Friday, December 15, 2017

Saudi air campaign targets Yemen’s food supplies

At 11.30pm, 10 nautical miles off Yemen’s western Red Sea coast, seven fishermen were near the end of the four hours it had taken to haul their nets bulging with the day’s catch into their fibreglass boat. Suddenly, away from the illumination of the vessel’s large spotlight, one of the men spotted a black silhouette coming towards them.
Moments later a helicopter began circling overhead. The fishermen were well within the 30 nautical mile boundary they had been warned not to cross by leaflets airdropped on land by the Saudi-led coalition. But, without warning, gunfire erupted from the helicopter.
Osam Mouafa grabbed his friend, Abdullah, dragging him into a corner, curling himself into a protective ball as bullets flew through the boat. Shot in both knees, with a third bullet having grazed his thigh, Osam began to feel water rising around him. “The boat became like a sieve,” he said, sitting next to the wooden stick he now needs to walk.
By the time the onslaught stopped, the captain – a father of eight – and Abdullah were dead. Another crew member, Hamdi, was deafened and paralysed down one side after being hit in the head by shrapnel. All bleeding heavily, the five survivors frantically began bailing water out of the sinking boat.

To read more, click here.

U.S. arms sold to Saudis are killing civilians in Yemen.

Faded pictures of the dead line the walls outside what once was this battered city’s grandest reception hall.
At least 140 people perished here in the Yemeni capital last fall when a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition carried out a pair of airstrikes on a funeral. Human rights groups labeled the attack a possible war crime and said the bombs used were manufactured in the United States.
The attack, one of the deadliest for civilians in the coalition’s relentless air war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, helped persuade the Obama administration in December to block the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi military until it addresses problems with its targeting.
But the hold was lifted last month, when President Trump announced a $110-billion package of proposed military sales to the kingdom, part of an effort to shore up a regional alliance against a resurgent Iran. The decision has left many among Yemen’s increasingly desperate population feeling abandoned and betrayed.
“There is nothing in this world that I hate more than Americans,” Ali Mohammed Murshed, a 32-year-old deliveryman in Sana, said as he paused to take in the reception hall’s charred and mangled frame on his way to visit a friend. Murshed used to rent a house nearby, but fled with his family to an in-law’s home after their windows were blown out in the attack.
“With all the arms they have given to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis have achieved nothing after more than two years but killing civilians and destroying infrastructure,” he complained bitterly.
The State Department says the arms package, announced during Trump’s recent visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, will help a key Middle East ally defend itself against “malign Iranian influence” and contribute to counter-terrorism operations across the region. In addition to replenishing the kingdom’s dwindling supply of precision-guided bombs, the administration is offering howitzer artillery pieces, Blackhawk helicopters and the antimissile system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.
The Saudis say they need the weaponry to defend themselves against Yemeni rebels, who they charge are being armed by Shiite Muslim Iran in a bid to increase its clout against the region’s Sunni monarchies. The rebels, known as Houthis, surged out of their northern strongholds in September 2014 and seized control of Yemen’s capital with the help of rogue elements of the armed forces loyal to the country’s deposed strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Six months later, Saudi Arabia assembled a military coalition to restore power to the internationally recognized president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who set up a parallel government in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden.
The Houthis have lobbed thousands of mortar shells and rockets into Saudi territory in response to the coalition’s campaign and claimed to have aimed a ballistic missile at Riyadh the day before Trump arrived. (The strike was not successful.)
“We don’t want people to think we are purchasing weapons to have influence,” said a high-ranking Saudi defense official who was not authorized to discuss the deal publicly. “We respect the sovereignty of countries. But if there is a threat to our borders, we need to defend ourselves.”
Although all sides in the war stand accused of abuses, United Nations officials attribute most of the heavy civilian toll to the air campaign waged by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies. The fighting has killed more than 10,000 people, destroyed vital infrastructure and pushed what was already the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Nearly a quarter of Yemen’s 27 million people are “one step away from famine,” U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council last month.
The economy is collapsing; government employees have not been paid for months; prices for food and fuel have skyrocketed; half the country’s health facilities are closed and a raging cholera epidemic is killing hundreds.
“This is not an unforeseen or coincidental result of forces beyond our control,” O’Brien said. “It is a direct consequence of actions of the parties and supporters of the conflict.”
The bustling capital, which is jammed with people displaced by fighting elsewhere, has been spared the worst of the war. But residents live in fear of the coalition jets that roar overhead, unleashing their payloads into densely packed neighborhoods and military installations on the outskirts of the city.
U.N. officials and human rights groups accuse the coalition of recklessly bombing hospitals, markets, schools and homes, in violation of international law.
Human Rights Watch says it has documented 81 potentially unlawful strikes, and of those, 23 were found to have been carried out with U.S.-made bombs. They include a March 2016 strike on a market in the northwestern village of Mastaba that killed more than 100 people and the October attack on the funeral in Sana.
Naser Ali Mohammed was among hundreds who thronged the reception hall that afternoon to offer condolences to a prominent family mourning the death of a senior rebel politician’s father.
The first bomb hit at 3:20 p.m., filling the hall with smoke and flames as parts of the ceiling started to collapse. Less than 10 minutes later, as first responders rushed to the aid of survivors, a second bomb crashed into their midst.
One of Mohammed’s uncles died in the attack, he said. Mohammed, 34, cannot escape the memory. He guards a construction site across the street from the hall’s ruins.
“I saw death before my eyes,” he said, “and until today I still wake up screaming.”
The Saudi-lead coalition acknowledged that one of its jets carried out the attack and blamed faulty intelligence. Saudi military officials say they make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and blame the Houthis, who they say have made hostages of Yemen’s population.
But the growing toll has galvanized opposition in the U.S. to Saudi arms deals.
At the end of a review prompted by the funeral attack, President Obama blocked the sale of thousands of GPS-guided “smart” bomb kits to the Saudi military. Those same weapons are among those that Trump has now green-lighted, although much of the deal still requires congressional approval.
A bipartisan effort to halt the sale, worth about $500 million, was narrowly defeated in the Senate on Tuesday. "This barbaric nation should not be getting our weapons," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who sponsored the resolution.
The U.S. has also resumed some intelligence sharing that was put on hold under Obama, officials on both sides said. Other support was never halted, including aerial refueling for the jets that drop the bombs.
Human rights activists warn that continuing to provide such help to a country accused of violating the laws of war puts the U.S. at risk of complicity in future unlawful attacks. “Under international law, you don’t need to want a weapon that you deliver to be used unlawfully to potentially be guilty of aiding and abetting,” said Kristine Beckerle, the Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The support has also generated more hostility to the U.S. in a country where American special forces are stepping up counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda’s most potent affiliate, including an ill-fated raid in January that killed two dozen civilians along with militants and a U.S. Navy SEAL commando.
The week that Trump was in Riyadh, thousands took to the streets in Sana to protest “U.S. terror in Yemen.” In mosques across the city, imams railed against the U.S.-Saudi arms deal at Friday prayers.
“This proves that America has never been the guardian of democracy and human rights, like it tries to portray itself,” said Mohammed Aiyash, the 40-year-old editor of a now-shuttered Sana newspaper.
U.S. defense officials say they do not select the coalition’s targets and have made their concerns known about the number of civilian casualties in Yemen.
“The U.S. continues to recommend that the Saudi military leadership investigate all incidents of civilian casualties allegedly caused by airstrikes and has asked that the coalition reveal the results of these investigations publicly," said Christopher Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman.
Some defense officials question the wisdom of denying the Saudis precision-guided munitions that could, if used correctly, actually help reduce such casualties.
“There’s an honest question: Do you save more civilian lives if you try to guide the Saudis, or you leave them to handle things on their own?” said Jon B. Alterman, who heads the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “All the military people I’ve spoken to come down on the side that you are going to save a lot more lives if you work with them.”
Some U.S. officials have suggested that it may be necessary to step up military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen in order to bring the Houthis and their allies to the negotiating table.
“Our goal is to push this conflict into the U.N.-brokered negotiations to ensure that it ends as soon as possible,” Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis said in Riyadh last month.
Critics counter that the U.S. is fueling an unwinnable war. But even if a settlement is reached, it is unlikely to bring an end to Yemen’s misery. Many here expect fighting to break out between the Houthis and Saleh supporters; senior figures in the south are agitating for secession, and militants loyal to Al Qaeda and Islamic State are capitalizing on the chaos to extend their reach.
“Yemen is just wickedly hard,” Alterman said. “People want obvious answers. Yemen doesn’t give you any obvious answers.”

Is this genocide?

Survivors describe Myanmar soldiers killing men, raping women and burning babies in a Rohingya village. 
NY Times Op-Ed Columnist 
SOUTHEAST BANGLADESH, NEAR THE MYANMAR BORDER — “Ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” are antiseptic and abstract terms. What they mean in the flesh is a soldier grabbing a crying baby girl named Suhaifa by the leg and flinging her into a bonfire. Or troops locking a 15-year-old girl in a hut and setting it on fire.

The children who survive are left haunted: Noor Kalima, age 10, struggles in class in a makeshift refugee camp. Her mind drifts to her memory of seeing her father and little brother shot dead, her baby sister’s and infant brother’s throats cut, the machete coming down on her own head, her hut burning around her … and it’s difficult to focus on multiplication tables.
“Sometimes I can’t concentrate on my class,” Noor explained. “I want to throw up.”
In the past I’ve referred to Myanmar’s atrocities against its Rohingya Muslim minority as “ethnic cleansing,” but increasingly there are indications that the carnage may amount to genocide. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, backed by a Myanmar-focused human rights organization called Fortify Rights, argues that there is “growing evidence of genocide,” and Yale scholars made a similar argument even before the latest spasms of violence.
Romeo Dallaire, a legendary former United Nations general, describes it as “very deliberate genocide.” The U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, told me, “It would not surprise me at all if a court in the future were to judge that acts of genocide had taken place.
You judge: Here’s what Noor and her mother, Dilbar Begum, say happened in their village, Tula Toli. First, the Myanmar Army separated the women and girls from the men and boys.
“Then they shot the men and boys,” Dilbar recalled. “I saw them kill my husband and son. I was screaming.”
I delicately tried to probe whether Noor had seen the murders of her father and brother, who was just 4 years old.
“I saw everything,” Noor said, biting her lip. In a rush of words, she added: “My father was the best man in the world. We were a good team.”
She began to cry, and soon my interpreter was wiping away tears, too. And so was I.
The Myanmar soldiers herded the women and girls into huts to be raped. Noor and Dilbar were taken into one hut, along with Noor’s 2-year-old sister, Rozia, and another brother, Muhammad Kashel, a baby still nursing.
“They took my baby and cut his throat,” Dilbar said in a trembling voice, adding that the soldiers then cut Rozia’s throat, too. Shortly afterward Noor remembers a machete blade smashing down repeatedly on her own head, her mother screaming in the background. Then she collapsed unconscious.
Dilbar said the soldiers then yanked an earring from her ear — she pointed to her torn lobe — and assaulted her beside the bodies of her children: “One soldier held me down, and another raped me.” When they were finished, she said, the soldiers chopped her on the head with the machete — she has the same angry scars on her scalp as her daughter — and left her for dead while setting fire to the hut.
The fire and smoke roused her, she said. She checked the bodies of her children and found that Noor was still breathing. Grabbing the girl, she ran into the woods. Dazed, they hiked for two days through the woods to get to the Bangladesh border.
The global and American responses have been feeble, so Myanmar is getting away with murder and rape intended to change the country’s demography. The lesson that the world’s complacency sends to other countries is that this is an ideal time to eradicate a vexing ethnic group.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has become the apologist for these mass atrocities. Daw Suu does not control the Myanmar Army, but she has defended the military operation and mocked “a huge iceberg of misinformation.” Her Facebook page scoffed at a Rohingya woman’s report of sexual assault by soldiers as “fake rape.”
Daw Suu, if you’re reading this, I hope that for a moment you’ll open your heart and listen to the story of Hasina Begum, 21, and her 1-year-old daughter, Suhaifa. (Begum is a common honorific for women.)
Myanmar soldiers held Hasina and other village women at gunpoint, she said, while the troops executed the men and boys, doused the bodies with gasoline and turned the corpses into a bonfire. Then the troops led the women and girls, five at a time, toward a hut.
“I was trying to hide my baby under my scarf, but they saw her leg,” Hasina recalled, her voice brittle, her mouth trembling. “They grabbed my baby by the leg and threw her onto the fire.”
Hasina said she collapsed on the ground, screaming. The impatient soldiers then began to club her — she showed me scars from the beating — and dragged her into a hut with her sister-in-law, Asma Begum. The soldiers stripped the women naked and raped them, she said, and finally closed the door and set the hut on fire.
As bits of the burning roof fell down on them, Hasina said, she and Asma broke a hole in the side of the hut and ran away naked. They rolled in mud to soothe their burns, and the next day they found a Rohingya house and begged for the man inside to throw out clothes so that they could cover themselves.
A three-day hike took Hasina and Asma to Bangladesh. But Hasina still suffers from the beating and from the emptiness left by the murder of Suhaifa, and she has trouble sleeping.
“When I fall asleep, I look for my baby,” she said. “I wake up screaming.”
It’s tempting to say: That’s terrible, but it’s not our problem. But Noor’s plight, like Anne Frank’s in the 1940s, should prick the global conscience, for one lesson of history is this: Crimes against humanity are an offense against all humanity and require a response from all of us.
The latest slaughter began in August after a shadowy Rohingya rebel force attacked police and army posts, killing 12 members of the security forces. Myanmar’s Army embarked on a scorched-earth counterinsurgency, and when soldiers couldn’t find rebels they unleashed their fury on civilians.
The brutality varied widely by area, and what happened in Noor’s village was worse than typical. Human Rights Watch says, based on satellite images, that some 345 villages were burned. No one knows exactly what happened to many Rohingya: I searched for people from Rohingya villages I had visited in Myanmar in 2014 and 2015 but couldn’t find them.
Doctors Without Borders calculated that at least 9,000 Rohingya, including 1,000 small children, died after the army’s attacks, which were undertaken with a savagery that left hardened war correspondents shaken. These attacks involved the systematic use of rape to terrorize the Rohingya.
One 14-year-old girl confided her deepest secret: Four soldiers had gang-raped her. She had intended to keep the secret forever, but then she became pregnant and quietly sought medical help. An aid worker helped her get an abortion, but she still hasn’t told even her parents. She shared her story with me only because she is so grateful to the aid organization and it told her that I could be trusted.
It’s impossible to know how many women and girls have been raped, but doctors in the refugee camps report a surge in pregnancies as a result of rape, and I encountered two women who suffered fistulas caused by rape.
The Rohingya who have reached Bangladesh live in vast, sprawling refugee encampments, where I interviewed them in their tents and shacks; aid organizations provide desperately needed food, water, toilets and medical care, but cannot offer hope. Bangladesh does not want the Rohingya and does not allow aid organizations to teach Bengali, the national language, or to offer an education beyond primary school.
“My drawing shows a bullet hitting my next door neighbor. First they told us to leave, then they shot my neighbor. His name was Aiyukhan. When we were running away, we saw people killed. First, they shot them, and then if they didn’t die they stabbed them and then they cut their throats.” — Ashidulla, 12 Credit Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times
An organization called BRAC runs child centers where children are given paper and pens. Their drawings are wrenching: soldiers shooting guns, friends bleeding, huts burning.
“That man being shot is Sayid Azam, my neighbor,” said Ismal, an 11-year-old orphan, explaining his drawing of a huge gun firing at a man. “I saw it. I was hiding behind a bush.”
China has proposed a plan that would result in the return of the refugees to Myanmar, presumably to live stateless in concentration camps like the ones for Rohingya that I’ve previously reported on. But most are too terrified to contemplate returning. It would be an outrage to force refugees back.
Consider Shafika Begum, a 15-year-old who may be the only survivor in her family. She said she saw soldiers shoot dead her father and four brothers; they then took her, her mother and her 11-year-old sister into a hut. The soldiers cut her sister’s throat in front of her, and she said that when she screamed the soldiers clubbed her on the head and knocked her out.
Flames and smoke brought her back to consciousness: The soldiers had locked the door of the hut and set it on fire. Her mother and sister were dead, and Shafika’s clothes were on fire, but she broke through a wall and fled.
Was she raped? “I was unconscious, so I don’t know what they did to me,” she said. But she added that someone had rearranged her clothes.
Shafika walked for four days through the jungle to get to Bangladesh. Her back, left hand and both feet are burned, and she has no money to buy burn medicine. I was concerned that interviewing her might traumatize her again, but she was determined to speak.
“I want to tell the whole world my story,” she said. “I want to tell what happens in Myanmar.”
The three people whose stories I’ve focused on — Noor, the 10-year-old; Hasina, whose baby was thrown onto the fire; and Shafika, disfigured by burns — are all from the same village, Tula Toli. All these atrocities that I’ve described unfolded on a single dot of the map — and in every direction there are other villages with tragedies of their own.
“My mother died earlier, and my father was killed by a bullet. We were running away, and I heard him killed, but I didn’t see it. My father ran back to get things, and he was shot. I heard him groaning, but I didn’t see him killed. Others told me that he had died. My two older brothers and my sister are looking after me now.” — Ismal, 11 Credit Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times
One thing I’ve learned over the decades (originally while covering China’s murder of Tiananmen democracy protesters in 1989) is that victims lie as well as perpetrators. Outrage leads to exaggerations, to elevated death tolls, to rumors becoming eyewitness accounts. But the attack on Tula Toli has been well documented by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, and it is substantiated by satellite photos showing the burned huts. In all, I spoke to seven people who said they were survivors from Tula Toli, and their stories meshed and cross-confirmed one another.
There is no easy solution to possible genocide; there never is. But accountability helps, so there should be a major push to prosecute Myanmar military officials in the International Criminal Court. Judges can resolve whether these crimes against humanity also amount to genocide.
An open letter from 58 human rights and aid groups has rightly called for targeted sanctions on Myanmar officials. The House of Representatives this month passed a resolution denouncing the ethnic cleansing, and both the Senate and the House have bipartisan legislation pending that would impose sanctions on Myanmar officials, yet it seems unlikely to become law any time soon.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has commendably described the situation as ethnic cleansing and has said that “the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities.” But I fear that’s exactly what is happening. Myanmar may have concluded that its slaughter is a success — denunciations from bleeding-heart journalists and human rights groups are an acceptable price for eliminating half of its Rohingya population.
We do know that international sanctions and pressure matter to Myanmar’s generals, because those were what led them to step back and hold elections. But so far there hasn’t been enough pressure exerted to stop the barbaric treatment of the Rohingya.“I saw people killed. If we hadn’t run, it would have happened to us.” — Sawyid Korim, 12 Credit Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times
For individuals wondering how to help, there are fine organizations working on the ground in the camps, among them BRAC, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and the Hope Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh. First-rate advocacy on behalf of the Rohingya has been led by Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
A Times colleague asked how I can report on these atrocities and not lose faith in humanity. The answer is that I see not only the evil, but also among the survivors a truly inspiring resilience and courage. I am awed by people like Dilbar, Hasina and Shafika with the physical and mental strength to escape through the mountains and then the moral strength to speak out about sexual violence meant to humiliate them into silence.
Hasina may be exhausted from nightmares about searching for her baby, but she displays a moral clarity that world leaders can emulate. “They killed my family members, and they killed my world,” she told me. “When I tell my story, I feel terrible, and afterward I go cry to myself. But we need justice, and maybe this will help.”
Brave survivors like her ensure that we will never be able to shrug and say: If only we had known. We know.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Myanmar death toll reaches 14,000 as 647,000 Rohingya flee - UPI reports

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- At least 9,000 people died in Myanmar between Aug. 25 and Sept. 24, bringing the death toll since the military crackdown began to almost 14,000 -- including 1,000 children under age 5.
The new findings by Doctors Without Borders reveal more than 647,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh as police and local militias launch "clearance operations" allegedly in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. More than 70 percent of the deaths were caused by violence and 6,700 are Rohingya deaths. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority long denied citizenship by the predominantly Buddhist national government.

"We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh. What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured," said Dr. Sidney Wong, Doctors Without Borders medical director. "The peak in deaths coincides with the launch of the latest 'clearance operations' by Myanmar security forces in the last week of August."
The organization's surveys conclude at least 71 percent of the deaths were due to violence, even among children under 5 years old. Gunshots were the leading cause in violent deaths (69 percent), followed by being burnt to death (9 percent) and beaten to death (5 percent).
Out of the children below age 5 who were killed, 59 percent were shot, 15 percent were burnt to death in their home, 7 percent were beaten to death and 2 percent died in landmine blasts, according to the survey.
"The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don't account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar," Wong said. "We heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes, while they were set alight."
The U.N. Human Rights Chief condemned attacks against the Rohingya in Myanmar on Dec. 5 and called for a criminal investigation into those involved in the violence. In November, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the violence against the Rohingya qualifies as ethnic cleansing.

Trump’s Shameful Decision on Jerusalem by Robert Fisk

I was called by an Irish radio station in Dublin to respond to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What did I think was going on inside the US President’s mind, I was asked? And I replied immediately: “I don’t have the key to the lunatic asylum.” What might once have seemed an outrageously over-the-top remark was simply accepted as a normal journalistic reaction to the leader of the world’s greatest superpower. And re-listening to the speech that Trump made in the White House, I realised I should have been far less restrained. The very text of the document is insane, preposterous, shameful.
Goodbye Palestine. Goodbye the two-state solution. Goodbye the Palestinians. For this new Israeli “capital” is not for them. Trump did not even use the word “Palestine”. He talked about “Israel and the Palestinians” – in other words, of a state and of those who do not deserve – and can no longer aspire to – a state. No wonder I received a call in Beirut last night from a Palestinian woman who had just listened to the Trump destruction of the “peace process”. “Remember Kingdom of Heaven?” she asked me, referring to Ridley Scott’s great movie of the 1187 fall of Jerusalem. “Well it’s now the Kingdom of Hell.”
It’s not the Kingdom of Hell, of course. The Palestinians have been living in a kind of hell for a 100 years, ever since the Balfour Declaration declared Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, when a single sentence – in which our beloved Theresa May takes such “pride” – became a textbook for refugeedom and the future dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs from their lands. As usual, the Arab response this week was sickening, warning of the “dangers” of Trump’s decision, which was “unjustified and irresponsible” – this piece of fluff produced by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the so-called protector of Islam’s two holiest places (the third being Jerusalem, although he didn’t quite manage to point that out) – and we can be sure that in the coming days many an “emergency committee” will be formed by Arab and Muslim institutions to deal with this “danger”. They will, as we all know, be worthless.
But it was the linguistic analysis of Noam Chomsky when I was at university – he later became a good friend – which I applied to the Trump speech. The first thing I spotted was, as I mentioned above, the absence of “Palestine”. I always put the word in quotation marks because I don’t believe it will ever exist as a state. Go and look at the Jewish colonies in the West Bank and it’s clear that Israel has no intention that it should exist in the future. But that’s no excuse for Trump. In the spirit of the Balfour Declaration – which referred to Jews but to the Arabs as “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – Trump downgrades the Arabs of Palestine to “Palestinians”.
Yet even at the start, the chicanery begins. Trump talks about “very fresh thinking” and “new approaches”. But there is nothing new about Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, since the Israelis have been banging on about this for decades. What is “new” is that – for the benefit of his party, Christian Evangelicals and those who claim to be American supporters of Israel – Trump has simply turned away from any notion of fairness in peace negotiations and run with Israel’s ball. Past presidents have issued waivers against the 1995 Jerusalem Congress Act, not because “delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace” but because that recognition should be given to the city as a capital for two peoples and two states – not one.
Then Trump tells us that his decision “is in the best interests” of the US. But he can’t explain how – by effectively taking America out of future “peace” negotiations and destroying any claim (admittedly dubious by now) that the US is an “honest broker” in these talks – this will benefit Washington. It clearly won’t – though it might help Trump’s party funding – since it further lowers American power, prestige and standing across the Middle East. Then he claims that “like every other sovereign nation”, Israel has the right to determine its own capital. Up to a point, Lord Copper. For when another people – the Arabs rather than just the Jews – also want to claim that city as a capital (or at least the east of it), then that right is suspended until a final peace comes into existence.
Israel may claim all of Jerusalem as its eternal and undivided capital – as Netanyahu also claims that Israel is the “Jewish state”, despite the fact that more than 20 per cent of the people of Israel are Muslim Arabs who live inside its borders – but America’s recognition of this claim means that Jerusalem can never be the capital of another nation. And here’s the rub. We don’t have the slightest idea of the real borders of this “capital”. Trump actually acknowledged this, in a line that went largely unreported, when he said that “we are not taking a position on … the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. In other words, he recognised the sovereignty of a country over all of Jerusalem without knowing exactly where that city’s borders lie.
In fact, we don’t have the slightest idea of just where Israel’s eastern border is. Does it lie along the old front line that divided Jerusalem? Does it lie a mile or so to the east of east Jerusalem? Or does it lie along the Jordan river? In which case, goodbye Palestine. Trump has awarded Israel the right to a whole city as its capital but hasn’t the slightest idea where the eastern border of this country is, let alone the frontier of Jerusalem.
The world was happy to accept Tel Aviv as a temporary capital – as it was to pretend that Jericho or Ramallah was the “capital” of the Palestine Authority after Arafat arrived there. But Jerusalem was not to be recognised as the Israeli capital even though Israel claimed it was. Then we have Trump stating that in this “most successful” democracy, “people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience”. I trust he won’t be telling that to the more than two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank who are not free to worship in Jerusalem without a special pass, or the population of besieged Gaza who cannot hope to reach the city. Yet Trump claims his decision is merely “a recognition of reality”. I suppose his ambassador in Tel Aviv – soon, presumably, in Jerusalem (if only, so far, in a hotel room) – believes this tosh; for it was he who claimed that Israel only occupied “2 per cent” of the West Bank.
And this new embassy, when it is eventually completed, will become “a magnificent tribute to peace”, according to Trump. Given the bunkers into which most US embassies in the Middle East have turned, it’s going to be a place with armoured gates and pre-stressed concrete walls and lots of inner bunkers for its diplomatic staff. But by then, I suppose, Trump will be gone. Or will he?
As usual, we had the Trump waffle. He wants “a great deal” for the Israelis and Palestinians, a peace agreement that is “acceptable to both sides” – even though this is not possible when he’s recognised all of Jerusalem as Israeli before the so-called “final status” talks, which the world still fondly expects to take place between “both sides”. But if Jerusalem is “one of the most sensitive issues” in these talks, if there was going to be “disagreement and dissent” about his announcement – all of which he said – then why on earth did he make the decision at all?
Only when he descended into Blair-like verbosity – that the future of the region was held back by “bloodshed, ignorance and terror” – did it really become too much to stomach any more of these lies. If people are supposed to respond to “disagreement” with “reasoned debate, not violence”, what is the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital supposed to produce? A “debate”, for heaven’s sake? Is that what to “rethink old assumptions” means?
Enough of this twaddle. What more folly can this wretched man dream up and lie about? So what was going on in his befuddled mind when he made this decision? Sure, he wants to follow up on his campaign promises. But how come he decided to honour this promise but could not bring himself to say last April that the mass murder of a million and a half Armenians in 1915 constituted an act of genocide? He was obviously frightened of upsetting the Turks, who deny the first industrial holocaust of the 20th century. Well, he’s sure upset the Turks now. I’d like to think he’d taken that into account. But forget it. The guy is crackers. And it will take many years for his country to recover from this latest act of folly.

Zionism in the Light of Jerusalem by Jim Kavanagh

Donald Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an embarrassment. A salutary embarrassment.
It’s a clumsy, all-too-obvious unmasking of decades of bipartisan U.S. policy whose contempt for Palestinians has been cloaked with a smile and a handshake.
As such, it’s an embarrassment for the Zionist political and media elite that prefers to operate behind smiles and handshakes, and not flaunt their power.
It’s an embarrassment to liberal Zionists and “peace process” promoters everywhere—in the American political parties and media, in European conservative and social democrat governments, and in Jewish Zionist organizations. For fifty years, they have laser-focused attention on the post-’67 “occupation,” and done all that they can [nothing concrete], in solidarity with the Israeli Jewish peace movement [dwindling to insignificance in an increasingly fascistic political culture], to end the occupation [ minimize its cost to the Jewish state, ‘cause “no concessions, no withdrawals, no Palestinian state” is already proclaimed Israeli policy].
It’s an embarrassment to the Arab monarchs and the Palestinian Authority functionaries, who for decades have collaborated in the task of subduing Palestinian rage as Israel went about its colonizing project, holding out the promise that the good American Daddy and his kinder, gentler Israeli Jewish progeny would one day reward the Palestinians for their good behavior.
It’s an embarrassment to those liberals who want to portray Donald Trump as a uniquely evil interloper imposed on American politics by a foreign power, rather than understand him as the product of an American political culture that they helped to create while obtusely refusing to recognize what they were doing.
The only parties who are not embarrassed are the “hard”—that is, intellectually honest and consistent—Zionists in Israel and the United States (many liberal Democrats included) and Donald Trump himself, who is immune to embarrassment.
All this embarrassment provides a fine example of the positive repercussions of the “Trump-effect” that I discussed in a previous essay, which is steadily eroding the thin remaining patina of America’s “soft power” in the world, an essential support of the Euro-American imperialist alliance.
After all, Israel’s relentless Judaization of East Jerusalem, consistent with its long-held declaration of sovereignty over the entire city, was proceeding swimmingly, with only the feeblest occasional murmurs of protest, accompanied by massive countervailing deliveries of arms and money, from the peace-process-loving governments of Europe and America. Trump’s gratuitous, self-aggrandizing gesture, by unmasking that as the de facto acceptance of annexation that it is, only brings unwanted attention to the whole rotten game, and to the hypocrisy of those governments especially.
Good riddance to the pretense! As Noura Erakat says: “Trump has removed the emperor’s clothes to reveal the farce of the peace process…[He] has finally ended the United States’ double-speak and should have ended any faith that the US will deliver Palestinian independence or that Israel is interested in giving up its territorial holdings captured in war.” And Rashid Khalidi: “Trump may have inadvertently cleared the air. He may have smashed a rotten status quo of US ‘peace processing’ that has served only to entrench and legitimize Israel’s military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land for a quarter-century.”
In other words, Trump has suddenly and single-handedly destroyed American’s pose as the “honest broker” in the Middle east and the Solomonic arbiter of world affairs in general, in a way that forces the European and Palestinian political leaders to make an explicit break from what is now declared American policy. For now, of course, that break is rhetorical, but should it remain so—if European and Palestinian leaders do not work a political strategy independent of, and in opposition to, the United States—there will be no denying their capitulation and servility.
Indeed, Europe, in the person of the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, has already laid down the markers for itself: “Germany can no longer simply react to U.S. policy but must establish its own position…even after Trump leaves the White House, relations with the U.S. will never be the same.” Even after Trump leaves the White House. This is a recognition that the American regime—not just Trump, but precisely what he is the culmination of—is not a trustworthy and reliable partner for the management of global capitalist stability. This is what Trump is wreaking. And it’s a very good thing.
As excessive and gratuitous as Trump’s Jerusalem announcement was, there is no question that it is the culmination of American politics. It is the perfect example of how Trump is the symptom not the cause of long-festering political rot, the product not the antithesis of American political culture. His recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the fulfillment, exactly as Trump says, of a promise that’s been de rigueur for presidential candidates, and of the demand of a law (Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995) passed twenty-two years ago by overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress. Just six months ago, the Senate—including Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders—voted 90-0  to demand that Trump “abide by its provisions.” Schumer, who believes he’s on a mission from God to be the guardian of Israel, had last week criticized Trump for his “indecisiveness” about declaring Jerusalem the “undivided capital of Israel” and moving the embassy.
Who can forget the scene at the 2012 Democratic Convention, when an amendment to the platform declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital was adopted against the clear opposition of the majority? That was shoved down the party’s throat by Obama, who had it shoved down his throat by AIPAC. (It was language Obama had removed from the platform, which AIPAC browbeat him into restoring.) As I discussed in a post at the time, the blithely ignored floor vote was a display of Stalinist party discipline for which Obama was congratulated by an MSNBC roundtable including O’Donnell, Maddow, and Sharpton.
