Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Breaking The Silence: An Israeli Soldier Speaks Out

Standing at 6’1, strong build, a full beard, and long dark hair that defines his Middle Eastern features; Yehuda Shaul seems like an un-assuming young man.

Wearing dark cargo pants, and a long-sleeved blue shirt, he paces back and forth taking in the whole room. It’s hard to notice at first but his blue velvet Kipa (skull cap) rests easily on his head.

His voice is mellow and calm. He has a disarming smile that lights up his entire face when he’s happy and talking about the things he loves (one of which is football.) But behind the smiles and the passion for the World’s most popular sport, we see a young man who has seen and done things no young person should ever have to endure

A soldier is born

He was born in Jerusalem. The son of an American born father and Canadian born mother, who immigrated to Israel in 1973, the year of the Yom Kippur War. The twenty-four year old, much like every other male in Israel was drafted into the army at the age of 18. Everyone is obligated by law to serve in the military; men serve for three years and women for two.

Shaul wanted to serve in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) not because he was required, but rather that he wanted to: “I went because, too me it was obvious since I was five or six that I was going to be a soldier. That when my time comes at the age of 18, I will join the army and be as I can be. The only question was will I join the regular army or be an elite commander in the army.” He says.

During a very powerful and emotional ceremony at The Western Wall, Shaul swore an loyalty oath with his fellow soldiers, promising to protect Israel.

But towards the end of his time in the army Shaul remembers something that began tom change his view about the IDF and Israel’s defense against terrorism:

“Somewhere towards three months at the end of my time in the army, I began to think about my life as a civilian. Trying for the first time after two yeas and ten months of living military life…trying for the first time to ask myself who is Yehuda? Who am I what do I want to become? And for me that moment was a very terrifying moment. It was a moment to stop thinking about being as a professional combat soldier and start thinking like a civilian. Stop thinking from inside and start observing from outside what’s going on.

“It’s a very terrifying moment because, in one second the military terminology and the way of thinking doesn’t apply to you anymore and in one second you lose the justification for 95 percent of actions you took part in the past two years and ten months.

“And when I felt that, when I felt that something mad was going on around me. I felt I can’t continue my life without doing something. I didn’t really know what it meant; what I was going to do, but I started talking to some of my comrades and I discovered that we all felt the same. We all felt that something wrong was going on around us.

We started talking about what we’ve done and that’s how Breaking the Silence got started.”

Speaking Out

Breaking the Silence (BTS) is a group of discharged soldiers who are veterans of the 2nd Intifada, which began in September 2000. The group has taken upon itself to reveal to the Israeli public the daily routine of life in the territories, a routine that gets no coverage in the media.

For Shaul and his comrades it was obvious that they were going to do something, and it was obvious that it was going to be about Hebron. Hebron is a Palestinian city in The West Bank located to the South of Jerusalem. It is considered a holy city to Jews, Muslims and Christians. This is where Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, and Jacob are buried in what is referred to by the Jews as The Tomb of The Patriarchs, and by the Muslims as al-Haram Ibrahimiyah. Furthermore, Abraham is an important individual in all three religions.

Out of the three years that he served in the occupied territories, 14 months were spent in Hebron. In March of 2004 Shaul was discharged. In June 2004 he and some comrades started BTS with a photo exhibition about Hebron.

The name BTS was aptly titled. Because what is going in the occupied territories is one of the biggest taboos in Israel: “It’s like the thing you never talk about” says Shaul, “it’s the dirt from the back yard that you do everything to keep in the backyard. The last thing you want is that this dirt will come to the front.”

The title of the exhibit was ‘Bringing Hebron to Tel Aviv.’ Shaul explains that if anything symbolizes Israel, it’s Tel Aviv. In Israel Tel Aviv is often called “The Bubble.” It is a place where people would rather sit down in coffee shops and not see anything more than a few feet around them.

When the exhibition opened, it was a huge success. Over 7000 visitors attended the exhibition. Shaul and his fellow soldiers were shocked at the success. For several days all the Israeli media spoke about the soldier testimonies from Hebron.

The act of the exhibit was a very personal one. None of them really sure why they were doing it at the time, only that they felt they had to. But something remarkable happened during the exhibition. Out of the 7000 that came to see the works, some had also been recently discharged from different units from the occupied territories. While Shaul and his comrades stood by different works, the soldiers that came to see the works walked up to many of them and said; “this picture you have on the wall, I have the same from Nablus.”

As Shaul heard from these soldiers who served in various parts of The West Bank and Gaza that the story of his battalion was not unique, but rather the story of all his generation; It was then that those who had put on the exhibit had to continue they’re work. They began to videotape and audiotape the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories. As of now BTS has interviewed over 400 people who served as conscript soldiers.

The goal of BTS was not just to show shocking pictures. Not to tell horror stories about life in The West Bank or Gaza. The goal of BS was to help people understand the mindset of occupation, to understand the mindset of an occupier.

Games Children Play

One thing that Shaul comments on is that when one is in the occupied territories, things might seem exciting at first but over time the soldiers tend to get bored, they become numb to the situation around them; “Eight hours on eight hours off, you start to get bored so you begin to make things a game” he says, “You start to aim your rifle at kids and see them through the scope of your rifle and take a picture. Then you aim at your friends and take a picture. The rifle is no longer a killing machine, the rifle becomes a part of your game, the way to pass on time.”

Often, these games would extend to the Palestinians who would have to go through checkpoints:

“We use to say that there are two kinds of blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinians. The first kind is called wanted terrorists. These are the people that you get the ID numbers from the Secret Service, address, you come in the middle of the night into the house, catch the guy, bring him back to the barracks, blindfolded until he is taken away.

“But the other kind, what we call in Hebrew “Dry outs” or more professionally detainees; these are the Palestinians who broke curfew…during 2002 through 2003 there were more than 500 days of curfew in Hebron. And we would lift it every few days so people could get food for maybe two or three hours, but if someone were to leave after these hours to get food for his family, then he would be detained for five, six, or seven hours. You must educate them.

“Or if you ask the Palestinians to stand in one nice line and one guy at the end starts to scream that could be seven hours, ten hours.

“If you call on a Palestinian to show his ID and he smiles too much, then that could be two hours or it could be eight hours. It just depends on which side of the bed you woke up on that morning.”

Over time Shaul explains that the Palestinians stop being people and become objects. This feeling was not limited to detainees. In the occupied territories, property suffered a harsh toll.

The Wrecking Crew

In the beginning of the 2nd Intifada when the IDF would occupy a Palestinian home, commanders would given explicit instructions. The only things allowed to be used from private property were things for military purposes.

If they would occupy the house for more than a few days they might throw out the family, or remand them to the 1st floor or a basement. If a chair or a table was needed to build a post soldier was allowed to use them. “Believe it or not the first houses we entered, before we left, we washed the floors.” Shaul recalls. “This is what we called an enlightened occupation.”

Over time as the units would get more and more comfortable in the houses, and over a period of time the soldiers would become bored and they would start to break things.

Once, when his battalion was doing an operation in then city of Ramallah, Shaul remembers that an important World Cup match was playing; “We looked around and found a house, entered it, kicked the family out, watched the game, and when it was over we left and went back to our mission.”

During Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 in the town of Jenin Israeli bulldozers, made by Caterpillar, rumbled through the narrow streets taking the walls of houses and shops along the way.

“After a week the soldiers in Jenin ran out of water” Shaul tells, “So the commander gets on the radio and tells his men to go to a shop to get more water, we need water, this is a military need. Right? So the soldiers go to the store in an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) and get water. Well, a week with out water is also a week without cigarettes, so they take cigarettes, and a week without cigarettes is probably a week without chocolate, so they take the chocolate as well.”

The Blender

Yehuda Shaul’s professional infantry training was as a grenade machinegun operator. During the 2nd Intifada in Hebron his first assignment was to stand post at a school over looking a Palestinian neighborhood called abu Seniehi.

Every night at approximately 6pm, Palestinian militants would shoot at the settlements in Hebron, and the IDF would return the fire.

Shaul’s platoon sergeant informed him that every night they would hear gunfire and that he had to react and return the fire. It is important to note that a grenade machinegun is not an accurate weapon and that the targets that are firing from within a heavily urban area are all most impossible to spot.

When Shaul realized what he was going to have to do he became very nervous. He worried for hours about what would happen when 6pm rolled around. “At 6pm the shooting starts and you get your orders over the radio. You approach the machinegun. You still know that something is wrong, that something is not right. You don’t believe that your going to shoot the neighborhood…for what are we here?

“So you pull the trigger you spray the area you pray that the less amount has been fired and then there is four or five seconds of tense quiet. You pray you haven’t hit innocent people. But the next day you’re less tense, the third day, and then after a week it becomes the most exciting moment of the day.

“After awhile you see that the Palestinians are not getting the message. They are continuing to shoot. So, maybe we shoot at 5:30pm to deter them. Then over a little bit more time we go out on patrols and we see a car and we decided to explode it to send out a message. Now when I talk about this I am talking about how the mission starts and where it goes. How it just becomes a part of you. The blending.”

Where do we go from here?

BTS has two levels of silence. The first level is the silence of the combat soldier that doesn’t understand what’s going on. The second level of silence is that which is conveyed to the Israeli public of what is really happening in the occupied territories. What is happening to their sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

Yehuda Shaul stares on intensely and leans forward as he says: “No one wants to hear what’s really going on in the occupied territories. No one wants the dirt from the backyard to get to the front. It’s time to put the dirt so that everyone can see and that we can all begin to address it”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another sign things are not right in Israel/Palestine

American evangelical group arrives in Ashdod on solidarity

Associated Press
26 October 2006

After a stormy 35-day journey at sea, a group of American
evangelicals traveling on a creaky World War II-era cargo
ship landed in Ashdod on a solidarity mission only to run
aground in red tape, with long delays in unloading their
cargo of clothes, toys and medical supplies.

Still, the 42-member crew was unfazed Thursday, keeping a
positive, enthusiastic attitude in a colorful
demonstration of the growing alliance between
fundamentalist Christians and the Jewish state.

"The Bible says, 'Who blesses Israel will be blessed,"'
said Don Tipton, the group's leader. "We believe that."

