Tag Archives: Obama

Day #3 – July 9, 2014 – Why should Americans care?

Source: Day #3 – July 9, 2014 – Why should Americans care?

Palestinian women hold night prayers in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem in support of Palestinians in Gaza. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli AFP/Getty Images

Why should Americans care about the Palestinian side of the equation in the Middle East? That’s the MILLION $$ question. And why should members of Congress care specifically?

The U.S. gives Israel ALOT of money every year under very favorable terms. By one estimate, American taxpayers have given more than $130 Billion in U.S. aid to Israel. Our subsidy appears to be growing. Can the U.S. afford to be so generous with Israel while ignoring basic needs at home (infrastructure and education to name a couple) and in other less-developed countries?

Riyad H Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, holds up a picture from the Israeli operation in Gaza during a Security Council meeting at the UN. Photograph: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

In the international arena, the U.S. routinely stands alone, or with the small minority, when voting on Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The U.S. cast the only NO vote at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva against a resolution calling for parties to be held accountable for potential war crimes committed in Operation Protective Edge. The U.S. knee-jerk support for anything and everything that Israel wants, endangers U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in the volatile Middle East.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush told the world that the terrorists hate American values. He was wrong. Extremists hate our foreign policies, not our values. We continue down this path of genuflecting before the State of Israel at our peril, and Israel’s peril too. America’s unwavering support for the State of Israel, even when the cold, hard facts show that Israel likely committed war crimes last summer in Gaza, only fuels the extremists. President Obama hit the nail on the head when he said that “extreme ideologies are not defeated by guns but by better ideas.”

Our basic common decency and humanity calls us to empathize with our fellow human beings — all of them — not just the Israelis running for cover under the Iron Dome. We lose our humanity when we ignore the tremendous lopsided death tolls, the assymetric battles, and the root causes of the conflict.

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A drop in the ocean

 

I’m sitting in a small loft in the old city of Brindisi, in the boot heel of southern Italy. Brindisi is a very old port city. The famous Appian Way from Rome ends here. The ferry will take me to Patra, Greece on Saturday. I’m going to Greece to learn about the plight of the refugees arriving there.

I don’t speak the language (any language except English) and I don’t know where I will end up. Trying to put myself in their place, which is impossible of course, I can sense the feeling of fear, isolation, and desperation just below the surface. If I had no home to return to, no U.S. passport to give me some measure of legitimacy, and no resources (credit card), I would panic. I don’t think I could be as brave as most of these refugees.

Thousands of refugees are dying in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make it to shore in Greece or Italy. Why? Why must men, women and children run such risks in this 21st Century instead of getting on a plane and flying somewhere safe? [I’m looking for the answer; haven’t found it yet.]

In April 2016, Pope Francis visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos Island. He returned to the Vatican with 12 Syrian refugees from 3 families, all Muslims. He acknowledged it was only a drop in the ocean, but “the ocean will never be the same again,” he said.

I met a newly-wed couple from Germany last week on their honeymoon in Rome. We talked about many things, including the large numbers of refugees coming to Germany. They believe Angela Merkel’s intention’s are good, but she hasn’t followed up with good planning or organizing to fully integrate the new arrivals into life in Germany. They told me about refugees setting fire to their camps out of anger and frustration. Germany has accepted more than a million Syrian refugees, a staggering number compared to the rest of the EU and certainly the US.  [Migration to Europe explained in 7 charts.]

The United States has accepted only 3,127 Syrian refugees in the past 5 years. Although President Obama promised to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, only 1,300 have made it through the tight screening process in the first half of 2016.

On September 20, 2016, Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis and urge “significant new global commitments to: 1) increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organizations, 2) admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways, and 3) increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work.”  I’m curious how he can call for such action when it appears the U.S. is not stepping up to the plate. [I want to research more about the U.S. actions on the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly since the U.S. is responsible for so much of the devastation forcing Syrians to leave their country.]

