Roger Waters on Why More Artists Don’t Speak Out Against Israel: They’re Terrified – WRITTEN BY RICHARD EDMONDSON

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By Richard Edmondson

Have you ever wondered why more musical artists don’t speak out on the occupation of Palestine? This is actually a question put recently by a journalist to someone who could be considered an expert on the matter–Roger Waters.

His answer? To state it bluntly, “They’re scared shitless.”

More than a quarter of a century ago, black South Africans were waging a struggle against apartheid–and there was no shortage of western musicians expressing open solidarity with them–not only with words, but even in their music. In 1980, British rocker Peter Gabriel made an overnight folk hero out of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, while in 1985 musician Steven Van Zandt enlisted a host of famous entertainers in his musical production, “Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid.” Those who participated in the project included Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed and many others (click here for the full list). All expressed the same thing: they would honor a boycott and refuse to perform in South Africa.

The message these artists helped to transmit was that while South Africans were fighting a ruthless and brutal government, a good portion of the world was with them. By contrast, the Palestinians, with the exception of Waters and a few others, have had to go it alone.

“The only response to BDS is that it is anti-Semitic,” Waters told The Independent. “I know this because I’ve been accused of being a Nazi and an anti-Semite for the past 10 years.” He added:

“My industry has been particularly recalcitrant in even raising a voice [against Israel]. There’s me and Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Manic Street Preachers, one or two others, but there’s nobody in the United States where I live. I’ve talked to a lot of them, and they are scared s***less.

“If they say something in public they will no longer have a career. They will be destroyed. I’m hoping to encourage some of them to stop being frightened and to stand up and be counted, because we need them. We need them desperately in this conversation in the same way we needed musicians to join protesters over Vietnam.”

Especially interesting is the bit about musicians’ fears of having their careers destroyed–and there is evidence to substantiate what the former Pink Floyd bassist says on the matter. In 2014, singer Rihanna tweeted the hashtag #Free Palestine. The tweet was later removed, and a spokesperson for the singer said it had been posted by accident, however, as the TMZ celebrity gossip website commented, the explanation is “curious” because “in order to tweet, someone would either have to type the message or cut and paste it, and then click the ‘Tweet’ button.”

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Of course, it isn’t only musical artists. Sports stars, too, for all their valor in the contest arena, seem to suffer from a lack of nerve when it comes to speaking out on the conflict in the Middle East as well. Like the singer Rihanna, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard got in trouble with a pro-Palestine tweet. The tweet prompted a backlash from the Zionist Organization of America and was hastily removed, the athlete following up the deletion with not one, but twofollow-up tweets in which he apologized profusely.

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Both Howard and Rihanna posted their tweets in the summer of 2014, both apparently prompted by Israel’s murderous carnage in Gaza. And both probably had good reason to fear, or we could presume at least that certainly Howard did. Leslie Alexander, owner of the Houston Rockets, is Jewish.

Waters, of course, seems to be made of sterner stuff. Over the past ten years he has faced a tide of cacophonous criticism, and clearly today is on the blacklist of the Simon Wiesenthal Center as well as a number of other organizations. Oddly, though, it doesn’t seem to have eroded his fan base much. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned in that for other musicians. The Independent article comments on the irony of it all:

Waters expected to be shouted down by critics, but it is the Nazi accusations that he considers the most absurd, especially given that his father, Lt Eric Waters of the 8th Royal Fusilliers, died aged 31 fighting the Nazis at Anzio, Italy, in early 1944. His body was never found but his name is commemorated at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Monte Cassino.

The pain of not knowing his father, who was killed when Waters was five months old, influenced some of Pink Floyd’s most famous songs.

Waters went on to say:

“I have veterans coming to all my shows and meet them at half time. At a gig in 2013, one veteran came up to me, took my hand, wouldn’t let go and looked me in the eye… I can hardly tell you this now without welling up. He said: ‘Your father would have been proud of you.’

“My father died fighting the Nazis, my mother [a strong CND and Labour supporter] devoted her life to doing everything she could to create a more humane world.”

Contrast the hastily-removed tweets by Rihanna and Howard with the list of some 300 people who signed on to a letter of support for Israel. This too, like the tweets, came out in 2014, and the signatories include a number of big-name celebrities–Sylvester Stallone, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, Ziggy Marley, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lon Lovitz, Kelsey Grammer and many others. Posted in 2014, the letter is still online today. Obviously none of those who signed on were too worried about any setbacks for their careers.

The letter was the project of Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), a group that seems to have germinated out of the pro-Israel Stand With Us organization, and whose domain name reportedly was registered in 2010 with SWU founder and executive director Roz Rothestein listed as contact. In November 2014, SWU received a grant of one million shekels (approximately $254,000) from the Israeli government, money designated for the setting up of “interactive media war rooms” from which students would be paid to post comments favorable to Israel on the Internet.

As for SWU’s offshoot, the CCFP describes itself as “dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel,” and it seems obsessed, almost literally, with recruiting as many performers to come to the apartheid paradise as possible.

“Robbie Williams is coming to Israel!” reads a post on its Facebook page from October 2014. “Robbie is the best selling solo artist in the United Kingdom and the best selling non-Latino artist in Latin America. He’s performing in Tel Aviv next year!”

Not surprisingly, the group currently is fixated upon Jennifer Lopez. “ACTION ALERT,” reads a post from February 12 this year. “Jennifer Lopez is planning a performance in Tel Aviv this summer, and has been receiving an onslaught of negative comments calling her to cancel.” The post goes on to encourage Israel supporters to post “messages of love and support” to Lopez on her Facebook and Twitter pages.

Recruiting artists to perform in Israel while promulgating messages of “love and support”  seems in fact to be CCFP’s chosen métier, and you can go to the group’shome page and view a video featuring clips of a number of artists who have crossed the boycott line and performed there. “Music speaks its mind and knows no borders,” proclaims the video. Ironically, one of the artists featured is Rihanna, who performed in the Jewish state in 2013 and who is seen describing her visit to Jerusalem as “an amazing, amazing experience.”

Theoretically, Roger Waters could also have been featured, for yes, he did indeed perform in Israel, in 2006–and  the experience seems to have been a watershed moment for him:

A trip to Israel in 2006, where Waters had planned to play a gig in Tel Aviv and the end of the European leg of his Dark Side of the Moon Live tour, transformed his view of the Middle East.

After speaking to Palestinian artists as well as Israeli anti-government protesters, who called on him to use the gig as a platform to speak out against Israeli foreign policy, he switched the concert from Hayarkon Park to Neve Shalom, an Arab/Israeli peace village. But as the tickets had already been sold, the audience was still entirely Jewish Israeli.

Waters said: “It was very strange performing to a completely segregated audience because there were no Palestinians there. There were just 60,000 Jewish Israelis, who could not have been more welcoming, nice and loyal to Pink Floyd. Nevertheless, it left an uncomfortable feeling.”

He travelled around the West Bank towns of Jenin, Ramallah and Nablus, seeing how the two communities were segregated – and also visited the security barrier separating Israel from the Occupied Territories spraying a signed message from his seminal work “Another Brick in the Wall”, which read: “We don’t need no thought control”.

Waters soon joined the BDS movement, inviting opprobrium and condemnation for daring to do what so few musicians are prepared to. “I’m glad I did it,” he says, as people in Israeli are “treated very unequally depending on their ethnicity. So Palestinian Israeli citizens and the Bedouin are treated completely different from Jewish citizens. There are 40 to 50 different laws depending on whether you are or you are not Jewish.”

Many Zionist supporters, including the CCFP, argue that the apartheid label doesn’t apply to Israel. Another favorite argument is that boycotting will not lead to peace. But given a number of factors–including the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank, along with the enormous toll on Palestinian lives compared to the tiny number of Israeli soldiers prosecuted for gunning them down–then clearly the apartheid duck quacks like one, and is indeed a duck. This is irregardless of any small number of Palestinians who may get elected to the Knessett.


The Apartheid Duck in Action…

February 14, 2016–Hebron


The other argument–that a boycott of Israel will not lead to peace–is equally faulty, for of course we have the historic precedent of South Africa. Does anyone really believe that South African apartheid would have come to an end absent the international boycott that was waged against it? Possibly it would have, but it would have taken much longer.

And of course, a major part of that boycott was the contribution made by artists and performers. Here is a video of Peter Gabriel performing his classic song interspersed with images from the 1988 film, “Cry Freedom,” which starred Hollywood actor Denzel Washington in the role of Biko:

And here is the Sun City production, featuring a conglomeration of singers and musicians performing as Artists United Against Apartheid:

A lot of anger against apartheid expressed in that video. Where is all that anger now? Would that the Palestinians had one-tenth as much support from the entertainment world that the South Africans had. The fact that they don’t makes their plight, if anything, doubly tragic.

Interestingly, four of the artists who participated in the Sun City project back in the 1980s went on to perform in Israel in more recent times. They are: Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed. If there was a Grammy Award for hypocrisy, all four would be deserving of it. The Rolling Stones’ concert in Israel took place on June 4, 2014–one month before the onset of the Gaza slaughter that killed at least 2,100 people. “Hag Shavuot Sameah [Happy Shavuot Holiday], Israel!” Mick Jagger greeted the audience from the stage.

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There is actually substantial evidence that Israel may be guilty of an even worse crime than apartheid. The text of the UN-adopted Convention on Genocide can be found here, and includes–under Article II–a five-point definition of what constitutes genocide. Parties carrying out any one of the five acts described are presumed guilty of the offense. By my reading, at least four, and possibly all five, are applicable in the case of certain Israeli officials.

Peter Gabriel, who did such an eloquent job calling public attention to South African apartheid back in the 80s, is still performing today. In fact he is planning a joint tour–with Sting–that will take place in the summer of 2016. Details of the tour and the dates can be found here. Thankfully no concerts in Israel are listed. But is it possible Sting and Gabriel could be induced to speak out on the occupation of Palestine at some point during the course of their tour?

It seems to me that veteran artists whose names are already firmly established with the public run far less risk  speaking out than do those whose careers are still in their early stages–and of course, both Gabriel and Sting have a lengthy history of activism on social justice issues.

Would it be worthwhile for the public to appeal to the two veteran performers to issue a simple call for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank? Perhaps it would. You never know. At any rate, Gabriel’s Facebook page is here, Sting’s ishere. Give it a try. It couldn’t hurt.

The battle-hardened Waters, of course, is a veteran as well–in the music business as well as in the war of words with Israeli hasbarists.

“I can tell you what Mark Regev [Israel’s ambassador to the UK] is going to say about any situation,” he told The Independent. “He is going to say: ‘What would you do if your children were being slaughtered by terrorists? Do we not have a right to defend ourselves?’ And that is the mantra.”

Of course a different way of looking at it is, ‘what would you do if the city or town you live in were blockaded or hemmed in by walls? What if your children were subjected to extrajudicial executions or periodic missile attacks or even ground incursions? Would you not be tempted on occasion to fight back?’

Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law. In the course of carrying out its settlement enterprise, it inflicts enormous levels of violence on a civilian population–and then turns around and cries “foul” when the victims of that violence take up a knife or some other weapon with which to fight back.

The obvious starting point for a resolution to this conflict is for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, and cease its blockade of Gaza. Since the Zionist state is unwilling to do this on its own, and since nations have proven themselves unwilling to pressure it into compliance with international law, that leaves the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement as the best hope for achieving peace.

I know it’s daunting. I know it’s risky. But artists with a conscience need to take a deep breath, swallow–and begin to speak out. In the absence of artistic expression, what we are left with is a suffocating stillness in which the only sound that can be heard is that of hasbara.

The Incredible Shrinking Turnbull – WRITTEN BY BOB ELLIS

TURNBULLSHITLIES

Poem by ANDREA BUNTING

 

It is likely, though not certain, that Malcolm Turnbull will lose his seat. He has let down his people, time and again, and surrendered on every issue (gays, climate, GST) to the Abbott people. He has, bizarrely, come out against cheaper houses for young people. Gay people are very angy with him, as the smh this morning attests. His especial constituency, the ‘doctor’s wives’, must be appalled.

His Labor opponent, Even Hughes, has the heft, clout, money and charm to bring him down. A patron of the arts like Turnbull (he ran for years the Ray Hughes Gallery) he is a young, good-looking lawyer with a young family as Turnbull was in 1986. He is articate, educated and wily and could defeat him in any debate.

What has gone wrong with Malcolm’s presentation? He suffers from bis talents, I think. He gives excellent off-the- cuff speeches launching books and introducing guests of honour, but many of his big, national speeches are similarly unprepared, loose and idle and undercooked. And the ‘Sorensen sound’ is lacking, as it was not when Abbott spoke of the threat of Isis, or Howard of maintaining our borders. He is genial, reasonable, unmelodramatic, amiable, unlike, say, Obama. He comes across as a bit…municipal. As though he doesn’t take the big things all that seriously. Which he doesn’t, of course.

A good campaign from Hughes, and he’s capable of one, would do for him.

And even the rumour of a good campaign really hurt him.

How It Was: McCarthy’s Spotlight

 

Spotlight is unlike any other American film. A reporter-investigation story, it never shows us the adversaries. There is a female journalist (Rachel McAdams) but no love interest. There is a war on the Catholic Church in Boston — as there was in The Verdict — but we do not see or overhear their lawyers, conniving. We do not see or confront any of the eighty villains, pederastic priests long protected by the church hierarchy. None of the reporters have personal problems or drinking problems. They do their jobs. It has a. crowded, European feel. Scores of characters arrive, go away and do do not come back. And eventually the world is changed.

If it has a central character, it ilx one who is hardly ever on screen. He is Baron, the new, Jewish editor, prepared to take on the Boston Catholic cover-up as none before him. Played by Liev Schreiber, an impactful presence, he dominates from off-screen. More to come.

TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM BOB ELLIS

CLICK ON THIS LINK   = http://www.ellistabletalk.com/

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Part III – Voices from Syria: Assad is Essential for Syria’s Unity & Security – WRITTEN BY VANESSA BEELEY

Andrew Portrait

Rev. Andrew Ashdown
21st Century Wire

“Syria’s triumph over terrorism and maintaining the secular identity of Syria is what will bring back a good relationship with Europe.  It will also solve the problem of refugees and it will restore peace. Nothing can be achieved without getting rid of terrorism.” ~ Dr Ali Haider

 

Following my meeting with the Minister of Tourism, I was taken to meet with Dr. Ali Haider, the Minister of Reconciliation.

Dr. Haider is a wise and gentle man who is passionate about the need for reconciliation, peace and reform.  He is leader of an internal opposition party, whilst also being in the Government, as Minister of Reconciliation.

In previous visits to Syria, I have seen some of the profound work achieved by local faith leaders working ‘on the ground’ amongst all parties in the midst of conflict.   Several have lost their lives, including a dear Sheikh with whom I spent time in 2014.  The Ministry for Reconciliation has been responsible for a significant number of ceasefires around the country, and for the rehabilitation of fighters into their communities, or their peaceful removal if they choose not to stay.

I don’t shy away from difficult questions and had a particularly fascinating conversation with the Minister for Reconciliation on the issue of reconciliation initiatives throughout Syria and sieges. The following is a transcription of the recording I made of our conversation [with his permission].  I am not commenting on the truth or otherwise of what is said, but this is a voice and a perspective which should be heard:

I first asked the Minister if he could tell me something about the situation in Aleppo.  He replied:

“The truth in Aleppo is completely the opposite of what is being reported in the west. The besieged part of the city is in fact the one loyal to the Syrian Government, and this part was under siege for a very long time.  The army had to fight many battles to secure an alternative road in order to bring food and other supplies into that part of the city.

 [Most of the population remaining in Aleppo are in the Government-controlled area of the city.  Most of the population from the remaining part of the city have already fled, mainly to government-controlled areas in Syria].

What is happening now in Aleppo is that the families of the terrorists are fleeing, and there is an attempt to create a counter propaganda in order to terrify people and make them leave their houses so that they can say that civilians are fleeing the bombing of Syrian and Russian air forces.

The Syrian army in all the battles they fought were aiming to break the siege of many areas. When the Syrian army managed to break the siege of Nubol and Zahara, Aleppo became a bit safer. The army is trying to make the terrorists get away as much as possible from Aleppo. Till now the Syrian army hadn’t entered into any area inhabited by civilians and hadn’t made any humanitarian mistakes. In the media they speak about people fleeing their houses and they never spoke about massacres committed by the Syrian army because there were not any.”

Of course we have heard much about the situation in Madaya, and the blockade by the Syrian Government, I asked Dr Haider for his opinion:

“The agreement that was known as the Zabadani- Madaya and Kfraya and Foua agreement  is nine months old.

 [Kafraya and Foua are two Shia villages under US NATO backed terrorist siege, partially since 2011 and full siege since March 2015.]  

The first phase of the agreement was that  the terrorists would leave from Zabadani to Beirut in exchange for civilians leaving from Kfraya and Foua into Turkey. 

The final exchange of people would take place in the airports of Beirut and Ankara.  It was the Turkish government that delayed the first phase for more than 8 months, and that is why the suffering that took place in Kfraya and Foua and Madaya and Zabadani.  It was the Turkish Government that delayed the implementation of the agreement.

Despite all of this, the Syrian government in October 2015, delivered food aid which the IRCR acknowledged would be sufficient for the people in Madaya for many months.  But the armed group called Al-Shamia Front took control of the distribution of the food items.  The Shamia Front Head Quarter is in Idlib and their references are in Turkey. The food items were stored in two main warehouses.  One of the warehouses was set in the house of one of the leaders of the front his name is Ziad Darwish;   and the second one was set in a house opposite to a medical point in Madaya.  It is they who restricted the aid to the residents.  And no one was allowed by the fighters to deliver any aids into Kfraya and Foua.

Later on, when we initiated the first phase of the agreement, we managed to achieve the exchange. But when we moved to the second phase which meant to deliver food aids and medical aids and other supplies into the four mentioned towns, all the needed help were successfully delivered into Madaya , but the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent ( SARC)  were able to deliver aid for one time only.

In Madaya, the UN went in four times and witnessed the situation from within, whereas the terrorists would not allow us to go into Foua. We had an experience yesterday  (Wednesday Feb 10 2016), when SARC went into Madaya to bring  out three injured civilians.  The terrorists targeted the convoy, and the cars  and one of the drivers were hit:, yet SARC brought out the three civilians and they are now being treated in a Damascus hospital.

Also, Deir Azzor city is completely besieged by ISIS and no one can go there .  Now the Syrian government with the help of Russian Air Force deliver food aids using Parachutes. We have sometimes done the same in Kfraya and Foua.

In areas under the control of armed groups where there are still civilian, the government allows food aids to enter these areas.  For example  in the past two weeks alone,  we have delivered food to  Madaya, Tall, Ma’adamia and Douma, which are under the control of armed groups.   They all received aids.

The suffering of the civilians inside these areas is caused because the armed groups confiscate the aids and control the distribution. They also control the movement of the civilians and have checkpoints that don’t allow the civilians to leave.

Now, there is a campaign against Syria politicizing the humanitarian issue. Why does this campaign always start whenever there is any progress whether politically or militarily?   I have to mention here that whenever there have been peace talks, the humanitarian issues (made worse by the terrorists) are highlighted to hinder progress; to gain sympathy. And  to justify any intervention in Syrian under the pretext of Humanitarian help.”

I then asked Dr Haider for clarification of the much reported upon situation in Yarmouk, the Palestinian suburbs often described as a Camp situated to the south of Damascus:

“There are about 18,000 people still inside Yarmouk.  [It was over 150,000 before the crisis, but most have been allowed to leave and are being looked after safely in areas under Government control.]  We are now working on a reconciliation project in Yarmouk.  if the project succeeds a big problem will be avoided, and it will have a positive impact on the people in many areas.  

The counter propaganda to this project is because it will affect the existence of ISIS and Nusra in these areas. The reconciliation project aims to make 1800 fighters from ISIS and Nusra get out of the area. Some of the fighters have already left in a clandestine agreement.  The Syrian forces had to provide protection for their exit because other terrorists did not want them to leave.  Our aim is to free people from those fighters.”

I asked what Dr. Haider would want to say to British MPs if he could meet them. He said:

“My message is still the same:  Syria is the wall that protects Europe, I think that the main battle is a battle for civilization, and humanity. Europe has started to feel the threat that is coming because of what is going on in Syria. 

My message to all the Europeans is:  Syria’s triumph over terrorism and maintaining the secular identity of Syria is what will bring back a good relationship with Europe.  It will also solve the problem of refugees and it will restore peace. Nothing can be achieved without getting rid of terrorism.  Attaching a political demand will make Syria suffer in the same way that Iraq has suffered.  Finally, Europe is closer to Syria than the US not only geographically, but in terms of civilization and history.”

The Minister for Reconciliation is someone with whom we really ought to be engaging. He is a wise and gentle man and is in every way a moderate.  Like most people in the country, he desires the well-being and unity of Syria, unlike the terrorists whom the west euphemistically label ‘moderate’.

It is shocking that the West is talking with leaders of extremist terrorist groups, and not with people who are genuinely seeking peaceful engagement with all Syrians.

Andrew Ashdown with Ali Haider, Syrian Minister for Reconciliation

 

Conclusion

I have spent the last 6 weeks in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the fourth such visit in 2 years – talking to numerous people, including refugees, from all segments of Syrian society. Assad has very strong support within Syria across the whole spectrum of Syrian society, the majority of whom are Sunni.

Sunnis in fact make up the majority of the Syrian Army. Just a few weeks ago, 70 Sunni Syrian Army soldiers were executed by ISIS at Deir Ezzor, largely ignored by the mainstream media.  A huge number of the population support Assad personally, though everyone has criticisms of the regime, especially about corruption and the security apparatus.

