The trauma of Gaza’s children

Gaza boy (Photograph- Suhaib Salem:Reuters) Jan 30 2015

This little Palestinian boy in full military regalia is going to the graduation ceremony of 17,000 youth trained at the Vanguards of Liberation military camp in Gaza run by the Al-Qassam Brigade. At the week-long camp, young people aged 15 to 21 are trained in the use of weapons, martial arts, & self-defense.

Media has shown several photos of small children attired like this, likely with the intention to portray Palestinians as warlike & belligerent. To do that they have to tap into massive cognitive dissonance because the sale of war toys & video games based on exterminating the enemy is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US alone. Since the US has troops stationed in several countries, it’s imperative to inculcate children with the spirit of aggression & war. That’s not what’s happening in Gaza where the entire population is fighting for their lives against Israeli ethnic cleansing.

Moralists & pacifists can tsk-tsk this till the cows come home but children were directly targeted by Israeli bombers & Palestinians have a right–for heaven’s sake, they have a duty–to teach their children to defend themselves.

No child should ever be raised with the specter of carpet bombing for purposes of ethnic cleansing. According to many reports, most children in Gaza suffer extreme psychological distress from the bombing which lasted over 50 days (& which still continues in sporadic drone sorties over Gaza). Part of the healing involves giving children a sense of empowerment through self-defense. Certainly in part, that’s a false sense against Israeli bombing. But what is essential is teaching children the spirit of Intifada, to rise again against colonialism, apartheid, & ethnic cleansing.

The greatest defense the children have is the international solidarity movement. This is a time to build that movement through teach-ins, forums, other educational events, & rallies which explain the justice of the Palestinian cause & evangelize for the economic & cultural boycott (BDS) of Israel.

Long live Palestinian Intifada! Take it international.

(Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Support the economic boycott of products from Israel and the Zionist settlement

Kofr Qadom (Abed Omar Qusini) Jan 31 2015

This iconic image of a Palestinian boy against Israeli tanks & bulldozers is now common but it remains a symbol of unarmed resistance to colonial occupation. This boy is throwing stones (now punishable with 20 years in jail under a new Israeli law) at an army bulldozer during the weekly protests against the Zionist settlement of Qadomem near the Palestinian village of Kofr Qadom in the West Bank (on Jan 30th).

Qadomem was settled by the Gush Emunim settlement movement, who combined right-wing Zionism with religious fundamentalism based on the teachings of the appropriately named Rabbi Abraham Kook & his even nuttier son Rabbi Tzvi Kook. They claim a Biblical deed to Palestinian land on the belief that God gave it to the Jewish people & they are fulfilling a biblical prophecy by taking it back. To say Gush Emunim is not as rabid as the Jewish Defense League of Rabbi Meir Kahane is hardly high praise.

Under international law, all Zionist settlements in the West Bank are illegal. This may be what spawned the hare-brained scheme of Move-On, the Democratic Party group, to call for UN troops to Palestine. International law has not deterred the European Union (EU) from doing business with the illegal settlements. The EU not only opposes the economic boycott of Israel & products from the West Bank settlements but remains Israel’s largest trading partner. The EU imports an estimated US $300 million from illegal Israeli settlements, which is 15 times the amount of imports from Palestinians. In terms of which side the EU is on politically, commerce speaks louder than law.

Israel makes a distinction between legal settlements authorized by the Israeli government (like Qadomem) & illegal outposts (which are expansions) built after 1991. This distinction in Israeli law is flouted in actual practice by Zionist settlers aided & abetted by Israeli soldiers. If the Israeli government takes any steps to dismantle one of these outposts or new construction in the West Bank, the settlers use a tactic called the “price tag policy” which exacts revenge not on the Israeli army but on local Palestinians, including vandalism of Palestinian property, physical attacks on Palestinians, burning of mosques & fields, uprooting of olive trees, damaging & defacing property.

Gush Emunim no longer exists as an organization but the Qadomem settlement is still run by religious & political zealots with ties to the most right-wing political forces in Israel. Qadomem boasts of its education system; it also has a construction company that boasts of it’s achievements in building outposts, homes, community & industrial buildings, shopping centers, synagogues, roads, walls–all on Palestinian lands.

The fearless spirit of this Palestinian kid standing up with rocks against Israeli bulldozers is the spirit of intifada & resistance to ethnic cleansing. Honoring the boycott of Israeli products (barcode beginning 729) is a way to support Palestinians in their struggle.

