Free Political Detainees Firas Omary and Suleiman Agbariya!

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When the “Northern” Islamic Movement was outlawed by the Israeli government, in November 2015, it was a relatively low-profile event. It came almost three decades after the Islamic Movement replaced the Israeli Communist Party as the main mass political organization within the 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs that survived the 1948 ethnic cleansing and are formally regarded citizens of the state of Israel. (“Northern” relates to an internal split that took place within the Islamic Movement in the nineties, when the more pragmatic “Southern” wing decided to participate in the Zionist Knesset, while the more popular and militant “Northern” wing concentrated on grass-root organization.)

You Can’t Outlaw Life

The outlawing of the movement was not followed by detentions or physical attacks – instead the oppression apparatus preferred to concentrate on rooting out the many NGOS, educational and welfare institutions that were identified with the movement. Confiscating the funds that were distributed regularly to poor Arab orphans was no doubt a lucrative profitable business for the Israeli Shabak (GSS). But, anyway, outlawing the biggest political movement of a community that struggles daily for its survival and human and social rights within a systematic apartheid system was due to add a new aspect of illegality to any public expression or struggle.

Free Dr Sleiman Agbariya

Dr. Suleiman Agbariya in the protest tent against the outlawing of the Islamic Muvement, Umm Al-Fahm

Back in November 2015, the response of the Palestinian population was also relatively low profile. The united position of all the parties that are active within the Arab public was expressed by the “High Follow Up Committee” denouncing the outlawing of the movement as an anti-democratic and racist step, targeting all the Arab masses as part of a much wider oppressive wave led by the Israeli government. There was one mass demonstration in Umm Al-Fahm, the biggest city in the Arab Triangle and the traditional capital of the Islamic Movement, a big and very lively protest-tent there and some other activities around the country. But basically the Arab Palestinian public opinion is totally disregarded in Israeli politics. People are fully aware that there is now way that the Arabs can “save” or “defend” Israel’s fake democracy when its government is determined to tear it to pieces.

Firas al-Omary - with writing

Human Rights activists – Firas Omary

The outlawing of the Islamic Movement didn’t “solve” any of the issues that motivated its struggle or caused people to support it. Israeli provocations in Al-Aqsa mosque continue as well as constant offences against Palestinian cemeteries, holy sites and the population in general. As the expression of protest “in the name of the movement” was banned, more energy is invested in united action under the name of local committees and national coordination bodies under the umbrella of the Follow-Up Committee. One example of such democratic united struggle was the campaign of demonstrations against administrative detention and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Hunger strike.

Escalating Political Detentions

It was strange enough that the first time we heard about political detention as result of the outlawing of the Islamic Movement was the case of an old woman from Al-Quds (Jerusalem). Her main activity was to pray regularly in Al-Aqsa mosque. Over the last year many of those caring for Al-Aqsa, praying there or organizing travel to the mosque from around the country were arrested. In this way the Israeli government actually vindicates the claim of the Islamic Movement that changing the status quo in Al-Aqsa is a strategic goal consistently pursued by the state of Israel. The latest case escalating the persecution of Al-Aqsa lovers was the administrative detention of Muhammad Ibrahim from Kabul.

In the meantime Sheikh Raed Salah, the charismatic, soft-spoken and widely popular leader of the movement, Spent 9 months in prison on old “incitement” charges, related to a speech he gave in Al-Quds some ten years ago.

But a new wave of detentions in the last weeks looks like an attempt by the Israeli police and GSS to bend the rules farther against any kind of political activities, going after central political leaders and subjecting them to secret interrogation while denying their basic rights for legal protection.

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Israeli occupation police was here – Firas Omary’s house after his detention

At 1:00 after midnight, on March 22, 2017, Israeli forces surrounded and invaded the house of Firas Omary in Sandala, a village inside the “Green Line” on the road between Afula and Jenin. They awakned the family, terrorizing the small kids, and searched the house in a way that is designed to show force and contempt more than to find anything. They took with them Mr Omary, the leader a prisoners’ rights NGO named “Yusouf Al-Sadiq” and a central activist in “the liberties committee” – an organ of the Follow-Up Committee that specializes in defending political freedoms and caring for the human rights of Palestinian prisoners.

On April 2, another post-midnight police operation targeted in a similar way the house of Suleiman Agbariya, the previous mayor of Umm Al-Fahm. According to Richard Silverstein in Tikun Olam there are now 5 ex-activists of the outlawed Islamic Movement that are now detained in this wave. Even Silverstein that usually knows all the unpublished details about oppression in Israel couldn’t get the names of the other three.

Denial of legal counsel and defence

Closed doors

Behind closed doors – Omary’s remand hearing in Nazareth

When Mr. Omary was brought before the Nazareth court for remand, on March 22, it came out that he is not allowed to meet his (or any other) lawyer. The court extended his detention for six days.

On Tuesday, March 28, I was in the vast waiting halls of the Nazareth court building when Mr. Omary was brought for a second remand. I met there dozens of the central activists of the different Palestinian movements within the green line (those parts of Palestine that are occupied since 1948), in addition to relatives of the detainee. Nobody was allowed in to the hearing, in front of Judge Lily Jung-Goffer, except for the lawyers from Al-Mizan, a Legal Human Rights NGO.

The prevention of contact between the detainee and his lawyers is not only designed to deprive him from legal counsel so that he will not be aware to his rights according to the law. It is also a very important part of the practice of isolating the detainee from the world while he is being subjected to harsh interrogation, aimed to provoke psychological breakdown. For this reason it is not only that the detainee is not allowed to meet his lawyer in private – he is even prevented from seeing him in the court room.

The lawyers out

Mizan lawyers had to leave the courtroom

To achieve this, the detainee was not present at most stages of this own remand hearing. After the legal argument finished, the defense lawyer was instructed to leave the courtroom so that the judge will speak with the detainee without his presence. Only after Mr. Omary was taken away his lawyers were allowed to return to the hall to hear the judge extending the detention for another 6 days.

On Monday, April 3, Omary’s detention was remanded again for another 6 days. He’s expected to appear in the Nazareth court again on Sunday, May 9, the same day that Dr. Agbariya is expected to be brought before the court in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv.

(There are some more details about the case of Firas Omary in a previous Hebrew post in Haifa Ha-Hofshit)

 

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The Poet’s Trial: How to Prove a Poem?

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Below is a report about the Sunday, March 19th, hearing in the trial of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour. An edited version of this report was published in the +972 site. This article was also translated to Spanish by Rebellion.

Arresting a poet for publishing a poem is extraordinary enough. Putting her on trial while a translation of the poem by a policeman is fully cited at the center of the indictment made thing surreal. Last week the defence case laid the lyric response by bringing a literature expert and a translator to testify in court. Update about the unprecedented trial of Poet Dareen Tatour.

The poet’s ordeal

It is almost a year and a half since Poet Dareen Tatour was arrested from her home in Reineh (near Nazareth) on the 11th of October 2015. She spent 3 months in different prisons and half a year in house detention in exile in Kiryat Ono. Now she is still under strict house detention in her home as the trial against her on charges of incitement is grinding to its end in the Nazareth Magistrate’s court.

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Waiting for the hearing to begin

The prosecution finished to rest its case in September 2016. Most of it was designed to prove that Tatour’s Facebook account belonged to her and that she really published the poem and the two Facebook statuses that are the subject of the indictment.

On November Tatour testified in the court and admitted that she published those publications in their Arabic original. She explained that she expressed a legitimate protest against the occupation denouncing the crimes that are committed against the Palestinians by the army and the settlers. She said that the police translation distorted her texts. Over three long days of counter interrogation, in November and January, she was grilled by prosecution attorney Alina Hardak that tried to make her “confess” her “support of terrorism”, but she solidly defended her principles.

Should poets be arrested?

On Sunday, March 19, defence lawyers Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati brought two expert witnesses to testify before Judge Adi Bambiliya-Einstein.

The first witness was Prof. Nissim Calderon, an expert on Hebrew literature. In his written expert opinion he stated that there are special rules concerning the free expression of poets. He described a long tradition of poets that used harsh words in response to oppression or injustice, sometimes clearly calling for violent actions. He concluded that such calls in the context of poetry were not legally persecuted even by very oppressive regimes like the Tsarist regime in Russia or the British Mandate in Palestine.

Dareen and Propf Calderon smaller

Dareen Tatour and Prof. Calderon

Prof. Calderon chose three of the most prominent Hebrew poets and brought specific examples of their subversive texts. He cited Bialik writing that “With furious cruelty / We will drink your blood mercilessly”. In other lyrics, also cited, Tchernichovsky says “Give me my sword, I won’t return it to its scabbard / What did my lips elicit? I want battles”. Despite these clear calls for violence by leading Jewish poets, the anti-Semitic Tsar’s secret police didn’t arrest or prosecute them.

