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.

Growing ties between Israel and the global far-right

My investigation, for MidEastWire publication, researched over many months:

The global sound of fury and shock heralded by the win of Donald Trump as the new U.S. President wasn’t heard in Israel. A poll, released in early December by the firm Dialog, found that 83 percent of Israelis viewed Trump as “pro-Israel” and hoped he would support their government’s position on expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In February 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he was planning to “surround all of Israel with a fence” to keep out Palestinians and Arab states’ citizens. “In our neighborhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts,” he said.

This discriminatory attitude is not just limited to politics but is both mainstream and widely accepted in Israel.  For example, members of the far-right extremist group Lehava are strictly against any interaction between Jews and Palestinians. They roam the streets of Israel assaulting Arabs, and Israel does little to stop it. The group’s Hebrew stickers on Jerusalem streets read: “Beware the goys [a derogatory term for non-Jews]: they will defile you.”

Israeli security firms are excited about Trump’s win. They see dollar signs in the U.S., Europe and beyond as Western nations struggle to manage a huge influx of refugees and Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and Western Asia. Israel is viewed as an expert in the fields of counter-terrorism, surveillance, fences, sensors and militarization of borders.

In 2015, Israel reported $5.7 billion of defense industry exports. Arms sales especially soared to Europe, growing from $724 million in 2014 to $1.63 billion in 2015, amid growing concerns over refugees and terrorism. Equipment included aerospace, radar, drones and intelligence systems. Israel and its defense firms hope that surging interest in their products will counteract any negative economic impact from the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

When contacted for a comment, the Israeli Ministry of Defense refused to talk about its collaboration over countering possible threats related to refugees and terrorism.

“Unfortunately, as a rule, the Ministry does not comment on defense relationships with other countries,” it said.

Israel-based Magal Security Systems, the world’s biggest provider of perimeter security technology has global experience in using technology to keep out the unwanted and saw its share price soar following Trump’s victory.

The company’s chief executive, Saar Koursh, was recently quoted by the Financial Times saying he wanted to work on Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

“If Mr. Trump builds a fence or a wall, we believe our technology will definitely be a benefit,” he reportedly said.

Hagai Katz, Magal’s Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, explained that his firm is involved in securing all of Israel’s borders including those with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. The “smart fence” around Gaza, “battle-tested” is attractive to clients, works with Israeli video cameras, satellite monitoring, ground sensors and motion detectors.

The close-to two million citizens of the Gaza Strip live in a large, open-air Israeli-imposed prison, with the U.N. fearing the territory will be uninhabitable by 2020. A recent visit to Gaza showed a population with virtually no freedom of movement.

A Magal client list, confirmed by the corporation as up to date, shows hundreds of partners developed over its more than 43 years in the business. This includes security for civilian airports in China, Colombia, the U.S., U.K. and Mexico, seaports in Israel, Canada and Kenya, utilities in Australia, Chile and Morocco, oil and gas facilities in the Gulf, Italy and Nigeria and nuclear sites in the U.S. Furthermore, there are countless commercial projects across the world, prisons, militaries (including in Bahrain) and borders including India and Pakistan, Minnesota in the U.S., Bulgaria and Serbia, as well as Slovakia and Ukraine.

A new Magal promotional brochure explains to potential clients that the main challenge in stopping “infiltrators” in Europe is gathering intelligence and establishing early warning systems.

Katz said that Israel’s “smart fence” with Egypt, five metres high with barbed wire, military posts and a quick reaction force, is the “most relevant for Europe because it’s concerned with illegal immigration.” He explained that there were five “D’s” for an effective smart fence: demark the border, deterrence, detection, delay and defeat.

“In the case of illegal immigration,” Katz explained, “deterrence is the most important thing because you don’t want to cope with the problem when somebody crosses [a border].” When a Magal spokesman was asked if fences and monitoring borders were a solution to the refugee crisis or simply a profitable outcome, Katz said: “If you really want to solve it, you need to be aggressive and determined. Nobody likes to use fences. The landscape looks ugly. It’s against the idea of open borders.”

He added that Hungary, perhaps the most antagonistic nation towards refugees in Europe, had only constructed a “dumb fence,” without technology or sensors. This “doesn’t solve the problem but moves it from one country to another.”

Although Katz said that a number of European nations had contacted Magal to get quotes on border security – the cost is up to $5 million per kilometre of physical fence – “most of the European countries have not decided to do this. They believe they can cope with the problem without decisive actions.” Katz saw expansion opportunities in Africa (Magal is competing to build a wall between Kenya and Somalia, at a cost of over $15 billion), Eastern Europe and former Soviet states.

Other Israeli companies are also in the border monitoring business. Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest defence contractors and experts in drone manufacturing, are working on the U.S./Mexico border. The sandy terrain near Nogales, Arizona, the second-largest border-patrol station in the U.S., has an Elbit-built radar system. The company’s head, Bezhalel Machlis, told the Financial Times in July that he was excited about the worldwide trend towards increased military budgets.

The Israeli military tests Elbit equipment before they are sold to agencies worldwide, where Palestinians living under occupation are used as guinea pigs for Elbit’s technology.

It is worth noting that the global interest in Israeli strategies to control borders is more than just a desire for technological experience. Trump’s election and the growing support for far-right political parties and movements across Europe reveal an ideological alliance that connects Israel’s burgeoning militarized settler movement with the white nationalist agenda.

This was perfectly articulated in December at Texas A&M University when Richard Spencer, head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, silenced Rabbi Matt Rosenberg by suggesting Zionism and Jewish continuity required discrimination and isolation to thrive.

“Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel?” Spencer asked. “And by that I mean radical inclusion. Maybe all of the Middle East could go move in to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Would you really want that? Jews exist precisely because you did not assimilate.”

A few weeks earlier, Spencer had praised Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and questioned whether “Israeli nationalists might want to help finance the far right in Europe and North America.” In July, he told the U.S. website Mondoweiss that he admired Israel as “a homogenous ethno-state.” During the Trump inauguration in Washington DC, Spencer was punched in the head by an anti-fascist protestor. He remains a divisive figure, opposed by many Jews, who craves separation of the races.

However, Spencer perfectly understood why many white nationalists, in the U.S., Europe and globally, have become ardent Israel supporters. Demographically, maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel is only assured by treating its Arab population as second class citizens. This is what most white nationalists admire in Israel, a willingness to brutally suppress another people to keep the state racially pure. Nationalists want the U.S. and Europe to behave similarly towards Muslims and refugees, groups that, in their view, are diluting the purity of the world’s superior Christian population.

David Sheen, an Israeli-based, independent journalist focusing on racial and religious conflict in Israeli society, said that “Israel’s leaders make brazen statements about their intentions to rule all the land, from the river to the sea, and to make Jewish supremacy paramount, demoting democratic principles to secondary status. They have already forced out over a third of the country’s African refugee population, and are on track to complete the cleansing over the next decade, if not less than that…There is no serious force at present, either within Israeli society or outside of it, that is capable of halting, or even of slowing down, Israel’s descent from flawed ethnocracy into full-on folkism.”

This logic has seen neo-Nazis and far-right extremists from Europe and the U.S. welcomed to Israel with open arms. Austria’s far-right, Freedom Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strach, visited Israel’s Holocaust memorial in April and met with members of the governing Likud party. His motives, according to press reports, were to make him “kosher in Israel” and acceptable to world leaders. Strach spoke of the “the Judeo-Christian West”.

“If Israel fails, Europe fails. And if Europe fails, Israel fails,” he said. Israeli settler leaders happily overlooked his neo-Nazi past and praised his unwavering support for Israel.

Among some French and German far-right movements online there is extensive support for Israel and its posture towards Muslims and Arabs. Largely written in the local language, and ignored by the Western media, far-right websites revel in Islamophobia as a perceived state policy in Israel and urge Europe to copy it.

