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Hamas: How Israel Created Its Own Nemesis

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Hamas, like all resistance groups, from the African National Congress to The Irish Republic Army, are as demonized as they are misunderstood. Hamas is a religious, nationalist political movement. It is not, despite what Israel and Washington say, a terrorist organization—although, like most resistance groups (including the Jewish militias that created the state of Israel), it has used terrorism as a tactic. Because those on the outside do not understand what went into making Hamas—the steady drip of humiliation, violence, and impoverishment that define Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinians—Hamas and its ideology appear incomprehensible. But from the Palestinian perspective, Israel has left the Palestinians with no other choice. Journalist and historian Paola Caridi, author of Hamas: From Resistance to Regimejoins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the roots and nature of Hamas, and what we miss when we unthinkingly cast Hamas as nothing more than a terrorist organization.

Studio Production: David Hebden
Post-Production: Adam Coley


Transcript

Chris Hedges:  Hamas, like all resistance groups, from the African National Congress to the Irish Republican Army, is demonized and misunderstood. Hamas is not, despite what Israel and Washington say, a terrorist organization, although, like most resistance groups, including the Jewish militias that created the state of Israel, it has used terrorism as a tactic. Hamas is a religious, nationalist, political movement. It does not hold the Palestinians in Gaza hostage. It has broad, popular support among Palestinians, largely because of the failure of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, to deliver the promises made by Israel in the Oslo Accords. But it also has popular support because of its dogged resistance to the Israeli attack on Gaza. Indeed, since the Israeli attacks it has become lionized throughout the Muslim world. The ferocity of the Israeli violence against Hamas, including the routine assassination and imprisonment of its leadership, has failed to dismantle the organization.

To outsiders, the intransigence of Hamas – In its 1988 charter called for Israel’s destruction, carried out suicide bombings in Israeli cities, as well as firing rockets into Israel, along with the incursion that left some 1,200 Israelis dead – Is dismissed by Israel and Washington as evidence of the group’s fanaticism. Because those on the outside do not understand what went into making Hamas, the steady drip of humiliation, violence, and impoverishment that define Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, Hamas, and its ideology is certified as incomprehensible. But from the Palestinian perspective, Israel has left the Palestinians with no other choice. 

The secular Palestinian Authority, which nominally governs the occupied West Bank, has devolved into little more than a hated colonial police force. It has failed to blunt Israel’s slow-motion ethnic cleansing. Israel has steadily dispossessed more and more Palestinians from their homes and land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, seizing water resources. It uses indiscriminate violence to quell dissent. In short, by shutting the door to any peaceful resolution to the conflict, Israel created its own nemesis, the mirror image of an intransigent and brutal apartheid state.

Joining me to discuss the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, is journalist and historian Paola Caridi, author of Hamas: From Resistance to Regime. Let’s talk about the origins of Hamas. It comes out of the Muslim Brotherhood. You should explain what the Muslim Brotherhood was, and a little historical perspective because until 1967, Gaza in particular – And Hamas is a Gaza-based organization – Was controlled by Egypt.

Paola Caridi:  Hamas is the political branch of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, so I put two terms in our discussion: Hamas and the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. The Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, like the Muslim Brotherhood movements in the region, was and is a social religious organization very deeply inside the refugee camps in Gaza. And it is for a reason. Gaza was – I have to say was and not is – Home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians kicked out of their houses in Jaffa, Ashdod, and Ashkelon, and they had to create again a world, their world, their community.

The Muslim Brotherhood was one of the organizations that spread inside the refugee camps in Gaza, but not only in Gaza. It’s true Gaza is the stronghold of Hamas but Hamas and the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood is not only inside Gaza and is not only inside the West Bank, but is among the Palestinians abroad, out of Israel and Palestine. Hamas was born out of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, after a long discussion, as the political branch of a social-religious organization. And as many of the leaders and the activists said to me, not all the Muslim Brothers were Hamas, but all the Hamas people are from the Muslim Brotherhood. This is saying many things also about the Islamist movement and the fact that the Hamas movement was and is a very nationalist one.

