By Richard Edmondson
Podesta–Pizzagate–Aleppo–Palmyra–Saudi war crimes in Yemen–Israeli settlements–Brexit–Brazillian coup–fake news–dust boy in ambulance–sexist Trump–crooked Hillary–these are just some of the trending terms that made 2016 a year to remember…or maybe better yet one to forget.
But of course how often have we heard the old adage, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”? So lest we fall prey to the ominous, horrifying thought of repeating 2016, maybe we should take a few moments to review “the year that was,” so to speak.
If we added up all the gallons of blood shed this year–from wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere–along with the amount cascading and flowing from shootings in the United States plus terror attacks in Europe, across Turkey, parts of Africa, and Orlando, Florida–we’d have an amount of blood so voluminous it likely would fill up a river running 50 miles or more.
In terms of terror attacks alone, you can go here to find an interesting interactive map of the world that shows locations where attacks occurred in 2016. Click a location and out will pop details about the incident that occurred there. Or rather I should say incidents plural, since some places were the scene of multiple attacks. Aden Yemen, for instance, experienced 26 terror attacks in 2016 and a total of 389 fatalities. (Note: the mapmakers do not include Saudi airstrikes as terror attacks. The number is limited solely to attacks carried out by Islamic State, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or by “unknown” parties.)
Worldwide, as of this writing, the number of attacks comes to 1,805 for the entire year, piling up a total of 15,910 fatalities, with probably the largest number recorded in Syria. Aleppo alone shows 25 attacks and 431 fatalities, although that sounds to me like a very conservative figure (and surely worth noting is the mapmakers’ admission to getting their data from Wikipedia), considering the many reports we heard of artillery shells fired from the eastern part of the city, with countless attacks as well upon people attempting to flee the terrorist-held zones.
But in any event, we should ask ourselves an important question here: what is the reason for all this? Why is it 2016 was such a gruesome and bloody year? The short answer–and sometimes short answers are the best–is that a small number of countries, including the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, have been hell-bent on regime change in one country or another. And if there is one thing we might desire some day to see–possibly in 2017, although I’m not getting my hopes up–it would be that any attempt by any country to destabilize or overthrow the government of another should be labeled a war crime, or perhaps more precisely, a crime against peace, for that is what it is.
As I say, though, I’m not hopeful we’ll see anything like this, at least in 2017. And until we have such a ban in place–with strict enforcement and prosecution of actual violators by an International Court of some sort–then the Middle East is likely to remain a festering sore for the time being. Given that this is the case, let’s turn our attention to the longest-running festering sore in the region, which of course would be the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.
The Nakba Turns 68
Back in early May, just as Palestinians were about to mark the 68th anniversary of their Nakba (“catastrophe”), it was reported that Israeli officials were having anxiety attacks about a soon-to-be-released report by the Middle East Quartet addressing the issue of stalled peace talks and the rather bleak prospects for a two-state solution. The Quartet consists of the UN, the US, the EU, and Russia–and Israel was said to be perspiring over the thought that the report might focus on settlements as being the chief obstacle to peace.
“The main question is how harsh criticism of the settlements will be,” said an unidentified Israeli official who was quoted by Haaretz–and it was reported that Israel was engaged in extensive lobbying in order to “soften” the tone of the report.
Apparently (surprise! surprise!) the lobbying campaign was successful. When the Quartet report came out on July 1, its comments about the settlements were tepid and offset by denunciations of “terrorist acts” and “incitement to violence” committed by the subject Palestinians. I put up a post at the time entitled Quartet Issues Wishy-Washy Report on Israeli Occupation.
But by Christmas, the UN was in a different frame of mind, the Security Council adopting–by a vote of 14-0 with one abstention–a resolution “condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967,” and defining such measures as including “the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.” Furthermore, the resolution pronounced such measures “in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”
There was also some language calling upon “both parties” to act according to international law and to “refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric,” but clearly the harshest criticism in the resolution was reserved for Israel rather than the Palestinians. Or to put it another way, this was the criticism the Israelis had feared in the Quartet Report but which they had been able to avoid and squelch through their lobbying efforts.
So what happened? What led the UN to make such a striking U-turn in such a short time? The Quartet Report, keep in mind, was issued on July 1. The Security Council resolution was passed on December 23. That’s not a lot of time. And many of the same governments either cast votes or had influence in both actions. What might account for such a turnabout?
Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, accused the Obama administration of being secretly behind the resolution, claiming to have “absolute” proof of such, though without presenting any. To be sure, the US cast the lone vote of abstention, and of course heaping blame upon America and bellowing out fire and brimstone over an alleged “betrayal” helps deflect some of the heat off Israel which otherwise would accrue to the Jewish state over its policies.
