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Gaza Corner: Jan 2012-Present
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Gaza Corner Audio Broadcast by Dore Stein 7/26/14
(click for audio)
note:  my apologies to Gabor Mate who in my live comments was mistakenly referrred to as 'she'.

The Beautiful Dream of Israel
has Become a Nightmare

(by Gabor Mate, Vancouver based author, speaker and Holocaust survivor
who wrote this opinion piece in the Toronto Star, 7/22/14)
excerpt:

As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth.

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.

I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion.

“People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,” in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded. Netanyahu has his reasons. Harper and Obama have theirs.

And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

But can we not be sad together at what that beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to? Can we not grieve the death of innocents? I am sad these days. Can we not at least mourn together?


A Palestinian woman carries her belongings past the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun.
Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

A pause in  the bombing by Israeli forces -
and the ruins of Gaza are laid bare
(Peter Beaumont, The Observer, Guardian UK,  7/26/14)

excerpt:


In the dangerous streets around the hospital in Beit Hanoun, the buildings were, by and large, still standing on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, after a day of intense Israeli bombing and shellfire, the hospital in the northern Gaza town was standing in a sea of rubble, its walls pockmarked with gunfire and torn by shrapnel.

The skyline, until so recently regular and neat, had been transformed into something torn and ragged. The tops of a pair of minarets had been blown off, and the graves in a cemetery smashed to pieces. Houses, offices, apartment blocks and shops were collapsed or collapsing.

What happened here in Beit Hanoun, and in other neighbourhoods of Gaza hardest hit by the Israeli assault, will inevitably demand an explanation: whether the extremity of violence unleashed in these residential areas in recent days was proportionate, or if the destruction amounts to a war crime.

Those are questions for the days ahead. On Saturday, however, in the midst of a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire, the concerns were more immediate ones, as thousands of Palestinian residents flocked back to their ruined neighbourhoods to see what remained.

As they came on foot and in cars, they were accompanied by fire engines, bulldozers and ambulances of the Red Crescent, whose crews by mid-afternoon had recovered 85 bodies, many of them partially decomposed, buried under the rubble of Gaza's most damaged neighbourhoods. Officials said the death toll among Palestinians had passed 1,000.

In some places visited by the Observer whole blocks had been flattened, dozens of buildings at a time reduced to a moonscape from which the smell of death at times wafted.

"My house, my house," said another man, hitting his head with his hand. Nothing, it seems, had escaped the flying pieces of white-hot metal thrown out by the bombs – not electricity cables, or cars left behind, not windows or doors.

Near the hospital a man leads a horse out of the ruins, a long streak of blood staining its hindquarters where it was struck by shrapnel. Elsewhere, we come across donkeys and cattle killed where they were left tied up in the street, scorched, stomachs swelling with gas.

A group of men show us the home of the Shabat family, seven of whom died when it was flattened by a bomb.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who did not flee could have survived the attack, but a few did.

"We lived through a night of horror. The shelling was all around our house," says Hanan al-Zaanin, standing with four of her children outside their home.

Zoheir Hamad is with his wife Umm Fadi next to a home that is little more than a few barely standing walls; the water pumping station next to them is also badly damaged.

"We left at the beginning of the war," says Zoheir.

"It is the first time that we have managed to come back." Umm Fadi adds: "We're staying in the UN school in Jabaliya. We came to get clothes for the children. But there is nothing left."

It is the phrase we hear throughout a long day: "Nothing left." And it is true. Whole areas that were once inhabited have been reduced to a landscape of earth and dust and broken shapes.

Although in places there is evidence fighting has taken place, what is hard to comprehend is the Israeli justification for the scale of the destruction, save destruction for its own sake in pursuit of a policy of collective punishment.

Ahead of probable international criticism over the scale of the destruction, some Israeli political figures were trying to deny the scale of the attacks was in any way disproportionate.

And if Beit Hanoun is largely destroyed, Shujai'iya, an eastern neighbourhood of Gaza that has been shelled and bombed for a week, is incomparably worse.

In the midst of an area of rubble the size of two football pitches in the last of these areas, we meet three brothers standing on what was once the four-storey building in which their families lived in four apartments. Next to them is a bomb crater measuring 10 metres across and six metres deep.

Alaa Helou, 35, a carpenter, points to what is no longer there. "That was a two-storey house. There was three storeys and over there was four storeys high. We came to see our house. We thought it might have been damaged by a shell. But there is nothing left of it."

"We spent 20 years making our place nice," says his older brother. "We spent all of our money on our homes."

If there is something worse than the scenes of destruction, it is what is visible in the faces in Beit Hanoun and Shujai'iya. A man is led away down one street in Shujai'iya; staggering and blind with grief he his held up by two others. Women sit in the dust, crying.

We find 33-year-old Rifaat Suqr sitting outside his gutted house, a stunned look on his face. "It is like an earthquake hit this street," he says. "An earthquake."

Except that this was not an earthquake. This was the work of men.




 
No ceasefire without justice in Gaza
We will not "return to a living death" of siege
and blockade, say Gaza civil society leaders
 
(published in Electronic Intifada, 7/22/14)

We will not “return to a living death” of siege and blockade, say Gaza civil society leaders.

As academics, public figures and activists witnessing the intended genocide of 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, we call for a ceasefire with Israel only if conditioned on an end to the blockade and the restoration of basic freedoms that have been denied to the people for more than seven years.

Our foremost concerns are not only the health and safety of the people in our communities, but also the quality of their lives – their ability to live free of fear of imprisonment without due process, to support their families through gainful employment, and to travel to visit their relatives and further their education.

These are fundamental human aspirations that have been severely limited for the Palestinian people for more than 47 years, but that have been particularly deprived from residents of Gaza since 2007. We have been pushed beyond the limits of what a normal person can be expected to endure.
A living death

Charges in the media and by politicians of various stripes that accuse Hamas of ordering Gaza residents to resist evacuation orders, and thus use them as human shields, are untrue. With temporary shelters full and the indiscriminate Israeli shelling, there is literally no place that is safe in Gaza.

Likewise, Hamas represented the sentiment of the vast majority of residents when it rejected the unilateral ceasefire proposed by Egypt and Israel without consulting anyone in Gaza. We share the broadly held public sentiment that it is unacceptable to merely return to the status quo – in which Israel strictly limits travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, controls the supplies that come in (including a ban on most construction materials), and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world.

To do so would mean a return to a living death.

Unfortunately, past experience has shown that the Israeli government repeatedly reneges on promises for further negotiations, as well as on its commitments to reform.

Likewise, the international community has demonstrated no political will to enforce these pledges. Therefore, we call for a ceasefire only when negotiated conditions result in the following:

    Freedom of movement of Palestinians in and out of the Gaza Strip.
    Unlimited import and export of supplies and goods, including by land, sea and air.
    Unrestricted use of the Gaza seaport.
    Monitoring and enforcement of these agreements by a body appointed by the United Nations, with appropriate security measures.

Each of these expectations is taken for granted by most countries, and it is time for the Palestinians of Gaza to be accorded the human rights they deserve.

Link for signatures.



An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza
(Poem by Heathcote Williams with grateful acknowledgements to Angela Godfrey-Goldstein; courtesy international .it, 7/17/14)


excerpt:

“No man can cause more grief than the one clinging blindly to the vices of his ancestors.” William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
An old man holds a placard that reads,
“You take my water, burn my olive trees,
Destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, Imprison my father, kill my mother,
Bombard my country, starve us all,
Humiliate us all, but I am to blame:
I shot a rocket back.”

Here are some ungodly chants
From the Zionist Book of Psalms
Which are used to justify
Laying waste to a whole country
And to its inhabitants:

“We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages
Destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water”

Eli Yishai, former Deputy Prime Minister.
Amen

“There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down …
Kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.”

