Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Man Who Haunts Israel

Khaled Mashaal was nearly assassinated by Benjamin Netanyahu. Then Israel’s Prime Minister was forced to bring the Hamas leader back to life. Now their deadly history hangs over the conflict that roils the Middle East

BY MICHAEL CROWLEY | JULY 29, 2014
PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE GERAGHTY—THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD/FAIRFAX MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES

haled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader’s life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Khaled Mashaal at an Amman military hospital after the attempt by Israeli operatives on his life in Jordan in 1997.Yousef Allan—AP

As the clock ticked down over four days in late September 1997, with Mashaal unconscious and steadily deteriorating, Netanyahu faced an excruciating choice. The Mossad agents who had sprayed poison into the Palestinian’s ear on a street in Amman, Jordan — in retribution for a series of suicide attacks within Israel — had been captured while fleeing. Jordan’s King Hussein vowed to put the Israelis on trial if Mashaal expired. The agents would likely face execution if convicted. Desperate to avert an international crisis that would derail his efforts to broker peace deals between Israel and its Arab enemies, President Bill Clinton intervened, insisting that Netanyahu, then serving the first of his two tenures as Israel’s prime minister, provide the antidote. The Israeli leader grudgingly complied, even traveling to Amman to issue a personal apology to the King. Mashaal was revived, his stature forever enhanced as “the living martyr.” Instead of killing one of Israel’s most despised enemies, Netanyahu had resurrected him.

Fifteen years later, in December 2012, Mashaal, in his trademark western suit and trim salt-and-pepper beard, stepped out of a giant replica of an M75 rocket in the heart of Gaza City to address a crowd of cheering Palestinians. “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he thundered, as the green missile — among the models Hamas is currently firing into Israel by the thousands — towered several stories over his head. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”

‘We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.’

Today, Khaled Mashaal and Benjamin Netanyahu are again adversaries in an international crisis, as Israel wages war with Hamas in what might be its bloodiest fight yet against the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. In the 58-year-old Palestinian, who is now Hamas’s political leader and most visible spokesman, granting interviews to the likes of Charlie Rose and the BBC, Netanyahu faces an enemy who has only grown in stature since their existential encounter. Although he does not rule Hamas by fiat, Mashaal “is one of the most influential figures in Palestinian politics,” says Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. Thrall says Mashaal is even a plausible candidate to lead the larger Palestinian national movement once the presidency of moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is 79, has ended.

oth Israel and the United States consider Mashaal a terrorist, linked to multiple deadly suicide bombings and thousands of rocket attacks against Israel. (Netanyahu ordered his assassination after one particularly awful explosion in a Jerusalem market killed 16 and injured 169.) Whether he is an incurable fanatic or a pragmatist capable of moderation is a subject of debate within Israel and beyond. In public remarks since the start of this month’s fighting, Mashaal has rejected any cease-fire that does not bring a fundamental change in Israel’s position towards Hamas and Gaza. “We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade,” Mashaal said in Qatar on July 24. But some analysts believe that Mashaal, who lives in exile in the Qatari capital of Doha — where he has met with Qatari and Turkish diplomats working with Secretary of State John Kerry for a ceasefire — is more willing to strike a deal than leaders of Hamas’s military branch. “The political wing seemed ready to stop this earlier, including Mashaal. The military wing has not been, and is calling the shots,” says Dennis Ross, a longtime U.S. Middle East peace negotiator now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2014. Netanyahu was pressured by President Bill Clinton to provide the antidote that saved Mashaal’s life in 1997.Gil Cohen Magen—AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps, but one Israeli government official describes Mashaal as a “radical” whose views differ little from those of Hamas’s Gaza-based military commanders. And undermining Mashaal has become a central component of Israel’s wartime public relations effort, which portrays the Palestinian as a kind of limousine jihadist. “This guy Khaled Mashaal, he’s roaming around, five-star hotel suites in the Gulf states, he’s having the time of his life, while he’s deliberately putting his people as fodder for this horrible terrorist war that they’re conducting against us,” Netanyahutold CNN on July 20. A few days later, two Gaza television outlets aired a peculiar clip of Mashaal speaking in public. “In the name of Allah, most gracious, most compassionate,” he began, “I want to start by thanking the excellent staff of the kitchen at my hotel.” He went on to explain that his hotel room had cost as much as “a hospital and three tunnels in Gaza.” According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli operatives had hacked into the television networks and broadcast the hoax video, dubbing fake audio over authentic footage.

Some analysts say that such ridicule may resonate with Palestinians. Mashaal has spent virtually no time in Israeli-occupied areas since his family fled the West Bank, where he was born, during the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Mashaal first moved to Kuwait, where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood at age 15, then earned a physics degree and worked as a teacher. He later moved to Jordan, where he led Hamas’s powerful branch in the country, then to Syria and, in January 2012, fled that country’s civil war for Qatar, whose government funds and supports Hamas.

Mashaal made a rare visit to Gaza in 2012. Standing before a giant replica of an M75 rocket in the heart of Gaza City, he told a crowd of cheering Palestinians, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel.”Mahmud Hams—AFP/Getty Images

Mashaal’s visit to Gaza later that year — facilitated by the Muslim Brotherhood regime that then ruled neighboring Egypt — was his first and only known visit to the besieged Palestinian territory. That’s a problem for Mashaal’s street cred, according to Thrall. “Hamas’s popular support derives from its perceived authenticity and close connection to the grass roots, much of which is impoverished and resides in shabby refugee camps in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the West Bank,” he says. Little wonder, then, that Mashaal’s enemies keep up the campaign of mockery. Pro-Israel tweeters circulate a photo of Hamas officials in the cabin of a private jet, with a large large chocolate cake waiting to be eaten, claiming Mashaal is among them. (The photo in fact appears to show other Hamas leaders, but not Mashaal.) And in Egypt, whose new regime is hostile to the pro-Brotherhood Hamas, state television recently aired footage of Mashaal dining and working out in his hotel. “Where is the courage? Where is the heroism?” the Egyptian commentator sneered. “If you have real spirit in you, go back [to Gaza] tomorrow.”

ut it’s difficult to wholly discredit a man who forced an Israeli prime minster to give him a “second birth,” as Mashaal puts it. The near-death experience is not forgotten in the Arab world. Just last year Al-Jazeera aired “Kill Him Silently,” a 90-minute documentary recounting the story. It features a re-enactment of how two Mossad agents lay in wait outside Mashaal’s office on the morning of September 25, 1997. As he approached, one sprayed the painkiller fentanyl into Mashaal’s ear from a device disguised under a bandaged arm. The Israelis had hoped that their lethal dose of modified fentanyl — up to one hundred times more potent than morphine — would send Mashaal into a nap from which he would never awake, and that the agents would slip away, leaving no evidence of foul play.

But the plan went awry from the start. Mashaal’s bodyguards were suspicious of the Mossad agents even before their assault, and were able to chase and capture them. (Three other agents would later be found elsewhere in the city; all had entered Jordan using Canadian passports.) Mashaal knew the assailants had tried something strange, but thought they had failed to harm him. “I felt a loud noise in my ear,” Mashaal later said. “It was like a boom, like an electric shock. Then I had shivering sensation in my body like an electric shock.” But he was otherwise fine — or so it seemed.

The Israelis had hoped that their lethal dose of modified fentanyl would send Mashaal into a nap from which he would never awake

Only when he developed a severe headache and began to vomit later that day did Mashaal understand that the attack did, in fact, pose a threat to his life. Clinton mediated the ensuing diplomatic crisis in a furious effort to salvage a major peace agreement between Jordan and Israel that would be inked only weeks later. Netanyahu ultimately provided the antidote formula to Jordanian doctors, who would not trust any chemical supplied directly by the Israelis. He also apologized in person to the brother of the King, who refused to see him. Mashaal emerged a hero. He would assume Hamas’s top political post seven years later, in 2004, after the Israelis — this time dispensing with cloak-and-dagger technique — killed his predecessor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, by firing missiles at his car from helicopter gunship. (Al-Rantisi, as fate would have it, was released from an Israeli prison in the 1997 deal to save Mashaal’s life.) “A lot of people have underestimated [Mashaal], but he has proved very adept despite extraordinary challenges,” says University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami, including “his distance from Gaza and its leadership.” Reliable polling among Palestinians is scarce, but the wild cheers that greeted Mashaal as he stepped from the model rocket in Gaza speak to his popularity.

Netanyahu might describe that as a nightmare, though other Westerners are more hopeful. Underlying Mashaal’s public calls for the destruction of Israel are more nuanced positions. He has distanced himself somewhat from Hamas’s charter, filled with bigoted language about “World Zionism” and “warmongering Jews.” And he has offered a hudna, or long-term truce with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

A picture of deputy chief of the Hamas movement, Ismail Haniya, is displayed amidst the rubble of his house, which was destroyed in an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, July 29, 2014.
A picture of deputy chief of the Hamas movement, Ismail Haniya, is displayed amid the rubble of his house, which was destroyed in an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, July 29, 2014.Oliver Weiken—EPA

Israel firmly rejects those positions, but some diplomats see an opening for progress. In 2009 a group of American foreign policy heavyweights, including Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Barack Obama’s current Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, called for “a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas” that could include negotiations with the group. And speaking at a security conference last week, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned that Hamas is not as bad as it gets. “If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse,” Flynn said. In public, at least, Israel calls such talk foolish and reckless. After Mashaal’s 2012 visit to Gaza, Netanyahu fumed at the world’s “deafening silence” after the Hamas leader expressed what an Israeli spokesman called a “maximalist position of opposition against Israel.”

Netanyahu may yet attempt to complete his unfinished business. Killing Mashaal in Qatar would create another dangerous diplomatic crisis. But Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, believes it should be done anyway, according to a July 21 report by Israel’s Channel 2. And Mossad agents drugged and suffocated the leader of Hamas’s military wing in a Dubai hotel in March 2010 (an incident famous for security camera footage that captured much of the operation).

A few years ago, an Al-Jazeera reporter asked former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, who oversaw the bungled Mashaal attack, whether Israel might try again to kill the Hamas leader. “The terrorist,” Yatom answered, “must understand that anyone who executes terror will not enjoy immunity.”

Why did Israel reject Kerry’s ceasefire proposal?

Why did Israel reject Kerry’s ceasefire proposal?

Is Israel willing to prolong the fighting and to intensify the killing and bereavement on both sides just so that its ally in Cairo gets the credit, rather than the Hamas-allied Turkey and Qatar? 

By Elizabeth Tsurkov

There is hardly any difference between the draft agreement presented by Kerry and the Egyptian proposal, apart from the question of who will be its sponsor: Cairo, or Turkey and Qatar?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on July 22, 2014, amid a series of discussions with Egyptian leaders focused on creating a cease-fire for fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on July 22, 2014, amid a series of discussions with Egyptian leaders focused on creating a cease-fire for fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

On Sunday morning, Haaretz’s excellent diplomatic correspondent, Barak Ravid, published a commentary on the new draft proposed by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry:

The draft Kerry passed to Israel on Friday shocked the cabinet ministers not only because it was the opposite of what Kerry told them less than 24 hours earlier, but mostly because it might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.

At the end of his article Ravid added:

[Kerry’s] conduct in recent days over the Gaza cease-fire raises serious doubts over his judgment and perception of regional events. It’s as if he isn’t the foreign minister of the world’s most powerful nation, but an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.

A report published in Haaretz reveals the text of the draft, compares it with the draft presented by Kerry last Thursday and discusses the negative aspects that appear in the draft. We do not have access to the full text of Thursday’s draft, but we do have the full text of the Egyptian draft of the ceasefire proposal, which Israel accepted and which was rejected by Hamas.

A close reading of the full version of Kerry’s “Hamas-inspired” draft and that of the Egyptians reveals insignificant differences between the two. The Egyptian draft, which was put together with Israel, while excluding the Hamas from the process, was formulated before the land invasion of Gaza and therefore does not address the question of Israel’s continual destruction of the underground tunnels.

           Click here for +972′s full coverage of the war in Gaza

According to Haaretz, the Thursday draft allowed Israel to continue destroying the tunnels for a period of one week following the beginning of the ceasefire, whereas the “Hamas-inspired” draft does not allow it. Effectively, the current draft states that immediately after the onset of the ceasefire ”both sides will refrain from carrying out military or security activities that could lead to confrontation between them.” It is obvious that the draft forbids targeted assassination attempts against members of Hamas and the other organizations, but it is not at all clear that the continued destruction of the tunnels is forbidden as well.

Haaretz lists other problems in Kerry’s draft, the most important being the lack of any reference to the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. However, the Egyptian propsal does not deal with this issue, and it is clear to Israel that the demilitarization will not be achieved by a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. Therefore demilitarization was not stipulated as the objective of its current operation in Gaza.

Another claim presented by Haaretz is that the new draft requires both sides to return to the understandings reached after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. This agreement was put in place in order to secure the reopening of the border crossings, as well as to enlarge the area to which Gazan fishermen have access. However, the Egyptian draft presented the agreement of 2012 as the basis of negotiations between Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Israel. It is important to note that Hamas considers the return to this agreement an accomplishment, in light of Israel’s breaching of the agreement and the tightening of the blockade on Gaza, which took place in the time since the agreement was signed. It was also claimed by Haaretzthat the draft does not mention the Palestinian Authority and thus weakens it. However, Egypt’s proposal also did not refer to the PA.

