My following review appears in the US publication Mondoweiss:
Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory (I.B. Taurus), by Toufic Haddad
The Israeli media barely covers Palestine. Although many local, corporate outlets have “Arab affairs” correspondents, a faintly colonial position that reeks of paternalism, 99.9 percent of Jewish journalists live in Israel proper (or the occupied, Palestinian territories) and barely spend any serious time in Palestine (except when serving in the IDF). The lack of Palestinian perspectives is striking considering the geographic closeness of the two peoples.
With notable exceptions such as Haaretz journalists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy who live in the West Bank or constantly visit it, as well as 972 Magazine, the inevitable outcome is that most Israelis view Palestinians through a security framework. The media reinforces this inherent bias. Palestinians are seen as a foreign threat to be feared or loathed, unless proven otherwise. It’s therefore unsurprising that contact between Israeli Jews and Palestinians is increasingly rare unless occurring at a military checkpoint or Israeli-run, industrial park in the West Bank.
These issues go beyond the Israeli press. I’ve long believed that the more international journalists who live in a city or country the worse the reporting will be. This may be a strange conclusion and counter-factual. Surely the more eyes and ears in one place will improve coverage? In fact, the opposite happens because a herd mentality quickly develops and few journalists, despite convincing themselves otherwise, want to stand out. Think of London, Washington, Canberra and Jerusalem and the lack of distinctive voices emanating from these locations. Too many reporters live and breathe the same air, speak to the same sources, dine in the same places and socialise with the same people. I’m not immune, being a journalist myself, but I’ve spent my professional life rejecting the comforting embrace of stenography reporting.
When I lived in South Sudan in 2015, the lack of critical journalists (or any reporters at all) resulted in a country on the verge of genocide being mostly ignored in the international arena (though of course the state’s strategic importance was tragically far less important than Israel). Embedded journalism, not just the act of working alongside military forces but psychologically aligning oneself with governments and officials while granting them anonymity, is the opposite of adversarial journalism.
It’s shameful that in 2017 the vast bulk of foreign journalists living in Israel and working for corporate media outlets can’t speak proficient Hebrew or Arabic. Barely anybody is permanently based in the West Bank, let alone Gaza.
Isn’t it about time to rely far less on Westerners to explain the Middle East and instead develop and support Arab reporters with more lived and historical understanding? Or utilise Westerners with greater global experience than just working inside insular press galleries? Or how about anti-Zionists, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, being allowed more airtime? The effect of bubble journalism in Jerusalem is pervasive.
Palestinian voices have never been more essential, especially as 2017 is the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, and yet Jewish and Zionist, American journalists still play a key role in explaining the conflict to American audiences. Where are the Arab and Palestinian voices to compliment and challenge what Zionists have been claiming in the press for decades? The New York Times still longs for the two-state solution and foolishly thinks it can be saved.
This lack of Palestinian agency in the mainstream media could be so easily corrected. Reading Palestine Ltd and learning from it would be a strong start. Toufic Haddad has produced a stunning indictment of the international consensus over Palestine and the failed Oslo “peace process”. Endorsed by Naomi Klein and recently launched to a full house in East Jerusalem – I attended and found Haddad’s talk compelling in its evidence-based denunciation of the US and foreign donors to the Palestinian cause in the last 20 years – Palestine Ltd paints a grim picture of Palestinian hopes for statehood. Haddad shows how it was killed at birth.
In his introduction, Haddad explains the central thesis on promises made to the Palestinians since the 1990s by the donor community. “Implicit to these interventions”, he writes, “was the notion that the market’s invisible hand would guide Israelis and Palestinians to peace, provided the international community financially and politically backed this arrangement and facilitated the creation of an adequate incentives arrangement. The arrival of these political winds to the conflict-ridden shores of the Palestinian setting through Western donor peacebuilding and statebuilding policies thus set the stage for what happened when ‘an army of fighters for freedom’ faced off against a former army of Palestinian nationalist ‘freedom fighters’, embodied in the PLO.”
Palestine has become a business, a very profitable one, for any number of engaged actors from donors to Western states. “Palestine Ltd can be loosely described as the operational endgame of Western donor development/peacebuilding/statebuilding interventions”, Haddad argues, “with this entity functioning as a variant of a limited shareholding company (Ltd.) with international, regional and local investors of one type or the other.”
