Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Human life is too important to let police take it with impunity

Today there is a trend which is dangerous to human life, and the safety and legitimacy of police. 809 people have already been killed this year by police. Police have increasingly been trained to act confrontationally, to hold the public at bay and to escalate situations; they more readily use force, often upon a public which is not threatening. Prosecutors and judges frequently treat flagrant crimes - everything from assault to murder - as legal uses of force. But this is not making police safer, it does not improve their effectiveness, and it is not legitimate.

I have my own ideas about how society should be organized, but frankly, I am not invoking them in this issue. I am not talking about the exploitation of labor or of the US imperial state because I don't need to, and its not really relevant (even though people like to Drag In The Kitchen Sink on such popular issues). We don't need a socialist revolution before things can change - the principles enshrined in our own government, and the rule of law, could save these lives.

A reasonable way to save lives:

1. Enforce the law.
2. Train police to act legally and legitimately as integrated members of the communities they police.

Police need to be held accountable where they are breaking the law. Of course this goes for everyone, but in the case of police, they are frequently not held accountable for their actions. The legislative and judicial policies which enable this undermine the rule of law; those polices are therefore destabilizing and illegitimate.

This is an example of checks and balances; where judges and legislators fail to enforce the law, and even enable dangerous police practices, they fail their mandate to uphold the rule of law and to act in the interests of the public.

Enforcing the law should be easy - those who do not commit crimes do not deserve to be assaulted or detained. This includes pepper spray and "kettling" tactics which represent assaults and attempts at escalation, respectively. It is lawfulness and de-escalation that legitimize policing.

Police should effect safer and more lawful conditions in society.
On top of not breaking the law, police should act to bolster their legitimate place as protectors and benefactors to society. This means police should be a part of their community - communities controlled by outside forces become resentful, reducing the stature, role and the effectiveness of police.

Officers who flagrantly violate the law set bad examples, and can make citizens fearful of going to them for help. Even actions which only target criminals, but are disproportionate, can chill citizen reporting of crime - if you expect officers to assault or even kill someone you report for committing a crime, a sane person will be discouraged from reporting the crime, especially if they are friends, neighbors or family members.

Police presence should reduce crimes, assaults and deaths. If that is not the case, the police do not have a mandate for their position, and/or the policies which govern police behavior and oversight are incorrect.

This is utterly reasonable, and a sane alternative to current practices. Removing dangerous people from society is not something that is increasingly dangerous in the US - quite the opposite - and it does not call for murders and assaults. And of course, this reasonable framework has already been hammered out - at a time when policing was undeniably more dangerous in the US.

Our police should be trained to act legally as integrated, helpful members of society - an attitude I have actually heard from police. Prosecution for crimes is, of course, not controversial. Anyone who disagrees with this is basically rejecting the rule of law, and founding principles of our republic.

I've met police officers who have surprised me with their generosity and who do not fit the bill of a "brutal cop"; many are not sadists and don't want to commit crimes. Maybe even discussing the basic role of police in society has its place, but I don't think it is here. Today we are confronted with a massive loss of human life which could be saved, and it shouldn't require major reforms.

This is not Revolutionary

Of course I don't think we will achieve justice and stability simply by these reforms. It is possible these policies will prolong an illegitimate state which does not extend democratic oversight to the economy (see the "marxist" Make Things Worse To Incite Revolution argument). However human beings are dying, today, when current laws and policies can prevent that.

It is plausible to say that loss of life in a revolution may occur, and we should not avoid revolution on account of that. But it is not legitimate to advocate for worse conditions, or unreasonably radical conditions, when a consensus-driven approach can save lives and improve standards of human rights.

Even if you think the state is illegitimate, the reality proves that a safer existence is a possibility, should people demand it in reasonable terms. Human life, human rights, and the possibility for a safer society based on heightened respect for individual civil liberties is worth fighting for, even if it is not a panacea.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Palestinians Demand huge Concessions - Survival, Rights & Non-destroyed Infrastructure

The rocket attacks from Gaza must stop. That is a fact of law (they indiscriminately target, mostly missing of course). It is also a moral and political fact. Human beings have a right to a life free of such attacks. The deployment of projectiles can make places uninhabitable, and kill many.

