Pa. Judges Face New Civil Suit Over Alleged Kickbacks

March 28, 2009

Pa. Judges Face New Civil Suit Over Alleged Kickbacks
Michael Rubinkam

Two disgraced Pennsylvania judges charged with taking kickbacks to send youth offenders to private detention centers are facing another civil lawsuit tied to the scandal.

The suit, filed Thursday on behalf of juvenile offenders sentenced between 2003 and 2008, claims the judges perpetrated “what ranks as one of the largest and most serious violations of children’s rights in the history of the American legal system.”

Federal prosecutors charged Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan with taking $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company when they were judges in Luzerne County, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Philadelphia.

The judges pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this month and face more than seven years in prison.

Federal authorities also have arrested a court administrator and a top probation official, and the investigation prompted the county prothonotary to resign.

The civil suit filed in federal court by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center Thursday claims that Ciavarella, Conahan and others conspired to violate the juveniles’ civil rights and that they broke racketeering laws.

Conahan’s lawyer declined to comment and a lawyer for Ciavarella didn’t immediately return a phone call Thursday.

Youth advocacy groups had complained for years that Ciavarella was overly harsh and deprived youths of their constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his convicted juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

The suit filed Thursday claims Ciavarella detained kids for offenses “as trivial as shoplifting a $4 jar of nutmeg or taking change from unlocked cars.” It lists 95 plaintiffs and asks a judge to certify it as a class action, meaning others could join in and share any monetary award.

Two other federal lawsuits making similar allegations were filed this month. One also seeks class-action status. The other was initially filed as a class action, but was refiled Wednesday to allow all 113 of its plaintiffs to seek damages individually.

All three suits also name Robert Powell, a former co-owner of the detention centers, and Robert Mericle, who owns the construction company that built them. Neither has been charged criminally. Powell has said through his attorney that he was the victim of extortion. A spokesman for Mericle has denied he made payments to influence the judges.

The judges were charged Jan. 26 and subsequently removed from the bench. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has appointed a judge from another county to review the cases handled by Ciavarella dating back to 2003. That judge could order juveniles’ records expunged or grant them new hearings.

Also on Thursday, Luzerne County’s president judge, Chester Muroski, confirmed that the FBI has requested records from civil cases. That development, first reported by the Philadelphia legal newspaper, The Legal Intelligencer, signals that the corruption probe has shifted into a new phase.



March 11, 2009

a Socratic
Dialogue of systematic doubt
. Instead each course was taught
as if the facts presented were truths handed down by God to be memorized.
After reading the very revealing Deschooling
by Ivan Illich, I gained confidence in attempting
a Socratic Dialogue directly with the immortal books. This approach
has taken a long time and is still ongoing. However I believe I
have discovered a straightforward approach to achieve an education
level that is the peer of any elite undergraduate college in the
modern world. This wouldn’t have been the case 70 years ago
when colleges were far better, but it is now. The dessert is getting a recognized college
degree. You will do this by taking your final year of study in a
distance program at either Empire
State College
or Open University.
These colleges allow testing out of other courses, so you will do
that for the other 3 years. You’ll want to be in communication
with either of these 2 from the start about your plan and progress.
Make a 4.5-year study schedule of the chapters of each book under
advisement from your tutors and college. You may have to skip some
chapters depending on your ability and commitment. Be sure to stay
on top of this because these books will require a tremendous amount
of work. Your payback however will be literally priceless.

Here are the
7 books, in the order they should be studied:

  1. Complete
    Works of Shakespeare
    or part of that in combination with
    a literary anthology to be assigned by a tutor. Be sure to get
    plenty of writing assignments. 5 months.
  2. History
    of Western Philosophy
    by Bertrand Russell. Engage in a
    lot of Socratic Dialogue. 5 months.
  3. The
    Making of the Modern Mind
    by Randall. Engage in a lot
    of Socratic Dialogue. 5 months.
  4. Man,
    Economy and State
    by Rothbard. Engage in a lot of Socratic
    Dialogue. 5 months.
  5. What
    Is Mathematics
    by Courant and Robbins. Work every problem
    and ask for additional ones. 5 months.
  6. Structure
    and Interpretation of Computer Programs
    by Abelson, Sussman
    and Sussman. Work every problem and ask for additional ones. 8
  7. Lectures
    on Physics
    by Feynman. Work every problem and ask for
    additional ones. 10 months.
  8. Reading additional books by Rothbard
    would also be a great idea, especially This
    . Given current circumstances, everyone of every education
    level should read This

yo yo

March 8, 2009

The policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder
— Richard J. Daley

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guardians?)
— Juvenal

beers to try

February 26, 2009


1. Beewyched Honey’d Ale, 5%vol, England (£1.57 per 50cl; Morrison, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose). From Wychwood brewery in Oxfordshire (pictured) – the UK’s largest brewer of organic beers – a crisp, refreshing, citrusy brew. Made with Fairtrade honey from Chile, Fairtrade sugar from Malawi and Challenger hops from England, it’s gently honeyed rather than sweet, with hugely appealing notes of dried fruit. Try it with treacle pudding.

2. Lindemans Framboise, 2.5%vol, Belgium (£1.63-£2.05 per 37.5cl; Asda, Booths, Waitrose). The classic Lambic fruit beer, spontaneously fermented then matured in oak with the addition of raspberry. Refreshingly light in alcohol, it’s clean, crisp and delicate, yet it also has a subtle richness backed by fine acidity. It cries out for an accompanying chocolate mousse or – dare I say it? – Black Forest gateau.

3. Floris Passion Fruit, 3.6%vol, Belgium (£1.65 per 33cl; 01622 710339). Not the most butch of beers and not one I’d like to be caught drinking by the chaps, but strangely tasty nonetheless. A wheat beer with added passion fruit juice, it’s reminiscent of New Zealand sauvignon blanc on nose and palate, and full of ripe tropical fruit and tangy, zesty acidity.

4. Ruddles Rhubarb Ale, 4.7%vol, England (£1.76 per 50cl; Tesco). I’m not a great fan of rhubarb but I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one time ‘Best Beer’ in the Tesco Beer Challenge. More a summer beer than a winter one, it still has the typical hoppy Ruddles character, but with a bitter-sweet twist and blast of vanilla. It’s subtle, though, rather than overpowering and it goes particularly well with mature cheddar cheese.

5. Triple Karmeliet, 8.4%vol, Belgium (£1.79 per 33cl; Waitrose). Although this is hardly what you might call a session beer, nothing about it hits you too hard, despite its high level of alcohol. A three grain beer (wheat, barley and oats) with a secondary fermentation in bottle, it was recently voted ‘Best Ale’ at the World Beer Awards. Crisp yet creamy, delicate yet full-bodied, it’s a great match for watercress soup.

6. Innis & Gunn Blonde Lightly Oaked Beer, 6%vol, Scotland, (£1.59 per 33cl; Sainsbury’s). Innis & Gunn make cracking brews and their occasional rum cask-matured beer is an all-time favourite (it should be back in Sainsbury’s for Father’s Day in June). This is delicious too: refreshing and fruity with both citrus and vanilla on the palate. Best drunk on its own as a sharpener, it also goes beautifully with moules et frites.

7. Schlenkerla Rauchbier, 5.1%vol, Germany (£2.09-£2.75 per 50cl;,, This positively reeks of smoke and is quite unlike anything I’ve had before. It’s deliciously creamy, though, with a touch of sweetness and a nice bitter finish. The other night we drank it alongside smoked trout blinis and the success of the combination stunned us all.

8. Bacchus Kriek, 5.8%vol, Belgium (£2.39 per 37.5; Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco). I had my doubts about this, causing as it did a sudden flashback of sucking Tunes and Spangles as a child (remember them?), but it slipped down remarkably easily. Fermented cherry juice is added to Belgian brown ale to give a wonderful fresh cherry aroma and flavour which gently fades to leave a full, beery finish. Try it alongside squares of dark chocolate.

9. Brew Dog Paradox Isle of Arran, 10%vol, Scotland (£3.99 per 33cl; Oddbins, Sainsbury’s) Golly, this is good! An acquired taste, maybe, but one that I acquired in seconds. An imperial stout matured in barrels from the Isle of Arran whisky distillery, it’s deep, dark black/brown, rich and full-flavoured, with coffee, chocolate, spice and treacle on the palate. We served it in brandy balloons as a digestif at the end of dinner.

10. Deus, 11.5%vol, Belgium (£12.15 per 75cl; Waitrose). This is a remarkable brew, made in Belgium but treated like champagne with champagne yeast and a secondary fermentation in bottle. It’s also presented in a champagne bottle complete with cork stopper and is sold for a champagne price. But serve it well-chilled in elegant flutes as an aperitif and it suddenly doesn’t seem so pricey, nor so alcoholic. Smooth, creamy and slightly bitter, it’s a great start to a meal.

The Next Phase: Looting Social Security, 401Ks, IRAs and Whatever Is Left?

February 14, 2009

After what we have seen in the last eight years in particular, why do we assume that there is any boundary to the venality of powerful men? That there is ever enough?

Crony capitalism gives way to coolie capitalism. The belief in the priority of the privileged few to possess the greatest share of the nation’s wealth endures.

Where is the justice? Where is the reform?

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.”
Janwillem van de Wetering

“Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”
Thomas Jefferson

“The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”
Dr. Josef Mengele

The Nation
Looting Social Security
By William Greider
February 11, 2009

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever “grand bargain” they want President Obama to embrace in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea–Washington’s leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what’s happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as “fiscal reform.” In fact, it’s the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud….

