Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Netanyahu’s government have been telling Israelis they’ll never give Palestinians their own state – and taking the world for mugs

You know how the Israeli government is meant to be in favour of allowing a Palestinian state? Read the quotes below and you’ll see that Netanyahu and every minister in his government have been saying the opposite to Israelis for years and taking the whole world for mugs.

(credit for finding all quotes except the first two goes to Rashid M, who quoted them in comments on this ABC news article)

'The uncertainties were swept aside on Friday afternoon, when the prime minister, for the first time in ages, gave a press conference on Day Four of Operation Protective Edge. He spoke only in Hebrew...He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank…The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria.” Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
Daniel Horovitz, Times of Israel 13th July 2014 quoting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s press conference of 11th July, which was conducted entirely in Hebrew

(Note that Netanyahu and most of his Likud party opposed removing the Israeli settlements from Gaza. Judea and Samaria is the biblical name used by all Israeli governments for the West Bank)

I think we made a mistake with land for peace…The conflict is not about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It’s about the existence of a Jewish national home.”
Moshe Ya’alon, Israeli Defense Minister, 10th June 2014

I will do everything in my power, forever, to fight against a Palestinian state being founded in the Land of Israel.
- Naftali Bennett, Israel's Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, January 2013.

In this way, we will try, slowly but surely, to expand the circle of settlements, and to afterwards extend the roads that lead to them, and so forth. At the end of this process, the facts on the ground will be that whatever remains [of the occupied West Bank] will be merely marginal appendages… - Yariv Levin, Coalition Chairman in the Knesset for Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party, January 2013.

"One thing must be clear: A Palestinian state is not the solution. The state of Israel made a harsh mistake when it created the impression that it is prepared to accept two states for two nations. ”- Uzi Landau, Israeli Minister for Tourism, May 2013.

This is our land, and it’s our right to apply sovereignty over it. Regardless of the world’s opposition, it’s time to do in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] what we did in [occupied East] Jerusalem and the Golan.” - Ze'ev Elkin, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, July 2012.

We are opposed to a Palestinian state... [Netanyahu's declaration of support for a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan University was] a tactical speech for the rest of the world. ” - Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister of Transportation, December 2012.

The Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We oppose a two-state solution.” - Avi Wortzman, Deputy Minister of Education, February 2013.

All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. It is enough that we are hitting
exact targets and that we gave them advance warning. Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land. Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel.
” – Op-Ed by Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, July 15 2014.

How is this any different from Hamas spokespeople who repeatedly tell foreign journalists and politicians that they back a two state solution, while telling their own people that they will never give up an inch of the former Mandate of Palestine?

There is one way it’s different. Hamas don’t have even 1% of the military power to destroy Israel, but Israel has more than enough military power to make every Palestinian they don’t kill into a stateless refugee.

The  blockade on Gaza and refusal to negotiate with the entire elected Palestinian government – Hamas and Fatah – are about creating a never ending war with Hamas to distract the world’s attention from the fact that Israel doesn’t intend to ever give up an inch of the West Bank, ever allow Palestinians the same rights Israelis have.

How can any politician believe any longer that the Israeli government has any moral superiority over Palestinian groups’ leaders? Every government should be demanding that Israel provides Palestinians with either their own sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza, or else provides all Palestinians with full and equal citizenship in a single binational Jewish and Arab state.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Israel’s blanket “our enemies are hiding behind civilian human shields" excuse covers up the Israeli military's deliberate targeting of civilians

Summary : Israel’s story about every civilian killed being the fault of their enemies is shown false by neutral investigations into every war it has ever fought. While some civilian deaths are collateral damage, evidence from every human rights groups' investigations shows Israeli forces also often target unarmed civilians, even when no fighting is going on.

Over three thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, but only 6 Israeli soldiers jailed for killing civilians since 2000, the longest sentence being 7 months.

History shows that “hiding among civilians” is not the tactic of the morally worse side but the worse armed one. The Zionist militias that later became the IDF used it against the British military in the 1920s to 1940s and two of the three main Zionist militias also targeted civilians in terrorist bombings.

There’s an endless repetition by Israeli government and military spokesmen that Hamas are responsible for the death of every civilian killed by Israeli forces in Gaza because they are “cowards” who “hide behind civilians”, using them as “human shields”, while Israeli forces supposedly “do all they can to avoid civilian  casualties”.

In fact Israeli forces have always done a fair amount of targeting civilians during wars and even when there is no fighting going on – just as much as their enemies have targeted Israeli civilians.

The 1948 War

In the 1948 Israeli “War of Independence” Israeli forces operated Plan D, which involved massacring Palestinian fighters and civilians alike in towns across the former Mandate of Palestine in order to terrify as many of them as possible into fleeing into neighbouring countries, before refusing to allow them to re-enter the country.

The historical evidence for this has been given in great detail by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his book ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, by Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi in his book ‘The Iron Cage’ and by American academic Norman Finkelstein, both of whose parents were holocaust survivors, in his book ‘Beyond Chutzpah’.

