Tag Archives: UNHRC

Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

Paul Blomfield replied to my letter on October 9th as follows:

I’m pleased to reassure you that I fully support Emily Thornberry’s position. I know that we have previously exchanged emails before about the issue of military intervention more widely.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, campaigns & events, Syria

“Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies” – Norman Finkelstein lambasts the international community for its blind spot on Israel

Following the announcement that Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, Democracy Now! invited Finkelstein into their studio to give an extended interview.

Click here to watch the first section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. A leading scholar on Israel-Palestine and veteran political activist, Finkelstein is the author of many books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. His latest book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.

The full interview lasts more than 90 minutes and was broadcast in two parts [January 10th and 19th] – it is embedded below with all sections kept in the original sequence. For the purposes of clarity, however, I have decided to republish a selection of what Finkelstein said under three separate headings: criticisms of human rights organisations, of the UN and Ban Ki-moon in particular, and of recent US administrations. For the same reason, sections from the interview are cut and pasted not always in the original sequence. I very much encourage readers to watch to the full interview.

Click here to watch the second section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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The big lies

The Big Lie about Gaza is that it’s an aggressor, that Gaza is aggressing against Israel, and Israel is reacting in self-defense. It’s a double lie. The first lie is, most of the Israeli attacks on Gaza don’t even have anything to do with Gaza. So, if you take Operation Cast Lead, in 2008, ’09, why did Israel attack Gaza? Not because of Gaza. Not because of anything Gaza did. The Israelis were very honest. This is revenge for Lebanon. In 2006, Israel suffered a major defeat in Lebanon against the Hezbollah, the Party of God. And then Israelis began to panic. They’re losing what they call their deterrence capacity. And their deterrence capacity simply means—it’s a fancy, technical term for the Arabs’ fear of us. […]

The second big lie is, what does Gaza consist of. When you read the official reports, even when you read the human rights reports, they talk about this big arsenal of weapons that Hamas has accumulated. Number one, how do you know how many weapons they have? If you knew how many weapons they had—have, then you must know where they are. And if you know where they are, then Israel would preemptively strike. If it’s not preemptively struck, it’s because it doesn’t know anything about the weapons. Israel plucks numbers out of thin air, and then all the official media, and even the critical human rights organizations, repeat these numbers. They talk about Grad missiles and Fajr missiles.

What is Gaza? What are its weapons? What is its arsenal? Let’s take the last attack. We have exactly—we know exactly how much damage was done by these weapons. There were 5,000 so-called rockets and 2,000 mortars fired at—mortar shells fired at Israel. So, altogether, that’s 7,000 projectiles. You know the damage done? Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it had a diary, listing all the damage done each day. Five thousands rockets, 2,000 mortar shells. One house was destroyed. One house. How is it possible that 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells can only destroy one house? Because they’re not rockets. They’re fireworks. They’re enhanced fireworks.

Click here to watch the third section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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On justifications for the 2014 military offensive

Well, Benjamin Netanyahu says two things: Number one, Israel had no option, and, number two, that it used the minimum amount of force. Well, let’s look quickly at those two points.

Point number one, everybody agreed that the reason they went—once the fighting began, Hamas had one goal. The goal was to end the siege of Gaza, to lift the siege. Under international law, that siege is illegal. It constitutes collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. The siege has been condemned by everybody in the international community. He had an option. He didn’t have to use force. He simply had to lift the siege. And then there wouldn’t have been a conflict with Gaza.

Number two, he claims he used minimum force. There’s a lot to say about that. You can decide for yourself whether it’s minimum force when Israel leveled 18,000 homes. How many Israeli homes were leveled? One. Israel killed 550 children. How many Israeli children were killed? One. Now, you might say, “Well, that’s because Israel has a sophisticated civil defense system, or Israel has Iron Dome.” I won’t go into that; I don’t have time now. But there’s a simple test. The test is: What did the Israeli combatants themselves see? What did they themselves say?