One German website, PI News, claims to be “news against the mainstream” and backing “America, Israel, basic and human laws and the fight against the Islamization of Europe.” German Holocaust deniers visited Israel’s Holocaust museum and travelled around Israel in 2016 talking about blowing up mosques and embracing the settler movement. The group, from popular anti-immigrant parties, believed that radical Islam was the common dominator between themselves and Israel.

Such rhetoric is now politically popular across the West and it’s not hard to see why Israel, building fences and walls around itself, is the model. Companies such as Elbit and Magal are reaping the benefits.

Many Europeans now oppose Israel’s colonization policies and advocate boycotts against the Jewish state. However, Strach and his party, founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, are leading a wave of far-right solidarity with Israel across Europe and the world. From Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France to key players in the Trump administration, backing Israel and its draconian policies against Muslims, refugees, Palestinians, Arabs and black Africans is the new litmus test for the authoritarian right. Israel’s political and business elites, largely in sync with these views, have brilliantly exploited and monetized Western fears over minorities.

Trump’s chief strategist, of course, is Steve Bannon, former executive chair of the far-right Breitbart website that has published countless derogatory articles on Muslims, woman and Jews but earned praise (along with some opposition) for its Zionist stance from some of the leading U.S. – Zionist organizations. For them, anti-Semitism is irrelevant so long as Israel is given unconditional support.

It’s a dangerous and self-defeating stance that endangers Jews worldwide though there’s a long history of Zionist groups working with fascist groups in Israel and globally. Historically, neo-Nazis and white nationalists loathed Jews but today it’s not unusual to see the Israeli flag being waved at a far-right, Pegida rally in Germany or an event organized by Britain’s U.K. Independence Party (UKIP).

Former Israeli politician, Aryeh Eldad, from the far-right National Union Party, who once advocated the shooting of anybody who crossed Israel’s border with Egypt and is friends with far-right, Dutch politician Geert Wilders, says Israel has key lessons to teach the world.

Eldad believes that it was a mistake to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as territorial with the refugee issues facing Europe since Islam is the problem.

He adds that refugee and Muslims’ high birth-rate would soon extinguish European Christians.

“If they [Europeans] want to keep their national and cultural identity…they will have to prevent further waves of immigrants because they will not be assimilated…We [Israelis] are idiots if we think it isn’t a religious war or clash of ideologies,” he said in a recent interview.

Eldad’s solution included expanding Israeli settlements, which he viewed as “legal” and “necessary,” as well as fortifying Israeli borders. Europe had to respond similarly, he argued, and repel the wave of migrants. Otherwise, it would continue being a “suicidal society,” determined to be overrun by Islam.

no comments – be the first ↪

How does the media drive xenophobia?

In the age of Donald Trump and rabid nationalism, I was recently asked to write a short essay by US-based publication World Policy Journal on the role of journalists and media in creating and fanning xenophobia: Big Question

no comments – be the first ↪

US magazine Alternet reviews Disaster Capitalism

During my recent visit to the US, I spoke in New York about my book, Disaster Capitalism. I was in conversation with journalist Ben Norton who has just written the following review of the book for US magazine Alternet:

“It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” wrote Jørgen Randers, professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, in 2015. “I believe that the tyranny of the short term will prevail over the decades to come. As a result, a number of long-term problems will not be solved, even if they could have been, and even as they cause gradually increasing difficulties.”

Journalist Antony Loewenstein opens his book Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe with these portentous words. Having crossed the globe, he has seen firsthand just how profitable disaster can be.

Loewenstein is a journalistic virtuoso, having traveled to dozens of countries on multiple continents in recent years for his multifaceted reporting. Like his accomplished compatriot John Pilger, Loewenstein has tackled a dizzying array of topics, with the expertise of a scholar and the vigor of an explorer.

Disaster Capitalism, a 300-page tome that is more like seven books in one, is based on a decade of research and reporting. Loewenstein traveled to wartorn Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to study how the defense industry and for-profit private military companies are turning one of the longest wars in U.S. history into a lucrative business opportunity. He also visited crowded refugee camps in Greece and fully privatized detention centers at Christmas Island, off the coast of his native Australia, to meet asylum-seekers fleeing the wars multinational corporations are profiting from.

Loewenstein continued his reporting in post-earthquake Haiti, where he got to witness disaster capitalism in real time. He also saw how international mining corporations are raking in cash on the extraction boom in Papua New Guinea. In addition to these expeditions, Loewenstein also recently spent time doing even more reporting in South Sudan, Kenya, and Israel.

At a recent public discussion of Disaster Capitalism with AlterNet’s Ben Norton at McNally Jackson Books in New York City, Loewenstein spoke of the increasing privatization of wars and detention facilities for refugees and migrants. He also examined the refugee crisis, and how Western wars and intervention have fueled this crisis, highlighting the links tying together war, detention, mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex, and how private prison and security companies are profiting from it all.

The journalist also addressed the rise of far-right and neo-fascist movements around the world, from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen to Greece’s Golden Dawn, and how these forces will be incapable of solving the structural global problems exacerbated and reinforced by a profit-driven system.

“I believe that bearing witness to what I see, and giving unequal players the right of reply, gives balance to the privatization debate, rather than the false construct of ‘balance’ that permeates the corporate press, which merely pits one powerful interest against another,” Loewenstein explains in the book.

The concept behind Disaster Capitalism is loosely rooted in Naomi Klein’s 2007 opus The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Loewenstein picks up where Klein left off, analyzing not only how natural disasters and war can be vehicles for capitalist policies, but also how corporations push their neoliberal agenda, and make lots of money, on immigration, refugee detention, prisons, and the discovery of natural resource reserves.

“This book is a product of the post-9/11 environment,” he notes. The explosion of the so-called war on terror, the rapid expansion of the surveillance state, the slew of never-ending wars, the privation of public institutions and services, and the militarization of police, the border, and all of society — this is the brave new world Loewenstein devotes himself to dissecting.

And there is even a movie! A Disaster Capitalism documentary has been several years in the making. Loewenstein says they are wrapping up the production process, and are in discussions for distribution of the film.

Loewenstein’s previous book, Profits of Doom, explores similar subjects, while 2008’s The Blogging Revolution presages the 2011 protests that swept the globe. And his My Israel Question became a bestseller in 2007 and helped foment critical public debate about Israel-Palestine.

Loewenstein is the definition of a cosmopolitan. In a Guardian article  about his Australian-German-Jewish identity, he wrote, “My identity is a conflicted and messy mix that incorporates Judaism, atheism, anti-Zionism, Germanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon-Australian beliefs. And yet I both routinely reject and embrace them all.”

He’s also a darn good writer.

While he boasts an impressive collection of bylines in prestigious publications, nevertheless, Loewenstein has largely been relegated to the sidelines of mainstream corporate journalism, much like the muckrakers before him.

“Far too few reporters demand transparency or challenge capitalism, preferring instead to operate comfortably within it,” he observes in his book. “This work is an antidote to such thinking… This book considers the view from below, the experiences of people who are all too often invisible in the daily news cycle.”

no comments – be the first ↪

Around the Empire interview on disaster capitalism, aid and the Middle East

Around the Empire podcast, based in the US, interviews me about my book, Disaster Capitalism, Israel/Palestine, the dangers and advantages of aid and the Trump administration:

On this episode of Around The Empire, Dan and Joanne interview journalist Antony Loewenstein about his new book and upcoming film Disaster Capitalism. Loewenstein has traveled to the United States, Britain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, and Australia to research how multinational corporations exploit disasters for profit.

The discussion starts with a focus on recent decisions by the Trump Administration to increase the use of private prisons and detention centers. Loewenstein details how companies profit from this approach both in the United States and around the world, and the role such companies play in expanding the surveillance and incarceration state.

