31 May 2016


New test for VCE literature sparks censorship concerns

May 26, 2016 The Age

Timna Jacks

Education Reporter 


Cast of the play, Tales of A City by the Sea, when it premiered in 2014. Photo: The Age
Books, plays and films studied for VCE will soon be screened to ensure they don't offend religious and cultural groups.

Education Minister James Merlino has ordered the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) to review its text selection process for VCE English, literature, drama and theatre studies.

A spokesman for Mr Merlino said the Minister requested to "extend" the guidelines to "ensure that the views and sensitivities of cultural and religious groups are considered".

This comes after two Jewish groups slammed the inclusion of a play on the VCE drama list, Tales of a City by the Sea, which depicted life during war in Gaza, and was written by Palestinian playwright Samah Sabawi.

Mr Merlino demanded the review after the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria complained that the play promoted an anti-Israel agenda and could isolate Jewish students.

Some of Australia's most well-known authors, including some who have books on the list, have slammed the minister's intervention.

Christos Tsiolkas has criticised the review. Photo: Simon Schluter 

Author Christos Tsiolkas said excluding texts that would offend certain groups put "most literature out of bounds".

He said his teachers showed him provocative literature, including works by Henry Miller, Philip Roth, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Tennessee Williams. These inspired him to become a writer and feel more comfortable as a gay male.

"What scares me about the current age is that teachers may not take these kinds of risks with their students anymore because of this general fear that you can't be seen to treat young people as curious or intellectually able," he said.

"The last thing you'd want is a curriculum that will bore students."

Anna Funder's former publisher was sued by a group of ex-Stasi, who found her book Stasiland offensive. Photo: Trevor Collens

Writer Anna Funder, whose non-fiction book Stasiland is on the VCE English booklist, said while she was not across the details of the review, testing literature to ensure it was not offensive was ludicrous.

"A lot of Shakespeare is offensive, Shylock is offensive, The Taming of the Shrew is offensive … life is offensive and literature represents life.

"Any government that tries to make a piece of literature palatable to everyone kills the thing."
However, a spokesman for the Ethnic Community Council of Victoria welcomed the review.

"We welcome any government initiatives that look at embracing the cultural sensitivities of the many ethnic groups that are represented in Victoria."

Dr Dvir Abramovich, who is the chair of B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission, said students should not be exposed to "pedagogical materials" that could "create tension and disharmony between their friends at school".

"The VCAA selection process must reflect community standards by ensuring that students are provided with plays that promote understanding of complex issues and which furnish its learners with appropriate context and balance."

But president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Bishop George Browning, said he was concerned that the minister was "bowing to vexatious complaints".

"It is vital that the review does not lead to censorship of Palestinian voices within arts and education, even if this is difficult for some people to hear."

President of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English Monika Wagner said challenging texts encouraged students to think critically.

"It [the review] does tend to suggest that there would be a single homogenised heteronormative, culturally normative type of text that is considered acceptable. I don't know what that text would be but that's what I would be afraid of."

This is not the first time the VCE authority has been asked to reconsider texts perceived to be controversial.
In 2012, Nobel-prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera was reviewed by the VCAA after an Age columnist complained it was offensive because it "says repeatedly that screwing a child for art's sake is excusable".


29 May 2016


Silencing America as It Prepares for War

Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention.  The great counter revolution had begun.

The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.

“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.”  So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie.

The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?”

A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by] air strikes of unprecedented precision”. The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom.

The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter … “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool”. One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried. Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.

In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama. He is “modernising” America’s doomsday arsenal, including a new “mini” nuclear weapon, whose size and “smart” technology, says a leading general, ensure its use is “no longer unthinkable”.

James Bradley, the best-selling author of Flags of Our Fathers and son of one of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, said, “[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”

On Obama’s watch, a second cold war is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature – when all Chinese were banned from the United States – but the media warriors are working on it.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. There is no risk and no danger for the United States and all of us. For them, the greatest military build-up on the borders of Russia since World War Two has not happened. On May 11, Romania went “live” with a Nato “missile defence” base that aims its first-strike American missiles at the heart of Russia, the world’s second nuclear power.
In Asia, the Pentagon is sending ships, planes and special forces to the Philippines to threaten China. The US already encircles China with hundreds of military bases that curve in an arc up from Australia, to Asia and across to Afghanistan. Obama calls this a “pivot”.

As a direct consequence, China reportedly has changed its nuclear weapons policy from no-first-use to high alert and put to sea submarines with nuclear weapons. The escalator is quickening.

It was Hillary Clinton who, as Secretary of State in 2010, elevated the competing territorial claims for rocks and reef in the South China Sea to an international issue; CNN and BBC hysteria followed; China was building airstrips on the disputed islands. In its mammoth war game in 2015, Operation Talisman Sabre, the US practiced “choking” the Straits of Malacca through which pass most of China’s oil and trade. This was not news.

Clinton declared that America had a “national interest” in these Asian waters. The Philippines and Vietnam were encouraged and bribed to pursue their claims and old enmities against China. In America, people are being primed to see any Chinese defensive position as offensive, and so the ground is laid for rapid escalation. A similar strategy of provocation and propaganda is applied to Russia.

Clinton, the “women’s candidate”, leaves a trail of bloody coups: in Honduras, in Libya (plus the murder of the Libyan president) and Ukraine. The latter is now a CIA theme park swarming with Nazis and the frontline of a beckoning war with Russia. It was through Ukraine – literally, borderland — that Hitler’s Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people. This epic catastrophe remains a presence in Russia. Clinton’s presidential campaign has received money from all but one of the world’s ten biggest arms companies. No other candidate comes close.

Sanders, the hope of many young Americans, is not very different from Clinton in his proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He backed Bill Clinton’s illegal bombing of Serbia. He supports Obama’s terrorism by drone, the provocation of Russia and the return of special forces (death squads) to Iraq. He has nothing to say on the drumbeat of threats to China and the accelerating risk of nuclear war. He agrees that Edward Snowden should stand trial and he calls Hugo Chavez – like him, a social democrat – “a dead communist dictator”. He promises to support Clinton if she is nominated.

The election of Trump or Clinton is the old illusion of choice that is no choice: two sides of the same coin. In scapegoating minorities and promising to “make America great again”, Trump is a far right-wing domestic populist; yet the danger of Clinton may be more lethal for the world.

