up on Facebook, under names like “Concentrating those who wish to destroy Israel.” According to the Christian Science Monitor, these networks then inform employers and school officials of alleged activity.

And there are numerous reports of increased incidents of harassment and attacks of Palestinians in Israel for just walking down the street.

“There is an enhanced environment of intimidation for everyone who opposes what the government is doing. It is doubly and triply bad for Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” Sydney Levy, advocacy director for Jewish Voice for Peace, told Common Dreams. “Israeli peace activists face harassment because of their views. Palestinians who are citizens of Israel face harassment for just being Palestinians.”

Not Safe to Protest

The past month has also seen an escalation of ultra-nationalist mob attacks on anti-war protesters—including Israeli Jews. On July 12, a mob of right-wing counter-protesters descended on an anti-war protest in Tel Aviv. “When the sirens went off due to incoming rockets, the police ran away and right-wingers began attacking people,” said Matar. “Some were severely beaten.” He added that the attackers shouted ‘death to Arabs,’ as well as for the deaths of the protesters.

The attacks continued from there. “After each protest, when people were dispersing, they were followed in the street and beaten up in the alley or parking lot, and in one case a person got home and was attacked in stairway going to his house,” said Matar.

An anti-war protest in Haifa on July 19, organized by the socialist political alliance Hadash—the only joint Palestinian-Jewish party in Israel—was met with a massive counter protest that “formed a circle around where the demonstration took place,” said Matar. “People who got there late were beaten up for saying they were going. People were beaten up for being Arab. People were chased through the streets.” Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav joined in the incitement, declaring, “Haifa refuses to be a hotspot for protests and provocations. Anyone interested in protesting against the global situation of the Middle East should go elsewhere and to the halls of government, not in our city.”

Israeli writer Leanne Gale describes her experience as the target of anti-leftist sentiment infused with misogyny, including gendered insults and non-consensual physical touching and aggression that she personally experienced in Jerusalem, as well as run-ins with the group Lehava—which works to prevent ‘intermarriages’ between Jews and Palestinians.

“I have never been more conscious of my womanhood,” she writes. “I have never been more conscious of the intersection between being a left-wing activist and a woman. I have never been more conscious of what this means specifically in Israel.”

Crackdown on Dissenting Voices

“Reporters and news outlets, even those who dare be critical in other times, all quickly line up with the governmental line saying that it is to be expected to have political disagreements, but criticizing the military is not legitimate,” writes Sahar Verdi, Israeli activist and staffer for the American Friends Service Committee who served three prison sentences for draft refusal.

Journalists deemed critical of the war have faced job termination and censure. Prominent Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who has criticized the “dehumanization and demonization of the Palestinians,” hired a personal bodyguard after being attacked while broadcasting live from Ashkelon. Israeli Knesset member Yariv Levin, chair of the Likud-Beytenu coalition, recently called for Levy to stand trial for treason—a charge that, during war, carries a death sentence.

Knesset member Haneen Zoabi—a Palestinian citizen of Israel—has been suspended from most parliamentary activities for six months due to a statement she made about the still-unidentified kidnappers of three Israeli teen residents of West Bank settlements who were found dead in June. She said of the kidnappers, “they are people who see no other way to change their reality, so they are forced to use these means…at least until Israel wises up, and until Israeli society opens up and feels the pain of the other.”

Meanwhile, numerous Knesset members calling for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza and murder of Palestinian civilians have faced no formal censure from within Israeli government or the U.S. This includes Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin from the Likud party who called in late July for the “conquest of Gaza” and “elimination of all armed enemies from Gaza.”

Bar-Ilan University professor Mordechai Kedar stated in July on an Israeli radio program that to stop the “terrorists” it is necessary to rape their “sister or their mother.”

“The level of rhetoric is really, really high,” said Levy. “When you’re hearing death to Arabs, when you are hearing politicians talking about how the IDF should rape Palestinian mothers in Gaza, when that level of rhetoric is out there in the environment, it is poison.”

Refusal from Within the Army

“We support anyone who refuses,” said Yotam Gidron, a 24-year-old Israeli reservist who co-organized and signed an open letter published in late July, along with over 50 other reservists, declaring their refusal to serve due to ethical objections to the military’s actions. Despite a climate in which opponents of war are “regarded as traitors,” Gidron explained to Common Dreams that an even greater number of reservists are quietly dodging their service through “grey” refusal.

As Dahlia Scheindlin reports in +972 Magazine, motives for resistance range from the personal to the political, and of reservists who have openly refused orders to serve in Operation Protective Edge, some have fled the country, while others faced prison time.

Military resistance in Israel dates back to at least 1970, when a group of students declared their refusal of the draft in an open letter to then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. Annual waves of conscientious objection include Jewish Israeli high school seniors, as well as resisters from the Druze religious community — a conscientious objection movement that is reportedly growing, as well as ultra-orthodox draft refusers.

The joint letter of reservist refusal adds to this legacy by declaring that all military positions, whether combat or administrative roles, contribute to the ongoing occupation.

Yael Even Or, one of the letter’s signatories and organizers, wrote in the Washington Post, “[A]lthough combat soldiers are generally the ones prosecuting today’s war, their work would not be possible without the many administrative roles in which most of us served. So if there is a reason to oppose combat operations in Gaza, there is also a reason to oppose the Israeli military apparatus as a whole.”

“If you oppose the war now you are regarded as a traitor,” said Gidron. “It has been like that every time Israel went to war, but it is worse this time.”

Resistance Continues

Despite the stifling climate, protests continue across Israel. On August 9th, approximately 500 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the war on Gaza, defying a police ban on such gatherings. “Because what is going on in Gaza is so bad, people [in Israel] continue to go into street,” said Matar. “It is not that people are completely silent.”

