By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Stephen Farrell
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel bombed the home of Hamas's chief in Gaza early on Sunday and the Islamist group fired rocket barrages at Tel Aviv as hostilities stretched into a seventh day with no sign of abating.
At least three Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes across the coastal enclave, health officials said, and many were injured as the sounds of heavy bombardment roared through the night.
Israelis dashed for bomb shelters as sirens warning of incoming rocket fire blared in Tel Aviv and its suburbs. Around 10 people were injured while running for shelters, medics said.
At least 148 have been killed in Gaza since the violence began on Monday, including 41 children, health officials said. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.
Envoys from the United States, United Nations and Egypt were working to restore calm but have yet to show any signs of progress. The U.N. Security Council was due to meet later on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.
Both Israel and Hamas have insisted they would continue their cross-border fire, a day after Israel destroyed a 12-storey building in Gaza City that had housed the U.S. Associated Press and Qatar-based Al Jazeera media operations.
The Israel military said the al-Jala building was a legitimate military target, containing Hamas military offices, and that it had given warnings to civilians to get out of the building before the attack.
The AP condemned the attack, and asked Israel to put forward evidence. "We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building," the news organisation said in a statement.
In what it called a reprisal for Israel's destruction of the al-Jala building, Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv and towns in southern Israel early on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late on Saturday that Israel was "still in the midst of this operation, it is still not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary."
In a burst of air strikes early on Sunday, Israel targeted the home of Yehya Al-Sinwar, who since 2017 has headed the political and military wings of Hamas in Gaza, the group's TV station said.
Hamas began its rocket assault on Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city's Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Speaking to crowds of protesters in the Qatari capital of Doha, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said late on Saturday that the underlying cause of the hostilities was Jerusalem.
"The Zionists thought ... they could demolish Al-Aqsa mosque. They thought they could displace our people in Sheikh Jarrah," said Haniyeh.
"I say to Netanyahu: do not play with fire," he continued, amid cheers from the crowd. "The title of this battle today, the title of the war, and the title of the intifada, is Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem," using the Arabic word for 'uprising'.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have fired around 2,300 rockets from Gaza since Monday, the Israeli military said on Saturday. It said about 1,000 were intercepted by missile defences and 380 fell into the Gaza Strip.
Israel has launched more than 1,000 air and artillery strikes into the densely populated coastal strip, saying they were aimed at Hamas and other militant targets.
Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told Reuters the court was "monitoring very closely" the latest escalation of hostilities, amid an investigation now under way into alleged war crimes in earlier bouts of the conflict.
Netanyahu accused Hamas of "committing a double war crime" by targeting civilians, and using Palestinian civilians as "human shields."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded "all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Saturday.
There has been a flurry of U.S. diplomacy in recent days to try to quell the violence.
President Joe Biden's envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Israel on Friday for talks. Biden spoke with both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late on Saturday, and updated them on U.S. diplomatic efforts, the White House said.
But any mediation is complicated by the fact that the United States and most western powers do not talk to Hamas, which they regard as a terrorist organisation. And Abbas, whose power base is in the occupied West Bank, exerts little influence over Hamas in Gaza.
In Israel, the conflict has been accompanied by violence amongst the country's mixed communities of Jews and Arabs, with synagogues attacked and Arab-owned shops vandalised.
There has also been an upsurge in deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank since Friday, most of them during clashes.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Frances Kerry, Mark Potter and Daniel Wallis)
New York (AFP) - Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in cities across North America on Saturday, calling for an end to Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip as the worst violence in years flared between the Jewish state and Islamist militants.
Gatherings to show solidarity with Palestinians took place in cities including New York, Boston, Washington, Montreal and Dearborn, Michigan.
About two thousand people turned out in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, chanting "Free, free Palestine" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."
They waved Palestinian flags and held placards that read "End Israeli Apartheid" and "Freedom for Gaza."
Many protesters wore black and white, and red and white, keffiyeh scarves, while drivers sounded car horns and motorcyclists revved their engines as the sun beat down.
