Archive | March 10th, 2017

“Afghanistan – As Only Love Could Hurt”

NOVANEWS

Notes From A Broken Land

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Afghanistan

WINTER

It is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains surrounding the city are covered by snow.

It feels much chillier than it really is.

Soon it will be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country, and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan Interim Administration.

Almost everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom.

Afghans, at home and abroad, are deeply pessimistic. With hefty allowances and privileges, at least some foreigners based in Kabul are much more upbeat, but ‘positive thinking’ is what they are paid to demonstrate.

Historically one of the greatest cultures on Earth, Afghanistan is now nearing breaking point, with the lowest Human Development Index (2015, HDI, compiled by the UNDP) of all Asian nations, and the 18th lowest in the entire world (all 17 countries below it are located in Sub-Saharan Africa). Afghanistan has also the lowest life expectancy in Asia (WHO, 2015).

While officially, the literacy rate stands at around 60%, I was told by two prominent educationalists in Kabul that in reality it is well below 50%, while it is stubbornly stuck under 20% for women and girls.

Statistics are awful, but what is behind the numbers? What has been done to this ancient and distinct civilization, once standing proudly at the crossroad of major trade routes, influencing culturally a great chunk of Asia, connecting East and West, North and South?

How deep, how permanent is the damage?

During my visit, I was offered but I refused to travel in an armored, bulletproof vehicle. My ageing “horse” became a beat-up Corolla, my driver and translator a brave, decent family man in possession of a wonderful sense of humor. Although we became good friends, I never asked him to what ethnic group he belonged. He never told me. I simply didn’t want to know, and he didn’t find it important to address the topic. Everyone knows that Afghanistan is deeply divided ‘along its ethnic lines’. As an internationalist, I refuse to pay attention to anything related to ‘blood’, finding all such divisions, anywhere in the world, unnatural and thoroughly unfortunate. Call it my little stubbornness; both my driver and me were stubbornly refusing to acknowledge ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, at least inside the car, while driving through this marvelous but scarred, stunning but endlessly sad land.

KABUL

One day you and your driver, who is by then your dear friend, are driving slowly over the bridge. Your car stops. You get out in the middle of the bridge, and begin photographing the clogged river below, with garbage floating and covering its banks. Children are begging, and you soon notice that they are operating in a compact pack, almost resembling some small military unit. In Kabul, as in so many places on earth, there is a rigid structure to begging.

After a while, you continue driving on, towards the Softa Bridge, which is located in District 6.

Where you are appears to be all messed up, endlessly fucked up.

You were told to come to this neighborhood, to witness a warzone inside the city, to see ‘what the West has done to the country’. There are no bullets flying here, and no loud explosions. In fact, you hear almost nothing. You actually don’t see any war near the Softa Bridge; you only see Death, her horrid gangrenous face, her scythe cutting all that is still standing around her, cutting and cutting, working in extremely slow motion.

Again, as so many times before, you are scared. You were scared like this several times before: in Haiti, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Iraq, and Peru, to name just a few countries. In those places, as well as here in Kabul, you are not frightened because you could easily lose your life any moment, or because your safety might be in danger. What dismays you, what you really cannot stomach, are the images of despair, those of ‘no way out’, of absolute hopelessness. Lack of hope is killing you, it horrifies you; everything else can always be dealt with.

People you see all around can hardly stand on their feet. Many cannot stand at all. Most of them are stoned, laying around in rags, sitting in embryonic positions, or moving aimlessly back and forth, staring emptily into the distance. Some are urinating publicly. Syringes are everywhere.

Drug dealers living in holes

There are holes, deep and wide, filled with motionless human bodies.

First you drive around, photographing through the cracked glass, then you roll down the window, and at the end, you get out and begin working, totally exposed. You have no idea what may happen in the next few seconds. Someone begins shouting at you, others are throwing stones, but they are too weak and the stones just hit your shoulder and legs, softly, without causing any harm.

Then a bomb goes off, not far from where you are. There is an explosion in the 6th District, right in front of a police station. You cannot see it, but you can clearly hear the blast. It is a muffled yet powerful bang. You look at your phone.

Explosion in District 6

It is March 1st, 2017, Kabul. Later you learn that several people died just a few hundred meters from where you were working, while several others perished in the 12th District, another few kilometers away.

The smoke begins rising towards the sky. Sirens are howling and several ambulances are rushing towards the site. Then countless military Humvees begin shooting one after another in the same direction, followed by heavier and much clumsier armored vehicles. You are taking all this in, slowly; photographing the scene, and then snapping from some distance a monumental but still semi-destroyed Darul Aman Palace.

And so it goes.

*

Tall concrete walls are scarring, fragmenting the city. In Kabul, almost anything worth protecting is now fenced. Some partitions and barriers are simply enormous, almost unreal. There are walls sheltering all foreign embassies and government buildings, palaces, military bases, police stations and banks, as well as the United Nations compounds, even most of the private schools and hotels. The Hamid Karzai international airport is encompassed by perimeters that could put to shame most of the Cold War lines: from the parking area one has to walk almost one kilometer to the entrance of the international terminal, with luggage and through the countless security checks.

Of course Western institutions and organizations have the most impressive fences, as well as the Afghan military and military bases and government offices.

Enormous surveillance drone-zeppelins are levitating above the city.

It could all be seen as thoroughly grotesque, even laughable, but no one is amused. It is all very serious, damn serious here.

Afghanistan has been gradually overtaken by something absolutely foreign: by the Western-style security apparatus. Tens of thousands of highly paid North American and European ‘experts’ have been getting extremely busy, fulfilling their secret wet dream: fencing everything in sight, monitoring each and every movement in the capital city, building taller and taller barriers, while installing the latest hi-tech cameras at almost every intersection, and above each gate.

*

Not far from the Embassy of the United States of America (or more precisely, not far from the Great Chinese Wall-size fence encompassing it), I noticed a familiar complex of buildings, reminding me of those that used to be constructed in all corners of Eastern Europe and Cuba. I asked my friend to drive into one of the compounds.

This is how I entered “Makroyan”.  We killed the engine, and everything around us was suddenly quiet, almost dormant. Time stopped here. There was a certain mild decay detectable all around the area, but upon a closer look, those old apartment buildings were still looking decent and strong, with very impressive public spaces in between them. Here I felt that I was allowed a rare glimpse of an old, socialist Afghanistan.

I stopped in between two entrances of Block 21: No.2 and No.3. I looked up to the 4th floor. Who is living there now? Who used to live here before, some 25, even 30 years ago?

Makroyan Block 21

A destroyed office chair was standing aimlessly in the middle of a parking lot, and an old, disabled man was crawling desolately on all fours, moving away from the block. There was a Soviet-built school right next to Block 21. It used to be known as Dosti primary school, and I was told that during the war, it was bombed a couple of times and lots of kids died inside it. Now the school is private and it has a new name – it is ‘Alfath’, a high school.

Apart from a few loose, rusty wires and fences, everything looks decent and semi-neat. This is where many members of the diminishing Kabul middle class still prefer to live. Blocks of Makroyan are reassuring; they radiate safety and permanency, while being surrounded by a volatile and frightening universe.

All of a sudden, I imagined a boy and a girl, who perhaps used to live here, so many years ago. As children in all other parts of the world do at that age, they were just slowly beginning to discover life, starting to formulate their dreams and expectations. In those days, the new leafy neighborhood would have been like a promise of a brighter future, of a much better country.

Then suddenly, full stop.

A war. A sudden end to all that the future was promising. Collapse of optimism, or enthusiasm, of confidence. Only death and destruction, and shattered dreams, remained. For those who were at least somehow lucky: a bitterness and then a hasty flight, instead of ultimate misery and death. Full stop. Total reset. Everything collapsed. But life never stops, it goes on, it always does. Things re-composed, somehow, not idyllically, but they did.

For a long time, I kept staring at Block 21. Memories kept coming, as if I used to live there myself, many years ago, when I was a child. I hardly noticed that it was getting very cold. I began to shiver. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. Fresh pomegranate juice at a local street stall brought me back to reality, it woke me, but it didn’t managed to warm me up.

GREAT HISTORY, CHANGING CULTURE, AN ON-GOING OCCUPATION AND FEAR

A renowned Afghan intellectual, Dr. Omara Khan Masoudi, who used to be, among many other things, the former head of the National Museum, is now bitter about the changes invading the culture of his country:

In the past, we had also many ethnic groups living in this country, but they used to coexist in harmony. Then, our culture got influenced by conflicts and violence.

Before the war, it was the culture that used to represent us in the world. However, during and after the war, our cultures were used to justify the conflict.

Dr. Masoudi told me that he thinks it is wrong when culture falls into the hands of divisive politicians. “If culture is politicized, it loses its essence”, he declared.

I asked him whether he thinks it also applies to Latin America, to the former Soviet Union and China, where (at least to a great extent) ‘politicized culture’ has been playing an extremely important role, determining the course of development. He smiled, replying:

To be precise, politicizing cultures is not always such a bad thing… When it’s done, for instance, in order to achieve social progress or equality, I have nothing against it. But I am outraged when people like some religious leaders; Shia, Sunni or even some extremists, do it… Culture is very broad, and religions are only a part of it. But in Afghanistan, religious leaders have been using the culture for their narrow-minded interests.

In a coffee shop, which is lost somewhere inside the wilderness of an international and United Nations compound called ‘The Green Village’, my Japanese friend and Head of the Culture Unit of UNESCO, Mr. Masanori Nagaoka, explained:

Afghanistan or Ancient Ariana, as many ancient Greek and Roman authors referred to the region in antiquity, can be acknowledged as the multi-cultural cradle of Central Asia, linking East and West via historically significant trade conduits that also conveyed ideas, concepts and languages as a cultural by-product of fledgling international commerce. As a result, contemporary Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society with a complex history stretching back many millennia. The numerous civilizations are attested to in the archaeological record, both indigenous and foreign….

However, he is well aware of the complexities faced by the country and the culture torn apart by lethal conflicts of the last decades and centuries.

Afghanistan is unfortunately also a nation fragmented by a history of protracted conflict, exacerbated by geographic isolation for many communities and limited or unequal access to infrastructure and resources, both regionally and demographically. As a nominal starting point, the ongoing rehabilitation process in Afghanistan needs to address these issues if the nation is to unify under a common objective, fostering a veracious society free from conflict and where ethnic diversity is recognized for its social, cultural and economic benefits rather than, as is often the case, seen as a hindrance to particular developmental objectives. Part of the solution to this problem lies in the campaign of a positive public discussion to promote inter-cultural understanding and to raise awareness of the potential that such discourse has to contribute to the broader goals of rapprochement, peace-building and economic development in Afghanistan.

I flew to the city of Herat, where I witnessed tremendous masterpieces of architecture, from the marvelous and recently restored Citadel (as valuable as the citadels of Aleppo and Erbil), to the Friday Mosque and amazing, unique minarets rising proudly towards the sky.

