Adonis Diaries

Archive for February 2016

Seed bank aims to protect world’s agricultural inheritance from Syria war

Lebanon project aims to recreate Aleppo collection of 150,000 seeds representing knowledge of generations of farmers in Middle East

in Baalbek. February 24, 2016

The wild wheat seed had travelled from Aleppo to the Arctic circle in northern Norway. It has now come almost full circle to Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, where an effort is under way to save the world’s agricultural inheritance from the ravages of the Syrian civil war.

Mariana Yazbek, who runs the gene bank at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda), held up the specimen. “Think how much potential is in this seed,” she said. “Humanity is in our hands.”

The return journey from the Arctic to the Middle East was not one the seed had been expected to make.

The Svalbard global seed vault, buried in a Norwegian mountain, contains hundreds of thousands of native seeds from around the world, preserved in the event of a doomsday scenario to help humanity rise from the ashes and help feed a broken world.

The war in Syria, beginning in 2011, changed the calculus.

Icarda’s Aleppo facility, which held a collection of 150,000 seeds representing the knowledge of generations of farmers in the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture began, is now all but inaccessible to the organisation’s staff so out in Lebanon’s agricultural hinterland a grand project is slowly coming to life to recreate it using samples from the Svalbard vault.

Go back 10,000 years, all the farmers that worked in this region and on those crops, there are varieties you cannot find anymore in the field,” said Yazbek. “The only place where you can find them is in the seed bank.” The specimens sent from Svalbard were the first ever withdrawals from the bank.

The young men and women at the Icarda building in the town of  Torbol, Lebanon, methodically go about their business in silence, separating the hay from the seeds, counting and recounting them, treating the fragile little plants for disease with a pink dye meant to ward off fungi.

Their sternness matches the gravity of the task at hand. “What we are losing is the history of these thousands of years represented in crops, and you’re losing your safety net for the future,” said Yazbek.

The aim is to recreate the whole collection that existed in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital before it was devastated by war, in seed banks in Lebanon and Morocco using the samples from the doomsday vault and other replicas that had been sent to seed banks around the world.

About 85% of the Aleppo collection had been replicated in Svalbard, a process that accelerated when the war began and inevitably reached Aleppo in mid-2012. A third of those samples have now been sent to Lebanon and Morocco.

Many of the wild varieties no longer exist, and those seeds that have been saved represent decades and centuries of genetic selection by local farmers that contributed to humanity’s collective knowledge of agriculture.

Maintaining them is crucial in order to preserve the broad genetic base and diversity of plant life in the region – biodiversity is already under threat as a result of droughts and climate change, over-exploitation and urbanisation that has eliminated the natural cover for much of the region’s plant life.

Icarda, which holds seeds from the Middle East and other dry regions of the world, conducts research to improve the livelihoods of local rural communities, providing technology that local farmers use, improving and breeding plant varieties to make them resistant to harsh climate, and working on land and water management and animal health.

Biodiversity – maintained by the seed banks – offers a form of insurance policy, as it allows local farmers to grow plants and produce that is resistant to extreme weather conditions and disease, proving resilient to diseases that may severely impact mass-produced crops that have high yield but are genetically nearly identical.

A short drive away, in a centre owned by the American University of Beirut, are two cold rooms, one at -20C and another at 4C.

In them are black boxes labelled “Syria” that came directly from the Syrian government, as well as other black boxes containing thousands of silver packets filled with seeds, meticulously labelled, that made the journey from Svalbard.

“It is wonderful to see the vault is already proving its worth and that we have been able to help our friends in the Middle East to continue their vital work,” Árni Bragason, director of the NordGen government agency, which helps to manage the Svalbard seed vault, said. “This is proof that the global system is working.”

Recreating the Aleppo seed bank is a major undertaking.

First they will be planted and allowed to germinate, then they will be replicated, and

second, new copies will be sent back to the doomsday vault for safekeeping. It is a task that keeps Yazbek and her team up at night.

“It’s a burden, the responsibility is immeasurable,” she said. “We have to make sure we give them everything, to make sure they germinate and multiply.”

“We are the keepers of this history and knowledge,” she said.

Can Municipalities Take on the Refugee Crisis?  
Five years into the Syrian crisis during which more than 1.5 million refugees have flowed into Lebanon, two things are apparent:
One, the Lebanese central government has been largely inept at dealing with the refugee crisis, as its policies have ranged from denial and indifference in the early phases of the crisis to forming a ministerial committee that has yet to develop a strategy to confront the problem head-on.

And beside closing the borders and imposing legal restrictions on Syrian refugees, the government’s ineptness is largely due to bickering among political parties that has led, like other issues facing the country, to paralysis.

Two, in the meantime and as a consequence of the first issue, refugees became de facto a local problem, leaving many municipalities with the tremendous challenge of not only governing for local Lebanese residents but also refugees.

Sami Atallah, LCPS executive director. February 2016 

Some government officials have welcomed the larger role of municipalities in the crisis, saying that municipalities are now “tools of development”.

As much as this ought to be the case, the question is: Are municipalities able to handle the refugee crisis, especially in areas where their number considerably exceeds those of Lebanese?

More precisely, do they have the administrative capacities and fiscal resources to address these challenges?

Municipalities’ ability to handle the refugee crisis is largely constrained by two factors:

1. Weak administrative bodies that are unable to provide adequate services  and

2. low municipal revenues.
These two constraints feed into each other, with weak administrations constraining local revenue collection and poor financial resources hindering the establishment of sound administrative bodies.

Before dwelling on these problems, it is essential to highlight that municipalities suffer from a structural problem, in that there are too many small municipalities with a weak tax base to be able to perform their responsibilities as stated by law and be fiscally independent, which are two key elements of decentralization.

Lebanon has more than 1,200 municipalities, which is 25 times more than Cyprus (which has forty municipalities), a country with nearly the same surface area as Lebanon, and more than twice the number of municipalities as Croatia, which is five times larger than Lebanon.

Moreover, 70% of these municipalities have a registered population of less than 4,000 people.

Effectively, these municipalities have almost no tax base to be able to generate their own revenues.

After all, 90% of the revenues for such small municipalities come from the Independent Municipal Fund (IMF). With such a low revenue stream, these municipalities are not capable of building administrations and hiring the personnel needed to perform their duties, if they wished to.

Looking more closely at existing municipal administrations, one can deduce that many municipalities cannot provide developmental services either because they have weak administrations or suffer from a bloated bureaucracy.

Those with weak administrations have a small number of full-time employees, averaging four.

Many municipalities suffer from vacancies: 400 municipalities have only one employee and 87% of municipalities have up to six employees.

Only 13% of municipalities—which is around 130—have more than six employees, a number considered standard for carrying out the duties of a municipal administration. Also, only half of the municipalities have bothered to generate a reliable cadre of employees

Based on a relatively new survey, 70% of municipalities are in need of new employees.

