Solidaridad con Gaza
The brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, the fourth in less than ten years (2006, 2008-2009, 2012 and now again), has triggered a burst of solidarity in Latin America. Dozens of protests have taken place, in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela, among other countries. While these demonstrations were organized on the initiative of Arab organizations -- in particular drawn from the Palestinian diaspora -- several other civil society groups participated, including labor unions, indigenous and black movements, grassroots organizations and representatives of left-wing parties.
At more than half a million, Latin Americans of Palestinian descent are the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world. The majority are descendants of a pre-nakba generation of migrants that joined the upper and upper-middle classes of the host societies, but smaller waves of migration, mainly to Brazil and Venezuela, occurred from the 1950s onward. These new arrivals moved along a different socio-economic trajectory.
In Chile, where the Palestinian diaspora is particularly well represented among political and business elites, the pro-Palestinian movement has found a vibrant echo among legislators, thanks to the Chile-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Group, a coalition of MPs from both left- and right-wing parties. With 46 members in the House of Deputies, which has a total membership of 120, it is currently the largest of binational friendship groups. On July 14, these deputies held up signs bearing the slogan: “End the Slaughter in Gaza. No More Occupation in Palestine.”
Some Latin American governments have taken clear positions vis-à-vis the slaughter. Not surprisingly, on July 9, Venezuela was the first country to issue a statement that “strongly rejects the attacks in the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces” against “the heroic Palestinian people” and urges Israel “to stop immediately these attacks that go against international law and against elementary respect for life and human dignity.” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro himself launched an “SOS Palestine” campaign to demand an end to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza. Venezuela was rapidly followed by the other member states of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (a left-wing bloc launched in 2004), notably Ecuador and Bolivia. On July 17, Ecuador’s government announced it was recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv in protest against the Israeli military incursion into Palestinian territory. With this decision, the Andean country is now in line with Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, which suspended diplomatic ties with Israel in January 2009 and February 2010.
Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina have also issued communiqués that unequivocally ascribe the prime responsibility for the escalating violence to Israel, though regretting and condemning the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel. While the governments of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took an oddly long time to assume a stance -- nine and 12 days, respectively, after the beginning of the Israeli offensive -- Brazil is the only country explicitly to call on Israel to “put an end to the blockade of Gaza immediately.” On July 16, Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations, gave a strong speech on the living conditions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
All of these political gestures matter. But Latin American solidarity movements with Palestine ask for greater unity and, more to the point, “concrete actions.” Appearances to the contrary, the near consensus that characterized the flurry of recognitions of the Palestinian state by South American nations in 2010-2011 -- only Colombia didn’t join in -- seems more fragile today than three years ago. Paraguay, a country that recognized the state of Palestine, hasn’t yet said a word about the deadly Israeli ground incursion in Gaza. Peru’s communiqué evinced only a timid empathy for the Palestinians by suggesting a false symmetry between Israel and Hamas fighters. Colombia, a close Israeli ally, reiterated its support for Israel by “condemning in the strongest terms the acts of violence and terrorism against the Israeli territory that affect the lives and safety of the civilian population.” Yesterday, as a sign of protest against this position, several left-wing Colombian MPs took up the slogan of their Chilean colleagues (“End the Slaughter in Gaza. No More Occupation in Palestine”) during a congressional session.
Despite persistent rumors on the Internet, Chile has not suspended trade, nor frozen Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks, with Israel. While it is true that a feasibility study for the signing of an FTA with Israel was completed positively in 2010, no further steps were taken and the agreement is currently not under negotiation, anyway. Nevertheless, the Chile-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Group and the senator Alejandro Navarro continue to demand suspension of commercial relations, as well as withdrawal of Chile’s ambassador to Tel Aviv and proactive steps at the UN Security Council, where Chile was elected a non-permanent member for 2014-2015. An Avaaz petition was launched by Brazilian-Palestinians calling upon “Latin American presidents and ministers of foreign affairs to withdraw their ambassadors to Israel.”
In response to such demands, Chile’s Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday that the country will make a donation of $150,000 and an unspecified amount of medicine to Palestinian victims in Gaza. If Latin American governments are serious about their support for the Palestinian people and don’t want to contribute to Israel’s endless impunity, they will have to take actions that are much more than symbolic condemnations.
Meanwhile, in Hebron...
As Israel pounds Gaza by land, air and sea, we turn for a moment to the West Bank city of Hebron. In 1997, Israel withdrew its military from the majority of the city’s area, called “H-1,” which became part of “Area A,” the parts of the West Bank policed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israeli soldiers remained in “H-2,” the old city, where some 400 Jewish settlers live among 40,000 Palestinians and where the Tomb of the Patriarchs / Ibrahimi mosque is located. When H-2 is not under curfew, visitors can walk down Shuhada Street and see soldiers in mesh-enclosed positions above. Hisham Sharabati is an organizer with the Hebron Defense Committee, which works to expose and resist Israeli settlement expansion and army-backed settler rampages in the beleaguered city. The Committee supports Palestinian families living on Shuhada Street, and is the first response team during settler attacks. Yassmine Saleh spoke with Sharabati on July 8, 2014.
What has been going on Hebron?
The situation is always tense, because the settlers present in our city and in other settlement areas in the Hebron governorate are some of the most extreme. The settlers use any form of anti-occupation resistance as a pretext to do more harm to Palestinians.
When the Israeli operations that were advertised as searches for the three missing settler teens began, the situation got even tenser, with a marked increase in arbitrary attacks on Palestinians by both settlers and Israeli occupation forces. Homes in the villages of Tafouh, Bayt Kahil and Idhna were subjected to a series of particularly intense raids. Throughout the 20-day operation, soldiers would barge in to homes and wreak havoc as many as ten times per day. The Committee has verified reports of Israeli soldiers stealing money and gold jewelry.
In Halhoul, where there were also house searches, the army polluted wells and often sent divers down into them ostensibly to look for the missing settlers. All of these practices constitute collective punishment, though they do not depart too much from the everyday practices of the occupation regime.
The Israeli campaign in the Hebron area did not halt after the missing settlers were found dead. Instead, the Israelis behaved as they did before the advent of the PA and its control of Area A, with systematic incursions. No home, no sort of building, was safe. Many employees of the PA civil service and security forces reside in the village of Tafouh. Their homes were violated and the inhabitants subjected to full-body inspections.
