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Gaza Corner Archive: Jan 2014-Present
(links to 2010-2013 entries at bottom of page)
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This weekly feature includes news and opinion from the Middle East (and beyond) often ignored by the mainstream media followed by music from the relevant country or culture.

Gaza Corner was originally conceived to focus attention on relieving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza which has been under a severe blockade imposed by Israel since 2006.  Gaza Corner has evolved to include the Middle East, Magreb, Kurdistan and Turkey.


Survivors Describe Entire Families Being Massacred
in Brazen Islamic State Attack on Kobane
(Samuel Oakford, Vice News, 6/27/15)

Peter Clifford Blog:  Syria and Iraq News
combined excerpt :

During two days of global terror last week at least 27 worshipers during Ramadan were killed by a suicide bomber in a Shiite mosque in Kuwait,  39 tourists including including 15 were slaughtered at a beach resort in Tunisia. IS claimed responsibility for these atrocities.  Also in Africa Al Shabab murdered 30 people in Somalia. And the severed head of a businessman hung on a factory gate in a quiet corner of the Rhône-Alpes region of France in a killing apparently inspired by the IS-style beheadings in Syria, Libya and Iraq.

The mainstream press focused on the Tunisian and French terrorist attacks because the deaths involved Europeans.

There was another terrorist attack and it was by far the most gruesome and bloodiest.  But because it took place in Syria where death is a daily occurrence, it received far less coverage.

It happened in Kobane where 200+ women, children and elderly were murdered - some in their sleep. Many more are critically wounded.

The attack on Kobane and the nearby village of Brakh Bootan marked the biggest single massacre of civilians by IS in Syria since it killed hundreds of members of the Sunni Sheitaat tribe last year, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Kobane is a Kurdish border town, a stones throw from Turkey. Kobane has become a symbol of Kurdish resistance because the Kurds of Kobane were the first fighting force to successfully stand up to the Islamic State at a time when IS seemed invincible after its conquest of Mosul (Iraq) and Raqqa (Syria).

Last October it appeared a genocidal massacre of horrific proportion was imminent in Kobane. 200,000 civilians fled into Turkey.  But backed by determined and skilled fighters and US air support  IS was expelled from Kobane after a 4four month siege. The date was Jan 27 2015 and since then until last Thursday, the Kurds had recaptured 200+ villages from IS and not ceded any of the territory.

The success of the Kurds against IS is the only example thus far of the US working with a capable partner on the ground.

Just last week, IS was driven from the strategic border town of Tal Abyad, cutting off vital northern supply lines to IS Syrian headquarters in Raqqa. The Kurdish YPG with help from the FSA and US airstrikes are only 30 miles from Raqqa, the capital of the IS Caiphate.

Perhaps as retribution for these defeats Islamic State (IS) fighters staged a surprise attack on Kobane.  The militants targeted civilians with drive-by killings and massacred entire families during a brazen suicide mission.

Concurrent with the primary attack on Kobane early on Thursday morning, the IS Jihadists attacked the village of Berxbatan (Barkh Butan) on Kobane Canton’s southern frontier.

The death toll there is now reported as 33 villagers, many of them having been beheaded, and at least 15 wounded.

The Kobane surprise attack began when IS fighters detonated a series of car bombs in Kobane. Questions are being asked if the attackers made it in from the Turkish side, and if so, why Turkey didn't stop them.

The reason that this IS force was able to penetrate into the heart of Kobane is that they had shaved off their beards and were wearing Kurdish People's Protection Units  (YPG) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) uniforms. Their vehicles were also decked out with Burkhat Al-Firat, YPG and FSA flags. Burkhat Al-Firat (“Euphrates Volcano”) is the combined force fighting the Islamic State.

A second objective of the IS fighters disguising themselves to gain entry to Kobani is to instill paranoia in the population.

Following the primary suicide bomb attack at the frontier gate, the IS Jihadists then attempted to take control of the Kaniya Kurda neighborhood including the Doctors without Borders Hospital.

With the Jihadist group were many snipers who proceeded to shoot randomly at anybody on the street and who also broke into a number of homes wiping out entire families.

Dozens of IS fighters entered the town. Some speculate there were IS sleeper cells in Kobane.  Kobane locals confirm most of the IS fighters  were speaking Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic.

Kobane is miles from current front lines giving many residents a sense of security. Many people who ventured out of their homes out of curiosity after hearing the suicide bomb explosions were gunned down. In some incidents, Kurdish-speaking IS fighters knocked on the doors of houses, beckoning families outside and into a hail of bullets.

By Saturday, the remaining IS forces in Kobane had either been killed or fled the town. The number of civilians killed since bands of IS fighters infiltrated the town early Thursday has exceeded 200 and is likely to rise as the search for bodies continues the majority are women, children and elderly. At least 54 IS fighters were reported killed.

VICE News obtained testimony collected by a local NGO worker who interviewed victims at a hospital in Turkey. International human rights workers corroborated the accounts as legitimate.

Ibrahim Jasim, the manager of a bakery in Kobane, said Thursday morning began as usual, but quickly descended into bloodshed.

"I left my house to go to the baker, as usual, unaware of what was going on," he said. "When I arrived to the bakery I saw the bodies of my three workers outside of the bakery. They had most likely been targeted by snipers from the MSF building, as the baker is visible from there," he added, referring to a Doctors Without Borders hospital captured by IS.

"When I was standing there, a sniper fired at me and wounded me in the chest," he said.

A 30-year-old woman named Fatma, also speaking from a hospital just across the Turkish border, said she was on her way to Amel hospital in Kobane early Thursday to retrieve the body of her father, who had passed away hours earlier of natural causes. As she entered the town's center in a car with her husband and one of his friends, IS gunmen pulled up alongside and began firing wildly into the vehicle. The militants, she said, yelled "Kouffars! We have come for you," as they shot, referring to them as infidels.

"They shot my husband in the head, his brains splattered in front of my eyes on the car," Fatma said. Her husband's friend was also killed by gunfire. Fatma, who is more than eight months pregnant, said she threw herself out of the car and was rescued by Kurdish YPG soldiers. Taken to Turkey, doctors were able to deliver her baby in an emergency procedure, and both survived. Her other children remained in Kobane, and she was not sure of their fate.

Another woman, 19, said that her entire family was shot to death outside of their home in Kobane. The woman was herself wounded, and she wept uncontrollably as she spoke from a hospital inside Turkey. She was unable to count the number of family members who perished.

A woman in her mid-50s, who did not give her name, said IS fighters captured her from her house and held her hostage. "I was taken by ISIS to the field hospital — there outside the hospital they shot me in the leg and told me to call my children to come and take me away," she said, using another common abbreviation for IS. "I called my children but could not reach them.

"Thank God, later I learned that this was a tactic they used to get people out so they could kill them," the woman said, explaining that she was able to escape and crawl to the Turkish border, where she was recovering in a hospital. The fate of her family was unclear.

Locals also reported that IS snipers set up around Kobane to pick off civilians who ventured outside.

Given the strong Kurdish grip on the area, the IS mission appeared to be suicidal and intended to kill civilians.  Many are now seeing the IS attack as revenge for the capture of by Kurdish forces of Tal Abyad and for getting far too close (30 mi) to their “Syrian capital” of Raqqa.

Kurds fight Kurds in Syria
(Mahmut Bozarslan; Al Monitor, 6/25/15)
excerpt:

A considerable number of Kurds, most of them from Turkey, have joined the ranks of IS in Syria and Iraq.

The impoverished province of Bingol, home to some 267,000 people, has emerged as a major IS recruitment base in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. Official figures are not available, but locals estimate at least 600 young men have joined the jihadist group, lured through religious indoctrination and various promises, including money and marriage.

Bingol stands out as a strongly conservative region whose population is overwhelmingly Zaza, an ethnic subgroup in the Kurdish fold.

Mehmet Kurt, a Bingol University academic who studied radicalization in Turkey’s southeast  told Al-Monitor that a complex mix of “strong historic and social dynamics” nourish radicalization in Bingol.

Kurt said that the question of whether Zazas are really Kurdish or not — a debate that has intensified in recent years — contributed to an identity crisis among the Zazas, which often resulted in religious affiliation superseding ethnicity.


The Evil That Dare Not Speak Its Name:
Israel’s Apartheid

(By Sandy Tolan, Truthdig, 6/14/15)


Palestinian workers wait to cross at the Israeli checkpoint in Jalameh,
south of the West Bank city of Jenin, on their way to work in Israel.

(Mohammed Ballas / AP)

Journey through a fractured landscape
(By Sandy Tolan, Mondoweiss, 6/18/15)
note: Sandy's website is Ramallah Cafe


Debris thrown by Israeli settlers into a net above
the Palestinian market in the old city of Hebron.
(Photo: Manfred Schweda/ thisfabtrek.com)

Making music under occupation
A conversation with veteran journalist Sandy Tolan about his new book, "Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land.”
He tells the story of Ramzi Aburedwan and his journey from stone thrower during the first Intifada to music student to music teacher, transforming the lives of thousands of Palestinian children living under the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Sandy is also author of 
"The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East."
(Your Call Radio, KALW, 55 min, 6/19/15)

The Flute at the Checkpoint
(by SandyTolan, Huffington Post 4/30/15)

combined excerpt from first two listed stories under Gaza Corner:

For years the “A-word” has been off-limits in polite conversation about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The A-word, we have been told, unfairly singles out the Jewish state and its use is perhaps even anti-Semitic. Such declarations can have a powerful silencing effect.

However, in 2002 Archbishop Desmond Tutu broke the taboo, writing in the British newspaper The Guardian that “the humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks” reminded him “of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”

Four years later Jimmy Carter committed a similar indelicacy with the very title of his bestseller, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” A wave of condemnation of the former president followed.

For the most part, in the mainstream U.S. press at least, the decorum that forbids use of the A-word remains in place. Yet increasingly, as Israel continues to colonize the West Bank with settlers, and its army ensures their dominion over the lands they occupy, adhering to the A-word ban requires shielding one’s eyes, or, at a minimum, engaging in verbal gymnastics.

What, after all, to call a system of legalized discrimination based on ethnicity and religion in which one group has full voting rights and the other does not? What to call a system under which one people can travel freely on roads built specifically for them, whisking through checkpoints because of their religion and the color of their license plates, and under which the other must submit to inspection at military kiosks frequently manned by snipers? A system under which one population in hilltop enclaves is protected by troops and military surveillance towers, while the other is subjected to frequent night raids by those same troops? Under which 40 percent of the adult male population has been forced to spend time in prison? Under which one group’s “civil administration” can designate a town of the other group as a historic archeological site and evict all the residents, who then must move into tents? Under which soldiers ordered Palestinian bathers out of a public swimming pool last spring so Jewish settlers could have a swim, alone and unbothered by the darker-skinned native population?

Numbers tell a certain kind of grim story in the landscape of Palestine:

109,000: the number of West Bank settlers, excluding East Jerusalem, in September 1993, the time of the christening of the Oslo accords on the White House lawn.

350,000: the number of those settlers today — a tripling during something called the “peace process.”

40,000+: the population of Maale Adumim, well inside the West Bank, but considered a “suburb” of Jerusalem by Israel.

20,000: the number of settlers in Ariel, where the separation barrier snakes a third of the way inside Palestinian lands to make the settlement part of “greater Israel.”

18: The number of Israeli settlements directly encircling the hoped-for capital of the Palestinian state, East Jerusalem, cutting off the city from the rest of Palestine, but for a piece of land called E-1, which Israel plans to develop.

Roads 60, 443, and myriad other randomly-chosen numbers: smooth-as-glass highways slicing through West Bank Palestinian lands, but for long stretches reserved for almost exclusively for settlers.

Yet the numbers, telling as they may be, can’t begin to evoke the feeling of the transformed Palestinian landscape, nor the profound power imbalance that defines relations between Israel and the Palestinians.  Only a road trip through Palestine can do that.

Our destination was the old city of Hebron, one of the most surreal tableaus of the entire tragedy of Palestine and Israel, where 500 to 600 Jewish settlers, many of them from the United States, are protected by at least 1,500 soldiers in a city of 170,000 Palestinians.

We walked through the moribund Old City of Hebron, where urban settlement blocks stand brick to brick with Palestinian homes in a contorted geographical designation known as H-2. This arrangement was sanctioned by the international community in an agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo “peace process.” Israel had insisted that a few hundred settlers be allowed to stay in a neighborhood of tens of thousands of Palestinians because of a long Jewish presence there. The current settlers say they live in Hebron to honor the memory of Jews massacred there by Palestinians in 1929, during riots over Jewish immigration to Palestine. Yet the current settlers, among the most extremist of all Israelis, have little or no connection to the descendants of those massacred. Some of the descendants have denounced the Hebron settlements, pointing out that some Palestinian families sheltered Jews in the massacre; they call for removal of the settlers.

