Israel wages war on Gaza and its own cities
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, May 15 2021

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City, Friday May 14 2021. (Photo: Hatem Moussa/AP)

Israel escalated its assault on Gaza Friday morning, deploying 160 warplanes as well as tanks and artillery massed on the border and firing about 450 missiles and shells. This massive firepower forced residents in northern Gaza to flee their homes and take shelter in Gaza city. According to the IOF, this was aimed at more than 150 underground targets, including a tunnel network, in northern Gaza. It follows air strikes on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other targets across the Gaza Strip, at least 800 in the last five days, that have demolished five tower blocks housing Hamas headquarters, regional commands and senior commanders. The IDF claims it has largely wiped-out Hamas and Islamic Jihad sites producing weapons. Israel’s massive assault against an essentially defenceless people has brought the death toll to 122, including 27 children, and the number of people injured to 830, according to Gaza’s health ministry. On Thursday alone, 49 Palestinians were killed. Nine people have been killed in Israel, including a child and a soldier, exposing the enormous disparity in firepower between the Palestinians and Israel’s high-tech weaponry. Of the 1,700 primitive missiles launched from Gaza, most either fall inside Gaza or are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome all-weather air defense system. According to the UN, air strikes have destroyed or severely damaged more than 200 homes and 24 schools in the past five days, while damage to pipe networks and power cuts threaten the already limited access to fresh water and electricity. Netanyahu tweeted:

The last word has not been said, and this operation will continue as long as necessary.

The IDF has drawn up plans for a ground invasion of Gaza, telling its forces to “prepare for battle” and called up 16k reservists while cancelling leave for all combat units. Israel has witnessed unprecedented levels of communal violence at home. Netanyahu’s far-right, extremist allies including Lehava, racist football hooligans known as La Familia, Jewish Power and far right settler groups, have rampaged through Palestinian neighbourhoods, provoking violent confrontations that risk turning into a civil war. TV footage and video clips on social media have captured terrifying scenes of Jewish lynch mobs vandalizing and burning shops and cars, intimidating and beating up Palestinians, as well as stabbings, attacks on homes, shootings and riots. Police allowed these nationalist thugs to run amok in Jerusalem, Lod, Ramle, Nasariya, Tiberias, Beersheba, Haifa and other towns and villages. Some of the worst violence took place in Lod, a mixed population town of 80k people, where a Palestinian was fatally shot Monday. The release of three men suspected of carrying out the killing further enraged the Palestinians, leading to riots and angry clashes. On Wednesday night, the authorities declared a state of emergency in the town, imposed a night curfew and brought in armed border police officers from the occupied West Bank. This did nothing to curb the violence and led to the stabbing of a Jewish man Thursday morning. Speaking late on Thursday night in Lod, Netanyahu said:

We are dealing with a campaign on two fronts, in Gaza and in Israel’s cities.

He pledged that the security services would be given a free hand to use force to put down domestic riots and told them not to worry about “commissions of inquiry, investigations and checks… In putting down rioters one needs to use force, a lot of force.” Netanyahu has launched the opening salvo in a renewed ethnic cleansing operation like that of 1947 to 1949. He said he was considering the use of administrative detention, commonly used in the occupied West Bank to detain Palestinians for long periods without charge or access to lawyers—and deploying the army to maintain order. He added:

The intelligence that we have says that it could very well be that we will have an upsurge of violence here in the coming days.

Israeli police have arrested Kamal al-Khatib, vice president of the Islamic Movement in Israel, after storming his house in Galilee following a crackdown on protesters in northern Israel. Al-Khatib’s arrest came after Palestinian warnings that prominent activists had received threatening messages from Israeli intelligence officers. Al-Khatib was one of them. His son said:

Many people got a text message, including influential protesters, saying that they were recorded as being present at al-Aqsa and they would be held accountable.

