To be clear, we welcome the modest mercies in Gaza: the "pause" in slaughter, release of hostages, freeing of Palestinian prisoners, most stone-throwing teenagers who've been warned they'll be re-arrested if their families show "joy." But as a handful of innocents get swapped, Palestinian children, victims of a racist hierarchy of victimhood, still suffer and die. Asks Abu al-Walid, who lost his son, daughter, seven nieces and nephews, his whole beloved "gang," "How will I live (when) these children are gone?"
Gaza officials estimate Israel has now killed over 16,000 civilians, almost half children, and injured at least 34,000; another 6,000 Palestinians are believed dead, trapped under rubble. With a health system all but collapsed, many more will likely continue to die of untreated wounds, spreading disease, winter rains and cold, lack of food, water, medical supplies. Along with wiping out hundreds of families, Israel's deliberate targeting of civilian homes has left over 1.7 million people homeless; most are crammed into U.N. facilities in the south without adequate food, water, toilets or care. Monday's news of a two-day extension of the "pause" was welcomed on all sides, as was the UN's first delivery of drinking water and other humanitarian aid, but rights groups said it "barely registers" in light of the massive need, "breathtaking" death toll, and vast destruction wrought by the Israeli equivalent of two nuclear bombs. During this relative calm, scarred, stunned Gazans have emergedto try and recover relatives' bodies under the debris, stand in lines for flour, water, fuel, take their kids to the beach, travel north to see what's left of their ravaged homes after a brutal, US-backed Israeli campaign of collective punishment that rights advocates widely deem "a stain upon our souls."
In the face of that devastation, UN experts have urged investigations into war crimes by both Israel and Hamas; Jordan has joined much of the world in declaring Israel's assault within "the legal definition of genocide"; the EU's Josep Borrell has demanded a permanent ceasefire - “It makes no sense to give food to somebody that will be killed the day after" - and the UN warns "the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is getting worse by the day." None of that has stopped ongoing Israeli aggression: IDF forces have fired at people returning to inspect homes, killed over 200 Palestinians in the West Bank, including children, and arrested 3,200, "seized" $1.3 million from "Hamas homes" amidst Gazan stories of stolen jewelry and other items, and have escalated the rampant abuse of Palestinian political prisoners. This week, Israel's far-right Finance Minister proposed a budget with billions for the war and hundreds of millions to expand illegal settlements and arm settlers in the name of "empowerment and readiness," even as a monomaniacal Netanyahu vowed to "continue the war in full force until we achieve all our goals," however genocidal, refuting all that Biden malarkey about "freedom and dignity" to swear he's "the only one" who can erase a Palestinian state.
Still, the ever-corrupt Netanyahu has said he's open to extending the truce, one day for every 10 additional hostages, because he's "moved to the depths of my heart" by seeing families reunited, and definitely not because he's hungry for good press that could save his own political skin. With the four-day pause due to end Tuesday now extended two days, the media has largely obliged, offering up a flood of empathic coverage about Hamas' release of what are now 69 captives, most Israeli women and children. Strikingly, doctors have found the hostages in "satisfactory" health, at least physically; the trauma they likely endured remains an open question. "They don’t have any serious sickness, but you can see they're not in the best condition," said a doctor, adding they're monitoring the hostages' "sodium balance" as they reintroduce "routine eating." Many hostages lost their homes, they added, "so they've nowhere to return to, and that's also hard to accept." To date, none of the extensive coverage has noted that the same or worse hardships - sodium imbalances (with no water), no foreseeable chance to return to "routine eating" (no food), and no homes to return to (with dead relatives trapped under them) - afflict hundreds of thousands of Gazans.
Meanwhile, mainstream Israeli media have barely covered the release of up to 300 Palestinian prisoners, all women and minors; most recently, Monday saw 30 teens and three women freed from Ofer prison in the West Bank and a prison in Jerusalem. "It would never occur to them, even for a moment, to tarnish the Jews’ feelings of happiness with the happiness of Arabs," writes Haaretz's Odeh Bisharat, quoting Psalms: "He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep." As proof "there’s no prouder form of nationalism than making 'the other' miserable," police "worked (for) hours to tamp down the joy" of female Palestinian prisoners," including enforcing a ban - the fine is $18,700 - on giving candy to well-wishers by confiscating it from the home of prisoner Amani al-Hashim in Beit Hanina. Days before the release, right-wing National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir had urged his "fine boys" in the Israeli Police to use "an iron fist" to ensure Palestinian unhappiness. “My instructions are clear - there are to be no expressions of joy," he said. "Expressions of joy are equivalent to backing terrorism. Victory celebrations give backing to those human scum, those Nazis." Deuteronomy 32:35: "Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip."
