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Nero’s Guests Chris Hedges

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I gave this talk in Blackburn, England during a campaign event for my friend Craig Murray who is running for parliament. Like George Galloway, who was recently elected to parliament, Craig’s central campaign issue is the genocide in Gaza. He calls for a permanent ceasefire, the establishment of a full and independent Palestinian state and backs the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the apartheid state of Israel.

Transcript

Craig Murray: Good evening. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming along. I’m Craig Murray. I’m here in Blackburn, as you may know, as a candidate in the general election and one thing I’ve made absolutely plain is that I’m standing here because of the genocide in Gaza. That’s what has brought me here to raise the issue and fight the election here and we’re having a meeting here today which is not like your normal election meeting in that it’s very much focused on that subject and which I hope will give you a lot of information and food for thought and I am extremely proud to have two of the best speakers on the subject in the world, two world leading authorities on the subject who’ve come here to Blackburn.

I had difficulty persuading people today that they are actually here and that it’s not a Zoom meeting or something along those lines. And they’ve both come large distances to be here. And without further ado, because I’m going to be here, as comedians used to say, I’m here all week. I’m here for the next month so you’ll have lots and lots of chances to hear me talk but this is a man who you probably very seldom get to hear talk.

He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a man of enormous experience, who’s just flown in from Egypt, where he won the Arab World’s Top Prize for Journalism — and we look very much forward to hearing Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges: Thank you.

Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that is even more savage than that of apartheid South Africa. Its ‘democracy’ — which was always exclusively for Jews — has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country towards fascism. Human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalistsIsraeli and Palestinian — are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, is an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy, along with a culture of anti-Arab and anti-Black racism.

By the time Israel achieves its decimation of Gaza — Israel is talking about months of warfare that will continue at least until the end of this year — it will have signed its own death sentence. Its facade of civility, its supposed vaunted respect for the rule of law and democracy, its mythical story of the courageous Israeli military and miraculous birth of the Jewish nation – which it successfully sold to its western audiences – will lie in ash heaps. Israel’s social capital will be spent. It will be revealed as the ugly, repressive, hate-filled apartheid regime it always has been, alienating younger generations of American Jews. Its patron, the United States, as new generations come into power, will distance itself from Israel. Its popular support will come from reactionary Zionists and America’s Christianized fascists who see Israel’s domination of ancient Biblical land as a harbinger of the Second Coming and in its subjugation of Arabs a kindred racism and celebration of white supremacy. 

Israel will become synonymous with its victims the way Turks are synonymous with the Armenians, Germans are with the Namibians and later the Jews, and Serbs are with the Bosniaks. Israel’s cultural, artistic, journalistic and intellectual life will be exterminated. Israel will be a stagnant nation where the religious fanatics, bigots and Jewish extremists who have seized power will dominate public discourse. It will join the club of the globe’s most despotic regimes. 

Despotisms can exist long after their past due date. But they are terminal. You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to see that Israel’s lust for rivers of blood is antithetical to the core values of Judaism. The cynical weaponization of the Holocaust, including branding Palestinians as Nazis, has little efficacy when you carry out a live streamed genocide against 2.3 million people trapped in a concentration camp.

Nations need more than force to survive. They need a mystique. This mystique provides purpose, civility and even nobility to inspire citizens to sacrifice for the nation. The mystique offers hope for the future. It provides meaning. It provides national identity. 

When mystiques implode, when they are exposed as lies, a central foundation of state power collapses. I reported on the death of the communist mystiques in 1989 during the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The police and the military decided there was nothing left to defend. Israel’s decay will engender the same lassitude and apathy. It will not be able to recruit Indigenous collaborators, such as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority — reviled by most Palestinians — to do the bidding of the colonizers. 

All Israel has left is escalating savagery, including torture and lethal violence against unarmed civilians, which accelerates the decline. This wholesale violence works in the short term, as it did in the war waged by the French in Algeria, the Dirty War waged by Argentina’s military dictatorship, the British occupation of India, Egypt, Kenya and Northern Ireland and the American occupations of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the long term, it is suicidal.

The genocide in Gaza has turned Hamas’ resistance fighters into heroes in the Global South. Israel may wipe out the Hamas leadership. But the past — and current — assassinations of scores of Palestinian leaders has done little to blunt resistance. The genocide in Gaza has produced a new generation of deeply traumatized and enraged young men and women whose families have been killed and whose communities have been obliterated. They are prepared to take the place of martyred leaders. 

Israel was at war with itself before Oct. 7. Israelis were protesting to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s abolition of judicial independence. Its religious bigots and fanatics, currently in power, had mounted a determined attack on Israeli secularism. Israel’s unity is a negative unity. It is held together by hatred. And even this hatred is not enough to keep protestors from decrying the government’s abandonment of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Hatred is a dangerous political commodity. The Palestinian “human animals,” when eradicated or subdued, will be replaced by Jewish apostates and traitors. A politics of hatred creates a permanent instability, exploited by those seeking the destruction of civil society.

