Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill

On a bright fall day last year off the coast of Southern California, an Air Force B-1 bomber launched an experimental missile that may herald the future of warfare.

LRAS Missile launched from B-1 bomber

Initially, pilots aboard the plane directed the missile, but halfway to its destination, it severed communication with its operators. Alone, without human oversight, the missile decided which of three ships to attack, dropping to just above the sea surface and striking a 260-foot unmanned freighter.

Warfare is increasingly guided by software. Today, armed drones can be operated by remote pilots peering into video screens thousands of miles from the battlefield. But now, some scientists say, arms makers have crossed into troubling territory: They are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target and whom to kill.

As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control — or to defend against. And while pinpoint accuracy could save civilian lives, critics fear weapons without human oversight could make war more likely, as easy as flipping a switch.

Britain, Israel and Norway are already deploying missiles and drones that carry out attacks against enemy radar, tanks or ships without direct human control. After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets and to initiate an attack.

Britain’s “fire and forget” Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.

Armaments with even more advanced self-governance are on the drawing board, although the details usually are kept secret. “An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,” said Steve Omohundro, a physicist and artificial intelligence specialist at Self-Aware Systems, a research center in Palo Alto, Calif. “They can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably.”

Concerned by the prospect of a robotics arms race, representatives from dozens of nations will meet on Thursday in Geneva to consider whether development of these weapons should be restricted by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, last year called for a moratorium on the development of these weapons.

The Pentagon has issued a directive requiring high-level authorization for the development of weapons capable of killing without human oversight. But fast-moving technology has already made the directive obsolete, some scientists say.

“Our concern is with how the targets are determined, and more importantly, who determines them,” said Peter Asaro, a co-founder and vice chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a group of scientists that advocates restrictions on the use of military robots. “Are these human-designated targets? Or are these systems automatically deciding what is a target?”

Weapons manufacturers in the United States were the first to develop advanced autonomous weapons. An early version of the Tomahawk cruise missile had the ability to hunt for Soviet ships over the horizon without direct human control. It was withdrawn in the early 1990s after a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Back in 1988, the Navy test-fired a Harpoon antiship missile that employed an early form of self-guidance. The missile mistook an Indian freighter that had strayed onto the test range for its target. The Harpoon, which did not have a warhead, hit the bridge of the freighter, killing a crew member.

Despite the accident, the Harpoon became a mainstay of naval armaments and remains in wide use.

In recent years, artificial intelligence has begun to supplant human decision-making in a variety of fields, such as high-speed stock trading and medical diagnostics, and even in self-driving cars. But technological advances in three particular areas have made self-governing weapons a real possibility.

New types of radar, laser and infrared sensors are helping missiles and drones better calculate their position and orientation. “Machine vision,” resembling that of humans, identifies patterns in images and helps weapons distinguish important targets. This nuanced sensory information can be quickly interpreted by sophisticated artificial intelligence systems, enabling a missile or drone to carry out its own analysis in flight. And computer hardware hosting it all has become relatively inexpensive — and expendable.

The missile tested off the coast of California, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, is under development by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force and Navy. It is intended to fly for hundreds of miles, maneuvering on its own to avoid radar, and out of radio contact with human controllers.

In a directive published in 2012, the Pentagon drew a line between semiautonomous weapons, whose targets are chosen by a human operator, and fully autonomous weapons that can hunt and engage targets without intervention.

Weapons of the future, the directive said, must be “designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”

The Pentagon nonetheless argues that the new antiship missile is only semiautonomous and that humans are sufficiently represented in its targeting and killing decisions. But officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which initially developed the missile, and Lockheed declined to comment on how the weapon decides on targets, saying the information is classified.

“It will be operating autonomously when it searches for the enemy fleet,” said Mark A. Gubrud, a physicist and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and an early critic of so-called smart weapons. “This is pretty sophisticated stuff that I would call artificial intelligence outside human control.”

Paul Scharre, a weapons specialist now at the Center for a New American Security who led the working group that wrote the Pentagon directive, said, “It’s valid to ask if this crosses the line.”

Some arms-control specialists say that requiring only “appropriate” human control of these weapons is too vague, speeding the development of new targeting systems that automate killing.

Mr. Heyns, of the United Nations, said that nations with advanced weapons should agree to limit their weapons systems to those with “meaningful” human control over the selection and attack of targets. “It must be similar to the role a commander has over his troops,” Mr. Heyns said.