It seems likely the security services were using a GPS system, developed as a track and trace system to control the pandemic, to track and intimidate those who were at the compound. This comes amid concerns by rights groups and activists that the social media platforms Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are silencing Palestinian voices, after several posts about increased tensions in Sheikh Jarrah were taken down and accounts suspended. While Instagram claimed there had been a widespread technical issue, Mona Shtaya, an advocacy manager for 7amleh, an organization that focuses on Palestinians’ digital rights, told Middle East Eye that there was a systematic effort to remove Palestinian content on social media. She said the number of requests from the Israeli cyber unit to social media companies to silence Palestinians had increased annually, adding:

In 2019 Israel made 19,606 requests from the cyber unit to social media companies regarding content takedowns.

The escalating war on Gaza has triggered angry protests in the West Bank where IDF soldiers have killed at least 10 Palestinians, some during violent clashes with security forces, while others were shot on suspicion of “terrorism,” since Monday. On Thursday, IDF soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians and injured 150 more as confrontations with security forces erupted in towns and cities across the West Bank, according to the Ministry of Health in Ramallah. There have also been incidents on both the Jordanian and Lebanese borders. Israel claimed its tanks fired warning shots toward rioters, some waving Hezbollah flags, who crossed into Israel. Lebanon confirmed that the IDF had killed one of the protesters who was holding a Palestinian flag and wounded another. It follows the firing of three Grad rockets from Lebanon that fell into the sea without hitting anything, underlining the risk of another front opening.

Thousands of Jordanians travelled by car and bus to Jordan’s border with Israel in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians far greater than that seen during Israel’s three wars on Gaza. They called on the Jordanian government to open the border, which has seen increased security since the attacks on worshippers in the al-Aqsa mosque compound during Ramadan. Riot police blocked their path before they could reach the border. Jordanians have also been protesting near the Israeli Embassy in Amman for several days in some of the largest demonstrations in the region, calling on the government to scrap the peace treaty with Israel, close the Israeli embassy and end the gas deal with Israel.

Israel’s actions have provoked opposition among Jewish Israelis. Hundreds of Jews have joined the Palestinians in protests in Jerusalem and neighbouring towns against the threatened evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli violence and the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories, calling for an immediate ceasefire. Protests against Israel’s war on Gaza have been held across the world with an international day of protest in support of the Palestinians planned for today, Saturday. This has evidently made some countries nervous, with Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister instructing police to ban the protest in Paris and German police trying to brand the protest as anti-Semitic. In Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration expressing solidarity with the Palestinians and made arrests.

EU powers back Israeli war on Gaza, banning anti-war protests
Johannes Stern, Alex Lantier, WSWS, May 15 2021

EU governments are endorsing the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. In a further attack on basic democratic rights, they are banning peaceful protests in favor of the Palestinians in European cities, based on the slander that those attending are violent anti-Semites. The fighting that has escalated since Israeli riot police rampaged through the Al-Aqsa Mosque last weekend is a one-sided slaughter. The IOF is bombing the Gaza Strip and boasting of assassinating Palestinian military commanders, who can reply only with a few crude rockets. As of yesterday, there were over 126 Palestinians had been killed, along with six Israelis and one Indian national. Ten Palestinians were also killed by IOF in the West Bank yesterday. Yet the EU and its member states are lining up behind the Israeli government, denouncing the Palestinians. Von der Leyen set the tone, taking to Twitter to declare herself “concerned.” She then endorsed the Israeli position against the Gaza Strip, writing:

I condemn indiscriminate attacks by Hamas on Israel. Civilians on all sides must be protected. Violence must end now.

Similar remarks came from both Berlin and Paris. After Merkel’s spox denounced Palestinian “terror attacks” and hailed Israel’s “right to self-defense,” the Elysée presidential palace in Paris released a statement yesterday. It said :

President Macron called PM Netanyahu, presented his condolences for the victims of fire from Hamas and other terrorist groups that he again firmly condemned, and on the anniversary of Israel’s creation, the president stressed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and its right to self-defense.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) blamed Hamas for the conflict and called for bans on demonstrations in defense of the Gaza Strip. He told the Bild newspaper:

At the very least, Hamas has wantonly caused the latest escalation, by firing over a thousand rockets at Israeli cities. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations should be banned if criminal actions can be expected there.