Israel was far down this road on Oct. 7 when it promulgated a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law permits exclusively Jewish settlements to bar applicants for residency on the basis of “suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.” 

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state and end the occupation, it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.

“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” wrote Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution,” he warned.

He foresaw that, “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police — mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” 

“Israel,” he wrote, “would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”

Settler colonial states that endure, including the United States, exterminate the native population through genocide and the spread of new infectious diseases such as smallpox. By 1600 less than a tenth of the indigenous population remained in South, Central and North America. Israel cannot kill on this scale, with nearly 5.5 million Palestinians living under occupation and another nine million in the diaspora. They cannot, as many Israelis wish, wipe them all out. 

Israel’s scorched earth campaign in Gaza means there will be no two-state solution. Apartheid and genocide will define existence for the Palestinians. This presages a long conflict, but one that the Jewish State cannot ultimately win.

Run, the Israelis demand of the Palestinians, run for your lives. Run from Rafah the way you ran from Gaza City, the way you ran from Jabalia, the way you ran from Deir al-Balah, the way you ran from Beit Hanoun, the way you ran from Bani Suheila, the way you ran from Khan Yunis. Run or we will kill you. We will drop GBU-39 bombs on your tent encampments and set them ablaze. We will spray you with bullets from our machine-gun-equipped drones. We will pound you with artillery and tank shells. We will shoot you down with snipers. We will decimate your tents, your refugee camps, your cities and towns, your homes, your schools, your hospitals and your water purification plants. We will rain death from the sky.

Run for your lives. Again and again and again. Pack up the few belongings you have left. Blankets. A couple of pots. Some clothes. We don’t care how exhausted you are, how hungry you are, how terrified you are, how sick you are, how old, or how young you are. Run. Run. Run. And when you run in terror to one part of Gaza, we will make you turn around and run to another. Trapped in a labyrinth of death. Back and forth. Up and down. Side to side. Six. Seven. Eight times. We toy with you like mice in a trap. Then we deport you so you can never return. Or we kill you.

Let the world denounce our genocide. What do we care? The billions in military aid flows unchecked from our American ally. The fighter jets. The artillery shells. The tanks. The bombs. An endless supply. We kill children by the thousands. We kill women and the elderly by the thousands. The sick and injured, without medicine and hospitals die. We poison the water. We cut off the food. We make you starve. We created this hell. We are the masters. Law. Duty. A code of conduct. They do not exist for us.

But first we toy with you. We humiliate you. We terrorize you. We revel in your fear. We are amused by your pathetic attempts to survive. You are not human. You are creatures. Untermensch. We feed our lust for domination. Look at our posts on social media. They have gone viral. One shows soldiers grinning in a Palestinian home with the owners tied up and blindfolded in the background. We loot. Rugs. Cosmetics. Motorbikes. Jewelry. Watches. Cash. Gold. Antiquities. We mock your misery. We cheer your death. We celebrate our religion, our nation, our identity, our superiority, by negating and erasing yours. 

Depravity is moral. Atrocity is heroism. Genocide is redemption.

This is the game of terror played by Israel in Gaza. It was the game played during the Dirty War in Argentina when the military junta “disappeared” 30,000 of its own citizens. The “disappeared” were subjected to torture — who cannot call what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza torture? — and humiliated before they were murdered. It was the game played in the clandestine torture centers and prisons in El Salvador and Iraq. It is what characterized the war in Bosnia in the Serbian concentration camps.

Israeli journalist Yinon Magal on the show “Hapatriotim” on Israel’s Channel 14, joked that Joe Biden’s red line was the killing of 30,000 Palestinians. The singer Kobi Peretz asked if that was the number of dead for a day. The audience erupted in applause and laughter.

We know Israel’s intent. Annihilate the Palestinians the same way the United States annihilated Native Americans, the Australians annihilated the First Nations peoples, the Germans annihilated the Herero in Namibia, the Turks annihilated Armenians and the Nazis annihilated the Jews. The specifics are different. The goal is the same. Erasure. 

We cannot plead ignorance. 

But it is easier to pretend. Pretend Israel will allow humanitarian aid. Pretend there will be a permanent ceasefire. Pretend Palestinians will return to their destroyed homes in Gaza. Pretend Gaza will be rebuilt — the hospitals, the universities, the mosques, the housing. Pretend the Palestinian Authority will administer Gaza. Pretend there will be a two-state solution. Pretend there is no genocide.

The vaunted democratic values, morality and respect for human rights, claimed by Israel and the United States, has always been a lie. The real credo is this – we have everything and if you try and take it away from us we will kill you. People of color, especially when they are poor and vulnerable, do not count. The hopes, dreams, dignity and aspirations for freedom of those outside the empire are worthless. Global domination will be sustained through racialized violence

This lie — that the American empire is predicated on democracy and liberty — is one the Palestinians, and those in the Global South, as well as Native Americans and Black and Brown Americans, not to mention those who live in the Middle East, have known for decades. But it is a lie that still has currency in the United States and Israel, a lie used to justify the unjustifiable.