The strength of the book is the way it methodically shows how any serious Palestinian autonomy was deliberately designed to fail from the beginning. Many Western donors in the 1990s and now claim that they’re acting in good faith, believing that being pro-Palestinian means funnelling more money into the Palestinian Authority (PA), and yet after decades of entrenched cronyism and Israeli occupation, at what point should the money simply stop, the PA be abolished and Israel forced to manage its own occupation and the people within it? This is a reality that Israel fears and explains why, despite the stream of invective against the PA from Israeli ministers, co-ordination between the PA and Israel is constant and unlikely to end.
Haddad investigates World Bank pronouncements in the 1990s, ideas that became the basis for the failed economic experiment still underway in Palestine. “World Bank economists very obviously ignored reference to the exaggerated political determination of the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] under a protracted settler, colonial arrangement characterised by the massive social and political upheaval and structural deformities of all kinds.”
This wilful blindness is reminiscent of World Bank and other global financial institutions treating Greece like a punching bag while its economy crashed and people suffered. Little care or interest was given to the precarious state of lives being lost or scarred due to extreme austerity after the 2008 financial crisis. Both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) carried on regardless of public protest in Greece, governmental opposition and soaring social ills. Privatisation was the supposed panacea. Selling off public assets was the answer. In fact, it failed, as it always does, yet nobody was held to account.
Similarly in Palestine, Haddad reveals that private sector-led “growth” was the World Bank’s priority from the 1990s. Its stated dream was against “turning inwards” and instead backing the need for the West Bank and Gaza to “open up opportunities elsewhere, especially in Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf countries while maintaining open trade relations with Israel.”
In 2016, the UN found that the Palestinian economy would be at least twice as large if the Israeli occupation was lifted. The restriction of goods, people and movement has devastated daily life. In Gaza, the situation is even worse. When I visited in late 2016, I was told by the UN and many civilians that the nearly 10 year-old siege, imposed by Israel, had never been tighter. Egypt has been equally responsible for the dire humanitarian situation.
Gaza is largely ignored by the Israeli media but a recent interview in Haaretz, with a Palestinian living in the West Bank who works on a mobile clinic in Gaza with Physicians for Human Rights, detailed the desperate environment. An Haaretz editorial in January called for an end to Israel’s punishment of the Gaza Strip.
The dominant narrative around Israel/Palestine today is the brutal and effective ways by which the settler movement has come to define both Israel’s present and future. From its perspective, building colonies on Palestinian land has been hugely successful and the numbers of settlers in the West Bank has surged under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Palestine Ltd doesn’t ignore the settlements but its focus is mostly elsewhere. Take Israel’s determination to secure water and energy resources and how this affected its behaviour during the early “peace process” of the 1990s. Haddad interviews Dr Nabil Sha’ath, a top figure in the PLO and the Fatah political party. In a revealing quote, Sha’ath recalls a meeting with former Israeli Minister of Energy Moshe Shahal:
“[Shahal] tried his best to create a relationship with me when I first came in. He came with a Rabin proposal: ‘Let’s share the energy trade, the energy industry and energy transportation.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘There is going to be peace’, he said. ‘You are not going to be happy if we simply use that peace to get back the pipelines through Haifa from Saudi Arabia and from Iraq [which were built by the British and stopped operating after the establishment of Israel in 1948]. So I’m suggesting that we go together to the Arabs to share fifty-fifty the export of gas through pipelines that come to Gaza and to Ashdod…To Rabin it looked like the Palestinian Authority was a very necessary component for seeking water and energy from the Arabs.”
More than two decades later, the picture couldn’t be more different. Israel routinely withholds water and electricity from the Palestinian territories, exploits a massive natural gas find off the Gaza Strip and is investigating gas pipelines to Turkey and Greece. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are reliant on the benevolence of their rulers, Israel along with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
The deliberate Israeli plan in the last decades to inflame tensions with the Palestinians, and convince both Israelis and the international community that there are no partners for peace on the other side – a view not shared by the Israeli intelligence services – has played out as expected. Hostilities are deepened because they serve political ends. Haddad writes that, “Israel intended to induce a powerful shock-like effect within Palestinian society and leadership alike. This was critical to creating sudden conditions of crisis whose reverberations would be experienced on all levels of Palestinian life, leveraged in both active and passive ways.”
Palestinians are still deemed unworthy of freedom, independence or full rights. Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, the Rupert Murdoch-approved hater of Palestinians and Arabs and supporter of bombing the Muslim world, wrote in early January that Palestinians didn’t deserve a state of their own. The word “occupation” was unsurprisingly absent from his screed.
Palestinians have never forgotten how they’ve been betrayed by the forces that claimed to liberate them from Israeli control. After the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas in a stunning rebuke to the Western-backed, Palestinian Authority, Western donors capitulated to Israeli and US pressure and boycotted the result, imposing a financial and political blockade on the government. Haddad argues that this sent a “clear message to the Palestinian electorate regarding how genuine Western donors were in their demands for Palestinian reform or a liberal peace agreement.”
