foreign affairs

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

Is the European Union Qualified to Broker Peace Between Israel and Palestine?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 7:31am in

In theory, Europe and the United States stand on completely opposite sides when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. While the US government has fully embraced the tragic status quo created by 53 years of Israeli military occupation, the EU continues to advocate a negotiated settlement that is predicated on respect for international law.

In practice, however, despite the seeming rift between Washington and Brussels, the outcome is, essentially, the same. The US and Europe are Israel’s largest trade partners, weapon suppliers and political advocates.

One of the reasons that the illusion of an even-handed Europe has been maintained for so long lies partly in the Palestinian leadership itself. Politically and financially abandoned by Washington, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the European Union as its only possible saviour.

“Europe believes in the two-state solution,” PA Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said during a video discussion with the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 12. Unlike the US, Europe’s continued advocacy of the defunct two-state solution qualifies it to fill the massive gap created by Washington’s absence.

Shtayyeh called on EU leaders to “recognize the State of Palestine in order for us, and you, to break the status quo.”

However, there are already 139 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. While that recognition is a clear indication that the world remains firmly pro-Palestinian, recognizing Palestine as a State changes little on the ground. What is needed are concerted efforts to hold Israel accountable for its violent occupation as well as real action to support the struggle of Palestinians.

Not only has the EU failed at this, it is, in fact, doing the exact opposite: funding Israel, arming its military and silencing its critics.

Listening to Shtayyeh’s words, one gets the impression that the top Palestinian official is addressing a conference of Arab, Muslim or socialist countries. “I call upon your Parliament and your distinguished Members of this Parliament, that Europe not wait for the American President to come up with ideas … We need a third party who can really remedy the imbalance in the relationship between an occupied people and an occupier country, that is Israel,” he said.

But is the EU qualified to be that ‘third party’?  No. For decades, European governments have been an integral part of the US-Israel party. Just because the Donald Trump administration has, recently, taken a sharp turn in favour of Israel should not automatically transform Europe’s historical pro-Israel bias to be mistaken for pro-Palestinian solidarity.

Last June, more than 1,000 European parliamentarians representing various political parties issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century and opposing Israeli annexation of nearly a third of the West Bank. However, the pro-Israel US Democratic Party, including some traditionally staunch supporters of Israel, were equally critical of Israel’s plan because, in their minds, annexation means that a two-state solution would be made impossible.

While US Democrats made it clear that a Joe Biden administration would not reverse any of Trump’s actions should Biden be elected, European governments have also made it clear that they will not take a single action to dissuade – let alone punish – Israel for its repeated violations of international law.

Lip service is all that Palestinians have obtained from Europe, as well as much money, which was largely pocketed by loyalists of Abbas in the name of ‘State-building’ and other fantasies. Tellingly, much of the imaginary Palestinian State infrastructure that was subsidized by Europe in recent years has been blown up, demolished or construction ceased by the Israeli military during its various wars and raids. Yet, neither did the EU punish Israel, nor did the PA cease from asking for more money to continue funding a non-existent State.

Not only did the EU fail to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing occupation and human rights violations, it is practically financing Israel, as well. According to Defence News, a quarter of all of Israel’s military export contracts (totaling $7.2 billion in 2019 alone) is allocated to European countries.

Moreover, Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner, absorbing one-third of Israel’s total exports and shipping to Israel nearly 40% of its total import. These numbers also include products made in illegal Jewish settlements.

Additionally, the EU labours to incorporate Israel into the European way of life through cultural and music contests, sports competitions and in a myriad other ways. While the EU possesses powerful tools that can be used to exact political concessions and enforce respect for international law, it opts to simply do very little.

Compare this with the recent ultimatum the EU has given the Palestinian leadership, linking EU aid to the PA’s financial ties with Israel. Last May, Abbas took the extraordinary step of considering all agreements with Israel and the US to be null and void. Effectively, this means that the PA would no longer be accountable for the stifling status quo that was created by the Oslo Accords, which was repeatedly violated by Tel Aviv and Washington. Severing ties with Israel also meant that the PA would refuse to accept nearly $150 million in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the PA. This Palestinian step, while long overdue, was necessary.

Instead of supporting Abbas’ move, the EU criticized it, refusing to provide additional aid for Palestinians until Abbas restores ties with Israel and accepts the tax money. According to Axios news portal, Germany, France, the UK and even Norway are leading the charge.

Germany, in particular, has been relentless in its support for Israel. For months, it has advocated on behalf of Israel to spare Tel Aviv a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has placed activists, who advocate the boycott of Israel, on trial. Recently, it has confirmed the shipment of missile boats and other military hardware to ensure the superiority of the Israeli navy in a potential war against Arab enemies. Germany is not alone. Israel and most European countries are closing ranks in terms of their unprecedented military cooperation and trade ties, including natural gas deals.

Continuing to make references to the unachievable two-state solution, while arming, funding and doing more business with Israel is the very definition of hypocrisy. The truth is that Europe should be held as accountable as the US in emboldening and sustaining the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Yet, while Washington is openly pro-Israel, the EU has played a more clever game: selling Palestinians empty words while selling Israel lethal weapons.

Feature photo | A boy rides a bicycle by a graffiti in Belgrade, Serbia,, Sept. 7, 2020. The European Union warned Serbia and Kosovo that they could undermine their EU membership hopes by moving their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem. Darko Vojinovic | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Is the European Union Qualified to Broker Peace Between Israel and Palestine? appeared first on MintPress News.

Protests Against Greed and Inequality Are Spreading Like Wildfire Through Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 4:52am in

With attention fixed on this week’s events in Bolivia, you would be excused for not realizing that much of the rest of the region has for weeks also been ablaze in the flames of protest.

In Costa Rica, the neoliberal coalition government of Carlos Alverado attempted to force through a $1.75 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. As has been its modus operandi this year, the organization offered the money attached to a host of free-market changes, including tax changes, cuts to public services, and privatization of state-owned assets, something Alverado was more than happy to do.

Yet the people of Costa Rica clearly did not consent to the measures, launching a weeks-long general strike that paralyzed the country. Taking to the streets, they shut down dozens of the country’s principal transport arteries, fighting with many of the nation’s 30,000 strong police force.

The rebellion has resulted in a victory for the protesters, as Alverado announced the cessation of IMF negotiations.

 

Colombia

Meanwhile, a little south in Colombia, the country is today heading into the second day of a national strike, with the country’s highly organized teachers’ union FECODE announcing a 48-hour work stoppage in opposition to conservative president Ivan Duque’s plans to reopen schools and other educational institutions with few protective measures, despite a COVID-19 pandemic raging through the country, killing between 100 and 200 people daily. The teachers join students, trade unions, and a host of other organizations in collective action against Duque’s government.

There is a wide range of grievances on display. Indigenous protesters are out in great numbers, demonstrating against the Duque administration’s treatment of them. Others are protesting against the country’s appalling human rights record. Colombia has long been the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist. Four more indigenous leaders were killed on Monday and Tuesday, with two narrowly escaping death. Their murders are rumored to be a retaliation for the mobilizations in Bogota, as thousands have traveled to the nation’s capital to voice their displeasure.

 

Chile

Much of Chile was ablaze this time last year, with citizens attempting to force the conservative government of Sebastian Piñera (the country’s richest man) to concede a vote on the country’s outdated, fascist-era constitution. The initial spark for the nationwide action was a hike in Santiago’s subway fares in order to subsidize private transport companies, but soon snowballed into much more. “It is an outrage that nearly 30 years since the end of the dictatorship, Chile should still have this Pinochet-era constitution in place,” founder and co-editor of Alborada Magazine Pablo Navarette told MintPress last year.

Chile’s referendum will take place on Sunday, with opinion polls suggesting that the people will overwhelmingly vote for change. The country has seen weeks of protest, some turning violent. Earlier this month, a police officer was filmed throwing a 16-year-old protester off a bridge, where he was left face down in the water with serious injuries. At the weekend tens of thousands of Chileans gathered in central Santiago to mark the one year anniversary of the protests that began the process of change, and to rally support for a “yes” vote this Sunday. They were met with force by the police, the resulting violence forcing the closure of at least 15 metro stations.

