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Dignity, justice: direct democracy

Zodwa Nsibande, from a post on South Africa’s Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shack dwellers movement:

In our days being involved in the struggle for change is no longer as popular as it was before simply because many people believe that because we had got rid of the oppressive government everything is now ok. But freedom was never just a case of replacing a white government with a black government. It was a case of building a different kind of society – a society that put human beings at the centre, a society in which there would be decent homes, decent work, decent schools and decent health care for everyone. It was a case of building a participatory democracy in which everyone’s voice and life would count the same irregardless of whether they were a woman or a man, black or white, gay or straight or poor or rich. In fact it was a case of building a society where poverty would be ended.

Those who think that the time of struggle is over are forgetting that we are still living under a kind of apartheid but that in this apartheid the difference is the people are divided by class. The gap between those who have and those who don’t have is huge and it is getting worse. Those who say that we must be patient are forgetting that things are getting worse for the poor and not better.

And here is a look at Spain’s days of protests in May of 2011.

By Siân Ruddick:

Mass demonstrations and protest camps have mushroomed across Spain as the young and the unemployed say “enough”. As many as 40 percent of Spain’s 4.5 million unemployed are under 25.

The economic crisis has brought further austerity and attacks on workers and the poor. But now the people are fighting back.

Unemployment runs at 21% in the country, 45% for those who are 18 to 25 years old.

Sokari Ekine writes about Uganda and Africa:

Uprisings continue across the continent, with Uganda being the latest country where citizens have taken to the streets in protest against rising food and energy prices.

[…]The protests have met with a violent response from the government of Yoweri Museveni, with police firing live bullets at crowds, beatings and mass arrests.

[…]Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah in the Southern Africa FBP likens Museveni to Egypt’s Mubarak with the same mindset and the same relationship with the West:

‘Typical of a mindset of a dictator, President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 25 years, does not see the connection between the uprisings and his governing style. Instead his delusional mentality makes him see how indispensable he is to Uganda. Narcissistic is what he is, just like all dictators and autocratic leaders, and he does not care about what the Ugandan citizens think or want.’

Protest in Uganda

In Egypt, here’s a peek at May 20, Tahrir Square:

Hossam el-Hamalway in an interview:

The revolution was against the Mubarak regime but all we’ve managed to do so far is remove Mubarak himself. The ones running the country right now are Mubarak’s generals, who were the backbone of his dictatorship from day one.

[…]Attempts are already under way by middle-class activists to place limits on this revolution and ensure it remains only within the realm of formal political institutions.

[…]But the main part of any revolution has to be socio-economic emancipation for the citizens of a country; if you want to eliminate corruption or stop vote-buying then you have to give people decent salaries, make them aware of their rights and not leave them in dire economic need. A middle-class activist can return to his executive job after they think the revolution is over, but a public transport worker who has spent 20 years in service and is getting paid only 189 Egyptian pounds a month – you can’t ask this guy to go back to work and tell his starving kids at home that everything will be sorted out once we have a civilian government in the future.So this is phase two of the revolution, the phase of socio-economic change. What we need to do now is take Tahrir to the factories, the universities, the workplaces. In every single institution in this country there is a mini-Mubarak who needs to be overthrown. In every institution there are figures from the old state security regime who need to be overthrown. These guys are the counter-revolution.

And in Greece, according to Matthaois Tsimitakis:

The village of Keratea is a conservative and peaceful place, about an hour’s drive from Athens. When, a few months ago, the central government decided without consultation to create a garbage landfill destroying antiquities, polluting the environment and defying the European Commission’s rejection of the plan as unsustainable, Keratea erupted into violent confrontation with the police.

[…]The Keratea resistance is part of a series of low or higher intensity confrontations with the government, its preferred contractors and the repressive apparatus of state brought in to protect the corporations. Such local movements have spread all over the country for some time, defending public spaces against privatization (this has happened repeatedly in Athens where the last remaining green spots are consistently given over to construction companies), natural resources (the Canadian gold mining corporation TVX is facing a strong resistance movement in the North of the country), or protesting against the repeated corruption scandals.

