Thursday, January 31, 2008

Life in Occupied Gaza

Life in Occupied Gaza - by Stephen Lendman

Life in occupied Gaza was never easy, but conditions worsened markedly after Hamas' surprise January 2006 electoral victory. Israel refused recognition along with the US and the West. All outside aid was cut off, an economic embargo and sanctions were imposed, and the legitimate government was isolated. Stepped up repression followed along with repeated IDF incursions, attacks and arrests. Gaza's people have been imprisoned in their own land and traumatized for months. No one outside the Territories cares or offers enough aid. Things then got worse.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, in league with Israel and the US, declared a "state of emergency last June 14 and illegally dismissed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his national unity government. On June 15, he appointed former IMF and World Bank official Salam Fayyad prime minister even though his party got only 2% of the votes in the 2006 election. On June 17, Abbas swore in a new (illegitimate) 13 member "emergency" cabinet with plans for future elections, excluding Hamas.

Israel and the US showed gratitude. The West Bank embargo ended, Israel began releasing frozen Palestinian tax funds, and the US and European Union (EU) resumed aid to the PA but continued isolating Hamas in Gaza that since 1995 has been designated a terrorist organization. After passage of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the State Department included Hamas among the first 30 groups designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) in October 1997. It makes it illegal to provide funds or other material support. It also ignores how Israel once embraced Hamas in the 1980s.

It's name means courage and bravery, and it's also an abbreviation of Islamic Resistance Movement in Arabic. It grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood (that had roots in Egypt) and was formed in 1987 during the first Intifada. At the time, Israel offered support and used Hamas to counter the PLO's nationalist threat under Arafat. Ever since, it's been an effective resistance movement against repression, occupation and much more. It provides essential social services like medical clinics; education, including centers for women; free meals for children; financial and technical help to Palestinians whose homes Israel destroyed; aid to refugees in the camps; and youth and sports clubs for young people.

Hamas is also a formidable defender, and that gets it in trouble. It established the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, an elite military wing, and other security forces like its Tanfithya Executive Force for self-defense and law enforcement. Washington and Tel Aviv call it "terrorism" because Hamas wants the occupation ended, won't surrender its sovereignty like Fatah did under Arafat and Abbas, is willing to recognize Israel (though that's never reported), but only if Palestinians get equal recognition and what's rightfully theirs - an independent homeland inside pre-1967 borders or one "state for all its citizens," Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and others.

Instead, Hamas got isolated, hammered and called a "hostile entity" by Israel's security cabinet. It was announced on September 19, sanctions on Gaza were tightened, and it was decided to "reduce the amount of megawattage provide(d) to the Strip, and Hamas will have to decide whether to provide electricity to hospitals or weapons lathes." There was more as well - cutbacks in fuel, food, other essentials and even tighter border crossing restrictions.

Even before the latest crisis, Gaza was devastated. Its industrial production was down 90%, and its agricultural output was half its pre-2007 level. In addition, nearly all construction stopped, unemployment and poverty topped 80%, and by now it may be 90%. After September 19, it got worse when shops began running out of everything. Israel allows in only nine basic materials, their availability is spotty, and some essentials are banned, like certain medicines, and others restricted like fruit, milk and other dairy products. Before June 2007, 9000 commodities could be imported. Today, it's down to 20, people don't get enough food, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was unusually blunt in its criticism. In a November 2007 report called "Dignity Denied in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," it said:

"....Palestinians....face hardship (in) their (daily) lives; they are prevented from doing what makes up the daily fabric of most people's existence. (They) face a deep human crisis, where millions of people are denied their human dignity. Not once in a while, but every day (and the people of Gaza are) trapped (and) sealed off." The "humanitarian cost (is) enormous," people can barely survive, "families unable to get enough food increased by 14%, (and) Palestinians (are) being trampled underfoot day after day. (In) Gaza (under siege, Palestinians) continue to pay for conflict and economic containment with their health and livelihoods. Cutting power and fuel further compounds their hardship."

Let 'em eat cake, walk, and live without light or heat is apparently Israel's solution, and noted Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, took note. He calls it "genocide....to describe what the Israeli army is doing in the Gaza Strip." Knowing the facts, who can disagree.

Then there's the matter of energy. With electricity restricted and fuel supplies reduced, Israel went further. It sealed its borders and cut all fuel shipments in response to Palestinian rocket attacks in and around the border town of Sderot. They're fired in self-defense and used in response to repeated Israeli attacks that in the week of January 17 - 23 alone:

-- killed 19 Palestinians along with three others from previous IDF-inflicted wounds;

-- extra-judicially executed seven of the victims, including two women;

-- wounded 71 Palestinians, including 24 children and three women;

-- made 33 IDF incursions in the West Bank and five in Gaza;

-- arrested 58 Palestinian civilians, including seven children, in the West Bank, and 32 in Gaza, including 3 children;

-- destroyed five homes and razed agricultural land in Jabalya in northern Gaza;

-- allowed further settler attacks against civilians and property in Hebron.

The same pattern continued the following week through Janauary 30 with more Israeli incursions, attacks and arrests. In the West Bank:

-- Nablus was targeted and several Palestinian civilians arrested; several homes were also searched and ransacked in the villages of Kufer Kalil, Beit Dajan and Beit Fourik;

-- the IDF seized six Palestinians in Jenin in a pre-dawn invasion; another followed theire several days later, the Israeli army opened fire randomly, one civilian was injured, four others arrested and a home was ransacked; several civilian homes were attacked and ransacked in the town of Qabatiya and village of Abu Da'eif in the northern West Bank; local sources reported unprovoked random gunfire by heavily armed troops in civilian neighborhoods;

-- the IDF invaded Bethlehem, killed one civilian, arrested another, and injured seven others; eyewitnesses reported that local journalists were prevented from witnessing and documenting the incursion;

-- several other West Bank cities were targeted and six civilians arrested: the Al Toor neighborhood in northern Jerusalem; the village of Beit Rima near Ramallah; Tulkarem city and the nearby Nur Shams refugee camp; and Jenin city.

These are malicious acts of aggression, abductions and wanton killing. Mostly civilians are targeted, and when Palestinians respond with crude Qassam rockets and children throw rocks, it's called "terrorism." Israel's response - fiercer attacks and incursions in the Territories on any pretext or none at all and further tightening of its medieval siege on Gaza.

Its border crossings have been closed since June 2007, and severe restrictions were imposed on movement. Finally, food and fuel supplies were cut. Gaza's power plant exhausted its supply, shut down, and the Strip went dark on January 20. Israel remained defiant, and Prime Minister Olmert announced...."as far as I am concerned, every resident of Gaza can walk because they have no gasoline for their vehicles," and Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arye Meckel, told AP the blackout was "a Hamas ploy to pretend there is some kind of crisis to attract international sympathy."

The Director of Gaza's main Shiffa hospital, Dr. Hassan Khalaf, had a different view. He described the situation as "potentially disastrous." Already Israel's siege was directly responsible for 45 deaths, and he said cutting hospital power would cause 30 premature babies to die immediately. The World Health Organization was also alarmed. It said insufficient electricity "disrupt(s)....intensive care units, operating theatres, and emergency rooms (and) power shortages have interrupted refrigeration of perishable medical supplies, including vaccine."

To operate at full capacity, Gaza needs 230 - 250 daily megawatts of electricity. Its only power plant supplies around 30% of it, but people in central Gaza and Gaza city are totally dependent on what can't be supplied if industrial diesel fuel the plant depends on is cut off. The result is critically ill people are endangered, bread and other baked goods can't be produced without electricity to power ovens, food is already in short supply, so is fresh water, and sanitation conditions are disastrous.

Michele Mercier of the International Red Cross said hospital medications were running out and wouldn't "last for more than two or three days." In addition, allowable food shipments are endangered according to UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman, Christopher Gunness. He explained that the agency would have to suspend distribution to 860,000 people because of a fuel and plastic bags shortage.

Israel was unapologetic with Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter, saying the IDF must "eliminate the rocket fire from Gaza, irrespective of the cost to Palestinians." Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, added: "We are impacting the overall quality of life in Gaza and destroying the terror infrastructure." He meant civilians as did Ehud Olmert claiming: "We are trying to hit only those involved in terrorism, but also signaling to the population in Gaza that it cannot be free from responsibility for the situation."

Israel makes no distinction between civilians (including women and children) and resistance fighters, and B'Tselem stated that Yuval Diskin, head of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), "defines every Palestinian killed in the Gaza Strip as a terrorist," including small children and the elderly infirm. The world approves, the Security Council debates and abstains, the dominant media is silent, and innocent Palestinians suffer and die - over 75 killed in January and several hundred injured. Who cares and who's counting. They're just Arab Muslims.

They're also needy human beings, now desperate, and on January 23 they responded courageously. No help is coming so Hamas acted preemptively. It destroyed 200 meters of metal barrier separating both sides of Rafah that was divided in 1982 as part of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt. About 40,000 people live in Egypt and another 200,000 in Gaza in the original town and an adjacent refugee camp. Until the outbreak of the second Intifada in September, 2000, crossing both ways was uncomplicated. That ended as violence increased, and Israel erected a barrier. Now it's breached, Gazans took advantage, and some called it a "jail break." Hundreds of thousands entered Egypt for needed essentials unavailable at home. Finally, the media noticed.

On January 24, The New York Times tried to have it both ways. It called Hamas' border breach "an act of defiance" and continued indifferently. Unmindful of an 18 month siege, mass impoverishment, a humanitarian crisis and daily killings, correspondent Steven Erlanger made things seem festive in his report. Almost flippantly he said "Tens of thousands of Palestinians.... crossed the border for a 'buying spree' of medicine, cement, sheep....gasoline, soap and countless other supplies that have been cut off."

Most Gazans can barely afford food and essentials and struggle daily to survive. Yet, Erlanger said they stocked up on "Coca-Cola, Cleopatra and Malimbo cigarettes, and satellite dishes" and on January 25 added "televisions (and) washing machines." It was a party, "Egyptian merchants greeted them with a 'cornucopia of consumer goods," and Hamas joined the festivities by "mak(ing no) visible effort to control or tax" purchases. Those who could afford it indeed took advantage. Merchants bought items for resale at lower Egyptian prices. Most Palestinians, however, bought essentials - food, fuel, medicine if available and various household items.