Loewenstein also explains the complicated role of non-government organizations (NGOs) in international development and disaster capitalism. Using the failures of NGOs in Haiti as a starting point, he explains the conflicting incentives NGOs have that often lead to them failing to make a positive impact despite ample resources:

no comments – be the first ↪

On the importance of hearing critical views in our time

I was pleased to be asked to sign the following statement in support of free speech and against blacklisting for “unpopular” views on Syria (though it’s equally relevant for Palestine, the “war on terror” etc). I sign alongside Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan and many others:

The cancellation of a lecture by journalist Rania Khalek, who was invited to speak on the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill campus by Students for Justice in Palestine on February 27, 2017, raises important issues of tactics and strategy within movements for social change.

The whole statement, posted on facebook the night before, reads:

“After receiving much feedback and after careful consideration, we have decided to cancel tomorrow’s event with Rania Khalek. We do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war as they remain relatively unclear according to our members’ diverse opinions of Rania’s analyses. Although Rania was not going to speak about Syria, we understand the Syrian conflict is a contentious issue and the invitation was met with a lot of anger. We appreciate the concerns of those who have reached out to us, especially our Syrian supporters and believe her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views. SJP supports liberation movements for all oppressed people and recognizes their right to self-determination.”

We note: the UNC-SJP event organizers cancelled the event (which was to be on the intersection of Palestinian rights organizing and the Black Lives Matter movement) based on the speaker’s views on Syria, a topic the speaker was “not going to speak about”, that “remain relatively unclear” to them, out of concern that “her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views”. This means that:

  • No one was prepared to state what disqualified Khalek from speaking.
  • The event was cancelled based on assertions about her views made by others.
  • The cancellation was based on the notion that there is a political litmus test of views on Syria that are requisites to have a public voice in the Palestinian rights movement.

We also note that some of those who lobbied UNC-SJP to cancel the event have stated publicly that they want to destroy Khalek’s reputation and livelihood. This is a coordinated smear campaign, using many of the same tactics that Palestine solidarity activists have faced from pro-Israel organizations, and with many of the same targets.

The signers of this statement hold a range of views on Syria. Some agree with Khalek; others disagree – in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust. It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement:

Nahla Abdo

Rabab Abdulhadi

As`ad AbuKhalil

Susan Abulhawa

Ali Abunimah

Suzanne Adely

Max Ajl

Sami AlBanna

Michael Albert

Louis Allday

Mark Ames

Said Arikat

Reza Aslan

Carl Beijer

Medea Benjamin

Keane Bhatt

Max Blumenthal

Audrey Bomse

James W. Carden

Joe Catron

Noam Chomsky

George Ciccariello-Maher

Helena Cobban

Andrew Cockburn

Dan Cohen

Elliot Colla

Jonathan Cook

David Cromwell

Omar Dahi

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

David Edwards

Karim Eid-Sabbagh

Rami El-Amine

Zein El-Amine

Joe Emersberger

Lee Fang

Nina Farnia

Liza Featherstone

Glen Ford

Drew Franklin

Peter Gose

Kevin Gosztola

Greg Grandin

Glenn Greenwald

Bassam Haddad

David Heap

Doug Henwood

Edward Herman

Brad Hoff

Adam Horowitz

Abdeen Jabara

Bruno Jännti

Rula Jebreal

Zaid Jilani

Adam Johnson

Charlotte Kates

Sameera Khan

Connor Kilpatrick

Jerome Klassen

Ken Klippenstein

Kyle Kulinski

Paul Larudee

Carlos Latuff

Daniel Lazare

Michael Levin

Antony Loewenstein

Mairead Maguire

Abby Martin

Mario Martone

Rania Masri

Todd Miller

Amina Mire

David Mizner

Mnar A. Muhawesh

Corinna Mullin

Elizabeth Murray

Robert Naiman

Jana Nakhal

Jim Naureckas

Ayman Nijim

Ben Norton

Anya Parampil

John Pilger

Adrienne Pine

Justin Podur

Gareth Porter

Vijay Prashad

Syksy Räsänen

Afshin Rattansi

Corey Robin

Brahim Rouabah

Al Awda SF

Gregory Shupak

Bill Skidmore

Norman Solomon

Rick Sterling

David Swanson

Linda Tabar

Dahlia Wasfi

Mark Weisbrot

Asa Winstanley

Col. Ann Wright

no comments – be the first ↪

RT TV interview on disaster capitalism in the age of Donald Trump

This week in New York I was interviewed on RT America by Thom Hartmann about my book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and how this toxic ideology is brewing under President Donald Trump:

no comments – be the first ↪

Talking Disaster Capitalism under Trump in NYC

My book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, has just been released in paperback (via Verso Books). It’s never been more relevant in the age of Trump, privatisation on crack, shadowy wars and abusive immigration policies.

Last week in New York, I launched the book at the great Manhattan bookstore, Mcnally Jackson. In conversation with journalist Ben Norton (he interviewed me for Salon in 2016), we discussed a wide range of issues:

Journalist Antony Loewenstein spoke with Ben Norton about his book “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe,” at McNally Jackson Books in New York City on February 23, 2017.

Loewenstein discussed his reporting on the privatization of wars and detention facilities for refugees and migrants in Afghanistan, Greece, Australia, the UK, and the US.

The two also examined the refugee crisis, and how Western wars have fueled this refugee crisis. They highlighted the links tying together war, detention, mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex — and how private prison and security companies are profiting from it all.

The journalists also addressed the rise of far-right and neo-fascist movements around the world, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen to Golden Dawn, and how these forces will be incapable of solving the structural global problems exacerbated and reinforced by corporate profits:

no comments – be the first ↪

How Washington created disaster in Honduras

My investigation in US magazine Truthout (and my photos from Honduras are here):

Members of indigenous group Copinh protesting in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

Members of Indigenous group COPINH protesting in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

Armed men wearing ski masks suddenly appeared in the distance. On a dirt road in northern Honduras, between the city of Tocoa and the small village of Punta de Piedra, a massive drug raid was underway. Dozens of men in bulletproof vests with high-calibre weapons swarmed the area: members of the Honduran military and police as well as US-trained Tigres and Cobra forces. They burst forcefully into this area where drug trafficking was rampant.

I was travelling toward the Atlantic coast when I was stopped at a roadblock and ordered out of the car. My translator, my driver, a local Indigenous leader and I were all questioned by the masked police officer about our destination, profession and intentions. What’s happening here, my translator asked? “Too many traffickers, even during the day,” the policeman replied. We discovered that the raid’s purpose was to find a local drug kingpin and anybody working for him.

However, the absurdity of the mission was soon apparent. After arriving at the peaceful town of Iriona Puerta, no more than 15 minutes away from the raid, I was shown the house of the chased drug trafficker. It was a large wooden structure overlooking a calm river, with apparently nobody home, adjacent to the government’s municipal building and across the road from the main police station. The drug boss had little to fear, I was told by locals, because officials in the district protected him.

The house of a drug dealer in the northern Honduran town of Iriona Puerta, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

The house of a drug dealer in the northern Honduran town of Iriona Puerta, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

It was one small insight into the futility of American and Honduran efforts to tackle drug smuggling in the small Central American state. Honduras has long been one of Washington’s most “captive nations” in Central America, never independent from US dominance. Bertha Oliva, head of the leading human rights NGO Cofadeh (the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras), confirmed this view. “We’re like the ass of the US,” she told me in the capital, Tegucigalpa, meaning that her nation is always beholden to Washington and treated badly because of it.

US military funding for Honduras during the Obama administration has caused unprecedented levels of violence against civilians and environmental activists, and has exacerbated gang activity and local government impunity. Donald Trump’s presidency will likely worsen these current trends. President-elect Trump’s appointment of Gen. John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security is a worrying sign. Kelly was head of the US Southern Command during the Obama years and oversaw violent, counter-narcotic efforts across Latin America. He’s a drug war zealot.

