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Gaza Corner Archive: 2012-2013
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This weekly feature includes news from the Middle East often ignored by the mainstream press coupled with music from the region.  Gaza Corner was conceived to help focus attention on relieving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza which has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by the Israeli occupation since 2006.

Istanbul based Israeli percussionist Yinon Muallem
note - Yinon was studio guest during Gaza Corner on 5/31/14;
posted two articles from 2012 featuring Yinon
photo courtesy of Emil Salman

Turkey and Israel keep bonds alive through music

Israeli and Turkish musicians have become "volunteer ambassadors" to create and maintain bonds between the two countries
(Menekse Tokyay for SES Turkiye, 2/21/12)

At a time of battered bilateral political relations, Turkish and Israeli musicians continue to bridge differences. Although music alone doesn't have the power to transcend all political problems, it does keep some level of people-to-people contact alive, helping to create better understanding between cultures.

"The sound of music doesn't have any passport … It does not recognise any border or religion," explained Yinon Muallem, an Israeli composer and percussionist who is also the cultural attaché at the Israeli consulate in Istanbul. "The aim of the music and the art in the greater sense is to unite peoples and cultures, to bring hearts together around a multicultural language," he added.

As a self-described lover of Turkey, Muallem has taken the stage with various Turkish musicians like Omer Faruk Tekbilek, harpist Sirin Pancaroglu, singer Ferhat Gocer and the Tekfen Philharmonic.

Related Article:

Musical Diplomacy between Turkey and Israel

The music of Yinon Muallem, who is now the cultural
attache in Israel's Istanbul consulate, embodies
all that can be good about Israeli-Turkish relations
(by Bernny Ziffer, Haaretz, 8/31/12)

Yinon Muallem handed me his CD, "Nefes" ("breath" in Turkish ), on the cover of which he had scribbled the brief inscription, "In friendship." The truth is that, without being acquainted with one another, the two of us have for many years been the friends, even the lovers, of the same city: Istanbul. While Muallem, a talented musician, composer and arranger, expresses his feelings for it with music, I express them with words.

More than a decade ago, I visited what had once been my mother's home in Istanbul and which is today a coffee house and concert hall that bears the name Gitarcafe. The owner at the time, Sumru Agiryuruyen (who also performs on Muallem's CD ), said to me, "Yinon Muallem was here just yesterday." At the time, I had no idea that the Israeli-born Jew is one of the most admired musicians in Turkey and that he has made a name for himself as someone who has breathed new life into classical Turkish music and given it a new relevance.

Meanwhile, Israel wisely decided to utilize Muallem's popularity and, during this difficult period in Israeli-Turkish relations, appointed him cultural attache in the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul.

It could be said that Muallem anticipated the need to heal this rift: He decided to make his home in Turkey because of his love for Turkish music and because of a desire to learn from one of the masters of the oud how to play that instrument. After moving there , he married a Turkish woman (whose name is Dilek; her voice can be heard in one of the tracks on the album ); they have a son, Rast (which is the name of a makam, an important melodical or compositional tradition in Middle Eastern music ) or Can (which means "soul" in Turkish ).

His father, David Muallem, is a retired judge and Israeli musicologist who is the author of a basic text on Middle Eastern music, "The Maqam Book: A Doorway to Arab Scales and Modes," which was published in English translation by OR-TAV Music Publications (2010 ). Although he has followed in his father's footsteps, Yinon  has distanced himself from the theoretical tenor of his father's approach and, in his compositions, blends various classical Middle Eastern genres with one another as well as with jazz and world music. The result is a light and highly contemporary texture that nonetheless preserves the beat of the decisive rhythm that dominates Ottoman music.

Recently, at Beit Avi Chai, a cultural and social center in the heart of Jerusalem, I saw him perform in a show entitled "Istanbul-Tel Aviv: Music without Borders," which sums up Muallem's years of wandering between these two cities with an ensemble that has loyally stayed at his side for years.

An Israeli tank patrols the Gaza border.
British parliamentarians are calling for an end to the blockade that started five years ago.
Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Time to end Israel's Gaza blockade
  (The Guardian UK, 12/27/13)

UK MPs say time to end Israel's Gaza blockade and collective punishment of Palestinians

The MP's letter:

"Today marks five years since the Israeli military launched missile and ground attacks on Gaza, which Israel named Operation Cast Lead. According to the UN, 1,383 Palestinians died as a result, including 333 children."

Dore note: according to B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Palestinians killed 9 Israelis during the operation.  Another 4 soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

"And what of the survivors? For the 1.7 million living in the tiny Gaza Strip, life has become increasingly desperate because of Israel's continuing blockade, backed by Egypt and with no effective challenge from governments around the world. The blockade has brought electricity cuts of 16 hours a day, which means the only street lights visible at night have been those from Israel's nearby towns. The electricity shortages have severely affected almost all essential services, including health, water, sanitation and schooling. With waste plants not operating, Palestinian children have been wading through freezing sewage to attend school. The terrible floods in Gaza brought the promise of increased electricity supplies for a few weeks, but the international community must demand that supply is constant and permanent.

This blockade has also resulted in unacceptable limits on personal freedom. Most Palestinians are prevented from travelling outside Gaza, an area of 139 sq miles: about the same size, but much more densely populated, as Newcastle. It is deplorable for us to allow this continuing collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza. We urge the UK government to take immediate action to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza."

Baroness Blackstone, Peter Bottomley MP, Richard Burden MP, Martin Caton MP, Katy Clark MP, Michael Connarty MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alex Cunningham MP, Lord Dubs, Mark Durkan MP, Lord Dykes, John Hemming MP, Julian Huppert MP, Lord Hylton, Hugh Lanning, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Lord Judd, Caroline Lucas MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, George Mudie MP, Grahame Morris MP, Sandra Osborne MP, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Rt Hon Dame Joan Ruddock MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Baroness Tonge, Yasmin Qureshi MP, David Ward MP, Mike Weir MP


The United Nations Works and Relief Association (UNWRA)
has called for the immediate lifting of the blockade
in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed.

UNWRA’s Chris Gunness, said:

“Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this. And of course it is the most vulnerable, the women and children, the elderly who will pay the highest price of failure to end the blockade.”


The crisis in Gaza is escalating daily, resulting in even greater suffering for the 1.7 million Palestinians living under siege in just 365 sq km of land bordering the Mediterranean. Half of the population are under 18, and two thirds are refugees.

Until recently, in an inventive attempt to survive despite Israel’s brutal blockade, much of Gaza’s food and fuel requirements came through tunnels dug between Gaza and Egypt. But following the coup, Egypt has blocked the tunnels and closed the crossing at Rafah (the pedestrian crossing between Egypt and Gaza) to almost all Palestinians.

Israel, supported by the US, UK and EU, has laid siege to the Gaza Strip since June 2007. Dov Weissglass, acting as advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, clarified the plan was to increase Palestinian suffering as punishment for delivering a majority to the Palestinian party Hamas after holding democratic elections in 2006. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Palestinians living in Gaza had already been subjected to severe restrictions in movement, but the Israeli-led siege increased their suffering – with even foodstuffs, medicines and educational supplies targeted.

Palestinians in Gaza are subject to regular Israeli attacks by air, land and sea . Farmers in the ‘buffer zone’ have been shot and killed. Israel arbitrarily imposed a limit of 3km for fishing boats – and has shot at boats, kidnapping fishermen and taking them to Israel.

Israel’s military attacks on Gaza intensified in winter 08/09, and November 2012.

On 27 December, 2008, Israel launched an air offensive, killing more than 200
Palestinians in the first day, followed by a ground invasion on 3 January 2009. By the time that Israel withdrew its ground troops on 21 January 2009, over 1400 Palestinians had been killed, and 13 Israelis.

Between 14 and 21 November 2012, Israel launched another wave of air strikes against Gaza. The UN Human Rights Council reported that 174 Palestinians were killed – at least 168 of them by Israeli military action, including 33 children and 13 women. Six Israelis were reportedly killed.

Israel’s blockade also targets reconstruction materials to repair houses and infrastructure, including sewage pipes, damaged by Israeli strikes. This means that sewage seeps into the water supply in Gaza, with raw sewage pumped directly into the sea.

90% of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. Electricity powercuts are frequent, and fuel shortages are only too common.

Background source:
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC)

PSC campaigns for peace & justice for Palestinians, in support of international law and human rights & against all racism.  PSC is an independent, non-governmental and non-party political organisation with members from many communities across Britain, and increasingly throughout the world.

An Interview with Roger Waters
by Frank Barat, Counterpunch 12/6/13

"The situation in Israel/ Palestine, with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is unacceptable."

interview excerpt:

FB: When did you make the decision to make the Wall tour (that ended in Paris in September 2013) so political ?

RW: The first show was October 14th 2010.  I had already decided to make it much broader politically than it had been in 1979/80. It could not be just about this whinny little guy who didn’t like his teachers. It had to be more universal. That’s why ‘fallen loved ones’ came into it (the shows are showing pictures of people that died during wars) trying to universalise the sense of grief and loss that we all feel towards family members killed in conflict. Whatever the wars or the circumstances, they (in the non western world), feel as much lost as we do. Wars become an important symbol because of that separation between ‘us and them,’ which is fundamental to all conflicts.

FB: When it comes to Palestine, you are very open about your support for a cultural boycott of Israel. People opposing this tactic say that culture should not be boycotted. What would you answer to that?

RW: I would say that I understand their opinion. Everybody should have one. But I can’t agree with them, I think that they are entirely wrong. The situation in Israel/ Palestine, with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is unacceptable. So for an artist to go and play in a country that occupies other people’s land and oppresses them the way Israel does, is plain wrong. They should say no. I would not have played for the Vichy government in occupied France in the Second World War, I would not have played in Berlin either during this time. Many people did, back in the day. There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on. From 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian People being murdered. It’s the duty of every thinking human being to ask: “What can I do?”. Anybody who looks at the situation will see that if you choose not to take up arms to fight your oppressor, the non violent route, and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S) movement, which started in Palestine with 100% support from Palestinian civil society in 2004-2005, a movement that has now been joined by many people around the world, the global civil society, is a legitimate form of resistance to this brutal and oppressive regime. I have nearly finished Max Blumenthal’s book "Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel". It’s a chilling read. It’s extremely well written in my view. He is a very good journalist and takes great pains to make sure that what he writes is correct. He also gives a voice to the other side. The voice, for instance, of the right wing rabbinate, which is so bizarre and hard to hear that you can hardly believe that it’s real. They believe some very weird stuff you know, they believe that everybody that is not a Jew is only on earth to serve them and they believe that the Indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick off the land ever since are sub-human. The parallels with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious that it doesn’t surprise me that the movement that both you and I are involved in is growing every day. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was trying to shed light on this when we met, I only took part in two sessions, you took part in many more. It is an extremely obvious and fundamental problem of human rights which every thinking human being should apply himself to.

FB: The scary thing is that the extreme Rabbinate you were talking about with the extreme right wing views about the Palestinians and the non-Jews are having a more and more prominent place in terms of the Israeli society, regime and power structure and that is very scary.

I wanted to follow up on the Cultural Boycott. You could, as many others do, I guess enjoy the benefits of your success and lead a quiet, at least politically, non-controversial life. Why do you do it but more importantly why do you think not more people are doing it? Why a lot of artists who often take position against wars, why don’t they touch Palestine?

RW: Well, where I live, in the USA, I think, A: they are frightened and B: I think the propaganda machine that starts in Israeli schools and that continues through all the Netanyahu’s bluster is poured all over the United States, not just Fox but also CNN and in fact in all the mainstream media. It’s like a huge bucket of crap that they are pouring into the mouth of a gullible public in my view, when they say “we are afraid of Iran, it is going to get nuclear weapons…”. It’s a diversionary tactic. The lie that they have told for the last 20 years is “Oh, we want to make peace” and they talk about Clinton and Arafat and Barak being in Camp David and that they came very close to agreeing, and the story that they sold was “Oh Arafat fucked it all up”. Well, no, he did not. This is not the story. The fact of the matter is no Israeli government has been serious about creating a Palestinian state since 1948. They’ve always had the Ben Gurion agenda of kicking all the Arabs out of the country and becoming greater Israel. They tell a lie as part of their propaganda machinery whilst doing the other thing but they have been doing it so obviously in the last 10 years . For instance, even after when Obama went to Cairo and made that speech about Arabs and the Israelis, everybody was like “Oh, this is a step in a new direction at least”. But as soon as he visited Israel, they said. “Oh by the way, we are building another 1200 settlements”. Exactly the same when Kerry went last year saying, “Oh I am going to try to get the sides together and talk peace”. Netanhayu said “Fuck you. We are going to build another 1500 settlements..”

It is a very complicated situation which is why you and I and all the other people in the world who care about their brothers and sisters and not just about the people of our own faith, our own colour, our own race or our own whatever, have to stand in solidarity shoulder to shoulder. This has been a very hard sell particularly where I live in the United States of America. The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get fucked. They have said to me “aren’t you worried for your life?” and I go “No, I’m not”. A few years ago, I was touring and 9/11 happened in the middle of the tour and 2 or 3 people in my band who happened to be United States citizens wouldn’t come on the next leg of the tour. I said “ why not? Don’t you like the music anymore?” and they replied “no, we love the music but we are Americans and it’s too dangerous for us to travel abroad, they are trying to kill us” and I thought “Wow!”.

You know that Shuki Weiss (preeminent Israeli promoter) was offering me a hundred thousand people at hundred dollars a ticket a few months ago to come and play in Tel Aviv! “Hang on, that’s 10 million dollars”, how could they offer it to me?! And I thought Shuki are you fucking deaf or just dumb?! I am part of the BDS movement, I’m not going anywhere in Israel, for any money, all I would be doing would be legitimizing the policies of the government.

If eyes are going to be opened (people)  need to either visit the Holy land, visit the West Bank or Gaza or even visit Israel or any single checkpoint anywhere and see what it’s like. All they would need to do is visit or, read, read a book! Check out the history. Read Max Blumenthal’s book.

Roger Waters is an English rock musician, singer-songwriter, & composer. Best known as bass player, co-lead vocalist, lyricist & principal songwriter in Pink Floyd. He tweets @rogerwaters
Frank Barat is one of the producers of  "The Wall has ears, conversation for Palestine."

Is AIPAC losing its clout?

Two recent defeats bode well for emerging Jewish activist groups
such as Bay Area's Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) (12/14/13)

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, co-authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy wrote in a March 2006 essay:  "Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee aka "America's Pro Israel Lobby") is the most powerful and best known.  In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People, but ahead of the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington ‘muscle rankings’.
AIPAC forms the core of the Lobby’s influence in Congress. Its success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it.'

But is AIPAC losing its clout?

Two recent defeats bode well for emerging Jewish activist groups such as Bay Area's Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)

Below are two excerpted emails I received this week from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP):

The Prawer Plan has been cancelled!  

We've just received the welcome news that the Prawer Plan to forcibly relocate over 40,000 Israeli Bedouin from their ancestral lands is no longer under consideration by the Israeli Knesset. The recent demonstrations on both sides of the Green Line, and throughout the world, succeeded in raising enough doubt about this plan to help take it off the table.

Your voices, in concert with the Bedouin communities in the Negev, Jewish-Israeli activists, and the unanimous Palestinian resistance, revealed the plan’s lack of integrity and accountability. We now know, if and when a future plan is developed, we have the ability to stop it in its tracks.

As we celebrate the Prawer Plan being scrapped, we understand that this victory is temporary.  (JVP bold)

This does not mean the Bedouin communities in the Negev will be treated as equal citizens, or hooked up to the basic services they require, or have their ancestral land claims be recognized. Dozens of Bedouin villages remain unrecognized by the Israeli government, lacking basic infrastructure such as water, sewage, and electricity, and Bedouins continue to be forbidden from building, buying or selling a home, receiving full government services, or running for or voting in local government elections. Many Bedouin homes and villages are still slated for demolition (the village of Al-Araqib has already been demolished over 60 times).

Now more than ever, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and all of us, must continue to raise our moral voice in favor of equal rights for the Bedouin and recognition of their ancestral land claims.

We can exhale for now, with relief the Prawer Plan is no more, and then take a new breath and get ready to continue the work to ensure that the Negev Bedouin, and all people in the region, have what they need to thrive.

Rabbi Alissa Wise 
Jewish Voice for Peace
1611 Telegraph Ave, Suite 550
Oakland, CA 94612

AIPAC's Visa Waiver!

The House of Representatives left DC for the year just hours ago, and with it they left behind a terrible bill. The US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act included admission for Israel into the US Visa Waiver Program, which would have codified in US law the right for Israel to discriminate against US citizens on the basis of religion or ethnicity.

And now that bill is dead!

Jewish Voice for Peace supporters, working in coalition, played a critical role in this victory:

•    Over the past few months, JVP chapter-led delegations met with their members of Congress in 23 cities to argue against the bill
•    Over 10,000 thousand JVP supporters signed a petition to the State Department
•    Hundreds more participated in call-ins
And it worked! Congress just let the bill die without even a vote on the floor of the House or Senate.

The significance of our win cannot be overstated.    (JVP bold)

As you know, Arab and Muslim Americans are systematically targeted for harassment, detention, searches, delays, and deportation when trying to enter Israel. Including Israel in the Visa Waiver program with 37 other countries would have tacitly approved and rewarded Israel's discriminatory practices.

The influential Israel lobby group AIPAC made the bill one of its top priorities for 2013, but it didn't even get out of committee. AIPAC lost this fight. They lost their fight against diplomacy with Iran. And they lost the fight on bombing Syria.   (JVP bold)
The lesson here? We can fight AIPAC, and we can win.

Stefanie Fox

P.S This work takes people, time and money. If you are inspired, please make a gift now.

Arnon Milchan, center, with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 2005. Photo by Reuters

Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan opens up about past
as Israeli arms dealer andd secret agent

(Allison Kaplan Sommer, Haaretz, 11/26/13)

note: free registration required to access some stories

related Haaretz stories fr 2011-2013:

   Did Hollywood bigwigs help Israel buy arms in the 1970's and '80's?
Longtime Hollywod film producer Arnon Milchan says they did
(Haaretz, 11/21/13)

Israeli spy turned Hollywood producer rejects attempts to turn his story into a film
(Haaretz and Yossi Melman, 4/2/12)

Will your book on Arnon Milchan hurt Israeli security? An interview with author Meir Doron (Yossi Melman, Haaretz 7/20/11)

'Hollywood prodcuer was an Israeli nuclear agent'

According to a new biography, Arnon Milchan,

close friend of Israeli prime ministers and Hollywood stars,
was recruited by Shimon Peres to purchase equipment for Israel's nuclear program.
(Yossi Melman, Harretz 7/18/11)

The Israeli investigative program “Uvda” broadcast its season premiere telling the story behind the glitzy career of one of the most influential figures in Hollywood: Arnon Milchan, who  led a double life as a longtime weapons dealer and Israeli intelligence agent who purchased equipment for Israel's nuclear program.  He is also the Israeli producer of such hit movies as "Pretty Woman," “Fight Club” and “L.A. Confidential.”

Though it wasn’t the first time Milchan’s double life as an arms dealer and Israeli intelligence operative has been reported, it was the first time the Israeli-born Milchan, a multi-billionaire, discussed it openly in front of the cameras, and the first time some of the movie stars and studio executives who know him spoke about it on the record.

The show traced Milchan's career from the late '60s and early '70s, when he was a young and successful businessman in the United States who had a close relationship with Shimon Peres. At the time, Peres was in the midst of creating the Dimona nuclear reactor, and Milchan began helping in the effort to acquire equipment and knowledge for Israel’s nuclear project through the secretive agency Lakam, Israel’s Bureau of Scientific Relations.

 “Do you know what it was like to be a 20-something guy whose country decided to let him be James Bond? Wow! The action! That was exciting,” Milchan said. "Uvda" reporter Ilana Dayan described how Milchan would set up bank accounts and companies, all used to acquire material and equipment for the agency, while working for spy masters Rafi Eitan and Benjamin Blumberg. Dayan reported that at the peak of Milchan's activity, he was operating 30 companies in 17 different countries.

In the 1970s, Milchan brokered deals for hundreds of millions of dollars between Israel and U.S. companies for helicopters, missiles and other equipment, "Uvda" reported.

The "Uvda" report does, however, contain  new details about Milchan's work, including claims that other Hollywood bigwigs like the legendary, late director Sydney Pollack, the director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” and at least one other Academy Award-winning actor, both figured into his work for Israel.  The report reveals that Pollack acquired arms and other military equipment for Israel in the 1970s.

Milchan also tells Dayan that he used at least one big-name actor's star quality to lure U.S. scientist Arthur Biehl – an expert on nuclear weapons and a co-developer of the hydrogen bomb – to a meeting. According to the report, Milchan invited Biehl to the actor's home under the pretense that the actor was seeking scientific advice for a project he was working on.

Milchan said he thought Biehl would cooperate because, "Anyone who lives in California is a 'star-fucker…' They hear 'star'…they come running."

The show revealed that Milchan convinced a German engineer to take home classified documents from a safe where he worked: plans that detailed how to construct a nuclear facility that Israel desperately needed but that no state would share for any amount of money. Saying the engineer "couldn't be bought," Milchan said he persuaded him to leave them on a table and went out to dinner with his wife on the understanding that someone would enter the house and photograph them.

The acquisition of nuclear triggers for Israel by Milchan's company Milco was what nearly got him into serious trouble when the FBI discovered that they were shipped to Israel without the proper licensing, which led to the 1985 indictment of aerospace executive Richard Kelly Smyth, who used one of Milchan’s companies to ship triggers to Israel.

After the trigger incident, which was followed by the 1986 arrest of Jonathan Pollard for spying on behalf of Israel, Israel's Bureau of Scientific Relations was shut down.

