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Israeli leaders delight in Europe’s cruelty toward refugees

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

As most of the world looks on in horror at Europe’s atrocious response to refugees escaping war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa, some Israeli officials are quietly reveling in the chaos.

Dore Gold, director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, expressed optimism that the refugee influx will shift Europe to the right, making it more sympathetic to Israel’s “security” justification for its ongoing colonization of Palestine.

“Israel always faced the problem in the past that its national security perspective was completely out of sync with how Europeans were viewing the emergence of the European community and the borderless world that was emerging,” the American-born hardliner told The Jerusalem Post.

“In the European models that existed 25 or 30 years ago, it is kind of difficult to hear an Israeli argument. But now things may be beginning to change a little,” posited Gold.

“The European perspective is beginning to sound a little bit more like Israel’s perspective on security issues, compared to what it was in the past.”

Echoes of the Holocaust

Images of refugees being corralled in trains, tracked with numbers on their forearms, locked away and fed like zoo animals in overcrowded camps and blocked with razor wire fences from entering Hungary have recalled memories of Europe’s darkest chapter.

All the while, refugees continue to die en masse on perilous journeys to Europe, sometimes drowning on rickety boats by sea and other times suffocating in trucks on the side of highways.

Frequently overlooked is the fact that these deaths are a direct consequence of European border policies designed to make migration as unsafe as possible.

The only thing less acknowledged is the root catalyst.

Rapacious policies advanced by wealthy nations in the increasingly gated Global North have destabilized and fueled the very unrest that has produced the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

It’s no coincidence that many of the refugees at Europe’s doorstep are fleeing unrest in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan — all countries the US and its allies have directly and indirectly pillaged and destabilized.

Keeping Europe Christian

While there is plenty of blame to go around for the current crisis, Hungary’s actions — coupled with the jingoistic rhetoric of its right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban — have provoked the most widespread revulsion.

Muslim refugees must be kept out of Europe “to keep Europe Christian,” said Orban in an opinion piece urging Germans not to welcome Muslim refugees.

“We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture,” he insisted. “Most are not Christian, but Muslim. … That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots.”

A statement from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, attributed Hungary’s “callous” and “illegal” treatment of refugees to “the xenophobic and anti-Muslim views that appear to lie at the heart of current Hungarian government policy.”

As it turns out, Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz, is smitten with Israel, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. During a visit to Israel in 2005, Orban reportedly declared, “Likud is our natural ideological partner.”

He has since adopted several Israeli practices.

Inspired by Birthright, a program that sends young American Jews on free trips to Israel in hopes they will immigrate, Orban launched a Hungarian Birthright programfor North Americans of Hungarian descent.

Orban also tapped Netanyahu’s former political advisor, Arthur Finkelstein, to help him consolidate power.

Finkelstein is a mud-slinging Republican strategist from the United States who has advised countless rightwing candidates both domestically and abroad. They include the failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney and more recently Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel’s proto-fascist party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home).

In recent years Fidesz has deepened ties with the far right and openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

Hungary is joined by Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic in refusing to take non-Christian refugees.

Leaders in Poland are said to be appealing to widespread anti-Muslim sentiment among the populace as election season approaches.

More than half of those polled earlier this month agreed that allowing Arabs and Turks into Poland would be “detrimental” to the country. Some people have even suggested reopening Auschwitz and sending the refugees there, prompting an investigation by Poland’s prosecutor general.

In Warsaw last weekend, thousands of right-wing protesters took to the streets, chanting, “Today refugees, tomorrow terrorists!“ and “Poland, free of Islam!”

To make their point, the rightwing demonstrators used a cartoon originally crafted by pro-Israel propagandists to portray Israeli soldiers as morally superior to Palestinians, who are shown using civilians as human shields. In reality it is Israel that uses Palestinians, including children, as human shields.

Back in Israel, fans of the Maccabi Tel Aviv football team unfurled a giant banner that read, “Refugees not welcome!

Keeping Israel Jewish

As Hungary was making headlines for its racist pledge to build an anti-refugee fence, Netanyahu announced the construction of a wall along the Jordanian border to block a potential influx of Syrian refugees. Once the barrier is completed by the end of 2015, Israel will be entirely walled off.

Israeli officials claim they are helping Syrians by providing them with medical treatment instead of asylum. But this has only involved around 1,500 people, most of them fighters linked to al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria. In any case, patching up the wounded, fighters or not, and then sending them back into a war zone, as Israel has done, does not qualify as asylum.

Of the five states that border Syria, Israel is the only one that has not taken in any Syrian refugees for reasons identical to Hungary’s.

“Israel is a very small country. It has no demographic depth and has no geographic breadth,” Netanyahu has told his cabinet. “We must protect our borders against illegal immigrants and against the perpetrators of terrorism. We cannot allow Israel to be flooded with infiltrators.”

“Demographic depth” refers to Israel’s ideological imperative to maintain its Jewish majority, which was engineered by the premeditated mass expulsion of more than 750,000 indigenous Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948. In turn, Israel barred Palestinian refugees from returning and labeled those who tried to come back as “infiltrators.”

That is why millions of Palestinians continue to languish in squalid refugee camps scattered across the Middle East nearly 70 years later, making it the longest running refugee crisis in modern history.

As “proud Zionist” Noah Arbit argued in The Jerusalem Post that “absorbing any amount of Syrian refugees will only increase this demographic threat.”

Israel’s refusal to grant asylum to non-Jewish refugees from African states is rooted in the same exclusivist logic.