How familiar all those architectural treasures appeared! On several occasions I approached Nasir, my local friend who was always eager to share the impressive history of his region: “Look, this could be in Delhi… and this in Samarkand!”

Sure enough, the most visited world heritage site in India, Qutub Minar, situated right outside New Delhi, is perhaps the greatest symbol of the Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture, while both Herat and Samarkand were connected by the Silk Road and historically kept influencing each other.

In Afghanistan, the history, the occupation and the on-going conflict: everything seems to be thoroughly intertwined.

Italian troops took over ancient Citadel in Herat City

During my work there, the Citadel of Herat was literally taken over by Italian troops. I was told that some high-ranking NATO officer was visiting the site, and with no shame, a fully armed Italian commando was roaming around, “securing” every corner of the vast courtyard. As if Afghans had lost control of their own country!

De-mining work in Herat

On closer examination, the madrassa of Hussein Baiqara is, in reality, still a minefield. In between four stunning minarets, a de-mining team from local “Halo Trust” was manually searching for unexploded ordinances. I was allowed to enter, but only as a war correspondent and at my own risk, definitely not as a ‘tourist’.

“On this site, we already found two mines and 10 unexploded ordinances”, I was told by one of the Halo Trust experts. “Now this entire area is off-limits to the public. Not long ago, one child was badly injured here; he lost his leg.”

Nothing is peaceful in Afghanistan, not even ancient historic sites.

*

Not much is questioned here.

Positive talk about the ancient history and culture is generally encouraged, but to discuss dramatic changes in modern Afghan culture, those that occurred as a result of the US/UK invasion and the present on-going NATO occupation of the country, is almost entirely off-limits. In fact, even the word itself – ‘occupation’ – could hardly be heard. Instead, such jargons as ‘protection’, ‘defense’ and ‘international help’ have been implanted deeply and systematically into the psyche of most Afghan people.

The culture that was known for long centuries for its passion for freedom and independence seems broken. While Afghans resisted heroically against all past British invasions, while some of them fought the Soviet incursion, there is presently no organized and united (national, not religious) opposition against the Western occupation of the country.

I met academic Jawid Amin, from the Academy of Social Sciences of Afghanistan, in a small guardroom in front of the Museum of Modern Arts in Kabul.

I asked him, whether there is any art, or any group of intellectuals openly critical of the United States, and of the occupation. He replied, sincerely:

We don’t have anyone openly critical of the US or the West here, because it is simply not allowed by the government. I personally don’t like the Americans, but I can’t say more… Even I work for the government. My brother and sister are living in the United States. And about critical arts: nothing could be exhibited here without permission from the government and since Karzai, the government is controlled by the West…

A prominent Afghan intellectual, Omaid Sharifi, explained over the phone: “In the provinces, you can still see paintings depicting killing of civilians by the US drones… but not in Kabul.”

I’m trying to work as fast as possible, meeting people who are helping to shed light on the situation. Eventually, a dire picture begins to form.

I met a Japanese reporter who has been living in Afghanistan for almost a quarter of a century. Her assessment of the situation was to a large extent pessimistic:

Afghans had very little choice… It is 100% true that behind Karzai’s government was the US… Afghans didn’t want to accept foreign intervention, but soon they learned how money plays an important role.  The entire Afghan culture is now changing, even some essential elements of it like hospitality: people don’t want to spend money on it, or they don’t have any that they can spare…

I asked Dr. Masoudi why Afghan culture did not accept Soviets and their egalitarian, socially oriented ideals, while it seems to be tolerating the Western invasion, which is spreading inequality, desperation and subservience. He replied, passionately:

The biggest mistake the Soviet Union made here was to attack religion out rightly. If they’d first stick to equal rights, and slowly work it up towards the contradictions of religion, it could perhaps work… But they began blaming religion for our backwardness, in fact for everything. Or at least this is how it was interpreted by the coalition of their enemies, and of course by the West.

Now, why is the Western invasion ‘successful’? Look at the Karzai regime… During his rule, the US convinced people that Western intervention was ‘positive’, ‘respectful of their religion and cultures’. They kept repeating ‘under this and that UN convention’, and again ‘as decided by the UN’… They used NATO, a huge group of countries, as an umbrella. There was a ‘brilliantly effective’ protocol that they developed… According to them, they never did anything unilaterally, always by ‘international consensus’ and in order to ‘help Afghan people’. On the other hand, the Soviet Union had never slightest chance to explain itself. It was attacked immediately, and on all fronts.

“Opposition to Western occupation? Anti-Western art?” A Russian cultural expert in Kabul was clearly surprised by my question.

First of all, the Taliban destroyed most artistic traditions of this country. But also, the economic and social situation in this country is so desperate, that hardly anyone has time to think about some larger picture. More than 60% of Afghans are jobless. One thing you also should remember: Afghan people are very proud and very freedom loving, as the history illustrated, but they are also extremely patient. Go and see The British Cemetery. It was built in 1879 to hold the dead of the second Anglo-Afghan War, but despite all that the UK did to this country, and despite all recent wars and conflicts, it was never attacked, never damaged.

It is true. I never heard anyone discussing this topic. All horrid British crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan seem to be forgotten, at least for now.

But that’s not all: nobody here seems to have any appetite for recalling those horrors of the last decades, triggered by Western imperialism. Not once I observed any discussion addressing the main topic of modern Afghan history: how the West managed to trick the Soviets into invading Afghanistan in 1979, and how it created and then armed the vilest bunch of religious fanatics – the Mujahedeen. And how, subsequently, both countries – Afghanistan and the Soviet Union – were thoroughly destroyed in the process.

All was done, of course, with “great respect” for the Afghan nation, for its culture and traditions, as well as (how else) religion.

I’d love to be an invisible witness in a modern history class at the American University of Afghanistan, a ‘famed’ institution that is literally regurgitating thousands of collaborators, manufacturing a new breed of obedient pro-Western ‘elites’.

As we drive past Jamhuriat Hospital (Republic Hospital), which had a new 10- story building, with capacity for 350 patients, constructed by China in 2004, my driver, Mr. Tahir, sighs: “This was really a great gift from China to us… the Chinese really work hard, don’t they?”

“They have plenty of zeal and enthusiasm”, I uttered carefully. “Socialist fervor, you know. They sincerely believe in building, improving their country and the world. It is quite contrary to Western nihilism and extreme individualism…”

“They must love their country…”

“They do.”

“Afghanistan is poor”, Mr. Tahir’s face became suddenly sad. “Our people don’t love their country, anymore. They don’t work to improve it. They only work for themselves now, for their families…”

“Was it different before? You know…” I made an abstract gesture with my hand. “Before all this…”

“Of course it used to be very different”, he replied, grinning again.

NOTHING SOCIAL LEFT, NOTHING SOCIALIST WANTED

I stopped several people who were just walking down the street, in various parts of Kabul. I wanted to understand some basics: was there anything social left in Afghanistan? Did Western ‘liberation’ bring at least some progress, social development and improved standards of living?

Most answers were thoroughly gloomy. Only those people who were working or moonlighting for the Western military, for the embassies, the NGOs or other ‘international contractors’, were to some extent optimistic.

I was explained that almost everyone in the countryside and provincial cities were out off work. Unemployment among university graduates stood at over 80%.

In Herat, a city of almost half a million inhabitants, a long and depressing line was winding in front of the Iranian embassy. I was told that tens of thousands have already migrated to the other side of the border. Now Afghans who were attempting to visit their relatives living in Iran were told to leave a 300-euro deposit, in case they decide not to return.

I asked what Herat is producing, and was told, without any irony: “mainly just some washing powder and biscuits”. Tourism from Iran stood at only about 150 people a year! The area between the city and the border has been dangerous, and there are frequent kidnappings.

In most provincial cities, a regular family has to get by on 2.300 – 2.500 Afghanis per month, which is not much more than US$30.

Government supplies run water mainly to the government housing projects. People living elsewhere have to dig their own wells.

Electricity is expensive, and an average family in Kabul is now expected to pay around US$35 per month. Even in the capital, many people have to get by without electricity. Indian ‘investors’ are in partnership with the government. Electricity supplies, and even water, are perceived as ‘business ventures’, not as basic social services.

Counting on a decent public transportation in the past, Kabul is now forced to rely on private vehicles, and on those few ‘city buses’ that are ‘pro-profit’ and mainly privately owned and operated.

There are government schools in Afghanistan, and in theory they are free, but books, pencils, uniforms and other basics are not.

In fact, perhaps the most impressive modern structure in Kabul, is actually the 10-story building to Jamhuriat Hospital, a gift from the People’s Republic of China, not from the West.

One wonders where is that fabled great ‘assistance’ from the United States and Europe really going? Perhaps to the millions of tons of concrete, used for construction of the massive fences? Perhaps money sponsors’ purchases of high-tech cameras and surveillance systems, as well as the high-life of thousands of Western ‘contractors’ and ‘security experts’?

I spoke to more than hundreds of Afghan people. Almost no one was ready to mention socialism. As if this wonderful word disappeared, was erased from the local lexicon.

“They actually remember socialism very fondly”, my Japanese acquaintance based in Kabul once told me. “However, talking about it is not encouraged. It may cause all sorts of problems.”

WESTERN (TEMPORARY) VICTORY

While in Kabul, I was told by one of the local experts working for an international organization:

The National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) for Afghanistan was just drafted… The funding came from the West. Many meetings were held directly at the US embassy and at the offices of the World Bank. The Afghan Ministry of Education had very little say about the curriculum, which was basically dictated by the Western countries…

I cannot quote the source of this information, as she would most probably lose her position for expressing such views.

She later clarified further:

The policy decisions on education are proposed by donor parties, which are mostly Western countries. The Ministry of Education, with limited capacity, has a lesser role in drafting the NESP III policy. Instead of building the capacity of the government, donor countries are taking the leading role in changing the education system and this does not ensure a sustainable education for Afghanistan whatsoever.

As in all client states of the West, education in Afghanistan is manipulated and geared to serve the interests of the West. It is expected to produce obedient and unquestioning masses. Instead of determined and productive patriots, it is regurgitating butlers of the regime, which is in turn serving predominately foreign interests.

Almost all information flows through the channels that are at least to some extent influenced from abroad: social media, television networks as well as the printed media.

The fabled Afghan spirit of resistance and courage has been (hopefully only temporarily) brutally broken, under the supervision of highly professional foreign indoctrinators and propagandists.

Those who are willing to collaborate with the occupation forces are suddenly not even hiding it, carrying their condition proudly as if a coat of arms, not as a shame. Many are now delighted to be associated with the West and its institutions.

In fact, the occupation is not even called occupation, anymore, at least not by the elites who are well rewarded by the system for their linguistic and intellectual somersaults and pirouettes.

