Archive | May 28th, 2017

Update: New Mexico rape kit crisis gets worse

NOVANEWS

Six months ago Liberation News reported that New Mexico had the greatest number of untested rape kits in the country.

Since then despite a statewide audit, the crisis has worsened not improved. With over 6,000 kits left untested over the course of 30+ years, justice for victims of sexual assault continues to be blatantly disregarded by state officials.

Despite the so-called efforts made to decrease the number of untested kits, the problem is worsening. Tim Keller, state auditor, reported that the backlog of untested kits is growing bigger—some decades old, while new ones are added each day. Over 20 new kits are admitted to the Albuquerque Police Department each month with only four being processed every 30 days. This means 16 new kits are being added to the backlog monthly. State officials have failed to account for the tragic rape kit crisis in New Mexico—some implying that the urgency for accountability is overdramatic.

Albuquerque Police Department has only two fully trained DNA analysts capable of processing kits. Additionally, there are only two crime labs in the state for processing. Since the public announcement of the state’s egregious epidemic, hard-hitting solutions have only been proposed, while concrete changes remain unseen.

The lack of priority given to funding testing for the backlog of rape kits is especially disgusting when we consider that Albuquerque residents have been forced to dole out $30 million for civil law suits since 2010 because of routine police violence: Albuquerque Police shot and kill people, per capita,  at twice the rate of Chicago Police.

Outrageously, state auditors found that one-fifth of the kits were left untested because of a perceived lack of credibility on the part of the victim. This fact exemplifies how this crisis denies justice to victims of sexual assault and reinforces rape culture.

Victims that courageously report rape and abuse are put through further traumatizing and humiliating processes just for evidence to collect dust for up to decades. Some older rape kits will never be able to be tested or used in court cases leaving rapists and perpetrators free to harm more women in the future. Leaving kits untested discourages victims from reporting instances of sexual assault.

The New Mexico rape kit crisis represents how violence against women is disseminated by the U.S. justice system and how this violence is a symptom of women’s continued subordinate status in capitalist society.

Sexual assault is only one symptom of the violence women face under capitalism. Women lack access to basic services like healthcare, affordable housing and education, and face higher rates of poverty than men.

We need a new system that ends all violence against women—one that protects the people and not rapists.

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Impeachment, the State and so-called Russia-gate: Socialists Must Think Clearly

NOVANEWS

Impeachment, the State and so-called Russia-gate: Socialists Must Think Clearly

The crisis for Donald Trump continues to deepen. The latest is that Donald Trump supposedly told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, during their meeting last week that FBI Director James Comey was a “nut job” who was impeding Trump’s foreign policy options with his public pronouncements about the Russia investigation. It comes days after Comey alleged that Trump asked him to “let go” of the investigation of Michael Flynn — and that he has a memo to prove it. Congressional Republicans are creating distance from the White House, and could allow a special investigator and prosecutor in the coming weeks. This is not a passing story.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller has been brought back to lead that agency’s investigation. Mueller is a Comey ally who carried out unconstitutional spying operations against the U.S. peace movement, the Occupy movement and oversaw the illegal mass arrests of more than 1,000 Muslims and sent FBI infiltrators into mosques around the country. Mueller was the longest-serving FBI Director with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover and is one of the most powerful figures in the high levels of the U.S. state apparatus. Rather than tell the truth about his record, the corporate-owned media is deceptively calling Mueller “fiercely independent” with a strong “moral anchor” and other such meaningless stock phrases.

If the investigation into the Trump Organization goes wide, it is all but guaranteed it will uncover corruption and criminal conduct — even if not to do with Russia. Trump’s whole career has been based on swindling investors and workers, and the real estate industry in which he operates runs on political bribery. U.S. urban real estate in particular has boomed on account of foreign capital infusions, in New York City and elsewhere, as appreciating land values and condominium prices have attracted overseas oligarchs as a “safe haven” for their fortunes. If the investigators are sincerely looking for evidence of Trump being compromised by foreign entities, they will find something.

Evidence of a state campaign against Trump

The way the information against Trump has come out this week could not be random or accidental. First was the leak from the highest level officials in the national security apparatus that Trump allegedly shared classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister in last week’s meeting. Then came the leak of James Comey’s memo, which top intelligence officials had in their possession for months but did not disclose during last week’s storm of coverage. Instead they let the press float the suggestion of whether Trump had pressured Comey, and then once the initial coverage passed, they leaked the existence of a memo showing precisely that, creating an additional firestorm.

Then, with Trump already reeling, another leaked recording of a conversation from last March appeared, featuring Paul Ryan and the Republicans’ Congressional leadership “joking” about Trump being on Russia’s payroll. The next day there was a story that the Trump campaign had 16 points of contact with the Russian government during the campaign. This is not illegal — and clearly is a piece of information that intelligence officials and Trump’s opponents have long known — but its release further points to an intensified campaign among the highest summits of institutional power to weaken Trump and potentially bring him down.

Who knows how deep this campaign goes, its level of coordination or what else they have on him, but this is surely not the end of the revelations. Either way, Trump’s blood is now in the water and there are lots of predators who have picked up the scent.

It appears that the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post are writing their headlines specifically to enrage Trump, to get him to explode and go further off-message. Every day they provide a new story of a White House in despair, a sinking ship ruled by an incompetent captain with a demoralized crew considering mutiny. This sort of pressure will inevitably bring additional defections and firings from Trump’s inner circle.

Some former national security officials and investigative journalists including CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Robert Parry have argued for months that powerful elements within the state apparatus — the FBI, CIA and NSA — are pursuing a “soft coup” against Trump, using tactics from the J. Edgar Hoover playbook. The method is to leak information that puts the White House on the defensive, provides at least the imagery of criminality (even without concrete proof) and gets the rest of the political establishment to turn on the administration as a liability for the system as a whole.