Read the rest of the story here.

Discussion of this topic at Economist’s View here.

David Harvey explains the Financial crisis

January 21, 2009

i am sure a few of you have heard of David Harvey, for those who havent
His work has contributed greatly to broad social and political debate, most recently he has been credited with helping to bring back social class and Marxist methods as serious methodological tools in the critique of global capitalism, particularly in its neoliberal form.

he is essential reading and listening to for a clear understanding of what is going on in global markets and society at the moment,

it is theft and class war and it needs to be treated as such…

hockey hit

January 13, 2009

Johnny Knoxville
hockey check

Russian hockey

punt return against USC

The State Within -Rent it

January 9, 2009

The State Within – Rent it, the best thing I have watched in a long time.

Jason Isaacs stars in this Golden Globe-nominated political thriller as Mark Brydon, a British ambassador to the United States who finds himself caught up in a complex conspiracy that could prompt a dangerous shift in political power. After a plane explodes over Washington, D.C., under suspicious circumstances, Brydon must scramble to uncover the truth before war breaks out. Sharon Gless, Ben Daniels and Lennie James also star.
Starring: Lennie James, Jason Isaacs
Director: Michael Offer
Genre: Thrillers
Format: Full Screen …
Language: English

Love Eva Birthistle

Eva Birthistle, one of our most talented young actresses, plays Jane Lavery.
She is a human rights lawyer assigned to represent Luke Gardner (Lennie James), the British ex-paratrooper who is languishing on Death Row in Florida.

Initially, Jane is alienated by Luke’s dismissive manner. As the drama develops, however, she becomes more and more enmeshed in his case and more and more embroiled with the British ambassador, Sir Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs). Hers is an absorbing journey indeed.

The Dublin-born actress confirms that she was attracted to The State Within because it operates on so many different levels.

“It’s simultaneously so intriguing and so moving,” declares Eva, who is perhaps best-known for her leading role in Ken Loach’s affecting love story, A Fond Kiss.

“The State Within is so complicated – loads of stories are intertwined – that it grabbed me from the get-go. As an actor, you have to keep remembering where you are in the story – I’ve never re-read a script as much as I did for this job!

“Sometimes, you get great characters but no plot, and sometimes you get a great plot but no characters. But this screenplay had both. It pulled me in from the first page. It’s the most engaging script I’ve read in ages. I think people will be desperate to tune in every week.

“And when I was offered the character of Jane – a fascinating, strong woman who finds herself in the most extraordinary, frightening situation – I just had to do it. I would have been mad not to!”

The actress, who has also starred in Silent Witness, Holby City, In Deep, Sunday, Imagine Me and You and Middletown, likens The State Within to two of the most lauded US TV series of recent times.

“It’s like The West Wing because of its stories about the American Government and US-UK relations. At the same time, it’s also like 24 because of its endless conspiracies, electrifying pace and energy and multiple plot lines. Those are not bad shows to be compared to!”

The 32-year-old goes on to flesh out more details about Jane. “She’s a human rights lawyer who is handed her first Death Row case. She has replaced Luke’s last lawyer, and at first he shows animosity towards her and because of the seriousness of his case – she feels out of her depth.

“She has to fight to gain Luke’s respect,” continues the actress, who in 2004 was voted one of European Film’s ‘Shooting Stars’ by European Film Promotion.

“Then she uncovers explosive incriminating evidence about something, and she realises she is in very deep water indeed.”

Eva, who has a licence to operate farm machinery, says that she grew really to admire her character. “I have great respect for Jane. From the outset, she’s a very likeable character because of her sheer strength and the way she manages to cope with a horrific situation. She has very attractive qualities that I hope will draw audiences towards her.”

The actress muses that The State Within might put a few official noses out of joint on both sides of the Atlantic. According to Eva: “People in power might get upset about it because the subject matter is hugely topical. It deals with a lot of issues – like terrorism and the special relationship – that we’re seeing in the news day in, day out.

“It might ruffle a few feathers, but at the end of the day it’s still a drama. It doesn’t have to enrage people, but if it provokes a response, that can only be a good thing.

“Unless you’re making a fluffy romcom, that’s the aim of drama. You want your drama to prompt a reaction – otherwise, there’s not much point!”

Eva is currently in Poland filming Nightwatching, Peter Greenaway’s eagerly anticipated movie about Rembrandt (played by Martin Freeman from The Office). She portrays the artist’s mistress.

“I’m halfway through and working with Peter is still a strange and fascinating experience. I keep thinking, ‘When’s everything going to get clearer?’ – and it never does!

“Sometimes I come home at the end of a day and think, ‘Goodness, what have I just committed to film?’

