U.S. Student Detained in Israel Over Alleged Boycott Support

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By ISABEL DEBRE / Associated Press.

JERUSALEM (AP) — In a groundbreaking case, Israel has detained an American graduate student at its international airport for the past week, accusing her of supporting a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against the Jewish state.

The case highlights Israel’s concerns about the boycott movement and the great efforts it has made to stop it. The grassroots campaign has made significant inroads in recent years, particularly among university students and millennials.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old U.S. citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport last Tuesday with a valid student visa. But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions she is a boycott supporter.

An Israeli court has ordered that she remain in custody while she appeals. The weeklong detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case, and it was not immediately clear on Tuesday when a final decision would be made.

In the meantime, she has been spending her days in a closed area with little access to a telephone, no internet and a bed that was infested with bedbugs, according to people who have spoken to her.

Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group is a branch of the BDS movement, whose name comes from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

“Lara served as president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the U.S.,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who spearheads the Israeli government’s efforts against the boycott movement. “Israel will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse.”

The ministry said that during Alqasem’s involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine, the club advocated a boycott against Sabra hummus, an Israeli-owned brand of chickpea dip.

On Tuesday, Erdan floated a possible compromise, saying in a radio interview that he would rethink his decision to expel her if she apologizes and renounces her support for BDS.

“If Lara Alqasem will tomorrow in her own voice, not through all kinds of lawyers or statements that can be misconstrued, say that support for BDS is not legitimate and she regrets what she did, we will certainly reconsider our position,” he said.

Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country. It also has identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival. It so far has blocked 15 people from entering, according to Erdan’s ministry.

The ministry uses a variety of sources to identify BDS activists, including tips from informants and social media posts. The ministry says its suspicions were deepened after learning that Alqasem recently deleted all of her social media accounts.

In her appeal, Alqasem has argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future.

“We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” said her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel. “She’s not even part of the student organization anymore.”

Alqasem is registered to study human rights at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The university has thrown its support behind her, announcing on Monday it would join Alqasem’s appeal.

She also received a boost from her former Hebrew professor at the University of Florida, who described her as an exceptional and curious student. In a letter to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Dror Abend-David said she had an “open and positive attitude toward Judaism, Jews, and the State of Israel.”

In an interview from Florida, her mother, Karen Alqasem, affirmed her daughter’s tolerance and intellectual drive.

“Studying and getting to know the country was Lara’s dream for as long as I can remember,” she told The Associated Press. “She may have been critical of some of Israel’s policies in the past but she respects Israeli society and culture. To her, this isn’t a contradiction.”

Karen Alqasem said her daughter graduated from the University of Florida in May with degrees in Arabic and international studies and studied Hebrew with hopes of becoming a lawyer.

She said the Israeli government is exaggerating her daughter’s involvement in the university student group, saying she only belonged to it for a semester. She said her daughter has never made any threats against Israel and is not religious.

“She is being treated like a criminal but she is not a criminal,” she said.

Her lawyer and a group of opposition lawmakers have visited Alqasem and say she is in safe, but subpar, conditions.

In a conversation with her daughter last Friday, Alqasem said Lara complained of a bedbug infestation in her cell. With her phone confiscated and communication mostly restricted to calls with her lawyer, Lara has felt “completely cut off from the world,” she said.

The United States Embassy said it has visited Alqasem in detention to ensure that she has food and water. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the government is aware of the case, but “ultimately, it is up to the government of Israel to decide who it wants to let into the country.”

Mossi Raz, an opposition lawmaker who visited her, said she told him that without books or any forms of entertainment, she spends her time talking with other women being held in the same cell for various visa-related issues.

In addition to the anti-BDS campaign, Israel has detained or interrogated a number of vocal Jewish critics, both Israeli and foreign, about their political views while entering the country in recent months. These tactics, along with legislation curbing the influence of anti-occupation advocacy groups, have raised concerns that the nationalist government is trying to stifle dissent.

The Strategic Affairs Ministry says it deals only with BDS cases. The Shin Bet, which oversees security procedures at border crossings, says it stops people only over security matters, not their political views.


Susannah George in Washington and Terry Spence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida contributed reporting.

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U.S. Student Detained in Israel for Alleged Boycott Support

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ISABEL DEBRE / The Associated Press.

In a first-of-its-kind case, Israel has held an American graduate student at its international airport for a whole week, accusing her of supporting a Palestinian-led boycott movement against the Jewish state.

Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport last Tuesday with a valid student visa.

But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she supports a campaign that calls for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.

An Israeli court has ordered that she remain in custody while she appeals. The weeklong detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case, and it was not immediately clear on Tuesday when a decision would be made.

Alqasem is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that supports the boycott movement.

The grassroots boycott campaign, known as BDS, has targeted Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities in what it says is nonviolent resistance to unjust and racist Israeli policies. But Israel says its true goal is to delegitimize and even destroy the country.

Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country.

“Lara served as president of a chapter of one of the most extreme and hate-filled anti-Israel BDS groups in the U.S.,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is charge of the Israeli government’s efforts against the boycott group. “Israel will not allow entry to those who work to harm the country, whatever their excuse.”

On Tuesday, Erdan floated a possible compromise, saying in a radio interview that he would drop his efforts to expel her if she apologizes and renounces her BDS support.

The ministry says that during Alqasem’s involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine, the club advocated a boycott against Sabra hummus, an Israeli-owned brand of chickpea dip.

In her appeal, Alqasem has argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future.

“We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” said her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel. “She’s not even part of the student organization anymore.”

Alqasem is registered to study human rights at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The university has thrown its support behind her, announcing Monday that it would join her appeal.

She also received a boost from her former Hebrew professor at the University of Florida, who described her as an exceptional and curious student. In a letter to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Dror Abend-David said Alqasem had an “open and positive attitude toward Judaism, Jews, and the state of Israel.”

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Teenager Among 3 Palestinians Killed in Gaza Protest

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says Israeli forces have shot dead three Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, as thousands of people protested along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The ministry said the boy was struck in the chest, a 24-year-old man was shot in the back and another man, 28, succumbed to his wounds at hospital Friday.

It added that 126 protesters were wounded by live fire.

Responding to calls by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, thousands of Palestinians thronged five areas along the fence, burning tires, throwing rocks and chanting slogans against a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory.

The Israeli military said about 20,000 protesters participated. They threw explosive devices and grenades toward the troops which used tear gas and live fire to, it added.

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Palestinian Leader Controls Fate of U.S. Plan in Region

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JOSEF FEDERMAN / The Associated Press.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been sidelined, isolated and humiliated by the Trump administration. But the embattled Palestinian leader may have the final say in determining the fate of the White House’s long-awaited vision for Mideast peace.

In recent weeks, Abbas has thwarted a series of internationally backed initiatives aimed at rehabilitating the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. With Gaza expected to be the centerpiece of the U.S. peace plan, Abbas has given himself a virtual veto over the expected American initiative. The deadlock over Gaza appears to be a key reason behind the repeated delays in unveiling the plan.

