Archive | January 16th, 2014

Al-Qaeda’s real origins exposed

NOVANEWS

Kerry speaks next to Saudi King Abdullah, January 5, 2014.

Kerry speaks next to Saudi King Abdullah, January 5, 2014.

By: Finian Cunningham

US top diplomat John Kerry must have taken us for fools. Earlier this week, speaking in Saudi Arabia, he warned that al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq are “the most dangerous players in the region.”

The US secretary of state vowed Washington’s support for the Iraqi government in its fight to regain control of towns in its western province taken over by militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

That’s rich. The government of Syria is battling to root out these same al-Qaeda-linked militants. But in that country, Washington offers no such support. In fact, the priority there for Washington is to sack the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.

So, how does Kerry square that contradiction? In Iraq, al-Qaeda is a threat that needs to be defeated, whereas in Syria the very same organization is apparently not a threat, but the Syrian government is.

What’s even richer is that Kerry was issuing his warnings about al-Qaeda in the region surrounded by senior members of the House of Saud, who are known to all the world as the bankers, recruiters and weapons suppliers of this network.

Only a few months ago, media reports disclosed American diplomatic cables – going back to 2009 – in which the former US ambassador to Iraq explicitly stated that Saudi Arabia was financing and arming al-Qaeda extremists in Iraq.

American Ambassador Christopher Hill said then that intelligence showed that Saudi Arabia was “inciting sectarian violence” in the country.

Hill added, “Intelligence sources reported that Saudi Arabia is based in the effort to destabilize the [Iraqi] government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has since re-branded itself as the ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It is closely aligned with other extremist groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Shams, Liwa al-Islam and the Islamic Front.

The alphabet-soup nature of these myriad groups does not alter the fact that they all share the same extremist Saudi Wahhabi ideology, they operate under the flag of al-Qaeda, they have conducted the most vile atrocities against civilians, including Sunni, Shia and Christians, and they are all sponsored by Saudi Arabia.

Officially, the House of Saud maintains the risible fiction that it only supports “moderates” belonging to the so-called Free Syrian Army. But the unavoidable fact is that the oil-rich kingdom is the banker for the al-Qaeda-linked networks, as the former US ambassador to Iraq attested.

Even the mainstream Western media cannot hide that fact. In October 2013, the New York Times reported US officials admitting that weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia supposedly for the FSA were ending up in the hands of the extremist militants in Syria.

Iraqi sources this week confirmed that Saudi weapons supplied to the likes of the ISIS in Syria are now being used in that group’s resurgence in Iraq’s Western Anbar Province.

So there you have it. American weapons supplied covertly to Saudi Arabia are being used by al-Qaeda to inflict sectarian mayhem in Iraq, as well as in Syria, destabilizing both countries.

And yet John Kerry sitting alongside the Saudi terror sponsors has the audacity to publicly warn that al-Qaeda has become “the most dangerous player” in the region.

Kerry said during his Saudi visit, “This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis.” Well actually, no. This is a fight in Iraq against terrorists sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the US.

Even more absurd was the American diplomat’s offer of military support to the Iraqi government against militants who have been armed by the US and its Saudi client.

“We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground [in Iraq]. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”

Already, Washington has supplied the Iraqi government with Hellfire missiles and has promised to also send drones to the country, allegedly to combat al-Qaeda.

By boots on the ground, Kerry was referring to US troops, as opposed to al-Qaeda boots on the ground, which the US and the Saudis have already helped to mobilize, first in Syria, and now in Iraq.

That raises the seemingly bizarre scenario where the US is arming both sides in Iraq – the government and the al-Qaeda militants.

This should not, however, be seen as a contradiction, but rather as a cynical boon for the American weapons industry. First, create a terror problem, and secondly supply weapons to deal with that problem. That makes for a win-win outcome for American business.

None of this should be in the least bit surprising. The US has been working covertly with Saudi Arabia and British military intelligence for more than three decades to foster and fuel al-Qaeda extremists, beginning in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union from the late 1970s until 1990.

Since then, al-Qaeda has served as a protean ideological cover for imperialist predation in the Middle East and beyond. It has undergone many reinventions with mercurial name changes along the way. But the bottom line is that it is a Western/Saudi creation, which alternates between an enemy of convenience and a ruthless proxy for waging regime change.

The old Western ruse of “enemy” may have worked a few years back. But now the contradictions are playing simultaneously and in neighboring countries in such way that the ruse is exposed as a blatant lie.

Kerry and his Saudi terror cronies may like to fool themselves, but they are fooling no one else.

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Terrorism with a “Human Face”: Rebranding the Public Image of Syria’s Al Qaeda Brigades

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Global Research

Western corporate media, its Oil and Gas counterparts (GCC), and the various acolytes and paid-propagandists in the“tailored analysis” industry, are once again attempting to bolster and rebrand the public image of the fundamentalist rebels in Syria.

In the space of a week, two new formations of armed rebels mysteriously appeared across the mass-media lexicon and declared war on the dominant extremists through the usual “activist” social media accounts. The new brigades have virtually no historical record in the conflict, and appear to be largely a creation of the impotent exile opposition and its western sponsors. An abundance of reports relay stories of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) simply abandoning their posts and being turned over by this supposedly “moderate” new force.

Yet, in reality, the most predominant militia in Syria – those of a Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalist bent, who now fight under the umbrella of the Islamic Front (IF), and are led by Hassan Abboud of Ahrar al-Sham, and Zahran Alloush of Liwa al-Islam – have made a concerted effort to avoid sowing discord between themselves and the overt Al Qaeda affiliates of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN).

The new narrative emerging draws heavily from the Sahwa (Awakening) in Iraq, in which Sunni tribes from the western province of Anbar took up arms against, and eventually defeated, the Al Qaeda insurgency that followed the US invasion and occupation of that country. Western and Gulf media are now attempting to reinvigorate the rebels’ public image by concocting a portrayal of brave “moderates” taking on the extremists within ISIS. Yet contrary to the Syria-Sahwa narrative, the vast majority of opposition forces, as much as one can generalise, have in fact been shown to share far more in common with their extremist equivalents than they have differences, particularly in regards to their reciprocal – and sectarian-laden – religiopolitical ideologies.

According to Western and Gulf propagandists, Jabhat al-Nusra ostensibly represent the “homegrown” Syrian Al Qaeda branch. Whereas in actual fact, the claim is entirely false; JaN’s militia hold a distinct foreign contingent and many of its commanders have also been found to be of foreign descent – particularly Iraqi. Jabhat al-Nusra, therefore, should be correctly viewed as a semi-Syrian militia at most, built and sustained by ISIS and its former incarnation: the Islamic State of Iraq, (ISI) also formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

The ideologically aligned Salafi-Jihadists of Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, and more recently ISIS, have formed the spearhead of the insurgency throughout the entire Syrian crisis, leading offensives against Syrian army installations, whilst also having enough manpower, funds & materiel to attack, encamp and militarily fortify civilian areas across the country. Most notably in Raqqah, which has become a virtual Al Qaeda statelet under the control of either Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS.

Examples of the dominant role fundamentalists have played in the insurgency are abundant, during an interview with TIME magazine, Ahrar al-Sham fighters – who, as we have seen through a plethora of evidence, are inextricably linked to Jabhat al-Nusra – freely admit they were planning a violent insurgency in Syria well before any peaceful protests occurred in 2011, and that recruits with underlying sectarian agendas made efforts to sanitize and mask their true Jihadist cause during the earlier phases of the conflict in order to win over the Syrian population. Whats more, a recent report in the National relayed much the same admissions from supposed “FSA” rebels operating in the south of Syria around Dar’aa.