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

According to Kerry’s draft, it was claimed that the negotiations for a permanent arrangement with Hamas will address the organization’s demand to open a sea harbor and an airport in Gaza. There is no reference in the text of the draft to these demands, and the chances that they will be supported by the U.S. are next to nothing. The airport in Gaza was bombed in 2001 and has not been in operation since. The site of the harbor under construction was also bombed in 2001. Since Israel did not adhere to its commitment (part of the 2005 agreement regarding border crossings), to enable the construction while Mahmoud Abbas was in control of the Gaza Strip, it will not do so under Hamas rule.

There is only one difference between the drafts: the identity of their respective sponsors. According to the Egyptian draft, Egypt will supervise the implementation of the agreement, whereas in Kerry’s draft the role of supporting the agreement and providing humanitarian assistance was given to the European Union, the Arab League, the UN, the United States, Qatar and Turkey.

A senior official in Kerry’s delegation was therefore justified in stating that the Kerry draft was based on the Egyptian proposal, which had been wholeheartedly endorsed by Israel. Thus, if Israel is opposed to the Kerry draft, it is opposed to its own plan.

Is Israel willing to prolong the fighting and to intensify the killing and bereavement on both sides just so that the regime in Cairo gets the credit rather than Turkey and Qatar? Or maybe the fact that 86.5 percent of Israelis currently oppose a ceasefire is driving the spin masters who need to look for excuses to continue the fighting?

Elizabeth Tsurkov is a human rights activist and a graduate student in Middle East studies.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Why Israel won’t sign any ceasefire that’s fair
What does Israeli ‘acceptance’ of ceasefire really mean?
Protective Edge: The disengagement undone

Israeli troops should have been able to tell slain Gaza children not Hamas members, colonel says

Israeli troops should have been able to tell slain Gaza children not Hamas members, colonel says

Updated Wed 23 Jul 2014, 10:40pm AEST

An Israeli military spokesman says the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) should have been able to tell that four boys it killed on a Gaza beach last week were not Hamas operatives.

The four boys from the one extended family – Zacaria, Aahed Bakr Jr, Mohammed and Ismail – were killed by a rocket strike while they played.

“The IDF had a target, a Hamas terrorist target,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told the ABC’s 7.30 program.

“We had intelligence pointing specifically to that location and we had the indication that the perpetrators were on the beach. We had a specific target indicating that they were supposed to be there.

“We had visual surveillance, clearly, to an extent that we should have been able to determine who was on the beach.”

Lt Col Lerner did not provide detail about how long the boys were being observed or by what method.

“We need to determine what happened between the gathering of the intelligence and what happened that caused this unfortunate human tragedy,” he said.

While the Israeli military continues its official investigation, the extended family of the four boys is devastated.

Father shares heartbreak of loss

Aahed Bakr, the father of Zacaria, still cannot comprehend what happened.

“I found my kids dismembered. Innocent kids dismembered – it was carnage,” he told 7.30.

 

“I fainted. I couldn’t understand. It looked like a lie or a movie scene. Even now I can’t understand or believe they died.”

Mr Bakr’s wife, Um Ataf, is inconsolable and he admits that privately he, too, is struggling.

“I cry when I am on my own, but I don’t like my wife and daughters to see me. Overnight I just think and remember what happened to them, my kids and the rest.”

Mr Bakr is a fisherman and his family has a long and strong connection with the sea.

“Every day [the children] were going [to the beach] to play, to check the boats, to relax a bit, to see other fishermen, to play with other kids, to swim,” he said.

“This is the only place where you can relax. Every day they went to the sea from morning until late afternoon.”

Boys were playing hide and seek

His son, Muntaser, Zacaria’s brother, was at the beach that day with his four relatives.

They were among a line of small buildings and sheds on a break wall. It forms part of Gaza’s harbour which on previous days had been hit by Israeli fire. The boys were playing hide and seek.

We had visual surveillance, clearly, to an extent that we should have been able to determine who was on the beach.

Lt Col Peter Lerner

 

Muntaser remembers a round of the game had begun and one of the boys was among the sheds when they came under attack.

“We started calling him until the rocket hit him,” Muntaser said.

“We ran away. I was running with them when they sent the second rocket.”

A photographer captured images of the boys running for their lives.

“I lost my friends,” Muntaser said. “I won’t be able to play with anybody and I can’t go to the port anymore.”

He is powerless, but is desperate to be powerful.

“I say to the resistance, ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t give up, don’t do anything before taking revenge for my brother and my nephew and my two other cousins and take the revenge for the whole country … and take revenge for the world and all the sad people with no home’.”

In Gaza, Israel and Hamas are doing battle in a territory where half the population are children. Officials say at least 145 children have now been killed in the current conflict.

We can’t understand what’s happening around us. Everyday there’s a new massacre. It’s really something my brain can’t take anymore.

Aahed Bakr

 

“It’s a human tragedy,” Lt Col Lerner said. “Children are not our targets. We do not target civilians. It defeats the object of our mission.

“Our mission is against the bad people who are striking Israel, who are launching rockets indiscriminately at our population, at Tel Aviv, at Jerusalem, at Haifa, at Be’er Sheva.”

But that is cold comfort to Mr Bakr.

The Bakr boys were buried by the entrance to a simple cemetery near their home. Mr Bakr says the mourners were too afraid to dig the graves further into the cemetery, on a hill, in case they were seen by Israeli gunboats out at sea.

“No more,” he said. “We can’t understand what’s happening around us. Every day there’s a new massacre.

“It’s really something my brain can’t take anymore.”

Claims of war crimes

Meanwhile, an emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council has been told Israel may have committed war crimes in Gaza.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says there is a strong possibility the killing of civilians including children is a breach of the law.

Ms Pillay says 147 children have been killed in Gaza over the past 16 days.

“Their killing raises concerns about respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack,” she said.

“Israeli children and their parents and other civilians also have a right to live without the constant fear that a rocket fired from Gaza may land on their homes or their schools, killing and injuring them.

About 650 Palestinians and 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the past 16 days.

Israel : The More Palestinians Die, the Better

TOPICS: ISRAELPALESTINEDIANE SAWYERMSNBCMEDIA CRITICISMMIDDLE EASTJOHN KERRY,BENJAMIN NETANYAHUPROPAGANDAAYMAN MOHYELDIN

“The more the dead, the better”: Israel’s crumbling media warAyman Mohyeldin (Credit: MSNBC)

Israeli propaganda has hit a new low. While the world was still trying to come to terms with the mass deaths in Shejaiya, Benjamin Netanyahu went on CNN to state that Hamas uses the “telegenically dead” to further “their cause.” He added that for Hamas: “The more the dead, the better.” Even while Netanyahu followed the propaganda script, which is to first show sympathy and express remorse, by reducing dead Palestinians to a photo-op he showed how his own mind works. 

There is a standard script for how to deal with Palestinian casualties. After Israel killed four boys on the Gaza beach on July 16, the U.S. establishment media fell in line behind Israel’s PR framework: acknowledge the tragedy but blame Hamas.  This is exactly what Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev said on Channel 4 News when grilled by the anchor Jon Snow. It is also how the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psakiresponded, using the same word-for-word talking points.

This framework, developed in 2009, can be found in The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary. The Orwellian manual provides a detailed outline on how to “communicate effectively in support of Israel.”

One of its first instructions is that pro-Israeli propagandists need to show empathy. The manual insists that they should “show empathy for BOTH sides” (caps in original) as a way of gaining credibility and trust. To make sure that the point is understood, the manual repeats again (in bold, and underlined this time) the instruction “use Empathy”—the suggestion being that empathy is an important tool to be used in the propaganda war.

When innocent Palestinian children and women are killed, the first response should be to show empathy; the next is to reframe the issue stating that Israel is not to blame and that it is only defending itself and further that it only wants peace. Even when it is raining death and destruction on Palestinians, the manual is clear: “Remind people—again and again—that Israel wants peace.”

Developed after the 2008 Gaza war, when Americans began to show greater sympathy for Palestinians, this propaganda manual tries to address some of the shortcomings during Operation Cast Lead. Among the various shifts it suggests, the manual notes that it is important to distinguish between the Palestinian people and Hamas. Ayman Mohyeldin, one of the few international reporters who covered Cast Lead, noted that Israel sought to “portray everyone in Gaza as a Hamas sympathizer, as a terrorist sympathizer” as a way to justify its indiscriminate killing.

The 2009 manual counters this strategy, stating that while Americans “get” that “Hamas is a terrorist organization. . . if it sounds like you are attacking the Palestinian people. . . you will lose support.” It carefully emphasizes again: “Right now, many Americans sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians, and that sympathy will increase if you fail to differentiate between the people from their leaders.”

In other words, in order to decrease sympathy for the Palestinian people new tactics were needed to augment older ones.

Israeli propaganda has a long history. In 1982 the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was met with international condemnation. In particular, the massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila damaged its public image. Israel then instituted a permanent PR establishment that would work to cultivate good media coverage in the U.S. The Hasbara project involved training Israeli diplomats and press officers on how to speak in ways that ensured favorable media coverage. The media watchdog group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) was formed to monitor and respond to “unfair” media coverage of Israel.

But pro-Israeli coverage isn’t simply the product of good talking points; rather it stems from the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel and their mutual interests in the Middle East. It is not a coincidence that Psaki would use the same language as Mark Regev. Or that John Kerry would echo Netanyahu.

The U.S. political elite, the elite in Israel and the owners of the corporate media share a set of common economic and political interests that ensures that pro-Israeli propaganda dominates in the establishment media. Should journalists and media organizations break from the script, various pro-Israeli groups, such as CAMERA, generate flack and bring enough pressure to bear on editors and reporters that they are brought back in line.

As Glenn Greenwald noted recently, media figures and executives are more “petrified” of covering Israel than any other issue. Jon Stewart comically made the same point in his segment “We Need to Talk about Israel.”

The end result is that news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows predictable pro-Israeli patterns that are outlined in an educational video produced by media scholar Sut Jhally called Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Cracks in the Propaganda Machine

But something new has been happening in the establishment media, particularly since the July 16 tragedy. Ayman Mohyeldin, now working for NBC, witnessed and covered Israel’s cold-blooded murder of four young Palestinian boys playing soccer on the beach. Mohyeldin’s coverage was gut-wrenching but it was carried by NBC nevertheless.

However, NBC immediately recalled Mohyeldin, giving no explanation for why its best journalist on this topic (Mohyeldin has covered Gaza before, speaks Arabic, and has a good understanding of Middle East politics) might be pulled out of Gaza.

This is standard establishment media protocol. But what happened next is anything but standard.

Following Glenn Greenwald’s article on this at the Intercept, large numbers of people, primarily through social media, held NBC’s feet to the fire. In contrast to standard patterns where the only pressure comes from well-funded pro-Israeli groups, this time ordinary people who were reeling from the Palestinian death toll organized their dissent.

The result was that Mohyeldin was reinstated. He tweeted: “Thanks for all the support. I’m returning to #Gaza to report. Proud of NBC’s continued commitment to cover #Palestinian side of the story.”

Similar outrage at ABC’s Diane Sawyer, who misidentified the devastation and suffering of Palestinians as Israeli, prompted a rare apology from the pro-Israel corporate media.

The dynamic at work is as follows: First, independent media have played a crucial role in countering Israeli propaganda and offering alternative accounts. Second, social media have provided a forum from which independent journalism, as well as first-hand reports from Palestinian people in Gaza, are circulated. Third, in these spaces Israel is losing the propaganda war, despite its vast resources of misinformation experts. Fourth, grassroots activists using social media have been able to bring pressure to bear on the establishment media. Fifth, this climate has enabled establishment journalists on the ground to be more forthcoming about the horrors of what is happening in Gaza.

Thus, Tyler Hicks, a photojournalist for the New York Times, who also witnessed the Israeli attack on the beach, was allowed to contribute a story in the Times about his experience. Calling the lie to Israel’s claim that it only bombs Hamas targets, he wrote: “A small metal shack with no electricity or running water on a jetty in the blazing seaside sun does not seem like the kind of place frequented by Hamas militants, the Israel Defense Forces’ intended targets. Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters, either.”

At the beach when this tragedy occurred, Hicks asked: “If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?”

Ben Wedeman, CNN’s veteran foreign correspondent, found out first-hand that nothing can protect journalists. He was hit in the head by an Israeli rubber bullet. Following this, he filed a report of a family in Gaza who were evacuating their neighborhood in anticipation of an Israeli attack. The scream of horror and panic of a little girl hearing a missile strike close to her location filled the screens of CNN viewers.

For the first time, perhaps, Americans are witnessing the suffering of Palestinian people in the establishment press. Even while the framework of “Blame Hamas” dominates mainstream media coverage, the humanity of Palestinian people is cracking through the decades-long, well established façade of pro-Israeli propaganda.

And how can it not? When the actual experience of journalists contradicts the propaganda narrative, if they have a heart or a brain, they cannot help but see Zionist propaganda for what it is. This is possibly why Israel kept out foreign journalists during the 2008 Cast Lead operation.

Another journalist, CNN’s Diana Magnay, hearing the cheers of Israelis as Palestinians were being bombarded, and somewhat horrified by it, said spontaneously on the air—“it is really astonishing, macabre and an awful thing really to watch this display of fire in the air.” As a trained journalist, she seems to have self-censored and substituted the words “fire in the air” for what she actually thought about the people cheering on: “scum,” the word she would later tweet.