Palestinian refugees marched to commemorate Nakba on May 15, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands from their homes in today’s occupied Palestine and Israel.

Karma Nabulsi has this to say:

It was the moment for which we had all been holding our breath for decades – for 63 years to be precise. Palestinians everywhere watched the unfolding scene transfixed and awed. The camera followed the movements of a small group of people advancing from the mass of protesters. They were carefully making their way down a hill towards the high fence that closed off the mined field separating Syria from its own occupied territory of the Golan that borders historic Palestine, now Israel.

They were mostly young Palestinians, drawn from the 470,000-plus refugee community in Syria: from Yarmouk refugee camp inside Damascus, from Khan el-Sheikh camp outside it, from Deraa and Homs refugee camps in the south, from Palestinian gatherings all over the country.

Slowly, and in spite of the shouted warnings from the villagers from Majdal Shams about the lethal landmines installed by the Israeli military right up to the fence, these remarkable ordinary young people – Palestinian refugees – began to both climb and push at the fence. We were going home.

It was a profoundly revolutionary moment, for these hundreds of young people entering Majdal Shams last Sunday made public the private heart of every Palestinian citizen, who has lived each day since 1948 in the emergency crisis of a catastrophe. Waiting, and struggling, and organising for only two things: liberation and return.

[…]On Sunday, this moment of return was enacted simultaneously in Haifa and among Palestinians displaced inside Israel, on the borders of Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Gaza, in the West Bank near the Qalandia refugee camp – wherever the more than 7 million stateless Palestinian refugees now live, very near their original villages and towns. Just out of sight, over the hill, across the border.

Moe Ali Nayel writes:

things will not be the same as before 15 May. Just like after Muhammad Bouazizi, things are not the same as before he shook the Arab world. The Arab people, us, the Arab youth, we are not going to let the status quocontinue, we are not going to be humiliated by our own people anymore. We are not going to let Palestine and the Palestinian people be humiliated and tortured every time they breathe.

We are freedom-loving people and we won’t live anymore on empty promises from our corrupt governments who use Palestine as a pretext to repress us while they enjoy stealing from our pockets. We won’t let them continue to make sure Israel is safe and sound, enjoying the beautiful land of Palestine, while hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in inhumane conditions in the camps.

In Portugal, on March 12 ” Upwards of 300,000 people took to the streets in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities on Saturday to protest job insecurity…”

In the UK, there have been cuts to education, health care and social spending after providing massive ‘bailouts’ to financial institutions that continue to pull in enormous profits. This has resulted in direct action, protests, and occupations of universities.

From We are the Third Force by S’bu Zikode of Abahlali baseMjondolo:

The community has realised that voting for parties has not brought any change to us.

[…]For us time has been a very good teacher. People have realised so many things. We have learnt from the past – we have suffered alone. That pain and suffering has taught us a lot. We have begun to realise that we are not supposed to be living under these conditions.

And here’s a little song courtesy of Nina Simone:

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Israel threatens China; Iran barred from the SCO; Israeli document calls Gaza blockade ‘economic warfare’; US to display captured war documents

Israeli officials have said they threatened war against Iran in order to try and convince China to vote in support of economic sanctions at the UN Security Council.

The New York Times broke this story: “In February, a high-level Israeli delegation traveled to Beijing to present alleged evidence of Iran’s atomic ambitions. Then they unveiled the ostensible purpose of their visit: to explain in sobering detail the economic impact to China from an Israeli strike on Iran.”

One Israeli official they interviewed said that “the Chinese didn’t seem too surprised by the evidence we showed them, but they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on.”

Essentially Israeli officials boast that they tried to threaten China by showing how they could undermine its energy security and damage its economy.

China imports some 15% of its oil from Iran and is reported to have more than $80 billion invested in that country’s energy sector.

Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be traveling to China this week, this very day in fact, officially to take part in the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It is expected that he will meet with Chinese officials to discuss the newly minted sanctions against it.

Meanwhile, no surprises for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting , it is will not be giving Iran permanent membership just yet.

The SCO, which has become one of Asia’s most prestigious multilateral organizations, has Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as members. Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia are observers, and it will have Afghanistan as an honoured guest this time around.