Earlier on January 21, Israel relented to international pressure and a PR disaster impossible to ignore. Haaretz highlighted it in a January 26 editorial headlined "The siege of Gaza has failed." Hamas ended it "via a well-planned operation and simultaneously won the sympathy of the world, which has forgotten the rain of Qassam rockets on Sderot, (and Israel looks foolish) entrenching itself in positions that look outdated." Only a week ago, the government was crowing. Triumphantly, it claimed its policy was "bearing fruit."

Today, it's all bitter with Olmert in denial. In a speech at the January Herzliya Conference, he said: "Mistakes were made; there were failures. But in addition, lessons were learned, mistakes were corrected, modes of behavior were changed, and above all, the decisions we have made since then have led to greater security, greater calm and greater deterrence than there had been for many years." Haaretz had another view, and it was harsh. It stated events in Gaza "completely (contradict) his statements. If that is what learning lessons looks like, if that is what deterrence means, the Olmert government has precious little to boast about." So it acted.

AP reported on January 21 that authorities "agreed today to ship diesel fuel and medicine into Gaza on a one-time basis," easing its blockade, but it wouldn't continue unless rocket firings stopped. Everything then changed on January 27.

Aljazeera, The New York Times, Haaretz and other sources reported that the Olmert government relented. It agreed to resume fuel shipments to Gaza, easing its blockade. The decision came on the same day Israel's Supreme Court addressed the petition of 10 human rights organizations to order a resumption and prevent a humanitarian disaster. No decision was rendered, but state authorities acted anyway.

They agreed to supply 2.2 million weekly liters of industrial diesel fuel, the minimum amount needed to power central Gaza and Gaza City, but it's not enough overall according to Rafiq Maliha, the project manager at An-Nuseirat's power plant location. It's only two-thirds the amount needed, a mere fraction was delivered the first day, and Maliha said Gaza's gas companies would strike and resist this "Israeli plot" masquerading as humanitarian aid. His doubts are well-founded. On the same day fuel shipments resumed, Israeli warplanes struck northern Gaza in two separate raids. Hamas sources said two missiles hit a Palestinian car and others targeted a Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades position causing four injuries.

Human rights groups are also dismissive. They noted previous promises made, then broken, and the GISHA group (the Israeli NGO for freedom of Palestinian movement in the Territories) spokesperson said that Israel "repeatedly promised that it would ship 2.2 million litres (of fuel) a week into Gaza and has repeatedly broken that promise." Why believe authorities now, and with events so fluid it seems every day, a new policy.

At the same time, Hamas and Egyptian security forces are cooperating to close the border eight days after it was breached. On January 28, Haaretz reported that openings were being sealed by barbed wire, but not entirely as some two-way traffic continues as of January 30. Hamas and Egyptian forces now man the main Salah Eddin gate, most cars and trucks aren't passing through, but pedestrians still in Egypt "scoured (nearly) empty stores for food and consumer products to take back to the Gaza Strip....in fear of an imminent border reclosing."

What's next is anyone's guess, but Israel's Supreme Court will affect it. On January 30, it upheld the government's Gaza sanctions and its right to restrict fuel and electricity. In its statement, the three-judge panel left no doubt where it stands. It wrote:

"We emphasize that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a 'murderous terror group' that operates incessantly to strike the state of Israel and its citizens, and violates every precept of international law with its violent actions." Israel, nonetheless, will supply enough fuel and electricity to "fulfill the vital humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip at this time."

Israeli human rights petitioners were quick to respond, and their message was clear and harsh. For its part, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights called the ruling a "dangerous legal precedent that allows Israel to continue to violate the rights of Gaza residents and deprive them of basic humanitarian needs in violation of international law." Hamas spokesperson, Fawzi Barhoum, was equally pointed. He added: The High Court's decision "reflects the criminal, ugly face of the occupation."

Things are now back to square one, Israel's siege has been sanctified, and an unworkable 2005 security arrangement remains in place. Hamas wants it replaced with a new one and demands justice for Gaza's 1.5 million people. Its main objection is Israel controls all movement and monitors it with cameras and computers to track everyone entering and leaving Gaza. On January 27, Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said: 'We don't accept a continued Israeli veto on the movement, the exit and entry through Rafah." It's time for a new system.

Getting one is another matter, according to Israeli officials. They commented on January 28 saying "Israel will not allow the continuation of the current state where its security interests are being compromised," and Olmert and Abbas met on January 27 to discuss it. Initial reports were that Israel wanted Egypt to control the border, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wants Abbas to do it, he, in turn, agrees to anything Olmert and George Bush want, and they at first rejected putting Abbas in charge, but that's now changed according to Haaretz.

On January 29, it reported "Israel does not plan to block....Abbas from assuming control of Gaza's border crossing with Egypt (if Cairo agrees)." Abbas, in turn, says it does as well as the EU, Arab League and Condoleezza Rice. Hamas reacted angrily through its spokesperson, Sami Abu-Zuhri. He called the plan an "Israeli-led international conspiracy (against the legitimate government) with the participation of some regional parties. We tell all parties that we will not allow the return of old conditions at the crossing."

So the beat goes on. Nothing has changed, and unconsidered is what Palestinians want, need and deserve. After decades of abuse, forces they can't control continue buffeting them, yet they persist and endure.

Now there's the latest crisis, and consider Haaretz's January 27 report. It was after Olmert and Abbas met "for a two-hour tete-a-tete....in Jerusalem" at which Olmert again made promises. He said Israel wouldn't let a humanitarian crisis develop in Gaza, when, in fact, one has existed for months, his government caused it, and it's accompanied by daily attacks, killings, arrests and a vast array of human rights abuses against an isolated population barely hanging on.

On January 23, various Palestinian factions met in Damascus with plenty to say. With little hope of being heeded, they called on Abbas to end the "ridiculous" negotiations he insists must continue with Olmert. Among those attending were Khaled Meshaal of Hamas and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad. Their message was strong: "I want to ask our brothers in Ramallah (Fatah headquarters), what exactly are you waiting for?" While you're talking, Palestinians in "the biggest prison in history (are) being massacred."

Even Abbas supporters are dubious, and Palestinian writer, Hani Al-Masri, expressed their view: "It doesn't make sense for negotiations to continue while Israel is changing facts on the ground and undermining the chances for a just and acceptable solution." The Arab League also responded, but not with teeth. It denounced Israel's siege, but does nothing to end it. That's Hamas' view with Khaled Meshaal saying the League could force change but instead prefers words, meetings, resolutions and more meetings in Arab capitals.

Still more are planned. Cairo is involved. So are the Saudis, but most of all Washington and Tel Aviv. They control everything and will decide what's next with one thing assured. Gazans are isolated, locked in the Territory, children and the elderly are dying, so are the sick without medical care, daily attacks kill others, and no end is in sight.

The plight of Palestinians won't change as things continue lurching from one crisis to another the way they have for decades. It won't end until world leaders buckle to growing world sentiment that no longer will injustices this grave be tolerated. How much more suffering must be endured, how many more deaths are acceptable, when will justice finally be served? People of conscience want answers. It's about time they got them.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jennifer Van Bergen's "The Twilight of Democracy"

Reviewing Jennifer Van Bergen's "The Twilight of Democracy" - by Stephen Lendman

Jennifer Van Bergen is an author, activist and educator who currently teaches English and writing at Sante Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida. Professionally, she's also a journalist, legal analyst and non-practicing attorney who's written, spoken out and debated widely on Patriot Act justice and other civil liberties issues. Her newest book is titled "Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious." It analyzes the component skills writers need to learn about their "own already-existing characters" through a series of exercises in the book.

Her other vitally important recent book and subject of this review is called "The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America" written in 2005. It's a clear and powerfully relevant analysis of the threat to freedom, democracy and justice in America today under the Bush regime. As the author puts it: "(We live in a time when) civil liberties have been broadly violated to an unprecedented degree....My goal (in the book) is to lay bare what the government does and is doing, and why it is so profoundly anti-democractic" and a danger to everyone.

The book is in two parts. In Book I, Van Bergen discusses constitutional law, the types of courts and standards of review established to administer it, and the dangerous path we're now on toward a fascist state under George Bush. Book II then reviews "The Bush Plan" for America under Patriot Act justice; the pervasive culture of fear, extreme secrecy and illegal sweeping universal surveillance; permanent state of war for world dominance; and network of barbaric torture-prisons where anyone for any reason may be labeled an "unlawful enemy combatant" and unjustly consigned to the awaiting hell within them.

Book I - Deciphering the Democratic Code

Van Bergen starts off by explaining the clear and present danger of a president who disdains the law and ignores it in pursuit of whatever he wishes. The result is "Freedom and democracy in America are in grave danger," and all humanity is affected as well. By his actions, Van Bergen believes the Bush administration declared war on the Republic and has gone so far astray, "there may be no going back." She may be right, it may already be too late, and she explains why in her opening chapter.

Down the Road to Fascism

Van Bergen cites the following signs of a nation "already more than three-quarters of the way down the road to fascism:" the stolen 2000 presidential election, Patriot Acts I and II, illegal mass surveillance, torture-prison gulag, culture of extreme secrecy and fear, contempt for the rule of law, a permanent state of war and more. We may already be past the tipping point of its classical definition:

-- a state combining corporatism with strong elements of patriotism and nationalism;

-- a claimed messianic Almighty-directed mission; and

-- characterized by authoritarian rule backed by iron-fisted militarism and homeland security enforcers, mass illegal spying, and intolerance of dissent under a president who disdains the law.

Van Bergen calls these components "The Bush Plan to subvert and overthrow democratic systems" and values. It's not just the work of one man or a group of loyalist supporters. It's become part of our corporate culture that thrives on achieving imperial global dominance. It's being pursued by waging war on the world under a national security Patriot Act-governed police state tolerating no dissent. Van Bergen discusses the Act briefly before getting into a more in-depth treatment in Book II. She shows how the law dilutes constitutional standards by amending and combining three separate but parallel legal systems listed below. They use different courts, are now merged and are exploited under Patriot Act justice:

(1) criminal laws and procedures,

(2) foreign intelligence law, and

(3) immigration law.

