Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mired Empire: Bellow of the Beast

Dangerous Flailing and Bellowing of the Beast

by John Chuckman

When I think of America’s place in the world today, the image that comes to mind is of a very large animal, perhaps a huge bull elephant or even prehistoric mammoth, which long roamed as the unchallenged king of its domain but has become trapped by its own missteps, as caught in a tar pit or some quicksand, and it is violently flailing about, making a terrifying noises in its effort to free itself and re-establish its authority.

Any observer immediately knows the animal ultimately cannot succeed but certainly is frightened by the noise and crashing that it can sustain for a considerable time.

I think that is the pretty accurate metaphor for the situation of the United States today, still a terribly large and powerful society but one finding itself trapped after a long series of its own blunders and errors, a society certain ultimately to become diminished in its prestige and relative power with all the difficulties which that will entail for an arrogant people having a blind faith in their own rightness. America simply cannot accept its mistakes or that it was ever wrong, for Americanism much resembles a fundamentalist religion whose members are incapable of recognizing or admitting they ever followed anything but the divine plan.

America has made a costly series of errors over the last half century, demonstrating to others that the America they may have been in awe of in, say, 1950, and may have considered almost godlike and incapable of mistakes, has now proved itself indisputably, in field after field, as often not even capable of governing itself. The irony of a people who are seen as often unable to govern themselves advising others how to govern themselves brings a distinct note of absurdity to American foreign policy.

America’s establishment, feeling their old easy superiority in the world beginning to slip away in a hundred different ways, seems determined to show everyone it still has what it takes, determined to make others feel its strength, determined to weaken others abroad who do not accept its natural superiority, determined to seize by brute force and dirty tricks advantages which no longer come to it by simply superior performance.

Rather than learn from its errors and adjust its delusional assumptions, America is determined to push and bend people all over the world to its will and acceptance of its leadership. But you cannot reclaim genuine leadership once you have been exposed enough times in your bad judgment, and it is clear you are on the decline, just as you cannot once others realize that they can do many things as well or better than you.

In the end, policies which do not recognize scientific facts are doomed. Policies based on wishes and ideology do not succeed over the long run, unless, of course, you are willing to suppress everyone who disagrees with you and demand their compliance under threat. The requirement for an imperial state in such a situation is international behavior which resembles the internal behavior of an autocratic leader such as Stalin, and right now that is precisely where the United States is headed. Stalin’s personality had a fair degree of paranoia and no patience for the views of others. He felt constantly threatened by potential competitors and he used systematic terror to keep everyone intimidated and unified under him.

Stalin’s sincerely belief in a faulty economic system that was doomed from its birth put him in a position similar to that of America’s oligarchs today. They have a world imperial system that is coming under increasing strain and challenge because others are growing and have their own needs and America simply does not have the flexibility to accommodate them. America’s oligarchs are not used to listening to the views of others. Stalin’s belief in a system that was more an ideology than a coherent economic system is paralleled by the quasi-religious tenets of Americanism, a set of beliefs which holds that America is especially blessed by the Creator and all things good and great are simply its due. Americanism blurrily assumes that God’s promise in the Old Testament that man should have dominion over the earth’s creatures applies now uniquely to them. Such thinking arose during many years of easy superiority, a superiority that was less owing to intrinsic merits of American society than to a set of fortuitous circumstances, many of which are now gone.

In Vietnam, America squandered countless resources chasing after a chimera its ideologues insisted was deadly important, never once acknowledging the fatal weaknesses built right into communism from its birth. Communism was certain eventually to fail because of economic falsehoods which were part of its conception, much as a child born with certain genetic flaws is destined for eventual death. America’s mad rush to fight communism on all fronts was in keeping with the zealotry of America’s Civic Religion, but it was a huge and foolish practical judgment which wasted colossal resources. In Vietnam, America ended in something close to total shame – literally defeated on the battlefield by what seemed an inconsequential opponent, having also cast aside traditional ethical values in murdering great masses of people who never threatened the United States, murder on a scale (3 million) comparable to the Holocaust. It used weapons and techniques of a savage character: napalm, cluster bombs, and secret mass terror programs. The savagery ripped into the fabric of America’s own society, dividing the nation almost as badly as its Civil War once had. America ended reduced and depleted in many respects and paid its huge bills with devalued currency.

Following Vietnam, it has just been one calamity after another revealing the same destructive inability to govern, the same thought governed by zealotry, right down to the 2008 financial collapse which was caused by ignoring sound financial management and basically instituting a system of unlimited greed. The entire world was jolted and hurt by this stupidity whose full consequences are not nearly played out.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were completely unnecessary, cost vast sums, caused immense misery, and achieved nothing worth achieving. We now know what was kept hidden that more than million Iraqis died in an invasion based entirely on lies. These wars also set in motion changes whose long term effects have yet to be felt. Iraq, for example, has just about had its Kurdish, oil-producing region hived off as a separate state.

America’s primitive approach to the Soviet Union’s collapse, its sheer triumphalism and failure to regard Russia as important enough to help or with which to cooperate, ignored America’s own long-term interests. After all, the Russians are a great people with many gifts, and it was inevitable that they would come back from a post-collapse depression to claim their place in the world.

So how do the people running the United States now deal with a prosperous and growing Russia, a Russia which reaches out in the soundest traditional economic fashion for cooperation and partnership in trade and projects? Russia has embraced free trade, a concept Americans trumpeted for years whenever it was to their advantage, but now for Russia is treated as dark and sinister. Here America fights the inevitable power of economic forces, something akin to fighting the tide or the wind, and only for the sake of its continued dominance of another continent. Americans desperately try to stop what can only be called natural economic arrangements between Russia and Europe, natural because both sides have many services, goods, and commodities to trade for the benefit of all. America’s establishment wants to cut off healthy new growth and permanently to establish its primacy in Europe even though it has nothing new to offer.

America’s deliberately dishonest interpretation of Russia’s measured response to an induced coup in Ukraine is used to generate an artificial sense of crisis, but despite the pressures America is capable of exerting on Europe, we sense Europe only goes along to avoid a public squabble and only for so long as the costs are not too high. The most intelligent leaders in Europe recognize what the United States is doing but do not want to clash openly, although the creation of the Minsk Agreement came pretty close to a polite rejection of America’s demand for hardline tactics.

The coup in Ukraine was intended to put a hostile government in control of a long stretch of Russian border, a government which might cooperate in American military matters and which would serve as an irritant to Russia. But you don’t get good results with malicious policy. So far the coup has served only to hurt Ukraine’s economy, security, and long-term interests. It has a government which is seen widely as incompetent, a government which fomented unnecessary civil war, a government which shot down a civilian airliner, and a government in which no one, including in the West, has much faith. Its finances are in turmoil, many important former economic connections are severed, and there is no great willingness by Europe, especially an economically-troubled Europe, to assist it. It is not an advanced or stable enough place to join the EU because that would just mean gigantic subsidies being directed to it from an already troubled Europe. And the idea of its joining NATO is absolutely a non-starter both because it can’t carry its own weight in such an organization and because that act would cross a dangerous red line for Russia.

Kiev is having immense problems even holding the country together as it fights autonomous right-wing outfits like the Azov Battalion in the southeast who threaten the Minsk Agreement, as it tries to implement military recruiting in Western Ukraine with more people running away than joining up, as it finds it must protect its own President with a Praetorian Guard of Americans from some serious threats by right-wing militias unhappy with Kiev’s failures, as it must reckon with the de facto secession of Donetsk and the permanent loss of Crimea – all this as it struggles with huge debts and an economy in a nosedive.

America is in no position to give serious assistance to Ukraine, just plenty of shop-worn slogans about freedom and democracy. These events provide a perfect example of the damage America inflicts on a people with malicious policy intended only to use them to hurt others. There is such a record of this kind of thing by America that I am always surprised when there are any takers out there for the newest scheme. One remembers Kissinger encouraging the Iraqi Kurds to revolt against Saddam Hussein and then leaving them in the lurch when the dictator launched a merciless suppression. I also think of the scenes at the end of the Vietnam War as American helicopters took off in cowardly fashion from the roof of the embassy leaving their Vietnamese co-workers, tears streaming down their faces, vainly grasping for the undercarriages of helicopters, a fitting and shameful end to a truly brainless crusade.

I don’t know but I very much doubt that the present government of Ukraine can endure, and it is always possible that it will slip into an even more serious civil war with factions fighting on all sides, something resembling the murderous mess America created in Libya. Of course, such a war on Russia’s borders would come with tremendous risks. The American aristocracy doesn’t become concerned about disasters into which they themselves are not thrust, but a war in Ukraine could easily do just that. In ironic fashion, heightened conflict could mark the beginning of the end of the era of European subservience to America. Chaos in Ukraine could provide exactly the shock Europe needs to stop supporting American schemes before the entire continent or even the world is threatened.

I remind readers that while Russia’s economy is not as large as America’s, it is a country with a strong history in engineering and science, and no one on the planet shares its terrifying experiences with foreign invasion. So it has developed and maintains a number of weapons systems that are second to none. Each one of its new class of ballistic missile submarines, and Russia is building a number of them, is capable of hitting 96 separate targets with thermo-nuclear warheads, and that capability is apart from rail-mounted ICBMs, hard-site ICBMs, truck-mounted missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, and a variety of other fearsome weapons. Modern Russia does not make threats with this awesome power, and you might say Putin follows the advice of Theodore Roosevelt as he walks softly but carries a big stick, but I do think it wise for all of us to keep these things in mind as America taunts Russia and literally play a game of chicken with Armageddon. I don’t believe America has a legitimate mandate from anyone to behave in this dangerous way. Europe’s smartest leaders, having lived at the very center of the Cold War and survived two world wars, do understand this and are trying very carefully not to allow things to go too far, but America has some highly irresponsible and dangerous people working hard on the Ukraine file, and accidents do happen when you push things too hard.

In another sphere of now constant engagement, instead of sponsoring and promoting fair arrangements in the Middle East, America has carried on a bizarre relationship with Israel, a relationship which is certainly against the America’s own long term interests, although individual American politicians benefit with streams of special interests payments - America’s self-imposed, utterly corrupt campaign financing system being ultimately responsible - in exchange for blindly insisting Israel is always right, which it most certainly is not. An important segment of Israel’s population is American, and they just carried over to Israel the same short-sightedness, arrogance, and belligerence which characterize America, so much so, Israel may legitimately be viewed as an American colony in the Middle East rather than a genuinely independent state. Its lack of genuine independence is reflected also in its constant dependence on huge subsidies, on its need for heavily-biased American diplomacy to protect it in many forums including the UN, and on its dependence upon American arm-twisting and bribes in any number of places, Egypt’s generous annual American pension requiring certain behaviors being one of the largest examples.

