Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mexico Canada US One Big Authoritarian Entity?

During the Vietnam war, American draft resisters found refuge in Canada. Those days are long gone. I’m not con-vinced that it’s just be-cause Canada has a Conservative Prime Minister that the country has emulated so much of our Homeland Security provisions, extending them to cover domestic dissent.

Whatever the reason, this much is certain: Canada is now more than ever an extension of the United States, and while it is probable that the North American Free Trade Agreement has something to do with it, the more deeper reasons are more worrisome. Sooner or later, the conflictive situation with Mexico will make it part of a North American Colossus - a desperate but probably futile effort to meet the challenges of China, India and Brazil.

What should make us take notice is that this is part of a larger conflictive situation: the grass roots of the world (no longer the workers or proletarians of the world), are finally getting it together. As it reports on efforts of the G8 and the G20 in Toronto to save the world economic system, the American media ignores the fact that 15,000 people are camping in tents in the industrial wasteland of Detroit, a predominantly black city that is finding new ways to live with the newly liberated land. Much less are Americans aware of similar experiments going on across their country - and nost others.

Today, in the tight credit market, CNN revealed to its viewers the existence of micro-finance, a concept for which a Bangladeshi, Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank that makes loans to peasants, mainly women, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Only ten years behind, CNN! Bravo! A few weeks ago your founder, Ted Turner, long ago ousted, was given a tour of the Atlanta headquarters after a remake, and when he was asked by your friendliest anchor, Fredricka Whitfield, whether he had any unfulfilled wishes, he said he had always wished that CNN would cover more foreign news. Alas!

The fact that political junkies can turn to the internet hardly makes up for the failure of the Mainstream Media (or MSM as it is known), to bridge the oceans that have for two hundred years complacently separated Americans from the rest of the messy world. Why? Because even the most highly regarded on-line resources such as Huffington Post, Truth-Digg, Common Dreams, to name but a few, are mainly concerned with who said what to whom on the domestic front.

I’m lucky to receive internet newsletters and blogs in other lan-guages that I read, and although many of these, like their American counterparts, are mainly concerned with national issues, there are a growing number of on-line news publications that have an international focus, and some of them make the effort to publish in several languages.

This is not where I meant to go with this blog, so the names of these multi-lingual newsletters will have to wait for my next blog. I want to get back to the idea of a North American colossus, in which Mexican manpower plays a similar role to that of China’s rural population.

The two sides in the immigration debate are irreconcilable as things now stand: But one could imagine the creation of a political entity similar to the European Union, that would link the U.S. with Canada and Mexico in such a way as to get around that problem and create a more competitive economy. One would have to hope that such an entity would not more closely resemble the authoritarian Chinese regime than the European.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A World of Walls

My head is spinning. The amount of evidence pointing to the com-plete discombobulation of the world that one receives from just an hour of TV is overwhelming.

Today, I was fresh from the viewing, last night, of the new documentary Gasland, by Josh Fox, whose family is offered $100,000 for the gas rights under their Pennsylvania portion of the Marsellus Shale. This is a must-see film that reveals a continent-wide landscape studded by hydraulic fracturing towers for the extraction of liquid gas, a sight which is disturbingly similar to the thousands of drilling rigs studding the Gulf of Mexico.

Realizing how much is being put over on us, on land and on sea, I turn on CNN to learn that the day’s subject of burning (sic) concern is the first anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson. The networks continue to ignore the 15,000 people gathered since yesterday for the second US Social Forum in Detroit, emblem of industrial decline and the citizen-propelled sustainable renewal who are trying to show that “Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary”.

At noon, tuning in to Democracy Now on the Drexel University channel (which has recently taken to loping off not the last five minutes, but the last ten or twelve minutes of the hour-long show), I’m just in time to hear Amy Goodman describe the unprecedented security walls erected in Toronto for the meetings of the G8 and the G20. Last night the BBC gave only a passing mention to the automobile stuffed to the gills with arms and gasoline that was stopped, quoting the police that there was no evidence that this vehicle, whose closed roof rack was also stuffed with arms, had any link to terrorism.

Today on the Toronto river bank, a police vehicle drew up as a Montreal-based political activist was telling Amy Goodman that the police sought information about him even from artist friends, and just as I was picturing in my mind’s eye a medieval walled castle, the young man said: “We’re living in a world of walls, the Berlin Wall, the Mexican border wall, the Israeli wall, etc.” And I thought: ‘We haven’t made much progress since the Middle Ages.’