Today, the 1,500 Israeli soldiers, more than twice the number of settlers they were sent to protect, spend much of their time escorting their charges from one part of the city to another. When the armed escort squads push through the narrow alleys of Old Hebron, life on the Palestinian street freezes; such is the primacy of Israel’s settlement project. Steel screens above the old Arab casbah protect the Palestinian vendors against a stream of trash, bottles, plastic chairs and bags of feces that the settlers hurl down from above. This is everyday life.

We walked toward Shuhada Street, the once-bustling main street of Palestinian life. H. (our guide) stopped; as a Palestinian, he is not allowed to walk there. The street was nearly vacant. The doors on some of the shops were welded shut; access to some homes is now possible only by ladder, or, in one case, a rope to a window.

We came upon one of H-2’s 120 military checkpoints and other obstacles ensuring separation between Arab and Jew.

Around the bend we came to a tiny mosque, whose imam, H. told us, is in his nineties. He wants to retire, but if he does, he fears the settlers will take over the modest building. So he hangs on, despite increasing obstacles. The latest: 24 massive concrete blocks, each 16 feet high, cutting of the imam’s path from his home on the hill just above. Now the 92-year-old must walk a mile to reach the mosque.

Nearby stood a Palestinian elementary school, its entire perimeter marked with looping razor wire. Many of the children must cross checkpoints to get to the school, walking past graffiti in English saying “Gas the Arabs!” and sometimes enduring a gantlet of flying stones and rotten vegetables and attacks from settlers’ dogs. Across from the school lies a flat expanse of asphalt. Once this was a play area for the school. The old soccer and volleyball grounds have been replaced by a parking lot for buses from the settlements.

It was from an adjacent settlement, Kiryat Arba, in 1994 that a settler from Brooklyn named Baruch Goldstein emerged, traveling with his Galil automatic rifle to the Ibrahimi Mosque and somehow getting through Israeli security before gunning down 29 Palestinians as they prayed. Survivors beat him to death. Today Goldstein is revered among some settlers. At his gravesite in Kiryat Arba, these words are inscribed: “He gave his soul for the people of Israel, the Torah, and the Land. His hands are clean and his heart good. …”

We headed to the Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. The call to prayer from this mosque, H. told me, is often banned by the Israeli authorities, who say it bothers the settlers.

Power in Hebron, as it does across the West Bank, lies most clearly in the hands of Israel; Palestinians are no match for Israel’s military might or its political influence with the United States, the world’s sole superpower. Palestinian power lies instead in sumud, or steadfastness: a determination to persevere and to live for a better day, confronting Israel on moral grounds while hoping the world will one day bear greater witness to the facts on the ground.

“Existence,” declares a popular Palestinian slogan, “is resistance.”

But the system in which they exist cannot stand in the long run. And although some commentators and others, even after looking at the facts, may continue to decry the use of the A-word—A for Apartheid—to me it matters little what we call it. I am also fine with comparing these conditions, and others like them all over Palestine, to the legislated racism and racial violence that were known in America as Jim Crow.

Whatever we call it, it is separate and unequal. And like apartheid, like Jim Crow, it is destined for the dustbin of history.


Life in Mosul one year on:
'Isis with all its brutality is more honest
than the Shia government

Islamic State (IS) militants conquered Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in a lightning advance in June 2014. Here, residents of the city share their experiences of life under IS.
[stories are both pro and anti IS; local residents excerpts below headlines]
(Mona Mahmood, Guardian UK, 6/10/15)

Inside Mosul:
What's life like under Islamic State?

Exclusive footage reveals how Islamic State wields power over people's everyday lives in Iraq's second city, Mosul, a year after it was captured.
Secretly filmed videos obtained by the BBC's Ghadi Sary show mosques being blown up, abandoned schools, and women being forced to cover up their bodies.
[These BBC produced stories are anti-IS; local residents excerpts below headlines]
(BBC, 6/9/15)

A Glimpse Of Life In Mosul
BBC reporter Ghadi Sary speaks with NPR's Arun Rath about secretly filmed videos obtained of harrowing conditions in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which is controlled by the self-declared Islamic State.  The videos, smuggled out of the city, feature ordinary people describing and documenting their lives under ISIS rule.
(NPR, 6/13/15)

background articles and resources:

Citizens of Mosul endure economic collapse
and repression under Isis rule
Many Sunnis were glad to see the Iraqi army go when Islamic State took over – but for many the situation is now far worse
(Mohammad Moslawi in Mosul, Fazel Hawramy in Irbil and Luke Harding; Guardian UK, 10/27/14)
note: Mohammad Moslawi is the pseudonym of an Iraqi reporter in Mosul

Mosul Eye
Mosul Eye is the pseudonym of a local historian who has been secretly documenting IS's activities in Mosul. While it is not possible to verify the blogger's identity, Iraq watchers believe the accounts are credible.

The Islamist Phoenix:
The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East

 
In this book world-renowned terrorism expert Loretta Napoleoni demonstrates that while Western media portrays the Islamic State as little more than a gang of thugs on a winning streak, the organization is proposing a new model of nation building.

"A vital contribution to our understanind of what is happening in the Middle East."  Chris Hedges
(Seven Stories Press - 2014)
 
Excerpt from "Life in Mosul: One year on":

Shaima Yousif -  Widow and mother of four, 33

Last June, Isis took over Mosul and dominated the scene in the city. I advised Kareem, my husband, to leave his job and for us to flee together to Turkey. He was nearly convinced, but learned that he would be murdered soon if he did not assist Isis in repairing damaged vehicles left by the Iraqi army to use in their military operations.

I will never forget the day when my husband rushed out early in the morning to a deserted military camp in the suburbs of Mosul to fix damaged military equipment belonging to Isis. He was killed by an air strike.

Isis men kept coming to my husband’s parents’ house during the funeral in a pickup loaded with food for us and for the mourners. They also brought $300 in cash for the kids with a promise to keep sending $100 a month as a pension.

I struggled to cope with my children’s daily demands. I sold my daughter’s bracelets at the jewellery shop, and went back the next day and slipped on a ring and walked out, hoping the owner would not recognise me with all the women wearing the veil. I walked out of the shop but the owner stopped me, and a woman from the Isis female security forces took me to their centre.

“Why did you steal the ring?” an Isis interrogator asked me. I answered in tears, “I’m a widow of an Isis martyr with four children. I needed money to feed my children and pay the rent. Please forgive me.”

I was questioned by two judges. The second day after my last hearing, I was taken from my room by three Isis women to another room where an old man was standing. He said: “Tie her to the table.”

I was tied firmly, and another man came with a sword in his hand. When I saw him, I began to shout, “Mercy, have mercy on me.” I screamed and begged him to leave me alone. He looked so determined. I wanted to run away but couldn’t. I couldn’t believe the whole scene, and thought it was a nightmare. The man did not hesitate before chopping my left hand at the wrist. The whole world turned into black in my eyes and my legs were numb. No words in humanity’s dictionary can describe my pain and feeling at that horrifying moment. I fainted immediately.

My eldest daughter wept all the time whenever her eyes met mine in the hospital. I was discharged and went home. I tried to commit suicide a few times by strangling myself but the image of my little children kept stopping me. I live now for them and have vowed to make sure they all finish their education and marry only the men they love.

Ghazwan Abdul Rahman - High school graduate, 19, supports Isis

I was chatting with my friend about college when all of a sudden I received a hell of a push on my back. A towering man in Isis clothing was pushing aside any man obstructing his way towards the owner of the bakery. “I want some bread now, I can’t wait and need to go back to my other fighter brothers,” he said.

But the owner told him to join the queue like the others. The argument heated up and the Isis fighter lost his patience, and directed a kick to the face of the owner, filled his bag with bread and dashed away after leaving some money on the table.

We were all in an absolute silence watching without being able to say a word or do anything. The owner was bleeding from his nose. Two or three men ran to help and stop the bleeding while the owner vowed that he would complain to the sharia court. After two days, Isis police from the sharia court were in the bakery asking witnesses if the fighter or the owner provoked the situation and attacked first. All the men in the bakery confirmed that the fighter was the offender and the owner was merely trying to be fair and keep customers in queue. The sharia court verdict was in favour of the bakery owner and the Isis fighter had to apologise to him publicly. Then he was kicked out of the caliphate for his uncivilised behaviour.

Isis succeeded in winning people’s hearts in Mosul from the first day they liberated the city for being modest, unprejudiced and cooperative. They restored the dignity and pride of the Sunni man in Mosul after enduring a great deal of humiliation and revenge under successive Shia governments since the US occupation of Iraq.

Corruption was widespread and eroding all the city facilities, which were like a huge military barracks suffocating people. The city did not witness any reconstruction for the entire last 10 years despite all the billions that were poured into the city council.

Mosul now lives in a golden era. Though world media is in an effortless campaign to mar the image of Isis fighters, show them as brutal terrorists and monsters, on the contrary they are most welcomed in Mosul for the great sacrifices they have offered to protect Sunni people from the Shia army’s inhuman practices in Mosul and other Sunni provinces in Iraq.

None of the people in Mosul who pledged their allegiance to Caliph al-Baghdadi want Shia militias to get close to Mosul. I would be the first to fight these militias who come to sow destruction and killing among Sunnis. We have seen their atrocities in Tikrit and Jurf al-Sakher against isolated civilians.

Mosul is more stable and safe now, my father can leave his shop open and go for prayers, and no one dares to steal a straw from the shop. Civil services are better now, like power and water, and roads are more clean. I spend most of my free time praying in mosques and attending courses in Islamic sharia and hadith*.
* Hadith - collections of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Dr Firas Ghalib - Neurologist, 45, father of two children

I know a professor at Mosul University who was caught by the Isis hisbah (religious police) in a room with his female colleague correcting students’ final exams notes. The penalty was that he had to marry his female colleague or get 30 lashes. The professor refused as he already had a wife and children, and he accepted the lashes.

I was with my wife in the car driving towards my parents house, and my wife had to take off her veil to breastfeed our little baby. The veil was keeping the blowing air off the baby, who was also terrified of her mother’s face being covered. Not that long after, an Isis hisbah patrol saw me and maintained that my wife should wear the veil under whatever circumstances, otherwise I would be in trouble.

I left Mosul with my wife and two children recently and went to Irbil.

Basheer Aziz - College graduate, 26, supports Isis

Mosul before Isis was like a grand, horrifying prison. The bus had to stop by countless army checkpoints where there were feverish hunts for men’s IDs. Often, the whole bus would wait for an hour or two while a soldier was engaged in beating a passenger who happened to be not holding his ID.

Islamic State is the dream and utmost desire of any Muslim. We longed to be governed by the holy Qur’an’s rules and the prophet Muhammad’s sunnah.*
* Sunnah is the way of life prescribed as normative for Muslims on the basis of the teachings and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and interpretations of the Islamic holy book, the Quran.

Now, with any call to prayer, all shops are shut down. Men have to grow their beards. Any act of adultery will be dealt with either by stones or lashes. The penalty of looting is a hand cut and men are imprisoned for publicly harassing women.

Then Isis diwans (departments for health, complaints, preaching and mosques, education, almsgiving, hisbah and services) were established. The almsgiving department is in charge of collecting taxes to divide among needy families. Each family receives $25 a month, an amount that will be raised to $50 with the harvest season, in addition to a good portion of wheat, rice, sugar, pickles, food oil and fuels.

Recently, an exclusive market for women was opened in Mosul to allow them to do their shopping at ease. There is no ban on women driving. The Isis municipality is doing its best to keep roads clean and paved, setting up lampposts, providing water and power and repairing the damage from coalition air strikes.

I feel so proud being part of Isis, it granted me freedom. We live in glory now except for the coalition air strikes that spread panic and fear among the civilians.

I disagree with Isis practices against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Mosul. I’m still in touch with our Christian neighbours and wish they would come back shortly. All people in Mosul are in disagreement with the demolition of ancient sites in Mosul, and some Isis militants are not happy either.

There is an acute financial crisis in Mosul now due to lack of jobs. Only those who receive monthly salaries from the government in Baghdad are surviving in Mosul. People do not know if Isis will last forever, or if another military organisation will come and exact revenge on those who were working for Isis. Depression is widespread among people of Mosul now.

At the same time, most of the people are against the return of the corrupt politicians or Shia militias who will destroy the city, not liberate it as they claim. Isis with all its brutality is more honest and merciful than the Shia government in Baghdad and its militias.

