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Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 23 hours 54 min ago

Climate Change: Neoliberal Capitalism is Fundamentally at War with Life on Earth (Naomi Klein)

Sun, 14 Sep 2014 - 12:09am

The National:

“Naomi Klein discusses her new book This Changes Everything, in which she says it’s time to stop counting on the politicians to save the planet.”

The National: “Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything author talks about climate change”

Arab Allies will wage Financial war on ISIL: Is it Enough?

Sat, 13 Sep 2014 - 11:53pm

By Charles Recknagel via RFE/RL

As Washington vows to put together a broad coalition to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, the outlines of the new alliance are beginning to take shape.

Much of the emphasis has been upon finding partners among the Arab states. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on September 11 that 10 Arab states had agreed to "do their share" in the fight. They are Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and six Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar. 

Saudi Arabia would take the most prominent role in supporting the counter-offensive against the extremist group. While Washington conducts air strikes but has not committed troops on the ground, Riyadh is expected to host training camps for the moderate Syrian rebel groups which would do the fighting inside Syria. 

The United States also plans to continue air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq while Iraqi forces — including the national army, Iraqi-Kurdish fighters, and Sunni Arab tribal forces — fight the group there.

Washington is also looking to the Arab states to help wage financial war on the Islamic State organization. That would entail cracking down on charitable foundations and private donors to make sure they do not help fund the jihadist group. 

The financial crackdown is expected to become increasingly critical as military progress is made in pushing the militants out of oil fields which they now control and use to generate huge revenues.

Luay Al-Khatteeb, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, estimates the group currently produces some 25,000 barrels per day of oil from fields it controls in Iraq, earning some $1.2 million a day. The oil is reportedly sold clandestinely to buyers in Iraq and Turkey.

Before the group became oil-rich, it was largely funded by cash donations from Gulf sponsors, a source the coalition will want to make sure it cannot fall back upon again.

Another key regional partner in the coalition is Turkey. Its cooperation is needed to stop the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria, something Ankara has previously largely ignored because it hopes to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad toppled.

Iran Ruled Out

Sealing the Turkish border is essential to ending the recruitment boom the Islamic State group has enjoyed with its battlefield successes since June. A CIA spokesman said on September 12 that the group now has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Syria and Iraq, two to three times more than the agency had previously estimated, and that half of the fighters are foreigners. 

Meanwhile, Ankara has ruled out allowing Washington to use Turkish air bases to launch attacks on the jihadist group, which still holds 49 Turkish citizens it kidnapped in Mosul in June. No other regional state has yet said publicly it would provide air bases, leaving it unclear whether the U.S. air campaign will have to continue to rely upon aircraft carriers in the Gulf. 

One regional state Washington has ruled out for the coalition is Iran. Kerry said on September 12 in Ankara that it would be "inappropriate" for Iran to join the group because Tehran backs Assad while Washington and its allies want Assad out of power. Washington has also ruled out any cooperation with Assad's forces against the Islamic State militants.

Russia, also allied with Assad, has warned any U.S. air strikes on Islamist forces in Syria would be illegal without a decision by the UN Security Council. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Lukashevich said on September 11 "there is reason to suspect that Syrian government forces could also come under fire."

Several EU states are expected to join the coalition in the coming days. France, which is due on September 15 to host international talks in Paris about the campaign, has already offered military support to Baghdad and said it would consider taking part in air strikes. Britain has said the same.

Germany has ruled out participating in air strikes but is sending weapons to Iraqi Kurdish forces. Italy, too, is sending arms to Iraq.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for “the broadest possible” participation in the alliance but it remains unclear how large the international effort could grow and whether it would include many smaller countries which joined U.S.-led coalitions in the past. 

Washington assembled a 39-state coalition for the 1990-91 Gulf War to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and a 30-state coalition for the Iraq War to topple Saddam in 2003.

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.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

BBC:
US wins Arab support for military campaign against ISIL

ISIL Threatens to Assassinate Twitter Employees

Sat, 13 Sep 2014 - 11:41pm

TheLipTV:

“An ISIS group has threatened to assassinate Twitter employees who close down accounts linked to the extremist group. The group tweeted urging “lone wolves” in the US and Europe to target the social media service by directly attacking their employees. We take a look at the threat, in this Lip News clip with Elliot Hill and Mark Sovel.”

TheLipTV: ISIS Threatens to Assassinate Twitter Employees

For more on this story see IBTimes

Juan adds: I’m with Mark Sovel on this one. Calling for lone wolf attacks means that the individual doesn’t actually have an organizational capacity to carry out threats. Also the NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi casts doubt on the provenance of this tweeted threat:

@jricole FYI I believe the source of this tweet against Twitter employees is not a bone fide member of ISIS. Ask @JonathanLKrohn

— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) September 14, 2014

The Gaza Siege is Passing from Media Memory but the Social Statistics are Still Terrifying

Sat, 13 Sep 2014 - 11:26pm

AJ+

“It’s been a little over two weeks since the Gaza – Israel ceasefire. The United Nations has just released a report detailing what the 50 day war has cost Gaza so far, including the death toll. For the full report, go here

War or Counterterrorism? John Kerry denies it is a War

Sat, 13 Sep 2014 - 12:24am

By RFE/RL

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the United States is “at war with ISIL” on September 12, after Secretary of State John Kerry refused to use the phrase.

“The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with Al-Qaeda and its Al-Qaeda affiliates all around the globe,” he said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also used the phrase on Sept. 12.

Kerry told ABC News on Sept. 11 that the U.S. was only engaged in a “significant” counterterrorism operation. “I think ‘war’ is the wrong reference term with respect to that, but obviously it involves kinetic military action.”

The U.S. has conducted 158 airstrikes and deployed around 1,600 troops to Iraq to deal with the threat from IS militants.

Luke Johnson in Washington

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.

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Related video added by Juan Cole

Euronews: “US wins Arab support for military campaign against ISIL”

The Plutocracy Strikes Back: The Pathologies of Rule by a Handful of Billionaires

Sat, 13 Sep 2014 - 12:03am

By Steve Fraser via Tomdispatch.com

George Baer was a railroad and coal mining magnate at the turn of the twentieth century.  Amid a violent and protracted strike that shut down much of the country’s anthracite coal industry, Baer defied President Teddy Roosevelt’s appeal to arbitrate the issues at stake, saying, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for… not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country.”  To the Anthracite Coal Commission investigating the uproar, Baer insisted, “These men don’t suffer. Why hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

We might call that adopting the imperial position.  Titans of industry and finance back then often assumed that they had the right to supersede the law and tutor the rest of America on how best to order its affairs.  They liked to play God.  It’s a habit that’s returned with a vengeance in our own time.

The Koch brothers are only the most conspicuous among a whole tribe of “self-made” billionaires who imagine themselves architects or master builders of a revamped, rehabilitated America. The resurgence of what might be called dynastic or family capitalism, as opposed to the more impersonal managerial capitalism many of us grew up with, is changing the nation’s political chemistry. 

Our own masters of the universe, like the “robber barons” of old, are inordinately impressed with their ascendancy to the summit of economic power.  Add their personal triumphs to American culture’s perennial love affair with business — President Calvin Coolidge, for instance, is remembered today only for proclaiming that “the business of America is business” — and you have a formula for megalomania.

Take Jeff Greene, otherwise known as the “Meltdown Mogul.”  Back in 2010, he had the chutzpah to campaign in the Democratic primary for a Florida senate seat in a Miami neighborhood ravaged by the subprime mortgage debacle — precisely the arena in which he had grown fabulously rich.  In the process, he rallied locals against Washington insiders and regaled them with stories of his life as a busboy at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.  Protected from the Florida sun by his Prada shades, he alluded to his wealth as evidence that, as a maestro of collateralized debt obligations, no one knew better than he how to run the economy he had helped to pulverize.  He put an exclamation point on his campaign by flying off in his private jet only after securely strapping himself in with his gold-plated seat buckles.

Olympian entrepreneurs like Greene regularly end up seeing themselves as tycoons-cum-savants.  When they run for office, they do so as if they were trying to get elected to the board of directors of America, Inc.  Some will brook no interference with their will.  Property, lots of it, in a society given over to its worship, becomes a blank check: everything is permitted to those who have it.

Dream and Nightmare

This, then, is the indigenous romance of American capitalism.  The man from nowhere becomes a Napoleon of business and so a hero because he confirms a cherished legend: namely, that it’s the primordial birthright of those lucky enough to live in the New World to rise out of obscurity to unimaginable heights.  All of this, so the legend tells us, comes through the application of disciplined effort, commercial cunning and foresight, a take-no-prisoners competitive instinct, and a gambler’s sang froid in the face of the unforgiving riskiness of the marketplace.  Master all of that and you deserve to be a master of our universe.  (Conversely, this is the dark fairy tale that nineteenth century Gilded Age anti-capitalist rebels knew as “the Property Beast.”)  

What makes the creation of the titan particularly confounding is that it seems as if it shouldn’t be so.  Inside the colorless warrens of the counting house and factory workshop, a pedestrian preoccupation with profit and loss might be expected to smother all those instincts we associate with the warrior, the statesman, and the visionary, not to mention the tyrant.  As Joseph Schumpeter, the mid-twentieth century political economist, once observed, “There is surely no trace of any mystic glamour” about the sober-minded bourgeois.  He is not likely to “say boo to a goose.”

Yet the titan of capitalism overcomes that propensity.  As Schumpeter put it, he transforms himself into the sort of man who can “bend a nation to his will,” use his “extraordinary physical and nervous energy” to become “a leading man.”   Something happens through the experience of commercial conquest so intoxicating that it breeds a willful arrogance and a lust for absolute power of the sort for which George Baer hankered.  Call it the absolutism of self-righteous money.   

Sheldon Adelson, Charles and David Koch, Sam Walton, Rupert Murdoch, Linda McMahon, or hedge fund honchos like John Paulson and Steven Cohen all conform in one way or another to this historic profile.  Powers to be reckoned with, they presume to know best what we should teach our kids and how we should do it; how to defend the country’s borders against alien invasion, revitalize international trade, cure what ails the health-care delivery system, create jobs where there are none, rejigger the tax code, balance the national budget, put truculent labor unions in their place, and keep the country on the moral and racial straight and narrow. 

All this purported wisdom and self-assurance is home bred.  That is to say, these people are first of all family or dynastic capitalists, not the faceless men in suits who shimmy their way up the greased pole that configures the managerial hierarchies of corporate America.  Functionaries at the highest levels of the modern corporation may be just as wealthy, but they are a fungible bunch, whose loyalty to any particular outfit may expire whenever a more attractive stock option from another firm comes their way.

In addition, in our age of mega-mergers and acquisitions, corporations go in and out of existence with remarkable frequency, morphing into a shifting array of abstract acronyms.  They are carriers of great power, but without an organic attachment to distinct individuals or family lineages.

Instead dynasts of yesteryear and today have created family businesses or, as in the case of the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, taken over ones launched by their fathers to which they are fiercely devoted. They guard their business sanctuaries by keeping them private, wary of becoming dependent on outside capital resources that might interfere with their freedom to do what they please with what they’ve amassed.

And they think of what they’ve built up not so much as a pile of cash, but as a patrimony to which they are bound by ties of blood, religion, region, and race.  These attachments turn ordinary business into something more transcendent.  They represent the tissues of a way of life, even a philosophy of life.  Its moral precepts about work, individual freedom, family relations, sexual correctness, meritocracy, equality, and social responsibility are formed out of the same process of self-invention that gave birth to the family business.  Habits of methodical self-discipline and the nurturing and prudential stewardship that occasionally turns a modest competency into a propertied goliath encourage the instinct to instruct and command.

There is no Tycoon Party in the U.S. imposing ideological uniformity on a group of billionaires who, by their very nature as übermensch, march to their own drummers and differ on many matters.  Some are philanthropically minded, others parsimonious; some are pietistic, others indifferent.  Wall Street hedge fund creators may donate to Obama and be card-carrying social liberals on matters of love and marriage, while heartland types like the Koch brothers obviously take another tack politically.  But all of them subscribe to one thing: a belief in their own omniscience and irresistible will.

