Archive | May 19th, 2014

Why the Peace Talks Collapsed—and Should Not be Resumed


 by Richard Falk

           A week ago Israel suspended participation in the peace talks in response to news that the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah had for a third time concluded a unity agreement with the Hamas leadership of Gaza. Such a move toward intra-Palestinian reconciliation should have been welcomed by Israel as a tentative step in the right direction. Instead it was immediately denounced by Netanyahu as the end of the diplomatic road, contending that Israel will never be part of any political process that includes a terrorist organization pledged to its destruction. Without Hamas’ participation any diplomatic results of negotiations would likely have been of questionable value, and besides, Hamas deserves inclusion. It has behaved as a political actor since it took part in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, and has repeatedly indicated its willingness to reach a long-term normalizing agreement with Israel if and when Israel is ready to withdraw fully to the 1967 borders and respect Palestinian sovereign rights. The contention that Hamas is pledged to Israel’s destruction is pure hasbara, a cynical means to manipulate the fear factor in Israeli domestic politics, as well as ensuring the persistence of the conflict. This approach has become Israel’s way of choosing expansion over peace, and seemingly ignoring its own citizens’ mandate to secure a stable peace agreement.

            Israel had days earlier complained about an initiative taken by the PA to become a party to 15 international treaties. Again, a step that would be viewed as constructive if seeking an end to the conflict was anywhere to be found in Israel’s playbook. Such an initiative should have been interpreted in a positive direction as indicating the Palestinian intention to be a responsible member of the international community. Israel’s contrary lame allegation that by acting independently the PA departed from the agreed roadmap of negotiations prematurely assuming the prerogatives of a state rather than waiting Godot-like for such a status to be granted via the bilateral diplomatic route.

            To remove any doubt about the priorities of the Netanyahu-led government, Israel during the nine months set aside for reaching an agreement, authorized no less than 13,851 new housing units in the settlements, added significant amounts of available land for further settlement expansion, and demolished 312 Palestinian homes. These acts were not only unlawful, but actually accelerated earlier settlement trends, and were obviously provocative from a Palestinian perspective. As Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, observed in a TV interview, if Israeli authorizes even one additional housing unit during negotiations it is sending a clear signal to the Palestinian people and their leaders that it has no interest in reaching a sustainable peace agreement.

            The revival of direct negotiations last August between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority was mainly a strong arm initiative of the U.S. Government, energized by John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, who has put relentless pressure on both sides to start talking despite the manifest futility of such a process from its outset. Such resolve raises the still unanswered question, ‘why?’ Kerry melodramatically proclaimed that these negotiations were the last chance to save the two-state solution as the means to end the conflict, in effect, declaring this new round of U.S. sponsored negotiations to be an all or nothing moment of decision for the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Kerry has reinforced this appeal by warning that Israel risks isolation and boycott if no agreement is reached, and in the last several days, declared behind closed doors that Israel was taking a path that could lead Israel to becoming an apartheid state by this apparent refusal to seek a diplomatic solution.

            It is probably beside the point that no one at the State Department informed Kerry before he started to walk this tightrope that the two-state goal that he so unconditionally endorsed was already dead and buried as a realistic option. Further, that Israel had established an apartheid regime on the West Bank decades ago, making his supposedly controversial statement better understood to be ‘old news.’ In other words, Kerry showed himself awkwardly out of touch by issuing future warnings about matters that were already in a past tense. With respect to apartheid he discredited himself further by apologizing for using the a-word in response to objections by Israeli supporters in the United States, however descriptive ‘apartheid’ has become of the discriminatory nature of the occupation. American leaders present themselves as craven in relation to Israeli sensibilities when they retreat in this manner from reality without showing the slightest sign of embarrassment.

            The agreement of Israel and the PA to sit together and negotiate formally expired on April 29th, yet the indefatigable Kerry rather remarkably pushed the parties to agree on an extension by a flurry of meetings in recent weeks disclosing a mood hovering uneasily between exasperation and desperation. Even if the talks were to resume, as still might happen, it should not be interpreted as a hopeful development. There is utterly no reason to think that a diplomatic process in the current political climate is capable of producing a just and sustainable peace. To think differently embraces an illusion, and more meaningfully, gives Israel additional time to consolidate its expansionist plans to a point that makes it absurd to imagine the creation of a truly viable and independent sovereign parallel Palestinian state. So long as the political preconditions for fruitful inter-governmental diplomacy do not exist, calls for direct negotiations should be abandoned. Both sides must approach negotiations with a genuine incentive to strike a deal that is fair to the other side, which implies a willingness to respect Palestinian rights under international law. For reasons suggested, those preconditions do not exist on the Israeli side. This makes it deeply misleading to put the blame for the breakdown of the talks on both sides, or sometimes even to point the finger at the Palestinians, as has been the practice in the mainstream Western media whenever negotiations hit a stone wall.

            It has been painfully obvious ever since Oslo (1993), that there is something fundamentally deficient about the double role played by the United States Government in relation to such negotiations. How can it be trusted when American officials declare over and over again that the country will forever remain the unconditional ally of Israel, and yet at the same time give even minimal confidence to the Palestinians that it a neutral third party seeking to promote a just peace? The short answer is that ‘it can’t’ and ‘will not.’ From the very outset of the recent diplomatic initiative this contradiction in roles was resolved in Israel’s favor by the Obama appointment of Martin Indyk as Special Envoy entrusted with the delicate symbolic role of overseeing the negotiations. Indyk has a long public career of involvements supportive of Israel, including past employment with the notorious AIPAC lobby that exerts its disproportionate pro-Israeli influence over the entire American political scene. Only the weakness of the Palestinian Authority can explain a willingness to entrust its diplomatic fate to such a framework already strongly tilted in favor of Israel due to Israel’s skills and strengths as an experienced political actor on the global stage.

            Against this background we have to ask what is gained and lost by such fruitless negotiations. What is gained by Israel and the United States is some hope that while negotiations proceed the conflict will not escalate by taking an unwelcome turn toward a Third Intifada that forcibly challenges Israel’s occupation policies associated with the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. There is also the sense that so long as the U.S. Government is seen as backing a two-state solution it satisfies regional expectations, and provide a rationale for supporting even a futile diplomatic effort because it is the only game in town, and it seems perverse to challenge its utility without presenting an alternative. The Arab world itself endorsed and recently reaffirmed its 2002 regional peace initiative calling for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Palestine and formal acceptance of Palestinian state within 1967 green line borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Such a vision of peace derives from unanimous Security Council Resolution 242 that was premised on Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied in the course of the 1967 War, but additionally on a just solution of the refugee problem. And there is near universal appreciation expressed for Kerry’s dedication to resolving the conflict, and so it is a kind of public relations success story despite the serious drawbacks mentioned.

            In effect, there has existed a global consensus since 1967 on establishing peace between Israel and Palestine, reinforced by the apparent absence of alternatives, that is, the only possibilities are widely believed to be either two-states or the persistence of the conflict. It should be appreciated that way back in 1988 the Palestinian Liberation Organization, then speaking for all Palestinians under the leadership of Yasir Arafat, gave up its maximalist goals, and formally indicated its willingness to make peace with Israel based on these 1967 borders, with an implied readiness to compromise on the refugee issue. Such an approach allowed Israel to possess secure borders based on 78% of historic Palestine, and limited the Palestinian state to the other 22%, which is less than half of what the UN had offered the Palestinians its partition proposal of 1947, which at the time seemed unreasonable from a Palestinian perspective. In appraisals of the conflict this historic Palestinian concession, perhaps imprudently made by the PLO, has never been acknowledged, much less reciprocated, by either Israel or the United States. In my view, this absence of response exhibited all along a fundamental lack of political will on the Israeli side to reach a solution through inter-governmental negotiations, although some would interpret the Camp David initiative in 2000 as the last time that Israeli leadership seemed somewhat inclined to resolve the conflict diplomatically. The Palestinian Authority depends on Israel to transfer tax revenues upon which its governing capacity rests, and it can usually be brought into line if it acts in defiance of Tel Aviv and Washington. Also, collaboration on security arrangements with Israel creates both co-dependency and give a measure of stability to the otherwise frozen situation. Occasionally, seemingly with quixotic intent, the PA and Abbas challenge this image by suggesting their option to quit the political stage and return the responsibilities of administering the West Bank to Israel.

