Posts Tagged ‘wars of aggression’

Obedience to God or Obedience to Orders?

November 20, 2009

by Jacob G. Hornberger, The Future of Freedom Foundation, Nov 18, 2009

Speaking about the Ft. Hood killings, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated, “The investigation is ongoing to figure out what would motivate an individual to carry out the type of act that this major carried out.” Of course, it goes without saying that in examining into motive, Gibbs is not justifying what the alleged killer, Major Nidal Hasan, did. (See my article “Motivation vs. Justification.”)

As the investigation into motive progresses, it will be interesting to see the extent to which the U.S. military’s policy on conscientious-objector status played in the Ft. Hood horror.

Continues >>

 

Threatening Iran

July 20, 2009

By Paul Craig Roberts | Counterpunch, July 20,  2009

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Japan did not spend years preparing her public case and demonstrating her deployment of forces for the attack.  Japan did not make a world issue out of her view that the US was denying Japan her role in the Pacific by hindering Japan’s access to raw materials and energy.

Similarly, when Hitler attacked Russia, he did not preface his invasion with endless threats and a public case that blamed the war on England.

These events happened before the PSYOPS era.  Today, America and Israel’s wars of aggression are preceded by years of propaganda and international meetings, so that by the time the attack comes it is an expected event, not a monstrous surprise attack with its connotation of naked aggression.

The US, which has been threatening Iran with attack for years, has passed the job to Israel.  During the third week of July, the American vice president and secretary of state gave Israel the go-ahead.  Israel has made great public disclosure of its warships passing through the Suez Canal on their way to Iran.  “Muslim” Egypt is complicit, offering no objection to Israel’s naval forces on their way to a war crime under the Nuremberg standard that the US imposed on the world.

By the time the attack occurs, it will be old hat, an expected event, and, moreover, an event justified by years of propaganda asserting Iran’s perfidy.

Israel intends to dominate the Middle East.  Israel’s goal is to incorporate all of Palestine and southern Lebanon into “Greater Israel.”  The US intends to dominate the entire world, deciding who rules which countries and controlling resource flows.

The US and Israel are likely to succeed, because they have effective PSYOPS. For the most part, the world media follows the US media, which follows the US and Israeli governments’ lines.  Indeed, the American media is part of the PSYOPS of both countries.

According to Thierry Meyssan in the Swiss newspaper Zeit-Fragen, the CIA used SMS or text messaging and Twitter to spread disinformation about the Iranian election, including the false report that the Guardian Council had informed Mousavi that he had won the election.  When the real results were announced, Ahmadinejad’s reelection appeared to be fraudulent.

Iran’s fate awaits it.  A reasonable hypothesis to be entertained and examined is whether Iran’s Rafsanjani and Mousavi are in league with Washington to gain power in Iran. Both have lost out in the competition for government power in Iran.  Yet, both are egotistical and ambitious.  The Iranian Revolution of 1979 probably means nothing to them except an opportunity for personal power.  The way the West has always controlled the Middle East is by purchasing the politicians who are out of power and backing them in overthrowing the independent government.  We see this today in Sudan as well.

In the case of Iran, there is an additional factor that might align Rafsanjani with Washington. President Ahmadienijad attacked former President Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most wealthy persons, as corrupt.  If Rafsanjani feels threatened by this attack, he has little choice but to try to overthrow the existing government.  This makes him the perfect person for Washington.

Perhaps there is a better explanation why Rafsanjani and Mousavi, two highly placed members of the Iranian elite, chose to persist in allegations of election fraud that have played into Washington’s hands by calling into question the legitimacy of the Iranian government. It cannot be that the office of president is worth such costs as the Iranian presidency is not endowed with decisive powers.

Without Rafsanjani and Mousavi, the US media could not have orchestrated the Iranian elections as “stolen,” an orchestration that the US government used to further isolate and discredit the Iranian government, making it easier for Iran to be attacked. Normally, well placed members of an elite do not help foreign enemies set their country up for attack.

An Israeli attack on Iran is likely to produce retaliation, which Washington will use to enter the conflict. Have the personal ambitions of Rafsanjani and Mousavi, and the naive youthful upper class Iranian protesters, set Iran up for destruction?

