Monday, December 14, 2009

Report from Cop-enhagen

The signs up all over the airport and various places elsewhere in town are calling it Hopenhagen, but everybody I know is calling it Cop-enhagen, which seems far more appropriate. The international media has been giving this lots of coverage, and rightly so. Of course much of the media is unable to walk and chew gum at the same time, so other things, such as the reason the protests are happening in the first place, can get lost.

Inside the Bella Center lots of stuff is going on. Namely the US, Australia and others leading the way in making sure nothing meaningful takes place there, while many other delegates and activists within try to make the best of it, or at least make the effort to thoroughly expose the bankruptcy of the position taken by the rich countries. The center itself is divided into floors where the big decisions are being made, and then the rest of the place for the little people, the delegates from unimportant countries like Tuvalu, representatives of small NGOs and other riffraff. Many of the folks involved with the process inside are dividing their time between the meetings and events outside in the streets and at the alternative conference going on elsewhere in town.

Copenhagen is a beautiful city. The architecture in the heart of the city is understated but exudes the wealth of a place that was once the capital of a fairly sizeable empire. Of course, though the Danish empire brought some riches home to Copenhagen, the wealth of modern Denmark is far greater, that being the product not so much of empire but of the Danish labor movement and Danish social democracy. It is this check on Danish capitalism that has allowed this wealth to be so impressively distributed, bringing Denmark a quality of life that is the envy of most anyone who knows about it.

Of course, as in any society there are different forces at work in Denmark. Most Danes would identify much more with those peasants who rebelled in the 17th century and helped pave the way for modern Denmark, not with the soldiers who massacred them, but those soldiers were also Danes. Most Danes would prefer to remember the heroic stories of resistance during the occupation of Denmark in the 1940's, but there were also many enthusiastic collaborators.

At so many points in history there are pivotal moments when things can go different ways, and something pushes events in a certain direction. The direction of social democracy has been the ascendant one in Denmark for quite some time, but this was able to happen for a variety of reasons – the strength and purpose of the Danish labor movement, the fear on the part of the rich of the spectre of communism, the moral bankruptcy of the leaders of society who collaborated with the Nazis after the war, and so on.

If people know anything about this most southerly of the Scandinavian countries they know it's full of windmills. Germany actually has lots more windmills than Denmark, but many of them are made in Denmark anyway, at the Vespas factories in Jutland (where they recently laid off thousands of workers).

There's a reason Denmark has been a pioneer in windmill technology, and it is, to a large extent, the Danish environmental movement. In the early 70's the Danish government was thinking about building their first nuclear reactor, following the example of Sweden, which has one right across the water, upwind. People inspired by ideas of communal living and experiential learning formed a community centered around a Free School near the little village of Ulfborg and began making plans to build the world's largest windmill. Over the course of three years, working with scientists, artisans and large numbers of hippies, they built the world's largest windmill. They refused to patent any of their ground-breaking technology, making it all available for anybody to use. Their windmill, still standing and providing power to the community 35 years later, is the prototype for the big windmills you'll see scattered around Denmark and the world.

This windmill provided more than just energy – it and the movement that built it provided political capital. Those in parliament arguing for a nuclear reactor lost the fight, and Denmark became a nation of windmills.

For the past decade or so, however, Denmark has been run by a coalition led by the neoliberal, xenophobic Vestre party. They have been privatizing hospitals and passing some of the most restrictive immigration legislation in the world. They have had troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and they have been forcibly deporting refugees back to these war-torn countries. Fueled by the changes to Danish society wrought by EU membership, this conservative coalition keeps winning elections. Along with a love of capitalism and a fear of foreigners, these people also can't stand hippies or punks or other dissenting elements, and they are on a quest to “normalize” the 900-person intentional community in the heart of Copenhagen known as Christiania. To that end they conducted a police raid early one morning in 2007 and destroyed a house they deemed to have been illegally constructed. (I got my first taste of Danish tear gas there a couple hours later.)

Shortly before this home demolition in Christiania, hundreds of Danish police had landed on the five-story squatted social center known as Ungdomshuset (“Youth House”) by helicopter early one morning. They fumigated the place with tear gas, arrested those inside, jailed them for several months, and proceeded to follow the new government policy of destruction of the house. Masked construction workers from Poland did the dirty work, since Danish unions forbid their members from doing work that requires police protection.

Over the course of the next 1-1/2 years, however, the government was forced to backtrack on their plan to civilize Denmark. The movement to support Ungdomshuset grew dramatically, involving a number of fairly significant riots and probably more importantly a weekly drill of marches every Thursday for a year and a half, involving many hundreds and often thousands every week. Eventually the chief of police and the mayor of Copenhagen had to admit that their policies had been a mistake and they gave the movement what it was demanding, a new house, bought and paid for by the city. (Leftwing foundations had offered to buy a new building for the movement but these offers were refused on principle – the line was that the government destroyed Ungdomshuset and they should replace it with something comparable.)

In the course of the riots and demonstrations around Ungdomshuset the police preemptively arrested hundreds of people on a few occasions. They weren't technically allowed to do this, but they came up with excuses. One eyewitness told me that the police started arresting people, claiming some of them were throwing rocks at them, although the rock-throwing had clearly started only after the police began arresting the assembled crowd.

