Sunday, February 19, 2017

New York Times Op-Ed Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel

That the New York Times demonstrates a systematic editorial bias in favor of Israeli state power and against Palestinian rights is old news. Whether it is reporting on the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, the deadly Gaza flotilla raid, cease fire violations between the IDF and Hamas, or any other aspect of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the New York Times reliably acts as a mouthpiece for propagating Israeli hasbara (propaganda). Aside from its "objective" reporting, this editorial bias also manifests itself in the narratives that make their way into the Opinion section. On Feb. 14, the paper allowed a spokesperson for the illegal settlers in the occupied territories to openly advocate violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the establishment an apartheid state in Mandatory Palestine.

"A Settler's View of Israel's Future" by Yishai Fleisher offers an alternative perspective about the future of the state of Israel than that envisioned by the Israeli government, which established a state nearly 70 years ago by forcibly dispossessing 50 percent of the native inhabitants from their land and subsequently maintaining a Jewish majority by preventing the natives from returning home because they were not Jewish. However, the perspective presented in the pages of the Times is not that of the colonized victims, but that of the settler-colonists who, like the white pioneers of the Plains in the United States, participate in the dispossession.

Unlike the Israeli and U.S. governments, which purport to seek a two-state solution while actively perpetuating the status quo in which Israel takes all the land and resources it wants from Mandatory Palestine while denying rights to the Palestinians, Fleisher makes no pretense of his rejectionist belief that Palestinians do not deserve a state of their own:
But for us settlers, the truth is clear: The two-state solution was misconceived, and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people. Our right to this land is derived from our history, religion, international decisions and defensive wars.
The author rejects the position of every single nation on the planet - apart from Israel itself - that the West Bank belongs to its native inhabitants. This was famously imbued with the legitimacy of international law in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The first resolution called unequivocally for the "(w)ithdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and the latter resolution demanded the implementation of resolution 242. This is consistent with international law's prohibition against the acquisition of territory through military conquest.

Though Fleisher references international decisions and defensive wars, he is merely spouting baseless propaganda. UN General Assembly Resolution 181 was not legally binding in the first place, and even if it had been, it never would have withstood challenge in the World Court because a partion plan that granted majority rights to a group that made up a mere 1/3 of the population and owned 7 percent of the land is diametrically opposed to the principle of democracy. Likewise, whole books such as John Quigley's The Six-Day War and Israeli Self-Defense, have meticulously dismantled the argument that Israel had any claim to self-defense in its 1967 conquest of the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.

Fleisher's real argument for possession of the West Bank is history and religion, i.e., a religious text which he believes provides a more legitimate claim than the rights of the native inhabitants whose ancestors have lived on the land for hundreds of years.

Fleisher goes on to reject the core principle of democracy, that all citizens are inherently equal and should have the same political rights in government:
Arabs can live in Israel, as other minorities do, with personal rights, not national rights. But many Arabs reject that option because they do not recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish State, with or without settlements.
In other words, the country does not belong to its citizens but to an ethnic group that enforces legal discrimination against non-members of the group. This is a political system founded on the notion of ethnic supremacy, as was the state of apartheid South Africa. It is virtually impossible to imagine the Times lending the invaluable real estate of its Opinion section to rationalizations for the denial of civil rights to any other minority. That such overt discrimination can be promoted openly in 2017 is a testament to the rampant racism in popular culture as well as in elite media against Arabs and Muslims, and the persistence of the Orientalist mentality described by Edward Said 40 years ago. It seems true indeed that anti-Arab racism is the only type of racism still publicly condoned in American society.

To Fleisher's credit, he points out rightly that many (actually all) Palestinians reject the idea that their nation should be organized on the principle of ethnic supremacy. However, he portrays this as an example of their intransigence. In reality, Palestinians reject a state that would treat them as second-class citizens because it is inherently unjust and is incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. It is the same position that any reasonable person would take if they were offered an unfair and inferior political status. It is worth noting that Fleisher refuses to even refer to Palestinians as such, instead using the traditional technique of calling them "Arabs", rhetorically denying their very existence.

