Pax Americana – Or Not Noticing American Bases

It's not that I knew nothing about U.S. military bases before I met Chalmers Johnson.

In certain ways, my idea of the good life had been strongly shaped by such a base. Admittedly, it wasn't in Germany or Japan or South Korea or some other distant land, but on Governor's Island, an Army base just off the southern tip of New York City. In the 1950s, my father ran a gas station there. On Saturday mornings, I would often accompany him to work on a ferry from downtown Manhattan and spend a dreamy suburban-style day there amid zipping Jeeps and marching troops and military kids, playing ball, wandering freely, catching cowboy or war flicks at the island's only movie house, and imagining that this was the best of all possible worlds. And yet between that moment and the moment in September 1998 when Johnson's proposal for a book to be called Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire fell into my editorial hands, I probably never gave our country's bases another thought.

In that, I was like millions of Americans who, as soldiers or civilians, had cycled through such bases at home and around the world and never considered them again. And we were hardly alone when it came to the hundreds and hundreds of foreign garrisons that made up what Johnson termed our “empire of bases.” Historians, political scientists, and journalists, among many others, paid them little mind. Our overseas garrisons were seldom discussed or debated or covered in the media in any significant way. No one in Congress challenged their existence. No president gave a speech about them. Though I hesitate to use the term, there was something like a conspiracy of silence around them — or perhaps a sense of discomfort that they even existed led everyone to act as if they didn't. And yet they were the face of this country to significant parts of the world. In their profusion and their reach, they represented a staggering reality for which there was no historical precedent. Billions and billions of dollars poured into them. Hundreds of thousands of troops and their dependents were stationed on them. It should have told us all something that they were quite so unremarked upon, but until Johnson came along, they were, in essence, not so much our little secret as a secret we kept even from ourselves. As he wrote with a certain wonder in the second book in his Blowback Trilogy, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, “The landscape of this military empire is as unfamiliar and fantastic to most Americans today as Tibet or Timbuktu were to nineteenth-century Europeans.”

Johnson broke the silence around them — repeatedly. And yet, in an era in which such bases, still being built, have played a crucial role in our various wars, conflicts, bombing and drone assassination campaigns, and other interventions in the Greater Middle East, they remain a barely acknowledged aspect of American life. Why this is so should be considered both a curiosity and a mystery. Is it that a genuine acknowledgement of the existence of a vast network of global garrisons would lead to uncomfortable conclusions about the imperial nature of this country? I'm not sure myself. That they remain largely surrounded by an accepted and acceptable silence, however, continues to be an American reality.

Thank heavens, then, that, almost five years after Chalmers Johnson's death, David Vine has produced a groundbreaking new book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, which should once again bring that empire of bases back into the national discussion. Today, in “Garrisoning the Globe,” Vine offers an overview of what it means for this country to continue to encircle the planet with such bases 24/7. Posted: 09/14/2015 By Tom Engelhardt More

 

 

Gaza reminds us of Zionism’s original sin

The morning after Lailat al-Qadr, the death toll in Gaza was approaching its first thousand.

Palestinians recover belongings from the
Khuzaa neighborhood of Khan Younis

Al-Qadr — the night before the last Friday in the holy month of Ramadan — is believed to be the night when the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. I spent this special night with friends in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah after participating in the “48K March” for Gaza.

The march began in Ramallah and went to Qalandiya checkpoint. What began as a peaceful event with families bringing their children and even babies in strollers, ended with young Palestinians with gunshot wounds being rushed in ambulances to the local hospital.

Qalandiya crossing was fortified and air-tight, and the Israeli soldiers stationed on top were shooting live ammunition at the crowd.

As the ambulances were speeding through the crowd, I couldn’t help but wonder why there is no hospital between Qalandiya and Ramallah, a good distance which includes the municipalities of Jerusalem, al-Bireh and Ramallah.

The following night I was scheduled to leave Palestine to return to the United States. But Israeli forces sealed all the roads from Ramallah to Jerusalem for the night, and they were likely to be sealed the following day as well.

At the crack of dawn, when things had quietened down, my friend Samer drove me to a checkpoint that he suspected would be open. It was open, albeit for Israelis only, and from there I made my way back to Jerusalem.

