25 August 2015

Permanent traumatic stress disorder in Gaza

Middle East Eye

In a July Haaretz article commemorating the first anniversary of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which killed more than 2,250 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 51 days, journalist Khaled Diab quotes Palestinian psychologist Hasan Zeyada of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme: “Gaza has endured multiple losses – what we call multi-traumatic losses. People in other places usually endure a single loss: the loss of a home, or a family member, or a job. Many Gazans have lost them all.”
And while Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often the focus of discussions of the psychological repercussions of conflict, Diab summarises the observation by various experts that “talk of post- or pre-trauma is futile, since trauma is constant and ongoing”.
In addition to attending professionally to the victims of this Israeli-induced brand of eternal trauma, Dr. Zeyada is personally well acquainted with the phenomenon. Last August, the New York Times reported on his “challenging new patient: himself”. Six of the psychologist’s close family members, including his mother, had just been wiped out by an Israeli airstrike.
Operation Protective Edge came to an end on 26 August 2014. But the diagnosis of collective psychological suffering in the Palestinian coastal enclave is open-ended, and serves to compound the more tangible suffering that attends the regular Israeli release of large quantities of ordnance in the direction of human bodies.

Meanwhile, the concentrated mental and physical battering inflicted upon the population of the Gaza Strip can in itself be seen as a form of psychological warfare, designed to forcibly erode the Palestinian identity and the will of the Palestinians to exist as such. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

Kissinger forever

Al Jazeera English

In 1950, Henry Kissinger—who would go on to serve as an inordinately powerful U.S. National Security Adviser and Secretary of State—wrote that “life is suffering, birth involves death”.

As historian Greg Grandin documents in his just-released book “Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman”, the man’s “existentialism laid the foundation for how he would defend his later policies”. In Kissinger’s view, Grandin explains, life’s inherently tragic nature means that “there isn’t much any one individual can do to make things worse than they already are”.

Of course, the victims of Kissinger-sanctioned military escapades and other forms of inflicted suffering might beg to differ. Among the countless casualties are the dead and maimed of the Vietnam War—a disaster Kissinger fought to prolong despite recognising that it was unwinnable—and the secret U.S. war that was launched on neutral Cambodia in 1969. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

16 August 2015

Grocery Shopping With Tom Friedman


Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist and Top Global Thinker, has never been particularly associated with human empathy.
Whether he’s “allegedly being a total asshole to some poor Amtrak employee,” as Wonkette put it, or inviting Iraqis to “Suck. On. This,” he’s just not your go-to guy on compassion.
He does, however, regularly feel moved to put himself in Israeli shoes. For example, after the Israeli military slaughtered almost 1,200 people — most of them civilians — in Lebanon in 2006, he offered the assessment: “It was not pretty, but it was logical.” He advised the Israelis to pursue the same logic in the Gaza Strip.
This week, Friedman took it upon himself to occupy three different sets of Israeli shoes. His August 12 op-ed, titled “If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal,” begins: “With the U.S. and Israel openly arguing over the Iran nuclear deal, I’ve asked myself this: How would I look at this deal if I were an Israeli grocer, an Israeli general or the Israeli prime minister?”
Leaving aside the military and prime ministerial footwear for the moment, let’s focus on the first option — and specifically the question: Why an Israeli grocer? Why not an Israeli hotel clerk, janitor, taxi driver?
Those blissfully unacquainted with the minutiae of the Friedman oeuvre might not know that he has long had a thing for grocers. In his very first book From Beirut to Jerusalem, originally published in 1989, he determines that America must play four simultaneous diplomatic roles in the Middle East: obstetrician, friend, grocer, and real son-of-a-bitch. Read more at Jacobin.

13 August 2015

Migrants in the Mediterranean: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

TeleSUR English

In a recent report, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found such rights to be few and far between in the African nation. Detecting an “overall context of a total lack of rule of law,” the Commission suggested that the Eritrean government’s “violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labor may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The national military service, which is “indefinite” in duration and thus conducive to “slavery-like practices,” means the state has a permanent pool of bodies that can be forcibly put to work. Because of the dismal domestic set-up, the UN estimates that 5,000 persons flee Eritrea per month — many of them crossing Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya and then boarding decrepit vessels bound for Europe (or, as the case may be, the bottom of the sea). The Eritrean government, on the other hand, has a slightly different opinion on matters. According to the country’s foreign ministry, the exodus is a result not of wanton human rights violations but rather of human trafficking projects: “The principal objective of this organized crime is to prevent Eritrea and its people from defending their sovereignty by dispersing and debilitating their human resources.”

Furthermore, the official line goes, the figure of 5,000 per month is exaggerated — with some of the exaggeration allegedly thanks to other varieties of African migrant who claim Eritrean nationality for asylum purposes. Last month, Reuters reported that Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu had told the news agency "there was an international ‘conspiracy’ to tarnish Eritrea, saying Western nations had in part been swayed to act against it by regional rivals.”