            The two-state consensus has been increasingly challenged over the years by influential Palestinians, including Edward Said, who toward the end of his life argued that in view of intervening developments subsequent to 1988, only a one-state solution could reconcile the two peoples in an acceptable manner based on mutual respect for rights, democracy, and equality. The advocacy of a single secular democratic state draws on two sets of arguments—apragmatic contention that the settlement process and the changed demographic of East Jerusalem are essentially irreversible, and thus there is no feasible means at this time to create a viable Palestinian state, and this becomes more apparent with each passing day; and a principled contention that it makes no political or ethical sense in the twenty-first century to encourage the formation of ethnic states, especially as in this case, 20% of the Israeli population is Palestinian, and subject to an array of discriminatory legislative measures. In some respects, the essence of the Palestinian predicament is to acknowledge that it is too late for the two-state solution and seemingly too early for a one-state solution.

            Assuming that the diplomatic route is blocked, is the situation hopeless for the Palestinians? I believe that Palestinian hopes for a just peace should never have rested on the outcome of formal diplomacy for the reasons given above. Put succinctly, given the Israel failure to heed the call for withdrawal in SC Res. 242, its non-response to the 1988 PLO acceptance of Israel within the 1967 borders, and its consistent commitment to settlement expansion, no sane person should have put much faith in an Israeli readiness to make a peace respectful of Palestinian rights under international law. Currently, the best prospect for realizing Palestinian self-determination is by way of pressures exerted through the mobilization of a movement from below, combining popular resistance with global solidarity. Such a process, what I have called ‘legitimacy war,’ exemplified by Gandhi’s nonviolent victory over the British Empire and more recently by the success of the global anti-apartheid movement against racist South Africa, represents the latest strategic turn in the Palestinian national movement, and seems even compatible with the recent outlook of Hamas as expressed by its leaders and confirmed by its behavior.

            It is time to appreciate that the current approach of the Palestinian national movement rests on two broad undertakings: the adoption of nonviolent resistance tactics and an increasingly strengthened global solidarity movement, centered on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) initiative, which is gaining momentum throughout the world, especially in Europe. These developments are reinforced by UN calls to Member States to remind corporate and financial actors under their national control that it is problematic under international law to continue engaging in business dealings with Israeli settlements. In effect, there are horizons of hope for Palestinians with respect to seeking a just and sustainable peace between these two ethnic communities that is gaining most of its impact and influence from the actions of peoplerather than the maneuvers of governments. Of course, if the political climate changes in response to legitimacy war pressures, governments could have a crucial future role to play, taking advantage of a new balance of forces that could enable diplomacy to move towards solutions. Constructive diplomacy would contrast with what has recently transpired, which seemed to combine deflection from Israeli expansionism followed by participation in a childish blame game. It is important that world public opinion reject as meaningless the diplomatic charade of peace talks while the fate of a people continues to be daily sacrificed on the altar of geopolitics.


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Drone Lobbyists Buzzing over DC


Pushing for influence on what is now seen as the inevitable and widespread introduction to unmanned aircraft, businesses are amassing legal armies

– Jon Queally

With the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) preparing the legal framework under which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) will be regulated in the United States, business interests from all sectors are amassing armies of legal analysts and lobbyists in hopes that their bottom lines are part of the ultimate equation.

(Image: outtacontext via flickr)As The Hill reports on Wednesday:

At least four K Street firms — including Holland & Knight and McKenna Long & Aldridge — have set up practices dedicated to drones in response to client interest.

“Taking a view of the last several years, the discussion has gone from ‘Should we allow drones’ to ‘How do we integrate drones’ because they’re here,” said David Whitestone, the chair of Holland & Knight’s transportation industry practice and a member of the firm’s drone team.

While Congress has directed the FAA to clear the way for the use of commercial drones by 2015, a federal agency watchdog said the deadline could be difficult to achieve.

Calvin Scovel III, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, told a House Transportation panel in February that there are “significant technological barriers” that stand in the way of integrating drones into airspace.

However, on Tuesday, the head of the FAA office tasked with integrating the unmanned aircraft said the agency is working with “several industries” to make way for a limited commercial drone fleet before the agency’s overall rules are finalized.

Late last year, the FAA announced that six states had been cleared for early testing for the use of commercial drones in public airspace.

Since that time, reports The Hill,

about 35 groups, companies and universities or municipalities reported lobbying on “drones” or “unmanned aerial systems,” the preferred term of the industry.

While defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Boeing are the major players in debate, the lobbying push on commercial drones has extended far beyond the defense industry.

Other stakeholders — including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the state of Nevada, the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Airlines for America, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association — have also jumped into the discussion.

Critics of increased domestic use worry that the proliferation of drones will have far-reaching implications for safety, civil liberties, and privacy concerns. A key weapon on U.S.-created battlefields overseas, the worries over bringing such technology home is alarming to those who say that inadequate oversight could lead to serious infractions of personal liberty and privacy as police, border patrol agents, and private industry all clamor for more sophisticated surveillance technologies.

In late 2011, as word spread that the FAA was moving towards the introduction of domestic drones, the ACLU released a report (pdf) warning against the possible abuses of such technology. Among the report’s warning, the group asserted:

UAVs are potentially extremely powerful surveillance tools, and that power, like all government power, needs to be subject to checks and balances. Like any tool, UAVs have the potential to be used for good or ill. If we can set some good privacy ground rules, our society can enjoy the benefits of this technology without having to worry about its darker potentials. We impose regulations on what law enforcement can do all the time, for example allowing law enforcement to take a thermal image of someone’s home only when they get a warrant. We need to impose rules, limits and regulations on UAVs as well in order to preserve the privacy Americans have always expected and enjoyed.

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Outrage in Turkey as Erdoğan Called ‘Murderer’ and ‘Thief’ at Site of Mine Disaster


Hundreds dead in Turkey after coal mine explosion; Family members and others blame ruling government for refusing requests to improve safety

– Jon Queally

Protesters attack the offices of Erdoğan’s party in Soma, Turkey, near the site of the mine explosion. (Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP)Update (2:33 PM EST): Turkey mine disaster: grief turns to rage as hopes of finding survivors fade

Following a coal disaster that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Turkish miners, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan travelled to the city of Soma to lend his support to the rescue effort, but his arrival was met with scorn by many in the region who blame the policies of his government for the loss of life.

As The Guardian reports:

Erdoğan, cancelled other engagements and went to the scene of the disaster, pledging the fullest investigation of the causes of the accident. But he was confronted by angry locals who mobbed and kicked his car, shouting “murderer!” and “thief!”

Locals complained about haphazard practices at the mine, whose owners are linked to Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development party (AKP), and skirmishes broke out between youths and police outside the local AKP office.Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners gathered outside the mine, waiting for news. Women wailed in grief as others shouted angrily at local authorites, and riot police with gas masks and water cannon stood by.

Officials said there were still about 120 workers trapped in the mine hours after the last survivors emerged.


An explosion left at least 205 workers in a coal mine in Soma, in the western province of Manisa. While hundreds are reportedly still trapped in the mine, Energy Minister Yıldız said their hopes are dimming. (Credit: bianet)An explosion at a coal mine in Turkey has left more than two hundred dead with hundreds more reportedly still trapped.

Located in the city of Soma, which is about 150 miles south of Istanbul, the mine explosion occurred late Tuesday.

As morning arrived, Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said records show that 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of the explosion and that only 363 of them had been rescued as of early Wednesday. The official death toll was 236 people, but that number is expected to rise.

“Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing,” Yildiz said. Though more than 400 people were involved in the rescue operation, due to the high levels of carbon monoxide and dwindling supplies of fresh air in the mine, “Time is working against us,” he said.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, but if the number of those killed continues to rise this could be the nation’s worst mining disaster in history. In 1992, 263 gas field workers and miners were killed in an explosion in near the port of Zonguldak on the Black Sea.

Critics of the ruling government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan say that his coalition is at least partly to blame for pushing the increased the privatization of the mining sector and refusing to conduct safety inquiries demanded by opposition parties. According to The Guardian:

Miners’ representatives said that accidents such as the latest one would increase due to privatisations, the increasing employment of subcontractors and a lack of strong unions, all of which they said had led to massive pressure on workers to produce as much as possible for as little cost as possible.

“And because of weak unions it is impossible to counter this pressure,” said Tayfun Görgün, the head of one of the mining unions.

View image on Gawker website



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The Senate and Ukraine

Itching for a Fight

After awaiting the late arrival of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on “Russian Intervention in Ukraine” and by its title you might guess exactly where that hearing was headed.   No doubt only a complete acquiescence to NATO, acceptance of the IMF and its austerity ‘reforms’ and the dismantlement of Russia itself would satisfy the majority of Committee members who appear to be itching for a fight.

With no Democrat willing to publicly break with a mediocre President who has exceeded Bush’s capacity for military conflict, committee members resemble little more than an impotent collection of angry white men who don’t know what else to do with life’s disappointments but to stumble into another colossal foreign policy blunder.  Leading the bunch is Committee Chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), no relation to Obi Wan Kenobi, who opened the hearing with comments that defied the facts and were so totally devoid of the historical complexity of the region only confirm that he became Chair of the Committee based solely on seniority.

