October 16, 2009

Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes

On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases—Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.

Under a new policy adopted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have contracted any of those new diseases by their exposure to Agent Orange .

This is another belated step forward in the bitter decades-long struggle by Vietnam War veterans to get the Defense Department and the VA to own up to the American government’s responsibility for poisoning them and causing permanent damage to them and often to their children and grandchildren. Dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, is known to cause many serious systemic diseases, autoimmune illnesses, cancers and birth defects. (This story is also a warning about the general Pentagon and government approach to other hazards caused by its battlefield use of toxins—most significantly the increasingly common use of depleted uranium projectiles in bombs, shells and bullets—an approach which features lack of concern about health effects on troops and civilians, denial of information to troops, and denial of care to eventual victims.)

Missing from the Times article, written by military affairs reporter James Dao, which did include mention of the obstructionist role the government has played through this whole sorry saga, was a single mention of the far larger number of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam—the people on whose heads and lands the toxic chemical was actually dropped, or of the adamant refusal by the US government to accept any responsibility for what it did to them.

Thai Thi Nga, 16, a 2nd-generation victim of US spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam

Thai Thi Nga, 16, a 2nd-generation victim of US spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam

According to the article, the VA estimates that there may be as many as 200,000 US veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses. But according to a court case brought on behalf of Vietnamese victims, which was dismissed by a US Federal District Judge who, incredibly, ruled that there was “no basis for the claims,” there are at least three million Vietnamese, and possibly as many as 4.8 million, who are suffering the same Agent Orange-related illnesses as American veterans and their children. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 Vietnamese in the country’s south currently suffer from chronic health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, either to themselves, or to a parent or grandparent. Most of these victims, some of whom are retarded, and others of whom cannot walk or have no use of their arms, need constant care.

Veterans for Peace, an organization whose membership includes a large number of Vietnam War veterans, has issued a call for the US to provide funds for health care, education, vocational education, chronic care, home care and equipment to clean up hotspots of dioxin in Vietnam—a call which Congress and the White House have consistently ignored. Tests have found dioxin levels around the sites of the three main former US bases in what was South Vietnam to be 300-400 times recognized safe levels. The US dumped huge amounts of Agent Orange for miles in the heavily populated areas around those bases to kill off jungle cover that Vietnamese fighters could use to approach the bases, but it was never cleaned up when the US pulled out.

One organization that includes a number of American veterans of the war, including former military doctors or soldiers who later became physicians, is the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA Inc., which raises funds to help establish communities in Vietnam to care for the victims of Agent Orange.

It may seem a pathetic stab at principle, given America’s use of two nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan a few years later, but back in World War II, in the midst of the most brutal island-to-island fighting during the Pacific War, a US Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon ruled that a military request for permission to use herbicides against the Japanese on Pacific islands would be illegal under the Hague Convention (forerunner of what are now called the Geneva Conventions). He ruled that trying to destroy the crops of civilians on those islands to deny food to the Japanese troops would be a war crime. The US went ahead and used the herbicides anyway, arguing that even though it was illegal, the US was free to go ahead, since the Japanese had already broken the laws of war by using strychnine to kill military guard dogs in Siberia. Under the rules of war, if one side breaks a rule, the other side is no longer bound by it.

But the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never used toxic materials against US forces or against South Vietnamese forces. And the Pentagon in the Vietnam War never even considered whether spraying a highly toxic herbicide over 1.4 million hectares—12% of the total land area of Vietnam and almost 25% of the southern half of the country—might be a war crime.

Moreover, the Pentagon knew, before it began its massive defoliation campaign, about studies showing that Agent Orange was heavily laced with deadly dioxin, but covered up those studies, some by the chemical’s makers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and never even warned the troops who handled the material daily, or who were sent out to fight in areas that had been heavily sprayed.

The ongoing medical disaster in Vietnam caused by America’s criminal use of Agent Orange to defoliate a nation would be a good place for President Obama to start earning his just-awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He could kick off his peace campaign by finally honoring President Richard Nixon’s immediately broken promise to provide several billion dollars in reconstruction aid to Vietnam at the conclusion of peace talks at the end of the war. Not a dollar of such promised aid was ever given.

Dao says he didn't mention significance for Vietnamese dioxin victims of the VA's decision to recognize three new diseases as being Agent Orange-linked, because "my beat is veterans," and because he only had 800 words in which to cover his story. That may be true (though surely the Vietnamese at least deserved a one-sentence mention). But back on July 25, when the Times ran a story (by Janie Lorber, not by Dao) about the finding by an expert panel of the National Institute of Medicine linking Parkinsons, ischemic heart disease and leukemia to Agent Orange, upon which the latest VA decision was based, it also failed to mention the Vietnamese victims. In that case, the lapse was simply journalistically inexcuseable, since it was about a new medical finding, not a policy decision regarding the treatment of veterans.

At this point, the only way theNew York Times can salvage a bit of its journalistic reputation on this topic would be by having Dao, Lorber or some other reporter write a piece about the impact of America’s Agent Orange use on the people of Vietnam. They could start by calling a veteran at Veterans for Peace or the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.


