Uri Avnery's Column: “Racists for Democracy”

by Uri Avnery

HOW LUCKY we are to have the extreme Right standing guard over our democracy.

This week, the Knesset voted by a large majority (47 to 34) for a law that threatens imprisonment for anyone who dares to deny that Israel is a Jewish and Democratic State.

The private member’s bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev of the “Jewish Home” party, which sailed through its preliminary hearing, promises one year in prison to anyone who publishes “a call that negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”, if the contents of the call might cause “actions of hate, contempt or disloyalty against the state or the institutions of government or the courts”.

One can foresee the next steps. A million and a half Arab citizens cannot be expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. They want it to be “a state of all its citizens” – Jews, Arabs and others. They also claim with reason that Israel discriminates against them, and therefore is not really democratic. And, in addition, there are also Jews who do not want Israel to be defined as a Jewish State in which non-Jews have the status, at best, of tolerated outsiders.

The consequences are inevitable. The prisons will not be able to hold all those convicted of this crime. There will be a need for concentration camps all over the country to house all the deniers of Israeli democracy.

The police will be unable to deal with so many criminals. It will be necessary to set up a new unit. This may be called “Special Security”, or, in short, SS.

Hopefully, these measures will suffice to preserve our democracy. If not, more stringent steps will have to be taken, such as revoking the citizenship of the democracy-deniers and deporting them from the country, together with the Jewish leftists and all the other enemies of the Jewish democracy.

After the preliminary reading of the bill, it now goes to the Legal Committee of the Knesset, which will prepare it for the first, and soon thereafter for the second and third readings. Within a few weeks or months, it will be the law of the land.

By the way, the bill does not single out Arabs explicitly – even if this is its clear intention, and all those who voted for it understood this. It also prohibits Jews from advocating a change in the state’s definition, or the creation of a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine or spreading any other such unconventional ideas. One can only imagine what would happen in the US if a senator proposed a law to imprison anyone who suggests an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

THE BILL does not stand out at all in our new political landscape.

This government has already adopted a bill to imprison for three years anyone who mourns the Palestinian Naqba – the 1948 uprooting of more than half the Palestinian people from their homes and lands.

The sponsors expect Arab citizens to be happy about that event. True, the Palestinians were caused a certain unpleasantness, but that was only a by-product of the foundation of our state. The Independence Day of the Jewish and Democratic State must fill us all with joy. Anyone who does not express this joy should be locked up, and three years may not be enough.

This bill has been confirmed by the Ministerial Commission for Legal Matters, prior to being submitted to the Knesset. Since the rightist government commands a majority in the Knesset, it will be adopted almost automatically. (In the meantime, a slight delay has been caused by one minister, who appealed the decision, so the Ministerial Commission will have to confirm it again.)

The sponsors of the law hope, perhaps, that on Naqba Day the Arabs will dance in the streets, plant Israeli flags on the ruins of some 600 Arab villages that were wiped off the map and offer up their thanks to Allah in the mosques for the miraculous good fortune that was bestowed on them.

THIS TAKES me back to the 60s, when the weekly magazine I edited, Haolam Hazeh, published an Arabic edition. One of its employees was a young man called Rashed Hussein from the village of Musmus. Already as a youth he was a gifted poet with a promising future.

He told me that some years earlier the military governor of his area had summoned him to his office. At the time, all the Arabs in Israel were subject to a military government which controlled their lives in all matters big and small. Without a permit, an Arab citizen could not leave his village or town even for a few hours, nor get a job as a teacher, nor acquire a tractor or dig a well.

The governor received Rashed cordially, offered him coffee and paid lavish compliments to his poetry. Then he came to the point: in a month’s time, Independence Day was due, and the governor was going to hold a big reception for the Arab “notables”; he asked Rashed to write a special poem for the occasion.

Rashed was a proud youngster, nationalist to the core, and not lacking in courage. He explained to the governor that Independence Day was no joyful day for him, since his relatives had been driven from their homes and most of the Musmus village’s land had also been expropriated.

When Rashed arrived back at his village some hours later, he could not help noticing that his neighbors were looking at him in a peculiar way. When he entered his home, he was shocked. All the members of his family were sitting on the floor, the women lamenting at the top of their voices, the children huddling fearfully in a corner. His first thought was that somebody had died.

“What have you done to us!” one of the women cried, “What did we do to you?”

“You have destroyed the family,” another shouted, “You have finished us!”

It appeared that the governor had called the family and told them that Rashed had refused to fulfill his duty to the state. The threat was clear: from now on, the extended family, one of the largest in the village, would be on the black list of the military government. The consequences were clear to everyone.

Rashed could not stand up against the lamentation of his family. He gave in and wrote the poem, as requested. But something inside him was broken. Some years later he emigrated to the US, got a job there at the PLO office and died tragically: he was burned alive in his bed after going to sleep, it appears, while smoking a cigarette.

THESE DAYS are gone forever. We took part in many stormy demonstrations against the military government until it was finally abolished in 1966. As a newly elected Member of Parliament, I had the privilege of voting for its abolition.

The fearful and subservient Arab minority, then amounting to some 200 thousand souls, has recovered its self-esteem. A second and third generation has grown up, its downtrodden national pride has raised its head again, and today they are a large and self-confident community of 1.5 million. But the attitude of the Jewish Right has not changed for the better. On the contrary.

In the Knesset bakery (the Hebrew word for bakery is Mafia) some new pastries are being baked. One of them is a bill that stipulates that anyone applying for Israeli citizenship must declare their loyalty to “the Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State”, and also undertake to serve in the army or its civilian alternative. Its sponsor is MK David Rotem of the “Israel is Our Home” party, who also happens to be the chairman of the Knesset Law Committee.

A declaration of loyalty to the state and its laws – a framework designed to safeguard the wellbeing and the rights of its citizens – is reasonable. But loyalty to the “Zionist” state? Zionism is an ideology, and in a democratic state the ideology can change from time to time. It would be like declaring loyalty to a “capitalist” USA, a “rightist Italy”, a ”leftist” Spain, a “Catholic Poland” or a “nationalist” Russia.

This would not be a problem for the tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews in Israel who reject Zionism, since Jews will not be touched by this law. They obtain citizenship automatically the moment they arrive in Israel.

Another bill waiting for its turn before the Ministerial Committee proposes changing the declaration that every new Knesset Member has to make before assuming office. Instead of loyalty “to the State of Israel and its laws”, as now, he or she will be required to declare their loyalty “to the Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State of Israel, its symbols and its values”. That would exclude almost automatically all the elected Arabs, since declaring loyalty to the “Zionist” state would mean that no Arab would ever vote for them again.

It would also be a problem for the Orthodox members of the Knesset, who cannot declare loyalty to Zionism. According to Orthodox doctrine, the Zionists are depraved sinners and the Zionist flag is unclean. God exiled the Jews from this country because of their wickedness, and only God can permit them to return. Zionism, by preempting the job of the Messiah, has committed an unpardonable sin, and many Orthodox Rabbis chose to remain in Europe and be murdered by the Nazis rather than committing the Zionist sin of going to Palestine.

THE FACTORY of racist laws with a distinct fascist odor is now working at full steam. That is built into the new coalition.

At its center is the Likud party, a good part of which is pure racist (sorry for the oxymoron). To its right there is the ultra-racist Shas party, to the right of which is Lieberman’s ultra-ultra racist “Israel is our Home” party, the ultra-ultra-ultra racist “Jewish Home” party, and to its right the even more racist “National Union” party, which includes outright Kahanists and stands with one foot in the coalition and the other on the moon.

All these factions are trying to outdo each other. When one proposes a crazy bill, the next is compelled to propose an even crazier one, and so on.

All this is possible because Israel has no constitution. The ability of the Supreme Court to annul laws that contradict the “basic laws” is not anchored anywhere, and the Rightist parties are trying to abolish it. Not for nothing did Avigdor Lieberman demand – and get – the Justice and Police ministries.

Just now, when the governments of the US and Israel are clearly on a collision course over the settlements, this racist fever may infect all parts of the coalition.