In brief, municipalities have too weak an administrative structure to be able to handle the excessive number of refugees that are on municipal door steps, let alone deal with their own constituencies.

Furthermore, many municipalities rely on part-time workers rather than full-time ones, which exacerbates the pressure on the administrative and institutional capabilities of municipalities. The share of temporary workers to the total number of employees is about 50% compared to 28% of full-time employees.

While many municipalities are unable to provide services due to weak administrations, others face the same fate for a different reason:

They suffer from having an excessive number of employees, who end up consuming a large portion of their budget, hence hampering their ability to undertake development.

This is the case in the municipalities of Sour, Bourj Hammoud, and Dekwaneh, whose total number of employees—both full-time and temporary—exceed one hundred, far above the national average.

The average share of administrative to total expenses of these municipalities is about 60% compared to 20% in the other under-staffed municipalities.

Having a weak administration is a function of low revenues, which in Lebanon hovers around 6% of central government revenues, a low number compared to the average of more than 25% in other countries.

To boost municipal revenues, most of the talk concerning revenue rests on the IMF and whether the government has distributed money from it or not.

However, the focus should be elsewhere.

For one, even though the focus on the distribution of the IMF is important, one must also highlight the size of the fund i.e. how much money has gone into the fund in the first place, which remains a state secret.

Also, there is a need to discuss the distribution criteria of the IMF, which is currently based on the registered population and revenues collected in the last two years. The current criteria favor municipalities with a large registered population and correspondingly larger revenues collected directly.

Since the latter is highly dependent on real estate—rental value fees on residential and commercial units—this means that the criteria favor urban rather than rural areas.

Boosting local revenues should also be a local affair.

That is, municipalities must exert effort to directly collect their own fees.

As stated earlier, municipalities rely on thirty-six direct fees, of which three form 85% of total collected revenues.

The weak direct revenue collection faces its own sets of challenges that include valuation of real estate, collection of the fees, and managing accounts.

For instance, most municipalities are unable to revalue properties—both residential and commercial—to revise rental value fees, which is an important source of revenue. Municipalities should have the ability to count the number of both residential and commercial units, develop valuation criteria, and revise the values of properties every three to five years.

None of this is happening in most, if not all, municipalities in Lebanon.

The problem is not limited to revenue but also budget preparation and execution, as municipalities are unable to separate the different functions of administrative and executive jobs to ensure there is not an obvious conflict of interest.

For municipalities to play a developmental role, there is a need to undertake major reform on various levels. Municipalities must be able to raise enough revenue to build a capable and efficient administrative body.

But they need an administrative body to be able to raise revenue. Hence, there is a need to enlist the help of the central government, where it can lead to serious reforms that can improve municipal revenues through timely and better distribution of the IMF, as well as remove constraints in hiring municipal staff.  If the central government has finally seen the light and considers municipalities to be tools for development, it ought to take the next step and empower them so they can effectively shoulder the burden of development.

Enough of aid – let’s talk reparations

Should the poor colonized States wait another 100 years to earn $1.25 per day?

Colonialism is one of those things you’re not supposed to discuss in polite company – at least not north of the Mediterranean. Most people feel uncomfortable about it, and would rather pretend it didn’t happen.

Debate around reparations is threatening because it upends the usual narrative of development

Habib Battah shared this link and commented on it

Who built Europe?

“In the mainstream narrative of international development peddled by institutions from the World Bank to the UK’s Department of International Development, the history of colonialism is routinely erased.

According to the official story, developing countries are poor because of their own internal problems, while western countries are rich because they worked hard, and upheld the right values and policies…

The impact of colonialism cannot be ignored
theguardian.com|By Jason Hickel

And because the west happens to be further ahead, its countries generously reach out across the chasm to give “aid” to the rest – just a little something to help them along.

If colonialism is ever acknowledged, it’s to say that it was not a crime, but rather a benefit to the colonised – a leg up the development ladder

But the historical record tells a very different story, and that opens up difficult questions about another topic that Europeans prefer to avoid: reparations.

No matter how much they try, however, this topic resurfaces over and over again. Recently, after a debate at the Oxford Union, Indian MP Shashi Tharoor’s powerful case for reparations went viral, attracting more than 3 million views on YouTube.

Clearly the issue is hitting a nerve.

The reparations debate is threatening because it completely upends the usual narrative of development. It suggests that poverty in the global south is not a natural phenomenon, but has been actively created.

And it casts western countries in the role not of benefactors, but of plunderers.

When it comes to the colonial legacy, some of the facts are almost too shocking to comprehend.

When Europeans arrived in what is now Latin America in 1492, the region may have been inhabited by between 50 million and 100 million indigenous people.

By the mid 1600s, their population was slashed to about 3.5 million.

The vast majority succumbed to foreign disease and many were slaughtered, died of slavery or starved to death after being kicked off their land. It was like the holocaust seven times over.

What were the Europeans after? Silver was a big part of it.

Between 1503 and 1660, 16m kilograms of silver were shipped to Europe, amounting to three times the total European reserves of the metal.

By the early 1800s, a total of 100m kg of silver had been drained from the veins of Latin America and pumped into the European economy, providing much of the capital for the industrial revolution.

To get a sense for the scale of this wealth, consider this thought experiment: if 100m kg of silver was invested in 1800 at 5% interest – the historical average – it would amount to £110trn ($165trn) today. An unimaginable sum.

Europeans slaked their need for labour in the colonies – in the mines and on the plantations – not only by enslaving indigenous Americans but also by shipping slaves across the Atlantic from Africa.

Up to 15 million of them. In the North American colonies alone, Europeans extracted an estimated 222,505,049 hours of forced labour from African slaves between 1619 and 1865. Valued at the US minimum wage, with a modest rate of interest, that’s worth $97trn – more than the entire global GDP.

Right now, 14 Caribbean nations are in the process of suing Britain for slavery reparations.

They point out that when Britain abolished slavery in 1834 it compensated not the slaves but rather the owners of slaves, to the tune of £20m, the equivalent of £200bn today.

Perhaps they will demand reparations equivalent to this figure, but it is conservative: it reflects only the price of the slaves, and tells us nothing of the total value they produced during their lifetimes, nor of the trauma they endured, nor of the hundreds of thousands of slaves who worked and died during the centuries before 1834.

These numbers tell only a small part of the story, but they do help us imagine the scale of the value that flowed from the Americas and Africa into European coffers after 1492.

Then there is India.

When the British seized control of India, they completely reorganised the agricultural system, destroying traditional subsistence practices to make way for cash crops for export to Europe.

As a result of British interventions, up to 29 million Indians died of famine during the last few decades of the 19th century in what historian Mike Davis calls the “late Victorian holocaust”.

Laid head to foot, their corpses would stretch the length of England 85 times over. And this happened while India was exporting an unprecedented amount of food, up to 10m tonnes per year.