The rebels interviewed admitted that

“They [JaN] offer their services and cooperate with us, they are better armed than we are, they have suicide bombers and know how to make car bombs,” rebel sources went on to say that “the FSA and Al Nusra join together for operations but they have an agreement to let the FSA lead for public reasons, because they don’t want to frighten Jordan or the West,”.

During the interview rebels further elaborate on the efforts made to boost the public image of the western-backed imaginary moderates saying that “operations that were really carried out by Al Nusra are publicly presented by the FSA as their own,” and that supposed moderate FSA fighters “say that Al Nusra fighters are really from the FSA to enable them to move more easily across borders,”. The reports bolster earlier analyses that contradict the dominant narrative, often dismissed as “conspiracy theory”, which indicated such actions were being undertaken, and that the armed groups responsible for the initial violence in March-April 2011 were indeed religious fundamentalists, not the secular “freedom fighters” endlessly lionized by the lackeys of western governments and media.

Such candid rebel admissions once again expose the falsehoods that liberal opportunists rely on when blindly repeating the Imperialist narrative of a peaceful protest movement simply morphing into an Al Qaeda-led insurgency. In reality, the generally small and legitimate protests calling for reform were used as a fig leaf by Syria’s various internal and external enemies to hide the extremist-led militant insurgency they were orchestrating and colluding with.

As evidenced in numerous interviews and statements from Abboud and Alloush, the Islamic Front is not by any stretch of the imagination a “moderate” force opposed to JaN, ISIS, or Al Qaeda ideology in general (unless one utilises the doublespeak of the US State Department when describing their “moderate” Wahhabi-Salafi monarchical clients in the Gulf). Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa a-Islam and other various proto-Salafi militia operating under the umbrella of the Islamic Front have repeatedly fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, and taken part in offensives that have targeted towns and villages on the specific criteria of the sect of the civilian inhabitants. The massacres committed upon the civilian residents of Latakia provide just one recent example of such sectarian barbarity – committed not only by the extreme elements, but with the full cooperation and participation of supposed moderate “FSA” militia. A more recent example of the Islamic Front cooperating with its Al Qaeda-affiliates came in December, when the IF took part in the attack and ensuing massacre of civilians in the workers district of Adra, Damascus – another rebel war-crime almost totally omitted from western media, regardless of the fact the BBC’s chief foreign correspondent was a mere 20 miles away while the massacres were occurring.

When framed in the correct context, it becomes clear that the vast majority of rebels in Syria are in fact ideologically allied to the very Al Qaeda affiliates the media is trying to portray them as opposed to. A recent communique from the political head of the IF, and leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Hassan Abboud, was disingenuously portrayed as a Islamic Front “warning” to ISIS. Opposition-friendly media outlets and analysts are in effect conflating the Islamic Front with imaginary “moderates” and in turn attempting to portray them as ideological opponents to their more extreme Al Qaeda counterparts. This narrative is turning reality on its head, as Abboud’s recent statement is actually a “warning” against discord with ISIS. Abboud encourages the Syrian population to treat the Muhajirin (foreign jihadists busy murdering Syrians) “kindly”, and further encourages ISIS to emulate the “more healthy” manner of their supposed “home-grown” incarnation Jabhat al-Nusra. Accordingly, one can safely conclude that Abboud, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam, and the various Salafi militia operating under the umbrella of the Islamic Front – the largest militant force of the opposition – have close to zero ideological disparity with ISIS or JaN.

Even if what seem to be inflated reports of discord and infighting between the Islamic Front and the supremacist ideologues in ISIS were to result in a considerable loss for the latter, it would simply be replaced at the top of the fundamentalist food-chain by the next militia willing to impose its barbarity and coercion in the most effective way. This is ultimately the inherent nature of fundamentalist militant insurgencies, they are designed, indoctrinated, equipped, and funded to impose upon states and peoples through murder, coercion and fear, not through the appeal of a popular political doctrine and the mass support of the people. The simple facts that the insurgency as a whole is under no central hierarchy, and holds little to-no support inside Syria and is therefore susceptible to becoming reliant and subordinate to its foreign patrons, are clear indications that it will not be cohesive, regardless of the varying shades of fundamentalism the dominant groups have attempted to enforce.

The historical record of Western-GCC-backed insurgencies in the Arab and Muslim world provides copious amounts of evidence to show that invariably the United States and its Saudi partners have always utilised, fomented, and sponsored reactionary forces to meet geopolitical ends, particularly when subverting or attacking nationalist governments that refuse to abide by the Anglo-American capitalist order – with disastrous consequences for the countries in which the fundamentalist proxies are set upon.

One needs only to glance at the very recent history of Libya to negate the establishment falsehood that if the Syrian government had been overthrown quickly the fundamentalists would not have gained in strength. Again, this is turning the historical record on its head, as the joint NATO-Al Qaeda war on Libya has once again shown; the swift overthrow of a state’s government and leadership inevitably results in reactionary fundamentalists taking advantage of the power vacuum left behind. The US-Saudi-backed insurgency in Afghanistan during the 1980′s, which fought against the Soviet-backed Communist government, provides perhaps the definitive example of the type of proxies the United States and Saudi Arabia choose to employ to destroy target states. As with Syria and Libya, the original “Afghan Arab” insurgency – which helped to create and empower Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, Hekmatyar, the Haqqani network and a host of other fundamentalist militancy – was wrought with infighting, extremism, warlordism, and reaction, this trend has continued in virtually every state the US and its GCC partners have targeted for “liberation” via jihadist proxies.

Perpetual infighting evidenced throughout the Syrian insurgency is in fact a result of the long-standing fragmentation of the various opposition forces, their varying degrees of fundamentalism, and the battle to win influence, arms, and funds through foreign donors and exploitation.

The evidence-free narratives of supposed existential disparity between what actually represent ideological allies, the patterns of ever-changing nomenclature and rebel rebranding, and the efforts to scapegoat the most overtly extreme elements for the systematic crimes of the opposition as a whole, are nothing more than public relations exercises, designed to whitewash the massive crimes of the “rebels”, whilst extricating the Western Elite and their GCC partners from the criminal act of sponsoring extremists for geopolitical ends.

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‘Geneva-2 talks is an exercise in shadow fake diplomacy’

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov head for their seats after greeting each other before the start of their meeting at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Paris, January 13, 2014.(Reuters / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov head for their seats after greeting each other before the start of their meeting at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Paris, January 13, 2014.(Reuters / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By: Michel Chossudovsky

 

RT: Western leaders are undertaking a last-ditch attempt to pressure the Syrian National Council into participating in the forthcoming talks in Geneva. Do you think they will succeed?

Michel Chossudovsky: I think the fundamental issue is to address the nature of the conflict. The Syrian National Council is virtually a defunct organization. They have been meeting in Spain with other opposition groups but in effect we have to ask a question: ‘Is this a civil war between opposing factions within Syrian society or is it in fact a war of aggression?’ I think at the moment what is striking is the fact that there is a merger of the insurgency in Iraq and Syria: it’s the same Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Levant, which are waging war against both countries. And the question is who is behind them. We know that there are intelligence operations, we know that Saudi Arabia is supporting those rebels and we also know that the United States is now supporting the New Islamic front which was created back in November, which is considered to be some kind of moderate grouping of Islamic organizations. In effect there’s ample evidence to the fact that the Western military allies are supporting various Islamic rebel forces.