And Afghan people keep leaving.

Afghanistan is shedding its most talented sons and daughters, every day, every month, irreversibly.

Ms. Yukiko Matsuyoshi, a former Japanese diplomat, presently a UN education expert, is worried about the current trends in Afghanistan, a country where she spent several years:

Now the social classes have been re-created after the fall of Taliban, but the country seems to have no ideology. People just follow trends that are thrown their way. There is corruption, there is that huge poppy business, and there are palaces. And there is misery in the countryside, hardly any access to information. Afghans are leaving their country. Whoever can, goes: good people, government people…it seems like everyone tries to escape.

All of a sudden, the West is perceived like some Promised Land. Those who make it there are bragging about their new ‘home’, sending colorful images through social media: Disneyland, Hollywood, German castles…

I have seen the other side of the coin, in terrible refugee camps in Greece, in the French Calais camps; people drowning while attempting to cross the sea from Turkey to the European Union.

There is no discussion whether Afghanistan should be capitalist or socialist, anymore. Debate has stopped. The decision has been made, somewhere else, obviously.

The faces of Northern Alliance leaders are ‘decorating’ (or some would say, ‘scarring’) all major roads on which I drove. Ahmad Shah Massoud became a national hero, during the Karzai regime.

I travelled more than 100 kilometers north, to see Massoud’s grave, or a thumb, or whatever that monstrosity they erected above the splendid Panjshir Valley really is. Hordes of people drive there on weekends, some all the way from Kabul, and there are even those who pray to the ‘leader’.

The former “anti-Soviet” and anti-Communist fighter, he is certainly a perfect ‘hero’, whose memory is groomed by the pro-Western regime.

Driving through the Panjshir Valley, I saw several Soviet tanks and armored vehicles, rotting by the side of the road. I also saw a destroyed village, an eerie reminder of the war. It is called Dashtak. Clay houses look like a cemetery, like a horrid monument.

Village in the North destroyed during the war

I took photos and sent them to Kabul, to my friends, for identification. I want to know, I felt that I had to know, who razed this town by the river, surrounded by such stunning mountains.

The answer came in a just few minutes: “I think it was in 1984, by the Soviet Union”. What followed was a link leading to a book published in the West, quoting some former Ukrainian, Soviet adviser to an Afghan battalion commander. The name of the book was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.

The quote did not sound too convincing. “Let’s go back”, I asked my driver and translator. “Let’s talk to people on the other side of the river’.

We found three inhabitants, in three different parts of the village; three people old enough to remember what took place here, some 30 years ago. All three testimonies coincided: Massoud’s forces brought refugees from several other parts of the valley. Before the battle began, all of them left. During the combat, clay houses were destroyed, but no civilians died inside.

There are always many different interpretations of the historic events. However, the analyses of modern Afghan history disseminated by the West and the Afghan regime among the Afghan people, are suspiciously unanimous and frighteningly one-sided. I am definitely planning to revisit this point during my next trip to the country. I see it as essential. The future of Afghanistan certainly depends on understanding the past.

*

There are huge zeppelin-drones, vile-looking airborne surveillance stuff, hovering over the US air force base near Bagram. The same drones could be seen levitating over Kabul, but in the Bagram area, with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they look particularly dreadful.

The air force base is huge. It appears even bigger than Incerlik near Adana in Turkey. It is an absolute masterpiece of military vulgarity, with watch towers everywhere, with barbed wire, several layers of concrete walls, surveillance cameras and powerful lights. If this is not an occupation, then what really is?

Again, my driver is totally cool. I want to photograph this monstrosity, and he drives me around, so we can identify a truly good spot. I’m ‘calculating light’, looking for the correct angle, so during the sunset, those who would be observing us from inside the ‘castle’, would be blinded, and we could get at least a few decent images.

I’m aware of the fact that in Afghanistan, the Empire often kills anything that moves, at the slightest suspicion or without any suspicion at all, as for them human lives of the local people count for almost nothing.

Once the sun goes down, I begin working fast.

Somehow I feel that my visit to Afghanistan would be incomplete, without getting at least some images of the base – one of the most expressive symbols of the occupation.

So this is what Afghanistan became under the Western ‘liberating’ boots! Barbed wires, foreign jet fighters, concrete walls everywhere, battles with the religious fundamentalist elements (invented and manufactured by the West), grotesque savage capitalism, ignorant or shameless collaboration, and guns, guns and guns, as well as misery in almost every corner, and one of the lowest life expectancies and standards of living on Earth! And of course, people escaping, leaving this beautiful country behind – a country, which is suddenly unloved, humiliated, abandoned by so many!

This is all happening only roughly four decades after the heroic attempts to build some great social housing projects, after the implementation of a well-functioning public transportation network, public education and medical care, as well as an attempt to introduce secularism, while building a decent, egalitarian society.

The glorious victory of Western imperialism over one of the oldest and greatest cultures seems to be complete. The Brits tried, on several occasions; they murdered and tortured, but were defeated. They never forgave. They waited for decades, and then returned with their muscular and aggressive offspring. And here they are, all of them, now!

Afghanistan appears to be exhausted and defeated. It is badly injured, and it has been dragged through unimaginable dirt.

But I don’t think it is crushed, by the West or by the religious fundamentalists, or by these two historical allies.

Deep inside, Afghanistan knows better. It already experienced many years of hope; it knows the taste of it. During long centuries and millennia of its existence, it survived several dreadful moments, but it always stood up again, undefeated and proud. I’m certain that it will rise again.

Flying, driving or walking through its magnificent mountains, I often felt that Afghanistan is like a living organism, it was winking at me, letting me know that it is alive, that it sees everything that goes on, that it is not futile at all to struggle for its future.

*

I watched the stubs of the electric contacts that used to hold, some decades ago, those long wires used by the legendary Kabul trolley bus network.

“Those beautiful vehicles came from former Czechoslovakia”, a man, an office worker, whom I stopped in the center of the city, told me. “They were beautiful, and do you know who used to drive them? Some young girls; optimistic women who were for some reason always in a good mood.”

Apparently Kabul had three trolleybus lines, one of them originating (or ending) at the ‘Cinema Pamir’. What color were Kabul trolleybuses? I saw some photos, but those I could find were black and white. When I was a child, growing up in Czechoslovakia, ours were red. The ones in Leningrad, the city where I was born, were blue and green, some red as well. When they were accelerating, it was as if they’d be singing a simple song, or whining, complaining mockingly about their hard life.

I imagined a strong-minded, professional woman, boarding these trolleybuses. Perhaps eager to catch one of those old great Soviet movies at the Cinema Pamir, perhaps “the Dawns are Quiet Here”, or going to work or to visit different parts of the city.  She would snuggle into a comfortable seat in the electric vehicle. It was getting dark, but the city was safe. A woman behind the wheel was really smiling. There were flags flying all around the city. There was hope. There was a future. There was a country to build and to love.

 

Afghanistan can still fly

I had suspected that the Kabul trolleybuses were actually light blue. I have no idea why. It was just my intuition.

*

Suddenly I heard a loud bang, and then the squeaking of brakes.

“Roll up the window!” my driver was shouting. We were getting into a slum inhabited by IDPs. We left the road. Dust everywhere, absolute misery. Bagrani town, now Bagrani slums, just a few kilometers east from Kabul, on the Jalalabad Highway.

I grasped the heavy metal body of my professional Nikon.

My dream about Afghanistan of the 70’s, a gentle and enthusiastic country, abruptly ended. Now all around me were children suffering from malnutrition. I heard excited, accusatory voices of men and women who were forced to come from all corners of Afghanistan. We drove on a bumpy road, towards numerous half-collapsed clay structures and dirty tents.

“We escaped fighting in Shinwar, Helmand Province, from around Jalalabad and Kandahar”, several internally displaced persons living in Bagrani were shouting at me:

We have 1.000 families from Helmand and more than 1.000 families from Kandahar, living here. We lost our houses back in our villages and towns… People around Jalalabad lost their homes, too. Daesh (ISIS) is operating in several parts of the country… Taliban fighters are frequently changing sides, joining Daesh. There is fighting going on everywhere: Daesh, Taliban and the government forces confronting each other.

How involved is NATO in general and the US in particular, I ask, through my interpreter.

Americans are there, of course. Mostly they are fighting from the air, but sometimes they are on the ground, too.

Do they kill civilians?

“Yes, they do… Our sons, our husbands are regularly murdered by them”, shouts a woman clothed in a blue burqa, holding a small child in her arms.

Misery is everywhere, destroying the country, I’m told. And there is almost no help coming from the corrupt and the near bankrupt state.

Ms. Sidiqah, an elderly lady, is shouting in desperation and anger: “We have nothing left, but no one helps us! We don’t know what to do.”

As I photograph, a small cluster of people begin to rock the car. Things are getting tense, but I don’t feel that we are facing any immediate danger. I continue working. This is all becoming very personal. I don’t understand why, but it is…

Then, silently, a small group of people approaches us. Among them are a man with a very long beard, and a girl, with a beautiful and tragic face. She is wearing a t-shirt depicting several cute white mice, but the right sleeve is empty. She is missing her entire arm.

A girl without arm

Her face is striking. She stares directly into my camera, and when I lower the lens, I feel her eyes begin to pierce mine. Without one single word uttered, I sense clearly what she is trying to convey:

“What have you done to me?”

I try to hold her glance for at least a few seconds, but then I lower my eyes. Now I‘m in panic. I want to embrace her, hold her, take her away from here, somewhere, somehow; to adopt her, airlift her from here, give her a home, but I know that there is no way I would be allowed to do it. My glasses get very foggy. I mumble something incoherent. I am tough, I witnessed dozens of wars, I faced death on various occasions. I try to keep calm whenever I’m in places like this; whenever working. What is happening to me here and now happens very rarely, but it does happen.

It is March 4th 2017, Afghanistan. My flight is schedule to depart the next day, late in the afternoon. I know that I will take it. But I also realize, and I silently make my pledge to this tiny girl with the cute mice and an empty sleeve, that I will never fully leave her country.

*

What will happen later is predicable: yet another sleepless night. Everything will be back, play itself like a film inside my brain. Bagrani provisional camp, another camp that is housing evacuees from Kunduz, some active mine fields in the middle of Herat, those hundreds of living corpses vegetating in the middle of District 6 in Kabul, then several explosions, innumerable rotting carcasses of Soviet tanks, the eerie and enormous US air force base near Bagram, Massoud’s bizarre grave, white zeppelin-drones, concrete walls, watch towers, security checks, and hollow muzzles of various types of guns pointing in all directions.

Air force Bagrani base

I’ll be tired, exhausted, but I’ll be well aware that I have no right to rest, not now, not anytime soon.

