Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

The Qwasmeh Family Story

CPTnet | June 17, 2014

The public so far knows very little outside of the alleged time that Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped. But what we do know is the absolute mayhem the Israeli military has spread throughout the Hebron district among innocent families.  Additionally, routine night raids, day patrols, confiscation of public property for military outposts, and the blockades on all but two access points into Hebron have suffocated the livelihood of Hebronites.

Soldiers raided the home and took possession of the Al Awewe family home in Aqbet Taffuh for six hours on Sunday. Over fifty troops had occupied the home while three adults, four young girls, and a young boy were in the home. The Israeli military would not allow a one-year-old baby to leave the house and her mother had to sit outside helplessly wondering about the safety of her daughter, who was still nursing. The soldiers found no suspects connected to the kidnapping in the home.

In that same area on Monday morning, the IDF confiscated the security camera equipment the al-Natshe family had installed around their house for their protection, along with video footage the cameras had recorded.

Further down the road in the Aqbet Taffuh area, approximately fifty-five Israeli soldiers left the hilltop area of the Palestinian municipality, occupied several homes, questioned families, tore down a private Palestinian fence and occupied the neighborhood for several hours.

Throughout the afternoon, northeast of Bab i-Zaweyah, just outside of the H1/H2 intersection, a brigade of more than forty soldiers stationed themselves in four different homes and a supermarket within a two hour period, leaving families frightened and unsure of their intentions.

On 15 June at around 9:30 p.m., an Israeli raid on a Palestinian home ended with a seven-year-old Palestinian boy hospitalized after the Israeli military used an explosive device to blow open the front door of the Akram Al Qawasmeh home. The subsequent powerful blast shattered the tempered reinforced glass, shearing off the decorative steel and sending pieces of shrapnel into all corners of the home, which severely injured Akram Al Qawasmeh’s son.

After the explosion, Israeli soldiers did not allow Akram Al Qawasmeh to see his son, and according to reports, the military initially stopped medical personal from treating the victim. CPT arrived the following day and found a home turned upside down. (See video below.) Children’s belongings were spread and broken around the house.  Israeli soldiers demolished the kitchen, smashing fruits, vegetables, and other food items on the floor, and left feces on a rug in the basement.

These are just a few of the incidents that CPTers were able to report on directly. Other human rights organizations have also reported an increase in settler violence against Palestinians who live near the Hebron area settlements.

Historically, Palestinian violence has been the justification for settlement expansion in Hebron. Currently, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee has identified over twenty-two locations of pending settlement expansion and settler activity. The behavior of the Israeli military and settlers in Hebron suggests the government may use the case of the three young kidnapped boys as an excuse to expand these settlements in the Hebron area or elsewhere in the West Bank while the international community is distracted.

See previous release, AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): Hijacking a kidnapping, Part I

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Killing without consequence

By Moira Jilani | June 19, 2014

East Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine – Ziad and I met at a party at the University of Houston. Six months later Ziad proposed, saying, “I’m a Palestinian. I am only here to get an education. After graduating I’ll return home to Jerusalem. Come with me.”

We married the following year and moved to Jerusalem. For nearly 20 years we lived happily, raising a family and enjoying our lives together. But my fairy tale came to an end on the afternoon of June 11, 2010. In the morning we made plans to take our daughters to the beach that afternoon, Ziad never made it home.

The Israeli border policemen who shot and killed my husband declared that Ziad was a “terrorist” shot dead from a distance.  But my husband was no terrorist.  He loved life. He loved people and animals and he loved us, his family, with a passion. We had to conduct our own investigation to find out how my husband died.

The Israeli unit that investigates police killings failed to interrogate any of the many eyewitnesses to Ziad’s death and only questioned the border policemen involved in the killing. By gathering evidence and testimonies independently we learned the truth. Ziad, while driving home in his pickup truck, swerved into the opposite lane, where a group of border policemen were walking on the road. Ziad’s pickup truck brushed against two of the border policemen causing scrapes and bruises.

Unfortunately, Ziad can no longer tell us exactly what happened, but eyewitnesses reported that there was stone-throwing in the area and that Ziad’s windshield was hit by a stone. This description explains a big dent in Ziad’s front windshield and accounts for his swerve.

The Border Policemen opened a massive barrage of live fire at Ziad’s vehicle. Surrounding cars were hit and a little girl was injured. Ziad fled from the bullets to a nearby dead-end alleyway where his uncle lives. Three Border policemen ran forward firing into the alley.

Ziad leapt out of the truck and ran in the direction of his uncle’s house, but was shot in the back and fell injured to the pavement. While the commander of the unit, Shadi Heir al Din, reported that the “terrorist” had been neutralized, border policeman Maxim Vinogradov walked up to my husband and confirmed the kill.

Vinogradov put his M16 to Ziad’s head and fired two shots. According to an eyewitness, Vinogradov placed his boot on my husband’s neck when he shot him. The practice of confirming killings is illegal under international law.

Twelve days before Vinogradov killed my husband, he responded to a Facebook message voicing support for annihilating “Turkey and all the Arabs from the world” by saying, “I am with you, brother, and with the help of God I will start this.” This is just one of many similar posts. In his profile on a social network website, he describes as a hobby “hitting and destroying things,” his favorite food as “Arabs,” and his favorite sport as “Undocumented Arab Workers.”

My lawyers appealed to an Israeli judge to exhume Ziad’s body in order for an autopsy to be performed. As it was clear that the autopsy would reveal the fact that Ziad was shot from point-blank range, Vinogradov completely altered his original testimony because he  “suddenly remembered” that as he was standing above Ziad he saw him move his hand and so had to shoot him in the head.

Despite Vinogradov’s misrepresentation and the fact that the investigations unit concluded that they “could not rule out that Ziad had swerved innocently and without the intention of running over the border policemen,” the case against Vinogradov and his commander was closed for lack of evidence.

My daughters and I have appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, but when I asked the American Consulate to help me see to it that my husband’s killer stands trial they told me that their hands were tied since they had no jurisdiction in Israel. I disagree. Our government gives Israel more than $3 billion in annual military aid. It is our government’s responsibility to use its leverage with Israel to stop Israel from using these weapons to commit crimes.

The Israeli military has a history of ignoring the lives of Palestinians, and then supporting their killers. An example is the appointment of Brig. Gen. Roni Numa as the head of the Israeli army’s “Depth Corps” and the Military Colleges, as well as his promotion to major general, two weeks ago. This occurred despite the fact that the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Military Advocate General determined that, in 2001, Numa approved an operation in which Abdallah Jarousha, from Tul Karem refugee camp was shot in the back and killed in violation of the Israel Defence Forces’ rules of engagement. The criminal case in the matter was closed, though the Military Advocate General Corps noted in its decision that “in advance, the firing, as was approved, should not have been approved.” Roni Numa also changed his version of the events many times while the murder was being investigated, forgetting and then remembering that he had given the order. Like the case demanding accountability for my husbands murderer, the case Abdallah Jarousha’s family launched spent years in the Israeli courts, and despite an innocent civilian being murdered in cold blood ended, no Israeli was ever charged.

