Beyond the reach of mainstream cameras (but not of the 5 Broken Cameras nominated for Best Documentary) the death of Arafat Jardat by torture in an Israeli prison has raised tensions in the Holy Land to a fever pitch. Indeed the whole region from Tunisia to Bahrain is in turmoil. And U.S. policies, even without the without the large-scale ground-troop invasions and warmongering rhetoric that characterized the Bush years, make everything worse.
ISRAELI BRUTALITY - AND ERODING CREDIBILITY
As Senator Lindsay Graham slammed Chuck Hagel for daring to use the same “A” word (apartheid) that former Israeli Prime Ministers have even uttered, Israel continued its brutal treatment of Palestinian political prisoners and ongoing expansion of colonial settlements. After 211 days on hunger strike, an Israeli military court rejected the release of Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi who will remain behind bars until his next scheduled hearing on March 14.
|Arafat Jaradat. Photo courtesy of Palsolidarity.|
As Issawi’s hunger strike continues 4,500 more Palestinian prisoners conducted a one-day strike in killing of Arafat Jaradat. Jaradat, a 30-year old Palestinian father, was imprisoned after throwing rocks at Israeli settlers and tortured to death in an Israeli jail. In response, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in cities and villages in the West Bank and Gaza and tens of thousands attended Jaradat's funeral. Talk of a "third intifada" (uprising) is becoming widespread.
On the ground realities in Palestine even intruded on the Oscar spectacle. Not only were two films dealing with the Israel/Palestine conflict nominated in the documentary category, but the Palestinian film-maker nominated for one of them was detained with his family upon arrival at the airport in LA and almost refused entrance. Emad Burnat declared in response:
“I am an Oscar nominee. But more to the point, my film, 5 Broken Cameras - which chronicles my village Bil'in's nonviolent struggle to resist Israeli occupation - is about precisely the kind of humiliation my family and I experienced at Los Angeles International Airport. The only difference is that the victims where I come from number in the millions, and our stories have become so routine that what happened to my family and me yesterday pales by comparison. That's because, on any given day, there are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other obstacles to movement throughout the West Bank - an area less than 2 percent the size of California on which some 2.5 million Palestinians live under a ubiquitous system of repression.”
As international solidarity with Palestine grows, condemnation of Israeli policies is increasingly entering public discourse. People all over the world will participate in Israeli Apartheid Week this March and there is an international campaign underway demanding the release of Samer Issawi and in solidarity with other hunger strikers.
Israel's war-mongering against Iran has also taken some recent hits. After spending the past year-plus revving up the Iran nuke threat, Israeli intelligence officials now admitted to McClatchy Newspapers that Iran (even if it wanted to) wouldn't be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015 or 2016. This admission comes on top of the failure of the all-out Israel Lobby/Neocon effort to block Hagel's confirmation and the degree to which that effort has led to the Israel Lobby becoming a topic of public discussion (and ridicule!). The result is new openings for Palestine solidarity work appearing every day, as the U.S. public's backing for Israel, while still deep-rooted, has fallen to its lowest level since the height of the first intifada in 1989.
NON-WITHDRAWAL WITHDRAWALS & BLOATED MILITARY BUDGETS
In his State of the Union Address, Obama called for the dubious combination of confronting austerity while maintaining military spending and further drawing out the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.S. will immediately begin a partial withdrawal of up to 34,000 of the 66,000 troops currently deployed in Afghanistan. Yet U.S. forces will continue to “train, advise and assist Afghan forces” well beyond 2014 and Washington has no plans to stop drone killings or continued counter-terrorism missions, depicted as combating al-Qaeda and similar groups but inevitably killing numerous civilians.
While criticizing GOP demands for across the board spending cuts, Obama insisted that he would not support cuts that“would jeopardize our military readiness,” rejecting what even his own Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, describes as a need to cut a bloated military budget.While Republicans stonewall even Obama's "we'll-make-social-program-cuts-if-there-is-also-a-little-additional-revenue" proposals, a Congressional Budget Office report states that the deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than at any time since World War II. The report adds that Medicare has already cut about $500 billion from its projected costs over 10 years compared to estimates made two years ago. While both parties have postured over what they will be willing to cut from military spending, absent from the debate has been any serious probing of the relationship between military spending and the growing deficit, and the fact that all the ‘entitlement programs’ could be easily financed through a cuts in the military budget that would still leave the U.S. by far the biggest military spender and weapons dealer on the planet.
