Indian government announces free health-insurance to cover 500 million people.


India announced Thursday a program to give half a billion citizens free health insurance, a potentially transformative upgrade of the country’s dilapidated public health-care services and a key element of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s last budget before national elections next year. […]

Under the plan, the government will cover health-care costs of up to $7,800 for 100 million poor families and spend some $188 million to create “health and wellness” centers, Jaitley announced to loud table-thumping in India’s lower house. Spending on nutrition for tuberculosis patients, cleanliness drives and education will also result in significant improvements in public health, he said.  […]

India spends 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product on health care compared with ­China’s 3.1 percent and the United States’ 8.3 percent, according to the World Bank.—…

Healthcare in India tends to be mercenary, with hospitals often refusing treatment unless patients produce large sums of cash first. So the poorest Indians often go without care. Within the Indian context, $7,800 is a huge sum, represent 4 years of income on average. A current program covers $500 of costs for poor families. This program would increase that 15 fold.

The government is asking for $500 million in its budget to build 150,000 wellness centers (WaPo botched their currency conversion).

So this is a welcome development from a decidedly right-wing government which has in general been skeptical of poverty-reduction programs. The health-care program and strong statements in favor of farm-support bills are meant to counter this perception among poorer Indians who do vote in large numbers since elections are run by a non-partisan commission and voter-suppression is rare.

The government’s funding plan is very unclear. Even with India’s extremely young population (which means lower overall need), the cost for such a program will run into the billions. The government has yet to outline how it will fund the proposal, apart from announcing a surtax that is expected to raise $1.7 Billion. A detailed budget is expected next week and should clarify this.

There are also questions about how coverage will work with the mercenary private sector, which often charges inflated prices. Then there’s the fact that India’s poorest citizens are disproportionately Muslim or from “lower” castes who have historically not supported the right-wing BJP. Implementation details will determine whether or not these communities benefit from the program.

All that said, this does pose a question for us in the US. India has a far larger population, and is far, far poorer. If the decidedly right-wing government in India can propose such an ambitious health-care program, why do only half of our Democratic representatives and only a third of Democratic senators support Medicare For All?

subirgrewal | Cross-posted at &

The most dangerous and violent narcotics cartel the world has ever seen.

President Trump, addressing African representatives at the UN:

“I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich, I congratulate you.”

To many observers, this remark sounded a whole lot like neo-colonialism. Colonialism was not kind to colonized peoples, and there’s no reason to believe neo-colonialism will be. Especially when leaders of major military powers have “friends” trying to make money in far away lands. Here’s an example from another century.

The British East India company was one of the first joint-stock companies in the world. Interestingly, its charter permitted it to wage war. It maintained a mercenary army and engaged in equal parts trade and conquest. In 1757, the company’s mercenary army defeated the nawab of Bengal, gaining control over the region. Bengal was attractive to the company since it was the primary source of opium, which the company traded to great profit. In a sense, you could say the East India company was a narco-cartel that took over an entire state, Bengal, with a population of 30 million people. Of course, it helped that there were backed by the military might of the nascent British empire. This is what Betsy Devos’ brother Erik Prince thinks should happen in Afghanistan, with Blackwater/Academi playing the role of the East India Company. Except it’s already been done, with predictably terrible results.

In 1770, the east Indian regions of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa suffered a terrible famine, while the company controlled the region. 10 million people starved to death, though some some studies indicate the death toll may have been as high as 15 million. Death rates in some towns were over 60%, and for the region as a whole, 33-50%. In comparison, the better known Great Famine of the 1840s (in another British colony, Ireland) merely caused 1.5 million deaths. Reports of the Bengal famine of 1770 reached Britain swiftly. The company and its agents were severely criticized in several quarters. Among others, Adam Smith wrote about the company’s policies in Bengal:

The great fortunes so suddenly and so easily acquired in Bengal and the other British settlements in the East Indies, may satisfy us that, as the wages of labour are very low, so the profits of stock are very high in those ruined countries. The interest of money is proportionably so. In Bengal, money is frequently lent to the farmers at forty, fifty, and sixty per cent, and the succeeding crop is mortgaged for the payment. As the profits which can afford such an interest must eat up almost the whole rent of the landlord, so such enormous usury must in its turn eat up the greater part of those profits. (In their transactions with the inhabitants of India, the British substituted violence for trade; and the price at which they bought or sold was often very different, therefore, from the value of the market. They took what they wanted at their own price, and it was by this violence that they drained the country of its wealth.) — Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

Yet, almost two hundred years later, during WW-2, another British government would stoke another famine in Bengal, killing 2 or 3 million people.

