The Strange Case of Rwanda

Book Review:

by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Monthly Review Press, New York, 2010

by Gerald Caplan, Pambazuka News

Edward Herman is a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and David Peterson is described as a Chicago-based journalist and researcher. Those who have read Herman’s work, some of it in collaboration with Noam Chomsky, will only partly know what to expect from his latest book. Herman and Peterson argue that in a world controlled by the American empire and its media and intellectual lackeys, genocide has become a political construct largely manipulated by Washington and its allies. The claim of genocide becomes an excuse for so-called humanitarian intervention that disguises malevolent imperial motives: “The Western establishment rushed to proclaim ‘genocide’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur… In contrast, its silence over the crimes committed by its own regimes against the peoples of Southeast Asia, Central America, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa is deafening. This is the ‘politics of genocide’.”

Herman and Peterson give some examples that should be familiar to all who reject the notion of the US as a unparalleled force for good in the world. The suffering of Iraqis under US-led sanctions in the 1990s, American support for Israel’s repression in Gaza and destruction in Lebanon, the American role in the brutal massacres of Guatemalans and Salvadorans in the 1980s, America’s backing for Indonesia’s blood bath in East Timor—all are true, all are appalling, and all have been thoroughly documented. No doubt it’s good for a new generation to be reminded of these atrocities, invariably distorted or ignored by the mainstream media. But I’m not at all sure that it’s helpful to explore these issues against a frame of genocide, and it’s supremely destructive that incontrovertible incidents of American crimes, such as the above, are included with bizarre fictions that have poisoned the authors’ minds, such as below. This was decidedly unexpected from Edward Herman.

Playing the “Expert” Card in Rwanda
To this stage, this little volume might on balance just be considered recommended reading. Despite its strange biases and excesses in belaboring its thesis, it’s a useful reminder of American double standards that should not be forgotten (particularly given the disappointing record of the Obama administration).

But all of this is mere preliminary for Herman and Peterson. Their main target, which is none of the cases mentioned so far, can be found squarely in the heart of the book. It’s chapter 4, the longest single section, and its purpose is to show that the 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsi never happened. In fact the entire “genocide” in Rwanda is an elaborate American conspiracy to “gain a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals’ influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The authors’ greatest bete noir is Paul Kagame, commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels during the 1990-94 civil war and 1994 genocide, long-time president of post-genocide Rwanda—and leading Yankee stooge.

Yes, in order to blame the American empire for every ill on earth, Herman and Peterson, two dedicated anti-imperialists, have sunk to the level of genocide deniers. And the “evidence” they adduce to back up their delusional tale rests solidly on a foundation of other deniers, statements by genocidaires, fabrications, distortions, innuendo and gross ignorance. In this Grimm fairy tale, everyone who contradicts their fantasies is an American/RPF pawn—Paul Kagame, human rights investigator Alison des Forges, the head of the UN military mission in Rwanda during the genocide General Romeo Dallaire, and entire human rights organizations.

The main authorities on whom the authors rest their fabrications are a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers, who gleefully drink each other’s putrid bath water. Each solemnly cites the others’ works to document his fabrications—Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Christian Davenport, Allan Stam, Peter Erlinder. It’s as if a Holocaust denier cited as supporting evidence the testimonies of David Irving, David Duke, Robert Faurisson or Ernest Zundel. Be confident Herman and Peterson are now being quoted as authoritative sources on the genocide by Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Davenport and Stam, Peter Erlinder.

In reality, there is only a relative handful of these American deniers, but the vast power of the internet makes them seem ubiquitous and forceful. Any online search for “Rwanda genocide” gives them a vastly disproportionate pride of place. Besides the five cited by Herman and Peterson, this rogue’s gallery of American deniers also includes Keith Harmon Snow and Wayne Madsen, who will bitterly resent the authors for failing to invoke them in their book.

Let me take a moment on Peter Erlinder, since he’s been in the news recently. (I wrote about the case the other day [June 11] in the Globe and Mail [“The law society of Upper Canada and genocide denial in Rwanda”]). As of this writing, Erlinder is in prison in Rwanda, charged, apparently to his great surprise, with genocide denial. I regret this decision by the Kagame government. I wish it had simply denied him entry when he provocatively showed up as counsel for Victoire Ingabire, a declared presidential candidate who is also controversially accused of being a denier. But no one could really be surprised at his arrest—especially Erlinder himself.

For Erlinder has explicitly conceded, more than once, that he knows he has broken Rwandan laws on genocide denial, and not in his work as a defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda (ICTR). For example, in a February 2008 article titled “Genocide Cover-up” [Global Research], Erlinder writes that “under the laws of Rwanda I too am a criminal ‘negationist’ for writing this essay.” And in a May 2008 article, “Victor’s Impunity” [Rwanda Democracy Watch], he agrees that “Under the laws of Rwanda, I have violated the ban against ‘negationism’ by questioning the Kagame version of events.” Of course he considers the laws he violated to be unjust. Nevertheless, he chose to enter Rwanda aware he had broken them. Was this not daring the Rwanda government to lock him up? Why would they not when he had confessed his guilt?

That was by no means his only provocation. Erlinder flew to Rwanda last month directly from a conference in Brussels that was notable for its collection of deniers and accused genocidaires. So extreme was the composition of the conference that one of the world’s most rabid Kagame-haters withdrew his participation. Indeed, shortly after the conference French authorities arrested one of the participants, Dr. Eugene Rwamucyo, accused of taking part in the genocide.

Perhaps even worse, Erlinder has shamelessly distorted a ruling of the ICTR on which he’s based so many of his attacks on Kagame and company beyond the Tribunal. A 2008 judgment ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to find that Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, seen by many as the mastermind of the genocide, had engaged in a conspiracy to exterminate all Tutsi. In a series of speeches and writings, including one of his better-known articles, “Rwanda: No Conspiracy, No Genocide Planning… No Conspiracy?” (Jurist, Dec. 24, 2008), Erlinder milked the decision for all he could. The title of the article said it all, and the question mark of course really doesn’t exist in his mind. As he said shortly before leaving America, there “was no conspiracy or planning to commit genocide or other crime.” No planning, no genocide. What could be simpler? (Once arrested, however, he found it far more prudent to declare that he in fact did not deny the genocide.)

Yet in none of his frequent references to this judgment has Erlinder thought it worth including the following statements from the judgment: 1. “Indeed, these preparations [by the accused] are completely consistent with a plan to commit genocide.” 2. “It cannot be excluded that the extended campaign of violence directed against Tutsis, as such, became an added or an altered component of these preparations.” Readers can judge for themselves whether this kind of intellectual dishonesty makes Erlinder a credible witness on any aspect of Rwanda history.

On the other hand, there are other writers on Rwanda on whom Herman and Peterson do not rely. They are many in number and they are totally ignored, except for the late Alison Des Forges, who is shabbily denigrated. In fact they include the overwhelming number of those who have ever written about the genocide. They include academics, human rights activists, journalists who were in Rwanda during the genocide or soon after, and others whose work brought them in close proximity to the events of 1994. Without exception, every single one agrees there was a genocide planned and executed by a cabal of leading Hutu extremists against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority. Except for Des Forges, plus Linda Melvern, whose indispensable oeuvre merits a lonely footnote, not a single one of the following authors is cited by Herman and Peterson:

Alison Des Forges
Linda Melvern
Alex de Waal
Rakiya Omaar
Gerard Prunier
Romeo Dallaire
Peter Uvin
Rene Lemarchand
Scott Straus
Andrew Wallis
Jean Hatzfeld
Samuel Totten
Mahmood Mamdani
Scott Peterson
William Schabas
Timothy Longman
Christian Jennings
Fergal Keane
Howard Adelman
Astri Suhrke
Villia Jefremovas
Michael Barnett
Alain Destexhe
John Berry and Carol Berry
Wendy Whitworth
Allan Thompson
Kingsley Moghalu
Susan Cook
Philip Gourevitch
Carol Rittner
John Roth
Henry Anyidoho
Patrick de Saint-Exupery
Frank Chalk
Bill Berkeley
Colette Braeckman
Jean-Pierre Chrétien
Bruce D. Jones
Hugh McCullum
Ingvar Carlsson
James Smith
Shaharyar Khan
Elizabeth Neuffer
Alan Kuperman

Before we dismiss all these authors as tools of Yankee imperialism, it needs to be added that several of the most prominent—Des Forges, Uvin, Prunier, Lemarchand, Kuperman—are (or were) fierce critics of the post-genocide Kagame government in Rwanda. Yet none has thought to retract their original views on the reality of the genocide.