Many refugees, even if they don’t support the regime, say that Assad is better than the chaos that would ensue if the sectarian ‘rebels’ were to win. Talking to Kurdish Refugees from Syria at a camp in Iraq 2 weeks ago, all of them were united in their belief that though they didn’t like the regime they support Assad personally, and do not want to see him defeated.

Even the government’s opponents inside Syria acknowledge that Assad did try to undertake reform, and I saw plenty of evidence of this in my travels to Syria immediately prior to the conflict. It is popularly believed that Assad was deeply constrained by the powerful forces within sections of the regime. The regime structure is profoundly complicated, and Assad does not have direct control of every part of it. I have not only experienced aspects of this myself in a small way, but have heard about it from individuals who have been political prisoners as well.

It is true Assad made mistakes at the begining of the uprising, but the details of the uprising have entered the realms of exaggeration and fiction. I have spoken with people who participated in the uprising and who witnessed the violence perpetrated by armed outsiders against the army very early on. An opposition leader even told me that he was told by an opposition figure in Turkey in 2010:

“There is going to be a war in Syria. It is coming soon and has all been planned.”

In some cities, the army only opened fire after they had first been attacked. This is now well documented.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who gives unqualified support to the regime. Barrel bombs and torture chambers are a fact [cf the actions of USA in Iraq and Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Israel in Gaza, and most of our allies]. However, little has been said of the constant killing and destruction perpetrated against civilians by the moderate rebels Hell Cannon mortars and shells that are randomly killing and maiming civilians in large numbers.

As for the refugee crisis. The largest numbers of refugees are within Syria itself, having fled the rebel-controlled areas to the comparative safety of the government-controlled areas. Most that I have spoken to in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq say they did not flee the regime. Rather they were fleeing the violence caused by the conflict on both sides,  the brutality of the ‘rebels’ towards those not of their religious or political persuasion and the bombing of rebel areas by the government,  and the economic hopelessness that now exists in the country.

All narratives contain a degree of truth. But in the Syrian war, the truths have been brutally twisted into a narrative to fit the political interests of the west and gulf countries. It is infinitely more complex than the simplistic good-guy-bad-guy western media narrative.

My experience across Syria is that much of the narrative that we are fed is grossly distorted. Incidentally the only places which feel in any way vaguely like the secure pluralistic society that existed before the uprising [many Syrians say they want Syria to be ‘safe like it was’] are the government-controlled areas where people live together in comparative safety.

When I walked the streets of Homs in November, people were coming up and saying how glad they were the ‘rebels’ had been removed, and now the city could begin to recover. As I mentioned previously, two of my friends had to flee their homes in Homs because of the ‘rebel’ occupation. Their homes were destroyed in the government bombardment, but each of them said:

“If it took bombing my home to destroy the terrorists, I accept that.”

Now however, the economic situation caused by the war and the sanctions is creating tremendous hardship for all Syrians, and is creating the grounds for a further exodus. Anyone who blindly accepts the media narrative frankly is a bit of political fool!  Perhaps my biggest lesson in this past six weeks in the region is just how profoundly complex and multi-layered the situation is.

It is not nearly as clear-cut as the media and politicians are making out and western policies, actions and alliances are without doubt making it infinitely worse. What is contributing to the continuation of the conflict is the refusal of the international community to speak to people within Syria, and to listen to what their wishes are and our on-going support for extremist Islamic groups who wish to see the sectarian partitioning of Syria. Most Syrians I have spoken to across the region, have no wish for them to take charge of the country.

Lastly, as Christians, what is our response to the Christian community in the region, whose very existence is threatened? 

The wishes of the Christian communities have been made clear again and again.  And every single Church leader in Syria has spoken out against western policies.  On the ground, local Christian and Muslim leaders work together to bring healing and reconciliation amongst profoundly fractured and suffering communities.  They feel abandoned by the international community.

Their voices are ignored by political and religious leaders alike.  In this conflict, there are no innocent parties.  And we ourselves must take our share of the blame for the catastrophe that has befallen this country that was a cradle of faith and civilisation.  And if western Church leaders are silent in response to the cries of our fellow Christians in the region, then we must share responsibility for their catastrophic demise and the sectarian disaster that could follow.

End of Part III

Reverend Andrew Ashdown is an Anglican priest in England.  He has been visiting and leading groups to the Middle East for over 25 years, and has visited Syria four times since April 2014, both as a member of faith delegations, and more recently independently.  Andrew is undertaking research into Christian/Muslim relations in the region. 

ALSO READ: Part II – Syria’s Secularism & Pluralism cannot Survive without Assad.

READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Syria Files

 

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Do Americans live in a false reality created by orchestrated events? – WRITTEN BY PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Most people who are aware and capable of thought have given up on what is called the “mainstream media.” The presstitutes have destroyed their credibility by helping Washington to lie—”Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction,” “Iranian nukes,” “Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” “Russian invasion of Ukraine,” and so forth. The “mainstream media” has also destroyed its credibility by its complete acceptance of whatever government authorities say about alleged “terrorist events,” such as 9/11 and Boston Marathon Bombing, or alleged mass shootings such as Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. Despite glaring inconsistencies, contradictions, and security failures that seem too unlikely to be believable, the “mainstream media” never asks questions or investigates. It merely reports as fact whatever authorities say.

The sign of a totalitarian or authoritarian state is a media that feels no responsibility to investigate and to find the truth, accepting the role of propagandist instead. The entire Western media has been in the propaganda mode for a long time. In the US the transformation of journalists into propagandists was completed with the concentration of a diverse and independent media in six mega-corporations that are no longer run by journalists.

As a consequence, thoughtful and aware people increasingly rely on alternative media that does question, marshall facts, and offers analysis in place of an unbelievable official story line.

The prime example is 9/11. Large numbers of experts have destroyed the official story that has no factual evidence in its behalf. However, even without the hard evidence that 9/11 truthers have provided, the official story gives itself away. We are supposed to believe that a few Saudi Arabians with no technology beyond box cutters and no support from any government’s intelligence service were able to outwit the massive surveillance technology created by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and NSA (National Security Agency) and deal the most humiliating blow to a superpower ever delivered in human history. Moreover, they were able to do this without the President of the United States, the US Congress, and the “mainstream media” demanding accountability for such a total failure of the high-tech national security state. Instead of a White House led investigation of such a massive security failure, the White House resisted for more than one year any investigation whatsoever until finally giving in to demands from 9/11 families that could not be bought off and agreeing to a 9/11 Commission.

The Commission did not investigate but merely sat and wrote down the story told to it by the government. Afterwards, the Commission’s chairman, co-chairman, and legal counsel wrote books in which they said that information was withheld from the Commission, that the Commission was lied to by officials of the government, and that the Commission “was set up to fail.” Despite all of this, the presstitutes still repeat the official propaganda, and there remain enough gullible Americans to prevent accountability.

Competent historians know that false flag events are used to bring to fruition agendas that cannot otherwise be achieved. 9/11 gave the neoconservatives, who controlled the George W. Bush administration, the New Pearl Harbor that they said was necessary in order to launch their hegemonic military invasions of Muslim countries. The Boston Marathon Bombing permitted a trial run of the American Police State, complete with shutting down a large American city, putting 10,000 armed troops and SWAT teams on the streets where the troops conducted house to house searches forcing the residents out of their homes at gunpoint. This unprecedented operation was justified as necessary in order to locate one wounded 19 year old man, who clearly was a patsy.

There are so many anomalies in the Sandy Hook story that it has generated a cottage industry of skeptics. I agree that there are anomalies, but I don’t have the time to study the issue and come to my own conclusion. What I have noticed is that we are not given many good explanations of the anomalies. For example, in this video made from the TV news coveragethe video’s creator makes a case that the person who is the grieving father who lost his son is the same person outfitted in SWAT clothes at Sandy Hook following the shooting. The person is identified as a known actor. Now, it seems to me that this is easy to test. The grieving father is known, the actor is known, and the authorities have to know who the SWAT team member is. If these three people, who can pass for one another, can be assembled in one room at the same time, we can dismiss the expose claimed in this one video. However, if three separate people cannot be produced together, then we must ask why this deception, which raises questions about the entire story. You can watch the entire video or just skip to the 9:30 mark and observe what appears to be the same person in two different roles.

The “mainstream media” has the ability to make these simple investigations, but does not. Instead, the “mainstream media” calls skeptics “conspiracy theorists.”

There is a book by Professor Jim Fetzer and Mike Palecek that says Sandy Hook was a FEMA drill to promote gun control and that no one died at Sandy Hook. The book was available on amazon.com but was suddenly banned. Why ban a book?

Here is a free download of the book: http://rense.com/general96/nobodydied.html I have not read the book and have no opinion. I do know, however, that the police state that America is becoming certainly has a powerful interest in disarming the public. I also heard today a news report that people said to be parents of the dead children are bringing a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer, which is consistent with Fetzer’s claim.

Here is a Buzzsaw interview with Jim Fetzer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-W3rIEe-ag If the information Fetzer provides is correct, clearly the US government has an authoritarian agenda and is using orchestrated events to create a false reality for Americans in order to achieve the agenda.

It seems to me that Fetzer’s facts can be easily checked. If his facts check out, then a real investigation is required. If his facts do not check out, the official story gains credibility as Fetzer is one of the most energetic skeptics.

Fetzer cannot be dismissed as a kook. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, has a Ph.D. from Indiana University and was Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota until his retirement in 2006. He has had a National Science Foundation fellowship, and he has published more than 100 articles and 20 books on philosophy of science and philosophy of cognitive science. He is an expert in artificial intelligence and computer science and founded the international journal Minds and Machines. In the late 1990s, Fetzer was asked to organize a symposium on philosophy of mind.

For an intelligent person, the official stories of President Kennedy’s assassination and 9/11 are simply not believable, because the official stories are not consistent with the evidence and what we know. Fetzer’s frustration with less capable and less observant people increasingly shows, and this works to his disadvantage.

It seems to me that if the authorities behind the official Sandy Hook story are secure with the official story, they would jump on the opportunity to confront and disprove Fetzer’s facts. Moreover, somewhere there must be photographs of the dead children, but, like the alleged large number of recordings by security cameras of an airliner hitting the Pentagon, no one has ever seen them. At least not that I know of.

What disturbs me is that no one in authority or in the mainstream media has any interest in checking the facts. Instead, those who raise awkward matters are dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

Why this is damning is puzzling. The government’s story of 9/11 is a story of a conspiracy as is the government’s story of the Boston Marathon Bombing. These things happen because of conspiracies. What is at issue is: whose conspiracy? We know from Operation Gladio and Operation Northwoods that governments do engage in murderous conspiracies against their own citizens. Therefore, it is a mistake to conclude that governments do not engage in conspiracies.