We do not halt Israel’s genocide because we, as Americans, are Israel, infected with the same white supremacy, and intoxicated by our domination of the globe’s wealth and the power to obliterate others with our advanced weaponry. 

The world outside of the industrialized fortresses in the Global North is acutely aware that the fate of the Palestinians is their fate. As climate change imperils survival, as natural resources, including access to water, diminish, as mass migration becomes an imperative for millions, as agricultural yields decline, as coastal areas are flooded, as droughts and wildfires proliferate, as states fail, as militias and armed resistance movements rise to battle their oppressors along with their proxies, genocide will not be an anomaly. It will be the norm. The earth’s vulnerable and poor, those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” will be the next Palestinians. 

“Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths,” the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of those the emperor Nero singled out for torture and death. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

Sadism by the powerful is the curse of the human condition. It was as prevalent in ancient Rome as it is, 200 miles to the north from us, in Gaza. 

We know the modern face of Nero, who illuminated his opulent garden parties by burning to death captives tied to stakes. That is not in dispute.

But who were Nero’s guests1? Who wandered through the emperor’s grounds as human beings, as in Rafah, were burned alive? How could these guests see, and no doubt hear, such horrendous suffering and witness such appalling torture and be indifferent, even content?

There is nothing hidden about this genocide. Over 147 courageous Palestinian journalists have been murdered by the Israelis because they have conveyed the images and stories of this slaughter to the world, martyred for their people, for us.

We are Nero’s guests. 

The Palestinians have long been betrayed, not only by us in the global north, but by most of the governments in the Muslim world. We stand passive in the face of the crime of crimes. History will judge Israel for this genocide. But it will also judge us. It will ask why we did not do more, why we did not sever all agreements, all trade deals, all accords, all cooperation with the apartheid state, why we did not halt weapons shipments to Israel, why we did not recall our ambassadors, why when the maritime trade in the Red Sea was disrupted by Yemen an alternative overland route into Israel was set up by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, why we did not do everything in our power to end the slaughter. It will condemn us for not heeding the fundamental lesson of the Holocaust, which is not that Jews are eternal victims, but that when you have the capacity to stop genocide and you do not, you are culpable.

“The opposite of good is not evil,” Samuel Johnson wrote. “The opposite of good is indifference.”

The Palestinian resistance is our resistance. The Palestinian struggle for dignity, freedom and independence is our struggle. The Palestinian cause is our cause. For, as history has also shown, those who were once Nero’s guests soon became Nero’s victims. 

Thank you.

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1

The title and concept of Nero’s Guests comes from a lecture by P. Sainath about the suicides of Indian farmers.

 

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The Old Evil Chris Hedges

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Which Genocide Are You On? – by Mr. Fish

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine: It comes back in a rush, the stench of raw sewage, the groan of the diesel, sloth-like Israeli armored personnel carriers, the vans filled with broods of children, driven by chalky faced colonists, certainly not from here, probably from Brooklyn or somewhere in Russia or maybe Britain. Little has changed. The checkpoints with their blue and white Israeli flags dot the roads and intersections. The red-tiled roofs of the colonist settlements — illegal under international law — dominate hillsides above Palestinian villages and towns. They have grown in number and expanded in size. But they remain protected by blast barriers, concertina wire and watchtowers surrounded by the obscenity of lawns and gardens. The colonists have access to bountiful sources of water in this arid landscape that the Palestinians are denied

The winding 26-foot high concrete wall that runs the 440 mile length of occupied Palestine, with its graffiti calling for liberation, murals with the Al-Aqsa mosque, faces of martyrs and the grinning and bearded mug of Yasser Arafat — whose concessions to Israel in the Oslo agreement made him, in the words of Edward Said, “the Pétain of the Palestinians” — give the West Bank the feel of an open air prison. The wall lacerates the landscape. It twists and turns like some huge, fossilized antediluvian snake severing Palestinians from their families, slicing Palestinian villages in half, cutting communities off from their orchards, olive trees and fields, dipping and rising out of wadis, trapping Palestinians in the Jewish state’s updated version of a Bantustan.

It has been over two decades since I reported from the West Bank. Time collapses. The smells, sensations, emotions and images, the lilting cadence of Arabic and the miasma of sudden and violent death that lurks in the air, evokes the old evil. It is as if I never left.  

I am in a battered black Mercedes driven by a friend in his thirties who I will not name to protect him. He worked construction in Israel but lost his job — like nearly all Palestinians employed in Israel — on Oct. 7. He has four children. He is struggling. His savings have dwindled. It is getting hard to buy food, pay for electricity, water and petrol. He feels under siege. He is under siege. He has little use for the quisling Palestinian Authority. He dislikes Hamas. He has Jewish friends. He speaks Hebrew. The siege is grinding him, and everyone around him, down.

