Archive for May, 2013

Domestic Violence Is Our Greatest Threat – published in the Concord Monitor 5/26/2013

May 26, 2013 Leave a comment

The two big news stories of the last six months, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Newtown school shootings, have highlighted the behavior of two terrorists and a psychopath. However, I would argue that day in and day out the greater threat of assault and murder is more likely to come from a disgruntled spouse or ex-boyfriend.

On average, three women are murdered daily in the United States by a current or former intimate partner. Guns have generally been the weapon of choice for intimate partner homicide and just the presence of guns has increased the lethality of domestic violence incidents. Murders are often preceded by a lengthy history of domestic violence and stalking that can include the use of guns to intimidate. I believe this pattern has been long-standing.

About 15 years ago, I represented a client who was a domestic violence victim. She was a single working woman who lived in a rural part of New Hampshire. She wanted to separate completely from her former boyfriend. The two of them argued frequently and on one occasion, he grabbed her around the throat with both hands and he attempted to strangle her. She got away but he warned her that he could kill her if he wanted to. He had made several threats to shoot her.

My client was very scared. The ex-boyfriend was a gunowner and my client felt his behavior had become increasingly unpredictable. She obtained a temporary restraining order. She also purchased a cell phone for protection in the event of an emergency.

At the final hearing on the domestic violence, the ex-boyfriend admitted to the abuse but he asked the court to allow him to keep his guns. He explained that hunting season was coming up and hunting was his favorite activity. My client asked the court not to allow her ex-boyfriend access to his guns. He hunted in the woods near her house. She was afraid of being stalked and murdered.

The court initially ruled he could check his guns in and out of the police station when he wanted to hunt. The court found my client’s request to confiscate guns was unreasonable and inconsistent with New Hampshire’s venerable hunting tradition. On reconsideration, the court did change its mind and confiscated the guns because of federal domestic violence law.

New Hampshire has come a long way since those days. The state now has one of the strongest domestic violence laws in the country. Courts can order abusers to relinquish firearms after issuing a temporary retraining order. The law also allows courts to issue a warrant to search for guns if necessary. If there is a finding of abuse, the perpetrator loses the right to hold firearms for a year.

It is not an automatic that the guns come back after a year. The perpetrator must petition the Court and a hearing will be held to determine if he still represents a credible threat to the victim of the abuse. Law enforcement will not release firearms without a court order granting such release.

A March article in the New York Times by Michael Luo showed the wide range of state responses to the matter of guns and domestic violence. Twenty states require surrender of firearms and ammunition when a protective order is issued. In many states, gun rights organizations have stymied and stopped the type of reforms passed in New Hampshire. As a result, many states have less protective law for domestic violence victims than New Hampshire.

In Virginia, the gun lobby has repeatedly stopped efforts to make it illegal for people subject to court injunction to possess firearms. In Washington state, judges will only order the surrender of weapons in very specific situations like a determination by clear and convincing evidence that the person had used the weapon in a felony or had committed another offense that by law would disqualify him from having a firearm.

The variety of domestic violence laws in the states gives more appreciation for the wisdom of New Hampshire’s current law in this area. Only New Hampshire allows law enforcement the broad authority to remove all firearms and ammunition in the abuser’s control, ownership, or possession at the time of a domestic violence incident.

Other states allow the removal of only certain firearms or allow removal only if certain conditions are met. For example, some states only allow removal of weapons used in the domestic violence incident. A different group of states only allow for removal of weapons observed at the scene or in plain view. There are also states that will only allow removal of weapons pursuant to a consensual search.

The duration of the firearm removal is yet another issue. Many states hold weapons for much less time than a one year restraining order.There are states where law enforcement will only hold the firearms until proceedings against the abuser are concluded or until the weapons are no longer needed as evidence. Then the weapons are returned to the abuser.

As we contemplate new gun control reforms like universal background checks, our state’s experience has shown that sensible reforms can work and very likely save lives. I think universal background checks would add an additional tool to keep guns out of abusers’ hands as well as others who should not have them.