My husband was killed by a trigger-happy Israeli border policemen.  They ought to face trial for both the crime and the cover-up.  It’s time for the American government to step up, support American citizens such my daughters and I, and insist that Israel hold a proper trial.

Moira Jilani is an American citizen. She is the widow of Ziad Jilani who was killed by Israeli border policemen in 2010 while driving home. Moira and her daughters have appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court against the closing of the case against Ziad’s killers.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , | 2 Comments

Colombia Peace Talks Survive Elections, May Have Lasting Implications for Regional Integration and US-Led “War on Drugs”

By Peter Hayakawa | CEPR Americas Blog | June 19, 2014

Ending a very close race, incumbent Juan Manuel Santos won a decisive five-point victory Sunday in Colombia’s second round of presidential elections, beating challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who had won the first round in an upset. The campaign had centered on two related issues: first, the future of the Santos-led peace process under way in Havana between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC that may have the potential to end a half century of civil war, and second, a referendum on Santos’ shift away from the militaristic policies of his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.

Zuluaga, who had been hand-chosen by Uribe and ran in opposition to the peace talks (though he had softened his position slightly after the first round), quickly conceded defeat this Sunday. Uribe, however, wasted no time in claiming that the elections had been marred by “massive fraud.” Santos ran on not only defending the peace talks which he had played a primary role in instigating, but also on repairing ties with regional neighbors (ties that he himself, as a defense minister under Uribe, had played a key role in breaking).

Santos’ victory has certainly dealt a major blow to ‘Uribismo.’ Colombians largely seem to support the peace process as well as recent moves toward regional integration, and it looks as though few were convinced by Uribe’s wild charges during the campaign that the peace process would open the path to “Castrochavismo,” allowing the “FARC to run this country from Havana.” Uribe has long loomed over Colombian politics, but Zuluaga’s defeat signals that his influence may be waning, even on the political right. Meanwhile, Santos’ support of the peace talks won him the backing of some of Colombia’s most prominent business people, in addition to endorsements from indigenous groups and left-wing coalitions.

Uribe might have thought twice about investing so much political capital in opposing the negotiations. While it is true that the peace talks had the support of Venezuela and Cuba, they also had the support of virtually every other country in the region, as well as the United Nations, in addition to broad domestic support. More to the point, the peace talks have throughout had the quiet endorsement of the United States. Just a month ago, on May 18th, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed U.S. support for the peace process, which, given that they were the central subject of the elections, arguably amounted to an endorsement of Santos.

One might be able to forgive Uribe for being confused. While he was president, Uribe was the U.S.’s closest regional ally. At the time, his antagonistic posture toward neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador, including his repeated accusations of their support for the FARC, were highly appreciated by the U.S. (and not just by the Bush administration). More recently, his accusations tying Santos to Cuba, with their anti-Castro fervor, seem to come right out of the U.S.’s Cold War-era playbook. There is no evidence that Cuba is influential enough to be able to “run” Colombia, and the language betrays a loyalty to the U.S. perspective. Thus, it might have shocked him to learn that Secretary Kerry had basically endorsed Santos.

Indeed, U.S. support for Santos is a little puzzling, given the extent to which Santos has started to move away from U.S. policy on several important fronts; for example, emerging as a champion of regional cooperation and as a key participant in a regional effort to change course in the U.S.-led “War on Drugs.” But despite what might be a natural preference for a more pro-U.S. candidate (as any Uribe-endorsed candidate surely would have been), the U.S. simply might be unable to publicly oppose the almost universally-supported peace talks without risking serious and coordinated push-back. This development can be seen as another sign of Latin America’s growing independence from the U.S., though it’s important to remember that Santos also continues to cooperate with the U.S. militarily, and is one of the last remaining champions of U.S.-promoted “free trade’” agreements in the region.

The Peace Talks, Paramilitaries, and the “War on Drugs”

The negotiations have taken on momentum over the past year. Before the election, a framework emerged that will include the vital input of the civil war’s victims as well as mutual acknowledgement of responsibility for crimes committed during the course of the war. Perhaps most importantly, the talks have now widened to include negotiations between the government and Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, increasing the reach of any potential deal. Since the talks began, the Colombian government claims that violence committed against civilians has significantly decreased.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about these peace talks, particularly about the chances they will lead to real justice for the victims. While the FARC have committed many human rights abuses, the Colombian military and paramilitary groups with which the military has closely worked have been responsible for most of the violence. During the course of the war, paramilitaries alone have been responsible for up to 80 percent of all of the killings in the country, according to the United Nations. The fact that there is strong collusion between these paramilitary groups and the Colombian government is not a point of serious debate. In a move that bodes ill for the prospects for justice, in March, the government announced that it would release hundreds of paramilitary soldiers who had served lenient sentences for extremely serious crimes.

It is also almost guaranteed that U.S. policy makers and multinational companies, like DynCorp and Chiquita Banana, which have played a large role in fueling this conflict over the decades (primarily through the “War on Drugs” and the U.S.’s obsession with counterinsurgency), will also not be held to account. The U.S. has used the pretext of anti-narcotics campaigns to justify funding the Colombian military and Colombian political allies  despite longstanding evidence of their ties to paramilitary groups. Paramilitaries, who are major players in the drug trade themselves, have among a litany of other abuses, declared war on unions, aiding the Colombian military in efforts that have nothing to do with counter-narcotics. In 2006, the “parapolitics” scandal story broke in Colombia, and 45 Colombian congressmen and seven governors were eventually convicted of ties to some of the country’s most notorious paramilitary groups. But even after these ties were brought out in the open, the U.S. government still defended the military aid it gave to Colombia.  At the height of the scandals, a partial, temporary freeze was enacted by a handful of Senate Democrats against the wishes of the Bush administration. After the even more shocking “false positives” scandal emerged in 2008, when it was discovered that the Colombian army had hired paramilitaries to kill civilians and dress the bodies up as rebel fighters, declassified documents released by the National Security Archive show that the U.S. knew as early as 1994 that U.S.-backed Colombian security forces had ties to groups engaging in “death squad tactics” similar to those brought to light in the false positives scandal. There is evidence that the U.S. was still providing resources directly to some of these military units as recently as 2010. If the U.S. role is left out of the discussion and paramilitary groups are not held to account, this will greatly diminish the credibility of the peace process.

But despite these obvious shortcomings, the peace talks may eventually lead to a huge change in the “War on Drugs.” An under-discussed aspect of the negotiations is the fact that both the government and the FARC have already agreed on key issues, including commitments to seriously limit the U.S.-led aerial eradication program (where tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent annually to spray powerful herbicides on coca plants in rural Colombia), and also on a commitment to implement badly-needed land reforms for rural Colombians as well as programs to create economic incentives for Colombian farmers to grow crops other than coca. If these reforms are implemented, many Colombian subsistence farmers may one day be able to lead normal lives, instead of being terrorized by aerial eradication that makes no distinction between coca plants and the food that farmers grow to feed themselves. Aerial eradication has entailed huge human and environmental costs, while being shockingly ineffective [PDF] in limiting cocaine production, despite U.S. claims to the contrary.