Openly referred to as “infiltrators” by Israeli government officials, African refugees have, like Palestinians, been labeled a threat because they are not Jewish.

Israel not only denies them asylum, it imprisons and deports them back to the horrors they escaped, where some have since been tortured and even killed.

In 2013, Israel completed construction of a wall along its border with Egypt to block African refugees from entering the country. Hungary and Bulgaria have reportedly expressed interest in buying Israeli equipment for their own borders.

Slamming Netanyahu’s embarrassingly open indifference, Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union, wrote on his Facebook page, “You’ve forgotten what it means to be Jews. Refugees. Persecuted. The prime minister of the Jewish people does not close his heart and the gate when people are fleeing for their lives from persecution, with their babies in their hands.”

It is difficult to take Herzog seriously given his party’s indifference towards Israel’s cruel treatment of African refugees, not to mention its refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return, a policy Herzog’s Labor Party (part of the Zionist Union) instituted.

Zeev Elkin, Israel’s immigration minister, slammed Herzog’s appeal as an “attempt to bring the [Palestinian] ‘right of return’ through the back door. That is not responsible, and it is forbidden that it should happen.”

In the case of Palestinian refugees, the Israeli response is arguably more absurd. Israel is not denying Palestinian refugees asylum but rather their right to return to land from which they were violently expelled.

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing against the right of Syrians to return to Syria should they choose to do so when the country is no longer engulfed in war. Yet the idea that Palestinians should have the right to return to their homeland is considered by many to be preposterous, even anti-Semitic.

Meanwhile, under Israel’s discriminatory Law of Return, the purpose of which is to boost the Jewish majority, a Jew from anywhere in the world with no connection to the land can immigrate to Israel.

In June, Elkin beseeched French Jews to “come home,” insisting “Anti-Semitism is growing, terrorism is running rampant, and according to reports, ISIS is committing murder in broad daylight.”

“We are prepared to open our arms to the Jews of France,” he said, adding, “This is a national mission of the highest priority.”

A month later, Elkin greeted 221 new Jewish immigrants who left comfortable lives in the United States and Canada to settle in historic Palestine. A total of 4,000 North American Jews are expected in Israel by the end of 2015.

The similarities between European far right and Israeli government policies were best distilled by Arnon Soffer, an Israeli demographer nicknamed the Arab counter due to his compulsive fixation on the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinian babies.

Bizarre paradox

Rejecting calls to accept Syrian refugees, Soffer explained, “We are a very small country … please leave me some space for additional Jews to come.”

He went on to relate Israel’s anti-refugee imperative with Europe’s.

“Europe potentially can open its doors and accept more and more refugees, but if Europe says no, I can understand because they are afraid [of] the Muslims,” said Soffer. “This is a clash of civilizations and it will not happen in Africa or Asia. It will happen in France, Hungary and will eventually reach England and Germany.”

Orban and Netanyahu share a clear affinity for jingoistic saber rattling against Muslims, but the same cannot be said for the response their behavior elicits.

While Orban has been likened to a Nazi, Israeli leaders have been granted special immunity from abiding by the most basic standards of equality, not in spite of the Holocaust but rather because of it. The US State Department has gone so far as to classify as a form of anti-Semitism “comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

This has created a bizarre paradox where the Holocaust is invoked to demand inclusiveness and sympathy for refugees in Europe, while being simultaneously deployed to excuse racist Israeli practices. Indeed, Israel’s existence as an exclusionary settler state is deceptively justified as a necessary response to the world’s indifference to the Nazi genocide of European Jews.

Consequently, language that is being condemned when spoken by European leaders is routinely excused when uttered in reference to Israel and Palestine. When the subject matter is Palestinian refugees, liberal rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic becomes indistinguishable from sentiments typically relegated to the far right.

Warning about the threat posed by “higher Palestinian population growth and fertility rates,” as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank did in February, is perfectly acceptable mainstream discourse.

The same goes for describing Palestinian refugees as a “demographic death warrant,” as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren did this past summer.

Hungary’s Orban would certainly approve.

Israeli arms fuel atrocities in Africa

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

Israeli weapons are fueling atrocities in South Sudan, according to a United Nations report that sheds new light on the secretive Israeli arms trade in Africa.

Authored by an investigative team assembled by the UN Security Council, the report cites photographic evidence of automatic rifles made by Israel Military Industries (IMI) being in the arsenal of South Sudan’s army and police. Known as Galil ACE, the guns have particularly been used by bodyguards of high-ranking politicians and by senior army officers.

South Sudan was granted independence in 2011 following a civil war that lasted for decades. Within days of its establishment, leading figures in the Israeli weapons industry rushed to advance their interests in the new ally against Iran’s influence in Sudan.

Since its secession in 2011, South Sudan has descended into civil war between opposing political factions.

The Israeli-armed South Sudanese military and government-aligned militias are employing a “scorched earth policy” characterized by the systematic rape of women and children, indiscriminate killings and the burning down of entire villages with families inside their homes, according to the UN report.

South Sudan is not the only African country in which the Israeli arms industry is profiting from bloodshed.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel does not disclose detailed information about its arms deals, most of which are brokered by shady intermediaries, typically retired Israeli military personnel or civilian expatriates.

However, occasional news reports, public statements from officials and investigations by nongovernmental organizations have drawn back the curtain in recent years, revealing military involvement in more corners of Africa than can be detailed in a single article.

