Category Archives: UN

American Heroes: Code Pink’s Anti-Drone Delegation to Pakistan

Medea Benjamin is a true American hero.

The Code Pink founder and nonviolence activist is currently leading a delegation of 31 American peace activists through Pakistan to protest the tragic damage wrought by US drone attacks.  Traveling with popular Pakistani politican, Imran Khan, the delegation recently attempted to hold a rally in the tribal regions that have been hardest hit by the US drone campaign.  On October 9, the delegation will publicly fast from sunrise to sunset at a vigil in front of the Islamabad Press Club, where they will display pictures of the more than 160 Pakistani children who have been killed by American drones. (Jews who have only recently completed a fast of atonement should appreciate the spiritual power of such an act…)

From a recent WashPo feature:

The majority-female delegation — in their early 20s to late 70s — traveled with no security guards despite announced militant threats against them and Khan, head of the Pakistan Justice Movement political party. They fell in line behind Khan’s procession as legions joyously waved party flags atop trucks.

By late Saturday, when the Codepink delegates finally reached a large farm belonging to a regional party official, they were mobbed by an admiring Pakistani media and given a hero’s welcome by hundreds of the candidate’s fans.

Anti-American sentiment runs extremely high in Pakistan, but the delegation focused on a simple message: “We are against drones” was emblazed in Urdu in green fluorescent script, outlined with glitter, on the oversize white bibs they wore.

“You hit people with these drones and you create instant enemies,” said JoAnne Lingle, a silver-haired Mennonite from Indianapolis. “It’s supposed to be increasing our national security and it’s doing the opposite.”

The US drone wars are our national shame. If there had previously been any doubt, I’d say they’ve been put to rest by the NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, who released a deeply damning report entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan” late last month.

From the report’s Executive Summary:

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.

This narrative is false.

Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones…

(While) civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.”2 It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid- September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Shortly after this report was issued, Obama had the temerity to stand before the UN and decry the “killing of innocents” in the US mission in Benghazi.  This, while his administration continues to kill innocents in a secrecy-shrouded military program that blatantly undermines the US Constitution and international law – and is most surely inflaming further Mideast rage toward the US.  In the face of such hypocrisy, all I can say is thank God for truth-tellers like Medea Benjamin.

You can follow the progress of the Code Pink delegation here.  For further reading, I highly recommend reading Benjamin’s excellent new book, “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control” and this recent piece by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been indefatigably writing shining a bright light on Obama’s drone wars since their inception.

Syrians Pay the Price in a Sick Proxy War

An injured civilian is evacuated after shelling by government forces in Aleppo. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Now that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has resigned and is no longer leading the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the horrors unfolding in Syria, the prospect for a peaceful conclusion to this conflict look bleaker than ever – if it’s even possible to suggest such a thing:

(Kofi Annan) cited the Syrian government’s “intransigence” and the opposition’s “escalating military campaign” as major impediments to his peace efforts, along with a lack of unity in the international community on how to deal with the crisis.

I’m thinking “lack of unity in the international community” was just Annan’s polite way of saying this tragic mess in Syria has devolved into a sickening proxy war in which no one’s hands are clean and the only losers are the Syrian people themselves.

If you dare, I recommend you read this blisteringly bitter analysis by journalist Robert Fisk, who excoriates the cynical interests – from the US, to Russia and China, to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to Hezbollah, to the media, to “our dear liberal selves – who are allowing Syria to be used as a bloody chess board, even as they speak out against the daily atrocities that are occurring there:

Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I’m not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I’m referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern as well as western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.

What could possibly be the outcome of a cowardly proxy war in a sectarian Middle Eastern country? Samia Nakhoul, in a lengthy piece for Reuters, offered this dismal – if most likely – answer:

With no Western appetite for military intervention and no prospect of an internationally mediated political resolution, many see the civil war spreading and tearing the country apart.

“Disintegration of Syria is a possibility and the problem is it won’t work. It would create a power vacuum in which others get dragged in just like Iraq. It is a very frightening scenario,” (Cambridge University analyst George) Joffe said.