Whether or not such a conspiracy exists, the outcome may be the same. The Democratic leadership has seized the opportunity to boost themselves and fundraise around Trump’s “treason”; the news media is enjoying record viewership covering the daily scandal, and the word “impeachment” is now being raised with greater regularity.

Why the state is turning on Trump

From the perspective of the ruling class, the problem with Trump is not his bigotry or his ruthless war on poor people. He says in public what they all say to each other in private. Since its very inception the FBI and the state apparatus have been built specifically for intimidation and suppression of oppressed communities, the working class and people’s movements. They have been carrying out political targeting, mass incarceration and deportation long before Trump came along.

Trump’s fatal and inescapable flaw is that he considers himself bigger than the state. He substitutes himself — his interests, needs and relationships — over the common affairs of the ruling class. He calls the military “my military.” He replaced career officials with cronies whose main attribute is their personal loyalty to Trump. With early-morning Tweets he recklessly threatens carefully crafted relationships — from China to NATO.

That is why the main centers of power preferred Clinton over Trump during the presidential race. After he was elected, the intelligence and foreign policy establishment used a variety of carrots and sticks to try and bring him into line, especially to cancel his proposed Russia reorientation.

But Trump did not fully concede to them. While bringing in some Washington insiders, he retained his crew of renegade ultra-rich figures who came with their unconventional ideas about foreign policy and trade. The modern imperialist state does not function this way. It is not set up so that whatever little assemblage of the billionaire class captures the White House they immediately get to impose their vision and program on the rest of the ruling class and society.

That is why the ruling class has the state, and no one — not even the president — stands above it.

It is no simple task to manage a U.S. Empire facing diverse challenges and perhaps irreversible decline. Trump is an embarrassment to the foreign policy and intelligence establishment. The details of what Trump shared with Russia’s foreign minister is still in dispute, but the notion that Trump is the first president to share classified intelligence with foreign leaders is preposterous. (A simple review of the Kissinger transcripts with Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders in the 1970s demonstrates that.) The real point for the ruling class is that Trump is in over his head in the conduct of high-level foreign policy, which requires discipline and firmness to extract concessions. But Trump is highly subject to personal flattery, and is thus easily manipulated. Despite his boasts as the world’s best negotiator, he has negotiated nothing of value for the U.S. Empire.

In short, all Trump has “achieved” is to throw everything off-balance — which works for a presidential campaign but is unacceptable for those institutions that have invested so much in the current global order. The permanent managers of the U.S. Empire desire someone who is reliable, stable and persuasive, who is generally popular enough to give their operations legitimacy; someone who knows to kneel before the generalized class dictatorship rather than project his own.

Of course, Trump is no fool. He attempted to shore up ruling-class support by designing the largest corporate giveaways in history — hundreds of billions in tax breaks, the looting of the public sector, the build-up of the military and the elimination of regulations. If he were to succeed in this ambitious wealth transfer from poor to rich and permanently destroy what remains of the public sector, the ruling class would forgive his instability. He would become a legend, like Reagan did. Wall Street and the Fortune 500 would have his back.

But all of Trump’s vulnerabilities have stalled this domestic agenda. Both his tax reform and health insurance initiatives are now on hold. Few legislators in his own party are willing to fully stand behind him. As his poll numbers decline, more and more of the Republican establishment must be whispering, “how about Pence?”

Trump vs. Pence

For the intelligence agencies and foreign policy establishment, especially the Pentagon, Pence does not come with any of the same eccentricities and liabilities as Trump. Pence is a known entity, a vetted ruling-class figure and if he owed his position to a “Deep State” impeachment, he would certainly be their faithful servant. To create distance from Trump, Pence would drive up the antagonism with Russia to perhaps unprecedented levels — a threat to peace everywhere.

Pence is ideologically to the right of Trump. He is a religious extremist and would work hard against women’s and LGBTQ rights, while retaining all of Trump’s repressive program against Black, Latino, immigrant and Muslim communities. He would carry out the same assault on health care, labor unions and the public sector, which has the corporations salivating, but would do so with greater efficiency and discipline. He would sign equally bigoted and harmful executive orders but would check on their legality first.

Those who are demanding impeachment should be careful what they wish for. After shedding Trump, a Pence presidency could re-stabilize the ruling class and make for a far more ruthless execution of the Trump program, which is really the program of unrestrained capitalist looting.

The Democratic Party leadership, which is posing as the “resistance” to Trump at present, would at that point find a working relationship with the White House. As we wrote last week: “The Russia card gives the Democratic leadership a strategy to weaken or potentially bring down Trump — as their base wants — without actually meeting the demands from below to move the party in a more left-wing, progressive direction. The anti-Russia campaign gives cover in fact to the maintenance of a right-wing, neoconservative foreign policy, and domestically the promotion of the FBI and the CIA.”

If the Republican and Democratic establishments work with the FBI to impeach Trump on the basis of Russia “connections,” rather than his many crimes against the people, this will move the government in a right-wing, not a progressive direction. For that, we need to keep building a powerful independent movement in the streets organized to combat whichever enemy sits in the Oval Office.

Fighting the far-right, fighting capitalism

At the lower and mid-levels of the state apparatus, among cops and sheriffs, correctional officers, the Border Patrol, commissioned military officers, and “tough-on-crime” district attorneys, Trump remains quite popular. These forces of state-sanctioned violence have celebrated the rise of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who have taking the “leash” off of them. They are being told they can wage war as they please against the Black, Latino, Muslim and immigrant communities.

Attached to this repressive sector of society is a whole range of “civilian” militias — “3-percenters,” white supremacists, right-wing conspiracists and the like. They also remain core supporters of Trump and are the advanced guard of the country’s homegrown fascist movement — what we could call fascism with American characteristics.

These social forces would not disappear with a Trump impeachment. It would likely make them even more aggressive, as they would be mobilized by the greatest grievance of all — that their leader had been illegitimately removed. The progressive and anti-racist movement would still have the same tasks as it does today: to defend oppressed communities from such forces while at the same time resisting an energized ruling-class assault.