I’ll keep thinking about Cinema Pamir, about Kabul trolleybuses, and Block 21 in the socialist-style neighborhood of Makroyan … 4th floor, entrance 2 or perhaps 3… I’ll keep imagining what could have taken place there, if life had not been so abruptly and so brutally interrupted.

Afghanistan, a stunning but terribly scarred and injured land has been suffering from a concussion. It has been dizzy and disoriented. It can hardly walk. Still it being Afghanistan, it has been walking anyway, against all odds!

Later that night, I’ll recall what one great Cuban poet and singer Silvio Rodriquez once wrote about Nicaragua. And at one point, only a few moments before the dawn would begin returning bright colors to the world, I’ll replace Nicaragua with Afghanistan, and suddenly realize that it is exactly what I feel towards this beautiful and shattered nation: “Afghanistan hurts, as only love does.”

It hurts like love…

It hurts… terribly. Therefor, it is love.

All that would happen later, hours later. At the end I’ll stop fighting it, and simply accept.

But now, the old Toyota climbs back on the paved road. I can hardly keep my eyes open. The last several days I slept very little.

Mr. Tahir, my driver and now my comrade, looks surprisingly composed and unworried. After all this time working with me, he is clearly ready for any adventure, or any nightmare.

He hands me a bunch of tissues. My left wrist is bleeding, although not too badly. Most likely I hit or scratched something in the slums, without realizing it. My cameras feel increasingly heavy and my notebook looks filthy; I keep dropping it on the floor. My clothes look dirty, too. But we are going, we are moving forward, and that is good!

“It is all fucked up, Mr. Tahir”, I inform him, politely.

“Yes, Sir”, he replies, with an equal doze of respect. We are a good team.

“But we are going”, I remind him and myself.

“We are going, sir.”

Again my head drops on my chest. I open my eyes just a few minutes later. It is already very dark. Kabul all around me; Afghanistan. It feels good to be here. I’m glad I came.

“Where to now, sir?”

“Jalalabad, Mr. Tahir.”

“Sir? Jalalabad is behind… And at this hour…”

He is not saying no. He never says ‘no’ to any of my requests, during all those days. He is just informing me. If I was really crazy enough and insisted, he’d just take me. He knows we’d get fucked, perhaps even killed, but he would not refuse. He’s my comrade and I feel safe with him.

“Sorry, I fell asleep… What I mean: we’ll go to Jalalabad soon, when I return to Afghanistan.”

I am thinking for a few seconds. This drive, just being here, all of it feels right, exactly as it is supposed to be. I’m not certain where exactly I want to go right now, but one thing I know for sure: I have to keep going.

“Please, just drive, Mr. Tahir.”

“Forward?” He asks, intuitively. I know that he knows. We both know, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

“Yes, please. Drive forward. Always forward!”

Posted in Afghanistan0 Comments

Judicial Procedures against Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders against Muslims

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trump executive order

On 9 March 2017, Douglas Chin, A federal judge in Hawaii, challenged the new executive order of President Donald Trump, dated 6 March 2017, in which he blocked citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Attorneys for the state have prepared a new request on 7 March asking a federal judge to suspend the new presidential order. Douglas Chin has stated that sections 2 and 6 of Trump’s executive order were contrary to the constitution and the laws of the US, and the president, issuing the order, has exceeded his authority.

Apparently, the reason of the issuance of the order, as has been explicated in section one thereof, is to protect the US from the terrorist attacks by foreign nationals.

Before the issuance of the new order, Trump had also issued, on 27 January 2017, executive order 13769 according to which he imposed an immigration ban on the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia.

In reaction to the executive order 13769 issued by president Donald Trump, District Judge James Robart of the United States District Court for Western District of Washington issued a ruling temporarily blocking major portions of the executive order. Although as a result of order 13769, and contrary to basic rules of human rights, hundreds of travellers entered into the US have been in detention for hours in the US international airports deprived from accessibility to their own families as well as from legal assistances, and more than 60,000 visas have temporary been annulled, it appears that president Donald Trump does not want to back down from his position.

Last time, although Trump administration tried to reverse Robart’s ruling, the Court of Appeal rejected the request of the Justice Department unanimously on February 9. Therefore, Trump decided to plan a new executive order banning immigrants from six countries, excluding Iraq this time for her cooperation, as has been expressed in the order, with the US-led coalition to fight against ISIS. The new order has less limitations than the order 13769.

In 2011, Obama’s state department suspended the processing of Iraqi refugee requests for six months. Also, according to H.R.158, Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, signed by Obama, the Visa Waver Program allows citizens from 38 countries to enter the US without a visa up to 90 days. Under the Program, citizens of those 38 countries who had travelled to Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan after March 2011 were no longer eligible for the visa waver. Libya, Somalia, and Yemen were later added to the list.

Although the Trump administration recurrently claims that their policy is similar to that of president Obama, it seems to be fallacious for two reasons: firstly, in 2011, there was a specific threat, and secondly, Obama’s order was so much narrower in scope.

According to the section 2(c) of the new order, the entry of nationals of the above mentioned six Muslim-majority countries into the US is suspended for 90 days. It has been contended that the restrictions, as well as additional procedures, in the executive order have been taken to impede threats to the national security and welfare of the United States.

But According to a report published by Charles Kurzman, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (hereafter referred to as “the report”), on 26 January 2017, terrorism by Muslims constitutes one-third of one percent of all murders in the US.

Whereas the population of Muslims in the US is about 3.3 million people, according to the report, 46 Muslim-Americans were associated with violent extremism in 2016, which has been 40 percent drop from 2015. It should be noted that according to the report, 20 percent (9 of 46) of these individuals had family background for seven countries which was subject to the limitation of the order 13769. It is worth noting that whereas Iraq has been removed from the limitations, the percentage of those individuals is less than 20 percent at the moment. Of those 46, only 24 were actually implicated in a concrete terrorist plot. On the contrary, 11000 US nationals were murdered in gun homicide, in 2016, and Trump has never issued an order to limit that violence. Hence, statistic shows that the new executive order of the US president is discriminatory.

Therefore, it seems that the new executive order, although milder than executive order 13769 with regard to the limitations, is not different to the latter, and both of them are against fundamental human rights and democracy.

According to article 4(1) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the US also is one of the members,

“In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.”

Although it is doubtful that the US is in time of public emergency, even if she was in such a situation, the order would be contrary to article 4(1) of ICCPR for its being political motivated and discriminatory against Muslim-majority countries.

Also, if the US has problems with the governments of those 6 countries, she has no logical base to create limitations against their nationals, the majority of them are not involved in politics.

It seems that once more the judiciary of the US will be exposed to another great trial. It remains to be seen how far it can withstand against Mr Trump’s support for his recurrent immigration bans, this time on the citizens of six Muslim-majority countries.

Posted in Middle East, USA0 Comments

Syria: Dangerous Fracture in US, Turkey and Russian Interests, as Operation to Oust ISIS from Raqqa Begins

3-Turkey-Meeting

After six years of constant conflict between the great powers in and around Syria, the US, Russia and Turkish military leaders have gathered in Antalya, Turkey to discuss how best to coordinate their operation to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham/Levant (ISIS/ISL) from Raqqa. Discussions also include operations in Iraq. Some are calling this summit a potential game changer, but that really depends on whether the new game is any improvement to the situation. 

This high-level meeting included General Staff, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.

On the surface, it’s certainly good to see the top US, Russian and Turkish brass at the same table. Granted, this development is a direct result of the change in government in Washington, even while back home Capitol Hill is engulfed in a fit of anti-Russian hysteria where any overture or bilateral meeting between a US and Russian official is being billed as a prelude to treason. Indeed, no military dialogue with Russia would have been possible under President Obama, who seemed to be married to his Administration’s stated policy of regime change in Syria and arming and supporting Sunni extremist militant groups, many who are designated as terrorists, in Syria – both policies that are vehemently opposed by Moscow.

Turkey Syria Meeting copy
According to one Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, the results of this trilateral meeting “could change the whole picture” in Syria. Will it be a change for the better?

That all depends of course, on the sincerity of Turkey, which, since the very beginning of this conflict in 2011, has been the number one facilitator for the war across its southern border, by allowing its country to provide safe haven to tens of thousands of terrorist fighters, as well as maintaining continuous supply lines in and out of Syria.

For nearly six years, Turkey has allowed its border city of Gaziantep to be used as the main ISIS supply center for terrorist commerce, including the trafficking of stolen goods, antiques – and also children and human organs too. It’s also the central terrorist hub for ‘opposition fighters’ – a place for recruiting, housing, training, dispatching and providing medical triage for terrorists wounded in Syria.

All this has been done under the watchful eye and supervision of NATO member state Turkey. A number of dubious western-funded ‘NGOs’ like the White Helmets are based in Gaziantep. Likewise, the joint US-NATO military facility at Incirlik Air Base is nearby, which has been used for various special training, equipping and deployment operations involving ‘rebel’ fighters. Without Turkey’s facilitation in these matters, the Syrian War might have ended years ago, with countless lives saved.

In addition, despite hollow denials by the government, Turkey has provided ISIS its main financial lifeline by trafficking in oil, stolen by ISIS from Syria, and laundered through Turkey for sale on the open market.

Meanwhile, the US military has begun its roll-out of ground assets into Syria. You wouldn’t know it if you were watching CNN though, who kept mostly busy covering ‘Women’s Day’ this week, along with labouring over idiosyncratic aspects of Obama-Trumpcare. This week reports suggest that the Pentagon just deployed a 3rd Ranger US battalion based out of Fort Benning, Georgia… inside of Syria. You would think this would be headline news, if nothing else but to ignite what is left of the liberal anti-war movement in the US who should jump at the chance to attribute this latest military action to their symbol of evil, President Donald Trump. Even FOX News passed-up on the patriotic scene of an armoured convoy of M1126 Stryker Armoured Vehicles flying Old Glory while parading through the northern Syrian countryside.

The US forces were heading for the outskirts of Manbij where they’ll be joined by Kurdish YPG forces, camped there under the latest US-sponsored militia banner de jour, a confab known as the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF). If the US media kept mostly quiet e about this deployment, aside from a few casual media and web references, then that’s probably what the Pentagon wanted.

Here’s where the tension lies: the United States may also have sent in ground assets as show of force in support of its allies the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protect Units in Syria). This is a potential spat between the two NATO member states –  which is a major problem for Turkey. The Turkish government considers them a terrorist organisation, an appendage to its nemesis the Kurdish PKK. It’s also a problem for Russia too, insofar as Russia is attempting détente with Turkey by coordinating military operations as they pertain to fighting ISIS in northern Syria, and with the eventual joint siege of Raqqa.

