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This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Photo by AP

Syrian jihadi town where 'brides' are snatched from schools

Once liberal bastion Raqqa was over-run by al-Qaeda group
before secular rebels launched a fight back


(Richard Spencer, Independent UK, 3/29/14)

A year ago, the city of Raqqa in northern Syria was sprouting political activist groups and philosophical discussion circles. A “guerrilla gardening” squad promoted environmental awareness by planting vegetables in central reservations.

The liberals who made it a base after the rebels swept in and drove out the regime in March last year are gone, disbanded, accused of supporting democracy and other “kuffar” or infidel beliefs, their members living either underground or in Turkey.

The city has been transformed into a staging ground for displays of the harshest “justice” meted out by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the jihadi group too extreme even for al-Qaeda that has imposed its rule over large parts of the country.

Refugees, women still living under its rule and men who have escaped from its prisons have told Telegraph of the life under the shadow of the extremist group’s black flag.

One woman, whose name the Telegraph knows but is withholding, described how she went to the recruiting office of an all-women jihad unit, formed from the women who have flocked to Syria from Europe and elsewhere to serve the cause, some with their children.

“I went inside their headquarters, which used to be the Christian church,” she said. “I asked what the conditions were to join. They said you have to be 18-25, unmarried, and you would earn 25,000 Syrian pounds.

 “But if you joined you had the opportunity to marry one of the foreign fighters. However, they make sure you are a real jihadist.”

She said that outside she met four new recruits, three from Tunisia, and one Frenchwoman, who told her she was divorced and had brought her 12-year-old daughter and four younger sons to Syria to join the militants.

The opportunities for marriage in the Syrian jihad - and before “martyrdom” - is a recurring theme of the blogs and other online forums favoured by ISIS’s foreign fighters in Syria, many of whom write in English.

But the Raqqa woman and other activists from the town say that the imbalance of the sexes means ISIS has begun to “recruit” brides from local schools and colleges.

Among those who resisted, they say, was a 21-year-old student called Fatima Abdullah from a tribal area outside the city, whose brother had joined ISIS and persuaded their father to hand her over for marriage to a Tunisian. She refused, and when her family insisted, killed herself with rat poison. The story was confirmed by other activists from the town.

Since the beginning of January, rival rebel groups including western-backed militias still loyal to the original opposition Free Syrian Army have launched a counter-attack across the north of Syria to drive out ISIS.

Earlier this month, rebels all but completed an operation to remove the extremists from Idlib province while in Aleppo province ISIS have been forced into towns to the east. As they left their former strongholds they killed some of their prisoners, freed others, and loaded many more on to trucks and took them with them.

In Aazaz, a town between Aleppo and the Turkish border, ISIS retaliated for the FSA attack by beheading four captives from other militias and placing their heads on the plinth in the middle of the roundabout in one of the main squares, residents.

Ahmed Primo, described how he was saved from a similar fate by a stray shell.

 “I heard a voice calling my name for execution,” he said. “Then suddenly there was the sound of an explosion. The guards and the emir, the militia leader, were injured, and carried away. The next day the prison was liberated and I escaped.”

Mr Primo had previously been detained by the Syrian regime in his home city, Aleppo, and held for a month. Asked whether the treatment he received from ISIS, which included beatings, being bound and blindfolded for weeks at a time, and electrocuted in his testicles, was better or worse than his experiences under the regime, he said: “It is not a question of better or worse. It was exactly the same.”

ISIS split last summer from Jabhat al-Nusra, the recognised wing of Al-Qaeda in Syria, and in February was disavowed by Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman Zawahiri.

But by then its capacity to instill fear by its harsh punishments, and ability to attract fanatical fighters from abroad had enabled it to take control of large parts of northern Syria, with Raqqa province mostly under their sway.

Anwar Mohammed, one of the early “citizen journalists” who sent reports of the initial uprising against President Bashar al-Assad to the outside world, was among Aazaz’s luckiest people. He had been seized from his home by ISIS fighters, taken to the group’s headquarters in Aleppo city, a former children’s hospital, for interrogation, and then detained in a prison in another town, Hreitan.

Light of build, he managed to escape one night by squeezing through the bars of his cell and lowering himself to the ground with knotted blankets. When he made it home - and across the Turkish border - his father said ISIS had visited him to tell him his son was to be executed as a spy.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that despite the brutality, many residents of north-west Syria still back ISIS. Samer Amori, Mohammed Nour’s uncle, said that people who supported the regime now support ISIS. A more convincing explanation is that by demanding control of all aspects of its subjects’ lives, ISIS did at least manage to impose some sort of order on a Syria that is becoming more lawless as the war progresses.

But for many men and women, particularly the liberal activists, who have suffered under both the regime and ISIS, the recent fighting has brought the third year of the uprising to deeply depressing close.

Mr Primo, electrocuted by fighters from the regime and Assad, said he had always believed the West would intervene, and that what had happened in Tunisia and Libya would happen in Syria. Now it is clear that with the country little more than a fighting ground for rival warlords, some not even Syrian, the West has little stomach for involvement.

“When I started out I could never have imagined anything like this,” he said. “These people, they do not have our way of life, or of thinking.

It’s very strange to us. I didn’t expect it would turn out this way.” 




Screenshot of the B'Tselem video

 Over 1500 children killed by Israel since 2000

Palestinian minister says more than 10,000 children have been arrested during the same period and 200 are still detained.
(Haaretz 4/5/14)

Over 1,500 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, the Palestinian Authority minister of social affairs Kamal al-Sharafi said on Saturday.

In a statement marking Palestinian Children's Day, Sharafi said that 1,520 Palestinian children have been killed and approximately 6,000 injured by the Israeli military in the past 14 years, the Ma'an Palestinian news service reported.

More than 10,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, al-Sharafi added, and 200 are currently being held in Israeli prisons.

"Protecting and supporting children should be a national responsibility," he said, calling upon the Palestinian Authority to ratify a law for the protection of minors.

The United Nations Children Fund said in a 2013 report that some 700 Palestinian children aged 12 to 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.

In the report, UNICEF said it identified examples of practices that "amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture."

Wesleyan declares itself an Open Hillel
The Wesleyan Jewish Community is the third local Hillel-affiliate to declare that it will no longer follow Hillel International's restrictive "Standards of Partnership".
The Open Hillel movement has already captured two campuses, Swarthmore and Vassar, and is making inroads at Harvard, Berkeley and Brown.

Statement from the Wesleyan Jewish Community
Published with the support of the majority of student leaders
of the Wesleyan Jewish Community
4/2/14

"We, student leaders of the Wesleyan Student Jewish community, have followed with great interest and concern the controversy that has swirled around Hillel International's Standard of Partnership for Israel Activities, which prevent Hillel from partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who,(a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.

These policies have resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in
Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish organizations not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella or in the Jewish community that gathers in those spaces.

At Wesleyan, values of inclusion are central to our identity both as Jews and as participants in the wider Wesleyan community. We believe that no one should be made to feel excluded, marginalized or unsafe in a religious or cultural space because of their political beliefs, and that welcoming an individual while censoring their opinions represents little more than probationary community membership. We reject the idea implicit in Hillel's guidelines that Jewish plurality gives way to Zionist unanimity, and are acutely aware that many individuals have formed robust, meaningful Jewish identities that do not comport with traditional Zionist ideas.

Our community is structured in a way that gives voice to these values. Student leaders known as Jewish Renaissance Fellows organize Jewish student life and programming on campus. The Jewish program house (known as The Bayit) is operated by a student House Manager who also takes a leading role in organizing student Jewish life. Thus, at Wesleyan, Jewish life and the place of Israel within that life is shaped and determined by the students themselves.

We believe that trust is the bedrock of any community that values each of its members. We are grateful that the Wesleyan Jewish community does not employ chaperones for our conversations. Students are allowed and encouraged to introduce and be exposed to the widest possible range of views, and trusted to make sense of the mosaic before them and form an informed position. Our community is built on the assumption that such a process results not in confusion, but in opinions about Israel and Judaism that are more robust and well-reasoned because of the thought that has gone into them. We believe that restrictive guidelines such as the ones Hillel international has adopted are not conducive to fostering a culture of intellectual exploration and free inquiry.

We believe that dialogue and critical engagement are central Jewish values. Our community is founded on texts that are meant to be interpreted, argued over, and debated endlessly. The talmud, our central body of religious commentary, contains many differing opinions on how laws are to be interpreted. Hillel draws its name from the great rabbinical sage who believed that all should be able to learn, and that discourse should be free and unbound by guidelines imposed from above. No one has ever suggested that these values weaken the Jewish community, and we believe Hillel International's deviation from these principles alienates members of our community and strays from Jewish tradition.

In light of these values, we would like to state explicitly what has long been the implicit policy of our student campus community: we will not follow the current formulation of Hillel's Standards of Partnership. We are committed to neither censoring nor excluding individuals, groups or speakers from our communal spaces merely because their political views around Israel or other issues stray from mainstream opinion. We are committed to a conversation around Judaism and Israel that reflects the values of the members of our community, rather than the political preferences of the leaders of Hillel International.