Excerpt from BBC "Inside Mosul":

Zaid:

"Since IS took the city, it has been applying the 'Laws of the Caliphate', as it calls them. The minimum punishment is flogging, which is applied for things like smoking a cigarette.

"Theft is punished by amputating a hand, adultery by men by throwing the offender from a high building, and adultery by women by stoning to death. The punishments are carried out in public to intimidate people, who are often forced to watch.

"I know many people who have been arrested by IS. Some of them are my relatives. Some were killed because they were in the security services. Others have been released. They tell unimaginable stories of atrocities committed by IS in its prisons.

"Many who come out prefer not to speak. They stay silent, because they're terrified that if they speak, they'll be rearrested."
 
Hisham:

"Daily life has changed in an indescribable way.  There are no jobs anymore. The poor have been left to the mercy of God.

"I have lost my job and have been forced to abandon my studies. Like everyone else, I am denied my basic rights. According to IS, everything is 'haram' (forbidden) and so I end up just sitting at home all the time. Even simple leisure activities like picnics are banned now in Mosul, under the pretext that they are a waste of time and money.

"IS takes a quarter of everyone's salary as a contribution towards paying for rebuilding the city.

"The group has even replaced the imams in the mosques with pro-IS people. Many of us have stopped going to the mosques because those attending are asked to give an oath of allegiance and we hate that.

"Meanwhile, my brother was given 20 lashes just because he didn't shut his shop during prayer time.


Spirit of Humanity’ Photo Contest Winners

Numerous disasters and increasing conflict are negatively impacting the lives of millions of people across the Middle East and North Africa. In response, innumerable individuals, volunteers and professional humanitarian workers are providing those in need with essential protection and assistance, often under dangerous circumstances.

To capture this Spirit of Humanity, the World Humanitarian Summit which was initiated by the UN Secretary General and will culminate in Istanbul in 2016, launched its first photo contest.
 
Many of the pictures showed the hardship of daily life and the suffering of children, men and women living in conflict zones or refugee camps. But despite the misery and the constant fear, the photographers managed to catch glimpses of hope and moments of joy.

The winners are Islam Mardini from Aleppo and Mohammed Muhaisen from Gaza.

The photos are stunning.


A group of children play outside their destroyed house in the Al Zaytoun area in Gaza City.
© Mustafa El Halabi


Have a look.
(click above for all 27 photos)


When pain and suffering make it impossible to speak, feelings show through the eyes.
© Karim Ahmed


Israeli rights groups join battle to save
symbol of Arab resistance to evictions

The fate of the West Bank Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya has attracted worldwide attention. Now bulldozers are set to displace its residents yet again
(Peter Beaumont, Guardian UK, 6/6/15)

related article:

Palestinian village Khirbet Susiya
under imminent threat of demolition
Susiya reflects Israeli authorities’ policy throughout Area C of West Bank
(B'Tselem, 5/7/15)

excerpt from Guardian UK article:

In the cool of evening, the Palestinian villagers of Khirbet Susiya go about their business.

A beekeeper in a protective suit and veil moves among his hives with a smoke can. Others use the warm wind blowing from the nearby Negev desert to separate rough legumes from chaff. Shepherds move their animals across the low, rolling yellow hills while children run about the playground.

It appears a peaceful scene. Except that, for a third time in almost three decades, the few hundred villagers who live in crude temporary houses dotted about this area of the south Hebron hills of the occupied West Bank are under imminent threat of a new forced displacement.

Last month an Israeli high court judge ruled against the villagers’ injunction seeking to halt Israel’s planned destruction of Khirbet Susiya. Now the village has become the centre of a growing international campaign over its future which has drawn in European diplomats and human rights campaigners.

Khirbet Susiya is home to between 250 and 350 villagers – depending on the season – who live in around 100 structures and eke out an existence largely from subsistence agriculture.

Built on a scrubby ridge of limestone pavement, the houses of Khirbet Susiya are closely overlooked by a neighbouring Israeli settlement built on land expropriated from the villagers – illegal under international law – and, unlike the Palestinian village, connected to public services. On the other side of the nearby road is an archaeological site also run by settlers. Khirbet Susiya is sandwiched in-between.

It is this proximity – critics allege – that underlies Israeli plans to move the villagers. The residents say that the destruction of their homes would mean the latest in several forcible expulsions from their land for which they have deeds going back to the Ottoman era.

In 1986 they were expelled from their original village  and the army expelled the residents again in 2001 during the second intifada.

While Israel claims the structures in Khirbet Susiya are illegal because they were put up without building permits, critics say that Israel’s civil administration has a policy of rarely issuing building permits to non-Jews in Area C – the part of the occupied territories under full Israeli administration. Although the Israeli court accepted the villagers’ ownership of the land, it ruled that they did not have permission to build there.

Seventy-year-old Mohammad Ahmad al-Nuwaja has lived on the land around Susiya most of his life. “I was born in Tal Arad, but after the Nakba [‘the catastrophe’ as Palestinians call the mass displacement that occurred when Israel was founded] we moved here. We are the original owners of this land,” he explains. “We have deeds from the Turkish time.

“They claim these houses were built without permits. We have applied so many times and the Israelis rejected permission. They claim we don’t have the infrastructure to support living here, but they are the ones who won’t allow the infrastructure. We were offered land in exchange for moving from here near Yatta [the neighbouring town visible from Khirbet Susiya] but they have no right.”

The long saga of Khirbet Susiya is symbolic of a wider problem of demolition and displacement affecting unrecognised villages in both the occupied Palestinian territories and Bedouin communities in Israel itself. According to Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli NGO which has been supporting the village in its efforts to get planning permission: “The village of Palestinian Susiya has existed for centuries, long before the establishment of the [Jewish settlement of Susiya in 1983. There is documentary evidence of a settlement in the area dating back to 1830, and it is also marked on British mandatory maps from 1917.”

There are indications, however, that the Israeli military intends to go ahead with the demolition. The latest threat to Susiya was prompted by a complaint three years ago by Regavim, a rightwing Israeli NGO, which uses the courts to insist on the demolition of Palestinian buildings it argues are illegal.

Dore note: Regavim's motto is "Ensuring the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel's national lands."

The villagers’ plight was described in a recent report by the Israeli human rights organisation BT’selem. “The state has been abusing the residents of Khirbet Susiya for many years: the army and the civil administration have repeatedly removed the residents from their homes, in which they have lived since before 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank.

“The [Israeli] civil administration is responsible for all aspects of civilian life in area C and is theoretically supposed to promote the wellbeing of the local population. In practice, the administration uses its planning systems, in which Palestinians are not represented, to prevent them from promoting solutions that would meet their needs, barring them from building legally and from connecting to water and power supplies.

“The authorities also systematically refrain from protecting the residents of Khirbet Susiya from settlers who attack them or vandalise their property, and restrict their free access to the main town in the district, Yatta.”

Nasser Nuwaja is a resident who has been leading the campaign to save it.
“Since the court ruling, people here have gone to bed not knowing whether the bulldozers would come in the morning. It is like trying to balance on a chair with only one leg and not knowing when you will fall off. People here are living on edge.”

And for now international pressure remains their best hope. “We’ve been campaigning hard on this issue,” said one European diplomat.

“We are trying to put pressure on the Israeli government to prevent the demolition.”

Although the villagers will try to go to court again on 3 August many are fearful the village will be destroyed and moved again. “God forbid they demolish Susiya again,” says Nasser. “But if they do, we will rebuild it.”


US blocks push for Middle East nuclear arms ban

    * US, UK and Canada opposed Egyptian plan for nuclear-free region
    * Israel is Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power

background articles:



Pictures of the secret Dimona nuclear reactor in Israel,
showing where the plant has allegedly been camouflaged. Photograph: space imaging



Israel has been stealing nuclear secrets and covertly making bombs since the 1950s. And western governments, including Britain and the US, turn a blind eye. But how can we expect Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions if the Israelis won't come clean?

combined excerpt from all 3 articles:

A month-long review conference on the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended in failure over disagreements on the issue of a Middle East atomic weapons ban.

A senior Israeli official said on condition of anonymity:

“The United States kept its commitment to Israel by preventing a Middle East resolution that would single out Israel and ignore its security interests and the threats posed to it by an increasingly turbulent Middle East.”

In reality, neither US nor British intelligence believe Iran has decided to build a bomb.

Egypt, backed by other Arab and non-aligned states, proposed that the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, convene within 180 days a regional conference on banning weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as called for at the 2010 NPT review meeting.

Ban voiced disappointment that NPT parties were “unable to narrow their differences on the future of nuclear disarmament or to arrive at a new collective vision on how to achieve a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMD)”.

Despite the fact that the Israel's nuclear programme has been an open secret since a disgruntled technician, Mordechai Vanunu, blew the whistle on it in 1986, the official Israeli position is still never to confirm or deny its existence.

When the former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, broke the taboo last year, declaring Israeli possession of both nuclear and chemical weapons and describing the official non-disclosure policy as "outdated and childish" a rightwing group formally called for a police investigation for treason.

In an extraordinary feat of subterfuge, Israel managed to assemble an entire underground nuclear arsenal – now estimated at about 200 nuclear bombs and missile warheads – and even tested a bomb nearly half a century ago, with a minimum of international outcry or even much public awareness of what it was doing.

Meanwhile, western governments have played along with the policy of "opacity" by avoiding all mention of the issue.

But through the cracks in this stone wall, more and more details continue to emerge of how Israel built its nuclear weapons from smuggled parts and pilfered technology.

The tale serves as a historical counterpoint to today's drawn-out struggle over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The parallels are not exact – Israel, unlike Iran, never signed up to the 1968 NPT so could not violate it. But it almost certainly broke a treaty banning nuclear tests, as well as countless national and international laws restricting the traffic in nuclear materials and technology.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft, include today's staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway.

Meanwhile, Israeli agents charged with buying fissile material and state-of-the-art technology found their way into some of the most sensitive industrial establishments in the world. This daring and remarkably successful spy ring, known as Lakam, the Hebrew acronym for the innocuous-sounding Science Liaison Bureau, included such colourful figures as Arnon Milchan, a billionaire Hollywood producer behind such hits as Pretty Woman, LA Confidential and 12 Years a Slave, who proudly exclaimed in a recent Israeli documentary:

"Do you know what it's like to be a twentysomething-year-old kid [and] his country lets him be James Bond? Wow! The action! That was exciting."

Israel had few qualms about proliferating nuclear weapons knowhow and materials, giving South Africa's apartheid regime help in developing its own bomb in the 1970s in return for 600 tons of uranium oxide, known as yellowcake.

Israel's nuclear-weapons project could never have gotten off the ground, though, without an enormous contribution from France. The country that took the toughest line on counter-proliferation when it came to Iran helped lay the foundations of Israel's nuclear weapons programme, driven by by a sense of guilt over letting Israel down in the 1956 Suez conflict, sympathy from French-Jewish scientists, intelligence-sharing over Algeria and a drive to sell French expertise and abroad.

In Dimona, French engineers poured in to help build Israel a nuclear reactor and a far more secret reprocessing plant capable of separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel. This was the real giveaway that Israel's nuclear programme was aimed at producing weapons.


By the end of the 50s, there were 2,500 French citizens living in Dimona, transforming it from a village to a cosmopolitan town and yet the whole endeavour was conducted under a thick veil of secrecy.

The Israelis admitted to having a reactor but insisted it was for entirely peaceful purposes.

Throughout the 60s it flatly denied the existence of the underground reprocessing plant in Dimona that was churning out plutonium for bombs.

Israel refused to countenance visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), so in the early 1960s President Kennedy demanded they accept American inspectors. US physicists were dispatched to Dimona but were given the run-around from the start.

The US physicists sent to Dimona were not allowed to bring their own equipment or collect samples.  Before each American visit, the Israelis had built false walls around the row of lifts that descended six levels to the subterranean reprocessing plant.

As more and more evidence of Israel's weapons programme emerged, the US role progressed from unwitting dupe to reluctant accomplice.

The US policy continues to this day -  most recently (as discussed above)
blocking a proposal for
a nuclear free Middle East. Meanwhile Israel appears to be continuing to trade on the nuclear black market, albeit at much reduced volumes.

Avner Cohen, the author of two books on Israel's bomb, said that policy of opacity in both Israel and in Washington is kept in place now largely by inertia. "At the political level, no one wants to deal with it for fear of opening a Pandora's box. It has in many ways become a burden for the US, but people in Washington, all the way up to Obama will not touch it, because of the fear it could compromise the very basis of the Israeli-US understanding."



