Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Immigration or why Andrew Sullivan and I agree about the emerging police state


        Modern democratic thought rests on certain basic principles.  A society with habeas corpus, without torture, with assurance of legal representation, is superior to a society without laws or a tyranny.  That is a starting point.  A decent life for humans one might say – rephrasing Aristotle’s definition of ethics in an uncontroversial way - relies on the former and speaks out, with a thousand reasons and voices, against the latter.   The precondition of equal basic rights for each citizen (more generally, of human rights for each person, though that set of rights is more circumscribed) – Rawls’ first principle of justice – is an extension of this basic point about law.  Michael Oakeshott’s notion of civil association or civitas in which laws enable each person to pursue her goals – her individuality – so long as she doesn’t harm others – also relies on this point.

      Thus, in Democratic Individuality, I argued for the moral objectivity of certain basic principles, those through which every distinctive modern political view passes (ones which excludes fascism and by extension, other dictatorships with facsimiles of decent justifications as an anti- or apolitical).  The emergence of massive American torture, affecting, as Amnesty International guesses (according to Amy Bruins, one of my students), somewhere between 15,000 and 70,000 people in secret prisons and sites (the numbers are guesses, trying to peer through the murk of anti-legal secrecy ejected by the Bush-Cheney administration) has made many more of us realize that a government can do things no skepticism about ethics could possibly tolerate.

       Yesterday, Andrew Sulivan, a conservative, a critic of torture and longstanding advocate of Obama, put up a post on “the growing police state in America.”  The example he gives, Hector Veloz, the son of a decorated Vietnam war veteran, detained on mistaken identification as an illegal immigrant for 13 months, is frightening.  The rule of law is primary; it must be fought for.  Immigrants do have the right to legal counsel (although it has been challenged by the government ), but unlike criminal defendants they are not assigned lawyers if they cannot pay (so a citizen like Veloz, mistaken for an illegal, initially gets no monetary help in the form of an appointed attorney either) as a reader of Sullivan’s blog pointed out.    Whatever the broader political view, no decent person should disagree with the point of this article.

       Sullivan came as an immigrant from England in 1984.  He has also remarked movingly  on the terrible decline in personal liberties  which has occurred between now and  then (though it wasn't so good for immigrants and radicals then either, perhaps the secret of the decline).

      As Jefferson once said of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1800, what hurts “the friendless alien” also affects the citizen who had better not become too cocky “for already has a sedition act marked him for its prey.”  The sweeps of Arabs in the United States after 9/11 and indefinite detention and torture have already lead to the jailing of citizens like Veloz.  As Pastor Niemoller once said of the law in Germany, first they came for the Jews and communists and I did nothing…and when at last they came for me, there was no one left to protest.

The Growing Police State In America

It can be dicey after 9/11 for most people, but for immigrants, even completely legal ones, the odds of trouble are higher. The total power the authorities have - especially over Latinos - would give Lou Dobbs a dangerous case of priapism. One simple story:

The son of a decorated Vietnam veteran, Hector Veloz is a U.S. citizen, but in 2007 immigration officials mistook him for an illegal immigrant and locked him in an Arizona prison for 13 months. Veloz had to prove his citizenship from behind bars. An aunt helped him track down his father's birth certificate and his own, his parents' marriage certificate, his father's school, military and Social Security records. After nine months, a judge determined that he was a citizen, but immigration authorities appealed the decision. He was detained for five more months before he found legal help and a judge ordered his case dropped.

Compare this with the plight of Skip Gates and a little perspective emerges. Immigrants or immigrant suspects are at the mercy of anyone with a badge and a gun in America. If immigrants or legal natural-born citizens with the wrong skin color have no money and can't afford a lawyer, they are no match for a bureaucracy like Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And there is no due process:

In immigration detention it falls to the detainees to prove their citizenship. But detainees don't have the constitutional protections, such as the right to legal counsel, that would help them prove their case.

Serves them right for being born Latino, I guess.





Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Today and the 18th Brumaire




        My friend Terrell Carver from the University of Bristol in England sent me the following note on “is this law?” here and the dangers of a police state in America (this is much of the theme of past posts including here). 

     “Very much the message of Marx's 18th Brumaire, by the way, the very thin line between democracy and authoritarianism ... crossed when those who are supposed to safeguard democratic values (esp. legislators) vote in authoritarianism (and thus don't act against it). I was looking back to Thatcher when I made this argument in a published chapter:
Carver, TF. 'Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: Democracy, Dictatorship, and the Politics of Class Struggle', in Baehr, P, and Richter, M (Eds.), Dictatorship in History and Theory: Bonapartism, Caesarism, and Totalitarianism, (pp. 103-127), Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN: 0521825636 
But events in the US repeated the 'example' in spades ... not that reference to Marx solves anything, just an under-rated part of the 'heritage', I thought.
bw, Terrell”

     First, an oligarchy with parliamentary forms as I call it in Democratic Individuality  – what we speak of as a democracy today – is always also a dictatorship for many people, notably immigrants (see Trucks here).  But racism toward immigrants, for example, the wall being constructed along the Mexican border (you can see all the Saudis flocking across the border; at the millennium, Clinton stopped some terrorists entering the United States, from… Canada) is linked to the recruitment of an extralegal, or proto-fascist militia (in Italy, vigilantes empowered by the new law, see the Hunting of immigrants here).  Unsurprisingly, most ordinary people, black, latin and white, including in the middle class have been losing out economically and in social services; the top 1/10 of 1% has made out like bandits under Clinton and especially under Bush (see Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy).  Perhaps I should emphasize  the particular chicanery or alienation of the “insurance” companies.  As Paul Krugman writes yesterday in “An Incoherent Truth,”  one of the aims of the health care bill is to regulate insurance so that one cannot be excluded for “preexisting conditions.”  The point of insurance is to cover everyone so that there is enough of a pool to help those who are ill, to help each of us when we fall ill..  It is decent morally because what each of us contributes to help others eventually comes back to us in our time of need (the Christian thoughts: there but for the grace of God go I, and if I help noone, who will help me in my time of need? speak to this point.  We are each mortal.  To exclude the very ill and when “covering them,” to drain family incomes and produce destitution  is not just alienation but  a sheer evil.  One might think John Yoo is morally deficient compared to people who run and work for these companies, but that would be a mistake (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 7 for an analysis of how Marx’s and Hegel’s notion of alienation rests on Aristotle’s eudaimonism, the notion that relationsnips and activities should be done for the right reasons, not for money or status).

