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February 2016

Covertly, Israel prepares to fight boycott activists online

FILE – In this April 20, 2015, file photo, an Egyptian man shouts anti-Israeli slogans in front of… Read more

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel is using its world-leading expertise in cyber security to take on the growing threat of the global pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel.

The Israeli government recently allotted nearly $26 million in this year’s budget to combat what it sees as worldwide efforts to “delegitimize” the Jewish state’s right to exist. Some of the funds are earmarked for Israeli tech companies, many of them headed by former military intelligence officers, for digital initiatives aimed at gathering intelligence on activist groups and countering their efforts.

“I want to create a community of fighters,” said Sima Vaknin-Gil, the director general of Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, to Israeli tech developers at a forum last month dedicated to the topic.

Initiatives are largely being kept covert. Participants at the invite-only forum, held on the sidelines of a cyber technology conference, repeatedly stood up to remind people that journalists were in the room.

Among the government officials involved in the efforts are some of Israel’s top secret-keepers, including Sima Shine, a former top official in the Mossad spy agency, and Vaknin-Gil, who recently retired as the chief military censor responsible for gag orders on state secrets.

Israel has established itself as a world leader in cyber technology innovation, fueled by graduates of prestigious and secretive military and security intelligence units. These units are widely thought to be behind some of the world’s most advanced cyber-attacks, including the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear energy equipment last decade.

Each year, these units churn out a talent pool of Israelis who translate their skills to the corporate world. Now Israel is looking to harness their technological prowess for the fight to protect Israel’s international image.

Vaknin-Gil said her ministry is encouraging initiatives to expose the funding and curb the activities of anti-Israel activists, as well as campaigns to “flood the Internet” with content that puts a positive face on Israel. She said some of these actions will not be publicly identified with the government, but that the ministry will not fund unethical or illegal digital initiatives.

Established about 10 years ago, the pro-Palestinian “BDS” campaign is a coalition of organizations that advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Inspired by the anti-apartheid movement, BDS organizers say they are using nonviolent means to promote the Palestinian struggle for independence.

The movement has grown into a global network of thousands of volunteers, from campus activists to church groups to liberal Jews disillusioned by Israeli policies. They lobby corporations, artists and academic institutions to sever ties with Israel.

The movement has made inroads. U.S. and British academic unions have endorsed boycotts, student governments at universities have made divestment proposals, and some famous musicians have refused to perform in Israel. The BDS movement also claims responsibility for pressuring some large companies to stop or modify operations in Israel. In its latest push, it has urged top Hollywood actors to reject a government-paid trip to Israel being offered to leading Oscar nominees.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, said “quite a few web pages” that BDS websites linked to have mysteriously disappeared from the Internet.

“We assume Israel’s cyber sabotage is ongoing, but we are quite pleased that its detrimental impact on the global BDS movement has been dismal so far,” he said.

Israel says the movement is rooted in anti-Semitism and seeks not to change Israeli policies, but ultimately to put an end to the Jewish state.

Many online activists driving anti-Israeli campaigns on social media are tech-savvy, second- and third-generation Muslims in Europe and the U.S. who have grievances against the West and also lead online campaigns against European and U.S. governments, said Elad Ratson, who tracks the issue for Israel’s Foreign Ministry and spoke at last month’s cybersecurity forum.

He said they often create code that allows activists to blast thousands of messages from social media accounts — creating the illusion that many protesters are sharing the same anti-Israel or anti-West message online.

Israeli officials lobby Facebook to remove pages it says incite violence against Israelis, and there has been talk of advancing legislation to restrict Facebook in Israel. A Facebook representative met with Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan in Israel last week about the matter.

Ratson said social media giants are beginning to close inciting users’ accounts. Twitter said in a statement this month that since mid-2015, it has closed more than 125,000 accounts that were “threatening or promoting terrorist acts, primarily related to ISIS,” the Islamic State group. But he said Islamist activists are simply moving to “Darknet” sites not visible on the open internet.