Post 9/11, Van Bergen notes people are out of the loop believing "constitutional law is hard to understand" and strictly the realm of theoreticians. How does the Constitution relate to "getting ahead in life, with making money," she asks. It's central to it if people begin realizing it's what guarantees their rights in a free society without which nothing is guaranteed but government repression against anyone considered a threat, true or not. The basic laws of the land aren't hard to understand. What's hard is getting people to know their rights under them, realize they're now at risk and be willing to take a stand for what they can't afford to ignore.

The Law is King - If We Can Keep It

We like believing we're a country of laws, not men. It's far from true, won't ever be unless demanded from the grassroots, and under the Bush administration it's pure fantasy. Its officials scorn the law at home and abroad. Van Bergen counts the ways:

-- refusing to adhere to the four Geneva Convention treaties that are the supreme law of the land;

-- opting out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) 104 other nations belong to, including virtually all Western democracies; in addition 42 others signed the Rome Statute but haven't yet ratified it;

-- condoning torture and allowing or ignoring other human rights abuses; the Nazis called torture "Verscharfte Vernehmung," or "enhanced interrogation" leaving few telltale signs of abuses committed; George Bush secretly authorized his own version of harsh "enhanced interrogation" in a July, 2006 executive order; it was unmentioned on October 5 when he confronted a public uproar and contemptuously stated: "This government does not torture people;" he also ignored secret Department of Justice (DOJ) legal opinions confirming his administration condones "the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the CIA;"

-- scorning Bill of Rights laws that guarantee free expression, religion, assembly, representation by competent counsel in a criminal proceeding, fair and speedy trials by a jury of peers, protection from illegal searches and seizures and much more.

These and other rights are constitutionally guaranteed that in a nation of laws "is considered the bottom line" and inviolate. Not so in the age of George Bush with the DOJ and courts taking great "balancing test" liberties when the administration raises issues of national security, justified or not. Van Bergen asks "Do we want a country of laws and not of power-mongering men?" Getting it means earning it and that begins with understanding our rights and how legal systems work.

They're all underpinned by the supreme law of the land in the benchmark Constitution most people know about but not what's in it, what it means, and how, in fact, it works for good or ill. In spite of it, governments always side with privilege and especially capital interests. Ordinary private citizens are hard-pressed to get justice without competent and generally expensive legal counsel few can afford.

Our Individual Rights

Here Van Bergen focuses on due process, free speech and association, legal representation, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. She notes these rights aren't absolute because democratic governments try to balance the "good of the one" against "the good of the many" when it comes to issues of peace and security. The result is individuals often lose out for the supposed greater good that may only be the workings of a repressive state. That's what's happening today in America.

Due Process

Also called "procedural due process," this term only applies when a person's "life, liberty, or property" is at stake, and the government is constitutionally required to provide due process legal procedures so a person gets a proper defense. Often in the past, this right wasn't afforded. Today it's being willfully swept away under police state justice.

First Amendment Freedoms - Speech, the Press, Religion, Assembly and Association

No rights are more vital than these as without them no others are possible, but today, under George Bush, they're being lost. As Van Bergen puts it: "democracy cannot exist without these freedoms." Indeed not, and it's why earlier crumbs of them are now threatened more than ever under Patriot Act justice and other harsh laws like the Military Commissions Act enacted after Van Bergen's book was published. She points out free expression, the press and right to assemble are most threatened today even though they're constitutionally guaranteed.

That doesn't deter George Bush who on July 17, 2007 issued another of his "one-man" Executive Order (EO) decrees "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq." Nothing in the Constitution implicitly or explicitly allows for EOs, but once issued, even illegally, they become the law of the land unless or until courts rule otherwise. This one criminalizes dissent so that all anti-war protests are now illegal, and persons participating in them are subject to arrest, prosecution and loss of their property. That's how a police state works, and that's the condition in America under George Bush's contemptuous flouting of the law to crush all opposition.

Fourth Amendment Rights

This law protects people from illegal searches and seizures, it's not absolute under the best of conditions, and it's practically null and void today. Later in her book, Van Bergen shows how the Patriot Act allows the government "to mix standards from different, incompatible areas of law" (such as criminal investigations, foreign intelligence and immigration) that amounts to a "witch's brew....of ingredients poisonous to a democratic government or way of life."

The Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel

This law provides that defendants shall "have the assistance of counsel" in all criminal prosecutions during and prior to trial and to free assistance if unable to pay for it. In addition, attorney-client confidentiality and privilege are protected under law. Patriot Act justice threatens these rights for immigrants, so-called "unlawful enemy combatants," cases in which the government feels national security trumps confidentiality, and in situations where lawyers (like Lynne Stewart) are targeted for defending "unpopular" clients.

Van Bergen concludes this section saying 9/11 changed everything, the gloves came off, and constitutionally protected rights no longer apply at the government's discretion. Real democracies don't work that way, America always fell short in the past, but the bar was lowered to bottom-scraping standards post-9/11. Now the unjustifiable is justified in the name of national security because the president says so, law or no law. That, however, openly constitutes "an exact reversal of the principles in our Constitution." That's the condition today and why Van Bergen's book is so important to explain it.

The Constitutional Code

Van Bergen calls the constitutional doctrines of separation of powers, judicial review and probable cause "code words invest(ing) the Constitution with meaning." How they're abused, however, explains a lot about today's frightening situation under a president who thinks and acts (in his words) like the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper."

1. Separation of Powers

The framers crafted a government in three parts so no one of them got too much power although it never worked out that way from the start. Nonetheless, their idea was for the legislative branch to make laws, the executive to execute them, and the judiciary to interpret them. The doctrine is called the "separation of powers" that's the "core protection against tyranny" if enforced and utterly meaningless if not like today under George Bush.

Since 9/11, Democrats and Republicans abdicated their responsibility and have marched ever since in lockstep on virtually everything the administration wants. Rhetoric aside, almost nothing's changed to this day in spite of six and a half years of disastrous and reckless governance outside the law. Van Bergen sums it up saying, in the absence of checks and balances, "government power (has) run amok" under the Bush Plan.

2. Judicial Review

According to law professor Jethro Lieberman, judicial review is "the power of courts to declare laws and acts of government unconstitutional" although nothing in the Constitution allows this practice. Van Bergen adds, without this check on the other two branches, there's "no remedy for bad laws (and in fact) no democracy." It differs from the notion of "judicial supremacy" meaning the High Court is the final arbiter on all constitutional issues.

3. Court Stripping

Examples of this practice are found in extremist laws like the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Law (AEDPA), Patriot Acts I and II and other recent legislation as they restrict the ability of courts to review executive actions, and that's not how democratic states function.

4. Probable Cause

Under the Fourth Amendment, neither arrest or search warrants are allowed without evidence of "probable cause" of criminal activity. The Bush administration, however, views all legal constraints as quaint and fanciful. It simply sweeps them away to do as it pleases to target anyone for any reason, real or concocted, in its sham "war on terrorism." Weak as they always were, post-9/11, constitutional protections are now an illusion. They simply no longer exist despite all the pretense they do.

Types of Courts and Standards of Review

Van Bergen lists four types today, each functioning under very different legal standards:

-- regular federal civil and criminal courts called an "Article III court;" here, in theory, convictions depend on there being proof beyond a reasonable doubt; in practice, justice depends on how much of it defendants can buy in the form of competent legal counsel, and too few people can buy enough or any;

-- immigration (or Executive branch) courts that rule on asylum and deportation issues; they're also called the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR); these courts administer immigration law and handle cases under it involving asylum, deportation, immigration crimes and detentions pending review;

-- military courts and tribunals don't come under the federal civil justice system; they're for trying members of the armed services under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and are used under the oppressive Military Commissions Act for anyone the president calls an "unlawful enemy combatant," real or imagined; the greatest danger these courts pose is that under a real or concocted state of emergency, the president can declare martial law, suspend the Constitution, and consign any targeted individual to justice under these courts with no trial by jury, no habeas rights, no assigned competent defense counsel, and no right of appeal;

-- FISA courts (or FISC made up of 11 district court justices) rule on obtaining foreign intelligence warrants under which no Fourth Amendment protections apply; The Patriot Act amended FISA to allow surveillance of US citizens whenever the administration claims it relates to a foreign intelligence investigation with obvious implications what this means; the Democrat-led Congress went even further in early August as discussed below.

The above-listed courts operate under hugely differing standards, and Van Bergen notes a stark one in the case of military tribunals where civilians may now be tried on the whim of the president. In these courts, due process is a fantasy as they're run by, untrained in civil law, military officers, yet they're empowered to render final judgments, beyond appeal, up to and including death sentences. Serious abuses are common enough in civil and criminal courts. In immigration, FISA and military ones, the notion of due process and fair and equal justice under the law is a non-starter.

All the above examples today, in fact, add up to a shredding of notions of "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," due process under the law, and "probable cause of criminal activity" to justify arrests and searches in the age of George Bush. Van Bergen notes under the Patriot Act alone, criminal constitutional procedural standards are severely undermined so that the rule of law no longer applies any time the government says so. That's pretty scary if you're the target.

Book II - "The Bush Plan"

Here Van Bergen gets into the meat of her book under "The Bush Plan" that contains "the elements of fascism."

The Demise of Democracy - Part One

Intentional or not, the Bush administration charted a post-9/11 course straight toward a full-blown national security fascist police state. It already has all its oppressive trappings dressed up in modern-day garb, including high-sounding, fear-engendering, doublespeak language disguising it. Strip off the mask and here's a look:

-- Patriot Acts I and II,

-- the Military Commissions Act (aka the "torture authorization act" and much more),

-- a permanent state of preventive wars under the concocted doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" using first strike nuclear weapons;

-- a climate of fear and extreme secrecy;

-- universal illegal surveillance for any purpose all the time;

-- disdain for domestic and international law with George Bush unconstitutionally usurping "unitary executive" powers Chalmers Johnson calls a "bald-faced assertion of presidential supremacy....dressed up in legalistic mumbo jumbo;"

-- criminalizing dissent (Jefferson called "the highest form of patriotism") through legislation and illegal "one-man" decree Executive Orders;

-- stealing elections;

-- shredding civil liberties and rendering human rights a non-starter;

-- controlling information through the dominant mass media functioning as collective national thought police gatekeepers "filtering" in all acceptable state propaganda and suppressing all vital and relevant information and analysis;

-- rampant corruption in a corporatocracy;

-- a culture of out-of-control militarism, and much more under the phony "war on terrorism" making democracy in America pure fantasy.