There at the Creation

Business dynasts have enacted this imperial drama since the dawn of American capitalism — indeed, especially then, before the publicly traded corporation and managerial capitalism began supplanting their family capitalist predecessors at the turn of the twentieth century.  John Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire, whose offices were once located on Manhattan Island where Zucotti Park now stands, was the most literal sort of empire builder.  In league with Thomas Jefferson, he attempted to extend that president’s “empire for liberty” all the way to the western edge of the continent and push out the British.  There, on the Oregon coast, he established the fur-trading colony of Astoria to consolidate his global control of the luxury fur trade. 

In this joint venture, president and tycoon both failed.  Astor, however, was perfectly ready to defy the highest authority in the land and deal with the British when it mattered most.  So when Jefferson embargoed trade with that country in the run-up to the War of 1812, the founder of one of the country’s most luminous dynasties simply ran the blockade.  An unapologetic elitist, Astor admired Napoleon, assumed the masses were not to be left to their own devices, and believed deeply that property ought to be the prerequisite for both social position and political power.

Traits like Astor’s willfulness and self-sufficiency cropped up frequently in the founding generation of America’s “captains of industry.” Often they were accompanied by a chest-thumping braggadocio and thumb-in-your eye irreverence.  Cornelius Vanderbilt, called by his latest biographer “the first tycoon,” was known in his day as “the Commodore.”  Supposedly, he warned someone foolish enough to challenge his supremacy in the steamboat business that “I won’t sue you, I’ll ruin you.” 

Or take “Jubilee” Jim Fisk. He fancied himself an admiral but wasn’t one, and after the Civil War, when caught plundering the Erie Railroad, boasted that he was “born to be bad.”   Later on, when a plot he hatched to corner the nation’s supply of gold left him running from the law, Jim classically summed up the scandal this way: “Nothing lost save honor.”

More than a century before Mitt Romney and Bain Capital came along, Jay Gould, a champion railroad speculator and buccaneering capitalist, scoured the country for companies to buy, loot, and sell.  Known by his many detractors as “the Mephistopheles of Wall Street,” he once remarked, when faced with a strike against one of his railroads, that he could “hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

George Pullman, nicknamed “the Duke” in America’s world of self-made royalty, wasn’t shy about dealing roughly with the rowdy “mob” either.  As a rising industrialist in Chicago in the 1870s, he — along with other young men from the city’s new manufacturing elite — actually took up arms to put down a labor insurgency and financed the building of urban armories, stocked with the latest artillery, including a new machine gun marketed as the “Tramp Terror.” (This was but one instance among many of terrorism from above by the forces of “law and order.”)

However, Pullman was better known for displaying his overlordship in quite a different fashion.  Cultivating his sense of dynastic noblesse oblige, he erected a model town, which he aptly named Pullman, just outside Chicago. There residents not only labored to manufacture sleeping cars for the nation’s trains, but were also tutored in how to live respectable lives — no drinking, no gambling, proper dress and deportment — while living in company-owned houses, shopping at company-owned stores, worshipping at company churches, playing in company parks, reading company-approved books in the company library, and learning the “three Rs” from company schoolmarms.  Think of it as a Potemkin working class village, a commercialized idyll of feudal harmony — until it wasn’t.  The dream morphed into a nightmare when “the Duke” suddenly began to slash wages and evict his “subjects” amid the worst depression of the nineteenth century.  This, in turn, provoked a nationwide strike and boycott, eventually crushed by federal troops.

The business autocrats of the Gilded Age could be rude and crude like Gould, Vanderbilt, and Fisk or adopt the veneer of civilization like Pullman.  Some of these “geniuses” of big business belonged to what Americans used to call the “shoddy aristocracy.”  Fisk had, after all, started out as a confidence man in circuses and Gould accumulated his “start-up capital” by bilking a business partner.  “Uncle” Daniel Drew, top dog on Wall Street around the time of the Civil War (and a pious one at that, who founded Drew Theological Seminary), had once been a cattle drover. Before bringing his cows to the New York market, he would feed them salt licks to make sure they were thirsty and then fill them with water so they would make it to the auction block weighing far more than their mere flesh and bones could account for.  He bequeathed America the practice of “watered stock.”

Not all the founding fathers of our original tycoonery, however, were social invisibles or refugees from the commercial badlands.  They could also hail from the highest precincts of the social register.  The Morgans were a distinguished banking and insurance clan going all the way back to colonial days.  J.P. Morgan was therefore to the manor born.  At the turn of the twentieth century, he functioned as the country’s unofficial central banker, meaning he had the power to allocate much of the capital that American society depended on.  Nonetheless, when asked about bearing such a heavy social responsibility, he bluntly responded, “I owe the public nothing.”  

This sort of unabashed indifference to the general welfare was typical and didn’t end in the new century.  During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the managements of some major publicly owned corporations felt compelled by a newly militant labor movement and the shift in the political atmosphere that accompanied President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to recognize and bargain with the unions formed by their employees.  Not so long before, some of these corporations, in particular United States Steel, had left a trail of blood on the streets of the steel towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio when they crushed the Great Steel Strike of 1919.  But times had changed. 

Not so, however, for the adamantine patriarchs who still owned and ran the nation’s “little steel” companies (which were hardly little).  Men like Tom Girdler of Republic Steel resented any interference with their right to rule over what happened on their premises and hated the New Deal, as well as its allies in the labor movement, because they challenged that absolutism.  So it was that, on Memorial Day 1937, 10 strikers were shot in the back and killed while picketing Girdler’s Chicago factory.

The Great U-Turn

By and large, however, the middle decades of the twentieth century were dominated by modern concerns like U.S. Steel, General Motors, and General Electric, whose corporate CEOs were more sensitive to the pressures of their multiple constituencies.  These included not only workers, but legions of shareholders, customers, suppliers, and local and regional public officials. 

Publicly held corporations are, for the most part, owned not by a family, dynasty, or even a handful of business partners, but by a vast sea of shareholders. Those “owners” have little if anything to do with running “their” complex companies.  This is left to a managerial cadre captained by lavishly rewarded chief executives.  Their concerns are inherently political, but not necessarily ideological.  They worry about their brand’s reputation, have multiple dealings with a broad array of government agencies, look to curry favor with politicians from both parties, and are generally reasonably vigilant about being politically correct when it comes to matters of race, gender, and other socially sensitive issues.  Behaving in this way is, after all, a marketing strategy that shows up where it matters most — on the bottom line.

Over the last several decades, however, history has done a U-turn.  Old-style private enterprises of enormous size have made a remarkable comeback.  Partly, this is a consequence of the way the federal government has encouraged private enterprise through the tax code, land-use policy, and subsidized finance.  It is also the outcome of a new system of decentralized, flexible capitalism in which large, complex corporations have downloaded functions once performed internally onto an array of outside, independent firms.   

Family capitalism has experienced a renaissance.  Even giant firms are now often controlled by their owners the way Andrew Carnegie once captained his steel works or Henry Ford his car company.  Some of these new family firms were previously publicly traded corporations that went private.  A buy-out craze initiated by private equity firms hungry for quick turn-around profits, like Mitt Romney’s infamous Bain Capital, lent the process a major hand. This might be thought of as entrepreneurial capitalism for the short-term, a strictly finance-driven strategy.

But family-based firms in it for the long haul have also proliferated and flourished in this era of economic turbulence.  These are no longer stodgy, technologically antiquated outfits, narrowly dedicated to churning out a single, time-tested product.  They are often remarkably adept at responding to shifts in the market, often highly diversified in what they make and sell, and — thanks to the expansion of capital markets — they now enjoy a degree of financial independence not unlike that of their dynastic forebears of the nineteenth century, who relied on internally generated resources to keep free of the banks.  They have been cropping up in newer growth sectors of the economy, including retail, entertainment, energy, finance, and high tech.  Nor are they necessarily small-fry mom-and-pop operations.  One-third of the Fortune 500 now fall into the category of family-controlled. 

Feet firmly anchored in their business fiefdoms, family patriarchs loom over the twenty-first-century landscape, lending it a back-to-the-future air.  They exercise enormous political influence.  They talk loudly and carry big sticks.  Their money elects officials, finances their own campaigns for public office, and is reconfiguring our political culture by fertilizing a rain forest of think tanks, journals, and political action committees.  A nation which, a generation ago, largely abandoned its historic resistance to organized wealth and power has allowed this newest version of the “robber baron” to dominate the public arena to a degree that might have astonished even John Jacob Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The Political Imperative

That ancestral generation, living in an era when the state was weak and kept on short rations, didn’t need to be as immersed in political affairs.  Contacting a kept senator or federal judge when needed was enough.  The modern regulatory and bureaucratic welfare state has extended its reach so far and wide that it needs to be steered, if not dismantled.

Some of our new tycoons try doing one or the other from off-stage through a bevy of front organizations and hand-selected candidates for public office.  Others dive right into the electoral arena themselves.  Linda McMahon, who with her husband created the World Wrestling Entertainment empire, is a two-time loser in senate races in Connecticut.  Rick Scott, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur, did better, becoming Florida’s governor.  Such figures, and other triumphalist types like them, claim their rise to business supremacy as their chief credential, often their only credential, when running for office or simply telling those holding office what to do.

Our entrepreneurial maestros come in a remarkable range of sizes and shapes.  On style points, “the Donald” looms largest.  Like so many nineteenth century dynasts, his family origins are modest.  A German grandfather arriving here in 1885 was a wine maker, a barber, and a saloonkeeper in California; father Fred became the Henry Ford of homebuilding, helped along by New Deal low-cost housing subsidies.  His son went after splashier, flashier enterprises like casinos, luxury resorts, high-end hotels, and domiciles for the 1%.  In all of this, the family name, splashed on towers of every sort and “the Donald’s” image — laminated hair-do and all — became his company’s chief assets.

Famous for nothing other than being very rich, Trump feels free to hold forth on every conceivable subject of public import from same-sex marriage to the geopolitics of the Middle East.  Periodically, he tosses his hat into the electoral arena.  But he comports himself like a clown.  He even has a game named after himself: “Trump — The Game,” whose play currency bears Donald’s face and whose lowest denomination is $10 million.  No wonder no one takes his right-wing bluster too seriously.  A modern day “Jubilee Jim Fisk,” craving attention so much he’s willing to make himself ridiculous, the Donald is his own reality TV show.

Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, looks and dresses like an accountant and lives mainly in the shadows.  Like Trump, he inherited a family business.  Unlike Trump, his family pedigree was auspicious.  His father was Sir Keith, a media magnate from Melbourne, Australia, and Rupert went to Oxford.  Now, the family’s media influence straddles continents, as Rupert attempts — sometimes with great success — to make or break political careers and steer whole political parties to the right.

The News Corporation is a dynastic institution of the modern kind in which Murdoch uses relatively little capital and a complex company structure to maintain and vigorously exercise the family’s control.  When the Ford Motor Company finally went public in 1956, it did something similar to retain the Ford family’s dominant position.  So, too, did Google, whose “dual-class share structure” allowed its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to continue calling the shots.  Murdoch’s empire may, on first glance, seem to conform to American-style managerial corporate capitalism, apparently rootless, cosmopolitan, fixed on the bottom line. In fact, it is tightly tethered to Murdoch’s personality and conservative political inclinations and to the rocky dynamics of the Murdoch succession.  That is invariably the case with our new breed of dynastic capitalists.   

Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and sugar daddy to right-wing political wannabes from city hall to the White House, lacks Murdoch’s finesse but shares his convictions and his outsized ambition to command the political arena.  He’s the eighth richest man in the world, but grew up poor as a Ukrainian Jew living in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.  His father was a cab driver and his mother ran a knitting shop.  He went to trade school to become a court reporter and was a college drop-out.  He started several small businesses that failed, winning and losing fortunes.  Then he gambled and hit the jackpot, establishing lavish hotels and casinos around the world.  When he again lost big time during the global financial implosion of 2007-2008, he responded the way any nineteenth century sea dog capitalist might have: “So I lost twenty-five billion dollars.  I started out with zero… [there is] no such thing as fear, not to any entrepreneur.  Concern, yes.  Fear, no.”  