“Only Donald Trump has said anything meaningful and critical of US foreign policy,” wrote Stephen Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, one of the few Russia experts in the United States to speak out about the risk of war.

In a radio broadcast, Cohen referred to critical questions Trump alone had raised. Among them: why is the United States “everywhere on the globe”? What is NATO’s true mission? Why does the US always pursue regime change in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine? Why does Washington treat Russia and Vladimir Putin as an enemy?

The hysteria in the liberal media over Trump serves an illusion of “free and open debate” and “democracy at work”. His views on immigrants and Muslims are grotesque, yet the deporter-in-chief  of vulnerable people from America is not Trump but Obama, whose betrayal of people of colour is his legacy: such as the warehousing of a mostly black prison population, now more numerous than Stalin’s gulag.

This presidential campaign may not be about populism but American liberalism, an ideology that sees itself as modern and therefore superior and the one true way. Those on its right wing bear a likeness to 19th century Christian imperialists, with a God-given duty to convert or co-opt or conquer.

In Britain, this is Blairism. The Christian war criminal Tony Blair got away with his secret preparation for the invasion of Iraq largely because the liberal political class and media fell for his “cool Britannia”. In the Guardian, the applause was deafening; he was called “mystical”. A distraction known as identity politics, imported from the United States, rested easily in his care.

History was declared over, class was abolished and gender promoted as feminism; lots of women became New Labour MPs. They voted on the first day of Parliament to cut the benefits of single parents, mostly women, as instructed. A majority voted for an invasion that produced 700,000 Iraqi widows.

The equivalent in the US are the politically correct warmongers on the New York Times, the Washington Post and network TV who dominate political debate. I watched a furious debate on CNN about Trump’s infidelities. It was clear, they said, a man like that could not be trusted in the White House. No issues were raised. Nothing on the 80 per cent of Americans whose income has collapsed to 1970s levels.  Nothing on the drift to war. The received wisdom seems to be “hold your nose” and vote for Clinton: anyone but Trump. That way, you stop the monster and preserve a system gagging for another war.

John Pilger can be reached through his website: www.johnpilger.com

19 May 2016


Zionist Israel Hides Its Crimes Behind Its Smears of Truth-Tellers

Several years ago two very distinguished American scholars wrote a book, The Israel Lobby.
The book made a very understated case that the Israel Lobby has far more power over the US government and media than is good for America or Israel, as it silences constructive critics who are Israel’s friends. The two scholars were demonized by the Israel Lobby as advocating the return of the Holocaust.

The Israel Lobby presented itself as just a poor little weak thing unable to stand up to all the Nazis assailing Israel. Meanwhile the US Congress was unanimously passing outrageous resolutions handed to it by the Israel Lobby.

A number of former US Senators and Representatives, including Cynthia McKinney, have publicly stated that they were removed from office by the Israel Lobby for criticizing actions of the Israeli government, such as the Israeli government’s attempt to sink the USS Liberty, in which a majority of the American crew were killed or injured.

Instead of defending the US Navy, the cowardly US government was so scared of Israel that the President of the United States and the Admiral conducting the inquiry, Senator John McCain’s father, rushed to the defense of Israel and covered up the incident.

The coverup has been so successful that few Americans today know that a vessel of the US Navy was decimated by an Israeli air and torpedo boat attack, and Washington did not even file a protest. Really! The US is a “superpower,” and the cowardly government cannot even stand up to Israel?

What do you think will happen to these pussies in Washington when they confront by their carelessness and unjustified arrogance the power of Russia and China?

Little wonder that after 15 years of pointless conflict the US has been defeated by a few thousand lightly armed warriors in Afghanistan, and the “Mission Accomplished” pronouncement of the moron George W. Bush now requires intervention by the Russian Superpower to be accomplished.

Only Russia can bring the terrorism in the Middle East that the dolts in Washington created to an end. The low grade morons in Washington sponsor the terrorism in order to bleed the American taxpayer of money to pay the profits of the Military-Security Complex that President Eisenhower, a Five Starr General warned us about going on 7 decades ago.

The Americans are so incompetent that they should just depart the scene and go home and hide under their beds so scared they are of “terrorists,” largely an invention of neoconservative propaganda.

But it only takes a propaganda invention, a false flag event, to scare “powerful America” out of its wits.
I became an “anti-semite” when I observed that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians resembled the Union Army’s treatment, under Sherman and Sheridan, of the American Plains Indians. Wholesale genocide.

An Israeli official wrote to me asking me why I criticized Israel for doing to the Palestinians what the United States government did to the native Americans. In other words, the Western World, and Israel that allegedly suffered the Holocaust, were not required to make any moral progress in one or two centuries. Whatever the Union war criminals did to the American Plains Indians in the 19th century is perfectly OK for Israel to to to Palestinians in the 21st century.

So much for those who believe in moral progress.

“Anti-semite” has lost its sting, because every justified criticism of the Zionist Israeli government is declared to be anti-semitism. The word is so overused and misapplied as to be useless. Indeed, to be declared “anti-semite” by the Israel Lobby is to be declared a person of high moral conscience.

Currently the Israel Lobby is at work destroying anyone associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is an effort to sanction Israel for its genocide against Palestine. The popular musician, Roger Waters, is one of the few brave enough to support this movement.

Waters says that many of his colleagues, who protested the Viet Nam War and South Africa Apartheid are too “scared shitless of Israel” to protest what former US President Jimmy Carter called Israeli Apartheid.
Republicans, conservatives, and the Israel Lobby do not like Jimmy Carter because he speaks honestly, but that is why I respect him.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the Palestinians have had their country stolen. Now they, like native Indians in the US in the 19th century, have been confined to ghetto reservations. This is a simple fact. But anyone who states the fact is declared by the Israel Lobby to be an anti-semite who wants to kill all the Jews.

In other words, it is Zionist Israel that is committing genocide, but if a person mentions that fact that person is accused of wanting to do to the Jews what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

Israel, thanks to the complete cowardice of the government of “the world’s only superpower” and the largely Israeli controlled US media and entertainment industry, has got away with this raw exercise of the power of propaganda and intimidation.

But not with Roger Waters.

Support Roger Waters, one of the acknowledged greatest rock musicians of this era, when he stands up for the Palestinians and opposes the monstrous crimes of Zionist Israel.

