Uri Avnery's Column - The Kangaroo

by Uri Avnery

Gush Shalom

GEORGE MITCHELL looks like a kangaroo hopping around with an empty pouch.

He hops here and he hops there. Hops to Jerusalem and hops to Ramallah, Damascus, Beirut, Amman (but, God forbid, not to Gaza, because somebody may not like it). Hops, hops, but doesn’t take anything out of his pouch, because the pouch is empty.

So why does he do it? After all, he could stay at home, raise roses or play with his grandchildren.

This compulsive traveling reveals a grain of chutzpah. If he has nothing to offer, why waste the time of politicians and media people? Why burn airplane fuel and damage the environment?

THE DECLARED aim of Mitchell is to “get the peace process going again”. How? “Get the two sides to return to the negotiating table”.

There is a naïve American belief that all the problems of the world could be solved if only the parties would sit down at the table and talk. When reasonable people talk to each other, they will eventually arrive at a solution.

The trouble with this is that the people responsible for the fate of nations are not, in general, reasonable people. They are politicians with passions and prejudices and constituencies, who are driven by the mood of the masses. When one is dealing with a 130-year old conflict, the naïve belief in the value of talk borders on folly.

Decades of experience indicate that negotiations are useless if one of the parties is not interested in an agreement. Worse: negotiations can actually cause damage when one of the parties uses them to waste time while creating a false impression of progress towards peace.

In our conflict, peace negotiations have become a substitute for peace, a means to obstruct peace. They are an instrument used by successive Israeli governments to gain time – time to enlarge the settlements and entrench the occupation.

(In an interview with Haaretz published yesterday, Ehud Barak accused the “left” in general, and Gush Shalom and Peace Now in particular, of not supporting Netanyahu’s call for negotiations. He got close to accusing us of treason.)

Anyone who now proposes negotiations “without prior conditions” is collaborating with the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman government in a ploy to sabotage the chances of peace. Indeed, Mitchell has become – perhaps unwittingly – such a collaborator. When he exerts pressure on Mahmoud Abbas “to come back to the negotiating table”, he is playing the game of Netanyahu, who presents himself as the great peace-lover. Abbas is being pictured as a man who has “climbed a high tree and doesn’t know how to get down again”. There is no occupation, no ongoing settlement activity, no Judaization of East Jerusalem. The only problem is to get a ladder. A ladder for Abbas!

All this for what? What is the kangaroo hopping for? It’s all to help Obama, who is thirsting for a political achievement like a man in the desert thirsting for water. The start of negotiations, however meaningless, would be presented as a great diplomatic success.

THE OTHER day, Obama himself made a rare gesture: the President of the United States of America declared publicly that he had made a mistake and apologized for it. He admitted that he had not properly understood the difficulties involved in the restarting of the peace process.

Everybody praised the President. Such a courageous leader! Such nobility!

To which I would add: And such chutzpah!

Here comes the most powerful leader in the world and says: I was wrong. I did not understand. I have failed. For a whole year I have not achieved any progress at all towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Look how honest I am! Look how ready I am to admit mistakes!

That is chutzpah. That is chutzpah, because a whole year was lost due to this “mistake”, a whole year in which 1.5 million human beings in Gaza, men, women and children, have been suffering utter destitution, many of them without sufficient food, many of them without shelter in the cold and in rain. A whole year in which more than a hundred Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished while new Jewish housing projects sprang up at a crazy pace. A whole year in which settlements in the West Bank were enlarged, apartheid roads were built and pogroms, under the “price tag” slogan, were carried out.

So, with all due respect, Mr. President, the word “mistake” hardly suffices.

The Bible says: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Obama covereth not his “mistake”, and that is good. But it is the second half of the verse that counts: “confesseth and forsaketh”. No mercy for one who “confesseth” but not “forsaketh”. You have not hinted with a single word that you are about to forsake your old ways.

It is chutzpah for another reason, too: You say that you have failed because you did not properly appreciate the domestic problems of the two leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas. Netanyahu, you say, has an extreme right-wing coalition, and Abbas has Hamas.

Sorry, sorry, but what about your own “coalition”, which does not allow you to move an inch in the right direction? What about the two houses of Congress, which are completely subservient to the pro-Israel lobbies, both the Jewish and the Christian-Evangelical? What about your fear of your extreme right, which is supporting our own extreme right? What about your inability – or unwillingness – to exercise your leadership, invest political capital in a confrontation with the lobbies and move forwards according to the real interests of the United States (and Israel) – as did President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his time, and even, for a short period, Secretary of State James Baker?

THE TERRIBLE blow dealt to Obama in the Massachusetts by-election has dumbfounded many people. It has changed the texture of American politics and is endangering the health system reforms, the jewel in the crown he has put on his head. It threatens to turn him into a lame duck that may not only lose the midterm elections this year, but even fail to be reelected less than three years from now.

Many ask: what happened to the shining candidate who enchanted the entire United States and mobilized millions of enthusiastic new voters? Where is the man with a vision who aroused the masses with the battle-cry “Yes, We Can”?

How did the inspiring campaigner turn into a so-so president, one who does not excite anyone? How did the candidate, who always hit exactly the right note, turn into a president who is unable to touch the hearts of the people? How did the candidate, who made all the right decisions, turn into a president who cannot make decisions? How did the anti-Bush turn into another-Bush?

It seems to me that the answers lie in one of the fundamental paradoxes of the democratic system. I have thought about this many a time while sitting through boring speeches in the Knesset.

A democratic leader who has a vision and wants to realize it has to pass two tests: to win an election and to govern a country. If he does not get elected, he will not have a chance to realize his dream. If he fails in governing, his election victory loses its meaning.

The trouble is that these two tasks are very different. Indeed, they tend to contradict each other, because they demand very different talents.

The candidate must make speeches, excite the imagination, make promises and convince the voters that he is capable of fulfilling them. These talents can indeed be of help to the ruler – but they do not suffice to enable him to rule. The ruler must make hard decisions, withstand extreme pressures, manage a huge apparatus with many contradictory components, convince the public of his country and the leaders of foreign countries. He cannot satisfy all sectors of the public and all the interest groups, the way he tried to do as a candidate.

The most inspiring candidates often turn out to be disastrous heads of government. They are swept into power by the enthusiasm they evoke in their voters, and then suddenly find out that their brilliant speeches have no impact any more – not on the members of their parliament, not on the public, not on foreign leaders. Their brightest talent has become useless.

I have the impression that Obama’s numerous speeches are starting to tire people and are losing their appeal. When he turns his face from left to right and from right to left, from one teleprompter to the other, he starts to look like a mechanical doll. The millions viewing his speeches on TV see him turning to the left and turning to the right, but never really looking them in the eyes.

The candidate is an actor on stage playing the role of a leader. After the elections, when he actually becomes a leader, he can become helpless. The man who plays Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play can be a great actor – but if he were Caesar in real life, he would not have a clue what to do. (When I put this to an actor, his retort was: “But Caesar himself would not be able to play Caesar on the stage!”)

Barack Obama is no Caesar. Rather he is Hamlet, Prince of America. Enchanting, attractive, full of good intentions – but feeble and hesitant. To rule or not to rule, that is the question.

IT IS much too early to announce Obama’s political death. Contrary to Mark Antony, who declares in the play “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”, I am not yet ready to bury the great hope raised by him.

A year has passed since he entered the White House. A year wasted to a large extent. Three more years are left until the next elections. True, in the first year, after such a dramatic victory, it would have been much easier for him to do things than in the following three years, but Obama can still recover, draw the necessary conclusions from the experience and manage a comeback.

One of the roads there leads through Jerusalem. Obama must keep his kangaroo tied up at home and take the initiative into his own hands. He must announce a clear peace program, the one about which there is now a world-wide consensus (Two states for two peoples, a Palestinian state in all the occupied territories with its capital in East Jerusalem and the dismantling of the settlements in Palestinian territory) and call upon the two sides to adopt it in theory and practice – perhaps by a referendum on both sides. When the time is ripe, he may come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli people from the Knesset rostrum with a clear and unequivocal message.

In short: exit Hamlet, enter Julius Caesar.

Female soldiers break their silence

by Amir Shilo

Ynet News

Six years after first collection of Breaking the Silence testimonies, organization releases booklet of testimonies from female soldiers who served in territories. Stories include systematic humiliation of Palestinians, reckless and cruel violence, theft, killing of innocent people and cover-up. Here are only some of testimonies

"A female combat soldier needs to prove more…a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter…when I arrived there was another female there with me, she was there before me…everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem. That was the indicator. You have to see her, the way she humiliates, the way she slaps them, wow, she really slapped that guy."

The Breaking the Silence organization on Friday released a booklet of testimonies by female soldiers recounting various abuse cases involving Palestinians in the West Bank.

In recent years, females have been increasingly involved in combat and field operations in the IDF and Border Guard. Among other things, these female soldiers engage in daily contact with the Palestinian population – at roadblocks and in Palestinian communities.

