Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution

By Janet Biehl On December 16, 2014

Post image for Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolutionIn early December an international delegation visited Rojava’s Cezire canton where they learned about the ongoing revolution, cooperation and tolerance.

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the UK, and the US. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where we crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria.

The Tigris river channel was narrow, but the society we encountered on the far shore could not have been more different from the KRG: the spirit of a social and political revolution was in the air. As we disembarked, we were greeted by the Asayis, or civilian security forces of the revolution. The Asayis reject the label police, since police serve the state whereas they serve society.

Over the next nine days, we would explore Rojava’s revolutionary self-government in an old-fashioned state of total immersion (we had no internet access to distract us). Our delegation’s two organizers — Dilar Dirik (a talented PhD student at Cambridge University) and Devriş Çimen (head of Civaka Azad, the Kurdish Center for Public Information in Germany) — took us on an intensive tour of the various revolutionary institutions.

Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.

Rojava’s Third Way

At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Syrian Ba’ath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of their citizenship.

After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently.

Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.

Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

A Women’s Revolution

Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social contract” (the non-statist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.

When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more.

But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official — for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.

Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ — or women’s protection units — whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too.

When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. “We are fighting for our ideas,” they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch — both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.

Cooperation and Education

Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.

When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression — and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a “community economy,” building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs.

They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.

Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.

The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Ba’ath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day.

Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Ba’ath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

A DIY Revolution

The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.”

And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism as a set of principles. Their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby to empower themselves.

The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed, their identities denied, their human rights overruled.

They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind. Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.

This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward. In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of. In a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon.

Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling of ethnicity and nationalism, and more. The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique. Readers interested in learning more about the Rojava Revolution may look forward to forthcoming writings by the other delegation members: Welat (Oktay) Ay, Rebecca Coles, Antonia Davidovic, Eirik Eiglad, David Graeber, Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Johanna Riha, Nazan Üstündag, and Christian Zimmer. As for me, I have much more to say than this short article allows and plan to write a further work, one that incorporates drawings I made during the trip.

Janet Biehl is an independent writer, artist, and translator living in Burlington, Vt. She previously edited The Murray Bookchin Reader and is the author of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

 

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Obama claims “turning point” for US militarism

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By Bill Van Auken

16 December 2014

President Barack Obama used a trip to Fort Dix, New Jersey Monday to deliver a speech to assembled troops proclaiming that after 13 years, America’s war in Afghanistan is being brought to a close.

Obama’s remarks received little applause from the audience of enlisted personnel, for whom the empty “support our troops” rhetoric and claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been successful crusades for freedom and against terrorism are no doubt wearing thin. With polls showing that the majority of Americans think both wars were mistakes, similar attitudes are common within the military.

Among the few lines to elicit a spontaneous reaction from the uniformed audience was Obama’s statement that the recent budget bill passed in Washington includes a pay raise for the military.

It is noteworthy that Obama’s first address since official Washington has been thrown into turmoil by the release of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture was delivered to a captive military audience in which the subject was never mentioned—and there was no danger that anyone else would raise it.

The Obama White House has left it to the likes of CIA Director John Brennan and former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney to defend the “patriotism” of the American intelligence agency against the official confirmation of its responsibility for war crimes.

The thrust of the president’s remarks, that the US is “marking an important milestone” in ending the US war in Afghanistan and having Afghan forces “take full responsibility for their security,” was belied by developments on the ground and mealy-mouthed admissions in the speech itself.

Just last week, the Pentagon revealed that it is leaving 1,000 more US troops behind at the end of this month than it had originally planned, bringing the total head count to at least 10,800. And while it was initially claimed that the mission of the remaining US forces would be confined to training and advising Afghan troops and pursuing remnants of Al Qaeda, it was announced last week that they would also take action against the Taliban, providing combat support to the Afghan military as needed.

At the same time, the Afghan security forces remain dependent upon the US military for air support, intelligence and logistics. In other words, the war will continue, albeit with a smaller number of “boots on the ground.”

To drive home this point, two more US soldiers were killed on Friday in an attack on their convoy near the Bagram Air Base, as a Taliban offensive continued throughout much of the country. Last month alone, the capital of Kabul, supposedly Afghanistan’s most secure area, suffered 12 major Taliban attacks.

“Even as our combat mission ends, our commitment to Afghanistan endures,” Obama told the troops, underlining the lies and double-talk that pervaded his speech. The “limited military presence” that would remain, he said, would “keep training and equipping the Afghan forces” and “conduct counterterrorism missions,” i.e., the kind of night raids and air strikes that have claimed civilian casualties and aroused popular opposition to the US occupation.

Regardless of the war in Afghanistan, Obama added, “… there are still challenges to our security around the world. In times of crisis, people around the world look to one nation to lead, and that is the United States of America.” Foremost among these crises, Obama continued, is the struggle “against the brutal terrorist group ISIL [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria.”

The reality is that the rise of ISIS is rooted entirely in the previous and ongoing US imperialist interventions in the Middle East. First, there was the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which killed over a million Iraqis, shattered the country’s social infrastructure, and bred bitter sectarian divisions. Then there was the war for regime-change in Syria, in which ISIS emerged as the dominant military force among the Western-backed “rebels.”

Obama claimed the US was at a “turning point” in relation to its wars abroad, pointing out that while nearly 180,000 troops had been deployed at their peak in Iraq and Afghanistan, the present forces amounted to around 15,000.

“The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation-building overseas, that’s coming to an end,” he told his military audience.

