Samuel Kassow’s “Who Will Write Our History?”

By Clara Weiss
25 July 2015

Who Will Write Our History? Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto, by Samuel Kassow, Indiana University Press 2009, 523 pages.

It is rather unusual for a book to be reviewed several years after its first appearance. However, Samuel Kassow’s Who Will Write Our History?, which first appeared in 2007, is a major work of historical scholarship that should be welcomed by readers of the WSWS. Kassow’s history of the Oyneg Shabes underground archive in the Warsaw Ghetto combines remarkable objectivity with a deep compassion for the tragic fate of Warsaw’s Jewry during World War II.

“Who will write our history”, © Indiana University Press

The Oyneg Shabes [Joyful Sabbath] was the largest underground archive in Nazi-occupied Poland. It was set up by a group of Jewish teachers, writers, rabbis and historians under the guidance of the Jewish-Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum. Between the beginning of the war and the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, the Oyneg Shabes collected thousands of documents on the Nazi persecution of Polish Jewry. It gathered diaries and essays, conducted thousands of interviews with prisoners of the ghetto and collected several surveys about the composition of the ghetto population. Of the three hidden caches of the archive, only two could be found after the war.

Nevertheless, the 6,000 documents (comprising between 25,000 and 30,000 pieces of paper) to this day remain the single most important documentary basis for any historical study of the annihilation of Polish Jewry. As of yet, very little of it has been published, and most of it only in Hebrew, Polish or Yiddish.

Hersh and Bluma Wasser, surviving members of Oyneg Shabes, with a portion of the secret archive © The Ghetto Fighters Museum Israel

In Who Will Write Our History?, Samuel Kassow, professor of history at Trinity College, Connecticut, presents not only the history of the archive and some of its key documents, but also tries to outline the cultural climate and political convictions of the pre-war period that underlay the heroic efforts of the Oyneg Shabes during the war.

Ringelblum and the Left Poalei Tsiyon

Emanuel Ringelblum was born in 1900 to an impoverished Jewish family in the Galician town of Buchach, then part of the Habsburg Empire (today it forms part of Ukraine). Since Jews in Galicia, unlike in the Russian Empire, enjoyed access to higher education (they were restrained only by their financial means), Galicia was home to a relatively well-educated Jewish intelligentsia that was at the same time fervently nationalistic. After the foundation of the Second Polish Republic, Ringelblum left Galicia for the new Polish capital, Warsaw, to study history.

Emanuel Ringelblum

The Warsaw of the 1920s was a politically tumultuous city and home to Europe’s largest Jewish community. Here, Ringelblum emerged as an important figure of working class politics and historiography in inter-war Poland. In a detailed, objective and complex chapter, Kassow describes the left-wing Jewish politics that shaped Ringelblum’s outlook as a historian.

With its large Jewish population—which included not only the most oppressed layers of the working class, but also many different petty-bourgeois layers—Poland became the center of a variety of Jewish political organizations.

Next to the Bund, which split from both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in 1903, the most significant Jewish organization was the Poalei Tsiyon. The party was founded in the early 1900s. Its chief ideological influence was the Labor Zionist Ber Borochov. Attacking the Bolsheviks’ position on the Jewish question, Borochov argued that the Jewish proletariat needed its own nation-state in order both to conduct the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and to fight national oppression.

After the seizure of power by the working class in October 1917, the Bolshevik government for the first time granted full civil rights to a substantial part of Eastern European Jewry. (See also: Anti-Semitism and the Russian Revolution). In response to these developments, the Poalei Tsiyon split into a left and a right wing in 1920. (Borochov himself had turned against the revolution before his early death in December 1917.) The right wing opposed the Revolution and was oriented toward gathering support from British imperialism for the foundation of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine. In Palestine, the Right Poalei Tsiyon became the basis for David Ben-Gurion’s Ahdut HaAvoda (Labor Unity), the predecessor of the Israeli Labor Party, which played a major role in the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.

By contrast, the Left Poalei Tsiyon (LPZ), whose own members in Russia supported the Bolsheviks in the Civil War, defended the Soviet Union and advocated world revolution. The LPZ’s claim to admission to the Third International (Comintern) was rejected by Lenin, however, as the party refused to break with the ideology of Ber Borochov. The Left Poalei Tsiyon continued to support the foundation of a Jewish nation state in Palestine, albeit on a “socialist basis.” Central to the organization’s political and cultural work was its emphasis on the significance of Yiddish culture, based on the language of the impoverished Jewish masses of Eastern Europe.

Overall, the LPZ stood significantly to the left of the better known and larger Bund, which opposed the seizure of power by the working class in 1917 and continued to work within the Second International. Many members of the LPZ and its youth organization, Yugnt (Youth), defected to the Communist Party of Poland in the late 1920s and early 30s, and both organizations often worked together closely.

Given the extraordinary impoverishment of substantial sections of Jewish workers and intellectuals and the growing anti-Semitism under the regime of Józef Piłsudski in Poland, both left-wing organizations enjoyed significant support. The Bund and the LPZ oversaw impressive networks of newspapers, ran their own schools and were active in numerous self-help organizations and trade unions. As Kassow points out:

For a young person who lived in a cellar in Lodz’s impoverished Balut or Warsaw’s Smocza Street, groups like the Bund and the LPZ were far more than mere political parties. They represented a road to self-respect and human dignity, a way to strive for ‘something better.’ (p. 35)

However, the LPZ politically did not survive the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. Kassow only hints at the impact of the changing nationality policies in the Soviet Union; the Moscow Trials; the murder by Moscow of the entire leadership and most of the membership of the Polish Communist Party, whom Stalin suspected of sympathizing with his main political opponent, Leon Trotsky; and then the dissolution of the Polish Communist Party by Stalin in 1938. One could add to this list the anti-Semitism that was used by the Stalinist bureaucracy in its struggle against the Left Opposition from the mid-1920s onward. Facing a deep political and financial crisis that began in the early 1930s, the LPZ rejoined the World Zionist Congress in 1937, on the eve of World War II.

Ringelblum became a member of the Poalei Tsiyon shortly before the party split, and then joined the left faction. He remained within the party until the end of his life. During the 1920s and 30s, Ringelblum played a leading role in the party’s youth organization, Yugnt, and focused much of his work on the education of poor Jewish youth in the LPZ’s Ovnt kursn far arbiter (Evening classes for workers).

As Warsaw was gradually replacing St. Petersburg as the center of Eastern European Jewish scholarship, Ringelblum, along with historians such as Isaac Schiper and Bela Mandelsberg, founded the Yunger Historiker Krayz (Young Historians’ Circle). Influenced by both Marxism and Zionism, these historians emphasized that historical research was a weapon in the national struggle for emancipation of the Jewish people and for combatting the growing anti-Semitism in inter-war Poland.

Emanuel Ringelblum with his son Uri in the 1930s, © Yad Vashem

Ringelblum stressed the significance of zamling (collecting material). In his opinion, the study of history had to be a collective project, engaging as many people as possible. In fact, the Jewish historians were so poor and politically isolated that they relied to a great extent on the Polish-Jewish community in order to continue their work. Ringelblum also worked as a community organizer in collaboration with the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish relief organization headquartered in the United States, trying to help impoverished Polish Jews who came under increasing political and economic pressure during the 1930s.

The Oyneg Shabes in the Warsaw Ghetto

Ringelblum’s convictions as a politician and a historian underlay much of his work during the war, when Poland, with its Jewish population of over 3 million, became the main site of the annihilation of European Jewry.