Italy, for one, is apparently playing right into the hands of the conspirators, with the Italian foreign ministry recording a total of 34,329 Eritrean arrivals to the country’s shores last year. In the first six months of this year, 18,676 incoming Eritreans were tallied.

During a recent visit to Rome, I had the opportunity to visit the Baobab center near Tiburtina train station, a facility that caters primarily to Eritrean migrants transiting to northern Europe. I was accompanied by Ahmad Al Rousan, cultural mediator with Medici Senza Frontiere/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which provides psychological first aid to traumatized migrants, in addition to other services; since May, MSF has helped save over 11,000 migrant lives via search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Al Rousan told me that according to the volunteers who manage the Baobab center, the place is meant to accommodate between 170 and 180 persons but sometimes houses up to 800. When I visited, the guests included a two-week old baby, reportedly born on the beach in Libya shortly prior to cast off for Europe, and a young woman who was weeping uncontrollably, having just received news that her brother had been kidnapped while attempting his own journey to Italy. Kidnapping is a common hurdle for Europe-bound African migrants, often costing families thousands of dollars to extricate the traveler from captivity. Other regular features of the migration process include torture, beatings, and sexual abuse — particular specialties at Libyan immigration detention centers. Earlier this year, Amnesty International cited the testimony of one detainee who described the beating death of a pregnant woman by detention center officials.

But the real victim of the whole panorama is, of course, the Eritrean government, whose “human resources” are being “dispers[ed] and debilitat[ed]” by international conspiracies. As Reuters notes, Eritrea has “long accused its much larger neighbor Ethiopia…  and others in the region of trying to destabilize it.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

08 August 2015

Treating migrants like dirt in Italy

Middle East Eye

“It is unacceptable that sometimes in certain parts of Milan there is such a presence of non-Italians that instead of thinking you are in an Italian or European city, you think you are in an African city”.

So proclaimed Italy’s former Prime Minister and enduring icon Silvio Berlusconi,quoted in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in 2009. For good measure, he threw in the following specification: “Some people want a multicolored and multiethnic society. We do not share this opinion”.

These statements were, of course, simply par for the Berlusconian discourse, which has also included friendly references to Barack Obama as “suntanned” and the assertion that Western civilisation is superior to Islamic cultures.

But Berlusconi’s loose tongue speaks for a regrettably sizable segment of Italian—not to mention European—society. During my own visits to Italy in recent years, I’ve been increasingly regaled with tales from Italians seemingly intent on serving as caricatures of xenophobia.

My last visit ended two days ago. Were I to file a brief summary of the current migrant situation in Italy based entirely on conversations with said caricatures, it would go something like this:

“Migrants are barbaric. Migrants are dirty and diseased. Migrants are thieves and killers. Migrants are invading Italy because our governo di merda[government of shit] gives them money and apartments and cell phones, while it gives us nothing and makes us pay taxes”.

Other conversations, however, produced actual facts—as well as definitive proof that the Italians are not the fundamental victims of the migration phenomenon. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

03 August 2015

Who’s the Bad Actor?


During his brief descent this week upon the island of Cyprus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jumped at the chance to make menacing allegations about the implications of the recent nuclear deal with Iran.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu warned his Cypriot audience that“Iran and Hezbollah organize a terrorist network that covers over thirty countries on five continents, including Europe, just about every country in Europe.”

Seeing as Europe alone comprises nearly 50 countries, the Israeli fearmonger-in-chief could have more professionally tailored his calculations to convey the supposedly existential nature of the threat. After all, if you’re going to make shit up, might as well go all the way.

Largely to blame for the impending Iran- and Hezbollah-based apocalypse, of course, is the United States government, whose leaders—in conceding to conduct civil negotiations with the Islamic Republic—get to play the reasonable and enlightened foils to Netanyahu’s unhinged character.

But in the end, how wide is the rhetoric gap between the Great Satan and its junior partner?

Let’s look at Barack Obama’s post-nuclear deal interview with the cause ofmany wasted hours of my life: the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman. In it, the president addresses the concerns of unidentified “critics” of the nuclear deal, whose criticisms he paraphrases as follows: “Well, even if the nuclear issue is dealt with, [the Iranians are] still going to be sponsoring terrorism, and they’re going to get this sanctions relief. And so they’re going to have more money to engage in these bad activities.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

31 July 2015

Italian PM Renzi's ode to Israel

Middle East Eye

In what he referred to as a “secular pilgrimage” to Jerusalem last week, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi appeared before the Israeli Knesset to deliver a speech. Given that his performance wound up being an extended ode to a state that awards and withholds rights based on religion, however, the bout of ass-kissing might have been classified as slightly less than secular in nature.

From the official Israeli viewpoint, a few sections of the ode were presumably in need of some fine-tuning. For example, Renzi could have specified that the recent nuclear deal with Iran was a pact with the devil, which he did not. His calculation that Israel’s existence predated the state’s formal establishment “by centuries” furthermore contradicts the millennia-long history stipulated by Israeli propaganda.

