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.

What disaster capitalism brought New Orleans

My following article appears in Al Jazeera America:

“Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” Chicago Tribune editorial board member Kristen McQueary wrote in a recent column, referring to the monster storm that nearly wiped out the city of New Orleans in 2005. “Hurricane Katrina gave a great American city a rebirth.”

McQueary wished for a storm to wipe away Chicago’s corruption, slash the city’s budget and introduce private education. However, she did not mention how African-Americans in New Orleans were disproportionately affected by the disaster or how race became a determining factor in what was rebuilt, how and where.

A decade on, much remains unfinished. New Orleans still has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, though a recent study by the Data Center found a 67 percent drop in the city’s prison population since Katrina. The private prison industry appears pleased with its successes, contracting many facilities with troubled records. At least a quarter of New Orleans’ population gets by at or below the national poverty line. Illiteracy is rife. But not everyone agrees: According to a new study by Louisiana State University, a majority of white residents in New Orleans said they believe that the city has mostly recovered, while black residents reported the opposite.

McQueary’s column received a deluge of criticism. “I wrote what I did not out of lack of empathy or racism but out of long-standing frustration with Chicago’s poorly managed finances,” she explained in a follow-up post the next day. But it was too late: No amount of call for “revolutionary change” in Chicago and an end to “borrowing our way into bankruptcy” would repair the damage.

None of this should have been surprising. McQueary was being honest about a phenomenon that Canadian writer Naomi Klein termed disaster capitalism, which profits from vulnerable people’s misery. McQueary was tone deaf to the human cost of her preferred policies. For example, she endorsed dismissing labor contracts and teacher unions,calling for “a free-market education” model and “a school system with the flexibility of an entrepreneur.”

In practice, this means deregulating and privatizing companies and services with lower pay for employees, fewer unions and inflexible working hours. The prevailing neoliberal economic order ensures that the profit motive is built into the delivery of services. This is why avoiding another Katrina requires examining what Klein refers to as “the reality of an economic order built on white supremacy.”

Politicians and commentators the world over see disaster capitalism as rational and necessary after a natural or man-made crisis. This is good for you, we’re told; better housing, schooling and infrastructure will follow. In reality, however, the much-vaunted austerity — sold as an answer to economic woes in Greece, Puerto Rico and cities across the United States that lack a secure safety net for the poor — simply doesn’t work. But it lines the pockets of corporations that see the crisis as a financial opportunity.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, many myths have developed around the crisis and its aftermath. The news isn’t uniformly negative. Studies show that New Orleans residents are more able to deal with stress and express great pride in their city’s culture in the last decade. In addition, black residents now have better choices of fresh food at grocery stores than they did before the disaster hit. Yet this shift wasn’t a result of multinational corporations opening stores in the neighborhoods but an outcome of the Fresh Food Retailer’s Initiative, a cooperative plan that offers low-interest loans for grocers to get started or rebuild in troubled areas of New Orleans.

Privatization advocates contend that Katrina brought essential reforms to Louisiana’s education system. But the facts tell a different story. “A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12 to 14 hour days,” wrote Andrea Gabor, a professor of journalism at Baruch College, in a detailed story in The New York Times last week. “For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it also hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.”

Similarly, public housing in New Orleans remain a mess, with the state increasing rents for residents in areas that many say lack a cohesive community spirit. There is a long waiting list for subsidized housing.

To be clear, poor quality structures were blights on the city even before Katrina. But the United States’ slow economic recovery has emboldened officials in Louisiana and elsewhere who argue that privatized services are far preferable to a well-financed public system. The flood of corporate donations to politicians augments these arguments.

Disaster capitalism is a readily exportable commodity. New Orleans still pulses to a resilient rhythm, but those pushing for more private housing, schools and infrastructure are rarely held to account. Without accountability for the abuses of corporate-backed privatization policies, its advocates will simply move on to another city or country to maximize their profits at the expense of poor and marginalized citizens.

Countless companies are already cashing in as the climate crisis takes hold across the United States. For example, many New Yorkers fear that hurricane precautions are excluding the city’s poorest residents while protecting the richest homeowners. The billion-dollar disaster rescue industry, allowing wealthy customers to pay companies to, say, rescue them from a flood or fight fires during a wildfire, is thriving; this is the privatization of humanitarian aid. Corrupt politicians are making a fortune from rebuilding New Orleans and New York after hurricanes.