At the same time, other countries are taking a stand against harmful anti-drug policies. In Peru, which in 2012 overtook Colombia as the world’s largest producer of cocaine, the government recently began a program to provide assistance to farmers to grow alternative crops. Since then, the reduction in the production of coca has been so significant that the government recently decided to postpone forced eradication efforts (Peru and Bolivia had both already banned aerial eradication in the past). The government of Peru also recognized that popular opposition to forced eradication has been a primary reason why the remnants of Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas have any popular support.  If the Colombian peace talks succeed, there is a chance that the decades-long struggles of Colombian farmers against aerial eradication might eventually take a decisive positive turn in the place where the policy has caused the most harm—where for a time, an astounding 8 percent of the arable land in Colombia was subject to the program.

In the coming months, it will be important to see how the U.S. reacts to developments in the peace talks, which may have big implications for U.S. policy in Latin America. Despite U.S. support for the talks, the U.S. government has been clear that it wants aerial eradication and other “Drug War” policies to continue. But if the talks are successful, there is a chance that the U.S. may be forced to accept real change—not just a curtailment of destructive counter-drug policies, but perhaps also a process of demilitarization that might loosen the U.S.’s grip on a key regional foothold of military power.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

Venezuelan President and High Ranking Officials to Declare Wealth, Ex-Minister Investigated for Corruption

By Z.C. DUTKA | Venezuelanalysis | June 18, 2014

San Francisco – Venezuelan comptroller Adelina Gonzalez announced yesterday that all senior officials in public office must update their sworn declaration of wealth (DJP) between the 1st and 31st of July.

The DJP has been required for select offices since the ratification of the Law Against Corruption in 2003. A government website for the task was set in place in 2009. The last DJP summons was for all police bodies, though the current injunction – detailed in the Official Gazette published just days after president Nicolas Maduro’s election to office – is much broader in scale.

The mandate extends to all state, federal, and municipal employs of superior rank, as well as any functionary working within the realm of public accounting. This includes President Nicolas Maduro, as well as magistrates of the Supreme Court, military generals and high ranking army personnel, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s Office, governors, ministers and vice ministers, ambassadors, consuls, notaries, the Central Bank directors’ office and university rectors.

Those who do not comply with this requirement will be fined or, as articles 38 and 39 of the corruption law indicate, may be removed from their post and banished from all public office for up to 12 months.

Maduro’s firm stance against corruption has defined his presidency from the beginning, though critics believe his policies have been largely unsuccessful. Since he took office in April of 2013, there have been arrests and investigations within the tax and customs office, Seniat, the goods and services monitor, Indepabis, and state owned iron ore company, Ferrominera.

While addressing the National Assembly last October, the head of state implored deputies to reject the notion of corruption as “normal in political life.”

“I call on the people to not tolerate corruption,” he said, “neither of those with a yellow collar [opposition supporters] nor the corruption of those with a red collar [supporters of the Bolivarian revolution]. It’s the same thuggery, no matter how you dress; it’s the same anti-people and anti-country behavior.”

In an interview last September, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres went into detail, “This problem of corruption neither started with the revolution, nor did it increase during the revolution. Rather, it began when the republic began. I believe that we should see corruption as part of an effort to dominate sectors of the public administration… In all public institutions there used to be parallel institutions. There always was someone who you would pay [on the side], to take care of the procedures. This created a culture.”

He explained how increasing government efficiency and eliminating bureaucracy are two key methods of destroying the normalized institution of corruption. He reminded reporters that in the pre-Chavez era, there was only one moment when politicians were publicly accused of corruption. That moment involved a scheme which left the country with “literally zero dollars in foreign currency reserves.

“Some experts who have studied this say that this was the greatest fraud in the history of the world,” Rodriguez stated.

Though the conspiracy was of vast proportions and markedly reliant on government insiders, only one man was accused and convicted for the renowned “RICADI fraud,” Rodriguez said.

Ex-minister accused

The Attorney General’s Office, presided over by Luisa Ortega Diaz, is currently conducting an investigation on Eugenia Sader, Health Minister from 2010 to 2013. Sader, a known supporter of Hugo Chavez, was replaced in her position shortly after Maduro took office.

An alleged Justice Department informant leaked information to local newspapers that Sader’s trial will begin on Thursday, at which time she will be questioned regarding numerous “irregularities in management” during her time as Health Minister. The informant took this to mean corruption and embezzlement, but others interpreted the term differently.

On Tuesday a house deputy for the opposition Justice First party and physician, Dinorah Figuera, asked attorney general Diaz to clarify what the charges against Sader are to be. Figuera told reporters she believes the case corresponds with a number of grave complaints her office made in regards to public hospital management under Sader’s administration, including emergency rooms closed for improvements that were never reopened.

An auditing commission of the national assembly last year questioned Merida city mayor and member of the opposition Lestor Rodriguez, in response to a dozen accusations of embezzlement gathered by a city councilor. At the time, the mayoralty had not collected trash in Merida since the previous year, though Rodriguez had claimed it was for lack of funds.

Rodriguez was later indicted for corruption.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Corruption | , | Leave a comment

Palestinians must be stopped!

By Sam Bahour | ePalestine | June 19, 2014

I have had enough of those Palestinians. I think the world in general is also fed up with Palestinians. They have gone too far in demonizing Israelis and must be stopped. The international community must act now before it is too late and Israel is wiped off the map and a second tragedy of historic proportions fall on a significant part of the world’s Jewish population.

For starters, Palestinians embarked by land, sea and air onto Israel and displaced more than half the Jewish population of Israel in 1948. Imagine, more than half of the population of Israel displaced, forced to live to this day, 66 years later, in squalid refugee camps only hours from their homes. Other than some faint attempts to fight their way back to their homes in Israel, Israeli refugees have been “unreasonably reasonable” in accepting their fate, and continue to patiently wait for word when they can return home to Israel. This man made tragedy was perpetrated by Palestinians, who continue to this day to strangulate Jewish citizens of Israel by the use of brute force and economic suffocation in an attempt to have them voluntarily emigrate elsewhere.

Palestinians are a violent people. Every Palestinian high school graduate is forced into mandatory conscription, three years for males and two years for females. During this military stint, every Palestinian citizen is trained on the use of weapons and combat methods. Many Palestinians brag about how they brutalize Jewish Israelis during their military service; some have even posted photos on their Facebook wall of them posing with Israeli corpses or a blindfolded Israeli who was taken prisoner.