Using those sources, SIPRI was able to document the sale of major Israeli weapons to Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Seychelles, South Africa and Uganda from 2006 to 2010.

Champion arms dealer

Despite its small size, for decades Israel has ranked among the world’s top 10 arms exporters, an impressive feat for a nation no geographically bigger than New Jersey.

This is partly due to Israel’s use of the occupied West Bank and Gaza as laboratoriesto test and refine weapons and methods of domination and control. This dynamic allows Israeli military firms to market their products as “battle-tested” and “combat proven” — coveted labels that give the nation a competitive edge in the international arms trade.

Israel’s success is also attributable to its willingness to do business with repressive regimes that even the United States and European countries avoid arming directly.

In the case of South Sudan, the magnitude of atrocities compelled the European Union to impose an arms embargo and issue sanctions against the country’s military leaders.

The US has similarly suspended military aid and issued sanctions, though it should be noted that the Obama administration enthusiastically aided the build-up of the South Sudanese army, despite knowing that it had several thousand child soldiers within its ranks.

Israel, meanwhile, hosted South Sudan at a weapons expo as recently as June.

Aiding genocide

Acting as a weapons conduit to murderous regimes is hardly a new phenomenon for Israel.

Under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin, then prime minister, and Shimon Peres, then foreign minister, Israel supplied the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government forces as well as the rebel army led by Paul Kagame with bullets, rifles and grenades as genocide was underway in that country during the 1990s.

In addition to arming the killers, Israel trained the Rwandan military and paramilitary forces in the years leading up to the bloodbath.

After touring the killing fields, an Israeli arms dealer reportedly lauded himself as a humanitarian for helping the victims die quickly with bullets instead of machetes. “I’m actually a doctor,” he remarked.

Israel has since forged close ties with Kagame, Rwanda’s current autocratic presidentwho enjoys much support in the West.

Weapons depot for despots

As Israeli weapons contracts from the US and Europe decline due to reduced defense budgets, developing countries in Latin America and Africa have become Israel’s fastest-growing markets.

Israeli arms sales to Africa doubled between 2012 and 2013 and ballooned another 40 percent in 2014, reaching $318 million that year.

It’s unclear whether these totals account for the weapons and military training Israel provided to Uganda and possibly Rwanda as compensation for agreeing to take in African refugees expelled from Israel.

While Israel has no qualms contributing to turmoil in African countries, it refuses to grant asylum to Africans on its soil, preferring instead to imprison and deport them back to the horrors they escaped. Some have been imprisoned, tortured and even killed since their expulsion.

What is clear is that Israel’s African customers comprise a who’s who of undemocratic regimes that brutally oppress their citizens.

Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR), which engages in routine extrajudicial assassinations and “disappearances”, is trained by a retired Israeli army commander, Mayer Heretz.

In 2009, BIR was deployed to crush demonstrations against economic inequality, killing as many as 100 protesters.

Cameroon’s notoriously brutal presidential guard unit, which is vital to maintaining the 33-year rule of dictator Paul Biya, was trained by another retired Israeli army commander, Avi Sivan.

Prolonging the rule of repressive regimes in Africa is a long-held Israeli tradition.

Israel equipped the South African apartheid regime with weapons in the 1970s and ’80s in violation of international sanctions.

Safeguarding corporate plunder

Decades of stealing and colonizing Palestinian land and resources has qualified Israel with unique expertise in subduing resistance and maintaining colonial plunder.

As Jimmy Johnson, an activist and researcher on Israel’s arms trade, has explained, “The 19th century ethnocentric nationalism that drove the creation of Israel … often obscures the fact that the dispossession of Palestinians has included a massive upward transfer of wealth from colonized to colonizer and from occupied to occupier.”

Israel isn’t just delivering arms to Africa. It is offering a successful model for securing the spoils of neocolonialism from a growing underclass dispossessed and abandoned by the ravages of globalized capitalism.

Israel’s occupation is “exported to fight the redistribution of wealth,” as Johnson has noted.

Just south of Cameroon, Israeli military companies have raked in millions of dollarsselling military hardware to the tiny oil-rich nation of Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea is home to one of the most unequal societies in the world.

The former Spanish colony’s ruthless dictator, Teodoro Obiang, has enriched himself with handsome payments from US oil companies, which in turn exploit the country’s massive oil reserves without hindrance.

To preserve his rule, Obiang depends on a presidential guard almost certainly trained by Israel, while relying on Israeli hardware perfected in Gaza to protect Exxon’s oil rigs.

Obiang’s security forces are notorious for carrying out widespread torture and summary executions of political opponents.

In 2008, Israel secured an estimated $100 million weapons deal with Equatorial Guinea, which involved the purchase of four IMI Shaldag patrol boats and a Saar missile boat manufactured by Israel Shipyards. “IMI’s boats are intended to secure the oil rigs at sea,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

These are the same vessels used by the Israeli navy to enforce the sea blockade of Gaza and fire on its inhabitants.

While Israel helps US oil companies and the Obiang family cash in, 1 in 10 children in Equatorial Guinea dies before his or her fifth birthday. Moreover, less than half the country’s citizens have access to clean drinking water.

In Angola’s Cabinda province, Aerostar, a drone made by the Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems, safeguards offshore oil rigs for private companies, including Chevron.

In the Niger Delta, an assortment of Israeli surveillance vehicles, including the Aerostar and Seastar from Aeronautics and the Shaldag patrol boat from Israel Shipyards, protect Chevron’s oil platforms from potential obstacles to the corporate pillaging of Nigeria’s resources.