Operation Defensive Shield 2002

The propaganda line about Israel’s enemies causing all civilian deaths was used in 2002  in ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ when Israeli forces carried out an offensive in Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’TSelem found many of the 497 civilians, including 70 children, killed, were killed by Israeli bulldozers destroying their homes, or shot in the street by Israeli forces, including firing on ambulances and ambulance crews and killing a disabled man in a wheelchair.  Israeli soldiers also used Palestinian civilians as human shields by forcing them to walk ahead of them (1) – (6).

The 2006 Lebanon War and parallels with Gaza today

After the 2006 Lebanon War, Human Rights Watch found Hezbollah hadn’t fired rockets from villages Israel attacked, as Israeli spokesmen had claimed, but from hills several miles away. It also found Israeli forces targeted clearly marked ambulances across the country (7) – (8).

In the Lebanon War, as in Gaza today, the Israelis made a great show of warning civilians to leave areas where “terrorists were operating”. Leaflets were dropped across the whole of Southern Lebanon ordering the entire population to leave for Northern Lebanon. Many had no cars to travel the distance fast enough. Many of those who did have cars were too scared to use them since Israeli forces were already bombing civilian vehicles, roads and bridges.

After this Israel’s Justice minister Haim Ramon announced that “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah”. More intense bombing and drone strikes began, resulting in many civilian deaths, including the 2006 Qana massacre, which bore great similarities to the 1996 Qana massacre also committed by Israeli forces (9) – (11).

In Gaza today the same warning propaganda is used. Leaflets are dropped ordering civilians to leave one area, but wherever they go there are Israeli attacks. They can’t leave Gaza as Israeli forces prevent anyone leaving into Israel or by sea.

The border with Egypt is closed, as Hamas are allies of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government which the Egyptian military overthrew.

Israeli forces also target the family homes of members of Palestinian militant groups for destruction (often killing entire families in the process). This makes
many Gazans scared to leave their own neighbourhood, in case they end up being killed in an Israeli strike on the home of a militant who they didn’t know lived there (12) – (16).

The 2008/2009 Gaza “War” – Operation Cast Lead

The  “human shields” propaganda was recycled by Israeli spokespeople again in the 2008 to 2009 Gaza war (‘Operation Cast Lead) , which, like the current war, was more of a one-sided massacre. Amnesty found Israeli forces killed hundreds of civilians, many where there was no fighting, some in their homes, others ambulance crews. It said many couldn’t be “collateral damage”. Human Rights Watch found multiple cases of unarmed civilians waving white flags shot where no fighting was happening (17) – (19).

Only two Israeli soldiers have ever been charged, prosecuted and jailed for their actions in Operation Cast Lead and neither on charges of deliberately killing civilians. One was given 45 days for “illegal discharge of a weapon” (into a Palestinian civilian woman and her daughter, killing her). Another got 7 months for stealing a credit card. (20) – (22).

Targeting civilians Even When There’s No Fighting

Even when there’s no fighting anywhere, Israeli soldiers regularly kill Palestinian children and teenagers who are unarmed, some in their own homes, playing in the street, or throwing stones when protesting against the occupation in the West Bank as much as in Gaza. 

This included two 16 year olds killed in May by Israeli forces. Another Palestinian teenager was among the eight Palestinians killed so far in West Bank protests against Israeli killings of civilians in Gaza. In the case of the first two the Israeli military came out with three different stories to try to deny the facts – that Israeli forces had not fired live ammunition (disproven by the autopsy), that CCTV video of the shootings showing Israeli forces fire on them had been edited (disproven by Israeli human rights group B’TSelem’s analysis of the video), and that Palestinian gunmen had shot the two boys (with zero evidence whatsoever) (23) – (28).

For a list of Palestinians killed in the West Bank in the last 5 years and the circumstances see this page from Israeli human rights group B’TSelem (currently offline to people outside Israel due to a cyber-attack on its website, almost certainly by the Israeli government or military) (29).

From 2004 to 2005 British and Palestinian doctors and journalists in Israel and the occupied territories, along with B’TSelem, found a disturbing number of Palestinian children being killed by Israeli sniper fire to their heads and chests in their homes, in school or playing in the street (30) – (34).

Israeli soldiers later confirmed they had often been given orders to fire on any Palestinian they saw in the occupied territories, armed or unarmed, in their own homes or outside them (35) – (36).

Not one Israeli soldier has been jailed or even discharged from the army over any of these killings.

Human Rights Watch reports that “Since September 2000, Israeli forces have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians who did not participate in hostilities in the West Bank and Gaza, according to B’Tselem’s data. But the military justice system has convicted only six Israeli soldiers for unlawfully killing Palestinians, with seven-and-a-half months as the longest jail sentence, according to Yesh Din, another rights group.” (37).