“The U.S. is trying to use the humanitarian situation in Gaza as a tool to implement its plan,” said Mohammed Ishtayeh, a top Palestinian official. “We say that Gaza is an integral part of the Palestinian lands, and solving the problems of Gaza should be in the context of a broad political framework.”

For all of its talk about bringing a new approach to Middle East diplomacy, the Trump White House is running into a familiar obstacle that has confounded its predecessors and the international community for over a decade: the Hamas militant group’s continued control over Gaza.

The American refusal to work with Hamas, which it brands a terrorist group, and its inability to oust it, has made it virtually impossible to move forward on the diplomatic front — a weakness that Abbas now appears to be exploiting.

Abbas has two main concerns. First, he fears that any interim cease-fire deal in Gaza will deepen Hamas’ control over the territory.

Second, after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his attacks on the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Abbas fears the U.S. is trying to remove sensitive issues from the negotiating agenda. For him, Gaza is the last obstacle preventing the U.S. from forcing what he sees as an unacceptable plan on him.

“What is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Humanitarian solutions?” Abbas said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly last week.

Hamas, a militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ forces in 2007. Despite three wars with Israel, an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has devastated the economy and international isolation, Hamas remains firmly in control.

Abbas says there can be no progress on the diplomatic front until he regains control of Gaza. Attempts to reconcile with Hamas have repeatedly failed, leaving the Palestinians divided between rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas seeks an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The two-state solution has widespread international support.

But since taking office, President Donald Trump’s Mideast team, led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, has backed away from the two-state solution. Although the Trump team has refused to reveal details of its plan, the Palestinians fear the U.S. is plotting to impose a “mini state” that would consist of Gaza and only small pieces of the West Bank.

Two senior Palestinian officials confirmed that Abbas has been working behind the scenes to scuttle U.N. and Egyptian attempts to forge a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas or to carry out large infrastructure projects that would bring relief to Gaza’s beleaguered population.

As the officially recognized Palestinian representative, Abbas’ government continues to coordinate the movement of goods through Israeli-controlled crossings into Gaza. This has given him the ability to block large-scale projects, even when approved by Israel.

Israel, which has come under fierce international criticism over Gaza’s dire state, has in recent days seized on Abbas’ moves, perhaps to deflect attention from its own policies.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of “choking” Gaza, warning it could “lead to very difficult consequences.”

The Palestinian officials also said Abbas has relayed messages to the U.S. through his Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, that there can be no peace plan that excludes him from Gaza.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal Palestinian deliberations, said Abbas fears various plans under consideration will end up entrenching Hamas and freezing him out of Gaza.

Abbas believes there can be no significant progress in Gaza without a reconciliation deal that brings him back to power in the territory. The talks have repeatedly broken down over Hamas’ refusal to disarm.

This week, another set of Egyptian-brokered talks ended inconclusively, according to people close to the talks.

“Until yesterday, we did not reach any result worth mentioning,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza. He accused Abbas of taking “retaliatory” action against the people of Gaza.

Abbas has taken a series of measures against the territory, slashing the salaries of thousands of former government workers in Gaza and cutting fuel subsidies to pay for electricity, all in an effort to step up pressure on Hamas.

These measures, combined with the decade-long blockade, have sent Gaza’s economy into freefall. The increasingly desperate Hamas has stepped up mass protests along the Israeli border in hopes of pressuring Israel to ease the blockade. Nearly 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, yet Israel shows no signs of lifting the closure.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last week, Abbas threatened to tighten the screws even harder, warning he could not “bear any responsibility” for Gaza if the deadlock with Hamas continues.

At the same time, Israel and international donor nations were meeting on the sidelines of the assembly to discuss ways to improve conditions in Gaza. Those talks, like similar meetings in recent months, ended inconclusively.

Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s Mideast envoy, blamed Hamas for the dire conditions in Gaza and said the U.S. “will not fund a situation that empowers Hamas.”

Yet he also voiced frustration with Abbas, urging other countries to be “direct and frank” in pushing the Palestinian Authority to forge a “new, sustainable path.”

The Gaza conundrum is just the latest obstacle for the U.S. peace plan. The Palestinians cut off ties with the White House after Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there.

The Trump administration has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians, including $300 million for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, and shuttered the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington.

Accusing the U.S. of being unfairly biased toward Israel, Abbas has already said he will not consider the American peace plan.

Greenblatt acknowledged the challenge ahead at the donor meeting. Refusing to say when his plan would be released, he pleaded for all sides to consider the proposal.

“Palestinians and Israelis deserve to read it, think about it, engage on it, and see if we can make it happen,” he said.

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At U.N., Trump Backs Separate States for Israel, Palestine

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MATTHEW LEE / The Associated Press.

For the first time since taking office, President Donald Trump endorsed a two-state solution as the best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as he met Wednesday at the U.N. with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump told reporters that he believes that two states — Israel and one for the Palestinians — “works best.” He has previously been vague on the topic, suggesting that he would support whatever the parties might agree to, including possibly a one-state resolution, which might see the Palestinian territories become part of Israel.

“I like (a) two-state solution,” Trump said as he posed for photographs with Netanyahu. “That’s what I think works best. That’s my feeling. Now, you may have a different feeling. I don’t think so. But I think two-state solution works best.”

Later, Trump told a news conference that reaching a two-state solution is “more difficult because it’s a real estate deal” but that ultimately it “works better because you have people governing themselves.”

He added that he would still support Israel and the Palestinians should they opt for a one-state solution, though he believed that was less likely. “Bottom line: If the Israelis and Palestinians want one-state, that’s OK with me. If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy.”

In his earlier comments, Trump said his much anticipated but still unreleased Mideast peace plan could be presented in the next two to four months, but was not specific as to timing.

Trump has been heavily criticized by the Palestinians for a series of moves that they say show distinct bias toward Israel, starting with his recognition last year of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians also claim the holy city as the capital of an eventual state. Earlier this year, Trump followed up on the recognition by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that was widely protested by Palestinians and others in the Arab world.

His administration has also slashed aid to the Palestinians by hundreds of millions of dollars and ended U.S. support for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinians reacted cautiously to Trump’s remarks, noting that a two-state solution has long been the goal of peace efforts, including a broader Arab-Israeli plan that would see Arab states all recognize Israel if the Palestinians got an independent state.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians remain committed to their demand for a state based on the borders before the 1967 Mideast war and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Peace requires a two-state solution, where the state of Palestine is based on the ’67 boundaries with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said. “This is the Arab and international attitude, and all final status issues need to be solved according to the international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Trump and his national security team have defended their position, saying that decades of attempts to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed.

He said Wednesday that the embassy move would actually help peace efforts by recognizing the reality that Israel identifies Jerusalem as its capital. But he added that Israel would have to make concessions to the Palestinians in any negotiations.