This is in addition to Nigeria’s Internet surveillance system, installed by Israel’s largest military firm, Elbit Systems, in 2013.

Exporting “war on terror”

With the rise of Boko Haram, Nigeria has in recent years adopted the “war on terror” doctrine first pushed by Israel to justify its ongoing conquest of Palestine.

“Israel has been a crucial and loyal ally in our fight against Boko Haram,” a Nigerian government official was quoted as saying early this year.

“It is a sad reality that Israel has a great deal of experience confronting terrorism. Our Israeli partners have used that experience, and the unique expertise gained over years of fighting terror within its own borders, to assist us,” added the official, conflating Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonial violence with terrorism perpetrated by a militant group to which Palestinians have no relation.

Fully supportive of his government’s conduct, one Nigerian Christian activist told The Jerusalem Post, “I am like an Israeli settler in the West Bank in the midst of Palestinians.”

This attitude has been nothing short of disastrous.

Since 2012, under the cover of routing Boko Haram, the Nigerian military has extrajudicially executed 1,200 people and arbitrarily arrested 20,000 boys and young men, at least 7,000 of whom died in military detention from starvation, medical neglect and overcrowding.

Kenyan death squads in the General Service Unit, the paramilitary wing of that country’s police and military, have similarly adopted the “Israeli rulebook” for extrajudicial killings of outspoken Muslim clerics.

Death squad officers interviewed by Al Jazeera last year revealed that their units are trained by Israel.

“Exporting the experience of Zionism”

In his 1987 book The Israeli Connection, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi characterized Israel’s support for tyrants in developing countries as “a direct outgrowth of what it has done at home.”

“What Israel is doing in the Third World,” asserted Beit-Hallahmi, “is simply to export the Middle East experience of Zionism,” characterized by conquest and pacification.

Israel is exporting “not just a technology of domination, but a worldview that undergirds that technology,” he added.

It is exporting “the logic of the oppressor … a certain frame of mind, a feeling that the Third World can be controlled and dominated, that radical movements in the Third World can be stopped, that modern Crusaders still have a future.”

This is precisely what Israel is doing in Africa today, with predictably deadly consequences.

Podcast: The unprecedented collaboration between the CIA and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ filmmakers

New documents containing details on the inspector general investigation into collaboration between the CIA and “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers show ethics violations and potential federal crimes by former CIA director Leon Panetta and other CIA officers were uncovered. These were referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but the department declined to prosecute anyone.

According to a report by Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson for VICE News, it was found Panetta disclosed classified information without proper authorization. Panetta gave speech that was wrongly classified secret when it was a top secret speech. The former CIA director gave this speech at a classified awards ceremony in which “Zero Dark Thirty” screenwriter Mark Boal was in attendance, and Panetta probably did not tell the truth about his past history with Boal and the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow.

There also were instances of bribery, which the inspector general referred to the Justice Department for investigation. CIA officers were offered gifts from Bigelow and Boal, including pearl earrings, tequila, and tickets to a Prada show.

While there have been stories published about the coordination between CIA and “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers, this report from Leopold and Henderson included even greater detail on how the CIA was using the filmmakers for its agenda and how the filmmakers worked the CIA to get what they wanted as well. And, it is true the CIA has influenced past movies, but never to this extent.

VICE News reporter Jason Leopold joins the show to talk about documents he obtained containing new revelations about the collaboration that went on between “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers and the CIA. We talk about the significance of the documents, whether former CIA director Leon Panetta lied about interactions with screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, and how the CIA was hoping to undermine a Senate intelligence committee investigation into torture with this mass-marketed Hollywood movie on the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

In the second half of the show, hosts Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek talk about the refugee crisis in Europe, the British government’s decision to kill two British nationals with drones, a court decision in a No Fly List retaliation case brought by American Muslims against FBI agents, U.S. rejecting key human rights recommendations from countries, and James Clapper’s speech about U.S. intelligence having a lot in common with Spider-Man.

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.

For the entire interview with Jason Leopold, listen to it here. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Below are some highlights from this week’s interview with Jason Leopold:

—”[The inspector general] confronted Leon Panetta, and they confronted him over whether he knew that Mark Boal, who does not hold a security clearance, was going to attend a classified awards ceremony and whether he had advance knowledge of that. Leon Panetta said I have no idea. I would never even be able to identify Mark Boal if he was there because I’ve never met him. And the CIA inspector general found that was not true because a year earlier he had met Mark Boal, and he also met Kathryn Bigelow. He met them at the White House Correspondents Dinner because he sat at the same table with them. He told them at this dinner that if they needed any help with the CIA to give a call, and Mark Boal did.”

— “This movie, this access, this classified information that was shared with Bigelow and Boal, that happened at a time when the Senate intelligence committee was very deep into their investigation about the efficacy of the CIA’s torture program. The most controversial parts of this movie that were widely condemned pertained to the portrayal, the depiction of torture, and how that led the CIA to bin Laden.”

— “When I put this story out, the CIA put out a report that showed the changes that they made in how they deal with Hollywood. And in this report there is information about the movies they worked on; I think about seven movies just maybe over the past few years. They redacted all of the movies, including “Zero Dark Thirty,” which makes no sense considering they released it. But they redacted it.”

—”This happens to be somewhat unprecedented because it was such a highly-classified operation, and the level of detail that Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow were given, the access that they were granted was—That part was unprecedented. It’s ironic that they lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to another CIA movie called “Argo.”… The nature of the information that they were provided is unprecedented and because most of it was classified.”

