Skip to content

Beyond “Battle of Algiers” The Middle East as a War Crimes Zone.

August 24, 2014
by Lawrence Gulotta

There was savagery in the deserts of the Middle East during World War I. Interestingly,  the historic internecine conflict between  Sunni & Shite  did not play  a major role.

I’ve recently read  “Lawrence In Arabia ” War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson (     ) and attended a lecture by Michael V. Korda, author of  “The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.”    (  The author was joined by Dr.Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State,  with  New Yorker magazine writer Adam Gopnik moderating,  at the Society of Ethical Culture Auditorium on Central Park West at a New York Historical Society event.  During his tenure as editor-and-chief at Simon & Schuster, he worked with Dr. Kissinger on his various books and they have remained friends.  I thought Dr. Kissinger served as Korda’s  “hood-ornament”  at the podium. Korda’s presentation was spirited and accompanied by visuals. I have not yet read his book.

My perspective on the Great War has been sharpened by Margaret MacMillan’s “The War that Ended Peace;  the road to 1914. ”{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A6%22}

Based on this brilliant, though limited introduction, I offer the following observations on war and warfare in the Middle East on the 100th Anniversary of World War I:

The Arabs, like the British & French, could be savage but I’m skeptical that the level of savagery ever reached the intensity of today’s barbarisms in Iraq and Syria.  Trench warfare in WWI was barbaric. Desert warfare was savage and cruel.  Suicide bombing was not used by the Arabs during the various WWI campaigns involving Lawrence.  I’m aware of Japan’s use of the suicide bomber and all the ritual display of piety to the Sun God and Emperor. I’ve seen the Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian sects performing comparable religious rituals preparing for martyrdom.  The Japanese targeted warships and the Arabs have targeted civilians. The FLN in Algeria is often cited as precedent for terrorist action against colonialist patrons at pizzerias, cafes, bus stops, markets, train stations. The attacks against civilian colonial French were murderous actions but not suicide bombings, per se. Who can ever forget the Gillo Pontecorvo’s movie, “Battle of Algiers” (  ). With the latest Gaza-Israel war still smoldering, we have seen truly deadly,  bizarre behavior from Hamas and the deaths of approximately 2,200 innocent civilians in Gaza. It is impossible to fight a conventional war against Hamas without committing a war crime. The conflict is designed to achieve this end. War crimes are the lingua franca of modern wars. Both sides commit war crimes. The Middle East has devolved into  a war crimes zone. War crimes can materialize at anytime and place.

There is some mention of using civilians as shields during WWI & II but it doesn’t appear to be the modus vivendi for nation state armies. You can find examples of city-states or small nation states, or ghettos, whose people’s backs were against the wall and you will not find anything comparable to Hamas’ use Gazan children, though the stories are also horrifying.  If you fight against Hamas you will commit war crimes. It is part of the definition of warfare in the Region.  David Mc Reynolds calls Hamas “irresponsible.” Certainly a starting point but adolescents are irresponsible. Hamas shouldn’t be treated like a haughty adolescent, or an errant child. If you are a “non-nation state,”  I suppose you may think you can get away with barbarism and war crimes.

 The latest revelations concerning the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens continues the bloody,  surreal, byzantine subterranean saga of the Palestinian Arab at war. Kidnapping and murder are the preferred method to “spark” conflict. Ransoming of kidnapped victims has become a  dependable income stream for ISIS. The income stream from ransom activity could be collateralized  for more weapons purchases and military aide.  ISIS is inclined to commit war crimes establishing its reactionary Caliphate. “Who lost the Tigris and Euphrates ?”

I believe it is a mistake to ignore  war crimes committed during Protective Edge 2014 by either side.  The Hamas military’s use of civilians is scandalous and criminal. The apparent disproportionate use of force by Israel in areas of civilian habitation is intolerable. Hamas & Hzbollah use homes and apartment buildings as sites for missiles and storage of missiles. The statement by Marjorie Cohn needs a re-write. It needs to find balance and proportion in the assignment of blame for war crimes, especially when the Middle East itself is an enduring war crimes zone.

This is the statement by Marjorie Cohn

National Lawyers Guild, Other Legal Organizations Urge International Criminal Court to Investigate War Crimes by Israeli, U.S. Leaders in Gaza

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Center for Constitutional Rights, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Arab Lawyers Union, and American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas)sent a letter on Friday, August 22 to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging her to initiate an investigation of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed by Israeli leaders and aided and abetted by U.S. officials in Gaza.  Under the Rome Statute, the ICC has the power to hold individuals criminally accountable for the most serious of crimes.

“In light of the extreme gravity of the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, in particular the large number of civilian casualties and large scale destruction of civilian property, including schools, mosques and hospitals, and the ongoing incitement to genocide perpetrated by Israeli political figures and leaders, the [NLG] and endorsing organizations strongly urge the Office of the Prosecutor to use its power under Article 15 of the Rome Statute to initiate a preliminary investigation” of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“[Under the Rome Statute, an] individual can be convicted of a war crime, genocide or a crime against humanity  . . . if he or she ‘aids, abets or otherwise assists’ in the commission or attempted commission of the crime, ‘including providing the means for its commission’,” the letter reads.  “By transferring financial assistance, weapons and other military aid to Israel, members of the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have aided and abetted the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials and commanders in Gaza.”

