April 09, 2014
Illegal US drone strikes continue (the Long War Journal says there have been 8 drones strikes in Yemen so far in 2014), but efforts to curb the use of killer drones have made remarkable headway this year.
While the faith-based community has taken far too long to address the moral issues posed by remote-controlled killing, on February 13, the World Council of Churches — the largest coalition of Christian churches — came out in opposition to the use of armed drones. The Council said that the use of armed drones poses a “serious threat to humanity” and condemned, in particular, US drone strikes in Pakistan. This is a breakthrough in the religious community, and should make it easier for individual denominations to make similar pronouncements, as the Church of the Brethren has.
There have also been major developments in the secular world. In February, the European Union, with an overwhelming vote of 534-49, passed a resolution calling on EU Member States to “oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings” and demanding that EU member states “do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states.” This resolution will pressure individual European nations to stop their own production and/or use of killer drones (especially the UK, Germany, Italy and France), and to stop their collaboration with the US drone program.
People on the receiving end of US drone strikes have also stepped up their opposition. On April 1, a group of friends and family of drone strike victims in Yemen came together to form the National Organization for Drone Victims. This is the first time anywhere that drone strike victims have created their own entity to support one another and seek redress. The organization plans to conduct its own investigations, focusing on the civilian impact of drone attacks. At the official launch, which was packed with press, the group said any government official supporting the US drones should be tried in a criminal court. “Today, we launch this new organization which will be the starting point for us to get justice and to take legal measures on a national and international scale against anyone who is aiding these crimes,” said the organization’s president Mohammad Ali al-Qawli, whose brother was killed in a drone strike.
The Pakistani government has taken its opposition to drone strikes directly to the UN Human Rights Council. Pakistan, with the co-sponsorship of Yemen, introduced a resolution calling for transparency in drone strikes and for setting up a committee of experts to address the legal issues. Despite the opposition of the United States, which boycotted the talks and lobbied to kill the resolution, it passed on March 24 by a vote of 27-6, with 14 abstentions. The panel of experts that will be convened is scheduled to present its findings at the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2014.
UN Special Rapporteur on Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, also used this session of the UN Human Rights Council to release a detailed report on the issue of drones. Emmerson examined 37 instances of drone strikes in which civilians were reportedly killed or injured and concluded that nations using drones must provide a “public explanation of the circumstances and a justification for the use of deadly force.” Emmerson said it was critical for the international community to reach a consensus on many issues presented by drones strikes, including state sovereignty and whether it is legal to target a hostile person in a non-belligerent state.
These new developments have come about due to increasing public scrutiny and protests against drone attacks, such as the ongoing protests at the Hancock, Beale, and Creech Air Force Bases, the headquarters of drone manufacturer General Atomics, the White House, CIA, Congress and the Pentagon. The entire month of April has been designated for Days of Action, with film showings, talks, die-ins, re-enactments of drone strikes and other creative actions happening throughout the country.
Activists opposing weaponized drones are pleased to finally see more movement at the international level, and hope this will result in heightened pressure on the Obama administration, both internationally and domestically, to stop its policy of targeted assassinations and instead adhere to the rule of law.
December 02, 2009
A detainee captured by the Afghan Army on a joint patrol with Canadian troops
Louie Palu/ZUMA Press
By Paul Koring
Globe and Mail
Nov. 30, 2009
The Harper government has blacked out large sections of relevant files handed over to the independent inquiry probing allegations of transfer to torture of detainees in Afghanistan, despite the fact that its investigators have the highest levels of national security clearance.
The heavily redacted documents, obtained by The Globe and Mail, underscore the sweeping nature of the government's efforts to keep the documentary record from the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is attempting to conduct an inquiry into allegations that Canada knowingly transferred prisoners to likely torturers in Afghanistan.
The MPCC's repeatedly thwarted effort to get to the heart of the detainee-transfer issue – it has faced attempts by the Harper government to gag witnesses, limit the scope of the investigation and withhold documents – prompted opposition politicians to open their own limited probe through a parliamentary committee, leading to last week's explosive testimony by diplomat Richard Colvin. But that committee's efforts have been similarly stymied, since it has no power to compel the government to deliver the documentary record and no real opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.
In the material delivered to the MPCC, government blackouts render unreadable many of the documents, some drafted by Mr. Colvin. The sweeping redactions were imposed even though everyone who works with or serves on the MPCC must have at least “secret” clearance and all of the senior investigators, as well as the panelists who would conduct the inquiry, have the highest security clearances.
“I'm not sure ‘cover-up' is the right word but someone is going to considerable lengths not to disclose what was known,” said Stuart Hendin, an expert in the law of war and international-rights issues who represented now-retired Brigadier-General Serge Labbé, one of the most senior Canadian officers embroiled in the Somalia affair 16 years ago.
“It's almost impossible for any independent authority to conduct a meaningful inquiry” with documents rendered so unreadable, Mr. Hendin added. “It all suggests someone knew there were issues.”
Some documents dating back to spring of 2006, a full year before ministers and senior officers said they first heard of abuse allegations, are entirely blacked out. Others have whole sections censored.
The redactions aren't based on freedom-of-information or privacy laws, but on an untested claim that the government can block access by the MPCC, an independent investigative body created in the wake of a high-level cover-up that was partly exposed by the Somalia inquiry before it was shut down in 1997.
