The Real Story Behind the Fort Dix Terror Plot

by Mrutaza Hussain and Razan Ghalayini
The Intercept

On the evening of May 7, 2007, 48-year-old Lata Duka was doing dishes in the kitchen of her home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when she heard a loud bang come from the front of the house. “It wasn’t a normal sound. I was very scared,” Lata recalls nearly a decade later.

Thinking someone was breaking in, Lata grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and hoisted it above her head, waiting for the intruder. Moments later a swarm of armed men burst through the front door and ran into her kitchen. “Put the chair down or I’ll shoot!” she says one exclaimed, pushing his gun against her chest.

The armed men were FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. As they searched the house, one of the men approached Lata. He was smiling.

“He kept asking me, where are my sons!” Lata remembers. “Just smiling and going up and down the stairs, asking me all the time, where are your sons? I told him my sons were at work. He just kept smiling at me.”

Lata didn’t know that at roughly the same time, authorities were conducting raids at separate locations in Cherry Hill to arrest her three sons, Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka. Over 100 officers and agents were involved in what at the time was one of the most high-profile counterterrorism arrests in the post-9/11 era.

The next morning, Chris Christie, then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, appeared at a press conference flanked by law enforcement officials to announce the arrests. “The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants,” he said.

Christie said that five men apprehended the previous night ? the three Duka brothers along with two friends, Mohamad Shnewer and Serdar Tatar ? had been planning to launch a terrorist attack against the nearby Fort Dix military base. “Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them,” he said.

The press conference and ensuing case garnered national attention, and the brothers and their friends quickly became known as the “Fort Dix Five,” characterized in the media as a terrorist cell that intended to kill servicemen and attack facilities at the base. For Christie, now a possible contender for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination, the arrests would be a career turning point, helping galvanize his eventual rise to governor of New Jersey.

For the Duka family, the arrests marked a tragic turn. They had escaped the turmoil of the former Yugoslavia and managed to start anew in the United States, only to find three sons publicly branded as terrorists. Dritan, Shain and Eljvir, seized when they were 28, 26 and 23, would be convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel and sentenced to life in prison, devastating the Duka family and putting an end to their nascent American dream.

Beyond the sensational headlines is the story of paid FBI informants with long criminal histories who spent a year working to befriend the brothers and enlist them as terrorists. This effort, both expensive and time-consuming, nevertheless failed to convince the Duka brothers to take part in a violent attack. Indeed, over the course of hundreds of hours of surveillance, the plot against Fort Dix was never even raised with them.

In the years since these events occurred, the use of dubious informants in terrorism investigations by the FBI has become almost routine. When purported terror plots are “revealed,” they almost invariably involve paid government informants at every level of their ideation, facilitation and planning. But the story of the Duka brothers is an early example of this type of case ? and it still stands out because of the deliberate and brazen way the brothers were entrapped by authorities, assisted by their paid informants. Indeed, one might argue that the targeting of the Dukas was the prototype for the program of state-orchestrated terrorism plots that continues today.

IN THE 1980s, Yugoslavia was in its final chaotic decade of existence. Lata Duka and her husband, Firik, both ethnic Albanian Muslims, decided to leave their small village of Spas in search of a better life for their three young boys.

The Dukas traveled by train across Europe to a refugee camp in Latina, Italy, where they stayed for a year. From there, they boarded a plane to Mexico City and made their way to the Rio Grande, which they crossed by canoe into Texas. Once across the border, the family spent 12 hours in the back of a pickup truck to Dallas, before finally heading east toward their final destination: the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

None of the Dukas spoke English at the time, and they had entered the country without legal documents. Firik found a job stocking shelves at a Korean-owned fruit stand, where he was paid $175 a week. He made flashcards to learn the names of the produce he was handling, and at night, he would come home and teach his wife the words he had learned. “Our way of life was to just take care of our families, just live simply, and teach the children how to work hard,” Firik says.

Life in Brooklyn wasn’t easy, and the Duka family was only getting bigger. Lata and Firik had two more children: a girl named Naze and a boy named Burim. When their oldest child, Dritan, or Tony as he’d come to be called, turned six, they sent him to public school. Because he could barely speak English, he fell behind the other kids. When Lata got notes from his teachers, she couldn’t read them.

Bensonhurst was known, in Brooklyn and beyond, as a home for ethnic mafias. “Growing up, the Russians would be with the Russians, Italians with the Italians, and the Albanians with the Albanians,” remembers Burim, the youngest of the four brothers. “The Albanians never started nothing, but sometimes, if someone came to us, we had to fight.” It wasn’t unusual for the boys to come home with a black eye or a bleeding lip. In time, they adapted to the street life of their neighborhood, developing thick Brooklyn accents and a swagger to match.

Tony, who had a temper, frequently got into fights at school. He knew he was heading down a bad path and dropped out during his freshman year, telling his father, “If I don’t, I’m either going to end up in jail or dead.” Reluctantly, Firik got his son a job at a wholesale food distributor, where he was driving delivery trucks.
Though he stopped attending classes, Tony continued to pick up his brother Shain from high school, where he eventually met a student named Jennifer Marino. The two fell in love, began dating, and a year later were engaged. Jennifer moved into the Duka family’s small apartment.

Like their older brother, Shain and Eljvir also dropped out of school to work, and spent more time hanging out on the streets. At various points, the three brothers were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and marijuana possession.

Firik and Lata grew increasingly frustrated; they hadn’t moved their family halfway across the world to have them give up their education and get caught up in petty crime. They were at a loss for what to do, and overwhelmed by the challenges of life as immigrants in America. In an effort to keep their sons out of trouble, Firik moved the family out of Brooklyn to a two-bedroom apartment in suburban Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Tony, Jennifer and their newborn baby girl, Lejla, took one room, while Firik and Lata took the other. Shain, Eljvir, Naze and Burim all slept in the living room.

One day after leaving work, Shain and his girlfriend got into a car accident. While their injuries were minor, the experience shook Shain. “I realized that if I had died then I would have gone to hell,” Shain says of the experience, writing to The Intercept from a federal prison in Kentucky, where he’s currently incarcerated. “The accident made me realize that death can come at any moment so I better try and get right.”

Over the course of the next year, Shain began to take his Muslim identity more seriously. He stopped drinking and smoking pot, and says these changes in behavior opened up conversations about religion among the brothers. “I started to read the Quran a bit, and pray every now and then. It was a struggle because I didn’t want to be fake,” Shain says. “When I do something, I don’t want to be hypocritical. Over here praying and fasting, then over here in a nightclub smoking weed with a bunch of girls partying. No, I would try and do it wholeheartedly.”

Lata and Firik, both practicing Muslims, were overjoyed by this change. “I had tears in my eyes when they were telling me they would start praying,” says Lata. As the tumult of their early years passed, the brothers began to settle into lives revolving around family and work, pooling their money to open a restaurant, which they named Dukas Pizza. They also became more religious. Their understanding of Islam was elementary and largely self-taught, and for the first time, they began attending mosque services on Fridays, praying five times a day and growing out their beards. They incorporated Islamic phrases into their everyday lives, greeting each other with “Salaam alaikum,” or “Peace be upon you.”

As the Dukas were changing, the United States was about to change, too. On September 11, 2001, hijacked planes crashed into the Word Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. “When it happened, I was driving to a job in Jersey. My kids called me from home and told me something had happened,” Firik says. “I used to deliver food in those buildings, and I would take Shain along with me. When he was a child, the Twin Towers were his favorite buildings in the city. We couldn’t believe this was happening.”

In the aftermath of the attacks, the national mood turned. The Dukas, like many others, were opposed to the subsequent wars launched by the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their view, the U.S. was waging an unfounded attack on two countries that had nothing to do with 9/11. “I was frustrated and against the wars. I believed the wars were unjust and wrong,” Shain wrote from prison. “They killed so many innocent people.”

The Dukas also began to grow increasingly disenchanted with the widespread mistreatment of Muslims. In Europe, the 2004 Madrid train bombing, believed to be carried out by an al Qaeda-inspired terror cell, was followed the next year by a series of attacks in London. Public officials in Europe and the U.S. began to warn of the threat posed by young Muslim men. “America was turning into a spy state, it used 9/11 as a stepping stone to justify this,” Shain says. “Not everyone was affected, so not everyone cared, but Muslim people felt it.”

Yet the Duka family continued to thrive. Firik had started his own roofing business, which the brothers decided to focus on full time, selling their pizzeria. By the end of 2005, the company employed a growing staff and the future seemed bright. The boys decided to do something they had done many times before as a family: take a vacation.

In January 2006, the Duka brothers and a group of friends, including Mohamad Shnewer, Eljvir Duka’s former schoolmate and future brother-in-law, took a trip to a cabin in the Poconos Mountains in Northern Pennsylvania. There, they did what any group of young men might do on vacation: they went skiing, played paintball in the woods, rode horses at the stables and went to the shooting range.

Tony brought his video camera to record his brothers and friends. After the trip, Burim and Shain took the tape from Tony’s camera to a Circuit City near their home in Cherry Hill. They wanted to make copies of the video to give to everyone who went on the trip.