In November 1940, the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of its kind in Eastern Europe. Over 400,000 people (around 30 percent of the city’s population) were crowded into just 1.3 square miles (2.4 percent of the city of Warsaw). The meager food rations (184 calories per day) forced the great majority of the population to starve. Typhus and other diseases spread under conditions of extreme overcrowding and a lack of hygienic facilities. An estimated 80 percent of the many children in the ghetto were poor. By July 1942, before the beginning of the Great Deportation, around 100,000 people had died of hunger and disease.

To ameliorate the deplorable conditions and poverty, numerous political and social activists founded the so-called Aleynhilf (Self-Help). The different political parties that supported the Aleynhilf set up their own soup kitchens, many of which became sites of the ghetto’s underground press. The Aleynhilfsoon also came to play a major role in the house committees that had initially been formed spontaneously. Ringelblum was a leading figure in the Aleynhilfand, under the cover of the self-help organization, established the Oyneg Shabes in early 1941. (The term Oyneg Shabes means Joyful Sabbath in old Hebrew; the name signifies that in the beginning, the staff always met on the Sabbath.)

The Oyneg Shabes consisted of some 60 members with very different professional, political and personal backgrounds. Kassow introduces some of the outstanding representatives of the Oyneg Shabes in brief biographical sketches. They included the important Yiddish writer Gustawa Jarecka (1908–1943); the teacher Abrahm Lewin (1893–1943), like Ringelblum a member of the LPZ; the businessman and Yiddishist Shmuel Winter (1891–1943); Yitzhak Giterman (1889–1943), a left-wing Zionist and head of the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland; the writer and journalist Peretz Opoczynski (d. 1942); as well as the economists Menakhem Linder (1911–1942) and Jerzy Winkler (d. 1942). Only three members of the Oyneg Shabes were to survive the war.

In late 1942, Ringelblum wrote about the staff of the Oyneg Shabes:

Each member of the Oyneg Shabes knew that his effort and pain, his hard work and toil, his taking constant risks with the dangerous work of moving material from one place to another—that this was done in the name of a high ideal.… The Oyneg Shabes was a brotherhood, an order of brothers who wrote on their flag: readiness to sacrifice, mutual loyalty, and service to [Jewish society]. (quoted, p. 145)

Abraham Lewin with his daughter Ora before the war. Both were murdered in early 1943, © Yad Vashem

The staff of the archive collected thousands of documents about the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Striving to present as complete a picture of Jewish society in the Ghetto as possible, they investigated, among other things, the role of smuggling for the economy of the ghetto and of Poland. They also organized essay contests to gather material about the destruction of shtetls (traditional small Jewish villages) by the Nazis and on Polish-Jewish relations during the war.

The economist Menakhem Mendel Kon (1881–1943), also a member of the archive, wrote:

I consider it a sacred duty for everyone, whether proficient or not, to write down everything he has seen or heard from others about what the Germans have done.… It must all be recorded without a single fact left out. And when the time comes—as it surely will—let the world read and know what the murderers have done. When the mourners write about this time, this will be their most important material. When those who will avenge us will come to settle accounts, they will be able to rely on [our writings]. (quoted, p. 154)

Another major motif for the work of the archive was to preserve documents of Jewish life and resistance, and the legacy of the Jewish intellectual elite. As Kassow notes:

Only twenty-five years separated the birth of modern secular school systems in Hebrew and Yiddish from the Nazi onslaught. Yet this short period had produced a new intelligentsia of East European Jewish writers, teachers, economists, and journalists—an intelligentsia cut down so quickly, exterminated so totally, that Ringelblum feared that it would be totally forgotten. (p. 366)

Basing himself on the work of the Oyneg Shabes, Kassow paints a complex picture of Ghetto society with its massive social inequality and different political tendencies. He analyzes different positions on the Judenrat (Jewish Councils), as well as the behavior of the Jewish policemen and the population’s attitude toward them.

Kassow also describes the different moods within the ghetto’s population by providing numerous quotations from diaries and other testimonies. Witnessing the stunning brutality and barbarity of the Nazis—whom Abraham Lewin aptly called “twentieth century Huns”—many inhabitants of the Ghetto became deeply demoralized and pessimistic. In light of this unprecedented break-down of civilization, they started questioning the viability of the values and convictions of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

Ringelblum, too, struggled not to succumb to despair. Like many, failing to understand the impact of Stalinism in the 1920s and 30s, he struggled to comprehend the total collapse of the German working class in the 1930s. However, despite relapses into despair, Ringelblum until the end retained faith in the world revolution and human progress. In a conversation with Hersh Wasser, one of the three survivors of the archive’s staff, Ringelblum stated:

I do not see our work as a separate project, as something that includes only Jews, that is only about Jews, and that will interest only Jews. My whole being rebels against that. I cannot agree with such an approach, as a Jew, as a socialist, or as a historian. Given the daunting complexity of social processes, where everything is interdependent, it would make no sense to see ourselves in isolation. Jewish suffering and Jewish liberation and redemption are part and parcel of the general calamity [umglik] and the universal drive to throw off the hated [Nazi] yoke. We have to regard ourselves as participants in a universal [almenshlekher] attempt to construct a solid structure of objective documentation that will work for the good of mankind. Let us hope that the bricks and cement of our experience and our understanding will be able to provide a foundation. (quoted p. 387)

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Nazi regime escalated its anti-Jewish policies throughout Eastern Europe. In early 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Łódz Ghetto to the death facility Chełmno. Soon, major deportations started in Kraków. Shtetl after shtetl was wiped out and its population murdered. The scale of the Nazi murder of Jews was difficult to comprehend even for Ringelblum, who had access to much information from all across Europe.

On the basis of material forwarded to the Polish underground by the Oyneg Shabes, the BBC broadcasted in late May 1942 one of the first major news accounts of the evolving genocide. Soon thereafter, on July 22, 1942, the Great Deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began. Within months, most of the ghetto’s population was rounded up, brought to the notoriousUmschlagplatz and deported to Treblinka, where they were all gassed. The Oyneg Shabes analyzed the impact of the Great Deportation in a break-down of the ghetto’s population by sex and age from November 1942. It found that 99 percent of the children between the ages of one and nine and almost 88 percent of the population over 50 had been murdered. Before the deportation there had been 51,458 children. By November 1942 there were only 498. In total, an estimated 265,000 Warsaw Jews were murdered between July 22 and September 21, 1942.

Warsaw Jews at the Umschlagplatz during the Great Deportation, © Yad Vashem

The archival material hitherto collected was buried in three milk cans in the first weeks of the Great Deportation. Several staff members, including Abraham Lewin and Peretz Opoczynski, nevertheless continued writing their diaries, even as their own families were at least in part sent to their death in Treblinka.

After the deportations, the mood within the ghetto changed dramatically. With almost everyone having lost much of their family, there were not only marked signs of social disintegration but also an increasing determination to offer resistance to the Nazi murderers. Many of the Oyneg Shabes members were involved in the preparations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943. In its Polish and Yiddish bulletins (Wiadomości and Miteylungen) the Oyneg Shabes warned Polish Jewry about its impending annihilation, calling upon the Jews to fight against the occupiers.