Magnay wrote: “Israelis on hill above Sderot cheer as bombs land on #gaza; threaten to ‘destroy our car if I say one word wrong.’ Scum.”

Despite the serious intimidation faced by journalists, in this case to bomb Magnay’s car if she got even “a word wrong,” such pressure seems to be working less and less. While Magnay was called away from Gaza by CNN, a vigilant social media sphere combined with mass protests around the world has created a climate where if media institutions are to retain their credibility they have to at least appear to be balanced.

This is the opening that Palestinian rights activists and supporters need to harness in order to reframe the debate. While they lack lobby groups, media watchdog outfits, paid trolls, disinformation experts and the vast financial resources of the Israeli side, they do have one thing going—the truth.

Deepa Kumar is a professor of Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is on Twitter @ProfessorKumar. She is the author, most recently, of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. You can follow her work at Deepakumar.net.

India MPs demand probe on Shiv Sena MP who ‘force-fed’ Muslim worker

India MPs demand probe into ‘force-fed’ Muslim worker

TV grab of the incidentRajan Baburao Vichare (left) said he was only trying to protest against the quality of the food

Opposition MPs in India have demanded an investigation into reports that some Hindu MPs tried to forcibly feed a Muslim man fasting for Ramadan.

The MPs from the right-wing Shiv Sena party reportedly took their anger out on a government canteen worker because of the “poor quality of food”.

Opposition MPs said the incident was a violation of religious belief.

Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink from before dawn until dusk during the Islamic holy month.

On Monday, the opposition parties, led by the Congress, protested in parliament against the incident and demanded an apology from the Shiv Sena.

In a letter to the speaker of parliament, a group of opposition MPs urged her to direct the government to carry out an “immediate inquiry and appropriate action so that such wanton behaviour is no longer repeated,” the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The MPs described the incident as “controversial and inhuman as the victim of this barbaric act is a Muslim who is fasting during Ramadan”.

Shiv Sena, a powerful regional party based in western Maharashtra state, has denied the incident took place.

A video was aired on several news channels apparently showing one of its MPs trying to force bread into the mouth of the restaurant worker.

The MP involved, Rajan Baburao Vichare, said he was only trying to protest against the quality of the food.

“The canteen management here is in a bad state. The chapatis (bread) they made didn’t even break, the quality of vegetables and pulses is bad. Making this a religious issue doesn’t make sense,” Mr Vichare told a news channel.

Shiv Sena has a history of inciting religious violence. It was blamed for inciting tensions between Hindu and Muslim communities during the 1993 Mumbai riots, in which about 900 people died.

The party was founded to keep south Indian migrants out of Maharashtra state and to halt the spread of Islam.

It is currently the sixth-largest in parliament, with 18 seats, and is an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Gideon Levy: the most hated man in Israel

Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?

 

ASHLEY COMBES / EPICSCOTLAND

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For three decades, the writer and journalist Gideon Levy has been a lone voice, telling his readers the truth about what goes on in the Occupied Territories.

 

 

 

Gideon Levy is the most hated man in Israel – and perhaps the most heroic. This “good Tel Aviv boy” – a sober, serious child of the Jewish state – has been shot at repeatedly by the Israeli Defence Force, been threatened with being “beaten to a pulp” on the country’s streets, and faced demands from government ministers that he be tightly monitored as “a security risk.” This is because he has done something very simple, and something that almost no other Israeli has done. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” And for that, many people want him silenced.

The story of Gideon Levy – and the attempt to deride, suppress or deny his words – is the story of Israel distilled. If he loses, Israel itself is lost.

I meet him in a hotel bar in Scotland, as part of his European tour to promote his new book, ‘The Punishment of Gaza’. The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.

He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”

“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

So he describes the lives of ordinary Palestinians like Najawa and her pupils in the pages of Ha’aretz, Israel’s establishment newspaper. The tales read like Chekovian short stories of trapped people, in which nothing happens, and everything happens, and the only escape is death. One article was entitled “The last meal of the Wahbas family.” He wrote: “They’d all sat down to have lunch at home: the mother Fatma, three months pregnant; her daughter Farah, two; her son Khaled, one; Fatma’s brother, Dr Zakariya Ahmed; his daughter in law Shayma, nine months pregnant; and the seventy-eight year old grandmother. A Wahba family gathering in Khan Yunis in honour of Dr Ahmed, who’d arrived home six days earlier from Saudi Arabia. A big boom is heard outside. Fatma hurriedly scoops up the littlest one and tries to escape to an inner room, but another boom follows immediately. This time is a direct hit.”

In small biographical details, he recovers their humanity from the blankness of an ever-growing death toll. The Wahbas had tried for years to have a child before she finally became pregnant at the age of 36. The grandmother tried to lift little Khaled off the floor: that’s when she realised her son and daughter were dead.

Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9,  “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”

At times, the occupation seems to him less tragic than absurd. In 2009, Spain’s most famous clown, Ivan Prado, agreed to attend a clowning festival on Ramallah in the West Bank. He was detained at the airport in Israel, and then deported “for security reasons.” Levy leans forward and asks: “Was the clown considering transferring Spain’s vast stockpiles of laughter to hostile elements? Joke bombs to the jihadists? A devastating punch line to Hamas?”

Yet the absurdity nearly killed him. In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care.”

He shakes his head with a hardened bewilderment. “They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”



I “Who lived in this house? Where is he now?”

How did Gideon Levy become so different to his countrymen? Why does he offer empathy to the Palestinians while so many others offer only bullets and bombs? At first, he was just like them: his argument with other Israelis is an argument with his younger self. He was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv and as a young man “I was totally nationalistic, like everyone else. I thought – we are the best, and the Arabs just want to kill. I didn’t question.”

He was fourteen during the Six Day War, and soon after his parents took him to see the newly conquered Occupied Territories. “We were so proud going to see Rachel’s Tomb [in Bethlehem] and we just didn’t see the Palestinians. We looked right through them, like they were invisible,” he says. “It had always been like that. We were passing as children so many ruins [of Palestinian villages that had been ethnically cleansed in 1948]. We never asked: ‘Who lived in this house? Where is he now? He must be alive. He must be somewhere.’ It was part of the landscape, like a tree, like a river.” Long into his twenties, “I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, ‘These are exceptions, not part of government policy.’”

Levy says he became different due to “an accident.” He carried out his military service with Israeli Army Radio and then continued working as a journalist, “so I started going to the Occupied Territories a lot, which most Israelis don’t do. And after a while, gradually, I came to see them as they really are.”

But can that be all? Plenty of Israelis go to the territories – not least the occupying troops and settlers – without recoiling. “I think it was also – you see, my parents were refugees. I saw what it had done to them. So I suppose… I saw these people and thought of my parents.” Levy’s father was a German Jewish lawyer from the Sudetenland. At the age of 26 – in 1939, as it was becoming inescapably clear the Nazis were determined to stage a genocide in Europe – he went with his parents to the railway station in Prague, and they waved him goodbye. “He never saw them or heard from them again,” Levy says. “He never found out what happened to them. If he had not left, he would not have lived.” For six months he lived on a boat filled with refugees, being turned away from port after port, until finally they made it to British Mandate Palestine, as it then was.

“My father was traumatised for his whole life,” he says. “He never really settled in Israel. He never really learned to speak anything but broken Hebrew. He came to Israel with his PhD and he had to make his living, so he started to work in a bakery and to sell cakes from door to door on his bicycle. It must have been a terrible humiliation to be a PhD in law and be knocking on doors offering cakes. He refused to learn to be a lawyer again. He became a minor clerk. I think this is what smashed him, y’know? He lived here sixty years, he had his family, had his happiness but he was really a stranger. A foreigner, in his own country… He was always outraged by things, small things. He couldn’t understand how people would dare to phone between two and four in the afternoon. It horrified him. He never understood what is the concept of overdraft in the bank. Every Israeli has an overdraft, but if he heard somebody was one pound overdrawn, he was horrified.”

His father “never” talked about home. “Any time I tried to encourage him to talk about it, he would close down. He never went back. There was nothing [to go back to], the whole village was destroyed. He left a whole life there. He left a fiancé, a career, everything. I am very sorry I didn’t push him harder to talk because I was young, so I didn’t have much interest. That’s the problem. When we are curious about our parents, they are gone.”

Levy’s father never saw any parallels between the fact he was turned into a refugee, and the 800,000 Palestinians who were turned into refugees by the creation of the state of Israel. “Never! People didn’t think like that. We never discussed it, ever.” Yet in the territories, Levy began to see flickers of his father everywhere – in the broken men and women never able to settle, dreaming forever of going home.

Then, slowly, Levy began to realise their tragedy seeped deeper still into his own life – into the ground beneath his feet and the very bricks of the Israeli town where he lives, Sheikh Munis. It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return. Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands.” He adds that it is “stupid and wrong” to compare it to the Holocaust, but says that man is a traumatized refugee just as surely as Levy’s father – and even now, if he ended up in the territories, he and his children and grandchildren live under blockade, or violent military occupation.

The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now… dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.”



II The scam of “peace talks”

Levy looks out across the hotel bar where we are sitting and across the Middle East, as if the dry sands of the Negev desert were washing towards us. Any conversation about the region is now dominated by a string of propaganda myths, he says, and perhaps the most basic is the belief that Israel is a democracy. “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

He sits back and asks in a low tone, as if talking about a terminally ill friend: “How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when… Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”

“I want to be proud of my country,” he says. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want us to do the right thing.” So this requires him to point out that Palestinian violence is – in truth – much more limited than Israeli violence, and usually a reaction to it. “The first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it. Instead, under cover of the quiet, we built the enormous, criminal settlement enterprise,” where Palestinian land is seized by Jewish religious fundamentalists who claim it was given to them by God. Only then – after a long period of theft, and after their attempts at peaceful resistance were met with brutal violence – did the Palestinians become violent themselves. “What would happen if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams [the rockets shot at Southern Israel, including civilian towns]? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda. Nobody would give any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently.”

He unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians, but adds: “The Qassams have a context. They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” Yet the Israeli attitude is that “we are allowed to bomb anything we want but they are not allowed to launch Qassams.” It is a view summarised by Haim Ramon, the justice minister at time of Second Lebanon War: “We are allowed to destroy everything.”

Even the terms we use to discuss Operation Cast Lead are wrong, Levy argues. “That wasn’t a war. It was a brutal assault on a helpless, imprisoned population. You can call a match between Mike Tyson and a 5 year old child boxing, but the proportions, oh, the proportions.” Israel “frequently targeted medical crews, [and] shelled a UN-run school that served as a shelter for residents, who bled to death over days as the IDF prevented their evacuation by shooting and shelling… A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation. They say as a justification that Hamas hides among the civilian population. As if the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population! As if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population!”

He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster. A child who has seen his house destroyed, his brother killed, and his father humiliated will not easily forgive.”

These supposed ‘friends of Israel’ are in practice friends of Islamic fundamentalism, he believes. “Why do they have to give the fundamentalists more excuses, more fury, more opportunities, more recruits? Look at Gaza. Gaza was totally secular not long ago. Now you can hardly get alcohol today in Gaza, after all the brutality. Religious fundamentalism is always the language people turn to in despair, if everything else fails. If Gaza had been a free society it would not have become like this. We gave them recruits.”

Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, “at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!”

Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.”

He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipip Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined “military locations” – and he was later caught on tape boasting: “Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords.” If he bragged about “stopping” the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: “And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?”

These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes. “If there are negotiations, there won’t be international pressure. Quiet, we’re in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations. Under the cover of such talks, the chances for peace will grow even dimmer… The clear subtext is Netanyahu’s desire to get American support for bombing Iran. To do that, he thinks he needs to at least pay lip-service to Obama’s requests for talks. That’s why he’s doing this.”

After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”



III Waving Israeli flags made in China

According to the opinion polls, most Israelis support a two-state solution – yet they elect governments that expand the settlements and so make a two-state solution impossible. “You would need a psychiatrist to explain this contradiction,” Levy says. “Do they expect two states to fall from the sky? Today, the Israelis have no reason to make any changes,” he continues. “Life in Israel is wonderful. You can sit in Tel Aviv and have a great life. Nobody talks about the occupation. So why would they bother [to change]? The majority of Israelis think about the next vacation and the next jeep and all the rest doesn’t interest them any more.” They are drenched in history, and yet oblivious to it.

In Israel, the nation’s “town square has been empty for years. If there were no significant protests during Operation Cast Lead, then there is no left to speak of. The only group campaigning for anything other than their personal whims are the settlers, who are very active.” So how can change happen? He says he is “very pessimistic”, and the most likely future is a society turning to ever-more naked “apartheid.” With a shake of the head, he says: “We had now two wars, the flotilla – it doesn’t seem that Israel has learned any lesson, and it doesn’t seem that Israel is paying any price. The Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative.”

It sounds like he is making the case for boycotting Israel, but his position is more complex. “Firstly, the Israeli opposition to the boycott is incredibly hypocritical. Israel itself is one of the world’s most prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel’s behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. It’s a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. So Israelis cannot complain if this is used against them.”