— “Here you have Leon Panetta not just revealing classified information about this, but in the presence of someone who did not have a security clearance and was not cleared, [he named] all the Seals who were involved, the ground commander. I think that’s the part that also we should pay attention is, as I noted earlier, not all leaks are created equal. Or, not in the way the government pursues it. He disclosed the highly classified details. He was not forthcoming about whether or not he knew that Mark Boal was going to be there. When it came time for any sort of accountability, there was none.

We saw the same thing more or less for David Petraeus, another former CIA director, but yet when it comes to somebody like John Kiriakou – to use him as an example – he provides a name that the name of an officer that the CIA claimed was a covert officer that a journalist never printed and is aggressively prosecuted and sent to jail for a couple years. So, there is clearly a two-tiered justice system when it comes to that.”

— “This just shows that this isn’t going away. I think that the government, the Executive Branch and the White House, felt that the Senate report will come out and will turn this into a distant memory. And what we’ve seen—and I’ve been quite surprised about—is this opened up another door, this release of the Senate report, and more information is just continuing to come out. There’s this jockeying for who can own the narrative. So, this is going to remain out there for quite some time. I think that we will continue to see more information, more details to come out, more release of documents, and attorneys who represent detainees trying to get information out about them.”

Podcast: Under siege, Palestinian refugees endure typhoid, famine and ISIS-inspired assassinations

The population of the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, on the southern outskirts of Damascus, was once around 200,000 people. A brutal siege by the Syrian regime and an occupation by fighters from the al Qaida arm in Syria and the Islamic State dramatically reduced that number to 18,000 in March. Now, it is somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 people, according to journalist Patrick Strickland.

Yarmouk is one of 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. These are camps with people who are prohibited from returning to Israel because of the ongoing military occupation. As a result, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war are finding themselves in camps terrorized by ISIS-sympathizing militants and al Qaida-sympathizing militants.

Refugees struggle to find food, even stray animals they can eat. Families risk contracting typhoid as outbreaks occur. Palestinian leaders in the camps face an ongoing threat of assassination from militants, who have invaded the camps.

As Strickland describes, Palestinians are caught in the crossfire. This is kind of the story of Palestinians—their lives and futures perpetually in someone else’s hands.

This week on “Unauthorized Disclosure,” Strickland, who is an independent journalist and contributor to The Electronic Intifada and Al Jazeera English, talks to us from Beirut, Lebanon. He discusses his reporting on the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, a Palestinian refugee camp which has been under siege. He talks to us about the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon. Strickland also describes how ISIS and Nusra are taking over some of these refugee camps.

In the second half, during the discussion part of the show, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola highlight the refugee crisis in Europe and, separately, how President Barack Obama’s administration has fought to continue detaining refugee mothers and children from Central America. We also talk about North Dakota becoming the first state, where drones can be weaponized with tear gas or tasers, the FBI setting up a cell phone surveillance system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the latest appalling aspects of the Obama administration’s effort to keep a gravely ill Guantanamo prisoner detained indefinitely.

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. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Below are some highlights from this week’s interview with Patrick Strickland:

—”Yarmouk was thrust back into the media again about a week and a half ago when the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, first got access to Yalda—it’s in southern Damascus—for the first time since I believe June 8. UNRWA hasn’t had access to the actual camp, and residents who are still in the camp since March 27, that was shortly before the Islamic State militant group occupied large swaths of that camp. Somewhere around 90% of the camp they controlled for a while until most of its fighters withdrew, but they still do maintain a presence there. And to make all of that worse, that all just comes on the heels of a very long siege imposed on the camp by the government of Bashar al Assad and his military forces, which has pushed many Palestinians basically to the brink of starvation and past.”

—”About a year and a half ago or two years, we first heard reports that Palestinians were resorting to eating stray animals and whatever they could get their hands on, as there was no food or medicine coming into the camp. And now, we’ve heard that they’ve been eating grass and other things as food doesn’t make it into the camp. Nothing makes it into the camp without the approval of the Syrian regime. So, now, what you have is a situation in which where they’re stuck between a brutal regime, which is attacking people across the country—not just Palestinians, Syrians as well obviously. More than 240,000 [are] dead so far. But also, on the other side, you have groups like ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra, which is the Syrian arm of al Qaida which controls an entrance to the camp and large parts of the camp.”

—”Most recently, the camp was hit by a typhoid outbreak, and within a matter of a week, the number of cases tripled. The last number is something like 11 in the first day, but then it went up to over 50 within a couple days. Yet again, you have a situation where people are totally stuck without access to humanitarian aid. The UN can do very, very little to help. They are only able to help people in Yalda, which is not actually in the camp.”

—”In Lebanon, compared to the way the Palestinian refugee camps were in Syria before, it’s comparably worse. Palestinians here are banned from at least 70 professions, are largely forced to work menial labor, like the under-the-table labor (stuff like construction). They’re banned from studying certain subjects. They’re totally restricted in every way. Some of the camps, not all of them but some of them, are closed camps, like I’m at Ain al-Hilweh, which means there are checkpoints all around the camp controlled by the Lebanese military. If you want to come and go, it’s all at the whim of the soldier at the checkpoint—not unlike the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

—”Today, what you have in Ain al-Hilweh…there’s been very intense fighting there between various Palestinian factions, who make up the Palestinian Joint Security Force and that includes Fatah, Hamas, some leftist factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Palestine, the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine and then various other parties as well that are smaller in movements. And then, on the other side, you have Jund al-Shem (Soldiers of the Levant), who are a Salafist group that have been at war with many of the secular and nationalist groups in the camp for years now and have launched a campaign of assassinations against Palestinian political leaders, activists, and civil society leaders in the camp.” (More background from Strickland can be found here.)