A new law was passed in preparation for the climate summit which makes this kind of mass preemptive arrest perfectly legal – all the police need to do is arbitrarily determine that an area is designated as a “riot zone” and then they can arrest whoever they want. Any non-Danes arrested can be held for 40 days (including people who were born in Denmark but are not citizens, a reality for many here that may seem surprising to those in the US reading this). It went into effect a week before last Thursday, and since then the Danish police have carried out mass preemptive arrests that dwarf anything they've done before. They don't even need to pretend they had any justification for what is essentially collective punishment.

Those of you from the US reading this should be familiar with preemptive mass arrests. If you haven't had your head in the sand for the past few decades then you know this happens regularly at demonstrations throughout our great democracy. But it's new for Denmark, and it is a serious step in the direction of the Americanization, you could say, of the country. Being an American, I can say first-hand that emulating US policies in terms of law enforcement or in terms of the privatization and outsourcing of industry is all a very bad idea, at least as far as the vast majority of people are concerned – but the interests of a privileged minority are what moves people like the Danish Prime Minister, not the interests of society as a whole.

The policies and concerns of the new Danish government were represented eloquently by the kettling and mass arrest of a small march that was en route to commit acts of civil disobedience at the docks run by the Maersk corporation. Maersk is one of the world's richest men and runs one of the world's biggest shipping companies (look for his name, it's everywhere). Blockading docks is illegal, of course, and under the normal legal procedures in a democratic society people committing such acts would be told to stop and after a certain amount of time arrested, fined, brought to trial or whatever. Yesterday, however, as with the day before, hundreds of people were preemptively arrested, including many who had no intention of committing any illegal acts, such as one reporter for the Times of London.

I narrowly avoided being arrested two days ago. Of those arrested the overwhelming majority had nothing to do with the rock-throwing incident at the stock exchange that apparently set off the police action. The overwhelming majority didn't even know anything had happened at the stock exchange. All they knew was they were suddenly, randomly being arrested while taking part in a permitted march organized in part by the very mainstream Social Democratic Party. This was a family march involving tens of thousands of people with no civil disobedience or other illegal acts planned as part of it.

The new law may allow for mass preemptive arrests, but international treaties which Denmark has signed called the Geneva Conventions outline certain guidelines for the treatment of detainees which were clearly violated by the Danish police. People were handcuffed in uncomfortable positions for many hours on the frozen pavement, not allowed to move, not allowed to go to the toilet. Some fainted, many wet their pants, adding to the danger posed by the freezing temperatures. Elderly people were arrested along with teenagers. Anne Feeney's husband Juli, a 66-year-old Swede who had been slowly walking beside a carriage, was handcuffed and made to sit on the frozen ground. Among the marchers from Tvind, the Free School movement with whom I was walking, those arrested include headmasters and teachers from throughout Europe and Africa. Every one of the Norwegians I had just been hanging out with the day before from Trondheim were arrested.

I participated in a march that was very quickly thrown together involving several hundred people, starting near the Valby train station and going to the prison to which most detainees had been brought. The police surrounded (escorted?) us and seemed to be thinking about arresting all of us, but apparently ultimately thought better of it. Instead they informed us as we were marching towards the prison that most of those detained had just been released, and that we were welcome to march to the prison but no further.

Outside the prison – a temporary prison that used to be a brewery -- I heard more stories of how the Anarchist Black Cross representatives who had been attempting to provide soup and solace to people as they were being released were told to leave the premises. When they attempted to set up at the train station a kilometer away they were again told to leave. So as most people left the prison there wasn't even anyone to meet them and tell them where to find the train station. Most detainees were at no point given any food by the police. After six hours some had been given water.

Tonight after Naomi Klein, Lisa Fithian and others from Climate Justice Action held a meeting at the Big Tent in Christiania hundreds of police and dozens of police vehicles were involved in more or less laying siege to Christiania, which was defended, as in the past, by hundreds of masked, black-clad young people making burning barricades and throwing large numbers of bottles at the police, who then fired lots of tear gas. Tonight the police reportedly used a water cannon to extinguish the main burning barricade and arrested 200. Most of this happened while Anne Feeney and I were playing a concert in the Opera House, not far from the main entrance.

The future is not written. There was nothing inevitable about Denmark building a nuclear reactor, and because of the environmental movement it built windmills instead. Equally, there is nothing inevitable about Denmark becoming a neoliberal police state. The years ahead in Denmark -- and more broadly in the rest of Europe, run increasingly by pro-business and xenophobic governments – will determine in which direction things will go. And perhaps the next few days will be a particularly important moment in that process.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Police Are Rioting

Reflections From Pittsburgh

If any elements of the corporate media have been paying any attention to what's been happening on the streets of Pittsburgh over the past few days I haven't noticed, so I thought I'd write my own account.

There is a popular assumption asserted ad nauseum by our leaders in government, by our school text books and by our “mainstream” media that although many other countries don't have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – such as Iran or China – we do, and it's what makes us so great. Anybody who has spent much time trying to exercise their First Amendment rights in the US now or at any other time since 1776 knows first-hand that the First Amendment looks good on paper but has little to do with reality.

Dissent has never really been tolerated in the USA. As we've seen in recent election cycles even just voting for a Democratic presidential candidate and having your vote count can be quite a challenge – as anyone who has not had their head in sand knows, Bush lost both elections and yet kept his office fraudulently twice. But for those who want to exercise their rights beyond the government-approved methods – that is, their right to vote for one of two parties, their right to bribe politicians (“lobby”) if they have enough money, or their right to write a letter to the editor in the local Murdoch-owned rag, if it hasn't closed shop yet – the situation is far worse.

