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Posts by Rania Khalek

Making An Example Out Of Independent Journalists Who Cover Syria

On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, journalist Rania Khalek talks a bit about what she has learned while reporting in Syria. Khalek also addresses the smear attacks on her reputation, which led to her resignation from an editorial position at Electronic Intifada. It has impacted her ability to convince media outlets to publish her work while she is in Lebanon to cover stories in Syria and other nearby countries.

Khalek became an easy target because she does not view the Syrian war as a conflict between good and bad forces. She treats the war with a level of nuance and complexity that deeply upsets Syrian opposition groups, who want the world to romanticize them even as they, too, commit war crimes. When she was listed on the program of a conference, where pro-government perspectives would feature prominently, she was hit with a deluge of questions and innuendothat completely ignored the fact that she was not the only journalist going to the conference. Khalek goes into more detail during this week’s show.

In the latter half of the show, we highlight Dakota Access Pipeline resistance and the police assault on water protectors that occurred about one week ago. (Note: The show was recorded on November 25, hours before the Army Corps of Engineers issued an eviction notice to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. So that unfortunately goes unaddressed.)

Khalek and Kevin Gosztola also slam pundits who think Donald Trump is now acting “presidential,” and they address the progressive dishonesty toward Bernie Sanders just about any time he talks about the concepts of race and class and focuses on material conditions for working and middle class people instead of identity.

The latest episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

The following is a partial transcript of Rania Khalek’s remarks on the show about her reporting trip to Syria: Read more

The Aftermath of Trump’s Election: Facing Down Fear, Panic, And Uncertainty

For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, Rania Khalek returns as co-host to process how to handle all the fear, panic, and uncertainty created by the presidential election of Donald Trump.

We assess what needs to be fought immediately. Kevin Gosztola suggests the Dakota Access pipeline and return of the Keystone XL pipeline will need to face resistance.

“Climate change is probably the most important to organize and push back against. This is going to require people putting their bodies on the line,” Khalek adds. And Gosztola suggests we will need to support not just journalists charged with felonies but all people who are taking action to stop a “moral calamity from taking place,” especially in local communities defending indigenous land from destruction by fossil fuel extraction.

Khalek shares her concern that the backing of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and the people Trump is surrounding himself means it is time to worry about a Trump administration bombing Iran. “There is going to have to be some resurgence in antiwar activism because that would be another moral calamity.”

Then, domestically, Khalek says we have to support immigrant communities facing the threat of deportation and support organizations that defend them as well. We have to encourage resistance to any efforts to ban Muslims as well.

Lots of people in the United States are looking for ways they can plug in to stop Trump. Media organizations and nonprofit organizations, like the ACLU, have seen an incredible surge in donations. In that vein, Khalek and Gosztola suggest you support their journalism if you want something tangible and immediate to do. Khalek is raising money for a series of articles on the war in Syria. Gosztola runs Shadowproof, and the organization is consistently eager to have new members join. (Anyone who donates $5/month receives a tote bag.)

During the show, the hosts also confront the reality that the last eight years of Democrats, including President Barack Obama’s administration, laid the groundwork for a lot of what Trump plans to do.

It should serve as a warning, Khalek declares. “Even when your team does something bad or your team takes power that nobody should have, just because you trust the person who is currently president and occupying the White House doesn’t mean it is going to stay that way forever. You always have to remember whatever powers they take, the next Donald Trump gets to use.”

The latest episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

U.S. and EU sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work, U.N. report reveals

Internal United Nations assessments obtained by The Intercept reveal that U.S. and European sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work during the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II.

The sanctions and war have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. But aid is hard to come by, with sanctions blocking access to blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps, spare parts for power plants, and more.

In a 40-page internal assessment commissioned to analyze the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, the U.N. describes the U.S. and EU measures as “some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Detailing a complex system of “unpredictable and time-consuming” financial restrictions and licensing requirements, the report finds that U.S. sanctions are exceptionally harsh “regarding provision of humanitarian aid.”