Systems that permit humans to override the computer’s decisions may not meet that criterion, he added. Weapons that make their own decisions move so quickly that human overseers soon may not be able to keep up. Yet many of them are explicitly designed to permit human operators to step away from controls. Israel’s antiradar missile, the Harpy, loiters in the sky until an enemy radar is turned on. It then attacks and destroys the radar installation on its own.

Norway plans to equip its fleet of advanced jet fighters with the Joint Strike Missile, which can hunt, recognize and detect a target without human intervention. Opponents have called it a “killer robot.”

Military analysts like Mr. Scharre argue that automated weapons like these should be embraced because they may result in fewer mass killings and civilian casualties. Autonomous weapons, they say, do not commit war crimes.

On Sept. 16, 2011, for example, British warplanes fired two dozen Brimstone missiles at a group of Libyan tanks that were shelling civilians. Eight or more of the tanks were destroyed simultaneously, according to a military spokesman, saving the lives of many civilians.

It would have been difficult for human operators to coordinate the swarm of missiles with similar precision.

“Better, smarter weapons are good if they reduce civilian casualties or indiscriminate killing,” Mr. Scharre said. More

Editorial

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche,, a leading Tibetan academic stated recently; “Today the challenges of the modernity pose existential threat to mankind and earth itself, if not tackled adequately and immediately. The first major challenge is of VIOLENCE. Its most visible forms are war and terrorism. Then there is the systematic or system generated violence. We are neither able to see it or understand it, but its scope and spread are frightening. The present situation is such that we have no will to resist violence, unless it directly affects us. This kind of violence is market driven which necessitates perpetuation of war or its possibility. In brief the entire world today is being governed by the market forces, which are described consumeristic system”. Violence, war and terrorism, along with poverty and disease are governance issues, global governance issies.

As Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), told world leaders in 1998: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.” Governance is the exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Different definitions of good governance have been proposed by development organizations. The definition offered by the UN Development Programme highlights participation, accountability, transparency, consensus, sustainability, the rule of law, and the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable people in making decisions about allocating development resources.

All of the above are issues that we have to technology and resources to alleviate. Doing so would remove the necessity to produce weapons as described above, it could do away for the need for the military as we know it today. The world could be like Costa Rica whose military was abolished on December 1, 1948, by President José Figueres Ferrer. Our world could literally become a Paradise or Garden of Eden where peace reigned as everyones needs were fulfilled. Editor.

 

 

How Israel’s lies are used to justify mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza

Israel's lies make it clear to the Palestinians that it will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions.


ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, including Israel and Hamas. But Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes.


It does not deform the truth; it inverts it. It routinely paints a picture for the outside world that is diametrically opposed to reality. And all of us reporters who have covered the occupied territories have run into Israel's Alice-in-Wonderland narratives, which we dutifully insert into our stories — required under the rules of American journalism — although we know they are untrue.


I saw small boys baited and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. The soldiers swore at the boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle and the soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. I was present more than once as Israeli troops drew out and shot Palestinian children in this way.


Such incidents, in the Israeli lexicon, become children caught in crossfire.


I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded hovels in Gaza City. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory.


I have watched Israel demolish homes and entire apartment blocks to create wide buffer zones between the Palestinians and the Israeli troops that ring Gaza. I have interviewed the destitute and homeless families, some camped out in crude shelters erected in the rubble. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists.


I have stood in the remains of schools — Israel struck two United Nations schools in the last six days, causing at least 10 fatalities at one in Rafah on Sunday and at least 19 at one in the Jebaliya refugee camp Wednesday — as well as medical clinics and mosques. I have heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites.


I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”


There is a perverted logic to Israel's repeated use of the Big Lie — the lie favored by tyrants from Josef Stalin to Saddam Hussein. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit — racism among its supporters and terror among its victims.


By painting a picture of an army that never attacks civilians, that indeed goes out of its way to protect them, the Big Lie says Israelis are civilized and humane, and their Palestinian opponents are inhuman monsters.


The Big Lie serves the idea that the slaughter in Gaza is a clash of civilizations, a war between democracy, decency and honor on one side and Islamic barbarism on the other. And in the uncommon cases when news of atrocities penetrates to the wider public, Israel blames the destruction and casualties on Hamas.


George Orwell in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” called this form of propaganda doublethink. Doublethink uses “logic against logic” and “repudiate[s] morality while laying claim to it.”


The Big Lie does not allow for the nuances and contradictions that can plague conscience. It is a state-orchestrated response to the dilemma of cognitive dissonance. The Big Lie permits no gray zones. The world is black and white, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous.


The Big Lie allows believers to take comfort — a comfort they are desperately seeking — in their own moral superiority at the very moment they have abrogated all morality.


The Big Lie, as the father of American public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote, is limited only by the propagandist's capacity to fathom and harness the undercurrents of individual and mass psychology. And since most supporters of Israel do not have a desire to know the truth, a truth that would force them to examine their own racism and self-delusions about Zionist and Western moral superiority, like packs of famished dogs they lap up the lies fed to them by the Israeli government.


But the Big Lie is also consciously designed to send a chilling message to Gaza's Palestinians, who have lost large numbers of their dwellings, clinics, mosques, and power, water and sewage facilities, along with schools and hospitals, who have suffered some 1,850 deaths since this assault began — most of the victims women and children — and who have seen 400,000 people displaced from their homes.


The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions. The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.


The Israel Defense Forces website is replete with this black propaganda. “Hamas exploits the IDF's sensitivity towards protecting civilian structures, particularly holy sites, by hiding command centers, weapons caches and tunnel entrances in mosques,” the IDF site reads. “In Hamas' world, hospitals are command centers, ambulances are transport vehicles, and medics are human shields,” the site insists.


“… [Israeli] officers are tasked with an enormous responsibility: to protect Palestinian civilians on the ground, no matter how difficult that may be,” the site assures its viewers. And the IDF site provides this quote from a drone operator identified as Lt. Or. “I have personally seen rockets fired at Israel from hospitals and schools, but we couldn't strike back because of civilians nearby. In one instance, we acquired a target but we saw that there were children in the area. We waited around, and when they didn't leave we were forced to abort a strike on an important target.”


Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the “Nobel Peace Prize … a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”


The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality.


And when facts no longer matter, when there is no shared history grounded in the truth, when people foolishly believe their own lies, there can be no useful exchange of information.


The Big Lie, used like a bludgeon by Israel, as perhaps it is designed to be, ultimately reduces all problems in the world to the brutish language of violence. And when oppressed people are addressed only through violence they will answer only through violence. More

 

 

“Containing the Resource Crisis”

LONDON – The proclamation of a new Cold War, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, turned out to be alarmist and premature. However, it reflected the anxiety of today’s decision-makers in the face of a crumbling global order.


With emerging economies far from committed to established norms in international relations, many governments and multinational companies are feeling vulnerable about relying on others for vital resources – the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas being a case in point.

Competition for scarce resources is sorely testing our assumptions about global governance and cooperation, at a time when collective leadership is becoming ever more necessary. But even in the absence of overarching global legal frameworks, it is possible to maintain a sense of common security if the terms of resource investments are founded on long-term political understanding and commercial relationships, rather than short-term competition.

The stakes are high. Resource scarcity is closely linked to political risks. Consider, for example, the drought that decimated Russia’s 2010 wheat harvest. In response, Russia imposed export restrictions to shore up its domestic supplies, sending food prices soaring in its main export markets, especially Egypt. This in turn helped spark the political uprisings that spread rapidly across North Africa and the Middle East. Climate change is expected to trigger many more such chains of events.

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply. Several Nile Basin countries, including Sudan and Ethiopia, have now ratified a new, Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework agreement, which Egypt has yet to sign. Given Egypt’s concerns about potential water shortages arising from Ethiopia’s new upstream hydropower plants, its assent is far from assured.

Indeed, in Egypt’s febrile political atmosphere, its newly elected president, General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, may be tempted to escalate the threat of military action in response to Ethiopia’s hydropower projects. Such a move would send shockwaves through a region already reeling from conflict in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

To avoid another dangerous political-environmental chain reaction, nudging all sides toward agreement will require achieving mutual recognition of resource concerns. Ethiopia must credibly guarantee the supply of water downstream, for example, by establishing a water-replenishment rate at its dam reservoirs that does not threaten the onward flow of water to Egypt. At the same time, Egypt, while retaining the fundamental right to protect its water supply, must recognize the interests of its upstream neighbors and be ready to negotiate in good faith a new Nile Basin treaty.

Multinational companies and sovereign investors like China, which have financed hydropower projects upstream, will come under increasing pressure to adopt a position. They, too, can play a positive role by considering the cross-border investments that will address critical interdependencies, like Egypt’s wasteful agricultural irrigation practices.

Similar resource-related tensions are surfacing in other parts of the world. Water stress and food security threaten to constrain India’s economic promise, as increasing coal-powered electricity generation diverts water resources away from agriculture. The political risks of investing in Nigeria’s agriculture sector are also rising as a result of the country’s demographic explosion, high inflation, weak rule of law, and insecure land rights, with wider political consequences.

These resource strains are aggravated by foreign investments that seek to meet developed-country consumers’ voracious demand for resources without attention to their impact on sustainability in the host countries. This virtual outsourcing of the industrialized world’s environmental impacts, apart from being hypocritical, is no basis for building a strategy for global environmental sustainability.

Instead, the world needs to invest in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and green infrastructure. To be sure, the most promising efforts by leading multinationals today must confront entrenched subsidies and vested political interests. Unless the necessary policy frameworks are put in place green investment initiatives will continue to struggle to achieve a meaningful scale. Moreover, developed and developing countries seem unable even to agree on a fair division of environmental responsibilities, even though they have become increasingly interdependent in trade, investment, and the supply of natural resources.

These difficulties should not stop us from trying. The Earth Security Initiative is working with the BMW Foundation to develop global roundtables on resource security over a two-year period, starting in Hangzhou, China, on July 17- 20. These high-level, informal meetings will bring together leaders from politics, business, and civil society in Europe and emerging economies in an effort to bridge just such differences.

We know what needs to be done, why it is important, and who must be involved to secure our planet’s long-term future. We must now address the equally vital question of how this will be achieved.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/alejandro-litovsky-addresses-the-increasingly-close-links-between-resource-scarcity-and-political-risk#qFDfi1xP668YyhLg.99

 

 

Noam Chomsky, Why National Security Has Nothing to Do With Security

Think of it as the true end of the beginning. Last week, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the final member of the 12-man crew of the Enola Gay, the plane (named after its pilot’s supportive mother) that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died at age 93.

Paul Tibbetts, Jr. in cockpit

When that first A-bomb left its bomb bay at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, and began its descent toward its target, the Aioli (“Live Together”) Bridge, it was inscribed with a series of American messages, some obscene, including “Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis.” (That ship had delivered to the Pacific island of Tinian parts of the very bomb that would turn Hiroshima into an inferno of smoke and fire — “that awful cloud,” Paul Tibbetts, Jr., theEnola Gay's pilot, would call it — and afterward was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine with the loss of hundreds of sailors.)

The bomb, dubbed Little Boy, that had gestated in the belly of the Enola Gay represented not only the near endpoint of a bitter global war of almost unimaginable destruction, but the birthing of something new. The way for its use had been paved by an evolution in warfare: the increasing targeting of civilian populations from the air (something that can be seen again today in the carnage of Gaza). The history of that grim development extends from German airship bombings of London (1915) by way of Guernica (1937), Shanghai (1937), and Coventry (1940), to the fire bombings of Dresden (1945) and Tokyo (1945) in the last year of World War II. It even had an evolutionary history in the human imagination, where for decades writers (among others) had dreamed of the unparalleled release of previously unknown forms of energy for military purposes.

On August 7, 1945, a previous age was ending and a new one was dawning. In the nuclear era, city-busting weapons would be a dime a dozen and would spread from the superpowers to many other countries, including Great Britain, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. Targeted by the planet’s major nuclear arsenals would be the civilian inhabitants not just of single cities but of scores and scores of cities, even of the planet itself. On August 6th, 70 years ago, the possibility of the apocalypse passed out of the hands of God or the gods and into human hands, which meant a new kind of history had begun whose endpoint is unknowable, though we do know that even a “modest” exchange of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan would not only devastate South Asia, but thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter also cause widespread famine on a planetary scale.

In other words, 70 years later, the apocalypse is us. Yet in the United States, the only nuclear bomb you're likely to read about is Iran’s (even though that country possesses no such weapon). For a serious discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, those more than 4,800 increasingly ill-kept weapons that could incinerate several Earth-sized planets, you need to look not to the country’s major newspapers or news programs but to comic John Oliver — or TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky. Tom

How Many Minutes to Midnight?

Hiroshima Day 2014

If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era). The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.

Day one of the NWE was marked by the “success” of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb. On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design. Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid — no mean logistical achievement — attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading “Japan has surrendered.” Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.

Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE. As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived. We can only guess how many years remain.

Some reflections on these grim prospects were offered by General Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which controls nuclear weapons and strategy. Twenty years ago, he wrote that we had so far survived the NWE “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

Reflecting on his long career in developing nuclear weapons strategies and organizing the forces to implement them efficiently, he described himself ruefully as having been “among the most avid of these keepers of the faith in nuclear weapons.” But, he continued, he had come to realize that it was now his “burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my judgment they served us extremely ill.” And he asked, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear-weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”

He termed the U.S. strategic plan of 1960 that called for an automated all-out strike on the Communist world “the single most absurd and irresponsible document I have ever reviewed in my life.” Its Soviet counterpart was probably even more insane. But it is important to bear in mind that there are competitors, not least among them the easy acceptance of extraordinary threats to survival.

Survival in the Early Cold War Years

According to received doctrine in scholarship and general intellectual discourse, the prime goal of state policy is “national security.” There is ample evidence, however, that the doctrine of national security does not encompass the security of the population. The record reveals that, for instance, the threat of instant destruction by nuclear weapons has not ranked high among the concerns of planners. That much was demonstrated early on, and remains true to the present moment.

In the early days of the NWE, the U.S. was overwhelmingly powerful and enjoyed remarkable security: it controlled the hemisphere, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the opposite sides of those oceans as well. Long before World War II, it had already become by far the richest country in the world, with incomparable advantages. Its economy boomed during the war, while other industrial societies were devastated or severely weakened. By the opening of the new era, the U.S. possessed about half of total world wealth and an even greater percentage of its manufacturing capacity.

There was, however, a potential threat: intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. That threat was discussed in the standard scholarly study of nuclear policies, carried out with access to high-level sources — Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years by McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies.

Bundy wrote that “the timely development of ballistic missiles during the Eisenhower administration is one of the best achievements of those eight years. Yet it is well to begin with a recognition that both the United States and the Soviet Union might be in much less nuclear danger today if [those] missiles had never been developed.” He then added an instructive comment: “I am aware of no serious contemporary proposal, in or out of either government, that ballistic missiles should somehow be banned by agreement.” In short, there was apparently no thought of trying to prevent the sole serious threat to the U.S., the threat of utter destruction in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Could that threat have been taken off the table? We cannot, of course, be sure, but it was hardly inconceivable. The Russians, far behind in industrial development and technological sophistication, were in a far more threatening environment. Hence, they were significantly more vulnerable to such weapons systems than the U.S. There might have been opportunities to explore these possibilities, but in the extraordinary hysteria of the day they could hardly have even been perceived. And that hysteria was indeed extraordinary. An examination of the rhetoric of central official documents of that moment like National Security Council Paper NSC-68 remains quite shocking, even discounting Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s injunction that it is necessary to be “clearer than truth.” Read More

 

The cruel cease-fire charade

So far, the diplomatic effort to end the violence in Gaza has failed miserably, with Israel on Friday rejecting a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (On Saturday Israel and Hamas agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian pause in the fighting brokered by the United Nations.)

Washington’s attempt is representative of the overall failure of American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only on this occasion the consequences can be measured in the growing pile of dead bodies and the widespread devastation that includes numerous homes, public buildings and even artillery damage to several United Nations schools sheltering Palestinian civilians.

The U.S. approach fails because it exhibits extreme partisanship in a setting where trust, credibility and reciprocity are crucial. Kerry is undoubtedly dedicated to achieving a cease-fire, just as he demonstrated for most of the past year in pushing for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet the United States exhibited its tendency toward extreme partisanship when it designated Martin Indyk, a former staff member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and former ambassador to Israel, as the U.S. special envoy to the peace talks.

The U.S. approach up to this point to achieving a cease-fire in Gaza has been undertaken in a manner that is either woefully ignorant of the real constraints or callously cynical about their relevance. This is especially clear from the attempt to garner a cease-fire by consulting only one side, Israel — the party bearing the major responsibility for causing massive casualties and damage — and leaving Hamas out in the cold. Even if this is a consequence of Hamas being treated as “a terrorist entity,” it still makes no sense. When Israel wanted to deal with Hamas in the past, it had no trouble doing so — for instance, when it arranged the prisoner exchange that led to the release of the single captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit back in 2011.

The basic facts are astounding: The U.S. relied on Egypt as the broker of a proposal it vetted, supposedly with the text delivered personally by Tony Blair to President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo, endorsed by the Netanyahu government, and then announced on July 15 via the media as a cease-fire proposal accepted by Israel, without Hamas even knowing the details. It’s a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd. Last July, then-General Sisi was the Egyptian mastermind of a coup that brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized the entire organization. The Sisi government has made no secret of its unrelenting hostility to Hamas, which it views as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It destroyed the extensive tunnel network connecting Gaza with the outside world to circumvent the punitive Israeli blockade that has been maintained since 2007. Is there any reason for Hamas to go forward with such a cease-fire arrangement? As some respected Israeli commentators have suggested, most prominently Amira Hass, the “normalization” of the occupation is what the Israeli military operation Protective Edge is all about. Hass suggests that Israel seeks a compliant Palestinian response to an occupation that has for all intents and purposes become permanent. Such periodic shows of force aim to break once and for all the will to resist, associated with Hamas and its rockets.

Even more telling, the cease-fire’s terms were communicated to Hamas via the media, making the proposal “take it or leave it.” It also ignored the reasonable conditions Hamas had posited as the basis of a cease-fire it could accept. These conditions included ending the unlawful seven-year siege of Gaza, releasing prisoners arrested in the anti-Hamas campaign prior to launching the military operation on July 8, and stopping interference with the unity government that brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority together on June 3. Kerry, by contrast, has urged restoring the cease-fire text that had been accepted by both sides in November 2012 after the previous major Israeli military attack upon Gaza.

Hamas’ chief leader, Khaled Meshaal, has been called “defiant” by Kerry because he would not go along with this tilted diplomacy. “Everyone wanted us to accept a cease-fire and then negotiate for our rights,” Meshaal said. This was tried by Hamas in 2012 and didn’t work. As soon as the violence ceased, Israel refused to follow through on the cease-fire agreement that had promised negotiations seeking an end of the blockade and an immediate expansion of Gazan fishing rights.

In the aftermath of Protective Edge is it not reasonable, even mandatory, for Hamas to demand a firm commitment to end the siege of Gaza? Israel as the occupying power has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population of an occupied people. Israel claims that its “disengagement” in 2005, involving the withdrawal of security forces and the dismantling of settlements, ended such obligations. Such a position is almost uniformly rejected in the international community, since the persistence of effective Israeli control of entry and exit, as well as air and sea, and violent incursions amounts to a shift in the form of occupation — not its end. Israel is certainly right to complain about the rockets, but it is wrong to impose an oppressive regime of collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza. More

 

Sifting through the wreckage of MH17, searching for sense amid the horror

Any journalist should hesitate before saying this, but news can be bad for you. You don’t have to agree with the analyst who reckons “news is to the mind what sugar is to the body” to see that reading of horror and foreboding hour by hour, day after day, can sap the soul.

This week ended with a double dose, administered within the space of a few hours: Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza and, more shocking because entirely unexpected, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

So in Gaza we look at the wildly lopsided death tolls – nearly 300 Palestinians and two Israelis killed these past nine days.

The different responses these events stir in those of us who are distant, and the strategies we devise to cope with them, say much about our behaviour as consumers of news. But they also go some way to determining our reaction as citizens, as constituent members of the amorphous body we call public, or even world, opinion.

As I write, 18 of the 20 most-read articles on the Guardian website are about MH17. The entry into Gaza by Israeli forces stands at number 21. It’s not hard to fathom why the Malaysian jet strikes the louder chord. As the preacher might put it, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Stated baldly, most of us will never live in Gaza, but we know it could have been us boarding that plane in Amsterdam.

Which is why there is a morbid fascination with tales of the passenger who changed flights at the last minute, thereby cheating death, or with the crew member who made the opposite move, hastily switching to MH17 at the final moment, taking a decision that would have seemed so trivial at the time but which cost him his life. When we read about the debris – the holiday guidebooks strewn over the Ukrainian countryside, the man found next to an iPhone, the boy with his seatbelt still on – our imaginations put us on that flight. Of course we have sympathy for the victims and their families. But our fear is for ourselves.

It’s quite true that if the US truly decided that Israel’s 47-year occupation of Palestinian territory was no longer acceptable, that would bring change.

The reports from Gaza stir a different feeling. When we read the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont describe the sights he saw driving around the strip on Friday morningthree Palestinian siblings killed by an Israeli artillery shell that crashed into their bedroom, a father putting the remains of his two-year-old son into a plastic shopping bag – we are shaken by a different kind of horror. It is compassion for another human being, someone in a situation utterly different to ours. We don’t worry that this might happen to us, as we now might when we contemplate an international flight over a war zone. Our reaction is directed not inward, but outward. More

There is an interesting article by Chris Hedges entitled It's NOT going to be OK on the current economic disparity which, he believes could lead to a drastic decline in democracy as states respond to social protests. The question I ask is what can be done to slow or erradicate this process? Editor