can’t see the forest

Israel expels UN human rights investigator for ‘hostile position’ towards Israel

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Richard Falk

Prof. Falk

The New York Times reports that the State of Israel expelled on Monday Richard Falk, a United Nations investigator of human rights in the Palestinian territories, citing his “vehement publications” criticizing Israel for committing gross human rights abuses in its treatment of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

Falk, a Princeton professor of international law and the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, has come under scrutiny in Israel for calling the Gaza blockade a “crime against humanity” while offering only “cursory” reprimands to the Palestinian militants who dare attempt to defend themselves against decades of colonialist aggression and oppression in their own homeland.

He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities and has called for more serious examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. Pointing to discrepancies between the official version of events and other versions, he recently wrote that “only willful ignorance can maintain that the 9/11 narrative should be treated as a closed book.”

In his capacity as a United Nations investigator, Mr. Falk issued a statement this month describing Israel’s embargo on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, as a crime against humanity, while making only cursory reference to Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israeli civilian centers. Israeli officials expressed outrage.

When his appointment was announced by the Human Rights Council last spring, the Israeli representative said it was “impossible to believe that out of a list of 184 potential candidates,” the members had made “the best possible choice for the post.”

The American and Canadian representatives also expressed concerns about Mr. Falk’s possible bias. The Palestinian representative said it was curious that Israel was “campaigning against a Jewish professor” and called the nomination “a victory for good sense and human rights.” Israel objects to the mandate of the special rapporteur on grounds that it ignores all human rights violations by Palestinians, either against Israelis or against other Palestinians. More specifically, it objects to Mr. Falk.

But Jessica Montell, director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, countered that, even if Israel has legitimate concerns about Falk’s objectivity, expelling him in this manner is “an act unbefitting of democracy.”

Israel has shown a marked preference for the Washington-backed government of Mahmoud Abbas, while harshly punishing Palestinians in Gaza for their free election of a Hamas-controlled administration. Yet the Israeli government continues to portray itself as a neutral, objective party, insisting that ad hoc guerrilla attacks against its territory and citizens are acts of aggression rather than protest and defense.

Heedless of copious outcry among the international community and continual denouncement by the United Nations, Israel has occupied Palestinian territory for more than forty years, largely with the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments, claiming a divine right to the land according to religious scripture through the Zionist movement, not to be confused with the faith of Judaism itself.


Crimes against humanity: the misery in Gaza

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Gaza-Israel border

Gaza-Israel border

For a year and a half now, the government of Israel has imposed a blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Despite the sporadic influx of foreign aid—chiefly from the UN—living conditions have steadily deterioriated in Gaza, with UN officials recently referring to them as simply “the worst ever” since the beginning of the illegal Israeli occupation in 1967.

Banks are experiencing cash shortages. There have been dire shortages of food and electricity; whole communities collectively totaling about 1.5 million residents are being punished for the retaliatory violence committed by a few. This, while outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush has the characteristic audacity to congratulate himself on his “bold” record of policy initiatives in the Middle East.

“The Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001,” Bush recently told reporters in a Washington forum.

Don’t make me barf. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a g.d. lie.

With the appointment of a Zionist loyalist to the top West Wing position and having copiously fawned to organizations such as AIPAC during his campaign, it appears that President-Elect Barack Obama will be unlikely to meaningfully adjust U.S. policy toward Israel anytime soon.

That’s change you can believe in. Yes, we can.

It is largely through the diplomatic, fiscal, and military support of the U.S. government that Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories and brutally oppress their native inhabitants. For example, the UN Human Rights council has condemned the actions of Israel well over a dozen times in the past couple of years; these proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel and the United States of America, continuing a pattern of diplomatic back-scratching that has persisted for decades as Israel continues to conduct exercises against other regional powers using US technology and logistical support.

This BBC news story highlights the plight of the family of Fazi Abu Gerada, a Gaza City man struggling to feed his family on meager supplies of bread and vegetable oil in a house with no electricity, scarce water, and a leaky roof:

It is dusk, a crescent moon was just visible overhead, and Fauzi has lit a fire. This is for cooking, heat, and light, as the electricity is still off in Gaza City.

Fauzi is 40 years old and has been unemployed since the intifada that started in 2000 prevented him from crossing into Israel to work as a labourer.

His wife and six children all live with him in a single-roomed house, scraping by on food aid from the United Nations and others.

“I have no income to feed my children. Sometimes I cannot even give them bread,” he told me. “We beg some food from here, and some food from there. Our life is begging.”