The Circuit City clerk processing the videotape saw a group of young bearded men in the woods, skiing, shooting guns and riding horses. The Dukas, whose daily speech was often punctuated with Arabic phrases, could occasionally be heard saying “Allahu Akbar” on and off camera. While in earlier years a group of young Muslim men at the shooting range may not have aroused the panic of employees, in the heightened paranoia after 9/11, it was enough to trigger alarm.

The employee called the police and reported the tape.

THE FOOTAGE REVEALED no evidence of a crime, but the Circuit City employee’s call to the police set in motion a series of events that would soon link the Dukas and their friends to Mahmoud Omar, a 36-year-old Egyptian immigrant who was also an FBI confidential informant.

In the 1970s, when the Senate was investigating the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO domestic counterintelligence operations, the agency employed around 1,500 confidential informants. Today, that number has ballooned to 15,000 confidential informants. Many of these individuals have long-documented criminal histories or problems with their immigration status, and their entanglement with the law is exploited to coax them into helping generate criminal cases against people who have yet to commit concrete acts.

In 2006, the FBI approached Omar, who also lived in Cherry Hill. He had moved to the U.S. in the 1990s and made a living exporting cars to Egypt; in some cases, they had been reported stolen. Convictions for fraud littered his record. “They showed me a photograph and asked me who it was in the picture,” he told The Intercept by phone. “The FBI don’t come and ask you if you know someone if they don’t already know the answer.”

The man in the photograph was Mohamad Shnewer, Eljvir Duka’s friend and future brother-in-law. Omar knew Shnewer in passing from shopping at the Shnewer family’s halal grocery store. The FBI told Omar they needed to know what Shnewer and his friends were up to and asked Omar to become an informant. He agreed.

Shnewer was a taxi driver in his early 20s whose sister was engaged to Eljivir. The Duka brothers, who describe Shnewer as immature, seemed to be his only friends. They were older and had the cachet of being tough guys from Brooklyn. Shnewer was always trying to impress them, Burim remembers. “One time, he told us that a passenger in his taxi refused to pay the fare, so he got out of the car and hit him across the head with a baseball bat,” he says.

Burim believes that story, like many of the others Shnewer would tell, was a lie.

Omar began coming to the grocery store with increasing frequency to befriend Shnewer. For Shnewer, the older man quickly became a mentor and a confidant. As their relationship developed, they began to discuss politics, religion and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it’s unclear how the conversations began, it’s apparent from the FBI’s recordings with the informant that Shnewer was receptive to the idea of violence. Shnewer told Omar that that he spent time on the Internet watching graphic combat footage from Iraq.

The informant encouraged his new young protege, suggesting that Shnewer move beyond listening and talking; it was time to “do something,” Omar said, and the two began floating ideas of what that “something” might be. In August 2006, Omar and Shnewer began discussing the idea of launching an armed attack against Fort Dix military base, close to Trenton, New Jersey.

But only Omar and Shnewer were formulating plans for an attack. In a conversation recorded on August 2, 2006, Omar pressed Shnewer to come up with other recruits for their plot. “You and I are not enough, and you had told me that maybe there could be other people,” Omar said. “Otherwise, we can’t do anything.”

“No, no, no when I tell you I have people, that means I have people,” Shnewer responded. “Listen I will not talk to anyone about matters like these unless I trust them.”

In the same conversation, Shnewer brought up Serdar Tatar, also a close friend of the Dukas, whose father owned a pizzeria near the Fort Dix base. Tartar dreamed of becoming a police officer, and Shnewer knew this, according to the Burim and his parents. Nonetheless, Shnewer offered Tatar up as a possible co-conspirator, mentioning a map of Fort Dix he’d used to deliver pizza from his father’s shop to the base.

Mohamad Shnewer: You know Serdar? Who has the pizzeria close to here?

Mahmoud Omar: So, what are your thoughts about him?

Mohamad Shnewer: He is ready…. he has a map…. he used to deliver there.

Mahmoud Omar: Ready to be killed?

Mohamad Shnewer: Yes!

 Two days later, Omar asked Shnewer again about possible conspirators for the attack.

“So who do you have in mind?” Omar asked.

Shnewer replied: “I have Tony, Eljvir and Shain in mind.”

IN U.S. CRIMINAL LAW, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime at some time in the future. It is an agreement to break the law; it doesn’t have to be a plan. Once two individuals enter into an agreement, the crime is complete, though some statutes require evidence that concrete steps have been taken. But an individual cannot enter into a conspiracy with a government informant. So unless Shnewer could convince the others to join the plan to attack Fort Dix, there would be no criminal conspiracy.

Omar apparently felt more comfortable approaching Tatar than the Duka brothers and began courting the 23-year-old. He told him of the plot to attack Fort Dix and openly asked for his help: he needed the pizza delivery map.

Tatar, who had since left his father’s pizza shop and moved to Philadelphia, was working at a 7-Eleven when Sgt. Dean Dandridge of the Philadelphia Police Department came by for his daily coffee. On November 15, 2006, Tatar told Dandridge that he believed Omar might be planning a terrorist attack. Neither Tatar, nor Dandridge, had any way of knowing that Omar was an informant.

Dandridge left Tatar’s information with the FBI, expecting the bureau’s agents would be in touch soon. For three weeks, Tatar waited for the FBI to contact him. In the meantime, he recorded at least one conversation with Omar, so that when the authorities did reach out, he would have information to give them. Eventually and inexplicably, after repeated prodding, Tatar gave Omar the map of Fort Dix.

When a Philadelphia police detective assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force spoke to Tatar, he downplayed the threat and refused the audio that Tatar had recorded. The agent asked Tatar if he had indeed given Omar the map. Suddenly scared, Tatar lied. That lie would later implicate him in the conspiracy.

Having succeeded in this haphazard way of ensnaring Tatar, Omar relentlessly tried to persuade Shnewer to set up a meeting with the Duka brothers to discuss “the plot.” But the meeting never seemed to materialize. Time and again, Shnewer found excuses to explain why this didn’t happen. For example, on September 14, 2006, Shnewer, after much hesitation, told Omar that Shain knew about the plot, but not of Omar’s involvement.

As months passed, Shnewer tried to assure an increasingly skeptical Omar that the Duka brothers were on board with the developing plans. When Shnewer failed to provide proof of their actual involvement, Omar pressed harder, asking Shnewer to pursue the brothers, and Eljvir Duka in particular. Between August 11 and September 19, 2006, Omar asked Shnewer about Eljvir 197 times.

Finally, after months of failed efforts, Omar told his FBI handlers that, in his estimation, Tony and Shain Duka knew nothing about the plot and seemed to be more focused on taking care of their families.

“I’m saying it again, those Dukas, they didn’t tell me nothing,” he said in a recent phone call with The Intercept. When asked how the FBI responded to his view of the Dukas, Omar replied: “They said it was none of my business. I just wear the wire and record.”

As Omar struggled to link the Duka brothers to the plot he’d developed with Shnewer, the FBI decided to introduce another informant into the case.

Besnik Bakalli, a 29-year-old undocumented immigrant from Albania, was sitting in a Philadelphia jail awaiting deportation when the FBI approached him about becoming an informant. Agents showed him pictures of the Duka brothers and told him to meet them at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Cherry Hill, where the Dukas often went after Friday prayers at the nearby Palmyra mosque.
When the Dukas walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts on a Friday in July 2006, Besnik was talking on the phone loudly in Albanian. The naturally gregarious Dukas overheard him and introduced themselves, ultimately befriending the informant. The FBI’s plan to quietly integrate their second informant into the lives of the Duka brothers was unfolding successfully.

Over the course of the next ten months, Bakalli saw the Duka family often. Over dinner with the brothers, Lata and Firik, he portrayed himself as a down-on-his-luck fellow Albanian, recently divorced and in dire emotional and financial straits. “He told us a former friend of his tried to rape his sister,” Shain says. “He got out of prison, heard the news, and got in an altercation, which killed this individual. After this, he said his life was in jeopardy. He came to America illegally and now is in a foreign land, alone and homesick. This was Besnik’s story to the family.”

The family took pity on Bakalli and took him in as one of their own. Firik Duka, whose roofing business continued to grow, hired him to work a few shifts at job sites around New Jersey and Philadelphia. Lata even tried to help Bakalli find a wife with whom to settle down.

Bakali told the Dukas that he wanted to become a better Muslim, and the brothers agreed to help him. “This is when all the questions began to roll in,” Shain says. “What is jihad? Do we have to perform jihad? Me and my brothers did not take these questions as out of the ordinary. At that time all you heard on TV was jihad, terrorism, Islam this, Islam that. We thought he was just new and trying to understand, no red flags were raised!”

As they had both penetrated the same group of friends, Omar and Bakalli occasionally bumped into one another. Neither knew the other was an informant. “I hated the guy ? didn’t like the look of him at all,” Omar told The Intercept.

The boys trusted Omar and Bakalli. Omar bonded with the Dukas over cars, a topic the brothers obsessed over. Surveillance transcripts reveal conversations with both informants that ranged from food to family to work.

World events, particularly those that affected Muslims, also came up. The men often discussed their opposition to U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then at their peak. They talked about the perceived targeting of Muslim-Americans by law enforcement and debated what role, if any, Muslims living in the U.S. had in assisting other Muslims resisting American aggression. They often couched their discussions of these topics in religious terms.