Almost as if in response to the Committee’s belligerence, Putin announced a huge step back that confounded many pugnacious westerners as well as angered some pro-Russian factions in east and south Ukraine.  Putin’s proposal of pulling troops back from the border with Ukraine, urging support for the May 25th vote and daring to suggest that the May 11th votes in Donetsk and Luhansk be cancelled were met with ice cold silence by the US.

Putin’s further suggestion that the US-appointed Kiev government enter into dialogue with the protesting citizens, who now claim victory at the polls, should have been a no-brainer weeks ago for President Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner, to have announced and would have been a perfect project for our go-getter Secretary of State in his pursuit of peace.

Now that those votes have been completed, both regions having refused to recognize the legitimacy of the February coup, announced their status as sovereign states with Donetsk stating it would apply to Russia for secession and Luhansk will apply for designation by the UN, the US can count on the anti-Kiev citizens of east Ukraine to continue their protests while Vladimir Putin monitors the furor as IMF demands for ‘austerity’ creates more turmoil and misery.  With no lull in the fighting after the votes, there is every reason to fear the next move from  Kiev – an increasingly desperate and dysfunctional entity.

What members of the Committee and Administration are really distraught about is not only that Putin clearly understands  the US game and has proven to be a compelling adversary or that the plan to put NATO on Russia’s border and bring the EU and IMF into Ukraine has not proceeded as smoothly as anticipated but that there have been no welcoming roses or brass bands in the streets from ordinary citizens who have instead dared to challenge and outwit the greatest economic and military power in the history of the world.

While the Committee heard testimony from the profane Tori Nuland (her friends call her Tori) and Daniel Glaser, Assistant Secretary of  Treasury for Terrorist Financing, each offered little of anything new with an emphasis on the same stale rhetoric.

However, Evelyn Farkas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ukraine and Eurasia, did provide some moments of enlightenment regarding heretofore obscure details including a 20 year US-led International Military Education and Training (IMET) program in Ukraine.  Her testimony also described how the US is bolstering its military presence in the region under the title of ‘De-escalating the Situation with Russia” which might seem contradictory to some literary nitpickers.  Farkas informed the Committee that 330,000 MRE’s (meals ready to eat) had already been provided to Ukrainians in the field (but not to America’s 20 million homeless children) and  funding of “$50 million for new programs to address emerging needs in Ukraine” in addition to the  already announced $1 billion loan guarantee and $18 million “security assistance.”

Some of the non-lethal assistance going to Ukraine includes water purification units, electric generators, shelters, vehicles, medical and engineering equipment, binoculars, hand held radios, fuel pumps, concertina wire, vehicle batteries, spare tires, and communication gear – all of which would have been welcome by those Americans, some of whom lost everything they owned due to tornados or other extreme weather events.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) ranking minority member of the Committee, the irascible Sen. John McCain (R-Az) and other Republicans expressed serious crankiness that Russia’s ‘little green men’ continue to ‘foment problems’ within Ukraine and that sanctions to date have not been effective.   Apparently US intelligence has not briefed the Congress that in the early days of the coup, the interim government disbanded the elite Berket police force which refused to fire on civilians and that many of those unemployed, professionally trained police have joined the protestors.   Corker may, however, be confusing his “little green men’ with 400 American mercenaries that the German Intelligence Service reported to the Merkel government in late April are now in east Ukraine. In addition, a recent NY Times story Behind the Masks with two of its reporters in east Ukraine, reported nary a Russian to be found.

Echoing Menendez, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) sounded like a cold warrior as she distressed about what other tactical gear the Ukraine government had requested and how much more should the US be providing.   Suggesting she was not sure if the votes were there for an emergency supplemental package, Boxer indicated she ‘would vote for it.”  Boxer inquired why Slovakia isn’t providing more gas to Ukraine and Tori responded that Gazprom controls the codes that opens the spigotsthereby controlling the flow from Slovakia adding that reverse gas is an “essential piece” of a “strategic priority … to make reverse-flow more available”.

Boxer’s comment that “we’re not sending troops in there, they’ve been told they have to defend themselves” raises a different set of complications, not the least of which is the aforementioned private contractors.  However, no US troops on the ground make it easier for ‘liberals’ to be pro-war – as long as it’s not ‘our war’.  But, in fact, it will always be ‘our war’ with the IMF and NATO, neither of which could exist without US funding, acting as camouflage for US intentions.  Any rational person might find it worrisome that with neo-Nazis who have already proven their brutality in the National Guard, a seemingly insignificant melee in some obscure location might trigger an unintended consequence and voila – war.

If in fact the Kiev government has been told that ‘they have to defend themselves’ then let’s get the hell out.   And let’s hear a hurrah for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s recent opinion that “Putin’s demonization [is] not a policy but an alibi for the absence of one’ and that claims that Putin inflicted the Ukraine crisis makes no sense are right-on acknowledgements that the Obama Administration has massively screwed up in such a way that it  has no clue how to extricate itself.

But Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) who was naïve enough to accompany Sen. McCain to Kiev last December (you know that was not going to end well) and stood with neo-Nazi coup-supporters, has other ideas. As if the current disaster is not sufficient warning of the potential for a military conflagration throughout eastern Europe, Sen. Murphy proposes that the US sponsor Georgia for membership into NATO.   Without taking the necessary time here to lay out why this is a horrendously bad idea, Murphy reasons that membership would “send clear message” to Russia that the US is “not going to allow his [Putin’s] tactic where Russia tried to invade half a country.“  Ai yi yi – would someone donate some current event-history books on the Caucasus to Committee members before they screw up?

The closest three Democrats could come to avoiding a ride on the War Horse to glory was Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) who questioned the May 25th presidential vote and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) who reiterated that there would be no US troops on the ground and that “Congress has made that very clear” not for moral reasons but since military aid costs money and the Pentagon is stretched thin under the Sequester budget.  Kaine’s idea, however, that stopping Visa and Master Card transactions would “blitz” the Russian economy failed to take into account the impacts on a global economy.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) followed up on Tori’s earlier comment regarding reverse gas flow suggesting that if energy conservation efforts were pursued in Ukraine, the second least energy efficient country in the world, its dependence on Russian exports would lessen.  Markey was right-on with his analysis that wishful thinking is not a substitute for anenergy policy pointing out that there are no LNG terminals on either side of the Atlantic and that a commitment to energy efficiency could be accomplished sooner – assuming there is a country left standing.

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Obama and the Cuban Five

How Much Longer?


The arrest in Cuba of four Miami residents who came with the aim of carrying out terrorist acts here that were planned there — where they received training, resources and where their bosses are — brings to light once again the absolute injustice committed against our Five compatriots. They were conducting a difficult and risky mission precisely to try to prevent similar crimes.

The heroic task of Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René was perfectly legitimate. It was based on what is known as “state of necessity” or otherwise known as “necessity defense.” In certain circumstances, to save lives that are in danger a person can commit lesser violations (forcing entry into a home without asking permission and causing material damage in order to rescue someone from a fire, is an easy example to understand).

In this case, to save other lives, they put their own lives in danger, and not just in one heroic act — as in the example of the house on fire — but rather in many heroic acts in the years that they worked inside the worst terrorist groups, in order to discover their plans. They never used arms nor used force or violence. In their daily lives they obeyed the law and their social duties. They were models of civility as their neighbors and co-workers testified in their trial.

Our compatriots technically committed only one fault: they didn’t reveal to authorities the nature of their mission in Miami. That violation of not having registered as a foreign agent is quite common in the United States and it is normally resolved with payment of a fine.

In the case of the Cuban Five that omission is also completely justified. In fact, it was essential. Why would someone struggle against Miami terrorism and at the same time notify the very same authorities who have helped and supported the terrorists for 50 years?

The very trial they were subjected to proves that point to the hilt. From the initial indictments to the sessions where their excessive sentences were imposed and throughout the trial, the prosecutors never hid the fact that they were on the side of the terrorists, that they were their protectors, and to support them they placed our heroes in the docket of the accused in a bizarre subversion of justice.

The judge, for her part, had her own unforgettable moments, which exposed the true essence of what was occurring. This was especially true when she imposed their sentences, which included, at the request of the Government, the so-called “incapacitation clause”, subjecting the defendants to a special regimen — after they were to complete their exaggerated prison terms — that the Prosecution considered “perhaps more important” than the unjust imprisonment.

It had to do with preventing that never again any of the Cuban Five could attempt anything against the terrorists.

Since René and Antonio were U.S. citizens by birth and could not be expelled immediately from the country, as Fernando was recently, they added several years of “probation” with strict conditions that included this very telling one: “As a further special condition of supervised release the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, and organized crime figures are known to be or frequent.”