As global momentum for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction on Israel grows around the world, following a recent call from Palestinian civil society for a renewed push in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza, Israelis are legally prohibited from joining in BDS efforts, thanks to a law passed by the Israeli government in 2011 that makes it illegal for citizens of Israel to join in the economic, cultural or academic boycotts on the basis of linkage to Israel. This was despite fierce opposition to the prohibition from within Israel.

Organizers urge that, given Israel’s repressive climate, pressure from the outside is critical.

Said Matar, “The main thing to remember for [U.S.] citizens is that most Israeli wars are funded by U.S. tax dollars and weapons. I think damage in Gaza is something that you should be considering. Why you would be willing to go on supporting Israeli policies?”

“Western governments should be flooded with calls for an arms embargo on Israel, Israeli citizen Ofer Neiman writes for the Alternative Information Center. “Complicit companies, institutions and officials should be boycotted. Users of social media can stand up to Israel’s odious propaganda, which often portrays the state as a bastion of enlightenment in the middle of a jungle.”

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

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Families of Afghan Civilians Killed by US/NATO Cannot get Justice

Wed, 13 Aug 2014 - 11:35pm

By Bruce Pannier via RFE/RL

Amnesty International has released a report documenting the inability of the families of Afghan civilians killed in attacks by U.S. and other foreign forces to obtain justice.

The report, titled “Left In The Dark,” calls on the Afghan government to ensure that accountability for unlawful civilian killings is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States.

David Griffiths, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region, told RFE/RL that the report contains three key conclusions — that Afghan civilians have nowhere to turn for justice; that the military justice system of foreign forces does not ensure accountability for these cases; and that the failure to properly address the grievances of Afghan civilians leaves behind “a dangerous legacy of resentment.”

Amnesty interviewed 125 Afghan civilians who give firsthand accounts of air strikes and raids that left civilians injured or killed between the years 2009 and 2013.

Amnesty said it had documented attacks that left scores of Afghan civilians dead, including pregnant women and children. It said some of these attacks could qualify as war crimes.

Amnesty notes, however, that foreign forces have made improvements in distinguishing combatants from civilians in recent years and points out that the Taliban is overwhelmingly responsible for Afghan civilian deaths.

“Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured since 2001,” Griffiths said, “but they have no access to the military justice system of the countries — and we’re talking specifically about the U.S. in our report — and so they have nowhere to turn. In nine out of the 10 cases that Amnesty International investigated…[the families or victims] said that they had not been interviewed by any military investigators at any stage.”

Soldiers Protected

Agreements signed between the Afghan government and foreign governments, particularly the United States, prevent foreign soldiers from being brought before Afghan courts.

Amnesty also details initial denials of wrongdoing from foreign officials, both military and civilian, as well as official statements that Amnesty said misrepresented the facts of the incidents.

Relatives recounted to Amnesty not only encountering obstacles in trying to see the guilty parties punished but having in some instances to bring the bodies of their slain kin to the offices of local officials before international forces admitted there had been wrongful deaths.

“There was a harrowing case in September 2012,” Griffiths said. “A large group of women were collecting firewood in the mountains in Noorlam Valley in Laghman Province and they were hit by an air strike. Seven women were killed and seven were seriously injured…. Immediately after the attack, there was no acknowledgement that civilians had been killed and so villagers had to resort to taking the bodies of these women and girls to the provincial governor’s office to show them, to give them proof of what had happened.

“And while the U.S. and ISAF reportedly investigated the case and gave an apology,” Griffiths continued, “there was no thorough investigation. They did not make an effort to meet with the victims and their families.”

The watchdog also said it had found that local officials and police were often not informed of the attacks and raids and so could not render timely assistance to affected civilians.

“The U.S. military justice system does not ensure accountability,” Griffiths said. “We’re aware of just six cases in five years in which criminal prosecution for unlawfully killing Afghans civilians have taken place. And so with the withdrawal of international forces on the horizon at the end of this year, we feel that it is very important to raise these issues and to highlight the lack of accountability for civilian casualties in advance of that so that the U.S. and other international forces do not leave behind this legacy of impunity and resentment.”

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.


Related video added by Juan Cole

PressTV: Amnesty: Victims in Afghanistan have been left without justice

The Politics of Energy and the Destabilization of Palestine

Wed, 13 Aug 2014 - 11:29pm

By Tareq Ramadan

The latest Israeli military campaign directed towards the 139-square mile, densely-populated Palestinian Gaza Strip has already led to the deaths of more than 1,900 Palestinians[i] (more than 80% are civilians including at least 440 children), the wounding of more than 9,500 which includes 2,800 children[ii], the homes of some 65,000 people destroyed[iii], and the displacement of some 450,000 Palestinians.[iv] To date, 3 Israeli civilians have been killed during the several-weeks conflict alongside 64 Israeli soldiers.[v] With Palestinians in Gaza having nowhere to go (Israel controls three of its borders- the north, southeast, and its Mediterranean coast while Israel’s staunchest Arab ally, Egypt controls it’s western border), the 1.8 million Palestinian inhabitants there are essentially trapped in the world’s largest convertible jail cell.

Given the clearly and incredibly disproportionate figures, the question lying at the crux of this lopsided onslaught is: What are Israel’s political motives and what are its military objectives in Gaza? While several theories have been circulating over why Israel has chosen to engage in such a large-scale assault on Gaza, some promoted by Israeli officials themselves (e.g. revenge for the kidnappings of three Israeli settler teens in the West Bank, internal political rivalries between Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud, Hamas’s ‘terror tunnels’ and ‘unprovoked’ rocket fire), perhaps it is a combination of two things that have not garnered much mainstream media attention: The Israeli destabilization of Palestinian politics in an attempt to subvert and/or prevent Palestinian independence alongside the Israeli desire to acquire Palestinian gas reserves off the Gazan coast to offset an imminent energy crisis.