The ouster of Nixon through Watergate in its own twisted way allowed the ruling-class to regain its footing, and in fact facilitated the neoliberal assault through the 1970s and 1980s.

Impeachment is not a revolution. Under the present conditions, it would serve as a mechanism for the ruling class to take out one of their own who has become a liability. It is not a way for the people to throw out the whole administration, and replace the billionaire class with people’s power. That is what is needed more urgently than ever, and tens of millions of people feel deeply that the whole political system is rotten and must be replaced. There is no shortcut to this sort of transformation. It requires building united fronts of struggle, a revolutionary leadership rooted in the working class and a second power to challenge the existing power.

Trump is the symptom. Capitalism is the disease. Socialism — poor and working people holding power — is the cure.

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MST Leader: ‘We need direct elections now and an emergency plan for the people’

NOVANEWS

“After Temer falls, we need to stay on the streets,” Stedile says.

Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) and of the Brazil Popular Front, analyzes the Brazilian political scenario, the role of the O Globo media network, the internal divisions among the putschists, and speaks about the need of building a transition government and the people’s project of Brazil.

Brasil de Fato: Why does the Globo network need to publish the audios that incriminate Michel Temer and why do they insist on indirect elections?

João Pedro Stédile: The Globo network became the main party of the Brazilian bourgeoisie. It protects the interests of capital, uses its force of manipulation of public opinion and coordinates with the ideological sectors of the bourgeoisie, which include the Judiciary Power, some prosecutors, and the press in general. They know that Brazil and the world are going through a serious economic, social and environmental crisis, caused by capitalism. That, in Brazil, became a political crisis, because the bourgeoisie needed to have hegemony in Congress and in the federal government in order to apply their plans to put all of the negative effects of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class. Therefore, the Globo network is an ideological author of the coup.

To them, putting Temer in power after Dilma’s impeachment was a faux pas, since his gang is full of lumpen politicians, opportunists and corrupt people, who weren’t concerned with the bourgeois project for the country–they merely cared about their own pockets.

The “Operation Carne Fraca [1]“was another faux pas that helped discredit the PMDB (Temer’s party) since many of them were involved and ended up provoking a sector of the agro-exporting bourgeoisie. Now they need to create an alternative to Temer. The way out of this will be decided over the next few hours or days, whether he resigns, or is judged by the Supreme Electoral Court or if the impeachment requests that were submitted to Congress are passed. Over the next few days the successor will be chosen, and many factors will influence that. The outcome won’t be the fruit of some Machiavellian plan by a particular sector (like Globo) but of the class struggle, and how that struggle plays out over the next hours, days and weeks.

How is the coupist sector reacting?

The sector that reached power through the coup is internally divided since 2014. And that helps us. Because in previous coups, like the 1964 one, and during the 1994 government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the bourgeoisie was united, under a single command, a single project for the country and a strong rearguard in US capital. Now, they don’t have a project for the country, they lost their US rearguard (because they were allied with Hillary Clinton) and want to salvage only their own particular interest. In the words of José de Souza Martins, sociologist of the PSDB party, “reforms in public pension and labor policies are capitalist measures that increase exploitation of workers, but they’re also measures that go against a capitalist project for the country.”

The coupists also don’t have a unified command. They’re divided into the sector with economic power (which includes Minister of Finance Henrique Meirelles, and the company that denounced Temer, JBS), the group of PMDB lumpens (Romero Jupé, Eliseu Padilha, Temer himself, Moreira Franco), who have power over the law but are beginning to crack, like Renan Calheiros. There’s also an ideological group made up of Globo and the Judiciary Power, but there are many internal contradictions among them. That’s also why they don’t know who to put in place of Temer. Their ideal solution would be to take Lula out of the picture, make a transition government that the majority of the population accepts (it could be even led by Minister Cármen Lúcia) until October 2018, and then try to win the elections.

But their internal division also affects the candidacies, since they can’t manage to construct a candidate like Henrique Cardoso or Fernando Collor. They’re testing the public opinion, presenting João Doria (current Mayor of São Paulo) or Luciano Hulk. But the polls show they’re not viable and they know they would deepen the political crisis.

In this context, what can workers and people’s organizations do?

We, at the People’s Brazil Front, which is made up of over 80 people’s movements and political organizations, are debating since last year that the best interest of the working class is in a packet of measures that complement each other.

First of all, to take the coupists down and suspend every legislative measure they have taken against the people. Then, having a transition government that calls to presidential elections on October 2017 and discussing a way to make an immediate political reform that guarantees that the will of the people is respected, and voting for a new Congress.

Another item is for the new government to commit to convene an Exclusive Constituent Assembly to build a new “Emergency Plan for the People” which includes over 70 emergency measures that the transition government and the new government will have to implement, which we believe would take the country out of the economic, social and political crisis.

During the electoral campaign we need to discuss a new model for the country, which takes into account the need for structural reforms in the mid-to-long-term, such as a tax reform, a reform of media, the agrarian reform and a reform of the Judiciary Power itself. But in order for all of this to be possible, the masses need to take to the streets urgently. The strength of the people is exercised there, in mobilizations, occupations and pressure.

I believe that over the next few hours and days there will be plenary sessions to discuss specific dates for mobilizations. On our side, we believe that next week is decisive. We need to camp outside the Supreme Federal Court in order to ensure the coupists resign and the corrupt officials denounced by Joesley Batista go to prison. We need to make mobilizations in all capitals and big cities next Sunday 21. We need to transform May 24 into a nation-wide mobilizations, occupy Legislative Assemblies, routes, everything. The people needs to take the lead and put pressure to achieve the changes we need.

Can direct elections benefit the country? How? Who would the candidates be?

Of course, direct elections for President and for a new Congress are indispensable for democracy and to get the country out of the political crisis. Only through the ballot box can we attain a government that represents the majority and has the legitimacy to make changes for the people that also allow us to leave behind the economic crisis. Because the economic crisis is the foundation of the whole social and political crisis. The candidate of the working class is Lula da Silva, who represents the vast majority of the Brazilian people, and can commit to a project of change and support our emergency plan.