It was Obama, too, who (after becoming first American President to give bunker-buster bombs to Israel. He did that secretly, because he didn’t want it to be known that his really brave and progressive and highly-publicized peace-process demand that Israel stop settlement construction in exchange for such gifts, which Israel of course ignored, was another empty American bluff. And it was Obama who, in 2013, became the first American President to demand that “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state.” That was a new, gratuitous and excessive demand at the time, foisted on everyone by Netanyahu and AIPAC because they knew it would be unacceptable to the Palestinians. Obama’s adoption of that requirement, which has become locked into American policy, was no less damaging to the ostensible peace-process, with its infinitely-receding goalpost, than Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, and perhaps more contemptuous of the Palestinians. It’s the equivalent of demanding that “Native Americans must recognize that America is a White Man’s state.”
Really. Think about it.
So, whatever the problem is with declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, it’s not Trump’s. It’s America’s. It’s a problem the Democrats share responsibility for, and will not get us out of.
Past Prologue
Let’s name it clearly: It’s America’s problem with Zionism.
After the “You must accept the Jewish State” insult and the “You must accept Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish State” insult, can we dispense with the diversions? Can we recognize that the problem isn’t how many settlers are in which part of which city, or how long and where exactly the wall should be located, or the Green Line or the Blue Line, or, indeed, the “occupation”? Let’s, without any more fear or hesitation, name and critique the fundamental problem: Zionism.
Zionism is a colonialist project. Israel is a colonial-settler state. The fault lies in colonialism—you know, that thing where a group of people, who want the land somebody else is living on, take it. By subjugating, expelling, and/or exterminating the indigenous population. That’s what has to be named and opposed. Every other problem in the context is a derivative of that.
Zionism has the particular distinction of being the last major initiation of a blatant settler-colonial project. It was possible at the end of WWII (1945-8) because racism and ethno-supremacist colonialism were still integral parts of the Western worldview. The great world powers could still blithely dismiss the lives, land, and humanity of an Arab population as dispensable—secondary both to the aspirations of the largely European Jews who formed the Zionist vanguard and to the guilty consciences of European gentiles. It was compensatory colonialism, with the compensation paid by an expendable third(world) people.
In the post-WWII, post-holocaust context, Zionism had the further peculiar distinction of being able to conjure about itself an aura of virtue that effectively occluded the blatant injustice of the colonialism it is. Thanks to the consistent and intensive Zionist influence on Euro-American political, media, and cultural institutions, that aura has enshrouded Zionism for Westerners’ eyes for 69 years, long past colonialism’s sell-by date. That aura of virtue is what makes breaking up with Zionism so hard to do, for so many, to this day.
I’ve discussed more of the history and arguments about this in a previous essay. At this point, there is so much information available from so many channels, including Israeli scholars, that supporters of Israel who are intellectually-honest have a hard time denying that the Zionist conquest of Palestine was colonialist ethnic cleansing, and Israel a colonial state. Liberal Americans know very well that, if such a project were to be proposed today, they would denounce and reject it—no ifs, ands or buts. Today, any person of a modern, secular, liberal cast of mind recognizes the abolition and rejection of colonialism as one of history’s irrefutably progressive milestones, and would see any attempt at colonial conquest as an unacceptable historical crime.
Yet that is exactly what Israel is doing. Israel is exactly that attempt.
“Attempt” is an important word here. Zionists want to think all the nasty work of ethnic cleansing is in the ancent (1948) or at worst early-modern (1967 when liberal Zionists grudgingly acknowledge, colonial aggression was certainly past its sell-by date) past. They present Israel, whatever its nasty origins, as a finished historical product: a liberal democracy filled with juice bars and tech startups—which would be stable and progressive, if only the fanatical Arabs/Muslims would leave it alone.
Indeed, a favorite Zionists argument I’ve heard delivered as if it’s a killing rhetorical blow packed with irrefutable historical realism, is some version of: “So what, you’re a colonizer, too. American Indians!” Gotcha!
It baffles me that anyone thinks that’s an effective argument. Accepting the damining admission that the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs today is analogous to that between European settlers and Native Americans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century (and leaving the ethics or that aside), one might start a reply with the following:
Being historically realist and all, we have to recognize that, tragically, over those four centuries, the Native American population was so completely ravaged that it now constitutes less than 1% of the population. If Native Americans were now the majority of the population in North America under white settler control; if they were engaged in a fierce resistance struggle to prevent being expelled or exterminated; if they had the support of hundreds of millions of their neighbors, as well as of populations and governments throughout the world, as well as of an established international ideological and legal framework that forbade and denounced the colonial project the white settlers were still trying to complete (while demanding that everyone recognize America as the White Man’s State)—then you would have a relevant analogy.
Sorry, but the Zionist project, Israel, is not finished. It is quite unfinished and precarious, and Israeli leaders know it. 
Back to the Future
This is so because the Palestinians are not defeated and have not surrendered. Too few of them have been exterminated; they have not been expelled far enough away; they have not been thoroughly enough subjugated. The existence and resistance of Palestinians put the lie to the idea that Israel is a stable, finished state and that the dirty work of Zionist colonialism is in the past. As the rallying cry of many Zionists in Israel today has it, they still have to “finish ’48.”
Israel is profoundly insecure.
To read the full text, click here.

