Tag Archives: Richard Falk

Commonsense on Syria

How do we know what we think we know about events happening in foreign lands faraway?

Americans searching for the truth (or those with a radical curiosity, as my friend Eric Maddox calls it) have several options: (1) the mainstream media, (2) the alternative media like Democracy Now, (3) reports from human rights NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, (4) personal reports from people we trust, and (5) with our own eyes if we visit.

FSA in Cairo

FSA fighter with Lora in Cairo

What I know about the very complex situation in Syria comes from 1 thru 4 (I’ve never been to Syria) and also from a handful of Syrians who have managed to flee their country. I spoke with them through an interpreter in Cairo.

I’ve shared my thoughts about Syria from time to time on this blog; never shy about treading on topics I know little about.

So when I learned that Just World Educational was organizing a series of virtual seminars on Syria during this time of COVID-19 self-isolation, I was very interested.  Commonsense on Syria is a full agenda of experts and topics — all free. Check out the ten sessions planned through April 25th and register here

Helena Cobban, the Founder and President of Just World Educational, doesn’t shy away from controversy. During the second seminar, freelance journalist Vanessa Beeley, with extensive experience in Syria, and Professor Richard Falk, an expert on international law, sparred over their disagreements but it was respectful.  Ms. Cobban was blasted by some activists for even including Beeley on her program.

Personally, I’m pretty dismissive of Ms. Beeley. Reading her writing from afar, she strikes me as an apologist for Bashar Assad. Nothing she said during the seminar changed my opinion. The full video of that session is available here: bit.ly/COS-2-video

Max BlumenthalJournalist Max Blumenthal, on the other hand, has earned my respect even if I don’t agree with him on everything. His books — Goliath – Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013) and The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015) — are critical resources for anyone with a “radical curiosity” about the Middle East. I’ve ordered his new book, “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump” (2019).

In the third seminar, Helena and Max discussed how the commonly-accepted narrative in the West about Syria is all wrong.  They assert the mainstream media, the alternative media, and the human rights NGOs have all been duped into believing and propagating a “regime change narrative.” Helena and Max contend the “proxy war” in Syria to depose President Assad has played out predictably as the imperialist U.S. government and other outside forces have scripted. 

Max says he’s been shunned by some leftists in the Palestine solidarity community because of his views on Syria. I can believe that because I also have felt the cold shoulder from some solidarity activists. If you don’t tow their ideological line about Israel – Palestine, you’re dismissed from the cult.  Ironically, their black and white, binary thinking has taught me so much. (More about those lessons in a later blog post.)

Both Helena Cobban and Max Blumenthal are smart and well-informed analysts. They cite convincing arguments to support their position, some of which I can agree with —- such as the devastating impacts of U.S. sanctions on the Syrian people. But I can’t help but wonder about the frame of discourse they’ve adopted.

While their narrative of a “proxy war” competes with the opposing frame of those who oppose Assad — the only truth I’m convinced of is that the vast majority of Syrians have suffered at the hands of Assad and foreign actors, have been victimized by the U.S. sanctions, and continue to be largely forgotten by most Americans and the international community. 

Dead Syrian boyIt’s frustrating, but understandable, that we want to lay blame somewhere.  Some want to blame President Bashar Assad, others believe the blame falls squarely on the foreign actors who have been battling Assad’s military.  I suspect, however, that the young Syrian doctor I met in Cairo in January 2013, who fled for his life and succeeded in starting a new life in Europe, cares less about placing blame and more about helping his countrymen.  Lets not forget Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy who washed up on the beach.




Filed under People, Politics, US Policy

Shine some solar in Gaza

Some solar entrepreneurs in Israel have decided to shine some light in Africa, Haiti, Romania and a dozen other countries.   Yosef Abramowitz says his Arava Power Company, which established Israel’s largest solar field to generate electricity, plans to deploy $20 billion by 2020 to build 10,000 megawatts and supply green energy to 50 million people.”

The company now has a 4.9-megawatt field up and running, nine fields under construction, and plans for forty more energy projects in Israel over the next three years, including the first solar field on Bedouin land. Their goal is to eventually supply one tenth of Israel’s power.

Abramowitz has been dubbed Captain Sunshine and three times nominated for a Nobel Prize.

The inauguration of Israel's first solar field, at a kibbutz in the Negev desert, on June 5, 2011. (photo: Matthew Bell)

The inauguration of Israel’s first solar field, at a kibbutz in the Negev desert, on June 5, 2011. (photo: Matthew Bell)


What about the Gaza Strip, probably just miles from his kibbutz in the Negev desert?   Nearly 1.7 million Palestinians are sitting in the dark several hours every day without electricity.

Generators sitting on the sidewalks with extension cords running into the business.  Very common sight in Gaza.

Generators sitting on the sidewalks with extension cords running into the business.  A very common sight in Gaza.

Schools, hospitals and businesses rely on diesel-burning generators when the power goes off, obnoxiously loud and polluting.  Children do their homework by candlelight.  People are dying when burning candles set fires in the houses.

Battery-powered lanterns found in many homes.

Battery-powered lanterns found in many homes.

In June 2006, Israel destroyed Gaza’s power plant in retaliation for the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit.  Power has never been completely restored.

The current capacity for electricity supply in the Gaza Strip is 242 MW (as of summer 2011).

The Gaza Strip receives most of its power, 120 MW, from Israel, while up to 100 MW are produced at the only power plant in Gaza, and 22 MW are imported from Egypt. Under ideal circumstances, this adds up to 242 MW versus a peak demand of up to 350 MW in 2011. By 2020, the peak demand for electricity in the Gaza Strip will be 550 MW, more than twice what is supplied today.   See Gaza in 2020: A liveable place?

We played a game of Risk sitting in the dark.

We played a game of Risk sitting in the dark.

Gaza has plenty of sun.  I know, I saw it.  Shouldn’t Israel (as the occupying power) be helping Gaza become energy independent?  In fact, Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur, made that very recommendation in his report to the UN Human Rights Council on June 10, 2013, available here.

This is very frustrating.  A feasible solution to a serious problem could be deployed in a very short time, but Israeli officials aren’t talking about it, and the private sector in Israel appears more interested in helping with humanitarian efforts in Africa.

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Filed under Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, United Nations

Richard Falk makes recommendations; US and Israel boycott UN debate

Israel asserts that it no longer occupies the Gaza Strip after it evacuated 9000 Jewish settlers, dismantled 21 settlements, and removed all of its soldiers in August 2005 from this 360 square mile territory; but even without their boots on the ground it’s difficult to understand how Israeli officials can keep a straight face when they make that claim.

Just try to enter the Gaza Strip by air (Israel controls the air space over Gaza and destroyed Gaza’s only airport in December 2001); or by sea (Israel controls the sea and murdered 9 Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara trying to reach Gaza by sea in May 2010); or by land.  Israel controls the border and the 5 crossings into the Gaza Strip (Erez, Karni, Sufa, Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom). Farmers in Gaza know very well that their lives are at risk if they venture into the buffer zone near the border with Israel.

From the Nov. 21 cease-fire to the end of May, four Palestinian civilians have been killed and 123 injured in the buffer zone by Israeli forces, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, up from 3 deaths and 80 injuries in the same period the previous year. (Maan, the Palestinian news agency, reported that another man was shot in the thigh while picking watermelons on Sunday.)

Lawyer Noura Erakat makes a good argument that Israel maintains “effective control” over Gaza.   

United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk managed to enter the Gaza Strip (probably through the Rafah crossing with Egypt) last December for a short visit.  What he found did not please him.

Richard Falk

Richard Falk

Today Falk, an American professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, told a meeting of the Human Rights Council (both Israel and the United States boycotted the debate) that Israel is imposing collective punishment on 1.75 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the enclave’s viability is at stake.  

That actually is not new news.  Last August, the UN issued a report that predicts Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.  But who is listening?

Falk’s June 2013 report is available here and his recommendations include:

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross or a commission of inquiry composed of relevant international law experts should convene to examine issues particular to prolonged occupation and move toward a convention to address such occupations;
  • Israel must allow Palestinians to make use of their maritime area, up to 20 nautical miles in line with its commitments under the Oslo Agreements;
  • Israel should lift its illegal blockade of Gaza and clearly demarcate access restricted areas (ARAs). ARAs can only be established in line with applicable international legal standards and commitments undertaken by the State of Israel;
  • The international community, with Israel’s full cooperation, should finance the construction of a major desalination facility in Gaza; install solar networks for heat and electricity; and urgently improve sewage treatment to avoid further polluting of the Mediterranean Sea;
  • The international community, with Israel’s full cooperation and in direct consultation with farmers in Gaza, should support a shift in agricultural production in Gaza to less water-intensive crops, including by facilitating improved access to seeds; should support the improvement of irrigation networks; and should ensure that farmers can utilize their farmland;
  • The international community, with Israel’s full cooperation, should create a private patients’ fund that could be drawn upon to support medical treatment outside of Gaza as needed;
  • The international community should establish a commission of inquiry into the situation of Palestinians detained or imprisoned by Israel. This inquiry should have a broad mandate, to examine Israel’s track record of impunity for prison officials and others who interrogate Palestinians;
  • The international community should investigate the activities of businesses that profit from Israel’s settlements, and take appropriate action to end any activities in occupied Palestine and ensure appropriate reparation for affected Palestinians;
  • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the support of the Human Rights Council, should establish a mechanism to support Special Rapporteurs who are subject to defamatory attacks, especially those that divert attention from the substantive human rights concerns relevant to their respective mandates.

I wonder if we’ll hear a peep about this debate at the United Nations on the Nightly News.  I doubt it.


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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, United Nations