That evening, as I was preparing to leave for Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, people around me were trying to calm me down. “Don’t aggravate them, cooperate and they will be nice,” they said. “Why go through all this unnecessary inconvenience?”

They were talking about the “Smiling Gestapo,” Israeli security officers at Tel Aviv airport that go by the squeaky clean name of the Airport Security Division.

Non-cooperation and resistance

Listening to this, I was reminded of Jewish communities under the Nazi regime who believed that if they cooperated and showed they were good citizens then all would be well. But the road from cooperation to the concentration camps and then the gas chambers was a direct one.

The policies of racist discrimination and humiliation at Ben Gurion airport, and the policies of ethnic cleansing and murder of Palestinians in Gaza, emanate from the same Zionist ideology.

As we have seen over the past seven decades, cooperation and laying low do not make things ok.

Cooperation with the Israeli authorities might lead to short-term relief but it also validates Israel’s “right” to terrorize and humiliate Palestinians with our consent, “we” being all people of conscience. Whether we are Palestinian or not, the call of the hour is non-cooperation and resistance against injustice.

Today, Israel and its supporters lay the blame for the violence in Gaza on Hamas. But Israel did not start its assaults on the Gaza Strip when Hamas was established in the late 1980s. Israel began attacking Gaza when the Strip was populated with the first generation refugees in the early 1950s.

Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, are not faced with an option to resist and be killed or live in peace. They are presented with the options of being killed standing up and fighting or being killed sleeping in their beds.

“Sea of hatred”

Gaza is being punished because Gaza is a constant reminder to Israel and the world of the original sin of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the creation of a so-called Jewish state. Even though Palestinian resistance has never presented a military threat to Israel, it has always been portrayed as an existential threat to the state.

Moshe Dayan, the famed Israeli general with the eyepatch, described this in a speech in April 1956. He spoke in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, an Israeli settlement on the boundary of the Gaza Strip where Israeli tanks park each time there is a ground invasion of Gaza.

“Beyond the furrow of this border, there surges a sea of hatred and revenge,” Dayansaid then. Ironically, when six months later Israel had occupied Gaza and my father was appointed its military governor, he said that he saw “no hatred or desire for vengeance but a people eager to live and work together for a better future.”

Still, today, Israeli commanders and politicians say pretty much the same: Israel is destined to live by the sword and must strike Gaza whenever possible. Never mind the fact that Palestinians have never posed a military challenge, much less a threat to Israel.

After all, Palestinians have never possessed as much as a tank, a warship or a fighter jet, not to say a regular army.

So why the fear? Why the constant, six-decade-long campaign against Gaza? Because Palestinians in Gaza, more so than anywhere else, pose a threat to Israel’s legitimacy.

Israel is an illegitimate creation brought about by a union between racism and colonialism. The refugees who make up the majority of the population in the Gaza Strip are a constant reminder of this.

They are a reminder of the crime of ethnic cleansing upon which Israel was established. The poverty, lack of resources and lack of freedom stand in stark contrast to the abundance, freedom and power that exist in Israel and that rightfully belongs to Palestinians.

Generous offer

Back at Ben Gurion airport that night, I was told that if I cooperate and plead with the shift supervisor it would make the security screening go faster. When I declined this generous offer, I was told they “did not like my attitude.”

They proceeded to paste a sticker with the same bar code on my luggage and give me the same treatment Palestinians receive.

As I write these words, the number of Palestinians murdered by Israel in Gaza has exceeded two thousand. Ending the insufferable, brutal and racist regime that was created by the Zionists in Palestine is the call of our time.

Criticizing Palestinian resistance is unconscionable. Israel must be subjected toboycott, divestment and sanctions. Israeli diplomats must be sent home in shame. Israeli leaders, and Israeli commanders traveling abroad, must fear prosecution.

And these measures are to be combined with disobedience, non-cooperation and uncompromising resistance. This and only this will show mothers, fathers and children in Gaza that the world cares and that “never again” is more than an empty promise. More

 

Gaza: Widespread Impact of Power Plant Attack

(Jerusalem, Palestine) – The apparent Israeli shellfire that knocked out the Gaza Strip’s only electrical power plant on July 29, 2014, has worsened the humanitarian crisis for the territory’s 1.7 million people. Damaging or destroying a power plant, even if it also served a military purpose, would be an unlawful disproportionate attack under the laws of war, causing far greater civilian harm than military gain.

The shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant has had an impact on the population far beyond power outages. It has drastically curtailed the pumping of water to households and the treatment of sewage, both of which require electric power. It also caused hospitals, already straining to handle the surge of war casualties, to increase their reliance on precarious generators. And it has affected the food supply because the lack of power has shut off refrigerators and forced bakeries to reduce their bread production.

“If there were one attack that could be predicted to endanger the health and well-being of the greatest number of people in Gaza, hitting the territory’s sole electricity plant would be it,” said , deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Deliberately attacking the power plant would be a war crime.”

The spokesperson for the Energy Distribution Authority, Jamal Dardasawi, was quoted in the media as saying that Israeli tank shells hit one of Gaza Power Plant’s fuel storage tanks. The attack caused a massive explosion and a fire that damaged other parts of the facility and took much of the day to extinguish.

The plant’s shutdown cut off all power for much of the territory. For years, Gazans have been living with electricity service for only part of each day, and those who can afford fuel run private generators to provide back-up power. A week after the strike, some service was restored to most neighborhoods, but less than the limited pre-conflict levels.

Shortly after the attack was reported, Israel denied targeting the plant but said its forces might have hit it accidentally. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether Palestinian fighters were deployed in the area when the plant was hit. However, Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza, said that the al-Nusseirat area, where the plant is located, was being heavily bombed at the time of the strike. Khalil said that Gaza firefighters phoned him to say they could not approach the plant because of the ongoing attacks in the vicinity. As a result, the fire spread from the small storage tank that was initially hit to a larger one, he said.

The strike came at about 3 a.m. on a day of bombardment that was widely described as the heaviest in the first three weeks of fighting. Israeli airstrikes that day destroyed a central mosque and the home of the Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniya, and damaged government buildings and a building that housed the offices of Hamas-controlled television and radio stations. Israeli military operations that day killed about 100 Palestinians.

Israeli military operations have caused massive damage to Gaza’s infrastructure, including housing, factories, hospitals, mosques, and schools.

Under the laws of war, power plants, like airports, are considered dual-use objects – civilian objects that also benefit an armed force. As such they can be military objectives, subject to attack. However, any attack on a dual-use object must be proportionate. Attacks that can be expected to cause more harm to civilians and civilian structures than the anticipated military gain of the attack are prohibited. Expected civilian harm encompasses casualties over time as well as immediate civilian losses. Thus any attack on the Gaza Power Plant that would cause a significant shutdown would invariably be disproportionate, violating international humanitarian law.

Israel has denied attacking the power plant. Brig. Gen. Yaron Rosen, the commander of the Israeli Air Support and Helicopter Air Division, said on July 29 that Israel “has no interest” in attacking the plant. “We transfer to them the electricity, we transfer in the gas, we transfer in the food in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster,” he said. “So we attacked the power plant?” Rosen said it was possible Israel hit the power plant accidentally and that an internal investigation was under way. An August 4 CNN story on the electricity crisis stated that an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesperson had told CNN that Israeli forces were not involved in the attack.

Ribhi al-Sheikh, deputy head of the Palestine Water Authority, said the lack of electricity had idled wells – except where generators were able to provide some back-up power – as well as water treatment and desalination plants. Idling wells endangers crops that require water at the hottest time of year.

Most urban households in Gaza need electricity to pump water to rooftop tanks. Ghada Snunu, a worker for a nongovernmental organization, said on August 4 that her home in Gaza City had been without electricity since the attack on the power plant, forcing her family to buy water in jerry cans and to conserve the used household water to empty the toilets. The collapse of electricity service meant that many Gazans lacked access to the 30 liters of water that is the estimated amount needed per capita daily for drinking, cooking, hygiene and laundering, said Mahmoud Daher, head of the Gaza office of the UN World Health Organization.

Daher said that hospitals have been given priority for scarce electricity, with Shifa, the territory’s largest hospital, getting the most, at 16 hours a day. If the fuel required to run generators were to run out, or a generator to fail, a hospital could lose power.

An official at al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City told Human Rights Watch on August 7 that because of electricity interruptions:

We use a large generator for six to eight hours per day, then have to rely on three smaller ones, because the large one cannot be run full-time. If the large one goes, we don’t know how we would repair it, because of the lack of spare parts. It powers the oxygen station, the hospital’s two elevators, and the air conditioners – this amounts to 80 percent of the hospital’s total electricity consumption. When we use the smaller generators, they can only power one elevator, and none of the air conditioners, which makes it difficult for staff to work long hours in the August heat, and dangerous for patients.

Israeli forces had reportedly struck the power plant both earlier in the current fighting and in previous conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. The plant had been hit on five occasions since early July, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It closed briefly after shelling by Israeli forces on July 22 and 23, said Gisha, an Israeli nongovernmental organization. One of the strikes knocked out one of the plant’s generator sets, said Khalil of the Energy Authority.

He said repairing it and the storage tanks will take more than a year, but the plant can make temporary repairs that will enable it to produce 50 megawatts sooner, though at a higher cost. The power plant, in central Gaza, produced about 60 megawatts of power before the current fighting began, the deputy minister of the Palestine Energy Authority in Ramallah, Abdelkarim Abdeen, told Human Rights Watch.

Khalil said that about two days before the July 29 strike, Israeli authorities had passed a message to him via the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that the power plant was not a target and that its workers could move safely within the compound. No workers were hurt in the strike, he said.

In addition to the output from the plant, Gaza normally gets 120 megawatts of power from Israel via 10 transmission lines and 28 from Egypt via 3 lines. However, the recent fighting damaged 8 of the Israeli lines and 2 of the Egyptian lines, reducing the supply coming from Israel to 24 megawatts and from Egypt to 18 megawatts as of August 4, Abdeen said.

Damage to the Israeli and Egyptian power lines and then the attack on the power plant cut Gaza’s electricity supply to about 20 percent of the 200 megawatts it had before the conflict began. Gaza’s electricity needs are estimated at 350 megawatts, so power rationing and rolling blackouts were the norm even before war damage slashed the amount of power available.

Since the August 5 ceasefire, electricity power supplies have increased as repair crews have restored eight of the Israeli and all three of the Egyptian lines. Before the ceasefire, conflict conditions had made it hazardous for technicians to perform the necessary repairs, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. As of August 7, households were reportedly getting between three and seven hours of electricity, depending on their location in the Gaza Strip.

Eight years ago, on June 28, 2006, Israeli missiles hit the plant eight times, knocking out its transformers, three days after Hamas fighters in Gaza captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel then delayed or blocked the delivery of material needed to fully repair the Gaza power plant. Then, in 2008, Israel cut its deliveries of electricity and fuel to Gaza for the declared purpose of pressuring armed groups to end their rocket attacks against civilians in Israel, a form of collective punishment in violation of the laws of war.

Israel has attacked power plants in hostilities outside of Gaza. During its armed conflict with Hezbollah, Israel deliberately bombed electricity plants in southern Lebanon, including on June 24, 1999, February 8, 2000, and May 5, 2000. The day after the 1999 attack, Israeli Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz said at a news conference that the Lebanese infrastructure targets “had been selected a long time ago,” and that the Israeli “government decided to carry out an attack on Lebanese infrastructure and not only on Hezbollah objectives…to stress that all power brokers in Lebanon who support Hezbollah’s murderous activity are liable to attack.” The attacks on electricity plants violated the laws of war prohibition against disproportionate attacks because their expected harm to the civilian population was greater than the military gain achieved.

The laws of war obligate countries responsible for violations to make full reparations for the loss or injury caused. This would involve at a minimum providing materials and assistance to permit the prompt restoration of the power plant to its pre-war capacity. Even while fighting continues, Israel should ensure humanitarian agencies have access to restore destroyed power lines, given their crucial humanitarian impact on the civilian population 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