One often hears the objection that if 9/11 was a false flag attack, someone would have talked.Why would they have talked? Only those who organized the conspiracy would know. Why would they undermine their own conspiracy?

Recall William Binney. He developed the surveillance system used by NSA. When he saw that it was being used against the American people, he talked. But he had taken no documents with which to prove his claims, which saved him from successful prosecution but gave him no evidence for his claims. This is why Edward Snowden took the documents and released them. Nevertheless, many see Snowden as a spy who stole national security secrets, not as a whistleblower warning us that the Constitution that protects us is being overthrown.

High level government officials have contradicted parts of the 9/11 official story and the official story that links the invasion of Iraq to 9/11 and to weapons of mass destruction. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta contradicted Vice President Cheney and the official 9/11 story timeline. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has said that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the subject of the first cabinet meeting in the George W. Bush administration long before 9/11. He wrote it in a book and told it on CBS News’ 60 Minutes. CNN and other news stations reported it. But it had no effect.

Whistleblowers pay a high price. Many of them are in prison. Obama has prosecuted and imprisoned a record number. Once they are thrown in prison, the question becomes: “Who would believe a criminal?”

As for 9/11 all sorts of people have talked. Over 100 police, firemen and first responders havereported hearing and experiencing a large number of explosions in the Twin Towers. Maintanence personnel report experiencing massive explosions in the sub-basements prior to the building being hit by an airplane. None of this testimony has had any effect on the authorities behind the official story or on the presstitutes.

There are 2,300 architects and engineers who have written to Congress requesting a real investigation. Instead of the request being treated with the respect that 2,300 professionals deserve, the professionals are dismissed as “conspiracy theorists.”

An international panel of scientists have reported the presence of reacted and unreacted nanothermite in the dust of the World Trade Centers. They have offered their samples to government agencies and to scientists for confirmation. No one will touch it. The reason is clear. Today science funding is heavily dependent on the federal government and on private companies that have federal contracts. Scientists understand that speaking out about 9/11 means the termination of their career.

The government has us where it wants us—powerless and disinformed. Most Americans are too uneducated to be able to tell the difference between a building falling down from asymetrical damage and one blowing up. Mainstream journalists cannot question and investigate and keep their jobs. Scientists cannot speak out and continue to be funded.

Truth telling has been shoved off into the alternative Internet media where I would wager the government runs sites that proclaim wild conspiracies, the purpose of which is to discredit all skeptics.

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It’s official U.S. policy to protect al-Qaeda in Syria: Will the ceasefire expose it? – WRITTEN BY STEVE MC

© http://www.govexec.com
Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry: A planned “Cessation of Hostilities” Syria

In the weeks leading up to the agreed upon cessation-of-hostilities (CoH) agreement between the US and Russia, it was John Kerry’s diplomacy that was instrumental in “downgrading” the truce from a more forceful and legally binding ‘ceasefire’ agreement to the less intensive ‘cessation-of-hostilities’ now taking effect.

As described by Kerry: “So, a ceasefire has a great many legal prerogatives and requirements. A cessation of hostilities does not.” He goes on to note that “a ceasefire in the minds of many of the participants in this particular moment connotes something far more permanent and far more reflective of sort of an end of conflict, if you will. And it is distinctly not that. This is a pause dependent on the process going forward.”

So why the insistence on non-permanence? Especially if, as Kerry says, the ultimate objective is to “obtain a durable, long-term ceasefire” at some point in time?

According to the 29-year career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service, India’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey M. K. Bhadrakumar, it is plainly because “the Russian military operations have met with devastating success lately in strengthening the Syrian regime and scattering the Syrian rebel groups,” leading “the US and its regional allies” to “stare at defeat.” Therefore, they “forthwith need an end to the Russian operations so that they can think up a Plan B. The Geneva talks will not have the desired outcome of President Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster unless the tide of war is reversed.” Therefore, “a cessation of hostilities in Syria is urgently needed.”1

Judging by the fact that immediately after the CoH agreement was reached top US officials already began announcing that Russia would break the deal while calling for further measures to “inflict real pain on the Russians“, Bhadrakumar’s assessment that a pause, and not a permanent halt, was sought in order to regroup and eventually reverse the tide of war seems to be quite apt. As well there has been an almost ubiquitous media campaign in the US to prime the public for accusations of a Russian infraction, from which a breakdown of the deal would follow; the entire narrative being portrayed is filled with “doubts” and “worries” and “statements from US officials” about how Russia isn’t serious and will likely break the agreement.

Furthermore, outwardly Russia is much more optimistic and invested in the deal, President Putin hopefully promoting it while engaging in a blitz of diplomacy to support it, while on the other hand the US has been less vocal and much quicker to doubt its outcomes.

However, this downgrading from a “ceasefire” to a “cessation of hostilities” actually violates past agreements.

In UN Security Council Resolution 2254, in which it was articulated that member states be committed to the “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,” while calling on them to suppress ISIS, al-Nusra, and “all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL”, it was also agreed upon that the Security Council “expresses its support for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria.” (emphasis added)

Given the about-face, Lavrov was visibly agitated, stating that “Resolution 2254 talks about the ceasefire only. This term is not liked by some members of the International Syria Support Group. What I’m referring to is how something that has been agreed upon should be implementedrather than try to remake the consensus that has been achieved in order to get some unilateral advantages.”

The “unilateral advantages” likely are in reference to the pause-and-regroup strategy Bhadrakumar previously articulated.
Despite this Russia agreed to the downgraded CoH, however, in the week leading up to the agreement there was a major hurdle to overcome, namely whether al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, would be protected as a party to the truce.

Long has there been a tenet of US propaganda which claims that a sort of “third force” of “moderate opposition fighters” exists, separate and distinct from the extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates. Yet when push came to shove the main stumbling-block in the way of the CoH was the opposition’s demand that any truce be “conditional on the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front no longer being targeted.” Sources close to the talks would tell Reuters that this insistence was the main “elephant in the room” preventing a settlement.

Even more telling is the fact that this opposition demand only came after the US had insisted upon it. Indeed, while relentlessly pushing the “moderate rebel” narrative it was official US policy to push for the protection of al-Qaeda.
According to The Washington Post: “Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.” (emphasis added)

Responding to arguments posited that al-Nusra should be included in the truce, given that they operate in areas where other rebels are and thus Russia can use this as an excuse to bomb them, Max Abrahms, Professor at Northeastern University and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, explains that these recent developments show that Nusra and the other rebels are one in the same. “If you’re pro-rebel in Syria, you’re pro-al Qaeda in Syria. The rebels are now begging for Russia to stop bombing their al-Qaeda partner.”

Indeed, it was the “moderate” US-backed FSA factions that were some of the biggest advocates of their al-Qaeda partners being included in the truce.

Major Ammar al-Wawi, Secretary General of the Free Syrian Army and head of the FSA’s al-Ababil Brigade in Aleppo said that al-Nusra was the FSA’s “partner”, and that al-Qaeda was an ally of most of the groups brought together by Saudi Arabia underneath the Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC) banner. “Nusra has fighters on the ground with rebel brigades in most of Syria and is a partner in the fighting with most of the brigades that attended the Riyadh conference.” And therefore, while the ceasefire is good in principle, it is not good if it does not include al-Nusra, because “if the ceasefire excludes Jabhat a-Nusra, then this means that the killing of civilians will continue since Nusra’s forces are among civilians.” Al-Wawi seems to forget that the reason Nusra is a terrorist organization is specifically because of its indiscriminate attacks and disregard for civilian lives.

According to the spokesman for Alwiyat al-Furqan, one of the largest FSA factions operating within the Southern Front umbrella, the FSA “will not accept a truce that excludes Jabhat al-Nusra.” The spokesman later goes on to call Nusra “honorable”, along with the equally honorable Salafi-Jihadists groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam. Ahrar, it should be noted, only presents itself as being different from al-Qaeda, in actuality it is not, it is a Salafi-Jihadi group which espouses a reactionary and apocalyptic Islamist ideology and has been complicit insectarian mass murders of Alawites throughout Syria. On the other hand, Jaish al-Islam, in the words of their former leader, regards al-Nusra as their “brothers” whom they “praise” and “fight alongside.” Jaish al-Islam as well is infamous for parading caged civilians throughout warzones, using them as human shields. The current leader of the group, Mohammed Alloush, was named as the chief negotiator to represent the rebel opposition in talks with the UN.

Yet, according to the FSA, “If today we agreed to exclude Jabhat a-Nusra, then tomorrow we would agree to exclude Ahrar a-Sham, then Jaish al-Islam and so on for every honorable faction. We will not allow the threat of being classified as a terrorist organization to compromise the fundamentals of the revolution for which the Syrian people rose up and for which we have sacrificed and bled.”

Comment: From the horse’s mouth: “If you exclude al-Qaeda, you’ll have to exclude all of us!!” Well, yeah, that’s the point.

One wonders, if the exclusion of al-Qaeda from the ceasefire is tantamount to “compromising the revolution”, what would choosing al-Qaeda as partners be called?

Muhammad a-Sheikh, spokesman for an FSA faction in Latakia, as well thanked Nusra for its “role in trying to lessen the pain inflicted on the Syrian people”, of all things.2

Yet all of this gets recycled within the US media narrative as al-Nusra merely being “intermingled with moderate rebel groups”, as the Washington Post puts it. While the narrative purports that the FSA consists of “moderate” factions reluctantly forced to endure an al-Qaeda alliance for military expediency, in reality much of FSA conduct throughout the war has not been much different from that of the recognized extremist factions.

In the case of Aleppo, while one man describes how al-Nusra beheaded one of his brother-in-laws, ripped the other to pieces between an electricity poll and a moving car, and kidnapped the other, another man describes how “Free Syrian Army fighters burned down their house – leaving one daughter with terrible burns” after the man refused to join them. He said they attempted to abduct one of his daughters, but were unsuccessful as neighbors intervened.

Another Aleppo resident writes that “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars.”

At times the “moderate” FSA were feared even more by local residents than the other extremist groups.

“Pilloried in the West for their sectarian ferocity, these jihadists were often welcomed by local people for restoring law and order after the looting and banditry of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army,” writes Patrick Cockburn, the leading Western journalist in the region.3

For people paying close attention this is unfortunately not all that surprising.

According to a recent poll conducted by ORB, it was found that most Syrians more or less hold both ISIS and the FSA in equal disdain, 9% saying the FSA represents the Syrian people while 4% saying that ISIS does.

Comment: What, don’t Syrians love freedom? That’s true-blue American-style democracy right there!

This not-so-popular FSA is routinely described as a separate and distinct entity apart from al-Nusra and ISIS, yet in actuality the lines between the groups have always been extremely porous.