The "Spirit of Grace" steamed into the Israeli port of
Ashdod in early October from Louisiana, flying an American
flag and a huge banner reading "Jehovah" in Hebrew
letters. Three weeks later, the low, gray-painted ship is
still docked, its 900-ton load of goods bound for local
charities stuck on board as the gears of Israeli
bureaucracy slowly turn.

The band of evangelical Christians on the "Spirit of
Grace" are bearing the delay the same way they sailed
their weather-beaten cargo ship through three fierce
storms in the Atlantic Ocean on the voyage over: with a
cheerful faith that their mission is God's will.

"It's taken a bit longer than we expected, but it's given
us more time to tour the country, and we're having a great
time," said Sandra Tipton, Don's wife.

Julio Lieberman, the group's Israeli shipping agent, said
the delay was due to paperwork that the government
requires for charitable donations from abroad. "It's taken
far too long, but it should be sorted out in a few days,"
he said.

Yigal Ben-Zikry, a spokesman for the Ashdod port, said
workers could unload the ship "in half a day" as soon as
government approval comes through.

The "Spirit of Grace" - formerly the U.S.S. Pembina, a
62-year-old Navy ship that saw action in World War II - is
operated by Friend Ships, a foundation run by the Tiptons,
born-again Christians originally from Beverly Hills. The
group owns four other ships, as well as landing craft and
a helicopter, all based in Lake Charles, Louisiana, at a
facility that the group has dubbed Port Mercy.

Like the "Spirit of Grace," the vessels are staffed
entirely by volunteers and used to deliver supplies
donated by Christians to disaster-struck countries around
the world.

But the mission to Israel is different.

"This is not aid, it's an expression of friendship and
love," Don Tipton said. The members of his crew, he said,
like many other evangelical Christians, see supporting
Israel as a divine commandment. They were further spurred
on by the recent war in Lebanon, he said.

"After the war, we saw that Lebanon was getting lots of
aid and friendship, and I thought, hey, they're not the
ones who just got mugged," Tipton said. He had
preparations for this journey, which had been planned
before fighting broke out, sped up.

The voyage of the "Spirit of Grace" reflects the growing
alliance between American evangelicals and Israel, a
relationship which has seen evangelical Christians become
more vocal politically and more generous financially in
their support of the Jewish state.

Despite some hesitancy In Israel about the evangelicals'
political agenda for Israel, which opposes any territorial
compromise, and about their religious beliefs - some see
the ingathering of the Jews to Israel as a necessary
prelude to a cataclysm in which anyone who isn't Christian
will die - the friendly feeling has generally become

Today, one of Israel's biggest and most accepted charities
is an evangelical-funded group, the Chicago-based
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which
distributes $30 million a year to different projects in

"We love and admire Israel - we tell our congressmen and
senators this, and we stand behind Bush," said Tipton, 62.
"We won't let anything happen to Israel."

Tipton's crew is a diverse group. Its oldest member is the
chief engineer, Wally Barber of Seattle, 83. Its youngest
is Ruth Larson, four months old, who came along with her

Serving on the ship is "a calling," Lloyd Williams, a
white-bearded veteran sailor from Durban, South Africa,
said over the noise of the engine room. Williams wore a
Star of David on a pendant around his neck.

Merrie Uddin, originally from Detroit, was working in a
Louisiana casino until a hurricane destroyed it last year.
"It was a blessing," Uddin says, because the loss of her
job led her to sign up with the "Spirit of Grace." Kristin
Boettcher of Des Moines was in college when, she said,
"The Lord got ahold of my life," and she found her way to
the ship. Jim Fotia, a Californian with long hair and a
beard, said he joined the trip because he "felt the call"
to come to Israel. "I'm amazed at how much it's like
southern California," Fotia said.

Despite the bureaucratic foul-ups that have kept their
charitable cargo stuck on board, the Christian sailors
said they've been warmly received at this busy port, where
their vintage vessel, its earnest crew and its
blue-and-white "Jehovah" banner stand out among huge
international cargo ships, grimy tankers and Israeli naval
craft. Workers have invited them for dinner in the port's
cafeteria, and the port has waived some of its usual
tariffs, Donald Tipton said.

"We had to be nice to these people," port spokesman Yigal
Ben-Zikry said, "they're more Zionist than any Israelis I

Friday, October 27, 2006

Speaking Truth to Power: An interview with Ray McGovern Pt. 2

On Saturday October 21st, 2006 I spoke with Ray McGovern. McGovern worked as an analyst for the CIA for 27 years and co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

In part two of our interview, McGovern discusses the Israeli war against Lebanon and it’s implications for Iran, VIPS, and concrete ways to combat the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East.

CB: In your opinion, did the U.S. see the Israeli war in Lebanon as a pretext to support a war with Iran?

RM: Well it’s a very good question. It’s rather bizarre that the President of the United States would receive a visit from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert a month before the Israelis decided to attack Lebanon’s infrastructure on the pretext that two of their soldiers had been captured.

What was the motivation behind this bizarre approval, not only approval but the egging on of the Israelis to do this; and then refuse to call for a ceasefire as so many Lebanese, as well as Israelis were being killed?

Well, it’s part and parcel of this perceived identification of interests between Israel and the United States. These men, and they’re all men, Condoleezza Rice is just and executive secretary; they have great difficulty in what they perceive to be the strategic interests of Israel on one hand, and the strategic interests of the United States on the other.

This is a classic example of what President George Washington warned about as he left office: he said that the main thing to be aware of is when you call it “dangling alliances” when a perceived interest of one party become unthinkingly identified with perceived interests of the ally; and how deleterious that can be. This is on par with another warning by a President, who just happened to be a General, General Eisenhower, talking about the military Industrial Complex.

In any case, we have a very unhealthy relationship with Israel where people running our policy consider Israel’s interests to be on par with ours.

Now, I care greatly about what happens to the Israeli people, I also care what happens to the Palestinian people; but my problem with all of this, besides the moral imperative not to condone people unnecessarily, is that Israel, in my view, is in a more dangerous situation right now than it has been since 1948.

Why do I say that?

I say; why don’t you just look at Lebanon. Over the last year, the Lebanese government was taking a form, which suggested very strongly that they were going to form a multi-confessional state, Jews, Arabs, Christians living together which Lebanon use to be able to do.

And it was coming together.

Now look at it!

The aftermath of the Israeli bombing of it’s infrastructure (Lebanon’s) and the inability, on the part of the Israelis, to destroy Hizbollah, there’s virtually no chance, in my view, that a peaceful neighborly neighbor such was envisioned before the attack, a multi-confessional state…that’s not going to be possible.

Now they’re going to have an Islamist state. That’s just, over the long run, going to pose all kinds of problems of safety and security to the Israeli people.

And look at Iraq.

Now it has always been my contention that part of the rational for attacking Iraq, after the need for oil and after the imperial design of creating permanent military bases in that country, which we’re still working on, after those two major considerations, mostly behind a perceived need to make that area safer for the state of Israel.

Now, I think most Americans have forgotten, that before we invaded Iraq, there was no Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism, there were no terrorists in Iraq! But all the propaganda that the president said that; “we have to catapult the propaganda.”

So all the propaganda coming out of the White House, I dare say maybe ten percent of the American people realize that Saddam Hussein was not sponsoring any kind of terrorist activities. He had given some sort of house arrests privilege to Abu Nidal and a couple of aging terrorists who were allowed to die in Baghdad. But the whole extent for his support for terrorism came, and I don’t condone this for one minute, for support of families of suicide terrorists in Palestine. He was offering a certain amount to those families. But that was the whole extent of sponsorship for terrorist activities.

So, there were no terrorists in Iraq, and there were no suicide bombers. There were no, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, suicide bombings.

Now look at Iraq!

Iraq is teeming with terrorists, even some al Qaeda terrorists. These are people who wish Israel ill. These are people pretty close to the Israeli border now and Israel is in much more danger now than before.

So what I’m suggesting here is that this is a very myopic approach not only on the part of the U.S., but also on the part of the Israeli leaders. And if they think they can, by violence, preserve their country by threatening a country like Iran by saying; ‘Look, you may be five or ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon, but you might be able to get the knowledge to construct one; we’re not going to let you do that. We’re going to bomb you, bomb you back to the Stone Age.’ Which I’m sure is what our leaders are thinking, but in much more diplomatic language from the State department.

I care about the Israelis. I care about they’re short sided approach to this problem. Coming out of the Judaic Christian Tradition, and like George Bush I read the Bible, but I came up with very different conclusions.

The Hebrew Scriptures speak very eloquently too me of the need not to cause unnecessary violence. Not to take up the sword, and indeed when the Jews of the Old Testament violated that law, that’s when they ran into trouble.

CB: Could you talk about the organization you co-founded Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity?

RM: Many of us retired in the 90s and took up other pursuits. But we all followed the news and we saw the strange incidence of our President saying things that were not true. For example, that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), when he knew that these had been destroyed in 1991.

And so we started comparing notes by email, and writing the occasional Op Eds. And when it became clear that this corruption of the intelligence process was going to be used to start an unnecessary war, it was then that we decided that we needed to form a movement, which we truly hoped would become more than the sum of it’s parts; where we could speak corporately on these issues.

It began with former members of the CIA, but very quickly grew, and now we have members from all 16 intelligence agencies, and we are up to 57 members.

Or first substantive output was the memo written on the same day that Colin Powell spoke in the UN. We set ourselves the task of doing a same day critique, just as we would in the old days by Castro, Gorbachov or Brezhnev. We knew that this was going to be an important event, we’ll write it up and report by email and AP (Associated Press) said they would put it out on they’re wire at 5pm.

So, I was given primary drafting responsibilities and I got a draft to my colleagues around 3pm, and AP said we missed the deadline by fifteen minutes but they put it out anyway at 5:15pm.

And what did we say?

First off, Mr. President, we give Colin Powell and ‘A’ for performance, but in regards to the content, the evidence had been hyped. Then we said; Mr. President you need to realize, if you don’t already, that your senior officials, especially your Vice President, is leaning really hard on CIA analysts to cook up evidence to things that don’t exist, like WMD. And finally our last sentence read thusly:

“No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is irrefutable or undeniable. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisors clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

We take no joy at all to write about that. In fact, the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was crying from the rooftops that there were no WMD!