Several Jewish people attended, carrying placards that said "Not in my name" and "Solidarity with Palestine" as the protesters took over a street in the area which has a large Arab population.
A few dozen police officers looked on at the peaceful protest, dubbed "Defend Palestine.
"I'm here because I want a Palestinian life to equal an Israeli life and today it doesn't," said 35-year-old Emraan Khan, a corporate strategist from Manhattan, as he waved a Palestinian flag.
"When you have a nuclear-armed state and another state of villagers with rocks it is clear who is to blame," he added.
Alison Zambrano, a 20-year-old student, travelled from neighboring Connecticut for the demo.
"Palestinians have the right to live freely and children in Gaza should not be being killed," she told AFP.
Mashhour Ahmad, a 73-year-old Palestinian who has lived in New York for 50 years, said "don't blame the victim for the aggression."
"I'm telling Mr. Biden and his cabinet to stop supporting the killing. Support the victims, stop the oppression.
"The violence committed by the Israeli army recently is genocide," he added, raising a poster above his head that said "Free Palestine, End the occupation."
President Joe Biden spoke separately Saturday with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, expressing his "grave concern" over six days of violence that has left scores dead or wounded.
He expressed Washington's "strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the White House said.
The protests were held on the anniversary of Nakba Day, or "catastrophe," that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced during Israel's creation in 1947-1948.
Throngs of people gathered in Copley Square in Boston, while a few hundred rallied on the Washington Monument grounds in the US capital.
Several thousand demonstrated in Montreal, calling for "the liberation of Palestine."
Protesters also denounced "war crimes" committed by Israel in Gaza and carried placards accusing Israel of violating international law during the protest in the center of the Canadian city.
Earlier, a caravan of cars sounded their horns and drove with Palestinian flags blowing in the wind as they protested outside the Israeli consulate in the western part of Montreal.
A protester was arrested for breaking a window, a police spokesperson said, but otherwise the demonstration was peaceful.
Want some racism, sexism, misogyny, blunt and angry nationalism, and good-old-fashioned corruption with your government?
We just had an example during the four years of the Trump presidency of how this could change everyday life in America, and the election to leadership of Trump acolyte Elise Stefanik shows how many in the Republican Party want to institutionalize it. It's important to understand what it really means.
A lot of names have been bandied around to describe the form of government Donald Trump tried to impose on us during his administration. "Fascism" was used commonly, as were words like "little dictator," and "cult of personality."
But really what Donald Trump was proposing and trying to institute is a fairly common form of government, a variation of authoritarianism called oligarchy.
We are seeing it played out around the world in governments controlled by rich elites and run by authoritarians like Duterte, Bolsonaro, Netanyahu, Erdowan, Putin, Orban, Modi, and Duda.
They seem like they are increasingly becoming one-man-rule governments, but authoritarianism is just the midpoint after oligarchs begin corrupting democratic governments that have not yet become full-blown fascist oligarchies.
Because they are rarely stable, these midpoint authoritarian governments usually are grown in, and rise up to seize control of democracies, as has happened several times in the Philippines, for example, where the biggest businesses are inextricably intertwined with the state, corruption is rampant, and the media, the courts and the legislature are all essentially under the control of the billionaire or oligarchic class.
Oligarchy is when the very rich rule a country largely for their own benefit. They typically bring along a charismatic but compliant leader at the top (often an oligarch himself, and if he doesn't start out that way he certainly ends that way), and are supported at the bottom by "authoritarian followers" who feel insecure about their personal and economic prospects and want a "big daddy" who will soothe their anxieties, affirm their victimhood and outrage, and help them sleep at night.
Oligarchy is always the result of very wealthy people corrupting the political process, something the Founders thought they could control in America but that political philosopher Robert Michaels, with his "Iron Law of Oligarchy" in 1911, proposed was the inevitable result of every democracy that didn't maintain strong guardrails to prevent the rich from rising up and corrupting the political process.