It is amazing to me how courage has disappeared from the entire Western world. Insouciant Americans have lost their liberty to disinformation and fear. Such a fearful and afraid people have no prospect of standing up to the Russian and Chinese people.

The Western World buried in propaganda and lies is now in the trash bin of history. It is no more.

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.


The Mainstream Media and Its Discontents

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Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience … it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society.
— Noam Chomsky, What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream, Z Magazine, 1997

It’s easy to forget at times, living in the social bubbles that we all do, that approximately two-thirds of Americans are not university graduates, and thus have not completed the process of “internalizing the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society” that Chomsky was referring to above. This is not one of those times.

Throughout the 2016 primary elections season to date, the “mainstream media,” both “liberal” and “conservative,” along with the establishments of both the Republican and Democratic parties, have been desperately working — at times in a state of barely-concealed panic — to contain, divert, coopt and otherwise neutralize a tsunami of discontent among the “uneducated,” “working class” masses, many of whom are “stubbornly” refusing to cooperate with the extremely expensive simulation of democracy that the corporate plutocracy is forced to stage for us every four years.

These “discontents” have already handed the Republican presidential nomination to Donald Trump, a buffoonish billionaire real estate mogul whose incoherent demagogic ramblings make George W. Bush sound articulate in comparison, and are “childishly” dragging out the coronation of Democrat Hillary Clinton by continuing to vote for a 74-year-old self-proclaimed “socialist” who has had the audacity to talk about Clinton’s shady ties to Wall Street, and the rest of the transnational corporate elite that more or less rules the world at this point, and things like that.

Now, when we talk about the “mainstream media,” it’s easy to end up speaking in overly simplistic terms, as if they were some sort of neo-Orwellian Ministry of Information pumping out bald-faced lies and propaganda that they wanted everyone to mindlessly parrot … but what we’re talking about is something much subtler and more insidious than that, generally.

As Chomsky notes in the brief article referenced above (and in detail in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, with co-author Edward S. Herman), the mainstream media is an informal network of news and opinion sources (i.e. corporations) that together define the “acceptable” boundaries of political and cultural discourse (i.e. what one is allowed to say and how one is allowed to say it), a network owned and operated by people who have “internalized the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society.” In our case, of course, “the surrounding power system in the society” is global Capitalism, or Neoliberalism, or whatever you want to call it. And it is this internalization of capitalist values, and not any type of conspiracy or direct editorial censorship, that produces the mainstream media’s monolithic aspect, despite the fact that reporters and editorialists are “free” to write whatever they want.

The current election season in the US is providing us with a rather clear example of this. Anyone halfway paying attention has witnessed the mainstream media (both “left” and “right”) operating as a superficially diverse yet essentially monolithic echo chamber … manufacturing public opinion in perfect synchronization as if following a Hill+Knowlton script. According to this script, Clinton is the only reasonable choice for “normal, intelligent grown-ups,” Sanders is the “unrealistic” protest-vote candidate (who is also racist, sexist and sometimes anti-Semitic, depending on the publication and whether he has just won another primary), and Trump is … well, Hitler. One could go back and catalogue the mainstream media’s coverage of the campaign season so far — in both “liberal” and “conservative” news sources — and marvel at their dogged adherence to this simplistic narrative.

Now it remains to be seen whether Trump can be transformed into some “mainstream” version of himself that the liberalize GOP establishment can possibly live with. At the moment, the odds of that happening seem pretty slim, and the big liberalize money is flowing toward Clinton, who has proven her allegiance to the global banking and corporate elites time and time again. (Although I wouldn’t put anything past Trump, who has no real principles whatsoever.) Sanders, meanwhile, is doomed, and appears to be preparing his supporters for the day when he will herd them all into the Clinton camp (i.e. the mainstream) and instruct them to ignore Clinton’s corrupt ties to Wall Street, and her war-mongering and coup-inciting, and so on, because, well … Hitler.

But let’s set the elections aside for the moment and take a look at this concept of “the mainstream,” and what is considered “acceptable” or “normal,” and who produces these concepts for us, and how and why they do that. Now keep in mind we’re not talking about facts; we’re talking about opinion-making, and consensus building, and other such marketing strategies that none of us are completely immune to. (If you’re skeptical about that last statement, please refer back to the extremely effective PR campaigns in advance of the USA’s invasions of Iraq in 1990 and 2003, or ask yourself whether butter is good or bad for you this week, or maybe research the dramatic increase in the “discovery” of various pharmaceutically-treatable mood disorders since the 1980s.)

A Very Brief History of the Mainstream

Now the whole idea of the “mainstream” and “normality” comes into being right around the same time as modern Capitalism, which is of course no mere coincidence. Until the middle of the 18th Century or so, there wasn’t any need for such concepts, which are essential components of social control under Capitalism, but which were unnecessary under Despotism, when monarchs and the church could torture and kill whoever they wanted, and so didn’t have to bother with manipulating the masses into worrying about whether they were “normal,” or adopting the values of the ruling classes, or believing they were “free.” (OK, granted, the church, and organized religion, generally, was kind of performing this function, but that was a very different, despotic ball of wax, which is why the whole “God” business starts to die out fairly quickly under modern Capitalism.)

In any event, by the end of “the Age of Revolution,” modern Capitalism had replaced Despotism as the dominant political-economic power structure throughout the Western world. This was actually a good thing, as Despotism was really no fun at all, unless you were an aristocrat, which most people weren’t. One of the ways Capitalism did that (i.e. freed us all from Despotism), was by doing away with any and all despotic values and replacing them with exchange value (i.e. the value of a thing, or idea, as determined by the market, rather than by the King or the Church). This was also a step forward, as no one enjoys having their values determined for them by despots and priests. At the same time, a significant number of people are also not so fond of having the value of every thing, every idea, and pretty much every other aspect of their lives, determined for them by the market. Which has made things somewhat challenging for Capitalism, in terms of its efforts to transform everything in sight into a commodity. The 20th Century was a particularly problematic period, as Capitalism had to deal with reactionary challenges from both the left and right (i.e. Fascism and fake Communism). Fortunately, however, history was on its side, and, by the late 1980s, modern Capitalism had done away with any serious threat to its global dominance and, well, here we are.