A committed Zionist, Adelson was once a Democrat.  But he jumped ship over Israel and because he believed the party’s economic policies were ruining the country.  (He’s described Obama’s goal as “a socialist-style economy.”)  He established the Freedom Watch’s dark-money group as a counterweight to George Soros’s Open Society and to MoveOn.org.  According to one account, Adelson “seeks to dominate politics and public policy through the raw power of money.”  That has, for instance, meant backing Newt Gingrich in the Republican presidential primaries of 2012 against Mitt Romney, whom he denounced as a “predatory capitalist” (talk about the pot calling the kettle black!), and not long after, funneling cash to candidate Romney.

Free Markets and the Almighty

Charles and David Koch are perfect specimens of this new breed of family capitalists on steroids.  Koch Industries is a gigantic conglomerate headquartered in the heartland city of Wichita, Kansas.  Charles, who really runs the company, lives there.  David, the social and philanthropic half of this fraternal duopoly, resides in New York City.  Not unlike George “the Duke” Pullman, Charles has converted Wichita into something like a company city, where criticism of Koch Industries is muted at best. 

The firm’s annual revenue is in the neighborhood of $10 billion, generated by oil refineries, thousands of miles of pipelines, paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia Pacific lumber, Lycra, and Stainmaster Carpet, among other businesses.  It is the second largest privately owned company in the United States.  (Cargill, the international food conglomerate, comes first.)  The brothers are inordinately wealthy, even for our “new tycoonery.”  Only Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are richer. 

While the average businessman or corporate executive is likely to be pretty non-ideological, the Koch brothers are dedicated libertarians.  Their free market orthodoxy makes them adamant opponents of all forms of government regulation.  Since their companies are among the top 10 air polluters in the United States, that also comports well with their material interests — and the Kochs come by their beliefs naturally, so to speak. 

Their father, Fred, was the son of a Dutch printer who settled in Texas and started a newspaper.  He later became a chemical engineer and invented a better method for converting oil into gasoline.  In one of history’s little jokes, he was driven out of the industry by the oil giants who saw him as a threat.  Today, Koch Industries is sometimes labeled “the Standard Oil of our time,” an irony it’s not clear the family would appreciate.  After a sojourn in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union (of all places), helping train oil engineers, Fred returned stateside to set up his own oil refinery business in Wichita.  There, he joined the John Birch Society and ranted about the imminent Communist takeover of the government.  In that connection he was particularly worried that “the colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.”

Father Fred raised his sons in the stern regimen of the work ethic and instructed the boys in the libertarian catechism. This left them lifelong foes of the New Deal and every social and economic reform since.  That included not only predictable measures like government health insurance, social security, and corporate taxes, but anything connected to the leviathan state.  Even the CIA and the FBI are on the Koch chopping block. 

Dynastic conservatism of this sort has sometimes taken a generation to mature.  Sam Walton, like many of his nineteenth-century analogs, was not a political animal.  He just wanted to be left alone to do his thing and deploy his power over the marketplace.  So he stayed clear of electoral and party politics, although he implicitly relied on the racial, gender, and political order of the old South, which kept wages low and unions out, to build his business in the Ozarks.  After his death in 1992, however, Sam’s heirs entered the political arena in a big way.

In other respects Sam Walton conformed to type.  He was impressed with himself, noting that “capital isn’t scarce; vision is” (although his “one stop shopping” concept was already part of the retail industry before he started Walmart).  His origins were humble.  He was born on a farm in Kingfisher, Oklahoma.  His father left farming for a while to become a mortgage broker, which in the Great Depression meant he was a farm re-possessor for Metropolitan Life Insurance.  Sam did farm chores, then worked his way through college, and started his retail career with a small operation partly funded by his father-in-law.

At every juncture, the firm’s expansion depended on a network of family relations.  Soon enough, his stores blanketed rural and small-town America.  Through all the glory years, Sam’s day began before dawn as he woke up in the same house he’d lived in for more than 30 years.  Then, dressed in clothes from one of his discount stores, off he went to work in his red Ford pick-up truck.

Some dynasts are pietistic and some infuse their business with religion.  Sam Walton did a bit of both.  In his studiously modest “life style,” there was a kind of outward piety.  Living without pretension, nose to the grindstone, and methodically building up the family patrimony has for centuries carried a sacerdotal significance, leaving aside any specific Protestant profession of religious faith.  But there was professing as well.  Though not a fundamentalist, he was a loyal member of the First Presbyterian Church in Bentonville, Arkansas, where he was a “ruling elder” and occasionally taught Sunday school (something he had also done in college as president of the Burall Bible Class Club).

Christianity would play a formative role in his labor relations strategy at Walmart.  His employees — “associates,” he dubbed them — were drawn from an Ozark world of Christian fraternity which Walmart management cultivated.  “Servant leadership” was a concept designed to encourage workers to undertake their duties serving the company’s customers in the same spirit as Jesus, who saw himself as a “servant leader.” 

This helped discourage animosities in the work force, as well as blunting the — to Walton — dangerous desire to do something about them through unionizing or responding in any other way to the company’s decidedly subpar working conditions and wages.  An aura of Christian spiritualism plus company-scripted songs and cheers focused on instilling company loyalty, profit-sharing schemes, and performance bonuses constituted a twentieth century version of Pullman’s town idyll.

All of this remained in place after Sam’s passing.  What changed was the decision of his fabulously wealthy relatives to enter the political arena.  Walton lobbying operations now cover a broad range of issues, including lowering corporate taxes and getting rid of the estate tax entirely, as his heirs subsidize mainly Republican candidates and causes.  Most prominent of all have been the Walton efforts to privatize education through vouchers or by other means, often enough turning public institutions into religiously affiliated schools.

Wall Street has never been known for its piety.  But the tycoons who founded the Street’s most lucrative hedge funds — men like John Paulson, Paul Tudor James II, and Steve Cohen, among others — are also determined to up-end the public school system.  They are among the country’s most powerful proponents of charter schools.  Like J.P. Morgan of old, these men grew up in privilege, went to prep schools and the Ivy League, and have zero experience with public education or the minorities who tend to make up a large proportion of charter school student bodies.

No matter.  After all, some of these people make several million dollars a day.  What an elixir!  They are joined in this educational crusade by fellow business conquistadors of less imposing social backgrounds like Mark Zuckerberg, who has ensured that Facebook will remain a family domain even while “going public.”  Another example would be Bill Gates, the most celebrated of a brace of techno-frontiersmen who — legend would have it — did their pioneering in homely garages, even though the wonders they invented would have been inconceivable without decades of government investment in military-related science and technology.  What can’t these people do, what don’t they know?  They are empire builders and liberal with their advice and money when it comes to managing the educational affairs of the nation.  They also benefit handsomely from a provision in the tax code passed during the Clinton years that rewards them for investing in “businesses” like charter schools.

Our imperial tycoons are a mixed lot.  They range from hip technologists like Zuckerberg to heroic nerds like Bill Gates, and include yesteryear traditionalists like Sam Walton and the Koch brothers.  What they share with each other and their robber baron ancestors is a god-like desire to create the world in their image. 

Watching someone play god may amuse us, as “the Donald” can do in an appalling sort of way.  It is, however, a dangerous game with potentially deadly consequences for a democratic way of life already on life support.

Steve Fraser is the author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, among other works, and a TomDispatch regular. His next book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, will be published by Little Brown in February. He is a writer, historian, and co-founder of the American Empire Project.

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

Copyright 2014 Steve Fraser

Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com, where you can read Tom Engelhardt’s fascinating introduction.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Secret Tapes Reveal Koch Bros Master Plan To Minimize Wages & Maximize Profits”

The Death of Palestine: Israeli Ambition and Palestinian Weakness

Fri, 12 Sep 2014 - 11:51pm

By Tareq Ramadan

Given the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations alongside the current policies of the Netanyahu administration, the recent Gaza episode can be viewed, in part, as one manifestation of a broader Israeli policy aimed at preventing Palestinian political unity and, by extension, preventing the materialization of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. Before the Israeli annihilation of swathes of Gaza in July and August of this year, Hamas and Fateh (whose relationship is currently on the verge of collapse) were in the midst of political reconciliation with the hope of forming a unity government. Since then, new developments on the ground have begun to clarify Israel’s policy position towards the Palestinians.

A recent land-grab in the West Bank near Bethlehem by the Israeli government and the Israeli repression of West Bank demonstrations are two of the most recent Israeli actions within a long continuum of policies, decisions, and undertakings aimed at destroying any chance for the exercising of Palestinian sovereignty in the territories. The current Israeli position was summed up by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in a recent interview with the Times of Israel, was quoted as saying “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Highlighting the Israeli government’s disdain for serious talks concerning the potential for the formation of a Palestinian state, PeaceNow, an activist Israeli NGO that promotes a two-state solution, published a report in 2013 titled “Settlements & the Netanyahu Government: A Deliberate Policy of Undermining the Two-State Solution” and claimed the following: “The current government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, took office on March 31, 2009. In the period since, its policies and actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The 1999 charter of the Likud party (the party to which Netanyahu belongs) in fact clearly stated that “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river” while the far-right Israeli political party Yisrael Beiteinu, today, make the same claims. These declarations are perfectly in line with former Israeli policy towards the West Bank which has culminated in the confiscation of about 50% of the West Bank through a number of bureaucratic, military, and other court rulings over the past four and a half decades. Additionally, there has been constant settlement-building throughout the West Bank which, according to some of the latest Israeli Interior Ministry figures, puts the Israeli settler population at 375,000 which does not include an additional 200,000 Israeli settlers in annexed East Jerusalem. This means there is more than a whopping half-million illegal Israeli settlers living among the 2.4 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Like several previous Israeli administrations, Netanyahu’s has been actively seeking to destroy the chances for Palestinian statehood by engaging in Israeli expansionism while simultaneously promoting Palestinian political disunity between the secular nationalist Fateh and the religious militant Hamas in attempt to preserve the status quo (i.e. military occupation, control of resources, borders, populations, etc.). In some instances, Israel acted as an encourager of Hamas’s growth and expansion and provided the social welfare organization/charity-turned-political party access to donations and money from the international community which allowed it to develop a strong presence in Gaza and the West Bank in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.

In other instances, it marginalized Hamas, fought them, and refused to negotiate with them. This suited Israel’s goals of postponing and preventing negotiations over statehood by claiming they would never negotiate with a terrorist organization (although the same rhetoric was employed by Israel in reference to the PLO and Fateh for years). This strategy was articulated by the 1993 Oslo Accords which Hamas was vehemently opposed to and which subsequently led to the creation of the Fateh-run Palestinian Authority which became the de facto Palestinian enforcer of Israeli occupation in the West Bank. This point has been made repeatedly by leading Palestinian-American historian Professor Rashid Khalidi. The late Professor Edward Said also offered up strong criticisms of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back in 2003.

Nevertheless, early support of Hamas served Israel’s long-term political strategy which was predicated upon the idea of, quite simply, dividing Palestinian society, fragmenting it politically, and strangling it economically. Ineptitude, rivalries, and the struggle for power among the Palestinian political factions led to a small-scale civil conflict in 2006-2007 (much of which took place in Gaza). After Hamas seized power in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Israel refused to transfer $50 million in Palestinian tax revenues to Fateh (which was no longer the representative government) unless Hamas agreed to several political stipulations which essentially amounted to being more like Fateh, i.e. de-militarized and pacifistic. Hamas’s rejection led to a loss of aid from international donors (U.S., E.U, etc.) leading to a major financial crisis in both Gaza and the West Bank, and as institutions began to crumble, so did Palestinian unity.