Therefore, the undersigned student leaders of the Wesleyan Jewish Community — the vast majority of current student leaders, including both current Jewish Renaissance fellows and the current Bayit House manager, as well as many former Jewish student leaders — express our solidarity with, and support of, the Open Hillel movement. As an affiliate of Hillel, we call upon Hillel International to reform its guidelines so as to ensure that no member of the Jewish community is barred from a space that should be rightfully theirs because of a desire to critically engage with, and express opinions about, issues that relate to Israel."


When Israeli settlers attack and steal, Palestinians now have a strategy

(Daniel Estrin, PRI's The World 3/28/14)

A few weeks ago, in a West Bank olive grove, someone tried to steal a mule.

The incident may seem way too trivial to even bother mentioning. It didn’t make headlines when it happened.

But in the West Bank, an event like this quickly becomes a very high stakes game. And that offers a glimpse of life against the backdrop of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

Lubban is a Palestinian village surrounded by Israeli settlements on nearly every hilltop.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settler activity in the West Bank, said he got a call that a farmer near Lubban had caught a settler trying to steal his mule.

“The settler was in a car, driving,” Daghlas said. “He saw a mule tied up to a tree. He thought he would steal the mule. He could get on the mule and ride it [back to his settlement up the road.]”

But the Palestinian farmer caught the settler, put him in a car, and telephoned his village council. Soon, a whole group of villagers were surrounding the farmer’s car with the settler inside. When Daghlas arrived, he called Palestinian liaison officials, who called their Israeli army counterparts, who soon arrived.

One villager used his cell phone to film as the farmer told the soldiers what happened. The trespassing settler, the farmer said, was named Zohar and was approximately 20 years old. “I told him, ‘Zohar, I want to put you in my car, you are like my son, do not be afraid,’” the farmer said on the video.

The Israeli soldiers escorted the settler out, unscathed. End of story.

The same thing happened a few months ago close to the nearby village of Qusra. A group of settlers in their late teens and 20s were seen attacking Palestinian farmers in broad daylight.

Palestinian villagers caught them and beat them up, but another group of Palestinians put the kids on the roof of a house, gave them bandages and water, and despite a gathering mob, made sure no one harmed them further. Palestinian officials called Israeli soldiers who escorted the settlers away.

The residents of Lubban have every reason to be angry with Israeli settlers. In 2010, settlers were suspected of torching a village mosque and olive trees. In 2012, a soldier and two Israeli women were arrested for spray painting “Mohammed is a pig” on a village home.

Capturing someone in the act, however, is rare. Nabbing the mule thief was like the occupied trapping the occupier, the mouse catching the cat. It showed a strategy that Palestinian officials are trying to enforce.

“If a problem erupts, we need to announce it through the mosque declaration system. The whole village will know about it,” Daghlas said. “Secondly, everyone should gather. We need numbers to combat such a situation."

"Number three, we need to immediately [alert] people like me, as well as a Palestinian coordination officer. We need to create a system for coordination” — for contacting Israeli soldiers to evacuate the settlers and avoid Palestinians harming them.

For Palestinians, this is a strategic move, said Daghlas.

“Our people are aware of the repercussions and the punishments that would fall on their heads if they were to use violence,” Daghlas said.

Settler attacks can happen as frequently as every week, said Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. These spontaneous vigilante groups — neighborhood watch-style — are the only real way Palestinians can protect themselves from settler attacks, she said, because the Israeli security forces aren’t doing their job properly.

“Each and every incident seems minor. I mean, it’s one car here, one olive grove there,” Michaeli said. “But if you view the series of attacks that have been perpetrated against Palestinians in specific areas, every single incident contributes to a very, very large picture in which people are living in places where they have no protection.”

Dani Dayan, a leader of the settler movement, chastises the Israeli security forces for failing to prevent and prosecute settlers who commit the attacks.

Dayan said he has met with Israel’s attorney general, the police inspector general, the head of the Shin Bet clandestine security service and the army officer in charge of the area.

“I begged. I would say I demanded of them to be more harsh, and first and foremost to be more effective,” Dayan added. “I don’t have an intelligent answer to the question why and how our law enforcement agencies are so unsuccessful.”

But over the past eight years, according to UN figures, the annual rate of Israeli settler attacks has almost quadrupled.

That sometimes leaves Palestinians feeling that their only recourse is taking law enforcement into their own hands.

March 22 is World Water Day

Middle East Children's Alliance  (MECA) Maia Project is now providng clean water to more than 50,000 children in Gaza every single day

This fall, MECA installed 14 new water purification and desalination units in schools and kindergartens bringing the total number of purification units to 52. You can check the MECA website for a full list of locations and beneficiaries.

MECA also announced the addition of Safaa El-Derawi to our team in Gaza. Safaa is a water engineer born and raised in the Gaza Strip. She will be making regular visits to all of the schools and kindergartens where we have installed water units to test the water, oversee any repairs and maintenance necessary, lead workshops about the water crisis in Gaza, and explain to staff and students the dangers of unpurified water to their health.

While MECA celebrates this important milestone in the Maia Project, MECA would also like to highlight a new call to action from  friends and partners in Palestine.

Today marks the start of the first International Week Against Mekorot, Israel’s state-owned water company that is responsible for implementing "water apartheid" on Palestinians.

Water apartheid in Palestine - a crime against humanity?
(Ayman Rabi, stopmekorot.org, 3/22/14)
excerpt:

Today is UN World Water Day - a day to remember the billion people who are unable to meet their needs for safe, clean water due to drought, poverty and official neglect.

But it’s also a day to remember, and fight for, 2.1 million Palestinians who suffer something different – an artificial water scarcity deliberately created and sustained by Israel’s military occupation, and the private Israeli water company Mekorot.

Systematic, acute, malicious discrimination in access to water in the West Bank and Gaza, combined with massive resource theft, is operated by the occupation authorities and the private water company Mekorot.

Increased international pressure brings hope that the tide may be finally turning for Palestinians striving for water justice in the West Bank and Gaza – in particular, recent investment and partnership decisons against Mekarot, which runs Israel’s discriminatory water policy in the West Bank.

The situation in Gaza is especially dire. The tiny, densely populated territory relies entirely on its depleted, saltwater-contaminated and sewage-polluted aquifer, and the water it produces is unfit for consumption. Water has to be bought, expensively, in bottles or from mobile tanks.

Moreover restrictions on fuel imports mean that Gaza’s single power station spends most of its time idle – and so long as it’s not running, water and sewage cannot be pumped. So the taps are dry, toilets are blocked, and sewage pollution gets worse.

Not that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have it a lot better. As reported on 17th March, the city suffered a long water cut beginning on 4th March leaving Ras Shehada, Ras Khamis, Dahyat A’salam and the Shuafat refugee camp – cut off from the rest of the city by the separation wall – with no running water.

The reason is simple – old and inadequate water infrastructure, which there are no plans to improve or renew.

For West Bank as a whole the facts speak for themselves. The Oslo II Accords dealt Palestinians a singularly poor hand - limiting the volume of water it could produce, as well as imposing severe restrictions on the development and maintenance of Palestinian water infrastructure.

The Accords allow Palestinans to abstract only 118 million cubic meters (mcm) per year from boreholes, wells, springs and precipitation in the West Bank. But Israel is allowed to take four times as much – 483 mcm per year – from the same Palestinian resources.

So not only does Israel now occupy 80% of the area of historic Palestine, but it – via the water company Mekarot – also takes 80% of the water resources from the 20% of the land that is left to the Palestinians.

As reported by Amira Hass in Ha’aretz, “in that agreement Israel imposed a scandalously uneven, humiliating and infuriating division of the water resources”.

While Palestinian water is piped into Israel at no cost, a fraction of it is then piped back again, and paid for. In this way Israel is extracting from Palestinians both their water, and their money.

In some cases Palestinians are forced to pay ten times more for their water than the price in Tel Aviv – as in the village of Sussia on South Mount Hebron, where they have to drive to the nearby town to buy over-priced water.

According to the UN Human Rights Council, this all translates into a wide disparity between water use by Palestinians and by settlers in the West Bank.

All Palestinian populations receive water volumes far below the level recommended by the World Health Organization of 100 – 250 l/c/d. According to the UNHRC:

“Settlements benefit from enough water to run farms and orchards, and for swimming pools and spas, while Palestinians often struggle to access the minimum water requirements.  Some settlements consume around 400 l/c/d, whereas Palestinian consumption is 73 l/c/d, and as little as 10-20 l/c/d for Bedouin communities which depend on expensive and low quality tanker water.”

These very low levels of water provision fail to meet the water needs of many Palestinian communities – leaving them with often contaminated water, and not enough of it.

An estimated 113,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have no piped water supply, while hundreds of thousands more have only intermittent supply, especially in the summer.

The restrictions and limitations imposed on Palestinians to access their own resources and develop them have exacerbated the already severe water shortages among Palestinian communities.

Among the restrictions are limits on the size of supply pipe, intended to limit flows as a form of rationing. Typically 30% of the water leaks from Palestinian supply pipes – because Israel refuses to allow their renewal.

In ‘Area C’, which covers 60% of the area of the West Bank, Palestinian farmers and communities are not allowed to connect to the water network that serves the growing settlements – and are forbidden even to dig out cisterns.