Some Israeli tech companies are starting to build sly algorithms to restrict these online activists’ circle of influence on the “Darknet,” so activists think their message is reaching others when in fact it is being contained, Ratson said.

Other Israeli companies work on forensic intelligence gathering, such as detecting digital or semantic signatures buried in activists’ coding so they are able to track and restrict their online activity.

Firewall Israel, a non-profit initiative sponsored by the Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank, is building an online platform to help pro-Israel activists around the world communicate about anti-Israel activism in their communities. At a recent event the initiative held at Campus Tel Aviv, a Google-sponsored event space for entrepreneurs, an Israeli web expert taught young activists how to mine the internet for BDS activities.

“Delegitimizers are engaged in a Disneyland of hate,” Igal Ram of Firewall Israel told seminar participants. “We want to act against the people who run the Disneyland … and the useful idiots who help.”

Inspiration, an Israeli intelligence analysis company founded by Ronen Cohen and Haim Pinto, former military intelligence officers, launched a technological initiative some months ago to collect intelligence on BDS organizations in Europe, particularly Scandinavian countries, the U.S., and South America, Cohen said. He said the initiative aims to dismantle the infrastructure of groups he said were responsible for incitement and anti-Semitism against Israel. He declined to give specifics.

“It’s no different than an operation, which you sometimes read about in the newspaper, in Syria or Lebanon,” Cohen said. “It’s the kind of thing that, if you want to do it in the future … you can’t work in the open.”


Follow Daniel Estrin on Twitter at

“Iran the Protector”


Robin Yassin-Kassab


Iran executes more people than any country except China. Many victims are Ahwazi Arabs or from other minorities. Many are political dissidents. And many, of course, are Shia Muslims.

This was published at al-Araby al-Jadeed/ the New Arab.

I recently gave a talk in a radical bookshop in Scotland. The talk was about my and Leila al-Shami’s “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, a book which aims to amplify grassroots Syrian revolutionary voices and perspectives. My talk was of course critical of the Iranian and Russian interventions to rescue the Assad regime.

During the question and answer session afterwards, a young man declared: “You’ve spoken against Iran. You’ve made a good case. But the fact remains, Iran is the protector of Shia Muslims throughout the region.”

In reply I asked him to consider the Syrian town of al-Qusayr at two different moments: summer 2006 and summer 2013.

During the July 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese fled south Lebanon and south Beirut – the Hizbullah heartlands where Israeli strikes were fiercest – and sought refuge inside Syria. Syrians welcomed them into their homes, schools and mosques. Several thousand were sheltered in Qusayr, a Sunni agricultural town between Homs and the Lebanese border.

It made no difference that most of these refugees were Shia Muslims. They were just Muslims, and Arabs, and they were paying the price of a resistance war against Israeli occupation and assault. That’s how they were seen.

Their political leadership was also widely admired. The kind of people who would resist the pressure to pin up posters of Hafez or Bashaar al-Assad might still raise Hassan Nasrallah’s picture. During the 2006 war, very many Syrians of all backgrounds donated money to the refugees and to Hizbullah itself. The famous actress Mai Skaf was one such benefactor.

How quickly things changed. By 2012 Mai Skaf was embroiled in an online war with Hizbullah. “I collected 100,000 liras for our Lebanese brethren who fled the July 2006 war to Syria,” she posted on Facebook, “bought them TV sets and satellite dishes to follow what was happening in their countries, and bought their children shoes and pajamas. Now I am telling Hassan Nasrallah that I regret doing that and I want him to either withdraw his thugs from Syria or give me back my money.”

Which brings us to the second moment for comparison: summer 2013. Throughout May, hundreds of Hizbullah fighters led a devastating assault on Qusayr. Because they were local men defending their homes, the Free Syrian Army were able to resist the onslaught for weeks, but were finally defeated. A Shia flag was then hung over the town’s main Sunni mosque, a signal of sectarian conquest. Shortly afterwards the regime burnt the Homs Land Registry, and Alawi and Shia families were invited to occupy homes abandoned by the families of Qusayr.