And so we found it to be our duty to analyze speeches like this.

So, the President was told by us, and others, and he was aware that the evidence had been cooked. The most flagrant was this idea that Iraq had uranium from Niger. It couldn’t happen, and on the face of it everybody found out that it was forgery. Before the war people found out but after Congress had been misled on the basis of this report that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons.

Don’t take my word for that Henry Waxman and other Congressmen went to the President saying; ‘look, on the basis of the report that your people, Colin Powell and others are now saying is a forgery! Tell me how that can happen?’ And he never got an adequate answer.

So in short, we felt it out duty to speak out.

CB: Finally Ray McGovern, what are concrete steps that people can take to try and combat the overreaching hand of the Bush administration in the Middle East?

RM: They can hold they’re representatives and senators accountable.

I was in Missouri this month. So I brushed up on my Mark Twain; “There is no criminal class in America as such, except for Congress.”

Now, I use to think that was funny. It’s no longer funny.

This Congress has voted for laws that re clearly unconstitutional, not to mention against international law. They have given this President the right to eavesdrop, arrest, and even torture people. These congressmen need to be held accountable for what they did. They allowed themselves to be scared, just like they did four years ago.

Scared by whom?

Scared by Karl Rove. It was Rove four years ago who insisted that all these stories be brought to the American people, to the Congress, but the stories were based on cooked reports.


Because he wanted to force he Democrats to face up to the unsavory place of voting against a war that was authorized against a brutal dictator who threatened us with WMD and was partly responsible for 9/11. A choice between voting for that war and voting against it. A lot of the Democrats even caved.


Well because they remember when fellow Democrats tried to vote against the Gulf War in 1990. They really took it on the chin; some people saw that as a glorious war.

So, fours years ago it happened, and now it’s happening again.

Who wants to appear soft on terrorists?

Who wants to be the subject of TV ads starting next week saying, ‘Rep. Jane Doe, voted against giving the President the tools he needs to fight terrorism!’

Well, that’s silly, but a lot of people get taken in by that. And that’s why they forced this vote, before the election, and anybody who voted against that bill (The Military Commission Act) will be subjected to criticism.

John Bayner from the mid-west, he’s the Republican leader of the House. He said two weeks ago, ‘you know the democrats care more about protecting terrorists than protecting Americans!’

You know, I’m old enough to remember Joe McCarthy, and Joe McCarthy wasn’t that dumb.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Speaking Truth To Power: An Interview with Ray McGovern Pt. 1

You may not know the name of the bearded, soft-spoken man right off the bat. You might look upon him as a kindly husband, father, or grandfather. True enough, you may not recognize him, but you might have heard, or even seen what he did on a normal day in the Southeastern part of the United States during a question and answer period with one of the most powerful men in the World.

On May 4th, 2006 in Atlanta, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had just concluded a speech, a brief question and answer session followed. A mild-mannered gentleman walked up to the microphone and asked Rumsfeld, in a respectful, but strong voice; “Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?”

All major broadcasts, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and CNN showed the confrontation of Rumsfeld, bumbling over the questions presented by Ray McGovern; an ex-CIA analyst with 27 years of experience with the agency under his belt.

I received the opportunity to speak with McGovern, the co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) via phone as he drove to a speech he was giving in Washington D.C.

This is part one of a two-part interview that I conducted. In this section Mr. McGovern talks of that fateful day when he questioned Rumsfeld and about President Bush signing into law The Military Commission Act.

Christopher Brown: Could you speak about the moment, on national television, when you confronted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on his claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; what motivated you to decide to challenge him on that day?

Ray McGovern: I was giving a talk that evening in Atlanta and I heard from a friend in Atlanta that he was giving an early afternoon talk and you can come and listen to what he says. And I thought that was good idea. So, I looked up the website of this Southern Center for Public Affairs, and it was very fancy website, very lovely, but no mention that Donald Rumsfeld was coming and I thought that was rather odd.

So I called some friends in Atlanta and said; “what’s really going on here?” and they said they’d look into it, and a very enterprising woman from The World Can’t Wait got in touch with me and said; “we can figure out how to get you a ticket if you really want one but it’s going to cost you forty bucks.” Well, forty bucks to go and listen to Donald Rumsfeld was little bit of a challenge for me, but I figured in Washington they’d never let me near him. So, I used the website, got myself a ticket, and appeared there about an hour before, and low and behold there were two microphones in the aisles towards the center. I saw that there were likely to be questions and answers, so I sat two feet from the microphone on the left.

I didn’t know exactly what I would do because I was preparing my own speech for that evening, and I came across a report from the previous day, an interview given by a colleague of mine called Paul Pillar who recently retired from the agency after having been the senior substantive policy analyst for Iraq and the whole Middle East. He’d given an interview to the Spanish newspaper El Paiz the day before and he let himself say, the most unconscionable vetting of the evidence, in his view, was the calculated manipulation of evidence to indicate that al Qaeda had something to do with 9/11, or in the short hand that Sadaam Hussein had something to do with 9/11; that al Qaeda was very close to Iraq.

Now, Don Rumsfeld had said, in Atlanta in September 2003 that the evidence for that was bulletproof, his word; bulletproof. And that was very strange too me because, I knew, at that time, that all my former colleagues from the Central Intelligence Agency were saying there was no evidence. It was completely contrived of people conjuring up this image. Which after all is the most unconscionable playing on the very real trauma of all us Americans who saw what happened on 9/11. Playing on that trauma and dishonestly associating a country and a leader, namely Iraq and Sadaam Hussein who, as best intelligence, and there was plenty of it, proved had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, 69% of the American people believe that Sadaam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, and 85% of the military believe that. So, this is a consequential misleading of the American public.

In any case, here was Donald Rumsfeld saying in the same town, Atlanta, that the evidence of a tie between al Qaeda and Iraq was bulletproof. So I said; you know maybe I’ll ask him about that. Why was he saying it’s bulletproof at a time when the agency is saying its not, there’s no evidence at all. And when General Scowcroft, Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor (NSA) for the first President Bush was saying: “the evidence of such is scarce”?

So there was a really flagrant playing with the truth here, and I thought I’d ask him to explain why he was saying ‘bulletproof,’ Scowcroft was saying ‘scarce’, and the CIA was saying ‘no evidence at all.’ And so that’s how I lead off I said; “Mr. Rumsfeld, my colleague Paul Pillar said that there was a very deliberate modification to the evidence to show that this tie didn’t exist and you said that tie was bulletproof can you explain that?”

And the chair of the very establishment center where we were had interrupted me and I could see that I was going to be cut off, and so I spoke over him and got my main sentence in which was simply to say: “Why did you lie to mislead the American people into a war that was unnecessary and that had already had so many casualties?”

That’s why I said that upfront, I had intended to say that more indirectly later. Well, Rumsfeld changed the subject from bulletproof evidence, and talked about: “apparently there were no weapons of mass destruction.”

At which point, I couldn’t resist interrupting him saying; “You said you knew where they were.”

“No no I didn’t!” said Rumsfeld; “I said there was some suspect sites.”

And I said no you said; “We know where they are in the area around Tikrit, Baghdad, and North, South, East, and West of there. Those were your words!”

Well at that point, a very burly young man with a black hat on, comes down the aisle and ducks in behind me, so that he cannot be seen by the camera, puts his left elbow in my solarplexs and starts moving me very aggressively away from the microphone. At which point Rumsfeld realizes this is on live TV and he makes a calculated decision that to have me carried out after asking him two questions to which he had responded disingenuously, that would probably be a worse PR disaster than if he continued the debate. And I could almost see him thinking; “Hey I’m a champion person debater, let me at this little kid!”

So he says to the goon who’s got his elbow in my solarplexs, “No no no, let him stay a second!” So the goon doesn’t go away but comes on my side and then he is visible to the camera, and he lurks there for the entire next two minutes, and Rumsfeld changed the subject and says; “Well, you can’t say that we deliberately lied.” And of curse he blamed it all on Colin Powell and the head of the CIA saying; “I don’t have anything to do with intelligence.” Which is not true because he controls 80% of the intelligence budget, the defense and intelligence agency reports to him. I guess no one in Atlanta knew how stupid that was but it was caught later on TV.

And then he says; “You know, look these people in uniform” Rumsfeld always arranges to have people in uniform in the first row, so that they can be used. He refers to them and one of them stands up and he says; “These people believe that there were weapons of mass destruction there. You think they put on these protective suits, which are very uncomfortable, do you think they put those on because they like the fashion?” And the whole audience laughed. And I said; “Mr. Rumsfeld that’s a non-sequitor. It doesn’t matter what the troops were told it matters what you believe.” And at that moment the head of the Center interrupts us and says; “Well that’s enough for this debate lets go on to the next question. In fairness to the next question.”

And I simply went back to the seat where I was sitting and became the skunk at the picnic and could not make eye contact with any, not one, member of the audience as we filed out. It was a very interesting experience. It reminded me being at similar rallies in the Soviet Union when I served there.

CB: President Bush signed into law, The Military Commission Act, what does this mean for an enemy combatant's rights in a court of law; what are the broader affects of such a law for the American judicial system?

RM: Ordinary people like you and I, we have no rights anymore to speak of. After you and I are finished with this interview, Donald Rumsfeld, who were just talking about, can send the same folks who almost threw me out of that hall, this time he can send them, quite legally, to arrest us, put us in Guantanamo or some other black hole, without telling our wives, children, parents, and keep us there forever without any appeal on our part in Federal court.

In 1215, the year the Magna Carta was signed, which wrested from the English king, the right for people who were arrested to have some sort of redress in court. After 791 years of Habeas Corpus which not only the English common law tradition served, but other countries as well.

And the amazing thing is this, as usual, passed in the middle of the night, it’s was doctored in the middle of the night by the conference committee. And in some earlier text they had aliens or foreign enemy combatants, and somehow or other, it must have been a typo, they left out foreign, they left out alien. And so this deprivation of habeas corpus right can apply to you and can apply too me.