The letter states that on July 20, 2014, in the midst of criminal behavior, Israel requested, and the U.S. Defense Department then authorized, the transfer to Israel of ammunition from the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition.  And in August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly approved, and Obama signed, a $225 million payment for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Israel’s clearly disproportionate use of force against the 1.8 million residents of Gaza appears to have little to do with any claim of security,” the organizations wrote, “but seems to be calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians.”  The letter quotes statements of Israeli officials advocating vengeance against “the entire Palestinian people” and “calling for the internment of Palestinians in concentration camps in Sinai and the destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza.”

Allegations of War Crimes

The letter lists the following war crimes, and cites supporting factual allegations for each crime:

  • willful killing (over 2,000 Palestinians, 80% civilians)
  • willfully causing great suffering or serious injury (wounding nearly 10,000 Palestinians, 2,200 children)
  • unlawful, wanton and unjustified extensive destruction and appropriation of property (tens of thousands of Palestinians lost homes, severe damage to infrastructure)
  • willful deprivation of fair trial rights (450 Palestinians held without charge or trial)
  • intentional attacks against civilians or civilian objects or humanitarian vehicles, installations and personnel (bombing of numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances, mosques)
  • intentionally launching unjustified attacks, knowing they will kill or injure civilians, damage civilian objects, or cause long-term and severe damage to the natural environment (use of ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations,” as defined in UN Human Rights Council [Goldstone] Report) (Israel virtually flattened town of Khuza’a).

Allegations of Genocide

Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines “genocide” as the commission of any of the following acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily harm to members of the group; or (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.

The letter says, “In light of the fact that Palestinians in Gaza had no ability to flee for safety, it must be assumed the responsible Israeli officials knew that huge casualties and destruction of civilian property and infrastructure were certain during the massive bombardment by land, air and sea of the occupied Gaza Strip.”  The letter also lists “the repeatedly inciting public statements made by Israeli officials before and during the course of Operation Protective Edge and the history of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps and populations in Lebanon and in Gaza” as evidence that “Israeli officials may be implementing a plan to destroy the Palestinian population, at least in part.”

Allegations of Crimes against Humanity

Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines “crimes against humanity” as the commission of any of the following, when part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) murder; (b) persecution against a group or collectivity based on its political, racial, national, ethnic or religious character; or (c) the crime of apartheid(inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another racial group, with the intent to maintain that regime).

The letter states, “Israeli forces have killed, wounded, summarily executed and administratively detained Palestinians, Hamas forces and civilians alike.  Israeli forces intentionally destroyed the infrastructure in Gaza.”  It also says Israel keeps Palestinians caged in “the world’s largest open air prison,” and “controls all ingress and egress to Gaza, and limits . . . access to medicine and other essentials.”  Finally, the letter cites arbitrary arrest and administrative detention; expropriation of property; destruction of homes, crops and trees; separate areas and roads; segregated housing, legal and educational systems for Palestinians and Jews; the illegal barrier wall encroaching on Palestinian territory; hundreds of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land; and denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland because they are not Jews.

The signatories to the letter conclude that “[t]he initiation of an investigation would send a clear message to all involved either in committing or in aiding and abetting of the aforementioned crimes that they stand to be held personally accountable for their actions.”

It remains to be seen whether the ICC will exercise jurisdiction in such a case since neither Israel nor the United States is a party to the Rome Statute.  But if the ICC determines that Palestine can accede to the Rome Statute, the ICC could take jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israelis and Americans in Palestinian territory.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is also deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the U.S. representative to the American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas).  Her next book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in September 2014.

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor Reprinted from the New York Times

Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism

ISIS Atrocities Started With Saudi Support for Salafi Hate

Last week, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counterterrorism agency. This was a welcome contribution, but last year, Saudi Arabia rejected a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.


Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe.

Most Sunni Muslims around the world, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim population, are not Salafis. Salafism is seen as too rigid, too literalist, too detached from mainstream Islam. While Shiite and other denominations account for 10 percent of the total, Salafi adherents and other fundamentalists represent 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.


Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates.
I lived in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city, Jidda, in 2005. That year, in an effort to open closed Saudi Salafi minds, King Abdullah supported dialogue with people of other religions. In my mosque, the cleric used his Friday Prayer sermon to prohibit such dialogue on grounds that it put Islam on a par with “false religions.” It was a slippery slope to freedom, democracy and gender equality, he argued — corrupt practices of the infidel West.
This tension between the king and Salafi clerics is at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s inability to reform. The king is a modernizer, but he and his advisers do not wish to disturb the 270-year-old tribal pact between the House of Saud and the founder of Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam close to Salafism). That 1744 desert treaty must now be nullified.


The Republican Roadblock to Prosperity By Robert Alan Brown

July 5, 2014
by Lawrence Gulotta

The Republican Roadblock to Prosperity

When Republicans neared Government Lock Down Land, their stubbornly self-righteous, intransigent attitude backed everyone into a corner. Around that corner was the shutdown, beginning October 1, 2013. It became a super layoff of 800,000 federal workers and many thousands more state and private workers.

Although brief, by its end (October 16), state employees’, non-government workers’, and businessmen’s pockets were lighter by $24 billion. Congress did approve pay for furloughed federal employees, however.