So a militia designed to resist foreign occupation became an occupier itself. The supposed assistant of the oppressed became the fighting arm of the oppressor. In Shia symbology, Hizbullah, rather than defending Hussain, was serving Yazeed.

The backlash hit fast. Qusayr fell on June 5th. On June 11th 60 Shia, most civilians, were massacred at Hatla in Deir al-Zor.

Why did Hizbullah intervene against the Syrian revolution? Various excuses were offered up: to protect the Lebanese borders, or to protect the shrine of the Prophet’s grandaughter Zainab outside Damascus. None of them explained Hizbullah’s participation in battles as far afield as Hama or Aleppo. Why would Nasrallah choose to infuriate Lebanese Sunnis, to make Lebanese Shia targets of sectarian revenge attacks, to deplete and downgrade his anti-Zionist fighting force?

From a Lebanese perspective, it makes no sense. And as a community, the Lebanese Shia could have taken a very different line. In 2012, for instance, the respected Shia leader Sayyed Hani Fahs called on Lebanese Shia to “support the Arab uprisings… particularly the Syrian [one] which will triumph, God willing… Among the [factors] that guarantee a [good] future for us in Lebanon is for Syria to be stable, free, and ruled by a democratic, pluralist and modern state.”

But still Hizbullah steered its constituency away from revolutionary solidarity and into a deadly embrace with the Assad regime. Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, who led Hizbullah between 1989 and 1991, blamed Iran: “I was secretary general of the party,” he said, “and I know that the decision is Iranian, and the alternative would have been a confrontation with the Iranians. I know that the Lebanese in Hizbullah, and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah more than anyone, are not convinced about this war. … Iran and Hizbullah bear responsibility for every Syrian killed, every tree felled, and every house destroyed.”

Iranian counter-revolutionary policy not only uses Arab Shia as cannon fodder, but bears huge responsibilty too for the anti-Shia backlash on the Syrian battlefield and in regional public opinion. The Iranian state, therefore, is not a protector of Arab Shia but a threat to their security and wellbeing.

Likewise in Iraq, where before the 2003 invasion and occupation a third of marriages were cross-sect Sunni Shia. Today, after the civil war’s ethnic cleansing, and with ISIS facing not a unified Iraqi army but a collection of Iran-backed Shia militias, it’s hard to see how the country’s sectarian relations can ever be healed. The Iranian state’s undue influence on Iraq’s military and political life has helped strangle both communal coexistence and the possibility of democracy. And Iranian officials openly boast their imperialism. “Three Arab capitals have today ended up in the hands of Iran and belong to the Islamic Iranian revolution,” Ali Reza Zakani, an MP close to Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei, said last year (he was referring to Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad).

Of course, more players than just Iran are responsible for Iraq’s dysfunction. The United States must be blamed for the occupation, and the Saddam Hussain regime which fanned sectarianism to divide and rule, specifically to put down the 1991 southern uprising. Sectarian TV channels from the Gulf don’t help. And historically, the British and French states did their fair share of damage (and sectarian engineering) during the post-Ottoman carve-up.

None of these states protected people. And this is because they are states.

The young man who spoke up for Iran wasn’t a Shia Muslim. He was a Catholic, he said, who’d grown up in the Gulf. And he was also a leftist.

But this is something that leftists, when they were internationalists, once understood: states are designed to protect the property, position and privilege of the various elites which run them, not to safeguard the interests of ordinary people. This means Iran is not the protector of the Shia, Saudi Arabia is not the protector of the Sunnis, and Israel is not the protector of the Jews. Need it be said that the Assad regime is the deadliest enemy of Alawis?


Dvorak – Bagatelles for String Trio and Harmonium, Op. 47


Part II

A Museum Under the Sea

Protests Swell As Journalist Jailed By Israel Approaches 70th Day Of Hunger Strike

“He shouldn’t die for practicing his profession,” journalist and administrative detainee Mohammed Al-Qeeq’s brother tells MintPress News as protests worldwide demand his release.
By  @jncatron | 

New Yorkers took to the streets on Friday, 29 January to demand the immediate release of imprisoned Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq, on his 66th day of hunger strike and shackled to his hospital bed in critical condition.