The issue of unity, again, has come to the forefront. On Sunday (September 7), P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas (whose presidency expired in 2009) criticized Hamas for its seemingly counter-conducive behavior during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and urged the democratically elected government to relinquish power there or face a dissolving of the two group’s political alliance. The most recent events in the Palestinian territories which include the war on Gaza that killed 2,100 Palestinians, Israel’s recent ‘appropriation’ of 400 hectares (about 1,000 acres) of land in the West Bank for ‘state use’ , and Mahmoud Abbas’s threats to Hamas are all manifestations of an ongoing Israeli campaign to prevent the emergence of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza by keeping the weak, ineffectual, and corrupt Fateh in control of Palestinians since the organization has essentially, since Oslo, played the role of Palestinian handmaiden of the Israeli occupation. Now, pressure is mounting on the increasingly despotic Fateh to re-claim authority in Gaza while the Israelis may be hoping that its most recent war there should delegitimize Hamas in the eyes of its constituents and help turn an increasing number of Palestinians against the militant regime.

However, the failures of the Palestinian political parties to establish an all-encompassing, efficient, stable, and truly representative government in the Palestinian Territories undoubtedly helps Israel achieves its geo-political objectives and creates conditions that make it increasingly easier to export and implement their military, economic, and political policies there. In essence, Fateh (and to some degree, the same can be said about Hamas), with the tacit support of Israel, prefers to remain in power at the expense of Palestinian sovereignty. To the Israelis, the prevention of Palestinian independence is intimately tied to the destabilization of internal Palestinian politics and the Palestinian leadership’s complicity in the matter will equate to a perpetuation of instability and quite possibly, the death of Palestine as both an idea and as a potential nation-state.

Sources

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/09/us-urges-israel-reverse-land-appropriation-20149111628544678.html

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.614519

http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-finally-speaks-his-mind/

http://www.juancole.com/2014/08/charter-destruction-palestinian.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

http://www.haaretz.com/news/israeli-elections-2013/israeli-elections-news-features/likud-beiteinu-struggles-to-reconcile-charter-with-netanyahu-s-two-state-bar-ilan-speech-1.489644

http://peacenow.org.il/eng/content/methods-confiscation-how-does-israel-justify-and-legalize-confiscation-lands

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/96050/World/Region/Israel-West-Bank-settler-population-grows-over–Mi.aspx

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB123275572295011847

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n12/edward-said/a-road-map-to-where

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3409548,00.html

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/palestine-civilwar.htm

http://news.yahoo.com/palestinian-youth-wounded-demonstration-dies-123701002.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israel-claims-400-hectares-in-west-bank-for-state-use-9702112.html

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.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA: “Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza”

Middle East “Allies” decline to Commit Forces, Resources against ISIL

Fri, 12 Sep 2014 - 11:05pm

By Juan Cole

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting in Jedda with ten Middle Eastern foreign ministers produced a communique on Friday, but little more. The regional states promised to do more to stop the transit across their territory of volunteer vigilantes seeking to join the so-called “Islamic State” of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to stop their citizens from sending money to the extremists. That neither of these steps had been taken earlier shows how unseriously Middle Eastern states took the ISIL challenge.

On Friday, faced with another visit of the indefatigable Mr. Kerry, state officials in Cairo, Egypt, were careful to say that they would and could not devote troops on the ground to defeat ISIL. Cairo maintains that its troops are already stretched thin by their current tasks . The Egyptian military is deployed within the country to keep order and to stigmatize the previous regime, on the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. In Sinai and along the Red Sea coast, guerrillas stage frequent attacks on Egyptian troops. In any case, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has other things to do with his army than deploy it directly against ISIL. Perhaps if he stopped maintaining that all Muslim Brothers are terrorists he might have some troops left over with which to deal with ISIL.

Turkey, likewise, has announced that it doesn’t want to get involved with ISIL. The Turkish government has even declined to allow the US to fly anti-ISIL missions from Incirlik Air Base. They will only allow US forces to use Turkish air bases for logistics, i.e. things like ammunition resupply.

Jordan’s main role is apparently intelligence cooperation.

It is a true irony that the two most enthusiastic regional powers in fighting ISIL are Iran and Syria. The Syrian deputy foreign minister explicitly offered Washington an alliance if it wanted one. But the Obama administration has no wish to ally with the brutal Baathists.

As for the West, aside from the UK and Australia, France is stepping up, apparently with an offer to deploy air power against ISIL in Iraq. A Socialist ally may be enough to make the Congressional Tea Party’s heads explode.

—–

Related video:

Euronews: “Paris looks set to join fight against Islamic State in Iraq”

Arabs without God

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 - 11:36pm

By Brian Whitaker, author of Arabs without God

In the midst of sectarian turmoil in the Middle East, one section of Arab society rarely gets much attention: those who reject religion entirely. And yet such people do exist, their numbers appear to be growing and they are beginning to find a voice. Social media have provided them with the tools to express themselves and the uprisings that toppled Arab dictators have emboldened them to speak out.

But in countries where religion permeates most aspects of daily life, publicly challenging belief shocks families, society and governments. Many have been imprisoned merely for expressing their thoughts, others have been forced into exile and some threatened with execution. Many more keep their thoughts to themselves, for fear of the reaction from family, friends and employers.

Muslim societies have had their share of sceptics throughout the centuries but the atheism and agnosticism now emerging, especially among the younger generation, is often the result of a more generalised disaffection. This is scarcely surprising, since religion in the Arab countries – far from being a private matter – has become heavily politicised and is responsible for many of the social restrictions that cause so much frustration, especially among the youth.

To believe in God or not, to practise a religion or not is regarded in many parts of the world as a personal choice – and nobody else’s business. In Arab countries, though, it’s a lot more complicated.

Aside from the laws against blasphemy and apostasy, and the way atheism is often equated with sexual immorality (making young non-believers unsuitable for marriage), religion is far more than a belief system: it’s a major component of Arabs’ identity. Embracing atheism may thus be seen as a betrayal of Arab society and culture, and everything they represent.
This helps to explain the shock – and fear – caused by openly-expressed atheist views, as well as the recent new law in Saudi Arabia which treats “calling for atheist thought” as an act of terrorism.

Much of this is about keeping up appearances – the pretence, largely illusory, of a “pure” Islamic society. There are plenty of Arabs, nominally Muslims, who don’t pray, who drink alcohol, and quietly exempt themselves from fasting during Ramadan. This tends to be accepted, except by extremists, so long as they don’t make a show of it. But declaring a disbelief in God is a different matter altogether.

Public discourse in the Arab countries has opened up considerably during the last few years. Many of the old taboos have been broken and things can be said in public now that would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. Despite that, religion is still generally treated as sacrosanct: directly challenging it or “shaking people’s faith” (to quote Algeria’s law) is the biggest and most untouchable of the remaining taboos.

This, in turn, raises important questions about how best to press for change. In the course of research for my new book, “Arabs Without God”, I spoke to a variety of non-believers. Some could be described as activists who openly question and confront religion in all its forms (as is their right). Others simply want a quiet life; they see no need to advertise their disbelief but resent being forced to comply with rules imposed by believers. Both of these approaches are fraught with difficulties, however, and may also bring their adherents into conflict with the law.

The result is that Arab non-believers face two separate but related struggles. One is their dispute with religion itself; the other is with societies and governments that refuse to accept their disbelief. This broader struggle for personal rights – freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and so on – is one that they share with millions of religious Arabs too, especially religious minorities. Anyone who does not conform to whatever happens to be the local religious orthodoxy is liable to fall victim to blasphemy and apostasy laws or sectarian prejudices.

The irony of this is that while believers and non-believers are on opposite sides where religious ideas are concerned they may also find themselves on the same side in the struggle for freedom of belief. A substantial part of the discussion in “Arabs Without God” is therefore concerned with broader questions of religious liberty which affect believers and non-believers alike.

Nevertheless, minority religious beliefs tend to be more accepted than atheism. There is some recognition of religious diversity, at least among the monotheistic faiths, even if prejudice and discrimination persist. Outright disbelief in God, on the other hand, tends to be greeted with general abhorrence. In lands where religion holds sway, the treatment of non-believers thus becomes the ultimate test: when an atheist can be accepted and respected as a normal human being, liberty will truly have arrived.

***
Brian Whitaker is a journalist specialising in the Middle East. He is the author of “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East” and “ What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East”, both published by Saqi Books. “Arabs Without God” is available in hard copy and as an e-book.

The Israeli version of Steven Salaita: Occupation University fires Professor for Insufficient Zionism

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 - 11:32pm

By Amir Hetsroni

This is how I became the Israeli version of Steven Salaita:   I was teaching at Ariel University when administrators summoned me to a pre-dismissal disciplinary hearings claiming that my views on religion (too atheist), welfare (overly capitalist), gender (not enough feminist) and Zionism (not Zionist and willing to withdraw from practically all the occupied territories) are not in line with the university’s public image. Dozens of professors from various Israeli universities and colleges petitioned against this step, and several protest articles and social network statuses were published.

After a labor court prevented the university from dismissing me in an administrative procedure, the university appointed a special disciplinary committee that included a representative of the public at large who supports the complete erasure of Gaza from the map.  Undeterred, I published an article suggesting that an academic boycott might be justified when an institute entirely violates the basic tenets of free speech and academic freedom, which created waves worldwide.   Thereafter, the disciplinary committee fired me on the spot as my views "hurt public feelings and damage the university’s reputation".

Ariel University tries to claim that the case against me relates to a statement I made on my personal Facebook page some two years ago in a general discussion about the issue of sexual offences. I wrote then that the veracity of testimonies of alleged victims of crime who never reported it to the authorities is questionable. This statement was the focus of disciplinary proceedings that, however, the university withdrew in December of last year because it came to the conclusion that there was no violation of the ethical code. This conclusion changed, all of a sudden, when my political commentary became more critical of Zionism in general and of the occupation of the West Bank in particular.

In 2009 I had joined the ranks of Ariel as a communication professor. At that time Ariel, being mainly a teaching college located in a settlement at the heart of the occupied Palestinian territories (but practically speaking not letting Palestinians enroll), aspired to obtain recognition as a research-first university, and was aided by a strong political lobby. Did I not know, then, about the occupation?  Of course I did, but apart from the fact that I too had bills to pay, I truly believed that it is possible to uphold democratic academic standards even in such difficult circumstances.  

At first, it seemed to work. For a number of years, Ariel did not put restrictions on freedom of expression or academic freedom. When I published in 2011 a column that cast heavy doubts on the veracity of Zionist ideals and suggested that is better for Jews to live outside Israel – nobody on campus said a word. Nor did they say anything when I wrote in another op-ed published in a year earlier that it is about time to forego the law of return which gives any Jews around the world, regardless of their criminal record, the right to naturalize in Israel at any moment. In fact, Ariel even suggested at that time that as part of its upgrade to a university status it would welcome Palestinians as faculty.

Needless to say, to this day not a single person of Palestinian origin has given one lecture in the settlers’ academe.  The problem, however, is not only with what did not occur but mainly with what did happen. Right after Ariel gained a university status, democracy and personal freedom died an early death.  I say this even though I know personally many good people there (they typically joined Ariel only when vacancies in other universities in Israel dried up). Moreover, a large part of the research conducted in Ariel is terrific. Unfortunately, it is not a remedy to the lack of personal freedom.

The first victim first was a guest student from Russia, Asya Kazanzeva, who commented in her blog that one of her lecturers insists that God’s existence is a scientifically proven fact whereas Dawin was wrong all the way.  The university’s reaction was to warn her not to criticize Ariel in public and threaten her with a fine. She left the country. The second victim was my student, Rinat Zolek, who wrote on her Facebook page that studying in Ariel was a bad decision and that given the political circumstances of which she became aware during her studies she would have preferred to spend her time in a Syrian prison and not in Ariel. She was suspended. The court still sits on her case. The third victim was a Palestinian-Israeli student, Ya-Ya Hajj-Yahya, who after the kidnapping of three settlers (what became a preamble to the latest war in Gaza) published a social media status that was supposedly “not condemning enough of the kidnappers”. She was summoned to disciplinary hearings.

However, personal witch hunting is not the sole deviation from democratic principles at Ariel University. This institute introduces pseudo-academic programs run by Chabad and other orthodox missionary organizations, tempting students to take part by granting them academic credits in exchange.  Class attendance, by the way, is checked by fingerprints. Last but not least, the university lately ratified a charter insisting that it is not just a scientific institute but a research institute with a Zionist perspective.

