Posts Tagged ‘occupation’
Once the muezzin’s morning competition in praising God is over calm returns except for the melodious singing of blackbirds in my garden. By then I have prepared my morning cup of coffee and switched my computer on. I start with a quick glance at my email inbox for any special messages, loaf around cyberspace for a few minutes, and then proceed with the morning’s writing assignment for the next few hours.
On Saturday, April, 09, 2011 I connected to The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice to check if the website had acknowledged the piece of bitter sarcasm I had just added on my blog about the last two sessions of the Corries’ court case against the State of Israel. Bam! Rachel’s glorious smile went right through to my heart. I was devastated. How could I have such emotional crush, fatherly as it was, on a young woman I never met in person? I craved for a hug from that beautiful woman to quench my longing for her. It was two months since the last time I had held Rhoda, my daughter, in my arms. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. Here was Rhoda being run over by the blade of that D-9 Caterpillar. Oh, my God! How can they do that to my sweetheart? I held Rachel closer to my heart to protect her from the biblical cruelty she sacrificed herself to protect other humans from. I squeezed hard and broke out crying. I was afraid I might wake my wife. I gulped silently for air and let my tears flow quietly down my unshaven face. What kind of man was I? I had to take control of myself. I gave Rhoda a tight hug and kissed Rachel on the cheek before I opened my eyes and walked over to the washbasin to splash some cold water on my face. I refilled my coffee cup, went back to my computer and wrote a couple of emotional pages in my novel about Galilee, Palestine and Israel.
After a breakfast of fresh citrus fruits and fried eggs from my two surviving free-range chickens I puttered around in the garden for a while. By now I felt exhausted. I took a rest. [How did He manage to slug at it for six days straight before taking a rest? Perhaps He didn’t have much on His mind. Bad thoughts are more exhausting than ditch digging; take it from one who practices both regularly. It must have been before the Internet and all its disturbing tidings.] Soon I was up again with my laptop. I saw another video, this one posted by Kate on Mondoweiss, the online periodical that proclaims itself as the locus for “The war of ideas in the Middle East” and hence the place where I occasionally give expression to my frustration and bitter protesting. April 9th is the memorial day of the Deir Yassin massacre. [He simply couldn’t have seen this video and kept quiet. Please, don’t be upset with me. I am giving Him the benefit of the Doubt. After all, He must have slept on the job and didn’t see the actual event in 1948, just as he did earlier when the holocaust was in progress. But at least, later on, when He found out about the holocaust He tried to do something about it; He compensated His favorite children politically and financially. Never mind that He screwed us, the Palestinians, in the process.] Here is the link for it should you want to rid your body of excess salt and accumulated fluid. I for one cried my eyes out: http://mondoweiss.net/2011/04/63rd-anniversary-of-the-deir-yassin-massacre.html
The over-half-an-hour-long video opens and ends with the saddest o‘ud music. In between it maintains a balance between Arab and Jewish narrators and covers a range of relevant information, from the three existing Deir Yassin memorials in New York, Scotland, and Wales to the orphanage and school established by the grand Palestinian philanthropist, Hind el-Hussainy for Deir Yassin’s children. In an entry in her diary she specifies 138 Palestinian liras as her total savings at the time. But she had the goodwill and the moral reserve to make a go of it after she found the 55 lost children let loose by the Irgun and the Stern gangs at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.
I am pleased that Hiam Hussein, the proud daughter of the neighboring Galilee Palestinian village of Deir Hanna, has done Hind justice in playing her role in Julian Schnabel’s controversial new film, Miral. It is a film based on the autobiographical novel by the same name written by his girlfriend and former Dar el-Tifl el-Arabi resident, Rula Jebreal, another proud Palestinian with local roots, Haifa to be exact. Also I noted with displeasure that the video producers gave no credit to my own brother, Prof. Sharif Kanaana of Beir Zeit University, to the best of my knowledge the first researcher to document the actual number of Deir Yassin Palestinian residents murdered by the Zionist armed gangs and the Haganah and to stipulate that the numbers previously quoted were inflated by both sides of the conflict for their own convenient ends: by the crime perpetrators to sow panic among Palestinians and by the victims to maximize the blame for the crime.
Mind you, I am beating around the bush here. I am speaking of tangential issues to avoid crying again: The mere sight of the serene stone homes, now housing the Givat Shaul Mental Health Center, released a flood of tears. When I got to the part where a former Deir Yassin resident, likely the wife, the daughter and the sister of the village’s stonecutters of old and the descendent of seven centuries worth of stonecutting toil and sweat, was aided to walk next to her villages current barbwire perimeter and she reached to touch a tree branch to her face, I nearly collapsed stifling my urge to sob and to scream out my pain.
