THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE DESERVE BETTER

Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor-in-Chief of Rai al Youm, an Arab world digital news and opinion website, recently wrote an article entitled “The Palestinian People’s Principal Problem Is Their Own Leadership.”

I could not agree more.

While I cannot put myself into the minds and hearts of the Palestinian people, I have traveled to Palestine enough times and listened to a great many people to understand the deep distrust they have toward President Mahmoud Abbas. Since his election in January 2005, he has offered his people nothing new. In his last eight speeches, delivered each time to an almost empty United Nation Assembly Hall, he has repeated the same old phrases. The same appeals for international sympathy. Even the wording of his complaints about Israel’s failure to respect agreements has not changed. And his declaration that the United States is not an honest broker we have heard at least a million times.

We know President Trump will not heed Abbas’ demands to rescind his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We also know by now that East Jerusalem will not be the capital of a Palestinian state because there will be no Palestinian state.

Since Abbas came to power, nothing has changed for the Palestinian people. The occupation, the repression, the assassinations, the incursions into villages, the nighttime raids into homes, the house demolitions, the collective punishment, the control of water supplies, the settlements built on Palestinian land and the Separation Wall construction all continues as do the daily humiliations at Israeli checkpoints. I discuss these abuses in great detail in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides

Something not included in that list of human rights abuses is the security cooperation Abbas allowed when he became president in 2005. Then, US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton formed the US Security Coordination Team (USSC) tasked with maintaining law and order within the West Bank, essentially taking over the job as the occupation enforcer for the Israeli government. The USSC has rightly earned the name of “Dayton’s Army.” There is legitimate concern, and I have heard reiterated many times, that the role of Dayton’s army has been both to stem the influence and power of the legally elected Hamas and to consolidate and enforce Abbas’ power across the West Bank. One prominent Palestinian activist has argued that in the West Bank “there is a systematic plan to target any resistance to Abbas through oppressive acts carried out by Dayton’s army, including killing, arrest and torture.

The USSC has essentially taken over the occupation for Israeli forces, as opposed to operating as a truly independent national force accountable to the majority. Accusations of torture and the lack of legal justification for a number of arrests has become commonplace. Recently, B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, raised concerns after a prisoner died in PA custody as a result of suspected torture.

To support these claims, I am reminded of President Trump’s recent and dramatic cuts in aid to the Palestinians. The only aid that was maintained and its funding increased was for the USSC.

It is time for Mahmoud Abbas to step down. He has shamefully acted as lackey for both the Israeli and American governments in order to hold onto his presidency for far too long. The Palestinian people, both in the diaspora and the homeland, deserve a better leader.

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

IPV-230x335

Advertisements

US AMBASSADOR JOHN GUNTHER DEAN’S ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION

As I recount in A Beirut Heart One Woman’s War, my family and I lived through the first eight years of the Lebanese civil war. Once we made the decision to stay I struggled to acquire the coping skills necessary to resist and survive the absurd dysfunction of war.

The war began in the spring of 1975. Unfamiliar as I was with any type of conflict, I was convinced that by winter the warring factions would come to their senses and resolve their differences. Winter arrived, and they had not, and before I realized it my own neighborhood had descended into a war zone.

Months passed; the senseless killings and kidnappings increased. Explosions became an integral part of each day. I tried to ignore them. I had to carry on, run my errands, send my husband off to the hospital so he could tend to the wounded, put my children on their school bus and pray I would see them at the end of the day.

It was my love of cooking that helped me keep my sanity. I retreated to the kitchen. Cooking became my tranquilizer.  Most days my table was surrounded by people engaged in lively conversations, which was good for everyone’s morale, particularly my children’s. I strived to create an atmosphere of connectedness, of community. This helped alleviate the fear. It warded off despair and became a therapeutic act of resistance.

We eventually left Beirut in 1984 and resettled in the States. And after years of trying to recover from war, I had convinced myself that nothing about that period in my life—no hitherto unknown revelations—could possibly surprise me but I was wrong. A recent article by Phil Weiss in Mondoweiss rocked me to my core. I am at a loss as to explain why it affected me so profoundly other than the lingering effects of PTSD which occasionally creep back into my consciousness.