NEW YORK — As Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq reaches the 70th day of a hunger strike against his administrative detention by Israel on Tuesday, protests demanding his freedom are growing across the world as others continue in Palestine.

“Mohammed is hanging between life and death,” Islam al-Qeeq, his brother, told MintPress News from Ramallah. “The coming hours could be very crucial in his battle for freedom and physical survival.”

Supporters overseas echoed the family’s alarm.


“Al-Qeeq is facing imminent death at the hands of his occupiers,” Lisa Gagliardo, president of Students for Justice in Palestine at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, told MintPress after a demonstration for al-Qeeq in New York on Friday.

Other protests for the 33-year-old father of two took place in Berlin and London, as well as various parts of Palestine, the same day.


‘If it was anywhere else in the world’

“The police had tipped the BBC off about our protest, so they had cordoned the whole area off with fencing and private security,” Innovative Minds founder Abbas Ali told MintPress about the London group’s protest outside the British state broadcaster’s headquarters.

London protest outside BBC demands freedom for tortured Palestinian journalist Mohammed Al-Qeeq, whose condition is critical after a long hunger strike. (Photo: In Minds/Facebook)

Innovative Minds, which organizes regular protests to support Palestinian prisoners, held this one at the BBC because it had not reported on al-Qeeq’s hunger strike, Ali added.

“If it was anywhere else in the world that a journalist was tortured for 25 consecutive days for his reporting, on hunger strike for 66 days, lapsing in and out of consciousness with organs about to fail, making his last will and testament, about to die, the BBC would surely have reported it,” he said.

“But not one word for Mohammed al-Qeeq. Shameful.”


‘What G4S and its equipment makes possible’

The New York protest, part of a series organized by Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and the group’s second local demonstration for al-Qeeq, took place outside the Manhattan office of British-Danish security conglomerate G4S.

G4S, the world’s biggest security firm and its second-largest private employer, holds contracts to equip Israeli prisons and detention centers, as well as checkpoints, military and security forces.

The company has been targeted for boycotts by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee and other civil society groups, as well as the National Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement, a coalition of prison organizations representing current detainees.

People protest G4S, a firm which manages security at Ofer Prison in the Occupied Palestine Territories, provides services and equipment to run checkpoints (Credit: StopG4S)

G4S “provides the security systems and the control rooms not only for the prisons which hold nearly 7,000 Palestinians, but also for the detention and interrogation centers where people like Mohammed al-Qeeq are tortured,” Beirut-based Samidoun international coordinator Chartotte Kates told MintPress.

“He was bound to a chair for up to 15 hours a day in stress positions, tortured,” she continued. “This is what G4S and its equipment makes possible.”


‘We are talking about hundreds of sit-ins’

Protests inside historic Palestine ranged from Gaza City, to HaEmek Medical Center in Afula, where al-Qeeq is currently held, to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, to Bil’in, where Israeli soldiers attacked a weekly protestdedicated to al-Qeeq with tear gas.

Palestinian protesters run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest of outside Ofer security prison in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

“Many activities have been held in Gaza, the West Bank, the ’48 territories, and outside Palestine to shed light on his case,” Basem Naim, a former minister of health in the Gaza-based Palestinian government, told MintPress.

Demonstrations supporting al-Qeeq continue daily across Palestine, he said.

“We are talking about hundreds of sit-ins in many cities, symbolic hunger strikes in sympathy with him, thousands of articles, TV and radio reports about him, many political activity by Palestinian factions, diplomatic contacts with embassies and international bodies calling for pressure on Israel.”


‘A practice that Israel cannot justify and must end’

The administrative detention law used to imprison al-Qeeq allows British military commanders to order the incarceration of Palestinians from the Occupied West Bank, as well as inside the internationally-recognized borders of Israel, without charge or trial.