There are of course also the many grim testimonies of both Tutsi who somehow survived and Hutu who are confessed genocidaires. Both kinds are now widely available in published collections or online; the three volumes by French journalist Jean Hatzfeld are a good beginning. Not a single such testimony or collection is referred to in The Politics of Genocide, and in fact I’ve never yet met a denier who had the guts to make his case before an audience of survivors.

Nor is a single mention made of the testimonies of the few outsiders who remained in Rwanda through all or much of the 100 days:

Romeo Dallaire (UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda–UNAMIR)
James Orbinski (Medicíns Sans Frontiérès)
Phillippe Gaillard (International Committee of the Red Cross)
Carl Wilkens (Adventist Development and Relief Agency International)
Henry Anyidoho (UNAMIR)

As it happens, I know all of the above and none has the slightest doubt, having lived through it, that a genocide organized against the Tutsi took place. Three of them—Dallaire, Orbinski and Anyidoho—have written about their experiences. Of course, some of Herman and Peterson’s most treasured sources like Robin Philpot insist that General Dallaire was also an American puppet. So we can obviously ignore Dallaire’s views completely.

How Deniers Handle Inconvenient Opinions
As for Alison Des Forges, until her untimely death perhaps the most prominent scholar and activist on the Rwanda file, she is dismissed as following: “[Prior to 1993], des Forges had worked for the US Department of State and National Security Council.” Nothing more is said to disqualify des Forges, so we must conclude that simply working for these bodies demonstrates the unreliability of her views on the genocide. That her MA and Ph.D. theses were on Rwandan history, that she knew the country for 30 years before the genocide, that she was among a tiny number of outsiders who spoke Kinyarwanda, that she spent five years after 1994 researching the crisis, that her Leave None to Tell the Story is a highly-respected encyclopaedic history of the genocide—all this is irrelevant to Herman and Peterson. In their obsessive anti-Americanism, they blithely smear des Forges entire life: “Alison Des Forge’s career is best understood in terms of the services she performed on behalf of US power-projection in Central Africa, with this policy-oriented work couched in the rhetoric of ‘human rights’. In the process, Des Forges badly misinformed a whole generation of scholars, activists, and the cause of peace and justice.” But if she was such a loyal American hack, why was she such an unrestrained critic of America’s great ally Kagame? This obvious contradiction is of no apparent interest to Herman and Peterson.

The work of the 1993 International Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda is similarly dismissed. The Inquiry brought together four well-known human rights organisations whose investigation led them to conclude that the Habyarimana government was deliberately targeting Tutsi for massacre, that extremists anti-Tutsi rhetoric was growing and that anti-Tutsi militia were being formed. Yet none of this needs to be taken seriously. Why? Because the Commission was little more than an RPF front, “either directly funded by the RPF or infiltrated by it.” The sole source for this very serious accusation—made by no others of whom I’m aware—is Robin Philpot, Canada’s preeminent denier of the genocide.

Is Philpot’s charge remotely credible? Has he exposed some deep conspiracy no one else has ever detected? By coincidence, I know both the person who initiated the Commission of Inquiry, Ed Broadbent, and one of its members, William Schabas. (Alison Des Forges was another member, representing Human Rights Watch.) Instead of just dismissing the Philpot charge, I asked each of them about the Commission. Broadbent, a former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, was then the president of Rights and Democracy, an independent Canadian-based international human rights organization funded by the Conservative government of the day. I spoke to him by phone. Rumors of foul doings in Rwanda took him to the country in 1992, he told me, and he was so shaken by the evidence he found of violence and discrimination against the Tutsi minority that he organized and mostly funded the International Commission to follow up his work. He told me he is simply incredulous that anyone would claim a role for the RPF in its work, since it wasn’t true.

Broadbent asked William Schabas, then professor of human rights law at the Universite du Quebec a Montréal, to represent Rights and Democracy in this investigation. Schabas is now director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland in Galway, where he also holds the chair in human rights law. In an email, Schabas told me he had never been to Rwanda before this mission and knew nothing about the country. “I certainly never detected any pro-RPF sentiment from Ed…There was one member who seemed to be a sympathizer of the RPF…Otherwise, many members were quite openly critical of or hostile to the RPF.”

Is this just a case of “he said–they said”? Does an open-minded reader consider that the accusations of Robin Philpot, a man who also believes General Dallaire was an American stooge, are as worthy of consideration as the two statements by Ed Broadbent and William Schabas? Are both Broadbent and Schabas, 17 years later, blatantly lying to me, just as Dallaire’s entire life for the past 17 years must be a lie?

Or does one rather draw another conclusion about how the deniers operate? If there are views that contradict your own, you simply dismiss them as tools of either the US State Department or the RPF. Further proof is not required.

The Ugly Americans Are Everywhere
Let me cite the authors themselves to assure readers I haven’t exaggerated or distorted their extraordinary re-writing of history. Chapter 4 of their little book is devoted to Rwanda and the Congo and its 18 pages constitute far and away their longest case study.

They begin by asserting that “the Western establishment [has] swallowed a propaganda line on Rwanda that turned perpetrator and victim upside-down.” In their Rwanda story, it’s not Hutu extremists, the Presidential Guard, the post-Habyarimana interim government and the Interahamwe militia who were the “prime genocidaires.” It was the RPF. As a matter of fact, “the Hutu members of Rwanda’s power-sharing government couldn’t possibly have planned a genocide against the Tutsi.” In fact, President Habyarimana repeatedly refused, until literally the end of his life, to implement the power-sharing agreement set out in the Arusha Accords. In any event, why the Hutu members of the government “couldn’t possibly have planned a genocide against the Tutsi” is never remotely explained.

Next: The 1990 invasion of Rwanda from Uganda was carried out not by Rwandans but by Ugandan forces under Ugandan President Museveni, the RPF being “a wing of the Ugandan army.” There is no source given for this assertion, which contradicts almost all other histories of the invasion.

“It is clear that Museveni and the RPF were perceived as serving US interests and that the government of President Habyarimana was targeted for ouster… The Ugandan army and the RPF were doing what the United States wanted done in Rwanda.” This is the central thesis of the entire chapter on Rwanda, but the only source who actually “perceives” matters this way seems to be Robin Philpot, the Canadian who denies the genocide, since he is the only source offered for this categorical assertion. No other historian of the genocide of whom I’m aware makes this claim and no evidence for it exists.

Turning Linda Melvern’s seminal book Conspiracy to Murder on its head, the authors give us “an RPF conspiracy” to overthrow the Hutu government and capture the state for themselves. Since one of their sources, Christopher Black, considers Melvern part of the “RPF-US propaganda machine,” she too can be dismissed. But then why, they want to know, has the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) “never once entertained the question of this conspiracy?” This is indeed a reasonable question; I wondered about it myself. Here is their answer: “This, we believe, flows from US and allied support of the RPF, reflected in media coverage, humanitarian intellectuals’ and NGO activism, as well as the ICTR’s jurisprudence.” In other words, a giant US-led conspiracy is at work here.

Dupes like me and most other writers believe the US and its allies betrayed Rwanda by refusing to reinforce the UN military mission there, as general Dallaire was pleading with them to do. Eyewitnesses in Rwanda believed they witnessed for themselves what was developing. The media actually played a deplorable role in the first month of the genocide, confusing a planned extermination with racist views of “primordial African savagery.” And the many different ICTR judges over 15 years, from around the globe, all pretended to base their findings on the legal evidence. Yet in reality, all this time everyone was subtly being manipulated by the United States. Indeed, so subtle was the manipulation that the devilishly cunning Yanks left no proof of it. Moreover, every leading member of the Clinton administration, including the president himself, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, after her stint as ambassador to the UN as Clinton’s Secretary of State, have shamefacedly admitted abandoning the Tutsi. Each claims to consider it perhaps the greatest regret of his/her time in office, merely demonstrating, of course, what unconscionable hypocrites they are.