“A few more months like this and we’re finished,” he says puffing nervously on a cigarette. “People are desperate. More and more are going hungry.”

We are driving the winding road that hugs the barren sand and scrub hillsides snaking up from Jericho, rising from the salt-rich Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the earth, to Ramallah. I will meet my friend, the novelist Atef Abu Saif, who was in Gaza on Oct. 7 with his 15-year-old son, Yasser. They were visiting family when Israel began its scorched earth campaign. He spent 85 days enduring and writing daily about the nightmare of the genocide. His collection of haunting diary entries have been published in his book “Don’t Look Left.” He escaped the carnage though the border with Egypt at Rafah, traveled to Jordan and returned home to Ramallah. But the scars of the genocide remain. Yasser rarely leaves his room. He does not engage with his friends. Fear, trauma and hatred are the primary commodities imparted by the colonizers to the colonized.

“I still live in Gaza,” Atef tells me later. “I am not out. Yasser still hears bombing. He still sees corpses. He does not eat meat. Red meat reminds him of the flesh he picked up when he joined the rescue parties during the massacre in Jabalia, and the flesh of his cousins. I sleep on a mattress on the floor as I did in Gaza when we lived in a tent. I lie awake. I think of those we left behind waiting for sudden death.”

We turn a corner on a hillside. Cars and trucks are veering spasmodically to the right and left. Several in front of us are in reverse. Ahead is an Israeli checkpoint with thick boxy blocks of dun colored concrete. Soldiers are stopping vehicles and checking papers. Palestinians can wait hours to get past. They can be hauled from their vehicles and detained. Anything is possible at an Israeli checkpoint, often erected with no advance warning. Most of it is not good.

We back up. We descend a narrow, dusty road that veers off from the main highway. We travel on bumpy, uneven tracks through impoverished villages.

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It was like this for Blacks in the segregated south and Indigenous Americans. It was like this for Algerians under the French. It was like this in India, Ireland and Kenya under the British. The death mask — too often of European extraction — of colonialism does not change. Nor does the God-like authority of colonists who look at the colonized as vermin, who take a perverse delight in their humiliation and suffering and who kill them with impunity. 

The Israeli customs official asked me two questions when I crossed into occupied Palestine from Jordan on the King Hussein Bridge. 

“Do you hold a Palestinian passport?” 

“Are either of your parents Palestinian?” 

In short, are you contaminated?

This is how apartheid works.

The Palestinians want their land back. Then they will talk of peace. The Israelis want peace, but demand Palestinian land. And that, in three short sentences, is the intractable nature of this conflict.

I see Jerusalem in the distance. Or rather, I see the Jewish colony that lines the hills above Jerusalem. The villas, built in an arc on the hilltop, have windows intentionally narrowed into upright rectangles to double as gun slits.

We reach the outskirts of Ramallah. We are held up in the snarl of traffic in front of the sprawling Israeli military base that oversees the Qalandia checkpoint, the primary checkpoint between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is the scene of frequent demonstrations against the occupation that can end in gunfire.

I meet Atef. We walk to a kebab shop and sit at a small outdoor table. The scars of the latest incursion by the Israeli army are around the corner. At night, a few days ago, Israeli soldiers torched the shops that handle money transfers from abroad. They are charred ruins. Money from abroad will now be harder to get, which I suspect was the point.

Israel has dramatically tightened its stranglehold on the more than 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, who are surrounded by more than 700,000 Jewish colonists housed in some 150 strategically placed developments with their own shopping malls, schools and medical centers. These colonial developments along with special roads that can only be used by the colonists and the military, checkpoints, tracts of land that are off limits to Palestinians, closed military zones, Israeli-declared “nature preserves” and military outposts form concentric circles. They can instantly sever the flow of traffic to isolate Palestinians cities and towns into a series of ringed ghettos.

“Since Oct. 7 it is hard to travel anywhere in the West Bank,” Atef says. “There are checkpoints at the entrances of every city, town and village. Imagine you want to see your mother or your fiancée. You want to drive from Ramallah to Nablus. It can take seven hours because the main roads are blocked. You are forced to drive through back roads in the mountains.”

The trip should take 90 minutes.

Israeli soldiers and colonists have killed 528 Palestinian civilians, including 133 children, and injured more than 5,350 others in the West Bank, since Oct. 7, according to the UN human rights chief. Israel has also detained over 9,700 Palestinians — or should I say hostages? — including hundreds of children and pregnant women. Many have been severely tortured, including doctors tortured to death in Israeli dungeons and aid workers killed upon their release. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the execution of Palestinian prisoners to free up space for more. 

Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, was in the past spared the worst of Israeli violence. Since Oct. 7, this has changed. Raids and arrests take place almost daily in and around the city, sometimes accompanied by lethal gunfire and aerial bombardments. Israel has bulldozed or confiscated more than 990 Palestinian dwellings and homes in the West Bank since Oct. 7, at times forcing owners to demolish their own buildings or pay exorbitant fines.

Heavily armed Israeli colonists have carried out murderous rampages on villages east of Ramallah, including attacks following the murder of a 14-year-old colonist on April 12 near the village of al Mughayyir. The colonists, in retaliation, burned and destroyed Palestinian homes and vehicles across 11 villages, ripped up roads, killed one Palestinian and wounded more than two dozen others. 

Israel has ordered the largest West Bank land seizure in more than three decades, confiscating vast tracts of land northeast of Ramallah. The extreme rightwing Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a Jewish colony and is in charge of colonial expansion, has promised to flood the West Bank with a million new colonists. 

Smotrich has vowed to obliterate the distinct areas in the West Bank created by the Oslo accords. Area A, which comprises 18 percent of the West Bank, is under exclusive Palestinian control. Area B, nearly 22 percent of the West Bank, is under Israeli military occupation, in collusion with the Palestinian Authority. Area C, over 60 percent of the West Bank, is under total Israeli occupation.

“Israel realizes that the world is blind, that no one will force it to end the genocide in Gaza, and no one will pay attention to the war in the West Bank,” Atef says. “The word war is not even used. This is called a normal Israeli military operation, as if what is happening to us is normal. There is no distinction now between the status of the occupied territories, classified as A, B and C. The settlers are confiscating more land. They are carrying out more attacks. They do not need the army. They have become a shadow army, supported and armed by Israel’s rightwing government. We have lived in a continuous war since 1948. This is simply the newest phase.” 

Jenin and its neighboring refugee camp are assaulted daily by Israeli armed units, undercover commando teams, snipers and bulldozers, which level entire neighborhoods. Drones equipped with machine guns and missiles, as well as warplanes and Apache attack helicopters, circle overhead and obliterate dwellings. Medics and doctors, as in Gaza, are assassinated. Usaid Kamal Jabarin, a 50-year-old surgeon, was killed on May 21 by an Israel sniper as he arrived for work at the Jenin Governmental Hospital. Hunger is endemic.

“The Israeli military carries out raids that kill Palestinians and then departs,” Atef says. “But it returns a few days later. It is not enough for the Israelis to steal our land. They seek to kill as many of the original inhabitants as possible. This is why it carries out constant operations. This is why there are constant armed clashes. But these clashes are provoked by Israel. They are the pretext used to continually attack us. We live under constant pressure. We face death daily.”

The dramatic escalation of violence in the West Bank is overshadowed by the genocide in Gaza. But it has become a second front. If Israel can empty Gaza, the West Bank will be next.

“Israel’s objective has not changed,” he says. “It seeks to shrink the Palestinian population, confiscate larger and larger tracts of Palestinian land and build more and more colonies. It seeks to Judaize Palestine and strip the Palestinians of all the means to sustain themselves. The ultimate goal is the annexation of the West Bank.”

“Even at the height of the peace process, when everyone was mesmerized by peace, Israel was turning this peace proposal into a nightmare,” he goes on. “Most Palestinians were opposed to the peace accords Arafat signed in 1993, but still they welcomed him when he returned. They did not kill him. They wanted to give peace a chance. In Israel, the prime minister who signed the Oslo accords was assassinated.”

 “A few years ago, someone daubed a strange slogan on the wall of the U.N. school east of Jabaliya,” Atef wrote from the hell of Gaza. “‘We progress backwards.’ It has a ring to it. Every new war drags us back to basics. It destroys our houses, our institutions, our mosques and our churches. It razes our gardens and parks. Every war takes years to recover from, and before we’ve recovered, a new war arrives. There are no warning sirens, no messages sent to our phones. War just arrives.”

The Jewish settler colonial project is protean. It changes its shape but not its essence. Its tactics vary. Its intensity comes in waves of severe repression and less repression. Its rhetoric about peace masks its intent. It grinds forward with its deadly, perverted, racist logic. And yet, the Palestinians endure, refusing to submit, resisting despite the overwhelming odds, grasping at tiny kernels of hope from bottomless wells of despair. There is a word for this. Heroic.