Israel's Dangerously Battered Image

By Patrick Seale
October 16, 2009

In international politics, image counts. A country’s reputation, the aura it projects, the esteem in which its leaders are held -- these are as important as its armed services in providing protection for its citizens. Most politicians know that soft power, skillfully used, can be at least as effective as blood-drenched hard power.

This is a lesson Israel appears to have forgotten. Its pitiless treatment of the Palestinians, whether under occupation on the West Bank or under siege in Gaza -- not to mention its repeated assaults on Lebanon, its 2007 raid on Syria and its relentless sabre-rattling against Iran -- have done terrible damage to its image.

The admiration which its early state-building once aroused in many parts of the world has turned into angry impatience, outrage, even contempt.

Few outside Israel itself -- and outside the shrinking ranks of its diehard supporters in the United States and Europe -- would today be prepared to defend its arrogant militarists, its fanatical land-grabbing settlers, its racist politicians.

Astonishingly, there is no sign that Israel’s political leaders have understood the magnitude of the problem or are doing anything serious to address it. On the contrary, they are busy digging deeper into a hole of their own making.

Turkey’s sudden cancellation this week of a major air force exercise with Israel was a salutary wake-up call. Evidently, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan found it necessary to cancel the drill because of the widespread hostility to Israel among Turkey’s population. He has had to take Turkish public opinion into account. Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu spelled out the reasons in diplomatic terms: “We hope that the situation in Gaza will improve...and that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations...”

To offend the Turks is no small matter. Israel cannot afford to ignore the warning or sweep it under the carpet. Turkey has for many years been Israel’s main regional strategic partner -- indeed its only one since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Losing Turkey could turn out to be the worst setback Israel has suffered for a very long time.

Turkey’s army is the largest in the region; so is its industrial base. Its GDP, at over $1,000bn (in 2008) dwarfs that of the oil producers, whether Arab or Iranian, and is four times larger than Israel’s own. In recent years, Turkey has greatly improved its relations with Iran and with neighboring Arab states -- Syria in particular -- and is emerging as the wise “big brother” of the greater Middle East. It has offered to mediate local conflicts and is attempting to spread stability and security all around it.

Full article

UK: Judges overrule attempt to suppress torture evidence

By Richard Norton-Taylor
guardian.co.uk, 16 October 2009

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, acted in a way that was harmful to the rule of law by suppressing evidence about what the government knew of the illegal treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was held in a secret prison in Pakistan, the high court has ruled.

In a devastating judgment, two senior judges roundly dismissed the foreign secretary's claims that disclosing the evidence would harm national security and threaten the UK's vital intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US.

In what they described as an "unprecedented" and "exceptional" case, to which the Guardian is a party, they ordered the release of a seven-paragraph summary of what the CIA told British officials – and maybe ministers – about Ethiopian-born Mohamed before he was secretly interrogated by an MI5 officer in 2002.

"The suppression of reports of wrongdoing by officials in circumstances which cannot in any way affect national security is inimical to the rule of law," Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled. "Championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, is the cornerstone of democracy."

The summary is a CIA account given to British intelligence "whilst [Mohamed] was held in Pakistan ... prior to his interview by an officer of the Security Service", the judges said. The officer, known only as Witness B, is being investigated by the Metropolitan police for "possible criminal wrongdoing".

The seven-page document will not be released until the result of an appeal is known. However, the judges made clear their anger at the position adopted by Miliband, MI5, and MI6 in their hard-hitting judgment.

An explanation was needed, they said, about "what the United Kingdom government actually knew about what was alleged to be cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture, in particular what Witness B knew before he interviewed [Mohamed] ... in Pakistan". The judges added that it was important to explain what MI5 "and others knew when they provided further information to the United States to be used in the interrogation".

There was a "compelling public interest" to disclose what Miliband wanted to suppress, they said; there was nothing in the seven-paragraph summary that had anything remotely to do with "secret intelligence".

"In our view, as a court in the United Kingdom, a vital public interest requires, for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law in the United Kingdom, that a summary of the most important evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in wrongdoing be placed in the public domain in the United Kingdom."

Full article


October 17, 2009

UPDATE: Today's Guardian calls the Court's ruling "a devastating judgment," reporting that the "judges roundly dismissed the foreign secretary's claims that disclosing the evidence would harm national security and threaten the UK's vital intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US." The article also notes that the Court simply did not believe that the Obama administration would follow through on these threats, but instead issued them only at the behest of British officials, who needed a pretext for ongoing concealment.

-- Glenn Greenwald

“Israel’s” Right or Not to Exist: The Facts and Truth

by Alan Hart, October 16, 2009

On Monday 12 October, Prime Minister Netanyahu opened the Knesset’s winter session by blasting the Goldstone Report that accuses Israel of committing war crimes and vowing that he would never allow Israelis be tried for them. But that was not his main message. It was an appeal, delivered I thought with a measure of desperation, to the “Palestinian leadership”, presumably the leadership of “President” Abbas and his Fatah cronies, leaders who are regarded by very many if not most Palestinians as American-and-Israeli stooges at best and traitors at worst.

Netanyahu again called on this leadership to agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, saying this was, and remains, the key to peace. And he went on and on and on about it.

