Sunday, September 15, 2013

Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat

This review was first published in Irish Left Review.

Salvador Allende’s last speech may well have contradicted the perfunctory process of an expected historical epilogue. The mere fragments of time prior to the initial horror unleashed by the military coup on September 11, 1973 may have annihilated the actual era of the Unidad Popular; however it ensured Allende remained an integral part of Chile’s collective memory. Of greater fortitude than nostalgia, Allende’s revolutionary process has managed to retain its relevance beyond the conformity of time.

‘Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat’ (Pluto Press, 2013) goes beyond the expected portrait of Allende as president of Chile, delving into an understanding of his life as a committed activist whose ideology was garnered both from Marxism as well as a profound insight into social inequalities. Despite a relatively privileged background, Allende’s upbringing in Tacna and later in various areas of Chile enabled profound perspectives through an observation of colonial processes, workers’ resistance, popular movements and the contradictions assailing Chilean society. Dispelling the critique of Allende as utopian, Victor Figueroa Clark demonstrates that, far from the multitude of generalisations associated with Allende, Chile’s political process with Allende at the helm was of tangible importance for the left on a global level, as well as for current Latin American governments who have embraced a perpetual struggle against imperial exploitation.

Allende’s life may be perceived as a series of experiences culminating into a profound concern for society and freedom, to the point where the definition of freedom becomes at times a source of controversy. Despite US intervention in Latin America proving detrimental to socialist progress, Allende’s respect for freedom of opinion went beyond the norm. Parallel to his insistence upon flexibility within socialist ideology in order to attain ‘unity of thought’, future dissent was also tolerated, departing from the trend of maintaining revolution through force and opting for revolution ‘as a profound and creative transformation’.

Foreign exploitation was instrumental in shaping Allende’s consciousness and ability to form perceptions beyond the confines of his immediate surroundings. His military experience evoked a primary contradiction – while expressing a certain affinity to the entity, unlike other socialist leaders such as Fidel Castro, Allende was also perceptive to the injustices carried out by the military, resulting in his decision to embark on another career which heightened his sense of perception of inequalities. Allende’s role in the medical profession propelled him into direct contact with the ramifications of inadequate access to healthcare, later declaring “I won my bread sticking my hands into pus, cancers and death”. Allende’s perception of healthcare and poverty was not isolated from the political concept – his revolutionary transformation of society through socialism addressed the limitations and deprivations experienced by Chileans.

The insistence of finding ‘a Chilean solution to Chilean problems’ – a view also shared by the Chilean Communist Party, was heightened by Allende’s years of activism since university. His aim to transform Chilean society through embracing socialism was not solely dictated by an adherence to classical texts, as evidenced by his years of activism and later political career. Departing from an earlier relevant affirmation regarding the role of man in society following his return from internal exile in Caldera: “Man is only part of the social whole; therefore his life should be at its service, that is, at the service of his fellow men”, Allende maintained the obligation of fulfilling his duties towards society, embarking upon criticism of policies of detriment to Chileans in terms of welfare, health and education. Prior to his electoral victory, Allende was pushing for national control over Chile’s natural resources – denouncing imperialism not only through a projected national interest at governmental level, but also through a genuine interest in the workers’ plight, thus allowing the workers to distance themselves from the role of spectators.

The book portrays Allende’s electoral campaigns in a similar vein – authenticating the process of resistance between the leader and the masses. His victory at the helm of the Unidad Popular represented decades of indefatigable effort to build the necessary groundwork to build a socialist revolution in Chile through non-violent mobilisation. Allende’s electoral programme, including land reform, the transformation of the judiciary, nationalisation of industries and social reform battled an entrenched structure which had served imperial interests for decades, leading to a fragmentation of unity within the left with the main factions urging a continuation and strengthening of the socialist revolution through armed resistance countered by a sustained challenge to institutions through popular control. The destabilisation of the country by the CIA-aided Chilean right wing played out the contradiction between freedom of speech and destruction, later dissent was deconstructed into patriotism by the leaders of the military coup, in an attempt to justify the collapse of the Unidad Popular and the death of Salvador Allende under circumstances still disputed, despite testimony alleging suicide.

Allende’s revolutionary legacy stands in contrast to that of other Chilean leaders such as Eduardo Frei and Patricio Aylwin, who endorsed the coup and granted it legitimacy. The neoliberal experiment unleashed upon Chile –marked by torture, execution, disappearances and exile in an attempt to annihilate all traces of Marxism and deter future revolutions in Latin America failed to surpass the power of collective memory, despite the various frameworks outlining the fragmentation of Chilean society.

However, as the book argues, Allende’s legacy and steadfastness to his principles of non-violence lent credibility and concrete proof of his last uttered convictions to the people prior to the bombing of La Moneda. The immediate dissonance of certain decisions can now be interpreted, and correctly so, as a testimony of steadfastness and unwavering triumph which does not descend into the politics of compromise, as evidenced by Allende’s speech at the United Nations, denouncing intervention in Chile and acknowledging the ramifications of facing unbridled turbulence in the name of sovereignty without adequate support – occurrences which echo Fidel Castro’s certainty that Allende would lead the next revolution in Latin America, effectively exposing imperial fears of socialist domination in the region following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

The electoral power of the Unidad Popular as viewed decades later enables the reader to differentiate between the power of the masses and the reality reflected in Congress, with both camps struggling for unity while assaulted by different forms of subversion orchestrated through CIA involvement. Allende’s vision for Chile’s socialist and democratic progress might have withstood a chance, had Congress adopted Allende’s earlier philosophical declaration regarding the significance of unity of thought, which would have bestowed the necessary dynamics between political representation and the people. Allende advocated against violence and humiliation, acknowledging the frail boundary between both scenarios which can also be interpreted as a metaphor for Chilean resistance in the aftermath of the coup. It is the alternative, embodied by Allende and portrayed so effectively in this compelling biography, which transcends symbolism both through a historical interpretation of events, as well as the sustained struggle for freedom against all forms of imperial exploitation.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Compensation to Palestinian refugees and the search for Palestinian-Israeli peace

Compensation to Palestinian refugees and the search for Palestine-Israel peaceThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor.

Israeli atrocities since the Nakba of 1948 transformed a great segment of the Palestinian population to involuntary exiles - a process in violation of international law and UN Resolution 194 which calls for the right of return. Any form of compensation entails a degree of historical responsibility for Israel which reflects on the international community as well, hence the reluctance to shatter the magnitude of impunity which has absolved Israel of countless crimes. 'Compensation to Palestinian Refugees and the search for Palestinian-Israeli peace', is an important book which expounds upon the various ramifications of compensation, including the vital issue of accountability.

While the United Nations has recommended Israel embarks on a process of compensation and restitution to Palestinian refugees, the occupying power has deemed the demands as 'expansionary'. The consequences for Israel are striking and might even be interpreted as a preliminary step towards a dismantling of the foundations of the illegal state, as any form of compensation would imply acknowledging historical and moral responsibility for human rights violations against Palestinians, including land usurpation and the appropriation of Palestinian property.

Following the UN Resolution 194, Israel countered its interpretation with the Absentees Property Law of 1950, which legalises the seizure of civilian property under the pretext of such property being an object of warfare. It also transferred Palestinian land and property to the Jewish National Fund, thus embarking upon the process of expansion through settlements. The Israeli law is considered as proof that there was never any intention to compensate Palestinian refugees for the damage inflicted by the occupation. The vastness of compensation includes claims which can be made by individuals, extended family, villages, all refugees regardless of generation, a collective claim by the Palestinian state, as well as collective claims by countries hosting Palestinian refugees, illustrating Israel's reluctance to commit to reparations not only from a historical viewpoint, which the Palestinian national Council established decades ago in declaring the partition and the occupying power as illegal, but also as an additional present and future complexity and tangible concern.