The great famine of 1770 was triggered by a failed monsoon the prior autumn. A decade of predatory tax harvesting by the East India company had left rural Bengalis and Biharis with few monetary resources. The company had raised land taxes over the prior decade, sending the proceeds back to shareholders in London. When the monsoon failed in 1769, many now impoverished Bengali families had no way to buy food. The company’s officers had stolen their savings via extortionate “taxes”, often employing violence and torture. The company’s policy of replacing food crops with opium likely exacerbated the famine. Smallpox broke out among the starving survivors.

In a pattern familiar from the more extensively documented famines of the nineteenth century, peasants tried to sell their possessions, even the plows and bullocks they would need n teh future to till their fields. In desperation they ate their seed corn, then turned to eating grass, leaves, and bark. Children were sold to anyone who would buy them: some survived the famine only as slaved in European and Indian households. There were reports, as so often when the intensity of India’s famine passed beyond normal comprehension, of hungry people driven to the extremes even of cannibalism; “There were persons who fed on forbidden and abhorred animals, nay the child on its dead parent, the mother on her child.” Large numbers died of starvation or disease before they could find relief or because they were too worn out and malnourished to absorb the food they received. Mortality was greatest among agricultural laborers, poor peasants, and artisans (cotton and silk weavers, lime workers, and the like), with Bihar and western Bengal suffering most. Only toward the end of 1770 did the drought and famine abate. — David Arnold: Hunger in the garden of plenty

As it happens, killing a third of your labor force isn’t a good thing for any enterprise, even a narco-cartel with a side business in tax harvesting. Opium production fell after the famine, and the East India company came under immense financial stress. Since many members of parliament held East India company stock, it wasn’t difficult to convince them to pass laws to bolster the firm’s finances.

The Company created a powerful East India lobby in Parliament, a caucus of MPs who had either directly or indirectly profited from its business and who constituted, in Edmund Burke’s opinion, one of the most united and formidable forces in British politics. It also made regular gifts to the Court: “All who could help or hurt at Court,” wrote Lord Macaulay, “ministers, mistresses, priests, were kept in good humour by presents of shawls and silks, birds’ nests and attar of roses, bulses of diamonds and bags of guineas.” It also made timely gifts to the Treasury whenever the state faced bankruptcy. In short, it acted as what George Dempster, a stockholder, called a “great money engine of state”.…

By 1773, the company had successfully lobbied the British parliament to grant it a monopoly on opium production in Bengal. That would solidify the company’s position as the largest producer and dealer of hard drugs in the world.

The East India company used the land taxes extracted from peasants to buy opium. Since it had a monopoly, it could control prices. The opium was then sent to China, to be traded for Chinese tea. And this is where the opium trade intersects with American history.

Goaded by the directors, Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773. This legislation was meant to further bolster the company’s finances by allowing it to export tea, under preferential terms, to the American colonies. If this is beginning to sound familiar, it should. The Tea Act led to the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

If 10 million Bengalis hadn’t been starved to death by an opium cartel owned by British lords, this country might not have thrown off the colonial yoke when it did.

Let’s talk about this tea which American revolutionaries gleefully dumped into Boston harbor. With their monopoly on opium production, the East India company had solved one of its biggest dilemmas. Thus far, British merchants had to scrounge up gold and silver to buy Chinese goods. But if they could get enough Chinese people hooked on opium, that would serve as currency. And since they controlled production and prices, let’s just say it was a good deal. Over the course of the 18th and early 19th century, the East India company increased its opium exports to China manyfold.

At the turn of the 19th century, the Chinese government moved to make the opium trade illegal. British merchant-pirates resorted to smuggling to continue the trade. The Chinese government’s efforts were largely ineffective. By the 1830s, a large portion of the population (perhaps as high as 20%) was using opium. The Chinese government sought to restrict the trade even further.

Faced with a direct threat to their lucrative opium-tea trade, British naval forces and the armies of the East India company joined together to wage China. British forces fighting alongside the East India company’s mercenary army won the First Opium War of 1840-42. Casualties on the Chinese side (both civilian and military) were in the tens of thousands. British forces engaged in extensive looting and destruction of art works. The Qing dynasty government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking. It granted British merchants free access to numerous Chinese ports, and ceded the island of Hong Kong to Britain. British merchants resumed distributing thousands of tons of opium to China every year. The loss and burden of making reparations to Britain weakened the Qing dynasty and helped spark the Taiping rebellion. That bloody civil war cost 20-30 million lives and the First Opium War continues to be viewed as a seminal event in Chinese history.

The government and the company were severely criticized by some in Britain for initiating this war. Famously, this included the future Prime Minister Gladstone, who had seen his sister turn into an opium addict. Opium was widely available in Britain and Europe at the time, most commonly sold as laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol. Those treating addiction among heir friends and family were appalled that their government would wage war on Chinese administrators trying to do the same. The criticism was laughably ineffective when there was so much money to be made via drug-dealing.