Oddly, Republicans have no qualms about causing worker and business “deficits” and losses, but go “ballistic” over Democratic deficits. The Republicans’ anti-deficit views are disproved by positive economic results and by economists’ testimony that John Maynard Keynes was right about deficits being necessary to fight economic downturns. After all, if businesses and consumers stop spending money, somebody must continue spending to keep the economy afloat. That somebody is the federal government.

Since that $24 billion is unrecoverable, many state and non-government workers and businesses lost out big time. Fittingly, Republicans should be sent a symbolic bill for those losses and held accountable for the damage they inflicted on America and the suffering of its people.

But the harm they cause goes beyond the shutdown: Food stamp cuts, more Medicaid/Medicare cuts, opposing sorely needed infrastructure work (which would employ many and save lives and property), and refusal to enact job plans and support a minimum-wage increase to $10.10 an hour–a consumer spending/economic boost of about $160 billion annually, at the increase’s $10.10 level.

They also deserve castigation for their heartless refusal to restore long-term unemployment benefits. (So much for GOP claims of caring about the well-being of the American people.)

Whatever became of the Christian ideals: “Love thy neighbor” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?

Because of cutbacks, many won’t receive medical care; others won’t have sufficient food. Still others will succumb to untreated illnesses, or die in accidents on our dangerously deteriorated roadways. And some will harm themselves from despair over seemingly endless unemployment.

Picture this cartoon: The GOP elephant, in a hospital room where the patient is labeled “U.S. Economy,” sits on the patient’s oxygen tube. Returning to reality, the Grand Old Party is deliberately blocking–sitting on–the “oxygen” needed by our ailing economy.

In short, the Republicans are the problem, not part of the solution. (Any wonder Congress’ approval rating is so low?)

The GOP’s calculation: Blocking passage of anti-recession bills and making voters angry with Democrats will deliver a GOP victory November 4. Is their hide-in-plain-sight strategy, with its concomitant economic and personal devastation, the Republicans’ best hope to beat the Democrats? They seem to think so.

They are also forcing cuts in many safety net programs (such as food stamps and Medicaid), hypocritcally claiming such programs create a “‘hammock’ of dependency,” as if, for example, single people, receiving an average of $133 monthly in food stamps (according to The Washington Post)–and food stamps don’t cover rent, utilities, clothing, or anything but food–would turn down or not seek jobs in order to live on that $133 in food. Such malarkey would be laughable if it weren’t also terribly damaging.

Their harmful Republican legislative embargo and draconian cutbacks result in: Continued high unemployment, narcoleptic business and consumer activity, bankruptcies, businesses just closing down (disheartened by ongoing poor revenues), and families without enough food or any medical care.

Again, what about “Love thy neighbor” and “Do unto others….”?

Although the administrative shutdown ended, the Republican Congressional Shutdown continues. Further, the Republicans aren’t doing their job of serving people’s needs and aren’t earning their pay. In the private sector, they would be fired. Perhaps voters in November will see the wisdom of that.

After this long GOP legislative blockade, isn’t it time they and their Tea Party cohorts get out of the way of economic recovery? Isn’t it time they drop their negative, obstructive tactics, which have made them Nay-saying Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?

But going positive might mean bipartisanship. That’s highly unlikely, since Republicans–at war with the Democrats–don’t want to cooperate, although that would best serve the American people. They fixedly believe their obstructive gambit will win them political control, no matter how much harm it causes.

The GOP legislative sit-down strike is forestalling prosperity; if voters get the picture, the Republicans won’t be able to hide behind their artificial rationalizations of “concern” over the deficit (which, incidentally, has fallen 38 percent from $1.1 trillion in fiscal 2012 to $680 billion for fiscal 2013, and is projected, by the Congressional Budget Office, to drop to $468 billion for fiscal 2015). Another “concern”: the long-term unemployed would get unemployment benefits but not seek work. (Would many people unemployed six months, a year, or more, supporting families and needing to pay bills, actually shirk employment?) Let’s get real here.

In reality, many employers mistrust people out of work a long time, perhaps blaming them for their predicament rather than the economy–but such employers are also taking advantage of surplus labor conditions and exacerbating the problem of those out of work a long time by hiring less experienced people with less desirable resumes at lower wages.

Worse, Republicans are going all out to block or kill anything to grow the economy and increase employment.

Shockingly, they let long-term unemployment benefits (with economy-boosting power) die, and refuse to renew them for those whom they have condemned to desperate joblessness.

Such cruel, cynical politicians deserve a visit to the political woodshed–or, better yet, being voted out of office.

Remember: politicians fight over who divides the economic pie and determines how we live. If the GOP wins the Senate this November, expect much more pie for the 1% and corporations, and much less for the middle class, working class, working poor, and underprivileged–another giant step toward income inequality.

Presently, the major obstacle to greater business activity, increased employment, and ending our economic doldrums is the Republican Party.

What the GOP elephant must hear is: “Get your haunches off economic progress and off the backs of the American people!” What the American people should say is: “We are mad as hell and are not going to take this obstructive, do-nothing, economic sabotage by Republicans anymore!”