At present, domestic violence offenders who are federally prohibited from purchasing guns can avoid a background check by buying guns from unlicensed private sellers, either through online transactions or at gun shows. In 2012, an estimated 6.6 million guns were exchanged in private transfers without any criminal background check.

Private party sales are central to illegal commerce in firearms. It has been estimated that 40% of all firearm transactions occur directly between private parties. A universal background check that applied in all states would be a significant block to illegal commerce in firearms. Universal background checks would be an eminently reasonable crime-fighting reform.

Reducing gun violence in America is a public health issue. Gun policy needs to be based on evidence and clear thinking analysis. In the area of guns and domestic violence, New Hampshire has provided a positive example.

Conviction of General Rios Montt in Guatemala: Amy Goodman interview with Rigoberta Menchu – posted 5/18/2013

May 18, 2013 Leave a comment

I am reprinting the transcript of an interview Amy Goodman conducted with Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu after the conviction of General Efrain Rios Montt. The interview can be seen on the website. The interview was conducted on May 15, 2013. It is amazing that this story has received so little coverage in the United States. General Rios Montt was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison by a 3 judge panel. Back in 1982-83, the Guatemalan military conducted a scorched earth campaign that caused the indiscriminate death of thousands of civilians. The military campaign was directed against Guatemala’s Mayan population. The Guatemalan military had associated the Mayan people with an insurgency against the government.

Rios Montt was a Pentecostal priest who said that a true Christian had the Bible in one hand and a machine gun in the other. He had been supported by the United States during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. I expect there will be much legal commentary about this trial from international human rights lawyers. It is remarkable that a former head of state could be tried and convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in his own country. I would not have expected the legal process to be that strong that a court could make such a judgment. It is an important precedent for the whole international community. As more is written about the trial, I will cover this further. Jon

Days after Guatemala’s former U.S.-backed dictator, Efraín Ríos Montt, was convicted of genocide, we’re joined by a woman largely responsible for making sure he was brought to justice. Rigoberta Menchú began the process over a decade ago with legal cases filed against Guatemalan generals for atrocities committed in the Mayan region. Her lawsuits helped culminate last week in Ríos Montt’s landmark guilty verdict and 80-year sentence for his role in the killings of more than 1,700 Ixil Mayan people. Menchú lost her father, mother and two brothers during the Guatemalan genocide, later winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigning on behalf of Guatemala’s indigenous population. “The conviction of Ríos Montt may provide an opportunity to close a chapter of our lives, a chapter of profound pain, [allowing] us to begin a new relationship amongst Guatemalans,” Menchú says. “Because during the genocide, we felt so alone, we felt powerless, and we felt that nobody had our back. … The fact the genocide was committed is [now] recognized means that nobody will ever forget.”


NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Guatemala. The country’s former dictator, Efrain Ríos Montt, is spending a second day at a military hospital after fainting en route to a court hearing. Prison authorities say a judge will decide when 86-year-old Ríos Montt must return to prison.

Last week, Ríos Montt became the first former head of state to be found guilty of genocide in his or her own country. The former dictator was jailed Friday to begin an 80-year sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the killings of more than 1,700 Ixil Mayan people after he seized power in 1982.

Ríos Montt was a close ally of the United States. Former President Ronald Reagan once called him, quote, “a man of great personal integrity.”

After the verdict, Judge Yassmin Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of, quote, “all others” connected to the crimes.

JUDGE YASSMIN BARRIOS: [translated] In continuation of the investigation on the part of the public ministry, the tribunal orders the public ministry to continue the investigation against more people who could have participated in the acts which are being judged.

AMY GOODMAN: One former general implicated in abuses during the trial was Guatemala’s current president, Otto Pérez Molina. In the early ’80s, Pérez Molina was a military field commander in the Ixil region where the genocide occurred. At the time, he was operating under the alias “Major Tito Arias.” During the trial, one former army officer accused him of participating in executions. It remains yet to be seen if he’ll also be tried for crimes of genocide.