The Trump administration has the capacity and interest to radically shift the staid alignment of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Mouthing platitudes about the two-state solution is likely to subside or disappear entirely. Israel will increase its settlement project with little or no pressure from Washington. The Palestinian Authority, despite having opponents in the US Congress, is a necessary fig-leaf for Israel’s colonisation project.
Palestine Ltd is both a necessary history lesson and guide for the future if past mistakes and delusions are to be avoided. The current trajectory in Palestine, however, points to political stalemate unless a younger, less corrupt and more capable Palestinian leadership takes power and stops relying on empty Western aid promises.
Late last year I was interviewed from Jerusalem by veteran Australian journalist and campaigner Julie Macken, for her radio program Behind the Headlines, about “fake news” and my experiences as a journalist over the last decade in Israel/Palestine, South Sudan, Afghanistan and beyond. My interview begins around 15:50 (with a few scratchy sound issues via Skype):
The following article appears in the Electronic Intifada by Ali Abunimah:
Israel is threatening to expel an Australian journalist in Jerusalem, accusing him of being a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The threat against Antony Loewenstein comes after the freelance journalist asked a question about Israeli apartheid at a press conference given by former government minister Yair Lapid, and after a campaign against him by the anti-Palestinian group HonestReporting.
“We are leaning toward recommending that his work permit not be renewed due to suspected BDS activity,” Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office, told The Jerusalem Post. “We are checking the incident because unfortunately, the journalist did not give enough information to our staff. We will learn to check better so there won’t be such incidents in the future.”
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Loewenstein, who has won recognition for his reporting from South Sudan and Afghanistan, dismissed any suggestion he had misrepresented himself.
“I am an accredited freelance journalist which is how I presented my work to the Israeli government in March, which they accepted,” Loewenstein said. “I’m not here associated with any organization. I’m here as a freelancer, officially, so there’s been no misrepresentation by me, ever.”
The effective threat to expel Loewenstein comes a week after the Committee to Protect Journalists revealed that this year Israel remained among the world’s worst jailers of reporters – all of those in its cells are Palestinians.
And earlier this month, Israel detained and expelled Isabel Phiri, associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches, claiming she too supports BDS.
Last week, Israel’s Shin Bet secret police barred entry to two leaders of a British Muslim humanitarian aid group, citing “security reasons.” The two officials from Muslim Hands were invited to the country by the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz describes as “a nonprofit group that promotes coexistence, cooperation and equality between Jews and Muslims.”
In August, Israel’s public security and interior ministries set up a joint task force to deny entry to or expel foreign activists allegedly affiliated with organizations that support BDS.
This is part of a broader crackdown, whose primary targets are Palestinians.
On Friday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it has been receiving a “worryingly high number of complaints” about Israel violating basic rights of Palestinian human rights activists.
It said that human rights defenders living under Israeli occupation “face daily violations of some of the most fundamental protections afforded by international human rights and humanitarian laws.”
The UN said peaceful protest and opposition to the occupation is effectively outlawed.
Loewenstein became a target after he asked a challenging question at a press conference last week to Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party that was formerly part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.
“You talked before about the idea that since Oslo, Israel has done little or nothing wrong, but the truth is that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the occupation,” Loewenstein began, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Pointing to the large number of Israeli settlers now in the occupied West Bank, Loewenstein continued: “Is there not a deluded idea here that many Israeli politicians, including yourself, continue to believe that one can talk to the world about democracy, freedom and human rights while denying that to millions of Palestinians, and will there not come a time soon, in a year, five years, 10 years, where you and other politicians will be treated like South African politicians during apartheid?”
In response, Lapid attacked The Guardian, claiming that it and other publications are encouraging Palestinians to be intransigent.
It called him “an anti-Israel activist” and implied he had obtained his official Israeli press card and membership in the Foreign Press Association under false pretenses.
“Loewenstein is clearly incapable of reporting on Israel in a fair and objective manner,” HonestReporting asserted.
“Did Loewenstein gain his official press card by claiming to be a Guardian writer?” the group asked, effectively making an allegation without any basis.
HonestReporting took its campaign to The Guardian directly, complaining to the newspaper that “hiring Loewenstein was the equivalent of hiring a corporate lobbyist to be the newspaper’s business correspondent.”
This apparently elicited the desired response: The Guardian threw Loewenstein under the bus – presumably without speaking to him first.
