The War on Language

by Chris Hedges

There is a scene in “Othello” when the Moor is so consumed by jealousy and rage that he loses the eloquence and poetry that make him the most articulate man in Venice. He turns to the audience, shortly before he murders Desdemona, and sputters, “Goats and monkeys!” Othello fell prey to wild self-delusion and unchecked rage, and his words became captive to hollow clichés. The debasement of language, which Shakespeare understood was a prelude to violence, is the curse of modernity. We have stopped communicating, even with ourselves. And the consequences will be as extreme as in the Shakespearean tragedy.

Those who seek to dominate our behavior first seek to dominate our speech. They seek to obscure meaning. They make war on language. And the English- and Arabic-speaking worlds are each beset with a similar assault on language. The graffiti on the mud walls of Gaza that calls for holy war or the crude rants of Islamic militants are expressed in a simplified, impoverished form of Arabic. This is not the classical language of 1,500 years of science, poetry and philosophy. It is an argot of clichés, distorted Quranic verses and slogans. This Arabic is no more comprehensible to the literate in the Arab world than the carnival barking that pollutes our airwaves is comprehensible to our literate classes. The reduction of popular discourse to banalities, exacerbated by the elite’s retreat into obscure, specialized jargon, creates internal walls that thwart real communication. This breakdown in language makes reflection and debate impossible. It transforms foreign cultures, which we lack the capacity to investigate, into reversed images of ourselves. If we represent virtue, progress and justice, as our clichés constantly assure us, then the Arabs, or the Iranians, or anyone else we deem hostile, represent evil, backwardness and injustice. An impoverished language solidifies a binary world and renders us children with weapons.

How do you respond to “Islam is the solution” or “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior”? How do you converse with someone who justifies the war in Iraq—as Christopher Hitchens does—with the tautology that we have to “kill them over there so they do not kill us over here”? Those who speak in these thought-terminating clichés banish rational discussion. Their minds are shut. They sputter and rant like a demented Othello. The paucity of public discourse in our culture, even among those deemed to be public intellectuals, is matched by the paucity of public discourse in the Arab world.

This emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture. Manufactured phrases inflame passions and distort reality. The collective chants, jargon and epithets permit people to surrender their moral autonomy to the heady excitement of the crowd. “The crowd doesn’t have to know,” Mussolini often said. “It must believe. ... If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and thus an illusion may become reality.” Always, he said, be “electric and explosive.” Belief can triumph over knowledge. Emotion can vanquish thought. Our demagogues distort the Bible and the Constitution, while their demagogues distort the Quran, or any other foundational document deemed to be sacred, fueling self-exaltation and hatred at the expense of understanding. The more illiterate a society becomes, the more power those who speak in this corrupted form of speech amass, the more music and images replace words and thought. We are cursed not by a cultural divide but by mutual cultural self-destruction.

The educated elites in the Arab world are now as alienated as the educated elites in the United States. To speak with a vocabulary that the illiterate or semiliterate do not immediately grasp is to be ostracized, distrusted and often ridiculed. It is to impart knowledge, which fosters doubt. And doubt in calcified societies, which prefer to speak in the absolute metaphors of war and science, is a form of heresy. It was not accidental that the founding biblical myth saw the deliverer of knowledge as evil and the loss of innocence as a catastrophe. “This probably had less to do with religion than with the standard desire of those in authority to control those who are not,” John Ralston Saul wrote. “And control of the Western species of the human race seems to turn upon language.”

The infantile slogans that are used to make sense of the world express, whether in tea party rallies or in Gaza street demonstrations, a very real alienation, yearning and rage. These clichés, hollow to the literate, are electric with power to those for whom these words are the only currency in which they can express anguish and despair. And as the economy worsens, as war in the Middle East and elsewhere continues, as our corporate state strips us of power and reduces us to serfs, expect this rage, and the demented language used to give it voice, to grow.

The Arabic of the Quran is as poetic as the intricate theology of Islam. It is nuanced and difficult to master. But the language of the Quran has been debased in the slums and poor villages across the Middle East by the words and phrases of political Islam. This process is no different from what has taken place with Christianity in the United States. Our mainstream churches have been as complacent in fighting heretics as have the mainstream mosques and religious scholars in the Middle East. Demented forms of Christianity and Islam have largely supplanted genuine and more open forms of religious expression. And they have done so because liberal elites were cowed into silence.

Corruptions of Islamic terms and passages are as numerous in the militants’ ideology as in the ideology of the Christian right. The word jihad for the militants means the impunity to kill, kidnap, hijack and bomb anyone they see as an infidel, including children and other Muslims. Jihad, however, does not always mean holy war, or even war, in the Quran. According to Islamic tradition, the “great jihad” is the battle within one’s self to live in accord with God’s will. A jihad, for the prophet Muhammad, is often the struggle to achieve inner-worldly asceticism, in accord with his call “to command the good and forbid evil with the heart, the tongue and the hand.” And the Quran condemns the use of violence to propagate the faith. “There is no compulsion in religion,” it states. The Quran also denounces forced piety and conversion as insincere. Calls to martyrdom, presented by militants as a direct path toward eternal life, conveniently eschew the Quran’s rigid ban on suicide. But theological nuance is beside the point for zealots. The fantasies peddled by the Christian right, from the Rapture, which is not in the Bible, to the belief that Jesus, who was a pacifist, would bless wars in the Middle East, injects our own version of sanctified slogans into the vernacular.

Our crisis is a crisis of language. Victor Klemperer in his book “Lingua Tertii Imperii” noted that the distortion of language by the Nazis was vital in creating fascist culture. He was repeatedly perplexed by how the masses, even those who opposed the Nazis, willingly ingested the linguistic poison the Nazis used to perpetuate collective self-delusion. “Words may be little doses of arsenic,” he wrote. “They are consumed without being noticed; they seem at first to have no effect, but after a while, indeed, the effect is there.”

Chris Hedges is the author of “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”


Israel demands PA drop war crimes suit at The Hague

by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

Tensions are mounting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following Ramallah’s call on the International Court at The Hague to examine claims of “war crimes” that the IDF allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The issue is already weighing in on the relations between the leadership of Israel’s defense and security establishment with their counterparts in the West Bank, and is part of a growing list of Israeli complaints about the behavior of PA officials.

Meanwhile, Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank – an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership – on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court.

The issue of a second cellular provider is at the center of talks between the PA, the international Quartet, and Israel, and has been ongoing for some months. Currently the sole provider is Pal-Tel, and the PA prime minister, Salam Fayyad, considers the introduction of another carrier as an important step in improving the civilian infrastructure in the West Bank. The project is central to Watanya, the company that is set to serve as the second provider, and profits are expected to be substantial.

However, if the project is not approved by October 15, the PA will be forced to pay a penalty estimated at $300 million, the sum that has already been invested in licensing and infrastructure.

Western diplomats, including the Quartet’s envoy to the region, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, have made it clear to senior Israeli officials that time is running out, and have urged them to allow for the establishment of a second provider to go forward.

Israel’s objections begin with the issue of transmission frequencies. The frequencies that the Palestinians want the new company to use are very close to ones used by the Israel Defense Forces in some of its most sensitive activities.

“Israel is making it difficult for us on many levels,” complains Mohammed Mustafa, economic adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. “They now want us to pressure Pal-Tel to release some of its frequencies, so that they can be used by Watanya.”

However, another, more substantive issue was recently added, when the Palestinian Authority appealed to the International Criminal Court. Security sources told Haaretz that this move, which was authorized by Fayyad and Abbas, incensed senior officials of the defense establishment, especially army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Ashkenazi has been kept busy by involvement in a holding action against the threat that Israeli officers would be brought before the court as a result of charges that the IDF committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Concern has intensified following the grave report that the Goldstone Commission released two weeks ago on behalf of the United Nations.

In Israel the argument is that the PA is being unfair, and that at the time of the operation in the Gaza Strip, last winter, its senior officials encouraged their Israeli counterparts to step up the pressure on Hamas, and even to attempt to bring its rule in the territory to the point of collapse. However, at a latter stage they joined those decrying Israel and its alleged actions in the Strip.

In light of this tension, the chief of staff conditioned his approval of a second cellular provider to the Palestinians’ withdrawing their appeal to the court.

“The PA has reached the point where it has to decide whether it is working with us or against us,” senior figures in the defense establishment have said. At the PA it is being said, in response to the Israeli demands, that Abbas and Fayyad will water down their appeal to the ICJ, though they will refuse to promise that it will rescinded entirely.

During the past year Israel defense officials have often praised the Palestinians on improving their contribution to securing the West Bank, and of the decisive character of the leadership under Fayyad. However, in recent weeks there have been increasing claims that even as the Authority is being praised by Israel and the international community, it is behaving irresponsibly by violating agreements between the two sides.