In 1856-60 the British government fought a second opium war, seeking to renegotiate the terms of the earlier treaty. A key demand was lifting all restrictions on  the opium trade. The British also sought to expand the coolie trade. This system of indentured servitude took Indian and Chinese laborers to Caribbean and South American plantations to grow commodity crops for . It has been called near-slavery. The “coolies” were often kidnapped from their homes or given false assurances. US traders participated in this human trafficking, most often by selling Chinese laborers to Cuban plantation owners. Lincoln eventually signed a law outlawing the coolie-trade.

Over a four year campaign, British and French forces defeated the Chinese army and navy. It’s worth noting that they were aided by the US armed forces. A naval vessel, the USS San Jacinto was actively engaged in the conflict. Can you imagine the response if the armies and navies of Columbia, Mexico and Afghanistan lay siege to the port of Los Angeles, demanding the unfettered right to sell heroin and cocaine to Americans? Yeah, that’s probably what most Chinese people thought about it.

There are dozens of interesting stories about these events. Tales of colonization and its impact on peoples across the world.  Stories of narco-privateers sailing under the British flag who enjoyed the protection of the world’s most powerful navy. There’s that one time the US navy fought alongside dealers and smugglers of hard drugs. The tragic history of a famine that killed ten million living, breathing human beings, just like you and me. There’s the story of Chinese and Indian leaders who sought to protect their people and countries from colonization.

Are you likely to see a mainstream movie about any of this? Not really. Hollywood is too busy rehabilitating Georgian and Victorian era aristocrats with period pieces that showcase their tastes in clothing and leisure activities.

We are treated to sympathetic movies about the madness of George III, Victoria and her Scottish servant, Victoria and her Indian servant, Victoria and her German consort-prince, Young Victoria, Old Victoria, Middle-Aged Victoria.

What should we learn from this? That the desire to absolve and gloss over runs deep? If so, it means thirty years from now, perhaps sooner, we’ll all be watching bio-pics about Trump’s lovable forgetfulness and his unlikely friendship with Ben Carson.

— @subirgrewal


Could the world’s largest democracies descend into sectarian violence?

Over a year ago, I wrote about how Trump reminds me of a politician I know from my youth, Bal Thackeray:

Bal Thackeray adopted a hodge-podge of ideological positions. His party controlled trade unions while he openly admired strongmen and dictators (including Hitler). The one constant throughout his career was the use of ethnic and religious divisions. His real talent was tapping into economic discontent, frustration and anger at corruption. He rose to prominence by fomenting resentment towards “immigrants” from other states in India. Bombay had been a melting pot for decades, attracting people from all over India who spoke a multitude of languages. Thackeray drove a wedge between Marathi-speakers (from the area around Bombay) and all others, convincing them South Indians, Gujaratis and Hindi-speakers were taking their jobs. Years later, when it became less easy to rouse people using linguistic differences, he moved on to exploit religion.

Thackeray’s party, the Shiv Sena, is allied with India’s ruling right-wing Hindu-nationalist BJP. Thackeray too had a knack for using media to rile up the worst instincts in his followers. He started his career as a political cartoonist. His entire political career was built on bombast and stoking religious, ethnic and linguistic differences. Like Trump, he made his home in the most integrated city in the country. And yes, Thackeray, like Trump, admired Hitler’s rhetoric and tactics.

Modi is far more coy about how he stokes sectarian fires, and projects the perception of competence. He is not above bombastic rhetoric when necessary, but it is not his natural mode. In his personal life, he cultivates a reputation for ascetic probity. Perhaps the right analogue for Modi is actually Mike Pence. That should make you pause and reconsider how much you want Trump removed from office.

Though their styles may differ, Modi and Trump do respond very similarly to violent attacks on minorities. Trump’s behavior after the Charlottesville attacks is very similar to what Prime Minister Modi’s half-hearted statements when vigilantes have lynched Muslim men suspected of eating beef (it’s happened multiple times). They wait for days, and then half-heartedly condemn the violence, often excusing it as being “provoked”. In Modi’s case, the provocation is beef-eating. In Trump’s it’s protesting racism.

Mihir Sharma, writing in Bloomberg today, advises that it’s a waste of time trying to get Trump to “say the right thing”. Most Indians have realized Modi’s winking statements reluctantly condemning Hidutva vigilantes are meaningless and satisfy no one.:

Even before he confirmed that he didn’t actually mean what he’d said, nobody could have believed that Trump genuinely meant what he’d said. Nor could anyone have believed that his stilted statement on Monday deterred or dismayed the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville this weekend.  […]

We in India have played out our version of this dark farce for three years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi climbed to power with a record blemished by years of pandering to Hindu nationalists. Emboldened by his victory, the hardest core of his supporters asserted themselves across India through intimidation and violence. Muslims were lynched; people born into lower castes were publicly beaten. The prime minister was pressed: Why would he not address this violence?

