Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Israeli export: lessons in isolation

The Jerusalem Post reports on the latest lessons the Zionist state are giving the world. What inspiration:

A growing number of countries are flocking to Israel to study border security as the Defense Ministry works to complete the construction of a physical and technological barrier along the Egyptian border.

In August, a delegation from India will arrive to study the various technologies used by the IDF to secure the borders with the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Egypt, and which could be implemented as part of India’s own fence with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The interest in Israeli border security has spiked since Israel began constructing a barrier along its border with Egypt to stem terrorism and infiltrations by illegal migrants. The Defense Ministry and IDF have so far completed about 150 km, of the fence; plans are to complete the remainder by the end of the year.

The fence is 5 meters in height and layered with barbed wire. It is supported by dozens of radars that are deployed along the border to issue alerts about possible crossings while the potential infiltrators are still kilometers away.

Israel’s primary concern is with the growing number of terror attacks along the border. Last week, shots were fired at a bus carrying IDF soldiers. While there was damage to the bus, no one was wounded. On June 18, terrorists crossed into Israel from Sinai and killed an Israeli contractor working on the border fence, while last August eight Israelis were killed in a cross-border attack.

India is interested in beefing up its border security to prevent future incidents like the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

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How to move from two-state paradigm to one-state democracy

The following (first) review of my new book, After Zionism, has just been published in the Palestine News Network:

Journalists Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moore have succeeded in putting together an impressive collection of essays in their new book After Zionism. The essays all focus on the shift that is now taking place in many people’s thinking about the Israel-Palestine conflict: from the two-state paradigm to the emerging one-state mode thinking. The essays cover a lot of ground both historically and politically and comprise a mixed bag of views, sometimes divergent, that are sure to spark much needed debate about the future of the conflict. With the fallout from the PA’s UN Statehood bid fading and shifting dynamics across the region this book couldn’t have come at a more important time!

The content covers a lot of ground. For instance, Ilan Pappe contributes a chapter to the Nakba and its legacy as it haunts the conflict today. There are essays here on American Jewish identity (Philip Weiss), the Oslo process (Dianna Buttu), joint struggles in the West Bank (Joseph Dana) and two attempts at outlining how a one-state solution could work (Jeff Halper and Ghada Karmi). As well as chapters on the development of Zionist thought as well as an analysis of Israel’s discriminatory land laws.

The quality of the essays varies and given the depth and breadth of the book and so reviewing all of them is beyond the scope of just one review. In order to be brief I will only address a portion of the book’s chapters that concern themselves with advocacy. The chapters that are historical and literary in nature, which are dynamic and well worth reading, I will leave aside.

The two-state solution is dead, announce the books contributors, and it is time to start approaching alternatives. The alternative, the editors write in the book’s foreword, is the one-state solution. The feeling amongst many is that the basic conditions that need to be addressed in order to bring a just peace to Israel/Palestine – the return of refugees, full and equal citizenship for Palestinians within Israel’s borders, the end of the occupation – cannot be fulfilled by the two-state solution.

Editor Ahmed Moore, a young Palestinian-American journalist who’s writing on the Middle East has appeared across outlets throughout the world and who consistently brings fresh insights into often-stale debates, pens the first chapter of the book. He recounts his earliest experiences of College life and the struggle to express a Palestinian identity. He writes eloquently about the Zionist narrative in American politics and its capacity to distort history and marginalise Palestinians, citing the latest string of slurs by Republican candidates claiming Palestinians don’t exist. Reflecting on his return to Palestine and finding his old neighbourhood Al-Ram partially depopulated by the annexation wall he declares that he has borne witness to the death of the two-state solution. This narrative is a familiar one for many young Palestinians who have lived abroad and then returned to their home to find it deracinated by the occupation.

This thinking is heading in the right direction and is broadly representative of a growing number of young Palestinians and Israelis.

The shift from the idea of a two-state solution to the one-state solution is not as easy to make as many of the contributors to this anthology assume. The usual thinking is that there are so many settlements that we should by-pass the idea of a Palestinian state and head straight for one state.