I attribute that trauma specifically to the summer of ’82 when the Israeli government used the attempted assassination of its ambassador in London on June 3, 1982, as a pretext to launch an invasion into Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s Defense Minister led ‘Operation Peace for Galilee.’ In two days his troops had advanced all the way to Beirut. On June 6, Israeli warplanes began bombing Beirut. The assault on the city lasted sixty-seven days. Night after night, I watched the bombs falling and the lights flashing across the sky. I had no sense that those lights were coming from human being. It was more like Heaven was fighting Hell.  And down below, where the bombs exploded, there were ordinary people—women cradling screaming babies in their arms, old people holding terrified pets, a husband frantic because his wife and children had not returned from an outing. It was the worst three months of my life.

And this brings me to Phil Weiss’s article because it also involved the Israelis.

In August 1980, an attempt was made on the life of then US Ambassador to Lebanon, John Gunther Dean. At the time Israel and the US were quick to blame a right-wing Christian group. Given some of this group’s unscrupulous behavior, for which I was personally familiar, we were quick to believe their assertion. It wasn’t until the release of Ronen Bergman’s book Rise and Kill First, that I learned the truth. Ambassador Dean had long maintained that Israel had been behind the assassination attempt because he was doing something antithetical to Israel’s interest: consulting with the Palestinian Liberation Organization at a time when such contacts were the third rail in US politics.

According to Ronen Bergman, the Lebanese Intelligence services retrieved the empty canisters from the anti-tank weapons shot at the ambassador’s car and had then sent to Washington to be traced. The weapons had been sold and shipped to Israel in 1974. In 1979 Rafael Eita and Meir Dagan, both brass in the Israel Defense Forces, created the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners and ran the fictitious group from 1979 until 1983. In 1981 and 1982, Ariel Sharon used that Front to conduct a series of indiscriminate car bombings that killed hundreds of civilians. “The objective of this massive terrorist car bombing campaign was to sow chaos amongst the Palestinian and Lebanese civilian population” and in 1981-82, to provoke the PLO into resorting to terrorism thus providing Israel with an excuse to invade Lebanon.” Because the Palestinians did not take the bait, the Israelis used instead the attempted assassination of its Ambassador to London as the excuse for invasion.

Not a single review of Bergman’s book in the US media has mentioned these Israeli operations in Lebanon. The US media has thus been fully silent about the fact that Israeli officials directed a major and fully indiscriminate car bombing campaign that killed more than one hundred civilians. Given our media’s recent behavior, this is no surprise but then the US government and its lackeys in the media have a miserable record of investigating known Israeli attacks on Americans. I cite two examples—the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 which killed 34 servicemen and wounded 171, and the death of Rachel Corrie, deliberately killed by an Israeli bulldozer driver in Gaza in 2003 while she was trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

Beirut-Heart-230x335

TRUMP INTENDS TO IMPOSE TOUGHER SANCTIONS ON IRAN

Trump thinks he can craft a new deal with Iran by imposing tougher sanctions. If history is any guide, there will be no capitulation by Iran. Tehran has already offered repeated concessions to the American government, but the US rejected them outright.

As I have mentioned in The Syrian, the Iranians, in March 2003, sent a comprehensive negotiation proposal to the George W. Bush administration through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. Unlike the Iran nuclear deal, this proposal was not solely focused on nuclear matters. The Iranians offered to help stabilize Iraq, disarm Hezbollah and collaborate against terrorist organizations, in particular al-Qaeda. They even offered to sign on to the 2002 Beirut Declaration, recognizing Israeli statehood in return for Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state. Tehran also offered to open its nuclear program for full transparency.

The Bush administration did not even dignify Iran with a response, assuming it could, instead, secure a better outcome by continuing to pressure Iran with more stringent sanctions.

Two years later, the Iranians sent another proposal through the Europeans. Having already expanded its nuclear program, Tehran offered to cap its centrifuges at 3,000. At the time of the 2003 proposal, Iran had roughly 150 nuclear centrifuges. By 2013, Tehran had 22,000.

The US still believes it is most powerful and therefore does not need to offer anyone concessions. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The diplomacy that lead to the Iran nuclear deal would never have taken place without Obama, in secret negotiations, accepting nuclear enrichment on Iranian soil.

 

Iran is a regional power without whom stability in the region is unachievable.  Yet, Trump continues to insist it is Tehran at fault while refusing to recognize that it is US foreign policy and its regional allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE who are the culprits. Trump insists that Iran must stop asserting its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon while Washington continues to help Saudi Arabia starve the people of Yemen and turns a blind eye to the Saudi Crown Prince’s financing the spread of al-Qaeda and ISIS across the region. The Middle East looks at Trump’s unquestioning support for Israel’s Netanyahu, too, and marvels at US arrogance and hubris.