Herman and Peterson hammer their charge home: “Paul Kagame and the RPF were creatures of US power from their origins in Uganda in the 1980s.” They have the undisputed evidence. From Allan Stam, “a Rwanda scholar who once served with the US Army Special Forces,” they learn that Kagame “had spent some time at Fort Leavenworth…not too far before the 1994 genocide.” Fort Leavenworth, Stam explains, is “where rising stars of the US military and other places go to get training… The training that they get there is on planning large-scale operations. It’s not planning small-scale logistics. It’s not tactics. It’s about how do you plan an invasion. And apparently [Kagame] did very well.”

This crucial paragraph deserves a little parsing. To begin, it’s absolutely no secret that Kagame was briefly at Fort Leavenworth, though Stam doesn’t mention how very brief his stay was. Kagame himself has never kept it a secret. Note too that Allan Stam’s credibility is based on two factors. First, that he is a “Rwanda scholar,” though I believe not a single scholar listed above ever cites his work. Second, that he “once served with the US Army Special Forces.” Presumably this service gives him special insight into how the US army works. Yet he presents not a single specific detail about Kagame’s few weeks at Fort Leavenworth that ties him to American interest in and plans for Rwanda, which no one has ever documented. And since thousands of officers from nations around the world have passed through Fort Leavenworth, you’d think that the thousands of large-scale invasions they would return home and orchestrate would be better-known to the world than they are.

Stam’s curious thought processes are on display again, thanks to another citation by Herman and Peterson. By 1994, Stam has written, Kagame’s “sophisticated plan for seizing power in Rwanda…looks staggeringly like the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 1991.” Perhaps it’s my failing, but I have no idea what this means.

The Hutu Genocidaires Become the Dead Hutu Victims
Herman and Peterson now take their argument further. They have concluded that the all-important conventionally-accepted truth about the 100 days of genocide is all wrong. In fact this was no genocide at all against the Tutsi in which at a minimum 500,000-600,000 and perhaps as many as a million unarmed Tutsi were slaughtered, along with many Hutu who wouldn’t cooperate with the extremists’ genocidal conspiracy. On the contrary. They cite the sensational estimate by Christian Davenport and Allan Stam that one million deaths occurred from April to July 1994, and that “the majority of victims are likely Hutu and not Tutsi.” That the methodology employed to arrive at such an Orwellian assertion has been totally discredited is of no interest to our authors and never mentioned.

Indeed, even a million dead, mostly Hutu, isn’t good enough for them. They refer to “a number of observers as well as participants in the events of 1994 [who] claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million.” With Herman and Peterson, you always have to watch your wallets. Checking the endnote for this rather extravagant statement, we find the figure comes from “a former RPF military officer Christophe Hakizimana” in a letter to the 1999 UN Commission of Inquiry into the genocide. But that Commission, chaired by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, hadn’t the slightest doubt that genocide against the Tutsi had taken place and their report harshly criticised the US and its allies for refusing to intervene to stop it. So it’s hardly surprising that the Inquiry’s report never mentions Hakizimana and his accusations.

So how did our authors know about it? “We base this on personal communications with the international criminal lawyer Christopher Black of Toronto.” It will by this time come as no surprise to readers to learn that Christopher Black is prominent among the small notorious band of deniers who cite each other so faithfully and who alone are the sources for Herman and Peterson’s chapter 4. Even among the lunatic fringe of deniers, Black inhabits a universe of his own. Not only is the genocide of the Tutsi a “myth”, not only did France have nothing to do with it, not only did the RPF rampage “across the country massacring hundreds of thousands of Hutu and any Tutsi who were seen as non-reliable.” As well, he asserts, before 1994 there was no ethnic problem in Rwanda, then “a semi-socialist country considered a model for Africa.” For perspective, I note that this authority on Rwanda visited North Korea in 2003 and emerged to describe it as “a progressive, socialist country deserving the support of all progressive peoples around the world.” Black also considered Slobodan Milosevic completely innocent of the charges brought against him and believes Milosevic was consistently committed to a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia during his time in government.

Do I belabor the obvious by pointing out that not a single one of the long list of authors cited above mention either Christophe Hakizimana or Christopher Black? Yet they are the two sources Herman and Peterson give for their stunning statement that “a number of observers as well as participants in the events of 1994 claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million.”

The authors simply dismiss out of hand the widely-accepted facts about the genocide. “The established narrative’s 800,000 or more largely Tutsi deaths resulting from a ‘preprogrammed genocide’ committed by ‘Hutu Power’ appears to have no basis in any facts beyond the early claims by Kagame’s RPF and its politically motivated Western sponsors and propagandists.” With this single sentence, and with no further amplification of any kind, the question of the number of Tutsi murdered is closed.

But there’s much more about murdered Hutu. It is no surprise to the authors that the RFP killed so many people. After all, “the RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994… Clearly the chief responsibility for Rwanda political violence belongs to the RPF, and not to the ousted coalition government, the FAR [Rwandan army], or any Hutu-related group.” So much for the Interahamwe, apparently figments of everyone’s imagination. And for the Hutu Power and Zero Network hit lists, which many diplomats actually saw. And for the explicit public threats against the Tutsi from RTLM hate radio and Kangura magazine. In the report I wrote for the International Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the Organization of African Unity to investigate the genocide, there is a chapter titled “The Eve of the Genocide: What the World Knew.” The report, published in 2000 and called “Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide,” is still available online [African Union Official Documents page, PDF], so readers can access it in full, as indeed could Herman and Peterson.

Chapter 9 [of the OAU report] includes (among much else) the notorious 1990 racist document “Ten Commandments of the Hutu”; the dramatic increase in Habyarimana’s military budget; the formation of the extremist radical Hutu party CDR; the beginning of military training for the youth wings of both Habyarimana’s party (the Interahamwe) and the CDR; Leon Mugesera’s speech inciting annihilation of the Tutsi; the repudiation by Habyarimana and many of his officials and officers of the Arusha peace agreement; the opening of RTLM hate radio in mid-1993, funded by Habyarimana’s inner circle; the report by Belgian intelligence at the end of 1993 that “The interahamwe are armed to the teeth and on alert… each of them has ammunition, grenades, mines and knives. They are all waiting for the right moment to act”; the Dallaire “genocide fax” of January 11, 1994; the constant flow of new arms to Habyarimana’s forces from France or from South Africa and Egypt paid by France; RTLM’s broadcast on Match 1, as reported by the Belgian ambassador in Kigali, of “inflammatory statements calling for the hatred—indeed for the extermination of the Tutsi”; the late March statement by the officer in charge of intelligence for the Rwanda army that “if Arusha were implemented, they [the Rwanda army] were ready to liquidate the Tutsi”; the several RTLM and Kangura statements in the last days of March and early April that something major and dramatic was going to happen within the next few days; the public threat uttered on April 4, two days before the genocide began, by Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, widely considered the ringleader of the Hutu extremist conspirators, that “The only plausible solution for Rwanda appears to be the extermination of the Tutsi.”

Can every one of these well-documented points actually be some fantastically clever component of the American conspiracy behind Kagame’s RPF? Don’t bother asking Herman and Peterson; they don’t even try to explain them all away. They simply ignore hundreds of different pieces of evidence pointing to a developing Hutu extremist plot to annihilate the country’s Tutsi.

Instead, they focus on the crimes of the RPF. Despite recklessly throwing around figures such as a million or even two million Hutu killed, the numbers they seem to take more seriously total some 25,000 to 45,000 Hutu massacred from April to July 1994. As evidence they cite the investigation led by Robert Gersony for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and even though Gersony’s report mysteriously vanished, both UNHCR and the US State Department seem to have found these figures credible.

Typically, Herman and Peterson refer to the Gersony Report as “a whole body of important but suppressed research.” Maybe this reflects the problem of only reading other deniers. Yet look at chapter 22 of “Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide,” the report of the OAU-appointed panel, titled “The RPF and Human Rights.” It points out that while the actual Gersony report seemed to be missing, Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch had uncovered confidential notes based on briefings by Gersony and his colleagues. On p. 253, the panel describes the supposedly “suppressed research”: “Gersony reportedly estimated that during the months from April to August, the RPF killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons.”