A deal with the Palestinian Authority concerning the offshore natural gas field was undermined by Israel when Hamas won elections in 2006, fueling Israel’s refusal to consider purchasing gas from the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, out of fear it would use the profits to invest in more arms. Instead, and in light of a looming energy crisis in Israel, Israeli officials decided that in order to better ensure their chances at controlling Gaza’s gas fields, it would need to undermine Hamas’s political authority and completely marginalize it (as well as Fateh) from future gas contract negotiations. In July of 2008, TheMarker and later Ha’aretz, five months before Israel’s incursion into Gaza, reported that two Israeli scientists (Sinai Netanyahu and Shlomo Wald) from Israel’s Energy and Water Resources Ministry claimed that Israel will need 50% more natural gas by the year 2035.[vi] By that time, Palestinians will account for 54% of the combined population of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. [vii]

In light of this revelation, the most recent Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip can be interpreted as an attempt to further destabilize Palestinian politics to prevent the emergence of an economically viable Palestinian state, alongside the acquisition of much-needed gas resources for a growing, energy-hungry state. In this scenario, Israel kills two birds with one stone, if you will. With attacks on Gaza (and on Hamas ‘infrastructure’), Israel believes this will deteriorate Hamas’s political clout which will, in effect, allow Netanyahu and subsequent governments to dictate the terms of future relations with the Palestinians by claiming that they will not negotiate with a terrorist organization and, at the same time, completely sidestep the weak and ineffectual Fateh.

The Netanyahu administration also hopes that by painting this conflict as one initiated by Hamas, Fateh as well as traditional Hamas supporters might turn against the religio-political party and ther efore sharpen inter-Palestinian political tensions so that Israel can continue to stall or reject peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Netanyahu also sees this ephemeral muscle-flexing as an opportunity to prove to his former political allies that he is not as ‘soft’ on Hamas as Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu have long implied. Ultimately, it would not be far-fetched to frame the most recent assault on Gaza as being part of a broader geo-political strategy and a possible symptom of Israel’s scramble for energy resources which, to its leadership, can be best achieved through an incessant drive towards the destabilization of Palestinian politics.

Tareq Ramadan is a PhD Candidate specializing in Arab and Islamic Studies and teaches classes on Middle East History and Contemporary Arab Society at Wayne State University in the U.S. In this piece, he argues that Israel’s most recent military assault on Gaza is reflective of a broader policy aimed offsetting an imminent energy crisis through the destabilization of Palestinian politics and the acquisition of Palestinian gas reserves off the coast of Gaza.

[ii] ibid.
[iii] ibid.


Related video added by Juan Cole

German Marshall Fund: “Natural Gas in the Mediterranean”

Do White Media use unflattering Photos of Black Victims of Police Violence? #Iftheygunnedmedown

Wed, 13 Aug 2014 - 11:24pm


“From Michael Brown to Renisha McBride to Jordan Davis: how black people who are killed get portrayed in the media — and the courtroom — has often led to outrage. And after the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, the hashtags #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #APHeadlines and #DangerousBlackKids are one way people have flipped the script.”

AJ+ When Black People Are Killed – Michael Brown To Jordan Davis

Sample tweets:

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown, and I was unarmed, what picture would the media use to create a racialized bias? #MikeBrown

— Clara Rose Thornton (@ClaraRose) August 13, 2014

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown which picture would they use?

— Chi GeeO Kay (@JeusFosterChild) August 13, 2014

Tried to do an #IfTheyGunnedMeDown post but there are no photos of me not looking like a bougie person. #sigh #wanttobepartofthemovement

— Chinyeré (@chingerbread) August 13, 2014

Previous arrests and low level criminal records first to surface when young unarmed black men are shot by police. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown

— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) August 12, 2014

People in #Gaza are tweeting advice on how to handle tear gas to American citizens. You can't make this up. #Ferguson.

— Bishop Myers (@projectbc) August 14, 2014

The Appeal of Intervention: New Iraqi Premier, Libyan Parliament ask for Int’l Troops

Wed, 13 Aug 2014 - 11:06pm

By Juan Cole

According to a spokesman for his Da’wa Party (Islamic Call or Islamic Mission), Iraq’s prime minister-designate Haydar al-Abadi is preparing a platform on the basis of which he will see to form a new government; one of the planks is a joint Iraqi- international military push against the so-called Islamic State in Tikrit.

Iraq’s military collapsed in June when IS took Mosul and other Sunni Arab cities in the country’s north and west. An attempt to regroup and to take Tikrit from IS and the local forces that allied with the al-Qaeda offshoot stalled out after only a couple of weeks, leaving the army with a stalemate. It is stuck to the south of Tikrit and has not been able to move north, even though its training and equipment should be significantly better than that of IS.

Al-Abadi appears to believe that the army needs to be bolstered by “international” troops to take Tikrit. It seems a little unlikely that the international community will actually send combat troops to Iraq, at least unless Baghdad looks as though it is about to fall. Though, Australia’s far-right wing prime minister seems prepared for this possibility. British special operations forces, SAS, have arrived in Iraq and there are about 1,000 US special operations personnel in country now. Perhaps it is to these small contingents that al-Abadi is referring when he says “international forces.” A few special operations warriors go a long way, since they can paint lasers on targets for precision air strikes (and perhaps al-Abadi is thinking of US and other close air support for his army in its next push on Tikrit.)