Here, too, inevitability has been foolishly ignored. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and they have demonstrated the most remarkable endurance, yet almost every act of Israel since its inception, each supported by America, has been an effort to make them go away through extreme hardship and abuse and violence, looking towards the creation of Greater Israel, a dangerous fantasy idea which cannot succeed but it will fail only after it has taken an immense toll. Despite America’s constant diplomatic and financial pressure on other states to support its one-sided policy here, there are finally a number of signs that views are turning away from the preposterous notion that Israel is always right and that it can continue indefinitely with its savage behavior.

Recently, we have had a great last effort by America and covert partners to secure Israel’s absolute pre-eminence in the Middle East through a whole series of destructive intrusions in the region – the “Arab Spring,” the reverse-revolution in Egypt, the smashing and now dismemberment of Iraq, the smashing and effective dismemberment of Libya, and the horrible, artificially-induced civil war in Syria which employs some of the most violent and lunatic people on earth from outside and gives them weapons, money, and refuge in an effort to destroy a stable and relatively peaceful state.

I could go on, but I think the picture is clear: in almost every sphere of American governance, internally and abroad, America’s poor political institutions have yielded the poorest decisions. America has over-extended itself on every front, has served myths rather than facts, has let greed run its governing of almost everything, and has squandered resources on achieving nothing of worth.

I view America’s present posture in the world – supporting dirty wars and coups in many places at the same time and treating others as game pieces to be moved rather than partners – as a desperate attempt to shake the world to gain advantages it couldn’t secure through accepted means of governance and policy. America is that great beast, bellowing and shaking the ground, and for that reason, it is extremely dangerous.

Laying a Wreath for a Britain Less Great

UK Election: Tory Victory A Disaster of Britain and the Democratic Process

by Andy Worthington

Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.

There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.

As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in.

All that changed in 2010. With the Labour government discredited, in the eyes of a majority of the voting public, as a result of the global financial crash of 2008 (even though the Tories were also 100% in bed with the bankers, and most people seemed to have been delighted with New Labour’s housing bubble), the Tories emerged as the largest party, although David Cameron’s efforts to sell himself as a charismatic leader fell short of his expectations, and an unholy alliance with the LIberal Democrats was then required for the Tories to embark on their horrible assault on the British state, and on everyone not fortunate enough to be rich, that they have imposed ever since, and that they will now be hoping to inflict on us for the next five years.

That is a truly chilling thought, as Cameron and Osborne’s Tories have, over the last five years, proven that they have only three reasons for existing: to enable the rich to get richer, to privatise almost everything that has not yet been privatised, and, while undertaking this butchery — which involves a monstrous belief in the need to destroy almost all state provision of services, including the NHS, the single greatest institution in the UK — to make life as miserable as possible for all vulnerable members of society; in particular, the working poor, the unemployed, and the disabled. See my extensive archive of articles, under the heading, “Battle for Britain: Fighting the Coalition Government’s Vile Ideology.”

Among the Tories’ many disgraceful policies — notwithstanding the fact that some were inherited from Labour, but have been more aggressively pursued — are reviews for the disabled, designed to find people with severe mental and physical health problems fit for work when they are not (and there are no jobs anyway), and to subsequently cut their benefits, the enthusiastic promotion of zero hours contracts, and the implementation of a range of workfare schemes, designed to make the unemployed work for hourly rates that are way below the minimum wage.

Another horrible innovation has been the benefit cap, which has imposed restrictions on the amount of housing benefit that can be claimed by those without work, portraying them as scroungers when most of the money goes to private landlords and not, of course, the claimants themselves.

Also noteworthy is the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires forced unemployed people to move out of their homes if they dared to have what was regarded as a spare room, even though it is fundamentally offensive to decide that poorer people are not entitled to regard their homes as homes, or to have the luxury of any spare space whatsoever, and even though there are few smaller properties for them to move to, and it has ended up costing more than before while making life miserable for vast numbers of people.

The Tories also attacked students, tripling tuition fees, and undermined state schools, and they have presided over an even more bloated and ridiculous house price casino than existed under New Labour. London is now the global capital for super-rich dictators and criminals, who drive up house prices while contributing almost nothing to the wider economy, as they are protected from fair taxation through the vile and unjustifiable allowances for “non-doms” to be parasites in the UK, by pretending to live somewhere else. All the while, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow to monstrous levels.

The Lib Dems, it turned out, committed political suicide through their coalition with the Tories, losing 49 of their 57 seats on Thursday, but, depressingly — almost incomprehensibly — the Tories were not only unpunished at the ballot box; they actually secured enough seats to form a government on their own.

The other winners in the election were the Scottish National Party (SNP), who conquered Scotland, securing 56 of the 59 Scottish seats, up from just six in 2010. This was a disaster for Scottish Labour, of course, and while it was punishment for their disdainful approach to those seeking independence, I personally think that what drove the landslide even more was Scottish voters’ perceived need to set themselves up in the clearest manner possible, not just as a declaration of their own identity, as a continuation of the national conversation that arose through last year’s referendum on independence, but also, explicitly, in opposition to the power base in Westminster — the Tories. This could only be achieved by taking over from Labour, because the Tories, of course, have been in the electoral wilderness in Scotland since the Thatcher days.

The losers in this election were not primarily the Labour Party, whose share of the vote, and number of seats gained, actually increased slightly from 2010 — although it would be foolish not to acknowledge that Labour’s pledges, including supporting the NHS, scrapping the bedroom tax, and ending “non-dom” status, failed to convince numerous voters who, by voting Tory, actually voted to make life much more difficult for themselves.

The biggest losers, primarily, were other parties — and, as I noted in an article just before the election, entitled, “Time for Proportional Representation: Whatever the Outcome of the General Election, Our Voting System is Unfair and Unrepresentative” — the electoral process itself.

The biggest single group in the election were the 15,733,706 people who didn’t vote, far more than the 11,334,920 people who voted for the Tories. Nevertheless, the Tories secured a majority of the seats (50.9%) even though they had just 36.8% of the vote, and the support of just 24.4% of those eligible to vote. On the other extreme, UKIP got just one seat even though they secured 3,881,129 votes, meaning that it was 113 times harder for them to get a seat than it was for the Tories.

A broken and unjust system

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of why the current system is so broken and unjust:

11,334,920 people voted for the Tories, which was 36.8% of the voter turnout (30,691,680), but just 24.4% of the total number of people eligible to vote (46,425,386).

In addition, the distribution of seats per vote was also unfair. With their 36.8% of the vote, the Tories nevertheless secured 50.9% of the seats. Each of their 331 seats, therefore, required 34,244 votes.

Another party that benefitted from the uneven distribution of votes under the “first past the post” system was Labour, who received 9,344,328 votes. That was 30.4% of the voter turnout, and enabled them to secure 232 seats (35.7% of the total). Each of their seats, therefore, required 40,277 votes.

Also benefitting was the Scottish National Party, whose 1,454,436 votes represented 4.7% of the voter turnout. In terms of seats, however, the SNP’s 56 seats constituted 8.6% of the total. Each of their seats required just 25,972 votes.

The losers in this unequal carve-up of the British people and their intentions were, primarily, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party.

The Liberal Democrats, although electorally almost wiped out, still managed to secure 2,415,888 votes (7.9% of the total), which translated into 8 seats (just 1.2% of the total). Each of their seats, therefore, required 301,986 votes.

UKIP secured 3,881,129 votes (12.6% of the total), but this translated into just one seat (0.2% of the total), and the Green Party secured 1,154,562 votes (3.8% of the total), which also translated into just one seat (0.2% of the total).

Under proportional representation, the 30,691,680 votes cast, divided by 650 seats, would have translated into 47,218 votes per MP, with the following breakdown (which would be fair, even though I despise UKIP):

Con: 240 instead of 331
Lab: 198 instead of 232
Lib Dem: 51 instead of 8
SNP: 31 instead of 56
UKIP: 82 instead of 1
Green: 24 instead of 1

If you find this situation unacceptable, please sign the Avaaz petition, “Democratic Deficit,” which calls on MPs to undertake an urgent review of the electoral system.

As they state:

The first past the post system is designed for two-party politics. But that’s just not on our landscape any more. Over 1 million voted for the Green Party and got just one seat and whether you agree with them or not, UKIP also suffered from this yawning democratic deficit.

With 1 in 3 people not bothering to vote, we need to reconnect politics back to the people. Let’s end the era of ‘wasted votes’ and create a system where every voice in Britain matters. Let’s call on all our MPs to fight for an electoral review as soon as parliament reconvenes.

Still unconvinced? How about this then for my parting shot?

Can it be fair that, with 11,334,920 votes, the Tories are running the country, with 331 seats, while the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and UKIP, with 7,451,479 votes, got just ten seats between them?

The answer has to be no.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Every Bastard a King in Israel's Slim Coalition

Netanyahu: Even His Friends Detest Him

by Uri Avnery - CounterPunch

Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be detested now by everyone. Almost as much as his meddling wife, Sarah’le.

Six weeks ago, Netanyahu was the great victor. Contrary to all opinion polls, he achieved a surprise victory at the last moment, winning 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, leaving the Labor Party (re-branded “The Zionist Camp”) well behind him.

The extra seats did not come from the Left. They came from his nearest competitors, the Rightist parties.

However, it was a great personal triumph. Netanyahu was on top of his world. Sarah’le was radiant. Netanyahu left no doubt that he was now the master, and that he was determined to order things according to his wishes.

This week he had his comeuppance. On the very last day of the period allotted to him by law to set up his new government, he was near desperation.

An old Hebrew saying puts it succinctly: “Who is a hero? He who turns an enemy into a friend.”

In this sense, Netanyahu is an anti-hero. He has a peculiar talent for turning friends into enemies. Sarah’le is a great help in this.

Winston Churchill once advised that at the moment of victory, one should be magnanimous. Magnanimity is not one of Netanyahu’s outstanding virtues. He made it clear that he, and he alone, was now the master.

Right after the election Netanyahu decreed that the next government would be a narrow coalition of orthodox and rightist parties, which would be able at long last to do the things he really wants to do: put an end to this two-state nonsense, castrate the Supreme Court, muzzle the media and much more.