After reviewing all the other evidence we could, the panel approved the following paragraph: “Our own conclusion, based on the available evidence, is that it is quite unrealistic to deny RPF responsibility for serious human rights abuses in the months during and after the genocide. They were tough soldiers in the middle of a murderous civil war made infinitely more vicious by the genocide directed by their enemies against their ethnic kin… Some had lost family and were aggressively looking for revenge. But none of these factors excuse the excesses of which they [the RPF] were guilty.”

So in fact the so-called suppressed research by Gersony has been well-known for years. But the panel also knew this: The fact of the genocide against the Tutsi was proved beyond any question, and while 25-45,000 deaths is a huge and gruesome number, it pales beside the genocide being executed at the same time. As noted earlier, the lowest estimate by serious scholars of Tutsi killed during the 100 days is 500,000–600,000; some believe it could be closer to a million.

Beyond that, the reason the catastrophe is called a genocide is precisely because it meets the definition laid down in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” That’s what qualitatively distinguishes the organized and systematic campaign led by a cabal of well-placed Hutu extremists in government and the military from the terrible killings by the RPF. That’s why the ICTR has deemed its priority to be the trial of accused genocidaire rather than of accused RPF soldiers. It’s the well-understood distinction between the Nazis and the fire-bombers of Dresden and Hamburg. All are horrific crimes. But genocide is, in our world, the crime of crimes, and it comes first.

Final Aspects of the Great American Conspiracy in Rwanda
Let me address only two remaining points that are integral to the authors’ case.

Almost every well-known writer on the genocide condemns the international community, led by the US, for refusing to intervene to stop the massacres of the Tutsi. Richard Barnett’s book Eyewitness to a Genocide, for example, describes his year as a staffer at the US Mission to the UN – it happened to be 1994—watching as the US and the entire UN chose to abandon Rwanda’s Tutsi to its inexorable fate. Samantha Power found a large number of President Clinton’s senior advisers who contritely explained to her why they failed to support General Dallaire’s urgent cries for reinforcements. Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s ambassador to the UN, has abjectly apologized for her role in leading the Security Council to decimate Dallaire’s puny military mission, and has righteously claimed that behind the scenes she attempted to get the White House to change its position. Non-permanent members of the Security Council later complained they were kept in the dark about the real situation in Rwanda by those who resisted intervention, including UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali. All of this is now well known.

Here’s what Herman and Peterson have to say: “What the United States and its Western allies (Britain, Canada and Belgium) really did was sponsor the US-trained Kagame, support his invasion from Uganda and the massive ethnic cleansing prior to April 1994, weaken the Rwandan state by forcing an economic recession and the RPF’s penetration of the government and throughout the country, and then press for the complete removal of UN troops because they didn’t want UN troops to stand in the way of Kagame’s conquest of the country, even though Rwanda’s Hutu authorities were urging the dispatch of more [sic] UN troops.”

The endnote for this dramatic paragraph gives as the source “the Rwandan UN ambassador Jean-Damascene Bizimana.” Presumably, though, it’s only the last part of the sentence that comes from Bizimana. Bizimana had been appointed by President Habyarimana. When the President’s plane was shot down on April 6, an interim government of Hutu extremists was formed under Theoneste Bagosora. Bizimana remained in his post. In one of the many mind-boggling sidebars of the genocide story, 1994 happened to be Rwanda’s turn to fill a rotating Security Council seat. So Bizimana ended up representing a genocidaire government on the Council throughout the entire genocide. Soon after the plane crash and the start of the genocide, Bizimana reported to his Security Council peers that the Rwandan military and its people had “reacted spontaneously” and were attacking those suspected of being responsible for killing their president. Bizimana’s peers eventually understood the obscenity of having a spokesperson for the genocidal regime sitting among them, but as the British ambassador told Linda Melvern, there was no procedure for getting rid of him.

The April 6 plane crash, as is entirely predictable, features prominently in Herman and Peterson’s Orwellian version of Rwanda. The plane, a gift from French President Mitterrand to Habyarimana, was bringing from Dar es Salaam to Kigali not only Habyarimana but the President of Burundi as well. Both were killed, along with everyone else on board. In what we have seen is a typical trick of the authors, they state that “It has also been important to suppress the fact that that the first Hutu president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, had been assassinated by Tutsi officers of his army in October 1993.” That this assassination happened is true; that anyone has ever tried to suppress it is ludicrous. Why Herman and Peterson insist on it is incomprehensible. For the record, this incident is included in my own report, “Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide,” in Rene Lemarchand’s chapter on Rwanda in Century of Genocide, in Gerard Prunier’s The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, in Stephen Kinzer’s A Thousand Hills, and in Linda Melvern’s A People Betrayed, just to mention the few volumes that I took down at random. Far from being suppressed, virtually everyone who writes about Rwanda recognizes the great impetus given to Hutu Power advocates in Rwanda by Ndadaye’s untimely murder.

Herman and Peterson have no doubt that the RPF shot down Habyarimana’s plane. In fact they go that extra mile and add that “the United States and its close allies…very possibly aided the assassins in the shoot-down.” The sole source for this “very possible” charge is Robin Philpot. As for the crash itself, the authors invoke the familiar figures of Michael Hourigan and Jean-Louis Bruguiere. Hourigan is a one-time ICTR investigator who found a few disaffected RPF soldiers who accused the RPF and Kagame personally of responsibility for the crash. Bruguiere is a French magistrate who used some of the same informants as Hourigan, as well as the testimonies of accused genocidaires being held in Arusha, Tanzania, whom he took the trouble to visit (though he never went to Rwanda or spoke to a single RPF official). He too concluded that the RPF and Kagame were guilty. Alas for both of them, their case fell apart when several key informants retracted their entire testimonies, some declaring they had never said anything like what they were quoted as saying. This is all public knowledge, yet the authors never even hint that the basis of Bruguiere’s conclusions had been substantially undermined.

It has always seemed most plausible to a majority of those studying the genocide that Hutu extremists and not the RPF shot down the president’s plane. But proof was never available and the issue remained moot. It’s been one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. At the beginning of this year, however, a new report appeared by an Independent Committee of Experts appointed by the government of Rwanda, with the explicit title “Report of the Investigation into the Causes and Circumstances of and Responsibility for the Attack of 06/04/1994 against the Falcon 50 Rwandan Presidential Aeroplane [sic], Registration Number 9xR-NN.” The head of the seven-person committee was Dr. Jean Mutsinzi, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Rwanda, now a judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Mutsinzi Report is available at, and my review of the report can be found at Pambazuka News, Jan. 21, 2010.

While my review regretted that the Rwandan government hadn’t sought an independent investigation to take place, and while the Committee had obvious pro-RPF biases, I nevertheless found their comprehensive report highly persuasive. They also smartly included a ballistics report from staff at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom based at Cranfield University that supported their conclusions. The report demonstrates why the RPF could not have been in a position to launch the fatal missiles while elements of the Rwandan army and Presidential Guard had the capacity, the means and the will to do so.

The report also documents the only logical motive for the attack, one that many other scholars had already anticipated. In the Dar es Salaam meeting of regional presidents that he attended on his final day, April 6, Habyarimana announced what he had just told his own senior advisors. After stalling for months (a fact Herman and Peterson seem not to grasp at all), he was finally about to implement the Arusha Accords. That meant power-sharing in government and the full integration of the Rwandan and RPF armies. The personal consequences for many Hutu government and military officials would be disastrous. The latter had long sworn, publicly and privately, that they would accept Arusha over their dead bodies, and had pressured Habyarimana not to succumb to external pleas to implement. Finally, however, he decided he had no recourse but honor the agreement, and the extremists decided to nullify Arusha over their president’s dead body.

Any reasonable person open to the evidence, including the likely motivation for the deed, will find the Mutsinzi Report credible. But I don’t expect for a second that Messrs. Peterson or Herman or Black or Erlinder or Stam or Davenport or Philpot to accept a single word of it. No more do I expect them to agree with a single word in this review. They are well beyond evidence or reason or commonsense. They live in a different universe of witnesses and evidence, enough to satisfy themselves that the world has gotten Rwanda wrong and only they in the world have got it right.

The Tragedy of American Anti-Imperialism
Edward Herman and David Peterson have written a very short book that’s not nearly short enough. It should never have seen the light of day. It brings shame to its two American authors, its publisher Monthly Review, and all those who have provided enthusiastic jacket blurbs, many of them prominent in progressive circles—Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Solomon, David Barsamian. If this is what Anglo-American Marxism, or socialism, or anti-imperialism has degenerated into, we can hang our heads in shame for the future of the left.