It is true that Palestinians have a right to resist occupation - and then, follow the laws of war. Within reason - if a law states they must leave their cities and homes and go to the countryside as an open target for Israel - no people can be expected to lay down and die, or accept occupation and a strangling blockade.

Guerilla warfare is urban warfare - and legitimate cases of human shielding, i.e. deliberately firing from facilities like UN Hospitals and Schools - have had next to no occurrence. While many cases, including photo evidence prove Israeli human shielding of captured Palestinians, there is next to no documented evidence of Hamas doing human shielding - and this is during the very wars in which that excuse was used by Israel to kill many Palestinians.

This wholesale destruction is leads to barriers to peace. The Palestinians do not get to ascend the skies and make the option of leveling Israeli neighborhoods. The primary barrier to peace is the deployment of projectiles against Palestinians, and all of the institutional and physical destruction that reduces their ability to develop peacefully, kills them, and engenders hostility among the survivors.

Any cost to resolve grievances, and the responsibility to stop the destruction leading to those grievances, is vastly owed by Israel. But that cost is actually cheap for the Israelis, because it is mostly paid by returning some Palestinian sovereignty that Israel didn't have the right to take in the first place.

There is human life lost, and we must hold those liable not to do it anymore.

That is a basic, reasonable principle. And its application means an end to Israel's vastly enumerated polices of occupation and destruction.

I propose that we stop both sides from committing crimes against the other, and respectively require that they cease making casualties and destroying things in the opposing territory. We should stop each of the the humanitarian crises existing there, and allow a state to flourish legitimately in each, etc., etc.

Where death, especially on racist terms, is the consequence of their policies, all of these administrations - Israel, PA and Hamas - must obviously change. In each case, it does threaten their legitimacy - which is more destabilizing where the economy is a basket case. External sanctions/actions may be reasonable - but the key, of course, if you care about human rights, is to address the most destructive institutional racism first, and insure that all populations have a space to exist, protected from the destruction wrought based on identity/territory.

Neither side has the right to make life hell, and destroy life for the other on an indiscriminate basis. That is collective punishment, targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Those are all illegal acts. They make peace with such an actor increasingly hard. By some absurd stretch, the parties *broken away from Hamas' chain of command* can be said to do some of that to Israel.

But by and large, it is Israel committing these acts. Israel is literally destroying Gaza and stealing more of the West Bank daily. Israel has dozens of laws (on top of court rulings) that enshrine different standards for Palestinians. That is on top of their military and occupation strategies, many of which are also illegal. But most importantly, the choices Israel makes dictate these things:
-The grievances, and how extremely they have damaged either party
-The possibility for peace, inverted to the extent of grievances and their effect
Documented Theft

Unwanted Peace

Israel is making peace impossible. It is by and large Israel which must change - its policies, the crimes, etc.. All these metrics point to the fact that Israel is doing everything in its power to prolong the conflict: it is engendering bad faith, more destroyed lives, ruining the Palestinian economy so they cannot be independent, denying statehood bids while - toppling, illegally, the democratically elected government of Palestinian Territories. There is no stronger way they could send the message: "we don't want peace, we want a non-stable state actor on our border that cannot possibly represent a partner for peace, because we have made sure that the elected representatives are dead, imprisoned, dethroned.

But they have it in their own words. Today, NPR had a favorable review of Dennis Ross' new book "Doomed to Succeed" (the topic: his work on just this issue for the last 3 administrations). In this segment, Siegel agrees with Ross: "[during each peace process], the Israelis waffle, can't quite describe what it is that they really want." Ross says Israelis are afraid that, should they explicitly state what they want in negotiations, Palestinians will use that to ask for concessions that erode just what the Israelis would ask for.

However, Palestinians have provided unprecedented concessions. They have agreed to let Israel keep most of their illegal settlements in the West Bank. They do not ask for compensation for their incredibly destroyed economy (by blockade which limits basic needs, withholding electricity which kills and sickens, and by the consequences of materiel invested in destroying Palestinians and their buildings indiscriminately). And Hamas, now has repeatedly agreed to form a coalition with the PA, granting the PA most power, and recognizing Israel. Even though Israel will not even declare borders, they are granted recognition by the very state they have been seizing land from (an element of them "not telling people what they want" remember). What an unprecented set of demands to put at the door of the population who overwhelming bear the death, subjugation and thievery in the conflict. The refugees are likely to ultimately concede their legal Right of Return - a massive concession that provides Israel with a territory that does not have to consult, or allow in many of the natives to that state.

