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.

When Arab and Muslim states get intimate with Israel

Why are growing numbers of Arab and Muslim states getting cosy with Israel? I was interviewed about this for global broadcaster TRT World:

Israel’s new policies indicate that it’s trying to isolate the Palestinians by gaining favour with nations traditionally opposed to its policies. But Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based independent journalist, author and filmmaker, argues that “Arab leaders have for decades discarded the Palestinian cause for closer ties with Washington. The effect has been rhetorical backing for Palestinians but little tangible pressure on Israel or the US to effect change. Many Palestinians know that they’re supported by the Arab people but not their despotic leaders.”

Loewenstein adds that “the growing numbers of Arab states that are now embracing Israel is because they fear Iran, want Israeli surveillance and defence equipment and hope to get some financial crumbs from the Trump administration.”

Loewenstein explains that “Israel will continue to forge closer ties with Arab and Muslim dictatorships because they believe that this is the way to gain regional acceptance, but it’s a false dawn. In every opinion poll across the Arab and Muslim worlds, Israel is viewed as brutally occupying Palestinian territory, and Arab leaders would be foolish to ignore this sentiment.”

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A day in the life of the occupied Jordan Valley

My investigation in global broadcaster TRT World:

The Palestinian shepherds in the Auja region of the Jordan Valley were scared. Living under Israeli occupation and harassed daily by both the Israeli army and Jewish settlers, they wanted to herd their sheep across the green, rolling hills.

On the day I recently visited, the Palestinians were alone and exposed to the unpredictable whims of young Jewish soldiers.

Situated next to the illegal Israeli outpost Einot Kedem, Palestinian shepherd Ahmed wore a black balaclava to keep him warm on a cold, winter morning. As soon as he appeared with his sheep near the outpost, four armed female soldiers drove up in their green jeep to tell him that he was in a “closed military zone”, a policy that’s routinely used to keep Palestinians and Israeli activists away from land illegally taken by the military or settlers. Ahmed was told by the army to move quickly to find a different path.

Israeli activist Guy Hirschfeld, one of the most prominent dissidents operating in the West Bank to defend Palestinians against Israeli aggression, swung into action. He drove his four-wheel drive towards the soldiers and verbally confronted them.

Initially, the soldiers were relatively friendly, posing for a photo and knowing it would be posted on Facebook, but the mood quickly soured.

Hirschfeld demanded to see the closed military zone order in black and white, so the women sped away back to their base and returned shortly after with the document.

Hirschfeld was told that he wasn’t allowed to be in the area and had to move or face likely arrest by the Israeli police. He insisted to the soldiers that they were doing the bidding of the nearby settlers, “terrorists” he called them, who remained invisible throughout the entire day, and since the outpost was illegal under Israeli and international law, they were obliged to allow the shepherds free passage.

Instead, over the coming hours, the soldiers drove perilously close to the sheep, nearly physically hitting them, some of whom were pregnant. Hirschfeld attempted to stop them by filming their actions, driving his car close to theirs and speaking to the Palestinians about the best ways to avoid arrest. He told me that the soldiers were operating outside the closed military zone and their actions towards the shepherds were violating the law.

Direct action is what Hirschfeld undertakes every day in the Jordan Valley. Working with the Israeli anti-occupation group Ta’ayush and others, he’s one of very few Israelis who have dedicated their lives to opposing the occupation with their bodies.

He’s been arrested at least 70 times, and his Facebook posts have brought him a large following within Israel, the settler movement and Palestine. Hirschfeld is undeniably provocative, accusing the soldiers of illegality and trying to make them feel guilty for what they’re doing in the name of the state and supposed security.

Such troubling interactions in the field were a daily dance between activists, Palestinians, settlers and soldiers, everybody knew their role and who had the power, but it existed in a legal black hole where Palestinians were systemically kicked off their lands by policies decided by the Jewish, Israeli elites.

Settler Masters

Many Palestinians have no political power or influence on the Israeli election process and can’t vote in the upcoming Israeli election in April, and yet millions of Palestinians are rendered invisible and a threat in the Israeli media and political sphere. Few Palestinians think that the election will change anything in their lives.

The landscape in the Jordan Valley is spectacular at this time of year with flowers bursting through the soil and small rocks dotting the ground. There are barely any trees or natural cover from the elements, so the Palestinians, settlers, soldiers and activists are all living under the vast, open sky.

According to a 2011 poll, most Israelis didn’t know that the Jewish state was occupying the Jordan Valley. With few settlers and sparsely populated, the Israeli government aims to increase the number of Israeli colonists from around 6,000 to 10,000 people; this has allowed some of the more ideological and extreme Jewish settlers to operate with impunity.

An estimated 622,670 Jewish settlers are living illegally across the entire West Bank.

On the day I visited the Jordan Valley, Hirschfeld told me that the Israeli army was more brutal than he usually saw, perhaps the result of four female soldiers wanting to show that they could be as tough as the men, if not more so.