Shnewer and Omar spent much of their time together watching jihadi videos and listening to radical lectures on tape, often playing them in the Dukas’ presence. The Dukas also watched these videos, sometimes responding positively. Tony got particularly riled up by a lecture called Constants of the Path of Jihad by Anwar el-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who would later be killed in a U.S. drone attack. He played the audio for his brothers and Bakalli, and in what would later be characterized as evidence of his radical beliefs, was recorded saying, “This is the real truth, straight up, no holds barred!”

Yet the brothers never talked about an actual plan to commit an act of terrorism. Discussing the various forms of jihad, Eljvir asserted, on questioning from Bakalli, that the daily struggle against personal vices like greed and lust is the greatest form of jihad.

In a conversation on September 22, 2006, Omar told Eljvir that he and Shnewer had been working on a “plan,” without providing specific details. Eljvir told them they should seek out a fatwa, or an Islamic legal opinion. While the prosecution would attempt to frame this comment as Eljvir seeking religious authorization for the Fort Dix plot, Omar undermined this claim at trial, conceding under cross-examination that Eljvir was unaware of plans pertaining to Fort Dix.

In other conversations, Bakalli continually pressed the Dukas to “do something,” and shamed them for not taking some kind of action to defend Muslims. During one heated conversation with Bakalli, Tony was recorded saying that he was “going to start something,” and that “you can do a lot of damage, man, seven people.” This statement would later be held as a damning self-indictment of the brothers’ intentions, but again, it never translated into real follow-up action or planning.

Despite their best efforts, Omar’s and Bakalli’s attempts to get the Dukas to put radical ideas into action didn’t gain traction. A month after Tony’s angry statements, Bakalli tried to get him to firm up plans to “do something.” At this point, Tony essentially recanted his incendiary words:

“We can’t … we … the biggest Jihad for us here in America is to spread Islam … That’s the most important thing. That is war, believe me. That is Jihad. Jihad is not just, like we say, to go fight. No people misunderstand it. … The first Jihad is with yourself, when the devil tells you, do this, you try, you fight with the devil. No, no, no. I won’t do it. Then the second Jihad is with your family. To work. To teach Islam to your children. Then you should spread Islam in, to tell others, this is Islam.”

Bakali pressed, but Tony held firm. “Our biggest obligation for us is our family, especially for me with children,” he said.

In early 2007, the Dukas were joined by Bakalli, Shnewer and Omar on another “boys weekend” in the Poconos. The informants were promised horseback riding, hikes in the woods, “an epic game of paintball” and a shooting range. While playing paintball with Tony, Omar likened the game to military training. “This is like an army exactly,” he said, according to court testimony.

This second Poconos weekend, now infiltrated by two government informants, came and went without any discussion of a plot against military personnel. Instead, the brothers and their friends mostly spent hours watching videos of Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle stand-up comedy, in between horse riding and paint-balling.

At this point, roughly a year into the case, despite hundreds of hours of surveillance and the employment of two paid informants, the Dukas still had not been induced to commit any criminal act. The stakes were raised and an illegal gun deal was set up.

THE DUKAS LOVED guns; their Albanian heritage extolled firearms as a virtue of masculinity. “In Albania everybody has a gun in the house,” says Firik. “It’s normal for any man to have one there.”

Omar knew about the brothers’ enthusiasm, and he also knew that without proper immigration documents they couldn’t legally buy firearms in the U.S. It was a sore spot for the Duka brothers, all of whom had tried to apply or were in the process of applying for asylum status. In the Poconos, unlike other visitors who owned personal firearms, the Dukas had to wait in line for rentals at the shooting range.

In March 2007, Omar approached Tony with an offer: a friend in Baltimore with a gun shop was looking to make some under-the-counter sales of guns valued at the discounted price of $500 apiece. This offer was too good to pass up, and after being assured that this guy was “legit,” Tony agreed to take look at what Omar’s friend had in stock.

The boys knew the transaction wouldn’t be legal. “Being an illegal alien did prevent us from purchasing our own guns legally,” Shain says. “At the time, me and my family were in the immigration process. We even hired a lawyer, and we were going to do papers properly when that was done. We always believed that these guns could be transferred legally to my name once we received our papers.”

In a separate conversation that same month, Omar spoke with Shnewer without the Dukas present.

Mahmoud Omar: By the way, I want to ask you a question, I want you to tell me seriously. Eljvir and Tony, do they know, for example why we’re getting the handguns or … ?

Mohamad Shnewer: Yeah, of course.

Mahmoud Omar: Don’t tell me you didn’t tell them, Mohamad.

Mohamad Shnewer: Yeah, they know.

Mahmoud Omar: That we, for example, are training in anticipation for something like this in the future?

Mohamad Shnewer: Yeah!

On March 28, 2007, Omar provided Tony with a list of available weapons from his fictional Baltimore source. This list had in fact been created by the FBI. Inexplicably, in addition to AK-47s, handguns and M16 rifles, it also included heavy weapons like a rocket-propelled grenade launcher ? used to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles ? as well as an M-60 machine gun. Burim, who was 15 at the time, remembers Tony coming home and wondering how Omar’s guy could be “legit” if he was selling RPGs and M-60s, which are heavily regulated in the United States.

On April 6, 2007, Tony went back to Omar and told him that he was interested in the AK-47s, the M-16s and the handguns, but not the heavy weapons. In a recorded conversation, he expressed concerns:

Tony Duka: Is there something I need to know?

Mahmoud Omar: Like what?

Tony Duka: Who … that list, there was some stuff on that list that was heavy shit … the RPG …. Yeah, with rockets. That’s why if you know something I don’t know, ah, please tell me man.

Omar assured Tony that his friend in Baltimore was trustworthy.

On May 7, 2007, Tony and Shain met Omar at his apartment, which had been paid for that month by the FBI. As the brothers inspected the firearms they planned to purchase, audio recordings reveal Tony commenting, “Now we don’t have to wait in line to shoot in Poconos.”

Minutes later, police burst into the apartment and wrestled Tony, Shain and Omar to the floor. “I had no idea what was going on when it happened,” Shain wrote from prison. “I assumed we were being arrested because of the guns, which I knew we were buying from Mahmoud illegally.”

The men were put into police cars and eventually taken away to a Philadelphia detention center.

While Shain and Tony were being arrested at Omar’s apartment, Burim and Eljvir were driving home after taking Tony’s five kids to a Mister Softee for ice cream. As they pulled up to Tony’s apartment, they noticed police cruisers and SWAT vans surrounding the building. Burim got out of the car to ask an agent what was going on, and both he and his brother were handcuffed.

Eljvir was transferred to the same detention center as Shain and Tony. The teenage Burim was not arrested, but left handcuffed under a tree while officers searched Tony’s apartment. Burim recalls an armed agent telling him, “Don’t grow up to be like your brothers.” He later added, “You should think about finding yourself a new religion.”

Tony, Shain and Eljvir spent the night wondering how they were going to get out of what they assumed would be gun charges.

The next morning, the brothers, along with Tatar and Shnewer, who had been seized in separate raids, were driven in a black-tinted police van past throngs of reporters and cameramen to the federal courthouse in Camden, New Jersey.

Inside, they were presented with a criminal complaint accusing them of conspiracy to murder U.S. military personnel. “I was confused at first, but for the most part I breathed easy when I saw that,” Shain says. “I figured they mixed us up with someone else and we’d be out of here as soon as we cleared things up.”

As Shain remembers, the boys were taken to a holding cell and instructed to read through the complaint in its entirety. Shain read aloud to the group. The complaint consisted almost entirely of Mohamad Shnewer’s private conversations with Mahmoud Omar. “After reading it we all turned to Shnewer,” Shain says. “Is this really true!? You went to a military base, you said this and that!? Who the hell is Confidential Witness #1?! Mahmoud Omar was an informant? Unbelievable! We were all pissed at Shnewer.”

It became clear to the brothers that Shnewer, in his conversations with Omar, had committed them to taking part in a “plot” to attack Fort Dix without their knowledge.

The five men were charged with conspiracy to attack military personnel, as well as with weapons offenses for the guns they had attempted to purchase from Mahmoud Omar.

At a press conference announcing the indictments, U.S. Attorney Chris Christie praised law enforcement for stopping an impending threat, painting a dark portrait of the alleged plotters. “Believe me, too,” he said. “These people were ready for martyrdom. They spoke about martyrdom extensively in the tapes. They said they were to do this in the service of Allah.”

THE DUKAS WERE arrested in the spring of 2007, but not brought to court until the fall of 2008. In the interim, the brothers were held in pretrial solitary confinement at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. “The prison guards would ransack our cells and throw our Quran on the floor, but leave the rest of stuff alone,” Shain recalls. “We quickly realized that they were actually being serious about this.”

In opening arguments for the trial, presented in October 2008, the prosecutors’ case relied heavily on the two key informants. Omar was eventually paid $238,000 for his efforts, while Bakalli, who earned a minimum of $1,500 a week for his involvement, seems to have received additional benefits. He was facing deportation to Albania, where he had been involved in a shooting, and testified that in exchange for his cooperation with the FBI, he was allowed to remain in the U.S. The Albanian government also pardoned him.