“Due to porous links between some Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, other Islamist groups like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, and ISIS, there have been prolific weapons transfers from ‘moderate’ to Islamist militant groups,” writes Nafeez Ahmed, Britain’s leading international security scholar. These links were so extreme that “German journalist Jurgen Todenhofer, who spent 10 days inside the Islamic State, reported last year that ISIS is being “indirectly” armed by the west: “They buy the weapons that we give to the Free Syrian Army, so they get western weapons – they get French weapons… I saw German weapons, I saw American weapons.” Recently the BBC’s Peter Oborne conducted an investigation into claims that the West had embarked upon an alliance with al-Qaeda linked jihadi groups, and came across evidence that the “moderate” FSA were in essence being utilized as a conduit through which Western supplies were funneled to extremists.

Oborne spoke to a lawyer who represents Bherlin Gildo, a Swedish national who went to join the rebel ranks in 2012 and was subsequently arrested for terrorist offenses. Based on her client’s own first-hand observations embedded with the rebels, trucks referred to as NATO trucks were observed coming in from Turkey, which would then be unloaded by the FSA and the arms then distributed quite generally without any specificity of the exact recipient. The weapons would be distributed “to whoever was involved in particular battles.” On a similar note, in 2014 US-backed Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) commander Jamal Maarouf admitted that his US-handlers had instructed him to send weapons to al-Qaeda, and when they do this, he complies. “If the people who support us tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They asked us a month ago to send weapons to [Islamist fighters in] Yabroud so we sent a lot of weapons there,” Maarouf said.

Battlefield necessity was dictating the weapons recipients, not humanitarian concern for victims of terrorism.

In any event charges brought against Mr. Gildo were eventually dropped after he planned to argue that he was on the same side the UK government was supporting. As it was explained before the court, if it is the case that the government “was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable”, indeed an “affront to justice”, “to allow the prosecution to continue.”

Comment: That’s some Through the Looking Glass justice, UK!

In a similar case a man named Moazzam Begg was arrested in the UK under terrorism charges after meeting with Ahrar al-Sham. However, his case too was dropped, the courts understanding that if he was guilty of supporting terrorism than so was the British state. “I was very disappointed that the trial didn’t go through,” Begg said, “I believe I would have won. Helping to defend the civilian population is not terrorism, it’s self-defense, and what I was doing… was completely in line with British policy at the time.”

Career MI6 agent and former British diplomat Alastair Crooke extrapolates further on this phenomenon of the so-called moderate allies of the West playing such a critical role in arming the jihadis.

“The West does not actually hand the weapons to al-Qaeda, let alone ISIS, but the system that they have constructed leads precisely to that end. The weapons conduit that the West directly has been giving to groups such as the Syrian Free Army (FSA), have been understood to be a sort of ‘Wal Mart’ from which the more radical groups would be able to take their weapons and pursue the jihad.” This constitutes a sort of ‘supermarket’ where rebels can go and receive weapons, the weapons always migrating “along the line to the more radical elements.”The policy was to “use jihadists to weaken the government in Damascus and to drive it to its knees to the negotiating table,” exactly the same kind of policy used in Afghanistan during the 1980s, when conduits such as the Pakistani ISI were used to funnel weapons to the mujahedeen.

Yet these Western weapons were not only going to al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS too was shopping at the “moderate” “supermarket.”

In his book The Rise of Islamic State, Patrick Cockburn writes, “An intelligence officer from a Middle Eastern country neighboring Syria told me that ISIS members “say they are always pleased when sophisticated weapons are sent to anti-Assad groups of any kind, because they can always get the arms off them by threats of force or cash payments.”4 (emphasis added)

The result of all of this was a deep alliance between the US-backed “moderates” and al-Qaeda, as well as a rebel opposition dominated by ISIS and al-Nusra.

Recently a leader of the al-Nusra group appeared in a video expressing the nature of this deep level of cooperation, presenting an FSA member witha gift while saying that there is no difference between the FSA, Ahrar al-Sham, and al-Qaeda. “They are all one,” he explains. The Nusra field commander goes on to thank FSA commanders for supplying Nusra with US-made TOW anti-tank missiles, which were given to the FSA directly, of course, from the CIA.

A month prior to these revelations reports started to surface about the unfolding situation in “rebel-held” Idlib. Despite the repressive dress codes and Islamist rules, it became apparent that the FSA was only operating under the authority of the more powerful al-Qaeda rebels. Jenan Moussa, a journalist for the UAE based Al Aan TV who recently had visited the area, reported that Nusra allows the FSA to operate in Hama and Idlib because the FSA groups there get TOW missiles from the West. The reason they are allowed to operate is that the “FSA uses these TOW in support of Nusra.”

Investigating the situation further, the veteran and award-winning journalist Gareth Porter concludes from a wide range of sources that in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo every rebel organization in operation is in fact part of a military structure controlled and dominated by al-Nusra. “All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it,” Porter writes. “Nusra and its allies were poised to strike the biggest blow against the Assad regime up to the time – the capture of Idlib province. Although some U.S.-supported groups participated in the campaign in March and April 2015, the “operations room” planning the campaign was run by Al Qaeda and its close ally Ahrar al Sham.” As well, before the Idlib campaign, “Nusra had forced another U.S.-supported group, Harakat Hazm, to disband and took all of its TOW anti-tank missiles.”

Clearly al-Nusra was subordinating the “moderates.”

Porter notes that this reality began to emerge in December of 2014 when US-backed rebels, supplied with TOW missiles, teamed up with Nusraand fought under their command in order to capture Wadi al-Deif base from the Syrian army. Al Qaeda was “exploiting the Obama administration’s desire to have its own Syrian Army as an instrument for influencing the course of the war.”

Andrew Cockburn reports that “A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies.”

“In other words,” Porter writes, “Nusra was playing Washington,” while Washington was “evidently a willing dupe.”

This comes down to the fact that the savage and brutal al-Qaeda fighters were proving to be militarily effective, leaving a trail of torture and atrocities, and battlefield successes, in their wake. Al-Qaeda fighters and the influx of various jihadis “brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results,” writes Ed Husain, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Because of this, Porter explains, “instead of breaking with the deception that the CIA’s hand-picked clients were independent of Nusra, the Obama administration continued to cling to it.” The United States basing its policy on the “moderates” was “necessary to provide a political fig leaf for the covert and indirect U.S. reliance on Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise’s military success.”

Ever since the Russian intervention began, the US has resorted to a propaganda narrative that Russia has been targeting the “moderate” opposition. This continued narrative, and the public’s belief in its validity, “had become a necessary shield for the United States to continue playing a political-diplomatic game in Syria.”

Yet, as Patrick Cockburn has pointed out for quite some time, “The armed opposition to President Assad is dominated by Isis, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the ideologically similar Ahrar al-Sham.” Of the smaller groups the CIA openly supports, they only operate “under license from the extreme jihadists.”

Recently it was reported that several rebel groups, 5 of which belong to the loosely organized FSA, have united under the leadership of the former emir of the al-Qaeda-linked jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham. A longtime al-Qaeda member who sits on al-Nusra’s elite council explained that “The Free Syrian Army groups said they were ready for anything according to the Islamic sharia and that we are delegated to apply the rulings of the sharia on them”, essentially meaning that they had subordinated themselves to al-Qaeda.

It has been further revealed that all of the Syrian groups operative in Aleppo had recently declared Ba’yaa (loyalty) to the Ahrar al-Sham emir Abu Jaber. Ba’yaa, it should be noted, means total loyalty and submission, much like what follows from pledging loyalty to ISIS, or any other Islamist jihadist group.

Indeed, at least by as far back as August of 2012, the best US intelligence assessments were reporting that the jihadists and extremists were controlling and steering the course of the opposition. Then head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Michael T. Flynn, would confirm the credibility of these reports, saying that “the intelligence was very clear” and that it wasn’t the case that the administration was just turning a blind eye to these events, but instead that the policies leading to these outcomes were the result of a “willful decision.” Despite all of this,US officials still continue to maintain that “Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, launched last fall, has infuriated the CIA in particular because the strikes have aggressively targeted relatively moderate rebels it has backed with military supplies, including antitank missiles.”

However, according to the CIA and the intelligence communities’ own data, this is false.

Back in October of 2012, according to classified US intelligence assessments “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar”,which were organized by the CIA, were going to “hard-line Islamic jihadists.”

Even earlier than that however, immediately after the fall of Gaddafi a year prior in October of 2011, the CIA began organizing a “rat line” from Libya to Syria. Weapons from the former Libyan stockpiles were shipped from Benghazi to Syria and into the hands of the Syrian rebels. According to information obtained by Seymour Hersh, “Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.”

In a highly classified 2013 assessment put together by the DIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), an “all-source” appraisal which draws on information from signals, satellite, and human intelligence, it was concluded that the US program to arm the rebels quickly turned into a logistical operation for the entire opposition, including al-Nusra and ISIS. The so-called moderates had evaporated, “there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.”

DIA chief Michael Flynn confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of warnings to the civilian administration between 2012 and 2014 saying that the jihadists were in control of the opposition. “If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,” Flynn said. Yet, as Flynn stated previously, it was a “willful decision” for the administration “to do what they’re doing.” By summer of 2013, Seymour Hersh reports that “although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists,” still “the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming.”

According to a JCS advisor, despite heavy Pentagon objections there was simply “no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorised by the president.”

“I felt that they did not want to hear the truth,” Flynn said.

So what Russia is bombing in actuality is an al-Qaeda, extremist-dominated opposition embedded with CIA-backed rebels operating under their control. The not-so-moderates only operate under license from, and in support of, the Salafi jihadists, openly expressing their solidarity with them, labelling them as “brothers”, and begging the UN to protect them. Concurrently the US and its allies continue to support the terrorist-dominated insurgency, US officials openly planning to expand their support to al-Qaeda-laced rebels in order to “inflict pain on the Russians”, all while Turkey and Saudi Arabia openly support al-Qaeda. Meanwhile the CIA continues to conduct covert programs in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Turkey that have from the beginning gone to aid “hard-line Islamists”, and all of this happening because of the United States reliance upon “Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise’s military successes” and their “deadly results” in order to further the policy of using “jihadists to weaken the government in Damascus” and to “drive it to its knees at the negotiating table.”

Speaking at Harvard University, Vice President Biden infamously and candidly summarized what had been going on, saying that it was our allies who were “so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war,” that they “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

When asked why the United States was powerless to stop nations like Qatar from engaging in this kind of behavior, “a former adviser to one of the Gulf States replied softly: because “They didn’t want to.””

So it should be no wonder why the US tried to push through a provision including al-Nusra in the current ceasefire agreement.

No wonder as well that it has been, and continues to be, official US policy to protect al-Qaeda.