Michael Ben-Ari, an ex-member of the Knesset.
Amen

Gaza should be “bombed so hard the population Has to flee into Egypt”
Israel Katz, a Minister of Transportation.
Amen

The Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Schneerson,
A self proclaimed Messiah
Whose followers await his return from the dead, (As if the Rabbi hadn’t preached
Enough when alive by his making the claim
That his religion heralded a new Master Race) – Has a devoted and powerful acolyte, Rabbi Manis Friedman,
Who declares that the “only way to fight a moral war” Is to “destroy the Arabs’ holy sites” and “to kill them.”
To “kill men, women and children”, and to eliminate anyone Who stands in the way of a Greater Israel.

Ethnic cleansing is Israel’s origin
Not peace:
Netanyahu tells students at Bar Ilan University (1977),
“Israel should have exploited the repression
Of the demonstrations in China,
When world attention focused on that country,
To carry out mass expulsions
Among the Arabs of the territories.”

In front of their Arab neighbours,
A song is sung by settlers at Purim
Praising Baruch Goldstein’s massacre
Of 29 Palestinians at prayer during Ramadan:
“Dr. Goldstein, there is none other like you in the world.
Dr. Goldstein, we all love you… he aimed at terrorists’ heads,
Squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets,
And shot, and shot.”

At this settler hero’s funeral, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin famously claimed that even one million Arabs Are “not worth a Jewish fingernail”.
Goldstein’s mass murder created suicide bombers –
Some two hundred amongst ten million Palestinians –
Which led to Israel’s land-grabbing apartheid wall.

The Israeli lawmaker, Ayelet Shaked, calls
For the genocide of Palestinians on Facebook
And she advocates “the slaughter of Palestinian mothers
Who give birth to ‘little snakes,’”
“The entire Palestinian people is the enemy.”
She urges their complete destruction,
“including its elderly and its women.”

Two Israeli girls hold up a banner
“Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values!”
Placing the Hebrew word for “Arabs”, ARAVIM,
Into Twitter reveals young Israelis desiring
That Arabs die or be tortured to death.

The US House of Representatives
Votes unanimously to reaffirm its full support for Israel.
US jets duly declare war on Arab children
Whose futures they disintegrate.

In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis,
Eight members of the Al Haj family
Are killed, including five children.

Four Arab children, fishermens’ children
First cousins from the Bakr family, aged nine to eleven,
Playing football on the Gaza beach in July, 2014,
Are shot dead by an Israeli gunboat.



A 12-year-old boy loses 18 members of his family in an air raid
From US planes including his father, a schoolteacher,
A photograph of Abdul Rahman Al-Batsh
Shows his shoulders slumped against a car.
It’s the moment that he’s discovered
That his father is amongst the dead.



Later Abdul Rahman would say,
“They think we are worth nothing. They are killers,
They have no humanity,
And one day I will avenge my father.”




Israel receives more aid from the US

Than the whole of the continent of Africa

Comfortably seated on camp chairs and sofas
Some fifty Israelis gather to eat popcorn
And watch from a Sderot hilltop
As bombs rain down from US-supplied F-16s.
They clap and applaud each deadly blast
From 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs.

The conquerors’ fans draw up their chairs;
Swigging on beers as they tend their barbecue
And watch Gaza burn from their vantage-point
In Sderot (once the Palestinian village of Najd).



Someone points out that Hamas
(Rather than it having been elected)
Is “a death-cult” and Palestinians “enjoy martyrdom”
So “we’re doing the Arabs a favour.”

A lurid cocktail of triumphalist hatred,
Mixed with smoke from burning flesh,
Blinds them to Palestine’s righteous yearning
For self-determination,
Their right in international law;
To be unencumbered by occupation
To be free from being Israel’s penal colony;
Free from being stateless in a brutalized Bantustan –
A colonized people who are jeered at and decried
For their minimal attempts to fight back.

Later that night a bomb would land on a Gaza care home
Filled with elderly patients who cannot move
And with children who are already disabled;


Incited by a fascistic atavism,
Israeli Jews go on the rampage
Looking to beat any Arab they encounter
To heighten their sense of victory.

On July 2nd, 2014,
A young man in Shuafat, Jerusalem,
Muhammad Abu-Khdeir,
A 16-year old boy with a knowing, elfin smile
Is pulled into a car
And kidnapped in East Jerusalem
While waiting to go into the mosque.
He is tied and beaten;
He has gasoline poured into his mouth
And he is burned alive.
His body is found in the Jerusalem Forest;
Battered in the head
And with soot deposits in the lungs
Suggesting he’s still breathing
When set on fire.
Ninety per cent of his body is burned.



Another victim of Israel’s slow motion genocide –
A holocaust which, this time,
Is being financed and uncritically supported
By ‘the good guys’,
By the internationally ‘great and the good’,
By the craven chorus of the compliant
Who ritually pipe up to defend
Israel’s right to defend itself –
To defend the indefensible,
And to supply the money
The weapons, and the excuses
To enable it to do so.



It has no need of the fearful hatred,
Fuelling its bombs and its bullets,
Unless it wishes to fade away –
Putting out the light that might enable it
To see the stranger as a friend.

—————–
Click for footnotes
located at bottom of poem.

Related articles:
 
Israel firing experimental weapons
at Gaza's civilians , say doctors
(Rania Khalek, Electronic Intifada, 7/15/14)

Doctors treating patients in Gaza have accused Israel of using experimental weapons on Palestinian civilians.

Addressing reporters at a press conference on Sunday, Youssef Abul Resh, undersecretary of the health ministry in Gaza, said, “Medical teams have registered injuries consistent with those caused by DIME [dense inert metal explosives] and other banned weapons.”

Using Gaza as a laboratory

DIME munitions were developed by the US Air Force in 2006 and have since been tested repeatedly on the people of Gaza, who have long served as involuntary lab rats for Israel’s weapons industry.

DIME bombs contain tungsten, a cancer-causing metal that helps to produce incredibly destructive blasts which slice through flesh and bone, often decapitating the lower limbs of people within the blast radius.

Renowned Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who witnessed the horrific injuries caused by DIME bombs during Israel’s 2009 Gaza onslaught, told The Electronic Intifada over the phone from al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City that patients are showing up with DIME-related injuries.

“A good number of the injuries seen here are consistent with the use of dense inert metal explosives, or DIME, that we saw during the 2009 attack and also in 2006,” said Gilbert. “The bodies are pretty much destroyed by enormous energy released by the explosives that are shot near them or at them.”

Gilbert first witnessed the effects of DIME munitions on the human body during Operation Summer Rains, Israel’s 2006 months-long attack on the Gaza Strip that killed more than four hundred Palestinians. “Large chunks of flesh, of muscles were cut away. We didn’t find any shrapnel and [the wounds] were delivering a strange fume. Gradually we came to understand these must have been the new DIME weapons developed by the US Air Force together with the Israelis,” he said.

The experimental weapon was used on a larger scale during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, including 352 children.

“We had a large number of patients who came in with these horrendous injuries where arms and legs were cut off as though a huge axe had chopped off their limbs with a direct immense force, cutting through skin, muscles and bones. Bones would be shattered and completely cut off,” Gilbert recounted.  “In addition we saw very, very destructive burns coming from some extreme temperature that turned skin, muscle and even bones into charcoal.”

But Gilbert warned that focusing on the DIME weapons, which are not explicity banned under international law, risks distracting from Israel’s far more damaging crimes against the people of Gaza.

“The siege and the constant bombing of civilian targets — those two issues are much more important than if [the Israelis] choose to use a traditional shell with a grenade or a DIME weapon,” he argued.

“As a doctor, my prescription is very clear. Number one, stop the bombing, and that means stop Israel from bombing civilians and indiscriminately hitting families. Number two, lift the siege. And number three, find a political solution,” said Gilbert.

“And at the core of the political solution is equity and justice for the Palestinian people to be treated in an equal way as all other human beings protected by international law with UN security, dignity and the right to live their lives in peace.”

Through Lens, 4 Boys Dead by Gaza Shore
(by Tyler Hicks, NY Times , 7/16/14)
excerpt:

I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.