The Bedouin of Palmyra
for Musa


It is from touching your thick calloused hand
I become aware
the sun that I merely look upon as day
sculpt your drought-inflicted skin.
You examine my palm
gently squeeze each finger
to comprehend my delicacy,
a consequence from the sheltering sky.

In the olive and palm tree grove
where the guttural gurgle of camels
linger in the night breeze,
an obscured brook languishes
with occasional shuffle among the leaves.
You observe the pregnancy of the predictable moon
while I fill my mouth with sugary dates.

“Maybe rain will make you restless”.

“Come now”, you said,
“I will never go beyond the desert.
Ancient stones are my chronicle
sand washes me clean
I feed on earth’s nectar
dreamless under the Bedouin sky.”

~Clara Hsu



Dore and Musa in Palmyra in 2004

ISIS Seizes Historic Syrian City Palmyra
Some of the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins of antiquity
face destruction as forces loyal to Assad withdraw

(Kareem Shaheen, The Guardian UK, 5/21/15)



Palmyra
(photo by Clara Hsu)

related articles:

ISIS seizes Syrian military base near Palmyra
as it consolidates grip on city
(Kareem Shaheen, The Guardian UK, 5/22/15)

Resident: ISIS is 'everywhere'
in full control of ancient Syrian city of Palmyra

combined excerpt:

Isis took Palmyra, a Silk Road hub of the ancient world and a Unesco world heritage site with magnificent ruins, on Wednesday.

Palmyra is home to some of the most magnificent ancient ruins from antiquity, and its fall has led to fears that Isis fighters will destroy much of its cultural heritage as they have done in historic sites such as Nineveh.

The city already was a caravan oasis when Romans overtook it in the mid-first century. Its importance grew as a city on the trade route linking the Roman Empire to Persia, India and China, according to the U.N. agency.

British historian and novelist Tom Holland has described Palmyra as "an extraordinary fusion of classical and Iranian influences intermixed with various Arab influence as well."

"Mesopotamia, Iraq, Syria, this is the wellspring of global civilization," he said. "It really couldn't be higher stakes in terms of conservation."

The Islamist extremists have shown no hesitation destroying such history, propagandizing that destroying idols or false gods follows in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed, who smashed statues in Mecca. In fact, they've often made a show of it.

Besides destruction, ISIS could also try to profit from its rampage, said Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East studies at The London School of Economics.

"They have networks that allow them to traffic in cultural treasures," adds Gerges, the author of the forthcoming book "ISIS: A Short History." "They have made tens of millions of dollars selling artworks."

 Isis has not released images of any assault on Palmyra ruins. The militant group is also now in control of two major gas fields near the city which supply the power stations of western Syria.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said 11,000 civilians had fled Palmyra since the Isis offensive began, settling in nearby villages. The city was home to internally-displaced people from other areas of Syria, many of them now fleeing again.

“People are arriving exhausted, scared and in increasing numbers,” said Bhajat Al Arandas, an official with Al-Birr Society, which is working with UNHCR to distribute aid to the refugees. “They fled their homes in Palmyra and neighbouring villages with hardly anything and report there is no water, electricity or working mobile phone network [in the city].”

But two-thirds of residents are believed to still be in Palmyra, raising fears of retribution from Isis, which has already executed members of a rebellious tribe called the Shaitat that it accused of fighting alongside government forces.

The Assad regime had claimed that it evacuated most of the civilians in Palmyra before withdrawing from the city. But citing what she said were credible sources, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said there were reports of government forces preventing civilians from leaving until they themselves fled and Isis took control of the city.

“Isil has reportedly been carrying out door-to-door searches in the city, looking for people affiliated with the government. At least 14 civilians are reported to have been executed by Isil in Palmyra this week,” she said, using another acronym for Islamic State.


The Nakba

The following is an excerpt from the
Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)

"Each year on May 15th, Palestinians in Palestine and around the world commemorate the Nakba or “catastrophe”— the  massive uprooting, terror, destruction and ethnic cleansing that Zionist forces carried out in order to create a Jewish majority state. "

Officially, this is the 67th anniversary of the Nakba but it actually began in 1947, before the “Arab-Israeli War.” That year, 250,000 Palestinians—more than 25% of the population—were driven from their land and their homes. A total of 800,000 Palestinians were driven out or fled in terror; 531 villages were destroyed.

For Palestinian refugees there are two powerful symbols of the Nakba.  Many still hold the keys to their original homes, which are handed down from one generation to the next.  The keys represent the hope and the commitment to realizing the right of return. The other symbol is the tent, which is part of the refugees’ past, present and a constant threat. In 67 years, Palestinian refugee camps have grown enormously.

The original Nakba continues when the Israeli military bombs homes in Gaza, when the Israeli government carries out “administrative demolitions” of homes throughout East Jerusalem; when stateless Palestinians, along with Syrians, flee the tragic war in Syria and are forced to survive again in tents in neighboring countries.

Since MECA started in 1988 we have always stood with the people holding the keys and struggling for their right of return.  And our work has always been focused on those surviving in tents or living with the reality or the threat of displacement — especially children.  Today, we join Palestinians all around the world to commemorate the Nakba and renew our commitment to refugees in Palestine and throughout the Middle East. We know that justice is only possible when the right of return becomes a reality.


Palestinian women in Galilee (now part of Israel)
fleeing to Lebanon during the ethnic cleansing 1948

(photo courtesy MECA)


For more about the Nakba:

Israel continues to criminalise marking Nakba Day
Activists now face difficulty in commemorating Palestinian dispossession
during Israel's founding due to Israeli law.

(Patrick Strickland, Al Jazeera, 5/14/15)

Forced to leave grapes on the vine:
the open wounds of May 1948
(Rami Almeghari, The Electronic Intifada, 5/14/15)

Nakba Day is not just about remembering -
it is about the Palestinians' return
(Ben White, Middle-East Eye, 5/15/15)
excerpt:

67 years ago, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine unfolded through expulsions, massacres, and demolitions. Hundreds of villages were emptied, then levelled; centres of Palestinian urban life and community disappeared; columns of refugees took flight at the barrel of a gun.

A society was dismembered and fragmented. In the months and years after 1948, the army of the State of Israel, formed from the militias who had occupied and 'cleansed' village after village, used bullets and landmines to keep out the refugees trying to return home.

Nor is it just about remembering – it is also about the ongoing Nakba, and resistance to the apartheid horror of Palestine today: the systematic discrimination faced by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, the Gaza prison camp, the military regime and matrix of control in the West Bank.

Israeli military attacks Nakba Day
protests with live

(Mondoweiss, 5/16/15)

Series on the Palestinian 'catastrophe' of 1948

that led to dispossession and conflict that still endures
(click above to access Series)

excerpt:

"The Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries ago…."

So begins this four-part series on the 'nakba', meaning the 'catastrophe', about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Arab, Israeli and Western intellectuals, historians and eye-witnesses provide the central narrative which is accompanied by archive material and documents, many only recently released for the first time.

MECA Action:
Help Dr. Mona El-Farra exit Gaza
and raise awareness of the ongoing blockade


Turks feat Saudi alliance will drag country into war in Syria
Opposition politicians in Turkey have charged President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan  with leading Turkey to war in Syria.



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) is bid farewell by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud
after their meeting at Riyadh's Erga Palace in Saudi Arabia on March 2, 2015.

 | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

background article:


combined excerpt:

Although Turkey has long been implicated in the depths of the Syrian crisis, the Turkish public is newly anxious over claims that the Turkish Armed Forces are preparing to invade Syria to set up a buffer zone following the fall of Idlib in late March to the Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra.

Turkey's opposition party fears Erdogan might go to war in order to cancel the upcoming legislative elections if Erdogan thinks he won't get the 400 parliamentary seats he so covets.

Turkey's military is one of the most dominant in the region and second in size only to the U.S. within NATO.

The possibility of Turkey becoming a party to the Syrian civil war was also being driven by eyewitness reports that weapons financed by Saudi Arabia and others were entering Syria from Turkey and that Turkish units were deploying along the border.

A military source along Hatay’s border, where the massing of Turkish troops is visible, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that there are no preparations for a cross-border operation.

Mehmet Ali Edipoglu, CHP parliamentary foreign relations committee member, said, “There have been military movements toward the border for the past two months. Then came the fall of Idlib. That war was 15 kilometers [9 miles] from our border. Of course there is a possibility of Turkey entering the war in Syria. But I think, instead of Syria, it is more likely that we will enter Iraq for the Mosul operation. Our army is not happy with our Syria policy. The soldiers are very uneasy about this. I don’t think that such a war is likely.”

It is no secret that despite a long history of rivalry, Turkey has built momentum with the Saudis if not to enter Syria now, then to galvanize a proxy war that in the long term could be even more perilous. After meetings with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud during a visit to Riyadh Feb. 28-March 2, Erdogan had told journalists that they had agreed to boost support to the Syrian opposition to allow them to produce results.


The agreement stipulated that in return for Turkey’s support of the Saudi operation against Yemen, the two countries would join forces against the Syrian regime and form a bloc to counter Iranian influence in the region. Given the Saudi-Turkish agreement, the surge in activity along the Turkish-Syrian border cannot be a coincidence. The fall of Idlib followed palpable new military activity. According to one claim, developments in Syria are being managed from the Antakya Operations Room under the control of US and Turkish intelligence officials.

The ongoing rapprochement between Turkey and Saudi Arabia also includes a softening of the Saudi's hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood, a key sticking point for Turkey.

Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said Saudi King Salman has led a strategic shift to align his country more closely with Turkey and Qatar on Syria policy, with a focus on uniting Islamist fighters to battle both the Syrian regime and Islamic State extremists.

“He may dislike [the Muslim Brotherhood]," Stein said of the Saudi king, "but he has realized that the war against them was dividing the Arab world, and preventing unity on key Saudi foreign policy goals like rolling back Iran and defeating Assad -- which the Kingdom views as being one and the same.”

Riyadh and Ankara have shared the goal of arming Assad's opposition since the early days of the Syrian civil war, which has now been going on for four years. But relations between the two have frayed as they have repeatedly found themselves on opposite sides of other regional conflicts such as Israel's most recent war in Gaza which Erdogan characterized as "genocide by israel" while the Saudis refrained from publicly criticizing Israel.

Existence of the Saudi-Turkish partnership was exposed by the use of TOW anti-tank missiles against regime forces at Idlib and confirmed by the Syrian opposition.


Some observers believe that the unlikely cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Turkey has been spurred in part by the perception that Iran and the U.S. are moving closer together.

Beyond the nuclear framework agreement that Iran reached with six world powers earlier this month, Iran-backed forces and the U.S. have also been in a tacit alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq. By propping up Shiite militias there, Iran has played a major role in the effort to retake Iraqi territory from the militant group.

"It’s an alliance that’s being forced by the perceived success of the Iranians,” said Firas Abi Ali, a Middle East senior manager at the risk analysis firm IHS, referring to the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the issue of Syria.

Ali added that without international sanctions, Iran would likely be doing even more to help Assad.

“Iran has been engaged in Syria with one hand tied behind its back as a result of the sanctions," he said. "Without that constraint, the perception among the Sunni states -- Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- would be that they need to contribute significantly more to match what they fear will be an increased Iranian commitment."

Will the alleged efforts succeed in dragging Turkey into a military adventure? Many people following developments believe that in light of the mechanisms imposing moderation and oversight in Turkey being in disarray, only tactical objections by the military can rule out such an eventuality. The objections of the military can best be summed up as follows: If Turkey enters, it can’t exit. The war will spread to the entire region.





Palestinians inspect a damaged classroom of the UN school in Jabalia, northern Gaza, in July. Photograph:Mohammed Saber/EPA

Israel responsible for Gaza strikes
on UN schools and shelters, inquiry finds
Ban Ki-moon condemns attacks, including strike on UN school that killed 20 people and wounded dozens, ‘as a matter of the utmost gravity’
(Peter Beaumont, Guardian UK, 4/27/15)


A Palestinian girl cries while receiving treatment for her injuries caused by an Israeli strike.
Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP


related article:

Gaza crisis:
a closer look at Israeli strikes on UNRWA

UN-run schools acting as civilian shelters have been hit seven times during Israel’s Gaza offensive. We catalogue them in detail

 "It is a moral outrage and a criminal act.” – UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon
  (Raya Jalabi, Tom McCarthy and Nadja Popovich, Guadian UK, 8/8/14)

excerpt from (top) 4/27/15 article:

Israel was responsible for striking seven United Nations sites used as civilian shelters during the 2014 Gaza war and within those seven UN sites 44 Palestinians died and 227 others were injured.  This is the conclusion of an inquiry ordered by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict last July and August. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Releasing the report last Monday, Ban condemned the attacks “as a matter of the utmost gravity” and said “those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied”.