The Israeli claims focus on the growing presence of Palestinian security personnel in civilian clothing in East Jerusalem, contrary to the obligations of the PA. The security personnel participate in prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque, and at other sites in the city, and have stepped up their presence in the Jerusalem’s medical and educational facilities. Moreover, they have also been involved in the abduction of Palestinians suspected of selling property to Jews.


Unity for Al-Aqsa is a duty

The Palestine Telegraph

Dozens of Palestinians were hurt, two seriously, on Sunday, September 27, when crack Israeli policemen attacked worshipers who had just repulsed an attempt by Jewish extremists to hold Talmudic rituals at al-Haram al-Sharif.

"When the zealots were repulsed rather peacefully, the police became very outraged," Mahmoud Abu Atta, an eyewitness, told IslamOnline.net.

"As many as 70 policemen attacked us indiscriminately, young and old, with full force, using rubber-coated bullets, truncheons, tear gas and even poisonous gas."

An elderly man, identified as 73-year-old Muhammed Joulani, was hit with a rubber-coated bullet in the eye and his condition was described as "very serious."

A young Palestinian, 22, was badly hurt in the head.

Dozens others suffered from tear gas inhalation as well as brutal beating by police which, eyewitnesses said, employed "exaggerated force."

Eyewitnesses said tension began when dozens of Jewish religious zealots, disguised as tourists, stealthily entered Aqsa esplanade through its western gate, known as Bab el-Majles.

The intruders soon began, under police protection, performing Talmudic rites and making slogans calling for the destruction of the Islamic holy shrine.

Muslim guards as well as ordinary worshipers chased the Jewish zealots out.

"The police chased worshipers inside Aqsa Mosque, where the soldiers fired heavily into the holy place, causing many people to suffocate as a result of gas inhalation," said Atta.

"I saw the police gang up on young people, beating them mercilessly. The police were not out to maintain law and order. They just wanted to retaliate and punish us for repulsing the fanatical settlers."

Atta said the worshipers sought desperately to defend themselves against police brutality, using little stones, shoes and chairs.

Efforts by Jewish zealots to storm the Aqsa Mosque esplanade coincide with Yom Kippur holiday or Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

It coincides with then opposition leader Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to al-Aqsa esplanade nine years ago which sparked off the al-Aqsa Intifada.

Muslim Duty

"Hence it is the responsibility of the entire Umma to protect and safeguard this holy place from Zionist plots and evil designs," Sheikh Sabri told IOL.

Muslim officials in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) had earlier called on Muslims throughout the city to go to al-Haram al-Sharif to protect it from Jewish fanatics trying to gain a foot-hold.

"We constantly urge Muslims here to maintain a permanent and uninterrupted presence at the Aqsa Mosque," Dr. Sheikh Ikrma Sabri, the imam of Aqsa Mosque, told IOL.

Hundreds of Jerusalemites and other Muslims from across the Green Line (Israel) arrived at the Mosque to repulse the zealots.

Confrontations broke out near Bab el-Majles when Israeli police prevented hundreds of Muslims, including leaders of the Islamic movement, from entering the Haram compound.

Many were detained and taken away to nearby police lockups.

Police also assaulted Abdul Azim Salhab, Head of the Supreme Muslim Council, as he was trying to enter al-Haram al-Sharif through the northern Gate, known as Bab el Asbat.

They also prevented a number of prominent Muslim religious and civic figures from entering the Aqsa esplanade, including Dr. Sheikh Sabri.

Hatem Abdul Qader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was also barred from entering the Haram.

"The preservation of Aqsa Mosque is not the sole responsibility of Muslims in Palestine, because the holy sanctuary belongs to the entire Muslim Umma," insisted Sheikh Sabri.

"Hence it is the responsibility of the entire Umma to protect and safeguard this holy place from Zionist plots and evil designs."

Al-Aqsa is the Muslims' first Qiblah [direction Muslims take during prayers] and it is the third holiest shrine after Al Ka`bah in Makkah and Prophet Muhammad's Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.

Its significance has been reinforced by the incident of Al Isra'a and Al Mi'raj - the night journey from Makkah to Al-Quds and the ascent to the Heavens by Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him).

The Supreme Muslim Council of Al-Quds earlier issued a call on Muslims around the world urging them to stand firm in the face of Israel's criminal conspiracies against Aqsa Mosque.

Israeli religious leaders, including Knesset members, are making no secret of their schemes regarding Al-Aqsa.

The Temple Mount Faithful, an extremist fanatical group, is dedicated to the demolition of Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The Temple Mount Institute, another extremist Jewish society, had prepared detailed plans for the rebuilding of the so-called Solomon Temple on the rubble of Al-Aqsa.

It has a large prototype of the temple, special clothes for its rabbis, special places for sacrificial offerings, incense chalice, copper vessels for meal offerings, silver vessel for wine libation and other offering implements.

Source: Khaled Amayreh, Islamonline.net

One people, one passport

by Cheryl Cornacchia

As with other travellers, Kenneth Deer's passport was issued by his native land. After blazing the trail in Switzerland in 1977, he's had little trouble with foreign nations accepting his Haudenosaunee paperwork

Inside Kenneth Deer's passport are ink stamps bearing the names of a host of familiar nations - Switzerland, Brazil, South Africa and Libya among them.

The only unfamiliar one is embossed on the front cover: Haudenosaunee.

It doesn't say Canada, where Kahnawake Mohawk resident Deer was born 61 years ago.

And it doesn't say Iroquois nation, which is how Samuel de Champlain would have recognized Deer's provenance.

Nor does it say Six Nations confederacy, which is how the old British colonial administration in Canada called it.

Haudenosaunee is the word the Iroquois - 150,000 Mohawks, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora spread across southern Quebec, Ontario and New York State - use to describe themselves as one people.

"I only travel with my Haudenosaunee passport," Deer said last week after returning from a United Nations meeting in Geneva.

"It's not as easy as having a Canadian passport but it is a commitment I have made." Deer's passport is an exceptional document in the world of diplomacy, where separate passports for aboriginal peoples is a sensitive issue all over the world where indigenous people have been displaced by colonial immigration.

And, now, the Haudenosaunee are in the process of updating the passport they issue with security features that could widen its acceptance and international recognition.

Most Mohawks and, for that matter, most North American aboriginals travel internationally on a Canadian or United States passport.

But for the past 23 years, the Haudenosaunee passport has been what Deer, an internationally recognized advocate of the rights of the world's indigenous peoples, has chosen to travel on.

"It makes a political statement," he said.

He has visited 20 countries on the passport, several of them multiple times.

His trip this month to Geneva - the home of the United Nations Human Rights Council - was his sixth to Switzerland this year.

Of all the countries to which he travels, he said, Switzerland has been the most open.

In 1977, it was the first country in the world to recognize the Haudenosaunee passport.

At the time, a delegation of Haudenosaunee chiefs had travelled to Geneva for the first UN meeting on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Those delegates were the first to travel on the Haudenosaunee passport, believing that if they travelled on Canadian or U.S. passports, they would undermine their desire for recognition as a people and their right to self-determination.

The political decision caused quite a stir back then, Deer said, but when Switzerland accepted the document, a precedent was set and travel has become somewhat easier.

There are now about 1,000 of the passports in circulation.

In 1987, when Deer travelled for the first time on the Haudenosaunee passport, he said he was stopped by Swiss immigration officials - but only because he had not obtained advance approval or a visa from the Swiss embassy in Canada, a diplomatic mistake he has not repeated.

"Generally, people are sympathetic," he said.

"They understand what we are trying to do, our place in North America and that there should be some way, some how that we can express who we are.

"We are not trying to embarrass any government, but rather to exercise our right to travel as Haudenosaunee." And travel he has.

In 2001, Deer went to Durban, South Africa, for the World Conference Against Racism, and "got back the day before 9/11." "God shines on me sometimes." That same year, he visited Hokkaido, Japan, on the invitation of the Ainu, indigenous people there, and later that year to Australia.

In many cases, he said, he asks for assistance from diplomats, politicians and organizers of the various events to which he has been invited.

"It often takes political work," he said, alluding to the strings that often must be pulled.

In 2006, for instance, he had no trouble when he went to Bolivia for a pan-American conference on indigenous peoples.

"It helps when Morales has invited you," he said of Juan Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous head of state since the Spanish Conquest.

The following year, things went equally smooth when Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, extended the invitation for a similar event there.

But while high-placed invitations can grease diplomatic wheels, they can also present ethical dilemmas.

Back in 1991, Deer flew to Libya when the Mohawks were nominated for the Muammar al-Gaddafi prize for human rights. It was just after the 1990 Oka crisis.

"I found out Nelson Mandela was given the award in 1988," he said of that visit.