According to the latest testimonies, many of these young women have trouble coping with the violent reality they are exposed to and find themselves facing situations that contradict their values. Some of them end up engaging in acts, or turning a blind eye to acts, that will burden them years later. Like their male counterparts, some of these females have a need to speak about what they saw.

"The girls have greater difficulties in telling the story, because they're the minority to begin with" the organization's director Dana Golan says.

'Each soldier would give them a pet'

In the framework of the latest project, Breaking the Silence gathered the testimonies of more than 50 female soldiers who served in various posts in the territories. Ynet presents some of the highlights in this report.

Golan noted that female soldiers were not more sensitive to the Palestinians than their male comrades.

"We discovered that the girls try to be even more violent and brutal than the boys, just to become one of the guys," she said.

A female Seam Line Border Guard spoke of the chase after illegal aliens: "In half an hour you can catch 30 people without any effort." Then comes the question of what should be done with those who were caught – including women, children, and elderly. "They would have them stand, and there's the well-known Border Guard song (in Arabic): 'One hummus, one bean, I love the Border Guard' – they would make them sing this. Sing, and jump. Just like they do with recruits… The same thing only much worse. And if one of them would laugh, or if they would decide someone was laughing, they would punch him. Why did you laugh? Smack… It could go on for hours, depending on how bored they are. A shift is eight hours long, the times must be passed somehow."

Most of the female soldiers say that they sensed there was a problem during their service, but did nothing.

Another female soldier's testimony, who served at the Erez checkpoint, indicates how violence was deeply rooted in the daily routine: "There was a procedure in which before you release a Palestinian back into the Strip – you take him inside the tent and beat him."

That was a procedure?

"Yes, together with the commanders."

How long did it last?
"Not very long; within 20 minutes they would be back in the base, but the soldiers would stop at the post to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while the guys from the command post would beat them up."

This happened with every illegal alien?

"There weren't that many...it's not something you do everyday, but sort of a procedure. I don't know if they strictly enforced it each and every time...it took me a while to realize that if I release an illegal alien on my end, by the time he gets back to Gaza he will go through hell... two or three hours can pass by the time he gets into the Strip. In the case of the kid, it was a whole night. That's insane, since it's a ten minute walk. They would stop them on their way; each soldier would give them a 'pet', including the commanders."

'Child's hand broken on the chair'
A female soldier in Sachlav Military Police unit, stationed in Hebron, recalled a Palestinian child that would systematically provoke the soldiers by hurling stones at them and other such actions. One time he even managed to scare a soldier who fell from his post and broke his leg.

Retaliation came soon after: "I don't know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair."

Even small children did not escape arbitrary acts of violence, said a Border Guard female officer serving near the separation fence: "We caught a five-year-old…can't remember what he did…we were taking him back to the territories or something, and the officers just picked him up, slapped him around and put him in the jeep. The kid was crying and the officer next to me said 'don't cry' and started laughing at him. Finally the kid cracked a smile – and suddenly the officer gave him a punch in the stomach. Why? 'Don't laugh in my face' he said."

Was there also abuse of women?

"Yes" the same soldier replied. "Slaps, that kind of thing. Mainly slaps."

From men?

"Also. From whoever. It was mainly the female combat soldiers who beat people. There were two who really liked to beat people up. But also men, they had no problem slapping a woman around. If she screamed, they'd say, 'Shut it,' with another slap. A routine of violence. There were also those who didn't take part, but everyone knew it happened."

Sometimes an entire "production" was necessary to satisfy the violent urges. "There's a sense of violence," a border policewoman in the Jenin area said. "And yes, it's boring, so we'd create some action. We'd get on the radio, and say they threw stones at us, then someone would be arrested, they'd start investigating him… There was a policewoman, she was bored, so okay, she said they threw stones at her. They asked her who threw them. 'I don't know, two in grey shirts, I didn't manage to see them.' They catch two guys with grey shirts… beat them. Is it them? 'No, I don't think so.' Okay, a whole incident, people get beaten up. Nothing happened that day."

An education noncommissioned officer from the Border Guard took her officers for a Sunday of culture – a show in Tel Aviv. When they got back to their base in the Gaza Strip, they were appalled by the dissonance – one moment they're clapping in a theater, the next moment they're acting like beasts.

"Crossing the checkpoint, it's like another world… Palestinians walk with trolleys on the side of the road, with wagons, donkeys… so the Border Guards take a truck with the remains of food and start throwing it at them… cottage cheese, rotten vegetables… it was the most appalling thing I experienced in the territories."

The soldier said she tried to protest, but was silenced by the commanding officers. When she tried to go around them to higher authorities, she found a solution. "Almost immediately I got into an officers' course."

'You don't know which side you're on'

Some of the testimonies document incidents of vandalism of Palestinian property, and even theft. The same female soldier who recounted her time at the Erez checkpoint said, "Many times the soldiers would open the Palestinians' food."

And would they take it as well?
"Yes. They take things all the time at checkpoints in the territories. You'll never see a soldier without musabaha (chickpea past similar to hummus). And that is something they give many times… They are so desperate to pass that they even sort of bribe the soldiers a little…"

A female Border Guard officer spoke of how Palestinian children would arrive at checkpoints with bags of toys for sale – and how the Border Guard would deal with them: "'Okay, throw the bag away. Oh, I need some batteries,', and they would take, they would take whatever they wanted."

What would they take?

"Toys, batteries, anything… cigarettes. I'm sure they took money as well, but I don't remember that specifically." She also spoke of one incident in which the looting was caught by a television camera, and the affair blew up. "Then, the company commander gathered us and reprimanded us: 'How did you not think they might see you?'" No one was punished: "Really, it was an atmosphere in which we were allowed to hit and humiliate."

Some of the gravest stories come from Hebron. A Sachlav female soldier spoke of one of the company's hobbies: Toy guns. "Those plastic pellets really hurt… we had a bunch of those… you're sitting on guard and 'tak' you fire at a kid, 'tak' – you fire at another kid."

She recounted an incident in which a Palestinian reporter took a picture of one of the soldiers aiming a gun at a boy's head. She said a "special patrol" went into Hebron, and came back with the pictures. The soldier said they either paid the reporter, or threatened her.

And the pictures were circulated in the company?

"No, they were destroyed the same day."

What did the company commander say about it?

"He said it's a good thing they didn't reach the IDF Spokesperson's Unit."

Some of the testimonies from Hebron deal with the difficult position the soldiers find themselves in, between Palestinians and settlers – who they say are even harder to handle. Some of the female soldiers were shocked with the level of violence the settlers' children used against the Palestinians. "They would throw stones at them, the Jewish kids," a Nahal female soldier said, "and the parents would say anything… you see this every day in Tel Rumeida."

Doesn't it seem strange to you that one child throws a stone at another child?

"Because the one child is Jewish and the other is Palestinians, it's somehow okay… and it was obvious that there would be a mess afterwards. And you also don't really know which side you are on…I have to make a switch in my head and keep hating the Arabs and justify the Jews."

In her frustration, the same female soldier told of how she once spit on a Palestinian in the street: "I don't think he even did anything. But again, it was cool and it was the only thing I could do to… you know, I couldn't take brag that I caught a terrorists… But I could spit on them and degrade them and laugh at them."

Another female Sachlav soldier told the story of the time an eight-year-old settler girl in Hebron decided to bash a stone into the head of a Palestinian adult crossing her passing by her in the street. "Boom! She jumped on him, and gave it to him right here in the head… then she started screaming 'Yuck, yuck, his blood is on me'".

The soldier said the Palestinian then turned in the girl's direction – a move that was interpreted as a threat by one of the soldiers in the area, who added a punch of his own: "And I stood there horrified… an innocent little girl in her Shabbat dress… the Arab covered the wound with his hand and ran." She recalled another incident with the same child: "I remember she had her brother in the stroller, a baby. She was giving him stones and telling him: 'Throw them at the Arab'."

9-year-old shot to death

Other testimonies raise concerns as to the procedures of opening fire in the territories, particularly crowd control weapons. A female Border Guard detailed to protocol she called "dismantling rubber" – the dismantling of rubber bullets from clusters of three to single bullets, and peeling the rubber off of them. She also said that, despite the clear orders to fire in the air or at the demonstrators' feet, it was common procedure to fire at the abdomen.

A female Border Guard officer in Jenin spoke of an incident in which a nine-year-old Palestinian, who tried to climb the fence, failed, and fled – was shot to death: "They fired… when he was already in the territories and posed no danger. The hit was in the abdomen area, they claimed he was on a bicycle and so they were unable to hit him in the legs."

But the soldier was most bewildered by what happened next between the four soldiers present: "They immediately got their stories straight… An investigation was carried out, at first they said it was an unjustified killing… In the end they claimed that he was checking out escape routes for terrorists or something… and they closed the case."

A female intelligence soldier who served near Etzion recounted an incident in which snipers killed a boy suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail. The soldiers coordinated their stories, and the female soldier was shocked, mainly by the happy atmosphere that surrounding the incident: "It was written in the situation evaluation after the incident that from now on there will be quiet… This is the best kind of deterrence."

