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Obama gives $1.9 billion in weapons as welcome gift to Israel’s racist government

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

The Obama administration approved a $1.9 billion arms sale to Israel in recent days as “compensation” for the US nuclear deal with Iran, which the Israeli regime staunchly opposes.

Among the tens of thousands of bombs included in the weapons package are 3,000 Hellfire missiles, 12,000 general purpose bombs and 750 bunker buster bombs that can penetrate up to twenty feet, or six meters, of reinforced concrete.

This generous weapons gift comes in the wake of Israel’s most ferocious attack on the Gaza Strip to date, in which the Israeli army deliberately targeted civilians, including children, as a matter of policy.

The degree of firepower Israel unleashed on Gaza was so extreme that senior US military officials who participated in the illegal invasion and criminal destruction of Iraq were left stunned.

Even the Pentagon and State Department were forced to acknowledge that Israel did not do enough to avoid civilian deaths. But this did not prevent the Obama administration from rushing to provide Israel with the means to carry out more atrocities.

Bunker busters

Sadistically nicknamed the “Saddamizer,” the bunker buster bomb was originally developed by the US military during the first Gulf war to penetrate Iraqi command centers buried deep underground.

In recent years, these earth-shattering explosives have been repeatedly deployed against besieged and largely defenseless Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip.

Israel pounded Gaza with US-supplied bunker buster bombs during Operation Cast Lead, the three-week assault in the winter of 2008-2009 that killed 1,400 Palestinians, including nearly 400 children.

Obama quietly transferred dozens more bunker buster bombs to Israel in 2009 in an effort to prevent it from obstructing negotiations with Iran.

The Obama administration replenished that stockpile after yet another Israeli attack on Gaza in 2012 with a $647 million arms package that included thousands of bunker buster bombs.

Israel used those bunker buster munitions to pummel Gaza’s high rise towers and wipe out entire families as they sheltered in their homes during Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Israeli assault that ultimately killed over 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including over 500 children.

If the past is any indication, Obama’s weapons package will enable Israel to intensify its unspeakable atrocities against civilians in Gaza, and possibly Lebanon if Israel’s saber-rattling about Hizballah is to be believed.

Asked whether the Pentagon is concerned that its weapons might be used to harm innocent people, a spokesperson, Roger Cabiness II, offered the following vague statement: “As with any security cooperation activity, the United States assesses requests from its partners on a case-by-case basis, taking into account political, military, economic, arms control and human rights conditions in making decisions on the provision of military equipment and the licensing of direct commercial sales to any country, in accordance with the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, the Arms Export Control Act and relevant international agreements.”

Rewarding hate

Ever since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation by the Republican opposition to trash Obama’s diplomatic maneuvering on Iran in a speech to Congress, analysts have warned of a growing rift in US-Israel relations, insisting that the so-called special relationship has reached its lowest point in recent memory.

Relations apparently deteriorated further following Netanyahu’s election day campaigning, when, in a last ditch appeal to the worst inclinations of his rightwing base, he summoned the spirit of George Wallace, warning, “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”

In an interview with former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama insultingly equated the creation of a Jewish settler state in historic Palestine with the African American civil rights movement, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of “preserving” Israel’s Jewish majority. He went on to criticize Netanyahu’s anti-Arab electioneering, claiming to have enacted “foreign policy consequences” against Israel as a result.

Nevertheless, the pundits’ handwringing over cracks in the special relationship has been largely unfounded.

In reality, the only penalty Obama has imposed on Israel is tepid disapproval of Netanyahu’s overt racism, which is rendered meaningless by Obama’s ongoing material support for Israel’s crimes.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has assembled the most racist government in Israel’s history, with unabashed genocide enthusiasts occupying the most senior level positions.

Israel’s new education minister is Naftali Bennett, leader of the religious ultra-nationalist Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party who famously bragged, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life — and there’s no problem with that.” In response to international outrage at the Israeli massacre of four children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza last summer, Bennett accused Palestinian resistance fighters of “conducting massive self-genocide” to make Israel look bad.

Israel’s new justice minister is Ayelet Shaked, the lawmaker who last June endorsed a call to genocide, which declared “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and demanded the slaughter of Palestinian mothers to prevent them from birthing “little snakes.”

Israel’s new culture minister is Miri Regev, who in 2012 helped incite a violent anti-African riot when she stood before a racist mob and labeled non-Jewish African asylum seekers a “cancer”, a statement that 52 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with. Regev later apologized, not to Africans but to cancer survivors for likening them to Black people.

Israel’s new deputy defense minister is Eli Ben-Dahan, who proudly proclaimed, “[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human,” and, “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.”

Citing a combination of religious text and the writings of far rightwing Israeli figures, Israel’s new deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely asserted Jewish ownership over all of historic Palestine, declaring, “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that.”

Earlier this month, Moshe Yaalon, who will continue to serve as Israel’s defense minister in Netanyahu’s new governing coalition, threatened to nuke Iran and promised to kill civilians, including children, in any future conflict with Lebanon or Gaza.

Unlike Obama’s hollow threats, this is not empty rhetoric. We saw this incitement play out last summer, from the burning of Muhammad Abu Khudair by Jewish extremists and “death to Arabs” mobs hunting Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, to the sadistic conduct and eliminationist chauvinism exhibited by Israel’s military in Gaza.

With Israeli Jewish society submerged in anti-Palestinian racism from the top down, the Obama administration has guaranteed Israel’s capacity to carry out its most destructive ambitions.

The Nation magazine’s shameful history of aiding ethnic cleansing in Palestine

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

In 2005, Palestinian civil society implored people of conscience around the world to stand up for justice by honoring its call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. A decade later certain segments of the US left are still debating whether this Palestinian request for solidarity is a worthy enough cause.

The Nation magazine, a bastion of progressive journalism, has been at the forefront of indecision on this issue, regularly hosting debates on whether the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants of historic Palestine merit equal rights in their native land.