Consult a map and you will see that Iran is surrounded by a dozen countries that host US military bases. Why does anyone in Iran doubt that Iran is on her way to becoming another Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, in the end to be ruled by oil companies and an American puppet?

The Russians and Chinese are off balance because of successful American interventions in their spheres of influence, uncertain of the threat and the response. Russia could have prevented the coming attack on Iran, but, pressured by Washington,  Russia has not delivered the missile systems that Iran purchased.  China suffers from her own hubris as a rising economic power, and is about to lose her energy investments in Iran to US/Israeli aggression. China is funding America’s wars of aggression with loans, and  Russia is even helping the US to set up a puppet state in Afghanistan, thus opening up former Soviet central Asia to US hegemony.

The world is so impotent that even the bankrupt US can launch a new war of aggression and have it accepted as a glorious act of liberation in behalf of women’s rights, peace, and democracy.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com


Radical writer Dr George Barnsby at 90

February 14, 2009

Nasir Khan

The famous anti-racist, anti-war activist, a historian of the working class movement and revolutionary politics Dr George Barnsby turned 90 on January 29, 2009. To celebrate the occasion the Barnsby family organised a memorable birthday party in which more than one hundred guests took part.

The site of the event was Wolverhampton, now a thriving multicultural and ethnically diverse city in the Midlands, where once, in 1968, British Tory leader Enoch Powell had made his well-known apocalyptic ‘rivers of blood’ speech, in which he had warned the danger Britain faced because of the coming into Britain of non-white immigrants from the former British colonies. But the subsequent history of race relations in Wolverhampton has shown that the alarmist forebodings of the prophet of doom and racist reactionary politician were false.

The main reason for rejecting what Enoch Powell stood for that also had certain amount of backing in some sections of the white population was due to the incessant work of local politicians and workers, both from the white and non-white communities for creating a positive attitude towards the race issue and to cultivate a better understanding between the people of different ethnic backgrounds. As a result, we see that Wolverhampton emerged as a multicultural city we can all be proud of. Among those who contributed much to such a positive development the work of George Barnsby has a special significance. He was also able to mobilize support for his work with the assistance of many non-racist people and organizations.

From Norway, I had the honour to participate in the celebrations of my close comrade and friend. It was my first face-to-face meeting with him. The comradely affection and esteem he extended towards me on the occasion was something of an overwhelming experience for me. Our comradeship was very deep. Ever since our incidental contact that started about four years ago, I realised that ideologically and politically both of us were working on the same lines having a common world-outlook. In our own ways, both of us have been busy offering our views and showing our concerns through our websites.

Dr Barnsby consistently exposed the role of President Bush and his British ‘poodle’ Tony Blair in starting the genocidal wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan as well their active support to the Zionist rulers of Israel to crush and destroy the people of Palestine. His expertise in understanding the international affairs as a class conscious writer and his revolutionary zeal in advancing the cause of peace and human rights earn him a special place of distinction among radical writers. I feel greatly honoured to have seen and talked to him and wish him many happy and active years in the future. His website (The Barnsby Blog: <http://gbpeopleslibrary.co.uk/blog/>) provides us with a necessary corrective to what the main stream media offer and I recommend it to our readers.

Anti-fascist and anti-war activist Dr George Barnsby at 90

February 1, 2009

Nasir Khan

The famous anti-racist, anti-war activist, a historian of the working class movement and revolutionary politics Dr George Barnsby turned 90 on January 29, 2009. To celebrate the occasion the Barnsby family organised a memorable birthday party in which more than one hundred guests took part.

The site of the event was Wolverhampton, now a thriving multicultural and ethnically diverse city in the Midlands, where once, in 1968, British Tory leader Enoch Powell had made his well-known apocalyptic ‘rivers of blood’ speech, in which he had warned the danger Britain faced because of the coming into Britain of non-white immigrants from the former British colonies. But the subsequent history of race relations in Wolverhampton has shown that the alarmist forebodings of the prophet of doom and racist reactionary politician were false.

The main reason for rejecting what Enoch Powell stood for that also had certain amount of backing in some sections of the white population was due to the incessant work of local politicians and workers, both from the white and non-white communities for creating a positive attitude towards the race issue and to cultivate a better understanding between the people of different ethnic backgrounds. As a result, we see that Wolverhampton emerged as a multicultural city we can all be proud of. Among those who contributed much to such a positive development the work of George Barnsby has a special significance. He was also able to mobilize support for his work with the assistance of many non-racist people and organizations.