The most vulnerable in our society deserve to be treated as human beings and not as an experiment in social engineering. Disaster capitalism distorts democracy by elevating the voices of a few wealthy people above the desires of the majority. Even 10 years after Katrina, McQueary can still write blindly about radical change through privatization while ignoring the great determinant of public access in the United States: race.

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist based in South Sudan and a best-selling author of many books, including the upcoming “Disaster Capitalism.” He’s working on a documentary with the same name. 

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Al Jazeera English’s The Stream on Hurricane Katrina and disaster capitalism

Yesterday I appeared on the Al Jazeera English program, The Stream (thankfully the poor internet here in South Sudan came through):

Deadly floodwaters caused one of the biggest evacuations in US history when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, Louisiana. Ten years on, the city still hasn’t fully recovered. New economic, educational and housing models are in play, but critics say they’re hurting the longtime residents who need help most. On Tuesday at 19:30 GMT, The Stream asks New Orleans residents how “disaster capitalism” has affected them, and explores how the city’s growing pains are similar to disaster zones around the world.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Antony Loewenstein @antloewenstein
Journalist and author (forthcoming) ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe
antonyloewenstein.com
Raynard Sanders @NOLAEQUITY
Educational consultant
theneworleansimperative.org
Erika McConduit-Diggs @ulgno
President & CEO of Urban League greater New Orleans
urbanleagueneworleans.org
Terri Coleman @TFSColeman
New Orleans resident

My comments appear at 15:13, 23:30, 25:22, 35:02, 40:30:

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The desperate need for peace in South Sudan

My piece in The National:

A woman in a black and white dress stood with a huge pot on her head. She had walked for days, with her two young children also carrying goods, to reach the camp for internally displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. They were all exhausted by the time they registered with the International Organisation for Migration at the facility that then housed 100,000 men, women and children.

Six months before I visited in July, there were fewer than half that number. Today, there are more than 124,000. About 200 people arrive each day, fleeing a civil war that has engulfed the world’s newest nation since 2013.

Tens of thousands are dead and many more have suffered sexual abuse and torture after an ethnic and power conflict between president Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar unleashed a brutal war.

The economy has collapsed. Millions are dependent on aid groups for food and water. Hundreds of thousands of children are on the verge of starvation. Only 10 per cent of boys and girls are in primary school and most of the teachers are untrained. Infrastructure, already in a parlous state during the 2011 independence celebrations, remains unfinished and broken.

It’s the civilians in South Sudan who are paying the highest price for this man-made humanitarian disaster. When I visited Bentiu, I saw suffering on an enormous scale.

It’s the rainy season, so rivers of mud flowed through makeshift huts and shops. Women who had left their husbands behind in remote villages to escape the marauding troops said they faced the risk of rape while searching for firewood.

The UN is overwhelmed by the surge of people seeking its protection.

A senior UN official in the capital Juba told me that he feared South Sudanese officials could kick out his organisation entirely, as happened in Eritrea, leaving millions of civilians homeless. “But I think the authorities still want international support,” he said.

“There’s no evidence yet, but if Al Shabaab or Boko Haram start operating here, the conflict will change and massive amounts of counter-terrorism money will start flowing to support the government.”

August 17, the deadline set by African and US negotiators for a peace agreement to be reached between the warring parties, has been and gone with no settlement. On the day itself, Juba was eerily quiet. One woman told me that she feared for the safety of her young daughter, so they both stayed at home.

The streets of Juba are a dusty, jumbled mess. Barely any roads are paved and thousands of people live in tin-sheds along the main streets. The airport will be closed every weekend until April 2016, while construction work funded by the Chinese government is undertaken. This essentially cuts the country off from the outside world for two days every week.

Empty water bottles and other rubbish are strewn around the city. Clean drinking water is difficult to find – leading to the current cholera outbreak – and hope is in short supply.