Appropriation of Jerusalem by Liaquat Ali Khan

In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a state formed by native Jews and Jewish settlers from Europe and America, President Trump and the U.S. Congress have validated the Jewish appropriation of a disputed city. This commentary explains the foul dynamics of settlements. It also illuminates the “sacred” justifications offered to legitimize settler colonialism.  In addition to Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other states, owe their origin to settler colonialism, another name for forcibly taking land from indigenous inhabitants.  The criticism of settler colonialism is highly sophisticated in academic circles, college colonialism courses, this year mystifyingly trickling down in high school debates.
An unholy alliance of Zionists, evangelical Christians, politicians fearful of the revengeful Israeli lobbies, radio and TV commentators, Neocon opinion-writers, and self-aggrandizing academics refuses to see Israel as a settler state. In fact, calling Israel a settler state is condemned as anti-Semitic, a handy label swiftly invoked to stop honest conversations about the grinding appropriation of Palestinian occupied territories.
Given the successful drive to criminalize holocaust denials across Europe, efforts are underway to find pathways to criminalize the criticisms of Israel. The prospective criminalization of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement is a shameful suppression of legitimate free speech in no other country but the United States where the First Amendment reigns as the first principle of coexistence. Muffling free speech is unlikely to suppress the fact that Israel is primarily a state of settlers who have brutally suffocated and dislocated the native population of Palestinians.
Immigrants and Settlers
Ordinarily, immigrants are distinguishable from settlers. But the distinction is not valid in Israel. Under the 1950 Law of Return, Israel invites “the child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child and grandchild of a Jew to settle in Israel.” Non-Jews or even Jews who have converted to another religion are ineligible to return and settle. Jews mostly from Europe and America and some from the Middle East and East Africa have “returned” to Israel. The prevailing racism prefers white Jews over Jews with darker pigments.
Under international law, immigration is relocating from one country to another. Individuals and families may migrate for economic and existential reasons. Every year, millions of people migrate to foreign countries for economic betterment or to avoid starvation, discrimination, tyranny, torture, and death. Refugees migrate from war-torn countries where the probability of death and starvation escalates. In the 15th century, Jews migrated from Spain to Turkey as the defeat of Moors opened the doors of persecution and death. More recently, Palestinians, Syrians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Afghans have been forced to leave their homes and seek shelter as refugees in neighboring countries.
Settlement too is relocating from one country to another.  Unlike immigrants, however, settlers dispossess native inhabitants for ideological or predatory reasons. Immigrants do not forcibly take away the land and homes that belong to the natives. Settlers do. Immigrants live in the mortal fear of deportation. Settlers do not. Immigrants may face discrimination, racism, and hostility in employment, education, and housing.  Settlers are welcome and receive affirmative state assistance and grants. The state may offer jobs, housing, and other facilities to settlers willing to live on the land that once belonged to the natives.
Unlike immigrants, the settlers develop an aggressive relationship with the natives. The purpose of settlements is to make it highly unpleasant and oppressive for the natives to continue to live side by side with the settlers. Apartheid-like conditions are built to show to the natives that they need to relocate themselves to foreign countries.  Thus, settlers not only take over the land that belongs to the natives but they also force natives, economically, socially, psychologically, and physically to leave their lands and homes. Other tactics, such as buying homes and lands from helpless natives is defended on the market theory that the real estate ought to be purchasable for a price. The art of tyranny is perfect: first, push the natives to the ground; then, offer to buy their homes.
In Israel, the state-sponsored settlements are ideological and not merely predacious. Predacious settlements may be disorganized, intermittent, and privately sponsored. Ideological settlements are highly coordinated in terms of degrading the local communities economically, morally, and socially. Stereotypes may be promoted to paint the natives as savages and terrorists. Any reactive violence by the natives may be used as a pretext to demolish their homes, issue eviction orders for entire families, arrest men, and dishonor women. The natives may be employed in menial jobs at businesses started by the settlers. In fact, the natives may have no choice but to seek employment in constructing the settlements that the natives detest in their hearts.
In Jerusalem, all distinctions between native Jews and Jewish settlers disappear for ideological purposes since most of them share the common goal of driving the Palestinians out of Jerusalem so that Israel can reclaim this historic city all for itself. Orthodox Jews who oppose the existence of Israel as an anti-Biblical entity, a fast diminishing minority, share no such platform. For Trump, the realtor, a city, any city, belongs to money merchants and any “encroachments “by the have-nots should be forcibly cleared.
Terra Irredenta
Appropriation perpetrated with moral justifications acquires a new meaning. Stealing a loaf of bread seems morally justified if the thief is starving. Land appropriation is palatable if a credible moral excuse can be crafted. Settlers know this moral trick. When settlers are highly educated, their moral justifications for the appropriation of land are crafted in more persuasive (Latin) terms. Over the centuries, settlers in various countries and continents have used moral imperatives to justify the dispossession of native populations and stealing away their lands, hills, rivers, sacred places, olive trees, playgrounds where the native children played, and the cemeteries where native elders were buried. Everything can be stolen if the moral justification is mounted at the barrel of the gun.
In the 15th century, the Catholic Church used two distinct theological edicts to support conquests and colonization. The concept of “terra irredenta” empowered Christian rulers to take away the Iberian lands from the Muslims. The concept of “terra nullius” empowered the European colonizers to take away the land from the native owners in Americas and Africa.  In both cases, Christianity, presented as the one and the only one true religion, was invoked as the ultimate justification to legitimize the appropriation of land. Heathens, pagans, and the deniers of Jesus as God could be lawfully converted, enslaved, dispossessed, and even killed if they resisted the Christian Europeans, the true owners of God’s land.
In the 20th century, the European Jews invoked a complex fusion of the two edicts to lay claim to what has been Palestine for centuries under the Ottoman Empire and before. Invoking terra nullius, the Zionists argued that “a people without a land (Jews) are claiming a land without a people.” This argument derived from terra nullius denies the existence of local populations, be they Africans, Native Americans, or Palestinians.
The terra nullius concept, however, is less powerful than terra irredenta under which the land is restored to “legitimate owners.” The Right to Return is conceived in the womb of terra irredenta rather than terra nullius. Terra irredenta creates a mighty distinction between current and original owners. It reverses the logic of ownership. The current owners are deemed illegal intruders whereas the original owners are considered the lawful owners.  In the Iberian Peninsula, the Moors were the actual but illegal owners. The Spaniards and the Portuguese were the lawful owners. Therefore, the Moors must be dispossessed and expelled and the land restored to the original owners.
Invoking a similar logic, the European Jews claimed to be the original owners of Palestine since the Palestinians were the illegal occupiers of the sacred land that belonged only to the Jews. Accordingly, Zionist morality dictates that the Palestinians, particularly if they resist the Right to Return, be expelled, detained, killed, and their homes demolished.
Soon after Trump, the realtor, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu argued that it is “absurd” to deny the “millennial connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. You can read it in a very fine book – it’s called the Bible. The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we will move towards peace.”
Much like Netanyahu, President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) declared that “The Bible is the rock on which this Republic (U.S.) rests.” The Bible-lover Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, under which 25 million acres of land was donated to white settlers. This land had belonged to Cherokees, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole nations, the “unlawful owners” forced to yield their land rights to Jesus-loving Christians.
Trump adores Andrew Jackson. Netanyahu adores Donald Trump. The Christian removal of Native Americans created reservations. The Jewish removal of Palestinians created refugee camps. The Native American Trail of Tears caused tears and death. The Palestinian Trail of Tears caused tears and massacres at Sabra and Shatila.
Invoking the Bible to appropriate land is a Judeo-Christian colonial tradition. First Christians, now Jews, are invoking the concepts of terra irredenta and terra nullius to justify the taking of land from the native owners. The appropriation of Jerusalem as a Jewish city runs counter to historical facts. It simplifies the complex history of a city that experienced the pre-Christ rule of Egyptians, Syrians, and Persians, and post-Christ rule of Arabs, Turks, and the British. Jews had not owned Jerusalem for centuries. Now, they have deadly weapons to do so. The Bible is a sacred book (different parts and versions) for Jews and Christians, even for the Palestinians, but does it justify the terra irredenta appropriation of territories and cities?