The next morning, Sunday, April 10, I rose before the muezzins. By the time the village regained its morning quiet I was scouting the Internet for fresh news. A mailing from a friend contained a title that piqued my curiosity: “Juliano Mer Khamis Predicted His Assassination,” it said. I clicked and followed the link to a half-minute long English language You Tube video that said it all exactly as it would actually happen to him. Here is that link. See for yourself what raw courage is. For some ten minutes I shook with silent tears of outrage and disappointment. How could someone be so stupidly misguided? And to kill such an enlightened bright promise presumably in the name of Islam! Seven guys in Arrabeh alone had just finished noisily shouting the praises of God’s mercy and justice to be totally discredited by the bullet of a “fucked-up Palestinian” as Juliano had put it! . And the guy is not only insightful. He is a good actor; you can see it even in the half-minute video. And his blonde wife is reportedly pregnant with twins. Oh God! Now I am sobbing for the orphaned unborn twins.
That indeed was the ultimate conspiracy. Juliano was literally the embodiment of integration and understanding, himself the product of interracial love and idealism. I had met his parents, the Russian Jewess Arna and the Christian Palestinian Saliba, both protesting commitment to higher ideals of revolutionary justice, humanitarianism, and internationalism, all under their communist convictions before that pipedream turned sour. And I had met Juliano on more than one occasion. I remember him informing an audience in New York that, as a parachute trooper in the IDF before he discovered peaceful resistance, he took it for granted to carry an extra handgun in his backpack to plant on any civilian Palestinian he may kill. He was an acquaintance, not close enough for me to claim him as a friend. Now I was crying for having failed to open my heart wider for this former soldier, this brave comrade in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
The weekend before his senseless murder my wife and I had planned to travel to Jenin to see his adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland performed at the Freedom Theater, his life’s unique project and answer the world’s barbarity, to occupation and to apartheid. Alas, a friend dissuaded us from taking the trip with the explanation that on Saturdays it would take several hours to clear the checkpoint at the border. There were that many Palestinian shoppers from Galilee making the trip on their day off to take advantage of the cheaper prices in the depressed economy of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Now I was crying for the poor Palestinian brothers and sisters who toil endless hours to wind up with worthless produce, not intrinsically worthless but rendered so by the imposed boundaries and regulations. That was what Juliano tried to tear down. Why didn’t I bother to know him more closely? Why had I never hugged him or kissed his handsome face? I had to hear him posthumously on You Tube to fall in love with him! What a rotten deal we both have had.
Saturday, the 16th of April I slept late. The night before I had stayed up past midnight at a nephew’s wedding celebration. Juliano would have felt at home at the banquet hall: a mix of village locals and communists from across the land, Arabs and Jews. The groom is one. My sister, mother of the groom, had spent the better part of a week dancing the local feminine style, alternatively clapping her hands and twirling them over her head. Finally her rheumatism kicked in and her wrist swelled up with an acute flare of inflammation. We call that “repetitive motion injury.” Doctors are striking. I had to rush over at three in the morning to put her arm in a splint and give her a painkiller. Was she crying in physical pain or for her last gosling abandoning the nest?
By sunrise I was up but not fully alert, still dazed and in a contemplative mood. A dove was romancing another on the red bougainvillea bough sweeping across the full width of my view through the window of my study. I opened the window to hear their melodic chatter. An announcement on the mosque’s loudspeaker lamented the death of a young man in another car accident. It ruined my joyous repose and I decided to check the news. Quickly I reached http://mondoweiss.net/2011/04/gaza-mourns-vittorio-arrigoni.html/ Another stab in the heart of solidarity, freedom and moderation. I read and reread all the standard platitudes: “One of the most passionate supporters of justice for Palestine.” “Full of the joy of life.” “The man with the big smile and gentle nature.” I never met Vittorio Arrigoni, but he had a cause: “Stay Human,” he was known to admonish all concerned. Why would anyone kill such a refreshing soul? And why the torture and willful cruelty?. Who stands to gain from this or from the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis? Or from the murder of the settler family in the outpost next to Awarta in the occupied West Bank for that matter? Not who the press reports say it is, I am sure. Check with me in fifty years when the secret documents are released and I will score another I-told-you-so point, I am sure. Or else join me in signing the appeal to keep the Wikileaks founder free.
I run the video, a collection of photos of the Italian freedom fighter set to music: He is handsome, muscular and imposing with a disarming smile and a big tattoo. Just like my son, Ty, nearly of the same age. I haven’t seen my boy for four months. What keeps me away from him and his kids, God damn it? Then I reach Carlo Latuff’s cartoon portrait of Vik holding the hand of Hanthala, Naji El-Ali’s immortal symbol of Palestinian diaspora, dispossession, resistance and survival against all odds. The floodgates open again and I cry my eyes out, not only for Vik but also for Hanthala who lost another friend and protector and for all those among us who have not learned to heed those two friends’ admonition to “Stay Human.”