In order to combat claims and shift international focus back to the alleged predicament of Israel, in 1951 former Israeli prime minister Moshe Sharett linked the loss of Jewish property in Arab countries, notably Iraq, with the indignity of acquiescing to Palestinian property claims, declaring that any form of compensation the Israeli state owed to Palestinians would be calculated after a settlement reached with Arab countries. "We shall take into account the value of Jewish property that has been frozen in Iraq when calculating the compensation that we have undertaken to pay the Arabs who abandoned property in Israel." The International Committee of Jews from Arab Lands (ICJAL) went further in clarifying Israel's view of compensation - according to the organisation's chief chairman Amram Attias, "we want Israel to demand our property back in the negotiations. We are not against the Palestinians but we consider them part of the Arab nation as they do themselves. They were driven out - and so were we. For each house they demand, a house of ours should be demanded. For each mosque, a synagogue. For each cemetery, a cemetery".

Apart from an obvious distortion of history, which may be viewed as necessary in order to prevent the threat to Israel's 'historical narratives, collective identity and founding myths' upon which the contradiction of a 'Jewish and democratic' state is constructed, both quotes indicate an erroneous, and intentional, manifestation of equity between both parties, in order to downplay the necessity of compensating Palestinians for their loss over the decades.

Considering the nature of exile, which is determined as an imposition upon a nation, any form of compensation should address both symbolic justice and moral accountability, in keeping with the evolution of Palestinian resistance as a moral cause. However, compensation is also viewed as a corrupted measure of relinquishing the right to return, if any agreement reached focuses solely upon financial compensation without restoration of property and proper recognition of right. An effective measure for Palestinians would be for Israel to acknowledge and be held legally and morally accountable for forced displacement, exile and the refutation of the right to return.

Various constraints, including Israel's dismissal of individual justice hinders an implementation of a just solution. Atif Kubursi identifies six main types of compensation claims, regardless of whether displaced Palestinians harbour a desire to return or not, in order to provide a comprehensive approach. However, while Israel has allegedly declared itself in favour of limited compensation, it argues against restitution and the right to return due to future repercussions upon the occupying power in terms of demography. It is easier to displace the narrative of refugees and their collective experience in order to ensure a continuous dispersal of Palestinian identity and nationhood. Writing about the Israeli perspective, Orit Gal identifies several objections to a proper compensation, including the sovereignty concerns for Israel as well as the possibility of Palestinians asserting further claims to autonomy. Therefore it is easier for the Israeli narrative to dismiss Palestinian claims for compensation and reparation as an irrelevant issue to a peace agreement, rather than risk a deterioration of its undeserved status.

The issue of compensation should also extend to displaced Palestinians living in Israel. Expounded upon by Megan Bradley, internally displaced Palestinians should be included in the Palestinian narrative to construct a stronger case for equity. The shared national identity of Palestinians, as well as the collective experience of all displaced Palestinians should be recognised as fundamental to the case for compensation. In the case of internally displaced Palestinians, stronger advocacy would present a form of resistance by Palestinians within Israel, thus able to provide a challenge for Israel's dismissal of its own atrocities and historical injustices.

As Rex Brynnen observes, Israel does not equate possession with any form of responsibility. The same can be said of the international community, whose responsibility for Palestinian refugees should under no circumstances be eliminated from the process, as it bequeathed Israel with the right to violate international law. Any form of compensation, as Palestinians have adamantly stated, is incomplete without an absolute recognition of their own victimhood in a constructive manner, namely that of holding Israel accountable for its atrocious occupation. The repercussions on both Israel and the international community would prove colossal, as the entire foundation upon which the issue of human rights was built would erode to expose a political elite thriving upon international law violations supported by the same entities purportedly guarding human rights. Through Palestinian insistence upon a comprehensive reparation, Israel, its allies and the United Nations would ideally come to terms with the necessity of facing accountability for allowing the illegal process of expropriation and displacement to continue, rather than blatantly contravening their own supposedly impressive rhetoric.

Remembering Pinochet's Chile. On the eve of London, 1988

Remembering Pinochet's Chile. On the eve of London, 1998
Steve J Stern
Duke University Press, 2006

As Pinochet's tangible presence receded from the Chilean political structure, a vibrant memory legacy erupted, challenging dictatorial impositions and awakening the struggle for historical memory. The volatile political environment following the disintegration of the dictatorship created a complex memory framework fighting not only the imposed oblivion, but also an ingrained process through which memory became an essential part of the collective experience on both sides of the political spectrum. In 'Remembering Pinochet's Chile. On the eve of London, 1988', Steve J Stern explores the national experience of the dictatorship, fragmented into several memory camps beyond the usual distinction of memory versus oblivion, depicting the diverse ramifications of collective memory and the induced oblivion in return for complacency and indifference, thus extracting the fight for remembrance promulgated by the marginalised opposition to the dictatorship.

Right wing rhetoric frames political violence as a necessity, with remembrance based on recollection which do not necessarily represent personal experience. Memory as salvation - the expression of a collective national sentiment as purported by Pinochet's adherents is detached from historical reality and fails to question the dynamics of Chile's left, such as whether violent revolution was favoured by Salvador Allende. The remembrance associated with the experiences of other harbouring similar sentiment indulges in a convenient dismissal of torture and disappearances. The fear of violence becomes displaced, projected onto the resistance incorporated by the militant left, in order to justify the violations committed by DINA.

Dissident memory, incorporating memory as rupture, persecution and awakening, involves a transformation of various struggles of the collective. An embodiment of contradictions between life and memory, existence is organised around memory, with different forms of expression contributing to the collective. While memory as rupture manifests itself as an expression of anguish, particularly in honouring the disappeared and executed, memory as persecution is characterised by an inevitable division of society owing to contrasting memory camps, in turn validating social commitment and values to promote solidarity through activism.

Stern also acknowledges a process through which a form of passive oblivion is inadvertently practiced. Using the metaphor of memory as a closed box, Stern describes a process of silence through which atrocities remain unchallenged. A lack of validation of a collective expression in the public sphere becomes prone to a form of idolisation of victims which shifts the focus from the actual issue of dictatorship atrocities and the quest for justice.

Despite the encompassing collective experience, other forms of memory remain obscured due to guilt and unintended complicity. Various leftist supports willingly presented themselves for questioning, others urged to comply by family members. The ensuing permanent disappearance rendered a guarded expression of memory, with remorse being less explicit due to the burden of guilt. Enlisted conscripts, among them former leftists, were also coerced to participate in arrests and torture - an experience which failed to safeguard against DINA retribution, such as in the case of Carlos Alberto Carrasco Matus who, upon confiding in his friend about the horrors perpetrated by the dictatorship, was forced to take part in arresting his friend. Both ended up prisoners in Villa Grimaldi - Carrasco was beaten with chains and murdered by DINA in Villa Grimaldi, while his friend was exiled and in 1990 testified before the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Besides Pinochet's insistence upon oblivion, Stern discerns another memory framework which negates atrocities through an intentional misinterpretation of history. Memory as indifference is established by recalling the alleged reasons as to why the coup was a necessity, while undeservedly attributing altruistic adjectives to a military which constantly proved its macabre character. According to an interviewee in the book identified as Colonel Juan F, the Chilean military possessed a 'socialist character' and was the salvation to Chile's future through its solutions of problems posed by a welfare system. Any failure was blamed upon the Allende era having produced 'mentally sick people', depicting a complete irrelevance to the deterioration of progress which rendered society irrelevant in order to justify political violence.

Measures were also taken to enable the military to distance themselves from the atrocities committed. A particular instance refers to the Calama massacres, where Colonel Eugenio Rivera sought to protect himself and his soldiers by placing the blame solely upon General Sergio Arellano Stark, in charge  of the 'Caravan of Death'.

The various memory frameworks have created a volatile coexistence shaped by elements in a constant struggle. Different experiences of life under Pinochet's dictatorship have provided the framework for the ensuing cultural silence battled by a quest for justice, memory and recognition of committed atrocities. Considering the split within Chilean society, the major obstacle to emblematic memory is its displacement due to persistent right-wing hegemonic narratives. Hence the projection of emblematic memory into the public sphere in order for the collective experience to escape fragmentation and isolation, which in turn strengthens the case for historical legitimacy. Chilean society is imbued with ambiguities - certainties mingle with doubt, the struggle for memory resisting certain narrations which, despite the relevance to the struggle, are perhaps perceived as blurring the divide between various forms of rupture, as in the case of conscripts who resisted implementing torture and suffered the same fate as left wing supporters. Stern's book serves as a compelling reminder of an incomplete sequence in the Chilean struggle, one that is partially dependent upon a dissolution of impunity in order to eliminate the process of selectivity and the peril of descending into various forms of oblivion.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ways of Going Home

9781847086266Ways of Going Home
Alejandro Zambra
Granta Books, 2013

Delving into Chile's turbulent past requires a thorough analysis of the country's fragmented society, usually vaguely described and simplified as a split between socialists and Pinochet adherents. In 'Ways of Going Home', Alejandro Zambra portrays a deeper complexity which resonates through a technique of employing different narrators who are an extension of each other, striving to understand the macabre circumstances which altered life and perception.