From Norway, I had the honour to participate in the celebrations of my close comrade and friend. It was my first face-to-face meeting with him. The comradely affection and esteem he extended towards me on the occasion was something of an overwhelming experience for me. Our comradeship was very deep. Ever since our incidental contact that started about four years ago, I realised that ideologically and politically both of us were working on the same lines having a common world-outlook. In our own ways, both of us have been busy offering our views and showing our concerns through our websites.

Dr Barnsby consistently exposed the role of President Bush and his British ‘poodle’ Tony Blair in starting the genocidal wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan as well their active support to the Zionist rulers of Israel to crush and destroy the people of Palestine. His expertise in understanding the international affairs as a class conscious writer and his revolutionary zeal in advancing the cause of peace and human rights earn him a special place of distinction among radical writers. I feel greatly honoured to have seen and talked to him and wish him many happy and active years in the future. His website (The Barnsby Blog: <http://gbpeopleslibrary.co.uk/blog/>) provides us with a necessary corrective to what the main stream media offer and I recommend it to our readers.

Question and Answer on Gaza

January 20, 2009

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched its brutal assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. The aim here has been to collect in one place the most frequently-asked questions and to offer answers and sources. You can read the whole thing through (warning: it’s long!) or see a separate list of sections and questions, and jump to the ones you’re interested in.

Introduction

1. Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself and its population from rocket attacks?

Rockets from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians violate international law. But any assessment of whether Israeli military actions constitute lawful self-defense has to take account of the context and the question of proportionality. The broad context is that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is illegal and unjust and Israel can’t claim self-defense when Palestinians struggle by legitimate means to end the occupation. (In the same way, Japanese troops couldn’t claim self-defense when they were attacked by guerrillas in occupied China or the occupied Philippines during World War II.) The proper Israeli response to such Palestinian actions is not “self-defense,” but full withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Gaza

2. While conquests in wars of aggression are clearly illegal, didn’t Israel obtain the West Bank and Gaza as the result of a defensive war against an attack waged by neighboring Arab states?

The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, as well as the Sinai and the Golan Heights were conquered by Israel during the June 1967 war, a war in which Israel attacked first. Israel’s supporters argue that although Israel fired the first shots, this was a justified preventive war, given that Arab armies were mobilizing on Israel’s borders, with murderous rhetoric. The rhetoric was indeed blood-curdling, and many people around the world worried for Israel’s safety. But those who understood the military situation — in Tel Aviv and the Pentagon — knew quite well that even if the Arabs struck first, Israel would prevail in any war. Egypt’s leader was looking for a way out and agreed to send his vice-president to Washington for negotiations. Before that could happen, Israel attacked, in part because it rejected negotiations and the prospect of any face-saving compromise for Egypt. Menachem Begin, who was an enthusiastic supporter of that (and other) Israeli wars was quite clear about the necessity for launching an attack: In June 1967, he said, Israel “had a choice.” Egyptian Army concentrations did not prove that Nasser was about to attack. “We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”[1] However, even if it were the case that the 1967 war was wholly defensive on Israel’s part, this could not justify continued rule over Palestinians. A people do not lose their right to self-determination because the government of a neighboring state goes to war. Sure, punish Jordan and don’t give it back the West Bank (to which it had no right in the first place, having joined with Israel in carving up the stillborn Palestinian state envisioned in the UN’s 1947 partition plan). And don’t return Gaza to Egyptian administrative control. But there is no basis for punishing the Palestinian population by forcing them to submit to foreign military occupation. Israel immediately incorporated occupied East Jerusalem into Israel proper, announcing that Jerusalem was its united and eternal capital. It then began to establish settlements in the Occupied Territories in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit a conquering power from settling its population on occupied territory. The Israeli government legal adviser at the time, the distinguished jurist Theodor Meron, warned that any settlements would be illegal,[2] but he was ignored. And the International Court of Justice has ruled — in a portion of an opinion that had the unanimous support of all its judges, including the one from the United States — that all the settlements in the occupied territories are illegal.[3]