Looking despairingly at the breeze block and wood shack which was their home, he adds: “Eight people all live in this one room here. The water comes in in the winter but I don’t even have money for a plastic sheet to put on the roof.

“We are suffering. It’s like living underground. Once I thought I’d burn the house down with everybody in it just to escape this misery.”


UN Publishes ‘GEO 4’ Report

Posted in ecology, economy, Environment, Politics, sustainability, UN, World News by Curtis on 10/28/07

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The United Nations has published its Global Environmental Outlook Report, a 572-page document detailing the states of various facets of the natural world and human civilization’s relationship to it.

Far more than just a treatment of the problems of climate change, which has been the focus of recent publications of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and for which it shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Jr.), the Geo-4 discusses issues with the Earth’s water supply, overfishing, deforestation, and a host of other subjects. The document’s overall tone is soberly propositional.

The BBC’s Richard Black writes:

There could be no clearer example of a society engaged in unsustainable development; a society that is “meeting the needs of the present”, but in doing so is very definitely “compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Humans might be living longer and richer lives now, this implies; but environmental degradation must at some point curb or even reverse the trend.

To use the jargon, the world’s store of financial capital is rising at the expense of its natural capital, the bits of nature that humans rely on to provide food and water and to re-process our waste…

…Without major changes in direction, we had better hope that the people who believe that human ingenuity, technology and economic growth will always solve our future problems turn out to be right.

Diplomats Describe Bush Climate Meeting as Foil to UN Summit

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Bush Today in Washington, US President George W. Bush addressed attendees of an international climate conference independent of UN auspices. He performed as expected, urging the establishment of goals for the reduction of emissions, but refusing to adhere to mandatory statutes as recommended by the United Nations.


President Bush on Friday urged nations to set a goal for curbing emissions tied to global warming, but stopped short of accepting mandatory curbs laid out in an existing U.N. accord . . .

He said each nation should establish for itself what methods it will use to rein in emissions without stunting economic growth.

He also proposed the creation of an international fund to finance research into clean-energy technology, announcing that the U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would coordinate the effort . . .

Europeans say technology is crucial but not a substitute for binding targets on emissions.

“One of the striking features of this meeting is how isolated this administration has become. There is absolutely no support that I can see in the international community that we can drive this effort on the basis of voluntary efforts,” John Ashton, a special representative on climate change for the British foreign secretary, said in an interview. “I don’t think that this meeting by itself moves the ball very much at all. The much more significant meeting this week was at the U.N., where there was a sense of urgency.”

According to The Guardian, Ashton told the U.N. Foundation on Tuesday that “the question on the mind of everybody heading into those meetings will be: Is this talking about talking, or deciding about doing?” His concerns echo those of many European diplomats who say the U.S. needs to take a much more proactive approach to curbing greenhouse emissions, not least since other major industrialized nations such as China and India are unlikely to move absent a strong example from Washington. More from that article:

President George Bush was yesterday criticised by diplomats for attempting to derail a UN initiative on climate change by pressing ahead with his own conference, which starts in Washington today.

One European diplomat described the US meeting as a spoiler for a UN conference planned for Bali in December. Another, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, claimed that the US conference was merely a way of deflecting pressure from other world leaders who had asked at the G8 summit this year for the US to make concessions on global warming.

They predicted that Mr Bush, who is to address the meeting tomorrow, will stress the need to make technological advances that can help combat climate change but will reject mandatory caps on emissions.

The British government shares the frustration of other European governments with the lack of urgency on the part of the Bush administration. The British assessment of Mr Bush’s conference is reflected in the level of representation – Phil Woolas, a junior environment minister.

Mr Bush invited 15 countries, plus all EU members.

The highest-ranking representative from outside the US is the German environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel. He said yesterday he did not expect the US or other nations attending the conference to budge. “One cannot expect concrete results.”

One of those attending said the conference reflected “political hardball” on the part of the Bush administration, aimed at undermining the UN, for which it holds long-term suspicion. Another said the conference was aimed at domestic politics, with Mr Bush seeking headlines and television coverage implying that he was doing something about climate change while, in fact, doing almost nothing.

Within the U.S., there has been speculation that a secondary motivation for the White House and the Republican Party may be to preemptively curtail suggestions from Democratic Presidential contenders that the Republican Party has been too passive on the issue of climate change. If the feeling of international diplomats is any reliable gauge, Bush showed hospitality but no Texas-sized gumption during the course of the events of yesterday and today.

