World Condemns Israeli Snipers Killing More Than 30 Palestinians in Gaza Protests
Interview with Josh Ruebner, policy director, U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, conducted by Scott Harris
Over the past two weeks, Israeli snipers have killed 30 unarmed Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600 others. The bloodshed occurred over two consecutive Fridays as tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the impoverished Gaza strip participated in protests along the Gaza-Israeli border, dubbed “The Great March of Return.”
A Palestinian journalist and individuals engaging in prayer were among the killed or injured by Israeli snipers. Israel’s military claims that protesters who attempt to cut through the border fence and burn tires to conceal their movement are a threat to the nation’s security. Israeli officials say that Gaza’s governing Hamas party is behind the protests, a charge denied by Palestinian activists.
The Trump administration has twice blocked a United Nation’s Security Council statement supporting the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully, and endorsing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into the dozens of deaths on the Israel-Gaza border. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Josh Ruebner, policy director, with the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Here, he talks about the events surrounding Israel’s massacre of unarmed Palestinians during the border protests and his group’s response to the violence. [Rush transcript]
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, several weeks ago, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip announced that they would hold a six-week, nonviolent campaign to actuate and to try to implement the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Most Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – the estimates are about 80 percent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – are actually refugees. And Palestinians are the largest refugee community in the entire world because when Israel was established in 1948, they engaged in widespread ethnic cleansing. Many Palestinians were expelled from their homes; their villages demolished by Israel. Some fled as well of their own volition. But none were allowed to return back by Israel, despite international law recognizing that refugees have a right to return. So Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere had been advocating for this implementation of this right to return.
And this six-week campaign was announced to begin with what’s called Land Day, which is a Palestinian commemoration of Israel killing six Palestinians in 1976. Palestinian citizens of Israel, it should be mentioned, who are protesting the expropriation of their lands, with the six weeks then culminating on May 15, which Palestinians mark as the Nakba Day or Catastrophe Day in English, referring to their dispossession and their ethnic cleansing by Israel in 1948.
So, immediately after Palestinians announced that there would be this big civil disobedience campaign and peaceful rally, Israel responded by pre-positioning more than 100 snipers along the fence with Gaza, announcing its intentions to shoot to kill anyone who came within 300 meters of the fence, whether they posed an imminent threat to the life of an Israeli or not.
And indeed, that’s exactly what happened. When Palestinians massed at the border, Israel opened live fire. The Israeli military said in a now deleted tweet that it knew where every bullet landed. And those bullets have killed more than 30 Palestinians, have injured more than a thousand in this very grotesque display that’s really reminiscent of the South African massacre of blacks in Sharpeville, which played such a seminal role in changing western opinion toward the South African regime. And, I think we’re seeing a similar dynamic underway when it comes to Israel’s brutal crackdown on Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Josh, what are the Israeli authorities saying about their justification for these shootings and killings of these Palestinians? One thing I’ve read is that people on the Gaza side of the border were attempting to damage the border fence. That was floated as a justification. What else are you hearing about the rationale for this massive firepower brought against mostly unarmed Palestinians conducting a peaceful protest?
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, it is very true that a few Palestinians have approached the fence with the intent to cut a breach in it. But under international law, you can only open live fire against someone to prevent an imminent threat to someone’s life. Human Rights Watch has stated that there has been not one single instance that the Israeli military can point to that would justify the use of lethal force against people even if they were trying to cut the fence which is a vast, vast minority of the people participating in this peaceful protest. Video has surfaced of Palestinians being shot while standing around, while praying, while wearing clearly recognized “PRESS” flak jackets. Palestinians are being shot very deliberately by Israel for absolutely no reason other than the fact that they are exercising their legitimate peaceful right to protest and to demand their human rights.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Josh, what is your group, the U.S. campaign for Palestinian Rights and other organizations who are advocates for human rights in the Middle East – what is your response? What can be done now to draw even more public attention to this bloodshed?
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, I think the key thing is to demand that our elected officials hold Israel accountable for its war crimes. And to hold Israel accountable for violating U.S. laws, which are supposed to prevent foreign countries from using U.S. weapons to commit these types of gross human rights abuses that we’re seeing in the Gaza Strip today. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. It gets $3.8 billion of taxpayer-funded weapons every single year. That’s more military aid than every other country on the face of the earth combined. Israel gets more than 50 percent of all U.S. military aid, and we have laws such as the Leahy law, such as the Foreign Assistance Act, such as the Arms Export Control Act, which are supposed to mandate that foreign countries receiving U.S. assistance or U.S. weapons do not use them to commit these types of human rights abuses.
So what we’re doing is we’re mobilizing people to demand the members of Congress enforce these laws, make sure that an investigation is carried out and ensure that Israel is held accountable through sanctions, if it’s found that these laws had been violated, which undoubtedly an impartial investigation would find.
For more information on the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, visit uscpr.org.
Examining Complex Links Between Human Population Growth and Climate Change, Environment
Interview with Dr. Anthony Costello, Former director of the Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health program, World Health Organization, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
The connections between environment, population and development have been fraught for decades, with some experts and activists calling for reducing global human population in order to reduce the extinction of species and to preserve natural resources such as potable water and arable land. Others, especially those in the reproductive justice camp – assert that a focus on population reduction blames the victim and is anti-woman.