During one verbal altercation between Hirschfeld and a female soldier, who said that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, she argued that it was “leftists like you [Hirschfeld] who are the problem and causing terrorism.”

Later in the afternoon, the Israeli soldiers arrested another shepherd, Mohammed, and I saw him being held with his hands and eyes bound. He was on his knees while two, armed female soldiers watched over him. Mohammed was transferred to the nearby army base, an image of Batman was painted on the outside wall, but he was only held for a short amount of time.

Hirschfeld told me that this was because he had streamed the scene on Facebook Live of Mohammed kneeling on the ground and commanders in the Israeli army followed his feed, saw it was an illegal arrest and demanded he was released.

Although young soldiers in the field often operate with haste and blind hatred towards Palestinians, Hirschfeld said that others higher up the military hierarchy were sensitive about the army’s image in the media. His Facebook Live footage proved that the arrest of Mohammed was illegal, he was not inside a closed military zone, so the commander moved quickly to rectify the problem. Despite this, Mohammed could be arrested the following day again.

As Hirschfeld was about to head back to Jerusalem, his car was suddenly stopped on the road by at least eight Israeli soldiers and police. There was a long discussion about whether he should be arrested with the female soldiers trying to convince the policeman to do so. That day, at least, he was eventually free to go home.

Writing about this area in the Jordan Valley in 2017, Israeli journalist Amira Hass explained that, “anything goes when the IDF is obeying its settler masters and is fulfilling the sacred mission of expelling Palestinian shepherds from their pastureland.”

***

The Israeli election is in full swing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently forming a coalition with the most extreme fascists on the political map. His desperate need to join with the Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party is a worrying indication that Netanyahu will do anything to hold onto power after ten years in the top job. He was just indicted on numerous corruption charges.

Jewish Power has its roots in the ideological obsessions of murdered Rabbi Meir Kahane: he believed in Jewish ethnic purity, forcibly expelling all Palestinians and living under religious, Jewish law.

Although such views aren’t shared by the majority of Israeli Jews today, the idea of kicking Palestinians off their lands is now expressed by growing numbers of mainstream politicians and the general public.

The dark echoes of Kahane resonate loudly in today’s Israel. The leading Israeli opposition coalition proudly talks about not forming a government with Arab parties.

Jewish Power is so extreme that even some of Israel’s biggest US supporters recently expressed opposition to the Netanyahu partnership. The group’s election manifesto includes supporting “total war” against “Israel’s enemies” and bringing more Jews to Israel to battle what it views as the evils of assimilation.

The most viable alternative to Netanyahu is the newly formed coalition between former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and former TV presenter Yair Lapid. The Blue and White Party has immediately attracted high poll numbers and is the first serious challenge to the Netanyahu era. The party released its proposal for ‘peace’ with the Palestinians, and it amounts to little more than demands for the occupied to capitulate to Israeli demands.

Israel’s Central Elections Committee banned one of the two Arab parties from running in the election, in a decision that may be overturned by the Supreme Court though it was supported by Netanyahu, while allowing a far-right candidate to stand. It spoke volumes about the endemic racism in the Jewish state.

Leading Israeli journalist Gideon Levy is sceptical that there’s much difference between the two political parties. He recently wrote:

“The election campaign is being waged between those who want to expel the Palestinians (Otzma Yehudit) and those who merely want to hide them behind a high wall (Lapid). Population transfer and race theories versus separation. Your choice.”

In lieu of representation, resistance will increase 

In the Israeli narrative, Palestinians are primarily framed as a nuisance that many Israelis hope would simply disappear. The Palestinians are also politically disenfranchised. With close to 6.5 million Palestinians living under occupation, only around 1.5 million, or less than one in four, has the legal right to vote in Israeli elections.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are surveilled and threatened. That’s the real scandal of this election, far more than whether Netanyahu is guilty of corruption, and yet it’s barely mentioned in the local or global media. Netanyahu’s Likud party and other right-wing parties recently pledged to settle two million Jews in the occupied West Bank.

Nadia Hijab, a co-founder of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, told TRT World that the only viable Palestinian response to this grim picture was to continue and increase resistance across the West Bank including in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Many Palestinians now openly complain of the PA’s complicity with the Israeli state.

“The most effective response in PA-controlled areas (where the PA prevents peaceful mobilisation and resistance on behalf of Israel) has been in small locales such as Nabi Salih & Khan al-Ahmar”, Hijab said, “and these should be upheld and replicated to the extent possible. The Great Marches of Return in Gaza have also spotlighted Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights internationally as has Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem around Al Aqsa.”

Hijab urged a more significant role for Diaspora Palestinians in working together with civil society actors to pressure foreign governments “to hold Israel to account as well through direct action tools like boycotts and legal action. All eyes should focus on Hebron now that the population is at the settler’s mercy after the withdrawal of foreign observers from The Temporary International Presence that has been in place since 1994.”