For days after one particularly horrific lynching, Modi declined to respond. And then, when he did, nobody was really satisfied. Like Trump’s real reaction, there was a strong element of “both-sides-ism” in his response.  —…

Forcing Trump to “say the right words” when he clearly doesn’t believe them, is largely a waste of our time. He wears his allegiance to white supremacy on his sleeve, and that isn’t going to change. Modi ascribes to an ideology of Hindu supremacy, and nothing’s going to change him either. Neither of them is above claiming that they only seek to preserve a unique, especially wonderful “culture”.

There are many other similarities between them and their countries. They both instinctively understand democracy as “majority rule”, and by majority they mean the majority religion/race. They have limited patience for minority rights, I suspect they both ascribe to the view that minorities should “know their place”. Hindus are roughly 80% of the Indian population. That’s a soft number though, since there are very strong caste and linguistic divisions. Modi and the BJP in general, are viewed as an upper-caste, north-Indian party. Roughly 80% of the US considers itself Christian, and 80% is white/hispanic. Though again, there are numerous divisions and clearly Trump sees himself representing the non-hispanic white protestant population, which is the largest group.

Neither of them are particularly concerned with lower-caste, poorer population. When pressed, they’re likely to claim whatever benefits the majority or wealthy will eventually benefit the minority or poorer population as well.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. They are both firmly anti-Muslim. This is a bigger issue in India since Muslims are a larger part of the population. But in the US anti-Muslim rhetoric generally goes hand in hand with anti-black sentiment since for a lot of people Islam is associated with black people.

We can discuss what drives the forces that brought Modi and Trump to power, and they would certainly include technological disruption, globalization, climate change stress, and much more besides.

But the question I want to ask is whether our countries can descend into widespread sectarian violence. I don’t have an answer, it’s really more of a question. Both countries have a long history of violent pogroms (as frankly do almost all places).

The historian Ramchandra Guha was interviewed by Slate recently, and he was asked what he thought of Modi vs Trump:

In what ways do you think personally is Modi similar or different from the other demagogues we see around the world?

Trump is a maverick, an egomaniac really interested only in himself, whereas Modi is interested, of course in himself, he is an enormously vain man too, but he is interested in consolidating his party [BJP] and his philosophy’s control over India. He would like to leave a positive legacy behind. It’s unlikely that he will, but he likes to think of himself as a man of history. And he’s building upon this very well-entrenched, very motivated, and very dangerous RSS organization, which Trump certainly doesn’t have and [French leader of the National Front] Le Pen certainly doesn’t have and [Hungary’s] Viktor Orbán doesn’t have. In that sense, Modi has the capacity to do a great deal more damage because of the organizational depth of the RSS and the BJP. —…

Guha’s right, Trump doesn’t have the brown-shirt like organization, Modi does. But, Guha also doesn’t appreciate the fact that the US population is far, far more heavily armed than the Indian population. The typical Indian riot involves machetes, knives and sticks. Virtually no one has firearms. The white nationalist militia people in Charlottesville were very heavily armed. The governor admitted this intimidated the police.

— @subirgrewal


Why are there so few brown and black faces in ‘Dunkirk’?

Soldiers from the French African colonies holding a position at Boucle du Doubs, near Besancon, France, winter of 1944.

135,000 Senegalese troops fought in Europe during World War I and over 30,000 died. De Gaulle’s Free French Army in World War II was largely composed of troops from the French colonial empire, including conscripts and volunteers from among the colonized populations. The Nazis executed several thousand French colonial POWs from Africa, driven by their racial animus towards black peoples.

Over a million Indian troops served overseas during World War I. Undivided India (most of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal) was part of the British Empire at the time. During World War II, the Indian Army expanded to include 2.5 million troops in uniform. The bulk of the force was deployed in Asia to stop the Japanese advance into Burma, but numerous divisions served in the Middle East, Africa and in Europe. Six of the fourteen Allied divisions in North Africa were from the Indian army.

So why are there so few black and brown faces in the new movie about Dunkirk?

In the film, we see at least one French soldier who might be African. In fact, soldiers from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere were key to delaying the German attack. Other African soldiers made it to England and helped form the nucleus of the Free French forces that soon took the fight to the Axis.

There were also four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps on those beaches. Observers said they were particularly cool under fire and well-organized during the retreat. They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war. Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East.


Sunny Singh, writing in the Guardian writes that these omissions have a broader impact. White-washing the two world wars (and colonial history more generally) aids right-wing ethno-nationalists by erasing the sacrifices other peoples made to ensure French, British and American freedoms.

[…] it erases the Royal Indian Army Services Corp companies, which were not only on the beach, but tasked with transporting supplies over terrain that was inaccessible for the British Expeditionary Force’s motorised transport companies. It also ignores the fact that by 1938, lascars – mostly from South Asia and East Africa – counted for one of four crewmen on British merchant vessels, and thus participated in large numbers in the evacuation.  […]

A vast, all-white production such as Nolan’s Dunkirk is not an accident. Such a big budget film is a product of many hundreds of small and large decisions in casting, production, directing and editing. Perhaps Nolan chose to follow the example of the original allies in the second world war who staged a white-only liberation of Paris even though 65% of the Free French Army troops were from West Africa. […]

Why is it so important that the covering fire be provided by white French troops rather than North African and Middle Eastern ones? Those non-white faces I mentioned earlier – they were French troops scrabbling to board British boats to escape. The echoes of modern politics are easy to see in the British-first policy of the initial retreat that left French troops at the mercy of the Nazis. In reality, non-white troops were at the back of the queue for evacuation, and far more likely to be caught and murdered by Nazi soldiers than their white colleagues who were able to blend into the crowd.


Oh, and that insistence on a whites-only liberation force for Paris? It was part of a policy called ‘blanchiment’, literally “whitening” of the liberating units.

In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.

“This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white.”

At the time America segregated its own troops along racial lines and did not allow black GIs to fight alongside their white comrades until the late stages of the war. […]

In the end, nearly everyone was happy. De Gaulle got his wish to have a French division lead the liberation of Paris, even though the shortage of white troops meant that many of his men were actually Spanish. […]

For France’s West African Tirailleurs Senegalais, however, there was little to celebrate. Despite forming 65% of Free French Forces and dying in large numbers for France, they were to have no heroes’ welcome in Paris.


@subirgrewal | Cross-posted at &

New Delhi rape victim sues Uber and its CEO for illegally obtaining her medical records.

About 10 days ago, the tech blog Recode reported this:

A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources. He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them.

Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber. — Recode

Alexander, was not among the round of firings announced on June 6. Recode then contacted the company for a comment on how he obtained confidential medical records that were part of a criminal investigation in India. They told shortly after that Alexander had been fired.

The victim’s medical records were passed by Alexander to the CEO Travis Kalanick and a SVP Emil Michael. It seems they then speculated whether or not the victim had in fact been raped or was colluding with a competitor. Some Uber executives who learned about this were taken aback, noting that none of the three had medical trainingand would not have been able to make any such determination.

On June 13th, Uber announced that Kalanick would be on a leave of absence and that Michael had been dismissed.

A woman sued Uber Technologies Inc on Thursday claiming top executives at the ride-hailing company improperly obtained her medical records after she was raped by a driver in Delhi, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed in a California federal court, comes two days after Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said he would take a leave of absence from his troubled company to grieve for his recently deceased mother and to work on his leadership skills. […]

“Uber executives duplicitously and publicly decried the rape, expressing sympathy for plaintiff, and shock and regret at the violent attack, while privately speculating, as outlandish as it is, that she had colluded with a rival company to harm Ubers business,” the lawsuit said.

In a statement on Thursday, Uber said: “No one should have to go through a horrific experience like this, and we’re truly sorry that she’s had to relive it over the last few weeks.” — The Hindu

The driver was convicted and is serving a life sentence for assault. The victim had previously sued Uber over its safety and background check practices in India. That case was settled.

The lawsuit filed on Thursday said shortly after the rape occurred, a U.S. Uber executive “met with Delhi police and intentionally obtained plaintiff’s confidential medical records.” The lawsuit says Uber has retained a copy of those records. — Reuters

The victim currently lives in the US and has not been identified. The story continues to be huge news in India. Recode has a copy of the complaint in their article.

The attorneys are demanding a jury trial, claiming that a few days after the incident Alexander met with Delhi police and obtained the confidential medical records. The victim is suing for intrusion into private affairs, public disclosure of private facts, and defamation. She is seeking damages of an unspecified amount. — Recode

Did Ivanka Trump flunk world religion or is she asking a deeper question?

While discussing the father’s recent trip abroad, which she accompanied him on, Ivanka said, “To have covered the three largest world religions over the course of four days, it was deeply meaningful.” While referring to her meetings with religious leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican last month, Ivanka incorrectly labeled Judaism as one of the world’s three largest religions. In fact, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism all have more believers than Judaism.

The show’s hosts did not comment on her gaffe. — Haaretz

Now, I want to be fair to Ivanka and the good folk at Fox and Friends. There are two rather messy questions that need to be answered before we can say what the “three largest world religions” are.

  1. What constitutes a religion?
  2. Who can be counted as a believer?

These sound like simple questions, but there are several complications. Most faith traditions have several schisms. Is mainline Catholicism the same religion as Unitarianism? What about the Eastern orthodox church, or its several variations (Russian, Greek, Syrian, Albanian, etc. etc.).  Did Jesus intend to found a new religion, or was it Paul’s idea? Is Shi’a Islam the same as Sunni Islam, or was there an irrevocable rift at the Battle of Karbala? A handful of extremly hard-line Sunnis would tell you Sh’ia are not Muslim. What about Sufis, or Isma’ilis, or Yazidis? What constitutes mainline Hinduism? What level of adherence to Vedic texts is required, what about the Puranas? Is Shaivism a sect or a different religion? If you accept an agnostic reading of the Nasadiya Suktam, are you still a Hindu? Are Buddhism and Hinduism two separate faiths or are they part of one tradition? What about Jainism? For that matter, are the three major Abrahamic traditions truly distinct? What distinguishes Halakhic (Jewish) law from Sharia (Islamic) law? When thinking of that question and its implications, this twitter thread is excellent:

How do we treat traditions that are syncretic to varying degrees? When considering the blended/syncretic faiths practiced by many indigenous peoples in IndiaAfrica, the Americas and elsewhere, do we count them as Hindu, Christian or Muslim? Or do we give equal weight to their ancient faith traditions? Several traditional faiths have adherents that number in the tens of millions. Traditional Bantu religions might make it into the top five if we counted them as such.

Why do we start with an Abrahamic mindset along with some allowances for large Asian faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism? Is that a Euro-centric view of faith/religion? What would a non-Euro-centric view look like? How do we treat the fact that the spread of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism was, in many cases, associated with colonization, enslavement and conquest? If a person adopts a religion because they are compelled to out of need or pressure, do we count them as a believer/adherent? When we describe a conflict in religious terms (Sunni/Shia, Protestant/Catholic, Hindu/Muslim), is it truly a religious conflict, or is that a convenient way to avoid asking other questions about how political actors rally troops/support by using religion?

These are all really interesting and important questions. But I don’t believe Ivanka was really thinking about them. I think her narrow parochialism led the senior advisor to the president to assume the “three largest world religions” started in the Middle East.

Lastly, as an agnostic, I want to give a shout-out to this NY Times article: Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game. I may not believe, but I recognize that when it comes to politics, I am on the same side as many who do, and I am glad to be in their company.

Filasṭin Week by Week: A March for the Bedouin, A License to Kill & To Teach the Nakba

Haaretz reports a few dozen people, including members of the Arab-Jewish Joint-List have begun a Four-day march to Jerusalem for Bedouin rights

President Reuven Rivlin had promised to welcome marchers, but will be abroad when they arrive in Jerusalem to draw attention to the Negev’s unrecognized villages.A four-day march to Jerusalem to raise awareness of the plight of unrecognized Bedouin villages and to present a plan to recognize them began on Thursday morning as planned, even though President Reuven Rivlin will not be receiving the marchers in the capital, as they had hoped.

Although Rivlin had agreed to receive the marchers on Sunday at the President’s Residence, the march’s final destination, it was learned on Wednesday that he will be in Singapore for the funeral of former president Lee Kuan Yew.

This reminds me somewhat of the Salt March led by Gandhi. It will never gain as much attention because the number of people who would be engaged are bound to be so much smaller in I/P. I’ve discussed the forced relocation of Bedouin in a diary called A Modern Day Trail of Tears in Jerusalem and on Medium: What happened to Ben-Gurion’s Oasis in the Desert?.David wrote a diary back in 2013 on the treatment of the Bedouin within Israel: Israel to Raze Palestinian Villages (within Israel) & Displace its Citizens to Build ‘Jewish’ Towns

+972mag has a deeply personal story from Mya Guarnieri about how she (an American Jew from Florida with Israeli citizenship) found herself living in the West Bak. She discusses how porous the barriers between the West Bank and Israel are. I think this is a must read if you’re interested in Israel/Palestine and a good example of the kind of writing that +972 showcases. It’s called The long road to Bethlehem

After taking a job at a Palestinian university in the West Bank, Jewish journalist Mya Guarnieri feels that the center of her life is increasingly on the ‘other side’ of the Green Line. Israeli soldiers give her a hard time for being a Jew in ‘enemy territory’ and it becomes more and more difficult to live in Israeli society.[…]

He answered in Hebrew in kind, ken, yes, and showed me the pictures he’d taken on his phone. There was the guard tower, just meters away. There was the group that had gathered as soldiers attempted to enforce the new closure in the fence; there was the fellow holding the hole open; there were men helping an elderly woman and a young lady through. The parking lot; the bus. I was struck again by the absurdity of it all. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

That’s not to downplay Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. It’s more to point out that if someone wants to slip into Israel without a permit, they can. In fact, approximately thirty thousand Palestinian workers do it every day. But, in doing so, they risk injury, arrest, and death. In July of 2012, a Palestinian day laborer was killed when soldiers opened fire on a car full of workers that tried to pass a checkpoint without permits.