Commencing with a compelling metaphor - a boy is lost and discovers another way home, the book plunges into the disorientation experienced by the child, whose perceptions are inextricably linked to silence - the silence emanating from a fear of dictatorship and its imposed culture of oblivion. On one hand, Pinochet is depicted as an annoying abstract - an unwanted interlude into a child's life. However, the boy's life is thwarted from innocence an truth by a prevailing mistrust and fear of association which the adults, having experienced the dictatorship and its atrocities, have employed as a possible means of escaping the ruthless regime. Zambra is careful to acknowledge the disorientation on various levels - notably the elders' fears translating into an inconclusive issue for a child whose parents' obsession with neutrality sought to alter, through a possibly unwanted means of protection, the tangible collective memory of Chile's left wing.

For the neutral parents, it is perhaps soothing to portray left-wing militants as having disturbed 'the peace' - an euphemism revealing the challenge for memory frameworks to emerge. As the narrator's parents indulge in neutral rhetoric, ultimately seeking an ephemeral protection against the macabre culture permeating Chile, the narrator reveals an awareness of the alternative, and stronger, collective memory - that of psychological trauma, torture and disappearances, revealing the network of relationships forged across society once distanced from the family home. A discussion of political allegiances raises the ultimate reality of neutral stances, epitomised by "But we were never, your father and I, either for or against Allende, or for or against Pinochet" - an effective method of acquiescing to Pinochet's imposed culture of oblivion.

The refusal to acknowledge passive support for the dictatorship leads to an outburst which pits time against What do you know about those things? You hadn't even been born yet when Allende was in power. You were just a baby during those years." here, knowledge is expected to have been gained solely through experience, despite the fact that an altered narration of memory deconstructs the process of knowledge. The victim's narration remains embroiled in a continuous struggle with the society of spectators, which misconstrues a violent memory for a good story.

Zambra's novel weaves a depth of dimensions and contrasts between the narrating voices, families, political perceptions and memory, depicting a lingering isolation which fails to resolve due to the characters' reticence in reclaiming memory. With the story of the militant deconstructed into that of an abstract terrorist, Pinochet's stronghold over Chile is reflected into the more mundane aspects of the story which deal with the narrator's reflections regarding relationships and society. The absence of tenacity, the lack of solid identification with history possibly elicits a far deeper frustration - the urge to discover resistance is smothered within a series of anti-climaxes which indicate the continuous stifling of excruciating memory in return for a semblance of the neutrality which the narrator so vehemently abhors.

Generation Palestine: Voices from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

Generation Palestine: Voices from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions This review was first published in Middle East Monitor.

On July 9 2005, more than 170 Palestinian activist organisations endorsed an official call to initiate an internationalist movement intended to challenge Israel's undeserved impunity by implementing an economic, academic and cultural boycott. Recognising the futility of expecting international intervention against Israel's decades of aggressive policies, representatives of Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel issued a statement which initiated the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) - a non-violent form of activism which seeks to promote and achieve Palestinian self-determination.

With contributions by authors, academics, film producers, musicians, journalists and activists, 'Generation Palestine - voices from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement' (Pluto Press, 2013) is a comprehensive analysis of the origins, struggles and achievements of the movement, providing a defence of humanity which Israel and its allies so competently ignore. From insights into Palestinian civil disobedience as non-violent resistance, to the inspiration derived from the South African experience in fighting apartheid practices, the book imparts the essence of BDS in a manner which challenges conventional rhetoric with a consistent approach garnered through collective consciousness.
Palestinian activism has been a prominent feature throughout the course of revolts. As Zionist provocation increased through forced displacement, massacres and the open immigration policy in order to maintain a Jewish demographic majority, Palestinian resistance became entrenched within the collective experience, notably marked by the uprisings against colonial rule in 1936 and civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation in 1989 by the residents of Beit Sahour. Israel's undeserved triumphs were based upon superior military activity and allegiances with Western colonial powers, whose interest in the Middle East necessitated an ally which could, in turn, be constructed as the scapegoat of Arab wrath in order to further regional dominance and strategic concerns. Israel's alleged isolation served to alienate the international community from the Palestinians' plight. Apart from being imbued with Orientalist narrative, Palestinian identity was intentionally manipulated to serve the Zionist agenda.

The need to revive identity and thus reverse the enforced isolation process gained momentum after the second intifada, with the BDS movement striving to implement a process through which damage to the Israeli economy would be sufficient enough to deter companies and countries from pursuing economic ties with the occupying power. The necessity and validity of an international boycott targeted Israel's primary excuse of security concern, as the campaign created awareness of constant atrocities as opposed to the occasional international furore caused by selective cases which corporate media decided to highlight, albeit without the necessary condemnation. Thus, the validity of the movement stemmed from the objective of educating a potentially misinformed community, reinforcing the importance of self-determination as a collective right and uniting the geographically fragmented Palestinian population as 'one collective national people'.

The ramifications for Israel and its allies are brought to attention with a glance at the aims of the BDS movement. Its compatibility with international law has fomented practical contexts within the same legislation, as Nidal al Azza highlights in his contribution to the book. A call to end occupation and colonisation as well as the dismantling of the Apartheid Wall, recognition of Palestinian rights and an implementation of the right to return for Palestinians are enshrined within the international law; however, the BDS movement seeks an implementation of the aims rather than an affirmation of official rhetoric devoid of any semblance of progress. As opposed to UN discourse, which is constantly mellowed to appease Israel, concentration upon internationalist activism has allowed the movement to decipher and act upon the principles of solidarity and interdependence, while allowing Palestinian autonomy to remain in control of the movements' aims and objectives.

Through its actions, the BDS movement enacted a combative stance against normalisation. As Rifat Odeh Kassis states, “Politicians are not the only ones who commit normalisation when it comes to the Israeli occupation ... Language does it. Normalisation is the process, the instinct, the narrative that neutralises what can never be neutral, that renders over six decades of meticulously institutionalised Israeli military rule into an eternal and incorrigible spat between two groups of people who 'can't get along'”. The abomination of equality in a process which clearly defines the oppressor and the oppressed only serves to consolidate diplomacy, reduced to a mere reassurance within official circles and deemed sufficient to absolve international leaders of criminal accountability in aiding Israel's illegal occupation.

Conversely, language has also been used by the BDS movement to highlight the contradictions within interpretations of international law. Activists storming offices of businesses related to Israel were accused of violence and destruction - a process necessary to disrupt the violence unleashed upon Palestinians stemming from profits accumulated by Israel. Trials of BDS activists have focused upon the activism which strives to prevent Israeli violence, thus challenging perceptions in the courtroom and beyond, as exploitation of injustices are stripped of the false definition wrought by euphemisms such as 'conflict'.

As Omar Barghouti states in his concluding chapter, the deconstruction of Israel's legitimacy has exposed Israel's insipid cries of 'existential threat'. The disruption of economic profits sustaining the occupation has been affirmed by none other than Ehud Barak in an interview with Haaretz: “There are some pretty powerful elements in the world that are active in the matter - within countries, including friendly countries, in various organisations of workers, academics, consumers, green parties ... And this drive boils down to a large movement called BDS, which is what they did with South Africa. It won't happen at once. It will begin, like an iceberg, to advance on us from all corners”. Apart from acknowledging the BDS momentum, Barak's comparison of Israel to South Africa also affirms the reality which the movement is fighting against - Israel is an apartheid state.