According to The Jerusalem Post, The Guardian’s head of international news, Jamie Wilson, said that Loewenstein was contracted to write comment pieces for Guardian Australia and remains an occasional comment contributor but he “is not a news correspondent for The Guardian in Israel.”
And The Guardian’s correspondent in Jerusalem, Peter Beaumont, emailed HonestReporting that he had never heard of Loewenstein.
“The Guardian’s distancing itself from Loewenstein is a welcome development,” HonestReporting’s managing editor Simon Plosker said, adding that the Foreign Press Association should revoke Loewenstein’s membership and the Israeli Government Press Office should cancel his accreditation.
Loewenstein told The Electronic Intifada that he identifies himself accurately as a freelancer and author of several books, who contributes to many publications, including The Guardian, The New York Times and Newsweek Middle East.
Loewenstein noted that in the tight-knit world of foreign correspondents in Israel, it would be impossible to get away with misrepresentation: “It’s a pretty small place.”
But the smear did its job and now Loewenstein is a target for government expulsion for asking a challenging question of an Israeli leader.
In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Israel’s intimidation of the international media, including threats to revoke the credentials of reporters who published headlines it didn’t like.
“It is virtually impossible to work as a reporter in Israel and the occupied territories without a press card,” the group’s executive director Robert Mahoney said. “The threat of withdrawing accreditation is a heavy handed approach at stifling unwelcome coverage.”
I’m honoured to be a finalist in the 2016 Kurt Schork Memorial Fund Awards in International Journalism for my reporting in 2015/2016 from South Sudan and Afghanistan:
Four Nigerian Journalists made the short list of 16 in the 2016 Kurt Schork Memorial Fund Awards in International Journalism:
Freelance category– James Harkin (Ireland), Antony Loewenstein (Australia), Jeong May (Canada), Sara Williams (UK/Canada), Sophie McBain (UK), Eric Reidy (USA), Iona Craig (Ireland) and Philip Obaji (Nigeria).
Local Reporter category – ‘Fisayo Soyombo (Nigeria), Aylaa Abo Shahba (Egypt), Chitrangada Choudhury (India), Montanrayo Joel (Nigeria), Olatunji Ololade (Nigeria), Ray Mwareya (Zimbabwe), Umer Ali (Pakistan) and Brian Ligomeka (Malawi).
This year’s awards attracted 93 entrants – 37 Freelance and 56 Local Reporter – from 36 countries. Each entrant had to submit three articles published between June 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016.
Articles published by Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Nation, Matter, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Newsweek, GQ UK, Harpers Magazine, Guardian Long Read, New York Times, The Daily Beast, Newsweek Europe, Vice News and New Statesman are represented in the Freelance Journalist category shortlist.
The Local Reporter category finalists were published by TheCable, El Tahrir, Masrawy, Hindustan Times, Outlook, The Wire, The Nation, Equal Times Magazine, Earth Island Magazine, Global South Development Magazine, Dawn, Pakistan Today, News 24, The Sunday Times and Sunday Punch.
The winner in each category will be announced in September. The 2016 Presentation Ceremony, hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the Thomson Reuters Auditorium, Canary Wharf, London, is on Thursday evening, October 27.
The judges for these, the 15th annual awards, are freelance journalist and author Anna Husarska, Co-Founder of Eyewitness Media Hub, Sam Dubberley, Reuters Middle East Editor, Samia Nakhoul and Richard Sambrook, Professor of Journalism, Cardiff University.
Established in 2002 to honour American freelance journalist Kurt Schork, who was killed in 2000 while on assignment for Reuters in Sierra Leone, the two annual awards are unique to print journalists working anywhere in the world.
The awards recognise the work of reporters who seek to illuminate the human condition through courageous reporting of conflict, corruption, human rights transgressions and other fundamental issues of the day.
The awards are in two categories: a Local Reporter award that recognises the often over-looked work of journalists in developing nations or countries in transition who write about events in their homeland. The second is for Freelance journalists who travel to the world’s conflict zones, usually at great personal risk, to witness and report the impact and consequences of events.
The following conversation is published on US website Mondoweiss:
Antony Loewenstein came through New York recently to promote his new book Disaster Capitalism. He later related to me that at two NY events, he had gone off on journalists as a profession. I wanted to draw him out, and so we exchanged emails.
You said you’d developed real contempt for the profession of journalism. Why?