As with climate change, it appears that the frontline in responding to the refugee crisis is at the local level, and cities are taking the lead.  The March 18 EU agreement with Turkey is abominable and is evidence (at least to me) that answers will not be found at the state-level (whether in the European Union or the U.S. federal government).

At its core, the agreement aims to address the overwhelming flow of smuggled migrants and asylum seekers traveling across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek islands by allowing Greece to return to Turkey “all new irregular migrants” arriving after March 20. In exchange, EU Member States will increase resettlement of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey, accelerate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, and boost existing financial support for Turkey’s refugee population.

There is hope.  Even before arriving in Greece, I have learned of two examples which might be the bellweather for successfully responding to the refugee crisis. [I will know much more after I visit Greece.] Both examples come from the individual, not government.

Somer Sood

Somer Sood – Operation Refugee Child

Operation Refugee Child was started in 2015 by a small group of mothers in Orange County, California, USA. Since then, they have achieved the following:

  • Created an organization run entirely by a team of five volunteers.
  • Developed a network of local contacts throughout Europe and the Middle East.
  • Received in-kind donations from corporate partners including Nike, Patagonia, ClifBar, CubeBot, Happy Baby and LuminAID among others.
  • Raised over $250,000 for purchase and delivery of supplies to refugees.
  • Distributed 5,080 lbs of aid supplies in 2016 including:
    • 2,480 backpacks
    • 800 thermal underwear and wool sock sets
    • 311 winter coats
    • 192 LuminAID solar pillow lights

I’m hoping to meet up with them in Athens at the end of the month, visit the camps with them, help them distribute backpacks to the children, and learn.

Pooya

Pooya volunteering with Emergency Response Centre International on Lesvos Island

The second example is a friend of a friend from California who is currently volunteering on Lesvos Island.  Pooya is a rescue team leader with Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI).  Check out his gofundme fundraising site here.  I hope to meet him on Lesvos Island and learn.

My friends ask me why?  “Why are you going to Greece?”

The short answer is the same answer I gave when they asked me “Why are you going to Gaza?”

I want to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, feel with my heart, and learn about the refugee crisis on the ground. What I learn may only be a drop in the ocean, but the ocean will never be the same again.

 

 

 

 

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Day #13 – July 19, 2014 – The World Protests

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather to protest against the Israeli army's bombings in the Gaza strip, in Paris, Saturday, July 19, 2014. Police have clashed with thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters who defied a ban in Paris on marching to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather to protest against the Israeli army’s bombings in the Gaza strip, in Paris, Saturday, July 19, 2014. Police have clashed with thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters who defied a ban in Paris on marching to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

As Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza entered its 13th day on Saturday, July 19, 2014, the global community went to the streets to protest. Thousands marched in Paris, London, Santiago, Chile, (many throughout Latin America stood up to support Gaza), and Melbourne, Australia,

The protests in New Zealand targeted the U.S. Embassy. Thousands protested outside the Israeli Embassy in Johannesburg. People went into the streets in Berlin, Istanbul and Jakarta to denounce Israel’s actions in Gaza.

And what did President Obama say that day after a phone conversation with Netanyahu?

Israel has a right to defend itself.”

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People take part in a demonstration in Marseille, southern France, on July 19, 2014, to protest against Israel's military campaign in Gaza and show their support to the Palestinian people. In Paris, despite a rare police ban and warnings from President Francois Hollande, hundreds began massing for their march but clashed with police who blocked their route. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK PENNANT

People take part in a demonstration in Marseille, southern France, on July 19, 2014, to protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and show their support to the Palestinian people. In Paris, despite a rare police ban and warnings from President Francois Hollande, hundreds began massing for their march but clashed with police who blocked their route. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK PENNANT

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UN Commission Finds Possible War Crimes – Next Step ICC

Rumor has it that the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will have an opportunity to vote tomorrow (July 3, 2015) on a Resolution supporting the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. The United States is an HRC member, and I’m making calls to the White House and State Department today urging our support. The Administration has already signaled its opinion that nothing further should be done with the UN report.