Before proceedings commenced, New Jersey District Judge Robert B. Kugler granted a motion by prosecutors to keep the names of the jury anonymous, agreeing with the government that the trial represented an exceptional case requiring protection of the jurors’ identities.

At trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick argued that the Duka brothers had been inspired by jihadist ideology. “Their motive was to defend Islam,” he told the jury. “Their inspiration was al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Their intent was to attack the U.S.”

The government set out to prove that between January 2006 and May 2007, each of the Duka brothers had entered into a conspiracy to murder members of the U.S. military. Prosecutors wouldn’t necessarily find a formal, written or oral agreement spelling out the details of the understanding. They just needed to demonstrate, based on the brothers’ “state of mind,” that the Dukas had knowingly and willfully entered into an agreement, and that at least one of the brothers had performed an overt act to further the agreement.

As was written in the jury instructions:

“Often the state of mind with which a person acts at any given time cannot be proved directly, because one cannot read another person’s mind and tell what he or she is thinking. However a defendant’s state of mind can be proved indirectly from the surrounding circumstances. Thus, to determine a particular defendant’s state of mind at a particular time, you may consider evidence about what the defendant said, what he did and failed to do, how he acted, and all the other facts and circumstances shown by the evidence that may prove what was in that defendant’s mind at that time.”

Since the Dukas were never recorded agreeing to take part in Shnewer’s and Omar’s plot to attack Fort Dix, the government had to prove they were still involved in other, more indirect ways.

For example, the court allowed into evidence the recording of Tony Duka saying he was “going to start something.” In future recordings, he seemed to repudiate this statement, saying, “the biggest Jihad for us here in America is to spread Islam.” But, as mere hearsay, the judge did not allow this statement or others to be presented to the jury unless the defendants were allowed to be cross-examined, meaning Tony would have had to give up his right not to testify. Even though the brothers wanted to take the stand, their lawyers urged them not to do so.

Prosecutors for previous U.S. terrorism cases have sought to establish participation in a conspiracy by displaying videos or websites found on a defendant’s computer that show frightening Islamist propaganda. Mahmoud Omar, during the time he spent with the Dukas’ co-defendant Mohamad Shnewer, asked Shnewer to download many of these videos, which the Dukas sometimes also watched. The prosecution played these videos to the court over the course of several days.

Shain described one juror’s reaction to a lengthy video pulled from Shnewer’s computer of U.S. soldiers being killed in battle by insurgent snipers: “Juror No. 3 got up from her seat before exiting for the break, gave us all a stare of death, turned around and slammed the binder of transcripts.” Juror No. 3, whose name remained concealed, would later tell the Philadelphia Inquirer that it was difficult for her to watch the video because her own son was a marine who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. “I thought I was seeing my son getting hit,” she told the paper.

The prosecutors claimed these videos, along with the Anwar al-Awlaki tapes, which the Duka brothers listened to in the presence of government informant Mahmoud Omar, served as inspiration and guidance for the Fort Dix operation.

To demonstrate this connection, the prosecution called Evan Kohlmann to the stand as an expert witness on Islamic terrorism and the use of digital media to promote terrorism. Kohlmann, who in 2014 was featured in a Human Rights Watch report on dubious terrorism prosecutions, testified that the defendants had been watching “some of al Qaeda’s best work,” and that their consumption of the videos suggested “a clear, considered, and present danger to the community.”

Yet Kohlmann’s analysis has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told New York magazine, which profiled the self-styled terrorism expert, that Kohlmann was in the “guilty verdict industry.” In an email to The Intercept, Gerges explained that prosecutors consider Kohlmann a “hired hand,” willing to say “whatever it takes” in front of a jury to help secure convictions.

During his testimony, Kohlmann portrayed the acquisition of guns from Mahmoud Omar, in addition to the heated statements the Dukas made about American foreign policy, as evidence of jihadist activity. As for the dearth of evidence substantiating an actual plot, Kohlmann told the jury, “It doesn’t take a lot of sophistication to kill people. Ultimately, it comes down to intent.”

On December 22, 2008, after six days of deliberation, the jury found the Duka brothers and their two friends guilty of conspiracy to kill members of the U.S. military at Fort Dix.

In determining sentences for federal crimes, judges take into account as a starting point the guidelines issued by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The guidelines have “adjustments” that can be enacted at the judge’s discretion, which can fundamentally change the duration of a sentence. Among these, the terrorism adjustment has the most drastic effect of lengthening sentences.

The Dukas had been found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit murder and three counts of illegal firearm possession. On those charges alone, they might have faced sentences of up to 24.5 years. But the prosecution requested that Judge Kugler apply the terrorism adjustment, which would dramatically increase that time.

On January 26, 2009, Judge Kugler received a handwritten letter from Mohamad Shnewer, who was awaiting sentencing in solitary confinement at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. In his letter, Shnewer described “boastful” discussions with the government informant and confessed to making “lies and allegations” about the Duka brothers’ knowledge of the Fort Dix plot. They were “clueless” about this plan, he wrote.

In April 2009, the Dukas, Tatar and Shnewer were brought before Judge Kugler for sentencing. Shain stood before the court and spoke out against the verdict. “A lot of money has been spent. Millions have been spent on this case. As if money has brought the truth of the matter,” Shain said. “We have stressed over and over again that they’ll lock you up for nothing, they’ll build a case on you. Today we have become victims of what we stressed so very often.”

Delivering Shain’s sentence, the culmination of a terrorism case that had lasted over two years, Judge Kugler said, “It’s not my place or desire at this time to review all the evidence … Suffice to say this defendant was in the middle of this plot. I’m realistic, I remember that they weren’t being taped 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

Brushing off the lack of direct evidence, Kugler added: “That there isn’t more explicit evidence does not concern me and obviously didn’t concern the jury either … I cannot deter this defendant, because of his belief system, from further crimes.”

Shain and Tony were sentenced to life in prison, plus 30 years. Eljvir, who was not convicted of the firearms offenses, received life in prison.

In a public statement made after the Dukas’ sentencing, acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said, “The hatred and contempt these young men hold for America and the rule of law was made abundantly clear.” The life sentences were appropriate, he argued, to “protect the public from them and their deeply held, radical beliefs.”

IN THE YEARS since the convictions, the lives of the Dukas and Chris Christie, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the brothers’ case, have taken vastly different trajectories. Christie won his race for governor, and is now a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Christie often cited the Duka case as a highlight of his career. In a 2012 speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Christie recalled his success in the “uncovering of a plot to kill American servicemen and women,” telling a packed audience at the New York Hilton Hotel that he helped send to prison a group of “Muslim men practicing with semi-automatic weapons and screaming about jihad against the infidels.” Today, both the Republican Governors Association and the New Jersey Republican Party list the Fort Dix case as “one of Christie’s finest moments” under his biography.

Meanwhile, the Duka family is struggling. Tony’s five children are growing up without a father. Lata and Firik are faced with raising their grandchildren on their own. Burim, the youngest Duka brother, now 24, and the only one to escape entanglement in the case, dropped out of school to become the family’s primary breadwinner. The Dukas believe they have remained under surveillance. Firik says the FBI once came to the house and threatened to take Burim away. “We lost so much, and today we are barely surviving,” he says. “We live with broken hearts.”

While Shain is imprisoned at a high-security facility in Kentucky, Tony and Eljvir are being held at the infamous ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, which houses some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals and has famously been described as “a clean version of hell.” Tony and Eljvir have both spent portions of their sentences in solitary confinement, and Eljvir remains in isolation. Despite being locked up in the same prison for years, the two have never seen one another. Without the terrorism adjustment, they might have been released as middle-aged men. With it, they will likely die in prison.

Having exhausted all appeals, the brothers are filing a 2255, or writ of habeas corpus, which is a motion to set aside a sentence on the grounds that it was imposed in violation of federal law. Their appeal hinges on the argument of ineffective performance by their public defenders, but such appeals are rarely successful.

Far away from home, Shain, Tony and Eljvir’s periodic phone calls across the country are their only remaining link with their families. They say they find strength in God and knowledge of their innocence. Eljvir ends every call home with, “God willing, we will be reunited soon, not only in the next life, but this one too.”

Years later, the brothers still look back with incredulity at the events that led to their present situation. The needy friends exposed as government informants, the high-profile arrests and terrorism charges, and finally the life sentences that permanently altered the course of their lives. “We had plans for the future, we were expanding our business just weeks before, our families were growing,” Shain says. “Now, suddenly, we have been buried alive.”

More than seven years after the trial, the person who was arguably the most critical in securing the convictions still agonizes over his role in the case. In a recent interview with The Intercept, Mahmoud Omar, the informant, maintains that while Mohamad Shnewer was involved in the Fort Dix plot, the Dukas, whom he describes as “good people,” were innocent.

“I still don’t know why the Dukas are in jail,” he says.


Israeli settlers use chainsaw to destroy over 60 olive trees near Nablus

International Solidarity Movement

On Sunday, 21st of June, residents of the Jamma’in village in the Nablus region discovered that Israeli settlers had cut down over 60 Palestinian owned olive trees. They suspect that the trees had been destroyed the previous day with a chain saw. The trees were owned by farmers from both Jamma’in and Yasuf, both villages are situated close to each other just south of Nablus.