Well, today we’re going to Mexico City to be joined by a woman largely responsible for making sure that Ríos Montt was brought to justice. She began the process over a decade ago with legal cases filed against Guatemalan generals for atrocities in the Mayan region. Her name is Rigoberta Menchú. She’s the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has published many books, including I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. She’s been translated into many languages, awarded more than 30 honorary degrees, and runs the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation.

We’re also joined by Allan Nairn. He was due to be a witness in the trial and covered Guatemala extensively in the early ’80s. He attended the trial.

Rigoberta Menchú and Allan Nairn, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Let’s start in Mexico City. Rigoberta Menchú, your response to the verdict and the 80-year sentence of Ríos Montt?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Thank you, Amy Goodman. Thank you for this opportunity. I want to express my condolences to the victims of Boston and Pennsylvania. I am here with you today.

This verdict is historic. It’s monumental. The verdict against Ríos Montt is historic. We waited for 33 years for justice to prevail. It’s clear that there is no peace without justice. There is no peace without truth. We need justice for the victims for there to be real peace. This verdict is crucial. It complements a long process of investigation, of denouncing the abuses, and a process that the victims hope will heal and result in reparations. So this verdict isn’t just about asking somebody to say they’re sorry. It is important to apologize, and President Otto Pérez Molina has to apologize. And the court will move in that direction. President Otto Pérez Molina must apologize, and the court has instructed him to do so.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rigoberta Menchú, do you believe President Molina should resign?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Not just that alone does not suffice.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Do you believe, Rigoberta Menchú, that President Molina should resign?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Well, I would prefer not to embark on that debate. The most important thing is to understand the verdict for genocide as part of a larger process, and I am confident that there will be more trials. And if there are other high command officers who are responsible, I am confident that they will be brought to justice and the abuses will continue to be denounced and that justice will prevail in those cases, as well.

But in this case, a very important precedent has been set by this verdict. I am sure that Mr. Mauricio, who was the head of military intelligence and who was also part of the team of Ríos Montt, was absolved. And we thought that he should have also been convicted for genocide because he knew what was going on. So, this verdict shows that, on one hand, that Ríos Montt should be convicted for genocide, on very clear criterias, and he certainly was responsible for the genocide in Guatemala, but there are other high officials implicated in the genocide.

And the most important thing is that this verdict be respected and the court respected, and that the verdict and sentence be fulfilled, and that the court be fully respected, and that Judge Yassmin Barrios’ life be protected and all of the witnesses and victims, because a lot of people who are responsible for genocide are still free, and they are very aggressive, because they said that the victims were communists and subversives, and that’s why they deserved to be exterminated. And they accused the court and the judge of being communists, as well. And so, that shows that very little has really changed in Guatemala. So, we’re no longer in the Cold War, but certainly the rhetoric smacks of Cold War rhetoric. So this is a very delicate moment in Guatemala, and the most important thing is not to take a step backwards.

For me, there are four important reasons why we need to demand that the sentence be served, the verdict that was handed down on May 10th. First of all, this is a precedent and the first president in the whole world where a verdict has been handed down for genocide of a head of state in the country where it in fact occurred.

Secondly, this conviction for genocide proves that the victims spoke truth. For 32 years, victims have been seeking justice and have been documenting the abuses and suffering attacks by those who are responsible for genocide. They were. And we were accused of being liars. They said that we invented things, and they turned their back on us, and we were not supported by them. The hatred against the Mayans and the victims of the genocide is very—a tangible history in the last 32 years in Guatemala. So, justice has prevailed, though it sure took its time. But justice is prevailing, and the most important thing is that the sentence be served and the verdict respected.

The third crucial element has to do with the region that the genocide was committed in against the Ixil people, you know, that there were 200,000 victims of the genocide in Guatemala. There are 50,000 people who were disappeared. And there are victims throughout the country, not just in the region that was addressed in the trial. And so, in this regard, we are all Ixils. We identify fully with them, because we all suffered genocide as Mayans. And we need to remember that the policy of extermination and genocide against Mayans was also a policy of extermination of non-Mayans, as well. Unionists, student leaders also suffered. So, the genocide was by no means limited to the region of the territory of the Ixil people. So this is a crucial legal precedent for our country, and I think it can serve as the cornerstone for a new relationship amongst Guatemalans.