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The Old Evil Chris Hedges

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Which Genocide Are You On? – by Mr. Fish

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine: It comes back in a rush, the stench of raw sewage, the groan of the diesel, sloth-like Israeli armored personnel carriers, the vans filled with broods of children, driven by chalky faced colonists, certainly not from here, probably from Brooklyn or somewhere in Russia or maybe Britain. Little has changed. The checkpoints with their blue and white Israeli flags dot the roads and intersections. The red-tiled roofs of the colonist settlements — illegal under international law — dominate hillsides above Palestinian villages and towns. They have grown in number and expanded in size. But they remain protected by blast barriers, concertina wire and watchtowers surrounded by the obscenity of lawns and gardens. The colonists have access to bountiful sources of water in this arid landscape that the Palestinians are denied

The winding 26-foot high concrete wall that runs the 440 mile length of occupied Palestine, with its graffiti calling for liberation, murals with the Al-Aqsa mosque, faces of martyrs and the grinning and bearded mug of Yasser Arafat — whose concessions to Israel in the Oslo agreement made him, in the words of Edward Said, “the Pétain of the Palestinians” — give the West Bank the feel of an open air prison. The wall lacerates the landscape. It twists and turns like some huge, fossilized antediluvian snake severing Palestinians from their families, slicing Palestinian villages in half, cutting communities off from their orchards, olive trees and fields, dipping and rising out of wadis, trapping Palestinians in the Jewish state’s updated version of a Bantustan.

It has been over two decades since I reported from the West Bank. Time collapses. The smells, sensations, emotions and images, the lilting cadence of Arabic and the miasma of sudden and violent death that lurks in the air, evokes the old evil. It is as if I never left.  

I am in a battered black Mercedes driven by a friend in his thirties who I will not name to protect him. He worked construction in Israel but lost his job — like nearly all Palestinians employed in Israel — on Oct. 7. He has four children. He is struggling. His savings have dwindled. It is getting hard to buy food, pay for electricity, water and petrol. He feels under siege. He is under siege. He has little use for the quisling Palestinian Authority. He dislikes Hamas. He has Jewish friends. He speaks Hebrew. The siege is grinding him, and everyone around him, down.

“A few more months like this and we’re finished,” he says puffing nervously on a cigarette. “People are desperate. More and more are going hungry.”

We are driving the winding road that hugs the barren sand and scrub hillsides snaking up from Jericho, rising from the salt-rich Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the earth, to Ramallah. I will meet my friend, the novelist Atef Abu Saif, who was in Gaza on Oct. 7 with his 15-year-old son, Yasser. They were visiting family when Israel began its scorched earth campaign. He spent 85 days enduring and writing daily about the nightmare of the genocide. His collection of haunting diary entries have been published in his book “Don’t Look Left.” He escaped the carnage though the border with Egypt at Rafah, traveled to Jordan and returned home to Ramallah. But the scars of the genocide remain. Yasser rarely leaves his room. He does not engage with his friends. Fear, trauma and hatred are the primary commodities imparted by the colonizers to the colonized.

“I still live in Gaza,” Atef tells me later. “I am not out. Yasser still hears bombing. He still sees corpses. He does not eat meat. Red meat reminds him of the flesh he picked up when he joined the rescue parties during the massacre in Jabalia, and the flesh of his cousins. I sleep on a mattress on the floor as I did in Gaza when we lived in a tent. I lie awake. I think of those we left behind waiting for sudden death.”

We turn a corner on a hillside. Cars and trucks are veering spasmodically to the right and left. Several in front of us are in reverse. Ahead is an Israeli checkpoint with thick boxy blocks of dun colored concrete. Soldiers are stopping vehicles and checking papers. Palestinians can wait hours to get past. They can be hauled from their vehicles and detained. Anything is possible at an Israeli checkpoint, often erected with no advance warning. Most of it is not good.

We back up. We descend a narrow, dusty road that veers off from the main highway. We travel on bumpy, uneven tracks through impoverished villages.

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It was like this for Blacks in the segregated south and Indigenous Americans. It was like this for Algerians under the French. It was like this in India, Ireland and Kenya under the British. The death mask — too often of European extraction — of colonialism does not change. Nor does the God-like authority of colonists who look at the colonized as vermin, who take a perverse delight in their humiliation and suffering and who kill them with impunity. 

The Israeli customs official asked me two questions when I crossed into occupied Palestine from Jordan on the King Hussein Bridge. 

“Do you hold a Palestinian passport?” 

“Are either of your parents Palestinian?” 

In short, are you contaminated?

This is how apartheid works.

The Palestinians want their land back. Then they will talk of peace. The Israelis want peace, but demand Palestinian land. And that, in three short sentences, is the intractable nature of this conflict.

I see Jerusalem in the distance. Or rather, I see the Jewish colony that lines the hills above Jerusalem. The villas, built in an arc on the hilltop, have windows intentionally narrowed into upright rectangles to double as gun slits.

We reach the outskirts of Ramallah. We are held up in the snarl of traffic in front of the sprawling Israeli military base that oversees the Qalandia checkpoint, the primary checkpoint between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is the scene of frequent demonstrations against the occupation that can end in gunfire.

I meet Atef. We walk to a kebab shop and sit at a small outdoor table. The scars of the latest incursion by the Israeli army are around the corner. At night, a few days ago, Israeli soldiers torched the shops that handle money transfers from abroad. They are charred ruins. Money from abroad will now be harder to get, which I suspect was the point.