Lebanese columnist Rajeh Khoury predicted: “Syria could plunge into a long protracted civil war that could last years. The civil war in Lebanon, with its much smaller population of five million, lasted 15 years due to foreign interference so Syria would be much more complicated.

“The Syrian crisis is so inflammatory that its flames will affect the region in one way or another.”

A prayer for the people of Syria – and a pox on all our houses…

Talking to Iran in Moscow – Pray for Success

Talks began today in Moscow between Iran and the “P5 +1” (the five permanent member nations of the UN Security Council plus Germany). I’m hoping against hope for a breakthrough, but it’s certainly not looking good.

For a sane and balanced take on Iran, I’ve long turned to Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, and one of our foremost experts on US-Iranian relations. In a recent NY Times op-ed, Parsi identified precisely why Obama has precious little room to maneuver going into the Moscow talks. In a word: Congress.

Congress is actively seeking to make a deal on the nuclear issue impossible by imposing unfeasible red lines, setting unachievable objectives — and depriving the executive branch of the freedom to bargain.

Just before last month’s talks in Baghdad, Congress passed a resolution that endorsed the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s red line on the nuclear issue (Iran can’t have a uranium-enrichment capability), as opposed to the red line adopted by the Pentagon and the president (Iran can’t have a nuclear weapon).  The problem is, Mr. Netanyahu’s red line isn’t feasible and doesn’t leave any room for negotiations…

If Iran agrees in Moscow to accept the American demand that it halt uranium enrichment at the 20 percent level — too low a level to quickly create a nuclear weapon — this would effectively obstruct any Iranian shortcut to a bomb. Congress must then give Mr. Obama the political space to be able to take yes for an answer.

Congress must make up its mind. Does it want to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb or does it want to maintain its sanctions? Going forward, it can’t have both.

As if to put a period on Parsi’s analysis, last Friday 44 senators (23 of whom were Democrats) sent a letter to President Obama demanding that he insist upon three “absolute minimum steps” for continuation of talks: shutting down the Fordow nuclear enrichment facility, freezing all uranium enrichment above 5%, and shipping all uranium enriched above 5% out of the country.

The letter concludes:

If the sessions in Moscow produce no substantive agreement, we urge you to reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists. As you have rightly noted, ‘the window for diplomacy is closing. Iran’s leaders must realize that you mean precisely that.

If you needed any evidence of Parsi’s claim that Congress is “actively seeking to make a deal on the nuclear issue impossible by imposing unfeasible red lines, setting unachievable objectives — and depriving the executive branch of the freedom to bargain,” this letter provides it.  The writers and signers of this letter clearly know full well that these demands will be a non-starter for Iran.

Even more disturbing is the role of the Israel lobby in these cynical maneuvers. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg revealed, in a piece posted four days before the letter was released, that the letter was drafted by AIPAC staffers, pointing out that it was essentially

an AIPAC device for scoring senators in an election year. Those who sign will be rewarded or left alone. Those who don’t will hear from AIPAC and its friends. Not a pretty possibility.

OK, I’ll say it: the role of the Israel lobby in the Iran issue has been nothing short of shameful.  And at times openly, brazenly disingenuous.  Among the more odious examples: the Emergency Committee for Israel, (what you might call the more “zealous” wing of the lobby) recently released a 30 second scare-ad that proclaimed, among other things, that “Iran has enough fuel for five nuclear bombs” – a spurious claim which belies that fact that Iran currently has no weapons grade material at all.

Yes, this election year gives Obama precious little room to maneuver – and the lobby is clearly doing everything it can to exploit this.  But since Obama has repeatedly bent over backwards to prove his allegiance to Israel and AIPAC, I don’t see how bowing to these latest salvos will do much to significantly improve his electoral prospects. And since he’s going to be excoriated by his political rivals no matter what he does, why not stick to his own administration’s stated policy, behave like a statesman and push for a diplomatic success? After all, who should be determining Obama administration negotiating strategy – the Obama administration or Congress/AIPAC?

When you consider that the alternative is another ill-advised march to another disastrous Mideast war, the stakes could not possibly be higher.

Pray for a breakthrough in Moscow this week.

