Torture is neither inevitable nor endless: a reply to Gerald Caplan

by Justin Podur and Dan Freeman-Maloy

Imagine an anti-racist with decades of work in the struggle writing the following about the popular upheaval and police attacks witnessed this month in Ferguson, Missouri:

Half a century after summer 1964 (when major US ghettos famously erupted in rebellion), we are once again being shown the nature of blacks and whites in the United States. The “wretched blacks,” along with the police attacking them and the whites who cheer, remain trapped in “a classic tragedy where characters cannot escape their nature.” But this is just how conflicts based on “visceral antagonism” go. The basic nature of the peoples involved is to blame, and this can’t be escaped. So why bother to think, say, or do anything about it? Whatever it is, “none of it makes the slightest difference”.

Or, imagine someone who has stood up against extractive industry for decades writing the following about climate change:

“Two hundred years into the industrial era, it is clear that the institutions propelling climate change are too strong, the imperative of extraction and profit too pervasive, for meaningful action on the climate. For thriving corporations, whose minds are full of indifference, it means waiting for a day when the ocean level rises up to the windows of their skyscrapers. For wretched peoples, whose minds are full of nonsense, it means starvation, thirst, and death.”

Or, imagine someone like Gerald Caplan, who has been a rare Canadian voice for decency on the Israel/Palestine conflict, reflecting on this summer’s Gaza massacre in precisely the words used above about Ferguson. In an article this week written for the Globe and Mail and reproduced by Rabble.ca, Caplan writes that, in the words of Rabble’s headline, “War between Israel and Palestine” is our “endless, inevitable future”.

Line 9 resources

Neither the NEB, nor the very nice Line 9 Communities, nor Stop Line 9 has a shapefile that a GIS person could use to study line 9. I used the map at stop line 9, re-georeferencing and re-digitizing, to create a line shapefile in WGS 84 of the part of line 9 that goes through Toronto. I also created a KML file.

Small Genocides

First published at Telesur English August 12, 2014.

When the word genocide is invoked, many people might think of Rwanda 1994. In that genocide, the government of the country targeted a minority population for massacre during a civil war that had begun three years before, and killed hundreds of thousands of people, from both the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. That government lost the civil war, and was replaced by the regime that still rules Rwanda today, the RPF government of Paul Kagame.

Others might think of the Nazi holocaust. In the holocaust, Germany invaded many of the countries of Europe, captured and killed millions of people. The German Nazi government, like the Rwandan government of 1994, lost the war, and was occupied by the very country (Russia) that it had invaded.

We remember these genocides. We remember their victims. We remember their perpetrators. There are museums dedicated to them, and academic scholarship, and media attention. We are taught the slogan, never again.

But these genocides are unique mainly because their perpetrators lost. In many cases, including recent cases, genocide has been a path to power, a way of achieving a goal. The perpetrators have power. No one is able, or willing, to stand up to them. This is frightening for the rest of us because the powerful can, in fact, get away with genocide.

Returning to Rwanda: Kagame's RPF, which defeated the Rwandan government in
1994 and took over the country, massacred tens of thousands of Hutus in Rwanda in 'reprisal', in highly organized massacres. Then, in 1996, Kagame's RPF invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, directly and indirectly over the next 15 years, occupied it. The violence of Rwanda's occupation of the eastern DR Congo has led to excess mortality in the millions, hundreds of thousands of which were from direct violence not unlike the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But Kagame remains in power, his regime is a highly unequal police state, and wealth continues to flow from the eastern Congo, through Rwanda, to the West.

August 7, 2014: The Gaza Ceasefire with Dan Freeman-Maloy

The Ossington Circle is an internet talk show hosted by Justin Podur in Toronto. In this episode, recorded during the 72-hour ceasefire at the end of a month of Israel attacking Gaza in 2014, Freeman-Maloy talks about the ceasefire, the long history of Israel's decades-long, disciplined destruction of Gaza and of Palestinian society, the ironclad Western support for Israel, and what people of conscience in the West can do about it.