There will probably be other candidates, like Bolsonaro, who represents the far-right, and Marina Silva, who tries to attract a centrist electorate, but her real voter base is only the Assemblies of God Church. The tucanos [2] are in crisis, because Alkmin is involved in severalcriminal accusations. Doria is a cheap playboy. And the Globo network hasn’t had time to create an alternative, like Collor was created in 1989.

What’s the way to prevent the backlash of the coupist agenda?

To mobilize, fight, and not leave the streets. We need to work in the upcoming days on the possibility of a general strike with indefinite durations. All of our social militancy and the readers of this newspaper need to be in a state of alert, since the next few days will be decisive to define the destiny of the country. The strength of the working class is only expressed on the streets
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1 Operation Carne Fraca (Portuguese for meat of poor quality) is yet another scandal where large national and international are accused of mixing rotten meat with other meat, changing expiration dates and using chemicals to make the meat look fresh and, then, bribing the meat inspectors to pass on its quality.

2 Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Portuguese (link is external): Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira) – PSDB, a centrist party that is the principal opposition party to the Worker’s Party.

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Racist Mobs Lynch, Set Fire to Venezuelans with Brown Skin, Assuming Them Chavistas

NOVANEWS

Despite claims of government repression, right-wing protesters in Venezuela enjoy an impunity not experienced in almost any other country. Here, they surround and attack the National Guard, photo Lucía Córdova

Visual artist Jesús Leon posted photos of his artwork and others’, destroyed when right wing protesters attacked a cultural center in Los Teques, Miranda (a suburb of Caracas)

The race and class background of supporters of the Bolivarian government (top) is very different from most right-wing protestors (bottom)

A right-wing protester stands in front of a public subsidized bus set on fire, source not credited

Despite zero coverage from major international media outlets, widespread accounts on social media and some Venezuelan news sources are reporting growing incidences of brutal beatings and even lynchings of Chavista supporters around Venezuela, including on major avenues in Caracas in broad daylight.

In at least one documented incident, the man attacked did not identify as a supporter of Chávez or of the Bolivarian government, but he was assumed so by a mob that attacked him based on his skin color. Right wing supporters are disproportionately whiter and from wealthier neighborhoods; the man in question was Afro-descendant and reportedly from a barrio of Caracas. He was reportedly accused by right wing protesters of being an infiltrator before the mob set upon him.

Another graphic video emerged of a mob of protesters ganging up on an Afro-descendant man in Caracas and brutally beating him before one right wing protester appeared to throw gasoline or another accelerant on him, setting him on fire. The man burst into flames that grew even more severe as he attempted to run away down the street. The incident took place near Plaza Altamira, in an upscale neighborhood in the center of Caracas’ well-to-do east side — home base for the increasingly-violent right wing protests, known as “guarimbas.” In the filmed incident circulating on social media, the man is reported to have survived the attack, and he is receiving medical attention for third-degree burns on 80% of his body.

In another incident in Mérida, circulating on social media with approving commentary by the right wing’s supporters, a graphic photo set depicts a man being dragged off of his motorcycle, stripped naked, and lynched by a mob of protesters. Captions accompanying the photo set claim that he was an off-duty police officer who fired on a crowd of protesters, but these reports are unverified.

The most recent wave of right wing protests aimed at violent government destabilization began in late March, when the Supreme Court assumed limited temporary jurisdiction over the right wing-controlled National Assembly, owing to the refusal of three Assemblymembers under corruption investigation to cede their posts.

Rather than ensuring the restored function of the Assembly by calling for the resignation of these Assemblymembers, the right wing accused the government of a “self-coup” and called for the widespread protests that have now destroyed massive amounts of public property (buses, public computer labs, cultural centers, clinics — including a maternity ward) and that have become increasingly violent, with protesters enjoying an impunity that would be unimaginable almost anywhere else — even as the right wing accuses the government of repression.

The destructive, often violent, and grotesque character of the right wing protests appears to have alienated many of their supporters. On April 19th, when political leaders from both the right wing and left wing called for mass marches, record crowds gathered to show support for the Bolivarian government.

The Bolivarian government has called for a constituent assembly in an attempt to bring about a political resolution, but right wing political leadership has vowed to boycott this process. Meanwhile, the right wing political leaders refuse to publicly condemn the violence and, in many cases, seem to encourage it, joined by Luis Almagro and the Organization of American States, in a push for U.S. intervention.

The most comprehensive list of protest-related deaths to-date can be found here (in Spanish).

It is essential that progressive people around the world denounce this right-wing mob violence that is taking place daily against the Bolivarian movement. The international media outlets that portray the conflict as one of a dictator against a peaceful protest movement are simply lying, and giving cover to this counter-revolutionary violence.

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Iran survives, thrives under sanctions and threats

NOVANEWS

On May 20, President Hassan Rouhani was re-elected to a second four year term in the presidential elections in Iran. According to the constitution, the elections would have gone to a second round had none of the four candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote. But Rouhani received 40 million votes, more than 57 percent, decisively winning the election in the first round.

Iran holds presidential elections every four years. In the lead up to each election, pro-West opposition forces abroad widely propagate the idea that voter turnout will be low and that people have recognized that the elections are rigged and do not matter. For the 2017 elections, as usual, Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah of Iran, encouraged people to stay away from the polls and engage in civil disobedience instead. The MEK, an opposition force that acts as a spy agency for the CIA and counts the likes of Senator John McCain and Rudy Giuliani as its staunch supporters, also called for a boycott of the elections.

Western media outlets widely cover these calls for election boycott and uncritically parrot predictions of a low turnout. Then, when the elections take place, invariably with a high turnout, Western media label the turnout as “surprisingly high,” the surprise being the product of their own pre-election propaganda.