I wanted a fruit. I headed to the citrus side of my garden. On the way I walked over with the key and opened the cage for my dozen new chickens. I had learned a lesson: Freedom may cost a chicken its life. Only in the security of the full light of day can my chickens be safe from the murderous mongooses. I rummaged through the navel orange branches for the last fruits of the season. The perfumed scent of the flowers was overwhelmingly pleasant. Still, picking the very last orange of the season on my tree saddened me. Unexpectedly, the pleasure of admiring my citrus trees in full bloom in the rays of the rising sun evoked sadness in my heart. And my flowering apple trees and ripening kumquats and all the red poppies underneath them. How long will I have the pleasure of connecting to my chickens and trees and to the poppies in my field? Avigdor Lieberman and his fascist followers claim them as their sacred property. After all, geographically, I live in Israel and he thinks it is his exclusive property: “Israel Beitainu –Israel is our home,” he proclaims victoriously.
How many times must I repeat: “Stay Human!”
“Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.”
Pasolini recorded his observations in the documentary A Visit to Palestine while scouting locations for his moving biography of the life of Jesus, The Gospel of St Matthew.
The sophisticated hasbara / sophistry that created the hologram of “democracy” and “chosenness” was the very first of Israel’s chief exports (to be followed by human organ smuggling, pornography, espionage and shocking weapons) and that it was and is a very “successful” endeavor in every part of globe, meant to convince not only hawks and politicos, but the academic world. Could Pasolini’s ambiguity re the brutal colonial nature of Zionism be due to the fact that in the 50s and 60s he and many intellectuals saw Israel as a progressive experiment in socialism that needed time to live up to expectations? The halo effect over Israel still hangs on in Europe and the USA for decades after al-Nakba.
Although the true nature of Zionism was little known in the West for decades– either in popular culture or among the intelligentsia — the mask of righteousness has slipped off Israel’s PR-drenched narrative and a truly demonic face has been glimpsed by more people than ever before.
Could these two films of Pasolini’s — one celebrating Jesus’ life, and one recording contemporary Palestine — be connected to Pasolini’s very tragic, unexpected and unsolved murder?
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1963 film Sopralluoghi in Palestina (English title: A Visit to Palestine, though it would be more accurate to call it Scouting for Locations in Palestine) showcases the director’s preparation for filming The Gospel According to St. Matthew. (Parenthetically, in Italian the latter film’s title is Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo, about which my film professor has posed a good question: do Italians erase the ‘saint’ in Matthew’s title or is Pasolini being irreverent?) The film is more evocative and personal than the average making-of documentary that often accompanies a major film as a voyeuristic sidebar. It is also not without its problems on the question of Palestine.
It’s clear from the outset that Pasolini is filming here because he is fed up with the industrial world: you can’t shoot a film about Christ near Milanese factories. He has come here for the Jesus ‘look.’ It’s not an aberration to point this out since it’s a stake Pasolini constantly claims: only in the Terra Santa itself can he strike the ‘poetic and archaic… extreme smallness, poverty and humility.’ His favorite part of the journey is a narrow strip close to Jordan because that’s ‘where Jesus spent his last days.’
In a rapid, breathy voice-over that runs the entire course of the film, Pasolini sounds almost like a tourist, both eager and disappointed to find comparisons with sites and sounds from home. He compares the rolling, grassy landscape of Palestine to southern, rural Italian cities like Bari, Calabria and Sicilia. Unfortunately, while he is certainly not the average tourist and though he does struggle some to decode what he sees, one gets the sense that he’s not really struggling enough—at least not any more than necessary to furnish scenes for his film. Coming to terms with not being able to film in ‘modern’ Nazareth, he says in a defeated tone: ‘You understand that in this period of our trip, I had set out as a problem, as the purpose of my research, the finding of those villages, places and faces which could replace modern villages, faces, places.’ (Avrai capito che in questo periodo del nostro viaggio, io mi ero posto come problema, come scopo della mia ricerca, il trovare dei villaggi, dei luoghi, delle facce, che potessero sostituire i villaggi, le facce, i luoghi moderni.)