'They don't know how to accept the women'

The female soldiers repeatedly mention the particular difficulties they had as women, who had to prove that to were "fighters" in the midst of the goading male soldiers on the one hand, and the Palestinians, who have a hard time handling women in uniform on the other hand. The following story of a female Border Guard officer sums the matter up.

When the interviewer asked her if the Palestinians "suffer even more from the women in the Border Guard", she said: "Yes. Yes. Because they don't know how to accept the women. The moment a girl slaps a man, he is so humiliated, he is so humiliated he doesn't know what to do with himself… I am a strong and well-built girl, and this is even harder for them to handle. So one of their ways of coping is to laugh. They really just started to laugh at me. The commander looks at me and tells me, 'What? Are you going to let that slide? Look how he's laughing at you'.

"And you, as someone who has to salvage your self-respect… I told them to sit down and I told him to come…I told him to come close, I really approached him, as if I was about to kiss him. I told him, 'Come, come, what are you afraid of? Come to me!' And I hit him in the balls. I told him, 'Why aren't you laughing?' He was in shock, and then he realized that… not to laugh. It shouldn't reach such a situation."

You hit him with your knee?

"I hit him in the balls. I took my foot, with my military show, and hit him in the balls. I don't know if you've ever been hit in the balls, but it looks like it hurts. He stopped laughing in my face because it hurt him. We then took him to a police station and I said to myself, 'Wow, I'm really going to get in trouble now.' He could complain about me and I could receive a complaint at the Military police's criminal investigation division.

"He didn’t say a word. I was afraid and I said. I was afraid about myself, not about him. But he didn't say a word. 'What should I say, that a girl hit me?' And he could have said, but thank God, three years later I didn’t get anything and no one knows about it."

What did it feel like that moment?

"Power, strength that I should not have achieved this way. But I didn't brag about it. That's why I did it that way, one on one. I told them to sit on the side, I saw that he wasn't looking. I said to myself that it doesn't make sense that as a girl who gives above and beyond and is worth more than some boys – they should laugh at me like that because I am a girl. Because you think I can't do it…"

Today, when you look at it three years later, would you have done things differently?

"I would change the system. It's seriously defective."

What does that mean?

"The system is deeply flawed. The entire administration, the way things are run, it's not right. I don't know how I would… I don't think I did the right thing in this incident but it was what I had to do. It's inevitable under these circumstances."

You're saying the small soldiers on the ground are not the problem, but the whole situation surrounding them?
"Yes, this entire situation is problematic."

Egyptian security explodes smuggling tunnel into Gaza

The Palestine Telegraph

Gaza, January 30, 2010 (Pal Telegraph) - Egyptian security forces exploded Saturday a tunnel in the Al-Barahma neighborhood, south of Rafah city. No injuries or damage were reported.

The tunnel was used to bring goods from Egypt into the blockaded Gaza Strip; fortunately, the tunnel was empty of workers at the time, Palestinian sources reported.

The movement of goods through the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza has declined recently, due to increased surveillance and arrests by Egyptian authorities.

Gazans use tunnels to smuggle supplies to the besieged Strip, to circumvent the blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip for more than three years. And now, Egypt is building an underground, steel wall to further prevent smuggling.


In the West Bank's stony hills, Palestine is slowly dying

by Robert Fisk in Jiftlik

The Independent

In the richest of the Occupied lands, Israeli bureaucracy is driving Palestinians out of their homes.

"Palestine" is no more. Call it a "peace process" or a "road map"; blame it on Barack Obama's weakness, his pathetic, childish admission – like an optimistic doctor returning a sick child to its parents without hope of recovery – that a Middle East peace was "more difficult" to reach than he imagined.

But the dream of a "two-state" Israeli-Palestinian solution, a security-drenched but noble settlement to decades of warfare between Israelis and Palestinians is as good as dead.

Both the United States and Europe now stand idly by while the Israeli government effectively destroys any hope of a Palestinian state; even as you read these words, Israel's bulldozers and demolition orders are destroying the last chance of peace; not only in the symbolic centre of Jerusalem itself but – strategically, far more important – in 60 per cent of the vast, biblical lands of the occupied West Bank, in that largest sector in which Jews now outnumber Muslims two to one.

This majority of the West Bank – known under the defunct Oslo Agreement's sinister sobriquet as "Area C" – has already fallen under an Israeli rule which amounts to apartheid by paper: a set of Israeli laws which prohibit almost all Palestinian building or village improvements, which shamelessly smash down Palestinian homes for which permits are impossible to obtain, ordering the destruction of even restored Palestinian sewage systems. Israeli colonists have no such problems; which is why 300,000 Israelis now live – in 220 settlements which are all internationally illegal – in the richest and most fertile of the Palestinian occupied lands.

When Obama's elderly envoy George Mitchell headed home in humiliation this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated his departure by planting trees in two of the three largest Israeli colonies around Jerusalem. With these trees at Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim, he said, he was sending "a clear message that we are here. We will stay here. We are planning and we are building." These two huge settlements, along with that of Ariel to the north of Jerusalem, were an "indisputable part of Israel forever."

It was Netanyahu's victory celebration over the upstart American President who had dared to challenge Israel's power not only in the Middle East but in America itself. And while the world this week listened to Netanyahu in the Holocaust memorial commemoration for the genocide of six million Jews, abusing Iran as the new Nazi Germany – Iran's loony president supposedly as evil as Hitler – the hopes of a future "Palestine" continued to dribble away. President Ahmadinejad of Iran is no more Adolf Hitler than the Israelis are Nazis. But the "threat" of Iran is distracting the world. So is Tony Blair yesterday, trying to wriggle out of his bloody responsibility for the Iraq disaster. The real catastrophe, however, continues just outside Jerusalem, amid the fields, stony hills and ancient caves of most of the West Bank.

Robert Fisk’s World: Israel can no longer ignore the existence of the first Holocaust

by Robert Fisk

The Independent

Recognition of the Armenian genocide is a paramount moral and educational act

While Israelis commemorated the second Holocaust of the 20th century this week, I was in the Gulbenkian library in Jerusalem, holding the printed and handwritten records of the victims of the century's first Holocaust. It was a strange sensation.

The Armenians were not participating in Israel's official ceremonies to remember the six million Jewish dead, murdered by the Germans between 1939 and 1945, perhaps because Israel officially refuses to acknowledge that Armenia's million and a half dead of 1915-1923 were victims of a Turkish Holocaust. Israeli-Turkish diplomatic and military relations are more important than genocide. Or were.

George Hintlian, historian and prominent member of Jerusalem's 2,000-strong Armenian community in Jerusalem, pointed out the posters a few metres from the 1,500-year old Armenian monastery. They advertised Armenia's 24 April commemorations. All but one had been defaced, torn from the ancient walls or, in at least one case, spraypainted with graffiti in Hebrew. "Maybe they don't like it that there was another genocide," George told me. "These are things we can't explain." More than 70 members of George's family were murdered in the butchery and death marches of 1915 – when German officers witnessed the system of executions, rail-car deportations to cholera camps and asphyxiation by smoke in caves – the world's first "gas" chambers. One witness, the German vice-consul in Erzurum, Max von Scheubner-Richter, ended up as one of Hitler's closest friends and advisers. It's not as if there's no connection between the first and second Holocausts.

But the times, they are a-changing. For ever since Turkey began shouting about Israel's slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza a year ago, prominent Israeli figures have suddenly rediscovered the Armenian genocide. Who are the Turks to talk about mass murder? Has anyone forgotten 1915? For George and his compatriots – there are in all 10,000 Armenians in Israel and the occupied West Bank, 4,000 of them holding Israeli passports – they had indeed been forgotten until the Gaza war. "In 1982, the Armenians were left out of a Holocaust conference in Jerusalem," he said. "For three decades, no documentary on the Armenian genocide could be shown on Israeli television because it would offend the Turks. Then suddenly last year, important Israelis demanded that a documentary be shown. Thirty Knesset members supported us. We always had Yossi Sarid of Peace Now but now we've got right-wing Israelis."

Maariv and Yediot Ahronot began to mention the Armenian genocide and George Hintlian turned up on Israeli television with Danny Ayalon – the foreign office minister who humiliated the Turkish ambassador by forcing him to sit on a sofa below him – and Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin who said that Israel should commemorate the Armenian genocide "every year". The Israeli press now calls the Armenian genocide a "Shoah" – the same word all Israelis use for the Jewish Holocaust. As George put it with withering accuracy: "We have been upgraded!!!"

This piece of brash hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed by Yossi Sarid who has described how, a few months after Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the Gaza war, "an important Israeli personality telephoned me and said the following: 'Now you have to hit back at the Turks, to denounce them for the crimes they committed against the Armenians You, Yossi, have the right to do so...'" Sarid was appalled. "I was filled with revulsion and my soul wanted to puke," he wrote in Haaretz. "The person who telephoned me was an example of the ugly Israeli who had disgracefully been at the forefront of those who denied the Armenian Holocaust." So now "new tunes" – Sarid's phrase – are being heard in Jerusalem: "The Turks are the last ones who have the right to teach us ethics."