The award was given to another North American Indian group and there was no need to go back.

From country to country and, indeed, from year to year, he said, political circumstances change and they often affect a country's willingness to accept the passport.

But, Deer said, his will rarely wavers.

In 1994, he hired a human rights lawyer when immigration officials refused to let him and another Kahnawake Mohawk man travelling on a Haudenosaunee passport into the Netherlands.

The judge ruled that they had been treated unjustly because the Haudenosaunee passport had been accepted previously, Deer said.

More recently, Brazil refused his request in July to travel there on the Haudenosaunee passport - even though he attended the so-called Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992.

He suspects politics involving the indigenous peoples in Brazil may have something to do with the refusal.

But he added: "I don't cry about it. As a point of principle, I just stay home."

ccornacchia@ thegazette.canwest.com


Water reached Palestinians - activists broke through army cordon

Gush Shalom

This Saturday morning, September 26, the IDF declared the area of the Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills to be "a closed military zone" in order to prevent the entry of a Water Convoy organized by Israeli peace movements - but nevertheless, the activists managed to break through the military cordon and pass the convoy as planned. The Water Convoy included about a hundred activists who arrived in buses from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem as well as in private cars and large water tankers carrying about 25 tons of water.

About 10.30am the convoy was blocked by military forces which spread spikes on he road near the Israeli settlement of Carmel and the officer in charge forbade them to enter the "closed military zone."

The organizers explained that they were involved in a vital humanitarian activity, bringing water to where there is severe lack of it, but the army persisted in denying access. Thereupon, the organizers instructed activists to leave the buses and proceed on foot, bypassing the military roadblock.

In a long line the activists walked along the southward road, under the desert sun, followed by military jeeps. TV crews of international networks walked alongside and documented the protest march. After they walked about three kilometers there came to the activists inhabitants of the Palestinian villages, driving tractors with platforms on which the Israelis climbed, traveling on unpaved tracks deep into the desert area.

Meanwhile the water tankers succeeded to arrive via desert bypass roads, accompanied by a bulldozer which removed obstacles on difficult spots, thus allowing the tankers to pass.

About 12.30, the activists, the Palestinian inhabitants and the tankers all reached the pre-arranged rendez-vous point. They proceeded on the water distribution, traveling among the small hamlets in the area, stopping at each and giving inhabitants their share. What impressed the urban activists above all was how in one village, Jinaba, the cattle trough was filled directly from the tanker, and the thirsty sheep started drinking immediately.

Suddenly there arrived the military jeeps with the soldiers trying to arrest the Palestinian bulldozer driver, claiming that he had "opened blocked routes" and thereby "harmed security." Dozens of Israelis surrounded the bulldozer, some of them climbing on it, with their bodies blocking the soldiers from approaching the driver - himself an inhabitant of one of the nearby villages. "Shame on you! Shame!" activists shoutled at the soldiers. "Shame on you for denying the inhabitants here water, for blocking the roads and filling up their wells! One day all of you will be ashamed to tell your sons and grandsons where you have been, and what you have done!"

The convoy organizers made clear to the commander of the military force that by no means will they leave the territory as long as the army continues the threat of arresting the bulldozer driver and confiscating his vehicle. After a two hours stand-off the commander gave in and let the bulldozer depart. Several of the activists accompanied the bulldozer until it came back safely to its origin.

For several months the peace organizations are acting to protest the Policy of Thirst. The State of Israel is taking about 80% of the water from the West Bank aquifers for the needs of its citizens and of the settlers, leaving only about a fifth to the Palestinian inhabitants whose land it is. In so doing the State of Israel is perpetrating a severe violation of international law, according to which an occupying state is not allowed to use the natural resources of the occupied territory.

The inhabitants of the South Hebron Hill are in a worse situation than the rest of the West Bankers. They are not at all connected to water pipes, the army is deliberately filling up their wells, and their only way to obtain water by tankers arriving from far. Water, therefore, is for them very expensive, 50 to 60 Shekels (US$16-19) per cubic meter, as compared to some 4 shekel for an Israeli who gets it delivered to his tap. And, these Palestinians already live below the poverty line. Moreover, the army is making difficulties and deliberately blocking roads in order to prevent arrival of the tankers.

In fact, we have here a deliberate effort to make life so difficult so that they will leave the South Hebron Hills, making it possible to annex the area to Israel "free of Arabs" - as is the declared desire of the particularly aggressive and extremist settlers who have established themselves throughout this area. In 1999 the army carried out a mass deportation of these Palestinian inhabitants, but the Supreme Court ruled that this was illegal and ordered the government to allow them back to their modest homes (some living in caves).

Now the authorities try to achieve the same result by the indirect way of making their life into hell, in the hope that they will leave "voluntarily" the land where they lived for generations and where they find their scant livelihood as shepherds.

The Thirst Policy of the government against the Palestinians in general and these South-Hebroners in particular is highly despicable, racist and inhuman.

We have no illusion that with our own resources we can provide all the water which Palestinians need. Our limited action is meant in the first place to express protest and fury and make people aware, in Israel and everywhere.

Israeli representatives: Yaakov - 09-7670801 / 050-5733276 Shai - 052-3727602 Yehuda - 050-4402350 Adam - 054-2340749

Representatives of the South Hebron Hills area: Othman - 054-7426591 Hader - 059-8014491

Partner organizations in the protest convoy: Anarchists Against the Wall, Humans without Borders, Banki, Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, ICAHD, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, AIC, Tarabut – Hithabrut, Hadash, Yesh Gvul, Combatants for Peace, Machsomwatch, Maki, Meretz, Sadaqa-Reut, New Profile, Coalition of Women for Peace, Physicians for Human Rights, Taayush – Arab Jewish Partnership;

Palestinian organizations supporting the water campaign: House of Water &Environment, Life Source, Medical Relief Society, Palestinian Environmental NGOs Net work (PENGON), Palestinian Farmers Union, Palestinian Hydrology Group, Palestinian Institute for Water Issues Training, Palestinian Peasants Union, Union of Agricultural Work Committees;

International organizations supporting the water campaign: International Solidarity Movement, International Women's Peace Services, Michigan Peacemakers Team, CCIPPT-France Civil for Palestine.


Robert Fisk’s World: Israel should pay attention to criticism from its own people

by Robert Fisk

They wouldn’t accept that the casualties of this war were disproportionate

I met Judge Richard Goldstone at The Hague at the height of the Bosnian war, a small, dapper man whose belief in the righteousness of justice shone through his every word.

As head of the War Crimes Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, he pursued the blood-drenched gangsters of the Balkans – Croat Catholic, Bosnian Muslim, Serb Orthodox – with Nuremberg-like persistence. He believed that one day even Slobodan Milosevic would be brought to book. I doubted this. But he was right, as they say, and I was wrong. He was Jewish – and not afraid to talk of his hatred of apartheid in his native South Africa – and I thought he was a fine man.

So would he be pissed on by the Israelis when he investigated the crimes of the winter war in Gaza? Or would Israel – just this once – desist from its usual venom for all critics if this great jurist produced a report that blamed Israel as well as Hamas for crimes against humanity? Not because he was Jewish. Not because he drew the sword of justice on behalf of the UN. But because he was a patently decent and fair man. "I accepted with hesitation my United Nations mandate," he wrote last week, "because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm."

Not a hope, of course. Israeli investigations of the Gaza war, its government officials announced, were "a thousand times" fairer than the Goldstone investigation – a preposterous claim, given Israel's constant inability to conduct fair inquiries of its own – and that his mission "gave legitimacy to the Hamas terrorist organisation". The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem found that 1,387 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war, more than 770 of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, four by their own troops, three of the others Israeli Arabs. Goldstone bitterly condemned Hamas for firing at civilians – from civilians areas of Gaza – but Chapter 11 of his report, for example, found that Israel shelled a house in which Palestinian civilians had been forced to gather, intentionally bombed a hospital with white phosphorous shells, shot civilians who were waving white flags and refused to allow wounded to be evacuated.

But no, Israel – as unwilling to accept criticism as Hamas – which, typically and cynically, washed its own dirty hands of the report, even though it murdered at least 40 suspected Palestinian collaborators while killing only six of its military enemies – wouldn't face up to Goldstone's conclusions, wouldn't accept that the casualties of this monstrous war were disproportionate. Israel's response wasn't disproportionate. It never was.

This nonsense is unworthy of a grown-up nation. For not long before the Gaza war, Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli army northern commander, defined his doctrine very carefully. "We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction... This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised." No wonder the world watches, amazed, at Israel's response to Goldstone's conclusions. And the United States – which, of course, once defined Hiroshima as "a military base" – was either silent or took Israel's side. Barack Obama's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, condemned the Goldstone investigation with the pathetic (and, again, typical) remark that "our view is that we have to remain focused on the future".