His scouting tour takes him to much of pre-1967 Palestine/Israel, from the Jewish kibbutzim to the habitats of impoverished Palestinian farmers. While he interviews a young family at a kibbutz at length (conducted in Italian) he never films himself talking at length to Arabs. There is the linguistic problem, of course, but this distancing act reinforces something troubling that Pasolini repeats at least twice in the film: the Palestinians just seem ‘more authentic.’ They are ‘allegre, animalistiche‘—happy and animalistic—far closer to his archaic Gospel characters than the new inhabitants of the modern settlements/colonies dotting the hillsides.
Indeed, it can often seem like Pasolini takes the colonial project for granted. In the poem ‘The Southern Dawn’ (L’Alba Meridionale),* published a year after the trip to Palestine, he writes about finding ‘millions of men employed only to live as barbarians descended recently on a happy land, strangers to it, and its owners’ (milioni di uomini occupati / soltanto a vivere come barbari discesi / da poco su una terra felice, estranei / ad essa, e suoi possessori). Are the recent Jewish immigrants the ‘barbarians’ descending in ‘millions’ on a ‘happy land’? How does Pasolini reconcile their relationship to this land as both ‘strangers’ and biblical ‘owners’? The film is fraught with these same unanswered musings.
In this screen grab, Pasolini stands in front of a map of Jerusalem, surrounded by those likely objects of his disdain, modern advertisements for cigarettes. It’s hard to pinpoint a poetics to Pasolini’s critiques, but if there is one solid critique it is, again, his disappointment at what has become of his imagined Palestine. For the most part, his monologue is deeply concerned with the technical and aesthetic concerns of making his film. But the jabs he makes about modern, industrial Israel can be found if one is looking for them. They express sorrow at a lost aura he is sore that small, white Israeli settler/colonial houses on the plains appear soulless and uniform. ‘You could easily find [them] in the Roman countryside, or in Switzerland.’
One of the most moving moments is Pasolini in a Bedouin desert, encroached on ‘day by day by the Israelis.’ The footage is beautiful, but as he says again in that breathy disappointment, unusable.The Bedouins make look authentic, and they may even be the victims of colonialism and land grabs, but he still hasn’t found what he’s come looking for.
Where Pasolini’s musings lack any overt colonial critique, the camera highlights it. The shots of Jerusalem surrounded by barbed wire are particularly compelling. As Pasolini’s voiceover expresses awe at the natural beauty of these surroundings, the camerawork displays the indignities of everyday life for Palestinian inhabitants. As seen above, the camera zooms in and out of a shot of birds perched on top of barbed wire, in and out and in and out, a syntactical repetition of a sublime and sordid reality.
*Thanks to http://www.twitter.com/revsocialist for sending me the reference to that poem.
(All screengrabs by South/South)
Thanks to Irishviews.com for the barley image.
Is there any end to the toxic effects of British imperialism and capitalist exploitation? One look at the Gulf of Mexico disaster provides the answer. Britain’s cruelty and barbarism toward its “subjects” is horrifying. The Irish have suffered from British oppression for centuries. The Irish have resisted with incredible courage and persistence — and with beautiful lyrics and songs about their struggle for dignity and freedom.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is one such ballad, by poet Robert Dwyer Joyce.. It’s a traditional Irish ballad in format but is based on true events that transpired during the 1798 Irish Rebellion against British rule. I won’t go into the entire narrative of the uprising but one event stands out: The 29th of May massacre by Britain — which should never be forgotten — or forgiven.The British Army captured, shot and killed 300-5oo Irish prisoners of war at Gibbet Rath, in the Curragh grasslands of County Kildare. Executed. Assassinated. So much for British “nobility” This massacre exemplifies the vicious savagery that’s characterized British imperialism for centuries. By the way, these were rebels about to surrender…. — from Wikipedia
According to YouTube commenter anthonyjanetireph: “The references to barley in the song derive from the fact that the rebels often carried barley oats in their pockets as provisions for when on the march. This gave rise to the post-rebellion phenomenon of barley growing and marking the “croppy-holes,” mass unmarked graves which slain rebels were thrown into, symbolising the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule.” Three comments.
1) Irish rebels lived on subsistence farming and were near starvation. Imagine trying to survive as by chewing raw barley grains or functioning as a soldier with such meager nourishment. The British used starvation to control the Irish population.
2) The death of each Irish patriot ensured a continuance of the barley harvest (their agrarian way of life) and ensured future generation of Irish resistance.
3) The shaking of the barley is a visual reminder of the desire to “live free or die” — free from the ongoing British occupation of Ireland.
I am reminded of the resolution of Seven Samurais. The peasants of the town go back to work in the rice fields, singing. For now, the strife has ended. But at some point, invaders may return to terrorize, kill and steal. It may once more be necessary to summon the help of itinerant samurais to defend the town….
