25th June 21:56
ISRAEL IS STEALING FROM PALESTINIANS
It is evidently difficult to scrub off the sticker that is glued onto the
front window. That's why when a new car from Germany or South Korea or the
United States rolls onto the packed streets of Gaza in the Gaza Strip or
Ramallah in the West Bank, it generally has the big label with thick, red
Hebrew letters forming the word "Checked" stuck on its windshield for
The label is a mark of the special customs and security checks conducted at
the Israeli seaports of Ashdod or Haifa, which serve as the main entrances
for most of the foreign goods bound for the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians
import all sorts of products: water pumps from Sweden, bulldozers and boxes
of corn flakes from the United States, plastic toys from China, washing
machines from France and cheese from Denmark - and virtually all of them
reach their destinations only after they've been through Israeli port
authorities and Israeli security checks.
At the ports, Palestinian importers are required to pay the Israeli
authorities the value-added tax of 17 percent, as well as whatever custom
taxes are due on goods that come in on their way to the West Bank or Gaza.
These transactions (along with direct Palestinian transactions with Israeli
companies and merchants) last year yielded revenues of $711 million.
But whose revenues are they?
To judge by the actions of the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, the money belongs
to Israel. The Cabinet announced that it was going to withhold Palestinian
tax and customs revenues, at least for the moment, as a response to Hamas'
electoral victory. Until the money is released - if it is released - the
Israeli treasury will earn the interest.
But it's not supposed to work this way. According to the Oslo accords (and
by any standards of common sense and basic justice), the revenues should
serve the people who ultimately buy the goods. These tax receipts are not
donations of goodwill from Israel; they are not charity. This is not like,
say, Dutch foreign aid money, which is given freely by the Dutch people and
can be withheld if the Dutch choose to stop giving it. These are tax
revenues that are due to the people in the territories where the goods are
headed, and the Israelis have no right to hold them up.
Since 1994, these revenues, transferred each month from the Israeli Ministry
of Finance, have made up a critical portion of the Palestinian Authority
budget. When Israel briefly stopped transferring the revenues in 2001,
pressure from the European Union and other countries - including the U.S. -
forced Israel to reverse its decision. Unfortunately, after the Hamas
victory, such pressure seems unlikely.
Last year, the $711 million constituted almost two-thirds of the Palestinian
Authority's revenues. (Only $383 million was collected in income and sales
taxes within the West Bank and Gaza.) Even with all those revenues, there
was still an $800 million shortfall in the Authority's $1.9 billion budget.
Why are domestic tax receipts so low? Because the economy is in constant
recession and "operates well below its potential," according to the World
What debilitates and cripples the Palestinian economy is Israel's heavy,
systematic restrictions on movement within the occupied territories -
hundreds of roadblocks and military checkpoints that delay, prolong and
sabotage normal economic activity and, hence, potential tax revenues.
The Palestinian Authority cannot compensate for the "lost" - or perhaps it
would be more accurate to say "stolen" - tax revenues.
Its Ministry of Health, for example, has been unable to pay its contractors
for hospital food, equipment or medicine for three months, and is $22
million in debt. Now, with Israel hijacking an additional $50 million or so
each month, the ministry will not be able to pay the salaries of its 13,000
employees. The same is true with the approximately 40,000 employees of the
Ministry of Education.
In the Palestinian territories, 35 percent of residents between 20 and 24
were unemployed during the third quarter of 2005. About 43 percent live
below the World Bank's poverty line, and 15 percent live in deep poverty -
which means, according to the World Bank, that they are unable to meet
By taking their meager - but undoubtedly their own - revenues, Israel does
not punish Hamas or persuade it to change its positions. It simply gives the
Palestinians another reason to regard Israel as an aggressive and repressive
Amira Hass is the Ramallah correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
26th June 14:28
TORTURE TOOL OF USA AND KIKELAND
Before Bush, no leader modern history, not even Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, has
publicly demanded the right to torture
ON BEING "GOOD AMERICANS" IN A TIME OF TORTURE
by Fred Branfman
February 25, 2006
"Gestapo interrogation methods included: repeated near drownings of a
prisoner in a bathtub."http://www.historyplace.com/worldwa...
"The CIA officers say 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lasted the
longest under waterboarding, two and a half minutes, before beginning to
talk, with debatable results."
- Brian Ross, ABC World News Tonight, November 18, 2005
"When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of
detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers
as commander in chief. Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the
White House and legal specialists said."
- "Bush Could Bypass Torture Ban," Boston Globe, January 4, 2006
As a ****ager, I could not understand how the German people could claim to
be "good Germans," unaware of what the Nazis had done in their names. I
could understand if these ordinary German people had said they had known and
been horrified, but were afraid to speak up. But they would then be "weak,
fearful or indifferent Germans," not "good Germans." The idea that only the
Nazis were responsible for the Holocaust made no sense.
Whatever the Germans as a whole know about the concentration camps, they
certainly knew about the systematic mistreatment of Jews that had occurred
before their very eyes, and from which so many had profited. And if they
were not really "good Germans," I wondered, what should or could they have
done, given the reality of Nazi tyranny? The issue became personal for me in
the summer of 1961, when I hitchhiked through Europe with a lovely German
woman named Inge. Still in love after an idyllic summer, we visited Hyde
Park the day before I was to return home. A bearded, middle-aged
concentration-camp survivor was angrily attacking the German people for
standing by and letting the Jews be slaughtered. I was moved beyond words.
Suddenly the woman I loved began yelling angrily at him, screaming that the
Germans did not know, that her father had just been a soldier and was not
responsible for the Holocaust.
Our relationship essentially ended then and there. I understood
intellectually that she was just defending her father and was neither an
anti-Semite nor an evil person. But there it was. She on one side. The
survivor on the other. A gulf between them. Whatever my head said, my heart
knew that the world is divided into evil-doers, their victims, and those
like Inge who do not want to know.
And that I had no choice but to stand with the victims.
I never dreamed at that moment that I, as an American, would a few years
later face this same question as my government committed mass murder of
civilians in Indochina in violation of the Nuremberg Principles. Or that
more than four decades later I would still be struggling with what it means
to be a "good American" after learning that a group of U.S. leaders has
unilaterally seized the right to torture anyone it chooses without evidence
and in violation of international law, human decency, and the sacrifice of
the many Americans who have died fighting autocracy and totalitarianism.
Bush Embraces Torture
To ask what it means to be a "good American" is not to compare Bush to
Hitler, or Republicans to Nazis. The question does not arise only when
leaders engage in mass murder on the scale of a Hitler or Stalin, which Bush
has not. It requires only that they engage in actions that are clearly evil,
which Bush has.
Every generation or so an evil arises which is so monstrous, so degrading to
the human spirit, so morally bankrupt, that even to debate it is a sign of
moral corruption. Native American genocide, slavery, totalitarianism, and
Jim Crow laws are evils so unspeakable that we cannot understand today how
anyone with a shred of decency could have once supported them. Today
torture, a practice far more degrading to us than to our victims, represents
such an evil.
The issue has become urgent because Bush has chosen to demand the legal
right to torture anyone he wishes. When torture was revealed at Abu Ghraib,
the administration - falsely and shamelessly - attempted to shift its own
responsibility onto foot-soldiers like Lynndie England. Since then, however,
leaks have revealed that the CIA has tortured terrorist suspects all around
the world, using techniques like "waterboarding." In response, Senator John
McCain proposed an amendment, attached to the 2006 Defense bill, that would
Bush's first response to McCain's amendment was to threaten to veto the
Defense Bill if it passed. When it became clear that McCain's amendment
would pass by an overwhelming majority (it passed in by a 90-9 margin in the
end), Bush reversed course and said he would support the amendment. Yet when
he actually signed the bill, Bush added something called a "signing
statement" in which he reserved the right to do whatever he chooses as
Commander-in-Chief to "protect the American people from further terrorist
attacks." In short, even as he signed McCain's amendment, Bush let it be
known that he intends to torture as he sees fit.
Bush's demand is unprecedented. No leader in all human history, not even
Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, has publicly demanded the right to torture. All
others have behaved as Bush did before the amendment when he secretly
tortured on a scale unseen in American history even while saying he wasn't.
Forced into the open by the McCain amendment, however, Bush chose to openly
demand the legal right to torture. Most experts assume he will continue to
It is important to understand what this means. Bush justifies his right to
torture on the grounds of saving American lives in a global "war on
terrorism." Unlike previous wars, however, this war will never end. On the
contrary, Bush's bungling of the war on terror-including the increased
Muslim hatred of the United States that the practice of torture has
caused-makes it more likely that there will be another domestic 9/11,
leading in turn to more demands to torture. Bush's assertion of his right to
torture, therefore, would make torture a permanent and growing instrument of
U.S. state policy.
Also, by opposing the McCain amendment, Bush took direct responsibility for
the torture he and his administration have inflicted on countless suspects.
As you read these words, people are screaming in agony from Gestapo
techniques used in CIA and "allied" torture chambers around the world. Many
or even most of the victims are innocent. The New Republic has noted that
"Pentagon reports have acknowledged that up to 90 percent of the prisoners
at Abu Ghraib, many of whom were abused and tortured, were not guilty of
anything.... And Abu Ghraib produced a tiny fraction of the number of abuse,
torture, and murder cases that have been subsequently revealed."
"BEFORE BUSH, NO LEADER IN MODERN HISTORY, NOT EVEN HITLER, STALIN, OR MAO,
HAD PUBLICLY DEMANDED THE RIGHT TO TORTURE."
Mr. Bush's statement that "we do not torture," even as he was threatening to
veto the entire Defense bill because it limited his right to torture, is a
dramatic example of how torture degrades the torturer even more than his
victims. And it is a disgraceful commentary on our nation that no major
church, business, or political leader, nor the fawning media personalities
who interview him and his officials, has expressed outrage at this
bald-faced lie. And one can barely mention an unspeakable Congress, which
ignored his lying about torture after spending two years impeaching his
predecessor for lying about ***.
The real question for us, however, is what this says not about President
Bush and our other leaders, but ourselves. What are we, as citizens, as
human beings, willing to live with? Are we willing to live with a President,
Vice-President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and
Attorney-General who either engage in or rationalize torture in our names,
even as they shamelessly deny they are doing so?
If we are willing to live with this evil, the torture will continue. If not,
it can be brought to an end. Who are we?
Becoming "Good Americans"
We are in some ways more morally compromised than the "good Germans" of the
To begin with, we are far less able to claim we do not know. Our daily
newspapers regularly report new revelations of Bush Administration torture.
Second, by opposing torture, we face far less severe threats than did
Germans who tried to help Jews. Even the strong possibility that we could
become targets of illegal spying by this Administration for protesting its
torture is far less frightening than the death or imprisonment faced by
Germans who helped Jews.
And, third, unlike the Germans, we cannot reasonably claim that it is futile
to oppose our leaders. Creating or joining an organized effort to prevent
torture can succeed because we possess one great advantage that human rights
advocates in Germany did not have: the public is with us.
Most Americans abhor torture and can understand the argument that it does
not protect American lives. This is why the McCain amendment enjoyed 90
percent majorities in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and why it
is possible to bring to power leaders who are not committed to torture.
If we can build a movement to limit and ultimately remove from power those
who torture, and thus endanger our lives, we will be achieving other
important goals as well.
We will be building support for international law, which is one of humanity's
few frail protections against far greater violence. If we can implement
international law against torture, perhaps we can extend it to preventing
the murder of civilians or aggressive war. We will be reaffirming America's
once strong commitment to building the kind of new international order that
is required to reduce international terrorism, and fostering a world in
which U.S. leaders would once again be respected as fighters for human
decency rather than despised as threats to it.
We will bring the once-powerful but forgotten force of morality and
nonviolent action- for civil rights, for peace, for women's rights- back
into our politics. A false morality that claims to love Jesus while
torturing and killing in his name will be replaced by an authentic morality
that seeks to address the root-causes of terrorism and violence.
We will thus also join this renewed moral force with a practical strategy
that can actually protect us from terrorism.
Torture is only the most dramatic example of how Bush has endangered our
lives by bungling the war on terrorism. He has also dangerously neglected
Homeland Security, alienated world opinion, helped Al Qaeda grow in numbers
and fervor, wasted vast resources in Iraq in ways that increase terrorist
ranks, failed to build an effective democracy in Afghanistan, failed to
bring peace to the Middle East, and failed to address the poverty that fuels
anti-American terrorism. Ending torture is a necessary precondition to
developing an effective strategy that will actually protect rather than
And we will strengthen democracy at home. Nothing is more un-American and
undemocratic than the idea that a small group of Executive Branch leaders
should be free to torture, kill, and spy at will. This idea is in fact
precisely what generations of Americans have died fighting against. Ending
Bush's use of torture will be the beginning of restoring an accountable and
democratic government to this nation.
Ending torture will have a major impact beyond torture itself for a simple
reason: as slavery was the linchpin to the entire pre-bellum Southern social
order, torture has become integral to today's conservative ideology.
Conservative ideology was once a coherent set of ideas built around limiting
state power over the individual. It has today degenerated into a rationale
for expanding executive power over the individual, including not only the
right to torture but the right to spy on citizens, wage aggressive war while
lying about it, prevent *** people from marrying, deny a woman the right to
an abortion, publish disguised government propaganda in the media, and even
deny us the right to die in peace if conservatives decree that we must live
as vegetables or in unendurable pain.
It is no coincidence that the executive's right to torture was defended not
ony by Bush and Cheney, but also by conservative ideologues at The Weekly
Standard, financed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and edited by William
Kristol, who published a cover story by Charles Krauthammer- widely admired
in conservative circles- which declared that "we must all be prepared to
torture" to save American lives. Or that the The National Review opined that
"if McCain's amendment becomes law ... we will then be able to apply only
methods formulated to deal with conventional soldiers in a different sort of
conflict than the one that faces us now. This is folly."
Today's conservative movement has been reduced to a set of impulses, above
all a totalitarian impulse to support the expansion of autocratic power it
was founded to restrain. Since its ideological blinders prevent it from
developing sensible measures to reduce terrorism, it has turned to
justifying only those policies that expand executive power and seek to rule
through coercion, threats, and violence.
Whatever a movement to abolish torture will achieve for society, it is clear
what participating in it means for each of us as individuals. It means above
all that our children and grandchildren will not remember us with shame,
that they will not one day have to try to justify to our victims our failure
to oppose the torture being conducted in our names, and that the term "Good
American" will mean just that, and not an excuse for fear or indifference,
like the idea of the "Good German."
When we fight to end torture we not only fight for human decency,
international law, democracy, and freedom.
We fight for ourselves.
Fred Branfman is a writer and long-time political activist. His email
address is email@example.com and his website is http://www.trulyalive.org. He is
writing a book entitled Facing Death at Any Age.
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