Milchan also admitted to having used his Hollywood and media connections to help the South African apartheid regime in its attempts to polish its international image, in exchange for helping Israel acquire uranium.

When Milchan’s friends and business associates were asked if the rumors of his activities on behalf of Israel’s military had done anything to tarnish his reputation in the entertainment industry, they said no., adding that the success of his films and his personal charm trumped any misgivings. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch told Dayan: “Hollywood is a very Jewish industry. Very pro-Israel. Many would honor him for it. Others might be a bit frightened by it, but that’s all right.”

"Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan", released last year by Gefen Books, contains numerous disclosures about Milchan's involvement in Israel's nuclear program.

Writers Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman say the book is not an authorized or official biography, and was in fact only shown to Milchan after it was written.

Last year, Doron and Gelman told Haaretz what they believe to be the most important disclosure of the book: "The hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars paid in commissions for defense deals between Israel and the United States. They were deposited in secret bank accounts all over the world and used to fund Israeli espionage activities abroad. The money in these accounts paid for operations that helped Israel to obtain materials, technologies and equipment that turned it into a nuclear power, with the fifth biggest nuclear arsenal in the world.”

"Prime ministers and defense ministers and finance ministers came and went, but there was only one 'treasurer' of Israel's secret espionage budget - Arnon Milchan. He collected commission fees from American security firms that were deposited in the bank accounts of various companies he set up in several countries where Israeli spy agencies operate," said Doron and Gelman.

"The investigation into Milchan's life took us all over the world. To apartheid South Africa and an atomic experiment carried out there by Israel near the South Pole. To Iran in the era of the Shah and an almost fantastical project in collaboration with the CIA that Milchan was involved in. We found Milchan's 'fingerprints' in California, where a company called Milco had been set up and that obtained technologies, materials and equipment for the Dimona nuclear reactor and for the Jericho missiles. We were amazed to discover that the company had recruited some of the best nuclear experts in the United States, who in effect worked for Israel."

"We believe Milchan acted out of patriotism. But he also saw great profits, from transactions that were not carried out for the Israeli government, including in Iran, South Africa and Taiwan, deals that he might not otherwise have obtained. His companies made millions from them." 

Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert.
Photograph: Karen Robinson

Brits protest over Israel plan to remove 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins

More than 50 public figures including Julie Christie and Brian Eno
put names to letter opposing expulsion from historic land
(Harriet Sherwood, Guardian UK, 11/29/13)

More than 50 public figures in Britain, including high-profile artists, musicians and writers, have put their names to a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land – an act condemned by critics as ethnic cleansing.

The letter, published in the Guardian, is part of a day of protest on Saturday in Israel, Palestine and two dozen other countries over an Israeli parliamentary bill that is expected to get final approval by the end of this year.

The eviction and destruction of about 35 "unrecognised" villages in the Negev desert will, the letter says, "mean the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation".

The signatories – who include the artist Antony Gormley, the actor Julie Christie, the film director Mike Leigh and the musician Brian Eno – are demanding that the British government holds Israel to account over its human rights record and obligations under international law.

According to Israel, the aims of the Prawer Plan – named after the head of a government commission, Ehud Prawer – are economic development of the Negev desert and the regulation of Palestinian Bedouins living in villages not recognised by the state.

The population of these villages will be removed to designated towns, while plans for new Jewish settlements in the area are enacted.

But Adalah, a human rights and legal centre for Arabs in Israel, says: "The real purpose of the legislation [is] the complete and final severance of the Bedouin's historical ties to their land."

The "unrecognised" villages in the Negev, whose populations range from a few hundred to 2,000, lack basic services such as running water, electricity, landline telephones, roads, high schools and health clinics. Some consist of a few shacks and animal pens made from corrugated iron; others include concrete houses and mosques built without necessary but unobtainable permission.

The Bedouin comprise about 30% of the Negev's population but their villages take up only 2.5% of the land. Before the state of Israel was created in 1948 they roamed widely across the desert; now, two-thirds of the region has been designated as military training grounds and firing ranges.

Under the Prawer Plan, between 40,000 and 70,000 of the remaining Bedouin – who became Israeli citizens in the 1950s – will be moved into seven over-crowded, impoverished, crime-ridden state-planned towns. The Israeli government says it is an opportunity for Bedouins to live in modern homes, take regular jobs and send their children to mainstream schools. They will be offered compensation to move, it adds.

Miranda Pennell, a film-maker and one of the letter's signatories, said: "Citizenship counts for nothing in Israel if you happen to be an Arab. Tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin are being forcibly displaced from their homes and lands. At the same time, there are Israeli government advertisements on the web that promise you funding as a British immigrant to come and live in 'vibrant communities' in the Negev – if you are Jewish. This is ethnic cleansing."

The actor David Calder said: "The Israeli state not only practices apartheid against the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, but it seems they have no hesitation in practicing apartheid on their own citizens – in this instance, the Bedouins. When is the west going to find these actions intolerable?"

A member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) speaks into a microphone
urging people to join their fight against the regime, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Al-Qaeda's battle for hearts and minds in Syria

Al-Qaeda spreads its gospel in market places and mosques in Syria
as it steps up bid to turn country into new caliphate
(Ruth Sherlock, Kilis, Turkey; Telegraph U.K. 11/20/13)

Al-Qaeda is waging a campaign to indoctrinate civilians across northern Syria in a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, the first step in its ambition to build an Islamic caliphate.

Behind the front lines of the war with the Assad regime, in towns and villages in rebel-held Syria, the group is quietly working to impose its ideology, sending its imams to preach in mosques, banning smoking and beard-trimming and telling women to wear the burka.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat Al-Nusra – both linked to al-Qaeda – first became known in the insurgency for being some of the toughest and best equipped fighters.

For many months, they insisted that toppling President Bashar al-Assad – not gaining an ideological foothold in Syria – was their immediate goal. But a week of interviews by The Telegraph with members of al-Qaeda, civilians living in Syrian towns and villages now under their rule, and with other rebel fighters in the areas, reveals the sophisticated strategy that the extremists are using to try to change the nature of Syrian society.

Speaking from a safe house in Turkey close to the border, Abu Abdullah, a Jordanian member of the ISIL, said he had come to “apply Shariah, the rule of Allah” to Syria.

“We do this from the roots up; going through the educational process – typing out a new syllabus for children in schools, and in the mosques at Friday prayers,” he said. “We are putting them on the right track of Islam.”

This regimen, al-Qaeda’s project for the future Syria, is most evident in Raqqa, in the north-east, and in Dana, close to the Turkish border, two towns where ISIL rules uncontested.

“They are imposing more and more new rules in the city every day,” said Ahmed, a resident of Raqqa, who did not want to be identified by his full name for fear of recrimination. “Last week ISIL put up signs all round the city giving the order that all women 'must cover their beauty’ including wearing a head covering. They gave a deadline of four days by which time everyone had to be covered. There are jihadists in the market handing out hijabs to passers-by.”

Raqqa’s residents have traditionally observed a moderate form of Islam. It was not uncommon for women to be seen in public without the veil, or even wearing skinny jeans. It had also been a hub for Syria’s more liberal activists.

Now, women are told not to visit male doctors, speak to men outside the family, or even leave the house unaccompanied by a man. The jihadists are trying to shut down the mixed-sex schools, local people reported.

In Dana, the group has banned smoking, all shops must close at prayer times and barbers are forbidden from trimming beards, local residents said.

Children are taught the new religious practices, and the society operates under the control of the Islamic court.

Signs have emerged warning that thieves will have their hands cut off as punishment for stealing.

Over the past year, the group has positioned itself, strategically, in towns in Syria close to the Turkish border. From these hubs, its members have dispatched emissaries to villages across the region, trying to ensure that no population centre is left without its influence.

Another member of ISIL, agreed to meet The Daily Telegraph in a hotel in a small town in Turkey close to the border. Using the name Abu Mohammed, he said he joined ISIL as soon as the foreign “brothers” came to Syria because he agreed with their ambitions to build an Islamic caliphate.

Violently sectarian, Abu Mohammed proclaimed that Alawites – the Shia Muslim sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs – had “no place in Syria”.

It was these views that al-Qaeda was spreading, he said. And to do it the group was taking to Syria its most eloquent speakers. “We are sending our sheikhs and imams every week to the mosques in all the liberated areas,” he added.

The preachers, many of whom operated in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, are trained in grabbing the attention of the crowds, in winning their support and whipping them into a frenzy.

In the rural plains of northern Syria, where education levels are low, the speeches are working to great effect.

 “I sat in the sermon when one of their sheikhs came to my village in Idlib,” said a Syrian man who used a pseudonym, Mahmoud.

“He blamed this war on the 'kaffers’, accusing Alawites and the West. But his speech was eloquent and powerful. The next week when he came back a bigger crowd had come to the mosque. The week after he had won followers.”

 Abu Mohammed was confident ISIL would win. “For 40 years we have been slaves to the regime,” he said.

 “When we teach Islam you find old men and women cramming into the classes with the children; this is something they have been missing for 40 years. They want to breathe the Koran.”

With alliances in a constant flux in the Syrian war, it is impossible to quantify exactly how much terrain groups linked to al-Qaeda fully control. However, analysts say that, where just over a year ago they were alien to Syria, they now have “influence in most towns and villages” in the north of the country.

Charles Lister, a defence analyst for Janes said “The problem is, for now, ISIL is simply too powerful for civilians to rise up against, and even for the more moderate groups to fight.”

Citrus farmer Yusuf Jilal Arafat stands in front of his home, in which his 5-year-old daughter Runan was killed when 10 Israeli missiles struck this mostly agricultural area in the Al Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, December 2, 2012. Arafat’s wife, four months pregnant, and 8-year-old son Jilal (black shirt) were found alive in the rubble. His children now suffer from frequent panic attacks at night. Arafat does not know why his home was targeted, as no rockets were launched from the area.
(photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

A year after 'Pillar of Defense' the nightmare continues

A year after 165 Palestinians and 6 israelis were killed, political leaders have yet to conduct independent, impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations.

(Yonatan Gher, +972blog, 11/16/13)

On 21 November 2012, 13-year-old Mahmoud Abu Khousa was killed when he was struck by a missile fired by an Israeli drone as he walked to a shop down the road from his home in the al-Manara area of Gaza City.

Delegates from Amnesty International’s International Secretariat examined the site
of the missile strike a few days later. The missile struck Mahmoud on a wide road
with good visibility from above. Israeli aerial surveillance should have been able to see that he was a child. Witnesses said there were no evident military targets in the vicinity at the time.

Mahmoud was killed on the last day of an eight-day conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces had launched Operation Pillar of Defense on 14 November 2012 by killing the leader of the military wing of Hamas, following unlawful attacks by both sides in the preceding days.

Within just over a week, more than 165 Palestinians, including more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities, and six Israelis, including four civilians, were killed. A ceasefire was reached on the evening of 21 November.

The Israeli military has not commented on the killing of Mahmoud in any of 18 strikes documented by Amnesty International, in which civilians were killed by Israeli drone-fired missiles during that tragic week.

Tens of thousands of Gazans fled their homes during the conflict. While the majority of these families were able to return to their homes after the ceasefire, they still struggle with the trauma of having had to flee, often under fire. Hundreds of families in Gaza remain displaced because their homes
were destroyed in the conflict. A year on, most have been unable to rebuild because of the continuing Israeli restrictions on the import of construction materials into Gaza.

In Israel, too, civilians bore the brunt of the conflict. Palestinian armed groups fired more than 1,500 rockets and mortars during the eight days. The vast majority of these weapons were indiscriminate, meaning that they were not capable of being directed at military targets and therefore their use violated international humanitarian law.

One year after the fighting, neither side has conducted independent and impartial investigations into allegations of violations.

Israel’s Military Advocate General has received scores of complaints from Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, including cases of civilians who were killed in attacks which may well have been war crimes, but has yet to open a single criminal investigation to Amnesty International’s knowledge.

The Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip has not conducted investigations of any kind into violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups during the conflict.

The lack of accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, is systemic and goes well beyond the November 2012 conflict.

Israeli violations in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continue on a daily basis, including regular use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians posing no threat to Israeli forces.

The fear of more bloodshed hangs like a dark cloud over men, women and children who feel trapped in a cycle of violations fueled by a climate of impunity. And if the fear of more deadly attacks wasn’t bad enough, those living in Gaza have to contend with the disastrous effects of Israel’s continuing land, sea and air blockade of the territory, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt. Gazans lack safe drinking water, face 12-hour power outages on a daily basis, and many struggle to access basic necessities such as adequate food and medicines.

These hardships were compounded on November 1 of this year when Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down due to lack of fuel, further jeopardizing vital health and sanitation services.

“The world has forgotten Gaza, its women and children. The blockade is as bad as the war; it’s like a slow death for everyone in Gaza. We are paying the price for disputes between different powers. The world haslost its humanity,” ‘Attiyeh Abu Khousa, Mahmoud’s father, told Amnesty International last week.

The world continues to look the other way when it comes to the blockade on Gaza, which collectively punishes 1.7 million civilians. This stark violation of international law has been allowed to continue for more than six years. Unless Israeli and Palestinian leaders demonstrate political will to protect civilians –on both sides – the cycle of violations will become a recurring nightmare. And unless the international community ensures that ending human rights abuses and impunity for crimes under international law are prioritized, a just and enduring resolution of the conflict will remain elusive.

Yonatan Gher is the Director of Amnesty International Israel.

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

Syrian Kurds with a PKK flag protest against the construction of a wall along the border.
Photograph: Mehmet Engin/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey's new border wall angers Kurds on both sides of Syrian divide

Locals shocked at building of 'unnecessary and divisive' new border wall,
which they claim risks Kurdish peace talks
(Constanze Letsch in Nusaybin, on  the Turkey-Syria border; Guardian UK, 11/8/13)

The Turkish authorities have started erecting a wall on the frontier with Syria in what is being seen as an attempt to divide the Kurdish majority populations on both sides of the border, prompting protests and hunger strikes, and jeopardising peace talks.

Without informing the local government in the town of Nusaybin in south-eastern Turkey, the authorities sent in construction crews recently to start erecting a two-metre-high wall on the border with Qamishli in north-eastern Syria. The sudden building project is stoking fears that more walls are planned.

The Nusaybin mayor, Ayse Gökkan, has spent several days on a "death fast" at the site this week in protest at what she calls the "wall of shame". About 50 others joined the hunger strike, according to local reports, and a big protest march is planned against alleged anti-Kurdish provocation.

According to Turkish newspaper reports on Friday morning, the wall construction has been stopped temporarily and mayor has stopped her hunger strike.

The Turkish interior ministry said last month the wall was being built "for security reasons", and to curb smuggling and illegal crossings, allegations that Kurdish community leaders on both sides of the frontier dispute strongly.

"There have never been fire fights across this border," Gökkan said. "The terrain is completely flat and can be easily monitored. There are landmines. This is probably the safest bit of our border with Syria."

"Why do they not build walls further west, where rebel fighters and al-Qaida are allowed to cross the border freely?" Gökkan asked.

All Gökkan's inquiries to ministries and government offices went unanswered. "I learned about the wall from the newspapers," she said. Most locals strongly oppose what they see as an attempt to divide their community. "We don't call it Nusaybin and Qamishli, or Turkey and Syria," said one woman who wished to remain anonymous. "It has always been 'this side of the fence' and 'the other side of the fence'. We are all inter-married, we all have family on the other side. Many have dual citizenship. This wall is an effort to separate Kurds in the region, and nothing else."

The mayor warned that the anti-Kurdish move could sabotage ongoing peace talks between Ankara and the Kurdish militants of the PKK aimed at ending the 30-year-old Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

"The wall is a declaration of war against Kurds by the Turkish government," she said. "What kind of peace are they trying to achieve by driving a wall between us?"

Many on both sides of the frontier see the wall as the latest evidence of perceived Turkish government support for Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who have been attacking Kurdish villages in Syria, killing and displacing thousands, while also fighting the Assad regime.

Many Syrian Kurds who have fled to Turkey are angry too.

"We don't want this," a 56-year-old woman explained. "It is reassuring to know that the rest of your family is right there in Qamishli. The wall would cut us off completely from our relatives. Three of my daughters are still in Syria."

" Ismail Boubi, head of a local Syrian-Turkish aid organisation who fled Syria for Nusaybin 14 years ago, demanded that the wall be halted, the minefields cleared and the barbed wire dismantled.

"The construction of the wall demolishes democracy. This is not what we need."

In Syria, Palestinian Refugees Made Refugees Again
(Matt Surrusco, The Daily Beast, 1018/13)

With Syria's civil war entering its third year, 2 million Syrians are displaced internally while nearly 730,000 are refugees living outside Syria. But for the half million Palestinian refugees who have lived in Syria since 1948, the situation is even more dire. Jordan denies them refuge as a matter of policy, and Lebanon restricts entry by a visa fee that Syrian refugees are not required to pay.

Palestinians are running out of places to go.

More than half of the Palestinian residents of Syria have been displaced, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. agency that provides aid and services to 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Speaking from Amman, UNRWA deputy commissioner Margot Ellis recounted a recent trip to Lebanon, where she visited a family of 23 Palestinians from Syria who lived in a two-room apartment in the Shatila refugee camp. They had to sleep in shifts because there wasn't enough room for everyone to lie down at the same time. Lebanon has allowed in more Palestinians from Syria than any other country, but it already hosted 490,000 refugees descended from those who fled in 1948.

(Dore Stein note: For Palestinians, 1948 marks the 'Nakba' or the 'catastrophe', when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes.)

The vast majority is denied citizenship or the right to work in nearly every profession.  They are dependent on international aid.

Jordan hosts the most Palestinian refugees, with 2 million from the generations displaced in 1948 and 1967, and their descendants. But while nearly 400,000 Syrians have found refuge in Jordan, the government has officially denied entry to the Palestinians amongst them since January, citing security concerns and the country's delicate demographic balance. The 9,200 Palestinian refugees from Syria who did cross the border into Jordan have been held in separate facilities, with local relatives prevented from obtaining their release.

In dozens of cases, Palestinians have been sent back to Syria, against the international norm of non-refoulement, or the principle of not sending refugees back to the place they are fleeing due to persecution or violence.

Last year Israel offered West Bank residency to Palestinian refugees from Syria, but only on condition they renounce their claim to refugee status, meaning they would lose the right to UNRWA aid and give up their right of return. Palestinians have not taken Israel up on its offer.

“Without a just resolution of the refugee question in the context of a negotiated Palestinian-Israeli settlement, Palestinians have nowhere to go,” Ellis said.

First flying from Damascus to Cairo, 1,500 Palestinians from Syria have gone to Gaza, where 67 percent of the standing refugee population of 1.2 million lives with food insecurity. About 6,000 Palestinians fleeing Syria have stayed in Egypt and less than 1,600 went to Turkey, both countries in
which UNRWA has no mandate.

The only other alternative is to remain in Syria and risk being killed.

Where Palestinian refugees once lived in large concentrations in Syria, now there are “ghost camps,” Ellis said.

In December 2012, fighting spilled into the Yarmouk camp, a suburb south of Damascus and once home to the largest Palestinian refugee population in Syria. Since then, Ellis said, Yarmouk’s refugee population has declined by approximately
87 percent—from 160,000 to 20,000 or fewer.

Syrian government and opposition forces control different entry points and areas inside the camp, which has compelled Palestinians to flee. This phenomenon has been replicated in six of Syria’s 12 UNRWA camps, where staff members no longer
have access.

In a single day in April, Ellis said 6,000 people were displaced from Ein el-Tal, an unofficial camp near Aleppo, after armed groups swept through the camp.

“If we can't get access, we can't help Palestinians in need,” she said.

Palestinians call their displacement from Syria “a second Nakba,” Ellis said. The first Nakba, or catastrophe, was when Palestinians were displaced in 1948.

But whereas in 1948 Syria greeted them with open arms, today their adopted home is a war zone and the other Arab states that once welcomed them are turning them away.

If Israel and the Palestinians reached a two-state solution, there would be more flight options for Palestinian refugees, Ellis said. “Palestinians would know what their future held.”
Until that happens, Palestinian refugees are apt to be made refugees many times over.

Human Rights Watch New Report on Syria

"You Can Still See Their Blood:
Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces  in Latakia Countryside"
(Click to view report, 10/10/13)

Click to View Human Rights Watch Video

Some of the Report's Findings:

Armed opposition groups in Syria killed at least 190 civilians and seized over 200  hostages during a military offensive that began in rural Latakia governorate on August 4.  At least 67 of the victims were executed or unlawfully killed in the operation around pro-government Alawite villages.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Syria researcher Lama Fakih stated that taking these Alawite villages in Latakia countryside would be a shot into the heartland of Assad's stronghold. These villages are on the front line of what is increasingly sectarian war between government forces and oppostion forces.

The HRW Report report presents evidence that the civilians were killed on August 4, the first day of the operation. Two opposition groups that took part in the offensive, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are still holding the hostages, the vast majority women and children. The findings strongly suggest that the killings, hostage taking, and other abuses rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.

“These abuses were not the actions of rogue fighters,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This operation was a coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages.”

To provide victims a measure of justice, the UN Security Council should immediately refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has also documented war crimes and crimes against humanity by Syrian government forces.

For the report, Human Rights Watch conducted an on-site investigation and interviewed more than 35 people, including residents who survived the offensive, emergency response staff, and fighters and activists on both government and opposition sides.

Human Rights Watch found that at least 20 distinct armed opposition groups participated in the operation.  It is not clear whether all or most of these groups were in the villages on August 4 when the vast majority of abuses apparently took place.

However, five groups that were the key fund-raisers, organizers, and executors of the attacks were clearly present from the outset of the operation on August 4: Ahrar al-Sham, Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, and Suquor al-Izz.