The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories illegal under international law, as set out in the report of the fact finding mission of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Yet the construction of new illegal Israeli settlements and ‘outposts’, and the expansion of existing ones, is proceeding apace – and further reducing the quantity of water allocated to Palestinians.

As reported by the UN in March 2012, another threat arises from settlers seizing springs by force:

“Palestinians have increasingly lost access to water sources in the West Bank as a result of the takeover of springs by Israeli settlers, who have used threats, intimidation and fences to ensure control of water points close to the settlements.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that:

 “The denial of water is used to trigger displacement, particularly in areas slated for settlement expansion, especially since these communities are mostly farmers and herders who depend on water for their livelihoods.

“A number of testimonies highlighted that the cutting off from water resources often precedes dispossession of lands for new settlement projects.”

Mekorot – at the heart of Israel’s water apartheid

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are connected to piped water supplied by Israeli water company Mekorot, which took over responsibility for the water resources of the West Bank from the occupying forces in 1982.

As the UN Human Rights Council reports: “In the Jordan Valley, deep water drillings by the Israeli national water company Mekorot and the agro-industrial company Mehadrin have caused Palestinian wells and springs to dry up. Eighty per cent of the total water resources drilled in the area is consumed by Israel and the settlements.”

‘Week of Action Against Mekorot’

Mekorot violates international law and colludes in resource grabbing -including pillaging water resources in Palestine. It supplies this pillaged water to illegal Israeli settlements, and engages in systematic discrimination and denial of water to the Palestinian population.

For this reason Palestinian organizations including PENGON / Friends of the Earth Palestine have co-organised a ‘Stop Mekorot‘ week of action starting today, on World Water Day.
The campaign aims to intensify pressure on governments and companies to boycott Mekorot and hold the company accountable for its discriminatory water policies and practices in Palestine.

In December 2013 the largest drinking water supplier in the Netherlands, Vitens, set a precedent when it decided that its commitment to international law meant it had to withdraw from a cooperation agreement with Mekorot.

Mekorot suffered another blow this week when authorities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, suspended a proposed $170m water treatment plant deal.
The decision followed a campaign by local trade unions and human rights groups which highlighted Mekorot’s role in Israel’s theft of Palestinian water resources.

Palestinians must have their rightful share of available resources and be granted full authority to manage them properly. Equitable and wise use of available resources among all people is the only basis for lasting peace in the region.

And until then the deliberate, systematic, purposeful water discrimination and resource theft carried out in Occupied Palestine by the Occupation and Mekorot must be recognised for what they are – crimes against humanity.
________________________________________

Ayman Rabi represents Friends of the Earth Palestine / PENGON, the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network – established in 1996 to serve the Palestinian environment by coordinating the scattered efforts of the different Palestinian NGOs working in the field of environment.


Why is Palestine taboo at Columbia College?

Eric Ruder reports on an effort to defend academic freedom for a Columbia instructor
(Socialistworker.org, 3/11/14)
excerpt:

When Iymen Chehade, an instructor at Columbia College, was summoned last fall for a meeting with the chair of his department, he had a pretty good guess as to why. "There's generally been one reason that they ask me to meet," he said in an interview.

Unfortunately, he was right.

Since 2010, Chehade has taught a course about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the department of Humanities, History and Social Science. He initially taught three sections of the course and then was reduced to two. But this semester, in the wake of his meeting with department Chair Steve Corey, he's only teaching one.

So why did Corey want to meet with Chehade? After Chehade held a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras in his class last fall, one of Chehade's students went to Corey with a complaint of "bias." Corey told Chehade to teach his class in a more "balanced" way and then requested that Chehade provide proof that he is qualified to teach.

It's not difficult to see why anyone might find a viewing of 5 Broken Cameras to be a jarring experience, but frank discussion of pressing social issues is precisely why students seek out Chehade's class. The film provides a firsthand account of nonviolent resistance against Israel's attempts to destroy the West Bank village of Bil'in as Israeli troops clear the way for construction of a separation wall.

This apartheid wall snakes it way through Palestinian territory, separating farmers from their fields and families from one another. In 2004, the Hague's International Court of Justice ruled that Israel's wall violates international law. Filmmaker Emad Burnat's moving commitment to document his village's resistance to the wall provides  footage of Israeli troops using arrests, beatings, tear gas and live ammunition to attempt to break the spirit of Bil'in.

On November 4, just seven days after Chehade's meeting with Corey, Columbia College posted course offerings for students seeking to register for the spring semester, including two sections of Chehade's class. Within hours of posting the courses, however, administrators pulled one of his sections, leaving him with only one course this spring.

This Isn't the first time that Chehade has found himself fending off charges of "bias." When Chehade was asked to moderate a discussion after a public screening of 5 Broken Cameras at Columbia College last spring, members of the campus Hillel organization complained about the lack of a "pro-Israel" speaker. (Lynn Pollack, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, was a featured presenter.)

In the fall semester of 2011, eight students from three different sections of Chehade's course, some of them members of Hillel, signed a petition also making the charge of "bias" against Chehade. In a follow-up meeting between the students, Chehade and some Columbia College administrators, the students cited as examples of Chehade's bias that he referred to the West Bank and Gaza as the "Occupied Territories" (they preferred the term "Disputed Territories") and that he used the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe how Israel drove some 750,000 Palestinians from their land and homes through violence, intimidation and terror.

In response, dozens of students also in his class rallied to Chehade's defense, crafting their own petition countering the eight students and describing Chehade's course as an asset to Columbia College.

Of course, the charge of "bias" is really an attempt to constrain the way in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is portrayed. In the words of Chehade:

Academic freedom entails not only the right to speak from a particular perspective, but the freedom from being compelled to engage in a particular type of speech. The frequent demand from Zionists that any discussion of the conflict be "balanced" would be considered absurd in most other contexts. For example, must every presentation about the African American civil rights movement include a speaker who will attempt to justify the denial of these rights?

Chehade also notes that when some student groups at Columbia provided a platform for former Israeli soldiers to speak in defense of Israel's military occupation of the West Bank, he announced the event to his students and offered them extra credit if they attended. He also did not insist on the inclusion of a "pro-Palestinian" perspective.

Speaking about Chehade's situation, Ali Abunimad,  an internationally renowned advocate of Palestinian rights and author most recently of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, put it this way:

For too long, teachers and students who want to speak freely about the situation in Palestine have had to live in fear of retaliation. Calls for "balance" are often ill-disguised efforts to ensure that Palestinian voices are not allowed to be heard without supervision, and that fundamental differences in power between Palestinians and the Israeli state that occupies and colonizes their land are obscured with false parity.'

 "Fortunately, this is a new day, and more people are standing up and speaking out against the silencing tactics that have been used on campuses for so long," said Abunimah.

Prominent intellectuals and artists are adding their voices to this effort by helping to explain the Israel-Palestine conflict in terms that so many can relate to. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker, for example, recently compared Israel's oppression of Palestinian to the conditions facing African Americans in the South prior to civil rights movement. "It's so much like the South of 50 years ago, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, killed, imprisoned," Walker said on Democracy Now! in 2012.

The campaign to defend academic freedom at Columbia College and Prof. Chehade's right to teach free of the administration's interference is one part of this growing movement. In the words of Chehade:

"It is important to provide oppressed and struggling groups with forums in which they speak for themselves and in their own voices--whether it is the LGBTQ community, the African American community, or Palestinians living under occupation. This is precisely what my approach has sought to bring to the Palestine issue, and professors around the country are taking a similar approach. The Zionist demand for "balance" is designed to present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as symmetrical. However, the severe imbalance is clear: Palestinians are denied their basic civil rights, and Israel continues to be in violation of international law. The demand for "balance" is a simply a tool to muzzle."


Saudi Arabia Lists Muslim Brotherhood as Terrorist Organization
(Naharnet Newsdesk/Agence France Presse, 3/7/14)

Saudi Arabia on Friday listed the Muslim Brotherhood and two Syrian jihadist groups as terrorist organizations, and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return within 15 days or face imprisonment.
The move represents a major escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the possible return of battle-hardened Saudi extremists from Syria.

In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi listed Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaida's official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a rogue group fighting in both Syria and Iraq, as terrorist organizations.

The order penalizes involvement in any of the groups' activities at home or abroad -- including demonstrations -- and outlaws the use of "slogans of these organizations", including in social media.
Riyadh is a staunch supporter of the Sunni-led rebels* battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad but has long feared blow-back from radical jihadist groups, particularly after a spate of attacks by a local Al-Qaida franchise from 2003 to 2006.

* Saudi Arabia and Qatar have reportedly armed and funded extremist groups that have been responsible for repeated atrocities  according to a Human Rights Watch report.

King Abdullah last month decreed jail terms of up to 20 years for belonging to "terrorist groups" and fighting abroad.

Similar sentences will be passed on those belonging to "extremist religious and ideological groups, or those classified as terrorist organizations, domestically, regionally and internationally," state news agency SPA said at the time.

Supporting such groups, adopting their ideology or promoting them "through speech or writing" would also incur prison terms, the decree added.