I asked Hijab if any of the leading Israeli candidates gave her hope for the future, but she was pessimistic.

“The Israeli political spectrum is agreed on maximum territory for Israel while squeezing Palestinians into the slivers that are left,” she responded.

“Any differences between them are largely ones of presentation, not substance.”

With the failure of the two-state solution to bring any suitable outcome that works for both Israelis and Palestinians, the challenge for Palestinians now is what should be the strategy moving forward.

The European Union is notoriously ineffective in pressuring Israel. The Trump administration is set to release its long-awaited ‘deal of the century’ after the April poll. Few details have leaked but it’s likely to include considerable concessions to the Israeli side, and the PA has already rejected it.

Trump advisor Jared Kushner recently said that his plan would finalise Israeli borders and Palestinian unity (whatever that means in practice). However, Washington has signalled its intentions by cutting all aid to the Palestinian territories. This is hurting vulnerable Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, especially women.

Hijab said that the Palestinians currently had little power to “achieve the solution they want, whether they aspire to one or two states. The answer is to stay on the land and continue to work for Palestinians rights to freedom from occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and justice for refugees and exiles until they and their allies are able to shift the power dynamic.”

No one in their corner

After decades of the failed and corrupt Palestinian leadership and belligerent Israeli governments, growing numbers of Palestinian youth aren’t sitting around and waiting to be liberated.

Many activists in occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem have little faith in the PA or Hamas, hoping that either political entity will free them from colonisation. There’s a transition from demanding a state, asking and begging the international community to grant Palestinians what international law requires, to demanding their full civil rights. This view is surging particularly among young Palestinians.

Sources in the West Bank told TRT World that the inevitable death of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, he’s currently 83-years-old and reportedly sick, could lead to increased violence due to the massive amounts of weapons in the occupied territories. Although Israel and Washington would want to install another pliable candidate, it remains unclear if the millions of Palestinians living under PA rule would accept it.

Meanwhile, the Israeli peace movement, a relatively small yet vocal community, views the upcoming Israeli election with concern.

Roy Yellin, Director of Public Outreach at human rights group B’Tselem, questioned the entire legitimacy of the poll.

“First we’d like to reject the concept of one people deciding over another by a supposedly democratic process of elections”, he told TRT World.

“Democracy is the rule of the people not the rule of the people over another people.”

Yellin didn’t believe that any new Israeli prime minister, or the continuation of Netanyahu, would change much.

“We are not in the business of predicting the future, but sadly we don’t anticipate significant changes for the better but rather more of the same after the coming elections. Over the years, all Israeli governments enacted the same policies of building settlements and taking over Palestinian lands. There’s no reason to assume the next one is going to be different.”

When asked what politics B’Tselem thinks Israeli political candidates should adopt about the 52-year-old occupation, he simply replied: “Ending it.”

Yehuda Shaul, one of the co-founders of the Israeli group, Breaking the Silence, dedicated to collecting testimonies of Israeli soldiers who serve in the occupied territories, told TRT World that his organisation was non-partisan and didn’t back any candidates in the election. The organisation wanted any Israeli leader to be dedicated to the most crucial issue in the country: stopping the occupation.

***

Back in the Jordan Valley, Israeli activist Guy Hirschfeld was rolling a cigarette. His family was like many in the country, an uncomfortable combination of competing political forces.

He had two brothers who lived in settlements, one directly affecting the Bedouin community slated for removal, Khan al-Ahmar, where Hirschfeld sometimes worked. He still dined with them regularly at their mother’s home in Jerusalem.

“We have nothing in common,” he said. “They’re fascists”. He would continue to meet while his mother was alive. After that, the situation may change.

Hirschfeld told TRT World that he saw former IDF chief Benny Gantz as similar to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was killed by a Jewish extremist in 1995 for striking a deal with the Palestinians).

Gantz wanted to “end the conflict”, he said, after saying he backed the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and that its “lessons” should be “implemented in other places.”

Hirschfeld wasn’t a fan of any candidate but said that it was vital that Netanyahu and the racist forces he’d enabled for the last decade had to be stopped or at least curtailed. He’d seen first-hand how Netanyahu’s government was little more than a state run by and for the settler movement.

Hirschfeld said that there were no more than 1000-2000 radical, extremesettlers in the entire West Bank who used weapons against Palestinians and the Israeli army (with many more supporting or indulging this tiny minority).

Hirschfeld argued that the majority of settlers didn’t want to kill Palestinians because there were still some limits of what was seen as acceptable (and legally permissible) behaviour.

Injuring Palestinian farmers, destroying their crops and even killing their animals were not uncommon acts by some settlers, but there weren’t mass killings of Palestinians by settlers (the Israeli army, on the other hand, routinely killed and injured Palestinians).