He goes on to state that:
Most settlers say without ambivalence that the two-state solution is dead, and the time has come for a discussion of new options by which Israel would hold onto the West Bank and eventually assert Israel sovereignty there, just as we did with the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process. 
This represents unapologetic advocacy for violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the formal establishment of an apartheid regime over the territories. By referring to questions worked out through the democratic process, he means the democratic process of the colonizers, with no input from the colonized people who represent the actual owners of the land. This is a conception of democracy so far removed from the meaning of the word that it bears no relation at all to the actual concept.

Fleisher then presents what he calls five “credible” alternatives to the two-state solution, none of which are remotely compatible with international human rights law. One of the alternatives calls for outright ethnic cleansing by banishing Palestinians to Arab countries, rationalized by saying they would be “generously compensated” to emigrate voluntarily. This despite the fact that not only do the 5 million Palestinians in the occupied territory enjoy the inalienable right to live in their lands, but 5 million more Palestinian refugees retain the right of return, per UNGA Resolution 194, to they land they and/or their ancestors were forcibly removed from.

He says the new administration presents a new opportunity to solve the conflict, and opines that John Kerry’s proclamation that “there really is no viable alternative” to the two-state solution is contradicted by its manifest failure.

Indeed, the failure of the two-state plan is undeniable. However, there is another actual solution - apart from the five discriminatory and unjust proposals presented in Fleisher's column - that goes unmentioned despite its long history. Pronounced in a 1969 PLO resolution, revived in 1999 by Edward Said after the failure of the Oslo Accords, and promoted widely today by Palestinian activists such as Ali Abunimah, it is a solution - indeed the only solution - that would be entirely compatible with international law and the principles of equality, democracy and human rights. The solution is one state with universal citizenship and equal rights for all residents of Mandatory Palestine, be they Jewish, Muslim or any other religion or ethnicity. Unfortunately, Times readers are left with only the fanatically extremist views of the settler-colonists who for decades have stolen Palestinian land and water while denying Palestinians self-determination.

This piece first appeared in the American Herald Tribune.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Media Disinformation on Purported Aleppo Atrocities Fits Historical Pattern

It has been several months since the barrage of nightmarish reports about the horrors in East Aleppo as the Syrian government army prepared to drive out the remaining rebels from the city in mid December. Purported "activists" posted their "goodbye" messages, claiming they feared they would be slaughtered by government forces. Women were said to have chosen suicide over rape. And most widely disseminated of all were reports that regime soldiers had executed 82 civilians, including women and children. (See here, here, here, here and here.) None of these shocking reports were verified by journalists on the ground. Though none of the news media admitted it, there were no foreign journalists in East Aleppo because they feared being kidnapped and killed by the al Qaeda-aligned rebels, as American reporter James Foley had been in 2014. But after hostilities concluded in East Aleppo with the rebels being driven out of the city, the same organizations who propagated the doomsday narrative have shown no interest in examining it and setting the record straight.

There have been no indications that anyone inside East Aleppo who posted a goodbye message was actually harmed. Lina Shamy, who miraculously enjoyed a reliable Wi-Fi connection and a steady supply of power to tweet constantly and grant Skype interviews from East Aleppo, warned on Dec. 12, 2016 that "this may be my last video. More than 50,000 civilians who rebelled against the dictator al-Assad are threatened with field executions or are dying under bombing." CNN published this terrifying message from Shamy along with another in which she claimed "genocide is still ongoing!" 

But Shamy was not executed upon the government taking control of the city. Instead, she was evacuated by the government out of the city. She is now living freely and recounting her experience in the pages of the New York Times, where she falsely blamed attacks on evacuation buses on the government's Syrian Arab Army (SAA). In reality, it was the rebels who set fire to the buses full of civilians and imperiled the peaceful evacuations. 

As for reports of executions of 82 civilians by government troops, it does not appear that anyone has followed up by presenting any evidence that this actually happened. There have been no names of the 82 people allegedly killed, no photos, no bodies, and no grave sites indicating that mass murder had occurred. 