Loewenstein: Journalism has the potential to be transformative, to inform and provoke, or at the very least inform. Too often I see reporters desperate to be close to power, whether ministers, minders. Insiders. Being embedded, pre or post 9/11, isn’t just about partnering with US or Western troops in a war zone. Too often it’s a state of mind that requires journalists to not question an economic system (“capitalism is damaged but can be repaired”), or Israeli violence against Palestinians or the apparent necessity of “doing something” in the face of state collapse (as if Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya aren’t cautionary tales). Vast parts of the world are routinely ignored by the Western media because they aren’t seen as having value or important enough. This could be “unpeople” such as most of the Muslim world, people of colour or poor whites.
I’ve been living in South Sudan this year and seen some fine and brave journalists, locals and Westerners, covering an incredibly brutal war. What’s been revealing and depressing is some editors in comfortable Western capitals saying that they don’t want stories that are “too depressing”. As if a reporter can prettify an ethic conflict to make Western audiences less uncomfortable when reading during breakfast on their iPhones.
I regularly ask myself what journalism is achieving apart from awareness that often brings little or no changes on the ground. It’s important and necessary to bear witness, and I’ll continue to do so, including in my new book, but what if seeing and witnessing simply isn’t enough?
I got the sense that you went on a more visceral rant against the profession at your events. I’m not going to stand up for the profession, any more than I want to stand up for the human race, but: Are there other professions that you have more admiration for than those parasitic journos?
I don’t have contempt for journalism as a profession, far from it, I have major issues with the ways it’s often undertaken. Media complicity in state violence – from the US bombing of Iraq and Libya, Israeli crimes in Palestine and US involvement in the Indonesian genocide in the 1960s – is the issue here. Reporters often claim they have to play a delicate dance or game with sources, especially in officialdom, to get access. But that access often means sanctioned leaks to a favored journalist. That’s not journalism, it’s stenography. I understand it’s often important to quote off the record information, I do it myself though sparingly, in a sensitive story. But the mentality that many in the media have – don’t stand out, join the crowd, fit in, be liked – means that independent journalism has never been more important.
My professional journalistic career began just after 9/11 so I’m a product of the last decade plus years. There are simply too many stark examples of wilful journalistic dishonesty (and lack of acknowledging mistakes) to believe countless reporters from many major media outlets don’t prefer being wrong to challenging state spin. It’s largely cost-free, career wise. Standing up to a lying Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Dennis Ross or Barack Obama takes guts.
I admire many professions, from brain surgeons to environmental scientists.
As human beings, we are full of faults, contradictions and hypocrisy. Journalists are no exception. But I’ve long believed that reporters have an extra responsibility when covering matters of war, refugees, life and death. We are conveyors of information that can either inform a population, or lie to it. I wish more journalists left their offices and psychologically embedded positions and valued more pissing off those whose outcome (if not primary aim) is to harm civilians. Defending or justifying state violence is the most degrading of arts.
Your critique is a variation of Killing the messenger. The press has always and will always reflect the powers that be, by and large; because they are paid by those powers. It is the role of independent media to challenge the powers that be, but how do they achieve that independence? There are some true independent spirits, but the basis of independence is financial, too. And progressives are a distinct minority in this system; we represent dissent but we also require forms of social support. And we shouldn’t shut off communications with the MSM types. I realize I’m becoming a crabbed conservative in life, somewhat; but I do want a way forward, and for me that involves putting breadcrumbs on the trail for the mainstream journalists.
I’ve never argued that cutting all ties, irreconcilable differences with the MSM, is desirable. I regularly write for the MSM, and will continue doing so. Its audience remains strong and influential. Leading by example by the MSM is rare, very few mainstream reporters will take the way on important social issues. From the gay rights movement to Palestine, they’re often following years after activists have led a path and the general public is usually far savvier and smarter than the MSM (and many of us) presume. That’s fine and should continue. But you seem to be arguing that independent media is hard, and the path is tough and let’s not entirely shut out the possibility that the MSM may one day, say, support BDS because Israel is a pariah and will only change its behaviour though strong outside pressure. When ethics and business collide, the former rarely wins. If history is any guide, the MSM are unlikely to be leading on anything that will upset their power and advertising base.
For me, the constant failings of the MSM are that they don’t reflect the will of the people, views and ideas that are shared by many in the population. War isn’t popular, neither is privatization of public services. Full healthcare is backed by many Americans and yet it’s framed in the MSM as a bitter partisan ‘debate’. It is in Washington but many outside America laugh and cringe at the inability and unwillingness of the DC elite to provide publicly provided medical care for all. I want the MSM to be honest about its agenda and biases. We all have them and yet too often the myth of ‘objectivity’ is wheeled out as a weapon against indy media, as though the MSM is balanced and straight and indy reporters are inherently biased (check out the wonderful UK website Medialens and its recent analysis of the BBC and Afghanistan).
