With Nod from U.S., Netanyahu Expels Multinational Observers from Troubled Hebron

The observer mission in Hebron acted as a restraint on the settlers’ worst excesses. Now that has come to an end.

By JONATHAN COOK
Hebron school escorts

An Israeli soldier (L) stands guard as members of the Palestinian Youth Against Settlements (YAS) activists escort children on their way to school in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron on February 10, 2019 (AFP Photo/HAZEM BADER)

 

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked Continue reading

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Why Ending All U.S. Aid to the Palestinians Is a Bad Idea

Badhan village street project WB_Getty Images

Street renewal project in the Occupied West Bank (Getty Images)

In an opinion piece published on the NPR web-site, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, joined by a fellow expert in international relations, try lending some nuance to the issue of U.S. aid — humanitarian, development, and security assistance — to the Palestinian people. The relatively short piece is reproduced in full, below– after my two cents’ worth (unlike the authors, I am not obligated to sound diplomatic).

America’s complete axing of aid has been done incrementally, over many months, the final blow coming just days ago, on February 1st — one day after the featured piece was published. From their professional, foreign policy perspective, the authors explain some of the legal mechanisms involved, why the complete cut is ill-advised, wasteful, destabilizing and counter-productive — and how it can still be reversed, at least in part, by action from the U.S. Congress. A repeated theme is that the across-the-board aid cuts may negatively impact Israel as well. One very direct example: U.S. aid Continue reading

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Your U.S. Senate at Work, Stripping Americans of Basic Rights

upside-down flag

Yesterday, February 5th, 2019, the United States Senate took the bait. Our elected representatives voted, by a majority of 77 to 23, to reinforce state and local laws — already on the books or pending in 39 U.S. states — rolling back the freedom of speech and freedom of conscience supposedly enjoyed by every American citizen. No one should take comfort that these manifestly unconstitutional, repressive measures pertain only to Continue reading

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The Hijacking of America: An Engaging but Impossible Tale

United States ConstitutionWHAT IS IT about dystopian political thrillers that we find so compelling? You know, the stories depicting the descent of civilized, democratic societies into darkness, laced with themes of brainwashing, thought police, and the suppression of individual freedoms… Could it be that they cause us to think critically about our our own very real world? More likely, it’s that they allow us to walk out of the theater, or switch off the tube, thinking: That could never happen here.

Consider the following improbable story-line, from a major production which reliable sources say is already well underway but not yet completed:

The setting is modern times. The pivotal, opening scene focuses on a teacher, employed by a public school system in a southern U.S. state, who has just lost her job for declining to sign an oath of loyalty– loyalty not to the welfare of her students, or to the state where she works, not to America’s Constitution, ideals and system of governance… but to a foreign nation!

Then in flash-back sequences, the screenplay unfolds how this twisted, dangerous state of affairs evolved: It seems that several decades before, a very small country had appeared on the world stage and quickly, inexplicably, come to exert enormous global influence. One element in the narrative involves a world body (akin to the real-life UN) serving as the global arbiter of international law and human rights, an entity repeatedly forced to cast scrutiny upon the small country’s questionable practices and policies. However, early in the story, American political leaders decide they must protect the small country at all costs from potential criticism, vetoing any meaningful censure that would sometimes arise from the global community.

The script goes on to describe how the small country — by then already highly developed and heavily armed, including with undeclared nuclear weapons — convinces the American government to hand over to it the largest portion of its foreign aid budget, not for humanitarian projects but solely in the form of ever more high-tech weapons systems and munitions. Amazingly, neither America’s citizens nor her political leaders seem to object, or even notice.

(All this stretches credulity, I know, but it’s just a story. Stay with me. By the way, the version of the project I’ve been privy to never fully explains how the small country comes to wield such monumental sway over the American body politic and popular mind. Maybe this will become clearer as the story is fine-tuned — as I say, it’s still a work-in-progress.)

Anyway, in one jaw-dropping scene the small country’s head-of-state — unbidden by the U.S. president but invited by the political opposition — addresses a joint session of Congress and brazenly argues against established U.S. foreign policy, receiving in response round after round of tumultuous, nearly unanimous, ovations. Then in a later scenario, the same foreign leader (prime minister) is seen in a joint White House press conference with yet another president, this one so ignorant, foolish and easily manipulated that the minister can only laugh in response to the president’s inane blathering on grave matters of international diplomacy.

And so it goes. As the latter part of the narrative unfolds, the small country has essentially hijacked and subverted American’s public discourse and system of government. Thus, the U.S. Congress, with strong bi-partisan support, starts crafting shocking new legislation that actually imposes criminal penalties on their own citizens who dare criticize the small country, who merely insist that it abide by the established norms of international law. (Leading up to this unthinkable coups, agents of the small country had repeatedly brought to bear a devious tactic: Any criticism of the small country’s government policies or actions was immediately and forcefully re-cast as a hateful, racist rejection of that country’s people, especially their ethnicity, religion, and rich heritage. This simple yet clever tactic, however twisted and dishonest, proved unimaginably powerful.)

Anyway, by this point in the story the descent into a post-democratic nightmare was well advanced, since a majority of the U.S. states had already enacted laws forcing people to take what amounted to a loyalty oath to the small country: Unless they signed, public school teachers would lose their jobs, companies large and small would be shut out of government contracts, and so on. (This shocking takeover, we learn, had been achieved in part by ALEC, an Orwellian-sounding entity which regularly spewed out repressive legislative templates to gullible state lawmakers.)

Thus it was that some American citizens — those who sought a measure of Truth beyond America’s corporate media — started seeing reports like the following, a bit of realistic-looking newscast footage about the fired school teacher. (This sneak preview Continue reading

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The Three Percent Solution: Israel’s Formula for Slow-Motion Genocide

ToxicWater

The above title, and this introductory paragraph—admittedly provocative and brimming with rhetoric—are both mine (tp): Guilty as charged. The stories that follow, however, reflect the work of award-winning journalist and author Sandy Tolan, one of the few voices being given a hearing in the West regarding Israel’s ever tightening stranglehold on the 2 million imprisoned people of Gaza. We’ve all become used to hearing about–and then quickly forgetting–the world’s “looming” humanitarian catastrophes. But most of them, like the present one in Gaza (not to mention Yemen), are not only 100% preventable but exist solely because they serve the perverse interests of some cluster of state actors and their global enablers. The Gaza crisis is “made in Israel”, plain and simple. Especially if you’re an American citizen—whose government rubber-stamps Israeli policies and actions via air-tight protection in the UN plus an obscene, $10-million-a-day military aid giveaway, while at the same time cutting all humanitarian and development aid to the Palestinians—then you owe it to yourself to read (or listen to) ONE of the following stories— your choice. Tolan, I have found, has a unique way of bringing such crises into focus, putting them in context, and giving them a human face. 

Sandy Tolan’s recent reporting trip to document the growing water crisis in Gaza has led to stories in The Daily Beast, on PRI, a two-part series for Al Jazeera English, and an interview on the BBC World ServiceBarely three percent of Gaza’s drinking water is fit for human consumption, and the crisis is claiming lives. Children face the most serious risk.
Continue reading

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Uri Avnery, Longtime Israeli Peace Activist, Dies at 94

Uri AvneryIt was a Friday evening ritual for me, for years: pulling up the Gush Shalom web-site to partake of Uri Avnery’s weekly offering, each one providing some unique window into Israeli life, society, culture, politics or history– and especially issues of war, peace and justice. Always well written and engaging, Avnery’s essays were the product of his truly vast knowledge and experience, which spanned the entire existence of the State of Israel, and much more.  So, when his incisive articles ceased showing up a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know what to think… Indeed, Uri Avnery– a clear-eyed truth teller practically without equal, and an activist to the end– died a few days ago in Tel Aviv at the age of 94.

His passing must be noted here for a couple of reasons: For one thing, his commentary and analysis have been important in shaping my own thinking about the region, especially the constellation of Zionist-Palestinian issues stretching back over a hundred years and still played out every day within a lopsided paradigm of Power, Control, and ongoing Dispossession. Avnery’s work had little to do with the Standard Israeli Narrative (except as critique)– far from it, nor with the messages of mainstream media generally– but for my money it consistently hewed closer to The Truth than almost any other source. Therefore, on multiple occasions over the years I’ve pointed my readers to some of Uri Avnery’s articles (or tried to, at least), for example HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

If you want to know more about this rather remarkable man, there are (of course) scores of videos to be found on YouTube. One of my favorites is this one (3 min.), which has Avnery strolling the Via Dolorosa, while discussing the 1967 war and subsequent Occupation and their implications for the long-term life of Jerusalem as a shared city.

There are likewise years worth of his weekly articles archived on-line by Gush Shalom. As a sample, and if you read nothing else, try this noteworthy piece which Avnery wrote at Passover 2009. Profoundly poignant, it expresses the conflicted musings of an old Zionist who Continue reading

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Temple Discourse Within Present-day Israeli Society: A Reflection on Tisha B’Av

 

Temple on modern TM (800x600) adjust

An imagined “Third Temple” and its courts superimposed on the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) and surrounded by Jerusalem’s present-day cityscape. (Art-work seen on the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, ca. 2012. PHOTO: Tom Powers)

Here’s a thought provoking offering from Yudith Oppenheimer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based Ir-Amim organization, on the occasion of Tisha B’Av, when Jews worldwide remember the loss of their historic temples. She writes in part:

Post-Temple Judaism managed, for the most part, to embrace the tension between the longing for the Temple as a utopian symbol, and the solid foundations of halakha, moral teachings and interpretations grounded in everyday life. However, there were also periods of messianic foment and attempts to speed up the redemption, almost all of which came to disastrous ends.

Zionism was a daring attempt to harness the messianic tension for social-political action in — and not outside of — history. […] The more Zionism invested in denying the existence and presence of the Arab inhabitants of the land, and later in maintaining the occupation, the more it needed the array of sanctified justifications that seemingly granted it exclusive ownership of the land. Thus, the Temple reappeared and took up its place as a foundational Zionist symbol.

Her comments are just as apt, in my opinion, for evangelical Christian Zionists worldwide who, without thinking too deeply about the implications, perhaps have dabbled, or even become immersed, in such ways of thinking.   The complete article  Continue reading

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