British colonisers also set out to transform India into a captive market for British goods.

To do that, they had to destroy India’s impressive indigenous industries. Before the British arrived, India commanded 27% of the world economy, according to economist Angus Maddison.

By the time they left, India’s share had been cut to just 3%.

The same thing happened to China.

After the Opium Wars, when Britain invaded China and forced open its borders to British goods on unequal terms, China’s share of the world economy dwindled from 35% to an all-time low of 7%.

Meanwhile, Europeans increased their share of global GDP from 20% to 60% during the colonial period. Europe didn’t develop the colonies. The colonies developed Europe.

And we haven’t even begun to touch the scramble for Africa.

In the Congo, to cite just one brief example, as historian Adam Hochschild recounts in his haunting book King Leopold’s Ghost, Belgium’s lust for ivory and rubber killed some 10 million Congolese – roughly half the country’s population.

The wealth gleaned from that plunder was siphoned back to Belgium to fund beautiful stately architecture and impressive public works, including arches and parks and railway stations – all the markers of development that adorn Brussels today, the bejewelled headquarters of the European Union.

We could go on. It is tempting to see this as just a list of crimes, but it is much more than that. These snippets hint at the contours of a world economic system that was designed over hundreds of years to enrich a small portion of humanity at the expense of the vast majority.

This history makes the narrative of international development seem a bit absurd, and even outright false.

Frankie Boyle got it right: “Even our charity is essentially patronising. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself. Alternatively, don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your gap year talking a lot of shite about fish.”

We can’t put a price on the suffering wrought by colonialism.

And there is not enough money in the world to compensate for the damage it inflicted. We can, however, stop talking about charity, and instead acknowledge the debt that the west owes to the rest of the world.

Even more importantly, we can work to quash the colonial instinct whenever it rears its ugly head, as it is doing right now in the form of land grabs, illicit financial extraction, and unfair trade deals.

Shashi Tharoor argued for a reparations payment of only £1 – a token acknowledgement of historical fact. That might not do much to assuage the continued suffering of those whose countries have been ravaged by the colonial encounter. But at least it would set the story straight, and put us on a path towards rebalancing the global economy.

Hollywood’s stars invited in Israel’s prisons

By Fadi Quran – Avaaz

 

More than 500 Palestinian children are imprisoned by Israel right now on administrative charges and many of them endure terrible abuse like beatings and harassment.

Most people around the world don’t know anything about their plight. But we have a rare opportunity to tell the world about Palestine’s imprisoned stars — its children. 

The Israeli government is offering a $55,000 trip to Israel for Oscar winners, trying to use celebrities’ fame to whitewash its image in the eyes of the world.

But if thousands of us invite the stars to visit Palestine as well to learn about our child prisoners, then we can make this the story and create a media storm in Hollywood.

The global media asking film stars if they’ll accept our invitation to meet child prisoners and their families could be the tipping point that forces Israel to release our children.

We have no time to lose — the Oscars are this weekend. Add your name to the invitation now, then send widely, to make this massive today.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/oscars_mena_1/?bFAfecb&v=73335&cl=9570049372

Israel wants to use the endorsement of some of the world’s biggest celebrities to restore their international clout.

They want to hide the ugly face of the occupation behind photos of Hollywood stars on Tel Aviv beaches.

The stars will be given an all expenses paid journey so that they can paint a rosy picture of Israel — and Palestinians will be hidden from sight. 

It may seem petty or inconsequential to care about what a Hollywood star thinks, but they have a massive following in the media all over the world.

And if we frame our invitation as a way to balance what they see on their trip, it will be hard to turn down. And the stars — and the journalists with them — can help spread understanding of the everyday reality of the occupation.

This propaganda trip could become a win for the struggle for freedom and dignity in Palestine. We can show the world what happens to Palestine’s future stars, the children, who have their dreams shattered by Israel’s imprisonment policies.

It’s impossible to see a child in prison and think they deserve their long sentence, or meet their family and remain indifferent. This is how we’ll turn this story in our favour.

A free Palestine is within sight, but like the fight against Apartheid in South Africa, it will take international pressure to win. Millions of Avaaz members have taken action on Palestine over the years, now let’s make sure some of the biggest celebrities in the world hear our point of view.

Fadi, Alex, Emily, Falastine, Patri and the whole Avaaz team

Note: Over 60% of Palestinian youth went through the revolving doors of the Israeli prison system using administrative British mandated laws.

SOURCES

Oscars gift bag worth $200,000 contains sex toy, breast lift and trip to Israel (The Independent)
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/oscars-2016-gift-bag-worth-200000-sex-toy-breast-lift-trip-to-israel-japan-a6860481.html

Palestinians call on Oscar nominees to reject Israel propaganda trip (Mondoweiss)
http://mondoweiss.net/2016/02/palestinians-call-on-oscar-nominees-to-reject-israel-propaganda-trip/

Israel offers ‘swag bag’ to Oscar nominees (Al Jazeera)
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/02/israel-offers-swag-bag-oscar-nominees-160214111947…

 

To contact Avaaz, please do not reply to this email. Instead, write to us at www.avaaz.org/en/contact or call us at +1-888-922-8229 (US).

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Palestinians and the anxiety of existence

How do we communicate with people who have deep emotional attachment to the idea of Israel?

Some folks asked for a copy of my comments at SOAS and Oxford for Israeli Apartheid Week, so I decided to publish the talk. For better or worse, here it is:
Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita is the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut.  His latest book is Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.  Other posts by

Read a thought-provoking essay by Steven Salaita that looks at the question: how do we communicate with people who have deeply emotional attachment to the idea of Israel? He answers in part, &#8220…
mondoweiss.net

This evening I’m going to talk about the challenges of talking about Zionism.

 I begin with a question I often hear in some variation when people discuss Jews and Palestinians: how do we communicate with folks who have deeply emotional responses to criticism of Israel?

The question is difficult because to even attempt an answer is to validate lethargic impulses.  (Note: neither the questioner nor the question is necessarily lethargic; rather, lethargy necessarily exists in any impulse for simple answers to ambiguous questions.)

Here’s how it works: in conversations about Palestine, somebody weaned on the mythologies of Israel as a site of cultural redemption struggles to accept or assimilate the rendition of Israel as a mere nation-state (an apartheid state) engaged in the violations of international law that attend any colonial or imperial power.  This reluctance assumes multiple forms:

“But Israel…”

“What about the…?”

“My entire life I was taught…”

“How can we…?”

These preambles lead to the same predicates: the struggle with an existential crisis of both form and content.  The questioner is yet unable to match the idea of Jewish salvation with the reality of Israel.

The reality of Israel disrupts the succor of modernity, putting the vileness of colonization into deep conflict with the comfort of redemption.

The discomfort thus produced is valuable.  Myth and matter need to conflict if perplexed inheritors of Zionism are to be redeemed of its violence.

The questioner intervenes not to make sense of the world but to be assured that the world can still make sense.  Israel’s inherent goodness and indispensability are critical to his political cosmology.

To question these narratives is to unsettle a range of commonplaces.  The questioner’s intensity pivots on a vital subtext: can I exist in this world?

This kind of conversation occurs in personal and public settings. I’ve spent lots of time assuring mortified interlocutors that I have no interest in expunging them from the earth, that in fact I’m rather partial to the idea of sharing a nation with them.

They don’t generally find it convincing.  The reticence is perfectly sensible. They can take a political enemy at his word or fall back on years of indoctrination assuring them that, given half the chance, Arabs will toss Jews into the sea and ululate while they drown.

Sometimes the inquiries are tenderly rendered, at other times hostile. They exhibit different gradations of empathy and comprehension, but they ultimately demand the same outcome: an assurance that the Jewish people will survive. (What survival of the Jews has to do with a colonial Israel?)

Survival in this instance is indivisible from Israel’s billion-dollar war machinery.

But it’s not the native’s duty to assure the settler’s comfort. It’s a rather ambitious demand, anyway. I vigorously support Jewish survival and success, but I don’t have the power to implement my political desires.

Like anybody else, I can only attempt to enact conditions that might make the world more hospitable for all its inhabitants. It requires huge groups of people working together to effect that desire across or within societies. Shocking Zionists out of their ethnonationalist stupor is one way to help.

Doing so isn’t simply a matter of readjusting the colonizer’s attitude. There’s also the pressing need to assure the survival of the Palestinians, who, as we’re so often compelled to forget, suffer the pain of colonization, sustain genocidal threats by mainstream Israeli politicians, remain starved and entrapped in the Gaza Strip, and exist as hobgoblins in Israel’s peculiar insecurities.

To make Palestinians human, composed of brain, epidermis, muscle, and bone, and given to silliness, compassion, beauty, contradiction, brilliance, ambivalence, strength, and insecurity, is to simultaneously undermine the most basic aspiration of the Zionist project, the creation of a state defined by its monopoly of an ethno-religious identity accessible through accidents of biology.

It is critical to remember amid the hand-wringing about Arabs destroying Israel and displacing its inhabitants that Israel has already destroyed Palestine and displaced the Arabs.

Israel’s existential fears project its actual history. The antidote is not yet another displacement, but neither can we move past the sorrow of the dispossessed. Such propositions are always more pragmatic from the point of view of the settler.

The settler’s pragmatism has a nagging ability to make the native disappear.

And though I can be patient with sincere inquests about the preservation of Jewish peoplehood, even if the point is actually to preserve Zionism, I am less sanguine about many of the tactics that focalize Jews and Israelis to the detriment of others invested in Palestine—especially those who have right to call themselves Indigenous.

Various discourses in defense of Israel—almost uniformly defending the idea of Israel—purport to complicate convention but produce a severely conventional outcome: the reduction of Israel-Palestine to a fundamental question of Jewishness.

Consider the primary forms of remonstration anybody speaking in support of Palestine encounters: accusations of anti-Semitism; demands to aver Israel’s right to exist or to disavow Israel’s destruction; the association of Palestinians with Hitler; prognostications of a second Holocaust; fear of binationalism (that is, actual democracy); disgust at an atavistic Arab and Muslim desire to harm Jews.

While these approaches seem concerned with Israel’s survival, they actually serve to expedite Palestine’s disappearance.

The very notion of an Israel that survives the pressure of decolonization reinforces the disintegration of Palestine, both as a geography and a site of emotional or intellectual engagement. While Zionists fret about Israel’s right to exist, Palestinians endure the violence of nonexistence.

It isn’t just a lack of land that circumscribes the Palestinian’s existence.

Identifying with Palestine can produce a constant state of concealment, a clandestine passage into the deterritorialized presence of a dangerous identity.

Where, then, do Palestinians exist?

In worldly geographies. In disreputable alliance with other wretched denizens of premodernity. In visions of return and restitution. In the sustenance of olives and legumes. In village ruins dotting the Holy Land. In spaces the colonizer can never enter.

In the end, though, and against great odds, we merely exist.

As a result, we haunt the imagination of our oppressor. We have made good use of our existence, for we can be found wherever racism, colonization, and plutocracy are challenged. We must, anyway, always attempt to find these places.

In turn, we win no major awards unless we facilitate our own dispossession.

We are absent from the ranks of regular commenters for corporate publications. Our politics must die for our livelihoods to survive. We constantly regroup after experiences of persnickety exclusion. Returning home is a painful adventure.

Many of us aren’t allowed to try, disapproved of even having the opportunity to be harassed by teenage occupation soldiers.

Yet a simple fact remains. Israel occupies a limited geography, but Palestine exists everywhere. Palestine’s existence as a universal aspiration to freedom inspires a great deal of Zionist disquiet.

Colonial projects simultaneously generate overconfidence and insecurity. The perturbed Zionist needs reassurance that he will survive because the Palestinian has retained claim to Palestine, the Zionist’s salvation. The greatest mistake of Zionism was its belief that it could produce a society unaffected by the one it endeavored to replace.

Israel has the advantage of international recognition, a military, trade agreements, nuclear weapons, diplomatic relations, and UN membership, which provide geopolitical legitimacy.

But it will always be burdened by its failure to expunge Palestinians from history.  That burden will ultimately overwhelm it. I suspect that Zionists afflicted by existential anxiety know this and in turn project onto Palestinians the failure of Zionism to fulfill its grandiose promises.

A hard truth exists, however, and we needn’t be shy to speak it: the existential frailty of those weaned on Zionism isn’t a valid reason to stop condemning Israel. It’s a nation-state, not an abstraction.

Consider: since the start of the second intifada in 2000, Israel has killed 1,977 children.

Nearly 500 of those children were eight or younger. Over 200 children currently suffer Israeli military administrative detention. At certain points in the past ten years, the number has exceeded 300. From April 2004 to February 2013, twenty Palestinian children were forced into service as human shields. Various human rights groups documented the practice during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip.

(More than 60% of Palestinian youth entered the revolving doors of prisons with no charges)

Since the end of Protective Edge, though the assault can’t in any meaningful way be said to have ended, Israel has killed over 600 Palestinians, 110 of them children.

I don’t share these numbers for shock value. They illustrate that while we’re often forced to consider Zionism in the abstract, its victims experience it as a physical reality. That Israel directs so much of its violence at children illuminates the longstanding impulse to halt Palestinian life at its inception.

Israel recently announced the seizure of 370 acres in the Jordan Valley. When the Israeli government seizes land, it justifies the theft on ideological grounds, but treats the land as a commodity.

New land means more water, more construction contracts, more weapons purchases, and more electoral posturing. It enhances the colonizer’s agriculture and industry. Palestinian land is the basis of Israel’s occupation economy.