“Israel got the first chip and it’s a big one,” Trump said. “By taking off the table the embassy moving to Jerusalem, that was always the primary ingredient as to why deals couldn’t get done. Now that’s off the table. Now, that will also mean that Israel will have to do something that is good for the other side.”

Netanyahu thanked Trump for his support and his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and said U.S.-Israel relations have never been better than under his administration. On Tuesday, Trump lashed out at Iran in his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, accusing its leaders of corruption and spreading chaos throughout the Middle East and beyond. He also vowed to continue to impose sanctions on Iran.

“Thank you for your strong words yesterday in the General Assembly against the corrupt terrorist regime in Iran,” Netanyahu said. “They back up your strong words and strong actions.”

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John Bolton Escalates Blackmail to Shield U.S. War Criminals

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Marjorie Cohn / Truthout.

Once again, the United States is blackmailing countries that would send Americans to face justice in the International Criminal Court. Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton is leading the charge to shield US and Israeli war criminals from legal accountability.

On September 10, Bolton told the right-wing Federalist Society that the United States would punish the ICC if it mounts a full investigation of Americans for war crimes committed in Afghanistan or of Israelis for human rights violations committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

ICC Prosecutor Has “Reason to Believe” U.S. Military Committed Torture

Last fall, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the ICC, recommended to the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber that it open a full investigation into the possible commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by parties to the war in Afghanistan, including US persons.

In 2016, Bensouda’s preliminary examination found reason to believe, “at a minimum,” that members of the US military “subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity,” and CIA personnel “subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape.”

Torture and inhuman treatment constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute.

Bensouda stated in her 2016 report:

The information available suggests that victims were deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence, and that crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims. The infliction of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” applied cumulatively and in combination with each other over a prolonged period of time, would have caused serious physical and psychological injury to the victims. Some victims reportedly exhibited psychological and behavioural issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.

Moreover, Bensouda concluded these actions were not isolated instances of misbehavior, noting:

The gravity of the alleged crimes is increased by the fact that they were reportedly committed pursuant to plans or policies approved at senior levels of the US government, following careful and extensive deliberations.

After Bensouda determined an official investigation was warranted, Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The ICC constitutes a direct assault on the concept of national sovereignty, especially that of constitutional, representative governments like the United States.”

The countries of the world, including the United States, spent 50 years developing an international court to try genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. However, in 1998, when the world’s countries voted on the Rome Statute to establish the court, the United States was one of only seven countries that voted against it. There are 123 member states that are parties to the Rome Statute.

The court entered into force in July 2002. Judges on the court are respected for their impartiality and they represent regional diversity.

Bolton, Trump Threaten Sanctions Against ICC if It Investigates Americans

The United States isn’t a party to the Rome Statute, but Afghanistan is. Therefore, the court could take jurisdiction over individuals who allegedly committed crimes in Afghanistan.

In one of his final acts as president, Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute but recommended to incoming President George W. Bush that he not submit the treaty to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. When a country signs a treaty, it indicates an intent to ratify — and become party to — the treaty.

Bush didn’t just refuse to send the Rome Statute to the Senate. Through then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton, the Bush administration withdrew the US’s signature from the statute in May 2002. Bolton declared the unprecedented action “the happiest moment of my government service.”

Congress then enacted the American Service-Members’ Protection Act to prevent prosecution of US armed forces “to the maximum extent possible.” One clause, dubbed the “Hague Invasion Act,” authorized the use of force to extract any US or allied force detained by the ICC.

At Bolton’s behest, the Bush administration then extracted bilateral immunity agreements from 100 countries, in which the US government threatened to withhold foreign aid if they turned over US persons to the ICC.

Bolton told the Federalist Society that his mission to “prevent other countries from delivering US personnel to the ICC” was “one of my proudest achievements.”

Now the United States is escalating its threats against the ICC.

On September 10, the same day Bolton vilified the ICC before the Federalist Society, Donald Trump issued a statement saying that if the ICC formally opens an investigation, his administration would consider negotiating “even more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering United States persons to the ICC.” He threatened to ban “ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanction their funds in the United States financial system, and, prosecute them in the United States criminal system,” as well as “taking steps in the United Nations Security Council to constrain the Court’s sweeping powers.”

In his address to the Federalist Society, Bolton called the ICC “illegitimate,” declaring, “We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

The ICC Is a Court of Last Resort

Under the principle of “complementarity,” the ICC takes jurisdiction over a case only if the suspect’s home country has been unable or unwilling to effectively prosecute it.

If the United States had prosecuted individuals in the Bush administration for the commission of war crimes in Afghanistan, the ICC would not be examining the case. But shortly after taking office, Barack Obama said, “[G]enerally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”

Indeed, Bensouda noted, the Obama administration’s review was “limited to investigating whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such conduct could constitute violations of any applicable statutes.” She noted Obama Attorney General Eric Holder’s proclamation that his Justice Department “will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] regarding the interrogation of detainees.”

But in the infamous “Torture Memos” that John Yoo wrote while working in Bush’s OLC, he defined torture much more narrowly than the law allows. And notwithstanding the Torture Convention’s unequivocal prohibition of torture, Yoo erroneously claimed that self-defense and national security are defenses that can be used to justify torture.

Holder limited his investigation to two of the most heinous instances of torture: the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi. Ultimately, however, Holder’s Justice Department “determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.”

Rahman froze to death in 2002 after he was stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison called the Salt Pit. Al-Jamadi died after being suspended from the ceiling by his wrists bound behind his back. Military police officer Tony Diaz, who witnessed al-Jamadi’s torture, said that blood gushed from al-Jamadi’s mouth like “a faucet had turned on” when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy determined al-Jamadi’s death was a homicide.

Nonetheless, Holder refused to prosecute those responsible for the torture and deaths of those two men.

In 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 499-page executive summary of its 6,700-page classified torture report. It says that several detainees were waterboarded — one 183 times, another 83 times. It is well-established that waterboarding constitutes torture, which is a war crime.

The executive summary states that the CIA utilized “rectal feeding,” in which a mixture of pureed hummus, pasta and sauce, nuts and raisins was forced into the rectum of one detainee. “Rectal rehydration” was used to establish the interrogator’s “total control over the detainee.”

Other examples of “enhanced interrogation techniques” documented in the summary include slamming into walls, hanging from the ceiling, being kept in total darkness, being deprived of sleep — sometimes with forced standing — for up to seven-and-a-half days, being forced to stand on broken limbs for hours, being threatened with mock execution, being confined in a coffin-like box for 11 days, as well as being bathed in ice water and dressed in diapers. One detainee “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled,” according to the report.

But those who perpetrated this torture and cruel treatment have not been held to account in a court of law. For that reason, Bensouda is recommending a full investigation by the ICC.

