Archive | October 8th, 2017

The Three Conservative MPs Who Will Never be Prime Minister


One, an ex-Conservative Party chairman who was forced to resign amid allegations of bullying and who was returned to the back-benches years ago, and is now reported to have the insolence to try to unseat Theresa May in order to try to install himself as Prime Minister!

Shapps, Fox and Johnson are three somewhat stained politicians, any of whom, as Prime Minister, would make the UK a laughing stock in both Europe and America, never mind in Britain.

That’s probably why the British electorate want a government headed by a political leader of unquestioned integrity. Jeremy Corbyn would, according to public opinion, certainly fit the bill, or possibly, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

If Britain does indeed need a new Prime Minister, which is debatable, then it must be the democratic choice of the people, not that of a disaffected Tory MP with ambitions way above both his qualifications and his unsavoury history.

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US war culture and gun culture: They’re related

US violent culture

By Lawrence Davidson

Vietnam and America’s war culture

If you go to the Wikipedia page that gives a timeline of US foreign military operations between 1775 and 2010, you are likely to come away in shock. It seems that ever since the founding of the country, the United States has been at war. It is as if Americans just could not (and still cannot) sit still, but had to (and still have to) force themselves on others through military action. Often this is aimed at controlling foreign resources, thus forcing upon others the consequences of their own capitalist avarice. At other times the violence is spurred on by an ideology that confuses US interests with civilisation and freedom. Only very rarely is Washington out there on the side of the angels. Regardless, the bottom line seems to be that peace has never been a deeply ingrained cultural value for the citizens of the United States. As pertains to foreign policy, America’s national culture is a war culture.

… the bottom line seems to be that peace has never been a deeply ingrained cultural value for the citizens of the United States.

It is against this historical backdrop that the recent Ken Burns 18-hour-long documentary on the Vietnam War comes off as superficial. There is a subtle suggestion that while those American leaders who initiated and escalated the war were certainly deceptive, murderously stubborn and even self-deluded, they were so in what they considered to be a good cause. They wanted to stop the spread of Communism at a time when the Cold War defined almost all of foreign policy, and if that meant denying the Vietnamese the right of national unification, so be it. The Burns documentary is a visual demonstration of the fact that such a strategy could not work. Nonetheless, American leaders, both civilian and military, could not let go.

What the Burns documentary does not tell us – and it is this that makes the work superficial – is that none of this was new. Almost all preceding American violence abroad had been rationalised by the same or related set of excuses that kept the Vietnam slaughter going: the revolutionary war was about “liberty”, the genocidal wars against the Native Americans were about spreading “civilisation”, the wars against Mexico and Spain were about spreading “freedom”, and once capitalism became officially synonymous with freedom, the dozens of bloody incursions into Central and South America also became about our “right” to carry on “free enterprise”. As time went by, when Washington wasn’t spreading “freedom”, it was defending it. And so it goes, round and round.

Understanding the history of this ghastly process, one is likely to lose all faith in such rationales. However, it seems obvious that a large number of Americans, including most of their leaders, know very little of the history of American wars (as against knowing a lot of idealised pseudo-history). That is why Ken Burns and his associates can show us the awfulness of the Vietnam war to little avail. The average viewer will have no accurate historical context to understand it, and thus it becomes just an isolated tragedy. While it all might have gone fatally wrong, the American leaders were assumed to be well intentioned.

The United States killed roughly 2 million Vietnamese civilians for ideological reasons that its own leaders, and most of its citizens, never questioned.

Describing the Vietnam War in terms of intentions is simply insufficient. In the case of war the hard-and-fast consequences of one’s actions are more important than one’s intentions. The United States killed roughly 2 million Vietnamese civilians for ideological reasons that its own leaders, and most of its citizens, never questioned.

Most of its citizens, but not all. There was, of course, a widespread and multifaceted anti-war movement. The anti-war protesters were, in truth, the real heroes, the real patriots of the moment. Along with the accumulating body bags, it was the anti-war movement that brought an end to the slaughter. However, once more Burns’s documentary comes off as superficial. Burns leaves the viewer with the impression that the only truly legitimate anti-war protesters were veterans and those associated with veterans. But those were only a small part of a much larger whole. Yet the millions of other Americans who protested against the war are essentially slandered by Burns. The documentary presents them as mostly Communist fellow travellers. We also see various representatives of that non-veteran part of the movement apologise for their positions. There is the implication that the movement had bad tactics. Here is an example: one of the points that the Burns documentary makes is how distasteful was the labelling of returning soldiers as “baby killers”. Actually, this did not happen very often, but when it did, one might judge the charge as impolitic – but not inaccurate. You can’t kill 2 million civilians without killing a lot of babies. If we understand war in terms of the death of babies, then there might be fewer wars.

… American behaviour in Vietnam was not just tragically flawed – it was criminal. But it was also historically consistent – an expression of a long-standing and deep-seated war culture…

US leaders also sent 58,000 of their own citizens to die in Vietnam. Why did these citizens go? After all, this was not like World War II. North Vietnam had not attacked the United States (the Bay of Tonkin incident was misrepresented to Congress). The Vietcong were not Nazis. But you need an accurate take on history to recognise these facts, and that was, as usual, missing. And so, believing their politicians, the generals, and most of their civic leaders, many conscripts and volunteers went to die or be maimed under false pretences.The inevitable post-war disillusionment was seen by subsequent US leaders as a form of mental illness, and they labelled it “the Vietnam Syndrome”. The “syndrome” was as short-lived as popular memory. In March 2003 George W. Bush invaded Iraq under false pretences and US forces proceeded to kill half a million civilians.

In the end, American behaviour in Vietnam was not just tragically flawed – it was criminal. But it was also historically consistent – an expression of a long-standing and deep-seated war culture, a culture that still defines the American worldview and has become the very linchpin of its domestic economy. That is why the wars, large and small, never stop.

A gun culture to complement the war culture

America’s propensity to violence in other lands is but one side of a two-sided coin. Callous disregard for civilian lives abroad is matched by a wilful promotion of violence at home. That wilful promotion is the product of a right-wing ideological orientation (stemming from a misreading of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution) that demands a nearly open-ended right of all Americans to own an almost unlimited number and types of firearms.The result is gun regulation laws that are embarrassingly ineffective.

Again, the consequences of this position are much more profound than any claim that its supporters’ intentions are to defend citizens rights to own guns. Since 1968 about as many Americans have been killed in-country by gun violence (1.53 million) as have died in all of America’s wars put together (1.20 million). The numbers are too close to be dismissed as coincidence. Both reflect a culture of exceptionalism that grants at once the United States government, and its citizens, extensive rights to act in disregard of the safety and security of others.