—”All of the noise that happens in the media whenever there’s something that happens to Palestinian refugees—Nobody ever mentions the one real solution. They talk about humanitarian solutions. They never mention the one real solution, which is that Palestinians would never be in this situation if they were allowed to go back to their homes in historical Palestine where they’ve been evicted by the Israeli occupation since 1948. Of course, that’s enshrined in international law and so it’s a pretty simple solution.”

Right-wing extremists plotting violent attacks on US Muslims, FBI warns

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

Militia extremists inspired by right-wing conspiracy theories are starting to target American Muslims, a leaked intelligence bulletin from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) counterterrorism division reveals.

Many of the extremists take inspiration from pro-Israel zealots.

In one recently uncovered plot, a Christian minister and former congressional candidate planned to launch a military-style attack on a Muslim community in upstate New York.

The FBI document, originally sent to US law enforcement agencies on 28 May, was published last week by Public Intelligence.

The warning is a reminder of the rising danger posed by right-wing extremists, which, contrary to popular perceptions, far eclipses the threat from Islamic extremists.

The militia movement has traditionally directed its violent activities toward government and police.

But this is changing.

“Militia extremists are expanding their target sets to include Muslims and Islamic religious institutions in the United States,” the FBI bulletin warns. “This has resulted in increased violent rhetoric and plotting and has the potential to lead, over the long term, to additional harassment of or violence against Muslims by domestic extremists.”

Among the disturbing examples the FBI cites, the most shocking occurred in Mississippi last September, where extremists “discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim and posting video of the attack to the Internet.”

The group disbanded before acting on their plans.

Ironically, the FBI concludes that the targeting of Muslims by militias “is a product of ideology that views Muslims collectively with suspicion” – precisely the same ideology underpinning the FBI’s surveillance and entrapment programs aimed at Muslims.

This raises questions about whether an institution that targets Muslim communities is capable of simultaneously protecting them.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment from The Electronic Intifada.

Funding hate

According to the memo, pervasive disinformation about Muslims and Islam is a product of conspiracy theories that have been “repeated over the course of a decade by self-appointed watchdogs of Islamic extremism, Internet bloggers and some news media.”

Some of the sources the FBI cites are the homophobic anti-Muslim hate group Christian Action Network, anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller and a host of right-wing media outlets, including World Net Daily, Fox News, Western JournalismPatriot News Wire and The Blaze.

Geller’s inclusion in the FBI report is notable given her key role in what the Center for American Progress(CAP), a liberal think tank, has labeled the Islamophobia network.

The top eight of the network’s wealthy pro-Israel donors poured some $57 million into anti-Muslim organizations between 2001 and 2012, according to CAP.

comprehensive accounting of the Islamophobia industry by the Council on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR) identified “at least 37 groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.”

Between 2008 and 2011, these groups received a staggering $120 million in revenue and directly lobbied for anti-Muslim legislation in states across the country, according to CAIR.

Geller has raked in millions of these dollars for her American Freedom Defense Initiative, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

“We will cut them to shreds”

Such incitement to hatred has dangerous consequences.

Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011 supposedly to halt the “Islamization” of Europe, cited Geller’s anti-Muslim propaganda a dozen times in his manifesto justifying his mass killing.

In May, Robert Doggart, a Christian minister and former candidate for congress in Tennessee, was indicted for plotting an armed attack on a predominantly African American Muslim community in upstate New York that has been the target of wild conspiracy theories hatched by the anti-Muslim, pro-Israel Clarion Project and disseminated by Fox News.

Doggart planned to assemble a group of gunmen to attack the community with assault rifles, explosives and even a machete.

“If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds,” Doggart allegedly said on a call intercepted by the FBI.

Trickle-down hate

Jon Ritzheimer, a former US marine turned anti-Muslim agitator, made headlines the same month for organizing an armed protest outside the Islamic Cultural Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

He framed the rally as retaliation for an attempted attack by two ISIS sympathizers on a Muhammad drawing contest organized by Geller in Garland, Texas.

Ritzheimer has since posted several popular videos to Facebook explicitly calling for violence against Muslims and advising his followers to “Be ready for vengeance and be ready to drink beer from the skulls of our enemy.”

“I am the Infidel Allah warned you about!” he added.

This increasingly violent rhetoric is a direct result of right-wing individuals and organizations capitalizing on anti-Muslim hate, says Imraan Siddiqi, chair of CAIR’s Arizona chapter.

“It’s a whole ecosystem of money being poured into these groups and then it trickles down,” Siddiqi told The Electronic Intifada.

Guns and Islamophobia

The National Rifle Association’s national convention in April, for instance, featured a seminar promoting the conspiracy theory that Muslim extremists are seizing control of US territory to establish no-go zones.

Meanwhile, at least five gun stores across the US have declared themselves “Muslim-free zones” in recent months.

Last week, a gun store in Florida joined forces with George Zimmerman, the vigilante who shot dead unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Zimmerman is selling prints of his painting of the Confederate flag to raise funds for legal fees to fight a lawsuit filed by CAIR against the store’s discriminatory “Muslim-free” policy.