The bright side to this anguished debate is that one of Israel's top Holocaust experts bravely insisted – to the fury of then-foreign minister (now president) Shimon Peres – that the Armenian massacres were undoubtedly a genocide. Tens of thousands of Israelis have always believed the same; several hundred are expected to turn up at the Armenian commemoration on 24 April, and most Israelis refer to the Armenian genocide as a "Shoah" rather than the tame "massacres" hitherto favoured by the political elite.

Yet the most extraordinary irony of all occurred when the Armenian and Turkish governments last year agreed to reopen diplomatic relations and consign the Armenian Holocaust to a joint academic enquiry which would decide "if" there had been a genocide. As Israeli Professor Yair Oron of the Open University of Israel said, "I am afraid that countries will now hesitate to recognise the (Armenian) genocide. They will say: 'Why should we grant recognition if the Armenians yielded?' Recognition of the Armenian genocide is a paramount moral and educational act. We in Israel are obliged to recognise it." And American-Armenian UCLA Professor Richard Hovannisian asked: "Would the Jewish people be willing to forgo the memory of the Holocaust for the sake of good relations with Germany, if Germany were to make that demand?" George Hintlian described the Armenian-Turkish agreement – which in fact may not now be ratified by either side – as "like an earthquake".

We walked together in the cold afternoon through the darkened interior of the great Armenian monastery of Jerusalem with its icons and candles. George opened a cabinet to reveal a hidden staircase up which priests would creep for a secret week when invaders passed through Jerusalem. In this dank, pious place, Ronald Henry Amhurst Storrs, governor of British Mandate Jerusalem, would often sit to ponder what he called "the glory and the misery of a people".

Miserable it has been for thousands of Armenians here. Up to 15,000 lived in Palestine until 1948, many of them survivors of the first Holocaust. But 10,000 of these Armenians shared the same fate as the Palestinian Arabs, fleeing or driven from their homes by the army of the new Israeli state. Most lost their businesses in Haifa and Jaffa, many of them seeking refuge – for the second time – in Jerusalem. A few set out for Cyprus where they were dispossessed for the third time by the 1974 Turkish invasion. As George put it bleakly, "Today, 6,000 Armenians are residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank. They cannot travel and they are counted as Armenian Palestinians. For Israeli bureaucracy, they are Palestinians."

George himself is the son of Garbis Hintlian who, as a 17-year-old, survived the death march from his home at Talas in Cappadocia. "We lost my uncle – my grandfather was axed to death in front of him." After the 1918 armistice, he worked for the British, carrying files of evidence to the initial (but quickly abandoned) Constantinople trials of Turkish war criminals. To no avail.

And glory be, if the tables haven't changed again! Turkey and Israel have made up and become good friends again. Yossi Sarid anticipated this. "Let us assume that Turkey will renew its ties with Israel. Then what? What then? Will we also renew our contribution to the denial of the Armenian Holocaust?"


Our Addiction to Disaster Porn

by David Sirota


The black T-shirt—so tight, so come-hither. And oh, those safari button-downs—joke-worthy on Eddie Bauer mannequins, but on news correspondents, so ... enticing.

America missed these sartorial seductions, pined for their sweet suggestive nothings. And now, finally, a nation of television addicts can thank its disaster pornographers for bringing back the lurid garments—and the lustful voyeurism they evoke.

Yes, thousands of miles from the San Fernando Valley’s seedy studios, the adult entertainment business is alive and panting in Haiti. This year’s luminaries aren’t the industry’s typical muscle-bound mustaches of machismo—they are NBC’s Brian Williams pillow-talking to the camera in his Indiana Jones garb, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta playing doctor and, of course, CNN’s Anderson Cooper in that two-sizes-too-small T-shirt “rarely missing an opportunity to showcase his buff physique,” as The New York Times gushed. They are all the disaster porn stars in the media with visions of Peabodys and Pulitzers dancing in their heads.

And We the Ogling People drink it in.

Like any X-rated content, this smut is all flesh and no substantive plot. The lens flits between body parts and journalists pulling perverse Cronkite-in-Vietnam impressions (at one point, CNN showed Cooper and his T-shirt saving a child). But there is little discussion of how western Hispaniola was a man-made disaster before an earthquake made it a natural one.

Though neighboring the planet’s wealthiest nation, Haiti has long been one of the world’s poorest places. It sports 80 percent unemployment and a GDP smaller than the annual executive bonus fund at a single Wall Street bank. The destitution is tragic—and a reflection, in part, of colonial domination.

For much of the last two centuries, Western powers used embargo threats to force the country’s population of erstwhile slaves to reimburse their former European masters for lost “property.” As Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates recounts, America aided these efforts from the beginning because President Thomas Jefferson feared a successful black republic would “inspire slave insurrections throughout the American South.”

Crushed by this oppression, Haiti was then assaulted in the 1990s by American “free” trade policies that destroyed its agriculture economy and tried to turn the country into the world’s sweatshop. In recent years, as the menace of Western-backed coups lurked, Haiti has at times been compelled to pay more interest on its debt than it received in foreign aid.

This is the real story of Haiti that the black T-shirts and safari button-downs (and, alas, their viewers) have never cared about. They’ve only noticed the country when a cataclysm provided more telegenic images than the daily death and despair of the island’s pre-earthquake squalor.

Even now, as the casualty count rises, disaster pornographers barely mention the macabre history. They know that doing so would break unspoken rules against holding up a foreign policy mirror to America and against riling the politicians and business interests that contributed to Haiti’s demise.

Rather than reporting on what made Haiti so poor and therefore its infrastructure so susceptible to collapse, we get clips of Haitians momentarily cheering “USA!” as food packages trickle into their devastated capital. Rather than inquiries about how poverty made Haiti so ill-prepared for rescue operations, the disaster pornographers instead obediently follow George W. Bush, who self-servingly says, “You’ve got to deal with the desperation and there ought to be no politicization of that.”

“Politicization”—so that’s the safe-for-TV euphemism they’re using these days, huh? Evidently, it must be avoided—evidently, nothing kills an audience’s heaving passion faster than “politics” or (God forbid) contextualized news.

Anything like that—anything beyond the exploitation of raw disaster porn—well, it might ruin the money shot.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com.

Gush Shalom - This Week's Message

Gush Shalom


In Russia

It was called a


In Israel

It is called a

“Price tag”.

Ad published in Haaretz, January 29, 2010

Democracy Now! Headlines for January 28, 2010

Democracy Now!

Zelaya Leaves Honduras as New President Takes Office

Honduras is entering a new phase following the swearing-in of a new president and the departure of the now former president Manuel Zelaya. On Wednesday, President Porfirio Lobo was sworn into office. A wealthy landowner, Lobo was elected in a November race boycotted by Zelaya supporters. Hours after the ceremony, Zelaya ended his four-month stay in the Brazilian embassy and left Honduras for exile in the Dominican Republican. Just before boarding the plane, Zelaya told the assembled crowd, “We’ll be back.” Just before Zelaya left Honduras, the Honduran Supreme Court dismissed all charges against six military commanders involved in the June 28th coup that removed him from office. The Obama administration says it’s not ready to restore aid to Honduras suspended following the coup. But Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said he believes the new president, Lobo, is taking Honduras “in the right direction.”

Arturo Valenzuela: “I thought the President’s speech was excellent. It was a speech of national reconciliation for all the people of Honduras.”

Report: US Military Spending in Haiti More Than Triples Assistance to Haitian Gov’t

The Haitian government is appealing to the international community to improve the earthquake relief effort as the confirmed death toll is now near 170,000. On Wednesday, Haitian President René Préval said he is thankful for the international assistance, but said it needs “better coordination.” Préval’s comments come as the Associated Press reports his government is receiving less than a penny for each dollar the United States spends on aid efforts in Haiti. Thirty-three cents of every dollar goes to US military aid, over three times the nine cents spent on food.

Haiti Postpones Parliamentary Vote, Suspends Orphan Flights

Also Wednesday, Préval announced he would indefinitely postpone parliamentary elections and won’t seek re-election when his term expires in February 2011. The Haitian government has also slowed down the adoption process for Haitian children abroad. Flights carrying orphaned children have been suspended over concerns the children could be victimized by human traffickers. Foreign adoption cases will now require the personal approval of Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

Report: Pentagon Sending More Special Ops to Yemen

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Pentagon is escalating military operations in Yemen with a major new deployment of Special Forces. Military officials say the number of US operatives will “significantly increase” above the estimated 200 Special Forces currently on the ground. The US has been deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops that have killed scores of people, including civilians and suspected al-Qaeda leaders, in the past six weeks. The news comes as the US and other nations met Wednesday in London at an international conference on Yemen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US won’t just rely on military operations to fight Yemen’s militant extremists.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We recognize that the challenges facing Yemen cannot be solved by military action alone. Progress against violent extremists and progress toward a better future for the Yemeni people will depend upon fortifying development efforts. The Yemeni people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future, not leaving their fate to extremists who incite violence and inflict harm.”