However, people need not see two states as a be all and end all. One can view a two-state settlement (note: not solution) as an intermediary stage toward a one-state solution. So the establishment of a Palestinian state need not be the end of the struggle. In fact this may be a necessary step toward a bi-national solution, which seems more feasible given the nationalisms that are by now firmly ingrained in both Palestinian and Israeli societies. Moore inadvertently touches upon this point perhaps without fully grasping it. He writes at the end of the chapter:

“It is very likely that before the one-state solution is fully developed, the Bantustan option will be established in the West Bank. But the Palestinian struggle will continue despite that.”

The logical follow up to this question is if a two-state settlement isn’t the end of the struggle then why not factor that in to advocacy? Why not see a real (not a bantustan option) two-state settlement as only an end to the occupation and to the fighting before proceeding to push toward a one-state solution after that?

This I think is a weak point of the Palestine solidarity movement as it stands today. The one-state/two-state debate is conducted entirely upon the dichotomous view that resolving the conflict must occur in one swoop and could not possibly move through phases.

Saree Makdisi is similarly guilty of this logic in his contribution. His chapter waxes lyrical about the power of symbols, the imagination and the realm of ideas to bring about a one-state solution without bothering to assess the harder problems of the conflict – those of nationalism, ingrained identity, time frames and public opinion. Instead he dismisses critics such as Mouin Rabbani as simply not being imaginative enough.

Countless arguments can be in made in favour of the moral superiority of the one-state solution and the moral poverty of its two-state counterpart. That these arguments show the moral superiority of the one-state solution is beyond doubt. However, what is more difficult, as Ghada Karmi writes in her essay, is marking out a strategy from how to get from the current dismal state of affairs to the end-goal of a single state. Karmi briefly runs through the various formulations of both the two-state solution and the one-state solution and argues that each one on the table is inadequate and then proceeds to present her path forward.

Her solution? Voluntarily annex the Occupied Territories to Israel and force it to accept full responsibility for the Palestinian population thus clearing the decks for a civil-rights style struggle effectively ending Zionism which, upon its victory will create a single secular democratic state in historic Palestine.

In her own words:

“Key to this new strategy is the idea of a voluntary annexation of the Occupied Territories to Israel, thus transforming the struggle against occupation into one for equal civil rights within an expanded Israeli state”

And that:

“Faced with such a situation, it is difficult to see what Israel could do. At one stroke, the Palestinians would call Israel’s bluff over the peace process and its unrelenting colonization, which has benefited so well from the protracted and futile peace talks to date”

This approach calls for giving Israel the keys, so to speak. But there is a very serious problem with it. Namely, that Israel doesn’t want the keys and sees no reason to take them. The Palestinian Authority also won’t dissolve itself. Quite the opposite actually since the PA has recently shown itself willing to use armed violence in order to put down any challenge to its control. After all it is a collaborationist clique and has a job to do. So the strategy is a non-starter.

Jeff Halper is heading in the right direction. He offers a refreshing approach to the problem in his chapter. Seeing the insurmountable task of convincing an Israeli and International public to run with the one-state solution straight out, Halper advocates a two-stage strategy for meeting the requirements of a just peace, which he argues include the return of refugees and economic and environmental sustainability amongst others. The first step is to end the conflict along the lines of a two-state settlement (note: not solution) which would ‘meet “the Palestinians’ requirements for national sovereignty, political identity and membership in the international community”. The second stage is for the international community to broker a “regional confederation among Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon”. This would ensure the economic and environmental sustainability of both Israel and Palestine.

But what about the refugees? Halper argues that since “They could choose to return home to what is today Israel, but they would do so as Palestinian citizens or citizens of another member state”. This would nominally mean that both Israeli and Palestinian nationalism would survive.

There is a lot to be said about the argument since it sensibly recognizes that the solution to a conflict that has now been roaring for more than a century will actually have to come in stages, even if it is only two stages, since there is no instant solution currently proposed that is both moral and practical.

Having said that the idea of a regional confederation is quite convoluted and relies upon other nation states, such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan all agreeing to it and consistently enacting policies that push the development of the confederation forward. As Halper himself notes, Israel sees itself as a kind of Singapore, a wealthy and cultured nation amongst a sea of antitheses. For this reason many Israelis would not accept being part of a confederation with Arab states. Convincing them might not be an insurmountable task though and would certainly be more achievable than coercing them into abandoning zionism.

That said, a confederation need not encompass all of the countries in the region, rather it could be between the two nations Israel and Palestine, which would lay the groundwork for integrating to two and eventually dissolving the already artificial borders.