Ban insisted that UN locations were “inviolable”.

The issue is particularly sensitive as the locations of all UN buildings – including schools used as shelters – are routinely provided to the Israeli military and updated in times of conflict.

Ban’s criticism was contained in the published summary letter of a confidential internal report, commissioned by the secretary general in November, running to 207 pages.

There is a link to a 3:00 video where Ban-Ki-moon states "nothing more shameful than attacking sleeping children".

Although the report has no legal status, the disclosure of the inquiry’s findings comes at a difficult time for Israel on the international stage, facing increasing international isolation over its policies and following the acceptance of the Palestinian Authority as a signatory to the International Criminal Court earlier this month.
 
The attacks on UN schools being used as shelters were among some of the most controversial incidents of the war. International humanitarian law – while complex – requires attacking forces in areas where there are non-combatants to protect civilians and adhere to the principle of proportionality, safeguards even more stringent when civilians are under UN protection.

In one of the most serious incidents, the UNRWA school in Jabaliya was struck by Israeli fire, killing 20 people and wounding dozens.

In another incident that saw Israeli munitions strike a UN school in Beit Hanoun 15 Palestinians were killed in the playground as they awaited evacuation while dozens more injured.

Israeli sources had originally tried to suggest that the attack had been due to a Hamas weapon falling short.

The UN inquiry – separate form an inquiry launched by the UN Human Rights Council – was headed by retired general Patrick Cammaert, a former officer in the Dutch military and included military and legal experts.

The details of the contents of the board of inquiry are confidential and only Ban’s covering letter has been made public. Conceding that the report was of “considerable interest” he said he had taken the decision to release a summary of the inquiry’s findings.

When Ban visited Gaza in October, he said the destruction was “beyond description” and “much more serious” than what he witnessed in the Palestinian territory in 2009 in the aftermath of Israel's Operation Cast Lead.

Ban said on Monday he has established a group of senior managers to look into the inquiry’s recommendation. A number of questions remain unaddressed in the summary of the report, not least the issue of what communications there were between UN staff and the Israeli military in particular ahead of the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun when UN staff are understood to have communicated to Israeli forces their intention to bus out civilians who were waiting for evacuation at the time of the attack.

Also unaddressed is why Israeli forces fired on designated protected locations outside of the principle of immediate self-defence when they were aware of concentrations of civilians sheltering there.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, which runs Gaza’s UN schools said: “The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF.

“The board confirms the use by the IDF of weaponry such as 120 mm high explosive anti-tank projectiles and 155 MM high explosive projectiles on or in the surrounding area of UNRWA schools where civilians had taken refuge. In the incidents investigated at least 44 people were killed and 227 injured including women and children. In none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from. If it were confirmed that militants did fire rockets from our schools we would condemn it, just as we robustly we condemned other violations of our neutrality.”


ISIS executes three Eritrean asylum seekers deported by Israel
It should be noted the three victims signed “voluntary departure” forms, although most asylum seekers and NGOs see this as another form of deportation, since the other option afforded to asylum seekers is indefinite detention at Holot in the middle of the Negev Desert.
The Israeli government recently announced its intention to begin forcefully deporting Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. Refugee organizations are concerned that the state refuses to reveal its back channel deals with “third countries,” and worry that those same countries will not guarantee the safety of asylum seekers.

Likud minister: Drowning of migrants justifies Israeli policy
Just one day after 950 asylum seekers drown on their way to Italy, Israel’s transportation minister praises the government for preventing migrants from entering the country.
excerpt:

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) sees lessons for Israeli policy in the tragic massacre of 700 asylum seekers who drowned when their vessel capsized on Sunday in the Mediterranean Sea. Posting a photo showing rows of corpses brought to shore by rescue workers, Katz wrote the following caption, which is translated here from Hebrew:

“Hundreds of migrants from Africa drowned to death close to Italy in a disaster that horrified all human beings. Europe is having a difficult time dealing with the migrants, and with creating solutions for this difficult issue. While there are differences between us (the migrants traveling to Europe must cross a sea while those heading for Israel have a direct overland connection), you can see the rectitude of our government’s policy to build a fence on the border with Egypt, which blocks the job-seeking migrants before they enter Israel. The elections are over — you can give us some credit now.”

Only four days earlier, Katz published a sombre Facebook statusabout Holocaust Remembrance Day (with a gratuitous claim that Israel now faces another Holocaust — i.e., from Iran’s nuclear program).

Katz seems not to remember some basic historical information about events leading up to and immediately after the Holocaust. When Israeli and Jewish schoolchildren around the world are taught about the Shoah, one of the most-emphasized points is that the Jews trying to escape the Nazis were denied refuge by nearly every country in the world. And that the Nazi regime felt it had carte blanche to carry out its genocide because the world had demonstrated its indifference to the fate of the Jews. They are taught about the 1938 Evian Conference, initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, which brought together representatives of 32 states for over a week in that Swiss resort town to discuss the possibility of taking in more refugees from Germany and Austria, which were then the only two countries under Nazi rule. But none would agree to expand their quotas. After the war, Jewish survivors of the death camps who tried to make their way to Palestine by boat were turned away and forcibly interned by the British army on the nearby island of Cyprus.

The comparisons are so obvious that they should not need mentioning. They should be obvious to the government of Israel, and to Yisrael Katz specifically. Israel is a country that uses the Holocaust to justify its policies— even its very existence — but somehow politicians like Netanyahu, Katz, Miri Regev and others seem to believe that compassion begins and ends at home.

Katz demonstrates an almost pathological lack of compassion with his gleeful-sounding status, in which he makes political capital of a catastrophe.

Over the past few years, Israel has treated the asylum seekers from sub-Saharan African very badly. It has refused to consider their refugee status, refused to grant them the right to work legally,imprisoned them and deported them by force.

Israel is not the only country to treat asylum seekers badly. In Europe and in the United States, governments dither over refugees because right-wing, populist and racist opposition politicians have put them on the defensive. But in Israel those right-wing, populist and racist politicians are the government.

Pre-army students to Netanyahu:
Stop deportation of refugees

Over 130 students from pre-military academies send a letter to the prime minister, calling on him to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and put an end to Israel’s policy of deporting Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers.

Israel to indefinitely imprison asylum seekers
who refuse deportation
In a move unprecedented in Western countries, Israel’s outgoing interior minister announces plan to compel asylum seekers to leave the country. Israel’s High Court has repeatedly struck down laws that authorized the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.
Israel has granted refugee status
to 0.07% of African asylum seekers
Israel has not granted a single Sudanese asylum seeker refugee status, in spite of a wave of migrants fleeing violence, according to official state statistics, submitted to the High Court of Justice on February 16. In all, the government has granted refugee status to only 0.07% of the 5,573 Sudanese and Eritreans who have applied for asylum in the country—
a mere four individuals.


African imigrants speak out about life
in Israel's detention centres
This article includes a 7 minute documentary which captures the lives of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees living in limbo in Israel.


NBC News Alters Account Of
Correspondent’s Kidnapping In Syria



combined excerpt:


Throughout 2012, numerous American factions were pushing for U.S. intervention in Syria to bring down the regime of Bashar Assad, who throughout the War on Terror had helped the U.S. in all sorts of ways, including torturing people for them. But by then, Assad was viewed mostly as an ally of Iran, and deposing him would weaken Tehran, the overarching regional strategy of the U.S. and its allies. The prevailing narrative was thus created that those fighting against Assad were “moderate”
with the leading one dubbed “the Free Syrian Army.”

As it turns out, the “moderate” “Free Syrian Army” was largely a myth according to Greenwald. By far, the most effective fighting forces against Assad were anything but “moderate,” composed instead of various Al Qaeda manifestations and even more extreme elements.

In December 2012 – as the pro-intervention cause was strengthening – a group of six journalists working for NBC News, including its star international reporter Richard Engel, was kidnapped inside Syria. They were held for five days, threatened with death, treated inhumanely, and forced to record a video in which Engel was made to call for an end to U.S. involvement in Syria. Scrawled on the walls of the room where the video was recorded was graffiti of pro-Assad messages along with well-known Shiite references.




Journalists working for NBC including Richard Engel on far left held in detention
during an elaborate kidnapping ruse by Syrian rebels.
Click photo for video.

The obvious intent was to make it appear that these NBC journalists had been kidnapped and mistreated by Shiite forces associated with Assad.

Once they were released, Engel quickly gave numerous interviews including the  "Today" show just hours  after emerging. Engel 's unequivocal narrative was that the captors were aligned with Assad and that he was rescued by anti-Assad forces. That then became unquestioned fact on NBC.

Engel appeared on the
Rachel Maddow show on December 21.

Engel described how the rebel commander heroically tried to sacrifice his own life to save the journalists, but to no avail: the “pro-government forces” brutalized, tortured and threatened the reporters and even executed some of the rebels."

The ordeal ended, Engel said, only when his pro-government captors accidentally ran into a rebel checkpoint, where the rebels heroically killed some of Assad’s forces and freed the journalists, treating them with great compassion.

Three days earlier, in a December 18 appearance on Maddow's show, Engel – after describing how brutal and inhumane his captors were – actually linked them to both Iran and Hezbollah in response to a question from David Gregory.

There were ample reasons at the time to be suspicious that this was a scam (perpetrated on (not by) Engel and his fellow captives) to blame Assad for the abduction. There was skepticism expressed by some independent analysts – although not on NBC News. According to Glenn Greenwald the brilliant political science professor and blogger
As'ad AbuKhalil, (angryarab.blogspot.com) was highly skeptical from the start about the identity of Engel’s captors.

AbuKhalil himself examined the video and wrote:

"I looked at the video and it is so clearly a set up and the slogans are so clearly fake and they intend to show that they were clearly Shi’ites and that they are savages."

As it turns out, that seems to be exactly what happened. On April 15
Engel posted a new statement on the NBC news website where he wrote:

“The group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia” and that “the group that freed us” – which he had previously depicted as heroic anti-Assad rebels – actually “had ties to the kidnappers.”

Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC’s team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.

Nobody can blame Engel – a courageous reporter, fluent in Arabic – for falling for what appears to be a well-coordinated ruse.

But the same is most certainly not true of NBC News executives. In writing his new account, Engel does not mention the most important and most incriminating aspect of the New York Times reporting: that NBC officials knew at the time that there was reason to be highly skeptical of the identity of the captors, but nonetheless allowed Engel and numerous other NBC and MSNBC reporters to tell this story with virtually no questioning.

The NY Times states that “Mr. Engel’s team was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.” That rebel group is “known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade” and is “led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj.”  NBC executives knew that this was at least very possible even during Engel’s kidnapping, and yet the NY Times states:

"NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity. Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events."

In other words, NBC executives at least had ample reason to suspect that it was anti-Assad rebels who staged the kidnapping, not pro-Assad forces. Yet they allowed Engel and numerous other NBC and MSNBC personalities repeatedly and unequivocally to blame the Assad regime and glorify the anti-Assad rebels, and  to link the kidnapping to Iran and Hezbollah, all with no indication that there were other quite likely alternatives.

NBC refused to respond to the NY Times and The Intercept's questions about that.


Greenwald believes this Engel story is about what appears to be a reckless eagerness, if not deliberate deception, on the part of NBC officials to disseminate a dubious storyline which, at the time, was very much in line with the story which official Washington was selling.

Greenwald Update:

About this story, Professor AbuKhalil emailed this comment:

"This is a culture: they all were part of a charade to promote and champion the Free Syrian Army when that very army was kidnapping innocent Lebanese Shi’ites and killing people on sectarian grounds."

He also passed along an email from a Western correspondent based in the region, asking not to be identified, who said: “Everybody knew that it was a Sunni group tied to the [Free Syrian Army] that had kidnapped [Engel] from the moment it happened: people were talking about it in South Turkey, journalists, opposition people.”

Yet Richard Engel in his April 15th mea culpa states that once he learned from the NY Times that the kidnapping may have been an elaborate ruse he "spoke to multiple U.S. law enforcement and intelligence sources who had direct knowledge of our case. They all said they did not doubt our story back in 2012 or anytime since."

(Dore note: which suggests Engel's intelligence sources are lying or maybe not so intelligent.)

As noted above, Engel claimed repeatedly that the anti-Assad rebels killed some of his pro-government captors when rescuing him. He stated the same thing in a Vanity Fair article he wrote recounting his kidnapping. But as the New York Times notes, Engel now acknowledges that he never saw a body.