Rights group Amnesty International sharply criticized last month's decree in an article on its website  titled Saudi Arabia:  New terorism law is latest tool to crush peaceful expression stating the law used an "overly vague definition of terrorism".  Amnesty International also describes Saudi Arabia's ascendancy to a seat on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council as showing  "utter disregard for international human right law and the UN mechanisms put in place for its protection."

Saudi and other conservative Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority.

Saudi hailed the overthrow of Morsi and pledged billions of dollars to Egypt's military-installed government following his July 2013 ouster, and in recent months has eclipsed Qatar as the main backer of Syria's rebels.

Egypt has launched a sweeping crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and detained reporters from Qatar's Al-Jazeera news network.


(excerpt)
Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence, shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

The details of the talks were first leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hezbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.

As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.

Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. “These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”

WikiLeaks cables portray Saudi Arabia
as a cash machine for terrorists

(then Sec of State) Hillary Clinton memo highlights Gulf states' failure to block funding
for groups like al-Qaida, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba
(Declan Walsh, Guardian UK, 12/5/2010)

Background:

According to the website middleeast.about.com the United States has long been Saudi Arabia’s leading arms supplier. From 1950 through 2006, Saudi Arabia bought or was granted from the United States weapons, military equipment and services worth $79.8 billion. Almost a fifth of all American arms sales during that period went to Saudi Arabia.

In comparison, Israel has received $53.6 billion in U.S. military grants between 1949 and 2007. The Bush administration agreed to a colossal increase in annual military aid to Israel, however. militaries. Annual military grants to Israel represent over 20% of the Israeli defense budget. U.S. military aid will increase from $2.4 billion in 2008 to $3.1 billion a year through 2018. About 75% of the aid is spent on American weaponry and services.

Wikileaks article excerpt:

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – (which carried out the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008) but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.

"More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups," says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," she said.

The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them.

The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.

Washington is critical of the Saudi refusal to ban three charities classified as terrorist entities in the US. "Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas," she said.

Any criticisms are generally offered in private. The cables show that when it comes to powerful oil-rich allies US diplomats save their concerns for closed-door talks.

The cables show how before the Mumbai attacks in 2008, Pakistani and Chinese diplomats manoeuvred hard to block UN sanctions against Jamaat-ud-Dawa.



Starvation in Al Yarmouk Palestinian Camp
in Damascus
Click
here for video

Thousands 'slowly dying' in Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Syria
(Serene Assir, Irish Examiner, 3/1/14)


Thousands queuing for food aid
in Yarmouk camp where fighting off starvation
and death has become a daily reality

Combined excerpt from all articles:

Gaunt, ragged figures fill the streets for as far as the eye can see in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk outside Damascus, where some 40,000 are said to be slowly starving to death.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
* distributed shocking images this week of thousands of people, their faces emaciated, desperately flocking to receive food aid that only a few were lucky enough to collect.

*UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees.

“We live in a big prison,” said Rami al-Sayed, a Syrian activist living in Yarmouk. “But at least, in a prison, you have food. Here, there’s nothing. We are slowly dying.”

Residents have spoken of eating grass, cats, and dogs in a bid to stay alive. At least 86 people are known to have starved to death.

After months of shelling and fierce fighting in and around Yarmouk between rebels and president Bashar al-Assad’s troops, the camp’s population which was once Syria’s largest Palestinian camp, has shrunk from  160,000 to 40,000.

Among them are 18,000 Palestinians.

Since last summer, the area has been under choking army siege, creating inhumane conditions for its inhabitants.

“The situation is really tragic. On the streets, all you see are emaciated people, their faces drained of any life” said Sayed.

“There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin,” Umm Hassan, a 27-year-old resident and the mother of two toddlers

“Why don’t they kill us with chemicals? It would be done in a few minutes. It’s better than this way,” said Abu Muhamed, an activist.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinians is overwhelmed by the crisis.

Since January, the agency has only been able to carry out limited, intermittent food distribution in the camp.

“Gaunt, ragged figures of all ages fill the streets of the devastated camp for as far as the eye can see,” UNRWA said, adding that such scenes were the agency’s “daily reality”.

“Humanitarian need has reached profound levels of desperation. Hunger and anxiety are etched on the faces of the waiting multitudes.”

Since January, UNRWA has distributed only 7,500 food parcels in Yarmouk, describing that as “a drop in the ocean compared with the rising tide of need”.

Much of the camp has been reduced to rubble by shelling, fighting and occasional aerial bombardment.

The distribution only began after rebels who had come from outside the camp agreed to withdraw, following a deal reached with Palestinian factions.

The lack of food in Yarmouk is compounded by medical shortages.

“In the hospitals, there are wounded people who cannot be treated because there are no doctors or medicines,” said Sayed.

After a visit this week, UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi described the “shocking” conditions of life he witnessed in Yarmouk.

He compared the people flocking to the distribution point as “the appearance of ghosts”.

“[They] have been trapped in there not only without food, medicines, clean water — all the basics — but also probably completely subjected to fear because there was fierce fighting.

“The devastation is unbelievable. There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now.”

But he said the condition of the camp’s remaining residents “is more shocking even”.

“They can hardly speak,” he said.

Yarmouk is one of several parts of Syria where civilians are trapped under regime or opposition sieges which prevent freedom of movement and the entry of food and medicines.

More than 140,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

When the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, most Palestinians stayed on the sidelines. As the revolt turned into a civil war that reached Yarmouk in December 2012, most residents backed the rebels and some even took up arms to fight Assad’s troops and pro-government Palestinian fighters.   (Pro-Assad Palestinian factions blamed the presence of 2,500 rebel fighters in the camp for the length of the siege.)


related stories:
Starving to death in Syria's Yarmouk camp
Fighting has cut off food and medical supplies to 18,000 desperate refugees
(Eric Reidy, Al-Jazeeria, 1/29/14)

background information excerpt:

Under siege

Yarmouk is located 8km south of Damascus and was established for refugees after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to the creation of Israel, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Over the decades the camp grew into a large Damascus suburb home to 160,000 residents, prior to the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011, according to UNWRA estimates. Now, only about 18,000 people remain inside the desolate camp.

The civil war reached Yarmouk in December 2012 when rebel forces entered the camp attempting to consolidate their positions to the east and south of Damascus, and push on towards the city centre. Syrian government forces responded with aerial bombardment, sending thousands fleeing in search of shelter in other parts of Syria and Lebanon.

Forces loyal to Assad succeeded in surrounding the camp and controlling access to it in February 2013 (in an attempt to force out rebels). Military-held checkpoints opened to allow aid to enter and residents to escape, but in July government forces began blocking access points. Yarmouk has now been under siege for more than 180 days.

Innocent, starving, close to death:
One victim of the siege that shames Syria
(Fernande van Tets, Independent.co.uk, 1/16/14)


Israa al-Masri, who died shortly after this photo was taken, was one of 18,000 Palestinians trapped and starving in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus
photo courtesy of AP from activist group Palestinians of Syria

excerpt:
(click above headline for full story)

Israa al-Masri was still a toddler when she lost her battle to cling to life. But the image of her face, pictured just minutes before she finally succumbed to starvation, is becoming the symbol of a wider nightmare.

For Israa, tongue swollen, wearing a chunky sweater and woollen hat that seem more substantial
than she is, was just one of thousands of Palestinian refugees trapped and starving in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus.

Once Syria’s largest Palestinian camp, Yarmouk has been under siege for almost a year. Most of its 160,000 population fled following violent clashes in December 2012, but at least 18,000 have remained, and months of encirclement by the Syrian army, cut off from supplies and medical aid, have reduced them to subsisting on a diet of animal food, water with salt and and leaves.
Women are shot at by snipers as they try to gather plants to feed their children. Israa is one of at least 50 to have died from hunger-related causes since October.

“The people are now eating grass and have started to eat cat and dog meat as a routine meal,” says Qais Saed, 26, whose last meal was three days ago and consisted of water with some spices. He cannot recall the last time he was not hungry.

Pro-Assad Palestinian factions blame the presence of 2,500 rebel fighters in the camp for the length of the siege.

Residents have recounted a scene of devastation and desperation inside the camp, which was originally built in 1957 to house thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Over time it turned into a bustling residential area, with Syrian as well as Palestinian inhabitants. Downtown Damascus is just five miles away.

“There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin,” Umm Hassan, a 27-year-old resident and the mother of two toddlers

“Why don’t they kill us with chemicals? It would be done in a few minutes. It’s better than this way,” said Abu Muhamed, an activist.

Lifting the Siege of Yarmouk
(Franklion Lamb, CounterPunch, 2/7-9/14)
excerpt:

A large yellow flat-bed truck arrived on the morning of 2/5/14 and this observer watched as food parcels were off-loaded and neatly stacked into six white pick-up trucks that were then driven into Yarmouk under the watchful gaze of pro and anti-regime forces and security agents.   According to one source from South Beirut who this observer had met earlier, Jabhat al Nusra, Jabhat Islam, Daash and Jund al Cham snipers could be observed on rooftops monitoring the distribution activity with their eyes pressed against their rifle scopes. One SARCS volunteer who this observer has known for two years advised that she feared there might be a shootout between these fighters and nearby Palestinian forces allied with the government (Ahmad Jibril’s PFLP-GC) suspected Hezbollah fighters with hand radio phones who were watching and seemingly discussing the events. Frankly, for this observer, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish which group is which around here given the proliferation of fighters with beards and essentially indistinguishable attire.