One year following the brutal 2014 Operation Protective Edge, and people in Gaza are still waiting for reconstruction to begin, for some healing, if possible. They certainly don’t want to be forgotten.

Palestinian child's drawing in Gaza

Palestinian child’s drawing in Gaza

The U.N. Report generated considerable criticism, although most readers only look for facts to support their predetermined ideas or bias, with objectivity in short supply. Instead, we find confirmation bias operating like a software program quietly beneath the surface, behind our active thought processes, so we don’t even recognize it’s there.

“What is my bias?” I ask myself.

I must have been wearing my super-duper law professor goggles when I read the U.N. Report because I kept thinking “this would make a wonderful syllabus for a law school class focused on international humanitarian and human rights law.”  The summary of the applicable laws, the presentation of the facts, the description of the “reasonable person standard” and how the law is applied to the facts —- it was all there.

A reasonable and ordinarily prudent person would have reason to believe that such an incident or pattern of conduct had occurred. (A lower standard than is required in criminal trials.) (para. 19)

With methodological detail, the Commissioners even “schooled” Israel’s Military Advocate General on using proper investigative techniques (para. 630-633) and corrected the drafter of the IDF Code of Ethics that the new term “enemy civilian” does not exist in international law.

“One of the most elementary principles of international humanitarian law is the obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians; however it never establishes different categories of civilians. The commission reiterates that a civilian is a civilian regardless of nationality, race or the place where he or she lives.” (para. 395)

Commissioners Davis and Diene, each highly qualified for the difficult task assigned to them, stuck to the facts without hyperbole or exaggeration.

Mary McGowan Davis (USA) and Doudou Diene (Senegal)

Mary McGowan Davis (USA) and Doudou Diene (Senegal)

Many advocates on both sides (Israel & Palestine) were not pleased with the UN Report, as I posted earlier.  Perhaps they were expecting something different or didn’t understand the role and responsibilities of this Commission. Davis and Diene were not appointed to be judge and jury, and were certainly not going to render a verdict or deliver justice. They were appointed as an investigative team to ferret out the facts, and to ensure that the voices of all victims were heard. (para.6) 

Although Israel denied them access to Gaza, and refused to cooperate with the investigation, the Commission conducted more than 280 confidential interviews on both sides, reviewed more than 500 written submissions, including satellite imagery, expert weapons analyses, video file & photos. (para. 14)

What follows are some snippets from the U.N. Report that I wish had been highlighted in the mainstream media, but were not.

  • The Commission found that Israel has “effective control” over Gaza. (para. 30) Despite Israel’s assertions that it evacuated Gaza in 2005, and thus the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied territory, the Commission disagreed.
  • Israel claims that the international human rights (IHR) laws and international humanitarian laws (laws of war) are mutually exclusive and so the IHR do not apply to Gaza, but the Commission didn’t buy that notion for a second. (para. 39-40)
  • In a breath of fresh air, the Commission noted that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has observed that the “existence of a ‘Palestinian people’ is no longer in issue.  The right of self-determination is part of the ‘legitimate rights’ of the Palestinian people.” (para. 42)
  • Some commentators have criticised the U.N. Report for not establishing the proper “context” and for equating the State of Israel with its nemesis and archrival Hamas. The Commission, however, placed the hostilities in the context of the prolonged occupation, an increasing number of rocket attacks on Israel and no “political prospects for reaching a solution to the conflict that would achieve peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis and realize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.” The Commission also noted Israel’s blockade since 2007 is strangling the people in Gaza (para. 53-54) and that the impact of the 2014 war cannot be assessed separately from the blockade. (para. 598). The Commission asserted that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism established in September 2014 is not a substitute for lifting the blockade. (para. 599).
  • Some commentators have objected to the Report’s perceived “balance” and “evenhandedness” as if both sides experienced equal levels of trauma and loss, and both sides were equally to blame. The facts are duly catalogued and speak for themselves — the number of casualties on either side, the number of buildings and neighborhoods destroyed, the numbers of whole families killed, and the types of weapons used by the IDF and militants — and no one can set this Report down believing there was any equivalency between Israel and Gaza in Operation Protective Edge. (paras. 59 – 215) More than 1,500 Palestinian children were orphaned. (para. 594). Almost 800 women were widowed last summer. (para. 596). 18,000 homes were destroyed, and an estimated 80,000 homes and properties need to be rehabilitated. (para. 576) One hospital and 5 clinics were destroyed in Gaza. Fifteen hospitals and 51 clinics were damaged. (para. 591). 209 schools in Gaza were damaged or destroyed, 3 universities were directly hit by Israeli strikes, while eight sustained collateral damage, 274 kindergartens were damaged and 11 were destroyed. (para. 585)  During the hostilities, approximately 1/2 million Palestinians were displaced (28% of the population in Gaza) (para.577) and more than 300,000 Palestinians took shelter in 85 UNRWA schools thinking they were safe havens, only to find that Israel attacked these shelters 7 times, killing between 44 and 47 people, including 14 children and 4 women. (para. 421) 63 water facilities were damaged and 23 were completely destroyed. 60% of the sewage treatment plants, along with 27% of the pumping stations were destroyed. (para. 584) Contrary to one critical headline, the UN Report was not attempting to hide massive Israeli war crimes behind ‘balance’ smokescreen.
  • Regarding the notorious tunnels between Gaza and Israel that Americans heard so much about on TV last summer, the Commission said it doesn’t know what the purpose of the tunnels might have been but noted that during the time period under investigation, they were only used to attack military targets. (para. 108) The IDF uncovered 32 tunnels. (para.562)
  • The IDF launched more than 6,000 airstrikes on Gaza, 142 families had 3 or more family members killed in the same incident because of the destruction of residential buildings. (para. 111) The testimony of many families was provided in their own words. (para. 117). “A significant % of civilians in Gaza killed during the conflict died inside their home as a direct result of air-strikes or artillery shelling of their neighborhoods, making attacks on houses a key feature of the conflict. These strikes may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decisionmakers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.” (para. 243)
  • Israel demolished several neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip beginning with Beit Hanoun on July 18-19 and  Shuja’iya on July 19-20. (para. 251 – 299) and Khuza’a from July 20 – August 1. (para. 300  et seq) The Commission concluded that razing entire areas in Khuza’a indicates that the IDF carried out destruction that were not required by military necessity, and was carried out unlawfully and wantonly, possibly a war crime. (para. 340)  “The vast scale of destruction may have been adopted as tactics of war.” (para.418)

In Shuja’iya, at about 3.30 p.m., Salem Shamaly, a local resident who had joined a group of international volunteers while searching for his missing cousin, was killed. As the volunteers were crossing a small alley, they heard a shot. The group immediately divided into two and took cover at opposite ends of the alley. Shortly afterwards, Salem Shamaly moved out of the area where he was taking cover and was shot. As he lay injured on the ground, he was shot twice again and killed. This incident was recorded on video. (para. 280)

  • Netanyahu has made Israel’s case for the morality of the Gaza campaign, but “morality” flew the coop when the IDF refused to allow Red Cross ambulances access to help victims, or in the case when the ambulance was permitted to enter but not allowed to leave and so rescue workers had to carry the injured victims out on their shoulders. (para. 332)  The IDF was clearly targeting ambulances (para. 459) and eyewitness testimony described the death of one ambulance driver. (para. 458)  In Khuza’a, a family was forced to leave Ghalia Abu Reda, a 70-year-old woman in a wheelchair, behind as they fled their home. Before shooting her in the head at close range, an IDF soldier posted a photo on Twitter showing the soldiers offering this old woman water. Family members later saw her picture on Twitter. (para. 333)
  • The IDF said that 5000 tons of munitions were supplied last summer.(para. 408) The Commission shared its concern about the explosive power of the weapons and the amount of ordnance used, and noted that it represented a 533% increase over the ordnance used during Operation Cast Lead in (2008-2009) on Gaza. (para. 409). At least 7,000 explosives wait to be recovered in Gaza. (para.575)
  • The U.N. Commission also examined events in the West Bank last summer, noting the murder of 3 Israeli teens (para.503) and the vicious murder of the Palestinian teen, Mohammad Abu Khdeir, (para.505). Israel’s Operation Brother’s Keeper included mass arrests, (para. 509) administrative detentions doubled last summer, (para. 513) approximately 1,400 houses were raided, (para. 519), punitive home demolitions (para.526) and there were serious restrictions on movement. (para.524). Between June 12 and August 26, 2014 — 27 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, including 5 kids, with over 3,100 injured. (para.533)  A well-known civil society activist was killed by a sniper in the Hebron area with IDF snipers stationed on rooftops. (para.536)