Interview: Mayor Ignazio Marino–Rome, Italy

December 14, 2013
by Lawrence Gulotta

Mayor Marino discusses Bill de Blasio, Mike Bloomberg, transportation, “investing in our children, ” and the homeless. I think you will find the interview of interest.

THE LIBERAL SOCIALISM OF CARLO ROSSELLI by Andrea Ruini Translation by L. Gulotta

October 28, 2013
by Lawrence Gulotta


by Andrea Ruini
Translation by L. Gulotta
 Carlo Rosselli come a Spazio
Carlo Rosselli ((November 18, 1899 –  June 9, 1937)

When Gramsci began to write the Prison Notebooks, between 1928 and 1929, Carlo Rosselli was writing Liberal Socialism, during his confinement on Lipari ( later published in France in 1930). While Gramsci sought to give a version of Marxism- Leninism suitable for advanced industrial countries, Rosselli asserted instead that Marxism, and especially Leninism, were obstacles for the socialist movement,  obstacles that must be overcome, if we wanted to work with effectiveness in Western Europe.

At that time, Marxism constituted the doctrine not only of the Communists, but also the vast majority of Italian socialists. Rosselli’s book met with harsh criticism. Rosselli’s critique of Marxism was, first and foremost, a philosophical criticism. Rosselli contested  the nature of Marx’s mechanistic and naturalistic philosophy of history, which considered  necessary and inevitable a proletarian revolution that would bring the overthrow of capitalism. A deterministic concept that left no room for the conscience and the will of men. A conception flawed by a catastrophic, apocalyptic messianism that history had blatantly denied. Capitalism had not collapsed, rather it was developing in many countries. There had been no immiseration of the proletariat, which had surely seen a marked improvement in its economic and social conditions.  Society had not been polarized between a small elite of capitalists and the mass of proletarians, but there was an expanding middle class. Marx had studied the start-up phase of capitalism, and had described its “laws of capitalism,” elements that characterize only a transitory situation destined soon to dramatically change. Capitalist development had gone in a direction opposite to that which Marx had prophesied.

The consequence was that the revolutionary myth had lost its charm in the most developed European countries, but had taken root in a backward country like Russia, also as a result of exceptional circumstances. Rosselli gave a completely negative judgment on the Bolshevik Revolution, which through a ruthless dictatorship, had imposed “untold suffering” on the Russian people.

Analyzing the Marxist myths and the Bolshevik Revolution, in this way, Rosselli espoused his conception of socialism and socialist ideals, giving the following definition: “Socialism is neither socialization nor the proletariat in power, or even material equality. Socialism, grasped in its essential, is the progressive implementation of the idea of ​​freedom and justice among men: an innate idea that lies more or less buried by the centuries, and is at the foundation of every human being. And ‘ the progressive effort to ensure that all humans have an equal chance to live a life that is worthy of the name, removing them from the bondage of matter and materials needs that today still dominates the greatest number; ability to freely develop their personalities in a continuous struggle against bestial primitive instincts and against the corruptions of a civilization preying on the demon of success and money. “

Rosselli was aware that his views on socialist doctrines were held by a minority. Nothing remained of the old dogmas. Also in light of the Soviet experience, Rosselli rejected the old collectivist, centralizing program, which was the administrator of the State, the universal manager. Rosselli denied that the simple fact of expropriation, the transfer of production activities from the middle class to the community, could lead to a miraculous transformation. Rosselli did not believe that socialization and collectivization of the economy could guarantee production and multiply wealth, the automatic suppression of classes, the struggles and wars, the triumph of brotherhood, justice and peace. For the Socialists “serious, educated and prepared,” said Rosselli, “these are now tales of which it is better not to talk.” This is because “all appear open to the dangers of bureaucratic elephantiasis, intrusiveness of the state and the dictatorship of incompetence, the flattening of each individual freedom and autonomy, to the absence of creativity in the leaders, as the performers.”

Rosselli writes that “capitalism must relinquish its hegemony, submitting itself more and more to the restrictions and interventions of public authorities” and it develops a form of regulated economy, in which the principle of need prevails over the principle of profit.” Rosselli had studied Keynes, watched with interest the English sympathy toward Laborism, had known Labor theorists and scholars such as Tawney, Cole, Hobhouse and had attended meetings of the Fabian Society at the London School of Economics. His training allowed him to have real contact with the experiences of a more developed capitalist world. For Rosselli ” socialism interprets the needs of the working class, it fights against actual conditions, in the name of the majority, for the majority’s needs and a superior principle of freedom and justice, that awakens the masses from their ancient servitude, giving them awareness of their “situation of inferiority” in which they are located, here is the liberal and liberating political movement.”

Rosselli’s position was also his firm defense of liberal democracy, the “rules of the game” that all warring parties must undertake to comply, and which consist of the principle of popular sovereignty, in the representative system, while respecting the rights of minorities and the role of the opposition, in solemn recognition of fundamental rights and the rights of freedom of the individual and in the explicit condemnation of violence.

Rosselli had come to the conclusion that without permanent protection of the rights of freedom and absent a framework of public intervention in economic and social conditions, there does not exist a “shared freedom,” an” equal freedom,” which manages to combine the reasons for individual autonomy with those of justice, in the formation and distribution of resources and opportunities. He polemicized against the annihation of the individual’s personality, desired by the totalitarianisms of the ‘90s. Rosselli’s goal was to combine freedom and equality, individualistic motives and the needs of social solidarity, not in the form of a future proletarian revolution, but in the possible ways of a democratic constitution of the present.