Gaza Today - Operation Protective Edge

By 3.00 pm Israeli time on the 1st of august Palestinian armed groups had killed 3 Israeli civilians and 59 soldiers (all the soldiers having died since the Israeli ground offensive into Gaza began), while Israeli forces had killed around 500 armed Palestinians and over 900 civilians including 286 children (38).

There have been attacks on civilian targets including strikes on over 100 UN buildings, including schools and aid depots, several attacks on every hospital in Gaza, hundreds of attacks on the family homes of members of Palestinian armed groups, as well as the family homes of Palestinian doctors with no links to any armed group (e.g Dr Nasser El Tatar), TV stations, and Gaza’s only power station (39) – (41).

A reporter from the UN’s Channel 4 news in Gaza saw Israeli forces open fire with small arms and artillery on Palestinian civilians during the short-lived 7th July ceasefire when the civilians attempted to return to their homes and farms to check on them  (42).

If an isolated Israel was genuinely fighting for its survival against heavily armed Palestinian forces, or had suffered many deaths from rocket fire, at least some of the civilian casualties caused in Gaza, those which were the result of collateral damage and not deliberate targeting, might be more understandable.

But in fact Israel has thousands of the most advanced tanks, fighter jets, armoured personnel carriers, drones and helicopters in the world, while the Palestinian armed groups have some light arms including rocket propelled grenades and mortars. They also have some inaccurate rockets – mostly pretty much “home made”, but some longer ranged Chinese or Iranian made ones.

Israel also has the whole of NATO plus Egypt and Jordan as allies. The Palestinians have only Iran.

History shows hiding among civilians is the tactic of the worse armed side,
not the morally worse side

Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto wore no uniforms and hid in the middle of a city, because they had only light arms against a heavily armed military – and because, much like Gaza under blockade, there was nowhere else they could go.

The Zionist militias during the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1920 to 1940s, like the Irgun and Lehi, whose members later became part of the Israeli military, used not only the urban guerrilla tactics used by the Haganah, but also terrorist attacks against both British and Arab civilians. These initially poorly armed militias were fighting the much better armed British military.

Far from being outcasts in the new state of Israel, members of these groups became senior members of the Israeli military and government. Menachim Begin, a former commander in the Irgun, became the Israeli Prime Minister at the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Yitzakh Shamir, a Lehi leader, also went on to become Prime Minister.

So before Israelis had their own state, when they were up against much better armed enemies, they behaved exactly the same way Palestinians do in the same situation, up against the massively better armed Israeli Defence Forces. The supposed moral superiority of Israel’s leaders and military over Palestinian political leaders and armed groups is mythical.

(1) = BBC 18 Apr 2002 ‘Jenin 'massacre evidence growing'’,

(2) = Amnesty International 2002 ‘Israel and the Occupied Territories
Shielded from scrutiny: IDF violations in Jenin and Nablus’,

(3) = Human Rights Watch May 2002 ‘Jenin: IDF Military Operations’,

(4) = UN 2002 ‘Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant
to General Assembly resolution ES-10/10’,
http://www.un.org/peace/jenin/index.html ; On the 497 Palestinians killed on the Operation see Paragraph 37 Section E;
For figures from Physicians for Human Rights see Paragraph 57

Palestinian Testimonies , Soldiers’ Testimonies’,

(6) = B’Tselem Mar 2002 ‘Impeding Medical Treatment and Firing at Ambulances
by IDF Soldiers in the Occupied Territories’,

(7) =HRW 06 Dec 2007 ‘Why They Died : Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War’

(8) = HRW 19 Dec 2006 ‘The “Hoax” That Wasn’t : The July 23 Qana Ambulance Attack’,

(9) = BBC News 27 Jul 2006 ‘Israel calls up army reservists’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5219360.stm

(10) = See (7) above

(11) = Human Rights Watch (1997) ‘ISRAEL/LEBANON "OPERATION GRAPES OF WRATH" The Civilian Victims’, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/isrleb/Isrleb.htm

(12) = Human Rights Watch 09 Jul 2014 ‘Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks - Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment’,

(13) = Human Rights Watch 16 Jul 2014 ‘Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians’, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/15/israelpalestine-unlawful-israeli-airstrikes-kill-civilians

(14) = Amnesty International 11 Jul 2014 ‘Israel/Gaza: UN must impose arms embargo and mandate an international investigation as civilian death toll rises’,

(15) = B’TSelem 09 Jul 2014 ‘Bombing family homes of activists in armed Palestinian groups violates international humanitarian law’, http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20140709_bobming_of_houses_in_gaza

(16) = Guardian 22 Jul 2014 ‘Gazans flee Israeli bombardment – into the path of more bombs’

(17) = Amnesty 02 Jul 2009 ‘Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/impunity-war-crimes-gaza-southern-israel-recipe-further-civilian-suffering-20090702

(18) = Amnesty UK 02 Jul 2009 ‘Gaza conflict: First comprehensive report says both sides committed war crimes’, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=18294

(19) = Human Rights Watch 13 Aug 2009 ‘White Flag Deaths  - Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead’, http://www.hrw.org/node/85014

(20) = Ynet news (Israel) 11 Aug 2009 ‘Soldier who stole credit card during Gaza op jailed’, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3760488,00.html

(21) = BBC News 13 Aug 2012 ‘Israeli ex-soldier cleared of Gaza manslaughter charge’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19243246  ‘Court approves plea bargain for soldier charged with ‘Cast Lead’ manslaughter’, ‘Israeli prosecutors have dropped a manslaughter charge against a former soldier in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian woman and her daughter during the offensive on Gaza in 2009. But the sergeant was jailed for 45 days after being convicted of unlawful use of a firearm in a separate incident as part of a plea deal, his lawyer said.’