But even if the US did secretly back the measure, it’s doubtful that Western countries holding seats on the Security Council would have gone along with it but for the fact that patience with Israel is rapidly running out in much of the world. After all, France, the UK, Spain, and Japan all voted for the resolution.
Moreover, it’s probably a safe bet that actions committed by Israel–both by its leaders as well as its security forces–have contributed considerably to this waning of support. And in 2016, the world witnessed some pretty grotesque behavior by Israelis, including the execution of a critically injured Palestinian by an Israeli soldier and the later elevation of that soldier to the status of national hero.
The incident I’m referring to took place on March 24, which happened to be the Jewish holiday of Purim in Israel, and was captured on video. What the footage shows is Abdul Sharif, 21, lying on his back on a street in Hebron, when Elior Azaria, an Israeli soldier, steps forward and fires a bullet into his head. Sharif and another Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz Qasrawi, had allegedly carried out a stabbing attack earlier against another Israeli soldier, who apparently was only superficially wounded and who can be seen being tended to by paramedics at one point in the video.
The video immediately went viral worldwide. For this reason, and probably no other, Azaria was arrested, but it was clear from the start that the Israeli public was outraged–not at the killing that had occurred but that the soldier had even been arrested for it at all!
The timeline of events leading up to the shooting was kind of interesting. On March 15, just nine days before Sharif’s execution, Israel announced it had seized 579 acres of Palestinian land near the Dead Sea for construction of Jewish settlements as well as tourism enterprises. It was the largest confiscation in recent years. Two days later, on March 17, the land appropriation was condemned by the EU, but then on March 21, a brand new land grab was announced, of approximately 296 additional acres, near Nablus.
Then came the brutal killing in Hebron. Much of the world’s attention at the time was focused on Belgium, which had experience a bloody terrorist attack just the day before, but the video that emerged from Hebron was so shocking it even managed to upstage the images from Brussels.
On Friday, the day after the shooting, Ma’an News reported that the Palestinian cameraman who had shot the video had become the target of threats and harassment. Meanwhile, Aymen Odeh, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knessett, tweeted that “Israel has turned in recent months into a place in which executions are carried out in public with the encouragement of cheering mobs.”
Azaria was charged with manslaughter, not murder, but even the lesser charge clearly was too much for the Israeli public. On April 19, several thousand Israelis rallied in his support in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. It was an event marked by speeches and much flag waving, and Odeh’s words seemed to be borne out when a woman, in what became almost an iconic photograph, was observed holding a sign reading “Kill them all.”
To say that Azaria was treated “humanely” by the Israeli judicial system would be an understatement. On Friday, April 22, the murderer was released from custody so that he might go home and spend Passover with his family.
His trial on the manslaughter charge finally got under way in May, but as the year comes to a close a verdict still has not been reached in the case.
BDS Under Fire
2016 also saw an expansion of attacks against the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement–in a number of countries and perhaps particularly in the US. Two states in particular, New York and California, ramped up the fight.
In California, Assembly bill 2844 was introduced prohibiting the state from contracting with any business engaged in a boycott of Israel. Backed by two lawmakers in the main, Travis Allen and Richard Bloom, the bill passed the state’s Judiciary Committee on April 19–the same day Israelis were holding their rally in support of Azaria–a confluence of events I made note of in a post entitled Ruled by the Insane:
“It is always the right time to fight against discrimination and hate speech, and today the Republicans are honored to stand strong in this bipartisan fight,” said state Assemblyman Travis Allen, who supports the bill.
So pause and consider: here we have Israeli citizens gathering in large numbers to issue a call for mass murder–but in this California lawmaker’s view, the parties guilty of “hate speech” are those participating in a boycott of Israel. The irony is certainly not lost upon the sane (or that is to say, the dwindling percentage of Americans who still fall into the “sane” category), but of course looking for sanity in the US political sphere these days is about like searching for a needle in a haystack…
Allen, by the way, isn’t Jewish. He’s a Christian Zionist (he reportedly refers to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria”), but in his ardent support for Israel, the Yahweh-fearing Mr. Allen seems to have few peers. It’s nice that Bloom and Allen, one being Democrat the other a Republican, were able to overcome their political differences, although of course in US politics love of Israel is a “bipartisan” issue.
The bill was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown on September 24, after being approved in the State Assembly by a vote of 69-1 and passing the Senate by 34-1.