The best elements of the book are the breadth of vision and creativity that Halper and others present, as well as the razor sharp analysis of Saray Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza, who uses her chapter to trace the changing dynamics in the region.

The low points of the book are when it is derivative and clichéd.

Omar Barghouti, who is fast becoming the most recognizable face in Palestinian solidarity today, attempts a philosophical treatise as his contribution to the book. It reads like a pretentious attempt at literary theory and sticks out like a sore thumb between the magnificent Zionist myth-debunking chapter by Antony Loewenstein and the honest but misguided one-state strategy of Ghada Karmi mentioned above. The crux of Barghouti’s essay is that through assessing the power relations between various theoretical constructs such as ethnic identity and zionisation we come to the conclusion that a secular, unitary, democratic state of Palestine is the morally superior way to end the conflict.

The worst aspect of Barghouti’s chapter is its tendency toward armchair philosophy. By ignoring the obstacles that exist in reaching a one-state solution he conjures up the sort of thinking suitable of any coffee shop revolutionary. One particular instance of this is his careless dismissal of bi-nationalism on the grounds that it doesn’t gel with UN Resolution 194. He doesn’t explain why. Instead he just asserts the point and leaves his reader guessing. He also leaves many of his own questions unanswered but they aren’t worth pursuing here.

By addressing the question of ethnic and national identity at a level of abstraction his philosophizing is entirely ignorant to the long history of violence that has resulted from forcing different ethnic and religious groups to assimilate into one another within state borders. For somebody who has claimed that there is nobody as violent as ‘the white race’ Barghouti seems to have forgotten that Europe was for several hundred years the most violent place on earth due in no small part to the concerted attempts to forced different ethnic, religious and national groups into the narrow confines of the nation state (usually for the benefits of capital).

A second drawback to the book is that certain clichés of the current political discourse are never properly examined. The term Bantustan, which is used at the core of Dianna Buttu’s essay and appears frequently in the chapters of the other contributors, is all too common amongst activists and commentators of this conflict.

The reason this concept becomes problematic in Palestine is because the intention of the Israelis is different from the intention of the Afrikaners. The intention of the Bantustans was the maintain segeregation and a flow fo cheap back labour. This was because black South Africans made up the overwhelming majority of the workforce and so they couldn’t bare to part with them. However, the intention of the Israeli occupation is, as Moshe Dayan said when the occupation first began in 1967, to make the Palestinians live like dogs and if they want they can leave (the crucial word being leave). The goal is to drive the Palestinians off the land – ethnic cleansing. The goal is not to keep them on the land and use them as cheap labor like the Afrikaners did.

It is not that there aren’t glaring similarities between the two situations. Of course there are. But terminology has a point to it and if it is misleading, distracting or both then it won’t advance one’s argument anywhere and in fact bogs it down in moslty pointless debates about historical similarities and dissimilarities.

There is one crucial similarity to South Africa that isn’t often mentioned but that is instructive nonetheless. And that is the role that the US played in propping up the Apartheid regime even after it was a pariah state. The is happening with Israel.

The lack of attention paid to US Imperialism and the role that has in shaping America’s policies of hegemony throughout the region is a definite shortcoming in all of the chapters. For this reason it would have been worth, in my opinion, including a chapter on American anti-imperialism as it relates to the Middle East since this is a crucial determinant in whether the conflict will even end at all let alone end in one-state of two.

The omission of any analysis of this relationship also gives the uninformed reader the impression that Israel is a lone ranger of sorts and in control of its own of its own foreign policy.

It is not.

Israel’s policy must fall in line with US policy since Israeli is wholly dependent on the US for survival.

This incorrect framing has damaging consequences for advocacy since it distracts people’s attention away from US support for Israeli crimes, without which such crimes could not occur.

These criticisms aside there is a lot here that will breath new life into a stale debate. All in all this is an ambitious book that captures at the right time the paradigm shift that is happening within debates about Israel-Palestine. Its contributors consist an all-star lineup of commentators and scholars who have played a prominent role in shaping public debate and the chapters mostly reflect this. The breadth of the book is ambitious and, the criticisms that I’ve raised aside, it is quite comprehensive. The editors state in the introduction that naturally they do not agree with everything in the book’s diverse chapters and so the book itself is really a debate.