Their land pilfered by rapacious settlers, their farms sealed by steel and concrete, their villages constricted by colonial jurisprudence, their humanity reduced to color-coded identities, I again ask: where do Palestinians exist?

Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Where can Palestinians exist?”

We have survived all climates and topographies, but no people is whole deprived of its ancestral land.

The Zionist’s existential anxieties linger precisely because he occupies a land whose history has been retrofitted to inform a self-validating impulse that can never actually validate his tenuous colonial existence, and that certainly can never convince the native to offer such validation, on which the colonizer’s self-esteem relies.

The Palestinian has no such problem. The Palestinians’ problem is simple: their land has been stolen. Resolving this problem doesn’t require the colonizer’s validation.

All of this can be understood through quick analysis of stones.

Yes, stones—chunks of demolished hillside, construction detritus, pieces of granite smoothed over by millennia of wind and water. That analysis can be metaphorical, but even their geological qualities tell us all we need to know about the colonizer’s psychology.

In September 2015, at the behest of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel increased the severity of penalties for Palestinian stone-throwers. (Israeli settlers, on the other hand, can throw firebombs into children’s bedrooms without much hassle.)

As is common in Israeli jurisprudence, stone-throwing is a crime that inspires collective punishment. This zealousness leads to all kinds of human rights violations, many committed against children—and many affecting people who weren’t tossing stones in the first place.

Israel’s supporters say that stone-throwing can lead to death and is therefore worthy of serious punishment. But are stones dangerous? In the most technical and unimaginative sense, probably. However, if we’re going to reduce a project of ethnic cleansing, illegal settlement, and military occupation to the minuscule chance that a soldier or a settler will be harmed by an act of resistance by the native, then we forfeit all right to be taken seriously.

I don’t want to bog down in the stupidity of comparing the actions of the colonizer and the colonized. That a category of colonizer even exists should end that discussion the moment it begins. Israel’s mere presence is a continuous act of violence.

It’s better to look at the symbolic conditions informing the Zionist’s anxiety about stones.

Do Palestinians throw stones as a weapon of warfare? Maybe. Sometimes. They’re more often a weapon of imagination, emblems of a dogged refusal to submit or disappear. No matter the intent when a Palestinian throws a stone, the Israeli perceives it as an act of rejection. It is an accurate perception. This act of rejection, not any perceived danger, provokes the Zionist’s disdain.

Think about the moment in 2000 when Edward Said tossed a stone from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. The stone didn’t come close to hitting anything—the nearest object was an Israeli military watchtower—and the episode would have passed without interest had a photographer not furtively captured it. The photographer was smart. His picture became a sensation, launching a hysterical news cycle about Said’s genocidal tendencies and renewing demands for his termination as a professor at Columbia University.

But what about the military watchtower? It’s the normative object in the scene. It wasn’t threatened by Said’s stone, but it threatens thousands of people. It’s the apotheosis of colonization and militarism. It houses soldiers whose bullets travel at a much greater speed than Said’s manual projectile.

Said was well aware of the ridiculousness of the outrage, its sanctimony and disingenuousness. He noted that he had joined in “the spirit of the place that infected everyone with the same impulse, to make a symbolic gesture of joy that the occupation [of southern Lebanon] had ended.”

The only inalienable possession of the native is the moral burden of violence. The colonizer owns everything else. Thus the military watchtower is an afterthought—or not even a thought at all beyond its existence as a backdrop to Said’s unconscionable action.

Or consider the mural hanging in the student center at York University in Toronto. It depicts a bulldozer about to plow an olive tree, while a Palestinian watches with stones cupped behind his back.

Paul Bronfman, of the famous Canadian bootlegging family, threatened to withdraw his support of the university unless the mural was taken down. York refused to remove it. Bronfman made good on his threat.

It’s worth noting that Bronfman’s support went beyond monetary donations; he runs a film production company—there’s a large movie industry in Toronto—and declared that he would no longer allow York students use of his studios or equipment, nor would he continue an internship program with the university.

Bronfman is aware that nobody suffers from this controversy more than students.

He was unmoved, though, blaming his choice to pull funding on York’s faculty and president. They all, he declared, share guilt for the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Zionist reaction to the painting is notable not because of politics—of course Zionists dislike the message of the piece—but because it shows that ethnonationalism negatively affects acumen.

The colonial gaze is incapable of identifying power anywhere but in the stone, the object that threatens Israel’s covetousness, as represented by the bulldozer. The entire painting is reducible to a miniscule earthly extraction that supersedes all other scenery.

It’s the stone. It has to be the stone.

There’s no other way to understand the image if the viewer is beholden to a colonial fetish. The bulldozer is a mere accoutrement to a serene landscape interrupted by the Palestinian’s irrational violence. The Zionist must ignore it. His ignorance is active and vigorous.

It is always this way in geographies of settler colonization. The monuments of settlement, even those erected for the purpose of inflicting harm, disappear into a backdrop of structural normativity. The native’s movements, in contrast, assume a super-political immediacy.

Thus the overemphasis on stones in the Zionist’s paranoid cosmology.

The stones assume a primordial importance, but never the bombs and bulldozers that transform structures into rubble. The stones symbolize conflict, but never the land from which stones are excavated.  The act of stone-throwing, no matter its intent, always signifies an unearthing of history that the colonizer is deeply invested in suppressing.

In fact, there is little by way of Zionist activism, a corporate affair more accurately described as astroturfing, that isn’t fundamentally an articulation of existential anxiety.

Zionists have spent decades shutting down anything to do with Palestine. It’s not just overtly political events, speeches and activism and rallies and the like. It’s anything that endeavors to show Palestinians as a discrete people with history, culture, emotions, and aspirations, anything, in other words, that merely renders the Palestinians human—art exhibitions, children’s debke, film and literary festivals, music performances.

The preferred vocabulary of suppression has long been “balance.”

The idea is that a so-called “pro-Palestinian” speaker or exhibit must be countered—or, more accurately, moderated—by a so-called “pro-Israel” speaker or exhibit.

(These categories are misleading.  “Pro-justice” and “pro-ethnocracy” would be more accurate even though they make little sense without an understanding of their context.)

But there’s nothing balanced about this structure. The Zionist supposedly devoted to fairness doesn’t seek balance; he seeks oversight.

Balance is a silly overture that precludes intellectual honesty. No serious thinker ever proposes balance, and no thinking person seriously entertains the proposition. Let’s therefore explore what it means in relation to Zionism’s tenuous disposition.

Palestinian celebration of life inspires the dissolution of Israel’s ethnocratic aspirations. Balance is vital because suppression provides Israel its sustenance. Balance, in other words, forestalls the realization of an afterlife to Zionism.

Suppressing anything Palestine can be seen as an attempt to preserve a political identity.