There is no guarantee that a new deal can be reached with Tehran but if Trump wants to honestly explore realistic changes in Iran’s regional policies he must first be willing to contemplate changes in US policy, something that is unlikely with Netanyahu, Bolton and Pompeo calling the shots, all warmongers averse to diplomacy of any kind.

 

According to James Baker, then Secretary of State under George U.W. Bush, “You don’t just talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies, as well… Diplomacy involves talking to your enemies, not to reward or appease them…but to find a way out of a protracted stalemate and bring about a solution.”

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

Syrian-230x335

 

 

 

BDS AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF ISRAEL

Boycotts as a form of protest were initiated as early as 1769 by the First Continental Congress against Great Britain over the issue of taxation without representation making a boycott against a perceived oppressive power an integral part of American heritage.

A reaction against racism also became a noticeable motivating factor for many boycotts. The Chinese instituted a boycott against the US over the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 and 1904. In 1933 the American Jewish Congress declared a boycott of Nazi Germany in protest to its racially motivated oppression of the German Jewish community. Ghandi encouraged Indians to boycott imperial Britain. African Americans boycotted segregated institutions and from the 60’s to the 90’s, much of the world boycotted South Africa over issues of apartheid.

In 2005, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations put out a call for a boycott of Israel. This was a nonviolent effort to pressure the State of Israel to conform to international law and cease its oppression of the Palestinian people. The call was also for divestment which meant targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that university investments and pension funds were not used to finance such companies. Sanctions are also an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership in various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its actions. This is known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS for short. I discuss this in great detail in the third edition of Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.

 

The Anti-Defamation League opposes BDS claiming that “many of the founding goals of the BDS movement, including denying the Jewish people the universal right of self-determination, is anti-Semitic. Many people involved in the BDS campaign are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish State. All too often, BDS advocates employ anti-Semitic rhetoric and narratives to isolate and demonize Israel.”

The traditional definition of anti-Semitism is a dislike of or bias against Jews by virtue of their imagined inherent “Jewishness.” This is very different from objecting to the criminal behavior of someone or some group that happens to be Jewish. In the first case, it is the “Jewishness” of someone you object to while in the second, it is their criminal behavior you find objectionable, regardless of the perpetrator’s religion.

The Israeli government, by conflating all Jews as an integral part of the Israeli state, claims that any criticism or opposition to Israeli state behavior, even if that behavior is criminal, is anti-Semitic, thereby redefining anti-Semitism in a way that allows Israel to sidestep all moral responsibility by turning the onus around and pointing fingers at its critics.

In so doing, Israel has grossly miscalculated. It cannot continue its oppression of a people, the confiscation of their lands, unjust imprisonment, restrictions on movements, displacement and house demolitions and cry anti-Semitism when it is called out on the international stage for its oppressive behavior. There is a definite shift in opinion about Israel’s behavior and it is helping to create a growing movement that shines a light on Israel’s crimes.

 

In June 2018, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) representing 1.5 million Americans voted unanimously to support the BDS campaign. In July 2018, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA, with its 3 million members, voted to support BDS by screening suspect companies that might be complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. Dozens of Jewish organizations worldwide, with their tens of thousands of members, also support BDS.

Israel can no longer hide behind alleged anti-Semitism every time critics charge them with human rights abuses. BDS is winning and Israel has only itself to blame.  It is an unapologetic apartheid state and deserves world-wide condemnation for its inhumane actions.

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

IPV-230x335

 

 

THE UN RESOLUTION THAT ENDED THE ISRAELI-HEZBOLLAH WAR OF 2006

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently sounded a word of caution on Hezbollah’s continuing violations of Security Council Resolution 1701 which called for cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

According to Guterres, “Hezbollah continues to publically declare that it retains military capabilities” and that “no progress has been made towards the disarmament of armed groups beyond the control of the State, thereby undermining the ability of the government of Lebanon to fully exercise its sovereignty and authority over its territory.”

UN Resolution 1701, which halted the Israeli-Hezbollah war, was crafted by the US and its allies, following negotiations with Israel, all the while claiming to act on behalf of the Lebanese government. It called for Israel to cease its offensive actions but allowed necessary defensive operations to continue for another forty-eight hours, during which time Israel dropped millions of cluster bombs over south Lebanon.

In the opinion of Robert Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, “This was simply a final effort by the US to provide political cover for Israel to attempt to seize some vestige of military victory from the jaws of its defeat. Israel was not censured in any way for using the run-up to the ceasefire to further escalate its military presence in Lebanon, thereby suggesting that the UN is all too often a geopolitical tool for powerful superpowers rather than an instrument for the enforcement of international law.”