Van Bergen reviews all of the above in detail and other elements Laurence W. Britt listed in his article titled "Fascism Anyone?" Her conclusion: "Using Britt's list, it is no stretch to call the Bush government fascist....if Britt is believed, we're already there."

The Patriot Act - Part Two

Van Bergen states this act gives "tremendous powers to central authorities, undermine(s) civil liberties, and enable(s) suppression of opposition." It's the "mainstay of government oppressive power (as it) authorizes and codifies a near-absolute and permanent invasion of (our) private lives, sets vast precedents in immigration law....dissolving....human rights (and erecting) a massive law enforcement apparatus (targeting) immigrant(s) and citizen(s) (worldwide)."

Van Bergen discusses the issues below before getting into the meat of the Act that opens the way for a vast menu of other abuses.

Guantanamo, Enemy Combatants, and Abu Ghraib

The Bush Administration usurped the unconstitutional right to detain any foreign national or US citizen without evidence and deny them due process, habeas or competent counsel with the right of appeal. It also flouts domestic and international laws it denounces as "quaint and out of date." It won't allow them or any nation, body or individual to impede its plans for unchallengeable worldwide imperial dominance. Anyone in the way may be consigned to torture-prison hellholes like Guanatanamo that was purposefully placed on foreign soil because those locations present a "minimal 'litigation risk.' " Being offshore was believed to make possible the denial of due process, habeas and judicial review rights as well as to be able to hold detainees beyond the law indefinitely.

Iraq: Preemptive war and International law

Van Bergen states "The invasion of Iraq established the doctrine of preemptive (or preventive) war" with the US usurping an illegal right to attack another nation it claims is a current or future threat with no justifiable evidence to prove it. The 1945 Nuremberg Charter said doing that is the "supreme international crime against peace" that constitutes the worst of all crimes of war and against humanity. Van Bergen asserts attacking Iraq (and Afghanistan) "signal(s) an end of the rule of law and avoid(ance) of accountability on a global scale." She cites other examples of contempt for the law as well.

The Coup in Haiti

The US has a long and disturbing history of intervening in Haiti's affairs, deposing its leaders, and replacing them with acceptable puppets. The Bush administration continued this practice on February 29, 2004 when US Marines abducted and forcibly removed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and flew him against his will to the repressive Central African Republic. Today he remains in exile in South Africa vowing to return even though the Bush administration asserts the right to prevent him from doing it.

US administrations have deposed many foreign leaders, and the Bush administration violates international laws "left and right," so what's the significance of Haiti, asks Van Bergen? "There is no (other) 'third world' country (anywhere) closer (in proximity) to the US," it's also the "first (ever) black republic," the sole one in the Western Hemisphere, and it won its independence through armed rebellion against repressive French foreign rule. Haiti is much like what former Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz said about his own country: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the US." Proximity to America has been Haiti's curse for over 200 years, and it still is.

Withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC)

The ICC was created by the 1998 Rome Statute and established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war. As of mid-2007, 146 countries signed the Statute and 104 ratified it to become members except for a big absentee - America with Van Bergen saying withdrawing from the ICC (after the Clinton administration signed the Statute) "frees up the United States from international accountability for war crimes." The Bush administration made sure over 100 nations won't extradite Americans to the Hague by signing Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIAs) with them, and in August, 2002, Congress passed the American Servicemembers Protection Act (called the Hague Invasion Act) authorizing the President "any means necessary" to secure release of any American detained by or on behalf of the Court.

Prosecutions and Proceedings

Activists are prime Bush administration targets in its effort to crush all dissent and opposition. It's using the Patriot Act to do it along with bending other current and obscure older laws to bring criminal indictments. Then on July 17, George Bush issued another Executive Order criminalizing dissent by targeting anyone opposing the administration's Iraq war effort with threats to seize their property. Another EO followed August 2 against anyone seen undermining Lebanon's corrupted pro-Western government claiming "Such actions constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

Van Bergen notes these type actions by individuals or groups signal the notion that "activists = terrorists" and linking them together is the administration's way to control, suppress and remove all opposition it finds threatening. Activists are being targeted by grand jury subpoenas. Before them they're required to testify about unspecified federal law violations and then later allow that testimony to be used against them to charge perjury for some slightly incorrect or inaccurate statements.

Data Mining under MATRIX

MATRIX is a data mining effort standing for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Exchange Program that police and federal authorities are using in some states. It's a form of mass scrutiny over the lives and activities of innocent people to learn if targets exhibit signs of being a terrorist or other type criminal.

MATRIX creates a "terrorism quotient" or High Terrorist Factor (HTF) that measures the likelihood individuals in the database are terrorists. Van Bergen noted the ACLU believes the program is "an effort to recreate the discredited Total Information Awareness (TIA) data mining program at the state level." It shows the federal authorities are deep into efforts at all levels to spy on US citizens. MATRIX is an unprecedented effort to do it within or outside the law. It constitutes a massive invasion of privacy and violates our rights in a free society and is one of many repressive post-9/11 unconstitutional tools the nation's 16 spy agencies are using against us.

The Constitution doesn't specifically mention a right to privacy, but Supreme Court decisions affirmed it over the years as a fundamental human right. As such, it's protected under the Ninth Amendment as well as the Third prohibiting the quartering of troops in homes, the Fourth affording protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth protecting against self-incrimination. MATRIX and other intrusions enhance Patriot Act powers allowing them to persist outside of congressional oversight and judicial review. It's another part of the overall scheme to subvert the rule of law under George Bush police state justice.

Secrecy

The Bush administration built a culture of extreme secrecy from the start. Van Bergen call this trait the "watchword of the Bush adminstration" by quoting Judge Keith of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals saying "Democracy dies behind closed doors" where under this administration they're locked shut and bolted. Policy for the last six and a half years has been a "blatant power grab....an American coup, an American military dictatorship (and) an American fascist empire" that's highlighted by what's going on at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other torture-prisons free from oversight or public scrutiny.

Van Bergen sums up saying the Bush administration exhibits the "common threads found in all fascist states," and that should scare everyone. This government, she says, is run "by a ruling elite of (extremist Christian) religious fanatics" wielding "unrestrained oppressive power" violating constitutional law, including the most precious of our rights under the First Amendment. It's flouted the rule of law and smashed civil liberties after "sull(ying) the name and reputation of the United States Supreme Court" by using the Court's authority to seize power lawlessly and keep it. Ever since, it's been on the march for total world dominance and now threatens all humanity by its out-of-control actions.

The Patriot Act - Mainstay of Oppressive Power

Van Bergen calls this act "the most vivid component of the Bush Plan." Its danger lies in placing too much unchecked power in executive branch hands that creates an "enabling structure for fascism and oligarchy" that endangers democracy. Specifically, the act creates three main threats to civil liberties: the erosion of due process, freedom of association, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and as a consequence, the loss of privacy.

(1) The Threat to Due Process

The Patriot Act threatens due process in two ways:

-- by permitting indefinite detentions of undocumented immigrants, it represents a slippery slope as law professor David Cole explains: "(W)hat we do to foreign nationals today often paves the way for what will be done to American citizens tomorrow," and it's already happening under the concocted notion of "unlawful enemy combatants" anyone for any reason can be called and face prosecution.

-- by the act's "designation provision" that authorizes the Attorney General or Secretary of State to call a foreign organization a terrorist group even if it isn't. Further, the administrative designation is sealed to effectively render it beyond review or challenge.

(2) The Threat to Freedom of Association

"Designation" also threatens freedom of association as aliens and US citizens may be charged and prosecuted because of their claimed association with an "undesirable group." Van Bergen notes that post-9/11, many thousands of Muslims and Arabs were illegally rounded up, detained, imprisoned, abused, tortured and/or deported solely because of their faith. By Bush administration reasoning, Muslims = "terrorists" and "Islamofascists," especially those not white enough.

(3) The Fourth Amendment Threat: Surveillance and Privacy

Patriot Act privacy issues fall under FISA that just got worse as prior to its August recess Congress cravenly caved to the politics of fear and hastily passed the White House crafted Protect America Act 2007 that amends FISA with doublespeak language Orwell would love.

The new law supposedly closes so-called "communication gaps" but will allow virtual unrestricted mass data-mining, monitoring, and intercept of domestic and foreign internet, cell phones and other new technology as well as transit international phone call traffic and emails. The Act claims to restrict surveillance to foreign nationals "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" and will sunset in six months unless renewed as Congress is about to do for at least most of its provisions for six years. In fact, this law targets everyone, including US citizens inside the country, if the AG or DNI claim they pose a potential terrorist or national security threat, and no evidence is needed to prove it. Further, in an election year, renewal is virtually guaranteed with even harsher provisions added.

In point of fact, the new law allows near-unrestricted warrantless spying of anyone at the discretion of the AG or DNI. It thus renders any notion of illegal searches and privacy rights null and void. The Act effectively legalizes illegality by Fourth Amendment standards that Patriot Act provisions pretty much swept away earlier. This is how things work in a police state where laws render privacy issues (and all other freedoms) null and void, and everyone is under constant surveillance and stripped of their rights.

When FISA was enacted, it was done to collect "foreign intelligence information" between or among "foreign powers" with FISC warrants only targeting foreigners. The Patriot Act then amended the law to effectively target anyone the government so designates as long as it relates "to an ongoing investigation (for a) significant foreign intelligence purpose." Van Bergen highlights the threat (now even greater) with this example: "if you speak to a friend or relative in the Middle East and that person gave money....to an (humanitarian aid providing) organization....suspected of ties to terrorism....you are a legitimate target for wire, phone, or computer taps under FISA." Even worse, you can be charged with terrorism, arrested, tried in a military tribunal as an "unlawful enemy combatant" and renditioned to a torture-prison hellhole forever - for having made an innocent phone call.