And I want to stress something that we have been saying for years. We have the International Criminal Court, but this International Criminal Court has not convicted genocide that has been committed. It’s waiting for new cases. It’s not retroactive. It doesn’t address those cases that were committed before the court was created. So the statute of limitations on the International Criminal Court should be lifted. So, this case really represents a—it poses a tremendous challenge to humanity. It’s a challenge for all countries who have allowed for genocide to occur in Guatemala.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break—

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] I don’t want to be controversial, but I do see that under Ronald Reagan and Bush’s administration there was a fantasy created of a third World War. And this fantasy really damaged the mentality of the military in Guatemala and Guatemalan fascists, and they still believe that communism exists. I don’t know what they’re referring to, but the truth is that here in Guatemala, women were raped, girls were raped, they strangled children, they assassinated and wiped out entire indigenous peoples, just because they thought they were so-called subversives and communists. So humanity really has to look into what occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace laureate. She has just flown from attending the trial in Guatemala City to Mexico City, where we’re speaking to her, and we’ll be joined by investigative journalist Allan Nairn. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest in Mexico City is the Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchú. It was her lawsuit that helped to lead to the conviction—first trial, then conviction and 80-year sentence of the former U.S.-backed dictator of Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt. He began his sentence on Friday night, after the sentence was read. Rigoberta Menchú, can you describe what happened to your own father?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Yes. Yes, well, as you know, the conviction of Ríos Montt has awakened the suffering that we carry, and we’re going to always feel that suffering as victims. In the case of my own family, my brother Patrocinio was burnt to death in the Ixil region. We never found his remains. We have looked for them. He may be on a farm that’s called the San Francisco Ranch, and he’s probably just in one of the mass graves.

As for my mother, we never found her remains, either. We don’t know if she was buried in a mass grave or eaten by wild animals. If it wasn’t her remains that were eaten by wild animals after having been tortured brutally and humiliated, then her remains are probably in a mass grave close to the Ixil region, because the truth is my family comes from an area very close to Ixil, even though we speak another language, which is Mayan Quiché.

My father was also burned alive in the embassy of Spain in January 30th, 1980. So this is why I feel the suffering of the victims who are clamoring for justice in the case against Ríos Montt, because under Lucas García, right before the coup d’état led by Ríos Montt, they burnt down the Spanish embassy where [my] father was. So, all of the abuses and violations that happened in 1982 and 1983, I suffered personally. My father had recently been burned alive. His name was Vicente Menchú.

So, in ’83, my brother Victor was also shot dead. His name was Victor Menchú. He was killed, murdered in Uspantán, also very close to the Ixil region. He was captured by the army. He had fled with his three children to the rainforest. His wife had her throat slit, and he was fleeing with his three children. After a couple of months, they captured him and took him to Uspantán. And Victor was jailed in the little town, but his three children were kept in a military bunker. It was called Chajul, this bunker. So my two nieces died of hunger in this military base, and my brother Victor was shot. We still have not found the remains of Victor. We found a file about his cadaver being found with multiple gunshot wounds in the place where people say he was probably shot, but a judge who ruled on his death drew up a death certificate, but it doesn’t specify where he was murdered. So we think that my brother Victor is also buried in a mass grave.

And these are the people closest to me who were murdered during the genocide. My father, my mother, my brother Victor, my brother Patrocinio and my sister-in-law Maria were the closest members of my family affected by the genocide.

And this is why I think that the conviction of Ríos Montt may provide an opportunity to close a chapter of our lives, a chapter of profound pain and a chapter that closes and allows us to begin a new relationship amongst Guatemalans, because during the genocide, we felt so alone, we felt powerless, and we felt that nobody had our back. But now a court has convicted Ríos Montt of genocide. So, for us, that suffices, that the fact that genocide was committed is recognized means that nobody will ever forget that genocide was committed.