In those days walls were to keep out rudimentarily-armed soldiers, while today walls are to keep in - or out - unarmed civilians. And our media walls are keeping other, unarmed civilians from knowing about the concrete and barbed wire walls governments increasingly use to keep us in line.

As our corporate leaders mindlessly scrounge for the last vestiges of fuel for economies devoted to the consumption of largely unneces-sary products, imperiling water supplies and arable land, people across the globe are banding together (as in primitive times?), determined to wrest control of their lives from the techno-monster, that rules us, creating community vegetable gardens on Detroit’s abandoned lots, housing communities in its abandoned factories, meaningful lives for the handicapped, and a host of other bottom-up initiatives that the G8 and the G20 try to pretend are irrelevant.

To remain sane, the rest of us have to tell ourselves that thanks to our combined efforts, like the kings and counts of yore, our robber barons will some day become irrelevant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Israel and International Law

Today Otherjones is publishing a text by Professor Curtis Doebbler, professor of law at An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine, representative of Nord Sud XXI to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, and a member of the Brussells Tribunal Advisory Committee. The link is

"The starting point for any consideration of international law in relation to “the question of Palestine” — as the UN neutrally refers to it — is the right to self-determination. No right has been more important to so many peoples and states in the international community. Although we have a tendency to devote more attention to the international law of self-determination as it developed since the creation of the United Nations, the right to self-determination in the form that it is more relevant to “the question of Palestine” existed much earlier. In fact, this right can be traced back to the very existence of the nation-state, when it was decided that people living together in a particular territory have the right to form themselves into a sovereign state.

In other words, when there is no existing state, the right of self-determination gives the people concerned the right to form their own state. Applied to Palestine this means that after World War I when the Ottoman Empire was forced to relinquish sovereign over Palestine and when the British conquerors expressly denounced any interest in ruling Palestine, since that time the people living in Palestine have had the right to decide their own future.

As we know, this right was never recognised. Instead, first Britain and the international community acting through the United Nations denied the Palestinian people this right. This violated international law, as there is nothing in the UN Charter that allows the organisation the right to violate the right to self-determination. In fact, Article 1 of the UN Charter makes the right to self-determination one of the purposes for which the United Nations exists.

According to international law existing at the time, the creation of the State of Israel was illegal. Moreover, we know that once an illegal act has been committed by states, the consequences of that act remain illegal and may not be recognised as legal by other states. Thus even today it is correct to say that Israel is an illegal state and has been since its creation, no matter what its de facto position might be.

Even if one were to acknowledge the creation of Israel by the UN General Assembly’s adoption of resolution 181 on 29 November 1947, that resolution itself states, in Part 1, Subsection A, Paragraph 3, that “independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem … shall come into existence in Palestine.” In other words, in the very same paragraph as the State of Israel is created, so is the state of Palestine and the “international” city of Jerusalem.

Neither Israel nor the international community have respected the terms of this resolution. Instead, not only has Palestine been denied statehood, but also Palestinians are being offered about 3.5 per cent of the territory to which they had — and have — a right under the “roadmap” that the Quartet stresses as the basis for negotiations. Instead of a solution, this looks more like the theft of the right of self-determination from the Palestinian people.

Moreover, Israel has continued from 1947 to date to violate UN resolutions with impunity.

The occupation and international law

Just a day before the UN actually created the State of Israel, Israel proclaimed its own independence. Again this was done in violation of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and in violation of the League of Nations Mandate to the British, which was still in effect.

When the Arab states took up arms to defend the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, Western states — as they had done regularly for centuries — supported the colonisation of Palestine by Zionists claiming to have a right to create the State of Israel. Whatever religious, historical or political basis the Zionists had, they did not have any grounds under international law and in fact violated this law.

Rather than reacting to a violation of international law, the international community allowed Israel to act unlawfully and even ratified the de facto outcome of the occupation of Palestine. Even territories that the international community agreed did not come under any Israeli claim were allowed to be annexed. The process of annexation continues to this day.

According to the United Nations, parts of the territory over which the Palestinians were denied their right to self-determination became Israel. About 45 per cent of the original mandate territory was considered by the UN as occupied.

Putting aside disagreement about Israel’s illegitimacy, according to Article 47 of the Hague Regulations annexed to the Fourth Hague Convention from 1907, an act of occupation become de jure when the occupying power de facto exercises jurisdiction over a territory. By the 1970s, Israel had de facto jurisdiction over all of the mandate territory, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and parts of Southern Lebanon. As such Israel became an occupying power over these territories and people within in them.

Somewhat like a mandate holder under the League of Nations system, Israel was therefore required by the rules of international humanitarian law to provide for the occupied population under its control. This means ensuring proper administration, judicial facilities, educational facilities, and healthcare facilities. Instead, Israel has increasing denied Palestinians these services. This has been most notably the case in Gaza.

While claiming to be acting in the name of national security, Israeli soldiers have shot and killed infants, children, women and men. Israel has repeatedly denied Palestinians the right to reach school and hospitals. And Israel regularly imposes it own administrative system of checkpoints and other forms of harassment, including its own courts, on Palestinians. All of these actions violate the international legal duties of an occupying power.

Israel’s actions denying the people of Gaza the basic necessities of life are a particularly onerous form of oppression that violates norms of international humanitarian law including the prohibition against collective punishment that is found in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The right of self-defence

Israel has repeatedly invoked its right of self-defence to fight back against the Palestinians. While it is true that Israel may have a right to use force to protect itself from attack, it cannot justify the use of force to perpetuate an illegal situation. Thus, if one views the creation of Israel to be illegal, then so is any force used to maintain this illegal situation.

Even states entitled to use force in self-defence must satisfy several criteria. There must first be an armed attack against the state by another state, and any force used must be proportionate and necessary to achieve a lawful objective.

As indicated above, even if Israel had been entitled to use force against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla — which it was argued it was not — it would have only been able to use proportionate and necessary force.

A more interesting question is what type of force might be used against Israel, as it is the entity that has and continues to violate international law.

First, the UN Security Council could authorise the use of force against Israel, but this is a political decision that Israeli friends with veto power on the Security Council are likely to prevent.

Second, the UN General Assembly could authorise the use of force against Israel. This could be done by a simple majority of the assembly with no state having veto power. The action of the General Assembly is limited while the Security Council is seized of a matter, and arguably, acting on it, but it is the General Assembly that has the power to decide this question.

Third, Palestinians have a legitimate right of self-determination that entitles them to use force against Israel. Such use of force, although prima facie legal under international law, must conform to the rules of international humanitarian law. These rules include prohibition of attacks against civilians, either by design or because they are indiscriminate.

And fourth, every state in the international community has the right to assist the Palestinians in their struggle, including their armed struggle, to achieve their right to self-determination. Again, of course, such assistance must conform to the rules of international humanitarian law.

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is an example of such assistance. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a general phrase that can be used to describe the boats attempting to bring humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. Even the Israelis do not deny that the boats are bringing humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, Israel sees itself as entitled to stop the boats based on its suspicion that they will assist the self-determination struggle of the Gaza people, particularly their use of force against Israel.

The problematic nature of this argument is readily apparent. How can a state that is violating international law by subjecting an occupied people to inhuman and collective punishment justify actions to maintain its illegal ways? The simple answer is that it cannot. It is violating international law merely by maintaining an illegal regime, and just about everything it does that serves that end is illegal. This was the case with South Africa as it struggled to maintain its illegal apartheid regime. It increasingly exercised police powers to maintain its illegal hold over black South Africans. Sometimes the police acted less forcefully, and sometimes, black South Africans were subjected to court proceedings, but irrespective of the standards of these “concessions”, the South African government was acting illegally. Two UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Palestine — one a South African anti-apartheid campaigner and one a Jewish American professor — have criticised Israel for its illegal actions that they refer to as similar to, or worse than, the South African apartheid government’s actions.

The Israel argument is sometimes expressed in a more nuanced form concerning its embargo on Gaza. It claims that it no longer occupies Gaza and is therefore entitled to act against it in self-defence, through an embargo and the interdiction of ships bringing humanitarian assistance. The legal errors in this argument are many.

First, Israel interdicted the Gaza ships on the high seas. No state is allowed to stop and board ships on the high seas without the permission of the ship, unless the ships have been involved in international piracy. In fact, to act in violation of this fundamental rule of international law is itself piracy. Moreover, the crew of a ship under attack by pirates or unauthorised persons attempting to enter their ship by force are entitled to use necessary and proportionate force to repel the illegal invaders. In this case, this would mean that the ships crew would be entitled to use force that is equivalent to that of as highly qualified and heavily armed invader as the Israeli military.

Second, according to Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua Case, the provision of humanitarian assistance to people in need, especially under occupation, is always allowed and never an unfriendly act.

Third, the preventing of humanitarian assistance to a people in need is itself an illegal act.

Despite the importance of international law, this law is impotent unless it is applied, and Israel and its allies have proven themselves to be quite intransigent in their failure to respect international law. The law, nevertheless, is a powerful tool in the hands of those who seek to promote the rule of law.

Thus even if states like Israel do not respect the law, the law continues to exist as a minimum common denominator that has been agreed upon by states in the international community. It continues to serve as the best chance we have to live together, not even as friends, but merely without annihilating each other.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Morning Madness

What wackiness to wake up to on a Sunday morning! On CNN’s State of the Union, Joe Lieberman tells Candy Crowley that the government should police the internet - taking China as an example!

A stunning example of the fact that, as I have written elsewhere, however different their regimes, and notwithstanding their external antagonisms, political leaders share a common attitude vis a vis their subjects.

But would internet security suddenly have become a burning issue had the cooperatively-run internet site Wikileaks - which, coincidentally, Wikipedia says was founded by Chinese dissidents some years ago - not recently show an American helicopter gunship deliberately targeting and killing a dozen civilians and wounding two children in Afghanistan? The footage, complete with the two-way ground-to-air conversation was leaked by an American soldier, who has been arrested, and a hunt is on for Julian Assange, the Australian who is the public face of Wikileaks, now and not for the first time, in hiding.

But let’s not lose the thread here: Senator Lieberman is proposing legislation that would authorize the White House to prevent use of the internet that could threaten our national security - as does China, a country which is officially Communist, and in any case recognized as an authoritarian regime. Yet Senator Lieberman, like most of his colleagues in the Congress, would not be caught dead recommending that the United States emulate in any way, shape or form, the social-democratic countries of Europe, which, as the world stands today, are widely considered to be the best that humans have achieved so far in terms of governance.

As for where the world stands today, an Arizona lawmaker proposes that birth certificates be denied children of illegal immigrants, never mind that according to the Constitution, any person born on U.S. soil is an American citizen; and Israelis of European origin demonstrate against having their children schooled together with those of Sephardic, usually North-African, origin.

More encouragingly, civilians around the world are increasingly adopting similar attitudes toward those that govern them, whether it be Americans on the Gulf Coast tired of waiting for government and BP to clean up the oil mess, college students voting to divest from companies doing business with Israel, West bank Palestinians boycotting settler products, South American Indians or Africans of the Niger Delta suing big oil for polluting their lands.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stick the Black Guy with the Bill

Americans are amazing: we have the best president since Franklin Roosevelt, and yet, even the so-called liberal media can’t stop finding fault. This is proof, if ever it was needed, that tv anchors are paid to provide suspense, not information. They speculate endlessly on what negative effect this or that policy decision, speech, or encounter will have on the 2012 election.

Their endless harping on President Obama’s “performance” feeds negative poll results. It’s no surprise that 52% of voters are dissatisfied with the President’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, when they hear nothing but criticism on TV! Questions to actors in the BP disaster have only one purpose: to elicit negative appraisals of the administration's behavior.

President Bush failed by every criteria when Katrina struck, yet this was a natural disaster that had been waiting to happen (with insufficient protection for New Orleans); policemen shot people hovering under a bridge, the thousands that took refuge in a sports complex had no water for days, yet the only thing on the minds of officials was the possibility of looting. People clung to anything that floated til they were (sometimes) rescued. And “Brownie” was praised.

I think Americans have forgotten just how incompetent the Bush administration was. And ironically, because it was so incompe-tent, they expect nothing less than miracles from his successor. As the President would say, “Let’s be clear”: No human being has ever been responsible for the number of catastrophes and blunders this president inherited. The greatest economic debacle since 1929 began before he entered the Oval Office and is not over. He inherited two and a half wars in Southwest Asia - with two more looming in the Horn of Africa; is expected to finally end Israel’s war with the Palestinians, of which we are a part. Meanwhile, at home he’s facing a border/drug/arms crisis with Mexico, largely because the previous admi-nistration did not implement immigration reform.

And he should have made sure the rot in the Office of Minerals Management was dug out so that the greatest ecological disaster the country has ever known would not strike a still recovering Gulf Coast?! Even as other industrial disasters occur almost daily, and while the coal industry continues mountain-top mining of the most polluting substance?

Americans cursed and wrung their hands for eight years over the most inept AND crooked president the country has ever had (not to mention a Darth Vader vice-president), then, having managed to beat the skeptics and the racists and elect a man who is his exact opposite, who could produce the kind of outcomes most of us are desperate for, we feel betrayed because he doesn’t have a magic wand.

We fault him for bowing to the generals’ demand for a surge in Afghanistan after eight years of wasted efforts to turn a tribal country into a liberal democracy (which suddenly, turns out to have untapped precious minerals galore). The same explanation prevails for Obama’s failure to endorse calls in Copenhagen for serious action on climate change: one of his hands is tied by the military complex, the other by the industrial complex, and alas, he’s not Houdini.

The larger picture is this: pre-Reconstruc-tion Americans are determined to make America’s first black president pick up the tab for the disasters created by his pre-decessors, not only to ensure he cannot be reelected, but also to preclude another such crazy idea from entering the heads of voters - who might dare to back an Asian or Hispanic for president next time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Israel’s Superman Complex

Friday, June 4th:I know that ore than half of the volunteers in the flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza were Turks, but does that statistic explain why all of this killed were Turks? (One held an American passport but was of Turkish origin.) Would Turks stand out among fair-skinned Americans, British, French, etc. individuals on board the Turkish ship that was boarded in a pre-dawn raid last Monday?

One of the early Israeli reports said that its soldiers were surprised to hear ‘Arabic’ (more likely Turkish) being spoken on the ship. I have not heard anyone raise this issue. Why? Racial profiling isn’t an American monopoly.

Saturday: On today's news, someone was suggesting that the Israeli attackers had a hit list. Maybe they didn’t have a list, but the idea would certainly suggest that they were instructed to use racial profiling.

After seeing the recent film “Inglorious Basterds” by Quentin Tarantino it occured to me that the Israelis are on a master race kick. In the film, a group of Jewish Americans inflict a series of vicious punishments on Third Reich combatants, ending with the assassination of Hitler and his entire general staff! Tarantino fans like the fact that the film is horrendously violent. As a film lover, I do not recommend it. Aside from that, I believe that it unapologetically represents a communal Israeli dream of being able to overcome even the most powerful enemies.

Israel’s handling of relief efforts for the people of Gaza would seem to confirm that the country is under a sort of superman spell. How long before it wakes up?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

[caption id="attachment_867" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="From the good ship Rachel Corrie"]tossing a life preserver[/caption]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Definition of 'Boarding'

Although the American Heritage Dictionary refers to ‘entering’ or going aboard a vehicle or ship, the Israeli army’s reference to its troops ‘going aboard’ the Turkish ship carrying relief supplies does not evoke men rappelling down from a helicopter in full riot gear in the middle of the night.

How to be surprised that they were greeted with clubs and knives?

A ‘boarding party’ comes alongside a ship on another ship, and requests permission to come aboard. Usually in broad daylight.

Israel could have done this, in order to inspect the cargoes being carried, which could then have been ‘safely’ delivered to Gaza.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Unheard Of!

There is a famous French nursery rhyme that says “My heart cannot choose between the Christine and Brigitte.”

What transpired today, between endless chatter about the oil spill, and brief allusions to Israel’s attack on unarmed civilians in the high seas, is that the United States is going to have to choose between two long-time allies: Israel and Turkey.

To be sure, the nature of our relations with these two countries is not the same: Israel is a sixty-year old love story that grew out of the Second World War. Turkey was “the southern bulwark against the Soviet Union“ during the Cold War, and more recently, has been indispensable to our pursuit of military operations in Iraq. And now, at a time when, according to CNN, the U.S. needs Turkey’s support to pass a sanctions resolution against Iran, Turkey today declared that Israel had forfeited its right to be considered a respected member of the international community.

By late afternoon, it transpired that Turkey had gone further: it demanded that the United States join the Security Council’s condemnation of Israel. Imagine! A not-so-long-ago third world country demanding a certain behavior of the world superpower!

The full impact of this development has probably not dawned in Washington yet. Or if it, has, Washington will pretend nothing is amiss. But this is as significant a development as the Gulf oil spill: from now on, we can start keeping a record of the ways in which the world spells out for the United States the fact that it no longer calls the shots.