Let's go back in history for a minute. After the victory of the colonies over Britain in the Revolutionary War, the much-heralded US Constitution included no rights for citizens other than the rights of the landed gentry to run the show. This changed as a direct result of a years-long rebellion of the citizens of western Massachusetts that came to be known as Shays' Rebellion. Shays' Rebellion scared the pants off the powers-that-be and they did what the powers-that-be do and have always done all over the world – passed some reforms in order to avert a situation where the rich would lose more than just western Massachusetts. They passed the Bill of Rights.

Fast forward more than a century. Ostensibly this great democracy had had the Bill of Rights enshrined in law for quite a long time now. Yet in 1914 a supporter of labor unionism could not make a soapbox speech on a sidewalk in this country without being beaten and arrested by police for the crime of disturbing the peace, blocking the sidewalk or whatever other nonsense the cops made up at the time.

If you read the mainstream media of the day you would be likely to imagine that these labor agitators trying to give speeches on the sidewalks of Seattle or Los Angeles were madmen bent on the destruction of civilization. Yet it is as a direct result of these brave fighters that we have things like Social Security, a minimum wage, workplace safety laws, and other reforms that led, at least until the “Reagan Revolution,” to this country having a thriving middle class (the lofty term we use when we're referring to working class people who can afford to go to college and buy a house).

Reforms are won due to these struggles – proof over and over that democracy is, more than anything, in the streets. Yet the fundamental aspect of these social movements that have shaped our society – these social movements that have at least sometimes and to some degree ultimately been praised by the ruling clique and their institutions, such as the Civil Rights movement – freedom of speech and assembly, remain a criminal offense.

Fast forward another century to Pittsburgh, 2009. For those who may have thought that the criminalization of dissent was to be a hallmark of the Bush years, think again. Dissent was a criminal offense before Bush, and it quite evidently still is today.

I was born in 1967, so I can't comment first-hand on things that happened far from the suburbs where I grew up as a kid, but I can tell you unequivocally from direct experience that I have witnessed police riots before, during, and since the Bush years. Most recently, last Friday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (If you want to read about previous police riots I have witnessed go to

In a nutshell, here's how it went down. I drove to Pittsburgh from a gig in Allentown the night before, all the while listening to BBC, NPR, CNN, etc. on my satellite radio. Naturally, the coming G20 talks in Pittsburgh were in the news. The most powerful people in the world, the leaders of the world's richest nations, were meeting in Pittsburgh to decide the fate of the planet, to decide how to deal with the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and other crises caused by industrial capitalism gone mad, crises which affect each and every one of us intimately, crises about which many of us naturally want to do something – crises about which we would at least like to voice our concerns.

Notably absent from the news coverage is anything about the lawsuits that the ACLU had to file in order to force the local authorities to allow any demonstrations or marches to happen at all. Permits applied for months ago by state senators, peace groups, women's groups and others were only granted in the past couple weeks. Many other permits were never granted. It doesn't say anything about applying for a permit in the First Amendment, and in many other more democratic countries than ours no permit is required for citizens to assemble. In many European countries where I have spent a lot of time, if citizens choose to have an assembly in the streets the role of the police is to escort the march in order to divert traffic and keep things safe, and no permit is required. But not in the US – not in Philadelphia or Los Angeles in 2000, not in Miami in 2003, not in Denver or St. Paul in 2008 and not in Pittsburgh last week.

While various progressive organizations were trying hard to work with the intransigent authorities, other groups took the sensible (but – in the US – dangerous) position that this is supposed to be a democracy and we should not need to apply for a permit so that the authorities could tell us where and when we could and could not protest.

The first nonpermitted march that I heard about was Thursday afternoon. I should mention that I heard about it, but only with a certain amount of difficulty, because I and many other people I talked to in Pittsburgh were having strange problems with our cell phones, problems which started in whatever states we came from and continued in Pittsburgh right up until yesterday. People I talked to – friends and fellow engaged members of society such as Cindy Sheehan, Joshua White, Sarah Wellington and others – reported the same phenomenae. Every time one of us would receive a call we couldn't hear the callers, though we could hear our own voices echoing back to us. When we'd call back it usually would work then. Coincidence? Sure, maybe.

Reports I heard over the phone on Thursday from people I talked to were in between bouts of catching breath and running from the police. Reports on the local media (the only “mainstream” media doing any serious coverage of the protests, as usual, mainly because they were intimately connected to the traffic reports) said the police were “restrained” (what else are they supposed to be?) until the march reached a certain point, at which time it was declared to be an unlawful assembly and the crowd was “dispersed.” How? There was no mention.

Usually – and outrageously enough – whether in North America, Europe or other places I've been, if there's a meeting of the global elite happening you are not allowed in unless you're part of the gang or you're a lobbyist or a (officially-sanctioned) journalist. Usually a perimeter is formed by the police, Secret Service, FBI, and whichever other “intelligence” agencies are there, that you can't cross. This was also the case in Pittsburgh, but like Miami in 2003, St. Paul in 2008, and other occasions in recent years, the authorities were not just being “on the defensive” and maintaining a perimeter around the meetings. They were on the offensive.