The university chancellor further declared that non-Zionists are no longer welcome on campus – neither as students nor as faculty and the university president published an official letter announcing that anyone who teaches or studies in Ariel is not allowed to utter non-Zionist statements.  I guess that in such circumstances I am indeed no longer welcome. The question is how the academic community and the public at large should deal with Ariel given polices that violate the essence of academia?

 

 

Amir Hetsroni is a political commentator, a novelist, and was a professor of communication at Ariel University- an Israeli university located in the West Bank. He is in dispute with the university, which sent him a dismissal notice.

——

Video added by Juan Cole:

JewishNewsONe: “Israeli higher education: West Bank settlement college upgraded to university status”

How the Gaza War Backfired on Netanyahu

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 - 11:27pm

By Ramzy Baroud (Maan News Agency)

Netanyahu’s war-turned-genocide in Gaza has backfired badly — his strategy has helped resurrect Hamas, the very movement he tried desperately to crush.

Aside from being a major military setback, Israel’s war on Gaza has also disoriented the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu like never before. Since the announcement of a ceasefire on Aug. 26, his statements appear erratic and particularly uncertain, an expected outcome of the Gaza war.

Since his first term as a prime minister (1996-99), Netanyahu has showed particular savviness at fashioning political and military events to neatly suit his declared policies. He fabricated imminent threats that were neither imminent nor threats, for example, Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Later, he took on Iran.

He created too many conditions and laid numerous obstacles for peace settlements to ever be realized. The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, labored for years to meet Israel’s conditions, and failed. Abbas has taken the same futile road. But Netanyahu’s conditions are specifically designed to be unattainable.

For example, Netanyahu insists that the Palestinian leadership must accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, despite the fact that millions of Palestinian Muslims and Christians share that land, which has for centuries constituted the land of historic Palestine. Signing off the rights of non-Jews is not only undemocratic, but also tantamount to clearing the way for another campaign of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

But in actuality, none of this truly matters to Netanyahu. For him, protracted “peace talks” are a smokescreen for his illegal settlement construction project, which remains as ravenous as ever. He is confiscating occupied Palestinian land with impunity, while insisting that Israel’s intentions have always been, and remain peaceful.

Political survival

For nearly two decades, Netanyahu negotiated his political survival based on that very strategy, skillfully, although underhandedly playing on existing fears and engineering security threats. For him, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, Syria and so on, are essentially one and the same.

Of course, they are not, and he knows it well.

If one skims through his speeches and media interviews throughout the years, one can easily spot the oddly fashioned discourse. No threat, however, was as consistently exaggerated and misleadingly presented as that of Hamas. Whenever the Iran discourse grew too redundant and unconvincing, and when Hezbollah (especially in the last three years) grew irrelevant, he infused Hamas.

Many in the media willingly or out of sheer ignorance, played into Netanyahu’s hand, presenting the Palestinian political movement with a military wing as a menace that has “sworn” to destroy Israel.

That demonization of Palestinians was an essential component in Israel’s military strategies throughout the years, starting with the fidayeen, then the socialists, the PLO, and so on. It made the political price for war relatively easy. And, for Israel, war is a primary pillar of their policies in the region, where land is confiscated, Israel’s enemies are reminded of their place, and “taught a lesson” whenever such a lesson is needed.

War for Israel is also important as a tool to distract from political trouble at home, an under-performing economy or whatever else. Netanyahu’s and Israel’s wars on Gaza in recent years often served as that distraction from one failed policy or another. Bombing Gaza was quite a convenient and rarely costly strategy to boost the credential of Israeli politicians. Ariel Sharon mastered that art, as others did before him, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, and of course, Netanyahu himself.

One could argue that Israel’s recent war on Gaza, code-named Operation Protective Edge, which began this year on July 7, would have taken place even if Israel’s prime minister was someone other than Netanyahu. All signs were in place that made the Israeli military move impending.

Rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, reached a unity agreement, despite strong Israeli rejection. Alone, that would have been a compelling reason for Israel to feel the need to squash Hamas and end the need for unity in the first place.

But more importantly, the mood in the West Bank was begging for change. Protests and rallies were reported throughout the West Bank in June, despite Israeli attempts to crush them, with the help of the goons of the US-funded and trained PA security.

Indeed, that was more important than the unity deal itself. Palestinians were being mobilized outside the fractured political landscape that has for years existed between Hamas and Fatah. Taking the focus back to Gaza, where Netanyahu was leading a supposed war to fight terrorism, extremism and Israel’s arch enemies who are “sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state” seemed, from Israel’s Machiavellian logic, like a good idea.

In fact, Netanyahu succeeded, at least temporarily, to distract from the looming confrontation in the West Bank. But what he expected was a relatively easy battle. Hamas and other resistance groups were arguably weakened due to the advent of the so-called Arab Spring. They were partly disowned by Iran and entirely disowned by Syria, which is busy fighting its own civil war. Moreover, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt left Hamas politically frail and exposed.

In fact, it was such vulnerability that pushed Hamas to a unity deal with Mahmoud Abbas, who, according to the deal, maintained a degree of dominance over all Palestinian factions, including Hamas itself. Just before the war, a June public opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that PA President Mahmoud Abbas was winning the trust of 53 percent of Palestinians, while Hamas’ Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh received the support of 41 percent.

Disastrous war

Netanyahu’s war was the Israeli leadership’s attempt at capitalizing on Hamas’ purported decline. But the war was a disaster and it failed miserably. It killed more than 2,150 Palestinians and wounded over 11,000 more.

The Israeli army was held back by a unified Palestinian resistance front. It lost 64 soldiers and hundreds more were injured. It cost the Israeli economy millions. The war to end Hamas gave birth to the strongest Palestinian resistance front ever.

When the war ended on Aug. 26, Netanyahu, the keen politician who insisted on defining the political discourse of any war or major political event, simply disappeared. Two days later, he held a press conference in which he declared that Israel had “won.”

But both Israelis and Palestinians disagreed. According to a poll conducted shortly after the ceasefire announcement and reported in the Israeli Jerusalem Post, 54 percent of Israelis believe they lost the war.

On the other hand, numbers among Palestinians have dramatically shifted as well. According to PCPSR, 61 percent of Palestinians would now vote for Haniyeh, a huge climb from few weeks earlier; 94 percent were satisfied with the resistance military performance; and, more astoundingly, 79 percent said that Palestinian resistance had “won” the conflict.

Netanyahu’s war-turned-genocide backfired beyond anyone’s expectations. He helped resurrect the very movement he tried to crush. And now he is desperately back attempting to reconstruct the lost political discourse, associating Hamas to vile terrorists, and absurdly presenting Israel as a victim, just as Palestinians finished burying thousands of their dead.

This time, however, few seem to believe him.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Mirrored from Maan News Agency

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France24 News: “Rebuilding Gaza: The long road ahead”

Video added by Juan Cole

Russia denounces Obama Plan for Syria Air Strikes as Violation of Int’l Law

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 - 11:03pm

By Juan Cole

Russia on Thursday pushed back against President Obama’s state plans for taking on the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in Syria.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich remarked on television: “The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” “This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

The Russian ambassador to the United States, Vitaly Churkin insisted that the Syrian government would have to give its consent, otherwise the operation to bomb ISIL in Syria “will complicate international operations and will pose problems for Russia as well as for many other countries respecting international law, including China. . . Respect for international law is necessary so that the international community is able to take consolidated actions on a problem as complicated as this one and if it [the US] opts for such actions, its choice will be highly regrettable and will create obstacles for further cooperation…”

Russia is divided over the new US initiative. It is desperately afraid of ISIL (in which Chechen fighters serve) and happy enough that the US had decided to intervene against it. But it doesn’t want the US overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and trying to turn Syria into a US sphere of influence.

Britain’s government is divided over the international legality of any bombing raids on Syria. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond had ruled out British air strikes on that country but Prime Minister David Cameron says that they are still on the table.

For my overview of the legal issues, see this blog entry

ISIL in Iraq is unambiguous, and there the Obama administration has Russia and Iran as behind the scenes allies in defeating the terrorist organization. ISIL in Syria is also opposed by Russia and Iran, but they want the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad to be the beneficiary of ISIL’s defeat. The Obama administration imagines that there is still a “moderate” opposition that it can back against both ISIL and al-Assad.

In essence then, in Iraq the outside great powers are on the same page. But in Syria, the Obama administration is setting up a future proxy war between itself and Russia once ISIL is defeated (if it can be), not so dissimilar from the Reagan proxy war in Afghanistan, which helped created al-Qaeda and led indirectly to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Obama had earlier argued against arming Syrian factions. My guess is that Saudi Arabia and other US allies in the region made tangible backing for the Free Syrian Army on Obama’s part a quid pro quo for joining in the fight against ISIL.

In Jedda, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine were not so tragic, Russian expressions of concern over international law in Syria would be laughable. Kerry secured support for the US push against ISIL from 10 Middle Eastern countries in Jedda, though it remains to be seen whether this resolution is more than lip service.

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Related Video:

RT: “US strikes, intervention against ISIS in Syria could turn against army’

Obama’s ISIL Actions are Defensive, Despite Rhetoric of going on Offense

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 - 1:16am

By Juan Cole

President Obama’s speech launching his war on ISIL avoided the qualifications that he had earlier made, which had produced caviling inside the Beltway from politicians who confuse careless belligerency with decisiveness.

From a language of containing ISIL, he was forced to speak of degrading and destroying it. He went back and forth between trying to reassure the left wing of the Democratic Party that he had not suddenly been possessed by the ghost of Dick Cheney and assuring the skittish American people that he was going to make mincemeat of the terrorist American-beheaders.

Analysts will focus on his four-step program of fighting ISIL, but it is in the president’s analogies to his present battle that we find clues to what he really expects to happen. He says that this is not a war as Iraq and Afghanistan were wars, i.e. with the commitment of several divisions of conventional US ground troops. He cautioned:

“But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

Invoking Yemen and Somalia is a signal of minimalism in every way. On MSNBC, veteran, experienced and brilliant correspondent Richard Engel took apart this analogy. He pointed out that Yemen and Somalia are holding actions but that in Iraq the US and its allies would have to take territory.

But what if Obama is talking big but carrying a soft stick? What if he really does mean he has a Yemen-like situation in mind?

What if Obama wants to prevent the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and even Riyadh? What if he is privately skeptical about Baghdad recovering Mosul any time soon? He has after all used drones in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan not to inflict military defeat but for tactical advantage. Iraq and Syria are the new Waziristan.

Yemen is of course a mess. In the north you have a Zaidi Shiite rebellion, the Houthis, who recently have threatened the capital, Sanaa. In the south you have secessionists of various stripes, some nationalists and some fundamentalists. On the Red Sea coast you have Sufis and some Salafi fundamentalists, the latter shading at one end of the spectrum into al-Qaeda. You also have al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsuala (AQAP) in the south and east. A third of Yemenis go to bed hungry every night. The country suffers from lack of water. Oil exports are limited. It is the poorest Arabic-speaking country. US air strikes and drones have arguably alienated and radicalized more Yemenis than they have killed al-Qaeda members.

The best that can be said for US actions against AQAP in Yemen is that they may have forestalled AQAP and kindred groups from taking and holding some provinces. For instance, AQAP took over Zinjibar and some other towns in Abyan Province in 2011, but in 2012 a government offensive backed by US air power and aided by grassroots anti-al-Qaeda popular committees expelled AQAP from Abyan.

True, AQAP relocated east to Hadramawt, and it still kills Yemeni soldiers, but it is farther from Sanaa now and it really did lose Abyan province, which it had hoped to make a caliphate.

Obama hinted in his speech that he wants to help Baghdad and Erbil take back towns from ISIL just as Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen, took back Zinjibar. And just as AQAP hasn’t disappeared in Yemen, Obama expects ISIL to be around for a while. In essence, the Yemen policy has de facto yielded a sort of containment with regard to AQAP, though how successful it will be in the long run can be questioned.

What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about AQAP) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.

Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.