I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.

If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?

There is no safe place in Gaza right now. Bombs can land at any time, anywhere.

A small metal shack with no electricity or running water on a jetty in the blazing seaside sun does not seem like the kind of place frequented by Hamas militants, the Israel Defense Forces’ intended targets. Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters, either.

NBC News Pulls Veteran Reporter from Gaza After Witnessing Israeli Attack on Children
(Glen Greenwald, Firstlook.org/The Intercept, 7/17/14)
Update:  NBC was shamed into reinstating the reporter a few days later.


Gaza Diary: 
Israelis are completely misled about what's going on

"I haven’t slept for a second as the explosions have surrounded our home, yet the international community seems to be paying no attention to us."
(by Abeer Ayyoub, Haaretz, 7/11/14)
note: Haaretz articles require registration



A doll lies on the rubble of a destroyed building following an
Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 11, 2014.  Photo by AFP


excerpt:
GAZA - Enjoying the relatively calm hours in the early morning following a noisy sleepless night, everyone in the house was sleeping when my brother, who lives in the same building, came to wake us. He told us that our neighbor got a phone call from the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)  asking him to evacuate his house, which was about to be bombed. Our neighbor’s house is only couple of meters away; getting ready for the closest bombardment yet was so traumatizing.

My mother opened all the windows so the strike wouldn't break them; broken glass is usually the main cause of injuries in such cases. The 20 members of my extended family gathered in the living room waiting for the awful event. Taking care of the children who didn’t know what was going on was the hardest challenge. As I write this, a couple of hours have passed since the call, and we are still, surprisingly, waiting for the strike so we can get rid of the massive panic everyone at home is suffering.

Last night wasn’t like any other night. The extremely noisy drones haven’t stopped circling the sky of Gaza for a second, F16s haven’t stopped targeting for a single hour, and the gunboats continued to shell the area near the beach for the whole night.

I could not sleep for a second as the explosions were surrounding us; in the besieged coastal enclave, the furthest point in Gaza is still close by, as the territory is so small. I was following the news on social media, TV and radio channels. For the whole night, the rockets were targeting buildings with tens of people sleeping inside. Nothing changed from one area to another, except for the family names.

Curiously, I was looking for Israeli spokesperson interviews online to see how they connected the announced goals of Operation Protective Edge, stopping the rockets from Gaza and damaging the infrastructure of Hamas, and killing dozens of children and other innocent civilians while sleeping. I watched an interview with IDF spokesman Avichay Adrey on one of the Arabic channels, and I was totally surprised by him talking about the success of the operation so far.

I don’t know what success Israel is talking about when most of the 86 people killed (through early Thursday) were children and women.

note: By Friday afternoon, the Palestinian Health Ministry put the death toll in Gaza at 81 people — among them 22 children, 15 women and 12 elderly people — since Operation Protective Edge began on Tuesday.  Another 537 people have been injured.
As of Saturday morning Gaza time, 114 Palestinians were killed by the IDF, including 26 children and 18 women. (By Saturday night the death toll had reached at least 151).

Through social media, I could know that most of the Israelis are totally misled about what’s going on in Gaza. My Israeli followers on Twitter keep telling me that I should move away from Hamas if I want to stay alive, as Hamas is a monster that lives somewhere here. In contrast, I could always understand how it feels for an Israeli child to be killed. I never excluded humanity from how I look at the Israeli-Palestinian scene.

After dozens of houses were demolished, I started to feel real danger; my siblings did, too. Israel always claimed that civilians are only hurt when they are near areas where Palestinian fighters fire rockets, yet this narrative is not acceptable anymore. I think that Israel is trying to place more pressure on Hamas to seek a cease-fire by killing more civilians.

Visiting the main hospital in the central Gaza Strip, I could zoom in on the Israeli craziness more and more. Injured babies, burnt flesh and children who still don’t know they lost their parents and siblings are everywhere in the hospital. Much worse, I am told that the hospital has run through over 35 percent of its medicine and 55 percent of its medical supplies. Surprisingly, yet maybe not, none of the Arab or international countries around seem to be paying attention to what’s happening to the 1.8 million-plus human beings living in Gaza. (The total area of Gaza is 139 sq miles.)

Being left under crazy rockets, the lack of regional and international support and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' disappointing attitude is leaving people here hopeless and desperate. I now know why Israel is violating international human rights laws, because no one in the world dares to cast a veto on its actions.

Gaza Civilians:
Waiting for our turn in the slaughter house
(by Amira Haas, Haaretz, 7/13/14)

“On Thursday afternoon a building in the neighborhood was bombed. With a missile. All the air filled up with light, a sort of big ball of fire we only started seeing during this attack,” a woman I will call 'T'. related at noon on Friday. Like all Gazans, they didn’t sleep at night and fell asleep only at around 8 A.M. According to a woman I will call 'A', the target was presumably a Hamas institution located in the building, in Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, but the missile missed and killed Dr. Anas Rizaq Abu al-Kas, 33, in his clinic.

The physician’s “father and mother were also killed, also in error, during Operation Pillar of Defense, in 2012,”  'A' added.

T., in an uncharacteristically weak voice, continued. “At night we wait for day. In the day we wait for night. Waiting for our turn in the slaughterhouse. We heard just this morning how the entire Ghanam family, from Rafah, died. Another family that was killed,” T. says.

'A' tells me that one member of the Ghanam family was an Islamic Jihad member. In its daily report issued late Friday, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights wrote that early Friday morning: “Israeli warplanes launched 3 missiles without a prior warning at a house belonging to ‘Abdul Raziq Hassan al-Ghannam, 58. As a result, he, his wife, his son, his daughter and his relative were killed:

Less than an hour earlier, at approximately 4:35 A.M. Friday, an Israeli warplane fired a missile at tunnels in the Sha’ath neighborhood of Rafah. Nour Marwan al-Nijdi, 10, was killed by shrapnel; her brother Abdul Rahman, 15, and her mother, Salwa Ahmed al-Nijdi, 49, were wounded. They were in their home at the time.

“You can never know which window the missile will come through. I told the children and my husband: ‘We should always remain together, in one room. If a missile comes, we’ll all be killed, so none of us is left alive, alone,’” related T. “Our youngest daughters are afraid to shower, fearing that a missile will come and kill everyone else just then. I told them: ‘We shower so as to be clean when we die.’ The children are stronger than I. They tell me, stop being afraid. Either we’ll die or we’ll live.’”

'T' ponders, “Where are the Arabs, where are the Europeans, where is the West Bank? It’s our fate, operated by a remote control of the Israeli army.”

'F', a woman from Rafah, says also sees the ball of fire after every air strike. “The whole house shakes,” even when the explosion is far away, she says. Everyone experiences it:  The pilotless drones, meanwhile, never stop buzzing.

“Since yesterday we haven’t slept, 24 hours have gone by and we don’t sleep,” 'F' says. “We don’t see our daughters and our siblings who live in other parts of the city. No one leaves their home. And now there’s no electricity, either (because Rafah is dependent on Egypt for its power), and the house is so hot,” F. says.

L., also from Rafah, discusses a family on her street that was informed by phone that its home was about to be destroyed. “The neighbors immediately told everyone to leave, because when they bomb one house the houses nearby are damaged, too, and you can be killed by shrapnel or injured by flying glass,” says L. “We woke my father-in-law, who is 88. He was so scared he was shaking. The poor guy was afraid he wouldn’t be able to cross the street. After about an hour the explosion came. We opened the windows ahead of time, and they didn’t shatter. But at my brother’s place, in the Tel al-Sultan refugee camp, all the windows shattered from an explosion that was nearby, and he came with his family to live with us. My 8-year-old daughter asked, ‘Why are they bombing during Ramadan?’”