If one goes to sleep with a dog, one should not be surprised to wake up with fleas (may the dogs among my readers pardon me). Those who elected such a government, and even more so those who joined it, should not be surprised by its laws, which ostensibly safeguard Jewish democracy.

The most appropriate name for these holy warriors would be “Racists for Democracy”.

More Israeli terrorism: Settlers attack Palestinian farmers as they work their land in Saffa

from Ha'aretz

Clashes erupted on Saturday between settlers and left-wing activists who were trying to help Palestinians with agricultural work near the village of Safa in the West Bank.

Activists from the Jewish-Arab rights group Ta’ayush arrived at the village, which is located near the settlement of Bat Ayin, and were attacked by 15 to 20 masked settlers, according to one of the activists.

Activist Mairav Zonszein told Haaretz that the settlers assaulted the activists and pelted them with stones, breaking one of their cameras, and flipping over one of their cars, breaking the windshield.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Border Police armed with batons arrived and forcefully removed the demonstrators from the scene, according to Zonszein. Border Police then declared the area a closed military zone. No injuries were reported.

Zonszein added that five activists were arrested under the closed military zone order, which she stressed had been enforced only on Israeli and Palestinian activists and not on settlers. Two Palestinians were also arrested, according to Army Radio.

The area around Bat Ayin and Safa has been the site of previous clashes between settlers, left-wing activists and Palestinians. In April, at least 17 people were wounded during altercations between dozens of settlers Palestinians after a 13-year-old boy from Bat Ayin was murdered by an axe-wielding Palestinian.


Robert Fisk's World: You don't need colour to tell the brutality of war – but it helps

by Robert Fisk

French troops march to their deaths in red kepis, the British in brown uniforms

French television can be the dullest in the world – but justice where justice is due. Jean-François Delassus has just sent me his 100-minute documentary for France 2 on the 1914-18 war – 14-18, Le Bruit and La Fureur – and it is an absolute cracker.

Not only has the archive footage been brilliantly "sounded" (the French sonorisé is somehow more elegant) but it has been expertly colourised. French troops march to their deaths with red kepis; British soldiers celebrate the end of war in brown uniforms (along with a Brit who has dressed himself up in German field grey plus rifle and bayonet). 

At one point, an airship, movie camera attached, flies over the mud of the trenches and across a smashed French town where streams of refugees are trudging home. Some of this is so startling that it's difficult to realise that everyone in camera-shot is long dead.

Not all of the footage is new. The British film of the Somme contains some familiar carnage but the French battle of Chemin des Dames is absolutely terrifying. At the Somme, General Haig had a plan that didn't work. At Chemins des Dames, Nivelle didn't even have a plan and the French mutinied. They wouldn't abandon their trenches and go home – the great fear of every Allied general – but they wouldn't go forward (an eminently sensible idea) until Nivelle was fired and replaced by our old chum General Pétain. And there they all are – in full colour.

Some elements of this extraordinary film I took exception to. I'm not sure, for example, whether the use of movie film clips, albeit scrupulously labelled, in among the archive material really works. But the music, specially composed for the film, has a brooding orchestral majesty. It's almost impossible not to cry. There is one haunting shot of a French peasant soldier, staring into the camera and suddenly breaking into an innocent smile.

Far more terrifying is the footage of war wounded, heads half torn away, ears missing, jaws missing. A shell-shocked soldier is marched into the square of a military hospital and half-walks, half-staggers, head to the ground like a broken animal before a doctor (in a vilely dirty jacket) pats him on the back and he leaves.

At the top of a shell-snapped tree, a soldier lies on his back, head down, his corpse spiked through with wood, crucified by gunfire. And my God, the guns do fire. British guns, German guns, French guns, even Italian guns, spitting rocks off snow-covered mountainsides. Even the Versailles palace comes alive in gold. At the 1919 treaty, one elderly French statesman said that Europe had won itself a 20-year ceasefire – he got it spot on. 

How did men survive in this hell, the film asks us, and I am not sure the question is answered. I suppose there is a camaraderie in war although I have yet to witness it. (There is a very funny but dark shot of a trench of British soldiers getting snowballed by their comrades.) 

But then again, every soldier believed he would be home by Christmas, and then by the Christmas after that and then by the next Christmas. And I rather suspect that's what happens in wars. There is always going to be one more push, one more brilliant attack, the great break-out. And when wars end, the exhaustion has drained the energy out the populations that have fought. 

But this is not just a war film. Before 1914, we actually see the crowds of Paris taking their café au lait in brightly coloured hats. An old green French metro train glides self-confidently into a station as the entire world – the belle époque of one soldier's memory – drifts grotesquely towards that awful war. 

I hadn't quite realised how much combat footage exists from 1914-18, but when Delassus' film ends, there is one quite awful moment.

From right of the camera a squadron of British cavalry rides in line across open countryside on the Western Front. I watched mesmerised. Why were we watching this after the final captions? And right in the middle of the line of riders, a shell suddenly cracks down and you can just see two horses writhing in agony. 

One horseman gallops back towards the devastation. And then, from close to the left of the camera, a British soldier, holding his helmet on to his head, runs across the countryside to the smoke and carnage. And just as he is about to reach it, the film runs out. 

We don't know where this happened; we do not know the British regiment or its casualties, just that lonely figure running under fire to help his mates. A soldier of the Great War.

The endless plight of Palestinian refugees

from The Palestine Telegraph

The plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continues to be largely ignored by the international community, especially in the wake of recent violence in Gaza, the president of a leading non-governmental organization has said. After the 1948 conflict with Israel, thousands of Palestinians fled to neighboring Lebanon in what many thought would be a temporary exodus.

Today, the refugees remain, having grown into a sizeable community of over 400,000, meaning they count for roughly a tenth of Lebanon's entire population. But despite their large numbers, Palestinian refugees face considerable obstacles in Lebanese society. They are barred from all but the most menial professions, cannot own property, and face social isolation by living in squalid camps often set apart from local communities.

"'Don't forget us' - I think that has to be the cry of all Palestinians," said Bill Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), during a visit to Lebanon this week. The Washington-based organization has been working since 1968 to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians and other impoverished communities in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. But while the organization is dedicated to supporting the Palestinians, the international community finds it "easy to ignore them and just have them in a corner keeping quiet," Corcoran said, making particular reference to the deplorable situation at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli, North Lebanon.

The camp was all but destroyed in 2007 when the Lebanese Armed Forces fought to obliterate a militant group, Fatah al-Islam, which had based itself there. The fighting killed 400 people, including 169 soldiers and an unverified number of Palestinian camp residents, and left the camp's 30,000 inhabitants homeless for a second time in history. Two years on, $440 million of international assistance required to rebuild has fallen through. "I'm very concerned at the fact that all these pledges were made and only 10 percent have been received," Corcoran told The Daily Star. "It frightens us that Nahr al-Bared and the conditions of the Palestinians in Lebanon seem to have been forgotten."

He hoped the camp would not be forgotten as the international community made pledges to rebuild Gaza after Israel's December 2008- January 2009 onslaught. "It can't be Gaza versus Nahr al-Bared. It has to be both," he said.

ANERA also works with poor Lebanese communities, often living on the fringes of the country's 12 official refugee camps, or with Palestinians in unofficial gatherings. "We want to be someone who comes in and through projects tries to unite people," Corcoran added.

Nevertheless, a solution for the Palestinians was fundamental to achieving a safer world, the NGO executive said. "If we don't solve this, we're going to be in constant crisis because the Middle East conflict is fuel for other problems around the world."

Israeli forces attempt to legitimize pre-meditated murder and land annexation

by Eva Bartlett

from In Gaza

“Life is hard for Palestinian farmers in the border region near Israel. The IOF shoot at us every day, any time. They shoot at the international volunteers (ISM) also.”

This was Jaber Abu Rjila testifying some of what he has experienced in the last decade on his land less than 300m from the border with Israel.