“For 62 years the Palestinians have been saying ‘No’ to the Jewish state. I am once again calling upon our Palestinian neighbours – say ‘Yes’ to the Jewish state. Without recognition of the Israel as the state of the Jews we shall not be able to attain peace… Such recognition is a step which requires courage and the Palestinian leadership should tell its people the truth – that without this recognition there can be no peace… There is no alternative to Palestinian leaders showing courage by recognising the Jewish state. This has been and remains the true key to peace.”

As Ha’aretz noted in its report, Netanyahu’s demand for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state is for him “a way on ensuring recognition of Israel’s right to exist as opposed to merely recognising Israel” (my emphasis). This, as Ha’aretz added, is the recognition which Netanyahu and many other Israelis see as the real core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the name of pragmatism, willingness “merely to recognise” Israel – meaning to accept and live in peace with an Israel inside its pre-June ‘67 borders – has long been the formal Palestinian and all-Arab position. Why does it stop short of recognising Israel’s “right to exist”, and why, really, does it matter so much to Zionism that Palestinians recognise this right?

The answer is in the following.

According to history as written by the winner, Zionism, Israel was given its birth certificate and thus legitimacy by the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. This is propaganda nonsense.

• In the first place the UN without the consent of the majority of the people of Palestine did not have the right to decide to partition Palestine or assign any part of its territory to a minority of alien immigrants in order for them to establish a state of their own.

• Despite that, by the narrowest of margins, and only after a rigged vote, the UN General Assembly did pass a resolution to partition Palestine and create two states, one Arab, one Jewish, with Jerusalem not part of either. But the General Assembly resolution was only a proposal – meaning that it could have no effect, would not become policy, unless approved by the Security Council.

• The truth is that the General Assembly’s partition proposal never went to the Security Council for consideration. Why not? Because the U.S. knew that, if approved, it could only be implemented by force given the extent of Arab and other Muslim opposition to it; and President Truman was not prepared to use force to partition Palestine.

• So the partition plan was vitiated (became invalid) and the question of what the hell to do about Palestine – after Britain had made a mess of it and walked away, effectively surrendering to Zionist terrorism – was taken back to the General Assembly for more discussion. The option favoured and proposed by the U.S. was temporary UN Trusteeship. It was while the General Assembly was debating what do that Israel unilaterally declared itself to be in existence – actually in defiance of the will of the organised international community, including the Truman administration.

The truth of the time was that the Zionist state, which came into being mainly as a consequence of pre-planned ethnic cleansing, had no right to exist and, more to the point, could have no right to exist UNLESS … Unless it was recognised and legitimized by those who were dispossessed of their land and their rights during the creation of the Zionist state. In international law only the Palestinians could give Israel the legitimacy it craved.

And that legitimacy was the only thing the Zionists could not and cannot take from the Palestinians by force. No wonder Prime Minister Netanyahu is more than a little concerned on this account.

Israel’s leaders have always known the truth summarised above. It’s time for the rest of the world to know it.

Alan Hart has been engaged with events in the Middle East and globally as a researcher, author, and a correspondent for ITN and the BBC.


Hardly any respite - While some calm has returned to the compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Muslim holy site is still under grave threat

By KHALED AMAYREH - October 16, 2009

An uneasy calm is descending over East Jerusalem after thousands of Israeli troops lifted a tight siege lasting two weeks on Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, one of Islam's holiest sanctuaries.

The site witnessed violent disturbances two weeks ago when Israeli paramilitary police stormed the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) in an effort to arrest Palestinians who had repulsed an attempt by a group of Jewish fanatics who were trying to arrogate "prayer rights" at the Islamic shrine.

Dozens of Palestinians were injured, some quite seriously.

Following the incident, hundreds of Muslims from Jerusalem and also from Arab towns and villages in Israel decided to maintain a constant presence at the mosque in order to repulse new attempts by Jewish extremists to seize a foothold at Al-Aqsa compound. On many occasions, Israeli police forces threatened to storm the Noble Sanctuary if the sit- in didn't end. Meanwhile, they maintained a constant presence outside the compound. But on Sunday, the Israeli government decided to lift the siege, effectively allowing participants in the sit-in to leave peacefully.

The deal apparently was part of a behind-the-scenes understanding between Israel and Jordan whereby Israel agreed to reinstitute the status quo ante at the site and to refrain from provoking Muslim sensibilities. According to the Jordanian- Israeli Peace Treaty, Jordan retained the role of custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jordan had harshly criticised Israel for the "standoff", and unconfirmed reports indicated that the Jordanian government threatened to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman if the provocations continued.

Indeed, King Abdullah II warned in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week that the irresponsible Israeli behaviour with regard to Al-Aqsa Mosque could spark off a huge conflagration in the region and "destroy everything". Jordan and other Muslim countries witnessed large anti-Israel protests following Friday congregational prayers.

In addition to Jordan, several Muslim countries also filed protests with Israel, warning the Israeli government that any attempt at a gradual Jewish takeover of Islam's third holiest site would be viewed as crossing an ultimate red line by Muslims, and would also put an end to any semblance of peacemaking efforts in the region. The protests prompted Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to publicly deny that Israel was harbouring hostile intentions with regard to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"Last week extremist figures tried to undermine Israel's stability. This is an extremist minority that spread lies about Israel digging under the Temple Mount [Haram Al-Sharif]. This is a lie," he said.