What must the Palestinians stop? There are "rockets" (which do some damage, and should not be used indiscriminately - lets be fair) but they do not destroy the Israeli government. There is not a delegitimized, non-state actor in Israel as a consequence of the Palestinians' actions (it is the other way around). The Israeli economy is not a basket case (the Palestinian economy is dire - bad in the West Bank, and at humanitarian-crisis levels in Gaza).

A small percentage of Israelis experience a skyborne threat, which has a psychological toll, a property damage toll, a human life toll, and yes, a grievance which impacts the peace process. But that does not cause damage at even a modicum of the rate from the repeated leveling of housing, hospitals, schools, mosques (73 during Protective Edge) and of course the other destructive policies which Israel illegally implements upon a people it has no right to control.

Apply the Law, Including Palestinian Concessions

That is actually the point. To make a safe area that each population can thrive in. We shouldn't have a hard task in front of us, though. There is no mythical, unknown formula to provide for self-determination and co-existence on a basic level. It means to follow the principle: neither side has the actual power to create a humanitarian crisis next door. Where this is most egregiously incorrect - fix it. Follow international law.

It's fair to say that both sides must improve on international law. Moving forward, both sides will need to change. That is true for all negotiations that are productive. In the context of this  conflict, it is almost exclusively Israeli action that chooses:
-what will be the conditions of peace (continue creating "facts on the ground" with settlements)
-when peace can actually start.

I say the second point for this reason: the actions committed against Palestinians not only delegitimize the Palestinian State, (creating the false "no partner for peace" narrative), they also increase grievances and create more hardliners in Palestine. Would you be a hardliner if your entire neighborhood was leveled? Most people I know claim violent intent at far less instigation. Abuse on such an extreme level is incomprehensible in how ugly a response can get. That is why racism is so common in such conflict zones.

Like in Iran during the Nuclear negotiations, hardliners are those elements of civil society that want no compromises. In Palestine, they will specifically reject the kind of compromises that the PA has realized it will need to give to placate Israel.

The rate of Israeli peoples being punished, killed and abused by Palestinians is absurdly low compared to the opposite metric - these barriers to peace must be stopped. Make the Israelis stop abusing an occupied people and thereby erecting barriers to peace. Make them stop stealing land, oil, water, and burning olive groves, leveling Palestinian heritage sites, homes, and institutions of all sorts.

Right to Live, Thrive

Palestinians need vast concessions from Israel. I say this truthfully. They are vast because they are the entire lives of the Palestinians. Palestinians demand that they are allowed to live and thrive. They want self-determination - at least what Israel and their state will allow them. These are vast

Those concessions can be provided to the Palestinians with comparably negligible cost to Israel. That is mostly in their stopping stealing. It would be offset with saved Israeli money, but the occupation is cost-negative for Israel. They profit from the occupation. That metric must change. And it further proves just how little Israel wants to stop their occupation. Which - like much of what Israel does to the Palestinians - is illegal. It is not needed for defense. It is a far stronger argument that Palestine should occupy and stop Israeli incursions and crimes against Palestine - that is what the numbers say.

It is not a lot to ask for, and it is that which any population demands of an occupier: let me live. I am allowed to live and thrive and be free. That is huge to the Palestinians - and it costs barely a bit. That bit is something the Israelis don't have a right to anyways: the sovereignty of the Palestinian Territories. The world is better served, more secure, and safer if Palestine is allowed a stable state and economy, safe from bombings and theft now customary under, and from, the occupation.