Palestinians are making Israeli livelihood miserable. They have set up military checkpoints in and around major Israeli cities, like Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Eilat. Palestinian soldiers stop only Israeli cars, sometimes for hours on end, while letting Palestinian registered cars ride through their checkpoints unhindered. When an Israeli wants to leave Israel, s/he must get Palestinian permission beforehand. If any Israeli gets on the Palestinian blacklist, his/her ability to leave Israel is impossible. Imagine not being able to leave your own country or being allowed to leave but not to return. Even when Israelis want to travel from one Israeli city to another, Palestinians have set up checkpoints, which resemble the border terminals between the US and Canada, with one difference: the process to pass is one of pure humiliation, more like cattle being pushed through caged pathways than passengers crossing a terminal.

Israel has a huge potential to be a regional economic hub of tourism and trade, but Palestinians are blocking Israel’s ability to economically develop by every means possible. Israelis love technology, but every smartphone in Israel is a dumb phone because Palestinians are refusing to allocate the electromagnetic spectrum—which they control as part of their occupation of Israel—required for 3G services to Israeli telecommunications companies. Can you imagine, those Palestinians are actually refusing to free the airspace above Tel Aviv to Israelis! It gets worse. Israelis have found a huge natural gas well in Israeli territorial waters, in the sea of Tel Aviv, and the Palestinians are refusing to give Israeli firms access to tap the gas. Even Israeli fishermen are routinely shot at when fishing in the Mediterranean Sea.

As if all of this was not bad enough, for the past 47 years Palestinians have slowly moved their citizens to the hilltops around Israeli cities. The hilltops were first confiscated by the use of force, then Arafat, and now Abbas, send Palestinian security forces to protect the confiscated lands. Once the lands are ready, Palestinians have tapped the huge amounts of funds that donors have passed to them and used the funds, not to build schools and a health care system, but rather to build permanent housing in these military enclaves around Israeli cities, in order to entice Palestinians from Ramallah and Hebron to move to Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. This is not only against international law, but defies common sense. How can Palestinians keep paying lip service to wanting to live in peace with Israelis when they keep gobbling up more Israeli land and move their population to take up residence inside Israel?

You think it cannot get worse? Well, you’re wrong. Palestinians have kidnapped 5,000 Israelis from their homes, about 200 are Israeli children under 18 years old, and have locked them into Palestinian jails. These jails that the Palestinians maintain are all built inside Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza. When Israeli mothers want to go visit their loved ones, they must get permission from Palestinian security forces to visit. Hundreds of those 5,000 prisoners are being held without charge; the Palestinians deceitfully call it Administrative Detention. You would think the world would hold these Palestinian jailers accountable, but they haven’t for decades. This is why the time has come to stop those Palestinians once and for all.

Israelis cannot be expected to live like this forever. Something must be immediately done to stop these Palestinians and hold them accountable for the daily atrocities that they are committing against humanity. Israelis are a peace loving people. They come from a religion that rests on a pillar of social justice. What is being done to them is beyond imagination.

Israeli civil society has made a call for the world to divest from Palestine. Israelis across the political spectrum are referring to how Jews around the world supported the boycott and divestment of Apartheid South Africa, which successfully collapsed that racist regime. Jews are pointing to their always being on the correct side of history, from the US civil rights movement to people’s struggles in Latin America. They now beg the world to act to stop Palestinians before it is too late.

The time is now to boycott Palestine, divest from Palestine, and apply serious sanctions on Palestine until it removes the boot of military occupation from the necks of Israelis.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, the West Bank.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , | 4 Comments

Ottawa hypes phony Iran ‘terror threat’

By Brandon Martinez | Press TV | June 19, 2014

The Canadian media is awash with hysteria about what it calls a potential Iranian-sponsored terror attack in Ottawa.

Unsurprisingly, the hype is rooted in baseless innuendo typical of neocon warmongers who act as loudspeakers for the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv.

The neoconservative National Post, which is for all intents and purposes an Israeli propaganda organ, published a scurrilous piece on June 16 quoting from alarmist Canadian intelligence reports which state that Iran and Hezbollah (Lebanon’s national resistance movement) may be planning to strike Ottawa.

What evidence do these intelligence analysts proffer to support their slanderous assertions about Iran and Hezbollah? Absolutely none.

The National Post admitted the documents “do not specify the exact nature of the threat Tehran may pose to the Ottawa region.”

So they claim there is a “threat” but cannot even specify what that threat is or in what form it may manifest?

“[I]n the past,” the dubious intelligence report continued, “Iran has used its proxy force, Hezbollah, to attempt attacks internationally.”

This Zionist rhetoric looks as if it could have been written by Stephen Harper’s “good friend” Benjamin Netanyahu himself.

Despite feeble Zionist disinformation, Iran has not sponsored any international terror attacks. The bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Argentina in 1994, which took the lives of 85 people, is still unsolved. The Zionists immediately pinned the blame for the atrocity on their Iranian and Lebanese foes, offering not one particle of proof. Argentinian researcher Adrian Salbuchi contends that the attack was a false flag operation engineered by the Israeli secret services to swing public opinion against its enemies.

When in late 2013 Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez announced that she would launch a new joint Iranian-Argentinian probe into the 1994 attack, the Zionists went berserk and their mouthpieces in Ottawa and Washington condemned the move to have a real investigation into what happened, for obvious reasons.

Canada’s intelligence services function as a political tool of the neoconservative, pro-Zionist regime in Ottawa led by the rabid Likudnik Harper. As such, their reports about Iran, Hezbollah and anything else related to the Middle East, Arabs and “terrorism” cannot be considered to be anything but propaganda and misdirection designed to serve Israel’s geopolitical agenda.

In his book “Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid,” Canadian foreign policy expert Yves Engler documented the close ties between Canada’s spy agency CSIS and Israel’s spy agency Mossad. The two spook organizations work together closely, sharing intelligence and conducting joint espionage operations targeting Arabs in Canada and abroad. Mossad has often used forged Canadian passports on covert missions (even attempted assassinations), and CSIS has looked the other way.

What may lie behind this latest dose of Iranophobic poison emanating from Ottawa? The National Post says that the Canadian intelligence documents it based its story around are from late 2013, so why promote it now?

Well, a number of events that have unfolded over the past few weeks may explain it.

On June 13 three Israeli teens were allegedly kidnapped from an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The circumstances surrounding the alleged kidnapping are murky. Strangely, nobody has taken credit for the kidnapping nor has anyone demanded a ransom. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the militant Palestinian resistance group Hamas is to blame for the abduction and vowed swift action against it Monday,” reported a June 16 Globe and Mail article.

If Hamas was behind the capture of the three Israelis, surely they would have demanded a prisoner exchange as thousands of Palestinians are unjustly held as political prisoners in Israeli jails. But they have not done this, and as the Globe noted, Hamas has nothing to gain from such a reckless move at this critical juncture when they have just recently formed a unity government with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu called the new Hamas-PA unity government “bad for Israel.”

The only beneficiary of the kidnapping, it seems, is Israel.

Political analyst Kevin Barrett noted in a recent article on Veterans Today that this kidnapping incident may have been staged by Israel as a political stunt to undermine the new Palestinian unity government and to justify a crackdown on Hamas. “How dare the Palestinians unify against us,” the Zionist occupiers are saying to themselves.

