A MUST READ: A Thorn in the Side of the U.S. Military in Haiti

Watch the U.S. media and its coverage of the crisis in Haiti, and you get the impression that Washington is a benevolent power doing its utmost to help with emergency relief in the Caribbean island nation. But tune into al-Jazeera English or South American news network Telesur and you come away with a very different view. I was particularly struck by one hard hitting al-Jazeera report posted on You Tube which serves as a fitting antidote to the usual mainstream fare. The report is highly critical of the U.S., which according to the reporter has focused most of its energy on fostering stability and putting boots on the ground as opposed to rebuilding Haitian society.

It’s not the first time that al-Jazeera has taken on the U.S. military. Indeed, the network fell afoul of American authorities as long as seven years ago during the invasion of Iraq. A news organization comprised of many editors, journalists, presenters and technical staff who had formerly worked with the BBC in London, al-Jazeera broadcast shockingly graphic pictures of dead and captured American soldiers.

When the network aired footage of the captured U.S. soldiers, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused al-Jazeera of violating the Geneva conventions. The network, however, was unrepentant. “Look who’s talking about international law and regulations,” said spokesperson Jihad Ballout. “We didn’t make the pictures – the pictures are there. It’s a facet of the war. Our duty is to show the war from all angles,” he added.

Yosri Fouda, al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in London, chimed in. “I can see why American and British politicians and military leaders don’t like us showing these pictures,” he remarked. “They show a side of the war that they don’t want projected because it may affect public opinion in their country negatively. In these things, the western media is highly sanitized. You are not seeing what war, this war, is actually like.”

During the short-lived war, al-Jazeera had correspondents posted around Iraq. While the U.S. mainstream media encouraged its own narrative of advancing and triumphant coalition forces, al-Jazeera broadcast horrific images of Iraqi victims of coalition bombing campaigns. One showed the head of a young child that had been split apart, reportedly in a coalition assault on Basra.

Perhaps, the U.S. military was literally gunning for al-Jazeera as a result of the network’s controversial news coverage. During an American air raid and artillery barrage on Baghdad, U.S. forces killed at least three journalists including an al-Jazeera correspondent, Tariq Ayoub. The building was hit by two air-to-surface missiles. At the time, the reporter was standing on the roof of al-Jazeera’s station doing a live broadcast.

U.S. military officials said they regretted the deaths of the journalists and claimed they did not know every place that journalists were operating. Al-Jazeera, however, declared that it had previously informed the Pentagon of the location of its Baghdad office. In fact, in a letter to the Pentagon, the Middle Eastern network gave the exact coordinates of its building.

It wasn’t the first time that al-Jazeera had suffered at the hands of the U.S. military. During the invasion of Afghanistan, the network’s Kabul office was destroyed by U.S. “smart” bombs two hours before the Northern Alliance took over the city. According to one report, President Bush may have even suggested that al-Jazeera offices in Qatar be bombed during a meeting with then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Though al-Jazeera provided critical coverage of the U.S. military, the network has never become a mouthpiece for Arab regimes in the Middle East. Even as many Arabic TV stations (including Iraq’s before the invasion) referred to the U.S. military as “forces of aggression,” al-Jazeera opted for “invading forces.” What’s more, al-Jazeera conducted long interviews with Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and even Ariel Sharon.

In addition, the network has gotten on the wrong side of several Arab governments and reporters have been banned or harassed in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Al-Jazeera was criticized by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain reportedly accused the network of being pro-Zionist. As a result of the network’s impartiality and independence, many Arabs have become subscribers as they believe al-Jazeera sees the world as they do.
In the wake of the tragedy in Haiti, al-Jazeera is now bringing its critical coverage to bear in the Caribbean. While the U.S. military operating in the island nation may not like it, commanders will have to put up with the same kind of close media scrutiny they were placed under in the Middle East. For the U.S. military however, the headache now runs deeper. In addition to al-Jazeera, commanders must now contend with Venezuelan media and Telesur.

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Like al-Jazeera, which receives state funding from Qatar’s government, Telesur or Television of the South also receives government support, specifically from leftist Latin American and Caribbean governments including Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. And, similarly to al-Jazeera, Telesur is a media enterprise designed to compete with traditional U.S. outlets such as CNN.

When Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez helped to found Telesur in 2005 as an affiliate of state TV Venezolana de Televisión, U.S. conservatives grew concerned. Connie Mack, a Republican Congressman from Florida, remarked that the new network was “patterned after al-Jazeera,” and threatened to spread anti-U.S. ideas across Latin America.

When Telesur announced a content-sharing agreement with al-Jazeera in 2006, Mack went ballistic and declared that the decision was designed to create a “global television network for terrorists.” Adding to conservatives’ ire, Telesur signed an agreement with al-Jazeera whereby Latin personnel would receive training at the hands of the Middle Eastern network.
If al-Jazeera’s trial by fire was Iraq, the crucial test for Telesur was Honduras in 2009. In the wake of the right wing coup d’etat which deposed democratically elected president José Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran army cut off Telesur’s local broadcasts. However, the network’s signal was still available on the internet and a local radio station occasionally picked up Telesur audio.

Adriana Sivori, Telesur’s correspondent in Tegucigalpa, was in her hotel room speaking on the telephone to her network when 10 soldiers arrived with rifles drawn. The men unplugged Telesur’s editing equipment in an effort to halt the network’s coverage of protests in support of ousted president Zelaya.

When a soldier lightly slapped Sivori’s hand so she would hang up, the journalist grew alarmed. “They’re taking us prisoner at gunpoint,” she remarked. Sivori, along with producer María José Díaz and cameraman Larry Sánchez, were taken to an immigration office in a military caravan. There, the authorities beat them and demanded to see their Honduran visas. Shortly later, the journalists were released and the authorities warned Telesur journalists to cease transmitting images in support of Zelaya or face further detention. Defiantly however, Telesur continued to throw a lot of resources at the Honduras story. Indeed, at times during the first week after the coup Telesur was the only channel with a live feed. In a media scoop, Telesur even broadcast a live telephone interview with Zelaya from his Venezuelan plane when the ousted leader attempted to return to Tegucigalpa.

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To be sure, Telesur’s visibility increased as a result of its ground breaking Honduras coverage. However, what has given Telesur most credibility is the station’s willingness to take on other controversial topics, some of which have rattled left-leaning South American governments. One of those issues is Haiti.

Like al-Jazeera, which has pursued independent journalism in the Middle East, Telesur went into Haiti and took a no-holds-barred approach. According to station manager Aram Aharonian, who I interviewed for my book Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008), Telesur’s Haiti coverage proved controversial with the Chilean, Argentine, and Uruguayan governments.

One of the first stories that Telesur broadcast from the island nation concerned MINUSTAH, the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti. In the report, Haitians said that Latin American peace keeping soldiers deployed to Haiti were repressing the people. The reporting ruffled feathers and “some officials in various countries” called Aharonian to protest the coverage.

Now, in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, Telesur has joined al-Jazeera in providing critical coverage of events. Moving on from the MINUSTAH mission, Telesur has focused in laser-like on United States’ misplaced priorities in the Caribbean island nation. While most Americans watch the mainstream media and bask in a wave of self-congratulation, Telesur has painted a darker picture of the U.S. response.

In one report for example, Telesur focused on U.S. policy towards Haitian migrants. According to the story, U.S. officials have drawn up plans to house the migrants at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo instead of transferring them to the United States. Meanwhile, U.S. naval vessels including aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson are prepared to intercept Haitian boats and repatriate the desperately needy if necessary.

In another story, Telesur reported on European Union unhappiness about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. According to the report, the EU seeks more relief coordination and less of a foreign military presence in Haiti. Reed Lindsay, Telesur’s correspondent in Haiti, remarks that it is the U.S. military which decides who goes in and out of the Port-au-Prince airport and what kinds of humanitarian aid gets through. According to Telesur reports, EU concerns are echoed by many Latin American governments who fear that the U.S. is using the crisis in Haiti to launch a military occupation.

Could the U.S. military be running out of patience with foreign media reporting, which has proven much less deferential to Washington when it comes to Haiti coverage? One recent report by Cuba’s Prensa Latina is worth noting. According to the story, U.S. marines recently barred Venezolana de Televisión journalists from entering Haitian hospitals. At Haiti’s central hospital, Haitians seeking to help their loved ones inside were reportedly mistreated. Those who tried to bring water and food to their relatives were unable to enter the hospital, as the marines stopped them from entering the facilities.