 

Haiti

Meanwhile, in Haiti, U.S.-backed President Jovenal Moise is facing fresh waves of near-continuous protest, ever since he canceled elections and began ruling by decree. This weekend saw new demonstrations in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, blocking roads and calling for Moise’s resignation. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring many.

However, none of these protests have been given much attention at all in the Western press, who prefer to concentrate on demonstrations happening in enemy nations against adversarial governments. The 2019 protests in Hong Kong, for example, were given over 50 times the amount of coverage in The New York Times and CNN than the far deadlier and longer-lasting Haitian uprising.

 

Bolivia

Those out on the streets this week will no doubt draw inspiration from the events in Bolivia, where the government of Jeanine Añez suffered a catastrophic electoral defeat on Sunday at the hands of the grassroots Movement to Socialism (MAS) party. Añez, who came to power in a coup in November, insisted she was merely an “interim president.” Despite this, she postponed elections three times, while brutally suppressing organized resistance to her rule. However, a week-long general strike paralyzed the country in August, forcing Añez to concede to elections in October. Despite constant intimidation, the MAS won a resounding victory, setting the stage for the return of democracy to the Andean nation.

2020 has been an extremely turbulent year for the people of Latin America. While the region has suffered greatly thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, organized protest once again offers hope that a better world is possible. And with the Bolivian example fresh in their minds, the people might truly believe it is within their grasp.

Feature photo | Fire from a molotov cocktail explodes in front of police as a police vehicle shoots water at protesters who marched against the commemoration of the discovery of the Americas, organized by Indigenous groups demanding autonomy and the recovery of ancestral land in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 12, 2020. Esteban Felix | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, Common Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Protests Against Greed and Inequality Are Spreading Like Wildfire Through Latin America appeared first on MintPress News.

With an Eye on Nearby Iran, Israeli Weapons Fuel the Violence in Azerbaijan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 7:25am in

The latest iteration of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has already claimed the lives of dozens of people, had been largely forgotten by the world before hostilities reignited in September. Only the collapse of the Soviet Union was able to bring about the end of the last war between these entrenched enemies in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, the still contested region claimed under international law by Azerbaijan and de facto controlled by its ethnic Armenian majority has fallen under a new spell of violence thanks in large part to external actors vying for a larger war with another neighboring country: Iran.

Three weeks ago, a dispute over a piece of territory in the Caucasus Mountains erupted into a hot war between the two former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia, sending civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh to seek cover in their basements from the aerial drone strikes raining death and destruction from above.

In a video analyzed by Franceinfo, a 1K Orbiter “kamikaze” drone was found intact on the streets of the ethnically-Armenian enclave near the Azeri-Armenian border. As its moniker implies, this class of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is so named because once its operators lock onto a target on the ground the UAV dives into them with an explosive charge.

The drone was developed by leading Israeli unmanned aerial systems (UAS) company Aeronautics Defense Systems, which has a manufacturing plant in Azerbaijan since 2011. The discovery of the drone’s use by Azeri forces in the disputed border region has highlighted the pivotal, yet largely underreported, role that Israel is playing in this conflict, giving the Azeri army a decided advantage against the overmatched Armenians.

In addition, Turkey’s clear support of the Azerbaijani state leaves the majority Christian nation of Armenia up against the two biggest regional powers aside from Russia, which five days ago called on both parties in the conflict to respect a second cease-fire agreement brokered on October 10, 2020, in Moscow. The truce was supposed to come into force on Saturday, but heavy artillery fire, missiles, and drones continued to fall in the conflict zone on Sunday, with both sides blaming the other for violating the tentative armistice. The religious nature of the conflict’s origins helps to disguise the active participation of outside interests that are intent on stoking it for their own geopolitical purposes.

 

Black gold in Baku

Control over natural resources underpins virtually every single military conflagration in the twentieth century and many of raging across the world at the start of the twenty-first. The escalating conflict in the Caucasus is no exception, despite the ostensibly religious motives some would like to ascribe to the parties involved.

While Muslim-majority Azerbaijan might seem like a natural enemy of majority Christian Armenia, at its core, the conflict unfolding in northern Eurasia is one that harkens to the very first oil well that was discovered in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. Baku was the center of the black gold universe on the eve of World War I before Israel even existed as a state and just as Lord Balfour was on the verge of penning the infamous Balfour Declaration, which would eventually lead to its creation.

Today, the apartheid state obtains 40 percent of its oil from Baku, leaving little to the imagination about its interest in the regional conflict. In order to protect those interests, Israel has become one of Azerbaijan’s largest arms suppliers in recent years, providing up to 61 percent of all Azeri arms imports this past year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Claims made last week by an aide to the Azerbaijani president belittled Armenian condemnations of Israel’s role as “exaggerated” after the Armenian foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Israel over the weapons sales. As if to underscore the Azeri official’s disingenuous statement, an Israeli high court dismissed a call by human rights activist Elie Joseph to halt arms sales to Azerbaijan two days later, citing a lack of evidence.

 

A powder keg

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh could easily devolve into a wider war between far more powerful actors, like Turkey and Russia. The latter has a defense treaty with Armenia, while the former’s relationship to the oldest Christian country in the world is beset by its historic refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide – the systematic mass murder and expulsion of Armenians from what was still the capital of Ottoman Empire during and after World War I.

Signs that the conflict is heading in the wrong direction are becoming more noticeable. On Friday, October 16, Russia announced that its navy was beginning military exercises in the Caspian Sea to the north of Baku. Meanwhile, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian said on Saturday that he is ready to travel to European headquarters in Brussels to confront NATO over Ankara’s actions, which include funneling mercenaries from Syria to Azerbaijan.

More importantly, Iran could also be dragged into a larger war and could hold the key to unraveling Israel’s geopolitical motivation for their significant involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Iran shares a common cultural heritage with Armenia, despite religious differences, and counts the Christian nation as a strategic partner.

One day before the second cease-fire was supposed to take effect, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry accused Armenian forces of launching rocket attacks into Iranian territory as a provocation, which led the Iranian Foreign Ministry to issue a statement clarifying that “aggression against our country’s territories by any party” in the conflict would not be tolerated.

Feature photo | A man fences off a tail of a multiple rocket after shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in Shushi, outside Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 18, 2020. Photo | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post With an Eye on Nearby Iran, Israeli Weapons Fuel the Violence in Azerbaijan appeared first on MintPress News.

A Historical Reckoning: Oxford Study Challenges Israel’s Claims Concerning Palestinian Refugees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 10:10am in

There needs to be a fundamental change in the way Palestinian refugees are seen, no longer as victims but as people with rights who are entitled to shape their own destiny. This assertion is made in a new study whose importance cannot be overstated.

According to international law, Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes and land and receive restitution and compensation for their suffering and personal and communal losses. Furthermore, the State of Israel, which is responsible for Palestine’s ethnic cleansing, must pay for the repatriation, the rehabilitation, and the rebuilding that the return will necessitate. A thorough understanding of why millions of Palestinians live as refugees and what international law says about their situation is critical, and a recently published study sheds unprecedented light on the Palestinian refugee issue.

Palestinian Refugees in International Law” (2nd Edition), by Francesca P. Albanese and Lex Takkenberg, was published in May 2020 by Oxford University Press. It is a comprehensive body of work on the Palestinian refugee issue, and its importance cannot be overstated. This study sets the record straight on what caused the refugee crisis, provides vital statistics and fills in crucial pieces of information regarding what international law says regarding Palestinian refugees.

The study states at the outset that, “At the time of publication, the unresolved exile of Palestinian refugees has entered its eighth decade.” Some refugees are third or even fourth generation, and they account for “the largest group of refugees globally.” Furthermore, it says, “theirs is the most protracted refugee situation in modern history.”