The third example cited in length by Prof. Calderon was the case of right-wing Zionist poet Uri-Tsvi Greenberg. He openly incited for violence and was actually a member and ideologue of the explicitly named “Brit Ha-Biryonim” (The Thugs Alliance) that organized violent resistance to the British occupation but was not punished for his poems.

In cross examination the prosecutor tried to imply that Greenberg was not arrested for his poetry because the British Mandate didn’t prosecute inciters. No, said Calderon, my uncle was exiled from Palestine because he supported illegal Jewish immigration. When the prosecutor suggested that the immunity of poetry should be limited at tense times, he mentioned that the British didn’t prosecute Greenberg even as he called for resistance to their rule at the time that they were fighting the Nazis in the Second World War.

What did the poet mean?

Both the prosecutor and the judge already understood that they have a problem with the police translation of Tatour’s poem. The policeman that translated it had no specific expertise in translation. When he testified in court he was asked why he was chosen to translate the poem and answered that he learned literature in high-school and loves the Arabic language.

Yoni Mendel

Dr. Yoni Mendel – opening a window to understand Palestinian way of thinking

When Tatour testified, the prosecutor wanted her to give her own translation to Hebrew, but she refused, saying that she doesn’t know Hebrew well enough to translate poetry. The prosecutor wanted her to read the poem in Arabic so that the court’s translator will translate it and the words will be written in the protocol as her own words. She refused.

Maybe they felt some relief as the defence brought its own translation of the poem, made by Dr. Yoni Mendel, an experienced literary translator and a researcher of the Arabic language in its social context and its role in Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine. His translation was significantly different from the one in the indictment. He testified as an expert that the police’s translation is deliberately and systematically distorting the text to make it appear extremist and violent.

The most blatant contradiction between the two translations was in the following lines: “Do not fear the tongues of the Merkava tank \ The truth in your heart is stronger \ As long as you rebel in a land \ That has lived through raids but wasn’t exhausted.” The last two verses were translated by the policeman to “As long as you resist in a land \ Long live the Gazawat and will not tire”. Typically the policemen left the word “Gazawat” in Arabic, probably because he didn’t find the proper word. In his testimony he explained that the word was used by Arab tribes at the time of the Jaheliya (before Islam) to describe attacks on other tribes for robbery or enslaving women. Where the text clearly speaks about the raids that the Palestinians are subjected to as victims, the police translation transformed the victim into the aggressor.

Who are the martyrs?

On a more profound level, much of the emphasis about the translation, and much of the counter interrogation, surrounded around the sentence “Follow the convoy of martyrs”. The Arabic word for “martyrs”, Shuhadaa, was not translated to Hebrew by the police translator but grammatically adjusted to Hebrew to become “Shahidim”. In his expert opinion and enlightening explanation in the court Dr Mendel showed how basic Arabic terms are kept in Arabic in a way that neutralizes their original meaning and the basic human empathy that this meaning implies. Instead Arabic words like Shahid or Intifada acquire new threatening meanings in Hebrew far from their original context.

Lawyer Gaby Lasky

Lawyer Gaby Lasky – All the objections were refused

He explained that for the Palestinian Arab public the word martyrs refers to all the victims of the occupation, the majority of them didn’t even try to resist. It is an Israeli invention to interpret the word “Shahid” as referring to those Palestinians that died while attacking Israelis. In the specific context of Tatour’s poem, Mendel supported his interpretation by the fact that the poem relates to three specific martyrs: 16-years old Muhammad Abu-Khdeir from Jerusalem who was kidnapped and burned alive, Baby Ali Dawabsheh who was burned with his parents in his home at Duma and Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun who was shot at an army checkpoint in Al-Khalil.

The prosecutor tried to prove that the interpretation of “Shuhadaa” as victims was wrong as, after all, the poet couldn’t advise her readers to be murdered like them. Dr. Mendel explained that the call to follow the martyrs didn’t mean a wish to die but a more general concept of following their heritage: Embrace bereaved families, don’t give up the struggle and refuse to accept solutions that deny Palestinian national and human rights.

Solidarity

The case of poet Dareen Tatour became a symbol for the hundreds of cases where Israel is persecuting Palestinians over political expression, mostly in social media. Many poets, writers, intellectuals and activists, both in the country and abroad, expressed their solidarity with her and called for her immediate release and for the charges against her to be dropped. Pen International and related writers organizations all over the world adopted the case.

The fact that leading intellectuals like Prof. Calderon and Dr. Mendel volunteered to give evidence and endure torturing counter-interrogation (Dr. Mendel was grilled for 5 hours) is the last example how this trial resonated in much of the liberal public opinion. Now defenders of the right of expression and free arts also collect money to help with the legal expenses, which till now fell solely on the poet’s family.

On Tuesday, March 28, the last defence witnesses should give evidence. As the sides will summarize in writing, it will be probably the last hearing before the verdict will be given, maybe two or three months from now. The maximum penalty might be up to 8 years in prison. An appeal from one or both sides is very likely in this high profile case. In the meantime poet Dareen Tatour is under house arrest and might easily stay so for full two years before the judicial decision about the meaning of her poem.

(If you know Hebrew you can read more about this hearing in Haifa HaHofshit, Local Call and HaOketz).

Free Muhammad Ibrahim – Administrative Detainee from Kabul in the Galilee!

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When the news about the administrative detention of Muhammad Ibrahim were first published in December 2016, after he was already more than half a year in prison, it was written in some papers that this is the first case of such detention against Palestinians inside the 1948 occupied territories, who are formally citizens of Israel. But it was less than a year since Asmaa Hamdan, a woman from Nazareth, spent 3 months in administrative detention which started at the turmoil of “the third intifada” of October 2015. At the heights of the first intifada, in 1988, some ten leading members of Abna Al-Balad and related Palestinian movements were held in the same way. Several Palestinian activists inside ’48 spent times in administrative detention before and after these days…muhammad-ibrahim-with-al-aqsa

In the 1967 occupied West Bank (and previously also in Gaza) Israel is using administrative detention en-mass as a tool for political oppression. The use of administrative detention also against Palestinian in ’48 is another proof that it is basically the same occupation and the same oppressive system that is used all over occupied Palestine.

The Administrative Detention of Muhammad Ibrahim

[The following article was published in Hebrew on 23/01/2017 in “Local Call” and Haifa Hahofshit]

They say that if the police would look hard enough at the past of any person they would find a legal reason to arrest and put him or her on trial. It turns out that this rule has exceptions. One of them is the case of Muhammad Ibrahim, a 20-year-old computer technician from the Western Galilee town of Kabul. Not only the police, the Shin Bet (Israel’s notoriously harsh “internal security services”) also made every effort to bring him to trial, but they didn’t find any legal reason for this. So he was subjected to administrative detention, without indictment and without trial.

Muhammad gets into troubles

Muhammad’s troubles probably stems from his love to the Al-Aqsa mosque… He was not a political activist but used to travel frequently to Jerusalem to pray at this mosque. This mosque is the third holiest site for Islam, but some of Israel’s leaders seek to destroy it in order to build “The Third Temple” in its place.

Muhammad’s first encounter with the law was when Israeli police wanted to arrest a woman in the mosque’s yard and he threw himself before her and was arrested instead. He spent the night in custody in the “Moskubiya” (a Russian Church’s compound in the middle of Jerusalem used as a detention center). On the following day he was released by the judge in the absence of any offense.

After the first detention cops already knew Muhammad and when they saw him in the mosque’s yard they used to arrest him. He was arrested five times, and was released five times, without being accused of any offence. Occasionally he was required to sign a pledge to stay away from Jerusalem for a while as a condition for his release.

On May 11, 2016, at 3 o’clock in the morning, a police force from Nazareth, including riot squad, accompanied by a Shin Bet operative, surrounded Muhammad’s house and awakened his family. The Sin Bet agent in charge of the region did not even know the young Muhammad whom he came to arrest. He turned to Muhammad’s father and asked him “who is Muhammad?”… This is just another piece of evidence proving that the reason for the arrest belongs to a different place – to Jerusalem.

Harsh Interrogation

After searching Muhammad’s room and some other rooms in the house, the police took with them Muhammad himself and also all the computers that they found, including computers of customers who brought them for repair.muhammad-ibrahim-sitting

The terrified family spent the next day running around between police stations and detention centers to find their son. Finally, they were informed that he was detained by the Shin Bet in a special interrogation center in Petah Tikva.

During the interrogation Muhammad was not allowed to see a lawyer. He was questioned in difficult conditions and was subjected to the harsh “special interrogation methods” of the Shin Bet, including sleep prevention. Later he told how he was interrogated for 22 hours non-stop while tethered to a chair.