It gets worse – in addition to the Rangers armoured regiment, on Thursday the US also announced that additional US Marines from an amphibious task force have also been deployed to Syria from their ships in the Middle East, setting up artillery positions in range of Raqqa. So, that’s it – Trump is now busy putting American boots on the ground inside Syria, and meanwhile the US media and liberal establishment are still too busy obsessing over baseless Russian Hacking conspiracy theories. If there was ever a moment in history that demonstrates just how useless the Fourth Estate in America has become, this is that moment.

According to one Turkish official, this US alliance with the YPG would be an unacceptable obstacle to Turkey’s ambitions in Syria:

“… It appears that the U.S. may carry out this operation with the YPG, not with Turkey. And at the same time the U.S. is giving weapons to the YPG,” the official said.

Reuters also reports:

“Ankara has been pressing the United States to change its strategy for fighting Islamic State in Syria by abandoning the YPG and instead drawing on Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels to retake Raqqa. Turkey views the YPG and its political affiliate the PYD as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency against the Turkish government.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan maintains that his military’s next target is Manbij, but the only problem is the town is already controlled by the SDF. To make matters worse for Turkey, after battling with Turkish-backed FSA rebels west of Manbij at the beginning of March, the Manbij Military Council (SDF and related militias) quickly struck a deal, apparently brokered by Russian officials, to hand over front-line villages to Syrian government control – effectively preventing the area from coming under Turkish control. This move has reportedly incensed Erdogan who hoped to keep the area under Turkish control. The situation is already complex, and therefore highly risky for the diverging interests of US and Turkey. Suffice to say, if there’s no serious coordination between all parties, not just the US, Russia and Turkey, but also the Syrian army and its allies – then the chances of success drop dramatically. That said, Manbij could easily end in tears for everyone.

Back in August 2016, western media blotted-out another important story – when Turkey invaded Syria. As usual, crickets from CNN, FOX and the rest of the press corps. At the time, Turkey was supposedly working with “Allied Syrian rebels” backed by both the United States and Turkey – to seize the ISIS-held border town of Jarabulus in Syria, allegedly to cut off ISIS’s last supply intoTurkey. Looking at Turkey’s longstanding interaction with ISIS to date, this seemed improbable. The “allied rebels” working with Turkey included the ‘Free Syrian Army’ and Faylaq al-Sham; both are known radical militant terrorist groups whom the West spuriously lists as “moderates.” This terrorist joint force then proceeded to march through the streets of Jarabulus flying their “Syrian Independence Flag” (the infamous green, black and white flag adopted by the Syrian ‘opposition’). Shortly after Turkey’s illegal invasion, it was reported that ISIS had actually left the town a week or so earlier indicating that it was most likely tipped-off in advance (by whom?) and had evacuated the border town up before Turkey’s ‘surprise’ invasion. A possible cover story for this was that US airstrikes ‘drove ISIS out.’ Bear in mind, Turkey is doing all of this inside Syrian territory, without any invitation from Damascus.

In terms of fighting ISIS in this part of Syria, only the Kurdish forces have a proven track record of fighting – and winning – against ISIS. Compare this to Turkey’s matador-style relationship ISIS, which does not have a track record of effectiveness, and who could blame them, afterall, Turkey is host enough of them within its own borders. The last thing Ankara would want to do is to get on the bad side of its house guests. If anything, Turkey seems to favour ISIS, particularly if they prove useful in achieving Ankara’s own containment objectives against both the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Army, but also in assisting with Turkey’s other stated objective which is the ouster of Bashar al Assad.

It should also be noted that in August 2015, PKK leader Cemil Bayik based in Iraqi Kurdistan, told the BBC that Turkey is protecting ISIS by attacking Kurds. Based on the events on the ground over the last 18 months, and not the rhetoric of the Erdogan government, this statement appears to be factually true.

In grand Ottoman style, Turkey is calling their regional conquest “Operation Euphrates Shield“. Turkish military claims it is fighting terrorists, but all evidence suggests that it is undermining the Syrian government forces at every turn.

Czech-born American journalist Andre Vltchek recently spoke to one resident who aptly described the farce along the Turkish-Syrian border:

“Jarabulus is under the control of the Turkish military. Just imagine: the Turkish government doesn’t allow Syrian President Assad to send fighter jets nearer than 3 kilometers to the border, but it allows ISIS to come as close as 3 meters. We should have never interfered with the domestic policy of Syria, and there would be peace!”

One thing that Turkey and the US agree on is to freeze out the Syrian Army and its allies as much as possible, presumably, so they can broker the eventual carving-up of this part of Syria into semi-autonomous ethnic cantons (sowing the seeds for a future territorial dispute, in the great colonial tradition) and other hackneyed constructs like ‘Safe Zones’ and certain refugees camps which will certainly grow out out of the eventual multi-nation attack on Raqqa. How does Damascus feel about the Turkey, the US and its ‘Coalition’, alongside Russia – all making plans that will most likely end up in Syria losing significant chunks of its territory and natural resources? In that sense, Russia is playing a key role here, and can possibly act as a mediator between Turkey and Syria.

Like the operation to retake Mosul in Iraq, the operation to retake Raqqa in Syria will likely result in at least half of the city’s 200,000 population fleeing towards Turkey, and so the US and Turkey would like nothing more than to play the saviour for the global media, taking credit for “saving countless lives” and looking after all of those poor ‘victims of war.’ Already in Mosul, the US-led Coalition is responsible for killing hundreds of civilians through its airstrikes, and who knows how many more from artillery and crossfire. Considering the relative success of the retaking of East Aleppo by the Syrian Army, in conjunction with the Russian military and its ground partners, Lebanese Hezbollah militias and Iranian Special Forces, liberated a large urban area from four and half years of terrorist occupation under Al Nusra Front and its assorted ‘rebel’ (terrorist) affiliates like Arar al Sham and others – it would make sense to bring in the Syrian Army, Russia and their ground partners into the fold to help defeat a common enemy – ISIS, but that is not what is happening. This is a segregated affair.

Whatever Turkey’s interests are in this story, one thing is for sure it is not publicising them to the world. Divergent interests and fundamental goals might result a serious fracture in how this delicate operation will be negotiated and executed, and this could mean more unintended consequences, not just for Turkey, US, Russia, and let’s please not forget Syria, but for the entire region, and possibly the world. Turkey will most certainly use this opportunity to take control of that which it believes is its rightful booty, and use this result to help reshape the region as part of its own ‘Great Middle East Project’, Ankara’s overlay to the US-NATO blueprint of a similar name.

Below is a segment from earlier this week with Press TV, where we discussed some of the dynamics at play with the current trilateral strategy negotiations between Russia, Turkey and the US:

Clearly, despite their differences in bedfellows, both Turkey and US see this operation as a race against time – not against ISIS, but against the Syrian government – who are making rapid advances through previously held ISIS territory toward Raqqa by holding key positions in Deir Ezzor, a key gateway to Raqqa, and more importantly Manbij – thus cutting-off any further Turkish advances into its self-styled ‘buffer zone’ which it has carved out (on paper) in northern Syria.Turkey has staked a tremendous amount of military and also political capital in the facilitation of ISIS and other terrorists fighting in Syria since as early as 2010-2011, so one might suspect whether or not Turkey has plans to use its buffer zone to safely evacuate elite ISIS fighters to safety in Turkey, allowing them to fight another day, after safely disperse back to their respective countries of origin – back to China’s Xinjiang province, in the case of the fierce Uyghur militants, along with battle-hardened NATO-friendly fighters hailing from Kosovo, Dagestan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, France, the UK and the list goes on.

Why Turkey insists on being in control of a situation that it has played a founding role in creating – is beyond analysis at this point. It seems that events and geopolitical outcomes may have overtaken any possibility of adjudicating the crimes of the sponsors of this horrific war against Syria. If that’s the case, then this will be an even greater tragedy because, as was the case with NATO member states’ sponsorship of extremist brigades in Kosovo, no one will be held to account, which increases the chances of another repeat in the future.

For the United States and Trump, it’s still all about “Defeating ISIS”. How they square this with Turkey’s regional hegemonic designs may determine how the final act of this tiresome epic eventually plays out.

An American-born writer, global affairs analyst, Patrick Henningsen is founder and Executive Editor of 21st Century Wire and is a regular guest commentator for RT International and host of the successful SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR), and on AM terrestrial radio in the US with ‘Patrick Henningsen LIVE’ on Independent Talk 1100 KFNX in Phoenix. His work has appeared in a number of international publications including the UK Column, The Guardian and Consortium News.

NOTE: As turned out, I had to go to a Russian news agency, RT’s video outlet RUPTLY in order to first see images of this US military deployment in Syria. If we had to rely solely on the US media, we’d all be extremely under-informed (it would be great to see someone make this point at the upcoming March 20th US Congressional Hearings on alleged ‘Russian meddling’ into the US elections).

Posted in Syria0 Comments

Venezuela Cash Reserves Reach New Low Amid U.S.- Led Sabotage

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Venezuela Currency Slide

From 1958 up until Chávez’s presidency began in 1998, Venezuelan politics rigidly conformed to U.S. political and economic interests on all strategic issues. For nearly 40 years, Venezuela was at the U.S.’ beck and call – following Washington’s lead in breaking off relations with Cuba, supporting U.S. invasions of other Latin American nations and backing U.S. counter-insurgency policies throughout the region.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Venezuelan government moved to make the nation’s economy subservient to U.S. interests by committing to programs promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that privatized the majority of the nation’s resources  and introduced drastic austerity programs.

While U.S. corporations reaped massive profits,Venezuela’s inflation hit triple digits, its unemployment rate spiked and poverty rates hovered around 50 percent. As a result, these policies fostered caustic resentment against U.S. domination of Venezuela’s political and economic structures, resulting in the rise of Hugo Chávez.

Chávez, upon becoming president, worked to unchain Venezuela from U.S. influence, passing numerous reforms and nationalizing key utilities that had been privatized decades earlier. These efforts, which translated into dwindling U.S. influence, earned him the ire of the Bush administration, whose efforts to oust Chávez culminated in the failed coup attempt of 2002.

Emboldened by the U.S.’ failed regime change efforts, Chávez then moved to nationalize Venezuelan oil and even more utilities, ejecting numerous U.S.-based multinational corporations in the process. Though the U.S. refrained from attempting to overthrow him, the Venezuelan government has accused them of being responsible for Chávez’s untimely death in 2013 – claiming that they induced the cancer that claimed his life as a covert means of assassination.

In the years since Chávez’s death, his successor Maduro has been fighting wave after wave of destabilization attempts. Most of these efforts have manifested economically, including widespread shortages of goods and basic necessities. However, on more than one occasion, Venezuelan authorities have caught businesses hoarding food, medicine and other goods in order to create the appearance of scarcity while raising profits through massive price increases and the smuggling of goods to Colombia.

The Venezuelan government has also accused these businesses of intentionally creating scarcity with the goal of fueling unrest that could destabilize the government. If history is any indication, this is quite likely, considering the same tactics were used against the Allende government in Chile in the 1970s.