Where will the debate lead? How will the Palestinian national project respond? Only time will tell. But this collection is bound to have an impact one way or the other.

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A one-state solution is only way forward for Israel and Palestine

My following article appears today in The Conversation:

How should the world react when a supposedly democratic state can’t acknowledge a 40-year-old occupation?

When US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel during a visit this weekend, he was playing into this mass delusion, and mouthing the official position of the American Zionist lobby.

It is a fallacy that runs right through Israel, self-described as the Middle East’s only democracy, where a recent government-backed report by retired Supreme Court judge Edmond Levy found that its decades-long occupation of Palestinian land wasn’t an occupation at all. The report granted quasi-legal justification for illegally moving Jews into the West Bank. There are now at least 600,000 Jewish colonists squatting on Palestinian land in direct contravention of international law.

But for the Zionist state, the occupation is merely a God-given right to populate land. The lie was proved when Israeli officials, leaders and dutiful Zionist lobbyists in the West spent decades claiming the occupation was temporary and arguing that Palestinian land and natural resources for Israeli use were solely motivated by security concerns.

The occupation can apparently be ignored forever. Soon enough, a person like Levy will be found to create a legal fiction and legitimise what the whole world knows to be illegal. The US issues muted criticism, while Australia doesn’t have an independent foreign policy when it comes to Israel, meekly following American and Israeli dictates, and colonisation continues apace.

What remains fascinating about the Levy findings – American Zionist organisations still can’t bring themselves to speak clearly and honestly about Jewish housing in the West Bank – is what it implies for Palestinian rights under occupation. If there is no occupation, then there should be no problem granting full voting and civil rights to all citizens of the West Bank and Gaza. If that happened today, Jews would soon find themselves a minority. It’s called democracy and it’s something Zionist leadership fears.

Mitt Romney compounded these lies with his comments about Jerusalem. But peace isn’t served when politicians don’t have their own views on the Middle East issue.

What all this means for the much discussed two-state solution is a death knell. It’s beyond time to declare partition of the land both unworkable and unethical. Despite 20 years of this fiction, two decades of dreamers, cynics, Israel lobbyists, politicians, journalists, officials, liberal Zionists and pundits pronouncing the two-state solution the only game in town, it’s over. Finished. Israel killed it by pursuing its natural Zionist, expansionist tendencies.

The result is that Israel has succeeded in conquering the West Bank but ended its chances of remaining a Jewish state. This is something we should celebrate if we believe in the concept of democracy and a rejection of Jewish privilege in a modern age.

The only viable alternative, and one gaining increasing traction, is the one-state solution. Sometimes support appears from the most unlikely of places. British conservative MP, Bob Stewart, who spent 28 years in the UK military, visited the West Bank recently and said he was “deeply upset by what I saw.” His response? “Unless the settlements stop, there can be no chance whatever of a two-state solution, and the only alternative … is a one-state solution. One state where Jews and Palestinians recognise one another as equals. Surely that is not totally utopian”.

In a new book I’ve edited with Ahmed Moor, After Zionism, we explain both the justice and sense of imagining a one-state future. One chapter, by Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook, highlights the case of Ahmed and Fatina Zbeidat, a Palestinian couple who face systematic discrimination simply because they’re not Jews. It is one story but the message is universal.

Another chapter, by long-time one-state proponent, Palestinian Ghada Karmi, outlines the challenges of achieving true equality in Israel and Palestine, not least the determination of Israel and its supporters to talk peace but entrench Jewish exclusivity over land and rights and the Palestinian Authority who have become financially enriched by being Israel’s occupation manager. Such obstacles once faced the two-state solution until it became corporatised and a convenient ruse to mask colonisation.

The exact outline of a one-state solution is not set. Israelis, Palestinians and interested parties, must decide it. After Zionism features Palestinians, academics, journalists, Orthodox Jews, Arabs and intellectuals, many of whom live, work and breathe with Israelis and Palestinians, and know that Israel must be de-Zionised before it can begin to right historical wrongs of continued ethnic cleansing.

A one-state equation isn’t about dismissing or ignoring Jewish history, but recognising the land is shared between two peoples and a soon-to-be minority Jewish population has no legal or ethical right to control a majority Arab people.