 

Background

The original mass ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestinians by Zionist forces took place from 1947 to 1949. Although ethnic cleansing and internal displacement of Palestinians by Israel continued well into the 1950s, and in fact, continues to the present day, the ethnic cleansing campaign of 1947-1949 is what brought about the destruction of Palestine as it had been known for centuries. That campaign was responsible for the emergence of what the study calls “one of the largest and most protracted refugee crises of all times.” The majority of these refugees and their descendants, third and even fourth generation, are registered as ‘Palestine refugees’ with UNRWA and are commonly referred to as 1948 refugees.

The Palestinians who were exiled from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967 are commonly referred to as “displaced persons” or “1967 refugees.” Their fate and status under international law are similar to that of the 1948 refugees. Still, different terminology is used regarding them because of the status of the land from which they were displaced – the Kingdom of Jordan, which at that point was an independent state. Each year, the United Nations General Assembly passes a separate annual resolution focusing specifically on them.

 

Refugee rights

Suffering a violent assault on their lives and property and suddenly deprived of protection by the government of Mandate Palestine of which they were citizens, Palestinians became stateless refugees. They were admitted into neighboring countries on what many expected would be a temporary basis. However, one could argue, as I do, that this expectation stemmed from a serious misunderstanding of the objectives and influence of the Zionist movement.

“For historical and political reasons Palestinian refugees enjoy a distinctive regime made up of specific norms and institutional arrangements different from those for other refugees.” This reality has affected the protection Palestinians  deserve as refugees and often leaves them “excluded from the rights and standards of treatment afforded to other refugees.” In other words, Palestinian refugees are internationally recognized yet subject to a distinctive institutional regime compared to other refugees around the world. The distinction stems from special arrangements the UN had to make for them in 1948, seeing that the newly established Zionist state would not allow them to return.

One of the common mistakes people make regarding Palestinian refugees’ rights is the belief that securing rights in their host countries, including citizenship, will somehow undermine their claims towards Israel. This belief, according to this study, “must be put to rest.” In fact, the study goes on to state that for the rights of Palestinian refugees to be realized, the Palestinian community needs to make a paradigm shift, and international and regional diplomacy needs to provide a level of support “that has hitherto been largely lacking.”

Furthermore, the physical and political fragmentation that has befallen the Palestinian people and the diversity of legal frameworks and actors responsible for them have become features of their experience and misfortune. There needs to be a fundamental change in the way Palestinian refugees are seen, “not the victims of a failed political process, but as people with rights, entitled to shape their own destiny.”

 

Identity and numbers

“Today, out of over thirteen million Palestinians globally, about eight million are refugees.” 5.5 million are registered as ‘Palestine refugees’ with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or (UNRWA) in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.

The study estimates that some 1.5 million Palestinians are currently dispersed outside Arab countries, and their status and documentation make them statistically invisible and, therefore, difficult to track. As a result of their dispersal, Palestinian refugees’ identity is often hyphenated: Palestinian-Jordanian, Palestinian-Syrian, Palestinian-American, Palestinian-Iraqi, etc. It should be noted that for most Palestinians, long-term residence in host countries has not resulted in the protection afforded through citizenship.

Palestinian refugees

Palestinian refugees gather in the Bekaa refugee camp outside of Amman, Jordan, Oct. 28, 1970. Photo | AP

Another little known fact revealed repealed in this study is that since the late 1960s, more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees have been ejected from Arab countries, creating enormous challenges, including the need to seek asylum again in another country. What is worse is that the UN General Assembly did not confer a mandate to care for them. They are not included as a registered refugee population by UNRWA and do not receive comprehensive assistance from the agency.

 

A demographic issue

What has become known as the “demographic issue” is code for a Zionist obsession to establish a Jewish majority in Palestine – a territory that until then 1948 had a large Arab majority. This has been a pressing issue for Zionist leadership since the early years of the British Mandate. Still, despite British support for the Jewish national project and the waves of Jewish migration to Palestine since the late nineteenth century, at the end of 1947, Palestine’s Jewish population was only one-third of the total population of Palestine.

Britain facilitated Jewish migration to Palestine and turned hundreds of thousands of Jewish migrants from Europe into Palestine Mandate citizens. “The Citizenship Order of August 1, 1925, extended full citizenship rights to all Turkish (Ottoman) subjects habitually resident in Palestine.” This included the original 729,873 Ottoman citizens of Palestine, of whom the vast majority were Palestinian Arabs.

By 1946, the population of Palestine was estimated at 1,846,000. This included 1,203,000 Palestinian Arabs and 608,000 Jews. In the 30 years of British control over Palestine, the Jewish population grew over 30 percent compared to an average of 10 percent growth during the final 20 years of the Ottoman Empire, a time period already marked by increased Jewish immigration.

The idea of forcing the Arab Palestinians out of Palestine through expulsion and transfer had become ingrained in the Zionist leadership mindset very early on. As early as the 1930s, the Jewish Agency had established a Population Transfer Committee which devised schemes to remove the Palestinian population “by securing land for them in neighboring states, or by having Britain remove them.” During 1948, several Transfer Committees were set up by the Jewish Agency, and later the Israeli government to “facilitate the exodus.”

By the time the armistice agreements were signed in 1949 between the new State of Israel and its Arab neighbors, only 15 percent of Palestine’s pre-1948 Arab population remained in the area that would become Israel.

 

Criminalizing return and confiscating property

The State of Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948. By June of that year, the Israeli government had decided to bar refugees from returning. In 1952, Israel passed the Nationality Law, which effectively excluded over two-thirds of Palestinian Arab citizens from retaining citizenship in British Mandate Palestine, a land that was still their own country.

In 1954, Israel passed the ‘The Prevention of Infiltration Law,’ which effectively criminalized the return of Palestinian refugees. Soldiers who saw “infiltrators,” a term used to describe any Palestinian attempting to return to their home or lands, were authorized to shoot them on sight. Those who were caught and not killed on the spot were imprisoned and expelled again.

This was not merely motivated by Zionist cruelty but also by greed.

The wealth that Palestinians left behind “was strategic to the emerging State of Israel.” Palestinians left behind huge tracts of farmland, tools, livestock, shops, factories, houses of worship, private homes, financial assets, and personal belongings. Produce from fields and orchards was also left behind, with large citrus fruit stores waiting to be exported for hard currency.

Moveable property was sold by Israeli authorities. The government even leased abandoned stone quarries and sold cactus fruit from abandoned fields. “Beyond this monetary gain, control of the refugees’ property allowed Israel and the Jewish Agency to cheaply settle hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who began pouring into Israel after 1948.”

“The gap between such properties and their original owners/holders was further widened by the transfer, through ‘purchase agreements,’ to the Israeli Development Authority, and subsequently to the Jewish National Fund, for administration.” These Zionist institutions made it impossible for properties – both movable and immovable – of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced Palestinians to be restored to their rightful, legal owners.

In addition to severing the links between the land and its original owners, Israel transformed the territory to benefit its own economic growth. “By 1950, the Custodian had become the largest landlord in Israel.” It had acquired the legal authority to allocate Palestinian property to incoming Jewish immigrants.

In the 1950s, Absentee Property Laws consolidated the seizure of absentee properties and their transfer to the State of Israel for  exclusive benefit of the Jewish population. Absentee property played a huge role in turning Israel into a viable state. It allowed Israel to take over farms and urban homes of Palestinians and populate them with Jewish newcomers from Europe and Arab countries. Jewish kibbutzim and agricultural settlements began the process of expropriating the land of both refugees and that of the Palestinians who remained in what became Israel. Palestinians who remained had no choice but to work for the same Israeli owners who had stolen their land.

Palestinian refugees

A bulldozer clears land in Palestine to be used by Jewish Yemeni farmers, Sept. 4, 1950. Photo | AP

These enormous tracts of good, arable land were now held by the state and were used by Jewish settlements and individual farmers to grow crops and vegetables. Vacant Arab homes were used to accommodate immigrants. With time, emptied Palestinian villages were either transformed or destroyed. Some were turned into parks and forests; others were used for cultivation and development. “All these measures steadily rendered the possibility of a return of the refugees ever more remote.”