But these things come by the bucketful. Take the Toronto Film Festival that ended this week. A group of eight actresses, actors and activists objected to the festival for embracing a city-to-city spotlight with Tel Aviv just a few months after the Gaza slaughter, accusing the Canadian organisers of helping to wash Israel's image after the bloodbath. They weren't trying to boycott the Israeli films at the festival – and by the way, I urge readers to watch the Israeli film Lebanon, filmed almost entirely inside a tank, when it comes your way – and five of the eight letter-signers were Jewish, one an Israeli.

It mattered not, of course. They were accused of trying to organise a racist boycott, abused as hypocrites, censors and – since slanders are now part of the grammar of Israel's so-called supporters – anti-Semites. Naomi Klein, one of the most brilliant of North America's journalists, was abused in Canada's National Post ("the strange, enduring rage of Naomi Klein"), thus cementing the paper's role as Canada's version of the Jerusalem Post.

But there was just one little hiccup for the protesters and their letter. I noticed Jane Fonda's name among them. Fonda? Remember little Jane when she outraged her friends by visiting North Vietnam during America's own disproportionate war in South-east Asia? Tough little Jane, we thought then. But I went back to my files (paper, of course) and discovered that doughty Jane turned up in Lebanon in 1982 when Israel was besieging Beirut – with plenty of white phosphorous shells falling among civilians, of course – to entertain the Israeli soldiers whose war was to claim 17,000 lives. According to Yediot Ahronot (4 July 1982, if readers want to check it out), she "expressed her identification with Israel's struggle against Palestinian terror...", later announcing her "unqualified support for Israel", attributing protests at the invasion to "anti-Semitism". (Please read Al-Hamishmar of 5 December 1982.)

Years later, she turned up in Egypt to marvel at the temples of Luxor, but refused to take questions from me on her enthusiasm for the 1982 Israeli invaders. But then, bingo, up she pops in Toronto. Until last week, when she said she'd signed the letter "without reading it carefully enough... some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart... Many (Israeli) citizens now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder..." The letter did not "hear the narratives of both sides" and could be "inflammatory".

Ye gods! With Jane as a friend, you don't need enemies. But given her previous behaviour and now this grovelling backtrack, you have to admit that the Toronto protesters must have some right on their side. Like Judge Richard Goldstone.

Israeli forces target Palestinian cameramen at Bil’in demonstration

International Solidarity Movement

Israeli forces target Palestinian cameramen at Bil’in demonstration.

Around 1pm, Israeli forces arrested 2 Israeli solidarity activists and a Palestinian cameraman, Haitham al-Khatib (33 years old) during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

Witnesses say that Israeli soldiers ran in and arrested the 3 demonstrators. Haitham al-Khatib was filming the demonstration near the Wall when he was taken.

Haitham has been filming the ongoing Israeli arrest campaign in Bil’in. One of his videos was recently used by several news sources, including the Israeli news, YNet (see: http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3778117,00.html), to showcase the violence and intimidation used by the army against Bil’in residents. Thousands of viewers worldwide have been following the night raids in Bil’in through Haitham’s videos on http://www.youtube.com/user/haithmkatib.

Haitham was previously detained by Israeli forces on 24 July 2009 when he arrived at Ofer prison to wait for the release of another Bil’in resident. He was held for several hours and interrogated.

Coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, Abdedallah abu Rahme, stated, “Soldiers coming to arrest Palestinians from Bil’in in the night is only part of intimidation campaign, the Israeli authorities are also targeting our supporters and journalists. They want us to stop our non-violent demonstrations, but as long as our land is being stolen, we cannot stop.”


The recent raids began concurrently with the opening of a legal trial in Montreal. The village of Bil’in has taken two companies registered in Canada (Green Park International & Green Mount International) to court for participating in war crimes by building settlements on Bil’in’s land under the 2000 Canadian Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Statute (which incorporates both the articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute into Canadian federal law).

Since the trail began Israeli forces have arrested 30 people (most of which are under 18). Twenty-one residents of Bil’in remain in Israeli detention.

Through Israel’s interrogation and intimidation tactics, some of arrested youth have falsely ‘confessed’ that the Bil’in Popular Committee urges the demonstrators to throw stones. With such ‘confessions’, Israeli forces then proceed to raid the village at night invade homes and arrest leaders of the non-violent struggle in the community.

Two of the three popular committee members who traveled to Montreal to represent the villages case , Mohammad Khatib and Mohammad Abu Rahme were arrested and have since been released on bail. (see B’Tselem report: http://www.btselem.org/english/separation_barrier/20090818_night_arrests_in_bilin.asp).

Another leading Bil’in non-violent activist, Adeeb Abu Rahme, remains in detention since his arrest during a non-violent demonstration on 10 July 2009 (see report & video: http://palsolidarity.org/2009/07/7652. Adib has been charged with “incitement to damage the security of the area.”

On 29 August 2009, two additional Bil’in houses were simultaneously raided by at least 40 soldiers, arresting Ashraf Al-Khatib (age 29) and Hamru Bornat (age 24). A local cameraman, Haitham Al-Khatib, brother of the arrested Ashraf, was repeatedly forcibly moved and hit, and threatened with arrest unless he stopped filming. Soldiers declared his home a “closed military zone” but could not produce any military order.

The Palestinian village of Bil’in has become an international symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle. For almost 5 years, its residents have been continuously struggling against the de facto annexation of more than 50% of their farmlands, confiscated for the construction of the Apartheid Wall.

In a celebrated decision, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on the 4 September 2007 that the current route of the wall in Bil’in was illegal and needs to be dismantled; the ruling however has not been implemented. The struggle of the village to liberate its lands and stop the illegal settlements has been internationally recognized and has earned the popular committee in Bil’in the Carl von Ossietzky Meda award.


Iraq Burin to demonstrate against the theft of their lands

International Solidarity Movement

The village of Iraq Burin in the the southern region of Nablus will re-commence its weekly demonstrations this Friday, the 25th of September after a hiatus to observe the holy month of Ramadan. Over 100 dunums (100,000 sq metres) of farmers’ land has been annexed by the illegal settlement of Bracha and the village is subject to constant attacks from settlers and soldiers alike. Demonstrators will meet at 12:30 after the midday prayer, when international activists will march with residents to the edge of the village for a public prayer on the contested land.

West Bank villages such as Bil’in and Nil’in have proved what success peaceful protest can achieve to capture both public and media interest and draw attention to the detrimental effects of the Israeli occupation on rural life in Palestine. Iraq Burin is determined to follow their example and hopes its demonstrations can continue to host a growing presence of international activists.

Iraq Burin held three demonstrations in August, despite attacks from armed settlers and heavy-handed “crowd dispersal” techniques by the Israeli army: the ubiquitous use of sound bombs, tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition. A journalist from Al-Jazeera was beaten by a settler and a local man sustained stomach injuries when hit by a tear gas canister. Over the month of Ramadan, the village has been holding workshops in place of protests, exploring philosophies and methods of non-violent resistance in history.

Come and give your support to the villagers of Iraq Burin, and show them they are not alone in their struggle!


Uri Avnery's Column: The Drama and the Farce

by Uri Avnery

NO POINT denying it: in the first round of the match between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama was beaten.

Obama had demanded a freeze of all settlement activity, including East Jerusalem, as a condition for convening a tripartite summit meeting, in the wake of which accelerated peace negotiations were to start, leading to peace between two states – Israel and Palestine.

In the words of the ancient proverb, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Netanyahu has tripped Obama on his first step. The President of the United States has stumbled.

THE THREEFOLD summit did indeed take place. But instead of a shining achievement for the new American administration, we witnessed a humbling demonstration of weakness. After Obama was compelled to give up his demand for a settlement freeze, the meeting no longer had any content.

True, Mahmoud Abbas did come, after all. He was dragged there against his will. The poor man was unable to refuse the invitation from Obama, his only support. But he will pay a heavy price for this flight: the Palestinians, and the entire Arab world, have seen his weakness. And Obama, who had started his term with a ringing speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, now looks like a broken reed.

The Israeli peace movement has been dealt another painful blow. It had pinned its hopes on the steadfastness of the American president. Obama’s victory and the settlement freeze were to show the Israeli public that the refusal policy of Netanyahu was leading to disaster.

But Netanyahu has won, and in a big way. Not only did he survive, not only has he shown that he is no “sucker” (a word he uses all the time), he has proven to his people – and to the public at large – that there is nothing to fear: Obama is nothing but a paper tiger. The settlements can go on expanding without hindrance. Any negotiations that start, if they start at all, can go on until the coming of the Messiah. Nothing will come out of them.

For Netanyahu, the threat of peace has passed. At least for the time being.