My investigation in the Guardian:
Australian miners are making a killing overseas. With little regulation or oversight, billions of dollars are being made in some of the most remote places on Earth.
The necessity of partnering with autocratic regimes has proved no impediment to investment. Human rights have been breached. Victims are largely invisible.
None of this should be surprising. If Australian companies operating internationally are mentioned in the media, it appears in the business pages and discusses the strengths of a CEO or share price. Rio Tinto, for example, receives largely uncritical coverage despite in the 1980s the corporation facing serious allegations of human rights abuses around the world, including in Papua New Guinea.
Two American non-profit media organisations, the Centre for Public Integrity and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, recently bucked the trend and released a stunning report, Fatal Extraction, on Australian mining companies working in Africa (in which no allegations were made against Rio Tinto). How revealing that this research was led from America and not Australia itself.
The findings of the report, produced in collaboration with African journalists on the ground, were shocking.
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Malawi, grim details of death, maiming and police and army brutality were revealed.
A lead investigator on the report, Will Fitzgibbon, told the Guardian that while the response to the report was “positive”, there was also a sense that “Australia’s debate on corporate impacts and alleged violations overseas is much more limited than elsewhere. In Canada, for example, there have been lengthy parliamentary debates and deep media analyses of comparable allegations in a way that is yet to happen in Australia.”
I asked Fitzgibbon how these violations should be addressed in Australia. He said:
“The jury is still out on whether new laws are the most pressing response to this problem. Many argue that there’s a lot that can also be done in terms of company reporting to investors and of promoting voluntary and transparent application of international principles of business and human rights.”
Australia’s lack of interest in alleged corporate crimes in far-away places is related to a worrying incuriousness among reporters and politicians (the Greens are a key exception).
“There is a huge imbalance between Australia’s diplomatic and business interests in Africa. We still have one of the lowest numbers of embassies and high commissions in Africa among our peers yet we have mining companies, sometimes literally flying the Australian flag, in places like Burkina Faso, Niger, Madagascar and Zambia,” Fitzgibbon said.
Eritrea is one country that should be under the spotlight.
“The economy of Eritrea has experienced considerable growth in recent years,” explains the website for Australian mining company Danakali. The Perth-based firm, which until recently was known as South Boulder Mines, has partnered with the Eritrean National Mining Company to develop a massive potassium-bearing salts deposit around 350km from the country’s capital, Asmara.
Danakali’s managing director Paul Donaldson said, “The Danakil region of East Africa is recognised as an emerging potash [potassium salts] province, and to date over 10bn tonnes of potassium bearing salts have been identified.”
Online intelligence magazine Geeska Afrika explained: “Eritrea has many benefits it can offer potential investors. It has a safe and stable government with an educated and disciplined work force.”
Absent from all the propaganda was any mention of Eritrea as one of the most repressive nations in the world. A UN report in June detailed horrific allegations of abuse committed by the regime. Human Rights Watch argued that “this authoritative report rightly condemns the horrific patterns of torture, arbitrary detention, and indefinite conscription that are prompting so many Eritreans to flee their country”. A sizeable majority of refugees leaving Eritrea and attempting to reach Europe are fleeing from this regime. I’ve met many Eritreans in South Sudan who prefer to live in a war zone than under the Eritrean dictatorship.
Danakali has been engaged in Eritrea since at least 2013. An independent Eritrean media outlet had accused the company of benefitting from forced labour. I can find no public response from the company about the country’s human rights record and the unavoidable ethical issues that arise from partnering with an autocracy. They have not responded to requests for comment.
Apart from a major Eritrean rebel group this year warning the firm to stay away due to environmental concerns and allegations that the indigenous Afar community was being pushed off its lands to make way for the development, the Australian company has not faced any serious questions over its work in Eritrea.
Australia has an inglorious history of turning a blind eye to profitable bad behaviour. Although the Australian Wheat Board paid kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime in the 1990s and early 2000s for favourable contracts, lengthy legal wrangling resulted in few significant scalps.
With only one journalist working for an Australian media organisation permanently based in Africa, ABC’s Martin Cuddihy in Kenya, the continent is easily ignored or dismissed. South America is even more woefully unrepresented. Finding stories of Australian corporate malfeasance on either continent requires expensive and time-consuming work.
Of course this is not just a problem facing Australia. The Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York has been pushing the United Nations for years to end the impunity enjoyed by American and European firms operating in developing states. The US Supreme Court has increasingly accepted arguments from multinationals that they have no responsibility for human rights abuses in the countries in which they operate.