The measure, which commanders can renew unlimited times to keep detainees jailed indefinitely, has drawn rising criticism as al-Qeeq’s hunger strike continues.

An editorial about al-Qeeq published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Thursday argued, “The state should either put him on trial in keeping with the rule of law, or release him immediately.”

A day earlier, the European Union’s missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah criticized “the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention without formal charge” in a statement saying, “Detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention, must be granted access to legal assistance, and be subject to a fair trial.”

“It is a practice that Israel cannot justify and must end,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Jan. 22. “It should release all administrative detainees unless they are to be promptly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offences and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.”


‘A weapon and a mechanism of occupation’

These calls for a legal process to resolve al-Qeeq’s hunger strike, and the administrative detentions of around 660 other Palestinians, fall short, supporters say.

“We demand the abolition of the practice of administrative detention,” Khaled Barakat, international coordinator of the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat, told MintPress. “It is a racist, colonial law.”

Sa’adat, a prominent Palestinian prisoner and the general secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, was captured by Israeli forces in 2006. In 2008, a military court sentenced him to 30 years’ imprisonment on charges of leading an organization banned by occupation regulations.

“But he should not be sent to the Israeli military courts instead,” Barakat said. “They are nothing more than a weapon and a mechanism of occupation, a means to imprison thousands of Palestinians.”


‘A cloak of neutrality’

The International Committee of the Red Cross declined to even call for a trial, instead releasing a statement on Jan. 21 “urging both the detaining authority and the detainee to find a solution” without mentioning al-Qeeq by name.

This call, which cited the ICRC’s status “as a neutral organization,” drew harsh criticism.

“The responsibility to find a solution for imprisoning hundreds of Palestinians without charge or trial, and the responsibility for the lives of Palestinians on hunger strike rests solely with the occupier, with the Israeli Prison Service,” Barakat said. “The ICRC is hiding behind a cloak of neutrality, but it is in fact covering up for Israel’s violation of international law and any sense of humanitarian policy or justice.”

“There is nothing fair or neutral about standing aside and refusing to comment in the face of colonialism, apartheid, racism and oppression, and the ICRC’s refusal to recognize reality is neither humane nor just. It is, simply, shameful.”


‘What are they waiting for?’

Despite warnings of al-Qeeq’s increasingly dire conditions, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled against an appeal for his release on Wednesday.

Since then, his health has continued to deteriorate. On Sunday, his attorney, Jawad Boulus, called it “very dangerous. He lost his ability to speak and 60 percent of his hearing.”

“What are they waiting for in order to release my husband or look into his arrest?” his wife Faihaa asked a press conference before answering: “Until he suffers a brain hemorrhage or becomes a martyr.”

A report issued Saturday by HaEmek Medical Center confirmed al-Qeeq’s grave condition.


‘Palestinian journalists have always been on the frontline’

Israeli security detain The Associated Press photographer Nasser Shiyoukhi during a Palestinian protest in Yatta in the West Bank on Saturday. Shiyoukhi was released without charge after Saturday’s incident. (photo credit: AP Photo)

In a statement released through the Palestinian Authority’s Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs from his hospital bed earlier Saturday, al-Qeeq said Israel had targeted him because of his reporting.

“Palestinian journalists have always been on the frontline,” he said. “They are now experiencing forceful and abusive detention because they have been the voice of human conscience, exposing crimes and oppressive practices of Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people.”

His family and other supporters agreed.

“Mohammed al-Qeeq is a journalist, not a terrorist,” Islam al-Qeeq said. “He shouldn’t die for practicing his profession.”

Barakat added that Mohammed al-Qeeq was one of many Palestinian reporters detained by Israel.

“Palestinian writers and journalists have always come under attack and have been targeted especially by the occupation because their work exposes the truth of the racist apartheid nature of the occupier,” he said. “Mohammed al-Qeeq is in a long line of Palestinians who write and speak truthfully and face imprisonment and persecution for that.”


‘Until martyrdom or freedom’

Al-Qeeq added that he was determined to persevere until his death or release.