On Sunday, Israel published a list of Palestinian prisoners being freed and their alleged "crimes," mostly stone-throwing, that reveals a flagrant "stratification of victimhood” wherein one captive Israeli child gets more public attention than thousands of Palestinian children imprisoned for trifling acts, along with thousands killed in bombings and even more thousands captive to an occupying force that routinely terrorizes, ghettoizes, and arrests them in the middle of the night. The list is also "a dizzying testament to just how central detention and imprisonment are to Israel’s occupation and control over Palestinians," and how inequitably that control is wielded. Each year, up to 700 Palestinian children as young as 12 are detained as "security prisoners"; by far most of those being freed - 287 - are 18 or under, and of 146 who are 18, most came of age in prison. So far Israel has freed 150 prisoners, 117 children and 33 women; over the same four days, they arrested at least 133, and 3,160 since Oct. 7. Still, despite the no-joy edict, crowds have gathered in the West Bank to collectively celebrate the releases, united by both grief for their losses and determination to embrace resilience and happiness as part of their resistance. Said one celebrant, "We are dancing with broken hearts."
“The cries of Palestinian and Israeli children sound no different to me," said Rep. Rashiba Tlaib, calling for a ceasefire. "What I don’t understand is why the cries of Palestinians sound different to you all." But they do, here and in Israel, where a Knesset member once quoted an Israeli writer who called Palestinian children "little snakes." Most of the teenagers being freed, who were often held in isolation under indefinite "administrative detention," haven't been convicted or even tried, which in Israel, alone among "developed" countries, would occur in not a civil but military court that boasts a nearly 100% conviction rate. Yet under the Israeli government's hierarchy, they can be arrested based solely on "intention" to do...something. A 17-year-old served two years for throwing stones at an Israeli police car in Jerusalem, where Jewish settlers regularly riot, attack Palestinians and storm mosques without constraint, never mind arrest. One 18-year-old was arrested for “incitement on Instagram," another for declaring, "Allahu Akbar," God is great - this in an Israelwhere soldiers enforcing apartheid are deemed innocents, and calls for genocide "a legitimate way to raise national morale." Thus are "the roles of occupier and occupied, predator and prey, abuser and victim," reversed.
In all this, writes Jonathan Cook, "History is repeating itself." He cites Israel's genocidal consistency - and Western complicity - since 1948's Nakba, when up to 900,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their land, farms, olive groves by Israelis who then blithely claimed they were "making the desert bloom." What followed was decades of a carefully crafted, deeply fraudulent narrative - Palestinians never belonged there, weren't massacred, chose to leave - and a steadfast rejection of all non-violent Palestinian resistance to it. When Gazans gathered at the fence marking their seige, they were shot; when they hurled flaming balloons in a plea for visibility, it was called terrorism; when a movement to boycott Israel for its crimes took root, it was dubbed anti-Semitism. Even chants - “From the river to the sea" - were deemed an existential threat to Israel, though it was a critique of apartheid, not Judaism, and Likud's own charter declares of Jews' "eternal and indisputable" right to Israel, "Between the Sea and the Jordan, there will only be Israeli sovereignty." The problem, says Cook, isn't a slogan. It's "settler colonialism's mission" - as always, to replace a native population - and the "collective and wilful refusal" of observers of Israel's establishment "to join the dots in Gaza."
Echoing him is British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah, who argues Gaza represents "the continuation of the Nakba." Its aim: "An uninhabitable Gaza Strip (and) the destruction of all the components of modern life," with a now-razed health system "the main military objective." In London after six weeks shuttling between Gaza's al-Ahli and al-Shifa hospitals and seeing "a massacre unfold," he dismissed multiple Israeli claims to justify their slaughter: That Hamas used Al-Shifa as a base of operations - he saw no evidence; that tunnels, some of which Israel built in the 1980s, proved their case; that civilians weren't targeted: "It appears the numbers tell a different story." So did his experience. Having spent 30 years in war zones in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Gaza, he described "medieval" conditions: Surgery without anaesthetic, soap or vinegar to clean wounds, patients screaming "in agony," children, again - 7 or 8,000 wounded, with up to 900, at times 12 a day, undergoing "very tough" amputations from being hit by fragmentary missiles. He also began to see burns from white phosphorus bombs; Israel denies using them, but Abu-Sittah plans to give war crime testimony to Scotland Yard. "If we live in a world where it’s okay to do this," he says, "that world is a dangerous place.”