Whatever the reality of this supposed tactical shift, Obama stressed that militarism would remain the driving force of the American state. “Going forward our military will be leaner,” Obama said. “But as your commander in chief, I’m going to make sure we keep you ready for the range of missions that we ask of you. We are going to keep you the best trained, the best led, the best equipped military in the history of the world because the world will still be calling.”

This supposed “calling” has led not only to a new open-ended war that encompasses Iraq and Syria, while threatening to spread throughout the Middle East, but has also placed Washington on a collision course with both Russia and China. Obama’s supposed “turning point” is emerging ever more clearly as a turn toward a new world war.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/16/obam-d16.html

 

“If the people are not convinced (that the Free World is in mortal danger) it would be impossible for Congress to vote the vast sums now being spent to avert danger. With the support of public opinion, as marshalled by the press, we are off to a good start. It is our Job – yours and mine — to keep our people convinced that the only way to keep disaster away from our shores is to build up America’s might.”

~Charles Wilson, Chairman of the Board of General Electric and Truman appointee to head the Office of Defence Mobilization, in a speech to the Newspaper Publishers Association, 1950~

We need to talk about death

Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse

It’s a universal human experience. So why do we act like we need to confront it alone?

We need to talk about death: Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse
(Credit: P_Wei via iStock)

“I don’t want to die. It’s so permanent.”

So said my terminally ill grandmother, a kick-ass woman who made life-size oil paintings and drank vermouth on the rocks every afternoon.

This isn’t an anecdote I’d be likely to mention in regular conversation with friends. Talk about ruining everyone’s good time. (“Ick, that’s so morbid,” everyone would think.) But earlier this month, the New York Times released its 100 Notable Books of 2014, and among the notables was not one but two – two! – nonfiction titles about death. This seemingly unremarkable milestone is actually one that we should celebrate with a glass of champagne. Or, better yet, with vermouth.

Right now our approach to death, as a culture, is utterly insane: We just pretend it doesn’t exist. Any mention of mortality in casual conversation is greeted with awkwardness and a subject change. That same taboo even translates into situations where the concept of death is unavoidable: After losing a loved one, the bereaved are granted a few moments of mourning, after which the world around them kicks back into motion, as if nothing at all had changed. For those not personally affected by it, the reality of death stays hidden and ignored.

For me this isn’t an abstract topic. There’s been a lot of death in my life. There was my grandmother’s recent death, which sent my whole crazy family into a tailspin; but also my dad’s sudden death when I was 20. Under such circumstances (that is, the unexpected sort), you quickly discover that no one has any clue whatsoever how to deal with human mortality.

“Get through this and we’ll get through the worst of it,” someone said to me at my dad’s funeral, as if the funeral itself was death’s greatest burden, and not the permanent absence of the only dad I’ll ever have.

Gaffes like that are common. But insensitivity is just a symptom of much deeper issues, first of which is our underlying fear of death, a fear that might only boil to the surface when we’re directly confronted by it, but stays with us even as we try our best to ignore it. It’s a fear that my grandmother summed up perfectly when she was dying — the terror of our own, permanent nonexistence. Which makes sense. After all, it’s our basic biological imperative to survive. But on top of that natural fear of death, there’s another, separate issue: our unwillingness, as a culture, to shine a light on that fear, and talk about it. And as a result, we keep this whole huge part of the human experience cloistered away.



“We’re literally lacking a vocabulary to talk about [death],” said Lennon Flowers, a co-founder of an organization called the Dinner Party, which brings together 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a loved one to discuss “the ways in which it continues to affect our lives.”

That lack of vocabulary is a big problem, and not just for people who directly experience loss. It’s a problem for all of us, because it means we each grapple alone with the natural fear of our own expiry. We deny the fear, we bury it under an endless stream of distractions. And so it festers, making us all the more invested in keeping it buried, for how painful it would be to take it out and look at it after letting it rot for so long.

But why all the self-enforced agony? Maybe it’s because a more honest relationship with death would mean a more honest reckoning with our lives, calling into question the choices we’ve made and the ways we’ve chosen to live. And damn if that isn’t uncomfortable.

Of course, if there’s one thing our culture is great at, it’s giving instruction on how to live. There are the clichés — “live each day to the fullest” and “dance like no one’s watching” — and beyond them an endless stream of messages telling us how to look better, feel better, lose weight, have better sex, get promoted, flip houses, and make a delicious nutritious dinner in 30 minutes flat. But all of it is predicated on the notion that life is long and death is some shadowy thing that comes along when we hit 100. (And definitely not one minute before then!)

To get a sense of how self-defeating each of these goals can be, consider this chestnut given to us by a Native American sage by the name of Crazy Horse:

“Today is a good day to die, for all the things of my life are present.”

No, today is not a good day to die, because most of us feel we haven’t lived our lives yet. We run around from one thing to the next. We have plans to buy a house or a new car or, someday, to pursue our wildest dreams. We rush through the day to get to the evening, and through the week to get to the weekend, but once the weekend comes, we’re already thinking ahead to Monday morning. Our lives are one deferral after another.

Naturally, then, today isn’t a good day to die. How about tomorrow? Probably not. What number of days would we need to be comfortable saying what Crazy Horse said? Probably too big a number to count. We preserve the idea of death as an abstract thing that comes in very old age, rather than a constant possibility for us as fragile humans, because we build our whole lives atop that foundation.

