Moving Beyond War

The longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict engenders strong feelings on both sides, with the Palestinians citing decades of oppression and the Israelis recalling a long history of abuse and genocide. But Winslow Myers suggests that the principles of Gandhi offer hope.

By Winslow Myers

The seemingly intractable discord between Israel and Palestine not only continues to cause enormous suffering and anxiety, but also to reverberate around the planet as a kind of symbol of all our conflicts in what we might call the post-nuclear age.

The mid-20th century superpowers were forced to admit, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis, that war at the nuclear level was self-defeating, a victory only for war itself, not for the participants.

Isn’t that ultimately true for all wars, large or small? Yet the world continues to divide along the Israeli-Palestinian fault-line, almost as if one had to have an adversary to be clear in one’s identity.

The conflict has functioned as an iconic symbol of general feelings of fear or powerlessness or injustice, let alone claims to the same territory, that give rise to the best or the worst in us as we humans try to resolve our endless differences.

It is symbolic in a darker and more specific sense for the Arab world, where, even as the Arab Spring flourishes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has encouraged anti-Semitic stereotypes and still energizes the hatred of extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

Not all conflicts involve sides with equally legitimate aspirations. Few would recognize the legitimacy of drug cartels to dominate and corrupt the governments of whole nations like Mexico or Afghanistan.

And in the United States, there is a growing recognition that some financial institutions have profited obscenely by betting against markets and throwing millions into poverty, avoiding criminal prosecution through their power over elected officials. Even now a new “Arab Spring”-like protest against insufficiently regulated corporate power is growing in many cities across the United States.

It is the rough equality of the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ and the Israelis’ demands for security and land that makes that conflict particularly difficult.

The Jewish people have a history that has earned them the right to a certain realistic paranoia about adversaries. The Palestinians are legitimately concerned by the expansionist impulse of Jewish settlers who create more “facts on the ground” as each year passes without resolution.

The issue has tied the United States government in ethical knots as it tries to maintain its traditional support for Israel while not condoning Jewish expansion into territory that might lie within a future Palestinian state.

President Barack Obama, caught in a difficult political position, nevertheless said one true thing in his latest appearance before the United Nations:

“Each side has legitimate aspirations, and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes.”

This rough equality is why, in spite of the contortions candidates for high office in the U.S. must undergo to stay in the good graces of a powerful Israeli lobbying effort, and also in spite of the fact that Hamas still refuses to accept Israeli’s right to exist, President Obama had it right when he said that each side must learn to see with each others’ eyes.

Seeing with each other’s eyes must begin with self-examination, because the conflict also represents the universal human propensity to externalize what some Islamic scholars have called the Greater Jihad, our struggle with ourselves and our own shadow-side, into a Lesser Jihad, a zero-sum game in which we simplify “enemies” into stereotypes who are different from us and wish us ill.

This is happening not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also Pashtuns and Tajiks, Shias and Sunnis, and let’s not forget Democrats and Republicans.

The insight, or inter-sight, of empathy is not a political act in the usual way we think of politics as competitive jockeying for power. It is something that takes place on a deeper level, within and between individual people.

It requires the sharing of separate stories that take their place in the common story of what everyone wants for their children, a world without genocidal weapons, drug violence, militarism, or financial institutions that have forgotten their obligation to the common good.

Empathy as a principle can seep into politics as a refusal to take sides, a refusal to define ourselves negatively in terms of whom we fear and hate, an embrace of global citizenship that looks for what is best for the whole.

The world we want for our children, for all children, cannot and will not be a world without conflict.

Still, we can build a world where, from the time they are very young, children grow up understanding that conflict and difference are not negative, but an opportunity for examining ourselves in the spirit of Greater Jihad, for learning the skills of everyday peace-building, and for moving toward creative resolution of conflict on the basis of common aspirations.

The ultimate implications of the Arab Spring for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are still unclear.

The paradigm of violence, “an eye for an eye,” still holds our world in the balance, but as citizens both in the Middle East and the United States turn increasingly to non-violent assembly and protest, we are witnessing the possibility of something new that is both political and beyond politics, a movement into the mainstream of Gandhian tactics of non-violence and creative initiative.

May everything we think and do further this new spirit of true reciprocity, the dawning realization that we are all in this together.

Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Board of Beyond War (www.beyondwar.org), a non-profit educational foundation whose mission is to explore, model and promote the means for humanity to live without war.

 




US Military Takes Lead on Anti-Gay Bias

Curiously, it has often fallen to the U.S. military to take the lead in changing the society’s patterns of discrimination, even as churches sometimes lag. After World War II, the military took up the fight against racial bias. Today, the target is bigotry against gays, as Rev. Howard Bess notes.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

A great milestone was reached this past month when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was officially ended. The military services of the United States are now leading the nation in implementing the end of discrimination against gay people.

With their new freedom, men and women are sharing their stories about serving their country with honor while hiding their sexual identity. Thousands of young people will continue to come out of their closets to tell their stories.

This past week, I read in Time Magazine the story of Lt. Karl Johnson, a gay Air Force Pilot. As I read of the injustices and pain that Lt. Johnson had endured to serve his country, I was both sad and angry.

My mind went to the thousands of young people who have been discharged from the American military because of their sexual orientation. My mind went to those, who like Lt. Johnson, endured the discrimination and continued to serve with honor.

I am embarrassed that the primary force behind gay discrimination has been my fellow Christians.  Clergy, churches and denominations have been leaders in the denial of acceptance and human rights of our gay neighbors. Many clergy have known better but succumbed to the pressure of the pew.

I find myself both sad and angry that the U.S. military is operating with a higher ethical standard than Christian churches.

I was impressed with the maturity of Lt. Karl Johnson. In the telling of his story, his focus was not on the indignities that he and others had suffered. The focus was on the new day that was being ushered in. He was putting the past behind and looking forward to his new day as an Air Force pilot.

I consider the proclamation of the new day to be central to the Christian message. Sometimes we refer to it as the experience of being born again. Embracing born-again theology means that we believe none of the negatives of the past need determine our futures.

In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes “one thing I do, forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead.” He goes on to insist that it is this perspective that marks maturity.

Paul described the goal of his future as the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” As long as he kept his focus on that goal, the hurts of the past did not matter.

The dynamic of which Paul wrote does not change the past. He had been jailed, beaten and treated shabbily by many. He does not show any bitterness about what has happened to him. He believed that the past had no power over him because he was focused on the future.

“One thing I do, forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead.” It is a message that is good for individuals, communities, nations and the world.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net.




Washington Protest Stays Put

Across the United States, the 99 Percent Movement is occupying more and more parks to protest America’s growing economic inequality. In Washington DC, activist Kevin Zeese reports on the protest at Freedom Plaza near the Treasury building.

By Kevin Zeese

On Sunday night, our permit officially ran out in Freedom Plaza. Early in the evening the police reminded us our permit ended at 10 p.m. and they “had to do their job.”

We held an emergency meeting of many of the organizers and decided to stay. We took it to the General Assembly (see 1:49:22 of video) which agreed.

We were in solidarity Freedom Park was paid for by our tax dollars; the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law abridging” our right to freedom of speech and right to assemble to redress grievances against the government. We had grievances, so we were staying.

We decided to dance until the police came for us. We dancedand our unity grew stronger.  Margaret Flowers and I went up on the stage and danced before a massive replica of the Constitution, “We the People in order to form a more perfect union.”

We went to the stage so we could watch for police action.  As the permit holders we felt a responsibility to everyone there.  We wanted to warn them if we saw the police coming.

The rhythm of the drummers combined with electric music to create a pulsating beat that mixed in with our chants:

We are the 99 Percent
We are the 99 Percent
The People United Will Never Be Defeated
The People United Will Never Be Defeated
Doesn’t Congress Know: We Are the 99 Percent
Doesn’t Obama Know: We Are the 99 Percent
The 1% Should Know: We Are the 99 Percent

We danced, danced, people held hands in lines TOGETHER, circling the front of the Freedom Plaza encampment.  On the stage ten or so of us danced in unison, TOGETHER, clapping, moving, back and forth, back and forth.

Unity grew in the threat of police action and with our solidarity in not fearing it in knowing that if the police destroyed our encampment and arrested us, our movement would grow.  We would be replaced.  We would return.  Repression would lead to a bigger occupation, not a smaller one.

Margaret and I were told that three police had just walked alongside the Pennsylvania Avenue side of Freedom Plaza seemingly counting how many of us there were. We decided to go meet with them.  We approached the officers behind the stage. They were friendly and so were we.

We too were united in the reality of the economic insecurity of the 99 percent. We shared concerns about today’s youth, leaving school with more debt than any generation before and the worst job market for youth that any of could remember.

We talked about the unfair foreclosures created by a banker-created housing bubble that inflated prices beyond affordability; about the death of Americans because they can’t get health care. We talked about the wealth disparity seen in the annual IRS report of the wealthiest 400 Americans 400 people with the wealth of 154 million, paying taxes at a rate of half of middle-class Americans.

We all agreed they did not acquire that wealth because they were smarter and worked harder. We know some of the hardest-working Americans are paid the least. We all knew of the deep corruption that led to economic disparity. We knew the unfairness.

We all see President Obama charging $38,500 to attend his fundraisers more than the individual median income of Americans; and wonder what promises he is making for those bribe-donations? How will the economic unfairness be made worse by his billion-dollar campaign?

One officer told us he had a four-year-old daughter.  I told him about my two sons who are in their 20s, Margaret about her children in their teens.  We were united. The 99 percent wants a more perfect union.

The police told us there would be no arrests that night.  In fact, we had been out of compliance with the permit from the first day and we could have been arrested days ago.

The law does not allow sleeping in the park, the first night we developed a euphemism that the police joined in we were not sleeping, we were “deeply resting.”  That night we agreed to wake people before the media arrived from their “rest.”