Aid Groups: Militarization of Aid Endangering Afghan Civilians

Foreign ministers are also meeting in London today for an international conference on Afghanistan. On the eve of the summit, a coalition of aid groups issued a warning that the militarization of aid to Afghanistan is endangering Afghan civilians. In a report titled “The Dangers of Militarised Aid in Afghanistan,” Oxfam International and seven other aid agencies warn the emphasis on rushed, short-term projects to win over Afghan civilians fails to address Afghanistan’s deep poverty. Some of the projects also wind up becoming major security risks as they’re targeted by militant groups.


The kidnapping of Haiti

by John Pilger

The New Statesman

With US troops in control of their country, the outlook for the people of Haiti is bleak
The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured "formal approval" from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to "secure" roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in a US naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now a US military base and relief flights have been rerouted to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US air force dropped bottled water to people suffering dehydration.

A very American coup

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter despatched from Washington, seemed on the point of hyperventilating as he brayed about the "violence" and need for "security". In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens' groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even a US general's assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that "looting is the only industry" and "the dignity of Haiti's past is long forgotten".

Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. "There's no doubt," reported Frei in the aftermath of America's bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, "that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East . . . is now increasingly tied up with military power."

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W Bush's policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700bn. He has become, in effect, the spokes­man for a military coup.

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed Bush to the "relief effort": a parody lifted from Graham Greene's The Comedians, set in Papa Doc's Haiti. Bush's relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans's black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him to Africa. The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti's sweatshops.

When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing binding machines at the Superior baseball plant in Port-au-Prince. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pyjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti's sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the town and jerry-built housing. Year after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their speciality from the Philippines to Afghanistan. Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN's man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as "Mr Nice Guy . . . bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land", Clinton is Haiti's most notorious privateer, demanding deregulation that benefits the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed "tourist playground".

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth-biggest embassy. Oil was found in Haiti's waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington's "rollback" plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela's abundant petroleum reserves, and sabotage of the growing regional co-operation long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

Obama's next war?

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against the Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya, who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama's secret support for the illegal regime in Honduras carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the Americans seven military bases to "combat anti-US governments in the region".

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama's next war. In December, researchers at the University of the West of England published first findings of a ten-year study of BBC reporting on Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of Hugo Chávez's government, while the majority denigrated his extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Such distortion and servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti, deserve our support.

Holocaust remembrance is a boon for Israeli propaganda

by Gideon Levy


Israel's bigwigs attacked at dawn on a wide front. The president in Germany, the prime minister with a giant entourage in Poland, the foreign minister in Hungary, his deputy in Slovakia, the culture minister in France, the information minister at the United Nations, and even the Likud party's Druze Knesset member, Ayoob Kara, in Italy. They were all out there to make florid speeches about the Holocaust.

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and an Israeli public relations drive like this hasn't been seen for ages. The timing of the unusual effort - never have so many ministers deployed across the globe - is not coincidental: When the world is talking Goldstone, we talk Holocaust, as if out to blur the impression. When the world talks occupation, we'll talk Iran as if we wanted them to forget.

It won't help much. International Holocaust Remembrance Day has passed, the speeches will soon be forgotten, and the depressing everyday reality will remain. Israel will not come out looking good, even after the PR campaign.

On the eve of his departure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Yad Vashem. "There is evil in the world," he said. "Evil must be stamped out at the beginning." Some people are "trying to deny the truth." Lofty words, said by the same person who only the day before, not quite in the same breath, uttered very different words, words of true evil, evil that should be extinguished at the start, evil that Israel is trying to hide.

Netanyahu spoke of a new "migration policy," one that is evil through and through. He malevolently lumped together migrant workers and wretched refugees - warning that they all endanger Israel, lower our wages, harm our security, make us into a third-world country and bring in drugs. He zealously supported our racist interior minister, Eli Yishai, who has spoken of the migrants as the spreaders of diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, AIDS and God knows what else.

No Holocaust speech will erase these words of incitement and slander against migrants. No remembrance speech will obliterate the xenophobia that has reared its head in Israel, not only on the extreme right, as in Europe, but throughout government.

We have a prime minister who speaks about evil but is building a fence to prevent war refugees from knocking at Israel's door. A prime minister who speaks about evil but shares the crime of the Gaza blockade, now in its fourth year, leaving 1.5 million people in disgraceful conditions. A prime minister in whose country settlers perpetrate pogroms against innocent Palestinians under the slogan "price tag," which also has horrific historical connotations, but against whom the state does virtually nothing.

This is the prime minister of a state that arrests hundreds of left-wing protesters against the injustices of the occupation and the war in Gaza, while time grants mass pardons to the right-wingers who demonstrated against the disengagement. In his speech yesterday, Netanyahu's equating Nazi Germany with fundamentalist Iran was no more than cheap propaganda. Talk about "degrading the Holocaust." Iran isn't Germany, Ahmedinejad isn't Hitler and equating them is no less spurious than equating Israeli soldiers with Nazis.

The Holocaust must not be forgotten, and there is no need to compare it with anything. Israel must take part in the efforts to keep its memory alive, but in doing so it must show up with clean hands, clean of evil of their own doing. And it must not arouse suspicion that it is cynically using the memory of the Holocaust to obliterate and blur other things. Regrettably, this is not the case.

How beautiful it would have been if on this international day of remembrance Israel had taken the time to examine itself, look inward and ask, for example, how it is that anti-Semitism has reared its head in the world precisely in the past year, the year after we dropped white-phosphorous bombs on Gaza. How beautiful it would have been if on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu had declared a new policy for integrating refugees instead of expulsion, or lifted the Gaza blockade.

A thousand speeches against anti-Semitism will not extinguish the flames ignited by Operation Cast Lead, flames that threaten not only Israel but the entire Jewish world. As long as Gaza is under blockade and Israel sinks into its institutionalized xenophobia, Holocaust speeches will remain hollow. As long as evil is rampant here at home, neither the world nor we will be able to accept our preaching to others, even if they deserve it.

Candle Light Dinner

by Sameeha Elwan

The Palestine Telegraph

Tonight, too, we are having a romantic candle light dinner. Well, thanks to Israelis, of course.

Setting the candles on the table for dinner is not due to a special occasion. It's the birthday of none of us tonight. In fact, candles have become more of a necessity for us, Gazans, than of a tradition. A real compassionate yet dangerous companion in our thick dark nights when we are left with no electricity.

The lights go off. My father exclaims as usual on seeing nothing in the dark, "Is the electricity off?" We, laughing at his question, give him approval. Mother, who would be preparing something in the kitchen, gets out with the now-useless food processor in her hands losing her temper. Raising her hands, holding that food processor, she starts to curse the day the Israelis stepped into our land. Realizing that none of those machines would be of any use, she goes back to the kitchen to use her bare hands in preparing dinner. My sister, having nothing to do, as she claims that staring into the books in darkness hurts her eyes and causes her headache, she goes to spend the eight or ten hours sleeping. Failing to sleep for a single minute, she gets up and goes to my mother who would tell her the stories of the past of her journeys to the West Bank and the occupied territories. Poor Israelis! They don't know that no matter what they do, they would reinforce our tie into this land.

My little brother, a Barcelona fan, awaiting the next Barcelona match would rage at the thought of another game without him shouting at every goal his favourite team scores.

Honestly, I like studying at candle light. Isn't it sort of romantic? And it is definitely less distracting. At least, I have no chance to surf the net and waste my time, especially at the time of exams. Unfortunately, a lot of people wouldn't feel the same. I know many who cannot study at candle lights or who have sight problems which would prevent them from seeing properly with a candle light.

My mother, shaking from the severe cold, asks me to turn on the heating, forgetting that it works on electricity. I grudge at the thought of those who, in such severe cold, find no shelter after their houses have been partially or wholly destroyed on the last Gaza War. Looking at the matter from a positive side, they are mentally relieved as they don't have to calculate when the electricity would go off or would come back, and live miserably ever after. They have more important things to think about like how to survive another day in such unbearable cold.

Rumors, well, they used to be rumors, but now they are facts which news sites are reporting. Al-Dardasawi, the director of the Public Relation in the electricity company in Gaza, has declared on Saturday that the company is suffering a shortage due to the decline of the fuel supplies on the Israeli side. No reasonable justification was made for not providing us with fuel to run on the station, for Israelis definitely needs no justifications for whatever they do. Is that another collective punishment? I wonder what else wrong we did to deserve such a penalty!

The funny but the bitter thing is that we, Gazans, can get used to and adjust ourselves to the worst circumstances. It's not a weak point; after all, it is actually what a life of more than three years of a brutal siege has taught us, we should not keep adjusting ourselves to the worst, however.