International activists staying at Gaza hospital
the IDF plans to bomb

14 patients, men and women over the age of 60 that cannot be moved remain hospitalized at Gaza's only rehabilitation hospital.
(by Amira Haas, Haaretz/Reuters, 7/12/14)

International solidarity activists are staying in a Gaza hospital, which the Israel Defense Forces has indicated it plans to bomb, as a human shield. They joined patients unable to leave because the rest of Gaza's hospitals are in a state of emergency, treating persons injured in the bombings and waiting for more patients to come in.

Two warning rockets were fired at the Al Wafa hospital east of Gaza City at 2 A.M. early Friday morning, Director Basman al Ashi told Haaretz. At 7 P.M. a rocket was fired at the fourth floor, blasting a large hole in the ceiling and shattering windows. The floor was evacuated on Wednesday.

Al Wafa is the only rehabilitation hospital in the Gaza Strip. Established in 1996, it is intended for patients injured in serious accidents. Currently there are 14 patients aged over 60 being treated in the hospital, who require constant care and who cannot take care of themselves without medical supervision. Some of them are immobile, others are being fed intravenously. 25 other patients in less of an acute state left the hospital.

Joseph Catron, a 33-year-old American, is one of the activists that decided to stay at the hospital as a human shield together with colleges from New Zealand, Australia, England, Spain, Sweden, and Venezuela. Catron told Haaretz that the hospital's director took them on a tour of all the hospital's floors and rooms and "though I am not a military man, I didn't see anything resembling a rocket in the hospital."

According to Catron, he and his friends notified their respective embassies that they are staying at the hospital slated to be bombed by the IDF.



Former Shin Bet chief Diskin: Delusional Israeli government brought us to this security deterioration

Diskin criticizes Israeli leadership that is under the 'illusion
that the Palestinians will just accept all that
we are doing in the West Bank and not respond.'


The escalation of violence in the territories, Jerusalem and the triangle (of Arab towns in central Israel) are the direct result of the policies of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin wrote late Friday in a harshly critical Facebook post.

note: Israel's internal security service, Shin Bet or Shabak (links to in depth Al Jazeera article: "Inside Shin Bet") as it is known in both Hebrew and Arabic, is one of the three branches of the Israeli General Security Service (GSS) alongside Aman (military intelligence) and the Mossad (foreign intelligence service).
 
In his lengthy comment, Diskin wrote that the rapid deterioration in the security situation has shattered the Israeli leadership's "illusion that Israel's frustrated Arab citizens will not at the end of the day take to the streets over the lack of response to their problems and the containment of the Palestinians in the West Bank, and will not react despite their frustration and the worsening economic situation."
 
This illusion, Diskin said, "worked perfectly for as long as the defense establishment succeeded in providing impressive calm in the defense arena. The rapid deterioration in the security situation was not only down to the brutal murders of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad, but first and foremost it is the result of the illusion that the government's stagnation in every area was really keeping the situation in deep freeze."
 
Diskin, who headed the Shin Bet for six years, went on to define the various "illusions" that he says the government is propagating.
 
"The illusion that 'price tag' attacks are just a few slogans on the walls and not really racism; the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force; the illusion that the Palestinians will just accept all that we are doing in the West Bank and not respond, despite their rage, frustration and worsening economic situation; the illusion that the international community will not impose sanctions on us; that Israel's frustrated Arab citizens will not ultimately take to the streets over the lack of treatment of their problems; and the Israeli public will keep submissively accepting the government's incompetent response to the social gaps that its policies have only worsened, when corruption continues to eat away at all that is good, and so on and so on."
 
Diskin concluded with a grave warning that there could still be worse to come.
 
"Anyone who thinks that this can be sustained is making a huge mistake. What has been happening in recent days could be much worse - even if the situation temporarily calms down. Do not be fooled for one moment, because the massive internal pressure will still be there, the combustible fumes in the air will not dissipate, and if we do not dispel them, there will be an even more serious situation."


Muslim Americans of different backgrounds and cultures are marking the Holy Month of Ramadan [AP]

Ramadan: A centuries-old American tradition

Many forget that the first Muslims to celebrate
Ramadan in America were African slaves.

(Al Jazeera, Khaled A Beydoun, Opinion, 6/28/14)

This weekend marks the beginning of Ramadan. Nearly one-fourth of the world will observe the annual fast and eight million Muslims in the United States will abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month.  

Islam in America is rapidly expanding. It is the fastest-growing religion in the nation, and the second most practiced faith in twenty states. These demographic shifts prompted a prominent Los Angeles-based imam to comment, "Ramadan is a new American tradition." The cleric's forward-looking pronouncement marks Islam's recent arrival in the US. However, this statement reveals a pathology afflicting a lot of Muslim Americans today - an inability to look back and embrace the opening chapters of Muslim American history written by enslaved African Muslims.  

Social scientists estimate (links to 92 pg PDF "Muslims & the Making of America") that 15 to 30 percent, or, "[a]s many as 600,000 to 1.2 million slaves" in antebellum America were Muslims. 46 percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped (links to book "Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas")  from Africa's western regions, which boasted "significant numbers of Muslims".

These enslaved Muslims strove to meet the demands of their faith, most notably the Ramadan fast, prayers, and community meals, in the face of comprehensive slave codes that linked religious activity to insubordination and rebellion. Marking Ramadan as a "new American tradition" not only overlooks the holy month observed by enslaved Muslims many years ago, but also perpetuates their erasure from Muslim-American history.      

Although the Quran "[a]llows a believer to abstain from fasting if he or she is far from home or involved in strenuous work," many enslaved Muslims demonstrated transcendent piety by choosing to fast while bonded. In addition to abstaining from food and drink, enslaved Muslims held holy month prayers in slave quarters, and put together iftars - meals at sundown to break the fast - that brought observing Muslims together. These prayers and iftars violated slave codes restricting assembly of any kind.

Therefore, practicing Islam and observing Ramadan and its fundamental rituals, for enslaved Muslims in antebellum America, necessitated the violation of slave codes. This exposed them to barbaric punishment, injury, and oftentimes, even death. However, the courage to observe the holy month while bonded, and in the face of grave risk, highlights the supreme piety of many enslaved Muslims.

Ramadan was widely observed by enslaved Muslims. Yet, this history is largely ignored by Muslim American leaders and laypeople alike - and erased from the modern Muslim American narrative.

Muslim America was almost entirely black during the antebellum Era. Today, it stands as the most diverse Muslim community in the world. Today African Americans comprise a significant part of the community along with Muslims of South Asian and Arab descent. Latin Americans are a rapidly growing demographic in the community, ensuring that Muslims in America are a microcosm of their home nation's overall multiculturalism.

Muslim diversity in the US has reshaped Ramadan into a multicultural American tradition.

This Muslim American multiculturalism comes with many challenges: Namely, intra-racism, Arab supremacy, and anti-black racism prevents cohesion inside and outside of American mosques. These deplorable trends perpetuate the erasure of the Muslim slave narrative. Integrating this history will not only mitigate racism and facilitate Muslim American cohesion, but also reveal the deep-rootedness of the faith, and its holiest month, on US soil.      

This Ramadan honouring the memory of the first Muslim Americans and their struggle for freedom seems an ideal step towards rewriting this missing chapter of Muslim American history into our collective consciousness.      

Khaled A Beydoun is the Critical Race Studies Teaching Fellow at the UCLA School of Law.

Follow him on Twitter: @KhaledBeydoun


Israel seizes political, military opportunity
in teens' disappearance
(Electronic Intifada, Maureen Clare Murphy 6/19/14)

excerpt:
Since three Israeli youths went missing while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank on 12 June, Israel has mobilized all its resources “to crush Hamas in the West Bank and destroy the recently formed unity government as well as collectively punish the Palestinian people.”

So states the rights group Addameer in a fact sheet  (see below) issued today on Israel’s ongoing West Bank military assault and the Palestinian hunger strike long underway in Israeli prisons.

The Israeli government has so far offered no evidence that the Hamas party is responsible for the disappearance of the youths . No Palestinian faction has claimed responsibility.