Yesterday, the day before Abu Rjila was interviewed, Israeli occupation forces dropped leaflets along the border area, from north to south, announcing Israel’s unilateral decision that the border area is off-limits and that, by dropping leaflets, Israeli soldiers have the right to shoot to kill anyone found within 300m of the fence. [see translation of the message at the bottom of the page]

Dropping leaflets to try to legitimize Israeli crimes is nothing new: during the 23 day massacre of Gaza, Israeli soldiers dropped leaflets announcing areas which were subject to mass-bombing, saying the residents must leave. Such action does not suddenly render international law insignificant, nor –even if legality were not a question –does it realistically afford the Palestinian civilians in question any option of alternate existence.

During the war, there was no place that people in Gaza felt safe, for good reason, as Israel bombed anything moving and any sanctuary. The leaflets were irrelevant.

As they are here. The farmers and civilians living in the so-called ‘buffer zone’ (Israel-designated; running only along the Palestinian side) have no options to relocate. Gaza, as one may recall, is an incredibly small and densely-populated strip. An incredibly impoverished strip, after the manufactured economical, employment, sanitation, health, nutrition, and education crises, to name just some.

The farmers and civilians living in the 500m to 1 km region along the border have in many cases worked this land for generations. For the majority, this is their only source of income, however meager that may be, particularly since Israel does not allow the export of goods formerly sent to European markets, like strawberries, fruit, carnations, all of which fetched impressive prices.

Those farmers who do not live on the land are working it as their only source of employment, taking home at best $5 a day, when they feel like risking their lives to work.

The Israeli declaration that they will shoot anyone in the border regions is nothing new: Israeli soldiers have been targeting Palestinians and the internationals who accompany them for years. Since the end of the war on Gaza, January 18, alone Israeli soldiers have killed at least 3 people in the border region, including a child, and have injured another 12, including 3 minors and 2 women.

Many of these injuries have occurred at distances greater than 300m, greater even than 500m, from the fence. The injured and killed have been clearly unarmed, visibly no threat to well-armed Israeli soldiers.

In our days accompanying farmers, we have seen Israeli soldiers park their military jeeps and hummers, observe the farmers for lengthy periods, and suddenly begin to shoot dangerously close to the farmers and to us. The soldiers have had ample time to count the number of people present, to watch our activities (the most dangerous aspect of which may be slicing parsley or some poor attempts at Dabke dancing in quieter moments).

Some incidents, recapped, to highlight just how these Israeli army aggressions affect and destroy Palestinians lives:

-Maher Abu-Rajileh (24) from Huza’ah village, east of Khan Younis, was killed by soldiers on January 18 when he returned with his parents and brother to farmland 400m from the Green Line following Israel’s announcement of a ceasefire. At 10 am, after he had spent two hours cleaning up the land from the destruction wreaked by Israeli bulldozers and tanks, Israeli soldiers opened fire, shooting Maher in the chest, killing him instantly.

-On Jan. 20, Israeli soldiers fired on residents of Al-Qarara, near Khan Younis, shooting Waleed Al-Astal (42) in his right foot.

-Soldiers opened fire on Khuza’a village, east of Khan Yunis, on Jan. 23, shooting Nabeel Al-Najjar (40) in the left hand.

-On Jan. 25, Israeli soldiers shot Subhi Qudaih (55) in the back while he was on Khuza’a village farmland.

-On Jan. 27, just outside of Al-Farahin, also east of Khan Younis, soldiers killed Anwar Al-Buraim (26), shooting him in the neck while he picked vegetables on land approximately 500m from the Green Line.

-On February 14th, at approximately 12:00, the body of Hammad Barrak Salem Silmiya, 13, from al-Qerem area east of Jabalia town in the northern Gaza Strip, was brought to Shifa’ Hospital in Gaza City. The child had been shot in the head. According to his family, IOF troops fired at him while he was herding animals in the east of Jabalia town.

-On Feb. 18, farmers returned to harvest land approximately 500 metres from the Green Line where Anwar Al-Buraim was shot dead weeks earlier. As the farm workers were leaving the land, Israeli soldiers targeted Mohammad Al- Buraim, a deaf 20-year-old and cousin of Anwar. Mohammad was with a group of approximately ten farmers pushing their stalled pick-up truck loaded with harvested produce when Israeli soldiers began sniping, hitting Mohammed in the right ankle and continuing to shoot as the farmers, surrounded by international human rights observers, moved away from the field and took shelter behind a nearby house.

-On February 24th, after shooting at farmers and internationals accompanying them in the morning, Israeli soldiers shot a 17 year old girl in the kneecap as she stood near her demolished home roughly 800m from the border. Her knee was completely shattered.

-On March 10th, at approximately 15:30, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel to the east of al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip fired at Palestinian houses in the camp. As a result, Muhannad Sehi Abu Mandil, 24, was wounded by a gunshot to the left foot.

-On May 5th, 35-year-old Nafith Abu T’eima sustained light injuries following several gunshot volleys from a passing Israeli militarized jeep, and was hit in the neck with shrapnel. He was tending his lands at the time of the incident and evacuated to hospital.

-On May 7th, 32-year-old Randa Shaloufeh, was working her land near the Israeli-Gaza border when soldiers fired at her. She was shot in her chest and hand.

-On April 10th, a handicapped Palestinian woman, Leila Abu Dagga, was injured when she fell down the stairs from the roof of her house while she was fleeing Israeli soldiers’ gunfire.

And regarding the damage done to land, crops, equipment, and export:

-On May 4th, Israeli troops set fire to Palestinian crops ranging along a 4km stretch along the border. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that 200,000 square meters of crops were destroyed, including wheat and barley ready for harvest, as well as vegetables, olive and pomegranate trees.

-Ismail Abu Taima explained that over the course of the year he invests about $54,000 in planting, watering and maintenance of the monthly crops. From that investment, if all goes well and crops are harvested throughout the year, he can bring in about $10,000/month, meaning that he can pay off the investment and support the 15 families dependent on the harvest.

Ismail Abu Taima collected valves from the broken irrigation piping. The pipes themselves had been destroyed by a pre-war on Gaza invasion. “The plants have not been watered since one week before the war,” he’d told us. He collected the parts, each valve valuable in a region whose borders are sealed and where replacement parts for everything one could need to replace are unattainable or grossly expensive.

He’d also told us of the chicks in the chicken farm who’d first been dying for want of chicken feed, and then been bulldozed when Israeli soldiers attacked the house and building they were in.

-Abu Alaa lives in Khan Younis and owns land in the newly-extended “Buffer Zone”, the strip of land along the Green Line which, from North to South, cuts into Palestinian land by a full 1 km now.

Israel’s ongoing control of Gaza and its borders has meant that those farmers able to produce vegetables, fruit or flowers cannot export them. For the last 3 years, the flower and strawberry exports have near-completely ceased.

Whereas former years saw over 40 million flowers exported for sale in European markets, Israel finally deigned to allow out a fractional 25,000, much too little, much too late. Last year farmers fed flowers to their animals, in protest and frustration at the closed borders.

-At 2:30 pm January 17, 4 massive Israeli tanks and 1 towering military bulldozer accompanied a smaller military bulldozer and invading, occupying Israeli soldiers as they blazed towards Manwa’s, yelling through a megaphone, ordering them to get out of the house. Sharifa, 22, left first. Soldiers asked her if there were any men inside the house, to which she replied ‘no’. Manwa came next, also with hands in the air. The question was repeated, soldiers not believing the women could stay by themselves, telling the women as much.

It was 3 weeks after Israel’s Gaza-wide air-strikes began, and the fact that Manwa and Sharifa had stuck it out alone in that isolated area is incredible.

“They told me our house was now in a closed military zone,” Manwas said. “They said it was a ‘decision from the top’ and that we had to leave immediately and walk towards Gaza,” she said. “I refused, and tried to negotiate with them for time to gather our belongings. They refused.”

Manwa was a safe distance away, watching, when the Israeli soldiers bulldozed her house at 5 pm that day.

This was one day before Israel declared a ceasefire…

The flat fields around us once held olive, lemon and palm trees, Saber tells us. About 750 dunums (1 dunum=1000 square metres). “People from all over Gaza had jobs here. It is one of the best regions for agriculture in Gaza,” Saber goes on. He doesn’t need to spell out that all of the trees had been bulldozed, like the houses, over the years since 2003. We know, are aware of Israel’s policy of razing Palestinian land.