RECOMMENDATIONS:

The take-away message — accountability is the key.

The track record for holding anyone accountable is dismal. Following Operation Cast Lead (2008-09), 52 investigations were opened, 3 were prosecuted, resulting in 4 convictions, not against the most serious violations. Operation Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012) did not result in any criminal investigations. (para.650) 

A year following Operation Protective Edge, the only indictment has been for a relatively minor offense of theft while Israel has closed its criminal investigation into killing the 4 Bakr boys on the Gaza beach. (para.633)

Left to its own devices, Israel hasn’t shown itself capable of conducting credible investigations in the past, and prefers to obfuscate, discredit the U.N., find generals from other countries to bless its conduct of Operation Protective Edge, and weave its Orwellian tale about “enemy civilians” and being the “most moral army in the world.”

The Commission is concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed by the IDF, whether it be in the context of active hostilities in Gaza, or the killings, torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. (para.644)

Among the recommendations that jump out at me:

  • The U.N. Commission asks “both sides to refrain from making statements that dehumanize the other side, incite hatred and only serve to perpetuate a culture of violence.” (para.678)
  • Israel should implement the Turkel recommendations, an initiative of the State of Israel two years ago following the Mavi Marmara killings. I want to learn more about the Turkel recommendations. (para.662)
  • The State of Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute January 1, 2015 which gives the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute potential war crimes. Palestine also acceded to 7 of 9 core human rights treaties and one substantive protocol. The State of Israel has not acceded to the Rome Statute — it should. (para. 658, 659, 660, 681) Although Israel’s position is that its own internal investigation precludes an ICC investigation, I don’t agree. (para.661) The subject of another blog post.

Rumor has it that the next stop in securing justice for the victims is the ICC. The U.N. Commission’s Report will undoubtedly be an important part of the ICC’s deliberations.

Dahlia Scheindlin’s and Natasha Roth’s commentary “The oddity of finding hope while investigating war crimes” (July 1, 2015) is one of the best I’ve read about the U.N. Report. In it, Commissioner Diène summed up the investigation: “We have heard testimonies from people who have lost relatives, yet have expressed a very deep feeling for the suffering of the other side.” He went on: “The father of Mohammed Abu Khdeir told me that many Israelis came to his house to express their solidarity [after the murder of his son]. …On the other side, the [Israeli] mother of a 4-year-old child that was killed [by a Palestinian rocket] expressed very emotionally her deep thoughts for mothers on the Palestinian side. There was a human side to this war that was not really perceived by the outside world.”

…And that is what international human rights law and

humanitarian law is all about … the people!

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#47Traitors

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

That’s a lesson that 47 GOP Senators need to learn, and quick.

Their temerity in sending a letter drafted by freshman Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas, to the Iranian leaders is off the Richter Scale, way off. Their ignorance makes a mockery of the U.S. Senate. What a joke!

Except that  “Cotton is no fool; he is an Iraq war veteran with two Harvard degrees and has been called “the future of the GOP” and “Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent — a force to be reckoned with.”

senateseal

 

The New Yorker summarized the GOP letter this way: Dear Iran, Please don’t agree to halt your nuclear-weapons program, because we don’t like Barack Obama and, anyway, he’ll be gone soon.   Here is the letter — read it for yourself, and weep…..or laugh.

