21 June 2017

Colombia and the Business of Peace

The Washington Spectator

Hitchhiking across Colombia in 2009, my friend Amelia and I received a particularly memorable ride from an upbeat truck driver who careened in carefree fashion along cliffside curves while we—perched one on top of the other on the metal fixture that served as the passenger seat—endeavored to remain upright and thereby maintain some semblance of order in the universe.
The soundtrack that accompanied the experience consisted of a cassette tape with approximately four songs, one of them a catchy tune with the refrain “Yo no voy a morir”—I will not die—one of the few reassuring features of that precarious journey.
For many in Colombia, of course, Yo no voy a morir is wishful thinking, given that violent death has been a staple of the Colombian landscape for over half a century. As of the onset last year of the peace process between the Colombian government and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s longest-running civil war had left some quarter of a million people dead and displaced millions more.
But the government and the guerrillas aren’t the only parties to the conflict, which has also been sustained by ruthless paramilitary outfits that were supposedly disbanded a decade ago and yet managed almost simultaneously to reincarnate themselves.
Over the years, paramilitary exploits have included homicidal activity to facilitate the profitable extraction of local resources and homicidal collaboration with state security forces. Their funding was derived, notoriously, via bribes from multinational companies like Chiquita Brands, which was convicted in 2007 for bankrolling terrorism through its in-country operations.
Now, despite the exuberant international clamor over the prospect of peace in Colombia, the paramilitary threat has far from subsided. As usual, optimists appear to have jumped the gun. According to a short documentary released in April by Colombia-based video journalist Toby Muse, no fewer than 130 social activists had been killed in the country over the previous 15 months. “As the [FARC] rebels lay down their weapons,” Muse explains, “mafias and so-called paramilitaries are trying to take over the zones left behind.” There’s little room for justice in the mix. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

13 June 2017

How not to write about Beirut

Middle East Eye

For journalists, travel writers, and anyone else looking to make a buck off of Orientalist cliche, the Lebanese capital of Beirut - pardon, the erstwhile “Paris of the Middle East” - is a one-stop shop.
There are plenty of more refined sociocultural observations to be made beyond Beirut’s usual accolades as magical meeting point between East and West, phoenix rising from the ashes, and progressive oasis of cosmopolitanism in an oppressive and conflict-ridden region.
The New York Post informs us that Beirut is “a city where women in heels shimmy on tabletops”. For the Telegraph, it’s a place where “skinny girls in hot pants and crop-tops gyrate… to thumping beats, upending bottles of vodka into the mouths of the bare-chested men dancing beside them”.
VICE, in its own typically obsessive pursuit of sensational non-insight, reports on the mind-blowing existence of Beirut bars that “offer coke-fuelled benders down the street from Hezbollah headquarters”, while the New York Times once again brings up the matter of female footwear: “Women with Louis Vuitton handbags are forever extracting their spike heels from the cracks” in the boardwalk at Zaitunay Bay, the city’s “luxury playground”.
Never mind that shimmying on tabletops and the like is not an option for Lebanese folks of various religious persuasions, in addition to being financially prohibitive in a country where the poverty rate in certain areas exceeds 60 percent. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 May 2017

The Tunisia emergency: From Arab Spring ideal to military poster child

Middle East Eye

In a now-signature move, the government of Tunisia on 16 May again extended the state of emergency that has been in place since a series of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic State (IS) in 2015.
The Los Angeles Times explains that Tunisia’s emergency law “gives the government stepped-up powers to deal with suspected terrorists but also curtails to a degree the rights of ordinary citizens”, such as freedom of assembly.
For many Tunisians, the Times notes, the state of emergency “harks back to days when authorities acted with impunity to quell any dissent”.
In Tunisia and beyond, of course, counter-terrorism has long been a convenient excuse for dismantling basic freedoms.
Take the United States, for example, where the war on terror has done wonders in definitively obliterating all sorts of liberties - from privacy to freedom of the press to the right to exist as an Arab-American without being spied on by law enforcement and otherwise have one’s existence criminalised.
Meanwhile, the rights and privileges of the arms industry have only increased, as the US continues to wage both overt and covert war around the globe and to dutifully stock the arsenals of an array of unsavoury allies. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