Al-Jazeera has always proven to be a thorn in the side of the U.S. military. Now, Washington must also contend with rising star Telesur. In the coming days, as the relief effort proceeds in Haiti, relations between the Pentagon and these new media outlets could prove testy.

Ref: counterpunch

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of the upcoming No Rain In the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects The Entire Planet (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2010). Visit his website, senorchichero.

GAZA: ONE YEAR ON: ‘Israel resembles a failed state’

One year has passed since the savage Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, but for the people there time might as well have stood still.

Since Palestinians in Gaza buried their loved ones – more than 1,400 people, almost 400 of them children – there has been little healing and virtually no reconstruction.

According to international aid agencies, only 41 trucks of building supplies have been allowed into Gaza during the year.

Promises of billions made at a donors’ conference in Egypt last March attended by luminaries of the so-called “international community” and the Middle East peace process industry are unfulfilled, and the Israeli siege, supported by the US, the European Union, Arab states, and tacitly by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, continues.

Policy of destruction

Amid the endless, horrifying statistics a few stand out: Of Gaza’s 640 schools, 18 were completely destroyed and 280 damaged in Israeli attacks. Two-hundred-and-fifty students and 15 teachers were killed.

Of 122 health facilities assessed by the World Health Organization, 48 per cent were damaged or destroyed.

in depth

Ninety per cent of households in Gaza still experience power cuts for 4 to 8 hours per day due to Israeli attacks on the power grid and degradation caused by the blockade.

Forty-six per cent of Gaza’s once productive agricultural land is out of use due to Israeli damage to farms and Israeli-declared free fire zones. Gaza’s exports of more than 130,000 tonnes per year of tomatoes, flowers, strawberries and other fruit have fallen to zero.

That “much of Gaza still lies in ruins,” a coalition of international aid agencies stated recently, “is not an accident; it is a matter of policy”.

This policy has been clear all along and it has nothing to do with Israeli “security”.

Destroying resistance

From June 19, 2008, to November 4, 2008, calm prevailed between Israel and Gaza, as Hamas adhered strictly – as even Israel has acknowledged – to a negotiated ceasefire.

That ceasefire collapsed when Israel launched a surprise attack on Gaza killing six people, after which Hamas and other resistance factions retaliated.

Even so, Palestinian factions were still willing to renew the ceasefire, but it was Israel that refused, choosing instead to launch a premeditated, systematic attack on the foundations of civilised life in the Gaza Strip.

Author says the war aimed to erode support for Hamas but failed to do so [GALLO/GETTY]

Operation Cast Lead, as Israel dubbed it, was an attempt to destroy once and for all Palestinian resistance in general, and Hamas in particular, which had won the 2006 election and survived the blockade and numerous US-sponsored attempts to undermine and overthrow it in cooperation with US-backed Palestinian militias.

Like the murderous sanctions on Iraq throughout the 1990s, the blockade of Gaza was calculated to deprive civilians of basic necessities, rights and dignity in the hope that their suffering might force their leadership to surrender or collapse.

In many respects things may seem more dire than a year ago.

Barack Obama, the US president, whom many hoped would change the vicious anti-Palestinian policies of his predecessor, George Bush, has instead entrenched them as even the pretense of a serious peace effort has vanished.

According to media reports, the US Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in building an underground wall on its border with Gaza to block the tunnels which act as a lifeline for the besieged territory [resources and efforts that ought to go into rebuilding still hurricane-devastated New Orleans], and American weapons continue to flow to West Bank militias engaged in a US- and Israeli-sponsored civil war against Hamas and anyone else who might resist Israeli occupation and colonisation.

Shifting public opinion

These facts are inescapable and bleak.

However, to focus on them alone would be to miss a much more dynamic situation that suggests Israel’s power and impunity are not as invulnerable as they appear from this snapshot.

A year after Israel’s attack and after more than two-and-a-half years of blockade, the Palestinian people in Gaza have not surrendered. Instead they have offered the world lessons in steadfastness and dignity, even at an appalling, unimaginable cost.