Read more from my report at The Intercept

Unauthorized Disclosure: Episode 25—Syria, Chelsea Manning, And More

For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the ongoing bloodshed and war in Syria, which is not limited to Aleppo.

Khalek and Gosztola also talk about the latest unsettling development with Chelsea Manning, who the U.S. Army punished with two weeks in solitary confinement.

Later in the episode, Kevin reads a piece of election-themed satire he wrote, which quite a few people mistakenly thought was a serious column. (No guest this week.)

The 25th episode of the third season is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

Florida mosque arsonist shared extreme pro-Israel propaganda

The man accused of setting fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Florida a week ago is an ardent supporter of Israel who labeled all forms of Islam as “radical.”

Joseph Michael Schreiber, a 32-year-old messianic Jew, was arrested at his home in St. Lucie, Florida, on Wednesday and charged with arson and a hate crime. Police say he confessed after his arrest.

His attack is part of a spate of anti-Muslim hate crimes since the start of the current US election season.

The mosque he set ablaze has been regularly attended by the father of Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen and the crime was committed on 11 September, which marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The attack was also the night before the Islamic center was due to hold a community celebration for Eid al-Adha.

Extensive damage

An affidavit by the St. Lucie County Police Department describes Schreiber as “a habitual felony offender,” meaning that if convicted he could face up to life in prison due to Florida’s mandatory sentencing laws.

The affidavit also notes that Schreiber’s Facebook page was littered with “anti-Islamic postings,” “posts related to pro-Israel propaganda” and “negative propaganda related to Muslims.”

Police estimate damage to the Islamic center in excess of $100,000. As of Friday, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce reportedit had received more than $30,000 in donations from well-wishers to help it repair the extensive damage.

A hate crime enhancement was added to the charges after police discovered the social media posts.

Media outlets were quick to publicize Schreiber’s anti-Muslim postings, but few mentioned his promotion of pro-Israel propaganda or his admiration for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, two great champions of the anti-Muslim far right.

According to Schreiber’s Facebook page, he is also a fan of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, IDF Women, the Israeli American Council of Florida and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

Islamophobia network

In a 12 July Facebook post, Schreiber wrote, “ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL , and should be considered TERRORIST AND CRIMANALS [sic].”

With such rhetoric, Schreiber was echoing the anti-Muslim messages emanating from organizations and high-profile individuals who have been spewing anti-Muslim hatred for years.

Many of them are key players in what the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, calls the Islamophobia Network. Read more

Ceasefire Deal: US Reluctant To Force Syrian Rebel Groups To Cut Ties With Al Qaeda

A new ceasefire agreement in Syria was recently negotiated between the United States and Russia, but one significant issue with the deal is that it may lack any meaningful mechanism to force rebel groups supported by the U.S. to end coordination or cooperation with al Qaeda.

Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist, joins Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast to talk about his piece, “Al Qaeda’s Ties to U.S.-Backed Rebels in Syria.” He highlights the positive aspects of a ceasefire deal for Syria while calling attention to a deeply problematic aspect of the ceasefire—the lack of incentives for the U.S. to make certain groups it supports cut their ties with al Qaeda.

In the latter part of the show, Khalek and Gosztola discuss the massive $3.8 billion U.S. aid package to Israel, the closing of Camp 5 at Guantanamo Bay, and Oliver Stone’s new film, “Snowden.”

The episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

Below is an edited transcript of part of the interview with Gareth Porter.

Read more

Obama hands Israel the largest military aid deal in history

The Obama administration has signed a $38 billion military aid pact with Israel in what the State Department boasts is the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history.”

The record agreement will provide Israel with $3.8 billion annually over 10 years beginning in 2019, up from $3.1 billion under the current deal.

At a time when the US government supposedly can’t afford to provide poor and working Americans with basic services like universal health care – something Israelis enjoy – it is striking that there is always money available to enable Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestine.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has expressed opposition to universal health care and free college tuition, cheered the aid deal.

“Senator [Tim] Kaine and I applaud the agreement on a new memorandum of understanding regarding American security assistance to Israel,” said Clinton in a statement released by her campaign.