Israel and Zionist spokespeople worldwide like to claim that the Jews came to an empty, barren land and made it bloom. This study makes it clear that they came to an already prosperous country and stole its riches.

 

The report of the UN Mediator for Palestine

One would be remiss to discuss Palestinian refugees without mentioning the contributions and indeed sacrifice of the UN Mediator to Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte. Bernadotte was a Swedish diplomat, who after successfully negotiating the rescue of some twenty thousand prisoners from Nazi concentration camps (more than half of whom were Jewish), was asked to take on the role of Mediator for Palestine. He visited the country several times and presented several reports.

Count Bernadotte presented his first report regarding the refugees to the United Nations on September 16, 1948. The report describes his efforts to obtain an agreement from the Provisional Government of Israel for a phased return of refugees. This study clearly states that “attempts at finding a diplomatic solution were unsuccessful because of the firm stance of the Provisional Government of Israel against the return of the refugees.” Bernadotte’s report underscored that:

The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return.”

The Palestinian refugees ‘right’ to return and to be adequately compensated is recurrent in his report, notwithstanding the views expressed by the Provisional Government of Israel. The right of return was considered by Bernadotte to be among the most basic premises for the settlement of the conflict. The following passage of his report still resonates today:

No settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged … It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees.”

The Mediator not only stressed the right of the refugees to return but also made clear that those rights be affirmed rather than established. This reflected the prevailing consensus regarding the norms of international law when dealing with refugees.

Bernadotte also made it clear that,

The right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish-controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return, should be supervised and assisted by the United Nations.”

Count Bernadotte

Count Bernadotte, left, speaks with the Syrian leaders at a UN Security Council meeting on July 13, 1948. Photo | UN Archive

Bernadotte’s advocacy for the Palestinian refugees and his claim that Jerusalem – by then occupied and subjected to a thorough ethnic cleansing campaign – should come under international control and not Zionist control could not be tolerated by the Zionist government in Palestine. On September 17, 1948, one day after he submitted his progress report, Folke Bernadotte was assassinated in a terrorist attack by members of a Zionist militia.

The terrorists acted on an order to get rid of Bernadotte, and although it was later claimed that the assassins were part of a fringe extremist group and that the central provisional Zionist government formally condemned the assassination, there is little doubt that the entire Zionist established was complicit in Bernadotte’s murder.

Although the assassins were well known and had even given interviews, none were ever brought to justice. One of the people known to have been directly involved in the assassination was Yitzhak Shamir, though he was not a part of the terrorist squad that committed the murder. Shamir went on to serve in many important Israeli government posts, including Prime Minister.

 

Resolution 194

The UN General Assembly accepted Bernadotte’s recommendations when it adopted Resolution 194, and as a result of his death, established the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), which took over the main functions of the Mediator. Concerning refugees, the resolution states that the General Assembly:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Following Israel’s refusal to comply with the Mediator’s request to allow refugees to return to their homes, in paragraph 11, the General Assembly stressed that it,

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations.

The work of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) was completed in 1964. According to this study, records in the Commission’s archives reveal that it determined the worth of the Palestinian refugees’ privately owned land was 204,660,250 British Palestine pounds, equivalent to $9.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.

The study also states that the Commission’s estimates are considered to be “incomplete and conservative,” yet are the most methodologically accurate ones made to date. “Beyond land losses, a compensation regime should also consider movable property losses, disturbance allowance (representing the loss of income until a refugee could re-establish himself/herself), ex-gratia payment representing a general compensation for hardship, and reintegration costs.”

In August of 1961, at the U.S. government’s suggestion, the Commission appointed Dr. Joseph E. Johnson as a special representative. Johnson’s overall estimate of the amount owed to Palestinian refugees for compensation was $1.377 billion U.S. dollars in 1962. This is equivalent to $22.975 billion in 2019. All of this is for the refugees of 1948 only.

Resolution 194 is one of the most widely reaffirmed resolutions in UN history. This study states that “resolutions that have been reaffirmed hundreds of times not only confirm long-established international consensus but they acquire a legal character.” Resolution 194 has been repeatedly reaffirmed over the years, and it has even served as a precedent in international responses to other refugee crises.

 

Military Order 58

In the aftermath of the 1967 Israeli assault and conquest of Arab lands, and immediately after it seized the West Bank, the Israeli army issued Military Order 58. It authorizes the seizure of any property held by West Bank residents who were outside the area on June 7, 1967, and that of those who subsequently left. “Military Order 58 replicates the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 for the 1967 territories, applying it to territory that Israel supposedly “merely occupies and over which it has no sovereignty.”

According to this study, Military Order 58 “has a broader scope than the Absentees’ Property Law,” in that it allowed Israel to take control over property that had been held by Jordan since 1948 and placed it under the control of the Custodian’s authority of Israel. Furthermore, it has no time restrictions, covers any Palestinian who leaves the West Bank, and remains in force to this day.

 

International law

The British government initially made two conflicting promises regarding Palestine, one to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs and the other to the immigrant-colonizer Jewish community. However, the British government’s actions made it clear that Britain favored the creation of what became known as a Jewish state – or more accurately, a Zionist state – in Palestine. As a side note, it is worth mentioning that the local Orthodox Jewish community residing in Palestine at the time vehemently opposed the Zionists and the creation of a Zionist state. They made their opposition known to the British, the United Nations, and the local Palestinian Arab leadership, with whom they had excellent relations.

British support for Zionist claims to Palestine allowed the all-out military assault by Zionist militias against the indigenous Palestinian community. This ultimately led to the creation of an independent Zionist state and the subjugation, dispossession, exile, and statelessness of indigenous Palestinian Arabs. It also brought about measures preventing the return of the Palestinians forcibly displaced while actively promoting Jewish immigration under the guise of return. As a result of this, there is currently an unresolved refugee crisis “that has evolved into the largest and most protracted in modern history.”

Palestine 1936

Palestinian homes destroyed with dynamite by British troops following clashes between Jewish militias and Palestinians in Jaffa on July 3, 1936. Photo | AP

A crucial point that must be recognized is that the rights of Palestinian refugees to return, restitution, and compensation, were already enshrined in international law in 1948. The UN General Assembly reaffirmed these rights in resolution 194.

In 1948, the refugees already had the right to return to their homes. Instead, 750,000 refugees were denationalized en masse, prevented from returning to their houses, and forced into a seemingly endless exile. In other words, Israel had already violated its obligations under international humanitarian law and the law of state responsibility in 1948.

Since then, the policies and practices of successive Israeli governments continue to prevent the return and self-determination of Palestinian people. Israel denies Palestinian refugees the right to return, restitution, and compensation, and Israeli leaders even continue to deny the very existence of a Palestinian people. Israel justifies its actions by challenging the foundation of its obligations and that of the rights of Palestinians, and the international community has been weak and unwilling to intervene.

The practice that has evolved since the Second World War affirms that individual and collective claims of refugees are not mutually exclusive but rather reinforce each other. In fact, these are challenges found in other cases of mass displacement, serious human rights violations, and where the passage of time has increased the number of claimants. The high number of possible claimants among Palestinian refugees is often seen as justifying Israel in its refusal to recognize Palestinian refugees’ rights in general. However, given the clarity of the individual rights and the nature of violations involved in the Palestinian case, “individual claims and claims en masse for groups of individuals must be addressed.”

These are issues that can be overcome, as was demonstrated by the reparations to victims of Nazi persecution. They included multiple claims in different jurisdictions within different countries and on different continents, with settlements being achieved many decades after the violations took place.

The Israeli government aggressively encourages Jews from around the world to settle in Israel while pressing for restitution laws to be adopted regarding losses suffered by the Jewish people. Simultaneously, it adamantly denies Palestinians the right to return and resettle in their homeland and receive restitution. Being that Israel is a settler-colonial state these policies are not unusual, one wonders, however, at what point the international community will intervene on behalf of the millions of Palestinian refugees waiting to retun.