An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.

For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.

Sincerely,

Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY
Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL
Senator John McCain, R-AZ
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL
Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX
Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
Senator John Thune, R-SD
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
Senator David Vitter, R-LA
Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY
Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS
Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL
Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO
Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
Senator Rob Portman, R-OH
Senator John Boozman, R-AR
Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA
Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL
Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX
Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA
Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO
Senator James Lankford, R-OK
Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
Senator David Perdue, R-GA
Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC
Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA
Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK

________________________

These clowns will probably never be prosecuted for violating the Logan Act, a very old law (1799) that provides:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

The last indictment under the Logan Act was in 1803, but if there was ever a fact-pattern screaming to pull that law from the dustbin, this is it. These 47 Senators have invited the scorn and ridicule that is being hurled at them now.  See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and much more.  More than 165,000 Americans signed a petition in 2 days calling on the government to prosecute these scoundrels. But they’re certainly not apologetic. Louisiana Governor Jindal urges aspiring GOP 2016 candidates to sign on to the letter and Texas Governor Rick Perry says he would be “proud and honored” to sign the letter.

iran11n-2-web

 

The best response by far came from the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who said: “In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.”

He added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.” 

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with ‘the stroke of a pen,’ as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.” He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 [Britain, China, France, Germany Russia and the United States] result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.”

Senator Cotton and his colleagues should take a look at the United States Institute of Peace website, a treasure trove of scholarly information about Iran, before their next foray into foreign policy.

On the lighter side, I have a humble suggestion.

The Iranian Foreign Minister could invite Secretary Kerry, President Obama and all thoughtful Americans who wish to see a nuclear-free world to go live in Iran.

Senator Cotton, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the other hawks in the U.S. and Israel who are itching for a war could invite the hard-liners from Iran and Israel to move to the U.S. where like-minded belligerents could fight to their hearts content and leave the rest of us in peace.

Obama would, of course, have to destroy the U.S. nuclear arsenal before boarding ship.  I would join him.

 

 

 

 

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The Choir Cheers

Josh Ruebner ended his talk Wednesday with a standing ovation from the 50-75 members of the choir who showed up at the Mennonite Church in Albuquerque.

Josh Ruebner

Josh Ruebner

He was in town to promote his new book — Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books 2013). He certainly has the cred to speak and write about this topic. He’s the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and before that was an Analyst in the Middle East Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. And former President Jimmy Carter attended Josh’s High School graduation! (Carter’s grandson was a classmate.)

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By the nods throughout the room, Ruebner clearly had a friendly audience. They were probably well-informed about the atrocities that Israel perpetrated in Gaza this summer. No need to recite the facts, although Ruebner shared many.

Did you know that Israel killed 500 children in just 51 days in Gaza — more than the # of all Israelis killed by Palestinians in the past 10 years?

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Israel demolished more than 18,000 houses in Gaza this summer, leaving about 6% of the population homeless. By way of comparison, if the City of Albuquerque was occupied and the occupier made 6% of us homeless, approximately 33,000 of my neighbors would be on the streets.

The Israel Defense Forces (more appropriately the Israel Offense Forces or Israel Occupation Forces) knocked out the sole power plant in the Gaza Strip; with no power there is no sewage treatment plant and more than 15,000 tons of raw sewage was flowing onto the streets in Gaza. Some estimate it will take $7.8 Billion to rebuild Gaza, less than 3 years of U.S. military aid to Israel. Ruebner believes Americans owe Palestinians compensation because our active support of Israel enables these atrocities to occur. I agree.