Not only that, the President is free to do, what he was legally bound not to do before this act. Now what do I mean by that? Well, two things; The President signed an executive order on the 7th of February, 2002 which authorizes the army and the CIA to disregard the Geneva Conventions, namely Common Article 3 and also the War Crimes Act, U.S. criminal law, U.S. code 2441 1996. Why do I say 1996 so slowly? Simply to recall this passed by the Newt Gingrich dominated Republican majority Congress in 1996.

That law made the Geneva Convention, Common Article 3 inexplicably entwined with the U.S. common law. In other words, you violate Geneva you no longer have an international law problem it’s a domestic criminal law problem.

So anyhow, the president authorized that. Now, people will be reading this and say: “Oh now, show us where he authorized that McGovern!”

Well, if you have a computer go to your URL line and type in George W. Bush hyphen February 7th 2002, type in executive order hyphen interrogation or al Qaeda, Taliban and you’ll see the memo it’s right there you can download it in PDF form you can see the President’s signature just behind it. It says; that we don’t have to observe the Geneva protections for the Taliban and al Qaeda; and not only that: “We will treat them humanely as appropriate and as consistent with military necessity.” That is a direct quote.

That is the loophole through which Don Rumsfeld and George Tenet, the head of the CIA, drove the Mack truck officially sanctioning torture. It was legal then in their view. The Supreme Court as we know, about three months ago, ruled that it was not legal. That it was not only illegal under international law, but that it violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and that’s why they insisted that it be stopped.

When the Supreme Court said that this was unconstitutional and unlawful, then the interrogators began to think twice about subjecting themselves to the vulnerability of prosecution under these laws. So here’s the President of the United States on the 6th of September getting up at a press conference, bragging about how successful extraordinary measures enhanced interrogation techniques, he didn’t say torture, but everybody knows what he’s talking about, how successful they have been. He’s bragging about this and says we need to change the law because CIA interrogators were just doing a full and professional job don’t want to subject themselves to liability for prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

And then he said, I could see it in his face, “Sotto Niche” neither do I.

And neither does Donald Rumsfeld, and neither does Alberto Gonzales, neither does Dick Cheney wants to subject themselves under prosecution of the War Crimes Act of 1996. Why? Because they are all liable folks, they are all liable. Until this past Tuesday, when the Congress, to my amazement acted just like the German Parliament when Hitler engaged the enabling acts in March of 1933.

They caved in, some said; well its unconstitutional anyway so we’ll just go with the flow here. In a fear of being soft against terrorism the Congress, both Senate and House, approved this law and made it retroactive!

Is this a great country or what? The President cannot be held liable for the torture that he authorized beginning with that memo on February 7th 2002.

Let me mention the other aspect. Clearly there is the wiretapping on Americans. Now, this needs to be mentioned because in similar fashion this new law, euphemistically called, The Military Commission Act, but really should be called the Enabling Act, because it is an exact duplicate act passed by the German Parliament in March of 1933 to give Hitler dictatorial powers. This law also absolves the president retroactively.

I’ve asked lawyers if Congress can pass a law saying that violation of an old law can be forgiven? And, unfortunately, the lawyers said yes. So this is a great country.

What this new law does, this Military Commission Act as it is so called, it says even though the Federal judge in Detroit has ruled that your wiretapping of Americans is both unlawful because of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which outlaws eavesdropping on Americans without a court order, even though it’s unlawful, and unconstitutional, because there is a Fourth Amendment that protects us from unlawful search and seizures, or is at least suppose to, or at least did protect us until last Tuesday, Judge Taylor in Detroit said; Eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant is illegal and its unconstitutional.

This new law supercedes the old FISA, and supercedes, I guess, the Fourth Amendment, because what this Congress has done is the President is free to order that at will. So, we have a President who now, as of last Tuesday, can order eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant which was usually required under the old law. And the President can, at will, by defining his own terms, torture.

So it’s all these things; habeas corpus is one thing, torture is another, what has been, up until now, illegal wiretapping is a third. And let me just add a couple of things to the illegal wiretapping.

This is demonstrably an impeachable offense. Why do I say that? I say that because Richard Nixon when he was about to be fully impeached, the House Judiciary Committee which has purvey over the initial stages voted an article of impeachment against Richard Nixon for eavesdropping on Americans illegally. So the President has already admitted to having authorized this illegal eavesdropping on Americans more than 30 times.

There’s another aspect of this eavesdropping, which is pretty sinister. I go around the country speaking about these things and I ask people; “Does it not bother you than your telephone calls are monitored, email and so forth?” And I have to say, to my great distress, that 80% of the people say, no.

So I ask them another question; “Does it bother you that Senator Arlen Specter’s can be eavesdropped on, can be monitored? And they say; “Why do you ask me about Sen. Arlen Specter? Who’s he?” And I tell them he’s head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has purview over these things (Purview over U.S. laws.) He was incensed, and learned last December that the President had deliberately violated the FISA law. And he promised to hold committee hearings to look into this. He talked about this being clearly extra-legal. By August, surprisingly, Arlen Specter Senator from Pennsylvania now Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, changed his tune 180 degrees. Not only that but he drafted legislation, which now has been passed, that allows the President to eavesdrop on us at will without any court warrant.

Now what accounts for this 180-degree turn of view? Well let me offer a hypothetical. I stress this is a hypothetical; two FBI agents visited Sen. Specter two moths ago. They sat down with him and said:

“Now Senator. Specter we’ve just been in Cleveland. We spent the weekend there interviewing Mary Crawford. What a wonderful woman she is. We just had a wonderful interview with her and of course we knew that your travel records show that you go to Cleveland every weekend. And we just had a really informative session with her. And we don’t think that anybody else needs to know about this and so we have some draft legislation that the President would like you to sign. It’s a little intrusive on civil liberties but it’s going to protect us against terrorists. And if you sponsor this, nobody has to know about Mary Crawford.”

Now I know a lot of your readers will say; “Oh McGovern has gone off the deep end!” This kind of activity is precisely why the FISA act was drafted and passed in 1978. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and other organs of our government were not only eavesdropping on Representatives and Senators but on Presidents of The United States. And that’s why that law was primarily was passed. And I will add that the law was made flexible enough so that this very convenient tool whereby you can get information that nobody know you are getting can be used to prevent foreign espionage. And so that law was written with the flexibility to eavesdrop on any foreign intelligence asset without consulting the court for three whole days. And then if the President wanted to continue this kind of wiretapping, all he needed to do was go to the judge to get approval.

Was that a big hurdle? Well, out of the first five thousand FISA court warrants that were applied for 4,995 were approved. So it really was a formality. So what is the implication? The implication is that the President of the United Sates has decided that after 9/11, some people suggested even earlier, that he couldn’t be bothered by observing this law. And he commissioned the development of a program run by the NSA that is so intrusive, so all encompassing, that not even the immediate aftermath of 9/11 did he feel confident that he could go to the Congress and say; Look we need to change the law here. I need more flexibility.

Now when Attorney General Gonzales was asked about this back in January of this year, when Sen. Specter held his first hearings, he let the cat out of the bag. Actually, Gonzales let the cat out of the bag at a press conference on the 19th of December just before he got to the Specter hearings. What he told the press was this; the question asked by an enterprising journalist was; “Attorney General we’d like to know why you did and end run around the FISA. If you thought it was too stringent and didn’t give you enough flexibility to do what you need, why did you not go to Congress and do this the right way?”

And you know what Gonzales said? This was completely missed by the mainstream press. This is what he said; well we went to Congress and they told us that this was very unlikely, neigh impossible that legislation like this would be approved by Congress. And so, we took the attitude that we didn’t need the bill.

Now, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to deduce that if Gonzales was told by the Congress, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that they would never approve of this program, they went blindly ahead and approved it any way, even though, as I said, a judge declared it unconstitutional and illegal.

So now is this a great country or what? It is completely legal under the enabling acts, the so-called Military Commission Act signed by the President last Tuesday.

In part two of my interview with Ray McGovern, he talks about the Israel/Lebanon war and its possible implications for war with Iran; co-founding Veteran intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS); and concrete steps to stop the overreaching hand of the Bush administration.

Monday, October 16, 2006

All Power To The People: the 40th Anniversary of The Black Panther Party

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want and end to the robbery by the capitalist of our Black community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in present day society.
6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
8. We want freedom for all Black men held in Federal, State, County and City prisons and jails.
9. We want all Black people when brought to trail to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-Supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the Black colony in which only Black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of Black people as to their national destiny.


They came from as close as downtown Oakland California and as far away as Tanzania, located in Southern Africa.

They are mothers, fathers, and grandparents; artists, IT professionals, singers, songwriters; some walked erect, others moved about with the aid of canes, and a few in wheelchairs; they were doctors, lawyers, teachers, and activists, but above all else they were revolutionaries; they were Panthers; Black Panthers.

From Thursday, October 12th through Sunday October 15th, hundreds of comrades from the Black Panther Party (BPP) descended on Oakland California to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the organization.

Founded in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, The (BPP) was dedicated to bringing about real change and self-determination to Black communities around the country. “I remember having the opportunity to spend hours with Bobby, and his brother John Seale, and ‘Big Man’ (Earl ‘Big Man’ Howard), and just brainstorming, and pick their minds on things that could be done. And I remember the concept of him (Bobby Seale) talking about feeding children.” recalls James Mott, who was active with the Party in the Sacramento chapter.

Thus out of those brainstorming sessions that took place came the first free breakfast program for children founded in Oakland in May of 1968: “It was in that point in time that Jessie Unruh, who was the State’s Attorney General came out and made the blatant statement that the BPP is feeding more children in this country than the United States government.” said Mott.

The BPP instituted a number of survival programs designed to meet the needs of the community. The survival programs served as an organizing tool to expose the inequities and contradictions of the United States. Some of the programs were:

1. Inter-communal News Service (The BPP paper).
2. Free breakfast for schoolchildren.
3. Petition Campaign – Referendum for Community Control of police.
4. Free clothing program.
5. Free housing cooperative program.
6. Free shoe program.

In all there were 16 programs that the BPP instituted in the community.