Not that surprisingly, the turnout was impressively high for this year’s elections. On what turned out to be quite a hot day in most provinces, at some polling stations people waited in line for hours. Over 70 percent of eligible voters voted, with turnout over 80 percent in some provinces. Voting time was extended by five hours, until midnight, in response to what election officials called the “enthusiastic participation of people.”

Media coverage of Iran, Saudi Arabia

Since the election of Trump, U.S. media outlets have been giving themselves self-congratulatory pats on the back for how independent they are. Given that Trump, despite being an actual member of the capitalist ruling class, does not fit the mold of a typical ruling-class politician, most corporate media outlets do not cover Trump favorably.

But this independence from the White House does not survive a U.S. bombing campaign, as in the case of the Trump bombing of Syria in March, after which much of the media started praising him for acting “presidential.” And more broadly, opposition to Trump does not signify independence from the imperialist goals of the U.S. ruling class. The contrast in how the “free and independent” media covered Iran and Saudi Arabia in a week when they were both in the news, is a good case in point.

In the weeks leading to the elections in Iran, the corporate media did not miss an opportunity to detail all the shortcomings of Iran’s electoral system: why the elections were rigged; why the elections did not really matter; how the mullahs ruled with an iron fist; and how the 2009 elections were likely stolen. Eight years after the 2009 elections, without a shred of evidence having surfaced of any irregularities, leave alone fraud in the order of millions of votes, Western media still question the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

On the day after Iran held elections, President Trump visited Iran’s regional rival, arch reactionary Saudi Arabia. One might expect the media to give some attention to the fact that Trump’s first foreign visit was to one of the most repressive, reactionary states in the world, followed by a visit to Israel, an Apartheid state.

There was scarcely a mention in the media coverage that Saudi Arabia routinely arrests, tortures and executes dissenters; that Saudi Arabia chops off people’s arms and heads for petty crimes; that Saudi Arabia represses women so heavily that women do not even have the legal right to drive automobiles; that Saudi Arabia has for two years been engaged in a deadly bombing campaign of neighboring Yemen, murdering thousands of civilians, bombing wedding ceremonies and other public gatherings. Instead, we were treated mainly to coverage of what Trump was likely to eat as a guest of honor in the royal dinner reception and whether or not Melania or Ivanka Trump would wear a veil to that dinner.

Indirectly referring to Saudi Arabia and other U.S. client states in the region, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif said: “In most countries in our region election is a dream … You are talking about a region where people don’t have a constitution for god’s sake.”

What was at stake in the elections?

Rouhani’s chief rival was Ebrahim Raisi, who received 38 percent of the vote. Rouhani represents the political line of negotiations and compromise with the West. Raisi and others campaigned against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a 2015 agreement that finally ended the sanctions against Iran. While using this as a campaign strategy, it is unclear whether Raisi would actually have taken Iran out of the JCPOA had he been elected. Nor would this even be possible without the approval of the supreme leader Khamenei.

Rouhani’s re-election, in reality, represents stability and a continuation of the current government policies. Portraying Rouhani’s victory as a kind of “delayed victory” for the 2009 “Green Revolution” is a completely inaccurate characterization. It is true that well-to-do Iranians, in particular in affluent northern Tehran, voted strongly for Rouhani. But in contrast to the 2009 campaign of Moussavi, which focused almost exclusively on the educated and well-off, and mainly got the votes of the same sectors of the population, Rouhani’s vote totals clearly show that he received votes from a wide cross section of Iranian society, in Tehran, other big cities and the provinces.

Rouhani represents a grouping within the Islamic Republic that believes in reducing conflicts with the West through negotiations and agreements. Rouhani does not represent a capitulation to the West or turning Iran into a U.S. client state. The JCPOA represents not just concessions made by Iran but also concessions made by the U.S., including establishing the right of Iran to develop nuclear technology. Under the four year term of Rouhani, Iran’s foreign policy, notably towards Syria and Yemen, represents not a capitulation to the U.S. but a continuation of long-held anti-imperialist foreign policy initiatives.

Limits to Iran’s elections

Western media highlight the existence of a vetting system to determine the qualification of Iranian candidates for office as evidence that Iran’s elections do not really matter. It is true that the Guardian Council has to certify each candidate running for office. In fact, former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attempted to run again but was disqualified. Ahmadinejad’s progressive program in giving benefits to the poor, and his outspoken language against the U.S., was not something that the establishment wanted in the office of the presidency at this time.

However, it is not just in Iran that elections serve to legitimize and solidify the system. In the United States, candidates run through an intense primary system. The two people who, through the primary process, garner the most support, get the nomination of the two main capitalist parties.

Candidates need to be millionaires or get corporate campaign contributions in the millions to have a chance. Working class representatives, ordinary people need not apply. One could argue which of the two main parties’ nominees are better qualified for the job – the CEO of the capitalist state. But there is no question as to the absolute loyalty of both to the political system. Elections in Iran, as in the U.S., are a means of choosing which faction of the ruling class will run the state apparatus.

Economy falling apart

Another area where corporate media misrepresentations portray a completely false image of Iran is the economy. They commonly depict the economy as being “in tatters,” “on the verge of collapse,” “spinning in a downward spiral,” etc. But this is far from the truth.

According to the World Bank, “Following a contraction of close to 2 percent in 2015, the economy bounced back sharply in 2016 at an estimated 6.4 percent.” The growth trend is projected to continue in 2017. The period of contraction was the direct product of sanctions that did not quite paralyze the economy, but did make years of growth impossible to maintain.

Like all capitalist economies, Iran’s economy has a myriad of problems from which the working class suffers. Still, the economy is far from collapsing. What is most frustrating for the U.S. ruling class is not that Iran’s economy is collapsing and the people are suffering. It is that Iran has held on through years of sanctions and other pressures; that the economy is significantly growing and Iran keeps increasing its influence in the region.

As long as Iran’s working class is not politically prepared to take state power, an independent, nationalist state is much more in its interests than a subservient client state. For the U.S. working class, independent states around the world materially benefit us because they weaken the capitalist class that is our exploiter and oppressor.