Everything went just fine. Netanyahu was invited by the President of the State to form the next government, coalition talks went smoothly, and the contours of the coalition were clear: Likud, the Ashkenazi orthodox Torah party, the Oriental orthodox Shas party, Moshe Kahlon’s new economic reform party, Naftali Bennett’s nationalist-religious party and Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-rightist party. Altogether: a comfortable 67 of the 120 Knesset members.

Party chiefs don’t have lo love each other to set up a coalition. They don’t even have to like each other. But it is not really very comfortable to sit together in a government when they hate and despise each other.

The first to throw a bomb was Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman is not considered a “real” Israeli. He looks different, speaks with a very thick foreign accent, his mind seems to work in a different way. Although he came to Israel decades ago, he is still considered “a Russian”. Actually he came from Soviet Moldavia.

There is a saying that has been attributed to Stalin: Revenge is best served cold. This Tuesday, 48 hours before the end of the time allotted by law to the formation of the new government, Lieberman dropped his bomb.

In the election, Lieberman lost more than half of his strength to Likud, shrinking to six seats. In spite of this, Netanyahu assured him that he could retain his post as Foreign Minister. It was a cheap concession, since Netanyahu makes all important foreign policy decisions himself.

All of a sudden, without any provocation, Lieberman convened a press conference and made a momentous announcement: he was not joining the new government.

Why? All Lieberman’s personal demands had been satisfied. The pretexts were obviously contrived. For example, he wants “terrorists” to be executed, a demand resolutely resisted by all security services, who believe (quite rightly) that creating martyrs is a very bad idea. Lieberman also wants to send to prison orthodox youngsters who refuse to serve in the army, a ridiculous demand from a government in which the orthodox parties play a central role. And so on.

It was a clear and blatant act of revenge. Obviously Lieberman had taken the decision right from the beginning but kept it secret until the very last moment, when there was no time for Netanyahu to change the composition of the government by inviting, for example, the Labor Party.

It was indeed revenge served cold.

Without the six members of Lieberman’s party, Netanyahu still has a majority of 61, just enough to present the government to the Knesset and get a vote of confidence. Just.

A 61-member government is a continuous nightmare. I would not wish it on my own worst enemy.

In such a situation, no member of the coalition parties can go abroad, for fear of a sudden opposition motion of no-confidence. For Israelis, that is a fate worse than death. The only way for a coalition MK to travel to Paris would be to make an agreement with a member of the opposition who wants to go, say, to Las Vegas. Hand Washes Hand, as the saying goes.

But there is a much worse day-and-night-mare for Netanyahu: in a 61-member coalition, “every bastard is a king”‘ as a Hebrew saying goes. Each and every member can obstruct any bill produced by the government, allow any opposition motion to win, absent himself from any crucial vote.

Every day would be a field day for blackmail of all kinds. Netanyahu would be compelled to accede to every whim of every member. Even in Greek mythology no such torture was ever invented.

The first example was given already on the very first day after the Lieberman bomb.

Bennett, who had not yet signed the coalition agreement, found himself in a position in which there would be no Netanyahu government without him. He racked his brains on how to exploit the situation and get something more than was already promised to him (and humiliate Netanyahu in the process). He came up with the demand that Ayelet Shaked become Minister of Justice.

Shaked is the beauty queen of the new Knesset. In spite of her 38 years, she has a girlish appearance. She has also a beautiful name: Ayelet means gazelle, Shaked means almonds.

Her mother was a leftist teacher, but her Iraqi-born father was a rightist Likud central committee member. She follows in his footsteps.

This almond-eyed gazelle excels in political activities based on hatred: an intense hatred of Arabs, leftists, homosexuals and foreign refugees. She has authored a steady stream of extreme rightist bills. Among them the atrocious bill that says that the “Jewish character” of Israel takes precedence over democracy and overrides basic laws. Her incitement against the helpless refugees from Sudan and Eritrea, who have somehow succeeded in reaching Israel, is just a part of her untiring efforts. Though the No. 2 of a rabid religious party, she is not religious at all.

The relationship between her and Bennett started when both were employees of Netanyahu’s political office, when he was leader of the opposition. Somehow, they both incurred the wrath of Sara’le, who never forgets or forgives. By the way, the same happened to Lieberman, also a former director of Netanyahu’s office.

So now is payment day. Netanyahu tortured Bennett during the negotiations, letting him sweat for days. Bennett used the opportunity after Lieberman’s desertion and put up a new condition for joining the coalition: Shaked must be Minister of Justice.

Netanyahu, bereft of any practical alternative, gave in to open blackmail. It was that or no government.

So now the gazelle is in charge of the Supreme Court, which she detests. She will choose the next Attorney General (known in Israel as the “judicial advisor”) and stuff the committee that appoints the judges. She will also be in charge of the ministers’ committee that decides which bills will be presented by the government to the Knesset – and which not.

Not a very promising situation for the Only Democracy in the Middle East.

Netanyahu is too experienced not to know that he cannot à la longue govern with such a shaky coalition. He needs at least one more partner in the near future. But where to find one?

The Arab party is obviously out. So is Meretz. So is Yair Lapid’s party, for the simple reason that the orthodox will not sit with him in the government. So only the Labor Party (aka Zionist Camp) is left.

Frankly, I believe that Yitzhak Herzog would jump at the opportunity. He must know by now that he is not the popular tribune needed to lead his party to power. He has neither the stature of an Apollo nor the tongue of a Netanyahu. He has never voiced an original idea nor led a successful protest.

Moreover, the Labor Party has never excelled in opposition. It was the party in power for 45 consecutive years before and after the founding of the state. As an opposition party it is pathetic, and so is “Buji” Herzog.

Joining Netanyahu’s government in a few months would be ideal for Herzog. There is never a lack of pretexts – we experience at least once a month a National Emergency that demands National Unity. A little war, trouble with the UN and such. (Though John Kerry this week gave an interview to Israeli TV that was a masterpiece of abject, belly-crawling self-humiliation.)

Getting Herzog won’t be easy. Labor is not a monolithic body. Many of its functionaries do not admire Herzog, consider Bennett a fascist and Netanyahu a habitual liar and cheat. But the allures of government are strong, ministerial chairs are so comfortable.

My bet: Netanyahu, the great survivor, will survive.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

Russia Seventy Years After the Fall of Fascism

Seventy Years After the 'Great Patriotic War': "Let No One Forget, Let Nothing Be Forgotten"

by Walter C. Uhler 

V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, is celebrated every May 8th in Western Europe and the United States, but is celebrated as Victory Day every May 9th in Russia. Why? Because the Soviet Union’s representative had no authority to sign the German document of surrender at Reims, France, on 7 May 1945, but also because, on 8 May, Soviet forces were still shelling German units in Czechoslovakia that had refused to surrender.

Thus, when the surrender ceremony was repeated in Berlin on 8 May, it already was 9 May in the Soviet Union.

Recently, the Ukrainian Prime Minister told German TV:

“I will not allow the Russians to march across Ukraine and Germany, as they did in WWII.” 

Putting aside the impossibility of the feeble and feckless government in Kiev doing any such thing, one needs to ask the Prime Minister whether he would have preferred the preservation of the Ukraine – admittedly suffering under Nazi repression, but besmirched during World War II by so many Nazi sympathizers and collaborators — and whether he would have preferred the preservation of the Third Reich?

Recently, three former U.S. Ambassadors to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, John Herbst, and William Taylor absurdly recommended that V-E Day be celebrated in Kiev. Such a recommendation indicates not only profound ignorance of the magnitude of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis, but also insufficient appreciation for the accomplishments of the Russians during World War II.

For example, in the first year of the war, Nazi collaborators in Ukraine (a minority of who were Russian) “provided German forces on the Eastern Front with 80 percent of their bread, 83 percent of their meats, 77 percent of their sugar and 70 percent of their potatoes.” (Oleg Zarubinsky, “Collaboration of the Population in Occupied Ukrainian Territory: Some Aspects of the Overall Picture,” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, June 1997, p. 147) Such Ukrainian collaboration helped to enable German forces to attack Russian civilians and largely Russian forces deep into western Russia.

Moreover, why would anyone except ideologues ignorant of the history of war on the Eastern Front celebrate in Kiev when there were no victories in Ukraine that turned the tide of the war. Celebration in Moscow is justified precisely because the victories that guaranteed Germany’s defeat took place on Russian soil – at Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk. According to the esteemed expert on the war on the Eastern Front, John Erickson, “The portents of the outcome at Kursk were enormous. Demonstrably the Red Army could strike for Berlin “with no outside assistance,” setting off alarm bells in the West. The “Second Front” was finally agreed in November. ( Journal of Military History, July 1998, p. 665).

Seventy years have passed since the last of some 10 million Soviet soldiers, collectively known as “Ivan,” died in order to defeat Nazi Germany during the Great Patriotic War. (By comparison, American and British forces each suffered less than 420,000 deaths – or less than the number of Red Army deaths suffered at Stalingrad alone.) Of the more than 30 million Soviet soldiers mobilized between 1939-1945, these 10 million made their ultimate sacrifice in order to avenge the invasion of Soviet territory and the racist war of extermination unleashed by Adolf Hitler’s Ostheer (Eastern Army).

Revenge was Ivan’s primary motivation. As Jochen Hellbeck notes, in his newly published book, Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich, (Public Affairs, 2015), “Soldiers received forms known as ‘vengeance accounts’ to record the number of opponents they killed and the number of weapons destroyed.” (p. 35) But, in the process of taking revenge Ivan also rescued European civilization and, perhaps, the world, from the scourge of Nazism.

Obviously, Ivan did not earn his glory merely by dying — or suffering wounds or illnesses as another 18 million Ivans did — but by annihilating the “Fritz,” as he called Nazi soldiers. And annihilate them he did, at least when compared with America’s GI Joe and Great Britain’s Tommy. Simply consider these numbers: The Nazis suffered approximately 13,488,000 total losses (deaths, wounds, captures and illnesses) during World War II. But, the fight with Ivan on the Eastern Front caused 10,758,000 of them (David M. Glantz & Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed, University of Kansas Press, 1995, p. 284).

Unfortunately, before rallying to ultimately defeat Hitler’s Wehrmacht in Berlin, Ivan’s army suffered numerous devastating setbacks inside the Soviet Union. In fact, Ivan’s army nearly collapsed within weeks of the Nazi’s 22 June 1941 invasion.

Even more unfortunate was the fate of the Jews left behind during Ivan’s scorched-earth retreat. As Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen (Order Police) filled in behind the advancing Ostheer they began the systematic murder of Jews. Approximately 63,000 were murdered by mid-August, but that was small change compared with the next four months, when “500,000 Jews would be shot in the Soviet Union.” With the help of Ukrainian militia, more than 33,000 Jews were shot at Babi Yar in just two days in September. (David Stahel, The Battle for Moscow, Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 38-39) As Oleg Zarubinsky has shown, there was widespread collaboration between the Ukrainians and Nazis from 1941 through 1944.