Why a lifetime anti-imperialist leftist like Herman (and presumably Peterson) wants to exculpate the Serbs of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia of crimes against humanity is beyond my understanding. Why would it not have been enough to point out that appalling crimes were committed by all sides, but in every case Serbs were one of those sides? The only conceivable reason seems to be that the US and its allies singled out the Serbs for attack, which ipso facto makes them the real victims. Indeed, the authors’ ally Christopher Black perversely sees Milosevic as an heroic figure.

As we’ve already seen, hyperbole and slipperiness are cherished tools of the authors, and not just in regards to Rwanda. “The leading mainstream experts on ‘genocide’ and mass-atrocity crimes today,” they assert, “still carefully exclude from consideration the US attacks on Indo-China as well as the 1965-1966 Indonesian massacres within that country.” First note the way they add “mass atrocity crimes” to genocidal crimes. In fact, in many circles it surely remains widely accepted that the US was guilty of appalling atrocities in its aggressions against Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. As for the “exclusion from consideration” of those Indonesian massacres, chapter 7 of Totten and Parson’s popular volume Century of Genocide, is titled “The Indonesian Massacres.”

Two other similar examples: In true conspiratorial fashion, they argue that the crisis in Darfur was exaggerated to distract attention from America’s real African interest, the mineral resources of the Congo. Why both weren’t worthy of serious attention is beyond me. Nonetheless, they insist that Darfur solidarity activists dishonestly succeeded in framing Darfur as the “unnoticed genocide,” though many, including me, have long understood that it’s been the best publicized international crisis in decades. And they charge that it’s the calamity in eastern Congo that “has been truly ignored,” even though numerous celebrities, including playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), actor Ben Affleck (at least four times), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all made high-profile visits to the Kivus. When the US Secretary of State visits a small province in eastern Congo, you know it’s the opposite of being ignored.

Many of the Rwanda deniers flaunt their left-wing credentials. As this essay makes clear, they are driven by their anti-Americanism. Certainly I agree that every progressive necessarily must be anti-American to some degree or other. But this little band has driven over the edge. As Peter Erlinder once wrote, America is “the most dangerous Empire the world has ever seen.” Everything bad must be America’s responsibility. There’s not even room for others to share that responsibility, though the French government’s complicity in the Rwandan genocide, for example, has been definitively documented and is now even implicitly accepted by President Sarkozy and his foreign minister Bernard Kouchner.

Why the deniers are so determined, so passionate, so intransigent, so absolutely certain, so satisfied to remain part of a tiny minority of cranks, is completely unknown to me. Why they want to create such gratuitous, almost sadistic hurt for the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda is impossible to fathom. But in the end, it’s irrelevant what furies drive their obsessions. It’s their egregious views—not their motives—that matter. And their views relegate them squarely to the lunatic fringe.


This review first appeared June 17 on Pambazuka News.


International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

From our Daily Report:

Rwandan Hutu first to be convicted under Canada’s war crimes act
World War 4 Report, May 23, 2009

Project Censored v. WW4 Report: war of perceptions on African genocide
World War 4 Report, Sept. 22, 2006

See also:

Against “Leftist” Revisionism on the Srebrenica Massacre
by Bill Weinberg, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, August 2005


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, August 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Dockworkers Worldwide Respond to Israel’s Flotilla Massacre

by Greg Dropkin, LabourNet, UK

Three weeks after the massacre on the Freedom Flotilla, ILWU dockworkers in the San Francisco Bay area delayed an Israeli Zim Lines ship for 24 hours, the Swedish Dockworkers Union began a week-long blockade of Israeli ships and containers, dockers in the port of Cochin, India, refused to handle Israeli cargo, and the Turkish dockworkers union Liman-Is announced their members would refuse to service any Israeli shipping. In South Africa, Durban dockers had already boycotted a Zim Lines ship in response to the invasion of Gaza last year. On the fifth Anniversary of the United Palestinian Call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, Israel faces the prospect of targetted industrial action to implement boycotts. How did it happen, what does it mean, and how can the solidarity movement respond to the new opening?

At 5 AM on June 20, 800 trade unionists and Palestine solidarity activists from the San Francisco Bay Area marched to the SSA (Stevedoring Services of America) terminal at Berths 57-58 in the Port of Oakland, where the Zim Shenzhen was due. Zim Lines is the main Israeli shipping company, with services connecting Israel to the world. The ship sailed from Haifa, calling at Piraeus, Livorno, Genoa, Tarragona, Halifax, New York, Savannah, Kingston, Panama Canal, Los Angeles before reaching Oakland.

When longshore workers turned up for the day shift a mass demo was in place at four gates chanting “Free, Free Palestine, Don’t You Cross Our Picket Line,” “An Injury to One is An Injury to All, Bring Down the Apartheid Wall,” “Open the Siege, Close the Gate, Israel is a Terrorist State.” As union members spoke to drivers, pickets sat down in front of cars. The San Francisco Labor Council and the Alameda County Labor Council had passed their own resolutions and mobilized hundreds of trade unionists to back the demo called by the Labor Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It was an unprecedented show of strength from the local and regional AFL-CIO, affiliated unions and their members side by side with Palestinian and Arab-American activists.

The Gaza ships were originally organized by Paul Larudee from San Francisco, and Bay Area residents had sailed with him. Now everyone came together for a united action organised in just two weeks. Local 10 and Local 34 (clerical) are militant sections of the International Longshore Workers Union. The ILWU organizes longshore (dockers) and many other industrial sectors on the US West Coast and Hawaii. With a history stretching back to 1934, the ILWU has faced the employers in countless disputes on the docks, carried out industrial solidarity action with other workers, fought against racism, adopted resolutions which characterize the Israeli oppression of Palestinians as “state-sponsored terrorism,” and on May 1, 2008 shut down
every port on the US West Coast against the war in Iraq.

Labor laws in the US like the Taft-Hartley Act make it illegal for unions to organize solidarity actions. The Oakland longshore workers arrived for the day shift and refused to cross the picket line on grounds of “health and safety.” The Pacific Maritime Association, on behalf of the employer SSA, immediately called in the arbitrator (a joint union-management procedure for first-line response to disputes on the docks) hoping he would order everyone to work. The arbitrator considered the PMA demand that the police use force to open access through the picket line, to make it “safe” for workers to enter the terminal. The union argued that the Oakland police are a threat to the security of workers and demonstrators.

In 2003, as the US attacked Iraq, Oakland police fired so-called “non-lethal” weapons at longshore workers and anti-war demonstrators alike, injuring scores and sending many to hospital. In 2010 the arbitrator agreed with the union. As per their contract, the dockers were sent home with pay for standing by, however the employers have refused to abide by the arbitrator’s decision and have paid out nothing, leaving the issue in dispute.

The Zim Shenzen had left Los Angeles around 2:30 PM June 20, and could have could have arrived at the San Francisco pilot station in as little as 18 hours, plus two hours to the dock. The ship’s tracking system was removed from the nautical GPS system, leaving the demo guessing when it would arrive. But with several hundred marching at 5:30 AM—swelling to 800 as the morning progressed—the company decided to hold up the docking until 6 PM. By then, SSA Terminal realized that the mass picket line would return for the evening shift and the arbitrator would make the same decision, so they gave up and prudently chose not to call longshoremen to report for work. The ship sat at the quay, untouched. Establishing the mass picket line early and preventing longshoremen and clerks from working the terminal was critical in this victory.

This was the first ever boycott of an Israeli ship by workers in the US, where Zionism has counted on influencing the traditional stance of the mainstream labor movement, as well as elected politicians. “An Injury to One is An Injury to All” is the slogan of the ILWU. It is also an emblem for South African workers. The Zim action was recognized as a direct echo of Local 10’s fight against apartheid in 1984, when members refused to work South African steel and coal for 11 days until the employer obtained a Federal injunction to break the boycott.

Interviewed on video during the Zim picket, Local 10 Executive Board member Clarence Thomas stated, “This is a historic occasion. Everyone remembers the action taken by the community and labor in 1984 at Pier 80 in San Francisco, where the Nedlloyd Kimberley was picketed.”

