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Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is pouring cash into military sports and historical reenactments to boost patriotism

proto-fascist moves!

Man shooting an arrow with a bow.

Historical re-enactors in Budapest in 2016. Photo courtesy of kormany.hu, the website of the Hungarian Government.

The Hungarian Ministry of Defense is funneling thousands of euros to sports associations and history re-enacting groups to inculcate a sense of patriotism in young people, a story by Atlatszo.hu, an independent investigative outlet, has revealed.

The Ministry’s allocated budget to NGOs increased from 760,000 in 2014 to 5,6 million euros in 2018 (860,000 and 6,4 million US dollars, respectively). But while funds for trade unions, veterans, cultural programs, and historical societies remained stable, sports associations’ budgets have risen over tenfold in that period.

The Military Sports Association, an umbrella organization of groups that teach, among other things, self-defense and sports shooting, received alone 3,46 million euros (3,92 million US dollars) since its creation in 2017. The Association’s website says its primary goal is to teach skills to children that are useful in the “defense of the homeland.”

Historical re-enactment societies, memorial organizations, and military history research groups have also received public grants — a total of 125,000 euros (142,000 US dollars) in 2018, and 692,000 euros (784,000 US dollars) over the past five years.

The Ministry of Defense’s approach matches the broader education strategy by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose government has rewritten the national curriculum multiple times over the years to include military training and military history.

Recently, Orbán appointed former Minister of Defense István Simicskó as the Government Commissioner for Patriotic Education, who will be in charge of revising the curriculum to instill, in his own words, a “healthy national identity” in school kids.

In 2016, the government announced they would build 197 shooting ranges around the country that will cost 81 million euros. Critics at that time said Orbán was creating a “massive paramilitary force”.

Titled “Hungary: A smooth way to better patriotism,” the story by Anita Kőműves is part of a broader investigation by Vsquare.org’s on the militarization of patriotism in the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic). Kőműves’ story is based on data obtained directly with the Ministry of Defense of Hungary.

Written by Filip Stojanovski · comments (0)
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Third Suspect in Skripal Poisoning Identified as Denis Sergeev, High-Ranking GRU Officer

Bellingcat previously confirmed that a third GRU officer was present in the UK during the time Sergey and Yulia Skripal fell into a coma, after what the UK authorities said was a deliberate poisoning with Novichok. In addition, Bellingcat established that this same officer traveled multiple times to Bulgaria during 2015, including a trip days before a Bulgarian arms trader and his son were severely poisoned with a yet-unidentified poison.

Following a four-month joint investigation with our investigative partners The Insider (Russia) and Respekt (Czechia), Bellingcat can now reveal the true identity and background of this GRU officer, who operated internationally under the cover persona of Sergey Vyachaeslavovich Fedotov. In fact, this person is Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev, a high-ranking GRU officer and a graduate of Russia’s Military Diplomatic Academy.

Additional research in this investigation was also made by newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (Finland).

Notably, we have established that in the last two months, Russian authorities have taken the unusual measure of erasing any public records of the existence of Denis Sergeev, as well as of Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, the main two suspects in the Skripal poisoning. These unprecedented actions cannot plausibly be taken without direct involvement of the Russian state, and add further credibility to the UK government’s assertion that the Skripal poisoning operation, and the subsequent cover-up, were coordinated at a state level. Additional details on these concerted efforts to purge public records of Chepiga, Mishkin, and Sergeev’s identities will be detailed in the next part of our investigation, scheduled to come out next week.

Who is Denis Sergeev?

Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev was born in Usharal, a small militarized town in what was at the time Soviet Kazakhstan, near the Soviet-China border. Both Denis Sergeev and his cover identity “Sergey Fedotov” were born on 17 September 1973. He served in the army in the southern Russian city of Novorossiisk in the Krasnodar Region.

At some point between 2000 and 2002, he was transferred to Moscow and enrolled at the elite Military Diplomatic Academy, popularly known in Russia as the “GRU Conservatory”. The Military Diplomatic Academy churns out 100 elite intelligence officers each year, ranging from spies in diplomatic and military attache covers to illegals.

We have not established what Denis Sergeev’s service prior to the Academy involved; however, it is known that recruitment into the Academy takes place among military officers with the minimum rank of captain who have excelled at their military service, traditionally in Spetsnaz or navy units. Like all other graduates, Sergeev would have finished the Academy with a minimum rank of lieutenant-colonel. While we have no confirmation of his current military rank, the time served and the nature of his assignments since graduation indicate he currently holds a minimum rank of full colonel, and possibly major-general.

Denis Sergeev is married and has an adult daughter.

2004 to 2012 Period

During this period, which possibly overlapped with his last years at the Military Diplomatic Academy, Denis Sergeev, under his real identity, served as shareholder and/or managing director of eight Russian companies. These companies, all of which were liquidated between 2007 and 2012, were sham corporations with names mimicking names of other large companies registered in Russia. In most of the companies, Sergeev was the sole shareholder, while in two he was co-shareholder with other people, some of whom we also identified as GRU officers.

We established that during 2009, Denis Sergeev obtained a personal loan from a Russian bank in the amount of just over one million USD. The allocation of such a large loan to a person who – as seen from his credit record (obtained from a leaked Russian credit history collection) – had no real estate and no personal vehicle – is extraordinary.  The loan appears to have been extended on the strength of Denis Sergeev’s personal income in his declared role as “specialist” working for a company called Loreven Style Ltd specializing in consulting services.

In a 2010 census, Sergeev listed Loreven Style Ltd as his employer, and indicated a Riga-based company address. There are no records of a company with such name ever existing, either in Riga or anywhere. Two phone numbers listed as contacts are not in service.

It is not certain what the function of the many sham companies incorporated by Sergeev was, and whether it was linked to the loan amount of $1 million apparently obtained from a Russian bank. A review of some of the other shareholders in these companies  – some of which also with GRU links – shows that they too incorporated dozens of companies with similar profiles, all of which have since been liquidated. It is plausible that these companies may have been used for money laundering purposes, or as cover corporations providing “respectable employment” to other GRU undercover officers, for instance in the context of visa applications. Bellingcat will continue to investigate these companies’ purpose and potential use by the GRU within or outside Russia.

The Birth of Sergey Fedotov

In 2010, Denis Sergeev received his alter ego, “Sergey Vyacheslavovich Fedotov”. A new, valid passport was issued under this name, by the same “770001” passport desk in Moscow that issued cover passports to Mishkin, Chepiga other GRU operatives, and “VIP” citizens, as previously detailed by Bellingcat.

“Fedotov” was given a birth date matching the one of the actual person Denis Sergeev. His place of birth was moved from Kazakhstan to the village of Apushka in the Ryazan region of Russia. As in the case of the other undercover passports issued to Mishkin and Chepiga, the “reason” for issuance of the new passport was stated as “unsuitability for use” of the previous passport. As in the other cases, the previous passport listed never actually existed.

“Sergey Fedotov” was also assigned a residential address and an employer. The new Moscow address in fact belonged to an unrelated family bearing the same family name (we were unable to contact the family to find out if they were aware of their cohabitation with the GRU officer, due to the fact that all four of their phone numbers were disconnected).

The employer, listed as a company called “Business-Courier”, could not be established definitively. There are more than 25 Russian companies that carry or had this name, including ones that were liquidated in the same period as the batch in which Denis Sergeev was a shareholder.

In a 2017 census, “Sergey Fedotov” listed his income as the equivalent of USD $1000 per month. He did not list an employer in this census.

An International Man of Mystery

Using four different airline booking, PNR, and border-crossing databases, Bellingcat has collated and analyzed travel records for the persona “Sergey Fedotov” for the period of 2012-2018. He used two different (consecutive) passports during this period–both of which were issued by the same 770001 passport desk and had numbers from batches that we have identified to include other GRU undercover officers.

Fedotov’s itinerary shows extensive travel to destinations across Western and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.  In the period of 2012-2013, his destinations included Ukraine and Tajikistan.