(Photo by Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters)

The fault line of neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism: reducing labor to chattel

Mule woman (David Ramos:Getty Images) Jan 29 2015

If there is a singular fault line in neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, it is the degradation & brutalization of labor, including austerity programs that reduce working people to beggary, rely massively on child labor, & force millions to migrate dangerous routes to find work. Much of that is evident at Melilla, the Spanish enclave in North Africa adjacent to Morocco where thousands of African immigrants scale 20-foot razor wire fences to get into Europe to work. They are subject to violent assault by both Moroccan & Spanish riot cops & if they manage to successfully enter Melilla often arrive limping with severe injuries.

But at Barrio Chino, a pedestrian border crossing between Melilla & Morocco, an estimated 8,000 women known as Porteadoras or Mule women go back & forth without a visa carrying bales weighing between 150 & 220 pounds on their backs. A tax loophole allows hand-carried packages taken across the border from Spain into Morocco to be considered as luggage & duty-free. So that’s how many small electronics, car tires, clothing, food, toiletries enter Morocco. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Morocco, more than €1.4 billion worth of goods (US $1.59 billion) are carried across the border into Morocco every year by the Mule women. So the trade is lucrative to traders but not to the women who earn between three to four euros per trip. Some women try to make more than one trip per day. Since the crossing is only open four days a week that means they make about 15 or 20 euros a week, or $20 to $27.

It’s dangerous work & many women have been trampled to death at the narrow pedestrian crossing. It’s also now competitive work with younger unemployed men trying to take over the jobs. Many of the Mule women are older women who have been widowed or divorced, as well as single mothers. It doesn’t take a chiropractor to see how crippling this work is for even younger workers.

Emilio Guerra, a representative of the Spanish Union Progreso y Democracia political party, is frequently cited in media objecting to the treatment of immigrants & conditions of labor for Mule women at Melilla but there appears to be no active solidarity action of any kind. Since Spain’s draconian new security law targets immigrants as well as civil liberties, we can hope immigrant rights & the labor rights of these women will be included in the political fight against repression & austerity attacks on working people under the iron-clad law of change that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Shell Oil in the Niger Delta: a tale of neoliberal plunder

Niger Delta (Photograph- Ed Kashi:VII Photo:Everydayclimatechange) Jan 28 2015

This photo is in the Ogoni village of Kpean in the Niger Delta where an oil wellhead has been spilling oil for weeks, spewing methane fumes & soot, coating the ground around it before catching fire, & affecting the crops, water, & air. The villagers have been waiting weeks for Shell to come & put the fire out. It usually takes months for Shell to service spills.

Since Shell began drilling in the Niger Delta in 1958, there have been thousands of oil spills involving millions of gallons in a densely populated region where people once earned their livelihood by farming & fishing. But groundwater is now completely contaminated as a result of oil spills & industrial drilling waste dumped directly into the Niger River. Even the rainwater cannot be collected for drinking because it falls as acid rain. Fishing is no longer possible. The substantial mangrove forest & rainforest are being steadily destroyed. In addition to damaging the environment & livelihood of residents, they are subjected to health problems including cancer, asthma, & other lung diseases.

The Ogoni people in Nigeria gained international respect when they took on Shell Oil over environmental ruin in the Niger Delta in the early 1990s. The writer Ken Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People which demanded control of oil on Ogoni lands. A quarter of a million Ogoni, nearly half the population, rallied to the cause. The Nigerian government collaborated with Shell to use deadly force & repression against the opposition & in a kangaroo court found Saro-Wiwa & eight other Ogoni guilty of inciting to murder & hung them in 1995.

This kind of collusion with the Nigerian government has only emboldened the depredations of Shell & the other oil companies operating in the region who don’t even maintain their facilities. In the past few years Shell has been raising alarm over what it claims is an unprecedented scale of crude oil theft from illegal bunkering or siphoning off the line. They called for greater security for their pipelines & claim such sabotage & theft are responsible for the blight of farm lands & rivers in the area. They accuse Nigerian pirates, militant groups, & criminal gangs of tapping pipelines.

A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks exposed that politicians & military officials, not militants or small time operators, are responsible for the majority of oil thefts. They’re the ones who can commandeer & control access to barges & tankers to help oil companies loot thousands of barrels a day. The diplomatic cable reads: “The military wants to remain in the Niger Delta because they profit enormously from money charged for escorting illegally bunkered crude & from money extorted in the name of providing security on the roads.”

After nearly 60 years of oil exploration in Nigeria, the government neither meters nor monitors the volume of oil production by Shell & other oil companies, has no functioning regulatory agencies, & doesn’t have a clue what is produced & loaded on to tankers. After bribing corrupt government officials, the oil companies simply loot millions of barrels.

Nigeria is a major oil producer & 80% of government revenues come from oil exports. Meanwhile Nigeria imports most of its fuel ostensibly due to lack of refining facilities & 70% of Nigerians live on $2.00 a day & depend on a fuel subsidy.