+excerpt:


Origin of Islamic State Yarmouk Attack

In the past five months there has been a wave of assassinations inside Yarmouk Camp which targeted a diverse group of individuals. They were all killed professionally and mysteriously, and included activists affiliated to Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions. This wave was finally confronted with the assassination of Yahya Hourani (aka Abu Suhaib), a former Hamas official in Yarmouk, and a leading medical aid worker.

Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), which is linked to Hamas, first accused IS in the nearby al-Hajar al-Aswad area of orchestrating the murder, then detained IS members. Within twenty-four hours, IS raided the camp and besieged the Diaspora Office which is run by ABM. IS quickly took control of most of the southern parts of Yarmouk, which had previously been under the control of al-Nusra Front, sparking suggestions that there had been a prior agreement between the two groups about allowing IS in.

Conclusion

Whatever scenario unfolds for the Palestinian fighters, Yarmouk Camp’s future looks bleak, irrespective of whether IS controls it fully or partially, or whether it is recovered by the Palestinian groups – either ABM or some faction loyal to the Syrian regime. Palestinians in Yarmouk will continue to pay a heavy price until the Syrian crisis reaches a stable and permanent outcome, or major changes take place in the battlefield in southern Damascus. If IS remains in control of parts of the camp, an increasing number of civilians will attempt to leave, as IS’s indifference to the popular sentiment will alienate more people and make their daily lives even more miserable.

Unravelling the media spin on Yarmouk

Residents in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp tell a very different story of recent violence from the one carried in the mainstream media


Yarmouk destruction April 2015 photo by AFP

excerpt:

When the Islamic State (IS) group entered Yarmouk in southern Damascus lApril 1, the Palestinian refugee camp was thrust back into the media spotlight.

Caught between the rockets of Syrian government forces and IS, factions inside Yarmouk, chiefly the (anti-Syrian regime) Palestinian group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), fought fierce gun battles with IS.

With concern over the fate of the camp growing, the PLO sent a delegation from the West Bank to Syria to discuss the plight of the refugees with Syrian authorities. An initial statement from PLO official Ahmad Majdalani said that Palestinian factions had agreed to cooperate with Syrian government forces inside the camp to counter IS.

However, another statement released shortly afterwards from the PLO leadership in Ramallah contradicted this, saying that they refused to be drawn into military actions.

Residents of Yarmouk offer a very different version of events.

“Palestinian militias allied to Bashar al-Assad like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command [PFLP-GC] are the ones who dragged the camp into the Syrian conflict,” 30-year-old journalist Ahmad, a resident of the camp, told Middle East Eye via Skype on Thursday. (Dore note: Ahmad's last name and journalist credential is not provided).

“Before, the camp was a safe haven, a neutral zone for people in the areas around it," Ahmad said. "These militias, led by PFLP-GC’s Ahmad Jibril, are the ones who began kidnapping and arresting activists within and around the camp and handing them over to the regime.”

Anwar Abdul Hadi, a PLO official based in the government-controlled capital of Damascus, said on Sunday that 2,000 people were evacuated from the camp to the capital under the protection of the Syrian army.

Shaml Media, a Palestinian media network in Syria, was the first to contest the PLO’s claims, tweeting out that only 180 people left Yarmouk.

Sources within the camp who spoke to various humanitarian organisations within Yarmouk told MEE that approximately 200 people left on the day the PLO issued its statement.

“They weren’t evacuated,” said Ahmad. “I can confirm that the regime forces did not offer a safe passage for the ‘evacuation’ of the refugees. Rather, the refugees took refuge outside the camp.”

"Here in southern Damascus we are under siege but there are 6 or 7 neighborhoods that are linked to each other. It is possible to move from one to another, like moving from island to island. This is what southern Damascus is like" said a Yarmouk resident.

It remains unclear as to how exactly the 200 residents managed to make it to the government-controlled part of the capital.

“No one goes to the regime-controlled entrances,” Ahmad explained. “It’s just not checkpoints they’ve erected; it’s an entire battleground, with snipers ready to shoot at anything moving.”

Salim Salamah of the Yarmouk emergency team and based in Sweden, admitted to the confusion surrounding the news of the residents fleeing.

“We need to distinguish between two things,” he said. “The displacement of the people from the camp within southern Damascus and the displacement of the people from the camp to outside, who are now in the regime-controlled Damascus.”

Ahmad said that Yarmouk, a 2.11-square-km area  (less than a sq mile) that used to house 160,000 people are now reduced to around 14,000.

Since IS entered Yarmouk on April 1, a total of 4,000 residents had fled to nearby neighbourhoods. "Most of the people that managed to leave are now living in schools or in the streets," Ahmad added.

Military entry will bring further death

Anger at the PLO has risen in the camp, especially since the announcement that Palestinian officials would be meeting with Syrian authorities who Yarmouk residents see as responsible for the camp’s ongoing blockade.

Fawzi Hameed, the head of the civil society organisations in Yarmouk, stated that a military solution would only bring more devastation.

“We stress that the entry of the military will bring about further death and destruction and is not the solution,” he said.

Presence of IS exploited by factions for media

Analysts say that the renewed attention that Yarmouk is now under masks the complicity of both pro- and anti-government factions that contributed to Yarmouk's demise.

“Everyone is trying to profit from the camp’s suffering,” Ahmad said. “They all want to turn Yarmouk into a Kobane to achieve their victories on the backs of the flesh of the civilians,” referring to the Kurdish city that garnered major media attention after IS overran the city and the US-led military coalition started a bombing campaign against the militants.

Speaking through Skype, Ahmad halted a few times as the whining of a Syrian military plane sounded overhead. After a couple of loud booms, he apologised and said he would call back later as he had to move to the lower ground of the house he was in.

“One thing we have to be mindful of is that the presence of the Islamic State in Yarmouk provides other sides, the opposition factions and the government regime alike, to exploit the media in a favourable way,” he said.

“There are limited battles on the outskirts but IS did not enter the camp - this is all for the media" claims Ahmad.

Meanwhile the media has turned a blind eye to the government forces’ role in starving Yarmouk’s residents in favour of intensive reporting on the army’s alleged military proposition to enter the camp in order to repel IS. Yet Yarmouk’s residents maintain that the biggest threat they encounter is from the Syrian military airstrikes on the camp.

“Media sources have reported that there are massacres and mass beheadings in Yarmouk,” said Abu Ahmad Huwari, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Body for Yarmouk camp, pointing out that this has caused families who were previously displaced from the camp to panic. (Dore note: two beheadings have been confirmed.)

“We in Yarmouk assert that there is no truth to these reports, and we confirm as civil society organisations that there are airstrikes that kill civilians, and that we will remain in the camp in order to ensure a dignified life and to ensure the return for our families,” he declared. “We will not leave the camp despite the barrel bombs or the gun battles. We will only leave if we go back to our land in Palestine. For now, we demand a safe passage so that food and medical supplies can enter for our people.”

Aerial bombings biggest danger

Ahmad dismissed claims of an IS takeover of the camp.

“Here I am, talking to you and smoking,” he said. “I can go down to the store in the street and buy a pack of cigarettes, and I won’t be beheaded by IS because I am not living in their ‘state.’”

“They didn’t impose their rule and declare Yarmouk as part of their caliphate,” he added. “Their presence should not be confused with controlling the camp.”
The airstrikes remain the biggest danger to the civilians.”

 “More than 30 barrel bombs targeted the camp in the last nine days,” Salim Salamah said. “On Wednesday night 16 barrel bombs fell on the camp, including one that targeted Palestine Hospital. These aerial bombardments are extremely destructive and are in no way comparable to the ground invasion of IS.”

“If medical and food supplies don’t enter the camp within the next 48 hours, the result will be beyond tragic,” he said.


2 short films made inside Yarmouk by Palestinian youth:

Siege  (9:15)

This film is the outcome of a workshop via Skype with twelve young Palestinians under siege in Yarmouk. This film expresses four daily realities of this siege. While finalizing the film, the situation in Yarmouk worsened and it became difficult for them to meet together. Following the attack on Yarmouk by IS last week people involved in the making of the film were killed as detailed below.

Pasted from the closing credits:

During the four months it took to make this film, Abed one of the filmmakers, lost his father to a regime sniper.  Another of the filmmakers, Abdallah, was subject to a kidnapping attempt. Jamal Khalife, one of the filmmakers, was killed during the attack of IS on Yarmouk camp. (Jamal was also one of the filmmakers on the film "Blue".) Firas Naji, coordinator of Wahid Center, was assassinated in his home. Wahid Center was the main partner in making this film.  This is just a small glimpse of the siege on Southern Damascus.

Blue  (12:17)

Blue is a moving film about a young pianist who rolls his worn piano on a cart into the middle of a street in Yarmouk, and plays amid rubble and mortar shells falling.


Islamic State Seizes Palestinian Refugee Camp in Syria
(Anne Barnard, NY Times, 4/4/15)

ISIL seizes most of Syria's Yarmouk refugee camp
Thousands of Palestinian refugees trapped in the Damascus camp,
where heavy shelling has been reported since Wednesday

(Al Jazeera/AP, 4/04/14)


Thousands of Palestinian refugees queuing to receive food in Yarmouk camp, Damascus, Syria.
(AP Photo/UNRWA)


related articles:

#SaveYarmouk
18,000 Palestine refugees remain trapped in the Yarmouk neighbourhood of Damascus


”To know what it is like in Yarmouk, turn off your electricity, water, heating, eat once a day, live in the dark, live by burning wood”
Anas, Yarmouk resident.
(unrwa.org/crisis-in-yarmouk; March 2014)

Syria: ISIL Conquest of Yarmouk Palestinian Camp
refutes Israeli Propaganda
(Juan Cole Blog, 4/2/15)

Yarmuk Refugee Camp
and the Syrian Uprising:
A View from Within

(Nidal Bitari, palestine-studies.org, Vol 43, 2013/2014)

combined source excerpt:
(Al Jazeera, AP, UNRWA, NY Times, Reuters, Juan Cole, Nidal Bitari and Dore Stein)

It's been a heavy week for news coming out of the Middle East dominated by the framework for a nuclear agreement with Iran, Palestine attaining membership of the International Criminal Court and Saudi Arabia launching an air war on Yemen along with other Gulf and north African countries, with logistical support from the U.S.

However, mainstream American news sources did not include an alarming news story that will be the focus of this Gaza Corner.  Even prominent public radio programs such as National Public Radio's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and PRI's The World  (from doing searches on their websites), all failed to cover the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe of 18,000 Palestinian civilian refugees trapped within less than a square mile in Damascus, Syria.

This past Wednesday the Islamic State (IS)  fighters launched a lightning assault on the Yarmouk camp.  Yarmouk is an "unofficial" refugee camp and was home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria. Yarmouk is just six miles from downtown Damascus, marking IS's deepest foray yet into Syria's capital.  Human Rights groups say IS now controls 90% of the camp.

First built for Palestinians fleeing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Yarmouk was once considered to be the de facto capital of the Palestinian refugee diaspora. Yarmouk prospered as a safe haven for Palestinians.  Prior to the Syrian civil war, it had more than 150,000 refugees living there. It had been a bustling commercial center with a huge market with its own mosques, schools and public buildings. Though people still refer to it as a “camp”, tents were replaced with solid housing soon after its founding in 1957. As well as being home to Syria’s largest community of Palestinian refugees, it also housed some 650,000 Syrians.

Prior to the IS attack, Yarmouk has been under a brutal government siege the last two years. It is a prison for its remaining residents, who survive on little food and water, with no hope of escape.

The fate of the 18,000 Palestinian civilians is unknown (the number is approximate as it includes anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 Syrians) as civilians are trapped amid intense shelling and clashes. The Syrian regime reacted to the attack by adding it’s own barrage of artillery into the mix, adding to the civilian casualty count.  A local activist reported: “The regime forces are shelling the camp with mortars. They hit the emergency entrance for Palestine hospital. Some civilians were killed from it.”

Earlier today in what was described  as "Breaking News" Reuters and the New York Times showed video with footage uploaded to social media that purports to show surface-to-surface missile launches by Syrian  regime forces targeting the Yarmouk refugee camp.

On Thursday, April 2, the day after IS entered Yarmouk, this urgent call to action was posted:


click above to enlarge

The IS attack came days before a deal to ease the humanitarian situation for civilians in the camp was set to come into operation.

Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker said that despite calls from the United Nations and activists, the Syrian government was unlikely to open a humanitarian corridor for 18,000 civilians who are still in the camp.