Another Israeli official, Trade and Labour Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that Israeli Arabs were beginning to "link up" with Hamas against Israel. "A certain alliance is forming between Israeli Arabs, specifically the Islamic Movement, and Hamas," Ben-Eliezer told Israeli state-run radio, adding that Israel would eventually pay a heavy price if this was permitted to continue. Muslim leaders in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories scoffed at these statements, calling them "brash lies".

"Israel is trying to tell the Muslim world that this is a confrontation with Hamas. This is a lie, because Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to the entire Muslim umma (nation) and Israel is trying to demolish the mosque or at least arrogate part of it in order to build a temple for Jews," said Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Salah was arrested briefly last week on charges of "incitement against the state" and of "making contacts with a terrorist organisation" -- an allusion to Hamas. Both Salah and his deputy, Sheikh Kamal Khatib, have also been barred from entering Jerusalem for 30 days. Israel has accused Salah and other Muslim leaders of carrying out "subversive activities" and "orchestrating" claims about an Israeli conspiracy against Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The restoration of calm at Al-Aqsa Mosque seems to vindicate the view of Muslim leaders that the main source of tension was Jewish provocations, particularly the repeated attempts by messianic Jewish fanatics to enter the mosque -- not as ordinary tourists, but as provocateurs and trouble- makers. Sheikh Ikrema Sabri, a chief imam and preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque, said Muslims in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine would never stop resisting and protesting efforts by Jewish intruders to establish a foothold or gain "prayer rights" at the Muslim shrine.

The current relative calm is unlikely to last for long, however, given the determination of messianic Jewish groups that are bent on demolishing Islamic holy places in Jerusalem in order to build a Jewish temple on their ruins. Some of these groups, such as the Temple of Faithful, believe that Jews won't attain redemption until Al-Aqsa Mosque is destroyed and a Jewish temple is erected in its place. According to extremist Jewish doctrine, the ensuing violence that would see the death of a huge number of people would expedite the appearance of a Jewish Messiah, or Redeemer, who would bring about salvation for Jews and rule the world from Jerusalem.

Messianic Jewish groups, which exert a lot of influence on the Israeli government and parliament, and even the army, seem to show little deference to any government decision to maintain status quo ante arrangements at Al-Aqsa Mosque esplanade where the Muslim Waqf (religious endowments authority) has been managing the holy site since 1967. A few days ago, a number of Jewish intruders disguised as foreign tourists entered the mosque despite tacit Israeli assurances to the contrary. Similar attempts, coordinated or uncoordinated with the government, are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Moreover, it seems that the current right-wing Israeli government fully identifies with the declared and undeclared goals of the extremists, despite any public stand to the contrary. Indeed, not a single member of the current government has criticised -- let alone denounced -- the fanatics for their repeated provocations.

This week, Sheikh Salah alluded to Israeli government collusion with messianic fanatics. He said nothing short of a full liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Israeli occupation would shield the Muslim sanctuary from harm. "The Israeli government is the prime mover of all plots against Al-Aqsa Mosque. The important thing is not what they say to the media, but what they do at, around and especially beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque."


Public Radio Censoring Announcement on Palestine event

If Americans Knew
October 16, 2009

Michigan Radio (WUOM 91.7), an affiliate of National Public Radio (NPR), is censoring a program announcement.

The local chapter of the nonprofit organization If Americans Knew, whose mission is to inform Americans on topics of importance that are under reported or misreported in the American media, is attempting to place the following paid announcement on the radio station:

“’If Americans knew dot org,’ a non-profit organization focused on media coverage of the Palestine-Israel conflict: Executive Director Alison Weir will visit southeast Michigan the week of Oct 12th. Details on the web at "If Americans Knew dot org".”

Michigan Radio has refused to air the announcement, violating its ethical obligation as a publicly funded station not to censor information. While the station eventually agreed to run an amended announcement (cost: $1,000), it still refuses to include the organization’s name, If Americans Knew.

Weir, who has traveled throughout Gaza and the West Bank as a freelance journalist and speaks widely throughout the United States, said that she will fight Michigan Radio’s censorship, saying: “It is exactly this type of activity – to prevent people from learning the facts on Israel-Palestine -- that is causing the perpetuation of this tragic conflict and that is behind the $7 million per day of American tax money that goes to Israel, a misuse of our money at any time, but especially when American schools, veterans programs, and businesses are desperate for funding.”

Weir said that her organization will fight Michigan Radio’s censorship: “Americans should not allow censorship of our public airwaves. A free and vigorous press is essential to our democratic republic. To maintain a strong, healthy, free and prosperous nation it is critical that we hold onto our most basic Constitutional rights and principles. We will fight Michigan Radio’s highly unethical and extremely destructive attempt to prevent its listeners from learning about an organization and allowing listeners to decide for themselves what they think of the facts it presents.

Weir, whose organization is based in Oregon, is a 1969 Journalism graduate of the University of Michigan and was a Senior Editor at the Michigan Daily. She said it is especially troubling to find this censorship at a station based at the University of Michigan, since in her studies at Michigan her professors had emphasized the importance of a free press and ethical journalism.

Weir said that despite repeated attempts to speak to representatives of Michigan Radio beginning on Oct 13th, no one had returned her calls. Weir, who has so far spoken at Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan Flint, University of Michigan Dearborn and other locations, still has three upcoming presentations. She says she hopes that the station will stop its censorship in time to run the If Americans Knew announcement.

Tonight Weir will speak at the Flint Islamic Center (9447 Corruna Rd, Swartz Creek) at 7 pm. On Saturday Weir will be speaking at 2pm in Swartz Creek at Genesee Academy (9447 Corunna Rd) at 2pm and at 7 pm at the Unity Center (1830 W Square Lake Rd.). The events are free and open to the public.

Weir said, “Michigan Radio’s attempt to prevent listeners from learning of our organization demonstrates why our work is so important – Americans are being deprived of information by media who refuse to give us the facts on one of the world’s most tragic, longest lasting, and destructive conflicts – one that not only costs the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, but that is also extremely damaging to Americans.”

Weir’s organization found that media reports on Israel-Palestine reported on Israeli children’s deaths at rates up to 13 times greater than they reported on Palestinian children’s deaths – even though Palestinian children had been killed first and in far greater numbers.

Similarly, the organization found that American media – including NPR – had failed to report on a 2003 Capitol Hill briefing in which a commission headed by former Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer, Rear Admiral Merlin Staring, and General Ray Davis, America’s highest ranking Medal of Honor recipient, had announced their finding that Israel had “committed an act of war against the United States” in its attack on a US Navy ship that had killed or injured 200 American servicemen and that this incident had been ordered covered up at the time by the White House.

Weir says, “We all need to oppose this censorship.”

EI exclusive video: Protesters shout down Ehud Olmert in Chicago

Maureen Clare Murphy, The Electronic Intifada, 16 October 2009

Approximately 30 activists -- mainly students from area universities -- disrupted a lecture given in Chicago by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday which was hosted by the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy. While Olmert's speech was disrupted inside the lecture hall, approximately 150 activists protested outside the hall in the freezing rain.

Protesters inside the hall read off the names of Palestinian children killed during Israel's assault on Gaza last winter. They shouted that it was unacceptable that the war crimes suspect be invited to speak at a Chicago university when his army destroyed a university in Gaza in January. They reminded the audience of the more than 1,400 Palestinians killed during the Gaza attacks and the more than 1,200 killed during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 2006. Both invasions happened during Olmert's premiership.

With interventions coming every few minutes throughout his appearance, Olmert had difficulty giving his speech and often appeared frustrated. At one point he appealed for "just five minutes" to speak without being interrupted.

The demonstration was mobilized last week after organizers learned of the lecture, paid for by a grant provided by Jordan's King Abdullah II. Within hours an appeal was issued, urging those concerned with Palestinian rights to call the university and demand that the lecture be canceled. The call was put out by major community organizations such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)-Chicago, American Muslims for Palestine and the United States Palestine Community Network, as well as solidarity organizations al-Awda, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, the International Solidarity Movement, the Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago and area campus groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as the Arab Student Union at Moraine Valley.

The security presence at the lecture was severe with university police, the US Secret Service and Israeli security present -- many of them visibly armed -- with Israeli security checking in those who had registered in advance to attend the lecture. Video and photography was banned inside the hall and media were not allowed to cover the lecture. Despite these restrictions, activists managed to take video inside the hall and drop an eight-foot-long banner from the mezzanine that read "Goldstone" in both English and Hebrew, referring to the recently published UN report investigating violations of international law during the Gaza invasion. One activist was arrested and put in a headlock by a police officer, witnesses said, and released around midnight. Approximately 30 supporters waited for him at the police station while he was detained.

Towards the end of the lecture, Olmert put his hand over his brow and squinted to search out the source of the shout, "There's no discussion with a war criminal -- the only discussion you should be having is in court!" That call was made by Ream Qato, who graduated from the university in 2007, and added, "You belong in the Hague!" Qato told The Electronic Intifada that yesterday's protest "Set the stage for University of Chicago students and students in the Chicago area ... no one should be afraid of speaking out against someone." She added that the demonstration was significant because "The Palestinian community [in Chicago] for the first time went to a university campus to protest."

Approximately 150 protesters demonstrated outside the University of Chicago hall where former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was speaking. (Maureen Clare Murphy)

Second-year medical student Afshan Mohiuddin was removed from the hall after she voiced her disapproval at the Harris School dean's on-stage assertion that Olmert was invited to express his views. "He can do that at the International Court of Justice, not at this university," Mohiuddin shouted, adding, "[Olmert] belongs in a cage, not on a stage!"

Mohiuddin told The Electronic Intifada that "it was ironic that they searched us [instead of him]," considering that Olmert is suspected of war crimes. She added, "As a University of Chicago student I was upset with the lack of commotion on behalf of the student body before the event ... No one has protested the event."