In 2008 five Nigerians filed suits for pollution & destruction of livelihood in The Hague where Shell has its headquarters. Four of the cases were dismissed because the court said Shell could not have prevented the spills. One farmer won his case but it’s unlikely he will ever collect damages. According to a 2011 UN report on the Ogoniland region, restoring the area which is covered in thick black oil would take up to 30 years & cost $1 billion. That won’t happen without massive international pressure on the oil companies. It isn’t likely to happen under neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, because the system simply isn’t able to control its own greed.

(Photo by Ed Kashi/VII Photo/Everydayclimatechange)

We need to take a moment to honor those who died in the holocaust

Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp(Christopher Furlong:Getty Images) Jan 28 2015

This is the 70th anniversary of what is called the “liberation” of the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp where 1.1 million people were murdered. This montage is photos taken from prisoners as they arrived at the camp.

Zionists have twisted the holocaust to serve their political purposes when millions of Jews, Roma, Poles, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, socialists, communists, & others were imprisoned & murdered in the most gruesome, unspeakable ways. Zionism has used the holocaust to create guilt & obfuscate the causes as if it’s rooted in some mystical, primeval dark side of humanity when it is firmly rooted in colonialism. What distinguished the holocaust of WWII was that it was in metropolitan Europe rather than the colonies of the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, & the Pacific. There is nothing primeval about it & Zionism roots itself in mysticism & right-wing colonialism by its narrative.

Millions of people died–sisters, brothers, parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, children, friends, neighbors, like the people pictured here–& we should take a moment to honor their memory & commit ourselves to opposing neoliberalism, the modern form of colonialism. And that includes Palestine.

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Another picture worth a thousand lies

Afghanistan (Farshad Usyan:AFP:Getty Images) Jan 26 2015

This photo is taken in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, the site of the Blue Mosque (also known as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali) & the first city to fall to the US-NATO occupation in 2001. About 3,000 Taliban fighters who surrendered in that battle were gruesomely massacred & buried in mass graves. The unspeakable crime is documented by the Irish filmmaker Jamie Doran & Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi in the 2002 “Afghan Massacre: the Convoy of Death.” Because the US military was involved in the egregious war crime, the US has blocked investigation.

The media caption to this photo read: “Afghan men & children reach out for food donated by a charity. Afghanistan’s economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 largely because of the infusion of international assistance.” This is another case of a photo worth a thousand lies. All that international assistance & all they get after nearly 15 years of occupation is a styrofoam cup of mush!? And that’s significant improvement?

It’s impossible to tell how much actual humanitarian assistance Afghans have received since international assistance figures include military expenditures (like bribing officials, paying mercenaries, & maintaining torture centers) & it’s all administered by USAID & the Pentagon. But even by USAID figures, humanitarian disbursements amount to chicken feed relative to military costs. They claim it was 8% of their total budget in 2012. That means 92% of the budget goes to military.

Some international assistance is for reconstruction & development. Most of that money comes back to the US & its NATO allies in the form of contracts to private firms. A lot is just stolen outright. Most of the so-called humanitarian aid is given to establishment NGOs like Oxfam, Save the Children, & Kissinger’s outfit, the International Rescue Committee (IRC). It’s not clear what Oxfam is doing with the money but Save the Children & IRC have been messing with Afghan public education. (When they’re through with it, it won’t exist.) At one point, USAID tried to extract agreements from these groups that they would serve US military purposes if they got grants. Some of them claimed they refused. In the competitive world of NGO funding, that would be the kiss of death. The IRC was organized of course precisely to serve US military purposes which is why more than half it’s budget is from the US government.

From a massacre to mass starvation: that is the legacy of emancipation US-style. There are antiwar protests being planned for March. Get your placards ready: US out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq!

(Photo by Farshad Usyan/AFP/Getty Images)

Right-wing clowns converge on Iowa

Ten potential Republican presidential candidates attended the Iowa Freedom Summit this weekend hosted by Rep. Steve King, an Iowa congressman who billed the gathering as a cattle call for 2016. It was more like a clown convention: Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump. (Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio did not attend.) You look at that lineup & you know the republic is in deep doodoo especially when you consider the alternative is Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren.

Steve King is a real prize package & a glassy-eyed halfwit & one hopes he throws his own hat in the ring just for the burlesque he will provide. He isn’t just right-wing; he’s an idiot who appears quite representative of the right-wing in US politics. He supports a ban on federal funding for abortions except in cases of “forcible rape” & defended the “legitimate rape” comment of a former congressman; introduced an amendment legalizing arsenic in chicken feed & keeping pregnant pigs in small crates; voted against Hurricane Katrina aid; claimed al-Qaeda & Islamic groups would be dancing in the streets at the election of Obama; supports racial profiling in law enforcement as a “common sense indicator”; claims climate change “is more a religion than a science”; campaigned for marriage license residency requirements so “Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca”; is viciously anti-immigration & said of undocumented immigrants, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds & they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

We should not allow the box office success of “American Sniper” to mislead us that a majority of Americans are nincompoops like these candidates. They represent the extreme right-wing of privileged rednecks bred at the trough of social hatred. They’re only scary if they are not massively opposed. The emerging civil rights movement & Palestinian solidarity movement speak of another America who reject all forms of social hatred & are willing to fight for justice.