This outrageous order was issued in December 2001. In those days W. Bush proclaimed that “any government that supports, protects or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes” and motivated by that idea he unleashed everywhere his “war against terrorism.” Wherever it may be, although for Bush obviously Miami is on another planet.

The judge’s clause to protect the terrorists is the very essence of the whole saga of the Five. It is enough to read the order issued by the same judge, 10 years later, when René left the prison. She wanted to force him to remain there, alone, isolated, unarmed, without the possibility of defending himself against any aggression. As if that weren’t enough the judge repeated, word for word, the prohibition given 10 years before. The warning was very clear: They were not going protect René from the terrorists, but rather protect them from René.

Today, like yesterday, the United States government clearly recognizes that they know who the terrorists are in Miami. They also know where they are and what places they frequent. But it also shows, shamefully, that the “Bush doctrine” doesn’t apply to them, and instead of capturing and sending them to jail, it dedicates its efforts to protect them.

That’s why it surprised no one when in 2005 Luis Posada Carriles — wanted for 20 years by Interpol, fugitive from Venezuelan justice who was being tried for the destruction of a civilian airliner in mid-flight in 1976 —decided to install himself in Miami and continue promoting terrorism against Cuba, and no longer while underground, but out in the open.

It was also no surprise that four members of Posada’s terrorist network have come to Cuba several times to prepare new attacks and are now in prison here. They are individuals with a criminal record in Miami, and have even boasted publicly about their criminal intentions.

The impunity with which these criminal groups continue to operate is a direct consequence of the process pursued against our Five comrades. What happened more than 15 years ago was a clear message still in effect: in Miami not only is terrorism against Cuba permitted, but also benefits with the complicity and protection of the authorities.

The conversion of southern Florida to a sanctuary for terrorism can also be a dangerous game for the people of the United States. While the Cuban Five were imprisoned and the infamous trial was conducted against them, the majority of the terrorists who carried out the atrocity on Sept. 11, 2001 were training right there in Miami. None of them raised suspicions; none of them drew the interest of the FBI. Because in Miami, the FBI has no time for those things since they dedicate their all to protect the anti-Cuban terrorism and to punish those who try to prevent their crimes.

Barack Obama is approaching the mid-term of his second and last period as President. When he entered the White House in 2009 he received an immoral and hypocritical conduct he is not responsible for. But he will be if he does nothing to change it.

In his hands is the power to do something so he is remembered as someone different from his predecessor. The first thing would be to grant immediate and unconditional freedom to Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero. He can do it and he knows it. He also knows that if he doesn’t do it, history will not forgive him.

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Greek un-Orthodox Zionist Father Gabriel Naddaf go Home


The unorthodox priest who stands with the Jews

Greek Orthodox clergyman Father Gabriel Naddaf doesn’t just want Christians to serve in the IDF; he wants to forge a new, non-Arab identity for his flock

The Times of Israel’s military correspondent.

In January 2012, the army’s head of military intelligence delivered an address about the Arab Spring – the power of the masses, the prices of freedom. There was ample talk about economics and Facebook and the rise of terror in the areas no longer under government control. Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, though, also predicted that, regionally speaking, nationalism would wane as religion waxed.

His gaze, at the time, was fixed on Syria and Iraq – both broken countries. But the prediction, to a certain extent, has proven true at home, too, where an Arabic-speaking Christian clergyman, Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest, has done the unthinkable: He has issued a call for Christian Arab citizens of Israel to reassess their Arab identity and to consider themselves indigenous Christians, of Greek and Aramaic origin, inextricably linked to the Jewish people and the Old Testament, and to fortify that bond by serving in the Israeli army.

In late April, amid widespread condemnation from Israel’s Arab minority, the IDF announced that, pursuant to Naddaf’s request, it would begin inviting Christian Arabs to draft boards in the Galilee in order to provide them with information about the army. Col. Gil Ben-Sharon, the commander of the IDF’s recruitment and draft unit, Meitav, said that “we won’t call them like all young people, mandatorily,” but added that the Christian Arab citizens of Israel “see themselves like all other citizens of Israel and want to do the same as them.”

Since the founding of the state, Israel’s Christian Arab citizens – today roughly 10 percent of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens – have not been called to army service. Druze communities, abiding by a pact made with the fledgling state, send their sons to serve. Most willingly succumb to the draft. Bedouin Muslim Arabs, some 400 per year, Ben-Sharon said, volunteer to serve in the IDF. But the Christians, a minority within a minority, have excelled scholastically and professionally in Israel while, either out of ideological conviction or time-tested prudence, steadfastly maintaining their Arab nationalism and Palestinian identity over what might be considered shared Judeo-Christian theological roots.

“Why do the Druze serve? Why do the Bedouin serve? But not the Christians?” Naddaf asked during a Times of Israel interview. “Because they are scared.” And that, he suggested, had to change. “It is time to say in a loud and clear voice: enough.”

Christian Arab Border Policemen and soldiers flank deputy minister MK Ofir Akunis (Photo credit: courtesy: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Naddaf’s call and the army’s subsequent response have created a maelstrom. MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad), a Muslim former mayoral candidate in Naddaf’s hometown of Nazareth who rejects all national service for Israel’s Arab citizens, penned him a letter shortly after his call. “What you are doing is endangering the Christian youth, when you separate him from his people and change him into an enemy of his people and assist his true enemies,” she wrote, according to a translation of the letter made available by Im Tirzu. “The Arab Christians are not a neutral bridge,” she added, “…they are part of the weave of our Arab Palestinian people… Our Palestinian people are the ones under attack and what harms one sect harms us all.”

Her colleague MK Bassel Ghattas, an Arab of Christian heritage,reportedly vowed [Hebrew], in an interview with the Arabic-language Al-Arab website, to “chase down Father Naddaf and see to it that he is stripped of his priestly garments.”

A Facebook posting that appears to put a price on the heads of Naddaf and Lt. (res) Shadi Khaloul, the spokesman of the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community (photo credit: Facebook via Im Tirzu)

A Christian Arab woman from the Galilee town of Rameh launched a Facebook page earlier this month titled “Fire Naddaf From the Greek Orthodox Church.” She told The Times of Israel that while there have been some violent threats on the page, which she has edited out, most of the 6,300 people who have liked the page simply find Naddaf’s message wrong-headed and dangerous. “We live within a conflict, as a second-rate minority, within a nation that is occupying our nation,” she said. “I can understand integrating into Israeli society, but not through the army.” To do so, she added, would constitute “very dangerous steps” that would sow “hatred between neighbors.”

The Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem – an opaque institution with considerable influence in Israel on account of its vast land holdings, including the land on which the Prime Minister’s Residence rests – has remained on the fence. Some of the church’s ambivalence is self-evident in Patriarch Theophilos III’s official title: His Most Godly Beatitude, the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine, Syria, Arabia, beyond the Jordan River, Cana of Galilee, and Holy Zion.

Theophilos’ spokesman, Issa Missleh, reportedly a Palestinian from Beit Sahur, released a statement on Israeli Independence Day earlier this month stating that Naddaf “represents no one other than himself,” and that, consequently, and on account of his “meddling” in political affairs, Theophilos III has “decided to dismiss him from his position as head of the church in Yafia.”

Naddaf, backed by a signed letter from MK Miri Regev (Likud), the head of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, who claimed to have received assurances from the patriarch that Missleh’s statement was “not correct,” denies that he has been dismissed, and has filed suit against Missleh.

But Naddaf is not in denial. He knows that his life is in danger. He has been called a traitor. His car tires have been slashed; bloody rags have been left outside his apartment building. He is regularly threatened over the telephone and, last year, his son was attacked outside his home by a youth wielding an iron club. The streets of Nazareth, his hometown, are closed to him. “You can’t just be right, you also have to be smart,” he said when explaining the rationale that bars him from walking outdoors.

Speaking from his apartment in Nazareth a week before Pope Francis’ arrival in Israel, along with Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai — who has taken heat in Lebanon for his decision to set foot on the soil of the Zionist entity, a move his predecessor avoided when Pope John Paul II visited – Naddaf acknowledged that his voice, as head of the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community, remains in a distinct minority. But buoyed by a threefold rise in the number of Christian servicemen in the IDF over the past year (still only totaling 100-150 individuals), he is certain of two things: that no one else will lead this crusade and that his community stands at a historic crossroads that will not again present itself.

A soft-spoken rebel

Naddaf was born in Nazareth 40 years ago. Then, as now, the town of Jesus’ birth was majority Muslim. There were, he said, weekly demonstrations “to show that the government is not okay,” but he was never drawn to them. Instead, to his parents’ dismay, he found himself constantly drawn to the church and the Italian monks who taught at his high school. When one of them came to Naddaf’s father, a commercial painter, and told him that his son should join the clergy, he sent him away.