Israeli occupation forces were acting under the watchful and approving eyes of the settlers, who since the missing teens were found dead have been marching daily, taunting Palestinians and demanding full-scale reinvasion of Hebron. Usually, during Ramadan, people go to pray in the Ibrahimi mosque, but the high-strung settler gangs have scared people off, and the mosque is empty.
In the town of Halhoul, homes were searched up to six or seven times per day. The Israelis place a device on the doorknob to blow the door wide open, shattering windows in the process. That’s how the soldiers enter homes: They don’t knock, they bomb their way in.
The residents didn’t bother cleaning up their homes after an Israeli raid, because they knew that another one was coming. Soldiers toss household items all over the place, rummage through kitchens, mixing the sugar with the flour, tip over cabinets, ruin sofas, and even destroy toys and decorations made by kids for Ramadan.
Israeli soldiers force a family member to escort them throughout the house. They corral everyone else so they can search uninterrupted. Often, the soldiers will confine the men in one room and the women in another. The children are traumatized by the constant threat of incursion.
The Hebron area, and particularly the Hasaka region to the north of the city, is largely agricultural. People are not accustomed to keeping their money in the bank. Instead, there are community cooperatives that people can draw upon, on a rotating basis, to pay for large purchases. So people often keep cash savings, and a lot of valuables, at home. Along with cell phones and other personal items, these valuables are regularly stolen by soldiers. We are talking about tens of cases of theft. There is a car dealership in Hebron; when the soldiers invaded the place, 65,000 shekels (about $19,000), the entirety of their receipts from the week, were stolen. The owners usually don’t keep their money at the dealership, but that night they could not take it elsewhere and they thought nothing would happen to it.
A women’s cooperative was also targeted. One woman, whose turn it was to safeguard the funds, had 8,500 shekels (about $2,480) stolen from her. A married couple had been setting aside thousands of shekels for in vitro fertilization, and was robbed of the lot.
Other families were targeted in the searches, particularly the Abu Aisha and Qawasma families. Their homes were searched every day after the settler teens disappeared. And many members of their families were also detained. Some in the Abu Aisha and Qawasma families had their apartments bombed, or even had the toilets and refrigerators destroyed.
What are the settlers up to?
More attacks. The Ja‘bari family in the old city was still awake when the settlers attacked, as it was only 10 pm. Soldiers accompany the settlers at all times, of course, to protect them. In the case of the Ja‘bari family, as in other cases before this campaign, they arrested the Palestinians who defended themselves against the settlers’ attacks. Palestinians in Hebron are subject to Israeli military law, whereas the settlers are subject to civil law, so the army never arrests them.
The old city and the southeastern parts of the Hebron governorate, especially the Yatta region, suffer the greatest number of settler attacks. Settlers attempted to break into Halhoul when the soldiers were there, but the Israeli army and police blocked them, lest they disrupt the military operation. But later the settlers attacked people in the Tall Rumayda and Rajabi quarters of the old city.
The settlers also flooded the streets of the old city to hold a riotous demonstration of incitement at the Ibrahimi mosque. What is even graver is that the settlers started building three new settlements, including one that is built over a house in the eastern part of Hebron. And there are settlement blocs near Halhoul on Road 60 (Bakaim) and on Surif lands (Kfar Etzion).
In the eyes of the State of Israel and its army, these settlement blocs are illegal, but at the same time they say that the blocs are built on individual initiative. It’s initiative that the army provides protection for, and that the state provides with electricity, water and basic infrastructure to connect the new structures to established settlements. All of this happens despite the illegality of the settlements in the eyes of the occupying state, let alone the view of the international community.
How are Palestinians organizing in response?
The Israeli operations coincided with Ramadan, which helped to produce a spontaneous eruption of popular organizing and to strengthen the sense of trust among people. People were protective of each other, particularly whenever there was news of an impending search of a house. During Ramadan people stay up after iftar (evening breakfast) through the night until suhur (pre-dawn meal before fasting recommences) and dawn prayers. This habit helped everyone to respond quickly to the Israeli incursions, which often come at night.
I don’t know if this type of organizing can or will continue after the end of Ramadan. In light of the absence of the PA, and its security forces’ failure to protect us from the settlers, I don’t know what will happen next.
What are economic conditions like now?
Hebron is a commercial city, and the Israeli army imposed a siege on June 14. So the markets have been empty, including of the ‘48 Palestinians who come from Israel to shop in Hebron and who support the local economy the most. Everyone is fearful of the siege and the likelihood of more settler attacks. Hebron has two of the biggest dairies in Palestine, Jabrini and Junaydi. These two facilities suffered in the siege, as they could not supply areas outside Hebron, since trucks could not leave the city through “the container” checkpoint. Civil servants and those working in civil society organizations outside Hebron also could not go to work, and workers with permits to enter Israel had them revoked. Many of them dared to approach the checkpoint with their permits, but the Israeli soldiers tore up their papers and ordered them back home. The workers without permits did not dare to try crossing the checkpoint. And, of course, no one carrying a Hebron ID could travel abroad.
In addition to the obstruction of commercial life, the agricultural sector in the Hebron governorate suffers. Areas such as Halhoul and Tafouh, for instance, were dealt a heavy blow when farmers could not reach their plots to gather the harvest of fruits and vegetables, particularly peaches and faqqus (Armenian cucumber). I know of a farmer in Hasaka who could water his faqqus only once in a span of 13 days.
After the missing settlers were found dead, things have become a little less tense although ’48 Palestinian shoppers from the inside are still afraid to come. The flare-up in Jerusalem and among Palestinians in Israel is making them afraid to leave, especially in light of the killing of Mohammad Abu Khdeir.
How have current events affected the standing of Hamas and other factions in Hebron?
The attacks on Hebron coincided with the longest hunger strike waged by the administrative detainees, people in Israeli custody who have not tried or indicted. Hamas had widespread popular support, particularly in light of the targeting of Hamas cadres, including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hamas organized demonstrations in support of the hunger strike; Israel still refused to negotiate with the hunger strikers.
The issue of administrative detainees is crucial in Hebron because there are many who hail from the area and have been in administrative detention for ten years or more. Mazin al-Natsha, for example, has spent between 12 and 13 years in prison, without trial, as has Muhammad Jamal al-Natsha.
With regard to Hamas, the attacks against its members may have weakened its political structure, as I said due to the large numbers of detainees affiliated with Hamas. But that has not reduced their popularity -- particularly because the PA suppressed two demonstrations organized by Hamas, one in solidarity with the prisoners, and yesterday’s in solidarity with Gaza. The current onslaught by the Israeli army increases popular sympathy for Hamas.