For many food parcel recipients, their first act is to open the jar of jam inside the cardboard box and scoop the confections into the mouths of their children or the nearby infirm refugees, usually elderly.  On 2/6/14, UNWRA also started a polio vaccination program, its first in Yarmouk and which is urgently needed by thousands of trapped camp residents. Ten thousand dosages of polio vaccines are being allowed into the camp with vaccinations currently underway for the second day running.

In addition to the so far paltry amount of food allowed into the camp, approximately 1,600 people have been allowed to leave Yarmouk for medical treatment.

One elderly lady, maybe in her late sixties, explained to this observer that every day for the past seven months, i.e. since the tight siege of Yarmouk began last June, she has stood in the same location waiting for her son Mahmoud to come to her from inside besieged Yarmouk. She has no idea if he is alive but she explained to me that she believes that God will deliver him safely to her.

Another view of much needed Divine assistance was articulated by a lovely young mother who had just exited Yarmouk with her two toddlers who looked, as she did, to be in fairly bad shape and in need of immediate hospitalization. A former English literature student, the lady, whose family is from Haifa, Occupied Palestine, explained to this observer that she no longer has any belief in God and as she elaborated why, she lowered her voice so as not to offend the nearby elderly believer waiting for her son Makmoud.

She told of her experience trapped inside Yarmouk: “For the past more than five months I have sold my body  for one hour to whoever would give me a kilo of rice which sometimes costs as much as 14,000 s.p. (close to $ 100). I was proud to be a whore for these terrorists in order to keep my parents alive and who are still trapped and I also prevented complete starvation of my children.” 
She continued, “God did not help me and my family but I promise if I live and ever see one of those dogs I will kill him and he can learn if his God exists or not. None existed for me!” and she sobbed
as two young lady volunteers from the PRCS  held her as she and her little ones  made their way to
a waiting PRCS ambulance.

The Politics of Starvation in Syria
(Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch, 1/30/14)

excerpt:

“Bread is a dream for children inside Yarmouk Camp,” says Fuad, a Syrian Palestinian music
teacher who tries to help bring food to the 20,000 Palestinians besieged inside Yarmouk.

Syria is dotted with sieges and blockades
of cities, towns and districts which in some cases are producing mass starvation.

The siege of Yarmouk, the Palestinian area in Damascus once called “Little Palestine” and home to 160,000 people, is only one element in the disaster that has hit the half-million Palestinians in Syria. Fuad, the music teacher who is trying to emigrate to Egypt, says “it is a second ‘al-Nakba’ for us”, the first al-Nakba or catastrophe being the Palestinian expulsion in 1948 from what became the state of Israel.

All the Palestinians in Syria are caught up in this new disaster because their camps after 1948 were usually built on the outskirts of cities such as Damascus and Aleppo. They were therefore right in the path of Syrian rebel forces advancing from the countryside in 2012 and five camps have some presence of the armed opposition.

Palestinians living in a swathe of camps in south Damascus fled first to Yarmouk and then fled again when the rebels took most
of it over.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians believes that “440,000 Palestinians need help
and half of them are displaced within Syria.” Between 30,000 and 50,000 have become refugees
in Lebanon.
 

What You Can Do:

Support MECA and/or UNRWA work
on behalf of SyrianPalestinian refugees


Mecaforpeace (MECA)

Founder Barbara Lubin wrote the following earlier this week:

I will be travelling to Palestine and Lebanon in a few weeks to deliver aid and visit MECA’s projects on the ground.

Since I was in Lebanon last year, tens of thousands more refugees from Syria—Palestinians and Iraqis, as well as Syrians—have arrived in Lebanon’s already overcrowded refugee camps and border areas.
 
Half of them are children.
 
As the war in Syria approaches three years, with no real sign of resolution, more refugees arrive each day. They are cold, hungry, traumatized by the violence they fled from, and in need of the most basic things to survive with a little dignity.

The best way MECA can help them is for me to go there, meet with our partner organizations in the refugee camps, and work with them to purchase and distribute the items that are needed most.

Please make your donation now so MECA can bring aid to thousands of children and families who fled the catastrophe in Syria.
 
Many thanks,

Barbara Lubin
Founder and Director

UNRWA

is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities are 97% reliant on voluntary contributions.

The below linked donation page describes where contributions go including UNRWA's urgently needed work on behalf of the 18,000 Palestinian refugees under siege in Yarmouk.

Please donate.  Thank-you!


An open to Naftali Bennett:
Unlike you, and most Israelis, water is not something I take for granted. It is a daily existential struggle.

(Nasser Nawajah, Haaretz 2/18/14)
note: Haaretz requires registration

full letter posted below all headlines

related stories:
Water Torture for the Palestinians
Water discrimination is another tool being used
to wear down the Palestinians socially and politically

(Amira Hass, Haaretz, Opinion 2/18/14)

excerpt:

Why is the Israeli establishment so bent on denying the existence of water discrimination?

Because this time the Israeli establishment cannot wrap it in the usual security excuses it resorts to with other sorts of blatant discrimination.

When it comes to the water situation, the Israeli propaganda machine and its helpers, the Zionist lobbies in the Diaspora, are in big trouble. As was clearly shown when the German Martin Schulz had the audacity to inquire in the Knesset –  if the rumor he had heard was true [he queried whether Israelis were allotted four times as much water as Palestinians].

The systematic discrimination in water allocations to the Palestinians is no false rumor. Israelis’ water welfare is not dependent upon it, but without it the whole settlement enterprise would be way more expensive, and perhaps even impossible to sustain in its current and planned scope.

No wonder Habayit Hayehudi, the party most identified with the settlers, reacted so furiously to Schulz’s remarks and walked out of the Knesset.

Water discrimination is another governmental tool being used to wear down the Palestinians socially and politically.

The Israeli 'watergate' scandal
The facts about Palestinian water; Israel has adopted a drip-feed approach to providing Palestinians with water instead of letting them control their own natural resource
excerpt:

here are the facts:

* Israel doesn’t give water to the Palestinians. Rather, it sells it to them at full price.

* The Palestinians would not have been forced to buy water from Israel if it were not an occupying power which controls their natural resource and if it were not for the Oslo II Accords, which limit
the volume of water they can produce, as well as the development and maintenance of their water infrastructure.

* This 1995 interim agreement was supposed to lead to a permanent arrangement after five years. The Palestinian negotiators deluded themselves that they would gain sovereignty and thus control over their water resources.
The Palestinians were the weak, desperate, easily tempted side and sloppy when it came to details. Therefore, in that agreement Israel imposed a scandalously uneven, humiliating and infuriating division of the water resources of the West Bank.

Some 20 percent goes to the Palestinians living in the West Bank, and about 80 percent goes to Israelis – on both sides of the Green Line – who also enjoy resources from the rest of the country.

Why should Palestinians agree to pay for desalinated water from Israel, which constantly robs them of the water flowing under their feet?

The agreement’s second major scandal: Gaza’s water economy/management was condemned to be self-sufficient and made reliant on the aquifer within its borders. Overpumping in Gaza, which causes seawater and sewage to penetrate into the aquifer, has made 90 percent of the potable water undrinkable.
 
Undeniable discrimination in the amount of water
allocated to Israelis and Palestinians
(B'Tselem, 2/12/14)

Full post of Nasser Nawajah's
Open Letter to Naftali Bennett,
Israel's Minister of the Economy


Dear Minister Bennett:

My name is Nasser Nawajah. Although we have never met, I am sure that you have visited very close to my home. My neighbors from the settlement of Susya are very fond of you. In the last election, 270 of the 381 voters from the settlement of Susya voted for you and your party.

I understood from your response to the speech of European Parliament President Martin Schulz that you find dealing with the issue of water — or, more precisely, the water shortage among the Palestinians living in the West Bank — to be something of a nuisance. You may be surprised to hear that unlike you and most Israelis, water is not something I take for granted. Instead, it is a daily existential struggle. It is no theoretical matter; it is my family’s life. The war of statistics has already begun, but I want to tell you about myself and my village.

I live in the village of Susya, which is located between the settlement of Susya and the archaeological site that you have named “the ancient Hebrew city.” That “ancient city” was my home. In 1986,
when I was 4 years old, Israeli occupation forces came to the village. The soldiers told us that it had been expropriated “for public needs,” threw us out of our homes, demolished our homes and forbade us to return there. Without home or property, we moved into caves on our land and tried to rebuild our lives.

Unfortunately for us, during that time the settlement of Susya was established very close to my family’s land. Army troops threw us out again and again. We would build and plant, and everything would be ruined. In 2001, we were expelled twice. Your Supreme Court ruled that the second expulsion was illegal. We were told it had been a mistake. But the destruction was awful: water wells and caves were destroyed and fields were trampled. We did not give up. We kept living on our land, holding onto what we could. Our story is one of many in the southern Hebron Hills region, and one
of thousands across the West Bank.