It seems to me remarkable that al-Abadi is speaking in this way, of recognizing that the Iraqi army (which he says he wants to rebuild) is inadequate. His Da’wa Party had been a form of Shiite fundamentalism seeking an Islamic state itself. It was so anti-imperial in the 1980s that it targeted the US and French embassies in Kuwait, and in Lebanon helped form Hizbullah. Now the party’s prime minister openly speaks of bringing international troops into the country to help recover the last Sunni Arab regions.

Polling shows that the US public is OK with using the air force in Iraq to supply the Yezidis or bomb IS positions, but they emphatically do not want war-fighting boots on the ground.

In Libya, the country ironically was capable of pulling off parliamentary elections even though it seems incapable of achieving national order amid militia faction-fighting. The newly elected parliament is dominated by nationalists who reject political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. But on the ground in Benghazi and Misrata (and thence Tripoli), fundamentalist militias dominate entire neighborhoods. Fighting between the nationalist Zintan militia and the fundamentalist Misrata one in the capital of Tripoli last month destroyed Tripoli airport and many nice two-year-old passenger jets.

Parliament had to meet in the eastern city of Tobruk, near Egypt, because the capital of Tripoli was too insecure. On meeting, they passed a resolution asking for the United Nations to intervene in their deteriorating security situation. They also gave the militias an ultimatum to disband or join the army and submit to a chain of command, by next December. How exactly the weak parliamentarians huddling in a frontier city, exiled from their own capital, will make the militiamen join the army is entirely unclear.

What the UN will do about this request is anyone’s guess. UN “blue helmets” are typically deployed as peace-keepers after a conflict dies down, not as war-fighters.

Again, Libyans like Iraqis are proud people. Their twentieth century history was forged in anti-colonial struggles, in Libya against Mussolini’s Italy and in Iraq against the British. Yet here their elected governments are, deteriorating into failed states and pleading to have the foreign troops back.

What seems clear is that the post-World War II United Nations architecture is broken or never worked. The UN really ought to be able to provide robust peacekeeping troops to such countries, who would uphold elected, legitimate governments and attempt to convince rebels to stand down (or in the worst case scenario, to war against and defeat the rebels)

The US and the UK don’t want anything to do with Libya (despite, you will note, its oil and gas wealth). They do seem willing to send special ops troops to Iraq. But the UN shouldn’t have to depend on a handful of active players, and countries in need of military help shouldn’t have to depend on great Powers with imperial ambitions.


Related video:

ODN: “Iraq Crisis: US send 130 additional military advisers to Kurdistan”

Iraq Intervention? More like Ceaseless Escalation

Tue, 12 Aug 2014 - 11:37pm

By Elliott Colla, author of Baghdad Central

While visiting Baghdad last year, I was struck by what Iraqis said every time I tried to apologize for the 2003 invasion: “Don’t apologize for that. We needed an invasion to get rid of Saddam Hussein.” And then they would add, “But you do need to apologize for the occupation.”

Each person then went on to tell me their occupation horror stories. Like the ubiquitous stories of ‘the night when US soldiers broke into our house’: “Unlike the secret police of the Baathist regime, US soldiers would go upstairs. They’d go through our bedrooms, can you believe that?” People told me stories of near-death experiences on the streets with trigger-happy occupation troops. People told me terrifying anecdotes of harrowing encounters, like the one about the produce truck at the American checkpoint, and the military linguist who translated the word “pomegranates” as “grenades,” and nearly got two men killed in the process. Oftentimes—too routinely to be mere coincidence—the electricity would suddenly go out as they were narrating some traumatic detail, and I would listen to them in the darkness. Somehow, it was fitting.

This week, I remembered how my Iraqi friends had somehow managed to distinguish between invasion and occupation. I still do not understand how they did it, especially since the latter was so obviously the natural outgrowth of the former. Of course, they were so eager to see the end of Saddam Hussein that they could accept intervention, even if they could not accept all its consequences.

What reminded me of this distinction was listening to how American political elites talk about intervention.  Like the people I met in Baghdad, they also seem to imagine intervention without consequence. But there is a difference: barring a significant shift in power, American elites will not pay the costs of this American intervention just as they did not pay for the last one. Nor will they suffer any meaningful consequences. Herein lies the magical power of interventionism as an ideology in American life.

The architects of the invasion sought to remake Iraqi society and they did. In our name and with our tax-dollars, American politicians and generals pursued an unpopular war with gusto. The Iraq intervention may have been invented by neo-cons but it was also supported by a wide swath of liberals. Forget the millions who protested in the streets: intervention was one of the very few points on which the two parties, their corporate sponsors, and their pundits, could agree during the last decade of nasty partisan fights. The list of cheerleaders is as long as it is illustrious—for every Dick Cheney, there were two Thomas Friedmans and a David Brooks. Together, Democrats and Republicans gave the world a living example of what the free-market, withered-state American dream would look like. And the picture has only grown uglier with age.

The corruption, criminal neglect, torture, indiscriminate violence, murder and manslaughter perpetrated under American auspices deeply injured an Iraqi society already poisoned by the totalitarian violence of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, not to mention years of war and sanctions. By deliberating collapsing the Baathist state while also increasing the level of violence on Iraq’s new mean streets, the Americans pushed ordinary Iraqi citizens to find and create new sources of safety and security. With no local or state governance to support or protect them, Iraqis did what people will always do in such situations: they abandoned abstract, complex and state-dependent notions of open community (like a civic nation) in favor of concrete, austere and immediate notions of closed community (like family). As Fanar Haddad, Sinan Antoon and Zaid al-Ali have shown, the security vacuum our interventionism created gave rise to the sectarianism and tribalism we see today.