What would we gain from finally opening up about death? How about the golden opportunity to consider what’s really important, not to mention the chance to be less lonely as we grapple with our own mortality, and the promise of being a real friend when someone we love loses someone they love. Plus it would all come back to us tenfold whenwe’re the ones going through a loss or reeling from a terminal diagnosis.

Sounds like a worthy undertaking, doesn’t it?

And that’s where there’s good news. Coming to grips with death is, as we’ve already established, really hard. But we at least have a model for doing so. Let’s consider, for example, the Times notable books I mentioned earlier. One of them, the graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” provides an especially honest — and genuinely funny — account of author Roz Chast’s experience watching her parents grow old and die. The other book, Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” reveals just how much even our medical establishment struggles with the end of life. Doctors are trained to treat sickness, of course, but often have little or no training in what to do when sickness is no longer treatable.

What both of these books do especially well is provide a vocabulary for articulating just how difficult a subject death can be for everyone — even the strongest and brightest among us. As a universal human experience, it isn’t something we should have to deal with alone. It doesn’t make a person weak or maladjusted just because he or she struggles openly with death. And what Chast and Gawande both demonstrate is that talking about it doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, because these are anxieties that all of us have in common.

It’s a common refrain that what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans can understand, on a rational level, the full magnitude of our mortality. But what also distinguishes humans is the richness of our relationships and the depths of our empathy — the ability we have to communicate our experiences and support those around us. Death is a deeply unsettling prospect, no matter who you are. But it doesn’t need to be a burden you face alone.

The following is a list of resources for those looking for an organized platform to discuss the topic of death:

  • Atul Gawande serves as an advisor to the Conversation Project, a site that encourages families to talk openly about end-of-life care — and to choose, in advance, whether they want to be at home or in a hospital bed, on life support or not — in short, to say in unequivocal terms what matters most when the end is near.
  • Vivian Nunez is the 22-year-old founder of a brand-new site called Too Damn Young. Nunez lost her mom when she was 10 and her grandmother – her second mother – 11 years later. “Losing someone you love is an extraordinarily isolating experience,” she said. “This is especially significant when you’re talking about teenagers, or a young adult, who loses someone at a young age, and is forced to face how real mortality is, and then not encouraged to talk about it.” She founded Too Damn Young so that bereaved teenagers will know they’re not alone and so they’ll have a public space to talk about it.
  • The Recollectors is a groundbreaking project by writer Alysia Abbott, that tells the stories of people who lost a parent to AIDS. She’s exploding two big taboos – death and AIDS – in one clean shot.
  • Get Your Shit Together is another great one, a site launched by a young widow who learned the hard way that everyone should take some key steps to get their financial matters in order in case of an untimely death. “I (mostly) have my shit together,” the site’s founder says. “Now it’s your turn.”
  • There’s also Death Cafe, dedicated to “increasing awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” And Modern Loss, a site that’s received coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post, shies away from nothing in its quest to tell stories about end of life and living with loss. “Death Cafe and Modern Loss have attracted a loyal following,” said Nicole Bélanger, author of “Grief in the Rearview: Three Motherless Years.” “They offer the safe space we crave to show up as we are, without worrying about having to polish up our grief and make it fit for public consumption.”

Perhaps these communities will start to influence the mainstream, as their emboldened members teach the rest of us that it’s OK, it’s really OK, to talk about death. If that happens, it will be a slow process – culture change always is. “Race and gender and myriad other subjects were forever taboo, but now we’re able to speak truth,” said Flowers of the Dinner Party. “And now we’re seeing that around death and dying.”

If she’s right, it’s the difference between the excruciating loneliness of hiding away our vulnerabilities and, instead, allowing them to connect us and bind us together.

CIA torture and the crimes of the state

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10 December 2014

The unclassified executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, released Tuesday, describes, in extensive detail, horrific crimes that unquestionably violate domestic and international laws.

The review of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation program” documents the systematic use of sadistic forms of torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation (for up to a week at a time), head-banging, sensory deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, holding detainees in stress positions, confinement in coffin-like boxes, “rectal hydration” and “rectal feeding.” See, “Senate report on CIA interrogation details brutal torture methods.”

The report condemns these practices as illegal, immoral and ineffective, and denounces the CIA for withholding information from Congress and falsely claiming that its brutal interrogation methods helped foil terror attacks, capture and kill Al Qaeda operatives and “save lives.”

However, the most pertinent and obvious questions that arise from the report are not even being raised in the political establishment or the media: Who will be held accountable? Who will be indicted? Who will be prosecuted?

The Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, do not name a single top Bush administration official, limiting their exposé to former high-ranking CIA officials. There are no formal proposals or calls for criminal prosecutions or other actions to hold those responsible for these heinous actions accountable. The report seeks to maintain the absurd fiction that the torture program was an isolated aberration, involving only a handful of operatives.

In fact, the program of CIA torture was planned, implemented and monitored at the highest levels of the state. The cast of criminals includes President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden.

The response to the report by many of these very same criminals leaves no doubt that such methods continue, in one form or another, today, and will be employed on an even broader scale in the future. In advance of the release of the report, Bush gave an interview in which he rejected the Senate committee’s suggestion that he was deceived by the CIA about the scope and nature of the interrogation program and categorically defended it.

Cheney called talk of CIA deception “a crock” and all but accused Feinstein and her allies on the committee of treason. Hayden and a number of other former top CIA officials launched a media campaign in advance of the report’s release calling the report flawed and biased and warning that it would spark anti-American protests and terror attacks around the world. The propaganda campaign against the report continued after its release, with top Republicans and most Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee joining in.