In New York, the story was similar, although Governor Andrew Cuomo sidestepped the state’s legislature and simply signed an executive order. But the net effect was much the same. Executive order 157, signed on June 5, mandates the drawing up of a list of businesses or other entities engaged in a boycott against Israel, directing state agencies to cease doing business with such concerns. In a post on the matter I made note of a particularly heavy irony involved: Cuomo previously had basically endorsed a boycott of North Carolina over its transgender restroom law. So here was the governor of New York–basically lending his support of a boycott against another US state but attempting to penalize anyone calling for a boycott of Israel.
War and Peace
The Syrian war raged on throughout 2016, exacting its usual toll in blood, although some very welcomed news came at two different points in the year– the first being the liberation of Palmyra on March 27, Easter Sunday, followed by the liberation of the entire city of Aleppo earlier this month, just in time for Christmas, and which gave rise to a joyous Christmas celebration in that maimed and battered city. It may be only a coincidence, but the occurrence of these two wonderful developments and their coinciding with two Christian holidays gives us pause for thought.
Of course a lot of death and a lot of tears came with it. In the liberation of Palmyra a heroic sacrifice was made by Aleksandr Prochorenko, a Russian Special Operations Officer who had been sent into Palmyra to identify ISIS positions and to pass their coordinates along to command for airstrikes. On the night of March 15-16 Prochorenko found himself surrounded by terrorists. Rather than allow himself to be captured, he called in an airstrike–on himself and his attackers.
He was remembered in his hometown of Gorodki, where he was hailed as a hero and where he left behind his wife, Ekaterina, who was pregnant with their first child.
Prochorenko was also remembered in Palmyra, the ancient city he gave his life to liberate, where the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra performed in concert on May 5. The concert was given in Prochorenko’s memory as well as in memory of Khaled al-Assad, the esteemed Syrian archaeologist and Palmyra resident who had been captured by ISIS and killed the previous year.
The liberation of Aleppo, too, came at great cost, and it may well be the people of Aleppo who have suffered most in this conflict. On September 30, an artillery shell fired from eastern Aleppo tore into the mostly Armenian neighborhood of Villi, in the government-controlled area of the city, killing a champion Syrian swimmer, Mireille Hindoyan, and her younger brother Arman.
Truth is usually the first casualty in war, and this has been especially true in the year 2016. When Western media got hold of Mireille’s story, they immediately tried to portray her death as the result of a Russian airstrike–but as I reported in a post here, this prompted a Twitter storm over the dishonest reporting. RT set the record straight in a report that included an interview with the girl’s mother:
In my own post on the story, I commented:
It was last month that John Kerry famously accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of living in a “parallel universe.” The US Secretary of State of course got it backwards. The alternate reality is the one he and other US officials are surfing in. Millions of Americans, in fact, are hopelessly entrapped in this alternate reality, this parallel universe, and I am not optimistic they will find their way out anytime soon.
The lies told over the Syrian war have been legion. A few other giant whoppers about Syria that came out in 2016 were the “dust boy in the ambulance story” that sent Western media into a frenzy in August; the travails of a purported 7-year-old girl named “Bana Alabed,” who began posting tweets in perfect English in September; and of course the saga of the White Helmets, the faux “Syria Civil Defense” outfit who had a Netflix movie made about them but got passed over for a Nobel Prize in October.
Additional lies on Syria in 2016:
- that the Syrian Army was blocking humanitarian aid to Aleppo
- that the rebels in eastern Aleppo were “moderates”
- that the Syrian Army was committing atrocities and causing a “meltdown of humanity” in its retaking of Aleppo
- and of course the standard jejune about the Syrian president being a “dictator” who “kills his own people”
The US presidential campaign also contributed mightily to making 2016 a year to remember…or a year to forget, as the case may be. The concerted media attacks on one candidate in particular–with the other candidate being reported on in an entirely uncritical manner–did more to expose the outright trickery and dishonesty of the media perhaps than anything seen in our lifetimes. Even the “weapons of mass destruction” charade used to justify invading Iraq in 2003 didn’t tarnish the media’s reputation to this extent, and Trump’s election, in spite of the propaganda cannonades discharged against him, was an amazing refutation of the establishment elites and their news outlets.
While CNN, the Washington Post, and others published a seemingly endless series of attack pieces against Trump, Wikileaks published thousands of emails exposing the corruption of the DNC and the Clinton campaign staff, this as Project Veritas posted videos revealing the involvement of Democratic Party operatives in schemes such as hiring protesters to show up at Trump rallies.
Brexit and Jeremy
Politics in the UK this year were fascinating to watch as well. On June 23, the people of Great Britain voted in favor of exiting the European Union–a campaign that came to be widely referred to as “Brexit.” The Brexit vote took place on June 23. On June 25 it was reported that results of the referendum had cost the world’s 400 richest people an estimated $127.4 billion, and indeed the howls of anguish were almost audible. How soon Brexit is implemented–if it is implemented at all–remains to be seen, and certainly there seem to be politicians in Britain working to derail it, but much like the election of Trump in the US, the Brexit vote has been taken as a massive public repudiation of the elites.