At age 22, though, Naddaf gave up his plans of becoming a lawyer or a police officer and was appointed a priest by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem at the time, Diodoros I. Five years later, the new patriarch, Irenaeus I, made Naddaf his spokesman. And it was at around that time that he began, quietly, agitating for change. “All we learnt in the religious classes is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem with the goats and how he was crucified and that is it. But there is history…[not] just when born, when died, how many miracles performed, who were his apostles, end of story.”

He said that he discussed with Irenaeus I his belief that “Israel is the land of the Jews, the only land they have,” and that the church ought to be more firm in asserting that. The patriarch, he said, told him that raising the issue “will cause lots of noise” and that he shouldn’t “deal with this now.”

Naddaf then admittedly glossed over the ensuing war between Irenaeus I and his successor Theophilos III: the battle over the sale of church lands in East Jerusalem and the exile of Irenaeus I to a nook of an Old City church in Jerusalem, from which he declared to The New York Times in 2011 that his predicament was entirely the fault of Theophilos III, the current patriarch, “to whom ecclesiastical history will ascribe the name traitor!” Instead he said merely that Theophilos III, who replaced Irenaeus in 2005 and is considered far more aligned with the Palestinian cause, appointed “a different spokesperson” and made Naddaf the head of a church in Nazareth and a judge on the Christian religious court.

Naddaf likens the Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel, the minority of the minority, to the Jews of the Diaspora

There, he said, his focus was on change of a different sort: removing the ancient furniture in the religious courts, putting in a computerized system, and appointing a female office manager. The married father of two also pushed for changes in female reproductive rights. “This is not like 2000 years ago,” he said of abortions. “There are cases that we can look at and allow it.”

These calls, he said, helped peg him as “the one who is seen as always causing troubles,” but his reputation as such rippled outside church circles only in October 2012. That was when he and two other clergymen, at the behest of a Christian Arab officer acquaintance, Maj. Ehab Shaliyan, issued the call to serve in the IDF.

“The next day I was lynched in the Arab press,” he said. The threats began pouring in. The two other clergymen stood by his side for a total of 24 hours before backtracking. “All honor to you,” he said. “You lasted for one day.”

‘Enough with the lies’

Speaking casually about the reasons for his call to service, Naddaf called the army “the melting pot” of Israeli society and “the ticket” to full integration. He talked about Christian mothers having to pay the same price as Jewish mothers and the need to equitably “share the burden” of service. But his quest goes well beyond integration.

Naddaf wants to carve out a new identity and a separate community. He believes that in the coming years he can rally 50,000 Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel to align themselves with the Jewish people and with Israel. The first order of business on the path toward that new identity, he said, was “breaking the fear” that has gripped the community. He likened the Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel, the minority of the minority, to the Jews of the Diaspora: good grades, pretty good jobs, few troubles. “Hostages,” he said, adding, “the only time they feel free to identify as Christians is when they are castigating me.”

President Peres, right, with Christian leaders, December 30, 2013 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Once that has been accomplished, the community could examine the facts honestly, he said. Jesus spoke Aramaic. He believed in the Old Testament. The only difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Christianity sees the visions of the prophets as having been realized during the lifetime of Jesus, he said. His teachings revolve simply around the question of “what is more important: the person or the [observance of] Shabbat.”

In fact, he defined his religion as Jewish, his faith as Christian, and his citizenship as Israeli. Christians, he said, “have a bond with the Jews. We have an allegiance with the Jewish people; with the Muslims we are neighbors. There is no covenant there. None at all.”

This was brought into focus by the Arab Spring. Two hours north from Nazareth, he said, extremists are eager to kill Jews and Christians alike. “If the devils there would come in, you would be on Saturday and we would be on Sunday,” he said.

Ever since the day when Maj. Shaliyan approached him and said ‘Father, enough with the lies,” he said, he has felt that “God sent me on this mission. And that he still holds me for this mission.”

In his apartment, pointing to a screen that provides surveillance footage from several positions around his apartment, he said he is certain that no one “ever, ever… will replace me and take this sort of action in the State of Israel.”

Which, in the under-policed Arab sector in Israel, could be ample reason to try to kill him, he acknowledged. “What can I do?” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m not one of those people. I prefer to die like this rather than go back.”


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Interview with Leila Khaled: ‘BDS is effective, but it doesn’t liberate land’



PFLP hijacker Leila Khaled  talks  about the acts  that  made her a household name, the current states of resistance, feminism  and  religious coercion in Palestinian society, and gives a new  take on  long-buried  tales of  assassinations and betrayal within the ranks of the PFLP.

By Paula Schmitt

By the time she was 28, Leila Khaled had already hijacked two planes and held dozens of passengers hostage. Her image appeared on the covers of news magazines, her face was plastered on the walls of student dorms; she become a pop phenomenon, and an inspiration for TV and film characters.

A few days after the death of her brother-in-law and one day before the funeral of her cousin, the 70-year-old Leila combined ingredients in a bowl, making sure the proportions were just right. Careful with the mixture, she poured it in a special, heat-resistance plastic bag, and then added the main ingredient before shutting all of it within a temperature of 250° Celsius. The scents of the baked chicken spread around her Amman apartment, making for a strange addition to an interview on armed struggle, terrorism and politics.

Leila Khaled at her home in Amman, posing with the famous picture of her holding a Kalashnikov rifle, and a T-shirt made by Mlabbas exclusively for her. (Photo: Paula Schmitt)

Leila has no regrets about her choices. For her, what she did was fair and justified. In fact, it was a duty. She often quotes Che Guevara with corroborating lines, but Leila didn’t need a guerrilla to help her rationalize her acts. Even Gandhi, everyone’s favorite pet dove, said, “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.” For Leila, the role of refugee is “contemptible” and “humiliating.” Between two imposed options, that of submissively walking to collect a blanket and a ration card, and that of taking up a Kalashnikov, she chose the latter.

She explains that “the plane hijackings were tactical. Just for a short time, just to ring a bell for the world and make people ask the question: why?” It seemed to have worked. Even the stewardess of the first flight hijacked by Leila said on camera: “It’s still a shame that it’s the way that it is — that the Palestinians don’t have a country.” The PFLP is now against hijackings. In fact, it has banned the practice since 1976, the reason why Wadie Haddad was expelled from the Front.

In her autobiography, Leila herself tells of how one hostage, an old lady, wet her pants out of fear. In the award-winning documentary “Leila Khaled: Hijacker,” director Lina Makboul, herself a Palestinian, questions whether Leila’s actions were good or bad for their people. “She said something like, ‘this action stained your struggle,’” Leila tells me, more surprised than offended. And in her book, she quotes a Syrian colonel who told her: ”This action is not fedayeen-like. It is terrorism.”

“No, that’s not terrorism,” she tells me. “I am a victim of oppression and occupation; we, as a people, have the right to resist by all means.” Then she reminds me again that no one died.

But what if, hypothetically, what if someone had died of a heart attack on that plane out of fear, for example?

“I’d be sorry for that, very sorry, and I’d apologise to his family. I know there was panic, but at the same time I tried to comfort them, not to let them be in panic and so on, and in reality they reached out to the press and no one had a heart attack or anything.”

Just someone who wet her pants.

“Yeah, but I mean, there were very strict instructions not to hurt anyone, especially the passengers, they are not the ones we targeted, our goal was to release the prisoners from Israeli jails, especially the women who were there, they were sentenced to life many times, and to show our comrades and brothers and sisters in jail that you are not alone, we are behind you, we are freedom fighters. This would give more strength to other freedom fighters when they are arrested, so they can face their prosecutors and at the same time they know beforehand that they will be one day released by their comrades”.

I ask if she agrees that sometimes the victim becomes the victimizer.

“Yes. Like the Israelis”.

A graffiti stencil inside a Bethlehem-area checkpoint featuring the image of Leila Khaled. (Photo: Katsumi3/CC)

‘Violence is the mainstream’

Leila was born in Haifa in 1944 and was made to flee on April 13, 1948. It was only four days after her birthday, but it wasn’t celebrated then, and has not been ever since – that April 9th was the day Palestine mourned the first anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre.

Leila’s fight for Palestine is not due to an old, ancient attachment to her land. Her parents are not even Palestinian, but Lebanese. It is a love of justice that moves her. Like Ghassan Kanafani, she also hit a turning point during childhood when she suddenly understood her situation. Kanafani, in a painful and beautiful letter written to his son, describes the moment he realized his condition, the instant after “the disgrace of escape” when at 10 years old he witnessed the men of his family giving up their weapons to become refugees.