This corruption of politics is exactly what has happened in the United States since the late 1970s when the Supreme Court ruled (in their Buckley and Bellotti decisions in 1976/1978) that billionaires and corporations owning politicians was merely "First Amendment-protected free speech." It brought us the Reagan Revolution.
They doubled down on this in 2010 with their Citizens United ruling, saying that if government prevented billionaires and giant corporations from overwhelming elections with their money and advertising, we were not just inhibiting their free speech.
The conservative justices on the Court invented a bizarre new doctrine to justify Citizens United, saying that average people were being disadvantaged when billionaires and corporations couldn't pour unlimited money into the political process because if they were stifled we'd lose our "right to hear" from some of the most "important" and "well-informed" players in the economic and political game.
This "right to hear" is now, in our political process, the Supreme Court-created foundation of oligarchic control over the Republican Party, diminishing parts of the Democratic Party, and, increasingly, over that we refer to as "Red States."
Authoritarian movements, as the Republican Party has recently become, typically have a few predictable hallmarks. They include:
- Crushing the rights of women while glorifying a "macho" ethic and aesthetic
- Crony capitalism, making a few rich and screwing everybody else
- Crushing union efforts and any sort of demands by workers for fair pay or treatment
- The legalization and widespread promulgation of the surveillance state while political elites routinely get away with crimes that would have put average people into prison for years
- Repression of religious minorities and weaponization of religion as an agent of state power
- The marginalization and demonization of minorities, particularly racial and gender-based minorities
- The suppression — typically starting with the demonization — of the press; in later stages, outright murder of members of the press
- Selective enforcement of laws so that individuals never know when they will become the target of state violence (example: how America polices Black people)
- Seizure of the courts so that selectively enforced laws and regulations are used to maintain the power of the oligarchs and assuage the insecurities of their followers
- A huge gap between the rich and poor (often accompanied by an explosion of homelessness), maintained and used by the oligarch class to provide victims their followers can feel superior to
- Civilian paramilitaries who terrorize both the populace and the political opposition (Liz Cheney just said some of her peers refused to vote to impeach Trump because they feared for their lives)
- The racialization of powerlessness and poverty
- A brutal "grassroots" response to those who object to selective poverty, typically leading to the marginalization or even outright assassination of movement leaders (like Dr. Martin Luther King)
- A false form of nationalism that glorifies a mythical past, explicitly covers up past crimes and failings, and positions the now-oligarch-controlled country as the pinnacle of political evolution
- The corruption of the political process, so that the agents of the oligarchs can ultimately decide who gets to vote and who doesn't, and which votes get counted and which don't
Countries typically begin the transition from democracy into oligarchy and sometimes even outright fascism when the oligarchs seize control of a large part of the political process, typically a major political party.
This has happened in the United States over the past 40 years under the rubric of the Reagan Revolution. The Republican Party is now entirely controlled by the oligarch class, who also have functional control over as many as half of the individual members of the Democratic Party.
Slowing down or even reversing America's slide into oligarchy will require a number of things the Biden administration has put forward.
We must show that democratic government can actually still work, reducing the demand for a strongman "savior" like we saw with Trump, and the passage of the expansive American Rescue Plan was a good start.
If Biden can get both his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan enacted, rebuilding our physical, human and intellectual infrastructure, it will take a lot of wind out of the sails of the authoritarian movement in this country.
By proposing HR1, the For The People Act, the Democratic Party has chosen to explicitly repudiate oligarchy as a form of government. It requires transparency from "big money" and meaningfully reduces its influence, as well as ending minority-rule schemes like gerrymandering while establishing baseline minimum standards for elections in America.
By holding democracy high as a primary value, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act guarantees and expands democracy itself in America, which can rapidly and effectively kneecap oligarchy.
The success or failure of these initiatives — all fiercely opposed by the GOP and the oligarchs who own that Party — will determine whether America again embraces democracy, or picks back up on Donald Trump's nearly-successful move to push America into a full-blown fascistic form of oligarchy.
The stakes are higher than they've been since the 1860s and the 1930s; this may be our last chance to rescue democracy in this country.
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