The book stands as testimony of activist internationalist resurgence against imperial detachment from justice - a reminder that accountability and the process which leads to its execution lies within the movement, as governments remain in contempt of legislation unless its safeguards their own impunity. The success of the BDS movement lies in enacting the foundations through which illegality and impunity are legally challenged, within a system already in danger of becoming institutionalised unless language is reinvented into a mobilising tool for education, justice and a dismantling of sanctioned human rights violations. - See more at:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Israel? The anatomy of Zionist apartheid. A South African perspective

Why IsraelThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.
Author: Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman
Paperback: 659 pages
Publisher: Porcupine Press
Language: English
ISBN-10: 978-1-920609-00-9

Zionist narrative is imbued with an incessant and feigned amazement at Israel being declared an apartheid state. The complaint is taken up by its staunch defenders and is unchallenged by international organisations such as the UN, whose chastisement of Israel does not incorporate the crippling sanctions bestowed on other nations. Within this culture of impunity, the South African experience and memory of apartheid creates a conspicuous alternative. Regarded as a pariah by most of the international community, apartheid in South Africa was globally challenged and ultimately destroyed. Israel's apartheid, acknowledged bluntly by former South African Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd, pointed to the contrast between international outrage at apartheid in South Africa and the lenience with which Israel was treated, despite obvious proof of violations of international law.

'Why Israel? The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid – a South African perspective' is a comprehensive treatise which challenges the meticulously constructed myths supporting Israel's violations of international law. The initial portrayal of similarities between the South African and Israeli regimes eventually halts, with Israel committing excessive atrocities against the Palestinian population, effectively perfecting the initial apartheid practice. Weaving the historical process in a manner which contributes to the current, dominant narrative, Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman have presented an international approach which departs from the South African experience of apartheid, exposing the Zionist government's excessive collective punishment against Palestinians and its trepidation at the growing activist movement, particularly the BDS movement, which derives inspiration from the South African anti-apartheid movement.

Language and symbolism manipulation have become central to Israel's security propaganda. The global Zionist lobby - epitomised by AIPAC and supported by the US Congress - is fundamental to controlling and shaping the international debate. Dadoo and Osman shed light upon the South African Zionist lobby, which adopts the AIPAC strategy of eliminating the historical context of the occupation by slandering anti-Zionist activists, intimidating journalists, instigating smear campaigns against activist groups such as Media Review Network and strives to impart Israel's positive image by offering free trips to Israel to journalists.

From a historical overview of the myths concerning the allegedly barren land, the erroneous interpretation of Jewish nationhood and the foundations of the state of Israel 'as fulfilment of Jewish scriptures' and Western guilt in relation to the Holocaust, the book charts the ruthless land dispossession, forced exile and massacres of Palestinian people leading to the loss of self-determination. Massacres were justified as essential to the building of the Jewish state, in Menachem Begin's own words, 'The massacres were not only justified but there would not have been a state of Israel without the victory at Deir Yasssin'.

Israel's justification for its apartheid practices have not been adequately challenged by international leaders and organisations, a fact which portrays international complicity in aiding the Zionist occupation. Israel's disregard for UN resolutions was earlier expressed by David Ben Gurion, who declared, "After we become a strong force we shall abolish partition and expand [Israel] to the whole of Palestine." Aided by Western acquiescence and support, Israel obtained the undeserved glorification of 'the only democracy in the Middle East,' based upon a selective and biased interpretation of Israel's political dynamics which is completely disassociated from the reality of apartheid. Worldwide economic and military collaboration with Israel have ensured a growing instability for Palestinians, whose interests are relegated to an afterthought as international governments seek to consolidate ties with the apartheid regime, thus furthering international law violations and upholding Israel's stale rhetoric of security concerns.

The Likud charter states that 'The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel's existence, security and national needs.'

The alleged preoccupation with security exposes the difference between dependent politics and armed resistance, namely Fatah and Hamas. The Ramallah based government's dependence upon economic security has severely exacerbated Palestinians' options for self-determination, as evidenced during an interview in 2012 when Mahmoud Abbas appeared to relinquish his right to return. "I visited Safed before once ... but I want to see Safed. It's my right to see it but not to live there. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel." On the other hand Hamas, its insistence upon armed resistance and scepticism regarding peace initiatives have been deconstructed into a symbol of terrorism propelled by anti-Semitism based upon linguistics in the Hamas Charter, a document which has not been referred to since the emergence of the organisation as a political power which led to its distinction between Zionists and Jews.

As the book moves towards the ramifications of international law, the reader has been allowed to grasp the severity of human rights violations committed by the occupying power in a manner which leaves no doubt as to the urgency of establishing accountability. The RToP established that Israel's rule amounts to an apartheid regime and drew attention to the US, the EU and the UN as accomplices of Israel's international law violations. Efforts by Palestinians to seek justice abroad are viewed as threatening stances by Israel, which expects its culture of impunity to transcend its fluid borders. Aided by Western and imperial manipulation of justice, Israel's ally status has proven to be fundamental in ensuring the continuity of its aberrant actions and flagrant international law violations. Israel's vast propaganda, a concoction of security concerns pertaining to the apartheid state, the encouragement of Islamophobia and the alleged Iranian threat have promoted the myth that Israel is bracing itself to conquer the same concerns of the West. Demography remains a contentious issue with regard to the alleged 'anti-Semitism' which, according to author Phyllis Chesler, extends also to the West. "Who or what can loosen the madness that has gripped the world and that threatens to annihilate the Jews and the West?"

Dadoo and Osman have created an invaluable reference illuminating the imperial dynamics of power resisting a just implementation of international law, and activist strategies which are shaping the struggle against Israeli apartheid, thus challenging the intentional apathy exhibited by most world leaders and international organisations. The South African experience of apartheid also serves as a testimony, asserting the obvious but disregarded fact. Unlike the initial apartheid regime Israel is entirely protected by its adherence to security rhetoric endorsed by world leaders who have embraced alienation willingly. As Israel's allies willingly betray international law, peace remains an ambiguous commodity, thrust into the equation only in relation to the two state solution which fails to address the inescapable reality. Only the dismantling of the apartheid state can facilitate the process of self-determination for Palestinians. - See more at:

Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic state

This review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Editor: Na'eem Jeenah
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre; First edition
Language: English ISBN-10: 0620540427

Public space in the state of Israel remains a contentious issue. The purported Jewish and democratic nature of the state – a political bargaining tool in order to obtain the coveted legitimacy from other significant countries, entrenches the reality of a settler and ethnocentric state. Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic State (AMEC, 2012), a collection of academic papers examining the reality and consequences for Palestinians, exposes an ethnocracy which has sought to promote an illusion of democracy to conceal a 'selective openness' which facilitates marginalisation of the indigenous population.

The book is an invaluable treatise which delves into the importance of recognising Palestinian legitimacy in order to achieve 'political and constitutional claim'. Deriving both similarities and contrasts from the apartheid in South Africa, it is observed that South Africa was more explicit in implementing apartheid. Israel continues to avail itself of democracy rhetoric in an attempt to distance itself from unofficial apartheid policy, despite ample proof with regard to dispossession, massacres, settler violence and deprivation of socio-economic rights. An overview of Israel's 1992 Basic Law ascertains Israel's ethnocratic nature, containing legal provisions allegedly safeguarding Israeli citizens, while enshrining the state's values within the banner of 'Jewish and democratic', thus promoting a Jewish cultural hegemony.

Through a comprehensive discussion of various complications, including Israel's distinction between citizenship and nationality, incongruous borders, the subjugation of ethnic groups, alleged biological historiography and the legitimate right to oppress, the authors reveal the foundations of a state based upon selective fragments of history which are manipulated in accordance with Zionist ideology. Shlomo Sand's contribution discusses how Jewish acknowledgment of subjugation to greater powers shifted the dynamics of group solidarity to ethnic dominance. "Zionism from its inception was an ethnocentric nationalist movement that firmly enclosed the historical people of its own invention, and banned any voluntary civil entry into the nation its platform began to design."