The main heir to the liberal socialism of Rosselli was Norberto Bobbio. Among the studies devoted to the life and thought of Rosselli should be mentioned , in addition to those of Bobbio, books by Aldo Garosci , Nicola Tranfaglia , Paolo Bagnoli , Zephyr Ciuffoletti , Carmelo Calabro , Mimmo Franzinelli , Gian Biagio Furiozzi , Stanislao Pugliese , Franco Sbarberi .



Quando Gramsci incominciava a stendere tra il 1928 e il 1929 i Quaderni del carcere, Carlo Rosselli scriveva al confino di Lipari il libro Socialismo liberale (pubblicato poi in Francia nel 1930). Mentre Gramsci si proponeva di dare una versione del marxismo-leninismo adatta ai paesi industriali avanzati, Rosselli riteneva invece che il marxismo, e a maggior ragione il leninismo, fossero un ostacolo per il movimento socialista, un ostacolo che doveva essere superato, se voleva operare con efficacia nell’Europa occidentale.

Il marxismo costituiva allora la dottrina non solo dei comunisti, ma anche della grande maggioranza dei socialisti italiani. Il libro di Rosselli incontrò le aspre critiche degli uni e degli altri. La critica di Rosselli al marxismo era prima di tutto una critica filosofica. Rosselli contestava al marxismo il carattere di filosofia della storia di tipo meccanicistico-naturalistico, che considerava necessaria e inevitabile la rivoluzione proletaria che avrebbe portato all’abbattimento del capitalismo. Una concezione deterministica che non lasciava spazio alla coscienza e alla volontà degli uomini. Una concezione viziata anche da un catastrofismo apocalittico-messianico che la storia aveva clamorosamente smentito. Il capitalismo non era crollato, anzi si era sviluppato in molti paesi. Non c’era stato nessun immiserimento del proletariato, che aveva invece visto un netto miglioramento delle sue condizioni economiche e sociali. E la società non si era polarizzata tra una ristretta elite di capitalisti e la massa dei proletari, ma c’era stato una grande diffusione dei ceti medi. Marx aveva studiato la fase di avvio del capitalismo, e aveva definito come “leggi del capitalismo” elementi che invece caratterizzavano solo una situazione transitoria destinata presto a modificarsi radicalmente. Lo sviluppo capitalistico era andato in una direzione opposta a quella che aveva profetizzato Marx.

La conseguenza era che il mito rivoluzionario aveva perso il suo fascino nei paesi europei più sviluppati, ma era riuscito ad attecchire in un paese arretrato come la Russia, anche in seguito a circostanze eccezionali. Rosselli dava un giudizio del tutto negativo sulla rivoluzione bolscevica, che attraverso una dittatura spietata aveva imposto “sofferenze inenarrabili” al popolo russo.

Liquidati in questo modo il mito marxista e la rivoluzione bolscevica, Rosselli esponeva la sua concezione del socialismo e degli ideali socialisti, dandone la seguente definizione: “Il socialismo non è né la socializzazione né il proletariato al potere, e neppure la materiale eguaglianza. Il socialismo, colto nel suo aspetto essenziale, è l’attuazione progressiva dell’idea di libertà e di giustizia tra gli uomini: idea innata che giace, più o meno sepolta dalle incrostazioni dei secoli, al fondo di ogni essere umano. E’ lo sforzo progressivo di assicurare a tutti gli umani una eguale possibilità di vivere la vita che solo è degna di questo nome, sottraendoli alla schiavitù della materia e dei materiali bisogni che oggi ancora domina il maggior numero; possibilità di svolgere liberamente la loro personalità, in una continua lotta di perfezionamento contro gli istinti primitivi e bestiali e contro le corruzioni di una civiltà troppo preda al demonio del successo e del denaro”. Rosselli era consapevole che nella sua concezione restava ben poco, per non dire nulla, delle dottrine socialiste così come si erano manifestate storicamente. Non restava nulla dei vecchi dogmi. Alla luce anche dell’esperienza sovietica, Rosselli rifiutava il vecchio programma collettivista, accentratore, che faceva dello Stato l’amministratore, il gerente universale. E Rosselli negava che il semplice fatto della espropriazione, che il passaggio delle attività produttive dalla classe borghese alla collettività, potesse determinare una trasformazione miracolosa. Rosselli non credeva che la socializzazione e la collettivizzazione dell’economia potessero garantire una produzione e ricchezza moltiplicate, un lavoro ridotto e reso gioioso, la soppressione automatica delle classi, delle lotte e delle guerre, il trionfo della fratellanza, della giustizia e della pace. Per i socialisti “seri, colti, preparati”, diceva Rosselli, “queste sono ormai favolette delle quali è meglio non parlare”. Questo perché “a tutti appaiono chiari i pericoli della elefantiasi burocratica, della invadenza statale, della dittatura dell’incompetenza, dello schiacciamento di ogni autonomia e libertà individuale, del venir meno dello stimolo nei dirigenti come negli esecutori”. Rosselli ritiene probabile “che il capitalismo debba rinunciare alla sua egemonia, sottomettendosi sempre più a limitazioni e interventi da parte dei pubblici poteri” e che si sviluppi una forma di economia regolata, in cui il principio del bisogno prevale sul principio del lucro”. Rosselli aveva studiato Keynes, guardava con interesse simpatia al laburismo inglese, aveva conosciuto studiosi e teorici laburisti come Tawney, Cole, Hobhouse, e aveva frequentato le riunioni della Società Fabiana presso la London School of Economics. La sua formazione gli permetteva di avere un contatto reale con l’esperienza del mondo capitalistico più sviluppato. Per Rosselli “il socialismo che interpreta le esigenze della classe lavoratrice, che lotta contro l’assetto attuale in nome dei bisogni del maggio numero e di un principio superiore di libertà e di giustizia, che risveglia le masse dalla servitù antica dando loro coscienza della situazione di inferiorità in cui si trovano, ecco il movimento politico liberale e liberatore”. Nella posizione di Rosselli c’era anche la sua ferma difesa della democrazia liberale, delle “regole del gioco” che tutte le parti in lotta devono impegnarsi a rispettare, e che consistono nel principio della sovranità popolare, nel sistema rappresentativo, nel rispetto dei diritti delle minoranze e del ruolo dell’opposizione, nel solenne riconoscimento dei diritti fondamentali e dei diritti di libertà della persona, nella condanna esplicita del ricorso alla violenza.