The EU powers are supporting Israeli aggression, though they know it could trigger a broader war. On May 12, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French Senate he was “very concerned at the gravity of the situation in the Near East.” Israel has repeatedly bombed Syria this year, targeting both Syrian government and Iranian forces, and Le Drian noted the danger that a regional war could erupt:

The ongoing spiral of violence in Gaza, Jerusalem, in the West Bank and several Israeli cities threatens to provoke a major escalation. In less than 15 years, the Gaza Strip has seen three bloody wars. Everything must be done to avoid a fourth.

Nonetheless, Le Drian came down in support of Israeli aggression, declaring:

France condemns in the strongest terms the rocket and missile fire from the Gaza strip targeting Jerusalem and several inhabited areas in Israeli territory, including Tel Aviv.

Without condemning Israel’s far greater bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Le Drian cynically tried to adopt an evenhanded posture. Condemning Israel’s forced resettlement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, he pledged to work with German, Egyptian and Jordanian officials to “restart dialog between the conflicting parties to attain a just and lasting settlement of the conflict.” He also called for the right to protest to be respected in Israel. EU governments’ own policy at home exposed the hypocrisy of Le Drian’s statements of concern about democratic rights in the Middle East. Amid growing working-class anger at police brutality, social inequality and the over one million deaths caused by the EU’s policy of malign neglect towards the circulation of the COVID-19 virus, governments across Europe are banning or threatening to ban anti-war demonstrations. On Thursday, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin banned today’s pro-Gaza protest in Paris, tweeting:

I asked the prefect of police to ban demonstrations Saturday that are linked to the recent tensions in the Near East. Across France, orders have been given to the prefects to be especially vigilant and firm, to mobilize the intelligence services, closely follow these movements, and anticipate any risk of troubles.

The sole justification Darmanin gave for this drastic attack on civil liberties was that seven years ago, there was violence at a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris against the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. The Association of Palestinians of Île-de-France, which is organizing the Paris protest, condemned Darmanin’s ban. Its spokesman Walid Atallah said:

By banning this demonstration, France shows its complicity with the state of Israel, which wants to ban all expression of solidarity with the rights of Palestinians, who are suffering occupation, colonization, and bombardments.

The Paris administrative court rejected a first appeal of Darmanin’s ban by the association, which appealed to France’s State Council. It maintained the call for the protest, nonetheless, noting;

Too many demonstrators have planned to make the trip in order to express themselves.

Frankfurt city authorities have banned a rally in the city center this afternoon by several pro-Palestinian organizations. The reason given on yesterday was that criminal acts committed by demonstrators could endanger public safety. City official Markus Frank (CDU) accused the organizers of making “anti-Semitic calls.” Such accusations of anti-Semitism serve to suppress any protest against Israel’s murderous actions. Before the protest, in fact, organizers repeatedly spoke out against anti-Semitism, especially after a few dozen people chanted anti-Semitic slogans outside a synagogue in Gelsenkirchen. A statement released Thursday by the group “Palestine Speaks” stated:

If you hate Jews, you have no business being here.

The official leaflet for the Frankfurt demonstration calls on everyone to show “solidarity against expulsion, against land theft, against ethnic cleansing, against the ongoing Nakba and for the right of return and for an open society for ALL.” That does not stop European politicians and media from denouncing any protest against Israel’s war policies as anti-Semitic. However, criticism of the right-wing Netanyahu government’s brutal actions has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. On the contrary, the claim that the terror-bombing of a largely defenseless population is an expression of Judaism is itself an anti-Semitic argument. Nothing could make the reactionary nature of the official propaganda campaign clearer than the fact that it is led in Germany by the far-right AfD, whose members glorify the Nazi Wehrmacht and are agitating against the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

It is not anti-war demonstrators, but the EU governments that promote anti-Semitism. They not only court the far right across Europe, but also collaborate with openly anti-Semitic forces to pursue their political goals. This was notably the case with the far-right coup in Ukraine in 2014, when then-German Foreign Minister and current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met the leader of the fascist Svoboda party, the notorious anti-Semite Oleh Tyahnybok, in the German embassy in Kiev. As for France’s interior minister, Darmanin, he is a sympathizer of the far-right Action française on record as declaring that he dislikes seeing kosher foods in French supermarkets. The EU governments’ response to the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, including their banning of legitimate public protests, is a serious political warning. To advance their interests at home and abroad, they increasingly rely on war and dictatorship, with fascistic indifference towards human life. War can be stopped only by mobilizing the enormous opposition that exists among workers and youth across Europe, the Arab countries and Israel itself on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program.

Anger mounts in Turkey at Israel’s onslaught against Gaza
Hasan Yıldırım, Ulaş Ateşçi, WSWS, May 15 2021

A protest in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, May 11 2021.

As Israel’s ongoing onslaught on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Gaza provokes mass anger in Turkey, it is also exposing the hypocrisy of Erdoğan’s AKP government over the plight of the Palestinian people. The Turkish government and other venal bourgeois regimes in the Middle East are all complicit in the Israeli government’s assault on the Palestinians. Over the past week, thousands of people in many cities of Turkey have protested against Israel’s attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem and subsequent air strikes in Gaza. Mass demonstrations took place in front of the Israeli Consulate and Taksim Square in Istanbul. Erdoğan called Israel a “terror state” last Saturday, after Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque, and urged all Muslim countries and the “international community” to take “effective” measures against Tel Aviv. The major establishment parties in parliament, the ruling AKP and its fascistic ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well as the bourgeois opposition Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP), the far-right Good Party and the Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), condemned Israel in a rare joint statement on Monday, saying:

We declare that we will always continue to react to Israel’s aggressive actions aimed at eroding the status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and its attempts to usurp the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. We strongly declare that we will continue to defend the Palestinian cause and [support] the struggle of the brotherly Palestinian people for freedom, justice and independence.

On Wednesday, Erdoğan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun criticized Washington’s support for Israel, asking:

Does the US have not any reaction to these massacres and terrorist acts?

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also called Israel’s actions “crimes against humanity” and urged Tel Aviv to stop its ongoing attacks. Though its president calls Israel a “terror state,” Turkey, the first country in the Muslim world to recognize Israel in 1949, maintains diplomatic, trade, economic and military ties with Tel Aviv as part of its broader military-strategic alliance with US imperialism. However, the statements from top Turkish political and military officials are accompanied by intense diplomacy activity. According to Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency, Erdoğan has recently called the leaders of Russia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries. He again described the Israeli attacks as “terrorism.” He also spoke with Mahmoud Abbas and İsmail Haniyeh, promising support for “the cause of Palestine.”

During talks with Putin on Wednesday, Erdoğan said that the “international community” needed to “teach a deterrent lesson” to Israel, before proposing that to discuss the “idea of sending an international protection force to the region in order to protect Palestinian civilians.” According to the statement made by the Kremlin, Putin had “called on the parties to deescalate tensions and peacefully resolve the emerging issues.” The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also condemned Israel “in the strongest terms the repeated attacks by the Israeli occupation authorities against the Palestinian people.” This pro forma condemnation comes from an organization consisting of reactionary Arab regimes that have recently normalized relations with Israel. As Israeli strikes on Gaza escalate, killing more than 100 mostly civilian victims, and as Israel prepares a more comprehensive military onslaught, the Turkish Foreign Ministry yesterday again declared:

The international community to act swiftly to stop these attacks, which will cause further loss of civilian lives. We have learned with concern that Israel has started firing tanks and artillery against Gaza this time.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also called his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry to discuss Palestine after visiting Saudi Arabia. The meeting came amid Ankara’s ongoing efforts to reestablish relations with the Egyptian dictatorship. After Sisi’s bloody 2013 coup against Mursi, Erdoğan denounced the Sisi regime, and the ties between the two countries collapsed. On May 6, there was a direct diplomatic meeting of Turkish and Egyptian delegations for the first time in years. Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Muş said Turkey wants to improve its economic relations with Egypt while trying to restore diplomatic ties. The Erdoğan government’s regional initiatives came as part of a broader diplomatic campaign launched by Ankara, particularly since Biden became president. The Turkish government recently declared that it wants to improve relations with all countries in the region. This entails moving as far away from Iran and Russia as possible, while also developing better relations with Egypt and Israel. After Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, Tel Aviv violently suppressed Palestinian protests, killing dozens. Ankara then recalled its ambassador to Israel. Although diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel have been reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires since 2018, Erdoğan declared last December:

Turkey wants to improve its relations with Israel. Our intelligence cooperation with Israel is ongoing.

Moreover, Israel Hayom cited an anonymous senior Turkish official in March who claimed:

Turkey is ready to dispatch an ambassador to Tel Aviv once the Israeli government commits to simultaneously reciprocating the measure. The main point of contention between the two countries remains the presence of senior Hamas officials on Turkish soil.

Given the relations developed simultaneously with the military regime in Egypt, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. One of the most critical points in Ankara’s approach to the Palestine question is the competition over the division of oil and gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean. An EastMed Gas Forum was formally established led by European imperialist powers, France and Italy. While it also involves Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Jordan and Palestine, Turkey protested its exclusion from the forum. Although Palestine is a member of the forum, Israel is blocking it from accessing the Gaza gas field. Moreover, there are strong economic ties between the two countries. In 2017, Israel’s Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said:

Erdoğan is acting as a frenemy. He attacks us a lot, and we respond, but this does not prevent him from channeling 25% of Turkey’s exports to the Gulf through Haifa’s port.

Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu has called on his Israeli counterpart to allow a leading Turkish firm to bid in a recent tender for the privatization of the Haifa Port, according to a report made by the Israel Hayom in April. At the end of April, the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper reported that Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was invited to an official Diplomacy Forum in Turkey to be held on June 18-20. In March, he announced his government’s readiness to cooperate with Turkey on natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean. This hypocritical Palestinian policy of the Turkish government, based entirely on the interests of the ruling class and its ties with imperialism, makes one thing very clear. The allies of the Palestinian people against the military onslaught they face are not this or that reactionary bourgeois regime in the region, but the working class in Israel, Turkey, Iran and all over the world.

Ukrainian government accuses pro-Russian oligarch and opposition leader of “high treason”
Jason Melanovski, WSWS, May 15 2021

Viktor Medvedchuk

The right-wing Zelensky government of Ukraine has indicted the country’s main opposition party leader, the oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, on charges of high treason and embezzlement. Specifically, state authorities are accusing both Medvedchuk and his business partner Taras Kozak of transferring oil and gas production licenses located in the Sea of Azov to Russia following Crimea’s annexation by Russia in 2014, which at the time was overwhelmingly supported by the peninsula’s population. In addition, Medvedchuk has been accused of disclosing classified information on Ukrainian troop movements. According to Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General, Irina Venediktova, the charges against Medvedchuk carry sentences of up to fifteen years in prison. Venediktova outlined the charges against Medvedchuk in a briefing, saying:

Medvedchuk, as the organizer of illegal activities, and having strong ties with the top leadership of the Russian Federation, began subversive activities against Ukraine, including in the economic sphere.

While the Ukrainian media initially speculated that Medvedchuk would flee to Russia upon hearing of the charges, Medvedchuk appeared at the Prosecutor General’s office later that day in Kiev. He denounced the charges as “fabricated” and a case of clear political repression. Ukrainian prosecutors had requested a jail sentence and recommended that bail be set at $10.8m. The presiding judge denied the government’s request and instead placed Medvedchuk on house arrest and confiscated his passport. Upon leaving the Prosecutor General’s office, Medvedchuk was accosted by right-wing nationalists, who accused him of being Putin’s lackey.

The indictment of Medvedchuk is the latest step in a carefully staged political crackdown against the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform-For Life party which Medvedchuk leads. The party is currently the second largest in the Ukrainian parliament holding 44 of 450 seats behind Zelensky’s own Servant of the People party. As Zelensky’s approval ratings have fallen over the past year due to his inability to solve the over seven-year long civil war in eastern Ukraine and the medical and economic crisis caused by COVID-19, support for Medvedchuk’s party has risen. Several polls have even shown the Opposition Platform For Life party winning a hypothetical parliamentary election, raising the prospect of the return of a Moscow-friendly government to Kiev. Such a scenario would be anathema to both the US and the EU which backed the far-right coup that toppled Yanukovych in 2014. They have sent billions in aid to Kiev since, and are playing a central role in the development of Ukraine’s military which is engaged in an ongoing civil war with Russian-backed separatists in East Ukraine. The civil war has claimed the lives of over 14k people and displaced millions.

With the support of the new Biden administration in the US, Zelensky has moved quickly to head off the threat from a Russia-friendly political opposition within Ukraine. In February, Zelensky undemocratically shut down three popular predominantly Russian-speaking television stations—ZiK, 112 Ukraine and NewsOne—all of which are owned by Medvedchuk and his business partner Taras Kozak. Medvedchuk’s financial assets were also frozen for three years and both he and Kozak were sanctioned by the Ukrainian government. Following the crackdown, several other journalists were accused of “treason” including the popular pro-Russian blogger Anatoly Shariy who, like Medvedchuk, leads a political opposition party that favors a negotiated settlement to the war in the eastern Donbass region. Later in April, Zelensky moved even further to shut down opposition media and limit free speech by asking YouTube to ban all Medvedchuk-affiliated channels within Ukraine’s borders. The California-based company dutifully fulfilled the request and was later thanked by Ukraine’s embassy in Washington.

In addition to leading the main opposition party and a constant figure in post-Soviet Ukrainian politics, Medvedchuk is also an extremely wealthy oligarch, worth an estimated $1b. In 2015, amidst the ongoing civil war in Donbass, he purchased a yacht worth $214m. A former Stalinist bureaucrat and lawyer, Medvedchuk quickly transitioned into a full-fledged capitalist following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, making millions off the purchase and sale of the Donbass region’s prodigious industrial concerns and energy resources. In 2014, following the US-backed right-wing nationalist coup and the Russian annexation of Crimea, Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the US Treasury Dept for violating the “security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Despite his opposition to the US-backed coup, Medvedchuk has continued to play a significant role in Ukrainian bourgeois politics due to his immense wealth and influence over the Donbass region. As a result of both business and personal ties with the Russian oligarchy, Medvedchuk has been the most prominent go-between with Moscow and Kiev over the course of the civil war in eastern Ukraine. He has helped in drafting the Minsk peace accords and securing the release of captured Ukrainian soldiers by Russian-backed separatists. It now appears that the increasingly right-wing, militaristic and undemocratic Zelensky government is moving to excise Medvedchuk from Ukrainian ruling-class politics altogether, threatening a complete breakdown of ties with Russia and any remaining possibility of a negotiated settlement between Moscow and Kiev over the Donbass region. The crackdown on Medvedchuk and his party also comes amidst ongoing tensions with Russia over East Ukraine and Crimea, which were escalated by Kiev’s adoption of a strategy to “recover Crimea.”

Zelensky’s crackdown on the pro-Russian oligarchic opposition has been encouraged by the US since 2014. Washington has constantly urged first Poroshenko and now Zelensky to prosecute the Russian-affiliated section of the Ukrainian oligarchy in the name of an “anti-corruption” campaign. Last week, while visiting Kiev amidst growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, Blinken obliquely called upon Zelensky to move more aggressively against this section of the oligarchy, stating:

Ukraine is facing two challenges: aggression from outside, coming from Russia, and in effect aggression from within, coming from corruption, oligarchs and others who are putting their interests ahead of those of the Ukrainian people.

The indictment and prosecution of Medvedchuk will undoubtedly further worsen relations between Kiev and Moscow.

British Army found to have massacred unarmed civilians in Ballymurphy in Aug 1971
Steve James, WSWS, May 15 2021

A mural in Belfast commemorating the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971.
Photo of work by public artist R Ó Murchú.