Although I haven’t met any locals who regret South Sudan’s break from Sudan in 2011, they despair at the inability and unwillingness of their country’s leadership to care for their people who they constantly praise as heroes of the liberation struggle. These are noble words with a bitter sting.

Canon Clement Janda, a former member of parliament and lead government negotiator in the peace talks, told me in the southern town of Yei that the international community had an “overemphasis on accountability over resolution”. He continued: “I need a solution first and then we can set up an accountability mechanism” to address alleged war crimes.

This is not a view shared by global human rights groups.

Mr Janda argued, as many do across Africa, that the International Criminal Court is a flawed body that is “always after the vanquished, never the victors”.

However, many civilians in Bentiu and elsewhere told me that their patience for delaying justice was over and they wanted military officers and leaders to be held to account now for abuses against them and their families.

The inability to rescue a failed state reveals the great limitations and interests of 21st century diplomacy. International media attention is rightly focused on the disasters in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and yet this implicitly frames South Sudan as just another typical, African mess, featuring tribal violence without meaning.

Civilians in South Sudan know better. First the guns must fall silent, then health and education services must be built and sustained. Integrating South Sudan’s economy into greater Africa – right now, the country barely exports anything and hardly attracts revenue from its copious oil reserves – will require patience and long-term commitment.

This may be impossible until a younger generation of leaders emerges.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist in South Sudan and author of the forthcoming book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe

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Israeli writes to South Sudan’s President about use of deadly weapons

Eitay Mack is an Israeli lawyer who campaigns publicly against his country’s weapon’s industry. In recent times he’s focused on South Sudan and its use and abuse of Israeli arms. The connection between Israel and South Sudan is shown in this recent photo during South Sudan’s 4th anniversary “celebration” in Israel. This story in Haaretz (use Google Translate) explains the moral vacuum in which this relationship operates. 

Today Mack sent the following letter to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir:

August 9 2015

Mr. Salva Kiir

President of South Sudan

Re: Israeli defense exports to South Sudan

Greetings

  1. I am a human rights advocate working to increase the transparency and public oversight of Israel’s defense export.
  2. In May of this year, Knesset Member Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz party wrote to the Minister of Defense demanding that permits for the Israeli defense export to south Sudan be cancelled or frozen, for fear that it would be used in or abet the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the civil war in your country. A legal opinion which I wrote was attached to Ms. Zandberg’s letter. Documents cited in that opinion make it unambiguously clear that actors in the civil war, including your government, are committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and grave violations of human rights.
  3. Recently, a new round of conciliation talks has begun in Addis Ababa under the auspices of IGAD. Previous attempts to achieve peace have failed, because of the vain belief of both your government and the leaders of the opposition that the struggle can be won on the battlefield. These beliefs have failed to prove themselves during the 19 months of ongoing, bloody warfare. Frustration over the inability to achieve victory on the battlefield has led both your government and the leaders of the opposition to adopt an alternative strategy of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians identified with the enemy side.
  4. The international community has set August 17 2015 as the deadline for the attainment of a political compromise. Much is at stake in the current round of talks: The future of South Sudan, which is on the brink of reaching the point of no return in the descent into becoming a failed state; the future of millions of suffering citizens whose tribulations are a matter of indifference to their leaders; the famine spread with the onset of the rainy season; the sanctions that can be expected to be imposed on South Sudan if the talks fail.
  5. As is known, Israel is among the few states that have continued to extend military aid to your government, despite the crimes it is committing against its citizens. There are reasons for the lack of transparency in Israel’s involvement in South Sudan, and why it does not boast about it: It is clear to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu that the exposure of its role would cause Israel a great deal of embarrassment and elicit condemnation from its closest allies. This is especially so in the light of the embargo imposed by the European Union and the cessation of American military assistance to your government.
  6. As an Israeli citizen, I am hereby warning your government that it will not be worth its while to rely on the continued supply of military exports from Israel. Despite the efforts of the Netanyahu government to silence the public discussion of the matter in Israel, the majority of the Israeli public is opposed to the export of weapons during a civil war to a government that is perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since Israel is a democracy, and the continued supply of arms to your government goes against the will of the Israeli citizenry, the future of that supply is now in doubt, and will presumably come to an end sooner or later. The demonstrations that Israeli citizens have held outside the home of your government’s ambassador and outside the arms exhibit in Tel Aviv at which a South Sudanese military delegation was invited, were only the preliminaries to public and political pressure that is likely to increase against the continued supply of Israeli military exports to your government.
  7. In view of the above, allow me to suggest that as part of your considerations over whether to reach a political compromise in the Addis Ababa talks, that you should take into account that your government cannot rely anymore on the continued supply of military exports from Israel.
  8. It is clear to all that the only possible solution to the civil war in South Sudan is negotiation, and that continuing the fighting will not give the young nation any hope for its future. Of course, any political solution will have to include prosecution with the full force of the law of those responsible for the crimes committed by both of the warring sides, as well as those countries and actors who abetted the crimes by supplying military exports to your government and the opposition forces.