Hirschfeld imagined that any potential peace deal with the Palestinians would involve Israel removing around 100,000 Jewish settlers and keeping the more established West Bank settlements of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim. That would still leave hundreds of thousands of settlers illegally living on occupied territory. This wasn’t Hirschfeld’s ideal vision but what he thought was most politically likely in the foreseeable future.

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Pakistani TV interview on Palestine and Israeli elections

Yesterday I was interviewed by Pakistani TV network Indus News about the upcoming Israeli election and the occupation of Palestine. My segment starts at 16:23:

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The growth of Israeli and far-right global ties

In the last years (and in fact for many decades), the Israeli government has become increasingly close with the global far-right. Why? They often share “values”, dislike/hate Muslims, nations want Israeli defence equipment and the Jewish state needs international support for its never-ending occupation of Palestine.

I wrote about this extensively in 2017 and I’ve just been interviewed about it by global broadcaster TRT World:

“I think Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes friends with people who share the Israeli government’s values. Those values are deeply slickened to hatred of Islam and Muslims,” said Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist and author, who has recently penned Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.

According to Loewenstein, both Israel and far-right movements, which have been fomented by recent migration waves mostly from Muslim-majority countries, have been meeting on a common Islamophobic agenda.

“They have no problem treating Palestinians or Muslims as second-class citizens because they themselves view Muslims as second-class citizens in their own countries like Brazil, Poland, Hungary,” Loewenstein told TRT World, referring to the attitudes of anti-migrant far-right movements across the world.

The Israeli love affair with the new far-right does not only have ideological roots but also political aims. 

“Israel wants to get international recognition or legitimacy for its occupation of the Palestinian lands and these countries [where the far-right is on the rise] provide legitimacy,” Loewenstein observed.

“I believe mainstream left-wing groups in the West have either abandoned Israel or pretty much expressed a lot of contempt how Israel treats Palestinians and other minorities,” Loewenstein said, arguing that this abandonment could be one of the leading causes of the recent far-right-Israeli alliance.

“For many people around the world including myself, who is Jewish, I find it very disturbing and offensive,” Loewenstein said.

Loewenstein thinks Netanyahu feels free to pursue such a policy because his first concern is not anti-Semitism, which has recently increased in significant proportions in Europe, forcing 40 percent of Jews to think about leaving Europe, according to a recent study.

“They believe and view that all the Jews around the world should move in Israel and be in safe. No way in the world is safe for the Jews unless you live in Israel, they say,” Loewenstein said.

“But the truth is because Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands more than 50 years, in fact, Israel is in some way a very unsafe place for the Jews,” he says.

At the same time, the Israeli government stays silent against the rise of anti-Semitism and Trump-supported white nationalism in the US, he added.

According to Loewenstein, Netanyahu’s Israel believes that “anti-Semitism is not very destructive.”

At the same time, the current far-right agenda is more about Islamophobia than anti-Semitism despite both trends being on the rise, overlapping with Netanyahu’s political agenda.

Furthermore, strangely, the rise of anti-Semitism forces Jews to move to Israel, helping to implement Israel’s political agenda that the country is the only place Jews can feel safe.

But Loewenstein and others still think differently.

“Israel claims to speak for all Jews around the world. Israel claims to be the Jewish state. For me, as a Jew, Israel does not speak for me. Israel is a country that regularly assaults Palestinians and occupies for over 50 years,” he said.

“For me what Jewish values should be is believing in all people are equal,” he concluded.

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Australian aid to Palestine under attack

My investigation in Australian outlet Crikey:

Australian aid to Palestine has fallen greatly under the Coalition government, partly due to successive Liberal prime ministers believing false allegations of mismanagement and illegality by Palestinians.

The result for Palestinians living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza has been devastating and comes on top of the Trump administration cutting all aid to Palestine early this year (changes that particularly impact women).

The World Vision case

One particular case highlights the rot that’s developed in the Palestinian aid debate. Israel charged a Gaza-based, World Vision employee, Mohammed El Halabi, in 2016 with illegally diverting millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas coffers. The Australian government, having given the Christian charity $5 million for its work over years in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, immediately suspended its support. The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council was quick to believe the Israeli allegations. The Israeli judge initially told Halabi that he was almost guaranteed of being found guilty.

By the following year, however, both the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) and World Vision had found no evidence that Halabi was guilty of any crimes. Nonetheless, DFAT did not resume funding to these programs.

Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, had long wanted to nail an international NGO with direct ties to Hamas, aiming to prove that such organisations were helping support the Islamist regime. In late 2018, Israeli forces were caught in Gaza impersonating aid workers, an act that endangered all foreigners working there.

Today, Israel continues to prosecute Halabi despite his denials of wrongdoing. He has refused to take a plea deal, accuses Israel of torturing him in prison, has pled not guilty and no evidence has ever been shown publicly that supports the Israeli claims. Halabi remains incarcerated with no end in sight.