Several speakers at the reunion spoke of the various roles that people took on in the organization. Although, two men founded it, the BPP had a strong group of women that were involved and led in a variety of ways. One such woman was Charlotte O’Neal.

Charlotte O’Neal and her husband Pete O’Neal were involved with the Kansas City chapter of the BPP. At the age of 19, Charlotte was pregnant and had been transformed by the BPP. Now living in exile in Tanzania and regal in her African headdress and gown, O’Neal, spoke of the need to get the youth of today more active in what is going on around them; “It’s like they almost have on blinders. Well it’s up to us, all us old Panthers, to tear those blinders off!”

Another strong woman was Kathleen Cleaver. Along with her husband the legendary Eldridge Cleaver, they promoted the BPP struggle with other international freedom movements all over the World.

But as the BPP grew, so did the watchful eye of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO Program (Counter Intelligence Program). Hoover considered the BPP to be the greatest threat to the American way of life; “He meant white America!” intones a man named Ali Bey who was involved in the New York BPP chapter.

Hoover, arrested, harassed, infiltrated, and sowed seeds of distrust and disunity amongst the various chapters. Many BPP members found themselves in jail, fled the country or dead. The names of Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and ‘Lil’ Bobby Hutton stand out in the memories of those in the BPP. By the early 80s, the BPP as an active force had all but ceased.

However, the vision and dedication of those that came and still more who attended the celebration was a testament to just how far and wide the reach of the BPP has been. Many came from as close as Oakland and as far away as France. There were young and old, Black and White, those who knew the history and still others who were beginning to learn it.

One speaker commented that: “As long as one person remembers the BPP, the struggle will go on.”

James Mott summed it up thusly: “one of the greatest stories ever told talked about a man who fed thousands; I remember us having breakfast programs that fed thousands. Talked about a man who healed the sick; we had health clinics that healed the sick. Clothing people, housing people; encouraging people; so that is why I want to say that I know that we were on the right path and I know that we still are on the right path today.”



Sunday, October 15, 2006

One Country: An Interview with Ali Abunimah

According to Agence France Presse, on October 12th 2006, five Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip as ground troops mounted a fresh incursion as part of an ongoing four-month offensive (Agence France Presse 12 October 2006).

Since June 28, Israel has waged a prolonged offensive in Gaza with the stated goals of retrieving a soldier captured by militants and stopping rocket attacks on its territory.

A UN special envoy for human rights, John Dugard, has accused Israel of unleashing “collective punishment” in the territory, declaring last month that some 260 Palestinians had been killed and 800 injured in the operation.

As the crisis in The West Bank and Gaza Strip continues, Ali Abunimah has steadfastly monitored and reported on the deteriorating conditions in Palestine. Abunimah is a writer and commentator on Middle East and Arab American affairs.

Co-founder of the website Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), his articles have also appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Financial Times, and Ha’aaretz, among others. He is a frequent guest on local, national, and international radio and television, including public radio and television, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, The BBC and many others.

Abunimah travels often to the Middle East and is a full-time researcher in social policy at the University of Chicago. I spoke with Abunimah on the telephone as he toured the United States promoting his book; “ONE COUNTRY.”

Christopher Brown: Ali Abunimah, could you talk about the current situation in Gaza?

Ali Abunimah: Well the situation in Gaza is very similar to what it has been for many years and worsening consistently; there’s a million-and-a-half people in Gaza; a permanent Israeli siege by land, sea and air under frequent bombardment; since early summer, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by the Israelis; several thousand injured, most of them civilians; the vast majority of people in Gaza now have difficulty feeding their families due to the Israeli siege which prevents food and other basic essentials from coming in.

In June, Israel bombed the only power plant in Gaza; so much of Gaza is without electricity on a consistent basis and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future since no serious rebuilding is being done. So it’s a very severe situation where daily life is characterized by poverty, a struggle to survive and random violence, which claims many innocent lives.

CB: The message delivered to Condoleezza Rice this past week by Israeli officials is that; the humanitarian and economic disaster befalling Gaza has a single, reversible cause; the capture of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in late June. Is the capture of Shalit where this narrative began?

AA: Let’s assume that what the Israelis are saying is true and that they are imposing this siege because of the capture of the Israeli soldier. If that is true then they are admitting to the most serious war crimes that can be committed under international law because the Geneva Convention makes it very clear that it is a serious crime to punish a civilian population for political reasons. Here Israel says they are punishing the civilian population in order to secure the release of a prisoner of war.

This is one of the most serious crimes against the laws of war, and against the Geneva Convention terrorizing, starving, bombing a civilian population in order to achieve a military or political objective. I think that, if nothing else should alert people to the true nature of this regime.

CB: On Monday the San Francisco Chronicle stated that Hamas, if elections were held today, would only garner 21.9% of the vote. Secretary of State Rice said that she is in a “very concerned” state, for the Palestinians. She went on to state that: “The Palestinians need a government that can provide for their needs and meet the conditions of the Quartet,” she also added that she wanted to strengthen the “moderates” like Abbas. What is meant by these pronouncements?

AA: Well, if Condoleezza Rice was concerned about the Palestinian people, she wouldn’t be an active participant in starving them to death. And she would speak against Israel using American weapons to attack and besiege and harm civilians. She doesn’t care about the Palestinian people and she never has.

What she means by strengthening moderates is strengthening U.S clients and quisling. I use very strong language advisedly. But her notion of Palestinian moderates, is a client regime, like the one in Iraq, totally dependent on U.S. and Israeli power and good will, like the government in Lebanon, one which is there to do the bidding of the United States and Israel from inside.

So, The United States is actively arming private militias of Mahmoud Abbas and other Fatah leaders who were defeated in the elections last January. The U.S. has been giving them millions of dollars, weapons training, and fermenting Palestinian civil strife and civil war. This is the U.S. anti-democratic policy, because what happened in the occupied territories is, Hamas won a democratic election fair and square. And since then, the United States, Israel and a small minority of Palestinians colluding with them have been trying to overthrow the results of the democratic election. This is what we are seeing in Palestine and this is United States policy.

CB: For 34 days the Israeli military bombarded Lebanon from the air, land and sea. Towards the end of the war, Israel flooded the southern landscape with cluster bombs. It is estimated that it will take at least a year to remove all cluster bombs that are currently injuring 13 people per day, many of whom are children. An unnamed officer in the Israeli military said that the use of the cluster bombs was “madness.”

As a result of cluster bombs being used, the accusations of white phosphorus, and the intentional bombing of hospitals and schools, will there be any chance for a complete and comprehensive investigation into war crimes?

AA: Well you know, Israel commits crimes on a daily basis and has been doing so for many decades. Many of these crimes have been documented by The United Nations. In the past, the UN Security Council would even condemn them.

Human rights groups have documented crimes in the recent Lebanon war and in Gaza. But never has Israel been held accountable. We’ve been hearing now for years about a UN investigation about the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Has there ever been an investigation into Israel’s actions?

People say it’s controversial; the Israelis claim that Hizbollah was firing from civilian areas, which justified, in Israel’s view, the carpet-bombing of entire neighborhoods in Beirut. But nobody saw any evidence of that. None of the international groups that look into it found any evidence of that. Israel didn’t present any evidence. But let’s say there’s a controversy about it; why can’t we have a UN investigation? Why are Israel’s crimes always off limits?

And what’s worse is the active collusion. Because, Israel couldn’t do this, as a small country, it couldn’t do this without the active collusion of Western regimes; and it’s not just The United States, it’s also The European Union, which is bankrolling Israel, providing weapons, and refusing to stand up.

The whole World is in an outcry over what’s happening in Sudan; the whole World is talking about holding North Korea accountable; Israel has nuclear weapons; Israel tested a nuclear weapon in 1979; Israel continues to export weapons all over the World; Israel is continuing to carry out serious war crimes in The Middle East and never have we heard any accountability for it. What is it about Israel that makes it exempt from any of the standards that are suppose to apply to the rest of us?

CB: Because of their financial and military support they gave to Hizbollah, might the United States use the Lebanon war as a pretext to strike at Syria or Iran?

AA: Well there were reports about that. It was clear the U.S. supported the Israeli war in Lebanon on the basis that this was suppose to be…basically the U.S. was using Israel to destroy Hizbollah because in the view of the U.S. administration, any local resistance to U.S. and Israeli hegemony is not permissible.

Hizbollah was seen as a growing challenge to the U.S. and Israeli influence in The Middle East region. Hizbollah had effectively defeated Israel militarily, and also as an obstacle to U.S. control of Lebanon and Syria. And also its support from Iran was seen as a challenge to the U.S.

The U.S. was happy to see Israel teaching Hizbollah a lesson; of course the result was different. There was also a report by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, which cited credible sources that the U.S. administration explicitly saw this as a trial run for what they might try on Iran in a much larger scale; and of course if that was the case it was a miserable failure. But we also know that this is an administration that has never been deterred or discouraged by its own failures.

CB: Could you talk about Israel denying Palestinians from the Diaspora the opportunity to see their families in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the increase of denying internationals that come to work alongside Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers?

AA: It’s always been Israeli policy to keep Palestinians out and force them out. Obviously Israel was founded on the majority of the Palestinian people, and since then Palestinian refugees have never been allowed to return, and many others have been expelled.

But in recent years, and in particular since the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel will not allow Palestinians with Western passports to enter Palestine. Now mind you, they were only able to enter by virtue of their Western passports, despite the fact that they are Palestinian. So if you’re Palestinian Canadian you’re allowed to enter; if your a Palestinian Brittan or American you’re allowed to enter, because Israel has agreements with those countries allowing their citizens to come.

So it was by virtue of their alignment for having the citizenship of powerful countries. And Israel didn’t dare single out the Palestinian citizens of those countries. Now, I think, the fact that Israel is doing it openly; it’s openly discriminating against Americans and expelling those that are Palestinians; discriminating among those that are Canadian Palestinian, shows the brazenness of Israel.

Israel knows that it can do anything and get away with it with total impunity; and that’s not just of course another violation against the Palestinians, it’s also a devaluation of U.S. citizenship. Because, it should be our government’s responsibility to make sure that other states do not discriminate against American citizens based on race or ethnicity. Can you imagine if a country set up a law that would allow American tourists in but not Black Americans?