A long-delayed inquest into the shooting deaths of 10 people in the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland has concluded that all were civilians, posed no threat to anyone, were unarmed and that nine of them were shot by the British Army. Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan could not definitively identify the origin of the bullet that shot the tenth person. The verdict was welcomed by relatives and supporters of those killed. John Teggart, whose father Daniel was among those shot dead, addressed a press conference. The verdict was welcomed by relatives and supporters of those killed. John Teggart, whose father Daniel was among those shot dead, told a press conference:

We, the Ballymurphy families welcome the coroner’s historic verdict today. Justice Keegan concluded that unjustified force was used in the killing of our loved ones who are entirely innocent. After 50 years, they have finally had their names cleared and their innocence put beyond doubt. We condemn the media falsifications used from day one to conceal the massacre. General Mike Jackson is considered a hero in Britain, but he was the one who told you that our loved ones were gunmen and gunwomen. He went on to become the Chief of General Staff of the British Army until his retirement in 2006. The inquest confirmed that the soldiers who came to the North, supposedly to protect us, turned their guns on us. The British government now wants to deny us the chance for justice by introducing an amnesty for these murders. I want to speak directly to the people of Britain at this moment. Can you imagine what would have happened if soldiers murdered 10 unarmed civilians on the streets of London, Liverpool or Birmingham? What would you expect of an investigation? Would you expect justice? Or would you be happy for them to get an amnesty?

Events in Ballymurphy following Aug 9 1971 are less well-known than the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 30, 1972 when 14 people were gunned down by members of the Parachute Regiment. At Ballymurphy no TV cameras were present to counteract the blatant army lies, recycled by the media, to cover its actions. The shootings went on for two days. The Ballymurphy massacre took place 50 years after British imperialism’s violent partition of Ireland. Northern Ireland, established by the partition of Ireland 100 years ago, was founded on sectarian violence primarily directed against the Catholic section of the working class. Its purpose was to maintain the rule of Ulster capitalists as a proxy for continued British imperialist presence on the island. Based on six of the historic nine counties of Ulster with a Protestant majority, the border and all subsequent state and local authority arrangements, including gerrymandered election boundaries, the provision of jobs and housing, were based on upholding sectarian divisions and a truncated form of the Protestant ascendency.

Mass opposition to these arrangements, predominantly, but not exclusively, from Irish nationalists and Catholics, emerged in the late 1960s as a civil rights movement mobilising broad layers of the working class seeking to redress the historic wrongs on which the entire state was based. The Ulster state fought back with police and paramilitary violence, including loyalist pogroms during which entire Catholic streets were burnt out. The previously declining IRA began to achieve prominence through involvement in working class Catholics’ efforts to defend their neighbourhoods. In Aug 1969, the British Labour government dispatched thousands of troops to prop up the Ulster authorities, under the pretext of defending Catholic communities. On Aug 9 1971, the British Army launched Operation Demetrious, a mass operation to intern, or imprison without trial, anyone suspected of being an IRA supporter. 342 people were arrested, with most having no links to the IRA.

One of the army’s target areas was Ballymurphy, a working-class, largely Catholic and nationalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast, where residents had already raised barricades and whose streets were the target of loyalist mob violence. Warnings of the approach of soldiers were made by hundreds of residents banging dustbin lids on the streets. What followed was a British Army rampage, ultimately involving as many as 600 soldiers, resulting in sustained gunfire, gunfights, numerous shootings, 10 deaths, angry counter protests, whole families arrested, one man chained to the back of an army vehicle, houses trashed and shot up as families escaped across the fields. The coroner’s inquest opened in 2018 after decades of campaigning by family members who only fully realised the scale of what took place in 1971 when they attended an event for victims of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles.” The inquest dealt in detail with five separate incidents, spread over two days, and sought evidence from relatives, witnesses, medical and ballistics experts. Former soldiers gave evidence anonymously, some refused. Two ignored subpoenas to attend. Names of some individual soldiers appear not to be known to the coroner because of the destruction of a “cipher” listing soldiers’ names at previous, token, inquests held in 1972.

Incident One:

Father Hugh Mullan and 19-year-old Frank Quinn, a window cleaner, were both shot in the evening of August 9. The inquest found that Quinn was shot dead when going to help someone lying injured in a field, in the midst of a gun battle. Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment fired at targets that may have been a small number of IRA gunmen, but different groups of soldiers also appear to have been inadvertently shooting at each other. Father Mullan, crouching while going across the same field, waving a white object like a t-shirt, was shot at least three times. The bullet that killed Quinn may have passed through Father Mullan. Neither Quinn nor Mullan were armed. The injured man was not a gunman. The coroner found that even if there were IRA gunmen in the area it was “very clear from the evidence that there were quite a lot of civilians in the area, including women and children who have been evacuated from the Springfield Rd area.” She found the Father Mullan’s death was caused by army gunfire, that there was no justification for it, the use of force was disproportionate, no proper investigation had been carried out, the killing was in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and that the army’s own rules of engagement were not followed.

Incident Two:

On Aug 9, Joan Connolly, a mother of eight children in her mid-40s, Noel Phillips (19), a single man who worked as a window cleaner, Daniel Teggart (44), a labourer with 10 children and Joseph Murphy (41) who worked on bin lorries, were killed during protests directed against soldiers in the nearby Henry Taggart Hall. The coroner considered that some shots may have been fired at the hall during the evening, but there was no evidence to link any of those killed with this, or for them to have been in “direct proximity to IRA activity”. She noted the deceased were all unarmed, none were IRA members, none had paramilitary funerals. Mrs Connolly’s death is particularly shocking. She was angry at the soldiers, was said to be carrying a stick at certain points and was participating in protests. She was shot two or three times, including in the face, by what appears to have been soldiers in the Henry Taggart Hall. One child was injured. Mrs. Connolly was not armed and no gunshot residue was found on her body. She was left dying for hours. The coroner noted a “basic inhumanity associated with leaving Mrs Connolly in the field for so long.” Swift medical attention might have saved her life. Noel Phillips was shot at least three times. Joseph Murphy was shot once in the leg. The bullet shattered his femur. He died 13 days later. Daniel Teggart was shot between eight and eleven times. The coroner rejected assertions from the Ministry of Defence that Teggart, whose body was dragged into the Henry Taggart Hall, had been found with .22 ammunition in his pockets. Soldier N who claimed this at the time did not give evidence. The coroner found the Parachute Regiment responsible for all four deaths, all of which breached the EHCR, were disproportionate and outside the army’s rules of engagement.

Incident Three:

Edward Doherty (30) was a father of four and worked as a builder’s labourer. He was shot August 10 in the early evening by a soldier in the Royal Engineers, driving a bulldozer while clearing a barricade, who claimed Doherty was about to throw a petrol bomb. There was a crowd of about 50 people near the barricade. The soldier, who gave evidence, appears to have wildly fired his submachine gun several times with one hand in the direction of the barricade while maneuvering the bulldozer with the other. Doherty was hit once in the chest. The coroner found, on the basis of where he was shot and witness evidence, that Doherty “was not a petrol bomber and he was not acting in any other way that would justify a violent attack on him.” The killing breached the EHCR, was disproportionate and broke the rules of engagement.

Incident Four:

Joseph Corr was a 43-year-old machinist at the famous Shorts aircraft factory in Belfast. He had also worked at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. He was shot with a high velocity bullet to the back, which lacerated internal organs. He died of his injuries and complications about 13 days later. John Laverty was a 20-year-old road sweeper shot twice with high velocity ammunition. The circumstances of their deaths are confused. Both appear to have responded to early morning dustbin lid warnings of army and loyalist attacks on their area on August 11, as did a large number of Ballymurphy residents. There were angry and fearful crowds on the streets, shots were being fired. Soldiers were arresting and attacking people. Both men appear to have been prone, lying on the ground possibly taking cover and crawling away from the soldiers when they were shot in the back. No weapons were found near them. The coroner rejected claims by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that both were shot by other, unknown, gunmen, finding that both were shot by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment. She found that no valid justification was provided for the soldiers opening fire, the circumstances of both deaths were not adequately investigated, and both breached the EHCR.

Incident Five:

John McKerr was a 49-year-old former soldier and father of eight, who worked as a joiner. He was killed by a single gunshot to his head on the morning of August 11 outside a church where he had been repairing a door. Ballistics experts were unclear as to what sort of bullet killed McKerr, or which direction it came from. There are suggestions his prosthetic arm might have been mistaken for a weapon. There was a lot of army activity, general chaos in the area and conflicting reports of soldiers’ possible involvement in the shooting. The coroner listed as a core finding the striking failure of the authorities to mount any adequate investigation and described this as “an abdication of responsibility” and “of grave concern”. As a result, the inquest verdict was unable to state who fired the fatal shot.

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