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Why Is TED Scared of Color Blindness? Coleman Hughes

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Like any young writer, I am well aware that an invitation to speak at TED can be a career-changing opportunity. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was invited to appear at this year’s annual conference. What I could not have imagined from an organization whose tagline is “ideas worth spreading” is that it would attempt to suppress my own. 

As an independent podcaster and author, I count myself among the lucky few who can make a living doing what they truly love to do. Nothing about my experience with TED could change that. The reason this story matters is not because I was treated poorly, but because it helps explain how organizations can be captured by an ideological minority that bends even the people at the very top to its will. In that, the story of TED is the story of so many crucial and once-trustworthy institutions in American life.

Let’s go back to the start.

This past April, I gave a talk at the yearly TED conference in Vancouver, Canada. In my talk, I defended color blindness: the idea that we should treat people without regard to race, both in our personal lives and in our public policy. (This is also the topic of my forthcoming book.) 

Even though a majority of Americans believe that color-blind policies are the right approach to governing a racially diverse society, we live in a strange moment in which many of our elite believe that color blindness is, in fact, a Trojan horse for white supremacy. Taking that viewpoint seriously—while ultimately refuting it—was the express purpose of my talk. 

As you might imagine, TED is an unbelievably well-oiled machine. In the weeks and months leading up to the conference, I wrote my talk, revised it in conjunction with TED’s curation team, and cleared it with their fact-checkers. I have never prepared more thoroughly for a talk. On April 19, I stepped onstage in front of an audience of nearly 2,000 people and delivered it.   

TED draws a progressive crowd, so I expected that my talk might upset a handful of people. And indeed, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a handful of scowling faces. But the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The audience applauded; some people even stood up. Throughout the meals and in hallways, people approached me to say they loved it, and those who disagreed with it offered smart and thoughtful criticisms. 

But the day after my talk, I heard from Chris Anderson, the head of TED. He told me that a group called “Black@TED”—which TED’s website describes as an “Employee Resource Group that exists to provide a safe space for TED staff who identify as Black”—was “upset” by my talk. Over email, Chris asked if I’d be willing to speak with them privately. 

I agreed to speak with them on principle, that principle being that you should always speak with your critics because they may expose crucial blind spots in your worldview. No sooner did I agree to speak with them than Chris told me that Black@TED actually was not willing to speak to me. I never learned why. I hoped that this strange about-face was the end of the drama. But it was only the beginning.

On the final day of the conference, TED held its yearly “town hall”—at which the audience can give feedback on the conference. The event opened with two people denouncing my talk back-to-back. The first woman called my talk “racist” as well as “dangerous and irresponsible”—comments that were met with cheers from the crowd. The second commentator, Otho Kerr, a program director at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, claimed that I was “willing to have us slide back into the days of separate but equal.” (The talk is online, so you can judge for yourself whether those accusations bear any resemblance to reality.)

Was Coleman Hughes’s case for color blindness too controversial for TED? (Credit: @coldmxn via X)

In response to their comments, Anderson took the mic and thanked them for their remarks. He also reminded the audience that “TED can’t shy away from controversy on issues that matter so much”—a statement I very much agreed with and appreciated. Because he said as much, I left the conference fairly confident that TED would release and promote my talk just like any other, in spite of the staff and audience members who were upset by it. 

Two weeks later, Anderson emailed to tell me that there was “blowback” on my talk and that “[s]ome internally are arguing we shouldn’t post it.” In the email, he told me that the “most challenging” blowback had come from a “well-known” social scientist (who I later learned was Adam Grant). He quoted from Grant’s message directly:

Really glad to see TED offering viewpoint diversity—we need more conservative voices—but as a social scientist, was dismayed to see Coleman Hughes deliver an inaccurate message.

His case for color blindness is directly contradicted by an extensive body of rigorous research; for the state of the science, see Leslie, Bono, Kim & Beaver (2020, Journal of Applied Psychology). In a meta-analysis of 296 studies, they found that whereas color-conscious models reduce prejudice and discrimination, color-blind approaches often fail to help and sometimes backfire.

I read the paper that Grant referenced, titled “On Melting Pots and Salad Bowls: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Identity-Blind and Identity-Conscious Diversity Ideologies,” expecting to find arguments against color blindness. I was shocked to find that the paper largely supported my talk. In the results section, the authors write that “colorblindness is negatively related to stereotyping” and “is also negatively related to prejudice.” They also found that “meritocracy is negatively related to discrimination.” 

I wrote back to Anderson:

Far from a refutation of my talk, this meta-analysis is closer to an endorsement of it. 

The only anti–color blindness finding in the paper is that color blindness & meritocracy are associated with opposing DEI policies. Well, I do oppose race-based DEI policies in most (but not all) cases. Unapologetically. But that is a philosophical disagreement, not an example of me delivering incorrect social science. 