The government contends that Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act gives it the latitude to withhold some documents – and heavily redact others – even through the MPCC was created by Parliament with a structure and investigators capable of dealing with highly classified issues involving the military police, who are responsible for the custody and transfer of prisoners captured on the battlefield.
Until recently, the government routinely provided documents with such classifications to the MPCC, investigators say. But when it sought to investigate allegations that Canadian military police had been ordered by ministers and senior bureaucrats to transfer detainees to Afghan authorities knowing they would probably be abused and tortured, the government claimed in Federal Court that the commission had exceeded its mandate.
Transfer to torture is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. It is also outlawed by international convention.
The Globe has only a limited number – roughly 80 documents – totalling fewer than 200 pages out of thousands sought by the MPCC. Most of the heavily redacted documents carry low-level security designations, such as “CEO,” which means “Canadian Eyes Only” – a level below secret. “Many have top secret and we have secure facilities to allow for rigorous security,” said Nancy-Ann Walker, a spokeswoman for the MPCC.[...]
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has chosen not to renew Mr. Tinsley's appointment as chairman of the MPCC, despite the fact it is in the midst of the most complex and serious case in its 10-year history.
Nov. 30, 2009
A Lithuanian government investigation has confirmed an exclusive ABC News report that the CIA operated a secret black site prison in the country, according to a report on Lithuanian television.
According to Lithuania's LNK TV, sources have told investigators that state security was involved in coordinating the construction of the prison, and have also provided the code name of the operation to transport terror detainees to the prison.
Arydas Anusauskas, head of the parliamentary committee investigating the prison, told ABC News he would not comment on the investigation until it is completed. He has previously said the results of the probe will be made public Dec. 22.
November 29, 2009
KHAN YOUNIS, (PIC)– IOF troops arrested a 19-year-old disabled Palestinian boy Ahmad Samir Asfour, from the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on his way to a hospital in Jerusalem, according to local sources.
The family of the Palestinian captive said, in a statement it distributed through the Prisoners’ Studies Centre, that their son Ahmad was treated in Egypt after being wounded during the Israeli occupation war on Gaza, where he had to have several amputations on parts of his limbs and that his treatment was to be followed up at Jerusalem hospitals.
The family added that they were surprised that the IOF arrested Ahmad, turned back his father who accompanied him and confiscated $2500 and the mobile phones they had on them.
The family said that Ahmad takes regular medication which he needs for his condition and they fear that this medication will not be made available to him by the Israeli occupation prison authority.
They also expressed fear that the Israeli occupation interrogators will use his health condition as a tool to pressure him into admitting to false charges and held the Israeli occupation fully responsible for his life.
Asfour was wounded in a rocket attack fired by an Israeli occupation drone during the war on Gaza last December/ January resulting in amputations of parts of his limbs, paralysis in his right arm as a result of damage to nerves and had internal injuries to the pancreas and stomach. Three other members of his family were injured in the same attack.
Director of the prisoners’ studies centre, Raafat Hamdouna, said that Israel puts itself above the law by using the need of patients for treatment by arresting them on occasions or by trying to blackmail them into collaboration on other occasions.
He called on human rights organisation to oppose these Israeli acts, stressing that silence towards these Israeli policies encourages it to continue with such policies.
November 28, 2009
SCANDALS ROCK KEY NATO COUNTRIES.
Canada's role in facilitating the torture of suspects - many of them likely innocent - has become a central public issue here. In Britain the revelation that MI6 supported torture against British citizens in Pakistan has become a major issue. And, now in Germany, where anti-war sentiment is very high, the prosecution of the war is causing deep political damage.
Today the Labour Minister, formerly Defense Minister, Franz Josef Jung was forced to sign his own walking papers after it was revealed by the tabloid Bild that he knew about the killing of numerous civilians resulting from a Kunduz airstrike in September. The German army called in NATO fighters to bomb two fuel tankers that had been seized by the Taliban, even though there were numerous civilians taking advantage of the free fuel being provided to them. Jung had originally stated that he didn't know there were civilians killed but it has since been discovered that he was told on the day that the bombing took place and that he received a top secret video showing that the carnage included children. The German military's chief of staff in Afghanistan has also been a casualty of this cover-up, resigning earlier this week.
Germany, which has 4,250 troops in Afghanistan has faced significant opposition at home to the deployment. This will, hopefully, further weaken the hand of the government to keep its troops there. All of these scandals are simply proof that the occupation of Afghanistan is a criminal operation that involves dehumanizing the locals to the point that bombing civilians, including children, is seen as nothing more than potential bad press that needs to be covered up. Same for torture, as we're seeing so vividly here in Canada. It's time to stop the killing by bringing the troops home.
November 26, 2009
Research compiled, October 19, 1990
by Johyn Westcott and Paul Apidaca
William B. Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the Anthropology department at the University of Connecticut, says that the first official Thanksgiving Day celebrated the massacre of 700 Indian men, women and children during one of their religious ceremonies. "Thanksgiving Day" was first proclaimed by the Governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 to commemorate the massacre of 700 men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance...Thanksgiving Day to the, "in their own house", Newell stated.