By contrast, Hezbollah was required to terminate all military actions. When the Lebanese government rejected the resolution as a capitulation document, then Secretary of State Rice commented that such reactions demonstrated “who is for peace and who isn’t.” Since the document stated that the violence escalated as a result of Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border on July 12, 2006, it implicitly named Hezbollah as the aggressor. No differentiation was made in the scale of violence and no party was named responsible for extensive damage to Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure or the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons throughout the country.

Rather than using diplomacy to obtain the release of its soldiers, a precedent that had already been set, why did Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hastily declare war? According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the war plans were already on the table and the Israelis were simply waiting for a pretext to execute them. Olmert’s pre-ordained plan was to crush Hezbollah and disarm them.

In the end, and contrary to Secretary-General Cuterres’s recent comments, it was not Resolution 1701 that suggested a mechanism for disarming Hezbollah.

Rather, UN Resolution 424, which officially ended the illegal Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in 2000, provided the means. Resolution 424 called for both the full withdrawal of Israel from all Lebanese territory and the disarming of Hezbollah. At issue was the Shebaa Farm, a water-rich area fourteen-square-miles in size, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 war. The Israelis disputed Lebanon’s claim that Shebaa Farms belonged to them and, therefore, refused to withdraw. Hezbollah, certain the territory belonged to Lebanon, maintained that as long as Israel continued to occupy this tiny piece of land, it had the right to keep its arms. Under pressure from the White House, the UN remained mute on the question of Shebaa Farms, refusing for six years to acknowledge Lebanon as its rightful owner.

It was not until July 11, 2007 that then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon certified the Shebaa Farms as an integral part of Lebanese territory. Ban invited the Israelis to withdraw immediately. Israel, to date, has refused to leave Shebaa Farms. Why? An abundance of water coming mainly from precipitation has allowed the formation of major underground reservoirs. In need of any available water source, Israel officially annexed this parcel of land and will never willingly give it up, certain, as always, that their illegal actions will be protected by Washington. I discuss this at length in Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli -Hezbollah War of 2006.

 So, Secretary-General, I urge you to review your UN resolutions. Lebanon’s survival depends on it, for as long as Hezbollah maintains its arms, the Lebanese will have a military deterrent against further Israeli aggression. Secretary-General, you have only to read a recent statement by the Israeli army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warning of the possibility of another war with Lebanon “larger than before,” to know the threat is real..

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

Tragedy-Cover-230x335

AMERICA’S ENDLESS WARS

As we are learning, U.S. wars are based on lies. Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and his links to al-Qaeda, both fabrications used to justify the Iraq invasion, were finally exposed. Seventeen years into the Afghan war, Americans still associate the Taliban with al-Qaeda.  “We make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them,” declared George W. Bush in 2001. This was at the heart of the Bush doctrine, using confusing distinctions to encourage Americans to see the Taliban as actively in cahoots with al-Qaeda, hence enemies of America and “terrorists” by definition.

Al-Qaeda is an Islamist global terror outfit intent on provoking and intensifying conflict between the Muslim world and the West. The Taliban is a Pashtun-nationalist movement that grew out the disorder in their country from 1978 to 1996.

For years, our military commanders have acknowledged that they cannot defeat the Taliban, yet President Trump has recently intensified the war against them. “I have lifted restrictions and expanded the authority of the commanders in the field. The gloves are off. Our military is now looking for any opportunity to target the enemies in Afghanistan wherever we find them in the theatre.” In 2017 alone, some 20,000 Afghans were killed.

A US-Saudi-led coalition has waged a cruel war against the Yemini Houthis, a home-grown Shiite movement, that turned the country into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The destruction of infrastructure in Houthi-held areas has destroyed a once-functioning public health system, touching off a cholera epidemic with over a million suspected cases. Even worse is Yemen’s man-made famine, a direct result of US-Saudi air campaigns and a naval blockade aimed directly at the country’s economic life. While there is a sufficient supply of food in the country, the Yemini have no money to buy it. Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia claim the Houthi enjoy Iranian supoort. There is no evidence to support such a claim.

If there is a place in the Middle East almost as miserable as Yemen, it is Syria. Since 2011, when a nonviolent movement to unseat Assad dissolved into a vicious civil war, more than half the country’s pre-war population of 22 million have become internally displaced or obliged to take refuge in neighboring countries. No doubt there is plenty of blame to go around with over 500,000 deaths, but on any list of culprits we must include the neoconservatives, the same ones who fostered the myth of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As far back as 1996, these neocons had already hatched a “Clean Break” strategy with Benjamin Netanyahu, then serving his first term as Israel’s Prime Minister. The idea was to reconfigure a Middle East favorable to Israel’s interests. First, Saddam Hussein had to be removed, then the US would undertake regime change in Syria. The loudest advocate for both Iraq and Syria destruction during the Bush administration—John Bolton—is now Trump’s national security advisor.