In response to the uprising, which was spearheaded by 200 youths, the Nazis set the ghetto on fire and razed it to the ground. Ringelblum and his family managed to escape before the destruction of the ghetto and eventually found refuge in a bunker (Krysia), where a Polish professor Wolski hid them along with over 30 other Jews. In March of 1944, the hide-out was discovered by the Germans (presumably because Wolski’s girlfriend betrayed him). Wolski himself and several of his family members were shot. Ringelblum was most likely tortured by the Gestapo and then taken to the ruins of the Ghetto with his family and other prisoners. When offered a way out of Poland by the Yiddish writer Yekhiel Hirschhaut without his son and wife, he refused. A few days later, Ringelblum was shot together with his family, Hirschhaut and all other prisoners in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto.

A patrol of SS men during the uprising marching through the burning Ghetto

Even in the last months of his life, Ringelblum continued his work. Kassow highlights the enormous achievement of Ringelblum’s essay on Polish-Jewish relations. Although written under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, the essay is impressively objective—Ringelblum’s credo was to write “sine ira et studio” (without hate and zealousness)—and remains one of the most important works on this subject. It tackles questions such as the anti-Jewish pogroms by sections of the Polish population that were not to be raised by historians after 1945 for many decades.

Samuel Kassow deserves great credit for bringing the history of the Oyneg Shabes and several of its towering figures to the attention of a broader, international audience. Meticulously researched and consistently objective in its account, Who Will Write Our History? is an important scholarly achievement.

One of its chief merits consists in the detailed description of the political and intellectual culture in pre-war Poland that shaped Ringelblum’s concern for historical truth. In contrast to the embittered anti-Communism among historians of 20th century Poland in particular, Kassow takes a serious and objective approach toward the politics and ideology of the Left Poalei Tsiyon and its members. If anything, one might object that Kassow’s account puts too little emphasis on the devastating impact of Stalinism on the labor movement in Poland.

While Kassow himself clearly sees Ringelblum’s orientation toward Marxism to be his greatest weakness as a historian, this book shows that it was largely the impact of Marxism and the Russian Revolution that inspired the impressive objectivity, honesty and also the optimism which marked Ringelblum’s work.

That it took more than six decades for the first comprehensive history of the Oyneg Shabes to be written and published says a lot about the political and intellectual climate following the re-stabilization of capitalism after the defeat of the German Reich in 1945. (One might also mention that, to this day, little original research into the Holocaust in Poland has been put forward by non-Jewish German historians.) Emanuel Ringelblum, in particular, has gained far too little attention from scholars and among a broader readership, both in Poland and internationally.

Upon its publication in 2007, the book met with well-deserved critical acclaim. Indiana University Press and its main editor, Janet Rabinowitch, are to be credited with producing a meticulously edited work. By now, it has been translated into several languages, including German and French. Moreover, a film based on the book is currently being planned. The volume’s success shows that the subject matter and the manner of its presentation are striking a deep chord.

Who Will Write Our History? stands out all the more in an ideological climate where, under the impact of post-modernism, the rejection of historical truth and the study of history as a science are all too prevalent.

Asked about the main message of his work, Samuel Kassow stated in a radio interview from 2009:

I think the legacy [of the Oyneg Shabes and Ringelblum] is that in times of disaster one can resist not only with guns but also with paper and with pen. Ringelblum and many other Jews understood that if the Germans would win the war, they would determine how the Jews would be remembered, that they would control the sources, they would control the memory and the image. Jews in the Ghetto, historians in the Ghetto, even if they understood that they would probably not survive … still believed it was important to leave time capsules, to leave sources, so that posterity would remember Polish Jewry, its last chapter, on the basis of Jewish sources. The real message is that history is important. It’s important to conserve documents, it’s important to conserve a record. It’s not just for antiquarians, it’s not just for librarians, but it’s really about the future of an entire people. And on a more general level, it instills a healthy respect for preserving the sense of the past.

It speaks to the great legacy of the Oyneg Shabes that, on the basis of their work, Kassow was able to bring to life in his book political and intellectual traditions and figures that fascism sought to obliterate. On many levels, Who Will Write Our History? is one of the most significant history books of recent years and deserves the broadest possible readership.

An introduction into some of the material from Oyneg Shabes is provided online by Yad Vashem.

Works by Emanuel Ringelblum published in English:

Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, Ibooks 2006.
Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War, Northwestern University Press 1992.

The diary by the Oyneg Shabes member Abraham Lewin, covering the months April 1942 to January 1943, is also available in English:

A Cup of Tears. A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto, ed. by Antony Polonsky, Basic Backwell 1989.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/25/kass-j25.html

 

Israeli’s False Claims of “Self-Defense” in Gaza War

Wrong on the Facts, Wrong on the Law: 

Although the facts, the law, and admissions by Israeli government officials all pointed otherwise, during the July-August 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, the Israeli government was successful in promoting its self-defense claim with western news media and in persuading certain U.S. politicians that Israel was implementing its right to defend itself.

Claims of “self-defense” against Hamas rocket fire were invoked byIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the United States Senate, and not only as justification for the Israeli assault. “Self-defense” against the rockets also served to deflect allegations that Israeli forces committed war crimes by targeting civilians and civilian property in Gaza.

Public relations campaigns based on self-defense have been critical to Israeli officials avoiding accountability after each of the six major assaults on Gaza since Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005. Notwithstanding the reports of war crimes committed by Israeli forces, the remarkable success of those self-defense based public relations campaigns continued to provide Israeli officials with impunity: the freedom to strike militarily again.

That impunity may come to an end if the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decides to open an investigation into the situation in Palestine and prosecutions follow. However, immediately after the Prosecutor announced that she was launching a “preliminary examination” on January 16, 2015, Netanyahu launched a multi-pronged “public diplomacy campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent decision to start an inquiry into what the Palestinians call Israeli ‘war crimes’ in the disputed territories.” The public diplomacy campaign is based entirely on Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense. The Israeli campaign also included a threat to disregard the decision of the court, a threat to the funding of the court, and the announcement that Israel was freezing transfer of more than $100 million a month in taxes Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for the State of Palestine joining the ICC and requesting the ICC inquiry.

A new 63 page report, “Neither facts nor law support Israel’s self-defense claim regarding its 2014 assault on Gaza,” submitted to the ICC Prosecutor on behalf of the Palestine Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild (“the ICC submission”), uses both authoritative contemporaneous Israeli and Palestinian reports and newly released reports and documents to demonstrate that Israeli claims of “self-defense” for its 2014 attack on Gaza are unsupported in both fact and law. The ICC submission notes that the unusual strategy implemented by Israeli officials to publically discredit the court inquiry demonstrated a distinct departure from the traditional method of respectfully presenting evidence and persuasive arguments to the court.

The facts don’t fit Israel’s self-defense claim

Among the material considered in the ICC submission is the 277 page Israeli government report, “The 2014 Gaza Conflict: Factual and Legal Aspects” that was released by the Israeli government on June 14, 2015. Although the Israeli government report builds its case around self-defense, to its credit, the Israeli government report openly acknowledges that Israeli military forces (a) had been striking Gaza during 2013 and early 2014, (b) had launched a massive attack on the West Bank in mid-June 2014, and (c) had launched an aerial strike on a tunnel in Gaza on July 5, 2014. However, the Israeli government report omits mention that all these dates were before the night of July 7, 2014, the date a contemporaneous report from an authoritative Israeli source said “For the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense[November 21, 2012], Hamas participated in and claimed responsibility for rocket fire” (emphasis in the original). The contemporaneous report was issued by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), a private Israeli think tank that the Washington Post says “has close ties with the country’s military leadership.”