       Second, we are now miraculously in the Obama administration, in which I have found much to be grateful for.  There may well be, still, a health care reform which encompasses even the Blue Dog Democrats (Mr. Tauzin, the original Blue Dog in 1996, switched to the Republicans and is now making his fortune lobbying for the insurance companies – he is an emblem of Marx’s theme in the 18th Brumaire) if there is enough pressure from below.  At least everyone will be covered – younger people often run the risk lack of coverage because it is so expensive; the poor cannot get treatment (even in real emergencies, in crowded emergency rooms), and particularly macho guys who ignore their bodies go down with illness) and ending exclusion for actually being ill.  Insurance should insure: a mountain top from here.  That would be a decent if small step; in the context of where we have been and where we are, a great thing.  Unlike the Republicans and many acquiescent Democrats, Obama means to do the right thing and has some possibility of doing it.  Because of democratic revulsion against the Bush years – requiring, sadly, complete financial collapse - we live in a new situation.  This shows some of the potency or potential of democracy – even of an oligarchy with parliamentary forms – given democratic or class struggle from below. Many of the great reforms – the unemployment and union legislation of the 1930s, the civil rights act – came from such movements.  But the “malefactors of great wealth,” as FDR called them, are visible here too, fighting every step of the way, to weaken initial proposals and gut changes. The 18th Brumaire is not in itself a success story about such things; the June insurrection of the Paris workers had a brief influence but was quickly suppressed and then superseded by a police state.   Marx’s story there does not illuminate these (perhaps also consistent with a sophisticated radical theory) insights.

        Third, as I emphasized in Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, the international situation was decisive in Marx’s thinking about how there could be a proletarian revolution, immediately following the democratic one, in backward (four-fifths peasant) Germany in 1848. In that year, there were a wave of democratic movements, Chartism, the French February Revolution and June insurrection, an uprising in Poland, and many others spread across Europe.  Capitalist England and tsarist Russia united to fight them. International situations (and domestic ones) shift; every historical situation is new or contingent  (defying Marx’s abstract, or taken literally economic determinist formulations in surprising ways); not just anything is possible, but quite a lot.  Hence, my new book Emancipation and Independence (Chicago, forthcoming) will consider in depth the possibility that gradual emancipation of slaves was a possibility in the American Revolution not just in the North – where it occurred – but even in the South). 

       In the rise of Nazism and fascism in Europe, the Russian Revolution and class struggle – the suppression of the workers’ uprising and the Spartacists in Germany, for example, or the peasant revolt in Italy or the Asturian miners’ revolt in Spain – helped generate enthusiasm in the elite, for der Fuehrer, il Duce and other examples of one man-depravity.  In the overthrow of Allende in Chile and the murderous Pinochet regime, American imperialism, military aid and manipulation played a leading role  (Kissinger personally oversaw the murder of General Rene Schneider, commander in chief of the Chilean army and loyal to democracy – see Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger).  In what realists might call a typical boomerang, the American government’s spawning of terror – training Bin Laden  to bring down the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan helped to turn him, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, American crimes in Palestine and Iraq (the boycott) and primarily, installing American military bases on the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina, to strike at the United States.  The interantional setting plays a unique and powerful role.  In addition, class struggle from below has been enormously weakened in America – the decline of unions and the erosion of many features of the New Deal (we still have unemployment insurance and social security).  But there has been class struggle here, of an unheard of sort, from above (Marx used to speak of the vampire like hunger of capital for every last second of the workers time – see chapter 10 of Capital on “The Working Day” - but could not have imagined the rapacious American elite. I used to joke that Cheney is already (un)dead and decided to move into a crypt with Dracula, but the vampire, frightened and protesting that he came by his bloodsucking naturally and had only taken a few lives over the centuries and those mostly for passion and not the money, moved out….). In this international situation, class or perhaps more accurately democratic struggle in America has been terribly one-sided until the election of Obama.

        Fourth, Jack Balkin who teaches constitutional law at Yale has made the subtle point that in American democracy, epochal legal and what one might call regime changes are produced when the President and sometimes Congress of one party initiate reforms – the New Deal  and what he names the administrative state – and then a later President of another party confirms them – Eisenhower after 1952.  Bipartisanship is vital to consolidation.   Balkin speaks of the National Surveillance State initiated by Bush.  I prefer to call this with Strauss (whose imagining it was) a tyranny of the kind he favored, a great reactionary tyrant (of course, Strauss wanted an anti-modern tyrant, but once they have finished conquering, the arbitrary killings and genocides, all fascists live off the bizarreness of capitalism  and the market).

      Obama is a constitutional lawyer and has affection for the rule of law.  But if the rule of law functions even halfheartedly, most of the leaders of the Bush administration will be put on trial and short of pardons or Truth and Reconciliation, go to jail (I have a great desire to see the rule of law restored and the tyrannical apparatus put out of business, but not  for harsh punishment except where it is necessary).  I had hoped (and still hope) that Obama will allow the law to reassert itself, take its course.  I think he did with releasing the torture memoranda.  But the administration is invoking many Bush doctrines, notably state secrets.  In the Senate, candidate Obama voted for ex post facto immunization of the telecom conglomerates from prosecution for spying on Americans.   The man who talked about the cowardice of others in dealing with racism, Attorney General Eric Holder, looks as if he may prosecute only those who went beyond the crimes Yoo, commissioned by Cheney, sanctioned – even here Holder will have a hard time sticking to the rank and file since the Principals met in the White House to discuss particular regimens of torture for  prisoners before Yoo was ordered to gin up his excuses (these were hastily withdrawn by Jack Goldsmith as soon as he became head of the Office of Legal Council; that they were “law” no one but Yoo believes, unless Holder enshrines them).

     Balkin’s point holds.  A Democratic administration is confirming tyranny; Those who were critical of Bush often now are silent when Obama invokes the same executive power.  Who knows what American soldiers or CIA personnel do to prisoners in Bagram (often picked up off the street like Mr. Dilawar, the 22 year old taxi driver torturer to death there).  Obama is a decent person; he is also President of the United States, a wonderful but in certain way also very bad thing.  He is smart politician, but the complicated course he has charted will end up – without protest from below and intervention by the courts – as Balkin suggests, in a new and comparatively “legitimate” police state. 

     A result – whatever the equilibrium of the new American police state is - will probably  be sorted out not in Obama’s 4 or 8 years (absent another crisis at home), but in what comes afterward.  A Republican like Mitt Romney will not “double the size of Guantanamo” but will reinstute torture and spying.  Very likely, so will other Democrats.  The time when all of this is being shaped is now.  Each of us – and all of us – can make a difference in fighting for habeas corpus and the rule of law, for hearings and punishments.  We battle an elite which as in the Washington Post editorial yesterday is perfectly content to have only CIA underlings prosecuted.   They don’t want the real criminals, their dinner guests as it were, to whom they toady, prosecuted.    The 18th Brumaire and Balkin cast light on the worst places where bipartisan support for a police state  can potentially go.  But democratic possibilities from below and decency in the elite (manifest in the resigning of so many from the Bush administration and revulsion against it, an occasional New York Times editorial calling for investigation of some of the crimes and legal proceedings against those who ordered them) generate a greater spectrum of possibilities.  The time to speak is now. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is this law?


        Yesterday the New York Times ran a front page story on how “GI”s might be used in the United States.  I got the Denver version of the paper, printed and sent out early.  Luckily. some  editor finally caught the error (or the reporters protested enough) and a later headline read: “Bush weighed using military in arrests.”  The issue was not one of ordinary soldiers – the earlier edition had a flagrant, pro-tyranny headline; it was about the use of the army, in violation of the Constitution and the posse commitatus act,  inside the United States.    

        The story is frightening.  Vice President Cheney and his assistant David Addington wanted to use the army here  against suspected terrorists.  John Yoo wrote another memo. (there is a satirical group, “the Yes Men,” which deceives important business sometimes;  one cannot, however, satirize John Yoo).   The unending “war on terror” would revive the government powers of the Civil War.

         To use the military in the United States would make the government fully a police state. The proposal lets out Cheney’s secret.  He was not just for “commander in chief” or “unitary executive” or even authoritarian power.  He went immediately to the most extreme forms of it.

       Even Bush and my student Condoleeza Rice could not quite accept this measure.  It would cast the government too extremely against the people.  It would make clear and too abruptly that these rulers had contempt for democracy and had thrown it aside.

       In any case, the Government could send the police to arrest the Lackawanna 6.  They got convictions (of a sort) in ordinary courts.  Glenn Greenwald and others have emphasized how effective ordinary legal proceedings are in such cases.  They are mainly right.  But there is a defect in this reasoning: much of the proceedings against accused terrorists have turned out to be trumped up and false.  The government can get convictions when it has a case.  It cannot get convictions – or it has to charge people with different, minor crimes (for instance, not having a passport in order) – in others.  Given hysteria and racism toward Arabs and Arab-Americans, every protection of law and every bit of intelligence we possess must go into upholding the rule of law.  Otherwise, even the law (we have two million prisoners as a result of  our  ordinary “legal” proceedings)  will not protect us. It will jail innocents; it will puff itself up and call press conferences and strut.  It will never seek out or find  the dangerous. We have  tortured and murdered in secret prisons people picked up off the street; Osama Bin Laden is at large.

      The Yoo memo supposedly licensed the indefinite  detention of Jose Padilla in a brig in West Virginia for 3 1/2 years and his torture.  One of Padilla’s lawyers said that he has become a “chair,” incapable of participating in his own defense.  He suffers at least post traumatic stress, and probably something worse – he is apparently very concerned to protect the United States from any enemies.  Padilla is an American citizen.  When courts finally intervened, he got a trial.  It was not about planting a dirty bomb, which Attormey General Ashcroft had proclaimed in one of his “important” hastily called press conferences after Padilla was arrested at Chicago airport.  One wonders how a prisoner who was treated like this and is in this reported mental state can have been convicted of something and sent to prison by a “court.”  Perhaps a mental hospital would have been more appropriate.   Is this law?

        Greenwald’s excellent point – that Obama could accomplish everything reasonable against terror by adhering to the law and not invoking preventive detention and “state secrets” – is right, as is his point that law is something we will have to pressure him from below to adhere to.  As a constitutional lawyer, Obama said the right things during the campaign, but to avoid prosecuting Bush and Cheney, his Justice Department now emulates Bush on state secrets, on secrecy more generally (Eric Holder did, however, fight to release the torture memos just before the current turn became so sharp), and even on executive privilege. Hopefully, the courts will continue to block these illegal measures.

       Authoritarianism has been but a breath away here in the United States.  The political elite had turned against American values - as Obama so eloquently named them  in the campaign - and nearly extinguished them.  If we do not move back toward democracy (the election of Obama is a great hope) and the rule of law, we will very likely continue to do things (not act sufficiently against global warming, wage more and more destructive wars) which will have graver consequences for humanity than even a period of authoritarianism or tyranny domestically.

       This morning I asked each of us to imagine ourselves Henry Louis Gates.  Apparently the police officer who arrested Gates was a serious, ordinary officer, one charged with instructing other officers not to be abusive.  Like the New York Times headline and its belated correction, this fact about him should be even more disturbing.  Ordinary police conduct is authoritarian.  Ordinary courts are no longer courts.  There is still justice and many decent officers and lawyers here.  Nonetheless, the kinship of where we are and authoritarianism is, sadly, plain to see.

Imagine yourself to be Henry Louis Gates


        Henry Louis Gates is a leading public intellectual who teaches at Harvard.  He forgot his keys.  He and the taxi driver were seen at his door or window entering his house by a passerby.  The passerby called the police.

       The policeman arrived at the house and rang the bell.  Gates came to the door.  Upon request, he showed him his driver’s license listing his address.  It was the correct address.  He was at home.

       The policeman arrested Mr. Gates. 

       Such grievances were of course a reason why Americans once declared their independence against the British empire.  The Crown would send occupying officers to hassle American subjects.  More extremely. it sometimes took over houses and quartered its soldiers on Americans.  What right does a person have to protection in his own home, when the authorities are clearly informed that it is his home? 

     Mr. Gates was arrested for being upset and speaking angrily to a police officer.  This is the crime of disturbing the police.   The officer arrested Mr. Gates for “disorderly cnduct.”   At the station, the Cambridge police dropped the charges.

      The officer is a senior person.  He is consulted in the training of other officers to handle difficult situations on the street. 

       Henry Louis Gates is the chairperson of a department at the leading and wealthiest University in the United States.  He lives in a neighborhood with other well-to-do professors, a fancy neighborhood, one that the policeman, on a senior policeman’s current salary,  could not hope to live in.

    Being a small country, the President of the United States issued a statement on the case, saying that the officer had behaved “stupidly..”  The normally obsequious Presidential press corps had asked him about the case, and a storm of publicity settled over it.  Being a kind and gentle man, the President thought through the case further and decided that inviting both Gates and the officer to the White House for tea and to discuss the matter would be a good way to resolve it.  It honors both of them.  That is a decent thing to do.

       Described without the leading political fact of American and international life – racism – the case is clearly enough one of authoritarian abuse  Police are not to have the authority to arrest or kill people in their homes (in Denver, a 63 year old thin Chicano man was shot sleeping in his bed and killed at 3 am a couple of years ago.  The police had broken into the house looking for a young, overweight Chicano, who had escaped out a window and been seen walking away as the police rushed to the house.  The officer who entered the room said something flashed in the dark – apparently a coca cola can – and he had killed the dangerous person, lying in his bed, with a single shot.  It was an unlucky shot.  A senior officer reviewing the case later said that the policman had been moving his gun back and forth, and fired accidentally.  If as the policeman had reported, the metal object allegedly seen in the dark was a gun, procedure was to fire several times, to make sure that the offender could no longer shoot.  The officer was removed from patrol to a desk yob.)

      Barack Obama is the first multiracial President of the United States of America.  Raised by a white mother and grandparents and with great intelligence and sensitivity, he is perceived as a black man (or a foreigner or a Muslim – I listened to a few minutes of  Lou Dobbs on CNN on Thursday evening demanding to see his birth certificate again – he has produced it, but like Mr. Gates driver’s license, if you are white, you don’t believe anything of the kind.  Mr. Dobbs is very white.  So is CNN that broadcasts racist drivel over the airwaves.

      It is a great thing about American democracy that our people elected this President.  It may even save the world given the impenetrable darkness of the last years.  Nonetheless, as the Gates case reveals, every ordinary black man, and every ordinary person, even every middle class white person, had better fear, had better keep her mouth shut in front of the men with guns, can expect to be taken off and dealt with by the police if they protest, or get afraid and angry about the guns or  exercise freedom of speech.  Gates is a small man, 58 years old, who weighs about 150 pounds.  He was probably disturbed to have locked himself out and felt violated by the police.  “One’s home is one’s castle.”  When one’s home is invaded – it is why we have the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution - anyone does.

    We are lucky in the America which has just turned around some, that President Obama has the secret service to protect him.  Otherwise, he or Michelle or the children might be arrested for breaking into the White House.  There are, after all, a lot of Rush Limbaughs and Lou Dobbs and Sarah Palins out passingby…

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rachel Corrie and Reconciliation


           My friend Benjamin Barber wrote me the following note about the poem, Bro ken (here).

“Alan, As you know, I like your poetry, and this is an effective piece. Except it buys into the one-sided coverage of Rachel and those protesters who never ask questions about Hamas or the rockets or the suicide bombers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but show up naively to "front" for them in pointing to Israel's (all too real) violations of rights. I prefer organizations like the Mothers of suicide bombers and the mothers of their victims who work together; or ONE VOICE, the group of Palestinian and Israeli youth who try to collaborate on peace and participate every year in my Interdependence Day forums.”

       The poem was a reaction at the time to a murder by the IDF and its cover-up.  I do not believe that Israel internally can survive continuing to do such things, becoming so corrupt. I think Israelis and others must speak out against the occupation and act to stop it.  I recognize the heroism of the people who go to be with the Palestinians, to interpose their bodies nonviolently to prevent the occupying power from taking lives wantonly and in silence.  That Rachel Corrie had words which the abettors of such crimes have attempted to silence also needs to be said (see Fear here).

         With Ben, I prefer Truth and Reconciliation and Bishop Tutu, as I emphasized in Fear.  Every effort to get ordinary Jews and Palestinians together, to break down unfamiliarity, fear and prejudice is a very good thing.  I like One Voice (I am also familiar with it from meetings in Boulder) and what Ben is doing in organizing his Interdependence Day forums and workshops, and have long admired the Israeli woman, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, given a European peace prize in 2003, whose daughter Smadar was murdered in a suicide bombing in 1997.  She had journeyed to find out about the village the four young bombers had come from, learned of their relatives killed and abused, and spoke out against all the killings and the cycle of violence. She spoke in the European Parliament on International Women’s Day about the sufferings, particularly of Palestinian women.   In her grief, that she could take in the suffering of all, to speak out, even then, against the crimes of  Israeli government as well as those of terrorism has great wisdom. She is a beacon of what nonviolence can become – realizing that everyone, even those who do the most terrible things, are human, that vengeance alone – an eye for an eye – will not bring back those who are lost (and yet for her and for us, too, here in every moment) and that one should make an effort to heal the world, to create a circumstance where we can live together, not murder each other. 

       My experience is that Jews and Arabs have many affinities and other things being equal, often become easy and unself-conscious friends.  A wonderful Israeli soldier once befriended my then 4 year old son at a camping ground in Cordoba, Spain.  He and his best friend had been serving in the IDF, his friend as a medic.  His friend had gone back into a valley to help a wounded soldier and had been killed.  To heal himself, this man was traveling around Europe healing injured birds.  Later on, we met him again in Paris and he took us to his favorite restaurant, a Lebanese one.  We all sat around, Jews and Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and had a very pleasant evening. His favorite restaurant…

        The International Solidarity Movement is a pro-Palestinian, nonviolent movement.  I speak from knowledge only of some individuals who have participated with it.  Mass civil disobedience is probably the only way to jar Israel into self-awareness, though their efforts are but a beginning and far short of that.   The ISM's leadership also defends the Palestinian right to resist oppression violently - as true in principle but not what the movement itself encourages - but is also apparently ambivalent about the murderous and very harmful to the Palestinian cause killing of civilians. In an interview, however, one of its founders, Adam Shapiro, an American, has drawn exactly this distinction and opposed suicide-bombings which take the lives of innocents.  Among individual members I have talked with, some are silent about Hamas; with deeper insight, others condemn rockets and the murders of innocents.  I suspect Rachel Corrie would have been among the latter.  What they do is at the risk of their lives. I once as a college freshman went on a freedom ride to Maryland (and did not go two summers later to Mississippi).  My friend Andrew Goodman did. And Rachel Corrie went to Rafah.

       To be who they were, their lives were short.  One should admire their decency and their courage.  

Friday, July 24, 2009

Poem: Bro ken

s lo w ly 

   s lo  wl y

                in Rafah


 the bu l l doz er  m oves  the orange shirt

                                               pushes the mound                        

st ops


                 b ac ks over


            bro ken


                  Rachel   Cor rie




     Fear is a terrible feature of American life, leading to attacks upon innocents – those who exist or have thoughts.  The murders of women as “witches,” the Alien and Sedition acts, attacking Jefferson and “Gallomen” (admirers of the French Revolution), the Palmer raids, Truman-McCarthyism, the attacks after 9/11 on college professors like Joseph Massad and Zia Meranto are all horrifying examples.  But in a certain way, the government of Israel is far more possessed by it.

     One of Prime Minister Olmert’s decent ideas was to allow textbooks for Arab Israelis (if his regime had been more courageous, he would have included all Israelis) to mention the Arab word for the war that created Israel and the “transfer” – the nakba (the catastrophe).  He mentioned rightly that Palestinians have suffered.*  These were steps on the way to a negotiated settlement and a Truth and Reconciliation commission.  They were the response of the strong to trying to heal, through speech, an injustice which cannot in life be made right (no one will bring back the dead or the property, as the Jewish properties taken in Europe – the Nazis used every bit of the clothes and bodies of Jews they murdered, even the gold in teeth, to clothe Germans at home; one wonders, as with those who live in the houses of other victims of ethnic cleansing, how the recipients experienced clothes, houses, teeth which cry out against the murders).

     The jews suffered genocide in Europe and pogroms in Russia.  From the Middle Ages in Europe, the story of jews is one of creativity and endurance in the face of unrelenting persecution.  The American idiom that blacks live in a ghetto is but an echo of Jewish experience.  If a people is burned enough times, it gets into the psyche of many. Ironically, of course, Arabs have been much more tolerant of Jews historically, particularly in Cordoba, but among the Moghals and Ottomans as well.  It was up to the British, stirring divide and rule in Palestine, and what Europe and America would permit after the Holocaust, and American stirring of divisions – the US regime has long controlled oil and politics in the Middle East, given aid to tyrants, and urged the Israeli government to be a powerful, domineering, settler ally, filled with racism toward Palestinians who had initially done Israelis no harm. But these policies, followed by the Bush aggressions (the neocon effort to reshape the world with a gun; turning the two-bit bully mentality of Netanyahu into the policy of the most highly armed and dangerous regime on earth), have become unsustainable.  Though America is still invested in oil and military bases, Obama represents some serious movement away from these policies.  Further, the Israeli government has nuclear weapons, a powerful ally in the United States, and will not be destroyed, once again, except internally. See news from Israel here.  Truth and Reconciliation is needed for Jews as well.

       The Netanyahu government, however, suppresses the truth about the creation of Israel – that it was a catastrophe for Palestinians (just as the creation of the American regime resulted in centuries long genocide against indigenous peoples in the United States).  Apparently, one must lie about Arabs in order to sustain the cheery, superior race version of Israel that Netanyahu and Lieberman represent.  They do not wish to make themselves one people among others, recognize every life as important, every person as human.  Critics of Netanyahu rightly use the phrase nakba-denial.  But it is too weak.  The Israeli elite may well destroy itself and the world sooner than adjust to reality and decency (the Republican Party and the enabling Democrats would have pretty much already done this – the Cheney/neocon plan was to attack Iran after Iraq, and he held out for bombing Iran, even with nuclear weapons, until the financial collapse of the United States, finally cornered him.  Through war and global warming, we are making the world uninhabitable if we do not change; the future consequences of a further conflagration in the Middle East would be to shorten the survival of earth as a life-supporting environment to the point where one could see that denouement pretty clearly from where we are). 

      Last night in class, a thoughtful Israeli student talked about the cycle of violence.  She opposed the slaughter in Gaza as well as the occupation.  But the continued missile strikes of Palestinians in territory near the border frightens her.  That Hamas rocketry is mostly for show – that the rockets did not kill anyone till after the atrocities in Gaza began – does not alter the fear that Hamas creates among ordinary jews.  Thus, Hamas has produced Netanyahu.  Instead of pursuing nonviolent civil disobedience (something represented in the first intifada, in the International Solidarity Movement of people from around the world to defend Palestinians by their presence and their bodies, by the refusal of some hundreds of Israelis to serve in the occupied territories), they encourage children to blow themselves up and murder civilians.  Once created by Israeli intelligence to counter Fatah (as sophisticated realists note, intervening in the politics of others, one is often harmed or attacked by one’s creations, as the US by Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden), Hamas today seems driven to continue to strengthen the Israeli government and move it further and further to the Right.This cycle of desolation is pursued avidly by oppressor and the response of the oppressed.

      There is more free speech in Israel and debate than there has been in the United States.  Reactionary Jewish organizations try to enforce in Congress and among ordinary people, including Jews, silence about the Palestinians.  For a long time, to mention that Palestinians were human was sufficient to be attacked.  I spoke for example at a memorial service at the University of Denver concerning the Deir Yassin massacre (this attack on an Arab village helped drive Palestinians out of the territory and was essential to the “transfer”)  I invoked Martin Buber who said that the ruins of Deir Yassin should be left as a memorial to the crimes that even a Jewish state can commit. Deir Yassin was of course promptly built over, the name changed.  The “transfer” and treating the Palestinians as Native Americans was the policy of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and has been of the Israeli government since.  I spoke for nonviolence against a few in the sizeable audience who were cheering the death of some Israeli soldiers (every person who spoke was an advocate/practitioner of nonviolence; of 6, two, including myself, were jews).  Talking with people who attended the memorial afterwards, I spoke with a rabbi and three students.  One said: “I can’t believe you are a professor at the University of Denver.”  “Well,” I said, “I wasn’t speaking in an official capacity and don’t speak for the University. Do you have some specific disagreement with something I said?”  

     The next day I was parked behind the building next to where we held the memorial on the lawn outside.  My stepdaughter’s sign: “Peace in the Middle East” was in the back window.  I came out of a meeting to find my windshield smashed.

     I listened to the phone messages in my office.  One was from a person with the pseudonym Victor Roth.  “You’re stupid….Martin Buber is stupid…You’re a traitor to the Jews.  ..Bet you don’t daven (a rocking motion religious Jewish men make in prayer)…I’m going to call the chancellor and get you fired…You’re stupid…Martin Buber is stupid…”

     It went on 15 minutes.  When I called the return number, there was no Victor Roth there and no one was willing to talk.

     I have spoken out against racism, war and other matters for many years. I have been in dangerous situations off-campus, for instance, on a freedom ride to Chestertown, Maryland when I was an undergraduate.   I have never been threatened on campus otherwise in this way.  It had nothing to do with what I said or with me.  There was just fear and a desire to suppress or kill  anything that sounded as if it might disagree with the fantasy life of these fanatics.  If one wants to understand the murderousness of Cheney and the neocons, that kind of fear may cast some light.  Perhaps similarly, for the Israeli government, particularly under Netanyahu and Lieberman.

      Yesterday my friend Ilene Cohen sent me a note about the Koret Foundation, a rightwing Jewish organization in San Francisco which seeks to stop the Jewish Film Festival from screening a film about Rachel Corrie.  Rachel Corrie, a young student from Evergreen State College, went to Palestine to defend Palestinians with her body. She stood with an orange jumpsuit in front of the house of a Palestinian doctor, waving her arms.  An Israeli bulldozer was set on demolishing the house.  The driver drove over and killed her.  Sane people would express sorrow, mourn a tragedy.  Fearful oppressors need to keep their spirits up.  “She was a danger, a threat.  She was stupid, she put herself in harm’s way  You see, you better not go anywhere the Palestinians, you Americans, you foreigners, or we cannot guarantee your safety.”  The weakness and depravity of Israel in this case was mirrored in the policies of its sponsor, the Bush administration. Though an American citizen who stood for decency, the Bush administration did nothing on her behalf and much against her.

     The Koret Foundation’s press release calls the Jewish film festival “anti-semitic” and “anti-Israel” for showing this film.  It denounces these jews for asking Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother to speak.  As it points out, there is no debater who will be able to speak for the IDF which sent the killer of Rachel Corrie and refuses to investigate. The suppression of speaking of Rachel Corrie or mourning is a sign of what the bullying is about.  There is no answer to the humanness of the people the Israeli government has murdered.  There is no way, however threatened Israelis may feel, of learning about the situation in Gaza where people cannot get out, imprisoned by Israel, or of the murder of some 300 children in the latest invasion – one Israeli child was murdered by a Hamas rocket – and being sympathetic to the occupiers.  Intimidation is their only resort, silence their only hope. The Koret Foundation funds the neocon Hoover Institution ($1.7 million a year) and many other reactionary groups.  It has dreamed of Bush and Netanyahu, and replicates their murderous emptiness.

      In contrast, the International Solidarity Movement is a nonviolent movement which goes to Palestine  and protects Palestinians with their bodies by accompanying them or staying in their homes or by civil disobedience against home destructions and evictions.   Thus, Rachel Corrie and Thomas Hurndal (a young English volunteer who was shot in the head while standing around with Palestinians after a peaceful demonstration by a sniper in the IDF on a far-off hill). For the IDF it is often open season on the dissident citizens of their allies. 

      Some Jews also participate in the ISM.  The first two volunteers I met, one of whom was a young Jewish women, the older one a peaceful man (Protestant I think), had been to Palestine during an IDF operation, and sat in houses with Palestinian families, shuddering as bullets whizzed through the walls and by them at all hours.  They committed the crime of existing.  I seem to remember pogroms and Warsaw where that sort of thing happened routinely to jews; the Koret foundation appears to remember only the men who drive the bulldozers over Rachel Corrie.  These volunteers came to a class I gave on nonviolence in the late 1990s and described how Palestinians can only go to school or work in Israel by passing checkpoints at the risk of their lives.  And I suddenly realized - I hadn't before - that Gaza was a large outdoor concentration camp (then simply a totalitarian regime, not that I like the term much otherwise).  So I started more determinedly speaking out.

      I invoke the words of the prophet Amos.  See here.  The distinction between Amaziah - the spokesman for the moneyed people who defend the monstrous and self-destructive conduct of the powerful, in this case, the state of Israel - and ordinary Jews who speak out prophetically and name what it is they do - including the Jewish Film Festival by inviting Rachel's mother or Jewish participants in the ISM - is I think helpful in revealing what it is at stake in the attempts to suppress and defame anyone who says the truth as "a self-hating Jew" or an “anti-semite.”  The day of bullying is coming to an end.  Hopefully, some decent settlement with the people of Palestine, allowing Jews and Palestinians to live in peace, will become possible.

     The next post is a poem I wrote about Rachel Corrie, published in , the  Jewish Community News, with more conventional spacing.**  It was attacked on the Peter Boyles show on ch. 12 by David Kopel, a rightwing commentator on the media in the Denver Post.  They were discussing things that really disgusted them in the media that week. Perhaps unintentionally Kopel produced some additional attention for the newsletter.  I did not know much about Rachel at the time, that she was a writer, that she has left beautiful words which inform the play about her (blocked from a showing in New York by reactionary Jewish organizations) and apparently the movie.  Perhaps everyone could now, given the tragedy, listen to her.

 *Many thanks to Kyra Moon for sending me articles about this.            
** And to Rob Prince for publishing the poem.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The School of Coups: inadvertent American action against democracy in Honduras


         The interdemocratic peace hypothesis was once, during the Cold War, a dissident and interestingly argued view (Michael Doyle’s 1984 pieces in Philosophy and Public Affairs).  After the Cold War, it has become an apology for American imperialism, in the mouths of Clinton and Bush, to justify the overthrow or evisceration of the elected Aristide regime in Haiti (the coups by the two Bushes, Clinton’s restoration of Aristide for a year of his 6 year presidency, so long as he did push the social programs for which he had been elected), or to try to overthrow Chavez in Venezuela in 2002 or to engage in a large number of coups (perhaps 12) against non-white democracies during the Cold War.  The “operational” definition of a war, by political scientists, is 1,000 soldiers dead on each side.  Thus, democracies do not go to war against other democracies.  Being “value-free” in this case misguidedly about the truth,  these political scientists, I suppose, merely mean to “specify” their arguments very “carefully.”  But American democracy has been the lethal enemy of 15 or so nonwhite democracies during and after the Cold War, “intervening” to overthrow them.  In Barack Obama’s understated phrase with regard to the coup in Honduras, “The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies.”  But at least Obama, the head of the Empire, knows the right thing and is trying, to some extent to do it (previous Presidents, including Clinton, have done largely the opposite). See also what's wrong with the democratic peace hypothesis, here and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? introduction.

        America arms dictators like Egypt’s Mubarak or trains those who engage in coups.  The latter is an ugly manifestation of empire, much protested by ordinary people including many Americans, but not  much noticed by mainstream political scientists and even by radicals.  A particularly sad case is the recent coup in Honduras where the United States did not apparently do the dirty work itself (although some in Washington are working with and legitimizing the coup and of course, one never knows how much dirty work the School of the Americas or other parts of the submerged apparatus of the Empire inspire or are ordered to do).  Instead, the United States trained the officers who plotted the coup at the School of the Americas. All over the world,  our military has worked to train the officers in repressive regimes (the joint combined training operations, not much known in Congress, are described in Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback).  Even where the US does not have large military bases – with its 250,000 troops abroad aside from Iraq and Afghanistan - and a total of some 800 bases (no one quite knows, even in the Pentagon)  and  even where the CIA is not actively trying to undermine or overthrow some democratic regime which clashes with American imperial interests, this training of officers itself has nasty, continuing effects, i.e. the coup in Honduras. America has elected a decent President; yet the military-industrial complex has an ugly inertia.

         Father Roy Bourgeois has long protested against the School nonviolently and been arrested many times (his and Margaret Knapke’s article below appears in the July issue of  Foreign Policy in Focus).  Two of my children go to the Open School in Denver ( a K-12 experimental school, with the idea that advisors mentor students in developing seven passages in their education; the education is student-oriented).  A few years ago, two of their colleagues studied Latin America and as a kind of apprenticeship went to protest at the School of the Americas with Bourgeois and many others.  They were arrested.  While these students were serving three months in jail in Denver, a philosophy professor from Red Rocks Community College came and gave them a course on nonviolence (this was probably the most “out there” experience chosen by students ever in the history of the Open School and a credit to the professor at Red Rocks). 

         Bourgeois and Knapke trace the role of the School of the Americas in training Latin American officers in murdering and disappearing dissidents.  To administer its post-9/11 torture programs, the CIA hastily chose the psychologists Mitchell and Jesson who had run the SERE program in which American prisoners are trained to resist torture and had never interrogated anyone.  See what the torturer knew here.  Perhaps that is responsible for their dismal record in getting any useful information (torture never does).  Recommended by Cheney for its willing depravity, the CIA paid no attention to Ali Soufan, the FBI agent, who through establishing rapport got important information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed from Abu Zubaydah.  But really, one might say,  the Bush administration wasn’t paying sufficient attention – despite extraordinary rendition to other regimes that torture – to the experience of torturers in its own imperial orbit.  It could have asked the trainees from the School of the Americas, not to mention those who taught them.  Not that they would have gotten better information from torture, but these men are “professionals.”  But I guess it sounded more “scientific” – more like George Tenet knew what he was doing, rather than being incompetent, self-promoting and obsequious (or maybe just a coward, bowing before Cheney) -  to get Mitchell and Jesson.  The inter-democratic peace hypothesis in a genuinely democratic system, not an oligarchy with parliamentary forms of the sort we have, might well have more validity.  But political scientists had better watch out that they do not emulate the practices of Mitchell and Jesson.  For instance, the inter-democratic peace hypothesis has at least been used by Presidents to deflect attention from aid to repressive regimes and crimes against democracies.

      In chapter 5 of Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?,  I discuss the case of Ines Morales, a guerilla who was captured by Battalion 3-16 in Honduras and tortured for 80 days.  Her father was a General who threatened to release the name of “Mike,” the CIA man who oversaw the torture in the prisons, if they did not end her torture.  She was released, went to Canada, and after several years, told her story to the Baltimore Sun.  With  Latin Americans, Father Bourgeois names the School the School of Coups.  It is. He and Knapke note the role of School-trained officers in Batallion 3-16 and apparently in the coup itself.  This is a good empirical issue, easily amenable to the methods of empirical political science. But it is hard to achieve influence, let alone come to advise the government, if one notices facts like these.  And so, in mainstream political science, such research is not encouraged.  Still,  those who work on American foreign policy might want to take note of it. In any case, we could all support the 58 Congressmen, described below, who are trying to curtail the training of officers in Latin America to overthrow democracy.


School of Coups

by Father Roy Bourgeois & Margaret Knapke

The day after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deposed, President Barack Obama cautioned against repeating Latin America's "dark past," decades when military coups regularly overrode the results of democratic elections. Obama went on to acknowledge, in his understated way, "The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies."

In fact, the U.S. government has often stood with — or at least behind — the coup-makers.  Examples include Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1973, and Venezuela in 2002 (this last coup attempt, against President Hugo Chávez, was reversed). Also, throughout most of the 1980s, the Reagan administration subsidized and helped direct the "contra" (meaning counter-revolutionary) war against the Nicaraguan government and people.

Notably, the June 28 coup against Zelaya and the Honduran electorate traces back to the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). Originally established in Panama in 1946, the school was the U.S. Army's premier site for training Latin American officers and soldiers in military intelligence and combat operations, supposedly within the letter of the law.

Within 20 years, however, it was known in Latin American military circles as "la Escuela de Golpes" — the School of Coups. And in the early 1980s, Panamanian President Jorge Illueca declared the SOA "the biggest base for destabilization in Latin America." The "School of Coups" moved to Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 1984.

School rosters obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, leader of the recent Honduran coup, trained there in 1976 and 1984. He was assisted in deposing President Zelaya by General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, head of the Honduran Air Force, who in 1996 rather presciently took an SOA course in Joint Operations.


But the school's fingerprints have long been evident in Honduras. A death squad known as Battalion 3-16 was organized in the 1980s and operated clandestinely for years — kidnapping, forcibly disappearing, and torturing political opponents, and killing at least 184 of them. Nineteen members of Battalion 3-16 are known to have graduated from the School of the Americas, including three generals who directed battalion activities.

School officials have long insisted that its graduates who flaunt the rule of law do so despite their training. They are, according to that argument, just inevitable "bad apples."

But, to the contrary, documentary evidence indicates these students have learned their lessons well. In 1996, for example, President Bill Clinton's Defense Department revealed that training materials used from 1982-1991 at the School had instructed Latin American military officers and soldiers to target civilian populations and use torture, intimidation, false arrest, extrajudicial execution,  blackmail, and more inhumane tactics. 

So, while SOA training has emboldened golpistas (coup-makers) to act against legitimately elected heads of state, it also has provoked crimes against citizens challenging illegitimate or antidemocratic powers. As Berta Oliva — who coordinates the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) — said of soldiers repressing anti-coup protests: "They view those who demand their rights as if they were enemies."

Oliva will never forget the Battalion 3-16 years. She founded the COFADEH after her husband was kidnapped and disappeared in 1982. About the recent military coup in her country, she observed: "They've made a return to the 1980s...Friendly governments who hold democratic ideals simply cannot allow this to happen here."

Shine the Light

Arguably the only way for Latin America to avoid repeating its "dark past" is to shine a bright light into it, for all to see. At the fifth Summit of the Americas last April, Obama noted the importance of learning from history. And he declared, "The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made."

With H.R. 2567, the Latin America Military Training Review Act, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and 57 co-sponsors are offering us a light to shine. This legislation would suspend operations at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) — the "successor institution" to the School of the Americas, which is still located at Ft. Benning. Then a bipartisan congressional taskforce would investigate decades of its activities and teaching materials.

Certainly "errors have been made." Some at this moment are threatening to override the will of the Honduran electorate.

It's time. It's past time. Shine the light on the School of Coups. 

Shine the light.


© 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus

Father Roy Bourgeois is a Catholic priest, a former missionary, and founder of SOA Watch. Margaret Knapke is a longtime Latin America human-rights activist. Both have served federal prison terms for nonviolent civil disobedience aimed at closing the School of the Americas and are Foreign Policy In Focus contributors.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

News from Israel


           Christina Harris, one of my students, sent me this morning the article below from the Guardian on the eviction of two Palestinian families of 55 people including 14 children.  As refugees in 1948, displaced by the violence of the Irgun and the “transfer,”  they had been resettled by the UN in Jordan.  But in the 1967 war, Israel grabbed this territory.   An Israeli court ruled for a “prior” ownership and has somehow dispensed the property to a company which wants to displace 20 more families and “develop” the site for settlers  – since when does occupation permit the occupier to force people out of their homes?  Well, might makes right, it seems (what was the objection to the Nazis, then?). As a Jew and a fighter against racism and Nazism all my adult life, I wonder if this is a principle Jews want to or can non-self-destructively enact.

        Faced with the crime of genocide in Europe, displaced Jews were allowed to settle, in a place of their own, only in the Middle East by Europe and America.  In America, the racism toward Jews was still so thick during World War II that George Kennan could say, speaking for the State Department, that making an issue of the genocide would make the War “a partisan effort” (see Robert Schulzinger, The Making of the Diplomatic Mind). The Israeli slogan was “a people without land for a land without people.”  But the Palestinians lived there.  The slogan was a lie, the policies a crime against a people who had done no harm to Jews.  The crime against the Jews – and what Europe and America would allow – made for these harsh circumstances.  But to be secure, Israelis needed then to make peace with Arabs, to act decently where they could, not to become an outpost of “the West,” of “modernization,” of American imperialism in the Middle East.  Instead, it has became an armed and after 1967, a (further) occupying paper.    The additional conquests from the 1967 war have nurtured daily crimes and increasing desire for revenge on the part of displaced Arabs and madness in the politics of Israel.  It is the oldest thought in political philosophy, motivated by Thucydides, that democracies which become imperial destroy themselves (see my Must Global Politics Constran Democracy? which has this as a theme).   There is no way out from this spiral except actions, probably nonviolent actions from below, but occasionally statesmanship from above – what Obama is now trying as an American leader to pursue – to draw the murderous heat from the conflict and achieve a decent or at least livable settlement. I should note: the arming of Israel, in particular, its nuclear weapons, grants the Israeli government protection against outside destruction (only Israel can do itself in).  It could act as “the strong,” with American support even today, to achieve such a settlement.  Whether there is sufficient wisdom or political will in any element of the Israeli leadership to do this - and at the moment, many ordinary Israelis have moved to the right -  is, however, a question.

      There is growing sentiment now in the United States from below, notably among Jews, that the sort of thing described in this article done by the State of Israel is monstrous. (see The hunting of immigrants here for some other recent examples).  All over the world people look at these acts and wonder about the government that does them.  Many ordinary Israelis are troubled by the occupation (consider the movement of soldiers, some 800 who have refused to serve in the occupied territories).  The movement Breaking the Silence has reported the stories of Israeli soldiers about the crimes committed by the army in Gaza, using Palestinians as human shields to enter houses, shooting ordinary people including old women to “protect your lives.”  Up to 1967, the Israeli army self-consciously studied the laws of war and tried not to commit crimes against civilians; Michael Walzer’s striking Just and Unjust Wars, originally published in 1977 and still by far the best book on the subject, was inspired by the Israeli Defense Forces (it does not investigate the ‘transfer’, where the army drove the Palestinians out – if you want a hard dose of truth, look at Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; a Jewish scholar harassed out of Israel, Pappe now teaches at Oxford), and is probably, as Noam Chomsky suggests, way too favorable to Israeli policy.  But there is a large element of truth in what Walzer described then about the army.  Read the reports by these soldiers today - a lot like listening to the reports, not publicized in the mainstream American press, of American soldiers from Iraq who testified in Operation Winter Soldier about the crimes they had seen committed by the US army – and it is hard not to be sad for Israel.  What the Israeli army does now in Gaza – “the most moral army in the world” the IDF spokesman proclaims with the glassy eyes, deer in the headlights, and emptiness of George W. Bush – is decadent.  A great fall from the training that motivated Michael’s book  once upon a time (Walzer was my thesis advisor and I once visited him while he was working on a chapter).  At the same time, the mainstream Israeli press had adopted a tone of derision, often racist derision, alone in the world, toward Obama.  The government includes the racist Avigdor Lieberman and the Knesset has discussed making Israelis of Arab origins swear loyalty oaths.  Fear is a driving force in Israel’s politics – more even than in Cheney’s America.  But it is American weapons and aid that have licensed the madness of Israel and many of the criminal policies of the Bush period were copied by the neocons from Israel (America has outdone Israel in systematic torture).

       In this situation, Obama, to whom the displaced are appealing, represents hope in a very deep sense.  Finally, both the American public and even the administration are moving in the direction of trying to nudge the Israeli government away from committing crimes and toward a negotiated settlement.  The new Palestine would not be a very viable area economically (it would need a lot of international aid).  But two states, both with international help, could probably establish a modus vivendi which would be much more life-sustaining for both peoples. It would also limit the extraordinary threat of nuclear war in the Middle East, complicated by the renewed threats from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even this morning of what the US might do if Iran “gets a nuclear weapon.”  Ordinary Israelis are endangered by the policies of the Israeli government (the three major parties, currently) and much of the press.  Israel must now finally find a home in the Middle East.

      Christina works with ICAHD, the committee which fights evictions of Palestinians.    It is a credit to the decency and scholarship of the program at Hebrew University, done with my school, that she is allowed to do this. My colleague Micheline Ishay has organized this program which permits Korbel students to learn in depth about the conflict from Hebrew University scholars and then to work with diverse organizations – the choice is up to them - including in the occupied territories.  Despite Israel’s troubles, such programs are a sign of hope.

       I have another student Jamie Siers, who has written brilliant papers for me on Socrates and the origins of nonviolence who worked with ICAHD last year, and was thrown down a flight of stairs by the so-called Israel Defense Forces for trying to protect with her body a Palestinian mother who was being again displaced.  Those who would defend Israel need to forgo threatening people and telling them to close their eyes.  A negotiated settlement and  Truth and Reconciliation, as Desmond Tutu suggests, are the only ways forward (see here).

Campaigners for evicted Palestinians call on Barack Obama to intervene

Campaigners protesting at the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a Jewish development today appealed to President Barack Obama to stop the settlement going ahead.

The families, who have lived in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood north of the Old City, were given until last Sunday by an Israeli court to leave their homes, and now face fines, arrests and eviction. The decision affects 55 people, including 14 children.

The families say that, as refugees from the 1948 war, they were given the houses in 1956 by the UN's refugee agency and the Jordanian government, which controlled the area until 1967.

But the Israeli court upheld a prior claim to the land by the Sephardi Community Committee, which subsequently sold the rights to an Israeli construction company with reported US investment ties.

"They have the power and we could be evicted or arrested at any time," says Maher Hannoun, head of one of the families at Sheikh Jarrah. "But I will never run away from my house. It is my job to protest my house and my children."

Nahalot Shimon International, the company that the court decreed current owner of the site, has plans to build a new 200-unit settlement in the area – which would affect a further 20 or so Palestinian families.

"My children keep asking me, 'Daddy are we going to live in a tent?' What do I tell them? I tell them I have hope that it won't happen," says Hannoun, a 51-year-old salesman whose family is from Haifa, now inIsrael, and Nablus, in the occupied West Bank.

The neighbourhood is close to the site of the Shepherd Hotel, where the US recently demanded that Israeli halt a construction project. Building has not yet commenced at the site of the old, disused hotel – a vast stone building and sprawling terrace, once owned by the grand mufti of Jerusalem and bought by the American millionaire Irving Moskowitz in 1985.

Yesterday, the Guardian revealed that 80-year-old Moskowitz is funding many illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war – a move not recognised by the international community. Israel maintains the Jewish right to reside in any part of Jerusalem.

"It is not about the Jewish right to live in East Jerusalem," says Meir Margalit, a Meretz party member of Jerusalem city council. "But about settlers who have come with a dangerous political agenda to 'Israelise' the area, change the demographic and in that way undermine any kind of political solution in the future."