“Do not believe that man grows,” he wrote. “No; he is born suddenly – a word, in a moment, penetrates his heart to a new throb. One scene can hurl him down from the ceiling of childhood on to the ruggedness of the road.”

In her biography “My People Shall Live”, Leila recounts a similar experience, when she went to pick oranges from a nearby grove after her arrival in Lebanon, still thinking those were her oranges.

“Darling, [her mother said] the fruit is not ours; you are no longer in Haifa; you are in another country.” Before she rushed into the house to wipe her tears and hide her shame, she looked at me with motherly firmness saying: “Henceforth you are forbidden to eat oranges that are not ours.” With child-like acceptance I nodded my head, but her words still echo. For the first time I began to question the injustice of our exile.”

And also like Kanafani, Leila refused to give up her weapons. She herself was helped by another hijacking, led by a man she never met, and who was not even a member of the PFLP, according to her. While detained in the Ealing police station in London, she was one day surprised to know that someone was demanding her release. “The plane was hijacked by a single man, a Christian Palestinian all by himself.” I asked his name. “Marwan. I don’t know the surname. He hijacked that plane.” The man was not armed. “He deceived the crew. He had his bathing suit underneath and he pulled the elastic and said that was an explosive belt. At that moment, just the day after the collective hijackings, who would say no or dare to doubt him? He said ‘I want to go to Dawson’s field in Amman.’ He called and said ‘I want someone from the PFLP.’ He called Ghassan Kanafani from the plane. So Kanafani called Amman saying there’s another plane for you. People couldn’t believe him. They asked Wadie Haddad [if he had anything to do with that] and he said no, we were not planning for that. I myself was surprised when Mr Frew [chief superintended of the Metropolitan Police in London] told me that the plane had been hijacked. That’s why the British had agreed to release me afterwards, because of their hijacked plane.”

But while the PFLP now considers hijackings unacceptable, violence for Leila is a legitimate weapon. “Resistance doesn’t happen only through violence, but violence is the mainstream.”

You mean the main type of resistance?

“It’s the mainstream. There are several types: political resistance, the popular one, like going to the streets, demonstrating. When our women are embroidering our dresses, this is resistance.”

Leila Khaled in Beirut, January 18, 2009. (Photo by Sebastian Baryli/CC by 2.0)


“BDS, of course, on the international level it is very effective. But it doesn’t liberate, it doesn’t liberate land. If there’s BDS all over the world, and the people are not resisting, there will be no change. BDS helps us to continue the struggle and to isolate Israel, and then the balance of forces changes here. It’s very important for us in the international level to have more people having campaigns, because it means the narration of our story is now on that level, people will ask ‘why are they going for the BDS?’ Now, there’s an experience, and it’s not something theoretical we are speaking about – the BDS during the apartheid era in South Africa, it helped the people who were holding arms. But if they were not holding arms it may have affected them politically, but it would not have liberated, not on the ground.”

You think you can win the war this way?

“In Vietnam, poor people defeated the Americans.”

That was in a different world, before the advent of drones.

“Whatever! There’s a fundamental equation: where there is occupation there is resistance. Nobody can change this. This is basic, it’s natural; you cannot change the sun and make it rise from the west. This is the truth; it is natural. When you are under oppression you resist.”

And how do you see people who choose not to resist, who are against violence?

“Like Mahmoud Abbas. He is not gaining anything. He puts conditions and Israel ignores them. Israel doesn’t give him any hint that they will accept a single one of his conditions. Let me tell you. Arafat went to Oslo and signed [the agreement]. What did Israel do? They confined him in Muqata in one room and killed him.”

Do you know that for a fact?

“Do you remember Sharon and Bush when they had that famous meeting in Washington? Sharon was telling Bush he wanted to kill Arafat. Bush said,‘he is very old, you don’t need to.’ And then Sharon said, ‘maybe god needs our help.’”

Indeed, such a meeting did take place, and the dialogue had the same gist. Uri Dan, an Israeli journalist and close friend to Ariel Sharon, describes the meeting in his book Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait.

“On April 14, 2004, Sharon was finally able to extricate himself from the promise that he had involuntarily made to the American president in March 2001 – not to touch Yasser Arafat. Sharon was at the White House; George W. Bush advised him to leave the destiny of the Palestinian leader in the hands of divine providence, and Sharon replied, half joking and half serious, that providence sometimes needs a helping hand. Without giving Sharon the green light to eliminate Arafat, the president didn’t try to impose further commitment on him, either.”

Fighting for a single democratic state

Hijacked airplanes on the ground at Dawson's Field in Jordan during the PFLP press conference, September 7, 1970.

I ask her about Hamas, elected by Israel as its enemy par excellence, a more suitable nemesis in a conflict where religion is the law, impossible certainties are the currency, and igno-arrogance is a founding principle. “Hamas believes that Palestine is a sacred place that belongs to the Muslims, and this contradicts our thoughts, the PFLP’s. But now the discussion is not about ideology, it’s about liberation. Anyone who fights Israel is on the same trench as we are.”

Leila approves of what she calls the new “strategic alliance” between Hamas and Fatah. “It’s a good step, we have been calling all the time for that, to end this division, because it harms us. But we are very cautious. This is not the first time. Many times they negotiated and…” She stops herself, uncertain of how to finish the sentence.

It is said that George Habash, the founder of PFLP, once stated that if he were allowed back to his house in Lydda, he would not expel the Jewish people living there but would instead build another floor to accommodate them. In her autobiography, Leila speaks of a Palestine that “we shall recover and make into a human paradise for Arabs and Jews and lovers of freedom.”

Leila wants one country for everyone. “We want the right to self-determination and to establish our own independent state on the Palestinian land. We didn’t say two-state solution, this is a new expression, I don’t accept the two-state solution. The historical goal is to have a democratic state in Palestine.”

A state called Palestine?

“Yes. Maybe we can even change the name, that’s not a problem. The problem is that people have to be there, to decide the future of this country.”

Leila’s autobiography had harsh words for the Hashemite Kingdom and King Hussein, and Jordan’s cosy relations with Israel. “Hussein’s actions could not be separated from those of the U.S. and Israel”; “Hussein retaliated by shutting off the camps’ water and electricity – a deed he was going to repeat in September with devastating effects on the poor”; “the Hashemite despot”; “Hussein’s barbaric onslaught against the resistance”; “Hussein had been urged for months by the U.S. embassy in Amman to ‘have it out’ with the Palestinians”; “the corrupt elements that stood behind Hussein and his CIA ‘advisers’”; “Hussein was savagely shelling the camps of ‘his subjects,’ under the pretext that an assassination attempt had been made on his life”; “more than one thousand people were sacrificed in honour of Hussein’s throne.”

But when talking to me this time, more than 30 years after her book was published, Khaled was cautious. I asked if she felt safe being here. “To an extent, yes, because there’s an agreement between Israel and Jordan not to use Jordan as a place for following other people.”

You mean that Jordan would protect you against assassination?

“Yes. But they don’t allow me to be active.”

Your book was written many years ago, you could have changed your mind regarding Jordan. Feel free to say you are not willing to talk. But from reading your book, Jordan seems for you almost as big an enemy as Israel.”

“No. Let me tell you. We have the following written down in a document: our enemies are Israel, the Zionist movement, imperialists. Because from the beginning we have to say who are our enemies very clearly, so that people don’t think today they are our enemy and tomorrow they are our friends. […] No, I don’t say that Jordan is an enemy, no.”

Betrayal from within

I ask Leila how many targeted assassinations were conducted by the PFLP, killings against people whom they really think deserved it. She tries to remember. “Ze’evi,” she says, referring to Rehavam Ze’evi, then the Israeli tourism minister and a leader of the most rightwing Knesset faction, who advocated population “transfer” and referred to Palestinians as lice and cancer.

That’s it?

“There was also a Mossad agent in London. Seif is his name. He was killed in his house, his wife was there.” I am still not satisfied. “There was also a woman from the Mossad, in Greece.”

I tried to confirm the information on the “Seif” hit but couldn’t. Leila could be referring to Joseph Sieff, who suffered an alleged assassination attempt by Carlos the Jackal in 1973 but who wasn’t killed.

I then ask Leila about the opposite – how many PFLP members have been targeted by the Mossad. And here comes a nugget that contradicts everything I’ve read about the death of her sister. According to several news outlets and at least three books, Leila’s sister was killed in a case of mistaken identity on Christmas Eve in 1976 with her fiancé, both murdered at home. The intended target would have been Leila and her husband, and the culprit would have been the Mossad. But an anonymous source at the PFLP told me that the killer was not the Mossad, but “the third man” in the PFLP, a certain Abu Ahmed Yunis. “He was stealing arms, stealing money,” said the source. According to the source, “this was not a case of collaboration; only corruption.