However, the most destabilizing influence of all has been lower global oil prices. Venezuela’s economy is largely dependent on oil exports, which represent 90 percent of its total exports. Thus, the decline in oil prices has done a number on the nation’s economy – even forcing them to import oil due to the financial difficulties plaguing the country’s refineries.

This decrease in oil prices has not been based on the whims of the market, but rather a concerted effort led by the U.S. and its ally Saudi Arabia. The artificial lowering of oil prices has several benefits for the U.S.-Saudi alliance due to the economic harm it inflicts on the Saudi’s oil-producing competitors – chief among them Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. These are also countries that the U.S. aims to contain.

Maduro was well aware of the situation when he asked rhetorically: “What is the reason for the United States and some U.S. allies wanting to drive down the price of oil? To harm Russia.” But Venezuela has arguably been much harder hit than any other country targeted by the price drop.

Another tactic employed by the U.S. to force Maduro out of power has been the imposition of sanctions. In 2015, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela, asserting that the South American nation was a direct threat to U.S. national security, despite no evidence offered to support this claim. At the time, many journalists and analysts noted that the timing was odd, as it coincided with the Obama administration’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba.

“President Barack Obama … has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it,” Maduro said in a televised address soon after the sanctions were announced.

Despite Venezuela’s resilience against U.S.-led sabotage for nearly two decades, they may not be able to hold out for much longer. Venezuela’s cash reserves have dwindled to a mere 10.5 billion dollars, 7.2 billion of which they must use this year just to pay off outstanding debts. These latest figures, based off of data recently released by the nation’s central bank, show that the South American nation’s reserves have declined dramatically. For instance, in 2015, Venezuela had 20 billion dollars in reserves and, in 2011, it held over 30 billion dollars.

Venezuela is running out of time, as the country is set to run out of cash within a year or two. But the day of reckoning could come sooner if the U.S. and the Saudis choose to collude once again in slashing global oil prices, as this would further crippling Venezuela’s economy.

Some of Venezuela’s more powerful allies may try to keep the Maduro-led government afloat. But if Venezuela’s government were to run out of funds and subsequently collapse, it would only be the latest leftist government to fall in a nearly century-old U.S. government effort to eradicate socialism and democracy in Latin America.

Posted in USA, Venezuela0 Comments

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Made in Britain, Tested on Yemenis: The Reality of Working for the “Bomb-makers”

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YEMEN-CONFLICT

Jack sits down with his pint in the Fielden Arms in Mellor, and contemplates his latest shift making Typhoon warplanes for the Saudi air force.

Tucking into steak and chips, the 25-year-old talks of moving in with his girlfriend, his good pay at the nearby BAE factory – £40,000, almost twice the local average – and the security it brings.

And then he thinks of the people those planes will be sent to kill.

“You see the children in Yemen starving on the 10 o’clock news,” he tells Middle East Eye. “But you try to not pay attention and just get on with it.”

His friend, Harry, interjects: “It’s really weird and there is no way to describe it, because you are in essence building a weapon of mass destruction.”

So why don’t they quit? “Good pay and job security,” Jack responds, taking another sip of his beer. “If the military contracts go, 7,000 people go with them.”

Jack is like thousands of others who works at the BAE Systems factory in nearby Samlesbury, outside Preston in Lancashire, making parts that will be assembled in nearby Warton to create Typhoons, the most advanced jet fighters operated by the Saudis over Yemen.

There, the Saudis have contributed to a civil war with the most terrible violence: bombing civilians, blowing up hospitals, and imposing a siege that has condemned millions of Yemenis to slow starvation and poverty.

And Britain, in its wisdom, has sold the Saudis the hardware to do it. Since the war began in 2015, the UK has approved arms sales to Riyadh worth more than $3.3bn. Many of those weapons have come from BAE factories like Samlesbury, built by workers like Jack.

This prompted anti-arms trade campaigners to launch a judicial review in February to stop arms exports to the Saudi government until it stops committing human rights atrocities in Yemen. The decision on that review is due in the coming months.

St Oswald’s church in Warton (Wikipedia)

All the while, BAE continues to expand its operations in the north-west of England, and the contracts keep coming. It is building a solar farm the size of nine football fields, creating hundreds of new apprenticeships, and is already Preston’s largest employer with 9,000 staff. Under the £40bn al-Salam deal, signed in 2007 to a 25,000-strong celebration in Preston, BAE has delivered 68 of 72 Typhoons ordered, and another 48 may soon be agreed.

And in the surrounding villages, where the quiet life is punctuated by the sonic booms of jets and the rumble of lorries on narrow roads, the business is welcomed, even venerated. BAE is woven into the fabric of a local life, where generations have manned BAE’s machine rooms.

There is pride in what they do. “Lancashire has a strong history of building fighter jets, and we are proud to be building them,” said Mike Harris, who has worked as an electric fitter in Samlesbury. ”We produce the best in the world.”

“We can’t build washing machines because we have a history of building fighter planes,” Harris said. ”That’s what we do and want to carry on doing.”

And a block on that expertise would be devastating.

Audrey Charnley sits in the old church opposite BAE’s Warton factory, the main assembly site for Typhoon jets, and speaks of the “problem” for locals if it was to close or lose business due to the efforts of anti-war activists.

Many villagers like Audrey have family who have worked for there. She doesn’t like the “idea” of Warton building fighter jets – “but somebody would be building the jets if Warton wasn’t”.

As to the war in Yemen, “we want peace, just like the peace we feel in this church”, she says.

The same thought is echoed across the way at the local village hall, which Lynn Shuttleworth helps run. “If they didn’t do it here they would do it somewhere else,” she says, before commenting on a more pressing local issue: “Does cause a lot of traffic I must admit.”

Britain has sold Saudi Arabia dozens of Typhoon fighter jets (wikimedia)

And at the Clifton Arms, next to Warton’s factory, Taylor James pulls pints for the workers emerging from their shifts. He knows that victory for the judicial review will hit him and his family’s pub hard.

He’s never really heard of Yemen, or its current catastrophe, and neither – he says – have many people in the area.

“Because it’s not personally affecting me, I don’t really get involved or have an interest in what the planes are used for.”

Politics by other means

Politics may not be the concern of some locals, but it plays a central part in the world in which they live. What is made by BAE has local, national and international repercussions, and has turned parties and traditional allies against each other.

Many in Samlesbury and Warton are members of Unite, the union that helped propel anti-war activist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party. Twice.

He is opposed to Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and its bombing campaign in Yemen. Union representatives say opposition to Saudi exports is “misguided”.

Simon Brown, who represents thousands at Warton, rationalises that position. He says maintaining trade with Saudi Arabia ensures Britain has a say in what it does.

“Trading gives us influence to talk about the things we’re not happy about in these regimes,” he said at a discussion at the Unite HQ in Salford. “If we left them on their own, we won’t have influence.”

Another senior Unite official, who spoke to MEE anonymously, skips the platitudes for a more succinct answer: it’s about the jobs.

“Of course our members don’t agree with what Saudi are doing in Yemen, it’s barbaric,” says the official.

However, he absolves his members of responsibility: “The government’s created a situation where people can do nothing but work for BAE.”

Andy Clough, a Unite union spokesman at Warton and worker since 1979, agrees: “I’ve seen whole families work there,” he says. “It’s still like that now. There are fathers and sons. That’s the sort of culture that we have.”

Nigel Evans, the local Conservative MP for the Samlesbury factory, has been a staunch defender of BAE systems in parliament.

His last appearance in parliament described the presence of BAE systems in Lancashire as “important” and providing “thousands of jobs for the Ribble Valley and Lancashire” area.

Their loss, he said, would be devastating.

But Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade disagrees. He says that the arms trade is, in fact, a very small part of the British economy.

“Arms companies enjoy a huge influence in the corridors of power, which has bought them a lot of power,” he says.

“We want to see an industrial strategy that puts the skills of industry workers to good use and focuses on positive, substantive jobs and not those dependent on war and conflict.”

According to the Oxford Economics groupBAE in 2013 exported £3.8bn worth of weapons, including missiles, naval systems and jets – 69 per cent of which was sent to countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

But that £3.8bn represents just one percent of all the British economy’s exports.

Smith’s group has another option – last year it launched itsarms to renewables campaign, which argues skilled engineers could be moved into industries that can build a new future, rather than destroy it.

Skilled engineers will always be in demand, it says.

The Lightning that stands outside the Samlesbury factory (screengrab)

Back in Samlesbury, such high-minded thinking is just that.

When the shifts change, workers file in and out of the steel gates of the 700-acre site, guarded by a life-sized model of a Lightning, a famous cold war fighters built by English Electric, a forerunner of BAE.

A real one used to stand here – in active service, it was flown by the Saudis in the 1970s.

Workers who take a moment to speak to MEE have the unmistakable pride of decades of excellence, while conceding their concerns about where their jets end up.

But that’s just the way it is.

And the BAE of the future will continue to build expert killing machines: The company has recently signed a multi-million contract to develop a new generation of armed drones, another weapon common in the skies of Yemen, and beyond.

Jack, in the pub in Mellor, is aware this is where his future may lie: building robots for foreign states to kill foreign people in foreign lands.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he says. “We’re caved in, making it impossible to work anywhere else, because we’ve all got specific skills.”

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The Dubious Story of the Murder of Kim Jong-nam, Brother of DPRK Leader Kim Jong-un

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Kim_jong_nam

In the West, even among people who consider themselves not susceptible to government-corporate media propaganda, any wild story about North Korea can be taken as credible. We should ask ourselves why that is the case, given what we know about the history of government and media fabrications, often related to gaining our acquiescence to a new war.

The corporate media reports North Korean agents murdered Kim Jong Nam with a banned chemical weapon VX. They fail to add that the US government is not a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. They rarely note the Malaysian police investigating the case have not actually said North Korea is connected to his death.

The story of his death or murder raises a number of serious questions. North Korea says Kim Jong Nam was not murdered, but suffered from heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, required constant medication, and this caused his death. The North Korean diplomat in Malaysia Ri Tong-il “cited the postmortem examination conducted by Malaysian health authorities, claiming that the postmortem showed Jong-nam died of a heart attack.”

Malaysian authorities conducted two autopsies, the second after the first said to be inconclusive in identifying a cause of death, before announcing well over a week later that VX was involved.

What was going on here? And why weren’t the autopsies made open to others besides Malaysian officials?

Why was the South Korean government the first country to come out quickly after Kim’s February 13 death to blame North Korea for murdering him with the VX nerve weapon – before Malaysia had determined anything? The Malaysian autopsy was not complete until February 23, ten days later.

Why did these two women charged with murder travel several times to South Korea before this attack occurred?

Why was the only North Korean arrested in the case released for lack of evidence?