Rosselli era giunto alla conclusione che senza una tutela permanente dei diritti di libertà e senza una quadro di intervento pubblico in materia economico-sociale non esistono le condizioni di una libertà condivisa, di una “libertà eguale”, che riesca a coniugare le ragioni della autonomia degli individui con quelle della giustizia nella formazione e nella distribuzione delle risorse e delle opportunità. Polemico contro l’annichilimento della personalità dell’uomo voluto dai totalitarismi del Novecento, il proposito di Rosselli era quello di unire libertà ed eguaglianza, motivi individualistici ed esigenze di solidarietà sociale, non nelle forme palingenetiche di una futura rivoluzione proletaria, ma nei modi possibili di una costituzione democratica del presente.

Il principale erede del socialismo liberale di Rosselli è stato Norberto Bobbio. Tra gli studi dedicati alla vita e al pensiero di Rosselli vanno ricordati, oltre a quelli di Bobbio, i libri di Aldo Garosci, Nicola Tranfaglia, Paolo Bagnoli, Zeffiro Ciuffoletti, Carmelo Calabrò, Mimmo Franzinelli, Gian Biagio Furiozzi, Stanislao Pugliese, Franco Sbarberi.




Solving Israel’s Housing Crisis with US Cooperative Model

September 4, 2013
by Lawrence Gulotta
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
This article appeared on the Blog of  the Partners for a Progressive Israel:

A Matter of Housing Equity

Gentrification and housing affordability are contentious issues in Israel’s major cities.  The sales prices of apartments, and rental rates, have experienced a striking increase. The Jerusalem Post, no lefty newspaper, proclaims: “Homes prices in Israel are unquestionably among the highest worldwide when looking at price per square meter.”According to the Bank of Israel, the price of the average Israeli home has risen nearly 50 percent since December 2007 with rent prices also climbing sharply. Over the past year alone, apartment prices have risen 15 percent in some urban areas. The real estate bubble has created new and deeper social class stratification among Israelis, in an already polarized class structure. 
Only the wealthiest 30% of Israelis can afford to buy a home and take out a reasonable mortgage to do so, according to a Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology study by Drs. Danny Ben-Shahar and Yakov Varshavsky of the architecture and town planning faculty. 
This group qualifies at the currently institutionally accepted “loan-to-value ratio” (“LTV”) for a residential mortgage loan of no greater than 60% of the asset’s value.  The income to debt service plus maintenance costs ratio is not to be greater than 30% of the buyer’s income. The loan to value ratio is defined by the Appraisal Institute as “The ratio between a mortgage loan and the value of a property pledged as security, usually expressed as a percentage.” The equity ratio is defined as “The ratio between the down payment paid on a property and its total price” also expressed as a percentage.
The study found that half of Israel’s households could buy a home with a mortgage LTV of up to 80% of the home’s value.
A change from one third to one half, or a 34% increase.
The researchers also showed that working class salaries have not kept pace with home price increases over the past 20 years, 1991-2011.
They found that the average home price was equal to 51.7 monthly salaries of a person in the fifth decile; now the figure is 90.7 – a 75% increase, 1991-2011.
The study concludes, “…these findings show the need to consider far-reaching reforms that would drastically alter a households’ ability to buy homes.”
Contrary to the study’s recommendations, the Bank of Israel has tightened mortgage lending terms for loans greater than 60% of the asset’s value. The Bank has raised its reserves, to discourage mortgage lending. It has also reduced interest rates. The US interest rates and the Israeli interest rates for mortgage loans are moving in opposite directions (see schedules below).   In the US, a loan-to-value ratio of 60% would be considered a very conservative underwriting guideline. That being said, Israeli homeowners have maintained stronger equity positions in their homes than homeowners in the US and Spain. Underwater mortgages are not a mass phenomena in Israel, like in parts of the United States.
There are secondary markets in Israel for financing a home. First Israel, advertises, “Whether you are making aliyah, looking for an investment, or buying a second home in Israel,” call First Israel. “When purchasing an existing property or constructing a new one, First Israel provides mortgage financing up to 75% of the value of the home. Financing of up to 100% may be obtained for borrowers with equity in additional properties.” First Israel notes, “Obtaining financing for the purchase of a home in some areas of Israel can be difficult.”
The Bank of Israel appears to be lowering its interest rates for mortgage lending. The following schedules are illustrative of the lending rates as of August 2, 2013:
Average Rate of Interest on CPI-Indexed Mortgages
הריבית הממוצעת על משכנתאות צמודות למדד
מעל 25
מעל 20 ועד 25
מעל 15 ועד 20
מעל 10 ועד 15
מעל 5 ועד 10
עד 5 שנים
More than 25 years
From 20 to 25
From 15 to 20
From 10 to 15
From 5 to 10
Up to and
5 years
Bank of Israel 8-02-2013
US rates are higher:

US-West Average 30-Year Conventional Commitment Rate
Chart update 08/01/13
Month ago
Year ago
The average 30-year commitment rate is the rate at which a lender commits to lend mortgage money in the United States-West as reported by Freddie Mac. The western region includes CA, AZ, NV, OR, WA, UT, ID, MT, HI, AK, and GU. More information is available on Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey report.
The ongoing social protest movement in Israel and the center-left political parties have raised their voices over the chronic inability of the average working Israeli family, the young, and senior citizens to afford decent housing. Israelis find it difficult to accumulate 40% of the sales price of a home in cash equity. The 60% loan-to-value ratio imposed by the underwriting guidelines and policies of the Bank of Israel effectively excludes or delays homeownership opportunities for first time homebuyers.
Not everyone is convinced the social protest movement has an answer to Israel’s housing shortage and the challenging first time homebuyer market. In “Dragging Israel Back to its Socialist Past” Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, July-August 2013, notes:

If it [Israel] is currently in the best economic shape of its short history, it is because its recent governments have understood there can be no going back to the “social democratic” nightmare that once created multi-year waits for phone installations and other vestiges of a largely state-run economy. As the Jerusalem Post notes in an incisive editorial, the protesters and those egging them on have no coherent program to offer as an alternative to the government’s policies. Instead, all they have are “empty populist slogans articulating nothing more than inchoate discontent.”If Israel is to continue on its current path toward greater prosperity, Netanyahu should stand his ground. While there can be no denying that problems exist and must be addressed, those who care about Israel’s future should not give encouragement to those who are trying to drag the Jewish state back to its troubled socialist past.

Notwithstanding Jonathan Tobin’s admonition that “recent governments have understood there can be no going back to the “social democratic” nightmare that once created multi-year waits for phone installations and other vestiges of a largely state-run economy,” the Israeli government response has been the opposite of Tobin’s desires and understanding of real estate markets and the elusive affordability index.
Nimrod Bousso writes in Ha’aretz, in an article entitled, “Government weighs new plan to set target prices for homes”:

The initiative… represents a sea change in the government’s attitude to the housing market. In the past, it has preferred free market solutions to housing and other industries over more government intervention.

“There’s no doubt that we’re talking about deep regulation on the part of the government, but we face a deep crisis,” said Chairman Bentzi Lieberman of the Israel Lands Authority.  He continued, “We have to develop an effective process for lower prices in a situation where the Bank of Israel, by continuing to lower interest rates, isn’t helping.”
Jonathan Tobin places his free market ideology above pragmatism and the “facts on the ground.” The problem in Israeli housing is that there is a “troubled present” and not so much a nightmare-ish socialist past.  The Netanyahu government is finally beginning to understand the dimensions of Israel’s current housing crisis and the need for proactive intervention. 
Israel needs to adopt new approaches and reform measures to create affordable/starter homes. Housing prices and rents are difficult for young couples to reach on their salaries. In Israel’s case, the government owns over 90% of all land, so it is certainly within its control to find many creative solutions to assist buyers and renters to make housing affordable.
Although Israel has a high homeownership rate by international standards, in the past 15 years, the homeownership rate in the country has been gradually declining as more households are renting due to the shortage of affordable housing. In 2008, the homeownership rate was 68.8%, down from 73% in 1995.
The many luxury high-rise residential towers planned for downtown Jerusalem and Tel Aviv also stand in stark contrast to the difficult state of housing affordability in the Region.
The following schedule from the Bank of Israel illustrates the problem of soaring sales prices across Israel’s three major cities and by region:
Jessica Steinberg notes in her JTA article of 08/2011, entitled, “Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?”:

According to figures from the real estate company RE/MAX Israel, apartment prices in central Tel Aviv run $5,714 to $7,142 per square meter. In Jerusalem, the peripheral neighborhoods of East Talpiot and Kiryat Hayovel offer housing from $4,285 to $5,714 per square meter, while prices in the tonier neighborhoods of Baka, the German Colony and Rechavia range from $7,000 to $8,571 per square meter.
That means that in Baka or the German Colony, a typical two-bedroom apartment starts at $428,571, according to Alyssa Friedland, a broker for RE/MAX. In the peripheral neighborhoods, some of which are built on territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, a two-bedroom apartment runs for about $343,000. According to RE/MAX figures, two-bedroom apartments in Beersheva, Haifa, Hadera and Afula cost between $143,000 and $286,000.

Zionism’s founding father Theodore Herzl maintained a vision of a limited-equity model of home ownership for Israel.  This model has worked effectively in the US to create affordable housing. The most promising aspect of the limited equity model is that, when it works, it truly frees its participants from dependence on predatory bank lending and the regulatory actions of the state.
What makes “mutual cooperative housing” more democratic, affordable and egalitarian than other forms of multi-family housing?
Mutual cooperative apartment units require an initial, modest down payment; significantly, there is no direct mortgage loan or “end loan” to the homebuyer, thus eliminating the need for commercial banks, mortgage brokers, and so on. The homeowner assumes a “proportionate” or “pro-rata” share of the project’s total underlying mortgage obligation. Profit at resale is limited to fixtures installed by the owner. Apartment owners receive an income tax deduction for their proportionate share of real estate taxes and mortgage interest paid, thereby giving them the tax benefits of homeownership. At present, it is not possible for an Israeli citizen to deduct interest charges from their personal income tax. There has been talk about this becoming possible in the future. 
Risk of default by an apartment owner is minimized, again collectively, by spreading default risk equally to the other cooperative owners. The governance of the co-op is democratic by design, if not always in its execution. Democratic politics takes place within the co-op. A board of directors must be elected annually to administer the budget and maintain the project. Political parties, cliques, and factions develop and compete for seats on the board. It is not the architecture as much as the form of ownership and governance that is democratic. The limited equity mutual co-op is more egalitarian than any other form of multi-family housing.
There is a long tradition in support of “mutual cooperative housing,” pioneered by old-line social democratic trade unionists for their memberships. Numerous union-sponsored housing developments have proven to be an important solution to housing crises. This type of multi-family housing promotes democratic governance and social equality. It is “affordable housing.”
On a relatively large scale, in NYC, there is Penn South, Co-op City, and East Harlem’s 1199 Plaza. Penn South was sponsored by a local of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union headed by Charles Zimmerman. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers also built many thousands of units in the Bronx. There have been inspiring, long-lasting successes, and some near failures. The successful projects are examples of “democratic housing” in the metropolis. The near failures have succumbed to bureaucratic governance, mediocre building quality and uninspired Soviet-style architecture.
Israel has an opportunity to re-cast the limited-equity cooperative model of multifamily housing to its own needs. The limited-equity model is flexible, affordable and democratic. The limited-equity cooperative is structured to make the dream of a home or apartment of one’s own affordable to the working class, moderate income and low income Israelis. It is not the only solution, but it is a viable one for Israel’s cities and suburbs.
An Israeli Affordable Housing Corporation (“IAHC”) can be created and funded annually by the Knesset. The role of the IAHC would be to offer financial assistance to income-eligible first-time home buyers for new construction, acquisition/rehabilitation and home improvement. The IAHC would issue a ten-year self-extinguishing conditional grant at 0% interest to income-qualified first-time home buyers. The homebuyer must reside in their home for ten years, and the principal balance of the grant is reduced annually until it is extinguished in year 10.  If a sale occurs during the ten year residency period, another income-qualified family may assume the grant. If not, repayment of the balance due on the grant is made from proceeds of the sale. Typical grants average $35,000-$40,000 per unit in high cost areas.
Self-extinguishing grants have been issued by the US government since the enactment of the 1862 Homestead Act, during the Civil War. The Homestead Act required a five-year residency period.
Israel can create its own mortgage agency to assist first-time homebuyers, thereby circumventing the absurdly restrictive impositions and vagaries of the market. Mortgage loans can be financed through the sale of tax-exempt bonds. In the United States, tax-exempt mortgage bond programs generally feature competitive interest rates, low down payment requirements, flexible underwriting guidelines, no prepayment penalties and down payment assistance. Each of these features is designed to make a home purchase more affordable. The limited equity cooperative can be financed with tax-exempt bonds or more traditional bank financing.
Information Resources for “A Matter of Housing Equity”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jerusalem Post
Commentary magazine,
Dragging Israel Back to Its Socialist Past” by Jonathan S. Tobin
Global Property Guide-Israel
Ha’aretz, August 11, 2013, “Government weighs new plan to set target prices for homes” by Nimrod Bousso
Bank of Israel
Bank of Israel, 08/03/2013, “Average Rate of Interest on CPI-Indexed Mortgages”
First Tuesday Journal, August 1, 2913, “Current Market Rates”
New Israel Fund“Israel’s Affordable Housing Protest Catches Fire,” Written by Ruby Ong
New Left Review 81, May-June 2013, Dr. Yonatan Mendel “New Jerusalem”
Ha’aretz, May 29, 2011, “Homes too expensive for 70% of Israelis,” Technion-Institute of Technology Study: by Shlomit Tzur and Arik Mirovsky
The Appraisal of Real Estate, 13th edition, Appraisal Institute.
Dissent magazine, “Democratic Housing” and Architecture,” by Lawrence Gulotta, January 23, 2012.
Lawrence Gulotta is a New York-based observer of Israel who is informed by a background in real estate economics and affordable housing finance. His most recent article for the blog of Dissent magazine is “Starchitects in the Promised Land.”