PS:  I’m honored to be discussing this issue further in a dialogue with Trita Parsi entitled “Can War with Iran be Averted?” on Thursday, June 28, 7:00 pm at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL. Click here for more details.

After Cast Lead, Israeli Companies Now Profit from Rebuilding Gaza

More than three years after Israel inflicted widespread damage on the infrastructure of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, two Israeli companies have now won bids issued by the UNICEF for reconstruction projects there.  In other words, after destroying much of the Gaza Strip, Israel is now reaping significant economic benefits from its reconstruction.

This is called “disaster capitalism” – something Israel has turned into something of an art form. To understand the phenomenon more thoroughly, read Chapter 21 of Naomi Klein’s essential book “The Shock Doctrine,” which explains in vivid detail why Israel now believes it is more in its economic interest to wage war than to make peace:

Clearly, Israeli industry no longer has reason to fear war. In contrast to 1993, when conflict was seen as a barrier to growth, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange  went up in August 2006, the month of the devastating war with Lebanon. In the final quarter of the year, which had also included the bloody escalation in the West Bank and Gaza … Israel’s overall economy grew by a staggering 8 percent – more than triple the growth rate of the U.S. economy in the same period. The Palestinian economy, meanwhile, contracted by between 10 and 15 percent in 2006, with poverty rates reaching close to 70 percent.

UNESCO Admits Palestine, the US Pulls $60 Million

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted yesterday to admit Palestine as its newest member – and the United States promptly responded by cutting off $60 million of funding for the agency.

Apparently our administration feels that Palestine’s membership in an organization committed to “the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue” is “reckless,” “anti-Israel and anti-peace.”

Is there anything at all the US will not do for Israel?

From a smart CNN editorial yesterday:

The irony of the decision to cut funding is that UNESCO is one of the few United Nations groups where the U.S. finds a sympathetic ear on issues related to Israel.  UNESCO is actively working with America to promote tolerance and is working to deepen understanding of the Holocaust in countries where people don’t even believe it existed.

Even more important U.S. interests will be at stake if the World Intellectual Property Organization grants Palestinians membership, which as an affiliate of UNESCO they are almost certain to do.  That is where you start directly encountering obvious and significant interests to American business.

To my mind, the best commentary on the absurdity of all this came when AP reporter Matthew Lee questioned State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press conference yesterday. You can watch the whole thing above or read a full transcript on Sami Kishawi’s blog.

Here’s my favorite part – Kafka couldn’t have written it better:

Reporter: Okay, and how does it undermine exactly the prospect of where you want to go?

Victoria Nuland: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: The only thing it does is it upsets Israel and it triggers this law that you said will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?

Victoria Nuland: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we are trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.

Reporter: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground unlike, say, construction of settlements? It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which was a body the US was so unconcerned about for many years that it wasn’t even a member.

Victoria Nuland: Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward.

Reporter: Actually, it was the last administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process — other than the fact that it upsets Israel.

Victoria Nuland: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. So in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.

Reporter: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?

Victoria Nuland: How many times have the parties met?

Reporter: Yes.

Victoria Nuland: I think you know the answer to that question.

Reporter: Correct.

Locking Our Children Away: Sermon for Erev Yom Kippur 5772

Cedric Cal was born to a single mother, in a family that lived below the poverty line on Chicago’s West Side. His father had left the family, married another woman and had very little to do with him. His mother Olivia worked constantly, doing her best to keep her family together. As the oldest of four, Cedric became the de facto father of the family and was entrusted with protecting his younger brother, who was legally blind.

Cedric’s family moved around a lot and he learned very early on how to make friends quickly. He liked sports, particularly baseball – and when his family lived on the West Side, he played sports in the local Park District. When they moved to the South Side, however, there were no Park District services available, so sports were not an option for him. Still, no matter where they moved, Olivia became very adept at finding ways of getting Cedric and and brothers into decent public schools. From 5th to 8th grade, he attended Alcott Elementary. Minding his younger brother, he took the public bus every day on a long trek from the West Side to Lincoln Park.