"Gathered in this place of meeting, they were attacked by mercenaries and English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from the building and as they came forth were shot down, The rest were burned alive in the building ----- The very next day the governor declared a Thanksgiving Day..... For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thinking God that the battle had been won."
In June 1637 John Underhill slaughtered a pequot village in just the manner described above. Narranganset Indians were used as the mercenaries. Governor John Endicott of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed the pequot war. A pequot chief of sachem named sassacus warred against the Dutch in 1633 over the death of his father. The pequot made no distinction between the Dutch and the English. The Underhill massacre was witnessed and documented by William Branford and an engraving was made illustration the massacre.
The Jamestown Colony may be the source for the tradition of Indians under the leadership of Powhaton joining with early settlers for a dinner and helping those settlers through the winter. There were no pilgrims or puritans at Jamestown, however. The present Thanksgiving may therefore be a mixture of the tradition of the Jamestown dinner and the commemoration of the Pequot massacre.
The celebration of Thanksgiving as an official holiday possibly roots in the Pequot massacre, while the imagery is of Jamestown with pilgrims, images misused.
All Rights Reserved
November 25, 2009
A prisoner leans against an entrance to the wing where political prisoners are kept at Sarposa prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Dene Moore/Canadian Press)
The International Committee of the Red Cross had serious concerns about Canada's handling of Afghan detainees, according to reports Richard Colvin sent to the office of former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay in 2006, CBC News has learned.
"According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured, for the interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure," Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan, told a parliamentary committee on Nov. 18.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay denies seeing any of Richard Colvin's reports when he was foreign affairs minister. (Reuters)
CBC News has details of the contents of Colvin's first two reports, which describe a series of meetings he had in 2006 with officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organization that monitors the condition of prisoners of war and detainees.
Colvin reported the Red Cross had concerns about Canada's detainee handling. "Kandahar ICRC losing track of some detainees," Colvin's report said.
The Red Cross blamed this on shoddy record-keeping in the Canadian Forces. Colvin's report said the Red Cross was "angry" and "frustrated," that the Canadian Forces wouldn't notify its monitors of detainee transfers for between two and eight days.
"In other words, in the critical days after a detainee was first transferred to the Afghan intelligence service, nobody was able to monitor them," Colvin told the parliamentary committee last week.
The second of Colvin's memos said that Canada's Dutch allies were so concerned about the conditions in Afghan jails, they wanted to build their own prison, with help from Canada and the United Kingdom. The note also described new meetings with the Red Cross.
Some of Canada's Afghan detainees were being held in "unsatisfactory conditions," the Red Cross warned. There was a lack of safeguards, and it was frequently unclear which Afghan security agency was actually holding a detainee.
"He says all kinds of things are going on," Colvin reported. "He says Canada's responsibility for detainees does not cease because they have been transferred over to Afghan authorities."
Colvin deemed his warnings of "serious and alarming" problems in the treatment of Afghan detainees to be so important that he sent two reports directly to MacKay's office — the first on May 26, 2006, and the second just a few days later.
MacKay, now defence minister, denies seeing any of Colvin's reports when he was foreign affairs minister. He said the first report he saw from Colvin was in June 2007, and it was nothing serious.
MacKay said Colvin's reports were based on groundless allegations made by Taliban prisoners. "Mr. Speaker no courts in the law would take the evidence of one individual based on reports, second and third-hand information and information from the Taliban," MacKay told the House of Commons Wednesday.
Colvin wrote several more reports, which were sent to at least 80 addresses in Afghanistan and Ottawa through a secure email system used to send diplomatic reports.
Among those recipients was an address used by the office of the minister of foreign affairs. In its response to Colvin, the government expressed surprise at the tone of his report, and his allegations that the Canadian Forces were not co-operating, CBC News has learned.
November 25, 2009
|Bedouin farmer Abdelaziz Hamed's daughter lost her foot in a landmine blast [STANFORD]|
A group of Egyptian Bedouins is threatening to sue the British government over the rising toll of deaths and injuries caused by British landmines and unexploded ordnance left in the Egyptian desert after the Second World War.
The Organisation of Landmine Victims for Economic Development is seeking cash settlements for the victims of explosions caused by British landmines, bombs, mortars and artillery shells still buried beneath the sand on Egypt's north-west coast.
There are said to be some 17 million such explosive remnants of war remaining today, testimony to the fierce fighting between Allied and Axis forces in the battle for North Africa.
The group threatening the action represents some 660 registered survivors located along the Mediterranean coast from El-Alamein to the border with Libya, many of whom have lost limbs or been blinded.
Due to chronic under-reporting of incidents, the true number of injured persons may be in the thousands. In addition, several thousand Bedouins are likely to have been killed in explosions over the past six decades, according to the Egyptian government.
The survivors' group says it is planning a "friendly" approach to the British government in the first instance, in the hope of reaching an agreement in principle and opening negotiations on compensation levels.
If this initial approach fails, the group says it will seek to prosecute the British government for damages under international law, although it has yet to formulate a detailed legal strategy or indeed confirm which court it might approach with its grievance. It seems likely that they will have to prove their case in the Egyptian courts before taking their claim further afield.