Through the on-site investigation, witness statements, videos and photographs, and a review of hospital records, Human Rights Watch determined that opposition forces unlawfully killed at least 67 of the 190 dead civilians who were identified. For the rest of those killed, further investigation is required to determine the circumstances of their deaths and whether the victims died as a result of unlawful killings.

The high civilian death toll, the nature of the recorded wounds  and the presence of 43 women, children, and elderly among the dead together indicate that opposition forces either intentionally or indiscriminately killed most of the remaining victims.

The scale and pattern of the serious abuses carried out by opposition groups during the operation indicate that they were systematic and planned as part of an attack on a civilian population.

In some cases, opposition fighters executed or gunned down entire families. In other cases, surviving family members had to leave loved ones behind. One resident of the hamlet between Blouta and al-Hamboushieh described fleeing his home with his mother as opposition fighters entered his neighborhood, and having to leave his elderly father and blind aunt behind because of their physical infirmities. He said that when he returned to the neighborhood after the government retook the area, he found that his father and aunt had been killed:

My mom was here in the house with me. She came out of the house first, and I was behind her. We saw the three fighters just in front of us, and then we fled on foot down behind the house and into the valley. The three fighters that I saw were all dressed in black. They were shooting at us from two different directions. They had machine guns and were using snipers. My older brother came down and hid with us as well. We hid, but my dad stayed in the house. He was killed in his bed. My aunt, she is an 80-year-old blind woman, was also killed in her room. Her name is Nassiba.

Fourteen residents and first responders, interviewed separately, told Human Rights Watch that they witnessed executions or saw bodies that bore signs of execution, including some corpses that were bound and others that had been decapitated.

According to opposition sources, including an opposition military officer from Latakia involved in negotiations, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are holding over 200 civilians from the Alawite villages as hostages, the vast majority women and children.

According to Syrian security officials, media reports, Western diplomats, and observations by journalists and humanitarian workers, foreign fighters in these groups enter Syria from Turkey, from which they also smuggle their weapons and obtain money and other supplies, and to which they retreat for medical treatment.

Public statements by fundraisers and financiers, opposition activists, and opposition fighters reveal that at least some of the funding for the Latakia operation came from individuals residing in Kuwait and other Gulf countries.

CIA ramping up covert training program for Syrian rebels
(Greg Miller, Washington Post 10/02/13)

the below excerpt combines the above story with an opinion piece by Tyler Durden

The US government is shut down, which means only essential spending is permitted.

So what does the US government, or rather its Central Intelligence Agency decide to spend precious, mission-critical taxpayer money on? Why arming the "rebels" in Syria of course.

The Washington Post reports that the CIA is expanding a clandestine effort to train opposition fighters in Syria amid concern that moderate, U.S.-backed militias are rapidly losing ground in the country’s civil war.

The CIA operation was secretly authorized by President Obama in a covert action finding he signed this year.

The CIA effort was described as an urgent bid to bolster moderate Syrian militias, which have been unable to mount a serious challenge to Assad or match the growing strength of rival rebel factions that have hard-line Islamist agendas and, in some cases, ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The CIA is “ramping up and expanding its effort,” said a U.S. official familiar with operations in Syria, because “it was clear that the opposition was losing, and not only losing tactically but on a more strategic level.”

The latest setback came last month, when 11 of the largest armed factions in Syria, including some backed by the United States, announced the formation of an alliance with a goal of creating an Islamic state. The alliance is led by Jabhat al-Nusra, a group that has sworn allegiance to the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.

Those hard-line factions have drained momentum and support from moderate rebel groups. The most prominent Islamist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, include fighters who have extensive experience from the war in Iraq, have ties to al-Qaeda and have carried out high-profile strikes against Assad’s government.

Former deputy CIA director Michael J. Morell said in a recent CBS interview that the most effective organizations on the battlefield in Syria are the Islamist factions. “And because they’re so good at fighting the Syrians, some of the moderate members of the opposition joined forces with them,” he said.

Islamist factions have lured fighters away with offers of better pay, equipment and results. A spokesman for the ISIS said the group had added 2,000 Syrian recruits and 1,500 foreign fighters over the past two months.

“More and more Muslims in Syria and outside are realizing that we are the only true force able and willing to defend the Syrian people against this monstrous regime without any Western agenda,” said the spokesman, Mohammed al-Libi.

Recruiting efforts by militias working with the CIA have sagged, officials said.

U.S. officials said the classified program has been constrained by limits on CIA resources, the reluctance of rebel fighters to leave Syria for U.S. instruction and Jordan’s restrictions on the CIA’s paramilitary presence there.

There is also the legal issue known as the Leahy Law that requires a determination that no recipients of U.S. military assistance had committed human rights abuses.

CIA veterans expressed skepticism that the training and weapons deliveries will have any meaningful effect.

The program is aimed at shoring up the fighting power of units aligned with the Supreme Military Council, an umbrella organization led by a former Syrian general that is the main recipient of U.S. support.

The training is led by small teams of operatives from the CIA’s Special Activities Division, a paramilitary branch that relies heavily on contractors and former members of U.S. Special Operations forces.

Some have questioned the wisdom of expanding the CIA’s mission at a time when many think the agency has become too paramilitary in focus and should return to its traditional intelligence-¬gathering role.

Officials said the main CIA training effort does not involve instruction on using high-powered weapons such as rockets and antitank munitions, which are being supplied by countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

And where do Qatar and Saudi Arabia get their weapons from?

“What happens when some of the people we trained torture a prisoner?” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with agency operations in the Middle East. Even if the CIA can produce records to defend its training program, “we’re going to face congressional hearings,” the former official said. “There is no win here.”

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) bar Israelis
from joining Palestinian protest against settler concert
(Mairav Zonszein, 972, 9/26/13)

Israeli singer Ehud Banai gave a concert Monday night to an exclusively Jewish crowd in the settlement of Susya in the south Hebron Hills, after initially canceling the gig due to left-wing protests. Banai stated that he decided to go ahead with the concert because doing otherwise only “fanned the flames of hatred,” and because he is committed to “bring people together.”

Nasser Nawajaah, a resident of Palestinian Susya whose family was kicked out of where the settlement now stands in 1986, wrote an open letter to Ehud Banai, explaining the significance of his decision to perform on the ruins of Nawajaah’s native home, for an audience that includes those responsible for uprooting Palestinian trees, poisoning Palestinian wells, assaulting Palestinian shepherds and burning Palestinian fields.

The Palestinian local council in Susya, as well as the popular committees in the West Bank decided to hold a protest during the concert, inviting Israeli activists to join them. According to Guy, an Israeli Ta’ayush activist who frequents the south Hebron Hills, a minivan of 15 Israelis left Jerusalem Monday evening for the village. But due to the efforts of the IDF, a drive that usually takes less than an hour took them 2.5 hours.

According to Guy, the people on the bus noticed a car following them from the moment they set out from Jerusalem, and were stopped several times along the way by IDF soldiers who appeared to be waiting for them with a makeshift checkpoint. At one point, they were held for an hour near the settlement of Kiryat Arba. The officer told them they were heading to the concert to make trouble, and were endangering themselves with the settlers. They told the officer that they had no plan of going into the concert, but were going to protest from “the Palestinian side.” The officer then demanded to see the signs they brought with them to make sure there were no incendiary slogans, and later stopped them again with a bogus military order that claimed they weren’t allowed to be there.

Out of the 15 Israelis, only seven who got out of the van and walked quickly through other villages made it to the protest, where about 100 Palestinians were peacefully protesting the concert. The other eight were turned back by the IDF and held for a while before heading back to Jerusalem.

The video (contained within story at  shows the ordeal. It is yet another document of the way in which the IDF acts as an occupation police force by restricting freedom of movement, protest and speech of anyone who wishes to voice opposition to government policy.

Dore Stein adds:  Ehud Banai at first decided to cancel the concert due to public outcry but he eventually decided to go ahead.

Before the initial decision to cancel the concert was made, a post on Banai's Facebook page read: "Ehud Banai's opinions against the occupation in particular, and against wrongdoings in Israeli society in general, are known to all and are expressed in his songs as well as heard through
various media platforms. Yet, Ehud hassaid more than once that he does not boycott concerts beyond the Green Line, despite his disagreement with the settlements. Instead of boycott and ostracism, he is looking for dialogue precisely in a place where there is controversy. The concert in Susya is not in any way a show of support or encouragement for acts that cause injustice."

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

Palestinian civilians sit near the debris of their homes in Makhoul area in the northern Jordan Vally,
where Israeli forces destroyed several houses rendering 48 Palestinians, including 17 children, homeless

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Weekly Report on Israeli Human Rights Violations
in the Occupied PalestinianTerritory (oPT)
(September 12-18, 2013)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Gaza City.  The Centre is dedicated to protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).  It holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. PCHR is the recipient of various awards including the 1996 French Republic Award on Human Rights and the 2009 Human Rights Prize of Andalucia.  The Centre was established in 1995 by a group of Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists.
Report Excerpt:
(Hit the above live link for full report which provides day by day details with excellent documentation.)

Israeli forces continue systematic attacks against Palestinian civilians and property in the Occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

Israeli forces conducted 42 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank and 4 limited ones in the Gaza Strip during the reporting week..
At least 41 Palestinian civilians, including 9 children, were arrested in the West Bank.

On 17 September 2013, Israeli occupation forces killed a Palestinian civilian Islam Hussam al-Tubasi (20) and wounded 4 others, including 3 children, in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Al-Tubasi was wounded by 2 bullets to the abdomen when Israeli forces raided his bedroom. They took him out of the house bleeding and fired at his legs again in front of the building.

During this attack, a number of young men gathered and threw stones at Israeli military vehicles.  In response, Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated metal bullets and sound bombs. As a result, 4 civilians, including 3 children were wounded.

Israeli forces wounded 8 others during incursions in different areas in the West Bank. Moreover, 3 women, including 2 sisters and their aunt, one of whom is disabled, sustained bruises when Israeli forces attacked them during an Israeli incursion into Kherbet Safa to the south of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron.
During the September 12-18 reporting period, Israeli forces continued the systematic use of excessive force against peaceful protests organised by Palestinian, Israeli and international activists against the construction of the annexation wall and settlement activities in the West Bank.  As a result, 3 civilians, including a photojournalist, were wounded. Furthermore, dozens suffered tear gas inhalation and others sustained bruises.
Israeli navy forces continued to target Palestinian fishermen in the sea.

On Wednesday, 18 September 2013, a Palestinian fisherman was injured and consequently one of his fingers was amputated when Israeli naval troops opened fire at a Palestinian fishing boat on  which 5 fishermen  were sailing nearly 6 nautical miles off Gaza Harbor.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the continuation of Israeli forces’ attacks against Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip and expresses deep concern over violations of fishermens' right to work freely in Gaza sea. 

Israel has continued its settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a direct violation of international humanitarian law, and Israeli settlers have continued to attack Palestinian civilians and property.
On Sunday morning, 15 September 2013, a group of settlers from "Yitzhar" settlement that is established on lands of Madamad village, south of Nablus, set fire to an under construction house belonging to Ra'ed Jadallah Nassar. The 120-square-meter house is located in the northern mountain area.
On Monday, 16 September 2013, settlers from "Eliezer" and "Daniel" settlements that are established on lands of al-Khader village, south of al-Kahder village, south of Bethlehem, moved into Zaqandah area, south of the village.  They damaged the main gate of a potable water well in a land belonging to Taha Ahmed Salah (55). They swam in the well and polluted the water. Moreover, they performed Talmudic rituals there. Ahmed Salah, coordinator of the popular committee against settlement activities, said to a PCHR fieldworker that settlers walked through lands and
performed their rituals under the trees.
On 16 September 2013, Israeli forces backed with 10 military vehicles and 3 bulldozers stormed Makhoul area to the north of Tubas town in the northern Jordan Valley.  They immediately started demolishing a Palestinian residential community where 10 Palestinian families of farmers and shepherds, comprised of 48 individuals, including 17 children, live.  In this operation, Israeli forces demolished 12 tents and tin-made houses, a number of subordinate kitchens and
mobile bathrooms and 28 barnyards.
On Tuesday, 17 September 2013, Israeli forces forced dozens of Palestinian families in al-Burj and al-Maytah area who live in tents in the northern Jordan Valley to evacuate the area under the pretext of military training.  It should be noted that Israeli forces had notified those families on 10 September 2013 to evacuate the area under the pretext of military training.

Israel continued to impose a tightened closure of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, imposing severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including thousands of Palestinian civilians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who continue to be denied access to Jerusalem.
The illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, which has steadily tightened since June 2007, has had a disastrous impact on the humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip.  The Israeli authorities impose measures to undermine the freedom of trade, including the basic needs for the Gaza Strip population and the agricultural and industrial products to be exported.

The Israeli authorities established Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shaloum) as the sole crossing for imports and exports in order to exercise its control over the Gaza Strip’s economy. They also aim at imposing a complete ban on the Gaza Strip’s exports.

For 7 consecutive years, Israel has tightened the land and naval closure to isolate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem, and other countries around the world. This has resulted in a grave violation of the economic, social and cultural rights and a deterioration of living conditions for 1.7 million people.
As part of using military checkpoints and border crossings as traps to arrest Palestinian civilians under the pretext they are wanted, Israeli forces arrested at least 6 civilians, including 3 children.

The full report is available here.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) releases a report on Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian Territory (oPT) every week on its website.

Maaloula is one of the earliestcentres of Christianity in the world
Al-Qaida-Linked Syrian Rebels
Attack Ancient Christian Village of
Where Aramaic,
the Original Language of Jesus is Still Spoken

Click on the following links
for Sept 4-6 coverage of story:
Huffington Post (AP)

Combined excerpt:

Al-Qaida-linked rebels from the Jabhat al-Nusra group have withdrawn from the ancient Christian village of Maaloula, after launching an attack. The rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from
a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The nun said the rebels had taken over the Safir hotel atop a mountain overlooking the village and were shelling from there.

Maaloula is tucked into the honey-coloured cliffs of a mountain range north of Damascus and is on a "tentative" list of applicants for UNESCO world heritage status. It is associated with the earliest days of Christianity and is one of only three places in the world where Aramaic, a dialect of the language spoken by Christ, is still used.  The village was a major tourist attraction before the civil war.   It is suffering from the lack of pilgrims and tourists who are normally vital to its economy.

The inhabitants are mostly Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but have historically lived peacefully alongside a Sunni Muslim minority.

The fighting in Maaloula began early Wednesday when Jabhat al-Nusra fighters stormed in after a suicide bomber struck an army checkpoint guarding the entrance.

"They entered the main square and smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary," said one resident of the area, speaking by phone and too frightened to give his name. "They shelled us from the nearby mountain. Two shells hit the St. Thecla convent."

Video footage posted on YouTube showed rebel fighters on a pick up truck with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back firing erratically from inside the mountain town.
The video appeared authentic and matched Associated Press reporting on the fighting.

Heavy fighting around the village continued throughout Thursday (Sept 5), and heavy artillery echoed in the village.

"The stones are shaking," said a nun at the Mar Takla monastery. "We don't know if the rebels have left or not, nobody dares go out."

Frightened residents expected the rebels to return to the Safir hotel, she said, adding: "It's their home now."

The nun said about 100 people from the village took refuge in the St. Takla convent that she helps run. The 27 orphans who live there had been taken to nearby caves overnight "so they were not scared," she said.

Maaloula had been firmly under the regime's grip, despite sitting in the middle
of rebel-held territory east and north of the capital.

The fighting highlighted the delicate position of Syria's Christian minority who fear the growing role of extremists fighting in the civil war to topple President Bashar Assad's regime and believe an alternative to Assad's regime will not tolerate minority religions.

Many fear that if the secular government is overthrown they will be targeted by Sunni jihadist rebels calling for the establishment of an Islamic state and that Christian communities will be destroyed, as many were in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003.

The nun who spoke to AP said there were reports that the militants threatened villagers with death if they did not convert. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Christians, who make up approximately 10 per cent of Syria's population, have increasingly become targets in the conflict as sectarian-minded foreign jihadists gain influence in among the rebel ranks.

Such fears have allowed Assad to retain the support of large sections among Syria's minorities, which includes Christians, Alawites, Druze and ethnic Kurds, throughout the 2 1/2 year civil war. Most of the rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims.

In Syria, it's a case of all or nothing
(Patrick Cockburn, Independent UK, 9/5/13)

World View: History teaches us that limited Western intervention
 can only inflame this complex war and will do nothing to bring peace

Opinion:  (excerpt)

The discredited justifications that preceded the invasion of Iraq still dominate British and American perception of military intervention in Syria. In a similar way in the 1930s, popular revulsion at the lies and exaggerations of First World War propaganda meant that the first accounts of Nazi atrocities were treated with scepticism.

Unsurprisingly, people who feel they were swindled into war 10 years ago by bloodcurdling accounts of Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction are dubious about their government's claim that President Bashar al-Assad's army used poison gas on a mass scale on 21 August. All the questions that should have been asked in 2003 about Iraq are being asked about Syria

Unlike Iraq, it is known that the Syrian army has large supplies of chemical weapons such as sarin and that a mass attack took place. A hundred videos show the dead and dying. Doctors diagnosed the symptoms of gas poisoning. It is highly unlikely that the opposition had enough chemical weapons to simulate a government attack in order to provoke foreign intervention.

Of course, the use of poison gas was always likely to provoke the United States into action, something Damascus has been desperate to avoid for two years. But this does not mean they did not do it. Stupidity and miscalculation have shaped many wars.

What is curious about the past week is the extent to which so many, especially the media and the British Government, misjudged the continuing rawness of the wounds inflicted by the Iraq war. I was in Baghdad for much of the conflict but I was always struck on returning to Britain by the lasting sense of outrage over the decision to go to war expressed even by the most conservative and non-political. As with the Munich Agreement in 1938, it has entered a deep layer of British historic memory, perhaps because people feel they were not only misled but lied to by their own government.

The parliamentary vote and opinion polls show that British governments have exhausted whatever capital of public trust they possessed when it comes to military ventures in the Middle East.

Given the way the deceptions and failures of the Iraq war still resonate, no wonder David Cameron denies that military intervention in Syria today has anything in common with what happened in 2003. But the two countries are alike in their political make-up, with deep sectarian and ethnic divisions giving political convulsions an extra edge of fear and hate. Both were or are ruled by a single extended family or clan monopolising authority in a police state in which power is exercised through the intelligence and security services. They are tough nuts to crack

In one crucial respect Assad is in a stronger position than Slobodan Milosovic in Serbia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. These three leaders were internationally isolated, while Assad has powerful and committed foreign allies. Russia is standing firmly by it reasserts its status as a great power after 20 years of retreats and humiliations that culminated in the Libyan war of 2011. It feels it was double-crossed then into agreeing to humanitarian military intervention by Nato which swiftly became a campaign to overthrow Gaddafi.

Even more committed to the Syrian regime's survival are Iran and the Shia paramilitary movement Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both are highly conscious that the attempt to overthrow their long-term ally in Damascus is aimed at weakening them, and they are determined to repulse the threat. It makes sense for them to want to fight while Assad is still in power and not wait until he has been displaced by a hostile Sunni regime.

One important aspect of the Syrian conflict as it affects the US and Britain is lethally similar to the Iraq war. In each case any outsider intervening becomes involved in several inter-related but separate conflicts.

So much of what US and British leaders or commentators say about Syria sounds phoney or unrealistic because they focus on only one of the four or five conflicts going on in the country as a reason for intervening. The struggle most often picked as a respectable motive for backing the rebels is the popular revolt against the brutal Syrian police state which started in March 2011. But this uprising swiftly became a sectarian war with the Sunni Arab majority pitted against the ruling Alawite Shia sect and other minorities, such as the Christians and Druze.

If the Syrian political and military battlefield sounds very complex, it is; and it's getting worse. A savage ethnic war exploded in north-east Syria last month with the al-Qa'ida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant driving 50,000 Syrian Kurds into Iraq.

US and British leaders selling military intervention in Iraq and Syria seldom explained and often did not understand this mesh of conflicts. But these contradictory alliances determine the political map of the region and the reality of foreign involvement in it.

It is easy, for instance, to advocate arming and protecting Syrian villagers whose children are being incinerated by napalm dropped by government aircraft. But what if those best able to help those villagers are the veteran jihadi fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who have just chopped off the heads of Alawite prisoners and shot dead a teenager selling coffee for blasphemy?

For all the disclaimers, US forces attacking the government in Damascus are in de facto alliance with al-Qa'ida. (added bold)
Likewise in Iraq 10 years ago, the US and Britain were pretending to be fighting for democracy and against the remnants of Saddam's regime. The reality was that in 2003-06 they had imposed an old-style imperial regime and had become participants in a cruel Sunni-Shia civil waron the Shia side.

What can be done to end the appalling and ever-growing miseries of the 23 million Syrian people? The answer is to make either war or peace effectively. Limited missile strikes on Syrian military bases are not going to compel President Assad to negotiate his own departure from power. The only military action that might do this is a full-scale assault including a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone.  And thus fighting a full-scale war with the likelihood that Russia, Iran and Hezbollah will increase their support for Assad.

Limited intervention means that the stalemate will continue. One of the best chances for peace – the day of mutual exhaustion and realisation that nobody is going to win on the battlefield – is postponed.

If all-out war is not feasible, could peace come by negotiation?

Cliick here to read on and access full article.

Matthew Schrier described his abduction in Aleppo on Dec. 31 by fighters with the Nusra Front,
is aligned with Al Qaeda.

American Tells of Odyssey as Prisoner of Nusra Front,
Syrian Rebel Group
(C.J. Chivers, N.Y. Times 8/22/13)
Matthew Schrier was helpless. An American photographer held in a rebel-controlled prison in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he and a fellow prisoner had been caught trying to gouge a hole in their cell’s wooden door. The captors took his cellmate, he said, beat him, and brought him back with blood-streaked ankles and feet.