If this happened in Iran or China it would be called martial law – but here in America we never have martial law, apparently, even when the military and the police are jointly patrolling the streets with armored vehicles and weapons of all descriptions and attacking people for the crime of being on the streets. Any gathering other than the permitted march (which was a great, festive march involving many thousands of participants from all walks of life, albeit with a ridiculously large, armored and menacing police “escort”) was declared an unlawful assembly and then attacked. I saw it myself on Thursday night and then again, much worse, on Friday night.

And what kind of unlawful assembly are we talking about? Hundreds of students and other folks, a few of whom may have broken a window or two at some point during the evening in the course of being pursued by violence-prone riot police, who were ultimately gathering on the grass on the campus of the university in the Oakland district of Pittsburgh. They had no weapons, they were unarmed, mostly youth, mostly college students from various parts of the country, along with perhaps an equal group of local college students, most of whom were just curious and didn't even have anything to do with the protests – many of whom in fact were just wondering what there is to protest about! They soon found out one thing to protest about – police brutality and active suppression of our Constitutional rights.

I have no doubt that the Pittsburgh police (and cops present from, of all places, Miami as well as other cities) will in the end have radicalized many local students who had previously been apolitical, and for this I applaud them.

On Friday night I went to a free concert a local community radio station was hosting on the campus. It ended around 8 pm. Over the course of the next two hours there were more and more riot cops arriving. Why? Because they knew what I knew – that a few hundred young folks were planning on gathering on the green at 10 pm, many of whom came by bicycle, after having engaged in a criminal, nonpermitted mass bike ride around the city. Around 9:30 I had to leave to go to a different neighborhood, and I returned in my rental car around 11 pm along with Cindy, Joshua and Sarah.

If the police had made announcements for everyone to disperse (as I'm sure they had at some point) we were too late for that. What we arrived in the midst of was a police riot. We parked on the street in front of the campus and walked on the sidewalk on the campus. Within seconds we saw a young man on a bicycle, a student at that very university, being violently tackled by two riot cops, thrown down to the ground with the police on top of him. All of the police all of the time were dressed in black armor head to toe, many of them driving armored vehicles. Earlier in the evening Cindy and Joshua and I were hanging around one of the armored vehicles while Cindy harassed the cops and soldiers strutting around there, telling them her son died in Iraq because he didn't have an armored vehicle like this one. (They studiously ignored her, of course.)

The young man with the two cops on top of him and his bicycle cried for help, perhaps not realizing that there wasn't much anyone could do other than take his name, which he was too freaked out to pronounce in a way that anybody could understand. Within seconds we found ourselves running from a group of cops, along with a bunch of young folks who had their hands in the air, hoping vainly that this might deter the police from attacking them. It didn't. Off the campus, a block away, police were running in groups in different directions, penning people in, throwing them to the ground, hitting them with clubs, handcuffing them and arresting them.

The four of us (an affinity group I suppose) got separated. Sarah and I were running and were about to be boxed in by police coming in different directions. After I was myself clubbed in the back by a cop with his truncheon, we ducked into the front of the lobby of the Holiday Inn and started talking with guests, other protesters, and various students who had also gone there because they were quite naturally afraid to be on the streets. Fifty feet away in either direction the police were assaulting and arresting people, individually and in small groups, picking them off the sidewalks.

Cindy and Joshua had ended up running in a different direction, through clouds of tear gas. They ducked around a corner just in time to watch dozens of young people, running away, being shot methodically with rubber-coated steel bullets in the back. One friend of mine there from Minneapolis said he saw someone who had ten welts on his back from being shot ten times. On both Thursday and Friday nights the authorities used their fancy new LRAD weapons, a sound-based weapon that causes people to flee because it hurts their eardrums so badly. (At future demos, look out for the noise-cancelling headphones accompanying the goggles...)

At every turn you could hear the sound of shocked students who had never seen or heard about this sort of thing happening, who were struggling to come to terms with what they were experiencing. They're just attacking anybody on or near the campus, they're not differentiating between us and the protesters! Some of them seemed to think that it might be OK to club protesters as long as you don't club the students, others had concluded that attacking people for hanging out on the grass was over the top regardless. (This is not an easy thing for a sorority girl from a wealthy suburb to come to terms with, so I was duly impressed at hearing these heretofore clueless youth having such epiphanies.) What was particularly entertaining was the first-hand realization that the local students could not themselves differentiate between “their” fellow students and the other ones who had come from out of town. How could they? It is, in fact, completely impossible to tell the difference between a college student from Pittsburgh and one from Toledo, even if they do have very different politics...

Eventually, by 1 am or so, Cindy and Joshua were able to move without being fired on, and they joined Sarah and I in the comfort of the patio at the Holiday Inn. The people who worked at the Inn, at least some of them, were trying to keep protesters out. The thing was, though, that if you could afford to buy a drink you were no longer a protester, but a guest of the bar, which is what we were. A little while before Cindy and Joshua arrived a convoy of limousines and other fancy cars pulled up in front of the hotel, and then security locked the doors. You could still go in or out, though, just not without security opening the doors for you.