28 May 2017

The United States of insanity

Al Jazeera English

Since the ascent to power of US President Donald Trump, two discussion topics have become increasingly popular: whether or not the man is insane and whether or not it's appropriate to talk about whether or not the man is insane.
While many psychiatrists, mental health workers and media figures have abided by the idea that it is unethical to publicly debate the head of state's mental soundness, others view the taboo as reckless.
In an interview with The Independent, for example, Yale University's Dr Bandy Lee cited Trump's "taunting of North Korea" and spontaneous bombing of Syria as indications that his "instability, unpredictability and impulsivity … point to dangerousness due to mental impairment."
In February, The New York Times ran a letter to the editor signed by 35 mental health professionals concerned that Trump's "words and behaviour suggest a profound inability to empathise".
Such traits, the authors note, cause people to "distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them".
This diagnosis would appear to be pretty spot-on, as anyone can tell from a quick glance at the president's Twitter account.
But while Trump's unregulated comportment tends to endow him with an aura of singularly unhinged dangerousness, it's worth recalling that his presidential predecessors weren't exactly racking up any points in the empathy department. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

27 May 2017

Power for Capital’s Sake

Jacobin

Nearly two decades before George W. Bush appointed Henry Kissinger to lead the 9/11 commission — a post from which he resigned following complaints about his conflicts of interest — the former secretary of state chaired another group investigating important national security issues: The National Bipartisan Commission on Central America.
Formed in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan, the twelve-member gang issued its report in early 1984 on the “profound crisis” gripping the neighboring region, where right-wing governments and paramilitaries were waging war on leftist movements, indigenous people, and anyone else in their way.
Kissinger certainly possessed the qualifications to spearhead this operation, which Foreign Affairs described as “attempt[ing] to create a bipartisan consensus for what is basically current Administration policy toward Central America — only more so.”
Never one to pass up a good war with the old red menace, Kissinger presumably welcomed the opportunity since the dirty war in Argentina — which he had personally green-lit — had just concluded, leaving tens of thousands of victims in its wake.
In their lengthy report, the commission members professed a moral obligation to help Central America wrest itself from its dire circumstances. But they based their recommendations on something besides altruism. While the commissioners acknowledged that, in many cases, legitimate and homegrown grievances — colonial and more recent forms of oppression, widespread denial of basic rights, and extreme socioeconomic disparity — fueled popular support for leftist insurgencies, the real threat came from outside: the Soviet-Cuban axis was “seek[ing] expansion of influence through exploitation of misery.”
The report paints the “hostile powers” and “aggressive external forces” infiltrating the hemisphere as an existential danger. “Outside forces have intervened to exacerbate the area’s troubles.” “Cuba and the Soviet Union are investing heavily in efforts to expand their footholds.” “The intrusion of aggressive outside powers . . . is a serious threat to the United States.” “The crisis is on our doorstep.”
Never mind that neither Cuba nor the Soviet Union mined Nicaragua’s harbors— the United States did that in 1983, following the Sandinista revolution — or that Cuba is already located not only within the hemisphere in question but also within Latin America. Anyway, the Soviets probably put it there. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

25 May 2017

Something is rotten in the state of Tunisia

Middle East Eye 

An hour or so after arriving in the southern Tunisian coastal city of Gabes, my throat was overtaken by an unfamiliar agitation, causing me to assume that I had either suddenly acquired asthma or inadvertently swallowed a swarm of mosquitoes.
I apologised to my companions for disrupting our stroll along the promenade with graceless coughing convulsions. Habib Ayeb - a Tunisian academic and documentary filmmaker based at the University of Paris VIII in France - quickly debunked my auto-diagnosis. “It’s the pollution.”
Gabes, which boasts the world’s only coastal oasis, unfortunately also has several other distinguishing characteristics, including comprehensive contamination.
Since the 1970s, the city has hosted an industrial zone that presently comprises phosphate refineries and other poisonous for-export operations primarily under the command of the state-owned Tunisian Chemical Group. The area has now attained the distinction of being Tunisia’s cancer capital and a general hub for human and animal afflictions.
Of course, the powers-that-be do their best to obscure this obvious cause-and-effect sequence. After all, what connection could ecosystemic malaise and rampant illness possibly have to “clouds of rotten-smelling yellow gas” emitted from smokestacks and tonnes of radioactive waste dumped into the sea?
As often happens these days in the face of existential concerns, the trusty narrative of “development” is trotted out. Factories mean jobs, so the story goes, and are thus necessary for survival - never mind if you can’t breathe. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