And in one meeting they [Leila’s sister and her fiancé] threatened to speak about his corruption. So before a big meeting he sent his people and shot both of them. They made a committee of investigation, led by Ali Mustafa, and the trail led to this guy, they caught him, interviewed him, put him in jail and they decided he should be hanged. Yasser Arafat at that time sent a group to Abu Ali Mustafa saying ‘please don’t do it, because if you do it, this will be like condemning the whole Palestinian revolution.’ Then this guy told those Arafat people to go to Yasser Arafat and tell him they have to clean their house first. Nobody is blaming us because we are cleaning our house. Each house has its dirty side, and we must clean it.”

I asked Leila to confirm the story and she said it was true, “but he was not the third man. We didn’t have that type of ranking.” Yunis would be executed a few months later.

In my research I could find no corroborating record of that story, and the only book I encountered that mentions Yunis’ existence puts the time of his death several years after the killing of Leila’s sister.

“He was influential,” Leila says, “he was our representative in the common leadership between Palestinians and Lebanese at that time. He felt that my sister was criticising him, his behaviour. Her husband was, too. That was on the eve of Christmas. It was me and her and her fiancé, we were going to Tyre to my mother’s house to celebrate. He was responsible for me. He told me and others, ‘don’t sleep in your houses tonight.’ He sent people to kill them.”

Leila says she never managed to cope with that. “A comrade to kill another comrade…” she says, shaking her head. “I told our comrades that he should be executed or else I would kill him. And he was executed, he and the one who fired the shots.”

According to Leila, the Mossad also didn’t perform one of the most cinematic assassinations ever attributed to it. The story has it that Wadie Haddad, an ex-PFLP leader, was killed in 1978 in the German Democratic Republic by eating poisoned Belgium chocolate sent to him by the Mossad. “That’s not true,” says Leila. “I knew him very well and he didn’t like chocolate. He had cancer.”

Indeed, Leila’s assertion is substantiated by one of the Stratfor emails leaked by Wikileaks in 2012. It shows a conversation between two private intelligence contractors, David Dafinoiu, president of NorAm Intelligence, and Fred Burton, Stratfor’s VP of counter-intelligence.



Hello Fred,

On Wadi Haddad: contrary to Aharon Klein and other publications on “behalf of” Mossad officers, the killing of Haddad by Mossad with poisoned chocolate is just a nice fiction story. Haddad was indeed on the Mossad assassination list and a “Red Page” order was given on his name along with other names such as Kamal Adwan, Hussein Abad Al-Chir, Mohammed Boudia, Abu Daud and others.

However, he died from leukemia that he suffered for a long time. The version of Mossad’s assassination played good for all the parties, presenting Wadi as a hero and Mossad as an assassins organization that the terrorists should be afraid of.

‘I represent Palestinians, not women’

After her first hijacking in 1969 at the age of 26, Leila chose to go under the knife to change her face and perform a second hijacking without being recognised. While the doctor complained that plastic surgery was meant to beautify, not deform, Leila called the operation a minor sacrifice for her cause, and put it in context in an interview to Jennifer Jajeh. “Women change their faces, their lips, and all these plastic surgeries to beautify themselves, but they didn’t beautify their minds. I did that. Beautified my mind.”

Leila Khaled portrait made of 3,500 lipsticks by Amer Shomali, February 28, 2012. (Photo by Amer Shomali) After Khaled hijacked two airplanes while still in her twenties, her image appeared on the covers of news magazines, her face was plastered on the walls of student dorms; she become a pop phenomenon, and an inspiration for TV and film characters.

All of that made her an icon of feminism, which she rejected with her usual rationality, summarizing it quite efficiently in an interview to Ibrahim Alloush of the Free Arab Voice: “Other women from some parts of the world tell us that we can unite on the issue of our sexual oppression. Everywhere you look in the text, or the program of action, you’ll find the word ‘sex.’ You’ll find sex here, and you’ll find it there. It’s there to discuss sexual abuse one time, then again to discuss sexual tourism. The point is to de-politicize the question of women, and affirm that women can unite just as women.” She also told The Guardian that “sexual abuse is the problem of individuals, regardless of how rampant, whereas occupation is the problem of whole peoples.”

Leila has her own sense of priority. “I represent Palestinians, not women,” she once said. I tell her women in Gaza under Hamas were not allowed to participate in the marathon.

“That’s not our problem now,” she says. “It’s the problem there, and it is a problem faced even by us there. Hamas is trying to Islamicize the society, and of course, a lot of women, because they are under their control, are now wearing the hijab, whereas before they didn’t. I went there and asked them ‘why do you accept that?’”

Leila answers the question herself, suggesting that God, the ineffable, can be even less intangible than the solution to the Palestinian plight. “People have been looking for reparation for years. They’ve tried the nationalists, they’ve tried Nasser’s regime, they’ve tried Fatah, they tried the PFLP and they never got anywhere.”

But Leila’s fight, like that of the PFLP, has nothing to do with religion. When one visits the headquarters of the Jordanian Popular Democratic Unity Party in Amman, a PFLP branch, the most striking thing is hanging on the wall: a type of revolutionary drawing of a man and a woman duly fitted with shackles and machineguns. What is conspicuous about this drawing, and would be so for anyone who has lived in Jordan, is that the woman not only doesn’t wear a veil, but she is naked, along with the man. Another contextual shocker comes from the pamphlet announcing the candidates for the syndicate of pharmacists in a country whose Sharia court just decreed that women not wearing the veil are unfit to testify. Among the ten candidates on the pamphlet, two are women, and neither is wearing a hijab.

Drawings on the wall of the PFLP's Amman offices (Photo: Paula Schmitt)

And while some may argue with Leila’s distinctions between representing women orPalestinians, it’s refreshing to see how she chose her own battles, refusing to be a prisoner of political correctness and often not even aware of it. In one passage in her autobiography, she describes a dialogue with the chief of police at the “Ealing Hilton.” Exasperated by her refusal to answer his interrogation, Mr Frew reminds her he got gray hair. “That’s not from me,” she says. “That’s because you have a nagging wife.”

But Leila has, indeed, long conceded that Palestinian women suffer different types of oppression:

“The persecution of our women is compounded, not just cumulative,” she told Alloush. “She is oppressed nationally as a Palestinian under occupation or in exile. This is the primary facet and cruelest form of her oppression. The second facet is her socio-economic exploitation as a member of the social class she belongs to. Last but not least, she is oppressed as a woman because our societies are sexist.”

In her autobiography Leila is sometimes merciless against what she calls “the shackles of superstition and backwardness” in the Arab world. In fact, she names her enemies quite clearly, and at that time they were not only “Israel, the Zionist movement, imperialists” but also “Arab backwardness.”

Do you still believe in pan-Arabism?

“What do you mean by pan-Arabism?” she rejoins, sounding as if it was the first time she heard the term.

That the Arab world should be united.

“We are Arabs. We have all the same history, the same language. We were divided by the colonisers.”

What about the Christians?

“I didn’t speak about religion. Christians have the same history. We were all colonised after the First World War.”

I ask her about the Mutasarrifiyya, a semi-autonomous, Christian-ruled area in Mount Lebanon allowed under the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century, often remembered with longing by some Lebanese Christians.

“But it wasn’t according to religion before. It was a fruit of colonization. After the First World War the Arab world was divided among the colonizers who defeated the Ottomans. We were colonized by the khilafi, the khalifas, that was colonization.”

I change the question to the present.

“What would you say to the statement that determining that all Arabs are equal is a type of…” I want to say racism but I don’t. “When you propose to homogenise all the Arabs under pan-Arabism… isn’t that an imposition as well?

“In Brazil, you have different ethnicities, but you are a country. There are differences from a city to another. I don’t rely on the regimes, I rely on the people. And there are differences even within those places. You go to the United States, each city is different from the other. There is an agreement among Arab countries in the Arab league that we have a common market. In Europe they are different peoples, but they are united.”

You mean united in a strategic alliance, right? Is that what you mean? Economy, military power, natural resources?

“Yes, of course, that’s what I mean.”

I quote a passage from her autobiography where she says that “underdeveloped people live by fate.” We talk for a while and I say I will understand if she’d rather leave her opinions on religion confined to her book.

“I don’t criticize religion publicly – but I don’t believe in it”.

If Leila still has a god of sorts, it is Marxism. She calls herself a dialectical-materialist, and believes Cuba and Venezuela have the best governments in the world. I tell her Cuba’s is an oppressive regime, and that some of their athletes “representing” the country in the Pan-American Games tried to hide and demand political asylum in Brazil. I ask her to explain why most books and newspapers are forbidden in the island. Leila says Cuba has to act like that to “protect its people against American imperialism.” When I ask if she’d consider the governments of Norway, Denmark and Sweden as examples of good governance, Leila says yes.