3. Hasn’t Israel withdrawn from Gaza, thereby ending its occupation?

The Israeli withdrawal did not end the occupation. As John Dugard, the UN’s then special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, noted in 2006: Statements by the Government of Israel that the withdrawal ended the occupation of Gaza are grossly inaccurate. Even before the commencement of ‘Operation Summer Rains,’ following the capture of Corporal Shalit, Gaza remained under the effective control of Israel. This control was manifested in a number of ways. Israel retained control of Gaza’s air space, sea space and external borders. Although a special arrangement was made for the opening of the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, to be monitored by European Union personnel, all other crossings remained largely closed…. The actions of IDF [Israeli Defense Force] in respect of Gaza have clearly demonstrated that modern technology allows an occupying Power to effectively control a territory even without a military presence.[4] On November 20, 2008, Human Rights Watch wrote to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, stating, among other things, “Even though Israel withdrew its permanent military forces and settlers in 2005, it remains an occupying power in Gaza under international law because it continues to exercise effective day-to-day control over key aspects of life in Gaza.”[5] If Israel had truly withdrawn from Gaza, then Israel could not prohibit Gaza from trading by sea or air with other nations, bar people from sailing or flying in to or out of Gaza, overfly Gazan airspace or patrol its coastal waters, or declare “no go zones” within Gaza. Israel also controls Gaza’s Population Registry and collects import duties on any goods it allows into Gaza.[6]

4. Regardless of whether the occupation legally continues, didn’t Israel give up its settlements and its military bases in Gaza?

Israel’s Gaza “disengagement” was a unilateral move, not worked out with any Palestinian leaders at all. Israeli settlers were removed from Gaza, but more new settlers moved to the West Bank in 2005 than left Gaza and more Palestinian land was taken over on the West Bank than was given up in Gaza.[7] To many it seemed clear that the disengagement, rather than a step towards eventual Palestinian statehood, was in fact a move to secure Israel’s hold on the West Bank and deny any independent existence for the Palestinian people. As Ariel Sharon’s chief aide, Dov Weisglass, told an interviewer for an Israeli newspaper: The significance of the disengagement plan “is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely.”[8]

5. Why should Israel have an obligation to open its borders with or transmit electricty or fuel to Gaza? Doesn’t it have the sovereign right to close its borders as it wishes?

When a country has controlled a territory for 40 years, and prohibits all construction or development that might allow that territory to function independent of the country, it bears obligations. When, in addition, the country prohibits the territory from engaging in trade via air or sea, it cannot claim the right to cut off land crossings.

6. Gaza shares a land border with Egypt. Why is Israel blamed for cutting off Gaza’s borders?

When Israel “disengaged” from Gaza, it did not turn the Rafah crossing — the connection to Egypt — over to the Palestinians. Instead, the Rafah crossing was the subject of an Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) signed in November 2005 by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, with U.S. backing, that provided that the crossing would be staffed by personnel from the European Union (EU). According to the Agreement, Israel would have a veto on who could come and go through the border (though Israelis wouldn’t be present at the crossing, but they would have real time video feed and advance notice of anyone seeking to cross). As the Israeli human rights organization Gisha has noted, “With the exception of personal effects brought by travelers, imports through Rafah, the only crossing into Gaza not directly controlled by Israel, are not permitted. “[9] Egypt could, of course, ignore the AMA and open the border anyway. And it should do so. And the EU and the U.S. governments could and should end their financial strangulation of Gaza and send supplies by sea to Gaza’s coast, ignoring any Israeli blockade, since presumably Israel wouldn’t sink EU or U.S. vessels. The behavior of all of these governments is reprehensible.

Hamas

7. Didn’t Hamas just use the Israeli disengagement from Gaza as an opportunity to launch rockets at Israel without provocation?

