Banksy filmed himself sneaking into Gaza to paint new artwork

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World-renowned street artist Banksy released a 2-minute video on his website this week that delivers an eye-opening view of life behind the guarded walls of the Gaza Strip.

The video, “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination,” invites viewers to witness the devastation of war-torn Gaza and the tribulation of the Palestinian population cordoned within its borders.

The satirical mini-documentary, which is set to the legendary East Flatbush Project’s “Tried by 12,” presents itself as an advertisement for world travelers. It begins by showing an individual, presumably Banksy himself, entering Gaza by climbing through what’s parenthetically described as an illegal network of tunnels. “Well away from the tourist track,” the caption reads.

Exiting one of the dark tunnels, Banksy ascends into the bombed-out region and is greeted by children playing amid piles of rubble. “The locals like it so much they never leave,” the video says. Cutting to a scrum of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, it continues: “Because they’re never allowed to.

 

The video captures four of the mysterious artist’s new pieces. The first, titled “Bomb Damage,” is painted on a door defiantly erect at the facade of a destroyed building. Potentially inspired by Rodin’s “The Thinker,” it shows a man knelt over in apparent agony. Another depicts one of the Israeli guard towers along the separation wall transformed into an amusement park swing carousel. The third and largest piece is a white cat with a pink bow measuring roughly 3 meters high; its paw hovering above a twisted ball of scrap metal like a ball of yarn.

“A local man came up and said ‘Please – what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website – but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens.”

“This cat tells the world that she is missing joy in her life,” a Palestinian man resting nearby speaks in Arabic to the camera. “The cat found something to play with. What about our children?”

The fourth and final piece is simple red paint on a wall. It reads: “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful—we don’t remain neutral.”

According to the video, much of the recorded destruction is the result of “Operation Protective Edge,” a July 2014 Israeli military campaign, the stated of goal of which was to prevent Hamas rocket fire from entering Israeli territory.

During the seven weeks of airstrikes, Gaza suffered up to 2,300 casualties, including 513 children; 66 Israeli soldiers and 5 civilians were also killed. Up to 7,000 Palestinian homes were complete destroyed, and another 10,000 severely damaged, according to the United Nations. Over half a million people were displaced by the conflict. By some estimates, rebuilding Gaza City could cost in excess of $6 billion and take more than 20 years.

Banksy isn’t new to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2005, he painted nine pieces along the 425-mile West Bank Wall, the barrier which separates Palestine and Israel.

Screenshot via Banksy/YouTube

http://www.dailydot.com/politics/banksy-new-gaza-artwork/?fb=dd

European Union gives no quarter in war against Greek workers

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18 February 2015

On Monday, the finance ministers of the Eurogroup, meeting in Brussels, made it clear they would not budge from the brutal austerity policies that have plunged Greece into a social catastrophe.

Taking their lead from Germany, the finance ministers unanimously rejected proposals from the Syriza-led Greek government for largely symbolic modifications of the debt repayment plan imposed by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The leader of the Eurogroup finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands, handed Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis a draft statement at the beginning of the meeting that amounted to an ultimatum: Sign or face a cutoff of loans and state bankruptcy!

The statement declared that Greece would dutifully implement the current debt repayment program, including its provisions for new and even deeper cuts in jobs, pensions and social services and a fire sale of public assets to the banks and hedge funds.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble expressed the arrogance of the European and international ruling elites and their contempt for the suffering of the Greek masses, calling the Greek government’s pleas for a measure of relief “irresponsible” and a “waste of time,” and accusing Syriza leader and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of “insulting those who have helped Greece in the past few years.”

The “help” provided by the German and European ruling classes since the Wall Street crash of 2008 has consisted of reducing millions of Greek workers to unemployment and poverty, gutting the country’s health care system, and producing a plague of homelessness and hunger in order to make the working class pay for the multi-trillion-euro bailout of the banks. Such “help” has been extended to other highly indebted countries such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, with catastrophic social consequences.

The austerity offensive against these countries has been used to set a precedent for sweeping attacks on working class living standards and social services in Britain, Italy, France, Germany and throughout Europe.

The European Union governments evidently decided to use Monday’s meeting to make an example of Greece. Their contemptuous treatment of Syriza was meant to be an object lesson lest others think they can resist the power of capital.

They had taken the measure of Syriza, viewing it not as the representative of insurgent masses, but rather as a supplicant speaking in behalf of failing Greek capitalists. This assessment was borne out by Syriza’s entirely predictable response to Monday’s provocations.

Varoufakis balked at signing the draft statement, complaining that he had agreed to sign a somewhat different text that signaled acceptance of the existing debt repayment scheme, but with certain unspecified differences in wording.

He protested against the refusal of the finance ministers to give the Syriza-led government some wiggle room as it went about reneging on its campaign promises and implementing the austerity program. Nevertheless, he declared after the abortive meeting, “I have no doubt there is going to be an agreement in the end.”

On the eve of the meeting, he had told the Guardian newspaper, “We are a party of the left, but what we are putting on the table is essentially the agenda of a reformist bankruptcy lawyer from the City of London.” He went so far as to call Schäuble the “only European politician of intellectual substance” and laud German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the “most astute politician in Europe.”

It evidently took little more than 24 hours for Syriza to complete its capitulation. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday afternoon that Greek officials would seek an extension of the current debt repayment program on Wednesday.

Syriza’s entire approach has been based on the notion that it could somehow schmooze the European ruling classes into slightly modifying their policy. Tsipras hoped to find support among sections of the European bourgeoisie that have expressed certain differences with Germany. He also banked on leveraging economic policy differences between the United States and Germany.

The charm offensive Tsipras and Varoufakis undertook in various European capitals following Syriza’s election victory last month was pitched entirely to the economic and political elites. There was no appeal to the working class.

The leaders of Syriza have never questioned the legitimacy of the capitalist system. On the contrary, they have repeatedly declared their support for the banking system and their determination to fully repay Greece’s debts to the financial elite. The centerpiece of their program is support for the European Union, the political and organizational framework for the bankers’ offensive against the European working class.

Like all petty-bourgeois parties, Syriza’s politics are embedded in the notion that great historical and political questions can be dealt with through evasions, maneuvers and clever tactics. In Syriza’s case, this has included forming a coalition with a right-wing chauvinist party, the Independent Greeks.

It has taken less than four weeks of a Syriza-led government to thoroughly expose the bankruptcy of a middle class reformist outlook in a period of revolution or counterrevolution.

The offensive of the ruling class can be defeated only by revolutionary means: the independent political mobilization of the working class across Europe and internationally against capitalism. Syriza and the various pseudo-left parties that support it are obstacles to this struggle. The building of a new, revolutionary leadership of the working class must be carried out in a struggle against them.

Christoph Dreier and Barry Grey

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/02/18/pers-f18.html

Rebuilding Kobani: call for help from a city in ruins

By Yvo Fitzherbert On February 18, 2015

Post image for Rebuilding Kobani: call for help from a city in ruinsThe liberation of Kobani was a bittersweet victory that left the town devastated. Reconstruction has begun and the need for solidarity and aid is urgent.

Photo by Bulent Kilic.

“When Kobani was liberated, it was a beautiful feeling. A feeling of freedom,” my friend Mustafa explained to me. Mustafa is a local journalist, and after being detained for two weeks by the Turkish authorities when he fled Kobani in early October, he decided to return to his hometown to work and to help facilitate journalists inside the city. For four months, Kobani had been under a brutal siege. ISIS jihadists attacked the city from the east, west and south, surrounding it from all sides. To the north lay Turkey, forever against the autonomy the Kurds of Syria had created for themselves and therefore no friend of the Kurdish resistance in Kobani.

But after four months, on January 27, Kobani was finally liberated. The Kurdish forces, led by the PKK-affiliated YPG and their female unit YPJ, but also supported by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan, had fiercely defended the advances of the Islamic State and forced them out of the city. Aerial bombardments by the US-led coalition targeting ISIS positions in and around the city contributed to weakening the jihadist forces, but as the battle of Kobani has shown, these only play a secondary role when it comes to defeating ISIS.

“It was like being reborn again,” Idriss Nassan, the deputy foreign minister of Kobani said. Idriss had moved to the Turkish border town of Suruç when the situation became critical in Kobani in early October and had worked as foreign minister from there. Two days before the victory of Kobani, he decided to move back to his hometown and described the joy at being able to live in his city again after spending four months in Turkey.

