Posts Tagged ‘al jazeera’

What Killed Arafat?

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

For me, the principal importance of this documentary series is that it exposes whitewashing by the western media of the death of Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat.

I vaguely recall the 2012 BBC report on the Palestinian Authority decision to exhume Arafat’s body, based on evidence of polonium poisoning in his personal effects. After watching this two-part documentary, I now realize the western reporting was total disinformation.

Among the most important facts the film brings out:

  • The Palestinian Authority, believing from the outset that Arafat had been poisoned, begged the Bush administration to prevail on Israel to provide them an antidote. Years earlier they forced Israel to give them an antidote after bodyguards captured the Mossad agent who poisoned the leader of Hamas.
  • It was Al Jazeera itself that undertook, at the behest of his widow, a forensic investigation into Arafat’s death. They approached the Swiss University Center for Legal Medicine, whose scientists discovered high levels of radioactive polonium 210 in his hospital clothing.
  • It was the Palestinian Authority, rather than Arafat’s widow as reported in the western media, that refused to agree to an autopsy. This procedure is routine under French law (Arafat died in a Paris hospital) when the cause of death is unknown.
  • Arafat didn’t die of a stroke, as reported in western media. He died of Diffuse Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), a condition of whole body clotting triggered by a catastrophic medical condition such as leukemia, cancer, infection, HIV or poisoning.

At the time Arafat developed his mystery illness, he was living under siege in a two room apartment surrounded by ruble in bombed out Ramallah. The Israeli government had leveled the Palestinian Authority complex as part of a regime change exercise undertaken jointly by the Bush administration and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Arafat was in excellent health when he suddenly became violently ill (after a meal) with a mystery illness of four weeks duration. His French doctors tested him for a number of known poisonings. The possibility of polonium poisoning didn’t occur to anyone until it was used to assassinate Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Part I

Part 2

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

People and Power – Out of the Shadows

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Out of the Shadows celebrates the hard work of third world activists who have dedicated their lives to bringing mental health care to their countries. It presents a striking contrast to the neglect and abuse the mentally ill experience in the US.

Globally half a billion people suffer from mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar illness and schizophrenia – more than all AIDS, malaria and TB cases combined. Yet owing to profound stigma, publicly funded mental health services are virtually non-existent in many third world countries. India, for example, spends less than 1% of their health budget on mental health. And in Togo, mentally ill men and women are chained to trees.

The documentary highlights activist-created programs providing free mental health services (funded by private European and Canadian donors) in India, Benin, Ivory Cost, Burkina Faso and Jordan.

Begging for Life

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Begging for Life is an Al Jazeera documentary contrasting begging in Manila (Philippines) and Malmo (Sweden).

The segment on Manila, where begging is illegal but tolerated, the beggars are children. Many are parentless and homeless. Except during global conferences, such as APEC, when police arrest them and lock them up.

The Swedish beggars profiled are Roma* migrants unable to find work in Eastern Europe. Many of the women are single mothers who send the money they earn begging home to family members caring for their children.

Although begging is technically legal in Sweden, the Roma migrants face ruthless harassment by local authorities.


*Roma refers to people of Romani ethnicity. English-speaking people commonly refer to them by the ethnic slur “gypsy.”

With the US, Britain, France and Russia rapidly escalating military aggression against Syria, I thought it would be useful to look back at this Al Jazeera documentary from 2004. Al Jazeera analysts were the first to predict (2003) that the US and their allies would lose the war in Iraq.

The Control Room – Propaganda of the Iraq War

Directed by Jehane Noujaim (2004)

Film Review

The Control Room is about the Qatar TV network Al Jazeera and their coverage of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. It alternates between footage of the Doha control room and the US Central Command media center. Highlights include vignettes of US officials condemning Al Jazeera for showing footage of civilian casualties and dead and captured Americans.

Because of the Pentagon’s tight control over US media, Al Jazeera was the only mainstream outlet to address the issue of civilian or GI deaths.

Al Jazeera was first launched in 1996 and several Arab countries banned it for criticizing their regimes. In 2003, they would broadcast coverage of the US invasion to 40 million Arab viewers, eventually becoming the most popular Arab TV station.

Their analysts would also be the first to predict (in 2003) that the US had “miscalculated” by invading Iraq – that the Iraqi resistance would eventually defeat the occupation.

The commentary by Al Jazeera senior producer Samir Khader is definitely the high point of the film, especially his discussion of the importance of propaganda in war. I was really surprised by his strenuous efforts to balance pro-US and pro-Iraqi propaganda.