DRONES AND "TARGETED KILLINGS" NO LONGER A SECRET
The confirmation hearings for Obama’s CIA pick, John Brennan, brought the issue of drones and targeted killings into broad public discussion for the first time and also re-opened the discussion about torture. Brennan, a former counterterrorism advisor to the White House, was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, defending them as “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.”
During Brennan's hearing there was the expected right-wing posturing over the Benghazi attack. But several senators thrust much more progressive concerns into the spotlight and demanded information from the Department of Justice on the drone program. The DOJ memo offered in response revealed the administration’s position that it is legal to kill Americans who join Al Qaeda and that “lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination," and states that the U.S. would be able to kill a U.S. citizen overseas when "an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government" determines the target is an imminent threat, when capture would be infeasible and when the operation is "conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles." Additionally, the memo suggests that these decisions would not be subject to judicial review and outlines a broad definition of what constitutes “imminent” threat.
In response to questions about the targeted assassination program, Brennan responded in contradictory tongue twisting: “What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security.”
Over 3,500 people have died in 420 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines - and Congress has yet to hold a single public hearing on this issue.
AFRICA: DRONE STRATEGY VS. WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
France’s intervention in Mali and the broader region is now getting increasing U.S. support and direct participation. This month Obama announced the deployment of 100 troops adding a new military front to its drone combat missions. According to the Washington Post, “The introduction of Predators to Niger fills a gap in U.S. military capabilities over the Sahara, most of which remains beyond the reach of its drone bases in East Africa and southern Europe.” The Niger Delta region is Africa's biggest producer of petroleum, where nearly 2 million barrels a day are extracted.
In nearby Tunisia, the struggle for liberation and democracy hit a major turning point after the assassination of political opposition leader Chokri Belaïd. Often credited as the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the Tunisian people are still confronting the unresolved issues of rising prices and unemployment that sparked the revolution. Part of a three-party ruling coalition, “Belaid began the process of unification when he formed the Unified Democratic Nationalist Party,” writes Vijay Prashad. “It is now left to his successors to carry forward his task, both in his name and in the name of Chris Hani, two men killed as they tried to take their countries on the path to democracy and equality.” [Hani commanded the African National Congress’s armed wing, Mkonto we Sizwe, during the anti-apartheid struggle. He was assassinated in 1993 by a right-wing Polish immigrant to South Africa.]
On March 26-31, 2013 social movements from across the world will converge on Tunis, Tunisia for the World Social Forum 2013. Grassroots Global Justice is playing a lead role in coordinating North American progressive forces to participate in the gathering and calling for global solidarity with the Tunisian revolution.
FORWARD ON CLIMATE# AND MAKING LINKS TO MILITARISM
The President exhorted Congress to act on climate change in his State of the Union address and even threatened to take executive action if they did not. But his indications of support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline stand in direct contradiction to those declarations. The movement to stop climate change is using that to mobilize, educate and demand that actions match words.
Under the banner of Forward on Climate# #NoKXL, 350.org, the Sierra Club, Indigenous Environmental Network and others organized over 40,000 people to rally in DC February 27. Hundreds of solidarity actions took place across the country the same day to demand the end to this ecologically disastrous project. The Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the US Gulf Coast, threatens to ruin the water table while producing massive carbon emissions.
Michael Klare writes that the outcome of the Keystone battle may be decisive for the next decade's battles over global warming. The fight also is an opportunity to make connections between climate change, the role of the oil giants, and the use of drones and the U.S. military generally in trying to secure control over oil resources at any cost. The peace movement has an important role to play in learning from this movement and helping to build its momentum while making those links.
On every front of battle, it is a complicated and challenging moment. Though right-wing climate change denialism and Neocons who believe bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb Iran is good policy rather than a juvenile ditty are not in power, the empire is still waging wars and doing little if anything to prevent environmental catastrophe. Drones and targeted killings, not massive ground troop invasions, are the forms of militarism and killing we now face. On this new terrain peace activists and all progressives can take lessons from bold actions like Forward on Climate that target the gap between rhetoric and reality, don't mince words, bring large numbers into the streets and aim to reach the broadest layers of public opinion.