As you may know, the other factions and parties have become marginal over the years due to the structural framework of Oslo, which I could go on and on about. Oslo also enervated the national struggle. People have developed an aversion to active participation. The popular committees don’t attract widespread involvement, but those of us who are active continue to show, through our work and our words, that popular struggle is fruitful.
Image: Hebron and immediate environs in 2000 (Foundation for Middle East Peace / Jan de Jong)
MER 271: Fuel and Water: The Coming Crises
For immediate release July 18, 2014 Middle East Report 271 Summer 2014
FUEL AND WATER: THE COMING CRISES
Demand for fuel and water in the Middle East is rapidly increasing. Populations are growing, as are expectations of middle-class levels of consumption. Supplies of fuel and water are finite, however, and renewable water reserves are dwindling fast. The summer issue of Middle East Report warns of the resource crises to come in the era of climate change. In the main, these are crises of inequality, not scarcity.
The Middle East is usually characterized as oil-rich and water-poor. In her incisive primer, Jeannie Sowers shows that this canard erases huge variations between and within the countries of the region. More to the point, the glib generalization obscures the political, social and environmental factors that determine who gets access to adequate fuel and water and who does not.
Fossil fuels, of course, are the region’s energy source of choice and the main reason for its geopolitical importance. Middle East Report interviews Toby Jones about “energy security,” a term spreading like an oil spot into everyday parlance that masks so many motives of profit and power. Dina Zayed and Jeannie Sowers tell the more encouraging tale of Egyptians’ campaign against polluting coal-fired cement plants.
Middle Eastern states are beginning to make the investments in solar or wind power that seem sensible for a sun-baked region with vast open spaces. In the meantime, many states are seeking the quicker fix of nuclear power plants. Nicholas Seeley reports on Jordan’s move in the nuclear direction. Bassel Burgan, a prominent Jordanian activist, tells Middle East Report why he is against nuclear power in his country.
Francesca de Chatel and Mohammad Raba‘a relate the history of manufactured drought in Wadi Barada, the river valley whose waters once earned Damascus the title “paradise of the Orient.” The Syrian regime drilled boreholes around the Barada’s springs to fill swimming pools and garden hoses in suburbs built for the army and intelligence service officer corps. Water bubbles under the surface of the political violence in this part of Syria.
Also featured: Katherine Hennessey attends the raucous, rough-and-tumble Yemeni theater; Narges Bajoghli parses new Iranian depictions of the Iran-Iraq war on film; David H. Price reviews Hugh Wilford’s America’s Great Game; and more.
Subscribe to Middle East Report or order individual copies here.
Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles, and the implications of US and international policy for the region.
I’ve been through wars before, two of them, in 2008-2009 and 2012. The difference this time around is that I am responsible for a six-month old daughter.
I have to be strong for her. I have to be around her all the time. I have to be ready to make funny noises as soon as the Israeli F-16s resume the bombardment.
The nights are much worse than the days, and each night is rougher than the night before. Ten days now.
My heart is sick whenever I watch the news, particularly when I see footage of parents crying over their dead children.
The fear I see in my neighbors’ eyes as they talk about ground invasion is indescribable.
Every night we wait until the morning to snatch one or two hours of sleep.
Every day we pray the electricity will stay on so that we can watch the news. The broadcasts are full of blood and oppression, stuffed with warnings of food shortages and fuel shortages. Medicine shortages. Medical equipment shortages. And neither regional actors nor the “international community” do anything to redress the urgent needs.
All the justifications for the continuous closures are silly. But the silliest one I’ve ever heard came from an Egyptian journalist, the deputy chief of one of Egypt’s most famous newspapers. He said the Rafah crossing must remain shut so that people from Gaza (most of us are 1948 or 1967 refugees) won’t be displaced again.
That’s right -- “Egypt will not assist Israel in displacing the Palestinians again!” Instead, Egypt will help the Palestinians to die under blockade.
The most stressful day so far was Tuesday. At 10:50 pm, somebody rang the bell and told us over the intercom that we had to evacuate immediately. A resident on the sixth floor had gotten one of those warning phone calls from the Israelis. They were about to bomb his house.
I live on the eighth floor.
Before a minute had elapsed, I was hurrying down the stairs, holding my baby daughter. All of our neighbors (there are more than 30 flats) were already hiding in the next building over. We all stayed there for 30-40 minutes.
We were afraid to go home. I went with a neighbor to my father-in-law’s house. It was difficult to find transportation. The men (my husband and other neighbors) stayed behind, in case the bombs did come and caused a fire. Also, we had all left our homes unlocked.
Yesterday, a first-floor resident got a warning from the Israelis to leave his house. They were about to bomb.
He was brave enough to tell them that he is a UN staffer and unaffiliated with a political party. The person calling said he would check.
He called back a few minutes later, and said the target was not the first floor but the ground floor, so my neighbor should still evacuate.
We don’t know who rents the garage down there. We used to see a person park his car there. He doesn’t live in our building. So those of us who had come back home had to evacuate again.
Nothing was bombed.
Was it psychological warfare? Maybe, but most of us did not want to risk going home.
Today, people used the five-hour ceasefire to go out and buy food for their families. I managed to get home and grab some important papers, some money and and a few items for my baby. Then I left the house again.
Belonging to an oppressed people means being uncertain of everything.
It also means that the children stay awake for days on end, spending the hours between the moments of horror discussing the types of military aircraft launching the missiles. “Is it an Apache or an F-16? How big was the bang? What did it sound like?” I guess Palestinian kids have their own vocabulary.
Being oppressed means enduring outrageous lies by news channels that show destroyed Palestinian houses and claim they belonged to Israeli families. The media always serves the powerful.
It also means celebrating Ramadan with the smell of gunpowder in the air, the deafening noise of explosions, the continuous vibration of the house. As a Palestinian living in Gaza, you learn to stay away from windows. You “redecorate” your house so that one room is the place for everything -- eating, sleeping and watching the news. You have to be on alert. Any sound could be a “warning rocket” to be followed by actual bombardment of your house.
It also means trying not to breathe when the house opposite to you is bombed because the air is full of dark smoke.
No place is safe in Gaza. The Israeli drones make ears buzz. F-16 missiles suck air out of lungs. People who live close to the sea (like me) have constant headaches and knots in the stomach from the growl of the warships offshore.
The death is not the story. The story is experiencing the death every moment. The words become hollow when you live under fire.