The first volley in the group's campaign takes the form of a letter sent to Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, during his visit to Egypt last month.
|Om Da Rahouma directs the victims' group [DIFFIDENTI]|
As the Prince prepared to lay his wreath, the survivors' group sent him a letter outlining their stance and detailing the plight of those victims who have lost their livelihoods and "need assistance to perform very simple functions required for survival, such as eating, walking or even using the bathroom".
The group is banking on the Prince's influence as the UK's special representative for international trade and investment.
However, they have not yet received a reply to their letter.
Leading the campaign is Om Da Rahouma, the director of the victims' organisation, which is based in the seaside holiday town of Marsa Matrouh.
"In the letter, I introduce the problem of the victims and ask for appropriate compensation that would provide a comfortable life for them," Rahouma said.
"This is a friendly request. If there is no response, we will go to the international courts, and we will file a case to obtain the rights of our people."
Rahouma says that his group is in the process of consulting lawyers from Cairo on legal strategy, and has yet to come up with even a ballpark figure for the proposed settlements.
"First of all, the British government should approve and admit the general principal of our claim, which is compensation. Then we will negotiate details," he said.
Typical of the landmine victims is Jacob Mohammed Jali, a Bedouin farmer from the village of Negeila. He lost a leg in 1988 while out grazing his sheep in the desert.
He says he stepped on an object beneath the sand, which exploded. The prosthetic leg provided by the authorities is uncomfortable, he says, so he would rather not wear it.
What he needs more than a leg is money to re-start his business. Now unable to take his sheep out grazing, he wants the cash to purchase 50 sheep and enough dry feed to fatten them up in his garden.
He estimates that it would cost around $8,000 to get him going. Such an investment would enable him and his five children to escape poverty for good, he says.
One potential complication for any legal claim is the fact that landmines and unexploded ordnance were also left behind in large numbers by the Axis powers, Italy and Germany.
The mine that removed Jacob Mohammed Jali's leg may well have been of Italian or German origin. The same applies to the large majority of victims, who are rarely able to identify the nature of the device that caused their injuries.
The Egyptian government has long sought compensation from all three nations, as well as New Zealand and Australia, which had troops under British command during the fighting.
Since the 1990s all five nations have responded with a range of individual donations, typically in the form of landmine detection equipment and technical training.
However, the total offered has been small in comparison to the cost of clearing the bombs and mines entirely, estimated by the Egyptian army to be around $250mn, not to mention the potentially huge sums that might be required to compensate the thousands of victims.
|Jacob Mohammed Jali lost his leg to a landmine [STANFORD]|
In 2007, Britain's Department for International Development made a donation of £250,000 accompanied by a letter stating that due to Egypt's status as a middle-income nation, no further contributions would be made.
Egyptian officials are said to have found the British government's stance unreasonable and the letter itself "offending".
Egypt may well be a middle-income nation, they say, but it is one struggling with a plethora of other social and economic issues. The issue of landmine survivors ranks low in the hierarchy of concerns for the ministries responsible for health and welfare.
The British Embassy in Cairo points out that the UK spends approximately $17mn annually on clearing landmines and other explosive remnants of war worldwide, and has a policy of focusing efforts on poorer nations.
For both the Egyptian government and the victims' organisation, this is not the point. For them, it is a matter of the former combatants taking responsibility for the harm they have inflicted.
The decision to present the case to Prince Andrew during his recent visit appears to have been made after discussions between the victims' organisation and Egyptian government officials.
Both parties will no doubt be aware of Prince Andrew's role in promoting British business interests abroad, and the issue of compensation might well form part of wider discussions on the nature of British investment in Egypt.
They will also be aware of reparations made by Italy to Libya last year for 30 years of colonial rule. The compensation took the form of a $5bn investment package, including the provision of pensions to those injured by landmines laid by the Italian army during the Second World War.
Om Da Rahouma, says he knows of no case in which landmine victims have sued a foreign nation for damages. However, he says he is not daunted by the challenge facing him.
"I am obliged to do this because it is my duty," he says.
"We received millions of promises and supposed solutions, but nothing has happened. I will go to court anyway, regardless of the consequences. At least our voices will be heard all over the world."
November 24, 2009
November 23, 2009
Quentin Tarantino’s "Inglourious Basterds" is the definitive Israeli movie.
The bloodthirsty revenge fantasy of Jewish soldiers crushing German skulls with baseball bats and scalping dying Nazis has been a big hit here since its release in mid-September and, unusually, has been reviewed in every big newspaper or magazine. But that’s not just because Israelis, like audiences elsewhere in the world, seem to enjoy seeing Hitler’s henchmen meet grisly pulp fiction ends.
There’s something deeper at work in Israelis’ responses. It’s tied to the way their country has dealt with the very concept of the Holocaust. More particularly, the way Jews died in the Holocaust.
The response of critics has been almost uniformly positive. One of Israel’s most respected and thoughtful critics, Uri Klein, wrote in the leading newspaper Ha'aretz that "what Tarantino does in 'Inglourious Basterds' seems to me more valid and more decent than what Spielberg did in 'Schindler's List.'"
Instead of trying to recreate the horror that was the Holocaust as Spielberg did, Klein wrote, Tarantino simply made up an alternative reality, dealing with Jews and the Nazis on his own terms. That, in fact, is what Israel did, too.