05 May 2017

Letter from Mexico

The Washington Spectator

In 2013, my friend Juan’s cousin disappeared while attempting to cross from Mexico into the United States to return to his job at a restaurant in Florida. The cousin had successfully crossed the border on several previous occasions, and this particular passage, Juan tells me, was reportedly arranged by the restaurant’s proprietor via some human smuggling contacts.
The last his family knew, the cousin had made it to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez. “After that, he was never heard from again,” says Juan. When I visited the family in 2015 in their village outside Puebla, the cousin’s mother—Juan’s aunt—still spent much of her time staring vacantly into space.
The family’s story is far from unique, as the selective criminalization of U.S.-bound migration has rendered the U.S.-Mexican frontier disproportionately lethal. Not only does criminalization make undocumented travelers exceedingly vulnerable to abuse, ever-expanding border fortifications have forced migrants into more perilous routes through the desert, which has become a cemetery of sorts. Juan himself—now a resident of Mérida on the Yucatán peninsula—once entered the United States by way of the Arizona desert, and describes walking for four days at the mercy of the elements. He throws in a brief rundown of the hazards of seeking cover from border patrol helicopters in cactus patches.
Regarding the prospect of an even more dangerous border landscape under Donald Trump—who has taken the liberty of reducing the Mexican population to rapists, drug dealers, and other bad hombres and has promised a “big, beautiful wall” to keep them out—Juan observes that “walls have never deterred anyone. Especially when there’s a demand for cheap labor in the States.”
The point of a punitive immigration policy has never been to put a stop to undocumented immigration in the first place, but rather to perpetuate its lucrative exploitability. In his 2013 book The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration, David Bacon writes that “displacement and inequality are as deeply ingrained in the free market economy as they were during the slave trade.” Here, displacement refers to the effects on Mexican communities of policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which obliterated the livelihoods of millions of Mexican farmers and otherwise fueled migration by, inter alia, saturating the Mexican market with subsidized agricultural products from the United States in blatant violation of the principles of “free trade.” To be sure, there’s nothing like having one’s subsidized corn and eating it too. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

03 May 2017

US media on Israel: The press freedom that never was

Middle East Eye

Wednesday, 3 May, marks World Press Freedom Day.
Some will no doubt view the occasion as a bit of a joke given that the current leader of the so-called free world is a US President committed to waging war on the media.
But while Donald Trump may appear to constitute a departure from business as usual in a nation that has so diligently marketed itself as a bastion of freedom of the press, thought, expression, and all that good stuff, the US media has never exactly been free.
After all, in addition to performing regular cheerleading functions on behalf of military and corporate conquest, American news outlets have also upheld an enduring red line: criticism of Israel, the Middle East’s lovable democracy-that-isn’t.
Consider an anecdote recounted by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, himself a dedicated Zionist who nonetheless happened to mention “indiscriminate” Israeli shelling of West Beirut in an article in 1982 - when Israel’s invasion of Lebanon killed some 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them civilians.
As Friedman tells it, his editors removed the word “indiscriminate,” after which he penned a memo accusing them of cowardice. Former Times executive editor AM Rosenthal then “exploded at [Friedman’s] insubordination” and scarily summoned him to a meeting, which ended up being a “long, emotional lunch, with tears on both sides” and a $5,000 raise for Friedman.
The lunch culminated with a “bear hug” from Rosenthal and the warning: “Now listen, you clever little !%#@: don't you ever do that again.”
Lesson learned. So much for the 20,000 dead. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

26 April 2017

Blowing Israel’s aqua-shenanigans out of the water

Middle East Eye

High up on Israel’s list of fabricated and otherwise shamelessly embellished achievements is that of having allegedly “made the desert bloom” promptly after setting up shop on usurped Palestinian land in 1948.
Never mind that Palestine wasn’t exactly a desert - or that “blooming” techniques involved mass slaughter as well as plenty of ecological devastation. We mustn’t let facts get in the way of creation myths.
In contemporary times, Israel has continued to market itself as a global pioneer in water technology and conservation, from drip irrigation systems to desalination.
Of course, some might argue that Israel has enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage in the water realm given that it has been able to dominate access to the valuable resource by diverting regional waterways in its favour and literally hijacking Palestinian aquifers.
Now, Israel is once again making disingenuous waves through the Israeli firm Water-Gen - which, a recent obsequious dispatch in the Times of Israel informs us, is “look[ing] to quench global thirst” by extracting water from air. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