Mohiuddin's frustration was echoed in a commentary published by the University of Chicago's student publication The Chicago Maroon earlier this week, in which third-year student Nadia Marie Ismail decried the lack of protest by the university community towards the Olmert speech. She contrasted this silence with the pressure the Center for Middle Eastern Studies faced after a lecture earlier this year by The Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah (who was the first to disrupt Olmert's speech yesterday), University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and Norman Finkelstein, whose lost bid for tenure at DePaul University is attributed to outside pressure by Israel government apologists. "[T]hat University center was put under unprecedented pressure for weeks before and months after the event, with claims that University centers and schools should not host 'one-sided' speakers," Ismail wrote.

Olmert's lecture in Chicago was one of several scheduled throughout the United States. His speech at the University of Kentucky the previous day was disrupted by activists and met with a protest outside. These demonstrations are part of a wave of notched-up dissent towards Israeli officials implicated in war crimes and racist policy. In 2003, former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky was greeted with a pie in the face by an activist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Last year at the UK's Oxford University, a speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres was drowned out by protesters outside while students inside the hall disrupted his talk.

One of the organizers of the protest, Hatem Abudayyeh, National Coordinating Committee member of the United States Palestine Community Network, hoped for a larger count of protesters despite the adverse weather. However, he said, "The fact that there's people around the world who know about it, the fact that PACBI [the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel] sent us a letter of support and endorsement of our action, the fact that there was coordination with the outside protest and the inside disruption -- all of these components and aspects of the action made it one of the more successful ones that we've done."

He added, "There is real change happening, whether it's the international response to the Lebanon war or the international response to the Gaza war. The US is the most powerful country in the world, Israel is a powerful military as well, but the Palestinians have the world on their side."

Video shot and produced by The Electronic Intifada.

Maureen Clare Murphy is Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada and an activist with the Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago, which co-sponsored the demonstration.

Smashing the Silence: Community Defiance in Honduras

Demonstration in front of Clarion Hotel, Tegucigalpa. (Photo: Joseph Shansky)

Demonstration in front of Clarion Hotel, Tegucigalpa. (Photo: Joseph Shansky)

By Joseph Shansky | Pulse Media | October 16, 2009

Since the few days of renewed excitement around the “secret” return to Honduras of democratically-elected President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, there has been a disturbing omission of the Honduran political crisis in the international news. It would be reasonable to think that with each passing day an exiled president was camped in a foreign embassy (as Zelaya has been in the Brazilian embassy since September 21st), tensions would rise and all eyes of the world would be on that lone building. Instead the opposite has occurred and it appears as though the international press had lost interest without action to follow. The subsequent collapse and renewal (and collapse again, etc.) of ongoing “negotiations” with Roberto Micheletti’s coup government did little to breathe life into this story.

Here in Tegucigalpa, life continues under subtle siege for ordinary citizens. The city gets dark faster at night now and the people seem more frightened in general. The curfew remains. Small groups huddle together and glance around anxiously, couples hug closer, young girls grasp hands tighter and walk faster. Militia is everywhere of course, made up of young, mostly uneducated kids who twirl their guns with abandon, dig their batons into the dirt and wait for a notice for action. It can come at a whistle’s call here, and sometimes it feels as though the entire country is poised, frozen in battle.

The most recent momentous note in this political standoff occurred when Micheletti declared an impromptu State of Emergency following the massive street rallies on the day Zelaya returned. He then imposed a “decree” which stripped Hondurans of almost all basic civil liberties, including the right to assemble freely and access to media outlets which did not strictly toe the coup government line. He also imposed a continuous and rather vague curfew, allowing open interpretation for street police to constantly monitor and harass citizens. After a brief but immediate international outcry, Micheletti apologized and promised to withdraw the decree, but has done no such thing. Instead, he’s used this legal loophole to clean house by first attacking the primary ingredient of a democracy: the free press.

The studios of Radio Globo and Channel 36 were assaulted in the middle of the night and their transmitters were sabotaged and taken, thus leaving the majority of the country without access to the few independent news sources they had depended on for so long. He then forcibly evicted 55 local farm workers who had occupied the headquarters of the National Agrarian Institute for months since the June coup. According to Honduras Resists, a leading online source for Resistance support, the Institute “houses the land titles that had been attained by small rural farmers and communities through years of struggle, many of which were finally granted under the Zelaya administration, angering the powerful landholders who are responsible for the coup and now want to halt and reverse the process of land reform in Honduras.”[1]

One major effect of this curfew and the violations that it brings is that Micheletti has unwittingly drawn people to the resistance movement against the coup government who may not have otherwise been involved. The demonstrations have continued daily for four months now, sometimes taking on different forms.

An example of the varied support for Zelaya’s restoration (and against the coup in general) has been factions of the religious community. A few days ago, a group of Evangelical Christians gathered together in front of the abandoned Channel 36 television station. They planted themselves there to sing and pray for the station, for the resistance, and for Honduras. Several speeches were also made by organizers and religious figures, including priests.

When they had completed the blessing of this censored independent media outlet, they continued making the rounds, next going to Radio Globo to perform the same songs, the same prayers. It was a striking image, the Bible lying on the table next to the microphones in the studio. It conjured up big notions of God and Information and Truth and good people who believe that these ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Under the decree, the military domination has also expanded into lesser populated areas. The police have stormed neighborhoods ranging from inside the city center all the way to Greater Tegucigalpa and its outskirts. The same has happened around the country. In turn, these remote and generally much poorer neighborhoods have begun organizing independently, as they now feel the effects of constant police raids on houses and communities. These barrios, usually ignored and left to their own devices, have begun to take action.