Cedric’s mother taught him how to fill out applications and interview for jobs, but there really weren’t any to be found. And those that were hiring certainly weren’t hiring African-American teenage boys. He was never really successful at finding a real job, but when he was 14 he learned that he could make money dealing drugs. He knew that his mother would be beyond furious if she ever found out, so he made sure to keep his drug dealing and his growing gang activity secret from her. Cedric never, ever, brought his earnings into their home – his mother had made it clear that drug money was not welcome anywhere near her house. Even when he bought a car, he parked it far away from their home.

I met and spoke with Cedric two weeks ago at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. He explained to me that as he continued to sell drugs, as he continued the gang life, little by little, he became “desensitized to the things my mother had taught me.” It was quite poignant and sweet to listen to Cedric speak about his mother. “My mother,” he said, “has a lovely spirit,” adding: “I was scared to death of my mother.” He told me of one instance in which Olivia confronted drug dealers on a street corner with a two by four in her hand. Cedric laughed and said that even the toughest gang members in the neighborhood were scared of his mother.

Continue reading

Palestinians to Obama: “We Have Listened and You Have Failed”

I was prepared to write extensively about Obama’s shameful speech at the UN General Assembly yesterday, but this post by Palestinian analyst/activist Abir Kopty (above) says everything I wanted to say and more.

I’ll just add that I genuinely believe that after last night, the US has utterly abdicated any meaningful role as a peace arbiter between Israel and Palestine. Where this political leadership will come from remains to be seen.

And meanwhile, the oppression continues…

We listened to you when you talked about Israel’s citizens who have been killed by rockets fired at their houses, and that other children are taught to hate Israeli children. Do you not think that Israeli children hear what is said by rabbis who preach hate about Arabs? And we listened about Jewish suffering. No doubt Jewish people have suffered Mr. Obama, but let us put things in order: Jewish people are not the victims here. The Israeli state is not the victim; it is the occupier and the oppressor which continues to deny Palestinians living in their homeland and in exile ‘their universal right to live in freedom and dignity’.

When you fail to mention Palestinian suffer under occupation, when you fail to consider Palestinian children as equal human beings who deserve a better future, who are also entitled to human rights, you might win elections, but you lose your integrity, and you make it clear to everyone why the ‘so called peace process’ should be out of your hands…

We listened to you when you talked about the Arab Spring with such a passion. We listened with much suspicion, as America was very happy with the leaders of those countries who ruled for decades, and did not care then for Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, Syrian, Yemeni and Bahraini aspirations for freedom and dignity. And we know that you won’t leave those nations alone.

We listened to you and we did not understand why Palestinian freedom and dignity can wait? The only thing your speech made clear is that you do not dare to speak honestly.

I strongly encourage you to read her full post – please click here.

Understanding the Palestinian UN Initiative: A Conference Call with Josh Ruebner

How can we understand the PA’s initiative to declare statehood at the UN? How should US and the international community respond?  Will it advance the prospects for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine?

To explore these timely issues, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is sponsoring a phone conference with Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation on Thursday, September 22 at 12 pm (EST)

Ruebner is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service, a federal government agency providing Members of Congress with policy analysis. His analysis and commentary on US policy toward the Middle East appear frequently in media such as NBC, ABC Nightline, CSPAN, Al Jazeera, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Middle East Report, and more.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a national coalition of nearly 350 organizations working to end US support for Israel’s illegal 43-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, and to change U.S. policy toward Israel/ Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality.

Call-in info:

  • Call in number: 1-800-920-7487
  • Code: 92247763#

Participants in the call are encouraged to read one or more of the following articles:

Please join the call!

Palestinian Statehood: The US Fails the Leadership Test Again

I don’t have a position on whether or not it is a good thing for the PA to seek membership status for Palestine at the UN. That is for the Palestinians to determine – and I know there are a variety of Palestinian opinions both pro and con on this issue.

But I do believe this: the Obama Administration is being highly disingenuous in its attempts to block this declaration by claiming a Palestinian state can only achieved through peace negotiations.