Taking Action on Gaza

On August 1, 2014, three weeks into Israel's assault on Gaza, people everywhere were holding fundraisers for medical aid and events to try to understand and figure out how to take action to stop the attack. This talk, given at one such event, describes the direction of Israel's - and the West's - politics on Gaza and Palestine more generally. It is a terrifying direction, a critical moment, and one that will not resolve itself. The West must set limits for Israel, and will only do that if people take action.

Israel/Palestine lexicon for mainstream media

If you are writing for mainstream media, you need to learn special uses of words and phrases that are specific to Israel/Palestine. If you use common usage, you will run into confusions, paradoxes, and hostile responses from pro-Israel people. Please follow these guidelines and you will have no problems with editors, politicians, or organized pro-Israel groups. For each phrase, this guide will present first (a) the common usage, and then (b) the specific Israel/Palestine usage that you must use in order to write for major US (and UK and Canadian of course) media (NYT, Toronto Star, BBC, CBC, etc.)

BIAS

a. Traditional usage: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

b. Israel/Palestine usage: If you are a politician or journalist, being insufficiently pro-Israel means you are biased. In order to avoid accusations of bias, writers can use the 'both sides' phrase, and compare irrelevant metrics, like, say, the number of Palestinian children killed to the number of rockets launched from Gaza. The use of the word 'nuance', especially when confronted with stark data about hunger, deprivation, or deaths of Palestinians, will also help with accusations of bias.

CIVILIAN AREAS

a. Traditional usage: An area where civilians live. As opposed to, say, an empty, open field, or a military base.

By this definition, since the Palestinians have no state and no army, and therefore have no military bases, and since Gaza is a densely populated urban area full of refugee camps, fenced in on all sides, with its coastal area patrolled by the Israeli navy, all of Gaza would be considered a civilian area. The TUNNELS, by contrast, might not be considered civilian areas, if HAMAS is using them militarily.

b. Israel/Palestine usage: A tiny part of Gaza where HAMAS hides. Bombing this part of Gaza is completely legitimate, because it is necessary to kill HAMAS and to kill its HUMAN SHIELDS.

HAMAS

a. Wikipedia: Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization, with an associated military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the Middle East including Qatar.

Q/A on Palestine

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24

Q: Didn’t Hamas start this fighting by provoking Israel?

A: According to this interpretation of events: 1. Palestinians killed Israeli teens -> 2. Israel responded -> 3. Hamas began rocket fire -> 4. Israel attacked Gaza.

A longer cycle. The first problem with this sequence is that if you go a little further back, you find further provocations and attacks by Israel, further responses by Palestinians, and so on, going back decades. For example, on May 15, 2014, Israeli soldiers murdered two Palestinian teens in Beitunia, for no apparent reason (see: http://electronicintifada.net/tags/beitunia-killings). Even if you see the conflict as a ‘cycle of violence’, the primary responsibility lies with the more powerful party, since it is the more powerful party that will determine the course of both war and peace in any ‘cycle’. Israel is by far the more powerful party. The question of ‘who started it’ is really a question about who is responsible. Israel can stop this massacre at any moment.

Ilan Pappe wrote recently that “The only chance for a successful struggle against Zionism in Palestine is the one based on a human and civil rights agenda that does not differentiate between one violation and the other and yet identifies clearly the victim and the victimizers.”

Revenge does not apply to innocents. But the second problem is more important. It is immoral to see the killings of the Israeli teens as a ‘response’ to, or ‘revenge’ for, the killings of the Palestinian teens in May. It is also immoral to see the torture and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli settlers as a ‘response’ to the killings of the teens. The only acceptable moral response to crimes like murder is to bring the individuals responsible to justice. Justice, according to the law, does not allow revenge against other people.

The Reordering of Iraq and Syria

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24.

How far back do we look to understand the breakup of Iraq and the declaration by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 29, 2014 of a caliphate?

Do we start 11 years ago, in 2003, when the US invaded Iraq (in the operation called Operation Iraqi Freedom), occupied it, put Nouri al-Maliki’s government in power, and has supported it since?