"It is a complex situation. The government forces control the northern part [of the camp] towards Damascus. It is their priority to keep the capital safe," said Dekker. "The fact that ISIL fighters are less than 10km away is of a huge concern. If they allow a humanitarian corridor, who will be coming out?"

There are reports that mosques are blaring calls for blood donations in the areas surrounding the camp as hospitals received wounded civilians from Yarmouk.

Among the 18,000 civilians trapped in Yarmouk are 3500 children.  There are 560,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria - 95%,  or 480,000  have been unable to escape and are still there in the midst of this horrific war.

In a detailed March 5 Guardian UK article article by Jonathan Steel, he described Yarmouk "as a refugee camp designed as a safe haven for the Palestinian diaspora that had become the worst place on earth. No electricity for months. No piped water. No access for food. Worse still, no chance for people to leave or return."  Some called it Syria’s Gaza, but its plight was even worse.
 
Yarmouk has been under a  government-imposed blockade since mid-2013. It grabbed international attention more than a year ago after images emerged of emaciated children and gaunt adults wasting away under the toll of the siege.  (click for article)


Baby Israa al-Masri died of a hunger-related illness on January 11, 2014 in the Yarmouk camp [AP]

The U.N. has said more than 100 people have died there from starvation and illnesses exacerbated by hunger or lack of medical aid.  Tests conducted in 2014 on a random sample of patients found that 40% had typhoid.

In October 2013, in a sign of how bad things had become, the imam of Yarmouk’s largest mosque issued a fatwa that permitted people to eat cats, dogs and donkeys.

Since 6 December, the siege has once again become impassable as UNRWA reports that it has not been able to deliver any food at all.  Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA for Palestinian Refugees described the situation in the camp before the attack as "beyond dire".
"Since July 2013 there has been an almost total siege, there's been almost no water, no electricity," he said.

"We have reports of women dying in childbirth through lack of medicines, we have reports of children starving to death."

UNWRA's website has a page called Save Yarmouk and these quotes under a heading Voices fr Yarmouk:

”To know what it is like in Yarmouk, turn off your electricity, water, heating, eat once a day, live in the dark, live by burning wood” – Anas, Yarmouk resident.

"Most houses have no doors or windows, and in the snow storm life became harder. We depend on radishes and lettuce and green things grown in the camp, but those food items had frozen. The water pipe exploded because of the snow." – Raed'a.

"There is no wood, we are burning furniture and clothes to keep warm. People have burned their bedrooms, chairs, living rooms. We are burning things which are not purely wood, which has caused many health problems." - Ra'eda.

"The most difficult thing is when my kids get up in the morning and ask for milk and bread and it is not available and I have to give them a radish or some vegetable, and sometimes that is not available." – Mahd.

"At 7am I walk one kilometer to get water for my home. I usually spend five hours a day collecting water, but I only collect water every five days because it is only available every five days."
– Aziz, aged 10


The day after IS entered Yarmouk, prominent writer and journalist Juan Cole wrote a blog which provides essential historical context:

"On Wednesday, the extremist Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) group, known for its brutal beheadings and mass murder, took over the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp inside Damascus city limits. Palestinian women and Christians and male secularists are at special risk now. Had they been living normally in their homes in what is now Israel, with their own state, they would not have been left vulnerable to this fate. Refugees and stateless people not only have no courts or armies to defend their rights, they are not even recognized as having the right to have rights.

The Israelis ethnically cleansed three fifths of the Palestinians of British Mandate Palestine in 1947-48, creating enormous refugee crises in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon that roiled the region through the subsequent decades and continue to contribute to instability in the region. Some 70% of the Palestinians cooped up by the Israelis in the open-door concentration camp called Gaza are descendants of refugee families from what is now Israel, some living only an hour’s walk from the homes that were stolen from them. Some 40% of Palestinians in Gaza are still living in refugee camps, despite Israeli direct rule 1967-2005.

Propagandists who excuse the ethnic cleansing campaign and the continued explicit denial to Palestinians of the right of citizenship in a state often maintain that it should have been possible for “the Arabs” to “absorb” the Palestinians. But in international law, the state that committed the ethnic cleansing is responsible for it and for reparations, not the hapless neighbors on whom the refugees were unceremoniously dumped.

The Palestinians expelled by Israelis to Syria are a case in point. They have grown through natural increase to some 400,000 (Syria’s population is 23 million). Many of these Palestinians still live in refugee camps. Among the more prominent is Yarmouk, a camp that had until recently come to have 160,000 residents and now has only about 18,000. Palestinians are not Syrians and do not have Syrian citizenship, but they were given substantial rights as residents in Syria.

None of that means anything now that the Syrian state is in collapse. Some 90 percent of the population of Yarmouk has fled, caught in the cross-fire of the civil war. with tens of thousands of refugees made refugees all over again.

Does it mean anything for the displaced Palestinian victims of the Israelis that they are “Arabs” among Daesh murderers? Palestinians continue to suffer, not only under Israeli military occupation, but wherever they are stateless refugees, open to the cruel turns of fate that beset the powerless."


Amnesty International Report
Unlawful and deadly:
Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups

during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict

related article:
combined sources:
(Amnesty International, Vice News and Dore Stein)

Palestinian armed groups in Gaza committed war crimes during last summer's Operation Protective Edge, which left more than 72 Israelis dead. The alleged crimes include rocket fire that resulted in the deaths of six Israeli civilians, including one child according to a March 26 report by Amnesty International (AI) (click above link for access to 68 pg. PDF file)

Operation Protective Edge was an Israeli 51-day invasion into the Gaza Strip that began on July 7, 2014. Israelis say it was an effort to stop rocket fire; Palestinians say the rocket fire was a result of continued ceasefire violations committed by the Israelis.

During the 'war on Gaza' (Dore Stein's phrase), Palestinian armed groups responded by firing thousands of unguided rockets and mortars towards Israel, in many cases directing them towards Israeli civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international law according to the Amnesty International report. These attacks killed six civilians in Israel, wounded others, and damaged civilian property. The conduct of Palestinian armed groups also endangered civilians in the Gaza Strip. In one case, the available evidence according to Amnesty International, indicates that a rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group on 28 July 2014 killed 11 children and two adults in the al-Shati refugee camp, north-west of Gaza City. If the projectile which landed in the al-Shati refugee camp is confirmed to be a Palestinian rocket, it would mean that attacks launched by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 conflict killed more civilians inside the Gaza Strip than in Israel.

The Amnesty International report does not address the summary killings of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by Hamas forces for alleged “collaboration” with Israel during the July/August 2014 conflict, which will be the subject of a forthcoming report.

Israeli forces also committed serious violations of international law during the hostilities, but these are not the focus of this report. Some of the Israeli violations, including attacks that constituted war crimes, have been analysed in previous Amnesty International reports, and additional reports will be published in the coming months.

Dore note: It's worth distinguishing that unlike the Palestinians who fight with mostly crude unguided rockets, the Israeli Defense Forces possess advanced weaponry such as precision guided bombs and missiles yet still killed at least 1585 Gazan civilians including over 500 children and 300 women, and more than 11,000 Gazans werw injured according to the Amnesty International report. It seems to me the IDF either intentionally targeted the civilians or had really bad aim which is hard to believe.

Though critical of Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, the Amnesty International report clears Hamas of using the civilian population of Gaza as human shields, an accusation commonly employed by Israeli officials.

"There is no evidence of any use of Gazans as human shields by Hamas or any other armed group," according to Deborah Hyams, an Amnesty International researcher who contributed to the report.

Dore Note: Apparently Amnesty International did not deal with the question of whether the Israeli Defense Forces used Palestinians as human shields which has been reported and
documented.

Another criticism of the Hamas government is that they do not build bomb shelters for the residents of Gaza, a fact that many feel contributes greatly to the lack of safe areas. VICE News asked Amnesty International 's Hyams whether the lack of bomb shelters could be attributed to Hamas policies, or the Israeli siege of Gaza.

"It's potentially both," the researcher began. "The siege has made all construction difficult, not just in the area of bomb shelters." Hyams went on to address the common criticism that Hamas builds tunnels instead of shelters: "There's a point to be made there, but we aren't necessarily criticizing the tunnels. If they aren't used to attack civilian targets, they are a legitimate tactic. But if you can build tunnels, why not build shelters?"

Israel's Operation Protection Edge brought an unprecedented level of death, destruction, damage, and injury to the occupied Gaza Strip. More than seven years of Israeli blockade, imposed in June 2007 after Hamas took over Palestinian governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip, had already inflicted a severe cumulative toll on infrastructure, health systems, and all aspects of life in the territory. The 1.8 million Palestinians squeezed into the Strip could not leave, as the borders were sealed and no place inside the Strip was truly safe. There are no bomb shelters or warning systems to help protect civilians in the Gaza Strip. At the height of the hostilities according to the report an estimated 485,000 people had fled to UN schools, government schools, and other public buildings, or were staying with relatives, but several UN schools sheltering displaced civilians came under attack.

Dore note: Assessing blame for attacks on U.N. schools was not part of this report.  However,
Human Rights Watch investigated three attacks on Gaza schools which occurred on July 24 and 30, and August 3, 2014, that killed 45 people, including 17 children.

On the Israeli side, bomb shelters, advanced warning systems, and Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system helped limit civilian casualties in many areas. However, the conflict provided renewed evidence that vulnerable communities in Israel, particularly Bedouin villages in Israel’s southern Negev/Naqab region, many of which are not officially recognized by the Israeli government, lacked protection.  On both sides, civilians once again bore the brunt of the third full-scale war in less than six years.

Dore note: I'm not sure how Amnesty International draws the conclusion that on both sides civilians bore the brunt of casualties.  According to the report, 66/72 Israeli deaths were members of the Israeli Defense Forces.  The report sources the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), confirms  over 2,250 people were killed in the Gaza Strip, at least 1,585 of whom were civilians, including 538 children and 306 women.  More than 11,000 Palestinians were injured, up to 10% of them permanently. It is obvious the Gazans bore the brunt of the third full-scale war in less than six years, as they always do.

Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian authorities have conducted credible, independent investigations meeting international standards following previous conflicts, and those responsible for violations have consistently escaped accountability. Since the 2014 conflict, Israel’s investigations into the actions of its forces have once again been conducted by the Israeli military itself, and there is no indication that the Palestinian authorities are investigating violations by Palestinian armed groups.

"To date, the situation with domestic investigations on both sides is not looking good. Israeli investigations are conducted by the Israeli military, and there's a huge
conflict of interest there," Amnesty International researcher Hyams declared, criticizing Israel's method of inquiry. "On the Palestinian side, we just don't know of any investigations into alleged crimes," she concluded.

An independent commission of inquiry established to investigate all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) “in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after” is due to report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015. Amnesty International has consistently urged both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to co-operate with the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in November 2014 that Israel would not co-operate with the Commission, and the Israeli authorities have refused to grant its investigators access to Israel or the OPT.


The pattern of impunity for serious violations and crimes, as well as evidence that both sides were committing further crimes during Operation Protective Edge, led Amnesty International to call for an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into crimes under international law committed in Israel and the OPT. Palestine’s accession to the ICC, which will take effect on 1 April 2015, and its submission of a declaration accepting the Court’s jurisdiction from 13 June 2014, are important steps towards justice for victims on both sides.

Dore note: The Amnesty International report fails to point out that Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and as such have no legal obligations resulting from ICC rulings.

Amnesty International acknowledges In the Methodology portion of the report that it has been unable to send a delegation of researchers, including military experts, to visit the Gaza Strip since the beginning of  Operation Protection Edge in July 2014. The Israeli authorities have refused, up to the time of finalizing this report, more than six months after the hostilities ended, to allow Amnesty International and researchers from other international human rights organizations to enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing with Israel, despite the organization’s repeated requests since before the beginning of the conflict. The Egyptian authorities have also not granted Amnesty International permission to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, again despite the organization’s repeated requests.

Amnesty International has consequently had to carry out research in the Gaza Strip remotely, supported by two fieldworkers based in Gaza.

Among several report recommendations, one conclusion states "Israeli authorities should completely lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip, including permitting the unrestricted transfer of construction materials into the Gaza Strip and the transfer of goods from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, subject only to necessary and proportionate security checks, as an essential step towards addressing the shelter and protection needs




excerpt:

To mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which commences on the first day of spring, President Obama released a video greeting to the Iranian people. “For decades, our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear,” he said. “Now it is early spring. We have a chance—a chance—to make progress that will benefit our countries, and the world, for many years to come.” The message was pegged to the tough diplomatic endgame over a deal to prevent Iran from making a nuclear bomb. The deadline for the negotiations is March 30th.