If we understand BDS, for instance, as an articulation of Palestinian aspirations to dignity and freedom, then its delimitation through the force of state power—courts, coercion, criminalization, and so forth—makes sense as an impulse to ensure Zionism’s continued survival.

The survival of the ideology, in turn, enables the perpetuation of its proponents.

Yes, Zionists try to shut down BDS because it threatens change and exposes Israel’s dismal human rights record. But they also detest BDS because it endangers their predominance as cultural and political consumers in a marketplace they have long dominated.

Palestinians have so long been limited to peripheries of hostility or exoticism in Zionist symbology that their emergence as agents in the public forum has enacted a type of self-reflection incompatible with the demands of ethnonationalism.

So let us return to the original question: what to do when somebody expresses a visceral attachment to the idea of Israel. There is no universal response, but we can deploy a basic strategy: allow the Zionist’s internal conflict to exist.

In fact, exacerbate it. That internal conflict isn’t an imperfection to be ameliorated, but a failure of imagination to be overcome. It’s not a matter of assigning blame to a person raised on an ethnonational narrative. Anybody committed to justice has to unlearn reactionary narratives, whether instilled by parents, teachers, peers, clergy, executives, politicians, directors, writers, or broadcasters, or all of them in tandem.

When somebody expresses anxiety about Zionism’s probity, especially in a public setting, it is an indication that the person is thinking about something, considering new ways of approaching an issue, willing to risk acrimony in order to come to an answer. We ought to facilitate that process by rendering the attendant discomfort even more acute.

In the end, there is a truth of which anybody interested in the travails of the Holy Land ought to be aware: Palestine will continue to push inward from the colonial peripheries whose architecture weakens with each new war crime, act of repression, genocidal proclamation, uprooted olive tree, land grab, settlement bloc, home demolition, and mass imprisonment.

It is better to restructure the destruction of Palestine together, but its liberation ultimately doesn’t require anybody’s consent but that of the people seeking freedom.

How Finland broke every rule — and created a top school system

It’s not just a “Nordic thing”

Jussi Hieveta’s fourth-grade class at the University of Eastern Finland’s Normaalikoulu teacher training school in Joensuu, Finland.

Spend five minutes in Jussi Hietava’s fourth-grade math class in remote, rural Finland, and you may learn all you need to know about education reform – if you want results, try doing the opposite of what American “education reformers” think we should do in classrooms.

Instead of control, competition, stress, standardized testing, screen-based schools and loosened teacher qualifications, try warmth, collaboration, and highly professionalized, teacher-led encouragement and assessment.

At the University of Eastern Finland’s Normaalikoulu teacher training school in Joensuu, Finland, you can see Hietava’s students enjoying the cutting-edge concept of “personalized learning.”

Related: What high-performing countries have to teach us about teacher training

But this is not a tale of classroom computers. While the school has the latest technology, there isn’t a tablet or smartphone in sight, just a smart board and a teacher’s desktop.

Screens can only deliver simulations of personalized learning, this is the real thing, pushed to the absolute limit.

This is the story of the quiet, daily, flesh-and-blood miracles that are achieved by Hietava and teachers the world over, in countless face-to-face and over-the-shoulder interactions with schoolchildren.

Related: Ranking countries by worst students

Often, Hietava does two things simultaneously: both mentoring young student teachers and teaching his fourth grade class.

Hieteva sets the classroom atmosphere.

Children are allowed to slouch, wiggle and giggle from time to time if they want to, since that’s what children are biologically engineered to do, in Finland, America, Asia and everywhere else.

This is a flagship in the “ultimate charter school network” – Finland’s public schools.

Here, as in any other Finnish school, teachers are not strait-jacketed by bureaucrats, scripts or excessive regulations, but have the freedom to innovate and experiment as teams of trusted professionals.

Here, in contrast to the atmosphere in American public schools, Hietava and his colleagues are encouraged to constantly experiment with new approaches to improve learning.

Hietava’s latest innovations are with pilot-testing “self-assessments,” where his students write daily narratives on their learning and progress; and with “peer assessments,” a striking concept where children are carefully guided to offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions to each other.

The 37 year-old Hietava, a school dad and Finnish champion golfer in his spare time, has trained scores of teachers, Unlike in America, where thousands of teacher positions in inner cities are filled by candidates with five or six weeks of summer training, no teacher in Finland is allowed to lead a primary school class without a master’s degree in education, with specialization in research and classroom practice, from one of this small nation’s eleven elite graduate schools of education.

As a boy, Hietava dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, but he grew so tall that he couldn’t safely eject from an aircraft without injuring his legs. So he entered an even more respected profession, teaching, which is the most admired job in Finland next to medical doctors.

I am “embedded” at this university as a Fulbright Scholar and university lecturer, as a classroom observer, and as the father of a second grader who attends this school.

Related: Schools exacerbate the growing achievement gap between rich and poor, a 33-country study finds

How did I wind up here in Europe’s biggest national forest, on the edge of the Western world in Joensuu, Finland, the last, farthest-east sizable town in the EU before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border?

In 2012, while helping civil rights hero James Meredith write his memoir “A Mission From God,” we interviewed a panel of America’s greatest education experts and asked them for their ideas on improving America’s public schools.

One of the experts, the famed Professor Howard Gardner of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, told us, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States. You can read about what Finland has accomplished in Finnish Lessons’ by Pasi Sahlberg.”

Related: While the U.S. struggles, Sweden pushes older students back to college

I read the book and met with Sahlberg, a former Finnish math teacher who is now also at Harvard’s education school as Visiting Professor.

After speaking with him I decided I had to give my own now-eight-year old child a public school experience in what seemed to be the most child-centered, most evidence-based, and most effective primary school system in the world.

Now, after watching Jussi Hietava and other Finnish educators in action for five months, I have come to realize that Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence and equity to its children are the result of a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best.

Related: In Norway, where college is free, children of uneducated parents still don’t go

Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is.

Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the “metrics” that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.

The homework load for children in Finland varies by teacher, but is lighter overall than most other developed countries. This insight is supported by research, which has found little academic benefit in childhood for any more than brief sessions of homework until around high school.

There are some who argue that since Finland has less socio-economic diversity than, for example, the United States, there’s little to learn here. But Finland’s success is not a “Nordic thing,” since Finland significantly out-achieves its “cultural control group” countries like Norway and Sweden on international benchmarks.

And Finland’s size, immigration and income levels are roughly similar to those of a number of American states, where the bulk of education policy is implemented.

There are also those who would argue that this kind of approach wouldn’t work in America’s inner city schools, which instead need “no excuses,” boot-camp drilling-and-discipline, relentless standardized test prep, Stakhanovian workloads and stress-and-fear-based “rigor.”

But what if the opposite is true?

What if many of Finland’s educational practices are not cultural quirks or non-replicable national idiosyncrasies — but are instead bare-minimum global best practices that all our children urgently need, especially those children in high-poverty schools?