(22) = Haaretz 12 Aug 2012 ‘IDF soldier sentenced to 45 days for death of mother, daughter in Gaza war’, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-soldier-sentenced-to-45-days-for-death-of-mother-daughter-in-gaza-war-1.457649

Paul Mason’s blog ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’,http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/deadly-shelling-threatens-gaza-truce/1892  , ‘As we drove back, on the road north to Gaza City, you could see the dust of Israeli tanks in the distance. Three times shell fire came close enough to the main road to smell the cordite…. what I saw followed a fairly consistent pattern: shelling into farmland where Palestinians were trying to return, and aimed small-arms fire at civilians.

(23) = AP 15 May 2014 ‘Two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops in West Bank’,

(24) = Guardian 21 May 2014 ‘Video footage indicates killed Palestinian youths posed no threat’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/20/video-indicates-killed-palestinian-youths-no-threat-israeli-forces

(25) = Guardian 13 Jun 2014 ‘Palestinian boy's autopsy: wounds consistent with live ammunition’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/12/autopsy-palestinian-teenager-wounds-consistent-live-ammunition

(26) = Guardian 23 May 2014 ‘Footage of Palestinian boys being shot is genuine, says Israeli rights group’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/22/footage-palestinian-boys-shot-genuine-btselem

(27) = Guardian 26 Jul 2014 ‘Gaza violence spreads to West Bank with six Palestinians reportedly killed’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/25/palestinian-protests-continue-israel-considers-ground-operation-ceasefire

(28) = Sydney Morning Herald 28 Jul 2014 ‘Palestinian toll tops 1000 as Israel ceasefire called to recover Gaza dead’, http://www.smh.com.au/world/palestinian-toll-tops-1000-as-israel-ceasefire-called-to-recover-gaza-dead-20140727-zxcdw.html (see last two paragraphs on 8 Palestinian protesters killed and 250 wounded by Israeli forces in West Bank)

(29) = B’TSelem ‘Palestinians killed in the West Bank since the end of Operation Cast Lead’

(30) = Guardian 20 May 2004 , ‘Palestinian doctors despair at rising toll of children shot dead by army snipers’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,4928224-103552,00.html

(31) = Guardian 28 Jun 2005, ‘Snipers with children in their sights’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1516362,00.html

(32) = Derek Summerfield ‘Palestine – The Assault on Health and Other War Crimes’, British Medical Journal 16 October 2004 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/329/7471/924?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Derek+Summerfield+Palestine&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

(33) = BT’Selem eyewitness testimonies – IDF soldier shoots and kills a 14 year-old boy playing with his friends, in Tubas, north of Nablus, January 2005 - witness Abu Muhsen - http://www.btselem.org/english/Testimonies/20050120_Salah_Abu_Muhsen_Shot_to_Death_in_Tubas_witness_Abu_Muhsen.asp

(34) = BT'Selem eyewitness testimonies - IDF soldier shoots and kills a 14 year-old boy playing with his friends, in Tubas, north of Nablus, January 2005 - witness Daragmeh - http://www.btselem.org/english/Testimonies/20050120_Salah_Abu_Muhsen_Shot_to_Death_in_Tubas_witness_Daraghmeh.asp

(35) = Guardian 6 Sep 2005, ‘Israeli troops say they were given shoot-to-kill order’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1563476,00.html

(36) = Guardian 6 Sep 2005, ‘Israeli soldiers tell of indiscriminate killings by army and a culture of impunity’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1563255,00.html

(37) = Human Rights Watch 03 Aug 2014, ‘Israel: Shooting Deaths after West Bank Protest - Evidence Points to Unlawful Killings by Israeli Forces ’, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/03/israel-shooting-deaths-after-west-bank-protest

(38) = UNocHA Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report (as of 1 august 2014, 1500 hrs), http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_sitrep_02_08_2014.pdf

(39) = UN News Centre 31 jul 2014 ‘UN, US announce Gaza parties agree to 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire’, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48381#.U90o22Oq_Nw

(40) = Guardian 14 Jul 2014 ‘A knock on the roof, then another Gaza home destroyed by Israeli missile’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/14/gaza-home-destroyed-israel-shati , ‘A mile or so from Alaa Hadeedi's house…Dr Nasser Tatar, director general of Gaza's largest medical facility, the Shifa hospital, is examining the ruins of his own house …"The IDF called my nephew with a 10-minute warning saying that they planned to destroy my house... I got my family out …they hit my house with a rocket and then a second’