U.S. Tries to Shield Israeli Leaders From War Crimes Liability

Besides endeavoring to protect Americans from accountability for war crimes, the Trump administration is also explicitly attempting to shield Israelis from war crimes liability.

The ICC prosecutor is conducting a preliminary investigation of war crimes committed in Gaza in 2014. She should expand it to include crimes committed by Israel during the 2018 Great March of Return, when it killed unarmed protesters week after week.

In his speech to the Federalist Society, Bolton criticized the possibility of an ICC investigation into alleged international crimes committed by Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank. He said, “We will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”

As an occupying force, Israel does not have a right to self-defense against the occupied Palestinians. Moreover, self-defense is not a defense against the commission of torture, which is a war crime.

Bolton referred to Israel’s construction of illegal settlements as “housing projects” and stated that the US’s recent decision to close the Palestinian Liberation Office in Washington, DC, was partly due to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s pursuit of a criminal investigation at the ICC. Bolton stated, “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” and he threatened retaliation.

“America’s Exceptionalism” Animates Bolton’s Assault on ICC

Bolton revealed that American exceptionalism motivated him to vilify the ICC. He wrote, “Proponents of global governance … know that America’s exceptionalism and commitment to its Constitution were among their biggest obstacles.”

Bensouda responded to Bolton’s Federalist Society speech, stating the ICC is “an independent and impartial judicial institution” based on the principle of complementarity. She stated, “The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law.”

No one, not even Americans and Israelis, enjoy impunity for the commission of war crimes. In spite of the Bolton-Trump assault on the ICC, its prosecutor promises to hold firm and do her job. Her efforts must be supported.

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Were the Oslo Peace Accords Doomed From the Start?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sandy Tolan / TomDispatch.

When I first traveled to Israel-Palestine in 1994, during the heady early days of the Oslo peace process, I was expecting to see more of the joyful celebrations I’d watched on television at home. The emotional welcoming of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat back to Palestine. The massive demonstrations for peace on the streets of Tel Aviv. The spontaneous moment when Palestinians placed carnations in the gun barrels of departing Israeli soldiers. And though the early euphoria had already begun to ebb, clearly there was still hope.

It was the era of dialogue. Many Palestinians stood witness to Israeli trauma rooted in the Holocaust. Groups of Israelis began to understand the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. In the wake of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed on September 13, 1993 — a quarter of a century ago today — polls showed that large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians supported the agreement. Israelis, weary of a six-year Palestinian intifada, wanted Oslo to lead to lasting peace; Palestinians believed it would result in the creation of a free nation of their own, side by side with Israel.

“People thought this was the beginning of a new era,” says Salim Tamari, Palestinian sociologist and editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly.

“It was miraculous,” recalls Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, “a high peak of optimism and hope.” Baskin, an American who emigrated to Israel nearly 40 years ago, remembers the emotional power of “these two parties who refused to recognize each other’s right to exist coming into a room and breaking through that and putting down a formula which, at the time, looked reasonable.”

Euphoria Never Lasts

Even then, however, there were disturbing signs. During that first trip, still in the glow of Oslo, I found myself in the heart of the West Bank, driving down new, smooth-as-glass “bypass roads” built for Israeli settlers and VIPs on my way from Bethlehem to Hebron. I was confused. Wasn’t this the territory-to-be of a future independent Palestinian state? Why, then, would something like this be authorized? Similarly, the next year, when Israeli forces undertook their much-heralded “withdrawal” from Ramallah, why did they only redeploy to the edge of that town, while retaining full military control of 72% of the West Bank?

Such stubborn facts on the ground stood in the way of the seemingly overwhelming optimism generated by that “peace of the brave,” symbolized by a handshake between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in front of President Clinton on the White House lawn. Was it possible we were witnessing the beginning of the end of generations of bloodshed and trauma?

Already, however, there were dissenters. Mourid Barghouti, a Palestinian poet who, like thousands of his brethren, returned from exile in the early days of Oslo, was shocked to find former PLO liberation fighters reduced to the status of petty bureaucrats lording it over ordinary citizens. Israel, he wrote in his memoir, I Saw Ramallah, had “succeeded in tearing away the sacred aspect of the Palestinian cause, turning it into what it is now — a series of ‘procedures’ and ‘schedules’ that are usually respected only by the weaker party in the conflict… The others are still masters of the place.”

Another Oslo critic, Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual and professor of comparative literature at Columbia, refused a White House invitation to attend the signing ceremony between Arafat and Rabin. Oslo, he wrote, should be considered “an instrument of Palestinian surrender… a kingdom of illusions, with Israel firmly in command. Clearly the PLO has transformed itself from a national liberation movement into a kind of small-town government… What Israel has gotten is official Palestinian consent to continued occupation.”

At the time, many Palestinians wrote off Said as someone intent on obstructing real, if incremental, progress. Arafat himself said that, living as he did in America, the famed professor “does not feel the suffering of his people.”

Or maybe he did. In my nearly 20 trips to the Holy Land over the quarter-century since Oslo, I watched the West Bank settler population quadruple, new settlements come to ring Jerusalem, and Israel keep full military control over 60% of the West Bank (instead of the previous 72%). All those settler “bypass” roads and limited troop redeployments turned out to point not simply to obstacles on the road to the culmination of the “peace process” but to fatal flaws baked into Oslo from the beginning. Indeed, the Oslo Declaration of Principles, which mentioned security 12 times but never once independence, sovereignty, self-determination, freedom, or Palestine, simply wasn’t designed to stop such expansion. In fact, the accords only seemed to facilitate it.

“It was designed to make sure there would never be a Palestinian state,” says Diana Buttu, Palestinian analyst and former legal adviser to the PLO.  “They made it clear that they weren’t going to include the phrases ‘two-state solution,’ ‘Palestinian state,’ or ‘independence.’  It was completely designed to make sure the Palestinians wouldn’t have their freedom.”

The Failure of Oslo

The question worth asking on this 25th anniversary of those accords, which essentially drove policy in the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian occupied territories, and European capitals for a quarter of a century, is this: Were they doomed from the beginning? Billions of dollars and endless rounds of failed negotiations later, did Oslo ever really have a chance to succeed?

“I think it’s wrong to retroactively say that it was all a trick,” says Salim Tamari from the Jerusalem Quarterly’s editorial offices, once located in that holy city, now in Ramallah. The initial agreement was void of specifics, leaving the major issues — settlements, Jerusalem, control of water, refugees and their right of return — to “final status negotiations.” Israel, Tamari believes, unlike the Palestinians, achieved a major goal from the outset. “The Israelis wanted above all to have a security arrangement.”

In “Oslo II,” implemented in 1995, Israel got its cherished security cooperation, which meant that Palestinian police would control Palestinian demonstrators and so keep them from directly confronting Israeli forces. Those were, of course, the very confrontations that had helped fuel the success of the First Intifada, creating the conditions for Oslo. Today, that’s a bitter irony for Palestinians who sacrificed family members or limbs for what turned out to be such a weak agreement. But at the time, for many, it seemed worth the price.