Now was Mr. Schrier’s turn.

Wearing masks, his jailers led him out, sat him down and forced a car tire over his knees. They slid a wooden rod behind his legs, locking the tire in place. Then they rolled him over. Mr. Schrier was face down on a basement floor, he said, legs immobilized, bare feet facing up.

“Give him 115,” one of his captors said in English, as they began whipping his feet with a metal cable.

When the torture ended Mr. Schrier could not walk. His captors, he said, dragged him to his cell.
He remembers their parting phrase: “Have you heard of Guantánamo Bay?”

For seven months, Mr. Schrier, 35, was a prisoner in Syria of jihadi fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Held in
bases and prisons run by two Islamist rebel groups, he said, he was robbed, beaten and accused of being an American spy by men who then assumed his identity online.

His captors drained one of his bank accounts. They shopped in his name on eBay. They sent messages from his e-mail account to his mother and his best friend assuring them he was fine, but
had extended his trip to do more work.

“I’m doing good man,” read an e-mail to the friend on Feb. 2. “I have access to Internet for like 5 minutes or so, and I will not be able to log in my e-mail for at least the next few weeks.”

Mr. Schrier escaped on July 29, he said, by squeezing out of a basement window and wandering, in shoes too small and with the long beard he had grown in captivity, through Aleppo until he found other rebels.

These men protected him and drove him the next day to Turkish authorities at the border. American diplomats soon whisked Mr. Schrier away.

Now in the United States, Mr. Schrier has returned with a firsthand account of the descent by elements of the anti-Assad forces into sanctimonious hatred and crime. His experience reflects the sharply deteriorated climate for foreigners and moderate Syrians in areas subject to the whims of armed religious groups whose members roam roads, staff checkpoints and occupy a constellation
of guerrilla bases.

Mr. Schrier’s detention is one of more than 15 cases of Westerners, mostly journalists, being abducted or disappearing in Syria this year. The victims range from seasoned correspondents to
new freelancers, like Mr. Schrier, who was covering his first war.
Some were abducted in 2012, others a few weeks ago. Many are thought to be held by two Al Qaeda-aligned groups. At least one is believed to be a captive of Mr. Assad’s intelligence services.

For many cases there are few leads. The victims have vanished — a pattern that makes Mr. Schrier’s account exceptional and rare.

His experience also suggests the difficult choices for foreign governments that in principle support the rebels’ goal of overthrowing a dictatorship accused of using chemical weapons against civilians,
but in practice fear aiding opposition factions that embrace terrorist tactics, intolerant religious rule or the same behaviors — abduction, torture, extralegal detention — that have characterized the Assad family’s reign.

Mr. Schrier said his captors were mostly members of the Nusra Front, a group aligned with Al Qaeda and designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States.

But as he was moved from prison to prison, he said, he and his main cellmate, another American, were also held by a unit of Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist group that works closely with the Free Syrian Army, a rebel umbrella group recognized by Western and Arab governments.

Their captors neither publicly acknowledged holding them nor issued any demands. Their abductions were also not disclosed by their families or the American government.

At his family’s request, The New York Times is withholding identifying details of the other American prisoner, who did not escape and whose whereabouts and condition are unknown.

When he set out for Syria last year, Mr. Schrier was new to war photography. Born in Syosset, N.Y., he had attended film school at Hofstra, but found no job in his field and opted to work for nearly a decade in the health care industry, negotiating rates and claims.

The travel and artistry in photography appealed to him, as did the chance at a fresh start.

His plunge into the story was swift. He traveled in November from New York to Turkey and Jordan, where he photographed convalescing rebels and ventured across the border to an encampment of displaced Syrian families.

After an activist offered to take him to Aleppo, Mr. Schrier returned in December and was brought to a small rebel group fighting in a neighborhood and at the siege of an Air Force intelligence compound.

Mr. Schrier spent 18 days in Syria. His photographs were strong, he said. He was eager to return to Turkey and publish them.

But there was a complication. His expected driver did not arrive. After waiting for more than a day, his hosts arranged a taxi with a driver they said he could trust.

Their ride out began at midday on Dec. 31. As they left Aleppo, rebels halted the taxi at the Sheikh Najjar industrial area, through which journalists frequently passed.

They forbade the taxi from crossing. The driver tried a route through Muslimiyah, and was passing
a recently captured military school, Mr. Schrier said, when a silver Jeep Cherokee forced the taxi
to stop.

At least three men stepped out. One wore a black scarf over his face.

They escorted Mr. Schrier out. “They were so nonchalant,” he said. “They didn’t point a gun at me, and moved me very gently.”

Mr. Schrier said he expected that they would look at his photographs, confirm his work and release him. They directed him to the back seat of their S.U.V., pulled his knit cap over his eyes, leaned him forward and pressed a rifle muzzle to his head.

His captivity had begun.

Back in New York. Mr. Schrier’s mother, Lois, had grown deeply worried over her son’s silence. On Jan. 31 she reported him missing to the State Department.

The same day, Mr. Schrier’s interrogations resumed. He was brought before three young men in masks who spoke perfect English, and who he suspected were Canadian.

They asked Mr. Schrier if he had ever served in the military and demanded his Social Security number, credit card information, e-mail and Facebook passwords and the PIN for his personal bank account.

They returned two days later with a laptop and said the passwords had not worked. They ordered him to log in.

His captors soon were pretending to be Mr. Schrier online. They e-mailed his best friend and used his eBay account to purchase laptop and tablet computers, camera equipment and Mercedes parts.

On Feb. 2, Mr. Schrier’s mother wrote him a five-word e-mail: “Matt, I WILL FIND YOU!”

His lot was growing bleaker. His jailers discovered gouges on the cell door on Feb. 6. They tortured the two Americans as punishment and afterward beat him intermittently, he said. Sometimes they zapped him with a Taser.

His captors replied to his mother on Feb. 10. “Hi mom, sorry for not giving news before,” the e-mail read. “I’m working a lot here and having a lot of fun, think I’ll stay here for a while.”
They were transferred to cells in two other bases, also run by Mohammad and the Nusra jailers. In mid-July, the jailers removed the Moroccan and later a dentist they had detained, leaving the Americans alone.
This allowed a fresh opportunity to try to escape. Their cell was in a basement; the mesh and
welding on one window was damaged and had been only partially repaired.

Mr. Schrier said he stood on his cellmate’s back and unraveled wires, opening a hole.   He pushed both arms out and followed with his head.

He passed through. He said he reached in, pulled his cellmate up. The man had a slightly heavier build than Mr. Schrier. He led with one arm, then his head, and stopped.

He was stuck. He slid back and tried leading with two hands. He was stuck again.

The street was silent, Mr. Schrier said. A light shone in their jailers’ first-floor office, directly above their cell.

His cellmate dropped back into the basement. Mr. Schrier said, “I’ll get help.”

His cellmate looked up, Mr. Schrier said, and told him, “All right, go.”

Haaretz Editorial

Attorney General Without Justice

Weinstein is promoting 'jurisprudence without justice' that violates the rights of Palestinians in the service of Jewish settlements.

With disappointing disregard for his role as protector of the rule of law, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has approved using the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem – a decision that enables the expropriation of property in the city from Palestinian residents of the territories. Applying the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem is part of an effort to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods and create an artificial separation between the West Bank and Jerusalem, and especially between them and the Palestinians who live in these areas. This effort has found expression in other ways as well, first and foremost the separation barrier.

The law, which was problematic from the start, was applied after the War of Independence with the goal of enabling the state to appropriate the property of Palestinians who were living outside the state’s borders, mainly in refugee camps, without any possibility of entering Israel. The attempt to apply it again following the Six-Day War, after some of the territory conquered in that war was annexed to Jerusalem, took place under completely different circumstances. The owners of these assets became “absentees” despite the fact that they never left their place of residence, and even though they lived outside the annexed territory, they still had access to their property. The attorney general at that time, Meir Shamgar, therefore ordered that the law not be exercised, on the grounds that applying it under these new circumstances would constitute unjustified eviction and violation of property rights.

In a 2006 ruling, Judge Boaz Okon termed the attempt to apply this law “a legal trick not backed by any reality” and “a type of jurisprudence without justice.” Supreme Court President Asher Grunis once asked why the law shouldn’t also be applied to property inside Israel owned by settlers, since they too live outside the state’s borders. Former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz also ordered that the law not be exercised. In addition, applying this law in territory that Israel annexed unilaterally after seizing it during wartime would violate international law, despite the fact that Israel has applied its laws to East Jerusalem.

In contrast to his predecessor, who was scrupulous about upholding the rule of law, human rights and the public interest, Weinstein is promoting “jurisprudence without justice” that violates the rights of Palestinians in the service of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem that have taken over the property of these present “absentees.” He would do better to shelve this procedure, follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and refuse to apply the law.

Iranian president Hassan Rohani at his first official press conference, this week.
Sweet talk and moderate declarations. Photo by AFP

Netanyahu concerned as ever about Iran,
but world powers will not allow strike in coming year
The atmosphere created by Rohani's election leaves the international community with zero tolerance for an Israeli attack - at least until talks between Tehran and major world powers end.
(Amos Harel, Haaretz, 8/10/13)

related articles:

Will Iran Get a Bomb-or Be Bombed itself-This Year?
(Graham Allison, the Atlantic, 8/01/13)

Top 10 Reasons Americans should Dismiss
Israel's Netanyahu on Attacking Iran
(Juan Cole, 7/23/13)

excerpt combines Haaretz and Juan Cole articles:

This past Wednesday Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu warned that, despite the victory by Hassan Rohani in the Iranian presidential election in June, Tehran is accelerating progress toward nuclear weapons capability. According to Netanyahu, Rohani − who is considered a relative moderate in the West − wants to exploit a resumption of Tehran’s talks with the big powers to gain time, even as his country continues with the nuclear project. Only an explicit military threat will stop the Iranians, said Netanyahu, whose remarks coincided with a series of recent leaks about that project.

New centrifuges, which enrich uranium quickly, were installed at the Fordow site and could allow the Iranians to take the world by surprise by producing the quantity of high-grade uranium needed for a bomb, without foreign intelligence agencies noticing this development in time. ‏(Netanyahu himself referred to this explicitly for the first time this week.‏) At the same time, Tehran is stepping up work on an alternative option − plutonium production − which, according to The Wall Street Journal, could allow the country to achieve full military nuclear capability by next summer.

Netanyahu’s concern is obvious. He believes that Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, is using the new president to set a honey trap for the West. Rohani’s sweet talk and moderate declarations will convince the Europeans and Americans that he is amenable to a compromise.

In practice, however, it is likely that the talks between the sides will drag on, while Iran continues to move ahead, and at the end of the process Tehran will present the world with a fait accompli: either the achievement of nuclear capability and a declaration to that effect, or being so close to that threshold that no one will dare threaten the country.
However, in contrast to the past three autumns, this time it is probably wrong to interpret Netanyahu’s statements as an explicit military threat per se.

The atmosphere that was created after Rohani’s victory leaves zero tolerance in the international community for an Israeli attack, at least until the conclusion of the planned year-end talks between Tehran and the big powers. The timetable for an attack would thus be deferred until next spring, when the weather in the skies over Iran’s nuclear facilities improves.

Juan Cole writes in his Top 10 Reasons Americans should Dismiss Israel's Netanyuahu on Attacking Iran that the Iranian electorate did about the most cruel thing possible to uber-hawk Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It replaced former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with an eminently reasonable and personable successor, Hasan Rouhani. Israeli and American politicians made hay with Ahmadinejad’s quirkiness and foot in the mouth disease. They also deliberately mistranslated him to make him seem menacing, even as he kept saying Iran would never launch a first strike.

Below are a few of the reasons cited by Cole not to pay attention to the recent round of saber-rattling by Netanyahu:

1. Everyone knows that the real reason Netanyahu keeps squawking about Iran is that he is trying to take the focus off the Israel campaign of ethnic cleansing and Apartheid policies toward the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Likewise, Netanyahu takes attention off of Israel’s own 400 nuclear warheads.

2. Everyone in the international community agrees that the new president of Iran will have to be given at least a year, and maybe more, to prove he is an earnest negotiator for Iran.  The European powers and the countries of the global South would never accept it.

3. President Rouhani is proposing increased transparency for its civilian nuclear program, so as to ease Western fears.

4. Contrary to what Netanyahu says, Iran does not have an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States, and the country is highly unlikely to have one any time soon.

5. The International Atomic Energy Agency does inspections of Iran’s enrichment facilities and according to its most recent report, “the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material at these facilities” That is, the IAEA has visited the sites where Iran does enrichment work, and its inspectors can testify that the enriched uranium is under seal, is all accounted for, and none has been diverted to weapons purposes. The IAEA has other complaints, especially that Iran won’t go beyond its obligations in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of the 1960s.

6. Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is based on running thousands centrifuges, which don’t all have to be in the same place. An Israeli air strike couldn’t possibly destroy all or most of them, and would only set the Iranian program back a little. 

An aerial view shows as far as the eye can see the Zaatari refugee camp where
115,000 -160,000 (estimates vary) Syrians call Zaatari home.
Now it is Jordan's fourth largest city. And nobody wants to live there. 
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Syrians who prefer war-torn home to Zaatari refugee camp
(click for video)
(Guardian UK, 7/25/13)

Life in Zaatari
(Jordan's vast camp for Syrian refugees)
(Lyse Doucet, BBC 7/29/13)

Enormity of Syria's Refugee Crisis Seen at Zaatari Refugee Camp
(Eline Gordts, Huffington Post, 7/18/13)

combined excerpt:

A year ago, it was forbidding desert terrain dotted with empty tents whipped by a scorching wind.

"No-one would want to live here," the UN's Andrew Harper admitted bluntly when Jordan's first official Syrian refugee camp called Zaatari was opened.

Now it is Jordan's fourth largest city and the world's second-largest refugee camp. .

And nobody wants to live there.

Few expected Syria's war to drag on so long, cause so much suffering, cost so many lives. The death toll is now 100,000 and counting.

According to the U.N., the war in Syria is the worst humanitarian crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Refugees continue to pour over the Syrian border into neighbouring countries, but despite losing homes and relatives in the conflict, many would prefer to return to a perilous future in Syria rather than stay at Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, where infectious diseases, a lack of security and soaring desert temperatures make life unbearable.

Up to 3000 refugees attempt to return to Syria each day. But with only 4 buses there is only space for 200 refugees.

A few weeks ago in Zaatari, BBC's Lyse Doucet saw long queues of families waiting in the baking heat, hoping to find seats on buses to take them back across the nearby Syrian border in the dark of night. The demand for transport is now outstripping the supply.

But many more have no choice but to stay. Their homes in Syria are destroyed, their neighbourhoods too dangerous, after more than two years of a worsening war.

Most are almost completely dependent on assistance. The arithmetic of this aid is staggering. The UN's World Food Programme, along with Save the Children, now distributes half a million portions of bread every day along with other rations.

And, like any fast-growing city, Zaatari has its security concerns including criminal gangs and local vendettas.

For many, their refuge has troubling echoes of the exodus of Palestinian refugees in the 1948 and 1967 wars. Palestinians also said then that they weren't here for long.

This latest influx is also putting significant strain on all of Syria's neighbours:  Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon in addition to Jordan, who have taken in about 1.8 million refugees.
The UN says 6,000 more cross one border or another every day. Jordanians, with their own financial woes, worry about rising prices and pressure on schools and jobs, from the estimated 400,000 displaced Syrians who live outside the Zaatari camp.

Nobody wanted to live in Zaatari. And now nobody can say, with any certainty, how long they will stay, and how many more will come.

Living on the frontline: Ebtahaj Najib, 58, looks over three of her grandchildren.
They share their three-room apartment with eight relatives.
Photograph: Tanya Habjouqa

The New Jerusalem
(Harriet Sherwood, Guradian UK 7/27/13)

In the Holy City, Jews are buying up Arab properties, aiming to 'reclaim' its ancient Muslim Quarter. Harriet Sherwood meets one family determined not to be moved

The Najibs fear that they and others like them are fighting a battle that may already be lost.

The setting for this battle is the historic Old City: a small walled enclave of less than one square kilometre within the sprawling city that is Jerusalem, divided into loose quarters for Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians. It is the heart of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the centre for the world's three great monotheistic religions, and a magnet for pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

But away from the souvenir shops  a religious and nationalistic struggle is ratcheting up tensions. Palestinians say a programme of "Judaisation" of the Old City is accelerating; ideologically driven and biblically inspired Jewish settlers insist they are simply redeeming land gifted to them by God.

Around 1,000 Jewish settlers now live among 31,000 Palestinians in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, taking over homes that have been inhabited by Muslim families for decades or even centuries, and flying Israeli flags from the walls and rooftops of their properties. They are the frontline fighters in a broader battle – backed by the Israeli government, city authorities and security services – to ensure Jewish control of Jerusalem and to drive its Palestinian population down to a minimum.

Twelve members of the Najib family – eight adults and four children – live in the three rooms of their first-floor apartment on El-Wad street.

For the past 30 years, a yeshiva – a place for religious study – has been based in the floors above the Najibs' home. According to the Najibs, the students, teachers and round-the-clock armed security guards make noise, throw garbage down the stairwell and intimidate the children. "Every minute – midnight, midday, evening, morning – they are singing, praying, playing music, slamming doors, coming up and down the stairs. But they never speak to us," says Youssef.

Daniel Luria, the spokesman for Ateret Cohanim, the organisation behind the yeshiva, later tells me that none of the settlers – a term he rejects – in the Muslim Quarter would be willing to be interviewed. "It's never advantageous. We are always seen as the occupier – the Palestinians are always seen as the residents," he says.

But Ateret Cohanim is much more than a promoter of religious studies. It is dedicated to helping Jews buy up Arab properties in the Old City and East Jerusalem in furtherance of what Luria calls the "physical and spiritual redemption" of the city.

There is no dispute that Jews were its earliest inhabitants, but the presence of Muslims and Christians also stretches back over multiple centuries.

More recently, at the end of the war following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem was divided, with the Old City on the Jordanian-controlled eastern side of the armistice line, known as the Green Line. The Jewish population within the ancient stone walls sank to zero.

Nineteen years later, Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day war, "liberating" – in its terminology – the Old City.  Jews returned to live close to their revered site of the Western Wall and Israel declared the "reunified, indivisible" city of Jerusalem to be its "eternal" capital.  Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem has never been recognised by the international community. The Palestinians want Arab-dominated East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, but Israel is determined to resist any division or sharing of the city; hence the state's policy of establishing Jewish "neighbourhoods" – settlements, to the rest of the world – in areas across the pre-1967 Green Line.

With little prospect in sight of a peace deal involving a shared Jerusalem, Ateret Cohanim, one of the key drivers of religiously motivated settler pockets, is increasing and consolidating the Jewish presence in the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City.

A report, Jerusalem, the Old City, published in 2009 by the International Peace and Cooperation Centre (IPCC)  – a Palestinian civil society organisation – said Ateret Cohanim was "taking the lead in the process of Judaising the Old City". Properties were acquired using three different methods, it said: claiming historic Jewish ownership and securing a court order to evict Palestinian residents; taking over "absentee property", or using underhand transactions, in which the identity of the buyer is concealed.

Meanwhile, in the Muslim Quarter, the daily grind of life is worsening little by little. In the past 30 years its population has doubled, exacerbating already-high levels of overcrowding and poverty. A report on the Palestinian economy published earlier this year by the United Nations said housing density in the Muslim Quarter was almost three times as high as in the Jewish Quarter, and many Palestinian homes lacked running water and a proper sewage system. More than 80% of dwellings require major rehabilitation or urgent maintenance, according to the IPCC.

Three out of four children in the Muslim Quarter live below the poverty line, and unemployment is more than 30%. Garbage collection is sporadic in these back streets, and there are almost no open spaces for children to play in.

A major reason for the migration into the Old City is an Israeli requirement for Palestinians to prove that Jerusalem is their "centre of life" in order for them to keep their valued residency rights in the city, giving greater access to jobs, education and healthcare. More than 7,000 Palestinians had Jerusalem residency rights revoked between 2006 and 2011; faced with such a threat, thousands more moved from suburbs and villages outside Jerusalem back into the city – including the Old City – to secure their identity papers. Others, who found themselves cut off from the city centre by the vast concrete separation wall, moved into the Old City to avoid daily checkpoint ordeals.

In the house on El-Wad street – Youssef Najib shrugs when I ask if he thinks the Jews are here to stay in the Muslim Quarter.

"They won't even give us the West Bank for a state, so you think they'll give back East Jerusalem?" he says. But he has created his personal frontline in the battle for the Old City. Many times settlers have knocked on the Najibs' door to offer the family money to leave the property. But Youssef says: "If you give me the whole wealth of Israel, I will not give you my home."

European Union: 
Future agreements with Israel won't apply to territories
(Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 7/16/13)

related articles including more by Barak Ravid:

EU takes tougher stance on Israeli settlements
(Harriet Sherwood, Guardian UK, 7/16/13)

Unprecedented strain on Israel-EU ties;
Netanyahu responds to EU:
"Israel will not tolerate edicts on our borders."
(Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 7/16/13)

New guidelines stipulate Israel must acknowledge East Jerusalem, West Bank and Golan as occupied territories before any future agreements signed with member states.

EU will take further measures against Israeli settlements
if Kerry's peace bid fails
(Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 7/16/13)

Measures could include labeling settlement goods and requiring travel visas for settlers.

combined excerpt:

Israel's relationship with the European Union has reached unprecedentedly strained levels.

The European Union has circulated a guideline for all 28 member states forbidding any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The guideline requires that any agreement or contract signed by an EU country with Israel include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the State of Israel and therefore are not part of the agreement.