Will conflict with Iran be added to our long list of endless wars? As I wrote in The Syrian, “Syria is the conduit between Iran and Hezbollah. Syria is ruled by Alawites, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam; Iran and Hezbollah are also Shiite. In order to weaken both Iran and Hezbollah, Israel and the US must first destroy Syria. Geopolitically, there is a much bigger issue at play—the proxy war between the US and Iran. Such a war would amount to an inter-Islam war which would be even more worrisome. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, mostly Sunni, support U.S. and Israel’s attempt to destroy the three Shiite entities. With Trump and his Secretary of State openly talking about a possible escalation between the U.S. and Iran, there is a major risk that some combination of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabic threesome could initiate a war with Iran.

For more than 70 years, Americans have largely ignored the effects of U.S. foreign policy around the world. Rubble in Syria? Famine in Yemen? They wonder what all of this has to do with them.

It is past time for the debate to begin. It is time for Americans to pay attention to what their government does in their name. It is time to take note of the $1 trillion in annual profit that the military-industrial compound rakes in annually, and ask why?

There is neither discussion, nor debate, nor protest about our endless wars. Perhaps if the media did not put all its resources into Donald Trump’s tweets, they would find the time to expose the evils of America’s endlamazoness wars.

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

Syrian-230x335

ISRAEL’S NEW APARTHEID LAW

The Israeli parliament recently passed a law declaring Israel the nation state of the Jewish people. The law states:

“Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.” This, even though one in five citizens of Israel is an indigenous, non-Jewish Palestinian.

The new law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status quo to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

As I wrote in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides, “Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence refers specifically to Israel as a Jewish state committed to the ingathering of Jewish exiles. Palestinians who are classified as Israeli Arabs, and non-Jews like Armenians, have citizenship rights. They can vote in election for members of the Knesset and for prime minister.

“All other rights are nationality rights based on religion and are reserved for Jews only. If you are Jewish, you have exclusive use of the land, since Israeli law states that ninety-three percent of the land in Israel belongs to the Jewish people. If you are Jewish you have privileged access to private and public employment, special educational loans, home mortgages and priority admission to all universities. Special privileges are reserved for those who serve in the military. Military service is compulsory for all Jews, male and female, except the ultra-Orthodox, who receive the special privileges anyway. Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, are not allowed to serve in the Israeli Army. The Druze, who are originally from Lebanon and who practice an offshoot of Shiite Islam, are permitted to serve in the Israeli Army.

“Israel does not define itself as a state of its citizens but as a state of all the Jews in the world. Jews from anywhere can make aliya (emigration) to Israel, declare citizenship and be granted the nationality privileges of being Jewish while these rights are denied Palestinians who have lived in Palestine for centuries.”

In passing this bill Israel has legislated annexation of all Palestinian land and has established an apartheid system. There is no longer any illusion that Israel is a democracy as it has always claimed. Palestinians, no matter where they live, are controlled by an Israeli government and military that robs them of their basic human rights and freedoms.

Adalah, a leading Palestinian human rights organization in Israel, describes how the law “affirms the principle of apartheid in housing, land and citizenship.” It concludes that “this law constitutionally sanctions institutionalized discrimination.”

This bill is a harsh reminder to all Palestinian citizens of Israel that they are not welcome in their own ancestral homeland. As non-Jews, they were already not allowed to buy or rent land on 93% of the area controlled by the Israeli state, and many communities, the Bedouins in particular, are declared “unrecognized” and bulldozed out of existence by Israeli forces.

From now on, it will not just be legal to racially discriminate against the indigenous Palestinian citizens of the state. It will be constitutionally mandated and required. If ever there was a time for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel’s system of oppression it is now. Otherwise, Israel will use its new law to make more and more Palestinians stateless and demolish more Palestinian homes. They are going to make life so difficult for Palestinians that they eventually disappear. That is their plan.

Israel’s official adoption of apartheid opens the door for the Palestinian people. They do exist as the indigenous people of this ancient land. Now is the time to rally the world to pressure the UN to activate its anti-apartheid laws and impose serious sanctions on Israel.

This was done against apartheid South Africa. It must also be done against apartheid Israel.

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

IPV-230x335