With those concepts in mind, here is a beautiful version of the ballad by Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard:
- I sat within a valley green
- I sat me with my true love
- My sad heart strove to choose between
- The old love and the new love
- The old for her, the new that made
- Me think on Ireland dearly
- While soft the wind blew down the glade
- And shook the golden barley
- Twas hard the woeful words to frame
- To break the ties that bound us
- But harder still to bear the shame
- Of foreign chains around us
- And so I said, “The mountain glen
- I’ll seek at morning early
- And join the bold United Men
- While soft winds shake the barley”
- While sad I kissed away her tears
- My fond arms ’round her flinging
- The foeman’s shot burst on our ears
- From out the wildwood ringing
- A bullet pierced my true love’s side
- In life’s young spring so early
- And on my breast in blood she died
- While soft winds shook the barley
- I bore her to some mountain stream
- And many’s the summer blossom
- I placed with branches soft and green
- About her gore-stained bosom
- I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse
- Then rushed o’er vale and valley
- My vengeance on the foe to wreak
- While soft winds shook the barley
- But blood for blood without remorse
- I’ve taken at Oulart Hollow
- And laid my true love’s clay-cold corpse
- Where I full soon may follow
- As ’round her grave I wander drear
- Noon, night and morning early
- With breaking heart when e’er I hear
- The wind that shakes the barley
Fast forward to 1921 and the continuing struggle for Irish Independence… Nothing has changed. Still horrific poverty, oppression and hunger in Ireland. But the Irish are ready fight to the death for their freedom. Ken Loach created an exceptional film on the subject. It won the Cannes 2006 Palm D’Or.
Lastly, here is an early esponse from a proud British subject on the issue of Irish poverty, hunger and overpopulation. If only the Irish had listened and the liberals hadn’t objected to his plan. All he sought to do was to limit the suffering of the broods of children produced by Irish welfare mommas who seek to embarrass Her Majesty the Queen. Here’s how to solve “The Irish Queston”:
“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, 1729
For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to their Parents
or Country and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public
The University of Johannesburg’s Senate will next week meet to decide whether to end its relationship with an Israeli institution, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on the grounds of that university’s active support for and involvement in the Israeli military. Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports the move. He explains why
“The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own.
We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. Yet we would be less than human if we did so. It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.” – Nelson Mandela, December 4 1997
Struggles for freedom and justices are fraught with huge moral dilemmas. How can we commit ourselves to virtue – before its political triumph – when such commitment may lead to ostracism from our political allies and even our closest partners and friends? Are we willing to speak out for justice when the moral choice that we make for an oppressed community may invite phone calls from the powerful or when possible research funding will be withdrawn from us? When we say “Never again!” do we mean “Never again!”, or do we mean “Never again to us!”?
Our responses to these questions are an indication of whether we are really interested in human rights and justice or whether our commitment is simply to secure a few deals for ourselves, our communities and our institutions – but in the process walking over our ideals even while we claim we are on our way to achieving them?
The issue of a principled commitment to justice lies at the heart of responses to the suffering of the Palestinian people and it is the absence of such a commitment that enables many to turn a blind eye to it.
Consider for a moment the numerous honorary doctorates that Nelson Mandela and I have received from universities across the globe. During the years of apartheid many of these same universities denied tenure to faculty who were “too political” because of their commitment to the struggle against apartheid. They refused to divest from South Africa because “it will hurt the blacks” (investing in apartheid South Africa was not seen as a political act; divesting was).
Let this inconsistency please not be the case with support for the Palestinians in their struggle against occupation.
I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, “Why are our memories so short?” Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon?
Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about all the downtrodden?
Together with the peace-loving peoples of this Earth, I condemn any form of violence – but surely we must recognise that people caged in, starved and stripped of their essential material and political rights must resist their Pharaoh? Surely resistance also makes us human? Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the nonviolent tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
South African universities with their own long and complex histories of both support for apartheid and resistance to it should know something about the value of this nonviolent option.
The University of Johannesburg has a chance to do the right thing, at a time when it is unsexy. I have time and time again said that we do not want to hurt the Jewish people gratuitously and, despite our deep responsibility to honour the memory of the Holocaust and to ensure it never happens again (to anyone), this must not allow us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of Palestinians today.
I support the petition by some of the most prominent South African academics who call on the University of Johannesburg to terminate its agreement with Ben-Gurion University in Israel (BGU). These petitioners note that: “All scholarly work takes place within larger social contexts – particularly in institutions committed to social transformation. South African institutions are under an obligation to revisit relationships forged during the apartheid era with other institutions that turned a blind eye to racial oppression in the name of ‘purely scholarly’ or ‘scientific work’.” It can never be business as usual.
Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. BGU is no exception. By maintaining links to both the Israeli defence forces and the arms industry, BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation. For example, BGU offers a fast-tracked programme of training to Israeli Air Force pilots.
In the past few years, we have been watching with delight UJ’s transformation from the Rand Afrikaans University, with all its scientific achievements but also ugly ideological commitments. We look forward to an ongoing principled transformation. We don’t want UJ to wait until others’ victories have been achieved before offering honorary doctorates to the Palestinian Mandelas or Tutus in 20 years’ time.
Source: Times Live – South Africa
Obama at the UN: The arrogant voice of imperialism
By Bill Van Auken
24 September 2010
President Barack Obama used his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Thursday to defend US wars and state terror abroad and to proclaim that the economic crisis has been resolved thanks to his Wall Street bailout.
The US president received a noticeably tepid response from the assembled UN delegates. While in his first address to the body last year, he was able to pose as a fresh alternative to the crimes carried out by the Bush administration, by now it has become clear to most on the international stage that his administration’s policies are largely in continuity with those of its predecessor.
In its tone and its content, the Obama speech was the authentic and arrogant voice of US imperialism.
Parroting remarks delivered by George W. Bush from the same podium, Obama began by invoking September 11, 2001, once again exploiting the terrorist attacks of that day to justify the acts of military aggression committed by both US administrations in the intervening nine years.
In the same breath, he referred to Wall Street’s financial meltdown of September 2008, as an event that “devastated American families on Main Street,” while “crippling markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent.”
These two events were presented as the source of the core challenges confronting the US administration. Supposedly in response to the first, the Obama administration has continued and escalated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan, while reaffirming Washington’s “right” to carry out unilateral military aggression anywhere on the planet.
In response to the second, the administration continued the massive bailout begun under Bush, committing more than $12 trillion to propping up the US banks and financial institutions, while holding none of those involved responsible for the criminal forms of speculation practiced on Wall Street.
Obama claimed that the so-called Wall Street reform legislation passed by his administration would ensure “that a crisis like this never happens again.” It does nothing of the kind, placing no serious limits on the speculative activities and profitability of the big banks and leaving Wall Street to continue with “business as usual.”
“The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression,” Obama told his UN audience. This statement flies in the face of the grim conditions confronting working people on every continent. This includes the US itself, where the official unemployment rate remains near 10 percent, the unemployed and underemployed account for 17 percent of the workforce, some 30 million people, and one out of every seven Americans is living below the poverty line.
While profits have returned to pre-crisis levels, the reality is that none of the underlying contradictions that have given rise to the deepest world economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s has been resolved. They have only grown in intensity. The response of the ruling classes throughout the world has been to redouble their attacks on the working class in an attempt to force it to pay for this crisis.
Obama followed his assertion about the economy being pulled back from “the brink” with an even more absurd claim that he would not “rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, not only for all Americans, but for peoples around the globe.”
In the US, throughout Europe and in much of the rest of the world, governments are pursuing unprecedented austerity policies that are ripping up basic social rights and dramatically lowering the living standards of working people. Meanwhile, Obama himself spoke before a global poverty summit the day before his speech, warning the world’s poorest that Washington was determined to break their cycle of “dependency.”
The US president’s lies about the economy were followed by the fraudulent claim that the military operations his administration is pursuing abroad are aimed at upholding “our common security.”
Obama said that he is “winding down the war in Iraq” and will pull out all of its occupation troops by the end of next year. At the same time, he declared Washington’s intention to forge “a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people,” by which he means maintaining a US protectorate over the oil-rich country in order to advance the geo-strategic interests of American capitalism.
He said that the drawing down US troops in Iraq had allowed the US military to be “refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe haven” in Afghanistan. This is another lie. US military and intelligence officials acknowledge that there are no more than 100 al Qaeda members in all of Afghanistan. The nearly 100,000 US troops deployed in that country are not combating “terrorism,” but asserting US neo-colonial control in a bid to advance Washington’s quest for hegemony in Central Asia.
In one of the speech’s more chilling passages, Obama bragged that “from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach” in the war on terror, that did not require “deploying large American armies.” In other words, while constrained in its ability to carry out another major military occupation, US imperialism is pursuing its policies by means of assassinations, drone missile attacks and the deployment of elite killing squads, and has arrogated to itself the right to target and kill its perceived opponents anywhere on the planet.
Obama used the speech to once again threaten Iran. Only days before his appearance at the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech urging elements within the Iranian ruling elite to carry out regime change in the country. He reiterated the vow made in his speech last year that Iran “must be held accountable” for its alleged violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
At least a quarter of Obama’s address was dedicated to the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” that appear to be on the brink of yet another breakdown in the face of Israeli intransigence and provocation.