The territorial clause determines that all agreements will be valid only within Israeli borders recognized by the European Union, meaning the borders prior to the 1967 Six-Day War.

The guidelines will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

The regulation is both practical and political: From now on, if the Israeli government wants to sign agreements with the European Union or one of its member states, it will have to recognize in writing that the West Bank settlements are not part of Israel.

"The guidelines are in conformity with the EU's longstanding position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel's sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law."

The new guidelines are intended to prevent a boycott against Israel, and to enable Israel to cooperate in EU projects and benefit from the funding they bring, the delegation pointed out.

A senior American official involved in efforts to kick-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians has warned that should U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts fail, European Union members states will adopt additional measures against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The U.S. administration and the political echelon in Jerusalem surmise that European countries will blame Israel should Kerry's efforts fail – and that they will then move ahead with plans to label goods produced in Israeli settlements across the 28-member union. Other European proposals that have been raised include requiring visas for Israeli settlers wishing to travel to the EU.

In Prime Minister's Netanyahu's Office and Foreign Ministry there is great tension and anxiety over the new regulation and its implications for Israeli-EU relations.

"We will have to decide what to do from this day forward," a senior Israeli official said. "We are not ready to sign on this clause in our agreements with the European Union. We can say this to the Europeans, but the result could be a halt to all cooperation in economics, science, culture, sports and academia. This would cause severe damage to Israel."

The move, described by an Israeli official as an "earthquake", was hailed by Palestinians and their supporters as a significant political and economic sanction against settlements.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, welcomed the guidelines. "The EU has moved from the level of statements, declarations and denunciations to effective policy decisions and concrete steps, which constitute a qualitative shift that will have a positive impact on the chances of peace."

"The Israeli occupation must be held to account, and Israel must comply with international and humanitarian law and the requirements for justice and peace."

The ruling determines the parameters for cooperation between the European Union along with its member states, and Israeli private and governmental entities between 2014 and 2020.

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, right, speaks to Mahmoud Hamamdeh, the chief of Mufaqara village, which faces multiple demolition orders in al-Mufaqara.
Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Israeli authors fight to stop eviction
of Palestinian villagers from army zone

Israeli novelist David Grossman:

  "For the past 20 years, Israel has been actively displacing the inhabitants of the South Hebron Hills villages.  These villages have always practiced a unique lifestyle...They live in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthess power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabitated for centuries."
(Harriet Sherwood, Guardian UK, 6/29/13)

On the sun-baked, windswept, near-barren hills of the southern West Bank, a thousand Palestinian villagers are braced for the final act in a long drama that could sweep away a tradition of goat-herding and cave-dwelling in an area designated as an Israeli military training zone.

In a little over two weeks, Israel's supreme court will hear an appeal on behalf of the villagers against the planned evacuation of eight communities in the South Hebron Hills. If the 13-year legal battle over Firing Zone 918 ends in Israel's favour, the bleat of goats will be replaced by the crack of assault rifles and the villagers will be moved into a nearby town. The Israeli government's position is that, as a military training zone including live fire, the area is not a suitable environment for permanent residence.

In the past week, support for the villagers has come from an unexpected source: 25 of Israel's best-known authors signed a petition calling for the communities to be saved. Written by the internationally acclaimed novelist David Grossman, the appeal's signatories include Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua, Meir Shalev and Sayed Kashua.

"For the past 20 years, Israel has been actively expelling and displacing the inhabitants of the South Hebron Hills villages," it says. "These villagers have always practised a unique lifestyle: most of them are cave-dwellers and find their livelihood in sheep and goat-herding and small crop farming. Over these years, they have suffered unceasing harassment by the Israeli army and settlers ... They live in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthless power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabited for centuries."

It goes on: "In a reality of ongoing occupation, of solid cynicism and meanness, each and every one of us bears the moral obligation to try to relieve the suffering, do something to bend back the occupation's giant, cruel hand."

The area of 12 square miles was designated a military training zone by Israel in the 1980s, but it was not until 1999 that action was taken to clear the land of its inhabitants.

The villagers were forcibly evicted, all structures were demolished and inhabited caves were filled with rubble and blocked up. But a court injunction allowed some villagers to return pending a decision on a legal challenge to the evictions. The case was frozen from 2005 until last year, leaving the threat of forced removal and demolitions.

It is a remote and undeveloped landscape, rolling towards the Negev desert. Tarpaulin tents and breeze-block shelters are scattered over the dry, stony hills. There are almost no paved roads, and none of the villages is connected to a water supply or the electricity grid. During the long, arid, summer months, families spend almost half their income on water for themselves and their livestock.

Meanwhile, hardline Israeli settler outposts on the edge of Firing Zone 918 are hooked up to water and power, served by paved roads and protected by the Israeli army. The Palestinian villagers and their livestock are subject to frequent intimidation and violent beatings by the radical settlers; For several years, village children have been given a court-ordered army escort on their walk to school following abuse and stone-throwing by settlers.

"This is a group of poor people who are being constantly harassed and attacked – and my country's army is obeying the command of the settlers in this area," Meir Shalev, an award-winning novelist and one of the signatories to the authors' petition, told the Observer. "These people are being driven away, and if you have some kind of heart it's something you should protest against."

The villagers' Israeli lawyers say the land's ownership is not in question. "I have three huge files of land ownership in this area. It's not disputed that this is privately-owned land," said Shlomo Lecker.

Under international humanitarian law, the transfer of occupied populations is forbidden unless it is temporary and in the context of active hostilities.

Mahmoud Hamamdeh, the chief of Mufaqara village, which faces multiple demolition orders, said the communities lived in "dignity and honour" until "the cancer of settlements began". Using the Arabic word for steadfast perseverance, he added: "Israel may destroy our cement, but it will never destroy our sumud."

Shalev said he hoped the authors' petition would awaken the Israeli public to the Palestinian villagers' plight, but was doubtful of its impact. "Israeli society has become deaf and blind to the moral aspects of the occupation. Today there are more Israelis active in the rights of street cats in Tel Aviv than these poor people in caves," he said.

The Egyptian State Unravels
  (Mara Rekin, Foreign, 6/27/13)

“Everybody needs a weapon,” said Mahmoud, a 23-year-old Egyptian arms dealer, as he displayed his inventory of pistols, machetes, and switchblades on the living room floor of his family’s apartment in the crime-ridden Cairo neighborhood of Ain Shams.

With Egyptian government statistics indicating a 300 percent increase in homicides and a 12-fold increase in armed robberies since the 2011 revolution,
Mahmoud and other black-market entrepreneurs are capitalizing on a growing obsession with self-defense and civilian vigilantism among Egyptians who have lost patience with their government’s inability to restore security. Frustration with lawlessness is among the numerous grievances that will drive antigovernment protesters to the streets on June 30, the one-year anniversary of President Mohamed Morsi’s inauguration.

Mahmoud is one of many post-revolutionary lawbreakers who were victims of crime before they became perpetrators. When I asked him how he made the decision to start selling black-market weapons, he replied sarcastically, “What decision? I had no choice.”  Mahmoud explained that he used to earn a living as a taxi driver. But shortly after the revolution, his car was hijacked at gunpoint by a local gang. Like many of the amateur black marketeers responsible for Egypt’s current crime wave, Mahmoud is a far cry from the hardened criminal I had been expecting; he is just a young man hoping to earn enough money to move out of his parents’ house, marry his fiancée, and replace his stolen taxi.

Mahmoud’s neighborhood is home to one of Cairo’s most active black markets in unlicensed weapons, where vendors hawk a variety of small arms -- stolen police pistols, locally made shotguns, knives, switchblades and Tasers -- at below-market prices. Although Egyptian law prohibits the sale of unlicensed weapons, these informal markets have thrived since the early days of the revolution. They operate openly and often in plain view of the police, who until recently showed little interest in regulating the illicit trade, despite soaring crime rates.

Egyptians once lived in fear of the state. Now they fear its absence.

Many of the guns for sale come from the thousands of firearms that were ransacked from police departments during the revolution. Others are smuggled across Egypt’s borders with Libya and Sudan.

The proliferation of small arms in Cairo and across Egypt is just one symptom of the security vacuum that persists two years after the uprising that shattered Hosni Mubarak’s seemingly unbreakable police state. Distrustful of a police force known for being simultaneously abusive and incompetent, and wary of an increasingly politicized judicial system that rarely delivers justice, many Egyptians are administering law and order on their own terms.

Meanwhile, facing intermittent strikes by judicial workers and police officers, Egypt’s overextended government is all too willing to outsource some of its law enforcement functions to nonstate actors and informal institutions. Since the revolution, local authorities have tolerated the expansion of informal Sharia committees that administer Islamic law, creating what is beginning to resemble a state within a state.

Egyptians complain that the police never fully redeployed after they withdrew from the streets during the revolution. Those few who are present in the streets are doing nothing to combat crime.

The refusal of police to do their job has more to do with apathy and incompetence than it does with corruption. Convincing the police to protect people who hate them -- and no longer fear them -- is no easy task.

Other reports suggest that a much more malignant phenomenon is at work: direct police complicity in organized crime. Criminal gangs are among the biggest beneficiaries of post-revolutionary lawlessness. They function as a substitute for state security personnel in the most dangerous slums of Cairo, allegedly with the tacit permission and even encouragement of police. According to Haitham Tabei, an Egyptian journalist who reports on urban crime, the police have willingly abdicated control over entire neighborhoods of the city to criminal gangs. These predatory groups operate illicit fiefdoms of racketeering, trafficking, and prostitution with total impunity, hiring thugs (and sometimes even children) to staff their private militias.

Outside of Cairo, the problem is even more severe. Gangs control entire sections of major highways in Upper Egypt and Sinai, where they terrorize truck drivers with semiautomatic weapons and use the threat of carjacking to extort royalties from companies that rely on ground transport to ship their goods.

Although the primary function of the Mubarak regime’s security apparatus was to protect the state from its political opponents, one of its few positive side effects was an overall chilling effect on crime. Before the revolution, Cairo had one of the lowest homicide rates in the world.

Crime waves are to be expected in post-authoritarian transitions, and the tradeoff between democratic reform and insecurity has been widely studied in the context of the Soviet Union’s demise. So it is perhaps unsurprising that violent crime rates have soared since the collapse of the Mubarak regime.

Meaningful security sector reform, a central demand of the revolution and one of Morsi’s forgotten campaign promises, has all but fallen off the political agenda. Egypt’s partially dissolved parliament and recently reshuffled government are preoccupied instead with mass protests, the deteriorating economic situation, and a legal battle over the design of the electoral system that has postponed elections indefinitely.

Without a serious effort to rebuild confidence in Egypt’s security apparatus and judicial institutions, there are few incentives to abide by laws that are neither enforced nor respected.

On both ends of an intensely polarized political spectrum, Morsi’s supporters and his opponents are behaving in ways that make armed confrontation inevitable. Neither the opposition nor the Brotherhood is doing much to reduce the probability of a bloodbath on June 30, other than to engage in a mutually discrediting display of blame-shifting.

US to Leave 700 Troops in Jordan
in Sign of Deepening Involvement in Syrian Crisis
  (Jonathan S Landay and Hannah Allam,, McClatchy Newspapers, 6/22/13)
In a sign of deepening U.S. involvement in the Syrian crisis, the United States isleaving 700 combat-equipped American military personnel in Jordan following the end of a joint U.S.-Jordanian training exercise, President Barack Obama told Congress Friday.

The decision brings to about 1,000 the number of U.S. troops now deployed in Jordan. It came a week after the White House announced that the United States would begin providing light arms to Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Obama said the troops would remain in Jordan to help provide that country with security, but he did not say specificallywhat they would be doing.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan in recent months to escape the fighting in their homeland. But, unlike Syrian neighbors Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, there has been no spillover of violence into the kingdom.

Rebels told McClatchy in December, however, that they had undergone trainingin light and heavy weapons use inside Jordan at camps they believed were overseen by American and British intelligence agents.

The 700 U.S. personnel that Obama said would remain in Jordan had been participating in military exercises dubbed Eager Lion. Those exercises ended on Thursday.

The Americans include the crews of two Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries and the logistics, command and communications personnel needed to support those units. The United States also is leaving behind a squadron of 12 to 24 F-16 fighter jets that Jordan asked the United States to keep in the kingdom, Obama said in his letter to Congress.

There already were some 300 U.S. troopsin Jordan whose official mission is advising the government and training Jordanian forces confronting the fallout of the brutal 2-year-old Syrian civil war, which has driven an estimated 560,000 refugees into the tiny kingdom, a key U.S. ally in the region, severely straining its finances and stability.  The war in  Syria has claimed an estimated 96,000 lives.

While the administration publicly declared the regime's alleged use of a nerve agent known as sarin as the reason for arming the rebels, it was widely seen as a belated attempt by Obama to bolster the opposition following the recapture earlier this month of the western city of Qusayr by regime forces and fighters of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militia movement from neighboring Lebanon.

The loss of Qusayr, other battlefield setbacks and the inability of a political opposition coalition to agree on leaders and a platform, dealt major blows to the badly fractured Syrian resistance and its foreign backers, including the United States and the Sunni Muslim-dominated states of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.

The US deployment is intended to step up pressure on the Syrian regime ahead of a peace conference that the United States and Russia are trying to organize.

The Turkish Media's Darkest Hour

How Erdogan Got the Protest Coverage he Wanted
(Piotr Zalewski, Foreighn Affairs, 6/14/13)
Two weeks into the protests that have raged in Istanbul and dozens of other cities across Turkey, a few things have become clear. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose authoritarian style of governance has made him the target of the demonstrators’ anger, has been weakened but remains popular and fully in charge. Those frustrated with his government's policies, as well as with the opposition's clumsy attempts to provide alternatives, have finally found a voice, if not necessarily a leader. One of the protests’ most tangible outcomes, however, has been to lay bare the full extent to which Erdogan’s government has brought the Turkish media to heel.

Over the past few years, Turkey has made headlines as the world’s top jailer of journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders, a nongovernmental organization that supports press freedom, 67 journalists currently sit in Turkish prisons.

The government insists that only a small fraction of the jailed journalists are behind bars for crimes related to their reporting. (Most of the journalists are Kurds accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, considered a terrorist group.) Human rights organizations and media watchdogs beg to differ. Of the 67 jailed journalists, a Reporters Without Borders spokesperson said in an email, “a minimum of 33 journalists and 2 media assistants” have been detained for their reporting.

Yet the debate about numbers misses the point. As the last two weeks have shown, Turkey’s jailed journalists are only the most visible symptom of a much wider malaise: the cowing
of the country’s free press.

As the scale of the demonstrations became clear, a number of major newspapers buried the story. And on June 1, as mass demonstrations and rioting erupted across dozens of cities, the main news channels buried their necks in the sand.

This is not the first time in recent memory that the media have recoiled under government pressure.

The crisis of the free press isn’t as simple as direct censorship or a chasm between pro- and anti-government media (although a number of outlets have been taken over by businessmen with close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party, known byits Turkish acronym, AKP). The
real problem in Turkey is that all mainstream media, sympathetic to the AKP or not, have little
choice but to be on good terms with the powers that be. This is as true now as it was when the
AKP wasn’t around, and when it was the once omnipotent army -- which managed to bring down four governments since 1960 and which Erdogan’s government has since brought to heel -- that
ruled from the sidelines. Today, however, it is more visible than ever before.

For most media bosses, newspapers are little more than vehicles to curry favor with the authorities.  Given the amount of cash that they hemorrhage each year, most media outlets, at least from an economic perspective, are useless investments. Where the media titans can rake in the big bucks is through investments in such areas as mining, construction, or port services, sectors where the
biggest client is none other than the government itself. With public contracts worth billions of
dollars at stake, and with the process for seeking them notoriously opaque, the bosses have to
tread carefully. Stepping on the government’s toes often means being left out in the cold. Just ask Aydin Dogan.  The media tycoon, whose newspapers ran a series of articles in 2008 about a corruption scandal allegedly involving the AKP, was first publicly shamed by the prime minister and then slapped with a record fine of $3.2 billion for tax irregularities.

Back when the generals pulled the strings, the taboo issues were the Armenian genocide of 1915,
the Kurdish situation, and the military itself. Today, says Esra Arsan, a former reporter who is currently a professor of journalism and media studies at Istanbul Bilgi University, it’s the hard-hitting stories on government corruption and corporate malpractice that are off limits.

Arsan says the media have become "experts on how to censor themselves.”

The scale of the problem is astounding. Of the journalists Esra Arsan interviewed for a 2011 study, 95 percent said the government intervened in editorial decisions, 89 percent said the media bosses did, and 100 percent reported that censorship was common.

In most cases, it isn’t the fear of being jailed that breeds self-censorship but the fear of being left jobless, branded, and unemployable.

Protests have continued in the village of Khashamir against the US attacks
[Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber/Al Jazeera]

Anger at US drone war continues in Yemen
  Psychiological impact mounts in Khashamir where drones killed a family last year;
Residents still feel "terrorized"
(Rebecca Murray, Al Jazeera 6/7/13)
In his counterterrorism speech on May 27, Barack Obama stopped short of an apology when he acknowledged civilian casualties by American drones, saying: "Those deaths will haunt us as long as we live."

For Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, 54, and his rural village of Khashamir, one deadly accident continues to exact a heavy toll.

The circumstances behind the drone strike are tragic. Faisal said his brother-in-law, a respected, 49-year old cleric called Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, delivered a forceful sermon denouncing al-Qaeda’s extremism at the local mosque.

Salem’s worried father feared retribution from pro-al-Qaeda fighters. He asked Faisal to advise his son to tone down his rhetoric. But when confronted, the imam bravely said he would rather die knowing he was preaching the right message.

Salem’s fate was sealed a few days later, on August 29. Three strangers - in retrospect, suspected fighters - drove into the village, searching for the outspoken cleric.

They found Salem at the mosque that night, surrounded by worshippers. They convinced him to talk with them outside by a palm grove. Faisal’s nephew, Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, a 20-year old with the traffic police, accompanied him for protection.

"It was after the evening prayer and I was sitting on my balcony," Faisal said, recalling that moment. "There was a light and then a big noise - I thought the mountains would fall."

Four drone strikes in total, a few minutes apart, violently tore Salem, Walid and the three visitors to shreds. Amidst the pandemonium, villagers cowering inside the mosque ran out for safety between strikes, believing they would die inside.

"You cannot imagine what we found," said Faisal, drawing a slow, deep breath as he described the nighttime chaos that followed. "We found body parts scattered everywhere. We tried to collect them all, and brought them to the mosque to wrap in white cloth."

The repercussions were devastating. The villagers marched the next day, chanting: "Obama, why do you spill our blood?" But Ymen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi met their pleas for answers with silence.

Salem’s mother died two weeks later apparently from shock. Faisal’s sister Hayat, the mother of Walid, refuses to leave her home, and said she is "waiting to join my son". Faisal’s daughter Heba was so stricken with fear she didn’t leave her home for twenty days. She still needs psychiatric care.

"The people in the village are so afraid now," Faisal sighed. "Everything has changed. They think they can be killed anywhere."

Rights groups say the damage is serious. "All that local communities see is the damage and destruction," said Letta Taylor, a counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Nothing that suggests that the US and Yemeni authorities care about the consequences."

President Obama declared that the US will continue to "act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people" and that before any strike "there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured".

Analysts point to the key terms "imminent threat" and "near-certainty" as some of those that need to be more clearly defined.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been up to 154 strikes by US drones in Yemen since 2002, with up to 97 civilians included in the almost 800 total killed in the attacks.

Both the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conduct drone strikes in Yemen. The CIA operates from a secret base in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

US Attorney General Eric Holder recently admitted that four US citizens have been killed by drone attacks. While al-Awlaki was directly targeted, he said that the other three, including al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son Abdulrahman, were not.

One person who grew up under drones is Entsar al-Qadhi, a representative with the National Dialogue’s counterterrorism subcommittee. Her central province of Marib was first hit in 2002, and has been a common target for surveillance and strikes
in recent years.

Al-Qadhi smiled grimly. "Before, there was a general interest in listening to Osama Bin Laden’s speech and finding out what he will do next, and how he will terrorise people more," she said. "Now, we listen to Obama’s speech to find out how he will next terrorise us."

Meanwhile, the psychological scars for drone strike survivors fester.

Peter Schaapveld, a psychologist sent by British Charity REPRIVE to south Yemen to investigate the symptoms, uncovered some dire statistics.

Out of his pool of survivors, he found 70 percent to be suffering from formal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and virtually all were suffering from some symptoms of PTSD.

Schaapveld warns that as long as they continue living under a drone threat, their symptoms will only worsen.

"There is basically a breakdown of society as a result of this," he said. "Children were not going to school, or if they were the school teachers did not understand PTSD and sent them home. They were not benefiting from an education, and this is storing up problems for later."

"Where there was a strike on the market area, daily commerce was starting to break down," Schaapveld added. "People were not going to the markets, because to meet in those areas meant they might be subject to another strike."

Israeli soldiers take part in exercises in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria.
Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Imagesurtesy Al Jazeera

Golan Heights villages brace for war
as tensions rise between Syria and Israel
  (Phoebe Greenwood in Majdal Shams/Golan Heights, Guardian UK, 5/31/13)
A mother in the village of Majdal Shams, on the slopes of the Golan Heights, who asked not to be named, has been stocking up on rice, canned food, oil and wheat for the last week. She listens to news reports of missiles from Russia and Israeli air strikes, she hears the cracks of gunfire and thuds of mortars just minutes away in Syria and feels the war coming closer.

"There is an atmosphere of fear now. Everyone is preparing for war, not just me," she says.

As the fast escalating war of words between the Assad regime and Israel threatens to reignite a conflict that has lain dormant for more than 45 years, villages along the faultline in the Golan Heights are stockpiling food and medical supplies.