IT IS difficult to understand how Obama allowed himself to get into this embarrassing situation.

Machiavelli taught that one should not challenge a lion unless one is able to kill him. And Netanyahu is not even a lion, just a fox.

Why did Obama insist on the settlement freeze – in itself a very reasonable demand – if he was unable to stand his ground? Or, in other words, if he was unable to impose it on Netanyahu?

Before entering into such a campaign, a statesman must weigh up the array of forces: What power is at my disposal? What forces are confronting me? How determined is the other side? What means am I ready to employ? How far am I prepared to go in using my power?

Obama has a host of able advisors, headed by Rahm Emanuel, whose Israeli origins (and name) were supposed to give him special insights. George Mitchell, a hard-nosed and experienced diplomat, was supposed to provide sober assessments. How did they all fail?

Logic would say that Obama, before entering the fray, should have decided which instruments of pressure to employ. The arsenal is inexhaustible – from a threat by the US not to shield the Israeli government with its veto in the Security Council, to delaying the next shipment of arms. In 1992 James Baker, George Bush Sr’s Secretary of State, threatened to withhold American guarantees for Israel’s loans abroad. That was enough to drag even Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference.

It seems that Obama was either unable or unwilling to exert such pressures, even secretly, even behind the scenes. This week he allowed the American navy to conduct major joint war-games with the Israeli Air Force.

Some people hoped that Obama would use the Goldstone report to exert pressure on Netanyahu. Just one hint that the US might not use its veto in the Security Council would have sown panic in Jerusalem. Instead, Washington published a statement on the report, dutifully toeing the Israeli propaganda line.

True, it is hard for the US to condemn war crimes that are so similar to those committed by its own soldiers. If Israeli commanders are put on trial in The Hague, American generals may be next in line. Until now, only the losers in wars were indicted. What will the world come to if those who remain in office are also accused?

THE INESCAPABLE conclusion is that Obama’s defeat is the outcome of a faulty assessment of the situation. His advisors, who are considered seasoned politicians, were wrong about the forces involved.

That has happened already in the crucial health insurance debate. The opposition is far stronger than anticipated by Obama’s people. In order to get out of this mess somehow, Obama needs the support of every senator and congressman he can lay his hands on. That automatically strengthens the position of the pro-Israel lobby, which already has immense influence in Congress.

The last thing that Obama needs at this moment is a declaration of war by AIPAC and Co. Netanyahu, an expert on domestic American politics, scented Obama’s weakness and exploited it.

Obama could do nothing but gnash his teeth and fold up.

That debacle is especially painful at this precise point in time. The impression is rapidly gaining ground that he is indeed an inspiring speaker with an uplifting message, but a weak politician, unable to turn his vision into reality. If this view of him firms up, it may cast a shadow over his whole term.

BUT IS Netanyahu’s policy wise from the Israeli point of view?

This may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Obama will not disappear. He has three and a half years in office before him, and thereafter perhaps four more. That’s a lot of time to plan revenge for someone hurt and humiliated at a delicate moment, at the beginning of his term of office.

One cannot know, of course, what is happening in the depths of Obama’s heart and in the back of his mind. He is an introvert who keeps his cards close to his chest. His many years as a young black man in the United States have probably taught him to keep his feelings to himself.

He may draw the conclusion, in the footsteps of all his predecessors since Dwight Eisenhower (except Father Bush during Baker’s short stint as hatchet man): Don’t Mess With Israel. With the help of its partners and servants in the US, it can cause grievous harm to any President.

But he may also draw the opposite conclusion: Wait for the right opportunity, when your standing in the domestic arena is solid, and pay Netanyahu back with interest. If that happens, Netanyahu’s air of victory may turn out to be premature.

IF I were asked for advice (not to worry, it won’t happen), I would tell him:

The forging of Israeli-Palestinian peace would mean a historic turnabout, a reversal of a 120 year old trend. That is not an easy operation, not to be undertaken lightly. It is not a matter for diplomats and secretaries. It demands a determined leader with a stout heart and a steady hand. If one is not ready for it, one should not even start.

An American President who wants to undertake such a role must formulate a clear and detailed peace plan, with a strict timetable, and be prepared to invest all his resources and all his political capital in its realization. Among other things, he must be ready to confront, face to face, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

This will not succeed unless public opinion in Israel, Palestine, the Arab world, the United States and the whole world is thoroughly prepared well in advance. It will not succeed without an effective Israeli peace movement, without strong support from US public opinion, especially Jewish-American opinion, without a strong Palestinian leadership and without Arab unity.

At the appropriate moment, the President of the United States must come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli public from the Knesset rostrum, like Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter before him, as well as the Palestinian parliament, like President Bill Clinton.

I don’t know if Obama is the man. Some in the peace camp have already given up on him, which effectively means that they have despaired of peace as such. I am not ready for this. One battle rarely decides a war, and one mistake does not foretell the future. A lost battle can steel the loser, a mistake can teach a valuable lesson.

IN ONE of his essays, Karl Marx said that when history repeats itself: The first time it is as tragedy, the second time it is as farce.

The 2000 threefold summit meeting at Camp David was high drama. Many hopes were pinned on it, success seemed to be within reach, but in the end it collapsed, with the participants blaming each other.

The 2009 Waldorf-Astoria summit was the farce.

Robert Fisk: Mangling everything in its path, Typhoon Sarah blows in to Asia

by Robert Fisk

Our writer is there to witness the carnage as Alaska's former mom-in-chief touches down in Hong Kong

Grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre, unbelievable. Sarah Palin was all of that in Hong Kong yesterday. And more. Dressed in a cutesy virgin-white blouse and black skirt with the infamous bee-hive hairdo, she was a blessing to every predicting spectator.

"There'll be one or two self-deprecating remarks, a reference to healthcare, taxation, out-of-control spending and a poorly told joke," my investor companion muttered when the lady walked on to the stage of the Hyatt conference room. All he forgot was the bit about Islamic terror. Alas, she did not fail us. "No recording, no photography, no video tapes, no mobile phones," they kept shouting over the public address system. And you could see why.

It was Sarah's trip to Asia and her first appearance since her resignation as Alaska's top Mum. In her state capital, she told us, you could see a moose in the middle of the city. It was not a common sight in Hong Kong. Why, in Alaska, where 20,000 square miles of the state was glacial and with only two humans per square mile, "it seems to me that God just chucked this bucketful of resources there". It was then we realised that whoever wrote the Palin sermon for her, they had – mercilessly – allowed some of the real Sarah to show through. Even husband Todd got a mention. He had flown with her into Hong Kong. And – here was a reference to the Alaska fish and caviar consumed in this "beautiful", "magnificent" and "libertarian" part of China – "some of the fruits of our labour, mine and Todd's, ended up on tables here". The caviar at the Hyatt, it should be added, comes from Iran.

But Alaska was more than just a fish market. It was "the air-crossroads to the world" where "Main Street, for me, it's a small town tucked between two mountain ranges". It went on and on. Alaska was "the last frontier", a "place where you can still feel that pioneering mountain spirit... It has shaped me." We sat there, mystified. Was she trying for the presidency next time round? Or re-election to the governorship of that wretched glacial state?

To prove her shining Republicanism, Sarah quoted Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. She quoted Lincoln. She quoted Thomas Jefferson. History and common sense were not on the side of liberalism and "utopian pipe dreams". But there'd been progress. In the past, we had the "horse and buggy business", she said, then Ford came along with the motor car and the kids sat singing in the back, but now the kids have headsets. And what happened to the Reagan legacy? "Many Republicans in Washington gambled it away."

She talked, of course, about the infamous "death panels" – a big smirk here from Sarah – and "market-friendly responsible ideas" (this must have been the speech-writer) and offered slippery advice: "We can responsibly develop our resources without damaging the environment."

She spoke too fast. She gabbled her words. Scatty was the word for it. We slalomed between the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of Yugoslavia and 9/11. Then it started. The war on "vicious terrorism", the war against "violent fanatics who wished to end our way of life", our battle against "radical Islamic extremists" with "twisted vision". This was not a clash of civilisations but "a war within Islam". We slalomed again. Asia – "what an amazing place!" – was at its best "when it was not dominated by a single power".

What on earth was happening? Had Sarah just looked up from her podium and seen China? Addressing what was surely the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party, she could not "turn a blind eye" to Chinese policies that created "uncertainty", which supported "questionable regimes" and "made a lot of people nervous". America wasn't going to impose its values on other countries, but America was going to have to "ramp up" its defence spending.

Then family again. "I have a husband," she said. "I think I could have used a wife. He's awesome." This really floored the Chinese. Poor Todd.


Merced police used Taser on unarmed, legless man in a wheelchair

by Victor A. Patton

The Merced Police Department's Internal Affairs Division is investigating a complaint alleging that an officer twice used a Taser against an unarmed, wheelchair-bound man with no legs.