We continued going in and out of the bar, passing by none other than Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia, and his entourage, who were all staying that night in the Holiday Inn (of all relatively downscale places to stay!) and watching some big Australian rugby match on TV. In our confusion at having just escaped the riot police only to find ourselves ten feet away from the Australian Prime Minister, Cindy, Joshua, Sarah and I were all at a complete loss as far as what we should say to the guy. We all talked a lot about what we could say, but by the time we were getting close to coming up with a plan he had gone to bed.

The next day, Saturday, I joined a couple dozen friends and acquaintances outside the county jail where people had spent the night, waiting to get out on bond. Most folks got out on bond, others were (and perhaps still are) being held on a higher bond, waiting for friends and relatives and comrades to come up with the money. Talking to people just out of jail I heard more horror stories. One man, Gabriel, told of being kept outside between 2 and 6 am in the rain, and then being held in a cell where he was handcuffed to a chair along with another man, not able to stand or lay down, for 13 hours.

I left Pittsburgh in the late afternoon from the jail, heading towards New England to continue this northeastern concert tour. In Connecticut this morning I got a call from Cindy Sheehan, who had just gone to the Emergency Room because she was having trouble breathing. People around her the night before had been vomiting profusely as a result of the tear gas. Having suffered injury in the past from getting gassed in Quebec City, I knew exactly why she was in the ER.

There will be lawsuits, and the lawsuits will be won. People like Cindy and Gabriel might make a bit of money from their suffering at the hands of the authorities. Not to worry, though – the authorities have a multi-million dollar slush fund to deal with these lawsuits. They expect them, and they don't care. This is democracy in the USA. It's always been like this, under Democrats or Republicans. If you doubt me, it's quite simply because you don't know your history.

Protest, however, matters. The end of slavery, the banning of child labor, the fact that most working class people live to be past 30 these days, is all a direct result of protest – of democracy happening in the streets. Marches, strikes, rebellions, and all manner of other extra-parliamentary activities. The authorities are well aware that democracy in the streets, no matter what they say – that's why dissent is criminalized. Because as soon as we are allowed to have a taste of our own power, everything can change. It has, and it will again, but the powers-that-be will continue to do what they do best – try hard to make sure we don't know how powerful we are. They require the consent of the governed, the consent of those students in Pittsburgh, and they have now lost it, at least for many of those who were in Oakland last Friday night. They would have lost it a lot more if they had done mass arrests or used live ammunition, which is why they didn't do that.

We don't have freedom of speech or assembly and we never have, but it is through all kinds of “unlawful assemblies,” from Shays' Rebellion to the Civil Rights movement, that change happens. So here's to the next Pittsburgh, wherever it may be. I hope to see you there, on the streets, where our fate truly lies.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Israeli Terror

I was in Olympia, Washington driving towards Evergreen State College when I got a phone call from someone in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. An Evergreen graduate named Rachel Corrie had been killed a few days before by an Israeli soldier in an armored bulldozer, and someone with an Australian accent on my cell phone named Tom was wondering whether it was OK for the International Solidarity Movement to use the lyrics to a song I had just written about the incident on their website. Rachel's murder was followed quickly by the murder of a British ISM activist named Tom Hurndall.

And now, almost six years to the day after the murder of Rachel Corrie, my friend and comrade Tristan Anderson has been critically injured by the IDF. He joins ISM activist Brian Avery, who was also shot in the face. Brian survived, seriously disfigured but otherwise intact. Tristan lies in a coma in a hospital near Tel Aviv and may or may not be as lucky as Brian. His brain was exposed by the tear gas canister fired at close range at his face, and as I write, large parts of his frontal lobe have had to be removed by the surgeons.

Rachel, Tom, Brian and Tristan join the ranks of the thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians killed and the tens of thousands maimed by the IDF since 2000 alone. Being privileged foreigners (at least before they were killed or maimed), they did not have the opportunity to join the ranks of the millions of Palestinians and Lebanese who have been driven into desperate poverty, malnourishment and homelessness by the Israeli invasion and occupation of their lands.

There are many other contemporary and historical examples of genocidal regimes. A few of them – contemporary Turkey, Indonesia or, chiefly among them, the United States – lay claim to the notion that they are democratic countries. Others, such as Saddam's Iraq, apartheid South Africa, and Nazi Germany also made such claims, but nobody believed them. It's challenging to make comparisons between them, at least in terms of trying to figure out which one should deserve the title of Most Genocidal Regime. There are issues of scale, longevity and historical circumstances that make such judgements difficult. Other types of comparisons, though, are not only easy to make, but seem as unavoidable as the elephant in the living room.

It probably didn't help that as the Israeli military was laying siege to the Gaza Strip two months ago I was on a tour of Australia, free from my responsibilities as a father and thus with more free time than I ever have when I'm home these days. I did then what I normally do in my free time – read. The book I happened to be reading at the time was one I had been meaning to read for decades, which I had just picked up at a book store during a visit to Canada – William Shirer's 1,200-page tome, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As Israel's massive armored divisions and ultra-modern Air Force was laying waste to an already-occupied walled ghetto filled with nearly starving refugees armed with nothing more than rocks and the occasional small arms, mostly home-made, I was reading about the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The comparisons are not exact. At the height of what was then widely known as the Nazi Terror, in Auschwitz the SS killed thousands of Jews and Russians every day. No such gas chambers exist or have ever existed in Israel. But for those of you reading this who have not already decided that I am a self-loathing Jew or some kind of anti-Semite, I would like to share with you some of the streams of consciousness that were passing through my head as I was attending protests in Australia against the bombing of Gaza, in between the unavoidable visits to the ubiquitous Australian war memorials and the next chapter of Shirer's history of Nazi Germany.