Sincerely,

Eitay Mack, Advocate.

CC.: Ms. Tsippi Hotobely, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

Lt.-Gen. (Res.) Moshe Ayalon, Minister of Defense

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Why Palestine is a growing movement on universities globally

I was recently interviewed by the ANU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in Australia on the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Middle East. It’s been published by the ANU Arabic and Middle Eastern Society (an anonymous, Zionist troll has posted a response with Israeli talking points):

The ‘Arab-Israeli/Israeli-Palestinian conflict’ has spanned for over half a century and been the repeated object of failed peace-processes and unsuccessful diplomacy. Students for Justice in Palestine are in conversation with independent journalist Antony Loewenstein to explore the growing criticism that diplomatic attempts to understand and resolve the conflict ignore human rights in a way that greatly impedes the attainment of a ‘just peace’ and a solution to the conflict.

SJP: Why are human rights important to the attainment of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

AL: Human rights are central to resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict. Supporters of Israel claim the situation is complicated when in fact this masks the brutal reality of a nearly 50 year Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and around 600,000 illegal Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Condemned by countless UN resolutions and virtually every nation in the world (except, it must be noted, Australia and the US, placing them as outliers in the international community), Israeli behaviour, the daily indignities of check-points across Palestinian territory, restrictions on Palestinian work and marriage, regular raids into Palestinian communities by the Israeli army and the detention and torture of Palestinian children and a constant lack of Palestinian stability, is condemned around the world, leading to the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent and legitimate tactic akin to the successful campaign against apartheid South Africa. The comparisons are apt, a point stressed by many black South Africans who suffered under apartheid and have witnessed today’s Israel. Desmond Tutu is just one notable figure who concurs.

SJP: What is your perspective on the labelling of individuals and organisations that discuss the Israeli government’s human rights abuses, as ‘anti-Semites’?

AL: The “anti-Semitic” smear used against critics of Israel is a tired and desperate ploy to both silence and control debate. It cheapens real anti-Semitism, a worrying trend worsened by Israeli violence, and intimidates people keen to honestly debate Israel/Palestine. Being against the Israeli occupation is an increasingly mainstream position, and Israel’s Netanyahu government, right-wing, inflammatory and with no intention of ending the occupation, is the best argument against blind Western support for Israel imaginable. Arguing for a two-state solution, the default and tired view echoed by governments and liberal Zionists the world over, is removed from reality on the ground in Palestine, where Palestinians are being daily pushed off their land by Israeli-state backed colonists. I have seen this with my own eyes during my many visits to Palestine.

SJP: There are student groups throughout the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland who have a strong focus on raising awareness around Palestinian human rights. In comparison, Australian students seem less engaged with this issue. Why do you think this is?

AL: Student activism on Palestine is growing globally, and many universities are now seriously discussing pressuring their administration to divest from companies who are directly profiting from the Israeli occupation. I hope this movement grows in Australia, though it’s undeniably difficult when both Labor and the Liberals blindly support Israel. This isn’t about principle or knowledge but a deluded belief that Australia aligning itself with the US and the US-Australia alliance requires offering uncritical backing for Israel. This places Australia on the extreme end of Zionist extremism.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, Guardian columnist, documentary filmmaker and author of many books including ‘My Israel Question’ and the forthcoming ‘Disaster Capitalism’. 

ANU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a group of ANU students and staff dedicated to increasing awareness of issues in Israel-Palestine on ANU campus.