I feel it would be unjustified not to release my talk simply because many people disagree with my philosophical perspective. By that standard, most TED talks would never get released.

To which he responded: “Thanks, Coleman. Great note. More soon.” 

Before this email exchange, I hadn’t seriously considered the possibility that TED might not post my talk at all. What’s more, the fact that the “most challenging” blowback to my talk was a social science paper showing that color blindness reduces stereotyping and prejudice puzzled me.

About a week later, I received an email from Whitney Pennington Rodgers, the current affairs curator at TED and the point person for the curation of my talk. Whitney said that in lieu of releasing my TED talk normally, TED was inviting me “to participate in a moderated conversation that we would publish as an extension of your talk.” I’m always happy to converse and debate, so I agreed—too hastily, in retrospect. I had assumed that the phrase “an extension of your talk” was meant metaphorically—i.e., that this “moderated conversation” would be a separate video. Only later in the email exchange did I realize that it was meant literally. In other words, TED wanted my talk and this “moderated conversation” to be released as a single, combined video. 

I had two problems with this. First, it would hold the release of my TED talk hostage to the existence of this other “moderated conversation” (which at the time was not guaranteed to happen at all). Secondly, I worried that tacking a debate to the end of my TED talk would effectively put an asterisk next to it. It would imply that my argument ought not be heard without also hearing the opposing perspective—that it shouldn’t be absorbed without a politically palate-cleansing chaser. Given that my talk had passed the initial fact-checking, the curation team, and had been cleared by Anderson and Rodgers themselves, I saw no reason why it wouldn’t be released and promoted as any other talk would be. I told Rodgers as much over a Zoom call. 

Because she and I were unable to come to an agreement, I had a follow-up call with Anderson. On that call, he conceded that his employees’ anger stemmed from political bias, but nevertheless asked me to agree to an atypical release strategy: TED would release the debate and the talk as separate videos, but at the same time. He sold this idea to me as a way to amplify my talk—as if this atypical release strategy were conceived for my benefit. That made little sense to me. The reality, I told him, was that these nonstandard release strategies were intended not to amplify my message but to dilute it. After all, the whole genesis of this debacle was the fact that certain TED staffers wanted to nix my talk altogether—and Anderson feared an internal firestorm if my talk were released normally. Clearly, the release proposals being pressed upon me were conceived in order to placate angry staffers, not in order to amplify my message. 

By the end of the calls, we had reached a compromise: TED would release and promote my talk as they would any other, and I would participate in a debate that would be released as a separate video no fewer than two weeks after my talk.

I held up my end of the bargain. TED did not. 

My talk was posted on the TED website on July 28. The debate was posted two weeks later. By the time the debate came out, I had moved on—I assumed that TED had held up its end of the bargain and was no longer paying close attention. 

Then, on August 15, Tim Urban––a popular blogger who delivered one of the most viewed TED talks of all time—pointed out that my talk had only a fraction of the views of every other TED talk released around the same time. Urban tweeted

There have been a million talks about race at TED. For this talk and only for this talk was the speaker required to publicly debate his points after the talk as a condition for having it posted online. As it is, the lack of standard promotion by TED has Coleman’s talk at about 10% of the views of all the other talks surrounding his on their site.

Two days later, I checked to see if Tim was onto something. As of August 17, the two talks released just before mine had 569K and 787K views, respectively, on TED’s website. The two talks released immediately after mine—videos that had less time to circulate than mine—had 460K, 468K views, and 489K views, respectively. My talk, by comparison, had 73K views—only 16 percent of the views of the lowest-performing video in its immediate vicinity. 

My debate with Jamelle Bouie—a New York Times columnist with almost half a million followers on X, formerly Twitter—has performed even worse on TED’s website. As of Tuesday, September 19—after having over a month to circulate—it had a whopping 5K views. That makes it the third worst-performing video released by TED in all of 2023. 

Either my TED content is performing extremely poorly because it is far less interesting than most of TED’s content, or TED deliberately is not promoting it. A string of evidence points to the latter explanation: unique among the TED talks released around the same time as mine, my talk has still not been reposted to the TED Talks Daily podcast. In fact, it was not even posted to YouTube until I sent an email inquiry. 

According to its website, TED’s mission is to “discover and spread ideas that spark imagination, embrace possibility, and catalyze impact.” They claim to be “devoted to curiosity, reason, wonder, and the pursuit of knowledge—without an agenda.” My experience suggests otherwise, with TED falling far short of those ambitions and instead displaying all the hallmarks of an institution captured by the new progressive orthodoxy. TED’s leadership must decide whether it wants to do something about it—or let the organization become yet another echo chamber. 

Coleman Hughes is a columnist for The Free Press. Read his last essay on why Jason Aldean isn’t “pro-lynching.” 

To support an organization committed to curiosity, become a Free Press subscriber today.

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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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