We live from day to day, never knowing when the next expulsion will come. But even in the midst
of this uncertain life, one of the major difficulties we have is the same thing that angered you so much when Mr. Schulz spoke about it: water.

For generations, my family and community have lived mainly on the natural water reservoirs on our land. These are wells that my ancestors dug in the hard ground, and on rainy days we collect our year’s supply of water in them. The State of Israel, which has complete control over Area C, treats us differently from our settler neighbors and refuses to connect us to the water infrastructure. We have two options: buying water or pumping it from our wells. Does that sound simple?

Access to 70 percent of our water wells is currently blocked. Demolition orders hang over our heads. To reach the wells, we need a special permit from the Israeli army. When we are lucky enough to obtain a permit, we must deal with violent attacks by settlers, who keep us from the water by force. Dozens of attacks have taught us to be careful. My children know not to go near the area by themselves lest the settlers come. When the army arrives, it disperses us and the settlers, and sometimes arrests a few of us, but in any case we cannot draw water that day. The water pipe that belongs to the settlement of Susya passes through our private land, beneath our homes, but we have no access to the water.

We can buy water in tanks, but we pay 35 shekels (about $10) per cubic liter for water from the nearby city of Yatta. (You certainly know that you, like every Israeli, like every settler, pay less than 9 shekels for the same amount). One-third of my family’s monthly expenses go for water, but unlike the Palestinians in the southern Hebron Hills, we are lucky because we live near a road. The inhabitants of the more distant villages pay more than NIS 50 per cubic liter of water.

I  understand that these statistics are hard for you to hear, but average water consumption among the Palestinians is less than 70 liters per person per day, while for Israelis (including the settlers), water consumption reaches 250 liters per day. No matter what the figures are, I can assure you that we use much less water than the average. I would like to believe that you, too, understand that no one
should live that way. No child should have to be afraid to drink a glass of water lest there be none tomorrow. These are my difficulties. These are my children’s fears.

The writer lives in the Palestinian village of Susya in the southern Hebron Hills.



From left, Daniel Boyarin of Berkeley, Corey Robin of Brooklyn College, Rabbi Alissa Wise and
Charles H. Manekin of the University of Maryland;  all observant Jews who have found
that their views on Israel differ from those of family members and friends. (NYT)

A Conflict of Faith, Devoted to Jewish Observance,
but at Odds with Israel
(Mark Oppenheimer, Beliefs, NY Times, 2/14/14)

related story:
Hell freezes over
(NYT publishes glowing profile of anti-Zionists)
(Phillip Weis, Mondoweiss, 2/15/14)

short excerpt fr Mondoweiss:

We’ve always told Adam we’ll have to shut this site down when the mainstream media begin doing their job. Well, here’s a big opening, involving the Jewish community. Mark Oppenheimer’s “Beliefs” column in the New York Times profiles a number of Jewish-observant anti-Zionists, in very positive terms. All are sympathetic or supportive of the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement (BDS).

excerpt from Oppenheimer NYT column:

There is no question that Charles H. Manekin is a rarity. Not because he is an Orthodox Jew who keeps the Sabbath, refraining from driving, turning on lights, even riding in elevators on Saturdays. Rather, this philosophy professor at the University of Maryland is rare because he believes that his Orthodox faith calls him to take stands against Israel.

Professor Manekin, 61, became Orthodox in college and became an Israeli citizen in the 1980s. Yet in an interview this week, he denounced Israel’s “excessive reliance” on military force, its treatment of Arab citizens and its occupation of the West Bank.  He is “sympathetic” to B.D.S., as the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel is known.

“As a religious Jew,” he said, “I am especially disturbed by the daily injustices perpetrated against
the Palestinians.”

The vast majority of Jews consider themselves supportive of Israel. They may quarrel with various Israeli policies, but since the state’s founding in 1948, and especially since the 1967 war, Zionism
has been a common denominator of world Jewry.

And while there have always been anti- or non-Zionist Jews, today they cluster on the less observant end of Judaism, among secular or religiously liberal Jews. In such a world, Professor Manekin — a modern Orthodox Jew in a skullcap whose religion moves him to oppose Israel — is exceedingly rare.

Zionism was not always the norm among American Jews. Nevertheless, those committed to Jewish practice but openly at odds with Israel are now likely to find themselves at odds with their friends and family.

Since 2007 he has regularly offered criticisms of Israel on his blog, The Magnes Zionist, It is named for Judah L. Magnes, an American rabbi who, until his death in 1948, argued that a Jewish return to the Middle East did not require a nation-state.

“People look at ‘non-statist Zionism’ as the type that lost,” Professor Manekin said this week, referring to Rabbi Magnes’s philosophy. “But I found a lot of what they were saying resonated today, and a lot of their predictions about endless war had come to pass.”

Stefan Krieger, 67, teaches law at Hofstra University, on Long Island. He refrains from work on the Sabbath, keeps kosher, and studies a page of the Talmud every day. But his views on Israel have always been unusual.

“My parents were very sensitive to the issues of Palestinians,” Professor Krieger said. “My mom had a book called ‘They Are Human Too,’ and my memory is she would take it off the bookshelf, as if this was some sort of scandalous tract she was showing me, and show me pictures of Palestinians in refugee camps.”

Professor Krieger, who supports the B.D.S. movement, will not rise in synagogue for the traditional prayer for the state of Israel. “I think nationalism and religion together are toxic,” he said.

Alissa Wise, 34, grew up in Cincinnati, in what she calls a “modern Orthodox or Conservative kind of background, a very right-wing Zionist background.” In 1999, she arrived at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. On her first day of classes, there was a pro-Palestinian rally on campus.

Rabbi Wise — she was later ordained in the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism — was shocked to learn of the West Bank occupation. “I had gone to Jewish summer camp and Jewish day school my whole life and had no idea,” she said.

Today, Rabbi Wise works for Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that endorses some boycotts against Israel.

Daniel Boyarin, who teaches Talmud at the University of California, Berkeley, attended Orthodox synagogues for 30 years. He believes that Zionism was always flawed.

“The very concept of a state defined as being for one people was deeply problematic and inevitably going to lead to a moral and political disaster,” said Professor Boyarin. “Which I think it has.”

Professor Boyarin, 67, is still observant, but he has dropped out of synagogue life. “I have been so disturbed by the political discourse,” he said, “that I felt that I couldn’t participate.”

Skepticism toward Zionism used to be common. Before World War II, Reform Jews tended to believe that they had found a home in the United States, and that Zionism could be seen as a form of dual loyalty. Orthodox Jews generally believed, theologically, that a state of Israel would have to wait for the Messiah’s arrival (a view some ultra-Orthodox Jews still hold). In the 1930s and ’40s, the persecution of European Jews turned many American Jews into Zionists. Major organizations, like the American Jewish Committee and Hillel, the Jewish campus group, turned toward political Zionism after the war.

“When Hillel was founded, it took a clear non-Zionist position,” said Noam Pianko, who teaches Jewish history at the University of Washington. “What you see is a shift in the American spectrum: from non-Zionism with a few Zionists, to a situation, by the 1960s, where the assumption is that any American Jewish organization is also going to be clearly Zionist.”

Corey Robin, 46, a regular at a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn, writes a blog about his opposition to Israeli policy and his support for the B.D.S. movement. “There are lots of ways to be Jewish, but worshiping a heavily militarized state seems like a bit of a comedown from our past,” Professor Robin, who teaches political science at Brooklyn College, said in an email.

He said that he tries not to get into arguments with friends, but he has become very “vocal and visible” in his writings. In response to such views, Professor Robin is often accused of despising Judaism.

“As my mother, who is very pro-Israel, will tell you, I love being Jewish,” Professor Robin said. “I love when I’m walking down the street, and my 5-year-old daughter’s skipping next to me, singing to herself some tune in Hebrew that we sang in shul.

“I can’t listen to that tune and the words we sing when we close the ark without a shudder. I love being Jewish. I just don’t love the state of Israel.”

author: mark.e.oppenheimer@gmail.com 



Rena Netjes, who left Egypt after being accused of spreading false news: '
They want to close down anyone who gives them a voice.'

Photograph: Remko De Waal/EPA

Threats, assaults and arrests...perils of reporting from Egypt
(Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian, UK, 2/7/14)

excerpt:

Al-Jazeera English correspondents Sue Turton and Dominic Kane are among 20 journalists charged in Egypt with tarnishing the country's reputation abroad, and helping the former president Mohamed Morsi's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Charges include "spreading false news" and aiding alleged terrorists – part of a campaign against journalists that has taken many forms in recent weeks.  Turton and Kane are safely out of the country, but four of their al-Jazeera colleagues are still in jail after being arrested last year, while one was released this week.

Al-Jazeera is the most prominent target for Egyptian authorities as it is owned by Qatar, which has acted as a safe haven for Brotherhood members since Morsi's overthrow in July. But all foreign media have come under threat because, unlike almost all local outlets, international reporters have tended to question the government narrative that Egypt is on the path to democracy.