Retired Local 10 longshore worker Howard Keylor, a co-organizer of that action, recalled: “This was the result of over a decade of education within the Local on the horrors of the South African apartheid regime. South Africa arrested the entire leadership of the black miners union [the National Union of Mineworkers] and charged them with t reason, and was threatening to execute them. I made the motion in Local 10, which passed unanimously, not to work the cargo in the next ship that came in. It was the longshore courage in deliberately violating the Taft-Hartley law and the union contract that made that successful.”

Clarence Thomas set out the current strategy: “People are lacking food, people cannot rebuild in Gaza, construction supplies are not allowed. They haven’t even been allowing chewing gum! The thing that is going to make Israel and the United States both understand that this cannot continue, is the whole question of commerce and trade. Israel is very vulnerable on that question. This was critical in building the mobilization in 1984 against apartheid, with three prongs: Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment.”

Jack Heyman, also from the Local 10 Executive Board: “If longshoremen decide they’re not going to cross the picket line, then the Zim ship that’s coming in is not going to be worked, and that‚s going to be repeated around the world, in Norway, Sweden, South Africa. I think people are beginning to understand that the Israeli government is going to have to be sent a message loud and clear, that their policies towards the Palestinian people are unjust and they’re going to suffer the consequences. It’s not business as usual when they commit acts of murder like this.”

Monadel Herzallah, of the Arab American Union Members Council summed up the impact on the labor movement: “It’s indeed a significant turning point in the work with labor, and it’s significant because ILWU has honored our picket line, it is something that we cherish, that we think will make an impact not only in the United States of America but also worldwide. The Labor Councils in Alameda and in San Francisco, responded to the call by encouraging labor unions, members, activists, to support this, with dozens of other community organizations who have worked to make this picket successful. People have wanted to tell this government and the government of Israel that they cannot be above the law, they have to be held accountable for what they did against these unarmed civilians on the flotilla ship in the Mediterranean.”

Palestinian unions appeal
On June 7, the Palestinian trade union movement had produced a united appeal to dockworkers unions worldwide. It was signed by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW), the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (IFU), and 11 other Palestinian union and labor movement organizations. It concluded “Gaza today has become the test of our universal morality and our common humanity. During the South African anti-apartheid struggle, the world was inspired by the brave and principled actions of dockworkers unions who refused to handle South African cargo, contributing significantly to the ultimate fall of apartheid. Today, we call on you, dockworkers unions of the world, to do the same against Israel’s occupation and apartheid. This is the most effective form of solidarity to end injustice and uphold universal human rights.”

This appeal was doubly significant. It gave the basis for dockers to respond, knowing that the call came from fellow workers. And, it showed exceptional unity on the Palestinian side, a big step in its own right. The joint union appeal developed the call from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) issued on June 1, which included: “We call specifically on transport and dock workers and unions around the globe to: Refuse to load/off-load Israeli ships and airplanes, following the historic example set by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) in Durban in February 2009 and endorsed by the Maritime Union of Australia (Western Australia).”

The ILWU Local 10 Executive Board met on June 8, and heard from members of the San Francisco Labor Council, a Palestinian speaker and solidarity activists. The Board unanimously adopted an Executive motion citing the Palestinian union appeal which they had received, and noting that the flotilla massacre had been condemned by the International Dockworkers Council (IDC), the International Transportworkers Federation (ITF), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and British union UNITE. The Executive motion joined in condemning the massacre and concluded with a “call for unions to protest by any action they choose to take.” The ILWU also noted that Swedish Dockworkers were planning an action, scheduled to begin on June 15.

Even before the Palestinian unions issued their appeal, the Swedish Dockworkers Union had announced plans for a week-long blockade of all trade with Israel. The union is a key member of the International Dockworkers Council formed during the Liverpool dockers battle from 1995 ˆ 1998 to regain their jobs after being sacked for refusing to cross a picket line. Former Liverpool dockers and Swedish dockers discussed the possibilities for action and alerted the IDC and its affiliated unions when the Palestinian BNC made contact through BDS organizers in both countries on May 31. The Swedish Dockworkers Union set out the aims of the blockade and discussed strategy in detailed briefings to the membership and press articles.

Their blockade was designed to last one week, a temporary measure to be evaluated with the possibility of further action. It aimed to influence the Israeli government to: “1. Lift the illegal and inhuman blockade of Gaza, which has been going on for over three years. 2. Allow an independent, international inquiry into Israel‚s boarding of the Freedom Flotilla [of which the Swedish Ship to Gaza was a member] in international waters, when nine people were killed and at least 48 people were injured. The requirements are clearly defined and conform fully with the demands that the UN and the EU have made to Israel.”

After the initial announcement, the employers‚ association Ports of Sweden threatened to sue individual union members, deduct from their wages, and demand compensation for participation in the blockade. The dockworkers postponed their action for a week, to dovetail with plans by the Norwegian Transportworkers Union. The Palestinian unions issued their appeal and Sweden would now be acting in response. In the event, the Norwegian blockade did not take place—yet—but Sweden went ahead. “From the 23rd of June we will no longer handle containers with Israeli wines, vegetables or fruits branded Jaffa, Carmel or Top, vegetarian pre-fabricated foods from Tivall or the carbonation-machine Soda Stream. Neither will we contribute to the Swedish export of Volvo buses, which were used by Israel to transport hundreds of human right activists from the Freedom Flotilla to Israeli prisons.”

The union was directly involved in the original plans for the Swedish Ship to Gaza, which the dockworkers intended to load for free. When the Sofia was eventually purchased jointly with a Greek solidarity organization, the Swedish Dockworkers were in touch with the Greek Port Workers Union who loaded Sofia with electric wheelchairs and cement at the port of Pireus, free of charge. The Swedish also approached the IDC to ask affiliates to protect and handle voluntarily all ships carrying supplies to Gaza.

Björn Borg, chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union, and Erik Helgeson, ombudsman, Local 4 Gothenburg, stressed the significance of the Flotilla. “We could see how the eyes of the world were finally turned towards the isolated population of Gaza. Even the night before the Israeli military violently stormed the Freedom Flotilla, this international initiative had done more to bring attention to the catastrophic situation of the people of Gaza, than all the diplomatic moves, declarations and resolutions put forward in recent years. That also inspires us and our colleagues in ports around the world to take action.”

When the blockade began, the dockers identified and isolated 10 containers full of goods to or from Israel. Erik Helgeson commented: “We thought the flow of goods would be much lower considering the blockade had been announced for twenty days. Our ambition is of course that our action can be one of many grassroots initiatives that will keep the eyes of the world focused on the 800, 000 children living isolated in Gaza. The Palestinian civilian population must be allowed to rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and freely integrate with the rest of the world. The war on Gaza and Israel‚s brutal blockade have made all this impossible for over three years.”

As the Swedish began their blockade, news emerged that the dockworkers union Liman-Is intended to join the fast growing movement for boycott sweeping through all levels of society after the murder of Turkish aid volunteers aboard the Mavi Marmara. Alongside the Physicians‚ Association of Turkey and the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers, the Liman-Is Central Committee

…The attack that was protested throughout the world and condemned harshly by the UN also brought people out to the streets in Turkey. The government’s announcements indicate that further sanctions against Israel are to be expected.

However, Israel needs to be answered not only through the channels of government, but through all institutions and social organizations, most of all, through NGO’s and unions. Our union Liman-Is, has decided to boycott the ships from Israel, which has become a machine of death and torture. In the framework, no member of our union will give service to Israel in any docks where we are organized.

Liman-Is union invites all unions and NGO’s organized in our country and throughout the world to join this boycott and protest campaign.

Turning this declaration into an actual boycott will require the active involvement of other unions in Turkish ports.

A few days before the Oakland action, unions in the Port of Cochin, in the state of Kerala, India, had agreed to boycott Israeli ships and cargo. The boycott began on June 17 on receipt of information that cargo unloaded at Colombo Port from Israeli ship MV Zim Livorno was bound to arrive at Cochin Port in a feeder vessel. Similar consignments unloaded at Colombo from Israeli ships were set to arrive in feeder vessels. On June 23, trade unions held a joint protest rally in Cochin Port near the office of Zim Integrated Shipping Services (India) Ltd—the Israeli shipping line. Addressing the rally B. Hamza, general secretary of Cochin Port Labor Union (CITU) condemned the flotilla massacre and expressed the Port workers‚ solidarity with Palestine. Leaders of at least five port unions and the Water Transport Workers Federation of India expressed the unity of Cochin Port workers with the growing world-wide boycott.

South Africa
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) had already responded straight after the attack on Gaza in December 2008—January 2009. In three weeks, Israeli forces killed 1400 Palestinians including over 300 children. In the midst of the carnage, the International Committee of the Red Cross had to wait four days before the Israeli military allowed ambulances to reach children huddled next to their dead mothers in a house shelled by Israeli forces. A UN compound was attacked with white phosphorus munitions. Schools, hospitals, ambulances, sewage treatment plants, all came under fire.

Long before the UN launched their own investigation of possible war crimes (the “Goldstone Report”), South African workers knew enough to act. Members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), affiliated to COSATU, refused to work the Zim Lines Johanna Russ—which sailed from Haifa at the height of the invasion—when it arrived in Durban in early February 2009.

On the eve of that action, COSATU wrote:

SATAWU’s action on Sunday will be part of a proud history of worker resistance against apartheid. In 1963, just four years after the Anti-Apartheid Movement was formed, Danish dock workers refused to offload a ship with South African goods. When the ship docked in Sweden, Swedish workers followed suit. Dock workers in the San Francisco Bay Area and, later, in Liverpool also refused to off-load South African goods. South Africans, and the South African working class in particular, will remain forever grateful to those workers who determinedly opposed apartheid and decided that they would support the anti-apartheid struggle with their actions.

Last week, Western Australian members of the Maritime Union of Australia resolved to support the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and have called for a boycott of all Israeli vessels and all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.

This is the legacy and the tradition that South African dock workers have inherited, and it is a legacy they are determined to honor, by ensuring that South African ports of entry will not be used as transit points for goods bound for or emanating from certain dictatorial and oppressive states such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Israel.

Five COSATU officers were amongst the 1400 internationals who converged on Cairo last December, hoping to enter Gaza for the Gaza Freedom March. Zico Tamela, the International Secretary of SATAWU, was on the delegation. Interviewed outside the UN buildings by the Nile, he called on transport workers throughout the world

…to assist in the struggle for the liberation of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. We must support and actively participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. This means the total isolation of Israel in terms of arms embargo, economically, culturally, socially, and otherwise. Just like you fellow workers did with apartheid South Africa. This also means that the Israeli labor movement, which is Zionist to the core, must be kicked out of the progressive international trade union movement. It’s not a question of fighting Jewish workers, no, no, it’s a question of isolating Zionism within the labor movement. Just like it was not a question of fighting white workers, but of fighting racism and isolating it within the international progressive trade union movement.

The action we South Africans took in relation to an Israeli ship and a Chinese ship that docked in Durban, when we refused to offload the consignments those ships carried, the Israeli ship carried civilian goods, the Chinese ship carried arms for Zimbabwe, we didn’t offload those goods. As transport workers throughout the world, we need to be at the forefront of the struggle to implement Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign, because we are the ones who transport goods to and from Israel throughout the world.

Israeli Consulate rebuffed by ILWU Local 10 Executive
Israel is taking this seriously. Their San Francisco based Consul for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor sought to meet with the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board on July 6, hoping to persuade the union to change course. When the PGFTU found out, they wrote to the Executive Board on July 2, saluting the union’s boycott, their history of international solidarity, and the risks taken by African-Americans in the civil rights movement.

They appealed to the union to stand firm

…Although we do not live in the United States, we find it highly unusual and somewhat uncustomary that a paid foreign representative of a racist and apartheid regime can demand and get a meeting with the executive board of a local union no less than the ILWU… Our civil society has risen and said that justice is universal. We supported the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, the struggle for civil rights in the United States, and the struggle for international solidarity. We remember that May 1st commemorates a labor struggle that took place in Chicago, IL, in the US and on May Day 2008, your union the ILWU, shut down all west coast ports to oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, setting a precedent in the US Labor movement. We humbly ask of you to hold steadfast in the face of backlash and revenge against your union. The call for a meeting with your union by a foreign paid emissary is intervening in the domestic affairs of local community grassroots action in the United States. Israel, an apartheid state, maintaining an illegal war against our people, should not be given the platform at your union house. That platform should be reserved for heroes who champion justice and equality for all.

The Consul may have scented danger, and July 6 his Deputy Gideon Lustig turned up to head the delegation. Lustig spent 10 years in the Israeli Defense Force and attained the rank of Major before turning to a diplomatic career. The Consular delegation was joined by Dr. Roberta Seid, an academic at University of California Irvine who believes the IDF was not responsible for the death of ISM volunteer Rachel Corrie, run over by an IDF Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza on March 16, 2003 while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian doctor’s house. Why? Because an official Israeli investigation concluded her death was an accident. In a major diplomatic rebuff for Consular staff, the Executive Board refused to allow the delegation to enter the meeting, in line with the appeal from the PGFTU.

Dr. Seid was given permission to speak. To general amazement, she defended the murderous attack on the Freedom Flotilla. Perhaps she anticipates the official Israeli investigation will clear the Navy of responsibility. What differences would the Israeli government have with her presentation, she was asked. None, apparently. Had not the journal Foreign Affairs recently exposed Israel‚s offer to supply South Africa with nuclear weapons during the apartheid era? Seid admitted they had, but claimed the story was untrue. A former ILWU official recalled his own experience of visiting Palestine in 1989 and described the expansionist aims of the Israeli state in detail. When it was over, the Executive reaffirmed the union‚s position opposing the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the apartheid wall in the West Bank, the continuing bloody Zionist oppression of Palestinians and the murderous Israeli attack on the aid flotilla.

What does it mean?
In the past, with a few very important exceptions, unions have focused on adopting national policies in solidarity with Palestine, donated funds, sent delegations to the West Bank and occasionally to Gaza, invited their Palestinian counterparts to address conferences, but without engaging in any dispute with their own employers over this issue. Although unions have adopted policies in support of BDS, and even overcome strong internal opposition before doing so, these policies have mainly remained paper committments. These small steps are essential preparation. As Howard Keylor remarked, it took years of education within Local 10 before the boycott of the Nedlloyd Kimberley became possible.

The first sign of another strategy came in 2006, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the largely secret war in Gaza that same year. Tram drivers in Dublin were instructed to train their Israeli counterparts on how to operate the planned Light Rail system connecting Jerusalem to the illegal Settlements. In line with the policies of their union SIPTU and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, they refused, risking their jobs.

At the same time, an appeal from sacked Liverpool dockers entitled “Sanctions on Israel: If not now, when?” concluded “If you can, intervene directly to stop trade with Israel while the carnage in Lebanon and Gaza continues.”

Possible action against Zim Lines was discussed in San Francisco a few months later. During the bombardment and invasion of Gaza in winter 2008-9, Greek dockers threatened to boycott a shipment of US arms to Israel, which was then re-routed, eventually reaching Ashdod in March.

Now, for the first time, Israel faces the prospect that their trade links are no longer secure as unions across the world are willing to go into dispute to implement the boycott. This is not a dockers issue, it is an issue for any union which wants to make BDS a reality. And the dockers are only able to act because they know there is a strong basis of support in the wider labor movement. This is exactly what happened to South Africa from about 1978 onwards. Workers at the computer manufacturing firm ICL (now Fujitsu) in Manchester refused to dispatch the machine they had built for administration of the hated Pass Laws.

Air France pilots were poised to refuse to fly uranium illegally mined by Rio Tinto Zinc in South African-occupied Namibia. The trade was suddenly switched to sea. But a decade later Liverpool dockers blockaded containers to interrupt the export of processed South African and Namibian uranium, touching off an outcry in Japan where electricity contracts with RTZ were cancelled. Dublin shopworkers refused to sell Outspan oranges, and were sacked.

Oakland dockers refused to offload South African steel and coal, and survived. It all coincided with the emergence inside South Africa of militant independent trade unions ready to strike against the employer and the apartheid system, eventually forming the Congress of South African Trade Unions in 1985. That was the moment when the South African ruling class knew it would have to find a way out of apartheid. Even so, it took another nine years.

These were not the only factors which brought down the apartheid regime. No one should imagine that a week of blockades spells the end of Israeli apartheid, or even the end of the siege of Gaza. But the dockers have broken through the consensus that trade union solidarity begins and ends with resolutions at trade union congresses, education, fund-raising and delegation work, important as these are in laying the basis for action.