I ask her if she regrets anything, if she gave her own sense of morality, that self-doubting side-glance mentioned by Schopenhauer.

“I regret that I didn’t continue my studies,” she says. “I tried to continue. In 1978 I went to the Soviet Union. I wanted to study history. But we were called, the PLO called all students who went on scholarships by the PLO to come and participate in the revolution in Lebanon. I went there and the war broke out.”

We talk about how religion, or religiosity, has often been used to mask moral corruption. For her, groups fighting in Syria like Jabhat al-Nusra are working for Israel, not on purpose, but as a result of their actions. “I think they are mercenaries, paid by Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and having Islam as a big slogan.” She believes the war in Syria is part of a bigger plan.

“The whole project of the Americans and Israel is to redraw the Middle East. We read and heard them speaking of the Greater Middle East. Even Shimon Peres has a book about it.”

I ask what she thinks of the Saudi regime.

“Saudi Arabia is ruled by the Americans. Look what happened. They were angry because Qatar was given a role for the last five or six years. Now they changed. So Qatar was asked, the emir was asked to resign, but this one, this emir, was the one who was negotiating with the Taliban, he was trained to make settlements among gulf countries.”

You mean he is as bad as the previous one?

“Yes, with a smiling face.”

I mention Sheikha Moza, the Qatari royal who is said to own vineyards in Israel.

“She goes to Netanya in the summer,” Leila says. “She was there in 2006,” the year Israel attacked Lebanon.

Has Palestine been betrayed, left alone?

“No, we are not alone. You are with us.”


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From Prisons to Black Sites, US Hand in Global Torture Exposed

Posted on 19 May 2014.


Amnesty International report on global torture exposes inhumane acts perpetrated by United States

– Sarah Lazare,

(Photo: Bob Jagendorf / creative commons)Thirty years after ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. government has dodged accountability for perpetrating torture in domestic prisons and CIA black sites and embroiling foreign states in inhumane acts.

So finds a report on global torture released Tuesday by human rights organization Amnesty International. According to the study, torture and abuse have been reported in at least 141 countries around the world in the past five years.

survey conducted by Amnesty found that 44 percent of people across the world are afraid they would be in danger of torture if taken into state custody in their country.

(Photo: Mellowbox / Flickr Creative Commons)

In the United States, 32 percent of respondents expressed such a fear—which, according to the report, has merit.

“In some maximum security isolation or segregation facilities across the USA, many thousands of inmates are held in solitary confinement in small cells for 22 to 24 hours a day. Many have little access to natural light or out-of-cell recreation time which amounts to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment,” reads the study.

U.S. torture is not confined within its borders. “The U.S. government is also failing to ensure accountability for torture and enforced disappearances committed in the context of counter-terrorism operations. No one responsible for the use of interrogation techniques such as ‘water-boarding,’ prolonged sleep deprivation, and stress positions in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-run secret detention centres around the world has been brought to justice. The U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence has conducted a review of the now-terminated CIA programme, but its 6,000-plus page report remains classified.”

Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture and lecturer at University of San Francisco, told Common Dreams that the U.S. climate for torture has only grown more permissive since the beginning of the War on Terror. “One of the things we’ve seen polls show that almost 13 years out from September 11th, 2001, people are more willing to approve of torture as a tool of ‘security’ than a decade ago,” she said.

The report states that the U.S. has involved other countries in its acts of torture: “Torture and ill-treatment has also been documented in parts of the European Union (EU), with some countries also failing to effectively investigate allegations of complicity in torture carried out in the context of U.S.-led counter-terrorism operations,” states the report.

According to Gordon, “U.S. pressure on European countries to participate in housing CIA black sites and allow their airports to be used for renditions has corrupted a number of European governments in their stance on torture. One of the effects of torture by the United States—a country universally (if not accurately) recognized as a democracy—is when that country participates in torture in a quasi public way, it creates a legitimation of torture as a practice.”

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Close to Death, Hunger Striking Journalist Goes Missing in Egypt

Posted on 19 May 2014.


Brother: ‘Surely he is still in jail but we don’t know where and we cannot communicate with him’

– Sarah Lazare

Words of solidarity from Abdullah Elshamy’s colleagues (Photo: Abdullah Elshamy Twitter account)Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy, who has been detained in Egypt since August 2013, has reportedly been moved to an undisclosed location following warnings from his family and doctor that he is near death after more than 100 days on hunger strike.

According to Abdullah’s brother, Mosaab Elshamy, the family does not know where Abdullah is currently being held and is unable to communicate with him. “Surely he is still in jail but we don’t know where and we cannot communicate with him,” Mosaab told AFP.

“He has started to have impaired liver and kidney function,” Dr. Mohamed Ussama Al Homsi, who reviewed results from blood tests, stated to Al Jazeera this week, according to an article published Saturday. “All of these can cause big problems for him. This means that his organs are in danger.” Al Homsi warned Elshamy could “die within a few days.”

“We fear the worst following his transfer because Elshamy is in more need of proper medical attention than ever,” said Reporters Without Borders research director Lucie Morillon in a statement released Tuesday. “We urge the authorities to tell his family and lawyer where he has been transferred. He must quickly be given appropriate medical treatment before being freed. The authorities are responsible for his life and state of health.”

Elshamy was arrested last August when police attacked supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi, resulting in fighting that killed hundreds of people. Elshamy, who still has not faced formal charges and trial, began his hunger strike in January to protest his conditions of confinement. He was sentenced to another 45 days in prison on May 3.

Elshamy’s wife, Jihad Khaled, is reportedly on hunger strike to show solidarity with her incarcerated husband.

Elshamy is one of numerous journalists currently detained in Egypt, including at least three others from Al Jazeera English.

Posted in EgyptComments Off on Close to Death, Hunger Striking Journalist Goes Missing in Egypt

How the Right Wing is Killing Women

Posted on 19 May 2014.

by Robert Reich

(Mayo Clinic on Flickr, under Creative Commons)According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

You might say international comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt because of difficulties of getting accurate measurements across nations. Maybe China hides the true extent of its maternal deaths. But Canada and Britain?

Even if you’re still skeptical, consider that our rate of maternal death is heading in the wrong direction. It’s risen over the past decade and is now nearly the highest in a quarter century.

In 1990, the maternal mortality rate in America was 12.4 women per 100,000 births. In 2003, it was 17.6. Now it’s 18.5.

That’s not a measurement error because we’ve been measuring the rate of maternal death in the United States the same way for decades.

By contrast, the rate has been dropping in most other nations. In fact, we’re one of just eight nations in which it’s been rising.  The others that are heading in the wrong direction with us are not exactly a league we should be proud to be a member of. They include Afghanistan, El Salvador, Belize, and South Sudan.

China was ranked 116 in 1990. Now it’s moved up to 57. Even if China’s way of measuring maternal mortality isn’t to be trusted, China is going in the right direction. We ranked 22 in 1990. Now, as I’ve said, we’re down to 60th place.

Something’s clearly wrong.

Some say more American women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth because American girls are becoming pregnant at younger and younger ages, where pregnancy and birth can pose greater dangers.

This theory might be convincing if it had data to support it. But contrary to the stereotype of the pregnant young teenager, the biggest rise in pregnancy-related deaths in America has occurred in women 20-24 years old.

Consider that in 1990, 7.2 women in this age group died for every 100,000 live births. By 2013, the rate was 14 deaths in this same age group – almost double the earlier rate.

Researchers aren’t sure what’s happening but they’re almost unanimous in pointing to a lack of access to health care, coupled with rising levels of poverty.

Some American women are dying during pregnancy and childbirth from health problems they had before they became pregnant but worsened because of the pregnancies — such as diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.

The real problem, in other words, was they didn’t get adequate health care before they became pregnant.

Other women are dying because they didn’t have the means to prevent a pregnancy they shouldn’t have had, or they didn’t get the prenatal care they needed during their pregnancies. In other words, a different sort of inadequate health care.

One clue: African-American mothers are more than three times as likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts.

The data tell the story: A study by the Roosevelt Institute shows that U.S. states with high poverty rates have maternal death rates 77 percent higher than states with lower levels of poverty. Women with no health insurance are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or in childbirth than women who are insured.

What do we do about this? Yes, of course, poor women (and the men who made them pregnant) have to take more personal responsibility for their behavior.

But this tragic trend is also a clear matter of public choice.

Many of these high-poverty states are among the twenty-one that have so far refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter.

So as the sputtering economy casts more and more women into near poverty, they can’t get the health care they need.

Several of these same states have also cut family planning, restricted abortions, and shuttered women’s health clinics.

Right-wing ideology is trumping the health needs of millions of Americans.

Let’s be perfectly clear: These policies are literally killing women.

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