As the occupation grew, the violations of the rules grew.  People put up tents the courts have always upheld the “no camping” rule in federal parks, but people knew their civil resistance history. Sometimes the simplest things led to the most dramatic changes.

Americans have been inspired by sitting on a bus too close to the front, sitting at a lunch counter where they were not allowed, sleeping in a ditch outside President George W. Bush’s ranch so people camped in a federal park doing a common human experience, sleeping.

Why are we doing this? Why are hundreds of occupations developing across the United States?

Because the people need to take power from the political and economic elites who have destroyed the economy and have us trapped in war quagmires around the world; because we need to END CORPORATE RULE that favors gluttonous profits for the wealthiest while the basic necessities of tens of millions are not met; because we need to immediately end wars of the American empire that have literally killed and displaced millions of innocent people.

We occupy to create a more perfect union where participatory democracy replaces the rule of concentrated wealth.

Now the police are telling the media that our permit ends on Monday at 2 p.m. the time the permit allowed for clean up. But, today at noon the Constitution will still say: “Congress shall make no law abridging” . . . and the occupation will continue.

Kevin Zeese is an organizer for the Occupation of Washington, DC, in Freedom Plaza and co-director of Its Our Economy and co-chair of Come Home America.




Baby-Snatching: Argentine Dirty Secret

From the Archive: In Argentina, a case of a 35-year-old woman may finally prove that military officers in the Dirty War of the 1970s had a systemic scheme for stealing babies from female dissidents who were murdered. In this 1997 article, Argentine journalist Marta Gurvich examined one of these shocking cases.

By Marta Gurvich

Pablo and Carolina, 19 and 21 respectively, were raised as brother and sister in a seemingly respectable Argentine family. With their father a doctor and their mother a teacher, the pair grew up in middle-class neighborhoods, attended good schools and wanted for little.

But now as young adults, Pablo and Carolina are caught up in one of the last active disputes of Argentina’s so-called Dirty War — and it is one that rips at the very heart of human relations. They find themselves in a legal battle over a terrible historical legacy in which their true identities play a central part, a murder mystery about the fate of their real mothers.

Pablo and Carolina, however, seem to sense that the truth could shatter any hopes of a normal life as well as their relationships with the couple that raised them, Norberto Atilio Bianco and Susana Wehrli.

While Pablo and Carolina remain in Paraguay out of the reach of Argentine law, Bianco and Wehrli have faced extradition to Argentina and are now imprisoned for kidnapping and suppression of their children’s true identities.

“I have no doubts that my real parents are the couple Bianco-Wehrli,” Pablo told a judge in Paraguay on May 10. “The only thing that I want is to continue with my life, with my parents, the Biancos, my wife and my daughter, and my sister.”

In another passionate statement, Carolina declared that all the family’s progress and education could be credited to the Biancos’s love and dedication.

When the two young adults refused to give blood samples for DNA testing sought by an Argentine court, a Paraguayan judge ruled there would be no compelled genetic testing. The Argentine judge Roberto Marquevich fumed, “I can only guess that perhaps there is a so-called loyalty in Paraguay towards those who were part of military governments in Latin America.”

Beyond establishing the parentage of Pablo and Carolina, the DNA tests could help clarify Dr. Bianco’s suspected role as an accomplice in the murders of his children’s real mothers and the deaths of many other pregnant women under his care.

Bianco, as a military doctor in the 1970s, is accused of collaborating in one of the Dirty War’s most gruesome practices: the harvesting of babies from women facing death for their suspected leftist political views.

Death Flights

According to testimony given to Argentina’s truth commission, Bianco oversaw nighttime Caesarian sections or induced early deliveries on women captives. A few minutes after the deliveries, Bianco pulled the babies away from sobbing mothers, according to witnesses who were at the Campo de Mayo military hospital.

Bianco then drove the women to a military airport. There, they were sedated, shackled together with other captives in groups of 30, and loaded onto a Hercules military cargo plane.

At about 11 p.m. at night, the plane flew out over the dark water of the Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean. According to the testimony, the new mothers and other victims were shoved into the water to drown.

Back at the hospital, witnesses said, some of the babies were dispatched to orphanages but most were divvied up among the Argentine military officers, especially those whose wives could not bear children. The babies sometimes arrived at their new homes wrapped in army coats.

During the Dirty War, which raged from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, Argentina’s military “disappeared” thousands of Argentines, as many as 30,000, according to some human rights estimates.

Captives from all walks of life were systematically tortured, raped and murdered, sometimes drowned and other times buried in mass graves. After the military government collapsed in 1983, a truth commission began documenting the grisly events. But the mysteries of the missing babies were among the hardest to solve.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group formed in 1977 to search for these babies, estimated that as many as 500 infants were born in the detention camps. After years of detective work, the Grandmothers documented the identities of 256 missing babies.

Of those, however, only 56 children were ever located and seven of them had died. Aided by recent breakthroughs in genetic testing, the Grandmothers returned 31 of the children to their biological families. Thirteen were raised jointly by their adoptive and biological families, and six cases have been tied up in court custody battles.

But the Bianco criminal case gained public attention because an agronomist named Abel Madariaga has pressed a legal claim that his son may have been kidnapped by Bianco, who also allegedly participated in murdering the boy’s mother, Madariaga’s wife, Silvia Quintela. The Grandmothers have supported Madariaga’s efforts to solve the case.

A Missing Mother

The story of Madariaga’s lost son began more than two decades ago, on the morning of Jan. 17, 1977. Silvia Quintela, then 28 and four-months pregnant with her first child, was walking along Hipolito Irigoyen Street, a middle-class neighborhood in a suburb of Buenos Aires.

It was summer in South America and the slight brown-haired woman, a medical doctor by training, planned to meet a friend at a train station and then head downtown.

Like many other Argentines, Silvia Quintela was a Peronista, a follower of the populist military officer and political leader, Juan Peron. During her studies at the School of Medicine in Buenos Aires, Quintela and her husband had been members of the Juventud Peronista (the Peronist Youth).

As a surgeon, Silvia Quintela had treated the poor at a small clinic in the town of Beccar, near a shantytown called La Cava. She also was active in the province’s medical association.

In 1973, Peron won election as president, but his death the next year put his third wife, Isabel, in office. In 1976, with inflation running rampant and political turmoil spreading, the military seized power.

In secret, military death squads began rounding up and eliminating thousands of political opponents. A chilling new word entered the lexicon of repression: “the disappeared.”

Amnesty International verified some cases of illegal detentions and killings. But on Dec. 31, 1976, Henry Kissinger’s State Department assured Congress that “torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment have not been general practice in Argentina.”

Less than three weeks later, Silvia Quintela became one of the Army’s growing number of targets.

At about 9:30 a.m., Jan. 17, three Ford Falcons screeched to a stop around Quintela. Men in civilian clothes jumped out of the cars and grabbed her. They forced her into one of the Falcons and sped away.

That afternoon, seven men broke into the home of Silvia’s mother, Luisa Quintela. After tearing up the rooms, they told Mrs. Quintela that her daughter had been arrested.

Immediately, Luisa Quintela and Madariaga began searching for Silvia. But Madariaga’s life was in danger, too, so he fled Argentina, seeking political asylum in Brazil and later in Sweden. But wherever he went, Madariaga asked Argentines who had escaped the detention camps what they might know about Silvia.

Protesting the Horror

Back in Argentina, women whose sons and daughters had disappeared founded a group called Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, named after the plaza in front of the Pink House (the presidential offices). Each Thursday, the women would don white kerchiefs and march around the plaza carrying photos of their missing children.

Because of the number of pregnant women who had disappeared a second group was founded called Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The Grandmothers looked for the babies in orphanages, examined records of adoptions and collected information from nurses and doctors who had treated the pregnant women and their babies.

As international concern mounted, Patricia Derian, President Jimmy Carter’s new assistant secretary of state for human rights, made the Argentine Dirty War one of her top causes. Though the Argentine military denounced Derian’s interference, the lives of some high-profile captives were spared.

But the Argentine military had U.S. allies, too, including Ronald Reagan, a Republican presidential aspirant who defended the generals. In one radio commentary, Reagan urged Derian to “walk a mile in the moccasins” of the Argentine officers before criticizing them.

After Reagan won the White House in 1980, he restored friendly ties with the generals. Reagan even authorized the CIA to collaborate with Argentine intelligence in training the Nicaraguan contra rebels in Honduras.

But the days of the dictatorship were numbered. In 1982, the British defeated Argentina in a war over the Falkland Islands and the disgraced military regime collapsed.

To resolve the cases of the “disappeared,” the new president Raul Alfonsin created a truth commission, known as CONADEP. Madariaga also returned to Argentina and searched for his wife. In the following months, the story of Silvia Quintela and her baby slowly came into focus.

Testifying before CONADEP, Beatriz Castiglione de Covarrubias, a survivor of the Campo de Mayo detention center, recognized a photo of Silvia Quintela and recalled that Quintela was held at the camp while her pregnancy progressed.

Juan Scarpetti, another Campo de Mayo survivor, reported that Quintela gave him medical treatment when he arrived unconscious. When he awoke, he recognized Quintela whom he had known when they were both members of the Juventad Peronista. Scarpetti testified that Quintela gave birth to a boy sometime during the second quarter of 1977, but he never saw her again.

Experimental Treatments

At the Campo de Mayo hospital, according to other witnesses, pregnant women were kept under guard and either blindfolded or forced to wear black sunglasses.

Even during labor, the women were tied hand and foot to their beds. Some were given experimental treatments to accelerate the births. Others were subjected to Caesarian sections. Witnesses identified Major Norberto Atilio Bianco as one of the doctors in charge.