The olive trees were said to be over 150 years old and have been harvested by generations of the Zeiden family, as well as others from the Yasuf village. 40 of these trees belonged to three brothers from the Zeiden family, who when witnessed the destruction to their land said, ‘We have lost our livelihood’. With the olive harvest only a few months away, this year the family will lose a major portion of their income from the production of olives and oil.

The brothers explained how devastated they felt after seeing the trees cut down. They said that after they themselves had spent tens of years seeing that the trees were well kept and healthy, and then harvesting them yearly, it wasn’t only an economic catastrophe but also emotionally traumatic. For the brothers, and other locals, the trees had become symbols of years of memories, which they have now lost.

Yesterday, another resident of Jamma’in accompanied a Palestinian agricultural development group (PARC) to the area but were stopped by Israeli military who had blocked the road leading to the land. After finding another route, the group documented the destruction. They described it as very upsetting to see the tree branches laying on the ground with the olives almost ready to harvest, ‘We were very sad to see that the trees had been cut and were completely destroyed so close to the harvest time’.

The land surrounding these villages has also been targeted in the past. Two years ago Jamma’in residents faced a similar attack from Israeli settlers who destroyed more of their olive trees. Not only have the settlers targeted the local livelihood but they have also been physically violent. There are regular attacks on farmers throughout the year but they face more danger of settler violence leading up to and during the olive harvest. Many locals label the settlers from the illegal Kfar Tappuah settlement terrorist because of their repeated use of excessive violence on unarmed civilians.

The 505 road that connects Tel Aviv and the illegal settlement Ariel also causes continued issues for Palestinians living in this area. The Israeli settlers often stop their cars when passing Palestinian farmers, or anyone trying to cross the road, to intimidate them by brandishing their weapons and shouting abuse. The farmers with land close to the road and settlements have also been physically attacked and had their crops stolen by settlers during the harvest.

The Israeli occupation forces do not intervene during these attacks and in this instance it is presumed that Israeli courts will claim the trees were cut by an unknown person, meaning the farmers will be unable to receive any compensation.


America's Slave Empire

by Chris Hedges

Three prisoners?Melvin Ray, James Pleasant and Robert Earl Council?who led work stoppages in Alabama prisons in January 2014 as part of the Free Alabama Movement have spent the last 18 months in solitary confinement. Authorities, unnerved by the protests that engulfed three prisons in the state, as well as by videos and pictures of abusive conditions smuggled out by the movement, say the men will remain in solitary confinement indefinitely.

The prison strike leaders are denied televisions and reading material. They spend at least three days a week, sometimes longer, without leaving their tiny isolation cells. They eat their meals seated on their steel toilets. They are allowed to shower only once every two days despite temperatures that routinely rise above 90 degrees.

The men have become symbols of a growing resistance movement inside American prisons. The prisoners’ work stoppages and refusal to co-operate with authorities in Alabama are modeled on actions that shook the Georgia prison system in December 2010. The strike leaders argue that this is the only mechanism left to the 2.3 million prisoners across America. By refusing to work?a tactic that would force prison authorities to hire compensated labor or to induce the prisoners to return to their jobs by paying a fair wage?the neoslavery that defines the prison system can be broken. Prisoners are currently organizing in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

“We have to shut down the prisons,” Council, known as Kinetik, one of the founders of the Free Alabama Movement, told me by phone from the Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Ala. He has been in prison for 21 years, serving a sentence of life without parole. “We will not work for free anymore. All the work in prisons, from cleaning to cutting grass to working in the kitchen, is done by inmate labor. [Almost no prisoner] in Alabama is paid. Without us the prisons, which are slave empires, cannot function. Prisons, at the same time, charge us a variety of fees, such as for our identification cards or wrist bracelets, and [impose] numerous fines, especially for possession of contraband. They charge us high phone and commissary prices. Prisons each year are taking larger and larger sums of money from the inmates and their families. The state gets from us millions of dollars in free labor and then imposes fees and fines. You have brothers that work in kitchens 12 to 15 hours a day and have done this for years and have never been paid.”

“We do not believe in the political process,” said Ray, who spoke from the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Ala., and who is serving life without parole. “We are not looking to politicians to submit reform bills. We aren’t giving more money to lawyers. We don’t believe in the courts. We will rely only on protests inside and outside of prisons and on targeting the corporations that exploit prison labor and finance the school-to-prison pipeline. We have focused our first boycott on McDonald’s. McDonald’s uses prisoners to process beef for paddies and package bread, milk, chicken products. We have called for a national Stop Campaign against McDonald’s. We have identified this corporation to expose all the others. There are too many corporations exploiting prison labor to try and take them all on at once.”

“We are not going to call for protests outside of statehouses,” Ray went on. “Legislators are owned by corporations. To go up there with the achy breaky heart is not going to do any good. These politicians are in it for the money. If you are fighting mass incarceration, the people who are incarcerated are not in the statehouse. They are not in the parks. They are in the prisons. If you are going to fight for the people in prison, join them at the prison. The kryptonite to fight the prison system, which is a $500 billion enterprise, is the work strike. And we need people to come to the prisons to let guys on the inside know they have outside support to shut the prison down. Once we take our labor back, prisons will again become places for correction and rehabilitation rather than centers of corporate profit.”

The three prisoners said that until the prison-industrial complex was dismantled there would be no prison reform. They said books such as Stokely Carmichael’s “Ready for Revolution” and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” along with the failure of prison reform movements, convinced them that the only hope to battle back against a prison system that contains 25 percent of the world’s prisoners was to organize resistance. And they find no solace in a black president.

“To say that we have a black president does not say anything,” Ray said. “The politicians are the ones who orchestrated this system. They are either directly involved as businessmen?many are already millionaires or billionaires, or they are controlled by millionaires and billionaires. We are not blindsided by titles. We are looking at what is going on behind the scenes. We see a coordinated effort by the Koch brothers, ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] and political action committees that see in prisons a business opportunity. Their goal is to increase earnings. And once you look at it like this, it does not matter if we have a black or white president. That is why the policies have not changed. The laws, such as mandatory minimum [sentences], were put in place by big business so they would have access to cheap labor. The anti-terrorism laws were enacted to close the doors on the access to justice so people would be in prison longer. Big business finances campaigns. Big business writes the laws and legislation. And Obama takes money from these people. He is as vested in this system as they are.”

In Alabama prisons, as in nearly all such state facilities across the United States, prisoners do nearly every job, including cooking, cleaning, maintenance, laundry and staffing the prison barbershop. In the St. Clair prison there is also a chemical plant, a furniture company and a repair shop for state vehicles. Other Alabama prisons run printing companies and recycling plants, stamp license plates, make metal bed frames, operate sand pits and tend fish farms. Only a few hundred of Alabama’s 26,200 prisoners?the system is designed to hold only 13,130 people?are paid to work; they get 17 to 71 cents an hour. The rest are slaves.

The men bemoaned a lack of recreational and educational programs and basic hygiene supplies, the poor ventilation that sends temperatures in the cells and dormitories to over 100 degrees, crumbling infrastructures, infestations of cockroaches and rats, and corrupt prison guards who routinely beat prisoners and sell contraband, including drugs and cell phones. These conditions, coupled with the overcrowding, are, they warned, creating a tinderbox, especially as temperatures soar. There was a riot in St. Clair in April. There has been a rash of stabbings and fights in the prison. Prisoners have assaulted 10 guards in St. Clair during the last four weeks.

“The worst thing is the water,” said James Pleasant, a St. Clair prisoner who has served 13 years of a 43-year sentence. “It is contaminated. It causes kidney, renal failure and cancer. The food causes stomach diseases. We have had three to four outbreaks of food poisoning in the last four months.”

He said that the prolonged caging of prisoners and the closing of rehabilitation programs, including education programs, guarantee recidivism, something sought by the corporations that profit from prisons. An estimated 80 percent of prisoners entering the Alabama prison system are functionally illiterate.

“Sleeping on a concrete slab is not going to teach you how to read or write,” Pleasant said. “Sleeping on a concrete slab will not solve mental health issues. But the system does not change. It does what it is designed to do. It makes sure people are driven back into the system to work without pay.”

“For years we were called niggers to indicate we had no value or worth and that anything could be done to us,” Ray said. “Then the word ‘nigger’ became politically incorrect. So they began calling us criminals. When you say a person is a criminal it means that what happens to them does not matter. It means he or she is a nigger. It means they deserve what they get.”

Prisons, the men said, have increasingly placed larger and larger financial burdens on families, with the poorest families suffering the most. Prisoners, too, suffer as a result.

“If you don’t get money from your family, your poverty blocks you out from buying items at the commissary or making phone calls,” Council said. “You can’t communicate with your family. If you don’t have someone to send you money you can’t even buy stamps to write home. They [authorities] are supposed to give us two free stamps a week, but I have never seen them do it in my 16 years of incarceration. We pay a $4 medical co-pay if we make a sick call. Every additional medication we receive is $4. If you have a cold and you get something for sinuses, pain meds and something for congestion, that becomes a $16 visit. And if you get $20 from a family member, the state will take $16 off the top to pay for the visit. You end up with $4 to spend at a jacked-up canteen. There are a lot of brothers walking around in debt. ...”