“When people are been treated tyrannically, they are no longer worried about the consequences even if the toll is life. Thus, I entrusted myself in God’s hands and I will continue with this hunger strike, until martyrdom or freedom.”

Detainee Mohammed al-Qeeq, a married father of two who works as a journalist in Ramallah. was arrested on November 21 for suspected incitement. (Photo: al-Qeeq family)

Osama al-Wuhaidi, a spokesman for the Hussam Association, a Gaza-based organization of current and former Palestinian detainees, told MintPress that Israeli shootings, mass detentions, and other efforts to end a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank had “hindered Palestinians from organizing proper activities to support al-Qeeq.”

In Gaza, he said, the distractions of life under siege kept local efforts from reaching their full potential:

“Palestinians are busy dealing with their daily life concerns such as poverty, the high level of unemployment, the lack of fuel and electricity, and above all the continuous Israeli blockade on Gaza.”


‘It may escalate, according to the news’

But, he added, “It may escalate, according to the news coming out of Afula hospital, where al-Qeeq is.”

Further international protests are planned this Friday in Berlin and New York, and on Saturday in Montreal, with announcements of others expected soon.

His supporters abroad hope their efforts for al-Qeeq will increase overall pressure on Israel, even after his hunger strike.

“When we highlight Israel’s brutality at an individual level, it motivates people to condemn it in higher numbers,” Lisa Gagliardo, of the St. Joseph’s’s College chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, said.

Islam al-Qeeq said his family hoped protests would spread and draw wider participation: “We call on all people of conscience, honest and freedom-loving people to do their utmost to save Mohammed from what seems like an imminent death.”




Feb. 10 2016, 7:56 p.m.

I CAN’T CLAIM this is a neutral review of Where to Invade Next, Michael Moore’s latest movie. Beyond the fact that I worked for Moore for six years, including on his previous documentary Capitalism: A Love Story, I may literally owe my life to the high-quality, zero-deductible health insurance he provides employees.

What I’ve lost in objectivity, I’ve gained in knowledge of Moore’s career. I even know his darkest, most closely guarded secret: the original name of the 1970s alternative newspaper he started in Flint, Michigan. So I can say this for sure: Where to Invade Next is the most profoundly subversive thing he’s ever done. It’s so sneaky that you may not even notice exactly what it’s subverting.

On its surface, Where to Invade Next seems to be a cheerful travelogue as Moore enjoys an extended vacation, “invading” a passel of European countries plus Tunisia to steal their best ideas and bring them back home to America. For instance, French public schools have chefs who serve students hour-long, multi-course lunches on china, featuring dishes like scallops in curry sauce. I haven’t laughed harder at any movie this year than when the French 8-year-olds stare in perplexed horror at photos of American school lunches.

It’s all so upbeat in such an un-Michael Moore way that he considered calling it Mike’s Happy Movie. Certainly it’s the only time I’ve walked out of one of his documentaries and said, “Wow, everything is fantastic!” But what made me feel this way is the secret message hidden in Where to Invade Next — and if you see it, you’ll feel that way too.

Moore’s biggest foe ever

To understand what I’m talking about, look at the trajectory of Moore’s major films, and how he consistently became more ambitious. With every movie he’s raised the stakes, each time aiming at a bigger institution and its claims that it knows best and is totally serious and in control anddefinitely nobody should laugh at it. Here’s the progression:

  • Roger & Me in 1989 was an attack on General Motors when it was the largest corporation on earth, and suggested that GM’s decision to brutalize its workers, customers, and hometown might not be the greatest long-term strategy. (You’ve probably noticed this turned out to be true.)
  • Bowling for Columbine’s target in 2002 was even larger than GM: It wasn’t just about America’s constant gun massacres, but our omnipresent culture of fear that makes us hostile to any possible solutions.
  • Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 aimed higher again: It was about the reality that the president of the United States might be illegitimate, definitely had no idea what he was doing, and everyone was terrified to point any of this out.
  • In 2007 Sicko critiqued something even more important than the presidency: healthcare, America’s biggest, cruelest industry.
  • Finally, in 2009, Moore reached what seemed like the logical summit of his career with Capitalism: A Love Story, pointing out that our entire economic system seems to be broken.