Ubiquitous gun ownership makes us unsafe, just as does the endless waging of war.

You would think Americans would recognise an obvious contradiction here. You cannot maintain a safe population and, at the same time, allow citizens the right to own and, largely at their own discretion, use firearms. Nonetheless, some Americans imagine that they have squared this circle by claiming that their guns are for “self-defence” and therefore do make for a safer society. This is just like the US government’s constant exposition that all its violence is committed in the name of civilisation and freedom. In both cases we have a dangerous delusion. Ubiquitous gun ownership makes us unsafe, just as does the endless waging of war.

The inability to see straight is not the sort of failing that can be restricted to one dimension. If you can’t grasp reality due to ideological blinkers or historical ignorance, you are going to end up in trouble both at home and abroad – not just one place, but both. And, the more weaponised you are, both as a state and as a citizen, the greater the potential for disaster. In the end the United States cannot stop killing civilians abroad unless it finds the wisdom to stop killing its own citizens at home – and vice versa. That is the US conundrum, whether America’s 320 million citizens realise it or not.

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Croatia Chooses To Be in the EU Core

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Croatia made its choice for its future in the EU by choosing, out of the several options of integration, to be in the core of the EU, which this autumn begins a major overhaul that will deepen the integration in areas like defence, security, justice, the euro area. Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced at the opening of the regular government meeting on October 5th that in the coming weeks the government, together with the Croatian People’s Bank (HNB) will publish a roadmap for the country’s accession to the euro area. He believes membership is possible in several years.

Croatia’s accession to the currency club has been a priority for this government from the very beginning of its term (October 2016), but the European speech of French President Emmanuel Macron, which Mr Plenkovic described as “inspiring“, as well as the informal EU summit in Tallinn last week, pushed the government in Zagreb to accelerate the preparations for the country’s accession not only in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), but also Schengen. “Our firm conviction is that we have to belong to the closest circle and thus we will have greater influence and more benefits from our EU membership“, the prime minister said. In his words, at the working dinner in the Estonian capital, the member states were practically stating their choices of integration speeds.

About an acceleration in Zagreb also speaks the fact that Finance Minister Zdravko Maric recently told euinside that for now Croatia will not be defining the dynamics of its accession. He said that public expert discussions are yet to be held on the pros and cons of the euro. Only a week later however, the premier said Croatia will join in several years.

Regarding the Schengen membership, Andrej Plenkovic said he was strongly encouraged by his talks with Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos (Greece, EPP), who was this week in Zagreb. According to the prime minister, Croatia will be ready with the implementation of the technical criteria for Schengen accession in the first half of 2019, and it will then await a political decision to join, a decision that Bulgaria and Romania have been waiting for for years. The Croatian premier has got the message of encouragement of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP), who called in his annual state of the Union address for the accession of the three countries in Schengen.

However, the implementation of the euro area criteria will take more time because Croatia is not meeting the public debt criterion. In the 2016 convergence report, which the European Central Bank publishes every two years, it is concluded that Croatia does not meet the budget deficit and the public debt criteria. The situation with the budget deficit, though, has significantly improved since then and in June this year the country exited the excessive deficit procedure. In 2014, when the procedure was launched, Croatia’s budget deficit was -5.5% of gross domestic product. Last year, it shrank to -0.8% of GDP. According to the European Commission spring forecast, the Croatian budget deficit is expected to increase this year to -1.1% of GDP but will drop back to -0.9% next year.

The situation with debt is more serious. The debt-to-GDP ratio dropped in 2016 to 84.2% from a peak of 86.7% a year earlier. It is expected the decline will continue to 79.4% next year. Croatia is meeting all the other criteria for inflation, exchange rate stability of the kuna and the long-term interest rates. In the 2016 report, the ECB praised the work of the HNB for the stability of the kuna and for the stabilisation of the long-term interest rates. In other words, Croatia could file a request to enter the currency mechanism for preparation for membership (ERMII) the minute it reduces its debt to below 60% as is the allowed maximum under the Stability and Growth Pact. Prime Minister Plenkovic recalled that the strategic goal of the government is to reduce the public debt by 10% by 2020.

When it comes to the upcoming overhaul of the EU, Andrej Plenkovic said he expected by the European elections in 2019 “a reasonably ambitious” approach to the European project, but refrained from elaborating. Plenkovic has established a tradition of reporting at the public sessions of the government and in the Sabor (parliament) about his participation in the European Council meetings, thus putting European issues on the agenda of the Croatian public. This is a rare success, especially in a country which is entirely consumed by its own domestic problems.

Emmanuel Macron’s speech as well as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan, outlined in his annual address in September, have obviously pushed not only Croatia but Hungary as well to reflect on an acceleration of integration in the euro area. Bloomberg reports that Hungary could join the currency club much earlier than its political leaders are willing to admit. According to signals coming from Budapest, the forint could be replaced by the euro by the end of the decade. The main argument why Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are delaying their membership has been economic divergences with the richer euro area countries as well as the divisions in perceptions about European integration, especially in Warsaw and Budapest.

The acceleration of the integration processes in the euro area however, especially after Berlin forms a government, is already ringing the alarm bells in the slower and more sceptic members that they might drop off of the European project if they refuse to enter deeper integration waters.

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Eurozone and Greece Are Preparing for Bailout Exit


A very important piece of news has passed almost unnoticed last week among crucial for the EU issues, like the situation with the rule of law in Poland, the election in Germany and what ruling coalition will be formed at a time when the eurozone is ready to make a giant leap forward in its integration, the going nowhere Brexit negotiations and the accelerated legislative activity of the European Commission. But the most important news last week was that Greece has exited the excessive deficit procedure, thus getting another step closer to the end of its third bailout programme.

The significance of the decision of the foreign and European affairs ministers of 25 September is huge if we recall that Greece was in the excessive deficit procedure for 8 years. In 2009, the Greek shortage in the budget was gigantic – 15.1% of gross domestic product. Last year, for the first time, the country registered a primary surplus (without the interest rates on loans) of 0.7%, much bigger than forecast. The European Commission projects a small deficit this year but it will be much below the 3% ceiling under the European fiscal rules.

Greece’s huge budget deficit and the manipulated statistical data marked the beginning of the euro area’s biggest crisis since the introduction of the single currency, a crisis that unleashed a domino effect and created a risk of a breakup of the currency club and even of the European Union. From the moment the Greek government requested financial assistance from its partners in the spring of 2010, Greece turned into a top priority for the EU and especially for the euro area. Hundreds of emergency meetings, sleepless nights, compromises unheard of, exchange of harsh words, billions of euros, snap elections, referenda, resignations, writing of tens of books is the balance from the Greek crisis, which is entering its last phase.