But this is the kind of policy Israel has where it is testing American citizens based on they’re race, religion and ethnicity and singling out those it doesn’t like for expulsion. And so it’s another of these very racist policies that is happening because our government allows it and encourages it.

CB: Could you speak about the rise of Christian Zionists and the new lobby: Christians United For Israel (CUFI), and the general inability of Congress to confront Israel about its treatment of the Palestinians?

AA: It’s a very perplexing question. Why it is in the World’s, supposed, greatest democracy; with 535 elected members of Congress; you cannot find any? There are a few exceptions, but 99% don’t dare criticize Israel; 99% don’t dare disagree over the President with Israel.

I think it’s a perplexing question. Its one more Americans should ask. I think that, obviously, the influence of pro-Israel groups is immense and what your seeing with the creation of the lobby you mentioned is an alliance between some very anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish Evangelical groups that believe that by supporting Israel they believe that they will hasten Armageddon, in which the vast majority of Jews will be incinerated.

And pro-Israel Jewish groups making a very unprincipled alliance for political gain. And, I think, that Americans need to ask what has happened to they’re country that these are the sorts of political alliances that are being made instead of alliances that can bring decent health care and dignifying lives to tens of million of Americans that are being denied it. That’s the one issue you can’t get the majority in Congress for decent health care for all Americans, but 99% will disagree on uncritical support for Israel. It’s pretty astonishing.

CB: Finally, where, in your opinion, is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict headed?

AA: Well you’ve saved the best question for last, and that is why I am promoting the book; “ONE COUNTRY”

I think we’re heading in one of two directions; one is a complete disaster, greater levels of bloodshed and suffering than anything we’ve ever seen and bringing about more misery; or we have to start talking about a radically different approach in which we stop trying to partition a country that defies partition. And start looking at solutions in which Israelis and Palestinians have to deal with the fact that they are all there to stay; they need to live together; they live in one country; it has to be a country that provides a dignified existence to all of them; equal rights for all of them, and yet allows different communities to have a community life and cultural self-determination.

And that is something that is not on anyone’s agenda now and, I think, it’s the one way we have to push this, or the results will be catastrophic for everyone.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A re-run of the Lebanon war in Palestine?

By Hasan Abu Nimah & Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada
11 October 2006

There are ominous signs that the long-contemplated plan to
overthrow the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian
Authority cabinet is about to enter its most dangerous
phase: a political coup, supported by local militias, with
foreign and regional backing. This could ignite serious
intra-Palestinian violence. With Iraq providing a dreadful
warning of how foreign occupation can foster civil
bloodshed, everything must be done to expose and thwart
this dangerous conspiracy.

The head of Palestinian Authority intelligence, and Fatah
militia leader, Tawfiq Tirawi, said in an interview with
the Sunday Times on 8 October, "We are already at the
beginning of a civil war, no doubt about it. They (Hamas)
are accumulating weapons and a full-scale civil war can
break out at any moment." The paper cited Palestinian
sources saying that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud
Abbas "has notified the US, Jordan and Egypt that he is
preparing to take action against Hamas." And, asserting
that Hamas "are preparing for a war against us," Tirawi
"forecasts that the violence would begin in Gaza and
spread to the West Bank." Hamas leaders, including prime
minister Ismail Haniyeh, have issued strenuous
reassurances that they will never allow civil war, even as
a Fatah-affiliated militia recently released a statement
explicitly threatening to assassinate them.

Let us recall that in last January's legislative council
elections the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas,
resoundingly defeated Fatah, the nominally nationalist and
secular faction founded by Yasir Arafat and which has
dominated the institutionalized Palestinian movement since
the 1960s. Fatah, led now by Palestinian Authority
chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was widely rejected for its
corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority
which was founded under the Oslo Accords in 1994.

Coming a week after more than a dozen Palestinians were
killed in fighting between Hamas and Fatah followers,
Tirawi's latest comments could be seen as laying the
groundwork for a full-scale and premeditated
confrontation. A senior Fatah "security source," probably
also Tirawi, had already told the same Sunday Times
journalist last May that "[c]ivil war is inevitable" and
that "Time is running out for Hamas." He warned that
"We'll choose the right time and place for the military
showdown. But after that there will be no more of Hamas's

Is that time approaching? Abbas is being encouraged by his
sponsors outside the country to take on Hamas. Tirawi's
warnings followed US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's
visit to the region which included a warm public embrace
of Abbas. On October 5, Reuters reported that militias
loyal to Abbas are receiving arms and training from the
United States. "Expanding the size of the presidential
guard," Abbas' personal militia, "by up to 70 percent
under a U.S. plan," the report stated, "has become a
central part of American policy since [Hamas] beat Abbas's
Fatah in elections and took over the government." This
apparent encouragement to resort to the bullet when use of
the ballot failed to produce the desired results is a
direct contradiction of the simplest principles of
democracy, apart from its sheer immorality. This sounds
bad enough, but it also looks like a repeat of the
strategy in Lebanon where western powers apparently
thought that Israel, as a local client state, could be
used to strike a lethal blow at Hizbullah. The human and
political results of that adventure, last summer's
systematic Israeli destruction of Lebanon, speak for
themselves. This time, Abbas and his forces would fill the
role of local US client, and Hamas would be cast as

The only outcome of such a confrontation will be another
orgy of bloody violence. And almost certainly, support for
Hamas would be strengthened, but among the Palestinian
people there would be only losers.

There is good reason to fear that the moment is coming
when this conspiracy will turn to the naked use of armed
force, as the campaign to overthrow Hamas has escalated in
stages. Just weeks after the January election, The New
York Times reported that US and Israeli officials met at
the "highest level" to plot the downfall of Hamas by
"starving" the Palestinian Authority. It started with the
US-EU aid cutoff, ostensibly to force Hamas to "recognize
Israel" and "abandon violence." (When it was elected Hamas
had already observed a year-long unilateral suspension of
attacks on Israel, and its leaders strongly indicated a
willingness to reach a "long-term agreement"). Israel
escalated its military attacks on Gaza, killing and
maiming thousands of civilians, and destroying civilian
infrastructure including the only power station. Most
Palestinians now face difficulties feeding their families.
Israel kidnapped eight Hamas cabinet ministers and a
quarter of the elected members of the legislative council,
while Fatah leaders have continually agitated against
Hamas, including organizing strikes and protests by Fatah
loyalists among Palestinian Authority civil servants who
have been deprived of salaries by the very international
siege that Fatah leaders have winked at and even

Efforts to bridge the political impasse by forming a
"national unity government" have also failed because the
Fatah election losers, backed by foreign powers, are
demanding that Hamas, the election winners, abandon their
policies and principles and endorse those of the defeated
party. But none of this has worked. Despite the
punishment, Palestinians under occupation are no more
willing than ever to submit to Israeli tyranny: 67 percent
"do not believe Hamas should recognize the state of Israel
in order to meet international donor demands" even though
"63 percent would support a Palestinian recognition of
Israel as a state for the Jewish people after a peace
agreement is reached and a Palestinian state is
established," a September poll by the Palestinian Center
for Survey Research found.

As violent incidents and provocations by followers of both
factions mount, Abbas is considering other coercive means
amounting to a coup: dismissing the Hamas cabinet, forming
an "emergency" administration, and dissolving the
Hamas-dominated legislative council to make way for new
general elections which can be postponed indefinitely or
at least until a Fatah victory can be engineered.

The danger facing Palestinians is acute. But let us be
clear: it is not a threat of civil war. Among millions of
ordinary Palestinians, whether under Israel's brutal
occupation, living as second class citizens within the
"Jewish state," or in forced exile, there is no
disagreement remotely great enough that could get them to
turn brother against brother and family against family in
a civil war. On the contrary, Palestinians are united in
their understanding of what afflicts them -- Israeli
colonialism armed, backed and bankrolled by western
powers. The danger is of an armed coup staged on behalf of
these powers by a small minority, but which could drag
more Palestinians into internecine fighting whose
consequences are awful to contemplate.

Perhaps the most serious miscalculation Hamas has made is
to underestimate the determination with which the results
of democratic elections will be undermined and opposed if
they do not suit the interests of Israel and other world
powers. The reality is that the Palestinian Authority is
not and has never been a government for the Palestinian
people. The Palestinian Authority receives western backing
only to the extent that it directly and exclusively serves
their own and Israeli interests. It was designed to
protect the Israeli occupation against its victims; no one
will be permitted to turn it into a representative body
that fights for the rights and interests of Palestinians.
To avoid the lethal trap that is being set for them and
the Palestinian people, Hamas will either have to sell out
or get out.

Hamas has done the right thing by abandoning its campaign
of suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, observing an
ongoing voluntary truce and embracing politics. It should
now abandon the effort to hold on to the wreckage of the
powerless and discredited Oslo institutions. Instead, it
should turn its considerable popularity, organizational
skills and increased legitimacy into a full fledged
campaign of civil resistance, mobilizing together with
other sectors of Palestinian and global civil society
against every aspect of Israeli colonialism and racism.
This is the only thing it has not yet tried, and it holds
out the best hope for a way out of the dark tunnel.

EI contributor Hasan Abu Nimah was Jordanian Ambassador in
several European Union countries and at the United Nations
in New York. Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic
Intifada and author of "One Country, A Bold-Proposal to
End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse" (Metropolitan Books,

Sunday, October 08, 2006

An Un-Mitigated Disaster: An Interview with Dave Lindorff

Award winning investigative journalist Dave Lindorff has been working in journalism for 30 years. He is a regular columnist for Counter Punch (www.counterpunch.com), he also frequently writes for Salon magazine In These Times (www.inthesetimes.org), as well as for Businessweek (where he also spent several years as a correspondent in Hong Kong for the magazine), and the Nation.

Lindorff is the author of four books including: This Can’t be happening! (Common Courage Press, 2004), Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of for-profit hospital chains (Bantam, 1992), and Killing Time: An Investigation into the death Row case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003).