Through this chronological fragmentation, the absence of nationhood promoted the conquest of the 'imaginary homeland', marked by the Palestinian Nakba and the incessant onslaught of violations. Jewish self-determination could only be supported by European colonialism, hence the settler culture of European Jews in Palestinian territory. As Ze'ev Jabotisnsky had asserted, Israel's expansionist programme was based upon 'a permanent alliance with European colonies against all the Arabs in the Mediterranean'. The use of force became a necessary strategy to ensure a weakened resolve of Palestinian, also portraying Israel's condescending attitude towards colonialism an apartheid, which it deems a 'legitimate right'. Oren Yiftachel's paper discusses the manner in which Israel, together with globalisation, have exacerbated inequality and the contradictions within Zionist discourse in stressing the need for 'peace' and agreements while implementing measures which further Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory, thus justifying the occupying power's rhetoric of security concerns. The geographical fragmentation of Palestinian villages, the deprivation of rights for Bedouin in the Negev, and the insistence of invoking militant rhetoric as proof of anti-Semitism are described as 'calculated changes' by Yiftachel, who elaborates further upon Israel's self-portrayal of democracy as a means to legitimise ethnocracy. The extraction of the Jewish state from Palestinian history also distances the occupying power from geography – an approach taken by intellectuals sympathetic to Zionism which allows a negotiating space for overlooking the ramifications of colonialism. The allegedly 'temporary' characteristic of Israel's occupation, reinforced by security concerns, has proven vital to retain a constant manipulation of international law.

Israel's 'settler democracy', represented by the occupation and its allies as a 'representative democracy', thrives upon an artificial majority. The illegal hegemony clearly demonstrates a demographic reality. Recognising the right of return for Palestinians would propel the sustained Jewish majority into a minority group. Daryl Glaser argues that settlers have availed themselves of a rejectionist approach by enforcing a control system. Having 'persuaded' the West of democracy, Israeli narrative ensures colonial survival by expounding upon civil rights in the region, in turn shifting attention to the Jewish state's internal and selective democracy. As Glaser states, "Another way to think about Israel's 'at least we're democratic' defence is that it implies that democratic rule over one's self legitimates non-democratic rule over others. In effect, democracy legitimates dictatorship."

The transformation wrought by a misrepresentation of democracy transforms the masses into 'collective tyrants'. In the case of Israel, the reluctance to define territorial borders as well as Zionist adherents has ensured the improbability of stability, aided by imperial interests and guilt in manufacturing an acceptance of apartheid by playing upon the history of the Holocaust as justification for atrocities committed against Palestinians. The alleged vulnerability of Israel, warranting defence by extreme militarisation, has convinced a considerable percentage of the Jewish population that Zionism provides protection against a repetition of Holocaust crimes, according to Daniel Boyarin exhibiting their inability to survive without the reality of state violence in order to ensure continuity of their identity. This tendency is contrasted with the fact that migration from Israel surpasses the influx of new settlers, thus invalidating the argument of state protection as a necessity.

"A new Palestinian-Israeli nation cannot be imagined if it implies the legitimation of land theft as is the case in various parts of the West Bank and Israel, or of the deliberate disadvantaging and humiliation suffered by Palestinians for decades." The Zionist 'ownership' of Judaism has resulted into a settler usurpation of land, a concept which frames the Hamas struggle against Zionist legitimacy. Expansion has encompassed Palestinian land, with adjustments being carried out in order to enforce isolation and possible displacement of the indigenous population. Reconciliation remains distant if Israel consolidates the historic denial of Palestinians, which hinders any possibility of constructing the ideology of a nation if the homeland of Palestine remains occupied within a physical and philosophical context.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian: A Memoir

This review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Years prior to Jacob Nammar's birth, Zionist intentions to implement the process of colonization were clearly articulated by Ze'ev Jabotinsky during the First Zionist Conference in Switzerland. Colonisation, according to Jabotinsky, must be 'carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.'

'Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian: A Memoir' (Olive Branch Press, 2012) reveals a personal portrait of life under occupation – a forced disintegration of the self, family, community and nation. The inclusivity of Palestine was systematically annihilated as the Zionist occupation effected a macabre transition in the identity of Palestinians. The harmony of three distinct religious communities became a symbol of nostalgia as Palestinians faced brutal oppression characterised by the Nakba of 1948. Nammar's narration of dispossession is firmly entrenched in his country's history, yet a consciousness and identification with other nations' plights is evident through his interpretation of his mother's memory of the Armenian genocide.

It is also through Nammar's recollections of his mother that the individual memory of the Zionist occupation is effectively narrated. The implications of enduring recurring human rights violations is portrayed in the way Tuma, Nammar's mother, struggles against psychological trauma and becomes the bulwark of the family when Nammar's father and eldest brother are detained, tortured and imprisoned. Settlers went on a rampage, forcing Nammar's family to leave the family villa as a precaution which results in dispossession. Soldiers visit the family at night with the intention of raping the eldest sister, Fahima. A show of defiance against such violations led to Shin Bet falsely accusing Fahima of murdering a Jewish soldier. From affluence to dependence upon UNRWA, the book creates a contrast between comfort and deprivation, as violence continues to escalate and values are challenged by practicalities in order to survive.

The 'right to land' is best depicted by the dispossession of the family home. Having been given identity cards by the Israeli government, the family's decision to return home and their subsequent experience highlights the repercussions of Zionist ideology. Finding their home occupied by European Jews, a soldier explains to Nammar's family that the government had bequeathed their home to Jewish settlers and that the expropriation was not illegal. "These people believe that God promised them this land, so they came from Poland to claim it." The 1950 'Property Law' deemed 'land and homes left behind by Palestinians' as of November 29 1947 as 'enemy property', and therefore subject to expropriation.

The right to land gradually manifested itself in the right to live. Nammar and other Palestinians find themselves gradually side-lined by the dominating majority of Jewish settlers. Initial successes in sporting activities enabled Nammar to assimilate into a different way of life and embrace his aspirations. However, he was soon ostracized for being Palestinian; "You do not represent Israel"… "You don't belong in this country", he was told.

Nammar's narrative is a departure from other recollections of Palestine, which embody resistance against the occupation as an integral component of memory. On the contrary, this book seems to be an account of nostalgia for Palestine prior to the occupation. The family is described as peaceful and having no ties to militancy and resistance; this explains the family's emotional ordeal at the detention and torture of Nammar's father and eldest brother. However, the intimate portrait of this personal consequence of the occupation is void of any indignation, or outrage. Nammar acknowledges human rights violations as experienced by his family and close friends, but the occupation is described as phase, rather than a continuous infringement of international law. Despite the illegalities, any possible decisive stance is overshadowed by what Israel had dictated for the Palestinian population.

Racism against Palestinians is countered by the author's assertion that he harbours no animosity towards Jews as a consequence of the fact that most of his Jewish friends were critical of Israeli policies – a reminder of the split between Jews and Zionist settlers, with the latter seeking to legitimise atrocities in the name of a fabricated claim to nationhood.

The narrative is based upon transition, which is not totally regretted. "I was fortunate to have lived and experienced childhood in Palestine, youth in Israel and adulthood in America." Hence Palestinian history in this memoir feels fragmented, or at best, there is a profound nostalgia which overwhelms the ramifications of Israel's illegal occupation. There are various transitions which portray an acquired ease – the adaptation of the name Ya'coub to Ya'cov and Jacob may be viewed as a metaphor of adaptation.

The political allegiances of Israel and the US, mentioned at the end of the book in relation to Nammar's departure from Israel to America, do not elicit any vociferous condemnation. While the author acknowledges US reluctance to challenge Israel's violations, once again there seems to be no anger in recognising that US support for the Israeli government is in turn contributing to the on-going oppression of Palestinians. The author declares outrage in the epilogue, but the memoir is written in an almost detached manner, eliciting ambivalence in the reader. It is, perhaps, the strong element of nostalgia for the memory of Palestine during childhood, which makes this memoir end on an almost utopian vision of Palestine as a land of harmony for Jews, Christians and Muslims – an impossible dream if Israel is not forced to reverse the illegality of the occupation.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel

This review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

By amalgamating the Palestinian historic struggle with individual memory, Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel (Pluto Press, 2013), portrays the brutality of Israel’s colonial occupation in relation to the mass incarceration of Palestinians. Departing from statistical information and the historical perspective, the book’s initial chapters weave a narrative of ideology, education and resistance within incarceration, creating a contrast between Palestinian tenacity towards achieving self-determination and Israel’s policy of torture and apartheid practices.