Van Bergen concludes saying the Patriot Act (even without the new Protect America Act) is so sweeping in scope, it's impossible relating everything about it in a short book, let alone this review. Instead, she highlighted areas in it relating to civil rights protections affecting due process and under the First and Fourth Amendments. This oppressive act severely weakened them and with prosecutorial finesse effectively renders them null and void that threatens everyone with police state justice in the age of George Bush.

Ashcroft's Way - A Closer Look at the Patriot Act

In the hands of a man like former Attorney General John Ashcroft (as well as Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey), laws like the Patriot Act become repressive police state tools that sweep aside the rule of law. Van Bergen shows how easily this Act can be twisted and misused by citing assertions about it Ashcroft made to justify its use and under what circumstances.

Preserving Life and Liberty

Ashcroft gave four reasons to justify using the Patriot Act to, in his judgment, preserve life and liberty.

(1) It provides tools for investigating terrorism and other crime while ignoring that laws were already available to do it pre-Patriot. DOJ claims the new law provides enhanced enforcement by strengthening its use of surveillance that was never prohibited in the past but wasn't as unrestricted as now under Patriot. Unlike before, this Act denies constitutional protections nominally in place for all type criminal investigations pre-Patriot, and therein lies its danger.

(2) The Act allows "roving (telephone) wiretaps" that apply to the person, not the place. Thus, if someone uses different phones, all of them may be tapped. DOJ claims this provision allows federal agents to "follow sophisticated terrorists trained to evade detection." Van Bergen explains these taps don't require probable cause of criminal behavior and thus evade constitutional protections. Under Patriot, federal agents are immune from Fourth Amendment restrictions against unreasonable searches and seizures that renders this protection null and void for everyone.

(3) The Act allows what's called "sneak and peak" searches through issuance of "delayed notice" warrants. Under it, targets aren't notified until a later time and at the government's discretion so investigators won't tip off suspects in advance. Again, this type warrant has been available for decades provided law enforcers could show a judge it was justified under special conditions. That's all changed now, and anything goes for any criminal investigation involving a physical or electronic search.

(4) Patriot gives federal agents court-ordered access to "third party records" of all kinds - financial, medical, educational, virtually anything requested. For any national security claimed purpose, it allows the government to pry into any aspect of our lives, justified or not.

Information Sharing

Ashcroft claimed the "Patriot Act facilitated information sharing and cooperation among government agencies so they can better 'connect the dots.' " Van Bergen notes separate government agencies never were impeded from working together, but Patriot tore down built-in safeguards against abuses that are now a thing of the past. Today under the Act, our constitutionally-protected civil liberties are severely compromised and effectively off the table because of the latitude law enforcement is now allowed under this law.

In a word, the Patriot Act poses real dangers to democratic freedoms that are now on very shaky footing. In fact, they're practically non-existent at the whim of law enforcers who can operate ad libitum in the name of national security that's freely interpreted to mean virtually anything. Van Bergen asks: "(Is it) ever wise to leave our liberty and our country in the unaccountable hands of those who by their positions must always be 'cast in the role of adversary' against those whose liberties they seek to invade." Answer: never, especially if the "adversaries" are in the Bush administration.

The Cheney Plan for Global Dominance

Van Bergen lays out the threat straightaway saying if there's any doubt about the Bush administration's "fascist and imperial objectives," the "Cheney Plan for global dominance must quell it." Under GHW Bush, Defense Secretary Cheney and his undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz were tasked to shape America's post-Cold War strategy. Wolfowitz and convicted and commuted Cheney aide Lewis Libby drafted the scheme in their Defense Planning Guidance some call the Wolfowitz doctrine. It was so extreme, it was kept under wraps until it was leaked to the New York Times. Its exposure got it shelved until it was revived under GW Bush in 2001 as an updated scheme for world dominance. It's spelled out clearly in the 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS) that was revised in 2006 in even more extreme form.

NSS is an "imperial grand strategy" declaration of preemptive or preventive war against any country or force the administration claims threatens our national security, true or false. Along with the 2001 Nuclear Policy Review, it gives the government the unilateral right to declare and wage future wars using first strike nuclear weapons under the doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" that has no basis in international law or anywhere else outside Washington. Van Bergen explains that "the Cheney Plan (aka the Bush Plan)....is an exceedingly dangerous doctrine" in play in the Middle East and Central Asia that may be cataclysmic if it's unleashed in its most extreme form.

Global Dominance in Action - Military Necessity or War Crimes? - Violating the Geneva and Hague Conventions

As a signatory to the Geneva and Hague Conventions, these laws are the supreme law of the land under the Constitution, but that hasn't deterred the Bush administration from defying their letter and spirit. No signatory nation is exempt from Geneva and Hague, and violating their provisions constitutes a serious and punishable breach of sacred law. Van Bergen calls any of numerous instances she noted a war crime and "Taken together, they are an outrage against humanity and the law of nations."

She also brings up the "Doctrine of Military Necessity" that involves lawful measures indispensable in the conduct of war. It's important to note this notion doesn't justify violating international humanitarian law or our own Constitution. "A real necessity," like launching D-Day, is "obvious," Van Bergen explains. But mass-slaughtering innocent civilians in Fallujah can't be justified for any reason nor is waging aggressive wars against non-threatening nations, and saying it's for national security meets no acceptable international law standard.

Epilogue - Detainees and Torture

The final part of Van Bergen's book provides still more proof of the Bush administration's "broad assault" against long-standing, rock-solid rule of law principles. Its scorn for the law opened the door for more extreme violations that are nonchalantly accepted as standard practice under "war on terrorism" rules that changed everything. They don't and won't ever under any conditions. Yet, the Pentagon and DOJ "developed the breathtaking legal argument that the President, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, was not bound by US or international laws prohibiting torture when acting to protect national security."

Torture

Van Bergen cites Bush's frequent use of the death penalty and indifference to human suffering when he was Texas governor. In fact, his flippant attitude showed up much earlier and now he flaunts it. The Patriot Act made current practices possible by "help(ing) set the stage for government endorsed torture." Under this repressive law, the nation regressed to "barbarian times" reminiscent of the worst of the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi era. Van Bergen stresses no society claiming to be a "liberty-protecting one" can justify "human rights abuses in response to a terrorist attack" or for any other reason. Any country violating these sacred precepts must be held to account and made to answer for their serious crimes against humanity, and that's what the ICC is in place to do.

On July 19, 2007, well after the publication of Van Bergen's book, George Bush displayed his contempt for the law in another sweeping executive order (EO). According to AP, he "breathed new life into the CIA's terror interrogation program (aka no holds barred torture) that would allow harsh questioning of suspects limited in public only by a vaguely worded ban (signifying none whatever) on cruel and inhuman treatment." The order pretends to prohibit some practices, "to quell international criticism," describes them only vaguely, and doesn't say what practices are still allowed. The Bush administration insists its interrogation operation is one of its most important tools in the "war on terrorism." Bottom line - ugly business as usual will continue unchanged and unchecked, except for doublespeak language that signifies only deception from a president exposed as a serial liar.

The Detainee Decisions - by the US Supreme Court

Van Bergen notes recent detainee decisions of great "importance to the future of this country." In Rasul v. Bush in June, 2004, the Court settled the jurisdictional question regarding Guantanamo detainees. It ruled the US exercises "complete jurisdiction and control (of the territory and) Aliens held (there), like American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts' authority" under their habeas rights.

On the same day, the Court ruled on Hamdi (a US citizen) v. Rumsfeld and granted his habeas right to challenge his detention as an "unlawful enemy combatant." Then in June, 2006, the Court ruled on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and held that military commissions set up to try Guantanamo detainees lack "the power to proceed because (their) structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949."

Van Bergen calls habeas the "Great Writ of Liberty" that dates back to 12th century England and long considered sacrosanct and inviolable - but not to the Bush regime. By its Inquisition era rules, habeas, probable cause, due process and half or more of the Bill of Rights amendments are null and void in the name of national security that denies it to us.

National Security Courts and Torture Warrants

The notion that (undefined) "terrorists" are military enemies who justify war, and not criminals, is offensive and illegal. Van Bergen points out doing it "creates another parallel legal system (and it ignores) a primary condition of battle, visible combat." The very idea of a "war on terrorism" is doublespeak fraud. It's nothing more than a devious scheme for a broader agenda that needs fictitious "outside enemy" threats as justification. That's what made Osama bin Laden "Enemy Number One" along with Al Queda even though the CIA created them both to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Making them fearsome enough and on the loose opens the door to all sorts of abuses that are passed off as justifiable self-defense under the Bush regime. In the name of national security, it's gotten away with aggressive wars, torture, indefinite detentions, repressive laws and an end to democracy in America that was on shaky ground pre-9/11 and now is kaput. This happened because our judicial and core constitutional systems were separated and left "outside the protections of the Constitution and international laws." We keep heaping new kinds of oppression on top of old ones that deepen the problem instead of working to rectify it.

Van Bergen ends her book saying these actions recruit more enemies and make the world less safe. Another way is needed, and it ought to start with "learn(ing) about the lessons of our own sometimes violent history and recall and reclaim the fundamental, lost ideals that we have forgotten" and sadly only paid lip service to for more than two centuries.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Israeli Oppression in Hebron - A Case History of Separation, Forced Displacement and Terror

Israeli Oppression in Hebron - A Case History of Separation, Forced Displacement and Terror - by Stephen Lendman

B'Tselem is the independent Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied (Palestinian) Territories (OPT) based in Jerusalem with a well-deserved reputation for accuracy and integrity. It was founded in 1989 to "document and educate the Israeli public, policymakers (and concerned people everywhere) about human rights violations in the (OPT), combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public (and elsewhere), and create a human rights culture in Israel" to convince government officials to respect human rights and comply with international law.

Its human rights work is wide-ranging, carefully researched, and thoroughly cross-checked with relevant documents and other official government sources. It also relies on additional information from Israeli, Palestinian, and other human rights organizations. From them, B'Tselem publishes scores of reports, some quite comprehensive in scope. One of them was 107 pages in length and prepared in May, 2007. It's titled: "Ghost Town - Israel's Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron." It recently came out in print form and is available on request.