-accounts of various farmers in the ‘buffer zone’

translation of the flyer:
(on both sides the same writing but different maps)

to the people of the strip:
the israeli defence forces repeat their alert forbidding
the coming close to the border fence at a distance less than 300 metres
who gets close will subject himself to danger whererby the IDF will take necessary procedures to drive him away which will
include shooting when necessary
he who has alerted shall be excused!
-the IDF


The real reason Obama won't release new Abu Graib photos: They are even worse than the first ones

PHOTOGRAPHS of Iraqi prisoner abuse which US President Barack Obama does not want released include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.

The images were among photographs included in a 2004 report into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison conducted by US Major General Antonio Taguba.

Gen Taguba included allegations of rape and sexual abuse in his report, and yesterday he confirmed to the Daily Telegraph that images supporting those allegations were also in the file.

"These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency," Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, told the paper.

He said he supported Mr Obama's decision not to release them, even though Mr Obama had previously pledged to disclose all images relating to abuses at Abu Ghraib and other US-run prisons in Iraq.

"I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one," Gen Taguba said.

"The mere depiction of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it."

The newspaper said at least one picture showed an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Others are said to depict sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

The photographs relate to 400 alleged cases of abuse carried out at Abu Ghraib and six other prisons between 2001 and 2005.

The depth of corruption

by John Pilger

Tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages conceal a more profound venality in our political monoculture

The theft of public money by members of parliament, including government ministers, has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege. It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism, revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations man to sell the “leak”. Why?

The answer lies in a deeper corruption, which tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher, British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies. This “project” was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States. That so many Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally crooked is no more than a metaphor for the anti-democratic system they have forged together.

Their accomplices have been those Westminster journalists and their editors, who have “played the game” wilfully, and have deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment on personalities and their specious crises, have reduced the “national conversation” to a series of media events, in which the withdrawal of popular consent – as the historically low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated – has been abused as apathy.

Having fixed the boundaries of political debate and possibility, self-important paladins, notably liberals, promoted the naked emperor Blair and championed his “values” that would allow “the mind [to] range in search of a better Britain”. And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover. All of it had been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony, “a babbling brook of bullshit”.

How contrite their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on “media training”, called on MPs to “rebuild cross-party trust”. The unintended irony of her words recalls one of her first acts as social security secretary more than a decade ago – cutting the benefits of single mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a “revolt” among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new female MPs, who had been elected “to end male-dominated, Conservative policies”, spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor women. All voted for it.

The same was true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party Establishment and the political media rallied. Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told BBC viewers that Blair had “said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra in May, it left behind, according to scholarly estimates, more than a million people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.

As for the “celebrating” Iraqis, the vast majority, say Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation – they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters of the British population wanted.

Such venality goes far beyond the greed of the uppity Hazel Blears.

“Normalising the unthinkable”, Edward Herman’s phrase from his essay “The Banality of Evil”, about the division of labour in state crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted the top of one page to a report headlined, “Blair awarded $1m prize for international relations work”. This prize, announced in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, was for his “cultural and social impact on the world”. You looked in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the truth. Instead, there was his “optimism about the chance of bringing peace” and his work “designed to forge peace”.

This was the same Blair who committed the same crime – deliberately planning the invasion of a country, “the supreme international crime” – for which the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg after proof of his guilt was located in German cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s “Justice” Secretary, Jack Straw, blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes from March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered their release. For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalised and celebrated.

“How our corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists,” said the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the government’s collusion with torture?

It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to combat democratic dissent they call “extremism”. Their de facto partners are “security” journalists, a recent breed of state or “lobby” propagandist. On 9 April, the BBC’s Newsnight promoted the guilt of 12 “terrorists” arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the Prime Minister himself. All were later released without charge.

Something is changing in Britain that gives cause for optimism. The British people have probably never been more politically aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish while stepping angrily over the babbling brook of bullshit. 


Israelis accused of settlement by stealth

by Dominic Waghorn

The Israeli Government is being accused of a plot to transform East Jerusalem with Jewish settlements and drive out Palestinians by stealth.

Ir Amim, a Jerusalem based NGO specialising in Israeli Palestinian issues, claims Israeli authorities in collusion with radical Jewish settlers are cementing their hold on occupied East Jerusalem..

“The policy of the government of Israel is to establish the supremacy if not the hegemony of an exclusionary Jewish narrative in Jerusalem,” Ir Amim’s Daniel Seidemann told Sky News.

The British government also told us it is concerned by actions in East Jerusalem that threaten to “not only undermine the peace process but undermine the trust that will be needed to renew that process towards a two state solution”.

These are two examples where Israel is alleged to be altering facts on the ground and changing the status of occupied East Jerusalem against international law.

The plight of the Hannoun family

Maher Hannoun’s home in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem has been in his family for more than 50 years. Last week an Israeli court ordered his family to leave, to make way for Jewish settlers.

The Jewish settlement company Nahalat Shimon claims the land was bought by Jews more than a century ago and says the Hannouns have not paid rent.

The Hannouns say they were given the property by the Jordanian Government in the 1940s and the settler’s claims are based on forged papers.

“Jerusalem was given to the Jewish people by God three thousand years ago”, a spokesman for the settlers told Sky News. He confirmed plans to evict more than twenty Palestinian families and move in 300 Jewish families instead.

Maher says he has been offered a lot of money to leave but has no intention of giving in to the settlers.

“For us it’s not about money,” he said. “Nobody can sell his identity, his dreams his memory. I will fight to remain where I was born, where my kids were born.”

The European Union and US Government have both protested to the Israeli Foreign Ministry about the planned evictions. The Israeli Government says it is a matter for the courts, despite the political implications of the case.

The Cliff Hotel

Ali Ayad and his wife Signe Breivik, who is Norwegian, met in his family’s hotel in Abu Dis and married there. He took over running the Cliff Hotel and they lived there with their family, until the Israelis seized it.

In 2003 when they moved out to renovate the place, the Israeli military moved in and refused to let the couple return. The Israelis have built the infamous security barrier right through the property.

They are using an absentee property law to take possession, even though Israel’s attorney general has said the law should not be applied in Jerusalem.

Making matters worse are Israeli plans to build a major settlement in and around the hotel. Some jewish families have already moved in nearby.

Ali is barred from Jerusalem because he has only West Bank ID papers and has been branded a security risk. Meeting the affable dispossess Palestinian it is hard to imagine someone less threatening.

He is not even allowed to attend court hearings determining the fate of his property, but remains calm and unbowed in his resolve to fight the Israelis taking his land.

“This is not an issue that I have a stubborn head. This is simple reason. It’s my own property. I did not sell it. My family did not sell it. We have no intention to give it up,” he said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband has intervened several times in the case of the Cliff Hotel but Israeli authorities appear to have no intention of handing it back.

The Palestinian village of hope

by Matt Kennard and Wilson Dizard

Ramallah is tired. The feeling you get walking around the streets here is that the Palestinians are weary of the struggle against the incremental destruction of their homeland, happening right now while the world looks the other way. You hear things like, “Our struggle has been long and it has got us nowhere”. And people ask how the world can stand by while the Israelis annex more land. It’s a good question.

In one village the flame of non-violent resistance still burns. Last week, we went to the weekly demonstration against the annexation wall in Bil’in, where it cuts deep into the farmland of this old Palestinian village and the Green Line (the internationally recognised border of Israel-Palestine). Since Israel started building the wall here in 2005 (stealing about 60% of the village’s land) the people of Bil’in have been inventively and non-violently resisting.

While helplessness pervades in occupied Palestine, the successful tactics of the people of Bil’in provide some hope and inspiration. Abdullah al-Rahman, head of the Popular Resistance Committee in Bil’in, described the various tactics the villagers have used to stall the erection of a new settlement (called “West Mattiyahu” in Israeli legalese, which tries to say it is merely a “neighbourhood” of an existing settlement). First, to oppose the wall, Bil’in’s residents tied themselves to their olive trees to stop the bulldozers razing their land. Then, in sight of the settlements, they constructed a one-room house overnight on the other side of the wall, a building that became the basis for a legal challenge. The high court slapped down their petition twice before they and their Israeli lawyer, Michael Sfard, realised Israel had made a mistake under its own unfair rules. Generally the Israelis use two excuses for land grabs: one, the land is uncultivated, and two, that there is a security threat. With Bil’in they’ve tried both.