Last year, following my criticism of The Nation’s unwillingness to take a stand, I was assured by multiple sources inside the magazine that there would be an editorial meeting to discuss endorsing BDS. In the end, The Nation’s leadership decided against supporting boycott.

And so The Nation continues to hold debates on BDS, despite the growing urgency for Palestinians, whose lives are at the mercy of an increasingly fanatical regime led by people who openly promise to slaughter civilians and incite to genocide.

While The Nation celebrates 150 years as a progressive magazine committed to social justice and advocacy journalism, its record is tainted by the refusal of its leadership to take a decisive moral stand against Israeli ethnocracy, a pattern that dates back to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, in which The Nation was deeply complicit.

Indeed, The Nation assisted in Israel’s foundation as a Zionist settler state, which the magazine’s current editor-in-chief, Katrina vanden Heuvel, boasted about to the Forwardsaying, “[W]e have a great history … lobbying Truman, the UN, for the creation of the state of Israel.”

Freda Kirchwey, The Nation’s former publisher and editor, not only lobbied the US government and United Nations for the creation of a Jewish settler state in historic Palestine, she mobilized the full weight of her magazine to justify the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 indigenous Palestinians in 1948  — what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe — while agitating against their right to return.

Campaigning for Zionism

A review of The Nation’s coverage during the period leading up to Israel’s creation reveals a drastic shift from the inclusion of somewhat reasonable, albeit Orientalist, news reports and analyses in the 1930s to exclusively fanatical support for Zionism in the 1940s.

In 1936, for example, renowned writer Albert Viton reported from Palestine on the “Arab anti-imperialist struggle” against “reactionary” Zionists who want to establish “a Jewish state in which the Arabs, the indigenous population, will live as a minority.”

“But if a national state is to be founded here, I believe the Arabs have the most right to it. They have been living here for the last 1,200 years,” wrote Viton (“A solution for Palestine,” 26 December 1936).

Such honesty about the impacts and aims of Zionism on the ground in Palestine is totally absent from The Nation’s coverage in the subsequent decade.

In all fairness, The Nation was not alone in propagandizing for Zionism. As John Judis explains in his book Genesis, most American liberal publications at the time supported Zionism, viewing it as a morally appropriate response to the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Combined with Western anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tendencies, denying the humanity and basic rights of Palestinians was a no-brainer, especially with the Jewish Agency — the de facto representative of the Zionist project in Palestine — stage-managing the propaganda.

The Nation’s Kirchwey, in particular, “regularly exchanged information with Jewish Agency representatives in New York,” explains Judis. “These relationships were not those between journalists and sources, but between political allies.”

These relationships were reflected in the propaganda that saturated The Nation’scoverage.

Kirchwey juxtaposed what she viewed as “the leavening effect of Jewish enlightenment and social ferment in the vast lump of Arab misery and ignorance” (“The Palestine inquiry,” 12 January 1946).

Jewish contributions to “sparsely settled” and “backward” Palestine were nothing short of miraculous, according to Nation writer Philip Bernstein, who favorably likened European Jewish settlers to “the frontiersmen who cleared the wilderness and built the first settlements on the North American continent” (“The Jews of Europe: The case for Zionism,” 6 February 1943).

Preemptively excusing the ethnic cleansing to come, Bernstein added, “even if some displacement of the Arabs were necessary, this would ultimately be justified in the face of the desperate Jewish need. For there is no Arab problem in the sense that there is a Jewish problem. Fifteen million Arabs inhabit a region nearly half the size of Europe.”

Painting Arabs as Nazis

As early as 1939, Kirchwey was one of 27 writers to sign a letter condemning the British White Paper that year. Recognizing Jewish settler-colonialism in Palestine as a source of unrest, the White Paper called for limiting Jewish immigration and abandoning ethnoreligious partition in favor of a binational democratic state that secured the rights of both Jews and Arabs.

The appeal to which Kirchwey signed her name accused the British government of rewarding “Arab terrorism and gangsterism … bought and paid for by Italian fascism and German Nazism” and urged the US government to reject the paper.

Kirchwey would go on to link Arabs to Nazis and fascists at every opportunity thereafter, most notably in reports produced by the Nation Associates, a nonprofit group formed by Kirchwey to fund and publish the magazine.

Headed by Lillie Shultz, a former chief administrative officer at the pro-Zionist American Jewish Congress, the Nation Associates produced twelve widely circulated reports from 1947 to 1954 that campaigned for Zionist positions at the United Nations and the Truman administration. (Shultz went on to found a public relations firm whose primary client was Israel.)

Authored primarily by Kirchwey, the reports echoed Zionist propaganda and sought to cast Arabs as responsible for the Nazi Holocaust. The purpose of such baseless claims, according to Judis, was “to discredit Arab testimony at the United Nations.”

In the lead up to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the Nation Associates submitted a 133-page report to the UN with an entire section devoted to painting Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a leading figure in the Palestinian national movement, as an all-powerful agent of European Nazis and fascists. The authors went so far as to allege that the mufti was a “full partner” in the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews and was the primary inspiration for Adolf Hitler’s extermination campaign (“The Palestine problem and proposals for its solution,” April 1947).

Though none of these arguments withstand scrutiny, they feature prominently in Zionist propaganda against the Palestinian cause till this day.

The report also accused the Muslims of Europe and the Middle East of orchestrating mufti-directed sabotage campaigns against the Allied powers. This, of course, has no basis in reality, as the vast majority of Muslims who participated in the Second World War fought on behalf of the allied powers, including 8,000 Palestinians.

The report went on to caution against the “democratic appeal” of a binational state with equal rights for all, arguing “the Jewish population, progressive and industrialized, would be at the mercy of a backward and antagonistic Arab majority.” (Today’s liberal Zionists issue similarly racist warnings about the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinians absent a two-state solution.)