As a result, Egyptian newspapers and television channels – both public and private – have claimed that all foreign journalists are funded by the Muslim Brotherhood, or foreign spies. Government officials have also played their part, attacking foreign news outlets, including the Guardian UK.

"Egyptians believe they are in a state of war against the Muslim Brotherhood, and anyone who gives them a microphone is seen as also wanting to destroy Egypt," said Rena Netjes, a Dutch broadcast journalist who fled Egypt this week after being accused of spreading false news. "So they want to close down anyone who gives them a voice."

The effect on journalists reporting in public spaces has been chilling. Covering anti-government demonstrations has always been dangerous because of the state's frequent use of live bullets and teargas, and the police's tendency to briefly detain journalists at the scene. But now correspondents are wary of reporting at state-sanctioned protests because many members of the public are so hostile to foreign media.

Nadine Marroushi, a British freelancer and former news agency reporter working in Egypt since 2011, was interviewing pro-government demonstrators making their way to Tahrir Square on the third anniversaruy of Egypt's revolution on 25 January when she was suddenly accused of working for al-Jazeera. "He kept saying 'al-Jazeera, al-Jazeera', and then he said: 'We have to arrest her,'" Marroushi said, in a story that strikes a chord with anyone reporting in Egypt.

The crowd's mood shifted instantly. People started to attack Marroushi and her colleague, "and one woman was basically strangling me with her scarf". The police sheltered the pair in a nearby building while the mob banged on the door.

While tourists are welcomed with open arms at Egypt's tourist sites, most Cairo-based journalists have experienced similar assaults in crowds, at the hands of both local citizens and police. The weekend Marroushi was attacked, a German film crew was hospitalised after being attacked by a mob, and an Italian journalist was also beaten up. On 25 January alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented 24 infringements against journalists.

The crackdown on Morsi supporters and secular activists have been far more brutal,  but some journalists now fear they will be next after Islamists and then leftist revolutionaries were targeted.

Hossam Meneai, an Egyptian documentary-maker, was arrested at his home on 22 January – a shocking incident that frightened many, said Meneai's British flatmate, Nizar Manek. "They have pulverised the Brotherhood and now they are going after secular liberals, even non-political actors who may at some stage pose some difficulty for the regime," said Manek, a business journalist who witnessed Meneai's arrest, and who has now fled the country. "Hossam and myself are fairly ordinary people – so the fact that they can turn up at our door means they can turn up at anyone's."

What the law says about journalists is often unclear. The authorities have given only incomprehensible advice on the legality of interviewing the Muslim Brotherhood, who are now designated terrorists despite holding public office less than a year ago. Egypt's new constitution supposedly enshrines free speech, except "in times of war", a term the government has used to describe the crackdown on Islamists.

Photojournalists are in a particularly precarious position. Not only does the nature of their work force them closer to the violence, but their equipment makes them more visible to vigilantes and police, said Mosa'ab Elshamy, an acclaimed local photojournalist, whose brother Abdullah is one of four al-Jazeera journalists in jail.

"The atmosphere of fear the government has created has made the public suspicious of anyone holding a camera – just as they are suspicious of people looking foreign," he said. "If you're on the streets with a camera and a gas mask, equipment which is not easy to conceal, it's a big challenge."

At least four international photojournalists have left Egypt since December because the environment makes it almost impossible for them to do their work.

"Possessing a camera is essentially an offence now," said Mosa'ab Elshamy, "and certainly possessing a camera with protest photos in it.".



Scarlett Johansson Chooses SodaStream Over Oxfam
After Dispute About West Bank Factory
 
The SodaStream factory is built on a settlement made possible by one of the largest expropriations of Palestinian land by Israel durng its 46-year occupation of the West Bank.'
 
(Robert Mackey, The Lede, NY Times Blog, 1/30/14)

excerpt:

Forced to choose between two endorsement deals, the actress Scarlett Johansson decided Wednesday to end her charitable work on behalf of Oxfam, an antipoverty group that opposes trade with Israeli settlements, and continue as a paid “brand ambassador” for SodaStream, a company that manufactures products in the occupied West Bank.

Oxfam’s stated position is that “trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law,” should be discouraged because companies profiting from the continued occupation “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Last week, however, Ms. Johansson expressed her outspoken support for the SodaStream factory in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, echoing the company’s chief executive in calling the plant “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.”

While the content of the talks between the actress and the charity were not made public, a statement released on her behalf contained a significant error about Oxfam’s policy regarding Israel. According to the statement, Ms. Johansson and Oxfam parted ways because of “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

But Oxfam does not support the Palestinian-led campaign known as B.D.S. which seeks to isolate Israel economically until it ends the military occupation of territories seized during the Six-Day War in 1967 and allows Arab refugees to return to their former homes in what is now the Jewish state. The charity objects to the import of goods produced in Israeli settlements but is not opposed to trade with Israel, an Oxfam representative told The Lede on Thursday.

Although many Israelis expect that settlement to become a part of Israel after the land swaps Israeli governments have insisted on in any future peace deal, “Maale Adumim is nevertheless a settlement especially loathed by Israeli peace activists. It was made possible in the 1970s by one of the largest expropriations of Palestinian land implemented by Israel during its 46-year occupation of the West Bank.”

As the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem explained in 1999, the settlement, including the SodaStream factory, was built on land taken from five Palestinian towns and two Bedouin tribes evicted by Israeli forces.

Perhaps more important, as the Israeli columnist Larry Derfner explained in 2012, this settlement is already “a stake in the heart of a prospective Palestinian state,” because it nearly bisects the West Bank and further construction there threatens to cut off “Palestinians’ access to East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.” That appears to be less by accident than by design. Mr. Derfner noted that Benny Kashriel, the settlement’s longtime mayor, told The Jerusalem Report in 2004, “Maale Adumim was established to break Palestinian contiguity.” The settlement, he added, “is Jerusalem’s connection to the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley; if we weren’t here, Palestinians could connect their villages and close off the roads. Maale Adumim necessarily cuts the West Bank in two.”

While opponents of settlement trade, like Oxfam, argue that the relatively small number of jobs generated by factories there do not outweigh the crippling effect of Israel’s military occupation on the Palestinian economy as a whole, SodaStream’s defenders contend that the plant is a boon to hundreds of local workers. The company’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, told The Forward this week that although the location was “a pain,” and that SodaStream could move all of its manufacturing to a factory inside Israeli’s internationally recognized borders, he would not do so out of concern for the Palestinians who would lose their jobs. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said.

Mr. Birnbaum also told a Reuters reporter who visited the factory the next day that the SodaStream factory was “a dream for activists and politicians on both sides of this dilemma, because it’s a model for peace and is proving every day that there can and will be peace between our peoples.”

The reporter, Noah Browning, noted however that a “mid-level Palestinian employee who spoke to Reuters outside the plant, away from the bosses, painted a far less perfect picture.”

“There’s a lot of racism here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced.”



Clyde Haberman
photo: Haaretz
 
'A New York Times reporter in Israel is invariably
called an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew'
 
Clyde Haberman reflects on 37 years at the Times, his stint in Jerusalem and on Israel, then and now:  'Your fencing yoursef in. You're building your own Warsaw Ghetto.'
 
(Chemi Shalev, Haaretz 1/16/14)

(above link requires registration)

excerpt:

Clyde Haberman, 68, has just parted ways with the Times, much to the regret of legions of fans of the smart New York City columns that he’s written for the past 18 years. Before that he reported for the Times on several major and historic national and international news stories, from Japan to Jerusalem, from the fall of Saddam to the fall of communism, and was also the Times’ bureau chief in Tokyo and Rome.

But his stint in Israel during the tumultuous days of the Oslo Accords was undoubtedly special for the Orthodox-born-and-raised Haberman, in more ways than one.

“Throughout my career,” he says, “I’ve had my fair share of “you’re an idiot” letters, but many more letters of praise as well. Israel is the only assignment I ever had in which in four years I never once got a letter that said "nice job." If I would have gotten one, I would have had it embossed and put it on a wall, like a business does with the first dollar bill it makes.”

This, he says, is the lot of most New York Times’ reporters in Israel, as well as other prominent American journalists who have agreed to an Israel posting. I ask whether sending a Jewish reporter is hence a good or bad idea. “All other things being equal,” he replies, “it is probably better to send a non-Jew rather than a Jew – just as I would probably prefer to send a non-Indian to India. It’s better to avoid that extra component.”

But when I point out that a majority of the Times’ representatives in Israel in the past 30 years have, in fact, been Jewish, Haberman says: “You may be surprised to learn that there aren’t as many correspondents clamoring for the job as Israelis would like to think. Every Times person in Israel has been subjected to non-stop assault. People realize that it entails a lot of scrutiny, grief and verbal abuse.”

“We’ve had decades of correspondents that, no matter how different they’ve been one from the other, no matter how talented they are or how many Pulitzer Prizes they have to their name, always end up being accused of being either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. At some point, this seeps into the DNA of the newspaper: This is what you can expect if you go there - to have your integrity hurled back in your face every single day.”

After a while it became clear to me, he adds drily, “that if I didn’t want to be accused of hating Israel, I should start every story with: ‘50 years after 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, Israel yesterday did one thing or the other.’”