On Thursday Bashar al-Assad threatened to "open a front on the Golan Heights" should Israel make good the promises of its security chiefs to prevent Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems becoming operational on Syrian soil.

"There is clear popular pressure to open a front of resistance in the Golan and there is Arab enthusiasm and a desire to come and fight against Israel," the Syrian president told Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.

Many in Majdal Shams, a small Druze village, are convinced that this political posturing will soon become impossible to back out of. The community is preparing itself for a war that neither country wants to fight.

The Golan Heights is home to more than 80,000 Druze, an esoteric Islamic sect whose insular, self-governing communities are accommodated by governments across the Middle East.

"We are in a very special situation. We are lucky our village wasn't destroyed in 1967 because Israel considers us Druze so we are not a target for them. We are Syrian so we are not a target for Syria or for Hezbollah. We are like an island in this region," explains Dr Maray Taisseer, a consultant at the Majdal Shams medical centre and community spokesperson.

The war, if it comes, may not be a disaster, Taisseer suggests, if it delivers Golan back into Syrian hands.

"Whatever happens in Syria, everyone agrees we should be liberated – it doesn't matter whether it's by regime or rebel forces. This is Syrian land and that is clear," he states unequivocally.

The distinctive peaked roofs of Majdal Shams run right up to a new Israeli military fence, erected at a blistering pace along the 1967 armistice line just six months ago. Families here are divided in their loyalties to regime and rebel forces but all are committed Syrian nationalists. The enemy is the Israeli occupier.

The Israeli military has significantly boosted its presence in the Golan as the Syrian civil war has edged closer. The hilltops are lined with military outposts and packs of young recruits are drill-marched along local roads, past fields of Syrian-laid landmines not cleared since the 1967 war.

If Syrian and Israeli forces do clash on this border, Druze families on the frontline say they will not leave their homes. Every house has a bomb shelter and enough food to last several months. They are ready to weather the next war.

Hussein Khater, 47, is continuing work on a home for his children with a view over the border fence to Syrian hills.

"We still feel Syrian but the most important thing to us as Druze is our land. This is my land that I am standing on now and I don't care what government controls it but I won't leave," he says. "I hope there won't be war here but if there is, it won't be a problem for us."


Series on the Palestinian 'catastrophe' of 1948 that led to dispossession and conflict that still endures
(Al Jazeera English 5/22/13)

related video:
A message by Dr. Mona el Farra from Gaza

Al-Jazeera English is broadcasting a special four-part series on Al-Nakba (first broadcast on the Arabic-language network in 2008).  The first 3 episodes can be accessed on demand on Al Jazeera's website. The 4th episode airs Tuesday, May 28 1pm PST and should be added to their site shortly thereafter.

For Palestinians, 1948 marks the 'Nakba'
or the 'catastrophe'. In human terms, that year saw the mass deportation of a million Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages.
But for Israelis, the same year marks the creation of their own state.

The series attempts to present an understanding of the events of the past that are still shaping the present.

In 1968 British historian Arnold Toynbee stated  "the tragedy in Palestine is not just a local one; it is a tragedy for the world, because it is an injustice that is a menace to the world's peace."

Episode 1:

This story starts in 1799, outside the walls of Acre (Akka in Arabic) in Ottoman-controlled Palestine, when an army under Napoleon Bonaparte besieged the city. It was all part of a campaign to defeat the Ottomans and establish a French presence in the region.

In search of allies, Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection. He called on the Jews to ‘rise up’ against what he called their oppressors.

Napoleon’s appeal was widely publicised. But he was ultimately defeated.

Napoleon’s project for a Jewish homeland in the region under a colonial protectorate did not die, 40  years later, the plan was revived but by the British.

Episode 2:

On 19 April 1936, the Palestinians launched a national strike to protest against mass Jewish immigration and what they saw as Britain’s alliance with the Zionist movement.

The British responded with force. During the six months of the strike, over 190 Palestinians were killed and more than 800 wounded.

Wary of popular revolt, Arab leaders advised the Palestinians to end the strike.

Palestinian leaders bowed to pressure from the Arab heads of state and agreed to meet the British Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by Lord Peel.

In its report of July 1937, the Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine. Its report drew the frontiers of a Jewish state in one-third of Palestine, and an Arab state in the remaining two-thirds, to be merged with Transjordan.

A corridor of land from Jerusalem to Jaffa would remain under British mandate. The Commission also recommended transferring where necessary Palestinians from the lands allocated to the new Jewish state.

The Commission’s proposals were widely published and provoked heated debate.

As the Palestinian revolt continued, Britain’s response hardened. Between 1936 and 1937, the British killed over 1,000 Palestinians; 37 British military police and 69 Jews also died.

Episode 3:

Few Palestinians, if any, could have imagined they were to become victims of what would later be called ‘ethnic cleansing’.

After 30 years of British rule, the question of Palestine was referred to the United Nations, which had become the forum for conflict.

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly met to devise a plan for the partition of Palestine. UN Resolution 181 divided Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as an internationalised city.

The Jewish state was granted 56 percent of the land; the city of Jaffa was included as an enclave of the Arab state; and the land known today as the Gaza Strip was split from its surrounding agricultural regions.
But making the proposed Arab state all but proved impractical in the eyes of many Palestinians.

When the draft resolution was presented for voting, Arab newspapers ran a ‘name and shame’ list of the countries that voted for the UN partition plan, and Arab protesters took to the streets.

Following the partition resolution, Britain announced it would end its mandate in Palestine on 14 May 1948.

Episode 4:

Airs Tuesday, 1pm (PST) May 28.

This episode reports on 1948-2008 including the illegal seizure of Palestinian land after the 1967 war.

Dore Stein: Sadly the 'Nakba' is still on going on the ground with settlement building escalating and Palestinians being forced from their homes in East Jerusalem, Hebron and elsewhere.

Detained Testimonies from Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel
(+972 Blog, text and photos by Samar Hazboun)

Related story:
Israel arrests 14 year old U.S. citizen
Mohammad Khaleq is one of more than 8,000 Palestinian children
held by Israel since the year 2000
(Linah Alsaafin, Al Jazeera, 4/15/13)

First  (top) story excerpt:

‘Detained: Testimonies from Palestinian Children Imprisoned by Israel’ uncovers
one of the most painful experiences that Palestinian children endure in the ongoing Israeli occupation. Through interviews with ex-detainees and mothers of minors presently in detention, the project documents their stories and aims to lend a voice to those who are silenced from fear of negative repercussions.

Over the past 11 years, according to Defence for Children International, some 7,500 children have been detained in Israeli prisons and detention facilities. Muhammad Daoud Dirbas, at the age of six, was the youngest child to have been detained by Israeli soldiers. Such practices are considered illegal under international law, as are other policies that children are subjected to, such as solitary confinement.

In most cases, I (Samar Hazboun) found children who suffer from various traumas. Some were not able to talk about what had happened in prison; others burst into tears.  Many children agreed to talk “off the record”;  I thus know their stories but was not able to officially interview them or take their pictures. In some cases, I was able to talk to the parents once the child left the room, and thus obtained more detailed information about how the children were dealing with what had happened to them.

In many cases, the children suffer from insomnia, involuntary urination, nightmares, depression, and fear of going out and facing people.

All the children I interviewed decided not to take further legal action, out of fear of the repercussions of doing so, and the lack of belief that they will be guaranteed protection.

It was not possible to independently corroborate all of the facts told by the children and their families. These are their stories, in their words.

Dates, names and places have been changed in order to protect the children’s identities.


The house of Z.S. (17) was attacked on a Thursday night at around 2 a.m. with stun grenades and tear gas. Six soldiers broke into his family house and arrested him. The soldiers dragged him to a neighboring settlement 1 kilometer away. During the walk, he was beaten. He was left outside in the cold, blindfolded, for two hours.

During the interrogation, he was asked whether he wished to be treated like an animal or a human being. He responded, “like a human being.” He was handcuffed and blindfolded, as the interrogator electrically shocked him several times. He then grabbed his head and banged it against the wall until a second interrogator came in. The interrogator asked him to lie on the ground, and started to kick him until he lost consciousness.

Z.S. was released that same day. He has not filed any complaints for fear of the repercussions of doing so.

M.K. (18) was accused of belonging to a militant group. He was arrested from his family home and held in prison for 18 months. He spent 45 days of the 18 months in solitary confinement with his legs and hands tied together. Various methods of torture were used on him, including sleep deprivation and emotional blackmail.

When M.K. was moved out of solitary confinement, he endured group punishment. He was not allowed any visits during that period.

During the raid to arrest M.K., his house was attacked by tear gas and stun grenades. As a result, his neighbor’s daughter lost hearing in one ear.

M.K. is not allowed to leave the city of Nablus for the next six years.

I.B., 16 years old

I.B.’s cousin was shot dead at an Israeli checkpoint in Nablus at the age of 15. The soldiers suspected he was wearing an explosives belt because of a wire connected to his ear. It later transpired that it was a mobile phone earpiece.

In order to commemorate his cousin, I.B. decided to print posters of his cousin and paste them on the walls of his neighborhood.
This was considered a crime by the IDF.

I.B. spent four days in prison and 18 days in a solitary confinement cell. He was not able to finish his studies after his imprisonment.

Z.B., 17 years old at the time of his arrest

Z.B.’s family was asked by soldiers to immediately evacuate their house with no prior notice. During the raid on his house, all of the family’s furniture was broken into pieces.

When the soldiers finished raiding the house, one soldier twisted his arms while the second blindfolded him. He and his cousin were arrested. They were accused of belonging to a Hamas group.

Z.B. has been in prison for nine years now. He is not allowed any family visits.

M.O., 12, has been detained seven times so far. The first time, he was arrested at the age of nine for allegedly throwing stones at settlers.

M.O.’s family is constantly targeted by settler attacks as they live in Hay al Bustan in Silwan. Their house is slated for demolition as a part of an Israeli plan targeting the homes (of) Arab citizens in Jerusalem.

Settler attacks are very common in that area. M.O. was attacked by settlers and beaten up. He suffered from internal bleeding due to the brutality of the attack.

On December 5, 2010 M.A. (13) was arrested at 2 a.m. from his family house. He was accused of damaging settler cars and throwing stones.

When M.A. was arrested, he was severely beaten. As a result of the torture he underwent during his time in detention, his trial had to be postponed because of the visible bruises on his head and body.

The child was not allowed any visits during his detention. The court ruled to release him on bail of NIS 5,000 ($1,300), in addition to placing him under house arrest.

On January 28, 2011 Y.K. (15) went with his father to the fields of the farm they own, which is located next to an Israeli settlement. The family was attacked that day by armed settlers who shot Y.K. in the head. He later died.

His younger brother, 14, was arrested and detained for 45 days.

In 2011, B.A. (15) was arrested for the first time. Shortly after his release, he fell ill and was hospitalized. During his stay at the hospital, the IDF went to his house to arrest him, as he was on a wanted list. When they did not find him, they arrested his brother instead.

The soldiers offered to release his brother in exchange for B.A., threatening to raid the hospital. The ”exchange” operation took place at 6 a.m. and was filmed with the presence of medical staff.

B.A. is in detention and has attended eight court hearings for participating in a peaceful protest against the occupation. Under Israeli military law, all Palestinian protests are illegal.

He is not allowed any family visits.

Documentary photographer and visual artist Samar Hazboun  can be followed on Twitter (@Samar_Hazboun).
Her website is here..

Nour Joudah (center) with her class at Friends School

Nour Joudah returns to U.S.,
but continues to fight Israel's arbitrary denial of entry

(Alex Kane,, 4/19/13)
Palestinian-American teacher Nour Joudah  was denied entry to the West Bank en route to her only place of employment and has returned to the United States after fighting the Israeli bureaucracy from Amman, Jordan. Nour Joudah is a  teacher at the Friends School in Ramallah.

The Quaker-affiliated school is one of the oldest educational institutions in Palestine and is an oasis.  But the case of Joudah clearly shows that Israel calls the shots in occupied Palestine. And examining her story shatters the feeling that the Friends School is worlds away from a conflict situation.

Things seem utterly normal at Friends. Hints of the chaos of the Second Intifada--when Israeli shells were fired near the school and a bombing hit a nearby police station--are nowhere to be found. You would be forgiven if you forgot for a moment that there was an Israeli occupation. Israeli soldiers, though, still conduct raids in the heart of Ramallah as they see fit.

The Palestinian students who attend the Friends School are well aware of the occupation and its grip on Palestinian life. The students who learned English from Nour Joudah are even more viscerally aware of how Israel controls Palestinian freedom of movement, even if the person has American citizenship. Israel’s decision to deny Joudah entry left them without a teacher they adored, and temporarily disrupted their studies.

Yara Izhiman, 14, described Ms. Nour, as they called her, “so friendly...She makes sure you love to learn,” said Izhiman, in extremely good English. “I never thought they would do such a horrible thing...This specific story shows the world how they prevent people from coming home.”

Joudah, a graduate of Georgetown, hails from Clarksville, Tennessee and had been teaching English at the Friends School since September 2012. She held a multiple-entry visa from Israel which gave her permission to stay and work in Ramallah for a whole year. Last Christmas, she traveled to Amman, Jordan on her way to celebrate the holidays with a friend. But when she went back to the West Bank in early January, Israeli border authorities denied her entry for unspecified “security” reasons.  Repeated denials of entry effectively amounted to a revocation of her visa.

The Friends School in Ramallah has been funded by USAID, or the United States Agency for International Development. This, combined with Joudah being an American citizen, were more than enough reason for American officials to get involved after Joudah’s first denial of entry. But Joudah’s citizenship, and her US-government funded place of employment, didn’t matter to Israeli authorities.

“This is the only place in the world where I feel that it means nothing to be an American” said Reham Barghouti, a psychology instructor and guidance counselor at the Friends School who is also an American citizen. She shared a classroom with Joudah while they both taught at the school. “If there was any other place that dealt with American citizens in this kind of way, there would be this whole giant uproar, right? But because it’s here, I guess, it doesn’t really matter.”

The Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. recommended that she try entering at Ben-Gurion Airport.  On February 25, her plane touched down in Tel Aviv. But despite having a multiple-entry visa, she was again questioned, detained and denied entry. Judah said Israeli interrogators asked her for what she called “a list of every young Palestinian that I knew so that [the interrogator] could create a file of phone numbers to tap.”

She was put back on a plane to Amman the next morning. Joudah denies she was uncooperative; she says she answered every single question (other than the request to furnish the names of young Palestinians she knew).

Joudah hired Israeli-American lawyer Emily Schaeffer, who is known for taking on the Israeli government’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.  Schaeffer sees Joudah’s denial of entry as evidence of two trends she has noticed while working as a lawyer: restrictions on both foreign NGO workers who assist Palestinians as well as foreigners with Palestinian or Arab backgrounds. Earlier this year, Haaretz  reported that Israel had “renewed restrictions on the freedom of movement of foreign nationals who live and work in the West Bank that prohibit them from entering East Jerusalem or Israel.” As for the other trend, Schaeffer says she has other Western clients who have had to deal with Israeli discrimination like Joudah has. “Basically, it’s intended to block the empowerment of the Palestinian community,” said Schaeffer.

This type of discrimination is getting renewed attention in the wake of news reports on a bill sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that would grant Israel an exemption from reciprocating visa-free entries to the country. AIPAC is pushing legislation that would allow Israelis to enter the U.S. without the hassle of obtaining a visa. Usually, countries reciprocate this practice with the U.S. But Israel--and AIPAC--are pushing for an exemption that would effectively allow Israel to discriminate against travelers it sees as “security threats”--largely meaning people with Palestinian or Arab backgrounds. “It’s stunning that you would give a green light to another country to violate the civil liberties of Americans traveling abroad,” said a Congressional staffer.

See Glen Greenwald column:
"Barbara Boxer, AIPAC seek to codify Israel's right to discriminate against Americans."

Despite the headaches Israel has caused for her, Joudah still manages to see some light in her situation. She has no regrets having fought the denial, and says her students have learned some valuable lessons from her.

One of Joudah’s students, Nicole Zakkak, said that “one of the most important things I learned from Ms. Nour was to speak about my homeland and my rights as a priority.”

Joudah added: “As my mother reminded me, 'honey, the whole nation is in exile, so you’ve never been any different, you just got a reminder."

Iraq's pain has only intensified since 2003

"The country of my birth, already so damaged, is now crippled by fear of all-out civil war.
But in the people there is hope."

(Opinion piece by Sami Ranmadani, Guardian UK, 3/13/13)

related article:
Iraq fears return of sectarian war,
this time wth added political dimension

Shias and Sunnis increase attacks amid concern Syria war
could raise violence to levels of deadliest period in nations's history

(Peter Beaumont, Guardian UK 3/13/13)

note: The Guardian UK had an excellent series called "Iraq war: 10 years on"
that included anniversary interviews, stories and analysis.

Amid many articles commemorating the anniversary, I chose to excerpt an opinon piece by Iraqi political refugee Sami Ramadani who is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University and was a political refugee from Saddam's regime.

Sami Ranmadani opinion piece excerpt:

It has always been painful for me to write about Iraq and Baghdad, the land of my birth and the city of my childhood. They say that time is a great healer, but, along with most Iraqis, I feel the pain even more deeply today. But this time the tears for what has already happened are mixed with a crippling fear that worse is yet to come: an all-out civil war. Ten years on from the shock and awe of the 2003 Bush and Blair war – which followed 13 years of murderous sanctions, and 35 years of Saddamist dictatorship – my tormented land, once a cradle of civilisation, is staring into the abyss.

Wanton imperialist intervention and dictatorial rule have together been responsible for the deaths of more than a million people since 1991. And yet, according to both Tony Blair and the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright,
the "price is worth it". Blair, whom most Iraqis regard as a war criminal, is given VIP treatment by a culpable media. Iraqis listen in disbelief when he says: "I feel a responsibility but no regret for removing Sadam Hussein." (As if Saddam and his henchmen were simply whisked away, leaving the people to build a democratic state). It enrages us to see Blair build a business empire, capitalising on his role in piling up more Iraqi skulls than even Saddam managed.

The Iraqi people are fully aware, too, that Saddam committed all his major crimes while an ally of western powers. On the eve of the 2003 invasion I wrote the for the Guardian: "In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam's party, the Ba'ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats; it backed the Ba'ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979…helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait…; it backed him in 1991 when Bush [senior] suddenly stopped the war, exactly 24 hours after the start of the great March uprising that engulfed the south and Iraqi Kurdistan…; and it backed him as the 'lesser evil' from March 1991 to September 11 2001 under the umbrella of murderous sanctions and the policy of "containment"."

But when it was no longer in their interests to back him, the US and UK drowned Iraq in blood. That war has still not been consigned to history – not for the people of Iraq or the region.

We haven't even counted the dead yet, let alone the injured, displaced and traumatised. Countless thousands are still missing. Of the more than 4 million refugees, at least a million are yet to go back to their homeland, and there still about a million internal refugees. On an almost daily basis, explosions and shootings continue to kill the innocent.

The US and UK still refuse to accept the harmful consequences of radioactive depleted uranium munitions, and the US denies that it used chemical weapons in Falluja – but Iraqis see the evidence: the poisoned environment, the cancer and deformities. Lack of electricity, clean water and other essential services continues to hit millions of impoverished and unemployed people.  Women's rights, and human rights in general, are daily suppressed.

And what of democracy, supposedly the point of it all? The US-led occupying authorities nurtured a "political process"
and a constitution designed to sow sectarian and ethnic discord. Having failed to crush the resistance to direct occupation, they resorted to divide-and-rule to keep their foothold in Iraq. Using torture, sectarian death squads and billions of dollars, the occupation has succeeded in weakening the social fabric and elevating a corrupt ruling class that gets richer by the day, salivating at the prospect of acquiring a bigger share of Iraq's natural resources, which are mostly mortgaged to foreign oil companies and construction firms.

Warring sectarian and ethnic forces, either allied to or fearing US influence, dominate the dysfunctional and corrupt Iraqi state institutions, but the US embassy in Baghdad – the biggest in the world – still calls the shots.

To add to the increased tension within the country, the war in Syria is threatening to create a wider regional conflict, with Iraq
and Lebanon being sucked in.

The US-led war on Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, with genocidal dimensions for the Iraqi people, and continues to fuel conflicts and sow discord in the region.

There was once a strong democratic unifying force in Iraq, but this was crushed by the CIA-backed Ba'athist coup of 1963, and Saddam's regime. The re-emergence of such a force is now the Iraqi people's only hope.

Key Hamas leader accepts 1967 borders, embraces pragmatism
(Analysis by Dahlia Scheindlin,*, 4/6/13)

* +972 is a blog-based web magazine that is jointly owned by a group of journalists, bloggers and photographers whose goal is to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine. Our collective is committed to human rights and freedom of information, and we oppose the occupation.
The name of the site is derived from the telephone area code that is shared by Israel and Palestine.

(combines +972 analysis and parts of interview)

An exclusive interview in Al-Monitor published Friday with deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government, Dr. Ghazi Hamad by Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar, explains the far-reaching change in attitudes under way in his movement and the unchanged approach of not recognizing Israel.

Dr. Hamad is considered to be very close to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whom he once served as spokesman, and to the chief of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, the movement’s newly reelected leader.

‘Pragmatic’ is certainly the word interviewer Shlomi Eldar, one of Israel’s top television reporters covering Palestinian affairs, wants readers to remember. Dr. Ghazi Hamad heads the “pragmatic wing” of Hamas and the interview is all about the changes of policy, external relations, and possibly even ideology.

The +972 analysis of the interview discusses three specific points, two internal and one related to Israel:

First, in the context of Palestinian politics, Dr. Hamad works to convey institutional legitimacy. He emphasizes that Mashal was re-elected to the head of the political bureau through a participatory political process:

Ghazi Hamad: "First of all, we must remember that these were democratic elections, and as such, they are a credit to the movement. Elections for Hamas’ other institutions ended a year ago, and that was the last time that the Hamas
movement expressed confidence in its leaders."