Judging the Judge
On July 2, 16-year old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted, beaten and burned alive, apparently by a group of Jewish Israelis. News of this “torture and murder by fire,” prominent American commentator Jeffrey Goldberg confesses, “initially prompted in me a desire to say, ‘But.’” Alas, his considered response was scarcely more enlightened.
Goldberg distinguishes Mohammed’s murder from the subsequent beating of his 15-year old cousin Tariq by Israel’s Border Police, and claims that the latter is “more consequential” because it was perpetrated by state security forces and not independent individuals. Says Goldberg,
We judge countries not on the behavior of their criminal elements, but on 1) how they police their criminal elements; and 2) how they police their police.
The omission of a third possible criterion, deliberate state actions, whitewashes the role of Israel’s government in fostering the conditions in which Mohammed’s killing took place, and permits Goldberg to frame Israeli crimes against Palestinians in terms of lamentable “state failure” rather than abhorrent state policy.
Still, let us proceed as Goldberg suggests and focus on the policing of 1) criminal elements and 2) security forces. By these metrics, how does Israel fare?
Individual violence. Israel’s “institutional unwillingness to prosecute” crimes against Palestinians and their property by Jewish settlers “has allowed such violence…to continue and intensify,” as “settlers involved in the planning and perpetration of such acts have remained largely immune from the enforcement of the law and, in some cases, have even benefited from official support from State authorities” (Al-Haq). Settlers who attack Palestinians “are rarely tried” and “many cases are not investigated at all” (B’Tselem). Between 2005 and 2013 just 8.5 percent of investigations into alleged attacks by Israeli civilians on Palestinians and their property issued in an indictment, with the vast majority of investigations being closed due to “investigatory failures on the part of the police” (Yesh Din). Settler violence against Palestinians has “occurred within full view of Israeli soldiers and police, who have taken no action to protect Palestinians or their property…. In some cases, soldiers are alleged to have intervened to assist settlers” (Amnesty International)
Violence by security forces. Israeli policy “effectively grants immunity to soldiers and officers, with the result that soldiers who kill Palestinians not taking part in hostilities are almost never held accountable for their misdeeds” (B’Tselem). Between 2000 and mid-2013, during which period the Israel Defense Forces killed approximately 5,000 Palestinians including some 1,000 children, just 16 indictments were issued against Israeli soldiers (Yesh Din). Despite “a long record of using excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank,” “Amnesty International is not aware of any case in which an Israeli army soldier or member of another security force has been convicted of willfully causing the death of a Palestinian.” Indeed, “soldiers and security force personnel have rarely been prosecuted at all in connection with the killings of Palestinians,” even though “many appear to have amounted to unlawful killings” (Amnesty International).
Goldberg cites none of these reports, preferring, in typical fashion, to insert himself between readers and important events. (A standard Jeffrey Goldberg column consists of a sequence of more or less related declarations about himself: “I will dissent…. I believe that…. I myself have used…. I described…. I suppose this passage makes me…. I described… but I have decided…. George Mitchell taught me this…. I owe a number of friends…. I now prefer…. I’m not going to condemn.”)
Observing with considerable understatement that the security forces’ assault of Tariq Abu Khdeir was “not a one-off failure,” Goldberg reveals that, in his experience as a pundit and more pertinently as an Israeli army prison guard during the first Palestinian intifada, “I’ve witnessed some of these incidents myself.”
Excerpting his 2006 book Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, Goldberg relates the time “I witnessed -- and broke up -- one of the more vicious beatings I have ever seen,” of an unarmed prisoner by one of Goldberg’s friends and fellow jailers. This intervention earned Goldberg “a reputation as a yafei nefesh, literally a ‘beautiful soul.’”
But Goldberg undersells himself. As his own account of the beating shows, he did not merely “witness” and break up the assault -- he lied to cover it up:
Abu Firas was on his knees…. His hair shone with blood. He was barely coherent…. I went in search of someone to take Abu Firas to the infirmary. I found another military policeman, and handed off the wobbling prisoner, who was by now bleeding on me. “He fell,” I lied.
Was this a one-off “Goldberg failure”? “I saw a handful of other beatings,” Goldberg recalls, “and broke them up as well.” Did he report the perpetrators to the authorities? His article doesn’t say.
Elsewhere in Prisoners he is more forthcoming. He describes a routine punishment for detainees at Ketziot, the prison camp where he served, called zinzana, a form of “solitary confinement” in “isolation tanks”:
The zinzana was the size of a refrigerator box, into which three, four, five or six prisoners were shoveled. The prisoners slept seated on a cold and hard plastic floor, limbs draped over limbs, and they shat in a bucket that was emptied once a day. After a few days in the box, prisoners could no longer stand unaided. (109)
At one point he describes four prisoners locked “in a space fit, at most, for two small dogs.” (114) Goldberg admits to having personally sent people to the zinzana. (118) (Zinzana is a colloquial Arabic term for “jail cell,” but jailers in the region have given the word this “special” meaning.)
This isn’t the first time Goldberg’s accounts of his military service have been in tension. Referred to by a critic as a former Israeli prison guard, Goldberg objected:
I wasn’t a guard, I was a military policeman (the actual title of my position was “prisoner counselor,” believe it or not, which meant that I saw after the culinary, hygiene and medical needs of the prisoners…).
But in his book, Goldberg had already explained that this formal description was misleading:
I was a “prisoner counselor,” a job title that did not reflect accurately my duties in the related fields of discipline and punishment. (28)
He himself has described his experience “guarding” Palestinians. Accused of complicity in torture while at Ketziot, Goldberg responded, “That is just ridiculous. I never laid a hand on anybody.” But in his latest article Goldberg recalls an altercation in which he and a prisoner had “flailed at each other and…wrestled on the ground.”
Goldberg’s post concludes with a rousing sermon urging Israeli soldiers to refrain from abusing prisoners even as it apologizes for their failure to do so. “The truth,” he writes,
is that I judge Israel by a higher standard than I judge other [e.g., “developing-world”] countries, precisely because it is a Jewish country…[and] Jews gave the world the gift of ethical monotheism…. Is this a tough standard? Yes. Is it impossible to reach during times of strife, when Israel’s enemies are trying to murder as many Jews as possible? Maybe. But moments like these are tests. And they represent tests worth passing.
Fortunately for Israeli soldiers surrounded by “developing-world” brutality and genocidal anti-semitism, they have, in Goldberg, an extremely generous grader.