To maintain the interest of the media, essential to their demonstrations’ success, the Popular Committee brings out new initiatives every Friday in its non-violent struggle. Last month at the height of the swine flu hysteria, the Bil’in residents went down for the demonstration wearing flu masks to say that they had all had occupation influenza for decades. When we went on Friday they had a slightly less subtle but equally creative tactic of filling balloons with chicken faeces to chuck at the soldiers.

While the Bil’in residents maintain their adherence to nonviolence, the same can’t be said for the IDF. Last month a beloved activist from the village, Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rammah, was killed by a high-velocity tear-gas canister, and one 16-year-old child we spoke to survived a live round to the head. These are definitely not “mistakes”, when you shoot a high-velocity tear-gas canister horizontally and not up in the air you only have one goal. They managed to murder Bassem with a shot to the heart. This is where the chicken faeces idea came from. “They shoot bullets at us, so we will respond with our animals faeces,” said al-Rahman. At the demonstration hundreds of tear gas canisters were shot at us, and rubber bullets aimed at the children throwing stones.

This Israeli tactic of harsh and violent repression has one goal: to stop Palestinian resistance through instilling fear. This is what happened during the second intifada, and it is happening again now as pockets of resistance are starting to form against the annexation of their land. And it works. We asked our Palestinian friend if she wanted to come with us on Friday. “No,” she replied, “I don’t want to die for nothing.” In recent months, since the Gaza War, the IDF have started using a new cocktail of weapons against the Bil’in demonstrators, which include stronger military-grade tear gas with nerve toxins, high-velocity machinegun-style tear gas, and aluminium bullets that have crippled protesters. The IDF has also made it a tactic to come into the village in the middle of the night and arrest the members of the Popular Committee, and children as young as 13, as well as throwing sound bombs and tear gas around.

According to a farmer from Bil’in, Farhan Burnat, 30, who spent eight months in prison after Israeli soldiers arrested him at a Friday demonstration, the Israelis take the kids to prison in Israel and will keep them for four to six months as punishment for participating in the demonstration. “In Ofer prison about 25% of the prisoners are children,” he said. “These lengthy periods of imprisonment severely stunt the educational development of our children.”

We went down to the wall the day before the protest and talked to Wahid Salaman, a 44-year-old farmer from Bil’in who was walking home after work. “The ability of us to get to our land depends on the mood of the soldier,” he said. “Sometimes we have to wait for five or six hours to get to our fields.” Salaman’s land is on the wrong side of the wall so he has to go through a checkpoint every day to go to work. He pointed out a huge pole with a CCTV camera on top of it. “They watch us at all times as well,” he said. The Israelis assign each farmer a number corresponding to points on the wall where he is allowed to go about his work.

Afterwards we spotted a young boy going through the checkpoint with his herd of goats. “I look after the goats after school for my parents,” he said. “The wall took 60% of our land, and as punishment for the demonstration we’re not allowed to work on Fridays.” He says that his goats have been injured by the barbed wire around the wall. Like everyone in Bil’in, he says he misses his friend Bassem. “I feel very sad,” he said, “but it will not stop me from doing the demonstration. We’re strong enough to continue to do it, they shot Bassem because we are achieving something here.”

The brutal behavior of the IDF at the demonstration has motivated a broad contingent of activists from around the world and Israel to descend on Bil’in every Friday – as they know the IDF will be less inclined to murder at will if they have passports belonging to countries that sell them the guns. When we were there on Friday there was a 15-strong contingent of trade unionists, artists and charity workers from Canada, alongside a group of young Israelis. The IDF’s explicit policy is not to fire live ammunition when Israelis or internationals are in the area, which gives you an indication of their attitude to the expendability of Palestinian life. It also makes it clear how vital it is that the brigade of internationals and Israelis continue to show up and protest peacefully alongside Palestinians.

At a bleak time for Palestinians, when they are watching the live destruction of any hopes of a viable future state, the heroic and successful resistance of the people of Bil’in (and their analogues along the line of the annexation wall) provide a glimmer of hope, and a template of how to fight this epic injustice with a mixture of consistency, courage and creativity.

American Airman guilty of vandalism spree in Misawa

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.

by T.D. Flack

Airman alleges others involved in destruction

A "night of destruction" at the base golf course — and allegedly conspiring with other airmen to commit an off-base vandalism spree — cost a Misawa security forces member his career Tuesday.

Senior Airman Koby A. Torzillo, with the 35th Security Forces Squadron, was sentenced to one year in jail, forfeiture of $933 per month during confinement, reduction to E-1 and a bad-conduct discharge at his court-martial on base. Torzillo pleaded guilty to damaging or destroying government property, making a false official statement, concealing stolen property and conspiracy to destroy or damage nongovernment property. 

He was given a pre-trial agreement that guaranteed a "special" court-martial, with a cap on the maximum sentence. He also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into fellow squadron members, identified in court documents and by base officials as Airman 1st Class Jessie M. Holt and Airman 1st Class Michael T. Kerr. 

Torzillo agreed to testify against them if their cases go to trial. As of Tuesday, neither had been charged.

He admitted helping cause $30,000 in damage during a free-for-all at the base golf course on Jan. 31 with Kerr. Before the night was over, Torzillo said, they had used golf carts, a snowmobile, a tractor and a backhoe to cause the damage.

Torzillo said he conspired with Kerr and Holt to go on an off-base vandalism spree on Feb 4. He said they armed themselves with police batons and a hammer, wore gloves and covered the bottoms of their shoes to hide prints. 

Torzillo said they damaged several vending machines and broke the windows out of several cars before deciding to break into a high school, stealing computers, bullhorns and a suit. 

Base officials said the off-base crimes Torzillo detailed fall under the jurisdiction of Japanese officials. A Misawa police spokesman confirmed Tuesday that an initial investigation had been conducted, but prosecutors in Aomori city could not be reached late Tuesday to confirm whether they intend to pursue a case against the Americans.

Stars and Stripes collaborator Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

Life interrupted

by Laila El-Haddad

Well, here we are, still in Lebanon…nearly two months after attempting to get into Gaza.

I tried, and failed, to get an Egyptian visa from here. So I am slowly facing the fact that I will not be able to return to Gaza, at least not now.

I have torn off my limbs at the final frontier, but there is no passage for the stateless. Where do you reside when you do not exist?

Identity and citizenship remain abstract, tightly bound concepts that we carry in a small satchel around our necks, ready to present and explain in dizzying detail at a moment’s notice, or ready to be hung by equally as fast:

Where are you from? What do you mean? What answer do you want to hear? Don't let my accent fool you! or my scarf!

Citizenship, then: I leave this blank empty, for here I do not exist

National of: Palestinian Authority (an authority over ?)

So then you cannot enter… (this changes based on the political climate)

Parents place of Birth: Gaza City.

My place of birth: Kuwait, (but wait…there’s more. I lived there for just one year; then Saudi Arabia, then Bahrain)

Place of permanent residence: Gaza, with a footnote (a residence I cannot reach, a permanence that is illusory; does this still count? Did I pass the test?)

Husband’s nationality: Palestinian refugee residing in Lebanon (but not since 1993); but NOT Palestinian Authority- this honor is reserved to those with hawias, identity cards (the better to track you with my dear); he has never been to Palestine (only smelled and touched it through an intermediary; does this count?)

My father goes to the Ministry of Civil Affairs maybe once a week. Here, Palestinian passengers register to leave Gaza through Rafah. But the wait is anywhere from 2-4 months or more. He registered nearly 1.5 months ago, but is in no immediate rush to leave. Nevertheless, he goes to check on his status anyway. He wants to come visit my brothers and I in the United States (when I return) since I cannot make it to Gaza.

The Ministry updates travelers on the status of their request via web. This is perhaps the only convenient and “modern” aspect of the entire process. When the Egyptians announce the border will open, a few days beforehand, a list of “lucky names” appears on the ministry’s website.