He may have been overstating the “democratic” case – it’s not exactly a popular primary but the top layer of a multi-layered delegate structure – the shura council – that elected Mashal. Still, Hamad clearly wants to convey the legitimacy of the decision-making process and political maturity.

Second, he stresses the commitment to advancing the long-stagnant plan for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Hamad discusses some of the mechanics of how this could happen, which indicates a serious effort and also highlights a change from the past.

Ghazi Hamad:  "There is an extensive political and diplomatic program which we must advocate and work toward, and that includes joining the official institutions of the PLO. Those are our objectives, and that is our new approach."

Should this come to pass, it could help erode Israel’s widely-embraced notion that there is “no partner,” because the Palestinian leadership is too divided to agree or implement an accord.

Finally, with relation to Israel, Hamad states openly that Hamas accepts 1967 borders without recognizing Israel. It’s not the first time Hamas has indicated support for 1967 as the basic borders. Khaled Mashal stated so last November, in a CNN interview on the day of the ceasefire that ended the Pillar of Defense war in Gaza:

Khaled Mashal:  "We have two options… the way of peace and a Palestinian state, according to the border of 1967 with the right to return. And this is something we have agreed upon as Palestinians, as a common program."

The fact that Hamad now explicitly and repeatedly states acceptance of ‘67 lines, to an Israeli interviewer, shows much greater clarity on this policy issue.

But in the same breath Hamas says: “We do not say ‘two states,’” and “Hamas does not recognize Israel.”

What does this mean? In fact, it is only confusing if one fails to appreciate the symbolic aspect of politics, diplomacy, conflict and political change. Hamas has opted to become a player rooted in the world of political facts, rather than fantasies that are de-linked from reality. In reality, its leaders know that there will be no Palestinian state west of the Green Line, and its policy statements reflect that.

But Hamas is also a symbol of political community. It is the community of resistance against Israel (“as long as the occupation continues,” he says. If Palestine is 1967, then this is a finite struggle). It also distinguishes them from Fatah, which is increasingly identified with failure to end the occupation, or even blamed for perpetuating it.

Violence was once the primary meaning of “resistance.” Yet Hamas has largely relinquished violence now: Hamad emphasizes that “armed struggle remains a right,” but that “popular uprising” (the term for the unarmed protests – ds) is the tactical preference.

Ghazi Hamad: "Hamas put a stop to its resistance [terrorist attacks]. It respects the cease-fire. There has been a major change in policy."

Therefore the remaining symbol of Hamas’ political identity is resistance to recognizing Israel – a symbolic measure in itself, for it affects the life of no one. It clings to this even as its policies now acknowledge political facts.

Further, recognition in any formal form will be a major symbolic concession to the other side. Israel will probably eventually negotiate with Hamas, in some combination with other Palestinian leaders. Recognition of Israel is also a bargaining chip for that stage; one that would not logically be surrendered beforehand.

Deeply committed ideological players in a conflict cannot be expected to change rapidly or openly, and their symbolic identity will be the last to go. But consider this: Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol reads  Israel’s apology to Turkey as a sign of incremental openness to dealing with moderate Islamic political forces. By analogy, we might hope that Hamas’ empirical analysis of the situation has shifted, and its policy has followed. Maybe its symbolic stance is next in line.

A rehearsal for the Somali group Waayaha Cusub, while in exile in Kenya.
Now the group is to headline at the Mogadishu music festival.
Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Somali rapper leads rebirth of music n Mogadishu
after years of oppression

(Jessica Hatcher, Guardian UK, 3/28/31)

When Shiine Akhyaar Ali took to the stage in Mogadishu this week, it was the first time the Somali rap star had performed in his former hometown. It was also the capital's first proper music festival in more than 25 years.

Ali, whose hip-hop collective Waayaha Cusub is headlining the open-air Mogadishu music festival, has been through a lot to get here. The group he formed with fellow Somali refugees angered the Islamist militants who used to run Mogadishu, with their lyrics attacking al-Shabaab and its al-Qaida allies.

lyrics excerpt:

Shocked Shocked

Who is Behind this trail of destruction?
 Al-Shabab is

They galvanize people on the street for their wicked cause

They profess to be Muslim yet wield machetes

In 2007, gunmen believed to be working for al-Shabaab fired 17 shots at him and left him for dead in his adopted home, Nairobi. Ali was hit five times but survived to fight back, using words as his weapon. "He's Martin Luther King crossed with Tupac," said Daniel Gerstle, one of the festival organisers.

Waayaha Cusub are among artists from seven countries playing in Mogadishu, a city that used to have a thriving music scene. Al-Shabaab, the latest insurgents to control the city during more than two decades of conflict, banned music in 2009, forcing most musicians to quit or flee. Even after the Islamists were chased out of Mogadishu in 2011, this once diverse and bustling seafront city remains one of the world's most dangerous places, with regular suicide bombs and assassinations.

With organisers concerned that the festival will be a target for anti-western militants, security is tight. Details and dates of the five-day festival were kept secret until 12 hours before Wednesday's opening ceremony, when about 200 young men and women attended an invitation-only concert. By 10pm, the dancefloor was packed. "This has never been seen before in Mogadishu," 23-year-old Abdi Kafi Hassan said.

The festival is made up of a series of events spread over four days in different locations. The schedule is fluid and venues have not been publicly confirmed. The organisers are building towards the final "reconciliation concert", open to all Somali young people, where a crowd of more than 2,000 is expected. This may be held off until Monday for security reasons. "It's baby steps," Gerstle said to the musicians after last night.

Brookman, a festival consultant and veteran of running events in conflict zones, said all the secrecy was necessary. "The fear of being attacked is real," he said. "We are seen as such a legitimate target."

Performers are held in secure compounds and accompanied by a pickup truck carrying five private security guards armed with AK-47s whenever they leave their hotels.

Singer Ariana Delawari, who in 2011 became the first woman of Afghan descent to perform live rock in Afghanistan, said she was nervous. "I'm definitely way more scared to be in Somalia than Kabul," she said.

And security isn't the only headache for organisers: logistics have proved equally difficult. Brookman said among the various challenges was the struggle to find enough metal piping to build a six-metre-high rig for a young Somali woman to do acrobatics.

And the speakers, sound system, lighting and stage for the final concert are all still on a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean, en route from the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Driving the equipment overland was impossible, as it would have meant crossing al-Shabaab lines.

And whatever happens, the presence of al-Shabaab will be felt at the festival. Ali said that, shortly after he arrived in Mogadishu, an 18-year-old named Muhammad came to see him at his hotel. Muhammad confessed that he had been part of Amniat, al-Shabaab's intelligence agency. He told Ali that al-Shabaab had lured him with the promise of money, paradise and all the women he could ever want. He asked Ali forgiveness for the attack on him and said that he wanted to take to the stage at the festival to tell young Somalis that al-Shabaab was not the way forward.

"He asked me to write a song about his story," said Ali, who will bring Muhammad on stage on the final day of the festival. "He will tell others that the promise of women and rape is not right."

And after Mogadishu, the music tour moves on to Dadaab in north-eastern Kenya, the biggest refugee camp in the world.

The 'Mavi Marmara' Photo: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya

"Sorry" says Israel's Netanuyahu,
opening way for diplomatic relations with Turkey
(Sheera Frenkel, Hannah Allam and Roy Gutman, McClathcy Newspapers, 3/22/13)

Netanyahu apologizes to Turkey over Gaza flotilla
(Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, 3/22/13)

combined excerpt:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized Friday to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ending a nearly three-year-long feud in a phone call brokered by President Barack Obama.

Obama said that "the timing was right" for Israel and Turkey to begin repairing diplomatic relations, which were frozen when Israeli naval commandos raided a Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, that was attempting to break an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip; nine Turkish nationals on board were killed.

Netanyahu apologized for the raid Friday, admitting that there had been "operational failures" and offering compensation for those killed. Israeli officials said the phone conversation had lasted 10 minutes, and by its end the two leaders had agreed to begin normalizing diplomatic relations. Just four years ago, Turkey was considered one of Israel’s closest allies in the region. The two countries staged regular joint military training exercises and had an open line of communication among the various divisions of their armed forces. Israeli pilots trained in Turkish skies, improving their capability to carry out long-range missions such as possible strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Netanyahu, in turn, can tell his intelligence and military echelons to resume lucrative arms deals with Turkey and the sharing of information vis a vis Iran, while Erdogan can boast that he forced an apology out of the Israeli premier.

Erdogan’s office announced the Israeli apology. "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to the Turkish nation for all errors that caused loss of life and injuries, and the Turkish prime minister accepted this apology on behalf of the Turkish nation," the press release said. It quoted Netanyahu as telling the Turkish premier that Israel has lifted restrictions on the entrance of goods for civilians’ use to Palestinian territories including Gaza.

Turkey, for its part, agreed to drop all charges against a group of former Israeli military commanders including former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi.

Netanyahu said he saw the interview that Erdogan gave the Danish newspaper recently, in which Erdogan stepped back from his statement equating Zionism with racism, and Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the clarification.

Erdogan had told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper that he would not take back his comments from several weeks ago that Zionism was a crime against humanity. He did, however, try to explain them as a misunderstanding.“My several statements openly condemning anti-Semitism clearly display my position on this issue. In this context, I stand behind my remarks in Vienna,” said Erdogan in the interview, which was published Wednesday.

Dan Arbell, a scholar of Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, wrote in December of small signs that Turkey and Israel might finally be moving toward a rapprochement.
Turkey, he wrote, had tired of watching the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt “take center stage” in orchestrating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and felt marginalized on the most recent negotiations on Gaza. In addition, Arbell added, as the Syrian crisis encroaches on Turkey’s borders, the Erdogan administration would seek improved intelligence cooperation with Israel.

In recent months, Israeli officials have expressed increased concern that the ongoing civil war in Syria could spill out onto Israel’s borders, and that the vast weapons stockpiles – including chemical weapons and anti-aircraft systems – could make their way into the hands of hard-line Islamist movements. Turkey shares similar concerns, especially as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought refuge in southern Turkey and used the border between the two countries to plan attacks and move weapons into the hands of opposition forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israeli officials have pushed, in the past, for a contingency plan to be formed that would secure not just Syria’s chemical weapons, but also other weapons systems.

"Israel does not want to see a situation like that which happened in Libya when (former Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi fell, when the weapons went to the highest bidder. They do not want a free for all," said retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog.

Rachel Corrie

Saturday, March 16, the Rachel Corrie Foundation Marks the
10th Anniversary of Rachel's Stand in Gaza with a Call to Action

related article:

excerpt from Rachel Corrie Foundation website:

Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003, while undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition.

Since her killing, an enormous amount of solidarity activities have been carried out in her name around the world.

Saturday, March 16th, the Rachel Corrie Foundation marks the 10th anniversary of Rachel’s stand in Gaza.  It has been an extraordinary, challenging ten-year journey for our organization, for the Corrie family, and for those in our community and beyond who have worked tirelessly for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel, in the world, and at home.

This dynamic weekend of events will be a kick-off to a year of Peace Works events.  We encourage you to participate in the kick-off by completing at least one action from our Call to Action.

Now, we call on you – individuals, organizations, and communities -  to join us in these actions.

Call out Caterpillar, Inc. now on its faulty actions and explanations!  Challenge the appearance of CAT’s Washington Director of Government Affairs at AIPAC!  Tell CAT to own up to its business with Israel and to end its complicity in violations of human rights and international law in Israel/Palestine.  See how to help here.

Tell President Obama to use his March Mideast trip to see for himself, to demand compliance with U.S. laws and policies, and accountability for how U.S. tax dollars are used by Israel.  See how to help here.

Demonstrate your support for the rights of Palestinians that Rachel, many other internationals, Israeli activists, and Palestinians have stood to defend!  Reflect, connect the dots, and strengthen your community’s commitment to justice for Palestinians and peace in the Mideast.    See how to help here.

Rachel Corrie wrote,

“The international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable.  We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly.”

Let’s use this March anniversary as an opportunity to make some noise and be visible in our support for equal rights for Palestinians, accountability and justice, and an end to Israeli occupation!

Let’s remember, act, and celebrate together – how we (like Rachel) have stood this past decade for justice, freedom, equality, and peace in the Middle East and beyond – and let’s think together about how we move ahead to make freedom for Palestine a reality.

A Palestinian youth is arrested by Israeli border policemen following clashes with Israeli forces at the Shuafat refugee camp
in Jerusalem on February 9, 2010 during the second day of an arrest operation.
(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

  Israeli Abuse of Palestinian Children In Prison 'Systematic'
and 'Institutionalilzed' Says UN Report
(Huffington Post, Agence France Presse by Hazel Ward, 3/6/13)

Israel Mistreats Palestinian Children In Custody, UNICEF Reports

The United Nations Children Fund estimated that 700 Palestinian children aged 12-17,
most of them boys , are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli military, police
and security agents every year in the West Bank
(Haaretz, Reuters 3/6/13)

combined  excerpt:

Palestinian children detained by the Israel Defense Forces are subject to widespread, systematic ill-treatment that violates international law, a UNICEF report concluded, outlining 38 recommendations to improve the protection of children in custody.

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 700 Palestinian children aged 12-17, most of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli military, police and security agents every year in the occupied West Bank, noting the rate was equivalent to "an average of two children each day."

"In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights," it said.

Although the maximum sentence for children of 12 and 13 is six months, the penalty rises dramatically from the age of 14 when a child can face a maximum penalty of between 10 and 20 years depending on the circumstances, it said.

UNICEF in the 22-page report that examined the Israeli military court system for holding Palestinian children found evidence of practices it said were "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture".

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said officials from the ministry and the Israeli military had cooperated with UNICEF in its work on the report, with the goal of improving the treatment of Palestinian minors in custody.

"Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect," he said.

According to the report, ill-treatment of Palestinian minors typically begins with the arrest itself, often carried out in the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers, and continues all the way through prosecution and sentencing.

"The pattern of ill-treatment includes ... the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties, physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints," the report said.

In some cases, they suffered prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or access to a toilet.

UNICEF said it found no evidence of any detainees being "accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation" and they were "rarely informed of their rights."

"The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess," it said, noting they were restrained during interrogation, sometimes for extended periods of time causing pain to their hands, back and legs.

"Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member," it said.

Most children confess at the end of the interrogation, signing forms in Hebrew which they hardly understand.

It also found children had been held in solitary confinement for between two days and a month before being taken to court, or even after sentencing.

During court hearings, children were in leg chains and shackles, and in most cases, "the principal evidence against the child is the child's own confession, in most cases extracted under duress during the interrogation," it found.

"Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention. Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves," UNICEF concluded.

Most of the minors are arrested for throwing stones.

UNICEF based its findings on more than 400 cases documented since 2009 as well as legal papers, reports by governmental and non-governmental groups and interviews with Palestinian minors and with Israeli and Palestinian officials and lawyers.

Palestinians carry the body of Arafat Jaradat during his funeral in the West Bank village of Saeer.
 Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

Israel arrests Palestinian human rights activists
(by Jillian Kestler-D'amours, The Electronic Intifada, 3/01/13)

related article:

Palestinian Arafat Jaradat gets hero's funeral
after death in Israeli custody
Palestinian officials say autopsy results show that Arafat was tortured during Israeli interrogation and was bruised over his body with two broken ribs (Guardain UK, 2/25/13)

Electronic Intifada article excerpt:

As protests continue across Palestine in support of thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, local organizations say that the Israeli authorities have increased their pressure on Palestinian human rights defenders.

“This is a way to [break] the principle of solidarity between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian prisoners, and the case of the Palestinian prisoners in the conscience of the Palestinian people,” said Mourad Jadallah, a legal researcher with Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners support group.

In October 2012, Israeli soldiers arrested Jadallah’s colleague, Ayman Nasser, from his home in the West Bank village of Saffa, near Ramallah, in the middle of the night. He was taken to Jerusalem’s infamous Russian Compound prison — Moskobiyyeh in Arabic — and kept in isolation for weeks of interrogation.

Addameer reported that he was held in painful, stress-inducing positions during interrogation sessions that sometimes lasted for more than 20 hours, was barred from sleeping, psychologically intimidated and frequently denied access to a lawyer and to proper medical care.

Through the use of torture, the Israelis also coerced witnesses — other Palestinian prisoners held in Israel — to incriminate Nasser. These witnesses later testified in front of an Israeli military court that they gave false statements ("The Shin Bet's dream investigation," Haaretz, 2/10/13)  Nasser is currently being held in Israel’s Megiddo prison; his next hearing will take place on 4 March at Ofer military court.

Israeli pressure on Palestinian human rights defenders and organizations continued unabated into 2013. Another case that has drawn widespread criticism was the arrest and continued detention of 28-year-old Palestinian activist Hassan Karajah, also from Saffa.

The youth coordinator at Stop the Wall, a Palestinian grassroots movement against Israel’s wall in the West Bank, Karajah was arrested from his home in the middle of the night on 23 January.

Before arresting Hassan and taking him away, blindfolded and shackled, in an Israeli army jeep, the soldiers confiscated computers, cell phones, paperwork and family photos from the home, and threatened and interrogated other family members.
“Hassan is one of the youth activists well-known within the youth circles in Palestine. He is one of the recognized, youth leaders who can organize [people],” said Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign.

“They are trying to be aggressive and to finish their colonial project in the West Bank. They don’t want any Palestinian, organized reaction. Anybody that they think that he can be influential on the street, [with] the people, of course he will be targeted because they want to continue their project quietly,” Juma’ told The Electronic Intifada.

According to Addameer, Karajah has lost 16 kilos (35 pounds) since his time in prison began, and was not given the correct dosage of medication for nerve damage in his leg.

“I think Hassan as well as all the other Palestinian prisoners should be [released]. There is no crime that has been committed, other than being committed to their cause and their people and trying to defend the rights of their people and the rights of humanity. [They] are in [prison] for values that [they] believe in that don’t belong just to Palestinians, but to the whole world,” Juma’ added.
Killed in custody Tens of thousands took to the streets across Palestine earlier this week to show their anger at a Palestinian prisoner’s death in Israeli prison. Thirty-year-old Arafat Jaradat — a father of two from the West Bank village of Sair — was killed in Megiddo prison on 23 February. An autopsy revealed signs of torture on Jaradat’s body, including laceration marks, broken bones, bruises and cuts.

Jaradat’s death has drawn attention to what many say is the widespread use of torture in Israeli interrogation centers and prisons, medical neglect of prisoners, and the lack of accountability with which Israeli interrogators operate.

According to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, between 2001 and 2011, 700 complaints were filed to the Israeli attorney general on behalf of detainees alleging torture was used against them. To date, not a single criminal investigation was launched into these complaints ("Failure to investigate alleged cases of ill-treatment and torture" 1/1/11).

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at

A still from Emad Burnat's Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras.
Photograph: Majdi Mohammed/AP 

The Israel-Palestine drama will play out at the Oscars

The Academy Awards ceremony will make history this year with the first ever nomination of a feature documentary made by a Palestinian. 5 Broken Cameras was filmed and directed by Emad Burnat, a resident of the occupied Palestinian West Bank town
of Bil'in, along with his Israeli filmmaking partner Guy Davidi.

What does a Palestinian farmer wear on the red carpet in Hollywood? We were almost prevented from knowing, as Burnat, his wife and 8-year-old son were detained at Los Angeles International Airport and threatened with deportation. Despite his formal invitation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, it took the intervention of Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore, who now sits on the Academy Board of Governors, followed by Academy attorneys, for Burnat and his family to gain entry into the country.

5 Broken Cameras is in competition at the Oscars with an Israeli documentary, The Gatekeepers, a film that features interviews
with the six surviving former directors of Israel's Shin Bet, the country's secret internal security service, which functions as a sort
of hybrid of the US FBI and CIA. In the film, all six condemn the current practices of Israeli occupation and settlement expansion.

In a remarkable case of life imitating art, as celebrities gather for the entertainment industry's biggest gala of the year, the Israel/Palestine conflict is being played out on the streets of Tinseltown.

Hours after regaining his freedom, Burnat issued a statement that read:

    "Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at US immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States. Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary 5 Broken Cameras and they told me that if I couldn't prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day."

He went on:

    "After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room. I simply told him the truth: 'Maybe we'll have to go back.'  I could see his heart sink."

Gibreel's birth in 2005 was the motivation for the film. Emad Burnat got his first camera then, to record his fourth son growing up.
At that time, the government of Israel began building the separation wall through Bil'in, provoking a campaign of nonviolent resistance from the Palestinian residents and their supporters. As Burnat recorded the protests, his cameras were smashed or shot, one by one, destroyed by the violent response from the Israeli army and the armed Israeli settlers.

Dror Moreh is the Israeli director of The Gatekeepers. Moreh told me:

    "The settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. If there is something that will prevent peace, it's the settlements and the settlers. I think this is the largest and most influential and most powerful group in Israeli politics. They're basically dictating the policy of Israel in the last years. I think that definitely for the Palestinians, the settlements are the worst enemy in their way to the
homeland. When they see everywhere, in Judea and Samaria now, the settlements that are built like mushrooms after rain,
they see how their country is shrinking."

Both 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers are up for the Oscar against other very compelling nominees: How to Survive a Plague, about the AIDS epidemic; The Invisible War, about rampant, unprosecuted rape in the U.S. military; and Searching for Sugar Man, about renewal for a musician long thought dead.

Burnat finished his statement on his detention at Los Angeles International Airport:

    "Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank. There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day."

Regardless of which documentary wins, the 2013 Oscars mark a historic shift in the public dialogue on Israel/Palestine, a long-overdue shift to which 40 million television viewers will be exposed.