The Israelis, adopting their usual foxy strategies, would start depriving us from our basic human rights little by little till they think that we would be thankful for the least basic human rights we get. They diminish the amount of fuel, getting into the Gaza Strip. We had drawn in darkness only for eight hours every couple of days. Well, eight ours every couple of days is better than eight hours every day. Then the amount provided declines. So, we have to bear life with no electricity daily for eight or ten hours. Well, we can live with that; we still get electricity, isn't half a loaf better than nothing?
Finally, we get no fuel and no electricity at all. After all this, they wonder why we turn angry while asking for our basic rights!

It has always been this way, not only with electricity but with other basic needs of food, fuel, and even children milk.

Israel would deprive us all our rights and then wants us to be grateful when they would give us back what they have aggressively deprived us from. But, do they really think that depriving us from our basic needs would make us forget about the siege, the refugees, the right of return, the occupied land, Jerusalem? Do they think we would be grateful if we get back what is essentially ours?

Well, Israel, we are not grateful, for you grant us none which is originally not ours. We have our rights as humans. We have our rights as Palestinians.


Let the Haitians In

by Amy Goodman


Jean Montrevil was shackled, imprisoned, about to be sent to Haiti. It was Jan. 6, days before the earthquake that would devastate Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Montrevil came to the U.S. with a green card in 1986 at the age of 17. Twenty years ago, still a teenager, he was convicted of possession of cocaine and sent to prison for 11 years. Upon release, he married a U.S. citizen; he has four U.S.-citizen children, owns a business, pays taxes and is a legal, permanent resident. He is a well-respected Haitian New York community activist. But because of his earlier conviction, he was on an immigration supervision program, requiring him to check in with an immigration official every two weeks. On Dec. 30, during his routine visit, he was immediately detained and told he would be deported to Haiti. A fellow detainee bound for Haiti had a fever. That man’s illness halted the flight, and then the earthquake struck.

The devastating toll of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti continues to mount. Most efforts to rescue people from the rubble have ended. More than 150,000 people have been buried, some in makeshift graves near the ruins of the homes where they died, but many in unmarked, mass graves at Titanyen, the site of massacres during previous dictatorships and coups. More than 1 million people are homeless out of Haiti’s population of 9 million. The stench of decaying bodies is still pervasive in the capital city of Port-au-Prince as well as in outlying towns, which, two weeks out, have seen little outside help. It was painful to see the mass of aid stockpiled at the airport. The Haitians need it now. For example, I saw pallets with thousands of bottles of Aquafina water there. Hopeful when a truck arrived to load up, I asked where it was headed. “To the U.S. Embassy,” I was told.

One of the principal sources of national income in Haiti is the flow of remittances from the Haitian diaspora, whose cash, wired to family members back in Haiti, amounts to one-third of Haiti’s gross national product. For years, after four major hurricanes and massive flooding, the Haitian community has simply been asking to be treated like Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Salvadorans in similar circumstances, to receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS allows people to stay in the U.S., and legally work, during times of armed conflict or natural disaster, and is a critical element of any humane policy. Finally, following frantic grass-roots lobbying after the earthquake, the U.S. government extended TPS to Haitians.

But TPS is not enough. Haitians need to be allowed into the United States, legally, compassionately and immediately. I visited hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince, with thousands of people waiting for care, and amputations happening with ibuprofen or Motrin, if patients were lucky. Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based attorney who represented Haiti for years, says the U.S. must let in those immediately who need medical care, that far too few of the injured have been brought to the U.S. In addition, he told me, the U.S. should bring many more people from Haiti, including all those people who had approved petitions by family members. It’s about 70,000 people. These people have been approved, but are essentially in a multiyear waiting line to move to the U.S. Kurzban compared the historical willingness and ability of the U.S. to accept Cuban refugees with what he calls a policy of “containment” with Haiti, preventing people from leaving and blocking the shores with the Coast Guard. The first thing I saw when flying in to Port-au-Prince days after the earthquake were the Coast Guard cutters. They weren’t bringing aid in, or carrying people out. They were preventing Haitians from leaving.

National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the U.S., has 12,000 registered nurses willing to travel to Haiti to help, but they say they can’t get assistance from the Obama administration. So they called filmmaker Michael Moore. He told me this week: “This is pretty pathetic if you’re having to call me. I mean, you are the largest nurses union ... and you can’t get a call in to the White House?” The NNU is seeking individual sponsors through its Web site.

Grass-roots and church groups in New York City demanded freedom for Jean Montrevil, and he was released. It is that kind of solidarity that is now needed by millions of Haitians, here and in Haiti, suffering the greatest catastrophe in their history.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

CPT: Israeli settlers invade At-Tuwani village

Christian Peacemaker Team

AT-TUWANI – On Tuesday, 26 January 2010 approximately fifteen Israeli settlers from the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on attacked Palestinians in the village of At-Tuwani. The settlers were accompanied by Israeli soldiers in three army jeeps and the settlement security agent of Ma’on. Villagers from At-Tuwani arrived, protesting the settlers coming into their village. An Israeli soldier punched a Palestinian villager, who was hospitalized for his injuries. Immediately thereafter, Israeli settlers began throwing stones at the Palestinian villagers while soldiers fired three canisters of tear gas at Palestinians.

Afterwards, the settlers drove to the entrance of At-Tuwani, and began throwing stones at passers-by on the road.

The day’s incident began at 9:20 am when three army jeeps and a pickup truck with an Israeli settler from Havat Ma’on and the settlement security guard from Ma’on drove into At-Tuwani. The settler walked throughout the village, entering Palestinian homes, accompanied by the soldiers and settlement security guard, and then remained in the village and made phone calls until other settlers arrived.

For more information, contact:
Christian Peacemaker Teams 054 253 1323


An explosion in the sky – and Beirut's worst fears came true

by Robert Fisk

The Independent

Concerns about safety of planes taking off in storms confirmed by crash that killed 90 passengers and crew

All weekend, it had been storming across Beirut, bringing the first snows to the mountains above the capital, a near tempest of lightning and thunder that blasted across the seafront Corniche and the runways of the city's international airport. The Lebanese often wondered just how safe it was to fly out of their country in these winter storms. And in the early hours of yesterday morning, their fears were given terrible expression when Ethiopian Airlines flight ET409 exploded in the sky scarcely two miles from Beirut, less that five minutes after take-off.

All day, while Lebanese army helicopters and European naval ships under the UN's command searched for bodies in the high seas, the pitiful detritus of the disaster – a baby's sandals, baggage, medicine bottles, airline seats and wires – were thrown up by the tremendous waves on Naameh beach, in sight of the airport from which the Boeing 737-800 jet had taken off.

There had been 90 passengers and crew aboard and by yesterday afternoon, there was no hope of finding any alive. Many saw the explosion that burst in the cloudy skies at 2.30am, a scar of sudden bright light on the horizon two miles out to sea. Within hours, Beirut airport became the inevitable scene of human desolation, one woman shrieking with grief in the terminal. Should the plane have taken off in such dreadful weather? And was this the fault of the flight deck crew, or of Beirut operations which had given the pilot clearance to take off?

In a world where suspicions of sabotage accompany any aircraft crash - in the "old world" pre-al Qa'ida days, a crash was assumed to be caused by technical faults or human error unless there was evidence to the contrary – it has to be said that there was no reason to suspect a criminal hand behind the tragedy. The Lebanese president, Michel Sleiman, said as much yesterday morning. There is a large expatriate community of Ethiopian workers in Beirut and, despite its repeated wars, Lebanon has had no political contact with African conflicts.

Of the 34 bodies – two of them children – recovered from the sea last night, many are so dismembered that they will need DNA examinations to be identified. There were two Britons among the 83 passengers, along with 54 Lebanese and 22 Ethiopians. The passenger manifest also included Canadians, French – including Marla Pieton the wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon, Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish nationals. From their relatives at the airport came awful tales; of the mother who pleaded with her son to delay travelling because of the weather, of parents who could not understand why a plane should take off into a thunderstorm in the middle of the night over a raging sea.

But taking off from Beirut in bad weather has always been an unsettling experience. The location of the airport, just south of the city, means that outbound airliners must fly out to sea immediately after leaving the ground. If they continued south, they would quickly be heading for the Israeli frontier. The usual take-off runway forces pilots to bank heavily to starboard and passengers can sea the ocean immediately below the right wing of the plane. In bad weather – and I write as a veteran Beirut airline passenger – the sight of massive waves and sea-spray under the starboard wing-tip is usually a little terrifying. It normally takes more than 10 minutes to rise above the turbulence and flight ET409 exploded when it was still in cloud, just five minutes after leaving the ground. Beirut has a first-class record in on-time takeoffs; the question must be asked if controllers allowed this to overcome any doubts about the weather. But planes had been taking off into the same storm and lightning for more than 12 hours before the disaster. Yesterday, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, paid a painful visit to the airport to meet distraught relatives, some of whom would not accept that the jet had been lost.

The last crash at Beirut airport was more than 20 years ago when a Polish freight aircraft crashed in the hills to the south-east.