The incident occurred Sept. 11.

The man who was Tasered, 40-year-old Gregory Williams, a double-leg amputee, spent six days in jail on suspicion of domestic violence and resisting arrest, although the Merced County District Attorney's Office hasn't filed charges in the case.

Williams, who was released from jail Friday, said he was violently manhandled and Tasered by police, even though he claims he was never physically aggressive toward the officers or resisted arrest.

Even worse for him, Williams says he was publicly humiliated after his pants fell down during the incident. The officers allegedly left him outdoors in broad daylight, handcuffed on the pavement, nude below the waist. Williams said the arrest also left him with an injured shoulder, limiting his mobility in his wheelchair.

And although the two lead arresting officers are white, and Williams is black, it remains unknown whether race was a factor in the incident. Those two officers remain on duty.

Williams said the officers never used any racial epithets toward him. Although he does believe race and class played a role in his arrest, he also feels the police just wanted to be "downright nasty" to him. "They did what they did because they can get away with it," he said. "They've been doing it so long, it doesn't matter who they do it to. They just think they can get away with it."

A handful of residents who live in Williams' apartment complex claim they witnessed the incident and support Williams' charges. A short video clip, shot by a neighbor in the complex and obtained by the Sun-Star, clearly shows Williams sitting on the pavement with his pants down, his hands cuffed behind his back.

A Merced police report obtained by the Sun-Star tells a somewhat different story from that of Williams. The report, written by the responding officers, suggests that police had tried to reason with Williams before the arrest, to no avail. The officers wrote in the report that Williams was uncooperative and refused to turn over his 2-year-old daughter to Merced County Child Protective Services, among other allegations.

In the report, police also say a hostile crowd had gathered as the officers attempted to perform their duties.

The Merced Police Department's spokesman officially declined to comment on the matter, saying he can't legally speak about it because of the internal investigation.

The Sun-Star interviewed Williams and several neighbors who said they witnessed his arrest.

Police use Tasers more often

Tasers have become more controversial as they're more widely used by law enforcement. Proponents, including most U.S. law enforcement agencies and related foundations, say the weapon allows officers to control suspects and criminals without resorting to deadly force, pepper spray or batons. The stun guns, which transmit up to 50,000 volts of electricity, are supposed to disable a suspect or criminal for several seconds so officers can handcuff or otherwise control him. Tasers have become popular over the last decade, and more than 12,400 police departments worldwide use them.

Opponents blame Tasers for more than 150 deaths in the U.S. in recent years. A 2005 report by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that the weapon is "largely unregulated." In a survey of more than 50 departments across central and northern California, the ACLU concluded that "in the absence of strong regulations on how police use the weapon, we are likely to see more unnecessary deaths."

While he was down on the ground, Court put his knee on Williams' neck, Williams said. One of the officers then cuffed both of Williams' wrists, he said. At some point after falling out of his chair, Williams said his shorts slid down his legs. With his hands cuffed behind his back, Williams said he was helpless and unable to pull his pants back up. He said police left him for five to 10 minutes on the pavement in that position, with hisThe Law Enforcement Alliance of America called the ACLU report "junk science." Law enforcement agencies typically blame Taser-related deaths on other factors, such as the possible lethal presence of illegal drugs, pre-existing medical conditions or stress stemming from violently resisting arrest. A Fox News story last year quoted a study by the city of Houston that concluded its police officers used Tasers more often on black suspects than any other group between 2004 and 2007.

Three inmate deaths in the last five months have occurred in Stanislaus County Jail after corrections officers used Tasers to subdue prisoners. Last year, Merced County agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of an inmate who died after a struggle involving correctional officers who used a Taser at the Merced County Jail.

An afternoon to remember

Williams, a life-long Mercedian who's married with three children, said both his legs were amputated in 2004 after he was diagnosed with a serious case of deep-vein thrombosis. The condition led to gangrene in both legs.

Doctors amputated each of his legs below the knee when he was 34. Now, only withered stumps of skin exist where his lower legs once were. Williams said losing his legs was life-changing. He lost his job as a truck driver and was forced to adjust to life as an amputee. He now supports himself and his family from a Social Security allotment of $1,004 a month, from his disability.

While Williams and his wife have a 2-year-old daughter, Ginni, together, his 11-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son live with other family members.

Fast-forward to the afternoon of Sept. 11, a day Williams says he'll "always remember."

Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., Williams said he and his wife, 28-year-old Demetrice Shaunte Phifer, were involved in a verbal argument when a marked Merced Police Department patrol car arrived at the couple's apartment, at 2355 K Street.

While one officer spoke with his wife, Williams said another officer arrived at the scene and ordered him to "go back to your house!" Williams, who held his 2-year-old daughter in his lap, said he rolled his wheelchair back to his apartment.

The officer, who Williams said he couldn't remember by name, but is identified in the police report as Officer John Pinnegar, approached him in the doorway of his studio apartment. Pinnegar said his wife had accused him of striking her, which Williams denied.

Shortly afterward, Sgt. Rodney Court and a worker with Merced County Child Protective Services came to his apartment, Williams recalled. "I'm trying to tell him nothing happened. We were just having an argument," he said.

Williams said the officers told him he was being arrested. "Arrested for what? What did I do?," Williams said he asked the officers.

A Taser to the ribs

Events went south fast. Pinnegar grabbed William's 2-year-old daughter from his lap, handing her to the CPS worker. "I said, 'What are you doing? I haven't done anything!'" Williams recalled.

Williams said Pinnegar, who was positioned behind the wheelchair, grabbed him by his left arm, pulling it backward behind his head. To prevent himself from falling out of his wheelchair, Williams said he grabbed the side of his wheelchair with his right hand. "I wasn't resisting. I was hanging on, so I wouldn't fall out and bust my head open. They weren't caring what was going to happen to me when I hit that ground, and I knew it," Williams said.

Williams said Pinnegar unholstered his Taser and jammed it into his rib cage on the left side of his body, shocking him twice. Williams said he fell from his chair on his stomach, onto the ground outside of the doorway in front of his apartment. During the struggle, Williams said one of the officers placed a handcuff on his right wrist. genitals showing, as neighbors and onlookers watched the scene unfold.

William Decker, a relative of Williams who witnessed the arrest, said he was appalled by what he saw. Williams is the brother-in-law of Decker's wife from her previous marriage. "The tenants were screaming 'Pull his pants up! Give him some dignity!'" Decker recalled.

Decker said he noticed Williams was bleeding from his mouth during the incident. Williams said he's unsure of why he was bleeding from his mouth. There are specks of blood present on the collar of the blue shirt he was wearing that day.

Dozens of police respond

Eventually, Williams said a detective uncuffed him, and someone pulled his pants up before paramedics attended to him. Dozens of police responded to the apartment complex as a small crowd of onlookers and residents gathered.

Williams was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced and treated for a shoulder injury, which Williams claims was a result of the officer pulling back his arm. A diagnostic imaging report from the hospital states that although there's no fracture or dislocation on Williams' left shoulder, he may have an underlying rotator cuff tear.

Williams' left arm is in a sling. Without both arms, he said he'd be unable to move his wheelchair without help until his shoulder heals, which could take weeks.

Police took Phifer, Williams' wife, into custody during the incident on an outstanding $10,000 misdemeanor warrant for domestic violence.

A tenant in the apartment complex, 36-year-old Clifton Alexander Allison, was also arrested on suspicion of carrying an illegal weapon (a double-bladed folding knife) and with resisting arrest.

After being treated, Williams was taken to the John Latorraca Correctional Center, where he spent six days in a dorm with older inmates. He was released from jail Friday around noon, after the Merced County District Attorney's Office decided not to file charges against him.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said his office rejected Williams' case because there wasn't enough evidence to file charges. "While we do not doubt the officers may have had probable cause in arresting Mr. Williams, in our view we would not likely obtain a conviction in a jury trial," Morse said. "We are ethically precluded from filing any case in which we do not believe we have a likelihood of securing a conviction."

Williams said he's not surprised the District Attorney's Office didn't file charges because he maintains he did nothing wrong. While Williams said he was concerned about the officers taking his daughter away from him, he insisted that never posed a threat to police.

Other than having his daughter taken away, Williams said the worst result of the incident was being subjected to the public embarrassment of being handcuffed on the ground with his pants down, in full view of apartment residents.

Recounting the experience, Williams broke into tears. "How much resisting am I going to do with no legs? No feet?" he wept. "It's ridiculous what they did to me. How far am I gonna run? Where am I gonna go?"

Probable cause -- or excessive force?

The Merced Police Department was prompted to conduct an internal investigation into Williams' Tasing after Decker filed a complaint with the department on Sept. 14.