In 2014, Fedotov traveled to Czechia, Italy, and Switzerland. Notably, during his first trip to Prague at the end of January 2014, he traveled alongside “Alexander Petrov”, the cover persona of Dr. Alexander Mishkin, one of the key suspects in the Skripal poisonings. The two stayed in Prague eight days, until 2 February 2014, when they flew back to Moscow. Bellingcat’s investigative partner Respekt has established that during this trip, “Fedotov” and “Petrov” stayed at the four-star Best Western Meteor Plaza Hotel, where they shared a room.

“Fedotov” made two subsequent trips to Western Europe during the rest of 2014, visiting Milan, Geneva, and Paris. His last trip that year was from 12 November to 1 December 2014, when he traveled to and from Paris.

Bulgarian Events

In February 2015, Fedotov made his first trip to Bulgaria. On 15 February 2015 he flew from Moscow to Belgrade in neighboring Serbia. On the next day he traveled on to Bulgaria, and stayed there until February 22, when he flew back from Sofia to Moscow.

His second trip, which was previously reported by Bellingcat, was in April 2015. He landed in the seaside resort of Burgas on a direct flight from Moscow on 24 April 2015. While he had bought a return flight from Sofia to Moscow on 30 April 2015, he did not use that ticket. Instead, on the evening of April 28 at 20:20, he flew from Sofia to Istanbul, where he bought an onward ticket to Moscow that same night.

It was earlier that same day, April 28, that the Bulgarian arms manufacturer and trader Emilian Gebrev collapsed during a dinner event with his trading partners from Poland at an upscale Sofia restaurant. Mr. Gebrev’s health deteriorated fast and he slipped into a coma. He was treated for poisoning from an unidentified substance at the Military Medical Hospital in Sofia. A source from the medial institution who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to Bellingcat and its investigative partners that Mr. Gebrev’s state was “touch and go” for over two weeks, with his chances of survival at times deemed to be very low. Gebrev’s son and the commercial director of one of his manufacturing companies also fell ill with signs of poisoning in the days following his own collapse, albeit with lesser symptoms.

Following his release from hospital, and given that the poison had not been identified, Emilian Gebrev requested a forensic medical analysis from two European labs accredited by the OPCW. One of them – the Helsinki-based Verifin – conducted a detailed analysis on urine samples from Mr. Gebrev and his son. As previously reported, this analysis found traces of organo-phospate poisoning, with two distinct types of agent discovered in the sample of Patient 1, who is presumed to be Mr. Gebrev. One of the types was broadly identified by Verifin as a pesticide, while the other was not identified.

In a statement to the press on 11 February 2019 in the wake of Bellingcat’s first publication pinpointing “Fedotov”‘s presence in Buglaria during the time of Gebrev’s poisoning, Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor confirmed Fedotov’s concurrent presence in the country. He also confirmed that Bulgarian authorities have re-opened investigation into Gebrev’s 2015 poisoning, which had been closed in 2016 when no suspect had been identified. Mr. Tzatzarov said that the investigation had been reopened after Mr. Gebrev had written to the prosecutors in October 2018, having seen coverage of the Novichok poisonings in the UK and suspecting he may have been targeted in similar circumstances. Mr. Tzatzarov also confirmed that Bulgarian and UK law enforcement had been cooperating on the case since October 2018. He, however, appeared to discount the hypothesis that the 2015 poisonings in Bulgaria may have been linked to poisoning agents of the Novichok family, which he substantiated with the fact that “no chemicals in the CWC (Convention of Chemical Weapons) lists of banned substances were found in extensive testing”.

Bellingcat and its reporting partners approached several experts on chemical weapons for further comments on the possible poison used in Bulgaria, based on the symptoms described and the full report from Verifin.

All consulted experts, including Vil Mirzyanov, who worked on the development of Novichok as part of the Soviet Unioin’s secret chemical weapons program, concurred that the Verifin report cannot conclusively prove or disprove whether Novichok, or a similar substance, was used in the poisoning of Mr. Gebrev. Speaking to Bellingcat, Mr. Mirzyanov said that standard OPCW-standard compliant tests like the analysis conducted by Verifin are not suited to identify the use of Novichok, which is not а part of the banned list of substances under the CWC. Mr. Mirzyanov confirmed that a repeat test by the same laboratory, targeted specifically at the possible metabolysed traces and artifacts left by Novichok poisoning, is likely to prove or disprove the Novichok theory.

Verifin has confirmed to our reporting partner Helsingin Sanomat that it holds patient samples for a minimum of five years, which would mean that Mr. Gebrev’s samples are available for re-testing at least until June 2020. Verifin has confirmed to the reporting team that if requested by the patient, a custom-tailored analysis could be performed.

“Fedotov” returned to Sofia on a direct flight from Moscow once more, on 23 May 2015. He left the country on 29 May 2015 by car, crossing into Serbia in the company of two Russian citizens. According to sources in Bulgarian law enforcement interviewed by our reporting partner in Bulgaria, Capital.bg, one of the two companions had been present in London during the poisoning of the Skripals in March 2018. Fedotov flew from Belgrade to Moscow on the next day, 30 May 2015. This return visit to Bulgaria broadly coincided with Mr. Gebrev’s release from hospital, and subsequent reentry with renewed poisoning symptoms.

2016 and 2017 Hotspots

Following his Bulgaria trips, Fedotov made one more trip five-day trip to Turkey in August 2015.

During 2016, he traveled to London twice. His first visit was at the end of March, and he stayed in London six days until 1 April 2016. He returned to London for a four-day visit on 14 July 2016. Notably, or perhaps entirely coincidentally, these two trips were shortly before and after the Brexit referendum.

On 5 November 2016, Fedotov flew to Barcelona, and left back to Moscow from Zurich six days later. He returned to Barcelona one more time: on 29 September 2017, two days before the Catalunya independence referendum. Once gain, by coincidence or otherwise, Fedotov remained in Spain during the October 1 vote, and flew back via Geneva to Moscow on 9 October 2017. He flew back to Geneva one more time three weeks later, on October 30, and returned to Moscow on 8 November 2017.

The Skripal Poisoning

At the end of 2017, Fedotov took a trip to Armenia. He stayed there between 23 December and 2 January 2018.  Only a week later, he flew to Zurich on January 10 and returned from Geneva on 17 January 2018. This would be his last trip before the London visit during which the Skripals were poisoned.

Traveling as “Fedotov”, Denis Sergeev arrived in London early in the morning of 2 March 2018, leaving Moscow at 7:00 on Aeroflot flight SU 2580. The other two suspects, Mishkin and Chepiga, would arrive on a later flight that afternoon.

It is unclear what Fedotov’s role may have been, if any, in the preparation and execution of the poisoning operation. We could also not establish if he traveled to Salisbury on any of the days he was in the UK. He had booked a return flight on Aeroflot’s SU 2579

from Heathrow to Moscow in the afternoon of March 4, the day on which Sergey and Yuliya Skripal collapsed unconscious.

However, he never boarded that flight. PNR records seen by Bellingcat and its investigative partners show that despite checking in to that flight around noon on March 4, “Fedotov” was a last minute no-show. Instead, using transportation that has yet to be identified by us, he made his way to Rome, and boarded a flight at 15:30 that same day back to Moscow.

In the next part, set to be published next week, we will detail how we identified Denis Sergeev, despite concerted efforts by Russian authorities to purge all public records of him and the two Skripal poisoners, Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin.

The post Third Suspect in Skripal Poisoning Identified as Denis Sergeev, High-Ranking GRU Officer appeared first on bellingcat.

German bank to determine whether Jewish peace group is anti-Semitic

The pressure on both Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, began in 2016, after the Jerusalem Post published an article on several Jewish German groups that had demanded the bank shut down the organization’s account over the latter’s support for BDS. The bank gave in and the account was shut down — the first time a German bank had shut down a Jewish organization’s account since the fall of the Nazi regime — only to be re-opened in 2017.

Bank für Sozialwirtschaft says it will conduct a ‘scientific review’ of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East after the group was accused anti-Semitism by a leading Jewish organization over its support for the BDS movement.

Activists from the 'International Block', hold a BDS sign, during the annual May Day demonstration, Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2017. (Activestills.org)

Activists from the ‘International Block’, hold a BDS sign, during the annual May Day demonstration, Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2017. (Activestills.org)

A German bank is trying to determine whether a German-Jewish group that supports Palestinian rights is anti-Semitic.

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In December of last year, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft (Bank for Social Economy) said it would conduct a “scientific review” of German-Jewish group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East after the latter was accused of anti-Semitism by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of the most well-known Jewish human rights organizations, placed the group at number seven in its annual “Top 10 Most anti-Semitic Incidents List” over its support for the BDS movement.

The list, published late last year, includes the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the appearance of swastikas across university campuses in the U.S. It also lists Bank für Sozialwirtschaft for providing services to Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, which operates in Germany. The bank decided to appoint an expert on anti-Semitism to determine whether the Jewish organization is in fact anti-Semitic.

The pressure on both Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, began in 2016, after the Jerusalem Post published an article on several Jewish German groups that had demanded the bank shut down the organization’s account over the latter’s support for BDS. The bank gave in and the account was shut down — the first time a German bank had shut down a Jewish organization’s account since the fall of the Nazi regime — only to be re-opened in 2017.

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The pressure from pro-Israel groups, however, did not cease.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list includes not only anti-Semitic incidents, but also organizations, figures, and political decisions — including Airbnb’s decision to pull listings in West Bank settlements, UNRWA’s activities in the Gaza Strip, and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. According to the list, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft earned the number seven spot because it “insists on doing business with the radical ‘Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East,’ which strongly endorses boycotting the Jewish state.”

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, which consists of a few dozen members, was first established in the early 2000s. All members of the group are volunteers; some of them are German-Jews, while others are Israelis who now live in Germany.

The pressure worked. Following the publishing of the list, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft pledged to carry out a “scientific review” to determine whether the Wiesenthal Center’s claims are true. To do so, the bank appointed Juliane Wetsel, a German historian from the Centre for Research on Antisemitism, to investigate the matter and submit an expert “scientific” opinion. The results are expected to be published in March.

A statement published by Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, which has been under criticism from both the right and the left, laid out the sensitivity of the current situation: “During the discussion on hosting the Jewish Voice bank account, we realized that we were in a lose-lose situation. Both shutting down as well as the opening of the account have brought renewed accusations of anti-Semitism.”

“We know that no matter what we decide, we will be forced to deal with accusations of anti-Semitism. This is regrettable, and we hope to contribute to a fact-based discussion with a scientific assessment of the issue,” the bank concluded.

The bank says Westel’s review will be conducted according to the working definition of anti-Semitism as laid out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization founded in 1998. The definition, which was formulated in 2016 and has recently been at the center of controversy, is made up of 11 guidelines — four of which are directly related to criticism of Israel.

<p>Protesters carry Palestinian flags during a Black Lives Matter protest march, Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2018. (Activestills.org)

Protesters carry Palestinian flags during a Black Lives Matter protest march, Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2018. (Activestills.org)

“The [anti-Semitism] definition has been manipulated by Israel,” says Iris Hefets, a former Israeli and member of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. “They want to turn anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism.”

While Bank für Sozialwirtschaft has no qualms shutting down a bank account of an organization dedicated to human rights and peace, it maintains an account for the German branch of the Jewish National Fund, an organization that is complicit in the removal of Bedouins from their land in the Negev-Naqab Desert in southern Israel. Recently, the branch moved its account to a different bank.

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East has roundly rejected the bank’s decision. “They are looking into whether the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are anti-Semites,” says Hefets. “The review is illegitimate because it uses a definition designed to protect us as Jews against anti-Semitism, which is now directed at the minority group it is supposed to defend.”

In some areas of Germany, says Hefets, the far-right won over 20 percent of the vote in the last elections, asylum seekers are murdered by right-wing terrorists, and there is a general sense that the state is doing little to protect minorities. “In this kind of atmosphere, it is absurd to choose a Jewish group that deals with human rights and determine whether it is anti-Semitic.”

In mid-January, more than 90 renowned Jewish scholars and intellectuals — including Noam Chomsky, Eva Illouz, and Judith Butler — signed an open letter condemning the attacks against Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East and demanding the bank stop conducting its review: “We call upon the members of German civil society to fight antisemitism relentlessly while maintaining a clear distinction between criticism of the state of Israel, harsh as it may be, and antisemitism, and to preserve free speech for those who reject Israeli repression against the Palestinian people and insist that it comes to an end.”

“We are signed on to the BDS call as laid out by Palestinian civil society, to which we offer our solidarity,” she continues. “We are glad to see a change in the Palestinian struggle, which supports using nonviolence as a way of pushing Israeli Jews to bring about change.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

The post German bank to determine whether Jewish peace group is anti-Semitic appeared first on +972 Magazine.

In Portland, A Roving Right-Wing Gang “Demasks” Left-Wing Activists

For the past two years, the city of Portland, Oregon has been terrorized by a series of increasingly violent clashes between Patriot Prayer, a right wing protest group, and several antifascist groups. The most vicious of these conflicts occurred on June 30, 2018; what started as a Patriot Prayer rally descended into a riot. Five people were hospitalized, one with serious injuries.

Antifascists contend that Patriot Prayer, while not a fascist group, helps “normalize” fascist street violence in their community. They point to the fatal stabbings of two people on a Portland MAX train by former Patriot Prayer marcher Jeremy Christian as one example of this. They also note that most of the male members of Patriot Prayer are also members of the Proud Boys, an SPLC designated hate group.

Antifascists point out that, while not openly fascist themselves, Patriot Prayer has marched with out-right fascist groups, including Identity Evropa. Neo-Nazi YouTuber Baked Alaska has given speeches at several Patriot Prayer events.

For their part, Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer claim that the antifascists are the violent ones. They accuse “Antifa”, as they are frequently called, of scaring conservatives and liberals alike out of exercising their free speech. Joey bills Patriot Prayer as standing against hate and in favor of open dialogue. To this end on Thursday, January 17, 2019, Patriot Prayer convened a flash mob outside of a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) meeting in downtown Portland. They were refused entry by the DSA.  

After this gathering, several Patriot Prayer members claim they were assaulted in the streets by a gang of antifascists. Two Patriot Prayer members were hospitalized with minor injuries. Joey Gibson used this event as the justification for several weeks’ worth of flash mobs, each aimed at “demasking” members of antifa. Why Joey Gibson invented the term “demasking,” rather than using the word “unmasking,” is unclear. Many of these so-called demaskings have been violent. The repeated clashes have led to threats of deadly force against antifascist activists.

In this article, I will examine the claims made by Joey Gibson and other Patriot Prayer members about the night of January 17, the alleged assault of their members, and this demasking campaign. My sources are hours of videos taken by both antifascist activists and members of Patriot Prayer and allied groups.

The Inciting Incident

On Thursday, January 17, Patriot Prayer members assembled at the Portland Industrial Workers of the World Union Labor Hall. That night, the hall was host to a meeting of the DSA. Video taken that night by Robert West, a Patriot Prayer sympathizer, gives us a good look at the tenor of the encounter.

It seems to start relatively peacefully. The DSA members will not allow Patriot Prayer inside their meeting space, but several of them go out and engage in polite conversation. We hear one of them converse with Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, Joey Gibson’s (former)  second in command and a notorious street brawler with several arrests and charges for assault. The conversation is polite and pleasant; both men agree that police sometimes use heavy-handed tactics on people of color.

Tiny states his belief that he has been arrested at several rallies because the police wanted to be seen hauling in a “brown coconut” “just to look good” to the media. This leads to a conversation about institutional racism, which is contentious but polite.

Eventually that conversation dies down, and things grow markedly less pleasant outside the meeting. Patriot Prayer members can be heard mocking the IWW as a “communist organization” and doubting whether or not any members of the organization are really workers.