We have the documentation, a report put out by the Israeli ex-service—ex-combatant organization, Breaking the Silence. It’s about 110 pages. You couldn’t believe it. You know, I’ll tell you, Amy, I still remember when I was reading it. I was in Turkey. I was going to a book festival. I was sitting in the back of a car and reading these descriptions of what the soldiers did. My skin was crawling. I was like shaking. Soldier after soldier after soldier. Now, bear in mind, you want to say they’re partisan, the soldiers? Read the testimonies. They’re not contrite. They’re not remorseful. They’re just describing what happened. There’s no contrition. These aren’t lefties, supporters of BDS. What do they describe? One after another after another says, “Our orders were shoot to kill anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move.” One after another after another says, “Israel used insane amounts of firepower in Gaza. Israel used lunatic amounts of firepower in Gaza.”

Click here to watch the final section of the first part of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Human rights organisations

In my opinion, Israel has a problem, has always had a problem. The problem is, it keeps getting bad press, because when it keeps carrying out these massacres or these shootings, it gets bad press. And so, obviously, what’s the solution? Eliminate the press, eliminate the witnesses. So, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, they prevented any reporters from coming in. So, for three weeks, it was a free-for-all. Then, after Operation Protective Edge, they didn’t let any human rights organizations in, so they couldn’t see what was the damage done. So, then the human rights organizations, what they did was, in my opinion, crazy. They said, “If Israel doesn’t let us in, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t commit the war crime.” But that just incentivizes Israel not to let human rights organizations in. You get an agnostic verdict rather than a guilty verdict. […]

There were no human rights reports. Human Rights Watch published—for Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, it published seven quite substantial reports. After Operation Protective Edge, it published one tiny report, one tiny report of 15 pages. Amnesty International was the only major human rights organization that published major reports, but they were all whitewashes of Israel. They were a disgrace. I go through them systematically. The Amnesty chapter is one of the longest chapters in the book. Just going through it, as I said, Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies.

Blame on both sides? Look at the numbers…

And the main propaganda, even—or especially by the human rights organizations, is the pretense that there’s blame on both sides, there’s blame—there’s death and destruction on both sides. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, it’s just ridiculous to put them in the same category. I gave you a chart, you know, to illustrate the numbers in Operation Protective Edge. Civilians killed, roughly 1,600—1,600 to six, civilians killed. Houses destroyed, 18,000 to one. Children killed, 550 to one. You go down the list. How can you create balance out of a balance sheet like that? You know? Out of a grotesquely imbalanced balance sheet like that? And what the human rights organizations do is they simply inflate what happened on the Israeli. So, for example, you take Amnesty International. One child was killed. One child was killed. They describe the child’s death over two pages. So, you say, “OK, you know, it’s a child’s death. What’s wrong with two pages?” Well, then let’s have balance. Five hundred fifty Palestinian children were killed. Did you give that 1,100 pages? […]

You take Operation Protective Edge. Again, there is no evidence. I’ve read through all the human rights reports. None of them finds any evidence of human shielding. What they do claim they find is—there’s a technical term under international law that when you’re engaging in a military combat, you have to take feasible precautions to protect civilians, and that if you fighting in the vicinity of civilians, you are then guilty of a violation of international law. It’s not a war crime. It’s a violation of international law. They claim Hamas fired or attacked Israel in the vicinity of civilians, so is guilty of not taking all feasible precautions, which is different than human shielding, which is a conscious practice of, as it were, inserting a human being between you and the enemy, for which there’s no evidence. […]

But then, Amnesty says something outrageous—in my opinion, outrageous. You know what it says? It says that Hamas should go to open areas and fight in the open areas of Gaza. Now, on its face, that might sound reasonable, except for, number one, there are very few open areas in Gaza; number two, the law does not say you have to do that. The law does not say you have to relocate all your troops in an open area. But then, number three, Gaza is not occupied internally by Israel. Gaza is surrounded by Israel, and it’s an occupation that is executed externally. So, here’s the problem. […]