Rights group criticizes China for mass DNA collection in Occupied Xinjiang

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have collected DNA and other biometric data from the whole population of the Occupied volatile western region of Xinjiang, Human Right Watch said on Wednesday, denouncing the campaign as a gross violation of international norms.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years in violence between Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people, and ethnic majority Han Chinese, which Beijing blames on Islamist militants.
The unrest has fueled a sweeping security crackdown there, including mass rallies by armed police, tough measures that rights advocates say restrict religious and cultural expression, and widespread surveillance.
Police are responsible for collecting pictures, fingerprints, iris scans and household registration information, while health authorities should collect DNA samples and blood type information as part of a “Physicals for All” program, the New York-based group said in a statement, citing government a document.
“The mandatory databanking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program,” Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said.
According to the Xinjiang-wide plan posted online by the Aksu city government in July, main goals for the campaign include collecting the biometric data for all people between the age of 12 and 65, and verifying the region’s population for a database.
“Blood type information should be sent to the county-level police bureaus, and DNA blood cards should be sent to the county police bureaus for inspection,” the plan said.
Data for “priority individuals” should be collected regardless of age, it said, using a term the government has adopted to refer to people deemed a security risk.
Government workers must “earnestly safeguard the peoples’ legal rights”, plan said, but it made no mention of a need to inform people fully about the campaign or of any option for people to decline to take part.
Xinjiang officials could not be reached for comment.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the report by Human Rights Watch, accused the group of making “untrue” statements.
He told a regular news briefing in Beijing the general situation in the region was good.
Human Rights Watch cited an unidentified Xinjiang resident saying he feared being labelled with “political disloyalty” if he did not participate, and that he had not received any results from the health checks.
State media, reporting on the campaign checks, have said participation was voluntary.
The official Xinhua news agency in November cited health authorities as saying 18.8 million people in the region had received such physicals in 2017 for a 100 percent coverage rate.

Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Rubber Stamps 70 Years of Israeli Violations

For Arabs and Muslims worldwide, Jerusalem has become a powerful symbol representing a century of betrayal by the West

President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was irresponsible and dangerous for more reasons than I can count. Let me outline just a few of the principle concerns.
While we have all grown weary of hearing the overused mantra “this is the end of the peace process,” Trump’s decision may, in fact, be the nail in the coffin for any negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the first place, there is no peace process. It has been replaced, instead, by a breath-holding exercise with Israelis and Palestinians waiting for Trump aides to cook up “the deal of the century.” It is presumed that when “the deal” is presented negotiations will begin.
The unilateral American recognition of Jerusalem not only prejudges one of the conflicts most sensitive issues, it does so in Israel’s favor. From the beginning of the modern “peace process,” there have been two fatal flaws that have hampered the effort: the asymmetry of power in Israel’s favor and the clear U.S. bias in support of Israel.
Trump’s action has accented both flaws. It has emboldened and rewarded the most hardline and intransigent elements in Israel while weakening and compromising those Palestinian and Arab leaders who have put their trust in the US role. The decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and to begin the process of relocating the US embassy makes it clear that the US is not an “honest broker.” In this context, the president’s appeal to the parties to continue to focus on achieving peace simply doesn’t pass the smell test.
It must be recalled that when the Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, its Republican authors, working with Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, viewed it as a poison pill that would sabotage the then still barely operational Oslo Peace Process. The legislation was a GOP-Likud slap in the face of both Rabin and Clinton. The reason why US presidents, Clinton, Bush, and Obama have used the act’s waiver provision to defer its implementation was precisely to avoid this poison pill and to preserve some US peacemaking credibility. The pill has now been taken and swallowed.
What the authors of the act and anti-peace forces in Israel and the US knew was that Jerusalem is not to be toyed with. It is not just any city. It is central to the narratives of all three Abrahamic faiths. For this reason, the architects of the UN partition plan, set it aside as an international zone. It was for this reason that when Israel occupied the western side of the city in 1948 and later declared Jerusalem as their capital, that unilateral decision was never recognized by the international community.
Israel compounded their defiance in 1967 when, after occupying the rest of Palestine, they annexed a substantial area of Palestinian land (including over two dozen Palestinian villages) and declared the entirety of West and East Jerusalem as “Greater Jerusalem,” insisting that it was their “eternal undivided capital.” This flagrant violation of international law was unanimously condemned by the United Nations.
Seen in this context, Trump’s action puts the US stamp of approval on Israel’s 70 year record of violations of law and UN Resolutions.
For Arabs and Muslims worldwide, Jerusalem has become a powerful symbol representing a century of betrayal by the West. Like the issue of Palestine itself, mention of Jerusalem evokes broken promises, brutal occupation by imperial and colonial powers, loss of control of history, and denial of fundamental rights. I often remind American audiences that Jerusalem is to Arabs and Muslims what the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee was to Native Americans. It may not have been their tribe that was involved in the infamous brutality inflicted on those who were killed at Wounded Knee – but what happened there spoke to all of them, reminding them of their collective history dispossession and continuing hurt.
Jerusalem is the wound in the heart of Arabs and Muslims that never healed. With his callous decision to absolve Israel of its crimes and recognize their control of the city, by conquest, Trump rubbed salt into this wound.
It was, therefore, absurdly insensitive and galling for the US president to couple his provocation with an appeal to Palestinians to remain calm and peaceful. He was in effect saying, “I don’t care what you have suffered, nor do I care how unjust and illegal Israeli actions have been, just sit back and take it.”
I would add that while, with his decision, Trump was playing to his right wing evangelical Christian supporters, he ignored the feelings of the Christian community in Palestine. In a statement issued the day before the president’s announcement, the patriarchs and bishops of the eastern Christian churches headquartered in Jerusalem pleaded with him not to recognize Israel’s exclusive claim to the city.
Finally, there is the reality of daily life for Palestinians in and around Jerusalem. Having closed East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, Israel has accelerated its policy of strangling the life out of Arabs in Jerusalem. Denied employment, victimized by home demolitions and land theft, and subject to host of discriminatory policies that violate fundamental human rights, the endurance of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arab population is tested daily. Trump’s silence on these matters while offering a hollow “God Bless the Palestinian people” at the end of his remarks was more like “ashes in the mouth” than an expression of real concern. It aggravated, more than it comforted.
While Americans remember December 7, the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as “a day of infamy,” Arabs and Palestinians may well feel the same about December 6 – the date Donald Trump delivered a fatal and fateful blow to peace and justice in the Holy Land.
James Zogby is the director of the Arab American Institute. Originally published in Lobelog. Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy In Focus.

UN Expert: US Continues to Torture Detainee at Gitmo

Baluchi is being accused of having “facilitated” 9/11, and worked as a courier for Osama bin Laden. During his detention at a CIA black site, he was repeatedly beaten by interrogators and subjected to multiple “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Though the US nominally banned torture 10 years ago, Melzer indicated that the information he has is that Baluchi continues to be subjected to sleep deprivation and other mistreatment, and not given access to proper medical care for the torture he suffered in the past.
The Pentagon denied that this was the case, saying they see “no credible evidence” any torture took place. That they’re presenting this with the same language as the reports of civilian deaths in US airstrikes is bizarre, because while the US doesn’t have access to victims of their strikes on the ground, they certainly know about the treatment of detainees within their own facilities. Yet instead of categorically denying that torture is taking place, they simply deny that the evidence exists.