Halabi’s Jerusalem-based lawyer, Maher Hanna, told Crikey that Halabi had been pressured by Israeli officials to admit guilt a long time ago but he had refused, saying that he was innocent. Hanna recently petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court over the slow pace of the trial and urged Halabi to be transferred to house arrest in Haifa. This was refused because the Israeli prosecutor claimed that Halabi was too dangerous. Hanna said that he had never seen another case like this in Israel with such secrecy.

Another Australian aid organisation, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, was also falsely smearedby Israel supporters in 2018 for backing terrorism.

Labor and Palestine

Labor’s Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong told Crikey that if her party won government this year it would increase aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by $20 million. The US cut all funding to UNRWA in 2018, affecting millions of Palestinians under occupation.

Although Wong wouldn’t commit to supporting programs run by World Vision, she said that aid was “vital to the work of countering extremism and promoting peace in the Middle East.” The money would have “appropriate oversights to ensure the funding is being used as intended, to directly support development programs for the Palestinian people.”

The Labor party has pledged to recognise Palestine when it is next in government, though what that means in practice is not clear given both governments that nominally rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (aside from Israel that exercises control over the entire territory), are dictatorships.

During the recent anniversary of 70 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Australia, both Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten expressed support for the Jewish state. Israel is “a beacon of democracy in the Middle East”, Morrison said. No mention of the recent botched attempt by Canberra to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile in the occupied Jordan Valley, extreme Jewish settlers and their associates in the Israeli army are making life a daily nightmare for Palestinian shepherds. During a recent visit to the area, I witnessed soldiers harassing Palestinians and their sheep by driving a jeep too close to them. One Palestinian man was illegally arrested (and released soon after). Israeli activist Guy Hirschfeld told me that he saw constant collusion between the Israeli army and Zionist settlers. “Change here will have to come from outside [the country]”, Hirschfeld told me.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, Guardian and many others. 

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TRT World interview on Netanyahu, corruption and Palestinian rights

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges amidst a ferocious Israeli election campaign. My interview on global broadcaster TRT World discusses this development and the wider, arguably far more important questions, around Palestinian rights and the never-ending occupation of Palestinian lands:

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US radio interview, Progressive Radio Network, on Israel profiting from occupation

Following my recent investigation in the New York Review of Books on Israeli occupation tools going global, I was interviewed by one of the biggest progressive radio programs in the US, Gary Null’s Progressive Commentary Hour. My segment starts at 13:59.

 

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US radio interview, By Any Means Necessary, on Israel selling occupation knowledge

My interview with the US radio program, By Any Means Necessary, based on my recent investigation in the New York Review of Books on Israel exporting knowledge and equipment gained from years of occupying Palestine:

Listen to “Israeli Surveillance Tools Used in Palestine and Beyond” on Spreaker.

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US channel The Real News Network interview on Israel profiting from occupation

The New York Review of Books recently published my investigation into Israel profiting from decades of occupation. US channel The Real News Network interviews me about the story:

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The one word missing from the Israeli election: occupation

My report and analysis for global broadcaster TRT World on the upcoming Israeli election:

Jerusalem—During a recent conference organised by Women in Green, a Zionist, pro-settler group dedicated to applying Israeli sovereignty across the entire, occupied West Bank, Likud politician and Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Yoav Galant, explained what his country had to achieve.

“From the hills of Samaria, I say clearly, ‘No to a Palestinian state’,” he argued. “It’s impossible to establish more than one state west of the Jordan. This is the place of the Jewish, Zionist and democratic State of Israel.”

Other senior politicians at the event agreed including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy (and former Israeli ambassador to the United States) Michael Oren and Welfare Minister Chaim Katz.

Israel’s general election in April sets the scene for ferocious months of campaigning and yet all the major Israeli political parties agree on one thing; no end to the more than 50 years of occupying Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The ruling Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, voted in a non-binding resolution in late 2017 to apply sovereignty over the West Bank, rendering millions of Palestinians second-class citizens in perpetuity.

The resolution barely caused a ripple because it’s become an increasingly mainstream view across the Israeli, Jewish public.

Netanyahu is embroiled in countless corruption scandals, mainly revolving around the alleged receiving of favours and gifts from wealthy patrons and friends. The Times of Israel asked in late 2018: “Is Israel about to re-elect a corrupt prime minister?”

Netanyahu remains a popular leader despite the controversies and could win the April poll (if he hasn’t resigned before due to a possible indictment in February).

How to make an occupation disappear 

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Israel’s leading organisation working on refugee rights, migrant workers and human trafficking victims, tells TRT World that the most vulnerable people in Israeli society are completely ignored during the election campaign.

Although an Israeli court recently froze the imminent deportation of 312 Congolese asylum seekers back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the founders of Hotline, Public Policy Director, Sigal Rozen, says that “the media shows no interest in the issue and nor do the politicians.”