Or do we need to start a decade earlier? The 2003 invasion was preceded by a 13-year regime of sanctions, starting in 1990/1, and periodic bombing that prevented Iraq’s economy from functioning, or developing. And the sanctions regime was preceded by a devastating bombing and invasion conducted by the US in 1990/1, Gulf War I (called by the US Operation Desert Storm). The death toll of Gulf War I and the sanctions is at least in the hundreds of thousands; The toll of Gulf War II and the occupation is estimated to be close to one million.

But let’s not forget that the 1990/1 Gulf War I, conducted by US President Bush I, came just two years after the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war, 1980-1988, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in each country (by conservative estimates) and devastated both.

Or, does it go even further back, to the post-WWI arrangements that imposed artificial, colonial boundaries on the countries of the region?

Not all of the blame for Iraq’s thirty years of war can be blamed on the US, or the West. Yes, the US supported Saddam Hussein in the war on Iran’s then-new regime in the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War. Yes, the US conducted a multi-decade assault on Iraq starting in 1990. Yes, after the 2003 occupation, the US reorganized Iraq and its oil industry for its own ends. In spite of all that, much of what is happening in Iraq today are unintended consequences, rather than planned or anticipated consequences, of US actions.

Egypt's Gulag

On Saturday June 21, an Egyptian judge confirmed 183 death sentences for what are called, in the BBC story, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many of them are, no doubt, Brotherhood supporters - until last year's military coup, the Brotherhood was a legal political party and, indeed, the governing party. Since the coup, the Brotherhood has become illegal, its leaders imprisoned. In April, when the initial death sentence was passed on 683 defendants, the brotherhood became the subject of one of the largest mass death sentences in Egypt's recent history. If these death sentences are carried out, they will constitute a major massacre - the largest, perhaps, since the government's massacre of protesters in August 2013, which, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health, had a death toll of over 600 people.

The Brotherhood is not the government's only target, of course. Civil society activists, the force that started the Arab Spring at Tahrir Square years ago, have been persecuted continuously by governments. One such activist, Alaa Abd El Fattah, was sentenced in absentia to a 15 year sentence.

And then, there is the crime of journalism. Al Jazeera journalists, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, were sentenced to 7 years in jail today. What did they do? They "provided a platform" for the Brotherhood. A journalist who did not quote Brotherhood people in a story about Egyptian politics would be irresponsible. But being a responsible journalist in Egypt apparently is punishable with 7 years in prison.

Another Canadian, Khaled al-Qazzaz, was a member of the ousted Brotherhood-led government before the coup last year. In jail since last year, al-Qazzaz's court date has been moved to tomorrow (June 24).

The Western response has been ambivalent. US Secretary of State John Kerry called the sentences of the Al-Jazeera journalists "chilling and draconian". The UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay called them "obscene and a travesty of justice." Canada's Minister, Lynne Yelich, called on Egypt to protect the rights of all individuals, including journalists.

I am not a turnout

An interesting couple of weeks. A friend of mine told me about the Ear to the Ground Project, which is a kind of state of the left in the US. Another friend set me to read Myles Horton and Paolo Freire's "We Make the Road By Walking", which includes many interesting things about the Highlander Center's kind of education and also of Freire's methods of education.

Before that I was reading a lot of Alfie Kohn, including his new book The Myth of the Spoiled Child, and thinking about the constructivist theory of learning.

It got me thinking about some of the more ritualized aspects of left events, at least in my city. The format for most events is borrowed from the academic conference genre: a panel of experts presents a paper to an audience. The trouble is that when this panel takes place as a one-off event, it's not the right genre. At an academic conference, the audience is also all academics, most of whom are presenting papers on some other panel. Now, there are certainly questions about the value of academic conferences, although I think there are aspects of them that are justifiable. But there would be many more questions about the value of left events that are modeled on academic conferences. Consider: over the course of an entire conference, roughly everyone, or at least a large number of people, at the conference would have spoken, at least a bit, and hopefully had some discussion and feedback about their ideas, and also been able to discuss and think about the ideas others presented. At a one-off panel discussion, this isn't the case.

But maybe it could be? What if we had events which, even if they were one-off, were events where everybody both talked and listened. Maybe they could be mini-conferences, where people worked on some common document or piece, which would stand as a record of the event. What if these were the main type of events, with one-off panels as the exception to the rule?

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