The Deadly History of US Involvement in Honduras

I recently travelled independently across Honduras and visited remote and vulnerable areas to witness the reality for impoverished communities struggling to survive amid drug traffickers, corrupt police and government officials, US military personnel and extreme poverty. Collusion between Honduran military forces, big business and US assets has led to Indigenous communities being kicked off their lands and critics of the Honduran state being murdered.

I spoke to human rights workers, Indigenous leaders and victims of state aggression along with officials at the US embassy in Tegucigalpa to understand how this state has become one of the most violent countries in the world since a 2009 coup backedby then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The human toll continues to be devastating, with a 2016 US State Department report acknowledging that the majority of illicit drugs entering the United States still arrive through Central America.

Many times throughout my visit I felt scared, afraid to walk the streets during the day or night due to risks from gangs, police or the military. It was a fear shared by many locals living in the big cities. After Afghanistan, it was the most challenging reporting trip of my life. During my time with a family in the Tegucigalpa suburb of Flor Del Campo, I was told that many people barely left their homes because of regular police and gang killings. Everybody running a business had to pay a “war tax” to at least one gang; if they didn’t, they would be murdered. One Honduran politician, Maria Luisa Borjas, told me that members of parliament were making money from extortion.

It’s why so many Hondurans are fleeing toward the US (though receiving minimal support from the Obama administration and his immigration bureaucracy, which have deported more immigrants than any other period in history). Trump has pledged to militarize US borders even more and Hondurans, Guatemalans and El Salvadorians are rushing to the US border before he takes office.

José Asunción Martínez, 37, a leader with the Indigenous group COPINH and colleague of Berta Carceres, the Indigenous Lenca activist murdered last year, told me at the organization’s base in the city of La Esperanza that, “our country is a narco-state with narco-mayors and narco-MPs. They get funded by drug traffickers and when they get into power they have to pay traffickers back.” Martinez feared for his life after surviving multiple attempts to kill him.

The house of murdered Honduran activist, Berta Caceres, in the town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

The house of murdered Honduran activist, Berta Caceres, in the town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

“President [Juan Orlando] Hernandez wants more US money to fight a war on drugs, but we all know the funds will be used to suppress Indigenous people,” he said. “COPINH says that we don’t need the [Honduran] army in our communities. We want to cleanse our community of drug traffickers.”

An increasing number of voices in both the US and Honduras are calling for the severance of all US military aid to Honduras after the killing of Carceres in March 2016. Forces aligned with the Honduran army were responsible, according to a deserter from the Honduran military who spoke to the Guardian in June. The assassination resulted in a group of US Democratic Congress members pushing for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in July. They stated in an opinion piece that, “as long as the United States funds Honduran security forces without demanding justice for those threatened, tortured and killed, we have blood on our hands. It’s time to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras.” WikiLeaks documents and other information prove US and World Bank complicity in Honduran corruption.

This growing pressure is why the Honduran regime hired leading Washington PR firms, Ketchum and Curley Company, for more than US $500,000 combined, in 2015 and 2016.

Although there is vast evidence that Honduran police routinely collude with drug traffickers to kill people perceived as threats, the Obama administration has poured tens of millions of dollars into the Honduran military and police, with at least US $18 million in 2016 alone. The exact amount of US backing for Honduran military forces is unclear. The Washington Office on Latin America has submitted many FOIA requests over the last years and concluded that US money is likely contributing to the counter-narcotics and anti-gang known as the Xatruch task force and the National Inter-Institutional Security Force, or FUSINA, accused of killing human rights activists including Caceres. The US embassy in Honduras denied any responsibility for the violence and — during a rare, two-day tour in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula — Ambassador James D. Nealon told me that Washington was having a positive influence on the country.

The US Congress designated US $750 million in aid for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in December 2016 to reduce violence, poverty and the flow of migrants surging toward the US border. However, there’s currently little indication how that money will be actually spent. Honduras is also building a growing military alliance with Israel.

The US model for Honduras is clear. In 2012, the New York Times reported that the US was aiming to transplant the violent counter-insurgency tactics it used in Iraq and Afghanistan to Honduras to “confront emerging threats,” including drug smuggling.

Washington’s relationship with Honduras has a deadly past. From 1981 until 1985, under President Ronald Reagan, the US appointed John Negroponte as its Ambassador. Honduras became a vital staging post for US-backed death squadsoperating in Guatemala and El Salvador. The Nicaraguan Contras — right wing, brutal and funded by the US from the illegal sale of weapons to Iran — established a strong presence in Honduras.

Negroponte was a high-profile official in George W. Bush’s administration, serving as ambassador to Iraq from 2004-2005 and director of national intelligence from 2005-2007. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for president last August.

US-Caused Civilian Deaths in Honduras

One of the more recent notorious examples of US involvement in Honduras occurred on May 11, 2012, when a botched Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mission in the remote La Moskitia area caused the death of four Honduran civilians, including one pregnant woman, and countless injuries. A passenger boat was fired upon in the middle of the night; DEA and Honduran forces alleged they were shot at first and responded to defend themselves from armed drug traffickers.

I spoke to two surviving witnesses of the incident in Honduras, Clara Wood and Adan Nelson Queen, and both strongly denied these allegations. They said that the boat and its crew were working legitimately and they never saw any drugs on the vessel. They have never received any financial or psychological support from either the US or Honduras. They live with trauma every day. “They want to wash their hands of all this,” Wood told me on the northern, Caribbean island of Roatan. Wood claimed that US officials pressured her to change her testimony about what happened on that fateful night in 2012. They falsely insisted that men on the boat had fired on the DEA agents first, she said. Wood refused to comply despite being offered US $5,000.

The official response to this incident was obfuscation. The Honduran Security Minister General Julian Pacheco Tinoco told me that it was a “very regrettable incident.” The US Ambassador to Honduras, James D. Nealon, declined to comment when I asked him about the raid.

The former DEA chief in Honduras, Jim Kenney, based in the country from 2009 until 2012, was more forthcoming. Over multiple phone interviews from his home in Florida, Kenney explained the DEA’s point of view about the 2012 incident and why he believed it was justified. He expressed no sympathy for the victims of the 2012 incident and said they didn’t deserve any compensation.

“Bottom line, we were there to stop an interdiction of a major load of cocaine coming into the country,” he said. “We were doing our job.” He told me that, “If the [surviving] citizens there have an issue, they should be going after the Honduran government. It shouldn’t be a US response to pay for any of the, if you want to call it, ‘damages.'”

The Murder of Berta Caceres

La Esperanza, Berta Caceres’ hometown, was pretty, four hours by car from the capital, with far less violence than the major cities and bustling fruit and vegetable markets. The name “Berta” was spray-painted everywhere, commemorating the murdered environmental activist. Two massive, color murals of Berta were painted on the outside walls of the prison. Next to one, messages against police death squads were written in Spanish. Their English translations are “Police dickface” and “Police hit man.”

The mother of Berta Caceres, Austraberta Flores, at her home in the Honduran town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

The mother of Berta Caceres, Austraberta Flores, at her home in the Honduran town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

Caceres was killed on the outskirts of town in a house that stands empty today. It was an active crime scene with police tape around its entire perimeter. A solitary police car sat outside the house, and one policeman and soldier walked up to me as I approached the property, which is situated in a beautiful valley of trees, few houses and low hills. It was eerily quiet and still difficult to imagine the murder on a quiet night last March. The grass was overgrown around the green house, and all of Caceres’s possessions from inside had been removed. Her simple grave sat in a nearby graveyard, barely noticeable amongst the hundreds of other simple memorials.

At the sprawling Caceres family home in the heart of La Esperanza lives her mother, Austraberta Flores, and some of her children. Her mother showed me a memorial for Berta in one of the rooms with her daughter’s many global and local awards. Berta’s 24-year-old daughter Laura,who is usually in Buenos Aires studying obstetrics, told me that in the months before her mother’s death, “there were more threats against her. I used to stay in the house where she lived and was killed, and she wouldn’t let me stay there overnight,” Laura said. “She told me about the threatening text messages she was getting from the Desa company. There were 33 threats recorded since 2013.”

Caceres was the highest-profile opponent of Desa’s proposed Agua Zarca, a hydro-electric project in the western La Paz department. Originally backed by the World Bank, the hydro-electric facility was intended to be built on Indigenous land. The company had signed a deal with a USAID partner in December 2015. Both the World Bank and the engineering company hired to build the damn, Sinohydro Group, eventually withdrew from the project.

Under President Trump, Honduras is set to continue its position as a key transit point for cocaine into the US, because demand remains high and Washington values a reliable autocracy in Central America. High levels of violence will likely continue, forcing locals to flee. The result may well be even deeper US involvement across the region, including new military bases and further training of Honduran forces and police complicit in drug running and murder.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist who has written for the GuardianThe New York Times and many others. He is the author of many books including his most recent, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

no comments – be the first ↪

US-funded, Cold War propaganda still echoes today

My just published article in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Finks
How the CIA Tricked The World’s Best Writers

By Joel Whitney

Published 01.10.2017
OR Books
336 Pages

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, fear gripped the United States, and it wasn’t only conservatives who wanted to publicly show that they were committed to patriotic ideals. Filmmakers might be excused if, in that context, some nationalistic, propagandistic images made their way into theaters. But long before that fateful September day, liberal Hollywood had a long relationship with the CIA, the 1990s having just seen an obvious upsurge in collaboration. Former clandestine officer Chase Brandon joined the CIA in 1996 as a liaison between Hollywood studios and production companies, with the intent of crafting a positive image of the covert department, founded in 1947, that has overthrown dozens of regimes around the world since the 1940s and caused the death of innumerable people. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders once called for the agency to be abolished.

Brandon later told the Guardian that the CIA had “always been portrayed erroneously as evil and Machiavellian. It took us a long time to support projects that portray us in the light we want to be seen in.”

After 9/11, Hollywood rushed to embrace the CIA. Joel Surnow, creator of the pro-torture TV show 24, gushed to The New Yorkerin 2007 that “people in the [Bush] Administration love the series, too. It’s a patriotic show. They should love it.” The program circulated widely among US troops in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. Blatant propaganda, the series argued repeatedly that torture produced actionable intelligence, which has long been understood to be untrue, and which was dismissed as a lie by the landmark 2014 Senate report on torture. But it was too late, because the toxic message had already seeped into the bloodstream of the American public and US forces. Torture is now viewed by many as a legitimate tool in the arsenal of the US government. It’s why President-elect Trump can claim he may accelerate its use.

The Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty had direct CIA assistance in its production and script. The central message of the movie, though, was false: that torture assisted the US in finding Osama Bin Laden. Both director Kathryn Bigelow and scriptwriter Mark Boal were given unprecedented access to CIA personnel and facilities, and they welcomed it. For the Hollywood duo, the CIA was the perfect host to strengthen their belief that the men and women of the CIA were committed to the noble pursuit of fighting terror in every corner of the globe. No matter that this “war on terror” involved many illegalities, such as extraordinary rendition, torture, black sites, and prisoner abuse. The risk of global terrorism is now far higher due to these immoral acts.

The CIA must have been pleased with the final product: Zero Dark Thirty was a huge commercial and critical success that solidified the legitimacy of the agency’s secretive work. Truth got lost on the cutting room floor.

In Finks: How the CIA Tricked The World’s Best Writers, Joel Whitney, co-founder and editor-at-large of Guernica: A Magazine of Arts and Politics, has written an essential book on a small but key part of the prehistory of this hijacking of culture: the story of how TheParis Review and other magazines from the 1950s on were funded and backed by the CIA and became a central force in pushing leading writers of the day to produce propaganda for a hungry yet unsuspecting audience. The CIA even developed a large art collection in its curious approach to cultural hegemony.

Whitney explains in his introduction that the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom, along with backing publications in Britain, India, Germany, France, and beyond, helped The Paris Review play a

“small role in the Cold War’s marshaling of culture against the Soviets […] We understand vaguely that our media are linked to our government still today, and to government’s stated foreign policy; and this understanding is enhanced by eavesdropping on The Paris Review’s bit part in this massive secret performance that drove a nation for nearly two decades, and whose hangover drives us still.”

Whitney succinctly explains how, during the Cold War, the US government was constantly worried about citizen morale and a fear that some would be attracted to the Soviet system. “Militant liberty” was the term for inserting propaganda into magazines, film scripts, and popular culture, pushing American-style values and decrying life under Communism in Central America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, as well as at home. The Pentagon and other government arms believed that it was possible for populations of these areas to ignore US violence if they read about the supposed glories of life in small town USA. Little has changed in the mindset of today’s propagandists, who still aim to deceive people through wartime lies.

The CIA-backed coup of Guatemala in 1954 was a classic case of misguided and criminal policy dressed up as a noble act. Whitney shows how any number of US publications were pushed to support it, despite vast evidence of its failure. A magazine called The New Leader encouraged US meddling in the country, claiming a Soviet plot to design land reforms unfavorable to US interests. The result was decades of instability and violence in the nation, culminating in the genocide of the 1980s by US-trained thug Efraín Ríos Montt.

Whitney’s writing burns with indignation at the fact that few cultural figures who worked with the CIA ever faced accountability for their actions. Like journalists on the White House drip-feed today, these writers’ work helped legitimize deluded US policies that had direct and devastating impacts on millions of people’s lives. By the late 1960s, with the United States’s antiwar movement surging and the Vietnam conflict increasingly unpopular, the antiwar press seriously challenged the establishment points of view. Money didn’t always buy success or moral superiority, and the CIA struggled to win the battle of ideas. But this resistance proved “disposable and ephemeral” as the CIA renewed its efforts in film and television.

Perhaps the strangest and most compelling of Whitney’s revelations are how the founding managing editor of The Paris Review, John Train, worked with the CIA-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan, during the 1980s, to finance a film on the war and against the Soviet presence. The author correctly argues that Train, in a small way, played a role in backing the very forces that eventually founded al-Qaeda.

Whitney concludes,

“From Guatemala to Afghanistan, the American record on Cold War invasion and intervention had been a long string of failures that had to be rewritten by the propagandists. These little magazines, the television crews instrumentalized for warfare, and other secret propaganda instruments played an important role in erasing — and collectively forgetting — these mistakes.”

I think Whitney is being too kind here. These were not CIA “mistakes” but in fact crimes conducted with the full backing of the state.

Finks is a fine historical book, reviewing propaganda’s long and tortuous history in the world of art. With huge contemporary relevance, Whitney recalls what many look back on as a far more innocent media age, before the internet, and yet the effects of government-backed lies were just as deadly then as now.

Whitney urges The Paris Review and other similarly tainted magazines to honestly examine the past without fear or favor. That radical accounting of history is yet to be realized. In the age of President-elect Donald Trump and fake news, truth is an increasingly valuable commodity, agreed upon and deeply contested by nearly equal numbers of people.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent journalist, Guardian contributor, and author of many books, including his latest, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe (Verso, 2015).

no comments – be the first ↪

Turkish TV network TRT interview on Australian refugee policy

Yesterday I was interviewed by Turkish satellite TV channel TRT, in Jerusalem, about Australia’s asylum policies, the recent US/Australian refugee swap deal and how Australia is now inspiring the world on draconian refugee ideas:

no comments – be the first ↪

How Israel is gradually privatising its occupation of Palestine

My investigation in US magazine The Nation (print and online) about Israel privatising its occupation of Palestinian land. It’s co-written with the great, London-based journalist Matt Kennard. This work continues my years-long research into disaster capitalism globally:

It’s 4:30 am with the moon still high in the sky, but Palestinians from across the West Bank are already disembarking from buses outside the Qalandia checkpoint near Jerusalem. They’re about to begin a day’s work on the other side of the separation wall, in Israel.

Qalandia is one of the busiest checkpoints through which Palestinians with the required work documents can travel from the occupied Palestinian territories to Israel. With unemployment around 26 percent in the West Bank (in Gaza, it’s far worse—among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations), it’s always extremely busy at this early hour, because Palestinians need work, which is more readily available in Israel, especially in construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.

Roughly 63,000 Palestinians have Israeli work permits, though it’s estimated that 120,000 Palestinians work for Israelis; 27,000 of them are employed in illegal industrial zones in the West Bank that are operated and owned by Israeli companies, and 30,000 of them work illegally in Israel because they’re unable to obtain the necessary work permits. Permits to work in Israel are routinely revoked for spurious “security” reasons, and Palestinians are rarely given a reason for rejection. Since the so-called “knife intifada” last October, Israel revoked thousands of permits, citing fears of Palestinian terrorism, and the Israeli government is currently discussing a sizable reduction in the tax breaks granted to Palestinian laborers in Israel, which would make a significant dent in their already-meager wages.

In the early hours of the morning, Palestinian men (and only a handful of women) rush to beat the long lines and frequent Israeli closures at the checkpoint entrance. Such activity seems incongruous in the predawn hours, when the stark neon lights of the checkpoint are the only illumination for these harried workers. Many smoke cigarettes as they wait in line; one man wears a T-shirt with the words “Chicken Revolution” on the back.

The warehouse-like checkpoint looks like a cattle pen on the inside: Metal bars on either side and above form a narrow chute, enclosing and herding the workers—many of whom have traveled from villages more than an hour away—toward the point where their documents will be checked by Israeli officials. They then wait on the Israeli side for transport from their employers.

For years, these checkpoints were manned by personnel from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Border Police. But starting in January 2006, gun-toting private security guards joined the soldiers and police. Today, there are 12 checkpoints in the West Bank and two on the Gaza border that use such guards. Israel is slowly privatizing its occupation.

Many of the Palestinians we speak to are unaware of the changes. As far as they’re concerned, any Israeli with a gun and a badge is licensed to humiliate them. Day laborer Imad (like most Palestinians we interviewed, he didn’t want to give his last name) is standing in line at Qalandia and smoking a cigarette. He has slicked-back hair and wears a gray T-shirt. “If they are supposed to help, they don’t,” he says of the private security guards. “They are no different from the army.”

Just after 6 am, armed figures who initially look like Israeli soldiers start turning up; they’re wearing uniforms darker than the traditional olive green of the IDF, with a badge that reads “Ezrachi.” The company Modi’in Ezrachi is the largest security contractor currently employed by the Israeli government, and its personnel were among the first private guards the government used to staff its checkpoints. They can also be seen checking public buses in Jerusalem, protecting Jewish compounds in mostly Arab East Jerusalem (with the guards accused of terrorizing Palestinians and enabling settler violence), and standing watch at the city’s Western Wall plaza. Modi’in Ezrachi has repeatedly breached Israeli labor laws by underpaying its workers, along with other violations, but this has had no effect on its ability to get government contracts. This is a trend we’ve witnessed in many other nations, including Australia, Britain, the United States, and Greece, where governments and private security firms collude to avoid responsibility. (Modi’in Ezrachi did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its activities.)

When it comes to private security, the IDF, and the police, “we can’t differentiate between them,” says Reham, a 22-year-old medical and psychology student at An-Najah University in Nablus. Reham, who hails from Jerusalem, has six more years of study before she’s qualified to become a doctor. We speak to her and her friends just outside the chaotic Qalandia terminal.

“It’s miserable,” Reham continues. “Sometimes there are many people there, and you have to wait a long time. Sometimes you have to wait for an hour.” She was unaware that the checkpoints were being gradually privatized. “I haven’t noticed it. People take it [security] as a job.”

There’s a long history of humiliation inflicted on Palestinians at checkpoints. The Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem has released countless reports over the years documenting the abuse. The Israeli women’s organization Machsom Watch has been monitoring the checkpoints since 2001 and advocating on behalf of Palestinians whose work-permit applications are unfairly rejected.

Reham explains her own experience. “It depends on the individual soldier or policeman,” she says. “Sometimes they let you go; they don’t talk to you. Generally, girls are more mean than boys—I don’t know why that is.”

The Israeli NGO Who Profits, which tracks the private-­sector companies cashing in on the illegal occupation of the West Bank, released a reportearlier this year that lifted the lid on this trend. “In recent decades,” the report stated, “many military responsibilities were handed over to private civilian companies, turning the private security industry into one of the fastest growing industries in Israel.”

PRIVATE MUSCLE IN THE LAWLESS ZONE

As the sun rises on another hot August day, its rays hit the separation wall near the Qalandia checkpoint; on it, one can see ads for apartments in Palestine. Coffee sellers do a roaring business among those waiting in line. A wall near the checkpoint features a large painting of men—“martyrs” to locals—from Qalandia village who have been killed by Israeli security forces.

On one level, it’s a mystery why Israel feels it needs more muscle at these checkpoints. Palestinians passing through already face a maze of confusion, and another level of security bureaucracy hasn’t helped. But even if more muscle is needed, why not just send more soldiers? After all, Israel has a captive security labor force in its large conscript army, which requires three years’ service for men and two for women (and reserve duty is obligatory for men until age 51 and for women until age 24).

Iyad Haddad, a 53-year-old field researcher with B’Tselem for the past 15 years, has spent his whole career investigating Israeli human-rights abuses against Palestinians. “Before, the Israeli forces were clear, with a clear uniform,” he tells us in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. “Sometimes, before the second intifada [which began in fall of 2000], they used undercover units by using civilian dress. But in that period, I don’t remember that they used private groups. But after the second intifada, I started to notice that there is a different type of tactic: using private Israeli forces and companies at checkpoints, guarding the barrier, doing security on the barrier and in the jails. Also guarding the settlements.”

This move was part of a global trend, from Iraq to Colombia, in which private security and military companies increasingly began to assume state functions. Most companies started with more mundane operations but ended up carrying out those involving violence. In their 2016 report “The Invisible Force,” which compared private security in Colombia, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, the International Institute for Nonviolent Action found: “Outsourcing began with the delegation of non-military services such as catering, transportation and other logistic services, then continued with the construction of military systems, including the separation Wall, and finally included the delegation of some of its functions of maintenance of public order and security in the [occupied Palestinian territories].”

It has become more confusing for Haddad to figure out who has committed violations, as many Palestinians aren’t aware that they’re dealing with private security forces. “Sometimes, Palestinians describe to me forces that I can’t recognize,” he says. He believes this is one of the main reasons Israel has turned to these companies. “They use them to escape accountability, especially because the people can’t recognize them, and it becomes easier for them to use force when they want [to do so] without accountability. Instructions regarding Israeli or international law are easier to escape via private forces.”

Haddad’s hunch seems to be correct. At the Qalandia checkpoint this past April, two Palestinians—Maram Saleh Abu Ismail, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Saleh Taha, 16—were shot dead by Modi’in Ezrachi guards. It was one of the first high-profile killings carried out by private security guards at a West Bank checkpoint. The siblings, who witnesses said didn’t seem to understand instructions in Hebrew, were branded “terrorists” by the Israeli police because one of them, Ismail, allegedly threw a knife at officers. Not long afterward, the justice ministry announced that it was dropping an investigation into the killings without charging anyone. The Israeli defense minister’s office, the IDF, and Modi’in Ezrachi all ignored our questions about the incident.