This year, undoubtedly, will remain in history as the first when the light in the end of the tunnel can finally be seen. The implementation of the third adjustment programme is on track. The biggest problem continues to be the disagreement between the euro area and the International Monetary Fund on the issue of the sustainability of the Greek public debt and that is the only condition for the financial involvement of the Fund in the third rescue package. The way things stand right now it is not even necessary but it does play the role of a bad cop at the moment to keep the direction and the dynamics of programme implementation. As EU Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici (France, S&D) announced after the Eurogroup’s informal meeting in September in Estonia, the successful conclusion of the third bailout programme will be a signal that a very difficult chapter in the history of the eurozone is to be closed.

Work has already started on the third review of the third package, as the ambition is to complete it by the end of the year. Greece is expected to complete 95 measures linked to social benefits, labour market reform, reform of the public administration, implementation of the non-performing loans strategy, reform of the energy sector and privatisation. According to Pierre Moscovici, the tasks are not easy but their timely implementation will be a signal that Greece has returned as a full member of the euro area.

Is there life after the bailout programme?

This turning point was reached in June this year when a huge breakthrough has been reached – the Eurogroup made a much more specific commitment to Greece for the period after it exits the programme in August next year – for the price of compromises from both sides. Greece committed to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of its GDP by 2022, and after that a fiscal trajectory of around 2% of GDP from 2023 until 2060. The Eurogroup’s expectations are that Greece’s financial needs (to service debt) will remain below 15% of GDP in the mid-term and below 20% after that, which is a condition to keep the Greek public debt sustainable. The size of Greece’s debt in 2016 peaked at 179.0% of GDP.

In exchange for Athens’ good and responsible behaviour, the Eurogroup, which after the payment of the latest tranche of 8.5 bn euros in July is now the owner of 50% of Greece’s debt, committed to extend maturities on loans and to further reduce the interest rates of the first bailout programme, financed by the EFSF. In case there are deviations from the forecasts the Eurogroup stands ready to trigger a protection mechanism, the details of which will be elaborated after the successful completion of the programme, when it will be clearer whether forecasts are right.

George Chouliarakis, Alternate Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers of Greece, said after the June Eurogroup that for the first time there is clarity on Greece’s future after the end of the programme. The agreed debt relief package is three-layered, he explained. The first layer are the specific mid-term measures, the second is the mechanism that will be triggered in cases when economic growth is below expectations, and the third are the long-term debt relief measures.

Despite the agreement, IMF remained unhappy. At the same meeting on June 15 in Luxembourg, the Fund’s chief, Christine Lagarde, admitted that a lot had been achieved but it was still not enough to ensure the Fund’s involvement in the financial package. However, Mrs Lagarde demonstrated good will by committing that the IMF will set money aside which will be paid after the Fund’s requirements are met. In July, the IMF executive board approved a stand-by agreement of 1.6 bn euros, which will be paid when the Fund receives assurances from its European partners about the sustainability of Greece’s debt and if the economic programme is implemented. The IMF wants more to be done to relieve the Greek debt which the organisation still considers not sustainable.

Greece and the future of the euro area

It was German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble who mostly insisted on IMF’s involvement. This was his condition to sign the third adjustment programme. However, after the election in Germany he is now out of the game. This still does not mean that Berlin will completely lift its objections, but given the change of atmosphere in the euro area after the election of Emmanuel Macron for president of France, the focus has shifted on the deepening of the euro area integration. One of the ideas in the reflection paper the European Commission published in the spring is the creation of a European Monetary Fund. All bailout funds will be better integrated and expanded, which means that the bailout out of troubled economies in the euro area will remain an internal eurozone matter and there will be no need of an external organisation like the IMF.

For this to happen however, it is still important Greece to continue in the same spirit of constructivity, maturity and sobriety, which will restore trust between members of the currency club and will encourage them to get closer together. But Greece is still giving reasons for concern. At the September Eurogroup meeting, ministers expressed concern with the rule of law in Greece after the former chief of the Greek statistics office, Elstat, was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of abuse of position. Andreas Georgiou was found guilty for not informing the board of directors of Elstat for his decision to revise the 2009 deficit data.

We fully respect the independence of the judicial system but we see also that these cases create reputation damage and could, if no solution is found, damage the return of the confidence among investors“, said Commissioner Moscovici. The president of the European Stability Mechanism (the permanent bailout fund of the euro area), Klaus Regling, also warned that the legal issues affect the financial markets. All this is happening at a time when the credit rating agencies have increased their expectations for Greece and also when he country has made a successful attempt to return on the market.

Until the third bailout programme is implemented, the IMF will continue to play the role of a life-belt, which will secure the eurozone more time to start the new integration wave. At the autumn EU summit in two weeks, it is expected that plans for the future of the euro area will be discussed in more detail, and the European Commission will present on December 6 the first legislative proposals. Unless there is some new political or economic cataclysm, the Greek story will remain in the past as that necessary evil which triggered the completion of the euro area, the very creation of which is a series of small steps and a lot of distrust among the member states.

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Catalonia: EPP’s Bad Boys

Adelina Marini

Photos from Catalonia where the Spanish authorities used excessive force against those willing to participate in an illegal referendum in the autonomous Spanish province caused justified reactions of indignation that such a thing is possible in the European Union. Even more revolting was the silence of the European political elite, with the notable exception of Slovenia Prime Minister Miro Cerar (ALDE), Belgium’s Charles Michel (ALDE), the ALDE group leader in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium) and the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group Gianni Pittella (Italy). In this company was also Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius. All of them denounced the violence and urged for political dialogue and finding a peaceful solution to the situation. The group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament demanded the issue to be included on the agenda of the plenary session, which started in Strasbourg on Monday, but by the time this article was finished it had not yet been included (later it was added and will take place on Wednesday afternoon).

The European Commission, whose President Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg) was nominated by the European People’s party, reacted a day later with a special statement which, however, spokesman Margaritis Schinas read out only after he was asked a question by a journalist. The statement is bursting of balance along the seams. In it, it s firmly stated that the developments in Spain are an internal matter which has to be resolved in line with the constitutional order of the country. All participants are called upon to switch urgently to dialogue. “Violence can never be an instrument in politics“, the statement reads, but in the same time the Commission states it fully trusts the Spanish prime minister. “We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish Constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein“.

The European People’s Party itself, of which Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party is a member, did not mention a single word on the occasion of the events on Sunday, when more than 800 people were injured. During the clashes against each other stood Spanish policemen and Catalan firefighters. The photos of covered with blood faces of elderly women and men circulated the social networks but even that failed to take the EPP out of their silence. This is another black spot on the image of the largest political family in Europe of a series accumulated by their own “naughty” members and their leaders.