While the Israeli government report acknowledged the aerial strike on the tunnel in Gaza, it omitted mention of the extent of Israeli attacks on Gaza during the night before Hamas participated and claimed responsibility for its first rocket fire since 2012: The contemporaneous ITIC July 2 – July 8, 2014 weekly report states that on July 7 “approximately 50 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip were struck,” by Israeli forces, including strikes that killed six Hamas members in the tunnel.

The Israeli government report states:

On July 7, 2014, after more than 60 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip on a single day, the Government of Israel was left with no choice but to initiate a concerted aerial operation against Hamas and other terrorist organisations in order adequately to defend Israel’s civilian population.

Thus, the Israeli government report claims that the government was acting to defend Israel’s civilian population notwithstanding the fact that it had just admitted to an Israeli government attack that precededthe Hamas rocket fire on July 7. The attack on the tunnel that the ITIC reported killed the six Hamas members.

In a minute by minute timeline of events that day, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz reported the Israeli attacks that began during the night of July 6 and continued in the early morning hours of July 7 that showed that the Israeli attack on the tunnel preceded the Hamas rockets:

at 2:24 a.m. on July 7:

Hamas reports an additional four militants died in a second Israeli air strike in Gaza, bringing Sunday night’s death total to six. This is the biggest single Israeli hit against Hamas since 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.

at 9:37 p.m. on July 7 Ha’aretz reported:

Hamas claims responsibility for the rockets fired at Ashdod, Ofakim, Ashkelon and Netivot. Some 20 rockets exploded in open areas in the last hour.

Thus, an authoritative contemporaneous Israeli report acknowledged the fact that Hamas started firing its rockets some 20 hours afterIsraeli forces launched the attack on Gaza and killed the six Hamas members.

The Israeli government report couches the more than 60 rockets launched at Israel on the night of July 7 as giving the government of Israel no choice but to escalate aerial operations. But the report fails to mention that Israel actually had a choice as to whether or not to launch its prior lethal attack on the night of July 6 and the early morning hours of July 7. By omitting mention of the timing and the lethal effects of its attack on the tunnel, the Israeli government report avoids recognizing that its killing of the six Hamas members provoked the Hamas rocket fire.

While the Israeli government report mentions strikes on Gaza during 2013 and 2014, it omits mention of the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks during 2013 and the increased rate of such killing during the first three months of 2014.

According to a report issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, “PCHR Annual Report 2013:”

The number of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces was 46 victims in circumstances where no threats were posed to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Five of these victims died of wounds they had sustained in previous years. Of the total number of victims, there were 41 civilians, 33 of whom were in the West Bank and eight in the Gaza Strip, including six children, two women; and five non-civilians, including one in the West Bank and the other four in the Gaza Strip. In 2013, 496 Palestinians sustained various wounds, 430 of them in the West Bank and 66 in the Gaza Strip, including 142 children and 10 women.

An escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians in early 2014 compared to the rate for the entire year 2013 is evident from PCHR’s “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 1st Quarter of 2014.”Among the violations presented in the report, 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the first three months of 2014, including 11 civilians of whom two were children; 259 were wounded, of whom 255 were civilians, including 53 children. “The majority of these Palestinians, 198, were wounded during peaceful protests and clashes with Israeli forces.”

Nor does the Israeli government report mention any of the lethal Israeli government attacks on the West Bank and Gaza in the days and weeks before three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed on the West Bank on June 12, 2014:

Israeli forces shot 9 teenagers demonstrating on the West Bank on May 15, killing two.

Israeli forces wounded nine Palestinian civilians, including a child during the week of June 5 to June 11.

Israeli forces launched an extrajudicial execution on June 11 in Gaza that killed one and wounded three.

Nor does the Israeli government report describe the extent of casualties inflicted by the June 13 to June 30 military offensive on the West Bank, Operation Brothers Keeper, in which Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51, according to the contemporaneous weekly reports issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

In addition, the Israeli government’s 277 page report omits mention of admissions by Prime Minister Netanyahu of other military and political purposes for its assault on the West Bank, described in a contemporaneous report in the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, on June 15, 2014: to capture Hamas members (some of whom the Israeli government had previously released in a prisoner exchange and some of whom were Parliamentarians in the new Palestinian unity government), create “severe repercussions,” and punish the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for forming a unity government. Importantly, although he accused “Hamas people” of carrying out the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu made no mention of stopping rocket fire. The non-mention of rocket fire by Netanyahu is consistent with the ITIC report of no rocket fire at that time.

Similarly, after describing the Israeli operations that caused Hamas to pay a “heavy price” on the West Bank, as shown in a video of his speech at the US Ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv on July 4, Netanyahu acknowledged that “in Gaza we hit dozens of Hamas activists and destroyed outposts and facilities that served Hamas terrorists.” Thus Netanyahu himself acknowledged major Israeli military operations in Gaza preceding the launching of Hamas rockets on July 7.

Media collaboration

Facilitating the Israeli and U.S. government campaign to pin responsibility on Hamas and support an Israeli self-defense claim, certain western news media, including the New York Times, published an incorrect timeline. The timeline published by the New York Times dated the start of the war to July 8, the first full day of Hamas rocket barrages, and more than a day after Israeli forces had escalated their aerial attack on Gaza killing the six Hamas members. The Timestimeline simply omits mention of the lethal Israeli attacks on the night of July 6 and early morning hours on July 7 that Ha’aretz said preceded the Hamas barrage of rockets on the night of July 7. TheNew York Times timeline also omits mention of the 24 days of “Operation Bring Back Our Brothers,” that began on June 13, the June 11 extra-judicial execution of a Hamas member in Gaza, the June 13 attack on the “terrorist facility and a weapons storehouse in the southern Gaza Strip,” and the killing of the two Palestinian teenagers and wounding of seven other Palestinians who were demonstrating on May 15. The New York Times timeline also omits mention of the lethal Israeli attacks in 2013 and the escalation of those attacks in early 2014 that the Israeli government report admitted under the euphemism “targeted efforts to prevent future attacks.” 

The law doesn’t fit Israel’s self-defense claim

Not just facts and admissions stand in the way of Israel’s self-defense claim. In a 2004 decision rejecting Israel’s self-defense claim for the wall, a relatively passive structure crossing occupied Palestinian territory, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that, under the UN Charter, self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter is inapplicable to measures taken by an occupying power within occupied territory. While the ICJ recognized Israel’s right and its duty to protect its citizens, it said “The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.” While the Israeli government report includes mention of a law review article that relies on an ICJ holding favorable to an Israeli position on another issue, the Israeli government report omits mention of the directly on point ICJ case regarding applicability of self-defense to Israel as occupying power in Gaza.

But even if Israel could overcome the facts showing that Israeli forces initiated the combat, and even if Israel was not the occupying power in Gaza and did not have to address the law regarding self-defense for an occupying power presented in the ICJ decision, Israel’s claim to self-defense would still be invalidated if its assault extended beyond what was necessary and proportionate to deal with an armed attack it was purportedly facing, as more fully described in the ICC submission.

Necessity was contradicted by the data provided by the ITIC showing that Israel had been wildly successful at stopping and/or preventing rocket fire by agreeing to and at least partially observing a ceasefire, while Israel consistently dialed up rocket fire with each of its major assaults on Gaza since 2006. By contrast, as shown in the ICC submission, hundreds of times more rockets were falling on Israel during each day of each of the major assaults on Gaza than were falling in the periods before Israeli forces attacked or after the assault ended with a new ceasefire.