Now, international law—according to these human rights organizations, they all say all of Hamas’s weapons are illegal under international law, because they’re indiscriminate. The law is, you can’t use indiscriminate weapons. Hamas’s weapons are very primitive, to say the least. So, international law says its so-called rockets are illegal, its so-called mortar shells—its mortar shells are illegal. Now, what are you left with? Amnesty says to Hamas, “You have to go into an open space, but you can’t use any of your weapons.” But if you can’t use any of your weapons, because they’re indiscriminate, how do you defeat an externally controlled occupation? The only thing Amnesty didn’t tell them to do was to line up like ducks and let the Israeli airplane come in and mow them down.

Now, you might smile at that, but that’s literally—that’s where you’re left. That’s where you’re left, with what these human rights organizations are saying. It’s not to defend Hamas. It’s just to look at the law objectively, rationally, and ask yourself, “Is what—are what the human rights organizations saying fair? Is it true?” All the human rights organizations, they’ll always say Israel used disproportionate force. They’ll say Israel used indiscriminate force.

But there’s one thing they’ll never say. You know what they’ll never say? Israel targeted the civilians. Because that’s the no-no. You see, under international law, indiscriminate attacks are war crimes. Disproportionate attacks are war crimes. Targeting civilians are war crimes. That’s the law. But then there’s public opinion. Public opinion, it’s willing to turn a blind eye to disproportionate attacks. Actually, how can you even prove an attack is disproportionate? It’s almost impossible. They’ll even say, yeah, indiscriminate attacks, because it’s hard to separate civilians from soldiers. The one thing public opinion won’t tolerate is the targeted attack on civilians. That’s exactly what Israel does in every one of its massacres, and that’s exactly the thing that the human rights organizations—now, not during Operation Cast Lead, now, after the Goldstone debacle—that’s the one thing they all shy away from. They don’t want to say Israel targets civilians. […]

Israel is always targeting children. You have so many cases, like you have children playing on a roof. Right? A drone comes in. Human Rights Watch says—its report was called “Precisely Wrong,” after Operation Protective Edge—excuse me, Operation Cast Lead. The drone comes in. Human rights report says the drone can see very clearly what it’s targeting. The drone, it could—up to the very last minute, very last minute, it could divert. Goes right for the kids.

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UN and Ban Ki-moon

In 2014 there was a more notorious incident when an Israeli gunboat targeted a group of children playing games on a beach. The murders were carried out directly in front of a hotel packed with reporters.

So, what does the U.N. Human Rights Council report say, the one by Mary McGowan Davis? “Israel didn’t take all feasible precautions.” All feasible precautions? There was no battle going on. There was no—there was no combat. There were only children there. “We don’t know why Israel mistook these children for militants.” […]

Yeah, when [Ban Ki-moon] was U.N. secretary-general, he does all the bidding for the United States when it comes to Israel-Palestine. I don’t want to go through—I can’t go through this whole sordid record, but the—Israel attacked seven U.N. shelters, which were housing civilians during Operation Protective Edge. And then, on August 3rd, finally, Ban Ki-moon has to say something. And he says, “This is a disgrace, this is outrageous, attacking civilian shelters.” August 3rd, Obama, he no longer has a fig leaf. Ban Ki-moon backed out.

And now—and now Obama is alone on the world stage. So, August 3rd, the same day, Obama attacks Israel for the shelters, bombing the shelters. And now, Netanyahu, the day before, August 2nd, he says, “I’m not leaving Gaza.” After Obama says, “You can’t do this,” he leaves. Same day, August 3rd. Now, it is true, it did go on for another three weeks. It went on for another three weeks because you entered into the negotiation period, where Israel always brings in its most force to try to extract the best terms.

Click here to watch part two of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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US administrations past and present

On the bipartisan support for Israel

Well, it’s a little complicated question, how U.S.-Israeli policy works. But in general, you could say, when major U.S. national interests are at stake, the Israel lobby has very little power. We saw that, for example, during the negotiations over the agreement with Iran. That was a major U.S. international interest. The lobby was dead set against it. Netanyahu was dead set against it. But the agreement went through. And many of Israel’s strongest supporters—Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, the whole gang—they supported the agreement.