I recently traveled one night with several other foreign journalists to a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. Arriving amid mountains of trash, I immediately heard a cacophony of homemade percussive sounds, people drumming on whatever was freely available. We came upon hundreds of people of all ages marching in the dark together – families shouting, singing, chanting, blowing whistles, banging on nearby doors to rouse their neighbors. Along the sidelines, others watched from windows and front steps, staring fearfully and somewhat enviously at their neighbors’ courage in defying the curfew. This was just one of many similar nightly neighborhood rallies since the decree banning such gatherings.

The crowd surged up a hill and turned into an alley where a car was parked with a film projector sitting atop. After a few minutes, the organizers were able to project the image onto the side of a nearby house. The video was a compilation of homemade footage documenting many of the recent abuses their peers had suffered at the hands of the police. In one scene, the camera followed a single police officer from behind as he ran with his gun drawn directly at group of demonstrators nearby, shooting wildly and recklessly. Others showed the police randomly isolating and dragging non-violent protesters out of the street and into unmarked cars.

The images were designed to enrage the crowd, and it worked. Cries of “¡Asesinos!” (Murderers!) rang out in the night, the excitement and anger grew to a palpable climax, and for a moment I was sure that we’d soon be experiencing our own live replay of the scenes in front of us as soon as the local police took notice. These people were loud.

But aside from provocation, the video was also used as a tool to educate people who live in outlying areas to the realities of what much of the city was going through on a daily basis. It was a form of the news which had been missing from the public since Radio Globo and Channel 36 were taken off air.

This kind of sudden unity is not a novelty limited to one area of the city. The day after the decree, twenty four separate neighborhoods were listed as openly defying the curfew to protest the coup d’état. The resistance which has held steadfast for almost four months now has grown in true grassroots style. Like a domino effect, as the coup’s fear tactics increase, the opposition grows tremendously.

Regardless of what happens from the top-down politically, it would be wise to take note of the remarkable manner in which these communities have come together at ground level. On a very fundamental level, this is innovative democracy in action. Using any means possible, these citizens are courageously breaking through the information blockade that has paralyzed so much of the country and isolated much of the world from the events taking place in Honduras.

[1] http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com/2009/10/peasant-political-prisoners-declare.html

Deception, Spin and Lies

By Gilad Atzmon
October 15, 2009

“By way of deception thou shalt do war” - The Mossad motto

Less than a week after Ankara cancelled an air exercise with Israel, Turkey’s state-sponsored channel TRT1 broadcast "Ayrilik" ("Farewell"), a new prime-time TV show that depicts the true image of Israel’s genocidal military operation in Gaza last January.

The Israelis are not happy. "Broadcasting this series is a serious case of state-sponsored incitement. …,” said Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this morning. “Such a series, which doesn’t even have a weak connection to reality presents the IDF's soldiers as murderers of innocent children….” I wonder whether one should remind hardliner Lieberman, who happens to be an enthusiastic ethnic cleanser and a proud Judeo supremacist racist, that the reality on the ground last January was ‘connected enough’ to establish a genocidal war crime inquiry and a crime against humanity. It left over 1400 fatal casualties. It also left thousands more injured, most of them children, women and elders. However, for once Lieberman happens to read the map. The Turkish TV-show indeed depicts the IDF’s soldiers as murderers of children women and elders for this is what Israeli soldiers are and this is exactly what Israel stands for politically, symbolically, ideologically and practically.

Though Lieberman tries to appease his Israeli crowd and may even be successful in doing so, his chances to mount pressure on Turkish TV and the government are rather limited. By now we all happen to know Israel is all about the establishment of a ‘Jew-only state’ in a stolen land named Palestine.

As it happens we tend to spend a lot of time writing and analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the facts on the ground are actually very simple. Zionism is an ideology aspired by the plunder of Palestine. Israel has put the robbery of Palestine and the Palestinians into practice. We are talking here about a national revival project that is taking place at the expense of another people. It is a murderous project inherently inspired by the bible and an unethical plundering project of ‘home coming’. It is a lethal combination of some deadly interpretations of the Old Testament together with a non-ethical present. The only question to be asked is how have they got away with it? How do they continue to get away with plunder, murder, spreading white phosphorus and piling up nuclear weapons?

Spin, Deception and Lies are the Answer

A few weeks ago, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of the UN waving the Wannsee Conference’s protocols suggesting that he was holding the ‘proof for the Nazi extermination of European Jewry’. With typical histrionics, he pleaded for their empathy. “Is this a lie?” he cried out. Embarrassingly enough, though the document he presented to the assembly was genuine, he was actually spinning the usual Zionist lines. The Wannsee protocol refers in a rather general manner, to the deportation to the East of the entire Jewish population from Germany and German occupied territories. Though the document refers to a ‘Final Solution’, the very ‘solution’ it prescribed is rather different from the common interpretation offered by the Zionist Shoa narrative. The Wannsee protocol refers basically to a sinister plan to exhaust the deported Jews in hard labour in roadwork.