The Battle of Smolensk (10 July – 10 September) caused a staggering number of casualties. General G.K. Zhukov thought the Germans had been “severely mauled.” But the Soviet Western Front suffered 309,959 irrecoverable losses out of 579,400 forces committed. Yet, for the first time, “Soviet troops had penetrated prepared German defenses and recaptured substantial chunks of territory” (Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War, Knopf, 2007, p. 259 and pp. 247-248). It was a critical battle, insofar as it forced the Germans to redirect their attention away from Moscow and toward Leningrad and Ukraine. (Ibid)

In September, German forces largely succeeded in encircling Leningrad, today’s beautiful St. Petersburg (and my favorite city in the world). The siege would last for nearly 900 days. “German senior officers reckoned that in the first war winter – 1941-42 – ‘the city of Leningrad came close to extinction, one million civilians being starved or frozen to death. Even the Russian soldiers were inadequately fed and equipped and by the end of the winter half of them were dead’” (Bellamy, p. 381). Yet, even under the constant threat of German artillery bombardment, on 9 August 1942 the resilient Leningrad Philharmonic opened for a performance of Dmitry Shostakovich’s new Seventh Leningrad Symphony. Soldiers and sailors showed up in uniform, but, “everyone else was in their best suit or silk dress” (Ibid, p. 389). The performance was broadcast to inspired audiences across the Soviet Union and relayed by short-wave radio across Europe and the United States.

Ivan suffered terribly during the Battle of Kiev (7 July to 26 September 1941). More than 616,000 Soviet soldiers were killed or reported missing as the result of being trapped in an encirclement achieved by the Second and First Panzer Groups (Glantz & House, p. 293). On 7 October, at Viaz’ma, the Third and Fourth Panzer Groups encircled the Sixteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-Fourth and part of the Thirty-Second Armies. (Bellamy, p. 273)

By October of 1941, Red Army defeats and retreats caused more than ninety million people to suffer Nazi occupation behind German lines. During that month “German radio and newspapers proclaimed the successful outcome of the war in the East, gloating that ‘the enemy is broken and will never rise again’” (Bellamy, p. 276) Caught up in the premature, but widespread, self-congratulations, on 9 October 1941, Hitler told Reich Press Chief Dr. Otto Dietrich that “the Soviet Union was stricken and would never rise again.” (David Stahel, The Battle for Moscow, Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 21)

Less understood by the German enthusiasts then – or anybody else around the world, then or today — was the enormous toll that the Red Army was taking on the German war machine. For example, virtually nobody knew that, on 18 November 1941, the head of the Main Committee for tank production, Walter Rowland, visited Nazi Germany’s foremost Panzer Group leader, Heinz Guderian, to discuss German tank requirements at the front. Not only did Guderian extol the superiority of the Soviet T-34 tank and the heavy, virtually impenetrable, KV-1 tank, he also told Rowland that the numbers of Soviet tanks were increasing as the war continued. (Eventually, Lend-Lease tanks would make matters even worse for Germany.)

Rowland’s tour of the front shocked him. Upon returning home, he reported: “Our troops are too lightly dressed, in some cases wrapped in blankets. An assorted picture of frozen-up cars abandoned by the side of the road, with panje carts drawn by Russian ponies doing their best to provide inadequate supplies. The tanks could not be employed: if the motors and gearboxes still worked, the weapons failed due to freezing up.” (Stahel, p. 162) The Red Army had experienced similar freezing during its “Winter War” with Finland in 1939-40, but immediately commenced research to create better cold-resistant lubricants. Thus, in late 1941, it enjoyed distinct mobility and fire-power advantages over the Ostheer during sub-freezing weather.

In late November 1941 — approximately the same time that Colonel-General Fritz Fromm informed Franz Halder, the Chief of the Army General Staff, that the output of German arms production was declining — Rowland became convinced that Germany lacked the industrial and resource base to compete with the Soviet Union, let alone Great Britain and the United States. Thus, he went to Fritz Todt, the minister for armaments and munitions, and told him, “The war against Russia cannot be won!” When both Rowland and Todt confronted Hitler with the news, the Fuehrer asked: “How then should I end the war.” (Ibid, p. 163)

In his masterful new study, titled The Battle for Moscow, David Stahel suggests that, with the failure of his blitzkrieg strategy — due to indomitable Ivan and the vast expanses of the Soviet Union — Hitler may have switched to a “Friderician strategy,” which was based on the assumption that the alliance between the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union would collapse. Obviously, he was in denial, but how else could he face up to the implications of a long war of attrition against a Red Army that “was growing in size, strength, and skill from month to month” (Stahel, p. 111) as well as the vastly superior economies of Great Britain and the United States?

Professor Stahel vividly and persuasively demonstrates that the Ostheer reached its “culminating point” in November 1941, before overextending itself in early December 1941 — just 41 kilometers outside Moscow. The offensive capacity of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock’s Army Group Center was completely exhausted by the pace of its advance, staggering losses in weapons and personnel, Red Army counterthrusts, overextended supply lines, too few supply trains and trucks, virtually no winter uniforms, too little fuel, shelter and food, the psychological and physical immobilization caused by the muck of the rasputitsa and the freezing cold that prevented rifles, guns, engines, locomotives and turrets from operating.

Worse, for Bock, on 7 December 1941 the Red Army unleashed a ferocious counteroffensive that doomed Operation Typhoon — the German plan to capture Moscow before the end of 1941. The counteroffensive was led by Lieutenant-General Konstantin Rokossovsky’s Sixteenth Army and, in three phases (beginning respectively on 6 December, 16 December and 16 January) Soviet forces succeeded in forcing the overextended and exhausted German forces to retreat some 150 to 300 kilometers from its most eastern advance.

Although military historian Chris Bellamy believes the Bitva pod Moskvoy (Battle before Moscow) “probably saved the country” and “smashed the Wehrmacht’s reputation for invincibility” (p. 350), Hitler feared far worse. He subsequently credited his order forbidding retreat with preventing the collapse of the Eastern Front. (See Hellbeck, p. 10)

Nevertheless, Ivan would suffer another serious setback at the Battle of Khar’kov in May 1942. “The Red Army had lost parts of four armies: 22 rifle divisions, 7 cavalry divisions and 15 tank brigades, 540 aircraft, 1,200 tanks and 2,000 guns. An estimated 240,000 were taken prisoner, and more than a quarter of a million lost altogether,” (Bellamy, p. 453).

The disaster at Khar’kov occurred just before the Ostheer began Operation Blau (Blue). In the last of its various iterations Operation Blau resulted in the order that tasked Army Group B, spearheaded by General Friedrich Paulus’s Sixth Army, to attack the strategically insignificant city of Stalingrad. Hitler was caught up in the symbolism of destroying the city named after Stalin.

Few battles in the history of warfare have been more ferociously fought than the Battle of Stalingrad. Weak attacks in late July and early August by Army Group B were followed by the Luftwaffe’s first major bombardment of the city on 23 August. By 10 September some 300,000 civilians had been evacuated.” (Bellamy, p. 515) By the middle of September Fritz and Ivan were battling one another house-to-house, if not room-to-room. The Germans called it the “rat war,” because avenging Ivan came at them from everywhere, seemingly out of the woodwork. 91 percent of the city was destroyed, but the Red Army had Army Group B where it wanted – in unfavorable urban terrain.

The battle turned into a disaster for the Germans when, in the middle of November, Soviet forces began Operation Uranus and pulled off “one of the greatest encirclements in history” (Ibid, p. 535), trapping “22 German divisions totaling 330,000 men, including the Sixth Army, Rumanian remnants, and one corps of the Fourth Panzer Army.” (Glantz & House, p. 134).

Germany was in a state of shock. After the encirclement, German newspapers ceased their reporting on the battle until January 1943. Nevertheless, “The German security police reported that people spoke of the last bullet, which they would save for themselves once ‘everything was over.’” In March 1943, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler visited the Treblinka death camp in eastern Poland and urgently instructed the camp authorities to exhume all the bodies of the 700,000 Jews who had been killed there and cremate the corpses” (Hellbeck, p. 2).

Hitler attempted to recover from the debacle at Stalingrad by directing a massive summer campaign against the salient surrounding Kursk. Commencing on 5 July 1943, it proved to be disastrous for the Ostheer, which lost some 70,000 men and 3000 tanks. According to Norman Davies, the author of No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939 – 1945 (Viking, 2006), “The significance of Kursk cannot be overrated. This was the decisive battle. The Wehrmacht’s prime strike force was destroyed so completely that a major offensive could never be launched again,” (pp. 111-112).

Note that this “decisive” battle took place nearly a year before the commencement of Operation Overlord and so-called “decisive” battle on D-Day. But, then, nothing great happens – at least, in the minds of most Americans (and British), unless they had a hand in it. They would be disabused of this error, however, were they to listen to the words of America’s foremost expert on the Eastern Front, David M. Glantz: “Left to their own devices, Stalin and his commanders might have taken 12 to 18 months longer to finish off the Wehrmacht: the ultimate result would probably have been the same, except that Soviet soldiers could have waded at France’s Atlantic beaches” (Glantz & House, p. 285).

Astoundingly, seventy years later the world knows shamefully little about Ivan’s heroics or sacrifices — and even less about Ivan and his fellow Ivans as genuine human beings. Worse, much of what they know is wrong.

In January 2006, Metropolitan Books published Catherine Merridale’s unprecedented research into the lives of Red Army soldiers, titled Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945. [Note: A small amount of what follows below could be found in my review of Professor Merridale’s book, which was titled, “Myths and Realities of the Great Patriotic War.” It was published in Russia’s St. Petersburg Times on 12 May 2006. Unfortunately, the paper ceased operating in December 2014 and its website containing my article has disappeared.]

According to Professor Merridale the widespread ignorance about Ivan is the consequence of distortions, pervasive anti-Russian stereotypes in the West, and self-serving heroic myths propagated, first in Soviet Union, then in Russia.

Merridale notes that, in 1950, the U.S. Army borrowed racist descriptions provided by Nazi officers to create a pamphlet that described “the peculiarities of the Russian soldier.” Ivan was described as “semi-Asiatic,” “primitive and unassuming,” and “innately brave but morosely passive when in a group.” Ivan acts on “instinct,” and “is subject to moods which to a westerner are incomprehensible.”