So where could anyone go from there? Once you’ve done capitalism, it’s hard to imagine there’s any larger nemesis. But as Where to Invade Next demonstrates, there is.

America’s real ideology

About halfway through Where to Invade Next, Moore visits an island prison in Norway that houses inmates who’ve committed violent crimes but are being rewarded for good behavior. It looks less like Oz and more like a frugal resort, with prisoners in regular clothes doing wheelies on bikes, fishing, and sunbathing.

In the prison’s kitchen, Moore talks to Trond, a convicted murderer with a huge tattoo on his face. Looking past him, Moore says: “Uh, I can’t help but notice that behind you are a whole bunch of very sharp knives.” And in fact there are a dozen of them, including a gigantic cleaver.

There also appear to be zero guards. Trond explains how many guards are at the prison on weekends: four. That’s for a prison population of 115. Plus, he says, the guards generally all stay in another building, leaving the prisoners to supervise themselves.

For most Americans, including me, this looks completely insane. But the prison warden, sitting at a park bench with birds chirping in the background, explains: “I don’t understand why you think this is a strange idea. … The main idea is just to take away their freedom. That’s the only punishment we are giving them. We are trying to help them back to society.”

The Norwegian philosophy is to create a normal environment with as few external controls as possible so that when prisoners get out, they know how to control themselves. It works so well that Norway has one of the world’s lowest murder rates, and its recidivism rate is about 20 percent, two to three times lower than in the U.S. (Moore also visits a standard Norwegian maximum security prison that’s less spa-like but totally free of the brutality and spiritual darkness of U.S. prisons.)

Moore’s visit to Portugal is also about its prison system, or rather its lack of one comparable to the U.S., thanks to its total decriminalization of drugs in 2001. Dr. Nuno Capaz, the Portuguese minister of health, classifies himself as a drug user: “Mostly alcohol, internet, a lot of coffee, some sugar.” When Moore points out that drug abuse may bring a lot of sadness to someone’s marriage, Capaz responds, “So? So does Facebook. Are we going to illegalize it?” The results in Portugal have been just as counterintuitive for Americans as Norway’s results, with drug use actually falling now that you can’t get arrested for it.

By the end of Where to Invade Next — after seeing working-class Italians with two months paid vacation, Finnish schools with no homework and the world’s best test scores, Slovenians going to college for free, and women seizing unprecedented power in Tunisia and Iceland — you may realize that the entire movie is about how other countries have dismantled the prisons in which Americans live: prison-like schools and workplaces, debtor’s prisons in order to pay for college, prisons of social roles for women, and the mental prison of refusing to face our own history.

You’ll also perceive clearly why we’ve built these prisons. It’s because the core ideology of the United States isn’t capitalism, or American exceptionalism, but something even deeper: People are bad. People are so bad that they have to be constantly controlled and threatened with punishment, and if they get a moment of freedom they’ll go crazy and ruin everything.

The secret message of Where to Invade Next is that America’s had it wrong all along about human beings. You and I aren’t bad. All the people around us aren’t bad. It’s okay to get high, or get sick, or for teenagers to spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to bonk each other. If regular people get control over their own lives, they’ll use it wisely rather than burning the country down in a festival of mindless debauchery.

Where to Invade Next is all the more powerful because it doesn’t tell you this, it simply shows you. It’s not speculation about how human nature will be transformed after the revolution so we’ll all be happy to share our ration of grass soup with The People. It’s all happening right now, with imperfect human beings just like us.

The movie ends with Moore visiting the remnants of the Berlin Wall, and remembering how he’d been there in 1989 and joined with all the Germans chiseling away at it. When he was growing up during the Cold War, he says, the one certain thing was that “This wall would never come down. Built to stand forever. Impenetrable.” But less than 30 years later it was gone. What America’s President of Documentaries is saying now is: Tear down these walls. We will be much better off without them.