The new center and food shortages

While the liberation of Kobani came as a long-awaited relief and was proudly celebrated by the citizens of Kobani, it was a bittersweet victory. More than 80 percent of the city has been destroyed entirely, reduced to little but a heap of rubble. Throughout the battle, YPG based its operations from the west where there was little fighting, except for ISIS’s mortar shells and the real danger of sniper fire.

As a result, the urban center has shifted west — the only part of the city where life still exists. Guerrillas, taking a break from the front-line in the villages surrounding Kobani, stroll through the streets calmly with Kalashnikovs in hand, soaking up freedom. Men and women linger at street corners, chatting about the latest YPG victory in the villages.

A school now functions, with eager children hoping to forget the pains of the conflict. In itself, the school amounts to little more than a concrete foundation of a house on the western outskirts of the city. However, when you descend into the basement — chosen for its obvious protection from ISIS shells — there is a bustling environment of alternative education.

Throughout the four-month siege, there has been a constant shortage of food. With the border controlled by the Turkish military, which decides to let in supplies at its own discretion, people have had to rely on smuggling routes. But the cornerstone of the city’s food production remains the bakery. “The bread has fed the resistance.” one citizen explained to me.

The bakery, run by a family that bravely continued its work throughout the siege, has provided bread for free for all the fighters and the citizens that stayed behind in Kobani. Due to its indispensability, it had been a target of ISIS, and as a result they hid the bakery’s location to any journalists until now. “I decided to remain in the city baking bread because I realized it was essential for the survival of the resistance,” a member of the family of bakers told me.

The larger bakery, which provided the whole city with bread before the siege, was targeted by ISIS mortars in the early days of the fighting and as a result it was already closed down five months ago. Now it has been reopened, and besides its logistical importance, this is above all a symbolic victory. Ibrahim, the bakery manager, described how it had taken them ten days to rebuild because of the damage inflicted by ISIS’s mortar shells.

Now it was finally functioning, and bread was once again being baked for the community. Ibrahim told me in an interview that “in order to feed the community, you must fight for it.” Although of little strategic significance, for Ibrahim and many other citizens of Kobani, the reopening of the bakery was a long-awaited victory for which they had fought long and hard.

Children in Kobani. Photo by author.

Aside from the daily supply of bread, the depot is where all citizens go to collect whatever supplies they need as the shops stopped functioning many months ago. I visited it one day to collect food for the house I was staying at. Behind the counter, they have piles of canned food, a selection of fresh vegetables, oil and household supplies. “It’s just like a normal shop but without money,” Mustafa joked. And it was exactly that: Kobani, the moneyless economy.

Meanwhile, families are slowly returning to Kobani after many months of anxiously awaiting the outcome of the battle in Turkey. For four months they watched the bombs rain down on their beloved city, and now they are finally back. I watched as families returned home, shouting “Long live the resistance ofKobani!” as they walked through the YPG border gate into their destroyed city.

One old woman told me upon arriving into Kobani that “the destruction of the city is incomparable to the lives we have lost.” For her, the destruction lay not in the piles of rubble confronting her arrival, but in the memories of the many members of her family who were martyred in the resistance to free the city.

Another father, who had stayed fighting throughout the battle while his family escaped to Turkey, was emotionally reunited with his family after four painful months apart. He told me that “if we didn’t have the love for our children and for our family, we couldn’t have won this battle.”

Dangers remain in a free Kobani

While people start to enjoy the slow normalization of their lives in the city,Kobani still feels very much like a ghost city, completely destroyed by the war.Unexploded bombs are scattered everywhere, often going unnoticed. Some are buried into the road, while others lie unobtrusively beneath the rubble. Children play alongside these bombs, not giving them a moment’s thought. Every now and then, a loud explosion pierces through the city, and civilians exchange fearful looks, hoping that nobody was harmed. Half a dozen people have died as a result of such accidents in the last week alone.

The government of Kobani has said that “until all bombs and explosives are removed from Kobani, the city and villages will not be safe,” and have issued a call-out for international support in clearing the city. With the town mostly destroyed and unexploded bombs dispersed all over the only inhabitable part of the city, it appears that it will take a long time for normal life to resume.

However, Kobani’s call for international assistance is likely to go unnoticed unless strong pressure is exerted to open a humanitarian corridor. Kobani — and the other Rojavan cantons of Afrin and Cezire — have consistently faced an unjust embargo from the international community over the last two years. Due to this embargo, Turkey only allows basic food supplies to cross the border, giving no permission for construction vehicles or building materials to enter Kobani.

As the HDP parliamentarian Ibrahim Ayhan says, “Until the border is fully free no help will be properly delivered.” Idriss Nassan believes the international community has a duty, stating that “if the international community wantsKobani to be rebuilt and victory to be continued, they have to open this[humanitarian] corridor.”

The reason emphasis has now been placed on the opening of a humanitarian corridor comes from a fear that, without such a corridor, Kobani will forever resemble a destroyed city. Refugees, anxious to return to the homeland they were forced to flee under the savage advances of ISIS, will not be able to return for months. The city will remain in its crumbled, depleted state, forever traumatized and scarred by the siege. Kurdish government officials recognize this, and it is for this reason that they have issued an urgent appeal for a humanitarian corridor to be opened.

From self-dependence to dependency — and back?

But is Kobani really free? While ISIS has been driven out of the town, the jihadist forces still sit uneasily on its borders. Furthermore, the city lies in ruins. The total destruction that one sees across the city is everywhere south-east of the border gate. This was ISIS’s base throughout the conflict, and as a result, a target of the US-led coalition’s bombs. Instead of targeting the supply routes that ISIS used continuously throughout the siege, they choose to target ISIS purely within the city’s confines, condemning Kobani to dust and rubble. So why did the coalition decide to bomb the city rather than the supply routes of ISIS?

Mustafa believes this decision on the part of the US military was “a form of punishment for our system.” Rojava, with its grassroots-democratic model, had painstakingly resisted international capitalist interests through its system ofdemocratic confederalism. This system, which focuses on autonomous self-dependence, has never fit easily with Western interests. As a result, many here believe the policy to bomb Kobani into oblivion has firmly forced its administration from one of self-dependence to dependency.

While the international community supported the Kurdish forces in their battle against ISIS, as of yet there has been no support to help the Kurds rebuild their city. Given the sheer extent of the destruction, it is also clear that the Kurds cannot rebuild the city alone. Since the international community bombed Kobani to the ground, it also has a duty to help it rebuild. When Rojava and its grassroots model of democratic autonomy were created, an actual city existed. The embargo that made life difficult for the Rojava administration could be negotiated around. But now that Kobani lies in total ruins, the people of Kobanineed help.

If no such help is delivered, the city will forever resemble a ghost city, trapped between freedom and imprisonment. Aid is therefore essential, which requires a concerted international effort to force Turkey to open a humanitarian corridor. Enwer Muslim, the Prime Minister of the Kobani canton, has said that “the resistance of Kobani was a victory for humanity and will stand as an example in history. In the face of ISIS’s barbarism, Kobani stood up for humanity. Now is the time for humanity and the international community to stand up for Kobani.”

With this plea for support, careful attention must be paid to ensure the rebuilding of the town will be done in the same spirit of self-dependence that was used to liberate the city.

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.

Freedom Square in the eastern part of the city. Photo by author.

 

 

Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America

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What’s missing is any sense of connection to the government, or that we the people matter.

Well, it’s one, two, three, look at that amputee,
At least it’s below the knee,
Could have been worse, you see.
Well, it’s true your kids look at you differently,
But you came in an ambulance instead of a hearse,
That’s the phrase of the trade,
It could have been worse.

— First verse of a Vietnam-era song written by U.S. Air Force medic Bob Boardman off Country Joe McDonald’s “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”

There was the old American lefty paper, the Guardian, and the Village Voice, which beat the Sixties into the world, and its later imitators like the Boston Phoenix. There was Liberation News Service, the Rat in New York, the Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta, the Old Mole in Boston, the distinctly psychedelic Chicago SeedLeviathanViet-Report, and the L.A. Free Press, as well as that Texas paper whose name I long ago forgot that was partial to armadillo cartoons. And they existed, in the 1960s and early 1970s, amid a jostling crowd of hundreds of “underground” newspapers — all quite aboveground but the word sounded so romantic in that political moment.  There were G.I. antiwar papers by the score and high school rags by the hundreds in an “alternate” universe of opposition that somehow made the rounds by mail or got passed on hand-to-hand in a now almost unimaginable world of interpersonal social networking that preceded the Internet by decades. And then, of course, there was I.F. Stone’s Weekly (1953-1971): one dedicated journalist, 19 years, every word his own (except, of course, for the endless foolishness he mined from the reams of official documentation produced in Washington, Vietnam, and elsewhere).