The Obama administration too is culpable, functioning as an accomplice to the crimes described. From his first day in office, Obama worked might and main to shield CIA torturers and Bush administration officials and prevent their prosecution. In 2010, Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that the Justice Department would not prosecute CIA operatives who destroyed videotapes of CIA waterboarding sessions in 2005.

Obama made John Brennan, who oversaw the torture program as a CIA official under Bush, his chief counterterrorism adviser during his first term and elevated him to become CIA director in his second. Brennan and the White House have worked together to attempt to suppress the Senate report, withholding documents from the committee and then sitting on the completed draft of the report for two years. Under Brennan, the CIA spied on Senate staffers preparing the report, violating the constitutional separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment ban on arbitrary searches and seizures, and a number of US laws.

Congress itself, including Feinstein and the rest of the Democratic lawmakers, are also complicit in the torture program and other criminal practices. They were briefed repeatedly about the interrogation program, and if they were misled by the CIA, it is because they wanted to be misled.

Feinstein has for years been an unswerving defender of the US intelligence apparatus. She has categorically defended the National Security Agency spying programs and denounced whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea (Bradley) Manning as criminals and traitors.

The so-called liberal media has played no less an integral part. The Intelligence Committee report includes an entire section that details the manner in which the CIA fed leaks of classified information on its interrogation program to the New York Times and the Washington Post to manipulate public opinion in favor of such methods. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, articles were published and television programs produced aimed at legitimizing torture.

In her speech on the Senate floor Tuesday introducing the Intelligence Committee report, Senator Feinstein presented the torture program as an unfortunate and wrongheaded, if understandable, response to the 9/11 attacks and the need to wage the “war on terror.” This is a lie.

As the WSWS repeatedly warned, the phony war on terror was a criminal conspiracy to justify endless war abroad and a massive attack on democratic rights at home.

The CIA torture program itself was only an extreme expression of a break with bourgeois legality that characterizes every aspect of US policy. The theft of the 2000 election set the stage for the post-9/11 assault on democratic rights and creation of a police state-in-waiting, including Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Department, the Northern Command, rendition, indefinite detention, drone assassinations and mass NSA spying.

Within the United States, the police, operating in close collaboration with the military and intelligence agencies, function ever more openly as an instrument of social and political repression. The “war on terror” is being brought home.

The acts described in the Senate report reveal the essence of bourgeois rule in the United States. The response must be not merely shock and horror, but an independent political movement of the working class to put an end to the capitalist system and hold accountable the criminals that preside over it.

Barry Grey

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/10/pers-d10.html

The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

The CIA’s rendition, interrogation, and detention programs were even more nightmarish than you could imagine.
Interrogations that lasted for days on end. Detainees forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep. A prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death. The Senate Intelligence Committee is finally releasing its review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs. And it is brutal.

Here are some of the most gruesome moments of detainee abuse from a summary of the report, obtained by The Daily Beast:

Well Worn Waterboards

The CIA has previously said that only three detainees were ever waterboarded: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zabaydah, and Abd Al Rahim al-Nashiri. But records uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee suggest there may have been more than three subjects. The Senate report describes a photograph of a “well worn” waterboard, surrounded by buckets of water, at a detention site where the CIA has claimed it never subjected a detainee to this procedure. In a meeting with the CIA in 2013, the agency was not able to explain the presence of this waterboard.

Near Drowning

Contrary to CIA’s description to the Department of Justice, the Senate report says that the waterboarding was physically harmful, leading to convulsions and vomiting. During one session, detainee Abu Zabaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth.” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times, which the Senate report describes as escalating into a “series of near drownings.”

The Dungeon-Like Salt Pit 

Opened in Sept. 2002, this “poorly-managed” detention facility was the second site opened by the CIA after 9/11. The Senate report refers to it by the pseudonym Cobalt, but details of what happened there indicate that it’s a notorious “black site” in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. Although the facility kept few formal records, the committee concluded that untrained CIA operatives conducted unauthorized, unsupervised interrogation there.

A Senate aide who briefed reporters on the condition that he not be identified said that the Cobalt site was run by a junior officer who with no relevant experience, and that this person had “issues” in his background that should have disqualified him from working for the CIA at all. The aide didn’t specify what those issues were, but suggested that the CIA should have flagged them. The committee found that some employees at the site lacked proper training and had “histories of violence and mistreatment of others.”

Standing on Broken Legs

In Nov. 2002, a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to the floor died, apparently from hypothermia. This case appears similar to the that of Gul Rahman, who died of similarly explained causes at a Afghan site known as the “Salt Pit,” also in Nov. 2002. The site was also called ‘The Dark Prison’ by former captives.

The aide said that the Cobalt site was was dark, like a dungeon, and that experts who visited the site said they’d never seen an American prison where people were kept in such conditions. The facility was so dark in some places that guard had to wear head lamps, while other rooms were flooded with bright lights and white noise to disorient detainees.

At the Cobalt facility, the CIA also forced some detainees who had broken feet or legs to stand in stress-inducing positions, despite having earlier pledged that they wouldn’t subject those wounded individuals to treatment that might exacerbate their injuries.

Non-stop Interrogation

Beginning with Abu Zubaydah, and following with other detainees, the CIA deployed the harshest techniques from the beginning without trying to first elicit information in an “open, non-threatening manner,” the committee found. The torture continued nearly non-stop, for days or weeks at a time.

The CIA instructed personnel at the site that the interrogation of Zubaydah, who’d been shot during his capture, should take “precedence over his medical care,” the committee found, leading to an infection in a bullet wound incurred during his capture. Zubaydah lost his left eye while in custody. The CIA’s instructions also ran contrary to how it told the Justice Department the prisoner would be treated.

The CIA forced some detainees who had broken feet or legs to stand in stress-inducing positions, despite having earlier pledged that they wouldn’t subject those wounded individuals to treatment that might exacerbate their injuries.

Forced Rectal Feeding and Worse

At least five detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration,” without any documented medical need. “While IV infusion is safe and effective,” one officer wrote, rectal hydration could be used as a form of behavior control.

Others were deprived of sleep, which could involve staying awake for up to 180 hours—sometimes standing, sometimes with their hands shackled above their heads.

Some detainees were forced to walk around naked, or shackled with their hands above their heads. In other instances, naked detainees were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while subject to physical abuse.

At one facility, detainees were kept in total darkness and shackled in cells with loud noise or music, and only a bucket to use for waste.

Lost Detainees

While the CIA has said publicly that it held about 100 detainees, the committee found that at least 119 people were in the agency’s custody.

“The fact is they lost track and they didn’t really know who they were holding,” the Senate aide said, noting that investigators found emails in which CIA personnel were “surprised” to find some people in their custody. The CIA also determined that at least 26 of its detainees were wrongfully held. Due to the agency’s poor record-keeping, it may never be known precisely how many detainees were held, and how they were treated in custody, the committee found.

No Blockbuster Intelligence

The report will conclude that the CIA’s interrogation techniques never yielded any intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks. Investigators didn’t conclude that no information came from the program at all. Rather, the committee rejects the CIA’s contention that information came from the program that couldn’t have been obtained through other means.

“When you put detainees through these [torture sessions] they will say whatever they can say to get the interrogations to stop,” the Senate aide said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee reviewed 20 cited examples of intelligence “successes” that the CIA identified from the interrogation program and found that there was no relationship between a cited counterterrorism success and the techniques used. Furthermore, the information gleaned during torture sessions merely corroborated information already available to the intelligence community from other sources, including reports, communications intercepts, and information from law enforcement agencies, the committee found. The CIA had told policymakers and the Department of Justice that the information from torture was unique or “otherwise unavailable.” Such information comes from the “kind of good national security tradecraft that we rely on to stop terrorist plots at all times,” the Senate aide said.

In developing the enhanced interrogation techniques, the report said, the CIA failed to review the historical use of coercive interrogations. The resulting techniques were described as “discredited coercive interrogation techniques such as those used by torturous regimes during the Cold War to elicit false confessions,” according to the committee. The CIA acknowledged that it never properly reviewed the effectiveness of these techniques, despite the urging of the CIA inspector general, Congressional leadership and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Contractors and Shrinks

The CIA relied on two outside contractors who were psychologists with experience at the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school to help develop, run, and assess the interrogation program. Neither had experience as an interrogator, nor any specialized knowledge of al-Qaeda, counterterrorism or relevant linguistic expertise, the committee found. In 2005, these two psychologists formed a company, and following this the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the interrogation program to them. The company was paid more than $80 million by the CIA.

Lies to the President

An internal report by the CIA, known as the Panetta Review, found that there were numerous inaccuracies in the way the agency represented the effectiveness of interrogation techniques—and that the CIA misled the president about this. The CIA’s records also contradict the evidence the agency provided of some “thwarted” terrorist attacks and the capture of suspects, which the CIA linked to the use of these enhanced techniques. The Senate’s report also concludes that there were cases in which White House questions were not answered truthfully or completely.

Cover-Ups

In the early days of the program, CIA officials briefed the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee. Few records of that session remain, but Senate investigators found a draft summary of the meeting, written by a CIA lawyers, that notes lawmakers “questioned the legality of these techniques.” But the lawyer deleted that line from the final version of the summary. The Senate investigators found that Jose Rodriguez, once the CIA’s top spy and a fierce defender of the interrogation program, made a note on the draft approving of the deletion: “Short and sweet,” Rodriguez wrote of the newly revised summary that failed to mention lawmakers’ concerns about the legality of the program.

Threats to Mothers

CIA officers threatened to harm detainees’ children, sexually abuse their mothers, and “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.” In addition, several detainees were led to believe they would die in custody, with one told he would leave in a coffin-shaped box.

Detainees wouldn’t see their day in court because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you,” one interrogator said.

Sexual Assault by Interrogators 

Officers in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program included individuals who the committee said, “among other things, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/09/the-most-gruesome-moments-in-the-cia-torture-report.html?via=desktop&source=facebook

Latest ISIS attack on Kobanê implicates Turkey once more

by Iskender Doğu on December 2, 2014

Post image for Latest ISIS attack on Kobanê implicates Turkey once moreThis weekend ISIS attacked Kobanê from Turkish soil. While Turkish complicity in the attack is hard to prove, the events raises some important questions.

In the early hours of Saturday, November 29, on the 75th day of the resistance of Kobanê, the militants of the Islamic State launched yet another attack against the city. In the 2.5 months that ISIS has been besieging the predominantly Kurdish city at the border with Turkey it launched numerous attacks — ranging from indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas with tanks, mortars and heavy artillery to suicide attacks by individuals and car bombs (VBIEDs) — but never before did it attack the city from the north, from the Turkish side of the border.

For many international observers and Kurdish activists this fact confirmed once again that the Turkish state is in bed with the Islamist militants, and that the two are collaborating closely in their fight against the region’s Kurdish population. Despite many clues pointing in this direction, one has to be careful in drawing too many conclusions from Saturday’s attack.

At this point it is a well-established fact that ISIS launched its latest attack on Kobanê from Turkish soil, but the extent to which the Turkish military and/or state has been complicit in this event remains impossible to determine. Aaron Stein’s Open Source Analysis of the attack presents the possibility that ISIS entered Turkey without the latter’s knowledge, crossing the border from Kobanê just a few hundred meters to the east of the border crossing before looping south and attacking the border gate from the north.

However, plausible as this might look on a map, when taking into consideration the heavy military presence at the border, with Turkish troops continuously patrolling the area with tanks and APCs, it seems highly unlikely — if not outright impossible — that two bomb-laden vehicles and a few dozen fighters could pass the border into Turkey unnoticed.

Moreover, according to reports by the YPG, the fighting between the city’s defense forces and the ISIS militants ensued for the better part of the afternoon and for most of the time took place on Turkish soil. This means that even if the military wasn’t complicit in ISIS’ attack, at the very least they failed (or refused?) to engage with the militants when it became clear that they were armed and present inside Turkey’s borders.

Turkish Support for ISIS

Ever since ISIS commenced its attack on Kobanê the town has been cut off from the outside world. ISIS controlled the western, southern and eastern fronts and the hermetically sealed border with Turkey formed an unsurpassable border in the north. The Turkish armed forces (TSK) have maintained a heavy military presence at the border, with dozens of tanks stationed on hills overlooking Kobanê, regular patrols along the border fence and watch towers and outposts every few kilometers.

Nonetheless, despite the ubiquity of the Turkish armed forces in the border region, aspiring jihadists have been managing to cross the border from Turkey into Syria in large numbers — in some cases even in broad daylight. Reports and rumors of Turkish support for ISIS have been doing their rounds for months, but have become more persistent since Kobanê came under attack from ISIS in late September.

A selection of trustworthy reports on Turkish aid to the jihadists reveals that the Turkish government has been providing logistical, medical, financial and military support by allowing ISIS fighters to ‘travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces’; shipments of construction goods and materials to cross the border into ISIS-controlled territory; that it has treated injured ISIS fighters and commanders free of charge in Turkish hospitals; that it facilitates the smuggling of oil across the border into Turkey from ISIS-controlled territory; and that it even has been sending arms to the Islamist radicals and provided them with intelligence in the form of satellite imagery and other data (more here, here, and here).

Other examples of links between ISIS and the Turkish political establishment — such as details on the release of 180 ISIS members in exchange for 49 Turkish hostages; the impunity with which ISIS supporters attack and intimidate students at Istanbul University; and the ease with which ISIS is able to draw a steady stream of recruits from the country’s poorer neighborhoods — point towards at least some level of ideological agreement, if not outright cooperation, between the two parties.

ISIS as a Necessary Evil

Turkey’s close relations with ISIS should be understood in the context of the difficult relationship with its domestic Kurdish population and its deep hatred for the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad. Not taking the full complexity of the region’s political power play into account — which would would require a separate and more extensive treatment — but looking merely at Turkey’s disposition towards the conflict in Syria, one has to realize that from the perspective of the Turkish government ISIS is one of the lesser evils active in the region.

From the start of the Syrian revolution-turned-civil-war Turkey has been actively supporting anyone fighting against Assad, from the moderate revolutionaries of the Free Syrian Army to Islamist radicals such as the Al Nusra Front and ISIS. Turkey perceives these latter organizations not as a big threat to its own domestic security and at the same time believes that these parties have the best chance of overthrowing the Syrian dictator. Turkey’s perception of the Islamist militants can best be described as a ‘necessary evil’ — good enough to fight against Assad and other groups in the region, and not bad enough to actively endanger Turkish security.

Turkey’s alleged support for ISIS in the battle for Kobanê — or at the very least its refusal to support the Kurdish defenders of the city — stems from the fact that it views the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a sister organization of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which for more than thirty years has been leading an insurgency against the Turkish state. An autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, led by a close ally of the PKK and based upon the principles of horizontal democracy, gender equality and environmental sustainability — the same values that also guide the Kurdish struggle in Turkey — might very well inspire Turkey’s Kurdish population to voice similar demands and pursue similar goals, posing a possible threat to the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. This is why the Turkish government has been reluctant to support Kobanê’s Kurds in their battle against ISIS.

ISIS Suffers Setbacks

Back to the border.

The clashes started around 5:00am, Saturday morning, when ISIS launched its attack on the Mursitpinar border crossing. The advance of ISIS ground forces was preceded by the deployment of one VBIED and two suicide bombers, who attacked the border crossing from the north. This was the first time since the start of the conflict in Kobanê that the border crossing had come under direct attack from ISIS.

As a key strategic position for whoever wants to control the city, the border crossing had been subject to many attacks from ISIS already. Thus far, ISIS had been prevented from reaching the crossing as every attack was successfully repelled by the People’s/Women’s Defense Forces (YPG/YPJ) who have been defending the city alongside small contingents of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 150 Peshmergas troops from Iraqi Kurdistan. However, where all previous attacks were launched from either the east or the south, where ISIS formerly controlled large parts of the city, Saturday’s attack came from the north, from the Turkish side of the border.

Videos of the fighting show YPG forces engaged in a fight with ISIS members (who can’t be seen in the video). The location of the fighters can’t easily be determined, but around 1:20am a Turkish flag is visible, indicating that the clashes are taking place inside Turkey — at the train station close to the border, to be precise. The YPG fighters are firing towards the grain silos which are also in Turkey from where ISIS is shooting back at the defenders, as can clearly be seen in another video.

A third video shows the damaged border gate which was allegedly blown-up when the VBIED detonated in its vicinity. This specific gate is situated on the Turkish side of the border, thus providing proof for the fact that the attackers actually entered from Turkey, and did not attack the border crossing from the east, as has been suggested by some analysts of Saturday’s attack.

Throughout the day clashes continued, not only at the border, but also on the eastern and southern fronts where the YPG/YPJ successfully repelled several attacks by ISIS and where a number of tanks were destroyed. According to a statement from the YPG Media Center the fighting at the border continued throughout the day, and for a large part took place on Turkish soil. The defense forces pushed back ISIS into Turkey — from there they are believed to have crossed the border back into Kobanê.

Ironically, what was supposed to be a shift in the balance in the battle for Kobanê in favor of ISIS, who has been losing a lot of ground in recent weeks after the arrival of some contingents of the FSA and Peshmergas in support of the YPG/YPJ, turned out to be one of its most disastrous defeats. By the end of the weekend more than 80 ISIS fighters had lost their lives in and around Kobanê.

Allegations and Denials

If ISIS’ attack was actually launched from Turkish soil — and this is in fact what the available evidence points towards — it raises a number of important questions that as of yet remain unanswered. To what extent was Turkey involved in the attack? If the TSK were not involved, how was it possible for ISIS to cross the border into Turkey with at least one vehicle filled with explosives and several dozens of fighters without being spotted? If ISIS was indeed fighting on Turkish soil, as the footage of the clashes implies, what action will Turkey take to prevent the Islamist militants from entering the sovereign territory of one of NATO’s key allies in the future?

For Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Rojava, there is little doubt that the attack was launched from Turkish soil. “All three directions are under YPG control. We are 100 percent certain that the ISIS suicide vehicle entered Kobanê through Turkey,” she stated in a phone interview, commenting on the attacks.

“After all failed attempts to attacks from within Kobanê, ISIS thugs tried to carry out attacks from outside, from the border gate with Turkey,” Asya Adbullah added. “We always wanted good relations with Turkey but they need to clarify their position. If they are against ISIS why are they allowing them to use their soil to carry out attacks against us?”

Referring to the significance of ISIS attacking Kobanê from the north, Nawaf Khalil, spokesperson for the PYD stated that: “[ISIS] used to attack the town from three sides. Today, they are attacking from four sides.”

A statement by the government press office at the border town of Suruç acknowledged that the Mursitpinar border crossing had come under attack, but denied that the attack was launched from Turkey. “The allegation that the vehicle in the mentioned attack reached the border gate through Turkish land is definitely a lie,” the statement reads. It also denied claims that some unspecified Turkish officials had made a statement admitting that “the bomb-laden vehicle has passed the border from Turkey.”

Unsurprisingly, the Turkish military denied that ISIS had been present in Turkey for an extended period of time: “A few ISIL militants entered Turkish soil during the clashes. While armored units rushed toward that region, ISIL militants left Turkish soil,” anonymous military sources told Hurriyet Daily. “The total duration of the time they stayed in Turkey has been measured as 1 minute and 39 seconds. Everything can be seen in the recordings.”

What’s Next?

For many observers Saturday’s attacks have proven once again that in the battle for Kobanê Turkey has sided with the Islamist militants. Where Turkey’s logistical, financial and military support for ISIS remains hard to prove, the fact that the country’s government has refused to lend any kind of support to the defenders of Kobanê and have prevented military and humanitarian aid from reaching the city on numerous occasions, shows that it cares very little whether Kobanê stands or falls.

As stated above, the extent to which Turkey was involved in Saturday’s attack remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that ISIS launched its attack on the border post from Turkish soil, and even though there might be ways the militants could have crossed the border secretly, this is highly unlikely in the light of the TSK’s close monitoring of the border and the heavy military presence in the region.

Consequently, the most likely explanation is that the Turkish military was to a certain extent aware of ISIS’ intentions to cross the border and attack Kobanê from the north, but it might have misjudged the situation as they did not expect ISIS to cross with two VBIEDs and several dozen fighters.

Since the attack was successfully repelled, Saturday’s attack can in fact be considered a victory for the defenders of the city. The most profound effects will probably be felt by the Turkish military and political establishment who were thoroughly embarrassed when mainstream media across the globe headlined that ISIS had launched its attack from Turkish soil. Turkey’s NATO allies will undoubtedly demand some explanations as to how this could happen, and what they are going to do about it. As the battle rages on inside Kobanê, Saturday’s events could eventually work out in favor of the defenders as more political pressure might be exerted on Turkey to start actively opposing ISIS.

Iskender Doğu is an Istanbul-based freelance writer, activist and an editor for ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/isis-attacks-kobane-from-turkey/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Netanyahu’s “Jewish nation” bill enshrines an apartheid-style constitution

By Jean Shaoul
1 December 2014

The agreement by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet to present a Jewish nation-state bill to the Knesset at the beginning of December has provoked a major political crisis.

The bill seeks to anchor Israel’s definition as an explicitly Jewish state in the country’s Basic Laws. While civil rights are theoretically still to be accorded to everyone, “according to the law”, communal or national rights will only be extended to Jewish Israelis. It, in effect, ends the state’s formal commitment to democracy and equality, rendering non-Jews—the Palestinians, Druze and Bedouin, as well as the 300,000 Russian immigrants who are not Jewish according to rabbinical law, and who together account for more than 1.5 million, or nearly 20 percent of Israel’s 8.2 million population—second class citizens.