For Palestinians, Oslo remained a kind of tabula rasa of hopes and dreams based on the formula of getting an agreement first and working out the details later. “Arafat thought that if he was able to get into the Palestinian territories, he would manage his relations with the Israelis,” says Ghassan Khatib, former minister of labor and planning for the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as a prominent analyst and pollster. “And he did not pay attention to the details in the written documents.”

More important to Arafat was simply to return from exile in Tunisia and then convince Israel to end its settlement policies, give Palestinians East Jerusalem, share the region’s water supplies, and come to an equitable agreement on the right of return for Palestinian refugees dispossessed in 1948. Yet Arafat and his cadre of fellow PLO officials from the diaspora, Khatib argues, “had no real understanding of or expertise in the Israeli way of doing things, the Israeli mentality, etcetera, etcetera.”

Just as bad, says Omar Shaban of the Gaza think tank Pal-Think, was the ineptitude of Palestinian institutions in convincing Israelis that they could govern competently. “We didn’t do a very good job… We did not build good institutions. We did not build real democracy. And we did not speak enough to the Israeli public… [to] convince them that we are here to work together, to build together,” and that “peace is good for the Israeli people.”

For Gershon Baskin, however, the failure of Oslo had far less to do with any cultural misunderstandings or bureaucratic mismanagement and far more to do with an act of political violence: the assassination of Rabin by an Israeli right-wing extremist in 1995. His death was “the major event that changed the course of Oslo.”

As Baskin, who served as an adviser to Rabin’s intelligence team for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, recalls, “I know what kind of direction Rabin was moving in when he agreed to Oslo.” In the early Oslo years, the prime minister’s deputies were at work on secret negotiations with the Palestinians — the Geneva Accords and the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement — that would have made major territorial concessions and called for East Jerusalem to be the future Palestinian capital. Some Palestinians were not impressed; they noted that by approving of the Oslo accords, they had already agreed to cede 78% of historic Palestine, settling for the 22% that remained: the West Bank and Gaza. And they pointed out that some settlements remained in both of these unofficial agreements and that neither included any kind of Palestinian right of return — considered by Israelis as a potential death blow to their state and by countless Palestinians uprooted in 1948 as a non-negotiable issue.

“There’s so much revisionist history,” Diana Buttu says.  She points out that when American settler Baruch Goldstein assassinated 29 Palestinians praying in a mosque in Hebron in 1994, Rabin could have seized the moment to end the settlements.  Instead, she points out, he “entrenched the army, entrenched the settlements.  It’s very cute for them to say it all related to the assassination of Rabin.  But it really relates to what he intended to do in the first place.”

The Soldiers Take Control

Yet Baskin believes that when Rabin, having just addressed 100,000 Israelis at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, was gunned down, Israeli priorities changed strikingly. “It was a peace process taken over by the military and the security people who had a very different understanding of how to do it.” This “change of mentality,” he adds, went “from cooperation and bridge building to walls and fence building — creating a system of separation, of permits, of restriction of movement.” The division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, or ostensiblyfull Palestinian control (18%), joint control (22%), and full Israeli military control (60%), was supposed to be temporary, but it has remained the status quo for a quarter of a century.

Whatever the motives and intentions of the Israeli architects of Oslo, they were soon superseded by Israelis who saw the claim of Eretz Israel — all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River — as a prime territorial goal. As a result, the endless expansion of settlements (and the creation of new ones), as well as seizures of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and even of individual Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, has become the endgame for successive Israeli governments, abetted by their American counterparts. “The basic fact is that Israel has their cake and they’re eating it,” says Tamari. “They have the territories. They’re not withdrawing. They’re happy with the security of A, B, and C. There’s no pressure on them from the Americans. On the contrary.”

In the Oslo era, American presidents and secretaries of state, at most, issued mild diplomatic rebukes for settlement building, never threatening to suspend U.S. aid if Israel didn’t stop undermining the “peace process.” The last time that happened was when Secretary of State James Baker threatened to suspend $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel during the presidency of George H.W. Bush in 1992.

And so, steadily, with every new visit to the Holy Land, I would witness the latest evidence of an expanding occupation — new or larger settlements and military bases, more patrols by jeeps and armored vehicles, new surveillance towers, additional earthen barriers,giant red and white warning signs, and most of all, hundreds of military checkpoints, ever more ubiquitous, on virtually every mile of the West Bank. Less visible were the night raids on Palestinian refugee camps and the nearly 40%of Palestinian adult males who have spent time in Israeli prisons, where the military court conviction rate for them is 99.74%. Also on the increase was the Palestinian Authority’s expanding “security cooperation” with Israel. That, in turn, often pitted Palestinians against each other, embittering villagers and city dwellers alike against the governing PA.

As the system of control grew, draconian restrictions on movement only increased. Adults and children alike were forced to wait hours to return home from school or work or a visit to a hospital or relatives in Jordan. Meanwhile, occupied Palestine was slowly being converted into an archipelago of Israeli military control. Clearly, the “peace process” had made things far worse for Palestinians.

“I remember the nice days where there was peace without agreement,” says Shaban of Pal-Think, his tongue only partly in cheek. “Now we have agreement without peace.”

When “Peace” Is a Dirty Word

And so, in the post-Oslo decades, even “peace” became a dirty word to many Palestinians. “They thought that this agreement would lead into an independent Palestinian state,” says Ghassan Khatib, whose initial tracking poll, shortly after the iconic handshake on the White House lawn, showed 70% Palestinian support for Oslo. But when, he adds, “the public realized that this agreement was not good enough to stop the expansion of settlements, they realized it’s good for nothing. Because the peace process for the Palestinians is about ending the occupation. And settlement expansion is actually the essence of occupation.” Twenty-five years later, his polling finds that support for the “peace process” among Palestinians is now at about 24%.

On the ground, what now exists is not two states, but essentially a single state that leaves Israel in de facto control of land, water, borders, and freedom of movement. What connections existed between the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem have been splintered, with little prospect of any kind of reunification any time soon.

Today, when you travel to the West Bank and drive through what was to be the landscape of a free and independent Palestine, you find yourself surrounded by a militarized colonial settler regime. The word “apartheid” inevitably comes to mind, despite its unpopularity among the pro-Israel lobby and their charges in Congress. Sometimes, I wonder whether “Jim Crow” doesn’t best describe the new Palestinian reality.

For me, each successive trip has revealed a political situation grimmer and less hopeful than the time before. Israel’s pursuit of land over peace and the complicity of the American government essentially killed “the two-state solution.”