I can remember the arrival of that newsletter, though I no longer know whether I subscribed myself or simply shared someone else’s copy. In a time when being young was supposed to be glorious, Stone was old — my parents’ age — but still we waited on his words. It helped to have someone from a previous generation confirm in nuts and bolts ways that the issue that swept so many of us away, the Vietnam War, was indeed an American atrocity.

The Call to Service

They say you can’t go home again, but recently, almost 44 years after I saw my last issue of theWeekly — Stone was 64 when he closed up shop; I was 27 — I found the full archive of them, all 19 years, online, and began reading him all over again. It brought back a dizzying time in which we felt “liberated” from so much that we had been brought up to believe and — though we wouldn’t have understood it that way then — angered and forlorn by the loss as well. That included the John Wayne version of America in which, at the end of any war film, as the Marine Corps Hymn welled up, American troops advanced to a justified victory that would make the world a better place. It also included a far kinder-hearted but allied vision of a country, a government, that was truly ours, and to which we owed — and one dreamed of offering — some form of service.  That was deeply engrained in us, which was why when, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy so famously called on us to serve, the response was so powerful. (“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”) Soon after, my future wife went into the Peace Corps like tens of thousands of other young Americans, while I dreamed, as I had from childhood, of becoming a diplomat in order to represent our country abroad.

And that sense of service to country ran so deep that when the first oppositional movements of the era arose, particularly the Civil Rights Movement, the impulse to serve was essential to them, as it clearly was to I.F. Stone. The discovery that under your country’s shining veneer lay a series of nightmares might have changed how that sense of obligation was applied, but it didn’t change the impulse. Not at all.

In his writing, Stone was calm, civil, thoughtful, fact-based, and still presented an American world that looked shockingly unlike the one you could read about in what wasn’t yet called “the mainstream media” or could see on the nightly network news. (Your TV still had only 13 channels, without a zapper in sight.) A researcher par excellence, Stone, like the rest of us, lacked the ability to see into the future, which meant that some of his fears (“World War III”) as well as his dreams never came true.  But on the American present of that time, he was remarkably on target. Rereading some of his work so many decades later set me thinking about the similarities and differences between that moment of eternal war in Indochina and the present endless war on terror.

Among the eeriest things about reading Stone’s Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia coverage, 14 years into the next century, is how resonantly familiar so much of what he wrote still seems, how twenty-first-century it all is.  It turns out that the national security state hasn’t just been repeating things they’ve doneunsuccessfully for the last 13 years, but for the last 60.  Let me offer just a few examples from his newsletter.  I think you’ll get the idea.

* With last June’s collapse of the American-trained and -armed Iraqi army and recent revelations about its 50,000 “ghost soldiers” in mind, here’s Stone on the Laotian army in January 1961: “It is the highest paid army in Asia and variously estimated (the canny Laotians have never let us know the exact numbers, perhaps lest we check on how much the military payroll is diverted into the pockets of a few leaders) at from 23,000 to 30,000.  Yet it has never been able to stand up against handfuls of guerrillas and even a few determined battalions like those mustered by Captain Kong Le.”

* On ISIS’s offensive in Iraq last year, or the 9/11 attacks, or just about any other development you want to mention in our wars since then, our gargantuan bureaucracy of 17 expanding intelligence outfits has repeatedly been caught short, so consider Stone’s comments on the Tet Offensive of February 1968.  At a time when America’s top commander in Vietnam had repeatedly assured Americans that the Vietnamese enemy was losing, the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (the “Vietcong”) launched attacks on just about every major town and city in South Vietnam, including the U.S. Embassy in Saigon: “We still don’t know what hit us.  The debris is not all in Saigon and Hue.  The world’s biggest intelligence apparatus was caught by surprise.”

* On our drone assassination and other air campaigns as a global war not on, but for — i.e., to recruit — terrorists, including our present bombing campaignsin Iraq and Syria, here’s Stone in February 1968: “When the bodies are really counted, it will be seen that one of the major casualties was our delusion about victory by air power: all that boom-boom did not keep the enemy from showing up at Langvei with tanks… The whole country is slowly being burnt down to ‘save it.’  To apply scorched-earth tactics to one’s own country is heroic; to apply it to a country one claims to be saving is brutal and cowardly… It is we who rally the people to the other side.” And here he is again in May 1970: “Nowhere has air power, however overwhelming and unchallenged, been able to win a war.”

Demobilizing Americans

And so it goes reading Stone today.  But if much in the American way of war remains dismally familiar some five decades later, one thing of major significance has changed, something you can see regularly in I.F. Stone’s Weekly but not in our present world.  Thirteen years after our set of disastrous wars started, where is the massive antiwar movement, including an army in near revolt and a Congress with significant critics in significant positions?

Think of it this way: in 1968, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was J. William Fulbright, a man who came to oppose U.S. policy in Vietnam and wrote a book about this country titled The Arrogance of Power (a phrase no senator who hoped to stay in Washington in 2015 would apply to the U.S.).  The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee today: John McCain.  ‘Nuff said.

In the last six decades, the American national security state has succeeded strikingly at only one thing (other than turning itself into a growth industry): it freed itself of us and of Congress.  In the years following the Vietnam War, the American people were effectively demobilized, shorn of that sense of service to country, while war was privatized and the citizen soldier replaced by an “all-volunteer” force and a host of paid contractors working for warrior corporations.  Post-9/11, the citizenry was urged to pay as much attention as possible to “our troops,” or “warriors,” and next to none to the wars they were fighting.  Today, the official role of a national security state, bigger and more powerful than in the Vietnam era, is to make Americans “safe” from terror.  In a world of war-making that has disappeared into the shadows and a Washington in which just about all information is now classified and shrouded in secrecy, the only way to be “safe” and “secure” as a citizen is, by definition, to be ignorant, to know as little as possible about what “our” government is doing in our name.  This helps explain why, in the Obama years, the only crime in official Washington is leaking orwhistleblowing; that is, letting the public in on something that we, the people, aren’t supposed to know about the workings of “our” government.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon ended the draft, a move meant to bring arebellious citizen’s army under control.  Since then, in a host of ways, our leaders have managed to sideline the citizenry, replacing the urge to serve with a sense of cynicism about government (which has morphed into many things, including, on the right, the Tea Party movement).  As a result, those leaders have been freed from us and from just about all congressional oversight and so have been able to do what they damn well pleased.  In practice, this has meant doing the same dumb, brutal, militarized things over and over again.  From the repetitive stupidity of twenty-first-century American foreign — that is, war — policy, you might draw the conclusion (though they won’t) that the citizenry, even in revolt, has something crucial to teach the state.

Serving the Country in Opposition

Nonetheless, this demobilization of us should be seen for what it is: a remarkable achievement.  It means that you have to be of a certain age (call me “I.F. Pebble”) even to remember what that urge to serve felt like, especially once it went into opposition on a massive scale. I.F. Stone was an early model for just that.  In those years, I was, too, and there was nothing special about me.  Untold numbers of Americans like me, military and civilian, engaged in such acts and thought of them as service to country.  Though they obviously didn’t fit the normal definition of American “patriotism,” they came from the same place.

In April 1968, not so many months after the Tet Offensive, I went with two close friends to a rally on Boston Common organized by an anti-draft group called the Resistance.  There, the three of us turned in our draft cards.  I went in jacket and tie because I wanted to make the point that we weren’t hippy radicals.  We were serious Americans turning our backs on a war from hell being pursued by a country transforming itself before our eyes into our worst nightmare.

Even all these years later, I can still remember the remarkable sense of exhilaration, even freedom, involved and also the fear.  (In those years, being a relatively meek and law-abiding guy, I often found myself beyond my comfort zone, and so a little — or more than a little — scared.)  Similarly, the next year, a gutsy young woman who was a co-worker and I — I had, by then, dropped out of graduate school and was working at an “underground” movement print shop — drove two unnerved and unnerving Green Beret deserters to Canada.  Admittedly, when they began pretend-machine-gunning the countryside we were passing through, I was unsettled, and when they pulled out dope (no drugs had been the agreed-upon rule on a trip in which we were to cross the Canadian border), I was ready to be anywhere else but in that car.  Still, whatever my anxieties, I had no doubt about why I was doing what I was doing, or about the importance of helping American soldiers who no longer wanted to take part in a terrible war.

Finally, in 1971, an Air Force medic named Bob Boardman, angered by the stream of American war wounded coming home, snuck me into his medical unit at Travis Air Force Base in northern California.  There, though without any experience as a reporter, I “interviewed” a bunch of wigged-out, angry guys with stumps for arms or legs, who were “antiwar” in all sorts of complex, unexpected, and outraged ways.  It couldn’t have been grimmer or more searing or more moving, and I went home, wrote up a three-part series on what I had seen and heard, and sold it to Pacific News Service, a small antiwar outfit in San Francisco (where I would subsequently go to work).

None of this would have been most Americans’ idea of service, even then.  But it was mine.  I felt that my government had betrayed me, and that it was my duty as a citizen to do whatever I could to change its ways (as, in fact, I still do).  And so, in some upside-down, inside-out way, I maintained a connection to and a perverse faith in that government, or our ability to force change on it, as the Civil Rights Movement had done.

That, I suspect, is what’s gone missing in much of our American world and just bringing back the draft, often suggested as one answer to our war-making problems, would be no ultimate solution.  It would undoubtedly change the make-up of the U.S. military somewhat.  However, what’s missing in action isn’t the draft, but a faith in the idea of service to country, the essence of what once would have been defined as patriotism.  At an even more basic level, what may be gone is the very idea of the active citizen, not to speak of the democracy that went with such a conception of citizenship, as opposed to our present bizarro world of multi-billion-dollar 1% elections.

If, so many years into the disastrous war on terror, the Afghan War that never ends, and most recently Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, there is no significant antiwar movement in this country, you can thank the only fit of brilliance the national security state has displayed.  It successfully drummed us out of service.  The sole task it left to Americans, 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, was the ludicrous one of repeatedly thanking the troops for theirservice, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1950s or 1960s because you would, in essence, have been thanking yourself.

Missing in Action

Here are I.F. Stone’s last words from the penultimate paragraph of the final issue of his newsletter:

“No one could have been happier than I have been with theWeekly.  To give a little comfort to the oppressed, to write the truth exactly as I saw it, to make no compromises other than those of quality imposed by my own inadequacies, to be free to follow no master other than my own compulsions, to live up to my idealized image of what a true newspaperman should be, and still be able to make a living for my family — what more could a man ask?”

Here is the last verse that medic wrote in 1971 for his angry song (the first of which led off this piece):

But it’s seven, eight, nine,
Well, he finally died,
Tried to keep him alive,
but he lost the will to survive.
The agony that his life would have been,
Well, you say to yourself as you load up the hearse,
At least, it’s over this way, it could have been worse.

And here are a few words the extremely solemn 23-year-old Tom Engelhardt wrote to the dean of his school on rejecting a National Defense Fellowship grant to study China in April 1968.  (The “General Hershey” I refer to was the director of the Selective Service System which had issued a memo, printed in 1967 by the SDS publication New Left Notes, on “channeling” American manpower where it could best help the state achieve its ends.):

“On the morning of April 3, at the Boston Common, I turned in my draft card.  I felt this to be a reply to three different types of ‘channeling’ which I saw as affecting my own life.  First of all, it was a reply to General Hershey’s statement that manpower channeling ‘is the American or indirect way of achieving what is done by direction in foreign countries where choice is not permitted.’  I disassociated myself from the draft system, which was flagrantly attempting to make me live a life without freedom…

“Finally, I entered into resistance against an American government which was, with the help of the men provided by the draft, attempting the most serious type of ‘channeling’ outside our own country.  This is especially obvious in Vietnam where it denies the people of South Vietnam the opportunity to consider viable alternatives to their present government.  Moreover, as that attempt at ‘channeling’ (or, as it is called, ‘Winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people’) met opposition, the American government, through its armed forces, committed acts of such unbelievable horror as to be unbearable to a thinking person.”

Stone’s sign-off, that medic’s song, and my letter all are documents from a time when Americans could be in opposition to, while also feeling in service to, their country.  In other words, they are documents from a lost world and so would, I suspect, have little meaning to the young of the present moment.  Can there be any question that today’s young are a volunteering crew, often gripped by the urge to help, to make this world of ours a better place?  Can you doubt as well that they are quite capable of rising to resist what’s increasingly grim in that terrible world, as the Occupy moment showed in 2011? Nor, I suspect, is the desire for a government that they could serve gone utterly, as indicated by the movement that formed around Barack Obama in his race for the presidency (and that he and his team essentially demobilized on entering the Oval Office).

What’s missing is any sense of connection to the government, any sense that it’s “ours” or that we the people matter.  In its place — and you can thank successive administrations for this — is the deepest sort of pessimism and cynicism about a national security state and war-making machine beyond our control.  And why protest what you can’t change?

[Note: Ron Unz of the Unz Review is archiving and posting a range of old publications, including all issues of I.F. Stone’s Weekly. This is indeed a remarkable service to the rest of us. To view the Weekly, click here. I.F. Stone’s family has also set up a website dedicated to the man and his work. To visit it, click here.]

 

http://www.alternet.org/environment/why-there-no-massive-antiwar-movement-america?akid=12749.265072.j2T6EP&rd=1&src=newsletter1031324&t=14

VOIZES speak up against global prison industries

By Luigi Celentano On January 31, 2015

Post image for VOIZES speak up against global prison industriesFirst-person insights into incarceration and freedom, by ex-prisoners themselves, from Barcelona’s Fractures Photo Collective and its project, VOIZES.

Today in the world, there are more people incarcerated than ever before in human history. VOIZES is an international census of this prison experience. Through a collaborative archive of interviews with prisoners and ex-prisoners, VOIZES documents what prisoners have to say about the international prison industrial complex.

– VOIZES Archive

An interview with William Sands, photojournalist with the Fractures Photo Collective and VOIZES.

Luigi Celentano: A little introduction for those who do not know you at all: What is the Fractures Photo Collective and what do you do exactly?

William Sands: Fractures Photo Collective was created in the spring of 2011 here in Barcelona, and we primarily focus on long-format photojournalism and documentary work. However, the VOIZES Archive is not exclusively a Fractures’ project. In reality, only two members of Fractures are active participants in VOIZES. The rest of the VOIZES team is made up of activists, artists, and other journalists from the Groundpress collective.

What has been your main impulse in taking up this challenge of creating VOIZES? And how was the project born?

Some of us have been long time participants in a grassroots abolitionist initiative called La Biblioteca de la Evasión or the Library of Escape. La Biblioteca de la Evasión is a prisoner book-sharing program we’ve been doing for more than five years. Two weekends a month, we visit a prison near Barcelona called Quatre Camins and give books to family members entering to visit their loved ones, and they pass the books along during the visit. Using the books as a meeting point, La Biblioteca seeks to engage prisoners where they are, in a conversation about prison abolition. Inside all of the books there is a stamp that explains the project and how they can request specific literature and an address where they can write to if they have other requests or concerns. We state very clearly that we are abolitionists and seek alternative forms of conflict resolution.

After years visiting Quatre Camins, La Biblioteca organized our first public event: Voces Desde Dentro, an exhibition of artwork by prisoners and ex-prisoners from all over the world. The exhibition was hosted in an occupied social center here in Barcelona and lasted for three days. There was poetry, photography, drawings and sketches as well as a series of presentations. The exhibit finished with a round-table discussion of prison abolition, privileging the voices of ex-prisoners, current prisoners’ family members, and social workers working in prisons.

The VOIZES Archive is a natural continuation of this process. Given that today we live in a globalized world, we believe that any real lasting conversation about prison abolition has to be international in nature and has to be guided by prisoners and the communities they come from. As a result the idea of creating a global census of the prisoner experience was born, and the VOIZES Archive was created.

Looking around the internet we couldn’t find a single site that was dedicated to collecting these stories and experiences, and even less so on an international level. So it seemed the project was relevant and worth embarking on.

Are they collaborative interviews, in the sense that anyone in civil society can contribute to the project?

Yes! Anyone can participate! Our goal is to include interviews from as many countries as possible, and the only way to do so is through collaboration. We’ve launched the website with the interviews we’ve done here in Barcelona and we plan to continue to do more interviews. But in order to expand the breadth of the project we’ve reached out to specific activists, photographers and videographers, asking them to contribute. And on the website there is a how-to manual explaining the basics of a VOIZES-interview, as well as a list of other ways to collaborate with the project. So it is our hope that eventually the project will boast of broad international participation.

In order to make the archive as powerful as possible, there are some aesthetic and theoretical guidelines to all of our interviews. They are all anonymous. All interviews use the VOIZES questionnaire. And, finally we reserve the right to approve all final edits and post-production.

What has been the process of selection of inmates for these interviews? Did you have certain parameters to follow as to which kind of prisoners to approach, or was it more of a voluntary process on their part? [I talk about inmates and prisoners, but I’ve realized most of them are in the process of getting out, or have been released already]

Anyone who has been incarcerated for more than a month can be interviewed. And we define incarcerated fairly broadly: immigration detention, prison, jail, juvenile detention, court ordered psychiatric treatment in a closed facility, etc. We’ve decided on the one month minimum in order to establish a basic common denominator given that the experience can vary so much between institution, state, country, etc.

Unfortunately most of the interviews we’ve done have come from our own communities. They are friends and family. I say, unfortunately, because we all would prefer not to be so intimately affected by the prison industrial complex.

How do you think these interviews help the prisoners themselves? Is it merely cathartic for them? What has been their reaction to the interviews and to the project?

I can’t really presume how this project has helped any of its participants. I’d hope that it is in some way cathartic, however I think the experience for the interviewees varies greatly. This being said, of all the people we have interviewed ourselves, regardless of how they felt about participating before the interview started, none have responded negatively. All edited interviews must be first approved by the interviewee before they go online, and everyone has been happy with the final cuts.

While I’m not specialized in mental health, I want to believe this project has some therapeutic value. It is designed to be a safe space to anonymously share an experience that unfortunately too many people in this world have lived. Sharing is an important first step to healing any sort of trauma, and it probably goes without saying, but I consider incarceration a trauma.

Have you encountered any kind of opposition or censorship from penal authorities when coming up with this project?

So far, no. I say so far because we’ve been doing all of our interviews outside of incarceration facilities. We are currently working on getting access to interview inside some prisons, but it is a slow and very bureaucratic process. Hopefully, in the future we’ll have more opposition and censorship, because that would probably mean the project is effective.

So far we have seen interviews about Spain and Puerto Rico prisons. Which has been the most difficult to shoot? Is there any subject the inmates refused to talk about, despite the questionnaire? And, in which other countries have you made interviews or received interviews from?

All of the current interviews have been shot here in Barcelona or in the surrounding area, including the interview with the woman that was detained in Puerto Rico. Generally, the questions in the questionnaire are designed to be broad, so as to highlight parallels and accentuate the differences between individual interviews. By far, the most difficult question for the interviewees to answer is the question about alternatives.

We are currently working on coordinating interviews in Argentina, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Venezuela, and France. And in March we are planning on taking the project to the United States where we’ll be organizing a series of workshops and presentations, as well as continuing the collection of interviews.

The majority of prisoners interviewed were incarcerated for the first time and they tell about the trauma of such an experience, of being imprisoned, of regaining liberty and its aftermath. Have you interviewed recidivist prisoners? Do you think they deal differently (or better, if we can say that) with the prison system?

So far we have only done one interview with someone that has a long history of recidivism. While I can’t point to any specific differences, other than the broader focus of the interview, generally speaking the shorter the interviewee’s sentence is/was, the more they talk about their detention and entry into prison. Whereas in those interviews we’ve done with people that have served longer sentences or have been incarcerated repeatedly, the interviewee has focused more on the experience and institution of incarceration.

Many of the prisoners, when asked about who’s inside, they all agree on the same thing: the majority of the people incarcerated are individuals without resources, the poor, people who can’t afford a good lawyer, immigrants, minorities. The mere thought of it is depressing enough, but isn’t this a reflection of our society, of its inability or unwillingness to address its flaws accordingly? Isn’t prison a mirror wherein society can actually punish these people even more and in more appalling ways, for being what they are or what circumstances made them to be?

I think this is true. But I’d add that it’s also about maintaining very specific power structures and economic structures that guide the globalized capitalist world. Prison is about control and subjugation. It is about guaranteeing the economic and political interests of those in power, those controlling the criminal justice system and the broader economy. More than punishment, I’d say prison is about maintaining white power. It is the ultimate tool of marginalization. As a result, as long as we don’t address the broader legacies of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism and understand the prison industrial complex within this framework, it will be hard to affect any lasting change.

Dostoyevsky once said that a society is best judged by the way it treats its prisoners, and there is a saying that asserts that every prisoner is political. It already says a lot about Western civilization and the society we live in. Do you think that a change in the way we deal with the established concepts of crime and delinquency and, consequently, with sentencing, imprisonment and prisoners’ reinsertion into society, ought to be a progressive and gradual one, both from the inside as well as the outside, from the prisons themselves and from society and its political structures; or should it be a radical one?

In general I think history moves slowly, and as a result so will any abolition debate or movement towards meaningful reform in the dominant logics of criminal justice. Prison abolition or any radical change of the criminal justice system will not occur in a vacuum, it must be part of a broader social transformation. As a result it is part of an extended struggle, probably longer than our lifetime. Undoubtedly, there will be moments of radical change, but I think we should all be planning on playing the long game.

Finally, considering all the accounts of detention and subjugation stemming from the prisoners’ interviews, do you see any hope in the fight against the prison industrial complex in terms of better conditions, better treatment of inmates and detainees, or do you see this business becoming more profitable for speculators and at the same time more abusive and tyrannical in its scope, in spite of all the resistance movements against it?

I have to be hopeful; otherwise there is no sense in doing this work. As a documentary photographer and photojournalist I’ve covered many topics and followed many people documenting their stories of loss, struggle, resistance, consumption, and marginalization. And I’m continuously inspired by the human spirit. Our strength, creativity, and courage are really powerful. As result, I believe strongly in our capacity to affect change. Specifically, in regards to the prison industrial complex, I believe we’ve reached a critical historical moment where the opportunity for radical change is growing.

In the United States, where the prison industrial complex was born, the economic crisis has ushered in a new opportunity for debate. For many states the economic costs of mass-incarceration have become just too much of a burden. This, coupled with shifts in the country’s feeling about current drug policy, means there is more space for debate than ever before. I think we have to take advantage of this moment. Internationally, I believe that for the same reasons there is a growing awareness that incarceration does not work, be it subconsciously or not. So we just have to keep plugging along.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. We hope to see more interviews at VOIZES in the future and we wish you all the best for the project.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about VOIZES. We really appreciate it, and we strongly encourage your readers to take a closer look at the website and if possible, collaborate!!! Thanks again.

Luigi Celentano is an independent writer and translator based in Buenos Aires. As an advocate of libertarian (anarchist) ideas he has been contributing with his work to the abolitionist and social justice movements for several years.

All photo material taken from voizes.org.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/voizes-prison-abolition-project/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The Problem of Israel in the Modern World

Can the Unspeakable be Spoken?
529198-israel

by MICHAEL WELTON

The mood of our uneasy times is incredibly bellicose, dark, apocalyptic and vengeful. The “war on terror” is like a virus that infects everything it touches. And it does seem to touch everything, from our popular television shows, to getting across borders, travelling overseas somewhere. You can’t read the Sunday paper without feeling queasy, a sense of dread tingling our nerves and spoiling our lovely morning coffee. Everyday brings a new jolt. And if terror doesn’t do the trick, fear of global warming, or running out of oil will spoil your day for sure.

I am particularly interested in probing the role that religious belief and mythological systems play in dividing us from one another, fuelling irrationality and hatred of others, and dampening any spirit of radical self-criticism. To illustrate the incendiary nature of religious belief, I will focus attention on the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the context of the Middle East. Perhaps no topic–Israel’s fate and role in the Middle East–is itself so incendiary and symptomatic of the failure of our global civilization to act justly.

