Information wars: Gaza as “the last taboo”, the threat of mass surveillance and the spirit of dissidence

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“When the truth is replaced with silence” wrote the soviet dissident Yevgeni Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”

There has been a silence these past months full of noise, static and sound bites of those in power justifying their violence, lies and corruptions. All of this has been represented to us as news, “though it is really a parody in which journalists, variously embedded, gesture cryptically at the obvious but rarely make sense of it, lest they shatter the ‘one-way moral screen[…] between ‘us’ and the consequences of political actions taken in our name” wrote John Pilger in his book Tell Me No Lies.

When the bombs started falling in Gaza, few journalists in New Zealand’s obsequious mainstream media had the courage to question Israel’s motivations, and whether these bombs should be falling at all. Instead the predictable calls from our own political pundits of “Israel has the right to defend itself” were amplified and echoed throughout New Zealand’s mainstream media.

‘Journalists’ and MPs in New Zealand from Mike Hosking to the Green’s leader Russel Norman condemned both Israel and Palestine, as if Palestine has the same fire power of the U.S.-financed-and-mentored Israeli army – the second biggest in the world. While the democratically elected Hamas fired their piddly rockets, Israel answered with massive military invasions and aggressive attacks in the Gaza strip. Whole families in Palestine have been erased during this attack. What journalists often failed to point out in New Zealand and around the world is that the average age in Palestine is 17. Mostly it is children being killed and injured in the name of ‘peace’ and ‘security’ by the state of Israel.

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From the genesis of genocide in 1948 to the current bombardment, Israel’s ‘security’ and ‘freedom’ is being built on the bones and bodies of innocent Palestinians, who were killed simply for existing. And we, as people on this planet, share some responsibility in the killing of innocent Palestinians.

Our elected Prime Minster John Key, like most leaders around the world, came out in full support of the murderous Israeli state and the only political party in New Zealand that had the courage to stand with Palestine was progressive left-wing Mana Movement.

Mana leader Hone Harawira has now been ousted from Parliament during our election just over a week ago. Cheers erupted at so called left-leaning Labour Party’s election party when Hone, champion of the poor and disenfranchised, lost his seat. The cowardice of our New Zealand political parties from the Green Party to National cannot be ignored – and should not be forgotten.

But something, within the communities of the world, was different this time.

People looked at their twitter feeds and could see in time tweets from those living in Gaza as the bombs were falling; the blood flowing. Citizens of the world watched their computer and T.V. screens and read their phones, and were witness to the carnage and atrocities being committed by the state of Israel against a mostly unarmed people.

Israel’s violence was undeniable. Now people knew.

Even our media machines in Aotearoa found it hard to censor and airbrush the obvious atrocities being committed. Social media wrote over the noise and hysteria of mass American and Israeli propaganda and people took to the streets in the biggest protests ever witnessed in human history in support of Palestine. People marched against not only Israel’s ongoing violence against Palestinians but also their Governments collusion in these crimes . “Yet, a critical public intelligence and resistance to propaganda does exist; and a second super power is emerging,” wrote John Pilger, “the power of public opinion, fuelled by the internet and social media.”

As our media falls silent on Palestine once again, the greatest hope the people of Gaza have are those who are prepared to do something about the  injustice being committed against them. “We cannot let it go on,” said the journalist Jon Snow in his YouTube humanitarian plea for Gaza, “if your preparedness to listen and watch and read is anything to go by, together we can make a difference.”

We are idle no more.

The obvious biases in our media have become painfully clear during New Zealand’s election season. From Gaza to broadcasters Mike Hosking and Paul Henry and their obvious commitment to keeping our Prime Minster John Key in power (you’d almost hazard a guess that they are both best mates with Key…) who present us with a small window of narrative, framed by right-wing biases and a corporate agenda.

Right-wing political bloggers such as Cameron Slater and David Farrar, who as bloggers are not bound by the codes of ethics journalists are, as Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics revealed, acted as attack dogs for the National Party and have incited smear campaigns against National’s opponents – by proxy for National MPs such as Judith Collins who recently resigned her cabinet portfolios, although not from the party itself.

Cameron Slater acts as a faithful servant to the National Party; he reeks of state propaganda – and Israeli propaganda.

Our media is not for the people but is instead dedicated to maintaining the balance of power in the hands of a small minority.

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Two weeks ago the Internet Party delivered to the public of New Zealand ‘The Moment of Truth’, Kim Dotcom, the internet entrepreneur, had flown in the Pultizer-prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam, a vehement defender of civil liberties, and whistleblower Edward Snowden who spoke over secured video-link.

Greenwald expanded on what had already been outlined in an article Showden wrote titled, ‘New Zealand’s prime minister is not telling the truth about mass surveillance’, for Greenwald’s independent media site The Intercept the day before: John Key had been engaged in mass surveillance of his citizenry via the ‘XKeyStone’ software tool, and lied about it.

I was sitting next to my good friend at ‘The Moment of Truth’ who is a hacktivist and staunch defender of internet privacy. I had always made fun of, and laughed at, his paranoia about ‘being watched’, he turned to me and said “I fucking told you so.”

Snowden, in all the hundreds of thousands of files and documents he has leaked and the claims he made, has been found to be lying or wrong exactly zero times. Snowden wrote:

The nation’s prime minister, John Key of the National Party, has denied that New Zealand’s spy agency GCSB engages in mass surveillance, mostly as a means of convincing the country to enact a new law vesting the agency with greater powers. This week, as a national election approaches, Key repeated those denials in anticipation of a report in The Intercept today exposing the Key Government’s actions in implementing a system to record citizens’ metadata.

Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched.

Many pundits played down the revelations, pushing the narrative that New Zealanders would not really care if they are being spied on – if the revelations proved to be true; nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Key outright denied the allegations. Obama last year in June, weeks after the first revelations of the Snowden files, denied, live on air to journalist Charlie Rose, that his Government had been involved in mass surveillance of his citizenry. Of course, he was lying.

Predictably the character assignations of Kim Dotcom by a xenophobic media eclipsed the central issue of mass surveillance of ‘The Moment of Truth’. As the columnist for the New Zealand Herald Dita De Boni wrote “The National Party spin doctors have been hard at work, painting him [Dotcom] as an evil German trying to subvert democracy, throwing in a side smear of ‘secret Nazi’.”

In 2013, after the Snowden leaks, web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned that the democratic nature of the net is threatened by a “growing tide of surveillance and censorship”. The warning came as he launched his World Wide Web Foundation’s annual web index report, tracking global censorship. Sir Tim said, “One of the most encouraging findings of this year’s web index is how the web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organise, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world.”

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In 2011, Time Magazine named its person of the year ‘The Protester’ – the massive global protests of 2011, largely organised online and documented by social media, toppled dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The spirit of dissent spurred Greeks to rise up against unaccountable leaders and Americans occupied public spaces, to protest income inequality – giving birth to the ‘Occupy Movement.’

Inspired by Arab activists and what the Occupy Wall Street movement was doing, thousands of activists in hundreds of cities around the world would join this movement, me included. I camped with hundreds of others in Auckland’s Aotea Square – most of the activists were teens or in their early twenties. I wanted to raise my voice in defiance of governments that cared so little for the poor, marginalised and disenfranchised while giving massive tax breaks to the super wealthy. I wanted to feel connected to something bigger than myself.

Rick Stengel wrote for Time Magazine in 2011:

Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people, and the word protest has appeared in newspaper and online exponentially more this past year than at any other time in history. Is there a global tipping point for frustration? Everywhere, it seems people said they’d had enough. They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change.

The regimes in Syria, Libya and Egypt were overwhelmed by protesters and one of the first actions they took to control its defiant citizenry, as Glenn Greenwald wrote in his book No Place to Hide, “[Regimes in Syria, Libya and Egypt] literally went shopping for surveillance tools from Western technology companies.” The goal was to track people and activists who were part of the uprisings and protests.

Overwhelmingly the revelations that John Key had been engaging in mass surveillance have been meet by apathy and indifference. “Initially, it is always the country’s dissidents and marginalized who bear the brunt of the surveillance, leading those who support the Government or are merely apathetic to mistakenly believe they are immune,” warns Greenwald, “And history shows that the mere existence of a mass surveillance apparatus, regardless of how it is used, is in itself sufficient to stifle dissent.”

After New Zealand’s election last week, in which the right-wing won in a landslide victory, left-wing Facebook pages ‘John Key has let New Zealand down’ which had over 16,000 members and ‘National Billboard Make-Overs’ had been taken down by Facebook. Both these pages were forums of dissent, conversation and left-wing activism.

John Key does not want a dissenting population, he wants a fearful and compliant one. His disdain for activism and dissent has been clear throughout his reign.

When student protests erupted two years ago in opposition to massive cuts to education and student allowances, unmarked police were sent in and kettled  protesters and student activists were punched in the face and dragged by their necks to the ground – I know, I was there and I witnessed it myself. John Key’s response was to tell us, dismissively, to “finish [our] degrees and go and get a job”. Key, of course, forgot to mention there are few fucking jobs to “go and get”.

Edward Snowden evoked the dissident and historian Howard Zinn when he said to Greenwald “…history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.”

Snowden took on the whole entire American Government and won. “He [Snowden] exposed the extraordinary level of state surveillance the U.S. Government had been involved in,” Greenwald wrote. From the class riots of Fergusson to the resolute and dignified people of Gaza: ordinary citizens of this world, regardless of the risks involved, are rising up, refusing to give in or back down. So many of us have nothing left to lose and everything to gain.

Snowden said in a folder titled ‘README_FIRST’ sent to Greenwald before the leaks: ‘I have been to the darkest corners of the government, and what they fear is light.’

Activists are dreamers. We want more than what has been dealt to us based on the class, race and the economic position we were born into.

Yes, we want it all. Because we can imagine it all.

We want a world that is not engaged in endless war, where overwhelmingly it is poor and brown bodies that are blown into nothingness in the pursuit of white imperialism and domination. We want a world where the concentration of wealth does not sit in the greedy and closed hands of the one percenters. We want a world where no one becomes a climate change refugee.

We want governments that do not seek to control their citizenry through a massive surveillance apparatus while declaring it is for our own ‘security’ and ‘safety’ – this is one of the biggest lies we have been told this century.

Our hearts are heavy with the knowledge that change can take generations and many lives. But we keep dreaming. We keep marching.

The spirit of dissidence is contagious; from Bahrain to Gaza to New York to Auckland, we are rising and dancing and shouting and demanding change NOW.

Megaphones booming, banners unfolding and fists pumping – we will fight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. “John Key’s response was to tell us, dismissively, to “finish [our] degrees and go and get a job”.

    I recall the Minister of Education Steve Joyce saying the same. Which was kind of like having a Minister of Finance say there’s some economic problems and ‘everyone just needs to stop using money’. The Minister of Education says people should just get out of education?!

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