But when a major U.S. interest is not at stake, the lobby is quite powerful. So you take, in this particular case, it was clear the Saudis, which is a U.S. major interest, didn’t care what the U.S. did with Jerusalem. They gave the green light: “If you want to give it to Israel, that’s fine with us. We don’t care.” So, no U.S. natural interest is at stake, and so Trump does what anybody does: He rewards his donors. In this case, it was Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, who was strongly supporting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

But we have to bear in mind, it wasn’t just Trump. You know, sometimes the media wants to pile up on Trump. And they forget it’s not just Trump. Charles Schumer, the current Senate minority leader, Schumer was constantly attacking Trump, right after he got elected: “Why aren’t you recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital?” When Trump did recognize it, Schumer, Charles Schumer, he said, “He did it because of me. I was the one that urged him to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” So that’s the Senate minority leader speaking. And for the same reason—if you look at Schumer’s money, he gets it mostly from conservative, right-wing Jews and from Wall Street, the same sources of income as Trump, the same streams of income.

And on these questions, a lot of the Democrats, including Schumer—or especially Schumer, I should say—are worse than Trump. So, for example, after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israel killed the passengers aboard the humanitarian vessel, the Mavi Marmara, killed 10 passengers, Charles Schumer, he went before a group of Orthodox Jews, and he said, “The people of Gaza voted for Hamas. They voted for Hamas, and therefore economic strangulation is the way to go.” Now, bear in mind what that means. We’re talking about a population, more than half of which are children, who are living under a medieval siege. And what he’s effectively saying is we should continue starving them, until they vote or get rid of Hamas. Now, what do you say about something like that?

Under Obama

Look, the Obama administration was—played a really wretched role in all this. Let’s just take the obvious examples. Operation Cast Lead, it ends on January 17th. Now, remember, Obama was elected in November 2008. Operation Cast Lead ends January 17th, 2009. Obama didn’t say anything after he was elected. Do you know why it ends January 17th? Because Obama signals to the Israeli government, “Don’t mess up my inauguration, January 20th. I don’t want any distractions. You’ve got to end the operation.” That’s why they ended.

Now, you go to Operation Protective Edge, 2014. Every day, Obama or one of his officials said, “Israel has the right to protect itself. Israel has the right to protect itself,” as Israel is leveling Gaza. There was no—actually, there was no comparison between Protective Edge and Cast Lead. It was so much worse.

Under Trump

They’re using this moment—with Trump in power, they’re using this moment to try to eliminate as many witnesses as they can, keep everybody out. They want to do to the West Bank what they did to Gaza. It’s very hard for an outsider to get into Gaza. And now, the Israelis are carrying on in a very brazen way—the land grabs, the merciless killings of civilians, the brutal killings of civilians. And so, they want to clear the field of any witnesses. And they’re using the Trump presidency as a moment to seal off Gaza from any—excuse me, seal off the West Bank from any potentially hostile witnesses, to turn the West Bank into what they turned Gaza into. It’s hermetically sealed. There’s no way to witness the crimes as they unfold in real time.

And on the threat of the U.S. cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA

First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza—let’s just call them Gazans—70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they’re all classified as refugees. So that’s 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza’s population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be—it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let’s look at the numbers. We’re talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA’s expenses, American—the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all U.S. expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the U.N. expense—UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times.

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why the world has forsaken the people of Yemen

No one really is paying attention to Yemen. It doesn’t get much attention in the media. And people, when you talk to them, they say, “Why has the world forsaken us?” — journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous

On November 18th, the United Nations reported:

[T]he ongoing conflict in Yemen has resulted in over 32,000 casualties, with people 5,700 killed, including 830 women and children, alongside a sharp rise in human rights violations – nearly 8,875 or an average of 43 violations occurring every day.