The White House: “President Obama Addresses the Nation on the ISIL Threat”

ISIL isn’t Medieval: Revolution, Terror and Statemaking are Modern

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 - 11:47pm

By Kevin McDonald, Middlesex University

Over recent weeks there has been a constant background noise that Islamic State and its ideology are some sort of throwback to a distant past. It is often framed in language used last week by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who claimed that ISIS is “medieval”. In fact, the terrorist group’s thinking is very much in a more modern western tradition.

Clegg’s intervention is not surprising. Given the extreme violence of Islamic State fighters and the frequent images of decapitated bodies, it is understandable that we attempt to make sense of this violence as somehow radically “other”.

But this does not necessarily help us understand what is at stake. Above all, this tends to accept one of the core assertions of contemporary jihadism, namely its claim that it reaches back to the origins of Islam. As one Islamic State supporter I follow on Twitter is fond of saying: “the world changes, Islam doesn’t”.

Generation gap

This is not just a question for academic debate. It has real impact. One of the attractions of jihadist ideology to many young people is that it shifts generational power in their communities. Jihadists and, more broadly, Islamists present themselves as true to their religion, while their parents, so they argue, are mired in tradition or “culture”.

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology, with a very significant debt to western political history and culture.

When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque, declaring the creation of an Islamic State with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker, Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term “Islamic State”.

Maududi’s Islamic State is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts. He takes a belief shared between Islam and other religious traditions, namely that God alone is the ultimate judge of a person, and transforms this – reframing God’s possession of judgement into possession of, and ultimately monopoly of, “sovereignty”. Maududi also draws upon understandings of the natural world governed by laws that are expressions of the power of God – ideas at the heart of the 17th-century scientific revolution. He combines these in a vision of the sovereignty of God, then goes on to define this sovereignty in political terms, affirming that “God alone is the sovereign” (The Islamic Way of Life). The State and the divine thus fuse together, so that as God becomes political and politics becomes sacred.

Western tradition

Such sovereignty is completely absent in medieval culture, with its fragmented world and multiple sources of power. Its origins lie instead in the Westphalian system of states and the modern scientific revolution.

But Maududi’s debt to European political history extends beyond his understanding of sovereignty. Central to his thought is his understanding of the French Revolution, which he believed offered the promise of a “state founded on a set of principles” as opposed to one based upon a nation or a people. For Maududi this potential withered in France, its achievement would have to await an Islamic state (The Process of the Islamic Revolution).


Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix
Storm Crypt, CC BY-SA

In revolutionary France, it is the state that creates its citizens and nothing should be allowed to stand between the citizen and the state. That is why still today French government agencies are prevented by law from collecting data about ethnicity, considered a potential intermediary community between state and citizen.

This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam” (Islamic Way of Life). Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.

Modern violence

Don’t look to the Koran to understand this – look to the French Revolution and ultimately to the secularisation of an idea that finds its origins in European Christianity: Extra ecclesia nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), an idea that became transformed with the birth of modern European states into Extra stato nulla persona (outside the state there is no legal personhood). This idea still demonstrates extraordinary power today, the source of what it means to be a refugee.

If IS’s Islamic State is profoundly modern, so too is its violence. IS fighters do not simply kill. They seek to humiliate as we saw last week as they herded Syrian reservists wearing only their underpants to their death. And they seek to dishonour the bodies of their victims, in particular through postmortem manipulations.

Such manipulations aim at destroying the body as a singularity. The body becomes a manifestation of a collectivity to be obliterated, its manipulation rendering what was once a human person into an “abominable stranger”. Such practices are increasingly evident in war today, from the Colombian necktie to troops trading images of body parts to access pornographic websites during the Iraq war.

Central to IS’s programme is its claim to Muslim heritage (witness al-Baghdadi’s dress). Part of countering this requires understanding the contemporary sources of its ideology and its violence. In no way can it be understood as a return to the origins of Islam. This is a core thesis of its supporters, one that should not be given any credence at all. Nazism wasn’t medieval, nor is Islamic State.

Next, read this: There is nothing ‘medieval’ about Islamic State atrocities – they’re just cruel and brutal

Kevin McDonald has received funds from the European Commission as a Marie Curie International Fellow and the Australian Research Council. Part of this article draws on research funded through those grants.

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

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Iraqi forces make further advances against ISIL”

ISIL Fighting With Weapons From US and 'Moderate' Syrian Rebels: Report

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 - 11:27pm

By Sarah Lazare via Commondreams.org

The Islamic State (IS) is now in possession of lethal weapons formerly owned by so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels, as well as large quantities of arms produced in the United States, a new report (PDF) reveals

The study — conducted by Conflict Armament Research, a research organization that tracks weapons proliferation in war zones — documents arms and ammunition captured by Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Peshmerga forces from IS in Iraq and Syria from from mid-June to early August 2014.

The researchers found that M79 anti-tank rockets used by IS in Syria are “identical” to those shipped by Saudi Arabia to Free Syrian Army fighters in 2013. Furthermore, the report states that IS combatants are using “significant quantities of US-manufactured small arms and have employed them on the battlefield” and provides numerous photographs of assault rifles, which were seized by IS, that are engraved with “Property of U.S. Government.”

“This is one more piece of evidence of why military solutions have devastating consequences in the immediate and long terms,” said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams. “We see an example of the consequences of the over-arming of the region if we look back at Afghanistan in the 1980s during the anti-Soviet War when the U.S. provided stinger missiles that can bring down aircraft to mujahedin guerrillas who morphed into al Qaeda.”

The researchers uncovered evidence that weapons intermediaries sought to conceal the source of the arms by removing serial numbers with torches. “The consistent welding methods applied to several weapons suggests that the same party removed the serial numbers — most likely to conceal the point at which parties diverted the weapons from legal (state-owned) to illicit (non-state) custody; and that the weapons were diverted from a common source,” states the write-up.

The report aims to “review physical evidence” about weapons captured by IS forces and does not make claims about who or what is responsible for the weapons flow, state the researchers. Whether the weapons are captured by IS or willingly transferred by other militias, the findings are likely to bolster warnings that U.S., Saudi, and other states’ arms shipments to so-called moderate Syrian combatants will ultimately contribute to the rise of IS, which is far stronger than the FSA.

The U.S. last spring escalated arms shipments to combatants of what was referred to as the Free Syrian Army, following covert programs, in cooperation with allies including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to ship weapons and money to armed groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The U.S. has no way to bring pressure on Iran and Russia to stop arming the regime in Damascus as long as the U.S. and its allies are arming all the rebels,” said Bennis. “We need an arms embargo on all sides.”

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

Mirrored from Commondreams.org

————-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

“Isis, the war in Syria and the dangers facing freelance journalists | Guardian Explainers ”

US, Iraq have same child homicide rate – UNICEF

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 - 11:17pm

RT America: “America leads all Western nations in the number of child homicide victims, according to a new report from UNICEF. In 2012, there were four adolescent homicides per 100,000 people in the US, which is on par with the child death toll in Iraq. RT’s Ameera David takes a look at the troubling figures.”

RT America: “US, Iraq have same child homicide rate – UNICEF”

UNICEF Press Release from last week:

NEW YORK – The largest-ever compilation of data on violence against children shows the staggering extent of physical, sexual and emotional abuse — and reveals the attitudes that perpetuate and justify violence, keeping it ‘hidden in plain sight’ in every country and community in the world.

“These are uncomfortable facts — no government or parent will want to see them,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “But unless we confront the reality each infuriating statistic represents — the life of a child whose right to a safe, protected childhood has been violated — we will never change the mind-set that violence against children is normal and permissible. It is neither. “

The UNICEF report Hidden in Plain Sight draws on data from 190 countries, documenting violence in places where children should be safe: their communities, schools and homes. It details the lasting, often inter-generational effects of violence, finding that exposed children are more likely to become unemployed, live in poverty and be violent towards others. The authors note that the data is derived only from individuals who were able and willing to respond, and therefore represent minimum estimates.

Major findings include:

• Sexual violence: Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 worldwide (about 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts, and one in 3 ever-married adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 (84 million) have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners. The prevalence of partner violence is 70 per cent or higher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea, and approaches or exceeds 50 per cent in Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In Switzerland, a 2009 national survey of girls and boys aged 15 to 17 found that 22 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively, had experienced at least one incident of sexual violence involving physical contact. The most common form of sexual violence for both sexes was cyber-victimization.

• Homicide: One fifth of homicide victims globally are children and adolescents under the age of 20, resulting in about 95,000 deaths in 2012. Homicide is the leading cause of death among males between 10 and 19 years old in Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia. Nigeria has the highest number of child homicides – 13,000. Among countries in Western Europe and North America, the United States has the highest homicide rate.

• Bullying: Slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide are regularly bullied in school; in Samoa, the proportion is almost 3 in 4. Almost a third of students 11 to 15 years old in Europe and North America report bullying others – in Latvia and Romania, nearly 6 in 10 admit to bullying others.

• Violent discipline: About 17 per cent of children in 58 countries are subject to severe forms of physical punishment (hitting on the head, ears or face or hitting hard and repeatedly). Over 40 per cent of children 2 to 14 years old experience severe physical punishment in Chad, Egypt and Yemen. Globally, three in 10 adults believe physical punishment is needed to raise children well. In Swaziland, 82 per cent say physical punishment is necessary.

• Attitudes towards violence: Close to half of all adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 (around 126 million) believe a husband is justified in hitting his wife under certain circumstances. The proportion rises to 80 per cent or more in Afghanistan, Guinea, Jordan, Mali and Timor-Leste. In 28 of 60 countries with data on both sexes, a larger proportion of girls than boys believe that wife-beating is sometimes justified. In Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Rwanda and Senegal, girls are around twice as likely as boys to think a husband is sometimes justified in hitting his wife. Data from 30 countries suggest that about seven in 10 girls 15-19 years old who had been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse had never sought help: many said they did not think it was abuse or did not see it as a problem.

UNICEF points to six strategies to enable society as a whole, from families to governments, to prevent and reduce violence against children. They include supporting parents and equipping children with life skills; changing attitudes; strengthening judicial, criminal and social systems and services; and generating evidence and awareness about violence and its human and socio-economic costs, in order to change attitudes and norms.

“Violence against children occurs every day, everywhere. And while it harms individual children the most, it also tears at the fabric of society — undermining stability and progress. But violence against children is not inevitable. It is preventable — if we refuse to let violence remain in the shadows,” Lake said. “The evidence in this report compels us to act — for the sake of those individual children and the future strength of societies around the world.”

Ed. note: An average of eight children and teens under the age of 20 are killed in the US by guns every day, i.e. nearly 3,000 a year. – JC

Gaza and Israel: Serial “Ceasefires” and the 70-Year War Continues (Chomsky)

Tue, 9 Sep 2014 - 11:35pm

By Noam Chomsky

On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same.  The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has officially recognized — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”

The first of this series was the Agreement on Movement and Access Between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005.  It called for “a crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah for the export of goods and the transit of people, continuous operation of crossings between Israel and Gaza for the import/export of goods, and the transit of people, reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank, bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza, the building of a seaport in Gaza, [and the] re-opening of the airport in Gaza” that Israeli bombing had demolished.

That agreement was reached shortly after Israel withdrew its settlers and military forces from Gaza.  The motive for the disengagement was explained by Dov Weissglass, a confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in charge of negotiating and implementing it. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Weissglass informed the Israeli press. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [U.S.] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” True enough.

“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” Weissglass added. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”  Israeli hawks also recognized that instead of investing substantial resources in maintaining a few thousand settlers in illegal communities in devastated Gaza, it made more sense to transfer them to illegal subsidized communities in areas of the West Bank that Israel intended to keep.

The disengagement was depicted as a noble effort to pursue peace, but the reality was quite different.  Israel never relinquished control of Gaza and is, accordingly, recognized as the occupying power by the United Nations, the U.S., and other states (Israel apart, of course).  In their comprehensive history of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, Israeli scholars Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar describe what actually happened when that country disengaged: the ruined territory was not released “for even a single day from Israel’s military grip or from the price of the occupation that the inhabitants pay every day.” After the disengagement, “Israel left behind scorched earth, devastated services, and people with neither a present nor a future.  The settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and kill and harass its inhabitants by means of its formidable military might.”

Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense 

Israel soon had a pretext for violating the November Agreement more severely. In January 2006, the Palestinians committed a serious crime.  They voted “the wrong way” in carefully monitored free elections, placing the parliament in the hands of Hamas.  Israel and the United States immediately imposed harsh sanctions, telling the world very clearly what they mean by “democracy promotion.” Europe, to its shame, went along as well.

The U.S. and Israel soon began planning a military coup to overthrow the unacceptable elected government, a familiar procedure. When Hamas pre-empted the coup in 2007, the siege of Gaza became far more severe, along with regular Israeli military attacks.  Voting the wrong way in a free election was bad enough, but preempting a U.S.-planned military coup proved to be an unpardonable offense.

A new ceasefire agreement was reached in June 2008.  It again called for opening the border crossings to “allow the transfer of all goods that were banned and restricted to go into Gaza.” Israel formally agreed to this, but immediately announced that it would not abide by the agreement and open the borders until Hamas released Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

Israel itself has a long history of kidnapping civilians in Lebanon and on the high seas and holding them for lengthy periods without credible charge, sometimes as hostages.  Of course, imprisoning civilians on dubious charges, or none, is a regular practice in the territories Israel controls.  But the standard western distinction between people and “unpeople” (in Orwell’s useful phrase) renders all this insignificant.

Israel not only maintained the siege in violation of the June 2008 ceasefire agreement but did so with extreme rigor, even preventing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which cares for the huge number of official refugees in Gaza, from replenishing its stocks.

On November 4th, while the media were focused on the U.S. presidential election, Israeli troops entered Gaza and killed half a dozen Hamas militants.  That elicited a Hamas missile response and an exchange of fire.  (All the deaths were Palestinian.)  In late December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire.  Israel considered the offer, but rejected it, preferring instead to launch Operation Cast Lead, a three-week incursion of the full power of the Israeli military into the Gaza strip, resulting in shocking atrocities well documented by international and Israeli human rights organizations.

On January 8, 2009, while Cast Lead was in full fury, the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution (with the U.S. abstaining) calling for “an immediate ceasefire leading to a full Israeli withdrawal, unimpeded provision through Gaza of food, fuel, and medical treatment, and intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.”

A new ceasefire agreement was indeed reached, but the terms, similar to the previous ones, were again never observed and broke down completely with the next major mowing-the-lawn episode in November 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense.  What happened in the interim can be illustrated by the casualty figures from January 2012 to the launching of that operation: one Israeli was killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

The first act of Operation Pillar of Defense was the murder of Ahmed Jabari, a high official of the military wing of Hamas.  Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, described Jabari as Israel’s “subcontractor” in Gaza, who enforced relative quiet there for more than five years.  As always, there was a pretext for the assassination, but the likely reason was provided by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin.  He had been involved in direct negotiations with Jabari for years and reported that, hours before he was assassinated, Jabari “received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.”

There is a long record of Israeli actions designed to deter the threat of a diplomatic settlement.  After this exercise of mowing the lawn, a ceasefire agreement was reached yet again.  Repeating the now-standard terms, it called for a cessation of military action by both sides and the effective ending of the siege of Gaza with Israel “opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas.”

What happened next was reviewed by Nathan Thrall, senior Middle East analyst of the International Crisis Group.  Israeli intelligence recognized that Hamas was observing the terms of the ceasefire. “Israel,” Thrall wrote, “therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza’s waters.” In other words, the siege never ended. “Crossings were repeatedly shut.  So-called buffer zones inside Gaza [from which Palestinians are barred, and which include a third or more of the strip’s limited arable land] were reinstated.  Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.”

Operation Protective Edge 

So matters continued until April 2014, when an important event took place.  The two major Palestinian groupings, Gaza-based Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank signed a unity agreement.  Hamas made major concessions. The unity government contained none of its members or allies.  In substantial measure, as Nathan Thrall observes, Hamas turned over governance of Gaza to the PA.  Several thousand PA security forces were sent there and the PA placed its guards at borders and crossings, with no reciprocal positions for Hamas in the West Bank security apparatus.  Finally, the unity government accepted the three conditions that Washington and the European Union had long demanded: non-violence, adherence to past agreements, and the recognition of Israel.

Israel was infuriated.  Its government declared at once that it would refuse to deal with the unity government and cancelled negotiations.  Its fury mounted when the U.S., along with most of the world, signaled support for the unity government.

There are good reasons why Israel opposes the unification of Palestinians.  One is that the Hamas-Fatah conflict has provided a useful pretext for refusing to engage in serious negotiations.  How can one negotiate with a divided entity?  More significantly, for more than 20 years, Israel has been committed to separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords it signed in 1993, which declare Gaza and the West Bank to be an inseparable territorial unity.

A look at a map explains the rationale.  Separated from Gaza, any West Bank enclaves left to Palestinians have no access to the outside world. They are contained by two hostile powers, Israel and Jordan, both close U.S. allies — and contrary to illusions, the U.S. is very far from a neutral “honest broker.”

Furthermore, Israel has been systematically taking over the Jordan Valley, driving out Palestinians, establishing settlements, sinking wells, and otherwise ensuring that the region — about one-third of the West Bank, with much of its arable land — will ultimately be integrated into Israel along with the other regions that country is taking over.  Hence remaining Palestinian cantons will be completely imprisoned.  Unification with Gaza would interfere with these plans, which trace back to the early days of the occupation and have had steady support from the major political blocs, including figures usually portrayed as doves like former president Shimon Peres, who was one of the architects of settlement deep in the West Bank.

As usual, a pretext was needed to move on to the next escalation.  Such an occasion arose when three Israeli boys from the settler community in the West Bank were brutally murdered.  The Israeli government evidently quickly realized that they were dead, but pretended otherwise, which provided the opportunity to launch a “rescue operation” — actually a rampage primarily targeting Hamas.  The Netanyahu government has claimed from the start that it knew Hamas was responsible, but has made no effort to present evidence.

One of Israel’s leading authorities on Hamas, Shlomi Eldar, reported almost at once that the killers very likely came from a dissident clan in Hebron that has long been a thorn in the side of the Hamas leadership.  He added, “I’m sure they didn’t get any green light from the leadership of Hamas, they just thought it was the right time to act.”

The Israeli police have since been searching for and arresting members of the clan, still claiming, without evidence, that they are “Hamas terrorists.” On September 2nd, Haaretz reported that, after very intensive interrogations, the Israeli security services concluded the abduction of the teenagers “was carried out by an independent cell” with no known direct links to Hamas.

The 18-day rampage by the Israeli Defense Forces succeeded in undermining the feared unity government.  According to Israeli military sources, its soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six, while searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000.  Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing five Hamas members on July 7th.

Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 18 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext to launch Operation Protective Edge on July 8th.  The 50-day assault proved the most extreme exercise in mowing the lawn — so far.

Operation [Still to Be Named]

Israel is in a fine position today to reverse its decades-old policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of its solemn agreements and to observe a major ceasefire agreement for the first time.  At least temporarily, the threat of democracy in neighboring Egypt has been diminished, and the brutal Egyptian military dictatorship of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is a welcome ally for Israel in maintaining control over Gaza.

The Palestinian unity government, as noted earlier, is placing the U.S.-trained forces of the Palestinian Authority in control of Gaza’s borders, and governance may be shifting into the hands of the PA, which depends on Israel for its survival, as well as for its finances.  Israel might feel that its takeover of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has proceeded so far that there is little to fear from some limited form of autonomy for the enclaves that remain to Palestinians.

There is also some truth to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation: “Many elements in the region understand today that, in the struggle in which they are threatened, Israel is not an enemy but a partner.” Akiva Eldar, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent, adds, however, that “all those ‘many elements in the region’ also understand that there is no brave and comprehensive diplomatic move on the horizon without an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a just, agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.” That is not on Israel’s agenda, he points out, and is in fact in direct conflict with the 1999 electoral program of the governing Likud coalition, never rescinded, which “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

Some knowledgeable Israeli commentators, notably columnist Danny Rubinstein, believe that Israel is poised to reverse course and relax its stranglehold on Gaza.

We’ll see.

The record of these past years suggests otherwise and the first signs are not auspicious.  As Operation Protective Edge ended, Israel announced its largest appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years, almost 1,000 acres.  Israel Radio reported that the takeover was in response to the killing of the three Jewish teenagers by “Hamas militants.” A Palestinian boy was burned to death in retaliation for the murder, but no Israeli land was handed to Palestinians, nor was there any reaction when an Israeli soldier murdered 10-year-old Khalil Anati on a quiet street in a refugee camp near Hebron on August 10th, while the most moral army in the world was smashing Gaza to bits, and then drove away in his jeep as the child bled to death.

Anati was one the 23 Palestinians (including three children) killed by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank during the Gaza onslaught, according to U.N. statistics, along with more than 2,000 wounded, 38% by live fire. “None of those killed were endangering soldiers’ lives,” Israeli journalist Gideon Levy reported.  To none of this is there any reaction, just as there was no reaction while Israel killed, on average, more than two Palestinian children a week for the past 14 years.  Unpeople, after all.

It is commonly claimed on all sides that, if the two-state settlement is dead as a result of Israel’s takeover of Palestinian lands, then the outcome will be one state West of the Jordan.  Some Palestinians welcome this outcome, anticipating that they can then conduct a civil rights struggle for equal rights on the model of South Africa under apartheid.  Many Israeli commentators warn that the resulting “demographic problem” of more Arab than Jewish births and diminishing Jewish immigration will undermine their hope for a “democratic Jewish state.”

But these widespread beliefs are dubious.

The realistic alternative to a two-state settlement is that Israel will continue to carry forward the plans it has been implementing for years, taking over whatever is of value to it in the West Bank, while avoiding Palestinian population concentrations and removing Palestinians from the areas it is integrating into Israel.  That should avoid the dreaded “demographic problem.”

The areas being integrated into Israel include a vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem, the area within the illegal “Separation Wall,” corridors cutting through the regions to the East, and will probably also encompass the Jordan Valley.  Gaza will likely remain under its usual harsh siege, separated from the West Bank.  And the Syrian Golan Heights — like Jerusalem, annexed in violation of Security Council orders — will quietly become part of Greater Israel.  In the meantime, West Bank Palestinians will be contained in unviable cantons, with special accommodation for elites in standard neocolonial style.

These basic policies have been underway since the 1967 conquest, following a principle enunciated by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, one of the Israeli leaders most sympathetic to the Palestinians.  He informed his cabinet colleagues that they should tell Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, “We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”

The suggestion was natural within the overriding conception articulated in 1972 by future president Haim Herzog: “I do not deny the Palestinians a place or stand or opinion on every matter… But certainly I am not prepared to consider them as partners in any respect in a land that has been consecrated in the hands of our nation for thousands of years.  For the Jews of this land there cannot be any partner.” Dayan also called for Israel’s “permanent rule” (“memshelet keva“) over the occupied territories.  When Netanyahu expresses the same stand today, he is not breaking new ground.

Like other states, Israel pleads “security” as justification for its aggressive and violent actions.  But knowledgeable Israelis know better.  Their recognition of reality was articulated clearly in 1972 by Air Force Commander (and later president) Ezer Weizmann.  He explained that there would be no security problem if Israel were to accept the international call to withdraw from the territories it conquered in 1967, but the country would not then be able to “exist according to the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”

For a century, the Zionist colonization of Palestine has proceeded primarily on the pragmatic principle of the quiet establishment of facts on the ground, which the world was to ultimately come to accept.  It has been a highly successful policy.  There is every reason to expect it to persist as long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic, and ideological support.  For those concerned with the rights of the brutalized Palestinians, there can be no higher priority than working to change U.S. policies, not an idle dream by any means.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems, Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published this week by Haymarket Books, which is also reissuing 12 of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His work is regularly posted at TomDispatch.com.  His website is www.chomsky.info.