Now the capitalist mainstream has been neatly divided for us into “left” and “right” halves, which we are encouraged to freely choose between, which cynics will tell you is about as meaningful as choosing between Coca Cola and Pepsi, or Burger King and McDonalds, but it’s actually a little more interesting than that. We’ll cover the “right” half first, as the “left” half is a bit more complex, and we’ll also look at the “non-mainstream” margins of both, where all those “discontents” reside.

The Mainstream Right and Its Margins

The right half of the capitalist mainstream is comprised of the global capitalist avant-garde, also known as Neoliberalism, or Transnational Capitalism. This is the global network of transnational corporations, banks and other financial institutions, governments and quasi-governmental bodies, and extremely wealthy individuals that many people think of as the “one percent.” You know who these people and entities are.
Just to the right of the right half of the capitalist mainstream we encounter the reactionary (i.e. nostalgically despotic, or in some cases neo-fascist) opposition, who are attempting to preserve what is left of their “traditional values” and social structures, which the capitalist avant-garde is eradicating and replacing with its only operative value (i.e. exchange value). Without getting all Deleuze and Guattari on you, here’s how this works …

As global Capitalism continues to expand, destabilizing, debt-enslaving, regime changing, and otherwise restructuring whatever despotic territories remain resistant to its relentless efforts to impose “freedom” upon them and commodify everything, some of the people in those territories attempt to halt or turn back the march of progress, in order to preserve their “traditional” values. Examples of this include: Christian Fundamentalism and other neo-conservative or nationalist movements in the USA; various nationalist movements currently on the rise in Europe (e.g. FN, AfD, BNP, FPÖ, Golden Dawn); and of course Islamic Fundamentalism, and the various groups and individuals operating under its banner.

This reactionary (or “anti-capitalist”) sentiment is, in in large part, what has been fueling Donald Trump’s campaign … a sentiment never explored in any real depth (as that would deviate from the simplistic Trump = Hitler script) but strongly condemned by both the mainstream “left” and “right” at every opportunity. The challenge facing the GOP establishment now is to coopt this reactionary discontent with Capitalism and channel it into hatred of Clinton and her constituency, assuming they can get Trump to play ball with transnational Capitalism, and drop all the protectionist anti-trade nonsense.

The Mainstream Left and Its Margins

The left half of the capitalist mainstream is also comprised of the global capitalist avant-garde (i.e. the same the global network of transnational corporations, financial institutions, governments and quasi-governmental bodies, and wealthy individuals that make up that elite one percent). The only real difference between the left and right halves of the mainstream is on “social issues,” and both halves are fairly flexible when it comes to that stuff. Yes, the mainstream “right” has to pretend to oppose things like reproductive rights, LGBT rights, affirmative action, open immigration policy, and so on, just as the mainstream “left” has to pretend to serve the interest of the working classes and various minority groups, but both halves of the mainstream are committed, above all else, to preserving and advancing global Capitalism, which, let’s remember, is effectively transnational (or supranational) at this point, and is all about doing away with any kind of despotic social structures or personal values that get in the way of its ongoing efforts to privatize and commodify everything. (See NAFTA, TTIP, or other such bipartisan-supported “trade agreements,” or the workings of the World Bank, IMF, WTO, ECB, et al., or the “War on Terror,” for details on that.)

The Mainstream (or “liberal”) Left is often thought of as “reformist.” It isn’t. The Mainstream Left is not interested in reforming Capitalism at all, as it doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with it. Which is, of course, correct. Capitalism is working perfectly. There is absolutely nothing faulty or dysfunctional about it. Capitalism is doing exactly what it is designed to do — eliminating despotic social structures and values and replacing them with markets and exchange value — and it is doing this extremely well. Modern Capitalism has never been interested in democracy, fairness, equality, saving the planet (or whatever), other than as a means of rendering everything a commodity and trading it all at a profit. The Mainstream Left’s historical and ongoing struggles for equality and justice within the capitalist system, while undeniably necessary, laudable and progressive, have never been, are not now, a threat or a challenge to the capitalist system; on the contrary, they are part and parcel of Capitalism’s efforts to eradicate any despotic values (including racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on) that interfere with its operations and progress. Which, again — before you start composing that tweet calling me racist, or a sexist, or whatever — is a good thing, which I am for (i.e. these struggles the Mainstream Left is engaging in … because Despotism is no fun at all).

Now just as the Mainstream Right is flanked on its right by that reactionary (or “anti-Capitalist”) contingent, the Mainstream Left is flanked on its left by a radical (or “post-Capitalist”) contingent. Staring into the merciless jaws of a mindless and seemingly unassailable global capitalist machine that is relentlessly privatizing and debt-enslaving whatever segments of the planet it hasn’t already razed, poisoned or otherwise decimated to make a few bucks, the anti-capitalist right wants to go backward, whereas the post-capitalist left wants to go forward.

OK, of course it’s not that black and white, as there are elements of each on either side, as well as all kinds of other forces floating around out there on the margins, but bear with me for a moment, because I think I’m getting to my main point … which is about those discontented masses that the mainstream media and the rest of the plutocracy is working so hard to contain, divert, coopt and otherwise neutralize at the moment.

Both of these discontented contingents want out of Capitalism, at least in its current transnational form. And understandably so, as it’s all pretty much downhill from here, for most of us anyway, as the neoliberal “race to the bottom” continues. The difference is that the post-Capitalist left (which I’m obviously numbering myself among) doesn’t regard Capitalism as a mistake, and we recognize and appreciate it having freed us from the tyranny of the monarchies and the church and so on; we simply want to move forward toward some sort of social and economic system that maybe has an ounce of humanity, and humility, and wherein exchange value isn’t the only value that matters.

The Mainstream (let’s go ahead and capitalize it), unlike the two contingents we just covered, does not want out of Capitalism. The Mainstream, both left and right halves of it, wants Capitalism to go on ruling the world forever. Capitalism, like every other historical empire, wants history to end with its ascension to power.

Having succeed in its revolution against the monarchies, it wants to ensure that there will be no further revolutions, ever, until the end of time. Which is why those contingents on the left and right must be continually ignored, dismissed, castigated and otherwise marginalized by the mainstream media, and occasionally, when necessary, subdued with brute force.