In theory, these private security guards could be prosecuted in Israeli courts since they’re not protected under Israeli law in the same way as police and soldiers. However, an Israeli court placed a gag order on the case (partially lifted in October), making it impossible to see footage of the shootings and prove the security guards were at fault. The family of the victims were given no recourse to justice. In this way, privatized occupation enforcement serves the interests of the Israeli state.

In its 2014 report “The Lawless Zone,” the Israeli nonprofit Yesh Din wrote that private security forces “are equipped with IDF weapons, undergo military training, and are empowered to undertake policing actions, such as searches and detentions, and to use force.”

At the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, which is surrounded by Israel’s separation wall, we witnessed Ezrachi guards checking the documents of bus and car passengers, taking on many of the roles that used to be done solely by state security forces or police. When we approached the guards, they scowled at us and told us to leave. Black smoke from burning rubbish, collecting near the separation wall, wafted through the air.

When we contacted the Israeli Ministry of Defense for comment about its matrix of control across the West Bank, we were told that “some of the crossings receive assistance from companies specializing in security and protection.” The ministry advised us to speak to the IDF for further details, because “the crossing points around Jerusalem” are its responsibility. But the IDF told us, “The Ministry of Defense is the appropriate body to speak with on this subject.” It was a Kafkaesque dead end that gave us a small window into the impossibility facing Palestinians who seek justice for loved ones killed or injured by private security contractors.

THE ETHOS OF PRIVATIZATION

From its founding in 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel was supported by much of the global left, which saw it as a socialist nation committed to social justice and equality. True, this was always a convenient myth that ignored the endemic and state-sponsored discrimination against the Arab minority (in fact, Israel’s Palestinian citizens lived under direct military rule from the end of the 1948 war until 1966). Until the mid-1970s, Israel had one of the smallest wealth gaps in the West (for Jews), with the welfare state providing decent support for its Jewish population. But by the mid-1990s, the gap between rich and poor had skyrocketed. Israeli academic Daniel Gutwein, who teaches at the University of Haifa, writesthat “Israel’s ethos of social solidarity has been replaced by an ethos of privatization.”

Of course, after Israel seized control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the state never considered granting universal welfare coverage to Palestinians in the newly conquered territories. Palestinians under occupation were subject to military rule, a policy that continues to this day.

From the late 1970s, right-wing governments in Israel, led by the Likud Party, argued that dismantling the welfare state was the best way to liberalize the economy. Simha Erlich, Israel’s finance minister from 1977 until 1979, boasted that hardline economist and privatization zealot Milton Friedman was his economic adviser.

Shir Hever, author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation (2010) and a graduate student at the Free University of Berlin who specializes in security privatization, says: “In 1985, as the World Bank and the IMF imposed ‘structural adjustment plans’ on developing countries struggling with debt, the Israeli government voluntarily adopted such a plan. The Israeli ‘Stabilization Plan’ of 1985 was a transformative moment in the country’s economy, marking the shift from a social-­democratic, planned market into a neoliberal one.”

Hever continues: “Actual privatization of large government-­owned companies started in the 1990s, and privatization in the defense sector followed later, first with the sale of factories out of government-owned arms companies, and later with massive outsourcing of security operations to private companies during the second intifada.” Israel was following the model set by Ronald Reagan’s America and Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Indeed, the US military industry encouraged the Israelis to privatize their weapons industry.

Hever argues that privatization in Israel was driven by the same factors leading the charge internationally: “Private-­sector investors used neoliberal ideology to claim that the government was inefficient in running businesses and were able to buy Israel’s telecommunications giant, its largest airline, its giant shipping company, oil refineries, and all but one of its banks at fire-sale prices.”

Health, labor, and education were targeted, and it wasn’t long before Israel’s middle class began to suffer from the brutal discipline of market forces. A calamitous drop in union representation and reduced regulations corresponded with falling living conditions. By the 2000s, membership in the Histadrut labor organization had dropped by two-thirds, from a figure of 2 million in the early 1990s. (Over the past decade, however, Israel has a seen a steady increase in union membership, as the country’s population struggles to survive financially.)

Today, the results of outsourcing are clear. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to selling off billions of dollars in state assets, a policy he’s proudly championed for years and one he started during his first term in office in the late 1990s. But the Israeli public is paying a high price. Israel now has the highest poverty level among the nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to UNICEF, in 2016 Israel showed the highest level of inequality among children in the world’s 41 most developed states, with one-third living below the poverty line. In 2015, Israel’s National Insurance Institute estimated that there were 1.7 million poor people in the country, out of a population of about 8 million. The pay gap has also widened, and increases in the cost of living and high rents led to massive protests in 2011.

But not everybody is suffering. The country’s military establishment is both privatizing the weapons sector and selling this technology abroad. Israeli writer and activist Jeff Halper argues in his book War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and the Global Pacification (2015) that the occupation isn’t a burden for Israel but a “resource,” because it gives the Jewish state the opportunity to test weapons and surveillance in the field on Palestinians, along with assisting other states in their military and intelligence needs. Growing numbers of European and US officials have been visiting Israel in recent years to learn about its security and defense systems.

Take the Israeli company Magal Security Systems, which surrounded Gaza with fencing, assisted construction of the barrier along the Egyptian and Jordanian frontiers in recent years, and is bidding to build a wall on the Kenya-Somalia border to protect Kenyans from Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks. The company’s head, Saar Koursh, recently told Bloomberg that “the border business was down, but then came ISIS and the Syrian conflict. The world is changing, and borders are coming back big-time.”

This is just one way that Israel’s vast expertise in occupation, from militarizing borders to surveilling unwanted populations, has become a huge financial boon for one sector of the Israeli economy. It isn’t helping most of the population—poverty is rife, after all—and according to economist Hever, it’s not enough to insulate Israel from potential economic headwinds from the growing BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. “BDS is not about the size of exports but awareness of international law,” he says. “Recently, BDS activists have made some advances in regards to the arms industry itself, starting a debate in the EU about the funneling of research funds into Israel’s arms industry and convincing key Brazilian politicians to reconsider arm deals with Israeli weapons companies.” Indeed, Hever questions the viability of Israel’s defense industry. “The arms sector in Israel is larger compared to the size of the economy than in any other country in the world,” he tells us, “but its relative share of the Israeli export market is declining.” In 2015, Israeli military exports were relatively flat, at $5.7 billion.

OCCUPATION INC.

Private companies have been invest­­ing for years in the settlement project. But that involvement, as well as the amounts of money being made, have increased dramatically in the past decade. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report, “Occupation Inc.,” that detailed how “Israeli and international businesses have helped to build, finance, service, and market settlement communities.” It added, “In many cases, businesses are ‘settlers’ themselves.”

For Israelis, the West Bank has become a kind of special economic zone, where settlements often provide more profitable business conditions—low rents, favorable tax rates, government subsidies, and access to cheap Palestinian labor—than in Israel proper. It’s a draw for Israeli companies, but also for the international market, and a lot of money is being made. Foreign direct investment in the West Bank and Gaza spiked from $9.5 million in 2002 to $300 million in 2009, before plateauing back to $120 million in 2015. The American computing behemoth Hewlett-Packard, for example, developed the biometric ID cards used by Israeli security forces at West Bank checkpoints.

HRW reports that there are 20 Israeli-administered industrial zones in the West Bank, covering about 1,365 hectares, with Israeli settlers overseeing the cultivation of 9,300 hectares of agricultural land. The researchers conclude that “by virtue of doing business in or with settlements or settlement businesses, [foreign] companies contribute to…violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.” This knowledge is beginning to have an effect.