RT: The Western leaders are becoming very aware of the consequences of what’ll happen, aren’t they? It’s interesting to hear that many are suspecting now Assad might be the lesser of all evils. And yet at today’s Friends of Syria meeting a very different message came from the French Foreign Minister. He said that Assad’s regime is fueling terrorism. What’s your take on that?

MC: These are cynical statements. The Western military alliance has been recruiting mujaheddin right from the outset and it’s confirmed by numerous reliable sources, including Israeli Intelligence. These jihadist forces are operatives of the Western military alliance and it’s continuing right from the Afghan-Soviet war. For the West to say that Assad is allied with the terrorists is a red herring. They are still intent upon destabilizing Syria as a nation state and in fact, […] with the situation in Iraq and Syria, what they want to do now is to redraw the map of the Middle East.

RT: But it is contradicted by the fact that the West is holding the conference in Geneva, it wants peace in Syria.

MC: Yes, but this peace conference scheduled for the next week in Montreux is an exercise in shadow fake diplomacy. Ultimately, a decision won’t be taken there, they’ll be taken behind closed doors between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. But very important, Sergey Lavrov made the statement back in November that the Geneva-2 peace talks should focus on counterterrorism. That raises an issue because they’ll be sitting at the table together and then the question is: ‘Who is behind the terrorists?’ There will be a number of countries there, I suspect Saudi Arabia might be present at those meetings in Montreux. But who are the sponsors of the terrorists, who is feeding them the weapons? Just a few months ago, Senator John McCain had a photo shaking hands with leaders of the terrorist organizations inside Syria. We must understand that the western military alliance also has blood on their hands. It’s not simply an issue of identifying terrorists, we have to identify the people who are behind them.

RT: With these interesting signals that are coming from western leaders and western spokespeople, what do you make of Assad’s future? Many say that he has support within Syria…

MC: I think Assad has support within Syria because the Syrian people realize that this is a war of aggression with mercenaries coming in and these mercenaries are coordinated by special forces. They understand that. And when you [look at] the massacre that took place recently in Adra, well, the civilian population understood who came to the rescue with Syrian Armed forces against these terrorists. I think it’s shocking to say the least that the massacre in Adra was covered by some, for example, by Russian media, but it was not covered by Western media.

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Geneva II – Washington’s Plan B for Regime Change in Syria

NOVANEWS

By: Finian Cunningham

The US and its Western allies and their regional proxies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, do not want to allow a genuine political process worked out by the Syrian people. The fatal problem with the Geneva II negotiations on Syria, due to open next week in Switzerland, is that the process is furtively being treated by the US and its allies as a lever for regime change. It is their Plan B for regime change, where Plan A is the failed covert military tactic. That does not bode well for a successful, that is sustainable, settlement to a crisis that is nearly three years old with well over 100,000 deaths and nine million people – more than a third of the total population – displaced from their homes. It amounts to an illegal interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, and as such is doomed to fail.

Of course, Washington and its allies would never admit to this cynicism. No, they couch their baleful, cynical agenda with all sorts of pious platitudes about «peace» and «finding solutions».

But one quick integrity-check is this: there are some 30 countries invited to attend the Geneva conference, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and even Brazil and South Africa. But missing from that list like a hole in the head is Syria’s main regional ally, Iran. This omission is due to the insistence of the United States. Such an unreasonable, obstreperous American attitude betrays a hidden ideological objective and belies any genuine interest in finding a peaceful settlement.

Underscoring the ulterior motive is the seeming American concession that Iran is «welcome» to attend the Geneva II summit – but only if Tehran accepts that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad must step down. Iran has refused to accept any such precondition for its participation and has reiterated that it is up to the Syrian people to decide on the political outcome of the talks.

The implicit flaw in the Geneva II process reflects the disingenuous position of the Western powers and their regional Arab and Turk allies towards trying to find a negotiated political settlement to the Syrian conflict.

Syria’s Assad government has announced its willingness to participate in the conference, which opens on January 22 in the Swiss city of Montreux and continues in Geneva on January 24. It is called Geneva II because a previous conference held in Geneva at the end of June 2012 first set out a framework of constituting a «transitional government». The so-called Geneva I Communiqué clearly states that any political settlement must be mutually worked between Syrian parties and that it may comprise members of the present Syrian government, including Bashar al-Assad. In other words, the communiqué does not pre-empt negotiations.

Why the follow-up Geneva II conference has been delayed for more than 18 months is largely due to prevarication by the Western governments and their sponsored exiled Syrian opposition, the so-called Syrian National Council. The Western powers and their regional proxies have been busily trying to reinterpret the Geneva Communiqué as a statement that imposes the precondition of the Assad government standing down. For Syria and its allies Russia, China and Iran that contravenes the agreed Geneva principle of mutual negotiations and having no preconditions, especially preconditions imposed by foreign parties. (Truth be told, this would not be the first time that the US backtracks on political agreements, as Russia well knows from vacillating negotiations over nuclear arms reduction.)

US backsliding over Syria was clear immediately following the first Geneva conference when then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sardonically disclosed the ulterior agenda. In a quip to media, Clinton remarked that the continuance of Assad in power would «never be mutually acceptable» and therefore the communiqué, in the US view, was for all intents and purposes a sacking order.

A lot has changed over the intervening year and half. For a start, the death toll from the violence has probably doubled to the current figure of 130,000. The US and its allies bear responsibility for this bloodshed and destruction from their material support of the various anti-government militias and from their inordinate delay in convening the Geneva II conference.

A second major change is that Syrian government forces have managed to gain the military upper hand over the foreign-backed militants. Assad’s army has retaken large swathes of the country and has pushed back the insurgents into territorial pockets of the northeastern region. The militants may still hold Syria’s second city of Aleppo in the north and Raqqa in the northeast, but the Syrian Arab Army has been gradually whittling away control of surrounding areas into an ever-tightening noose.

Whereas back in June 2012 Assad’s political future seemed to be in the balance, now his government is more assured that it will overcome the insurgency. Its legitimacy, mandate and sovereignty have been reinforced. This insurgency has always been an externally driven covert campaign for regime change, underpinned by clandestine supply of arms, money and so-called jihadist fighters being funneled into Syria from the US, Britain and France in liaison with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

Moscow has been well aware of this covert agenda and hence it has stood firm in support of its historic Syrian ally, despite Western governments and media trying to traduce Russia’s principled involvement as «providing succor to a despotic regime».

The Saudis appear to be the only member of the US-led axis that still retains a commitment to the covert military agenda for regime change. Washington and its other allies have sobered up to the realpolitik that regime change in Syria is not going to happen through the battlefield and wanton acts of terrorism.

That’s why Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, told the so-called Friends of Syria gathering in Paris last weekend that «there is no military solution, only a political one». The proper way to perceive Kerry’s reasoning is not one of moral exhortation, but more a jaundiced resignation to reality by the US.

What Kerry means by «solution» is that the long sought-after objective of regime change in Syria must henceforth be achieved through political means because, quite evidently, the covert military option is quickly becoming redundant.

The Western media myth of «moderate rebels» fighting for democracy in parallel with anti-government «extremists» has collapsed spectacularly to reveal an orgy of heinous violations against civilians and nihilistic feuding between different extremist groups, all of whom profess a ideological link to Al Qaeda.