The International Solidarity Movement reports on  the IDF’s heavy handed response at a regular Friday demonstration in the village of Ni’lin: Ni’lin demonstrators met with senseless violence

On the 20th of March, during Ni’lin’s weekly Friday demonstration, Israeli occupation forces attacked protestors with about 20 rounds of tear gas canisters shot with the ‘venom’ tear gas launcher mounted on a military jeep (which can launch up to thirty rounds of tear gas before needing to be reloaded), countless rubber-coated steel bullets and approximately one hundred rounds of live ammunition. One Israeli activist was shot in the ankle and one Palestinian boy was injured in the leg, both with rubber-coated steel bullets. Many protesters suffered from tear gas inhalation.

In +972mag: License to Kill, part 3: Why did Colonel A. order the sniping of Ihab Islim?

Members of a family are standing on a balcony and chatting. The commander of IDF forces in the region orders snipers to open fire on them. One brother is killed, the other one loses an eye. The commander fails to account for the order in the investigation that ensues. The case is closed, and the commander is promoted. In the following months, other civilians in the region are killed in the exact same manner. No one is found guilty.[…] the IDF has admitted that an innocent person had been shot, and that the targeted sniping of 17-year-old Ihab Islim in his head was carried out without him having committed a crime.

Yet the Military Police has failed to find the shooters; an IDF video clip that documents the shooting and the preceding events; or the operations logs that could have shed some light on the events that transpired in Nablus on June 25, 2004.

Int’l Solidarity Movement: Resistance to the destruction of olive trees in Wadi Qana

Supporters, many from the nearby village of Deir Istiya, as well as locals and internationals, turned out in anticipation of soldier presence or settler provocation, but no conflict took place.In 2008 and 2011 farmers of Wadi Qana were issued with similar notices.  These removal orders were not carried out. In 2012 trees were removed without notice. Approximately 3,000 trees have been destroyed in Wadi Qana by settler attacks and by order of Israeli authorities.

Olive groves are a ubiquitous feature of Palestinian agriculture. Destroying them is a way of asserting authority over the land and indigenous uses of it. It is in keeping with other efforts like that run by the JNF, to plant stands of non-indigenous varieties, some of them on the ruins of former Palestinian villages.From Haaretz: UN report: 2014 saw the most Palestinians killed by Israel’s military since ‘67

Israeli security forces killed 2,312 Palestinians, most in the Gaza war over the summer. Roughly two-thirds were civilians.The number of Palestinian civilians killed by the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last year topped 1,500 — the highest number since the occupation began in 1967. By most other measures, the Palestinians’ lives under the occupation also took a turn for the worse, as reflected in the annual overview by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

This is being covered quite widely, including the Guardian, Al-Jazeera and YNet.+972mag: Hundreds mourn Palestinian youth shot dead by Israeli soldiers

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered to take part in the funeral of Ali Safi in the Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah Thursday. Safi, 18, was shot with live bullets by Israeli soldiers during clashes near the refugee camp on Wednesday, March 18. He was taken to a hospital in Ramallah and placed in the ICU until he died on Wednesday night.

In Haaretz: When Zionist parties wooed Palestinian-Israeli voters

The early Israeli establishment allowed Arab citizens to vote and Zionist parties even courted their support. Today, however, the Arab vote is seen as a threat.[…]

Some American commentators rushed to link Netanyahu’s remarks to the Jim Crow South of the 1960s, when African-American participation in the political process was considered dangerous by white supremacists. This comparison rings even more poignant if we consider that at the same time as when African Americans fought against segregation, Palestinians in Israel were placed under what was known as the Military Government.

This form of martial law (1948-1966; not to be confused with the post-1967 military occupation and Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) suspended many of the civil rights and legal protections that Israeli citizenship afforded those Palestinians who managed to remain in the state after 1948. There is, however, a fundamental difference between early Israel, the Jim Crow South – the early Israeli establishment still allowed the community it oppressed to vote and actually courted their electoral support.