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US-Saudi arms deal = genocide on Yemen

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US-Saudi arms deal = genocide on Yemen

On May 20, President Trump signed a long-awaited $350 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The total for the package is over ten years, but the first $110 billion is for immediate trade between the United States and Saudi Arabia for tanks, helicopters, ships and a missile-defense system, among “security tools.” While the deal has been in the process for weeks, the final announcement comes as Trump takes his first international trip, spending the first days in Riyadh with the Saudi royal family.

In truth, the weapons deal is not all that surprising. The very founding of Saudi Arabia, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, saw a victorious British empire install a family of corrupt landlords to rule the area in the hopes of controlling the region’s oil reserves. While the United States has been involved in Saudi oil production since the 1930s, the real shift in relationship came following the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah. With the Shah no longer able to serve as the imperialists’ puppet, the royals of Saudi Arabia were promoted to fill the space of suppressing progressive movements in the region.

This relationship has continued for the last 40 years, from Saudi support to so-called jihadis overthrowing the socialist Afghan state in the 1970s, to hosting U.S. troops preparing to invade Iraq, to putting down the progressive uprising in Bahrain in the Arab Spring. Throughout all this, Saudi Arabia has also been a reliable buyer of U.S. weapons.

The Saudi monarchy made clear that they were hoping to further strengthen the relationship between the two countries after relations with the Obama administration started to sour. Their desire is to become the undisputed military center and power player in the region’s politics. Despite campaign rhetoric that criticized Hillary Clinton’s closeness to the Saudi monarchy, now in office Trump has shown an openness to the same sort of arrangements. With his anti-Iran rhetoric, his bombing of Syria and his signing what has been called “the biggest weapons deal in U.S. history,” Trump has held up the imperialist status quo in the Middle East. (The biggest winners in this deal will be Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon.)

For its part, Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its ability to equip the armed proxies who are fighting to bring down the independent state of Syria and to leverage its military power against Iran.

The other truth, barely mentioned in Trump’s Saudi Arabia trip, is that many of these weapons will be used to continue the brutal assault on Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its coalition of Gulf states have been bombing Yemen constantly since 2015 to crush the Houthi rebels. Many of the bombings have been blatant violations of international law and human rights, targeting schools, hospitals and social gatherings.

Liberation News reported previously about the blockade that has essentially shut down the port city of Hodeidah. The criminal shutdown of this Red Sea port city by the Saudis has led to food and medicine shortages. As of last month, UN officials reported that approximately two-thirds of the population, or nearly 19 million Yemenis, were in need of emergency assistance. Children too hungry to cry are dying in hospitals across the country where at least 7 million are at risk of famine.

The truth is that this newest deal is a another death sentence for the Yemeni people. Instead of the billions going to fund needed social services in the United States, or to pay reparations to the countries devastated by U.S. military war and aggression, more weapons are being sent overseas to terrorize a people trapped in a humanitarian catastrophe. It is one more example of how the needs for profit and domination always more important than human needs or rights under capitalism and imperialism.

The progressive and people’s movements in the United States must continue to demand the end to all U.S.-funded interventions. No wars, no bases, no sanctions and no arms deals. U.S. out of the Middle East!

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Palestinian hunger strike leader to stop drinking water

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Palestinian hunger strike leader to stop drinking water

Palestinian protesters wave flags bearing the portrait of Marwan Barghouti during a demonstration in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in West Bank on 23 April, 2017. | Photo: Middle East Monitor.

With the announcement by its initiator and leader Marwan Barghouti that he will stop drinking water, the Palestinian mass hunger strike, now in its 32nd day, has entered a critical stage. Barghouthi’s dramatic step came as a response to the Israeli government’s refusal to engage in negotiations with the strikers.

More than 1,300 Palestinian prisoners are participating in the “Freedom and Dignity” strike. The strike is calling for an end to the denial of family visits, improved health care, access to higher education, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.

Without water, a person, especially one already weakened by more than a month without food, is unlikely to survive more than a week.

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs issued a statement in which it quoted Barghouti’s lawyer, Khader Shqeirat, as saying that Barghouti’s decision to refuse water would be “a new turning point in the ongoing open-ended hunger strike.”

The committee’s statement accused the Israeli regime of responsibility for embarking on a “tragic and disastrous road” and taking “a criminal stance regarding the just demands of prisoners.”

According to public opinion polls, Marwan Barghouti is the most popular political leader in the West Bank. He is currently serving five life sentences at the hands of the Israeli “justice system,” which convicts 99.74 percent of Palestinians charged with “security” violations. Barghouthi refused to put on a defense in his 2004 trial, maintaining that Israel had no authority over him.

Since the June 1967 war when Israel conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Syria’s Golan Heights, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and imprisoned inside the 1948 borders of the state of Israel in clear and indisputable violation of international law. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the detention of residents of an occupied territory in prisons inside the occupying country.

According to the prisoner rights organization Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been detained over the past half-century; 40 percent of all adult male Palestinians have done time in Israeli jails. Today, there are more than 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. There are no Israelis in Palestinian jails. Palestinian prisoners are routinely subjected to torture, administrative detention without charge for up to six months (indefinitely renewable), and many other forms of abuse.

Daily solidarity protests growing

Daily protests in solidarity with the hunger strike have been met with violent and often deadly repression by the Israeli military and heavily armed settlers.

On May 18, during a solidarity protest at the Huwwarra checkpoint near Nablus in the northern West Bank, an Israeli settler shot and killed 23-year-old Muataz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa, wounded a journalist, hit three other Palestinians with his car, and rammed a Red Crescent ambulance. In typical fashion, the Israeli army announced that no investigation of the settler was being opened. No matter how vicious or even deadly their actions, fascist settlers routinely carry out their attacks with impunity.

Despite massive repression, the struggle in solidarity with the hunger strikers and against the occupation is escalating.