Finland has, like any other nation, a unique culture. But it has identified, often by studying historical educational research and practices that originated in the United States, many fundamental childhood education insights that can inspire, and be tested and adapted by, any other nation.

As Pasi Sahlberg has pointed out, “If you come to Finland, you’ll see how great American schools could be.”

Finland’s education system is hardly perfect, and its schools and society are entering a period of huge budget and social pressures. Reading levels among children have dropped off. Some advanced learners feel bored in school.

Finland has launched an expensive, high-risk national push toward universal digitalization and tabletization of childhood education that has little basis in evidence and flies in the face of a recent major OECD study that found very little academic benefit for school children from most classroom technology.

But as a parent or prospective parent, I have spent time in many of the most prestigious private schools in New York City and toured many of the city’s public school classrooms, in the largest public school system in the world. And I am convinced that the primary school education my child is getting in the Normaalikoulu in Joensuu is on a par with, or far surpasses, that available at any other school I’ve seen.

I have a suggestion for every philanthropist, parent, educator and policymaker in the world who wants to improve children’s education.

Start by coming to Finland. Spend some time sitting in the back of Jussi Hietava’s classroom, or any other Finnish classroom.

If you look closely and open your mind, you may see the School of Tomorrow.

William Doyle is a 2015-2016 Fulbright Scholar and New York Times bestselling author from New York City on the faculty of the University of Eastern Finland, and father of an eight year old who attends a Finnish public school.

When creativity becomes a profession…It often stops being creative.

Ad agencies are some of the most conservative organizations you’ll encounter. They’ve been so trained by fearful clients, they censor themselves regularly.

Successful authors are pushed by concerned publishers to become more true to their genres.

And the movie industry… well, it’s an industry first.

This is why so many bestsellers are surprise bestsellers.

In the words of William Goldman, no one knows anything. But, even though they don’t know, the industrial protocol demands that they act like they do.

Shareholders hesitate to give bonuses to CEOs who say, “I don’t know, let’s try it.”

If you want to be creative, truly creative, it might pay to avoid a job with the word ‘creative’ in it.

Lettre ouverte au roi Salmane d’Arabie Saoudite 

By Yousra Bustros

Sire, (la sir wala ballout, bikaffeh ehanet al Loubnani)

Je suis une humble citoyenne Libanaise qui assiste effarée depuis trois jours déjà à la plus grande comédie de tous les temps.

La suspension de votre aide militaire à l’Armée Libanaise a rendu folle une partie de la classe politique qui ne sait plus à quel saint ou prophète se vouer.

Protestations outragées, attitudes éplorées à la façon Maria Callas dans Madame Butterfly, signature de pétition en position inclinée, courbée ou aplatie, visite de groupe à l’Ambassade d’Arabie Saoudite dont les marbres, les dorures et les WC n’ont jamais autant brillé, ces Messieurs qui sont sensés faire partie de « l’élite » de mon pays, ne savent plus quoi faire pour regagner vos bonnes et généreuses grâces.

(While the outraged demonstrations by youth to get a resolution to the garbage crisis are being dealt wit administrative detentions)

Je viens donc par cette modeste lettre vous demander si dans la foulée du programme de prosternations prévu pour les jours à venir, vous pouviez exiger des ces amoureux transis de votre merveilleux royaume, de trouver une solution au problème des ordures que nous subissons depuis plus de huit mois.

Je suis sûre Majesté, que pour votre bon plaisir, ces Messieurs si prompts à obéir à tous vos désirs, seraient capables du meilleur et du plus ardu : la physique quantique et la chimie moléculaire de nos poubelles n’auraient plus de secrets pour eux.

Certains même, pousseraient le zèle jusqu’à se transformer en éboueurs consciencieux pour nettoyer avec ardeur et à la brosse à dent, nos villes, nos routes, nos montagnes et nos vallées souillées, et que d’autres pousseraient le sacrifice jusqu’à trier eux-mêmes avec Madame, enfants et maitresses, dimanches inclus, les quelques centaines de milliers de tonnes d’ordures accumulées afin de les recycler.

Vous pouvez garder vos trois milliards Majesté. (Transferred to Sudan instead, a couple of years ago)

Avec un pétrole à moins de 30 dollars le baril, j’imagine que ce n’est pas très gai chez vous ces temps-ci.

Certaines rumeurs inquiétantes circulent. Et puis le Yemen, la Syrie et tous les « modérés » du monde coûtent cher.

A vous dire vrai d’ailleurs, je pense que nos amis américains ne voyaient pas d’un très bon œil nos amis français empiéter sur leurs plates-bandes. Mais force est de reconnaitre qu’ils sont magnanimes ces américains.

Imaginez-vous Majesté, qu’ils n’ont pas de problème eux à équiper notre armée quand bien même le Hezbollah les traite de Grand Satan depuis plus de trente ans, et hurle à chaque chant de coq et à chaque occasion, « Al Mawt li Amrika ».

D’ailleurs si j’étais Monsieur Richard Jones aujourd’hui, et au vu du spectacle affligeant à l’Ambassade Saoudienne ce matin, je regretterais chaque chocolat, muffin ou petit four que Mesdames Sisson et Connelly ont gracieusement offert lors de leurs nombreuses visites à Awkar, aux champions incontestés de la génuflexion qui par une ironie de l’histoire ont fait croire au monde entier qu’ils étaient les champions de la souveraineté nationale.

Voilà Majesté, c’est tout ce que j’ai à vous demander. Si vous acceptez ma requête, soyez sûr que ce seront quatre millions de Libanais qui vous remercieront de tout cœur. Mais eux le feront la tête haute.

Je vous prie Majesté d’agréer les assurances de ma très haute considération et que la paix, le salut et la bénédiction d’Allah soit sur vous.

Yousra Bustros, Une citoyenne libanaise

Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton’s State Department

Even by the standards of arms deals between the United States and Saudi Arabia, this one was enormous.

A consortium of American defense contractors led by Boeing would deliver $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets to the United States’ oil-rich ally in the Middle East.

Israeli officials were agitated, reportedly complaining to the Obama administration that this substantial enhancement to Saudi air power risked disrupting the region’s fragile balance of power. The deal appeared to collide with the State Department’s documented concerns about the repressive policies of the Saudi royal family.

(Israel knew the purpose of that deal and agreed to it: Israel just wanted to get her share of her frequent blackmailing strategy)

But now, in late 2011, Hillary Clinton’s State Department was formally clearing the sale, asserting that it was in the national interest. At press conferences in Washington to announce the department’s approval, an assistant secretary of state, Andrew Shapiro, declared that the deal had been “a top priority” for Clinton personally. Shapiro, a longtime aide to Clinton since her Senate days, added that the “U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army have excellent relationships in Saudi Arabia.”