On its current path, despite some mainstream Israeli politicians advocating the illegal annexation of the West Bank to create an indefinite apartheid state, Israel will become increasingly ghettoised and militarised, convincing once-proud diaspora supporters to decide between their morality and Zionist loyalties.

The time for a one-state solution has surely come.


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One-state solution is “selective cultural genocide”

Writes a “left-winger” in the Jewish Forward newspaper:

There’s the one-state policy itself. Café-radicals who support this view need to look it squarely in the eye and call it what it is: selective cultural genocide. There is no way that a binational state will be a safe haven for the Jewish people or that it will preserve Jewish culture. It also creates a curious anomaly: the one-state solution means that every people on the planet, from Peruvians to Pakistanis, deserves self-determination — except one. This is where anti-Zionism slides into anti-Semitism. Why are Jews to be treated differently from every other nation on the planet? Is Jewish nationhood more dubious than others? Other states, too, have minorities within them, and have boundaries that include those minorities’ historical lands — including Peru and Pakistan (the latter, of course, the result of the partition of British Colonial India). So why call for one state in Palestine but not elsewhere?

Read my new book, After Zionism, to find out why this critique is seriously mis-guided and reasons why Jewish identity would have to be protected in any one-state equation.

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Investigative journalism in the era of Wikileaks

Last year, in September, I appeared at Australia’s first conference (Back to the Source) for investigative journalists in Sydney alongside ABC TV’s Andrew Fowler, freelance journalist Philip Dorling and The Australian Financial Review’s Brian Toohey.

We had all in different ways reported on Wikileaks, mostly sympathetically, and the discussion revolved about what the organisation had done to journalism. The event was organised by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, where I’m a Research Associate.

My talk begins at 21.54:


Just what Africa needs; a US-funded, partly privatised military force

The LA Times reveals yet another Washington-led proxy war, this time in Africa. Privatised and essentially unaccountable, this is another example of the US never learning from history. Arming and training such a force will almost inevitably blow back on the West at some point:

The soldiers stood at attention, rifles at their sides, as U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Hogg walked down the ranks, eyeing the men heading off to fight in Somalia.

“You will push … the miscreants from that country, so Somalia can once again be free of tyranny and terrorism,” he told them, according to a video of the May ceremony. “We know you are ready.”

These weren’t American soldiers. They were from impoverished Sierra Leone in West Africa. But Hogg, a top U.S. Army commander for Africa, was in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, because this was largely an American operation.

Nearly 20 years after U.S. Army Rangers suffered a bloody defeat in Somalia, losing 18 soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters, Washington is once again heavily engaged in the chaotic country. Only this time, African troops are doing the fighting and dying.

The United States is doing almost everything else.

The U.S. has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabab, the Al Qaeda ally that has imposed a harsh form of Islamic rule on southern Somalia and sparked alarm in Washington as foreign militants join its ranks.

Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth, according to interviews by U.S. and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the U.S. government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.

Like CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and Somalia, and the overthrow of Moammar Kadafi’s regime in Libya, the U.S. backing of African troops in Somalia is an example of how, after a decade of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration is trying to achieve U.S. military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate.

The U.S. can underwrite the war in Somalia for a relative pittance — the cost over four years has been less than $700 million, a tenth of what the military spends in Afghanistan in a month — but the price tag is growing. More than a third of the U.S. assistance has been spent since early 2011.

No U.S. military personnel are deployed to Somalia with the African troops. Instead, the State Department pays a private firm to hire the retired foreign military personnel who advise the troops on tactics and operations.

“The U.S. is willing to be very open-minded about whatever the key components are that need to be funded, without which this mission would fail,” said Michael C. Stock, president of Bancroft Global Development, the Washington-based company that hires the combat advisors. “When it comes to things like ammunition, when it comes to the mentoring and advising that we do, the U.S. is really playing the most important role.”

Bancroft now has about 75 advisors in Somalia, double the number from a year ago, Stock said.

The only major part of the Somalia operation that the U.S. doesn’t supply or pay for are the troops’ salaries and logistical expenses, officials say. Those are handled by the European Union and the United Nations, although the U.N. contribution is partially funded by U.S. dues. Only Washington is willing to provide lethal aid, officials and contractors say.