Just hours after Shamsa’s death, thousands took to the streets of his home village, Beita—a renowned center of the liberation struggle—in a militant funeral march.

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Delegates from 35 countries join Palestine solidarity conference in Beirut

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Delegates from 35 countries join Palestine solidarity conference in Beirut

Rene Gonzalez of Cuban 5 speaks in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers, Photo: Radio Havana Cuba

Rene Gonzalez of Cuban 5 speaks in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers. Photo: Radio Havana Cuba

BEIRUT: Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5, who served more than 13 years in a U.S. jail, spoke in solidarity with hunger striking Palestinian prisoners here on May 14. His comments were warmly received at the Third Arab-International Forum on Justice for Palestine. Maan Bashour, a convener of the event, said that the two-day forum is part of international efforts to support Palestine isolate Israel internationally.

Gonzalez expressed support for the 1,300 Palestinian prisoners on an indefinite hunger strike in Israeli jails for basic human rights. He urged participants to increase their solidarity efforts with Palestine, and said Cuba and its people will always support the cause of the Palestinian people for sovereignty and independence.

The forum was attended by 400 people from 35 countries. Most came from the Arab countries, with many delegations containing prominent individuals and long-time fighters for Palestine. All of the major Palestinian resistance groups were there, many with high-level representatives. Among those greeting the conference from Lebanon, the host country, were a spokesperson from Hezbollah, the Shia Mufti of Lebanon, a representative of the Lebanese Prime Minister, and a leader of the Greek Catholic community.

Also attending were solidarity activists, progressive attorneys, and refugee and human rights advocates from Greece, Ireland, Spain, Canada and the U.S.

Participants discussed ways to confront Israel’s Apartheid system, how best to fight administrative detention in Israeli prisons, the status and prospects of boycott initiatives and how groups can build solidarity with Palestine.

Solidarity with hunger strikers

At the May 14 plenum, a message of solidarity was delivered to the conference from Tommy McKearney, an Irish political prisoner held by Britain for 15 years, who participated in the 1980 hunger strike with Bobby Sands for 55 days. Sands and nine other Irish liberation fighters died in that strike due to British intransigence.

In the course of the conference it was announced that more than a dozen prominent South Africans, including cabinet members and anti-apartheid activists formerly imprisoned on Robben Island had begun a 24-hour fast in solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers. African National Congress
Chairperson Baleka Mbete had previously called Israeli apartheid “far worse” than apartheid in South Africa.

 Reviewing gains, planning future strategies

John Thomas Lyone, the Irish activist who introduced the successful Dublin City Council resolution to fly the Palestinian flag over Dublin City Hall for a month, called for everyone to increase their efforts in solidarity with Palestine.

An attorney from Spain said that 100 municipatities in that country have voted to end complicity with Israeli occupation and illegal settlements, including Barcelona, the country’s second largest municipality.

The speaker from the U.S. was Richard Becker, of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), who described the United States as “the main funder, armor and protector of the Zionist state.” He recounted solidarity actions that ANSWER and other organizations have carried out, including the stopping the Israeli Zim line ships docking in on the West Coast, and protests at the annual AIPAC-American-Israel Public Affairs Committee conferences.

An attorney from Montreal offered strategies on how activists might best utilize the recent report issued by the report issued by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia on Israeli apartheid. This report details within the context of international law how the Israeli regime is guilty of apartheid in its treatment of all Palestinian people. Apartheid is considered a crime against humanity, second only to genocide.

The conference broke down into workshops, with this reporter attending one on ending administrative detention, focused on reaching people in the U.S. and Europe. The workshop was attended by Middle Eastern experts on this question and by solidarity activists from Lebanon, Ireland, and Greece and
the U.S. In addition to this reporter other U.S. participants were Estevan Hernandez from the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Richard Becker from ANSWER Coalition.

An expert on administrative detention explained that the laws which Israel uses are inherited from British colonialism. Britian used these laws all over the world—in India. South Africa, Palestine. Tens of millions have suffered from this, he said .These laws are racist, and illegal from a human rights perspective. These laws have been used to disrupt the Palestinian intifada, as Israel arrests and detains leaders and activists at will.

Suggestions raised in the workshop discussion included establishing a web site where resources could be downloaded and shared, and calling an international conference in the next year as part of a campaign to end administrative detention.

The conference ended with participants going to the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and joining residents in a solidarity rally for the prisoners on hunger strike.

The International Forum for Justice in Palestine will meet in a year, to assess progress, and strategize for future actions.

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Eyewitness: Palestinian refugees in Shatila struggle for liberation

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Richard Becker of ANSWER Coalition speaks at rally in Shatila.

On May 15, a delegation from the Third Annual International Conference for Justice for Palestine joined a solidarity rally with the Palestinian hunger strike in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. Delegates from 35 countries attended the conference. I was invited to attend representing the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

At the rally, held on the 28th day of the mass hunger strike of more than 1300 Palestinian political prisoners, organizers from a wide range of Resistance organizations spoke of the state of the Palestinian liberation movement and called for the people to rise up in further support. They proclaimed their support for the hunger strikers in Israeli prisons fighting for better conditions who have become a galvanizing force for the Palestinian people. Among those speaking at the rally was Richard Becker, of the ANSWER Coalition, who condemned the role of the United States for providing crucial arms, funds and protection for the state of Israel.

Crowd at rally

Shatila along with neighboring Sabra refugee camp became a worldwide symbol of Palestinian oppression in 1982, when, with the crucial assistance of the Israeli military then occupying much of Lebanon, more than 2,000 Palestinians were massacred by Lebanese fascists in a three-day rampage of rape, torture and murder. The United States had guaranteed the security of the camps after the withdrawal of Palestine Liberation Organization’s military forces, but did nothing to stop the slaughter.

An American journalist and eyewitness to the aftermath, Janet Lee Stevens, wrote: “I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit, a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlerswho had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles.”