On bullying

The CDC reports that 20% of US high school kids claim they’ve experienced some form of bullying–including hitting, tripping, name calling, teasing, intimidation, shaming, shunning, & cyberbullying. An even higher percentage of middle school students reported being bullied. What the hell does that tell us about US culture & how power relationships are viewed? That might help explain the box office success of “American Sniper.”

The murderous el-Sissi regime

Cairo protest Jan 25 2015 (Hassan Mohamed:AP)

The man holding his chest is a democracy protester in downtown Cairo being arrested & dragged in today by a goon squad of plainclothes police. Riot cops dispersed other protesters using tear gas & birdshot. Once this young man enters the gulag of Egyptian prisons his fate is uncertain. Across Egypt a reported 134 were arrested but the figure is certainly much higher.

Birdshot, which is used widely against protesters in Bahrain, is extremely lethal & disfiguring. Last night on the eve of the 2011 uprising, Shaima al-Sabbagh, an activist in the Socialist Popular Alliance party (& the mother of a 5-year-old boy), was hit in the head with birdshot by riot cops firing to disperse protesters as they marched toward Tahrir Square to lay a commemorative wreath.

The prime minister said al-Sabbagh’s death was being investigated but it is now reported in a FB post by a prominent law center that fellow protesters who gave investigators their account of the incident have been charged with assaulting police & taking part in an illegal protest. Drawing on divide & conquer, the interior minister suggested Islamist “infiltrators” were to blame.

We stand in awe of the courage of these protesters & salute them. We regret the state of international solidarity is still too weak to stay the hand of the el-Sissi regime.

(Photo by Hassan Mohamed/AP)

4th anniversary of the Egyptian uprising

Cairo Jan 25 2015 (Ahmed Abdel Fattah:AP)

In November 2013, the Egyptian military regime banned all protests & mandated the use of police force to disperse them. The repression & crackdown on civil liberties has been massive & what is remarkable is that so many continue to defy it. Thousands of activists from secular groups & the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) have been imprisoned for violating the law & have received draconian sentences, including mass death sentences.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak; the regime of General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was on full deployment. They sealed off Tahrir Square & other city squares, beefed up police at state buildings, used riot cops with tear gas & birdshot to disperse protesters from downtown Cairo & in other cities, & moved tanks into the Cairo suburb of Matariyah firing tear gas & birdshot. The Health Ministry reports 15 dead & 37 injured (nationwide) which are likely lowball figures. 134 people have been arrested–which is also likely a lowball figure.

Matariyah is known as an Islamist & MB stronghold. It is a working class district that played a role in the 2011 uprising with large protests, 20 police cars torched, & two police stations looted & torched. It has become a flashpoint for confrontations between Islamists & the regime since the ouster of Morsi in July 2013. At least nine of the fifteen protesters killed by police today were in Matariyah. They left the area covered in debris & in a cloud of tear gas.

Media in Egypt have maligned the achievements of the 2011 uprising. Hoping to convince who? Media elsewhere attempt to portray the opposition as primarily MB. It’s reported the MB & secular groups are unable to overcome mutual distrust & join forces against the regime & that distrust in entirely understandable from MB support for the conduct of the Morsi regime. But if the el-Sissi regime & military are to be successfully defied, a rapprochement in action must be forged. A defense of MB activists under attack is essential to that unity.

Cynics can point to the Egyptian uprising as proof that ‘resistance is futile’ but cynicism at best is a passive acceptance of the status quo. Egyptian activists & millions around the world learned some important political lessons that will not go to waste: never to trust the military; the importance of self-defense, especially for women; rejecting divide & conquer between religious & political groups; the importance of elaborating a program for action & forging a democratic leadership to carry it out.

Recovering psychologically & politically from the defeat of the 2011 uprising by the military takes time but as we know from the thousands who continue to defy the regime & the continuing economic & political crisis of Egypt, it’s only a matter of time before there is a mass resurgence. The crisis of the democracy movement is profound & important but the crisis of the Egyptian regime is more important. If the regime were confident it had crushed the 2011 uprising it would have no need for repression.

Our fullest solidarity with those who continue to defy tyranny.

(Photo of occupation in Matariyah district by Ahmed Abdel Fattah)