Incarceration is so widely practiced and incorporated within Israel’s oppressive regime that it is difficult to encounter a family which has not experienced the system’s ramifications. Mass imprisonment of Palestinians has been a constant feature of the occupation, with the incidence increasing in the post-Oslo period, particularly since the second Intifada when security became an integral component of Israel’s political rhetoric against Palestinian resistance.

The book describes Palestinian struggle in relation to world history and trends, noting how the shift from guerrilla warfare in the 1960s and 1970s gave way to affiliation with political factions such as Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Communist Party. Thus, a shift in the characterisation of political prisoners ensued – with the knowledge that the Palestinian struggle against the occupation was entrenched within education and ideology, Israel sought to manipulate the development of the prisoners movement by denying them ‘political prisoner status’ and referring to the resistance as ‘terrorists’ – a preliminary shift which would facilitate the incorporation of torture with impunity for officials indulging in human rights violations.

For the prisoners, education was central to resistance, with debate amongst various factions giving rise to a transformation of consciousness due to a focus upon the process of enlightenment rather than a stereotyped ‘educational attainment’. Prisoners became mobilised against the prison order, developing the unification of the struggle on two grounds while creating an analogy – the struggle against the occupation while incarcerated and the struggle against the occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.

The historic narrative focuses on the Palestinian struggle, escalated by the need for freedom and a national demand for change. Imprisonment is perceived as an entirety – the physical construction of prisons and the geopolitical characteristics of the occupation have stifled freedom and self-determination. The extent of control and exclusion unleashed by Israel has served to transform Palestinian identity from the local to the national. Within ‘the colonial prison’, this transformation can be observed in the impossibility to control and dominate every aspect of the resistance. “In our case of the colonial prison, indomitability stems from the nature of the system of domination itself.” The excesses, resulting in horrendous torture, can be read as a vengeful retaliation against Palestinians who are being castigated for the occupation’s inability to sustain the occupation through other measures. Hence, it is not viable to separate torture practice from the state of Israel – despite Israel’s description of torture as ‘moderate physical pressure’ in order to combat ‘hostile terrorist activity’ which is tantamount to obscene denial; the depicted reality is one where the state and torture are interdependent.

Through the various narratives and academic insights provided in the book, Israel’s prison system is meticulously dissected to reveal systematic physical and psychological abuse. The euphemism of ‘moderate physical pressure’ is described by torture survivors as taking the form of rape, exposure to extreme temperatures, beatings, sexual-psychological torture, shabeh, pain inflicted on sensitive areas of the body, frenzied shaking of the prisoner’s body and placing a foul smelling bag over a prisoner’s head for several hours. Despite a 1999 ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice declaring a prohibition on ‘brutal or inhuman means in the course of an investigation’, the court also stipulated that interrogators indulging in torture ‘might not be held criminally liable as they may rely on the ‘necessity defence’. Impunity is rampant within the legal framework as Shin Bet is not required to produce any evidence of alleged crimes, although the judge is expected to adhere to the intelligence agency’s version of events. Within the legal framework, torture is therefore intertwined within an imaginary context – the experience of torture is never investigated whilst the practice is dismissed as a detail which plays not part in compromising any resulting confession.

The practice of administrative detention can also be classified as a form of torture. The convenience allows Israel to operate within the boundaries of its own necessities, while violating a detainee’s right to defence. Speculation or alleged conspiracy to commit a crime takes precedence over the facts, and the renewal of detention periods without bringing charges against the detainee has been used as a bargaining tool in Israel’s favour – enticing Palestinians to become collaborators, thus splitting the unity of the resistance through possible betrayal. As long as Israeli discourse remains entrenched within ‘security’, the challenge to administrative detention is slight, with non-violent resistance usually being the preferred method of achieving recognition of human rights violations. It is, however, a fact that torture within the contemporary has been side-lined. An outrage only occurs if there is instant access to imagery – long term torture fails to elicit a response.

The classification of security prisoners is applied broadly and without distinction – the ‘terrorist’ label is unlikely to change unless there is a change in the profiling carried out by Israel. War terminology is essential to justify force against Palestinians as legitimate self-defence, therefore Palestinian political prisoners are also not allowed the ‘prisoner of war status’, despite UN Resolution 3103 (1973) concerning the basic principles of the legal status of combatants struggling against colonial and alien domination and racist regimes. The resolution states that, ‘The struggle of peoples under colonial and alien domination and racist regimes for the implementation of their right to self-determination and independence is legitimate and in full accordance with the principles of international law.’

A notable aspect of this book is the renewed Palestinian resistance in the wake of constant human rights violations committed by Israel. The international community of spectators has not ceased to applaud Israel for its commitment to ‘eliminating security threats’ while intentionally disregarding their obligations under international law. The abuse against Palestinian prisoners is never newsworthy or of ‘concern’ unless it serves the interests of governing bodies in adopting aspects of the narration to suit their vested interests. Within the imposed isolation brought by the occupier’s colonial discourse and the imperial motives of its allies, Palestinian political prisoners have created a unique identity in which liberation is embodied within each individual deprived of personal freedom.

Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura

This book review was first published in Chileno here.

Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura
Carlos Dorat & Mauricio Weibel
Ceibo Ediciones, 2012

Through now revealed secret government documents, Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura details the extent of the far-reaching reign of terror imposed by Augosto Pinochet's dictatorship. Ramona Wadi reviews.

Re-enacting Chile’s dictatorship history is an arduous task, undoubtedly hindered by Augusto Pinochet’s insistence upon oblivion and legally sanctioned by the enacted impunity laws. Seeking to annihilate memory by imposing a reign of persecution, torture, disappearances and exile, the struggle to delegitimize the leftist struggle degenerated into Pinochet’s obsession to legitimise his dictatorship. Evidence compiled by authors Carlos Dorat and Mauricio Weibel reveals a sinister collaboration extending beyond the secret network Dirección de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA) and later Central Nacional de Información (CNI), involving ministries, embassies, diplomats, the FBI, the Vatican and right wing Latin American governments.

Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura (Ceibo Ediciones, 2012) examines documents which for some reason, failed to be destroyed by the CNI in 1988 prior to the transition period. The documents, detailing extensive correspondence on behalf of Pinochet, are mainly attributed to Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Odlainer Mena, Humberto Gordon and Hugo Salas, proving the extent of collaboration between various governmental and international bodies, as well as incursions to divert civilian attempts to shed light upon Chile’s reality. From El Plan Condor to inscribed orders from Pinochet requesting the detention of socialist opponents, terror and diplomatic strategy comprise the analysis of what the authors term ‘a catalogue of horror and intolerance’.

September 11, 1973 unleashed the neoliberal experiment upon Chile, supported by the US which was, in Kissinger’s words, unwilling ‘to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide from themselves’. Following an initial purging of socialism in Chile, the published documents in this book reveal how political strategy, in collaboration with the Vatican, was aiming to install Pinochet as an icon of freedom and anti-communist struggle. Apart from the well known targeting of Communist Party and Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) militants, the military advocated a complete dismantling of social movements, student organisations and embarked upon restricting the Church’s activities. With regard to the latter, correspondence with the Vatican illustrates the alignment of the church oligarchy with Pinochet’s dictatorship, as opposed to priests working in the country who, contrary to what had occurred in other countries, aligned themselves with the left. While the Vatican urged priests to adhere solely to ceremonial roles, Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez had abandoned the designated conservative role in favour of exposing dictatorship atrocities through the Vicaria de la Solidaridad. Part of the political strategy against human rights groups was to seek invalidation of exposed atrocities by citing Marxist infiltration.