25 April 2017

‘No Room for Refugees’ in Lebanon, but Plenty for Political Elites

NewsDeeply
Recent clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s most populous Palestinian refugee camp, saw residents fleeing for safety as explosions and gunfire reverberated throughout the surrounding city of Sidon.
The fighting pitted Fatah and other Palestinian groups against militants affiliated with extremist Bilal Badr. At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded, while several buildings were left in ruins.
Lebanese political leaders were quick to condemn the violence. Lebanon’s seemingly perennial parliament speaker Nabih Berri warned that the only beneficiary of the clashes was the state of Israel. (One wonders, then, who benefited when a militia headed by Berri himself laid siege to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon for several years in the 1980s.)
Yet it is a crisis partly of the Lebanese leadership’s own making. Such bloody showdowns between rival factions wouldn’t be happening if places like Ain al-Hilweh didn’t exist in the first place.
Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon amid the widespread violence and plunder that attended the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Now numbering more than half a million in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are denied citizenship and basic rights, banned from a fluctuating number of professions, prohibited from owning property and often dehumanized in Lebanese society. Many reside in squalid and overcrowded camps – Ain al-Hilweh being the largest.
There is little room for Palestinians to assert their rights or dignity within Lebanon’s sectarian political system, which apportions power among 18 recognized sects based on a census conducted in 1932, after which there has been no subsequent population tally. The number of Lebanese presently in Lebanon is estimated to be around 4 million. READ MORE AT NewsDeeply.

22 April 2017

The Earth versus capitalism

Al Jazeera English

During one of numerous failed attempts to establish himself as an environmentalist, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman enthusiastically reported in 2010 that - in honour of Earth Day on April 22 - the United States Navy had test-flown a fighter jet "powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds".
Armed with this and other bits of trivia, Friedman concluded that the US military was thus in fact on the front line of the battle for a clean Earth.
Never mind that, mustard seeds or not, the US Defense Department remains one of the top polluters on the planet.
To be sure, the neoliberal media's toxic alignment with military and corporate agendas produces lucrative returns for those involved.
And as long as the arms industry and other pillars of the international capitalist order remain healthy, the long-term health of Earth and its inhabitants matters little. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

14 April 2017

Non-crime and punishment at the American University of Beirut

Middle East Eye

On 24 March, Reuters reported an announcement by US federal prosecutors that the American University of Beirut (AUB) had agreed to pay $700,000 to the US government for allegedly assisting three entities linked to Hezbollah.
The photograph of the AUB entrance that accompanies the article on the Reuters website initially came equipped with a caption explaining that this was “where Dean Kevlin, an American senior member of staff, went missing on Thursday”.
In short, all sorts of alarming news - until the powers that be at Reuters realised that the Kevlin in question had in fact disappeared (briefly) in 2001, after which the caption was amended accordingly.
Notorious Islamophobe Daniel Pipes meanwhile chimed in with a nanny-nanny-boo-boo on Twitter: “[AUB] has long coddled extremists. Now, this cost it a pretty $700K fine.”
What, then, was this Very Important Crime committed by the university? READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

05 April 2017

A different kind of war in America's 'backyard'

Al Jazeera English

Back in 1954, the United States orchestrated a coup d'etat against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, whose transgressions had included a less than totally obsequious approach to the American banana company United Fruit, predecessor of Chiquita Brands International.
As usual, the US knew what was best for the nations located in its self-proclaimed "backyard".
Civil war descended on Guatemala six years after the coup, and ensuing decades played host to acts of genocide (pdf) committed by US-backed forces, with more than 200,000 people ultimately killed or disappeared.
Elsewhere in Latin America, the US nobly pursued its mission to make the world safe for capitalism by extending support to right-wing death squads and dictators.
Nowadays, of course, the communist bogeyman can no longer be hyped as an existential hemispheric threat, and friendly Latin American regimes have ceased dropping suspected leftists from airplanes.
Nevertheless, the US has continued to preside over punitive manoeuvres - some subtler than others - to ensure that it remains in business in the "backyard".
These range from endorsing right-wing coups to funding murderous police forces and other security outfits to agitating on behalf of US agribusiness agendas - thereby obliterating any notion of a separation of corporation and state.
Have we really come that far since 1954? READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