You are assigned a bus number. My father’s is 66, but it has yet to appear. During the last opening, they made it to bus 20.

“What does that mean?” I ask of the curious numbers. “Are you at least guaranteed passage eventually?” Rafah’s onerous procedures change almost yearly, and it’s hard to keep track.

“It simply means you have a seat on a bus from Gaza to the border. The rest is up to the Egyptians. Maybe 40% of people are turned back” he explains.

Most travelers go to the Ministry in person anyway, like my father, some on an almost daily basis. The last time my father went-a few days ago, he described the heart wrenching scenes to me:

There was the newly wed, separated from her husband; the newly engaged, separated from her fiancé for over a year; and then there were those who were simply bawling and begging: for some small miracle; to someone who had no “authority” over anything in the end of the day; to somehow clear the brackets of all the unknowns and get right to the source of the equation; to make things work.

In Gaza, life is interrupted on an hourly basis, in an infinite number of ways.

The most mundane of them are often the cruelest. They go unnoticed.


UN: Little change in problems with Palestinian movement in West Bank


The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said little had been done in the past nine months to ease movement and access for the Palestinians in the West Bank.

According to a closure survey it completed in March 2009 and released on Tuesday, there are 634 obstacles blocking internal Palestinian movement and access in the West Bank.

This is an increase of four obstacles compared with the last report in September 2008. The obstacles include 93 staffed checkpoints and 541 unstaffed obstacles such as roadblocks, earth mounds, earth walls, road barriers, and trenches. Of the 93 checkpoints, 20 so called “partial checkpoints” are only staffed part of the time, including some which are rarely staffed.

Settlements contaminate Palestinian water supply in Hebron

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

In between the illegal settlments of Kyriat Arba, Givat Harsina and 2 military bases, live Palestinian families that face many hardships. Sewer water from the settlements contaminates their supply of clean water, often overflowing from the sewers. The Palestinian families are in need of repairing or building new homes, but are not allowed by Israel.

A woman living in one of the houses near the settlements explained that Palestinians are not allowed to build new houses on their land, while the surrounding settlements continue to expand. An elderly couple’s house was demolished with a military bulldozer by Israeli occupation forces, and now they are forced to live in an old caravan.

In the Palestinian land near the settlements and Israeli infrastructure, dirty water overspills with the waste from a military base. The sewer water has come up under the steps to the entrance of an elderly couple’s home. The Palestinian woman living in the home explained that the children living in the houses are getting sick from insects attracted by the waste. Furthermore the smell makes living in their homes almost intolerable.

The families have limited resources of water that they have to carry from a shared pipe into their homes and clean water is only available ever couple of days. The families constantly worry about whether there will be enough clean drinking water.

Harassment occurs on a regular basis. The past winter, soldiers came during the night to search the houses without reason, forcing the families outside in the rain as they destroyed the inside of their homes.

Hebron, a Palestinian city with a small but extreme settlment community, is the center of many abuses towards Palestinians. Israeli occupation forces and settlers make life for Palestinians in Hebron difficult, hoping to push them out.


Israeli legislation raises issue of loyalty

by Richard Boudreaux

The third largest party in the Knesset's ruling coalition introduces a bill requiring an oath of allegiance to Israel, and another barring the traditional Arab day of mourning over the Nakba.

The ultranationalist party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has unveiled two bills targeting Israel's Arab minority, one that would outlaw the Arabs' traditional day of mourning over the Nakba and another that would require an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state.

Both bills face opposition within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition and uncertain prospects for approval in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. But in the meantime, they are provoking vigorous debate over free expression, internal security and Israel's sense of international isolation.

Palestinian Arabs who remained in Israel after its independence and their descendants make up about one-fifth of the citizenry. Hundreds of thousands of other Arabs fled or were driven into exile in the war surrounding Israel's founding in 1948. Each May 15, Arabs inside and outside Israel gather for public expressions of grief over what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

A bill approved by a Cabinet committee Sunday would end Israel's tolerance for these annual demonstrations on its soil, making participation in them punishable by up to three years in prison.

Lieberman's party, Israel Is Our Home, announced Monday that it had prepared a separate bill requiring an oath of allegiance from anyone applying for a national identity card, a document essential for almost any transaction with the state, the school system or financial institutions. The oath would profess loyalty to Israel as "a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state."

The bill does not explicitly target Arab citizens but stems from Lieberman's campaign message that they pose an internal security threat. It would allow the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone who refuses to perform some kind of military or national service.

Parliament defeated a similar initiative by Lieberman's party in 2007, but its campaign on the loyalty issue propelled Israel Is Our Home to a strong third-place finish in this year's election.

Unlike Palestinians in the neighboring West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel's Arabs hold full citizenship rights. But they complain of discrimination and have little identification with a country that defines itself as Jewish. Arab citizens are exempt from military service, which is compulsory for Jews, and few volunteer for it.

Arabs, a small minority in the parliament, reacted with fury to both pieces of legislation.

Jamal Zahalka, head of the Balad party, called the attempt to outlaw Nakba demonstrations "a crazy bill by a crazy government." He said the Jews "drove away our people and now they want to deny us even our cry of pain. This is record-breaking Israeli chutzpah."

Alex Miller, a member of Lieberman's party, said it would be inconceivable for Americans to hold protests against their country's independence. "It's time for us to be proud of our country," he said.  Mr. Miller appears to be unaware of, for example, the annual Native American Thanksgiving Day protest at Plymouth Rock.

Dissent within the right-leaning governing coalition could trip up the Nakba bill, which faces several hurdles in parliament.

After it cleared a Cabinet committee, 8 votes to 3, three lawmakers from Netanyahu's conservative Likud party asked the Justice Ministry to overturn the decision. One of them, Michael Eitan, said Israel must combat security threats "not by limiting freedom of expression, but rather through belief in the justice of our path."

"This is the last thing this government should be sending out as a message to the democratic world," declared Avishai Braverman of the left-leaning Labor Party, a junior partner in the coalition. He said Israel was isolated enough by Netanyahu's refusal to endorse the goal of an independent Palestinian state.

Power-hungry and without principles, Netanyahu has taken no position on either bill. In assembling his coalition, his party rejected Lieberman's demand to make a loyalty oath requirement part of the government program. Instead, a written agreement by the two parties said the judiciary should be given power to withdraw government assistance from anyone found to have engaged in terrorism or espionage.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish members of the ruling coalition might also oppose a loyalty oath because some of their constituents object to the establishment of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah.

Israeli forces shoot at Gazan farmers and international accompaniers

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

Israeli forces shot live ammunition at 5 international human rights workers and 10 farmers from Khoza’a as they harvested crops several hundred metres from the Green Line.

In the morning, human rights workers joined Palestinian farmers in Khoza’a village, located east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, to farm land 300-350 meters from the ‘Green Line’.

Israeli forces opened fire on the workers and they were forced to leave the area.

Several farmers have been shot by Israeli forces while farming their lands.


What War Looks Like

by Chris Hedges

THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Into War-Torn Afghanistan With Doctors Without Borders.  By Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre and Frédéric Lemercier.Translated by Alexis Siegel

It is impossible to know war if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw. All narratives of war told through the lens of the combatants carry with them the seduction of violence. But once you cross to the other side, to stand in fear with the helpless and the weak, you confront the moral depravity of industrial slaughter and the scourge that is war itself. Few books achieve this clarity. “The Photographer” is one.

A strange book, part photojournalism and part graphic memoir, “The Photographer” tells the story of a small mission of mostly French doctors and nurses who traveled into northern Afghanistan by horse and donkey train in 1986, at the height of the Soviet occupation. The book shows the damage done to bodies and souls by shells, bullets and iron fragments, and the frantic struggle to mend the broken. 

The narrator and photographer is Didier Lefèvre. His black-and-white photographs — many reprinted directly from his uncropped contact sheets — are interwoven with drawings by Emmanuel Guibert. The small sequential frames of the contact sheets merge seamlessly into the panels of artwork. The book, at 267 pages, is long. But its length is an asset, allowing the story to build in power and momentum as it recounts the arduous trip into mountain villages, the confrontation with the devastation of war, the struggle to save lives and Lefèvre’s foolish and nearly fatal attempt to return to Pakistan ahead of the team. 