(41) = Guardian 30 Jul 2014 ‘Gaza's only power plant destroyed in Israel's most intense air strike yet’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/29/gaza-power-plant-destroyed-israeli-airstrike-100-palestinians-dead

(42) = Channel 4 News Blogs – Paul Mason 01 Aug 2014 ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’, http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/deadly-shelling-threatens-gaza-truce/1892

Sunday, March 09, 2014

There are neo-Nazis in Ukraine’s new government. It’s not representative of the whole country – and it should accept autonomy for Crimea and pledge not to join the EU or NATO to avoid civil war or war with Russia

Summary: Putin’s talk of Ukraine’s transitional government as being entirely made up of neo-nazis who target Russians is an exaggeration, but there’s some truth in it. Ukraine’s new government includes neo-nazis of the Svoboda party and is not representative of the whole country.

EU sanctions are impossible as the EU relies on Russia for gas imports. Arming and funding western Ukrainian groups to fight Russia and its allies would only tip Ukraine into a Bosnian or Chechnyan style civil war. Russia will not back down on this issue as Ukraine was used as a base by its enemies in both World Wars and Chechnya was used as a base by terrorist groups far more recently.

Ukraine’s government should settle for granting Crimea, with its Russian majority, autonomy – and guaranteeing Ukraine will not join the EU or NATO in order to avoid such a war – and the US and EU should encourage them to make these concessions.

Most of the western media talk as though President Putin’s characterisation of the Ukrainian transitional government as neo-nazis who threaten the lives of Russians in Ukraine is purely propaganda.

There is some truth in Putin’s claims though, despite his exaggerations, and despite him being an authoritarian hard line nationalist himself, as well as a frequent propagandist.

The violent neo-Nazis in key posts in the transitional Ukrainian government

Photo: Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda or 'Freedom' party, gives a Nazi salute

The largest party in the transitional government , the ‘Fatherland’ party, are not neo-nazis, despite their name. However the ‘National Socialist’ Svoboda (‘Freedom’) party, notorious for its anti-semitism and hatred of Russians and other minorities in Ukraine, has four ministries in the transitional government including Defence and Deputy Prime Minister (1) – (5).  

Svoboda also has 37 seats in parliament, which approved the Interim Prime Minister and President (6). It won only 10% of the vote nationally in the last elections, but over 40% in parts of Western Ukraine, with the party with the largest share of the vote in the East being the now overthrown President Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions (7).

Svoboda’s four ministries in the transitional government are clearly representative of its support in western Ukraine and a huge over-representation relative to its support in the country as a whole.

Svoboda members and some of its MPs still publicly celebrate the Ukrainian SS unit recruited by the Nazis during World War Two and the Ukrainian nationalist Stephen Bandera who allied with the Nazis (8) – (9).

The Deputy Secretary of National Security is Dmitry Yarosh, former head of the paramilitary Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, whose members fought against Russian troops in Chechnya (10).

The opposition majority in the Ukrainian parliament voted after Yanukovych’s overthrow to revoke a law which allowed Ukraine’s regions to use official languages of minorities such as Russians, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Tatar along with the Ukrainian language. Ukrainian was to become the only language which could be given official status (11).

Interim President Arseniy Yatsenyuk reversed this ruling. His party Batkivshchyna, or “Fatherland”, is the largest in the transitional government and parliament and luckily it is not as extreme as its name would suggest. Yatsenyuk is Jewish and comes from a family of mixed Romanian and Ukrainian descent (12) – (14).

Svoboda and other ultra-nationalist protesters included many armed with baseball bats, iron pipes and a few guns who still patrol Kiev. Medieval style trebuchet catapults were also used to fire rocks, bricks and petrol bombs at riot police. The last were mostly reported as being amusing, but would be quite capable of killing (15) – (18).

This violence by ultra-right militias may have led to the use of snipers by the government, if those were government snipers (various unsubstantiated rumours include that they were Russians, mercenaries hired by the opposition, or mercenaries hired by the US), though it certainly didn’t justify it.

Why Ukraine should grant the Crimea autonomy and pledge not to join the EU or NATO – and why the US and EU should not try to persuade them to do otherwise

Photo: Ukrainian Russians in Kiev protest against war over Crimea, one sign calling for Putin to protect her by withdrawing his troops

The transitional government is overwhelmingly made up of parties which want to join the EU. Russian actions in Crimea have been sending a message that, as Russian spokespeople put it, this is a “red line” for Russia.

The Ukraine has a large Russian speaking minority, Russian military bases, is right on the border of Russia, historically a close ally of Russia – and an invasion route for the French in the 19th century and the Germans in the First and Second World Wars.

More recently secessionist republics trying to leave the Russian federation, including Chechnya, were used as bases by terrorist groups for attacks inside Russia (though Russian military torture and massacres in wars against the secessionists contributed greatly to recruitment by these Islamist groups).