Take, as one such “test,” Israel’s response to the first intifada, when Goldberg was guarding prisoners in Ketziot. That intifada, Goldberg observes sardonically, is now remembered “as the ‘good’ uprising, of stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails, rather than suicide bombers.” And what of the mass boycotts, strikes and tax resistance that were the heart of the revolt? In his book, Goldberg laments Palestinian blindness “to the ideas of Gandhi and King,” but his claim that he “had not seen” non-violent resistance by Palestinians suggests he suffered a severe visual impairment of his own. (140) The reality was captured by Gene Sharp, a leading academic specialist on non-violent resistance, who reported, a year in to the uprising, that it “has thus far been distinguished on the Palestinian side by predominantly non-violent forms of struggle.” Given “the severity of Israeli repression in the form of beatings, shootings, killings, house demolitions, uprooting of trees, deportations, extended imprisonments and detentions without trial,” he continued, “the Palestinians during the intifada have shown impressive restraint.” (Quoted in Norman Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much, 108-109.)
It is worth recalling the scale of this repression by Israel. During the intifada “Palestinians under interrogation were systematically tortured or ill-treated” (Amnesty International). Some “85 percent of persons interrogated” by Israel’s internal security service were subjected to “methods constituting torture” (B’Tselem), with victims numbering “in the tens of thousands” (Human Rights Watch). Goldberg, while not hesitating to use the word “torture” to describe Palestinian interrogation methods, recoils in his book from applying it to Israel, even when it used the very same techniques.
A memoirist with selective memory; a reporter with distorted vision; a moralizer without principle; a beautiful soul who colluded in torture -- Goldberg suggests we judge Israel by its willingness to hold ethical violations to account. By that standard, Israel’s failures are matched only by Goldberg’s own.
Author’s Note: I am grateful to Norman Finkelstein for his input.
Nowhere to Turn for Mosul's Refugees
In 2006, 30,000 Iraqis arrived in Syria every month, seeking and receiving safe haven from US occupation and sectarian warfare as kidnappings, death threats, and bombings by air and land engulfed Baghdad and the southern governorates of Iraq. By 2011, an estimated 1-2 million Iraqis had fled to neighboring countries.
The refugees were the lucky ones. Those too poor to afford the treacherous jeep ride to Damascus, then costing $50 per person, and the set-up costs of a life abroad, entered Iraq’s sprawling camps for internally displaced people, in dismal conditions, without the few benefits that registering with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees can sometimes afford.
Since 2011, however, Iraq’s neighbors have either themselves collapsed into war or are experiencing severe housing shortages as a result of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Where, then, is the latest wave of Iraqi refugees to turn?
The May takeover by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) of several cities in central and northern Iraq precipitated a huge upsurge in fighting between militias, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian government forces, and Kurdish troops. It is primarily this increase in violence, including aerial bombing raids upon residential neighborhoods by Iraqi and Syrian warplanes, that has driven the exodus from Mosul, Tikrit, Tall ‘Afar and smaller communities. According to eyewitness accounts on Facebook, ISIS has begun to plant its flag atop residential buildings it does not use, in hopes of confusing pilots and drones looking for targets. The assaults by both the militias and the regimes have effectively destroyed the last remnants of public services available in the towns captured by ISIS, areas already suffering from chronic state refusal to supply basic goods.
Both Sunnis and Shi‘a are now attempting to cross from Iraq’s Nineveh governorate into territory controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Fleeing along the 50-mile road connecting Mosul to Erbil, the majority stop in Erbil and wait, hoping to return once the fighting has subsided. Estimates by the UN and KRG state that, in the last two weeks, 300,000 people have been displaced in this way. New arrivals receive temporary shelter with friends or relatives, but many have to spend savings to rent hotel rooms and other short-term accommodation. Real estate prices in Erbil, already very high, are skyrocketing, as those who can are renting or buying apartments in the overcrowded city. The UNHCR has scrambled to build a transit camp in the desert next to the border checkpoint between Mosul and Erbil, where those without any means of finding accommodation can seek shelter, if in awful conditions and boiling heat. The crisis is pushing humanitarian logistics to the limits, and although aid agencies have flooded into Erbil, coordination remains a challenge -- resulting in an oversupply of aid in accessible areas, while more remote locations receive nothing. Aid organizations have no access to Mosul itself, nor to other ISIS-controlled areas. Communal solidarity, including between strangers, continues to function as the bedrock of the aid response in Erbil, together with the opening of public health facilities to the displaced.
Those fleeing ISIS to the KRG areas are widely referred to, including by the UN, as IDPs -- internally displaced persons. But this designation is inaccurate. Non-Kurdish Iraqis entering the Kurdish region have to pass through immigration controls and receive only short-stay visas, ranging from one to three weeks; sometimes a Kurdish sponsor is required to gain entry. Non-Kurdish Iraqis’ status in the Kurdish region is thus closer to that of refugees than that of internally displaced persons, who usually do not require a residency permit and do not have to pass through immigration controls. Ironically, Syrians, of whom the Kurdish region is also hosting around 200,000, according to the UNHCR, hold a clearer legal status, as they receive a residency permit after registering with the UN agency. Officially, Syrian refugees, many of whom are Kurdish, are required to reside in camps, but authorities are turning a blind eye as many Syrians work and live outside of camps.
We may hope that global interest sparked by the striking images of ISIS marching through Iraqi cities will result in greater attention to Iraq’s relentless crisis of displacement. More support for the aid effort is crucial, as is an urgent wake-up call from the UN’s humanitarian agencies, whose response in the region is increasingly constrained by the impasse at the Security Council over access to all areas, including those under control by rebels or ISIS forces. The more difficult questions concerning the United States and Europe, whose disastrous interventions lie near the root of today’s crises, remain open. The paralysis of the US and EU was confirmed by the failure of the Geneva process to find a solution for Syria. The Western powers show little interest in developing any strategy for the regional crisis apart from ever harsher border controls to ward off the growing numbers of desperate migrants trying to reach Western shores.
In truth, the exodus and/or mass displacement of the Iraqi population has been underway since the 2003 invasion, if not the wars of the 1980s and 1990s. The war in Syria has forced the return of tens of thousands of Iraqis, many of whom have not been able to return to their place of origin. Before the ISIS capture of Mosul, the militia’s advance throughout Iraq’s western Anbar province since January (which heralded its future successes, but was a mere blip in the media) had already displaced over 400,000 residents, who again were mainly forced to flee due to intensifying warfare between the militants and government forces. For years now, Iraqis have been the second-largest group of refugees in Turkey, whose government does not give them access to the refugee camps specially built for Syrians.