The final blow came this May when the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the process, it became clear that U.S. Mideast policy is now largely directed not only by the pro-settler triumvirate of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Middle East adviser Jason Greenblatt, but also by the Armageddon lobby. Those evangelical Christians are spearheaded by John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which has surpassed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as the largest pro-Israel group in the U.S. They believe that Israel must remain in control of the Holy Land so that Jesus can return and mete out justice to sinners, after which believers will rise to heaven in the rapture. Hagee, who has described such a moment in detail from his pulpit, is a major contributor to the Israeli settlement of Ariel (population 20,000). It was no happenstance that he was the minister who gave the benediction at the U.S. embassy dedication ceremony in Jerusalem in May, as Israeli forces were gunning down unarmed protesters in Gaza.

Now, in an effort to end the long-standing right of return of Palestinian refugees, the Trump administration is canceling funding to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency that has provided food, shelter, education, and housing in the Palestinian refugee camps for nearly seven decades. The move, spearheaded by Kushner, is part of a broader “deal of the century” to pressure Palestiniansinto a peace agreement on American and Israeli terms. Clearly a bad deal for Palestinians, it is sure to sharply increase poverty and hunger in the camps, especially in Gaza. Strategically, it appears to be an attempt to force Gazans to give up their long-standing national rights, while increasing their dependence on humanitarian aid.

There is another solution, says Buttu.  Instead of approaching this as primarily a humanitarian problem, the international community could “put pressure on Israel to end the [economic] siege, and allow us to live in freedom. If we were able to have a seaport, an airport,” to import, export, and travel freely, “we wouldn’t need handouts.” Yet most of the world, she says, is “too terrified to confront Israel.”

Failed peace, dashed hopes, hunger, apartheid, Armageddon. Not much to celebrate, is there? And there may not be for quite a while. “The dream is still there,” insists Tamari, but he adds that, for the foreseeable future, “I think we’re going to continue to have the status quo. State of repression, colonization for many, many years to come. Until the global scene changes.” Say, a major decline in U.S. influence (something not so hard to imagine right now) or some other less predictable set of events. “Or until the Palestinians undertake a massive civil insurrection. That may tip the balance.”

An Ode to Joy

Many Palestinians see the recent Gaza March of Return and the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates cultural and economic boycotts of Israel, as examples of such civil insurrections. BDS supporters recently celebrated a genuine victory, with the announcements by Lana del Rey and 15 other artists that they were bowing out of the Meteor concert festival in Israel. Yet taken together, BDS and the March of Return don’t come close to the First Intifada, a six-year uprising involving virtually every sector of Palestinian society, which brought Israel to the negotiating table — ironically, for the failed Oslo Agreement.

Still, few are the Palestinians likely to tell you that the national dream is dead. In late July, for instance, I spoke with Laila Salah, a 21-year-old Palestinian cellist, then rehearsing to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Jerusalem in an orchestra led by Palestinian violist Ramzi Aburedwan, the founder of the Al Kamandjati music school. Many of Laila’s fellow Palestinian musicians, risking arrest, snuck into the holy city, in part to play Beethoven but also to assert their right to be in their beloved Jerusalem, which they still dream of as their capital. When I asked Laila if she thought Palestine would have its own state one day, she compared her people’s freedom to the fourth movement, or Ode to Joy, in the 9th Symphony. “The fourth movement embodies our freedom,” she told me. “Or at least, being able to go freely around Palestine. It’s a wish to come true. I don’t know when. We might not be alive to see our fourth movement.”

With the endless march of settlements, Israel’s continued impunity, a fractured Palestine divided between the West Bank and Gaza, and a Trump administration empowering people who believe Armageddon is near, a solution to the Israel-Palestine nightmare may seem impossible.  But maybe, Laila, a just peace is coming sooner than you think.

After all, who predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid in South Africa?

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D.C.-Based Pro-Israel Group Used Facebook Ads to Target Pro-Palestinian Activist

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Justin Elliott / ProPublica, and Josh Nathan-Kazis / The Forward.

In 2016, as Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi performed at college campuses around the United States, his appearances seemed to spark student protests.

Before his visit to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, a page called “John Jay Students Against Hate” appeared on Facebook with Kanazi’s face next to a uniformed cop, painting Kanazi as anti-police. When Kanazi crossed the country a few days later to visit San Jose State, a nearly-identical Facebook page popped up, this one called “SJSU Students Against Hate,” with Kanazi’s face superimposed over an image of military graves. Paid Facebook campaigns promoted both pages.

Despite their names, the Facebook campaigns were run by professional Washington D.C. political operatives who work for a group called the Israel on Campus Coalition, according to promotional materials obtained by ProPublica and the Forward.

In the materials, which the Israel on Campus Coalition distributed to its donors, the group describes each of the Facebook pages as an “anonymous digital campaign.” The group says it paid to promote the campaign, which reached tens of thousands of people.

The social media campaigns provide another example of how well-funded advocacy organizations are using deceptive strategies to promote their cause online. The Israel on Campus Coalition launched these campaigns during the 2016 election season, at the same time that entities linked to the Russian government bought misleading Facebook ads on a range of political issues.

The Israel on Campus Coalition didn’t respond to requests for comment. The group had a budget of $9 million in its fiscal year ending in June 2017, according to federal tax filings. Its funders include the foundations of billionaire Republican donor Paul Singer and philanthropist Lynn Schusterman.

Asked about the Israel on Campus Coalition pages, a Facebook spokesman said they “violate our policies against misrepresentation and they have been removed.”

In response to criticism of Russia-linked ads, Facebook recently created new rules requiring disclosure of who is paying for political ads on the site. How the company defines what is political remains murky.

Anonymous digital campaigns appear to be a central part of the Israel on Campus Coalition’s efforts to combat pro-Palestinian activism on U.S. campuses. This past spring, the ICC appears to have set up at least one anonymous website to oppose a George Washington University student government resolution that called on the school to divest its endowment from certain companies that students said were profiting from Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, the Forward reported.

The Israel on Campus Coalition’s leaders discussed their covert social media tactics in an unaired Al Jazeera documentary featuring hidden camera footage of Washington, D.C. pro-Israel advocacy officials.

“With the anti-Israel people, what’s most effective, what we found at least in the last year, is you do the opposition research, put up some anonymous website, and then put up targeted Facebook ads,” said the Israel on Campus Coalition’s executive director, Jacob Baime, in the Al Jazeera documentary, which was filmed in 2016. The film was viewed by ProPublica and the Forward.

Baime also said in the documentary that his organization’s work is based on a doctrine used to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “It’s modeled on General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy,” Baime said. “We’ve copied a lot from that strategy that has been working really well for us, actually.”

McChrystal, who led the U.S. military’s special forces and the NATO war effort in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, emphasized so-called “offensive information operations” to embarrass and discredit violent insurgents.

The Al Jazeera documentary, in which a journalist went undercover as an intern for a pro-Israel advocacy group in Washington, has been the subject of months of international intrigue and has never been aired by the network. Decrying the undercover tactics, pro-Israel groups and members of Congress have pushed back against the documentary series and Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera. The network, which has faced public criticism from its own journalists for not airing the documentary, said in April it did not buckle under pressure from a pro-Israel group in deciding not to broadcast the program. A spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Footage in the documentary also shows Israel on Campus Coalition officials describing their working relationship with the Israeli government.