In the latest infighting between the extremists in Syria’s northeast, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is reported to have executed hundreds of cadres belonging to the Jabhat al Nusra Front and another militia called Ahrar al-Sham. All of these groups – which were formerly fighting against the Assad forces before turning their guns on each other – espouse the fanatical Wahhabi ideology of Saudi Arabia and are supported materially by the Saudis. It has been reliably reported over several months – albeit in a low-key way – by the New York Times, Daily Telegraph and Le Monde among other Western media outlets that the US has supplied weapons to these Al Qaeda-affiliated groups with Saudi collusion.

From the Western viewpoint, the covert military agenda in Syria has degenerated from a smart regime-change tactic into a dangerous, unpredictable loose cannon. The violent repercussions threatening the stability of Iraq, Lebanon and the region, extending as far as Russia as the Volgograd bombing atrocity indicates, is probably not what Washington foresaw being unleashed in such an uncontrollable way.

Revealing American apprehension, Kerry said last week: «This is part of the reason why the Geneva conference is so critical, because the rise of these terrorists in the region and particularly in Syria and through the fighting in Syria is part of what is unleashing this instability in the rest of the region. That’s why everybody has a stake. All of the [Persian] Gulf states, all of the regional actors, Russia, the United States and a lot of players elsewhere in the world have a stake in pushing back against violent extremist terrorists who respect no law, who have no goal other than to take over power and disrupt lives by force.»

Kerry’s sanctimonious words are, of course, contemptible. Why is Iran pointedly omitted from this panoply of players? What’s more, the extremism raging in the region – the countless bloody death toll – is a direct result of American imperialist machinations fomenting these very same «violent extremist terrorists who respect no law».

Kerry’s words and his government’s belated concern to convene the Geneva II conference are doubly contemptible because they are nothing more than barefaced deception to salvage a morass of its making.

Washington’s concern is not to find a political settlement to end the Syrian conflict, but rather to find an alternative way of executing regime change by other means. This is why Washington is desperately trying this week to get its sponsored exile group the Syrian National Council (SNC) to attend the conference. The SNC has minimal political base inside Syria. Even the anti-government militants, whom the SNC presumes to sort-of represent, have rejected it as a political non-entity.

Nevertheless, the US needs this exiled confected group to attend the Geneva II conference in order to give its «Assad must go» precondition any substance. If the SNC does not attend then all that remains of the Syrian caucus at Geneva is the Assad government and reformist Syrian opposition parties, such as the Syrian Nationalist Party and the Syrian Popular Front for Change and Liberation. The latter opposition groups have said that they are willing to work out a negotiated settlement with the Assad government and, in scathing reference to the Western-backed SNC, they have rejected «a fabricated opposition which lives in fancy hotels and make their money through the blood of Syrian people».

That is the point: the US and its Western allies and their regional proxies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, do not want to allow a genuine political process worked out by the Syrian people. The Orwellian-named Friends of Syria are imposing preconditions to orchestrate their pre-emptive regime-change outcome of Geneva II regardless of the interests or the sovereign rights of the Syrian people.

By contrast, Russia, China and Iran have shown themselves to be genuine allies of the Syrian people because these powers have insisted that the process must be governed by Syrians without any preconditions. As Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out, the Western approach to Geneva II is «ideological», not a practical commitment that prioritises finding a peaceful solution.

If Western interests are allowed to dominate the process, then the Geneva II is doomed to fail in its ostensible objective of achieving a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict… This should be no surprise because the authors of the conflict in Syria are the US-led axis, who now present themselves as the authors of peace. How can these actors possibly prescribe peace? And moreover especially because their covert war on Syria is merely being redeployed by other, political, means.

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Saudi Arabia: A Retrograde Rentier Dictatorship and Global Terrorism

NOVANEWS

By: James Petras

Saudi Arabia has all the vices and none of the virtues of an oil rich state like Venezuela. The country is governed by a family dictatorship which tolerates no opposition and severely punishes human rights advocates and political dissidents. Hundreds of billions in oil revenues are controlled by the royal despotism and fuel speculative investments the world over. The ruling elite relies on the purchase of Western arms and US military bases for protection. The wealth of productive nations is syphoned to enrich the conspicuous consumption of the Saudi ruling family. The ruling elite finances the most fanatical, retrograde, misogynist version of Islam, “Wahhabi” a sect of Sunni Islam.

Faced with internal dissent from repressed subjects and religious minorities, the Saudi dictatorship perceives threats and dangers from all sides: overseas, secular, nationalists and Shia ruling governments; internally, moderate Sunni nationalists, democrats and feminists; within the royalist cliques, traditionalists and modernizers. In response it has turned toward financing, training and arming an international network of Islamic terrorists who are directed toward attacking, invading and destroying regimes opposed to the Saudi clerical-dictatorial regime.

The mastermind of the Saudi terror network is Bandar bin Sultan, who has longstanding and deep ties to high level US political, military and intelligence officials. Bandar was trained and indoctrinated at Maxwell Air Force Base and Johns Hopkins University and served as Saudi Ambassador to the US for over two decades (1983-2005). Between 2005-2011 he was Secretary of the National Security Council and in 2012 he was appointed as Director General of the Saudi Intelligence Agency.

Early on, Bandar became deeply immersed in clandestine terror operations working in liaison with the CIA. Among his numerous “dirty operations” with the CIA during the 1980s, Bandar channelled $32 million dollars to the Nicaragua Contra’s engaged in a terror campaign to overthrow the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua. During his tenure as ambassador he was actively engaged in protecting Saudi royalty with ties to the 9/11/01 bombing of the Triple Towers and the Pentagon. Suspicion that Bandar and his allies in the Royal family had prior knowledge of the bombings by Saudi terrorists (11 of the 19), is suggested by the sudden flight of Saudi Royalty following the terrorist act. US intelligence documents regarding the Saudi-Bandar connection are under Congressional review.

With a wealth of experience and training in running clandestine terrorist operations, derived from his two decades of collaboration with the US intelligence agencies, Bandar was in a position to organize his own global terror network in defense of the isolated retrograde and vulnerable Saudi despotic monarchy.

Bandar’s Terror Network

Bandar bin Sultan has transformed Saudi Arabia from an inward-looking, tribal based regime totally dependent on US military power for its survival, to a major regional center of a vast terror network, an active financial backer of right-wing military dictatorships (Egypt) and client regimes (Yemen) and military intervenor in the Gulf region (Bahrain). Bandar has financed and armed a vast array of clandestine terror operations, utilizing Islamic affiliates of Al Qaeda, the Saudi controlled Wahhabi sect as well as numerous other Sunni armed groups. Bandar is a “pragmatic” terrorist operator: repressing Al Qaeda adversaries in Saudi Arabia and financing Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. While Bandar was a long-term asset of the US intelligence services, he has, more recently, taken an ‘independent course’ where the regional interests of the despotic state diverge from those of the US. In the same vein, while Saudi Arabia has a longstanding enmity toward Israel, Bandar has developed a “covert understanding” and working relationship with the Netanyahu regime, around their common enmity toward Iran and more specifically in opposition to the interim agreement between the Obama-Rohani regime.

Bandar has intervened directly or via proxies in reshaping political alignments, destabilizing adversaries and bolstering and expanding the political reach of the Saudi dictatorship from North Africa to South Asia, from the Russian Caucuses to the Horn of Africa, sometimes in concert with Western imperialism, other times projecting Saudi hegemonic aspirations.