This article summarizes its findings. They're from a joint effort between B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Israel's leading human and civil rights organization and the only one addressing all rights and liberties issues. ACRI was founded in 1972, is independent and nonpartisan, and leads the struggle for these issues in Israel and the OPT through litigation, legal advocacy, education, and public outreach. ACRI believes civil and human rights are universal. They must be "an integral part of democratic community building and.... a unifying force in Israeli public life" for everyone, especially those most marginalized, disadvantaged and currently persecuted by state authorities.

Hebron is a notable example. The study findings below present a case history of what Palestinians under Israeli occupation have endured for decades from a state-imposed policy of separation, forced displacement and terror. They show how Israel is colonizing Palestine incrementally through new and expanding settlements on illegally seized land. The human toll is horrific - "protracted and severe harm to Palestinians (from) some of the gravest human rights violations" against them that go unaddressed in the mainstream and continue unabated.

Hebron's City Center is a case study example. It was once a thriving commercial and residential area. Today it's a "Ghost Town" because Israel destroyed its fabric of life through a state-imposed policy of land seizures, extended curfews, harsh restrictions on free movement and unaddressed violence. Combined, they terrorize Palestinians and prohibit them from driving or even walking on the area's main streets. That, in turn, makes life impossible for them. The consequences have been devastating with peoples' lives uprooted. The material below reviews the evidence B'Tselem and ACRI revealed in their study. Consider the consequences.

Since the territories were occupied in 1967, Israel expelled tens of thousands of Palestinians throughout the OPT. In Hebron alone, thousands of residents and merchants were removed or had no other option than to leave the City Center because of Israel's "principle of separation" policy.

Hebron is important as the West Bank's second largest city, the largest in the territory's South, and the only Palestinian city with an Israeli settlement in its center. It's concentrated in and around the Old City that once was the entire southern West Bank's commercial center. No longer.

For many years, Israel severely oppressed Palestinians in Hebron's center. It partitioned the city into northern and southern parts and created a long strip of land for Jewish vehicles only. In addition, in areas open to Palestinians, they're subjected to "repeated detention and humiliating inspections" any time, for any reason, and it got worse after the 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacre of Muslim worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Israel's military commander ordered many Palestinian-owned shops closed that were the livelihood for thousands of people. In addition, he condoned frequent settler violence as a way to remove Palestinians from their own land. It worked.

A combination of restrictions, prohibitions and deliberate harassment devastated Hebron's residents. They lost their homes, land, businesses and freedom. B'Tselem-ACRI document it in detail in the Old City and Casbah areas where most Israeli settlements are located and where Palestinians the face harshest conditions and restrictions on their movements. As a result, they were removed or had to leave, and what was once "the vibrant heart of Hebron (is now) a ghost town."

A senior Israeli defense official explained the scheme that's pretty common knowledge today. He called it "a permanent process of dispossessing Arabs to increase Jewish territory." Distinguished Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, calls it state-sponsored ethnic cleansing that's been ongoing since Israel's 1948 creation. B'Tselem-ACRI document the practice in Hebron's once viable City Center.

Israeli Settlements in Hebron

They began on Passover Eve, 1968 when a group of Israeli civilians rented a Hebron hotel room for two days and wouldn't leave. Cabinet ministers supported them, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) gave them weapons and trained them in their use. Six months later, the Hebron and Gush Etzion Ministerial Committee officially approved establishing a Jewish neighborhood in the city, and it was all downhill from there.

In March 1970, the Knesset established the Qiryat settlement that in a few years had hundreds of Jewish-only housing units. The big settlement push came 10 years later in 1980 when the government built a yeshiva (Orthodox school) structure in the City Center by adding a floor to the Beit Hadassah settlement for the purpose. More activity came in 1984 when Jewish families established a settlement in the Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighborhood. From then on, others grew to where a few hundred Jews now live in a number of Old City locations, mainly in or around what used to be the city's commercial area.

After Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians and wounded over a hundred others in 1994, Israel adopted an official separation policy in the area. First, it was around the Tomb of the Patriarchs and later elsewhere in the City Center. In the 1995 interim agreement both sides signed, the parties agreed to leave the city under IDF control. Then in 1997, the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron was signed. It divided the city in two:

-- H-1 is comprised of 18 square kilometers and controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA); it's where most city residents (about 115,000) live; and

-- H-2 has 4.3 square kilometers with around 35,000 Palestinians who are controlled by the IDF with the PA only having civil powers over them. H-2 includes the Old City, the commercial center and all Israeli settlement points.

The division notwithstanding, Article 9 of the Hebron redeployment agreement commits both sides "to the unity of the city" and the smooth movement of its residents. It never worked well, but after the second intifada erupted in September, 2000 everything changed for the worst. Henceforth, the IDF expanded limited separation to the entire area containing Israeli settlements. This entailed unprecedented restrictions on Palestinian movement that included a continuous curfew and closure of main streets to residents.

It also led to a sharp rise in violence on both sides, but mostly against Palestinians, the majority of whom are innocent victims. At the same time, the distinction between H-1 and H-2 blurred, and the commitment to free movement and unity of the city was abandoned. In April, 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF invaded and took positions in H-1. The PA relinquished control, and it led to the loss of Hebron's City Center commercial, cultural and social areas with the city becoming a ghost town.

Palestinian Abandonment of the City Center

Hebron's City Center once thrived as a commercial hub serving city residents and merchants as well as the entire southern West Bank. Now it's gone, most shops have closed, and Palestinian businesses have moved elsewhere or no longer exist.

In preparing their report, B'Tselem-ACRI surveyed over 1000 structures in areas in or next to where settlements are situated as well as others adjacent to roads for exclusive settler and Israeli security forces use. Most structures are in H-2, and the survey covered the following:

-- structures in the Casbah;

-- the area near the Tomb of the Patriarchs;

-- the Tel Rumeida neighborhood;

--around the Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano and Tel Rumeida points;

-- along (the main) a-Shuhada Street;

-- on the lower part of the Abu Sneineh neighborhood near a-Sahia compound;

-- along settler-only roads in and out of the City Center and Qiryat Arba settlement;

-- around the Givat Haavot settlement; and

-- between and adjacent to Qiryat Arba and Givat Haharsina in the North.

Two small H-1 areas are also included: the southeast Baba-Zawiya neighborhood and the Qarnatini Road, adjacent to the Avraham Avinu settlement. Data was collected door-to-door to document all residential dwellings to determine if they were occupied or abandoned. The same procedure was followed for all business establishments, and the results were shocking, but no surprise.

At least 1014 Palestinian housing units (41.9% of the total in the area) were vacated by their occupants. Another 659 apartments (65% of the total) were as well during the second intifada. In addition, 1829 Palestinian businesses (76.6% of them all) were lost. Of the total, 1141 (62.4% of the total) closed after the year 2000, 440 or more by military order. B'Tselem-ACRI believe Palestinian apartment abandonments were even higher than reported because neighborhoods near settlements collapsed and housing and living costs declined dramatically there. Poor families took advantage. Unable to afford more costly housing, they left distant parts of Hebron for Old City neighborhoods where they occupied vacated houses.

B'Tselem-ACRI documented areas hit, and one was the a-Shuhada Street area, the heart of the City Center that was closed in part to Palestinian traffic and commerce after the 1994 massacre. After it happened, 304 shops and warehouses closed, 218 or more by military edict, and not a single shop is now open for business. In addition, the IDF seized a bus station for use as an army base, and non-commercial activities were affected as well. Important services moved or ceased to function including the Ministry of Supply, Information, the Waqf, the Farmers and Women's Association, and other formerly functioning area operations. Medical centers also closed, and Palestinians paid dearly with more to follow.

Restrictions on Palestinian Movement and Business Closings

After the 1994 massacre, Israel imposed a curfew on Hebron residents, restricted their movements, but conditions became far worse after September, 2000. At first, the curfew applied to all of H-2 and on certain neighborhoods in its center with Palestinians unable to leave their homes for three months except for a few hours a week to buy food and other basics. At times, H-1 was also affected but never Hebron settlers.

In the intifada's first three years, H-2 residents were under curfew restrictions for over 377 days, including a 182 day non-stop period with spotty breaks to restock essentials. In addition, on more than 500 days, H-2 was under curfews that lasted from a few hours to entire days. Along with other restrictions covered below, they made life unbearable, and that was the whole idea behind them. Israelis claimed that harsh measures were to let Jewish settlers conduct their daily lives securely. In fact, they were collective punishment by being randomly imposed or for reasons unrelated to security.

The affects were devastating - job loss, poor nutrition, rising poverty, growing family tensions from prolonged confinement, severe harm to education, welfare and health systems, and a mass exodus away from areas near settlements resulting in lost homes and businesses.

One hardship was crucial for City Center residents needing medical treatment. They couldn't get it because it wasn't accessible under curfew. As a result, medical clinics and centers closed and residents couldn't travel to where they were open. Most affected were the sick, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone needing emergency care. They were stuck and at times gravely harmed.

Even under dire need, anyone outside their homes during curfew for any reason risked being shot as the IDF had a policy to fire on them with impunity. The Association for Civil Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice to end curfews in January, 2003 claiming the practice was illegal and caused severe harm when in place for long periods. The court rejected the plea on July 9, 2003 but agreed the measure is drastic and that military commanders should consider that before imposing them. That happened in 2004 when the IDF ended the practice for long periods, but by then the damage was done. Many Palestinians were gone so they were unnecessary. In 2004 and 2005, H-2 and H-1 were under curfew restrictions for only a few days at a time, and by 2006 they no longer were used on a regular basis.

In 1994 and after September, 2000, a large network of 101 staffed checkpoints and physical barriers enforced movement restrictions in H-2. They prevent H-1 located Palestinians from entering H-2 by car and restrict them by foot. Even to reach their homes, residents on the other side of a checkpoint have to register with the IDF. Still, movement can entail long delays, and at times they're kept out anyway.

Emergency and rescue services are also hampered as ambulances can't enter H-2 unless arrangements are made in advance with Israeli authorities. When needs arise, there isn't enough time so persons, if able, must go by foot to where vehicles are allowed. Hebron Municipality vehicles also are prohibited from the City Center without prior approval so quick repairs of electricity, telephone, water and sewage problems are impossible, and families at times are without essential services for days as a consequence. The same problem affects schools as well, and three of them on a-Shuhada Street lost a large percent of students because movement restrictions, checkpoints and other harassments deter them.