59 Palestinian refugee camps

Millions of Palestinian refugees currently live outside their homeland, and millions more inside. They have never been allowed to return or reunite with missed loved ones who live under Israel’s racist apartheid military occupation. Hundreds of thousands of these refugees suffer from extremely low and continuously deteriorating living standards as witnessed by this writer.

Since the Palestinians first mass expulsion in 1948 known as the Nakba (“catastrophe”) they have tried to find a place to rebuild their lives until they can return. Fleeing an illegal colonial project, many were placed in what were originally supposed to be temporary camps but have since become more permanent housing projects.

According to Palestinian rights group Al Awda: “Of the 4.3 million [Palestinian] refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 33% live in UNRWA’s 59 refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.” The actual population size is much higher than what is registered with UNRWA. Al Awda wrote: “Palestinians are the largest and longest suffering group of refugees in the world. There are about 7.2 million Palestinian refugees worldwide.”

Seven story apartment building.

Shatila camp, originally built in 1949 for 3,000 people in a working class suburb of Beirut Lebanon, is now estimated to be the home for some 22,000 refugees and the population continues to grow.Thousands of Syrian refugees are now also living in the camp since the U.S. sponsored civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. Shatila has less than half a square mile of land making it an extremely densely populated area putting further strains on the already miniscule resources. Refugee residents are restricted from acquiring any other land in Lebanon and because the camp is not allowed to expand outward their sons and daughters must stay in the camp and build extra units above their family.

Dangerous shelters built far below code for lack of construction materials are the norm. Cinder block and rebar square housing units are precariously placed atop one another reaching ever taller heights, increasing the chances of collapse. Five and six stories are common and we saw many at seven stories; if any unit failed it could mean catastrophe.

Life inside Shatila

Electric wires over the street in Shatila.

Electricity runs through a massive tangled web of wires hanging above the heads of pedestrians barely more than nine feet from the unpaved road below. The roads are more like alleys, some so narrow that you can touch both walls with either arm. The wires are spliced again and again supplying the camp with as much electricity as possible. It’s not uncommon for people or children to be electrocuted from exposed wires. Water and sewage drip down or form puddles around wires. There is no way under the current order system to organize electrical distribution in any other way.

A survivor of electric shock would be hard pressed to find medical care which hardly exists at all. There are no adequate hospitals in Shatila to deal with the health issues resulting from the environmental problems. There are open sewage drains, little fresh air, it’s always damp and usually dark except at noon. There are vermin and the salty water from the pipes is not drinkable and irritates people’s eyes and skin.

The economics for most are bleak; unemployment for Palestinians in Lebanon is more than 50 percent and in Shatila the figure is still higher. Escaping poverty is near impossible following the Lebanese government’s Ministerial Decree No. 1/289 which prohibited Palestinians from holding more than 70 different occupations. Travel for Palestinians is also restricted, preventing access to certain jobs or trading goods.

Along with UNRWA, various NGOs are responsible for providing for the camp. However their projects are underfunded and strained. UNRWA allocates resources based on population, for which there are no reliable figures in the refugee camps. In fact Lebanon has not had a country wide population census since 1932 in order to preserve its undemocratic system imposed by the French colonialists. Further the United States, the greatest friend and guarantor of Israel, dominates the United Nations and fights the Palestinians in it at all levels including providing any resources as meager as they may be.

Liberation is the goal, resistance is the path

Despite being restricted and confined, Palestinians in the camps and the people of Shatila and the other Palestinian camps are not passive victims. On the contrary, the refugee camps inside and outside Occupied Palestine continue to be the strongest centers of resistance, The Palestinian movement for liberation enjoys international support at higher and higher levels. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is active in dozens of countries bringing direct pressure on to Israel. BDS is especially popular in South Africa where the indigenous Black population which is now looking for ways to support the Palestinians had successfully fought a racist apartheid system similar to Israel. In fact former South African freedom fighters who have visited Palestine call the situation for Palestinians “far worse than anything they had faced.”

The prisoners’ hunger strike which continues today has massive support in the refugee camps and throughout the Palestinian diaspora. The prisoners are seen as a galvanizing section of the Palestinian movement and are extremely popular. At the rally in Shatila speakers repeatedly called for support for Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat two of the leaders of the strike to the giant applause and cheers of the crowd.

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Thousands of Israelis rally for two-state solution in support of Palestine

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DAILY SABAH
Israeli demonstrators waving Israeli and Palestinian flags during a protest rally supporting the two states solution between Israel and the Palestinians, in Rabin square (EPA Photo)

Israeli demonstrators waving Israeli and Palestinian flags during a protest rally supporting the two states solution between Israel and the Palestinians, in Rabin square (EPA Photo)

Some 15,000 Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday evening in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Banners reading ‘Two states, One Hope’ were seen in the hands of many demonstrators, who demanded an end to Palestinian occupation, which will soon mark its 50th anniversary.

A message from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was read during the rally.

“It is time to live together in harmony, security and stability. The only way to end the conflict and the fight against terror in the region and the entire world is a solution of two states based on the 1967 borders, Palestine alongside Israel,” Abbas said.

The Palestinian leader went on to say that Palestine accepted the U.N.’s decisions, the two-state solution and recognized the State of Israel, adding that it was now Israel’s turn to recognize Palestinian state and end the occupation.

The leading organizers of the demonstration, Israeli NGO Peace Now, said that the rally was to protest “the lack of hope being offered by a government perpetuating occupation, violence and racism.”

“The time has come to prove to the Israelis, the Palestinians and the entire world that an important segment of the Israeli population is opposed to occupation and wants a two-state solution,” Peace Now head Avi Buskila said.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, —areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war— as part of their hoped-for state. The Palestinians want these areas along with the Gaza Strip for the establishment of a future Palestinian state. International law views the West Bank and east Jerusalem as “occupied territories” and considers all Jewish settlement-building activity on the land as illegal. Roughly 500,000 Israelis now live in more than 100 Jewish-only settlements built since Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967.

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