There I was, bearing witness to the siege of a walled ghetto already under occupation. There have been many sieges of cities over the centuries, but sieges of already-occupied walled ghettoes are far fewer, and for any student of history the similarities are obvious, the comparisons inevitable.

When I first visited Israel in 1999 I was struck by what a nation of trauma survivors it was. I was reminded immediately of my first visit to Ireland some years before, where the great famine that wiped out half the population over a century before seemed like it had happened perhaps a generation ago. In Israel the Nazi Holocaust seemed to have happened yesterday, and in the mindset of many Israelis it seemed as if it were carried out by Palestinians rather than Germans. I encountered anti-Arab racism daily in Israel. When I sang songs about the horrors of the sanctions against Iraq (around a half million Iraqi children dead as a direct result at that point according to UNICEF) I was told by middle-class, middle-aged Israeli folk music fans that killing Iraqi children was OK because they were just going to grow up to become terrorists anyway. I was told that “the Arab mindset” was hopelessly backwards and that They just wanted to “drive us into the sea.” (I even heard Israeli Jews refer to “Latin numerals” when it was clear from the context that they meant Arabic numerals – a Freudian slip I'm sure.)

Most of the Israeli Jews I met seemed confident of the historical persecution of Jews in the Middle East. Actual history bears no resemblance to their version of it, but this did not get in the way of their fantasies. It was in Europe where the Catholic Church and the Nazi movement carried out pogroms and built death camps, not in the Muslim world, but these Jews identified culturally with their European inquisitors, not with their historical Muslim and Christian friends with whom their Arab and Persian Jewish brethren had lived in peace for thousands of years.

And now after decades of the so-called “peace process” Israel's new Foreign Minister openly advocates for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, for the driving out of the million or so Palestinians living within Israel's 1948 borders. In this nation of survivors of the Nazi Terror, race laws reign supreme. There is one set of laws for Jews, and another set of laws for everyone else. As in Nazi Germany, “everyone else” is then divided into groups with relative privileges in comparison with each other (for example, “Israeli Arabs” vs. West Bank Palestinians vs. those condemned to live in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison and the most densely-populated place on Earth).

Like the Zionists, the Nazis also came to power on the backs of trauma and claims of victimhood. For decades, history has been written by the victors, so it is hard to imagine how well Hitler was able to sell the case to the German people (and to many others around the world) that Germany was a nation oppressed by their neighbors as well as by “the enemy within,” the Jews.

Millions of Germans had been slaughtered -- along with millions of Russians, French, Brits, Australians, etc. -- in the War to End All Wars (WWI). German Jews were disproportionately of a leftwing persuasion, and many of the leaders of the social democrats who signed the Treaty of Versailles were, in fact, Jewish. Thus the Jews could be blamed for Germany's defeat (never mind the Kaiser's imperial ambitions) and could also somehow be blamed for the devastating economic depression that followed it (never mind the fact that much of the rest of the world was also in the throes of a similarly devastating depression). The Nazi solution to the “Jewish problem” was to create a society based on racial laws that systematically discriminated against Jews, took away their property, prevented them from joining the military or doing any number of other jobs, drove them out of the country or into ghettoes around which the Nazis built walls, and then ultimately invaded many of the countries into which the Jewish refugees had fled, laid siege to the ghettoes, starving and ultimately killing most of the residents.

Fast forward a few years to 1948, to Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel's father and others in the Zionist movement. The propaganda to try to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine was that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land,” but the Zionist movement actually on the ground in Palestine knew better. For them, the Palestinian people were all too real, and were an obstacle, a problem to be fixed through systematic, brutal ethnic cleansing. The Zionist movement in Palestine, followed by the State of Israel, dealt with the Palestinian problem (that is, the problem of the existence of Palestinians), by creating a society based on racial laws that systematically discriminated against Palestinians, took away their property, prevented them from joining the military, drove them out of the country or into ghettoes around which the Jews built walls, and then ultimately invaded many of the countries into which the Palestinian refugees had fled, laying siege to their cities, ghettoes and refugee camps, starving and killing thousands upon thousands of the residents, oftentimes in the form of wholesale slaughter that in some instances rivalled the intensity of the Nazi genocide.

The Irgun and other groups whom the British administrators of Palestine referred to as terrorists blew up buses full of Palestinian civilians, attacked Palestinian towns and cities with naval bombardment, laid siege to towns with tanks and automatic weapons on three sides in order to force the residents to flee. This is how the Zionist movement formed their state, this was the Israeli “war of independence.”

The Zionists who were flooding into Palestine and quickly changing the demographics of Palestinian society claimed they were being persecuted. There were many isolated incidents that could be called persecution, and many more incidents of Zionist settlers in pre-1948 Palestine persecuting the residents with whom they were sharing a country. By the same token, the Nazis made mostly baseless claims that German-speaking citizens of Poland and Czechoslovakia were being persecuted – the Germans were being persecuted and had to defend themselves by invading their neighbors. By the time the Nazis invaded and occupied France, and Britain finally decided to make good on its treaty obligations and fight fascism, the Nazis could – quite rightly – claim that they had been attacked by Britain. The Germans were the victims of Britain was the Nazi line.

Fast forward again to 1948. The Arab countries neighboring Palestine belatedly sent in a force to defend their fellow Arabs from the Zionists – a force that was numerically and militarily no match for the Zionist army and was quickly defeated. But in the annals of Zionist propaganda this was not Arabs coming to the defense of their brethren who were being slaughtered and driven from their land, it was an “unprovoked attack,” like the British assault on poor Germany. Like the Germans surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on keeping the Germans down, “the Arabs” wanted to “wipe Israel off the map.”

One of Hitler's favorite methods of managing, at least in the Nazi-run press, of appearing to be the voice of reason in the face of his “war-mongering” European neighbors was to make a pretense of “peace negotiations” which were generally last-minute ultimatums that could be accepted or not without any actual negotiating at all. For example, Czechoslovakia (and its ostensible allies, Britain and France) was told it could give up the Sudetenland and other Czech territories and thus avert destruction at the hands of the German military. It actually acquiesced to all German demands (with the encouragement of Britain and France) and was annexed by Germany anyway, on the grounds that the Czechs were being unreasonable, that Czechs were terrorizing ethnic Germans within its borders, etc.

Similarly, the Israeli government regularly asserts that if countries like Syria and Lebanon and political movements like Hamas would only “recognize Israel's right to exist” then there could be peace. The Arab states are consistently portrayed by Israel as the unreasonable parties, and any efforts on the parts of Arab countries to obey the will of the majority of their people and stand up to Israel's daily theft of Palestinian land and slaughter of Palestinian people is portrayed by Israeli leaders as proof that they want to “wipe Israel off the map.” Yet when the Israeli government is asked the very simple question, where are your borders, no answer is forthcoming. Like Nazi Germany, the neighboring countries are expected to acquiesce to all Israeli demands or be portrayed as the aggressors. But how can any reasonable country be expected to recognize a nation that will not itself recognize its own borders? What is Israel, and where does it end and its neighbors' lands begin? Also, on what grounds should Israel be recognized, when it is daily involved in violating all sorts of international laws, daily involved in theft and murder, daily involved with the subjugation of the Palestinian people, and refuses to give back land it took by force of arms from Lebanon and Syria?

Resistance to Nazi tyranny within Germany or in occupied countries was dealt with through incredible brutality. Entire families of dissidents would routinely be sent to concentration camps and often killed. If an occupation soldier was killed, collective punishment was the modus operandi of the Nazi regime. Oftentimes a hundred people in a village would be killed in retribution for the murder of one German soldier.

Similarly, whereas the families of partisans would be sent to the camps, the houses of the families of resistance fighters from the West Bank and Gaza are routinely destroyed. An attack on Israeli territory is routinely responded to (even when the attack itself was generally a response) with massively disproportionate collective punishment, including attacks by helicopter gunships on densely-populated areas where multiple families are killed in order to take out one Hamas or other political leader. Border closures resulting in loss of employment for hundreds of thousands are another routine Israeli response to any resistance to their occupation. Thousands of children and adults are routinely arrested and held indefinitely in Israeli prisons without ever being charged (in courts that are themselves illegitimate anyway). As in Nazi-occupied Europe, no Palestinian man or boy can ever be confident that he will not be dragged out of bed on any given night, taken from his home and arrested.

We are told by the Israeli government not to pay attention to the numbers, that proportionality doesn't matter. There often seems to be a clear effort on the part of the IDF and its political leaders to kill a hundred Palestinians for every Israeli killed, as was the case in the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. If proportionality is irrelevant and morality has no numerical measure, then presumably it would be morally justifiable from the Israeli government perspective if a hundred Israelis were killed for every Palestinian the IDF shoots, but if such a thing were to happen we could be sure to hear from the Israelis all about Palestinian monstrousness, no doubt. This, however, is extremely unlikely ever to happen, since there is no Palestinian military, no Palestinian tanks, no Palestinian Air Force, etc. It's jet fighters versus home-made bombs and ineffective “rocklets” that rarely hit any target.

The Nazis became famous for, among other things, developing methods of torture that make the Spanish Inquisition look humane. Israel has also excelled at developing new ways to cause horrible physical and emotional suffering to human beings. During the most recent Israeli “war” against Lebanon, among the many buildings demolished from the air was the old Khiam Prison in southern Lebanon. When I visited Lebanon in 2005 I toured the Khiam Prison, which was in an area abandoned by the Israelis in 2000 after years of fighting between the IDF, their Lebanese collaborators, and Hezbollah. In Khiam Prison one could see where the US military got its ideas for torturing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. There were specially-designed boxes just big enough for a man to kneel, far too small to stand up or lie down, in which men would be held for weeks at a time and subjected day and night to loud music, regularly taken out of their boxes to be beaten.

We are told by the Israelis that the massive civilian death toll among Palestinians is unavoidable, since Palestinian “terrorists” hide among the civilian population when they carry out their attacks on occupation soldiers. We are also told that the Palestinians are targeting civilians in the (now almost nonexistent) suicide attacks inside Israel. It's an interesting form of two-faced logic, since the main form of transportation used by Israeli soldiers are public buses. This is abundantly obvious to anyone who takes a public bus in Israel. In this highly militarized society where most men and women over the age of eighteen are either active-duty soldiers or reservists, you can hardly find a public bus that is not transporting at least one uniformed soldier with a machine gun hanging off of his shoulder.