Chris Hedges:  In the book you talk about the way future leaders of Hamas were educated, and acculturated by Egypt. I knew Abdel Aziz Rantisi, one of the co-founders of Hamas, as well as his wife. I know you interviewed her, a very impressive woman in her own right, who was assassinated by the Israelis at the very inception of this assault on Gaza. Rantisi studied at the university in Alexandria; I think he was the first in his class. Let’s talk a little bit, quickly, about what the Muslim Brotherhood was. With the rise of Nasser, this secular Pan-Arabist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood became a target. Tell us a little bit about the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood, and what its perspective was, and then I want to go into the birth of Hamas, which is tied directly to the first Palestinian uprising or Intifada.

Paola Caridi:  Yes. The Muslim Brotherhood was born in Egypt almost one century ago, so it’s not a movement that was born 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or 40 years ago. But it has a century not only of history but of changes as socio-religious, and in the case of Egypt, a political one. It is inside the so-called reformist Islamist movement, so it’s very different from the Jihadi ones and from the Salafi ones. Very pragmatic, very inside the reality, very deep inside the society. It’s not as hyper-fundamentalist as the Salafi movements are, as the Jihadis are.

At a certain point in its history, the Muslim Brotherhood decided not to use any more violent tools but to be inside, let’s say, a pacifist way of dealing with politics and the social issues inside the Egyptian arena. Almost the same thing as in the Tunisian context. It is different in Palestine because of the occupation. It’s not an independent country, it’s a territory under occupation. So the reaction inside the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood was to create a political branch that would also use, over the years, terrorist means.

Chris Hedges:  Let’s talk about the birth of Hamas which was a very politically pragmatic response to the Palestinian uprising.

Paola Caridi:  Yes. It was a very pragmatic response in the First Intifada. The birth of Hamas was in December 1987, specifically the beginning of the First Intifada. But we have to start a little bit before, in 1982, when the PLO was in crisis. The crisis was in Beirut, not in Israel-Palestine, when the PLO had to leave Beirut and go into another exile –

Chris Hedges:  Let me interrupt you. For people who don’t know, the Israelis occupied Beirut, rather savagely bombed whole sections of Beirut, and there was a deal cut that the Palestinians would be put on ships and sent into exile to Tunis. I used to interview Arafat in Tunis along with Abu Jihad and others. So that’s the crisis you’re referring to?

Paola Caridi:  – Yes. And the reaction of the Islamist [foreign language 00:11:33], so the Muslim Brothers and Hamas were not born in those days, but they were debating about a political branch. Hamas was also a reaction to the politics that the PLO followed over the years. They decided not to be involved in the internal matters of the countries that hosted them. It’s very clear that when the leadership of Hamas was in Damascus, they didn’t care about the destiny of the Syrian Muslim Brothers. They wanted to be hosted, but they didn’t want to deal with internal matters as the PLO did, both in Jordan and after that in the Lebanese Civil War. This was one of the decisions of the Islamists. After 1987, the birth of Hamas, and the decision of the PLO to recognize the state of Israel, Hamas opposed this idea and was the opposition inside the Palestinian political spectrum.

Chris Hedges:  Let’s talk about why they opposed it. They turned out to be right, of course. Arafat and the PLO were allowed to return, but as Hamas predicted, the Palestinians were betrayed. Explain the opposition of Hamas, their opposition, and what happened after the Oslo Agreement was signed and the PLO leadership returned to Gaza and the West Bank.

Paola Caridi:  But one of the reasons is inside the [foreign language 00:13:40], the foundational charter of Hamas, the destruction of Israel, or to say that Palestine is not in the hands of the people but it’s in the hands of God, and this is the Islamist part of Hamas. Then there is also a national nationalistic issue. What about the land of Palestine? What about recognizing Palestinians? This goes deep inside the refugees’ case because Arafat, who was a refugee himself, put aside the question of the refugees, and it’s not the case for Hamas. Hamas was born inside the refugee camps. Hamas is inside not only the refugee camps and the OPT, the Occupied Palestine Territory, but it’s outside. And this was not one of the core issues in the agreement between the PLO and Israel.