Necessity was also contradicted by an article in the May 2013Jerusalem Post, “IDF source: Hamas working to stop Gaza rockets,” quoting the IDF General who commands the army’s Gaza Division who said that Hamas had been policing other groups in Gaza “to thwart rocket attacks from the strip.” The Hamas observance of the ceasefire and its policing of other groups to prevent rocket fire demonstrated an effective alternative to an Israeli assault. The Israeli attacks on the West Bank and Gaza during the period between June 13 and the early morning hours of July 7, 2014 put that ceasefire and that Hamas policing of other groups at risk. Israel could have more effectively protected its citizens from rocket fire by continuing to at least partially observe the successful cease-fire in place before Israel escalated its assaults on the West Bank and Gaza. So the necessity for the escalation on June 13 and the further escalation on July 7 to protect Israeli citizens from rocket fire has not been shown.

The necessity and proportionality requirements for a self-defense claim were also contradicted by evidence that actions by Israeli forces during the assault on Gaza went outside the laws of war by directly targeting Palestinian civilians and Palestinian civilian property. The proportionality requirement was further contradicted by evidence of widespread Israeli attacks that harmed civilians or civilian property disproportionate to the military advantage Israeli forces received from the attacks. The evidence for such war crimes cited in the ICC submission comes from reports of investigations conducted by the UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry (June 22, 2015); the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Lawyers for Palestinian for Human Rights (LPHR), and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) (June 26, 2015); the UN Human Rights Council (December 26, 2014); Defense for Children International Palestine (April 2015); Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) (January 20, 2015); Al-Haq(August 19, 2014); the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (September 4, 2014); Breaking the Silence (May 3, 2015); The Guardian (May 4, 2015); The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (March 27, 2015), and contemporaneous and periodic reports issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Along with support from top U.S. officials, the enormously successful public relations campaigns based on claimed self-defense that Israeli officials mounted during and after each of the Israeli assaults on Gaza allowed Israel to avoid accountability, maintain impunity, and launch subsequent attacks. In view of that successful record, the effectiveness of Israel’s “public diplomacy campaign to discredit the ICC inquiry” based on the same self-defense claims should not be underestimated. Widespread recognition that Israel’s self-defense claim is deeply flawed is needed to counter the intense pressure Israeli officials and their allies are exerting on the ICC so the court may resist that pressure and base its decisions strictly on the facts and law.

James Marc Leas is a patent attorney and a past co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee. He collected evidence in Gaza immediately after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 as part of a 20 member delegation from the U.S. and Europe and authored or co-authored four articles for Counterpunch describing findings, including Why the Self-Defense Doctrine Doesn’t Legitimize Israel’s Assault on Gaza. He also participated in the February 2009 National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza immediately after Operation Cast Lead and contributed to its report, “Onslaught: Israel’s Attack on Gaza and the Rule of Law.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/23/wrong-on-the-facts-wrong-on-the-law-israelis-false-claims-of-self-defense-in-gaza-war/

How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington 

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The Eurasian Big Bang 

By Pepe Escobar

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations — the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS’ New Development Bank) — whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”  And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO summit in Ufa, Russia — a place you’ve undoubtedly never heard of and a meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S.  And yet sooner or later, these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world works crumble.

The Eurasian Silk Road

With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure of following closely, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician’s hat: an agreement that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric, largely manufactured conflict.

Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, as a preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.

Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin’s Russia to have merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington’s imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this new structure.

If you read the declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And that’s not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of the language of sanctions.

Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings, President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance what is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a series of interlocking “new Silk Roads.” Modi approved more Chinese investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at least one case, led to war.

The NDB, the BRICS’ response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South — all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the U.S. dollar.  Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aidingin the reconstruction of Syria.

You won’t be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to complement each other’s efforts. At the same time, Russia’s foreign investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an informal investment consortium in which China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.

Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance

On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region. From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports, pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon’s doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” — a vision that already has Chinese corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.

For Beijing — back to a 7% growth rate in the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country’s stock markets — it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise, production will be relocated from the country’s Eastern seaboard to its cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking “belts” of the new Silk Roads.

Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the Eurasian Economic Union — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — will translate into myriad transportation and construction projects for which the country’s industrial and engineering know-how will prove crucial.

As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America’s Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field of economic cooperation.  Its countries, especially four Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an alternative G8.

In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations and the SCO have now called upon “the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations.” Translation: within the framework of Afghan national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind, would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction — finally! — of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)

Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.  Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent document puts it) to the “interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt” into a “Greater Eurasia” and a “steady, developing, safe common neighborhood” for both Russia and China.

And don’t forget Iran. In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made clear recently to Russia’s Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the two countries strategic partners. “Russia,” he said, “has been the most important participant in Iran’s nuclear program and it will continue under the current agreement to be Iran’s major nuclear partner.” The same will, he added, be true when it comes to “oil and gas cooperation,” given the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in “maintaining stability in global market prices.”

Got Corridor, Will Travel

Across Eurasia, BRICS nations are moving on integration projects. A developing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor is a typical example. It is now being reconfigured as a multilane highway between India and China. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are developing a transportation corridor from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. Azerbaijan will be connected to the Caspian part of this corridor, while India is planning to use Iran’s southern ports to improve its access to Russia and Central Asia. Now, add in a maritime corridor that will stretch from the Indian city of Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and then on to the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. And this just scratches the surface of the planning underway.

Years ago, Vladimir Putin suggested that there could be a “Greater Europe” stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, on the Atlantic to the Russian city of Vladivostok on the Pacific. The EU, under Washington’s thumb, ignored him. Then the Chinese started dreaming about and planning new Silk Roads that would, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, extend from Shanghai to Venice (and then on to Berlin).

Thanks to a set of cross-pollinating political institutions, investment funds, development banks, financial systems, and infrastructure projects that, to date, remain largely under Washington’s radar, a free-trade Eurasian heartland is being born. It will someday link China and Russia to Europe, Southwest Asia, and even Africa. It promises to be an astounding development. Keep your eyes, if you can, on the accumulating facts on the ground, even if they are rarely covered in the American media. They represent the New Great — emphasis on that word — Game in Eurasia.

Location, Location, Location

Tehran is now deeply invested in strengthening its connections to this new Eurasia and the man to watch on this score is Ali Akbar Velayati. He is the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research and senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Velayati stresses that security in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus hinges on the further enhancement of a Beijing-Moscow-Tehran triple entente.

As he knows, geo-strategically Iran is all about location, location, location. That country offers the best access to open seas in the region apart from Russia and is the only obvious east-west/north-south crossroads for trade from the Central Asian “stans.” Little wonder then that Iran will soon be an SCO member, even as its “partnership” with Russia is certain to evolve. Its energy resources are already crucial to and considered a matter of national security for China and, in the thinking of that country’s leadership, Iran also fulfills a key role as a hub in those Silk Roads they are planning.

That growing web of literal roads, rail lines, and energy pipelines, asTomDispatch has previously reported, represents Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s announced “pivot to Asia” and the U.S. Navy’s urge to meddle in the South China Sea. Beijing is choosing to project power via a vast set of infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail lines that will reach from its eastern seaboard deep into Eurasia. In this fashion, the Chinese-built railway from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province to Almaty in Kazakhstan will undoubtedly someday be extended to Iran and traverse that country on its way to the Persian Gulf.