The Future

Now reactionary anti-Capitalism is never going to succeed. Ask the Nazis, or any other nationalists or neo-nationalists, how well they’ve done with that approach. Moreover, it’s not meant to succeed. It’s actually just a built-in part of the machinery of the system … how Capitalism keeps itself from completely imploding. Whenever the machine gets overheated, it generates this “fascist” reaction, which slows things down and allows Capitalism to reenact its founding mythology (i.e. defeating despotism and securing freedom and justice for all). Sometimes this cathartic ritual is conducted symbolically (as appears to be the case with the current US elections), but at other times it is also acted out with bombs, guns and so on. In any event, although global Capitalism has no problem accommodating despotically-run governments that play ball economically, the West is not going back to actual Despotism as an operative power structure … so forget about those VHandmaid’s Tale and 1984 scenarios. They’re not going to happen.

The good news is, post-Capitalism is going to succeed, someday … unless Capitalism manages to annihilate all human life on the planet first. Because nothing lasts forever, not even global empires, no matter how much their ruling elites want them to. The specific character of this post-Capitalist future is, at this stage, probably unimaginable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t on the way. Personally, I’m hoping for some version of Socialism, rather than, you know, some Mad Max-type scenario. Whether that next tectonic social-political transformation occurs, or begins, in our lifetimes is an open question, as is whether it comes about gradually or as the result of some global catastrophe.

In the meantime, we have this “Mainstream” problem. The question is, how do we “discontents” on the left continue to support the Mainstream Left’s struggles for equality and social justice within the capitalist system without getting sucked into the trap of, well, for example, supporting (or agreeing not to savagely criticize) mainstream liberal icons like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who are clearly servants of the neoliberal corporate elites that are destabilizing, privatizing, debt-enslaving, and otherwise pestiferously restructuring the entire planet?

While it’s relatively uncomplicated to align ourselves with the Mainstream Left when it comes to issues like blatant racism, sexism and other such forms of discrimination, or police brutality, mass incarceration, labor reforms, and so on, it gets a little more complicated at times like this, when the Mainstream Left expects (or demands) that everyone sidle up to the establishment table for another heaping serving of “hope and change,” or “love trumps hate,” or whatever happy horseshit they’re serving up this time. It gets especially tricky when the Mainstream Left starts insinuating (or just outright claiming) that anyone who dares to criticize their neoliberal puppet candidate is either a racist, a sexist, or an angry, uneducated, white trash Trump supporter. This kind of bullying and guilt-tripping is only going to intensify once Sanders concedes and it becomes a Clinton/Trump race. So, unless you’re planning on shutting up about Clinton and conforming to the mainstream script, get yourself a raincoat.

C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright and satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (US). He can reached at his website, cjhopkins.com, or at consentfactory.org.

17 May 2016


Nelson Mandela’s Howick arrest: Was it all a CIA Effort?

  • J Brooks Spector
  • South Africa

A real life half-century-old spy thrilleresque mystery is back in the news. How did the South African police manage to capture Nelson Mandela so easily outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal? J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look at a new international wrinkle in this story.
This story reads like one of those really convoluted John LeCarre novels, or perhaps Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. But before we even begin to tell this tale, the most recent news from Langley, the town in Northern Virginia where the CIA hangs its hat in the US, concerns the rather embarrassing information that the spies have accidentally managed to destroy their only copy of the US Senate’s report on torture at US hands.

In a rather awkward admission, according to Yahoo News, “The CIA inspector general’s office – the spy agency’s internal watchdog – has acknowledged it ‘mistakenly’ destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved…. The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an ‘inadvertent’ foul-up by the inspector-general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight ‘out of the Keystone Cops’, CIA inspector-general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced’ interrogation methods.”

Big oops, that one, although they explained later they still had a computer copy squirrelled away somewhere in their puzzle palace. But mistakes do happen. Fortunately for some, at least, the Senate managed to hang onto its copy. And this latest miscue doesn’t count the exploding cigar they once contemplated as Fidel Castro’s last puff.

But internationally at least, almost certainly the worst blow to the CIA’s reputation in recent days surely has come from a reported deathbed confession made to filmmaker John Irvin, for his upcoming UK-SA joint feature film, “Mandela’s Gun”. The film hangs on the Russian-made Makarov pistol Nelson Mandela received from Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in 1962 while he was on his journey through Africa to drum up support for the ANC. Among other places, he was in Ethiopia and then Algeria for hands-on tactical military training, before returning home via Bechuanaland (now Botswana, but at that time a British protectorate).

Interestingly, it seems that during this run of military training, while his first thoughts were that this prized pistol would be his first step in a real revolution, he was, instead, guided into considering the alternative idea that conflict was a means towards reaching an inevitable negotiated settlement, rather than serving as an end in itself for achieving a violent victory. 

This insight apparently came to Mandela decades before he publicly advocated that view and brought it fully into liberation struggle policy, after his release from prison, in tandem with ideas espoused by some other ANC/SACP figures like Joe Slovo.

During this period in the ‘60s, Mandela had earned the popular sobriquet, the “Scarlet Pimpernel”, for his ability to evade the South African authorities in his travels within the country, and by virtue of his ability to evade the authorities as he slipped beyond South Africa’s borders. However, Mandela’s return to South Africa and his subsequent travels in the country before his arrest were also a less than perfect demonstration of clandestine agent-style tradecraft in avoiding detection.

He arrived in Bechuanaland where he met theatre director (and SACP member) Cecil Williams in a pre-arranged rendezvous. Mandela was driven to Johannesburg and the ANC’s secret base at Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, without passing through a border passport control gate, while in Williams’ distinctive Austin sedan. Williams and Mandela then used this same car to go on to Durban, and then, after meetings there with Albert Luthuli and others, the plan was to return to Johannesburg, but they were stopped and apprehended by the police at Howick in the Natal Midlands instead.

In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela had written about the night before his departure from Durban, after meeting with Bruno Ntolo’s sabotage group. (Ntolo would later turn state’s witness in the Rivonia Trial, and some have pointed to him as the man who may have helped set up Mandela’s capture.) Mandela wrote of his day before his arrest, “Later that same evening, at the home of the photojournalist GR Naidoo, where I was staying, I was joined by Ismail and Fatima Meer, Monty Naicker, and JN Singh for what was a combination welcome-home party and going-away party” before setting off to Johannesburg. 

Of that gathering, Fatima Meer described the gathering, saying, “Nelson cut a large military figure in khaki, his laugh booming the familiar welcome as he embraced each friend. They drank and ate and discussed politics. They laughed a lot, excited by their intrigue. The police were looking for Nelson and here they were partying with him, virtually under their noses.” 