I was astounded by his comment that he would take a job at Fox News if they offered it to him – to “trade the Arab nightmare for the American dream.” He speaks openly about his plans to send his children to the US to study.

The most heart-wrenching part of the film involves the deliberate assassination (via a US missile) of Al Jazeera reporter Tarek Ayyoub as he was broadcasting from the roof of the Al Jazeera building in Baghdad. His death would result the first of many anti-occupation protest marches.

The Secret of the Seven Sisters

Al Jazeera English (2013)

Film Review

Despite its length, this documentary should be compulsory viewing. Everyone with an IQ over 90 should see it at least once before they die. It was only in viewing this film that I fully grasped the insane, oil-inspired military aggression in the third world and the US fascination with despotic dictators.

The video below is actually an 8-part series shown over successive nights on Al Jazeera-English. I’ve summarized the highlights of each of the eight parts so you can fast forward to specific segments that interest you.

0.00 – 23.26

Part 1 takes viewers from the founding of the secret Seven Sisters oil cartel in 1928 to the creation of the competing Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960. The latter is made up of oil producing countries that have nationalized their oil industries.*

The film begins by describing the secret (illegal) cartel formed in 1928 by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which became British Petroleum), Standard Oil (which became Exxon) and Royal Dutch Shell. The goal was to end the cutthroat competition that was eating into profits. At a secret meeting in Scotland the three companies agreed to an orderly division of global production zones, as well as a process for fixing oil prices.

Later Mobil, Gulf, Texico and Chevron would join these three oil giants. The existence of the cartel remained secret until the 1950s, when it became known as the Seven Sisters.

This segment describes the totalitarian control BP exercised over Iran until 1951. A strike for higher wages led to a national uprising that overthrew the Shah and resulted in the democratic election of Mohammad Mosadegh as president. When the latter threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, the British government requested CIA assistance to overthrow Mosadegh and restore the Shah to the throne. In return, the US government won the right for American oil companies to join BP in exploiting Iran’s oil resources.

In July 1956 after Egyptian president Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal (the main route for transporting Middle East oil to Europe), Britain, France and Israel declared war on Egypt. Nasser responded to an aerial bombing campaign by using concrete bunkers to blockade all Suez traffic. For once, the US and USSR collaborated to pressure the three aggressors to withdraw their forces and restore the transit of oil tankers through the canal.

23.26 – 46.00

Part 2 traces how the rise of OPEC worked to gradually erode the dominance of the Seven sisters – with violent repercussions.

In 1972 Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil industry, with technical and military support from the Soviets and the French.

By October 1973, when Israel’s Arab neighbors launched the Yum Kippur War, OPEC members controlled 60% of the global oil supply. This enabled them to launch an oil embargo against the US in retaliation for their support of Israel in the 1973 conflict.

In 1978 Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, living in exile in Paris, called for a workers strike in the Iranian oil industry that caused a total shutdown of oil production. This, in turn, led the US to abandon their longtime support of the Shah and his secret police. The result was a national uprising, the forced exile of the Shah, the return of Ayatollah and the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry.

Determined to regain American corporate control of Iran’s oil industry, the US government backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq in 1980. The sudden onset of peace in 1988 led to a period of “overproduction” and a dangerous drop in oil prices. In response, George Bush senior, whose Zapata oil company had made a fortune via offshore drilling in Kuwait, openly encouraged Saddam Hussein (through ambassador April Glaspie) to invade Kuwait. This would create a pretext for the first US invasion of Iraq in 1991.

In May 2001 (20 months before the US invasion), a secret energy task force headed by former oil executives Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, drew up a plan whereby Exxon, Shell and BP would divide up US occupied Iraq into eight oil extraction zones.

48.00 – 61.00

Part 3 describes the decision by the Seven Sisters to open up Africa to increasing oil exploitation due to their gradual loss of control over Middle East oil.

In 1970, Colonel Omar Gaddafi led a coup against a corrupt Libyan monarchy that was allowing the Seven Sisters to pay 12 cents a barrel in royalties to extract high quality Libyan oil. Gaddafi immediately nationalized the oil industry, raised oil prices 33% and used the funds to finance generous public services for the Libyan world and to fund freedom fighters all over the world (including the Palestinians).

This section also traces the history of the French oil companies ELF and Total in Nigeria. After Algeria won independence from France in 1971, they nationalized their oil industry, and ELF began exploiting oil resources in Nigeria, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, and Angola, where they financed guerrillas and despotic regimes and participated in bribery and embezzlement schemes that massively increased the international indebtedness of these countries. In 2003 the CEO of ELF was sentenced to prison and the company was bought out by Total.

61.00 – 95.00

Part 4 covers the role of the Seven Sisters in stoking Sudan’s civil war (most of Sudan’s oil comes from South Sudan) and the role of Shell Oil Company in Nigeria’s trial and execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

95.00 – 118.00

Part 5 traces the longstanding battle between Russia and the US oil industry over control of the Baku oilfields on the Caspian Sea. It begins with Lenin’s capture of the oilfields in 1920. Hitler’s primary reason for attacking the USSR in 1941 was to gain control over Baku.

This section also details how a US-Saudi conspiracy to flood the market with oil in the late eighties (dropping the global oil price to $13) ultimately led to the Soviet collapse in 1989. At the time revenue from oil sales was the Soviet’s sole source of foreign currency.

118.00 – 142.00

Part 6 concerns the role of the color revolutions in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in keeping Caspian Sea oil out of Russian hands and under the control of US oil companies.

It briefly discusses the US role in Boris Yeltsin’s coup against the Russian parliament and his privatization of the Russian oil industry on behalf of the Seven sisters and a handful of Russian oligarchs (Putin has subsequently re-nationalized Russia’s oil industry).

142.00 -165.00

Part 7 discusses the concept of Peak Oil and the current dispute between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government over the control of the Bakr oil terminal near Bazra. At present it’s illegal for the Kurds to export their own oil. Eighty-five percent of Iraqi oil is processed at the Bakr oil terminal and Iraqi Kurdistan on receives 17% of this revenue.

165.00 – 190.00

Part 8 is about the Seven Sisters exploitation of Mexican and Venezuelan oil prior to the election of Hugo Chavez as president. It also summarizes that status of the countries (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil, and Malaysia) that have nationalized their oil industry. At present these countries control one-third of oil and gas production, and more than one-third of oil reserves. Despite their role in instigating western military aggression, the influence of the Seven Sisters continues to declines.

At present they control 10% of oil production and only 3% of oil reserves. Their monopoly on exploration, drilling and refining technology gives them disproportionate control over the industry.


*Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela

Radical Architecture

Al Jazeera (2014)

Film Review

Rebel Architecture is a six-part Al Jazeera documentary series about architects who are using their skills to serve the public good rather than wealthy corporations.

Part 1 is about a Spanish architects collective that works with activist collectives loosely connected with Spain’s anti-austerity movement. Thanks to the Spanish government’s severe austerity measures and public service cuts, activist collectives have assumed major responsibility for social welfare. Occupation of public and abandoned spaces is a key tactic. The role of the architects collective is to help activists construct safe buildings in these spaces from cheap and recycled materials. In most cases the structures are unpermitted and technically illegal.

Part 2 is about Pakistan’s first woman architect and her role in helping poor Pakistani communities devastated by floods and earthquakes to rebuild flood and earthquake proof homes as cheaply as possible. Unsurprisingly she discovered that traditional building materials, such as mud bricks, lime and bamboo, are a key to the solution.

Part 3 is about an Israeli architect in the West Bank who studies the “intersection” between architecture and violence. He gives a fascinating presentation describing how the Israeli government uses architecture as a weapon against the Palestinians. This includes the deliberate layout of Israeli settlements in such a way that they strangulate Palestinian communities. And the deliberate use of bulldozers in dense urban communities as an instrument of war.

Part 4 is about Nigerian architect and urbanist Kunle Adeyemi, who works with illegal floating communities to design and build (unpermitted) floating schools and community centers.

Part 5 is about the Vietnamese architect Va Tron Nghia, who has dedicated his life to creating more green spaces in Ho Chi Minh city and building cheap durable homes for peasant farmers in the Mekong Delta. Owing to recurrent flooding, typical Delta homes last only three to four years. The film shows Nghia and local residents building a $4,000 bamboo house for a family of four.

Part 6 (my favorite) is about a pedreiro (Portuguese for stone mason) in Rocinha, the largest favella in South America – located in Rio De Janeiro. All the housing in Rocinha, population 180,000, is unpermitted and illegal. The Brazilian government turns a blind eye to all this illegal building because they need the cheap labor and have no resources to build public housing. This last segment shows how Rocinha residents organized to demand a sewage system to replace the open sewer in their streets. Instead the Brazilian government built a cable car for the benefit of tourists attending the 2014 Brazilian World Cup and the 2016 Brazilian Olympics. It was largely angry Rocinha residents who instigated the mass protests before and during the World Cup. Though the protests were widely reported in the corporate media, there was no mention of Rocinha residents’ ongoing struggle to remove the sewer of human excrement from their streets.