A brief overview of DINA establishes an ideological framework attributed to Jaime Guzman, who fostered a counterinsurgency programme based upon combating Marxism and seeking the annihilation of social movements from the political scene. As DINA’s power intensified, counterinsurgency became central to the stability of the dictatorship, lending the state a channel through which to intensify diplomatic efforts with other right wing governments and repressive bodies, in order to present a formidable opposition to organisations expressing their outrage at the widespread violence. Documents relating to Operaciones Epsilon reveal that former head of DINA, Manual Contreras, was authorised to give orders to various ministries. An 11 page document relating to the assembly of ‘Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos’ sought to ‘neutralise worldwide accusations of human rights violations in Chile’, instead proposing an emphasis of human rights disputes in Vietnam and the Soviet Union, among other countries. The neutralisation of any verbal opposition against the dictatorship was to be met with an open and clandestine psychological campaign, in order to preserve Chile’s ‘image’ from any possible ‘discrediting and spreading of false information’.

The political threat was personified in particular by the clandestine Communist Party and MIR, who waged armed resistance against the dictatorship and suffered great losses due to persecution and disappearances of many militants, including the notorious Operacion Colombo. The book states that, according to research carried out by renowned author Manuel Salazar, Contreras had been compiling information about political leaders of leftist organisations since Salvador Allende’s presidency. Related documents published in this book and stamped as confidential outline the activities of several left wing leaders, including Victor Diaz and Luis Recabarren.

‘The problem of human rights’ constituted a major problem for the dictatorship, as it relentlessly sought to portray any internal or external criticism as tarnishing the image of Chile. Despite the extermination of socialist leaders, subsequent regrouping of MIR, Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitario (MAPU) and other left wing groups gave rise to an initiation of protests against the dictatorship, with people demanding the return of their exiled relatives. Hundreds were massacred by the CNI, as the military was deployed to the streets in an effort to stifle dissent. As the dictatorship faced the most difficult years of its era, Guzman advocated an ideology shifting towards permanent military rule.

The authors describe the oppression as methodical – indeed the documents reveal statistical data of ‘terrorist activity’ and ‘manipulation of conduct’. The constant preoccupation and compilation of data enabled the dictatorship to enact legislation according to the circumstances, in order to ensure a continuation of impunity. A trend of state terrorism is easily gleaned from the documents produced in the book, as well as the analysis provided by the authors. The ‘Caravan of Death’, the ‘Plan Condor’, which was carried out in collaboration with other Latin American countries, ‘Operacion Colombo’ – also known as the Case of the 119, ‘Operacion Epsilon’ and the collaboration with the US regarding ‘the distortion of Chile’s truth in favour of Marxism’ gave rise to the tracking of dissidents' and exiles' activity abroad, in order to prevent the possibility of the formation of a government in exile. Embassies were also authorised to keep copies of any published material relevant to Chile, in particular reports concerning human rights violations. The exercise was described as ‘censorship of negative information’. However, the dictatorship’s targeting of any person suspected of harbouring leftist sentiment, even through association not related to political activity and irrespective of nationality, led to disclosure of torture practices in international media. The case of Sheila Cassidy – a British doctor suspected of having offered medical assistance to Pinochet’s opponents led to international outrage, which in turn the dictatorship tried to stifle by refusing to issue working permits for journalists travelling to Chile in order to report on human rights. State organisations were also forbidden to comment about Chile without prior permission granted through formal official channels. At least 761 journalists were prohibited from reporting about human rights violations in Chile and their details were included in the dictatorship’s archives.

Hostility against the media was enhanced by the fact that culture – an integral part of Allende’s campaign and perhaps synonymous with the nueva canción movement, was not to be stifled. Inti Illimani and Illapu, together with other singers in exile such as Angel Parra, Isabel Parra and Patricio Manns maintained their political stance and disseminated their convictions through music. The literature of Ariel Dorfman and Antonio Skarmeta was banned in Chile, as was the political thought of Eduardo Galeano and Karl Marx.

Perhaps the significance of this book lies in the fact that it is yet another sliver in Chilean memory elucidating the callous ideology behind the committed atrocities. By analysing this archive of documents, Dorat and Weibel have succeeded in reassembling the fragments of the dictatorship, most importantly eliminating the gap between the experienced violations and the dictatorship laws which ravaged the lives of thousands of Chileans.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Who Killed Che? How the CIA got away with murder

“Under the laws that govern warfare, including guerrilla war, the killing of a prisoner is murder and constitutes a war crime. It is not just the actual shooter who is guilty of a war crime. Those higher up that ordered, acquiesced or failed to prevent the murder are guilty of a war crime as well. There is no statute of limitation for this crime.” (Ratner and Smith, 2011)

In ‘Who Killed Che? How the CIA got away with Murder?’(OR Books, 2011) Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith discuss historical narratives from various sources while providing the contrast between the narratives of various authors against a selection of published declassified documents from the White House, the CIA, as well as the US State and Defense Departments. Che’s murder is replete with conflicting testimonies embroiled in a major inconsistency – the evidence of US guilt against dissemination of the opposite information. However, a careful reading and examination of the documents portray the CIA’s involvement and sheds light on the erroneous information supplied by agent Felix Rodriguez, demonstrating the use of plausible deniability.

Former secretary of state George Marshall declared that the CIA’s status as a paramilitary organization granted the agency unlimited power and impunity to violate international law, authorised by the National Security Act of 1947. International law violations required a cover up for the CIA, thus an official policy of lying about paramilitary operations in a manner which shielded the White House was practiced. According to Ratner and Smith, through the practice of plausible deniability, the CIA was allowed the freedom to interpret and act upon the president’s words without any consultation, thus shielding government officials from responsibility. Referring to assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, former head of the CIA Richard Helms stated that he “never informed either the president or his newly appointed CIA director John Mc Cone of the assassination plots ... nobody wants to embarrass a President of the United States by discussing the assassination of foreign leaders in his presence.”

The book discusses the various accounts of Che’s death in popular biographical accounts. Ratner and Smith observe that the versions either deny or vaguely imply CIA involvement. In his book ‘Shadow Warrior: The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles’, Rodriguez insists that despite the CIA wanting Che alive, he did nothing to oppose the execution order allegedly given from generals in La Paz. Echoing Rodriguez, Richard Harris completely exonerates the CIA from any responsibility in his book ‘Death of a Revolutionary’. Rodriguez’s version is unquestioned and the author states that US involvement in Che’s death was minimal.

Both Jorge Castaneda and Jon Lee Anderson discuss Rodriguez’s account of Che’s murder in their respective biographies. However Castaneda implies an agreement between the US and Bolivia to have Che executed if captured, while Anderson discusses Colonel Andre Selich’s version, stating that Rodriguez never received direct orders to have Che murdered. Paco Ignacio Taibo’s version omits any reference to Rodriguez in the orders leading to Che’s death, suggesting instead that President Barrientos ordered Che’s assassination. Fox Butterfield Ryan’s biography states that the CIA “knew for thirty-six hours before Che’s execution that he was captured,” however he describes the CIA as having “done nothing”.

Close scrutiny of the declassified documents, which make up the major part of this book, reveal that the US was heavily involved in documenting Che’s movements, speeches and subsequent plans to spread revolutionary struggle. Che was being tracked as early as 1954 upon his arrival in Guatemala – a fact echoed in the book’s preface by Rolando Alarcon, who asserts “Ernesto Guevara was an object of interest for the American secret services before he entered our history, long before he became Che.”

A CIA cable in 1958 states that while Fidel is considered the dominating revolutionary influence, Che is capable of ensuring the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution. Other CIA cables describe Che as an idealist wanting to fight against the political situation in Latin America. A CIA biographical fact sheet about Che states that he is highly unlikely to remain in Cuba if the revolution triumphs. Following the Cuban revolutionary triumph, Che’s views on US foreign policy were documented in another CIA cable, quoting him as saying, “The Castro government has letters and documentary proof showing improper collaboration between the former US Ambassador and the BATISTA regime.” The cable also takes into account Che’s opinion that, “The United States has achieved social justice and liberty for its own people, but it objects when small Latin American countries struggle for the same things for themselves.”

The cables, memos and documents concerning Che’s activities in Bolivia are explicit with regard to US intentions to eliminate him. CIA documents (1966) reported Che’s intention to lead an armed struggle in the Andes, extending through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Documents from the White House and the Department of State indicate clearly that President Barrientos asked for US aid in order to fight the guerrilla insurgency. Upon assessing Bolivian counterinsurgency capabilities, the US decided to aid Barrientos by fulfilling his request for “a hunter-killer team” which would effectively eliminate the guerrilla movement. The CIA agent responsible for training the Bolivian military was Felix Rodriguez, who arrived in Bolivia on August 2, 1967.