 

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How Israel tests weapons on Palestinians then sells to the world

Israel sells weapons to some of the most repressive nations on earth, a policy that has existed for decades. Itay Mack, a Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer and activist, tells Haaretz about his campaign to bring more transparency to the process. The Jewish state’s relationship with South Sudan is particularly murky. Mack explains:

According to reports of international organizations and human rights activists, Israel has violated the embargo and sold arms during the civil war. There are reports that the security forces are armed with Galil and Tavor rifles. We know about South Sudan forces who are trained by Israelis, both there and in Israel, and about a defense mission from South Sudan that visited Israel about half a year ago. We know that Israel built and is operating a surveillance system in South Sudan and is cooperating with the local secret service.
I find this appalling. It recalls Chile during the Pinochet period. Chile was a democracy and didn’t have a secret service when the coup took place, and according to reports Israel trained and prepared the Chilean secret service, which conducted the most brutal torture. Again we see ties with an organization in a country that commits crimes against its citizens.

Read the whole interview but this section is especially relevant:

Since 2008, Israeli military exports have soared, from $3 billion to somewhere between $7 billion and $8 billion.
Yes, that’s the average since Operation Cast Lead, in Gaza.
Israel, then, can sell battle-proven weapons.
Yes. There are some who maintain that Israel carries out certain operations in order to test weapons. That’s my opinion, too, though there is no proof for it. If I’m asked how I have the gall to think that Israel is conducting weapons tests in the territories, I reply that the allegation is not that Israel initiates wars to test weapons, but that the industries ‘hitch a ride’ on them and profit – it’s the arms exporters who market the weapons as battle-proven. That’s what they tell people at the international fairs. I heard it with my own ears: “It’s Cast Lead battle-proven,” “It’s Defensive Shield battle-proven.”
The leap in sales after Cast Lead was also due to the cynicism of the international community, which first condemned the operation and then came here to learn how Israel conducted it. [Maj. Gen. (res.)] Yoav Galant, who was then the head of Southern Command [and now housing minister] made an amazing remark in this connection: “They came to see how we turn blood into money.”
Every such war is utilized for a massive introduction of new technologies. In the West Bank, too, in the regular areas of demonstrations – Bil’in, Kadoum, Qalandiyah – we constantly see new or upgraded weapons and means of crowd dispersal. The military industries also exploit Israel’s activity in the territories, especially in the Gaza Strip, to promote sales.
How, for example?
There were reports about the use of the Tamuz missile [a long-range anti-personnel and antitank weapon] against Syrian positions. Complete technological specifications were made available. Reporters noted that such information is usually censored. But a few months later, a report noted that Israel was going to display the Tamuz at the Paris Air Show. Sometimes the information is in the background of an article about Israeli and Palestinian casualties – they report on what types of shells were used – and there are also articles that are pure promotion.
Does the Defense Ministry “sell” marketing content to journalists?
The Defense Ministry makes information available to journalists, who are happy to get it and aren’t aware of the damage. Something else I’ve noticed concerns the humanitarian missions. It’s a bit like Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine.” They send [people out on] a mission, and suddenly there are foreign reports about arms deals. That was the case in the Philippines, for example [after the monsoons in 2013].

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How little we know about the Western war against ISIS

My story in the Guardian:

We don’t know whether the Australian military has killed or injured civilians in Iraq, and if so, how many. Since Canberra joined the US-led mission against the Islamic State (Isis) on 8 October 2014, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has provided barely any information about its operations.

So the new report by Airwars, a British organisation comprised of journalists and researchers, is welcome. It aims to demystify the war against Isis and document how many civilians are dying in Iraq and Syria.

Airwars has found at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including 100 children, from 52 airstrikes. Over 5,700 airstrikes have been launched since 2014.

Yet the US military central command cites the deaths of only two civilians. The discrepancy between these figures – two deaths, or 459 – should be startling. The US State Department pledged to “review its findings” after Airwars issued its report, with a spokesman saying “That’s why we’re looking into them and trying to see where the – what the right number is, to be frank.”