Palestinians mourn over the body of twenty-year-old Ahmad Sabarin
rom Jalazone refugee camp during his funeral, 16 June. Sabarin was killed by Israeli soldiers in the refugee camp on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to medics and witnesses.
(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

Addameer Fact Sheet
(6/19/14)
On 12 June, it was announced that three illegal Israeli settlers disappeared on the roads between Hebron and Bethlehem. Since the announcement, the Israeli government has sanctioned widespread attacks on Palestinians in the form of invasions, mass arrests, killings, home demolitions and new legislation that curbs the rights of Palestinians and prisoners.
The following is an analysis by Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association of the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, with a focus on the mass arrest campaign and its implications.
 
The disappearance of three illegal settlers on Thursday 12 June has created the perfect pretext for the Israeli government to attempt to crush Hamas in the West Bank and destroy the recently formed unity government as well as collectively punish the Palestinian people. Despite the fact that no Palestinian faction has taken responsibility for the disappearances, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) is using this opportunity to crush Hamas in the West Bank.
 
According to a Reuters story, Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner stated: “We have two efforts ongoing in parallel. First is to bring back the boys, and the second is to take a toll on Hamas for its actions." This comment implies a tactic of intimidation and ulterior political motivations that go beyond a search for the missing illegal settlers.
 
Ongoing now is the largest Israeli military operation in the West Bank.
 
Israeli officials have stated that this is the beginning of a larger and prolonged operation, which can be interpreted as a way to strategically capitalize on the disappearance in order to wage destruction and terror across the West Bank.
 
As a human rights organization, we are deeply concerned about the collective punishment and mass arrest campaigns that have been imposed on the Palestinian people, especially due to the widespread silence of the international community in the escalation of human rights violations of the Palestinian people.

ADDAMEER (Arabic for conscience) Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association is a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution that works to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons.  Addameer believes in the importance of building a free and democratic Palestinian society based on justice, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights within the larger framework of the right to self-determination. Addameer's work is based on a belief in the universality of human rights as enshrined in international law.

 International media ignore Israel's
abduction of Palestinian teens
(Electronic Intifada, Amena Saleem 6/17/14)
excerpt :
In the first ten days of June, seventeen teenage boys were abducted in the occupied West Bank.

Some were dragged at gunpoint from their homes and family in the middle of the night; others were seized from the streets in broad daylight.

All of the abductions were documented by the Palestinian Monitoring Group.  None were
reported by the international media. No Western politicians called for the release of the boys.

On 12 June, three more teenage boys went missing in the West Bank. Their disappearance sparked worldwide media coverage, cries of terrorism and demands for their release by the US Secretary of State and the UK Foreign Secretary.

Those three are Israeli. The seventeen others are Palestinian.

Since the disappearance of the three Israelis last week, the Palestinian town of Hebron has been held under siege by the Israeli army, up to 1,000 soldiers have been going door to door in towns and refugee camps across the West Bank searching and ransacking civilian homes, two hundred Palestinians have been taken into detention, a twenty-year-old Palestinian has been shot dead (see above photo) , and the Israeli government has been threatening the forcible transfer of some West Bank Palestinians to Gaza.

This is the degree of control that Israel exerts over Palestinian lives. But that control seems to be so accepted, or ignored, by Western media that there has been next to no comment on Israel’s actions, and the illegality of them, over the last five days. The sole focus is on the Israeli teenagers, with scarce journalistic attention left over for the collective punishment being meted out to thousands of Palestinians by a country which calls itself democratic.

The case illustrates starkly the difference in the attitude of Western media towards Israelis and Palestinians, an attitude exemplified by the BBC.

BBC news bulletins have carried regular updates on the missing Israelis and backed them up with online stories....while BBC audiences remain in the dark about the Palestinian children and teenagers regularly abducted by Israeli soldiers.

BBC reporting also shields them from the frequency with which Palestinian children and youth are killed by Israeli forces.

There were no BBC reports on the killing of 14-year-old Yussef Shawamreh, shot in the back and hip while gathering thistles in March, or of 18-year-old Saji Darwish, shot in the head as he tended his goats that same month. The killing of seven-year-old Ali al-Awwar in an Israeli missile strike on Gaza last week also failed to warrant a report.

Silence cloaks house demolitions (15,000 Palestinian homes demolished by Israel since 1993), the destruction of entire communities, with Palestinian villages being bulldozed both in the West Bank and within present-day Israel, the killing of Palestinian children (1,405 killed by Israel since 2000), the denial of sufficient water for drinking, washing, cooking to Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, and the true effects of the siege on Gaza which denies Palestinians everything from essential medicines to electricity.

How many consumers of mainstream news reports in the West know any of this?

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist, working closely with Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK. More information on PSC’s solidarity work is available here.


Netanyahu 'loathes' Obama,
Israel's opposition leader charges

Prime Minister's hostility to Obama is 'endangering Israel's security,'
claims Labor's Issac Herzog, in rare confirmation
 of long-rumored strained ties between 'Bibi' and 'Barack'

(Times of Israel Staff, 6/6/14)
excerpt:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “loathes” Barack Obama, and his hostile attitude to the US president constitutes a danger to Israel’s well-being, the head of the Israeli opposition charged on Friday night,
in a highly unusual acknowledgement of the long-rumored strained personal ties between the two leaders.

Herzog, who was minister of welfare under Netanyahu from 2009-2011, was speaking in an interview on Channel 2 news in the aftermath of this week’s formation of a new Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government. Netanyahu had called on the international community to stand up against what he described as a government backed by a terrorist organization, but instead the US led the world in making clear that it
would work with the new Palestinian government, and the EU, the UN and much of the rest of the international community quickly followed suit.

Netanyahu and Obama have long been perceived as having a strained relationship, with policy differences emerging over how
to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and the prime minister’s expansion of settlements, among other issues.

For a figure as prominent as Herzog to use Israel’s most-watched news program to declare that the prime minister loathes the US president was unprecedented.

Herzog charged that Netanyahu “does not listen” to the international community, and they don’t listen to him. Under Netanyahu, Israel was now “completely isolated,” he said.

Herzog said Israel needed to negotiate with the Palestinians on the principle of a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with land swaps and “arrangements”
to resolve the contested fate of Jerusalem.


An activist puts a Palestinan flag on the Separation
Wall facing the Modi’in Illit settlement

Photo: Anne Paq/ Activestills.org

By using settlements as a punitive response to Palestinian political actions, Israel proves they come at the expense of Palestinian statehood, and it  holds all the power in the conflict.
(Mairav Zonszein [opinion], +972mag.com 6/6/14)

Here we go again. Palestinians do something Israel doesn’t approve of, and Israel retaliates by using its unchecked power and leverage to block the possibility of a Palestinian state ever becoming a reality.

By announcing the advancement of about 3,300 settlement units on Thursday, as a retaliatory measure that it unabashedly admits is punishment for the formation of the temporary Palestinian unity government, Israel is proving that settlements come at the direct expense of Palestinian livelihood – that they are the main obstacle to a two-state solution and a Palestinian state.

Settlements as a form of punishment also exhibit that Israel is the omnipotent power and that any form of negotiations within this reality is inherently imbalanced and ineffective. Israel controls the reality on the ground and does as it pleases, when it pleases, while laying blame on the Palestinians. Even though Israel is constantly taking unilateral actions, when Palestinians do so, it is suddenly out of bounds.

It is not the first time Israel has used settlement expansion as a direct response to Palestinian efforts to promote statehood in the international arena. It did so in 2012 after the UN recognized Palestine as a non-member state with observer status, and in 2011 when Palestine was successfully admitted to UNESCO.

In recent years, every time Palestinians take an independent political step in an effort to somehow alter their evergreen reality as a stateless, occupied nation, Israel punishes them for it – as if it were an abusive parent.