Dr. Silvia Cecilia Bonsignore de Petrillo testified that on one Sunday in 1977, she was called in from home to perform an urgent Caesarian. When she arrived, she found soldiers patrolling the floor and Bianco in his military uniform.

Bianco ordered Bonsignore to operate on a pregnant woman he had brought to the hospital. Bonsignore recalled that the patient was a thin woman with dark hair.

“She cried inconsolably during the Caesarian,” said Bonsignore, who called the surgery “the bitterest moment” of her life. Bonsignore did not know the woman’s identity.

Another camp doctor, Jorge Comaleras, testified that Bianco was in charge of removing the mothers after they gave birth. Bianco took them in his own car, a Ford Falcon, Comaleras said.

The women were driven to the airfield at Campo de Mayo, where the Hercules cargo planes departed shortly before midnight. The planes headed toward the Atlantic and returned about an hour later empty.

Silvia Quintela apparently was put aboard one of the death flights, the Grandmothers concluded.

But the fate of Quintela’s son remained a mystery. Madariaga discovered that during the Dirty War, Bianco and his wife, Susana Wehrli, registered two children as their own: a girl, Carolina, in October 1976, and a boy, Pablo, on Sept. 1, 1977.

But no one had seen Wehrli pregnant and a friend recalled that Wehrli once confided that the babies were adopted. The birth certificates were purportedly signed by two doctors who worked with Bianco, but the courts concluded that the certificates were bogus.

Genetic Testing

Based on the testimony about Silvia Quintela giving birth to a son in the second quarter of 1977 and the Sept. 1 date on the boy’s birth certificate, Madariaga suspected that Pablo Bianco might be Silvia’s and his baby.

In the Argentine Federal Criminal Court, Madariaga accused Bianco of kidnapping. Madariaga demanded a genetic test of Pablo to determine the boy’s true identity.

In 1987, an Argentine judge ordered the Biancos’ arrest, but the couple had fled. After Bianco and his wife were located in Asuncion, Paraguay, the judge sought their extradition back to Argentina. But a Paraguayan judge blocked the transfer, leading to a prolonged legal battle while the Biancos lived under a form of house arrest in Asuncion.

When I reached Bianco by phone twice in Paraguay, he was eerily calm and polite, seemingly determined to present an image as a reasonable person.

“I won’t defend myself in the press,” the exiled doctor said, his voice under control. “I’ve presented my case to the courts. This is the position I’ve been holding in silence for many years and I won’t change now.”

Bianco insisted that he had always acted “in accordance with the Geneva Conventions for a military doctor in an anti-subversive war or in any other war.” He added obliquely: “Those of us who have acted in good faith are suffering this disgrace.”

Not wanting to sound “authoritarian,” Bianco asked that I voluntarily end our second conversation so that he would not be forced to hang up.

After their long-delayed extradition to Argentina, Bianco and Wehrli conceded in court that they were not the biological parents of Pablo and Carolina, but denied that they had kidnapped the children. The couple insisted that they had the consent of the biological mothers but the court record did not make clear who the mothers were or how the supposed permission was obtained.

To determine the real identity of the children, Judge Marquevich again urged Paraguay to conduct a genetic analysis on the two children. But Pablo and Carolina balked.

“I refuse to give a sample of my blood,” Pablo told the Paraguayan judge.

Carolina added, “Now that I’m a mother of two children I have understood that you have to leave the selfish behind. What the Grandmothers don’t understand is that what they are doing is characterized by hatred and selfishness. Their goal is to succeed in the legal claim, without noticing our fate.”

So the mystery continues. For Madariaga, who lost a wife in the Dirty War, there is only a distant hope that he might still find the son he never knew. “I would love to find him in Pablo,” Madariaga said. “But I cannot dream about it. The only way to know is through the genetic analysis.”

And that analysis, if it ever happens, still seems a long way off.

Update: Since Marta Gurvich’s article in 1997, the mystery has continued about who was the real mother of Pablo Bianco. However, a DNA test in 2010 concluded that a different kidnapped baby was Silvia Quintela’s son. It is believed that Pablo may have been the son of another woman, Beatriz Recchia, a friend of Silvia’s who was detained in the same time frame and who was four months pregnant at the time.




Israeli Rightists Threaten Arab Civilians

Israel’s right-wing leaders feel they can count on U.S. politicians to rubber-stamp pretty much whatever Israel does to the Palestinians, with some extremist rabbis even glorifying the racist mass murderer Baruch Goldstein. Which leaves Lawrence Davidson wondering what it will take to change behavior in Washington and Tel Aviv.

By Lawrence Davidson

In his speech to Congress on May 24, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that “of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights.”

This is, of course, a variation on the oft-cited claim that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Leaving aside places like Lebanon and now potentially Tunisia and Egypt, one can ask just how “real” are these democratic rights the Prime Minister claims for Israel’s Arabs? Here is some recent evidence that speaks to this question.

–At the end of September, the Israeli government announced “a plan to displace 30,000 native Bedouin Arabs [all of whom are Israeli citizens] … from their homes [in the Negev].”

This would constitute “the biggest dispossession plan of Palestinians issued by Israel since 1948. It would forcibly relocate about half of the Bedouin population from their existing villages, which are older than the State of Israel itself.”

Why should Israel do this to the Bedouin? Is it to facilitate their enjoyment of their “real democratic rights”? Well not quite.

According to the head of the Regional Council of Ramat Ha-Negev, a Zionist settlement in the region, the reason goes like this, “I want the Negev to be Jewish. Jewish settlement must grow, must continue. What do you mean by ‘they [the Bedouin] also have rights’! You know what after all this it is no longer possible to conceal the core problem, which is the struggle over the land. Who does this land belong to us or them?”

–At the beginning of October, leaders of the Jewish settler movement announced what one analyst called their intention “to turn Palestinian population centers into another Srebrenica.” This was their reaction to the prospect of international recognition of a Palestinian state.

An article in Al-Ahram Weekly noted that “Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior, an extremist Talmudic sage, was quoted this week as calling for ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians,” including children.

Initiating Balkan-style killing fields would represent a marked escalation of ongoing lower-level terror tactics which have seen the destruction of Palestinian crops, the harassment of Palestinian adults and children, the practice of arson against mosques, and the occasional outright murder.

While this threat was directed mainly at the Palestinians of the West Bank, the Israelis are bound by international law to see to their civil rights as well. And since Netanyahu’s vaunted claim implies Israel’s civilized, law-abiding status relative to the Arab states, that Palestinian population must be taken account of.

To show the extent of their respect for the rights of the Palestinians, settler rabbis have evoked the memory of their American-Israeli “saint and hero,” Baruch Goldstein, whose claim to lasting fame is the massacre of Muslims at prayer in Hebron back in 1994.

And, there has been much recapitulating of the message delivered in October 2010 by “the spiritual leader of Shas, the powerful religious political party that the status of non-Jews is similar to that of beasts of burden.” And just how many “real democratic rights” do the animals of Israel have?

–Just in case you think that these threats are hyperbole, take a look at reports and video on the recent pogrom-like violence near the settlement of Anatot. On Sept. 30, Palestinians along with Israeli allies came to help a Palestinian farmer plant trees on land he owns near the settlement.

They were attacked and beaten by settlers some of whom were armed policemen. The attackers have been accurately described as “nearly a lynch mob.”

Then on Oct. 3, a mosque in the upper Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariyye was set on fire by arsonists who left behind the message “Price Tag.” This is a terrorist tactic used by Israeli right-wing extremists.

Every time the Israeli government gets in the way of their racist and expansionist ambitions (which really is not often enough) the extremists retaliate with acts of terror against Palestinians.

Woeful Ignorance

The truth is that Arab-Israelis have always been second-class citizens, suffering systematic and state-sanctioned discrimination. Most of them are effectively segregated out from the majority Israeli Jewish citizenry.

In this way their “real democratic rights” are rendered largely symbolic. The only reason they are allowed to vote is because their votes cannot change the system that discriminates against them.

The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are even more vulnerable. They are not citizens at all and, even if Israel annexes the West Bank they never will be. This is because making them citizens would greatly enhance the likelihood that Arab-Israeli votes might, in fact, become sufficient to alter the system.

The Zionists will never let that happen. If the choice is between democracy and keeping Israel a Jewish state, the Israeli establishment will jettison democracy without thinking twice. In fact, there is a portion of Israeli Jews who have already jettisoned any regard for “real democratic rights,” even for themselves.

It is interesting to note that 95 percent of the U.S. Congress seems oblivious to all this. Indeed, a good number of them recently went off on an all-expenses-paid junket to Israel which objective observers might consider the equivalent of giving material aid to a terrorist organization.

There is good reason to believe that this oblivious state of mind is not shared by many of their constituents who are slowly but surely being educated about the criminal nature of Israeli behavior.

Unfortunately these constituents have not, as of yet, made their representatives’ slavish attachment to Zionist lobby money and influence a voting issue. When will they do so? Perhaps soon after it is brought home to them that Israel, the “democracy,” has an unsavory resemblance to Alabama or Georgia in the 1930s and 1940s.

If the settler rabbis have their way this likeness will grow rapidly and thus become harder to hide. Through their sacrilegious misreading of the Talmud, these holy men appear anxious to bless lynching on all days of the week except the Sabbath.

It is not only American congressmen who are ignorant of Israel’s deteriorating national character. One might ask just how many Israeli Jews know how close they are to the precipice of committing pogrom-style violence or worse. Some of course do.

In a June 14 piece by Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman they tell us “We believe that unless immediate, serious and dramatic action is taken to improve the situation of the Arab minority and majority-minority relations, great dangers are in store for Israel. It is no exaggeration to say that domestic stability, Israeli democracy and future Israeli-Palestinian peace could all be undermined by a continued deterioration in Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.”