Baime says in the documentary that Israel on Campus Coalition officials “coordinate” or “communicate” with Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, an Israeli government department that has become the hub of the Israeli government’s overt and covert efforts against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the U.S. and around the world. A spokesman for the agency didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the same hidden camera footage, Ian Hersh, the Israel on Campus Coalition’s director of operations, said that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs participates in the group’s “Operations and Intelligence Brief,” a regular strategy meeting.

In recent days, some aspects of the Al Jazeera documentary as well as a short clip have been posted on the website Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian news site whose executive director, Ali Abunimah, appears as an interviewee in the film.

Baime and Hersh didn’t respond to requests for comment about the footage of them in the documentary.

The Israel on Campus Coalition’s online efforts against Kanazi, the Palestinian-American poet, began in November 2016 while he was touring college campuses to promote his book, “Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up From Brooklyn to Palestine.”

According to the Israel on Campus Coalition’s donor materials, the group identified and worked with a non-Jewish military veteran and San Jose State University student to write a blog post critical of Kanazi. The precise nature of the group’s work with the student is unclear from the donor materials, and the student did not respond to requests for comment.

The Israel on Campus Coalition then created and paid to promote the “SJSU Students Against Hate” page, which linked to the blog post.

“Kanazi preaches hate on the campuses he visits,” the student wrote in the post, which appeared on the website Medium and has since been deleted.

Kanazi said that he does not recall being aware of the anonymous Facebook pages at the time. “These insidious tactics are part of a larger campaign to smear students, professors, and anyone who dares speak up for Palestinian human rights at universities,” he said in an email.


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A TV Show About Nazis Tackles Tough Questions

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Norman Solomon / The Nation.

The most widely acclaimed TV series ever about the Nazi occupation of France is a relentless epic with little use for the familiar images of craven collaborators and selfless resisters. Un village français focuses on a fictional rural community that endures a tightening vise of German control for more than four years. The villagers live far away from black-and-white tropes. Even a ruthless Nazi official eludes the usual monochrome. The humans are all too human.

Un village averaged about 3.4 million French viewers during 72 episodes between 2009 and 2017. The dramatic series has also aired in upward of 40 countries, according to producers. Now gaining an audience in the United States via online platforms (under its English title A French Village), Un village is far afield from routine US media assumptions about bright lines between good and evil.

From the start of the series, when German troops suddenly arrive in mid-June 1940, the choices for locals are bad and keep getting worse. Un village is riddled with dilemmas that often go from painful to insoluble. The drama’s creators aimed “to bring some shades of grey to the public memory of World War 2 in France,” historian Marjolaine Boutet wrote; they had “the ambition to evoke an empathetic response from the audience towards every character”—while bypassing the timeworn formula of “collaborators as villains and Resistance fighters as heroes.” Based on solid historical research, the poignant and often heartbreaking script comes alive with a superb ensemble cast in more than 20 major roles. The result is a dramatic tour de force that undermines Manichean views of the world.

After watching the 63 hours of Un village français, I was eager to interview its head scriptwriter, Frédéric Krivine. We met on a rainy Paris morning at a café not far from Place de la République. My first question: “How and why did you want to make a Nazi human?”

Krivine, who is Jewish, responded with a fleeting quip—“It’s a good Jewish story”—and quickly turned serious. “A good show, especially a show to last for a while, needs to have characters who are really representative of the complexity of human nature,” he said. “Otherwise, you mustn’t use them.” Nazis, he went on, “were human beings, with desires and problems,” at the same time that “in another point of view, they were kind of monsters.”

The main Nazi character in Un village is a powerful intelligence officer whose romantic charm and steely wit coexist with willingness to torture and execute if necessary to get the job done. I asked Krivine whether there was a message in the mixture.

“People who do horrible things are human beings,” he said. “We have to find a way to talk about them without hiding what they do and without treating them as nonhuman people, nonhuman beings. They are human beings; like us they belong to, we are in, the same species, human species…. It’s humans who kill now everywhere in the world where people are killed. It’s because they are human beings that we have problems—because if they were just extraterrestrial or monsters we could just erase them.”

Un village is an intricate counterpoint to Marcel Ophüls’s landmark 1969 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity, which left many viewers with the broad-brush impression that occupied France was virtually a nation of collaborators, except for a few heroes. Krivine balks at such sweeping categories. In his script, some of the resisters are unable to resist their own egotism, opportunism, dogmatism, or lethally displaced rage. The purpose of the plot points is to engender not cynicism but realism.

Overall, Krivine commented, most people are apt to remain bystanders. In the case of wartime France, an overwhelming majority of the population were neither resisters nor collaborators and didn’t do anything, “bad or good.” (Meanwhile, many more French citizens cooperated with the occupiers than resisted them.) When I asked about human tendencies to go along with evils, Krivine replied that “it’s a very complex matter,” and then swiftly reframed my question this way: “Of what is made indifference, and what are the consequences of indifference?”

Krivine brought up two current examples. He pointed out that several million people have died of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade—yet life-saving medicines exist and could be delivered for use in a far-reaching program. “But we don’t do it.” Krivine then spoke of how snipers in the Israeli military had recently been killing Palestinians along the Gaza border. Yet scant opposition came from the Israeli public.

When I remarked that such cases are forms of collaboration by the majority, Krivine demurred. “I don’t feel it as collaboration,” he said. “But it’s not nothing.” When I suggested the word “complicity,” he differed again, and said: “People don’t react when they don’t have the horror in their eyes.”

During the first year of the occupation, the tightening repression of Jews caused little critical response from the French public, he said. It was only when police began to separate Jewish parents and their children in 1942 that a widespread negative reaction from the population set in. German authorities took note and started to implement similar policies more discreetly; the public concern dissipated.

Near the close of Un village français, two scenes notably bring the past into the present.

After barely eluding the dragnets of Vichy and German forces, Rita and Ezechiel escape to Palestine. But, contrary to boilerplate story lines, the Jewish couple doesn’t get a happy ending in the Promised Land. On a desert road one day in 1948, they come under attack from Palestinians; when Rita expresses bafflement at the ambush, Ezechiel tells her that Jewish settlers have recently massacred Palestinian families in a village called Deir Yassin. More than one layer of tragedy hangs in the air.

The postwar trajectory of the central Nazi character—Heinrich Müller, the top SD (Sicherheitsdienst, or Security Service) intelligence official in the town—also goes against the familiar grain. As German forces retreat from advancing Allies in the late summer of 1944, Müller deserts with his French lover in an unsuccessful effort to reach Switzerland. Soon the American military captures Müller and discovers his identity. Later, when he resurfaces in the series, the year is 1960, the country is Paraguay, and—as a CIA operative—Müller is overseeing a torture session. The goal is to extract information from a woman who is part of a guerrilla insurgency against a fascistic regime being propped up by the US government.