The three-month mission was led by Dr. Juliette Fournot, who spoke Dari, dressed as a man and commanded the respect of the French and Afghans, including the village chiefs and local warlords. Her role, and her immersion in the Afghan society where she spent her teenage years, repeatedly shatters easy stereotypes about Afghan and Muslim culture.

Lefèvre (who died of heart failure in 2007) tells his story with a mixture of beguiling innocence and sensitivity. He retreats in tears to a secluded corner after seeing a wounded 10-year-old girl who will never walk again and will die of septic shock six months later. Photographs of the child are juxtaposed with Guibert’s drawing of Lefèvre, silhouetted and hunched over in grief. 

“In a corner, a woman with a white head scarf is watching over two of her children,” one panel reads, “a teenage girl and a baby, both bloodied. The little boy is maybe 2 or 3. He hardly moves but from time to time lets out a little wail of ‘Aoh.’ ”

This panel is followed by a yellow frame with the word “Aoh” in the upper left corner, a black-and-white photo of the wounded child, another frame with the word “Aoh,” a picture of anxious relatives huddled outside the door and then a half-page photograph of the bewildered boy and his sister, her face covered with blood as she gazes at her doomed brother.

The book has the feel of a film, attesting to the skill of Guibert and Frédéric Lemercier, the graphic designer. But there is nothing romantic about Afghanistan or the Afghans, who can be at once courageous and generous as well as heartless and menacing. Lefèvre, on the way back, is abandoned by his feckless guides; his horse collapses and eventually dies; and the photographer nearly succumbs in the snowy mountain passes. “I take out one of my cameras. I choose a 20-millimeter lens, a very wide angle, and shoot from the ground,” he says — “to let people know where I died.” The next page shows his exhausted pack horse amid snowy boulders, followed by a bleak spread of the gloomy mountain pass. Lefèvre is saved by a band of brigands, who shake him down for much of his money but get him out. The physical toll of his trip left him suffering from chronic boils. He lost 14 teeth. But before he died he returned to Afghanistan seven more times in an attempt to tell the stories of those he first met in 1986, whom he could not abandon or forget. 

The disparity between what we are told or what we believe about war and war itself is so vast that those who come back, like Lefèvre, are often rendered speechless. What do you say to those who advocate war as an instrument to liberate the women of Afghanistan or bring democracy to Iraq? How do you tell them what war is like? How do you explain that the very proposition of war as an instrument of virtue is absurd? How do you cope with memories of children bleeding to death with bits of iron fragments peppered throughout their small bodies? How do you speak of war without tears? 

The book concludes with contact sheets showing Lefèvre walking with his mother on the beach in Blonville with Bienchen, her small dog. A postscript notes that she did not learn the details of her son’s travels until the publication of this story, two decades after his first trip. 

The power of “The Photographer” is that it bridges this silence. There is no fighting in this book. No great warriors are exalted. The story is about those who live on the fringes of war and care for its human detritus. By the end of the book the image or picture of a weapon is distasteful. And if you can achieve this, you have gone a long way to imparting the truth about warfare.

Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The Times, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and author of the forthcoming “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”


Palestinians displaced by Operation Cast Lead living in tents

from B'Tselem

According to the UN, Israel destroyed 3,500 homes in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. Some of the displaced persons now live in tents, in harsh conditions. Participants in B’Tselem’s video project documented life in one encampment.

Interviews with Gazan fishermen

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

Interview with Sami Al Najar, who lost his hand in an Israeli attack on his boat.

Interview with Ebraheem Al Najar, father of fisherman who was killed by Israeli forces.

Uri Avnery's Column: Calm Voice, Big Stick

by Uri Avnery

BARACK OBAMA is often compared to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it is from the book of another Roosevelt that he has taken a leaf: President Theodore Roosevelt, who, 108 years ago, advised his successors: “Speak softly and carry a big stick!”

This week, the whole world saw how this is done. Obama sat in the Oval Office side by side with Binyamin Netanyahu and spoke to the journalists. He was earnest, but relaxed. The body language spoke clearly: while Netanyahu leaned forward assiduously, like a traveling salesman peddling his merchandise, Obama leaned back, tranquil and self-assured.

He spoke softly, very softly. But leaning against the wall behind him, hidden by the flag, was a very big stick indeed.

THE WORLD wanted, of course, to know what went on between the two when they met alone.

Coming home, Netanyahu strenuously tried to present the meeting as a great success. But after the spotlights turned off and the red carpet rolled up, we can examine what we have really seen and heard.

Among his great achievements, Netanyahu emphasized the Iranian issue. “We have reached complete agreement,” he proudly announced time and again.

Agreement on what? On the need to prevent Iran from getting a “military nuclear capability”.

Just a moment. What is that we hear, “military”? Where did this word creep up from? Until now, all Israeli governments have insisted that Iran must be prevented from acquiring any nuclear capability at all. The new formula means that the Netanyahu government now accepts Iran having a “non-military”– which is never very far from a “military” - nuclear capability.

This is not Netanyahu’s only defeat on the Iranian issue. Before his trip, he demanded that Obama give Iran just three months, “until October”, and that after this “all the options would be on the table”. An ultimatum that included a military threat.

Nothing of this remains. Obama said that he would conduct a dialogue with Iran until the end of the year, and that he would then assess what had been achieved and consider what to do next. If he came to the conclusion that there had been no progress, he would take further steps, including the imposition of more stringent sanctions. The military option has disappeared. True, before the meeting Obama told a newspaper that “all the options are on the table”, but the fact that he did not repeat this in Netanyahu’s presence speaks volumes.

No doubt Netanyahu asked for permission to attack Iran, or – at the very least – to threaten such an attack. The answer was a flat No. Obama is resolved to prevent an Israeli attack. He has warned the Israeli government unequivocally. Just to make sure that the message has been properly absorbed, he sent the CIA chief to Israel to deliver the message personally to every Israeli leader.

The Israeli plan for a military attack on Iran has been taken off the table – if it was ever lying there.

Netanyahu wanted to connect Iran with the Palestinian issue, in a negative way: as long as the Iranian danger exists, the Palestinian matter cannot be dealt with. Obama has turned the formula upside down and made a positive connection: progress on the Palestinian issue is a precondition to progress on the Iranian one. That makes sense: the unsolved conflict is fuelling Iran, provides it with a reason to menace Israel and weakens the opposition of Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Iran’s ambitions.

OBAMA’S MAIN message concerned one issue that returned to center stage this week: settlements.

This word almost disappeared during the reign of Bush the Younger. True, all US administrations have opposed the enlargement of the settlements, but since the failed attempt by James Baker, the Secretary of State of Bush the Elder, to impose sanctions on Israel, no one has dared to do anything about them. In Washington they mumbled, on the ground they built. In Jerusalem they dissimulated, and on the ground they built.

As a senior Palestinian put it: “We are negotiating about dividing the pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating it.”

It has to be repeated again and again: the settlements are a disaster for the Palestinians, a disaster for peace and a double and triple disaster for Israel. First, because their main aim is to make the establishment of a Palestinian state impossible, and thus prevent peace forever. Second, because they suck the marrow out of the Israeli economy and swallow resources that should be used to help the poor. Third: because the settlements undermine the rule of law in Israel, they spread the cancer of fascism and push the whole political system to the right.

Therefore Obama is right when he puts the settlement issue ahead of everything else, even ahead of the peace negotiations. A total cessation of building in the settlements comes before anything else. When a body is bleeding, the flow has to be stopped before the disease can be treated. Otherwise the patient will die of loss of blood and there won’t be anybody left to treat. This is precisely the aim of Netanyahu.

This is why Netanyahu has refused to accede to the request. Otherwise his coalition would have fallen apart and he would be compelled to resign or set up an alternative coalition with Kadima. The hapless Tzipi Livni, who has not found a role in opposition, would probably jump at the opportunity.