 

Right to return

Israel objects to the return of the Palestinian refugees claiming it is an existential threat. However, what Zionist institutions fear equally as much are demands under international law that they pay restitution and compensation for the properties both private and public, and for the natural resources stolen from the Palestinian people.

In 1949, the Geneva Convention elaborated regarding the prohibition of deportation and expressly referred to the repatriation of protected persons. Article 49 of GCIV prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied territory.” It goes on to say that “All protected persons who may desire to leave the territory at the outset of, or during a conflict, shall be entitled to do so.”

Zionist institutions and spokespeople claim that the refugee issue has somehow reached some imaginary statute of limitations. However, the legal foundation of the rights of the Palestinian refugees to repatriation, restitution, and compensation  – as affirmed in resolution 194 – not only has not expired but, according to this study, “has since become even stronger.” Furthermore, according to the Articles on State Responsibility, “the state responsibility does not diminish with the passing of time.”

It is only for political reasons that the rights of the Palestinian refugees continue to be side-lined. Zionist institutions around the world, with the support of the United States government, are doing all they can to undermine the severity of the Palestinian refugee issue and to absolve Israel of any responsibility. The fall of the Zionist- apartheid regime in Palestine and the emergence of a free and democratic Palestine in its place is arguably the only development that can realistically bring about the return of the refugees.

Feature photo | Palestinian refugees carry their belongings as they flee across the wrecked Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River from the Israeli-occupied section of Jordan, June 22, 1967. Bernard Frye | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post A Historical Reckoning: Oxford Study Challenges Israel’s Claims Concerning Palestinian Refugees appeared first on MintPress News.

Bolivia: First Election Since US-Backed Coup Pits Right against Left, Rich Against Poor and White against Everyone Else

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 6:22am in

Eleven months after a U.S-backed military coup overthrew the democratically elected Evo Morales and his Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, Bolivians will go to the polls on Sunday, offering them a chance to repudiate the coup government of Jeanine Añez, who has ruled the country since last November.

The last year has been a period of constant political struggle, as the self-described “interim government” has fought to impose its rule on a rebellious population, attempting to bring sweeping changes to the Andean state. Yet despite the arrest, exile, and repression of his colleagues, polls show MAS candidate Luis Arce as the clear frontrunner among many, with some suggesting he could win the election outright in the first round of voting.

Although the conflict is a political one, it is impossible to deny the clear and overt racial dynamic at play. While the country’s right-wing parties draw their support from rich, upper-class white Bolivians, many of whom live in eastern areas, the MAS is inordinately backed by the country’s indigenous or mixed lower-class majority.

MintPress has been speaking with a number of major MAS actors in this weekend’s election. Most of them see the event as an opportunity to reassert racial equality and reject an older model of white domination that ruled the country since the Spanish Conquest until Morales’ election in 2006.

“On October 18th we have to bury the fascist right…look at who the candidates for the right are, they’re people descendants from the Spanish, from Croatians, from all those empires. They don’t believe in our sovereignty or our culture,” said Juan Vilca of the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia.

What we’re excited about is that we have a winning formula, Luis Arce for president, he represents economic stability and can reach the middle class, and for vice president, we have an indigenous campesino, our brother David Choquehuanca, he’ll make sure that our culture and identity are respected, he’ll make sure our poncho, our chicote [whip], our chuspa [traditional bag], our sombrero, our dress, is respected.”

Bolivia Elections

A woman walks past a wall full of electoral posters in El Alto, Bolivia, Oct. 15, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Morales, who escaped persecution in November by fleeing to Mexico, and later Argentina, was the country’s first indigenous leader since the Spanish conquest. Coming from the Aymara nation, he was a poor peasant farmer before becoming politically active in trade unions. Morales, with his strong indigenous features, made racial equality a central focus of his administration. The 2009 constitution officially changed the country’s name to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia” to recognize its multi-ethnic nature, with the indigenous Wiphala flag granted equal status to the more traditional tricolor design seen internationally. This did not please Bolivia’s wealthy, mostly white, westernized elite.

Addressing a crowd, Eva Copa, president of the Bolivian senate and herself an Aymara from the city of El Alto, said of her political opponents, “They call us Indians as if it’s an insult, but I’m proud to be an Indian!” later adding at a MAS rally that,

In this election we’ll vote against racism. October 18 is where we recover the dignity of our indigenous cultures, where we say no to hate and division. We’ll say no to violence, because we come from the culture of peace. We’ll destroy the whole idea of ‘fraud’ [referring to Morales’ disputed electoral victory last year] which they used to steal the election from Bolivia’s indigenous peoples. The city of El Alto has always been a tomb for tyrants and we’ll prove that again on October 18.”

Part of indigenous identity in Bolivia is a respect, even reverence, for the natural environment, which they call “Pachamama” (Mother Earth). Leonardo Loza, a leader of the Chimore Union Federation and MAS candidate for senate in the city of Cochabamba explained why so many inside the country see this election as a turning point in the country’s history.

Our identity and culture is at play in this election, our lives are at play, our way of life is at play, our harmony with Pachamama is at play, our coexistence between Bolivians is at play, and of course, democracy is at play. That’s why the October 18 elections are so important.”

A little known senator from a party that received only four percent of the vote in last October’s election that Morales won (before being ejected by the military on spurious vote rigging charges), Jeanine Añez was an unlikely choice for president. A strongly conservative Christian, she arrived at the presidential palace brandishing a massive, leather bound bible, proclaiming that God was returning to government. Much of Bolivia’s Christian right see indigenous people as lesser citizens. Añez herself had previously described the country’s indigenous majority as “satanic” and suggested they should not be allowed to live in cities but should be relegated to the highlands or the deserts. In this election, Bolivia’s far-right have campaigned on the slogan “creemos” (we believe), presenting themselves, the true believers, against the satanic non-believers who still worship Mother Earth.

During the November coup, leaders burned the Wiphala flag in the streets, while security forces ripped off and burned the Wiphala patch that was added to their uniforms, a gesture symbolizing a return to a country with a strict racial hierarchy. “The burning of our Wiphala was what hurt the most, absolutely,” said Franklin Flores, an Aymara MAS lawmaker. “The way our mothers, our sisters, our daughters were beaten with sticks and gassed by the police, just for being indigenous. That hurt our soul and it always will, we’ll never forget those moments. With our vote now we can overcome all that and give back dignity to our people.”

In order to force the recently re-elected Morales from office in November, the country’s right-wing relied on a campaign of violence against MAS officials. Patricia Arce, mayor of the town of Vinto, for example, was captured, had her hair shaved off, and her body painted red before she was publicly dragged through the streets barefoot, her captors abusing her forcing her to agree to leave office. Morales made clear that he was only leaving to avert a bloodbath.

Once in power, Añez certainly did not have it all her own way, and was met with stiff but mostly uncoordinated resistance to the coup from the country’s indigenous and working-class. She quickly signed an official order pre-exonerating all security services from any crimes committed during the “re-establishment of order,” effectively giving the army and the police a license to kill anyone who opposed her. This they immediately used, carrying out a number of massacres against MAS supporters.

“During this coup, we, as indigenous women, have been treated worse than animals, I think to them we don’t exist, but that pain hasn’t been for nothing,” said Juanita Ancieta, Secretary of International Relations for the MAS, and an indigenous Quechua woman.

Our children have risen up with enormous strength in defense of indigenous women, that brings us huge joy, huge pride. These elections are the chance to end that discrimination, that racism, and we’ll do it with our vote, we don’t need violence because we want to build a government of peace. I want to say to the right, that we are Bolivians too, even if we have ideological differences, we’re all humans in our Pachamama,” she added.

Since the European conquest, much of Latin America has been exploited as a vast mineral resource, enriching Europeans, and later, North Americans. Bolivia was no exception. From its discovery in 1545, the vast silver mountain of Potosí (which, for centuries, produced more than half the world’s supply of silver) enriched the Spanish king and funded Madrid’s escapades around Europe and the world. Just 50 years after its founding, the city of Potosí had a population equal to that of London or Paris. Today, the silver is mostly gone. But Bolivia is still rich in tin, hydrocarbons, and lithium. Morales attempted to redress the balance by nationalizing the country’s mineral wealth, using the proceeds to fund ambitious anti-poverty projects. This may have sealed his fate; Morales contends that the events of November constituted a “lithium coup,” a notion backed up by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. When challenged on his role in the coup, the billionaire (whose electric vehicles require vast amounts of lithium for batteries) responded, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

During his time in office, Morales emerged as one of the world’s foremost critics of the international system, continually asserting that unfettered capitalism was the root cause of human suffering. Internationally, he opposed U.S. imperialism and attempted to build far reaching networks with other independently-minded Latin American countries, all while promoting Palestinian rights and Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. In 2015, his presidential plane was grounded in Europe after it was alleged that American dissident Edward Snowden might be on board en route to a new life of asylum in Bolivia. Diego Pary, an indigenous Quechua and Morales’ Foreign Minister until the 2019 coup, said that,

The diplomacy of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples reached the world during the last government. From the foreign ministry we showed the world what Bolivia really is, we showed the world our indigenous cultures, but sadly that indigenous diplomacy, that values unity and integration, has been abandoned. With this election we can rebuild Bolivia’s standing in the world, the values of our indigenous cultures have so much to contribute internationally.”

Bolivia Elections

A Queen Elizabeth I monument is covered in an Indigenous “Chola” outfit during a protest against colonization in La Paz, Oct. 12, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

As they wrap up their election campaign, the Movement to Socialism appears in a confident mood. A recent poll shows Luis Arce at 42 percent nationally, more than 9 points ahead of his nearest challenger Carlos Mesa (who was president between 2003 and 2005). Under the Bolivian system, if any candidate wins over 40 percent of the vote in the first round and is 10 points clear of second place, there is no second round runoff election. The Bolivian right obviously sees the danger, with Añez herself recently dropping out of the race to rally support around one candidate. Thus, unless projections are wildly inaccurate, a fair vote on Sunday will have the MAS in a strong position.

Yet there are serious concerns the election (which has already been postponed multiple times) will be far from fair. “Citizen observers” are being directly paid by U.S. government organizations USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, groups expelled from Bolivia under Morales’ premiership for interference in domestic affairs. In the wake of the coup, the U.S. expressed its delight at what it called the “preservation of democracy,” releasing a statement that all but said, “we did it.” Since then, it has continued to back Añez.

Añez’s government is also trying to impose a 48-hour lockdown straight after the election, claiming it is an anti-COVID-19 measure. However, critics allege it could be an attempt to stop protests against upcoming electoral fraud.

Henry Nina, the president of the Intercultural Confederation, the country’s largest indigenous organization, was confident that justice would be achieved.

We’re going to win back our identity, as the 36 indigenous and Afro nations of Bolivia, recognized by the constitution that we fought for. They’ve discriminated against us, they’ve dismantled our institutions such as the Ministry of Culture, a people without origin and without culture is not a people. This is why we have to rebuild democracy on October 18, so as to be able to rebuild our culture and our identity.”

Sunday represents Bolivia’s best chance to secure lasting peace, with a resounding MAS victory being a repudiation of the right’s military coup in November. Already, through constant struggle, the country’s indigenous groups and trade unions have forced the government to concede to an election. The question remains, however, if it loses, how will the government react?

Feature photo | An opponent of former President Evo Morales fights a supporter of the Movement Towards Socialism Party in La Paz, Bolivia, Oct. 5, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Oliver Vargas is a British-Bolivian journalist covering the ongoing coup in Bolivia for MintPress News. His writing has appeared in teleSUR, Redfish and The Grayzone among others.

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Bolivia: First Election Since US-Backed Coup Pits Right against Left, Rich Against Poor and White against Everyone Else appeared first on MintPress News.

Questions Surround Timing and Details of Trump’s Recent Yemen Prisoner Exchange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 4:29am in

SANA’A, YEMEN — “Lak Al Hamd Ya Allah.” These words, which translate roughly from Arabic into “All thanks be to God,” were the first uttered by a 60-year-old Yemeni mother upon seeing her son for the first time in five years. The tearful reunion took place in Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport on Wednesday after the young man was released from Saudi Arabia’s notorious Khamis Mushait military prison near the Yemen-Saudi border. She was among hundreds of mothers, wives, and children reunited with loved-ones after a hard-won prisoner exchange between the Houthis (Ansar Allah) on one side and Saudi Arabia and the United States on the other.

In a reception replete with pomp and ceremony, freed prisoners were greeted by a number of Ansar Allah officials, ministers, members of Parliament as well as military leaders and social figures amid patriotic music and folk dances.

The surprise prisoner exchange is the largest to have taken place since the war erupted in 2015 and was overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It would likely have never taken place had American prisoners not been involved. ”If there were no American prisoners, we would not have seen our families again,” one fisherman freed in the release told MintPress.

According to the Red Cross, some 1,081 prisoners from all sides were released as a part of an UN-brokered peace deal struck quietly in Switzerland last month. The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday that the prisoner exchange offers a glimmer of hope for Yemen, adding that it may be the largest operation of its kind in history.

Yemen Prisoner Exchange

Freed Houthi fighters are helped off of a plane at Sana’a International Airport, October, 14 2020. Photo | AMC

Saudi Arabia and its local allies reportedly released 710 Yemeni soldiers and abducted expatriates in the deal in exchange for 3 Americans, one of them deceased, 15 Saudi troops, 4 Sudanese soldiers, and 400 Saudi-backed Yemeni militants.

Kash Patel, the Deputy Assistant to Donald Trump, identified the freed U.S. nationals as Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada. Loli claimed to be an aid worker conducting humanitarian work in Yemen and Gidada said he was an American businessman conducting business in the country when he was detained by the Houthis. The remains of Bilal Fateen, the third U.S. captive who died during clashes with Houthi fighters, were transported to Oman. The Houthis claim that they have documents proving that the American detainees were arrested conducting intelligence activity on behalf of the United States and Saudi-led coalition.

U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement on Wednesday that “the United States welcomes the release today of U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen. He added, “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will be repatriated as well.”

Abdul Qader Al-Murtaza, chairman of the Houthi-run Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that 250 prisoners were freed from Saudi prisons and 220 from prisons in Marib province on Thursday, in four separate batches. Al-Murtaza said that 680 prisoners were originally supposed to have been released into Houthi custody but the “coalition excluded tens [of] prisoners from the prisons of Marib province, which prompted us to exclude prisoners.”

The oil-rich Marib province has been the scene of fierce fighting between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. Houthi spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree revealed on Thursday that Saudi Arabia was concerned about the Houthi advance in Marib, making the Kingdom eager to negotiate.

 

Another October surprise

Speaking on behalf of the Trump administration, Patel said that the released Houthis did not pose a major threat to Saudi security interests, adding that the individuals were not on any terrorism watch lists. He also said that an undisclosed number of “high-risk” fighters were blocked from release.

According to a senior Hothi official who spoke to MintPress on the condition of anonymity, “The deal was initially discussed at the start of 2020 by an Omani broker, but the American administration postponed the exchange until today to use it as leverage in the coming presidential election.” The exchange took place less than three weeks before the start of the U.S. election.

According to a senior Hothi official who spoke to MintPress on the condition of anonymity, “The deal was initially discussed at the start of 2020 by an Omani broker, but the American administration postponed the exchange until today to use it as leverage in the coming presidential election.” The exchange took place less than three weeks before the U.S. election season kicks off.

Despite what appears to many Yemenis to have been little more than a political stunt, Houthis officials remained positive about the move, confirming that they are open to other deals with the United States to end the war in Yemen. Mohammed AbdulSalam, the spokesman for the movement, said in the wake of the deal, “These steps restore hope in building peace. We have made offers to implement such a step, and we expect it to be positively reflected in the political file.” He claimed the release of Saudi and Sudanese prisoners was aimed at encouraging the other side to move towards peace. “We made a major concession in this regard.”