The year also had its ups and downs for Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party came under fierce attack. In April, party member Naz Shah was accused of “anti-Semitism” over a tweet posted two years earlier in which she had humorously suggested the Palestine-Israel conflict could be resolved by relocating Israel to the United States. This was after former London Mayor Ken Livingstone pointed out, in a radio interview, that Hitler had supported Zionist goals of having Jews immigrate to Palestine–an historically accurate observation, but one which, like Shah’s tweet, set off howls of protest.
“You’re a disgusting racist, Livingstone,” Labour MP John Mann screamed in a face-to-face confrontation with the former mayor. “A disgusting racist rewriting history.”
On April 28, I put up a post entitled, UK Labour Party Descends Into Madness–Searching for Anti-Semites Under the Bed!–in which I commented: “With some members openly calling for the suspension of others, the party is on a frenzied quest to flush and ferret out supposed ‘anti-Semites’ from within its ranks.”
Sadly, rather than go head-to-head with the accusers, Corbyn made the decision to appease them. Both Livingstone and Shah were placed on suspension.
The loss of the Democrats in November was immediately blamed on Russian hacking. No evidence was supplied at the time, and still none has been forthcoming, but of course that doesn’t stop the accusations from being made. So heated has the rhetoric become that Vladimir Putin was led to comment that the Democrats should “learn to lose with dignity,” though there seems little chance of that.
In this, the final week of 2016, Obama ordered an expansion of the sanctions against Russia, along with the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the country. He is also blocking access to two pieces of property–one in Maryland and the other on Long Island in New York–that supposedly are owned by the Russian government and which have been “used by Russian personnel for gathering intelligence.”
Also this week we have witnessed a verbal spat between John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue of Israeli settlements, with Kerry, for perhaps the first time in his political career, daring to speak at least a partial version of the truth on that matter.
“No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what the settlements pose to that peace,” said the US Secretary of State in what was billed as his “farewell speech.” Kerry added:
Over 1,300 Palestinians including over 600 children have been displaced by demolitions in 2016 alone — more than any previous year. So the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel. And their stated purpose is clear. They believe in one state — greater Israel. In fact, one prominent minister who heads a pro-settler party declared just after the U.S. election, and I quote, “The era of the two-state solution is over,” end quote. And many other coalition ministers publicly reject a Palestinian state, and they are increasingly getting their way, with plans for hundreds of new units in East Jerusalem recently announced and talk of a major new settlement building effort in the West Bank to follow.
Why Kerry would make such a speech now, at this particular time, is not clear. If he and Obama think one speech is going to make people forget about eight years of duplicity and of acting in Israel’s interest, rather than America’s, they are probably mistaken.
In a video-taped response, Netanyahu derided the speech as being “as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed at the UN last week,” and asserted that it “encourages boycotts and sanctions against Israel” while also reflecting “a radical shift in US policy towards the Palestinians on final status issues.”
He also accused the Palestinian Authority of “inculcating a culture of hatred towards Israel in an entire generation of young Palestinians,” though of course it isn’t Palestinians holding up signs saying “Kill them all” at protest rallies organized in support of cold-blooded murderers. That would be our trusted allies, the Israelis.
Finally, Netanyahu closed out his tirade with a petulant rant about Israel’s “right to exist,” asking rhetorically, “How can you make peace with someone who rejects your very existence?”, and then claiming:
See, this conflict is not about houses, or communities in the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, the Gaza district or anywhere else. This conflict is and has always been about Israel’s very right to exist. That’s why my hundreds of calls to sit with President Abbas for peace talks have gone unanswered. That’s why my invitation to him to come to the Knesset was never answered. That’s why the Palestinian government continues to pay anyone who murders Israelis a monthly salary.
The persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state remains the core of the conflict and its removal is the key to peace.
But of course it is Israel which has never once recognized Palestine’s right to exist–not the other way around. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat formally recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1988, and a peace proposal endorsed by the entire Arab League and based upon the 1967 boundaries has been on the table since 2002.
It is not the Palestinians who have rejected peace; it is Israel.
And so the year draws to a close. What a long one it’s been, or at least it seems that way. Perhaps the words of Shelley are apropos:
Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years,
Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe
Are brackish with the salt of human tears!
Each year comes, dances its little jig on the stage of life, and then departs. But I have a feeling about 2016. Something tells me, given its unfathomable sea of madness, that its reverberations and echoes are going to ricochet into the years ahead.