On this one I’m in full agreement with former AJC Executive Director Henry Siegman, who offered this analysis yesterday:

(Is) there anyone who witnessed the frenzied applause that greeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent speech before the U.S. Congress in which he left no doubt about his government’s intentions for East Jerusalem and for the West Bank, or heard President Obama’s assurances to AIPAC’s conventioneers that the ties that bind the U.S. to Israel are forever “unbreakable,” who still believes that the U.S. will ever exert the kind of pressure on Israel that will finally change its cost/benefit calculations with regard to its colonial project?

Two years ago, Obama stood at a podium in Cairo University and said the following:

America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own…

The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security…

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  It is time for these settlements to stop…

And now here we are. The Obama administration has done everything it can to undermine its own publicly articulated goals. It continues to support Israel unconditionally as it settles the West Bank with impunity. Last February it cast the sole veto vote on a UN Security Council resolution that condemned the settlements. Now it is poised to publicly oppose Palestinians formal membership at the UN – the very body by which Israel itself became a state.

No, I’m not personally taking a stand on this because I don’t presume to preach to Palestinians what I think is in their best interest. But as an American citizen, I can’t accept my government’s claim that it is in any way committed to this so-called “peace process.”  Until the Obama administration is truly ready to be an honest and effective broker, it could at the very least refrain from smacking Palestinians down when they seek recourse through other means.

And when it comes to the larger implications of a US veto, I’ll say this: whatever good will Obama might have engendered after Cairo is now on the verge of being completely and utterly squandered. You know things are looking dire when a former Saudi Ambassador to the US writes in the NY Times:

The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region.

When one of your only allies left in the Arab world makes a public statement such as this, I’d say its time to pay heed.

IDF and Settlers Prepare for a West Bank “Bloodbath”

There are increasingly chilling signs that September will be a very tragic month for Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank.

Last month, Ha’aretz reported that Israel is concerned about “the possibility of confrontations” with Palestinians following the expected vote in favor of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. So concerned, apparently, that the IDF is now training West Bank settlers and creating “readiness squads” in anticipation of any Palestinian demonstrations.

But as veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery pointed out in a recent article, there is every reason to believe that these measures are not simply “defensive precautions” but rather preparations for a fait accomplis by the IDF and the settlers (between whom all distinctions have now become irrevocably blurred) :

In the next few weeks, the Palestinians will ask the UN to recognize the State of Palestine. They have already mustered a large majority in the General Assembly. After that, according to the official assessment of our army, all hell will break loose. Multitudes of Palestinians will rise, attack the “Separation” Wall, storm the settlements, confront the army, create chaos.

“The Palestinian Authority is planning a bloodbath,” Avigdor Lieberman cheerfully asserted. And when Lieberman predicts violence, it would be unwise to ignore him.

For months now, our army has been preparing for just such an eventuality. This week it announced that it is training the settlers, too, and telling them exactly when they are allowed to shoot to kill. Thus it confirms what we all know: that there is no clear distinction between the army and the settlers – many settlers are officers in the army, and many officers live in settlements. “The army defends all Israelis, wherever they are,” is the official line.

One of the scenarios the army is preparing for, it was stated, is for Palestinians shooting at soldiers and settlers “from inside the mass demonstrations”. That is an ominous statement. I have been at hundreds of demonstrations and never witnessed anyone shooting “from inside the demonstration”. Such a person would have to be insanely irresponsible, since he would expose all the people around him to deadly retaliation. But it is a handy pretext for shooting at non-violent protesters.

The settlers are, not surprisingly, taking their own “precautions” as well. Reuters has reported that settlers are receiving trained attack dogs from the “Civilian Dog Handlers Battalion of Judea and Samaria” (above) and just yesterday, Mondoweiss shared this chilling post from the French JDL website:

The JDL is organizing 19 to 25 September, a trip solidarity with our Israeli brothers living on the land of our ancestors Judea and Samaria.

This trip is for militants with military experience: The aim of this expedition is to lend a hand to our brothers face the aggression Palestinian occupants and thus enhance the security features of Jewish cities in Judea and Samaria.

Please keep these developments in mind as we watch events unfolding in the West Bank during the coming weeks. And let us pray for peace.