This is one of the contradictions of privatization. While Israeli state transgressions of international law are generally ignored by its biggest benefactor, the United States (President Obama just gave Israel its largest-ever military-aid package), the BDS movement has claimed some key victories in terms of pressuring the private sector over affiliations with human-rights abuses in Palestine. For example, the French infrastructure firm Veolia announced in April 2015 that it was leaving Israel, while the British mobile-phone company Orange said just a few months later that it would terminate contracts with its Israeli partner.

This poses the question of whether the privatization of the occupation is making Israel more susceptible to international opprobrium, including boycotts. The security company G4S, the biggest private-sector security employer in the world, announced in 2014 that it was leaving Israel within three years and terminating its contracts with the Israeli prison system. (BDS claimed a victory, but when contacted by The Nation, G4S said that while it still planned for a full pullout by June 2017, “the decision to not renew the contracts was taken for commercial reasons.”) That system now holds 6,295 Palestinians as prisoners and security detainees (including, at the end of 2015, 116 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 15). In 2009, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that plans for fully private prisons were unconstitutional. But many of the systems and products used in prison—from cameras to doors to alarm systems—are made or managed by private corporations.

With the Middle East aflame, and Israel selling itself as an island of stability amid a region in conflict, there are few compelling reasons why the Jewish state won’t continue to market itself as a model in how to manage unwanted populations, with private companies the beneficiaries of this policy. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the colonization is increasing. Without massive inter­national pressure, it’s impossible to see how the outsourced occupation won’t become a permanent nightmare.

Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based independent journalist, is the author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

Matt Kennard is deputy director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London and the author of Irregular Army and The Racket.

3 comments ↪

Why we should listen to Guinea-Bissau

I visited Guinea-Bissau in 2015 to investigate its role as a key drug smuggling hub. 

My following essay appears in the African Arguments website:

Despite being as poorly governed as Zimbabwe and Angola, and having some of the lowest social development indicators on the continent, Guinea-Bissau is one of Africa’s forgotten states. With a population of under two million people and life expectancy of just over 50 years, the tropical West African nation barely makes international headlines, seemingly destined to remain a nation with little to export except for cashews.

However, if the former Portuguese colony is known for one thing, it’s for being a central hub in the smuggling of cocaine from South America to Europe. The nation has been labelled a “narco-state” by the United Nations, with its state institutions – both government and military – known to consistently enable South American drug cartels to sell drugs across its borders.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has even claimed that Guinea-Bissau is the world’s only example of a narco-state, with one official commenting: “In Afghanistan and Colombia, individual provinces are in the hands of drug lords. Here, it’s the entire state.”

Also unlike Colombia, where chaos has helped drug cartels, it is the relative calm in Guinea-Bissau that has benefited the industry though political dysfunction is ubiquitous. Since independence in 1974, an elected leader is still yet to complete a full term, and it has now been a year since there has been a workable government in place. In 2009, President João Bernardo Vieira and an army chief-of-staff were assassinated, and since then a litany of military insurrections have cursed the nation with five separate individuals holding the top job at different times.

Guinea-Bissau’s financial state is also dire. In the words of Finance Minister Henrique Horta this June, “The economic situation of the country is catastrophic”. This has contributed to a situation in which the woefully under-paid army has often been a key conduit for smugglers, while much of the cocaine snorted in Europe will have passed through the hands of poor fishermen in Guinea-Bissau looking to make a few dollars a day.

Guinea-Bissau has few viable industries and despite the natural beauty of the Bissagos Islands, for example, tourism is minimal. Instead, drug traffickers utilise the remoteness of the islands to store and transport cocaine. On Bubaque, the main inhabited island, there are no paved roads but runways used by drug smugglers to bring in their product. In recent years, there has been a slowdown in business due to stronger policing, but previously, local men got a regular income from unloading cocaine from boats and small planes from South America.

In the hopes of encouraging economic development, the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have routinely given aid or loans. But this has instead facilitated corruption and led to a situation in which Guinea-Bissau is dependent on foreign aid for 80% of its annual budget. Even so, the IMF announced this September that it was considering giving yet more funds to a country with no functioning government.

Economically-speaking, China does seem to be looking to increase its engagement, and other countries are offering tentative support, but at it stands, the investment required to build up other industries such as tourism are simply unforthcoming.

Meanwhile, attempts to stop the nation being a drug transit point through more enforcement or legal have had mixed results. Through its Drug Enforcement Administration, for example, the US has invested huge resources. In 2014, this led to Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, former head of Guinea-Bissau’s navy, pleading guilty in an American court to importing narcotics into the US. But this high-profile case had little pay-off. Na Tchuto was sentenced to only four years in prison in October this year. With time already served, he was released back to Guinea-Bissau.

A Herculean task

With so much ignorance surrounding the country, the new book Guinea-Bissau: Micro-state to Narco-State arrives at the perfect time. Edited by two academics from King’s College London – Patrick Chabal (who died in 2014) and Toby Green – the chapters examine the country’s history, politics and foreign relations. From agriculture and migration (many of its citizens flee across Africa and into Europe looking for employment opportunities) to the legacy of colonialism, Guinea-Bissau aims to highlight the rich history of one of Africa’s poorest countries.

This involves covering many difficulties facing the country, but as Green argues in his introduction, hope is not lost: “Unlike some of [its] neighbours such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Casamance region of Senegal, the country has not slipped into a prolonged civil war or rebellion”, he writes.

“Day-to-day life in the country remains peaceful, in contrast to the stereotyped image, and people frequently cooperate and marry across projected ‘ethnic divides’…The people have retained some autonomy and strength even through the worst passages of the political melt-down.”

Nevertheless, as the volume’s contributors explain by examining both historical and contemporary dynamics, Guinea-Bissau’s recent story is largely one of hopes dashed after independence and low expectations today.

Central to turning this around, of course, will be tackling the drug cartels, which are deeply embedded in the country’s political system. As Gambian historian Hassoum Ceesay explains: “While the narco-traffickers did not seize power, they were indeed extremely close to the centre of power; and while drugs did not run the country, traffickers took advantage of the state’s inherent weakness and exacerbated it by their presence.”

According to Ceesay, the only way to take the nation out of this morass is to reform the military, noting that without this, “it will be a Herculean task to set the country on the path of stability and growth.”

In her home on the outskirts of the capital Bissau, Dr Carmelita Pires, the former Minister of Justice, echoed this sentiment when we met in late-2015. “Until we have the capacity to organise, to establish authority, we will have drug smugglers coming to my country,” she said. “We need a consciousness uprising, to work hard.” I heard this message from people across the state, though few believed the current crop of political leaders were up to the task.

As long as global demand for drugs remains high, the illegal trade around it is all but guaranteed. And in Guinea-Bissau, weak justice systems, harsh prisons and corrupt policing can exacerbate the problem or create new ones rather than addressing the issue. Furthermore, given the flexibility of drug cartels, even if Guinea-Bissau, Guinea or Liberia were to become less favourable, other routes would grow in prominence, whether in West Africa or elsewhere.

More enlightened ideas such as decriminalising drugs in an attempt to reduce criminality and violence – as was done successfully in Portugal – currently have few supporters in Guinea-Bissau. But it may grow in popularity especially as many nations in Latin America also increasingly recognising the futility of trying to stop the drug trade through law enforcement.

As Green concludes, as long as Guinea-Bissau lacks economic and political stability, it “will continue to be seen as an ‘external threat’”. This means that ignoring the country and leaving it misunderstood should not be an option. In that sense, Guinea-Bissau: Micro-state to Narco-State marks a small but invaluable step in the right direction.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, Guardian contributor and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe (Verso, 2015).

no comments – be the first ↪