Rocket attacks declined after the Israeli “disengagement.” There were 281 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in 2004, and 179 in 2005. The disengagement was completed in September 2005. In the four month period October 2005 through January 2006, there were only 40 rockets fired.[10] In late September, there was a flurry of rockets launched from Gaza, following a deadly explosion at a Hamas armed victory parade in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Most observers, including the Palestinian Authority (then involved in internecine conflict with Hamas) blamed the explosion on a Hamas accident; Hamas claimed Israel was responsible. Whatever the truth, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli think tank closely tied to the Israeli intelligence and military establishment[11]: “Afterwards, Fatah factions and the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] launched the greatest number of rockets. Hamas stopped its direct involvement in rocket launching following the internal and external criticism it received for having harmed the civilian Palestinian populace, and later because of its governmental commitments.”[12] Other Palestinian groups did launch rockets. In October 2005 there was another bout of rocket fire. But this did not occur in isolation. And in the pattern of violence and retaliatory violence it is hard to determine who “started” it. On October 23, 2005, Israeli forces killed two Islamic Jihad members on the West Bank; rockets were then fired from Gaza, without causing any injuries; Israel then closed border crossings; its planes flew low over Gaza creating sonic booms and it fired air to ground missiles, injuring five; a suicide bomber from the West Bank attacked an Israeli town, killing five; Israel unleashed further airstrikes and artillery on Gaza, killing eight including three children.[13] Things cooled down a few days later and remained reasonably calm until after the election of Hamas at the end of January 2006.

8. How did Israel and the West react to Hamas’s election victory?

In January 2006, Hamas participated in Palestinian legislative elections (reversing its previous policy of abstentionism), and received a plurality of the votes. International observers certified the elections as fair,[14] and indeed, these were among the rare democratically elected leaders in the Arab world. Washington had pressed Israel to allow the 2006 election and Hamas’s victory was a surprise to everyone (including Hamas). Ironically, earlier, the United States and Israel had given support to Hamas in an attempt to undermine the secular leadership of the PLO.[15] Most analysts concluded that voters were expressing not so much support for Hamas’s religious positions, as rejection of Fatah’s corrupt and pusillanimous leadership, which after many years had brought Palestinians no closer to a viable state of their own. Hamas’s entry into the government might have been taken as an opportunity to try to encourage it to moderate its positions, but Israel, the United States, and the European Union determined to crush it. Israel refused to turn over Palestinian tax revenues and closed borders, causing severe economic hardship. International donors, especially the United States and the EU, withheld funds, and Washington went a step further and imposed draconian regulations. As the mainstream International Crisis Group explained, “NGOs engaged in humanitarian relief work face significant obstacles stemming from extraordinarily restrictive U.S. Treasury Department regulations; U.S. organisations, for example, require pre-approval for their donations, which must be in-kind rather than cash. “Such restrictions affect developmental assistance – $450 million in 2005 – even more severely, for it often involves direct contacts with the PA. Some U.S. NGOs have had entire projects suspended. CARE, the international aid agency, which had hitherto provided 30 per cent of the health ministry’s medicines under a USAID-funded emergency medical assistance program, halted regular supplies after USAID withheld approval.”[16]

9. How could Hamas be a partner for peace? Didn’t they refuse the three U.S.-Israeli conditions: that they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to accept all agreements previously accepted by the Palestinian Authority?

Hamas has indeed refused these three conditions, but no more so than Israel and the United States have done. Hamas has not recognized Israel, but Israel and the United States have not recognized an independent Palestinian state. Consider General Assembly resolution 63/165 that was adopted on December 18, 2008. The resolution reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to an independent State of Palestine, and further urged all States and United Nations entities to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination. The resolution passed by the overwhelming vote of 173 in favor and 5 opposed, with 7 abstentions. The five nay votes were the United States, Israel, and three tiny U.S.-dependent Pacific island nations.[17] Of course, Israel may say that it is willing to accept a Palestine state, just not on the 1967 borders, and indeed so long as it is confined to a tiny swath of unviable territory. But if Hamas returned the favor, saying it was willing to recognize Israel, but only if it were confined to Tel Aviv and its suburbs, one doubts Israel and the United States would consider that adequately forthcoming. Regarding the use of violence, it would be nice if Hamas renounced the use of violence. Certainly, however, any sermons in this regard from the United States or Israel are preposterous. (Think Sinai, 1956, or Lebanon, 1982, or Iraq, 2003.) It might also be noted that those Israelis who actually renounce violence — by refusing military service in an occupying army — are imprisoned.[18] As for agreeing with previous agreements, put aside Washington’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, its “unsigning” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and its failure to comply with the World Court’s ruling on Nicaragua. Consider simply that the World Court found Israel to be in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (to which it is a party) in its construction of the Wall on the occupied West Bank.[19] By a vote of 150 to 6 with 10 abstentions, the General Assembly affirmed that World Court opinion and called on Israel to comply.[20] Israel refused to do so and the United States supported its refusal. Thus, for Israel and the United States, treaties solemnly accepted are just scraps of paper. For Palestinians, who signed on to the 1993 Oslo Accords which promised them a state by 1999, only to see no state and a huge expansion in the number of Israeli settlers,[21] Israel’s insistence that Hamas adhere to agreements must seem a cruel joke.