But, if Western racism rendered Ivan less than human, the Soviet Union’s “hero myth” transformed Ivan into a sanitized hero almost totally devoid of the many human failings that have afflicted soldiers at war since the beginning of time. As Merridale interprets the myth, Ivan “is simple, healthy, strong and kind, far-sighted, selfless, and unafraid of death. He almost never dwells on the dark side of war. Indeed, his gaze is turned toward the future, a bright utopia for which he is prepared to sacrifice his life.”

Utilizing declassified secret police reports, the Red Army’s internal notes about its soldiers’ wartime morale, bundles of soldiers’ letters, diaries, her travels to battle sites and nearly two hundred interviews with surviving veterans (most of whom probably are no longer alive in 2015), Merridale uncovered significant new evidence that undermined the hero myth.

That’s not to say, of course, that Ivan performed no heroic deeds. For example, Merridale salutes the courage of the steadfast Ivans, who defended Stalingrad for months during late 1942.

She especially notes the fate of a marine called Pankaiko.

“As the doomed man prepared to lob a gasoline-filled bottle at a line of German tanks, a bullet ignited the fuel, turning him into a pillar of flame. But the marine was still alive, and somehow, with some last reserve of rage or maybe some grim reflex, he managed to reach for a second missile [and] run right up to the German tank, and smash the bottle against the grille of the engine hatch. A second later an enormous sheet of flame and smoke engulfed both the tank and the hero who had destroyed it.”

Such heroism in action also was reflected in heroism of determination. In November 1941, in a village outside of Moscow, the partisan heroine, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, was captured after attempting to set fire to a German-occupied house. Immediately before her hanging, she reportedly told her audience: “You can’t hang all 190 million of us.” (Stahel, p. 203) We’ve heard about such indomitable Russian determination before, such as when Clausewitz warned: “It is impossible to hold or conquer Russia.”

It’s hardly news that Ivan loved to drink samogon (moonshine), which also served as currency. He smoked cheap tobacco (makhorka) and cursed with imagination, “piling the profanities in stacks.” He sang while he marched, as well as at festivals and parades. He composed the short folk poems (chastushki) that peasants had been composing for generations. But, because the poems were often satiric, erotic or subversive, they were not mentioned in any of the official hero myths constructed by Soviet propagandists. The hero myths also failed to mention the battle stress and trauma that so many Ivans were shamed into repressing.

But Professor Merridale does her greatest damage to the hero myth when she substantiates her assertion that “whole areas of wartime life, including desertion, crime, cowardice, and rape, were banned from public scrutiny.” Without a doubt, the widespread use of “blocking detachments” substantiates Merridale’s allegation about desertion.

Moreover, it is impossible to dispute Merridale’s assertion that “tens of thousands of German women and girls undoubtedly suffered rape at the hands of Soviet troops; the figure may well have reached hundreds of thousands.” Yet, one needs to remember that, in their war of annihilation, the rape of Soviet women by German soldiers was not considered a crime by German authorities and that up to 10,000,000 Soviet women were raped by German soldiers. According to Wendy Jo Gertjejanssen, the author of a doctoral dissertation titled, Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front During World War II , “Both the Russians and the Germans have yet to accept responsibility for mass rape, and the Germans for their extensive system of sexual slavery.”

Recently, Professor Merridale’s study of Ivan has been challenged by Jochen Hellbeck in his new book, Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich. Professor Hellbeck attempts to demonstrate that, contrary to Merridale’s assertions, the idea of heroism was not just in the mind of sanitizing Soviet propagandists, but was quite alive and prevalent in the belief system of many Ivans. He credits the “Communist party’s enormous effort to condition the troops” (p.19) for such heroism.

Based upon the transcripts of “215 eyewitness accounts: from generals, staff officers, troop commanders, simple foot soldiers, commissars, agitators, sailors of the Volga Military Flotilla, nurses, and a number of civilians – engineers, laborers, and a cook among them – who worked in the bombed-out city or were just struggling to survive there” (p. 4), Professor Hellbeck concludes: When the delegation of historians, led by Professor Isaak Mints from Moscow State University, arrived in Stalingrad in late December 1942 to document the views of the heroic defenders of Stalingrad “they encountered soldiers who had fully incorporated Soviet notions of heroism and cowardice and were conversant about the battle’s political and historical significance.” (p. 68)

That would suggest that Ivan’s need for revenge had been effectively redirected to meet the historic challenge at hand.

Given the extraordinary role played by the Soviet Union’s “greatest generation,” let us, on this Victory Day, take to heart the famous words written by poet Olga Berggolts:

“Let No One Forget, Let Nothing Be Forgotten”

Friday, May 08, 2015

Getting to the Heart of the Middle East Conundrum

The Mideast’s S-U-N-N-I Problem

by Sharmine Narwani - RT

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” – Confucius 

This needs to be spelled out: The biggest threat to Middle East stability today is a Sunni one - and it comes not from its largely downtrodden population, but from the epicenter of current Sunni political and religious leadership.

The Shiites have their leadership. So too do Arab Christians, the Druze, Kurds and countless other sects, ethnic groups and tribes in the broader Middle East.

But who looks after the Sunni masses? What major Sunni leader speaks representatively on behalf of these tens of millions of constituents? Who ensures Sunni access to social mobility gives them a voice at the table and champions their key economic and political grievances?

We don’t typically think of majorities this way, but the Sunni Arab may be the single-most disenfranchised segment of the population in the Mideast today - lacking even one major national or regional leader who voices their aspirations.

Lebanese Sidon-based Sunni Sheikh Maher Hammoud is dismayed that issues like the liberation of Palestine, Islamic unity, anti-imperialism, resistance and other populist themes are being viewed as ‘Shia interests’ today – instead of the pan-Arab and pan-Muslim ideals they have traditionally represented.

“These slogans,” he says, “have not sprouted from the Shia Figh (Islamic jurisprudence), but rather from general Islamic Fiqh… But in the last 50 years, there are only two people who deserve the title of ‘Sunni leader’ with a real following: (Egypt’s Arab nationalist President) Gamal Abdel Nasser and (Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman) Yasser Arafat. Everyone felt that these men represented them.”

“At this point now,” Sheikh Hammoud stresses, “there is nobody to carry the hopes of the Sunni… If one were able to combine the political positions of Iran with the Sunni body, this will form a true launching point for the Muslims.”

Hammoud blames foreign – particularly Israeli and American – interests for creating “artificial” divisions in the Arab/Muslim world to prevent these independent themes from developing into a populist force. And the Saudis, he says, have been their handmaidens in the region:

“Unfortunately, the existence of Saudi Arabia, and its connection with the United States specifically, has prevented any development in this direction,” says the outspoken Sunni cleric, known for his rejection of divisive Shia vs. Sunni, Iranian vs. Arab narratives.

It is a common enough refrain – Hammoud claims a third of Lebanon’s Sunni population share these sentiments – but their voices are muffled by the sectarian and ethnocentric discourse dominating the mainstream, much of it fuelled by Saudi propaganda.


False Gods: Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism

In 2009, Dr. Abdul Latif Arabiyat, a moderate Sunni and founding member of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front - the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood - told me: “In the first year after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, about 80 books were published on the Shia,” most of them, he says, spinning negative narratives about Iran/Shia; many underwritten by the Saudis.

“I promise you,” Arabiyat continued, “in the many decades before this revolution, there were maybe three or four books on the Shia.”

The Iranians, of course, set about their revolution resuscitating all the populist themes that used to be the mainstay of Arab nationalism: resistance to imperialism, Palestine, rejection of Israel, self-determination – and even Muslim unity, which was seen by the Saudi monarchy as a direct challenge to its perception of itself as keepers of the Islamic faith.

But the Saudis are mainly Wahhabists, a fundamentalist, minority sect of Islam that, at its core, deems other Muslims who do not subscribe to its tenets – including the Shia and other Sunni - as infidels. In their earliest incarnation, says Alastair Crooke, a 20-year veteran of the study of Islamist movements, “their (Wahhabi) strategy - like that of ISIS today - was to bring the peoples whom they conquered into submission. They aimed to instill fear.” And they massacred, pillaged and plundered their way across the Arabian Peninsula in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Wahhabism, which Orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis calls a “lunatic fringe,” was ‘tidied up’ by the first Saudi King Abd al-Aziz to appeal to the British colonial arbiters of the day. Explains Crooke: It “was forcefully changed from a movement of revolutionary jihad and theological takfiri purification, to a movement of conservative social, political, theological, and religious da'wa (Islamic call) and to justifying the institution that upholds loyalty to the royal Saudi family and the King's absolute power.”

The Saudi monarchy and Wahhabi clergy struck a deal of sorts – each would uphold the position of the other, and together they would thrive. This union, and what came after, was almost entirely predicated on 'legitimacy' bestowed by the British colonial enterprise – and so a third leg makes up this unholy trinity: the unfailing support of Western power.

The Saudi ‘project’ therefore has never been an ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ one. Its very existence depends so completely on a foreign, imperialist benefactor, and all the trappings of that external worldview.

This troika of interests – Wahhabi, Saudi and Western - has always sought a hegemony that cannot possibly flourish in an environment of local populism and self-determination.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution was another in a string of threats that organically undermined Saudi/Wahhabi/Western interests – as did Arab nationalism, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian resistance, communism and other unifying causes.

From 1979 onward, with an abundance of oil wealth, a convenient Iranian/Shia adversary and the slow encirclement of the Soviet Union, the Saudis took on the task of becoming the Mideast hegemon, Sunni leader and key Western proxy.


Funding Extremism

For decades, Saudi Arabia has liberally plowed its petrodollars into funding projects that support its regional standing. From the early days of building a quite useless, but dazzling, modern infrastructure – to the active establishment of itself as the pre-eminent voice of Sunni Islam (at times, usurping and co-opting the traditional Egyptian center al-Azhar) – the Saudis have ferociously worked to spread their ‘gospel’ and maintain the primacy of their allies.

Nowhere did this turn become as dangerous as in the funding of ‘deviance’ from the traditional Sunni/Sufist path of the majority of Muslims.

The funding and arming of the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s to stave off Soviet influence in the region was a Saudi-CIA plan, hatched to great efficacy when Moscow retreated from Afghanistan.

But the plan left disastrous consequences. The Afghan militants were now well-trained and equipped with the kind of destabilizing know-how that has spread into neighboring states and beyond. It is well known that 15 of the 19 alleged perpetrators of 9/11 were Saudi citizens, as well as its alleged mastermind, Osama bin Laden. But less understood is how much the Saudi money-machine continues to fund Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups to this day.