During the 1975-90 civil war, a Hungarian Malev airliner was accidentally hit by a stray shell while coming in to land. All aboard were killed. Shortly afterwards, a Lebanese MEA Boeing 707 exploded over Saudi Arabia when a bomb – put aboard, probably by a Palestinian group and timed to blow up when the flight had reached its destination – exploded prematurely.

Ethiopian Airlines: One of Africa's safest

*Founded in 1945, and 100 per cent owned by the government, Ethiopian Airlines is considered to be one of the safest African operators. It is also one of the continent's few profitable airlines, who last week ordered Boeing's Next-Generation 737-800s.

*The last incident involving the airline was more than 13 years ago. A Boeing 767 was hijacked while flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. It ran out of fuel and ditched in the sea off the Comoros Islands, killing 123 of the 175 people on board.

Democracy Now! Headlines for January 25, 2010

Democracy Now!

150,000 Bodies Buried in Haiti; Death Toll Could Top 300,000

Haitian authorities say more than 150,000 bodies have been buried in Haiti since the devastating January 12th earthquake. Haiti’s Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue suggested the death toll could rise to 300,000. Lassegue said, “Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble.” As many as 800,000 Haitians are now homeless in the capital of Port-au-Prince. To deal with the housing crisis, Haitian officials have announced plans to house 400,000 survivors in tent cities outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, but the International Organization for Migration said it could take weeks to search out sites suitable for the tent cities. The organization says 100,000 tents are still needed. An estimated 200,000 residents of Port-au-Prince have already fled for the countryside or other cities in Haiti. Up to 100,000 people have returned to the region around the coastal city of Gonaives in northern Haiti, a city abandoned by many after two devastating floods in six years. Many survivors of the earthquake have still not received medical attention. Dr. Mill Etienne is a Haitian American neurosurgeon aboard the US Navy’s floating hospital, The Comfort.

Dr. Mill Etienne: “Many of these patients, because their legs, for example, were crushed a week ago, they didn’t get immediate medical attention. A lot of them were stuck in a building or a house for two, three, four, five days before they were discovered. So what happens is, for a lot of those patients, their legs are dying. And having that dead leg there puts you at increased risk for infection. And that infection in the leg can actually kill the patient. So we are having to do a lot of amputations.”

Oxfam Calls for International Community to Cancel Haiti’s $890 Million Debt

Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others will take part in closed-door talks today in Montreal to map out key priorities for rebuilding Haiti. Oxfam is calling on foreign ministers attending the talks to cancel Haiti’s outstanding $890 million international debt.

Hope for Haiti Telethon Raises $57 Million

On Friday, the Hope for Haiti telethon was broadcast across the United States. The event, organized by George Clooney, raised $57 million for relief organizations in Haiti.
So far the world’s nations have pledged some $1 billion in emergency aid to Haiti. The amount of money being sent to help Haiti pales in comparison to the US war budget. In 2007 the economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated the war in Iraq was costing the United States $720 million a day.

Number of Children in Poverty in US Increases by 2.5 Million Since 2000

A new report on child poverty has found more than 13 million American children now live in families with incomes below the official federal poverty level of $22,000 a year for a family of four. The number of American children living in poverty has increased by 2.5 million over the past ten years. The National Center for Children in Poverty says another 16 million children live in low-income families but are ineligible for public benefits because they live in households that earn slightly more than $22,000 a year.

Japanese Voters Back Anti-US Base Mayoral Candidate

The Pentagon’s plans to open another military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa has been dealt a setback. Voters in the city of Nago have elected a mayor who campaigned on a promise to oppose the base. The US has more than 47,000 troops in Japan; half of them are in Okinawa.

Netanyahu: Israel Will Retain Parts of West Bank Forever

In news from the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would retain parts of the occupied West Bank forever. Netanyahu made his comment just hours after meeting with George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy. Speaking at a settlement south of Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, "Our message is clear: We are planting here. We will stay here. We will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity.”

Haitian Activist Jean Montrevil Released from ICE Detention

And prominent Haitian community activist has been released from jail after being held for three weeks in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Jean Montrevil’s scheduled deportation was indefinitely put off after the earthquake in Haiti. Since late December, immigrant rights groups and clergy have organized a series of protests calling for Montrevil’s release.


The depopulation of the Chagos Islands, 1965-73

by Mark Curtis


An edited extract from Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World

“The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours” (Foreign Office, 1966)

During the decolonisation process in the 1960s Britain created a new colony – the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This included the Chagos island group which was detached from Mauritius, and other islands detached from the Seychelles. Mauritius had been granted independence by Britain in 1965 on the barely concealed condition that London be allowed to buy the Chagos island group from it – Britain gave Mauritius £3m. “The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours”, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, its chief civil servant, said in a secret file of 1966. The Colonial Office similarly noted that the “prime object of BIOT exercise was that the islands… hived off into the new territory should be under the greatest possible degree of UK control [sic]“.

In December 1966 the Wilson government signed a military agreement with the US leasing the BIOT to it for military purposes for fifty years with the option of a further twenty years. Britain thus ignored UN Resolution 2066XX passed by the General Assembly in December 1965 which called on the UK “to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and to violate its territorial integrity”. Higher matters were at stake: Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos group, was well situated as a military base. Britain allowed the US to build up Diego Garcia as a nuclear base and as the launch pad for intervention in the Middle East, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq. Diego Garcia’s role “has become increasingly important over the last decade in supporting peace and stability in the region”, a Foreign Office spokesman managed to say with a straight face in 1997.

To militarise Diego Garcia, Britain removed the 1,500 indigenous inhabitants of the Chagos islands – “the compulsory and unlawful removal of a small an unique population, Citizens of the UK and Colonies, from islands that had formed their home, and also the home of the parents, grand-parents and very possibly earlier ancestors”, as the Chagossians’ defence lawyers put it. The islanders were to be “evacuated as and when defence interests require this”, against which there should be “no insurmountable obstacle”, the Foreign Office had noted.

The Chagossians were removed from Diego Garcia by 1971 and from the outlying islands of Salomen and Peros Banhos by 1973. The secret files show that the US wanted Diego Garcia to be cleared “to reduce to a minimum the possibilities of trouble between their forces and any ‘natives’”. This removal of the population “was made virtually a condition of the agreement when we negotiated it in 1965″, in the words of one British official. Foreign Office officials recognised that they were open to “charges of dishonesty” and needed to “minimise adverse reaction” to US plans to establish the base. In secret, they referred to plans to “cook the books” and “old fashioned” concerns about “whopping fibs”.

The Chagossians were described by a Foreign Office official in a secret file: “unfortunately along with birds go some few Tarzans or man Fridays whose origins are obscure”. Another official wrote, referring to a UN body on women’s issues: “There will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee (the status of women committee does not cover the rights of birds)”. According to the Foreign Office, “these people have little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts”. The Governor of the Seychelles noted that it was “important to remember what type of people” the islanders are: “extremely unsophisticated, illiterate, untrainable and unsuitable for any work other than the simplest labour tasks of a copra plantation”.

Contrary to the racist indifference of British planners, the Chagossians had constructed a well-functioning society on the islands by the mid-1960s. They earned their living by fishing, and rearing their own vegetables and poultry. Copra industry had been developed. The society was matriarchal, with Illois women having the major say over the bringing up of the children. The main religion was Roman Catholic and by the first world war the Illois had developed a distinct culture and identity together with a specific variation of the Creole language. There was a small hospital and a school. Life on the Chagos islands was certainly hard, but also settled. By the 1960s the community was enjoying a period of prosperity with the copra industry thriving as never before. The islanders were also exporting guano, used for phosphate, and there was talk of developing the tourist industry.

Then British foreign policy intervened. One of the victims recalled: “We were assembled in front of the manager’s house and informed that we could no longer stay on the island because the Americans were coming for good. We didn’t want to go. We were born here. So were our fathers and forefathers who were buried in that land”.

Britain expelled the islanders to Mauritius without any workable resettlement scheme, gave them a tiny amount of compensation and later offered more on condition that the islanders renounced their rights ever to return home. Most were given little time to pack their possessions and some were allowed to take with them only a minimum of personal belongings packed into a small crate. They were also deceived into believing what awaited them. Olivier Bancoult said that the islanders “had been told they would have a house, a portion of land, animals and a sum of money, but when they arrived [in Mauritius] nothing had been done”. Britain also deliberately closed down the copra plantations to increase the pressure to leave. A Foreign Office note from 1972 states that “when BIOT formed, decided as a matter of policy not to put any new investment into plantations” [sic], but to let them run down. And the colonial authorities even cut off food imports to the Chagos islands; it appears that after 1968 food ships did not sail to the islands.

Not all the islanders were physically expelled. Some, after visiting Mauritius, were simply – and suddenly – told they were not allowed back, meaning they were stranded, turned into exiles overnight. Many of the islanders later testified to having been tricked into leaving Diego Garcia by being offered a free trip.