I’ve spoken to senior human rights lawyers in Australia who say it’s also incredibly tough to pursue a successful case against a mining giant through the Australian courts. The people of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea have been waiting for decades for any compensation from the Rio Tinto-owned mine that caused a brutal, decades-long civil war.
Australia sells itself as a nation that can teach the world about responsible mining – Afghanistan is one willing student – but the record suggests our corporations have a callous disregard for the rights of civilians.
Yesterday’s massacre in Paris at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is shocking and unforgettable. The publication may have been frequently racist against Muslims and a whole host of “enemies” but the right to offend is a key attribute in a democracy. This doesn’t mean we have to applaud editors and writers who trade in racial stereotyping.
As a journalist, such an attack affects me deeply. The only response is standing up for what we believe and stating it strongly and frequently. We will not be silenced. We will write. We will speak out. We will continue to tell the truth. We will reject the onslaught and say that talking honestly about Islam, Palestine, Israel, terrorism and the “war on terror” is vital.
Charlie was a good friend from my high school years in Paris, in the early 1970s.
Charlie Hebdo was a child of May 68, France’s youthful rebellion.
It was a good time to be in Paris.
You could see the latest Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Visconti, Tarkovsky, Godard etc.
Sartre was still around.
You could attend public Foucault lectures at the College de France, watch the inscrutable Lacan or the great mythomane André Malraux hold forth on TV.
Where are they all now?
The gunmen who spread Charlie Hebdo with bullets and assassinated four of France’s best and wittiest cartoonists among others have also fired bullets in our collective psyche.
Nothing is fun any more.
This is real.
A binary hyperreality as defined by G W Bush & Co: with us or against us.
What happened yesterday morning in Paris was unthinkable some 40 odd years ago.
Yes, there were Red Brigades, Baader Meinhof, the PLO, the War in Vietnam, the coup in Chile and so on, but there was also hope, solidarity, love, tenderness, humour, poetry.
Going to the Quartier Latin to see Felini’s Satyricon or Easy Rider, one passed the black vans of the CRS, the riot police, parked on the Boulevard Saint Michel and Saint Germain.
You’d spot them inside, playing cards, ready for action at any hint of “trouble”.
The same game of youth versus authority was played in the very same places in medieval Paris, between the king’s constabulary and mischievous students.
It was all part of the great French tradition of youthful rebellion against authority, King & Church or, after the Revolution, the much despised bourgeoisie.
It inspired a rich poetic tradition: Villon, Ronsard, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Appolinaire, Prévert, to name but a few from a very long and bright list.
Charlie Hebdo was part of that wonderful centuries-old tradition of biting satire and irreverence.
Nothing was sacred.
Every now and then Charlie was banned for a particularly outrageous issue.
It used to run a serial called Les Aventures de Mme Pompidou (The Adventures of Madame Pompidou).
Occasionally Mme Pompidou and her husband, Monsieur le Président Georges Pompidou were not amused and all copies of Charlie Hebdo were seized.
But that was an innocent game compared to yesterday’s massacre.
Something has changed in the world.
Too much blood has been spilled since 9/11 and now the entire planet is soaked in it.
The age of Enlightenment and rational thought is making way to medieval faith-based intolerance.
G W Bush declared a Crusade, and enough lunatics have answered his challenge.
We must answer them by saying: JE SUIS CHARLIE.
Charlie lives as long as there is humour, laughter, tenderness, satire, love, poetry, art.
If we give up on that, the forces of darkness win.
And the light goes off.
We can’t let this happen.
WE ARE CHARLIE.
Ha Noi, 8.1.15
After last week’s siege in central Sydney, Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post analysed the media coverage and found it severely lacking. I was asked to add a comment (starting at 9:25):
My weekly Guardian column:
The details shocked. Shackled prisoners were treated like cattle, watched by their CIA interrogators. Testimony from one observer stated that men blindfolded and tied “were made to run down a steep hill, at the bottom of which were three throws of concertina barbed wire. The first row would hit them across the knees and they would plunge head first into the second and third rows of wire”.
This wasn’t CIA torture after the September 11 attacks, exposed in detail in a recent Senate report, but the Phoenix programme, instituted by the CIA and US, Australian and South Vietnamese militaries in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972 to “neutralise” the Vietcong. The result was more than 60,000 people tortured and killed. No senior politicians, generals or decision-makers were prosecuted for these crimes. A culture of immunity, despite occasional media and public outrage, thrived across the US.