North Africa: Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt

Bandar has poured billions of dollars to bolster the right-wing pro-Islamic regimes in Tunisia and Morocco, ensuring that the mass pro-democracy movements would be repressed, marginalized and demobilized. Islamic extremists receiving Saudi financial support are encouraged to back the “moderate” Islamists in government by assassinating secular democratic leaders and socialist trade union leaders in opposition. Bandar’s policies largely coincide with those of the US and France in Tunisia and Morocco; but not in Libya and Egypt.

Saudi financial backing for Islamist terrorists and Al Qaeda affiliates against Libyan President Gadhafi were in-line with the NATO air war. However divergences emerged in the aftermath: the NATO backed client regime made up of neo-liberal ex-pats faced off against Saudi backed Al Qaeda and Islamist terror gangs and assorted tribal gunmen and marauders. Bandar funded Islamic extremists in Libya were bankrolled to extend their military operations to Syria, where the Saudi regime was organizing a vast military operation to overthrow the Assad regime. The internecine conflict between NATO and Saudi armed groups in Libya, spilled over and led to the Islamist murder of the US Ambassador and CIA operatives in Benghazi. Having overthrown Gadhafi, Bandar virtually abandoned interest in the ensuing blood bath and chaos provoked by his armed assets. They in turn, became self-financing – robbing banks, pilfering oil and emptying local treasuries – relatively “independent” of Bandar’s control.

In Egypt, Bandar developed, in coordination with Israel (but for different reasons), a strategy of undermining the relatively independent, democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohammed Morsi. Bandar and the Saudi dictatorship financially backed the military coup and dictatorship of General Sisi. The US strategy of a power-sharing agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military regime, combining popular electoral legitimacy and the pro-Israel-pro NATO military was sabotaged. With a $15 billion aid package and promises of more to come, Bandar provided the Egyptian military a financial lifeline and economic immunity from any international financial reprisals. None were taken of any consequences. The military crushed the Brotherhood, jailed and threatened to execute its elected leaders. It outlawed sectors of the liberal-left opposition which it had used as cannon fodder to justify its seizure of power. In backing the military coup, Bandar eliminated a rival, democratically elected Islamic regime which stood in contrast to the Saudi despotism. He secured a like-minded dictatorial regime in a key Arab country, even though the military rulers are more secular, pro-Western, pro-Israel and less anti-Assad than the Brotherhood regime. Bandar’s success in greasing the wheels for the Egyptian coup secured a political ally but faces an uncertain future.

The revival of a new anti-dictatorial mass movement would also target the Saudi connection. Moreover Bandar undercut and weakened Gulf State unity: Qatar had financed the Morsi regime and was out $5 billion dollars it had extended to the previous regime.

Bandar’s terror network is most evident in his long-term large scale financing, arming, training and transport of tens of thousands of Islamic terrorist “volunteers” from the US, Europe, the Middle East, the Caucuses, North Africa and elsewhere. Al Qaeda terrorists in Saudi Arabia became “martyrs of Islam” in Syria. Dozens of Islamic armed gangs in Syria competed for Saudi arms and funds. Training bases with US and European instructors and Saudi financing were established in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey. Bandar financed the major ‘rebel’ Islamic terrorist armed group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, for cross border operations.

With Hezbollah supporting Assad, Bandar directed money and arms to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon to bomb South Beirut, the Iranian embassy and Tripoli. Bandar directed $3 billion to the Lebanese military with the idea of fomenting a new civil war between it and Hezbollah. In co-ordination with France and the US, but with far greater funding and greater latitude to recruit Islamic terrorist, Bandar assumed the leading role and became the principle director of a three front military and diplomatic offensive against Syria, Hezbollah and Iran. For Bandar, an Islamic takeover in Syria would lead to an Islamic Syrian invasion in support of Al Qaeda in Lebanon to defeat Hezbollah in hopes of isolating Iran. Teheran would then become the target of a Saudi-Israeli-US offensive. Bandar’s strategy is more fantasy then reality.

Bandar Diverges from Washington: the Offensive in Iraq and Iran

Saudi Arabia has been an extremely useful but sometimes out of control client of Washington. This is especially the case since Bandar has taken over as Intelligence chief: a long-time asset of the CIA he has also, at times, taken the liberty to extract “favors” for his services, especially when those “favors” enhance his upward advance within the Saudi power structure. Hence, for example, his ability to secure AWACs despite AIPAC opposition earned him merit points. As did Bandar’s ability to secure the departure of several hundred Saudi ‘royalty’ with ties to the 9/11 bombers, despite a high level national security lockdown in the aftermath of the bombing.

While there were episodic transgressions in the past, Bandar moved on to more serious divergences from US policy. He went ahead, building his own terror network, directed toward maximizing Saudi hegemony – even where it conflicted with US proxies, clients and clandestine operatives.

While the US is committed to backing the right-wing Maliki regime in Iraq, Bandar is providing political, military and financial backing to the Sunni terrorist “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”. When the US negotiated the “interim agreement” with Iran Bandar voiced his opposition and “bought” support. Saudi signed off on a billion dollar arms agreement during French President Hollande’s visit, in exchange for greater sanctions on Iran. Bandar also expressed support for Israel’s use of the Zionist power configuration to influence the Congress, to sabotage US negotiations with Iran.

Bandar has moved beyond his original submission to US intelligence handlers. His close ties with past and present US and EU presidents and political influence have encouraged him to engage in “Big Power adventures.” He met with Russian President Putin to convince him to drop his support for Syria, offering a carrot or a stick: a multi-billion dollar arms sale for compliance and a threat to unleash Chechen terrorists to undermine the Sochi Olympics. He has turned Erdogan from a NATO ally supporting ‘moderate’ armed opponents to Bashar Assad, into embracing the Saudi backed ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, a terrorist Al Qaeda affiliate. Bandar has “overlooked” Erdogan’s “opportunist” efforts to sign off oil deals with Iran and Iraq, his continuing military arrangements with NATO and his past backing of the defunct Morsi regime in Egypt, in order to secure Erdogan’s support for the easy transit of large numbers of Saudi trained terrorists to Syria and probably Lebanon.

Bandar has strengthened ties with the armed Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, arming and financing their armed resistance against the US, as well as offering the US a site for a ‘negotiated departure’.

Bandar is probably supporting and arming Uighur Muslim terrorists in western China, and Chechens and Caucasian Islamic terrorists in Russia, even as the Saudi’s expand their oil agreements with China and cooperate with Russia’s Gazprom.

The only region where the Saudi’s have exercised direct military intervention is in the Gulf min-state of Bahrain, where Saudi troops crushed the pro-democracy movement challenging the local despot.

Bandar: Global Terror on Dubious Domestic Foundations

Bandar has embarked on an extraordinary transformation of Saudi foreign policy and enhanced its global influence. All to the worst. Like Israel, when a reactionary ruler comes to power and overturns the democratic order, Saudi arrives on the scene with bags of dollars to buttress the regime. Whenever an Islamic terror network emerges to subvert a nationalist, secular or Shia regime, it can count on Saudi funds and arms. What some Western scribes euphemistically describe as “tenuous effort to liberalize and modernize” the retrograde Saudi regime, is really a military upgrade of its overseas terrorist activity. Bandar uses modern techniques of terror to impose the Saudi model of reactionary rule on neighboring and distant regimes with Muslim populations.