In that context, the most revealing review was by Avner Shavit in Achbar Ha’Ir, a Tel Aviv weekly. “The truth is that [Tarantino] is on our side. … Like a typical Yankee who has been raised on stories about Ari Ben-Canaan, Moshe Dayan and other Mossad agents, he describes the Jew as the only one capable of kicking the bad guy's ass for humanity's sake.”
In other words, Shavit believes Tarantino’s portrayal of Jewish fighters during World War II is determined by the image created of Israel since then. Ari Ben-Canaan was the hero of Leon Uris’ “Exodus,” which is set during Israel’s founding struggle. Moshe Dayan was Israel’s army chief and the country’s Defense Minister during the victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Mossad agents crop up in almost every popular thriller with inside information and a magical ability to rub out the bad guy.
But what appeals to Israelis about Tarantino’s portrayal of these fantastical Jewish avengers is that they bear little relation to the great bulk of Jews who died in Hitler’s camps without making any attempt to resist.
That gets at the heart of the issue, because the Israeli establishment is, in many ways, still ashamed that so many Jews went to their deaths without a fight. The implication is that Israel created a new breed of Jews who’d have stood up to the Nazis, rather than being herded onto cattle cars.
Israel commemorates the victims of Hitler’s depredations with Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day — the relatively few “heroes” of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising get as much prominence in the naming of that memorial day as the millions of “martyrs.”
After World War II, Israel’s founders didn’t want to acknowledge that most Jews had gone powerless to their deaths. They lauded those “heroes” who fought back, no matter how hopelessly, over those who simply survived. The survivors never overcame that taint in the eyes of those who had arrived in Israel before the war. Many survivors have told me they were called “soaps” when they came to what was then Palestine — a callous reference to the rumor that the Nazis used the bodies of their victims to make soap.
Israel’s founders built a myth around the Holocaust. But the myth was like the repression that an individual places upon the unthinkable moments buried within his own subconscious.
Even to be recognized as a survivor in Israel requires a long battle with red tape. Then the government does its best to hold onto money that’s due to the survivors. New allegations emerged this week that lawyers hired to wrest that cash from the bureaucrats continue to take extortionate commissions from survivors, in violation of recent laws forbidding it.
Of 240,000 survivors in Israel, 20,000 receive compensation from Germany, and 40,000 get an Israeli stipend of less than $300 a month. The rest have nothing but their scarred memories. About 80,000 survivors live below the poverty line in Israel. The worst place in the developed world to be a Holocaust survivor is Israel.
So cheering Tarantino’s bloodcurdling re-imagining of history is an easy way out.
It’s also something which casts an unpleasant light on current Israeli politics.
On the Israelity blog, leading Israeli cultural writer David Brinn described how the crowd at the theater where he watched Tarantino’s movie cheered the demise of each German. In a reference to a banned political party that advocates the forced expulsion of Palestinians and has a reputation for violence, Brinn wrote that it “felt like I was at a Kach rally.”“On the one hand, it was liberating to be the avengers of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis,” Brinn wrote, “but on the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t have been so happy about it.”
November 23, 2009
November 22, 2009
I recently finished reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, in which Dawkins presents his arguments not only against the existence of God but affirmatively for an affirmation in atheism, tackling such subjects as "is religion the source of morality?" and "is religion actually a bad thing?" Being both a scientist and a Marxist, I didn't need Dawkins to convince me of the non-existence of supernatural forces, and since convincing religious people that there is no God is neither high nor frankly anywhere on my agenda, the discussion along those lines were interesting but little more.
Dawkins also, in my opinion, places too much emphasis on religion in its role in places like Iraq, Palestine, Northern Ireland, and so on. He repeatedly returns to the subject of suicide bombers, but in a completely decontextualized way. You could easily conclude that all suicide bombers are Muslims and that their sole motivation is getting to heaven. Which would hardly explain why Muslims all over the world aren't committing such actions, or why Palestinians weren't acting as suicide bombers before 1948, or why Al Qaeda isn't carrying out actions against Switzerland, or Venezuela, or China, but only the world's imperialist powers who are occupying their countries (indeed, I'm pretty sure the word "occupation" does not occur anywhere in the book). The idea that suicide bombs are a weapon of the hopeless and powerless, and that Palestinians would happily fight against Israeli occupation with tanks and jet fighters if only the world would sell such things to them, seems not to have occurred to Dawkins.
There was one major subject in the book which I found absolutely fascinating. Like, I'm guessing, most people, I read "Bible stories" as a child but never actually read the Bible. Having now read Dawkins (and taking his citations "on faith"; I don't plan to look them up), I think I know why I wasn't encouraged to do so. In his discussion on "is religion necessary for morality," Dawkins takes up at length the "morality" one can find in the Bible.
Take the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example. Everyone knows that, as Lot and his wife were leaving those doomed cities, Lot's wife looked back and was turned to salt (by itself a curiously harsh punishment for merely stealing a glance at the ongoing destruction, even if it was in contradiction of God's order). But what preceded that event? Two angels came to Lot, and the people of Sodom demanded that Lot hand them over to them. Lot's "moral" defense of the angels? He hands over his two virgin daughters to the mob for their pleasure to save the angels. Elsewhere in the Bible, a Jewish priest offers his own concubine and the daughter of his host to an angry mob to be gang-raped, in order to save his host.