Feature photo | US citizens, Sandra Loli, right, and Mikael Gidada, left, are pictured in Muscat, Oman on October 14, 2020 after being released from Houthi custody back to the United States as part of a massive prisoner exchange.

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Questions Surround Timing and Details of Trump’s Recent Yemen Prisoner Exchange appeared first on MintPress News.

Philippines to Roll Out National ID as Surveillance State Spreads Across the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 5:32am in

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the central organism tasked with collecting, compiling, and analyzing data in the southeast Asian nation, has begun a large-scale, house-to-house canvassing operation to preregister 9 million heads of households and other adults in the country’s lowest income brackets.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the flagship program will initially be carried out in regions where COVID cases are low, and only on a voluntary basis. Despite reportedly widespread support for the new system (upwards of 70 percent), concerns over privacy have dogged the identification system since it was mandated by the Philippine Identification System Act and signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018.

The legislation, originally drafted by a former head of the Philippine National Police, will include information already held by the PSA as well as the eventual inclusion of biometric data, such as iris scans and full fingerprint sets. Filipino researcher Josh Malonzo, from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, tweeted out an all-caps warning on Monday about how the national ID program will dovetail with the highly controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, resulting in de facto mass surveillance.

Much of the justification for the national ID system revolves around efforts to consolidate the country’s 46 existing government-issued IDs and facilitating payments across commercial sectors. The central bank of the Philippines is among the major institutions pushing for the new system, which it hopes will increase the number of Filipinos with bank accounts from the current 29 percent to 70 percent by 2023.

Other powerful supporters of the nascent ID system are two of the nation’s biggest telecom companies, PLDT and Globe Telecom, who have been trying to introduce e-payments into a country where the majority of the population still prefers to use cash for day-to-day transactions, mirroring similar initiatives by banking and transnational corporations in other developing nations.

The preregistration period will run from October 12, 2020, until December 30 and overlap slightly with the beginning of the full registration process, slated to begin in November. The current chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Gen. Camilo Cascolan, instructed his charges to coordinate with the PSA and Local Government Units (LGUs), to carry out the pre-registration process, which will begin in the country’s rural areas and move on to the metropolitan regions next year. The PSA aims to enroll 108 million Filipinos by the end of 2022.

 

Working excuses

The momentum for a national ID system is not stopping at the borders of what the financial industry calls “emerging markets”, however. In the United States, legislation for a new national ID is currently sitting in the U.S. Congress awaiting passage. Introduced by U.S. Congressman Bill Foster on September 11, 2020, the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020, avails itself of many of the same justifications used in the Philippines to generate consensus for a national ID, such as the coronavirus crisis, which has “exposed the lack of a comprehensive digital identity strategy,” in the United States, according to the bill’s advocates.

Nevertheless, in a country where digital payments are already ubiquitous, the raison d’etre used in the Philippines – namely, the desire to bring millions of unbanked Filipinos into the banking system – is not necessarily going to work as well in America, where the threat of cyberattacks and cybersecurity issues, in general, are instead cited as the top reason for the implementation of a national ID system, featuring many of the same biometric features Duterte’s compatriots will soon be compelled to provide to their government.

Foster’s bill quotes the director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury Department (FinCEN), Kenneth A. Blanco, to make its case by blaming identity theft as the root cause “behind much of the fraud and cybercrime affecting our nation today.” Just a few weeks later, the infamous FinCEN leaks conveniently revealed the global extent of fraudulent activities engaged in by the world’s largest financial institutions, covered by this author.

 

Pincer movement

The COVID-19 crisis and worldwide lockdowns have afforded governments across the planet the opportunity to implement measures of population control that were unimaginable only a few years ago and relegated to Hollywood’s most dystopian productions.

The commander of the Philippines’ Joint Task Force COVID Shield, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, reflected this new reality when he revealed to the Manila Bulletin that the implementation of the national ID system has “always been factored in during the meetings of the National Task Force on COVID-19” and other health agencies.

In the United States, such considerations revolve around the effects COVID-19-related issues are having on unemployment agencies, which have been reportedly targeted for fraud through cyberspace. The same justifications for an unprecedented expansion of the surveillance state are being used in Canada, whose own national ID system is also relying on emergency measures brought on by the pandemic to push through draconian tracking and personal data collection technologies.

Implementation in the United States will also be aided by the imposed obsolescence of previous forms of ID, such as the drivers’ licenses currently held by 62 percent of Americans, but which the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has announced will no longer be valid to travel by plane domestically or internationally by the end of 2021.

Feature image | MintPress News

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Philippines to Roll Out National ID as Surveillance State Spreads Across the World appeared first on MintPress News.

55 Million People Face Famine as COVID-Ravaged Economies Fail To Meet Funding Goals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 5:01am in

More than 55 million people in seven countries are in desperate need of COVID-19-related famine relief. That is according to a new report from international charity Oxfam, entitled “Later will be too late.” The report details how 55.5 million people in seven countries — Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia — are living in severe-to-extreme levels of food insecurity or even famine conditions, thanks largely to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the United Nations called for $10.3 billion in emergency funding to deal with the worldwide humanitarian impact the pandemic was expected to bring. Unfortunately, it has received barely a quarter of what it has asked for from donors. Every sector, including gender-based violence (58 percent funded), protection (27 percent), health (27 percent), and water, sanitation and hygiene (17 percent) are chronically under-funded. But the worst underwritten parts of its coronavirus response plan are food security (11 percent) and nutrition (3 percent). Indeed, in 5 of the 7 countries noted, the UN has received nothing at all to deal with the crisis. Oxfam called the international community’s response “dangerously inadequate.”

“The Committee for World Food Security must raise the alarm at the UN that famine is imminent on its watch and not enough is yet being done to stop it. We need a fairer and more sustainable food system that supports small scale producers. Years of neglect mean that millions upon millions of people remain unnecessarily vulnerable to shocks like COVID, climate change and conflict,” said Oxfam’s International interim Executive Director, Chema Vera.

Official estimates suggest that around 1.1 million people have died from COVID-19 globally since its emergence in China late last year. While the United States has seen the most cases and deaths overall, it is now countries in the global south that are the most intense hotbeds of the virus, with Brazil, Mexico, and India right behind the U.S. There are currently over 800,000 active cases in India alone.

As nations all over the world have scrambled to take emergency action in the wake of COVID-19, businesses have been disrupted, supply lines cut and economies stunted. As a result of the mass unemployment, the number of food insecure people has greatly increased in many countries. In northern Nigeria, for instance, that number has increased to 8.7 million from 4.7 million three years ago. No one in Burkina Faso in 2017 fell into the food insecure category, however, that number has jumped to 3.3 million today, according to Oxfam. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s food insecure population has rocketed from 7.7 million in 2017 to 21.8 million today.

Yemen was already considered the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” by the United Nations before the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks largely to the Saudi-led onslaught against the country. Over 20 million people are dependent on foreign food aid to survive. In April, the World Food Program warned that a “famine of biblical proportions” could be on the way in the country. And yet, following U.S. government pressure, aid to Yemen has sputtered to just $0.25 per person per day, nothing like what is needed to change the course of the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo successfully pressured the international community to reduce its aid to the beleaguered nation in a bid to starve the country’s Houthi rebels of aid. As a result, Yemen may be reaching a humanitarian tipping point in the near future.

Partly because of the inaction, Oxfam has suggested that more people could die from COVID-19-linked hunger than of the virus itself, warning that up to 12,000 people could perish daily if more action is not taken. But even as the UN desperately begs for just $10 billion to avert a massive famine, food and beverage companies have paid out over $18 billion in dividends to shareholders between January and July, suggesting that a lack of funds is not the principal problem.