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In Praise of Lee Fields, Charles Bradley and New Soul Music – posted 5/12/2013

May 12, 2013 4 comments

When I was a kid growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I made my personal discovery of soul music. I had a tiny portable record player that spun 33 and 45 rpm records. I remember listening to the Temptations Greatest Hits and the Four Tops Greatest Hits. They were among the first records I ever owned.

I still think they are among the greatest records, ever. Songs like “Ain’t To Proud To Beg”, “Beauty is Only Skin Deep” and “Baby I Need Your Loving” are legitimate classics of soul. I enjoyed the whole line-up of Motown artists, particularly Marvin Gaye and Martha and the Vandellas. Probably like a lot of people who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, I feel like the music of that era is the best. Really the era was amazing both for the creativity of the artists and the volume of their output.

It is probably silly to brag on the era. I think I listened more then. I am not sure when I stopped listening as much. Motown connected emotionally and the songs told stories with both life wisdom and passion. Not to mention you could dance to it.

Not that I went to see that many live shows but I do have one story. I went to see James Brown in Boston in the early 1970’s. I believe it was 1972. It was a crazy night. James was running late – not routinely late but way late, like two hours late. The crowd was not happy. After sitting and waiting for two hours, the audience was getting unruly. Periodically someone would come out on stage and explain that James was on his way and would be there soon. There was not a good vibe.

Weird as it is to recall, James had endorsed Nixon for President that year. Nixon was running against the Democratic candidate and a personal favorite politician of mine, Senator George McGovern. The Black Panther Party was outside the concert hall demonstrating against James. I remember hearing the chants: “Soul Brother Number One is an enemy of the people!”.The gist of the Panther demonstration was that James Brown was a sell-out who had turned his back on the people by endorsing Nixon.

The contradictions were intense. Nixon was running for re-election employing his infamous southern strategy – a Kevin Phillips brainchild founded on appealing to blatant white racism. Nevertheless, Nixon had the support of Soul Brother Number One. I don’t know the statistics on the Black vote in 1972 but I expect Nixon had popularity in the Black community roughly equivalent to Mitt Romney’s support in the Black community in 2012 – close to zilch.

When Brown arrived for the show, he walked on stage alone. He felt compelled to respond to the Panthers. He unravelled a composite of photos of members of the military. James pointed to the number of Black faces in the photos. He said they represented the officer corps and he argued Nixon had promoted many Black officers in the military, more than other white politicos. It was something of a weird pitch. Vietnam was going on and popular sentiment had turned against the war, especially in places like Boston.

The crowd did not want to hear it. The booing which had been going at a low level started intensifying. James, sizing the situation up, made the wise, abrupt decision to switch to music. In a matter of seconds, all was forgotten. James must have given the high sign to the band to start playing. The band suddenly launched into a number. James’s dancers got up and did their thing and the bizarre Nixon endorsement/explanation quickly became just another bad memory. James immediately got into stride. James had the crowd right from the moment he went to music.

I would say that the power of the music bailed James out. People just wanted him to shut up about politics.

It has been a long time since I heard any soul music that totally grabbed me like James Brown did. Maybe I have been out of the loop. I don’t know what happened and why there was such a long void. Two years ago I heard Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. When I was in Alaska, I listened to her album “I Learned the Hard Way” a lot. That is a tremendous album.

More recently, I discovered Lee Fields and Charles Bradley, two soul artists who have been around a long time. Both are in their 60’s. Both have produced new albums. The reason I wrote this piece is simply to encourage readers to listen to this music, buy it and support these artists. These guys are excellent soul artists. While it is easy to make comparisons to James Brown, they have their own styles. Both are great! If you go to youtube, try Lee Fields “I Still Got it”. As for Charles Bradley, try “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)”.

I have been listening to two CDs’ of Lee Fields. His newest one, released in 2012, is Faithful Man. I have also heard his 2009 CD My World. Personally I think Faithful Man is his best work. Along with the title cut, I really liked “You’re the Kind of Girl”,”Who Do You Love” and his cut “Ladies” which is on the My World CD.