Prospects for Peace

Ross agreed with Siegel when he said that the Israelis are never willing to state just what they want.
"ROSS: Right. And there are conversations with Henry Kissinger and Abba Eban in 1971 that is almost exactly the same as the conversation the Hillary Clinton had with Bibi Netanyahu in 2011. The reality is that the Israelis are always afraid that if they give us a bottom line, when we go to the other side, it won't be good enough. And then we'll come back to them, and we'll say, sorry, not good enough. And so they hesitate about going down a slippery slope."
The Palestinians have exactly this problem - the difference is that their dire situation demands that they make concessions by giving away their rights - the right of return, and the lands, water, buildings etc. that Israel already has taken illegally. The Palestinians have offered to let Israel keep what it has illegally taken. Other losses, the loss of life and economy, can never quite be repaid, and will not see monetary compensation either.

That is what is reasonable. We should at least stop the destruction. Allow for legitimate representaion in order to negotiate with each population. That means Hamas at the table too - the current context has a detente between the PA (nominally Fatah) and Hamas, with recognition being offered. That is what Israel keeps saying they want - words. The real sticklers for peace? "The constitution of Hamas" and not "Recognizing Israel as a Jewish State." Well, Israel has not only not recognized the Palestinian representatives when they were elected, they destroyed the government.

Lets's set this standard: you can ask for your negotiating partner to stop taking something from you - i.e. they are destroying a state or an economy - those are legitimate grievances, quantifiable, and barriers to peace. There is no grievance when your complaint is just that the other doesn't "recognize" your state. Israel consults, and is bound by no Palestinian when it sets the laws of its established - legal land. Those are mostly the territories occupied before 1967 - but be clear, they will get to take more. Palestinians have agreed to that. Israelis need not make any such concessions - they are not under occupation from Palestine.

The mere fact of Israeli might does not allow for such disproportionate, indiscriminate and collective destruction. That is illegal regardless of purported prompt or goals for Israel.

Any policy which seeks to stop these crimes builds a path to peace. That is basic arithmetic.

2 (Image)
Further Reading: works from Norman Finkelstein, Noura Erakat, Noam Chomsky, National Public Radio (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, On Point), al Jazeera English and Haaretz are all quite instrumental to understanding the conflict. AJE reporting on Palestine Papers, and Amnesty Int'l / Human Rights Watch / B'Tselem provide good documentation of negotiations & abuses and barriers to peace , respectively.

Friday, October 2, 2015

US policymakers should face ICC trial over Syria, Iraq crimes

The US has assisted in efforts to destabilize both Iraq and Syria, including assistance for Islamists. That is not controversial. Whether the US at any time assisted ISIS or AQ is uncertain, but it is known that there have been concessions (see WikiLeaks cables on Syria), and it is likely that the early parts of these campaigns were abetting these groups specifically. It is certainly true that "shifting alliances" have meant that US support has easily gone to al Nusra and ISIS indirectly. The Sunni in the provinces controlled by ISIS have been under attack by their central governments, crucially when their militias were outlawed in Iraq. So aid given is somewhat fluid in where it ends up. The US still has a responsibility to insure that aid does not end up in the hands of terrorists.

Nonetheless, the explicit criminality of US intervention is known, too. Gaddhafi represents a dramatic example - the US literally paved the way for his captors, without any attempt to detain him for ICC trial. This was an affront to international law which the US made no attempt to hide. It deprived the world of important information, and a resolution to Gaddhafi's crimes, for victims and watchdogs.

I am not in Libya, Russia or Syria. The democratic deficits of US enemies are apparent (as are those of US allies). I am in the US - which is responsible for its influence and military presence, and which uses my name and others' to commit war crimes. That is quite a contradiction to our democratic principles. I don't think most US citizens would like to officially support war crimes, targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. I realize that it is easy, and not quite accurate, to give the US full agency when it comes to the worst outcomes it helps to produce. But that does not change its crimes, nor the responsibility thereof, and our responsibility, to stop such crimes done in our names.
International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism:
1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person by any means, directly or indirectly, unlawfully and wilfully, provides or collects funds with the intention that they should be used or in the knowledge that they are to be used, in full or in part, in order to carry out:
(a) An act which constitutes an offence within the scope of and as defined in one of the treaties listed in the annex; or
(b) Any other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.
 (my emphasis)

Lets put this to rest. The usage of terror, directly or indirectly, and the treatment of human life as a fungible, consumable asset is illegal, immoral, undemocratic and illegitimate - whether in the form of Shock and Awe, Protective Edge or extrajudicial killings by drone strikes.

United Nations - International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism