Human Rights Watch (HRW) on May 28 detailed abuses against civilians by both the Egyptian government and militants in the Sinai Peninsula, some of which HRW classified as war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The information in the report was collected over a two-year investigation into the conditions facing civilians in Sinai. The abuses detailed in the report include mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. These actions are part of the government's fight against the ISIS-affiliated militants in Sinai. HRW claims that both groups are guilty of committing atrocities against civilians, but the Egyptian government is responsible for the majority of the abuses.
An Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip apparently took effect with no formal announcement May 6, after two days of hostilities that saw hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza and the most extensive Israeli air-strikes on the Strip since 2014. A total of 27 Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians, are reported dead in the air-strikes, which also included the first "targeted killings" of Hamas militants since 2014. Four Israeli civilians were also killed, all in the south. In the hours before the ceasefire, Israeli troops massed on the Gaza border, and a new invasion of the Strip appeared imminent. (Ma'an, Al Jazeera, Ha'aretz, YNet)
Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to annex areas of the occupied West Bank ahead of the coming week's Israeli Knesset elections. In an April 5 interview on Israeli Channel 12 TV, he was asked about plans to annex Israeli settlement blocs in the occupied territory, and responded: "Will we go to the next phase? The answer is yes. We will go to the next phase to extend Israeli sovereignty... I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements. From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians." (Times of Israel, NPR)
An Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the besieged Gaza Strip was declared March 26 following two days of Israeli air-strikes and Palestinian rocket fire. Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of strikes across the Strip, while at least 50 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Residential and commercial buildings were struck by Israeli warplanes, with at least seven Palestinians reported injured. The escalation came after a Gaza rocket struck an house north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven Israelis. (Ma'an) With the air-strikes underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Donald Trump in Washington for the signing of a presidential proclamation officially recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. At the joint press conference, Trump said, "We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv," adding, "We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism." Netanyahu called Trump's recognition a "diplomatic victory," adding that "Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of defense." (Ma'an)
In Episode 29 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg advances a progressive and anti-Zionist critique of Rep Ilhan Omar's controversial comments, which have posed the problem of US support for Israel in terms of "allegiance to a foreign country"—the nationalist and xenophobic language of our enemies. As a Somali-American woman in a hijab, Omar is ultimately legitimizing reactionary forces that threaten her with the use of such nationalist rhetoric. As the massacres of Christchurch and Pittsburgh all too clearly demonstrate, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are fundamentally unified concerns—and the way Jews and Muslims have been pitted against each other by the propaganda system is part of the pathology. Contrary to the canard of "dual loyalty," Weinberg declares himself a "zero-loyalist," repudiating both Zionism and America-first nationalism, calling for an anti-Zionism based on solidarity with the Palestinians, not "allegiance" to the imperial state. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
In Episode 28 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with trepidation Google’s plans to develop a censored search engine for China, and thereby be allowed back through the Great Firewall to access the world's largest market. But the next and more sinister step is imposing China's draconian standards for control of information on all Internet users, worldwide. Harbingers of this are already seen in Facebook's censorship of the Tibetan struggle, and of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, as well as initiatives to suppress footage of Israeli war crimes. While protesting these moves is imperative, the potential for such abuses in inherent to the technology—and this, ultimately, is a deeper and more complex problem that also urgently demands a critique. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The UN Human Rights Council released the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on Feb. 28, finding potential crimes against humanity committed by Israel. The report focuses on the period from May 30 to December 31, 2018, when the Gaza protest campaign known as the "Great March of Return and the Breaking of the Siege" was taking place. During the seven months studied, 6,106 unarmed protesters were shot by military snipers, resulting in 189 Palestinian deaths. "[B]ullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or...hits from tear gas canisters" injured an additional 3,098 Palestinians. The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry found 35 of the fatalities were children, three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists. Four Israeli soldiers were injured at protest sites, and one soldier was killed outside of the protest sites.