Questioned before a US House operations subcommittee in the late 1960s to investigate widespread Phoenix-inspired torture, future CIA head William Colby used language that sounds familiar today. It’s just the official enemy that has changed. The “collateral damage” was justified, he said. Phoenix was “an essential part of the war effort … designed to protect the Vietnamese people from terrorism.”
In 2007, decades after its cessation, the CIA was still worried that the public felt Phoenix was an “unlawful and immoral assassination programme targeting civilians.” Instead, they claimed, it was “pacification and rural security programmes”.
Compare this to today’s CIA head, John Brennan, who defends his agency’s behaviour in the “war on terror” as doing a “lot of things right.” This arrogance only exists in an environment that doesn’t punish those who sanction abuses at the highest level and a mainstream media that gives equal time to torturers while virtually ignoring the victims. American torture’s grim legacy in Afghanistan is one of the least reported aspects of the last decade.
While it was the French who first introduced electrical torture to Vietnam, it was the Americans, writes journalist Mike Otterman in his book American Torture, who advised the Vietnamese “how to make the torture more painful and effective. Under American supervision, Vietnamese interrogators often combined electrical torture with sexual abuse”.
Otterman reminds us that US torture wasn’t an invention after the terror attacks of 2001 but part of a continuum of unaccountable US cruelty from Latin America to Asia, the Middle East and beyond. It’s revealing that this pedigree is so rarely explained or investigated in the rush to condemn (or praise, depending on your worldview) Washington-directed brutality under George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
This history is relevant during the current debate over post September 11 torture. The Senate report is an important contribution to the public record but the lack of any prosecution, censure or official condemnation goes to the heart of modern political culture. Obama has acquiesced in this position. The effect, writes journalist Andrew Sullivan, is that America has ensured that these crimes will occur again: “That will be part of his legacy: the sounds of a torture victim crying in the dark, and knowing that America is fine with it.”
A culture that celebrates television shows such as 24, Homeland and Spooks, where torture is central to capturing the bad guys and glamorises its use, makes real-life torment easier to justify or ignore. An Amnesty poll this year found 29% of Britons, higher than in Russia, Brazil and Argentina, believed torture could be justified to protect the public.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken after the release of the Senate torture report found that 59% of Americans felt that the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified. This is in spite of the fact that one of the key findings in the US Senate report was that CIA torture was ineffective in hunting down extremists. Evidence from a US Senate armed services committee report into torture in 2009 found that such abuses were only guaranteed in bringing false confessions.
The Senate torture report has brought a handful of politicians demanding full transparency of their government’s role since 2001. The head of Britain’s Commons intelligence and security committee, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, wants Washington to release all documents showing London’s role in the CIA’s rendition programme though it’s sad he acknowledges London’s relative weakness when “requesting” the USA to hand over the details.
The silence has been deafening in Australia with no major politicians demanding openness from Canberra on its role under former prime minister John Howard in sanctioning the illegal incarceration of David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie is one of the few modern politicians with a history of questioning the pernicious role of group-think in government. In 2004, he published a searing book, Axis of Deceit, on Australia’s real reason for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and it wasn’t weapons of mass destruction. Thus far Wilkie has not commented on the CIA report, although he has accused the Abbott government of crimes against humanity for its treatment of asylum seekers.
The failure to punish torturers in the US fits neatly into a wider social malaise. The powerful don’t go to jail; it’s the weak that suffer for their foibles. The lack of any substantial prosecutions for Wall Street illegality is symptomatic of the rot inside the political class. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi’s shows in his book The Divide how this occurs. “Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty”, he argues, “our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process.”
When “we” break the law, it’s with benign intent and good intentions (an editorial in the Australian makes this spurious case). But when “they” do it, they’re criminals who should be punished. Elites protect elites. Where was the outcry when the CIA hired private mercenary company Blackwater after 9/11 to assassinate “enemies” in Afghanistan?
Instead of trials for those accused of endorsing torture, we’re left with articles, essays and works like The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld, “a prosecution by book”, written by the Centre for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner. It’s a solid tome but desperately short of what’s required in a healthy democracy for individuals at the highest levels of government who order harsh crimes.
The ability of the state to retroactively justify illegal behavior when caught is a feature of every nation on earth, not just the US. But demanding other countries abide by international law, when western nations so blatantly ignore it, is the height of hypocrisy. The shocking details in the US Senate report demand accountability but there’s little public appetite for it.
Retired Navy JAG John Hutson warned in 2008 against trials for post 9/11 crimes because “people would lawyer up”, a tacit admission that the legal system is gamed by the wealthy and powerful to escape justice. There’s hardly a more illustrative example of the modern state’s failure.