The warehousing of Iraq’s IDPs and refugees in ballooning, overwhelmed UNHCR camps must not be allowed to be established as the accepted solution to the crisis. This approach has had disastrous effects on displaced populations in Africa and Asia, and its creeping expansion into the Middle East is a depressing development. Instead of a purely humanitarian problem, displacement must be considered as a political effect of Iraq’s terrible political crisis, to which a political solution must be found.
“Gaza is Israel’s Soweto.” With those four words, Joan Mandell led her dispatch for Middle East Report in 1985.
Visitors to Gaza cannot help but draw grim parallels. The place urges it upon them. Julie Peteet prefaced her 2009 piece for us with a quote from Alice Walker, the gifted author of The Color Purple. “Rolling into Gaza I had a feeling of homecoming. There is a flavor to the ghetto. To the bantustan. To the ‘rez.’ To the ‘colored section.’”
Apartheid, though not Soweto’s pain, is gone from South Africa. The bantustan and the “colored section,” though not the ghetto and the “rez,” are bad memories. Hafrada, as Israel calls its policy of “us here, them there” toward the Palestinians, is in full force, and nowhere more so than in the Gaza Strip. Browsing our archive as Israel yet again pounds Gazans for the crime of being “there,” where Israel put them, it is striking how closely, how cruelly, today resembles yesterday.
Read the rest of Mandell’s lead: “As in Nadine Gordimer’s South Africa, there are two divides between Israel and the Gaza Strip: the ‘physical divide of clean streets’ that become the urban slums and dense camps, and the ‘other divide’: between the possessors and the dispossessed, those ‘for whom others have made all the decisions.’ As in Soweto, only when ‘the other divide’ is crossed violently in either direction -- in mass uprisings or army crackdowns -- does Gaza merit notice in the press.”
How many times, indeed, have Gazans been compelled to cry out for the world’s attention?
In 1988, well into the first Palestinian intifada, Melissa Baumann sent us her “Gaza Diary.” She started her travels in Jabalya, the refugee camp outside Gaza City where the uprising began, and ended in Nusayrat, a smaller camp on the road south that formerly abutted the Jewish settlement of Netzarim (evacuated in 2005).
“We drive farther into the camp, zigzagging around gaping holes,” Baumann wrote from Nusayrat. “Everywhere we go people stare, and children begin to follow the car, slowed as it is by the construction. ‘PLO! Israel no!’ they shout, or ‘We give our blood to Palestine!’ Soon, 50 or more are in our wake, laughing, skipping, running. I wonder if ten years from now, five, three or one, they will find such an audience -- or will need one.”
Those children are now well into their thirties, mothers and fathers of broods of their own.
More than 55 percent of the population of Gaza, the “crowded enclave” of so many news stories, is under the age of 15. These people don’t figure in most accounts, except sometimes after they have died. As Omar Karmi reminded us in 2006, amid Operation Summer Rains, the first pummeling of Gaza after Israel removed its soldiers and settlers from the strip, the concerns of the living are the main preoccupation of the mass of Gazans who have nothing to do with Hamas.
Five-year-old Layan cupped her hands over her ears and screwed her eyes shut when she tried to describe the effect of a sonic boom. She said the sound scares her, even though her father, Muntasir Bahja, 32, a translator, has told her “a small lie to calm her” -- that the boom is nothing more than a big balloon released by a plane and then popped.
Muntasir said he illustrated the balloon-popping principle to his daughter, but his explanation has not stopped her from fearing the massively loud thunderclap caused when Israeli fighter jets break the sound barrier over the Gaza Strip, as they did 25 times (mostly in the wee hours of the morning) between June 25 and July 4, and as they continue to do. Layan’s mother, Arish, 28, said her eldest child has also started wetting her bed again, something she had outgrown two years earlier. All three of her young children “are very frightened lately,” she continued. “They are very tired and very upset and they get sick and vomit. They’ve lost a lot of their appetite. They are a little wild and I’m finding it more difficult to control them.”
In the distance, from the direction of Beit Hanoun, a town slightly to the north of the home of the Bahja family in the Jabalya refugee camp, the sound of intermittent artillery fire can be heard. “That’s the sound of a bomb,” said Layan, somewhat dismissively, when asked. “That doesn’t scare me.”
Again, the compulsion to compare -- our coverage of Gaza is full of words like ghetto and open-air prison. In 2008, one month after Hamas blew a hole in the metal wall separating Gaza from Egypt, and Israel locked the strip down in retaliation, Darryl Li suggested that “zoo” or “animal pen” might be the more appropriate term.
Israel and its defenders insist that in 2005 they left Gaza behind. That “disengagement” was to be the end of Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the end of its international legal obligation (routinely dishonored) to safeguard the strip’s inhabitants from harm. But, though the corporate media didn’t get the memo, the occupation did not end. (Israel itself dropped an effort to have the UN rule the occupation over.) Israel controls exit and entry; Israel controls the airspace and the seacoast; Israel controls most of the electricity and water supply; and on and on. As Li wrote, Israel wants all the authority, but none of the responsibility.
“‘Disengagement’ is, of course, the name Israel gave to its 2005 removal of colonies and military bases from the Gaza Strip. But rather than a one-time abandonment of control, disengagement is better understood as an ongoing process of controlled abandonment, by which Israel is severing the ties forged with Gaza over 40 years of domination without allowing any viable alternatives to emerge, all while leaving the international donor community to subsidize what remains. The effect is to treat the Strip as an animal pen whose denizens cannot be domesticated and so must be quarantined.”
There were few keener observers of Gaza than Graham Usher, the long-time Palestine correspondent for The Economist and our late, great contributing editor. In February 2001, he wrote a piece for us called “Gaza Agonistes.” The introductory paragraph is both of its time and wrenchingly timeless.
To walk through Gaza is to penetrate the heart of the Palestinian uprising, to realize why it happened and why, sporadically, it endures…. [I]n Gaza you come up against the vast, omnipresent system of control Israel has created -- in and through the Oslo accords -- over every facet of Palestinian life, from work to walking. Here you understand why Palestinians are fighting to death to destroy every last vestige of that system.
In the meantime, Gaza needs your help.
In the meantime, Gaza is here and there. It is a place of grim parallels and a place of its own.
In the meantime, Gaza is.