But Renzi more that compensated for these deficiencies with lines like: “Those who think about boycotting Israel fail to realize they’re just boycotting themselves.” Although not included in the transcript of the speech on Renzi’s website, major Italian newspapers have quoted the prime minister as tacking this ending on to the sentence: “… boycotting themselves, and betraying their own future.”

Not only is it safe to assume such rhetoric won’t resonate with the average Italian—who is now contending with rising poverty and unemployment rates as well as other domestic headaches—Renzi’s pronouncement will undoubtedly be news to much of the rest of the global population.

Residents of the Gaza Strip, for one thing, might find it difficult to pin their hopes on the entity that has for nearly 70 years been obliterating Palestinian futures via bombs, bulldozers, and blockades. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 July 2015

Thinking While Black


On May 13, 1985, one of the blacker days of the U.S. war on its domestic black population, the Philadelphia Police Department undertook the aerial bombing of an African-American neighborhood in the city where members of the radical group MOVE had taken up residence.

Firemen were instructed not to attend to the resultant raging fire. When the smoke cleared, the following had been eliminated: six adults, five children, and more than 60 homes. No criminal charges ever ensued for city officials, but Ramona Africa—the sole adult survivor of the MOVE contingent—was thrown in prison for seven years.

Former Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a veteran of death row now condemned to an eternity behind bars in Pennsylvania, described the judicial spectacle thusly:

“The courts of the land turned a blind eye, daubed mud in their socket, and prosecuted Ramona Africa for having the nerve to survive an urban holocaust, jailing her for the crime of not burning to death.”

This, of course, is merely one of many creative categories of criminal behavior uniquely available to black Americans over the years. The just-released volumeWriting on the Wall, the first comprehensive selection of Mumia’s short prison commentaries from 1982 to the present, is a handy resource for keeping track of some of them.

A dispatch on Amadou Diallo, for example, contains Mumia’s assessment of what had prompted New York City police officers to unleash 41 bullets on the unarmed immigrant from Guinea in 1999. Diallo, Mumia reasons, had “committ[ed] the capital crime of ‘standing while black’—SWB.”

A 2006 piece titled “No Safe Age” speculates as to the transgressions of an elderly woman shot to death in her Atlanta home by narcotics officers: “What was her crime? Trying-to-Survive-to-90 While Black?” READ MORE AT WARSCAPES.

27 July 2015

Lebanon’s rubbish state: A metaphor comes to life

Middle East Eye

“Either the contracts are extended or you will drown in garbage.”
According to Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper, these were the words of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October of 2010, when he warned a cabinet session of the repercussions of failing to renew the contract of private waste management company Sukleen, run by Hariri family friends.
Since the 1990s, Sukleen has been responsible for waste disposal in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon governorate.
Now, less than five years after Hariri’s prophecy, the drowning has come to pass; over the last week, the streets of the Lebanese capital have been inundated by heaps of festering garbage.
But the mess has to do with a lot more than contract extensions.
On 17 July, Sukleen’s latest extension expired in tandem with the closure of the Naameh landfill south of Beirut, which has since 1997 absorbed much of Lebanon’s refuse.
Meant to operate for only six years, the landfill was also on the receiving end of its own fair share of extensions, thanks to which it is now at 500 percent capacity.
In an effort to mitigate their own engulfment in garbage, residents of the area have blocked roads to ensure no further Sukleen deliveries to Naameh. Which brings us to the question: why, if the domestic calendar has been marked for quite some time with the impending closure of the landfill, has the government not managed to devise an alternative arrangement?
Granted, Lebanon’s leaders have as of late had their hands full not electing a president, not fixing Lebanon’s dismal electricity situation, and not attending to the needs of the majority of the inhabitants of the country, where the poverty rate exceeds 60 percent in some areas. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 July 2015

The US in Cuba: a history of organised crime

Al Jazeera English

In a recent blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a prominent American membership organisation and think-tank, research associate ValerieWirtschafter assesses the course of the "Cuban Renaissance" that is apparently now under way thanks to domestic reforms and the diplomatic thaw with the United States.
Based on her own mid-Renaissance visit to Cuba earlier this year, Wirtschafter remarks on some counterintuitive aspects of the expanding tourism industry on the born-again island.
"The hotel industry in particular - including the State run Hotel Nacional in Havana - seems to glorify the country's gangster past, a violent history that partially spurred popular support for Fidel Castro's Revolution."
She goes on to comment on the "equally bewildering" collision of universes that transpired when celebrity socialite Paris Hilton and Castro's son were photographed taking selfies together at a Havana cigar festival in February. The ex-Hilton hotel in Havana, opened in 1958 by the heiress' grandfather, was one of the revolution's first casualties when Castro commandeered it as a provisional headquarters the following year.
Nowhere does the article mention a certain - perhaps far more bewildering - fact: that Cuba's "gangster past" and "violent history" were largely a product of US government policies and machinations by the American Mafia. In the wake of Castro's triumph, both entities continued to help ensure that Cuba was continually beset by counter-revolutionary violence. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.