President Putin’s popularity in Russia is based on nationalism , restoring Russia’s pride after the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic collapse under Yeltsin’s experiments in an absolute free market that led to chaos. It’s also based on him being seen as a “strong” leader who will stand up to pressure from the US and its allies.

Putin is certainly no democrat, but its hard to believe that any other Russian government would have reacted any differently to a US backed revolution in one of its closest neighbours and allies which also contains strategically important naval bases. The threat to Russians in Ukraine only adds to this.

 If there had been a Russian backed revolution in Canada or Mexico, in which ultra-nationalists threatened US citizens, the US wouldn’t have responded any differently.

If the Ukrainian transitional government attempts to join the EU the likely result will be either civil war in Ukraine with the Russians and Americans each providing arms and training to their proxies there, or else a Russian invasion to install its own client government and prevent US-backed paramilitaries using it as a base, or both. This would not be good for the people of the Ukraine – not even the ones who survived it.

Nor would risking direct military intervention of the kind advocated by the right in the US be good for anyone. It is not wise to suggest potential escalation to World War Three between two nuclear armed powers.

Sanctions on Russia would have little downside for the US, which could afford to play geopolitics with Russia in this way, but western Europe gets much of its gas for heating and electricity from Russia. Germany, the largest country in the EU, gets 25% of its gas imports from Russia.

While the Ukrainian parliament is elected, the transitional government is not. Only after new elections will there be a fully legitimate government representative of all Ukrainians.

The US government has repeatedly condemned changes to the consitutions of Honduras under Zelaya and Venezuela under Chavez when carried out by democratic referenda and elected constitutional assemblies. This leaves it looking more than a bit hypocritical when condemning the Russian government’s criticism of the transitional Ukrainian government as being in breach of Ukraine’s constitution.

The Russian majority in the Crimea voting by referendum to leave Ukraine would no more be against international law than Kosovo’s Albanian majority voting to leave Yugoslavia by referendum. The US government opposes the first and backed the second purely in order to expand its own influence and reduce Russia’s. It has no democratic principle behind its positions.

Minorities in Crimea justifiably fear repression under a Russian nationalist client regime, but the fears of Russians in Crimea of being ruled over by a government including Svoboda are just as real.

Given the massively greater military power of Russia and Russia’s fear of Ukraine being used as a base for its enemies, as it was in both world wars, the best deal the Ukrainian government is likely to get is to give up the Crimea in return for staying in power itself while agreeing not the join the EU.

(That’s before even taking into account Russian fears of Ukraine being used as a base for terrorist attacks into Russia, as Chechnya was by Islamic militants).

Giving western Ukrainians the false impression that the EU will use economic sanctions on Russia (which Putin might well choose to endure to maintain his strong man image and which would hurt the EU more than Russia) to tip the balance, would be misleading them and doing them no favours.

Ditto for pretending that the US will fight World War Three for them.

Arming and funding groups that include neo-nazis and so reducing their country to a Bosnian or Chechnyan style war in the name of “freedom” would be even worse.

There is no freedom for anyone except the killers in a civil war – and no freedom even when it ends if one side are Russian ultra-nationalist extremists and the other side Ukrainian neo-nazis.

(1) = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-Ukrainian_Union_Fatherland

(2) = Interfax Ukraine 27 Feb 2014 ‘Ukrainian parliament endorses new cabinet’,

(3) = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yatsenyuk_Government#Composition

(4) = Channel 4 News (UK) 05 Mar 2014 ‘How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine's power vacuum’, http://www.channel4.com/news/svoboda-ministers-ukraine-new-government-far-right

(5) = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svoboda_(political_party)

(6) = Reuters 07 Mar 2014 ‘In Ukraine, nationalists gain influence - and scrutiny’,

(7) = The Nation 06 Mar 2014 ‘The Dark Side of the Ukraine Revolt’,

(8) = See (7) above

(9) = BBC News 07 Mar 2014 ‘Ukraine's revolution and the far right’,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26468720 (see third photo down and text above and below it)

(10) = See (4)

(11) = IB Times 09 Mar 2014 ‘Watch Your Tongue: Language Controversy One Of Fundamental Conflicts In Ukraine’, http://www.ibtimes.com/watch-your-tongue-language-controversy-one-fundamental-conflicts-ukraine-1559069

(12) = See (11)

(13) = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arseniy_Yatsenyuk

(14) = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-Ukrainian_Union_Fatherland

(15) = BBC Newsnight 01 Mar 2014 ‘Ukraine: Far-right armed with bats patrol Kiev’,

(16) = BBC News 01 Mar 2014 ‘Ukraine: The far-right groups patrolling Kiev’,

(17) = ABC News ‘The Kiev Protests Look Apocalyptic’,

(18) = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUvrKv0pHNY (BBC news report)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Salmond and Unionist politicians both talk as though theirs is the risk free option that will eliminate uncertainty about the future for Scots. Risks and uncertainty can only be reduced by recognising we can’t know for certain what the outcome of any choice will be and making plans for various possible outcomes

The SNP leadership and unionist politicians both talk as though if we just adopt the option they favour, Scots will face no uncertainties about the future and no risks. Salmond and Osborne are both stubbornly sticking with their own plan, with no plans on what to do if it doesn’t lead to the results they expect.