As for Charles, his most recent CD is Victim of Love and his earlier work is No Time for Dreaming. Both are worthy. Along with “The World (Is Going Up in Flames) which I previously mentioned, I like “Loving You, Baby” and “Strictly Reserved for You”. Maybe it is just me but I think you will want to listen to these songs a lot. There is a reason Charles is known as “the Screaming Eagle of Soul”.

Both acts are touring now. I saw that Charles Bradley and his band the Extraordinaires is playing at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on May 18. Lee Fields and his band the Expressions is playing at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston on June 6 and they are playing at Signal Kitchen in Burlington Vermont on June 7. I would highly recommend both.

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“The Donkey of the Messiah” by Uri Avnery – posted 5/11/2013

May 11, 2013 Leave a comment

I am reprinting a piece written by Uri Avnery, a long-time leader of the Israeli peace bloc, Gush Shalom. Jon

*”THE TWO-STATE solution is dead!” This mantra has been repeated so often lately, by so many authoritative commentators, that it must be true.

Well, it ain’t.*

It reminds one of Mark Twain’s oft quoted words: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

BY NOW this has become an intellectual fad. To advocate the two-state solution means that you are ancient, old-fashioned, stale, stodgy, a fossil from a bygone era. Hoisting the flag of the “one-state solution” means that you are young, forward-looking, “cool”.

Actually, this only shows how ideas move in circles. When we declared in early 1949, just after the end of the first Israeli-Arab war, that the only answer to the new situation was the establishment of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, the “one-state solution” was already old.

The idea of a “bi-national state” was in vogue in the 1930s. Its main advocates were well-meaning intellectuals, many of them luminaries of the new Hebrew University, like Judah Leon Magnes and Martin Buber. They were reinforced by the Hashomer Hatza’ir kibbutz movement, which later became the Mapam party.

It never gained any traction. The Arabs believed that it was a Jewish trick. Bi-nationalism was built on the principle of parity between the two populations in Palestine – 50% Jews, 50% Arabs. Since the Jews at that time were much less than half the population, Arab suspicions were reasonable.

On the Jewish side, the idea looked ridiculous. The very essence of Zionism was to have a state where Jews would be masters of their fate, preferably in all of Palestine.

At the time, no one called it the “one-state solution” because there was already one state – the State of Palestine, ruled by the British. The “solution” was called “the bi-national state” and died, unmourned, in the war of 1948.

WHAT HAS caused the miraculous resurrection of this idea?

Not the birth of a new love between the two peoples. Such a phenomenon would have been wonderful, even miraculous. If Israelis and Palestinians had discovered their common values, the common roots of their history and languages, their common love for this country – why, wouldn’t that have been absolutely splendid?

But, alas, the renewed “one-state solution” was not born of another immaculate conception. Its father is the occupation, its mother despair.

The occupation has already created a de facto One State – an evil state of oppression and brutality, in which half the population (or slightly less than half) deprives the other half of almost all rights – human rights, economic rights and political rights. The Jewish settlements proliferate, and every day brings new stories of woe.

Good people on both sides have lost hope. But hopelessness does not stir to action. It fosters resignation.

LET’S GO back to the starting point. “The two-state solution is dead”. How come? Who says? In accordance with what scientific criteria has death been certified?

Generally, the spread of the settlements is cited as the sign of death. In the 1980s the respected Israeli historian Meron Benvenisti pronounced that the situation had now become “irreversible”. At the time, there were hardly 100 thousand settlers in the occupied territories (apart from East Jerusalem, which by common consent is a separate issue). Now they claim to be 300 thousand, but who is counting? How many settlers mean irreversibility? 100, 300, 500, 800 thousand?

History is a hothouse of reversibility. Empires grow and collapse. Cultures flourish and wither. So do social and economic patterns. Only death is irreversible.

I can think of a dozen different ways to solve the settlement problem, from forcible removal to exchange of territories to Palestinian citizenship. Who believed that the settlements in North Sinai would be removed so easily? That the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements would become a national farce?

In the end, there will probably be a mixture of several ways, according to circumstances.

All the Herculean problems of the conflict can be resolved – if there is a will. It’s the will that is the real problem.