In May 1948, as mostly defenseless Palestinian towns and villages were being systematically wiped off the map by Zionist massacres and expulsions, The Nationcirculated another report to the UN, this time alleging a British conspiracy to assist surrounding Arab armies in attacking Jewish settlers. So consumed were “excitable” Arab men by their “bitter hatred of the Jews,” “the killing of Jews” had become their “sole raison d’être,” warned The Nation.

Weeks later, Kirchwey credited The Nation with pressuring the Truman administration into recognizing the state of Israel.

Ethnic cleansing as “fitting and just”

The Nation’s contribution to the Zionist project did not end with Israel’s foundation.

Soon after Palestine was emptied of its non-Jewish natives, Kirchwey embarked on a reporting trip to the region, where she published a series of dispatches that celebrated the new state of Israel and rejoiced in the removal of the land’s indigenous inhabitants.

Kirchwey was enamored with all facets of the new settler state, including the country’s first Israeli army spokesperson, Moshe Pearlman, who quit his job as a journalist for The New Statesman to run the Israeli press office. Kirchwey credited her old friend with “the creation … of a freely functioning, intelligent information service run by people who respect the virtue of facts” (“Israel at first glance,” 27 November 1948).

Reporting from Jaffa just months after Zionist militias expelled nearly all of the coastal city’s Palestinians, driving many into the sea where they crowded onto fishing boats for Gaza — Kirchwey acted as a propaganda mouthpiece for the conquerors (“Why did the Arabs run?”, 4 December 1948).

Escorted by an unnamed “man from the Israel press office,” she toured the ethnically cleansed city, heaping praise on Zionist pillagers for their supposed restraint and parroting lies about Nazis fighting alongside Palestinians:

He waved his arm at the damaged shop fronts. “What can you expect,” I asked, “especially after what went before? This was a clash between people that hated each other. Suppose the Arabs had swept into Tel Aviv? You think only a few streets of deserted small shops would have been smashed and looted?” He didn’t answer the last question. He said, “I expect Jewish soldiers to act like civilized human beings. They had captured the town; they should have protected it. They’ve done so in most places — protected both property and life.” I was more impressed by his severity than I was shocked by the damage done by the soldiers. I was later told, not by him but by someone else, that a good part of the looting in Jaffa was the work of assorted Europeans fighting in the Arab ranks — Nazis, Chetniks from Yugoslavia, and Balkan Moslem soldiers — who lingered after the defeat long enough to do some profitable marauding.

Next, Kirchwey reasoned that the removal of Palestinians was a noble endeavor because their homes were replaced with more deserving Jews.

“A good many of the undamaged houses in Jaffa and elsewhere are now being used for newly arrived Jews; so the Arab refugees unwittingly helped make a place for the Jewish refugees their leaders were so determined to keep out. This means hardship for individuals; collectively it is obviously fitting and just,” wrote Kirchwey.

As for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees forced from their ancestral lands, Kirchwey propagated the Zionist myth that their displacement was the fault of Arab leaders who advised them to flee. Palestinians had only themselves to blame, she reasoned.

Past haunts the present

Last summer, as the descendants of those refugees were obliterated by merciless Israeli bombardment, the first piece to appear at The Nation blamed Palestinians for their “suicidal” insistence on armed resistance to ghettoization and massacre.

Three years after the Nakba, the Nation Associates, along with several allied organizations, delivered a memorandum to the UN General Assembly agitating against the right of Palestinian refugees to return (“The Arab refugee problem: A plan for its solution,” 29 December 1951).

“Palestine Arabs fled from their homes at the behest of their leaders,” stated the document, which added that the Haganah — the precursor to the Israeli army that carried out the ethnic cleansing — “made every attempt to prevent the Arab exodus and pleaded with the populace to stay. These pleas were not heeded.”

The report continued, “The presence of a large Arab minority, which would be more responsive to the sentiments of the surrounding Arab states than to that of Israel, would render Israel insecure.”

In April 1954, as Palestinian refugees languished in squalid camps across the Middle East, periodically subjected to massacres by Israel and shot dead for attempting to return to their homes, the Nation Associates and allied organizations issued another report urging that development aid to the Middle East be conditioned on the acceptance by Arab states of blame for the Palestinian exodus and the forfeiture of the Palestinian right to return.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation’s current editor-in-chief, recently embraced her magazine’s “great history” of lobbying for Israel’s creation, highlighting a 2008 articleby neoconservative ideologues Ronald and Allis Radosh in World Affairs that detailed The Nation’s ultra-Zionist past while bashing the magazine’s present-day anti-occupation position.

In response to an email query from The Electronic Intifada, vanden Heuvel defended Kirchwey, writing, “Yes, former Nation editor Freda Kirchwey, like so many in the progressive community in the 1930s and ’40s, lived in the shadow of Nazism and the Holocaust. She devoted much energy to saving Europe’s most beleaguered community, the remnants of which were desperately seeking safe harbor after the worst genocidal killing in modern human history.”

Quoting from her own response to the Radoshes’ article, vanden Heuvel added, “When Kirchwey was writing, Israel was fighting for its survival; it was not engaged in a self-destructive occupation that even Israeli conservatives believe will eventually undermine its character and security.”

After some prodding, vanden Heuvel conceded that “[Kirchwey’s] views on the question of Palestine were one-sided and don’t represent what The Nation believes today, or indeed what it has believed for decades.”

The Nation has repeatedly criticized Israeli militarism and illegal occupation and has supported the right of Palestinians to statehood. Those views have been expressed in countless unsigned editorials, as the voice of the magazine, as well as in numerous articles and essays by contributors and columnists,” replied vanden Heuvel.

It is true that The Nation has staunchly opposed Israel’s occupation for decades. And the magazine does occasionally publish anti-Zionist critiques of Israel that identify Zionism as a toxic settler-colonial ideology underpinning the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

But it also provides a platform for anti-Palestinian bigots and Nakba revisionists to absolve Zionism of responsibility for fueling Israel’s ongoing dispossession of Palestinians. In a recent print feature for The Nation, liberal Israeli Zionist Bernard Avishai, who lives in the stolen home of a Palestinian expelled in 1948, attributed the premeditated mass expulsion of 50,000 Palestinians from Lydd and Ramla during the Nakba to “the fog of war” and labeled David Ben-Gurion, an architect of Palestine’s ethnic cleansing, an “admirably pragmatic” leader.