Can you imagine the Palestinians doing the same thing in response to their objection to the makeup of the Israeli government or its actions in the international community? Of course not, because the Palestinians do not hold that kind of power. They cannot affect direct and immediate changes on the ground the way Israel can, through demolishing homes, cutting off water or electricity, withholding tax revenues, intimidating people, arresting children, etc. All of these tools are of course very violent, but if Palestinians so much as throw rocks, they are immediately cast as the violent party and often at risk of death.

Palestinian daily lives are entirely subject to Israeli rule and systematic violence – and whether they respond with violence or  try through various long-term non-violent means to change the reality – i.e. through popular protests, applying to international bodies or boycott movements, they are punished. Israel puts a lot of energy and resources into delegitimizing and debilitating the non-violent efforts.

It is not just the fact that Israel is  expanding settlements on a future Palestinian state – something the entire international community agrees is a direct affront to Palestinian self-determination – as a form of punishment, but the cynical and cruel way in which it uses Palestinian lives, land and resources as a bargaining chip, a blackmailing tool, a pawn to promote its own agenda.

When you think about it, it is really quite astonishing that the world lets Israel get away with it, over and over again, and that so many people still seem to think this is a conflict with two equal sides and that Israel has any intention of facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian state.

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



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

Turkey and Israel keep bonds alive through music

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

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

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

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

Related Article:

Musical Diplomacy between Turkey and Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A fighter in Aleppo. Rebels, many of them small-time gangsters, ‘have smeared much of the Syrian revolution’s legitimacy’.

Fine line between fighter and thug in Syria
Journalist Anthony Loyd recounts being betrayed, beaten,
and kidnapped
(Anthony Loyd, The Times (UK) 5/19/14)
see excerpted text below



Battered: (UK) Times journalist Anthony Loyd

related:
Loyd audio excerpt courtesy of BBC's Today program

"A few hours before he shot me, Hakim Anza sat on a mattress next to me, staring into space. He had been awake all night and when I asked why he could not sleep,
he made a twirling motion beside his temple. “The war. Many things,” he said.

At his feet a silver automatic pistol lay onthe floor beside a cup of cold coffee and
a piled ashtray. It was 6.30am.

I had known Hakim for two years. In his early 30s, he had been an accountant
who was among the first to rebel against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, driving the police from the area of Tal Rifat, his home town in northern Syria.


By mid-2012 Hakim was a mid-level commander with Liwa al-Tawhid, a rebel brigade that later morphed with other local rebel units to become part of the Islamic Front.

Since our first meeting with him, photographer Jack Hill and I had stayed
with Hakim on several occasions: I had
seen him cry over the bodies of his dead fighters, exalt over the lives of his three young children, and I had slept and eaten on the same floors with him in Aleppo’s urban front lines.

So I considered Hakim a friend. I knew he had a ruthless streak and that many of his fighters had the semi-feral aura of men imbued too long with violence. But I liked him, and part of the reason that I visited him last Tuesday evening, staying overnight as a guest in his home before setting off for Turkey the following morning, was to congratulate him on the recent birth of his daughter.

That silver automatic was no stranger to me either. Hakim never went anywhere without it, and slept with it under his pillow. It was in Hakim’s hands a few hours later, a few hours after Jack and I had bid him farewell.

Hakim and men like him, small-time gangsters elevated to power by civil war, have smeared much of the Syrian revolution’s legitimacy. Their criminality has so clouded the outside world’s perception of the war that most people in the West now regard the conflict as a struggle between two competing and equal evils: the regime and the rebels. Syria’s third dimension — the silent and innocent civilian majority who have found themselves torn apart between two sets of slathering jaws — is
too often ignored.


The plan that Hakim hatched was an example of flawless treachery. He embraced Jack and me as we said our goodbyes to him in Tal Rifat on Wednesday morning and headed north towards Azaz and the Turkish border. In the car with us were Hamza, our friend and prized fixer, and Avo, a handy young rebel who acted as our close protection. In the vehicle in front three of Hakim’s men drove as escort. We were on his turf and we trusted him. I was already thinking of a hot shower in a Turkish hotel.

Then a dark blue BMW G8 four-wheel-drive vehicle appeared in front of us. A camouflaged arm appeared from the window and waved us down. Certain it was
an abduction attempt, I told Hamza to accelerate, but our car was no match for
the pursuer’s power. So we pulled in.


Four armed men leapt from the BMW, pushing Hakim’s men aside and bundling the four of us into their boot with a succession of hefty blows and kicks. They put a blanket over our heads and sped away. We were taken to an abandoned agricultural building near Azaz, where every item was taken from our pockets, along with our luggage. The eager snatching of our watches and wallets seemed to suggest a criminal group rather than Islamic extremists, but this was little consolation.

Blindfolded and plasticuffed, within an hour we were bundled into another vehicle and driven into a lockup garage in Tal Rifat. I was in the back seat beside Avo. Jack and Hamza were in the boot.

It was then that our abductors made a key mistake. They left the boot open an inch to allow Jack and Hamza to breathe and they left only one guard to watch over us. There was no way I could remove my plasticuffs, nor could I properly hear the whispered discussion between Hamza and Jack in the boot. Unbeknown to me, both men had freed their hands. Hamza suddenly jackknifed upwards and kicked the boot open, springing out to tackle the guard, whose identity confirmed our worst fears: it was Alaa, one of Hakim’s gang who had served us breakfast that morning.

In the space of a few seconds, as I sat trapped and bound in the car, Jack and Hamza fought with the man, and left him beaten on the ground. It was a violent start to a savage hour. Avo and Hamza burst through the side of the lockup doors and sprinted up the street, yelling at dumbfounded bystanders that Hakim was holding Western hostages. Hamza jumped on a moped. Jack ran straight into
Tofiq, one of Hakim’s henchmen, and the two men began to fight in the street.


Hakim appeared from a doorway and laid into Jack too, as Jack, fighting desperately, screamed at him in a mixture of rage and surprise: “You are my
f . king friend!”


I had climbed the lockup stairs and was making my escape across the roofs, my hands still bound. This went well, until the roofs ran out. For a time I squeezed flat in a narrow slash of shadow against a water tank, planning to wait until darkness.

But people in the street had seen my rooftop dash and were pointing out my position to gunmen below. I scrambled down a ladder and, as women fled a courtyard below, I ran into a private home, clamped a kitchen knife between my teeth and attempted to saw through the cuffs securing my wrists. I had not got very far when two Kalashnikov bullets smacked into the wall beside me.

Hakim’s men burst in and dragged me outside, where they started beating me around the head with rifle butts. I was covered in blood and lying on the ground when Hakim walked up. He was white with rage. His double-cross had failed, and now he had to contend with a questioning crowd.

“I thought you were my friend,” I told him. “No friends,” he replied, pulling his pistol and shooting me twice in the ankle just to have the satisfaction of crippling me.

But his chance was over. There was no way, before so many witnesses, of taking us hostage again. Hamza and Avo were already gone, spreading word of what had happened and rousing help.

Jack was beaten up and taken to a police cell where he was stripped, before being rescued by some Islamic Front fighters and taken to a safe house. I was dragged outside, still bound, and beaten further with rifles.

Just for the hell of it, Hakim’s men wheeled up the man who had been felled by Jack and Hamza for him to have a go too. After punching and kicking me for what seemed like eternity, his piece de resistance was to pick up a rock and smash it across my head.

After that they either had to kill me or take me to a local clinic. Fortune was fast leaving them, and our special risk consultant, Russ Finn, had already come across the border with Islamic Front rebels to search for us.

Hakim’s continued claims that we were CIA spies or ISIS volunteers did not gain much traction with the locals, so they took me to a clinic. Doctors looked horrified at what was happening.

They saw me, covered in blood, have every item of clothing cut from my body so that my hands could be kept lashed together.

Soon an Islamic Front commander arrived. He looked at me and looked at Hakim’s men. “Get out,” he ordered them. They left.

I do not know if anything ever happened to Hakim as the result of his actions. I doubt it.