Still Between Iraq and a Hard Place
The old joke about Jordan’s political geography -- that the country sits “between Iraq and a hard place” -- seems morbidly, and not at all amusingly, appropriate once again. Violent conflict is intensifying on three borders: Syria is aflame, in the third year of a horrific civil war; Iraq is racked with renewed internal strife; and now Israel is again bombarding Gaza, with Palestinian civilians suffering the bulk of the casualties and Hamas firing mostly useless rockets in response. Speculation has begun about a third intifada.
In the midst of all this turmoil, reports suggest that the United States is looking to expand its training of, and support for, Syrian rebels -- presumably with the Hashemite Kingdom as its main base. The Jordanian regime is said to be reluctant to highlight its precarious connection to this operation. The regime has previously been linked to rebel factions deemed moderate in Western capitals and has allowed some representatives of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to stay in Jordan, even as the kingdom maintains diplomatic ties with the Asad regime in Damascus. Even the row over Jordan’s ouster of the Syrian ambassador did not lead to a formal break.
The US has moved to bolster its own direct support to Jordan, increasing to perhaps 1,600 the number of US troops in Jordan at present, some of whom are manning Patriot anti-missile batteries and servicing F-16 jet fighters stationed near the Syrian border.
Jordan has also increased the numbers of its own military forces on both the Syrian and Iraqi borders, in response not only to the rising levels of conflict in those countries, but also to the competing declarations of salafi jihadist “states.” The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) declared a new “caliphate,” while its rival, Jabhat al-Nusra, pronounced the caliphate null and void, while heralding its own “emirate.” These announcements have resonated with some salafis within Jordan itself, particularly in the restive southern town of Ma‘an, where there have been small demonstrations in support of the caliphate. (As many as 2,000 Jordanian jihadists have already joined the war against the Asad regime in Syria, some with ISIS, some with Jabhat al-Nusra. The Jordanian regime has made very clear -- including by opening fire at the border -- that these men are not welcome home.) In Ma‘an, even as the demonstrations proceed, more senior salafi leaders condemn the caliphate with fatwas, underscoring the vast divisions within Jordan’s movement of Islamist puritans.
Meanwhile, Jordan has mounted new recruitment drives for both the armed forces and the gendarmie (or darak) divisions of the police. King ‘Abdallah II met last week with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the conflicts in Gaza, Syria and Iraq -- and presumably Jordan’s security needs.
More controversially, Jordan has also tightened up the provisions of its anti-terrorism law, if tightened is the word, since the new definitions of proscribed dissent, even that taking place online, are rather elastic. This measure is an echo of year-old restrictions that resulted in the closure of almost 300 websites in a country that previously had the most open approach to the Internet in the Arab world. Officials argue that the strictures are essential. But many democracy activists fear that, once again, political openness and reform are being sacrificed in the name of national security.
Jordan’s political opposition is sometimes deeply divided over the nature of the conflicts next door. The Syrian war, in particular, has seen a dramatic rift open between the Muslim Brothers (who oppose Asad) and leftist and pan-Arab nationalist parties and groups (which support Asad). But the bombings in Gaza are an altogether different matter. Jordanians may be quite divided in their views of Hamas, but they are strikingly unanimous in their support of the Palestinian people.
Jordanians of all backgrounds follow events in Gaza and the West Bank closely and with empathy. Government, regime and opposition all decry the bombing of Gaza as “collective punishment.” While Israel argues that it is striking back at Hamas, and preempting more showers of rockets, most Jordanians emphasize the fundamental structural inequality of the conflict and intense level of civilian suffering, particularly that of children. Their main concern is not about Hamas, but about Gaza -- and Jordanians are not as likely to conflate the two as many in the West are. Whether their roots are in historical Palestine or in East Bank tribes, whether they are Muslim or Christian, Arab or Circassian, Jordanians are united in horror and anguish over the latest disaster befalling Gaza.
Despite Jordan’s many other security concerns, both government and opposition continually assert that the core conflict in the region remains Israel and Palestine. The king himself has repeatedly stated that the lack of resolution of Palestinian desire for independence and statehood undermines regional stability. Opponents of the regime often criticize the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty -- now in its twentieth year. They argue that Israel takes the treaty for granted, and is emboldened by the agreement to use force against Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Syrian refugees continue to flow into the kingdom, which has already absorbed waves of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees over the years. The social, economic and political strains on Jordan of these refugee flows are severe.
Between Iraq and a hard place indeed.
Egypt's Government by Baltaga
Most reactions to the farcical convictions of Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamad Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamad express shock and outrage at everything from the ridiculous evidence presented to the sentences that would have made Draco himself blush. The strongest reactions came from the British and US governments, with Foreign Minister William Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron saying they were “appalled,” and Secretary of State John Kerry calling the verdict “chilling” and “deeply disturbing.” Amnesty International Director Steve Crawshaw called the sentence “outrageous” and an “absolute affront to justice.”
This outrage is entirely justified, but entirely misses the point. The arrest, trial and often torture of journalists, activists and students from across the political spectrum has nothing to do with the pursuit of justice or security. Even comedians are harassed. These actions are best understood as a mafia-style warning, the content of which is fairly obvious: For anyone opposing the regime installed since the 2013 army coup, there is no safety in the law, nor in Western governments, nor in the international media. The use of violence to repress or stir up conflict useful to the regime is nothing new. The regime wants it to be clear that it can imprison anyone, any time, no matter how absurd the charges, how surreal the evidence or how great a travesty of justice the trial. In fact, the absurdity of the evidence and the Kafkaesque legal process are not an aberration. On the contrary, the greater their absurdity, the more effectively the new regime makes its point: Cross us at your peril; there is nowhere to hide.
Another misconception is that the Egyptian regime is spending its political capital with Western governments by pursuing this so-called hard line against opposition. Even if those governments’ rhetoric in support of human rights and the rule of law were genuine and backed up by action, there are very good reasons why the Egyptian regime would benefit from antagonizing them.
First and most obviously, because it is pleasing its Gulf sponsors -- especially the Saudis -- who are primarily interested in marginalizing the Muslim Brothers and in putting Qatar back in its place. These governments have not pressured their Western allies to support any significant move toward democracy in Egypt since 2011, and will not do so in the future. In this they are joined by Israel, which is interested in Egypt’s continuing support for Gaza’s closure. Second, because such high-profile behavior helps the new regime set its red lines with its Western backers. The sentencing of the “Al Jazeera Three” came the day after Kerry’s visit to Cairo, and with representatives of foreign governments and international NGOs present in court. Far from trying to avoid friction, the sentence was clearly calculated to cause the US maximum embarrassment. Third, because any rebuttal from Western governments plays to the paranoid xenophobic nationalism the regime has been stoking at home in order to isolate local opposition. Fourth, because the “scandal” of Western protest helps conveniently paper over the massive levels of aid the military and the state receive from those very same governments. Finally, and probably most important of all, because by causing such public tensions with Western governments the regime distracts public attention from the country’s deep structural problems, particularly the country’s worsening levels of inequality and the deep authoritarianism of its institutions.