Clandestine tradecraft apparently was not much in evidence that evening. Then, the next day, on that return journey, still in the same car, and with Mandela rather casually disguised as Williams’ chauffer, David Motsamayi, the police caught up with the two men on the road, as Williams was driving the car – and the purported chauffeur was in the passenger seat instead.

Mandela biographer Martin Meredith wrote that as soon as word was out that the Pimpernel had been captured, “Everyone was convinced Mandela had been betrayed. Suspicion about who the culprit was ran wild. Even Sisulu was suspected in some quarters, for it was he who had insisted that Mandela should return to South Africa.

There were persistent rumours that the United States Central Intelligence Agency was involved. Mandela’s links with communists had made him a target for US officials embroiled with the Soviet Union in a murky struggle for influence in a number of newly independent African states and obsessed with the need to contain communist encroachment in Africa. The CIA was active throughout southern Africa, keeping track of the activities of liberation movements there, determined to prevent what it saw as communist-supported armed intervention ‘under the guise of African liberation’. It found an ally in the South African government, which was only too willing to collaborate.

“…The CIA covert-operations section in Johannesburg had expended considerable energy penetrating the ANC. Its chief undercover agent, Millard Shirley, the son of American missionaries who had been born in South Africa had cultivated contacts at all levels of the organisation.”

Back in 1997 when he wrote this biography, Meredith had added that a US vice consul in Durban, Donald Rickard, had been overheard at a party in Durban saying that he had played a key part in Mandela’s arrest. Moreover, Meredith also mentioned a CIA station chief, Paul Eckel, who after his retirement had told a journalist, “We had turned Mandela over to the South African Security Branch. We gave them every detail.” Evaluating all this, Meredith also noted, “Given Mandela’s amateurish conduct in the days before his arrest, it was equally possible that the South African police already knew of his whereabouts from their own efforts.”

Rickard apparently ran with a rather wild crowd in Durban and he had made that comment while apparently inebriated and perhaps given to exaggeration and enthusiasm at a party hosted by the Irish-born “Mad” Mike Hoare. Hoare was the increasingly legendary and thoroughly infamous paratrooper turned mercenary who had carried out a number of raids around the continent for various shady purposes – and eventually carried out at least one coup attempt – in the Seychelles. Interestingly, after Rickard left Durban, despite the persistent rumours – clearly fuelled by his own comments – Rickard spent years denying the story. In 2012, for example, he told the Wall Street Journal, "That story has been floating around for a while. It's untrue. There's no substance to it.”

There things might have stayed, merely unsubstantiated rumours and much quiet finger pointing over who had sold Mandela to the CIA or the SA police, or to both (echoes of the famous line in 1984, “Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me…”), save for the fact that three years ago, in an interview when he was practically on his deathbed, Rickard recanted his repeated recantations and once again embraced his role as the crucial element in Mandela’s capture in 1962.

This interview was carried out for a film directed by John Irvin, a work now nearly finished, and entitled Mandela’s Gun. Rickard was quoted in the media as having told the filmmakers, Mandela was “completely under the control of the Soviet Union, a toy of the communists”. 

Given the nature of the Cold War struggle and a more than an occasional hot one throughout Africa, in Indochina, and given the circumstances of Castro’s Cuba, among other spots, the motivations and actions of CIA operatives, even when they were acting on their own, can be better understood and appreciated, even if not not condoned. Shades of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, perhaps.

The film’s storyline spins out from the now-missing Makarov pistol he had secured while in Ethiopia and Mandela’s travels in Africa on that journey. The point is that Mandela had said he buried it in a secure spot in the garden at Lilliesleaf – but the police never found it then, and it has never been recovered since by the police or anybody else – right until today.

Then, this past weekend, word of Rickard’s final confession in connection with this film leaked out into the world’s media through the British press, stirring up much more than a small cloud of interest, and more than a few frowns in the direction of the CIA – and the US more generally. By the end of the weekend, it had become a lead story on the BBC news broadcasts, and it was being reported globally on many platforms as effective confirmation of the long-circulating rumours about the CIA’s involvement. Yet one more nail in the tattered reputation of that agency, it would seem.

In response to this story, not surprisingly, ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa announced over the weekend, “That revelation confirms what we have always known, that they are working against [us], even today. It's not thumbsucked, it’s not a conspiracy [theory]. It is now confirmed that it did not only start now [a reference to recent ANC charges that US exchange grants such as Mandela Washington Fellows are an element in a regime change agenda], there is a pattern in history.”

In reply, the US Embassy’s press officer, Cynthia Harvey, told us, “The US Embassy in Pretoria is aware of the story. We have no information about the claims made in these media reports. South Africa is a strategic partner and friend of the United States. The United States does not regard the democratically elected government of South Africa, and its strong democratic institutions, as a ‘regime’. Claims that we seek to undermine South African democracy run contrary to the spirit of the proud and longstanding relationship we have with South Africa.” 

It is almost certainly true that no documentation relating to this charge (one way or the other) would remain in the embassy after more than half a century, but elsewhere? There is, in fact, yet another possible element in this story – material that could have some distressing impacts on US-South African relations, 54 years after the event. Several years ago, an American academic researcher, a doctoral candidate at MIT, Ryan Shapiro, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all documents still classified and held by various American government agencies, relating to America’s engagement with Nelson Mandela back in the 1960s. The government declined to comply with initial request on the grounds the request constituted a “fishing expedition”. It was far too broad and, therefore, they could not carry it out.

However, the researcher then went to court in January 2014 to compel the CIA to comply with his original FOIA request. So far, there has been no judgment on his appeal of his FOIA request, yet, let alone any disclosure of documents. But, if such a thing does happen and if they confirm what Rickard said at the end of his life, that will be a rather awkward and embarrassing moment for a number of people – and at least one government. DM

Photo: Dark rain clouds cover the newly erected Nelson Mandela Statue in Howick, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, 06 August 2012. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK.