Orban – the Illiberal and anti-European

Most famous among them is Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leader of the Fidesz party. His anti-migration policy, full of violence and disrespect for fundamental human rights, for years has been poisoning the atmosphere in the Union in addition to his decision to reject liberal democracy and start building an illiberal regime, including media repressions and the opening of numerous infringement procedures by the European Commission. All this was left unnoticed by the EPP leadership, despite the many debates in the European Parliament and beyond. Patience seemed to be over this year, but not sufficiently, when Orban went too far by sending a public questionnaire to Hungarian citizens asking them whether Brussels is overstepping its powers, titled “Let’s stop Brussels!”.

The EPP then gave its consent the European Commission to use its entire arsenal against Mr Orban in order to bring Hungary back into the democratic flock. However, EPP did not go as far as to call on the Commission to launch the rule of law procedure against Hungary following the example with Poland, which could end with the triggering of Article 7 of the Treaty of the EU which suspends voting rights in the Council. Undisturbed, in the mean time Orban continued with his scandalising actions. He recently launched another campaign, funded with taxpayers’ money, against the globally renown philanthropist of Hungarian origin George Soros. Currently ongoing is another questionnaire asking for or against the “Soros Plan”, which could be awarded the non-existent prize for best conspiracy theory.

The propaganda of the past years, financed with taxpayers’ money, is already delivering. Last week, in a little village in Hungary’s southwest, local citizens rebelled against the plans of a local businessman, supported by the mayor, to accommodate children of refugees in a summer house in the village. The plan was for a vacation of several days of mainly women and children. After learning about it the locals organised an urgent meeting, during which a severe conflict erupted, which led to the mayor resigning after having governed for 11 years.

The owner of the summer house said he was unable to take the floor in the storm of shouts, among which it could be clearly heard that the refugees are not people, that they are animals, terrorists who are coming to blow people up and rape children. Several days later, Prime Minister Viktor Orban supported the rebellious villagers saying that Hungarians have been lied to many timed before, so it is normal local citizens to be worried. In the same time, Hungarian journalists expressed concern that this might lead to a civil war.

The presidency of a captured state

For years, the European public domain has been dominated by the problems with Hungary and Poland, whereas Bulgaria was passing through quite successfully unnoticed, although the anti-democratic and anti-European track record of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his party GERB (an EPP member) is not smaller than that of Viktor Orban’s and is even worse. Borissov is a prime minister for a third time and during his governance not only the situation with the rule of law has not improved but the little progress, achieved before with a lot of pain, was erased too. The European Commission progress reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism are eloquent enough and do not save criticism for the lack of adequate measures and political will.

The recent election of members of the Supreme Judicial Council is another vivid example of how many things are not right in the country which will on January 1st take over the Council’s rotating presidency at a time when the EU has finally matured for the conclusion that the rule of law is a

fundamental priority for the Union, as this year’s state of the Union address of President Juncker makes perfectly clear.

Not only there is no progress in the fight against corruption, organised crime and the installation of rule of law, but Boyko Borissov’s party is in bed with xenophobic and pro-Kremlin parties. In Bulgaria can be heard absolutely the same anti-migration propaganda which feeds aggressive moods against refugees, who in Bulgaria are quite a few. The media situation in Bulgaria is not any different than in Serbia, which is at the very beginning of its EU accession process. Regarding relations with Russia, Bulgaria also resembles very much Serbia. The lack of adequate opposition in the Bulgarian parliament and of independent bodies that exert control and demand accountability of the government is speaking volumes, but obviously not loud enough to reach the ears of the EPP. From an image point of view, the Bulgarian presidency will have a negative effect on EU.

EPP’s Bad Boys in the Western Balkans

The actions of Boyko Borissov and Viktor Orban are a childish game compared to the leaders of EPP sister parties in countries in the Western Balkans, Macedonia and Serbia in particular. In Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE has in 10 years made of Macedonia – one of the most prepared candidates in 2005 – a captured state. Under the leadership of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, media freedom and expression were suffocated, institutions were deprived of their independence which led to a severe political crisis that forced EU’s involvement. That EPP member’s thirst for power was so huge that it was ready to risk even an ethnic conflict. Nothing of this, however, persuaded the EPP to stop supporting Nikola Gruevski and his party VMRO-DPMNE, which is still an obstacle on Macedonia’s EU path.

Last year, the EPP welcomed among its members Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic’s party, despite his many sins both in Serbia and in the regional. During the five years rule of the former information minister in Slobodan Milosevic’s government and his party Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) media freedom was suppressed, tabloid wars were launched against his opponents and the little independence institutions had before was undermined. Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbia is tangibly farther from the rule of law and democracy than before. Very dangerous for the stability of the region though are his actions aimed at neighbouring countries and his close cooperation with Russia.

At the moment, Serbia has tense relations with all its neighbours and in the spring there was a serious escalation with Kosovo which scared a lot of people in the region and beyond. The situation is now calmer and there is even optimism that a page has been turned. This sounds too good to be true. In November, it is expected Aleksandar Vucic and his man in the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, to publish a declaration on the survival of the Serbs. This, however, does not prevent the European Commission and its commissioner for enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP) to open new negotiating chapters.

Catalonia is not Kosovo

Clashes in Catalonia very much reminded the attempts of former Yugoslav republics to leave Yugoslavia, some of which ended with the bloodiest wars in Europe after World War II. Most striking, however, are the similarities between Kosovo and Catalonia as both are territories enjoying solid autonomies, different culture and language (Kosovo has been independent state since 2008). In both provinces the desire for independence was boosted by inadequate policies by the central authority. In fact, precisely because of the analogy with Kosovo Spain is one of the five EU member states that have not yet recognised the independence of the former Serbian province. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday on this occasion that the difference between Spain and Serbia in this case is that Spain is an EU member.

Of course, putting Mariano Rajoy and his Popular party in the same club with the EPP’s bad boys is not deserved because the violence used on Sunday in Catalonia is incomparable to what Milosevic was doing in Kosovo, neither much common ground can be found between Mr Rajoy’s governance and that of Mr Orban or Mr Borissov. Nevertheless, the use of disproportionate force is absolutely unacceptable in the European Union which has proved itself through the years as the ultimate master of finding compromises and solutions to even the most intricate situations. In the Catalan case, the EPP is not the only party whose image is suffering. Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont is leader of the Catalan European Democratic Party, which is a member of ALDE and is defined as nationalistic and separatist.

But the Liberals are way ahead of the EPP for several reasons. First and foremost, as can be seen in the beginning of this text, the very few European reactions came mainly from Liberals. And if Slovenia did condemn the violence in Catalonia because of its memories of its short war to break up with Yugoslavia, the reaction of Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel is indicative. Belgium is a country which, too, is known for strong separatist moods and the governing coalition is formed with the Flemish nationalists and separatists from the New Flemish Alliance. Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament, is a former premier of Belgium and is also very well acquainted with the separatist risks in his homeland.

In a special statement on the occasion of the violence in Catalonia, Guy Verhofstadt said that the only solution is negotiations. He condemned both sides – the separatists (meaning his own) for deciding the organise the referendum despite that it was banned by the Constitutional court, and the government for resorting to disproportionate force.

Macron’s challenge

It may seem that the end is near for the long domination of the European political parties unless they offer a change. The EPP leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber (Germany), was among the first to pronounce the end of destructive populism and Euroscepticism after the election in France, won by Emmanuel Macron and his young movement En Marche!, which was only a year old then. Although Mr Macron is quite close to the traditional parties in the EU, he is in fact an anti-systemic player. His movement is not a member of any of the European political families and has no intentions to be. In his powerful European speech last week, he threw the gauntlet to the big parties saying that he would not allow them to hold monopoly over the debate on Europe’s future.

As euinsidewrote, this could have a strong impact on the Spitzenkandidaten procedure, in which the European political parties nominate their own candidates for the presidency of the European Commission. It is thanks to this procedure that Jean-Claude Juncker became president after the EPP again ended up as the most powerful party in the 2014 European elections. In his statements so far, the French president made it abundantly clear that he is completely aware of the frustration of citizens with the political elites. The omnivorousness of the European political parties and their eye-closing for serious sins of sister parties could be nearing the end because Emmanuel Macron showed an ambition for the next elections the European democracy to be significantly enhanced through creating a trans-European list for a certain number of EP seats.

A factor of change could also be the Commission proposal of 13 September this year to amend the regulation on European political parties and foundations. The proposal is a result of the bitter experience with the Eurosceptic and populist parties. The idea is to close all loopholes for abuse with taxpayers’ money, suspending funding of parties which work against the EU. Undoubtedly, with their actions Viktor Orban and Boyko Borissov are in this category. Aleksandar Vucic and Nikola Gruevski too, but as their countries are not EU members the situation there is different when it comes to funding. By 2019, when the next elections for European Parliament will take place, there is less than two years time left, during which the European political families have to reconsider their role in defending the European project, founded on democracy, rule of law and respect for fundamental rights. If they do not do it, they will be wiped out by a Macronian tsunami.

Posted in SpainComments Off on Catalonia: EPP’s Bad Boys

How Kurdish independence underpins Israel’s plan to reshape the Middle East

Israeli and Kurdish flags

By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

Palestinians and Israelis watched last week’s referendum of Iraq’s Kurds with special interest. Israeli officials and many ordinary Palestinians were delighted – for very different reasons – to see an overwhelming vote to split away from Iraq.

Given the backlash from Baghdad and anger from Iran and Turkey, which have restive Kurdish minorities, the creation of a Kurdistan in northern Iraq may not happen soon.

Palestinian support for the Kurds is not difficult to understand. Palestinians, too, were overlooked when Britain and France carved up the Middle East into states a century ago. Like the Kurds, Palestinians have found themselves trapped in different territories, oppressed by their overlords.

Israel’s complex interests in Kurdish independence are harder to unravel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was the sole world leader to back Kurdish independence, and other politicians spoke of the Kurds’ “moral right” to a state. None saw how uneasily that sat with their approach to the Palestinian case.

… Israel wants a bulwark against Iran transferring its weapons, intelligence and know-how to Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon.

On a superficial level, Israel would gain because the Kurds sit on plentiful oil. Unlike the Arab states and Iran, they are keen to sell to Israel.

But the reasons for Israeli support run deeper. There has been co-operation, much of it secret, between Israel and the Kurds for decades. Israeli media lapped up tributes from now-retired generals who trained the Kurds from the 1960s. Those connections have not been forgotten or ended. Independence rallies featured Israeli flags, and Kurds spoke of their ambition to become a “second Israel”.

Israel views the Kurds as a key ally in an Arab-dominated region. Now, with Islamic State’s influence receding, an independent Kurdistan could help prevent Iran filling the void. Israel wants a bulwark against Iran transferring its weapons, intelligence and know-how to Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon.

Israel’s current interests, however, hint at a larger vision it has long harboured for the region – and one I set out at length in my book, Israel and the Clash of Civilisations.

It began with Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion, who devised a strategy of “allying with the periphery” – building military ties to non-Arab states like Turkey, Ethiopia, India and Iran, then ruled by the shahs. The goal was to help Israel to break out of its regional isolation and contain an Arab nationalism led by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

[The Yinon Plan] proposed the implosion of the Middle East, breaking apart the region’s key states – and Israel’s main opponents – by fuelling sectarian and ethnic discord. The aim was to fracture these states, weakening them so that Israel could secure its place as sole regional power.

Israeli general Ariel Sharon expanded this security doctrine in the early 1980s, calling for Israel to become an imperial power in the Middle East. Israel would ensure that it alone in the region possessed nuclear weapons, making it indispensable to the US.

Sharon was not explicit about how Israel’s empire could be realised, but an indication was provided at around the same time in the Yinon Plan, written for the World Zionist Organisation by a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official.

Oded Yinon proposed the implosion of the Middle East, breaking apart the region’s key states – and Israel’s main opponents – by fuelling sectarian and ethnic discord. The aim was to fracture these states, weakening them so that Israel could secure its place as sole regional power.

The inspiration for this idea lay in the occupied territories, where Israel had contained Palestinians in a series of separate enclaves. Later, Israel would terminally divide the Palestinian national movement, nurturing an Islamist extremism that coalesced into Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In this period, Israel also tested its ideas in neighbouring southern Lebanon, which it occupied for two decades. There, its presence further stoked sectarian tensions between Christians, Druze, Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The strategy of “Balkanising” the Middle East found favour in the US among a group of hawkish policymakers, known as neoconservatives, who came to prominence during George W. Bush’s presidency.

Heavily influenced by Israel, they promoted the idea of “rolling back” key states, especially Iraq, Iran and Syria, which were opposed to Israeli-US dominance in the region. They prioritised ousting Saddam Hussein, who had fired missiles on Israel during the 1991 Gulf war.

Although often assumed to be an unfortunate side effect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq,

… Washington’s oversight of [Iraq’s] bloody disintegration into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish fiefdoms looked suspiciously intentional. Now, Iraqi Kurds are close to making that break-up permanent.

Syria has gone a similar way, mired in convulsive fighting that has left its ruler impotent. And Tehran is, again, the target of efforts by Israel and its allies in the US to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord, backing Iran into a corner. Arab, Baluchi, Kurdish and Azeri minorities there may be ripe for stirring up.

Last month at the Herzliya conference, an annual jamboree for Israel’s security establishment, Justice M’sinister Ayelet Shaked called for a Kurdish state. She has stated that it would be integral to Israeli efforts to “reshape” the Middle East.

The unravelling of Britain and France’s map of the region would likely lead to chaos of the kind that a strong, nuclear-armed Israel, with backing from Washington, could richly exploit. Not least, yet more bedlam would push the Palestinian cause even further down the international community’s list of priorities.

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, IraqComments Off on How Kurdish independence underpins Israel’s plan to reshape the Middle East

‘Be Like Che’: Cuba Observes 50th Anniversary of Revolutionary’s Death

  • Cubans pay homage to Che.
    Cubans pay homage to Che. | Photo: Cubadebate.
Ceremonies commemorating Che’s death have been taking place all over the world.

Hundreds of thousands of Cuban and international guests poured into in Santa Clara, Cuba to pay homage to the revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara, one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution.

RELATED: Cuban Doctors Honored to Carry on Che’s Legacy in La Higuera, Bolivia

Along with President Raul Castro Ruz, over 600,000 people saw the sun come up before the official ceremonies began at Che’s monument and mausoleum in the town which proudly hosts his memorial.

Outside his burial place, treasured relics, photos and letters to the Argentine hero covered the ground in a display the special place Che’s holds in the hearts of the Cuban people.

The president, along with First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel paid their respects to the revolutionary in his place of rest.

A recording of the late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s tribute to Che from Oct. 18, 1967, was played.

“If we want a model of man, a model of a man who does not belong to this time, a model of man who belongs to the future. I say in my heart that this model without a single fault in his conduct, without a single fault in his attitude, Che is the model. If we want to say how we wish our children to be, we must say it with all the vehemence of revolutionaries: We want them to be like Che!”

Some of Che’s family members and his fellow combatants who died by his side in Bolivia joined supporters from social, political, and youth organizations.

Che’s bronze monument, which stands almost 20 meters high, overshadowing his mausoleum, looked over the crowd as the honor guard moved to place a large floral wreath, in the shape of a red star as the national anthem played.

Diaz-Canel called the audience’s attention to the accomplishments made around the city and in Cuba since Che’s death.

“The accomplishments of this town demonstrate how much has been done to continue his legacy, to match his example, to try to be like him,” said the vice president, emphasizing that Che’s memory must be more than just a slogan, but a way of life.

He also recalled Che’s words when he stated that imperialism cannot be trusted in the slightest, going on to note that changes in the country are undertaken in consultation with the people, adding that Cuba will not allow itself to be intimidated by new schemes designed to vilify the country, nor will it make concessions regarding how it chooses to construct socialism.

RELATED: Bolivia Begins Tribute to Che on 50th Anniversary of Death

The ceremony also featured 50 elementary school children who were presented with blue handkerchiefs, identifying them as members of the Jose Marti Pioneers organization.

Ceremonies commemorating the revolutionary’s death began this week in Bolivia with speeches, poems, and music, highlighting his internationalist accomplishments with a host of activities.

In 1966, Che launched a guerrilla movement in the South American country aimed at overthrowing the right-wing military regime of Rene Barrientos.

After months of fighting against the U.S.-trained and supported Bolivian Army, Che was captured on Oct. 8 and executed at the age of 39 on Oct. 9, after refusing to divulge information while being interrogated.

A day later, Che’s body was displayed to international media with Bolivian Army troops. It is widely believed that Barrientos’ regime was instructed by the CIA to hunt down and kill the leader of the Cuban Revolution.

He was then secretly buried in the small town of Vallegrande before being transferred to his present resting place in Santa Clara, Cuba.

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Are Mexicans Indigenous?

By Roberto Rodriguez

A dancer in Aztec clothing dances in Los Angeles, California, July 19, 2009. (Photo: Jorge Gonzalez)

A dancer in Aztec clothing dances in Los Angeles, California, July 19, 2009. (Photo: Jorge Gonzalez)

As many US states and municipalities have begun to eschew the colonial tradition of “Columbus Day” in favor of adopting Monday’s holiday as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” one might wonder where people of Mexican heritage fit in.

For some, this is a controversial question due to hundreds of years of mestizaje, or mixture, and also due to hundreds of years of colonialism and colonized thinking. For others, this is not controversial at all, because with few European women brought to this continent, the mixture was not co-equal and consensual, and thus, most Mexicans essentially remain Indigenous or are de-Indigenized peoples as a result of colonization.

All answers are complex because the category of mestizo/mestiza is actually a non-scientific term born of a racial caste system of exploitation, designed primarily not as a racial descriptor, but to deprive people of their full human rights. If it were simply a racial designation, in all likelihood, most Mexicans would be considered mestizo or Indigenous; in Canada, a metis or person of “mixed-blood” is considered a First Nations person. In Mexico, very few Mexicans are considered “white.”

One of the primary answers also gives us a clue as to why Mexicans have always been exploited in the United States.

The Mexican American Identity Throughout History

In the US, Mexicans represent memory; a reminder of land theft and unjust war. Yet what is commonly expressed by omission is that they are the antithesis of idealized, blonde and blue-eyed Americans. Mexicans are viewed as utter outsiders, as enemy “others.” This has to do with the unfinished business of Manifest Destiny: Blacks were to be enslaved and Native peoples were supposed to have been eradicated from these “promised lands” of North America.

Mexicans have been viewed by white Americans as inferior peoples and convenient scapegoats. This thinking was behind the periodic, massive and inhumane deportation campaigns throughout US history, from the lynching campaigns of the 1840s-1920s, to the Trump administration’s current immigration policy.

During the height of the Chicano Movement, activists asserted a radical pride: they were mestizo/mestiza (mixed-peoples) and part of a bronze continent that did not recognize any “capricious borders.” This was the origin of “Brown is Beautiful” and “Brown Power,” and such ideas were embedded within El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, one of the foundational documents of this movement.

Many in the movement also proclaimed Indigeneity. This was contrary to how previous generations of Mexican Americans had identified, insistent upon a white identity, in particular, for waging legal desegregation battles. However, as University of Texas scholar Martha Menchaca has demonstrated in “Chicano Indianism,” Mexican Americans were never actually treated by society and its institutions as white, especially in the courtroom.

Almost 50 years after the height of the movement, the question now being posed is whether Mexicans/Chicanos/Chicanas are Native peoples, especially since the population has skyrocketed and is no longer confined to the US Southwest. They have also been joined by many more millions of peoples from Mexico and Central America, who often share a common Mesoamerican root, and who increasingly come from living Indigenous pueblos.

Shifting Identities

Communities of Zapotec, Mixtec, Purépecha, Otomi, Nahua and Maya peoples, to name a few, identify as Indigenous, as do some Mexican peoples that have mixed with Native Americans throughout the United States.

The question of Indigeneity, then, is largely about de-Indigenized Mexicans and Central Americans: Are they Native? That question should be restricted to de-Indigenized peoples, but even Yaquis (who generally live in the Southwestern US, as well as northern Mexico), for example, are viewed by some as Mexican, as opposed to Native. Adding to this complexity, some consider O’odham peoples who live in Sonora also as Mexicans and not O’odham.

During the Chicano movement, Mexicans/Chicanos/Chicanas generally spoke of descending from Indigenous peoples — Aztec and Maya, primarily. They never identified when they themselves stopped being Indigenous. That is the key — Indigeneity is not simply the past, but also the present.

Given that we are speaking of perhaps 30-40 million people, is a shift toward identifying as Indigenous, among a population that is itself historically anti-Indigenous, possible? Who decides? Does white America — including the US government — have a say in this matter? The government can define US citizenship, but arguably has no standing when it comes to defining a historical identity that precedes the formation of the United States and, in effect, involves the entire continent, as opposed to just the US.

It is a conversation that needs to be had, especially within a society that is hell-bent on erecting a massive wall — the consummate symbol of white supremacy — to keep the “Brown hordes” out.

The people who would have a say in this matter would be the AmerIndigenous peoples — the original peoples of this continent — especially within the United States. This may not be an easy question to answer. Due to colonialism and extreme racism, many Mexicans over the centuries have been trained or raised to reject their own ancestry, and many have done so and continue to do so. Given this reality, many original peoples would never “accept them back.” Others have and do, and many do so with open arms, wondering why it has taken them so long “to return.”

I suspect that if there ever comes a time of full acceptance, it will come about as a result of much dialogue. And yet, it will be these de-Indigenized communities that will ultimately have to decide upon not simply their identity, but also their future.

However Mexicans ultimately choose to identify, what is certain is that unless something radical happens, chances are very likely that they will not be accepted as full human beings by this society in the foreseeable future. Thus, will Mexicans acknowledge their future as intertwined with the recognized original peoples of this continent, or will they choose a different course?

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The Psychological Ripple Effects of Mass Shootings


A woman pauses at a makeshift memorial on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, October 6, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada. On October 1, Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, killing 58 people and injuring more than 450. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

By Karin KampMoyers & Company 

A woman pauses at a makeshift memorial on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, October 6, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada. On October 1, Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, killing 58 people and injuring more than 450. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The latest mass shooting in America — the largest in modern history — has us once again questioning the role of guns in our society and our willingness to allow weapons and ammunition to proliferate throughout. Until Sunday, when a gunman opened fire in Las Vegas and killed 59 people and wounded hundreds more, the deadliest mass shooting happened in June 2016 at an Orlando nightclub, leaving 49 dead and many injured. Since then, there have been over 520 mass shootings, which the Gun Violence Archive defines as an event in which four or more individuals are shot at or killed in the same general time and location.

How do these mass shootings impact all those involved as well as those who witness them from afar? We asked Sheila A.M. Rauch, Ph.D., an associate professor at Emory University School who has been providing treatment for PTSD and anxiety disorder for over 20 years, what these events are doing to the individuals involved as well as our collective national psyche.

Karin Kamp: The death of a loved one is always upsetting. But how it different for people to cope with such a loss as a result of a mass shooting like the one in Las Vegas?

Sheila Rauch: Coping with loss is difficult but when that loss is unexpected and due to senseless violence, it can compound the impact on those who are left behind. As people, we want to have a sense of control over our world and the people we love. When death due to violence occurs that sense of safety and comfort is ripped away and leaves the people left behind feeling vulnerable and angry along with the deep sadness that follows loss.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

In times like these it is particularly important to make sure we are supporting those around us who are impacted and providing them ways to vent in a safe environment. It is also important to look for ways to prevent such events in the future through examination of why this act was able to occur and why this person was able to harm so many so quickly by using a type of weapon that can fire quickly. We want survivors to recover and we want to prevent future incidents of violence.

There were also over 500 people wounded, and surely many will have very serious lasting physical problems as a result. How does this type of event impact the wounded and their families psychologically?

Whether their loved ones were physically injured or killed, the impact on family and friends can be similar. As previously mentioned, violent trauma steals the sense of safety that most people take for granted in their lives for themselves and those they care about.

For those who may not have been personally injured, we will not know until a few months from now the impact on their psychological health. Trauma, such as a shooting, can lead to depression or PTSD or other mental health issues that can impede family and work function. Physical injuries may require rehabilitation and medical intervention and the psychological injuries may require care as well over time. Providing support for the survivors and their families in the aftermath of trauma can speed recovery and reduce rates of negative mental health consequences over time. Giving people a voice to express their stories as they see fit can also aid in their recovery.

There were also 22,000 people in attendance at the concert. What can you say about how their lives will be impacted?

We would expect that most of the people who survived this incident will be feeling some signs of trauma exposure — images coming into their heads over and over, sadness, anxiety, fear, problems sleeping, anger, avoidance of things that remind them. Over time, most people will see these reactions fade away naturally as they gradually get back into their lives and reengage with activities such as work and family. This time course typically sees symptoms reduce over about a year post trauma. For some, the reactions will remain or even worsen over time, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Typically, PTSD is not diagnosed until one month after an event. Effective treatments are available including medications (such as SSRIs) and psychotherapy (such as Prolonged Exposure therapy or Cognitive Processing Therapy). However, if someone if having intense reactions prior to one month and wants assistance, starting earlier can be helpful.

What is your advice to anyone who was at the event in terms of their mental health?

My advice to anyone at the event is to pay attention to what you need to recover. Everyone is different and recovers at a different pace and cadence. Ensure you connect with your trusted supports including family and friends and community. Talk about it in whatever way you feel comfortable and let yourself feel the emotions that this experience may bring up for you. Make sure you are not using substances to try and avoid. Channel your energy into positive coping such as raising awareness of gun violence or telling the stories of yourself and those you love surrounding this incident.

Shootings with the biggest death tolls make headlines, but according to Gun Violence Archive their have been over 270 mass shootings incidents in 2017 alone. These happen in schools, malls and other public places. How is this effecting us?

My observation is that we seem to be becoming less outraged with each incident. This should be unacceptable and instead it seems to be shrugged off as the way things are now. I think this has a numbing effect on our society.

We have both fearful and numbing reactions over time and across people. However, as these events have become more common the intensity of the fear gets reduced each time. I think the impact of fear is that we become less trusting of each other. This especially problematic at a time when we need each other to recover and try to work together to prevent these incidents in the future.

Then there are the thousands upon thousands of first responders that come to the aid of victims in such attacks. Of course they are trained to see traumatic events, but what toll does this take on them?

First responders — because of the number of traumas they are closely engaged with — are at a higher risk than the general population of developing PTSD, depression and other mental health issues over time. That being said, they are also a very resilient and strong population that bears the violence of our society. I would encourage them to take advantage of their supports in their community of responders as well as the resources in the community. As a society, we need to support first responders and their families for their bravery and service.

On the news you can hear the gunshots and see the horrific aftermath of the shooting. How do these kind of repeated images affect our society in general?

I would caution people to monitor how much you view such images. They are not generally helpful and most of us do not need that level of detail to be aware of the event.

As children become increasingly aware of these events given the proliferation of breaking news on-air in public places, cell phone ownership and social media, how is this impacting their mental health?

Parents should make sure they talk with their children about this event. Discussion should focus on what the child is aware of and their thoughts about the incident at the developmental level of the child. Start with their understanding. As much as parents can provide a clear sense of safety for their children this will help to reduce the impact of the event. What are the child’s thoughts about why this happened? How do they feel this impacts their life? What do they think needs to happen now? How can they feel safe in their life?

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The Occupied Territories Are the Biggest Prison on Earth


By Mark Karlin

  • A protester peers through a fence in Bil'in, Palestine, on January 7, 2011. (Photo: IDF)
    A protester peers through a fence in Bil’in, Palestine, on January 7, 2011. 

In this Truthout interview, Ilan Pappé, author of The Biggest Prison on Earth, argues that Israel’s model for the occupied territories is not an eventual two-state solution. Rather, Israel has built a model of a permanent open-air prison for Gaza and the West Bank.

Mark Karlin: Can you provide a succinct argument to refocus the identification of the West Bank and Gaza as open-air prisons and not “occupied territories”?

Ilan Pappé: Not only open air, but at times, and nowadays in Gaza, a maximum-security prison. Recently, the Israeli government officially celebrated the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Already in 1967, Judea and Samaria, namely the West Bank, were liberated areas, not territories to be held in custody for the return of a peace agreement, in the eyes of all the Zionist parties, while Gaza was seen as an enclave that had to be always guarded either from within or without.

Thus in 1967, the Israeli government then — and all the successive governments since — regarded the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as territories that had always be under either direct or indirect Israeli rule. The second decision was that the people who live in these territories will not be granted Israeli citizenship, nor were they allowed to have their own sovereignty or independence. They were also not driven out, as were the Palestinians in 1948. So, they were intentionally defined as people without citizen rights and at the mercy of first military rule, and then civil administration that did not only violate their civic rights, but also their human rights. The only system I know where people are deprived of these basic rights is the prison system. These people were incarcerated in this mega-prison for no other crime than being Palestinians. They were allowed some benefits, such as working in Israel and a limited measure of autonomy if they consented to such life — this is the open prison model, and they were collectively punished when they resisted, and this is the maximum-security prison.

Why do you date the Israeli mega-prison project to 1963?

The same people who maintained the military rule inside Israel were transferred to become rulers of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The year 1963 is a very important year in the history of Israel. This was the year Israel’s first Prime Minister and leader David Ben-Gurion left mainstream politics and was inherited by a younger generation of politicians. With his removal, two of his main obsessions ceased to influence Israeli politics. He insisted on imposing a callous military rule over the Palestinian minority inside Israel, and he refused to heed the pleas by a Greater Israel lobby to find an excuse to occupy the West Bank.

In that year, the Israeli military could begin preparing seriously in ignoring his two obsessions. They began to plan the abolition of military rule over the Palestinians in Israel, but did not dismantle the apparatus of control. They prepared it to be imposed on another group of Palestinians: those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. When the opportunity arrived in 1967, the heads of the military had already prepared the human infrastructure for controlling the millions of Palestinians in the newly occupied territories. The same people who maintained the military rule inside Israel were transferred to become rulers of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Military rule was not meant to be temporary; it fit well with the strategy of the mega-prison I described above.

What particularly makes Gaza a “model prison”?

In 2005, Ariel Sharon and his advisors asserted they found the magic formula of how to control the Gaza Strip within the overall Israeli strategy that was looking for ways of how to have the territories — and not the people living in it. In the West Bank, it was done by Judaizing the areas there that Israel deemed as belonging or required by the Jewish State. This method did not work in the Gaza Strip; it was too small. So, the idea was to evict the settlers, allow the Palestinian authority to run the place and monitor it from the outside (Israel already cordoned the Strip with barbered wire in 1994). However, the people of Gaza had a different idea and spoiled the plan and turned the Strip into a desperate base of resistance. This was met with the methodology of the maximum-security prison: collective punitive operations that, in hindsight, are akin to an incremental genocide of the people there.

As noted above, the main function of the settlements is to demarcate clearly what part of the West Bank will directly be ruled by Israel, with a view of eventually formally annexing it to Israel. The governments usually tried to colonize only areas which were not densely populated by the Palestinians, but the messianic movement of settlers, Gush Emunim, settled according to what they regard as the biblical map, which led them to settle also at the heart of Palestinian areas. Whether intentional or not, the presence of the settlers also acts as a massive operation of harassment that can make life for the Palestinians there impossible and push them to even smaller enclaves within the West Bank.

What do you refer to as “the war of choice”?

Any war that could have been prevented by active and intensive diplomacy is a war of choice. Contrary to common wisdom, there were many exit points for the Israelis from the crisis that led to the June 1967 war. However, the Israeli government and army decided to ignore these exit points, as they deemed the crisis as opportunity to complete the takeover of historical Palestine (they only managed to take over 78 percent of Palestine in 1948 and deemed this part as indefensible and not viable in the long run).

Yes, indeed it has. It diverted world public opinion from the suffering of the Palestinians and the political elites’ sense of urgency of solving the problem. There is another side to this: The Palestinian suffering is daily and hardly catches the attention of the media, but has been going on for more than a century, whereas the same kind of brutality is inflicted on people in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world within a short period of time and therefore attracts more attention from the global media.

However, the chances of pacifying Syria, Iraq and the rest of the Arab world are closely associated with the Palestine question. The refusal of the West to adapt the same moral yardstick by which it measures human and civil rights violations in the Arab world, to Israel, impedes the West — and the US in particular — from playing any positive role in bringing peace to the Middle East. The injustice in Palestine is one the main fuels feeding the fire of hate and violence in the area and will continue to be so unless a just and lasting solution to the Palestine question can be found. The consensual Israeli attitudes and polices toward the occupied territories are the main obstacle on the way to such a solution.

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