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“Mowing the Grass” in Gaza

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Michael Ratner: I don’t put human rights on an equal footing when it comes to talking about the oppressed versus the oppressor.

Michael Ratner: I don’t put human rights on an equal footing when it comes to talking about the oppressed versus the oppressor.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s version of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner. He’s president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also a board member of The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us again, Michael.

MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Paul, but the news doesn’t seem to get any better.

JAY: Really? Alright, well kick us off with what [crosstalk] your report.

RATNER: Well, of course, ’cause I know you’ve been covering quite well on Real News—and covered not so well in The New York Times—is the Israeli attack on Gaza. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it today, but just a minute, just to emphasize again how inhuman and how illegal what Israel is doing to Gaza. They refer to what they’re doing in Gaza sometimes as “mowing the grass.” In other words, they think that every three or four years, or whatever number of years, that the people in Gaza, who are on occupied territory, who are occupied, get a little bit too big for their britches, and they have to be—mow the grass, kill off the people who are leading any kind of revolt in Gaza. And that’s what they appear to be doing now, although again they appear to be doing with a fairly—not fairly—a high cost to civilians.

A couple of days ago there was the bombing of a house in which 11 civilian members of a family were killed. So, again, even despite Israel’s claims of pinpoint bombing—and, in fact, in this case they’ve said they actually meant to bomb that house. They claim there was a militant or something of Hamas in that house. They bombed it. Whether that person was there or not, we don’t know. But even if they were, it would be a disproportional bombing to try to kill one person, and thereby kill 11 members of a family.

JAY: Yeah. Michael, what do you make of the argument? The defenders of this Israeli policy, they say, well, yes, civilians are getting killed, but they’re targeting, you know, what they would call military targets, whereas the rockets that are coming now from Hamas, although we know, I think, most of the rockets, whatever they—although they weren’t very effective, were coming from groups that were not controlled by Hamas. But at any rate, the rockets that are coming, they say, are targeting civilians, and that makes it a war crime, where the Israelis are, even though killing far more civilians, they’re supposedly not targeting them.

RATNER: Look it, do I, as a human rights lawyer, like rockets floating over anywhere that—I wouldn’t say targeting civilians in the case of Hamas, but not necessarily knowing where they would land? And sure, we have violations of international law on both sides. But when I look at these situations, I compare oppressor to the oppressed, I compare the occupying country to the occupied. The occupied do have a right to fight back. The occupier then uses force that we can’t even talk about a comparison to what Hamas and people in Gaza had. They have nothing. I mean, they have—those rockets are—you know, it’s not that they’re harmless, because they obviously cause a lot of fear. It actually killed three civilians.

But, of course, the Israel toll is much greater. So I don’t like to put human rights on an equal footing when it comes to talking about the oppressed versus the oppressor. Yes, we can say they’re both violations of the law. But the question is: how do you end it? And the way you end that, of course, is end the occupation, return the land, certainly, that was conquered in 1967, which includes, of course, the occupied territories and the West Bank, as well as Gaza. You have on one of two theories, you either have a two-state solution or you have a one-state solution. But what you don’t have is a situation where Israel continues the occupation, continues to gobble up Palestinian land, and then occasionally, when the Palestinians begin a process of fighting back, then essentially rain on them incredible number—incredible amount of death with both bombings, as well as drones, etc.

JAY: Right. Okay. What have you got for us on the other—on your normal beat?

RATNER: Well, you know, Gaza certainly is an important part and Israel and Palestine is an important part of my work, ’cause I think it’s the key, of course, to peace in the Middle East, settling that conflict. And the United States—and this is where I’ll end on Gaza—the United States has a very nasty role in it. And all those people, I just want to say, who thought that Obama winning his second term would so-called have more courage to take on and try and solve Israel and Gaza and the occupied territories are once again proven wrong. I mean, I thought they were always wrong.

Obama gave the worst single speech ever of a U.S. president to the UN a few years ago, and recently he just came out again with really what you have to say is just pablum, if it weren’t so harmful. They’re saying Israel has a right to defend itself, and this was a nice irony, that any country that has rockets rained on it has a right to defend itself, referring of course to Hamas or the people in Gaza sending rockets into Israel, but of course not thinking at all about the fact that Obama has been sending drones over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia and saying, well, what about those people’s rights to defend themselves against U.S. rockets. So, of course, what’s good for Israel in the U.S. eyes is certainly not good for Hamas in U.S. eyes, it’s not good for the United States. But, you know, as you know, there’s a lot more we can say about Gaza.

My work today, as we speak—I just came back from a hearing in the federal court at the United States district court in New York City, where there was a bail hearing for Jeremy Hammond. I’ve talked about Jeremy Hammond a couple of times on Real News. Jeremy Hammond is the alleged hacktivist who was part of a group, anonymous, that was able to crack into the Stratfor emails, or the Stratfor website, or the Stratfor work.