“Jews still don’t believe that the world won’t turn on them. It’s hardwired into their systems. They can’t accept that the Holocaust is a distant memory for most of the world’s population and they get upset when they are not perceived as perennial victims, even though they hardly look like victims anymore. But historical memory today is almost an oxymoron. People hardly remember the Vietnam War, and even 9/11 is a starting to be a fading memory for younger Americans.”

Haberman recounts how impressed he was by Yitzhak Rabin’s inaugural speech after his second election as prime minister in 1992, when he told the Knesset that Israelis “have to stop thinking that the whole world is against us." These words, Haberman notes, “were like a large gong for me”, and the phrase even made the front page of the New York Times. “It was such a dose of reality and such a refreshing change from Yitzhak Shamir, who kept insisting that the whole world was against us – all 5 billion of them.”

But that was a brief hiatus, I remind him, and it is Shamir’s view that has prevailed. “I know,” he sighs. “All there is today is ‘we're under siege, we’re under siege.’ Israel has built fences and barriers and walls all around it. It has basically built its own ghetto, its own Warsaw Ghetto, to keep everybody out.” To which he adds, almost instinctively: “I know I’m going to get into trouble over that.”

...Haberman recounts the time a Jewish lady in a group he was lecturing asked him about a report written by a Times reporter called David Cohen. “I wracked my brains,” he says, “but didn’t know who she was talking about. But then a light came on in my head and I said: ‘it’s David Chen, not David Cohen.’ She had subconsciously inserted the O.”

“You better get used to it,” he told his sheepish questioner, “There are less and less Cohens going into this business and more and more Chens, and Hus, and Lius.” Part of the problem of Jews and Israelis who habitually complain about the ‘self-hating Jews’ in American journalism," he adds," is that they are simply behind the times.

I ask him what surprised him most about Israelis. For someone from the Upper West Side, he says, it was the diversity of the population and the coarse and rough day-to-day contact with other people. “But while I may have eaten better in Rome and Tokyo,” he adds, “Jerusalem was the most viscerally grabbing city I have lived in, perhaps because I’m Jewish.”

“I could see myself happily living there,” he adds, “if I was in another line of work, if I didn’t have to involve myself in people’s miseries and conflicts.” And if he didn’t have to be subjected to the steady stream of animosity and criticism that seems to come with the territory, I add, as we say goodbye.



Ariel Sharon  2/26/28-1/11/14
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
 
How Ariel SharonShaped Israel's Destiny
  (Max Blumenthal, The Nation, 1/11/14)
  excerpt pasted below related articles

related articles:

The Sharon Doctrine
(Hussein Ibish, Foreign Affairs.com, 1/11/14)
short excerpt:

For most Arabs, no Israeli in history is more synonymous with violence and Israeli expansionism than Ariel Sharon. His name quickly conjures the worst massacres, deepest pro-settlement fanaticism, and most extreme nationalistic provocations in the Palestinian bill of particulars against Israel. Less readily appreciated by most Arabs is the complexity of Sharon's legacy and the important lessons, both positive and negative, his final policies suggest for peace.

Ariel Sharon, Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85
(Ethan Bonner, NY Times, 1/11/14)

short excerpt:

In many ways, Mr. Sharon’s story was that of his country. A champion of an iron-fisted, territory-expanding Zionism for most of his life, he stunned Israel and the world in 2005 with a Nixon-to-China reversal and withdrew all Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza. He then abandoned his Likud Party and formed a centrist movement called Kadima focused on further territorial withdrawal and a Palestinian state next door.

Excerpt fr Max Blumenthal piece linked above:

A central player in Israeli affairs since the state’s inception, Ariel Sharon molded history according to his own stark vision. He won consent for his plans through ruthlessness and guile, and resorted to force when he could not find any. An accused war criminal who presided over the killing of thousands of civilians, his foes referred to him as “The Bulldozer.” To those who revered him as a strong-armed protector and patron saint of the settlements, he was “The King of Israel.” In a life acted out in three parts, Sharon destroyed entire cities, wasted countless lives and sabotaged careers to shape the reality on the ground.

The first act of Sharon’s career began after the 1948 war that established Israel at the expense of 750,000 Palestinians who were driven away in a campaign of mass expulsion. Badly wounded in the battle of Latrun, where the Israeli army suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the Royal Jordanian Army, Sharon yearned to finish 1948—to complete the expulsion project he viewed as deficient.

In 1953, Sharon was appointed the head of a secret commando unit tasked with carrying out brutal acts of reprisal and sabotage. Following a lethal Palestinian assault on an Israeli kibbutz, Sharon led his men into the West Bank town of Qibya with orders from Ben Gurion’s Central Command to “carry out destruction and cause maximum damage.” By the time they were done, sixty-nine civilians—mostly Palestinian women and children—lay dead.

In the years after that scandal, Sharon carried out bloody raids on Egyptian and Syrian territory that inflamed relations with Israel’s neighbors and led them to seek urgent military assistance from the Soviet Union. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Sharon was accused by one of his commanders, Arye Biro, of overseeing the massacre of forty-nine Egyptian quarry workers who had been taken prisoner and had no role in the fighting (official censorship kept the details from the public for decades). In the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon ran up the body count on encircled Egyptian tank units, converting unprecedented kill ratios into national fame. With the Gaza Strip now under Israeli control, Sharon orchestrated the razing of Palestinian citrus orchards to make way for Jewish colonization.

Appointed minister of agriculture, Sharon exploited his seemingly insignificant position to bring the messianic project of Greater Israel to fruition. With unbridled vigor, he expanded the settlement enterprise across the West Bank, He revealed his strategy in a private chat with Winston Churchill’s grandson: “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich out of them. We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in twenty-five years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Sharon entered the Defense Ministry consumed with dreams of an Israeli-friendly Christian puppet government in Beirut—the bulwark of a regional Israeli empire. Clamoring for an invasion of Lebanon, Sharon withheld his true intentions from everyone except perhaps Begin, claiming he merely aimed to drive the PLO out of southern Lebanon, where it had staged periodic raids on Israeli territory. When Begin green-lighted Operation Peace for Galilee in June 1982, Sharon sent Israeli tanks rumbling towards Beirut without the approval of the rest of the cabinet, whom Sharon had deliberately deceived. Many of them were outraged, but it was too late to turn back.

Against fierce Palestinian resistance, one of the Middle East’s most vital and cosmopolitan cities was laid to ruin. Sharon’s forces flattened West Beirut with indiscriminate shelling, leaving streets strewn with unburied corpses. With each passing day, disease and famine spread at epidemic levels. In August, the day after the Israeli cabinet accepted US special envoy Philip Habib’s proposal for the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon’s forces bombarded Beirut for seven hours straight, leaving 300 dead, most of them civilians. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling wrote that the raid “resembled the attack on Dresden by the Allies toward the end of World War II.”

PLO forces withdrew from Lebanon but the worst was yet to come. Sharon had stymied a proposal for the introduction of multinational peacekeepers capable of preventing reprisals against the defenseless Palestinian refugees who had been left behind. Thus the stage was set for the most heinous massacre of the war. Following the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian warlord who was supposed to serve as Sharon’s handpicked puppet president, Israeli forces helped usher Christian Phalangist militias into the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila, then surrounded by the Israeli military, providing them with intelligence and operational support. Sharon and many of his officers were well aware of the Phalangists’ intention to murder as many women and children as they could. After days of slaughter, as many as 2,000 civilians were dead, with countless others raped and brutalized.

In February 1983, Israel’s Kahan Commission found Sharon “indirectly responsible” for the massacre, urging his dismissal as defense minister.

In July 2001, a Belgian court opened an inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacre when a group of survivors filed a complaint under the country’s “universal jurisdiction” guidelines. Elie Hobeika, the Phalangist commander directly responsible for the killings, was assassinated months later, after informing Belgian politicians that he would testify against Sharon. In September 2003, with Belgian relations with Israel at an all-time low, the Belgian court threw out the case, citing Sharon’s diplomatic immunity

Above excerpt is from an article that appears in The Nation written by Max Blumenthal.
Click for full article.


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.”

Background:

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.

Onward,
 
Rabbi Alissa Wise 
 
Jewish Voice for Peace
1611 Telegraph Ave, Suite 550
Oakland, CA 94612
510.465.1777
info@jewishvoiceforpeace.org

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.

Gratefully,
 
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.
Photo: AFP/GETTY


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/Activestills.org)


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 mag.com, 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 972mag.com)  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
Maaloula
Where Aramaic,
the Original Language of Jesus is Still Spoken


Click on the following links
for Sept 4-6 coverage of story:
BBC
Huffington Post (AP)
Telegraph.co.uk
NPR (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 Assad.as 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,
which
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)
(excerpt)
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
(8/16/13)

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, juancole.com 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

excerpt:
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)
excerpt:

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 Affairs.com, 6/27/13)
excerpt:

“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, Truth-Out.org, McClatchy Newspapers, 6/22/13)
excerpt:
 
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)
excerpt:
 
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)
excerpt:
 
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."



Al-Nakba

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.

Testimonies:

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, Mondoweiss.net, 4/19/13)
excerpt:
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."


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