“It takes brutality and force to make a person work for free and live in the type of conditions we live in and not do anything about it,” Ray said. “The only way they made slavery work was to use force. It is no different in the slave empire of prisons. They use brutality to hold it together. And this brutality will not go away until the system goes away.”

The men described numerous horrific beatings by guards.

Pleasant said, “They stood me up against the wall [with my hands cuffed behind me]. There were about 10 officers. They started swinging, punching and hitting me with sticks. They knocked my legs out from under me. My face hit the floor. They stomped on my face. They sent me to the infirmary to hide what they did, for 30 days. When I looked in the mirror I could not recognize my facial features. This was the fourth time I was beaten like this.”

I asked the three men, speaking to me on a conference call, what prison conditions said about America. They laughed.

“It says America is what it has always been, America,” said Ray. “It says if you are poor and black you will be exploited, brutalized and murdered. It says most of American society, especially white society, is indifferent. It says nothing has really changed for us since slavery.”


Genocide in Iraq

In 2003 UN imposed sanctions against Iraq – instigated by US and Britain – as a result of which 500,000 children died.

by Ian Sinclair
The Morning Star, the People's Daily

They must have known, mustn't they? How could they not? Perhaps they chose not to know. With the world commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the nazi-run death camps the question of what ordinary Germans knew (and did) about the genocide their government was perpetrating has once again been in the news.

Of course, the assumption behind much of the coverage of the liberation of Belsen and other camps is that we, living enlightened lives in contemporary Britain, are lucky to live in a society where horrendous crimes do not happen. And if they did, they would be quickly reported by our free and stroppy media and quickly halted.

But what if our own government has been responsible for genocide-level suffering, without the media raising the alarm and therefore leaving the general public in a state of ignorance?

What would this say about our political class? What would it say about the media? And what would it say about us?
Unfortunately this isn't a hypothetical debate but the cold, brutal reality.

To understand this distressing fact we need to return to February 1991 when the US-led coalition kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, which it had illegally invaded in August 1990.

According to John Hoskins, a Canadian doctor leading a Harvard study team, the US-led air assault "effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq -- electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and healthcare." Purportedly to compel Saddam Hussein's government to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the UN imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, which lasted until the 2003 invasion. The sanctions regime was enforced by the US and Britain which took the toughest line on compliance.

"No country had ever been subjected to more comprehensive economic sanctions by the United Nations than Iraq," notes Hans Von Sponeck, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in his 2006 book A Different Kind of War.

"Communicable diseases in the 1980s not considered public health hazards, such as measles, polio, cholera, typhoid, marasmus and kwashiorkor, reappeared on epidemic scales."

In 1999 the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) estimated that over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died because of a lack of medication, food or safe water supplies.

To counter some of the worst effects of sanctions, in 1996 the UN set up the Oil-For-Food Programme, which allowed Iraq to sell oil in exchange for food, medicine and other goods.

However, the programme was far from adequate. "At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical or mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-For-Food Programme", Von Sponeck notes in his book.

In 1998/99, each Iraqi received a food allocation of $49 (£32) -- 27 (19p) cents a day -- for a six month period. In contrast, the dogs the UN used to help de-mine Iraq each received a food allocation of $160.

In protest at what 70 members of the US congress called "infanticide masquerading as policy," Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq who ran the sanctions regime, resigned in 1998. Noting the sanctions were causing the deaths of up to 5,000 children a month, Halliday bluntly stated: "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral."

Speaking to journalist John Pilger, Halliday later explained: "I was instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide -- a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults."

Halliday's successor Von Sponeck resigned in protest two years later, asking in his resignation letter: "How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?" Later he told Pilger: "I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable."

Making a hat-trick, Jutta Burghardt, head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq, resigned two days after Von Sponeck, describing the sanctions regime as "a true humanitarian tragedy."

With a few honourable exceptions such as Pilger, Tony Benn and George Galloway, the response of the British political class and media was either to ignore or dismiss the fact sanctions were killing Iraqis on a mass scale.

According to the media watchdog Media Lens, in 2003 Halliday was mentioned in just two of the 12,366 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq. Von Sponeck was mentioned a grand total of five times in the same year. Von Sponeck's book on the sanctions has never been reviewed in the British press, and has been mentioned just once -- by the veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk.

Echoing the denials of new Labour ministers such as Peter Hain and Robin Cook, in 2002 Observer Editor Roger Alton responded to a reader challenging him about the sanctions, stating: "It's Saddam who's killing all the bloody children, not sanctions. Sorry." The highly respected Middle East specialist Professor Fred Halliday was equally dismissive, rubbishing "claims that Iraq still lacks the means to provide a basic supply of food" in a book review in the Independent in 1999.

The governing elite, assisted by a pliant media and the silence of much of academia, have carried out a magic trick of epic, sinister proportions. In a world of 24-hour news culture they have effectively managed to bury the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a direct result of British foreign policy.

The lack of coverage, concern or discussion today about the sanctions shows how shockingly successful they have been in this endeavour.

As Harold Pinter sarcastically noted in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."

No conspiracy is needed. "The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban," George Orwell argued in his censored preface to Animal Farm.

He provides two reasons for thought control in democratic society -- first, the owners of the British press, socially, politically and economically part of the governing elite, "have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics." And second, he explains: "At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it".

As always, it's up to those who care about the lives of people regardless of their nationality or skin colour, who care about truth, who take their responsibility as world citizens seriously, to raise their voice and remember this moral and historical outrage.


The Truth About Diego Garcia

And 50 Years of Fiction About an American Military Base 

by David Vine

First, they tried to shoot the dogs. Next, they tried to poison them with strychnine. When both failed as efficient killing methods, British government agents and U.S. Navy personnel used raw meat to lure the pets into a sealed shed. Locking them inside, they gassed the howling animals with exhaust piped in from U.S. military vehicles. Then, setting coconut husks ablaze, they burned the dogs’ carcasses as their owners were left to watch and ponder their own fate.

The truth about the U.S. military base on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is often hard to believe. It would be easy enough to confuse the real story with fictional accounts of the island found in the Transformers movies, on the television series 24, and in Internet conspiracy theories about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

While the grim saga of Diego Garcia frequently reads like fiction, it has proven all too real for the people involved. It’s the story of a U.S. military base built on a series of real-life fictions told by U.S. and British officials over more than half a century. The central fiction is that the U.S. built its base on an “uninhabited” island. That was “true” only because the indigenous people were secretly exiled from the Chagos Archipelago when the base was built. Although their ancestors had lived there since the time of the American Revolution, Anglo-American officials decided, as one wrote, to “maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of Chagos [were] not a permanent or semi-permanent population,” but just “transient contract workers.” The same official summed up the situation bluntly: “We are able to make up the rules as we go along.”

And so they did: between 1968 and 1973, American officials conspired with their British colleagues to remove the Chagossians, carefully hiding their expulsion from Congress, Parliament, the U.N., and the media. During the deportations, British agents and members of a U.S. Navy construction battalion rounded up and killed all those pet dogs. Their owners were then deported to the western Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles, 1,200 miles from their homeland, where they received no resettlement assistance. More than 40 years after their expulsion, Chagossians generally remain the poorest of the poor in their adopted lands, struggling to survive in places that outsiders know as exotic tourist destinations.

During the same period, Diego Garcia became a multi-billion-dollar Navy and Air Force base and a central node in U.S. military efforts to control the Greater Middle East and its oil and natural gas supplies. The base, which few Americans are aware of, is more important strategically and more secretive than the U.S. naval base-cum-prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Unlike Guantanamo, no journalist has gotten more than a glimpse of Diego Garcia in more than 30 years. And yet, it has played a key role in waging the Gulf War, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, and the current bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Following years of reports that the base was a secret CIA “black site” for holding terrorist suspects and years of denials by U.S. and British officials, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic finally fessed up in 2008. “Contrary to earlier explicit assurances,” said Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband, Diego Garcia had indeed played at least some role in the CIA’s secret “rendition” program.

Last year, British officials claimed that flight log records, which might have shed light on those rendition operations, were “incomplete due to water damage” thanks to “extremely heavy weather in June 2014.” A week later, they suddenly reversed themselves, saying that the “previously wet paper records have been dried out.” Two months later, they insisted the logs had not dried out at all and were “damaged to the point of no longer being useful.” Except that the British government’s own weather data indicates that June 2014 was an unusually dry month on Diego Garcia. A legal rights advocate said British officials “could hardly be less credible if they simply said ‘the dog ate my homework.’”

And these are just a few of the fictions underlying the base that occupies the Chagossians’ former home and that the U.S. military has nicknamed the “Footprint of Freedom.” After more than four decades of exile, however, with a Chagossian movement to return to their homeland growing, the fictions of Diego Garcia may finally be crumbling.

No “Tarzans”
The story of Diego Garcia begins in the late eighteenth century. At that time, enslaved peoples from Africa, brought to work on Franco-Mauritian coconut plantations, became the first settlers in the Chagos Archipelago. Following emancipation and the arrival of indentured laborers from India, a diverse mixture of peoples created a new society with its own language, Chagos Kreol. They called themselves the Ilois -- the Islanders.