Rozen says, “we always have hope yet we are not satisfied with only hoping, so we also strive to make sure that all decision makers are aware of the reasonsthat brought the asylum seekers to Israel and their situation here.”

Many Israeli politicians are committed to removing all African refugees from the country.

To the outside world, regularly bombarded with stories about unarmed Palestinians in Gaza being shot dead by Israel or never-ending expansion of illegal, West Bank settlements, understanding the Israeli mindset can be challenging and yet certain facts are clear.

Racist incitement against Arabs and Palestinians is rife in public spaces, the press and social media. A study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2018 found that the majority of Israeli citizens agreed with the sentiment that, “most Jews are better than most non-Jews because they were born Jews”. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they were “somewhat disturbed” or “very disturbed” that half the pharmacists in Israel are Arabs.

The study was initiated after a concerning CNN poll that discovered anti-Semitic attitudes across Europe.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is virtually invisible in the Israeli media except when Arabs are reported as a security threat. There’s only one Israeli journalist based permanently in the West Bank, Amira Hass with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, and her readers are regularly exposed to the grim realities of life under occupation.

What’s mostly ignored in the international press, at least in the corporate media, is what Israel has allowed festering in Israel and the West Bank for decades; Jewish fanaticism that advocates the ethnic cleansing and murder of Palestinians. This isn’t just a few hundred Zionist settlers but a sizeable movement with strong political support. Leading Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard recently explained the phenomenon:

“We have to face reality. We are witnessing the flourishing of a Jewish Ku Klux Klan movement. Like its American counterpart, the Jewish version also drinks from the polluted springs of religious fanaticism and separatism, only replacing the Christian iconography with its Jewish equivalent. Like white racism’s modus operandi, this Jewish racism is also based on fearmongering and violence against its equivalent of Blacks — the Palestinians.”

How is this connected to the April election? It explains the social and political milieu in which the Israeli public lives on a daily basis. Settlers are routinely treated respectfully in the Israeli media instead of as illegal occupiers. It’s therefore unsurprising that no major political party has any interest or desire to end the occupation. Over decades, this perspective has found innumerable advocates to defend, ignore or support Israeli, settler actions.

Yes, there are many Israeli Jews who are appalled by the violence, but they have little or no political power. Instead, the international community has largely turned a blind eye to Israel’s descent into a proud ethnostate.

Remember that only a small minority of the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule, in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, are even allowed to vote in the upcoming poll.

Now, with Donald Trump as US President, the European Union mostly toothless when facing the Israeli state and the Arab world increasingly turning towards Israel to form an anti-Iran alliance, the Jewish state has no limits on what it can achieve in its territory.

Netanyahu has expanded the defence, and intelligence industries and the country now sells equipment and weapons to some of the most brutal regimes on the planet.

The elephant in the room

Consider the leading Israeli political candidates in the April poll. Yair Lapid is a former journalist who proudly talks about building a high wall between Israelis and Palestinians to “get them [Palestinians] out of our sight.”

Former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, wants to keep some illegal settlements in any peace agreement. Labour leader Avi Gabbay has told supporters that the “Arabs have to be afraid of us”. Pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett has spent years explaining his satisfaction in killing Palestinians.

Any Israeli politician expressing a desire for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank has no chance of electoral success (and the party popular with Arabs, the Joint List, has an uncertain future).

This leaves the forthcoming election dealing with many other issues except the one that arguably affects Israelis and Palestinians more than any other; the occupation.

The Jerusalem-based, Israeli writer and activist Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), tells TRT World that, “what people abroad associate with the big issue here, occupation and the peace process, is a non-issue to the Israeli electorate, who feel no need, urgency or pressure from any quarter to do anything. ‘Security’ remains an issue but it is boiled down to Hamas, and Iran and there is no real difference among parties – Labour leader Avi Gabbay says Netanyahu isn’t strong enough on Gaza – or public interest that would make that an electoral issue.”

The only alternative, Halper argues, is an “extra-parliamentary one, to work on establishing a single democratic state between the River and the Sea to replace the single apartheid regime we have today.”

Halper is involved in building a coalition with Palestinians and critical, Israeli Jews to establish a Palestinian-Israeli movement called The One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC).

This plan, Halper tells TRT World, would lead to a “democracy offering equal rights to everyone, in which the country becomes genuinely whole – people live wherever they want, one common citizenship and parliament, the return of the [Palestinian] refugees, individual, equal rights, collective rights protecting all the country’s groups and peoples and the building of a new, shared civil society.”

This vision is necessary, but it’s still a long way off. In the meantime, the April election will feature a cast of Israeli characters who will try to outdo each other in expressing contempt for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are mostly invisible in the Israeli election campaign coverage, their plight and future deemed unimportant by the Israeli mainstream media.

Nonetheless, Palestinian voices are speaking out, some calling for a massive civil rights movement and demand for the right of return, but the Israeli elites don’t want to hear it.