Stratfor is a private security company that had spied on everybody, from activists opposed to DOW Chemical, to anonymous itself, did work for the CIA, etc. They uploaded some 5 million documents to WikiLeaks, which is my client, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and Jeremy Hammond was arrested in March of this year. He’s been in jail for eight months. And he’s considered an electronic Robin Hood by many people who support his work.

Today there was his first bail hearing to try and get him out on bail, and it went badly for Jeremy Hammond, unfortunately. I was there in court with the lawyers. I was there representing, of course, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. About—the courtroom was filled. Forty or 50 supporters of Jeremy Hammond came from all over the country, which was incredible support. They were people from Tennessee, from Chicago, who knew Jeremy, who supported his work, who supported some of the revelations, you know, the work that came out of Stratfor.

Jeremy entered the courtroom. He was in a blue jumpsuit, a typical prison garb. He turned and gave a big smile to his supporters in the room. And then the hearing essentially went downhill from there.

The lawyers did a valiant fight to try and say Jeremy ought to be out. He’s not—the two standards are is he a flight risk, is he a danger to the community. It’s clear Jeremy Hammond is not a flight risk. And we know that by his past. Jeremy was convicted in the past of almost two years in prison and had various other small crimes against him, and he never fled on bail, never did anything [incompr.] I mean, never did anything really negative on bail, always showed up for his court appearances, etc. So I thought he had a good claim on risk of flight and danger to the community. They were willing to put in all kinds of restrictions, the lawyers for Jeremy, to say, well, you know, he’ll stay at another lawyer’s house, and that lawyer was in court. He happens to be a friend of mine. He was in court, and he’ll—won’t have access to a computer, etc., etc., and we need him out to help prepare his case.

The judge, really, she listened patiently in a way, patiently—not so patiently sometimes—an hour-and-a-half hearing. At the end, she simply read her decision into the record. It took about 15 minutes. And it was a decision that was obviously pre-written. Whatever the lawyers said made no difference. It’s as if I was talking to a wall about his bail application. And so she denied his bail.

And her thinking was as follows—and we’ll just sort of end on Jeremy Hammond on this, a very disturbing decision. And I think he ought to be free, he ought to be out on bail, he ought to be able to prepare his case, and he is no risk of flight and not a danger. But here’s what she said: he’s a risk of flight because he doesn’t believe in legal authority; he challenges legal authority. And she gave some instances.

One, the most egregious to me, the instance, was that he admitted to smoking marijuana and smoked it on the day of his actual arrest. Well, that’s just crazy to me. I mean, marijuana is smoked all over this country. It’s—medical marijuana is legal in California. And it was just put on the ballot to have legalized—and won—in both—in Colorado was—what’s the other place? Well, it won in Colorado and another state to be legalized. And—oh, in Colorado and Washington. So this is saying that this is—so for the judge to say, this is evidence that he doesn’t believe in legal authority and therefore won’t adhere to his bail conditions is really—just shows how prejudiced, utterly prejudiced [crosstalk]

JAY: If you followed that logic, anyone that had ever been convicted of anything could never receive bail ever again.

RATNER: That’s really right, Paul. And he made hundreds of appearances when he was on bail to his probation officer, to his parole officer, whatever. And he—you know, so it doesn’t make any sense. And the other was on danger to the community. And, of course, she said—the lawyers for Jeremy Hammond said, look it, other people who’ve done computer crimes, from sex computer crimes to others have been allowed out on prison, and they’re even given access to computers. We’re not even insisting on that with Jeremy. They’re monitored, but they’re given access.

And she said, well, he’s different. What he did, he’s cleverer than they are, he’s smarter than they are. If he gets into a computer, he can go into someone’s private site like he did, allegedly, with Stratfor. And they said, well, he won’t have a computer, and we’ll guarantee that he’s going to live at this lawyer’s house. He’ll go to the office to work with us on the documents, and there’s, I don’t know, a million documents, whatever there are, and we need him out. But the judge, of course, wouldn’t listen to that and said he’s a danger to the community ’cause he can get their emails and get their credit card material, and we’re not letting him out, even though they could put conditions on his bail that would guarantee his safety.

The bigger story here is—I mean, a smaller story, if it’s small at all, is that Jeremy Hammond was denied bail, and that’s really, to me, very disturbing, and it’s legally wrong. The bigger story is what they’ve done in this country to Jeremy Hammond, Bradley Manning, and what they have proposed to do to Julian Assange, and that’s really say that they’re going to come down as heavily as they can on people who expose government secrets, whistleblowers.

Jeremy Hammond is facing 39.5 years in jail if he’s convicted. He’s 28 years old. He’s a really wonderful, important person, the current—some people have said the current Abby Hoffman of his generation, more serious than Abby in a certain way, but really important. And yet he was denied bail today. So I’m very disturbed by it, I’m disturbed by—for what’s going on with both Jeremy—not both, but also Jeremy, Bradley Manning, as well as Julian Assange.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Michael.

RATNER: Thanks for having me, Paul. Have a good holiday.

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