Israel has dramatically tightened its stranglehold on the more than 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, who are surrounded by more than 700,000 Jewish colonists housed in some 150 strategically placed developments with their own shopping malls, schools and medical centers. These colonial developments along with special roads that can only be used by the colonists and the military, checkpoints, tracts of land that are off limits to Palestinians, closed military zones, Israeli-declared “nature preserves” and military outposts form concentric circles. They can instantly sever the flow of traffic to isolate Palestinians cities and towns into a series of ringed ghettos.

“Since Oct. 7 it is hard to travel anywhere in the West Bank,” Atef says. “There are checkpoints at the entrances of every city, town and village. Imagine you want to see your mother or your fiancée. You want to drive from Ramallah to Nablus. It can take seven hours because the main roads are blocked. You are forced to drive through back roads in the mountains.”

The trip should take 90 minutes.

Israeli soldiers and colonists have killed 528 Palestinian civilians, including 133 children, and injured more than 5,350 others in the West Bank, since Oct. 7, according to the UN human rights chief. Israel has also detained over 9,700 Palestinians — or should I say hostages? — including hundreds of children and pregnant women. Many have been severely tortured, including doctors tortured to death in Israeli dungeons and aid workers killed upon their release. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the execution of Palestinian prisoners to free up space for more. 

Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, was in the past spared the worst of Israeli violence. Since Oct. 7, this has changed. Raids and arrests take place almost daily in and around the city, sometimes accompanied by lethal gunfire and aerial bombardments. Israel has bulldozed or confiscated more than 990 Palestinian dwellings and homes in the West Bank since Oct. 7, at times forcing owners to demolish their own buildings or pay exorbitant fines.

Heavily armed Israeli colonists have carried out murderous rampages on villages east of Ramallah, including attacks following the murder of a 14-year-old colonist on April 12 near the village of al Mughayyir. The colonists, in retaliation, burned and destroyed Palestinian homes and vehicles across 11 villages, ripped up roads, killed one Palestinian and wounded more than two dozen others. 

Israel has ordered the largest West Bank land seizure in more than three decades, confiscating vast tracts of land northeast of Ramallah. The extreme rightwing Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a Jewish colony and is in charge of colonial expansion, has promised to flood the West Bank with a million new colonists. 

Smotrich has vowed to obliterate the distinct areas in the West Bank created by the Oslo accords. Area A, which comprises 18 percent of the West Bank, is under exclusive Palestinian control. Area B, nearly 22 percent of the West Bank, is under Israeli military occupation, in collusion with the Palestinian Authority. Area C, over 60 percent of the West Bank, is under total Israeli occupation.

“Israel realizes that the world is blind, that no one will force it to end the genocide in Gaza, and no one will pay attention to the war in the West Bank,” Atef says. “The word war is not even used. This is called a normal Israeli military operation, as if what is happening to us is normal. There is no distinction now between the status of the occupied territories, classified as A, B and C. The settlers are confiscating more land. They are carrying out more attacks. They do not need the army. They have become a shadow army, supported and armed by Israel’s rightwing government. We have lived in a continuous war since 1948. This is simply the newest phase.” 

Jenin and its neighboring refugee camp are assaulted daily by Israeli armed units, undercover commando teams, snipers and bulldozers, which level entire neighborhoods. Drones equipped with machine guns and missiles, as well as warplanes and Apache attack helicopters, circle overhead and obliterate dwellings. Medics and doctors, as in Gaza, are assassinated. Usaid Kamal Jabarin, a 50-year-old surgeon, was killed on May 21 by an Israel sniper as he arrived for work at the Jenin Governmental Hospital. Hunger is endemic.

“The Israeli military carries out raids that kill Palestinians and then departs,” Atef says. “But it returns a few days later. It is not enough for the Israelis to steal our land. They seek to kill as many of the original inhabitants as possible. This is why it carries out constant operations. This is why there are constant armed clashes. But these clashes are provoked by Israel. They are the pretext used to continually attack us. We live under constant pressure. We face death daily.”

The dramatic escalation of violence in the West Bank is overshadowed by the genocide in Gaza. But it has become a second front. If Israel can empty Gaza, the West Bank will be next.

“Israel’s objective has not changed,” he says. “It seeks to shrink the Palestinian population, confiscate larger and larger tracts of Palestinian land and build more and more colonies. It seeks to Judaize Palestine and strip the Palestinians of all the means to sustain themselves. The ultimate goal is the annexation of the West Bank.”

“Even at the height of the peace process, when everyone was mesmerized by peace, Israel was turning this peace proposal into a nightmare,” he goes on. “Most Palestinians were opposed to the peace accords Arafat signed in 1993, but still they welcomed him when he returned. They did not kill him. They wanted to give peace a chance. In Israel, the prime minister who signed the Oslo accords was assassinated.”