The Trump administration’s long-delayed “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians is destined to continue Washington’s role as Israel’s lawyerrather than an honest broker between the two sides.

What the Israeli election reveals most of all is what decades of occupation can achieve with global acquiesce, rendering powerless the invisible millions of Palestinians over whom you have complete control.

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Israel selling decades of occupation knowledge to any bidder

My first essay for The New York Review of Books:

Speaking recently to an audience in Tel Aviv via satellite from Moscow soon after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden alleged that Saudi Arabia had used Israeli-made spyware to track Khashoggi’s movements before his death. Snowden said that the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO Group Technologies had developed software known as Pegasus that was sold to the Saudis and allowed Khashoggi to be monitored by infecting the smartphone of one of his contacts, another Saudi critic, based in Canada.

This dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, filed a lawsuit in Israel in late 2018 alleging that the NSO Group had broken international law by selling its technology to oppressive regimes. “NSO should be held accountable in order to protect the lives of political dissidents, journalists, and human rights activists,” said his Jerusalem-based lawyer, Alaa Mahajna. The NSO Group is reportedly owned by an American company, Francisco Partners, and both Goldman Sachs and Blackstone are invested in it. The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a longtime supporter of the Saudis, has confirmed Snowden’s allegations about the Israeli company’s dealings with the Kingdom.

This is just one of the more sinister examples of a lucrative business. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel recently sold Saudi Arabia $250 million-worth of sophisticated spying equipment, and Ha’aretz also reported that the Kingdom was offered the NSO Group’s phone-hacking software shortly before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began purging opponents in 2017. Israel and Saudi Arabia both view Iran as a unique threat that justifies their cooperation. 

Besides spyware and cyber tools, Israel has developed a growing industry based around surveillance including espionage, psychological operations, and disinformation. One of these corporations, Black Cube, a private intelligence agency with links to the Israeli government (two former heads of the Mossad have sat on its international advisory board), has recently gained notoriety—most notably for spying on women who’d accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. News reports have also identified the firm’s work on behalf of Hungary’s authoritarian government, as well as an alleged “dirty ops” campaigns against Obama administration officials tied to the Iran nuclear deal, and against an anti-corruption investigator in Romania. Black Cube and other agencies like it have close ties to the Israeli state because they hire many former intelligence personnel.

Over more than half a century of occupation, Israel has mastered the arts of monitoring and surveilling millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel itself. Israel is now packaging and selling this knowledge to governments that admire the country’s ability to suppress and manage resistance. Israel’s occupation has thus gone global. The country’s defense exports reached a record $9.2 billion in 2017, 40 percent higher than in 2016 (in a global arms market that recorded its highest ever sales in 2017 at $398.2 billion). The majority of these sales were in Asia and the Pacific region. Military hardware, such as missiles and aerial defenses, was the largest sector at 31 percent, while intel, cyber, and information systems comprised 5 percent. Israel’s industry is supported by lavish domestic spending: in 2016, defense expenditure represented 5.8 percent of the country’s GDP. By comparison, in 2017, the American defense sector absorbed 3.6 percent of US GDP.   

Despite their occasional diplomatic gestures opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, many nations have become willing customers of Israeli cyber-weapons and intelligence know-how. The Mexican government has also used NSO Group tools, in at least one case, according to The New York Times, to attempt to track colleagues of an investigative reporter who was murdered; human rights lawyers and anti-corruption activists have also been targeted. Amnesty International has accused the NSO Group of attempting to spy on one of its employees. A Canadian research group, the Citizen Lab, found that infected phones have shown up in Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, the US, and elsewhere.

During the recent Gaza protests, a former chief executive of the company that built the fence surrounding parts of the Gaza Strip, Saar Korush of Magal Security Systems, told Bloomberg that Gaza was a showroom for his “smart fence” because customers liked that it was battle-tested and proven to keep Palestinians out of Israel. Magal is among the companies bidding to build President Trump’s border wall with Mexico (along with another Israeli company) and has built an international business based on its ability to stop “infiltrators,” a word commonly used in Israel for refugees. Another new weapon that was used on the Israel/Gaza fence was the “Sea of Tears,” a drone that dropped tear-gas canisters on protesters. According to the Israeli website Ynet, its maker soon received hundreds of orders for these drones. Germany is already leasing Israeli drones, while the EU agency Frontex is testing similar drones to surveil European borders in an effort to prevent the entry of migrants and refugees.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has helped to transform his country during his nearly ten years in power into a technological powerhouse that proudly promotes its tools of occupation to a global and domestic market. Speaking to fellow lawmakers in Israel in November, Netanyahu said that “power is the most important [component] of foreign policy. ‘Occupation’ is bull. There are countries that have conquered and replaced entire populations and the world keeps silent. Strength is the key, it makes all the difference in our policy toward the Arab world.” He concluded that any peace deal with the Palestinians could only come with “common interests which are based on technological strength.”