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. The original reports were completely unsubstantiated, based on nothing more than one United Nations official repeating hearsay. News media relied on the authority of the United Nations to bolster the credibility of their headlines ("UN says civilians shot on the spot.") Amnesty International took the UN reports at face value and said they "point to apparent war crimes," phrasing meant to prejudice legal claims against the Syrian government while deflecting responsibility for making them. 

The reports came from a single official: Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Colville told a news conference that in addition to 82 civilians (including dozens of women and children) reportedly killed by government troops, the death toll could actually be much higher, Buried deep below the headlines in the news coverage, we come across an important caveat.  Colville admitted "it was hard to verify the reports." 

Rather than present evidence of these horrible atrocities, Colville admits that they are merely rumors from an undisclosed source. To present this as an factual finding of the United Nations is like taking a prosecutor's opening argument and saying it was the decision of the jury at the end of the trial. If the media was really interested in reporting the truth, they would frame the allegations skeptically rather than treat them as settled and proven.

But the purpose of media in the United States and Western democracies is not to report the truth but to reinforce the government's position by accepting the fundamental validity of its narrative. As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman write in Manufacturing Consent, "(a) propaganda model suggests that the 'societal purpose' of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state." [1]  

It is evident that the political and military establishment is fixated on regime change in Syria, and thus has chosen to align with Syria's local al-Qaeda affiliate -- if not directly then indirectly by supporting groups that make common cause in fighting under their command. The propaganda model would predict that the media would portray the Assad government as uniquely cruel and savage, and the opponents of the regime as worthy victims of the Syrian government's evilness.

Thus it should not be surprising that after the re-capture of East Aleppo actual evidence of a massacre was discovered, but was ignored.  Since the evidence pointed to atrocities by the rebels against the government, instead of vice versa, it went unreported in the Western press.

In late December, 100 government soldiers were found dead inside East Aleppo. Video by Syrian "activists" showed that at least some of the dead soldiers had been captured days earlier, suggesting they were executed rather than killed in battle. Despite photographic and video evidence, these deaths were not worthy of being covered by CNN, the New York Times, the BBC or other outlets who did report on unverified accusations of executions by the other side. 

The Hue and Racak "Massacres"

Several historical examples are useful to see how stories that coincide with the government line are amplified by the media, no matter how little evidence exists. Later, when evidence emerges which calls into question the original narrative, the media simply ignore it and it is lost to history.

During the U.S. aggression against Vietnam, the brutality and viciousness of the "Communists" was exemplified in the American public imagination by the "Hue Massacre" in January 1968. The official narrative was that North Vietnamese troops, while retreating from the city of Hue after the Tet offensive, carried out indiscriminate massacres of civilians and buried them in mass graves.

London Times correspondent Stewart Harris reported in March 1968 that Hue Police Chief Doan Cong Lap claimed there had been 200 killings and a mass grave discovered with 300 bodies. The next month, the Saigon government's propaganda agency put out a report claiming there were 1,000 victims of a Communist massacre, many of whom had been buried alive. After this was not picked up, the U.S. State Department put out the same report the following week. It was duly splashed across all the major American newspapers.

"The story was not questioned, despite the fact that no Western journalist had ever been taken to see the grave sites when the bodies were uncovered," write Chomsky and Herman in The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism. "On the contrary, French photographer Marc Riboud was repeatedly denied permission to see one of the sites where the Province Chief claimed 300 civilian government workers had been executed by the Communists. When he was finally taken by helicopter to the alleged site, the pilot refused to land, claiming the area was 'insecure.' " [2]

Subsequently, a purported "captured document" was found that allegedly showed Communists had admitted to killing 2,748 people. This was taken at face value and became the new official version of the incident.

In reality, a vicious U.S.-led assault to recapture Hue had resulted in massive casualties. Photographer Philip Jones Griffiths wrote that most of the victims were killed by the air assault. The dead were falsely designated as victims of a Communist massacre.