As much as Wannsee document is devastating, its relevance to the history of the holocaust is rather limited for the ‘Wannsee plan’ has never materialized into an actual operative program. It has actually nothing to do with the historicity of Jewish extermination known as the Shoa. It doesn’t set any plan for death camps or gas chambers whatsoever. As a legal document, it proves nothing but general Nazi inclinations. As an historic document it by no means ‘proves’ the Shoa and the extermination of the Jews, it just affirms that the Nazi regime was committed to the idea of Judenreine (Jews Free). However, this fact is well established and widely accepted even by most if not all holocaust revisionists. As much as Netanyahu insisted to boost the Holocaust with some fresh credibility, he ended up waving a relatively insignificant paper in front of the nations. Needless to say, he got away with it.

However, far more crucial is the fact that the Wannsee Protocol lines out a program that is not that different from Lieberman’s deadly plan for the Palestinians. In reality it is the Jewish state that murders Palestinians en masse and starves those who survive. Moreover, it is very interesting also to elaborate on the following questions: how is it that the leader of the Jewish state is standing in front of the nation and spins in broad daylight in the name of Israel and the name of the Jewish people? What can we learn from the fact that an Israeli leader tries to fool the entire UN assembly? How is it that as Israeli PM manages to divert the attention so easily from his own crimes against humanity that are taking place in the present into a relatively insignificant historical document? In short, how does he get away with it?

The answer may be pretty trivial. Like the case of the Mossad motto, they make their wars by deception. The entire Jewish revival project is grounded on sets of lies. The entire tale of Jewish ‘home coming’ is nothing less than a daylight collective crime based on false argument and lies again. Initially Zionists were deceiving their fellow Jews but as time passed they have been extending their tactics. For more than a while they have been spinning us all. The Israelis and Zionists are born into a lie, they live their life through a lie, they tend to believe that they can get away with lies and deception and the sad truth must be said. As far as world leaders are concerned, they actually do. As we know, not a single world leader challenged Netanyahu’s spin at the UN. More disturbing is the fact that not a single historian or intellectual tried to point out to the Israeli PM that more than anything else, the Wannsee Protocol actually describes his own policies at home.

Very few World Leaders have the guts to oppose the Zionist spin operation. Recently we have witnessed the courageous Iranian Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan. This is not a lot considering the level of colossal atrocities committed by the Jewish state. However, it is better than nothing.

The good news is that Humanism and Humanity is not exactly in the possession of politicians or so called ‘world leaders’. It is actually our property, the members of the human race, the people out there who happen to witness the emerging evil. True Humanity and Humanism is delivered by kindness and an aspiration for ethics and truthfulness. In most cases it is actually artists and ordinary people who transform Humanism into a vivid message. Our elected interventionists, for some reason insist on dragging us all into more and more Zionist wars in the name of the holocaust, democracy and liberation’.

Tragically enough, our Western leaders are still silenced or at least 'captivated' by Zionist lies. But this shouldn’t be a major concern anymore. The betrayal of Western ideologies (left, right and centre), politicians and institutions are an established fact. Succumbing to Zionist lies is apparently just one symptom amongst too many. Not only that truth will win, it is actually winning already. The identification of the Zionist spin is becoming common knowledge. As the foggy cloud of the Zionist brutality expands we all develop a growing yearning for some beams of truth and grace. We are beginning to grasp that they make their wars by the means of deception. They may win a few more pyrrhic battles but they are losing the war.

Further reading, Palestinians reaction to Netanyahu’s speech: http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=107079&sectionid=351020202

Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of two novels: A Guide to the Perplexed and My One and Only Love. Gilad is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. His CD, Exile, was named the year's best jazz CD by the BBC. Please visit his web site: http://www.gilad.co.uk/ Gilad Atzmon can be reached at: atz@onetel.net.uk


B'Tselem: Israeli soldiers vandalize, torch 8 Palestinian cars

B`Tselem: photo of a vehicle vandalized by Israeli soldiers

Bethlehem - Ma’an - A string of vandalism targeting Palestinian cars by Israeli soldiers was reportedly documented by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

One set of testimony recorded by the group said Israeli forces stopped a car of Palestinian workers near Hebron, evicted the men from the vehicle, told them to walk home and proceeded to break the windshield of the car and set fire to it.

In total, B’Tselem said, eight Palestinian-owned vehicles were likely torched by Israeli military personnel. A report from the group outlined details on the allegedly targeted vandalism and how they came across it.

Field workers from B’Tselem said they saw a vehicle on fire Monday, and when they stopped to investigate, met the owner of the van and his passengers, who said they had been hiding from soldiers in the fields.

The group said Hummer army jeep had chased the van, which malfunctioned and the passengers got out and ran away. The soldiers then went over to the vehicle, smashed the windows, removed the spare tires and burned them under the vehicle. The gas tank caught fire and the vehicle went up in flames, they reported.

Field workers were then approached by Israeli soldiers, identified by the Palestinian witnesses as the same soldiers who set the fire on the car, and detained the field workers for half an hour, a report from the organization said.

“The next day, five more vehicles were vandalized in the same area,” the organization announced.

Following B’Tselem requests to the Judge Advocate General's Office, two Israeli officers were suspended.