In 2017, Israel relaxed its rules for granting export licenses to a range of intelligence, surveillance, and weapons manufacturers, though it claims to consider the human rights implications when doing so. But this stretches credibility when Israel has sold weapons just in the last years to countries that commit grievous abuses such as the Philippines, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Netanyahu has become friends with Chadian dictator Idriss Déby, and next on the list may be the Bahraini regime and Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

The Israeli Defense Ministry releases barely any information about how or why its exports are granted. Ha’aretz recently discovered that espionage equipment had been sold to numerous undemocratic regimes, including Bangladesh, Angola, Bahrain, Nigeria, UAE, Vietnam, and others. In some cases, these governments and others have used the systems to target dissidents and LGBTQ citizens, and even to concoct false charges of blasphemy. In early 2019, Ha’aretz also revealed the existence of another Israeli cybersecurity firm, named Candiru, which markets hacking tools and relies heavily on recruiting military veterans from the elite signals intelligence Unit 8200.

Since the tech bubble burst in 2000, the Israeli government has pushed local companies to invest in the security and intelligence industries. The result, according to a Privacy International report in 2016, was that of the 528 companies worldwide that worked in this field, twenty-seven were based in Israel—making it the country with by far the highest per capita rate of surveillance and intelligence firms in the world. And in 2016, Ha’aretz reported, a full 20 percent of global investments in the sector were in Israeli start-ups.

That same year, human rights lawyer Eitay Mack, one of the few prominent Israelis publicly challenging Israel’s arms export policy, and Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, went to Israel’s High Court of Justice in an effort to win a suspension of NSO Group’s export license. The government demanded that the process was held in camera and the court’s ruling was not released to the public. Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut explained that “our economy, as it happens, rests not a little on that export.”

Indeed, in 2017, Israel was second only to the US in raising close to $1 billion in venture capital and private equity for cybersecurity companies. Information released last year by the New York-based data firm CB Insights showed that Israel was the second biggest signer of cybersecurity deals in the world after the US. Although the US led by a large margin, with a 69 percent of global market share, Israel’s 7 percent placed it ahead of the UK.

The occupation has thus fueled Israel’s industrial and defense policy-making through an economic boom that has benefited companies that build, operate, and manage the settlement enterprise. But for Shir Hever, author of The Privatization of Israeli Security (2017) and a world expert on the Israeli arms trade, the occupation is becoming less an asset than a liability. Many Israeli arms sellers, he told me, are “expressing their frustration that customers are not excited about Israeli products because they fail at stopping Palestinian resistance. Russia held an arms fair selling ‘battle-tested’ gear from the Syria war and has managed to increase sales to Turkey and India, both very important markets for Israeli companies. So why should arms importers consider Israeli arms special?”

Hever acknowledges that “authoritarian regimes definitely still want to learn how Israel manages and controls the Palestinians, but the more they learn, the more they realize that Israel does not actually control the Palestinians very effectively. Support for Israel from right-wing groups and politicians around the world is still strong—Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, being a particularly depressing example—but I think there is more focus on the racism, racial profiling and nationalism and less and less admiration for the ‘strongest military in the world.’” He even questions the Israeli government narrative about the success of the weapons and intelligence sector and argues that the industry is in decline because it is so dependent on short-term, ad-hoc alliances.

Apartheid South Africa and its decline are a warning from history that Israel would be unwise to ignore. At its height, South Africa was one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, behind Brazil and Israel, and this was achieved through enormous state subsidies. Despite a UN arms embargo, the South African regime spent 28 percent of the state’s budget on its defense industry in the late 1980s, according to a recent book, Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, by Hennie van Vuuren, the director of the South African nonprofit watchdog organization Open Secrets. An economy built on military know-how and expertise in techniques of internal repression might seem a source of indomitable strength, but Apartheid was finished less than five years later.

Today, growing numbers of American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel, rejecting its government’s embrace of ethno-nationalism and supporting instead a one-state solution. For the time being, Israel looks set to remain a major global player in the manufacture and sales of weapons systems and surveillance equipment and expertise—that is now one of the main ways the country defines itself internationally. But international opposition is growing, thanks largely to calls by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for a military embargo on Israel and its defense industry. Already, one of the country’s biggest defense companies, Elbit Systems, has faced boycotts over its activities around the world. Just days ago, the banking giant HSBC announced it was divesting from Elbit Systems. High-profile campaigns like this will surely begin to change the calculus about the economic and moral costs of the occupation—all the more so if Israel continues on its present political path toward the de facto annexation of Palestine.

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TRT World interview on media coverage of Israel/Palestine

During last weekend’s conference on Palestine in Istanbul, Turkey, I was an invited speaker, I was interviewed by TRT World, the global news network that reaches 260 million people in 190 countries, on Israel/Palestine:

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