“It’s incredible bang for the dollar that we’ve gotten,” said Michael Bittrick, a State Department official who oversees the effort. “It isn’t just about getting infantry shooters to go do their work. We’re training their intel people, we’re training their indirect fire people, we’re training their medical people, we’re training their engineers.”

That training is done mostly by U.S. contractors and small teams of American military personnel before the troops deploy from their home countries. But the military also brings African soldiers to the U.S. for training.

In December, the Pentagon brought eight Ugandan soldiers and one of Bancroft’s advisors to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., to train them to use the Army’s Raven drone. The hand-launched, propeller-powered drone beams live video back to a laptop computer when used on the battlefield, as it was last month in Afgooye.


Finally, maybe, siege on Gaza coming to an end?

Ma’an reports:

Egypt will follow a new policy on the Rafah crossing between it and the Gaza Strip, and the people of Gaza will experience changes in travel procedures and times, says prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh.

Speaking to the Gaza-based Hamas-affiliated Palestine newspaper following a meeting with Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, Haniyeh said that the crossing would operate 12 hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

Further, the number of travelers leaving the enclave will rise to 1,500 a day, and all arrivals from abroad will be let in. “Sixty percent of the Gazan citizens blacklisted by Egypt and denied entry have been removed from the list,” Haniyeh added. 

In addition, he said, an agreement has been reached that any Palestinian citizen who arrives in Egypt from other countries will be granted a 72-hour visa, so as to make travel arrangements and avoid been deported. 

The electricity crisis was also discussed, he said. 

“Three major steps will be carried out to solve the power crisis starting with an increase in the amount of fuel to Gaza’s power plant in tandem with amplifying the power grid from Egypt to Gaza from 22 to 30 megawatt. After that, a gas pipeline will be built to provide Egyptian natural gas to the sole power plant in the coastal enclave. Then, the Gaza Strip will be connected to the joint Arab grid known as the 8th grid.”

Haniyeh and Mursi discussed as well reopening the Egyptian consulate in Gaza City which had been shut down since the Israeli military offensive on Gaza, according to Haniyeh. 

He hinted that he discussed with Mursi the issue of smuggling tunnels under the borders with Egypt. 

“The tunnels were a temporary phenomenon created when the Palestinians lost all elements of life. They used them to fulfill their needs, and it is their natural right, but if the siege on Gaza is ended, these tunnels will be needless.” 


Political messaging is as simple as 1, 2, 3

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What a trailer for 2001: A Space Odyssey could look like today

Wild interpretation that proves the difficulty (impossibility?) of appreciating Hollywood films in the 21st century that are more cerebral and reflective:

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Ignore the Western white noise, Wikileaks matters in Latin America

Stories and news that barely rate a mention in the Western corporate media. This is why Wikileaks remains vital for democratic transparency, away from bitter Western hacks who see their role as protecting turf and power. The Nation explains:

On June 19, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange slipped into the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, seeking sanctuary and asylum from extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual misconduct. If and when the government of Rafael Correa grants his request—a decision that had yet to be made as The Nation went to press—Assange will become a resident of Latin America, where the trove of US State Department cables he strategically disseminated has generated hundreds of headlines, from Mexico to the Southern Cone.

“Cablegate,” as the revelations have come to be known, has had a different degree of impact in each Latin American nation—on politics, the media, and the public debate over transparency and government accountability. In two countries it led to the forced departure of the US ambassador; in another it helped change the course of a presidential election. In some countries, the documents revealed the level of US influence in domestic affairs; in others they detailed criminal activities and corruption within a number of host governments. In many nations, the cables disclosed the parade of local political, cultural and even media elites who lined up to divulge information—or gossip—to US Embassy officers, never suspecting that their discussions would become front-page news.

Collectively, the Americas have been treated to a mega– civics lesson in globalized whistleblowing. And US citizens have also peered into the foreign policy abyss of our bilateral and regional ties. A year after the diplomatic dust has settled on the WikiLeaks phenomenon in Latin America, it seems appropriate to assess—drawing attention to the experiences of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia—what the biggest leak of US documents in history has left in its wake.

Of the quarter-million diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks’ source, Bradley Manning, downloaded from a US military database in Iraq, some 30,386 traveled to or from embassies and consulates in Latin America. More than half were unclassified or “limited distribution” cables; they reported on articles in the local press, public forums, the chit-chat of diplomatic functions and the routine of consular affairs. The majority of the cables, Carlos Eduardo Huertas notes in his article on Colombia, “disclosed how the US diplomatic corps tends to official business.”

But almost 900 cables were stamped “Secret” and 10,000 “Confidential.” Many of those revealed policies, operations, sources and classified assessments that inflamed, at least temporarily, US bilateral relations with a handful of countries. 

In Mexico, as Blanche Petrich Moreno reports, US Ambassador Carlos Pascual’s critical commentary on the Mexican Army’s lack of action on US-provided intelligence targeting drug kingpins proved politically embarrassing for President Felipe Calderón. La Jornada’s stories on the ambassador’s candid critique contributed to a breach in US-Mexican relations; in March 2011, Pascual was forced to resign.

In Ecuador, Rafael Correa expelled US Ambassador Heather Hodges after the press reported on a secret cable revoking the US visa of former National Police chief Jaime Aquilino Hurtado, who had “used his office…to extort cash and property, misappropriate public funds, facilitate human trafficking, and obstruct the investigation and prosecution of corrupt colleagues.” Some embassy officers, according to the cable, “believe that President Correa must have been aware” of Aquilino Hurtado’s corruption, but appointed him anyway because he wanted a National Police chief “whom he could easily manipulate.”

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Guess what, two-state solution is dead and that’s a good thing

The reality on the ground (via the Guardian):

The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew by more than 15,000 in the past year to reach a total that exceeds 350,000 for the first time and has almost doubled in the past 12 years.

Figures from Israel‘s population registry show a 4.5% increase in the past 12 months. Most of the newcomers moved into settlements that many observers expect to be evacuated in any peace deal leading to a Palestinian state.

There are an additional 300,000 Jews living in settlements across the pre-1967 border in East Jerusalem, the pro-government and mass-circulation newspaper Israel Hayom reported.

The populations of the big settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel were stable over the past year. Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion are expected by most diplomats and negotiators to become part of Israel under an agreement on borders, but the future of Ariel, which juts deep into the West Bank, is uncertain.

The Palestinians say settlement growth is strangling any prospect of a viable state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The issue is the main block to resuming negotiations with Israel. A 10-month partial freeze on settlement expansion came to an end almost two years ago, since when there have been no meaningful talks.

One Israeli politician predicted that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would reach 1 million within four years. At that point “the revolution will have been completed”, Yaakov Katz told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, settlers’ leader Dani Dayan said the Jewish presence in the West Bank was “an irreversible fact”. Writing in the New York Times, he said: “Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile … Western governments must reassess their approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They should acknowledge that no final status solution is imminent.”

Instead, the international community should relinquish its “vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and [replace] them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground”.

All settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. US state department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said recently: “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalise settlement outposts.”

The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, said on Thursday that violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property, mosques and farmland had increased by 150% over the past year.

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Israeli racism and inequality in its DNA

My following article appears in Lebanon’s Al Akhbar:

“Moshe was simply not willing for the State of Israel to run him over anymore.”

Moshe Silman, a son of Holocaust survivors, was an Israeli man who died last week after suffering second and third-degree burns on 94 percent of his body. In an Israeli first, a week earlier he had set himself on fire during a large protest in the heart of Tel Aviv. He was desperate, poor and felt ignored by the neo-liberal, Israeli state.

But don’t tell the New York Times that editorialized recently how Israel is a “democratic state committed to liberal values and human rights”.

The reality for an increasing number of Jews is the exact opposite. A fellow activist told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that, “Moshe chose to harm himself in protest. It’s terrible when a person has to commit an act like that to explain their situation to people”.

The facts are stark. Israel spends only 16 percent of its GDP on public services compared to an average 22 percent across the OECD ( After Silman’s self-immolation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the act a “personal tragedy” but in reality Israel is increasingly withdrawing welfare, education and employment opportunities and a safety net for Israeli Jewish citizens.

2011’s J14 protest movement was designed to highlight the growing inequalities in Israeli society, though demanding justice for Palestinians and ending the occupation were notably excluded from the list of demands.

Last year, at least 400,000 Israeli Jews took to the streets to demand a fairer society. It was a middle class revolt against the rising cost of housing and living. But in 2012 organisers are aware that the corporate media, many very close to Netanyahu himself, are far less sympathetic to their message.