The blockades connect Palestine to the class struggle which workers live through every day of their lives. In Oakland, Sweden, Turkey, India, and South Africa, a new generation of dockers has joined a fight with echoes of the 1980s. Clarence Thomas:

Today what you witnessed was the current young membership of ILWU Local 10 answering the call of the brothers and sisters who came before them. We understand what international solidarity means. It is not an empty slogan. You have to give something up. Our members were willing to give up a day’s pay today. That’s what solidarity means. This is indeed a people’s victory, and remember, just because it‚s not on the front page of the New York Times, just because it’s not on CNN, we have to get the word out. We claim no easy victories and tell no lies. Solidarity to the Palestinians. Solidarity to the working class around the world.

Whatever the immediate consequences, Israel’s murderous attack on the flotilla has landed the Zionist regime in very dangerous waters.


Greg Dropkin is based in Liverpool and is active in the group, on whose site this report first appeared.


Global BDS Movement

From our Daily Report:

Israel opens one Gaza crossing; siege remains the same
World War 4 Report, June 21, 2010

Iraqi port workers to strike in support of ILWU
World War 4 Report, May 1, 2008

See also:

by Bassam Aramin, Sara Burke and Yaniv Reshef, Peacework
World War 4 Report, January 2010


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingBLOCKADE! 


by Billy Wharton, In These Times

If arrogant disregard for humanity and the natural world were qualities that triggered the seizure of assets, BP would have been under public ownership long ago. It still isn’t.

But BP’s criminal act of polluting the Gulf of Mexico with an estimated 2.5 million gallons of oil per day—easily the worst environmental disaster in American history, and on the verge of becoming the worst ever in the Gulf—is only half the reason that US assets of the global energy giant should be brought under public control immediately. The other is the increasingly desperate crisis of global warming triggered, in large part, by a suicidal dependence on pollution-producing fossil fuels. Public ownership is the answer to both the short-term crisis caused by BP and the longer-term threat to the ecological stability of our planet.

Congressional hearings have indicated that BP management deviated from standard safety procedures and that its anti-worker culture prevented whistleblowers from halting production. BP CEO Tony Hayward’s continual evasion of questions stands as a shocking symbol of corporate arrogance and disregard for public oversight.

In the days immediately after the April 20 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 workers, BP focused resources on what it understood as its most pressing problem—public-relations damage control. Early plans to stem the tide of the oil flow were confused and prioritized media strategies. The company blocked scientists who wanted to estimate how much oil was flowing into the Gulf in order to develop a more precise cleanup plan. It quickly became apparent that BP had no established plan or protocol to deal with the gushing oil and that they were reluctant to shift resources toward stemming the flow of the oil and cleaning the environment. There was no profit in it.

BP employed various domes and caps on the gushing pipe because, if successful, they would serve the company’s dual corporate purpose of stemming the immediate flow and preserving the well for future drilling. Only after these failed, and millions of gallons of oil were released, did BP move to more invasive measures such as the failed “top-kill” attempt. And only significant government pressure forced BP to carry out more costly strategies such as digging relief wells around the site.

Meanwhile, environmentalists protested BP’s use of the toxic oil dispersant Corexit, claiming that it may do as much environmental damage as the oil itself. Even after the Environmental Protection Agency issued an order for BP to use a less toxic alternative, the company took weeks to comply, preferring to pay the fine instead of buying a less toxic agent.

BP has also continued to employ its standard anti-worker tactics. When clean-up workers complained about dizziness, nausea, headaches, and a lack of safety equipment, company officials claimed that the symptoms were probably the result of food poisoning. Internally, BP sent a directive to clean-up workers stating that future complaints about illness would result in termination.

BP must be placed under public control because its botched attempts at closing the well, its use of toxic dispersants and its negligent treatment of workers are evidence that BP is incapable of managing this catastrophe. Why? Not from lack of resources or expertise, but from the absence of any profit motive to act. It’s against the company’s one-dimensional corporate interests to do so.

Public ownership, and the road to a new energy system
The US government should immediately seize the U.S. assets of British-based BP. After the clean-up is completed and claims against the company are settled, a hearing can be held to propose compensation for BP. Until then, the company’s American arm, BP America Inc., should be operated as a publicly owned company that provides employees with full worksite protections and a significant voice in the day-to-day operations through a program of workplace democracy. Public ownership would put the full resources of BP to work stopping the oil leak and engaging in an effective clean-up of the Gulf. Such a measure would be unprecedented in the United States, but has proven, in other nations, to be an effective tactic in transforming industries acting against the public interest.

However, merely exercising public control over BP would, in effect, empower the very same officials who facilitated the oil explosion by granting waivers to BP and accepting campaign contributions. Prior to the April 20 explosion, BP benefited from a series of “categorical exclusions” from safety studies by the Minerals Management Services (MMS). Officials in the MMS relied on promises from BP management that the likelihood of a major spill was “minimal or non-existent.” Such lax regulation represents a major continuity between the Bush and Obama regimes. Big energy companies lavished handsome campaign contributions onto President Barack Obama and Department of the Interior (DoI) head Ken Salazar in order to ensure business as usual continued. And it did, to the tune of more than 250 waivers for energy companies per year.

That is why public ownership must come along with the immediate removal of Ken Salazar as head of DoI and the removal of any official involved in the granting of waivers to energy companies engaged in resource extraction.

It is important to note that the concept of public ownership differs from the idea of “temporary receivership” being circulated by liberal economists such as Robert Reich. Under the receivership plan, government officials would operate BP until the crisis is resolved, at which time it would return to private control.

In contrast, public ownership would transform BP America Inc. into a linchpin of a national energy policy moving the country away from its reliance on fossil fuels, and toward an eco-socialist agenda. BP and other energy companies have used foot-dragging and campaign contributions for years to prevent the transition to renewable energy sources. For them, the shift represents a costly endeavor that endangers their current market position. But for our planet, the transition to renewable energy could be the difference between life and death.

BP has the resources, expertise and infrastructure necessary to affect such a shift. Retrofitting existing facilities and developing new green infrastructure could spring out of public ownership. Just like with the Gulf cleanup, the main roadblock to moving in such a direction is corporate profit-motive. Taking BP into public control would be a necessary first step to taking the entire energy sector away from private hands and placing it into the public trust. Public ownership of all energy companies is the single most efficient way to create a green energy transition and, in the process, renew a natural world spoiled by capitalist production.

Why Obama won’t do it
Of course, neither Obama nor Democratic or Republican congressional representatives will enact the plan outlined above, despite the fact that they hold the legal power to do so. Significant authority was provided to the executive branch as part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Obama could use the implicit rights in this law to take immediate control of BP America Inc., while Congress prepares legislation to take the company into public ownership.

However, it is likely that even a significant amount of grassroots pressure would not force mainstream politicians in this direction. Obama and nearly every member of Congress is so desperately dependent on energy companies’ campaign contributions that public control is not even a topic of conversation. Instead, Obama will likely flounder along, holding press conferences and giving speeches about how regrettable the incident is while praying that BP finally plugs the hole. There may be a glitzy announcement about a toothless green initiative, but don’t expect any substantive change.

If the American people want change, change that can save and protect the environment while strengthening workplace rights, we will have to do it ourselves. One place to begin is by picketing a local BP station, beginning a petition drive to demand the kind of public ownership described above, or even by beginning the difficult, but necessary, process of challenging the two major political parties at the ballot box.

A solution to the great crime perpetrated by BP can come from the source that has generated so much of what is good about America—the efforts of everyday Americans organized to challenge the powerful. But we have to move quickly. Oil is still flowing into the Gulf, and the environmental crisis is graver than ever.


Billy Wharton is co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have been published in the Washington Post, Counterpunch, Spectrezine and the NYC Indypendent.

This article first appeared July 1 in In These Times.

From our Daily Report:

BP facing fraud lawsuits over oil spill
World War 4 Report, June 29, 2010

See also:

by William Wharton, CounterHegemonic
World War 4 Report, December 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Iraq: police raid electricity unions

Police have raided electrical workers unions across Iraq, carrying out a Ministry of Electricity order that prohibits “all trade union activities at the ministry and its departments and sites.”