The horrific Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006, the continuing assault on Palestinians in the Gaza strip, now virtually a prison, and the building of settlements in the West Bank, has revealed to the world the stark inadequacies of the old axiom, that “might is right”. I am fascinated with why Israel, particularly, believes that might is right, that war is the only message the Arabs understand and why Israel refuses to talk with their enemy. What belief system underpins the aggressions of Israel against the Palestinians and its Arab surroundings? Why is it so hard for us to criticize Israel in the west? Are there mythic underpinnings and reasons operating here, too?

September 11, 2001 set me on a pathway to understand what was behind this ghastly act of flying hijacked airplanes into the very heart of the American military-industrial complex. Why was it so easy for George W. Bush on a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16, 2001, on the south lawn of the White House–to utter these words: “We need to be alert to the fact that these evil doers still exist. We haven’t seen this kind of barbarism in a long period of time. No one could have conceivably imagined suicide bombers burrowing into our society and then emerging all in the same day to fly their aircraft–fly US aircraft into buildings full of innocent people–and show no remorse. This is a new kind of-a new kind of evil. And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take awhile.”

Commentators of the day observed that Bush’s remark about crusade had come in an off-the-cuff comment to a journalist. Actually, he had struggled hard to find the right word. This was the word that came from his gut. It signified the struggle between Good and Evil. On January 29, 2002, Bush announced that: “States like these (Iran, Iraq. N. Korea), and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” Unwittingly, Bush was dragged back to the century’s old world of malediction–cursing one’s enemies.

One of the deep reasons why the West is open-hearted to Israel and hard-hearted towards Palestinians (and increasingly all Arabs) is the pre-eminence of “Israel” in the western, Christian imagination. Let me tell a personal story to illustrate my point. The Diary of Anne Frank has taken its place in the western religious imagination from its publication after the war until the present day. I can remember reading an expurgated version of the diary when I was a teenager. The excruciating drama of her hiding from the Gestapo, and her family’s eventual murder, was cut into my youthful memory. I somehow took on her suffering as my own. In my twenties, I read Holocaust narratives by the likes of Elie Wiesel (Night) who captured the horror of trains carrying Jews to the death-camps, Jews who didn’t know what was in store for them as they shuddered down the rails. I read the works of Jewish theologians who taught me that The Holocaust was the most horrific form of human suffering.

When I gradually made the journey from pietistic evangelicalism to liberation theology, like so many others, I read Gustavo Gutierez’s Liberation Theology text with amazement. There, the Exodus narrative was claimed as a paradigm for the liberation struggles of the oppressed everywhere. The spirituals of Black slaves incorporated Old Testament, Jewish imagery as they longed for “Moses” to lead them to the promised land of freedom, away from Pharaoh’s crushing contempt. “Israel” existed as a powerful metaphor–the Jews appeared to be the paradigm of profound suffering. Those suffering from the depredations of South African apartheid, or sugar plantations or the brutality of Latin American dictatorships–could find comfort in the story of the Exodus.

But I didn’t think about the real state of Israel that was forged through violence and terrorism in the 1940s on the historic land of Palestine. Nor did I pay any attention to what actually happened when the ancient Hebrews ventured into the “promised land”, instructed by their tribal sky-god to eliminate the Amalekites. What happened to them? Didn’t Yahweh tell the Israelites to murder, plunder and rape its inhabitants? When I think about Israel now, and the Diary of Anne Frank, I realize the power of Edward Said’s remark that Israel’s “other”, the Palestinians, have never had permission to possess their own narrative. It is not that Anne Frank’s diary ought not to be read. But the fact that we keep telling, and re-telling this story and its variants, leaves little room for other narratives. It contributes to the idea, I think, that Jewish suffering is unique, different from other forms of suffering, mysterious and resistant to rational understanding.

A diary for our time would, perhaps, be entitled The diary of Asthma al-Mugghayr, a 16-year old Palestinian, an account of what happened to his fellow and sister kids and family and community members in and around Rafah. Scribbling among the ruins, would Asthma write of watching his brother, Ahmad, 13 years-old, shot with a single bullet through his head while taking clothes off the drying line and feeding pigeons? Apparently the shot came from a house nearby, which been taken over by Israeli soldiers shortly before. Would he write by candle late at night, amidst the rubble, about the thirteen year old girl who was shot while she was walking to school? What would this teenage boy think about the Israeli commander who emptied his gun into the school girl?

What would Asthma think about the Occupation–a system of military check-points splitting towns and villages into ghettoes, curfews, closures, raids, mass demolition and destruction of houses and land expropriations? How would he characterize daily life, and the grotesque wall, that, when completed will total 400 miles–four times longer than the Berlin wall. Would Asthma write youthful poetry about being caged or displaced? Would this young man be driven mad? Would he confess to a concealed desire to be a suicide bomber?

Maybe Asthma would keep a record of just how many children have been killed. Two-thirds of hundreds of children killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of the cases to the head, neck and chest–the sniper’s wound. Would these young men wonder why the Palestinians are always terrorists? Would he have taken his own life?
Why is it almost unspeakable to speak of the suffering of the non-Jew in the west? Why is the suffering of Palestinian people of so little concern and interest to the western mind and politicians? One answer surely is that both Christians and Jews share a common mythology: that Yahweh created the world, that the Jews are a chosen people, that they have been promised a land. Christians and Jews obviously differ regarding the significance of Jesus. But those who embrace him become part of the universal “people of God” who will inherit the earth when the redeemer returns to Zion. Islam has no place in the great purposes of God.

But there is something else. The United States and Israel have fused into a single entity in global politics and world history. Both are uniquely chosen to be redeemer nations, a light unto the nations. They have special status in the cosmic story. Israel is the US, and the US is Israel. The early Puritans were the “new Israel” and America was the Promised Land. America has never forsaken its historical sense of specialness before God, to be a redeemer nation. And, as we will now see, Israel’s imagined destiny was not only to be a homeland for dispossessed Jews. It was to be beacon of civilization in savage Arab lands, a light unto the nations.

We cannot understand the current crisis in the Middle East without understanding the religious mythology and historical circumstances underpinning the creation of the Jewish state of Israel. I can only highlight these. All of us, if asked, probably immediately link The Holocaust perpetrated in Germany with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 in historic Palestine. Getting their own state was Europe’s payment for their suffering in the 1930s and 1940s. Now, they will be safe and less subject to anti-Semitic attacks or assaults. Many of us might even assume, without thinking too much about it, that God gave the land to the Jews. The Palestinians are Amalek. If they will not submit to Jewish rule they must, or will be, destroyed. The basis for this is the Old Testament, the shared sacred text of Christians and Jews. One cannot argue with sacred texts! Indeed, in 1971, Golda Meir told Le Monde that Israel existed as “the fulfilment of promise made by God Himself. It would be ridiculous to ask it to account for is legitimacy.”

Yet those of secular mind might want to ask some questions and probe into history deeply. At the dawn of the twentieth century, historians tell us, Europe’s ‘subject peoples’ (Poles, Czechs, Armenians, Serbs) dreamed of forming their own ‘nation-states’. Places where they might live free from fear. These states privileged particular ethnic groups–defined by language, or religion or antiquity. The Zionist movement originated in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. The land of Zion, the ancient homeland (Israel actually existed for only 60 years in the thousands of years of life in historic Palestine) was an exultant space of hope for some Jews. Zionists dreamed of the restored ‘lost fatherland’. This was a powerful dream that turned into hard fact at the end of World War II.

Zionism coincided with the period of European imperialist expansion and acquisition of lands in Africa and Asia. Lands, including lands in Canada, were acquired and occupied in the name of a higher power, God, and a higher civilization. There is something very interesting here for our understanding of Israel and the crisis in the Middle East. Zionist ideologues like Moses Hess and Theodor Herzl (as did all Israeli leaders from Ben-Gurion onward) believed that they had a divine right to occupy the land that was plainly occupied by others. If they were soft on ‘divine right’, they simply accepted that they were going to lands that were empty. Not empty of real live people, but empty of civilization and proper cultivation. In other words, those who colonize, or steal, other peoples’ lands (be they in Africa, Asia or in the Nass River Valley in BC) carry ideas in their heads about their right to do so. They, the colonists, will cultivate the untended gardens and settle the savages in orderly, moral communities.