It's also an interesting form of dual logic, since the ghetto fighters of Warsaw so justifiably revered by Israeli society were fighting entirely from civilian areas, since they were themselves civilians, fighting from and for their homes, armed with home-made or occasionally smuggled weapons, just like the Palestinian fighters today.

The Nazis found collaborators within the Jews of Warsaw, who became their Jewish Police, or Judenrat. Prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it was the Judenrat who arrested or rounded up Jews wanted by the Nazis, and brought them to the border of the ghetto, to be safely (for the Nazis) handed over, and generally sent to their deaths. Taking a page from this history, the Oslo “peace process” involved a dividing up of Palestinian territory into areas A, B and C. Area A is the downtown, or the area within the ghetto walls that now surround so many of the bombed-out shells that were once thriving Palestinian towns and cities. Area A is the part that Israelis have generously allowed to be policed by Fatah, which has increasingly become, in the eyes of many Palestinians, Israeli collaborators. Israel regularly invades Area A parts of the West Bank whenever it wants to, but otherwise it tries to get the Fatah police to do their policing for them.

Hamas, which refuses to go along with the program, is then painted as a terrorist group that simply must be wiped out, because they doggedly refuse to be collaborators. Like the Jewish Fighting Organization (the ZOB was their Polish acronym) in Warsaw, Hamas does not deal gently with collaborators or with the Israeli occupation forces. Facing impossible, overwhelming odds and essentially certain death, Hamas does what they can to mount some kind of a resistance to the Israeli Terror. ZOB fighters referred to themselves as the “walking dead.” Like the ZOB and other valiant resistance groups throughout the history of every continent, Hamas also embraces martyrdom. Embracing martyrdom is often painted by Israelis and others as some kind of peculiar trait of “Islamic fundamentalists,” which is ridiculous and completely ahistorical, as well as an insult to the memory of the very ghetto fighters in Warsaw who helped inspire the Zionist state in the first place.

Hitler loved to portray his “Aryan” soldiers as icons of morality and good behavior, which of course was nonsense. Like the IDF, the German soldiers fought very well and bravely, especially from the inside of a tank. And like the IDF, who are also widely viewed within Israel as the world's most moral army, the German soldiers consistently engaged in acts of sadism against civilians throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. And like the IDF, they were almost never punished for such acts.

Reminders of the sadism that permeates the Israeli military are never far away, and are often described most eloquently by former occupation soldiers who turned against their commanders in the Knesset. (Thankfully, there are many such soldiers. Unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough of them to make a difference.) The tendency of IDF soldiers to shoot children in the head with live ammunition is well-known and well-documented.

I vividly recall the outrage of many of my Jewish Israeli fans when Ariel Sharon “visited” the Al-Aqsa Mosque, along with hundreds of soldiers, prompting some stone-throwing from local Palestinian youths, to which the soldiers responded with live ammunition, killing many, leading to the Al-Aqsa Intifada and thousands more deaths, overwhelmingly of Palestinian children.

My fans weren't outraged at Sharon, however, they were outraged at me for writing my first of a series of songs about the Israeli occupation, “Children of Jerusalem.” What many people took particular offense to was the line about the general (Sharon) grinning. They told me this couldn't be accurate, because IDF soldiers carried out their duties with a grim sense of necessity, never enjoying the killing of the kids who were always shot because they were in the way of the ubiquitous “Palestinian gunmen” who were always firing first, at the poor defenseless tanks which for some reason were in the middle of their cities. For my outrageous accusations they called me a fascist and all sorts of other things.

But unfortunately they're wrong. The soldiers often are grinning. Like the smirking soldier who was standing in the ambulance that was trying to transport Tristan Anderson to the hospital just a few days ago, refusing to move to allow the medics to close the door. Tristan was only one of a multitude of victims of the Israeli Terror, and this sadistic soldier was only one of many other sadistic Israeli soldiers obeying the whims of a government run by sadistic, racist men and women.

Israel bears many of the hallmarks of a fascist regime. What's more, it is, like Nazi Germany, a very popular regime among its people. Like Nazi Germany, it is justly reviled by people around the world, but actively supported by so many of its people. Like Nazi Germany, governments and corporations around the world prefer to profit from trading with it rather than standing up to it and isolating it. Like Nazi Germany, it is dependent on the outside world for food, fuel and other basic necessities of life.

Unlike Nazi Germany, Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons. Unlike Nazi Germany, Israel is not going to be defeated militarily. But it can be defeated if the people of the world – especially in the US -- pressure their governments to recognize Israel for the aggressive, racist state that it fundamentally is and has been since 1948, cut off the aid and impose trade sanctions of the sort that were imposed on South Africa under apartheid. The beginning of the process of isolating this small country from the world community that allows it to prosper is to educate people about the true nature of Zionism.

The Middle East has been and must be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews as it was since long before the Zionist armies expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their lands in 1948. Nothing, including the Nazi Holocaust, justifies what has been done and, most importantly, continues to be done to the Palestinians. The time is long since past to call the Jewish state out for the fundamentally racist regime that it is. In the name of the ghetto fighters of Warsaw, let us strive to see a world where no one needs to die with a stone in their hand trying to defend a starved, walled ghetto against an army of tanks and planes, where people like Tristan don't need to have their brains blown out for trying to prevent a wall from being built around yet another ghetto.