Environmentalists have long been aware that any meaningful solution to the problem of climate change will not come without an uncomfortable economic price tag, the majority of which will be shouldered by major corporations, but which will also affect employees and consumers.

Juan Cole on the Demonization of Ahmadinejad

Posted in hegemony, Iran, Journalism, media, New York, Politics, press, Propaganda, UN, USA by Curtis on 9/25/07

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Thanks to Dandelion Salad for posting this piece from in which the always intelligent and incisive Juan Cole discusses the rather xenophobic fanfare with which the U.S. press greeted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to New York City. Ahmadinejad spoke to the U.N. General Assembly and also to students and faculty at Columbia University.

Even if you feel that you’re inclined to disagree, I would strongly recommend visiting Salon and reading up. Like me, you’ll probably learn some things you didn’t know. Cole is always excellent in this regard.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly has become a media circus. But the controversy does not stem from the reasons usually cited.

The media has focused on debating whether he should be allowed to speak at Columbia University on Monday, or whether his request to visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack in lower Manhattan, should have been honored. His request was rejected, even though Iran expressed sympathy with the United States in the aftermath of those attacks and Iranians held candlelight vigils for the victims. Iran felt that it and other Shiite populations had also suffered at the hands of al-Qaida, and that there might now be an opportunity for a new opening to the U.S. . .


Start Spreading the News . . .

Posted in 9/11, academia, Ahmadinejad, foreign policy, Iran, New York, News, Politics, Propaganda, UN, USA by Curtis on 9/23/07

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Yon telescreen informs me that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has landed in New York City, where he will speak at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly and will participate in a political forum at the city’s esteemed Columbia University.

Like any sensible American with a brain not yet riddled by the neuro-mange of ideologically enforced hypocrisy, I welcome President Ahmadinejad to my country and gladly await what he has to say about . . . whatever he’s going to talk about.

I’m telling you, though—glancing through the U.S. national and even some of the international media, you’d think that Adolf Hitler himself were going to be parading down Fifth.

Richard Bernstein at the International Herald Tribune writes:

“Necessarily, on occasion, this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even odious,” the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, declared of Ajmadinejad’s impending visit. “We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the power of dialogue and reason.”

There is of course a difference between a grandiose gesture and a dialogue, so it isn’t inconsistent for the New York police to have said “no” on Ground Zero while Columbia said “yes” to a speech.

Still, the funny thing is that the Columbia invitation may actually play more into Ahmadinejad’s hand than the 9/11 gesture would have.

And this, from the AP:

After Columbia said it would not call off the Monday forum, somel local officials, including City Council speaker Christine Quinn, said the Iranian leader did not belong at an academic institution.

“Anyone who supports terror, pledges to destroy a sovereign nation (Israel), punishes by death anyone who ‘insults’ religion … denies the Holocaust and thumbs his nose at the international community, has no legitimate role to play at a university,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a statement.

Is Ahmadinejad a nutty guy? I believe so. Has he said some outlandish things and made a career of being resistant to change? Definitely. Do his opinions and actions equivocally represent the majority of his people? Not hardly. Could all of these statements equally apply to our own President? Abso-frickin’-lutely, with a fork in it for good measure.

His request to lay a wreath at the 9/11 memorial has been thunderously booed by Hillary Clinton (running for President, are we?) and denied by the city of New York. You see, Dear Leader has already clearly explained that Ahmadinejad is a Grand Wizard of the Axis of Evil. Therefore, at all costs, we must make his actions fit this preconception—so as a world citizen and a human being, Ahmadinejad will not be allowed to make a gesture of sympathy and respect.

While I recognize that welcoming an authoritarian Muslim leader to the Big Apple with a ticker-tape parade is unrealistic, nonetheless I am appalled at the venomous spittle issuing forth from the glands of the U.S. press. Push the little daisies and make them come up, as the song says.

Praise be to Columbia U. for its bold move to open its doors to dialog and reason. What will Ahmadinejad discuss there and at the U.N.? I have no way of knowing. Here, though, are a few high points I’m hoping he’ll touch:

  1. He should explain that at no point did he ever call for ‘Israel to be wiped off the map.’ Long ago I posted about this despicably well-propagated mistransliteration here.
  2. He should reiterate Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy under its own auspices and within its own sovereignty.
  3. He should reaffirm Iran’s commitment to Middle East peace and to Palestinian sovereignty and should express disappointment with U.S. mudslinging and double standards.

Just some ideas.