The two women did not wear gloves, but had the liquid directly on their hands.  “The police said the four North Korean suspects who left the country the day of the killing put the VX liquid on the women’s hands.”They later washed it off.  Why did none of them die or even get sickened by it? No reports say they went to the hospital.

“Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu  Khalid said the women knew they were handling poisonous materials during the attack…. leading forensic toxicologists who study murder by poison… question how the two women could walk away unscathed after deploying an agent potent enough to kill Kim Jong Nam before he could even make it to the hospital.”

“Tens of thousands of passengers have passed through the airport since the apparent assassination was carried out. No areas were cordoned off and protective measures were not taken.”

Why, if a highly deadly VX used to kill Kim, did the terminal remain open to thousands of travelers, and not shut down and checked for VX until February 26, 13 days later?

Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said “VX only requires 10 milligrams to be absorbed into the system to be lethal,” yet he added that there have been no reports of anyone else being sickened by the toxin.

DPRK’s Ri Tong-il said in his statement, “How is it possible” the two ladies survived? “How is it possible” no single person in the airport got contaminated? “How is it possible” no nurse, no doctor, no police escorting Kim after the attack were affected?

Why does Malaysia, which acknowledges Kim Jong Nam is Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, make the outrageous demand that Kim’s body won’t be released to North Korea until a close family member provides a sample of their own DNA?

From what we are told, the story does not add up.

Ri Tong-il asked in his same statement “Why is South Korea trying so hard [to blame the DPRK] in this instance? They have a great political crisis inside South Korea [which is quite true] and they need to divert people’s attention,” noting also that the two women involved traveled to South Korea and that South Korea blamed the North for murder by VX the very day it happened.

Stephen Lendman also gives a plausible explanation:

“Here’s what we know. North Korean senior representatives were preparing to come to New York to meet with former US officials, a chance for both sides to discuss differences diplomatically, hopefully leading to direct talks with Trump officials.

The State Department hadn’t yet approved visas, a positive development if arranged.

Reports indicate North Korea very much wanted the meeting to take place. Makes sense. It would indicate a modest thaw in hostile relations, a good thing if anything came of it.

So why would Pyongyang want to kill Kim Jong-nam at this potentially sensitive time, knowing it would be blamed for the incident, talks likely cancelled?

Sure enough, they’re off, Pyongyang accused of killing Kim, even though it seems implausible they planned and carried out the incident, using agents in Malaysia to act as proxies.”

Is possible that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided to murder his apolitical brother, chosing to do so by using a banned highly toxic agent in public, under video cameras in a crowded airport of a friendly country? Instead of say, doing it by easier means in the North Korean Embassy’s guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur, where the New York Times said his brother sometimes stayed?

We are not supposed to doubt what we are spoon fed, that Kim Jong Un is some irrational war-mongering madman who has instituted a reign of terror. A safer bet is this is a new attempt to beat the drums of war against North Korea and its allies.

 

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Syrian Government Forces Crash ISIS In Aleppo, Aim Raqqah ”Video”

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aleppo militant

The Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces, supported by the Syrian and Russian air forces, have continued making impressive gains against the ISIS terrorist group in the province of Aleppo.

The Tiger Forces further advanced along the Euphrates River and entered the Jirah Airbase.

Now, when the ISIS-held town of Dier Hafer is de-facto cut-off from the rest of the ISIS-held area in central Syria, its liberation will become the main short-term goal of government forces.

 

Experts believe that after Deir Hafer government forces will likely advance along the Deir Hafer-al-Tabaqah road, expanding the buffer zone east of Khanasser and putting additional pressure on ISIS units operating in the area of Raqqah.

The hidden Russian-US cooperation in Syria was already proven with the Manbij case when Moscow and Washington acted together in order to prevent the Turkish army and pro-Turkish militant groups from attacking Kurdish forces in the area.

There is a chance that the US and Russia will act jointly in order to retake the ISIS self-proclaimed capital of Raqqah even if this is not promoted openly in the mainstream media. If government forces reach al-Tabqa, they will isolate Raqqah from the southern flank and US-backed forces will be able to avoid the need to cut across the Euphrates River in the area. In this case, the fall of Raqqah will take place much faster then it’s expected by experts.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to expand the military force deployed to Syria. The US military is expanding the Kobani Airport runway in order to be able to receive large transport aircraft, the Basnews agency, based in the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, reported on Monday, citing a source in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“The source explained that “the airport runway in the past was 1,100 meters long with the width of 60 meters, and it is expected to be expanded to 1,700 meters long and 110 meters wide,” adding that a four-meter-tall wall will also be erected around the airport,” the article reads.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which are the core of the SDF, have been allegedly discharged from protecting the area. The airport is now guarded by US troops.

The intensification of the operation to retake Raqqah will push Washington to increase its military presence in Syria, deploying more troops, artillery pieces and other military equipment. These forces will likely be redeployed from Iraq after the end of the anti-ISIS operation in the western part of Mosul.

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Trump Invades Syria

NOVANEWS

Make no mistake: this is big news. And very bad news

 
Trump 5

Although the Syrian army, with its ally Russia, has made significant gains against ISIS over the past week or so, the Washington Post is reporting tonight that President Trump has for the first time sent regular US military personnel into that country in combat positions.

This is an unprecedented escalation of US involvement in the Syrian war and it comes without Congressional authorization, without UN authorization, and without the authorization of the government of Syria. In short it is three ways illegal.

According to the Post, US Marines have departed their ships in the Mediterranean and have established an outpost on Syrian soil from where they will fire artillery toward the ISIS “headquarters” of Raqqa. The Post continues

The Marines on the ground include part of an artillery battery that can fire powerful 155-millimeter shells from M777 Howitzers, two officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deployment. The expeditionary unit’s ground force, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, will man the guns and deliver fire support for U.S.-backed local forces who are preparing an assault on the city. Additional infantrymen from the unit are likely to provide security.

On March 5th, RT ran footage of a US military convoy entering Syria near Manbij. The US mainstream media initially blacked out the story, but the Post today confirmed that the troops were from the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment in Stryker vehicles.

What is important to understand about this sudden escalation of US involvement is that if this “race to Raqqa” is won by the US military rather than by Syrian government forces, the chance that the US will hand the territory back to the Assad government is virtually nil. In other words, this is an operation far less about wiping ISIS out from eastern Syria and much more about the United States carving out eastern Syria as a permanent outpost from where it can, for example, continue the original neocon/Israeli/Saudi plan for “regime change” in Syria.

The United States is making a military bid for a very large chunk of sovereign Syrian territory. Something even Obama with his extraordinarily reckless Middle East policy would not dare to do.

How will the Russians react to this development?

How will the Russians react if increased US military activity on the ground in Syria begins to threaten Russian military forces operating in Syria (with the consent of that country’s legal government)?  With President Trump’s “get along with Russia” policy lying in the tatters of a Nikki Haley at the UN and a Fiona Hill at NSC Staff, how differently might the Russians see US actions in Syria than they might have only a month or so ago?

Posted in USA, Syria0 Comments

Palestinian Women – One for All, All for One

NOVANEWS

Honouring All Palestinian Women by Honouring Three: Hanin Zoabi, Ahed Tamimi, Samah Sabawi

palestine women
“Palestinian women have always stood side by side with their fathers, brothers, husbands, comrades to resist the Zionist occupation, to fight for freedom and legitimate rights.

They are the first to go to the streets to protest the brutality of the Israeli military occupation, the first to organize sit-ins and marches demanding the release of their children, brothers and fathers from Israeli prisons. They are the protectors, the supporters, but most of all they are the comrades in the fight for a free Palestine.” Reham Al Helsi

The Pietas of Palestine bear the painful weight of the vicious Israeli occupation made crueller for its illegality and impunity that is shielded by Western betrayal of international law and morality.

While the world looked the other way during the 70 years since the Nakba, the Catastrophe of zionist terrorism that established parasitic Israel, no Palestinian woman has been spared grief, terror and trauma because every family has been torn apart by tragedies of a beloved murdered, or incarcerated, or denied desperate medical attention, or a family home demolished, or livelihoods destroyed as unemployment emasculates their men or when life-giving olive trees and orchards are laid waste by bulldozers and the Annexation Wall. Or all of the above.

You, who casually turn your taps and light switches on and off, consider the everyday stress of barely sufficient water for the family that trickles from the Israeli Mekorot company and the systematic electricity blackouts in summer and winter extremes metered out through Israel’s covert system of slow-motion genocide.

Ask yourself, how does a Gazan mother ensure her children’s health when the Israelis deliberately, as means of illegal collective punishment, calculate “the minimum caloric intake necessary for Palestinians to avoid malnutrition so Israel could limit the amount of foodstuffs allowed into Gaza without causing outright starvation.”

“In Palestine mothers are sacred. Every one of us has several mothers: the mother that gave birth to us, the olive tree, the land and the mother of all: Palestine. And a Palestinian mother isn’t just a mother to the children she gives birth to, she is mother to all Palestinians.” Reham Alhelsi

Every Palestinian mother knows when her children leave the house there is no guarantee of a safe return. A child throwing a stone against the soldiers, jeeps and tanks of the world’s 4th largest nuclear military may be buried that afternoon with a bullet in his/her back, or left to bleed to death on the street as the occupation forces prevent the ambulance from attending. Or that brave stone may effect 15 years in prison for her teenage child while Israel’s military killers, like Elor Azaria who point blank murdered a wounded Palestinian youth lying unarmed on the road gets 18 months for ‘manslaughter’! If that. The only assurance for the Palestinian mother is the killer’s promotion will be forthcoming.

Three comrades in the fight for freedom, Hanin Zoabi, Ahed Tamimi, Samah Sabawi hailing from the fractured body of Palestine – 1948 occupied Palestine, the 1967 occupied Palestine- West Bank and Gaza/diaspora respectively – represent the sumoud (steadfast resilience), the courage, the integrity defining the spirit of Palestinian women.

Hanin Zoabi

Hanin Zoabi was born in Nazareth and in 2009 became the first Palestinian woman to become, via the Arab Balad party, a member of the Knesset; the Israeli government.

As Israel has severe anaphylaxic reactions to Truth, Hanin’s blunt truthfulness, calling an Uzi an Uzi, challenges the media monopoly on Israel propaganda hence drawing hellfire from the zionists.

She has compared Zionist Occupation Forces to ISIS–  a fair comparison given both aim to set up exclusive political entities through violence: a Jewish State from the river to the sea, and a wide sweeping Islamic Caliphate. She was slammed and urged to apologise for calling Israeli commandoes ‘murderers’ for killing 9 unarmed Turkish humanitarian workers on the Gaza flotilla vessel, Mavi Marmara, on which she was a passenger.

Au contraire, she demanded in parliament, “Those who murdered need to apologize, you need to apologize.”. Shrugging off the Holocaust taboo, she stated “During Kristallnacht thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues were burned, while the Germans remained silent. Today, as the homes of Palestinians are burned, as churches and people are burned alive- the majority in Israel remains silent.”