Recall how it wasn’t until Wikileaks released the Afghan War Logs and Iraq War Logs in 2010 that the world discovered the extent of death, abuse and cover-up caused by the US in both states.

Australia’s role in the anti-Isis coalition is shrouded in secrecy. Operation Okra is described as “conducting air combat and support operations in Iraq and is operating within a US-led international coalition assembled to disrupt and degrade ISIL.”

The ADF issues very sparse monthly reports on how it is going about this mission. Australian jets are spending thousands of hours in the air, and have completed over 100 airstrikes, dropping more than 400 bombs and missiles, yet we are told only about the jets’ capabilities, and given pretty pictures of them in action.

I asked the ADF a number of questions, including why the public wasn’t being told more, whether Australia was aware of its actions causing harm or death to civilians, and whether its “rules of engagement” aimed to minimise civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure. My questions were largely ignored. I was told:

For operational security reasons, the ADF will not provide mission-specific details on individual engagements against Daesh. The ADF will not release information that could be distorted and used against Australia in Daesh propaganda. Australia’s Rules of Engagement are designed to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Defence, Kevin Andrews, added that, “the Abbott government has every confidence in the professionalism of the Australian Defence Force to act in accordance with Australia’s Rules of Engagement, which are designed to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure”.

When Airwars questioned Australia’s lack of information sharing – unlike, say, Canada, which releases information on a timely basis – it received the same, pro-forma response from the ADF.

Airwars project leader Chris Woods, a British journalist and author of “Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars”, told me that Australia’s lack of transparency was worrying.

“Of the 12 nations in the Coalition which have bombed Daesh in Iraq and Syria over the past year, Australia is pretty much near the bottom in terms of transparency and accountability”, he said.

“The Saudis and the Belgians are worse, though not by much. Once a month we get a chart saying how many bombs have been dropped – and that’s it. No details of locations struck. No word of the dates on which strikes occurred.”

Woods condemns Canberra’s reason for secrecy as inappropriate for a democracy.

“The excuse for this paucity of information is that Daesh might use any improved reporting ‘for propaganda purposes’. That’s absurd, of course. Canada, the UK, France and others all report happily on where and when they strike,” he says.

“And transparency really does matter. The Coalition tells us that each member nation is individually liable for the civilians it kills. If Australia refuses to say anything about its strikes, how can there be any justice for those affected on the ground if something goes wrong?”

This ADF obsession with secrecy and obsessively trying to control the message is nothing new. Remember that in 2013, the ADF tried and failed to isolate Fairfax reporters Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty during their time in Afghanistan. As McGeough put it, they were “effectively denying our right as journalists to cover any of the story”.

Successive Australian governments have long demanded secrecy in matters of war, immigration and trade. It’s an attitude that presumes the public either doesn’t really care about what governments do; or that enough journalists are willing to swallow spin in exchange for access, embeds with Australian troops or spurious “exclusives” with the military and strategists.

Australia’s current war against Isis has continued this tradition of secrecy. As former army intelligence officer James Brown wrote recently in The Saturday Paper, “how much progress is Australia making against Daesh? It’s painfully hard to tell.” Yet there is no demand for the ADF to open up.

Paul Barratt, former secretary of the Department of Defence and president of the campaign for an Iraq War inquiry, says that the Abbott government’s attitude “reflects both its habits of secretiveness and the lack of a coherent strategy – more policy on the run.

“What started out as humanitarian relief using existing assets in the Middle East was rapidly transformed into boots on the ground in a training role, and aircraft both flying combat missions and refuelling other coalition aircraft for combat missions in Syria. There is little sign that this has been thought through or that it is heading in the direction of an achievable goal.”

I’ve long argued that reporters and media organisations should collectively push back against restrictive ADF methods by refusing to be embedded without greater freedom in the field. Apart from visiting the troops for state-managed photo ops, independent reporting of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan is preferable because it’s civilians who bear the brunt of the conflict.

Journalists should also ignore “exclusives” from the ADF until it recognises it’s creating an unacceptable mystery around actions undertaken with taxpayer dollars. Would the ADF loosen its rules? I’m confident it would, not least of all because it craves publicity.

If it doesn’t, we would at least have the spectacle of the ADF defending its tenuous position on disclosure.

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