The problem is that Bandar’s “adventurous” large scale overseas operations conflict with some of the ruling Royal family’s “introspective” style of rule. They want to be left alone to accrue hundreds of billions collecting petrol rents, to invest in high-end properties around the world, and to quietly patronize high end call girls in Washington, London and Beirut while posing as pious guardians of Medina, Mecca, and the Holy sites. So far Bandar has not been challenged, because he has been careful to pay his respects to the ruling monarch and his inner circle. He has bought and brought Western and Eastern prime ministers, presidents, and other respectable notables to Riyadh to sign deals and pay compliments to the delight of the reigning despot. Yet his solicitous behavior to overseas Al Qaeda operations, his encouraging Saudi extremists to go overseas and engage in terrorist wars, disturbs monarchical circles. They worry that Saudi trained, armed and knowledgeable terrorists — dubbed as “holy warriors” — may return from Syria, Russia, and Iraq and bomb the King’s palaces. Moreover, overseas regimes targeted by Bandar’s terror network may retaliate: Russia or Iran, Syrians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Iraqis may just sponsor their own instruments of retaliation. Despite the hundreds of billions spent on arms purchases, the Saudi regime is very vulnerable on all levels. Apart from tribal legions, the billionaire elite have little popular support and even less legitimacy. It depends on overseas migrant labor, foreign “experts” and US military forces. The Saudi elite is also despised by the most religious of the Wahhabi clergy for allowing “infidels” on sacred terrain. While Bandar extends Saudi power abroad, the domestic foundations of rule are narrowing. While he defies US policymakers in Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, the regime depends on the US Air Force and Seventh Fleet to protect it from a growing array of adversarial regimes.

Bandar, with his inflated ego, may believe that he is a “Saladin” building a new Islamic empire, but in reality, by waving one finger his patron monarch can lead to his rapid dismissal. One too many provocative civilian bombings by his Islamic terrorist beneficiaries can lead to an international crises leading to Saudi Arabia becoming the target of world opprobrium.

In reality, Bandar bin Sultan is the protégé and successor of Bin Laden; he has deepened and systematized global terrorism. Bandar’s terror network has murdered far more innocent victims than Bin Laden. That, of course, is to be expected; after all he has billions of dollars from the Saudi treasury, training from the CIA and the handshake of Netanyahu!

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Respect human life and rights in Yarmouk refugee camp

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The Syria Solidarity Movement calls on all combatants in and around Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria to spare the civilian population in the camp from starvation and suffering, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and to recognize the rights of the population.  We condemn the inhuman treatment of the population.
We call for an immediate ceasefire by all sides, in order to allow all persons that wish to leave the camp the opportunity and means to do so, and for food and medicine to be supplied to those choosing to remain.  We consider all parties to be responsible for the welfare of the population in the combat zone and we call for the application of international law for any and all crimes committed against the civilian population of that zone.
Syria Solidarity Movement

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Ariel Sharon: Serial war criminal, mass murderer The true legacy of a virulent anti-Arab racist

NOVANEWS
By Richard Becker, author of “Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire”

Ariel Sharon“Ariel Sharon: Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85,” read the headline in the Jan. 12 issue of the New York Times. The Washington Post called Sharon “a monumental figure in Israel’s modern history” who “sought to become the architect of a peaceful future,” accompanied by a most kindly and grandfatherly photo. USA Today: “controversial and iconic.” And on and on in all the U.S. corporate media.

Most of the world knows better, and none know better than the Palestinian and Lebanese people, thousands of whom were victims of this bloody, serial war criminal. Sharon’s career was built on massacres – from Qibya in 1953, to Sabra and Shatila in 1982, to Jenin in 2002.

A virulent anti-Arab racist, Sharon had a long and bloody history of murder and repression against the Palestinian people. In the early 1950s, he commanded Unit 101, a special forces company that carried out massacres against Palestinian exiles in Gaza and Jordan.

Despite having conquered 78 percent of Palestine in the 1948 war, Israel’s leaders were far from satisfied.  As has been extensively documented by many Israeli as well as Palestinian historians, Israel sought to provoke a “Second Round” in the early 1950s, in order to take over the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule, Gaza and more.

A main Israeli tactic was called “retaliation.” In response to recently expelled Palestinians coming across the borders back into their homeland from Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli army (IDF) would carry out large-scale attacks and massacres.

For diplomatic and public relations purposes, it was extremely important to Israel to be seen as victim rather than aggressor. This remains true down to the present.

“Retaliation” was really provocation; the intent was to get Jordan or Egypt to react militarily to the massacres, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext for a new war of conquest.

On Oct. 14, 1953, Unit 101, led by Sharon, attacked Qibya, a small, undefended village inside the West Bank, and massacred 69 people, many of them burned alive inside their homes. Unit 101 suffered no casualties. It was an atrocity sanctioned at the top and carried out for political ends.

The Qibya raid drew worldwide condemnation, and Jordan, much militarily weaker than Israel, did not respond as the Israeli leaders had hoped. The conquest of the West Bank and Gaza would have to wait until 1967.

Sabra and Shatila massacres

Following the 1967 war of conquest, Sharon was the military governor of Gaza, renowned for extreme brutality in carrying out a policy of systematic torture and assassination of Palestinians resisting occupation.

Sharon is most notorious for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As Israel’s defense minister, Sharon organized and led, with full U.S. backing, the massive assault on Lebanon. For three months in the summer of 1982, Israeli bombers, supplied by the United States, relentlessly pounded Beirut and other cities and towns, killing more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Lebanon had no air defense system.

The stated objective of the invasion was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon. There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees—those driven from their homeland to make way for the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants—living in Lebanon. Altogether, more than 7 million Palestinians today live in exile.

After three months of bombing, the central PLO leadership agreed to evacuate its fighters from Lebanon. As part of the cease-fire agreement requiring them to leave, the remaining Palestinian civilian population was to be placed under international protection.

Sharon, however, publicly stated that 2,000 “terrorists” remained in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut. In reality, those remaining in the camps were almost all children, women and elderly men. Virtually all of the young men had been evacuated.

Israeli tanks surrounded the camps in violation of the cease-fire agreement. Then, on Sept. 16, 1982, with the full knowledge and consent of Sharon and the Israeli occupiers then in control of the area, Lebanese Phalangist militias were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut.

The fascist Phalange—open admirers of Adolf Hitler who took their name from Franco’s party in Spain—were Israel’s closest allies in Lebanon. The Phalangists wore Israeli-supplied uniforms and carried Israeli-supplied weapons.

For three days, they rampaged through the Palestinian camps, torturing, raping and murdering. Many of the victims were disemboweled or decapitated. No one was spared—neither the very old nor the very young. By the end, more than 1,900 Palestinian children, women and men lay dead.

Though overwhelming evidence showed that Sharon and other Israeli commanders had sent the fascists into the undefended camps, a 1983 Israeli court of inquiry found Sharon only “indirectly responsible” for the massacre. One might think that even “indirect” responsibility for the butchering of nearly 2,000 people would mean at least an end to the guilty individual’s political career. But not in apartheid Israel.

While Sharon was forced to resign from the Israeli cabinet following the court of inquiry, he continued to be a key political actor and came back as a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

Palestine book advertisementAl-Aqsa Intifada and Sharon’s election as prime minister

On Sept. 28, 2000, Sharon staged another famous provocation, “visiting” the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an important Muslim holy site. While proclaiming his “right” to travel anywhere in Jerusalem, the hated killer did not venture out alone. Instead, he was accompanied by 1,500 armed police. Even so, hundreds of Palestinians fought back, marking the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada or uprising, which would continue for many years.