Anthony Costello is a pediatrician, an expert on international child health and former director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization. While Dr. Costello was co-director of the Institute for Global Health at University College in London, he was staggered by the projections on global warming and the potential effects on food security, clean water and changing patterns of diseases due to heatwaves and vector-borne diseases transmitted by infected mosquitoes, ticks, bugs, sandflies and blackflies.
Dr. Costello recently spoke at Yale University as part of a program on climate change and health. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with him after his talk, and presents this excerpt from their interview.
DR. ANTHONY COSTELLO: I worked for many years in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal and India and Malawi, where child survival has been a huge issue, that many children die unnecessarily, newborns die at very high rates or they have done in the past. And many times people would say, why are you trying to save these children, because it increases the population?
BETWEEN THE LINES: I have to stop you right there. Did people really say that to you, and more than one person?
DR. ANTHONY COSTELLO: Yeah. Not so much now, but in the past, and in fact, I was asked to give a talk once to an ethical society where the topic of the talk was, Save the Children, question mark.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I can’t comprehend that. I mean, did you ask the people who asked you how they would feel if their child was sick or had diarrhea or was malnourished, should we let them die?
DR. ANTHONY COSTELLO: Yes, but I also made the opposite argument, which was not just the human rights one, but the scientific one. Actually, it was not just them, it was also very eminent people in health – you know, the population concerns group – would say, we are going to die because of too much population and it’s all terrible, and they weren’t realizing that the quickest way to get your population stable – the most important – is you’ve got to get your mortality rates down. So as long as your children are dying, you’re going to have more children, because that’s the human urge, to have more children. But once you know that they’re reasonably going to survive, they you are quite happy to have fewer children, and that’s a very important point we had to get across.
And all regions of the world are seeing their fertility rates fall, apart from Africa, although I think that’s going to follow now, because in the past ten years we’ve seen dramatic declines in death rates of under 5’s in Africa, despite all the problems and I think you’ll find that with a lag phase, that fertility rates will come down, and also with education increasing.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The whole issue of climate and development and population has been fraught, probably forever, right? But some of the people I work with almost don’t make any connection at all between pressures on climate from population and almost seem to lean to the side of women having more children, that it’s kind of too bad if people feel like they can’t have more children than they would like because they do have concerns about the climate. In fact, she said there’s a term for that; they’re called “baby doomers.” Have you ever heard that?
DR. ANTHONY COSTELLO: I haven’t heard that phrase, but it has come up in conversation, obviously. But I think the drive to have children should not be impaired. I think you should think about this in terms of populations. The reality is that in virtually every European country – Britain is a slight exception because of immigration – population is going down, because the reality is that now most people don’t want more than two children on average. Does that mean that if you choose to have four children, you’re committing a crime? Absolutely not, in my view. I think you need to look at this in terms of population perspective, rather than making people feel individually guilty.
And indeed we may run into some problems with declining populations. I mean, one of the biggest problems, for example, that Russia or Japan face is declining population, which means they are not going to be permanently not economically growing, because their population is declining. So, it introduces new challenges. I mean in China, where they’ve had the one-child policy, they’ve had the issues of the single child, and that’s raised a number of issues to the extent now that they’ve relinquished that policy.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Right, right.
DR. ANTHONY COSTELLO: The impact on feticide, you know, that people wanted boys rather than girls, and that’s leading to an issue that there aren’t enough girls to go around, so you’ve got lonely men. It was social engineering that has downsides as well as benefits. I mean, China has stabilized its population pretty much, and in fact, when you talk to Chinese demographers as I have done – their population right now is just under 1.4 billion, but by the end of this century some people say it will have fallen to substantially below a billion.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Wow, really?
DR. ANTHONY COSTELLO: … which I didn’t realize, because they will be below replacement level, and once you go down below replacement level you tend not to come up again. So population is quite complicated. But let’s see what happens. I mean we’re at seven point whatever billion we are at the moment, and I think it’s inevitable that we’ll head north of nine billion. I’m rather more optimistic than some people. I think there’s going to be a big hump, and we have to get over that hump. But your question is about climate. The more people you have, the more consumers you have and the more energy that’s used, and the more carbon-intensive energy that can be used. But my point is that you don’t go into poor countries and say, Well, it’s all about you having fewer children and do nothing about their poverty, their energy, their educational opportunities. So you need a much more balanced approach to energy development.
For more information, read about the World Health Organization's program on Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.
Broadcast of Right-Wing Propaganda Script Strengthens Opposition to Sinclair-Tribune TV Merger
Interview with Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, conducted by Scott Harris
In March, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest local television broadcaster, which owns or operates 193 local television stations across the U.S., forced their news anchors to read from a single script warning viewers about national news outlets’ dissemination of “fake news.” The Sinclair message echoed President Trump’s condemnation of mainstream media coverage of his administration’s many scandals, including the Russia election investigation.
Timothy Burke, the video director at Deadspin, posted a video montage of dozens of Sinclair station news staff reciting the exact same script, which quickly went viral. The disturbing spectacle of news anchors forced to read propaganda written for them by the right-wing television company’s executives, focused public attention on opposition to Sinclair’s pending $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media, widely expected to be approved by the Republican-controlled FCC.
If the merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media goes forward the company would grow to more than 230 local TV stations, covering 72 percent of all U.S. households. Between The Line’s Scott Harris spoke with Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media democracy group Free Press, who discusses Sinclair’s ideological bias, their relationship with the Trump White House and growing opposition to the merger plan.
CRAIG AARON: This video that was made by the sports website Deadspin showing all of these local anchors being forced to read the same script about so-called “fake news” has really broken through and really vastly increased public awareness of what Sinclair does. From just a few stations and their base in Baltimore, they now control close to 200 local television stations nationwide. And they are trying to take over the TV stations owned by the Tribune company, which would give them access to much bigger markets than they’ve ever been in before, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Hartford, Connecticut and on and on. Sinclair has gone out of its way for several decades to evade every FCC rule limiting their growth and expansion. And now they have an FCC that instead of trying to contain them, is aiding and betting their massive growth. So just on that alone is reason to oppose Sinclair – that kind of size, all of this cookie cutter content.
But what Sinclair does in addition to this astronomical growth is they push a right-wing ideology. They force all of their local stations to carry content – extremely conservative content – and sneak it into their regular newscast. So, between sports, weather and traffic, you’ll find former Donald Trump campaign manager Boris Epstein reading talking points that come straight out of the White House. You’ll find former Ben Carson; campaign manager Armstrong Williams, a longtime Sinclair crony, sharing his views, and you’ll find all sorts of very, very slanted content, that is scapegoating Muslim Americans and attacking Black Lives Matter activists and just generally pushing in what is otherwise sort of a normal local newscast, these extremist viewpoints. So you put that all together, you have this company, Sinclair pushing content that would be far to the right even if it was on Fox News channel on hundreds of stations at the local level and they built this media empire and that, you know, here we are close to 200 stations and people are finally paying attention maybe for the first time that the threat this company poses to local viewpoints – and really, fundamentally to our democracy.
BETWEEN THE LINES: As I understand it, the FCC is poised to grant the green light for this proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribune media, which as you said earlier, would give Sinclair more than 230 stations nationwide. But on the other side of this, we’ve also heard about an internal investigation within the FCC about some of the policies directed by Trump’s appointed FCC chair, Ajit Pai. Tell us about the investigation going on within the FCC right now.
CRAIG AARON: You know, as soon as Donald Trump was elected, Sinclair was popping the champagne. They were running around all the investor conferences saying, “We’re going to get rid of the limits on media ownership in this country.” And you know, this was a company that had a lot to do with electing Donald Trump. Jared Kushner told people they had a deal with Sinclair – sort of uncut coverage of Trump – and you know, Donald Trump didn’t create Sinclair, but Sinclair certainly had a lot to do with creating Trump. And they expected to cash in.
And almost from Day One, Ajit Pai’s FCC has gone out of his way to bend the rules or erase the rules to benefit Sinclair. Then Ajit Pai teed up a whole series of rule changes, getting rid of requirements for Sinclair to operate a studio in the stations with the license to serve, getting rid of limits on how many stations one company can own in a market, blessing these sort of sham front group operations that Sinclair is using to push through this deal where they hand over the license to one of their cronies, who then immediately signs the contract, giving them control of the operations of the station.
That’s now being blessed by the FCC. And after some inquiries from Congress, the inspector general at the FCC has launched an investigation to see what’s going on here, was there undue influence from Sinclair? You know, I would argue that Ajit Pai shouldn’t be considering this deal. The other thing is we’re going to be challenging this deal in court. We think the rule changes the FCC made were made without evidence. They were made without public input, so we’ve got two cases already pending in federal court to challenge this deal. So it’s not done yet, but there is no question that the Trump administration and the FCC in particular absolutely aided and abetted this deal at every turn.
For more information on the media democracy group Free Press, visit FreePress.net.
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
Prior to the third anniversary of the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in Yemen, the pro-Sunni coalition carried out over 17,000 airstrikes on one of the poorest nations on earth. The mass bombardment has resulted in a humanitarian crisis with thousands of civilians killed, and a deadly cholera epidemic. Still, the Saudi coalition, backed by the United States and Britain has not defeated Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels. (“Yemen crisis: Does Saudi largess square with military campaign,” Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 2018; “The U.S. approves $1.3 billion in arms sales to Saudis,” National (UAE), April 6, 2018)
ProPublica reports state legislatures in red and blue states are placing new attention on maternal health, with a focus on the high rates of mortality among African-American mothers across the United States. (“Here’s one issue blue and red states agree on,” ProPublica, March 26, 2018; “ProPublica lost mothers series lost-mothers,” ProPublica, July 17, 2017)
Two years ago, Tennessee’s billionaire Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed a radical plan to privatize state services. His administration issued a $1.9 billion contract that would privatize maintenance of all state facilities. (“Tennessee is not for sale,” In These Times, March 20, 2018)