“The collapse of basic services in Yemen continues to accelerate,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Johannes Van der Klaauw, told reporters via videoconference from the Yemeni Capital Sana’a. […]

Mr. Van der Klaauw also said that the people of Yemen are now “grappling with a breakdown of essential services and forced displacement,” as nearly 21.2 million people, or a staggering 82 per cent of the population, are in need for some kind of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs or protect their fundamental rights, including protection of civilians and provision of essential services.

“We estimate that over 19 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation; over 14 million people are food insecure, including 7.6 million who are severely food insecure; and nearly 320,000 children are acutely malnourished,” Mr. Mr. Van der Klaauw told another press briefing held at the UN Information Centre in Cairo via satellite.

An estimated 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes and an additional 120,000 have fled the country, he added. 1

Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous has personally witnessed the war on the ground. He says that in common with Libya and Syria, countries which “have completely fallen apart”, Yemen too is “on the brink”, adding:

Yemen is the poorest country in the region. This is a place where people were struggling to survive before the conflict. It imports 90 percent of its food and fuel. And now 21 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. I mean, if you think about that number, that’s more than double—or just under double the number of people who need aid in Syria.

You have just skyrocketing levels of malnutrition. Three million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry. And there’s been millions of people displaced, as well. I went to one camp where, you know, people were living on this sunwashed hill on these rocks, in these tents. They had no money even to buy wood to make fire to bake their bread. And so the children would go out and scavenge for plastic bottles. And they would pile them in the camp, and they’d burn the plastic bottles to make the fire to make this bread, and this toxic ooze would sludge out the bottom. And I said, “Don’t you know this is very bad for you?” And they said, “Yes, but otherwise we’ll starve. So this is the only way we can eat.”

This dire situation is enabling local terrorist militia to recruit new members, as Medea Benjamin, co-founder of peace activist group Code Pink and human rights organisation Global Exchange, explained in yesterday’s [Fri 18th] Counterpunch:

To make matters worse, the terrible conditions on the ground have led to the strengthening of extremist terrorist groups that will inevitably plague that nation for years to come. The local Al Qaeda branch, Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (also known as AQAP), formed in 2009, has exploited the present conflict and increased recruiting efforts. The current political and security vacuum has also opened the way for the appearance of a branch of ISIL, which has been carrying out deadly attacks on Shiite mosques and positioning itself as even more aggressive than AQAP. Some fear that AQAP and ISIL recruitment efforts might lead to competition between both radical groups, which could mean even more attacks around the country as the groups try to upstage one another. 2

However, most to blame for this social breakdown, Sharif Abdel Kouddous says, are the Americans and their Gulf partners:

Apart from sporadic drone strikes by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the coalition is the only air power above Yemen. This is a coalition made up of mostly Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates is also very heavily involved. And they have been bombing since March 26 on Yemen.

What I think people also need to understand is the level of U.S. complicity in this war… Saudi Arabia is the most avid customer of U.S. weapons and has bought to the tune of $90 billion over the past five years U.S. arms. What I think many people don’t realize is that the United States is also providing crucial intelligence, logistics, targeting assistance, support to the Saudi coalition, provides vital aerial refuelling almost every day, with two sorties from tankers almost every day. And there’s something called a joint combined planning cell, which is based in Riyadh—this was approved by President Obama—where you have U.S. military personnel meeting on a daily basis with Saudi military leadership, helping to coordinate this war. And so, human rights workers that I talked to said that, you know, the United States is not just a backer of this war, but they are a party to this armed conflict. And that’s what people have to understand, is that the United States government is complicit in what is happening in Yemen.

All quotes by Sharif Abdel Kouddous are taken from an interview he gave on yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast, which is embedded below:

Click here to watch the full interview or read the transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In an extended article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” published back in late November, Sharif Abdel Kouddous summarised the background to how this war on Yemen started:

Saudi Arabia launched its war in Yemen on March 26 to drive back a rebel group known as the Houthis. The Houthis arose in the late 1980s as a religious and cultural revivalist movement of Zaidism, a heterodox Shiite sect found almost exclusively in northern Yemen. The Houthis became more politically active in 2003, vocally opposing President Ali Abdullah Saleh for his backing of the US invasion of Iraq.