The conflicting documents regarding Che’s capture and death serve to facilitate US denial of any involvement in the actual murder. Reports sent to Washington on October 9, 1967 claim that Che had been captured and “reliably reported still alive”, contradicting a memorandum sent by counterinsurgency head Walter Rostow to President Johnson stating that Che was dead and the responsible squad had been trained by the US. Yet another document sent on October 10 – a day after Che’s murder, refutes the notion that Che was ‘among the casualties’. This was a major incongruence, considering that Rodriguez was in La Higuera on the day of Che’s death.

According to the authors, a lack of cohesive structure in the documents indicate the possibility that higher officials may have been intentionally misled through memorandums in order to achieve plausible deniability for US government officials. CIA documents have sought to portray Che’s murder as a Bolivian government action, notwithstanding the paramilitary training provided by the US. However, Ratner and Smith expound upon the inconsistencies with regard to Rodriguez’s testimony, which led to CIA exoneration from the war crime. Primarily, he stated that orders from the US were to keep Che alive if captured. While in his first report Rodriguez claimed that the secret code 700 indicated the order to kill Che, in a debriefing ten years later he declared that the order to dispose of Che was given directly to him, under the code 600. In his first testimony the code 600 indicated an order to keep Che alive. During the debriefing Rodriguez also stated that he was unable to spare Che’s life and that the order came directly from Bolivian generals. Apart from confusing the secret codes, which, according to the authors, indicate the possibility that he was not the person who received the order to kill Che, Rodriguez had previously stated that, as CIA agents, they had never accepted any orders from the Bolivian Army.

On October 11, a document by Rostow sent to President Johnson affirms Che’s death, however the killing is deemed ‘stupid’, implying that Washington was not involved in the assassination. The order to execute Che, according to the document, came from the Chief of Bolivian Armed Forces. Ratner and Smith argue that this is improbable, given that other documents clearly indicate US responsibility for the training of ‘killer groups’, apart from having a CIA agent in La Higuera. Che’s death is also regarded as strategic for US interests in Latin America. Additionally, Rostow claims that the murder reinforces the trend of eliminating ‘romantic revolutionaries’, discourages guerrillas in Latin America to pursue armed struggle and portrays the efficiency of US ‘preventive medicine’ with regard to counterinsurgency.

The book facilitates a rather intimidating task of sifting through evidence, allowing the reader to both perceive divergences in the various narrations in order to discern the reality behind Che’s murder. While the CIA’s analysis of Che’s Bolivian diary concludes that “the Guevara legend will only be dulled by this account of the pathetic struggle in Bolivia”, it is clear that such a statement is derived from relief that the intention to spread the revolution was unsuccessful. Ratner and Smith do not commit the error of isolating Che from the Cuban revolution. Che had stated that the best defence of the revolution was its extension within the continent; however the US was equally as adamant that a successful struggle within Latin America would lessen its prospects of imperialism and regional interests. It remains to be seen how much more would have been revealed had the documents not been subjected to official censorship, omitting valuable information which would weaken the coveted strategy of plausible deniability.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Invention of the Land of Israel

The invention of the land of IsraelThis review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Deconstructing the mythological 'right to land' would prove a crucial requirement to achieve an understanding of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Shlomo Sand's new book, The Invention of the Land of Israel (Verso Books, 2012) immediately negates the idea of a Jewish homeland and commences to outline the existence of a Zionist, colonial elite which held on to a semblance of moral legitimacy in order to maintain expansion and territorial appropriation of Palestine.

Sand's repudiation of the right to land is vividly portrayed in the first chapter, where he expresses astonishment at his friends' disregard for territorial borders and later witnesses a brutal torture and murder of an Arab man in possession of American dollars – an example of the indifference which would characterise Zionist colonial occupation.

Arguing that definitions of homeland are subject to language and culture, which would then transform land into social property through a social consciousness leading to appropriation, Sand insists that Biblical narrative and references to homeland are void of the patriotism which is associated with the concept of nation. However, Zionists employed Biblical references in order to deconstruct 'the promised land' from a theological perspective to a historical motive. The promised land in Biblical narrative is equivalent to a loan and therefore conditional upon Jews obeying God's law – a Jewish ancestral land never existed. Jewish tribes were spread in various regions. However, Ben Gurion's promotion of the 'Book of Joshua' was hailed as implying a return of the people of Israel. As Zionism strengthened its stance by eliminating the foundations of historic Judaism, nationalism and colonialism became decisive in the formation of Zionist pedagogy.

While the narrative of nationalism established itself within Zionist circles, Sand argues that in reality there was no evidence of forced migration of Jews from Judea, or any attempt by Jews to return to the region. By the late 19th century fewer than 5,000 Jews were living in Palestine, in contrast to a population of two and a half million Jews worldwide. Theodor Herzl, founder of the Jewish nationalist movement, is considered to have set a precedent for Jewish right to national territory. While relocation of Jews to Uganda was discussed prior to establishing a national home in Palestine, Christian Zionists played an important role in furthering the possibility of a Jewish national home in Palestine, in accordance with the yearning to establish an imperial mandate in the Middle East. Colonel Charles Henry Churchill insisted on the settlement of Jews in Palestine and a British force dispatched for their defence. George Gowler's view on restoring Jews 'to their land' was the means through which a safe zone for the British could be created between Egypt and Syria. The colonial agenda was embodied in Lord Arthur James Balfour's words in 1919: "For in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country ... Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the land." Balfour was pivotal in advancing the Zionist project in particular. As Arab protests against the Balfour Declaration became more vocal, the Zionists increased their rhetoric pertaining to the 'right of ownership to a national land'.

"In Zionism, the Land replaced the Torah, and the sweeping worship of the future state replaced strong adherence to God." Zionism's disregard from tradition and commandments facilitated the task of locating a fictitious homeland in Judaism. The innovative rules of ownership reeked of colonial ideology, with Zionists insisting that Arabs 'acknowledge the children of Israel's historic right to the land.' However, Zionists never clarified the 'self-evident' claims to Palestinian land. Affinity to land was regarded as inherent by Jews, therefore affinity was also perceived to create rights to a historic land.

The right to land was also adopted by the 1922 League of Nations, approving of an intentionally fabricated historical identity in relation to international law. This new consciousness played upon rights and misfortune. Jews were perceived as a nation prevented from reaching its national homeland despite an aspiration transcending generations. On the contrary, Palestinian self-determination was ignored, and Palestinians were deemed as not possessing 'the unique attributes of a nation'. The UN Partition Plan in 1947 following the holocaust gave the Zionists the foundations from which they were able to declare the false yearning of Jews 'in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland'.

Sand emphasises the importance of Zionist geopolitics in understanding the dynamics of expansion. The preliminary metaphor of 'the desolate abandoned land' was significant in maintaining the claim of a historical right to a homeland. As early as 1897, it was deemed that the 'sacred land' was insufficient to establish a national homeland. Further territorial mapping by Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi was intentionally inconclusive, as it was stated that "The Eastern Border of the land of Israel should not be precisely demarcated." Expansion and appropriation were integral to Zionist consolidation of the national homeland, conveniently ignoring the fact that Judaism was independent of any territorial claim.

The historical narrative is insightful, in particular the graceful disintegration of Zionist historical right to homeland. The Zionist colonial enterprise is fragmented until the reader grasps the ethnic colonization of Palestine as a massacre of immense magnitude. Although the book mainly dwells on historical narrative, the culmination of imposed ownership is evident from the opening chapters. However, there seems to be a degree of hesitation in connecting this historical fabrication with the necessity of accountability. The question of rights for Palestinians is not simply a question of a colonising state bequeathing a reconciliatory gesture to the people it has massacred for decades. If the admission of fabrication of a national Jewish homeland is restricted to a historical study, the question of illegal occupation and the expectation that the State of Israel grants Palestinians their rights would amount to less than a fleeting statement. Without a process of accountability, the fabricated history retains its strength.