10. Hasn’t Hamas refused to ever accept the existence of Israel?

When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2006, he declared his continuing belief “in our people’s eternal and historic right to this entire land.”[22] Yet, he said, he understood the necessity of compromise. Hamas has taken a similar position: it considers Palestine in its entirety to be sacred Muslim land, it considers the state of Israel to be illegitimate, but yet it has made clear on numerous occasions that it was willing to compromise, and that it would accept a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, along with a truce that could last 20, 30, or 50 years, or even indefinitely.[23] Israel and the United States, however, refused to pursue these Hamas offers and refused to talk with Hamas at all — despite the fact that a majority of Israelis[24] and conservative analysts such as Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad,[25] supported such talks.

11. Doesn’t Hamas support Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism?

Unfortunately, throughout the Middle East over the past few decades secular nationalist and progressive movements have been replaced by fundamentalists, a result of both the tremendous repression the nationalist and leftist movements have faced and their own internal weaknesses. And anti-Semitism has grown across the Middle East, which is not surprising given that Palestinians have been subjected to horrendous barbarity by a self-described “Jewish state.” (And Middle Easterners are not encouraged to make fine distinctions when Israeli apologists declare that all criticisms of Israel are ipso facto anti-Semitic.) Obviously, we must reject anti-Semitism and the retrograde social views of fundamentalists. Hamas, which had its origins in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, comes out of an Islamic fundamentalist background. But origins alone do not determine present behavior. A March 2008 assessment of Hamas’s current practice by the mainstream International Crisis Group paints a mixed picture. Hamas “denies any intent of coercively imposing an Islamist entity. It appointed some non-Hamas figures to run its security services and administer its judiciary. There are no flagrant signs of Islamisation of the courts and schools. The authorities did not alter the PA school curriculum, the PA’s law code or its constitution. In January 2008, in accordance with PA practice but controversial within Islamic tradition, they appointed a woman judge and promoted another to head the Appeals Court. Notably, since August 2007, Hamas has recruited policewomen to fill the gap, attracting them through television and radio stations, as well as through mosques. Over 100 women have applied. A Hamas official maintained: ‘The people in Ramallah are trying to stigmatise Hamas as extremist. But an Islamic emirate will not come about in Gaza.’ “That said, past performance is no guarantee of future conduct, and civil rights groups as well as non-Hamas preachers remain deeply worried, pointing in particular to indirect forms of social pressure. Within Hamas, a more hardline clerical faction insists on a greater role for Sharia (Islamic law)…. “A senior Hamas jurist’s reply was equivocal: ‘We want the courts to apply Sharia law, but we won’t compel the people.’ Yet in some cases, they have done just that…. “Moreover, amid Gaza’s intensifying isolation and accompanying withdrawal of a Western presence, social mores have grown increasingly conservative and patriarchal – a process that some of Hamas’s more zealous militants, particularly within the security forces, have encouraged. The time devoted to religious instruction in schools has increased, and some teachers are known to punish girls who do not wear the veil. Although women continue to walk the streets unveiled, and officials say there has been no ruling on dress-code, Hamas militants are known to have enjoined some women to don scarves. Similarly while Hamas has curbed the killing of women on grounds of immorality, unmarried couples in cars reported some cases of being beaten and detained. The rate of attacks on internet cafes – apparently by non-Hamas groups – has begun to climb after a brief lull following the [June 2007] takeover, and Gaza’s Christians accuse Hamas forces of doing too little too late to reverse a significant increase in attacks on their community of 3,000, evidence, say some, of the growing influence radical Islamism commands within Hamas ranks.”[26] Unfortunately, continuing Israeli brutality and Palestinian helplessness will likely increase the worst tendencies of Hamas. At the same time, in Israel, Jewish fundamentalists are politically strong and part of the governing coalition. The U.S. State Department has noted the Israeli “Government’s unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews, including the Government’s recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews. Government allocations of state resources favor Orthodox (including Modern and National Religious streams of Orthodoxy) and ultra-Orthodox (sometimes referred to as “Haredi”) Jewish religious groups and institutions.”[27] Hamas’s 1988 Charter cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,[28] though in many respects the document is outdated.[29] The organization does, however, still resort to anti-Semitic rhetoric.[30] But that Hamas holds such views does not disqualify it as a party to peace talks, any more than the fact that Hindus and Muslims in South Asia have racist views of one another precludes them from sitting down together. And certainly many Israelis have racist views of Palestinians[31] (recall the comment of the father of Obama’s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, saying that Arabs were fit only to clean floors[32]). One can find vile anti-Jewish rhetoric from some Palestinian religious leaders. But one can find equally repulsive language from some Israeli rabbis. For example, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel proclaimed a religious ruling in 2007 “that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings” because “an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.” The rabbi’s son, who is chief rabbi of Safed, explained: “If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand…. And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”[33] Racism must be opposed, but it makes no sense to rule a party out as a potential partner for peace until its racism has been eliminated.

12. Is Hamas a terrorist organization?

Hamas was never a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda. Unlike the latter, it has a mass base, social welfare programs, and, now, an electoral constituency. Hamas has engaged in terrorist acts, most notably by purposely targeting civilians with suicide bombs. Sherdia Zuhur, Research Professor of Islamic and Regional Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, wrote: “HAMAS operatives first utilized suicide attacks in 1994, after an American-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, fired on and threw hand grenades at unarmed worshippers in the al-Haram al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron on February 25, killing 29. It was thought that Goldstein had attained entry with assistance of Israeli troops. Until that date, HAMAS’ only targets were Israeli military. It ceased such attacks, which were very controversial with other Palestinians in 1995, and reintroduced them after the “targeted killing” of HAMAS leader Yahya Ayyash.”[34] Zuhur went on to note that “HAMAS observed a 3-year moratorium on suicide attacks, which was then reestablished for a year, and possibly broken in a January 2008 attack in Dimona which may have been carried out by HAMAS or by other actors.”[35] And at various intervals, Hamas has fired rockets at civilian areas, which is also a form of terrorism. What this record suggests is that Hamas has engaged in terrorism, has not ruled it out, but is also amenable to refraining from terrorism in what it sees as appropriate circumstances. Such a record should be condemned — for terrorism is always wrong — but Israel’s record of terrorism must be condemned as well.

13. How can Israel be accused of terrorism since it doesn’t intentionally kill civilians, and views all civilian deaths that it causes as regrettable accidents?

Keep in mind the official U.S. definition of terrorism: “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets.”[36]Three points need to be noted here. First, inflicting pain on civilians for political purposes has long been official Israeli policy. When Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel responded by destroying Gaza’s only power plant, causing massive suffering.[37] Israeli leaders have openly acknowledged that they intended to cripple Gaza’s economy as a way to undermine support for Hamas. (That this is a foolish policy makes it no less immoral. That the governments of the United States, the European Union, and Egypt are complicit in the policy likewise makes it no less immoral.) Gazans have seen poverty and unemployment soar and their health and welfare decline as Israel has closed their borders, cut fuel and power supplies, and denied them their own tax revenues. Human rights groups[38] and United Nations officials[39] have condemned this policy of economic strangulation, deeming it “collective punishment.” When New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes that he hopes Israel is pursuing a strategy in Gaza of trying to inflict “heavy pain on Gaza civilians,” he is endorsing a policy that is indistinguishable from the above-cited official U.S. government definition of terrorism.[40] Second, over the years Israel has intentionally killed civilians. Among other instances, it has used lethal fire against demonstrators who posed no serious threat.[41] It has targeted and killed medical personnel and journalists.[42] And now it has targeted and killed civilian police and non-military government personnel in Gaza (as will be discussed below). Third, even when civilians have not been specifically targeted, Israel has shown reckless disregard for the welfare of civilians, killing many. These are not “unfortunate accidents,” but the result of willful, criminal negligence. It is true that in domestic law we distinguish between intentional and unintentional killing, with the former being a much more serious offense than the latter. But domestic law also recognizes that sometimes criminal negligence can be as condemnable as premeditation. As the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq correctly puts it, “the choice of targeted areas, methods of attack and the number of civilians killed and injured clearly indicate a reckless disregard for civilian life synonymous with intent.”[43] Consider the record before the current Israeli attack on Gaza. According to statistics from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, from the beginning of the second Intifada on September 29, 2000, until November 30, 2008, 2,990 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli security forces. Of these, 1,382 were known not to be taking part in hostilities.[44] (During this same seven year period, Palestinian rockets or mortars from Gaza killed a grand total of 22 Israeli civilians.[45]) If these Palestinian rockets constituted terrorism and war crimes — and they do — how much greater were the crimes of the Israeli government? And this is so whether Israeli officials express pro forma regret or instead declare, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did in March 2002, “The Palestinians must be hit and it must be painful. We must cause them losses, victims, so they feel the heavy price.”[46]

Continued >>

Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights

November 15, 2008

Celebrations of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States erupted in countries around the world. From Europe to Africa to the Middle East, people were jubilant. After suffering though eight years of an administration that violated more human rights than any other in U.S. history, Obama spells hope for a new day.

While George W. Bush was President, I wrote Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, which chronicled his war of aggression, policy of torture, illegal killings, unlawful Guantánamo detentions, and secret spying on Americans. When the book was published, it seemed unimaginable that we could elect a President who would turn those policies around. But the election of Obama holds that potential.

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will suggest how the Obama administration can start undoing some of the damage Bush wrought, by ratifying three of the major human rights treaties and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.

Although the U.S. government frequently criticizes other countries for their human rights transgressions, the United States has been one of the most flagrant violators. We have refused to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). And while the United States worked with other countries for 50 years to create the International Criminal Court, it has failed to ratify that treaty as well. When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

In this article, I will explain why the United States should ratify the ICESCR, which is particularly relevant now that we are in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal helped lift us out of the Depression, gave his famous Four Freedoms Speech, focused on freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt fleshed out the freedom from want and fear principles in his Economic Bill of Rights. It contained equality of opportunity, the right to a job and a decent wage, the end of special privileges for the few, universal civil liberties, and guaranteed old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and medical care.

FDR’s bill of rights formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, and which the U.N. General Assembly adopted in 1949. The Declaration embraced two types of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

These rights were codified in two binding treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992. But it has refused to commit itself to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Since the Reagan administration, there has been a policy to define human rights in terms of civil and political rights, but to dismiss economic, social and cultural rights as akin to social welfare, or socialism.

Indeed, the United States’ inhumane policy toward Cuba exemplifies this dichotomy. The U.S. government has criticized civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans’ superior access to universal housing, health care, education and public accommodations, and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.

The refusal to enshrine rights such as employment, education, food, housing, and health care in U.S. law is the reason the United States has not ratified the ICESCR. This treaty contains the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education, to housing, and to enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress. It also guarantees equal rights for men and women, the right to work, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to social security and social insurance, and protection and assistance to the family.

In the United States, more than 10 million people are unemployed, 2 to 3 million families are homeless each year, and 46 million have no health care benefits. Untold numbers lost their retirement savings when the stock market crashed. Obama has pledged to give the rebuilding of our economy top priority after he is sworn in as President. He promised to create jobs and to ensure that all Americans are covered by health insurance. When Obama said he would cut taxes for 95 percent of the people but end the tax cuts for the rich, he was criticized for wanting to “spread the wealth.” But Obama’s plan is fully consistent with our progressive income tax system. After the election, 15,000 physicians called for a single-payer health care plan, which Obama and Congress should seriously consider.

The United States’ flouting of the United Nations in its unilateral war on Iraq, and torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Iraq, has engendered widespread condemnation in the international community. Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, citing Professor Louis Henkin, summarized the hypocrisy of the United States in the area of human rights as follows: “In the cathedral of human rights, the U.S. is more like a flying buttress than a pillar — choosing to stand outside the international structure supporting the international human rights system but without being willing to subject its own conduct to the scrutiny of the system.”

We should encourage President Obama to send the ICESCR to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. Becoming a party to that treaty will help not only the people in this country; it will also engender respect for the United States around the world.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the President of the National Lawyers Guild. Her new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter by PoliPointPress. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com. The next article in this series will explain why the United States should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

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