Decker said he spent the weekend disgusted by what he'd just seen and felt he had to step forward.

The former owner of "Big Will's Barbecue" restaurant in Atwater, Decker said he wanted to intervene to help Williams, but feared he'd be the next to be Tased -- or worse. "He didn't fight. He didn't hit anybody. Nothing," Williams said.

Cmdr. Floyd Higdon, spokesman for the Merced Police Department, said he couldn't comment on any specific details about the incident, citing the internal investigation.

Although Higdon said the officers involved remain on-duty, he said the department is taking the internal investigation and the allegations seriously.

"We want to get to the bottom of it," Higdon said. "We want to make sure we're doing the right thing for the right reasons. But like any case, we need to keep an open mind."

In the police reports filed by Court and Pinnegar, details surrounding the incident differ somewhat from Williams' account.

According to the report filed by Pinnegar, he arrived at the K Street apartment at 3:27 p.m. to investigate a call about a fight in progress.

Phifer told the officer that she'd been in an argument with Williams, who punched her about three times in the stomach with a closed fist. Phifer told Pinnegar she had no physical injuries.

Pinnegar walked over to talk with Williams, who acknowledged the couple had been in an argument about their 2-year-old. When asked if he'd struck Phifer, Williams denied it, according to Pinnegar's report.

While Pinnegar was talking with Williams, a CPS worker arrived at the scene, telling the officer she'd received information from an "anonymous citizen" that there was domestic violence happening at Phifer's and Williams' apartment, and that there was drug use in front of "the children."

According to the report, Williams then became "extremely upset" because CPS was at his doorstep. Pinnegar and Court told Williams that it would "be in his best interest" if he allowed the CPS worker to search his home, to ensure that it was an "adequate place for the child to be raised," the report said.

Williams told the officer he was no longer going to talk with them, saying that "he knew his rights."

'You're not taking my kid!'

After Pinnegar told Williams he was going to "have to take him into custody for misdemeanor domestic violence," Williams replied that he wasn't going to allow anyone to take his child.

Court went to Williams' right side and "grabbed his right arm into a rear wristlock," according to the report. Williams began to yell, "You're not taking me to jail! You're not taking my kid!"

Pinnegar grabbed Williams' left arm, which he had wrapped around his daughter, pulled the child away and handed her to the CPS worker.

"After removing Williams' arm from the child, he then grabbed his wheelchair and refused to comply with our orders," Pinnegar wrote in the report.

Pinnegar then told Williams if he didn't comply, he was going to shock him with his Taser. "Williams continued to yell and scream that he wasn't going to jail. I removed my Taser from the left side of my utility belt and removed the cartridge. I then activated my Taser and applied it to the left shoulder of Williams. After Tasing Williams, he began to comply and I was able to grab his left arm," Pinnegar's report stated.

Court, in his report, said he tried to explain to Williams that he had no intention of taking him or his daughter. He wrote that he only wanted him to cooperate with Pinnegar and the CPS worker "so that we could get the information that was needed and leave."

In the report, Court said his efforts to "verbal judo" a belligerent Williams into cooperating failed, as Williams yelled profanities and refused to comply.

As for Williams' disability, Court said he and Pinnegar were "extremely careful" in handling him, putting Williams' arms behind his back before carefully removing his daughter. Court's report stated the officers "did this without even having (Williams) come out of his chair."

Neither Court nor Pinnegar mentioned in their reports that Williams allegedly fell out of his chair. Nor do the reports mention how Williams was allegedly handcuffed on the pavement with his pants down. While Williams said he remembered being Tasered in the rib-cage, Pinnegar stated in his report that he applied the Taser to Williams' shoulder.

As the officers began taking Williams into custody, a crowd of 10 to 15 people began to approach the police. A member of the crowd, Clifton Allison, walked toward Pinnegar, yelling, "Leave him alone you [bleeping] bitch," the report said.

Pinnegar placed the cartridge back into his Taser, pointed it at Allison and called police dispatch to request backup units. Although Pinnegar instructed Allison to back away, he continued to come toward the officer, shouting to leave Williams alone.

More officers arrived, and Allison was placed in a patrol car "due to the fact he was enticing other people in the area while we were trying to take Williams into custody," Pinnegar wrote in his report.

Court wrote in his report that the only visible injury on Williams was a cut to his lip, which "appeared to be self-inflicted," possibly from biting it. Court's report said Williams also complained of chest pains, and Pinnegar believed Williams might have also have suffered a dislocated shoulder.

While at the hospital, Williams, without being advised of his Miranda Rights, apologized to Pinnegar for "acting up," saying he was only trying to protect his daughter. He also told Pinnegar that he'd never struck his wife, according to Pinnegar's report.

'Hey, you can't do that!'

Several residents who witnessed the incident said they think police used excessive force.

While some witnesses said they didn't see the Tasing itself, their account of the aftermath matches Williams' account.

Eddie Blaylock, a 38-year-old resident of the apartment complex, said he was standing outside his unit with his wife, Cathy, when the couple witnessed the commotion. Blaylock said he doesn't personally know Williams, saying he's only "waved" at him from time to time.

Blaylock, who was a member of the crowd that gathered to watch the incident unfold, said he began taking notice after seeing "two cops trying to handcuff a guy in a wheelchair." After seeing an officer pull out his Taser, Blaylock said he yelled, "Hey, you can't do that!"

One of the officers threatened to Taser Blaylock if he "didn't step back," he said. Blaylock said he didn't actually see Williams get Tasered, although he did see him on the pavement, handcuffed, with his pants down. "He was handcuffed that way, with his pants down. He couldn't do nothing," Blaylock said. "He was just sitting there, on his knees, with his pants down. Not doing anything, not fighting, nothing. Just staring."

Blaylock and his wife said they never saw Williams resist arrest or become violent. "He was complaining about them yanking his arm back before they handcuffed him, because they had one cuff on him," Blaylock said. "They couldn't get the other arm for some reason, and that's when the Taser came in. He was yelling about his arm being stretched backwards."

Farrah Shells, Allison's girlfriend, said she walked up to the scene with her boyfriend and saw Williams on the pavement handcuffed. "They wouldn't even let him pull his pants up," Shells said.

While Allison was arrested and faces charges for resisting arrest and carrying an illegal weapon, Shells disputes the officers' claims. Shells said Allison had been trying to record video footage of the incident on a camera phone when an officer told him to stop.

Shells said Allison refused to stop filming the incident, saying, "Well, everyone else is." Shells said the officer then arrested Allison, although he didn't resist, and willingly placed his hands behind his back. In addition, Shells said she believes police deleted the video footage of the incident from the phone. "Before they gave it back to me, I saw a cop going through my phone," Shells said.

When asked about Shells' claims about the phone and the circumstances surrounding Allison's arrest, Higdon declined comment, saying that's also part of the department's internal affairs investigation.

A rough neighborhood

Anyone who lives in the vicinity of the two-story apartments at 2355 K Street will tell you the area is known for drug sales and other illegal activity.

Williams said he lives at the complex strictly out of economic necessity. He also claims he never uses drugs, and only drinks an occasional beer.

Before his arrest on Sept. 11, Williams had only minor brushes with the law. He was arrested on July 17, 1991, on suspicion of spousal abuse, for an incident with his then-girlfriend. On March 27, 1992, he was arrested for misdemeanor driving without a license and a misdemeanor spousal abuse and battery warrant. All those charges were dismissed.

Despite the allegations of drug use at his home, Williams has never been arrested on any drug charges. "I'm not like what they say in all those reports. What they are trying to do is justify what they did to me," Williams said.

William's daughter, Ginni, is with his sister-in-law. He's been unable to see her since his release from jail.

Internal Affairs probe

Higdon said he's not sure how long the internal investigation will take, noting that such investigations can range from a few weeks to several months. He said the investigation will determine if the officers violated any of the department's policies and procedures and if any criminal acts were committed.

The department's internal affairs report will eventually be forwarded to Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade for his review.

Decker, who filed the complaint with police, said he's not convinced anything will come of the police investigation. As a result, he's helping Williams obtain legal advice. "I don't know if (the police department) will do anything," Decker said. "And I am pretty sure they're going to blow it off. But I needed to do it for me, because it bugs the hell out of me."

For his part, Williams hopes the department will hold the officers responsible for their actions, which he considers wrong. Williams said he was afraid only of losing his daughter and being knocked from his chair. "If (they) were going to do what they had to do, just lift me out of the chair and put me in the back seat," Williams said. "Don't try to throw me on the ground, because I am going to grab on (to my chair). I'm not going to let you throw me on the ground and bust my head open. I don't think anybody would let them do that."

He also hopes his story will prevent anyone else from going through a similar humiliating experience.

"If it's not me, it's somebody else," Williams said. "That's the way I see it."

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.