Because that world is also infused with the message that Palestinian lives are of lesser value, last month a group of Gazan children held a "press conference" outside al-Shifah to plead for their existence. "We came to shout as children, urging you all to protect us," said a boy acting as spokesperson. "Stop the death. We want life." One can only hope they never saw the now-deleted video titled "Love Sanctified By Blood," created by warmonger and “crisis-communication expert" Ofer Rosenbaum, featuring a chorus of wide-eyed Israeli children singing, "Look the IDF is crossing the line/to annihilate the swastika-bearers/In another year there will be nothing there/And we will safely return to our homes/We will show the world/How today we destroy our enemy." "The bitter reality for us in Gaza," says Haidar Eid, a professor at Al-Aqsa University, "is that we are alone, beleaguered, under siege, and seen as undesirables even by some of those who are supposed to be our brethren." He denounces "the cowardice and hypocrisy" of Arab states, as well as the UN and EU, who have declined to help end a 17-year siege, and now genocide, evidently, incomprehensibly, because "thousands of corpses of women and children have failed to convince them of the need to act."
Photographer Majd Arandas, 29, felt the same isolation, declaring, "We are for Gaza, and Gaza has no one but us." Yet he chose to document the richness of Palestinian life, its land and sky and pockets of joy, "so the world knows there are people in Gaza who love life and beauty." Self-taught, Arandas often shot his images wide and in motion; said a mentor, "You got the sense he was trying to fit as much of the world into each frame as possible." "I am the living dead," Arandas wrote in 2016, but he held out the hope "our voice and cause reach the largest number of people." He was killed Nov. 1 by an Israeli airstrike near his home in Deir al-Balah. There are too many wrenching losses to count, and too many kids. The mother of Waseem Abedrabou, 8, wouldn't "let him sleep a meter away from her." But one night Waseem said he wanted to see his grandma, and she let him and his father Husam go stay with Husam's mother in Nuseirat. An airstrike killed them both; an uncle pulled his body from the rubble to return him to his mother; his aunt recalled a bright kid who'd won chess and engineering contests, and worried about losing his trophies if the home they'd left in Gaza City was bombed. "I don’t want him to be a number," she said. "Waseem’s eyes were full of dreams."
Abu 'Raed' al-Walid, a cheerful swimmer, volleyball player, Barcelona fan and muezzin "aged quickly" when his mother was killed, then his sister, children, nieces and nephews. "They took away Asma, my dear daughter and love of my soul," Raed laments. "My son Walid. My brother Ahmad’s four children. My sister Ilham’s daughter Najwa. My sister Reem’s children Yamen and Rawan." He made his "gang" kites from colored paper and flour-and-water glue, took them to the beach, built them a water-tank pool: "I die a hundred times a day as I remember how they died, how I couldn’t protect any of them." But in one small victory, award-winning poet Mosab Abu Toha, 32, has been released by the IDF after they detained and beat him as he tried to leave Gaza with his wife and three kids. He's been writing about fraught life in Gaza - "I am being killed every day with my people" - and, often, about kids. He was 8 when he first saw a rocket; his son Yazzan, 8, just asked him, "Are our toys still alive?" "Upon birth, mask up your children and leave them unnamed /so/ the angel of death won't find them," he writes. When bombed, "Turn off the lights in every room.../ have a bottle of water nearby/big enough to cool down/children’s fear." In 5th grade he saw a poster at the library claiming, "If you read books, you live more than one life." Now, "Whenever i look at faces/ around me...I read, 'If you live in Gaza, you die several times.'"
"Death was born here. It never left our neighborhoods." - Mosab Abu Toha
Seeking to celebrate what was once "the joy and beauty of Gaza," Majd Arandas caught boys leaping in the air at the beach. Photo by Majd Arandas
Palestinian prisoner Khalil Zama’ra hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli jail.Photo by Mamoun Wazwaz/APA Images
"We have closed this bank today."
That's the opening line on an explanatory poster, plastered on dozens of Barclays branches across the United Kingdom on Monday.
"Barclays has been on the wrong side of history for centuries," the poster continues. "Financing the Atlantic slave trade, apartheid in South Africa, weapons, and fossil fuels. $190 billion in finance for fossil fuels since 2015. Time to change."
"Barclays are choosing short-term profits over a livable future and a lot of us are sick of the measly progress they're making."
The posters were left overnight by activists with Extinction Rebellion (XR), sister organization Money Rebellion, and allied groups, who superglued the doors shut at nearly 50 branches—inspired by a 2020 Greenpeace action targeting the bank.
"We're responding to public attitudes and targeting the perpetrators of climate breakdown, not ordinary people, and we apologize for any inconvenience caused to staff and customers," said an XR campaigner in a statement. "The inconvenience we've caused this morning is small in comparison to the catastrophic events already happening due to Barclays' financing of fossil fuels."