Ceaseless Escalation

After creating Hell once, you might think Americans would hesitate before doing it again. But our interventionists have never paused and never blinked. In 2011, before the last troops had even left Iraq, we began bombing Libya to liberate the people there from the tyranny of another dictator. Of course, once the Qaddafi regime collapsed, it was chaos—not freedom—that broke out. The next year, a bi-partisan alliance of interventionists demanded action against Iran. In 2013, another popular front of interventionists clamored for action, this time in Syria—and all while repeated their favorite mantra: “We can’t just stand by and let this happen, can we?”

It is on this point that we need to correct our language. For it was common knowledge that in 2013, like in 2011 and 2012, “we” were not just “standing by and letting things happen” in Libya or Iran. And with regard to Syria, “we,” like the Saudis and Qataris, had already been intervening—with covert action and diplomatic support—to overthrow the Asad regime.

Similarly, against the backdrop of American covert action against the Baathist regime, and the bombing campaigns that began during the buildup to the Gulf War of 1991 and continued unabated for more than a decade, it is not accurate to think of the 2003 invasion as an “intervention,” if by that term we mean an extraneous force suddenly inserted into Iraqi history. Rather, the invasion was the culmination—and escalation—of a long history of American military involvement in Iraq. Likewise, the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan was itself the culmination of more than a decade of covert action and military involvement. What proponents of intervention call for now, as before, is not intervention in the sense of a one-time action from outside. What they demand is an escalation of an already existing military entanglement. And, once the operation is underway, they can be counted on to demand that the military be given support until victory is accomplished, as if that were a possibility.

The term "intervention" implies that an action is discrete rather than ongoing, and that it marks a break in a chain of history, rather than a continuation of an existing routine or an expansion of  an old repertoire.  But that is not what American interventionists call for. A more accurate term for them is escalationist—how else should we refer to people who only ever reach for one blunt tool—military action—when they encounter any of the many vexing problems of the modern world? When it becomes clear, as it always does, that intervention has not resolved the issue (or that it has exacerbated it) the escalationists will always be there to say, “Of course, any military campaign needs to be coordinated with a political/economic/humanitarian strategy.” But by then, it is already too late. Escalationism is the ideological platform for militarizing every policy issue that arises.

It is a truism that escalationists are inconsistent, arguing in favor of intervention against weak states and against it when status quo alliances and interests might be disturbed. It is also true that the hypocrisy and selectivity of escalationists debases whatever values and norms—human rights, humanitarianism, even regional stability—they touch. Yet these debasements pale in comparison to what escalationism does to policy debate in this country. While military intervention has a very poor track record of resolving real-world social and political emergencies, arguments for intervention always transform the process by which such issues are addressed in government. Escalationists know, as anyone knows, that on balance American military intervention has caused far more intractable problems in the world than it has ever solved. However, intervention does ensure that generals, intelligence agencies, and the public-private security industry have a privileged place at the table when policies are debated and decisions are taken. Indeed, the history of the last fifty years is one in which the center of gravity for American foreign policy has shifted from the State Department to the Department of Defense and NSA.

This is a horrendous development for American democracy for the following reasons: when escalationists demand militarized solutions to the problems of the world, they are effectively arguing that military and intelligence officers and businessmen—not elected officials—should be the ones making the critical decisions when it comes to foreign policy. When elected officials clamor for intervention, they are, in effect, forfeiting their right and duty to address how these issues impact the lives of American citizens. Given the restriction on information in military operations, and the secrecy of intelligence institutions and security corporations, arguments for intervention are also effectively demands that policy deliberations take place far from public scrutiny and that decisions have only an oblique relation to public accountability. Admittedly, it is doubtful that most escalationists think of themselves as hostile to the basic principles of democratic governance but in essence, their position is fundamentally at odds with the values of transparency and accountability.


To his credit, Obama ignored the war drums in 2012-13, a real feat in a town where interventionism is pumped directly into the water supply along with fluoride. But when the Syrian conflict spilled across Sykes-Picot lines this June, it became hard for Obama to ignore the escalationists. True, it is not that America has been sitting and watching Iraq from outside. On the contrary, American involvement in the Iraqi military and intelligence has remained sizeable. And even if American occupation troops were withdrawn in 2011, American advisors—and military contractors—have never left. The bombing campaign that Obama initiated last week is not an intervention, but an escalation of a direct military involvement that goes all the way back to 1991.

Again, we are bombing Iraq to save it. Again, our bombs are humanitarian. Again, they will save lives. Again, they will protect national interests. Again, the engagement will be short, limited to airstrikes, no boots on the ground. Time will tell what the scope of this escalation will actually be, but if recent history is any indication, we should not think aerial bombardments will meaningfully change the nature of the civil war(s) now linking Syria to Iraq, nor should we expect to learn the true scope of the intervention anytime soon, nor should we be surprised if it escalates into something that was never initially advertised.

It is disconcerting that this escalation takes place in the shadow of a widespread consensus—that unites experts the American public and the Iraqi public—that the last American escalation in Iraq was such a complete failure.

Given this dismal history, it is hard to interpret the bombing campaign as anything more serious than a we-have-got-to-do-something gesture. Even if this smaller intervention promises to be more of the same, only less so, the Obama administration is speaking (again) as if intervention has no cost or consequence. In that regard, we might remind ourselves of some of the more salient costs of the last decade of intervention in Iraq:

•   150,000 – 600,000 + Iraqi deaths directly caused by the US invasion and occupation. The number is likely higher.

•   2 ± million Iraqi refugees. Many more internally displaced.

•   4,400 + American military deaths. Another 5000 violent deaths among foreign contractors and coalition military personnel.

•   $2 – 4 trillion expense to US taxpayers. The final amount will grow over time.