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What was the U.S. response to Israel’s acts of aggression (aka massacres) in Gaza this summer? President Obama called it “self-defense” but what about Palestinians’ right to self-defense? When a reporter posed that same question to a State Department spokeswoman, she said the “idea was offensive.” Secretary Kerry labeled Israel’s actions “appropriate” and “legitimate” . . . this from the man who was trying to be an honest broker between the parties in the peace negotiations last year! And members of Congress passed resolutions cheering Israel’s attacks and condemning Hamas and its use of human shields. Obviously, Congress was a bit misinformed. There’s no evidence that Hamas or anyone else on that side used human shields, but there’s clear evidence that the IDF used a Palestinian teenager as a human shield for 5 days to search for tunnels.

Obama can’t say he’s concerned about civilian casualties and then turn around and re-arm the aggressor (Israel) when its stockpile of weapons runs low.

Ruebner has been criticized for picking on Obama, but he says Obama has perpetuated the failed policies of past Presidents and is fair game.

The type of brutality the world saw in Gaza this past summer is not new. We’ve seen it before — in 1948, 1982 and 2008-2009. Israeli politicians are demanding Netanyahu finish what was begun in 1948 with the ethnic cleansing and destruction  of 531 Palestinian towns and villages.

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Why did Kerry’s “so-called” peace negotiations fail? We must buy Ruebner’s book to get that scoop, but he pointed to this article in the New Republic, an expose about why the negotiations fell apart. Palestinians understand the big picture, Ruebner said, and they know they’ll never get a fair shake. What Israel and the U.S. are trying to do is impose “bantustans” South Africa-style on the Palestinians. Why are Israel and the U.S. surprised when the Palestinians reject this idea?

Ruebner says we’re seeing the end of this paradigm of imposing bantustans in Palestine. Israel can go down 1 of 2 paths in the next few years. The first, with a Knesset member calling this summer for the genocide of the Palestinians, what we witnessed in July/August could be the prelude to something much worse.

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However, there’s a more hopeful path — ending Apartheid and recognizing Palestinian human rights. Ruebner says the time has come for getting into the faces of our politicians. We must make them understand these two paths. At this point, Ruebner circulated a petition around the room calling on Obama to hold Israel accountable. The BDS movement (economic, cultural and academic) must be our rallying cry because Palestinians say they want our help to “lift the boot of oppression from their necks.”  The occupation and system of oppression could “topple in a blink of an eye.”

He finished to a rousing standing ovation and then took questions. The audience was engaged and wanted to know more. Questions about the Palestinians going to the ICC and how the military industrial complex in the U.S. and Israel are intermeshed (check this out). Ruebner said that the only demographic in the United States that supported Israel’s assault on Gaza this summer were the older, white, male, Republicans.

Watching the Presbyterians debate BDS this summer was amazing. While the vote passed by only a slim margin, no one stood up to support Israel’s actions in Gaza. Instead, they argued the efficacy of the BDS movement.

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Another bit of good news. The Jewish Voices for Peace email list jumped to more than 200,000 this summer. Every time Israel attacks Gaza and the Palestinians, Israel loses American support.

Ruebner concluded with an observation. Both Israel and the U.S. are immature states that haven’t been able to own up to their enslavement and killing of the indigenous people. When are we going to own up to our responsibility to do restorative justice, here and in Israel?

As the crowd moved to the back of the room to buy copies of Ruebner’s book, my “non-political, Jewish” friend and I left. She had come to this event at my invitation even though she worried it was going to be outside of her comfort zone. And it was.

Not the content — she seemed to agree with most everything Ruebner said, and didn’t doubt that Israel was responsible for many injustices against the Palestinians, including the atrocities this past summer. However, she felt like an outsider, not part of the choir, and decided she won’t engage further in this issue.

I’ve been mulling over her comments, thankful that she came and also thankful that she felt she could honestly share her reactions.

We need people, like my friend, to engage if we’re going to turn this ship-of-state (Congress) around and correct the injustices that our government has enabled and encouraged Israel to commit against the Palestinians. The choir, alone, can’t do it.

How could we bring people like my friend into the choir? I’m not sure. The venue for this event was safe and welcoming. The organizers were friendly. The speaker was knowledgeable and well-versed.

Speaking to a supportive choir, however, takes on a different tone than talking to a room full of neutrals or skeptics. The art of persuasion is different. The assumptions are different. Even the body language, I think, might be different.