He sent me a threatening, half-crazed message on Skype on Friday, repeating allegations that I was a spy and alleging that a head torch that Jack had given him was an eavesdropping device. He warned that if this story was ever published he would respond by printing contrived documents that would endanger us.

He may have beaten us and hurt us, but his greatest crime was to rob from his own people. Our entire documentation of a week’s work in Aleppo — notebooks, cameras, video — was stolen by his men. The voices of decent, innocent Syrians struggling for life amid abysmal conditions were stolen by Hakim in his bid for personal profit, making him guilty of a crime far worse than abduction with violence."

note:  More than 60 journalists have died in Syria since 1992.


Fighting for history:
Iraq, the US and the hidden Jewish archive
In 2003, American troops discovered a trove of Jewish documents in Baghdad. Now the Iraqi Jewish Archive is at the center of a struggle for Iraq's past and its future.
(by Raf Sanchez, The Telegraph UK 5/15/14)
excerpt:

The basement of the bombed-out Iraqi intelligence headquarters was dark, hot and flooded.

Severed wires hung from the ceiling and dead animals floated in the water that filled the gloomy hallways. The building’s top floors had been crushed by US bombs dropped weeks earlier and it seemed possible that the whole structure could collapse at any time.

But the soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, the American unit tasked with hunting for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, waded on into the darkness.

One of the American soldiers pushed into a small room off the main basement corridor and after a few moments emerged holding a wooden box shaped like a minaret and covered in purple cloth.

“I was shocked and overwhelmed,” said Harold Rhode, a Pentagon Middle East expert working alongside Team Alpha that day in May 2003. “I’m a religious Jew and I knew what this was. But I didn’t know it was only the tip of an iceberg.”

The box was a tik, an ornamental case used by Middle Eastern Jews to protect their holy Torah scrolls. It was just one of more than 2,700 Jewish artifacts amassed by Saddam’s mukhabarat agents and now lying submerged beneath the fetid water.

Taken together the Jewish documents - ranging from five-century old Hebrew Bibles to a 1918 letter discussing how sheep should be allocated during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year - capture hundreds of years of peaceful and prosperous Jewish existence in Iraq.

That life came to an abrupt end after the founding of Israel in 1948 sparked a wave of anti-Semitic laws in Iraq and most of the country's 130,000 Jews fled.

“These items provide an invaluable window into a way of Jewish life in Iraq that no longer exists,” said Doris Hamburg, the director of preservation at the US National Archives.

The Jewish books and papers would eventually fill 27 large metal trunks, which were stored inside an Iraqi freezer truck to arrest the growth of mold on the damp parchment.

They remained that way until August 2003, when a deal was struck: Iraq would allow the artifacts to be sent to the US where they would be restored and catalogued on the condition they were returned when the project was complete.

The items were christened the Iraqi Jewish Archive and hailed as an optimistic symbol of friendship between a victorious America and a free Iraq.

But more than ten years later, after thousands of American deaths and amid frayed ties between Baghdad and Washington, the US is no longer so sure about returning historical documents it spent $3 million (£1.8 million) restoring.

Earlier this year the US Senate, in a rare moment of unanimity, passed a resolution calling on the Obama administration to renegotiate the agreement with the Iraqis.

The senators argue that the archive belongs first and foremost to the descendants of the exiled Iraqi Jews, the vast majority of whom now live in Israel. Like most Arab nations, Iraq does not recognise Israel and it would be virtually impossible for those descendants to travel to Baghdad.

“This is a group of people that have had so much of their history taken away or destroyed over the years, and under no circumstances should these artifacts be handed back to Iraq,” said Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and the most prominent of the Senate’s ten Jewish members.

Any hint of concessions to Israel would be politically explosive in Iraq, and Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador, made clear his country expects the archives back.

"We consider the history of Jewish communities in Iraq to be an integral part of the history of our country - one that we honour and cherish - and nothing can erase this history, nor change our commitment to preserving its memory," Mr Faily said in a statement to The Telegraph in February.

This week, Mr Faily announced a compromise agreement had been reached whereby the archive will stay in the US for now. It is not clear if the extension will be indefinite or if a new date of return will be announced.

While the senators claimed to be acting on behalf of the descendants of the Iraqi exiles, not all those descendants accept the argument that their ancestors’ belongings have no place in Iraq.

“Hauling these precious artifacts out of Iraq and into an American gallery brings to mind the Egyptian artifacts that were taken out of their native country to fill the display halls of the British Museum,” wrote Sigal Samuel, a Canadian writer whose grandfather was among the exodus of Iraqi Jews. “We should blush at the thought of expropriating this archive for our own museums.”

Among the hundred of scholarly books found in the mukhabarat headquarters there stands out a handwritten prayer book from 1902, lovingly copied out by a young Baghdadi Jew in both Arabic and Hebrew.

While the unknown scribe is presumably long dead, the book has survived through the Holocaust, the exile from Iraq, and the water that filled the dark basement.

The flooding was caused by a 2,000lb American bomb that cut through the building only to burrow into the ground outside without going off.

Had the bomb exploded, the book and all the others with it would have been destroyed in an instant.


The 66th Anniversary of Israel's Independence was May 5, 2014.

 
The Guardian UK published several articles leading up to the anniversary.

Below are several headlines that are linked to the full articles.


Netanyahu pushes to define Israel
as nation state of Jewish people only
(by Peter Beaumont, 5/4/14 Guardian UK)

Remembering the Nakba:
Israeli group puts 1948 Palestine back on the map;
Zochrot aims to educate Israeli Jews through tours and a new
phone app about a history obscured by enmity and denial
(by Ian Black, 5/2/14 Guardian UK)
excerpt:

In a conflict famous for its irreconcilable national narratives, the basic facts are not disputed, though the figures are. Between November 1947, when the UN voted to partition British-ruled Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, and mid-1949, when Israel emerged victorious against its enemies, 400-500 Arab villages and towns were depopulated and destroyed or occupied and renamed. Most of them were left in ruins.

Understanding has deepened since the late 1980s, when Israeli historians used newly opened state archives to revisit that fateful period. Key elements of this new history contradicted the old, official version and partially confirmed what Palestinians had always claimed – that many were expelled by Israeli forces rather than fled at the urging of Arab leaders.

Fierce debate still rages over whether this was done on an ad hoc basis by local military commanders or according to a masterplan for ethnic cleansing. The result either way was disastrous.

Zochrot's focus on the hyper-sensitive question of the 750,000 Palestinians who became refugees has earned it the hostility of the vast majority of Israeli Jews who flatly reject any Palestinian right of return.

Benjamin Netanyahu would rather stay in power
than pursue a peace deal
The Israel-Palestine peace talks have collapsed, and Netanyahu's rightwing coalition remains in place. But this is not a long-term solution.
(Opinion by Aluf Benn, 4/30/14 Guardian UK)


What We Left Behind in Iraq
An increasingly authoritarian leader, a return of sectarian violence, and a nation worried for its future
(by Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker Magazine, 4/28/14)

Related:
Exploring 'What We left Behind In Iraq' on NPR's Fresh Air, 4/29/14)

Dore note:  The New Yorker article is an in-depth report by Filkins who covered the war from beginning to end and recently returned there.  Below are various observations excerpted from the article but only provide a taste of what the full article contains.

New Yorker excerpts:

1) The capture of Iraqi territory by Islamic extremists, barely two years since the last American soldiers left, prompted an extraordinary wave of soul-searching in Iraq and the United States, which lost more than thirteen hundred men and women in Anbar Province. Much of that reflection, in both countries, centered on Maliki, the man in whom the United States invested so much of its hopes and resources. Among many Iraqis, the concern is that their country is falling again into civil war, and that it is Maliki who has driven it to the edge.

2) At the nadir of the American occupation, in 2007, Baghdad resembled a medieval city under siege. U.S. soldiers stood guard on every block, part of a force of a hundred and sixty-five thousand throughout the country, along with about thirty thousand contractors and five thousand British soldiers.