Saleh was an ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia. He was also an authoritarian ruler known for extravagant corruption. A UN study estimated the leader amassed up to $60 billion during his 33 years in power. Saleh managed to navigate his way through Yemen’s complex web of tribal, regional and geopolitical divides. It was a feat so delicate and dangerous he famously described it as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”

The Yemeni leader successfully positioned himself as an ally of the United States in the ongoing “war on terror” by allowing US forces to operate inside Yemen, and their Predator drones to target Al Qaeda militants based in the country.

Saleh used his Special Operations Forces, trained and equipped by the United States, in his own battles with the northern Houthis, against whom he fought six brutal wars between 2004 and 2010.

His vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, assumed office as interim president in a transition brokered by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia. It was backed by the United States.

Sidelined in the agreement, the Houthis positioned themselves as an opposition group, gaining support beyond their northern base for their criticisms of the transition, which was flawed and riddled with corruption. Saleh loyalists, incredibly, began forming alliances of convenience with the Houthis.

Last year the well-armed Houthis swept down from the north and took over large parts of the country, including Sanaa. In January 2015, they effectively ousted Hadi and his cabinet members, who fled to Saudi Arabia on March 25.

The next day, Saudi Arabia put together a coalition and began its military campaign with support from the United States. The Saudis and the Americans hoped to restore the friendly Yemeni government they knew. Saudi Arabia also hoped to counter what it perceives as a growing regional threat posed by Iran. Saudi Arabia believes Iran is backing the Houthis, although the level of that support is disputed. 3

While Medea Benjamin, who is calling for a complete re-evaluation of the “toxic” alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, writes:

The U.S. involvement in the Yemen crisis can be summed up in four words: allegiance to Saudi Arabia. The United States’ problematic relationship with Saudi Arabia goes all the way back to World War II, when U.S. officials started to see Saudi’s oil as a strategic advantage. Since then, the U.S. has blindly supported the Kingdom in almost every political and economic effort, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is an ultraconservative Islamic monarchy rife with human rights abuses.

When the Houthis, a Shia rebel group from northern Yemen, took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in January 2015 and forced Sunni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile, Saudi Arabia formed an Arab Gulf states coalition to fight against the Houthis. Naturally, the U.S. agreed to support its close ally in its endeavor to ‘reinstate order’ in Yemen by providing intelligence, weaponry and midair refueling, as well as sending U.S. warships to help enforce a blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea. The blockade was allegedly to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis, but it also stopped humanitarian aid shipments to beleaguered Yemeni citizens. The American CIA and military intelligence are also on the ground in Yemen, providing targeting and other logistical support, and Uncle Sam’s drones are constantly flying overhead, sending intel to the Saudis.

Since then, the coalition has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes and bombings throughout the country, often targeting highly populated civilian areas4

But then, as Sharif Abdel Kouddous points out, human rights abuses and the other violations of international law committed during the conflict are unlikely to ever be prosecuted. Any slim chance effectively extinguished once Britain had helped to elect Saudi Arabia to Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel 5 back in November 2013:

In September [2015], UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [of Jordan] released a report that detailed the heavy civilian toll in Yemen. He recommended establishing an independent international inquiry into human rights abuses and violations of international law in the conflict.

The Netherlands responded with a draft resolution that would have mandated a UN mission to document violations by all sides over the previous year. But in the face of stiff resistance from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners, and little support from Western governments — including the United States — the Dutch withdrew the proposal.