Lindorff is a two time Fulbright scholar and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Lindorff has been uncovering the truth about the bush administrations lies and cover-ups. In his most recent book, co-authored by Barbra Olshansky: The Case for impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martins Press, 2006), Lindorff lays out the reasons why President Bush should be impeached.

I spoke with Dave Lindorff via phone about the unabated power of the Bush White House, the war in Iraq, and what awaits America in the future.

Christopher Brown: Friday September 29th, 2006 signaled the death of the writ of habeas corpus. By a vote of 65 to 34 the Senate approved the Military Commission Act; essentially saying the president of the United States can detain someone indefinitely. A press that has become obsessed with a representative and his emails with a congressional page overshadowed this extremely important piece of legislation. Why has the media missed another opportunity to shed light on the erosion of our constitutional rights, and instead decided to focus on instant message sex talk?

Dave Lindorff: Let me jump aside on that and give you an illustration of how absurd it’s become. I got invited to speak at one of the World Can’t Wait rallies, this one happened to be in Philly (Philadelphia). So, I was on the stage and on the very public space of mall in front of the municipal offices building right across the street from City Hall. It was permitted rally there were a couple hundred young people there. As I was talking I noticed that there was a camera crew pointing a video camera at me, and I thought that was good. But, I went down afterwards figuring, hustler that I am, that I’d get an extra interview. But when I got up to them I realized the camera didn’t have any station letters on it, like they all do, advertising themselves. So I asked the guys who they were from and they didn’t answer at all. And instead, they turned the camera right on my face from a few feet away; and I said “your police aren’t you?” and they sort of grinned but they didn’t answer me.

I subsequently got confirmation from a guy who is an inspector, who is the head of the Philly Counter-terrorism Strike Task Force. And it turns out that they were working for him! So here’s this crew from the police department, unmarked they had no badges or anything, and they had another guy with them taking still pictures with their very high class SLR camera, with a telephoto lens, taking pictures of the audience, taking pictures of the speakers, videotaping the speakers, videotaping the audience, and so I ask this guy, this inspector; “Why are you doing this; You gave a permit to this group; you obviously didn’t think that they are a terrorist group or you wouldn’t have given them a permit for this demonstration?” and he said; “Well, you know there are anarchists who come to these events and they, you know, sometimes break windows and cause problems.” So I said; “Why are you taping the speakers?”

You know I’m laughing but this is the City that gave us The Bill of Rights and here’s what they’re filming. And I asked him what was gonna happen to the tape and he says: “Oh we’re just gonna tape over it at the next demonstration. We don’t keep those” Yeah right!

And what was pointed out to me by somebody later is the Terrorism Strike Force in all the cities around the country, and most police forces have them now because we have all this home-land security money to do it, are linked directly into what are called joint strike forces with home-land security, federal home-land security. So, you know that these tapes are going to drift over into federal possession.

Now you put that together with Bush’s new powers to declare everybody who criticizes him as a supporter of terrorism, and lock them up without a key and without a lawyer and it gets pretty heavy. And yet, when I called up the Inquirer (The Philadelphia Inquirer), the fifth largest media market in the Country, and asked them first of all why they weren’t at the rally, and they didn’t have a good answer to that. And then I said; “Well let me talk to your police reporter.” Because the police were taping it illegally, spying on the speakers and the attendees. And when I talked to the police reporter, she had no interest at all she said; “Well they’re allowed to do that. If I were walking down the street and took a picture of you that would be legal.’ She didn’t see anything wrong with it, and there’s not a story that’s going to appear. She actually seemed annoyed when I suggested that she call the Counter Terrorism Strike Force to confirm that they were the one’s that were doing it.

So it’s a mentality, when I confronted the civil affairs officer on hand at the rally, they usually have one of those guys wearing a police badge standing around watching, and asked him about these guys he says; “Oh your so 70s it’s the 21stCentury get with it.”

That’s the mentality were in a world where all of this stuff is suppose to be normal. It is “1984.” And that’s why the newspapers don’t cover it; they don’t consider this stuff to be out of line at all.

CB: President George W. Bush has made over 850 signing statements to assert that he has the power to disobey newly enacted laws is “an integral part” of his “comprehensive strategy to strengthen and expand executive power” at the expense of the legislative branch. Is the president using these signing statements to slowly condition Congress into accepting the White House’s broad conception of presidential power, which includes a presidential right to ignore laws he believes are unconstitutional?

DL: Yes, he’s usurping the power of the Congress and the courts. You’re right; it’s a sort of gradual process of convincing the Congress that it’s a vestigial body, and the courts don’t have any right to second-guess him.

CB: This past Wednesday, Iraqi authorities said they have suspended an entire brigade of as many as 1,200 police offices for suspected connections to a mass kidnapping and murder; the current death toll is 2,736 U.S. troops since the beginning of the war in March 2003; 2,667 Iraqi civilians died in the month of September, and another 2,994 were injured; several retired generals have demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld step down; more than half of Americans want a timetable set for withdrawal in Iraq; can it be said that it is better to cut and run than to stay and pray?

DL: Well of course it is, there’s nothing wrong with it. The term cut and run comes from the Navy and there’s nothing shameful about it at all. It actually dates back to when ships, sailing ships, in navies had anchors that had to be hauled up slowly by a bunch of sailors, and if a ship came under attack in the harbor, where it was a sitting duck, there was no time to get it moving or under sail by pulling up the anchor so they would slice the rope and let drift free so they could get the boat moving and make it a harder target to hit. And cutting and running meant getting the hell out of being a sitting duck. The alternative to cut and run is sitting duck, which is nothing to brag about and that is what basically are troops are in Iraq at this point. They’re sitting ducks. The reason we had high casualties this week is that Bush had to order them into Baghdad to put a damper on the civil war that we’ve started and so they’re getting killed in higher numbers because they’re sitting ducks. If anybody thinks that’s a good policy I’d like to hear them explain it.

CB: With the constant refrain of fear mongering that the Bush administration has thrust upon the American people, and the need to stay “ever vigilant,” “to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” are we in a run-up to a war with Iran or Syria?

DL: Oh I think it absolutely is. I have a piece in The Nation that I wrote about two weeks ago that looks at that. One little piece of it, which was the moving up of the deployment of an aircraft battle group in Norfolk, VA that is now going to be shipped early to arrive around late October off the coast of Iran.

That story came out about the same time as a cover story in Newsweek that said, a fleet of minesweepers was being sent to the Persian Gulf. Now think about that, there’s no reason to have minesweepers for the Iraq doesn’t have any navy and there’s no reason to have it for the Afghanistan conflict because Afghanistan is landlocked. So who are they sending minesweepers over for battle with? It’s Iran. Because, when we attack Iran there response is not going to be to fight us frontally, they’re not that stupid they’ll use alternative methods. One of the methods they have is to mine the Straits of Harmouz and shut down oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf. Because they won’t be able to ship any oil, so why would they want Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ship oil?

So that’s one thing they could do is destroy the Global economy. A second thing they could do is unleash the Shia militias, the Badda brigades, the Sadr brigades in Iran that are currently ignoring American troops and killing Sunnis, and have them turn on American troops. And when that happens there will be a lot higher casualties on Americans than there are now, probably on the number that we were getting in Vietnam. And yet, I think and I’m not the only one saying this I think Robert Shear said it Gary Hart has said it, Sam Gardner the retired Coronial from the naval military college has said it, it appears that the Bush administration and the Pentagon are going full tilt and are probably pass the point of no return on planning an aerial attack on Iran.

I think it is going to come before the election. I think that Bush is becoming increasingly desperate that he’s going to lose the House and be subject to impeachment. And I think that this guy is such a criminal that he’s liable to put us in this disastrous third war, even as we’re losing two, simply to protect his ass as president, as a criminal president. I think all signs are pointing in that direction.

CB: What about the report by the 16 U.S. spy agencies, in a National Intelligence Estimate, that was leaked to the press which said that; the U.S. invasion of Iraq has increased the overall terrorist threat by spawning a new generation of Islamic radicalism. After he initially refused to release the full report, President Bush reluctantly decided to release only portions of it; why will the President not release the full report?

DL: Clearly it’s going to be more devastating for him because these are his own agencies saying that he’s blown it. Its an un-mitigated disaster; half a trillion dollars, 2,700 American lives, and 100,000 Iraqi lives later their documenting the fact that he’s made one gigantic, colossal disaster.

It documents that he is the worse president in the history of the country, that’s what it does.

CB: Dave Lindorff, you and Barbra Olshansky co-authored a book entitled; “The Case For Impeachment: The legal argument for removing President George W. Bush from office.” If the Democrats take back the House and John Conyers is appointed chair of the judicial committee, will impeachment be seriously raised?

DL: I am absolutely convinced that we will have impeachment hearings. And the reason I say that is there are already 39 members of an impeachment caucus in the House, including Charlie Rangel, he’s one of the most powerful men in Congress and John Conyers too.

All it takes is one member of the House, one member of those 39 people to submit a bill of impeachment, and not only that there are people who are running for Congress now who are likely to win their seats, like a guy named Tribiano from Michigan, who’s out front in his race, and been campaigning on a platform that the first thing he’ll do, after taking office, is submit a bill of impeachment. There will definitely be people who will submit impeachment bills to a Democratic House; those bills will go to John Conyers judiciary committee; and they will lead to impeachment hearings. And the only question is whether the judiciary committee, under John Conyers, will vote themselves subpoena powers so that they can mandate that the low and middle level people who know the secrets of the White House, to come in and testify under oath under penalty of perjury. That’s what brought down Richard Nixon and that’s what I think will bring down George Bush.

CB: What is the solution to resolving the crisis in the Middle East and the terrorist threat in the United States, in your opinion?

DL: Well the terrorist threat is a joke. There is no terrorist threat that there has been around the World for decades. I mean, terrorism has been something that’s been with us; it’s been with the Spanish with the Basques; with the British with Northern Ireland; it’s been a fact of life in Palestine; it’s been a fact of life in Indonesia; it’s just something that happens.

I mean look at Oklahoma City, it only takes a couple of nuts with a chip on they’re shoulder to blow up a building and kill hundreds of people. You don’t destroy a 200-year old experiment in democracy because of that. And that’s where we’ve gone off the track.