Two years after the September 11 attacks, the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee held an extraordinary hearing on terrorism and its connection to Wahhabism, where Saudi Arabia was called the “epicenter” of terror funding for “principally Al-Qaeda but many other recipients as well.”

According to the testimony of national security expert Alex Alexiev, the Saudis, by their own count, had contributed $70 billion over 25 years to the funding of “what they call Islamist activities.” He continued:

“You are talking about an absolutely astounding amount of money being spent for the specific purpose of promoting, preaching Wahhabi hatred… They have used this amount of money to take over mosques around the world, to establish Wahhabi control of Islamic institutions, subsidize extremist madrassas in South Asia and elsewhere, control Islamic publishing houses. They currently control probably four-fifths of all Islamic publishing houses. And spend money, a lot of it, on aggressive proselytizing, apart from direct support of terrorism.”

Break down these “Islamist” activities to a country like Pakistan, and you have 10,000 Saudi-funded extremist madrassas (schools), one million children being indoctrinated into Wahhabi ideology, 15 percent of whom are foreign youth, 16,000 of whom are Arabs now “perfectly prepared for a career in jihad and extremist activities,” according to Alexiev.

Importantly, he added, the network of 250 Saudi ‘charities’ that funnels money globally, are entirely “government-controlled, government-sponsored, government-funded organizations.” We know this because of a 1993 Saudi law that prohibits “any collection of donations, zakat donations except under state supervision.”

In the years since that unprecedented hearing, we have been told ad nauseam that Washington has taken steps to crack down on its stalwart Saudi ally and that the late King Abdullah was instrumental in reforming the system to prevent the flow of funds to extremists. But evidence continues to suggest that the only hard reforms on this issue were taken internally to thwart terror activities against the Saudi state itself.

Four years after the Senate hearing, Under Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey – the lead US official on tracking terror financing - told ABC News that the Saudis had not prosecuted a single person identified as a terror financier by the US and the UN:

“If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country,” said Levey, “it would be Saudi Arabia.”
In 2009, a secret WikiLeaks cable signed off by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reads, in part:

"Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide…Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT (Laskhar-e Taiba), and other terrorist groups…It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

Fast-forward to today, and clearly nothing has changed - except the Saudis are now backing terror groups like ISIS. Retired US Senator Bob Graham, a co-chair of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, connected those dots in an interview last year with Canada’s CBC Radio:

“The connection is a direct one. Not only has Saudi Arabia been promoting this extreme form of religion, but it also has been the principal financier, first of Al-Qaeda then of the various Al-Qaeda franchises around the world specifically the ones in Somalia and Yemen and now the support of ISIS.”

A few months later, US Vice President Joe Biden painted an updated picture of Saudi complicity in terror:

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks…the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war…they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”


American complicity

Biden and others, however, fail to mention the United States’ complicity in the Saudi terror-backing project.

Writing about the WikiLeaks missive that revealed Saudi Arabia’s ongoing role in terror financing, the Guardian questioned American meekness in confronting this problem: “Any criticisms are generally offered in private. The cables show that when it comes to powerful oil-rich allies US diplomats save their concerns for closed-door talks.”

In all the current military theaters in the Middle East where extremist Sunni militants are waging wars against Arab populations, the United States is engaged militarily on the same side as the Saudis – to fight the very militancies created by the Saudis.

To compound the craziness, the United States continues to sell eye-popping amounts of heavy weapons to the Saudi government. In the first year of the Arab uprisings, the US Congress approved $67 billion of arms sales to Riyadh – the largest in history - while the British and French keep vying with each other to sell billions more.

Washington has been utterly complicit in backing Saudi Arabia’s ascendance, furnishing it with unprecedented protection and the most sophisticated weapons arsenal money can buy. The US has even trained many of the Wahhabis on the frontlines of global terror – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere. How is the US any less of a terrorist-supporter than the Saudis?

Maybe Washington’s problem is not really with ‘terrorism,’ provided it takes place far from US borders, thousands of miles away. Maybe Washington’s main interest is to enable its Saudi proxy to keep a lid on Arab populations, via destabilization if necessary, so that popular Arab sentiments remain unrealized.

Because, under any circumstances other than the Arab realization of self-determination, the Saudi-Wahhabi-western alliance can chug on, unimpeded.


Hijacking the Sunni masses

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the counter-revolutionary forces that actively sought to derail popular Arab uprisings and re-direct them against Saudi-US regional foes, are struggling.

The uprisings were unseating mostly US and Saudi backed autocrats, who spent decades burying popular Arab issues - resuscitating 'honor and dignity' slogans about Palestine, representative governance, Muslim unity.

Briefly, the Arab world regained hope as it watched the much-bullied Muslim Brotherhood (MB) rise to leadership positions in several states. That optimism turned quickly to despair as the MB instead supported external attacks on Syria, fanned the flames of sectarianism and kept a chilling silence over Israel's 2012 military devastation of the Gaza Strip.

Sunni masses in Egypt and Tunisia rejected this new Sunni leadership - and the popularity of Turkish MB President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plummeted alongside.

The Saudis helped to oust the MB, and have essentially bought or bullied their way back into the top-dog position in the Arab world today. But in doing so - and by leading the counter-revolution - they solicited the help of the extremists that have set the region aflame.

Arabs realize this. The Saudi project is faltering as it turns Yemen to dust, escalates in Syria and Iraq, tries to prop up Bahrain and confronts Muslim Iran. And Saudi popularity is taking unprecedented hits among the Arab Sunni masses.

A 2013 Pew poll revealed that "Saudi Arabia’s standing has slipped substantially among key Middle Eastern publics," dropping (since 2007) by 13 percent in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, 14 percent in Turkey, and a whopping 31 percent in Lebanon. Since Riyadh's unpopular bombing of Yemen began in late March, majority-Sunni Pakistanis have loudly rejected participating as paid foot soldiers in another of the Kingdom's wars. And Egyptians, who have benefitted to the tune of billions of dollars in Saudi largesse, have turned on their benefactors too in countless editorials and personal swipes at Saudi royals. And a majority of suicide bombers in Iraq today are Saudi nationals - further decimating support from that war-torn neighbor.

Riyadh's sectarian projects are also faltering. After brokering an unholy union between Iraq's secular Baathists and ISIS, last week 80 Sunni tribal leaders reached out to Shia militias to help them retake the Anbar Province from the Takfiri militants. In Syria, it is a Saudi/Turkish/US/Qatari-led alliance that has brought together Al-Qaeda and co-extremists to wrest control in the north from the Syrian army, most of whose rank and file are Sunni.

The destabilization has seeped throughout the region, making the life of the disenfranchised Sunni majority - most of whom are under the age of 30 and poor - worse than ever before.

Would there be ISIS-Al-Qaeda-Al-Nusra-Taliban-Ansar-Al-Sharia-Al-Shabab-Boko-Haram if Saudi Arabia and its extremist Wahhabi ideology did not exist? Certainly not. Would there be a Saudi Arabia this empowered if it were not coddled, protected and weaponized by the United States? Certainly not.

There is a Sunni problem in the Middle East today. And it is going to get bigger, exponentially - unless, in common Saudi-parlance, you “cut off the head of the snake.” The Sunni may not have much in terms of leadership, but this Wahhabi beheading may be the only thing that allows them the freedom to mobilize behind genuine aspirations. 

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani 

Amnesty International "Whitewash" 2014 Gaza Massacre

Amnesty International: Whitewashing Another Massacre

by Paul de Rooij - CounterPunch 

Amnesty International has issued four reports on the Massacre in Gaza in 2014 [1]. Given the scale of the destruction and the number of fatalities, any attempt to document the crimes committed should be welcomed.

But these reports are problematic, and raise questions about this organization [2], including why they were written at all.

It also raises questions about the broader human rights industry that are worth considering.

Basic Background

July 2014 marked the onset of the Israeli massacre in Gaza (I will dispense with the Israeli sugar-coated operation names). The Israeli army trained for this attack for several months before finding a pretext to attack Gaza, shattering an existing ceasefire; this was the third such post-“disengagement” (2004) attack, and possibly the worst so far. At least 2,215 were killed and 10,000+ wounded, most of them civilians. The scale of destruction was staggering: tens of thousands of houses rendered uninhabitable; several high-rise buildings struck by huge American-supplied bombs; schools and hospitals targeted; 61 mosques totally destroyed; water purification and sewage treatment plants damaged; Gaza’s main flour mill bombed; all chicken farms ravaged; an incalculable devastation [3].

Israeli control over Gaza has been in place for decades; with violence escalating over time, and the people of Gaza have been under siege for the last eight years. Israelis have placed Gaza “on a diet” [4], permitting only a trickle of strictly controlled goods to enter Gaza, enough to keep the population above starvation. Gaza is surrounded on all sides, blocked off from the outside world: military bulldozers raze border areas, snipers injure farmers, and warships menace or destroy fishing boats with gunfire. Periodically Israelis engage in what they term “mowing the lawn” massacres and large scale destruction. It is this history that must serve as the foundation of any report that attempts to describe both the intent of the participating parties and the relative consequences.


Context-Challenged – by Design

The ongoing crimes perpetrated against Gaza are chronic, and indeed, systematic. Arnon Soffer, one of Israel’s Dr. Strangeloves and “intellectual father of the wall”, had this to say about Gaza:

Q (Ruthie Blum): Will Israel be prepared to fight this war?

Arnon Soffer: [...] Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won’t allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what’s waiting for them. Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day. [5]

To determine the reasons behind Israeli actions, one only has to read what their Dr. Strangeloves say – it is no secret. The aim is to create miserable conditions to drive the Palestinians off their land, warehouse the population in an open air prison called Gaza, and to disproportionately repress any Palestinian resistance. Israelis have to “kill and kill and kill, all day”. Such pathological reasoning put Israeli actions into perspective; they are major crimes, possibly genocidal. Recognition of such crimes has some consequences.

First, the nature of the crimes requires recognizing them as crimes against humanity, arguably one of the most serious crimes under international law. Second, Israeli crimes put the violence of the Palestinian resistance into perspective. Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. Third, the long history of violence perpetrated against the Palestinians, and the resulting power imbalance, suggest that one should be in solidarity with the victim.