25 days of intensive interrogation did not produce anything; the mountain did not give birth even to a mouse. Finally came the court session in which Muhammad was supposed to be released. But then the Shin Bet people informed the judge that they are going to put Muhammad under administrative detention. The judge delayed his release for a day until the defence minister will sign the decree, which was signed by Avigdor Lieberman on June 5, 2016, for a period of six months.

The other likely reason for issuing the administrative detention order is revenge of the Shin Bet’s failure to extort a confession from Muhammad and prosecute him. It constitutes a threatening message to all detainees: if you do not confess you can be arrested anyway, so you should better confess even if you never violated any law.

Significantly, although the investigation was concluded long time ago, and although no indictment was filed, the confiscated computers, including those of Muhammad’s customers, were not returned until this day.

Administrative Detention as a tool of the Military Regime

“Judicial supervision” on the procedure of administrative detention against Muhammad Ibrahim is being held at the Haifa District Court. At the first hearings in this procedure he was represented by the “Adalah” legal center. In fact this is not a proper judicial proceeding that allows any viable legal defence but a meaningless formal procedure. The contents of the “charges” or “suspicions” were not disclosed to Muhammad until this day, neither to his lawyer. All the Shin Bet’s claims are “secret material” submitted to the judge without the presence of the suspect or his representative. Once, when Aram Mahameed, Adalah’s lawyer, was order to leave the courtroom when confidential materials were submitted, he left behind his briefcase. State officials rushed to distance the briefcase also.

Not only that Muhammad’s lawyers are not present when secret materials are submitted, family members are not allowed at all to be in the courtroom, not even to hear the arguments of the defence. At the same time a blanket GAG order was issued to prevent the press from covering the case. Only on January 2017, following an appeal by journalist Jacky Khoury (from Radio Al-Shams and Haaretz), the military censorship confirmed that there is no reason to prevent reporting. In any case, there is nothing to report except the fact that there is nothing as there was nothing, and that this nothingness is a state secret.

On December 5, Muhammad’s six months detention was due to expire, but then the family was informed that the detention order was renewed for another six months period. This time he was represented by lawyer Omar Khamaisi from “Mizan”. The judge himself found it difficult to understand the justification for the continued detention without indictment and asked the Shin Bet representative whether, in their view, administrative detention is life imprisonment… But eventually the usual ritual was repeated: The detainee and his lawyer were ordered to leave the courtroom and the Shin Bet operatives stayed alone with the judge who finally reaffirmed the detention. The next hearing of this judicial farce, which takes place every three months, of “legally supervising” this unlawful detention, is set for March 15.

I sat with lawyer Khamaisi who explained to me the legal basis for administrative detention. The practice of detention without trial was inherited from the colonialist laws used by the British Mandate (see Wikipedia: Defence Emergency Regulations 1945). When Zionist leaders were subject to these laws they severely criticized them as draconian, but later Israel continued to use the same draconian British laws against its Palestinian Arab citizens.

Now Israel has a wholly “Blue and White” Made in Israel detention without trial, under the “state of emergency laws” from 1979, in full accordance to the Jewish and “democratic” character of the state. (The law is so new, only 38 years, that it still doesn’t have an entry in Wikipedia). The authority to issue administrative detention order is given by the Minister of Defence, stressing the fact that this is basically a military act against the “enemies of the state”. It should remind us that beneath the thin camouflage of democracy we are all subject to a regime of military occupation.

Abusive Conditions at the Families’ Visits

Although not indicted for anything, Muhammad is held in harsh conditions with “security prisoners” in the desert Ketziot prison in Nizzana sands, near the Egyptian border.

Khaled Ibrahim, Muhammad’s father, told me in detail about his harsh experiences while visiting his son in this remote prison.

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Khaled Ibrahim, Abu Muhammad

The Israeli prisons’ authority requires that the family will register in advance for visiting, but Ketziot prison guards are not answering the telephone number designed for coordination. He only learns about the dates of the visits from families of prisoners from the West Bank which are coming in pre-arranged transportation.

Travelling from Kabul to Ketziot, almost 300 kilometers, can take three and a half hours in each direction when the road is free, so it is by itself a torture for the body and the soul. When he arrived at Ketziot he was imprisoned with his car in the parking lot of the prison and had to wait about an hour and a half to the arrival of the buses from the West Bank. The guards forbade him to extricate himself by walking in the parking lot and ordered him to stay in the car. When the buses arrived all visitors were guided to an internal courtyard and had to wait there another two hours until visits actually began. At the time of the visit, which lasted three-quarter of an hour, they were separated from their beloved ones by a glass wall and could talk only through a phone.  Later they had to wait closed in the yard until the second round of visits finished and they were allowed to return to the parking lot… Why should the guards make an extra effort and open the door twice?

The three-quarters of an hour visit lasted in total over fourteen and a half hours, from six in the morning until eight thirty at night. This systematic abuse against the families of prisoners and detainees causes many of them to reduce their visits.

Popular Struggle

The family expected that the six-month administrative detention will pass just as the 25 days of the interrogations and that Muhammad will be released… After all, he was not accused of anything. The secrecy of the hearings and prevention of media reports created an atmosphere of fear and they did not know what to do or who to contact. This secrecy has allowed the authorities to keep the entire subject far from the public awareness. The oppressive apparatus like to abuse their victims in the darkness under the cover of media blackout. However, one of the most difficult problems with administrative detention is that it has no time limit.

The extension of Muhammad’s detention for another six months resulted in breaking the isolation and silence. Over the last several years, a “popular committee” was formed and is operating in Kabul, as part of the policy of “the follow-up committee” of the Arab population inside the 48 occupied territories for the construction of the organs of popular struggle in every community. The popular committee undertook to publicize the case of Muhammad’s administrative detention and to coordinate the struggle for his release.

The activists of the “popular committee” organized protest, invited the Follow-Up Committee and Arab Knesset Members from “The Joint List” and turned to the media. They opened a special Facebook page called “Free the administrative detainee Mohammed Ibrahim from Kabul” (in Arabic). At the last hearing in the Haifa District Court there were already about 30 people who were not allowed in… My visit to Muhammad’s family in Kabul and this article are my modest contribution to this campaign.

Now the family’s sole hope is that the public struggle will expose the severe unjustified abuse caused to Muhammad by the administrative detention and will embarrass the authorities and bring about his release. At the end of our conversation the representative of the Popular Committee expressed his hope that until the next hearing, on March 15, the protest will expands, and maybe there will be a demonstration in front of the court. I expressed my wish that, even before, due to the exposure of the case, the public pressure will bring to Muhammad’s release and we’ll come to congratulate him for that. We never lose hope, but in the current public atmosphere to speak of “a danger to democracy” rings like a hollow mockery while we face a regime which prides itself for abusing democratic rights.

 

12 reasons for optimism about 2017 and beyond

learned-optimism-helen-kellerThere are many reasons to be pessimist today. Everybody is talking about it. There is a world economic crisis for already 10 years and it is not going anywhere. The rich continue to buy influence, corrupt politics, set the rules, exploit and rob working people and the poor. It seems that the poor working people, instead of uniting to fight for their rights, are turning against each other, as we see from the rise of the Populist Right demagogy against minorities and immigrants in the West and from sectarian civil wars in the Middle East.  And when people are fighting for their rights they are confronted with bloody oppression and nobody will come to their rescue, as the people of Halab (Aleppo) have just learned.

But for me Optimism is not a mood but a systematic studied approach. If we want to make the world better, we must concentrate on those processes that show the Human potential for improvement. And when you start looking for reasons to be optimist you can find plenty. Here are some to cheer you up as you go to celebrate a new 2017.

Health

My grandma told me that she didn’t know anyone from her family that lived more than 60 years. So she naturally expected to die as she became 60. She was surprised when it didn’t happen. Finally she lived to 93, most of it a healthy life.

Today we see a great tragedy in every family that lost a child. It was not a long time ago when most families suffered the death of babies and children. Actually, historically what kept the balance of the human population was the natural death of most children. When early death stopped to be natural, the world’s human population inflated. Only now we are approaching a new balance based on the conscious choice to have fewer children.

Similarly the main problem that was daunting humanity till recently was the search for food. My mom used to tell me: We are farmers, so we will never go hungry. As a child I was advised: Eat bread with every meal to fill your stomach. Now if anybody goes hungry it is not because the lack of food but because the failure of the distribution system or the greed of merchants and speculators. The problem of excess eating is now becoming a major health hazard around the world – until we will find a new balance in a world with plenty of food.

Bringing decent healthcare to everybody around the world is not a dream – it is something that is technologically possible and economically affordable.

Education and Knowledge

It is not so long ago that even the most basic education was the privilege of the few. The spread of general basic education is an ongoing revolution around the world. Now we witness a second wave of the education revolution where high education is becoming available to ever more people.

But formal education is only a technical detail. The real issue is the availability of knowledge and the ability to use it. Today as we chat at the family reunion my kids check online for historical and scientific facts. As we stroll in the forest we take a picture of a flower and can reach its botanical file… And the knowledge revolution is only at its beginnings.

I’m not sure at all whether Trump is more disgraceful or ignorant than previous US presidents. But what is sure is that now the news about his every fallacy is more ubiquitous and spreading faster than ever before. The same go for the facts (and some false news) about the corruption and servitude to big business of his nominees as those of Hillary Clinton. Part of our disgust at current politics is a result of being more enlightened. It should be a force for good in the longer run.

Speaking Up

The reading revolution is centuries old, but just recently less than 1% of us ever wrote anything that other people would read. Actually it was Facebook (launched on 2004) that gave everyone a wall to write on.

I still remember the times when an intelligent person would read one and the same paper every day. When speaking with a person you would typically find that he holds the views of the paper that he reads, and knows the set of facts that the paper supplies to support these views.

Now that everybody have a voice we see all kinds of nonsense, insults and prejudice coming out – but they were there in peoples’ minds much before. The fact that people speak up their mind and the lively discussion that ensues will make people think better, as now what they think makes a difference and they get much more feedback.

It is a new process that can hardly be evaluated. Just think about the development of a child, how much time and experience is required between she starts speaking and until she can express herself clearly or present a case about complicated issues. Now remember that it is only a few years since hundreds of millions of people started to speak up and try to figure out how to make sense out of the ensuing noise.

Democracy

After a period of enthusiasm about the rise of social movements and leftist governments in Latin America, we see a backlash with the election victories of conservatives and rightists and some suspicious power-grabs. Yet, comparing with previous rightists onslaughts just a few decades ago, this time governments are changing mostly peacefully and it is just possible that leftist governments will come back peacefully in some next elections. The same trend of changing governments peacefully is taking root also in much of Africa and other parts of the world.

The benefit of changing governments by elections is not only the avoidance of violence and destructive wars. After repression everywhere, and after a leftist wave almost everywhere in Latin America, now those government that succeeded more in fulfilling their promises, like Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador, may keep their leftist regimes. The left in other countries will have to reorganize to regain public trust and work harder to give their voters what they really want.

Democracy is not only about changing governments by elections. Actually we are still looking for the real thing: How to enable people take control of their destiny. Bottom-up democracy is the more promising model, as people may be involved on a daily basis with the essentials of their lives as they see and understand them, and improve with experience.

In many places around the world, people are experimenting with new types of popular involvement and control. Some of the most amazing experiments of self-rule come amid the harshest conditions. In Greece, as the traditional economy stopped functioning, people were building democratic cooperatives. In Syria people experiment with popular democracy in Kurdish Rojava as well as in some liberated cities and villages in other parts of the country.

Travel and Immigration

Just where progress faces the harshest resistance – we may be making a real breakthrough. The technological progress that drives travel and communication is a one-way process that interconnects our world and transforms it into one global village. The national state is an anachronism that runs counter to the direction of the economy, our culture and the spirit of the time. Whoever will try to resist it will do it at his own peril.

We can celebrate as more people travel around the world, choose their place to live by what is better for them and not by where they were born, and mix together into one beautiful human race.

Gender equality and Personal Freedom

Some of the greatest achievements of the last decades were the progress in women’s rights. We also experienced some breakthroughs with the social recognition of different sexual choices and gender identities. Of course, there are battles ahead before we would be able to declare full victory over misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia and bigotry.

Every achievement on this road is a relief and blessing to all humanity as there is less social oppression, violence, prejudice and hatred. It expands the limits of what one can do and what you can be. With every obstacle that is removed, there will be more options to explore new ways of life and social interaction.

Technology

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Solar power generation in California

Unlike political and social development, which goes through conflict, ups and downs and upheavals, technological progress is mostly a one way process. Many of our problems can simply be solved by the right technical solutions. Energy can be produced from renewable sources like sun and wind without much pollution. Food can be produced using much smaller land and without harming animals. Water can be desalinated. Self-driving cars can prevent most road accidents. Biotechnology may prevent or cure most diseases.

The knowledge that all these technologies are here ready to serve us should make us wake up and remove the current obstacles that stand in their way.

Less Work More Life

One danger that scares many people is the disappearance of jobs. As most people’s work life is only slightly better than slavery, we would expect people to celebrate the falling of their chains. Really, it should be the best of news that all humanity’s needs may be supplied with a fraction of the work that was required previously. This is the inevitable result of technological progress.

Looking at the current economy, much work that is done is actually a burden and not a benefit for society. Armies around the world are getting huge budgets that are more likely to cause war than to protect the people. The police, courts and prisons are doing more to perpetuate crime than to prevent it. A single political decision to legalize drugs may abolish at once most of the criminality around the world. Bureaucracy is a burden over the real economy and constant stress over ordinary peoples’ lives. Much of the white collar tasks can be replaced by computers just as blue-collar tasks were replaced by machines.

The economists that portray the current capitalist order as the law of nature say that people are becoming redundant and are destined to poverty because they are no more required for the economy. It is a simple question of political power: who serves whom. If the economy is ours to serve people, it is our time to take control of it.

The recent experiments, in several places around the world, giving basic wages to all people without connection to work, is an overdue first step to break the yoke of wage slavery.

China and Vietnam

International bodies agreed about the millennium goals of reducing poverty and

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Vietnam and China outstanding for their peoples’ optimism

improving human conditions in essential fields like health and education. The greatest contributions toward fulfilling these goals are due to two countries: China and Vietnam. Over the last half century they demonstrated an unprecedented spell of economic development, starting from the harshest levels of poverty and mostly working against hostile obstacles from the dominant world powers.

China started by leading the world in the production of most goods. Cheap Chinese products improved the standard of living of consumers all over the world.

Now China also leads the efforts to develop clean energy, stop climate change, bring high quality education to wide masses, develop fast trains and electric cars and much more. Within 15 years China built new modern cities (no slums there) for 300 million people that had to leave under-productive village life and became part of the modern economy – building the equivalent of a whole new USA or Western Europe all at once.

Just 15 years ago most third world countries were subject to different kinds of sanctions by Western powers that were supposed to “educate” them but actually served to subdue their economies to the interest of imperialist multinational companies. Now China builds a new world economic order, based on unconditional cooperation and mutual development.

It is mostly due to China’s role that the balance of world economic power started to change, over the last 15 years, to the benefit of the third world.

The rebellious human spirit

In the development of Human society there are always measures and counter measures. There are long term consistent trends like technological progress, the spread of knowledge and the interconnection of the world. But politics are working in many different ways, many times producing the reverse of what their initiators wanted. One force that is constantly working is the rebellious human spirit inspiring billions of people to try new ways to improve their lives…

The two world wars, the biggest clashes between imperialist powers in their quest to control the world, brought immense misery. But they ended with two big waves of decolonization and the formation of alternative socialist regimes. Today, as the Western powers are becoming hostile to immigrants, more people from the 3rd world will try to build their future in their (or other 3rd world) countries – and the decline of the western powers will accelerate. Iran, which tried to force strict religious behavior over its people, is now probably the Middle Eastern country with the most free-wheeling population.

Fast Changes

They say: “If it is not broken, don’t fix it”. But now it clearly is!

As fragile human beings we look for security and are afraid of change. Those who are most disadvantaged by the current order are the most vulnerable to any disturbances. But they also have the most to gain from fundamental change. And the majority of humanity is disadvantaged by the current world order. Palestinians in particular are denied basic Human Rights or any decent place in the current order and their plight is not going to change until there will be major changes to the rules of the game, at least in our region.

Change may come faster in our age than ever before. Almost a hundred years ago Britain occupied Iraq and faced stiff popular resistance – the Iraqi Revolt (1920). With air bombardment and the systematic burning of villages they succeeded to consolidate their rule over a nation that was mostly composed of illiterate peasants. The US occupation of Iraq in 2003 had even bigger military advantage, but the cultural gap almost disappeared. It ended up with the US spending a devastating one trillion dollar on the military adventure, with no political gains to show for its money.

The Arab spring is a social and political movement on the scale of the democratization of Europe that started with the French revolution in 1789, or the fall of the Soviet Union and its East European block in 1989-1991. But it is the first great revolutionary wave that uses social networks and new media. Till now it proved, at least, that no amount of force and no level of cruelty can assure the forces of the old order the suppression of the will of the people.

Respect All Lives

I was raised as a vegetarian, a relic of my grandma’s Tolstoyan tradition. I still remember the times when most ordinary people didn’t eat meat on a regular basis, simply because they couldn’t afford to buy it. I remember old people in the neighborhood saying how lucky they are – they eat meat on every holiday… (It was a cynical refrain to Islam having only two holidays a year). Later it became harder to be a vegetarian as people started to eat meat every day. Friends from the new generation would wonder: what do you eat at all if you don’t eat meat?

But now people everywhere are starting to reassess their behavior out of conscious and not out of necessity. When we invited our friends to a vegetarian wedding party, we heard everywhere stories about people trying to be vegetarian or thinking about it.

I must admit that when we decided, just a year ago, to make another step toward healthier and more moral life as vegans, one consideration was that it is easy to do it these days. Now, even in the most commercial supermarkets, there is a lot of choice of vegan alternatives for people that don’t want to give up spoiled tastes.

Technological progress and consciousness help us all make the moral choice and respect all lives.

 

Smuggling phones is humanitarian aid, not a security risk – Free Basel Ghattas!

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Pity our friends in Al-Tajamu (NDA – National Democratic Alliance, AKA Balad)… The government’s blows fall upon them one after the other. They can’t even respond to the barrage of lies and propaganda that comes to justify the arrests and political persecution. In the last blow, this Thursday, December 22, 2016, Dr. Basel Ghattas, a Knesset member for the NDA, was arrested on the accusation that he tried to smuggle cellular phones to Palestinian prisoners in an occupation prison.free-basel-ghattas

Now NDA members are in a fix. If they argue that the charge of smuggling phones to “security prisoners” is not as serious as presented by the prosecution, it may be interpreted as if they plead guilty while their comrade is under interrogation in custody and, as I understand, denies the accusations. That lets the Israeli security apparatus control the public debate and spread their distorted view of things to justify every injustice and abuse against the Arab public.

Although I know and appreciate Mr. Ghattas from many struggles in which we have participated together, there is no organizational connection between us, and I have no idea whether he might have tried to smuggle phones to prison. So I consider myself free to discuss here objectively not the facts of the case but the racist lies and concepts behind his arrest.

All phones are reliable informers of the regime

Israel’s “security forces” and mobilized media talk day and night about the supposed “security risk” of smuggling phones to security prisoners. They argue or imply or are rolling their eyes to the heavens to convince us that, of course, no doubt, the phones are used by Palestinian prisoners to coordinate “terrorist attacks”. Such baseless arguments could perhaps, and even this is unlikely, be believed by Honi Ha-M’agel who spent 70 years in a cave, did not read newspapers and had no connection to the Internet…

We all know, for example, that Angela Merkel’s phone was tapped by American intelligence agencies. Could anyone, even a diehard Zionist, be so silly to believe that Palestinian prisoners’ phones are not tapped? We are all crammed in a sardine tin, under the supervision of the most stifling Big Brother superpower in the world. All conversations are recorded from all sides and all locations are identified down to the building and the room. Did you ever use navigation system like Waze? The most brilliant Israeli minds are busy exchanging the most intimate details of the romantic life of the laboratory mice under their supervision.

So, as they say, if there were no phones in the hands of the prisoners, the security services would find a way to put them there, as a tool for supervision and monitoring. How much more convenient and expedient for them to have those phones smuggled… They can be used as a fertile ground for economic blackmail and a handy justification for oppression and constant campaigns of arbitrary punishment whenever they see fit.

Lynch by the law

The invention of imaginary security risks in order to justify the crimes of Israeli apartheid is a national pastime and profession. No surprise that most Israeli politicians compete to show their support for El’or Azaria – a solder that shot dead a wounded helpless Palestinian in Al-Halil (Hebron) in March 2016. As they say, “we are all El’or”. They are all conscious partners to the same lies. If you only succeed to think that an Arab is attacking you, you are allowed to shoot him. With a little practice and some effort you can, this way, shoot every Arab you like.

The classic example of this behavior pattern was the cold blood execution of the 14 years old girl Iman al-Hams in 5 October 2004 as she passed by an occupation army outpost near Rafah. The soldiers succeeded to imagine that if her school bag was full of explosives she could constitute a danger to their lives…

This pattern grew stronger until, on October 2015, lynch of “suspected” Arabs became a national sport. The only cases in which “a mistake” was admitted, and the charges were found to be baseless, are those cases in which it eventually turned out that the lynch victims were not Arabs.

Even them

Unfortunately, as usual, even most Israelis who try to show things in a different light are captive to the false “security worldview” posing as if Israel is acting in self-defense against Palestinian “security risks”.

An editorial in “Haaretz”, from December 21, 2016, opposed dismissing Dr. Ghattas from the Knesset before exhausting the legal process. But it also supports the security-hype and lies against Ghattas by writing that he is suspected of smuggling phones to “imprisoned Palestinian senior terror operatives”. As if the Palestinian prisoners are busy organizing terror nets from prison…

Walid Daka was 25 back in 1986, when he was detained on charges of membership of a cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 30 years ago. If he was a Jew who was involved on a similar level in activities against Arabs, he may not be arrested at all or, at most, would spend a short time in prison. Today he could be a Knesset member or a minister. Since his arrest Mr. Daka excelled and earned fame for his studies, writings and political stance. He is not a “terror operative” of any kind and the only thing that may make him “senior” is the long period he spent in prison due to Zionist vendetta.

Amira Hass, full of sympathy, depicting the humane side of Palestinians, describes in detail (also in Haaretz) the humanitarian benefits of smuggling phones to prisoners. Nice of her… But she finally drifts to share the ruling slander as if those phones can be a “security risk”. She even volunteers to suggest her own methods to counter those risks: “If one really wanted to prevent future smuggling, the authorities should allow Palestinian prisoners to use public phones. Security services can listen to calls in real time, decipher them or place a guard nearby to listen. All of these can be done simultaneously.” How sad.

(This post was initially published in Hebrew in Haifa Ha-Hofshit.)

Who is learning Chinese?

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What do we learn from it about where the world is going?chinese-club-girl

When I was young, in the seventies, the cold war was still raging. We told a lot of cold war jokes, some of them I still remember. One such “black” joke said that the optimists are learning Russian, while the pessimists are learning Chinese.

Don’t look from the windows!

There are many reasons to be pessimistic today. It is enough to see the massacre in Halab (Aleppo) and to know that there is nobody in the world today that is ready to act to prevent the mass killing of innocent civilians. But, looking back in history, this is how things were all the time.

But, from other aspects, the world is changing very fast. Technology is having a big impact. Today we can know at real time what is happening in almost every corner of our one and ever more connected world. Nobody has a monopoly over what we know. The Facebook revolution made ordinary people write and publish. Friends, as we are all friends now, can decide which writings deserve to be spread.

Changes in the world’s economy and politics are just as fast and profound. Just in 1990 the US emerged from the cold war as the single unchallenged world super-power. We were told that we enter a new area characterized by the end of history as political struggle. From now on human development will be driven by market forces. It didn’t take long for this supposedly blind driver to drive our small world into a wall. For ten years now we live through a seemingly endless economic crisis…

The world is changing so fast that it is hard for us to guess where we are going. Sometimes we close our eyes as if scared to look out of the windows. The political reaction in much of the “developed” rich world is pessimistic and reactionary. Many blame the immigrants, minorities or excessive liberties.

Does it mean that the world as a whole is going back? Not necessarily, as there are other amazing developments in other parts of the world. Now it is not only the optimists that are learning Chinese but also the opportunists …

The news from China

Suddenly news about China is everywhere… The most outspoken mouthpiece of capitalism, “The Economist”, can hardly say a good word about China. But now they dedicate to china a special section, just as they have a section dedicated to the US. Lately, as Trump was elected president of the US, and it seems that he will retreat from promises to limit climate change, they wrote that the rest of the world should anyway continue the effort to save itself. After all, it is China that leads the development of renewable energy sources and clean technologies like the electric car.chinese-outbound-expenditure

Chinese people, which you could hardly meet twenty years ago, are also everywhere. In 2015 Chinese people made 120 million trips abroad, spending 292 billion dollars. In the same year more than half a million Chinese went to study in other countries (just as 7.5 million graduate locally). Chinese companies are building infrastructure in many places around the globe, many times bringing with them Chinese workers. We have seen them in Haifa, as they built the Carmel tunnels.

In 2014 China became the biggest economy in the world, according to the most accepted criteria of GDP as measured by “purchasing power parity”. For most people in the rich west, China is still too poor to look at as an inspiration. But for the majority of humanity that lives in poor third world countries, the inevitable question is whether China can show the way out of poverty?

The Chinese way

For most of history, China’s economy was the biggest in the world. Chinese traditions, attitudes and institutions are very different from the European model for historic

examinations-in-imperial-china

Examinations in imperial China

development that we were taught about. The majority of Chinese people were not enslaved but free peasants. The civil service was not a monopoly of an aristocratic, hereditary class, but a meritocracy. Centrally administered exams were the key to jobs in the state apparatus, from the bottom to almost the top. Children from toiling families were studying in order to get up the social ladder.

While socialism became the official system in Russia it was painted by the local culture. The local elite, trained by the previous Tsarist rule, was happy to have modern justification for central control and totalitarian rule. China’s communist party, after the first upheavals, returned to concentrate on pragmatic development and the Confucian goal of “Social Harmony”. Relying on the centuries’ long tradition of a “serving elite”, the Chinese government succeeded to lead the biggest ever economic and social leap-forward in Human history.

The market and the plan

Adam Smith, the British economist, preached that it is the self-interest of people that make them cooperate productively. Neoliberal economists try to convince us that if we loosen the chains of the state, free market forces will drive the economy forward for the benefit of all. But when the inherent greediness of capitalist companies is let loose, they easily distort the free market for their profit and impoverish everybody else. The new Chinese model tries to harness market forces and capitalist initiatives to the service of society by keeping them away from political control.

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GDP estimation – by the CIA “World Facts Book”

On the international level China is also offering a new model of mutual development. It is now the main economic partner for many countries all over the world. The capitalist multi-nationals invest in third world countries with a single goal – to get as much profit as fast as possible. Because of political instability they tend to avoid long term investment that will not bring fast profits. China’s state-led economic cooperation is based on the notion that only through mutual development there can be long term profit. They invest huge sums (and expertise) in developing infrastructure, education and health.

Western powers always pose themselves as the great example that everybody should learn from, and try to dictate conditions to all their poor “partners”. China just cooperate with everybody and makes a point of not telling other people how to manage their affairs. Either they don’t want us to learn the secret of success or they think that deeds are louder than words.

La guerra contra las drogas es la nueva Inquisición española

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(Este artículo también está disponible en inglés)

En el siglo 15, los Reyes Católicos Fernando de Aragón e Isabel de Castilla estaban ocupados estableciendo su dominio sobre la España reconquistada y con el sometimiento y la limpieza étnica de los musulmanes y los judíos. Por otro lado, estaban iniciando un Imperio que pronto se expandió en gran parte del continente americano recién invadido. El establecimiento del Imperio era ante todo un acto de puro robo, y de construcción de un spanish-inquisition-torturesistema de opresión y esclavitud para la población nativa. En algunos lugares, incluso se convirtió en un genocidio.

Nadie puede construir un estado, ni hablar de un imperio, bajo las banderas del robo, la explotación y la opresión. Ellos necesitaban un lema que los puso en el terreno moral. Mientras más opresión sea necesaria para subyugar a los reacios, se requiere más motivos ideológicos para justificar esta opresión. La Inquisición española, que supuestamente promovería y salvaguardaría la fe cristiana, en su interpretación católica ortodoxa, dio el marco ideológico necesario para una campaña de terror que se requería para la consolidación del imperio.

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En la mayor parte del siglo 20, la principal justificación para la opresión en el hemisferio latinoamericano fue el peligro del comunismo. Bajo esta bandera los Estados Unidos de América promovieron dictaduras militares en Brasil, Chile y Argentina, por citar sólo algunos ejemplos. La guerra contra el pueblo y la dependencia de los opresores locales del imperialismo estadounidense frenó el desarrollo de la economía local y se aseguró la sumisión económica a los intereses de las empresas multinacionales norteamericanas.

Como el comunismo pasó de moda después de la caída de la Unión Soviética y el bloque socialista de Europa del Este, la justificación de la represión violenta desvaneció. Nuevos movimientos populistas comenzaron a ganar terreno.

Guerra contra las drogas en los EE.UU

El término “Guerra contra las drogas” se deriva de la declaración del presidente de los nixon-watergate-testimonyEstados Unidos Richard Nixon en 18 de junio de 1971. A continuación declaró el abuso de drogas el “enemigo público número uno”.

Esto se convirtió gradualmente en una guerra contra los pobres en los propios Estados Unidos, y sobre todo contra los negros. Desde la declaración de guerra contra las drogas, el número de personas encarceladas en Estados Unidos, como parte de la población, aumentó más de cuatro veces.us_incarceration_rate_timeline

El uso de la guerra contra las drogas como un instrumento de opresión contra la población negra es evidente en muchos sentidos. En 1986, el Congreso de los Estados Unidos aprobó una ley que hace que la pena por posesión de una pequeña cantidad de “crack”, una droga usada en su mayoría por negros pobres, es la misma que la pena por posesión de una cantidad cien veces mayor de “cocaína”, la cual es mayormente utilizada por la elite blanca. Según una investigación, los negros son el 13% de los consumidores de drogas, el 35% de los detenidos por el uso de las drogas, el 55% de los condenados y el 74% de los encarcelados por delitos de consumo.

La guerra contra las drogas en México

La guerra contra las drogas en México es sólo el último ejemplo grave de la guerra internacional contra la droga. En realidad, México se convirtió en un centro del comercio de droga sólo últimamente, como resultado del éxito parcial en la opresión de la producción de drogas en Colombia, mientras que la demanda lucrativa de los EE.UU. continúa sin cesar.bodies-pile-up

Desde el año 2006, bajo la presión de los EE.UU., el gobierno mexicano desplegó el ejército para combatir a los traficantes de drogas. Esto causó un aumento alarmante de la violencia. Según Wikipedia, en 2013 el número de muertos estimado estaba por encima de los 120.000, además de 27.000 desaparecidos.

El éxito ideológico de la guerra contra las drogas hace que la opinión pública mundial “acepte naturalmente” este número de muertos, al contrario que el número de muertos mucho menor (pero todavía horrible) de, por ejemplo, la campaña de terror de la dictadura argentina de 1976.no-more-drug-war-demo-big

El alto número de muertes tiene varias razones. En primer lugar, el ejército no es apto para la vigilancia y utiliza la violencia indiscriminada impunemente contra los sospechosos. Además, si algunos comerciantes están muertos o detenidos, mientras que la demanda de drogas sigue siendo el mismo, se produce un fuerte aumento de los precios de las drogas e inicia una lucha feroz entre los diferentes traficantes para llenar la brecha entre la oferta y la demanda.

Los políticos que iniciaron esta guerra sangrienta niegan cualquier responsabilidad por el increíblemente alto costo humano en vidas perdidas y sufrimiento. Ellos incluyen no sólo el gobierno de Estados Unidos y el gobierno de México, sino también los cuerpos especiales dentro de las Naciones Unidas. Pero aunque quisiéramos creer ellos que inicialmente no podían esperar el resultado de sus decisiones, aún continúan buscando esta devastadora guerra inútil año tras año con indiferencia total al costo humano.

Efectos Secundarios

Además, la violencia derivada de la guerra contra las drogas está socavando la economía regular, que requiere estabilidad. Como resultado, mejora el atractivo de tráfico de drogas como la única manera de tener una vida “digna” para amplias capas de la sociedad.missing-students-ayotzinapa

Por último, pero no menos importante, en la atmósfera de terror e impunidad, las clases dominantes tienen una mano libre para aterrorizar a las masas también para servir a sus intereses económicos y políticos.

El secuestro masivo y la desaparición de 43 estudiantes que protestaban de una escuela normal en la ciudad de Iguala, en el estado mexicano de Guerrero en 2014 es el famoso caso que dio luz a este fenómeno y encendió las protestas masivas en contra de la responsabilidad del gobierno.maxico-till-when

Las matanzas, desapariciones, encarcelamiento y el terror contra las masas no son un subproducto accidental de una política de buenos deseos. Son las medidas necesarias para mantener la hegemonía del Imperio.

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Y, sí, si se piensa en ello, la criminalización social de la sexualidad de las mujeres y el consiguiente terror contra las mujeres está en la base del sistema que permitió que la opresión a las mujeres y la preservación de los privilegios masculinos durante milenios.

 

The War on Drugs is the new Spanish Inquisition

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(This article is also available en Español)

In the 15th century the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile were busy establishing their rule over re-united Spain, subordinating and ethnically cleansing Muslims and Jews, and starting an Empire that soon expanded over much of the newly invaded American continents. The establishment of the Empire was first an act of pure robbery. It developed into a system of oppressing and enslaving the native population. In some places it even became an all-out genocide.european-history-spanish-inquisition-250x150

Nobody can build a state, let alone an empire, under the banners of robbery, exploitation and oppression. They needed some slogan that will put them on the moral high ground. The more oppression is required to subdue the unwilling subjects, the more ideological firepower is required to justify this oppression. The Spanish Inquisition, which was supposed to promote and safeguard the Christian faith, in its orthodox Catholic interpretation, gave the required ideological framework for a campaign of terror that was required for the consolidation of the empire.

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In most of the 20th century the main justification for oppression in the Latin American hemisphere was the danger of communism. Under this banner the US encouraged military dictatorships in Brazil, Chile and Argentine, to name just a few examples. The war against the people and the dependency of the local oppressors on US imperialism held back the development of the local economy and ensured the economic subordination of Latin America to the interests of the multinational North American companies.

As communism went out of fashion, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the East European Socialist Block, the justification for violent repression faded and new populist movement started gaining ground.

War on Drugs in the US

The term “war on drugs” stemmed from the declaration of the US president Richard Nixon in June 18, 1971. He then declared drug abuse to be “public enemy number one”.nixon-watergate-testimony

This gradually developed into war against poor people in the Unites States itself, mostly against black people. Since the declaration of the War on Drugs, the number of people incarcerated in the United States, as proportion of the population, increased more than fourfold.

The usage of the War on Drugs as a tool of oppression against the Black population is us_incarceration_rate_timelineapparent in many ways. In 1986 the US congress passed a law that made the penalty for possessing a small amount of “crack”, a drug used mostly by poor blacks, on the same level as the penalty for a 100 times bigger amount of “cocaine”, which is mostly used by the white elite. According to one research, blacks are 13% of drug users, 35% of those arrested for using drugs, 55% of those convicted and 74% of those actually sent to prison for drug usage.

The War on Drugs in Mexico

The War on Drugs in Mexico is just the latest severe example of the international War on Drugs. Actually Mexico became a center of the drug trade only lately, as a result of the partial success in oppressing drugs’ production in Colombia while the lucrative demand from the US continued unabated.bodies-pile-up

Since 2006, under pressure from the US, the Mexican government deployed the army to fight drugs traders. It caused an alarming rise in violence. According to Wikipedia, by 2013 the estimated death toll was above 120,000 killed, in addition to 27,000 missing. The ideological success of the War on Drugs causes the world public opinion to “accept naturally” this death toll, unlike the much lower (but still horrific) death toll of, for example, the terror campaign of the Argentine dictatorship of 1976-1983.

The high death toll has several reasons. First the army is unfit for policing and uses indiscriminate violence with impunity against suspects. Also, if some traders are killed or arrested, while the demand for drugs stays the same, it causes a sharp rise in drug prices and initiates a fierce fight between different traders to fill the gap between supply and demand.

Side Effectsmissing-students-ayotzinapa

Also, the violence stemming from the war on drugs is undermining the regular economy, which requires stability. As a result it enhances the lure of drug trafficking as the only way to make a “decent” living for wide strata of society.

Last but not least, in the atmosphere of terror and impunity, the ruling classes have a free hand to terrorize the masses also to serve their economic and political interests.

The mass kidnapping and disappearance of 43 protesting students from a teachers’ college in the city of Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero in 2014 is the famous case that threw light to this phenomenon and ignited mass protests against the government’s responsibility.maxico-till-when

The mass killings, disappearances, imprisonment and terror against the masses are not an accidental by-product of a well-wishing policy. They are the necessary measures to maintain the Hegemony of the Empire.

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And, yes, if you think about it, the social criminalization of women’s sexuality and the ensuing terror against women is at the core of the system that allowed oppression of women and the preservation of male privileges for thousands of years.

Sorry America, It is not YOU, it is US (*) …

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Lessons from the USA election campaign

The coming elections in the US supplied an extraordinary drama, watched with both trump-vs-clintonenthusiasm and disdain almost all over the world. If this is the most important democratic election for the most influential leadership position in the world, the scarcity of the debate about the real issues at stake must make people ask substantial questions about democracy. The identity and performance of the candidates, especially Republican Donald Trump, and the fact that an enormous establishment, with millions of people and billions of dollars, couldn’t produce a more respectable candidate, must raise even more substantial soul searching questions about the human nature.

The Big Picture

Lenin once said that, while the yellow press floods us with lies about everything, the good serious capitalist press feeds us with plenty of facts and information in order to hide the big picture. In the rest of this post I will try to relate to some of the big issues that all this election campaign and all the serious fact-finding and analysis around it are either ignoring or trying to hide…

Trump promises to “make America great again”. Clinton is trying to out-perform Trump’s patriotism by claiming that mighty America is as great as ever and couldn’t be diminished. But the whole election campaign is only a small animated illustration to the fact that the USA is not what it used to be.

The people of the US are famous for their ignorance of the world outside their borders. But for the last hundred years the fate and meaning of the USA, call it “greatness” or “the big Satan” or “imperialism” or “leader of the free world”, was not about what happens inside these borders but developed around its role as the strongest and finally the only world superpower.

This time is over. And it is not over because America became any smaller. It is over because we, the rest of the world, succeeded somehow to grow.

China’s rise, USA’s decline

In 2012, in one of the first posts in this blog, I presented an optimistic view on China’s rise. Let me try to sketch here in raw lines an optimistic view about America’s decline, or rather the decline of the North American imperialism.

First ask yourself what is “America”? Talking about the United States as “America” already ignores and marginalizes most of the people living in the American continents from Canada in the north to Chile and Argentine in the south. The population of the US is hardly a third of the almost billion people that live in the Americas. This naming that ignores your neighbors is only a symbol of the disregard toward and tramping over the people of the rest of the world…

Second, how do you define greatness? No doubt, at least when we speak about the most capitalist nation, that the economy is playing a central role in it. What most readers of the mainstream media might have easily missed is the “small” fact that the US is no more the biggest economy in the world. According to “The World Factbook”, a site maintained by the CIA, in 2015 China’s GDP (measured by purchasing power parity) was 19.7 trillion dollar, almost 10% more than the US’s 18 trillion. In fact China has already become the biggest economy in the world in 2014.world-factbook-gdp-ppp

But this raw measure is far from revealing the whole picture. China’s economy is in a positive momentum, while the US (and the rest of the imperialist powers in Western Europe and Japan) failed to get their economies back on their feet after the 2008 world financial crisis. To hide this we can read every day articles about the “slowdown” in the Chinese economy, which means that it is developing steadily at 6-7% yearly. In China’s planned economy they build modern cities (no shanty towns there) for 300 million people that will move from their villages to the cities over the next 15 years – that alone is like building a brand new USA or Western Europe.

The difference between a rising productive power and a declining parasitic empire is illustrated as we look at the relations of the two economies with the outside world. According to the same source, China’s exports at 2.1 trillion are 40% higher than the US’s 1.5, while its imports at 1.6 are only 70% of the US’s 2.3.

The good jobs that went to China, manufacturing everything from steel to trains to computers and smartphones, are not such good jobs any more. They don’t pay western salaries. It is just that people around the world can now buy all of these things much cheaper. This is another reason why we don’t cry with our USA brothers.

China is a different kind of world power. Its 1.3 billion people made all the way from being one of the poorest people on earth, just fifty years ago, to the top of the world economy by hard work and (relatively) good management. They are the first great world power that didn’t gain its place through occupation and exploitation of other nations. This in itself is a basic fact to think about and a major reason for optimism.

Imperialism is not working any more

The hegemony of the Western powers, and over the second half of the 20th century the hegemony of the USA, enabled them to dictate the world division of labor and the terms of trade to the benefit of the big multinational capitalist companies. This was the source of the “good jobs” that the US and European citizens are now longing for. 80% of humanity was forced to sell its resources for cheap and work for pennies in marginalized agriculture or industry and serve as an open market for the Western developed economies.

After direct colonialism and military occupations were not sustainable any more, neocolonialism and neoliberalism served the same hegemony very well. In the second half of the 20th century, almost any local leader in the 3rd world that tried to do something to develop his country was either deposed or assassinated by agents of the USA. Look for the fate of Patrice Lumumba in Congo, Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran, Sukarno from Indonesia, Salvador Allende of Chile and Omar Torrijos of Panama, to name just a few.patrice-lumumba

Bloody dictatorships, regional wars, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, bombing and occupation – no cruelty was too much to force the subjugation of the third world – the vast majority of humanity – to imperialist rule. In the nineties, after the fall of the Soviet Union, there seemed to be no challenge left to the imperialist rule. By that time most 3rd world countries were under some form of sanctions by the “international community” for this reason or that. Real commodities prices, representing the terms of trade of the 3rd world, reached unprecedented historic lows (see graph taken from a study by David Jacks in NBER). The global gap between the starving majority and the prosperous imperialist center seemed widening forever.real-commodity-prices-historic-low-in-the-nineties

But every party has its hangover. There came the surge of noisy protests at trade conferences and summits of the world imperialist leaders. There were the world social forums, looking for alternatives. When neoliberalism drove Argentine into an economic wall, mass mobilization casted away one government after another and brought to power (in 2003) the leftist Peronists, which refused to pay Argentine’s international debt. When, out of the blue, crazy Arab militants kidnapped airplanes and flew them into the WTC in New York, some people in the USA started to ask “why do they hate us?”