03 April 2017

‘Maps of Exile’: Europe's ongoing denial over cause of refugees' flight

Middle East Eye

During a brief visit last year to the Italian city of Naples, I witnessed a sidewalk scene involving three African men selling purses and three conspicuously armed Italian law enforcement officials.
The latter trio was in the midst of guaranteeing public safety by confiscating bundles of purses and taunting the visibly distressed Africans with them, as a crowd of tourists looked on.
Indeed, across Europe these days, the forcible denial of migrant dignity appears to have been subsumed into the list of on-the-job duties for security personnel.
Dehumanising treatment is facilitated by the pejorative rhetoric of Europe’s ruling classes; eternal Italian political fixture Silvio Berlusconi, for example, once complained that parts of Milan were looking too much like Africa. A dutifully xenophobic media furthermore labours to encourage existential fears in the minds of European audiences. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 March 2017

Special offer for Lebanon: Time travel with the Israeli military

Middle East Eye

As Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett sees it, another war between Israel and its Lebanese neighbour “will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages”.
This endearing soundbite was reported on 13 March by Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel following a conversation with Bennett. According to the article, the minister invoked Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s remarks regarding Hezbollah’s integral role in Lebanon’s defence apparatus to justify the medieval approach.
To be sure, Hezbollah’s defensive functions proved particularly irritating to the Israelis when, in 2000, the organisation spearheaded the eviction of Israel from Lebanese territory after more than two decades of occupation.
The Middle Ages treatment meanwhile appears to boil down to a total eradication of any distinction between the Lebanese state and Hezbollah and between military and civilian elements in the country.
Bennett rues an alleged Israeli promise to the United States government in 2006 “not to hit Lebanon’s infrastructure” during that summer’s 34-day war - a promise the education minister contends thwarted an Israeli victory. He proposes the following formula for future conflicts:
“The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases – they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out.” READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

18 March 2017

Fear and loathing on the border

Al Jazeera English

As Donald Trump's sordid vision of a "big, beautiful wall" on the United States-Mexico border begins to take shape, The Guardian has revealed that - of the more than 600 companies currently vying to get in on the wall-building action - 10 percent are identified as "Hispanic-American-owned" businesses.
Posing a greater ethical dilemma, perhaps, is the potential opportunity for Mexican cement manufacturing giant Cemex to profit handsomely from manic border fortification efforts. The firm has seen its shares leap in value since Trump's election in November.
Of course, there's little room for ethics when gobs of money are at stake. According to Reuters, an internal US Department of Homeland Security report puts the price-tag of the wall at up to $21.6bn.
Indeed, in a world ever more committed to walls, barriers, and the profitability of exclusion, it seems ethical boundaries are the easiest to knock down. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

03 March 2017

Israel’s surrogate war in Mexico

Middle East Eye

MERIDA, Mexico - The Israeli “Law of Return” grants any Jewish person of non-subversive inclination the right to immigrate to Israel - thereby magically endowing an untold number of global inhabitants with a so-called “birthright” that is unavailable to Palestinian victims of that protracted exercise in ethnic cleansing and land theft known as Israeli statehood.

As I’ve noted before, the whole “right of return” myth has been exploited to justify diverse initiatives such as the immigration of a flock of Canadian sheep to Israel, while Palestinians physically born in the territory in question are denied even the hope of eventual homecoming.
Yet another unique twist to the concept of return has now arisen in Mexico, where the Mexican government has apparently decided to thwart the Israeli birthright of three infants born to Mexican surrogate mothers labouring on behalf of “three single Israeli fathers,” according to a recent article on the Haaretz website.
Mexican authorities have refused to issue birth certificates for the babies, which means the fathers can’t transport them to Israel as planned. The scenario will likely be replayed for the other eight Israelis reportedly in Mexico awaiting the arrival of their own offspring.
The article goes on to explain that homosexual citizens of Israel are prohibited from contracting the services of surrogates in the Jewish homeland itself and must thus attempt to fulfill any reproductive aims elsewhere. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

26 February 2017

New US Deportation Scheme: The Icing on the Cake of Alienation

TeleSUR English

While sojourning in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato back in 2005, I became friends with a young Venezuelan man who was subsequently detained by immigration officials on account of an expired Mexican visa.

As I had little else to do, I was tasked with frequenting the local immigration office in short skirts in order to plead for his release — which eventually saw him deported to Venezuela. From my visits to the office I learned about various other activities overseen by Mexico’s immigration outfit, including the regular transport to the Mexican-Guatemalan border of busloads of Guatemalan migrants apprehended en route to the U.S.
One official informed me that many of the deportees were victims of rape and other crimes that continue to be par for the migrant course.
This, incidentally, was more than a decade prior to the dawn of the Donald Trump era, lest anyone assume that forcing Mexico to do the United States’ dirty work is somehow a novel policy.
Barack Obama’s singlehanded deportation of 2.5 million people from the U.S. further underscores the fact that pathological xenophobia and counter-empathy are national traditions long predating Trump.
On the current dirty work front, Trump’s unilateral proposals have ranged from making the Mexicans pay for his monstrous wall-fantasy on the U.S-Mexico border to a new brainchild that would entail re-depositing in Mexico undocumented migrants who enter the U.S. from Mexican territory — regardless of their nationality.
According to a fact sheet emitted on Feb. 21 by the Department of Homeland Security, the “returning (of) aliens to contiguous countries” means that “DHS detention and adjudication resources” can be saved “for other priority aliens.” Never mind that the Mexican government might also have resources it would rather use for its own projects.
The non-priority aliens, meanwhile, get to hang out in Mexico “pending the outcome of removal proceedings” in the U.S. In other words, the game plan is essentially for Mexico to serve as a holding pen for extremely vulnerable migrants who are in many cases criminalized for the mere act of fleeing economic oppression and violence — two interrelated phenomena that have been greatly exacerbated in Central America and elsewhere by none other than the United States. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

13 February 2017

A gazillion reasons to look at BuzzFeed and say: 'This Israeli wrong'

Middle East Eye

recent tweet from the state of Israel’s official Twitter channel - managed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s “Digital Diplomacy Team” - announces: “If you THINK you know everything there is to know about Israel, you should have a look at this list.”
The list in question is a 2014 BuzzFeed dispatch titled “51 Facts About Israel That Will Surprise You”. The photograph accompanying the tweet is of a bikinied blond woman floating in the Dead Sea.
As for why the list is being resurrected three years after the fact, there’s presumably nothing like a bit of digital diplomacy to distract international audiences from land grabs, home demolitions, the gradual pulverisation of the Gaza Strip, and other contemporary Israeli activities.
BuzzFeed, which advertises itself as “a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment that generates seven billion views each month,” is known especially for its production of items along the lines of “21 Animals Who Were Born With Swag” or “22 Stunning Photos That Will Make You Want A Septum Ring”.
BuzzFeed’s list of 51 alleged “facts” about Israel - which could just as easily have been titled “51 Ways Apartheid Is Awesome” - is a typical compendium of Israeli state propaganda marketing the country as a paradise for, among others, entrepreneurs, women, blind people, sushi eaters, gay and transgender folks, birdwatchers, beach lovers, rollerbladers, Eurovision fans, and even chess grandmasters.
Other endearing trivia is also thrown in, such as that “an Israeli company has developed the world’s first jellyfish repellent” and that Israel “was the first country to ban underweight models".
Never mind that Israel has had no problem putting Palestinians on blockade diets - or killing them outright, for that matter.
Indeed, BuzzFeed’s publication of the 51 “surprising facts” coincidentally took place the very same year that the Israeli military managed to eliminate 2,251 Palestinians in Gaza - including 299 women and 551 children - in a matter of 51 days. Unfortunately, mass slaughter by said military has become somewhat less than surprising. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

08 February 2017

What's behind the Great Wall of America?

Al Jazeera English

On the Tuesday after Donald Trump's January inauguration as president of the United States, journalist Jonathan Katz tweeted in reference to the unfolding spectacle: "First they came for the Latinos, Muslims, women, gays, poor people, intellectuals and scientists, and then it was Wednesday."
The days continue to progress in similar fashion. On the one hand, there's been the rapidly evolving horror of the Muslim ban. And on the Latino front, it seems that not even Mexicans in Mexico proper may be safe from Trump's reach.
According to the Associated Press, Trump recently informed Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that "you have a bunch of bad hombres down there" whose bad behaviour is not being properly addressed: "I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."
Nothing like a casual threat of invasion to keep folks on their toes.
One finds oneself wondering whether a new and improved border wall might not be a fine idea indeed - but as a defensive measure against US incursions. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