For most of the intifada, restrictions were made verbally, not by official orders, and often were unrelated to security. It wasn't until late 2005 that the military commander issued formal orders for "protective spaces" following a petition to the High Court of Justice. But it hardly matters as the IDF maintains strict restrictions in the City Center, even if not covered by official orders, and admits the practice exceeds its authority. Residents whose rights are infringed are helpless to object or gain relief.

It's because settlers have power, and a senior army officer admitted "military commanders are a tool in (their) hands." After the intifida began, Hebron settlement heads gave IDF their demands that included closing streets to Palestinian pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The military complied "to Judaize" the center of Hebron and make it "free of Arabs."

Restrictions imposed also prevent residents from returning to homes they left, and High Court petitions for redress were denied because Israel contends security requires separation. It means Palestinian free movement is impaired and peoples' lives destroyed to satisfy outrageous settler demands.

Palestinian commerce in the City Center was also affected. The Casbah area once thrived as one of the West Bank's most important business districts. Now, most shops are closed - in some cases by IDF directive but overall because free movement was banned, customers can't access the area, and business owners lost their livelihoods as a result. They simply closed up and left and in some cases were prevented from taking their merchandise with them. They lost everything.

The entire Old City was affected with a total of 1829 (76.6% of the total surveyed) Palestinian businesses shuttered. Since September, 2000 (the onset of the second intifada), 1141 closed (62.4% of the above total), 440 by IDF edict. Shop owners trying to recoup and reopen their shops couldn't because free movement restrictions were too harsh and unprecendented.

Things then got even worse and remain so. The IDF protects Israeli settlers who freely attack Palestinians with impunity. Offenses include physical assaults and beatings (at times with clubs), stone throwing, and hurling of refuse, sand, water, chlorine, and empty bottles. Settlers also loot Palestinian shops and commit acts of vandalism against them and other owner property. Killings also occur as well as attempts to run over people with vehicles, fruit trees chopped down, water wells poisoned, home break-ins, and hot liquids poured on Palestinian faces. IDF forces are positioned everywhere in the area. They witness settler acts and do nothing to stop them.

Soldiers also commit violence and use excessive force as do police. In addition, they engage in arbitrary house searches at all hours of the day and night, house seizures, harassment, and random detentions and humiliating searches and treatment overall. These actions violate international and Israeli administrative and constitutional law. They persist nonetheless. More on this below.

B'Tselem-ACRI's study reviewed major events since the 1994 Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre:

-- after it happened in 1994, the main City Center a-Shuhada Street was closed to Palestinian vehicles from Gross Square to the Beit Hadassah settlement; Palestinian shops were forbidden to open;

-- after the 1997 Hebron Protocol, a-Shuhada Street reopened to Palestinian vehicles but shops remain closed;

-- in 1998, a-Shuhada Street again was closed to Palestinian vehicles;

-- after September, 2000, a continuous three month curfew was imposed on Palestinian residents; a-Shuhada Street was closed and roads to settlement points were as well to Palestinian vehicles;

-- in 2001, a-Shuhada Street was again closed to Palestinian pedestrians with rare exceptions; other Old City areas were also closed to Palestinian movement; settlers destroyed an improvised market, and the army prohibited it from reopening; over 100 a-Shuhada Street shops closed; nine Israeli families squatted in the closed wholesale market with no IDF effort to remove them;

-- in 2002, under Operation Defensive Shield and Operation Determined Path, a near-continuous 240 day curfew was imposed and other City Center areas were closed to Palestinian vehicles and pedestrian traffic; checkpoints and physical obstructions were established to harass and prevent free movement;

-- in 2003, Shalala compound shop operating prohibitions were cancelled except for ones near the Beit Hadassah settlement;

-- in 2004, part of a-Sahla Street was reopened to Palestinian pedestrians;

-- in 2006, nine squatter Israeli families left the closed wholesale market; a few months later they returned; no IDF attempt was made to remove them; and

-- in 2007, the western section on the Shalala H-2 compound was opened to Palestinian vehicles.

These harsh measures took their toll on residents with unemployment and poverty rising sharply. In 2002, the International Committee of the Red Cross reacted with a food distribution program for 2000 households that increased to 2500 families in 2004. In 2005, the Palestinian National Economic Ministry reported average Palestinian household monthly income in H-2 at only $150.

The figure is likely lower today, but in Gaza under siege, it's much lower. Unemployment is around 80%, World Bank data show 80% of Gazan households live on less than $75 a month, it's far too little to survive, and prior to the present crisis, 85% of the Territory's population relied mainly on humanitarian aid to survive. It may be everyone now with fuel and electricity cut, strict border closures enforced, conditions becoming desperate, Israel relenting for a day, and the International Red Cross warning of a crisis threatening 1.5 million people.

Refraining from Protecting Palestinians and their Property from Violent Settlers

Since the first settlements were established in Hebron's City Center, Palestinians have been victimized by countless violent acts that range from vandalism to killings. Police and the army afford no protection and instead are part of the scheme to make residents' life so intolerable they'll voluntarily leave the area. Many have and others follow.

Oppression continues for those who remain, however, and Israeli Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, acknowledges the problem but does nothing to address it. He recently said "Enforcement of the law (to protect Palestinians) in the Territories is not only unsatisfactory, it is poor." Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted a reported Tel Rumeida assault was "not the first time" this happened, and official Israeli entities like the Karp and Shamgar Commissions sharply criticized Israeli authorities for failing to enforce the law and protect the rights of OPT residents, especially in Hebron.

Israeli authorities have known of the problem for years, yet it persists and is quietly condoned. Ian Christianson, head of the international observer force in Hebron (TIPH), was quoted saying "settlers go out almost every night and harm whoever lives near them, break windows and cause damage...." Many attacks are carried out by minors and for a reason. Under Israeli law that applies in the OPT, persons under age 12 aren't held criminally liable. Settlers know this and exploit the loophole by using their children to throw stones, break walls and commit other violent acts they can get away with. Violence is commonplace throughout the Territories in spite of IDF presence, and when children commit it they're immune from the law affecting adults that exists but isn't enforced.

High Israeli officials like former Defense Minister Amir Peretz shamelessly claimed that soldiers can't protect residents because they don't have enforcement powers. In fact, they're obligated to enforce the law on everyone, including violent settlers, under section 78 of the Order Regarding Defense Regulations. It empowers the army to arrest, without warrant authority, anyone (Palestinian or Jew) who violates the Order that covers the following acts: assault, throwing objects and intentionally destroying property.

The Procedure for Enforcing Law and Order on Israeli Offenders in the West Bank states: security forces must "take every action necessary to prevent harm to life, person, or property (and) to detain and arrest suspects who might flee from the scene." Section 6(3) of the Procedure states that the IDF must enforce the law until police arrive and take over.

Unfortunately, the Hebron Police Department has an appalling record. Instead of enforcing the law, it acts with "abominable helplessness" to show its contempt for residents while supporting settlers. It doesn't investigate violent incidents against Palestinians and ignores them when their officers are on the scene. A Yesh Din human rights organization study showed that 90% of police investigations were closed without charges being filed. This lets settlers break the law and get away with it. The IDF and police support them by refusing to uphold the law for everyone.

Harm to Palestinians by Soldiers and Police Officers

Soldiers and police also break the law routinely and often. Throughout occupied Palestine and in Hebron City Center, every night is Kristallnacht, and so are days. It makes life for residents intolerable because any time for any reason they're subject to daily house searches and seizures, random detainments and humiliating treatment and harassment along with security force-committed violence that ranges from slapping and kicking to bloody beatings and killings. They serve no purpose except to harass and punish, break the law, and persist at all hours of the day and night.

Beatings severe enough to kill are commonplace in Hebron, and over the years human rights organizations documented them. Many incidents take place near settler points where security is intense and settler demands are paramount. They include:

-- smashing a victim's head with a blunt instrument or against a wall;

-- hitting victims with rifle butts and clubs;

-- kicking them in the head and other parts of the body;

-- flinging them to the ground;

-- twisting arms and legs forcefully enough to cause injury;

-- stone-throwing and more that at times includes willful damage to property.

Consider the hypocrisy. Israeli authorities condemn these actions, but the military and police commit them in the same of "security." As a result, many violent acts aren't investigated, and when they are they're usually whitewashed. Since the second intifada began, the Military Police Investigations Unit undertook 427 investigations through early 2007 against soldiers in the West Bank. Of these, only 35 led to indictments, and since most incidents involved more than one soldier, over 92% of the time those involved were cleared of any offense.

As for police-committed violence, 82% of cases submitted to the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP) resulted in no indictment indicating further whitewashing. Military and civilian authorities pay little attention to Israeli offenses. As a result, security forces get the message that these acts are allowed so it's no surprise they continue, and they involve more than violence.

A systematic pattern of abuse and harassment is part of daily life in the Territories, and in Hebron's City Center it's intense. Unjustifyably seizing Palestinian houses occur, and at the time of the study, security forces held at least 35 residential dwellings. Typically, here's what happens. Soldiers or police take over a private home for a security outpost. Its inhabitants are affected, their lives are disrupted, they're excluded from occupied rooms, and can only use spaces allotted to them - in their own home.

They're also harassed, routinely searched, threatened and even beaten; soldiers or police cause damage (sometimes deliberately); they play loud music; scatter refuse and even urinate where they want. In some cases, the abuse goes on for years making normal life impossible. Early last year, this writer saw a chilling documentary on this practice. It showed soldiers abusing families and how traumatized they were from the experience.

The pattern of harassment also includes searching homes and shops, random detentions, and demanding identity cards from passersby on any pretext. Even when lawful, privacy and dignity are severely interfered with, and it can happen any time for any reason. In Hebron, it's routine, especially for Palestinians living near settlement points. In those areas, nearly every home has been searched more than once by either the IDF or police at any hour. It's done in one of three ways:

-- pinpoint searches because of a concrete suspicion;

-- extensive searches for mapping purposes; and

-- routine searches in areas artibrarily chosen to "manifest a presence" or just to harass.