But polls of Israelis show that the majority, caught up as they are in the dominant culture of victimhood and fear of the Arabs, are either ignorant of or unconcerned about the dangers of which Peleg and Waxman warn.

Indeed, most of them want the Arabs segregated or just kicked out and therefore have no problem with their society’s deteriorating majority-minority relations.

Lessons of Indoctrination

All of this raises some serious issues:

–For citizens of many countries, their national environment is like a great big Skinner Box, a laboratory apparatus devised by B.F. Skinner to study, condition and alter the behavior of animals. In other words, it is a hothouse of indoctrination.

Americans were taught to hate and fear communists, Russians were taught to hate and fear capitalists, and Israeli Jews are taught to hate and fear Palestinians.

Nation states do a good job at such indoctrination making it part and parcel of the acculturation process. And, under the right circumstances, whole populations can easily move from hatred and fear to actual mayhem.

–This sort of deep-seated indoctrination results in nationwide habits of thought that are remarkably hard to change. Think of the inertia of a large body, say a planet, moving through space. It is going to take a lot of force to overcome that inertia, usually force of catastrophic intensity.

To put it another way, whole populations trained to see the world one way, usually do not shift perceptions unless something really bad happens to them. That something can be military defeat, deep and unbridgeable societal divides leading to civil war, or the severe costs of isolation and economic boycott visited on them by the outside world.

The severity of these forces are testimony to just how stubborn indoctrinated populations can be.

Any way you look at it, the situation for those Palestinians under Israeli domination is likely to get worse before it gets better. And it is going to take a force of catastrophic intensity to really change Israeli behavior. My money is on BDS Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Toward a New National Security Policy

During the Cold War, the U.S. avoided large permanent bases in the Islamic world so as not to enflame anti-Western passions. But that changed with the Persian Gulf War, endangering rather than protecting the interests of the American people — and highlighting why a new national security policy is needed, writes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The starting point for a citizens’ campaign for a new national security strategy should be to call attention to the reality that U.S. wars supposedly against terrorism have produced clear winners and losers.

The winners are the leaders of the military, the Pentagon, the CIA and their private-sector and elected political allies. Aggressive U.S. wars are not merely the result of mistaken policies, but of the national security institutions pursuing their own interests at the expense of the interests of the American people.

The “war on terror” is a means for those institutions to maintain the present allocation of national resources and power to the national security sector for the indefinite future.

The losers are the rest of the American people. This “permanent war state” is now so politically powerful that it can keep the United States at war, even after the rationale for the war has been discredited or become irrelevant and the war has turned into a political and military disaster.

Over the past decade, the permanent war state has captured up to $1.3 trillion to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as an additional $2.3 trillion in defense and other national security spending (homeland security, international affairs, etc.) over and above the level of the first post-Cold War decade.

That appropriation by the national security state of an additional $3.6 trillion in additional resources during a decade of economic decline, accounting for 40 percent of the additional national debt, represents a power grab of immense proportions.

The most urgent reason to demand an end to the super-militarized approach to national security adopted by the U.S. national security state is that it has created extreme anti-Americanism across the Islamic world that ensures that the American people will face the threat of terrorism against the U.S. homeland for the indefinite future with all the assaults on their freedoms that go with it.

This approach shifts the attention of activists from each individual war policies to the underlying war system and the interests that drive it.

That shift allows an anti-militarism movement to adopt an offensive posture rather than one that is reactive and even defensive in the face of each new move by the national security state.

Provocation of Terrorist Threats

A citizen’s campaign to change U.S. national security policy should insist that the United States take the only steps that can sharply reduce and then end the threat of terrorism against the U.S. homeland:  the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Islamic countries and an end all military activities being waged in Islamic lands.

During the Cold War, the United States avoided stationing troops in Islamic countries, in large part because of those well-known Islamic sensitivities about the stationing of Western troops in Islamic countries.

It is no accident that the George H. W. Bush administration breached that longstanding injunction by launching the first Gulf War in 1991 and then maintaining a significant U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia just as the end of the Cold War was threatening a drastic reduction in the military budget.

The objective of the war and insertion of U.S. military power into the Middle East was to create a new rationale for Cold War levels of military spending by shifting the focus of military planning to regional adversaries. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was to be the primary exemplar.

Osama bin Laden’s argument that the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia was unacceptable was supported not only by conservative Wahhabi Saudi clerics but by many Islamic clerics throughout the Middle East and even in the predominantly non-Muslim countries.

The clerics urged Muslim faithful to defend Islam against U.S. military incursions on Islamic lands.

Those who responded to that message included the Saudi nationals who would later volunteer to participate in the al Qaeda plan to fly U.S. commercial planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, some of whom explicitly discussed the U.S. occupation of Saudi Arabia as the reason for the 9/11 attacks in “martyr videos.” [See Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, Cutting the Fuse; Steve Fainaru and Alia Ibrahim, “Mysterious Trip to Flight 77 Cockpit,” Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2002.]

Two bombing attacks on U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were carried out, apparently by followers of bin Laden in 1995 and 1996, after which bin Laden declared open war against the United States for its military interference in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region.

But even those dramatic warning signals prompted no rethinking of U.S. military policy.  On the contrary, the Pentagon and the Clinton administration continued to maintain a de facto state of war with Iraq through the 1990s punctuated by occasional bombing attacks against Iraqi targets.

Those whose personal and institutional interests are served by aggressive U.S. military policy in the Middle East understood that they were increasing the risk of terrorism.

The neoconservative historian Robert Kagan would later write, “We have pretty good reasons to believe that the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and the continuing presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the war, was a big factor in the evolution of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.”

But Kagan, reflecting the views of the national security state, argued that the United States was right to go ahead with such military policies even if they knew they would result in terrorist attacks on the United States.

A “very senior officer” who served on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff in the 1990s says he heard “more than once” from colleagues that terrorist attacks were “a small price to pay for being a superpower.” [See Richard H. Shultz, Jr., “Nine reasons why we never sent our Special Operations Forces after al Qaeda before 9/11,” The Weekly Standard, Jan. 26, 2004.]

The George W. Bush administration exploited the 9/11 attacks to pursue the interest of the national security state in making the United States the dominant military power in the Middle East.

It sent forces into Afghanistan not to capture or kill bin Laden but to overthrow the Taliban regime. Then it quickly began planning for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

For those who were concerned primarily with terrorism, the danger of such a war to the American people was perfectly clear.

In 2002 when the Bush administration was planning the invasion of Iraq, Rand Beers, then one of the two top White House counter-terrorism officials, complained bitterly to his former boss, Richard Clarke, “Do you know how much it will strengthen al Qaeda and groups like that if we occupy Iraq?” [See Richard A. Clarke’s Against All Enemies. ]

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, volunteers from all over the Middle East quickly poured into Iraq, giving al Qaeda, previously a small group hiding in the relatively inaccessible Kurdish region of Iraq, a new power and influence both in Iraq and in the Middle East more generally.

In mid-2005 the CIA concluded in a classified assessment that Iraq had assumed the role once played by the jihad against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in building up a cadre of jihadists with terrorist skills. [See Douglas Jehl, “CIA Describes Iraq as Terrorist Laboratory,” International Herald Tribune, June 23, 2005.]

Two top former counter-terrorism officials, Cofer Black and Roger Cressey, warned that the jihadists drawn to Iraq would eventually disperse to their home countries after having been trained in techniques of bombings and assassination, which could eventually threaten Americans directly. [Shaun Waterman, “Officials see terror threat from Iraq vets,” UPI, June 1, 2005.]

A National Intelligence Estimate issued in April 2006 concluded, “The Iraqi conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim World and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” [Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism”, online at http:/www.dni.gov/press_releases/Declassified_NIE_Key_Judgments.pdf.]

The former head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center, Robert Grenier, warned that the U.S. war had “convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq.” [Josh Meyer, James Gerstenzang and Greg Miller, “Bush Ties Al Qaeda in Iraq to Sept. 11,” Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2007.]

Public opinion surveys and focus groups in nine Middle Eastern and South Asian Islamic countries in 2009 show that majorities ranging from 52 percent to 92 percent of the respondents believed the United States might threaten their country in the future.

The fear and anger felt in those Islamic countries over U.S. wars and troop presence in Islamic countries translates into support for attacks on the United States by substantial minorities ranging from 9 percent to 14 percent of the populations of those countries. [Steven Kull, Feeling Betrayed: The Roots of Muslim Anger at America (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2011)]

In a dramatic illustration of the effect on attitudes toward anti-U.S. terrorism in the tribal area of northwest Pakistan, drone strikes have boosted recruiting for global jihadist groups and six out of 10 respondents support suicide bombings against U.S. military forces. [Jonanthan S. Landay, “U.S. drones: killing Pakistani extremists or recruiting them?” McClatchy Newspapers, April 7, 2009; “Public Opinion in Pakistan’s Tribal Regions, September 2010,” published by New American Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow, online at http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/public_opinion_in_pakistan_s_tribal_regions.]

 

Power Projection

One of the driving forces for U.S. wars since the beginning of the Cold War has been the constant push by the U.S. military and its civilian allies to maintain or expand its network of military bases and alliances across the globe.

In the early to mid-1960s, it was not the fear of “falling dominos” i.e., communism sweeping across Southeast Asia — that motivated top U.S. officials in the Johnson administration to call for war in Vietnam but their fear of Asian accommodation with China.

They were afraid of losing the dominant U.S. military position in the Far East, consisting mainly of U.S. air bases surrounding China and North Vietnam in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand. [See Gareth Porter, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War.]

Likewise, the invasion of Iraq was driven by a desire for military bases in that country to ensure U.S. political-military dominance of the entire Middle East/Persian Gulf region by allowing coercion of Iran and Syria.

Thus when the United States invaded Iraq, the Pentagon was already planning to maintain four “enduring bases” meaning, permanent bases — in Iraq. [Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq,” New York Times, April 30, 2003.]

After Iraq insisted in 2008 on complete U.S. withdrawal, the attention of the U.S. military shifted to obtaining permanent bases in Afghanistan.

These permanent facilities are justified in variety of ways:  the need to intimidate Iran; the continued war against al Qaeda; the instability in Pakistan; and the general advantage assumed to accompany U.S. military power abroad.

But any use of military force in the vast area where the network of bases is located would simply make Americans less secure.

The real motive for projecting U.S. military forces abroad is to enhance the power of the military institutions themselves and their Pentagon and other civilian allies, not to protect Americans from any serious threat to their security.

The security of the American people demands that all such bases intended to support wars that are not in the interests of the American people be closed down as part of the transformation of U.S. national security policy from a posture that is provocative to Islamic peoples to one that is non-provocative.

The principle of avoiding military presence that provokes antagonistic responses applies to the complex of U.S. military bases and alliances left over from the Cold War in East Asia.

The national security state argues that these bases are necessary to “shape” the security environment in East Asia. But that network of bases in the Asia-Pacific region still fulfills the same function that it did during the Cold War.

It is a vested interest in search of a rationale. Even after North and South Korea began negotiations on a settlement in the late 1990s, the Pentagon continued to put more military bases in East Asia.

The new rationale for expanding the U.S. military footprint in Asia over the past decade has been to maintain a “hedge” against Chinese regional domination decades in the future.

Such “hedging” in regard to possible war with China is central to the national security state’s demand for extraordinary levels of military spending, without which it could justify wartime expenditures for the Air Force and Navy.

That rationale is bogus; the consensus among intelligence and military analysts has long been that the importance of China’s economic ties to the United States makes it unlikely that China will seek a confrontation with Washington. [See Sam J. Tancredi, “The Future Security Environment, 2001-2025: Toward a Consensus View,” in Michele A. Flournoy, ed., QDR: Strategy-Driven Choices for America’s Security (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2001).]

A citizens’ campaign should therefore call for a plan to phase out U.S. bases in East Asia over the next decade.

Even if they don’t suck the United States into a war, U.S. military bases abroad are merely empty symbols of illusory power, which are regarded as perquisites of the U.S. military’s power at home and abroad.

The only way to break the cycle of the quest for dominant power provoking conflict and insecurity is to demand that the United States adopt a policy like other major powers, including China, of abjuring foreign military presence.

Once the two main national-security-state dodges of wars against terrorism and power projection abroad are removed, the rationale for most U.S. military spending disappears.

There is no need for a large army, or for anything like the level of air and naval power sought for decades by those military services. The fundamental reform of national security policy should be accompanied by cuts in military spending to a fraction of the level during and after the Cold War.

This fundamental shift in policy from seeking dominant power to defending the homeland will thus require a comprehensive national plan for phasing out the present level of military spending and planning for peacetime economic alternatives in regard to production and employment.

A New National Security Policy

In order to provide a focal point and action objective for a citizens’ campaign for a new national security policy, we need a new legislative charter that outlines what must be done to bring about a decisive transition over the next few years from the existing policy to one that truly serves the interests of the American people.

That legislation should state, in part, that “shall be the national policy of the United States”:

  1. to withdraw all military personnel from Islamic countries through a published timetable and to refrain from stationing troops or carrying out military operations in Islamic countries in the future;
  2. to cease to pursue the aim of military dominance in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and East Asia and to withdraw from military bases in those regions built on premises that are now clearly invalid;
  3. to reduce military spending by 40 to 50 percent over the next three years, and to continue to reduce spending further in the subsequent five year period to a level representing no more than 30 percent of the level of military expenditures in FY 2011;
  4. to establish a national economic conversion plan to support this reduction in military expenditures.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy.  He was co-director of the Indochina Resource Center in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam War and is the author of Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2006).




The Moral Imperative of ‘Activism’

Exclusive: On Sept. 18, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern gave a talk about “activism” to a conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, focused on the need to confront the military industrial complex. Now, as the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington gets underway, his words take on a special resonance.

By Ray McGovern

The past 50 years have shown that President Dwight Eisenhower was spot on about the Military Industrial Complex and what to expect if Americans were not vigilant, which, of course, we have not been, until maybe now.

An endless train of outrages and indignities can be traced to the inordinate influence of the M.I.C. And a truly formidable challenge awaits those of us determined not to let our democracy be taken away from us by the greed of a small minority.

But the view from where I stand at this podium evokes a powerful feeling of enthusiastic anticipation. The challenges presented by the M.I.C. seem not so daunting as I look out on all you activists.

I’ll confess, it took me a while to become comfortable with the sobriquet commonly used these days to introduce me: “intelligence analyst turned activist.” In the circles in which I moved for 30 years, the epithet “activist” was usually hurled in a condescending tone. As in what can activists accomplish?

But, there was the Vietnam War, no? Often it takes a while, but activists do change things.

In an interview several months ago, former President George W. Bush referred sneeringly to “activists.” Like you all, I have become accustomed to the customary sneers and smears.

And that’s precisely why standing here is so important to me. For those given the privilege of looking out at so many gutsy “activists” for Justice, the sneers, smears, and spears lose all their sting.

Hope is reborn, because you give flesh to that hope.

What I think has been especially great is that, over the past days, so many of you have also had the opportunity to be encouraged, fortified by the view from this podium. Perhaps you, too, have found the experience an effective inoculation against despair and a fillip to action.

Paying the Rent

No one has put it better than a precious new friend I met on a “cruise” in the eastern Mediterranean, Alice Walker, who put it this way: “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.”

As some of you know, that attitude found her a passenger on “The Audacity of Hope”, the U.S. Boat to Gaza, this past summer.

On July 1, we made an activist break for the open sea and Gaza but were able to sail only nine nautical miles out of Athens before the Greek government, under extreme pressure from the White House, ordered its Coast Guard to intercept us, threaten to board us, and eventually to impound our boat.

It turned out not so bad. We raised a lot of interest, calling attention to the large open-air prison in which the Likud government in Israel, supported by the taxes we pay, seal off 1.6 million Gazans into the largest open-air prison on the planet.

And, for those who care to look, we exposed our President kow-towing, for the umpteenth time, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barack Obama could not get him to agree not to shoot up our boat, as they did the Mavi Marmora in May of last year.

So the White House decided to take the easy way out and bully Greece into issuing an edict that no boats could leave Greek ports for Gaza.

You learn a lot, and often you expose a lot, when you accept the challenge of being an “activist!”

Unreasoned Patience?

I find that people often are conflicted about whether or not to allow themselves to be angry. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote a lot about virtue, got quite angry when he realized there was no word in Latin for just the right amount of anger, for the virtue of anger.

Thomas cited what a famous fourth-century theologian said on the subject: “He or she who is not angry, when there is just cause for anger, sins. Why? Because anger respicit bonum justitiae, anger looks to the good of Justice, and if you can live among injustice without anger you are unjust.”

Aquinas added his own corollary; he railed against what he called “unreasoned patience,” which, he said, “sows the seeds of vice, nourishes negligence, and persuades not only evil people but good people to do evil.”

As we look at the effects of the military industrial complex, who will deny that there is just cause for anger, just the right amount of anger, the virtue of anger. And the fact that this is part of what motivates us, well that’s as it should be.

Frankly, I have not thought of us activists being virtuous, but maybe we are, at least in our willingness to channel our anger into challenging and changing the many injustices here and around the world. There should be no room these days for “unreasoned patience.”

Prophets/Activists & Cads

The Hebrew Scriptures feature the witness of prophets channeling the virtue of anger into speaking truth to power. Many of them were eccentric, from the Greek ek kentron, off center, out of the mainstream, and they were generally not welcome in their hometowns. Is this beginning to sound a little like you, maybe?

Happily, we don’t have to go back to the eighth-century B.C. prophets for examples. We are surrounded by prophets, although the ones I have in mind would be the last to claim that title.

Earlier today I did a little review of the prophets I’ve run into over the last decade; curiously, all of the ones who came to mind turn out to be women.

Ann Wright, who keynoted us so well on Friday evening, was the first to come to mind. One of the three U.S. diplomats who quit when the U.S. attacked Iraq; mayor of Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas; inspirer and fund raiser for the U.S. Boat to Gaza, with the creative suggestion we name it ,I think after some sort of book, “The Audacity of Hope.”

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Ann up close, and have gotten into the same kind of activist trouble she has.

I remember as one of her finest hours, the one during which she sat quietly as the Senate Judiciary Committee deliberated pompously over whether to approve the appointment of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes, II, an Eagle Scout from Waco, alumnus of Harvard Law, and more recently a “justifier” of torture, to be a federal judge.

(The pattern had already been set when Jay Bybee of the Justice Department, who signed off on John Yoo’s many mafia-style memoranda approving torture, was given a life-time appointment as a federal judge.)

Ann can be quiet in such circumstances for, well, not very long. She stood up and loudly warned those august senators that they were about to give a judgeship to a felon. The committee adjourned that day before it was supposed to, and I think it’s pretty clear that the ruckus Ann made was instrumental in defeating Haynes’s appointment.

The findings of a subsequent Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture provide chapter and verse about why Haynes and his boss Rumsfeld should be behind bars.

Mentioning John Yoo evokes the example of West Coast prophet Susan Harman, who has made it her business to cling to Yoo like chewing gum. Seeing Susan’s familiar face, Yoo now says, “Hello there.” Susan responds, “Torture there.”

Yoo has enough friends in high places that there are many to choose from were we as brave and conscientious as Susan in bird-dogging. Perhaps we could each choose one.

Speaking of bird-dogging, how could I not mention the gutsy women who lead World Can’t Wait’s watch-dog group “War Criminal Watch.” It was they that got me a ticket to Donald Rumsfeld’s speech in Atlanta five years ago; and yet another to be with him more recently at a forum run by the Jewish Policy Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

(This time the NYPD threw me out before I could ask Rumsfeld a question, but the bruises were minor compared with those caused by the thugs who brutalized me as I stood silently with my back to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a speech she gave in February.)

More Prophets

How about Rae Abileah, who got brutalized when she called for justice for Palestine, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was receiving fulsome applause from our bought-and-sold Congresspeople in May.

Or the Code Pink women of Dallas, in the belly of the beast, who do something imaginatively conspicuous every time George W. Bush surfaces for air.

Or Jesselyn Radack, Esq., fired from the Justice Department for insisting that John Walker Lindh, labeled for political purposes as “The American Taliban,” be given his rights as an American citizen.

After being blacklisted from her profession, Jesselyn has landed on both feet as National Security and Human Rights Counsel at the Government Accountability Project, which focuses on protecting/defending whistleblowers.

And she was a terrific support to the successful defense of Thomas Drake, ex-NSA senior executive who was recently subjected to a three-year-long witch-hunt aimed at dissuading anyone from blowing the whistle.

And then there’s Cindy Sheehan, who had the courage to ask Bush to explain to her what “noble cause” had taken the life of her son Casey.

And former FBI special agent/attorney Coleen Rowley, who took a huge risk, just one year short of retirement, in blowing a loud whistle about FBI shortcomings before 9/11, and who continues to work, in a variety of imaginative ways, for Justice. (Warning: do not, within earshot of Coleen, call her a prophet.)

Of women prophet/activists I have gotten to know over the past ten years I could go on forever.

The Shibboleth of Success

One trait peculiar not only to the Hebrew prophets of the eighth century but to the ones I just mentioned is that they did not get hung up on the all-too-familiar drive for success.

That drive, I think, is a distinctly American trait. We generally do not want to embark on some course without there being a reasonable prospect of success, do we? Who enjoys becoming the object of ridicule?

The felt imperative to be “successful” can be a real impediment to acting for Justice. A prophet/activist from whom I have drawn inspiration is Dan Berrigan. I’d like to share some of the wisdom that seeps through his autobiography, To Dwell in Peace.

Berrigan writes that after he, his brother Phil, and a small group of others had used homemade napalm to burn draft cards in Catonsville, Maryland, in May 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, Dan mused about why he took such a risk:

“I came upon a precious insight. Something like this: presupposing integrity and discipline, one is justified in entering upon a large risk; not indeed because the outcome is assured, but because the integrity and value of the act have spoken aloud.

“Success or efficiency are placed where they belong: in the background. They are not irrelevant, but they are far from central.

“I was in need of such reflections as we faced the public after our crime. All sides agreed, we were fools or renegades or plain crazy.

“One had very little to go on; and one went ahead nonetheless. Still, the ‘little,’ had at least one advantage. One was free to concentrate on the act itself, without regard to its reception in the world. Free to concentrate on moral preparation, consistency, conscience. Looked at in this light, the ‘little’ appeared a treasure.”

“The act was let go, its truth and goodness were entrusted to the four winds. Indeed, good consequences were of small matter to me, compared with the integrity of the action, the need responded to, the spirits lifted. ”

The more recent prophets and activists I have known have generally been able to do this, to release the truth of the act to the four winds. And I think that helps them avoid taking themselves too seriously.

It seemed to work that way with Dan Berrigan. Here’s how he recounts the immediate aftermath of the action at Catonsville:

“We sat in custody in the back room of the Catonsville Post Office, weak with relief.   Three or four FBI honchos entered portentously. Their leader, a jut-jawed paradigm, surveyed us from the doorway. His eagle-eye lit on Philip. He roared out: ‘Him again! Good God, I’m changing my religion!’

“I could think of no greater tribute to my brother.”

The Berrigans help affirm for me that this God of ours is a God of laughter, and we are the entertainment. And that’s just one reason a light touch is often required.

Code Pink knows this well.  Watch, for example, http://codepink.org/article.php?id=5916  the intervention team from War Addicts Anonymous engage President Obama outside the White House. Obama says, “I can quit anytime I want!” But can he?

How I look forward to descending on our own “Tahrir Square” at Freedom Plaza in Washington starting on Oct. 6. In the final analysis we will be confronting the “upper crust,” which my Irish grandmother described as “a bunch of crumbs held together by a lot of dough.”

But will we be successful? Wrong question. We will be faithful, and, I am sure, have a lot of fun in the process. For I believe it is true: the good is worth doing because it is good. Feels good, too.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army officer and a CIA analyst and now is happy to be described as an “activist.”




Occupying the Heart of the Beast

Finally, a truly “populist” movement not like the Tea Party funded by billionaires to serve the interests of billionaires has arisen in America to challenge the growing economic inequities in U.S. society. Phil Rockstroh found his time with the “99 Percent” movement at the newly dubbed Liberty Plaza invigorating.

By Phil Rockstroh

The ongoing exercise in democracy transpiring in and around the Occupy Wall Street site in Lower Manhattan imbues one’s heart with resonances of the real.

Many reasons factor into the phenomenon: Here, for example, one does not feel scammed and demeaned gripped by the sense of futility, even embarrassment, experienced at even the thought of participating in the big money-skewed, sham elections staged in the corporate oligarchic state.

In our era, in which our minds are distracted and circumscribed by relentless, manic formations of instant information and evanescent imagery, we too often dwell in domains devoid of musk and fury, of the implications carried by mind-meeting flesh; therefore, one is often nettled by an abiding hollowness resultant from voluntary exile in these weightless realms of electronic ghosts.

The events unfolding in this place bear little resemblance to contrived reality TV tawdriness or pro sports/corporate rock, empty spectacle. Although some of the events transpiring here have been broadcast, webcast and tweeted in “real time” — in vivid contrast — events are unfolding in time that is real.

In Liberty Plaza, both the winged spirit of commitment and the rag-and-bone shop of the heart abide. Acting upon the human yearning not to live in chains, those assembled here are attempting to navigate their way out of the wasteland of isolation and alienation inflicted by the inverted totalitarianism of the corporate/consumer/national security state.

“Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” ~ Wendell Berry

The barriers: This photo (of Occupy Wall Street protesters entrapped on the Brooklyn Bridge by the NYPD) is emblematic of existence within the constraints of inverted totalitarianism.

The image is evocative of how the present order works to contain and narrow (if you will, kettle and cage) our conception of both the right to free expression in the public sphere and, by implication, within the psyche of an individual.

For instance: Notice, under “normal circumstances,” how even the thought of pamphleteering or making an attempt at public oration in those areas of hyper-commercialized commerce e.g., malls, big-box retail stores and sports arenas — squatting upon most of the landscape of the U.S. is summarily dismissed.

An individual who attempts to exercise his right to free speech and free assembly in those locations is expelled on sight by private security types maintaining that the reach of one’s rights to free expression ends where private property begins.

In general, in daily life, living under the inverted totalitarian nature of the corporate state, the walls that imprison an individual are invisible to the eye, even as they create bleak barriers within.

For example, if you are arrested while exercising your (allegedly) constitutionally guaranteed rights during an act of public protest, future employers will be privy to the information and chances are that such information will not be exactly helpful in your attempt to gain employment; hence, many are dissuaded from protest.

Yet, the New York City power elite can be thanked for the following: By actions such as these, captured in photos like this one, they reveal to us the true nature of the society that they have created, both extant and internalized within.

And this is what the implicit oppression of the corporate oligarchic state transforms into when challenged. Take a good look, then, ask yourself, as the song goes, which side are you on?

The agenda of the parasitic corporate and criminal Wall Street elite (whose financial power and political influence have increased unchecked for more than thirty years) has been: to attain maximum profits by maximum exploitation of labor and resources.

To ensure the labor pool remains submissive, the corporate class tyrannizes the workforce with threats to their job security and other Shock Doctrine strategies designed to beat an individual down, as all the while, their PR flacks promulgate the Orwellian doublethink at the empty core of corporate/consumer state propaganda i.e., submission to exploitation will, one day, yield to financial freedom that the economic shackles that yoke an individual to a life of “free” market-enforced submission are, in fact, his wings of liberty.

And that is something one should bear in mind when considering the subject of the attitudes and actions of the NYPD regarding popular uprisings such as the one ongoing in Lower Manhattan.

In the first few days of the occupation of Liberty Plaza, I stopped by and spoke with protesters and police. (The latter only agreed to speak to me, with much hesitation, and, in a few cases outright contempt, if I promised not to record them or reveal their badge numbers.)

I told them that I understand and experience the sort of fear that such dictates, issued from above, level upon a person. I averred the fear instilled in rank-and-file officers by their “superiors” in the department is similar to the fear that folks in the park possess for police in general.

And the fear is identical to that OWS protesters hold in regard to the power Wall Street exerts over their lives.

In this, we, the beleaguered “99 percenters,” share a common plight — an affinity of fear instilled within us by economic coercion.

One cop told me it was nothing personal: He appreciated the protest because of the overtime pay he was pulling as a result of it.

I asked him if he feared that Wall Street might squander his pension fund, and that, “if you come down with a case of ‘billy club elbow’ from beating on the folks here that the crooks on Wall Street might make off with your medical benefits.”

Moreover, that if he saw a man trying to rob the pizza restaurant on the end of the block, he had the power to make an arrest, and, by that token, would it be possible for him and his crew who it appeared didn’t have a lot to do at Liberty Plaza could see fit to move down the street a bit to where the real criminal activity comes down billion-dollar heists, in fact and make a few arrests when the banksters open for business tomorrow?

He said he couldn’t comment on the subject but I could tell he found the fantasy appealing.

But, bear this in mind, when considering the uncivil attitudes and unconstitutional actions of the NYPD regarding street protest such as the Occupy Wall Street activities ongoing in Lower Manhattan, in particular, and the lack of deference to the rights of the public, in general, displayed by police agencies, at both the local and federal level: Police forces, by and large, are bureaucratic organizations, comprised of authoritarian personalities who evince a top-down, militarized organizational structure.

Most of the individuals therein harbor a hierarchical concept regarding the exercise of power and possess an unquestioning fealty to the maintenance of order.

Therefore, the police will serve as a de facto private security force for the corporate oligarchs and Wall Street elite, as well as the structure of the National Security State. Accordingly, the safeguarding of individual rights and providing security for those groups and individuals bereft of power means little to them.

Even if an individual officer harbors sympathy for those who dissent, his mission is not to protect the powerless; conversely, the mission of police organizations is to maintain the status quo; and the status quo of the present order translates into vast wealth inequity created by an entrenched system in place to protect the powerful (in this case Wall Street Banksters) from the consequences of their criminal activities.

(Apropos, the $4.6 million with which J.P. Morgan Chase, last week, greased the palm of the NYPD.)

Thus Freedom will be pepper-sprayed and thrown face first upon the pavement, while Wall Street Banksters’ Gulf Stream Jets lift off from the ground and slice the clear, thin air.

There is a sign in Liberty Plaza proclaiming, “occupy everything” and its sentiment arrives at the essence of the situation.

Yes, occupy everything, starting with your own heart. Otherwise, it will be commandeered by the forces of the church, the state, the corporation, the bully on your block, the passive-aggressive friend who is “just here to help,” even the demands of your own egoist agendas that bore to indifference the heart of the world and soul of the age.

If you don’t recognize your humanity, who will? Who is more qualified to occupy your life than you? Who is closer to the situation? Who else is qualified to arrive at an original take of the question at hand?

And you might find the place to make a stand in the struggle to retake your essential self is in public space, among throngs of others engaged in likeminded struggle among others who have heeded a similar call and thus have arrived in those equally troubled locations — the U.S. public arena and the American heart.

Occupy your own heart; the soul of the world longs for your companionship.

“The question is not what am I doing in here, but what are you doing out there?”

– Henry David Thoreau

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com  Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com / And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100…

 




Why Palestine Already Is a State

Palestinian officials have appealed for membership at the United Nations, prompting angry retorts from Israel and a veto threat from the Obama administration. But the UN issue is membership, not statehood, which Joe Lauria writes is already a de facto reality.

By Joe Lauria

A combination of mistakes, whether through ignorance or design, and significant omissions of fact have left the American public misinformed about why the Palestinians have gone to the United Nations and what they are trying to achieve.

The biggest error repeated across the media in hundreds of headlines and stories is that the Palestinians are seeking statehood at the U.N. In fact, Palestine is already legally a sovereign state and is seeking membership of the United Nations, not statehood.

The United Nations does not grant or recognize statehood. Only states can recognize other states bilaterally. The U.N. can only confer membership or non-member observer state status to already existing states. The U.N. Charter is clear. Article 4 says that only existing states may apply for U.N. membership.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted an application for U.N. membership from PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sept. 23. Ban sent the application to the Security Council, which began deliberating last week.

The very act of the Secretary General accepting the membership application is an acknowledgement from the U.N. that Palestine is already a state, since only states can apply.

The Montevideo Convention of 1933 lays out the requirements for statehood: a population living on a defined territory with a government that can enter into relations with other governments. The Palestinians have all three.

Though its borders with Israel are not set, other countries with border disputes have been admitted as U.N. members, such as Pakistan and India. Trygve Lie, the first U.N. Secretary-General, also wrote a 1950 memo that states do not need universal recognition to apply.

Palestine declared its independence on Nov. 15, 1988, a fact found nowhere in the American mainstream reporting of the past week. A Palestinian walked out of the Al Asqa Mosque that day in Al Quds/Jerusalem and read the declaration aloud, much as someone read the American Declaration of Independence to a crowd in the courtyard of the Philadelphia State House on July 4, 1776.

Almost immediately one hundred nations recognized an independent Palestinian state. Since then 30 more nations have recognized Palestine, some having opened Palestinian embassies in their capitals. This crucial fact too was not reported in the U.S. media. For Palestinians and those countries that recognize them, Israeli troops are occupying a sovereign nation.

It was the same as when Morocco and then France and other nations recognized an independent United States years before the war against Britain was won. For Americans and those nations recognizing America, British troops became an occupation force, not an army defending British territory.

The problem for the Americans then and for the Palestinians now is that the occupying nation and the world’s biggest power are not among the 130 who’ve recognized them.

If there were a United Nations in 1777 the Americans could have applied for membership. And if Britain had a veto on the Security Council then as it does now, it would have blocked that membership.

Today neither the occupying power, Israel, nor the world’s biggest power, the U.S., recognizes Palestinian statehood. Thus the U.S. has vowed to veto the Palestinians’ membership resolution in the Security Council.

The U.S. had furiously lobbied to prevent the Palestinians from coming to the U.N. at all, including Congress threatening to cut off all aid. Having failed, Washington is now trying to delay a vote as long as possible while lobbying the several non-permanent members of the Security Council to abstain, or vote against.

But the Palestinians knew from the start the U.N. process would take weeks and have so far not backtracked on their plan one inch.

Membership in the U.N. requires a recommendation from the 15-member Security Council, secured with nine votes in favor and no vetoes. If the recommendation passes, the 193-seat General Assembly must approve with a two-thirds majority. Eight votes in favor or less would kill the Security Council membership resolution, sparing the U.S. from a veto that would cost them dearly on the Arab street.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Lebanon are among the Security Council members who have formally recognized Palestine and are firm about voting in favor. The U.S. isn’t bothering with them. But Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia and Gabon have also recognized Palestine and are under extreme American, and in the case of Gabon, French pressure to at least abstain.

Falling short of eight votes would be an embarrassment for the Palestinians, but the Security Council route is only the first step. After a sure defeat in the Security Council (since the United States has vowed to use its veto if necessary), two options in the General Assembly remain.

President Abbas told reporters on his plane back home from New York that the Palestinians are willing to wait two weeks for the Security Council to act before going to the next step for membership. That step is to try to circumvent either a U.S. veto or less than nine votes in the Security Council in the General Assembly, employing a Cold War-era resolution known as Uniting for Peace.

It was introduced by the U.S. in 1950 to get around repeated Soviet vetoes on the Korean War. Francis Boyle, a legal adviser to Abbas, told me he has advised the Palestinian president to take this step.

But the Palestinians would have to convince two-thirds of voting Assembly members that Palestinian membership would be a response to a “threat to peace, breach of the peace or an act of aggression” from Israel.

The U.S. and Israel would fight to keep this off the General Assembly agenda. But Boyle, who cautioned that he does not speak for the Palestinians, told me he thinks the Palestinians have the votes to overcome this.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a split in the PLO leadership on whether to use Uniting for Peace. Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive committee member, says it is still a viable option. But the Palestinians’ U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, believes any membership bid must legally go through the Security Council first and there’s no getting around it.

Abbas’ position on this is not clear. It will be interesting to see if the Palestinians try to use Uniting for Peace and what happens if they do.

If they decide against it or fail, their third option is to try to become a non-member observer state, which needs only a simple majority of 97 votes in the General Assembly which the Palestinians clearly have.

Becoming an observer state would be more than symbolic. It could reshape the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. As an observer state, Palestine could participate in Assembly debates, but could not vote, sponsor resolutions or field candidates for Assembly committees.

But more importantly, it would allow Palestine to accede to treaties and join specialized U.N. agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), officials said.

Switzerland joined the ICAO in 1947 when it was still an observer state before becoming a U.N. member in 2002. Denis Changnon, an ICAO spokesman in Montreal, told me the treaty gives members full sovereign rights over air space, a contentious issue with Israel, which currently controls the airspace above the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians could bring claims of violation of its air space to the International Court of Justice.

If Palestine joins the Law of the Sea Treaty it would gain control of its national waters off Gaza, a highly contentious move as those waters are currently under an Israeli naval blockade. Boyle said he has advised Abbas to accede to treaties, including the Law of the Sea. If they do, the Palestinians could challenge the Israeli blockade at the ICJ as well as claim a gas field off Gaza, currently claimed by Israel.

Even more troubling for Israel and the U.S. would be Palestine joining the International Criminal Court.

Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of ICC Assembly of State Parties, said in an interview a Palestine observer state could join the ICC and ask the court to investigate any alleged war crimes and other charges against Israel committed on Palestinian territory after July 2002, including Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead war against Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinian civilians.

Ashrawi says Israeli settlements in Palestine can be challenged as war crimes in the court as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Palestinians know they must still negotiate borders, refugees, settlements, the occupation and Jerusalem. Abbas said pushing for U.N. membership did not mean he no longer wants to negotiate. Rather gaining membership or observer state status would give the Palestinians more leverage in those talks, he said.

In an effort to upstage and derail the Palestinians’ membership drive, just minutes after Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had finished addressing the General Assembly last Friday the so-called Quartet, the U.S., U.K., Russia and the U.N., announced its vision of a one-year plan for a comprehensive settlement.

The Quartet dropped its repeated call for a settlement freeze and called for no preconditions for talks. The Palestinians, who are demanding a freeze before negotiations based on the pre-occupation 1967 borders, rejected the Quartet’s plan. Israel then announced 1,100 new settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Quartet has failed again. Westerners cannot solve this problem. Maybe it’s time to make it the Quintet by adding the Arab League, to give voice to the Palestinians. How to get the U.S. media to become interested in more accurately reporting the Palestinian’s side of the story is another matter.

