rt.com for apr 17

Czechs announce expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats, as Prague claims ‘intel officers’ involved in 2014 munitions depot explosion
RT.com, Apr 17 2021

The Czech Republic says it will expel 18 Russian diplomats, alleging that Russian intelligence officers were involved in a local munitions depot blast in 2014. It comes a day after Moscow said it would expel 10 US diplomats. The move by Prague came amid a diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Washington that began midweek, after Biden ordered 10 Russian diplomats out of the country over the Kremlin’s alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election and its claimed involvement in last year’s SolarWinds cyber-espionage case. More than 30 Russian individuals and organizations were also sanctioned, while American companies were banned from directly buying shares in Russia’s national debt. Moscow delivered a tit-for-tat response on Friday, with Lavrov stating that 10 American diplomats would be expelled from Russia, and promising measures that would bar US funds and NGOs from interfering in its internal affairs. PM Andrej Babis and FM Jan Hamacek announced the expulsion at a joint press conference in the country’s capital. Babis said the move was a response to the alleged involvement of Russian intelligence officers in arms depot explosions in the Czech Republic seven years ago. Hamacek added:

We are keeping our partners from the EU and NATO informed and ask for their support.

He has canceled his planned trip to Moscow, where he was to have discussed the possible purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine. President Milos Zeman, who is known as a strong supporter of better ties between Prague and Moscow, had already been informed of the expulsions, the two officials said. Several explosions rocked an ammunition depot in the village of Vrbetice, some 330 km southeast of Prague, in Oct 2014. The blasts killed two employees of a private company that had been renting the warehouse from the Czech military.

Also on Saturday, the Czech police placed two Russian citizens, who had allegedly visited Vrbetice at the time of the explosions, on the wanted list over “serious crime.” They were identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – the same persons that Britain accused of being the Russian spies in the UK responsible for using the infamous ‘Novichok’ chemical agent on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in Mar 2018. The two men have previously denied any links to the Russian Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and have complained their lives have been ruined by unsubstantiated accusations coming from London. The Czech police said they couldn’t confirm the link between Petrov and Boshirov’s wanted status and the Vrbetice explosions, when asked for comment by news agency RIA Novosti.

Over a year and $85b later, US spies still don’t know ‘where, when or how’ Covid-19 hit the world, but it ‘could’ve been a lab’
Kit Klarenberg, RT.com, Apr 17 2021

On Apr 14, DNI Avril Haines revealed that after over a year of determined sleuthing, US spying agencies had no concrete answers on basic questions regarding the origins of the 2019 coronavirus. Haines told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee:

It is absolutely accurate the intelligence community does not know exactly where, when, or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially. Components have coalesced around two alternative theories, these scenarios are it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident.

This time last year, Donald Trump alleged he’d seen evidence confirming covid was laboratory-made and, throughout 2020, former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove also claimed the virus was “an engineered escapee” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Haines’ public admission that a “laboratory accident” is a possible explanation is significant because intelligence services have thus far been quick to dismiss the suggestion as a conspiracy theory whenever it’s been aired in public. In response to Trump’s statement for example, the ODNI firmly refuted the idea Covid-19 was “manmade or genetically modified.” Of course, the virus could be neither and still have escaped from a lab.

While the WHO is yet to comment on Haines’ seeming change of heart, the lab theory stands in stark contrast with the agency’s long-held public position. In March, it issued a report based on the findings of an international team of scientists who spent four weeks in Wuhan probing covid’s origins. They concluded that of all the various explanations, a laboratory leak was by far and away the least likely. For many though, the report raised far more questions than it answered. Even WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was critical of the team’s investigation. His response to the scientists’ public presentation of their findings was measured yet withering. He said:

The team visited several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident. I do not believe this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions. This requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.

Quite an indictment of the 10-strong squad of researchers ,considering they had been presented by the mainstream media ahead of their excursion as unimpeachable, world-class authorities on virology and public health, determined and destined to get to the truth. That their investigation of the laboratory leak theory was so undercooked is particularly striking given the only US-based representative on the team, Peter Daszak, is President of EcoHealth Alliance, which has in recent years conducted extensive work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Then again, Daszak would have a great many reasons for leaving certain stones unturned. For one, he’s a close friend and ardent supporter of Shi Zhengli, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at WIV, who has been repeatedly forced todeny her lab was the source of coronavirus. In Jun 2020, Scientific American described the pair as “long-time collaborators.” Daszak also staunchly defended his associate, stating she “leads a world-class lab of the highest standards,” and rubbished allegations she or her organization were in any way responsible for covid’s spread. From 2014 to 2019, Daszak worked with Zhengli on investigating and cataloging bat coronaviruses across China, an initiative funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the tune of $3.7m. Thereafter, the EcoHealth chief transferred this effort to the University of North Carolina, where he began ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses and chimeras in humanized mice. In a Dec 2019 interview, he somewhat ominously told virologist Vincent Racaniello that some coronaviruses may “get into human cells,” one can “manipulate in the lab pretty easily,” are untreatable with antibodies, and “you can’t vaccinate against them with a vaccine.”