The Zionist project, Edward Said has argued, participated in the “great dispossessing movement of modern European colonialism, and with them all the schemes for redeeming the land, resettling the natives, civilizing them, taming their savage customs…” The natives are, to put it bluntly, irrelevant to begin with! They are inferior and marginal. Herzl admitted in his diary that “both the expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.” He thought that they had to be spirited across the border and denied employment. They existed, but not as full human beings. These inferior beings could be put on reservations, on compounds, on native homelands. They could be taxed, counted and used profitably. Then, the new society could be built in the vacated space. Thus, ‘empty’ actually means ‘uncivilized’. Now we can understand the slogan of Israelis who saw Palestine as a “land without people, for a people without land.”

Those are Ben-Gurion’s words. In 1937 he had argued that “we must expel the Arabs and take their places. He acknowledged the presence of Arabs on the land, but denied the presence of Palestinians. In her famous statement to The Sunday Times in 1969, then Prime Minister Golda Meir said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. It is not as if we came and threw them out and took over their country. They didn’t exist.” During that same year, Zionist leader Menachem Begin told Kibbutz members the importance of denying the existence of Palestinians. “My friend, take care. When you recognize the concept of ‘Palestine’, you demolish your right to live in Kibbutz Ein Haboresh. If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came.”

But the Palestinians were there, weren’t they? At least 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes, and villages were destroyed or pillaged. Israeli propagandists used to push the story that the Palestinians just ran away, saying, “Here, Israel, take our homes, here’s the key, and don’t forget to look after our olive trees.” Contemporary Israeli historians like Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe have dispelled this farcical story. The Israeli armies and terror squads expelled the villagers through terror and massacre. This the Palestinians call the Nakba, “the original sin.” The process of ethnic cleansing began in the mid-1940s and has never ceased. Border raids, massacres, settlements, slaughter of 20,000 in Lebanon, expulsions, demolitions, arrests, torture, and assassinations, chicanery and all the tricks of road maps that never materialize. Israel is a big problem in the modern world. Perhaps even an anachronism.

Zionist strategy has always been to seize the moment when they can take-over all of Palestine. In 1947-8, under cover of conflict, 78% of historic Palestine was transformed into “Israel.” In 1967, Israel seized the opportunity to take-over the remaining 22% of Palestine. Israel justified the 1967 war as self-defence; thus they are blameless; just as they are in the recent disproportionate destruction of civilians in Palestine and Lebanon. Israel is the perpetual victim; the little David facing the Arab Goliath. Israel never initiates; it only responds.

There is little historic or contemporary evidence that the Israeli military, which runs the country and shapes its mental outlook, has a shred of commitment to a Palestinian state. Liberal critics who rail against the “occupation” of the West Bank or the Gaza and the settlements and the capture of Jerusalem are correct, but only from the Palestinian point of view. Israel is doing everything in its power, day after day, minute after minute, and one stone at a time, one olive grove, one goat at a time, to destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state. If it did exist, it would be tiny, fragmented, weak–an act of Palestinian surrender and humiliation.

Don’t we see through Israel and US games? Hamas was elected in democratic elections. US-Israel and the EU have done everything possible, short of utter starvation of the people, to destroy Hamas (and Hezbollah). They keep telling Hamas that they have to lay down their arms, and recognize Israel. But what are Israel’s borders to be recognized? Where are they drawn? Hamas might well agree to return to the 1967 borders with all settlements dismantled. This is just a wicked charade being played out on the international scene, and many fall for it, including Canada’s right-wing Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

We in the west have a hard time seeing what is before our eyes. Another logical error, which we see committed all the time, is to talk of the “cycle of violence” in the Middle East. From our vantage point in Canada, we imagine both are to blame, tanks and F-16s on one side, suicide bombers on the other. Aren’t human beings violent creatures–we mutter to ourselves: just an endless cycle of violence. But the Israel/Palestine story is not one of moral equivalence. It is a story of brutal dispossession and oppression of one people by another; it is not simply a sort of Greek tragedy. The idea of a cycle of violence leaves Israel once again not guilty. Everyone is not an innocent victim.

At this point, one can see where the idea of enemies talking it out can be premature. You feel my pain, I will feel yours. If only we could listen. I’ve suffered, you’ve suffered. Let’s talk. But it is not true that Palestinians have not heard the Zionist story. They have heard it ad nauseum and have heard enough about Jewish suffering. Both sides do not need to listen. It is Israelis and Jews who need to listen. There is lots of evidence–from Jewish Israeli commentators–that most Israelis scarcely give two hoots about the sight of a white-scarfed women scrubbing through the rubble of a bombed out building for a trace of her child.

Can you imagine both sides in apartheid sitting down to talk and listen to one another? What form would the suffering of the white perpetrator of apartheid take? That’s the point, isn’t it–there is a perpetrator, there is a victim; there is an oppressor; there are the oppressed.

Funerals, observes the great Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, are an “integral part of the lives of Palestinians wherever they were, in the homeland or in exile, in the days of their calm and the days of their Intifada, in the days of their wars and the days of their peace punctuated by massacres.” Thus, when Yitzhak Rabin spoke so eloquently of Israelis as absolute victims, and the eyes of those in the White House and the whole world grew wet, Barghouti said that he “knew that [he] would forget for a long time his words that day: “ We are victims of war and violence. We have not known a year or month when mothers have not mourned their sons.”

Barghouti says that Rabin “knew how to demand that the world should respect Israeli blood, the blood of every Israeli individual without exception. He knew how to demand that the world should respect Israeli tears, and he was able to present Israel as the victim of a crime perpetrated by us. He changed facts, he altered the order of things, he presented us as the initiators of violence in the Middle East and said what he said with eloquence, with clarity and conviction.”

Rabin told his story of soldiers returning from war, covered in blood, and funerals where those in attendance could not look into the eyes of grieving mothers. In a remarkable passage in the brilliant book, I saw Ramallah, Barghouti argues compellingly that it is “easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start your story from “Secondly.” Yes, this is what Rabin did. He simply neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with “Secondly,” and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your story with “Secondly”, and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victim….You only need to start your story with “Secondly”, and the burned Vietnamese will have wounded the humanity of the napalm, and Victor Jara’s songs will be the shameful thing and not Pinochet’s bullets, which killed so many thousands in the Santiago stadium. It is enough to start the story with “Secondly”, for my grandmother, Umm ‘Ata, to become the criminal and Ariel Sharon her victim” (pp. 177-78).

Zionism has been a beautiful dream for many Jews. But Zionism from the ‘standpoint of the victim’ is not a pretty picture. My conclusions may be troubling and disconcerting. But I think that the cause of global justice and world peace, and particularly peace in the Middle East, demands that we understand that the state of Israel is at the crossroads. Israel, the first modern ‘democracy’ to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, can continue towards an “ethnically cleansed” Greater Israel, or transform into a single, integrated, bi-national, multicultural state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. In my view, the ferocity unleashed in Lebanon and the Gaza—laying sieges, causing electricity blackouts, bombing and shelling, assassinating and imprisoning, killing and wounding children and babies—can only be comprehended in terms of the Zionist project to eradicate any opposition to their goal of total domination in historic Palestine and the surrounding Middle East. Hezbollah was being taught the Zionist’s elementary lesson: we have the right to abduct, you do not.

Israel is an anachronism in our increasingly cosmopolitan world order in that Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privilege from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded. This is a “separatist project” in a world of individual rights, open frontiers and international law. Thus, in the Jewish state, one community, the Jews, is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

The wall being erected between Israel and Palestinian occupied territories is a symbol of the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect. You cannot build pathways towards others if you believe they are inferior beings, or that you, and not they, are superior, chosen ones, with your suffering privileged above and beyond everyone else’s. Israel’s actions in the world towards and against the Palestinians—curfews, check points, bulldozers, public humiliations, home demolition, land seizures, shootings, targeted assassinations, and the separatist fence—indicate a state that appears to have lost is moral centre, and is possible facing its own Nakba.

I believe that the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, and the adoption of an Israeli approach to foreign policy, is undermining the hopes and possibilities for peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world. The US’s catastrophic loss of international political influence and the degradation of its moral image has much to do with their bizarre approval of, and financial support for, Israel’s actions in the Middle East. Israel embraced the “war on terror” when the smoke was still rising from the Towers, immediately identifying the Palestinians as “terrorists” who had to be eliminated. Thus, Israel’s wars, now and in the past, are always presented to the world as wars of necessity, of self-defence.