THE ONE-STATERS like to base themselves on the South African experience. For them, Israel is an apartheid state, like the former South Africa, and therefore the solution must be South African-like.

The situation in the occupied territories, and to some extent in Israel proper, does indeed strongly resemble the apartheid regime. The apartheid example may be justly cited in political debate. But in reality, there is very little deeper resemblance – if any – between the two countries.

David Ben-Gurion once gave the South African leaders a piece of advice: partition. Concentrate the white population in the south, in the Cape region, and cede the other parts of the country to the blacks. Both sides in South Africa rejected this idea furiously, because both sides believed in a single, united country.

They largely spoke the same languages, adhered to the same religion, were integrated in the same economy. The fight was about the master-slave relationship, with a small minority lording it over a massive majority.

Nothing of this is true in our country. Here we have two different nations, two populations of nearly equal size, two languages, two (or rather, three) religions, two cultures, two totally different economies.

A false proposition leads to false conclusions. One of them is that Israel, like Apartheid South Africa, can be brought to its knees by an international boycott. About South Africa, this is a patronizing imperialist illusion. The boycott, moral and important as it was, did not do the job. It was the Africans themselves, aided by some local white idealists, who did it by their courageous strikes and uprisings.

I am an optimist, and I do hope that eventually Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs will become sister nations, living side by side in harmony. But to come to that point, there must be a period of living peacefully in two adjoining states, hopefully with open borders.

THE PEOPLE who speak now of the “one-state solution” are idealists. But they do a lot of harm. And not only because they remove themselves and others from the struggle for the only solution that is realistic.

If we are going to live together in one state, it makes no sense to fight against the settlements. If Haifa and Ramallah will be in the same state, what is the difference between a settlement near Haifa and one near Ramallah? But the fight against the settlements is absolutely essential, it is the main battlefield in the struggle for peace.

Indeed, the one-state solution is the common aim of the extreme Zionist right and the extreme anti-Zionist left. And since the right is incomparably stronger, it is the left that is aiding the right, and not the other way round.

In theory, that is as it should be. Because the one-staters believe that the rightists are only preparing the ground for their future paradise. The right is uniting the country and putting an end to the possibility of creating an independent State of Palestine. They will subject the Palestinians to all the horrors of apartheid and much more, since the South African racists did not aim at displacing and replacing the blacks. But in due course – perhaps in a mere few decades, or half a century – the world will compel Greater Israel to grant the Palestinians full rights, and Israel will become Palestine.

According to this ultra-leftist theory, the right, which is now creating the racist one state, is in reality the Donkey of the Messiah, the legendary animal on which the Messiah will ride to triumph.

It’s a beautiful theory, but what is the assurance that this will actually happen? And before the final stage arrives, what will happen to the Palestinian people? Who will compel the rulers of Greater Israel to accept the diktat of world public opinion?

If Israel now refuses to bow to world opinion and enable the Palestinians to have their own state in 28% of historical Palestine, why would they bow to world opinion in the future and dismantle Israel altogether?

Speaking about a process that will surely last 50 years and more, who knows what will happen? What changes will take place in the world in the meantime? What wars and other catastrophes will take the world’s mind off the “Palestinian issue”?

Would one really gamble the fate of one’s nation on a far-fetched theory like this?

ASSUMING FOR a moment that the one-state solution would really come about, how would it function?

Will Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs serve in the same army, pay the same taxes, obey the same laws, work together in the same political parties? Will there be social intercourse between them? Or will the state sink into an interminable civil war?

Other peoples have found it impossible to live together in one state. Take the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia. Serbia. Czechoslovakia. Cyprus. Sudan. The Scots want to secede from the United Kingdom. So do the Basques and the Catalans from Spain. The French in Canada and the Flemish in Belgium are uneasy. As far as I know, nowhere in the entire world have two different peoples agreed to form a joint state for decades.

NO, THE two-state solution is not dead. It cannot die, because it is the only solution there is.

Despair may be convenient and tempting. But despair is no solution at all.