He shifts in his seat. “But I do not boycott Israel. I could have done it, I could have left Israel. But I don’t intend to leave Israel. Never. I can’t call on others to do what I will not do… There is also the question of whether it will work. I am not sure Israelis would make the connection. Look at the terror that happened in 2002 and 2003: life in Israel was really horrifying, the exploding buses, the suicide-bombers. But no Israeli made the connection between the occupation and the terror. For them, the terror was just the ‘proof’ that the Palestinians are monsters,  that they were born to kill, that they are not human beings and that’s it. And if you just dare to make the connection, people will tell you ‘you justify terror ’ and you are a traitor. I suspect it would be the same with sanctions. The condemnation after Cast Lead and the flotilla only made Israel more nationalistic. If [a boycott was] seen as the judgement of the world they would be effective. But Israelis are more likely to take them as ‘proof’ the world is anti-Semitic and will always hate us.”

He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. Israel is totally isolated today, except for America.” He was initially hopeful that Barack Obama would do this – he recalls having tears in his eyes as he delivered his victory speech in Grant Park – but he says he has only promoted “tiny steps, almost nothing, when big steps are needed.” It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?”

For progress, “the right-wing American Jews who become orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys” would have to be exposed as “Israel’s enemies”, condemning the country they supposedly love to eternal war. “It is the right-wing American Jews who write the most disgusting letters. They say I am Hitler’s grandson, that they pray my children get cancer… It is because I touch a nerve with them. There is something there.” These right-wingers claim to be opposed to Iran, but Levy points out they vehemently oppose the two available steps that would immediately isolate Iran and strip Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh of his best propaganda-excuses: “peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians, both of which are on offer, and both of which are rejected by Israel. They are the best way to undermine Iran.”

He refuses to cede Israel to people “who wave their Israeli flags made in China and dream of a Knesset cleansed of Arabs and an Israel with no [human rights organisation] B’Tselem.” He looks angry, indignant. “I will never leave. It’s my place on earth. It’s my language, it’s my culture. Even the criticism that I carry and the shame that I carry come from my deep belonging to the place. I will leave only if I be forced to leave. They would have to tear me out.”



IV A whistle in the dark

Does he think this is a real possibility – that his freedom could be taken from him, in Israel itself? “Oh, very easily,” he says. “It’s already taken from me by banning me from going to Gaza, and this is just a start. I have great freedom to write and to appear on television in Israel, and I have a very good life, but I don’t take my freedom for granted, not at all. If this current extreme nationalist atmosphere continues in Israel in one, two, three years time…” He sighs. “There may be new restrictions, Ha’aretz may close down – God forbid – I don’t take anything for granted. I will not be surprised if Israeli Palestinian parties are criminalized at the next election, for example. Already they are going after the NGOs [Non-Government Organizations that campaign for Palestinian rights]. There is already a majority in the opinion polls who want to punish people who expose wrong-doing by the military and want to restrict the human rights groups.”

There is also the danger of a freelance attack. Last year, a man with a large dog strutted up to Levy near his home and announced: “I have wanted to beat you to a pulp for a long time.” Levy only narrowly escaped, and the man was never caught. He says now: “I am scared but I don’t live on the fear.  But to tell you that my night sleep is as yours… I’m not sure. Any noise, my first association is ‘maybe now, it’s coming’.  But there was never any concrete case in which I really thought ‘here it comes’. But I know it might come.”

Has he ever considered not speaking the truth, and diluting his statements? He laughs – and for the only time in our interview, his eloquent torrents of words begin to sputter. “I wish I could! No way I could. I mean, this is not an option at all. Really, I can’t. How can I? No way. I feel lonely but my private, er, surrounding is supportive, part of it at least. And there are still Israelis who appreciate what I do.  If you walk with me in the streets of Tel Aviv you will see all kinds of reactions but also very positive reactions. It is hard but I mean it’s…it’s…what other choice do I have?”

He says his private life is supportive “in part”. What’s the part that isn’t? For the past few years, he says, he has dated non-Israeli women – “I couldn’t be with a nationalistic person who said those things about the Palestinians” – but his two sons don’t read anything he writes, “and they have different politics from me. I think it was difficult for them, quite difficult.” Are they right-wingers? “No, no, no, nothing like that. As they get older, they are coming to my views more. But they don’t read my work. No,” he says, looking down, “they don’t read it.”

The long history of the Jewish people has a recurring beat – every few centuries, a brave Jewish figure stands up to warn his people they are have ended up on an immoral or foolish path that can only end in catastrophe, and implores them to change course. The first prophet, Amos, warned that the Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because the Jewish people had forgotten the need for justice and generosity – and he was shunned for it. Baruch Spinoza saw beyond the Jewish fundamentalism of his day to a materialist universe that could be explained scientifically – and he was excommunicated, even as he cleared the path for the great Jewish geniuses to come. Could Levy, in time, be seen as a Jewish prophet in the unlikely wilderness of a Jewish state, calling his people back to a moral path?

He nods faintly, and smiles. “Noam Chomsky once wrote to me that I was like the early Jewish prophets. It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me. But… well… My opponents would say it’s a long tradition of self-hating Jews. But I don’t take that seriously. For sure, I feel that I belong to a tradition of self-criticism. I deeply believe in self-criticism.” But it leaves him in bewildering situations: “Many times I am standing among Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, and they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I’m standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It is…” He shakes his head. There must be times, I say, when you ask: what’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?

But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. Outside pressure can be effective if it’s an American one but I don’t see it happening. Other pressure from other parts of the world might be not effective. The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you. Perhaps the only hope I have is that this occupation regime hopefully is already so rotten that maybe it will fall by itself one day. You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”

In the meantime, Gideon Levy will carry on patiently documenting his country’s crimes, and trying to call his people back to a righteous path. He frowns a little – as if he is picturing Najawa Khalif blown to pieces in front of her school bus, or his own broken father – and says to me: “A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.”

Gideon Levy’s book ‘The Punishment of Gaza’ is available from Verso Books. You can buy it HERE.

You can watch Johann’s speech to the Protest the Pope rally  HERE.

You can follow Johann Hari’s updates on Israel and other issuesHERE.

Jewish men go on rampage in Paris streets and clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Shocking scenes as 150 Jewish men go on rampage in Paris streets and clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators

  • About 150 men took to the streets armed with metal bars and sticks
  • None were arrested despite going on the rampage in front of police
  • Six pro-Palestinian demonstrators arrested over synagogue break in 

By PETER ALLEN

A group of 150 Jewish men were seen brandishing iron bars and cans of pepper spray as they clashed with Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Paris.

Video footage of the clashes show the group chanting racist slogans as they roamed the streets.

It came as President Francois Hollande warned that he did not want to see ‘the Israeli-Palestinian conflict imported into France’.

Scroll down for video

 
A still taken from the video shows dozens of men in Paris walking down the streets armed with chairs and other weapons, before clashing with pro-Palestinian demonstrators

A still taken from the video shows dozens of men in Paris walking down the streets armed with chairs and other weapons, before clashing with pro-Palestinian demonstrators

 

 
 
Around 150 mainly young men were seen carrying weapons, like chairs, and chanting racist slogans as they went on the rampage

Around 150 mainly young men were seen carrying weapons, like chairs, and chanting racist slogans as they went on the rampage

 

 

 

 
INCREDIBLE FOOTAGE of Israeli/Palestinian violence in Paris
 

 

French Jewish groups have complained about an increase in anti-Semitism in recent months, with many accusing Muslim youths of targeting them.

But a video shot close to the Place de la Bastille on Sunday, and verified by police before being posted on YouTube, appears to show pro-Israel groups are also actively involved in clashes.

 

 

In Paris, CRS riot police did not arrest any of the group, thought to be linked to the Jewish Defence League, despite them openly fighting in broad daylight.

In the video, those amongst the group can be heard chanting ‘**** you Palestine’ as they smash up chairs and metal tables to be used as missiles.

 
CRS riot police did not arrest any members of the rampaging group, thought to be linked to the extremist Jewish Defence League, despite them openly fighting in broad daylight

CRS riot police did not arrest any members of the rampaging group, thought to be linked to the extremist Jewish Defence League, despite them openly fighting in broad daylight

 

 
 
The group were carrying gas canisters, pepper spray, metal bars and wooden sticks, and some wore crash helmets while others simply covered their faces

The group were carrying gas canisters, pepper spray, metal bars and wooden sticks, and some wore crash helmets while others simply covered their faces

 

 

The men are armed with gas canisters, pepper spray, metal bars and wooden sticks and some wear crash helmets.

The video shows the men running towards pro-Palestinian demonstrators, before skirmishes break out.

Six pro-Palestinian demonstrators were arrested on Sunday, accused of trying to break into two Paris synagogues. Two Jewish men were reportedly injured.

A protester wearing a gas mask holds a fake rocket during protests in Paris over the weekend

A protester wearing a gas mask holds a fake rocket during protests in Paris over the weekend

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators were said to have tried to break into two Paris synagogues on Sunday which resulted in six arrests and two Jewish men being injured

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators were said to have tried to break into two Paris synagogues on Sunday which resulted in six arrests and two Jewish men being injured

In the wake of the clashes Mr Hollande said the country will ‘redouble vigilance’.

He was due to meet the head of Jewish umbrella group CRIF today.

Alexis Bachelay, a Paris MP for the ruling Socialist party, said: ‘There has evidently been a media manipulation about who really got assaulted.

‘These are extremely serious facts that need to be investigated thoroughly by the police. It is not the first time that young French people of Muslim origin are stigmatised by the media.

‘French people of Muslim origin should be protected by the law when demonstrating. They should not be attacked by radical groups like the LDJ’.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2693423/Jewish-vigilantes-rampage-Paris-attack-pro-Palestinian-demonstrators.html#ixzz37r94syfV 
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Desert Dust Feeds Deep Ocean Life

Desert Dust Feeds Deep Ocean Life

Dust from the Sahara Desert provides most of the iron found in the Atlantic Ocean, according to research that also sheds light on how the oceans help sequester carbon dioxide
 
dust plume off Africa


Dust plume off the Sahara desert over the northeast Atlantic Ocean.  
Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON − Marine scientists have a better answer for why the deep ocean is blue while coastal waters are usually green, as well as a better handle on the more complex questions about the ocean’s role in the absorbing all the carbon dioxide we’re pumping into the atmosphere.

The insight comes as scientists measure levels of iron dissolved in the Atlantic ocean and trace the metal back to its source.

And in the course of settling these points, they have also answered questions about North Africa’s importance to the rest of the world. Turns out the Sahara keeps the world’s oceans and the Amazon supplied with valuable dust.

Tim Conway and Seth John of the University of South Carolina report in the journalNature that they devised a way to sample large volumes of seawater to identify the content of dissolved iron in the water, and then to distinguish the ratio between different isotopes of that iron.

An isotope is a natural variant of an element, and it often indicates a different source of origin. Coal from China, for instance, can be differentiated from Appalachian coal based on its isotopic signature.

Iron is a vital trace element: Without it, mammals cannot make hemoglobin to transport oxygen around the bloodstream, and plants cannot make chlorophyll to photosynthesize tissue from air and sunlight.

The deep oceans have everything needed for plant growth – sunlight, carbon, nitrogen and water – but they don’t have iron. That is one reason why they tend to be blue while nutrient-rich coastal waters are green. Estuaries and deltas are rich in iron and other nutrients and good for algal growth. Because ocean phytoplankton – microscopic plants sustaining the marine food web – cannot get enough iron, there is a limit to the carbon dioxide they can absorb from the atmosphere. So iron is an element in the global carbon cycle. And it doesn’t need to be available in huge quantities.

“I did a calculation once on a ton of sea water. The amount of iron in that ton of water would weigh about as much as a single eyelash,” John said. “The key reason that everybody cares about iron is because it limits the growth of phytoplankton such as algae in maybe a fifth of the ocean.”

The researchers collected 600 samples of sea water during a cruise across the North Atlantic on a research ship. Then they set to work trying to identify the origin of the few billionths of a gram of iron in every liter of the water collected.

A measurable proportion of oceanic iron seeped up from deep within the crust through hydrothermal vents along the mid-ocean ridge. Another fraction came from sediments on the African coast, and more than 10 percent came from oxygenated muds on the American coast.

But they also found that the answer had been blowing in the wind. Somewhere between 71 percent and 87 percent of the iron in their samples was delivered by dust storms from the Sahara desert. That is, life in the deep ocean depended on an annual delivery of fertilizer from one of the world’s emptiest and most parched regions.

The play between dust and life has fascinated scientists for more than a decade. In 2006, Israeli researchers found that more than half the dust needed to fertilize the Brazilian rainforest blew in from just one desiccated valley in Chad.

Two years later a team in Liverpool in the UK confirmed the role of Saharan dust as a mineral source for the Atlantic ocean and in 2007 Swiss and German microbiologists analyzed dust samples collected by Charles Darwin.

They found that wind-blown dust could transport microbes from West Africa all the way to the Caribbean. An estimated 50 million tons of Saharan dust is blown across the Atlantic to the Amazon every year.

So the South Carolina research is just another example of science in action: A painstaking increment to human knowledge rather than a breakthrough. It adds quantifiable figures to a picture already taking shape. It is a reminder that intercontinental migration is as old as life itself. And it also helps explain a little bit more about the global climate machine.

Researchers have already theorized that airborne dust must play a role in cloud formation – and therefore in rainfall and drought – and even that dust storms may play a role in damping down hurricanes.

If more dust in the oceans and the forests means more carbon uptake from the atmosphere, then cycles of superstorms of dust could also help tweak the global thermostat. “It could help us understand past climate change, like glacial-interglacial cycles,” John said.

“There would have been huge changes in dust fluxes to the ocean in glacial times, and so understanding how much iron comes from dust in the modern day helps us figure out whether that was an important driver of glacial-interglacial cycles.”

This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport

Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport

I can no longer stand by while Israeli politicians like Ayelet Shaked condone the deaths of innocent Palestinian women and children

 
 
 
 
 
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She is young. She is pretty. She is a university graduate and a computer engineer. She is also an Israeli Parliamentarian – and the reason why I am on the brink of burning my Israeli passport. Because behind that wide-eyed innocent face lurks the Angel of Death.

Ayelet Shaked represents the far-right Jewish Home party in the Knesset. This means she is well to the right of Benyamin Netanyahu, just in case you thought such a thing was not possible.

On Monday she quoted this on her Facebook page:  “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

A week earlier, just before 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair was snatched and burned alive, Shaked wrote: “This is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. The reality is that this is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.”

So even before the boy died horribly she declared him to be the enemy, and afterwards, without any apparent hint of guilt or remorse, she was calling for the deaths of innocent women and their unborn babies.

She made me think about my mother’s sister Klara and her three small children who were living in Krakow in 1939 when the Germans invaded. They decided that the Jews – all Jews – were the enemy and had to be eliminated, not least the women and the little snakes they were raising. “Why? Ask them – they started it”, as the Nazis would say if asked.

I never met Klara or her children who had perished by 1942. I did meet my uncle Romek, who survived by working in Oskar Schindler’s factory, and his wife Yetti who survived because she spoke good German and was able to pretend she was a fine German woman who had kicked out her Polish Jewish husband, as she smiled prettily at every Nazi she came across.

 

 

 

My father’s brother Shmuel and his young family also perished before I was born, taken in Holland, to where they had escaped from Berlin, to the same camp Anne Frank died in.

I know what it is to have been helpless victims, living and dying under racist oppressors’ boots, and I know that today’s Israelis are no longer the victims but the perpetrators of the current crisis. Yes, Hamas are dreadful hate-filled killers and woe betide Israel had they had the wherewithal to carry out their intentions. But the fact remains that it is Israel which has the tanks, bombers, artillery, nuclear warheads and missile defences of Goliath, while ordinary Gazans had nothing a week ago and even less today, as even hospitals and schools were bombed.

Shaked got what she wanted: the death toll in Gaza is nearing 100, one in four being children. Hundreds more have serious injuries in a place where hospitals have also been bombed and medical essentials are running out.

VIDEO: AIR STRIKES IN GAZA

In Israel, in spite of Hamas’s best efforts, not one death has been recorded, nor any serious injuries, although a wedding party was disrupted and got on the television news.

And, as the bombs rain on Gaza, Israeli teens have taken to tweeting scantily-clad selfies alongside their political sentiments.  In two now deleted tweets, one wrote “Death to all of you Arabs you transfag”, while another proclaimed “Arabs may you be paralyzed & die with great suffering!”  Another teen simply tweeted “Death to these f****** Arabs”, and attached a photo of themselves pouting alongside it.

Seeing these angelic faces of evil spouting such genocidal rhetoric, I pick up my Israeli passport and a box of matches. “Not in my name, people. Not in my name!” 

‘Sderot cinema’: Image shows Israelis gathering to watch nighttime attacks on Gaza

Southern Israeli city is in the Negev desert close to the Gaza Strip.

 


Journalist Allan Sorenson posted this photo on Twitter, which he told The Stream was taken in Sderot on July 9.

Sderot cinema. Israelis bringing chairs 2 hilltop in sderot 2 watch latest from Gaza. Clapping when blasts are heard.

Spoof of ADL ad justifying attack on Gaza goes viral

(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Spoof of ADL ad justifying attack on Gaza goes viral

The above spoof of an advertisement by pro-Israel group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has gone viral after its creator, activist Daniel Sieradski, posted it on Twitter.

Here is the original ad Sieradski mocks, calling the ADL’s campaign to justify the bombing of Gaza “just the latest act in a storied history of shameful behavior”:

 

African Slaves Were the 1st to Celebrate Ramadan in America

African Slaves Were the 1st to Celebrate Ramadan in America

As Islam becomes the second-most-practiced faith in the U.S., it is important to remember that Ramadan was first celebrated in this country by slaves who brought their faith traditions from West Africa.

Posted: July 3 2014 3:01 AM
 
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Charles William Peale’s 1819 portrait of Yarrow Mamout, a Muslim and former slave who died a free man 

PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART

 

This past weekend marked the beginning of Ramadan. Nearly one-fourth of the world will observe the annual fast and 8 million Muslims in America will abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month. A grueling task at any time of the year, Ramadan this year will be especially daunting during the long and hot summer days.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the nation, and the second-most-practiced faith in 20 of these united states. And these demographic shifts prompted a prominent Los Angeles-based imam to comment recently that “Ramadan is a new American tradition.” The cleric’s forward-looking pronouncement marks Islam’s recent arrival in the U.S. But this statement reveals a pathology afflicting a lot of Muslim Americans today—an inability to look back and embrace the opening chapters of Muslim-American history, one that was written by enslaved African Muslims.

Social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent, or “as many as 600,000 to 1.2 million,” slaves in antebellum America were Muslims. Forty-six percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped from Africa’s western regions, which boasted “significant numbers of Muslims.” 

These enslaved Muslims strove to meet the demands of their faith, most notably the Ramadan fast, prayers and community meals, in the face of comprehensive slave codes that linked religious activity to insubordination and rebellion. Marking Ramadan as a “new American tradition” not only overlooks the holy month observed by enslaved Muslims many years ago but also perpetuates their erasure from Muslim-American history.        

Between Sunna and Slave Codes

Although the Quran “allows a believer to abstain from fasting if he or she is far from home or involved in strenuous work,” many enslaved Muslims demonstrated transcendent piety by choosing to fast while in bondage. In addition to abstaining from food and drink, enslaved Muslims held holy-month prayers in slave quarters and put together iftars—meals at sundown to break the fast—that brought observing Muslims together. These prayers and iftars violated slave codes restricting assembly of any kind. 

For instance, the Virginia Slave Code of 1723 considered the assembly of five slaves an “unlawful and tumultuous meeting,” convened to plot rebellion attempts. Every state in the South codified similar laws barring slave assemblages, which disparately impacted enslaved African Muslims observing the holy month. 

Practicing Islam, therefore, and observing Ramadan and its fundamental rituals, for enslaved Muslims in antebellum America, necessitated the violation of slave codes. This exposed them to barbaric punishment, injury and, oftentimes, even death. However, the courage to observe the holy month while bonded, and in the face of grave risk, highlights the supreme piety of many enslaved Muslims.

Ramadan was widely observed by enslaved Muslims. Yet this history is largely ignored by Muslim-American leaders and laypeople alike—and erased from the modern Muslim-American narrative.

Rewriting the History of Ramadan in the U.S.

Muslim America was almost entirely black during the antebellum era. Today it stands as the most diverse Muslim community in the world. Today African Americans make up a significant part of the community, along with Muslims of South Asian and Arab descent. Latin Americans are a rapidly growing demographic in the community, ensuring that Muslims in America are a microcosm of their home nation’s overall multiculturalism.  

In the U.S. today, Ramadan dinner tables are sure to include staple Arab or Pakistani dishes. Yet many Muslim Americans will break the fast with tortas and tamales, halal meat loaf and greens. Muslim diversity in this country has reshaped Ramadan into a multicultural American tradition. The breadth of Muslim America’s racial and cultural diversity today is unprecedented, making this year’s Ramadan—and the Ramadans to follow—new in terms of how transcultural and multiracial the tradition has become.    

This Muslim-American multiculturalism comes with many challenges: Namely, intraracism, Arab supremacy and anti-black racism prevent cohesion inside and outside American mosques. These deplorable trends perpetuate the erasure of the Muslim slave narrative. Integrating this history will not only mitigate racism and facilitate Muslim-American cohesion but also reveal the deep-rootedness of the faith, and its holiest month, on American soil.

This Ramadan, honoring the memory of the first Muslim Americans and their struggle for freedom—and sharing their story with loved ones at the iftar table—seems an ideal step toward rewriting this missing chapter of Muslim-American history into our collective consciousness.

Khaled A. Beydoun is the Critical Race Studies Teaching Fellow at the UCLA School of Law. Follow him on Twitter.

Editor’s note: A version of this article was previously published by Al-Jazeera and has been republished with permission.

RAMADAN DUA LIST – Guidelines, Tips & Dua Suggestions

Allah loves to hear you make dua to Him.
RAMADAN DUA LIST – Guidelines, Tips & Dua Suggestions
 

Scientists Discover That Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration & Fights Cancer

June 22, 2014 by 

A number of ancient health practices are proving to be effective in multiple ways. We recently posted an article about meditation,

and how neuroscience can now explain what happens to the brain when we meditate. Now, scientists have discovered the first

evidence of a natural intervention triggering stem cell-based regeneration of an organ or system. The study was published in the

June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California. The research shows that cycles of

prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting

shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. (1)

Human clinical trials were conducted using patients who were receiving chemotherapy. For long periods of time,

patients did not eat which significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles “flipped a regenerative switch,

changing the signalling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems.”  (1)

“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration

of the heatopoietic system. When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to

recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.  What we started noticing in both our

human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the

blood cells come back. ” – Valter Longo, corresponding author. (1)

Again, because fasting significantly lowers white blood cell counts, this triggers stem cell-based regeneration of new

immune system cells.  More importantly, it reduces the PKA enzyme, which has been linked to aging, tumour progression and cancer.(1)

It’s also noteworthy to mention that fasting protected against toxicity in a pilot clinical trial where patients fasted for 72 hours prior to chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may

mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy.” Co-Author Tanya Dorff   (1)

Fasting is a tradition that’s been incorporated into many ancient cultures, from Vedic to Buddhist and more, fasting should not be confused

with starvation. It’s the process of restrain and control from the sensorial experience of eating and at the same time making sure you are

doing it correctly. When I fast, I usually do water fasts and I have been doing them for almost eight years now and I always feel great and

full of energy after doing so.

More Research

1. Fasting helps protect against brain disease:

Researchers at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore have found evidence that fasting for one or two days a week can prevent

the effects of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease. Research also found that cutting the daily intake to 500 calories a day for two days

out of the seven can show clear beneficial effects for the brain.

2. Fasting cuts your risk of heart disease and diabetes:

Regularly going a day without food reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Studies show that fasting releases a significant

surge in human growth hormone, which is associated with speeding up metabolism and burning off fat. Shedding fat is known to

cut the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Doctors are even starting to consider fasting as a treatment.

3. Fasting effectively treats cancer in human cells:

A study from the scientific journal of aging found that cancer patients who included fasting into their therapy perceived fewer side effects

from chemotherapy. All tests conducted so far show that fasting improves survival, slow tumor growth and limit the spread of tumors.

The National Institute on Aging has also studied one type of breast cancer in detail to further understand the effects of fasting on cancer.

As a result of fasting, the cancer cells tried to make new proteins and took other steps to keep growing and dividing. As a result of these steps,

which in turn led to a number of other steps, damaging free radical molecules were created which broke down the cancer cells own DNA

and caused their destruction! It’s cellular suicide, the cancer cell is trying to replace all of the stuff missing in the bloodstream that it needs

to survive after a period of fasting, but can’t. In turn, it tries to create them and this leads to its own destruction

Again, make sure you do your research before trying this out. Hopefully this can kickstart you further into looking into it if you are truly interested.

Related CE Article: Can We Eat To Starve Cancer? The Diet That Keeps Cancer Away

Sources:

(1) https://news.usc.edu/63669/fasting-triggers-stem-cell-regeneration-of-damaged-old-immune-system/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-year-new-understanding

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120208152254.htm

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1373164/Regular-fasting-lower-risk-heart-disease-diabetes.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/18/fasting-protect-brain-diseases-scientists

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Boycott Israel Campaign

Boycott Israel Campaign

 

 

 


The boycott of Israeli products and companies supporting Israel is a peaceful means of putting international pressure on apartheid Israel and follows in the footsteps of the successful boycott against South African apartheid. Help end Palestinian suffering by boycotting Israel today!

 

 


The guilty companies (Boycott Israel card [front])

The guilty companies (Boycott Israel card [back])

 

Why are these companies on the boycott list?


Summary of how each company on the boycott list is supporting Israel:

 

 

PLASTICS

 

Keter


Israels Keter Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of plastic consumer products. The Israeli plastics giant is privately owned by the Sagol family, and has a turnover of $1.1 billion, 90% of which is derived from overseas sales.

 

Its product range includes garden furniture, outdoor storage solutions and sheds, shelving systems and utility cabinets, tool boxes and storage products for the DIY market, household products, baby and toddler products.

Its brands, subsidiaries, and sister companies (all owned by the Sagol family) include ‘OutStanding Solutions’ (Keter garden storage), Lipski (plumbing accessories), Allibert (bathroom accessories), Curver (plastic home & food storage), Jardin (garden furniture), and Contico Europe (plastic storage boxes). Keter products are also sold under the Black & Decker, B&Q and Homebase brands.

Whilst the profits end up in Israel, not all the products are produced in Israel, for example Allibert has factories in France & Belgium, whilst Curver has factories in Poland & Hungary. Keter has 12 factories in Israel, 2 of which are in the illegal settlements.

Stanley toolboxes are also made in Israel by Israeli plastics company ZAG (90% owned by Stanley).

For more information see the Shopping Can Kill campaign.

 

FOOD & DRINK

 

Strauss


The Straus Group is Israels second largest food company with a turnover $1.8 billion in 2010 and 13,500 employees operating twenty-five production sites in twenty-one countries around the world. Its brands in the USA include Sabra (hummus dips) and Max Brenner (chocolate cafes). Strauss Coffee is currently the fifth-largest coffee company in the world, dominating the central and eastern European markets (Doncafe) as well as Brazil.

 

The Strauss Group on its website, on the page on “Corporate Responsibility – Community Involvement” reveal their deep rooted support for the Israeli army, and in particular the infamous Golani platoon, known for its brutality, which the Strauss group has “adopted” for over 30 years.

Danone


In July 1998 Danone opened its R&D facility in Israel – the Danone Insitute, and later the same year in October 1998 Mr. Franck Riboud, on behalf of Danone received the Jubilee Award by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.[Jubilee Award]

 

Danone owns a 20% share of Israel’s second largest food company, the Strauss Group. Danaone Israel is the hub supplying Danone products to the whole Middle-East including Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Jordan.

Tivall


Israeli food company Tivall is one of the world’s leading suppliers of meat-substitute products. It has a turnover of $74 million and has 451 employees[59] It has a manufacturing base at Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot in Northern Israel, and a new facility in the Czech Republic.

 

Tivall brand products can mainly be found in health food stores – their website mentions Holland & Barrett, Fresh & Wild, and Planet Organic. But most of their sales are through the supermarkets who rebrand Tivall products as part of their own frozen “Meat-free” range. This includes Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. Morrisons also stocks Tivall brand Frankfurter. Waitrose online site Ocado sells a full range of Tivall products.

Osem


Osem is Israels 4th largest food & beverages company (by turnover) after Tnuva, Strauss and Coca-Cola. It has a turnover of $712 million and nearly 5000 employees with 14 factories in Israel.

 

Its brands include Beit Hashitah (pickles), Of Tov (frozen meat products), Habait (ready made cakes) and Sabra Salads (ready-made salads and spreads). Osem also owns 58% of meat-substitute manufacturer Tivall Foods.

According to Osem’s website its products are sold in Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrison, with each store marketing them under their own label. Waitrose online site Ocado sells a range of Osem products from soups, crackers and croutons. Tesco online sells a range of Osem cakes.

In April 2009, Osem UK announced its acquisition of Yarden GB. Yarden GB’s product range includes chilled meats and Yarden wines from the Golan Heights Winery, located in Katzrin on the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Golan Heights Winery exports 38% of all Israeli wines, its wine brands also include Gamla and Golan. According to Yarden GB’s website its products are available in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Morrisons, Budgens, Somerfield, Waitrose and Harrods. Waitrose online site Ocado sells a range of Yarden meat and houmous products.

Nestlé


Nestlé is the world’s largest food company, it owns 53.8% share of leading Israeli food manufacturer Osem, an investment worth over $850 million.

 

In 1998, Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe on behalf of Nestle, received the Jubilee Award by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu [Jubilee Award]. Following the award in June 2002 Nestle opened its Research & Development Centre in Israel, in Sderot. And since then it has steadily increased its investment in Israel, its initial 10% stake in Osem has now grown to a controlling 53.8%. Nestle also owns Nespresso Israel Ltd in Tel Aviv which supplies coffee brewing equipment. In 2010 Nestle acquired a 51% stake in Israeli babyfood company Materna Laboratories for $72 million.

Nestle has 9 factories in Israel, which after China(18) and Russia(11) is the highest number in any country in Asia – disproportionately high when one considers its size and population. And in May 2011, Nestle announced plans to build another factory in Israel, an ice cream plant worth $40 million.

Nestlé also owns 30% stake in L’Oréal, another company on the boycott list.

Coca Cola


A detailed account of Coca-Cola’s links to Israel is provided here:

 

http://www.inminds.com/boycott-coca-cola.html

A summary:

From 1966 Coca-Cola has been a staunch supporter of Israel. In 1997 the Government of Israel Economic Mission honored Coca-Cola at the Israel Trade Award Dinner for its continued support of Israel for the last 30 years and for refusing to abide by the Arab League boycott of Israel.

Every year Coca Cola bankrolls the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Awards which honors companies that have contributed most to the Israeli economy. In 2009 a Coca-Cola sponsored award went to Israel’s Lobby AIPAC for its successful lobbying of the Senate to reject of the UN call for “immediate ceasefire” and endorse the continuation of the Israel military assault on Gaza.

In 2008 Coca-Cola tasked the Israeli venture capital Challenge Fund to locate suitable investments in Israel with a promise of “a blank cheque” . This agreement is exceptional in the Israeli venture capital industry.

In 2009 Coca-Cola hosted a special reception at the Coca-Cola world headquarters to honour Brigadier-General Ben-Eliezer. Ben-Eliezer is a wanted war criminal, during the Six-Day War his unit was responsible for the execution of over 300 Egyptian POWs. Under Sharon, Ben-Eliezer served as Defence Minister presiding over the massacre at Jenin.

For the past two decades, nearly every year, Coca-Cola has sponsored the JCC Maccabi Games whose stated aim is to cultivate Jewish youth in an informal setting to “encourage their identification with the state of Israel”. As part of this, Coca Cola has sponsored young children to visit Israeli military bases and spend time with war criminals in order to engender empathy, in their own words “visit an air force base.. talk with the pilots that are the elite Israel Defense Force units..meet fighters of the army.”.

Coca-Cola Israel, Israel’s third largest food & beverages company, owns dairy farms in the illegal Israeli settlements of Shadmot Mechola in the Jordan Valley and a plant in the industrial zone of Katzerin in the occupied Golan Heights.

Eden Springs


Eden Springs is an Israeli water cooler company that in Israel steals water from the Salukia spring in the the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights. This is in violation of UN resolution 242 and Article 55 of the Hague Regulations which specify that you cannot acquire territory by war and that you cannot plunder the natural resources of occupied territory. To clarify, the water in Eden Springs Coolers found in the UK is sourced locally, but the profits go back to Israel to finance its illegal activities.

 

 

Sodastream


SodaStream is an Israeli company manufacturing and distributing home carbonating devices and flavorings for soft drinks. The company’s main plant is located in the industrial zone of Mishor Edomim which is an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Kav LaOved, the NGO committed to protecting the rights of disadvantaged workers in Israeli companies, has reported that SodaStream factory workers, in particular Palestinians, are paid less than half the minimum wage and has described the working conditions in the factory as “one of the worst”, with workers being fired if they complain of the conditions.

 

SodaStream brands include: SodaStream, Soda-Club, AlcoJet, Sprudelino, Aquabar, Gazoz, Aquafizz, Aquabubbler, Penguin, Sodamaker, Fountain Jet and Edition1. Its products are available in Argos, Asda, Comets, Currys, Harvey Nichols, Homebase, John Lewis, Robert Dyas, Selfridges and House of Fraser.

Starbucks


Howard Schultz, the founder, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks who also owns 31.6 million shares of Starbucks stock (worth around $1.4 billion in Nov 2011) is an active zionist.

 

In 1998 he was honoured by the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah with “The Israel 50th Anniversary Friend of Zion Tribute Award” for his services to the zionist state in “playing a key role in promoting close alliance between the United States and Israel”. The ultra-right wing Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah funds Israeli arms fairs chaired by the butcher of Jenin, General Shaul Mofaz, and the zionist media pressure group honestreporting.com, they were also implicated in the production and distribution of the infamous islamophobic film ‘Obesession’. Starbucks proudly displayed the award on the company’s website under the section of ‘awarda and accolades’ the Starbucks company has won, however, once the boycott started to bite the award mysteriously disappeared from its website.

Howard Shultz work as a propagandist for Israel has been praised by the Israeli Foreign Ministry as being key to Israel’s long-term PR success. On April 4th 2002, whilst the Israeli army was slaughtering Palestinians in Jenin Howard Shultz made a provocative speech blaming the Palestinians, suggesting the intifada was a manifestation of anti- Semitism, and asked people to unite behind Israel. Starbucks also sponsors fund raisers for Israel.

At a time when other businesses were desperately pulling out of Israel, Starbucks decided to help Israel’s floundering economy and open Starbucks in Israel. The venture failed but Shultz has vowed Starbucks will “return to Israel in due course”.

Starbucks has opened outlets in US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the illegal torture centre in Guantanamo Bay. Customer Relations say “Starbucks has the deepest respect and admiration for U.S. military.. who risk their lives to protect Americans and our values of freedom and democracy”. Petty Officer Barry Tate who is serving in Guantanamo Bay agrees that Starbucks is helping “lift the morale” of the guards and interrogator’s at Guantanamo Bay.

McDonald’s

 

McDonald’s Corporation is a major corporate partner of the Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation. According to the Jewish United Fund, through its Israel Commission it “works to maintain American military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel; monitors and, when necessary, responds to media coverage of Israel”. The Jewish United Fund also runs “Fun-filled Summer Family Missions to Israel” where families get to “visit an army base and meet with Israeli soldiers” and “visit our sister city, Kiryat Gat and see the important work we are doing there”. Kiryat Gat is built on stolen Palestinian land – the lands of the villages of Iraq Al Manshiya and Al-Faluja whose residents were ethnically cleansed in 1949 in contravention of International Law. Through its “Partnership to Israel” programme, the Jewish United Fund provides $1.3 million annually to help further settlement and development of Kiryat Gat. The Jewish Federation, through its Israel Action Network is tasked to fight “efforts to boycott Israeli products” and “campaigns, such as equating Israel with apartheid South Africa”.

Another way McDonald’s supports the Jewish United Fund is by running a partnership scheme whereby they will match any donation an employee make to the Jewish United Fund with its own equal size donation.

McDonald’s first restaurant in the Middle East was in Israel, opened in 1993, since then it has 160 restaurants in Israel (1996) with a 60% market share, employing around 4000 Israelis. Since April 2009 McDonald’s has also opened 15 branches of McCafe chain in Israel, with plans to open 10 new branches every year.

McDonalds discriminates against its Arab workers, in 2004 it sacked an Arab worker in Israel because she was caught speaking arabic to another Arab employee. Arabic, along with Hebrew, is the official language of Israel spoken by 20% of the population.

According to the American Jewish Committee (AJC), whose Executive Director “regularly meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”, McDonald’s in July 2001 immediately pulled an advertising campaign in Egypt when the ADC contacted them to complaint that the singer featured in the advert had in the past performed a song critical of Israel. Within 24 hours of the complaint, the advert was cancelled and according to the Egyptian franchise of McDonald’s “all copies of the tapes were whisked ‘back to the main offices'”!

 

Israeli Fresh Produce


In 2010 exports of Israeli fresh agricultural produce was worth $1.41 billion and most of it, some 87% was exported to Europe (UN Commodity Trade Statistics). Fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in Israel and on its settlements in the West Bank can be seen on sale at all the major supermarkets and greengrocers. Always check the label – avoid Israel and West Bank.

 

Until recently the main player was Israeli state owned company Carmel Agrexco, responsible for about 60-70% of all Israel’s agricultural exports. But in September 2011 Agrexco went bankrupt. This was due in part to fact that Agrexco has been the target of a sustained international boycott campaign. It has been recently reported that the Israeli Bickel Export Group has acquired Agrexco with plans to revive it in 2012 (target sales 50 million euros).

With the privately owned Israeli company Mehadrin Tnuport Export (MTEX) set to take Agrexco’s place as Israel’s biggest agricultural exporter the focus of the international boycott campaign is now firmly on MTEX with actions already having taken place (Nov 2011) outside its UK headquarters in Borehamwood and its French headquarters in Chateaurenard.

MTEX is Israel’s largest grower and exporter of citrus fruit responsible for 65% of overseas sales of Israel’s most recognisable brand on the supermarket shelves – JAFFA. They supply most of the supermarkets including Tesco and Sainsburys. MTEX ownes 50% of Miriam Shoham Ltd whose mangoes and pomegranates are available in Tescos and Asda.

Hadiklaim, the Israeli Date Growers Cooperative, which includes illegal settler plantations in the Jordan Valley, sells 65% of all Israeli dates. Its dates have brand names King Solomon, Jordan River, Tamara, Karsten Farms / Kalahari and Bomaja. Agrexco date brands include Jordan Plains and Jordan Valley.

Most supermarkets sell fresh herbs sourced from the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank. These include basil, sage, chives, rosemary, parsely, sorrel, marjoram, mint, thyme and tarragon. They are labelled ‘West Bank’ or ‘Israel’. ‘West Bank’ never refers to Palestinian goods as they don’t make it past the military checkpoints. Often settlements goods are labelled ‘Produce of Israel’ to avoid payment of tariffs when entering the EU – according to the EU-Israel Association Agreement goods produced outside the recognised borders of Israel (ie on the Israeli settlements on the Palestinian Occupied Territories) are not exhempt from import duties. A July 2008 Channel 4 news report revealed herbs grown on the illegal No’omi settlement on the West Bank, destined for the UK, were being mislabelled ‘produce of Israel’ in breach of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Other Israeli fresh produce brands to avoid include Edom (peppers, tomatoes and mangoes), Carmy (sweet potatoes), AdaFresh (herbs), Arava (peppers, Tomatoes, herbs) and Tali (table grapes).

 

 

..Information on other companies to follow shortly..

 

 

 

[Jubilee Award]On October 14, 1998, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu presented a select group of international business people with the highest tribute ever awarded by the “State of Israel”. The Jubilee Award, marking Israel’s fiftieth year of independence, recognizes those individuals and organizations, that through their investments and trade relationships, have done the most to strengthen the Israeli economy.

 

Frequently Asked Question

 

Why so many companies?


Our strategy is to have a focused campaign where individual Israeli companies are targeted wherever possible rather than wide boycotts of whole stores. This means that whilst there are more brands on the list, they are actually easier to boycott. So for example whilst B&Q and Homebase are major sellers of Israeli plastic giant Keter’s products we are calling for a focused boycott of each Keter related brand – OutStanding, Lipski, Jardin, Allibert, Curver and Contico, rather than a blanket boycott of these stores.

 

 

Why are some of the brands in the previous Boycott Israel Campaign missing from this campaign?


Over time many companies have reconsidered their support for Israel and some have divested from Israel due to many reasons including the accumulated pressure of the boycott. These changes are reflected in the new card.

 

 

Disney

Disney, working with the Israeli embassy, was given 1.8 million dollars by Israel to promote Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at a special exhibition at its Epcot centre in Florida, strategically positioned so that every visitor to the centre would have to walk through the exhibition in order to reach the exit. Jerusalem is an illegally occupied Palestinian city and under international law can NEVER be the capital of Israel. The exhibition has since been removed so Disney is no longer on the boycott list.

 

 

Sara Lee

Sara Lee has divested its large stake in the Israeli textile giant Delta Galil so it along with its two dozen plus brands have all been removed from the boycott list.

 

 

Nokia

Nokia Ventures Organization which had so heavily invested in Israel is no longer part of Nokia and is now called BlueRun Ventures and has many investors now. Note that Nokia is still one of its investors, but its stake in Israel is now no more prominent than countless other technology companies who are not on the boycott list, so Nokia has also been removed from the list.

 

 

Arsenal FC

Following a concerted campaign, Arsenal Football Club’s contract with the Israeli Tourism board to promote Israel as the teams “official and exclusive travel destination” on its digital perimeter boards (to an estimated 700 million viewers in 198 countries) was not renewed. Subsequently, Arsenal FC has been removed from the boycott list. Note that Arsenal still runs ‘Arsenal in the Galilee’ coaching project in Israel.

 

 

Selfridges

Selfridges flagship store in London was picketed for stocking a range of settlement products including Ahava and soon a boycott of the store followed. It no longer sells Ahava Dead Sea products on its website, although it does advertise Estee Lauder Origins ‘body scrubs’ which include Dead Sea salts. As part of our strategy of a more focused boycott campaign where individual Israeli brands like Ahava are targeted, Selfridges in no longer on the boycott list.

 

 

Danone

Whilst Danone is still on the boycott list, it has gone through some changes and lost some of its famous brands and these are no longer on the boycott list. Jacob biscuits is now owned by United Biscuits; HP foods and Lea & Perrins is now owned by H.J. Heinz; and similarly Galbani and LU Biscuits are also no longer owned by Danone.

 

 

 

China Bans Ramadan Fast in Muslim Northwest – ABC News

China Bans Ramadan Fast in Muslim Northwest – ABC News

China Bans Ramadan Fast in Muslim Northwest BEIJING — Jul 2, 2014, 6:38 AM ET By DIDI TANG Associated Press Students and civil servants in China’s Muslim northwest, where Beijing is enforcing a security crackdown following deadly unrest, have been ordered to avoid taking part in traditional fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted Wednesday on websites of schools, government agencies and local party organizations in the Xinjiang region said the ban was aimed at protecting students’ wellbeing and preventing use of schools and government offices to promote religion. Statements on the websites of local party organizations said members of the officially atheist ruling party also should avoid fasting. “No teacher can participate in religious activities, instill religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities,” said a statement on the website of the No. 3 Grade School in Ruoqiang County in Xinjiang. Similar bans have been imposed in the past on fasting for Ramadan, which began at sundown Saturday. But this year is unusually sensitive because Xinjiang is under tight security following attacks that the government blames on Muslim extremists with foreign terrorist ties. Violence has escalated in recent years in Xinjiang. The ruling party blames violent extremists that it says want independence, while members of the region’s Uighur ethnic group complain that discrimination and restrictions on religion, such as a ban on taking children to mosques, are fueling anger at the ethnic Han Chinese majority. An attack on May 22 in the regional capital of Urumqi by four people who threw bombs in a vegetable market killed 43 people. On June 22, police in Kashgar in the far west said they killed 13 assailants who drove into a police building and set off explosives, injuring three officers. Authorities have blamed two other attacks at train stations in Urumqi and in China’s southwest on Muslim extremists. The government responded with a crackdown that resulted in more than 380 arrests in one month and public rallies to announce sentences. The ruling party is wary of religious activities it worries might serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule. Controls on worship are especially sensitive in Xinjiang and in neighboring Tibet, where religious faith plays a large role in local cultures. On Tuesday, authorities in some communities in Xinjiang held celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and served food to test whether Muslim guests were fasting, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman in Germany for the rights group World Uyghur Congress. “This will lead to more conflicts if China uses coercive measures to rule and to challenge Uighur beliefs,” said Dilxat Raxit in an email. The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subject to religious influences. That rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who, if they have a religion, are mostly Buddhist, Daoist or Christian. “Students shall not participate in religious activities; they shall not study scripts or read poems at script and choir classes; they shall not wear any religious emblems; and no parent or others can force students to have religious beliefs or partake in religious activities,” said the statement on the website of the grade school in Ruoqiang County. A news portal run by the government of Yili in the northern reaches of Xinjiang said fasting is detrimental to the physical wellbeing of young students, who should eat regularly. In the city of Bole, retired teachers from the Wutubulage Middle School were called in to stand guard at mosques and prevent students from entering, according to a statement on the municipal party committee website. Also in Bole, the Bozhou University of Radio and Television said on its website it held a meeting with working and retired minority teachers on the first day of the Ramadan to remind them of the fasting ban. The forestry bureau in Xinjiang’s Zhaosu county held an event the day before Ramadan at which party cadres signed a pledge they and their relatives would “firmly resist fasting,” according to a statement on the website of the local party committee. The Moyu Weather Bureau in the Hotan area said on its website that Muslim employees, both active and retired, were required to sign a letter promising not to fast. The commercial bureau for Turpan, an oasis town in the Taklamakan Desert, said in a statement that civil servants are “strictly forbidden” to fast or perform the Salat prayer ritual in a mosque.

Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions

Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions

Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu teaching a class in MandalayTime magazine labelled Wirathu “the face of Buddhist terror”

This week, religious violence has once again flared in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Hundreds of Muslim homes have been burnt to the ground in Sagaing region after being attacked by Buddhist mobs.

In just over a year, more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed and many more displaced as unrest has spread from Rakhine state in the west to towns across the country.

Many are blaming a controversial monk and the nationalist organisation he helps lead for the rising tensions.

In a classroom at one of Mandalay’s most famous monasteries, a teacher is at work. Shin Wirathu is taking a class of young monks at Masoeyin through the five precepts or pillars of the Buddhist faith.

This morning, he is lecturing on the importance of avoiding sexual misconduct.

“Yes, venerable monk,” the young men chant in unison, as Wirathu softly delivers his advice on the need to avoid temptation.

Buddhist monk Kaylar Sa, who was part of the Saffron movementMonk Kaylar Sa said the 969 movement was unnecessary

When the class is over, he shows me outside. On the wall of the monastery courtyard are graphic posters of the Buddhist victims of recent religious and ethnic violence in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.

They are unpleasant viewing. The pictures from October last year show dead children with their heads cut open and the bodies of women with their internal organs spilling out of their torsos.

Wirathu said he put them up as a reminder to Buddhists that the country is under attack from Muslim “invaders”.

“Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak, ” he said. “When they become strong, they are like a wolf or a jackal; in large packs they hunt down other animals.”

Wirathu believes there is a Muslim “master plan” underway to turn Myanmar into an Islamic state.

If he is right, it is a long-term project. Latest estimates suggest that of Myanmar’s 60 million people, 90% are Buddhist and about 5% Muslim.

“Over the past 50 years, we have shopped at Muslim shops and then they became richer and wealthier than us and can buy and marry our girls,” Wirathu said. “In this way, they have destroyed and penetrated not only our nation but also our religion.”

‘Master plan’

Joon Mosque in Mandalay, in Myanmar, formerly known as BurmaMuslims keep watch over Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, every night

Wirathu’s solution lies in a controversial nationalist organisation called 969. It calls on Buddhists to shop, sell property and marry within their own religion.

Small, brightly-coloured stickers have been distributed to clearly brand businesses as Buddhist-owned.

Supporters of 969 argue it is a purely defensive organisation, created to protect Buddhist culture and identity. Listening to the rhetoric of Wirathu and 969’s leaders, there is no doubt it is squarely aimed at Muslims.

Start Quote

We are just preaching and posting on the internet and Facebook for the safety and security of our nation”

WirathuBuddhist monk

“In the past, there was no discrimination based on religion and race. We all stayed together in a brotherly way,” Wirathu said. “But when their [Muslim] master plan has been revealed we can no longer stay quiet.”

From Rakhine state in the west, to more central towns like Meiktila and Okkan, the link is being made between heightened religious tensions and the preaching and activities of monks and 969.

The outbreaks of violence usually have a depressing symmetry.

A small flashpoint, often a crime or perceived insult, perpetrated by a Muslim against a Buddhist, triggers a disproportionate wave of reprisals against the entire Muslim community.

Ten years ago, under the military junta, Wirathu was jailed for his anti-Muslim views. Now in these times of change, his message is widely disseminated through social media and DVDs. Far from being condemned, Wirathu now has backing from the very top.

In June, as his infamy reached its peak, Wirathu appeared on the front cover of Time magazine labelled “The face of Buddhist terror”. Burmese monks were outraged and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein quickly leapt to Wirathu’s defence.

The Time issue was banned and a statement released with the president lauding Wirathu as a “son of Lord Buddha”.

‘Obstacle to reform’

Smar Nyi Nyi, a veteran of the 1988 student uprising Smar Nyi Nyi said religious tensions distracted the public from important issues

There is no shortage of theories inside Myanmar as to why Wirathu is now flavour of the month.

One theory is that continuing ethnic and religious violence could be used by the military as a pretext for maintaining a dominant role in Burmese politics. It is certainly an argument Myanmar’s generals have made before.

“We are also wondering about this,” Kaylar Sa, a monk jailed for his part in the Saffron revolution of 2007, told me as he chain-smoked his way through a pack of Red Ruby cigarettes.

He pointed out that the government has acted decisively and violently to end monk-led demonstrations against an army-backed copper mine last year, and yet now was unwilling to tackle them over hate speech.

“At the moment, we firmly believe that the 969 movement is unnecessary,” he said. “If this movement continues to be taken seriously, it could become an obstacle to democratic reform.”

A short drive from Wirathu’s monastery, Muslim volunteers guard Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, each night. The men told me that in the event of a Buddhist attack, they expect no protection from the (Buddhist-dominated) police or the army.

Smar Nyi Nyi, a veteran of the 1988 student uprising and one of the elders at the mosque, took me to one side. He expressed views that many Burmese share, that shadowy elements within the establishment are stoking the unrest.

“Everybody is talking about the violence between Buddhists and Muslims,” he said. “Nobody is interested in the dam on the Irrawaddy River. No one is interested in the gas pipeline. If somebody is controlling things, he is a smart man!”

Some Muslims cling to the hope that there exists a silent majority of moderate Buddhists appalled by recent events, secretly rooting for them.

“Most of the Buddhists, they are just onlookers ” a retired Muslim doctor tells me with a shrug. “A few might pass a heartfelt regard and say they’re sorry, but that doesn’t come above the surface.”

For Wirathu, each fresh outbreak of religious conflict reinforces his view that Myanmar is part of a global war on militant Islam and that he is being badly misunderstood.

“We don’t use drones – we haven’t killed [Osama] Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the Taliban,” he told me.

“We are just preaching and posting on the internet and Facebook for the safety and security of our nation. If we are all protecting our own nation who’s the bad guy – Wirathu or Barack Obama?”

Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?

Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?

Buddhist monks take part in a demonstration against the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Rangoon, in October 2012

Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?

This is happening in two countries separated by well over 1,000 miles of Indian Ocean – Burma and Sri Lanka. It is puzzling because neither country is facing an Islamist militant threat. Muslims in both places are a generally peaceable and small minority.

In Sri Lanka, the issue of halal slaughter has been a flashpoint. Led by monks, members of the Bodu Bala Sena – the Buddhist Brigade – hold rallies, call for direct action and the boycotting of Muslim businesses, and rail against the size of Muslim families.

While no Muslims have been killed in Sri Lanka, the Burmese situation is far more serious. Here the antagonism is spearheaded by the 969 group, led by a monk, Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious hatred. Released in 2012, he has referred to himself bizarrely as “the Burmese Bin Laden”.

Buddhism and non-violence

Buddhist monks meditate on Java, Indonesia, in 2007

Buddhist teachings were handed down orally and not written until centuries after the Buddha’s lifetime. The principle of non-violence is intrinsic to the doctrine, as stressed in the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha.

Its first verse teaches that a person is made up of the sum of his thoughts: “If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.”

The most basic principles of Buddhist morality are expressed in five precepts, which monks are obliged – and laymen encouraged – to follow. The first is to abstain from killing living creatures.

One objective of Buddhist meditation is to produce a state of “loving kindness” for all beings.

Verse five of the Dhammapada tells us that: “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an eternal rule.”

March saw an outbreak of mob violence directed against Muslims in the town of Meiktila, in central Burma, which left at least 40 dead.

Tellingly, the violence began in a gold shop. The movements in both countries exploit a sense of economic grievance – a religious minority is used as the scapegoat for the frustrated aspirations of the majority.

On Tuesday, Buddhist mobs attacked mosques and burned more than 70 homes in Oakkan, north of Rangoon, after a Muslim girl on a bicycle collided with a monk. One person died and nine were injured.

But aren’t Buddhist monks meant to be the good guys of religion?

Aggressive thoughts are inimical to all Buddhist teachings. Buddhism even comes equipped with a practical way to eliminate them. Through meditation the distinction between your feelings and those of others should begin to dissolve, while your compassion for all living things grows.

Of course, there is a strong strain of pacifism in Christian teachings too: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” were the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

But however any religion starts out, sooner or later it enters into a Faustian pact with state power. Buddhist monks looked to kings, the ultimate wielders of violence, for the support, patronage and order that only they could provide. Kings looked to monks to provide the popular legitimacy that only such a high moral vision can confer.

The result can seem ironic. If you have a strong sense of the overriding moral superiority of your worldview, then the need to protect and advance it can seem the most important duty of all.

Christian crusaders, Islamist militants, or the leaders of “freedom-loving nations”, all justify what they see as necessary violence in the name of a higher good. Buddhist rulers and monks have been no exception.

Buddhist monks take part in a demonstration against the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Rangoon, in October 2012

So, historically, Buddhism has been no more a religion of peace than Christianity.

One of the most famous kings in Sri Lankan history is Dutugamanu, whose unification of the island in the 2nd Century BC is related in an important chronicle, the Mahavamsa.

It says that he placed a Buddhist relic in his spear and took 500 monks with him along to war against a non-Buddhist king.

More on monks and violence

He destroyed his opponents. After the bloodshed, some enlightened ones consoled him that the slain “were like animals; you will make the Buddha’s faith shine”.

Burmese rulers, known as “kings of righteousness”, justified wars in the name of what they called true Buddhist doctrine.

In Japan, many samurai were devotees of Zen Buddhism and various arguments sustained them – killing a man about to commit a dreadful crime was an act of compassion, for example. Such reasoning surfaced again when Japan mobilised for World War II.

Buddhism took a leading role in the nationalist movements that emerged as Burma and Sri Lanka sought to throw off the yoke of the British Empire. Occasionally this spilled out into violence. In 1930s Rangoon, amid resorts to direct action, monks knifed four Europeans.

More importantly, many came to feel Buddhism was integral to their national identity – and the position of minorities in these newly independent nations was an uncomfortable one.

In 1983, Sri Lanka’s ethnic tensions broke out into civil war. Following anti-Tamil pogroms, separatist Tamil groups in the north and east of the island sought to break away from the Sinhalese majority government.

Muslim Rohingyas sitting inside their collective tent at the Dabang Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) campViolence has left many Burmese Muslims homeless

During the war, the worst violence against Sri Lankan Muslims came at the hands of the Tamil rebels. But after the fighting came to a bloody end with the defeat of the rebels in 2009, it seems that majority communal passions have found a new target in the Muslim minority.

In Burma, monks wielded their moral authority to challenge the military junta and argue for democracy in the Saffron Revolution of 2007. Peaceful protest was the main weapon of choice this time, and monks paid with their lives.

Now some monks are using their moral authority to serve a quite different end. They may be a minority, but the 500,000-strong monkhood, which includes many deposited in monasteries as children to escape poverty or as orphans, certainly has its fair share of angry young men.

The exact nature of the relationship between the Buddhist extremists and the ruling parties in both countries is unclear.

Sri Lanka’s powerful Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was guest of honour at the opening of a Buddhist Brigade training school, and referred to the monks as those who “protect our country, religion and race”.

But the anti-Muslim message seems to have struck a chord with parts of the population.

Even though they form a majority in both countries, many Buddhists share a sense that their nations must be unified and that their religion is under threat.

The global climate is crucial. People believe radical Islam to be at the centre of the many of the most violent conflicts around the world. They feel they are at the receiving end of conversion drives by the much more evangelical monotheistic faiths. And they feel that if other religions are going to get tough, they had better follow suit.

Alan Strathern is a fellow in History at Brasenose College, Oxford and author of Kingship and Conversion in Sixteenth-Century Sri Lanka: Portuguese Imperialism in a Buddhist Land

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Five hurt, shops and mosque damaged in Myanmar by violent Budhists

Five hurt, shops and mosque damaged in Myanmar violence

An angry mob take to the streets of Mandalay in central Myanmar early on 2 July 2014A mob that included monks gathered on the streets of Mandalay in the early hours of Wednesday

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Five people have been injured in clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay.

The incident was apparently triggered by a claim that a Buddhist woman had been raped by one or more Muslim men.

Armed groups gathered on the streets on Tuesday evening, hurling rocks and bricks and damaging shops. They only dispersed early on Wednesday morning when the police fired rubber bullets.

Myanmar has seen several outbreaks of violence targeting Muslims since 2012.

Muslims are a minority group in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher says tensions rose when a blogger posted that a Buddhist woman had been raped. The post was then shared by one of Mandalay’s most controversial monks – Ashin Wirathu – on his Facebook page.

Wirathu is the leader of the controversial 969 group and was previously jailed for inciting religious hatred. The 969 group are opposed to what they see as Islam’s expansion in Myanmar.

On Tuesday evening, a group of Buddhists gathered in a Muslim area of Mandalay, ransacking shops and burning vehicles, according to reports.

Throughout the night, the police kept angry groups of Buddhist and Muslim men apart, says our correspondent.

Both sides were armed with primitive weapons including iron rods, sticks and swords. Four rioters and a policeman were hurt. Muslim shops were damaged and the windows of a mosque were smashed.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mandalay police said a man had been charged with rape.

Myanmar police force stand guard on the street of Mandalay in central Myanmar early on 2 July 2014.Mandalay police fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowds early Wednesday morning
Controversial Buddhist monk Wirathu (centre) who is accused of instigating sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims through his sermons, stands with other monks in support of five Buddhist monks who were forced to give up their robes outside a courthouse in Yangon, Myanmar, on 20 June 2014.Wirathu (C) is accused of instigating violence between Buddhists and Muslims through his sermons
Rohingya women and their children wait to receive treatment at a makeshift clinic in the Thet Kae Pyin camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine state, 24 April 2014. Many Rohingya Muslims are displaced in Rakhine state and are now living in refugee camps

Rakhine violence

Much of the violence between the two groups has taken place in Rakhine state in the west of the country, where at least 200 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in 2012.

Many of the displaced – mostly Muslims – continue to live in refugee camps.

Those clashes were sparked by the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman.

The violence continued throughout 2013. The last reported clash happened in January in Rakhine state, killing more than 40 people, according to the United Nations.

There have been particularly bitter and long-standing tensions between the Rakhine people, who are Buddhist and make up the majority of the state’s population, and Muslims.

Most of these Muslims identify themselves as Rohingya, a group that is considered stateless and is rejected by both Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh.

The clashes have posed a challenge for Myanmar’s nominally civilian government, which was elected in 2010 after decades of military rule.

President Thein Sein has previously said that the Rakhine violence puts the country’s moves towards democracy in danger.

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Blackwater’s top manager threatens “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator

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Blackwater personnel escorting Paul Bremer, an American civil administrator, upon his arrival in Ramadi, Iraq, in March 2004. CreditPeter Andrews/Reuters
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WASHINGTON — Just weeks beforeBlackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

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Document: State Department Documents on Blackwater Episode

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.

Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in an American court after previous charges against five guardswere dismissed in 2009.

The shooting was a watershed moment in the American occupation of Iraq, and was a factor in Iraq’s refusal the next year to agree to a treaty allowing United States troops to stay in the country beyond 2011. Despite a series of investigations in the wake of Nisour Square, the back story of what happened with Blackwater and the embassy in Baghdad before the fateful shooting has never been fully told.

The State Department declined to comment on the aborted investigation. A spokesman for Erik Prince, the founder and former chief executive of Blackwater, who sold the company in 2010, said Mr. Prince had never been told about the matter.

After Mr. Prince sold the company, the new owners named it Academi. In early June, it merged with Triple Canopy, one of its rivals for government and commercial contracts to provide private security. The new firm is called Constellis Holdings.

Experts who were previously unaware of this episode said it fit into a larger pattern of behavior. “The Blackwater-State Department relationship gave new meaning to the word ‘dysfunctional,’ ” said Peter Singer, a strategist at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute, who has written extensively on private security contractors. “It involved everything from catastrophic failures of supervision to shortchanging broader national security goals at the expense of short-term desires.”

Even before Nisour Square, Blackwater’s security guards had acquired a reputation among Iraqis and American military personnel for swagger and recklessness, but their complaints about practices ranging from running cars off the road to shooting wildly in the streets and even killing civilians typically did not result in serious action by the United States or the Iraqi government.

But scrutiny of the company intensified after a Blackwater convoy traveling through Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, just over two weeks after Mr. Richter sent his memo, fired on the crowded traffic circle. A 9-year-old boy was among the civilians killed. Blackwater guards later claimed that they had been fired upon first, but American military officials who inspected the scene determined that there was no evidence of any insurgent activity in the square that day. Federal prosecutors later said Blackwater personnel had shot indiscriminately with automatic weapons, heavy machine guns and grenade launchers.

Founded in 1997 by Mr. Prince, a former member of the Navy SEALs and an heir to an auto parts fortune, Blackwater began as a small company providing shooting ranges and training facilities in rural North Carolina for the military and for police departments. After the American-led invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq, it ramped up to become a global security contractor with billions of dollars in contracts for the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The company’s gung-ho attitude and willingness to take on risky tasks were seductive to government officials in Washington. The State Department, for example, secretly sent Blackwater guards to Shenyang, China, to provide security for North Korean asylum seekers who had gone to the United States Consulate there and refused to leave for fear the Chinese government would force them to go back to North Korea, according to company documents and interviews with former Blackwater personnel.

But Blackwater’s rapid growth and the State Department’s growing dependence on the contractor led to unbridled hubris, according to several former company officials. That was fostered, they said, by Mr. Prince, who not long before the Nisour Square shooting gathered employees in front of Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, N.C., and demanded that they swear an oath of allegiance.

Saying that the business was on the verge of being awarded lucrative new contracts, Mr. Prince told the workers that they had to take a pledge — the same one required of those entering the United States military — “to display our commitment to the war on terror,” several former employees recalled.

As he was speaking, the employees were handed copies of the oath, which had a Blackwater bear paw logo on top, and told to sign and return it to their supervisors after reciting the words. But some balked.

This was an oath for soldiers, not the employees of a private company, and many in the crowd were veterans who believed that it was inappropriately being linked to the company’s commercial prospects.

“It was kind of like pledging allegiance to Erik,” said a former Blackwater employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had been required to sign a nondisclosure agreement with Blackwater. “That’s how a lot of us interpreted it.”

Soon after State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

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The Blackwater Shooting

The Blackwater Shooting

Witnesses shed new light on the killing of 17 Iraqis by American contractors in Baghdad.

 Publish DateAugust 27, 2012. Image CreditJohan Spanner for The New York Times

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.

They found that Blackwater’s staffing of its security details for American diplomats had been changed without State Department approval, reducing guards on many details to eight from 10, the documents said. Blackwater guards were storing automatic weapons and ammunition in their private rooms, where they also were drinking heavily and partying with frequent female visitors. Many of the guards had failed to regularly qualify on their weapons, and were often carrying weapons on which they had never been certified and that they were not authorized to use.

The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.

Blackwater was also overbilling the State Department by manipulating its personnel records, using guards assigned to the State Department contract for other work and falsifying other staffing data on the contract, the investigators concluded.

A Blackwater-affiliated firm was forcing “third country nationals” — low-paid workers from Pakistan, Yemen and other countries, including some who performed guard duty at Blackwater’s compound — to live in squalid conditions, sometimes three to a cramped room with no bed, according to the report by the investigators.

The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.

On Aug. 20, 2007, Mr. Richter was called in to the office of the embassy’s regional security officer, Bob Hanni, who said he had received a call asking him to document Mr. Richter’s “inappropriate behavior.” Mr. Richter quickly called his supervisor in Washington, who instructed him to take Mr. Thomas with him to all remaining meetings in Baghdad, his report noted.

The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.

“Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,” Mr. Richter stated in his memo. “I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.”

He added that he was especially alarmed because Mr. Carroll was Blackwater’s leader in Iraq, and “organizations take on the attitudes and mannerisms of their leader.”

Mr. Thomas witnessed the exchange and corroborated Mr. Richter’s version of events in a separate statement, writing that Mr. Carroll’s comments were “unprofessional and threatening in nature.” He added that others in Baghdad had told the two investigators to be “very careful,” considering that their review could jeopardize job security for Blackwater personnel.

Mr. Richter was shocked when embassy officials sided with Mr. Carroll and ordered Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas to leave Iraq immediately, according to the documents. On Aug. 23, Ricardo Colon, the acting regional security officer at the embassy, wrote in an email that Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas had become “unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel.” The two men cut short their inquiry and returned to Washington the next day.

Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for this article. Mr. Carroll did not respond to a request for comment.

On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

 

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

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