Netanyahu will try to use Barak against Barack. With the help of Ehud Barak he is putting on a performance of “demolishing outposts”, in order to divert attention from the ongoing building in the settlements. We shall see whether this ploy succeeds and whether the settlers’ leadership will play their part in this charade. The day after Netanyahu’s return, Barak demolished for the seventh time (!) Maoz Esther, an outpost consisting of seven wooden huts. Within hours, the settlers returned to the place.

(The Israeli army has built an entire Arab village in the Negev for training purposes. Somebody joked this week that the army has also built this outpost and manned it with soldiers disguised as settlers, so it can be demolished every time there is pressure from America. Afterwards the soldiers build it up again, ready for use the next time pressure is exerted.)

REFUSAL TO freeze the settlements means refusal to accept the two-state solution. Instead, Netanyahu juggled with empty slogans. He spoke about “two peoples living together in peace”, but refused to speak about a Palestinian state. One of his aides called the demand for two states a “childish game”.

But this is not a childish game at all. It has already been proven that negotiations, the aim of which has not been defined in advance, do not lead anywhere. The Oslo agreement collapsed for precisely this reason. Netanyahu hopes that the next round of negotiations will also founder because of this.

He has not presented a plan of his own. Not because he has no plan, but because he knows that nobody would accept it.

Netanyahu’s plan is: total Israeli control over all the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Unlimited Jewish settlement everywhere. Limited self-government for a number of Palestinian enclaves with a dense Palestinian population, which will be surrounded by settlements. All of Jerusalem to remain part of Israel. Not a single Palestinian refugee to return to the territory of Israel.

This merchandise will find no buyers in the whole wide world. So Netanyahu, a professional salesman, tries to wrap it in an attractive package.

For example: the Palestinians will “govern themselves”. Where exactly? Where will the borders run? He has already pronounced that the Palestinians cannot have control over “their airspace or their border crossings”. A state without a military and without control over its airspace and border crossings – that looks suspiciously like the Bantustans of the late racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

I would not be surprised if at some point in the future Netanyahu starts to call these native reservations “a Palestinian state”.

In the meanwhile he tries to gain time and postpone the negotiations as long as possible. He demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as ‘the state of the Jewish people”, expecting and hoping that they will reject this with both hands. And indeed, accepting it would mean giving up in advance their main card – the refugee issue – and also sticking a knife in the back of the 1.5 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

Netanyahu is ready to accept Obama’s proposal to involve the Arab and other Muslim states in the peace process – an idea that has always been rigorously rejected by all Israel governments. But that is just one more of the rabbits that he will pull out of his hat from time to time in order to delay everything. Before dozens of Arab and perhaps more than fifty Muslim states decide whether to join the process, months, perhaps years, will pass. And in the meantime, Netanyahu demands from them an advance payment in the form of normalization – which means that the entire Arab and Muslim world would give up their only card without getting anything in return. Pure baksheesh.

That is Netanyahu’s working plan.

DOES OBAMA have a peace plan of his own? If one puts all his statements of the last few days together, it seems that he has.

When he speaks about “two states for two peoples”, he practically accepts the peace plan that has by now become a world-wide consensus: as the “parameters” put forward by Bill Clinton in his last days in office, as the core of the Saudi peace proposal and as the peace plans of the Israeli peace movement (the draft peace agreement of Gush Shalom, the Geneva initiative, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh statement and more.)

In short: a sovereign and viable State of Palestine side by side with Israel, the pre-1967 borders with minor and agreed exchanges of territory, the dismantling of all the settlements that will not be joined to Israel in the territory exchanges, East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a mutually acceptable solution to the refugee problem, a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, mutual security arrangements.

IN THE MEANTIME, throughout the world there is a growing consensus that the only way to get the wheels of peace moving again is for Obama to publish his peace plan and call upon both sides to accept it. If need be, in popular referendums.

He could do this in the speech he is due to deliver in two weeks time in Cairo, during his first presidential trip to the Middle East. Not by accident, he will not come to Israel during this trip, something that is almost unprecedented for a US president.

To do this, he must be ready to take on the powerful Israeli lobby. It seems that he is ready for that. The last president who dared to do this was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who compelled Israel to give back the Sinai straight after the 1956 war. “Ike” was so popular that he was not afraid of the lobby. Obama is no less popular, and perhaps he will dare, too.

As ”Teddy” Roosevelt indicated: when you have a big stick, you don’t have to wave it. You can afford to speak softly.

I hope Obama will indeed speak softly – but clearly and unambiguously.

International human rights workers to accompany Palestinian farmers in Gazan ‘buffer zone’

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

Sunday, 24 May 2009: Five international human rights workers from the ISM-Gaza Strip will be accompanying 10 farmers from Khoza’a as they harvest crops several hundred metres from the Green Line.

In the morning, human rights workers will join Palestinian farmers in Khoza’a village, located east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, to farm land 300-350 meters from the ‘Green Line’.

Farmers and international accompaniers were last fired upon in Letaemat, Gaza by Israeli forces on the 9th of May.

Several farmers have been shot by Israeli forces while farming their lands.

Israeli forces shoot Ni’lin demonstrator in the head with tear-gas projectile

from International Solidarty Movement (ISM)

Residents of Ni’lin gathered in the olive groves near the village to hold the weekly prayer before the start of the demonstration at 12:30. Several speeches were made to commemorate the 1 year anniversary since Ni’lin’s resistance against the Apartheid Wall began. Israeli soldiers positioned themselves around the people praying. Several soldiers occupied a nearby under-construction house.

As soon as the prayer ended, soldiers began to throw and fire tear-gas canisters. Residents, along with international and Israeli solidarity activists, ran away from the tear-gas on to the main road. Several young men responded to the military violence by throwing stones.

The Israeli army continued to shoot tear-gas canisters directly at demonstrators as they were in the village. Two soldiers positioned themselves on the main road and shot a Palestinian man with 0.22 caliber live ammunition in his leg. Another group of soldiers went further into the village and arrested a Palestinian man. The soldiers then shot tear-gas and 0.22 calibre live ammunition into a small road at demonstrators.

Demonstrators marched towards the olive field, but were prevented from entering because of 2 Israeli jeeps positioned near the outskirts. Soldiers began to shoot tear-gas canisters directly at individuals.

At 2:30, one Palestinian youth, aged 20, was shot in the head with a tear-gas canister from around 10 meters as he was standing near a home on the outskirts of the village. He was bleeding profusely from his head and had to be taken to Ramallah hospital. The tear-gas canister shattered part of his skull and he had to undergo surgery.

Demonstrators remained on the outskirts of the village as soldiers continued to fire tear-gas canisters. Another Palestinian man was shot in the arm with a 0.22 live caliber bullet.

Around 4:30 the soldiers began to leave the outskirts of the olive groves. Demonstrators proceeded to their field and soldiers shot more tear-gas and 0.22 caliber live ammunition. The protest ended around 5:30pm.

Israeli occupation forces have murdered four Ni’lin residents during demonstrations against the confiscation of their land and critically injured one international solidarity activist.

Ahmed Mousa (10) was shot in the forehead with live ammunition on 29 July 2008. The following day, Yousef Amira (17) was shot twice with rubber-coated steel bullets, leaving him brain dead. He died a week later on 4 August 2008. Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22), was the third Ni’lin resident to be killed by Israeli forces. He was shot in the back with live ammunition on 28 December 2008. That same day, Mohammed Khawaje (20), was shot in the head with live ammunition, leaving him brain dead. He died three days in a Ramallah hospital. Tristan Anderson (37), an American citizen, was shot with a high velocity tear gas projectile on 13 March 2009 and is currently in critical condition. In total, 29 persons have been shot by Israeli forces with live ammunition.

Since May 2008, residents of Ni’lin village have been demonstrating against construction of the Apartheid Wall. Despite being deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, the occupation continues to build a Wall, further annexing Palestinian land.

Ni’lin will lose approximately 2500 dunums of agricultural land when the construction of the Wall is completed. Ni’lin consisted of 57,000 dunums in 1948, reduced to 33,000 dunums in 1967, currently is 10,000 dunums and will be 7,500 dunums after construction of the Wall.