With both narrative twists, so different than what we’re apt to see in US mass entertainment, I asked Krivine: What’s the big idea?

“The idea was,” he said, “we need to show the long-distance consequences of an event like occupation. And it was interesting to show one guy in Paraguay in the sixties. And the Jews who escaped—it was so for Rita and Ezechiel a narrow escape, they were survivors, and then they’re in another place, in another story. The idea was to say: there is no ending to that kind of story.”

The next day, I crossed a bridge over the Seine and kept walking toward an appointment with the Nazi intelligence officer Heinrich Müller—or so it almost seemed, against all rational thought, because the chilling portrayal of that character in Un village français demands the suspension of disbelief, willing or otherwise. As I hurried toward our rendezvous, there were moments when I couldn’t help wondering whether Müller’s icy fascist gaze might confront me at the little café where we were to meet.

Richard Sammel greeted me with a smile and a wave as he came through the door, carrying a motorcycle helmet in the other hand. I’d read that (like Krivine) he was born about 15 years after the end of the Second World War, that he speaks several languages fluently in addition to his native German, and that he has acted widely since the early 1990s. Concentrating on his big role in Un village for much of a decade must have absorbed a lot of psychological energy. I wondered what insights he might share after “being” a Nazi for so long.

Early in our conversation, I mentioned the assumption that there’s nothing human about really bad people like Nazi officials.

“That’s the biggest mistake you can make,” Sammel said. Moments later he was citing Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, “where you actually found out that Eichmann was a completely normal guy.” High-ranking Nazi officers “were wonderful fathers and wonderful husbands and actually very tender,” he added, “which would not fit at all with this common idea that they’re all brutal sadists.” Nazis were “normal people who turned into murder machines.”

Soon Sammel brought up the famous experiment that Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram began in 1961 (the same year as Adolf Eichmann’s trial for overseeing large-scale Nazi crimes against humanity). The professor found it easy to “make people torture other people, for the benefit of science. And they go until three times administrating a potential lethal electrical charge on another person, who is an actor who mimes the pain, but still—those people do not know it.”

What about mass entertainment that, like so much nationalist rhetoric in the United States, thrives on depicting people as all good or all bad? “I guess in terms of catharsis, I get the Hollywood recipe,” Sammel said. “It’s complete crap. But it’s an ideology that pumps us up. It will not help society grow.”

“If we come to understand that people who are ‘bad’ have some good qualities,” I said, “then maybe also we would be confronted that people who we know are ‘us’ and good might have some really bad qualities.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly it,” he replied. “Isn’t it like that in America? You are the only society in the world who have only good guys. How amazing for you. But then explain to me how come that you are the very nation who have the biggest rate of people imprisoned. Tell me about that—if you are so good, how come? You tell me. You are believing in shit. Excuse me, to say that.”

He went on: “How come that you do not understand—I mean, it’s not [only] you, it’s even Europe—you bomb the Middle East 30 years and then you are kind of surprised that there is a refugee movement, people go out, or a terrorist movement even. Every fucking terrorist movement that was born in the Middle East was funded primarily in the beginning initially from us. They have our weapons because we gave them to them. So we play the fucking game and then it gets out of control. So the bad game is not started by them, it’s started by us. And now we blame it on them.”

Sammel grew up in West Germany, near Heidelberg. During childhood, he saw horrific footage from concentration camps. “I got to know all those documentaries the American soldiers filmed when they discovered the camps…. It traumatized me for the rest of my life. But I tell you what—you get your lesson…. Never ever again. That’s how you learn from history.”

An imperative is “understanding human behavior,” Sammel said. “How the hell could that happen? And you will not understand how this has happened if you say, ‘They’re all bad, we killed them all, let’s kill them all as quickly as possible, done, good job.’ … In a historical analysis, you have to go deep into society to find out where it started, how was the process of indoctrination, how a whole nation turned into believing an ideology completely disconnected from reality, and how this collective fury or enthusiasm could have happened—in order to prevent it.”

The German official whom Sammel portrayed for eight years “took the ideology of the Nazis because it’s the most powerful, the best way to make a career and a good living. And that’s what he did. So, he’s not a convinced Nazi, he’s a convinced Darwinist.” When his capture by the US military leads to a new career with US intelligence, “he’s very happy that the Americans take him over. Very happy—perfect—safe.”

The café was closing, so we found a quiet spot in a bar around the corner. “Know your biggest enemy most,” Sammel said as we sat down. “All kind of caricature doesn’t help you understand the other side.”

He added: “Don’t put the Nazis in a place where you think it has nothing to do with yourself. That’s the biggest danger, historical danger, I think we can make.”

A historical series, like a historical book, speaks of the period that it talks about and also of the period it was made,” Frédéric Krivine told me. In the current era, his deeply nuanced scripting of Un village français is at odds with countless tales of sheer goodness in the fight against evildoers—the kind of narratives that have retained huge power in spite of diminished credibility. Shaking off a propagandized worldview requires seeing not only what we abhor in others but also what others abhor in us—a sharp departure from outlooks that have dominated the US political culture. Facile accusations about the crimes of others beg the questions about our own. In such light, Un village français can be viewed (with English subtitles) as particularly relevant for Americans, whose country—while never experiencing a successful invasion by a foreign power—has often occupied other lands.

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U.S. Closes PLO Office, Threatens Sanctions on International Criminal Court

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Ilana Novick.

President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton made two announcements in a speech to the ultra-conservative Federalist Society on Monday designed to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel, while further alienating Palestinians and much of the international community.

The speech, titled “Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats,” was Bolton’s first formal address since becoming national security advisor in April.

As the New York Times reports, Bolton is threatening to impose sanctions on the International Criminal Court if it pursues an investigation of the actions of American troops in Afghanistan. He also plans to announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, D.C., a move the Times says is “linked to the International Criminal Court, which he will say is being prodded by the Palestinians to investigate Israel.”

Bolton told the Federalist Society audience that “the United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”

“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the U.S.,” Bolton said. “We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists in an ICC investigation of Americans.”

Bolton has been an opponent of the ICC since his tenure in the first term of the George W. Bush administration, where he served as an undersecretary of state and then ambassador to the United Nations.

The Trump administration is closing the PLO office, because, as the State Department said in a statement to The Washington Post, the PLO “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

The decision comes on the heels of months of strained relations between Palestinians and the U.S., including Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the contested city as Israel’s capital, and canceling most U.S. aid to Palestinians, including $25 million in funding for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

In response, Palestinians withdrew from talks for a still unformed U.S.-brokered peace plan between Palestinians and Israelis.

Palestinian officials, the Post reports, “vowed to fight what they called bullying tactics and ‘collective punishment’ of the Palestinian people.”

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told the Post of the Trump administration’s actions: “These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution.”

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