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 Noam Chomsky

Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com where you can read Tom Engelhardt’s essential introduction.

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ARIRANG NEWS: “Gaza ceasefire shaky under current pressure”

Climate Change is the real Terrorist (Young Turks)

Tue, 9 Sep 2014 - 11:32pm

Cenk Uygur, The Young Turks

“Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse hit a record in 2013 as carbon dioxide concentrations grew at the fastest rate since reliable global records began, the World Meteorological Organization said on Tuesday.

“We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a statement accompanying the WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

“Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” Jarraud said. “* The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur breaks it down.”

The Young Turks: “If Terrorists Were As Dangerous As Climate Change…

Hamas, Shmamas: It’s about Israeli National Ambitions

Tue, 9 Sep 2014 - 11:25pm

By Brian K. Barber, special to Informed Comment

Much recent commentary on forging a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israel makes two deceptive and unproductive claims: 1) Hamas is responsible for the recent violence and must alter its behavior; 2) More generally, both Israel and Palestinians must make “painful concessions.” This preoccupation with Hamas severely overinflates its role and importance. The call for parallel, substantial concessions distorts the reality that only one side, Israel, has power and control of the other side. Therefore, only Israel has the capacity to make substantive changes.

First, let me make clear how I feel about Hamas.

On March 25th, 2011, I was harshly threatened and very nearly beaten by Hamas adherents in the Gaza Strip, a place where I have spent much time over the past 20 years. The Tunisia and Egypt-mimicking Day of Rage quickly became factional and by nightfall Hamas police set out to clear a square packed with thousands of anti-Hamas protesters.

Companions and I were ordered off the sidewalk. We were then chased away from the square by a gang of young thugs flailing wooden sticks; only to be confronted from the other direction by a gang of older, pipe wielding thugs. They never hit us, but it was clear that they would have. The raw panic in the eyes of my companions revealed that they likely knew all too well from personal experience what such a beating would have been like.

They had accomplished their goal of preventing us from viewing the Hamas sweep of the square. Fifteen minutes later the square was vacant; not even the scent of a person remained; just a haunting desolation. The morning news brought the details of the brutal operation.

My little personal experience is, of course, insignificant, except to reveal my own antipathy to such a group. Its penchant for brutality is plenty evident in its vicious crackdown on tribal and political factions within Gaza in 2007, not to mention the horrific spate of suicide bombings in Israel during the early late 1990s.

And, yes, recently Hamas shoots rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. Yes, it build tunnels to gain military access into Israel. Yes, it governs its people with an iron fist.

But, if we could take Hamas out of the picture with a magic wand, would it bring us any closer to peace? To say yes is to inflate the relevance of the current moment. Or, to use a fancy but necessary word, it decontextualizes the conflict.

Hamas wasn’t even organized until 1987—20 years after Israel took control of the territories—and it didn’t ascend to any meaningful level of influence until nearly 2000, as a militant force, and 2006 as a governing entity. During the late 1990s, when I spent much of my time in Gaza, adherents of Hamas were very much on the public fringe. Friends would often surreptitiously point out “a bearded one” and make light of him.

That Hamas has never enjoyed majority support is also clear statistically. Polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research asking who respondents would vote for in a new election (this question was first asked in December 2005) reveal that average support in Gaza for Hamas from December 2005 through June 2014 has been only 35% (28% in the West Bank).

But that changed dramatically in the recent outbreak of violence. Ironically, the real impact of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza is not best appreciated in the harrowing numbers of death, injury, and destruction. Rather, it is seen in the unification of Palestinians, and, specifically, in their increased support for Hamas. Notably, this is true especially in the West Bank. The first poll since the war ended last week shows that the percentage of Gazans who would vote for Hamas in a new election has risen to 44%, and to 47% of West Bankers. Moreover, relative to ratings for the PA (36%), the reconciliation government (43%), and the PLO (44%), fully 88% of all Palestinians registered approval of Hamas’ performance.

Repeatedly over the past weeks I have asked my friends and colleagues in Gaza if they were angry at Hamas for bringing this death and destruction upon them. The answer has been firmly and uniformly “no.” And, the immediate clarification of that answer, from the poorest refugee camp dweller to the most accomplished professional, reveals the essentiality of the historical context. To a one, people have defended Hamas’ resistance—not out of ideological sympathies, but as imperative because they feel that Israeli control over their lives has reached a level of suffocation and a degree of dehumanization that resistance is no longer optional, but reflexive. A common, morbid refrain was: “We are dying anyway. Our only choice is between a slow and a quick death.”

Put differently, the recent preoccupation with demands for Hamas’ behavior—stopping rockets and tunnels, demilitarizing, resigning political authority, etc.—fails to recognize that Hamas’ extremism is best seen as a barometer of the extremity of the conditions on the ground. It dismisses the fact that all in Gaza are Palestinian and that what drives them is the historical context they have collectively endured.

Let’s set aside the frequently deliberated questions of morality and humanity and focus simply on the pragmatic realities on the ground. The frequency and lethality of outbreaks like this summer mean that the status quo is unsustainable. Fundamental change of some kind is needed.

Who has the power and capacity to make such change? The answer is not Hamas. The answer is Israel. This is so simply because Israel wields full control over Palestinian life, and specifically so in the very territories that most on the outside presume, unknowingly, to be under the authority of Palestinians.

In three geographical snapshots, here is what some of that control looks like:

The West Bank

Israeli’s full control over the West Bank is evident firstly in the administrative structure of the territory. Too few know that since 1995 the West Bank has been divided into three distinct areas. The resource-rich Area C is the largest and encompasses fully 60% of the territory. Israel has complete control–civic and security–in Area C.

The two-plus million Arabs in the West Bank are overwhelmingly concentrated in Areas A and B. Only some 150,000 live in Area C, as do over 300,000 Jewish settlers living in over 200 settlements or outposts. This Jewish population has increased systematically and purposively since 1995 via the unrestrained settlement program. Currently, roughly 70% of Area C is off-limits to Arab use and development.

In terms of authority, no Palestinian officer is encountered anywhere in the entry or departure process to or from the West Bank. No one, foreign or local, gets into or out of the West Bank without passing pass through militarized Israeli checkpoints. All Palestinians need to apply to Israeli military authorities for a permit to leave the West Bank, even to nearby Jerusalem, with no reliable expectation of approval. Access to Gaza can only be achieved via a circuitous route through Jordan and Egypt.

Within the West Bank, daily access by Palestinians to employment, health care, education, commerce, and family is tightly controlled or interrupted by Israel through a dominating spread of up to 500 movement barriers, including up to 80 formal militarized checkpoints.
East Jerusalem

Israel exercises complete control of the eastern portion of Jerusalem where Arabs lives. There is no official Palestinian presence: no diplomatic office, no border control, no ministries, no municipal offices, and no police.

Over one-quarter of the nearly 300,000 Arab residents of East Jerusalem are separated from the urban center by the Wall/Barrier, necessitating the crossing of crowded checkpoints on a daily basis to access all key services.

Approximately 200,000 Jews are now living in East Jerusalem, with some 2,000 settled in the heart of Arab neighborhoods. Approximately one-third of the land has been confiscated for Jewish settlement use, with less than 15% zoned for Arab construction (largely areas that are already built-up).

Approximately one-third of Arab homes in East Jerusalem lack difficult-to-achieve Israeli-issued building permits, placing the occupants at risk for eviction and home demolition. Some 2,000 Arab homes in East Jerusalem have been demolished since 1967.

The Gaza Strip

Israel fully controls the Gaza Strip. The Strip is completely encircled on the north and east by electrified fence or concrete wall with a heavy presence of Israeli military forces. No one leaves or enters Gaza from or to Israel without advance permit from the Israeli military forces. The Israeli navy patrols the sea coast, forbidding traffic and constraining fishing. For many years, drones patrol the skies over Gaza, missiles from which have often been used to assassinate individuals in Gaza. Egypt, now very closely aligned politically with Israel, controls the southern border.

Israel has forbidden the construction of a sea port. It once allowed construction of a small airport, but subsequently bombed it out of service. It fully controls imports and exports and since 2007, a formal blockade has been placed on Gaza by Israel, severely restricting importation of goods. Much of the water and electricity that Gazans use is controlled by Israel.

Whatever one’s position on the reasons, propriety or effectiveness of this degree of Israeli control, the readily observable facts on the ground make clear that when it comes to power, this is not a lop-sided conflict, but a one-sided one. Quite literally, Israel fully controls the essentials of life—mobility, access to all key resources, identity—in all three territories where Palestinians live.

Moreover, long-term trends in Israeli government decision-making—especially the settlement programs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank—make it further clear that this level of control is intentional and increasing, and that it reflects Israeli national priorities and ambitions. Palestinians are undivided in viewing this control as the source of their discontent, and its expansion as their source of hostility.

When viewed from this lens of power and practical control over daily life, there is only one address for expecting peace-leading change, and it is not Hamas, or even the PA. The only reasonable starting point in any discussion or negotiation must be to direct a question squarely to Israel: “How much of your power over Palestinian life are you willing to give up in order to make peace?”

Brian K. Barber is Jacobs Foundation Fellow at the New America Foundation and Director, Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, University of Tennessee

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Related video added by Juan Cole

TeleSur English: “Gaza truce continues amid Israeli violations”

3 Years War? Obama to Bomb Syria in fight against ISIL

Tue, 9 Sep 2014 - 11:12pm

By Juan Cole

Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura at WaPo report on a Monday evening dinner at the White House attended by foreign policy experts, in which President Obama expressed confidence that he had the authority to bomb ISIL positions in Syria.

In other reports, Obama officials have leaked that they think this is a 3 years war. (Ronald Reagan began vastly increasing the aid to Afghan rebels against the then Communist government in Kabul in 1982, and US counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in that country is still going on in 2014, 32 years later; so three years have a way of becoming multiplied by 10).

Everyone should just understand that the social science literature finds that external interventions typically extend, not shorten, civil wars, as Marc Lynch has pointed out.

At the same time, Obama appears to envisage arming and training the “moderates” of the Free Syrian Army, who have consistently been pushed to the margins by al-Qaeda offshoots and affiliates. Private billionaires in the Gulf will continue to support ISIL or its rival, Jabhat al-Nusra (the Succor Front, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda). Strengthening yet another guerrilla group will, again, likely prolong the fighting. Moreover, in the past two years, Free Syrian Army moderate groups have gone radical and joined Nusrah or ISIL at an alarming rate. Defectors or defeated groups from the FSA will take their skills and arms with them into the al-Qaeda offshoots.

In Iraq, while giving the Kurds and the Iraqi army close air support against ISIL has already borne fruit when the local forces were defending their ethnic enclaves, it hasn’t helped either largely Kurdish forces or the (largely Shiite) Iraqi army take Sunni Arab territory. Several campaigns against Tikrit have failed. The only thing worse than this failure might be success.

Success would mean smart phone video making its way to YouTube showing US bombing urban residential buildings full of Sunni Arab families in support for a motley crew of Kurdish (non-Arab) fighters and Shiite troops and militiamen. Helping such forces take Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, would make for a very bad image in the Sunni world.

US hopes of enlisting Sunni “tribes” led by people like Ahmad Abu Risha are probably not very realistic. Sunni notables in the cities and ex-Baath officers need to be convinced to break with ISIL. One might ask where all the Iraq oil money has gone. With Brent crude mostly over $100 a barrel in recent years, and Iraq exporting 3 mn barrels a day or so, the government should be enormously wealthy. But Sunni Arabs complain of poverty, unemployment and no services or electricity. What’s wrong with this picture? Inefficiency and corruption are part of the story of the disaffection of the Sunnis in Iraq; and those faults are in the main US ally!

Giving close air support to Middle Eastern groups requires US special forces on the ground, to paint lasers on the targets. And if the campaign isn’t finished in 3 years, there will be pressure from Washington hawks to commit troops (there already is). Governments don’t like to be seen failing, and sometimes will double down in a gamble.

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Related video

ARIRANG NEWS: “U.S. launches airstrikes around Iraq′s second largest dam, Obama to announce strikes”