Israel’s military chief of staff Benny Gantz has pledged a “broad operation” against Hamas. “Our aim is to find the three boys, bring them home and hurt Hamas as much as possible,” he said. Using the kidnapping incident as a pretext, Israel has arrested more than 160 Palestinians and conducted several air strikes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials are now lusting to re-arrest all 1,027 Palestinian prisoners who were freed in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, reported the Globe.

“Israeli political leaders on the right,” the Globe article continued, “have demanded all sorts of punitive action be taken against Hamas [as a result of the unsolved kidnapping]: some advocate expelling the group’s leaders to Gaza; others want to annex parts of the West Bank… Minister Moshe Ya’alon hinted at a return to the practice of targeted killings – assassinations – of Hamas leaders.”

To back up his false flag hypothesis, Kevin Barrett cited a revealing June 15 Haaretz article headlined, “Mossad chief’s chillingly prescient kidnap prophecy.” In the article Israeli journalist Barak Ravid disclosed that, “Ten days ago, at a security cabinet meeting, Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo outlined a scenario spookily similar to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens missing since Thursday night.”

The security meeting in question “dealt with the report of the Shamgar Committee on prisoner exchanges and on the Habayit Hayehudi bill that prohibits granting pardons to terrorists.”

Pardo and his colleagues tried to convince Israeli ministers not to pass the bill, arguing that it would “limit the government’s room for maneuver in future abduction cases, would keep its hands tied, and prevent it from considering other solutions for dealing with a potential crisis.”

“What will you do if in a week three 14-year-old girls will be kidnapped from one of the settlements?” Pardo asked. “Will you say there is a law, and we don’t release terrorists?”

As Haaretz inadvertently demonstrated, Zionists have quite a talent for predicting and foreshadowing future events. In 1979, the founder of Israel’s spy agencies, Isser Harel, predicted 9/11 with amazing precision, telling an Evangelical Zionist named Michael Evans over dinner that “Islamic fundamentalists” would eventually strike New York City’s “tallest building.”

Zionist neocons of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) think-tank spoke of a “New Pearl Harbour” that would facilitate their militarist foreign policy objectives exactly one year before the planes hit the twin towers in New York in 2001.

Israeli dirty tricks of this nature are nothing new. Shortly after 9/11, the Israelis were caught red-handed establishing a fake al-Qaeda cell in Gaza. Ariel ‘the butcher’ Sharon attempted to use the existence of the counterfeit “terror cell” as a pretext to bomb the beleaguered coastal enclave. “Israel ‘faked al-Qaeda presence’,” noted a Dec. 2002 BBC headline, which unveiled Israel’s deception.

A Sept. 10, 2001, Washington Times report also shed light on Israel’s penchant for ruthlessness and deception. Reporting on the content of a US Army study on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Times article quoted the study’s authors who stated that Israel is “known to disregard international law to accomplish mission.” The US Army analysts were even more blunt in their assessment of Israel’s Mossad, characterizing the rogue agency as a “ruthless and cunning” wildcard that is “[capable of targeting] U.S. forces” and making it “look like a Palestinian/Arab act.”

Knowing Israel’s sordid history of false flags and dirty tricks, one would be foolhardy to dismiss the possibility that the “kidnapping” scandal that has unfolded over the past few days is yet another Machiavellian stage-play designed to derail Palestine’s unity government and expedite Israel’s expansionist aims.

With Syria and Iraq being overrun by bloodthirsty Western-backed mercenaries and brutes, Israel sees an opportunity to push forward with its imperialist schemes to neutralize Palestinian resistance to the occupation.

Ottawa’s ratcheting up of anti-Iranian hysteria at this conspicuous time can only be seen as a gesture of support for Tel Aviv’s campaign of terror in Gaza and the West Bank, deflecting international attention from the Israeli cuckoo in the nest.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, False Flag Terrorism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rough and Polished: South Africa Shortchanged on Diamond Trade

By Khadija Sharife | 100Reporters |May 16, 2014

JOHANNESBURG – At every step, from mine to ring finger, South Africa’s diamond industry is benefitting from royalty and export tax structures riddled with loopholes, shortchanging citizens of one of the world’s premier sources of diamonds of tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue.

In 2011, South Africa produced diamonds whose uncut, or rough, value was $1.73 billion, or 12 percent of global production, according to the most recent government data available. Yet from 2010 to 2011, diamond-producing companies paid South Africa’s government just $11 million in mining royalties, according to the latest Tax Statistics report, produced by the South African Treasury and the South African Revenue Service.

A 100Reporters investigation of the diamond trade in South Africa has found that companies here pay a royalty rate far lower than that of other African states. Companies can also reduce or cancel out export taxes if they offer locally-mined diamonds to the state for purchase—even if the South African government never buys the gems, often due to formidably high prices.

In an apparent conflict of interest, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd., the dominant player until 2010, ‘donates’ paid staff to the State Diamond Trader, charged with assessing diamonds offered by De Beers and other companies to the State for purchase. Provided 10 percent of domestic diamonds are offered, these companies may then receive export tax exemptions.

The main beneficiary of a system tilted in industry’s favor is De Beers, the sprawling multinational cartel that accounts for 35 percent of global rough diamond production, mainly from Africa. Until recently, De Beers dominated the South African diamond industry.

In 2011, De Beers accounted for $1.34 billion of South Africa’s production, and it remains the country’s primary diamond importer and exporter. The only other significant player, Petra Diamonds, with whom De Beers controls 97 percent of the local diamond industry, neither imports nor exports.

From 2005 to 2012, diamond exporters, primarily De Beers, appear to have downplayed the market value of their rough diamond exports by $3 billion, according to an analysis* of declarations in corporate filings under the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the rough diamond tracking system used to keep conflict gems off the world market. The same undervalued gems were then sold at market prices around the world.

Lynette Gould, head of media relations for De Beers, declined to comment on the findings, or to address questions about the valuation, sales and import and export volumes of diamonds from South Africa. In an email, Gould wrote that the “values and volumes of De Beers production is . . . proprietary.”

A Broken System

To ensure that the government gets its share of revenues from the extraction of the country’s diamonds, the South African government relies on a national agency, the Government Diamond Valuator (G.D.V.), charged with determining the quality, and thus worth, of diamonds. But highly-placed sources in the diamond industry said that the G.D.V. seldom issues independent assessments of the country’s diamonds, opting instead to echo the valuations that De Beers puts forth in the company’s price lists.

“The gap between the industry’s presence in South Africa and its contributions to the country’s coffers has its roots in how diamonds are valued in South Africa and who controls the process,” said Claude Nobels, a former government diamond valuator.

“We had a plan to create a system, under the Nelson Mandela government, that would generate fair revenues for all parties involved,” Nobels told 100Reporters. But to date, “the diamond mining and trading industry has not truly benefitted South Africans. The loss to the state is billions of dollars,” he said.

Calculating diamond revenue losses to the South African budget is complicated by a dearth of data, particularly concerning how diamonds are valued. Valuation, in turn, drives royalties and export taxes, as well various forms of tax exemptions. For example, companies can receive credits for importing diamonds to be cut and polished in South Africa, which in turn may reduce or even cancel export taxes.

Until 2012, government reports on diamonds generally showed blank spaces rather than reveal value and volume of local and export sales. Reports for other commodities such as gold and platinum, however, teemed with data. Martin Kohler, Deputy Director of Statistics for the Department of Mineral Resources (D.M.R.), said the government withholds diamond data to protect big producers, the largest among them De Beers, unless the companies authorize the release of the information.

“De Beers, who had a predominant share of the diamond market in the past, authorised us to publish the aggregated production data only (but not sales data),” Kohler said in an email. According to Kohler, the recent sale of De Beers’s mines to other owners meant that, “the predominant position of De Beers has been diluted, and we are able to publish sales data with effect from January 2013 (but not before that date).”

Kohler said such information was strictly confidential “where one company has more than 75 percent market share, or where there are less than three producers of a mineral, unless all such producers have granted permission to publish the data.”

In November 2013, the company moved its sorting, valuing, and selling center to Gaborone, Botswana from London. According to a knowledgeable source, the South African government pressured De Beers to shift sales activities to Africa, specifically South Africa. De Beers caved in to the pressure but preferred Botswana as a partner. The company signed a ten-year agreement relocating global production sales to Gabarone. South Africa, wary of being seen as a domineering neighbor, acquiesced, the source said.

“Bricks in the Wall”

To understand South Africa’s diamond industry and the system of taxation that now governs it, it helps to look to the industry’s origins, which are synonymous with De Beers. Historically, the apartheid regime cultivated close relations with South Africa’s diamond industry. John Vorster, an apartheid-era prime minister, once described corporate support from De Beers and other large companies as “bricks in the walls of the regime’s continued existence.”

De Beers was formed in 1888 by colonialist Cecil Rhodes and acquired by Ernest Oppenheimer’s Anglo-American in the 1920s. By 1987, Anglo-American PLC controlled over 60 percent of the wealth listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, through an estimated 80 listed entities.

Despite its dominant role in the global diamond trade, De Beers has a history of running afoul of the law in important markets. In 2008, the European Union forced De Beers to end decades of price fixing with Russia’s Alrosa, another dominant diamond producer. At the time, De Beers controlled 50 percent of global rough diamond production.

Meanwhile, for more than 60 years, De Beers was banned from directly trading in the United States because of price fixing, despite the fact that the U.S. accounts for half the world’s diamond jewelry sales. In 2012, a settlement of $295 million was reached between the U.S. government and Anglo-American, which currently owns 85 percent of De Beers.

In South Africa, De Beers functioned in a protected niche even after the end of apartheid. For instance, it paid no export taxes on diamonds until 2007. According to Parliamentary documents, De Beers extracted the advantage in a twist worthy of a B-movie: for years, it held the government at bay by citing a smudged, unsigned document generated under the apartheid regime, just prior to the first democratic elections, that allegedly provided the company with an export tax exemption for 13 years.

Further, extractive industries in South Africa, including diamonds, did not pay royalties until 2010, with the adoption of the Mineral and Petroleum Resource Royalty Act.

Royalties

According to the African Development Bank, South Africa was the “only major mining country on the continent without a royalty on mining” until the act’s passage. To address the gaps in the system, the act mandated that companies pay royalties at rates ranging from 0.5 to 7 percent. Royalties, calculated against criteria such as gross sales and the company’s net operating mining profits, are compensation to the nation for the permanent loss of non-renewable resources.Yet in crafting and applying the royalty rate, the diamond industry, rather than the South African government, has had the upper hand.

Take the rate itself, for example. Botswana and Namibia, major diamond-producing states, have royalty rates fixed at 10 percent. Yet because of its sliding royalty scale, South Africa averages an annual royalty rate of about 2 percent, which netted the government a total of $57.5 million from 2010 to 2012.

“The revenues from diamond royalties are very low – just 1.1 percent of sales for 2011,” said Mark Curtis, a U.K.-based development finance consultant for global non-governmental organizations. “If diamond companies paid the mid-royalty range of 3.5 percent, royalties would have amounted to $24.8 million more than the state actually received,” he said.

The explanatory draft of the act originally pegged royalties at 10 percent of the value of diamonds at the ‘mine-gate’ and at 8 percent after processing.  But the government reduced the rate following pressure from the diamond industry. Created around a complex profit-based system, royalties are considered a “cost” by business, and depend on the value of minerals sold.

Clarity Lacking

Though diamonds are valued by their clarity, the same cannot be said of South Africa’s diamond industry or its largest player, De Beers.

Unlike other South Africa diamond companies, De Beers does not allow the government to publish key information about the value of the diamonds it extracts. As a result, the state and the public cannot verify the fairness of the royalty De Beers ultimately pays.

In addition, to determine the value of a diamond, DeBeers and other companies use complex and closely-held pricing formulas, that they do not permit  the government to review. De Beers’s pricing formula counts 12,000 categories.

According to one European valuator who worked closely with De Beers, the company’s price book was not a single listing, but rather an “elaborate system used to value diamonds for different purposes. By manipulating various categories with price points, they can increase or decrease the value of diamonds . . . These figures have nothing to do with fair market prices.”

Speaking on behalf of De Beers, Gould said, “I’m afraid the information on pricing is proprietary and therefore confidential.”

Other companies also maintain proprietary pricing systems. In an email, the Government Diamond Valuator confirmed that it did not “have access to the pricing policies of other diamond companies,” but asserted that the Government Diamond Valuator assessed “each parcel imported or exported to determine a value deemed to be fair market value.”

However, highly placed sources in the diamond industry, including a former government valuator, said the G.D.V.’s relies on random spot checks, and verifies only the size of diamonds, not their quality. One official close to the Department of Minerals and Resources confirmed that mispricing of diamonds was easily possible due to what was considered the “very subjective nature of pricing.”

Export Taxes

In 2007, the South African government established an export tax of 5 percent on diamonds. But from 2009 to 2013, according to the latest Tax Statistics report, it yielded only $21.9 million to the national purse.

The state has pulled in little revenue due to exemptions built into the 2007 Diamond Export Levy Act. The exemptions were created ostensibly to encourage mining companies to make quality diamonds available to domestic industry, before shipping abroad. Companies that offer rough diamonds to local buyers for cutting and polishing, or beneficiation, through a government mechanism called the State Diamond Trader system can obtain breaks on export taxes.

Large companies like De Beers can get the exemption if they sell 40 percent of their South African rough diamonds to buyers in South Africa, and offer 10 percent to the State Diamond Trader.

The State Diamond Trader, however, often cannot afford to purchase rough diamonds because the price is too high. The trader’s annual reports disclose that purchasing diamonds for the local beneficiation industry was difficult due to, “unsustainable rises in prices at producer level” and “limited rough supply.”

De Beers further provides fully-paid staff to the trader to conduct diamond valuation, according to reports of the State Diamond Trader, which describe the presence of De Beers staff at the government agency as a “donation.”

In an email, De Beers said, “the arrangement between De Beers and the S.D.T. is subject to confidentiality and information relating to this arrangement cannot be provided without the S.D.T.’s consent.”

Futhi Zikalala, C.E.O. of the State Diamond Trader, told 100Reporters that each parcel was individually valued. “The process is legislated. We do valuations for the 10 percent offered to the S.D.T. It takes four or five days at a time, with 10 cycles a year.”

Asked whether she would comment on the apparent conflict of interest in the State Diamond Trader’s long-standing use of De Beers’s donated staff, she responded, “Actually, no. I do not understand why you are asking that question.”

A source close to the Department of Mineral Resources said that use of De Beers’s staff was for practical reasons: the S.D.T. was under-resourced and in need of diamond experts.

In October 2013, the Minister of Minerals Resources, Susan Shabangu, said that the State Diamond Trader system had failed and would require an overhaul.

Transfer Pricing

Companies can also win export tax exemption if they import rough diamonds for local beneficiation. The higher the value of the imported gems, the greater the import credits a company can generate to ultimately offset their export taxes, creating a system vulnerable to price manipulation.

But the arrangement appears to have done little to nurture domestic cutting and polishing industry. According to figures cited in a South African parliamentary report (2013), South Africa currently hosts just 300 polishers, down from 3,000 in 2008, when 140,000 carats, maximum, were locally beneficiated (see sidebar).

The report cited diamond industry officials who stated that the local cutting and polishing industry was “in distress.” While the 2008 recession had impacted the global diamond industry everywhere, beneficiation industries elsewhere–including India, China and neighboring Botswana–bounced back, even expanding training facilities as well as cutting and polishing labor. In 2013, African Romance, a medium-sized state-backed beneficiation diamond company, was liquidated. Reasons cited included the absence of consistent quality diamond supplies.

Until 2013, De Beers exported gems from its mines in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa to London for valuation and then imported them into South Africa for sale to select buyers called sightholders. The sales values declared to sightholders are confidential, the company said.

South Africa boasts curiously high import prices for diamonds. While higher import values are said to correspond to the quality of select rough diamonds, South Africa’s import price appears significantly more than the price of diamonds imported to other countries such as Israel, arguably one of the world’s leading gem quality cutting and polishing centers.

For example, South Africa’s average import prices, at $544 in 2009 and $773 in 2010, were significantly higher than Israel’s at $165 and $156, respectively, according to certificates filed under the Kimberley Process.

In 2007, South Africa’s import price hit a staggering $1,706 per carat with a total import value of $2.1 billion. Yet only $670 million would be sold to De Beers’s pre-approved South Africa-based purchasers, known as Diamond Trading Company (D.T.C.) sightholders. Though these figures were published in a De Beers report, when asked for annual D.T.C. local sales, Gould responded that the information was proprietary.

According to a diamond specialist previously employed by the South African government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, import and exported diamonds were often “mispriced” by an average of 20 percent or more.

The other countries with similarly high import averages were those where De Beers also held a large presence, such as Namibia.

“South Africa’s import figures are improbable,” said a European Government Diamond Valuator. “These prices are exceptionally high as an average price.”

Most imported diamonds appear to be re-exported uncut and unpolished. While imports make up relatively small volume, or carats, they drastically increase the value of rough diamond exports. Subtracting the values and volume of imported diamonds shown on South Africa’s K.P. certificates from corresponding exports, the actual price per carat of rough diamonds being exported for the first time falls dramatically.

When asked about the anomalies in reported trade figures for diamonds under the  Kimberley Process (K.P.) in South Africa, where De Beers is a dominant player, Gould responded, “The primary purpose of the K.P. process (or the issuing of the certificates at least) is for Governments to certify the origin of diamonds, not to keep track of the volume and value of diamonds imported or exported; that is the function of the relevant Regulator and G.D.V.”

The Government Diamond Valuator

While the Government Diamond Valuator is responsible for independently appraising gems and for monitoring the trade in diamonds, it remains questionable whether the South African valuator is able to provide an independent assessment. Such assessments are critical for the South African government, and public, to secure royalties and export taxes that reflect the true worth of the country’s diamond trade.

Former De Beers director Bertie Lincoln, in a rare quote under oath to a South African court 17 years ago, described the Government Diamond Valuator as “an auditor. The value is the price which is in the [De Beers] Price Book. So the government valuator has got no input into the value of a diamond.”

The Government Diamond Valuator did not respond to follow-up questions about the source of information informing the G.D.V.’s Price Book, the size of the agency or office, the amount of time available for valuation of imported and exported diamonds, and other questions.

“The significant differences between the dollar-per-carat for South African rough diamond imports and exports suggest possible price manipulation for the purposes of aggressive tax avoidance,” said public finance specialist, Len Verwey. Companies like De Beers, he stated, may indeed have a plausible explanation, in which case, “diamond companies as well as the Government Diamond Valuator should provide more transparent reporting to society on the factors that determine such valuations.”

Verwey stated that the Government Diamond Valuator’s credibility “in ensuring fair market value for diamond transactions is essential to its success.”

But critics of South Africa’s current royalty and taxation system are skeptical that the government will impose greater transparency on De Beers and other major producers.

“Inevitably,” stated one former De Beers employee, “the company will stonewall and the G.D.V. will run a mile” from transparency and accountability in the diamond valuation system.

He added, “No one will want this brought into the open.”

*The information on transfer pricing manipulation of diamonds comes from a report by Sharife and Sarah Bracking, published by the Leverhulme Center for the Study of Value, University of Manchester, and supported by a grant from Oxfam Great Britain.

Khadija Sharife is the lead Africa forensics researcher for Investigative Dashboard (ID) and a senior investigator for African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR). She is the author of Tax Us If You Can: Africa.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Experimenting with a new Spanish flu is everybody’s business

The News | June 16, 2014

There may be a fatal tumour in your brain. The only way we’ll know is if I cut it open – but there’s a chance that might kill you. Shall I go ahead?

We’ve just been confronted with a question a bit like this by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They insist the only way to guard against the outbreak of a deadly flu epidemic like the Spanish flu of 1918 is to create viruses very similar to those responsible. Not to study them in the wild, mind, but to actively engineer from bird flu genes a strain that can pass in airborne droplets from one animal – or perhaps species – to another. Sure, it is dangerous. But what about the risk of doing nothing?

Not according to Sir Robert May, one of the world’s most respected epidemiologists. Publicly he has called the work “absolutely crazy”, and given May’s reputation for directness his private opinion is likely to be less polite. He’s not alone. Other researchers have challenged the claims of the Wisconsin team that their work is the only way to find out how to combat a lethal flu outbreak effectively, and that the experiments were deemed necessary and safe by experts. May even suggests that the team effectively hoodwinked the US National Institutes of Health into granting approval and funding.

Research on pathogens, particularly viruses, has become increasingly disputatious over the past decade. In 2002 a team at the State University of New York ordered pieces of synthetic DNA through the mail, from which they pasted together the genome of the polio virus. They then “booted it up” to infect mice, explaining that the work had been done to highlight the risk of how easy it was. Others accused the team of an irresponsible publicity stunt. The Wisconsin team, led by the virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, courted controversy in 2012 when it created a mutant strain of H5N1 bird flu that could spread among mammals. Its results, and similar ones from a team in the Netherlands, were deemed too dangerous to publish by a US biosecurity panel that feared what bioterrorists might do with them.

In one sense we have been here before. Research often carries risks, whether of intentional misuse or accidents. The discovery of nuclear energy in the early 20th century, and of how to release it through nuclear fission in 1938, were arguably examples of “pure” research with perilous applications that still loom apocalyptically today. The common response of scientists is that such is the inevitable price of new knowledge.

But the dangers of biotechnology, genetics and synthetic biology are something new. For centuries we struggled to keep nasty microorganisms at bay. Even the discovery of antibiotics gave us no protection from viruses, and the emergence of HIV was a bitter reminder of that. But with the arrival of genetic manipulation in the 1970s, nature was no longer an inscrutable menace warded off with trial-and-error potions: we could fight back at the genetic level.

This new means of intervention brought a new way to foul up. Synthetic biology promises to take the battle to the next level: to move beyond tinkering with this or that resistance gene, say, and to enable full-scale engineering and design of life. We can take our nemeses apart and rebuild them from scratch.

Yet we arrive at this point relatively unprepared to deal with the moral dilemmas. The heated nature of the current debate signifies as much: scientists have never been averse to shouting at each other about the interpretation of their results, but it is rare to see them so passionately opposed on the question of whether a piece of research should be done in the first place. If even top experts can’t agree, what’s to be done?

Physical scientists are often faced with questions that can’t be answered experimentally; not, on the whole, because the experiments are too dangerous – but because they are too hard. Their usual response is to figure out what should happen in theory, and then see if the predictions can be tested in more accessible, simpler ways. But in biology it is much, much harder to make reliable theoretical predictions (or any predictions at all), because living things are so damned complicated.

We’re getting there, however, as witnessed by the development of computer models of human physiology and biochemistry for drug testing. It’s not too much to hope that one day drugs might be designed and safely trialled almost wholly on the computer, without the need for controversial animal tests or expensive human trials.

Other models might be adequate for understanding viruses, which are after all the simplest organisms known. One reason why some researchers argue that remaining smallpox stocks be destroyed is that the live virus is no longer needed for research – its genome sequence is enough. Looked at this way, making hair-raisingly lethal viruses to understand their behaviour reflects our lamentable ignorance of the theoretical principles involved.

There could be ways to make experiments safer too. Faced with fears about the quasi-artificial life forms they are starting to create, synthetic biologists say that it should be possible to build in safety measures – for example, so that the organisms can only survive on a nutrient unavailable in the wild, or will self-destruct after a few rounds of replication.

These are not fantasies, although they raise questions both about whether such fail-safe strategies give natural selection even more urgency to evade them – and whether there’s a false security in the whole engineering paradigm when applied to biology.

All the same, the questions raised by flu research can’t be defused with techno-fixes alone. Forget the new Longitude prize – here is a place where science really does need to be democratic.

One thing you can say for sure about the question posed at the outset is that the patient should have a say. If scientists are going to take these risks for our sake, as they claim, then we had better be asked for our approval.

It’s in our interests to ensure that our decision is informed and not kneejerk, and the appropriate democratic machinery requires careful construction. But the consent must be ours to give.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment

Netanyahu should look at his own record

356574_Benjamin Netanyahu

By Ibrahim Hewitt | MEMO | June 18, 2014

Standing in front of a map of what both no doubt hope will one day be Greater Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and Tony Blair have today given a practical demonstration of chutzpah. Translated roughly as “audacity” (but could also mean “insolence”), the two men with blood on their hands tried to convince the world that the lives of three illegal Jewish settlers – “children,” said the Israeli PM – are worth more than the lives of over 1,300 Palestinian children killed by the Israelis since September 2000 at an average rate of 3 murders per day. This is entirely consistent with the view expressed by at least one extremist Rabbi, Yaacov Perrin, at the funeral of Baruch Goldstein, the terrorist settler who murdered 29 Palestinians while they prayed in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1984: “Even one million Arabs,” claimed Perrin, “are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

To the best of my knowledge, Blair has never, even as arguably the most ineffective “peace envoy” the world has ever seen, expressed regrets at the loss of Palestinian lives with as much gravitas as he employed to condemn the kidnapping of the settlers. If, indeed, that is what has happened to them; with no credible claims of responsibility, there is already talk on social media that the three will surface unharmed after spending a few days in a military facility somewhere in Israel having served their purpose of giving Netanyahu an excuse to try to break Palestinian will and the unity government in one brutal step. Israel has carried out false flag operations before, so why might this be any different?

According to statistics supplied by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israel is holding 196 Palestinian children in its jails. Although it regards Israeli citizens as adults from the age of 18, as far as sentencing is concerned, Palestinians aged 12 and over are “adults” in Israeli eyes. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) reports, “Every year between 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.”

There are almost two hundred men held by Israel under so-called “administrative detention”. They have never been charged with or found guilty of any crime and their detention can be extended indefinitely. To all intents and purposes, they have been “kidnapped” by Israel’s occupation authorities.

All of this doesn’t matter, of course. With a compliant media at its disposal, Israel has once again been able to control the narrative so that Palestinian fatalities over the past few days are ignored and the missing settlers grab the headlines. This pattern is repeated in the lack of coverage of the almost daily Israeli military incursions into Gaza and attacks on farmers and fishermen, which go unreported. It is as if they have become so commonplace that they are not newsworthy. The PSC has monitored the BBC for its coverage of the conflict in Palestine: “[The Corporation] has a unique responsibility, enshrined in the BBC Charter, to provide news that is balanced, fair and accurate. In the case of its coverage of Palestine and Israel, this is not the case. Audiences are constantly presented with the Israeli perspective on events, while being kept in the dark about Israel’s atrocities committed against the Palestinians.” It is within that sort of context that we must view displays of solidarity by the likes of Netanyahu and Blair on any issue, not just missing settlers.

So when the Israeli prime minister declares that the Palestinian Authority should dissolve the newly-created unity government because “they cannot build a government that is backed by the kidnappers of children and the murderers of innocents” he should take a long, hard look at his own record, for that is exactly what his government, and those before it, are guilty of. Never mind the chutzpah, Netanyahu is being a “tsvuak” (hypocrite) of the highest order. Come to think of it, though, I think I prefer plain old schmuck; that suits him down to the ground.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, False Flag Terrorism | , , , | Leave a comment