The Nation, as far as I can tell, does not publish Holocaust revisionism. Why is Nakba revisionism any less repulsive?

While it would be unfair to hold The Nation’s current leadership responsible for the transgressions of their predecessors, the magazine at the very least owes a historical debt to the Palestinians whose permanent displacement it so enthusiastically supported. Prevented from returning home by an ideology that seeks their erasure, those refugees and their descendants today live in shipping containers in Gaza and struggle to survive Bashar al-Assad’s barrel bombs and ISIS beheadings in what’s left of the Yarmouk camp in Damascus.

So long as The Nation magazine dithers on BDS while tiptoeing around the root cause of Palestinian suffering, this past will continue to haunt its present, a condition Palestinian refugees, waiting to return, know all too well.

PolitiFact denies Israeli ties to Baltimore police despite evidencete

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times’ political and media accountability project, has refused to issue a correction to an article that wrongly denies, against all evidence, Israel’s role in training Baltimore police.

Under the cover of counterterrorism training, senior commanders of nearly every major American law enforcement agency, including the Baltimore Police Department, have traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement, a fact that US corporate media outlets studiously avoid examining or even acknowledging.

Last week, PunditFact, which is overseen by PolitiFact, broke with that tradition, but rejected that any such relationship exists between Israel’s security apparatus and Baltimore police.

During the recent Baltimore uprising spurred by the police murder of Freddie Gray, PunditFact went after a tweet authored by the Nation of Islam Research Group, which claimed the Baltimore police received training from the Mossad (Israel’s lethal international spy agency) and Shin Bet, its internal secret police.

The Nation of Islam tweet links to a page on the Baltimore County Police Department’s website about a Krav Maga training program the agency offers to recruits. Krav Maga is the hand to hand fighting style developed by the Israeli army.

PunditFact correctly infers that “The link includes no information or evidence that county police were trained by Mossad and Shin Bet.” However it fallaciously adds, “There’s no evidence of any training ties to Israel. This claim is utterly unproven. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.”

Reality is quite the opposite. Israeli security forces have indeed provided training to Baltimore police, and there is ample evidence to corroborate it.

As I noted in my recent article on the Baltimore crackdown, Baltimore city police participated in a 2002 training junket in Israel organized by the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Among the ten high-ranking US police officials to take part in the JINSA trip was John Skinner, then commander of the Baltimore Police Department’s criminal intelligence division.

“Participants resolved to begin the process of sharing ‘lessons learned’ in Israel with their law enforcement colleagues in the United States,” stated JINSA in a press release. The officers studied Israeli-style intelligence gathering, border security, crowd control and media coordination. They also met with officials from nearly every branch of Israel’s security apparatus, including a senior commander in the Israel Security Agency, otherwise known as the Shin Bet, who gave them a special briefing.

Though there is no reference to Mossad participation, it is not uncommon for US police to receive briefings from Mossad officials on these trips.

Baltimore city police returned to Israel in 2009 on a trip hosted by American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange. “Participants toured the country and met with their Israeli counterparts to exchange information relating to best practices and recent advancements in security and counterterrorism,” according to Project Interchange.

In 2007, a captain in the Baltimore County Police Department attended a training session in Israel hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), where he reportedly “received valued lessons from Israeli officials … about gathering human and electronic intelligence” that can “apply to investigations into organized crime and gangs.”

Denying facts

In an email to the author of the PunditFact article, Jon Greenberg, and its editor, Aaron Sharockman, I presented proof of ties between Baltimore police and the Israeli security apparatus and requested that they issue a correction. While people may debate how significant these ties are, there is no denying that they exist. But they refused to make any change on the grounds that training sessions to Israel attended by senior officials in the Baltimore city and county police departments are irrelevant.

“The onus is on [the Nation of Islam] to do the research before they make the claim,” Greenberg replied.

Sharockman elaborated that “One officer attending training that includ[es] Israeli officials does little to warrant a correction.” The Baltimore police officer who attended the 2002 JINSA trip has since retired, the Baltimore County police captain who attended the 2007 ADL trip left the force in 2012, and the 2009 press release about the Project Interchange trip is too vague on details, argued Sharockman. “So three people attended some type of seminar. Two of them don’t work for Baltimore police agencies and we know nothing about the third person. Baltimore city has close to 4,000 sworn and civilian police officials,” he contended.

I pointed out that the Baltimore police officials who participated were senior officers in charge of entire divisions and they did so as representatives of their respective police departments. Even if the officers involved have retired, the whole point of these trips is for participants to apply what they learn to their own police departments. The lessons learned from Israel are meant to outlast the career of any single officer.

Even the ADL admits as much, bragging that US police who attend its annual week-long Israeli training camp “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” directly from “senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces” and are “taking the lessons they learned in Israel back to the United States.”

In spite of all this, Sharockman maintained, “The statement we fact-checked is inaccurate and wrong. There is nothing we need to correct based on the Tweet sent out and its all-too-clear implication.”

This of course raises questions about why, of all the social media posts to choose from, PunditFact selected a tweet with a dubious link that was authored by the research arm of an organization with little reach (it has only been retweeted 44 times as of this writing), and whose leader is regularly accused of anti-Semitism.

PunditFact casts itself as “a project of the Tampa Bay Times and the Poynter Institute, dedicated to checking the accuracy of claims by pundits, columnists, bloggers, political analysts, the hosts and guests of talk shows, and other members of the media.”

There were plenty of members of the media with far more reach whose claims about Israel training the Baltimore police were passed over by PunditFact:

Author Max Blumenthal referenced Israel’s ties to the Baltimore police department in a widely shared article published at AlterNet, which should have appeared in an Internet search looking for connections between Baltimore and Israeli security forces.