The empire tried to strike back to re-establish its authority, but somehow the world was not responding as expected. In 2002 the army in Venezuela tried to repeat the CIA coup scenario that worked so well in Latin America before, but the masses took to the streets and reinstated Hugo Chavez. When the US army occupied Iraq in 2003, it found that defeating the Iraqi army was the easiest part of it. Popular resistance made the occupation unsustainable and the ensuing US-imposed government in Iraq ended up doing business with China and closer politically to Iran, which is supposed to be the strategic rival of the US in the region. The US ended up burning about one trillion dollar in Iraq for no obvious benefit, (killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and destroying the lives of millions is nothing to count in world politics). It was about the same one trillion that were missing in its coffers when it financial system collapsed in 2008.

From Argentine to Iran, from Cuba to Sudan and Zimbabwe, when the Western powers were trying to force economic blockade of undisciplined third world nations, we’ve seen the new China factor. There is almost nothing you can’t buy in China these days. Over the last fifteen years the gap between the imperialist centers and the 3rd world started to contract. For the first time talking about “developing countries” doesn’t sound so hollow.

Dangerous curves ahead

Being optimist doesn’t mean that you should ignore the dangers ahead. One fact that makes the next period combustive is that while the USA is a declining economic power it still holds the strongest military by far. An irresponsible US president may try to use this power to try to “make America great again”. I do not think that there is a real danger that the USA can make itself the top world power again, but in the process of trying it can easily destroy humanity.the-end-of-the-world

We have seen president Obama declaring his pivot to East Asia, trying to build all kind of military alliances in the region to contain China. We have read the capitalist media writing endlessly with running tears about the danger to World Peace from China building some artificial islands, while they see no danger in the easily preventable death of thousands of refugees in the Mediterranean and have little problem with the continuing killing of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Some good friends that are fed up by US interventions in our (and other) region(s) are hoping for a Trump victory. They believe it will be such a disgrace that it will accelerate the process of diminishing US influence worldwide. It could happen. You can forgive them if they are ready to sacrifice the US itself for another period of internal racist tension and upheavals. But as I see that the decline of US power is irreversible, and the main danger today is from a desperate attempt to reverse it, I wouldn’t recommend taking the pill that may kill you.

It is us, the people

I would like to finish with one more optimistic note about democracy in the USA and in general. When we speak about democracy we should look for the substance, not any symbolic representation. How much power people really have to control their future?

First start with what comes up in mind in this election, the qualities of the candidates… It is my humble opinion that the candidates in this election are not basically morally different from most candidates over the last decades. I think the main difference is that now we know much more about everything, including about the candidates past, their connections and obligations to the capitalist class, etc. The other factor that comes up in this election is that most people are angrier and less tolerant to the behavior of the candidates – only that they differ about their priority target for anger. So, even as there is no positive alternative in sight, we see that the basic balance of power between the establishment and the people is changing as a result of technological progress, education and the crisis of the system.

Second the content of democracy is not the “consumerist” free choice between Coca Cola and Pepsi, as many US elections used to be. Till now voters in Iran had more diverse options (consider Ahmadinejad vs. Khatami) and more influence about the general direction of the regime than US voters used to have. In this election for the first time a more profound option, the vaguely socialist Bernie Sanders, came anywhere close to be counted.

The US is not ripe for true change, but in this election it already raised the glass ceiling that prevented women from contesting the presidency, and it may have its first Ms President. Not a small change if you remember that women are allowed to vote there only since 1920.

The greatness of US imperialism left its people weak and helpless. It deprived them of free education and health care that are taken for granted in many much poorer countries. It made them work longer hours and be thrown to the dogs if they are not useful to the machine. If they are Native Americans, Black, Muslims or Hispanic they may be terrorized or humiliated. The only statistic in which the US leadership is unchallenged worldwide is the rate of incarceration.

While the US multinationals had the power to rule and rob the world, ordinary people could only run endlessly along the predesigned competition for career and consumerism, with minimal control over their own lives and no say about the future of their country.

Now, as the system is disintegrating, it is the time that the people will take control of their lives. The American people (from Canada to Argentine, NY & Texas included), like all the people of the world, will be the winners from the demise of US imperialism.

(*) Comment about the title

I don’t know whether you share my associations – so I may explain.it-is-not-you

It is a common saying in “relations”, when a guy leaves a girl (or vice versa), that he tries to be nice and says: “It is not you, it is me”. Meaning, don’t blame yourself. I’m “not built for a lengthy connection”. It is intended to be polite, but as it became an easy pattern it is thought to be nasty.

I wanted to start with “Dear America” to emphasis the romantic cord – but many of my readers are too angry at “America” and may have no patience with my literature niceties…

But my American readers are really dear to me, and I hope they will find this piece somewhat consoling in these hard days.

 

Will poet Dareen Tatour be released from house detention?

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Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour was arrested in a nightly police raid on her home in Reineh on October 11, 2015. She spent 3 months in different Israeli prisons and the rest of the year in house detention under strict limitations. She is being tried in the Israeli court in Nazareth for “incitement to violence”, based on a poem she published on Youtube and Facebook. Her case provoked wide protest from the literary community, by Palestinians and Israeli writers and even more on the international level. Many famous and prize winning poets, writers and intellectuals, and the international writers’ organization “Pen”, called for her release and for the dropping of charges against her.

Tatour’s lawyer, Abed Fahoum from Nazareth, was lately joined by lawyers Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati from Tel Aviv. They filed a request to reconsider the decision to hold Tatour under house detention until the end of the trial. The request relies mainly on the long time that already passed and on the expected long time until the trial will finish. It also states that the prosecution, which finished resting its case on September 6, failed to bring substantial evidence.20161031_094606

After some legal struggle just to get the hearing going, it was set for Monday, October 31, 2016. I was reporting from the court on Tweeter (hashtag #DareenTatour) and Facebook (on the “Free Dareen Tatour” page) and here is the full report…

The case was not assigned to any specific judge and as we came in the morning it seems that judges do not want to handle it. The file was passed from one judge to the other like a hot potato.

In the end we started one and a half hour late with Judge Lili Jung-Goffer that only received the file a short time before. She is a senior judge in the magistrate court, and by her age she probably doesn’t wait for promotion, so she can be more independent. But she spent much of her career working for the prosecution in Nazareth and it seems from her behavior that she still feels like doing it – she hardly let lawyer Lasky utter one full sentence throughout the hearing.

As we went in she looked at Tatour and seemed to know her. She asked whether Tatour is this woman from the knifing incident that didn’t materialize… Lasky answered: No, she wrote a poem. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.20161031_094131

The judge tried hard to press for a compromise that will let Tatour to go out for 2 hours each day – instead of the 3 days a week currently – but still accompanied by a “supervisor”. She even raised the idea that Tatour may get 4 hours for 3 days a week, saying that being closed in the house for such a long period is really suffocating.

Basically Tatour was not interested in such a compromise as she wants to go back to work and study. Besides, there is no much fresh air to take for a 34 years old woman when you must always drag one of your parents or brothers with you for every step you go.

The defense presented some decisions from the military court in Ofer, which decided to release Palestinians detainees while on trial for incitement. On the other hand lawyer Hardak for the prosecution said she have plenty of cases of Palestinians that are held in detention, many of them in prison and not house detention, while on trial for charges similar to Tatour’s.

When Lasky tried to say that the security situation in Israel today is less tense than it was when Tatour was first arrested on October 2015, the judge interrupted her again in the middle of the sentence. When we discussed the trial later some of the people that were present in the court were ready to swear that they heard the lawyer for the prosecution saying that we can gladly say that the security situation is not any better. Checking in the protocol we found that she was cited as saying that we can’t gladly say that the situation improved…

We almost lost any hope before the judge came with the proposal to ask for a new report from a probation officer. She said she knows any decision in this case will be appealed, and the district court will ask for a report anyway, so better to have it now. Lasky agreed. Hardak, in a show of obstinacy that is not usual in the courts but typical to the prosecution’s behavior in this case, objected even to having an expert opinion.20161031_141942_004

The next hearing was set to Monday, November 14, 10 am, on the hope that the report from the probation officer will be ready. It left us some slim hope that Tatour will be freed before the next hearing of the main trial and will be able to wage the struggle to prove her innocence without the constant pressure of a prolonged detention.

Meanwhile we learned that in the next hearing of the main trial, in November 17, the court will hear again the defense request to oblige the prosecution to release information concerning the claim of discriminative enforcement. At this hearing, also, poet Dareen Tatour should stand before the court and testify for the first time, more than 13 months after her detention, to explain that her poem is a legitimate protest against the crimes of the occupation.