Obviously, the costs of the war cannot be measured solely in bodies and dollars. The well documented (but largely unprosecuted) accounts of torture and human rights abuse in US detention centers and prisons in occupied Iraq need to figure into any reckoning, as do the long list of documented cases of negligent and criminal violence on the part of occupation forces and security contractors. Similarly, there has been no deep accounting for the corruption that ran rampant through the occupation administration, nor for the widespread profiteering and fraud on the part of defense contractors and development firms. Only a fraction of these cases have been prosecuted. When Obama’s Justice Department decided not to pursue Bush administration officials for torture, lying, and malfeasance, they sent a clear message that the past was to be forgotten, the slate wiped clean.

Escalationism is a frail ideology that cannot survive without a steady diet of indemnity and recklessness. But in Washington, that greenhouse of unaccountability, it thrives like a weed. We have yet to reckon with the costs, mistakes and crimes of a decade-long US occupation in Iraq, and yet we are starting another round. It is not just that we have failed to learn from the past or have forgotten to pay the piper. We haven’t even bothered to look at the last bill because we imagine someone else will clear the dishes and pay the bill. Someday, the escalationists will be forced to live with the consequences of their ideology, but for now, it will be—once again—the Iraqis who will have to suffer and survive.

Elliott Colla is associate professor in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is also the author of the acclaimed murder mystery set in American-occupied Iraq, Baghdad Central of which The Independent wrote: “A murder mystery set in post-Saddam Baghdad is as good as it is daring.”

Baghdad Central

6 Robin Williams Movies That Teach Us Progressive Values

Tue, 12 Aug 2014 - 11:33pm

By Mindy Fischer via Liberals Unite

There’s no doubt that Robin Williams could make us laugh, but he did a whole more than that. He made us think and dream. Because he wasn’t afraid to tackle the tough social issues in our society. In his personal life he was involved in nearly 30 charity organizations and he was always quick to help with things like campaigning for the G.I. Bill, or raising money after Hurricane Katrina.

But in my opinion he taught us the most through his incredible acting and story lines. Here are some of the great movie roles that Williams played while teaching us that it’s OK to deal head-on with today’s social problems. To say that these roles show how progressive he was seems to diminish his talents somehow. I would say instead that through his acting, he taught us how to be human.

1. The Fisher King

In this movie Williams took on the problems of homelessness and mental health problems.

“There’s three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer,”

The National Alliance for Mental Illness named this movie one of the top movies of all time to accurately portray mental illness. Robin Williams’ character plays a homeless man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And for this role, Williams received an Oscar nomination. In addition to this great movie, Williams also helped organize Comic Relief, which raised money for the homeless.

2. Good Will Hunting

In Good Will Hunting, Williams tackled the issue of domestic violence.

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

” I DON’T BLAME YOU! It’s not about *you*, you mathematical dick!”

In this movie Robin Williams played the role of a compassionate psychiatrist. He gives an Academy Award winning performance when he counsels Matt Damon’s character who has been severely abused. After learning of the boy’s violent beatings, Williams reveals that he was also abused as a child.

3. The Birdcage

Williams took on the issues of gender identity and homosexuality in this amazing film.

“Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I’m a middle-aged fag,” Williams says as Armand in the movie. “But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that.”

In The Birdcage, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play a loving gay couple who eventually teach their son that there is no reason to be ashamed of his gay family. This film was one of several in which Williams tried to normalize cross-dressing.

4. Good Morning Vietnam

In this 1985 movie, Williams took on the subject of freedom of the press.

“Hey, we’re back. That last two seconds of silence was Marcel Marceau’s newest hit single, “Walkin In The Wind.” And now, here are the headlines. Here they come right now. Pope actually found to be Jewish. Liberace is Anastasia and Ethel Merman jams Russian radar. The East Germans, today, claimed the Berlin Wall was a fraternity prank. Also the Pope decided today to release Vatican-related bath products. An incredible thing, yes, it’s the new Pope On A Rope. That’s right. Pope On A Rope. Wash with it, go straight to heaven.”

In Good Morning Vietnam Robin Williams plays the role of Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer, who is a radio DJ in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He goes against his commanders and locks himself in the radio booth so that he can report the news and bombings that were actually going on.

And not only did Williams teach us about press freedoms at times of war, but his character also was kind and compassionate to the local Vietnamese people. He taught us many great things in his movies, and this one is no exception. Williams assimilated to the local culture instead of demonizing them. He realized that he could actually learn something from them.

5. Patch Adams

In Patch Adams, Williams took on the issues of patient autonomy and the importance of Universal healthcare.

“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

“Our job is improving the quality of life, not just delaying death.”

In this movie, Williams plays the character Patch Adams. He finds out how to treat patients by admitting himself into a mental hospital. And because of his experience there he goes to medical school and becomes a doctor. He makes the point throughout this film that patients should be treated with dignity. Williams is great in this movie and he really shows us how important compassion and humor are for all of us.

6. What Dreams May Come

In this incredible movie, Williams tackles the subject of suicide.

“A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we’ll all be together forever.”

“What some folks call impossible, is just stuff they haven’t seen before.”

I have always loved this film, but now that Robin Williams is gone it seems even more important, and even ironic. In this movie, Williams character’s wife commits suicide after the death of her family and is doomed to spend eternity in her own private hell of despair. Through Williams’ character’s unselfish love and determination to spend it in hell with her because of his love for her, the two are reunited in heaven, along with their children.


Rest now Mr. Williams….your work here is done.

Mindy Fischer is a lefty-liberal, freelance political writer. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.