After the financial crisis, the Iraq war and the floods, continuing with no plans for different possible outcomes and just sticking to old assumptions will not do fine.

Eliminating risk and uncertainty is impossible, but by having plans prepared for various possibilities we can reduce both.

Scotland and the pound – Or the Euro?
Or its own currency?
Or staying in the UK? Every option brings risks

It’s true that the UK government couldn’t stop an independent Scotland using the pound, but that’s only half the truth. An independent Scotland would inherit its share of the UK’s assets and liabilities. That means it would inherit a share of the UK’s national debt – i.e an independent Scotland would be in debt. True, it would be at most no higher a debt as a percentage of GDP than the UK has.

However the UK has its own currency. If an independent, indebted Scotland didn’t have its own currency it would risk being in the same position as Ireland and Greece were after the financial crisis – forced to beg other governments or the IMF to provide them with pounds.  We might face the same harsh terms imposed on Ireland and Greece. If it joined the Euro it might have exactly the same problem.

Scotland could issue its own currency, but if it issued its own currency immediately on independence it would increase the risk of being targeted by currency speculators. There are other options though.

First, keeping using the pound for a few years after independence, before issuing our own currency. We could issue our own currency once the recession caused by the financial crisis has ended, and after uncertainty among businesses and investors over how independence would affect them has become less intense.

Ireland kept using the British pound for many years after independence before issuing its own Irish pound.

Of course lacking our own currency for several years while in debt would restrict what the Scottish government could do until it issued its own currency.

Another option would be to issue our own currency (e.g Scottish Pound) pegged in value to equal to the British pound. We could ban international currency trading of it and large transfers of it outside the country for the first 5 years.

During the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s the IMF advised Asian countries to keep their currency markets open, continue deregulated markets etcetera. The result was disaster for most of them.

Malaysia managed to make the crisis much less bad for it by pegging its currency to the dollar, banning all international currency trading of it and imposing limits on the amount of currency Malaysians could take abroad to stop the run on its currency which was fuelled by speculators.

As with the US and European financial crises the cause was deregulation empowering fraud and speculation.

Some might ask, so why not stick with the pound and stay in the UK to avoid these risks? The pound is no guarantee for economic stability for Scotland or even England though. We had the pound and were in the union and suffered the banking crisis and the recession since it.

In the 1980s an economic boom in the city of London financial sector led the UK government to increase interest rates to double figures during a recession in Scotland and the North of England, whose economies were devastated as a result.

With a government led by a party which gets more than half its donations from banks and hedge funds, UK economic policy continues to be made for the benefit of the banks and hedge funds, not the whole country. So the status quo carries its own risks. Another crisis as bad as the banking crisis could happen at any time.

Independence would provide a chance of regulating Scotland’s financial sector properly, which would be an example UK governments would find it difficult to ignore.

A country’s size doesn’t make it safer from economic crises
Regulation and having its own currency do
So staying in theUK doesn’t guarantee our economic future

Unionists politicians often claim Scotland couldn’t have survived the financial crisis as an independent country, pointing to Iceland, Greece and Ireland as supposed evidence that small countries can’t make it.

This is confusing the causes of the crisis, which was nothing to do with the size of the countries and everything to do with deregulation and in Greece and Ireland’s cases with not having their own currencies.

Norway, which has a population of 5 million – similar to Ireland’s and less than Scotland’s – regulated its banks properly and has its own currency. As a result it didn’t suffer the financial crisis suffered by the UK with over 10 times its population or the US with over 40 times its population, nor did it suffer any recession as a result.

Safe and secure with small government, welfare cuts,
personal debt crises and deregulation?

Welfare cuts and public sector job cuts by successive UK governments of both parties have eroded the welfare state on the false assumption that the market, left to its own devices, will provide employment to all who want it.

The  Conservatives in the Coalition government have gone far further than Labour did with this, but most of the “reforms” being carried out under the Conservatives were already being planned under Brown and Blair, even if they might not have taken them to the same extremes.

As a result the number of people reliant on food banks has increased by a factor of 10 in the first 3 years of the Coalition government, many genuinely disabled people are denied enough money to survive. Is that certainty, security and lack of risk?

Neither unionist parties nor the SNP have put forward any plan to deal with the personal debt crisis facing millions of people in the Scotland and the UK, which could also lead to an economic crisis affecting even those who are not in debt as millions go bankrupt and default on their debts.

Neither have either side put forward any serious plan to reverse the growing inequality which, if it’s not changed, will make any economic growth irrelevant as only a tiny minority will benefit from it.

So the unionist claims that staying part of the UK automatically makes Scotland (or any of the rest of the UK’s population) safe and secure is ridiculous.