“This is the intersection of gun culture and anti-Islam sentiment converging in one place,” Siddiqi said. “It’s basically riling up the base of gun owners.”

Wrapped in an Israeli flag

Extremist support for Israel also trickles down.

Like the funders of the Islamophobia network, those agitating against Muslims tend to identify strongly with Israel.

On the first day of classes, Monday, at the country’s first ever Arabic-language immersion public school in Houston, Texas, teachers and students were met with angry protesters waving American and Israeli flags.

Some held signs that read, “Everything I ever cared to know about Islam was taught to me by Muslims on 9–11–2001” and “Qatar out of my school.”

“No Arabic should be taught to children in school,” one protestor called out.

On 29 January, when citizens from across Texas gathered in Austin to meet with lawmakers during the seventh annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, they were met with anti-Islam protesters waving Texas and Israeli flags and signs that read “Radical Islam is the new Nazi” and “Go home and take Obama with you.”

Israeli flags also regularly appear at right-wing rallies in Europe.

A matter of time

Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, told The Electronic Intifada that there is a pattern of right-wing extremists shifting their focus against Islam, particularly as the Islamophobia network exploits the rise of the brutish Islamic State, or ISIS, to stereotype all Muslims.

“It’s very clear that American religious right organizations are increasingly on the attack with respect to Islam,” Potok said.

He cited groups like the American Family Association that have specialized in anti-LGBT rhetoric. “Those organizations over the last year or so have moved heavily into propaganda against Muslims.”

Yet the US government has done shockingly little to counter right-wing extremism, instead devoting its resources almost exclusively to Islamic extremism.

At the same time, politicians, particularly Republicans, have pushed some of the most extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric into the mainstream.

“We’re seeing right-wing officials across America at the state and national level demonizing Islam and there’s very little pushback from government officials,” CAIR’s national communications director Ibrahim Hooper told The Electronic Intifada.

“It’s an extremely worrying situation,” SPLC’s Potok added. “We’ve already seen in the last year or so a major arson at an Islamic complex in Houston and I think it is very likely we will see worse.”

As right-wing militias train their sights at Muslim communities with little government resistance, concern is rising that it is only a matter of time before someone pulls the trigger.

Podcast: Growing anti-Muslim racism and hysteria in the United States

The United States has experienced a spike in anti-Muslim racism and threatened violence against American Muslims in the past months. Much of the escalation has taken place in the aftermath of a shooting in Garland, Texas, at a Prophet Muhammad drawing contest.

In Phoenix, Arizona, a white supremacist named Jon Ritzheimer planned a “Draw Muhammad” contest after the shooting and mobilized a biker gang for a rally outside the city’s mosque. Those in attendance were encouraged to exercise their Second Amendment rights and bear arms to protect their First Amendment rights.

The mosque has received letters containing threats in the past months and have worked with the FBI and local police to protect worshipers from any violence. Most recently, Ritzheimer threatened to take a stand at a Louis Farrakhan event planned for the fall, saying, “The likelihood for blood will be high.”

This week on “Unauthorized Disclosure,” Imraan Siddiqi, the chairman of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) who is based in Phoenix, joins the show to talk about anti-Muslim hysteria and racism in the United States. We talk about his experience fending off Ritzheimer’s hate-filled protests and threats of violence directed at Muslims in his community. We discuss a released May bulletin from the FBI warning militia extremists are increasingly targeting Muslims. We highlight how rhetoric promoting fear against Muslims spreads in this country.

In the second half, we continue our interview with Siddiqi by talking about white men attempting to frame American Muslims for terrorist plots by faking the plots themselves. We highlight a case in New York involving a KKK man, who wanted to build a death-ray machine to kill Muslims and essentially was entrapped by the FBI. The rest of the episode is spent talking about mosques in the United States and what it is like for American Muslims to have agents and informants working for the FBI infiltrate their communities.

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. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Below are some highlights from this week’s interview with Imraan Siddiqi:

—”There started to be violent death threats toward a few different mosques in Phoenix. There were letters sent to the Tempe mosque and there was also a letter to this mosque that we’re talking about here. It said we’re going to target your worshipers while they are worshiping. We know who the Board of Directors are. We’re going to target your families inside your houses and we’re going to burn your mosque down. So, it was very explicit so actually the hate crimes division of the Phoenix PD and the FBI had to get involved with this because this is more than just a random threat.”

—[explaining that the mosque learned their would be armed rally by biker gang from FBI] “The issue became what are you going to do about it? There are people in our community who wanted to keep it quiet. Just sweep it under the rug. Let these people come and spew their hatred. They encouraged on their Facebook page to “exercise your Second Amendment rights,” which obviously means your gun, brandishing it openly, trying to intimidate the right to worship of other Americans essentially. So, we had to make the decision, what are we going to do about this? Are we going to either publicize this or are we going to keep this under wraps? So we definitely chose making it public because no on should live under fear of violence or threat.”

—”Part of it, it’s comedic to see how comedic and small-minded these people are. It’s the same thing as frying bacon on the edge of an AR-15. These people are just in their own little cocoon. They think that throwing bacon at a mosque or shooting at a Koran is going to make Muslims bow into submission or melt like the Wicked Witch or something like that. So, yeah, it’s absurd, but at the same time, look at what happens. Look at [Ritzheimer’s] fan base and how it’s grown over the last two months alone.”

And this was an exchange Rania Khalek had with Siddiqi:

KHALEK: This would not be acceptable if this were any other religious house of worship, for people to brandish guns outside a house of worship and start shouting at families. You’ve got kids. What do you tell your kids about people doing this?