The bill calls on the judiciary to utilize Jewish law, meaning rabbinical law, “as a source of inspiration”, and enshrines the national anthem, Jewish holy days and the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel in the Basic Laws.

The Zionist state is now preparing to adopt the institutional arrangements for an apartheid system to ensure Jewish supremacy under conditions where Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights will soon together have a Palestinian majority. The move follows inexorably from the establishment of the Zionist state as a “safe haven” for the Jews via the dispossession of the Palestinians and the commitment of successive governments to an expansionist policy.

Netanyahu claimed that the law was necessary because “There are many who are challenging the notion of Israel as a Jewish homeland. The Palestinians refuse to recognise this and there is also opposition from within. …” Whereas all would have equal civil rights, he said that, “There are national rights only for the Jewish people—a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel and other national symbols.”

The proposals also discriminate in favour of Jewish heritage and history, stating, “The state will work to preserve the heritage and the cultural and historical tradition of the Jewish people and to instil and cultivate it in Israel and the Diaspora.”

The cabinet agreed by a majority of 14 to six to back several private member’s bills going through the Knesset, provided that the final version of the laws is in accordance with Netanyahu’s 14 requirements—which are a slightly less extreme form of the other bills. Those bills demote Arabic from its already weakened status as an official language and include a commitment to the construction of new Jewish communities, without requiring similar construction for the Palestinian Israelis.

The proposals prompted a furious debate, whose noisy exchanges could be heard outside the cabinet meeting room. But none of the ministers, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni from the Tenua Party and Finance Minister Yair Lapid from the Yesh Yatid party, opposed the bill as a matter of principle. Lapid called the proposed change a “bad law, which is badly worded”.

Their main concern was to reach some agreement on voting against the measure in the Knesset and remaining in Netanyahu’s coalition.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein claimed that Netanyahu’s proposals maintain the principle of equality, but opposed the bill because it was essentially a constitutional amendment that should be introduced by government, not by a private member.

Palestinians, both within Israel and the occupied territories, denounced the bill as racist, crowning the raft of discriminatory legislation passed over the last decade and currently under discussion.

The government has just reinstated house demolitions as a punitive measure and is proposing to strip Palestinian attackers of their residency rights in occupied East Jerusalem. Netanyahu said, “It cannot be that those who harm Israel, those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel, will enjoy rights like social security.”

Others have opposed the bill, fearing it would further isolate Israel internationally. Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog called it “an unnecessary, reactionary provocation”, while Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, a right winger and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, argued that it was unnecessary and gave ammunition to Israel’s critics internationally.

They voiced their concerns after opposition was expressed by the United States. On Monday, a US State Department spokesman said that it expected Israel to “continue [its] commitment to democratic principles”. He added, “The United States position, which is unchanged, has been clear for years—and the president and the secretary [of state] have also reiterated it—is that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens should enjoy equal rights.”

Washington’s concern is that the bill reveals that Israel has already created much of the constitutional and legal framework for an apartheid state. The physical separation of the two communities is assured by the Security Wall between the Occupied West Bank and Israel, and the military control of Area C in the West Bank, by far the largest area that is home to the Israeli settlements. Now the new arrangements set the scene for far greater discrimination than that already endured by the Palestinian population within Israel itself.

In addition, it jettisons any pretence of reaching an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas—for whom the recognition of Israel as an explicitly Jewish state is a step too far. Any Palestinian state based on this definition of Israel is publicly revealed for what it always was—the equivalent of a South African Bantustan.

The pretence that an agreement on some Palestinian statelet is possible at some future date is the necessary fig leaf to cover the Arab leaders’ support for the US’s predatory wars to control the region’s rich energy resources. As such, the Jewish-nation bill threatens to fuel not only an uprising in Israel/Palestine that is already well developed, but also an international protest movement that would cut across Washington’s plans for military action in Iraq and Syria.

The US intervention has led to a delay in the bill’s ratification, with both of Netanyahu’s right wing partner coalition partners, Israel is Our Home and the Jewish Home Party, calling for a postponement of the Knesset vote.

Nevertheless, the bill, amid heightened tensions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, gives the green light to the ultra-nationalists to mount further provocations. Religious zealots have sought increased access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, with provocative marches by prominent Israeli politicians escorted by armed guards, reminiscent of Ariel Sharon’s visit that sparked the second Intifada in October 2000. There are also moves from the security establishment to ban Palestinian guards stationed on the compound, which is subject to Jordan’s control under Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan, to block entry by Jews.

Netanyahu is promoting the bill in large measure as a means of shoring up his support among the most rabid nationalist layers. His shaky coalition, which faces crises on the economic and political fronts, is on the point of collapse, presaging an early general election after just two years. Netanyahu represents an isolated and demoralised ruling class that has lost its head and has no answer to the crisis it confronts except increased authoritarianism, brutality and war.

Notwithstanding the nationalist propaganda—that the Zionist state represents all those of the Jewish faith—Israel is a capitalist society, divided by class and beset with massive social antagonisms, serving to preserve the rule of a handful of billionaires and their venal politicians. The turn to measures associated with both apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany will only deepen the revulsion and hostility toward Zionism throughout the Middle East, around the world, and among Jewish workers and youth in Israel itself—in the process discrediting Israel’s backers, the US and European imperialist powers.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/01/isra-d01.html