To even significantly reduce the risks and uncertainties most people live with we need several things. Proper regulation of the financial sector. An end to allowing banks and hedge funds to buy political influence through donations to political parties. Enforcement of anti-monopoly and oligopoly laws. A guaranteed comprehensive welfare state.

The floods in England again show how the minimal government neo-liberal theory backfires. Man-made climate change, cuts to the Environment Agency’s budget and relaxing of planning processes (especially on building on flood plains) led to disaster for thousands - and a government left impotent by its own small government agenda.

Acknowledging Uncertainty,
Planning for various possibilities

Yes and No campaigns, unionists and nationalists, alike, need to start acknowledging that they can’t be certain what the results of the choices they advocate would be - and providing a set of various plans to deal with each major possibility.

Politicians are frequently successful by telling people what they want to hear – and we all often convince ourselves that what we want to believe is the truth. But that often backfires with severe consequences for everyone. Better to face up to the facts, including the fact that there are many questions which we can’t be 100% certain of the answers to – and that it’s better to have planned various options to deal with various possible outcomes.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Buccaneering by Cameron's Bank and Hedge Fund Pirate Friends in the City is the reason many Scots and English people would like to get out of the UK

Prime Minister David Cameron says we must save the UK as it’s a “brilliant, buccaneering country” (1) – (2). That’s an interesting choice of words. Buccaneers were pirates. How appropriate from a Prime Minister whose party gets most of its funding from the banks and hedge funds who are the modern international, government approved, pirates, stealing billions from 99.9% of the world’s population (3) – (4).

The hedge funds and banks even buy up food and stockpile it to push the price up to make money on “futures trading”, starving the world’s poorest people for profits that go to already super-rich investors, stock market traders and senior managers (5). David Cameron and much of his party are not ashamed of this, but proud of it.

To them Elizabethan England with its state approved pirates, or “privateers” like Sir Francis Drake, is a wet dream they want to bring back – and through privatisation, lack of regulation and eroding the welfare state, they are succeeding.

Big banks, hedge funds, energy companies and supermarkets are the privateers of our day, buying the right to steal from millions and avoid taxes in offshore tax havens through donations to party funds. They’re worse than the privateers, because at least the privateers were stealing from other governments and rich merchants, while the modern privateers steal from the vast majority including the very poorest.

The Coalition government has blocked even modest EU attempts at increased regulation and restrictions on bankers’ bonuses. Chancellor George Osborne has gone to court to block EU caps on bankers’ bonuses. For Cameron and Osborne there must be no restrictions on buccaneering. Cap benefits for the poorest, but bankers have to be able to pay themselves whatever they like (6).

With the number of people reliant on food banks in the UK having increased from under 50,000 to around half a million in the first few years of their government, they are also heading us back towards Elizabethan era levels of poverty and inequality. Like Tony Blair, they are very relaxed about this, as they’re not the ones who have to go hungry or watch their kids go hungry (7) – (8).

And this is the kind of thing David Cameron thinks will make Scots want to stay part of the UK? Even many English people would like to escape that kind of organised kleptocracy. Buccaneering isn’t popular when the buccaneers are the super-rich, stealing from the majority and making the poorest go hungry.

The best thing Scots can do to end this is vote Yes and go independent, both to save our own people, and to provide an example of supposedly impossible alternatives working; an example that no UK government would be able to ignore.

 (1) = www.guardian.com 07 Feb 2014 ‘David Cameron sets out 'emotional, patriotic' case to keep Scotland in UK’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/07/david-cameron-scottish-independence-referendum-olympic-park

(2) = www.gov.uk 07 Feb 2014 ‘The importance of Scotland to the UK: David Cameron’s speech’, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-importance-of-scotland-to-the-uk-david-camerons-speech  (see paragraph near end of speech which begins ‘And I passionately hope that my children’ – final sentence of paragraph reads ‘Our great United Kingdom: brave, brilliant, buccaneering, generous, tolerant, proud – this is our country.’)

(3) = BBC News 9 Feb 2011 ‘More than half of Conservative donors 'from the City'’,

(4) = Bureau of Investigative Journalism ‘Tory Party funding from City doubles under Cameron’, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/02/08/city-financing-of-the-conservative-party-doubles-under-cameron/

(5) = Independent On Sunday 01 April 2012 ‘The real hunger games: How banks gamble on food prices – and the poor lose out’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-real-hunger-games-how-banks-gamble-on-food-prices--and-the-poor-lose-out-7606263.html

(6) = Guardian 25 Sep 2013 ‘Osborne bats for bankers' bonuses citing risk to City from EU cap’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/25/osborne-bankers-bonuses-eu-cap

(7) = BBC News 30 May 2013 ‘Food bank reliance in the UK triples, says Oxfam’,

(8) = www.parliament.uk 18 Dec 2013 ‘MPs debate Accident and Emergency Services and Food Banks’, http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2013/december/opposition-day-18-december-2013/