A New World for Pentagon Planners

At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month, Vladimir Putin told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Moscow and Beijing had always wanted a genuine partnership with the United States, but were spurned by Washington. Hats off, then, to the “leadership” of the Obama administration. Somehow, it has managed to bring together two former geopolitical rivals, while solidifying their pan-Eurasian grand strategy.

Even the recent deal with Iran in Vienna is unlikely — especially given the war hawks in Congress — to truly end Washington’s 36-year-long Great Wall of Mistrust with Iran. Instead, the odds are that Iran, freed from sanctions, will indeed be absorbed into the Sino-Russian project to integrate Eurasia, which leads us to the spectacle of Washington’s warriors, unable to act effectively, yet screaming like banshees.

NATO’s supreme commander Dr. Strangelove, sorry, American General Philip Breedlove, insists that the West must create a rapid-reaction force — online — to counteract Russia’s “false narratives.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims to be seriously considering unilaterally redeploying nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. The nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford, recently directly labeled Russia America’s true “existential threat”; Air Force General Paul Selva, nominated to be the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seconded that assessment, using the same phrase and putting Russia, China and Iran, in that order, as more threatening than the Islamic State (ISIS). In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates and a bevy of congressional war hawks simply shout and fume when it comes to both the Iranian deal and the Russians.

In response to the Ukrainian situation and the “threat” of a resurgent Russia (behind which stands a resurgent China), a Washington-centric militarization of Europe is proceeding apace. NATO is now reportedly obsessed with what’s being called “strategy rethink” — as in drawing up detailed futuristic war scenarios on European soil. As economist Michael Hudson has pointed out, even financial politics are becoming militarized and linked to NATO’s new Cold War 2.0.

In its latest National Military Strategy, the Pentagon suggests that the risk of an American war with another nation (as opposed to terror outfits), while low, is “growing” and identifies four nations as “threats”: North Korea, a case apart, and predictably the three nations that form the new Eurasian core: Russia, China, and Iran. They are depicted in the document as “revisionist states,” openly defying what the Pentagon identifies as “international security and stability”; that is, the distinctly un-level playing field created by globalized, exclusionary, turbo-charged casino capitalism and Washington’s brand of militarism.

The Pentagon, of course, does not do diplomacy. Seemingly unaware of the Vienna negotiations, it continued to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons. And that “military option” against Iran is never off the table.

So consider it the Mother of All Blockbusters to watch how the Pentagon and the war hawks in Congress will react to the post-Vienna and — though it was barely noticed in Washington — the post-Ufa environment, especially under a new White House tenant in 2017.

It will be a spectacle.  Count on it.  Will the next version of Washington try to make it up to “lost” Russia or send in the troops? Will it contain China or the “caliphate” of ISIS? Will it work with Iran to fight ISIS or spurn it? Will it truly pivot to Asia for good and ditch the Middle East or vice-versa? Or might it try to contain Russia, China, and Iran simultaneously or find some way to play them against each other?

In the end, whatever Washington may do, it will certainly reflect a fear of the increasing strategic depth Russia and China are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Putin told Xi on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”

Read “efforts” as new Silk Roads, that Eurasian Economic Union, the growing BRICS block, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, those China-based banks, and all the rest of what adds up to the beginning of a new integration of significant parts of the Eurasian land mass. As for Washington, fly like an eagle? Try instead: scream like a banshee.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RTand Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176026/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_the_pivot_to_eurasia/

Obama promotes militarism and murder

obamaswar

By Patrick Martin
23 July 2015

In a speech Tuesday before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh, President Obama gave an extraordinary picture of his role as “commander-in-chief” of American imperialism. He listed a series of men killed or kidnapped by US Special Operations forces, punctuating the list with the assertion of their current status as either dead or imprisoned in the US.

As distributed by the White House, the text reads: “Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen—gone. Many of Al Qaeda’s deputies and their replacements—gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane—the leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia—gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa—captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi—captured. The list goes on.”

Obama made no mention of the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen, convicted of no crime, judged in no court, but sentenced to death on the sole authority of the president of the United States. Nor did he refer to the subsequent US government murder of Awlaki’s son, an innocent teenager, in another drone missile strike, or the thousands of other civilian victims of US drone warfare across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

This recitation of a death list came as the peroration of a speech in which Obama identified himself with the US military and demanded an end to congressional sequestration of funds so that the armed forces can receive tens of billions of dollars in new weaponry.

He threatened the world with the power of the US military machine, declaring, “Now, every ally and every adversary needs to know around the world the United States has and will continue to have the strongest, most capable fighting force the world has ever known. No one can match our Army—the greatest land force on Earth. Nobody can match our Navy—the largest and most advanced battle fleet in the world. Or our Coast Guard—safeguarding our shores and ports. Nobody can match our Air Force—its reach and precision are unequalled. Nobody can match our Marine Corps—the world’s only global expeditionary force. Nobody can match our Special Operations Forces—our remarkable, quiet professionals.”

There is little doubt that these aggressive claims of global superiority are now being perused in foreign capitals—not only Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, but also Berlin, Paris, Delhi, Tokyo and elsewhere. The choice of words provokes inevitable questions.

The Navy is a “battle fleet”—against whom? The Air Force has “unequalled” reach—so any country can be targeted. The Marine Corps is “the world’s only global expeditionary force”—only the United States claims either the right or the power to intervene anywhere in the world it chooses.

Also significant was Obama’s elevation of the Special Operations Forces to the level of the traditional military foursome of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. This is a president who is most truly at home, and in his element, in the weekly meetings with top military-intelligence staffers (once dubbed “terror Tuesdays”) where he approves kill lists drawn up by the CIA and Special Forces, for implementation through drone missile strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, or through commando raids on virtually any site.

The corporate-controlled media in the United States gave comparatively little attention to Obama’s speech. Only the Washington Post discussed his list of assassination victims and quoted the chilling passage word for word. The newspaper suggested that this was an effort by Obama to “demonstrate his toughness” going into the congressional debate over the nuclear pact with Iran negotiated by the US and five other powers.

There is no doubt an element of truth in this. In promoting the nuclear deal, Obama pointedly noted that US sanctions against Iran over alleged support for terrorism and human rights abuses would remain in place, and that the US reserved the right to employ the “military option” against Tehran.

Obama’s boasting of the power of the US military was music to the ears of his audience, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a frequent location for bellicose addresses by top US politicians. It was at a VFW convention in August 2002 that Vice President Dick Cheney publicly launched the Bush administration’s campaign for war against Iraq.

Cheney’s remarks 13 years ago deserve to be remembered in the context of Obama’s equally bloodcurdling boasts today. The then-vice president put forward for the first time the main lies that would be used to justify the war in Iraq.

He declared: “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon… Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction… Regime-change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region… the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy…”

Obama’s militaristic rhetoric is cut from the same cloth. Like Cheney, he speaks for an American ruling elite that is drunk on homicidal violence, seeing military force as its trump card in a global struggle to control markets, resources and strategic territory against its foreign rivals.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/23/obam-j23.html

The return of the “German question”

Adolf Hitler salutes troops of the Condor Legion who fought alongside Spanish Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, during a rally upon their return to Germany, 1939.

By Peter Schwarz
22 July 2015

“The German question is back,” the New York Times wrote early last week, meaning by this the question of how Germany can be kept under control and prevented from dominating Europe and destroying it as in World War II. Over the course of the week, numerous articles appeared in the French, Italian, British and American press accusing the German government of seeking to dominate Europe and subject it to Berlin’s discipline.

The conservative French newspaper Le Figaro wrote that an “anti-German zone of turbulence” is sweeping over France. It continued: “A part of the French political class, ranging from the sovereignists in the Left Front, through the Socialists, to members of the [Gaullist] Republican party, is attacking Germany for its attitude toward the European Union.”

Left and right were furiously attacking the “German diktat,” the newspaper wrote. Le Figaro itself accused the German government of imposing conditions “on a small member-state [that] would have previously required arms.”

In the Italian media, there was talk of state-organised torture and Germanic megalomania.

In London’s Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau accused Greece’s creditors of having “destroyed the euro zone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union.” He added, “In doing so they reverted to the nationalist European power struggles of the 19th and early 20th century.”

In the Telegraph, London Mayor Boris Johnson spoke for the Tory right, accusing “the Germans” of tabling “a document that is breath-taking in its candour and brutality.” He added, “If Greece wants to stay in the single European currency, Athens must prostrate herself in an act of doglike self-abasement… These Schäuble proposals are tyrannical. They should be bitterly resisted.”

The sociologist Jürgen Habermas told the British Guardian that the German government had “gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century—and by ‘better’ I mean a Germany characterised by greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality.”

Threat of Grexit

The reason for this onslaught is the humiliating conditions Germany forced upon the Greek government. Berlin was not prepared to accept an offer of drastic austerity measures worth more than 13 billion euros that Athens had drawn up in collaboration with Paris. The Merkel government demanded more, including the transfer of state assets worth 50 billion euros to a trust fund controlled from Germany, and threatened the temporary exclusion of Greece from the euro.

The current edition of the news weekly Der Spiegel reports that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had deliberately formulated the conditions so harshly that the Greek government could not accept them, making a Grexit inevitable. The German finance minister had not reckoned with the fact that the head of the Greek government, Prime Minister and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, would capitulate anyway.

The exclusion of Greece from the euro zone was a taboo that Paris and Rome could not tolerate. A Grexit would set a precedent that would completely change the character of the EU and the euro zone. A community of states, which, in form at least, is based upon unanimity or majority decisions, would become a loose alliance dominated by Germany.

Berlin could henceforth determine who belonged to the euro zone and who did not. And it would have increased pressure on the French, Italian and other governments with budgetary problems to submit to the German rules, removing any room for political manoeuvring in the face of growing social tensions.

For this reason, after the euro summit, French President Francois Hollande presented himself as the architect of a “compromise” that prevented a Grexit and preserved the unity of Europe, even though he, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk, had worked on the Greek prime minister all night to accept Germany’s harsh austerity measures.

Germany’s return to great power politics

The WSWS and the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (Socialist Equality PartyPSG) have been warning that the German ruling class was returning to its aggressive and militaristic traditions.

In September 2014, a PSG conference resolution noted: “The country’s ruling elites, which have thrown the world into the abyss twice before, are once again calling for ‘German leadership’ (Führung) and preparing to realise their imperialist interests through military violence… Almost 70 years after the crimes of the Nazis and Germany’s defeat in World War II, the German ruling class is once again adopting the imperialist great power politics of the Kaiser’s Empire and Hitler.”

The PSG and its youth and student organization, the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE), were viciously attacked because they publicly criticized politicians, journalists and professors who advocate this policy and justify it ideologically. In recent weeks, the media has unleashed a veritable witch-hunt against the IYSSE and the “Münkler-Watch” blog because they have exposed Humboldt Professors Herfried Münkler and Jörg Baberowski as the champions of German great power politics. This smear campaign is intended to intimidate anyone who dares oppose German great power politics and its ideological pioneers, dismissing all such criticism as fantasy and conspiracy theory devoid of any real foundations.

But now the return of the “German question” has become a central issue in the international media. After the events of recent days, it can no longer be denied that the country’s ruling elites are seeking supremacy over Europe so that German imperialism can play the role of world power as it did under Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler.

Finance Minister Schäuble and the political scientist Münkler are among the leading proponents of this orientation, which has led to considerable tensions within the government and the political parties.

In the Bundestag (parliament) vote on the Greek bailout package as many as 65 Christian Democrats refused to follow the chancellor, the biggest rebellion ever. Their “no” vote was a vote for a Grexit, which Schäuble continues to advocate even though he officially backs Merkel, who for the time being rejects such a move.

According to well-informed journalists in the German capital, the majority of the Christian Democratic parliamentary group stands behind Schäuble. Many had voted “yes” only because they currently do not want to threaten Merkel’s chancellorship. The Süddeutsche Zeitung considered the vote “the end of Merkel’s omnipotence,” saying she now has in Schäuble “a second chancellor at her side.”

Schäuble wants “a different, a more effective, a more disciplined Europe,” writes Heribert Prantl in the same newspaper. The purpose of the threat of Grexit was “to stabilize the euro zone, making an example of Greece and, at the same time, teaching a lesson to all the countries that did not want to keep to the existing rules, Italy for example.”

Noting that the finance minister has for some time advocated the establishment of “an EU budget commissioner who would strictly control national budgets,” Prantl describes the proposal as “a kind of democratic dictatorship.” There “would be less democracy in Europe, but it would bring more discipline to the EU.”

Schäuble and his supporters in politics and the media are thus striving for a Europe that is dominated and disciplined by Germany and serves as a platform for Berlin’s global power politics. Schäuble had already developed this concept in 1994 in the so-called Schäuble-Lamers paper, under the heading of “core Europe.” At that time, he suggested reducing the EU to a hard core anchored by Germany, around which the other EU countries would be loosely grouped.

Herfried Münkler also promotes this objective. In his recent book Power in the Middle he demands that Germany assume the role of “disciplinarian” in Europe—a term that coincides with Schäuble’s orientation and enjoys increasing popularity in media and political circles.

In numerous interviews, Münkler has argued more recently for a “core Europe” around which a second and third ring would be grouped, with “fewer rights, but also fewer obligations.” In the core, he includes Germany, the Benelux countries, France and—possibly—Italy.

The advocates of a Europe dominated by Germany consider the disciplining of Greece and Europe a precondition for Germany’s role as a world power. Jochen Bittner has clearly expressed this in the weekly Die Zeit. “Never again,” he writes, should the European Union invest “so much political energy in a relatively small problem” such as Greece. It has “more important things to do.” There should be “room and time for the bigger challenges.” Among these he includes “crumbling state structures around the Mediterranean, an influx of refugees of historic proportions, a revanchist Russian government… and a competitive race with Asia.”

Holger Steltzner argues in similar fashion in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The EU’s inability to solve the Greek crisis,” he writes, “stands contrary to a central argument of the bailout, the claim of Europe’s political power in the world.”

Conflict with the US

This “claim of political power in the world” brings Germany into conflict not only with other European powers, but also with the United States. President Obama and representatives of the US administration repeatedly criticised the German austerity measures and urged Berlin to adopt a more accommodating attitude towards Greece. They did this primarily for geo-strategic reasons. They fear social unrest in Greece could destabilize the eastern flank of NATO and bring Greece under the influence of Russia or China.

However, tensions between Germany and the US have more fundamental causes. They confront each other as global economic rivals. The speed with which German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel—less than a week after the conclusion of the nuclear agreement with Iran—rushed to Tehran at the head of a business delegation seeking to profit from an anticipated boom in orders, demonstrates vividly the aggressiveness with which Germany pursues its global economic interests.

Schäuble’s critics in Germany—the Green Party, the Left Party, sections of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a minority of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—have merely tactical differences with the finance minister. They fear that a sharp conflict with France, Italy, Britain and other European powers could isolate Germany in Europe and thus weaken it globally. They regard a functioning EU as a precondition for playing a great power role globally. Therefore, they argue for a return to the European policy of Helmut Kohl, who always tried to secure German dominance in Europe through political compromises or financial concessions.

However, the economic prerequisites for such a policy no longer exist. The common currency, which was originally meant to bind Germany to Europe, has had the opposite effect. It has strengthened Germany’s economic dominance. A current account surplus of 7.5 percent (and rising) of gross domestic product gives Berlin a superior weight that blows up the EU in its old form. This has become ever more clear since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Germany’s European rivals respond by rattling their sabres. Their criticism of the German government is largely reactionary. This applies not only to such right-wingers as Boris Johnson and Marine Le Pen, but also to pseudo-lefts such as the leader of the French Left Front, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

These fake lefts do not call for the international solidarity of the working class. Instead, they stir up anti-German chauvinism. In this way, they defend the interests of their own imperialist bourgeoisie and exacerbate the national tensions that are inevitably plunging Europe into sharp clashes and wars, such as those that gripped the continent in the first half of the 20th century.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/22/germ-j22.html

Suruç massacre: today we mourn, tomorrow we rebuild

By Yvo Fitzherbert On July 21, 2015

Post image for Suruç massacre: today we mourn, tomorrow we rebuildThe bombing of the Amara Cultural Center was meant to inspire fear and keep people from acting in solidarity with Kobane. We must not let ISIS succeed.

Image: the faces of some of the victims of the bomb attack.

The bomb attack that took place at midday on Monday, July 20, at the Amara Cultural Center in Suruç will go down in history as a tragedy. Suruç is a border-town within 15 kilometers of Kobane, and has been the center for relief operations and the logistical hub of all support activity.

To many, Amara was a place of sanctuary and refuge for refugees fleeing the conflict in Kobane for many months. It acted as the base of coordination for the relief effort at the dozens of refugee camps scattered across the city, and as a center for international solidarity and delegations visiting the area.

Throughout the conflict, which began last September, journalists and activists have come to offer their support, and Amara was their home. I spent many weeks at the cultural center over numerous trips to the border, and it was a place which brought everyone together.

In addition to being a hub for people coming from outside, the center also acted as a refuge for children. Many workshops were arranged for the kids, and in the central room a children’s art exhibition was permanently on display. Cay was continuously drank as people sat in the middle of the room and discussed the political developments across the border in Rojava.

A specific target

The bomb specifically targeted a solidarity group called the Socialist Federation of Youth Associations (SGDF). Its young members had come to lend a hand in the rebuilding effort, and planned to cross into Kobane where they would take part in the building of a children’s playground. The victims of the massacre were predominately from Istanbul, and many were students.

SDLP are the youth wing of the socialist ESP (Party of the Oppressed), the party which formed an alliance with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) before the elections. The HDP’s co-president is Figen Yüksekdağ, a founding member of the ESP. From the traditional Turkish left, the ESP’s alliance with the HDP and the Kurdish movement in general represents the advances made in creating solidarity across pre-existing ethnic divides between Turks and Kurds.

The HDP consciously sought out alliances with the Turkish left, and in this sense, the deliberate targeting of SGDF is a direct attack on the recent convergence of the Kurdish and Turkish left. The slogan with which SGDF led the delegation says it all: “The values of Kobane are the values of the Gezi Resistance.”

The delegation that the SGDF were involved with was an attempt to extend solidarity for the people of Rojava beyond ethnic affiliations. Many of the victims of the massacre came from Alevi backgrounds, whilst another young man came from the traditional nationalist stronghold of Trabzon on the Black Sea.

Amara, moreover, was the base for activists from across the world, a sort of embassy for international allies of Kobane and Rojava more generally. For journalists, Amara was the first introduction to life on the border. Interviews were arranged through the center, and it was also where journalists were arranged to be smuggled into Kobane.

For these reasons, we can see the attack on the SGDF delegation as an attack on the international solidarity which has been built around Kobane’s resistance. The center itself is intrinsically linked to the struggle across the border in Kobane, and the attack is a clear attempt by the Islamic State to dissuade such international solidarity from taking place. We must not allow ourselves to be scared into submission.

Suicide bombers and Turkey’s ties to ISIS

Over the last two months, we have witnessed an increase in ISIS revenge suicide bombings on the Kurds, seemingly in direct response to the recent defeats the Kurdish liberation forces (YPG/YPG) have inflicted upon ISIS in northern Syria.

In Diyarbakir during an election rally for the pro-Kurdish HDP, a Turkish citizen who had previously fought for the Islamic State in Syria detonated a bomb, killing four. A few weeks later, ISIS jihadists entered Kobane from the Turkish border-gate and proceeded to massacre over 200 citizens — their second-biggest massacre in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

In all three of these attacks, Turkey has either been complicit or utterly negligent. As evidence of Turkey’s involvement with ISIS steadily grows, it has become increasingly apparent that the Turkish government is not on the side of its own Kurdish citizens, and would much rather support the Islamic State in order to weaken the Kurdish experiment in democratic autonomy in northern Syria.

This situation points towards an increasing spillover of the Syrian civil war into southern Turkey. While the Syrian Kurds continuously battle the Islamic State (making major gains over the last two months), the fear is that ISIS, with the implicit support of the Turkish government, will continue to carry out suicide attacks against the Kurds inside Turkey. Following the tragedy that took place in Suruç, many Kurds blame the Turkish government and its security forces for not doing enough, and are demanding retribution from the PKK.

Need for international solidarity

Both the massacre in Kobane in late June and this latest bomb attack in Suruç are an attempt by the Islamic State to keep Kobane in a desperate, war-torn, destroyed state. Local authorities have begun to rebuild the city — and the attacks are clearly intended to inspire fear and keep people from acting in solidarity with Kobane.

As international allies of the Rojava revolutionaries, we have a duty to fulfill the aims of the SGDF delegation: to help rebuild the city of Kobane.

The international solidarity towards Kobane has done an extraordinary amount of good for the Kurdish resistance in the canton. It has given fighters and citizens hope. The Amara Cultural Center represented this strong desire for international solidarity. It welcomed international visitors and sought to internationalize the conflict beyond those immediately affected by the war. We must not let ISIS have their way and be cowed into inaction out of fear of further terror.

One survivor of Monday’s attack, Merve Kanak, posted this message on her Facebook page:

They killed the people we sang with on the bus. They killed the people we danced with. They killed the people we talked with, those we were surprised to see there, those we worked together with. They killed the people we had breakfast with in the garden of Amara, the people we smiled with, we ate watermelon with. They killed the people we discussed politics and theories with. They killed the people who had different political ideologies, but who were united by the reality of the revolution. We were all good people. We all came there to realize a dream. We had toys with us, three bags each, do you understand?

Our hearts are heavy today. Tomorrow, we will rebuild.

Yvo Fitzherbert is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He writes for a number of different publications, with a particular focus on Kurdish politics. Follow him on Twitter at @yvofitz.

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