Notes:

  1. For further analysis, see Moon of Alabama, February 20, 2016, “U.S. Ignores Own UNSC Resolution – Tells Russia “Stop Bombing Al-Qaeda!”http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/02/us-ignores-own-unsc-resolution-tells-russia-stop-bombing-al-qaeda.html.
  2. Syria Direct, “Five rebel spokesmen, commanders react to ‘cessation of hostilities’ to take effect Saturday.” February 25, 2016.http://syriadirect.org/news/five-rebel-spokesmen-commanders-react-to-cessation-of-hostilities-to-take-effect-Saturday/#.Vs-kDMO3y9U.twitter.
  3. Cockburn, Patrick. “Jihadists Hijack the Syria Uprising.” The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 84-5. Print.
  4. Cockburn, Patrick, “The Rise of ISIS”, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 3. Print.
Comment: While the cessation of hostilities in Syria will no doubt be used as the pretext for all kinds of provocations and lies from the U.S. and their allies, it also has the potential to expose their support for terrorists. By the letter of the agreement, they must provide information about participating groups to Russia. Either their moderate rebels will sign on to the ceasefire (in which case, Russia will know when and if they break it), or they will not (in which case, they’ll become justified targets in the Syrian Army’s advances). If few of the so-called moderates sign on, they’ll be exposed as the al-Qaeda stooges they are.

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Labor’s Conscientious Objector: Inside Melissa Parke’s War On Indifference – WRITTEN BY MAX CHALMERS

When Fremantle MP Melissa Parke steps down at the next election she won’t be remembered as a Labor great who rose to the party’s highest offices and stamped her name on its history. But at a time when politics faces accusations of a conviction deficit, and the ALP struggles to forge an identity deeper than that required by the latest focus group, her career demands closer inspection. In this special extended feature, Max Chalmers profiles a Labor renegade.

 

In late 2014, former Israeli soldier Marcelo Svirsky walked 300km from Sydney to Canberra and presented a petition to the Federal Parliament. It urged Australia to back BDS, the ‘boycott, divestment, and sanctions’ campaign which replicates tactics used against Apartheid South Africa, turning them on the state of Israel.On the day he arrived Svirsky had the petition tabled, somewhat surprisingly, by a Labor MP, the Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke.

In her almost nine years in Canberra, the former UN lawyer had come to play the role of Labor’s public dissident, voicing opposition to major policy positions within Caucus and going public with her arguments when they didn’t register inside the tent.

On a number of occasions, as with the day she rose to speak on Marcelo Svirksy’s petition, Parke used her parliamentary platform to address an audience beyond the halls of influence and power that wind through the building.

Where Labor aligned itself with the Coalition for the sake of political expediency – particularly in the areas of national security and refugee policy – Parke broke ranks, chastising the Coalition for reckless lawmaking and implicitly rebuking those on her own side of the aisle.

Parke mastered the thankless art of the political soliloquy.

Melissa Parke pictured with former Prime Minister and Labor statesman, the late Gough Whitlam.
Melissa Parke pictured with former Prime Minister and Labor statesman, the late Gough Whitlam.

By consistently advocating in this manner Parke’s career opens itself to two intriguing questions. Firstly, was this MP the real deal, the conviction politician we’re so often told is absent from the modern parliament? And secondly, if so, are figures who push from within Labor’s left destined to do more harm than good for the causes they so passionately espouse?

To answer those questions, we need to return to Marcelo Svirksy while also looking further abroad; to the streets of Gaza City; to a bombed-out UN compound in Baghdad; and to the Labor Caucus meetings that moved Melissa Parke to go it alone.

 

The tabling of a Parliamentary petition is not what you would usually describe as an exciting affair, but the day Parke presented the BDS signatures there was a nervous energy to her remarks.“What I am [going]to say today will likely not be popular in this place or indeed in the wider community,” she said.

“However, there comes a time when the injustices have so mounted up that plain speaking becomes a duty.”

In the rapid-fire comments that followed, Parke accused Israel of “persisting in apartheid and oppressive actions” and goaded MPs to sanction states or companies involved in “the perpetuation of discriminatory Israeli policies”. She argued in favour of non-violent protest, took aim at “myths” about BDS, and said it was not anti-Semitic to protest injustice.

Despite being delivered to a near empty chamber, Parkes’ remarks were punctuated by outraged interjections.

For a Labor MP, indeed for anyone in that chamber, Parke’s rhetoric was radical. She was putting phrases into Hansard that don’t often appear in relation to a state Australia considers an ally. This was not the tempered language critics of Israel in mainstream Australian political life generally employ: it was ardent, passionate, and unflinching.

When I visit Parke in her parliamentary office a year on from Svirsky’s trek, it becomes clear that despite being outspoken, the MP chooses her words carefully. Her demeanour is steady and deliberate, as well as friendly and polite – descriptors used by those who have worked with her, and against her.

Parke doesn’t explicitly state support for the BDS campaign in its entirety, though she says she believes it is working, and notes sanctions are used routinely by states like Australia, the US, and Israel itself.

The closest Parke comes to a total endorsement is a rhetorical question: “Why would we not do it in the case of Israel, when they are so flagrantly in breach of so much of international law?”

There’s a pragmatic answer to that. The issue of BDS in Australia, and of the Israel/Palestine conflict generally, remains politically unrewarding. Support begets accusations of anti-Semitism and, as the Greens have learnt, dogged attacks from the conservative press.

If you’re unlucky you might even end up in court. Meanwhile, most Australians couldn’t tell you the first thing about the ageing conflict. The repercussions for pushing it onto the public consciousness are severe, and the political payoffs somewhere between questionable and non-existent.

In that climate, it makes more sense to flip Parke’s question on its head: why would you try to do it?

Parke’s response to this draws on international law and realpolitik – solving the conflict will take valuable propaganda away from the likes of Islamic State, she says. But her decision to advocate so strongly taps a deeper, more personal source as well.

As the Second Intifada raged – a bloodier cousin to the first Palestinian mass rising of the late 1980s –Parke was in Gaza. Working as a Legal Officer for a UN refugee agency, she liaised with the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Defence Force to get staff and humanitarian supplies through checkpoints. From her apartment in Gaza City she could look out on the Mediterranean Sea – a “fantastic view” – as well as peer into Yasser Arafat’s compound and a refugee camp.

A file image of Gaza in 2009, after yet another Israeli assault. (IMAGE: gloucester2gaza, Flickr)
A file image of Gaza in 2009, after yet another Israeli assault. (IMAGE: gloucester2gaza, Flickr)

At the time, Israel was deploying what Parke describes as “a sort of shock and awe bombing campaign”. She says 36 bombs were dropped during her first night in Gaza City, shaking her building and its surrounds. She lay awake.

Then Israel started targeting leaders of Hamas – too bad if you’re the one who gets stuck in traffic behind them when the IDF locks on.

“You could be driving behind the car targeted with Hamas in it and you’re gone as well,” Parke say. She was scared, and her fears were soon vindicated.

The same year in Gaza, a place Parke stayed for two and a half years, fellow UN worker Iain Hook was shot in the back while standing in a UN compound by an Israeli sniper from a nearby building. Hook had been there to rebuild homes in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

Israel contests the exact details of the killing, but those like Parke believe the shooter must have known who they were about to slay.

Despite some outrage, and conciliatory calls from Israel’s then foreign minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the English government, a UN resolution condemning the murder was vetoed by the United States.

The killing of Hook and lack of international response outraged Parke, and she carries the injustice of it with her still. So too the many others she witnessed directly in the shelled and re-shelled streets of Gaza City.

“I didn’t go there with a pre-conceived view,” Parke insists. “I obviously had read about the situation. But it’s not until you’re there on the ground that you come to appreciate the absolute imbalance of power. You’re talking about the fourth largest military power in the world with the latest technology and with an army, navy, air force, versus an occupied people – an impoverished, occupied people.”

These experiences soaked deep into Parke. When I try to move the interview on at one point, she pulls us back to Palestine. This is what she wants to talk about and part of the reason she came to parliament: to grab the megaphone, and to use it.

 

Before entering Parliament, Parke worked as community lawyer in south-west Western Australia, near where her family farmed and exported Granny Smith apples. She joined Labor in 1995 and took an unsuccessful shot at the state seat of Mitchell in 1996.Hansonism had swept the country and many of those whose doors Parke knocked on counselled her to take a leaf out of the xenophobic Queenslander’s book.

After her defeat – “a relief” – she lectured in law at Murdoch University, then took a job as a lawyer with the UN. Once at home in the Bunbury Community Legal Centre she now found herself in Kosovo, Gaza, Lebanon, and New York.

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Parke visiting refugees in Lebanon, as part of a later UNICEF backed parliamentary delegation.

By the time Parke received an “out of the blue” email from sitting member Carmen Lawrence, encouraging her to return from overseas to contest the federal seat of Fremantle at the 2007 election, she was working in a Beirut office with Amal Alamuddin (the woman who later married George Clooney).

Lawrence, who became the nation’s first female premier before moving into the federal arena, describes Parke as a “country girl”. Her and others were impressed by Parke during her first missive into politics, and didn’t think the young lawyer had the kind of “remote” or “abstract” feel those involved in international organisations sometimes give off.

Speaking by phone from her University of Western Australia office, Lawrence agrees Parke’s road to federal Parliament wasn’t typical.

“It wasn’t through that elaborate factional dealing and brawling process; that unfortunate incest in the Labor Party – and the Liberal Party for that matter – and a lot of student politics,” she says.

Lawrence sees both a benefit and a disadvantage to this lineage. On one hand, Parke wasn’t an “insider-insider” who had worked with party players from day one, and came without a pre-existing network of supporters and loyalists. On the other hand, that would leave her under fewer restraints, freeing her to inject a fresh voice into the mix.

Parke jumped at the chance.

“I got this email and went ‘Oh my god’,” she recalls. “Amal was like ‘what what, tell me, what is it?’ And so I told her and we were both pretty amazed. Carmen said I should think about it for a while so I did. And eventually I came back to her and said ‘Yes, I’d love to do it’.”

This time the political winds had changed. John Howard would be defeated at the election by a Labor government promising action on climate change, a more humane refugee policy, and national infrastructure and education programs. It was the right moment for Parke’s entry into national life.

In her first remarks to Parliament – on a day that saw Greg Combet, Maxine McKew, and Bill Shorten also make theirs – Parke described politics not as the art of the possible, but as an act of war. It was a figurative sentiment, but it drew on another moment of very real conflict.

“In life we tend to remember moments rather than hours or days or years,” the new member for Fremantle observed.

“I will surely remember this one, as I also remember the moment when I learned that my friend Jean-Sélim Kanaan, one of the UN’s best and brightest, with whom I had worked in Kosovo, was killed in the bombing of the UN headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad on 19 August, 2003.”

Posthumously awarded France’s Legion of Honour, the 33-year-old had perished in an attack that left the UN’s top representative in Iraq, and 20 others, dead. His son, who survived him, was three weeks old at the time. A short time before his murder, Jean-Sélim Kanaan published a book titled Ma guerre à l’indifférence – ‘My war against indifference’.

Parke didn’t just pay tribute to Kanaan in that opening speech. She also borrowed the name of his book to help develop the key theme of the address.

“I hope that my work in this place on behalf of the people of Fremantle can be part of an ongoing cooperative effort towards more such victories in the war against indifference,” she concluded.

Years later, at the other end of that battle, she still believes the maxim.