NIH withdrew its backing for the EcoHealth project in Apr 2020 under pressure from the Trump administration, a move that garnered significant sympathetic media attention for the organisation, and Daszak. The move was reversed to much fanfare in August, and EcoHealth’s funding more than doubled to $7.5m. However, what no media outlet noted at any stage was the non-profit’s NIH support represents a negligible fraction of its US government income. The overwhelming majority of EcoHealth’s revenue, accounting for almost $40m between 2013 and 2020, flows from the DoD. A State Dept factsheet on WIV published in January notes that “several researchers” at the Institute became sick in autumn 2019, “before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” raising questions about the credibility of Zhengli’s claims that there was “zero infection” among WIV staff and students prior to the pandemic. The factsheet also asserted that “scientists in China have researched animal-derived coronaviruses under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure,” and “secret Chinese military projects” may have been conducted at the Institute since at least 2017.

Perhaps predictably, there was no mention that the US military may have funded, whether directly or indirectly, projects conducted at WIV. It’s notable that $34.6m of EcoHealth’s DoD funding came from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a Pentagon division working to “counter and deter weapons of mass destruction and improvised threat networks.” Daszak’s clear conflict of interest in the WHO probe is rendered all the more shocking when one considers he was lead author of a joint statement published in The Lancet in Feb 2020, which strongly condemned “rumours and misinformation” relating to covid: namely, that it may have emerged from a laboratory. The statement, signed by 27 scientists, four of whom hold positions with EcoHealth, contended:

Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.

The letter’s publication was highly significant, as it publicly cemented the notion of a scientific consensus around covid’s origins. This ‘consensus’ emerged shortly after a draft genome of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 had been released for analysis. As MIT’s Technology Review notes, numerous scientists who’d begun studying the draft were surprised by what they found. Among them was Nikolai Petrovsky, a highly-regarded professor at Australia’s Flinders University and chair of Vaxine, a company that develops immunizations for infectious diseases, which since 2005 has received millions in NIH funding. Technology Review records:

[Computer modeling] generated a startling result: the spike proteins studding SARS-CoV-2 bound more tightly to their human cell receptor, a protein called ACE2, than target receptors on any other species evaluated. In other words, SARS-CoV-2 was surprisingly well adapted to its human prey, which is unusual for a newly emerging pathogen.

Petrovsky and his associates immediately set about writing a speculative paper asking whether the virus was “completely natural” or had originated from “a recombination event that occurred inadvertently or intentionally in a laboratory handling coronaviruses.” But Petrovsky struggled to find a publisher, with at least one open access repository rejecting his work outright. It wasn’t until May 2020 that the paper was finally released, and by that time suggestions of a lab leak had been comprehensively discredited, not least due to Trump’s pronouncements in that regard having made the matter political. As Technology Review notes, it had become “career suicide for scientists to voice suspicions about a possible lab leak,” and the community was “unwilling to challenge the orthodoxy” as a result. In turn, it was virtually impossible for journalists to write credible stories questioning covid’s origins without being branded Trump apologists, conspiracy theorists, or worse. The WHO Director General’s pledge to redeploy experts to Wuhan has prompted several scientists, who reluctantly fell victim to this conspiracy of silence, to come forward and voice their concerns. It also raises the prospect that some answers might finally be found. One would hope that between the WHO, grossly overpaid US intelligence services ($85b last year), and millions of independent researchers the world over, the truth may one day emerge. But one shouldn’t hold one’s breath. When powerful people have a vested interest in suppressing inconvenient facts, secrets can be kept forever, and that’s without factoring in the cottage industry that has emerged dedicated to stigmatizing laboratory accident theories. A case in point; The Lancet has established a 12-member COVID Commission panel to investigate the origins of the virus. Its chair is none other than the ubiquitous Peter Daszak, and half his taskforce’s members were signatories to the Feb 2020 statement that did so much to muzzle so many.

China denounces US-Japan statement in which Washington vows to defend its Asian partner with NUCLEAR ‘capabilities’
RT.com, Apr 17 2021

Beijing has blamed Washington and Tokyo for undermining stability in the Asia Pacific region after they released a joint statement saying “regional challenges” would be addressed by all means, “including nuclear.” The statement by US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the first foreign leader to officially visit Biden at the White House, was released on Friday. It criticized China, suggesting its actions “are inconsistent with the international rules-based order” and impact “peace and prosperity” in the region. The alliance between Washington and Tokyo, on the other hand, “has become a cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world,” and the two countries “are more prepared than ever to address regional challenges,” the statement continued. Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea were mentioned among the challenges, as well as issues in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. The statement read;

Japan resolved to bolster its own national defense capabilities … The US restated its unwavering support for Japan’s defense … using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear.

Beijing condemned the document, saying it went beyond the scope of bilateral relations and interfered in China’s internal affairs. It also endorsed separatist activities, a statement by the Chinese Embassy in the US said on Saturday, as reported by the CGTN news channel. China, which has for decades considered Taiwan an integral part of its territory, has repeatedly called on the US not to interfere in its domestic policies. Tensions in the South China Sea have long been increasing, with a number of military drills happening in the region, particularly around the island of Taiwan, which considers itself an independent nation and is supported by Western states.

Tehran pushes back after Ukraine’s security chief accuses Iran of intentionally shooting down passenger plane
RT.com, Apr 17 2021

Iran has warned Kiev against making unsubstantiated claims about the downing of a Ukrainian airliner last year, after its security chief suggested Tehran had attacked the plane on purpose. Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh said in a statement that it was regrettable that Ukrainian officials continue to make “vague political remarks” about the tragic incident. Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down in Jan 2020 by an Iranian air defense unit shortly after departing from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization concluded last month that the plane was hit by two missiles after it was wrongly identified as a hostile target. Kiev has been critical of Iran’s probe into the incident, accusing Tehran of a cover-up. Earlier this week, Alexei Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, went a step further, stating explicitly that he believed Iran had intentionally targeted the civilian airliner. He told Canada’s Globe and Mail:

When they say this was accidental, I don’t buy that. It was intentional. This was a conscious attack.

He suggested, provocatively, that Tehran may have shot down the Ukrainian plane in order to dissuade the US from launching an attack on the Islamic Republic. The airliner was hit hours after Iran launched missile strikes against two military bases in Iraq that housed US forces, in retaliation for the US assassination of senior Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. Responding to Danilov, Khatibzadeh said it was unfortunate that Ukraine continues to use the media to perpetuate “imaginary and commissioned theories.” The Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the Ukrainian authorities of denying the “objective and technical reality” of the “bitter incident,” and advised Kiev not to “exit the boundaries of reason and law when making remarks.” Danilov isn’t the only senior Ukrainian official to have leveled accusations against Iran. Following the release of Tehran’s investigatory report, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba alleged Iran was trying to “hide the true reasons” for the incident, adding that Kiev would not allow the Islamic Republic to avoid responsibility for the “crime.” In July, Iran announced it would pay compensation for having shot down the passenger plane, although the amount has yet to be determined.

US laments ‘unwanted escalation’ & warns it reserves right to retaliate after Russia’s tit-for-tat response to Biden’s sanctions
RT.com, Apr 17 2021

As Russia blacklisted eight current and former American officials and sent ten diplomats packing in retaliation for US sanctions, the State Dept has lamented the “escalatory” response and said that Washington might respond. A State Dept spokesman said in a statement on Friday evening:

Our recent actions were proportionate and appropriate to Russia’s harmful activities. Today’s announcement by the Russian government was escalatory and regrettable. It is not in our interest to get into an escalatory cycle, but we reserve the right to respond to any Russian retaliation against the US.

Foggy Bottom was responding to the announcement that Moscow will expel 10 US diplomats, restricting the number of short-term visas for State Dept staff to 10 per year, and ban the US embassy from hiring citizens of Russia and third countries as administrative staff. The “open ground” memorandum of 1992, allowing US diplomats to move freely around Russia, has also been “declared invalid due to systematic violations” by Americans, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. There are also plans to “halt the activities of American foundations and NGOs controlled by the Dept of State and other US government agencies” since the US “shows no intention of scaling back its systematic subversive efforts.” These measures were a response to Biden’s executive orders sanctioning 30 Russian individuals and entities for allegedly interfering in the 2020 US presidential election and alleged involvement in the SolarWinds hack, both of which Russia has vehemently denied. Biden also expelled 10 Russian diplomats and banned US companies from trading in Russian sovereign debt. Russia also chose to respond to Biden’s Mar 2 decision to sanction several Russian officials accused, with no evidence provided, of involvement in the alleged “poisoning” of opposition blogger Alexey Navalny.

On Friday, Moscow banned eight current and former US officials from entering Russia. The ban applies to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, DNI Avril Haines, Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal, and President Joe Biden’s domestic policy adviser Susan Rice. Former NSA John Bolton made the Russian blacklist as well, as did James Woolsey, DCI between 1993 and 1995, who recently authored a book entitled Operation Dragon: Inside the Kremlin’s Secret War on America which accused the Soviet Union of assassinating JFK in 1963. The unusual step to publicize the response was taken “in view of the unprecedented complications in Russia-US relations provoked by Washington,” the Foreign Ministry said. US sanctions and messages from Washington “show that Washington is not willing to listen and does not appreciate the restraint that we have displayed despite the tensions that have been purposefully fueled” by Washington since the Obama administration, said the Foreign Ministry. Russia would “like to avoid further escalation” with the US but can’t do so while Washington says one thing and does another. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Friday that Russia could have inflicted “painful measures” on US businesses, but chose not to do so, at this time.

US state-run RFE/RL ‘knowingly violated’ Russia’s laws, now tries to block fines in European court, FM spokeswoman tells RT
RT.com, Apr 17 2021

The US state-funded outlet RFE/RL deliberately ignored Russia “foreign agents” law, turning its own violations into a political campaign after it was subjected to fines, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RT. RFE/RL lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier this week, asking it to block Russia from enforcing fines on the outlet. RFE/RL has accumulated dozens of unpaid fines, stemming from its refusal to be properly labeled as a “foreign agent” under Russian law. The outlet alleges that the actions of the Russian authorities are violating “freedom of speech” principles. It also claims that if the fines are enforced, the outlet may suffer “irreversible harms” and, ultimately, other “independent media” in Russia may face the same fate. Should the ECHR support such a motion, it would clearly show that the presumably independent court is actually politically biased, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RT, as it would side with law-breaking RFE/RL while turning a blind eye to the real persecution of journalists happening in other countries. Zakharova stated:

If the ECHR supports such demands, it would look like a politicized decision. It’s impossible not to notice what happens to other media outlets elsewhere. It’s not only RT that’s the target. Look at what is happening in Ukraine, for instance, where TV channels are getting shut down, while murders of journalists are not investigated. Russia adopted its foreign-agent law in response to hostile actions against Russian media taken by other countries, primarily after Washington targeted RT America, forcing it to register as a foreign agent. This affair began exclusively in response to US actions, after Washington unearthed its archaic Foreign Agents Registration Act and decided to use it against Russian media and journalists. The US government campaign has been eagerly supported by the US media as well. Despite its savage wording, completely unfit for use in modern world, and, moreover, going against all the obligations the US has under multiple international treaties, the legislation was taken from the top shelf and used against RT in full force. What are these demands that RFE/RL cannot accept and interprets as persecution of sorts that makes them unable to work? These demands are very basic, and significantly softer and more humane than those imposed by the US authorities on foreign media they brand as ‘foreign agents.’ Just obey the law; the law that has been adopted in relation to actions of your own government. Some 400 court decisions were made regarding RFE/RL. They still have not been complied with. Some 70 million rubles in fines got accumulated. We never received any complaints from this media outlet about anyone persecuting them or disrupting their work.

West cited ‘fake news’ to justify bombing Syria, MEP tells RT after confronting ‘compromised’ OPCW chief over Douma report
RT.com, Apr 17 2021

MEP Mick Wallace has made no apologies for grilling OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias during a parliamentary session, telling RT that Arias seemed to be using the organization to back the West’s interventionist agenda in Syria. Arias addressed the European Parliament Subcommittee of Security and Defence on Thursday, an occasion that Wallace used to put some tough questions to the chief of the UN chemical weapons watchdog. The OPCW has repeatedly suggested that President Bashar Assad has deployed chemical weapons on his own people, allegations that have been used by the US and some of its Western allies to launch airstrikes against Syria. But some of the agency’s conclusions have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, particularly a report it released concerning an alleged chemical attack in Douma, near Damascus, in 2018. Whistleblower testimony and internal documents suggest that the OPCW may have suppressed key information that contradicted a predetermined conclusion regarding who was responsible for the incident. Wallace called on Arias to fully investigate the allegations in a “transparent” manner, a request which did not sit well with subcommittee chairwoman Nathalie Loiseau, who accused the Ireland South MEP of spreading “fake news.” The MEP protested that his freedom of speech was being restricted before his microphone was cut off. Arias never responded to Wallace’s questions, and instead blamed Assad’s government for “a humanitarian catastrophe of massive proportions.” Speaking with RT after the incident, Wallace said that the cry of “fake news” was often used as a “weapon” in order to silence people. He noted that fake news was indeed dangerous, and that it has been used on multiple occasions to start wars. He said:

Not only was the Iraq war based on fake news. When the alleged attack in Douma took place, it was used at that time by the US, France and the UK to illegally bomb Syria. So that was fake news causing war. Arias is compromised. He’s not fit to lead the OPCW. It looks like he’s a tool of Western imperialism. We want the truth and we want peace.

He argued that the OPCW was an “important” organization but that it was risking its legitimacy by not carrying out an investigation into its Douma report. The agency is “finished” if it’s not able to operate as a transparent, independent body, the MEP noted. Although he was unsure if such an inquiry would ever take place, Wallace said that Arias has “nothing to fear” from such a review if the OPCW carried out its Douma probe in a professional manner. Wallace isn’t alone in harboring doubts about the OPCW’s findings. Former director-general Bustani has accused the organization of “potentially fraudulent conduct in the investigative process.”

Israeli settlers attack Palestinians, steal land with impunity. Imagine outrage & calls for sanctions if any other state did it
Eva Bartlett, RT.com, Apr 17 2021

Every aspect of their existence on occupied Palestinian land is illegal. Still, the violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers against civilians continues, propped up by Israel’s legal system and the world’s blind eyes. Periodically, we will hear in the news something about the illegal colonies (settlements), but increasingly rarely over the years, and generally without a human face: just numbers and false promises to end the expansion of these colonies choking Palestinians from their land. Recently, UN Special Rapporteurs and experts shed light on the uptick of brutality and land theft by Israeli colonists. In a new UN report, they noted:

In 2020, the UN OCHA documented 771 incidents of settler violence causing injury to 133 Palestinians and damaging 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles mostly in the areas of Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah. Already, during the first three months of 2021, more than 210 settler violent incidents were recorded, with one Palestinian fatality.

Stop for a moment and imagine this was a report on violent incidents by Russia, Syria, Venezuela, or any of the nations in NATO’s crosshairs. Media would be howling with outrage and faked tears, with demands for heads to roll, or at least for perpetrators to face justice. But this is occupied Palestine, where the Israeli legal system serves continued colonist expansion and terrorism against Palestinians. And, let’s be clear, what the colonists do to Palestinians is indeed terrorism. Colonists have burned alive a Palestinian youth, shot and killed Palestinian civilians, have run people over, including children, leaving them to die. They routinely attack farmers trying to work their land or harvest their olives. They hail stones, large rocks, sewage and waste onto Palestinians walking or living below their illegally occupied homes, steal Palestinians’ flocks of sheep or poison them, even uproot and thieve their olive trees. This has been going on for decades, and the so-called international community allows it, in spite of overwhelming documentation of these crimes. Israeli rights group B’Tselem has been reporting on such attacks since 1989. A 2017 B’Tselem article noted:

Thousands of testimonies, videos and reports, as well as many years of close monitoring by B’Tselem and other organizations, reveal that Israeli security forces not only allow settlers to harm Palestinians and their property as a matter of course. They often provide the perpetrators escort and back-up. In some cases, they even join in on the attack. After more than 25 years of this work, there is no escaping the conclusion that the authorities merely make a show of law enforcement in this context and that, with few exceptions, they have no interest in seriously investigating settler violence against Palestinians.

In 2007, I witnessed and heard of colonist violence and land theft when I spent eight months in the West Bank as an activist documenting the crimes against Palestinian civilians by both the Israeli military and the illegal colonists. The city of Hebron has some of the most violent squatters, who, like colonists all over the West Bank, walk with guns slung over their back and routinely attack and abuse the Palestinian residents, including children. In fact, during my two-week stay in Hebron in mid 2007, one of the things I and other activists did was simply to stand on shara Shuhada, the once vibrant main street, now a shuttered ghost town. We stood, or sat, on that street for hours, in the heat of the day, to deter colonists from attacking children going to or from school, or adults going to market, work or mosque. It seemed a colossal waste of time, but there had been many precedents of Israeli colonists stoning or beating Palestinians. South of Hebron, in a desert-like hamlet called Susiya, over the course of many months I stayed in the makeshift tent and metal structures of the Palestinians living there. Prior to their shantytown, they, and generations before them, had lived in stone houses and even cave dwellings. But they were evicted in the 1980s, when Israel declared the area an archaeological site. As I wrote:

We stayed with them in hopes of preventing the inevitable attacks by the nearby colonists. Hajj Khalil, an elder in his eighties, had been brutally beaten by colonists the year before I met him.

The recent UN report also noted:

Settler violence was predominantly ideologically motivated and primarily designed to take over land but also to intimidate and terrorize Palestinians. The violence and intimidation often prevents Palestinians from accessing and cultivating their land, and creates a coercive environment pressuring Palestinians to stay away from certain areas or even move.

Indeed, in the Susiya region, I witnessed land being stolen and quickly annexed by the illegal Jewish colonists. As I wrote:

The elderly Palestinian landowners have been harassed and threatened, and physically abused. They have been moved off of the land by menacing of the illegal colonists. The owners of the land very much want to use it for agricultural purposes and have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to file complaints at the nearest police station, Kiryat Arba, nearly two hours away. These illegal tactics have been largely successful in the region, with many Susiya residents and landowners leaving their land for nearby cities and towns.

During the olive harvest that year, I accompanied Palestinian farmers to their orchards in a northern West Bank region. Not long after they had begun collecting olives, six masked colonists descended a hill, slinging hefty stones at us, for forty minutes stoning and then physically hitting people in our group. I wrote about that at the time, noting:

One of the six attackers slung a large rock at me. Hitting my camera hand, the rock missed my temple. One of the farmers, on the other hand, was not so fortunate, with severe gashes on his head from multiple stone strikes.

On another occasion, the Palestinians had the needed paperwork to be on their land (that’s right, they have to ask their occupiers for permission to access their land for limited amounts of time, to harvest their olives), and had only just begun to harvest when gun-toting colonists dressed in white descended the hill and began menacing the Palestinians. What did the Israeli army do? Point their guns at the farmers and tell them to take a hike. Get off their land. The setters have spoken. There are far worse examples. My encounters and documentation at the time was more on the crimes of the Israeli army against Palestinians. But, B’Tselem has pages of reports and videos of Israeli colonists’ attacks on Palestinians. In 2015, Haaretz reported colonists had “firebombed” a West Bank house, the ensuing fire burning to death an infant. The youth I mentioned earlier, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was indeed burned alive by Israelis, in mid-2014. As I wrote some years ago:

Khdeir went missing while going to mosque for morning prayers in occupied Jerusalem. His slight body was found a few hours later charred and beaten. The autopsy report “showed soot in the victim’s lungs and respiratory tract, indicating he was alive and breathing while he was being burnt.”

In a rare instance of justice, the colonist was sent to prison for life for his crime. But as Israeli rights group Yesh Din in Dec 2019 reported, most attacks go unpunished. According to their research:

Israeli Police failed in the investigation of 82% of the files opened between 2005 and 2019. 91% of all investigation files were closed without an indictment. After 15 years of monitoring Israeli law enforcement authorities in their handling of complaints filed by Palestinian victims of ideological crimes committed by Israelis, the picture that emerges demonstrates that the State of Israel is failing in its duty to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories from those who would harm them and, in fact, leaves them defenseless as they face assault and harassment.

In their 2017 report, B’Tselem further noted:

Violent actions of settlers against Palestinians are not exceptions to a rule. Rather, they form part of a broader strategy in which the state colludes, as it stands to benefit from the result. Over time, this unchecked violence is gradually driving Palestinians from more and more locations in the West Bank, making it easier for the state to take over land and resources.

That is the essence: the crimes of Israel’s colonists actually benefit Israel in occupying more and more Palestinian land. So there is incentive to look away, close investigations, let the attacks and murders continue. In researching for this article I came across yet another account of colonists beating a Susiya resident I knew. The article described an attack in Dec 2020 on 78 year-old Khalil Haraini. In which, “about 10 settlers rushed out from behind a hill, armed with pistols, rifles, clubs, axes and iron chains. One of them assaulted the elderly farmer, knocking him to the ground. Settlers then beat him with their clubs.” Although I’m not naive enough to believe anything will change after a UN report here or there, I feel the need to write about it still, 13 years after meeting people like Khalil Haraini or the farmers I accompanied. Their hell continues and, tragically, no one is going to rein in the terrorists known as Israeli settlers.

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