Why didn’t PunditFact look into the credible media figures voicing the very claims it sought to fact-check? Unless of course PunditFact was attempting to discredit and diminish growing awareness about Israel’s role in facilitating police militarization by linking it to Nation of Islam.

After several back-and-forth messages over email, Sharockman’s final logic-bending denialism left me stunned:

I’m a senior level editor at the PunditFact and PolitiFact – which is a part of the of Tampa Bay Times. In 2012, I spent one month as part of a fellowship working at a Russian newspaper with Russian journalists.

Do you think it’d be fair to say the Tampa Bay Times is trained by Russian journalists?

It’s an exact parallel, yet I’m guessing, I’m hoping, that you wouldn’t make such a sweeping conclusion.

Let’s extend the parallel further: If hundreds of US editors and journalists were regularly traveling to Russia on Russian-government backed junkets, meeting with Russian government information officials, praising Russian information control methods and promising to bring them back to their US newsrooms, would Sharockman so easily dismiss his own participation as isolated, irrelevant and insignificant?

In the words of PunditFact, we rate the claim that there is no correction to be made Pants on Fire.

Podcast: Omar Khadr’s Newfound Freedom Amidst ‘Sea of Demonization’ in Canada

Omar Khadr, who was once one of the youngest prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, was released on bail in Canada on Thursday. He said of his newfound freedom that what he was experiencing was “much better” than he had thought it would be.

On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” episode, Janice Williamson, editor of the book, Omar Khadr: Oh Canada, and a professor at the University of Alberta, joins the show to talk about the release of Khadr from Canadian jail. She reflects on his past history, from his experiences as one of the youngest people imprisoned at Guantanamo to his newfound freedom as the man he is now. She also highlights the “sea of demonization” fueled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has pushed counterterrorism measures in government that are inspired by anti-Muslim racism.

Khadr suffered torture at the hands of the United States military, which captured him on the battlefield in Afghanistan. He was willing to plead guilty to anything in order to get out of Guantanamo and confessed in 2010 that he threw a grenade, which killed an American soldier, so he would be transferred to Canada.

In 2012, Khadr was brought to Canada where he was jailed to serve his sentence for pleading guilty to committing this war crime. It set a dangerous precedent because he was a child on a battlefield and numerous advocates for child soldiers condemned the fact that the US sought to hold Khadr accountable.

Khadr’s lawyers have appealed his conviction in the US. Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government intends to fight to put Khadr back in jail, he is expected to remain free during his appeal.

During the discussion portion, the show’s hosts, Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola, talk about a reparations ordinance that passed in Chicago for police torture survivors, Israel’s parliament becoming even more virulently right-wing and openly supportive of violence, and two federal appeals court decisions of significance. One involves three activists having their Sabotage Act convictions reversed, and the other involves the NSA phone records collection surveillance program being ruled unlawful.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Israeli-trained police invade Baltimore in crackdown on Black Lives Matter

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

Paramilitary police forces face off against peaceful protesters outside Baltimore City Hall after 10 pm curfew on Friday, 1 May. (Bryan MacCormack/Left in Focus

For the second time in less than a year, an American city was transformed into a hypermilitarized police state to subdue growing resistance to anti-Black police violence.

Eight months ago, paramilitary forces barreled down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, following the gruesome police killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown.

Last week, martial law was imposed on the people of Baltimore, Maryland, in yet another crackdown aimed at crushing the Black Lives Matter uprising, galvanized this time by the police murder of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man whose spinal cord was severed while in police custody.

It was an occupation in the truest sense of the term. However, for Baltimore’s poor Black neighborhoods, it was a hypermilitarized version of the lower intensity occupation they are subjected to on a regular basis.

Protests demanding justice for Gray had been largely peaceful, until heavy-handed police tactics against Baltimore high school students on 27 April incited a riot.

Some young people responded by throwing bottles and rocks at police, prompting comparisons to Palestine, where children often toss stones at Israeli occupation forces as a means of resistance and self-defense.

Windows of police cruisers were smashed, stores were looted and a CVS store was set ablaze, throwing white America into a panicked frenzy that seemed to prioritize broken windows over broken spines, as one activist put it.

Martial law

Within hours of the riots, Baltimore city officials declared a state of emergency and instituted a 10pm curfew.

Practically overnight, Baltimore morphed into a heavily militarized police state with machine-like efficiency, demonstrating America’s frightening capacity to successfully implement martial law in a major US city in a matter of hours.

By Tuesday, 3,000 National Guard troops were deployed to Baltimore.

An armored police vehicle passes by the burned down a CVS store on the intersection of North and Pennsylvania avenues in Baltimore on 1 May. (Bryan MacCormack/Left in Focus

With assault rifles in hand, bored US soldiers in official military combat attire roamed the streets of downtown Baltimore, patrolling the National Aquarium, as well as the outlets of Forever 21, Cheesecake Factory and Barnes & Noble that dot the trendy and polished Inner Harbor.

The soldiers were flanked by police from a collection of law enforcement agencies from Maryland and across state lines, all working in concert with Baltimore police to crush the nascent uprising that erupted in the city’s long neglected poor Black neighborhoods. For these communities, martial law presented nothing more than an added layer to the ferocious police violence and intolerable economic deprivation that inform their daily lives.

Breaking curfew

On Friday, 1 May, around 80 protesters held their ground in the courtyard in front of City Hall. They were in high spirits and determined to break the 10pm curfew following news that six Baltimore police officers were charged in the killing of Freddie Gray.

Protesters huddle in the courtyard outside Baltimore City Hall on 1 May 2015, preparing to break the 10 pm curfew. (Rania Khalek / The Electronic Intifada)

The courtyard had become an unofficial media headquarters since the state of emergency began, saturated with TV news vans, cable news tents and lighting crews. The area also served as a command center for the National Guard and law enforcement.