Israelis Ignore the Gaza Ghetto Until the War Drums Are Heard

Haaretz February 4, 2016

Two million human beings, some of whom worked here for years, some of them even have friends here, live in abject poverty and petrifying despair, mainly because of Israel’s blockade.

Gideon Levy |

Most Israelis cannot imagine the daily lives of Gazans.Credit: AFP

The latest news from the ghetto comes, as usual, from the outside. The addiction to fear and the eternal wallowing in terror in Israel suddenly reminded one of the existence of the neighboring ghetto. Only thus are we here reminded of Gaza. When it shoots, or at least digs. Residents of the communities surrounding Gaza hear sounds, perhaps the sounds of digging, and the ghetto is no longer abandoned. We recall its existence. Iran dropped off the agenda. Sweden isn’t scary enough. Hezbollah is busy. So we return to Gaza.

If the Ayelet Zurer affair loses steam heaven forbid, or the Moshe Ivgy affair doesn’t take off – the things that are really interesting – because then some bored commentators and editors and politicians and bloodthirsty generals are liable to drag Israel into another “war” in Gaza. And “war” in Gaza is always another controlled massacre, whose achievements are measured in the number of corpses and amount of destroyed buildings that it leaves behind. Isaac Herzog has already promised as much.

But the real news from Gaza doesn’t reach Israelis. Who here heard that jets of the most moral air force in the world poisoned in recent weeks the fields of a “buffer zone,” which Israel declared unilaterally, at a distance of 300 meters from the fence? Farmers in Gaza report that the dusters spread the poison up to 500 meters, and that 1,187 dunams (293 acres) were damaged in the last poisoning in December. The pilots, convinced that they are doing a good thing, reported hitting their targets accurately.

Pay attention to the sterile wording of the IDF spokesman: “Aerial spraying of herbicidal germination preventing material next to the security fence was carried out in order to allow optimal implementation of ongoing security missions in the area,” he stated.

Fishermen are forbidden from venturing more than six nautical miles out from shore. Sometimes they catch a fisherman or shoot him. Farmers are forbidden from going within 300 meters. Everything is done to serve Israel’s security, and its security alone – and the occupation of the Gaza Strip ended a long time ago.

Just an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, there is a ghetto. Even without supplying “germination preventing materials,” almost nothing grows in it. Up-to-date data from Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement indicate 43 percent unemployment, 70 percent in need of humanitarian assistance and 57 percent suffering from nutrition insecurity.

And then there is the spine-chilling report that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency issued in August under the headline “Gaza 2020: A livable place?” By then the damage to the water infrastructure will be irreversible. The water today is already not potable. The GDP per capita, $1,273, is less than it was 25 years ago, perhaps the only one that declined. Another 1,000 doctors and 2,000 nurses will be needed in the besieged, collapsing health system. From where will they come, out the faculty of medicine in Nuseirat or from the students who left to study medicine at Harvard? Egypt tightened its grasp, the world shirked its commitments and Israel exploits this to continue the blockade.

They get three hours of electricity, sometimes six, in the cold and rain. After that, there is no electricity for 12 hours, and then again for three or six hours, day in, day out. There are about two million people, a million of them refugees and their families, made refugees directly or indirectly by Israel. About a million of them are children. No Israeli can imagine it. Few Israelis feel guilty about it. There are few Israelis who care at all. Hamas, you know.

When the next catastrophe in the world hits, be it an earthquake or flood, we’ll be there with a delegation from the Israel Defense Forces, the same IDF in the same fatigues in which they spray the fields in Gaza. We are always the first.

And meanwhile in the ghetto, two million human beings, some of whom worked here for years, some of them even have friends here, live in abject poverty and petrifying despair, mainly because of Israel’s blockade.

The “We left Gaza” operation is complete. Now we only need to wait for the tunnels to start bombing again.


Gideon Levy

Haaretz Correspondent


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