Int’l Solidarity Movement: Continuing harassment of activists in Palestine

“We are not wearing vests like Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) for example, which makes it easier for us to pass through the checkpoints. But they don’t like us either. Only a few days days ago one of us was arrested and held for seven hours for bogus reasons, and now he’s not allowed in the city for two weeks” ISM volunteer Franceska explains.In four different incidents within one week in late February, Israeli forces raided the ISM apartment without having a warrant or any legit reason. Franceska was in the apartment when the soldiers came:

+972mag: Distorting the facts of Occupation: Regavim’s attacks on the EU

Reports started circulating before Israel’s elections that Prime Minister Netanyahu had ordered the destruction of mobile structures distributed by the EU in Area C of the West Bank. This harks back to a report in November 2014 by the Israeli NGO Regavim, which draws a shocking parallel between the EU’s humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Area C and Israel’s building of settlements there.  Assuming that Israel’s settlements are legal under international law, Regavim accuses the EU of assisting the Palestinians in an illegal plan to take control of large parts of the West Bank. Solidarity with Palestinian farmers, Wadi Qana, West Bank, 20.3.2015

Palestinian and international activists hold a sign that reads, “Wadi Qana is for us”, during a solidarity activity with Palestinian farmers in the area, West Bank, March 20, 2015. On Sunday March 15th, Palestinians received an Israeli military order to uproot 123 olive trees in Wadi Qana, which is surrounded by seven settlements. According to OCHA maps, Wadi Qana is supposed to be annexed to Israel in order to create a path for the Wall.

Haaretz: Ex-Education Minister Piron backs teaching Nakba to all Israeli students

Shay Piron, education minister in the previous government, was quoted on Tuesday as backing the teaching of the Nakba – the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which the Palestinians use to refer to Israel’s War of Independence – to all Israeli students.Piron’s remarks, in a recording broadcast by Israeli Army Radio, indicated that he supported teaching the Nakba story alongside what he called the “settler narrative.”

“In the bilingual schools in Misgav” – a city 45 minutes northeast of Haifa – “I was asked what I thought about teaching the Nakba to Arab students,” Piron, a member of the Yesh Atid Party, said.

“I answered that I opposed it. I support teaching the Nakba to all Israeli students. I don’t think that a student can reach deep in the Israeli educational system when 20 percent of the students have an ethos, a specific story, and he does not know that story.”

Israelis who wish to learn more about the Nakba have a number of sources they could use, including the iNakba app produced by Israeli NGO Zochrot (which has been working on this since 2002). And of course, S Yizhar’s seminal novella about an army unit expelling Palestinian villagers from the fictional Khirbet Khizeh has been an optional part of the Israeli curriculum for decades (though I have no idea how often it’s actually assigned).+972mag: Israeli army arrests 7 in action against E1 settlement

Palestinian, international and Israeli activists protested against Israeli plans to seize and build in the E1 area, which would cut off the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. Held on the same day as Israeli elections, the protest was aimed at attracting international attention to the progress of illegal Israeli construction and the planed displacement over 15,000 Palestinians and Bedouin communities living in 45 communities in the area.

United Nations OCHA-oPt: Weekly Highlights – March 17 – March 23

Israeli forces injured 21 Palestinians, including seven children, in various clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians. The most serious incidents reported in the West Bank, include ran eight-year-old child who was seriously injured when a soldier, with his rifle, hit the child in the eye while playing in proximity to clashes in Al Khader (Bethlehem); three Palestinians, including two children (14 and 15 years old), shot with live ammunition in Silwan; and a man who was shot with live ammunition in the back during clashes at the entrance to Al Jalazun Refugee Camp (Ramallah). Another three Palestinians were injured during clashes with Israeli forces next to the Gaza perimeter fence, east of Khan Younis.Two Palestinian attacks resulting in Israeli injuries or property damage were reported, including four people, two of whom are children, injured as a result of stone-throwing at an Israeli bus and damage to settlers’ houses as a result of a Molotov cocktail-throwing, both in East Jerusalem.

Israeli forces uprooted 492 trees and saplings planted by Palestinians next to the Majdal Bani Fadel (Nablus), Bidya (Salfit) and Adh Dhahiriya (Hebron) villages in Area C of the West Bank, on grounds that these areas were designated as “state land”. According to official data, over 99 per cent of “state land”, or public land, has been included within the jurisdictional boundaries of the local and regional councils of Israeli settlements, built in contravention of international law.

This is a roundup of news related to Filasṭīn with a particular focus on grassroots action and peaceful civil disobedience in the Occupied Territories and within the borders of Israel proper. The goal is to provide a bi-weekly update on the non-violent resistance movement.

Diplomatic negotiations and actions by armed resistance groups are covered quite widely by the mainstream press and in other diaries on DKos so they will rarely be included.

We use the term Filasṭīn, since that is the pronunciation preferred by Arabic speakers (irrespective of faith) of the pre-partition era for their land. The more familiar Palestine is the Hellenic or Roman variant. Filasṭīn refers to the geographic entity roughly encompassing Israel and Palestine. It is likely a cognate of “Philistine”, the name used in the Hebrew bible to describe a rival of the Jewish kingdom of that era.