 “A few years ago, someone daubed a strange slogan on the wall of the U.N. school east of Jabaliya,” Atef wrote from the hell of Gaza. “‘We progress backwards.’ It has a ring to it. Every new war drags us back to basics. It destroys our houses, our institutions, our mosques and our churches. It razes our gardens and parks. Every war takes years to recover from, and before we’ve recovered, a new war arrives. There are no warning sirens, no messages sent to our phones. War just arrives.”

The Jewish settler colonial project is protean. It changes its shape but not its essence. Its tactics vary. Its intensity comes in waves of severe repression and less repression. Its rhetoric about peace masks its intent. It grinds forward with its deadly, perverted, racist logic. And yet, the Palestinians endure, refusing to submit, resisting despite the overwhelming odds, grasping at tiny kernels of hope from bottomless wells of despair. There is a word for this. Heroic.

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TGIF: President Putin and Vice President Trump Edition Suzy Weiss

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Alex Soros and Huma Abedin arrive at the Booksellers Room of the White House on May 23, 2024. (Saul Loeb Getty Images)

Apparently, aunts don’t get parental leave in this country. Here I am, babysitting a two-year-old, blowing endless raspberries, sneaking illegal candy into tiny palms day and night, putting on the Moana soundtrack again and my thanks is. . . more deadlines? 

And for my other aunts out there, who, like me, always seem to show up after the diaper change and disappear before the bedtime meltdown, I see you. 

But here I am. And for my sister-in-law Nellie, and only for her, I’ll endure the wrath of the commenters.

Let’s get to it.

 → He’s answering every question: The leader of the free world had an important task on Thursday night. It would be a decisive moment for his presidency. According to Rachel Maddow, “the fate of the world” hung “in the balance.” What did Joe Biden have to do? Answer a few questions from the press without the help of a teleprompter in a manner that suggested he was of sound mind. The bar was set very, very low.  

Did he clear it? Well, at another event a few hours before his “big boy” press conference, he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin.” That’s the geopolitical equivalent of calling the teacher “Mom.” And at the press conference itself he referred to Kamala Harris as “Vice President Trump.” 

In the end it was better than expected and worse than we deserve. But you know who thought Joe crushed it? His press guy. “To answer the question on everyone’s minds: No, Joe Biden does not have a doctorate in foreign affairs,” said Andrew Bates on X, answering a question on absolutely no one’s minds. “He’s just that fucking good.”  

When pressed on his health, Biden said his main issue is that after he broke his left foot, he didn’t wear the boot. Uh, relatable king check! A 20-year-old staffer clutched a microphone in front of each reporter’s face as they asked the president a bunch of variations of “So you’re really going to do this?” Biden says, after a few coughs and three seconds of silence: Yes. 

Best-in-Show-in-Chief: Apparently, most of the president’s movements, Cabinet meetings, public comments, and private comments—but like, only that stuff!—are being choreographed down to the minute. CNN reports that the president’s aides provide him with talking points and diagrams for where to walk and require advisers to submit questions ahead of meetings. He’s also not really having many Cabinet meetings—in fact, there hasn’t been a full Cabinet meeting since last October—and is seen less and less by staffers. 

Biden’s rare performances even come with stage direction, per Axios, which obtained pictures of an event prep document with two full pages dedicated to “Walk to podium” with pictures taken from the wings. Staffers claim this is part of their “advance work” and a sign of meticulous prep. I’m sure the latest OPEC data was right on the other side of the “Walk to podium” page. 

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reports that the “acting chief of staff” and presidential “gatekeeper” is none other than Hunter Biden. So if you see a new executive order next week detailing penalties for hookers who steal your crack, that’s just that enduring Biden legacy of serving the American middle class. A Dem who worked for Biden said the whole arrangement “is more of a family thing than a political thing.” And I get that. It’s basically how we run TGIF. Give the crackhead Kennedys their privacy. 

Just a routine checkup with the Parkinson’s guy: Last week it came out that Dr. Kevin Cannard, a neurologist and Parkinson’s expert, has visited the White House at least eight times since last summer and met with the president’s personal physician. Karine Jean-Pierre, Biden’s press secretary, said on Tuesday that the meeting had nothing to do with the president. I guess the two doctors who treat the president just chose a weird place to hang out? Then later that same day, she confirmed that indeed the meeting was about the president and that she got confused about the dates and misspoke. 

There was a discrepancy too on whether Biden was treated by a doctor after the debate for his “cold,” which is a new word for “probably Parkinson’s.” (Tired means dementia and jet-lagged means it’s malignant.) Last Wednesday Jean-Pierre said he wasn’t checked out by his doctor, but Biden said in a meeting with Democratic governors a few hours later that he was. Jean-Pierre then corrected things and said that the appointment after the debate was not a full work up, but a “check-in,” which apparently happens a couple of times a week. A couple of times per week! That seems like a lot of times per week to go to the doctor for a routine annual checkup. 


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