The Egyptian army’s goal is to stay in power or close to it in order to defend its economic interests and political influence, and avoid being marginalized the way they were under Mubarak. The army’s first stint in power after removing Mubarak in February 2011 ended in disaster. Having consolidated its grip on power with a constitutional referendum in March, the army proceeded to inept management of both politics and the economy that had people chanting “down with military rule” in droves by autumn. It was this failure that forced the generals to concede those parliamentary and then presidential elections which brought the Muslim Brothers to power. Although the Brothers treated them mostly with kid gloves, the army brass then took advantage of the Islamists’ own inept rule to ride popular discontent and return to power by removing the only democratically elected president in the country’s history.
The army’s and ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s long-term problem is that the military’s vast business empire places it at the heart of a system that generates wealth for a small elite by plundering state assets. This system has come to rely on increasing authoritarianism in order to make possible the privatization and austerity policies which allow elites to grow richer. Over the past two decades, this system has worsened the social, economic and political marginalization of the bulk of Egypt’s population. It is this structural trend that made the January 2011 uprisings possible. The new regime’s impasse is rooted in the fact that the policies it has been pursuing for its own benefit are the very same that drove people into the streets three years ago. To consolidate its power, the army is relying on the oldest trick in the book -- a "war on terror" stoking fear of inside traitors and outside enemies. The rhetoric of nationalism, chaos and security will work in the short term, and controlling or coopting most media and shutting down opposition outlets makes the regime’s sell easier. But the regime’s is a risky strategy. The regional uprisings show that, sooner or later, the population is likely to tire of the regime’s excuses, and as a tactic intimidation eventually generates more opposition, not less. Whether ensuing protests will lead to real change or just a switch in regime tactics as they have done so far is open to question. Successive regimes have tried to make instability work for them and have often succeeded: In both January 2011 and January 1977 they seem to have failed because frustration with repressive rule coupled with considerable economic upheaval. Since even these instances produced little long-term substantive political change, it seems that such change will be difficult without deep economic rifts, and without real economic and political alternatives beyond the current system (which the Brothers never offered).
Every criminal gang worth its salt knows it needs to keep the local population dependent and scared enough to believe there is no alternative, and duped enough into thinking that there is at least a veneer of morality covering what the racketeers do. But the strategies for enrichment that the Egyptian army -- and for that matter all Egypt’s business elites, Brothers included -- have opted for bite the hand that feeds them. How long before that hand slaps them remains to be seen.
What About 'Abd al-Rahman al-Awlaqi?
The US government wanted to kill Anwar al-Awlaqi long before a CIA-JSOC drone strike actually succeeded in doing so on September 30, 2011. Before and after that deadly strike, al-Awlaqi’s kill-ability has been a bone of contention because he was a US citizen. The cleric, who had become radicalized as the “war on terror” wore on, moved to Yemen, his ancestral homeland, in late 2004. There, he became a prolific jihadi propagandist on the Internet.
On January 27, 2010, the Washington Post reported that he and at least two other citizens had been designated for extrajudicial execution. The listing of al-Awlaqi came on the heels of two incidents to which he was reportedly linked: the November 5, 2009 armed rampage by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood in Texas that killed 13 and wounded 29 people, and the December 25 attempt by a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a transatlantic flight bound for Detroit. Al-Awlaqi’s alleged involvement in these crimes raises the question of why the government never indicted the cleric if it actually had information implicating him.
After the Post article reporting that al-Awlaqi had been put on the targeted killing list, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit in August 2010 on behalf of al-Awlaqi’s father Nasir to challenge executive authorization for extrajudicial execution of a citizen (al-Aulaqi v. Obama). The case was dismissed that December when the court ruled that Nasir al-Awlaqi lacked standing, since the government had no intention of killing him, just his son.
Meanwhile, on July 16, 2010, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which functions as the “government’s lawyer,” produced a memorandum laying out the legal rationales for the killing of al-Awlaqi. That memo remained a closely guarded secret until last week, when the government finally released it in heavily redacted form. Among the redacted portions is the first 11 pages laying out the factual basis for determining that al-Awlaqi had gone from inspirational to operational and become an “enemy combatant” and leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is at war with the United States.
Leaving aside the quality of the OLC memo’s legal arguments, the underlying premise that killing al-Awlaqi in a military operation was a legal option depended on information provided by unnamed “high government officials” who “have concluded, on the basis of al-Aulaqi’s activities in Yemen, that al-Aulaqi is a leader of AQAP whose activities in Yemen pose a ‘continued and imminent threat’ of violence to United States persons and interests” (p. 21).
The phrase “have concluded” sounds so authoritative. The secrecy that guards such intelligence makes its veracity literally unarguable. But what about the “intelligence” and the “legal logic” for the October 14, 2011 drone strike that killed al-Awlaqi’s 16-year old son ‘Abd al-Rahman, as well as his 17-year old cousin and five others while they were dining in an open-air restaurant? In the immediate aftermath of that attack, officials claimed that ‘Abd al-Rahman was a 21-year old militant. After his grandfather produced the boy’s birth certificate proving the lie, the administration reverted to its default position of asserting that CIA operations are classified and cannot be commented upon. Indeed, the Obama administration has never produced an official justification or explanation about the killing of ‘Abd al-Rahman (who, by the way, was also a US citizen).
The OLC memo offers nothing in the way of understanding intelligence mistakes, which are numerous, as reflected in the large number of civilians who have been killed in drone strikes. ‘Abd al-Rahman’s killing is a particularly salient example of why it behooves us to be skeptical about the assurances of “high officials” who “have concluded” that death-causing intelligence is valid.
So far, federal courts are no help. On April 4 of this year, Nasir al-Awlaqi lost a second lawsuit, Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, challenging the government’s constitutional right to kill US citizens without trial (and, in the case of his grandson, for no stated reason). As one of his lawyers, Maria LaHood, said after hearing of the judge’s dismissal of the case: “It seems there’s no remedy if the government intended to kill you, and no remedy if it didn’t.”
Image: ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Awlaqi, left, and his father Anwar, right.