Clinton also used the deal as an opportunity to saber-rattle against Iran, show off her military hawkishness against ISIS and reiterate her commitment to combating growing activism against Israel’s criminal conduct, which Israel refers to as “delegitimization.”

“The agreement will help solidify and chart a course for the US-Israeli defense relationship in the 21st century as we face a range of common challenges, from Iran’s destabilizing activities to the threats from ISIS and radical jihadism, and efforts to delegitimize Israel on the world stage,” she said, reiterating her January promise to “take our relationship to the next level.”

“Legacy”

President Barack Obama didn’t have to do this. It’s not as though he needs to appease the Israel lobby. He isn’t running for re-election.

And Americans, especially liberal and younger Democrats, are increasingly opposed to Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

In fact, with just a few months left in office, Obama was uniquely positioned to use massive US leverage to pressure Israel into halting its crimes against the Palestinians. At the very least, he could have refrained from upping the ante.

So why then is he showering Israel with more weapons?

“Obama’s aides want a new deal before his presidency ends, seeing it as an important part of his legacy. Republican critics accuse him of not being attentive enough to Israel’s security, which the White House strongly denies,” reported Reuters.

And what a legacy it will be.

Obama has doomed Palestinians to an extra decade of suffocating repression, ethnic cleansing and periodic slaughter at the hands of a government increasingly made up of racists, fascists and genocide enthusiasts whose demagoguery rivals that of Donald Trump.

The idea of funneling even more weapons to Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, who called for beheadingPalestinian citizens of Israel for disloyalty to the state, is alarming.

Lieberman is currently executing a campaign of collective punishment against the families and towns of Palestinians accused of committing crimes against Israelis.

Lieberman works alongside people like Ayelet Shaked, who was appointed justice minister after endorsing a genocidal call to slaughter Palestinian mothers in their beds to prevent them from birthing “little snakes.”

During his administration, Obama has responded to this rising fanaticism among Israeli senior leadership officials with more weapons and diplomatic cover.

With this latest aid deal Obama is guaranteeing the capacity of people like Lieberman and Shaked to carry out their eliminationist goals long after he leaves office.

But surely Palestinians will understand the importance of their sacrifice in advancing Obama’s appeasement of his right-wing critics. After all, Obama’s legacy is at stake.

Contradictions

The signing of the deal comes just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused those opposed to Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank – built in flagrant violation of international law – of supporting the ethnic cleansing of Jews.

In a rare move, the US State Department rebuked Netanyahu, noting that Israel is the one forcibly displacing Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to make room for settlements.

Such concerns ring hollow in light of the new deal, which is unconditional as far as human rights violations are concerned.

“Concessions”?

Media outlets are describing certain stipulations in the aid deal, which took some 10 months to negotiate, as “major” “concessions” on Israel’s part.

Past deals have allowed Israel to spend 26.3 percent of US military aid on its own weapons industry. The new memorandum of understanding gradually reduces that amount, ultimately requiring Israel to purchase only from US weapons companies. In essence, it’s a gigantic giveaway to the US defense industry.

This particular Israeli “concession” won’t halt the destruction of Palestine, but it does represent a minor setback for Israel’s defense industry, which anticipates hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue as a result.

“We in the defense industry stand to lose $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion a year, including the $500 million Congress has allocated for special projects,” an Israeli defense industry source complained to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz last month in reference to the measure.

The deal also includes an Israeli pledge to stop lobbying Congress for supplemental missile defense funding, which in recent years has accounted for as much as an additional $600 million for Israel in discretionary US funding each year.

But there are loopholes.

The pledge is “expected to be made in a side letter or annex to the agreement” and the “wording is likely to be flexible enough to allow exceptions in case of a war or other major crisis,” according to Reuters.

Whether it is US or Israeli weapons makers who benefit, Palestinians lose.

As Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, put it, “increasing the military aid package is rewarding destructive Israeli behavior that violates longstanding official US policy and international law. As a result, the US is effectively underwriting Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies towards the Palestinians.”

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada

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