Chris Hedges:  Right. This is called the right of return. As you point out in the book because a disproportionate number of the people in Gaza are refugees or descended from refugees, and because Hamas’ base is probably found most predominantly in Gaza – Although it’s very popular in the West Bank, especially after Israel embarked on its genocide, that was non-negotiable – The way the PLO could sidestep the issue, that wasn’t something that Hamas was able to do, given its base of support.

Paola Caridi:  Yes. And we see today that the attack against UNRWA is also an attack against the Palestinian question as the UNRWA owns the registry of the refugees and the descendants of the refugees. So it’s really a core issue in the Palestinian question that – I say as analysts, journalists also – We put aside for a long time and came up again in these weeks and months.

Chris Hedges:  UNRWA is the UN organization that provides assistance to Palestinians; Not just food, but schools. And in places like Gaza and the diaspora, Israel accused the UN organization of UNRWA of being infiltrated by Hamas. And this saw many countries including the US, the UK, and others, cut off their support of UNRWA, which is only accelerating the starvation and the famine within Gaza. And that has been accompanied by the blockage of humanitarian assistance all backed up in the Sinai, in Egypt at the border, and the border crossing at Rafah.

Paola Caridi:  Yes. And UNRWA is not only in Gaza. It helps almost six million people.

Chris Hedges:  Hamas is born as a distinct organization with the First Intifada. It’s in opposition to the PLO. Talk quickly about the collapse of the credibility of the PLO as Israel does not follow through on the promises made in the Oslo Agreement to create a separate state. And then I want to talk about the elections that brought Hamas to power.

Paola Caridi:  Hamas also represented the people inside the Palestinian Occupied Territory, and PLO was in exile. The First Intifada was an intifada from the internal camp, not from the exile. And then the PLO, in exile, jumped on the Intifada and the Oslo process started its path. Hamas represented the part of the internal camp and this is a differentiation that we have to underline. The confrontation between Hamas and the PLO, especially Fatah and Arafat, was very strong and very deep. It went very deep inside the history of Palestinian politics and resistance over the years. In those years, Hamas decided also to use terrorism. It started in 1994 after the Hebron massacre and was done by a settler, Baruch Goldstein.

Chris Hedges:  Let’s stop there. That Hebron massacre, which I covered for The New York Times, was a turning point. Let’s explain what happened and why it was a turning point before we go on.

Paola Caridi:  Baruch Goldstein was a settler from a settlement close to Hebron – Khalil for the Palestinians – And he killed almost 30 people inside the mosque. Inside the mosque. The Ibrahimi Mosque is the most important in Palestine. Then he was killed by the faithful people. They were praying during the Ramadan. It was not only a shock, but for the city of Khalil/Hebron, that tragic moment is still in the memory of the community. The period of mourning for the Palestinians and Muslim people lasts 40 days. After 40 days, there was the first suicide attack in Hadera, inside Israel, done by a terrorist from the Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas. I will differentiate between the armed wing, in that moment, and the military wing, right now in these days and months.

It was the beginning of a tragic era of suicide attacks inside buses, inside coffee shops, and against civilians, inside Israel. But not just the Qassam Brigades; The armed wing of Hamas did suicide attacks, and it has to be underlined. It finished when Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and all the Palestinian factions signed an agreement in Cairo, in March 2005, suspending the suicide attacks and the terrorist attacks. And paving the way for the political elections of 2006 and the presidential elections of Abu Mazen as the new president of the Palestinian authority.

Chris Hedges:  These elections are important because they’re heavily monitored by the international community. Hamas runs its slate of candidates. It’s certified as a free and fair election. This is 2006. And then what happens?

Paola Caridi:  If I may add, not only was it heavily monitored by the international community, it was supported by the international community, and even Israel gave the permit to the Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote for those elections. Nobody asked Hamas to recognize Israel before participating in the elections. This is an important point because ambiguously, Hamas recognized the Palestinian Authority in participating in the elections for the parliament of the Palestinian authority. This was a big change inside Hamas, voted by the majority of the activists, and the people of Hamas internally voted.