This work by Liberals Unite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Mirrored from Samuel Lynn Warde’s Liberals Unite


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: “Robin Williams’ Interviews Throughout the Years”

Need for Tough Love: Defending the Gaza Assault Hurts Israeli, American Interests

Tue, 12 Aug 2014 - 11:27pm

By Gregory Harms

Almost two-thirds of Americans feel Israel’s operations in Gaza were justified. When given sufficient information, and when thinking outside ideological parameters, Americans commonly draw reasonable conclusions and are in agreement by a two-thirds majority. In the case of the Gaza-Israel conflict, a knowledge deficit and ideology are to explain why the population misjudged what is morally unambiguous.

Shared values

After World War II, novelist George Orwell stated in an essay, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” His point was that defending any of the war’s savagery required a vocabulary that softened the realities; one could not support a brutal policy or campaign and, at the same time, use precise language. Exact wording, which exposes the brutality, doesn’t tell the right story. The feeling of moral righteousness must remain intact.

Many ethical situations are clear and, as a result, we draw the appropriate moral conclusions. Be it child abuse, or murder, or rape, there is general agreement on these issues and therefore societies across the globe do not accept such acts within their value systems. There might be disagreements in deciding when to apply these labels; but one would be hard pressed to find a community that openly accepts, for example, mistreating infants or random killing. Human societies depend on such values and would disappear if they didn’t.

Shown one man, in the abstract, wantonly murdering another, most are likely to judge the act negatively. We see the situation for what it is and assess it accordingly. The reason is simple enough: we have all the facts (which are few: one guy murdering another) and we are thinking clearly (uninvested, clinical, impartial). Oftentimes, however, within the political realm a fog settles in. While we retain our core values, label application becomes more contentious.

A recent CNN/ORC poll revealed that 57 percent of Americans were in agreement with Israel’s operations in Gaza. This level of approval also existed during Israel’s previous two major campaigns there, in 2008-09 and 2012. Americans in general view Israel favorably, a statistic that is quite stable. And while not an issue in itself, approval of Israel’s military conduct, as the numbers indicate, is reflexive. This isn’t the product of mere fondness and suggests other forces are at work.

American public opinion

Most Americans are in agreement on most major political issues. And when asked direct, non-partisan questions about specific policies, the consensus is usually in the 55-75 percent range. America is a highly studied society and the numbers have been in for decades. Even concerning matters of foreign policy, Americans tend to concur.

Most, by a strong majority, desire that the United States lessen its international involvements and defer to the UN. Most, by a strong majority, are against Israel’s settlement construction in the Palestinian territories. Most, by a strong majority, desire better relations with Iran. These opinions and others held by the public are consistent with their views on domestic policy (healthcare, taxes, abortion, etc.); though a solid plurality self-describes as “conservative,” Americans tend to be operationally centrist-liberal. In sum, people want a civilized world in which to live. Not only is it vital to the tribe’s longevity, it’s simply more pleasant.

However, Americans know next to nothing about international affairs, or history for that matter. Moreover, they have viewed themselves—throughout their entire history—as a people apart, separate from those cultures south of the border and everything past the east and west horizons. The population is ill-informed and somewhat insular and is, as a consequence, very easily manipulated.

After 9/11, the public was stunned. Granted, it was an enormous spectacle of violence and destruction, but the people didn’t have the tools to see it in the larger context, to consider it with decades of brutal US Middle Eastern policy in the background. For that reason, invading Iraq was an easy sell. With the most ham-fisted propaganda techniques, 70 percent of Americans were brought on board. By 2008, however, Gallup reported 63 percent of Americans felt the war was a mistake. The number had basically flipped. The facts had come in.

When fear and nationalist fervor aren’t at work, the public holds rational positions, regardless of limited knowledge. Even on positions such as Iraq and defense spending, the population’s anxieties are a factor, though not irrationally. The fears are understandable given what the public is told. For example, talk of reducing defense spending evokes vulnerability and weakness and making the nation potential prey. Yet, even a brief look at the realities of international defense budgets reveals that there is little to discuss on this matter. So, the apprehensions themselves make sense—not wanting to be attacked—but are the product of not understanding the topic. The public lacks information. On the subject of Israel’s assault on Gaza, the same deficiency exists.

Gaza in brief

News coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict has been non-stop, with print and televised media producing a blizzard of reportage, commentary, and analysis. Similar to the broader Palestine-Israel conflict, it is always in the news, but few are familiar with the basic history.

As this essay seeks to examine circumstances outside the Israel-Gaza conflict, a condensed review will hopefully suffice. Three considerations worth mentioning:

1. Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967 and illegally continues to do so. Since then, Israel has (also illegally) expanded its presence in those territories while avoiding diplomacy that could solve the Palestine-Israel conflict. (All of this relies on US support.) The occupation has encouraged the formation of resistance movements, some secular (like the PLO in the 1960s) and some Islamic (like Hamas in the 1980s). The PLO’s leadership became head of the Palestinian Authority, a governing body created during the Oslo Accords (1993). They have since been the party preferred by Israel and the United States, principally because they have shifted from resistance to cooperation.

2. In 2005, Israel “disengaged” from Gaza, and withdrew from the territory’s interior, merely reconfiguring its occupation externally. (Under article 42 of the Hague Convention, Israel’s control of Gaza meets the criteria.) In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, a result the United States and Israel rejected. In 2007, Hamas defeated an attempted coup by the Palestinian Authority (encouraged by the United States) and took over Gaza. Ever since, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza and reduced the territory to a virtual penal colony. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is grave and is the direct result of US-Israeli design.