Joe Lauria has been a freelance journalist based at the U.N. since 1990, writing for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette and other newspapers. This article originally appeared on Sibel Edmond’s BoilingFrogsPost.com.




‘Sarah’s Key’: Enforcing Injustice

As the Occupy Wall Street and other populist protests grow, the role of police in either allowing dissent or crushing it will be at center stage. In that regard, Gary G. Kohls sees valuable lessons from the Holocaust drama, “Sarah’s Key.”

By Gary G. Kohls

Recently I saw “Sarah’s Key,” a powerful movie that was made from the novel by the same name, written by French novelist Tatiana de Rosnay. My opinion is that it deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film of 2011.

The movie fictionalizes the horrifying true story of the June 1942 Paris roundups of thousands of Jewish families, who were then held for days in appalling conditions at the Vélodrome d’Hiver outside Paris. These victims were soon to be on their way to the extermination camps on the other side of Germany, specifically Auschwitz, in Poland.

The World War II portion of the story is about the experiences of just one innocent family, the Starzinskis, including 10-year old Sarah and her little brother, as they were brutalized by the murderous police-state repression of Nazi-occupied France and Hitler’s emerging “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.”

The latter part of the well-told story (60 years after World War II) is about the experiences of Julia Jarmond, who, as a young American-born woman who had moved to Paris 20 years earlier, was working as a journalist for a French magazine.

Julia’s editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the infamous Vél’ d’Hiv’ roundups of around 10,000 Jews.

While doing the research for the article, she learns that the apartment she and her French architect husband were planning to move into was the very apartment that had been acquired in 1942 by her in-law’s family immediately after the Starzinski family had been deported to Poland via cattle car.

The family’s belongings were confiscated by the Nazis and their French collaborators, of course and sold to help finance Germany’s military apparatus. Julia is haunted by the story and, even though her magazine article had already been published, she resolves to find out what actually happened to Sarah.

The Knock on the Door

The film starts with the proverbial “knock on the door at midnight” by French plain-clothes security officials and uniformed French policemen who, as Nazi-collaborators, obediently arrested Sarah’s family, except for the four-year-old Michel, whom Sarah had hidden away in a concealed closet.

The rest of the story concerns what ultimately happened to Sarah and Michel.

Using good investigative journalism, Julia eventually uncovers the hidden history of the family. She finds out that Sarah and Michel were the only family members known to have not arrived at Auschwitz with the hope that they could have somehow survived the Holocaust. Julie is driven to persist in her search and finally succeeds in piecing together the whole dramatic story.

One of the disturbing aspects of the story, and a humiliating one for historically anti-German France, was the willingness of the Vichy government and its French policemen to fully cooperate with the Nazis in the roundups, the deportations, the thefts of property and the torturing of the Jewish minority population (in 1942 French Jews only represented a tenth of 1 percent of the population).

This emotional and consciousness-raising film about an important piece of hidden World War II history left me pondering a number of questions, including the classic, “could it (fascism) ever happen here?”

Why couldn’t what happened in Paris in 1942 also happen in our militarized America, which some observers also call a quasi-police state? Was there anything unusual about the willingness of 1942 French policemen to obey orders from their superior officers?

Why not our modern police force who are trained to reflexively follow orders in chain-of-command, authoritarian systems?

Many of the Nazis who were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity following World War II denied responsibility for their participation in the atrocities because they were merely following orders.

They had taken solemn oaths of allegiance to Hitler and, because they thought of themselves as being moral men, they would have considered going back on their oaths as an act of treason.

I think it would be worthwhile if those of us who are potential victims of state-sanctioned police brutality (and that could possibly represent a considerable number of us) start asking ourselves what would prevent our modern-day law-enforcers, our soldiers, policemen and security service members, (as well as our elected officials, politicians and judges, all of whom have taken similar oaths of allegiance) from denying the human and civil rights of dissidents, protestors, conscientious objectors to war, killing, capital punishment and the corporate raping of the earth?

Likewise, what would prevent these armed oath-takers from persecuting outsider minority groups, such as non-white foreigners or non-Christians, and guiltlessly enforce the many unjust, unethical or illegal American laws that are on the books?

Wall Street Protesters

I think many would agree that there is cause for concern, considering the current examples of police brutality and arrests of the “Occupy Wall Street” activists in New York City who are protesting Wall Street predators, Junk Bond brokers, Big Finance and other assorted white-collar crooks who caused the stock market crash, the debt crisis, the housing crisis, the bankrupting bail-out fiasco and the recession.

In modern times, many American cops and FBI agents have been guilty of  persecution, mistreatment, harassment and abuse of nonviolent American protesters against corporate corruption, starting with the protests against the atrocity-producing Vietnam War through the harsh treatment and arrests of protestors at the infamous Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968; the anti-NAFTA, anti-World Bank, anti-IMF activists in Seattle and Toronto and all around the world; the protesters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008; the antinuclear weapons activists at Oak Ridge, Kansas City, Minneapolis and elsewhere; the anti-Keystone-Excel/Tar Sands pipeline activists in front of the non-responsive White House; and etc, etc.

This list could be considerably lengthened if I included examples from the century-long history of the labor movement in the U.S., where there are countless numbers of examples of brutal police repression of striking workers, poor people, suffragettes and racial or religious minorities who were protesting against injustice.

Doesn’t it seen curious that the police are always on the side of the ruling elite, the obscenely wealthy, the corporations and the crony capitalists, none of whom ever have felt police nightstick hitting skull?

Given the evidence cited above, I have to wonder if there is an actual stated ethic in American law enforcement that would empower some discerning, ethical and courageous “good cops,” “good” FBI and CIA agents, soldiers and judges to disobey unethical and unjust laws that defy the spirit of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the International Criminal Court and the Geneva and Nuremberg Conventions (or the Christian Just War principles, for that matter).

Does anybody see any indication from those in positions of authority and power in our legal system where the oaths that civil servants have to take are still considered sacred oaths (including the promise to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States, presumably including the First Amendment – the right to free speech)?

Is there any sign that any oath-takers out there might be courageous enough to disobey orders when that is the right thing to do?

I hope so. I hope that our elected civilian officials, who are supposed to have ultimate control of the policies and actions of law enforcement and the military, begin a dialogue about that important question that is critically important to real democracy.

The American Experiment

America’s fragile two-century-plus democratic experiment is dangerously close to being drowned in the metaphorical bathtub first promised by the neoconservative, anti-tax guru Grover Norquist and endorsed by the radical right-wing Tea Partiers (funded by cunning billionaires like the Koch brothers), the right-wing think tanks (like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute – among about 400 others) and the right-wing Christian theocrats (like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, etc. and their supporters and paymasters).

At one time in America’s anti-fascist, pro-democracy past (or was that only a pipedream?), most Americans thought (perhaps falsely) that law enforcement and the legal system was on the side of the little guy, the laborers, the poor, the abused, the “huddled (immigrant) masses yearning to be free” and the marginalized ones whom Jesus called “the least of these my brothers.”

But now law enforcement and the courts seem to pointedly avoid prosecuting the criminal activities of predatory lenders (with their high interest rates that force poverty, bankruptcies and foreclosures), the war profiteers (and their ill-gotten gains from selling weapons that are designed for human slaughter), BigPharma (and their toxic, dementia-causing, sickening synthetic drugs) and the various Ponzi scheme operators and junk bond “investment” crooks on Wall Street.

The motto that used to be printed on patrol cars was supposed to articulate the mission of law enforcement, but the “To Protect and To Serve” insignia is now regarded as a joke in way too many cities.

Certainly that ideal of law enforcement may have existed in simpler times, but in times of crisis, ideals often go out the window. The reality that is too often perceived is “To Harass and Abuse.”

It is the observation of many peace and justice activists colleagues of mine that most police personnel prefer obeying orders that are given to enforce petty laws that may result in the arrest or ticketing of nonviolent offenders that put the policeman at no substantial risk to health or life.

I totally understand not wanting to get hurt on the job – any job. Most of us will try to avoid unnecessary risks at work, preferring the less dangerous tasks.

Arresting unarmed Jews in Paris 1942 was that kind of low-risk assignment. Also qualifying for preferential assignments would be the harassing, hand-cuffing, arrest, pepper-spraying or tasering of nonviolent protestors for trespassing at Wall Street, the School of the Americas, the White House, the Pentagon and military recruiting offices.

Raiding homes for the possession of pot, arresting farmers for selling unpasteurized milk, ticketing drivers for parking violations or “speeders” for going 35 mph in a 30 mph zone; etc, etc are other examples of preferred assignments.

Disobeying Unjust Laws

Wealthy crooks, drug kingpins and other violent offenders tend to have guns, live in gated communities or have armed bodyguards. Career criminals may shoot back if they are threatened with arrest (and white-collar criminals may have expensive lawyers who can turn the tables on law enforcement). So these are not on the preferred list of assignments for average policemen.

But what about justice for the powerless victims of unjust laws like in a war-torn nation such as France in 1942? That type of atrocity can only happen if obedient, oath-taking law enforcers forget their humanity and are willing to be the accomplices of a crime that is being perpetrated by someone higher up the chain of command.

Questioning and disobeying unjust laws is always the moral thing to do, but it takes unusual courage. Refusing to obey the orders of the rulers in fascist-leaning or totalitarian societies can get you fired or black-balled or worse.

Not the Nazi Holocaust nor the Vietnam War nor the illegal war in Iraq could have happened if agents of the state whether soldiers or policemen or other cogs in the system had been courageous enough to disobey unjust orders.

Gary G. Kohls is a physician from Duluth, Minnesota, who, prior to his retirement, practiced holistic (non-drug) mental health care. He writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly of Duluth that deals with topics such as politics, religion, medicine, health, psychiatry, nutrition, war, peace and justice.