Iran, Pakistan, and India have been interested in becoming full members. There is jostling for whether Pakistan or India, or both could become full members. But Iran is essentially barred for now. The SCO is to adopt a new document outlining admission rules. The secretary general of the SCO, Muratbek Imanaliyev, has said that “the document contains a very important thesis that states under UN sanctions cannot become SCO members yet.” So, there, Iran can only watch for now.

Apparently Tajikistan lobbied in Iran’s favour, asking that the restriction based on UN sanctions not be included. Interestingly, president Ahmadinejad was just in Tajikistan, this very Wednesday. He was there for a UN-sponsored water security conference but was supposed to have met with the Tajik president to discuss regional security, and I suppose also push for support on SCO membership.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, there’s more fallout from the commando attack on the Gaza flotilla that saw 9 people die. An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, has legally forced the government to explain its motives for a blockade of Gaza. Apparently the blockade is not for security reasons after all, though that is what is publicly stated to garner international support. The Israeli government document attained by Gisha says that the blockade is in fact economic warfare.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare’.” says the government document.

And in the US, some of the spoils of war from Iraq and Afghanistan will be on display. The Conflict Research Center will allow researchers to view archived digital copies of documents captured from Saddam Hussein’s government as well as some that were captured from al Qaeda and its affiliates. The facility boasts that it has a database of “1.5 million captured records.”

These records “consist of a wide range of files, including everything from al Qaeda “pocket litter” to financial records, theological and ideological documents, strategic plans, operational guidebooks, and histories of individual operations from the Afghan war in the 1980s through the early 2000s.”

The original Iraqi documents are supposed to be returned to Iraq after digital copies are made.

Odd assortment of barred goods to Gaza

“Newspapers, tea, A4 paper and chocolate are among the items that have at one point been barred,” from entry into the Gaza strip, writes the Economist. Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization has a recent partial list of barred and permitted goods into Gaza.

Gisha’s site provides helpful answers to frequently questions regarding the blockade.

Israeli spy station in Turkey aimed at Iran; the Gaza aid flotilla; and China benefits from Iran sanctions

Following the operation in which nine civilians on an aid flotilla were killed by Israeli commandos, relations between Israel and Turkey have continued to take a dive. Most interestingly, The Times Online has this to say (found via Friday Lunch Club):

Israel has rejected much of the criticism of Operation Sky Winds, but the Israeli defence establishment, long friendly with the Turkish military, is extremely worried. Turkey’s government, itself religiously based, has aligned itself with public anger. Reports to the Israeli defence ministry indicated that it might close down an Israeli intelligence station based on Turkish soil, not far from the Iranian border.

“If that happens,” said a well-informed Israeli source, “Israel will lose its ears and nose, which watch and sniff the Iranians’ back garden.”

The same article also explains that the military team that confronted the aid flotilla was unused to such policing activities against civilians, and that it is more at ease with covert military missions. The example given by The Times was of an assassination it says was successfully conducted against a Syrian general.

Ehud Barak is supposed to have personally managed the flotilla operation from IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, and was watching events live through military feeds. Currently the Israeli defence minister, Barak was once the commander of an elite force that had the current prime minister, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu under him.

The relationship between Bibi and Ehud goes back more than 40 years. Barak was a commander of Israel’s equivalent of the SAS and Bibi was one of his young officers. In 1972 they were among the commandos who stormed a hijacked Sabena jet at Tel Aviv airport. Bibi was injured by a bullet in his hand. Barak went untouched. Ever since, Netanyahu has regarded him as his mentor.

After they went into politics, Netanyahu became leader of Likud and Barak leader of the Labour party. (From the Times Online article linked above)

Iran has accused Israel of increased covert activity against it. The Iranian Press TV in January 2010 reported that “Sources in Turkey’s ruling party told Russia’s Mignews that Israeli spy agents ran an advanced electronic monitoring station from the Ankara military headquarters to keep tabs on communication networks in Iran and Syria.”

I am not certain how this allegation might be related to the Times Online revelation of an Israeli listening post in Turkey aimed at Iran.