Five months later, in February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister. In March 2002, the Israeli military carried out a massive operation in the West Bank and Gaza seeking to suppress the intifada. Among the most brutal attacks was one on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Over several days, using militarized bulldozers along with heavy weapons, the Israel military demolished much of the camp, burying many people alive.

The same year, Sharon began building the apartheid wall through the West Bank, confiscating still more Palestinian land.

Sharon: The imaginary “peacemaker”

The false claim that Sharon turned into a “man of peace” hinges on his decision to withdraw military bases and the small, non-viable Israeli settlements from inside Gaza. And while Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the withdrawal, Israel continued to keep Gaza surrounded and blockaded.

Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza, while denounced by some fascist settlers, was based on a determination to secure even more control of the West Bank. In a July 21, 2000, interview with the Jerusalem Post, several months before he became prime minister, Sharon called for Israel to “retain greater Jerusalem, united and undivided. …under full Israeli sovereignty.” This refers to the Palestinian Old City and all of the surrounding areas that Israel illegally annexed after the 1967 war.

Sharon had no intention of recognizing full Palestinian sovereignty, insisting that “Israel will retain under its full control sufficiently wide security zones—in both the East and West. The Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, as defined by the Allon Plan, will be the eastern security zone of Israel.”

Sharon called for large areas of the illegally occupied West Bank to be annexed. “Jewish towns, villages and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as access roads leading to them. … will remain under full Israeli control,” Sharon continued. “Judea and Samaria” is the Israeli settlers’ name for the West Bank.

Sharon was explicit in his colonial arrogance, saying, “Israel does not accept under any circumstances the Palestinian demand for the right to return. Israel bears no moral responsibility for the refugees’ predicament.”

He also stated, “As a vital existential need, Israel must continue to control the underground fresh water aquifers in western Samaria [the West Bank]. … The Palestinians are obligated to prevent contamination of Israel’s water resources.”

The Palestinian “state” that Sharon proposed was one that would be unlike any other country in the world. It would not control its own resources including water, or its airspace, or even its own borders, and would be a defenseless entity smack up against one of the world’s most highly militarized states.

False headlines notwithstanding, Sharon will go down in history not as any kind of imagined peacemaker, but instead as the blood-stained and racist mass murderer that he was.

From Liberation News

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Another Alterman temper tantrum at The Nation

NOVANEWS
Submitted by Rania Khalek

The tide is turning in the progressive community towards recognition that Israel is an apartheid state.

In a recent column at The NationEric Alterman threw yet another temper tantrum aimed at people who see Palestinians as human beings deserving of basic rights.

The only difference this time around is that I was his punching bag.

My crime? I wrote a piece for The Electronic Intifada critical of The Nation’s coverage of the Palestinian-led boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Noting the magazine’s routine privileging of Jewish over Palestinian voices and its shameful lack of Palestinian or Arab staff writers, I argued that progressive outlets like The Nation can and must do better.

Keeping voices out

But in a bizarre stretch of logic Alterman mischaracterized my call for more writers of color as a demand that The Nation purge its Jewish employees.

“Just like Richard Nixon instructing his aide to ‘count the Jews’ at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and get rid of as many as he could, two pro-BDS websites, [The] Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, published articles complaining about how many Jews write forThe Nation,” wrote Alterman, in reference to my article and another at Mondoweiss that was supportive of my argument.

Progressive meritocracy

In his most recent column, Alterman retreats into the language of meritocracy, where power and privilege are unexplored because ideas and arguments are pure (emphasis added):

To complain about too many Jews writing on the Middle East or any other issue is to essentialize a racial/ethnic characteristic and ignore the quality of argument and evidence. Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights? Should it limit the number of Latinos it publishes on immigration? Should it limit the number of women it publishes on feminism? Should it limit the number of whites, non-Hispanics and men respectively as well? … This is not politics we are talking about, where representation obviously matters, but the world of argument and ideas, which ought to rise or fall strictly on their moral and intellectual merit.

In reality, there’s plenty of room at progressive outlets for people of all shades, ethnicities and religious affiliations to join in the Israel-Palestine discussion.

But like the Israeli government, Alterman is ideologically invested in keeping such voices, particularly those of the anti-Zionist variety, out of the debate.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Zionism, as it is practiced in Israel, requires the continued erasure of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants in order to maintain a Jewish majority.

From “liberal” to raging bigot

But for liberal Zionists, like Alterman, who advocate for and reap the benefits of multiculturalism in the US while supporting Jewish supremacy in the Holy Land, such truths can be earth shattering to their paradoxical world view.

That’s why when presented with the ugly reality of what Zionism entails (i.e. indefinite occupation, home demolitionsethnic cleansing, institutionalized apartheid, etc.), its liberal supporters quickly transform into raging bigots.

In this context, Alterman’s knee-jerk outburst is best understood as mirroring the fears of world-class Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, who says Muslim immigration to the US is a threat to the safety of Jews and will weaken support for Israel.

Demographic threat

In a statement to the American Jewish Congress convention in October 2001, Pipes warned, “I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews.”

Alterman similarly views the potential influx of brown writers in liberal media as a demographic threat to the livelihoods of Jewish writers like him and, more importantly, to liberal support for Israel.

So in the footsteps of his precious ethnocracy, Alterman is attempting to construct a separation wall around the offices of the The Nation to keep people who look like me out.

Unfortunately for him, the tide is turning in the progressive community towards recognition that Israel is an apartheid state whose policies of racist exclusion must be dismantled.

There’s more than enough room for all kinds of people – including Jews, Palestinians, and Muslims – in progressive media.

So the question is, why is there still space for bigots like Alterman?

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Amid gunfire, relief convoy turns back from Syria’s besieged Yarmouk camp

NOVANEWS
Submitted by Ali Abunimah

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah take part in a solidarity rally with Palestinians in Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, on 14 January 2014. (Issam Rimawi / APA images)

On 13 January, another attempt was made to take a humanitarian aid convoy into the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, where about 20,000 people are trapped, including women and children.

The convoy was from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, which serves over half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria, although about 70,000 of them have fled the fighting into Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.

Amid reports of widespread malnutrition in Yarmouk, of women dying during child birthbecause of shortages of medical care, and of children eating animal feed to survive, this is what happened to the UNRWA convoy.

This account was provided by Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, and is reproduced verbatim:

The relief convoy which tried to get in to Yarmouk was an UNRWA convoy led  by UNRWA  staff and  carrying  humanitarian  supplies  loaded  from UNRWA’s central warehouse in Damascus – six small trucks with food for 6,000 people along with 10,000 doses of polio vaccine and some medical supplies.
Syrian authorities provided us with a security escort enabling us to  reach a last government-controlled checkpoint at the southern entrance of Yarmouk.
The convoy was cleared to proceed beyond the checkpoint and the Syrian auth-orities provided a bulldozer to go ahead to clear the road of debris, earth mounds and other obstructions.
The bulldozer was fired upon, hit by direct gunfire and forced to withdraw, though with no casualties. Thereafter, bursts of gunfire, including machine-gun fire, erupted close to the trucks and UNRWA vehicles, suggesting a fire-fight.
Also, one mortar exploded very close to the convoy. The convoy withdrew at  this point following the advice of the security escort and returned  safely to Damascus.
At no time was the UNRWA convoy fired upon. No person or convoy vehicle was hit and no one was injured.
When  Syrian  authorities  gave  UNRWA  clearance  to  proceed  to  deliver assistance to Yarmouk, they required UNRWA to use the  southern entrance to Yarmouk. This meant the convoy had to  drive some  20 kilometres through an area of intense and frequent armed conflict, in which numerous armed opposi-tion groups, including  some of  the  most  extreme jihadist groups, have a strong and active presence.
Citing security concerns, Syrian  authorities did not give UNRWA permission to use the northern  entrance to Yarmouk which is under government control, and which is generally regarded as more likely to be accessible with relatively less risk.
This is an extremely disappointing setback for the residents of Yarmouk who continue to live in inhumanely wretched conditions.
UNRWA remains undaunted by this frustrating failure and is already pressing Syrian authorities to support a further attempt to deliver humanitarian ass-istance to Yarmouk. 
Yarmouk is only one of a number of Palestine refugee camps which endure var-ious degrees of extremely harsh conditions.