“Indifference: that is the biggest challenge,” Parke says. “People are so busy, getting busier and busier it seems every day. How do you get people to stop and actually focus on something long enough to have a position on it?”

Her advocacy on the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been a case in point: a technical and unsexy policy area which she has long railed against, trying to thrash the debate into mainstream consciousness.

As we discuss her campaigning on the issue, Parke comes out with a surprising self-characterisation.

“I see myself as an advocate primarily… I certainly don’t see myself as a politician,” she says.

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Parke, seventh from the right, at an anti Perth Freight Link rally.

It’s a strange thing to hear from an MP while sitting in their parliamentary office – it strikes me as the kind of place you might well expect to find one. But at multiple points in our conversation Parke insists that’s not her.

“If I was a politician, I wouldn’t be a very good one,” she continues, arguing she hasn’t been enough “into the politics of things” to work out how the horse-trading and deal making really works.

Parke sometimes plays up her own political naivety, and it’s not always clear if she’s being self-deprecating, or proud, or both. In one instance, she tells me about a meeting in which she encouraged a left-wing union to stop putting energy into combatting another left-wing union, and focus instead on the Liberal state government.

“They just looked at me like I was just some little country bumpkin who’d crawled out from under a rock in a pitying sort of way: ‘oh, you’re so naïve’. But I don’t think I’ve ever lost that sense that we should be looking at the bigger picture here. That’s how I try to approach everything that I do.”

It’s this approach that makes Parke an interesting figure of comparison to other MPs on the left of the party, particularly someone like Tanya Plibersek.

Both Parke and Plibersek secured progressive inner-city seats and have an affinity for development and international affairs. Both are used as counter-examples by party faithful disillusioned with the middling leadership of Bill Shorten. Both have a powerful charisma and independent streak. But only one has played the disciplined insider game: Plibersek now finds herself on the ladder’s penultimate rung.

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Tanya Plibersek as a young MP.

Yet as Michael Brull has noted, Tanya Plibersek underwent a transformation over the period of her ascent, especially in regards to international affairs.

In earlier times, Plibersek decried Ariel Sharon as a war criminal and blasted the US, but by the time he died in 2014, she was thanking the former Israeli leader for his “courageous stand” for peace.

At Labor’s 2015 conference, a motion trying to stop the party supporting turn-backs of boats carrying asylum seekers was defeated, with the left drawing small concessions including more funding for the UNHCR and an increased humanitarian intake in return. Plibersek described it as a “humane, compassionate and sensible” outcome saying she “could not be prouder”.

In her Canberra office, Parke calls the turn-back policy an “absolute disgrace”.

While Brull’s analysis concludes “at least Plibersek’s journey will provide a salutary lesson about the ALP, by showing her grim but predictable slide from idealistic ALP firebrand, to cynical imperialist apparatchik”, Plibersek doesn’t see the cooling of her rhetoric in quite the same light.

As Labor bent ever further backwards to keep itself aligned with the Coalition on all things security in 2014, Plibersek was profiled by The Monthly. She defended her party’s support for laws that would jail Australian journalists, scoop-up the entire country’s metadata, and greatly increase the powers of security agencies. She made no apologies.

“Look, I can be fierce, sometimes. The things that we argue about in [parliament]matter. There are times in politics when you think, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to do the grand gesture?’,” she told The Monthly. “But it’s almost always a mistake because… you wear the consequences of a defeat.”

To put it another way, she’s chosen her battles. No big speeches on Palestine. No tears over refugees. You do your lobbying out of sight, if you do it at all, and you take the prizes as they’re handed to you. You might move the party on major policy debates in the long run; you certainly won’t inspire the nation in the meantime.

When I first read that Plibersek quote, I read it as a criticism of people like Parke. Parke says the playing-from-inside point of view is valid, and that there are different roles for different people in the party. She doesn’t see herself as a moral grandstander. Despite the cordiality, her response also comes across as a polite rebuke of her not-quite-rival.

“I’ll leave it to the politicians to finesse how a deal could be done with the other side to achieve something,” Parke says. “But I would prefer to start by saying ‘what’s the right thing to do’ and we can look at how we would achieve that rather than immediately accepting upfront the compromise position without even pushing for the right position.”

Politics may be war, but Parke still describes it as hinging on a simple moral calculus.

It should be noted that whatever her colleagues think of Parke’s parliamentary outbursts, the sources I spoke to in the world of refugee politics certainly didn’t see her work as self-serving.

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Parke joins an asylum seeker protest out the front of Parliament.

According to human rights lawyer Julian Burnside she’ll be a big loss.

“I think she’s been fantastic,” he says. “In my view she’s been one of the very few Federal MPs who has actually been saying worthwhile things about refugees.”

One insider in a major refugee organisation described Parke as “absolutely genuine”.

“Melissa is a legend,” they told me. “Anytime you need anyone in parliament to do anything on refugee stuff you go to her.” (Parke recently presented another petition to parliament, this time on behalf of refugee advocate Dr Diana Cousens, calling for the witness to Reza Barati’s death to be brought back to Australia.)

Pamela Curr, a prominent member of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the most critical of Labor of the advocates I talked to, also had kind things to say, despite noting with despair that Parke and her ilk were constrained by their party.

While hesitant to criticise individuals, Parke is clear in her critique of Labor’s internal machinery. She blames the surveillance and security capitulation on a top-down flow-on effect.

Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, and Stephen Conroy were all members of the bipartisan Intelligence and Security Committee that approved security laws threatening journalists with lengthy jail stints for exposing special operations – laws that the government has since agreed to amend after a scathing reportby the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor.

According to Parke, the presence of shadow Cabinet members on the Parliamentary Committee examining the laws led to an overlap, effectively causing the Shadow Cabinet to bind to the compromises struck with the Coalition. This decision then flowed down to the Shadow Ministry.

By the time the matter actually came to caucus it was a forgone conclusion. The party leadership had effectively killed off the chance for robust internal debate.

As someone strongly in favour of civil liberties and deeply opposed to overriding executive controls – both of the government over the parliament, and the party executive over its members – Parke was left frustrated by Labor’s acquiescence and faulty process.

“We were told ‘This is the position the leadership has taken, and they’re on the Intelligence Committee, and they’ve negotiated this with the government. No correspondence will be entered into: it’s a done deal’,” she recounts.

Despite her resistance and criticisms, Parke did manage to rise sufficiently within the party to briefly score a ministerial post, becoming the Minister for International Development months out from the 2013 election. After Labor was cleared out of government, another woman on the party’s left wanted the role, and I ask Parke if she had been interested in retaining it in opposition.

“Oh, I would have loved to,” she says “But that was a role that Tanya was very interested in as well and it fit in well with her foreign affairs portfolio.”

Plibersek now holds the position.

 

Not long after Parke’s arrival in Canberra the political winds changed again. Labor shelved its plans for an Emissions Trading Scheme and Kevin Rudd was deposed as leader. Julia Gillard later cut higher education funding, albeit as a way of freeing resources for the Gonski plan, reduced payments to single mothers, and oversaw an increasingly punitive refugee policy that climaxed with (the returned) Rudd’s new Pacific Solution.At her high point, as the Minister for International Development, Parke watched her portfolio fall victim to the ‘budget emergency’. She says Treasury and Finance were to blame.

“That was fairly devastating actually. To be in a position of Minister very briefly, for foreign aid, and having to defend the budget against incursions on it – and losing the battle.”

A losing battle. It’s a phrase Parke mustn’t use lightly: the one both critics and fans who spoke to New Matilda referenced often when describing her time as an MP. For all her gall, she leaves politics at a time when Labor’s refugee policy is the most cruel and punitive it has ever been.

new matilda, melissa parke
Sea-change Sundowner event with author Tim Winton and and Master Chef judge Anna Gare.

In defence of her own approach Parke points to some of Labor’s achievements in government as well as internal shifts on policy. Animal welfare, another area of unabated passion, has moved along, and Parke was particularly pleased by Labor’s introduction of a network of marine reserves while still in government.

One of her more prominent constituents, writer Tim Winton, travelled to Canberra to help drum up support for the proposal in 2012. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is in place too and Labor funded the now threatened Gonski plan. Modest public whistleblower laws were enacted. For all the infighting, the Rudd/Gillard years did see some progressive reforms bloom.

Other more ambitious interests of Parke’s, for instance forcing the government of the day to seek parliamentary approval before declaring war, have gone nowhere.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact impact of any MP and Parke is keen to note that nothing in Canberra happens without a wide range of collaboration, among MPs, staff, researchers in the parliamentary library, community groups and academics. But she does see her own fingerprints on some triumphs, for instance Julia Gillard’s backdown over voting no to Palestinian observer status at the United Nations.

If you accept that Parke has played a role in these changes, her time in parliament throws up a more difficult question, one relevant to any MP on Labor’s left who publicly dissents from the party line.

A senior member of the Greens – who was otherwise full of praise for Parke – proffered the following: what if her outspokenness actually helps reinforce the status quo she is trying to resist? What if Melissa Parke’s voice of conscience only allows Labor to sin further?

Progressive voters get the ‘Parkes’ and the ‘Anna Burkes’ as their champions, swing voters harangued into a terror over boat people get their hardline policies, Labor gets to have its soul and eat it too. The party keeps left-wing voters in the tent while solidifying around a more conservative platform. Everyone wins – except those who find themselves in a detention centre somewhere in the Pacific.

There seems to be some acknowledgment of the underlying rationale of this argument by those sympathetic to Parke. Carmen Lawrence, for one, doesn’t buy it, but says MPs like Parke do enable parts of the electorate concerned about civil liberties and human rights “to hold their noses and continue to vote Labor”. This, she says, has prevented what would otherwise be “an even bigger flood” to the Greens.

Parke seems genuinely surprised by the line of reasoning.

“I’m certainly not doing what I do for some broader political gain for the Labor Party as a cynical exercise in keeping people in the left of the Party rather than going to the Greens or independents,” she says. “That would just be – that’s the opposite of everything I believe in. I don’t think anyone who knows me would think I was doing it [for that reason].”

Parke’s stance on the Greens aligns with this self-assessment. She says she has no “deep criticisms” of the party. It’s a somewhat more polite response than that of other Labor leftists like Anthony Albanese, let alone those in the right of the party.

“Look, I know this is just anathema to so many people in Labor but I don’t see [the Greens]as the evil enemy,” Parke says. In fact, she sees much common ground between the two. She even sees the prospect of a new coalition emerging.

“I think in the future, in the same way that the Liberal Party relies… on the Nationals to form a Coalition, that’s the kind of thinking that we might need to go to in the future because we may not, in our own right, have the numbers. Particularly if we are not pursuing a very progressive agenda in some areas.”

Given those sentiments, it’s tempting to ask why Parke never jumped ship. Why not go with the Greens? She frames her response around loyalty rather than power. It was Lawrence who emailed her in Beirut and the party that helped her campaign and win. She’s grateful for what they’ve done for her. Plus, she’s drawn to Labor’s history and points to Doc Evatt and Jessie Street – the lone female presence in Australia’s key contingent at the birth of the United Nations – as sources of political inspiration.