3. Though more or less politically divided since 2006, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas signed a unity agreement in spring 2014, and on June 2 announced a new, transitional government that does not include members of Hamas. At this point, Hamas was quite diminished politically. Israel prefers the Palestinians be divided—with Hamas in power in Gaza—and therefore can more easily reject diplomacy, claiming that a chunk of Palestine is ruled by terrorists. (The same used to be said of the PLO.) Following the announcement of the new government, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank near the settlement where they lived. Though aware that the teens were already dead, Israel conducted raids throughout the West Bank and arrested hundreds of Palestinians, including many Hamas members. Moreover, Israel conducted airstrikes against tunnels in Gaza, killing a number of Hamas militants and wounding civilians. Hamas, which had adhered to a ceasefire since late 2012—one which Israel had violated—began firing rockets out of Gaza. Israel now had its pretext to conduct “maintenance” in Gaza, deplete Hamas’s rocket and mortar arsenal, and hopefully stress the unity government.

Israel’s massive assault on Gaza, one that has claimed the lives of almost 2,000 Palestinians, has essentially been about avoiding peaceful resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict, a constant since 1967.

While Hamas’s indiscriminate use of rockets is illegal, immoral, and politically unwise, the context in which they are used is logically prior. Because Israel is the “occupying power” according to international law, it has no legitimate claim to self-defense: not morally, not legally, not logically. Once Israel withdraws from Palestine and allows it to function as a nation-state the same way Belgium allows the Netherlands to do so, then if fired upon, Israel would have the world community and the force of law at its side. Such is not the case in the role of aggressor.

That said, knowledge of the facts isn’t enough. Part of why Gaza isn’t viewed clearly by the public is the strength of its beliefs and the received doctrine that helps shape them.

The power of ideology

Nations, like people, edit and revise their histories. The actual historical record is usually unflattering and uncomfortable, and therefore a more palatable version is sought. The improved rendering tells a better story and exemplifies the values to which the nation claims to be devoted. Warfare, ethnic cleansing, and slavery are skeletons best understated; independence, liberty, and progress have a more suitable ring to them.

All nation-states employ narratives that reinforce a sense of nationalism. In the United States, the westward march of progress, the pioneer, the cowboy are emblematic of what it means to be American. Our sense of nationalism binds the population with a common faith. It also conflates the citizen and the nation-state. In other words, the individual is encouraged to attach himself or herself mentally and emotionally to the state. This requires a leap in logic. There is no actual correlation between a geopolitical entity and the population that lives in it; one’s love of country pertains to the people, the land, the food, and so on, not the machinery of state. Yet, the power of ideology facilitates just such a correlation. As a result, one becomes protective of the country and takes personally descriptions that conflict with patriotic dogma.

In the United States, the public has been uniquely encouraged to link Israel’s founding myths with its own: Just as the early Americans tamed the wild and brought progress to a primitive land—”to make room for the cultivators of the earth” (Benjamin Franklin)—so too did Israel. In the words of former president Lyndon Johnson:

“[The United States and Israel] each draw strength and purpose for today from our heroes of yesterday. We both know the thrill of bringing life from a hard but rewarding land. … For we are equally nations in search of a dream. We share a vision and purpose far brighter than our abilities to make deserts bloom.”

Though Israel assumed US client-state status in the Middle East based on purely unsentimental calculations, the “special relationship” was very easy to market. Commonly the descendants of white, European stock, Israelis and their country’s founding myths were favored when compared to the “rough neighborhood” of Arab countries surrounding the Jewish state. Western views of Arabs have long been suspicious. And with resourceful use of the Holocaust—which has little to do with Israel’s history and was never much of a concern to the country’s founders—a useful contrast was established: white Jewish victims and brown Arab assailants. This has been the template for almost fifty years.

When Americans see rockets streaming out of Gaza into southern Israel, the images pass through the filter of ideology. Just as when one insults the United States resentment might be felt, by extension, Hamas’s rockets are, in a sense, being fired into the United States. The identification is with those in southern Israel—which is morally correct, but for the wrong reason.

Identifying with the fear and danger Israeli civilians are in is appropriate. Despite their inaccuracy, the rockets launched by Hamas and other groups are intended to hit buildings with people in them. However, this identification is born of doctrinal thinking, and therefore, the story starts and stops with Hamas, the Arab assailants. The Jewish victims are merely “defending themselves” and no thought is given to the historical record. Or the context. Or international law. Or basic ethics. Or logic.

The interplay of racist appraisal and nationalist creed obstructs the ability to arrive at the proper and obvious moral judgments, the way one ordinarily would when in possession of all the facts and when thinking clearly. The consequence has been the inversion of reality.

Last year Israel spent 5.6 percent of GDP on defense, an extremely high figure. The Global Firepower website ranks Israel the eleventh strongest military power in the world, just behind Japan, South Korea, and Turkey. Unlike those states, Israel possesses nuclear weapons.

The people in Gaza, on the other hand, have been described by the Christian Science Monitor as “the most foreign-aid dependent society on earth.” They are also under military occupation. Ninety percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for drinking. One of the biggest employers there is a UN refugee relief organization. Psychological trauma among children in Gaza has been described as epidemic. Due to fuel and electricity shortages, Gazans regularly spend the night in the dark.

The current violence is also bad for Israel. Among the reasons, it encourages racism and militance among the population, provokes antisemitism in the world, and generally isolates Israel from the international community. Moreover, US support of the violence places the United States at risk of terrorist reprisal. Therefore, to reflexively defend Israel’s operations is to adopt precisely an anti-Israeli position, and one that endangers Americans as well. There is much at stake, and gathering the facts and drawing the right conclusions is the crucial first step.

Gregory Harms, an independent scholar specializing in US foreign policy and the Middle East, is author of The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction, 3rd ed. (Pluto Press, 2012). He lectures, keeps a blog on Facebook, and publishes articles on CounterPunch, Truthout, and Mondoweiss. Harms has traveled throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and has been interviewed on BBC Radio.


Related video added by Juan Cole

RT: “‘Kangaroo Court!’ Israel dismisses UN probe over Gaza war crimes”