For all the hackneyed rhetoric about the “Holy Land” and “our common humanity,” the Obama administration is pursuing these negotiations as a means of solidifying support among the Arab regimes for its escalating threats of aggression against Iran and to further its domination of the Middle East.
The content of the speech made clear the US administration’s unwavering complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Obama urged that a limited moratorium declared by the Israeli government be extended beyond September 26, when it is set to expire. He said Israel should do this because it “improved the atmosphere for talks,” not because the entire settlement activity in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is a violation of international law and multiple UN resolutions. In the same breath, the US president asserted that “talks should press on until completed,” presumably regardless of what Israel does.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that his government will not extend the moratorium, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had initially insisted that his delegation would be forced to walk out if it does not. An ever-pliant servant of Washington, Abbas has since indicated that he might back down on this threat.
The rest of Obama’s remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian question had an Orwellian flavor, in which Israel was presented as the victim. “The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance—it’s injustice,” Obama declared. He made no mention of the slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians in the US-backed siege of Gaza in 2008-2009 or the criminal attack on the Gaza aid flotilla that killed nine Turkish civilians last May. The day the US president spoke, the UN issued a report charging that Israel’s actions were illegal and employed an “unacceptable level of brutality,” meriting war crimes prosecution.
The US president concluded his speech with an exaltation of “democracy” and “human rights,” which again echoed similar language employed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
In Bush’s case, this phony democratic rhetoric was employed to justify US imperialism’s drive for dominance in the Middle East, where Washington demonstrated its commitment to “human rights” by carrying out mass killings, the detention of tens of thousands without charges or trial, and the infamous acts of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo.
In Obama’s case, the posturing as the global champion of democratic rights is no less contemptible. The target, however, appears to have shifted.
The Council on Foreign Relations, the establishment thinktank that enjoys close ties to the administration and the State Department, spelled this out. Noting Obama’s “full-throated endorsement of democracy as the best form of government,” it commented: “Yet the appeal of such an idea faces challenges at bodies like the UN. This is not, for example, the future world that Chinese leaders envision.”
Indeed, Obama followed his celebration of democracy by calling attention to his upcoming trip to Asia, ticking off the countries he will visit—India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan—and praising each for having promoted “democratic principles in their own way.” The itinerary includes the four largest countries that US strategists envision as bulwarks against the expansion of Chinese influence.
On the same day that Obama delivered his speech, the New York Times published a front-page article on the increasingly tense US-China relationship that was clearly based on the perspective of the US administration. The Times reported that “rising frictions between China and its neighbors in recent weeks over security issues have handed the United States an opportunity to reassert itself—one the Obama administration has been keen to take advantage of.”
It noted that Washington has inserted itself into territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian countries, organized provocative joint military exercises with South Korea near Chinese waters and has solidified its alliance with Japan, largely in opposition to China’s influence.
Under conditions of rising conflicts between Washington and Beijing over currency and trade relations, Obama’s praise for “democracy” at the UN represents a thinly veiled threat of new and far more catastrophic eruptions of American militarism.
William Wallace resisted the British occupation of Scotland in the 13th century. He was an exceptional leader.
A logical strategy for boycotting Israel is to begin with Israeli banks. Worth a read
Targeting Israeli banks will help bring an end to the occupation. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)
The international banking sanctions campaign in New York against apartheid South Africa during the 1980s is regarded as the most effective strategy in bringing about a nonviolent end to the country’s apartheid system. The campaign culminated in President FW de Klerk’s announcement in February 1990, releasing Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, and the beginning of constitutional negotiations towards a non-racial and democratic society.
If international civil society is serious about urgently ending Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, including ending the occupation, then suspension of SWIFT transactions to and from Israeli banks offers an instrument to help bring about a peaceful resolution of an intractable conflict. With computerization, international banking technology has advanced dramatically in the subsequent 20 years since the South African anti-apartheid campaign.
Although access to New York banks remains essential for foreign exchange transactions because of the role of the dollar, interbank transfer instructions are conducted through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which is based in Belgium. So, instead of New York — as in the period when sanctions were applied on South Africa– Belgium is now the pressure point.
SWIFT links 8,740 financial institutions in 209 countries. Without access to SWIFT and its interbank payment network, countries are unable either to pay for imports or to receive payment for exports. In short, no payment — no trade. Should it come to a point where trade sanctions are imposed on Israel, it may be able to evade them. Instead of chasing trade sanctions-busters and plugging loopholes, it is both faster and much more effective to suspend the payment system.
The Israeli government may consider itself to be militarily and diplomatically invincible, given support from the United States, and other governments, but Israel’s economy is exceptionally dependent upon international trade. It is thus very vulnerable to financial retaliation. South Africa’s apartheid government had also believed itself to be immune from foreign pressure.
Without SWIFT, Israel’s access to the international banking system would be crippled. Banking is the lifeblood of any economy. Without payment for imports or exports, the Israeli economy would quickly collapse. The matter has gained additional urgency with the bill now before the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to penalize any person who promotes the imposition of boycotts against Israel. Another important political factor is that SWIFT is not only outside American jurisdiction, it is also beyond the reach of Israeli military retaliation.
Israel has long experience in sanctions-busting since the 1948 Arab boycotts. Apartheid South Africa was also well experienced in sanctions-busting — breaking oil embargoes was almost a “national sport.” Trade sanctions are invariably full of loopholes. Profiteering opportunities abound, as illustrated by Iraq, Cuba and numerous countries against which for many years the United States unsuccessfully has applied trade sanctions. Iran conducts its trade through Dubai, which happily profits from the political impasse.
Suspension of bank payments plugs such loopholes, and also alters the balance of power so that meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians become even possible. This is because banking sanctions impact quickly upon financial elites who have the clout to pressure governments to concede political change. Trade sanctions, by contrast, impact hardest on the poor or lower-paid workers, who have virtually no political influence.
SWIFT will, however, only take action against Israeli banks if ordered to do so by a Belgian court, and then only in very exceptional circumstances. Such very exceptional circumstances are now well-documented by the UN-commissioned Goldstone report into Israel’s winter 2008-09 invasion and massacre in Gaza and by the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on 31 May 2010. There is also a huge body of literature from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations detailing Israeli war crimes and violations of humanitarian law.
The Israeli government, like that of apartheid South Africa, has become a menace to the international community. Corruption and abuses of human rights are invariably interconnected. Israel’s long military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for example, has corrupted almost every aspect of Israeli society, most especially its economy. The Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in December 2009 that the Israeli government lacks commitment in tackling international corruption and money laundering.
The international financial system is exceedingly sensitive about allegations of money laundering, but also to any associations with human rights abuses. Organized crime and money laundering are major international security threats, as illustrated by the United States subpoena after the 11 September 2001 attacks of SWIFT data to track terrorist financing. The website Who Profits? (www.whoprofits.org) lists hundreds of international and Israeli companies that illegally profiteer from the occupation.
Their operations range from construction of the “apartheid wall” and settlements to agricultural produce grown on confiscated Palestinian land. As examples, Caterpillar, Volvo and Hyundai supply bulldozing equipment to demolish Palestinian homes. British supermarkets sell fresh produce grown in the West Bank, but illegally labelled as Israeli. Ahava markets Dead Sea mud and cosmetics.
The notorious Lev Leviev claims in Dubai that Leviev diamonds are of African origin, and are cut and polished in the United States rather than Israel. They are sourced from Angola, Namibia and also allegedly Zimbabwe, and can rightly be described as “blood diamonds.” Israeli diamond exports in 2008 were worth $19.4 billion, and accounted for almost 35 percent of Israeli exports. Industrial grade diamonds are essential to Israel’s armaments industry, and its provision of surveillance equipment to the world’s most unsavory dictatorships. Such profiteering depends on foreign exchange and access to the international payments system. Hence interbank transfers are essential, and SWIFT — willingly or unwillingly — has become complicit, as were the New York banks with apartheid South Africa.
Accordingly, a credible civil society organization amongst the Palestinian diaspora should lead the SWIFT sanctions campaign against Israeli banks. And, per the South African experience, it should be led by civil society rather than rely on governments.
Each bank has an eight letter SWIFT code that identifies both the bank and its country of domicile. “IL” are the fifth and sixth letters in SWIFT codes that identify Israel. The four major Israeli banks and their SWIFT codes are Israel Discount Bank (IDBILIT), Bank Hapoalim (POALILIT), Bank Leumi (LUMIILIT) and Bank of Israel (ISRAILIJ).
Such a suspension would not affect domestic banking transactions within Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip — or international transfers to Palestinian banks that have separate “PS” identities. The campaign can be reversed as soon as the objectives have been achieved, and without long-term economic damage.
What is required is an urgent application in a Belgian court ordering SWIFT to reprogram its computers to suspend all transactions to and from Israeli banks until the Israeli government agrees to end the occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and that it will dismantle the “apartheid wall;” the Israeli government recognizes the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Israel recognizes, respects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees.
The writer is a retired banker, who advised the South African Council of Churches on the banking sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa. He spent October 2009 to January 2010 in East Jerusalem monitoring checkpoints, house demolitions and evictions, and liaising with Israeli peace groups. He lives in Cape Town.