Then there's Jericho. Everyone knows "Joshua blew his trumpet" and "the walls came tumbling down." But did you know that genocide followed? "They utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword." Joshua, I remind you, is seen as hero to the Jewish people, not a mass murderer.
There are many, many more examples of the "morality" one finds in the Bible. But Dawkins expands on the Jericho story, which bears directly on our world today, because Joshua's destruction of Jericho was part of the conquest of the "Promised Land." When a thousand Israeli schoolchildren were asked if Joshua acted rightly, 66 percent gave total approval and 26 percent total disapproval, with the approvers often citing as their reason the "fact" that "God promised them this land." And some of the disapprovers only disapproved because Joshua destroyed not just the people, but the animals as well! But here's the denouement of the story. When another group of Israel children were given the same story to read, but with the names and locations changed to ancient China, only 7 percent approved and 75 percent disapproved. And lest you think this is just schoolchildren, Dawkins notes that Maimonides, widely considered the greatest Jewish scholar of all time (he lived in the 12th century), agreed with the children (in the Jericho case): "If one does not put to death any of them that falls into one's power, one transgresses a negative commandment, as it is said, Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth."
Lest you think I'm contradicting myself about the importance of religion, my opinion is that this is not about religion at all, but tribalism. In either case, however, it certainly sheds a bit of light on the attitudes of people like the Israeli settlers today. God not only promised them this land, but told them it was their duty to kill anyone who got in the way. Lovely stuff.
Dawkins doesn't spare the New Testament, lest you think that what most of us would consider immorality (to put it mildly) is only found in the Old Testament. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
November 21, 2009
by Al Jazeera
A joint Afghan-Nato raid has outraged Afghan villagers, who claim innocent civilians were killed.
The operation took place in the village of Haiderabad in Ghazni province early on Friday morning.
David Chater reports.
November 20, 2009
Norman Finkelstein: Hamas is not obliged under international law to accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
If you go back, for example, 1947 Gandhi said he’ll accept the reality of Pakistan, but he would never accept the legitimacy of the state of Pakistan.
Hamas is not expected to be held to a higher level of diplomacy than Gandhi.
Gandhi said: ‘Pakistan is a reality which I’m forced to accept, but I don’t accept it as legitimate.’ And that’s the same position of Hamas. They said we’ll solve the conflict on the June ‘67 border.
Adam Holm: This is what makes Jerusalem wary of Hamas because they keep saying how can we have a neighbor which doesn’t recognize our legitimacy.
Norman Finkelstein: But you see the problem is; listen to yourself,.. your own language..
You’re just spouting Israeli propaganda.
Why are you saying ‘Jerusalem’?
East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory under international law, that was the ruling of the International Court of Justice since July 2004, and if you look at the Goldstone Report that just came out a month ago, they refer to East-Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.
But now you’ve given over Jerusalem to the Israelis.
You’re just repeating Israeli propaganda; they have no title under international law to east Jerusalem.
Tip of the hat to Pulse Media
November 18, 2009
November 16, 2009
GAZA- Sawasya-center for human rights stated Monday that Israel uses Palestinian prisoners as guinea pigs without their consent to test the efficacy of new drugs manufactured by its health ministry on their bodies, calling for an immediate investigation into this violation.
The center cited as evidence that Israeli interrogators gave prisoner Zuhair Al-Iskafi an injection he never saw before which resulted in losing his hair all over his body permanently, adding that similar incidents happened to other prisoners.
The center appealed to Arab and international media outlets to highlight this serious issue and expose the Israeli violations committed against Palestinian prisoners.
It also called on human rights organizations and the world health organization (WHO) to send a delegation of medical specialists to the occupied Palestinian lands to visit Israeli prisons and examine the detainees who were subjected to these tests.
In another context, the Palestinian prisoner committee reported Sunday that the Israeli administration of Hadarim prison decided to deprive five Palestinian detainees from pursuing their academic studies at Hebrew universities without giving reasons.
The committee called on human rights organizations to intervene and pressure the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) to reverse this arbitrary decision taken against the prisoners, asserting that this measure is a prelude to depriving other prisoners from their right to education.
For its part, the popular resistance movement stated Monday that the Palestinian resistance will not rest until it frees all prisoners from Israeli jails.
During a sit-in in solidarity with prisoners held in the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza, spokesman for the movement Abu Ali Azaalan talked about the suffering endured by the Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails and stressed the need for official and popular action to stop the Israeli violations against them.
November 17, 2009
Protestors rally against the visit of Israel's President Shimon Peres to Argentina
outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, November 16, 2009.
"It's a disgrace that the president of our country is meeting today with the child-murderer, Shimon Peres... There are thousands of people who came here today to protest against the hospitality shown to a representative of an occupying and oppressive government," one of the protestors said.
The protestors carried pictures and placards glorifying Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, and the Leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
The signs read "Get out of Argentina, murderer Shimon Peres", while others said "Death to Zionist-fascist Israel, officer of American imperialism in the Middle East, murderers of the Palestinian people!" the signs also included pictures of Palestinian children killed during Israel's Operation Cast Lead at the beginning of the year.