As the curfew went into effect, a line of around a hundred riot police filed into the quad opposite the protesters, who had thinned out from a couple hundred to a few dozen. The mood was tense, but calm.

Riot police face off against protesters trying to break the curfew outiside Baltimore City Hall on 1 May. (Bryan MacCormack/Left in Focus)

 Minutes later, hidden units of riot police thundered into the crowd, charging at frightened protesters who soon learned there was nowhere to run. Protesters were woefully outnumbered and surrounded, with all possible escape routes cut off by either riot squads, officers on horseback, armored vehicles with rooftop snipers or National Guard troops, reinforced by a police helicopter circling overhead.

Police officers dressed like storm troopers attacked one protester after the next completely unprovoked. I watched as police all around me tackled civilians, slamming them into the ground face first, piling on top of them and blindly swinging their batons. It was a police riot.

Meanwhile, police closed in on the media, jostling members of the press and repeatedly threatening them to get back.

Mass arrests

Among those arrested that night was 32-year-old Chicago-based activist Danielle Villarreal, who was knocked to the ground by officers while quietly looking to see which of her comrades had been grabbed.

Her friend, Jackie Spreadbury, 26, instinctively reached for Villareal’s arm to protect her from police and was instantly thrown against a van and tossed to the ground, her cheek pressed up against the curb.

“They hit me with their batons on the back of the calf below the knee as I was already down on the ground,” Spreadbury told me, recollecting her arrest. “I didn’t realize at the time that I was getting hit. I was just looking at Danielle to see if she was okay.”

“A bunch of cops were yelling different things at me. And then they started yelling at me for not listening to all the different things they were demanding,” Spreadbury recalled.

“I’ve been to lots of demonstrations over the years and I’ve never seen this sort of pre-emptive oppression — outside of NATO in Chicago — where they lunged at us and chased us down without warning, and just pre-emptively attacked people,” said Villarreal, referring to the virtual police state during the NATO summit in Chicago in 2012 that saw protesters corralled, abused and arrested.

“If you want to see who wants a riot, look at who’s dressed for it,” added Villarreal, noting that police were the ones wearing body armor and carrying billy clubs.

During their 22 hour stay in jail, the women met countless Baltimore residents who were swept up by police for breaking curfew while going about their daily lives. “They were put in a cell with us — women, mothers daughters — they got picked up because of this police state. There was a 51–year-old woman who was arrested on her way from work at 4:45am during curfew,” said Spreadbury.

At least 486 people have been arrested in Baltimore since 23 April, a fifth of whom were held for 48 hours without explanation and released without charge.

Others were given astronomically high bails.

Allen Bullock, 18, turned himself in at the behest of his parents after a photo of him smashing a police windshield with a traffic cone was plastered in news reports across the country. Bullock is currently being held on a half a million dollar bail that his family can’t possibly afford. In stark contrast, the officers who severed Freddie Gray’s spine received bails no greater than $350,000.

Palestine contingent lends support

Building on the deepening bond between the Palestinian and Black liberation struggles, Palestinian civil society organizations issued a declaration of support for those struggling against racial injustice in Baltimore.

“We send our condolences to the family of Freddie Gray and all those murdered in police custody,” says the statement. “We stand in solidarity with those whose homes have been foreclosed, with those who live under the constant watch of surveillance cameras and under the constant threat of being stopped, harassed, arrested and assaulted by a militarized police force in their own streets. Your struggle for justice, equality and freedom is our struggle.”

A contingent of Palestine solidarity activists affiliated with Students for Justice with Palestine (SJP) at American University and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at George Mason University turned those words into action.

Palestine solidarity activists from Washington, DC, supporting protesters in Baltimore. (Rania Khalek / The Electronic Intifada)

Wearing their kuffiyehs — Palestinian checkered scarves — to remain easily visible to one another amid the likely chaos, the group shuffled back and forth between Washington, DC and Baltimore to lend their support as legal observers and medics.

“Oftentimes we struggle with wanting to participate because we don’t know if it’s our place and we don’t want to be co-opting,” said Ntebo Maya Mokuena, a 19-year-old member of SJP at AU. “But I think it’s important for people in DC to show solidarity in Baltimore because we’re so close.”

Mokuena gravitated toward Palestine solidarity work due to her father’s activism against apartheid in South Africa. “I saw the connections between his experiences in South Africa and what happens in Palestine. I thought it was really important to carry on the family legacy,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

“From Palestine to Baltimore, there are parallels with militarization of police and the tactics they use to take over space in other people’s land. They’re occupying people’s neighborhoods where they live. It’s like the second wave for Baltimore because it’s already economically occupied,” said Mokuena.

The group managed to avoid arrest during Friday night’s melee, though some told The Electronic Intifada that they were more frightened of police in Baltimore than Israeli forces at protests they had attended in Palestine.

“Even though I’ve been to protests in Palestine, I saw more physical abuse in Baltimore,” said Tareq Radi, a Palestinian American organizer and founding member of SAIA. Still, what he witnessed in Baltimore reminded him of Israeli crowd control in Palestine. “I went to the ‘day of rage’ protests in the Negev [Naqab] and I saw people getting slammed on the ground, hogtied, police grabbing their arms and legs and throwing them in the paddy wagon — the exact same imagery as Baltimore.”

“If Baltimore was a Middle Eastern country, we would be calling it a dictatorship,” Radi added.

Echoes of Israeli tactics in Baltimore

The similarities in suppression tactics employed by Baltimore and Israeli security forces are no coincidence.

Under the cover of counterterrorism training, nearly every major police agency in the United States has traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement, including many of the agencies active in Baltimore last week.

In 2002, Baltimore city police officers went to Israel on a junket organized by the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), where they studied Israeli occupation tactics used against Palestinians, including “crowd control, and coordination with the media,” according to a JINSA press release. “Participants resolved to begin the process of sharing ‘lessons learned’ in Israel with their law enforcement colleagues in the United States,” boasted JINSA.

Baltimore city police returned to Israel for more occupation training in a 2009 triparranged by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange.

On a 2007 training session in Israel, Baltimore County police reportedly “received valued lessons from Israeli officials … about gathering human and electronic intelligence” that can “apply to investigations into organized crime and gangs.”

The Montgomery County Police Department, which sent dozens of police officers to assist in the Baltimore crackdown, has attended several training sessions in Israel, including one in 2010 and another in 2012, both hosted by Project Interchange.

New Jersey State Police, which donated around 150 of its officers to Baltimore’s police state, learned lessons in occupation enforcement on trips to Israel arranged by the Anti-Defamation League in 2011 and 2013, and JINSA in 2004.

Pennsylvania State Police, which contributed 300 state troopers to Baltimore, studied counterterrorism in Israel in 2004.

While there is a wealth of scholarship on police militarization in the US, there has been little to no examination of the ways Israel’s security apparatus facilitates it. Instead, the issue is virtually ignored or flat out denied, despite the troubling implications of emulating an apartheid regime actively engaged in ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

Armed with cameras

There is something eerily consistent about occupation, whether in the ghettos of Palestine or the United States, including one of the most widely used means of resistance to it.

“A camera is the most trusted witness and the best protection tool,” Issa Amro, the founder and director of Youth Against Settlements, told me last year after his organization faced violent retaliation for recording Israeli soldiers pointing assault rifles at Palestinian teens in a video that went viral.

Kevin Moore, who filmed the video of Freddie Gray’s brutal arrest, sees the camera in a similar light.

“The most powerful weapon that we have against the police right now is a camcorder or any type of record that you can get against them performing those police brutal events,” argued Moore after his video of Gray went viral. After speaking out about Gray’s killing, Moore complained that police were intimidating him. He was later arrested with two activists from Copwatch, the police accountability organization he is a member of and released two hours later without charge.

Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the chokehold killing of Eric Garner by NYPD officers in Staten Island last year, met an even worse fate. He was arrested along with his mother, brother and wife in what he contends is a campaign of vengeful harassment by the NYPD.

Meanwhile, not one of the officers who killed Garner on video will face charges; Video evidence of deadly police violence rarely results in accountability.

Under such intolerable conditions, where even video evidence of their murders isn’t enough to hold their killers accountable, it is no wonder that the oppressed are fighting back, from Baltimore to Ferguson to Palestine.

Europe’s border policy is designed to push refugees into the sea

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada

Shortly before a huge migrant boat disaster early this month, The Sun, a daily paper owned by Rupert Murdoch, published a column by British TV star and rightwing provocateur Katie Hopkins calling migrants “cockroaches” and “a plague of feral humans.”

Not long after it went to press, as many as 850 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean when their wooden fishing boat capsized about sixty miles off the coast of Italy. Days earlier, 400 refugees had drowned. The death toll this year has already reached 1,780, a more than 50-fold increase from the same time last year. The death toll is projected to rise further during the warmer seasons.

Given the timing, Hopkins’ genocidal language generated a great deal of attention and outrage, including a denunciation from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who likened her vitriol to Nazi propaganda against Jews in the lead up to the Holocaust.

Largely unnoticed amid the uproar was the fact that Hopkins’ proposed solution — to “bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats” — is precisely what Europe’s supposedly “enlightened” liberals have chosen to do.

In response to the crisis, European Union leaders have agreed to launch military operations against smugglers in Libya using Apache helicopter gunships, to send nearly all migrants who survive the journey back to where they fled and to destroy the boats before they set sail to Europe.

The EU also plans to outsource its border patrol operations to security forces in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Mali and Niger to prevent refugees from reaching the Mediterranean coast, further restricting their freedom of movement and ability to escape persecution and possibly deporting them back to their places of origin, which include Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip.

Death as deterrence

As Europe scrambles to respond to worldwide outrage spurred by this latest migrant boat catastrophe, it has placed the blame squarely on the smugglers.

There is no doubt that the human traffickers have engaged in murderous exploitation of refugees. In September, smugglers deliberately sank a boat, killing some 500 people, almost all of whom were Palestinians from Gaza. However, shifting all the blame onto smugglers deflects from Europe’s own culpability.

Smugglers are merely a symptom of Europe’s deadly border policies.

Over the last decade, the EU has deliberately sealed its land borders, effectively pushing refugees to use deadly sea routes.

The border between Spain and Morocco, one of just two land borders connecting Europe to Africa, is sealed by fence that is seven yards high and reinforced with barbed wire. Though the fence hasn’t stopped people from trying to climb over it, the barbed wire tearing through their flesh in the process, those who manage to scale the fence alive are swiftly deported.

Bulgaria, which two decades ago celebrated the dismantling of a wall that caged people in, is building a wall at its border with Turkey to keep mostly Syrian refugees out. Bulgaria became a preferred route after the construction of a fence at the Turkey-Greece border for the same reason.

With land borders cut off, refugees, no less desperate for security, are predictably risking dangerous sea voyages on rickety vessels to reach safety.

(US Border Patrol employs a similar policy of “deterrence” at the US-Mexico border, where the wall funnels migrants into the most dangerous desert terrain, where many die of thirst on the perilous trek from Mexico to the US.)

Let them drown?

After nearly 400 African refugees died in the Mediterranean trying to reach the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in 2013, Italy launched Mare Nostrum, a navy search and rescue operation that saved 150,000 lives until it was scrapped in October 2014.

The EU replaced Mare Nostrum with Operation Triton, which is overseen by Frontex, the European border management agency. Though the EU agreed to triple the budget of Triton in response to the latest mass drowning, the extra funding is unlikely to stem the deaths. Triton’s mandate is surveillance and border protection, not search and rescue, and it only patrols up to thirty miles off the Italian coast. Even the head of Frontex stated that the agency’s priority is not to rescue migrants.

The British government explicitly refused to take part in any search and rescue operations, arguing, against all available evidence, that saving people encourages migrants to make the dangerous sea voyage. Britain’s Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, insisted that halting rescue operations “at the earliest possible opportunity” would deter potential migrants from setting out on their voyages. (According to Frontex, the number of migrants increased 160 percent three months after Triton replaced Mare Nostrum.)

There are more refugees today fleeing war and persecution than at any time since the Second World War, according to the UN. The refugee crisis is largely isolated to the Global South due in no small part to the lasting impacts of colonialism and ongoing imperialism pursued by countries in the Global North.

Meanwhile, the EU will only offer resettlement to 5,000 people who qualify for asylum, meaning the vast majority who survive the Mediterranean “will be sent back as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return program co-ordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex,” according to The Guardian.

Such policies are reminiscent of the treatment of another group of persecuted refugees in the not-so-distant past.

In the lead up to the Nazi Holocaust, Western nations not only placed quotas on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, but in some cases boats full of Jewish refugees were turned away. Such was the fate of the SS St. Louis, the infamous cruise liner carrying 900 German Jews who were denied entry in 1939 by Cuba, the United States and Canada, forcing them to sail back to Europe. More than 250 of those on board died at the hands of the Nazis.

Today, Western leaders atone for their nations’ complicity in the Holocaust with cheap pronouncements of “never again,” declarations of unconditional support for Israel and a commitment to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination, all the while denying asylum to today’s persecuted refugees.

Cheap talk

During his 26 April visit to Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace, the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil, French President François Hollande warned, “The worst can still happen. Anti-Semitism and racism are still here.”

“We must not forget anything,” he said.

Just two days earlier, Hollande announced that he would be seeking a UN resolution to grant the EU authorization to destroy migrant boats before they set sail for Europe.

The fact that most of today’s refugees are Muslim provides an ideological imperative for blocking their entry into an increasingly Islamophobic Europe, with politicians stoking fears of Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism to rationalize border cruelty.

Indeed, Raymond Shamash, a member of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), explained to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he is running for office to protect Jews from Muslim immigrants.

“Most of the people coming over from Libya and Sudan and Somalia and Afghanistan do share one characteristic — that they are Muslims. I feel a demographic shift will make the position of the Jewish community untenable,” said Shamash.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage recently issued a similarly panicked warning, arguing that relaxing EU asylum policies would result in “a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilization.”

Likewise, Kent Ekerot, a member of the Swedish Democrats (SD), insists that anti-Semitism in Sweden is entirely “imported” due to “unrestricted immigration” of Arabs and Muslims, which he and his party fervently oppose.

Rooted in fascism and the country’s neo-Nazi movement, SD captured 13 percent of the vote in the last general election, making it the third most popular political party in Sweden.

Israel’s existence as an exclusionary settler state is deceptively justified on similar grounds — as a necessary response to the world’s indifference to the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to grant asylum to non-Jewish African refugees fleeing genocide in places like Eritrea and Sudan, preferring instead to round them up into detention and deport them.

Openly referred to as “infiltrators” by Israeli government officials, Africans seeking asylum have — like Palestinians — been labeled a threat because they are not Jewish. Earlier this month it was discovered that three Eritreans who Israel deported were among those beheaded in Libya by Islamic State  (also known as ISIS) for not being Muslim.

Israelis on social media rejoiced at the news, with some heaping praise on the killers. “It’s a shame [Islamic State] doesn’t catch them before they reach Israel,” commented one Israeli. “Now we understand how to deal with the problem, bring here ISIS and they will take of the Eritreans and Palestinians,” remarked another.

This is the hatred European leaders are endorsing when they exploit the Holocaust to justify Israeli apartheid. But European support for Israeli discrimination is more than just empty penance for the past. After all, Fortress Europe benefits from Israel’s cruel policies of occupation and exclusion.

Israeli technology created to make the control and removal of Palestinians more efficient may be procured by the EU to militarize the borders of Fortress Europe, as The Electronic Intifada’s David Cronin has reported.

As the Mediterranean Sea becomes a graveyard for refugees, it’s more apparent than ever that Europe has learned all the wrong lessons from one of the darkest chapters in its history.

Yemeni Americans Feel Doubly Betrayed as US Government Refuses to Evacuate Them from Yemen

On this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure Kevin Gosztola and I speak with Gadeir Abbas, an attorney representing dozens of Yemeni-Americans in their lawsuit against the US government’s refusal to evacuate their loved ones from Yemen. (Download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here). Here’s Kevin with the details

Tom Kelly, according to McClatchy, acknowledged that hundreds of Americans had fled Yemen for Djibouti recently on foreign ships and aircrafts after dangerous journeys on land. At one point, “evacuees” were left behind at the “port of Aden because they had been unable to climb up rope ladders to board an Indian navy frigate from smaller boats that had ferried them to the larger ship, which had been unable to dock because of fighting in the city.”

Dozens of Americans arrived on that frigate on April 11. Potentially, 55,000 Americans remain in Yemen and have received no pledge from their own government that there will be help for them so they can escape. Countries like China, India, Pakistan and even Somalia have launched missions to rescue their citizens but the US has decided not to launch an operation to specifically help Yemeni Americans, even though it easily could because it is coordinating with the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing the country.

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney representing dozens of Yemeni Americans who are stranded in Yemen, is this week’s guest on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast. He talks about the lawsuit filed to force the US government to help these trapped Americans. He highlights the betrayal Yemeni Americans feel as their government treats them like second class citizens and discusses what it would take to evacuate them.

In the second half of the show, Abbas, who represents an American named Gulet Mohamed in his challenge to his placement on the No Fly List, highlights the latest developments. The government is now informing plaintiffs in No Fly List cases that they have a new process where Americans can get confirmation that they are on the list. Abbas contends the changes are meaningless, however, and discusses how none of what the government has implemented resolves Mohamed’s case.

The weekly podcast radio show hosted by Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek is available for download here.

Partial transcript of interview with Gadeir Abbas: Read more


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