Statement on 68 years of Al-Nakba
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Today marks the 68th year of the Palestinian Nakba, or “Catastrophe,” and we join fellow Palestinians and Arabs, along with our allies all over the world, to commemorate the ethnic cleansing of over 450 Palestinian villages by zionist settler gangs, the killing of almost 15,000 people, including the 250 massacred at Deir Yassin, and the displacement of more than 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes and become refugees.
On May 14th,1948, European Jewish settlers declared the illegal, white settler-colonial state of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine, while owning less than 6% of the land.  Ever since, Palestinians have maintained the Right to Return to our homes and lands in the entirety of historic Palestine, as enshrined in international law. The Palestinian nation is indivisible, whether in the diaspora in the United States or Europe, in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan, or Syria, or within historic Palestine; and all Palestinians have the right to resist the continued, illegal, colonial occupation of our lands.
Today, USPCN also announces the launch of our national Political Prisoners Campaign.  Thousands of Palestinians – including children – are currently in Israeli jails as political prisoners.  Political Prisoners StatsRegardless of the charges brought against them by occupying Israeli military courts, we stand in defense of all Palestinian prisoners.  Those held by Israel are all prisoners of conscience and national heroes, and we reject the criminalization of our resistance. To defend and advocate for them is to support the sacred right of the Palestinians to National Liberation and Independence.
We mark the launch of this campaign with the first Palestinian Prisoners Weekly Review, a news digest shared via email, social media, and our website, with important developments and news in the realm of Palestinian political prisoner defense.  This first installment includes important primary documentation from Addameer, Defense for Children Palestine, and other institutions and news sources.
We aim to stay connected and informed. We also aim to TAKE ACTION.
  • Alongside the weekly review, today we launch our Petition to Stop Administrative Detention-#StopAD.
  • Connect with us. Remain engaged in action by following our website, Twitter, and Facebook, and tweeting with the hashtag #StopAD.
  • Don’t miss the opportunity for immediate action by registering to attend Rasmea Odeh’s next status hearing June 13th in Detroit. The next phase of the Rasmea defense campaign will be determined there, and it is imperative that we have a strong showing of support for our beloved community icon and survivor of brutal Israeli torture and detention.
Another year since Al-Nakba and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine calls on us all to recommit and continue fighting to see a Free Palestine in our lifetimes.
Until Liberation and Return,
U.S. Palestinian Community Network
May 15th, 2016


Support our work by making a tax-deductible donation to USPCN (c/o the WESPAC Foundation)!

16 May 2016


Reflections on a Delegation to Imprisoned Palestine

Emory Douglas, BPP Minister of Culture, with Mukhles Burgal an
Emory Douglas, BPP Minister of Culture, with Mukhles Burgal and his son.

At the end of March 2016, I was part of a nineteen-member Prisoner Solidarity and Labor Delegation that traveled from the United States, the country with the largest number of prisoners in the world, to Palestine, a nation where 40% of the male population has been imprisoned. (This article focuses on the prisoner solidarity portion of the delegation. To understand the full breadth of the delegation’s trip, see our delegation statement.) Convened by Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, professor at San Francisco State University, this was the first U.S. delegation to focus specifically on political imprisonment and solidarity between Palestinian and U.S. prisoners. We built on a long history of mutual inspiration and exchange dating back to the 1960’s. In 2013, when prisoners at Pelican Bay prison in California undertook an historic hunger strike to protest long term solitary confinement at the same time as Palestinian prisoners were on hunger strike against administrative detention, this exchange was renewed. Khader Adnan, a former Palestinian political prisoner who had waged a hunger strike in Israeli prisons for 66 days, sent a strong message of solidarity to the California hunger strikers, supporting their actions.

Our delegation grew out of this consciously revitalized connection across walls and borders. The Israeli and U.S. states have collaborated continuously, since the establishment of Israel in 1948, to develop repressive carceral strategies to contain resistance to colonialism and racism. We wanted to bring a delegation of people who were actively engaged in the struggle against imprisonment to Palestine to meet with their Palestinian comrades. Hank Jones, a former member of the Black Panther Party was imprisoned three times for his political activities, most recently in 2007 when he was arrested as part of the San Francisco 8 case. Laura Whitehorn and Claude Marks each spent years in prison for their anti-imperialist actions. Manuel La Fontaine was radicalized by prison elders during the time he spent in California state prisons and now organizes with All of Us Or None. Emory Douglas was minister of culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 to 1982 and continues his work as a revolutionary artist today. All of the delegation members came with an understanding that the Palestinian struggle for freedom is a central part of building a worldwide movement against U.S. imperialism and for liberation.

From the moment we crossed from Jordan into Palestine, we were surrounded by the dense matrix of border crossings, military checkpoints, walls, gates, watchtowers, surveillance cameras and 22 prisons that ensnare Palestinians, enforcing a racist, apartheid control over their daily lives. According to Professor Reema Hammami of the Institute of Women’s Studies, Birzeit University, the Zionist state has developed the most intensive regime of spatial control over a land area that has ever been invented. Its goal is to crush Palestinian resistance that has been sustained, against all odds, since the Nakba (catastrophe ) 68 years ago.
Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned approximately 800,000 Palestinians and currently holds 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners. With the help of Zakaria Odeh, executive director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem , we met dozens of former prisoners – old and young, women and men, all widely respected for their role in the freedom struggle. Everywhere we were welcomed as fellow “strugglers,” people whose life experiences, values and commitments were linked to theirs, an honor which we took very seriously. One of our first visits was with Mukhles Burgal in his home in Lydd. Mukhles spent 28 years in prison and finally was released in 2012 as part of the exchange of Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit for the freedom of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. Mukhles’ son sat on his lap, listening as Muhkles described how his own father had fought against the colonization of Palestine before the 1948 Nakba which displaced 85% of Palestinians from their land.

Mukhles was first imprisoned at twenty years old and was arrested for the second time in 1987 and charged with attacking an Israeli military bus. He was interrogated violently for fifty-seven days, enduring sleep deprivation, noise, and extreme cold. The Israeli interrogators threatened his family and used prisoners who were collaborators to undermine his resolve, but he was able to overcome all of this. To withstand the pressure of interrogation, prisoners practiced sumud, a concept rooted in the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle which can be best translated as steadfast resistance or standing one’s ground with dignity.

Themes of collectivity, sumud ,and intergenerational commitment to Palestine’s freedom were repeated by all the former prisoners we met. We spoke with four women who had previously been in prison themselves. Now, they explained, they were visiting their children in prison. “Palestinian mothers bring their children up to be steadfast,one of the women commented and went on to describe how she taught her son not to betray the movement if he were arrested. “The Palestinian mother loves her children very much, but you cannot believe how much she loves her homeland,” one of the other women declared.