November 15, 2009
There has been a 15-fold rise in birth defects and early childhood cancers in the war-ravaged enclave of Fallujah, the site of two major battles after the Iraq invasion, doctors say.
Dr. Ayman Qais said that before the war began in 2003, there were sporadic numbers of deformities in babies, but now the frequency of deformities "is increasing dramatically."
"We are seeing a very significant increase in central nervous system anomalies," Dr. Qais added.
Doctors of Fallujah's over-stretched health system say they are unsure of what is behind the spike in birth defects, but suggest it may be linked to the toxic materials left over from the fighting.
The city was the site of some of the worst fighting of the war, including a battle in which the United States admitted to using white phosphorus in 2004.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that US troops used depleted uranium munitions in Fallujah.
Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the British daily The Guardian say the rise in birth defects — which includes a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumors, and others with nervous system problems — is unprecedented and at present unexplainable.
Iraqi and British officials and doctors have petitioned the United Nations to set up an international committee to investigate the sharp rise in birth defects and to clean up toxic substances in Fallujah.
Clusters of congenital defects have also been found in Basra and Najaf, which began after the 2003 invasion.
Doctors say that detailed clinical records of all babies born are being compiled.
The children of Falluja
|A scene To Shoot an Elephant shows the body of Palestinian paramedic Arafa Abdel Daim after he was killed by Israel's assault on Gaza.|
Directed by Alberto Arce and Mohammed Rjuailah, To Shoot an Elephant is a documentary film that offers an eyewitness account from the Gaza Strip during Israel's assault last winter. During the attacks, when the Israeli military banned foreign journalists from entering the Strip, Arce managed to stay inside Gaza and filmed how medical teams and hospitals were targeted by Israeli forces while performing their duties. One day after receiving the Anna Lindh Journalist Award for conflict reporting for his articles on Gaza published by the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo, Arce won the Best Director prize at the Dei Popoli Film Festival in Florence on 7 November 2009. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof met with Arce and interviewed him about the motivation behind his film.
Adri Nieuwhof: Can you tell us who you are and why you wanted to make the film?
Alberto Arce: I am a 33-year-old journalist from Spain. I am inspired by the support we received from internationals to our struggle in 1936. [In July 1936 Spanish generals launched a military campaign to overthrow the young, democratically-elected Republican government.] George Orwell participated in the International Republican Brigades and at the same time reported our war. I try to follow Orwell's example. I followed the events in Palestine for five years and became aware of the media blackout in Gaza. I wanted to report on the collective punishment of the people in Gaza and decided to join the boat of the Free Gaza Movement [which set sail for Gaza] at the end December 2008. I wanted to break down the wall of censorship.
AN: Is To Shoot an Elephant your first film?
AA: No, it is my fifth film. I directed three films on Palestine and one on Iraq. All movies are filmed from the perspective of what civilians, local and international, can do during a war. We, civilians, have to do anything that is possible to stop a war. Collective punishment of the people in Gaza is not allowed under international law. I cannot accept that Israel does not allow journalists into the Gaza Strip. My film is also about defending the right to freedom of speech. I wanted to show the facts.
AN: How did Palestinians in Gaza react to your camera?
AA: The situation in Gaza is getting worse by the day. You cannot imagine the level of suffering. The civilians welcomed me and appreciated that I was there. There were two reporters from Al-Jazeera and seven other foreigners [documenting the attacks] in Gaza during the heavy military attacks. You know, the civilians on the ambulances are the real heroes. They were risking their lives every day to save civilians. One of them was shot [in front of the camera] by an Israeli sniper [while 16 emergency medical workers were killed while on duty].
AN: How do you feel about winning the Best Director prize in Florence?
AA: I am proud to have received the prize for the film I directed together with Mohammad. I trust it will help to reach a wide audience. After winning the prize people asked me if I was happy about it. But I will not ever feel happy about the film. [The] characters of the film are the civilians in Gaza. They are still trapped. During the military attacks I was one of them. The situation in Gaza needs to be changed, and it will only happen with international pressure to enforce respect for international law.
AN: How did the public respond to your film?
AA: A few people had to leave the cinema before the movie ended. I feel sad that they could not face the facts. People died in Gaza and I cannot wake the dead. The hundreds of children who died during Operation Cast Lead were human beings. It is not about statistics. The audience at the world premier in Florence remained silent after watching the film. I found that impressive. The film is cruel. It makes you feel you are part of this reality.
AN: Looking back on your stay in Gaza, what was the most difficult or moving moment?
AA: The worst was the first day. After the heavy bombing that day, our group of seven internationals got the offer to leave to save our lives. It took us three minutes to decide that we wanted to stay. At that moment I became a Palestinian, and I was no longer an international. That meant that we were also subjected to the bombing, to the random violence. You realize you are alive by chance. I did not want to be a dead hero, I want to be a living professional journalist and filmmaker. I cannot describe what it is like to spend a night under heavy bombing, to find out the next day that your neighbors died that night. Or what it feels like to be shot at, and the person in front of you dies, and not you. This violence is what Palestinians have experienced for 60 years. What would my life have looked like if I, as a five-year-old, saw my two schoolmates burned by white phosphorous?
AN: In which cities will the movie be shown?