Amnesty however refuses to acknowledge the serious nature of Israeli crimes, by using an intellectually bankrupt subterfuge; it insists that as a rights-based organization it cannot refer to historical context – doing so would be considered “political” in its warped jargon. An examination of what AI considers “background” in its reports confirms that there is virtually no reference to relevant history, e.g., the prior attacks on Gaza, who initiated those attacks, the Goldstone report, etc. Presto! Now there is no need to mention serious crimes. It also doesn’t recognize the nature of the Palestinian resistance, and their right to self-defense. Nowhere does AI acknowledge that Palestinians are entitled to defend themselves. And finally, AI cannot express solidarity with the victim; hey, “both sides” are victims!

At this point, once Amnesty has chosen to ignore the serious Israeli crimes, it takes on the Mother Teresa role sitting on the fence castigating “both sides” for non-compliance with International Humanitarian Law that determines the rules of war. Thus AI criticizes Israel not for the transgression of attacking Gaza, but for utilizing excessive force or targeting civilian targets. AI’s favorite term to describe to such events is “disproportionate”. The term disproportionate is problematic because it suggests that there is an agreement with the nature of the action, but there is only an issue with the means or scale. While AI bleats that a one ton bomb in a refugee camp is disproportionate, it would seem that using a 100kg bomb would be acceptable. Another AI favored term is “conflict”, a state of affairs where both sides are at fault, both are victims and transgressors.

Notice that while AI avoids recognizing major crimes by using its rights-based framework, it suddenly changes its hat, and takes on a very legalistic approach to criticize the violence perpetrated by the Palestinians. It manages to list the full panoply of international humanitarian law.

The key thing to watch in the upcoming International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of the 2014 Massacre will be whether the Court will follow the Amnesty approach. Any investigation that doesn’t focus on the cause of the violence and who initiated it will result in another fraud, and no pixel of justice.


Criminalizing Palestinian Resistance

Amnesty dispenses with the Palestinian right to defend themselves by stating that the Palestinian rockets are “indiscriminate”, and proceeds to repeatedly call their use a war crime. Palestinian resistance is also told not to hide in heavily populated areas, not execute collaborators, and so on. While Palestinians are told that their resistance amounts to war crimes, the Israelis aren’t told that their attacks are criminal per se – here it is only a matter of scale.

The “Unlawful and deadly rocket and Mortar Attacks…” report repeatedly condemns Palestinian rocket firing with inaccurate weapons, deems these “indiscriminate”, and ipso facto war crimes. Amnesty confuses the term “inaccurate” for “indiscriminate”. Examining the table below suggests that Israel killed proportionately far more civilians, albeit with more accurate weapons. It is possible to target indiscriminately with precision munitions. There is also a possibility, that AI seems to disregard, that the Israeli military targeted civilians intentionally. NB: It is likely that Israel drones targeted children intentionally. A report by Defense for Children International states: “As a matter of policy, Israel deliberately and indiscriminately targeted the very spaces where children are supposed to feel most secure”. [6]

Whose violence is indiscriminate?
Fatalities during the Massacre in Gaza 2014
Fatality type Israeli caused deaths Palestinian caused deaths
Civilian 1,639 74% 7 10%
Military 576 26% 66 90%
Total 2,215 100% 73 100%

Regardless of the accuracy of the weapons, the key issue is one of intent. Amnesty dwells on an explosion at the Shati refugee camp on 28 July. On the basis of one field worker, Israeli-supplied evidence and an unnamed “independent munitions expert” [7], Amnesty concludes that:
Amnesty International has received no substantive response to its inquiries about this incident from the Palestinian authorities. An independent and impartial investigation is needed, and both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities must co-operate fully. The attack appears to have violated international humanitarian law in several ways, as the evidence indicates that it was an indiscriminate attack using a prohibited weapon which may well have been fired from a residential area within the Gaza Strip and may have been intended to strike civilians in Israel. If the projectile is confirmed to be a Palestinian rocket, those who fired it and those who commanded them must be investigated for responsibility for war crimes.

Mother Teresa certainly provides enough comic material; an occasional joke makes it easier to read a dull report. The evidence for the provenance of this missile is taken at face value although it is supplied by Israel, but of course, it requires an “investigation” – it is suggesting that both Israel and the Palestinians should investigate this incident. If the Palestinian resistance was responsible for this explosion, then it was caused by a misfiring; thus there was no intention for consequent deaths. Suggesting that this amounts to a war crime is rather silly. But the title of the section advertising the report on the AI website suggests a motive for harping on this incident; the title reads “Palestinian armed groups killed civilians on both sides in attacks amounting to war crimes”. This conveys a rather warped and negative view of the Palestinian resistance – they kill civilians on both sides – and it suggests that it is not possible to be in solidarity with them.


Tyranny of Reasons

After any Israeli attack, Israeli propagandists regularly offer a rationale about why a given target was struck. The propagandists reported that there were rocket-firing crews at hospitals, schools, mosques, the power plant, etc. Presto! These places can be bombed whether or not these statements are true. What is disconcerting in the two reports on Israeli crimes is that AI imputes reasons for the targeting of buildings or families.

One finds statements such as: 

  • Amnesty International believes this attack was targeting one individual.

  • The apparent target was a member of a military group, targeted at a time when he was at home with his family.

  • The fighters who were the apparent targets could have been targeted at a different time or in a different manner that was less likely to cause excessive harm to civilians and destruction of civilian objects.

  • The apparent target of Israel’s attack was Ahmad Sahmoud, a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing. [...] Surviving family members and neighbours denied this.

Amnesty parrots the rationales provided by the Israeli military – one only needs to look at the footnotes of its reports. And Amnesty discounts the intentional bombing of buildings to create misery among the Gazan middle class to demoralize a key sector of society. Or by destroying the power plant it is creating generalized misery. But don’t worry, Mother T will always check with the Israeli military to determine why something was targeted.


AI is Not an Anti-war Organization

One would expect a human rights organization to be intrinsically opposed to war, but AI is a cheerleader of so-called humanitarian intervention, and even “humanitarian bombing”. [8] Even with this predisposition AI was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize – yet another questionable recipient for a prize meant to be given only to those actively opposed to wars. Today, one wonders if AI is going to jump on the R2P (Right to Protect) neocon bandwagon. A consequence of its “not-anti-war” stance is that it doesn’t criticize wars conducted by the United States, UK, or Israel; it is only the excesses that merit AI’s occasional lame rebuke – often prefaced with the term “disproportionate” or “alleged”. This stance is evident in its latest reports; here the premise is that the Israeli attack on Gaza was legitimate, but it is the conduct of “both sides” that is the object of the reports’ criticism.


Losing the Forest for the Trees

Amnesty International is a small organization without sufficient resources to conduct a proper report on the Massacre in Gaza 2014. And given the fact that it wasn’t given direct access to Gaza, it chose to focus on two aspects of the Israeli attack: the targeting of entire families, and the destruction of landmark buildings. Within these two categories it chose to focus on a handful of cases of each. The main problem is that AI harps on a few cases to the exclusion of the totality; AI loses the forest for the trees. There is no mention of some of the most significant total figures, say, the number of hospitals and schools destroyed, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Gaza [9], the tens of thousands of artillery shells used… and so on. The seriousness of the crime is lost by dwelling on a subset of a subset of the crimes committed. Amnesty isolates a few examples, describes them in some detail, and then suggests that unless there were military reasons for the attacks, then there should be an “investigation”. Oh yes, Amnesty has sent some polite letters to the Israeli authorities requesting some comment, but the Israelis have been rather non-responsive. Quite possibly the likes of Netanyahu, Ya’alon, Ganz, … are too busy rolling on the floor with laughter.

Given AI’s warped framework one would expect symmetry in the way the attacks are described. While AI provides the total number of rockets fired by the Palestinian resistance, AI provides no similar numbers of the tens of thousands of Israeli artillery shells fired, and the tonnage of bombs dropped on Gaza. The Israeli military propagandists were all too happy to provide detailed statistics about the Palestinian rockets, and AI does not seem to express any misgivings about using this data. It is also clear that Mother T didn’t ask the propagandists to supply statistics on the Israeli lethal tonnage dropped on Gaza.

Methodology and Evidence

Every report contains a methodology section admitting to the fact that AI didn’t have direct access to Gaza. All its research was done on the Israeli side, and by two Palestinian fieldworkers in Gaza. The inability to enter Gaza possibly explains the reliance on many Israeli military statements, blogs and the Foreign Ministry about the Palestinian rocket attacks. One can verify all the footnotes to find a significant number of official Israeli statements to provide so-called evidence. It is rather jarring to find Amnesty relying on information provided by the attacking military to implicate Palestinian resistance in war crimes. How appropriate is it to use Hamas’ Violations of the Law issued by Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Declassified Report Exposes Hamas Human Shield Policy issued by the Israeli military?

It is also jarring to find Amnesty referring to Israeli claims that rockets were fired from schools, hospitals, and the electric power plant. This information was provided as a justification for the Israeli destruction of those sites, but in the report AI uses it to wag its finger at the Palestinian resistance. [10]

Amnesty’s access to Israeli victims of Palestinian rockets produced emotional statements by the victims, and complied with Israeli propaganda needs. Israeli PR was keen to take journalists or visiting politicians to the border towns to show the rocket damage, and Amnesty seems to have been pleased to go along. At the same time Israelis barred AI access to Gaza – any information coming out of the area would not be compliant with Israeli PR requirements. Thus why send any researchers to the Israeli border area?


Execution of Collaborators – Who will be Criticized

AI has announced a publication of a forthcoming report on the execution of collaborators, and one can only speculate on its contents. But AI is not opposed to wars, and at the same time it is opposed to the death sentence; it is opposed to some deaths, but silent about others. Couple this stance with an unwillingness to recognize the Palestinian right to defend themselves, and consequently AI will deem the execution of collaborators as abhorrent.

There are many collaborators in the West Bank and they are evident at all levels of society, even in the so-called Palestinian Authority government. The Palestinian Authority has even committed to protect them. Collaboration with Israel in the West Bank is a relatively low risk activity. In Gaza there are also collaborators, and these are used to infiltrate and inform on the armed resistance groups, and also to sow black propaganda. During the Massacre in Gaza, collaborators were instrumental in pinpointing the location of the resistance and its leadership. In most countries, treason/espionage in time of war merits execution, but it is doubtful that AI will accept this, and will instead urge a judicial process with no death sentence.

The key aspect of the forthcoming report will be whether AI deems the Israeli use of collaborators an abhorrent practice. Israel uses collaborators to gather information, but it is also meant to fragment Palestinian society, and to sow distrust. With a society already under massive stress due to economic hardship and military repression, collaborators are a pernicious means to break morale and undermine Palestinian resilience. Will AI criticize Israeli use of collaborators, or will its report merely castigate Hamas for the way it deals with collaborators?