People in the United States, too, have had problems with food insecurity, although nothing like the severity of those in sub Saharan Africa or in Yemen. 56 million Americans were forced to use a food bank during the crisis, as tens of millions were left unemployed almost overnight. While Americans do not have to worry about a potential famine in their country, those in the African and Asian countries highlighted by the report are not as lucky.

Feature photo | Iraqi children sit on bags of rice from the World Food Program (WFP) at a school that serves as a shelter for internally displaced people in Baghdad’s eastern district of Jamila, Iraq. Karim Kadim | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post 55 Million People Face Famine as COVID-Ravaged Economies Fail To Meet Funding Goals appeared first on MintPress News.

Western Anger as China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council and Saudi Arabia Rejected

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 3:32am in

In a secret ballot at the United Nations yesterday, Saudi Arabia was rejected for a position on the body’s 47-country Human Rights Council (HRC). The only country that did not receive the required number of votes from member states, the failure has been seen as a repudiation of the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record and its decreasing international support.

15 positions were filled yesterday, although most of them were pre-selected. Only the Asia-Pacific region faced an open vote from UN member states. Pakistan received 169 “yes” votes out of a possible 193, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, and China 139. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, received just 90.

Saudi Arabia’s allies in the West had actually been campaigning to halt the election of states that draw Washington’s ire, including China, Russia, and Cuba, trying to organize opposition against those nations, but were ultimately unsuccessful. China received 41 fewer votes than it did in 2016, amid increased global concern over the alleged treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, but ultimately comfortably surpassed the 50 percent threshold for admission.

U.N. Watch, a western NGO that has a history of attacking Washington’s enemies and has condemned the UN for its supposed antisemitic bias over its criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, claimed that “electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade.”

The reaction from the U.S. government, which left the HRC in 2018 over its perceived bias against Israel, was similarly angry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement claiming that the election of countries like China, Russia, Cuba (and Venezuela in 2019) has shown that the institution is now broken beyond repair.

“The United States’ commitment to human rights consists of far more than just words,” Pompeo said, as he boasted of employing sanctions against all those nations. “Our commitments are spelled out clearly in the UN’s Declaration, and in our record of action. The United States is a force for good in the world, and always will be,” he added. Yet earlier this year Pompeo himself said that the U.S. should abandon most of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration and focus only on property rights and religious freedoms.

 

The spin war

Much of the media today has been in a furor that the “world’s worst abusers” (The Times) like China, Russia, and Cuba are set to join or rejoin the council. The Guardian suggested that the institution’s credibility is at stake. Yet in the talk of human rights violators joining the council, the election of other states with questionable records was never discussed. Bolivia, whose murderous far-right government came to power in a U.S.-backed military coup in November, was also elected, but with no fanfare or condemnation. As was Cameroon, whose dictatorial head of state Paul Biya has been in charge of the country since Gerald Ford was president of the United States. Other states with contentious records included were Narendra Modi’s India, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, and the Qatari dictatorship.

UN Media coverage

Both the Guardian, left, and the Times, right, failed to report on other human rights violators being elected to the council

Saudi Arabia was elected twice to the HRC between 2014-2016 and 2017-2019. Its new failure to secure more than 90 votes is a sign of increasing discontent with its policies in Yemen, declared the world’s worst humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, where 24 million people (80 percent of the country) need some form of humanitarian assistance. Yet under pressure from the U.S. government, aid has been cut to just 25 cents per person, per day. The kingdom has played a key role in stymying any international action to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe, using its position at the HRC to block UN inquiries into its own abuses in Yemen.

Internally, the country is often described as the most repressive regime on the planet, with millions of people suffering under slave-like conditions, according to Human Rights Watch. While on the council, it attempted to block a resolution that condemned the use of torture by law enforcement and reaffirms the human rights of LGBT people. Inside Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty.

Ultimately, while yesterday’s election is the sign of a slightly more multipolar world, the results are unlikely to seriously change the direction of the organization, with the United Nations constantly blocked from taking action unless all of the world’s superpowers allow it.

Feature photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, listens to Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during their meeting at the State Department, Oct. 14, 2020, in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Western Anger as China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council and Saudi Arabia Rejected appeared first on MintPress News.

In Afghanistan, American Troops Patrol the Same Routes Their Fathers Did

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 5:39am in

Nineteen years ago last week the United States invaded Afghanistan, a country halfway around the world that few in America had heard of and even fewer knew anything about. Today, thousands of U.S. soldiers and many more private military contractors continue to pace and patrol exactly the same routes as their predecessors did in 2001, fighting a seemingly endless and pointless conflict that both the American and Afghan public have long since soured on.

One example of this is Master Sgt. Trevor deBoer, deployed to the country three times with the 20th Special Forces Group. “When we started this, people asked why I was going, and my response was, ‘So my sons don’t have to fight this war,’” deBoer told military news site Stars and Stripes.

But, ironically for deBoer, Afghanistan is exactly where his son, Spc. Payton Sluss ended up, metaphorically and literally walking in his footsteps. “My feet were walking the same land you were,” Sluss said to his father. This father-son dynamic is not as unique as one might expect; Stars and Stripes also profiled a number of other parents and children in the same situation.

The story was another case of life imitating art, as it bore an eerie resemblance to a three-year-old article in the satire outlet The Onion, called “Soldier Excited To Take Over Father’s Old Afghanistan Patrol Route.” In it, a fictional interviewee claims that “It’s just so incredible that I’ll soon be walking the very same footpath as my old man, securing the perimeter of Camp Chapman in Khost Province just like he did so many years ago,” expressing his pride in taking flak from the same angry rebel groups and dodging IEDs on the same deserted roads. But reality is increasingly driving satirists out of a job these days.

A new poll found that Americans are extremely weary of the conflict and want it to come to an end as soon as possible. Nearly 62 percent of the country backed a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban signed in February, with the number of respondents who want to keep troops in Afghanistan until “all enemies have been defeated” dropping from 30 percent in 2019 to just 15 percent today. The poll also found that Americans want a decrease in foreign interventions and military presence around the world. About twice as many favor cutting the military budget than increasing it.

President Trump appeared to be on the verge of pulling out of Afghanistan for good in the summer and was in negotiations for a peace deal. However, anonymous intelligence officials leaked stories to The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal alleging that Russia, and later Iran, were paying off the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers, causing a media storm that was used as the basis to postpone the withdrawal. Trump is now claiming only that U.S. troops “should” be out by Christmas.

 

A costly humanitarian war

The United States and its allies quickly invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, citing the Taliban’s refusal to hand over chief suspect Osama Bin Laden. Yet the Taliban were, in fact, willing to negotiate through neutral third parties, but were not given the chance. Bin Laden was captured and killed in 2011 — over nine years ago — yet the United States has still not left the country.  The Trump administration has even ramped up the war, dropping the “Mother of All Bombs” — the largest non-nuclear explosion in world history — in 2017. Between January and October of 2018, it dropped 5,982 more bombs, the highest number in over a decade.

The humanitarian cost of the war is debated, with little agreement about the scale of the violence perpetrated against Afghanistan’s people. What is not in doubt is the attitude of Afghans. A poll published last year found that zero percent of respondents described themselves as “thriving,” and 85 percent described their situation as “suffering.” Less than half the country said they experienced any enjoyment in the previous day, while 52 percent admitted to constantly worrying. The $2 trillion conflict has much to do with it.

The war has a serious effect on American lives too, and not just those of the military. The state of Oregon, for instance, was not able to effectively tackle this summer’s record-breaking wildfires because their firefighting helicopters had been requisitioned by the Department of Defense and sent to Afghanistan to continue bombing the country. Over 1 million acres of Oregonian land was destroyed, and eleven people were killed as a result. Continuing to send fathers and sons off to fight in foreign lands will mean fewer resources at home.

Feature photo | An Afghan boy watches Cpt. Chris Esrey of Havelock, North Carolina, with India, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, First Marine Division, company, scan the area during a patrol in Sangin, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Dusan Vranic | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post In Afghanistan, American Troops Patrol the Same Routes Their Fathers Did appeared first on MintPress News.

Pages