While still a plantation society, the archipelago, by then under British colonial control, provided a secure life featuring universal employment and numerous social benefits on islands described by many as idyllic. “That beautiful atoll of Diego Garcia, right in the middle of the ocean,” is how Stuart Barber described it in the late 1950s. A civilian working for the U.S. Navy, Barber would become the architect of one of the most powerful U.S. military bases overseas.

Amid Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, Barber and other officials were concerned that there was almost no U.S. military presence in and around the Indian Ocean. Barber noted that Diego Garcia’s isolation -- halfway between Africa and Indonesia and 1,000 miles south of India -- ensured that it would be safe from attack, yet was still within striking distance of territory from southern Africa and the Middle East to South and Southeast Asia.

Guided by Barber’s idea, the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson convinced the British government to detach the Chagos Archipelago from colonial Mauritius and create a new colony, which they called the British Indian Ocean Territory. Its sole purpose would be to house U.S. military facilities.

During secret negotiations with their British counterparts, Pentagon and State Department officials insisted that Chagos come under their “exclusive control (without local inhabitants),” embedding an expulsion order in a polite-looking parenthetical phrase. U.S. officials wanted the islands “swept” and “sanitized.” British officials appeared happy to oblige, removing a people one official called “Tarzans” and, in a racist reference to Robinson Crusoe, “Man Fridays.”

“Absolutely Must Go”
This plan was confirmed with an “exchange of notes” signed on December 30, 1966, by U.S. and British officials, as one of the State Department negotiators told me, “under the cover of darkness.” The notes effectively constituted a treaty but required no Congressional or Parliamentary approval, meaning that both governments could keep their plans hidden.

According to the agreement, the United States would gain use of the new colony “without charge.” This was another fiction. In confidential minutes, the United States agreed to secretly wipe out a $14 million British military debt, circumventing the need to ask Congress for funding. In exchange, the British agreed to take the “administrative measures” necessary for “resettling the inhabitants.”

Those measures meant that, after 1967, any Chagossians who left home for medical treatment or a routine vacation in Mauritius were barred from returning. Soon, British officials began restricting the flow of food and medical supplies to Chagos. As conditions deteriorated, more islanders began leaving. By 1970, the U.S. Navy had secured funding for what officials told Congress would be an “austere communications station.” They were, however, already planning to ask for additional funds to expand the facility into a much larger base. As the Navy’s Office of Communications and Cryptology explained, “The communications requirements cited as justification are fiction.” By the 1980s, Diego Garcia would become a billion-dollar garrison.

In briefing papers delivered to Congress, the Navy described Chagos’s population as “negligible,” with the islands “for all practical purposes... uninhabited.” In fact, there were around 1,000 people on Diego Garcia in the 1960s and 500 to 1,000 more on other islands in the archipelago. With Congressional funds secured, the Navy’s highest-ranking admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, summed up the Chagossians’ fate in a 1971 memo of exactly three words: “Absolutely must go.”

The authorities soon ordered the remaining Chagossians -- generally allowed no more than a single box of belongings and a sleeping mat -- onto overcrowded cargo ships destined for Mauritius and the Seychelles. By 1973, the last Chagossians were gone.

“Abject Poverty”
At their destinations, most of the Chagossians were literally left on the docks, homeless, jobless, and with little money. In 1975, two years after the last removals, a Washington Post reporter found them living in “abject poverty.”

Aurelie Lisette Talate was one of the last to go. “I came to Mauritius with six children and my mother,” she told me. “We got our house... but the house didn’t have a door, didn’t have running water, didn’t have electricity. And then my children and I began to suffer. All my children started getting sick.”

Within two months, two of her children were dead. The second was buried in an unmarked grave because she lacked money for a proper burial. Aurelie experienced fainting spells herself and couldn’t eat. “We were living like animals. Land? We had none... Work? We had none. Our children weren’t going to school.”

Today, most Chagossians, who now number more than 5,000, remain impoverished. In their language, their lives are ones of lamizer (impoverished misery) and sagren (profound sorrow and heartbreak over being exiled from their native lands). Many of the islanders attribute sickness and even death to sagren. “I had something that had been affecting me for a long time, since we were uprooted,” was the way Aurelie explained it to me. “This sagren, this shock, it was this same problem that killed my child. We weren’t living free like we did in our natal land.”

Struggling for Justice
From the moment they were deported, the Chagossians demanded to be returned or at least properly resettled. After years of protest, including five hunger strikes led by women like Aurelie Talate, some in Mauritius received the most modest of compensation from the British government: small concrete houses, tiny plots of land, and about $6,000 per adult. Many used the money to pay off large debts they had accrued. For most, conditions improved only marginally. Those living in the Seychelles received nothing.

The Chagossian struggle was reinvigorated in 1997 with the launching of a lawsuit against the British government. In November 2000, the British High Court ruled the removal illegal. In 2001 and 2002, most Chagossians joined new lawsuits in both American and British courts demanding the right to return and proper compensation for their removal and for resettling their islands. The U.S. suit was ultimately dismissed on the grounds that the judiciary can’t, in most circumstances, overrule the executive branch on matters of military and foreign policy. In Britain, the Chagossians were more successful. In 2002, they secured the right to full U.K. citizenship. Over 1,000 Chagossians have since moved to Britain in search of better lives. Twice more, British courts ruled in the people’s favor, with judges calling the government’s behavior “repugnant” and an “abuse of power.”

On the government’s final appeal, however, Britain’s then highest court, the Law Lords in the House of Lords, upheld the exile in a 3-2 decision. The Chagossians appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the ruling.

A Green Fiction
Before the European Court could rule, the British government announced the creation of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago. The date of the announcement, April Fool’s Day 2010, should have been a clue that there was more than environmentalism behind the move. The MPA banned commercial fishing and limited other human activity in the archipelago, endangering the viability of any resettlement efforts.

And then came WikiLeaks. In December 2010, it released a State Department cable from the U.S. Embassy in London quoting a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official saying that the “former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.” U.S. officials agreed. According to the Embassy, Political Counselor Richard Mills wrote, “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed... be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling.”

Not surprisingly, the main State Department concern was whether the MPA would affect base operations. “We are concerned,” the London Embassy noted, that some “would come to see the existence of a marine reserve as inherently inconsistent with the military use of Diego Garcia.” British officials assured the Americans there would be “no constraints on military operations.”

Although the European Court of Human Rights ultimately ruled against the Chagossians in 2013, this March, a U.N. tribunal found that the British government had violated international law in creating the Marine Protected Area. Next week, Chagossians will challenge the MPA and their expulsion before the British Supreme Court (now Britain’s highest) armed with the U.N. ruling and revelations that the government won its House of Lords decision with the help of a fiction-filled resettlement study.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for the Chagossians’ return, the African Union has condemned their deportation as unlawful, three Nobel laureates have spoken out on their behalf, and dozens of members of the British Parliament have joined a group supporting their struggle. In January, a British government “feasibility study” found no significant legal barriers to resettling the islands and outlined several possible resettlement plans, beginning with Diego Garcia. (Notably, Chagossians are not calling for the removal of the U.S. military base. Their opinions about it are diverse and complicated. At least some would prefer jobs on the base to lives of poverty and unemployment in exile.)

Of course, no study was needed to know that resettlement on Diego Garcia and in the rest of the archipelago is feasible. The base, which has hosted thousands of military and civilian personnel for more than 40 years, has demonstrated that well enough. In fact, Stuart Barber, its architect, came to the same conclusion in the years before his death. After he learned of the Chagossians’ fate, he wrote a series of impassioned letters to Human Rights Watch and the British Embassy in Washington, among others, imploring them to help the Chagossians return home. In a letter to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, he said bluntly that the expulsion “wasn’t necessary militarily.”

In a 1991 letter to the Washington Post, Barber suggested that it was time “to redress the inexcusably inhuman wrongs inflicted by the British at our insistence.” He added, “Substantial additional compensation for 18-25 past years of misery for all evictees is certainly in order. Even if that were to cost $100,000 per family, we would be talking of a maximum of $40-50 million, modest compared with our base investment there.”

Almost a quarter-century later, nothing has yet been done. In 2016, the initial 50-year agreement for Diego Garcia will expire. While it is subject to an automatic 20-year renewal, it provides for a two-year renegotiation period, which commenced in late 2014. With momentum building in support of the Chagossians, they are optimistic that the two governments will finally correct this historic injustice. That U.S. officials allowed the British feasibility study to consider resettlement plans for Diego Garcia is a hopeful sign that Anglo-American policy may finally be shifting to right a great wrong in the Indian Ocean.

Unfortunately, Aurelie Talate will never see the day when her people go home. Like others among the rapidly dwindling number of Chagossians born in the archipelago, Aurelie died in 2012 at age 70, succumbing to the heartbreak that is sagren.

David Vine, a TomDispatch regular, is associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. His new book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World will be published in August as part of the American Empire Project (Metropolitan Books). He is also the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other publications. For more of his writing, visit www.davidvine.net.