30 January 2017

On trial: Lebanon’s corrupt justice system

Middle East Eye

In front of Beirut’s military tribunal, located just down the street from the Lebanese capital’s National Museum, is a statue of a helmeted soldier holding the scales of justice.
Globally speaking, the military is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when contemplating matters of fairness and truth. Think Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes, or pretty much any other aspect of the US war on terror, and the verdict quickly presents itself: soldiers aren’t exactly arbiters of justice.
But in Lebanon, the obstacles to military justice have become ever clearer with the release of a new report by Human Rights Watch on an ongoing Lebanese tradition of trying civilians in military courts.
Among the focuses of the report are Lebanese protesters facing up to three years in prison via military court trial, as well as children reportedly tortured during pre-trial interrogations.
Not that there is a surplus of justice to be had outside the confines of Lebanese military tribunals. Indeed, “Lebanese law” is often a contradiction in terms: the justice system is haphazardly wielded primarily against the country’s have-nots, while those with the proper elite credentials and sectarian political connections remain largely immune to prosecution. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 January 2017

Assessing Obama: Foreign Policy

Jacobin

As the follow-up act to George W. Bush, Barack Obama was supposed to restore the United States to the fold of respectable nations whose leaders did not devise such foreign policy goals as “smokin’ ’em out.”
Particularly given Obama’s campaign pledge to engage in dialogue with traditional American enemies like Iran and Cuba — both included in the Axis of Evil-plus-three configuration marketed during the Bush era — optimistic sectors of the international community predicted the advent of a humane, benevolent superpower.
The naïveté of such thinking was rather evident from the get-go; now, at the end of Obama’s reign, it’s glaringly obvious. Consider the recent calculation by the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States “dropped 26,172 bombs in seven countries” in 2016 alone — an estimate the authors acknowledge is “undoubtedly low.”
In February 2015, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that Obama’s covert drone strikes on territories where the United States is not officially at war had already “killed almost six times more people and twice as many civilians than those ordered in the Bush years.”
Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba and his nuclear deal with Iran have been hailed by fans as landmark achievements and alleged evidence of his status as peacemonger-in-chief. Often lost in the celebrations, however, is the fact that both locales are still targeted with sanctionsthat undeniably constitute “war by other means.”
In Cuba, Obama might have bolstered his ethical credentials by fulfilling his promise to close Guantánamo, thereby terminating the US occupation of Cuban territory and ending a symbol of America’s global impunity.
In the Middle East, efforts to defuse the nuclear issue would have been less blatantly hypocritical if Obama hadn’t also approved a $38 billion military aid package to Israel, the largest in US history.
This is the same Israel that happens to maintain a nuclear arsenal and grants itself immunity from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Beyond some jabs at Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama has not allowed the Israeli military’s recurring slaughter of Palestinian civilians to get in the way of his principled commitment to Israel’s right to “self-defense.”
The full extent of the fallout of Obama’s rule, of course, remains to be seen. But for one particularly troubling hint as to his legacy-in-progress, one need look no further than Medea Benjamin’s recent remarks in the Guardian: “The twisted legal architecture the Obama administration has constructed to justify its interventions, especially extrajudicial drone killings with no geographic restrictions, will now be transferred into the erratic hands of Donald Trump.” Call it teamwork. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

19 January 2017

Lindsay Lohan: America’s next jihadist?

Middle East Eye

The Washington, DC-based newspaper and website The Hill self-identifies as “the premier source for policy and political coverage, reporting on every aspect of the business of Washington and the campaign trail... delivering solid, non-partisan and objective reporting".

Indeed, only a very serious and objective publication would have recently opted to run an opinion piece by Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, titled “Lindsay Lohan may have made her worst life choice yet".
Predictably, the disastrous choice involves Lohan’s alleged conversion to Islam, which Spencer argues she has undertaken with no regard for the fact that “so many converts to Islam end up as jihad terrorists” bent on committing “mass murder".
Listed examples include John Walker Lindh and Adam Gadahn - the latter killed in a US drone strike - who “discovered Islam through rap music and black grievance theater (neither were black, but both wished they were)".
In addition to the risk of turning to terrorism as compensation for black envy, it seems, conversion to Islam also entails numerous other hazards. Spencer poses the critical question of whether Lohan is “prepared to venture out in public with everything covered except her face and hands” - a requirement, as we all know, of every Muslim female in the world.
In short, it’s unclear whether The Hill’s editors were, in fact, conscious at the time Spencer’s rant was authorised for publication on 17 January. However, retroactive warning bells apparently went off, and the piece was subsequently removed, eliciting the complaint from Spencer that “the Left-fascists at The Hill have caved in to pressure from Leftist and Islamic supremacist neo-brownshirts.” READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.