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UK retailer refuses to shun occupation profiteer SodaStream

NOVANEWS
Submitted by Amena Saleem

The fortnightly protest outside John Lewis in London, organized by local Palestine solidarity activists.

Last week’s announcement that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is to investigate G4S for its work in supplying the Israeli security services in the occupied West Bank sent an important message to all companies trading in the Israeli occupation: they are under new scrutiny.

For years, G4S has been providing security systems to the Israeli jails where Palestinian children, women and men are held and often tortured, and to the West Bank checkpointswhich render Palestinian freedom of movement almost impossible.

However, the news from the OECD, combined with December’s UK government guidanceto companies to consider their “reputational damage” if trading with illegal Israeli settlements, suggests that a turning point has been reached which may push companies such as G4S to reconsider their links with the occupation.

One company which should reconsider urgently is the John Lewis Partnership, which describes its two brands — the department store John Lewis and the supermarket Waitrose — as “the leading UK retail businesses.”

John Lewis, with 30 stores around the UK, is a major carrier of SodaStream, the carbonated beverage manufacturer which has its main factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial sector of the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim.

In 2013, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK (PSC) focused on John Lewis as part of its boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) work, launching an ongoing campaign to persuade the company to cut its settlement ties and stop stocking SodaStream.

Misleading customers

Protests are held outside its flagship London store every other Saturday, and shoppers are informed before going in that John Lewis, through its sale of SodaStream, is profiting from Israel’s theft and occupation of Palestinian land.

While most shoppers are keen to hear the message, John Lewis management is not so receptive.

A chain of correspondence between the PSC’s director, Sarah Colborne and Stephen Cawley, head of sustainability and responsible sourcing at John Lewis, reveals what appears to be a commitment by the company to ignore, not just its own Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice, but also international law regarding the Israeli occupation and the settlements.

In a September 2013 email to the PSC, Cawley wrote: “John Lewis is aware that the International Court of Justice regards Israel as occupying the West Bank in violation of international law. Equally, we understand that the Israeli High Court of Justice recognizes that Israel holds this territory under ‘belligerent occupation,’ although does not recognize they do so illegally. Having said this, there is currently no international ban on trading with Israel or Israeli companies.”

Having made a point of dismissing the occupation — and its resultant suffering — as being of no concern to John Lewis, Cawley went on to make a number of illogical and contradictory remarks to defend the company’s settlement links.

John Lewis, he wrote, “recognize[s] that many customers will want to know where the products they buy come from.”

He added: “SodaStream products carry no indication of country of origin, apart from the syrups, which as a food item require country of origin labelling. The syrups are made in a factory in Ashkelon, a coastal Israeli town whose ownership is not under dispute and are correctly labelled ‘Made in Israel.’ Therefore, SodaStream is in no way misleading customers.”

But SodaStream, by not labelling its drink-machine products with their place of manufacture, is misleading those customers who wish to boycott settlement goods, as they may buy a SodaStream machine unaware of its settlement origins. And John Lewis is playing a part in this mis-selling by not making the information available to its shoppers, so that they can make an informed choice.

The echo of hasbara

Cawley also wrote: “We do not discriminate against or boycott companies that obey the law, and respect the rights, interests and well-being of their employees, their communities and the environment.”

The sentence is nonsensical. Settlements breach UN Resolution 446, which states that they have “no legal validity.” The European Union is equally clear, stating that settlements are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.” Companies which operate from settlements, including SodaStream, patently have no regard for the law.

Do they respect the environment? Seven Palestinian towns — Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El-Akhmar, Anata and Nebbi Muss — were destroyed and their inhabitants cleansed to build Maale Addumim. Like all of Israel’s settlements, this one was as destructive to its surroundings as it is possible to be.

And why does Cawley believe that SodaStream respects the “rights, interests and well-being” of the hundreds of its employees who are drawn from Palestinian towns and villages?

An email to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK sent in December sheds some light on this, with the information seeming to come straight from SodaStream’s handbook of hasbara (propaganda).

Cawley wrote: “From my research, I understand that the SodaStream factory currently employs around 500 men and women from the area surrounding Mishor Adumim and that they generally earn considerably more than the average Palestinian worker elsewhere within the Palestinian Authority’s borders.”

His words echo those of SodaStream’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, in a video which attempts to counter negative publicity surrounding SodaStream’s exploitation of Palestinian workers. At the beginning of the eight-minute video, Birnbaum describes how Palestinians working for SodaStream are “well-received and well-respected and well-paid.”

Aiding the occupation

The truth, of course, is that the Israeli occupation has destroyed the Palestinian economy and jobs in West Bank towns are scarce. Palestinians are forced into working for settlement employers, for lower pay than their Israeli counterparts, without benefits such as holiday or sick pay, and without the right to form trade unions.

And while the Israeli workers’ rights organization, Kav LaOved, has fought to obtain better pay and working conditions for Palestinians working at the SodaStream plant, those Palestinians remain, according to Kav LaOved, “at the bottom of the hierarchy in the factory and constantly fear their dismissal.”

John Lewis chooses to ignore this, along with the fact that its Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice states, “Suppliers shall recognize and respect the rights of workers to freely join associations.”

Instead, in his December email, Cawley seemed to take a colonial stance on occupation and professed concern for Palestinian workers on the grounds that a boycott of SodaStream would harm their income and adversely affect their families.

He added: “You will understand, therefore, that it is our view that it would be irresponsible of John Lewis to boycott SodaStream.”

In reality, the irresponsibility lies in doing business with a company which, through the financial benefits it brings to the settlement of Maale Adumim, is helping to cement Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and is denying the Palestinians the right to self-determination — to build their own state, to create their own factories and jobs, to run their own economy.

In effect, John Lewis is playing its own part in aiding the continuation of the occupation.

This is unacceptable from a company which prides itself on being ethically aware and, as is noted on its website, having akeen sense of civic responsibility.

But Cawley’s final email to the PSC ignored ethics and ended with these words: “John Lewis will continue to sell SodaStream products, and any decision to stop stocking them in the future would be made solely on commercial grounds.”

Defiant words — but Cawley and the John Lewis Partnership should take note of the OECD’s investigation of G4S, of the UK government guidance to companies, and also of the UN Human Rights Council’s 2013 report on settlements, which states: “Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps — including by terminating their business interests in the settlements — to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian people in conformity with international law.”

The international tolerance of companies linked in any way to the Israeli occupation is coming to an end, and a change of practice is in order. John Lewis, take note.

Click here to find out the date of the next protest outside John Lewis’s flagship London store.

Posted in Campaigns, UKComments Off on UK retailer refuses to shun occupation profiteer SodaStream

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