After that, the problem was Hamas won the elections. The international community, Israel, and even Hamas thought that it could gain many votes to be a stronger opposition inside the parliament, but none of the actors or Hamas expected Hamas to win the elections. It was a big success. This changed the attitude of Hamas, Fatah, and the international community. It means that the international community and Israel decided a factual embargo against the government run by Hamas.

After a few months, there was a split inside the Palestinian political arena and Hamas did a coup in Gaza in June 2007. Fatah and the PA controlled – We know that they didn’t control that much – The West Bank. After that, Israel decided to seal the Gaza Strip and detach the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Occupied Territory. The split of the unity of the territory is the core issue nowadays because, since the beginning, since 2007, this division between the West Bank and Gaza was the death of the idea of a State of Palestine.

Chris Hedges:  This was supported by Bibi Netanyahu, who saw this split as furthering his aims to prevent a Palestinian state. Indeed, I remember, I was there in Gaza when Hamas first emerged. And while it’s probably not correct to say that in any way – As you point out in your book, Hamas is a creation of Israel as some have charged – The Israelis who were still inside Gaza at the time would carry out far harsher forms of repression against Fatah or the PLO than they would carry out in the beginning against the Hamas figures because they mistakenly saw these divisions within the Palestinian leadership as advantageous. Can you talk about that?

Paola Caridi:  Yes, it’s true. Many are saying these months that Hamas was a creation of Israel. It’s not right for both parties, for Israel, and for Hamas. Hamas is deep inside the Palestinian society and Israel was very repressive against Hamas, especially after 1989, even 1988, 1989, 1992, and 1994 when there were waves of repression by leaders and activists of Hamas. And then it started the tragic era of the assassinations, the extrajudicial killings of the leaders of Hamas. The result was not the result Israel expected. If you think about 2004, it was a very important year. Israel killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004. A month later, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.

Chris Hedges:  These were the co-founders of Hamas.

Paola Caridi:  The co-founders, yes. A year and a half after Hamas won the elections. The extrajudicial killings didn’t have the result of cutting the head off the snake therefore killing the snake. What Netanyahu did in the most recent years was detach Gaza from the West Bank and try to over-cross the Palestinians as protagonists of a negotiation. Gaza is an open-air prison. The PA was very weak inside the West Bank. So what was the solution, according to Netanyahu? To call some Arab states to normalize the situation in the region, without the Palestinians; No Palestinians at the negotiating table. This is not the way to reach a viable solution, peace, respect, and dignity, and the result is what we see now.

Chris Hedges:  We should be clear that Sisi overthrew a Muslim Brotherhood government. There’s been terrible repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Egyptian government has a deep hostility, not only to the Muslim Brotherhood but to Hamas as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has been working quite closely with Israel. As we speak, it’s building an alternative open-air prison for what we assume will be Palestinians pushed out of Gaza. But we should talk a little bit about the regional response to the rise of Hamas within the Arab world. Then I want to talk about October 7 and what has happened since.

Paola Caridi:  The reaction in the Arab region was different according to the periods we are talking about. The leadership of Hamas moved from one place to another according to the support it received – From Kuwait to Jordan to Syria – And after the Arab revolutions and the counter-revolutions to Turkey, to Qatar. After the Egyptian revolution, Mousa Abu Marzook, one of the leaders of Hamas, moved to Cairo for a period of time. But it was a short period because of the coup of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and the annihilation of the Egyptian revolution, of the Thawrat. The Arab region has different relations with Hamas: In a way, pragmatic and strongly opposed to Hamas. But it depends on which period of time we are talking about.

Egypt, the patron and the mediator in all the issues regarding the Palestinian arena, is pro-Fatah and against Hamas, but it’s also a pragmatic actor. We see nowadays how pragmatic it is on the negotiation of the ceasefire, the release of the hostages, and the Palestinian prisoners inside the Israeli jails; but regarding the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, it’s a process like all the processes in the Middle East: Lasting years and years and years without a result.

Chris Hedges:  Let’s talk about October 7. How did you read about what happened on October 7?

Paola Caridi:  This is a very tough and difficult question. It’s my headache, as I suppose it’s the headache of many among us. It underlines a division between Hamas inside Gaza and Hamas outside Gaza. The balance of power inside Hamas moved and changed a lot in these years when Gaza was an open-air prison administered and controlled by Hamas. When I say Hamas, I say especially the part of Hamas inside Gaza. Many of the leaders moved from Gaza to safe havens abroad and the personality of Yahya Sinwar gained power over the years since his release in 2011.

Chris Hedges:  Okay, let me stop you there. In the book you have a fascinating dissection of the power structure within Hamas, including its decentralization of authority – Which is why Israel’s not been able to decapitate it – But there’s also a stark division between the political branch and the internal security branch. So, before you go on, explain how that works.

Paola Caridi:  Hamas is a political movement with a very strong structure, but a decentralized one, in four constituencies. The four constituencies are very strange when seen from a European or a Western perspective. They are the territory – So there is the constituency of Hamas in Gaza, in the West Bank, abroad – The refugee camps, the diaspora, but there is also a constituency inside the prison. When we think about prisons, we don’t think about political activity inside the prison. But in the case of the Palestinian prisoners, they continue to be political actors inside the prison, and this was the case of Hamas.

Over the years, and especially in the most recent years, there has been another shadow constituency which is the military one. I say the military one because there was and there is an armed wing of Hamas, the Qassam Brigades. And since the beginning, there was an armed wing; From 2007, until now, Hamas started to be the power inside Gaza – The power, the administration, and also the armed force, the Qassam Brigade; I assume they became the military wing. There was a militarization of the armed wing and this means that it gained a very strong political influence in defining the political structure. 

Who will win in the internal elections of Hamas? That was the case in the last internal elections and the figure of Yahya Sinwar emerging as the leader of Hamas – Not of all Hamas, but at least of Hamas in Gaza. It meant also not a split but a distance between Hamas in Gaza and the leaderships abroad because there are different sensibilities among the leaderships abroad. Not only in Doha, there is a leadership also in Beirut.

Chris Hedges:  Okay, let’s talk about October 7 and your take on what happened.

Paola Caridi:  Through the journalistic reports, only a few people in Gaza decided the October 7 attack in Israel, by the Qassam Brigades and Al-Quds Brigades, is linked to the Islamic Jihad. A lot of people went off of the fence on October 7. What was the goal of October 7? It was very clear in the document that Hamas published, some months after October 7. That means they wanted to take hostages to do an exchange with the Palestinian prisoners inside the Israeli prisons. Thousands of Palestinians are inside Israeli prisons –

Chris Hedges:  Including women and children.

Paola Caridi:  – Including women and children, in administrative detention. Many of them are not even part of the Palestinian factions. So this was one of the goals of Yahya Sinwar, who spent a lot of years inside the Israeli prisons. Jerusalem was also a core issue on October 7 because of what was happening on the Haram al-Sharif; Which means on the mosques, esplanade, or Temple Mount for the Jews. Especially because of what the new Israeli government is doing in the last year, but also in the last years. 

Hamas in 2021 was clear on the fact that Jerusalem is the core issue of the Palestinian question. He wanted to cross the fence of the open-air prison of Gaza using Jerusalem as a tool and let the people understand that they were not in Gaza, they were out of Gaza, and they were dealing with the whole Palestinian question. This was another reason for October 7. The third one is the West Bank. They wanted to say, we are not confined in Gaza, we are part of the Palestinian political spectrum, and we want to cross and open the fence, open the open-air prison, and let the people, our public, our consensus, understand that we are still there.

Chris Hedges:  I want to talk about Jerusalem because I thought it was one of the most insightful parts of your book, as being central to the identity of Palestinians and the resistance movement. Can you explain why?

Paola Caridi:  Jerusalem is not just a religious symbol. Jerusalem is more than this. It’s a national symbol, it’s a national icon, and not only for Hamas, not only for the Palestinians of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but also for the Palestinians inside Israel. The Palestinians inside Israel are, two million, 20% of the Israeli population. They and the other Palestinians see inside the diaspora, outside Israel-Palestine, Jerusalem as the myth, as their identity, which is not a religious one. We forget that there are the Palestinians with a Christian faith, and those Palestinians are nationalistic as are the others, as are the Palestinian Muslims. Jerusalem is that part of their identity that meets all together in a place like the Old City. So thinking to possess Jerusalem from the Israeli side is breaking the last wall for the Palestinians. They were not renounced to Jerusalem.

It was very clear in 2021 when a peaceful protest was going on in different parts of Jerusalem. That means in the Old City, on the Haram al-Sharif al-Aqsa, in front of Damascus Gate, the secular central part of the Arab sentiment, of the Palestinian sentiment. In Sheikh Jarrah, for the people who know Jerusalem, very near the American Colony, because there was the issue of the settlers who wanted to possess the most important parts of the city in order for the city to be completely conquered, not only by the Israelis but by the Messianic settlement movement.

Chris Hedges:  Well, they’ve changed the geography of Jerusalem. It doesn’t even physically look like the city that I first visited in 1988 because of the Jewish settlers; The buildings they’ve erected, and the evictions they’ve carried out. Let’s close by talking about what’s happening now in Gaza. The Netanyahu government says this is a war against Hamas. They claim that victory will be defined by the eradication of Hamas. What’s happening in Gaza, what’s happening to Hamas, and what does this portend for the future?

Paola Caridi:  What I see is not the cancellation of Hamas, what I see is the complete cancellation of Gaza. Which is a completely different portrayal of what is happening in Gaza. The Israeli strategy changed over the weeks and months of this war on Gaza, and at a certain point, it started to be a war with a very specific goal: The expulsion of the Palestinians from Gaza. After that, we have to take care of the second front of this war, which is the West Bank, and what is going on in the West Bank in these months. It’s a tragic picture of what is happening there. The expulsion of the Palestinians, what does it mean? It means a second Nakba. It means also the end of the idea of the two states, although the two states, we know died many, many years ago as a perspective. It is also the idea to finish the chapter of 1948. It’s 1948, the core issue. The Israeli government wants to arrive at this goal which means to finish the expulsion of the Palestinians from Palestine.

Chris Hedges:  And the consequences, and what does it mean for Hamas?

Paola Caridi:  Hamas is not just in Gaza. Saying the Israeli narrative, we will get rid of Hamas, is not the reality on the ground. Hamas is not only in Gaza, Doha, and Beirut; It is a movement that is deep inside the Palestinian society. We see in the videos coming from the West Bank that people are asking for the Qassam Brigades to come and liberate the West Bank. It will not happen, of course. We have to see the reality. In one way Israel is cutting the grass under Hamas – Because I don’t think that the consensus on Hamas is growing in Gaza, is lesser in Gaza and more in the West Bank – But we see that Hamas is gaining ground outside Gaza. So what about the goal? Does Netanyahu reach the goal in this way? The opposite is going on and the reaction, not only of the Palestinians but of the Arab street, will be more anti-Israeli sentiment.

Chris Hedges:  And you’re traumatizing a whole new generation. I remember speaking to Rantisi and he told me the story of being a nine-year-old boy in Khan Yunis, in 1956 when the Israelis occupied, and watching the Israeli forces lining men and boys up against a wall, including his uncle, and killing them. That moment was a moment that radicalized him because to him it exposed the intent of the Israelis, which was the extermination of the Palestinian people. How is this going to play out in the years ahead?

Paola Caridi:  I don’t know. Because what I see from Jordan is that nobody’s saying anything, but you see in the face of the people that it’s difficult to have this weight on their heart and their shoulders, to see what they see. In the US, Europe, and Italy, people don’t see the images from Gaza. The images from Gaza are unbearable to each of us, and especially to the Arab street. They are really unbearable. I can’t bear the images of children who are dying from starvation. I can’t bear the images of women who have problems with their menstrual cycle. They don’t have sanitary pads. They don’t have anything – bread, flour, et cetera. It’s unbearable, simply unbearable. And it’s not a humanitarian issue because a humanitarian issue means to cover the fact that this is a political issue for all of us, not only for the Arab region.

Chris Hedges:  Great, thank you. That was journalist and historian, Paola Caridi, author of Hamas: From Resistance to Regime. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.

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