These were not the only relationships bridging leaders of the two nations. In the years before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic enterprise she has overseen with her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

Just two months before the deal was finalized, Boeing — the defense contractor that manufactures one of the fighter jets the Saudis were especially keen to acquire, the F-15 — contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to a company press release.

The Saudi deal was one of dozens of arms sales approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that placed weapons in the hands of governments that had also donated money to the Clinton family philanthropic empire, an International Business Times investigation has found.

Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data.

That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House.

The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.

American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012.

The State Department formally approved these arms sales even as many of the deals enhanced the military power of countries ruled by authoritarian regimes whose human rights abuses had been criticized by the department.

Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar all donated to the Clinton Foundation and also gained State Department clearance to buy caches of American-made weapons even as the department singled them out for a range of alleged ills, from corruption to restrictions on civil liberties to violent crackdowns against political opponents.

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton also accused some of these countries of failing to marshal a serious and sustained campaign to confront terrorism. In a December 2009 State Department cable published by Wikileaks, Clinton complained of “an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.” She declared that “Qatar’s overall level of CT cooperation with the U.S. is considered the worst in the region.”

She said the Kuwaiti government was “less inclined to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators plotting attacks.” She noted that “UAE-based donors have provided financial support to a variety of terrorist groups.” All of these countries donated to the Clinton Foundation and received increased weapons export authorizations from the Clinton-run State Department.

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Clinton Foundation did not respond to questions from the IBTimes.

In all, governments and corporations involved in the arms deals approved by Clinton’s State Department have delivered between $54 million and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the Clinton family, according to foundation and State Department records. The Clinton Foundation publishes only a rough range of individual contributors’ donations, making a more precise accounting impossible.

Winning Friends, Influencing Clintons

Under federal law, foreign governments seeking State Department clearance to buy American-made arms are barred from making campaign contributions — a prohibition aimed at preventing foreign interests from using cash to influence national security policy. But nothing prevents them from contributing to a philanthropic foundation controlled by policymakers.

Just before Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, the Clinton Foundation signed an agreement generally obligating it to disclose to the State Department increases in contributions from its existing foreign government donors and any new foreign government donors.

Those increases were to be reviewed by an official at the State Department and “as appropriate” the White House counsel’s office. According to available disclosures, officials at the State Department and White House raised no issues about potential conflicts related to arms sales.

During Hillary Clinton’s 2009 Senate confirmation hearings, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., urged the Clinton Foundation to “forswear” accepting contributions from governments abroad. “Foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state,” he said.

The Clintons did not take Lugar’s advice. In light of the weapons deals flowing to Clinton Foundation donors, advocates for limits on the influence of money on government action now argue that Lugar was prescient in his concerns.

“The word was out to these groups that one of the best ways to gain access and influence with the Clintons was to give to this foundation,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group that seeks to tighten campaign finance disclosure rules. “This shows why having public officials, or even spouses of public officials, connected with these nonprofits is problematic.”

Hillary Clinton’s willingness to allow those with business before the State Department to finance her foundation heightens concerns about how she would manage such relationships as president, said Lawrence Lessig, the director of Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics.

“These continuing revelations raise a fundamental question of judgment,” Lessig told IBTimes. “Can it really be that the Clintons didn’t recognize the questions these transactions would raise? And if they did, what does that say about their sense of the appropriate relationship between private gain and public good?”

National security experts assert that the overlap between the list of Clinton Foundation donors and those with business before the the State Department presents a troubling conflict of interest.

While governments and defense contractors may not have made donations to the Clinton Foundation exclusively to influence arms deals, they were clearly “looking to build up deposits in the ‘favor bank’ and to be well thought of,” said Gregory Suchan, a 34-year State Department veteran who helped lead the agency’s oversight of arms transfers under the Bush administration.

As Hillary Clinton presses a campaign for the presidency, she has confronted sustained scrutiny into her family’s personal and philanthropic dealings, along with questions about whether their private business interests have colored her exercise of public authority.

As IBTimes previously reported, Clinton switched from opposing an American free trade agreement with Colombia to supporting it after a Canadian energy and mining magnate with interests in that South American country contributed to the Clinton Foundation.

IBTimes’ review of the Clintons’ annual financial disclosures also revealed that 13 companies lobbying the State Department paid Bill Clinton $2.5 million in speaking fees while Hillary Clinton headed the agency.

Questions about the nexus of arms sales and Clinton Foundation donors stem from the State Department’s role in reviewing the export of American-made weapons. The agency is charged with both licensing direct commercial sales by U.S. defense contractors to foreign governments and also approving Pentagon-brokered sales to those governments.

Those powers are enshrined in a federal law that specifically designates the secretary of state as “responsible for the continuous supervision and general direction of sales” of arms, military hardware and services to foreign countries. In that role, Hillary Clinton was empowered to approve or reject deals for a broad range of reasons, from national security considerations to human rights concerns.

The State Department does not disclose which individual companies are involved in direct commercial sales, but its disclosure documents reveal that countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation saw a combined $75 billion increase in authorized commercial military sales under the three full fiscal years Clinton served, as compared to the first three full fiscal years of Bush’s second term.

The Clinton Foundation has not released an exact timetable of its donations, making it impossible to know whether money from foreign governments and defense contractors came into the organization before or after Hillary Clinton approved weapons deals that involved their interests.

But news reports document that at least seven foreign governments that received State Department clearance for American arms did donate to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary: Algeria, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Thailand, Norway and Australia.

Sales Flowed Despite Human Rights Concerns

Under a presidential policy directive signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the State Department is supposed to specifically take human rights records into account when deciding whether to approve licenses enabling foreign governments to purchase military equipment and services from American companies.

Despite this, Hillary Clinton’s State Department increased approvals of such sales to nations that her agency sharply criticized for systematic human rights abuses.

In Gaza, Bicycles Are a Battleground for Women Who Dare to Ride

SALAHUDDIN ROAD, Gaza Strip — The four women pedaling bicycles with jammed gears and wobbly chains up Salahuddin Road, Gaza’s bumpy main highway, on a recent morning caused quite a stir.

The driver of a three-wheeled tuk-tuk slowed down and a teenager on a horse-drawn cart sped up to match the women’s pace.

A jeep filled with Hamas gunmen beeped and cheered as it passed, and a pack of men on motorbikes left a wake of catcalls.

The sight of women on two wheels was so unusual that Alaa, 11, who was grazing sheep on the grassy median, assumed they were foreigners and shouted out his limited English vocabulary: “Hello! One, two, three!”

Ms. Suleiman, center, and other women with their bikes in Gaza on Friday. Credit Wissam Nassar for The New York Times

The women ignored the hubbub as they pedaled from Jabalia, a crammed cinder-block town in Gaza’s north, to the Hamas checkpoint before the heavily restricted border crossing into Israel. They dumped their bikes in a nearby olive grove and sat down for a picnic of cheese sandwiches.

 


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