SIDDIQI: Yeah, it’s sad. I have three sons so they see me going for these interviews on TV and they see me on TV and they hear me talking about Islamophobia. My older sons ask me about Islamophobia. Why are you always talking about Islamophobia? That’s all you talk about.

For them, they don’t have a concept of people hating Muslims just because they’re Muslims. It’s sort of sad when you think about it. You’re so innocent where you have this outlook on life that people don’t judge one another based on their looks, their color, their creed, or whatever. So, for them, it is very innocent. They don’t understand there are people out there that hate them for their religion without even knowing them essentially.

For more comments from Imraan Siddiqi, listen to the podcast episode here.

St. Louis police bought Israeli skunk spray after Ferguson uprising

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

Three months after Ferguson erupted in protest over the police killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) added an Israeli weapon called skunk to its protest-crushing arsenal, arms industry news website Defense One has confirmed.

Skunk is a crowd control “malodorant” developed by the Israeli police in collaboration with Odortec, an Israeli company that specializes in scent-based weapons, and tested on Palestinians.

Released at high pressure from a water cannon, canister or grenade, skunk liquid emits an odor — described as a mix of rotting animal carcass, raw sewage and human excrement — that sticks to walls, clothing, hair and skin for days to weeks and is impossible to wash away without a special soap that is only accessible to police.

Ramallah-based activist and writer Mariam Barghouti once told The Electronic Intifada that “the water lingers on your skin to a point when you want to rip your skin off.”

First deployed by Israeli armed forces in 2008, skunk water has become a fixture in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Israeli forces routinely douse entire Palestinians neighborhoods in skunk water, deliberately spraying it into private homes, businesses, schools and funerals in what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem calls “a collective punitive measure” against Palestinian villages that engage in protest against Israel’s colonial violence.

While Odortec insists skunk spray is non-toxic and even drinkable, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) warns that it “can cause pain and redness if it comes into contact with eyes, irritation if it comes into contact with skin and if swallowed can cause abdominal pain requiring medical treatment.”

Stockpiling skunk

Thus far, the putrid substance has only been deployed against Palestinians. But that won’t be the case for much longer.

According to a 14 November purchase order obtained by Defense One through Missouri’s open records law, SLMPD purchased fourteen 1.4 liter canisters of Skunk for $428 along with two types of portable skunk delivery canisters that resemble fire extinguishers. Among them were two refillable MK-46 HE canisters for $1,284, which can spray up to 60 ounces of Skunk as far as 40 feet away, and five single use MK-20 Titan canisters totaling $198.90, which can hold up to 20 ounces of skunk with a spray range of 24 feet.

A second invoice shows that SLMPD modified its order on 12 January, increasing its purchase of special soap decontaminant from one to four gallons, totaling $121.40. The revision is labeled an “EMERGENCY PURCHASE.”

While the invoice does not identify the vendor, it was likely Mistral Security, a subsidiary of Mistral Group, a US company based in Bethesda, Maryland, that deals in the production and sale of military and law enforcement equipment.

Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Armament Systems Forum in April, Mistral general manager Stephen Rust announced, “We’ve provided some Skunk for the law enforcement agencies in Ferguson.”

Rust, who is a former project manager for the US army and Department of Defense, noted that the US military had also expressed interest in purchasing skunk. “We’ve demoed it at Fort Bragg. Why? Because they asked about it,” boasted Rust.

Mistral markets skunk spray to US police as ideal for controlling crowds and individuals at “border crossings, correctional facilities, demonstrations and sit-ins.”

It has also been promoted as means for targeting people for arrest. “I’m going to be able to drill [a specific target in a crowd] with a … round while I put him in the dirt. I can mark him with Skunk and he will be easy to locate when the crowd disperses,” said Rust at the armaments expo.

Just how many US police agencies have stockpiled the putrid substance remains unknown. Defense Onereported that Mistral sold Skunk to police departments in Bossier City, Louisiana. Mistral did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Electronic Intifada.

Global pacification industry

US police departments taking repression cues from their Israeli counterparts is not new.

Decades of testing methods and weapons of domination and control on has given rise to a booming “homeland security industry” in Israel that refashions occupation-style repression for use on marginalized populations in other parts of the world. This dystopian arrangement has placed Israel at the core of what Israeli activist Jeff Halper terms the “global pacification industry.”

While Gaza serves as a testing ground for explosives, the West Bank is Israel’s preferred laboratoryfor testing and refining crowd control technology.

Like most Israeli weapons, skunk is advertised by Odortec as having been “field-tested,” meaning Palestinians were used as human test subjects during the development process.

David Ben Harosh, head of the Israeli police’s department for technological development, which partnered with Odortec to develop skunk water, stated in 2008 that skunk water was tested in “monitored exercises” in the Palestinian villages of Bilin and Nilin, which he referred to as an “experiment.”

Under the cover of “counterterrorism training,” senior commanders from nearly every major US police agency, including departments in Baltimore and St. Louis, have received training from Israel’s occupation regime on junkets that allow Israeli companies like Odortec to market their products directly to US law enforcement executives.

As the BBC reported in 2008, “The Israeli police force has high hopes of turning skunk into a commercial venture and selling it to law-enforcement agencies overseas.”

Those hopes have finally been realized, as US police departments search for more effective ways to subdue growing resistance to racist policing, further exposing the collusion taking place among purveyors of racist state violence in the US and Israel.


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