The Evil That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Israel’s Apartheid

by Sandy Tolan

For years the “A-word” has been off-limits in polite conversation about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The A-word, we have been told, unfairly singles out the Jewish state and its use is perhaps even anti-Semitic. Such declarations can have a powerful silencing effect.

However, in 2002 Archbishop Desmond Tutu broke the taboo, writing in the British newspaper The Guardian that “the humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks” reminded him “of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”

Four years later Jimmy Carter committed a similar indelicacy with the very title of his bestseller, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” A wave of condemnation of the former president followed. “He appears to be giving aid and comfort to the new anti-Semites,” wrote a reviewer for the Jewish Virtual Library.

For the most part, in the mainstream U.S. press at least, the decorum that forbids use of the A-word remains in place. Yet increasingly, as Israel continues to colonize the West Bank with settlers, and its army ensures their dominion over the lands they occupy, adhering to the A-word ban requires shielding one’s eyes, or, at a minimum, engaging in verbal gymnastics. What, after all, to call a system of legalized discrimination based on ethnicity and religion in which one group has full voting rights and the other does not? What to call a system under which one people can travel freely on roads built specifically for them, whisking through checkpoints because of their religion and the color of their license plates, and under which the other must submit to inspection at military kiosks frequently manned by snipers? A system under which one population in hilltop enclaves is protected by troops and military surveillance towers, while the other is subjected to frequent night raids by those same troops? Under which 40 percent of the adult male population has been forced to spend time in prison? Under which one group’s “civil administration” can designate a town of the other group as a historic archeological site and evict all the residents, who then must move into tents? Under which soldiers ordered Palestinian bathers out of a public swimming pool last spring so Jewish settlers could have a swim, alone and unbothered by the darker-skinned native population?

Here’s what I found on a trip I made to the West Bank recently.

I and my Palestinian host left Jerusalem on a hot, dry morning, our access to the exclusive West Bank roads ensured by the precious yellow license plate of our vehicle. H. was aware that because of his origin he could be banned from the roads at any time.

Our destination was the old city of Hebron, one of the most surreal tableaus of the entire tragedy of Palestine and Israel, where 500 to 600 Jewish settlers, many of them from the United States, are protected by at least 1,500 soldiers in a city of 170,000 Palestinians.

I looked out the open window to the east, feeling immediately the profound changes that had occurred in the landscape in the two years I’d been away. The red-roofed Jewish settlement of Efrat now stretched for nearly two miles. Adjacent were rows of white trailers, part of an “outpost” that Israel deems technically illegal but which, by Israel’s design, will soon be absorbed into the settlement. Israeli leaders call settlement expansion “natural growth”; this is how a Palestinian landscape is transformed into a Jewish one. The population of Efrat is officially about 10,000, though H. claims the real number is more than twice that.

In the distance, the 25-foot-high separation barrier marched south with us, and now, suddenly, at a narrow passage it reached us, transformed into a tastefully etched boundary of beige and tan. Settlers, H. told me, had complained that they found the ugly gray slabs distasteful as they commuted to prayer in Jerusalem or to the beach in Tel Aviv; now, with the wall’s offensive aspects eliminated for the privileged population, the separation of peoples carries the deceiving look of a simple sound barrier.

Presently the road opened up again, and for a lovely, fleeting moment the landscape of Palestine appeared, unimpeded by barriers, settlements or checkpoints. Ancient terraced olive groves dotted the landscape, interspersed by vineyards of Hebron grapes, nearly ready. The cries of “Khalili ya anab,” H. told me, would soon ring out in the markets across Palestine: “The Hebron grapes are here!”

Few vendors were calling out 30 minutes later as we walked through the moribund Old City of Hebron, where urban settlement blocks stand brick to brick with Palestinian homes in a contorted geographical designation known as H-2. This arrangement was sanctioned by the international community in an agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo “peace process.” Israel had insisted that a few hundred settlers be allowed to stay in a neighborhood of tens of thousands of Palestinians because of a long Jewish presence there. The current settlers say they live in Hebron to honor the memory of Jews massacred there by Palestinians in 1929, during riots over Jewish immigration to Palestine. Yet the current settlers, among the most extremist of all Israelis, have little or no connection to the descendants of those massacred. Some of the descendants have denounced the Hebron settlements, pointing out that some Palestinian families sheltered Jews in the massacre; they call for removal of the settlers.

Today, the 1,500 Israeli soldiers, more than twice the number of settlers they were sent to protect, spend much of their time escorting their charges from one part of the city to another. When the armed escort squads push through the narrow alleys of Old Hebron, life on the Palestinian street freezes; such is the primacy of Israel’s settlement project. Steel screens above the old Arab casbah protect the Palestinian vendors against a stream of trash, bottles, plastic chairs and bags of feces that the settlers hurl down from above. This is everyday life.

We walked toward Shuhada Street, the once-bustling main street of Palestinian life. H. stopped; as a Palestinian, he is not allowed to walk there. The street was nearly vacant. The doors on some of the shops were welded shut; access to some homes is now possible only by ladder, or, in one case, a rope to a window.

We came upon one of H-2’s 120 military checkpoints and other obstacles ensuring separation between Arab and Jew. As we paused, 50 meters away a soldier’s voice called out from a loudspeaker, imitating the call to prayer. “Allahu akbar,” he sang in accented Arabic. His mocking laughter followed.

Around the bend, away from the checkpoint, stood a Palestinian elementary school, its entire perimeter marked with looping razor wire. Many of the children must cross checkpoints to get to the school, walking past graffiti in English saying “Gas the Arabs!” and sometimes enduring a gantlet of flying stones and rotten vegetables and attacks from settlers’ dogs. Across from the school lies a flat expanse of asphalt. Once this was a play area for the school. The old soccer and volleyball grounds have been replaced by a parking lot for buses from the settlements.

It was from an adjacent settlement, Kiryat Arba, in 1994 that a settler from Brooklyn named Baruch Goldstein emerged, traveling with his Galil automatic rifle to the Ibrahimi Mosque and somehow getting through Israeli security before gunning down 29 Palestinians as they prayed. Survivors beat him to death. Today Goldstein is revered among some settlers. At his gravesite in Kiryat Arba, these words are inscribed: “He gave his soul for the people of Israel, the Torah, and the Land. His hands are clean and his heart good. …”

We headed to the Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. Near the entrance we passed through a pair of metal floor-to-ceiling turnstiles and submitted ourselves for inspection by Israeli soldiers, as does every Palestinian who wishes to worship there.

The call to prayer from this mosque, H. told me, is often banned by the Israeli authorities, who say it bothers the settlers. In December, for example, the call was banned 52 times; in May, 49 times, or about one-third of calls. “Just a humiliation,” H. said. “Showing their power.” Sixty percent of the mosque has been taken over by Israel and is now a synagogue.

At the entrance we took off our shoes. Just inside lay a mound of plastic throw rugs?seemingly redundant, as plush Turkish carpets cover the interior of the mosque. But they are essential, H. told me. If a member of the Israeli government, or its legislative body, the Knesset, wishes to visit, he or she can enter the Muslim side with only a brief warning. Such visitors refuse to remove their shoes, so the Muslim faithful line their path with the plastic rugs, preserving the sanctity of their religious space.

Here, it is believed, lie the remains of Abraham (Ibrahim) and Sarah, figures central to both Judaism and Islam. The tomb of Abraham/Ibrahim is visible to each segregated side. Peering past the tomb, I could see a woman on the synagogue side peering back at us.

We emerged into the harsh midday light outside the mosque. Inside or out, the overriding feeling was about imbalance of power: that officials would refuse to remove their shoes in someone else’s holy place; that metal screens are needed to protect shopkeepers from debris hurled in hatred; that someone, somewhere, would actually decide to close a playground for Palestinian children in order to put in a parking lot for the buses of Jewish settlers.

Power in Hebron, as it does across the West Bank, lies most clearly in the hands of Israel; Palestinians are no match for Israel’s military might or its political influence with the United States, the world’s sole superpower. Palestinian power lies instead in sumud, or steadfastness: a determination to persevere and to live for a better day, confronting Israel on moral grounds while hoping the world will one day bear greater witness to the facts on the ground.

As if to underscore this point, near the end of our trip to Hebron, H. gestured to a small neighborhood near the mosque, on the other side of yet another entrance controlled by soldiers and armed with metal detectors. Just beyond live six Palestinian families on a tiny island of territory amid the patchwork jurisdictions of H-2. They live essentially surrounded by settlements and the military, and because of that proximity any items that could be construed as weapons?including kitchen knives?have been banished from their homes by Israeli authorities. The Palestinian residents must have their meat cut in the market, to be brought back in pieces. “For how long [is one] able to live under these shitty conditions?” H. asked. Israel, he said, wants to force the families out?“what we call slow transfer.” But for now, the families’ sumud is intact. They remain steadfast. “Existence,” declares a popular Palestinian slogan, “is resistance.”

But the system in which they exist cannot stand in the long run. And although some commentators and others, even after looking at the facts, may continue to decry the use of the A-word?A for Apartheid?to me it matters little what we call it. I am also fine with comparing these conditions, and others like them all over Palestine, to the legislated racism and racial violence that were known in America as Jim Crow.

Whatever we call it, it is separate and unequal. And like apartheid, like Jim Crow, it is destined for the dustbin of history.