Most of the islanders ended up living in the slums of the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, in gross poverty; many were housed in shacks, most of them lacked enough food, and some died of starvation and disease. Many committed suicide. A report commissioned by the Mauritian government in the early 1980s found that only 65 of the 94 Illois householders were owners of land and houses; and 40 per cent of adults had no job. Today, most Chagossians continue to live in poverty, with unemployment especially high.

British officials were completely aware of the poverty and hardships likely to be faced by those they had removed from their homeland. When some of the last of the Chagossians were removed in 1973 and arrived in Mauritius, the High Commission noted that the Chagossians at first refused to disembark, having “nowhere to go, no money, no employment”. Britain offered a miniscule £650,000 in compensation, which only arrived in 1978, too late to offset the hardship of the islanders. The Foreign Office stated in a secret file that “we must be satisfied that we could not discharge our obligation… more cheaply”. As the Chagossians’ defence lawyers argue, “the UK government knew at the time that the sum given [in compensation] would in no way be adequate for resettlement.”

Ever since their removal, the islanders have campaigned for proper compensation and for the right to return. In 1975, for example, the islanders presented a petition to the British High Commission in Mauritius. It said: “We, the inhabitants of the Chagos islands – Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomen – have been uprooted from these islands because the Mauritius government sold the islands to the British government to build a base. Our ancestors were slaves on those islands but we know that we are the heirs of those islands. Although we were poor we were not dying of hunger. We were living free… Here in Mauritius… we, being mini-slaves, don’t get anybody to help us. We are at a loss not knowing what to do.”

The response of the British was to tell the islanders to address their petition to the Mauritian government. The British High Commission in Mauritius responded to a petition in 1974 saying that “High Commission cannot intervene between yourselves as Mauritians and government of Mauritius, who assumed responsibility for your resettlement”. This, as the British government well knew, was a complete lie, as many of the Chagossians could claim nationality “of the UK and the colonies” (see below). In 1981, a group of Illois women went on hunger strike for 21 days and several hundred women demonstrated in vain in front of the British High Commission in Mauritius.

The Whitehall conspiracy

The British response was: after removing the islanders from their home, to remove them from history, in the manner of Winston Smith. In 1972 the US Defence Department could tell Congress that “the islands are virtually uninhabited and the erection of the base would thus cause no indigenous political problems”. In December 1974 a joint UK-US memorandum in question-and-answer form asked “Is there any native population on the islands?”; its reply was “no”. A British Ministry of Defence spokesman denied this was a deliberate misrepresentation of the situation by saying “there is nothing in our files about inhabitants or about an evacuation”, thus confirming that the Chagossians were official Unpeople.

Formerly secret planning documents revealed in the court case show the lengths to which Labour and Conservative governments have gone to conceal the truth. Whitehall officials’ strategy is revealed to have been “to present to the outside world a scenario in which there were no permanent inhabitants on the archipelago”. This was essential “because to recognise that there are permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded”. One official noted that British strategy towards the Chagossians should be to “grant as few rights with as little formality as possible”. In particular, Britain wanted to avoid fulfilling its obligations to the islanders under the UN charter.

From 1965, memoranda issued by the Foreign Office and then Commonwealth Relations Office to British embassies around the world mentioned the need to avoid all reference to any “permanent inhabitants”. Various memos noted that: “best wicket… to bat on… that these people are Mauritians and Seychellois [sic]“; “best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants”; and need to “present a reasonable argument based on the proposition that the inhabitants… are merely a floating population”. The Foreign Office legal adviser noted in 1968 that “we are able to make up the rules as we go along and treat inhabitants of BIOT as not ‘belonging’ to it in any sense”.

Then Labour Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart wrote to prime Minister Harold Wilson in a secret note in 1969 that “we could continue to refer to the inhabitants generally as essentially migrant contract labourers and their families”. It would be helpful “if we can present any move as a change of employment for contract workers… rather than as a population resettlement”. The purpose of the Foreign Secretary’s memo was to secure Wilson’s approval to clear the whole of the Chagos islands of their inhabitants. This, the prime minister did, five days later on 26 April. By the time of this formal decision, however, the removal had already effectively started – Britain had in 1968 started refusing to return Chagossians who were visiting Mauritius or the Seychelles.

A Foreign Office memo of 1970 outlined the Whitehall conspiracy: “We would not wish it to become general knowledge that some of the inhabitants have lived on Diego Garcia for at least two generations and could, therefore, be regarded as ‘belongers’. We shall therefore advise ministers in handling supplementary questions about whether Diego Garcia is inhabited to say there is only a small number of contract labourers from the Seychelles and Mauritius engaged in work on the copra plantations on the island. That is being economical with the truth.”

It continued: “Should a member [of the House of Commons] ask about what should happen to these contract labourers in the event of a base being set up on the island, we hope that, for the present, this can be brushed aside as a hypothetical question at least until any decision to go ahead with the Diego Garcia facility becomes public”.

Detailed guidance notes were issued to Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence press officers telling them to mislead the media if asked.

The reality that was being concealed was clearly understood. A secret document signed by Michael Stewart in 1968, said: “By any stretch of the English language, there was an indigenous population, and the Foreign Office knew it”. A Foreign Office minute from 1965 recognises policy as “to certify [the Chagossians], more or less fraudulently, as belonging somewhere else”. Another Whitehall document was entitled: “Maintaining the Fiction”. The Foreign Office legal adviser wrote in January 1970 that it was important “to maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population”.

Yet all subsequent ministers peddled this lie in public, hitting on the formula to designate the Chagossians merely as “former plantation workers”, while knowing this was palpably untrue. For example, Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons in 1990 that: “Those concerned worked on the former copra plantations in the Chagos archipelago. After the plantations closed between 1971 and 1973 they and their families were resettled in Mauritius and given considerable financial assistance. Their future now lies in Mauritius”.

Foreign Office minister William Waldegrade said in 1989 that he recently met “a delegation of former plantation workers from the Chagos Islands”, before falsely asserting that they “are increasingly integrated into the Mauritian community”. Aid minister Baroness Chalker also told the House that “the former plantation workers (Illois) are now largely integrated into Mauritian and Seychellese society”.

New Labour continued the lie into the twenty-first century, continuing to peddle the official line in the court case that the islanders were “contract labourers”. As I write this, the Foreign Office website contains a country profile of the British Indian Ocean Territory that states there are “no indigenous inhabitants”.

Another issue that the British government went to great lengths to conceal was the fact that many of the Chagossians were “citizens of the UK and the colonies”. Britain preferred to designate them Mauritians so they could be dumped there and left to the Mauritian authorities to deal with. The Foreign Secretary warned in 1968 of the “possibility… [that] some of them might one day claim a right to remain in the BIOT by virtue of their citizenship of the UK and the Colonies”. A Ministry of Defence note in the same year states that it was “of cardinal importance that no American official… should inadvertently divulge” that the islanders have dual nationality.

Britain’s High Commission in Mauritius noted in January 1971, before a meeting with the Mauritian prime minister, that: “Naturally, I shall not suggest to him that some of these have also UK nationality …always possible that they may spot this point, in which case, presumably, we shall have to come clean [sic]“. In 1971 the Foreign Office was saying that it was “not at present HMG’s policy to advise ‘contract workers’ of their dual citizenship” nor to inform the Mauritian government, referring to “this policy of concealment”.

Ministers also lied in public about the British role in the removal of the Chagossians. For example, Foreign Office minister Richard Luce wrote to an MP in 1981, in response to a letter from one of his constituents, that the islanders had been “given the choice of either returning [to Mauritius or the Seychelles] or going to plantations on other islands in BIOT” [sic]. According to this revised history, the “majority chose to return to Mauritius and their employers… made the arrangements for them to be transferred”.

Ministers in the 1960s also lied about the terms under which Britain offered the Diego Garcia base to the US. The US paid Britain £5 million for the island, an amount deducted from the price Britain paid the US for buying the Polaris nuclear weapons. The US asked for this deal to be kept secret and Prime Minister Harold Wilson complied, lying in public. A Foreign Office memo to the US of 1967 said that “ultimately, under extreme pressure, we should have to deny the existence of a US contribution in any form, and to advise ministers to do so in [parliament] if necessary”.

A Foreign Office memo of 1980 recommended to then Foreign Secretary that “no journalists should be allowed to visit Diego Garcia” and that visits by MPs be kept to a minimum to keep out those “who deliberately stir up unwelcome questions”. The defence lawyers for the Chagossians, who unearthed the secret files, note that: “Concealment is a theme which runs through the official documents, concealment of the existence of a permanent population, of BIOT itself, concealment of the status of the Chagossians, concealment of the full extent of the responsibility of the United Kingdom government…, concealment of the fact that many of the Chagossians were Citizens of the UK and Colonies… This concealment was compounded by a continuing refusal to accept that those who were removed from the islands in 1971-3 had not exercised a voluntary decision to leave the islands”.

Indeed, the lawyers argue, “for practical purposes, it may well be that the deceit of the world at large, in particular the United Nations, was the critical part” of the government’s policy.