In Hebron's City Center, delays and harassment are common daily practices because Israeli settlements are there. Security forces are everywhere, their patrols are frequent, and dozens of annoying checkpoints and permanent positions have been set up for control. For Palestinians in the area or who have to go there, it's nightmarish. They must pass through checkpoints and army positions, and have to show identity cards whenever they do. Even so, delays are frequent and can last for hours at times. Everyone is affected - the sick and elderly, anyone on the street including where they live, shoppers, children going to school and back home, or anyone else for any reason.

In the US, the Bill of Rights Third and Fourth Amendments ban these practices. The Third Amendment states: "No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and specifically says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Despite these protections, the post-9/11 environment scrapped the law and desecrated the Constitution. It came through congressional legislation and presidential executive and other decrees that seriously eroded Fourth and other Bill of Rights freedoms. They're effectively gutted, so no one in America is secure and may suffer the same abuses Palestinians now do. It's affected many thousands of people in ways unimaginable but now happen routinely and repressively.

Israel's Policy in Hebron from the Legal Perspective

Israel bases its Hebron City Center policy on the "principle of separation" that seriously violates the rights of all Palestinians affected "in every aspect of their lives." It contradicts international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and also Israeli administrative and constitutional law as they apply to an occupying power. In short, the policy is unjustified and outrageous, but it persists nonetheless.

International humanitarian law covers two main points for an occupier:

-- to ensure its legitimate security concerns; and

-- to guarantee the essential needs of the occupied civilian population as covered under Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It states these people "shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof...." This fundamental obligation relates to peoples' right to life, liberty, personal safety, freedom of movement and other sacrosanct human rights.

They're also codified in international human rights law and Israeli administrative and constitutional law that's binding on an occupier. These laws require Israel to prohibit their security forces from infringing on Palestinian rights as occupied people. They also provide for the right to be heard, the duty to act reasonably, and to abide by the principle of proportionality that requires upholding this fundamental rule: administrative body decisions are only lawful if the means used to enforce them are proportionate.

The following practices are not:

-- sweeping restrictions on Palestinian movements in Hebron's City Center;

-- prohibiting Palestinian shops from opening in large sections of the area;

-- arbitrary searches and seizures of private dwellings as well as quartering security forces in them; and

-- any infringements on Palestinians' right of property; to earn a living by any work they choose; to an adequate standard of living; to adequate housing, medical care, education and other essential services; to privacy; and to a normal secure family life.

Israeli authorities consciously and willfully fail to enforce the law on their security forces and settlers. As a result, Palestinian rights are ignored and they're subjected to continued harassment and indignities in violation of international and Israeli law. It makes conditions for them intolerable, and cumulatively they're illegal and amount to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

They exist because of and at the behest of settlers' presence in the city whose rights and demands are paramount even when they violate the law. All Israeli settlements in the OPT are illegal, and consider Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies." This applies as well to organizing or encouraging the transfer of its own population to the occupied territory that displaces legal residents forced to move.

International law also renounces colonialism. By encouraging and financing Hebron City Center and other OPT settlements, Israel violates international law as well as UN Resolutions 465 and 476 that addressed Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine and the Syrian Golan Heights. Since the Security Council passed both resolutions in 1980, Israel flagrantly violated them and continues to build new settlements in the OPT wherever it wishes, the actions are illegal, and they displace legal residents throughout the Territories.

It's no surprise and nothing new because two nations stand out above all others as serial UN resolution and international law abusers for the past 50 years - Israel and the US. In the case of Israel, its record is appalling for flagrantly and willfully ignoring over five dozen UN resolutions condemning or censuring it for its actions against the Palestinians or other Arab people, deploring it for committing them, or demanding, calling on or urging the Jewish state to end them. Israel refuses and has never been held to account because of its powerful ally in Washington. All US administrations for the past half century allowed Israel to be lawless and get away with it.

Israel's High Court of Justice is equally culpable by ignoring international law and for its one-sided support of injustice despite occasionally ruling otherwise. International and Israeli law are clear. Yet the Court supports illegal settlements, the separation wall (seizing over 10% of West Bank land) declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, targeted assassinations, the right of settlers to destroy Palestinian property, and Israel's right to protect settlements regardless of the cost to Palestinians.

Many Israeli actions can't be justified on any basis, yet they persist with High Court support. Israel and the Court are obligated under international law to treat all persons equally, yet they fail to do so. Consider Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965 that Israel signed in 1966 and ratified in 1979. It defines "racial discrimination" as: "any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin (that) nullif(ies) or impair(s) the recognition, enjoyment or exercise (equally) of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

According to the Convention, Israel governs by a de facto state policy of willful separation and discrimination. International law prohibits it and calls it "racist." In Hebron's City Center, it's especially egregious under Article 3 of the Convention that condemns racial segregation. Yet, it's Israel's official policy throughout the OPT and in Israel for its Arab citizens.

International law also bans collective punishment as Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measure of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited (as well as) Reprisals against protected persons and their property...." Israeli sweeping measures against Palestinians after September, 2000 constitute willful collective punishment and are thus illegal.

So is forced transfer of an occupied people, by direct or indirect means, yet Israel's declared policy and its actions displaced many thousands of OPT residents and thousands alone from Hebron City Center that left the area a "ghost town." This also violates the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 49 that states: "Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited (for any reason)." This prohibition applies as well to transfers within an occupied territory such as driving Hebron City Center residents out of the area in deference to its settlers.

Articles 146 and 147 go further by classifying any unlawful protected person transfers a grave Convention breach and a war crime for which responsible persons bear full responsibility.

Current Israeli Action to Stop A Medical Clinic's Construction

Not part of B'Tselem-ACRI's study is an ongoing effort to stop Israel from demolishing a Beqa'a Valley medical clinic under construction that's a 30 minute walk from Hebron's City Center. It's operated by Palestinian Relief and CARE International to provide 600 - 700 mostly women and children in the area with routine care, prenatal checkups and vaccinations one day a week.

In late December 2007, Israel's Civil Administration issued a stop work order on the clinic, residents complied, and had until January 10 to appeal. The facility is vitally needed, stop work orders usually precede demolition, and they were also issued for over 25 rebuilt homes. Unless they're cancelled or stopped, demolition will proceed as another act of collective punishment against Palestinians helpless to stop it.

Bush in Palestine

Also, apart from B'Tselem-ACRI's report, George Bush's Israel and Palestine visit deserves mention to highlight the plight of Hebron's people and all Palestinians. It was Bush's first official visit as President as part of his seven state, nine day Middle East tour that had nothing to do with peace, a two-state solution, or ending an illegal occupation and everything to do with betraying the Palestinians and confronting Iran. On January 9 and 10, Bush visited Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem in the West Bank, skipped Gaza and Hebron, and concentrated on theatrics, photo-ops and reiterated promises one more time to be broken afterwards.

Palestinians know it, and Haaretz featured their view on January 10 in an article headlined "Palestinians in Ramallah brace for visit by 'that criminal' Bush." The anger is so great that Palestinian security forces dug up concrete looking for bombs around and beneath a building Bush visited for a meeting. In addition, Israel deployed 10,000 police and security staff for protection, booked the entire King David hotel in Jerusalem for his stay, cancelled tourist bookings to do it, blocked roads around the hotel causing huge traffic jams, and totally isolated the President from people he supposedly came to help. It's no mystery why.

The visit was a follow-up to the Annapolis tragedy and travesty that was a historic first. It was the first time in memory the legitimate government of one side was excluded from peace talks, and that act doomed them. That meeting and this trip represent more pretense than peace because Palestinian sincerity isn't matched by Israel or Washington. The Bush administration firmly supports Israel's illegal settlements, and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert knows it. Ahead of Bush's arrival, he said "I don't recall another president who systematically and consistently showed the same level of commitment to Israel as George W. Bush," and therein lies the problem.

What can Palestinians hope from this meeting? A critical online cartoon (Al-Quds newspaper refused to publish) captures their view. It shows Bush arriving by helicopter, and the copy reads: "what denied entry!! what wall? what checkpoints? what settlements? MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. The people of Hebron understand. So do all Palestinians, including the many dozens killed by IDF incursions post-Annapolis as Israeli-instigated violence rages in the Territories....in the name of "peace" Israel and Washington won't allow.

Conclusions

B'Tselem-ACRI also understand the problem. Their report calls Israel's "constant and grave harm to Palestinians (in Hebron's City Center) one of the most extreme manifestations of human rights violations" it commits. By protecting settlers through a "principle of separation" policy, its actions are racist and illegal as are severe movement restrictions, oppressive curfews, security force and settler violent assaults, arbitrary searches and seizures, quartering troops in homes, mass population transfers, and unwarranted detentions and delays to collectively punish and harass.

In Hebron City Center, expulsion alone is unique in magnitude since the West Bank was occupied in 1967. Israeli policy there shows a profound disregard for Palestinian rights and a flagrant violation of international and Israeli laws. In deference to its settlers, Palestinians suffer, it's intolerable, and at times it takes lives.

B'Tselem and ACRI insist this must end, and Palestinian rights must be protected and respected. All Israeli settlements are illegal in the Territories. International law demands they be evacuated and regarding the situation in Hebron City Center alone, B'Tselem and ACRI state "Israel has the legal and moral obligation to evacuate the Israelis who settled (there), and return them to Israel." Until this happens, Israel is also obligated to ensure Palestinian safety so they can live normally with their civil and human rights respected and protected.

Specfically B'Tselem and ACRI urge Israel to take the following measures:

-- allow Palestinians free movement in Hebron City Center and remove all checkpoints and physical barriers;

-- let Palestinians return to their homes;

-- rejuvenate the City Center as a commercial area the way it was before it was occupied;

-- assure the IDF and police enforce the law, deter settler violence and refrain from all acts of individual or collective punishment;

-- direct investigative authorities to examine and justly act on every security force and settler breach of law; and

-- assure security forces prevent settlers from seizing additional buildings and areas in the city.

Above all, state authorities, security forces and settlers must obey the law and treat occupied Palestinians justly. Israel claims to be a civilized state. It's about time it acted like one.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.