Despite being told by an online political compass that the sum of her beliefs should point her to voting Greens, Parke says she has always cast her ballot for the ALP.

new matilda, melissa parke
An anti-super trawler rally.

 

On the eve of her retirement, Parke hasn’t lost the Labor faith. When I asked her in late 2015 whether her peers deserved to return to government she gave a refreshingly honest answer: “I think we still have more work to do”.By the time we speak again in February 2016, she thinks things have changed. Labor has doubled down on Gonski, vowed to go after negative gearing and superannuation concessions for the wealthy, and is starting to take a more substantial policy debate to Malcolm Turnbull.

Parke also thinks Labor has learnt a lesson from the security bipartisanship, and that there has been an “auto-correction”.

She backs Bill Shorten for PM, impressed by the way he has unified the recently fractured party. There’s a slight qualification, though.

“I hope that would be a Bill Shorten who is unashamedly putting forward Labor values based on human rights and fairness. I know that he certainly would be on other matters of intrinsic importance to the Labor Party; public health and education; fair and safe working conditions; public transport; infrastructure; and protecting the environment, but I am concerned about the issue of refugees, the position that’s been taken by the leadership,” she says.

Early this week Shorten shot back at Cory Bernardi in the kind of off-the-cuff remark Labor’s true friends have been waiting to hear for some time. The moment was brief, small even, but it provided a rousing image of defiant opposition. The darkest elements of Australia’s conservative political movement had made themselves noisily apparent in the nation’s capital, but they hadn’t gotten away scot-free.

For Shorten, the task ahead involves convincing Australians he stands for something beyond himself, breaking down the grey portrait of a leader at the mercy of focus groups and faceless men.

As the party tries to rebuild itself into a coherent progressive project that can channel changes in the community into something bigger, Melissa Parke’s war on indifference reaches its ceasefire.

If her party fails to find room for others like her in the future they’ll be losing more than once untouchable seats to the Greens.

 

Max Chalmers is a journalist at New Matilda. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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In Full Control: Whatever Happens Next in Syria Will be Decided in Moscow – WRITTEN BY LOUAI BESHARA

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© AFP 2016/ LOUAI BESHARA
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10:06 28.02.2016(updated 10:42 28.02.2016) Get short URL
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The US media grudgingly admits that the US-Russian backed cessation of hostilities in Syria has been struck on Russia’s terms and Moscow remains “in control of what happens next”, however some media sources say that Russia’s mere negotiation of the ceasefire has already been done from a position of strength.

“That is the real import of the cease-fire: It puts Russia in control of what happens next in Syria,” laments The Washington Post, adding that the Obama administration has simply “handed” this geopolitical victory to President Putin.

Rather than support Syrian rebels, it “chose to sue for peace on Moscow’s terms”, the US daily suggests.However, this turns out to be only partially true.

“The important thing to note about the ceasefire is that Russia and Hezbollah were within a month or so of declaring victory when the deal was struck,” suggests one of the key bloggers at the website Zero Hedge.

“Government forces have closed in on the city of Aleppo, a major symbol of the uprising. Their supply routes from Turkey cut, rebels in the Aleppo area now say it may only be a matter of time before they are crushed altogether,” echoes Reuters.

That meant Russia was already negotiating from a position of strength.

“We are heading toward being liquidated I think,” the agency quoted a former official from a rebel group in the city as saying.All the above has been confirmed on Saturday by a senior representative of the Russian General Staff, Sergei Rudskoi:

“We are in full control of the situation across the whole of Syria,” he said, adding that Russian forces suspended all sorties over Syria on Saturday, in line with a ceasefire deal, but are using at least 70 drones and space surveillance for monitoring purposes.

 
Related:
Russia Sends to US Proposals on Ensuring Ceasefire in Syria – General Staff
Russia Holds Talks With 49 Armed Groups Representatives in Syria
Putin Praises Russia’s Security Service for Anti-Terrorist Work in Syria
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Evidence Erdogan threatened to bus 1000s of refugees into Europe unless (accession/funds) demands met – WRITTEN BY UNDERCOVER1

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A document – see four images below – provides evidence that Turkey threatened to bus into the European Union thousands more refugees from war zones unless the EU met Turkey’s demands for visa-free roaming (and accession) to the EU. The document proves that politics is the main driver in how Turkey ‘manages’ the refugee crisis, with the refugees mere pawns in a greater political chess-game. The document – a memorandum released byeuro2day.gr – concerns a meeting between Turkey and EU officials, including the head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, at which Turkish president Tayip Erdogan threatened that if the EU did not link the refugee issue with Turkey’s accession negotiations, Turkey would “open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria and put the refugees on buses”. Juncker tells Erdogan that ‘visa-free’ deal for Turks will not happen if Schengen collapses. (As for the 3 billion euros that, consequently, have been given to Turkey by the EU, Erdogan’s original demand – which could still be met – is for 3 billion euros per year.)

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Big Protest confronts Australian Embassy in Dili – WRITTEN BY SAM KING

 
Protesters gather outside the Australian Embassy in Dili, 23 February

A large and angry demonstration was held outside the Australian Embassy in Dili on 23 February, against the Australian government’s refusal negotiate a permanent international border with East Timor.

The protest – organised by the coalition Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) – included dozens of organised contingents of students, young people, civil society groups as well as veterans of the national liberation struggle. “Timor Leste, Viva! Australia, Abaixo!” (“Long Live East Timor! Down with Australia!”) – was one popular chant.

The Embassy had been subject to a smaller protest in 2013 and a graffiti protest in 2014 after it was revealed that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) spied on the Timorese government during negotiations over a temporary resource sharing arrangement. However, this latest protest indicates a dramatic escalation.

Tama Laka Aquita, vice president of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST), toldRed Flag that another protest will take place on 22-23 March. This will coincide with protests in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and New York in the same week. PST president Avelino Coelho has already been on television talking up the issue.

All Timorese political parties agree that resolving the border dispute is a national priority. That has been reflected in a string of recent media statements made by senior politicians calling Australian spying “a criminal act”, to quote Xanana Gusmao the historic leader of the Timorese resistance, and calling for an immediate re-start to negotiations to finalise the border.

The Timorese parliament has appointed a Council for Final Delimitation of Maritime Boundaries, which includes all former presidents, prime ministers and speakers of the parliament. Gusmao has been elected chief negotiator.

Australia’s present violation of Timorese sovereignty denies Timor the resources it badly needs for even basic national development. Many Timorese still lack access to electricity or safe water. Young people with university education are often lured to foreign NGO’s or AID organisations that can pay higher wages than teachers receive at the National University of Timor Leste.

There are large gas reserves beneath the Timor Sea – particularly the enormous, undeveloped Greater Sunrise Gas field, which is almost entirely on the Timorese side of the halfway line. Yet, in net terms, East Timor is actually the largest foreign aid contributor to Australia – if we count revenues taken by the Australian Treasury from gas already extracted from smaller, already developed fields on Timor’s side of the halfway line.

Australia’s aggression, for a time, seemed to be successful. Just prior to Timor gaining independence in 2002, foreign minister Alexander Downer reportedly told the UN transitional administrator of East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, that “Australia could bring meltdown to East Timor if it so chose” – i.e. by withdrawing foreign aid while the country was still awaiting gas revenues to come online. In March 2002, Downer announced Australia’s withdraw from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The following month, Canberra was able to obtain a signature from then Timorese prime minister Mari Alkatiri, for the highly unfair, temporary, Timor Sea Treaty. The TST encountered immediate opposition and was never ratified by the Timorese parliament.

However, in 2006 then foreign minister Ramos Horta signed another highly unfair agreement with Australia. The new agreement – CMATS – gave a partial concession to Timor by conceding 50 percent, up from 18 percent, of the revenues from Greater Sunrise. However, it completely excluded Timor’s government and oil company from participation in the development and required Timor to postpone all negotiations for a permanent settlement of the boundary for 50 years.

Now even Horta is on record calling for Australia to re-start negotiations for a permanent settlement, as is Alkatiri. The new atmosphere of protest – which extends from the streets to the parliament – if it can be sustained and supported by a lively campaign in Australia, might prove correct what former Australian ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott cabled to Canberra in 1975.

Woolcott, argued for Australia to support the Indonesian invasion of the country in 1975 – which led to a quarter-century occupation and the death of 200,000 people. He thought that “closing the present gap in the agreed sea border” (i.e. finalising a border closer to Timor than Australia) “could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia … than with Portugal or independent Portuguese Timor”.

Indeed, the original Timor Gap Treaty that the Australian Labor government famously signed with the Indonesian Military dictatorship in 1989 was far worse than the present CMATS. But even CMATS is no longer accepted by independent East Timor. Unfortunately for Malcolm Turnbull and his ilk, there is no longer a military dictatorship in Timor than can put down protests against the Australian Embassy.

It seems safe to assume that the Embassy staff, DFAT and the Turnbull government must be monitoring the growing movement with increasing alarm. Working people in Australia should greet it not only with joy but active support. The most meaningful solidarity we can give is by building our own movement to support East Timor’s democratic and sovereign right to complete its national self-determination. Viva Timor Leste!

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Response to human health and ecological risk assessments of organophosphate insecticides in USA – WRITTEN BY RICHARD BRUCE

27FEB

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Richard Bruce sends news of a press release issued from Portland, Oregon, by the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

EPA logoIt reported that group of farmworkers, child-safety and environmental advocates has sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency urging it to ban seven organophosphate pesticides, currently under review, that are used on crops such as corn, cotton, watermelon and wheat. It was submitted in response to the EPA’s request for public comments on new releases of human-health and ecological risk assessments for organophosphate insecticides.

A recent study at the University of California at Berkeley found that an astonishing 87% of umbilical-cord blood samples tested had detectable levels of an organophosphate. Early childhood exposure to organophosphates has beenlinked to cognitive delay and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).An earlier study concluded that early-life exposure to OP pesticides was associated with respiratory symptoms consistent with possible asthma in childhood.

nathan donley“These pesticides pose unacceptably high risks to children, workers and wildlife, and really can’t be used safely,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, with expertise in cancer research, cell biology and genetics.

In addition to effects on human health, organophosphates are also very dangerous to many species of wildlife. By the end of 2005, more than 1,440 bird-related incidents involving organophosphates had been recorded in North America, resulting in the deaths of more than 335,000 birds. Organophosphate use has also been linked topopulation declines of several amphibians in California, a state with heavy use of these pesticides.

The groups signing the letter included: Alaska Community Action on Toxics, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Columbia Legal Services, Farmworker Association of Florida, Migrant Clinicians Network, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

To read the whole article go to:http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2016/pesticides-02-24-2016.html

For further information, contact Nathan Donley,ndonley@biologicaldiversity.org

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