The climate groups pointed to this year's annual Banking on Climate Chaos report, which shows that Barclays has poured $190.58 billion into the fossil fuel industry since 2015, when world leaders finalized the Paris agreement. Parties to that deal aim to keep global temperature rise this century "well below" 2°C, with an ultimate goal of limiting it to 1.5°C.
Already, "human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C," relative to preindustrial levels, according to a March Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
Responding to the Monday action, a Barclays spokesperson toldITV that "aligned to our ambition to be a net-zero bank by 2050, we believe we can make the greatest difference by working with our clients as they transition to a low-carbon business model, reducing their carbon-intensive activity whilst scaling low-carbon technologies, infrastructure, and capacity."
"We have set 2030 targets to reduce the emissions we finance in five high emitting sectors, including the energy sector, where we have achieved a 32% reduction since 2020," the spokesperson added. "In addition, to scale the needed technologies and infrastructure, we have provided £99 billion of green finance since 2018, and have a target to facilitate $1 trillion in sustainable and transition financing between 2023 and 2030."
Climate campaigners argue that such policies are far from enough, given that the bank continues to finance fossil fuel projects.
"Barclays are pumping billions into the fossil fuel industry, completely at odds with advice from the International Energy Agency, United Nations, and IPCC," said a Money Rebellion activist who took part in the action. "Barclays are choosing short-term profits over a livable future and a lot of us are sick of the measly progress they're making, as they hide behind their lies and greenwash."
Days after the United Auto Workers announced tentative deals with the Big Three carmakers, Toyota confirmed this week that it would offer raises to its nonunion U.S. factory workers.
The Japanese automaker said Wednesday that hourly manufacturers at the top of the pay scale would see a 9% raise beginning January 1, Reuters reported. UAW president Shawn Fain, who is attempting to use the union's victory to bolster the wider labor movement, said that the timing of Toyota's announcement was no coincidence.
"Toyota isn't giving out raises out of the goodness of their heart," he said in a video statement shared by More Perfect Union on Friday. "Toyota is the largest and most profitable auto company in the world. They could have just as easily raised wages a month ago or a year ago. They did it now because the company knows we're coming for them."
In the deals struck with Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors, the UAW secured a 25% pay raise over the life of the contracts. The tentative agreements brought an end to a historic six-week strike, as members return to work while they vote on whether or not to ratify the deals.
The UAW has negotiated for the three contracts to expire on April 30, 2028, a slightly longer lifespan than usual, according to Labor Notes. In a speech Sunday, Fain said part of the reason for the longer contracts was to give the labor movement time to build toward a potential strike on May Day 2028. Fain also said the UAW planned to spend the next four-and-a-half years organizing workers at nonunion plants owned by companies including Tesla, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.
"When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won't just be with the Big Three. It will be the Big Five or Big Six," Fain said.
"UAW. That stands for, 'You are welcome.'"
On Monday, a Toyota employee at a plant in Alabama told Labor Notes that management had called workers into an emergency meeting offering to raise top pay to $32 an hour and to scale up workers to that level in four years instead of eight. Another employee at a Kentucky plant said the top rate for production workers there had been raised by $2.94 to $34.80 and skilled trades workers saw a $3.70 boost to $43.20.
Toyota confirmed it was offering raises to news outlets Wednesday. It also said it was halving the time needed to reach top pay across the board and expanding paid time off.
"We value our employees and their contributions, and we show it by offering robust compensation packages that we continually review to ensure that we remain competitive within the automotive industry," Chris Reynolds, Toyota Motor North America's executive vice president, said in a statement reported by Reuters.
Toyota's actions are in keeping with findings that a strong union movement benefits nonunion workers as well. During the 1950s, when union membership peaked at one-third of U.S. workers, income inequality was at its lowest since the Great Depression spike, according to figures shared by the Department of the Treasury. By 2022, only 10% of U.S. workers were in a union, and the top 1% took home almost 20% of total income. If private sector union membership increases by just 1%, nonunion workers see a 0.3% wage increase.
"Even though you're not yet members of our union, that pay raise Toyota's giving you is the UAW bump," Fain addressed Toyota workers in his statement. "UAW. That stands for, 'You are welcome.'"
"You are welcome to join our Stand Up movement," he continued. "If this is what Toyota gives you when the Big Three stand up and fight, imagine what you could accomplish if you join the UAW and stand up and fight for yourselves."
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and every Democratic member of the committee he chairs sent letters on Tuesday inviting the CEOs of three major pharmaceutical companies to testify at an upcoming hearing on the nation's prescription drug costs, which are so high that millions of Americans are forced to ration their medications to save money.
"The American people have a right to know why it is that they pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs while the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. makes hundreds of billions in profits and pays their CEOs tens of millions of dollars in compensation," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a statement.
In letters to the top executives of Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb, Sanders and his Democratic colleagues asked, "How does it happen that one out of four Americans cannot afford to take the medicine their doctors prescribe while prescription drug companies make billions in profits and pay their executives exorbitant compensation packages?"
"How does it happen," the letters continue, "that the median price of new prescription drugs in the United States was over $220,000 last year, while the pharmaceutical industry spent billions on stock buybacks and dividends?"
Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb are some of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry's biggest offenders when it comes to charging Americans exorbitant prices for medications that can be purchased at a fraction of the cost in other countries.
In a statement, Sanders' office pointed to Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie's Imbruvica, a blood cancer drug that carries a list price of roughly $204,000 for an annual supply in the U.S. The drug sells for $46,000 annually in the United Kingdom and $43,000 in Germany.
Imbruvica is one of the 10 drugs that the Biden administration selected for an initial round of price negotiations with Medicare, which was empowered to directly negotiate prescription medicine costs with pharmaceutical companies under the Inflation Reduction Act.
The three companies run by the invited executives have all sued the Biden administration over the Medicare price negotiations. In September, a federal judge in Ohio rejected an effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to halt the negotiations.
Sanders said Tuesday that he looks forward to "hearing from the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies directly on this critical issue."
"I also look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs," the senator added. "A lifesaving drug is not effective if the patient who needs that drug cannot afford it."
The hearing—titled "Why Does the United States Pay, By Far, the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?"—is set to take place on January 25, 2024.
Irish authorities on Friday condemned a far-right, anti-immigrant faction that rapidly spread rumors about the perpetrator of a violent knife attack in Dublin and ultimately tore through the streets of Ireland's capital Thursday night, setting cars and buses on fire and smashing storefront windows.
The country was shocked Thursday by a mid-day stabbing attack on three young children—including a five-year-old girl who sustained serious injuries—and a woman who were reportedly on their way to a daycare facility when a man assaulted them.
The Garda Síochána, Ireland's police force, were able to take the suspect into custody after several bystanders—including a Brazilian delivery driver who immigrated to the country—overtook the man, who authorities said acted on his own.
But the "appalling crime," as Minister for Justice Helen McEntee called the stabbing, soon gave way to chaos at the crime scene when far-right protesters arrived and began chanting anti-immigrant slogans.
One protester toldAgence France Presse that "Irish people are being attacked by these scum," even as the press reported that the suspected perpetrator was a naturalized Irish citizen who has lived in Ireland for 20 years.
The cost-of-living crisis in Ireland has fueled recent anti-immigrant protests and acts of violence, with a group of men violently attacking an encampment inhabited by migrants from several countries earlier this year. Such incidents have also led thousands of Irish people to march this year in support of the immigrant community.
The Brazil-born delivery driver, identified by The Irish Times as Ciao Benicio, told the paper that the far-right faction's decision to seize on the knife attack as evidence of a dangerous immigration crisis did not "make sense at all."
"I'm an immigrant myself and I was the one who helped out," said Benicio.
The city's public transit system was badly hit by the ensuing riots, with protesters setting trams and double-decker buses ablaze. They also smashed store windows on O'Connell Street, a major thoroughfare.
"This appalling incident is a matter for the Gardaí and that it would be used or abused by groups with an agenda that attacks the principle of social inclusion is reprehensible and deserves condemnation by all those who believe in the rule of law and democracy," said Irish President Michael Higgins in a statement.
Police commissioner Drew Harris said the riots were driven by misinformation that was spread for "malevolent purposes."
Mary Lou McDonald, president of the left-wing opposition party Sinn Féin, said the city of Dublin was "traumatized twice: by the barbaric attack... and then by marauding racist mobs."
Thirty-four rioters were arrested Thursday evening, and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar addressed the country's immigrant community by saying Ireland would be "vastly inferior" without immigration.
The demonstrators did not wreak havoc across the city "out of any sense of patriotism, however warped," said Varadkar, "they did so because they are filled with hate."
One critic of the riots noted that anti-immigrant sentiment has been egged on in recent years not only by politicians like Hermann Kelly, head of the far-right Irish Freedom Party, but also by liberal policymakers like British Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer.
Starmer said in a Sky News interview Thursday that migration levels in the U.K. are "shockingly high."
"We saw last night in Dublin," said agriculture researcher Alex Heffron, "a consequence of politicians spending years demonizing immigrants."
The first 24 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza were released Friday evening in exchange for 39 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.
The exchange came on the first day of a Qatari-brokered four-day cease-fire that is slated to see at least 50 Israeli hostages exchanged for at least 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israel. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the pause would be extended a day for every additional 10 hostages released.
"It's a sign of hope for Palestinians and Israelis that the cease-fire will continue and the killing will stop," Mohammed Khatib, who watched the release of the first Palestinian prisoners Friday, toldBBC News.
"I'm very happy of course, but I feel devastated by how that deal was reached… at the cost of our brothers' and sisters' lives in Gaza."
The pause in the fighting has also allowed much needed aid trucks to enter Gaza. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 200 aid trucks were sent from Israel Friday, of which 137 were unloaded by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, U.N. Newsreported. It's the largest convey of aid to enter Gaza since Israel's bombardment began October 7.
"Hundreds of thousands of people were assisted with food, water, medical supplies and other essential humanitarian items," OCHA said.
Four trucks full of gas and 129,000 liters of fuel also arrived in Gaza Friday.
However, Hamas has reportedly delayed the release of more hostages Saturday because it says Israel is not allowing aid to enter northern Gaza, Al Jazeera reported. The group said Israel had also violated the terms of the cease-fire by shooting tear gas and live ammunition at people who attempted to return to their homes in northern Gaza and by flying surveillance drones high over Gaza Saturday.
Hamas took around 240 hostages—both Israelis and foreign nationals—into Gaza during its October 7 attack on Israel that also killed around 1,200 people. On Friday, the group released 13 Israelis, including an 85-year-old woman and children as young as 2, as well as 10 Thai nationals and one person from the Philippines, The Guardian reported.
"Each of them is an entire world," Netanyahu said in response to the first release. "But I emphasize… we are committed to returning all the hostages. This is one of the aims of the war and we are committed to achieving all the aims of the war."
The families of the Thai hostages celebrated their return.
"We are all very happy. Everybody is crying," Rungarun Wichangern, the brother of 33-year-old Vetoon Phoome who was released Friday, toldThe Guardian.
Phoome, who was working on a potato and pomegranate farm near Gaza when he was captured, was one of 30,000 Thai nationals working in the agricultural sector in Israel before the war, and one of around 5,000 employed at farms near Gaza. The Thai government said that 20 more Thai nationals were still being held in Gaza.
The one Philippines hostage released was 33-year-old Gelienor "Jimmy" Pacheco, who had been working as a carer in Gaza. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said on social media that he was "overjoyed" by Pacheco's release, and that he was safely at the Thai embassy in Israel.
"I salute the work of the Philippine Foreign Service in securing his release, and once again thank the State of Qatar for their invaluable assistance in making Jimmy's release possible," Marcos said.
Another Philippine woman, Noralyn Babadilla, remains missing.
Meanwhile, jubilant crowds turned out in the West Bank to welcome the first Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli custody, according to BBC News. The group included 24 women and 15 teenage boys. They had been arrested for offenses ranging from stone throwing to attempted murder. While some had been convicted, others were awaiting trial. Of a total of 300 Palestinian women and children marked by Israel for potential release, less than 25% have been convicted.
Israel holds around 8,000 Palestinians in its prisons, 3,000 of whom were detained since the October 7 attacks, Al Jazeera reported. Nearly every family in the West Bank has had a relative detained at one point, according to BBC News.
The NGO Palestinian Prisoners' Club said that Israel had told the families of released prisoners that they could be fined around 70,000 shekels ($18,740) for sharing sweets to celebrate their loved ones' return, speaking to reporters, or having guests over.
One of the Palestinian prisoners released was 24-year-old Marah Bakeer, who was 16 when she was arrested for allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli soldier, something she and her family deny. Israeli forces shot her in the arm and hand 12 times before her arrest.
"I'm very happy of course, but I feel devastated by how that deal was reached… at the cost of our brothers' and sisters' lives in Gaza," Bakeer said.
The Israeli attack on Gaza has killed more than 14,800 people, around 10,000 of them women and children. This means Israel has killed women and children at a rate that outstrips the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century, The New York Times reported Saturday. More than double the number of women and children have been killed in Gaza in nearly two months of fighting than have been reported killed in Ukraine in two years. Using women and children as a conservative stand-in for overall civilian deaths would mean more civilians have died during these two months than were killed by U.S. forces in the first year of the Iraq War, and nearly as many as the 12,400 estimated killed by the U.S. and its allies during nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan.
"It's beyond anything that I've seen in my career," Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon senior intelligence analyst who now advises the Dutch organization PAX, told the Times, adding that, for a comparison, one may "have to go back to Vietnam, or the Second World War."
The bombardment has also destroyed or damaged more than 60,000 buildings, and some Gazans used the pause in the fighting to return to their homes and survey the damage.
"Our home is destroyed, nothing remains standing. And most of the ducks and chickens were eaten by hungry street dogs," one older woman toldAl Jazeera. "This is not a war; it is a genocide."
"Less than $1,000 per child," said one critic. "For one of the biggest franchises on Earth."
McDonald's, one of the largest employers in the world, was fined just $26,000—a tiny fraction of its profits—on Monday for violating child labor laws in Pennsylvania, with two franchisees found to be violating numerous rules in five stores.
The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division found that Paul and Meghan Sweeney, owners of a company called Endor, which runs five McDonald's locations, employed 34 children who were 14 and 15 years old.
The employers scheduled the teenagers to work outside the times that 14- and 15-year-olds are legally permitted to work, including during school hours, earlier than 7:00 am and 7:00 pm during the school year, and more than three hours on a school day.
Writer and organizer Joshua P. Hill said the $26,000 fine—amounting to less than $1,000 per child who was affected by the Sweeneys' employment practices—was "not even a slap on the wrist," especially considering that the $200 billion multinational fast food company is one of the world's largest companies.
John DuMont, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Western Pennsylvania, said in a statement that the Sweeneys employed young teenagers "at the expense of their education or well-being."
"Fast food restaurants offer young workers an opportunity to gain valuable work experience," said DuMont. "The Fair Labor Standards Act allows for developmental experiences but restricts the work hours of 14- and 15-year-olds and provides for penalties when employers do not follow the law."
Earlier this year, the DOL found that three McDonald's stores in Kentucky were illegally employing more than 300 children—some as young as 10. A coalition of McDonald's shareholders demanded a third-party human rights assessment in June, citing the Kentucky case and that of a 15-year-old employee in Tennessee who was injured at work.
The AFL-CIO pointed out that the violations at stores in Brookville, Clarion, Punxsutawney, and St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, took place amid a right-wing push to roll back child labor laws.
With the backing of powerful conservative donors like Richard Uihlein, lawmakers in Florida, Iowa, Arkansas have pushed legislation to weaken child labor protections in recent months. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed a bill in May removing so-called "unnecessary restrictions" that keep minors from working in hazardous workplaces, and GOP Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill in March allowing companies to hire children under the age of 16 without verifying their age.
The finding at the Pennsylvania McDonald's locations serves as a reminder that "any lawmaker who votes to roll back child labor laws is a disgrace," said the AFL-CIO.
The fine announced on Monday only represents "two ten-thousandths of a single percent" of McDonald's gross profits in 2022, said the labor group.
In a letter to Chemours, the experts said they were worried about the company's "apparent disregard for the well-being of community members, who have been denied access to clean and safe water for decades."
United Nations human rights experts have expressed concerns over "alleged human rights violations and abuses" against people living along the lower Cape Fear River in North Carolina due emissions of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from a Fayetteville chemical plant.
Five U.N. experts signed letters to Chemours—the plant's current operator—as well as DuPont, Corteva, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Dutch environmental regulators. The action marks the U.N. Human Rights Council's first investigation into an environmental problem in the U.S., The Guardianreported Tuesday.
"We are especially concerned about DuPont and Chemours' apparent disregard for the well-being of community members, who have been denied access to clean and safe water for decades," the U.N. experts wrote in the letter to Chemours.
"We hope the U.N.'s action will induce shareholders to bring DuPont and Chemours in line with international human rights law."
The Fayetteville Works manufacturing plant has been releasing toxic PFAS into the environment for more than four decades, according to the allegations detailed in the letter. PFAS dumped in the Cape Fear River have made it unsafe to drink for 100 river miles, and pollution from the plant has contaminated air, soil, groundwater, and aquatic life.
PFAS are a class of chemicals used in a variety of products from nonstick, water-repellent, or stain-resistant items to firefighting foam. They have been linked to a number of health issues including cancers and have earned the name "forever chemicals" for their ability to persist in the environment and the human body. One study found PFAS in 97% of local residents who received testing.
The letter also repeated allegations that DuPont, the plant's previous owner, and Chemours, a spinoff company, had not taken responsibility for cleaning up the local environment and compensating community members, and that DuPont had known about the dangers of PFAS for several years, but chose to hide this information from the public.
"We remain preoccupied that these actions infringe on community members' right to life, right to health, right to a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment, and the right to clean water, among others," the U.N. experts wrote.
The letters were sent in response to a request made in April by Berkeley Law's Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of local environmental advocacy group Clean Cape Fear. In the request, the groups said the matter was particularly urgent because Chemours plans to expand its making of PFAS at the plant.
The U.N. experts, or special rapporteurs, reviewed existing legal and scientific documents and media reports, rather than completing their own investigation, NC Newsline reported. They sent the letters in September, but made them public on Thanksgiving, 60 days later, according to Clean Cape Fear. During that time, Chemours, Corteva, and the Dutch regulator responded, but DuPont and the EPA did not.
"We are grateful to see the United Nations take action on behalf of all residents in our region suffering from decades of human rights abuse related to our PFAS contamination crisis," Clean Cape Fear co-founder Emily Donovan said in a statement. "Clearly, the U.N. recognizes international law is being violated in the United States. We find it profoundly troubling that the United States and DuPont have yet to respond to the U.N.'s allegation letters."
Clean Cape Fear called Chemours' response "classic corporate gaslighting." Chemours claimed to be "a relatively new company," despite being staffed by senior DuPont executives, focused mainly on the PFAS GenX despite the presence of several other pollutants, and focused on the impacts on private well owners, ignoring public utility customers who must pay to filter their own water because of PFAS contamination. However, the letter did acknowledge that Chemours knew about the PFAS pollution before the public learned of it in 2017 and tried to both resolve it internally and prevent the public from finding out.
"If corporate malfeasance had a name in N.C., it would be Chemours," said Rebecca Trammel, leadership team member of Clean Cape Fear and founder of Catalyst Consulting & Speaking. "Impunity is the accomplice of injustice. It is the obligation of governments and regulatory agencies to ensure that innovation, economic gain, and progress are in service of humanity, not at its expense. I extend my deepest thanks to the United Nations for its defense of our right to safe water and life itself."
The letter to the EPA focused in part on its failure to study the health impacts of PFAS exposure on the community, while the letter to the Netherlands focused on imports of GenX from that country to Fayetteville Works.
Clean Cape Fear said it hopes the letters will put pressure on both the private companies and the government regulators to act.
"We hope the U.N.'s action will induce shareholders to bring DuPont and Chemours in line with international human rights law," the group tweeted, noting that both companies are publicly traded.
"We also hope that the risk of being named a violator of international human rights laws will give the U.S. EPA the political courage to do what it must to curb toxic PFAS pollution in North Carolina and nationwide," the group added.
"Chairman Comer's insistence that Hunter Biden's interview should happen behind closed doors proves it once again. What the Republicans fear most is sunlight and the truth," said Rep. Jamie Raskin.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin on Tuesday issued a scathing statement mocking Republicans on the House Oversight Committee after the GOP chair of the panel rejected Hunter Biden's offer to testify publicly next month as part of an ongoing impeachment probe into his father, President Joe Biden.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who leads the oversight committee, accused Hunter Biden of "trying to play by his own rules instead of following the rules required of everyone else."
"Our lawfully issued subpoena to Hunter Biden requires him to appear for a deposition on December 13," Comer said in a statement, adding that the president's son could get a chance to testify publicly at an unspecified "future date."
Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said in response that "after wailing and moaning for ten months about Hunter Biden and alluding to some vast unproven family conspiracy, after sending Hunter Biden a subpoena to appear and testify, Chairman Comer and the oversight Republicans now reject his offer to appear before the full committee and the eyes of the world and to answer any questions that they pose?"
"What an epic humiliation for our colleagues and what a frank confession that they are simply not interested in the facts and have no confidence in their own case or the ability of their own members to pursue it," said Raskin. "After the miserable failure of their impeachment hearing in September, Chairman Comer has now apparently decided to avoid all committee hearings where the public can actually see for itself the logical, rhetorical, and factual contortions they have tied themselves up in."
"The evidence has shown time and again President Biden has committed no wrongdoing, much less an impeachable offense," Raskin added. "Chairman Comer's insistence that Hunter Biden's interview should happen behind closed doors proves it once again. What the Republicans fear most is sunlight and the truth."
Hunter Biden's offer to appear publicly before the House Oversight Committee came in a letter that his attorney, Abbe Lowell, wrote to Comer. The push for a public appearance stems from concerns that Republicans would selectively leak any closed-door testimony.
"Your empty investigation has gone on too long wasting too many better-used resources. It should come to an end," the letter reads. "Consequently, Mr. Biden will appear at such a public hearing on the date you noticed, December 13, or any date in December that we can arrange."
"If, as you claim, your efforts are important and involve issues that Americans should know about," the letter adds, "then let the light shine on these proceedings."