Why Were These Reports Written at All?

All AI reports follow the same boiler plate formula: a brief overview, a methodology section about data sources, some emotional quotations by the victims, a section on accountability, and then some recommendations. These reports are trite, barely readable, and certainly not very useful either for legal purposes or to educate its volunteers. So why were these reports published and who actually reads them? AI would like to be known as one of the leading human rights organizations, and it must be seen as reporting on major violations/crimes. Its volunteers must be given the impression that AI cares for some of the wholesale atrocities, and not merely the retail crime or violation.

The timing of the publication of one report (“Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks…”) is rather curious. The report dealing with the Palestinian rockets was published a few days before the Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court. Is that a mere coincidence? While some Palestinians are gearing up to prosecute Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a leading human rights organization publishes a report which harps on the theme that Palestinians are guilty of war crimes. AI has published reports in the past that were exploited for propaganda purposes, e.g., the throwing-the-babies-out-of-the-incubators propaganda hoax. [11] Those reports were published just in time so that they provided a justification for war.


Impotence by Design

All the reports contain a list of recommendations to Israelis, Palestinians, and other states. One is struck by the impotence of the recommendations. AI urges Israel to cooperate with the UN commission of inquiry; allow human rights organizations access to Gaza; pay reparations to some victims; and ensure that the Israeli military operates within some legal bounds. Given that Israel can do as it pleases, ignoring commissions of inquiry, loudly proclaiming that it will engage in disproportionate attacks (i.e., the Dahiya doctrine), and that it refuses compensate any Gazan due to the previous massacres, all these recommendations ring rather hollow.

Amnesty urges Palestinians to address their grievances via the ICC. It is curious that while international law provides the Palestinians no protection whatsoever, AI is urging Palestinians to jump through international legal hoops. It is also questionable to suggest a legal framework meant for interstate conflict when dealing with a non-state dispossessed native population. And of course, AI fails to mention that Israel has avoided and ignored international law with the complicity and aid of the United States.

Finally, AI requests other governments to assist the commission of inquiry and to assist in prosecution of war criminals. It remains to be seen whether the commission of inquiry will actually publish a report that has some teeth. AI also urges other countries to stop supplying weapons to “both sides”. There is no mention of the fact that the US resupplied Israel with weapons during the Massacre in Gaza in 2014. It is very unlikely that the US/UK will stop arming Israel, and thus AI’s recommendations are ineffective.

Amnesty trumpets that it has 7 million supporters world-wide [12], a few months ago this number was 3 million; two years ago this was 400,000, and few years ago this was 200,000. One should marvel at this explosive growth. If AI can really tap into the support of even a fraction of these volunteers, then AI can urge them to do something that has tangible results, e.g., recommending that its members/supporters boycott Israeli products or products produced by western companies complicit in Israeli crimes. Such action would be far more effective than the silly recommendations that are regularly ignored by Israel and its western backers. Alas, it is difficult to conceive that Amnesty will issue a call for a boycott to its ever expanding army of supporters. It is difficult for Mother T to change her stripes.


The Human Rights Industry

There are thousands of so-called human rights organizations. Anyone can set up a human rights organization, and thereby specify a narrow focus for the NGO, determine the parameters within which the NGO will operate – even define who is human – and now the new NGO can chime in with press releases, host wine and cheese receptions, bestow prizes, lobby politicians, launch investigations, and castigate the enemy du jour. Hey, Bono, Geldof and Angelina will hop along and sit on the NGO’s board! The human rights framework is so elastic, and it can be molded to fit legitimate purposes, but also to be manipulated for propaganda. The history of some of the largest human rights organizations show that they were originally created with the propaganda element foremost in mind.[13] This suggests NGO output (reports, etc.) merit scrutiny not so much for what they say, but for what they omit. In the Palestinian context, a simple test on the merits of a so-called human rights organization is whether they challenge state power, call for accountability and prosecution of war criminals, and urge members to do something more than write out cheques or write a very formal and polite letters to governments engaged in criminal deeds.

Another test on the merits of a human rights NGO is whether it is in solidarity with the victims of violence, and whether victims are treated differently depending on support/demonization by “the west”. In Amnesty’s case, consider that on the one hand it provides long lists of “prisoners of conscience” (POC) pertaining prisoners held in Cuba, Syria, etc., but on the other hand it explicitly doesn’t make the list of Palestinian POC available.[14] We have no means of knowing how many Palestinian POC Amnesty cares about, and whether its volunteers engage in letter writing campaigns on their behalf. One thing is certain, while the majority of Cuban political prisoners are considered POC, only a tiny fraction of the Palestinian political prisoners have been bestowed the POC status. And of course, Mother Teresa doesn’t give a hoot about political prisoners who might have been involved in violence – Palestinians are one stone throw away from being ignored by Amnesty International. Some victims are more meritorious than others.

In trying to justify AI’s double standard, Malcolm Smart, AI’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, stated: 

“By its nature, the Israeli administrative detention system is a secretive process, in that the grounds for detention are not specified in detail to the detainee or his/her legal representative; inevitably, this makes it especially difficult for the detainee to challenge the order for, by example, contesting the grounds on which the detention was made. In the same way, it makes it difficult or impossible for Amnesty International to make a conclusive determination in many cases whether a particular administrative detainees can be considered a prisoner of conscience or not.” [15]

AI provides yet more comic material. AI admits that Israeli military courts can determine who can be considered a Palestinian POC! The only thing the Israeli military courts need to do is maintain the court proceedings secret or not reveal “evidence”. Alternatively, they can simply imprison the victims without trial or declare that they are members of a “banned” organization. [16] Presto! Israelis now won’t have to reply to those pesky polite letters written by AI volunteers. Once again, double standards in the treatment of victims raise questions about the nature of any human rights NGO.


Human Rights is Denatured Justice

Pushing for the observance of human rights doesn’t necessarily imply that one will obtain justice. The human rights agenda merely softens the edges of the status quo. As Amnesty’s position on the Israeli attacks on Gaza illustrate, pushing human rights can actually be incompatible with obtaining justice. Human rights are a bastardized, neutered, and debased form of justice. The application and effectiveness of international law is bad enough, but a pick and choose legal framework with no enforcement is even worse. If one seeks justice, then it is best to avoid the human rights discourse; above all, it is best to avoid human rights organizations.

Palestinians should be wary of Mother Teresas peddling human rights snake oil. In exchange for giving up their resistance and complying with AI’s norms, it is not likely that Palestinians will obtain a pixel of justice. One should be wary of human rights groups that don’t push for justice, play the role of Israel’s lawyer, and are bereft of solidarity with the victims. When the likes of AI come wagging their finger, it is best to keep the old blunderbuss near at hand. 

PAUL de ROOIJ is a writer living in London. He can be reached at (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted.)

Further Reading
Nabeel Abraham, et al.; International Human Rights Organizations and the Palestine Question, Middle East Report (MERIP), Vol. 18, No. 1, January-February 1988, pp. 12 – 20.
Dennis Bernstein and Francis Boyle, Amnesty on Jenin: an interview, CAQ, Summer 2002, pp. 9 – 12, 27.
Paul de Rooij, AI: Say It Isn’t So, CounterPunch, 31 Oct. 2002
Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: The Case of a Rape Foretold, CounterPunch, 26 November 2003.
Paul de Rooij, Double Standards and Curious Silences / Amnesty International: A False Beacon, CounterPunch, 13 October 2004.
PIWP database: list of articles on the politics of human rights.

•Families Under the Rubble: Israeli Attacks on Inhabited Homes (MDE 15/032/2014), 5 November 2014.
•”Nothing is immune”: Israel’s destruction of landmark buildings in Gaza (MDE 15/029/2014), 9 December 2014.
•Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict (MDE 21/1178/2015), 26 March 2015.
•The fourth report about the execution of collaborators has not been published yet.

I distinguish between Amnesty International, the international organization, and its well intentioned letter-writing volunteers.

Possibly the best overview of the Gaza Massacre 2014 is Al Haq’s Divide and Conquer;
Statement made in 2006 by Dov Weisglas, one of Israel’s Dr. Strangeloves and close confidant of Ariel Sharon.

Ruthie Blum interviews Arnon Soffer, ONE on ONE: It’s the demography, stupid, Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2004.

Ali Abunimah, Israel “directly targeted” children in drone strikes on Gaza, says rights group, Electronic Intifada, 17 April 2015

Amnesty loves to trot out military experts and dwell on the type of weapons used. First, there is an issue about the military experts, and who they are. What is the ethics of showing up in Gaza with a military person who might still be in the armed forces of, say, the UK. One can hardly expect them to be “independent”. And why dwell on the type of munitions if their use is already criminal to begin with? Focusing on the type of weapon deflects attention from the damage and the victims – that should be the emphasis.

Alexander Cockburn, “How the US State Dept. Recruited Human Rights Groups to Cheer On the Bombing Raids: Those Incubator Babies, Once More?”, CounterPunch newsletter, April 1-15, 1999

While AI reports the total number of Palestinian rockets fired, there is no equivalent number to the totals used by the Israeli military. That number would be of interest because it would indicate the scale of the crimes committed. Tens of thousands of artillery shells were used requiring restocking by the United States in the middle of the attack.

The UN report on the Israeli attacks against schools lists several incidents where the Israelis falsely accused the Palestinians of firing on these schools. Such evidence should reduce the credibility of Israeli statements. See, e.g., Ali Abunimah, UN finds Israel killed dozens at Gaza schools but ducks call for accountability, Electronic Intifada, 28 April 2015.

In the lead up to the 1991 invasion of Kuwait/Iraq, Amnesty issued a report on the so-called babies out of incubators story. President Bush Senior showcased the report on the eve of the attack, and used it for its full propaganda potential. When it was pointed out to AI that they were pushing a propaganda hoax, AI doubled its estimate of the number of children dumped from the incubators. To this day, AI has never apologized for playing a role in selling an American war.

See here And notice that in the page after title page of AI’s reports the number of supporters increases from one report to the next.

Kirsten Sellars, The Rise and Rise of Human Rights, Sutton Publishing, 29 April 2002. Herein she discusses the origin of Human Rights Watch.

Malcolm Smart, Letter: Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience lists and the reason for double standards, 9 August 2010.

Another technique to rule out sympathetic treatment of Palestinians is to suggest that they are members of a banned organization. NB: it is Israel who does the banning. Any organization seeking liberation or to confront the Israeli dispossession or violence is deemed by the Israelis to be a “terrorist organization”. Currently, AI will play along with this charade, and also ignore Palestinians of “political” organizations.