The Islamic Revolution’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (L) greeted in 1979 in Tehran by
his supporters during his return to Iran after 15 years in exile in Iraq and France
AFP/Getty Images

Iran's Srebenica:
How Ayatollah Khomeini sanctioned the deaths
of 20,000 'enemies' of the state

A tribunal at The Hague publishes a report illustrating the regime's crimes against humanity (by Peter Popham, Independent UK 2/7/13)


The horrors visited on tens of thousands of Iranians in the years after the Islamic revolution were spelled out as the Iran Tribunal published its final judgment.   The Tribunal found that during the 1980s the Islamic Republic was guilty of the murder of between 15,000 and 20,000 political prisoners.

Inspired by the Russell Tribunal set up by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre to investigate American war crimes during the Vietnam war, the Tribunal, sitting in The Hague, set about documenting and publishing the crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic regime that have been referred to as Iran’s Srebrenica after the massacre by Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces on Muslims during the Balkan wars. British QC (Queen's Counsel) Sir Geoffrey Nice, a member of the Tribunal’s Steering Committee, told The Independent: “There are a number of such tribunals around the world, but what is particularly striking about this one is that it was started and seen to fruition not by lawyers but by the Iranian diaspora itself, by people who had themselves been tortured.”

It was in 1981 that Iran’s new Islamic government, with Ayatollah Khomeini as its figurehead, rounded on the leftists and others who had come together with the Islamists to bring down the autocratic rule of the Shah two years earlier and gave them two choices: convert or be liquidated.

 “In the 1980s the Islamic Republic of Iran went about arresting, imprisoning and executing thousands upon thousands of Iranian citizens because their beliefs and political engagements conflicted with the regime,” the judges wrote. “The religious fervour of these crimes makes them even more shocking: for instance, a woman’s rape was frequently the last act that preceded her execution in Iran, as under the ‘Sharia’ law guidelines, the execution of a virgin female is non-permissible.”

Mrs Shekoufeh Sakhi, today writing a PhD thesis in Political Philosophy at the University of Toronto, told the Tribunal how she had been forced to sit blindfolded and motionless in a sort of coffin from dawn to late at night while her jailers bombarded her with Islamist propaganda and recordings of the “confessions” of fellow-prisoners who had been broken by the torture.

As Mrs Sakhi explained, there was nothing haphazard or unconsidered about the regime’s long reign of terror. As a left-wing 14-year-old in Tehran she had taken part in the uprising against the Shah alongside the Islamists, but by 1982 things had changed. “Iran was now at war with Iraq, and now the mood of the regime was, ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us.’ Revolutionaries like me came to be seen as counter-revolutionaries and fifth columnists. They rallied their base support against us and divided the country in two.”

In June 1981 there was a wave of arrests and summary executions. Ms Shekoufeh went underground but the following February the Revolutionary Guards arrested her. “It was amazing and bewildering,” she recalled. “Those who had been in jail during the Shah’s time said this was much worse. The big difference was that they weren’t going after big organisations – my organisation had already fallen apart – but were collecting everybody who had the motivation to be ‘different’. The jail was so full of high school students you could hardly move. The project was mass conversion.” The executions had been a way of softening up the youth for conversion.

Those like Shekoufeh who proved stubborn were given the “coffin” treatment – nine months of sensory deprivation and complete immobility. “It was a horrible psychological torture,” she said. “You couldn’t move, talk, cough, sneeze, if you did they’d beat you up. There were constant sermons and Islamic teaching classes through the loudspeakers. The whole point was to empty the person of their own identity, making you an empty shell then filling you up with their garbage. After two or three months I felt I was losing my mind, losing control of my sense of reality. A lot of people had nervous breakdowns.”

Sir Geoffrey Nice commented, “The Tribunal is a very major thing. The most important thing is that people can say what happened, they can put it on the record. Now the UN could be pressed to have their own commission of enquiry.”

Iran’s government was invited to the Tribunal but neither replied nor took part.

Maryam and Zainab Abdulhadi embrace inside Bahrain's airport upon Marjam's return from exile

Bahraini activist's triumphant return

Amid a groundswell of support for the Al-Khawaja family to win the Nobel Prize,
daughter Maryam ends her exile

(by Lawrence Weschler, 1/11/13)

Related article:
A worthy, necessary Nobel honoring the Arab spring
(by Lawrence Weschler, 1/11/13)

(first person of Lawrence Weschler)

The remarkable Al-Khawaja family continue to bedevil the dictatorial royal regime of Bahrain in ever more confounding ways.

In the article A worthy, necessary Nobel honoring the Arab spring I reported on a growing worldwide groundswell of support behind the notion of the entire Abdulhadi  family being considered for this coming year’s Nobel Peace Prize. I described, among other things, the 52-year-old father Abdulhadi’s longtime commitment to nonviolent resistance in support of democratic civil society and against the profoundly repressive regime of the Al Khalafa royal family (local allies, alas, of the United States, which stations its Fifth Fleet there in Bahrain).  I described his brutal arrest following the suppression (largely by the neighboring Saudi army) of the short-lived Pearl Revolution in early 2011; the farcical trial that ensued with its apparently predetermined life sentence; the repudiation of that trial (and others like it) by the regime’s own hand-selected International Commission; the refusal of the regime to recognize its own commission’s recommendations; the 110-day hunger strike that Abdulhadi launched in early 2012 in response to the regime’s failure to honor those recommendations; his eventual suspension of the hunger strike amid regime assertions that the their own judiciary would be embarking on a good-faith review of all those sentences; and the final court’s blithe verdict reconfirming Abdulhadi’s ridiculous life sentence, and those of all his colleagues in the civil society movement.

The article also described the ongoing brave activism of other members of Abdulhadi’s family — his wife, two sons-in-law, and especially his two daughters, 29-year-old Zainab (mother of a toddler) in  Bahrain (who has been arrested no less than seven times in the past two years for undertaking demonstrations both alone and at the head of peaceful throngs, as a result enduring countless months in prison herself); and 25-year-old Maryam on the outside, where, taking advantage of her Danish citizenship (attained back in the ’90s when the family had attained political asylum in the country), she has been tirelessly advocating on behalf of her father and the cause of Bahraini and more generally Gulf democracy in her role as the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

And now this press release from the BCHR:

The Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; and Deputy Director for the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Maryam Al-Khawaja, has decided to travel to Bahrain Friday, 11 January 2013.

The primary purpose of Maryam Al-Khawaja’s trip to Bahrain is to visit her father and uncle in prison as well as to see family members. Additionally, she will be observing the human rights situation on the ground as her colleagues Nabeel Rajab and Sayed Yousif AlMuhafdhah remain in prison.

Maryam’s decision to return was particularly brazen, given the regime’s repeated denunciations of her activism abroad — and it definitely put hard-liners in the country in a bind: Should they just allow the return (given the activist’s remarkable effectiveness and the further attention her return could bring to her family’s cause), or should they stop her at the airport, refusing admittance to the country (thereby only adding to her stature and fanning the flames of the international campaign on the family’s and its movement’s behalf)?

Maryam Alkhawaja was granted a two week visa. However, a Bahraini human rights activist who asked not to be named was quoted in a BBC story he was fearful that Maryam could find herself serving a lengthy jail term. “She could be charged over her tweets against the king and serve five years under a new law that was passed in December,” he said.  But would the regime dare arrest her?  And if it did, would such an act have any other effect than simply to add to the luster of the Al-Khawaja family’s brightening authority?

Relatives of Samir Awad mourn after the 17-year-old
died of gunshot wounds  on 14 January.
(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

How the media let Israel get away with murder
(Charlotte Silver, Opinion/Editorial, The Electronic Intifada 1/17/13)

Israel spends a lot of time talking about secure borders and how the need for them drives its policies regarding the Palestinians. With few exceptions, the media act as willing promoters of this perversion of reality.

Between 11 and 15 January, four young Palestinians — aged 17 to 22 — were shot dead by Israeli occupation forces. The murders took place in the Gaza Strip and at different points along Israel’s wall in the West Bank. In all instances the Israeli army justified the use of lethal force by invoking its need to protect the integrity of the wall and Israel’s borders.

On 11 January, 22-year-old Anwar Mamlouk was reportedly just outside the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza when Israeli soldiers gunned him down.

The next day, Odai al-Darawish, 21, was shot to death at three o’clock in the afternoon while crossing Israel’s wall in the West Bank to get to work in Israel. Initially, Israeli sources claimed the soldiers shot al-Darawish in his legs, in accordance with the “rules of engagement” ("Israeli troops kill Palestinian trying to cross barrier", The Chicago Tribune, 12 January 2013).

But medical sources quickly revealed that he was hit in the back, indicating that he was likely shot while trying to run to safety
("Israeli forces shoot, kill worker south of Hebron", Ma’an News Agency, 12 January 2013).

Mustafa Jarad was aged 21 and a farmer from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. He was shot in the forehead by an Israeli sniper on 14 January while working his land.

Doctors at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City tried to remove the bullet from his severely injured brain, but Jarad died after surgery.
Shooting a schoolboy
On 14 January, Samir Awad, a 17-year-old from Budrus, a West Bank village located near Ramallah, was shot from behind in the head, torso and leg while running away from soldiers.

Samir had just completed his last exam before school break and had joined a group of boys to protest the wall. Samir’s family has lost five acres of land with 3,000 olive trees due to the construction of Israel’s wall; Samir had also been jailed three times for his participation in demonstrations ("Israeli forces shot youth in back as he ran away say Palestinians", Guardian UK, 15 January 2013, see above photo).

English-language reports of these murders have been scant where they exist at all. For example, the press is in disagreement over the circumstances of Anwar Mamlouk’s death. Reuters reported that Anwar’s brother, Hani, stated that Anwar had been studying outdoors when he was shot ("Israeli forces kill Palestinian along border with Gaza: Hamas",  NBC, 11 January 2013).

The BBC, however, relayed only the Israeli military’s version of events and reported that Anwar had entered the “forbidden area” along Gaza’s boundary with dozens of other Palestinians ("Gaza: Palestinian farmer killed by Israeli gunfire",  BBC, 11 January 2013).
Shifting the blame
The New York Times took the murder of Samir Awad, the fourth in the spate of Israeli willful killing of unarmed Palestinians, as an opportunity to remark on the “growing unrest” in the West Bank, bizarrely shifting culpability for the deaths onto Palestinians "Israeli forces kill Palestinian at barrier", NYT, 15 January 2013).

The paper’s reporter Isabel Kershner pivots the focus of the January 14 murder away from Israel’s trigger-happy soldiers operating in a world of endless and unquestioned impunity and onto Palestinians’ “simmering restiveness”; their increased participation in “disturbances” of the “relative stability” that Israel has tried to maintain; and their “dire financial crisis that has prevented the Palestinian Authority … from paying … government workers.”

Notably there is no explanation provided as to why the PA has not been able to pay its tens of thousands of workers, namely that Israel has stolen the Palestinians’ tax and customs duty funds.
Omitting key facts
This is how The New York Times turns the cold-blooded murder of a teenage boy into a deliberately obfuscating story that describes an opaque haze of “tensions” and “growing unrest.”

This exonerating cloud of ambiguity is kept afloat by the newspaper’s methodical omission of facts: not only the facts of the recent murders, but those of the countless incursions, demolitions and violence that Israel perpetrates against Palestinians every week ("Weekly report on Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory", Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 10 January 2013).

These are the kind of facts that, if properly reported by the journal of record, would allow readers to know that it is Israel who is the violator of the terms of the country’s own precious “borders.” Proper reportage would give stark and unassailable lie to the notion that it in order to protect these borders, it must shoot and kill innocent men and boys, or women and girls.
Deferring to Israel

The awful truth of what happened to the four dead Palestinians lies outside stories in which gunned-down youths are identified by their intentions to trespass, and in which the wall is described as designed to keep out “terrorists.” Yet the BBC, The New York Times, Reuters and AP all deferred to Israeli military sources to report on the deaths of four young people. The result is that their readers are told that Israeli soldiers followed the proper protocol to protect Israel’s sovereignty and borders.

With the notable exception of British newspapers the Guardian and The Independent ("Did Israeli troops deliberately provoke boy, only to shoot him in the back?" Independent, UK 16 January 2013), the media dutifully joined ranks with the State of Israel, grinding out the useful fiction that implicates these dead young Palestinians as menaces to the security and stability supposedly maintained by the chimera of separation.

As for borders, it’s exceedingly likely that the grief-stricken parents of the slain youths would love to see the existence of any kind of boundary on Israel that might protect their children from the presence of a threatening, violent and usurping entity.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in occupied Palestine and San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @CharESilver.

Will 2013 be the year American Jews secede from Israel?

If AmericanJews think what is being done in their name is self-destructive and oppressive,
it stands to reason they would want it to stop
(Bradley Burston Blog, Haaretz 1/01/13)

note: above link requires registration


As the new year dawns, there are mounting signs that 2013 may be the year in which U.S. Jews – in the main, liberal in outlook, committed to tolerance, pluralism, and a vigorous, sincere pursuit of peace – effectively secede from this state of Israel.

They remain committed to supporting the existence of an Israel which balances Israeli and Jewish culture with respect for minority rights, democratic values. They will stay active in promoting the welfare of Israel's disadvantaged.

But many American Jews are already distancing themselves in word and deed from a government it sees as arrogant and short-sighted, enslaved to a runaway train of settlement, dismissive of the rights of Palestinians and other non-Jews, cold to the concerns of a sinking middle class and the drowning disadvantaged, contemptuous of the concerns of the larger Jewish world.

The catalysts: settlement expansion - especially as it strikes at Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects and mocks Washington – and backhanded insensitivity to the rights and ritual of non-Orthodox Jews.

In recent weeks, some of Israel's most influential defenders in the States have warned of hardline Israeli policies and parties which could lead "to the destruction (the self-destruction) of Israel" (Jeffrey Goldberg), and "national suicide" (Thomas Friedman).

There are Israelis who will do anything not to be reminded that American support, anchored by U.S. Jewry, is the strategic asset which makes all other strategic assets possible. The 2012 election, after all, saw prominent members of the ruling Likud-Beiteinu, notably Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, actively campaigning for the defeat of President Obama.

But that was then.

Now, as Israel's election campaign nears its home stretch, the heavily favored Likud-Beiteinu party, which encompasses the principal authors of nearly all of the anti-democratic legislation of the last four years, offers fresh voices and perilous new avenues for alienating American Jews from Israel.

There is, for example, Moshe Feiglin, who will enter the Knesset following the January 22 election. Something of his political philosophy can be gleaned from a 2004 article on radical settlers, in which Feiglin spoke to Goldberg, then writing in the New Yorker:

“Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?” Feiglin said to me. “For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.” In any case, Feiglin said, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.”

American Jews want to know what is being done in their name. In the name of Judaism. And if they think that it is self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop.

American Jews are tiring of being told that opposing Israel's policies puts Israelis in danger. Blackmail is not persuasion. If the hard right is so certain that it can get along without American Jewish support, it may all too soon get the chance to find out. 

Fighters of the hard-line Salafi group Ansar Dine in August. The group has controlled Timbuktu
and much of northern Mali since a coup d’état and a successful revolt against the central authority in March.
Romaric Hien/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

France launches air strikes on Mali rebels; Al-Qaeda linked fighters pushed back from key town
(Al Jazeera 1/12/13)

France Battling Islamists in Mali
(NY Times 1/11/13)

related article:

Islamist's Harsh Justice is on the Rise in North Mali
(NY Times 12/18/12)

combined excerpt and background:

The international standoff with Islamists controlling northern Mali took a decisive turn on Friday, as French forces engaged in an intense battle to beat back an aggressive rebel push into the center of the Mali which is a former French colony.

Mali has been in flux since a March coup allowed Islamists and Tuareg separatists to seize the entire northern half of the country.

Responding to an urgent plea for help from the Malian government, French airstrikes have halted the advance of Islamist rebels in the key town of Konna as more than 100 people were reported to have been killed in the fighting.  Konna is considered a gateway towards the capital Bamako 375 miles further south.

Sanda Abou Mohamed, spokesman for Islamist group Ansar Dine who along with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (A.Q.I.M.) operate a drug trafficking and kidnap economy in northern Mali  told Al Jazeera: "The terrorist French military bombed Konna. The hospitals are now filled with the injured - women, children and the elderly are the main victims."  "It's impossible to know how many have been killed, but the number is huge," he said. "Only five of those killed were our fighters. The rest are all innocent civilians."

(see video at above Al Jazeera headline link: "Ansar Dine spokesman and analyst comment on Mali")

"It was only two months ago that [French President] Francois Hollande said there would be no combat troops on the ground," said Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Paris.

"By yesterday evening, he said not only were French troops being sent to Mali, but that they were already there. Things are moving incredibly fast."

A military official in Mali said the fighters had been driven out of Konna, but that the city, which was captured by the rebels earlier this week, was not yet under government control.

The sudden introduction of Western troops upends months of tortured debate over how — and when — foreign nations should confront the Islamist seizure of northern Mali. The Obama administration and governments around the world have long been alarmed that a vast territory roughly twice the size of Germany could so easily fall into the hands of extremists, calling it a safe haven where terrorists were building their ranks and seeking to extend their influence throughout the region and beyond.

Yet for months, the Islamists have appeared increasingly unshakable in their stronghold, carrying out public amputations, whippings and stonings as the weak Malian army retreated south and African nations debated how to find money and soldiers to recapture the territory.

(See above related article link: "Islamist's Harsh Justice is on the Rise in North Mali")

French President Hollande said the operation is aimed in part at protecting the 6,000 French citizens in Mali, seven of whom are being held captive.

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) commission president, said on Saturday that the bloc had authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali.

The organisation has been talking for months about a military operation to oust the rebel groups from northern Mali.

The Islamist groups Ansar Dine and A.Q.I.M. have been a presence for years in the forests and deserts of Mali, a country hobbled by poverty and a relentless cycle of hunger.

Why the Islamists provoked a military strike by capturing the village of Konna remained unclear. While the UN approved a plan for deployment, it had not been expected until September and even then it was not expected to include Western forces.

The big prize the Islamists evidently sought — capturing the major Malian government airfield nearby in Sévaré, which is vital for any military intervention in the north of Mali — seemed to be outside their grasp on Friday.

Holding off the Islamists, moreover, is a far cry from retaking the north. While tens of thousands of civilians have fled the area, many others remain in the ancient city of Timbuktu and other towns under Islamist control, leaving them highly vulnerable in the event urban warfare breaks out.

Israeli tank in Beirut in 1982.
Photograph: David Rubinger/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Arabs are 'losing faith' in America: lessons from Lebanon 1982

Newly declassified secret British government documents shed light on the elusive search for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement (Ian Black, Guardin UK, 1/04/13)

British state papers declassified from 1982 – the traditional three decades after the event, provide still relevant insights into the 1982 Lebanon war .

The war began in a sense in London, where, on June 3, a Palestinian gunman shot the Israeli ambassador, Shlomo Argov. It was clear from the start that the hit team was not from the PLO but from the dissident Iraqi-backed outfit run by Abu Nidal, Yasser Arafat's sworn enemy. Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, egged on by his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, went to war against the PLO in Lebanon anyway. "Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal," another Israeli minister said.

Then, as now, Washington was where things happened, and it was American envoys who tried to cobble together a ceasefire. There was also some discomfort. "The Americans are concerned at the extent to which the Israelis have misled them at every stage of their Lebanese operation," the British ambassador reported after meeting Alexander Haig, Reagan's secretary of state. "There are continuing divisions within the administration but it looks increasingly likely that, as usual, the pro-Israeli faction will have its way."

Brian Urquhart, a senior British UN official, had a "blazing row" with a US diplomat and demanded pressure on the Israelis to allow humanitarian access since "the Americans and the other Arabs were apparently not prepared to do anything in the face of what looked like mass murder of the Palestinians by the Israelis."

Dore note: The following is a quote from pg. 200 of John Quigley's book Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice:

"... in June 1982 Israel again invaded Lebanon, and it used aerial bombardment to destroy entire camps of Palestinian Arab refugees. By these means Israel killed 20,000 persons, mostly civilians, and while it occupied southern Lebanon it incarcerated 15,000 persons, according to the Internationl Committee of the red Cross..."

"Israel claimed self-defense for its invasion, but the lack of PLO attacks into Israel during the previous year made that claim dubious..."

back to Guardian UK excerpt:

Of the Lebanon war material released so far by the British National Archives, the most riveting document is a secret "UK Eyes Alpha" assessment by the Joint Intelligence Committee on June 22 1982. Its insights remain valid, mutatis mutandis, to this day.

"Much of the Arab world sincerely believes that the United States administration had connived in, if not positively blessed, the Israeli invasion. Many of the moderate Arab leaders, including the Jordanians, Saudis and Egyptians are dismayed that the United States has failed to use its leverage over Israel effectively to deter new aggression and to prevent occupation of more Arab land. The perception that the United States has acquiesced in the Israeli action will be seen as evidence of double standards when the administration is condemning the use of force to settle disputes in other parts of the world.

"It has all but destroyed, for the time being, Arab faith in the willingness of the United States to use its leverage with Israel to obtain a solution to the Palestinian problem which takes account of Arab needs."

Dore note:  The above quote is from 1982 and 30 years later it is as true today as it was then.

The deputy manager of al-Aqsa TV, Mohamed Abou Oun,
inspects the car that two al-Aqsa cameraman were riding in
when an Israeli missile struck them in Gaza City on November 20, 2012.
The Israeli military said that Mahmoud al-Kumi, 29, and Hussam Salama, 30,
were “Hamas operatives” but gave no information to support the claim.

© 2012 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch

 Human Rights Watch Report

Unlawful Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Media;
"Anyone responsible for deliberately or recklessly committing a serious violation
of the laws of war should be prosecuted for war crimes."
(Human Rights Watch, 12/20/12)