The very first thing I might try, if I have the opportunity to speak to an audience about Gaza, is to acknowledge that some in the room might be on the fence or unsure about how they feel about this issue. Then I might tell them that I value their opinion and thank them for taking the chance to push through the zone of discomfort to attend. Of course, I wouldn’t single anyone out.

Finally, I would invite members of the audience to write questions or comments on 3 x 5 cards in order to maintain some of that anonymity that newcomers usually seek. And I would tell the audience — “If you are on the fence or inclined to walk away after I’ve finished my presentation, then I’ve failed. Please help me understand how I could be more persuasive next time because there are lives in Gaza depending on it.”

Shujaya family

Shujaya 9

 

 

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Ceasefire conditions

Two friends — one a Hasidic Jew who supports Israel and the other a solidarity activist who supports the Palestinians — asked me for my recommendations to end the bloodshed in Gaza.

Here goes.

#1  Have a clear understanding of the current position of each side. 

Every Palestinian I’ve talked with says the same thing – “We would rather die together with our families than return to the status quo which was a slow death with no dignity. No ceasefire unless Israel lifts the 7-year siege.” Hamas makes the same demands.

Netanyahu can’t give Hamas a “win” by lifting the siege. He wants to eliminate the tunnels between Gaza and Israel and a demilitarized Gaza. He’s also stated he wants to eliminate Hamas altogether because he views Hamas as an existential threat to the State of Israel.

#2  The mediator must be neutral.

OK …. I know that’s an obvious point but apparently it’s beyond the comprehension of President Obama who has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate a ceasefire. Kerry has no street cred with either side. I won’t explain the whole long sorry tale here but suffice it to say, the parties need a neutral mediator to help them hammer out a lasting agreement.

Since most nations of the world have already taken sides in this match, I think the United Nations is the only party capable of serving in that capacity.

#3  Israel and Hamas must talk with each other.

I know, I know, I know. Israel doesn’t recognize Hamas and refuses to endow it with any legitimacy by talking or negotiating with Hamas. The mediator can ferry messages back and forth between the parties if the two can’t sit in the same room, but a viable ceasefire will not come through dictates (as Israel and Egypt attempted a few days ago). There must be honest and transparent negotiations and both sides must be treated as equals.

#4  The Rule of Law must govern.

This should be a no brainer but it’s not acknowledged, and it should be. Both sides must be held to the rule of law. Israel doesn’t want the responsibilities or legal duties that flow from the Law of Occupation. Israel claims the right of self-defense and Hamas claims the right of self-defense but both endanger innocent civilians in contravention of international law and the laws of war. Unless the world is descending into lawless anarchy, the mediator must stipulate the ground rules — and the Law of Occupation, International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, etc. must be the basis for any negotiation.

#5  Address the legitimate needs of both sides.

The State of Israel needs security but can’t bomb its way to a sustainable peace with its neighbors. The people in Gaza need the suffocating siege lifted. Each side has more demands that will require more trust before compromises can be made, but to end the bloodshed now, these two issues (Israel’s security and lifting the siege on Gaza) must be addressed immediately.

Since every indication is that Netanyahu is not inclined to lift the siege, he needs outside “help” to make the right decision. It’s time for sticks, not carrots. Ideally, President Obama should signal his intention to withhold $8.5 million per day that the U.S. sends to support Israel’s military. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not proven to be a very effective partner for peace in the Middle East despite Obama’s words to the contrary. So the EU and others who have already taken steps to wield some serious sticks at Israel should be counseled to do so now.

In exchange for lifting the siege, the tunnels between Gaza and Israel should be dismantled under the supervision of an international body. This must be documented to the satisfaction of Israel and the community of nations.

There’s much more that could be said —- should be said —- about the occupation and the long-term prospects of co-existence. For the time being, the bloodshed must end. The rule of law must prevail.

As international correspondent Jon Snow says — “We can each make a difference if we care.”

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