Haley Adams, a white nationalist activist who regularly marches with Patriot Prayer, expresses frustration at not being let into the meeting. She claims her purpose is to “ask questions.” Eventually the group (it’s impossible to say who initiates it) attempts to go around the back of the IWW hall, a private residence they have been barred from, and enter through the back door.

They are met by several DSA members who again turn them away. The video ends as the “flash mob” appears to be petering out.

The “Ambush”

The next video we have is from a short while later that night. It was also shot by Robert West. It takes place on the opposite side of the street from the IWW house and shows the immediate aftermath of a fight between “Tiny” Toese, four other Patriot Prayer members, and a group of antifascists.

As the video starts we see West approach the scene. He claims the attack was carried out by people “in that house” (the DSA house), but he admits that he did not actually see the altercation. There does not appear to be any video of the actual fight itself, so we will have to determine what we can from footage of the aftermath.  

As Robert approaches, Tiny is speaking to the police while Reggie Axtell, another Patriot Prayer member and Proud Boy, lies on the ground in apparent agony. Tiny will later claim several of Reggie’s ribs were broken:

In his report to the police, Tiny claims the antifascists who attacked him and his friends numbered between 15 and 20. He repeatedly claims to have knocked “a few” people out, and states that the fight started when he and several other Patriot Prayer members were driving away from the DSA meeting in two cars. He says that an antifascist threw a rock, which hit Haley Adams’s car. This prompted Tiny and four comrades to exit their vehicle and approach the antifascists.  Tiny claims that he and his “brothers” fought back after the antifascists attacked.

After giving their statements, an ambulance arrives and takes both Reggie Axtell and James Edward Johnson to a hospital. Johnson apparently suffered minor head injuries. He is not in obvious discomfort in this video, but the poor lighting also makes it difficult to see any injury:

In a second video, shot by Robert West after the police have finished taking his statement, Toese films himself describing the fight for a Facebook video.

He seems to have decided that video was not up to his standards, because he re-recorded it later at his home. The main difference between the two videos is that, in the second one, Tiny is shirtless.

The Plot Thickens

Tiny Toese, James Johnson, and Reggie Axtell all filmed videos after the altercation. James was actually filmed in the hospital. The video was posted to Patriot Prayer’s Facebook page at 11:08 PM on January 17. He is identified in the title as simply a “black man”.

In this video, James claims that the antifascists threw a rock at the car he and Tiny were riding in, not Haley’s car. His version is otherwise consistent with the story Tiny told the police. Midway through the video, we get a closer look at James’s injuries, which he claims were inflicted by a baton:

In Tiny’s shirtless recitation of the story, the number of antifascists has evolved from “15-20” to “17.” Tiny claims that he “knocked out” four of their attackers while Reggie knocked out three. Tiny is boisterous and extremely excited in this video, cheering the fight as a major victory and saying:

“Well that’s a message to you all, we don’t run. We don’t run. We stand. I have that tattoo for a reason. Because Proud Boys don’t run. We stand.”

At 7:10 into the video, Tiny reveals that Jason pulled out a firearm during the fight, addressing the antifascists who attacked them and saying, “Now y’all lucky that I told my boy Jason to put his piece in his pocket. But when he pulled that bitch out y’all ran like little girls. Y’all lucky.”

It’s possible that James possessed a concealed handgun license and was carrying the weapon legally. The firearm is not mentioned to the police, at least not during any of the conversation that was recorded.

On January 21, Reggie Axtell posted a video to Facebook Live as well. He gives a somewhat different version of events. The full video has been deleted, but this excerpt was preserved by antifascist researchers (I watched a full archived copy of the video for the purpose of this report):

Reggie repeats the claim that a rock was thrown at one of their cars, and when they got out to confront the thrower they were rushed by twenty anti-fascists. Reggie does not credit them with throwing the first punch. Here is how he describes the beginning of the fight:

“So this guy, he stands up in front of Tiny and he wants to fight Tiny, so Tiny’s like, well let’s go. And I step to the right of Tiny and there’s a guy coming at me smiling. I said, OK well you want something to smile about? And I put my knuckles in his face.”

Patriot Prayer’s First Demasking Spree

On January 19, 2019, Patriot Prayer again assembled in front of the I.W.W. Union Hall in Downtown Portland. Joey Gibson led this rally in person, and it was filmed by Robert West. The video opens with Haley Adams running up the stairs, attempting to enter the building through an open front door. She is denied entry. Patriot Prayer assembles outside and its members begin to heckle the people inside. Joey tells them, “The guy that you guys attacked is coming here soon so you can apologize to them.”

Haley points to a Black Lives Matter sign on the front window and shouts, “Look, they have Black Lives Matter! They have Black Lives Matter here as they mob and attack the guy.”

By this point the story has evolved yet again. Joey now alleges that the DSA coordinated with the people who fought Tiny and his crew. About two minutes into the video, James arrives and recites his version of the story again while Joey records. He restates that there were 15-20 antifascists.

After about seven minutes of picketing the I.W.W. building, Joey gets on a bullhorn and starts shouting at the people inside. During the rant he accuses them of bringing “40 antifa” to attack his men. James poses in front of the building. During Joey’s bullhorn tirade James is referred to as “a black man” rather than by his name:

No one inside the Union Hall opted to engage Patriot Prayer. However, during that protest an activist livestreamer who uses the handle @DemandUtopia approached from the opposite street. He began to heckle Patriot Prayer, accusing them of having come to “terrorize the streets of Portland once again.” He calls them “terrorists” (his footage can be found here).

Haley Adams responds, via bullhorn, that, “The guys with the masks on are the ones that beat a black man and put him in the hospital.” The exchange continues in this fashion for a little while, until @DemandUtopia begins a conversation with a bystander on the street. He stops addressing Patriot Prayer. At 3:51 seconds after his arrival on-scene, Joey Gibson leads a large group across the street to confront DemandUtopia:

This altercation was actually filmed from both sides. Robert West’s footage, filmed inside Patriot Prayer’s ranks, begins before DemandUtopia arrives on scene. We hear several members point out a group of people, some of whom are masked, on the opposite side of the street. They theorize one of them is on his cellphone to rally other antifascists to come and confront them.

We aren’t privy to anything Joey might have said before crossing the street with his men. Robert West gets engaged in a conversation with a left-wing activist. Both of them express shock that Patriot Prayer has just charged across the street. West says, “Uh oh”:

Neither video shows any direct act of provocation by the people on the other side of the street, who appear vastly outnumbered by Patriot Prayer. Joey marches up to DemandUtopia’s face and loudly repeats the question; “You think it’s OK to assault black people? Huh? You think that’s OK?” DemandUtopia is surrounded and shoved. His footage becomes unclear and chaotic, but West’s footage shows him being attacked and manhandled until he is pulled into a local business by a bystander.

Joey and his people eventually leave the I.W.W. Hall and travel to the Oregon Right to Life march, which began at the nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square. Several groups of counter-protesters had gathered in opposition to the march. Joey Gibson makes these activists the targets of his first demasking campaign.

This video, shot and edited by Daniel V. Media, shows several confrontations. In one, Joey and Patriot Prayer surround and demask a middle-aged man and accuse him of having “beat up a black man, put him in a hospital,” as well as of breaking Reggie’s ribs. Joey calls Reggie by his name. This counter-protester expresses confusion and claims to have no knowledge of the fight. Joey yells at him to “shut your mouth” and then threatens:

“From now on anyone with a mask on is part of them.”

There are numerous videos of Gibson and Patriot Prayer accosting counter-protesters who are either alone, or in small groups, and berating them. At 2:09 in the Daniel V. Media video, we see him approach a group of young women, only one of whom is masked.

He shouts at them, “Is that your thing now, huh? You guys are OK with that? 30 of you, taking five people? Is that what you’re into now? Huh? Bullshit. Those are your people. You wear the mask you’re one of them.”

Patriot Prayer members quickly surround the women. One young man, ironically wearing a mask himself, pulls out a can of bear mace and threatens them with it.

At 3:50 Patriot Prayer approaches a roughly equivalent sized group of antifascists. They push their way through the group. The antifascists do not fight back, save for one shoving match wherein the same masked Patriot Prayer member threatens a second person.

Once they pass through, the Patriot Prayer marchers stop, turn around and continue demanding the antifascists remove their masks. Most of the group backs away, but one young man lingers behind, yelling at several antifascists. He fixates on one older man and tells him,

“Fuck you too. Are you union? Are you union, bitch? I kick teamsters’ fucking teeth out. I kick teamster teeth out, fucking bitch.”

At 5:10, he tells another antifascist, “I’ll bust your fucking teeth out faggot.”

This same Patriot Prayer marcher appeared in another video, from a different point in the march, apparently threatening counter-protesters with a firearm. The video was deleted before it could be archived, but I did take several screengrabs that show him holding a hand in his pocket, and then mock shooting at the person taping him:


The most significant act of violence on January 19 appears to be an assault by Haley Adams against a counter-protester. This Daniel V. Media video does an excellent job of breaking it down from several angles. We see her approach an unmasked woman, stun gun in hand. Twitter user @portlandresists took the best photograph of that:

And then, on the video, we see her jam her stun gun into this woman’s neck.

The woman’s face was blacked out by Daniel V. Media — perhaps due to safety concerns

The stun gun does not activate. This was not intentional; Haley intended to fire the stun gun. She was simply unable to work it properly.  We know this because there is a clip from yet another Patriot Prayer livestream where we hear Haley complain that “it doesn’t fucking work.” One of her partners succeeds in figuring out how to activate the stun gun and hands it back to her.  

The Situation Escalates Further

On January 21, 2019, Reggie Axtell posted a video where he threatens Portland mayor Ted Wheeler.

“I promise you this. Ted Wheeler, you and all your little masked thugs running around beating people up in the streets of Portland, your days are fucking numbered. You hear me? Your days are fucking numbered. Because I promise you this, Ted Wheeler, I’m coming for you you little punk. And all your little Antifa bastards, I’m coming for you fuckers too.”

That same day, Joey Gibson posted a video challenging his fans and followers around the country to demask as many antifascists as possible.

On Wednesday, January 23, the I.W.W. Union Hall and a bar frequented by anarchists were both vandalized. The I.W.W. house had the words “antifa house” and “smash communism” spray-painted on it. Windows were broken.

For reasons known only to Joey, he responded to this by holding yet another flash mob outside of the I.W.W. hall the night after it was attacked. The video of this is truly surreal. For one thing, it was uploaded by Haley Adams and branded as a “Crusade Media” production. Here’s the YouTube description she wrote:

“Joey Gibson along with members of Patriot Prayer meet Haley Adams in front of the freshly vandalized IWW/DSA/Antifa building on Burnside in Portland, and issue a statement they were not involved. It is believed Antifa staged a vandalism false flag on their own building in order to blame local conservatives, as well as rally support and fundraising to their cause. At the time of posting this, they have already raised $3600.00.”

Joey denies any Patriot Prayer involvement in the crime and accuses “antifa” of trying to start “some sort of war”. Haley Adams refers to the hall as “antifa house”, which is exactly what vandals spraypainted on the side of the building.


Joey goes on to address “socialists” and threaten, “We’re going to go to every single event, we’re going to go every single one of your houses, not your private houses, but every single organization that you guys have, everything that is established, every single bar, everybody that has an attachment to antifa, you’re going to see us and we’re going to keep going until you disavow Antifa and you separate yourselves.”

He issues a challenge to his viewers:

“You see a mask, you pull a mask. Boop! Get the picture. Alright, we’re gonna see, it’s like a trophy. We’re gonna see who has the most.”

Gibson notes that the DSA has cancelled its meeting for the night. He says that he holds the DSA members “just as responsible” for beating up Reggie and James as the people who actually fought with them.

“We are going to keep going to your meetings,” he promises, “We’re going to keep going until you let us in, you let us have a conversation…”

Also on the 24th, Patriot Prayer member Skylor Jernigan posted a threatening Facebook Live video (since removed, clips of it remain). Jernigan was present for most of the rallies covered in this article. He tells Antifa he is “fucking tired of it” and claiming that “our men were beat for no reason”. He threatens that antifascists will “get knives put into your throats, get bullets put into your heads. If you don’t stop this shit with us”:

On January 27, Jernigan was filmed with several other Patriot Prayer members, attempting to demask antifascists. At one point they chase after several people. Jernigan and another man can both be seen wearing knives:

Open-carry of such belt knives is perfectly legal in Oregon, but antifascist activists online have expressed deep concern, based on the city’s recent history. In 2017 Jeremy Christian, a former member of Patriot Prayer, began harassing two young Muslim teenagers on a Portland MAX train. Three passengers confronted him and demanded he stop. Christian stabbed two of them to death, and critically wounded a third. When the police arrested him he told them, “That’s what liberalism gets you.”

January 27 was the day of a peaceful protest against Portland’s ICE offices. The protest had a superhero theme, and so many people were masked and costumed. Video of the event shows a calm, friendly gathering. A costumed marching band plays a jaunty tune as people converse. The band gradually starts marching off, followed by a trail of activists. We see Joey Gibson and several Patriot Prayer members zero in on a very young man in a white mask:

This young man was not the only masked person at the rally, but he did wind up near the back of the line. This made him vulnerable. While Gibson approached from the front, his followers circled and closed in, surrounding their quarry:

One of Joey’s men grabbed the young man in a bear hug, holding him in place while Joey Gibson removed his mask:

To all signs this demasking campaign will continue for the foreseeable future. There have been signs already that it may have a chilling effect on free speech within the city. On January 25, Portland Community College received several threats that an on-campus event held by the DSA would be disrupted. The school canceled the event, and Portland DSA Chairwoman Olivia Katbi Smith alleges the threats were made by members of Patriot Prayer.

On social media, some Portland locals have posited dark theories about where this situation may lead:

For his part, Joey Gibson posted another video on January 28. He described demasking as “simple and effective”, and promised that the attacks will continue for the foreseeable future: “Whenever there’s any sort of event in Portland I will be down there.”

Postscript

Patriot Prayer and the Portland Proud Boys now seem to have entered into a conflict of their own. Tusitala Toese and several other individuals who were members of the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer have resigned their membership in Patriot Prayer.

It’s unclear how this will impact the activities of both groups in Portland going forward. All involved parties seem committed to continuing the aggressive street actions of the last several weeks.

Special thanks to Twitter user @Kherman112 for assistance tracking down the original versions of several of these videos.

 

The post In Portland, A Roving Right-Wing Gang “Demasks” Left-Wing Activists appeared first on bellingcat.

Palestinian battling cancer is denied exit from Gaza for treatment

The medical care Ahlam Abu Musa needs isn’t available through Gaza’s debilitated health system, but the Israeli army has denied all four of her exit requests.

By Amjad Yaghi

Ahlam Abu Musa, 20, was diagnosed with cancer in May 2018. The treatment she needs is not available in the strip, but the Israeli army has denied her multiple requests to exit through the Erez Crossing.

Ahlam Abu Musa, 20, was diagnosed with cancer in May 2018. The treatment she needs is not available in the strip, but the Israeli army has denied her multiple requests to exit through the Erez Crossing.

Ahlam Abu Musa was diagnosed with bone cancer last May. The 20-year-old from Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, has since tried to obtain an exit permit to receive treatment at Al Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, but the Israeli army has denied her multiple requests.

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Ahlam sought care in hospital after hospital, but Gaza’s health system is dealing with severe shortages in supplies, and the lines of patients awaiting treatment at government-funded hospitals is especially long.

By the time a doctor could finally examine Ahlam, he misdiagnosed her condition. She was first told the pain she felt was a result of a broken foot. When the pain grew worse, Ahlam went to see another doctor, who discovered a cancerous tumor in her left foot.

According to Dr. Jamal Abu Hilal, the orthopedist treating Ahlam, the cancer is spreading rapidly, and it needs to be monitored carefully. Dr. Abu Hilal is refusing to operate on Ahlam, however, because the medical equipment required to conduct the surgery is not available in Gaza, he said.

Ahlam and her mother then began making arrangements to have her receive treatment outside Gaza. The mother and daughter first submitted a permit request to leave the strip through the Erez Crossing in late July, both were denied. They tried again in October through the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs, but their request was denied again based on security concerns. Their third attempt, in December, was also denied.

Shortly after, Ahlam’s family managed to secure donations to cover the costs of the surgery at a hospital in Jordan, and the procedure was scheduled for late January. When they applied for an exit permit the fourth time, their request was denied yet again.

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Ahlam’s mother, Wahida, is the family’s sole provider. Her father has been unemployed for years, and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. “We’re not affiliated with any political party to be denied a permit based on security reasons,” said Wahida. “I don’t know what we did to be punished this way.”

Ahlam says the pain has gotten so intense, she can’t sleep at night. “I can’t build a future for myself in this condition. I’ve been stuck at home since May,” she said. “All I want is to have the surgery so that the pain can go away. Why are my mother and I being denied a permit? We don’t pose any danger to Israel.”

Palestinians in Gaza can leave the strip in one of two ways: through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, or through the Erez Crossing with Israel. While Rafah is the primary exit point for Gazans seeking to travel abroad, Erez is the only crossing Palestinians can take to travel to Israel and the West Bank.

Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2006, Israel has allowed Palestinians to cross through Erez only based on “specific Israeli-defined categories,” according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied territories.

Patients in Gaza are referred to hospitals in East Jerusalem when they require treatments that aren’t available in most of the occupied territories, due to Israel’s restrictions on goods, including medicine and medical equipment, as well as fuel for electricity. According to OCHA, most referrals are for cancer treatment.

Based on data collected by Gisha, an Israeli rights group that focuses on freedom of movement in and out of Gaza, in 2018, a total of 103,325 Palestinians were allowed to exit Gaza through the Erez Crossing, of which 30,174 were patients and their companions. The resulting average of exits per month last year was higher than in 2017, but lower than the monthly averages for 2015 and 2016.

The Israeli military administration that oversees the occupation of the Palestinian territories (COGAT) did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. Should one be received, it will be added here.

Amjad Yaghi is a journalist from Gaza.

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Debunking Immigration Myths Before State of the Union Address

Thanks #IJPC

Written by Kendra, IJPC Intern

Recently the National Immigrant Justice Center released a brief to counter some of President Trump’s claims over immigration.  Here we will break down these claims with the facts and explain how the President manipulates data to perpetuate these false claims and uses it to continue enacting policies that “erode due process, increase incarceration of communities of color, and strip legal protections from immigrants.”

Claim #1:  President Trump states that only a fraction of immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border actually qualify and that most are attempting to “game the system.”

Facts:  In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order calling for higher standards for asylum seekers.  Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have also intentionally reduced the number of asylum seekers processed each day.  Lastly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made it more difficult for survivors of gang-related and domestic violence to establish eligibility for asylum.  These changes make it appear that less individuals are seeking asylum. Those that are able to seek asylum are having more challenges than ever getting asylum granted.  All of these issues have increased the denial rates for rates for asylum applicants from 54.6% in 2016 to 65% in 2018.

Claim #2:  President Trump has stated that immigrants “never show up” to court and the Director for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) stated that providing full legal representation for children is ineffective in getting them to appear in court.  

Facts:  The EOIR’s own data shows that at least 60% of immigrant families appear for court hearings despite often not having legal representation.  This statistics jumps to over 98% when families have legal representation and to over 95% for minors that are represented. The bleak truth is that there is no right to counsel for immigrants that cannot afford private representation.  On the other hand, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is represented in each proceeding by its own federal counsel. This makes it a mucher steeper hill for immigrants to climb. In fact, those that have attorneys are 5 times more likely to win their cases than those without.  

Claim #3:  The Trump administration states that the largest percentage (66%) of those arrested by ICE are convicted criminals.

Facts:  Criminal conduct includes entry and reentry offenses and is the leading type of conviction for “criminal-aliens.”  Subsequently, in 2018, U.S. Attorneys were instructed to prosecute all migrants entering between ports of entry, which led to a 30% increase from the month before.  Many CBP agents were already limiting the amount of individuals processed legally at the ports of entry each day which led to many feeling they had not other choice than to cross without permission.  Therefore, it appears that the administration is manipulating these statistics in order to vilify immigrants and say they are a danger to the U.S.

References

The National Immigrant Justice Center. (2019, January 29). Policy Brief | The Trump Administration’s Manipulation of Data to Perpetuate Anti-Immigrant Policies

The post Debunking Immigration Myths Before State of the Union Address appeared first on IJPC | Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center | Cincinnati Ohio.

Settlers to Palestinian laborers: ‘Work with human rights groups and lose your job’

Flyers posted in villages near Gush Etzion warn Palestinian laborers they will be banned from nearby settlements should they cooperate with anti-occupation groups.

Palestinian construction workers build a new house in the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Palestinian construction workers build a new house in the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, September 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Settlers in the southern West Bank posted flyers warning Palestinian laborers not to cooperate with Israeli human rights activists or organizations if they want to keep their jobs.

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Tazpit News Agency, a settler-aligned English-language news outlet, reported earlier this week that Israeli settlers in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc have been posting these intimidating flyers around Palestinian villages nearby. The flyers threaten to ban Palestinians who cooperate with human rights groups from working in settlements there.

According to the flyer, which was printed in Arabic, Palestinians who want to “provide a living” for their families must refuse cooperation with the organizations and people listed. The flyer includes photos and names of prominent Israeli and Palestinian activists, and singles out Ta’ayush and Rabbis for Human Rights, two organizations that accompany and protect Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from threats of settler violence.

settlers

The flyer reads:

“Do you wish to keep working in the settlements? Do you want to provide a living for your families from the Jews? Whoever cooperates with any one of these individuals and organizations (Ta’ayush and Rabbis for Human Rights) will never be allowed to enter the settlements for work. Be warned!”

“On the one hand this is a classic divide and conquer tactic,” says Guy Butuvia, an Israeli activist with Ta’ayush, an Israeli-Palestinian volunteer grassroots group founded during the Second Intifada. “They want to create a division between Palestinians and human rights workers who support Palestinians in their struggle to remain on their land, so as not to disturb the land theft that is taking place there.”

“On the other hand,” he continues, “over the years, the occupation has made it difficult for Palestinians to make a livelihood, whether it’s by taking their land, resources, water, or strangling their economy. Now those who are forced to work in the settlements are being threatened. This is part of an attempt to limit Palestinian rights as well as their access to legal recourse.”

Since the Second Intifada, Israeli authorities have significantly limited the entry of Palestinian laborers into Israel. In West Bank settlements, however, Palestinian workers are able to enter and work more freely. Around 36,000 Palestinians work in settlements in the West Bank, many in construction, where they earn up to three times the average Palestinian wage.

According to TPS, the flyers are a reaction to Palestinians who have been working at the behest of “extreme leftist” organizations and “illegally taking over lands around and within Israeli communities in the eastern part of Gush Etzion.” TPS further reported that a Hebrew translation of the ad was distributed to settlers in the area, and that a list of Palestinian families working in settlements there will be distributed to allow each employer to “make his own decision” — presumably over whether or not to continue employing them.

Butuvia says similar flyers were distributed in the same area a year ago by members of far-right group Im Tirzu. Those flyers personally targeted Israeli human rights workers for their “anti-Israel activism” and their “activities against the IDF.”

“These flyers are yet another reminder that we are a target of far-right groups, which get their marching orders from the Israeli government. The goal is clear: to expel Palestinians from their Area C of the West Bank [under full Israeli military control – E.K.] and minimize their ability to defend themselves.”

While settlers are busy threatening Palestinians over alleged land theft in Gush Etzion, the Israeli government has been busy allocating around 300 acres for the planning of a new neighborhood that would expand the settlement of Efrat, widely considered the capital of the bloc. The new Givat Eitman neighborhood is expected to expand the built-up area in Gush Etzion up to Bethlehem’s southern outskirts, effectively surrounding the city with settlements.

During a recent visit to Netiv Ha’avot, an outpost in Gush Etzion that was partially demolished after the High Court of Justice found that six of its structures were built on private Palestinian land, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if it was up to him, “There won’t be any more uprooting or halting settlements — just the opposite: The Land of Israel is ours, and will remain ours.”

The post Settlers to Palestinian laborers: ‘Work with human rights groups and lose your job’ appeared first on +972 Magazine.

‘To be Ethiopian in Israel is to be constantly struggling for something’

The shooting of Yehuda Biadga last week reignited tensions between Israel’s Ethiopian community and the police, which has long been accused of using a heavy hand against the country’s minorities. ‘The struggle is against police brutality, which is a result of racism against black people in this country.’

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters marched against police violence in Tel Aviv on Jan. 30, 2018, weeks following the fatal police shooting of Yehuda Biadga. (Activestills.org/Oren Ziv)

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters marched against police violence in Tel Aviv on Jan. 30, 2018, weeks following the fatal police shooting of Yehuda Biadga. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

For the third time in as many years, thousands of Ethiopian citizens of Israel demonstrated against police violence this week. On Jan. 18, officers gunned down Yehuda Biadga, a 24-year old Israeli of Ethiopian background, who was wandering the streets of his neighborhood in the city of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv.

According to family members, the young man left his home in the evening hours of that fatal day. He was distraught and carried a knife as he wandered around the neighborhood — Biadga suffered from severe PTSD after his release from the Israeli army. The family immediately called the police, informing them that Biadga suffered from a mental illness and had not taken his medication, but that he did not pose any danger.

Police took just over 50 minutes to arrive and commence searching for the young man. It was during the belated search that police said one of the officers saw Biadga approaching with a knife and ordered him to stop, but he ignored the officer’s warnings. The officer, who told police he had reason to fear for his life, fired two shots at Biadga’s upper body, killing him. Police officials rejected accusations that the officer opened fire because Biadga was black, claiming instead that the policeman’s life was at risk.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department — an external agency meant to investigate and prosecutes officers — has launched an investigation. Police placed the officer on leave, per his request.

The shooting reignited tensions between Israel’s Ethiopian community and the police, which has long been accused of using a heavy hand against the country’s visible minorities, particularly against citizens of Ethiopian descent. Over 15,000 Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters marched in the streets of Tel Aviv on Wednesday, blocking the Ayalon Highway, one of the country’s main arteries, and calling for an end to “racist police violence,” which they say is a daily experience for them.

Despite the large turnout, members of the Ethiopian community are in despair over police brutality. Biadga’s killing is just the latest, most extreme incident, says Efrat Yerday, a prominent Ethiopian-Israeli activist, but it is a salutary example of the way Israeli officers treat young Ethiopians. “The police want to talk about [Biadga’s] violence, [but] they don’t want to talk about the hour that the family waited for officers to arrive or the fact that they shot him twice in the upper body. They are building a narrative that makes the officer look like the victim in this situation.”

Police push demonstrators back during a protest against police brutality targeting Israelis of Ethiopian descent, July 3, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police push demonstrators back during a protest against police brutality targeting Israelis of Ethiopian descent, July 3, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Wednesday’s march ended with a vigil in Rabin Square, one of Tel Aviv’s central gathering points and the site of bloody clashes in 2015, when thousands of Ethiopians demonstrated following a number of high-profile incidents of police violence. Those clashes left dozens wounded, after police on horseback beat protesters with riot sticks and used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them. Israelis were stunned by widely disseminated images of bloodied protesters in the country’s most famous public square.

Less than a year later, Ethiopian-Israelis turned out in the streets once more. This time they were protesting the police having closed a criminal investigation against two officers who tasered Yosef Salamsa, a 22-year-old Israeli-Ethiopian, in the northern town of Zichron Yaakov in 2014.

Three months after the incident, Salamsa, who had been traumatized by the encounter, committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. Investigators did not find the officers guilty of criminal conduct, but they recommended disciplinary action against the two for having lied about warning Salamsa before firing a taser at him, and for having left him outside the police station for 35 minutes, injured and unattended.

Relatives and members of the Jewish Ethiopian community protest during a march held in memory of Yosef Salamsa, January 4, 2015. Salamsa took his own life after alleged police harassment.

Relatives and members of the Jewish Ethiopian community protest during a march held in memory of Yosef Salamsa, January 4, 2015. Salamsa took his own life after alleged police harassment. (Activestills.org)

‘It’s incitement against Ethiopians, plain and simple’

More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, most of whom are the children of those who immigrated in the mid-80s or early 90s. Now second-generation Israelis, most of the community is still struggling to be integrated into mainstream society. Their socio-economic status is low, and they suffer gaps in housing, education, and employment. According to a 2011 report by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute in Jerusalem, 65 percent of Ethiopian children in Israel live in poverty.

“To be Ethiopian in this country is to be constantly struggling for something,” says Ziva Mekonen-Degu, the executive director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, established in 1993 to close social gaps and improve the lives of Ethiopian Israelis. “We have been struggling, since we came to this country, to be recognized and treated fairly. Today the struggle is against police brutality, which is a result of racism against black people in this country.”

Yerday, the activist, says the underlying reasons for police targeting are two-fold: a deep belief that Ethiopians, and black people in general, are inherently more violent; and the media’s failure to investigate incidents of police violence. Instead of investigating independently, media outlets often report the police version as straight news, she says.

“They claimed that the march would be violent, that the lives of police officers would be put in danger. All the biggest news outlets took their headlines straight from the police playbook. It’s incitement against Ethiopians, plain and simple,” she says.

This time, however, the demonstrations were largely peaceful. Police refrained from using violent crowd control measures, as they had in 2015. There were a few isolated clashes when a small group of protesters broke away from the main demonstration, damaging parked cars, trashing a café, and setting fire to trash cans. Police arrested 11, nine of whom were brought in front of a judge on Thursday morning.

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters marched against police violence in Tel Aviv on Jan. 30, 2018, weeks following the fatal police shooting of Yehuda Biadga. The protests ended with a vigil in Rabin Square. (Activestills.org/Oren Ziv)

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters marched against police violence in Tel Aviv on Jan. 30, 2018, weeks following the fatal police shooting of Yehuda Biadga. The protests ended with a vigil in Rabin Square. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

‘It’s about racism against black people writ large’ 

According to police data provided to the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, the number of cases opened by the police against members of the Ethiopian community between 2014 and 2017 increased by 20 percent, even as it decreased by six percent for the total Jewish population. During those same years, cases opened against Ethiopians accused of assaulting an officer increased by 25 percent.

Moreover, a report published by the Public Defender’s Office in 2016 found that almost 90 percent of young Israeli offenders of Ethiopian descent are sentenced to prison — three times the percentage for non-immigrant Jewish minors and twice the percentage of Arab minors.

Both social gaps and police violence have pushed governmental authorities to act. Following the bloody protests of 2015, the Israeli government established a ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to look at recommendations made in the 2016 Palmor Report, which recognized institutionalized discrimination against Ethiopians and sought solutions that would close socio-economic gaps.

The ministerial committee enacted a 71-point plan to integrate Ethiopians at an estimated cost of NIS 165 million per year. The plan includes increasing the percentage of Ethiopian-Israelis eligible for high school matriculation; increasing the scope of gifted and outstanding students, and placing them in appropriate education programs; increasing the number of officers in the army and in the police force; integrating academics into higher paying jobs in the private sector; and subsidizing vouchers for extracurricular activities for children.

“The Palmor Report showed very clearly that Israeli police disproportionately target Ethiopians,” says Anne Suciu, an attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) who focuses on racial profiling and police violence.

Suciu says the government has recognized that Ethiopians are over-policed, among other minority groups, and it is this recognition that has led the Justice Ministry to allow Ethiopians to request their criminal records be expunged. Still, Suciu says, the police continue targeting Ethiopians due to the color of their skin.

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Meanwhile, the police have poured millions of shekels into various programs to strengthen ties with the Ethiopian community, and to — a decision that has been criticized by Ethiopian-Israeli leaders. “This is the same police whose former commissioner said it is ‘natural’ for officers to suspect Ethiopians,” says Mekonen-Degu. “I don’t need them to learn my culture, I don’t need them to eat my food. I need them to stop looking at my son suspiciously.”

The problem, Yerday adds, is anti-black racism among police, whether it targets Ethiopian citizens or African refugees: “If we think that racism begins and ends with Eritreans and Sudanese asylum seekers, we are sorely mistaken. It’s about racism against black people writ large.”

Yerday is exasperated, and it shows. “I don’t know what to tell my community anymore,” she says. “People are calling me every day to tell me they feel helpless and hopeless. Men and women who are afraid of the future. They are afraid for themselves. This place is deteriorating, and I am afraid that we won’t have any reason left to stay here. It’s extremely worrying.”

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Activists shut down traffic on new West Bank ‘apartheid road’

Activists say the highway, which separates Israeli and Palestinian traffic with an 26-foot concrete wall, will ‘strengthen Israeli rule, including by shutting out entire Palestinian areas.’

Palestinian and Israeli activists block Route 4370 in the West Bank, dubbed the 'apartheid road,' just east of Jerusalem, January 23, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian and Israeli activists block Route 4370 in the West Bank, dubbed the ‘apartheid road,’ just east of Jerusalem, January 23, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens of Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists Wednesday morning blocked a highway many have dubbed the “apartheid road,” Route 4370 in the occupied West Bank, which separates Israeli and Palestinian traffic with an 26-foot concrete wall.

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The activists managed to shut down the highway for 20 minutes before Israeli Border Police officers suppressed the demonstration with stun grenades and arrested two.

One side of the road, which stretches between Route 437 and Route 1 just east of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is designated for Israeli citizens and the other, separated by the concrete wall, for Palestinians. The Israeli side allows easy access to central Jerusalem, while the other side is designed to funnel Palestinians through an underpass, so as to not disturb Israeli traffic into the city.

“We came here to protest against yet another apartheid road,” said Sahar Vardi, one of the organizers of the protest. “There are a number of such roads that separate Israelis and Palestinians, but on this road you see a wall in the middle, symbolizing the polices of the occupation.”

The official reasoning for opening the road was to alleviate traffic for Israeli settlers commuting to Jerusalem, as well as creating a new way for Palestinians to travel between the northern and southern West Bank. According to Vardi, the true goal of the highway is to help the settlers and “strengthen Israeli rule, including by shutting out entire Palestinian areas.”

Route 4370, known as the 'apartheid road,' just east of Jerusalem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Route 4370, known as the ‘apartheid road,’ just east of Jerusalem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians and human rights activists say the highway is part of plan to create territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and its surrounding settlements, particularly the highly-contested E1 area, the 12 sq. kilometer area located between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. For decades, Israel has hoped to build up the area with settlements, connecting the settlement to Jerusalem and effectively bifurcating the West Bank.

“Every effort to improve the lives of Palestinians is done first and foremost for the sake of control and the settlers. This is what we are witnessing,” Vardi said.

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“This is a clear example of apartheid,” said Israeli activist Karen Isaacs. “Aside from the physical separation between Palestinians and Israelis, the goal is to annex this entire area to Jerusalem. We blocked this road to send a message that this is not a normal situation.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israel’s new ‘apartheid road’ is about more than just segregation

Race states and walls

Israel claims the new road, which separates Israelis and Palestinians by an eight-meter wall, alleviates traffic for settlers while helping Palestinians travel around the West Bank. Critics say it will help create Israeli-only enclaves free of any Palestinian presence. 

Route 4370, known as the 'apartheid road,' just east of Jerusalem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Route 4370, known as the ‘apartheid road,’ just east of Jerusalem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel unveiled a new segregated highway in the occupied West Bank last week, with a giant eight-meter concrete wall separating Palestinian and Israeli drivers on either side. Labeled the apartheid road by critics, Route 4370’s official reasoning is to alleviate traffic for Israeli settlers commuting to Jerusalem, as well as creating a new way for Palestinians to travel between the northern and southern West Bank.

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Yet despite the stated reasoning, anti-occupation and human rights advocates argue that the segregated highway is another way to create Israeli-only areas — free of any Palestinian presence — in Palestine. And it is a sign that Israel, and Israelis, no longer view segregation as something to be ashamed of.

“While in the past there was a major effort to conceal segregation from the Israeli public, today it is now perceived as legitimate,” said Efrat Cohen-Bar, a planner and architect with Israeli NGO Bimkom. “In a country where a new discriminatory law is proposed every morning, one short segregated road no longer excites anyone.”

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the highway “an example of the ability to create coexistence between Israelis and Palestinian while protecting against existing security challenges.”

For Cohen-Bar, the highway cannot be removed from the entire system of segregated roads in the West Bank, which often forces Palestinians to use underpasses so as not to disturb the settler traffic above them. “Highway 4370 should be seen in a broader context as a continuation of [Israel’s] separation policy and the creation of Israeli-only enclaves.”

In the eyes of Daniel Seidemann, an attorney and activist who runs the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, and who has spent the last 20 years monitoring the city’s changing landscape, Route 4370 has a geopolitical dimension as well. The highway, he says, is part of Israel’s long-term strategy of “creating territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the settlements that surround it,” particularly the highly-contested E1 area, the 12 sq. kilometer area located between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

Palestinian women walk on the Palestinian side of Route 4370, known as the 'apartheid road,' just east of Jerusalem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian women walk on the Palestinian side of Route 4370, known as the ‘apartheid road,’ just east of Jerusalem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

For decades, Israel has hoped to build up the area with settlements, connecting the settlement to Jerusalem and effectively bifurcating the West Bank.

Moreover, says Seidemann, the road is just the first step in Israel’s plan to entirely cut off Palestinians from using Route 1, parts of which serve both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. All of it, he believes, is meant to undermine the chances of establishing a Palestinian state and to advance the incremental annexation of large swathes of the West Bank.

“Netanyahu is engaged in a strategic thrust to determine unilaterally a de-facto border between Israel and so-called Palestine,” says Seidemann. “The road is being opened now because the prime minister’s policies are finally coming together. The end-game is the annexation of Area C of the West Bank with minimal Palestinian presence. This is what we’re seeing happening in E1.”

Route 4370 is not the first segregated highway in the occupied Palestinian territories for the exclusive use of Israelis. During the Second Intifada, Israel shut down Route 443, a second highway linking Jerusalem to the Tel Aviv area, to Palestinian traffic following several cases of fatal gunfire at Israeli vehicles. In June 2007, residents of the six villages near Route 443 petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to re-open the road to Palestinians. Two-and-a-half years later, the court ruled that Palestinians must be allowed to use the West Bank road.

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“The High Court ruled that Israel had to stop segregating Route 443, at least on paper,” Seidemann continues. “This case is different. It’s not ad-hoc policy, but rather well thought out long in advance. It is about building separate, parallel infrastructures for Israelis and Palestinians; this kind of thing has never been done before.”

“Route 4370 is intended to create a domino effect,” says Ahmad SubLaban, a field researcher for Jerusalem-based human rights group Ir Amim. The highway is part of a puzzle that will come together to eventually connect Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, the Ramallah-area settlements, and the settlement of Givat Ze’ev. Right now, it is an incomplete puzzle.”

For now, Israeli citizens who use the road will have an easier time traveling from settlements in the Ramallah area to Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods, especially during rush hour. Those driving on the Palestinian side will be barred from entering Jerusalem, yet the new road will also effectively shorten their journey from the Ramallah area to the southern part of the West Bank.

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