Iran feels that the espionage is intended for use in sabotage and assassinations to slow or stop its uranium enrichment activity.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have some great analysis on China’s approach to sanctions on Iran. They indicate that China has refused to fully oppose US-led sanctions in order to keep the US engaged within the UN Security Council and not have it be freed from the international body to go it alone. By refusing to use its veto in the Security Council, China has avoided a confrontational approach with the US and simultaneously been successful in negotiating for significant changes to each round of sanctions.

The sanctions have so far excluded any measures that would harm China’s trade and energy investments relationship with Iran.

From Race for Iran:

China succeeded in extracting extensive concessions from the Obama Administration with respect to the content of the specific measures contained in the draft sanctions resolution.  Since 2006, Beijing’s approach to the Iranian nuclear issue has been to give Washington just enough on sanctions in the Security Council to keep the United States in the Council with the issue, while watering down the actual sanctions approved so that they would not impede the development of Sino-Iranian relations.  Fundamentally, China is continuing that approach now.

[…]Not only does China buy a significant portion of its oil imports from Iran; as we have written previously, Chinese energy companies have, since the end of 2007, concluded a growing number of investment contracts for Iranian projects.  Beijing was determined that a new sanctions resolution that would not impede the implementation of those contracts or the conclusion of new contracts by Chinese companies, and the Obama Administration predictably caved on the issue.  Moreover, Beijing appears to have extracted a commitment from the Obama Administration that U.S. secondary sanctions will not be imposed on Chinese energy companies or other entities doing business in Iran. Chinese diplomats also negotiated the Obama Administration down with regard to the specific Iranian individuals and entities to be identified in the “annexes” accompanying a new sanctions resolution, to ensure that no individual or entity is included that Chinese companies might need to deal with in pursuing their activities in the Islamic Republic.

What I think is interesting here is that the sanctions seem to actually give China an edge over the US. The US continues to make it difficult for itself and its close allies (such as Europe) to maintain healthy diplomatic and trade ties with Iran. This has left a vacuum that China is handily filling in. China is becoming Iran’s leading trade partner, beating out the likes of Germany. China is also investing heavily in Iran’s infrastructure, including its energy infrastructure, which will help it secure a greater share of the valuable and scarce energy resources.

“In late May, China offered a one billion Euro ($1.2 billion) loan to finance infrastructure projects in Tehran.  Last week, it was announced that China is negotiating to extend another $1.2 billion in credit to Iran for the construction of six liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers,” according to the article posted on the Race for Iran.

China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, sources over 70% of its imported oil from the Middle East, according to the People’s Daily. According to CNN, 15% of China’s oil imports come from Iran.

With Iran and Pakistan moving ahead with a deal to run a US$7 billion natural gas pipeline into Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces, there is talk of potential interest to set up a splinter line north and east from Pakistan to China to deliver gas to China. China, meanwhile, has heavily invested in and essentially led the construction of an energy processing and transit site in Gwadar, a significant Pakistani port city near the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s The News reports on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline:

Under a deal signed in March, Pakistan will be allowed to charge a transit-fee if the proposed pipeline is extended to India. Iran, which makes $18 billion annually from the sale of gas from South Pars, sees its income to surge to at least $96 billion per annum if trans-country pipeline extends to India.

Israel’s attack of aid ships in international waters strains relations in NATO

NATO membership

The Israeli attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla that resulted in the death of 9 people has strained relations within an already tense environment in the NATO alliance.

The alliance has been especially strained by the rapidly shifting international scene following the fall of the Soviet Union, and more so following the US invasion of Iraq and continued NATO-backed war in Afghanistan. NATO was created as a response to Soviet power. With the USSR gone, it’s had to redefine its mission, a job that is not yet complete. Some complaints have been that the US has been pushing for NATO to reach and expand outside its traditional zone of influence to fill in the vacuum left behind by the Soviet collapse, moving into Eastern Europe, becoming active in the Caucasus and even Central Asia through Afghanistan. This has put stress on the alliance, with some questioning its role as an entity that is perhaps crossing the boundary from a defensive alliance to a proactive and expansionist one.

NATO is undergoing an existential crisis in trying to redefine itself following the Cold War and in the face of multiple international powers to challenge the short span of time in which the US was an uncontested superpower.

After talking to people in NATO headquarters, former British ambassador Craig Murray has said that the recent Israeli attack of the aid ships in international waters has further strained relations between NATO members:

But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the United States [in Afghanistan], but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member?

Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the US line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the US against the rest, with the US attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as “amazingly arrogant – they don’t seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks”.

Therefore what is troubling the hearts and souls of non-Americans in NATO HQ is this fundamental question. Is NATO genuinely a mutual defence organisation, or is it just an instrument to carry out US foreign policy? With its unthinking defence of Israel and military occupation of Afghanistan, is US foreign policy really defending Europe, or is it making the World less safe by causing Islamic militancy?

I leave the last word to one of the senior NATO officers – who incidentally is not British:
“Nobody but the Americans doubts the US position on the Gaza attack is wrong and insensitve. But everyone already quietly thought the same about wider American policy. This incident has allowed people to start saying that now privately to each other.”

Israeli forces kill civilians carrying aid shipments to Gaza

At least 10 civilians were killed, and many more injured, by Israeli commandos boarding a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on Monday, May 31.

The Gaza Strip is under an Israeli blockade, with all its points of entry monitored and controlled by Israeli officials. The siege has stiffened following the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas and the Israeli war on the Strip that killed some 1,500 people in 2008-2009.

The aid ships carried over 600 activists and 10,000 tonnes of supplies. Among the activists were some members of parliament (MPs). After leaving Turkey, the flotilla was to pick up more passengers in Cyprus, including 30 MPs from nine European countries, but traffic to and from the flotilla was denied by authorities in Cyprus.

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel and has called for a session of the UN Security Council. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a state visit to Canada at the time and was scheduled to visit the US next. He has canceled his foreign trip and returned to Israel to face the political crisis that has resulted from the deaths of so many international civilians under the Israeli Defense Force.

Greece has ended its joint war games with Israel, while ambassadors are being recalled or questioned in multiple countries, such as Sweden recalling its ambassador to Israel as protest.

Prime minister Erdogan of Turkey has responded to today’s attack, saying that “This attack made by Israel is a state terror. Actual Israeli government demonstrated that it does not want peace in the region. It should be known that we will not keep silent and unreactive facing this state terror.”

Turkey has been one of Israel’s few regional allies, though relations have become increasingly strained following the 2008-2009 war against Gaza.

Israel claims that upon boarding the ships they were attacked by activists wielding clubs and knives and fired live rounds in response, as a form of self-defence. Eight members of the military are said to be wounded.

Juan Cole writes that:

It is being alleged by members of Free Gaza that the aid ships were boarded in international waters and that Israel contravened the UN international convention on freedom of navigation on the high seas. Although the Israeli press refers to the waters off Gaza as “Israeli territorial waters,” in fact Israel has no legal claim to the Gaza coast. It is the Occupying power in Gaza since 1967, but is in severe contravention of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations.

Thousands of people are protesting the incident around the world, outside Israeli and sometimes US consulates. On Monday, some 300 protesters in Turkey tried to storm the Israeli consulate but were repelled by security forces. The number of protesters has since grown.

Amnesty International’s response:

For nearly three years, Israel, which is the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, has implemented a policy of banning all movement of goods and people, except for the most basic humanitarian necessities, which are imported by international aid agencies. Only a fraction of patients in need of treatment outside Gaza are allowed out, and dozens have died waiting for Israeli permission to travel.

“The blockade does not target armed groups but rather punishes Gaza’s entire population by restricting the entry of food, medical supplies, educational equipment and building materials,” said Malcolm Smart.

“Unsurprisingly, its impact falls most heavily on those most vulnerable among Gaza ’s 1.5 million people: children, the elderly and the sick. The blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law and must be lifted immediately.”

Interview with Amira Hass

Below is a video of an interview with Amira Hass, an excellent Israeli journalist who writes for Ha’aretz.

The video covers a detailed bio, including the experience of her family during the Holocaust, moves to her inspiration for writing, then to her work in Palestine and in Israel.

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