The point is, it’s not about fighting terrorism, but is about rectifying the disaster we’ve created in the Middle East. Obviously the solution is that there has to be an equitable peaceful solution to the Palestine/Israel problem which means; there has to be two states in some fashion; there has to be a solution to the situation in Iraq because the U.S. has to get out of there and second of all reparations to that poor country for the damage we’ve caused; and at that point we can start to solve the problems that we’ve created there.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

“YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT’S NEXT”: An Interview with Barbara Lubin

Education plays a big part in Barbara Lubin’s life. In fact, it was education, a broad based education that made her realize that she was getting a distorted view of what went on in Israel and the occupied territories.

Lubin was born into a conservative Zionist family. She had been taught that the Jews needed to establish a state of their own; that what had happened to her relatives during WWII; when their land was occupied, and family members murdered in camps, should never happen again. For much of her life Barbara Lubin felt that the Zionist ideal was the right thing.

However, in 1982 her eyes were open to a new horror. A new form of occupation; an occupation enacted by Israelis. In 1982 the massacres of Shabra and Shatila occurred in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Lubin probed more and began to see that Eretz Israel (Greater Israel) was built on land owned by Palestinians. Since her awakening, Lubin has been a tireless promoter of Palestinian rights and recognition.

Lubin is the founder and executive director of The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) based in Berkeley; CA. MECA has delivered, since 1988, millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to children’s clinics, hospitals, schools, and women’s organizations in the Occupied Territories and Iraq. Her tireless work is an inspiration too many.

I received the chance to speak to Barbara Lubin, via telephone, about the growing crisis in The West Bank and Occupied Territories.

Christopher Brown: Barbara Lubin, your organization MECA, focuses on protecting and advocating for the rights of all people, especially children in the Middle East, specifically in occupied Palestine, Israel and occupied Iraq.

At present, Israel is continuing to carry out its military incursion “Summer Rain” in the Gaza Strip, an operation that was originally launched to retrieve a captured Israeli soldier. On Friday September 29th, just a few days before Yom Kippur, the Israeli military killed two Palestinian children, brothers ages 16 and 13, with a surface-to-surface missile while they rode their bikes near a gas station. Since this operation began more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, many of the victims were children; the Gaza power transformer was destroyed, food and medicine are in short supply. Is all of this necessary to rescue one soldier?

Barbara Lubin: Necessary? Of course it’s not necessary. And it’s really not about that. This behavior on the part of Israel has been going on now for many years. This is just the latest and, actually, one of the more brutal times that they have done this. But this isn’t new for Israel, of course its not to retrieve a soldier its about b ringing the people of Gaza to their knees, which they have, unemployment is up about 80 to 95%; hitting the electrical plant has been a disaster so, they had a very hot summer; the Palestinians have had to live without electricity for most of the day and night and they suffered horribly from the heat and lack of water; and from the in ability to bring to Gaza the food and medicine necessary to have healthy children.

Its not about the soldier (Cpl Giliad Shalit), its about making life so horrendous for people that hopefully they’ll just leave. Disappear, but its not new. People in Gaza have been suffering at the hands of the Israelis from the very beginning.

CB: Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to arrive in Israel this week in order to talk about “creative means” to strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. One such creative means is to move funds to the PA through Abbas, which has been unable to pay more than 165,000 civil workers since March. Are we seeing the U.S., trying to undermine a democratically elected government simply because it will not fall in line with U.S. foreign policy?

BL: Well of course, you know as far as Hamas is concerned, you have to look at Hamas in terms of the early intifada that started back in 1987, that is when Hamas began. They really didn’t have that much support inside Gaza or the West Bank. But the Israelis, in fact, allowed them to flourish to grow; they never arrested them they only arrested people in the “Left” organizations like; The Palestinian Communist Party, or the PFLP which is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or the DFLP the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but they never arrested the Hamas people, they allowed them to grow and to become as strong as they have become.

And, not to forget, that approximately 98% of all the money that Hamas has given and raised for Palestinians over the years been for clinics and pre-schools and helping people financially when they’re homes are demolished so that only a very small percentage of the money has gone into the armed struggle.

The Israelis have made it impossible now for the Palestinians to get any money to buy food for their families, to even survive. Since March of this year none of the people who work in the government or in places, like my friend Zacharia, in Jerusalem who works for the UNDP, the United Nations Development Project, none of them have been paid. And they have manipulated the banks for quite awhile. When Hamas was elected, Israel and the United States decided that they would do anything they could to turn the Palestinian people against Hamas. And they have not been successful; I think that Hamas has become even stronger as a result of this folly.

I’ll tell you a story. This summer I was in Palestine, I was in Gaza, with our Gaza development director for MECA, Dr. Mona Al Fara who works with Dr. Haider Al Shasi who works with the Red Crescent and who does wonderful work. And I was there with her (Dr. Mona), and I gave her a check for $10,000.00, because things are so horrible in Gaze. You know we are trying to get food and just basic health into people. And a few weeks later a woman works with me, and she was there, and I had sent another check for $9,000.00 to Dr. Mona, both of those checks Dr. Mona put in the bank. The money left the MECA account in the amount of $19,000.00 and has never been released to Dr. Mona.

So here we’ve lost $19,000.00 and Dr. Mona has not been able to get it. The Israelis have controlled everything. Over the years we have wired money, bank wires, and sometimes the money is held for three, four, five months at a time. There is total, complete control over the lives of the Palestinians; whether it’s the money in the bank, whether is the medicine at the hospital, whether the schools will be open, its complete. And it’s a very bad situation.

CB: The framers of the “Roadmap to Peace” have demanded that the Hamas led government; recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and abide by previous international laws. Why isn’t the same conditions being imposed upon Israel?

BL: Yeah well, this is the life. The United States and Israel want to, as I said, control everything. It has always amazed me that one people is asked to recognize, and the Israelis are never asked or forced to recognize the rights of Palestinians and it has always been like this. Its all part of the same story, Israel and the United States do not want a unity government. And I met with people from most factions when I was in Gaza this summer and they were working very hard at trying to pull together this unity government. But if the Palestinians are successful with this then what will happen is that all the money that is being held back, which was not given to the Palestinians particularly from the Europeans, will be flowing in again. And Israel doesn’t want this they want to starve them out. And that is why this whole idea of Fatah and Abbas, that is the only person they want to deal with because he’s they’re guy. He’s the guy that does the U.S. bidding and Hamas won’t.

CB: For years, many Palestinians who have foreign passports yet live in the occupied territories; have gone back and forth from Jordan to renew their three-month visitor visas. Many of those who must go through this process are political moderates with successful business, wanting to infuse the sagging Palestinian economy. Since the second intifada, Israel began denying these entrepreneurs reentry into the country. Tens of thousands seemed to be ensnared by an Israeli policy that has effectively frozen immigration to the Palestinian territories. Yet at the same time, someone with a Jewish identity can step off a plane at Ben Gurion airport and receive, not only citizenship, but also financial assistance. Why the double standard in a so-called democracy?

BL: Well you know you can’t call yourself a democracy; a government that has certain laws for one person based on their religion and separate laws for others, that’s not a democracy. Its wrong, clearly anybody who was born in Palestine and was forced out, and lets not forget that the majority have been living in some of the most horrific circumstances in refugee camps, particularly in Lebanon; it is unbelievable! The life there is beyond belief, and to say that they don’t have the right to go home, and yet people who are born in Poland, or who’s parents were born in Russia or anywhere in the World can go back just because their Jewish is racist and pretty outrageous.

CB: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approval ratings have been plummeting ever since the conclusion of the Lebanon war. At present his ratings stand at 22%. Ina recent poll conducted by Yedioth Ahronoth, 27% of those polled said they would want Benyamin Netanyahu to be prime minister, 15% choose Avigdor Lieberman, a right-winger from Yisrael Beitenu party, who say they would expel all Arabs from both Israel and the territories; and 7% or respondents would choose Olmert. Is there a chance that Israel might hold early elections and usher in a new more militant prime minister?

BL: Yeah, that’s a very real possibility, absolutely. I think that a majority of people in Israel would support Netanyahu; they certainly have in the past. And that is horrifying but you know what none of it is surprising too me. For those of us who have been involved in it, I’ve only been involved for 19 years, but this has been going on forever, since ’48, and you know it keeps going round and round. And clearly it’s to the point where we could see the end of the Palestinian movement, as we have known it so far. I think it is at a point that where it is very dangerous where you starve people. It’s the same kind of tactic that the United States used for many years against the people of Iraq; sanctions killing children, it was a disaster and the same kind of thing is happening here. It’s not that new for the Palestinians.

Don’t forget that during the 13 years of sanctions, the U.S. led sanctions, against the people of Iraq over a million people died. And 500,000 of them were under the age of five. They died from ordinary childhood diseases malaria and dysentery, and this in a country that was very modern and had gotten rid of all of these childhood diseases, they died because there was no clean water. Its very similar to what we did in Iraq to what we are doing in Gaza particularly since the capture of the soldier.

And in Palestine and Israel you never know what’s next. That’s been my experience never knowing what is gong to happen. It always changes and I’m never surprised. But the one thing that never changes is the fact that it gets worse and worse for the people that live there.

CB: How can people get more information about what is going on in Palestine/Israel and how can people find out about the work of MECA?

BL: They can go to our new website; www.mecaforpeace.org or they can always call us at 510-548-0542; of course we’re happy to talk and meet with anyone. And they also need to read about the truth of what has happened and what is happening. I have a suggestion that they read some the books by some of the Israelis, the anti-Zionists Israelis. And one of those people who is a hero of mine is Ilan Pappe, they should read Edward Said, there’s a lot of people who can give you all the information that you need. Its there you just have to put away these ideas that we’ve grown up with here in this country. And I know as well or better than anyone else what all of that is about.

I grew up here, and when I was a little girl I grew up in a very right-wing Zionist home. I was a Zionist up until very late, until ’82 until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Shabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres. I am a late bloomer to this movement. And I think if you can really get educated and really understand you should go over there. Go over there and see what life is like and see what its about. I really think that you have to see it to believe it.