Gareth Porter, who thoroughly investigated the events in Hue, described his findings as follows:
The available evidence - not from NLF sources but from official U.S. and Saigon documents and from independent observers, indicates that the official story of an indiscriminate slaughter of those who were considered to be unsympathetic to the NLF is a complete fabrication. Not only is the number of bodies uncovered in and around Hue open to question, but more important, the cause of death appears to have been shifted from the fighting itself to NLF execution. And the most detailed and 'authoritative' account of the alleged executions put together by either government does not stand up under examination.
But there was never any attempt by the mainstream Western press who were so quick to amplify the U.S. government's accounts to investigate what really happened and set the record straight if their findings did not match the initial story. Nor was there any interest in investigating casualties in Hue when there was substantial evidence that they were caused by the U.S. military and forces loyal to the military dictatorship they were supporting.

30 years later in Kosovo, the Western media reported the latest massacre by the evil forces of an official enemy. In this case, the Serbian military had allegedly murdered 45 unarmed Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak. The first reports of a "massacre" and a "crime against humanity" in Racak were pronounced by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission head William Walker.

On January 18, 1999, Chief International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia prosecutor Louise Arbour showed up at the border of Kosovo and demanded entry to investigate the incident. In March, U.S. President Bill Clinton would use the pretext of Racak to justify an illegal air war against Serbia when he declared, "(w)e should remember what happened in the village of Racak, where innocent men, women and children were taken from their homes to a gully, forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire -- not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were." [3]

Clinton's version was created out of whole cloth. There were no women and children, and there was no evidence the dead had been marched from their homes and forced to kneel in the dirt. The Serbian government determined that there was only 22 men, and that the deaths had resulted from a fire fight during a police action to catch Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters who had killed four policeman the week before.

While the Serb version, which was exculpatory to their own side, should not be accepted at face value either, it does raise possibilities worth examining. There was a context that could explain the dead bodies, i.e., heavy fighting between KLA and Serbian forces. As Michael Mandel writes in How America Gets Away with Murder: "to the extent that there was a massacre, it was provoked by the KLA as part of a deliberate and consistent pattern aimed at bringing on NATO's military intervention." Mandel notes that even NATO supporters such as Michael Ignatieff had written several months before that KLA tactics "were not a miscalculation, but a deliberate strategy" designed to force Serbian forces to overreact and force NATO to intervene on the KLA's side. [4]

It is not hard to see the double standard by which the media operates when reporting alleged atrocities by enemies of the U.S. government. Actual massacres by the U.S. armed forces are portrayed as one-off cases attributable to low-level rogue offices, like My Lai in Vietnam, or as honest mistakes and collateral damage, like the Kunduz hospital bombing in Afghanistan. Even in the wholesale murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent noncombatants, like the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the systematic carpet bombing of vast swaths of Cambodia and Laos, U.S. actions are never conceived of as evidence of barbarity and indiscriminate violence. Whereas atrocities by the other side are unfailingly portrayed as unprovoked mass murder, unconscionable examples of the enemy's lack of humanity and indicative of the difference between us and them.

The mainstream media is best understood as an appendage of the government and ruling class interests, one which functions as part of a propaganda system that has nothing to do with providing with facts, but rather creating an acceptable ideological framework for its audience. This explains why the media exhibits such a blatant confirmation bias. In this light, it should be anything but surprising that the story about the Syrian government executing 82 civilians can become an official historical fact without any serious attempt to verify the actual course of events either at the time they happened, or after the fog of war has cleared. 


[1] Chomsky, Noam and Edward S. Herman. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon, 2011. Kindle edition. (Loc. 7556)

[2] Chomsky, Noam and Edward S. Herman. The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights: Volume 1. Boston: South End Press, 1979. (pp. 346)

[3] Quoted in Mandel, Michael. How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity. Pluto Press, 2004. Kindle edition. (Loc. 1737)

[4] Mandel, Michael. How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity. Pluto Press, 2004. Kindle edition. (Loc. 1820)