The compelling question before Israel and the rest of the world is simply this: will Israel reinvent itself and dissolve the exhausted Zionist political project in favour of building a truly bi-national state in historic Palestine for everyone? We have reached a moral crossroads. In the new Middle East defined by the US, only Israel and the US may dominate, only they may be strong, only they may be secure. But in the just world that lies on the other side of the crossroads, this is unacceptable.

Dr. Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/30/the-problem-of-israel-in-the-modern-world/

From #Takethesquare to São Paulo’s #FreeYourPark

By Bernardo Gutiérrez On January 29, 2015

Post image for From #Takethesquare to São Paulo’s #FreeYourParkAfter the square occupations of the past years, the Augusta Park actions in São Paulo, Brazil, open a new phase based on a vision of the commons.

There was a time when the occupied square was the city. The initial camp of Spanish 15M Indignados in Puerta del Sol in Madrid became a city per se. In this square-city a kindergarten, libraries, clinics, and cultural spaces emerged.

There was a time when the occupied square was a country. In Tahrir Square talks of dissatisfaction of the mosques of Egypt and Facebook groups like We Are Khaled Said converged, lighting the flame of the revolt. During the occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul a map of the Republic of Gezi was even designed. The space occupied by different ethnic, religious or ideological groups appeared in different colors: anarchists, communists, socialists, nationalists, LGBT, environmentalists, Muslims, and football fans. Groups losing their walls of prejudice, talking to each other for the first time.

There was a time when the occupied square was the world. In fact, all occupations were or wanted to be the world. The mind map of Acampada Sol of Madrid drew a planetary dialogue in which groups such as the Zapatistas and Anonymous and events such as Argentina 2001 default and Tiananmen Square fitted together. The Zuccotti Park in New York, taken for weeks by Occupy Wall Street, became a global connection interface. We are the 99% of the square-world, they said.

But many squares forgot to be squares. The occupation created a second skin of commons-oriented practices and self-management. But the petitions of the occupations had more to do with macro-political, social or economic issues. The exception could be the Turkish #DirenGezi explosion, born as resistance against the construction of a mall in Gezi Park. After the outbreak of the riots, the cause of Gezi Park was diluted in an ocean of ailments and requests. The slogan “It is not for a park” opened a multi-faceted revolt. But beyond the conservation of Gezi Park there was no specific demand for self-management. Defending the park as a public good seemed to be the horizon.

Neither public nor private

The occupation of Augusta Park in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, without being as explosive as the Turkish Gezi Park, opens a new breakthrough in the global cycle of occupations: the proposal of a commons-oriented park. The Augusta Park — being city, country and world — wants to be a park. But it wants to be a common, communitarian or collective park, not just a public park.

Many of the contradictions of the global occupations float over the 25,000 square meters of Augusta Park. As Zuccotti Park in New York, the Augusta Park is a private property. Two companies are the owners of the park: Syrela and Setin. Syrela is also responsible for the construction of the golf course in the Olympic area of Rio de Janeiro, where the #OcupaGolfe (#OccupyGolf) movement has emerged. And here comes the dystopian metaphor: a public sector serving the private sector interests. The market sets the pace.

The municipality of São Paulo, after a lot of public pressure, sanctioned the creation of Augusta Park in late 2013. The forest, the last redoubt of Atlantic Forest in São Paulo, has been declared a historical, environmental and cultural heritage. But the city hall council argues that it has no resources to expropriate the park. The owners of the park wanted €21.8 million in September 2013. Now, based on rising housing prices, they want €85.5 million for the park.

The Park Augusta Movement, after months of actions, festivals and small raids into the park, decided to ‘liberate the park.’ They broke the locks. They entered. They camped. The movement argues that they are not occupying: “We are releasing a space that should be open by law,” says Daniel Biral, member of the Advogados Ativistas collective. The freedom of movement of citizens in the Augusta Park is legally guaranteed. But since December 2013, the park is closed. That is why the park was occupied/opened on Saturday 17 January.

The assemblies within the park take place at a dizzying pace. There are yoga classes, shows, an open school, workshops, meetings, and so on. The creative frenzy includes the presence of many of the groups and social actors of the massive June 2013 protests. The occupation of Augusta Park aims to break the logic of the market. One paragraph of the objectives of the Park Augusta Movement stresses that point: “A public park is a common good, belongs to the social network of the city and cannot remain under private and speculative interests. Its social function must be guaranteed.”

The park wants to be a park. The park wants to be a common park.

The process-park

“We do not have a definite plan for the park.” The sentence floated on a screen in one of the initial assemblies after the occupation. Breno Castro, one of the participants, was explaining, one by one, the principles of the movement. First: horizontality. Next: pluralism, public space, permaculture, direct democracy, respect and generosity. Finally, Breno explained the process-park concept, a point which also summarizes the insights of global occupations. It is also linked to the so-called ‘perpetual beta’ state, common in the hacker world: an unfinished shape that collective intelligence can constantly improve. The Process-Park, according to its own site: “Why defining a design that will last for years? The Augusta Park will be multiple and be renewed periodically. We will leave mobile and empty areas, which will enable rebuilding processes.”

The Augusta Park park is city, country and world. It is a park-city: inside there are reading places, recycling areas, tents for political debates. It is also a park-city because it is connected to a network of twelve threatened parks in São Paulo, all of them in a process of resistance. It is a park-country: it has close contact with other urban environmental struggles, such as Fica Ficus (Belo Horizonte), Ocupe Estelita (Recife), the Gong Park (Curitiba), Coco Park (Fortaleza) and #OcupaGolfe (Rio de Janeiro). It is also a park-world: in 2014 they were visited by activists who participated in the occupation of Turkish Gezi Park. Both movements released together the manifesto #Reclaiming our parks. And it is an icon that gains support in several countries, as reflected in a recent BBC article.

But maybe the Augusta Park is something else. Something else than park, city, country and/or world. Paulinho Fluxus, one of the participants in the occupation, sitting on the grass of Augusta Park, remembered his visit to the Santuario dos Pajés, an indigenous land threatened by the housing boom of Brasilia. The sanctuary, for urbanite Paulinho, is the city’s cosmic connection with nature. With the planet. The Augusta Park represents that connection too. It is an urban struggle, but connected to the environmental imaginary of the world.

It is connected to the ancient world-views of the so-called Global South. It is a resistance connected to some commons-ruled natural forests in Europe (as in Galicia, Spain). The Augusta Park is technopolitics, networks and territories. But it is also cosmopolitics. This kind of cosmopolitics, linked to the practices of indigenous people around the commons, is a counterweight to the storytelling of the Western world. The individual Cartesianism succumbs in the collective Amerindian vision. “The other exists, therefore he thinks”, according to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, an influential Brazilian anthropologist.

With a serious hydraulic crisis in Brazil, Paulinho Fluxus’ speech makes even more sense. There is a lack of water in the main Brazilian cities. Many people think that a water revolt is inevitable. Within weeks. Naomi Klein, in her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate puts climate change at the center of politics. There will be riots, she states. Many. Different ones. Against the lack of water. Against the scarcity of green in the cities.

On September 20, People’s Climate Mobilization held protests in 156 countries. “Whether or not climate change is the main reason, (such local movements) deserve to be recognized as the anonymous ‘carbon keepers’, which means that protecting their beloved forests, mountains, rivers and coasts are helping to protect all of us”, writes Klein. It is the water, stupid. It is water. It is the climate. It is the park that resists against capital. OccupyDesign and 99% cross creativity and plan actions to impact the UN Climate Conference COP21, to be held in Paris in late 2015. It will be a classic scene of battles. An old struggle. But now there is the landscape of environmental urgency, indignations are rising, and the global network system is more connected than ever.

Near the entrance of Augusta Park in São Paulo, a painting on a poster ignores the fact that military police already has the legal order for eviction. The Augusta Park can be evicted any day. The painting talks with passersby with a shout that opens doors. A shout that connects the city with other visions. A shout that is an evolution of that of Take the Square of 2011. Black letters, white background. An arrow encouraging new horizons: Free your park.

Bernardo Gutiérrez (@bernardosampa) is a Spanish-Brazilian journalist and writer who researches networked movements, hacker culture and peer-to-peer politics. He is the founder of the network FuturaMedia.net, lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and participates in the Global Revolution Research Network (GRRN).

Image by Acacio Augusto via Twitter: @acacio1871

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/sao-paolo-augusto-park-occupation/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

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