The women described the arduous challenge of visiting their children in prison, traveling for 10-15 hours each way, passing through multiple checkpoints and enduring several humiliating full body searches at the prison itself. If no arbitrary circumstance prevented the visit from happening, they were finally able to see their child for half an hour through a plexiglass window. We were struck by the similarity of the grueling prison visiting process for families in the U.S., designed to torment families and prisoners alike.

Rula Abu Duhou , a former prisoner and current faculty member at Birzeit University’s Institute of Women Studies , told a story about collective steadfastness among women prisoners and how it led to an important victory. After the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Israelis agreed to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture. However, the releases didn’t include those with long sentences, those who were sick, or the women. The women prisoners began to organize themselves and their mothers formed a committee to advocate for their release.

Then in 1996, right before Palestinian legislative elections were to be held, the Israeli government announced that all the women who were together in Hasharon prison would be released, except for five. The women took a vote and decided that either all forty of them would be freed together or none of them would leave.

The prison threatened to forcibly release them if necessary, so the women locked themselves into two cells, blocking the Israeli guards from entering. They were hungry and very crowded in the two cells but they kept their spirits up, telling stories and encouraging each other. Several days later all of them were released. “We won our collective freedom through collective struggle,” Rula concluded pointedly.

We heard repeatedly about the dialectical relationship between the struggle inside prisons and outside. During the first Intifada the slogan used was “Bring the intifada inside the prison cells and bring the prison into the streets.” A 1992 prisoner hunger strike was one of the most successful due to the level of outside support connected with the intifada.

On the other hand, everyone we met, including representatives of political parties, grassroots, social and cultural organizations talked about the destructive impact the 1993 Oslo Accords have had on the struggle outside and inside prisons. Masked as a step towards Palestinian autonomy, the Accords have reinforced Israeli colonial control, dramatically escalated the takeover of land in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and have weakened the fabric of the movement . As one former prisoner explained,” most significantly, Oslo has occupied the mind.”

Now, twenty-three years post-Oslo, a broad cross section of organized forces agree on the critical need to rebuild a more unified Palestinian liberation movement. Key to this unity is upholding the right of return for all Palestinians with the goal of creating a sovereign Palestine. At the same time, in the face of escalating home demolitions, land confiscation, multiplying checkpoints, religious provocations, arbitrary arrests, and state-sanctioned Israeli vigilante terror, Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have begun to rise up, using a variety of tactics, in what many are calling a third intifada. According to numerous people we spoke with, this new intifada is providing an alternative to the Oslo way of thinking and represents the insurgent consciousness of a new generation.

Israel’s response to this resurgent movement has been brutal. Since October 2015, 5,000 arrests have taken place and dozens of extra-judicial executions. The assault against youth has been accompanied by a new level of sadistic punishment of their families. We met with Muhammad Elayyan, himself a former prisoner, a lawyer and the father of Bahaa Elayyan who was shot dead on October 13, 2015 by Israeli police for allegedly attacking an Israeli bus. As punishment for his son’s offense, even though no evidence or published proof has ever been presented linking Bahaa to the attack, their family home was demolished in January 2016

Additionally, the Israelis refused to release Bahaa’s body, as well as the bodies of 55 other youth who have been killed since October 2015. A few of the fifty-five bodies had been returned to their families frozen in a block of ice with the requirement that they be buried within a few hours, making it impossible to bury them according to Sharia law. Muhammad’s family refused to accept Bahaa’s frozen body. Along with the other “families of the unburied bodies,” they have brought their demand to release the bodies to the Israeli Supreme court and have launched an international campaign to expose this new level of psychological/cultural warfare against Palestinian families. After our wrenching visit with the family, we went to look at the gaping hole which had been the site of the Elayyan family home before its demolition. Painted in Arabic on the wall of an adjacent house were the words, “The blow that does not break your hand makes you stronger.”

The spirit of that slogan reverberated throughout our trip. Oslo might have weakened the Palestinian hand, but it certainly hadn’t broken it. That spirit was reflected in the remarkable murals painted on walls across Palestine, including the apartheid wall in Bethlehem and the walls and ceilings of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh refugee camp. We witnessed the spirit in the tireless work of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights organization that defends political prisoners day in and day out and in the dedication of Defense for Children International-Palestine that strives to protect the rights of Palestinian children, including those in prison and detention. And we applauded that spirit in the unprecedented success of the international BDS campaigns, a success that has so threatened Israel that an Israeli minister recently called for the civic assassination of BDS leadership.

This spirit was also pervasive at two conferences we participated in at Birzeit and An-Najah universities where many of the faculty and student presenters were former prisoners. Here, members of our delegation shared stories of incarceration, racism, clandestine struggle, and the challenges of building political movement in the U.S. We also brought messages of solidarity, collected in a pamphlet, from current U.S.-held political prisoners, including Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaqim, David Gilbert, members of the MOVE 9, and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia actually called in to the conference from prison in Pennsylvania , and commented eloquently on the links between the Black and Palestinian freedom struggles. The pamphlet had a picture of Rasmea Odeh on its cover, drawn by transgender political prisoner Marius Mason. Decades after being tortured in Israeli prisons, Rasmea, who now lives in Chicago, is being prosecuted on trumped-up charges by the U.S. government in conjunction with Israel, a punishment for her continuing support for Palestine’s liberation.

Back in the United States, Palestine is being discussed more broadly than ever, even entering into the Presidential debates. At the same time, attacks on Palestine’s supporters by Zionist organizations are escalating, especially on campuses where divestment and other pro-Palestine campaigns are gaining momentum. Students and faculty are being labeled anti-Semitic, and their future education and employment is being threatened. In this charged atmosphere, there is increased pressure to tone down the scope of solidarity. In Palestine, we learned that compromising fundamental principles has only weakened the liberation movement. We are committed to amplifying the voices of 7,000 steadfast Palestinian political prisoners and to upholding the right of return, self-determination, and sovereignty for Palestine as non-negotiable principles, in the spirit of sumud.

Diana Block is the author of a novel, Clandestine Occupations – An Imaginary History (PM Press, 2015) and a memoir, Arm the Spirit – A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back (AK Press, 2009).  She is an active member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners  and the anti-prison coalition CURB. She is a member of the editorial collective of The Fire Inside newsletter and she writes periodically for various online journals.


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Preston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm