Middle East

Palestine’s success in the UN vote faces the ‘harshest Israeli response’

The E1 areaOn November 29th 2012, the United Nations voted in overwhelming support for an upgrade of the status of Palestine from a “non-member observer entity” to a “non-member observer state”, with 138 nations supporting the new measures; the combined population of the nine nations that voted against Palestinian statehood (including the US, Canada and Israel) makes up just 5% of the world’s total population. Less than 24 hours after the results of this vote, the Israeli government has announced its approval for the building of over 3,000 settlement homes in the West Bank. This is a clear message being sent from Netanyahu’s government that, regardless of Palestine’s new status, Israel will continue to violate international law by annexing further Palestinian territory.

A key part of these planned settlements is that many of them are intended for construction beside the continuously-expanding Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which was originally a Palestinian area in the West Bank where thousands of people have been forcibly evicted during the past two decades. The Israeli government has labelled the location of the new settlements as the E1 area – an estimated 4.6 square miles between Ma’ale Adumim and the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem. The significance of this is that the new settlements are contributing to the eventual effective separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; mutilating the contiguity of the state of Palestine.

Prior to the UN decision, our foreign secretary William Hague announced that Britain would abstain from voting on the subject – despite a YouGov poll indicating that 72% of Britons support the Palestinian state right to statehood. Hague previously indicated that he would vote favourably for the recognition of the state, but only on the condition that Palestine would immediately reopen peace talks with the Israeli government – a proposition vehemently opposed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, who have refused to continue peace talks until the construction of illegal Israeli settlements are halted. The announcement of these new settlements exemplifies the lack of tangible change that the new Palestinian status actually has upon the actions of the Israeli government.

There was significant vocal US and Israeli opposition to the vote, especially the declaration by the Israeli foreign ministry that by asking for a UN vote, the Palestinians’ behaviour warranted “the harshest Israeli response”; these huge new settlement plans seem indicative of this threat. Considering that the vast majority of the world now clearly and formally recognises the validity of the United Nations’ 194th state, there is new hope that the international community may behave more actively in peacefully opposing the imperialist nature of Israeli policy in the state of Palestine – such as through the BDS practice of boycotts, divestment and international sanctions.

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President Barack Obama, Term II: Attack of the Drones

On Tuesday 6th November, Barack Obama won a second term of the US presidency with 50.8% of the popular vote, compared to Mitt Romney’s share of 47.5%. Prior to the elections, US and international media had been buzzing at the closeness of the race, and the ominous prospect of a return to the growingly radical leadership of the Republican Party. Supporters of the President suggest that it was a comfortable win – with Obama gaining 332 electoral seats, almost a hundred more than Romney’s 206. However, the extent of his popularity has certainly depleted since his lead of 192 seats over Senator John McCain in the 2008 elections.

If you opened your Facebook or Twitter feed on Tuesday night, you were probably met with dozens of posts from your friends supporting Obama or celebrating his success. Curiously, here in Britain, and around the world, Obama is idolised – seen as a beacon of hope and change, even for those otherwise uninterested in politics. Indeed, statistical data has confirmed this; last month, public opinion research consultancy GlobeScan published the results of a survey, in which thousands of people across 21 nations voiced who their preferred candidate was. Obama was overwhelmingly supported worldwide, scoring popularity ratings over 60% in the UK, France, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil and several other states. For many, he is representative of the ideals of a liberal, social democracy; considerate of human rights, fairness and equality.

Looking at President Obama’s track record on domestic policy, he has made a lot of socially progressive decisions; he has expanded the eligibility for healthcare for impoverished US citizens, he has increased spending on laws that protect victims of domestic violence, he has extended further rights to homosexuals. The list is long and commendable, but these choices have little impact on the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s foreign policy has taken a very different turn from the humanitarian image his administration often attempts to instil; most importantly, the use of drones as part of the ‘war on terror’. Drones or ‘unmanned combat aerial vehicles’ started being used by the US military under the presidency of George W Bush, but their use has increased hugely in the past four years. Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen have been attacked numerous times with these machines, though the prime target bearing the brunt of drones has been Pakistan. In fact, in the four years of the Obama Administration, Pakistan alone has been targeted by drone strikes almost 300 times, compared to 52 strikes during the entirety of President Bush’s two terms.

Obama’s increase in drone warfare has been highly controversial; seen by tamer opponents as the extrajudicial killing of perceived enemies, and by fiercer critics as a significant cause of death for many non-combatants. Earlier this year, a report published by the United Nations noted that the Obama administration’s widespread drone use occurs due to the internationalism of the counter-terrorism ideology; an argument denounced by UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson as a “spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations”.

A report into drone strikes in Pakistan published by NYU and Stanford University this year documented that despite the Obama administration’s efforts to avoid democratic accountability for such attacks, “there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians”. Evidence which indicates that during the second term of George W Bush, and the first term of Obama, between 474 to 884 Pakistani civilians were killed by drones – including 176 children.

The report provides more detailed and morbid findings regarding the results of drone strikes in Pakistan. A tactic implemented under Obama and utilised by the US military has involved the deliberate targeting of any person who, following a drone strike, attempts to help the injured or remove the bodies of the dead – in case they are abetting terrorism. Such policy has the capability to destroy the essence of a civilised society, as it makes medical workers and other civilians too scared to provide help to each other; it takes the humanity out of society by means of terror. This belief that people are guilty by association is seen even more clearly with the policy implemented under Obama of drone striking the funerals of those killed by drone strikes; killing numerous people who knew the deceased, often family members.

During the recent televised debates between Governor Mitt Romney and President Obama, the subject of drones was one of the few topics that united the two competitors; Romney declared that he “supported [drone warfare] entirely” and that President Obama’s policy regarding its enforcement “was right”. The successful domestic policy and trustworthy aura of President Obama seem to have overshadowed the ideological similarity of his foreign policy implementations with those intended by Romney. It is undoubtable that if Mitt Romney had succeeded in the elections, the international implications of US foreign policy would have been far more severe – notable through his aggressive rhetoric in relation to Iran, Afghanistan, China, and Russia. However, despite posing slightly less of an existential threat to the world as we know it, Obama remains a firm proponent of increasingly indiscriminate interventionist US foreign policy.

If a US voter desired a presidential candidate who has not vocally supported the extra-judicial execution-by-flying-robot of ‘terrorists’, and any unlucky person who is near that ‘terrorist’ at the time, then they could only have wasted their vote. As opposition to the heinous 9/11 attacks, and similar attacks around the world, many have justly used the word ‘cowardly’ to describe suicide bombings. But are suicide attacks any more cowardly than sitting safely in a bunker, out of harm’s way, bombing targets on a screen, as if its nothing more than the latest Xbox release? Obama’s expansion of drone strikes is killing countless civilians, increasing animosity towards the US around the Muslim world, as well as lowering the standards of ethical warfare. Despite his huge popularity around the world, the more people learn about his true foreign policy objectives, the more distrust in him grows. I hope President Obama at least has the decency to remove his Nobel Peace Prize from the mantel…

Sudanese and Eritreans: new victims of Israeli xenophobia

As a nation founded to provide a homeland for oppressed people fleeing vicious totalitarian rule, Israel’s increasingly inhumane treatment of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees is tragically hypocritical.

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(Sudanese families returning to Juba- Photo from Reuters)

To incite anti-Semitic hatred through the population, and to justify the Nazi regime’s genocide of the Jews, Hitler used derogatory rhetoric to portray them as a threat to German security and identity. “The Jews” he once said, “are a cancer on the breast of Germany”. In May, with eerily similar phrasing, Israeli Parliament member Miri Regev proclaimed that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body”.

The past month has seen an increase in the demonisation of, and violence against, sub-Saharan Africans across Israel. Aggressive government policy, including detention and deportation, has been mainly focussed on the thousands of Sudanese refugees fleeing the war-torn states; a widely criticised move that is in direct violation of international human rights law. Earlier this week, over a hundred men, women and children were deported to South Sudan as Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister, vowed to deport every Sudanese and Eritrean person in the country.

The Israeli government have employed a consistent tactic of scare-mongering to ensure popular support for its repressive policies. Infiltrators has been the most popular term among Israeli officials to incite fear and and hatred among the population. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently described the presence of the refugees as a “[grave threat to] the social fabric of society, national security and national identity”; perhaps an exaggeration considering Israel’s population of 7.8million includes only around 50-60,000 so-called “illegal” migrants. The actual threat posed by these people is also easily disputed, and appears to be more of a scapegoat for failing social and economic policy. In a totalitarian move reminiscent of Nazi policy, the government now imposes a maximum of five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000,000 (USD) for harbouring a refugee or “illegal” migrant, including Palestinians; indicating that the Israeli government is forcing citizens to ignore the Jewish tradition of compassion for fellow man, and ensuring that they embrace divisiveness. The Jerusalem Post reported thoughts from one Christian man facing deportation to South Sudan, “I remember growing up reading the Bible thinking Israel is people who help each other… we realised that its not Israel any longer”.

Since such vile opinions have become more widespread, citizens have tried to take the law into their own hands, with the misguided belief that they are protecting their country. Recent protests have seen African refugees and migrants face vicious verbal and physical assaults, violence that has even been encouraged by an Israeli politician, Aryeh Eldad. The parliamentary member, who resides in an illegally occupied West Bank settlement, recently declared his opinion that “anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot”. A statement so bold and hostile that it seems taken out of context, but within context it is even worse. Eldad lists some of those who he believes deserve death for crossing Israel’s borders; “a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Gazans from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border – shot.”

The threatening xenophobia being fostered by Israeli politics and society is something any sane-thinking person should be afraid of, especially as a citizen of a country that continues to maintain good relations with such a government. The men, women and children who have been labelled infiltrators by Israeli society are victims of a government venting its anger because international civilised society is unwilling to bend every law in the book to please them. Andrew Akolawine, a father of four being deported to South Sudan after spending five years living in Israel, joked “I’m very proud that I am part of a people [that] Israel thinks are so important that they don’t talk about the Palestinians anymore, just us”. Unfortunately true; the Israeli government have already successfully demonised Palestinians, so the violence shown against them by the IDF goes mostly unquestioned. It sadly seems that the attitudes to sub-Saharan Africans in Israel is going the same way.