“But any new experience is a good experience. Peter is one of those directors I’ve always had on my wish-list, and it’s been a tremendous privilege to collaborate with him.”

Are there any similarities between Eva and her fictional alter ego in The State Within? “I’d get emotionally bound up with people like Jane does,” the actress replies.

“I’m also quite pragmatic, and like to think that I’m quite strong.

“But would I be as brave as Jane is if my life were put at risk? No way! I’d run in the opposite direction. I’d think, ‘Stuff that. I’m not getting involved!'”

Grow your own hemp industry

January 9, 2009

China’s insatiable demand for iron ore has been the basis for Western Australia’s booming export industry, but another natural resource has been making its way to the East.
According to Nimbin-based hemp researcher and grower Klara Marosszeky, a Western Australian hemp grower is exporting all of his crop to China, including a contract to supply the Chinese military. The military are using the material to create “hemp food packs” that include hemp milk, hemp chocolate, hemp cake, hemp coffee and hemp protein powder amongst other food products.
“You can use the meal like flour. It was used by most cultures of the world in the last century,” she said.
Ms Marosszeky is hoping that a hemp-based food industry will be a reality in Australia within a few years, but at the moment the authority that regulates the food industry, FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand), does not allow any hemp food products to be sold here.
“The industry is ready to grow and we think we will be growing it for food, either for local production or for export to meet the growing world food crisis,” she said.
This week the NSW Parliament passed legislation allowing for the licensing of industrial hemp to be grown in this state for the first time.
“Industrial hemp has the potential to provide farmers with a much-needed additional fast growing summer crop option that can be used in rotation with winter grain crops,” NSW Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said. “It’s a potentially lucrative industry due to the environmentally friendly nature of (it) and there is strong interest for hemp products in the market.”
Klara Marosszeky held a workshop last weekend for 15 local growers to assist them to fill out the licence application forms and she is hoping they will be planting within weeks.
“Farmers are growing for a couple of different reasons; some are growing to develop a seed base for the Northern Rivers region because that’s the only way we can keep the price of seed reasonable. A few will be growing for the natural fibre industry, and the Regional Development Corporation is also working with Southern Cross University and the Northern Rivers Hemp Association to do seed research with the long term view of developing a good eating variety.”
However, Klara’s main interest and speciality is hemp masonry – using hemp fibre with a mixture of lime-based materials to create a building material.
“This year we’re hoping to get investment to get a bagging and batching facility in the region to produce a dry mix in one tonne bulk bags for the affordable housing market,” she said. “I’ve been talking with the Northern Rivers Regional Development Board who have supported my work through the innovation award process.”
Some previous trials of growing hemp in cane growing areas on the North Coast have been less than successful, so one of the other things Klara is hoping to do is to plant a “a wet footed cultivar”.
“We’ve got all sorts of cultivars from all over world… cultivars being worked on by Dr Keith Bolton and myself. For example we’ve got seeds in from Canada which give you height, European ones that are good for food, and Hungarian ones that give a combination of food and fibre suitable for textiles.”

America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’s Rise to Power

January 6, 2009

By Stephen Zunes
Source: AlterNet

Stephen Zunes’s ZSpace Page

No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America’s sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.

The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left- wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers — who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations — stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel’s priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian- style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.

American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.

One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously — and so did its political strength.

Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.

Seeing how Fatah’s 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas’ popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel — despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive — seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile — in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress — Israel’s use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas’ support still further.

Hamas Comes to Power

With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas’ participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas’ Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.

Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.

Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.

Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic — which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics — unprecedented leverage.

Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, “For many people, this was the only way to make money.” Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.

The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.

While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults — which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law — as legitimate acts of self-defense.

A Siege, Not a Withdrawal

The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel’s 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel’s ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).

In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted — as is its right — entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports — such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers — vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel’s far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas’ support in the territory even more.

The Gaza Strip’s population consists primarily of refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.

Undermining the Unity Government

When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.

The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.

Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but — as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it — “our government obeyed American orders, as usual.’ That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians — even those who don’t share Hamas’ extremist ideology — to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.

The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who — despite being labeled by American officials as “moderate” and “pragmatic” — oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.

Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence . it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Weakening Palestinian Moderates

For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies — backed by the Bush administration and Congress — seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas’ electoral victory, how “Israel ‘s unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by . Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions.”

Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government’s unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah’s emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel’s occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it’s not surprising that Hamas’ claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas’ armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.

Following Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that “The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure.” Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, “in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert’s kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street.”

De Soto’s report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas’ stance toward Israel as “abominable,” also noted that “Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants.” Regarding the U.S.- instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that “the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect.”

Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, “Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there.” Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, “the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists” since “supplanting … Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.’ The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that “now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.”

Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.

Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chairman of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.
From: Z Net – The Spirit Of Resistance Lives