Categories: Uncategorized

On Torture, A Bi-Partisan Lack of Indignation – published in the Concord Monitor 5/6/2013

May 6, 2013 2 comments

Buried under the avalanche of news stories about the Boston Marathon bombings was the release of an important new report about the use of torture by the George W. Bush administration. The timing for the release of this report could not have been worse. It vanished because the Boston Marathon bombings news stories were so dominating.

The Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group devoted to the rule of law, authored a 577 page report concluding that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture”.

While no doubt there are some who will see this report or any report as partisan, the Constitution Project attempted a bi-partisan, consensus-building approach to the torture question. Two former members of Congress, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat James R. Jones, led their taskforce on detainee treatment.

The report determined that torture had and has no justification. It found that there was no firm or persuasive evidence that torture provided valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. The report concluded that the use of torture damaged American standing around the world and potentially endangered our military.

I would like to suggest that much of the media discussion around the subject of torture has been superficial. There is much information in the public domain which sheds a deeper light on this darkest of subjects.

I think the most acute and far-seeing perspective on the use of torture by our government has been offered by University of Wisconsin Professor Alfred McCoy. McCoy argues that the roots of torture run far deeper than has generally been perceived. He traces a continuous government research effort going back to the 1940’s to study psychological torture and mind control.

In his book, “Torture and Impunity”, McCoy shows how U.S. intelligence agencies evolved new forms of torture that rely on psychological rather than physical pain. The modern torture paradigm features sensory deprivation, isolation, and the utilization of stress positions. Instead of externally inflicted pain, the emphasis is the use of self-inflicted pain, a much harder type of torture to detect but exceedingly lethal. The goal is to induce psychological regression, complete disorientation of the tortured individual and destruction of the will to resist.

McCoy argues there is a continuity of American experience with torture whether the setting was the Vietnam war, Latin America in the 70’s and 80’s or the Middle East over the last decade. There is a straight line from the tiger cages of South Vietnam to the Latin American disappeared to black sites.

McCoy’s picture of torture is quite at odds with popular understanding. Apologists for torture typically blame a few bad apples. Cynical adherents of realpolitick see torture as nasty but necessary to gain useful intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks and to protect national security.

There is an intellectual dishonesty about not acknowledging our investment and continuing engagement with torture. Now we are more likely to outsource the torture to our allies. McCoy argues there has been a desire to bury the subject and forget. Certainly this has been the unfortunate position taken by the Obama Administration. “Don’t look back – look forward.” That head-in-the-sand approach is almost guaranteed to promote torture in the future since it is based on failing to reckon with the past.

To appreciate the historical context of modern torture, we need to situate American experience within the larger international experience since the time of the Enlightenment. Torture is a bedrock issue in distinguishing between the Dark Ages and modernity. For almost 300 years, anti-torture advocates have made their case for banning the practice although torture remains an utterly contemporary issue around the world.

I would argue that torture is antithetical to American values and it is a relic of a medieval time the Founders wanted to put behind us. I think the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment almost certainly would have been understood by the Founders to have included a prohibition against torture. The Fifth Amendment also speaks to torture since the protection against self-incrimination is contrary to torture’s goal, obtaining a confession. The Founding Fathers were part of the Enlightenment generation that despised torture as a form of barbarism and uncivilized behavior.

Since World War II, an international body of law has developed to prohibit torture. We have the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. Both treaties have been ratified by the United States. The United States ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1955 during the Eisenhower presidency. Congress ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1994. President Reagan had consistently urged adoption of this treaty. It also should be mentioned that the United States voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” This Universal Declaration was adopted by the United Nations.

The squirrelly efforts of the George W. Bush Administration to evade legal obligations and to create bogus legal justifications have been well-documented. While Bush and Dick Cheney acted disgracefully and illegally, the actions of the Obama Administration around torture have also been very disappointing. Moving on is a form of silence. Silence is a form of acquiesence and implicit accommodation with our torture history.

Torture is not a partisan issue. We suffer from a bi-partisan lack of indignation as well as a willful lack of awareness. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont had suggested a Truth Commission to explore this dark side but neither Congress nor the White House were interested. Forgetting is a guaranteed way to allow this disgusting and inhuman practice to continue.