It is true that the European Union leaders who came to occupied Jerusalem last January to publicly embrace Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli prime minister, – while white phosphorus seared the flesh of Gazan children and bodies lay under the rubble – still cower before their respective Israel lobbies, as do American and Canadian politicians.
But the shift in public opinion is palpable as Israel’s own actions transform it into a pariah whose driving forces are not the liberal democratic values with which it claims to identify, but ultra-nationalism, racism, religious fanaticism, settler-colonialism and a Jewish supremacist order maintained by frequent massacres.

The universalist cause of justice and liberation for Palestinians is gaining adherents and momentum especially among the young.

I witnessed it, for example, among Malaysian students I met at a Palestine solidarity conference held by the Union of NGOs of The Islamic World in Istanbul last May.

And again in November, as hundreds of student organisers from across the US and Canada converged to plan their participation in the global Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions modeled on the successful struggle against South African apartheid in the 1980s.

‘Bankrupt’ state

This week, thousands of people from dozens of countries are attempting to reach Gaza to break the siege and march alongside Palestinians who have been organising inside the territory.

Each of the individuals traveling with the Gaza Freedom March, Viva Palestina, or other delegations represents perhaps hundreds of others who could not make the journey in person, and who are marking the event with demonstrations and commemorations, visits to their elected officials, and media campaigns.

Against this flowering of activism, Zionism is struggling to rejuvenate its dwindling base of support.

Multi-million dollar programmes aimed at recruiting and Zionising young American Jews are struggling to compete against organisations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, which run not on money but principled commitment to human equality.

Increasingly, we see that Israel’s hasbara [propaganda] efforts have no positive message, offer no plausible case for maintaining a status quo of unspeakable repression and violence, and rely instead on racist demonisation and dehumanisation of Arabs and Muslims to justify Israel’s actions and even its very existence.

Faced with growing global recognition and support for the courageous non-violent struggle against continued land theft in the West Bank, Israel is escalating its violence and kidnapping of leaders of the movement in Bil’in and other villages [Muhammad Othman, Jamal Juma and Abdallah Abu Rahmeh are among the leaders of this movement recently arrested].

Travel fears

In acting this way, Israel increasingly resembles a bankrupt failed state, not a regime confident about its legitimacy and longevity.

And despite the failed peace process industry’s efforts to ridicule, suppress and marginalise it, there is a growing debate among Palestinians and even among Israelis about a shared future in Palestine/Israel based on equality and decolonisation, rather than ethno-national segregation and forced repartition.

Last, but certainly not least, in the shadow of the Goldstone report, Israeli leaders travel around the world fearing arrest for their crimes.

For now, they can rely on the impunity that high-level international complicity and their inertial power and influence still afford them.

But the question for the real international community – made up of people and movements – is whether we want to continue to see the still very incomplete system of international law and justice painstakingly built since the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi holocaust dismantled and corrupted all for the sake of one rogue state.

What we have done in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the rest of Palestine is not yet enough. But our movement is growing, it cannot be stopped, and we will reach our destination.

Ref: Al jazeera

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He will be among more than 1,300 people from 42 countries traveling to Gaza with the Gaza Freedom March this week.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Will Israel be brought to book? (justice for the western supported colonialists?)

The evidence of war crimes in Gaza is a challenge to universal justice: will western-backed perpetrators ever stand trial?

Evidence of the scale of Israel’s war crimes in its January onslaught on Gaza is becoming unanswerable. Clancy Chassay’s three films investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip, released by the Guardian today, include important new accounts of the flagrant breaches of the laws of war that marked the three-week campaign – now estimated to have left at least 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead.

The films provide compelling testimony of Israel’s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.

Naturally, the Israeli occupation forces’ spokesperson insists to Chassay that they make every effort to avoid killing civilians and denies using human shields or targeting medical workers – while at the same time explaining that medics in war zones “take the risk upon themselves”. By banning journalists from entering Gaza during its punitive devastation of the strip, the Israeli government avoided independent investigations of the stream of war crimes accusations while the attack was going on.

But now journalists and human rights organisations are back inside, doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.

It’s not as if Clancy’s reports are unique or uncorroborated by other evidence. Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January. As one explained: “The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way“.

They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent“, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza. In the case of Israel, the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.


Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently, any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment now faced by Sudan’s leaders over Darfur. Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel’s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza, the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?

Ref: Guaridan