For her feisty principled outspokenness on Israel’s violent transgressions against Palestinians and democratic delinquency….

“Rather than seeing democracy as equality and human rights, now the only meaning of democracy in Israel is the rule of the – Jewish – majority.”

…. Hanin has been bullied and reviled by Israeli parliamentarians, denigrated  as ‘terrorist’, ‘neofascist,’ “Haneen Zoabi is not a circus, she isn’t even worthy of being used as lion food.” (Avi Dichter) and repeatedly threatened with the revocation of her citizenship, suspension and expulsion from the Knesset.

Undaunted, the formidable Hanin unswervingly demands a one state with equality for all its citizens and in the meantime she  fights for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, challenges Zionism and its recent law that legalised theft of Palestinian land through settlement expansion, and serves the rights of women.

Ahed Tamimi

Ahed, 15, was born with the Tamimi DNA of resistance and was suckled on Israeli tear gas and Palestinian sumoud in the weekly protests of her village, Nabi Saleh.

Nabi Saleh has 500 residents whose daily view across the valley is an army base alongside  the Jewish settlement, Halamish, built on their stolen land. They began weekly protests in 2009 organised by Ahed’s parents Bassem and Nariman, when the settler militia took over their village spring. Bassem, a grassroots nonviolent advocate has been described by the EU as a human rights defender. He has been arrested, tortured and incarcerated at least 4 times, once for 3 years. More than 13% of Nabi Saleh protestors have been in Israeli detention.

The first time I saw Ahed was on You-tube. Then all of 11, she was doggedly confronting with her little fist Israeli soldiers armed to the hilt, demanding the release of her brother. Like Justin King, her courage had a profound impact on me,

“It wasn’t just the defiance in her eyes. It was the fact that it wasn’t new to her. She had obviously seen more carnage and violence than most. She was a veteran. The world is becoming more and more accustomed to female warriors, so why did this veteran’s battle have the impact it did? She was 13 years old. I say “woman” because she isn’t a “child” and she isn’t a “girl”. Not anymore. She’s a hardened veteran. We bought her childhood at the price tag of $10 million dollars per day in military aid to Israel.” Justin King

The next time I saw this teenage warrior, she was fiercely locked, along with her  mother, aunt and cousin, onto an armed army thug that was attempting to arrest her 12 year old brother. The soldier was no match for these Tamimi lionesses and Mohamed was released. The big bad Israelis are so afraid of young Ahed, that pressure erupted to deny the 15 year old a visa to enter the USA  for a speaking tour. While David and Goliath are myths, Ahed versus the Goliath zionist army is reality.

One day, Ahed may succeed Hanin Zoabi as President of Palestine: both have more integrity and courage in one eyelash than all the traitors in the Palestinian Authority.

Samah Sabawi

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Australian-Canadian poet, playwright, editor, PhD student, powerful orator, political commentator and spokesperson for Palestinian freedom. She was born in Gaza to  Suhailah and Abdul Kareem Sabawi, a distinguished poet, author and non-violence revolutionary. The Sabawi family’s forced wrench from Gaza is characteristic of Palestinian exiles in the diaspora and Samah’s passion for justice and love for her homeland is the gravitational pull of her activism and art,

I stand dispossessed of everything but my words

They are words of truth

Of fire and steel

I use them deliberately

Not to incite hatred

Not to frighten

But to lighten up this darkness

That tore me into 11 million pieces

And scattered me across the earth

Words tell my story

Nakba

Naksa

Forced exile

Ethnic cleansing

Apartheid

Words

Carefully chosen

Purposely uttered

These are the words that lay the foundation

Of the language of my liberation

Samah is a sought after spokesperson whose sharp intellect lit with poetic flair and reconciliatory grace makes her a powerful ambassador for Palestine in the diaspora. Yet, like Hanin, Samah too has been a target of controversy; the tentacles of the zionist lobby have no boundaries in the west. In 2014, Samah was dropped  from a panel debating the two-state solution at the Wheeler Centre Melbourne because of her support for BDS. When she was reinstated, Jewish panellists Geoff Bloch, Dvir Abramovich and the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Salah Abdulhadi withdrew from the event. In 2016, Abramovich reared his zionist head to strike with the faux accusatory venom of anti-semitism at Samah’s play, Tales of a City by the Sea, a love story set in Gaza,which was included in the  Victorian school curriculum and has since gone on to win literary awards.

On this 2017 International Women’s Day, I close with Samah’s poem, published in I remember my name,

Imra’a

For my sisters in the Arab World and beyond

Feb 17, 2013

I

am

woman

Imra’a

Whole

Not a fragment of your shadow

Not a rib torn out of your torso

Not a mail order

Not a house slave

Not a fairy-tale princess

Not a damsel in distress

Not a genie in a bottle

Not a devil

Nor a saint

Not scattered

Not arranged

Not lacking in brain or piety

Not a fountain of propriety

I am eternity

Lived in an instant

I am constant randomness

I am chaos in stability

In songs you ache for me

I am your refuge and your refugee

Your barren desert and your fertile field

Your homeland…your ‘watan’

My womb yields the fruit of life

I am your Mother

Daughter

Sister

Wife

A prince of poetry wrote of me

“Alommo madrasaton…”

A mother is a school if well prepared

You prepare a well-mannered nation

For a thousand and one Arabian nights

I am inspiration

In the Holy Scriptures

I am temptation

I am your Eve in the Garden of Eden

My qualities revealed in the holy Quran

‘inna kaydahonna azeem’

I am your dream

Your ‘hoor alayn’

Your seduction

Your redemption

Your struggle

Your salvation

I am strength and weakness

Rolled into one

I am your lived reality

And all that you refuse to see

I am what you cannot define

Cannot confine

To a fantasy

I am human

Of flesh and blood

My faults monumental

My virtues unquantifiable

I am neither a reflection of you nor on you

Your ticket to paradise does not begin with my virtue

Your peace of mind does not begin with my conformity

Your redemption does not begin with my submission

Your honor is not defined by my chastity

Your fantasies are your own

Your vice is yours alone

For I carry my own

Burden alone

I am woman

Imra’a

Whole

Posted in Palestine Affairs, Human Rights0 Comments

WikiLeaks, “Year Zero” and the CIA Hacking Files

NOVANEWS
 
wikileaks

It is now up to the device and OS manufacturers, like Apple, Google, or Samsung, to fix their volcanoes back into mountains. -Telegram Statement, Mar 8, 2017

The paradox with information releases that expose a supposedly grand internal stratagem is that they merely provide the food of confirmation otherwise lacking.  Such food is potent.  It blows the lid off the suggestion that a conspiracy theorist was merely a Cassandra in the wilderness chewing fingernails in fear that something hideous was afoot. It provides nutrients for those seeking greater scrutiny over the way state security, otherwise deemed the domain of closeted experts, is policed.

The entire profession (for it has now become one) of mass disclosures of secret or classified documentation has reached a point where its normality can hardly be questioned.  Be it the juicy revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013, the work of WikiLeaks in this decade and the last, and the Panama Papers, whistleblowing, still punished and frowned upon, remains indispensable to the conversation about transparency and the inner operations of the Dark State and its accessories.

That Dark State was given a further lighting up on Tuesday with the release, by WikiLeaks, of its CIA Vault 7 and Year Zero series that has caused the usual flutter in the intelligence community and governments.

These comprise the machinery of hacking and cyber war tactics, an overview of methods that suggest, according to WikiLeaks, a loss of control by the agency over a good deal of its hacking arsenal (“malware, viruses, Trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation”).[1]

The releases reveal aspects of the internal functions of the organisation, including the works of its Engineering Development Group (EDG), dedicated to the development of software within the Center for Cyber Intelligence.

As WikiLeaks revealed, the sophisticated nature of surveillance is now such as to draw comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984 “but ‘Weeping Angel’, developed by the Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones, is surely its most emblematic realization.”[2]Samsung has figured prominently in such attacks jointly conducted with Britain’s MI5/BTSS.

Even of more concern is that such methods, similar to the hoovering techniques of trawler surveillance, tend to hamper, rather than sharpen, discrimination regarding targets of value. Malware, in making its way into a range of devices (iPhones, Android, smart TVs), lingers like an innocuous, odourless smell.

This makes suggestions of ‘targeted’ surveillance, or surveillance against countries other than those of the Five Eyes, absurd. (Vide the opinions of Australia’s insipid Christopher Pyne, who assumes with school boy innocence that Washington would never have an interest in spying on Australian subjects.)

Controls over the nature of who receives or uses such devices or operating systems are less relevant than the nature of the devices, adjusted and cooked to the right level of surveillance. So called “smart” devices are hardly discerning in that regard.

The releases have also seen a rapid scramble on the part of app companies to claim that the Vault and Zero Year coverage by WikiLeaks reveals a crude reality: you simply cannot rely on the security of your messaging format.

“To put ‘Year Zero’ into familiar terms,” the statement from Telegram instructs with confidence piercing clarity, “imagine a castle on a mountainside.  That castle is a secure messaging app. The device and its OS are the mountain.  Your castle can be strong, but if the mountain below is an active volcano, there’s little your engineers can do.”[3]

The statement by Telegram goes on to charmingly remind users that it would not matter “which messenger you use. No app can stop your keyboard from knowing what keys you press.  The focus, then, is on “devices and operating systems like iOS and Android” not on the level of apps.  “For this reason,” the app company insists, “naming any particular app in this context is misleading.”

What is not misleading is the effect of such surveillance, the insecurity it inflicts on customers, and the rampant breach of privacy. The intelligence agencies find themselves running out of breath, bloated and spread.  Their outsourcing of services through less secure channels – namely contractors – has also unleased a demon they can barely control.

Defenders of such methods spring back into a default mode that assumes WikiLeaks has done something terrible, emboldening enemies of the United States as defender of the now poorly described “free world”.  Pundits and former members of the security coven fear that the disclosure of the CIA playbook on this is somehow tantamount to giving away the family silver to a suicide bomber in search of martyrdom.   The pertinent question here, surely, is defending that world from within as a matter of course.

Even the most dyed-in-the-wool establishment type has to concede that the intelligence community, puffing and out of breath, is there for the trimming, a vigorous pruning that just might ensure its reinvigoration and relevance.

The CIA is a beast in maturation, adjusting, and flexing its muscles in accordance with circumstance.  It is to be watched, accordingly cleaned and overseen by diligent groundsmen and women.  Sadly, the members of Congress are not necessarily the most able, or willing, to do that watching.  An external impetus, miraculously supplied, might well do the trick.

Notes

[1] https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/#ANALYSIS

[2] https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/#ANALYSIS

[3] http://telegra.ph/Wikileaks-Vault7-NEWS

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