French police move on 'jungle' migrant camp

by Jerome Taylor and Robert Verkaik

Hundreds of Afghan and Iraqi migrants who have been living in squalid conditions on the outskirts of Calais fled their tarpaulin homes today in an attempt to avoid being rounded up by armed police in an anticipated raid tomorrow.

Following pressure from the UK, the French government has vowed to destroy the camp – known locally a “the jungle” – to discourage traffickers and would-be migrants from using Calais as the main staging area to smuggle people on board lorries headed across the Channel.

But the announcement last week by immigration minister Eric Besson that the jungle would be dismantled within days gave the camp’s occupants ample opportunity to leave the area.

Charity workers who regularly administer medical aid and food to the thousands of so-called “sans papiers” (without papers) that flock to Calais area every year say those inside the camp are determined not to be caught by the crackdown. Some have even gone as far as burning their hands in order not to be identified by their fingerprints.

Monique Delannoy, president of Beautiful Star, one of a handful of organisations that help migrants in a country where aiding a sans papiers is technically illegal, said many of the camp’s 800 residents began leaving last week when M. Besson made his announcement.

“Until recently, they were 700 to 800 in the Calais jungles, now there are about 250,” she said. “The news of the evacuation has gone round so they went further afield.” Some have suggested that there may be as few as 30 or 40 remaining.

Patrick Delouvin, president of the French Coalition for the Rights of Asylum Seekers (CFDA), said migrants were going to extreme lengths not to be identified because they were terrified of being either sent back to their first port of entry in the EU (usually Greece) or their homelands.

Home Secretary Alan Johnston yesterday said he was “delighted” to hear that France was closing the camp. He added: “Both countries are committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach.”

Migrants have been living in variety of camps and squats around Calais ever since the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp seven years ago. Their presence has become a major bone of contention between Britain and France, who both accuse each other of not doing enough to discourage the migrants.

The jungle to the east of Calais town centre, close to where many of the lorries stop before boarding onto ferries, has been the main gathering point for Afghans, Iraqis and a small contingent of Iranians. A number of squats closer into town have been taken over by east Africans, mainly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese. Most refuse to claim asylum in France because the UK is their ultimate goal.

While the French government, including Calais’ town mayor, are determined to crack down on the migrants, critics say removing the jungle will simply force the refugees to set up camps further away from the town.

Mme Delannoy added: “This will solve absolutely nothing. Eventually the migrants will return to the area because England will always be 45km from Calais.”


Native Americans go to court to tackle the Redskins

by Guy Adams

Washington football team faces Supreme Court battle to retain "offensive" name

Opposition to President Obama isn't the only subject that has Washington mulling over thorny issues of race and bigotry. As the new American Football season hits its stride, the city's beloved team, The Redskins, is being taken to the Supreme Court over its allegedly-offensive name.

A group of Native Americans have filed a legal challenge against a trademark the club owns over "Redskins." They claim to find the term offensive and disparaging – and say it should not, therefore, be entitled to any form of commercial protection under US law. For a name to come before the nation's highest court may sound comically petty. Yet the case is quite the reverse. It pits the future of a billion-dollar sports franchise against the grievances of a people whose historic mistreatment represents a stain on the national conscience.

At its heart is an issue of semantics. Coined in an era before political correctness, many Native Americans find "redskin" insulting. Most dictionaries describe it as "offensive". In some quarters, the term is considered to be as unacceptable as the "N-word" for African-Americans. "It is the worst thing in the English language you can be called if you are a native person," Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American writer who is lead plaintiff in the case, told reporters this week. "It is basically characterising a person by their skin. How wrong is that?"

Nonsense, asserts the football club, which is among the most storied in the sport's history. It claims the name, which was adopted in 1933 and registered as a trademark in 1967, is taken from an affectionate term once used to describe the red paint Indian warriors used on their skin. The legal dispute between the two groups has been rumbling since 1992, and saw an initial victory for the Native American lobby in 1997, overturned on appeal. Harjo and her supporters are petitioning the Supreme Court to make a final ruling and the request is due to be considered by Christmas. If they win, the Redskins would be forced to change their name.

The Redskins aren't the only professional sports franchise whose nickname puts them on thin ice. Atlanta's team is called the Braves. Cleveland's baseball team, The Indians, have a mascot which has been likened to a golliwog. Yet "Redskin" is a peculiarly troublesome term. Some linguists claim it was coined by white settlers obsessed by scalping, a practice carried out by some – but by no means all – tribes. It implies, so the argument goes, that every Native American is a barbaric savage.

Concerns over racial stereotypes related to team nicknames has been a hot potato in US sport for decades. In the 1980s, the Kansas City football team, The Chiefs, ditched its Native American mascot in full regalia who would ride on-field at half time with a cuddly wolf mascot.

A decade ago, the NCAA, the governing body for semi-professional college sport, banned universities from using Indian nicknames, mascots or logos deemed "offensive or hostile". The move saw the end of, among other institutions, the University of Illinois's mascot Chief Illiniwek. However,, not every sporting name associated with Native Americans is considered controversial. Florida State's team is still called the Seminoles because the Seminole tribe considers the side taking their name to be an honour.

What's in a name? Redskins

*Used since the 18th century and generally regarded as a description of Native Americans' skin colour.

*Possibly derived from the blood on the scalps of natives, traded as mementoes after battle.

*The US Commission on Civil Rights wants an end to such names for non-Native teams.

Israel's Gaza blockade crippling reconstruction

by Rory McCarthy

Eight months after war, import restrictions are delaying aid and causing 'de-development', leaked UN report says

A leaked UN report has warned that Israel’s continued economic blockade of Gaza and lengthy delays in delivering humanitarian aid are “devastating livelihoods” and causing gradual “de-development”.

For more than two years, Gaza has been under severe Israeli restrictions, preventing all exports and confining imports to a limited supply of humanitarian goods.

Now, eight months after the end of the Gaza war, much reconstruction work is still to be done because materials are either delayed or banned from entering the strip.

The UN report, obtained by the Guardian, reveals the delays facing the delivery of even the most basic aid. On average, it takes 85 days to get shelter kits into Gaza, 68 days to deliver health and paediatric hygiene kits, and 39 days for household items such as bedding and kitchen utensils.

Among the many items delayed are notebooks and textbooks for children returning to school. As many as 120 truckloads of stationery were “stranded” in the West Bank and Israel due to “ongoing delays in approval”.

There were “continued difficulties” in importing English textbooks for grades four to nine – affecting 130,000 children – and material used to print textbooks for several subjects in grades one to nine.

Government schools were reported to lack paper and chalk, while the UN Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees and runs many schools in Gaza, was still waiting to import 4,000 desks and 5,000 chairs.

The UN says the current situation “contravenes” a UN security council resolution passed during the war in January, which called for “unimpeded provision and distribution” of humanitarian aid for Gaza.

“The result is a gradual process of de-development across all sectors, devastating livelihoods, increasing unemployment and resulting in increased aid dependency amongst the population,” says the report from the UN Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator.

According to UN statistics, around 70% of Gazans live on less than a dollar a day, 75% rely on food aid and 60% have no daily access to water. As many as 20,000 Palestinians are still displaced after the war, most living with relatives or renting apartments.

Among the most urgent needs is glass to repair shattered windows before the winter rains. Glass, along with other construction materials, is one of the many items banned by Israel from entering the strip. The UN also wanted to deliver agricultural products to reach farmers in time for their main planting season over the next few months. Industrial fuel was required for the power plant, along with bank notes for aid projects and salaries.

In June and July, there was a slight relaxation of the restrictions, allowing in small amounts of agricultural fertilizers, glass, aluminium, cattle and tools for repairing houses. Plastic pipes have been allowed in but only 69% of the water network that was damaged during the war has so far been repaired.

The UN said that, despite this “ad hoc” easing of the blockade, it found “no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza”. Imports are 80% down on the period before the blockade, and most of what does enter Gaza is from a narrow range of food and hygiene items.

Israel began putting restrictions on Gaza after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in early 2006, and imposed the blockade in June 2007 after the party seized control of the strip.

Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely closed, though growing quantities of goods, including fridges and even small cars, are smuggled in from Egypt through tunnels. The UN said the high cost of these goods meant that only wealthier Gazans benefitted, with “little trickle-down effect for the vast majority of the population”.

A spokesman for Israel’s co-ordinator of government activities in the territories did not respond to calls for comment yesterday. The Israeli military sends journalists near-daily text messages noting the number of delivery trucks scheduled to enter Gaza.

On most working days, between 70 and 100 trucks are due to cross – a number which aid agencies say is still well short of that required. The average flow of 9,500 trucks a month entering Gaza in late 2005 was also considered insufficient.

In July this year, only 2,231 trucks crossed the blockade.