Daphni Leef, the initiator of the protest, told the New York Times in mid-July that, “I do not feel that we live in a democracy,” she said. “I feel we live in an oligarchy. A few wealthy families control this country.”

The one group excluded from this conversation are the Palestinians, on both sides of the green line. Their views are largely ignored in the Israeli mainstream and yet they’re expected to serve in the IDF. It is a fanciful idea that most Palestinians are dismissed from a state that clearly sees them as a demographic threat to a majority Jewish population.

What has focused the mind of many Zionist lawmakers is a recent report by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy who found that the occupation isn’t in fact an occupation and the Israeli presence in the West Bank is legal. Despite the fact that every respected international legal body decides that Jewish colonies are against international law, the Israeli government now has a document that merely confirms its belief that ever-expanding settlements can be covered by a legal document.

Levy’s decision has caused heartache in liberal Zionist circles. However, a curious response from JJ Goldberg in the Jewish Forward newspaper wasn’t so worried about the occupation as upsetting allies against Iran’s nuclear program. Rather than condemn the Zionist state for attempting to legitimize the over 600,000 Jewish colonists in the West Bank, Goldberg was scared that Levy’s decision would anger Washington when “Israel is threatened with extinction” from Tehran.

This is ludicrous hyperbole and reveals the dishonesty in supposedly serious journalistic circles. But it’s little different to mainstream Israeli media pundits who simply don’t bother talking or thinking about the Palestinian “problem” but obsess over Iran and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The occupation can be ignored until tomorrow, next week or forever. Soon enough, a person like Levy will create a legal fiction and legalize what the whole world knows to be illegal. The US issues muted criticism and colonization continues apace.

What remains fascinating about the Levy findings – American Zionist organizations still can’t bring themselves to speak clearly and honestly about Jewish housing in the West Bank – is what it means for Palestinian rights under occupation. If there’s no occupation, then surely there would be no problem granting full voting and civil rights to all citizens of the West Bank and Gaza. If that happened today, Jews would soon find themselves a minority. It’s called democracy and it’s something the Zionist leadership fears.

In the meantime, Israeli politicians and most commentators are wondering what the Arab Spring does to their country’s bunker mentality. In short, old friends are now seen as potential enemies (Egypt and Jordan) and allegedly ongoing threats, such as Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas, are in a period of transition. The Palestinian Spring has yet to happen, not least because the Palestinian Authority is an extension of the Israeli occupation, but Israel is today paying the price for years of seeing itself, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak one quipped, as a “villa in a jungle”. Such attitudes are increasingly challenged in elite political circles, including Britain.

Zionist supremacy and nationalist fervor has convinced many Israelis that the bunker is a comfortable place to reside. Unrivalled military might has allowed this delusion to grow to the point where, according to Israeli historian Tom Segev, “Israelis tend not to be interested in Arabs as people but as enemies. Sure, people will be pleased when Assad falls, as we were when Saddam went. But it won’t make any difference to the cost of renting an apartment in Tel Aviv.”

A viable alternative is the one-state solution, a state in which Israelis and Palestinian live equally. These views, once residing on the fringes on the debate, are increasingly going mainstream. Even a British conservative MP, Bob Stewart, who spent 28 years in the UK military, visited the West Bank and said he was “deeply upset by what I saw.” His response? “Unless the settlements stop, there can be no chance whatever of a two-state solution, and the only alternative … is a one-state solution. One state where Jews and Palestinians recognize one another as equals.Surely that is not totally utopian.”

Zionist fundamentalists also talk today proudly of a one-state equation but a reality in which Arabs remain second-class citizens.

In a new book I’ve edited with Ahmed Moor, After Zionism, we explain both the justice and sense of imagining a one-state future. One chapter, by Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook, highlights the case of Ahmed and Fatina Zbeidat, a Palestinian couple who face systematic discrimination simply because they’re not Jews. It is one case but its message is universal. A partition of land to entrench division in a nation that has spent over six decades of Zionist leadership determined to separate Jews from Palestinians has caused nothing other than pain and racism.

The Israeli social justice activists highlight key concerns of many middle class Israelis, but it will remain a blind movement unless it tackles the historical injustice of Jewish privilege over democratic equality for all.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author and co-editor of After Zionism (Saqi Books)

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