The fantastic bloodletting of the civil war, when thousands of Iraqis were dying a month, turned neighborhoods that for centuries had harbored both Sunni and Shiite Muslims into confessionally pure enclaves.

3) Two years after the last American soldiers departed, it’s hard to find any evidence that they were ever there.

4) Iraq has become one of the world’s largest oil producers, but little of the profit reaches ordinary citizens;

5) The resurgence of Iraq’s Shiites is the greatest legacy of the American invasion, which overthrew Sunni rule and replaced it with a government led by Shiites—the first since the eighteenth century.

6) Hanaa Edwar, who runs a nonprofit called Al-Amal (Hope) is proud of her work but ashamed of the Iraq that Maliki and his American sponsors have made. She recited a list of woes: “Divisions among people. The failure of public services. The corruption. The human-rights abuses. The judicial system? There is no judicial system, really. We are losing everything.”

7) Former American Ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad:  emphasized that he did not choose Maliki; he had merely exerted American leverage to maximum effect.

By the time Maliki returned to Baghdad, in April, 2003, Maliki had come to regard the United States with profound animosity, friends and associates say. Over the years, the U.S. government had supported nearly all of his enemies—most notably Saddam—and opposed his friends, especially the revolutionary regime in Iran. “Maliki was known as an anti-American,”

8) After the Gulf War, the U.S. encouraged an enormous Shiite uprising. Saddam’s ruthless counter-offensive killed as many as a hundred and fifty thousand Iraqis, the overwhelming majority of them Shiites; the U.S. stood by, which Shiites see as a monstrous betrayal.


Syrian Composer Turned Activist Malek Jandali Asks Audiences to Contribute to Humanitarian Organizations Helping Children in Syria
(Jessica Jones, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday 4/26/14; 4:04 audio segment )

Related:
Syrian Refugee Benefit
Friday, July 11 in SF
Living room concert featuring
Palestinian qanunist/singer Ali Amr

info:  tangentsradio (at) gmail.com
or
415 584-4367

NPR Audio Transcript:

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As the conflict in Syria rages, a pianist named Malek Jandali has turned to composing to express his sorrow. He was one of the first Syrian artists living abroad to openly criticize the Assad regime, not long after an uprising swept across his homeland.

Jessica Jones from North Carolina Public Radio shares how he found his voice through music.

JESSICA JONES: In 2011, Malek Jandali was visiting his family in Syria. There he witnessed the early stages of a rebellion that resulted in the detainment and torture of many young Syrians. When Jandali returned to the U.S., he sat down at the piano and poured his heart out in a song.

MALEK JANDALI: And I started in a very melancholic, sad minor key.

JANDALI: I was just actually pouring my thoughts and my melodies and my passion and just making music. I was just inspired by those kids and by what's going on back home.

JONES: As an orchestral composer, Jandali had never put words to music before. He decided to call the song "Watani Ana" or "I Am My Homeland." Recorded in 2011, it featured Palestinian and Iraqi singers as soloists (including Salma Habib).

JONES: That song marked the beginning of the soft-spoken composer's turn toward activism. In addition to writing more music about the conflict in his homeland, Jandali is also on a concert tour that asks audiences to contribute to humanitarian organizations helping children in Syria. He performed recently at Duke University.

JANDALI: You don't need anything else but stop the war, have a no-fly zone, protect the children so we can have peace, justice and accountability.

JONES: Local musicians and singers participated in the concert. North Carolina State University music professor Jonathan Kramer accompanied Jandali on the cello.

JONATHAN KRAMER: The cello is of my own heart turned outward. And the opportunity that I have to play this music with this man under these circumstances is a way to express my own deep love for music and humanity and my deep sorrow that things are the way they are in the world.

JONES: Members of the audience said they were moved by the performance. Rebecca Jouben is a professor at Davidson College just outside Charlotte.

REBECCA JOUBEN: I think that he speaks to our conscience. This is a tragedy before our eyes. It's not something we're reading about in history books. It's right before our eyes.

JONES: According to the U.N., more than 100,000* people have died in the Syrian conflict.

*Dore note: Most authorities believe the death toll is now greater than 150,000

Jandali's parents were severely beaten when their home was invaded by what he says were government thugs just three days after the first live performance of "Watani Ana" in the United States. They are in the U.S. now.

JANDALI: So I thought, oh, my God, you know, this little, tiny song is actually shaking an entire regime back home. For them to send their soldiers to beat my parents, is this how powerful music is? And from that moment, I was just on fire to do more.

JONES: Jandali has posted politically charged works on his website and YouTube. They're set to compositions from his latest album called "Emessa," the ancient Greek name for his hometown of Homs, Syria.


An unmanned U.S. Predator drone
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images

Yemen: On the ground in a country where unmanned
missile attacks are a terrifyingly regular occurence
(Vivian Salama, Rolling Stone in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, 4/14/14)

The people of Yemen can hear destruction before it arrives. In cities, towns and villages across this country, which hangs off the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the air buzzes with the sound of American drones flying overhead. The sound is a constant and terrible reminder: a robot plane, acting on secret intelligence, may calculate that the man across from you at the coffee shop, or the acquaintance with whom you've shared a passing word on the street, is an Al Qaeda operative. This intelligence may be accurate or it may not, but it doesn't matter. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the chaotic buzzing above sharpens into the death-herald of an incoming missile.

Such quite literal existential uncertainty is coming at a deep psychological cost for the Yemeni people. For Americans, this military campaign is an abstraction. The drone strikes don't require U.S. troops on the ground, and thus are easy to keep out of sight and out of mind. Over half of Yemen's 24.8 million citizens – militants and civilians alike – are impacted every day. A war is happening, and one of the unforeseen casualties is the Yemeni mind.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and anxiety are becoming rampant in the different corners of the country where drones are active. "Drones hover over an area for hours, sometimes days and weeks," said Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American anti-drone activist and cofounder of Support Yemen,  a media collective raising awareness about issues afflicting the country. Yemenis widely describe suffering from constant sleeplessness, anxiety, short-tempers, an inability to concentrate and, unsurprisingly, paranoia.

Last year, London-based forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld presented research he'd conducted on the psychological impact of drone strikes in Yemen to a British parliamentary sub-committee. He reported that 92 percent of the population sample he examined was found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – with children being the demographic most significantly affected. Women, he found, claimed to be miscarrying from their fear of drones. "This is a population that by any figure is hugely suffering," Schaapveld said. The fear of drones, he added, "is traumatizing an entire generation."

Air strikes by U.S. drones and Yemeni jets have grown in frequency in recent months, destroying families, and as such have stoked resentment. "For every one person killed," psychologist Schaapveld argued, "there are going to be hundreds that are affected psychologically."

Missile strikes, allegedly by U.S. drones — which American officials argue is a safer, more efficient and precise form of aerial warfare than using piloted fighter jets or sending ground troops — have now been reported in twelve of Yemen's 21 governorates, with as many as 504 people killed in confirmed strikes since 2002, according to data compiled by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Another 44 people have been killed in possible U.S. strikes.

The overall fatality count, though, is clouded by America's growing use of so-called "signature strikes" — guilt-by-association attacks against suspected but unidentified targets. Having committed no prior crime, these victims' names are not part of any list and in some cases, not even known. Many Yemenis say that the increased prevalence of signature strikes makes it impossible for them to predetermine possible targets, heightening anxieties among those who feel that they will inevitably end up in the crosshairs.

Beginning in 2009, the Obama administration made drone strikes its go-to method for killing members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), causing a spike in reports of drones in Yemen.

The U.S. has tacitly admitted some culpability for accidental civilian deaths. Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, says that, "in situations where we have concluded that civilians have been killed, the U.S. has made condolence payments where appropriate and possible."

None of the families to whom the author spoke to report receiving any payment from the American government, but some families, including those impacted by the wedding strike, have been promised compensation, in the form of 101 rifles and $101,000, from the Yemeni government.



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.

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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 <