Instead, the UN Human Rights Council passed by consensus a new resolution drafted by Saudi Arabia that made no reference to any independent international inquiry. The text only calls for the UN to provide “technical assistance” for a national commission of inquiry set up by the Yemeni government of President Hadi, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and a party to the war. 6

So the world has absolutely forsaken the people of Yemen. They were unlucky enough to get caught up in the spokes of our brutal war machine, and their suffering is now too much of an embarrassment for those in our governments or media to dwell on. For what is happening in Yemen exposes the hypocrisy of the Western powers and further highlights the cruelty of our despotic Gulf State partners. An alliance that has repeatedly voiced its demand for the fall of the government in Damascus, always on humanitarian grounds, when in Yemen, another war is being mercilessly waged with the goal of reinstating an ousted puppet regime. Realpolitik is a dirty business. Look away.

*

Update:

On January 30th 2016, Amnesty International Arms Programme Director, Olly Sprague was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground. He was asked about the leaked UN panel of experts report that investigated the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Yemen and uncovered “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets:

In one of the key findings, the report says: “The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.” […]

The panel could not obtain entry to Yemen but used satellite imagery to look at areas before and after bombings. “The imagery revealed extensive damage to residential areas and civilian objects as a result of internal fighting and coalition airstrikes,” the report says.

It adds: “Alongside ground-led obstructions to humanitarian distribution, the panel documented 10 coalition airstrikes on transportation routes (both sea and air routes), four road supply routes and five storage facilities for holding food aid (including two vehicles carrying aid and three warehouses and facilities storing food), along with airstrikes on an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the European Union in Sana’a. The panel also documented three coalition attacks on local food and agricultural production sites.”

From an article published by the Guardian on January 27, 2016.

Overall, the panel has documented 119 coalition sorties that appear to be in violation of international law.

Asked about these possible war crimes, Olly Sprague says that evidence on the ground that the Saudis are targeting schools and hospitals is incontrovertible. Amnesty International staff, he says, are indeed “at the receiving end of those bombs”.

And regarding British arms sales and other support for the Saudis, he says that he would like to ask David Cameron this question: “How much more evidence of crimes against humanity and serious violations of international law do you need to witness in Yemen for you to stop selling these arms?”

*

Correction and clarification:

“Britain had helped to elect Saudi Arabia to Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel back in November 2013” and not “back in September” as the article originally stated.

*

1 From a UN report entitled “Yemen: UN warns humanitarian situation has deteriorated ‘drastically’ as conflict claims 5,700 lives” published by UN News Centre on November 18, 2015. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52588#.VnRhM17p-Ul

2 From an article entitled “Yemen Crisis: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.–Saudi Alliance written by Medea Benjamin, published in Counterpunch  on December 18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/yemen-crisis-one-more-reason-to-re-evaluate-the-toxic-u-s-saudi-alliance/ 

3 From an article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” written by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published in GlobalPost on November 30, 2015. http://www.globalpost.com/article/6696395/2015/11/30/yemen-conflict-saudi-arabia-airstrikes-war-crimes-united-states

4 From an article entitled “Yemen Crisis: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.–Saudi Alliance written by Medea Benjamin, published in Counterpunch  on December 18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/yemen-crisis-one-more-reason-to-re-evaluate-the-toxic-u-s-saudi-alliance/ 

5

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables.

The elevation of the Saudi kingdom to one of the UN’s most influential bodies in 2013 prompted fresh international criticism of its human rights record. […]

The Saudi foreign ministry files, passed to Wikileaks in June, refer to talks with British diplomats ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York. […]

The Saudi cables, dated January and February 2013, were translated separately by the Australian and UN Watch. One read: “The delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Another cable revealed that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. It was unclear where or how this money was spent.

From an article entitled “UK and Saudi Arabia ‘in secret deal’ over human rights council place” written by Owen Bowcott, published in the Guardian on September 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/29/uk-and-saudi-arabia-in-secret-deal-over-human-rights-council-place

6 From an article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” written by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published in GlobalPost on November 30, 2015. http://www.globalpost.com/article/6696395/2015/11/30/yemen-conflict-saudi-arabia-airstrikes-war-crimes-united-states

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