AA: On our website www.toshootanelephant.com you can find the information. The film will also play a role in the sessions of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. I would like to invite solidarity groups and activists to participate in a global free screening of the film on 18 January 2010, one year after the so-called "cease-fire" in Gaza. This global screening is organized to remind us that the situation in Gaza has not changed. On the contrary, it is getting worse. If you want to join in the global screening, you can contact me via the website.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.
Haaretz - Excerpt
November 15, 2009
The Israel Defense Forces' chief rabbi told students in a pre-army yeshiva program last week that soldiers who "show mercy" toward the enemy in wartime will be "damned."
Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki also told the yeshiva students that religious individuals made better combat troops.
Speaking Thursday at the Hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron , Rontzki referred to Maimonides' discourse on the laws of war. That text quotes a passage from the Book of Jeremiah stating: "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord with a slack hand, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood."
November 12, 2009
November 6, 2009
Daniel Pearl was an American Jewish journalist, who was assassinated by the Afghans in 2002. I looked his name up on the Internet, and after 55 references to him, I quit. Why do I bring this up? I do it because at that time, I remember hearing about Daniel Pearl 24/7 on more than one "mainstream" station. There are biographies of Daniel Pearl. There are celebrations of Daniel Pearl. There are endless stories about Daniel Pearl's assassination. There is a Daniel Pearl Foundation. Etc. etc. etc.
Now, here is some information that was never presented on "mainstream" media. According to Palestine Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Dr. Tareq M. Suwaidan there were 9 Palestinian journalists killed in the Intifada between 29 September 2000 to 30 December 2003 by the IDF. That is 9 journalists killed by the Israelis and not a word mentioned.
I was listening to an Internet broadcast from Global Research on the question of Palestine. Both the interviewer and interviewee were Jewish. Nonetheless, they expressed a concern about the "Israeli Palestinian conflict." They had on their show an interview with a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, but his accent was so thick as to be incomprehensible. They then decried the tragedy of the cycle of violence, but assured the audience that this too would end. However, I noticed that the woman being interviewed by Mr. Lendeman, a Rachel somebody, a professor at Emory University, was the author of of several books on "Islamic terrorism". I also noticed that they did not go into any detail on the situation in Gaza or in Palestine. They also told the audience that the censorship of these stories from the Occupied Territories originated high up in the chain of command in a "mainstream media."
They fail to mention that at the end of July of 2006 Israeli military forces attacked Al Manar TV in Beirut. In January of 2002, the Israeli military forces blew up a Palestinian broadcasting center in Ramallah. In April 2002, Israeli military forces inflicted devastating damage to the offices of the Palestine Monitor. In August of 2009 Israeli troops raided Radio Bethlehem and ordered the staff to stop broadcasting.
I then pulled a report that detailed, some 75 assaults from Israeli security forces on journalists working in the Occupied Territories, both Palestinian and foreign, in the year 2000 alone. Nine were attacked on the 1st day of the Intifada. 9 again? Ready for some numerology?
This obviously indicates an intended desire to squelch the truth on the ground as it happened, and the heavy-handed suppression of Palestinian press, indeed of all press.
Then to beat all, I found this item entitled "Israeli media mogul Haim Saban mulls stake in Al Jazeera." This story dated October 8, 2009 in Ha'aretz states that the Israeli businessman is negotiating for 50% of this "beacon" of the voice of the peoples of the Middle East. Okay. What more needs to be said? Or as Washington Post promotional copy puts it "if you don't got it, you just don't get it"
Remember Daniel Pearl? Of course, you do.
* Jenifer Dixon is a writer and former activist who lives in the Washington, DC area. She has published in the Washington Post, Voices of Women, WomenWise, Rainbow Visions, the Palestine Chronicle and Arab-American News. The website GlobalSpin was her contribution to the Net for three years. She was also a contributing writer to the book Challenge to Genocide: Let Iraq Live. The Holy Land Unveiled is her first book.
Ismail Haniyah cautions about Israeli plans for another military offensive against the Gaza Strip, reiterating that it is not the Islamic Hamas movement that is after a war.
Hamas is "not looking for more violence," the democratically elected Palestinian prime minster told a visiting delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza on Wednesday.
Haniyah said he was sure that Israel has plans to target the Gaza Strip once again, recalling the Israeli army's onslaught against the Hamas-run coastal sliver in January, which left more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, dead and thousands more wounded.
The Palestinian leader, however, expressed hope that his prediction would not materialize, and that "the world will stop Israel from killing more children."
Haniyah also vowed that any Israeli incursion would face strong resistance on the part of the Palestinian nation.
The comments follow a new round of threats from the military officials in Tel Aviv who have said that Israel's next war would be in Gaza.
In one of his notable remarks, the Israeli military Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi declared that the Israeli troops would return to the Gaza Strip "to fight in the villages, cities, mosques, hospitals, kindergartens and schools because the enemies want to impose this method of fighting against Israel."
This is while Israel is struggling to forestall the prosecution in the International Criminal Court of those officials and officers who launched the Gaza war, as a damning UN report highlighting Israel's deliberate killing of civilians is finding its way to the UN Security Council.
Hamas has vowed retaliation against any Israeli attack. "Our people will not surrender; they will fight back," Prime Minister Haniyah's office said, in a statement.