By now, Secretary of State John Kerry has almost certainly spent more time with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, than with any other foreign minister in the world. Unofficial relations between the two countries seem closer today than they have been at any time since the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran.

The tenor of the negotiators’ personal relationships was evident after news reports announced the death of Sakineh Peivandi. She is the mother of the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and of his brother Hossein Fereydoun, who is one of the negotiators.  Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who recently joined the American negotiating team, paid a condolence call on Fereydoun in Lausanne. In a press statement, Kerry said, “We share in their grief . . . and we keep their family in our thoughts.”

An Iranian news agency released several pictures of the visit. In one, Kerry and the President’s brother are walking toward each other with open arms, about to embrace.


Courtesy @shah_shahi84

These images and others, which would have been considered treasonous in Tehran not long ago, were widely shared on social media.

Serious obstacles remain, Obama noted in his video greeting. They are said to primarily concern Iran’s nuclear research and development programs and the terms for lifting the punitive international sanctions imposed on Iran over the past decade.

More troubling, the United States and France are split: France insists that Iran disclose all past military research and development activities that could be used to build a warhead to deliver a weapon and that sanctions be lifted in slower phases.

A potential deal faces even bigger challenges down the road. In his video message, Obama said, “There are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution. My message to you—the people of Iran—is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek.”

Senators Bob Corker, a Republican, and Robert Menendez and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, introduced a bill this month that would require Obama to submit the text to Congress for review. More than three hundred House members sent a letter to the White House this week demanding that any permanent sanctions relief require new legislation.

Senator Lindsey Graham warned Thursday that he would move to suspend U.S. funding of the United Nations if it moved to lift sanctions on Iran before receiving congressional approval. And two Republican House members, Peter Roskam and Lee Zeldin, asked colleagues to co-sign a letter to Obama threatening to cut off funding for the negotiations.

Near the end of his video message, Obama quoted the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafez on the joys of a new season, and said, “This moment may not come again soon. I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully—an opportunity we should not miss.” Getting an agreement from the Iranians may prove easier than winning approval in Washington.

Dore note:

The New Yorker article does not mention that 47 Republican Senators  who at minimum violated the spirit of the Logan Act by sending an open letter to Iran's leaders warning them that they’ll reverse any nuclear deal Iran signs with President Obama's administration after he leaves office.

The aim was to sabotage the negotiations.

This letter may be a violation of federal law,  breach of national security, and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent.

The Logan Act is a law that's been on the books since 1799. Although laws are more than their written words and must be viewed with context and precedent in mind, here is what it states:

 "Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."

If you believe the Logan Act has been violated, here is a petition you can sign. It demands these Senators be charged with violating the Logan Act for attempting to sabotage negotiations with Iran.




B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

March 8, 2015
International Women’s Day

States of combat and human rights violations have a distinctive impact on women. It is important that we hear their voices. In honor of International Women’s Day we asked Palestinian women to interview other Palestinian women about their hopes, dreams and sources of inspiration.

March 4, 2015
Civil Administration demolishes ‘Ein Karzaliyah
for the second time this winter

Israeli authorities demolished all structures in Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah in the northern Jordan Valley, for the second time this year. Bulldozers raked the dirt road leading to the community, preventing access by car. This cruel harassment of a particularly vulnerable population is part of Israel’s policy aimed at displacing thousands of Palestinians from communities throughout Area C. B'Tselem urges Israel to allow residents of Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah to remain where they have lived and grazed their flocks for 25 years without interference.

March 2, 2015
Soldier’s video of military dog attack on a Palestinian boy published today. The media reports that the military stated it would investigate the incident and take measures to prevent its recurrence. However, the attack was part of an official military operation which was likely approved by the senior command. MAG Corps has yet to respond to B’Tselem’s demand for an end to the policy of dog attacks on Palestinian civilians.

Feb 26, 2015
What would it take for the authorities to stop olive tree vandals rampaging in the Southern Hebron hills?

In the past two months vandals destroyed Palestinian olive groves in four locations in the Southern Hebron hills, near the settlements Susiya and Mitzpe Yair. All incidents occurred only several hundred meters apart, under the nose of the Police and army, who appear to have not lifted a finger to stop this rampage.

Feb 23, 2015
Civil Administration dismantles, confiscates
water pipes in Khirbet Yarza, Jordan Valley

On 29 Jan. 2015, the Civil Administration dismantled water pipes recently installed for the small shepherding community of Khirbet Yarza in the Jordan Valley and confiscated the parts. Before the installation, the community relied on rainwater and private water purchase. This is one measure of several taken by Israeli authorities to displace thousands of Palestinians living in Area C. As the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel must allow residents to maintain their lifestyle, permit them to build legally, and provide them water and electricity.

Feb 15, 2015
Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah:
Israeli authorities continue persecution of a tiny community in Jordan Valley


Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah is a tiny community of 24, including 14 minors, who live off farming and shepherding in the Jordan Valley. Israeli authorities have repeatedly attempted to expel the community from their place of residence and have repeatedly demolished their homes, as part of a decades-long policy to expel thousands of Palestinians living in dozens of shepherding communities scattered throughout Area C. On 22 January 2015, bulldozers again demolished all the community’s structures, for the fourth time since January 2014. ‘Aref Daraghmeh, B’Tselem’s field researcher in the Jordan Valley, documented the trail of destruction the bulldozers left behind on 22 Jan.

Feb 9, 2015
Israel’s High Court of Justice to state:
Demolish nine structures in the settlement of Ofra

In a dramatic ruling, Israel's High Court of Justice accepted a petition filed by Palestinians from the West Bank village of 'Ein Yabrud together with Israeli human rights organizations B'Tselem and Yesh Din, and instructed the state to carry out demolition orders issued for nine structures built for the settlement of Ofra on the villagers' land. Most other structures in the settlement were also unlawfully built on privately-owned Palestinian land, without permits. B'Tselem welcomes the ruling but notes that the overall picture remains unchanged: Israel has been taking over Palestinian land in the West Bank for years, whether by gaining control of private land or by appropriating public land for settlement use under the guise of 'state land'.

Feb 8, 2015
Video: Khuza'a, the Gaza Strip, Jan. 2015

Safiyeh a-Najar from Khuza'a describes life after Operation Protective Edge in a 1:49 video. The town of Khuza'a lies in south Gaza, about 500 meters from the Israeli border. The town council listed some 15,000 residents before the operation, in about 2,000 homes. Residents told B’Tselem that on 22 July 2014, 2 days after ground forces entered Gaza, the town was heavily attacked and many fled to schools in nearby Khan Yunis. The UN listed 556 homes damaged, 336 of them destroyed. Many residents still live in UN schools, trailers, or with relatives. Some, like a-Najar's family, are living in rough conditions among ruins.

Safiyeh a-Najar is a Palestinian mother of 8. In the video she invites the camera person into her bombed out home. I transcribed some of her words:  "We are suffering greatly from the winter's cold. Our house is ruined. It's inhumane the way we're living.  We didn't sleep last night. We kept a fire going all night. I had sheep. I had olive trees. It's all been ruined. Everything is in God's hands. I don't want anything, just to have my home back the way it was."

Jan 28, 2015

On Wednesday, 28 January 2015 B’Tselem published its report on the policy of attacking residential buildings in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

Full 63 pg report:  (pdf)

Click for summary

The report addresses one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting in Gaza this summer: bombings in which hundreds of people were killed – constituting more than a quarter of all of the Palestinians killed in the fighting. Time and again Palestinian families suffered much grievous loss of life. In a single instant, so many families were ruined, with the wreckage of their lives mirroring the devastation of their homes. Hamas made explicit its intention to harm Israeli civilians. In contrast, the Israeli government claimed that it acted to prevent harm to civilians in Gaza. Is that the case?

Jan 18, 2015
Military steps up use of live 0.22 inch bullets
against Palestinian stone-throwers

Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch caliber bullets in clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes. Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets. The military commander in the West Bank, Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai, confirmed that the military had adopted a policy of firing live ammunition at stone-throwers.
-

Mali's main rebel group asks for delay on peace deal
Tuareg rebel alliance says it has asked for "reasonable delay"
for consultations before signing.

(Al Jazeera/AFP, 3/1/15)

Worries over Mali peace
(Matthaei, Katrin, Yaya Konate, (Deutsche Welle 3/6/15)

combined excerpt:

The Malian government has signed a peace agreement with some northern rebel groups but the main Tuareg armed coalition asked for more time to consult its grassroots.

The main members of the alliance, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MMA) now have a difficult task ahead of them. Azawad is a term that supporters of independence use to refer to the vast expanse of northern Mali, an area three times as big as France. The task will be difficult because their base comprises a variety of ethnic groups and very diverse players. In the eyes of some Tuareg clans and armed groups, the negotiators are returning home empty-handed. In the course of the negotiations, they had to give up their most important demand for broad autonomy or a federal structure.

It is very difficult for the rebels to succeed in convincing the majority of the fighters to accept the agreement, Paul Melly of the Chatham House think tank in London told DW. "There are lots of young men, many of whom have taken up arms. There are not really very many job opportunities in the far north - the formal economy is quite limited." In the far north, he said, many rebels made a living smuggling drugs or arms via Algeria. The lucrative business would be jeopardized if the central government regained control over the area.

Rinaldo Depagne of the International Crisis Group also sees the representatives of rebels in a difficult position. "Either they sign against the will of a major part of the population, or they don't sign and are held responsible by the international community for the failure of the agreement," he told DW. If they refused to sign the agreement, they would also alienate Algeria, the most important regional player.

The deal provides for the transfer of a raft of powers from Bamako to the north, a large swath of territory the Tuareg refer to as "Azawad".

Algeria and the United Nations have led mediation talks in the capital Algiers since last July between ministers and six armed rebel groups amid a surge in violence that threatened to jeopardise the peace process.

The armed organisations which took part are dominated by Tuareg and Arabs, however, and no "jihadist" group was invited to the dialogue.

Fighters linked to al-Qaeda seized control of northern Mali for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention launched in 2013 partly drove them from the region.

The 30-page "Agreement for Peace and reconciliation in Mali from the Algiers Process", seen by the AFP news agency calls for "reconstruction of the country's national unity" in a manner that "respects its territorial integrity and takes account of its ethnic and cultural diversity".

The draft deal proposes "greater representation of the northern populations in national institutions".


Tuareg separatists have spawned several rebellions in the north since the 1960s [EPA]

  Background articles:

In northern Mali, music silenced
as Islamists drive out artists
(Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, 11/30/2012)

excerpt:

Khaira Arby, one of Africa’s most celebrated musicians, has performed all over the world, but there is one place she cannot visit: her native city of Timbuktu, a place steeped in history and culture but now ruled by religious extremists.

One day, they broke into Arby’s house and destroyed her instruments. Her voice was a threat to Islam, they said, even though one of her most popular songs praised Allah.

“They told my neighbors that if they ever caught me, they would cut my tongue out,” said Arby, sadness etched on her broad face.

Northern Mali, one of the richest reservoirs of music on the continent, is now an artistic wasteland.

The Causes of the Uprising in Northern Mali
(Andy Morgan, thinkafricapress, 2/6/2012)

The Crisis in Mali:
A Historical Perspective on the Tuareg People

(Devon DB, Glboal Research 2/1/2013)

excerpt:

The Tuareg are a people that have lived in northern Mali as early as the fifth century BCE. After establishing the city of Timbuktu in the 11th century, the Tuareg traded, traveled, and conquered throughout Saharan over the next four centuries, eventually converting to Islam in the 14th century, which allowed them to gain great wealth. This independence was swept away when the French colonized Mali when they defeated the Tuareg at Timbuktu and established borders and administrative districts to rule the area until Mali declared independence in 1960. The Tuareg people have consistently wanted self-independence and in pursuit of such goals have engaged in a number of rebellions.

The first was in 1916 when, in response to the French not giving the Tuareg their own autonomous zone (called Azawad) as was promised, they revolted. The French violently quelled the revolt and subsequently confiscated important grazing lands while using Tuaregs as forced conscripts and labor – and fragmented Tuareg societies through the drawing of arbitrary boundaries between what is now Mali and its neighbors.

This did not end the Tuareg goal of an independent, sovereign state. Once the French had ceded Mali independence, the Tuareg began to push toward their dream of establishing Azawad once again.
However, Modibo Keita, Mali’s first President, made it clear that independent Mali would not cede its northern territories.

The Tuareg were greatly oppressed by the government of Modibo Keita, as they were singled out for particular discrimination, and were more neglected than others in the distribution of state benefits.


Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad

Gulf between Israeli secret service and Netanyahu revealed in documents shared with the Guardian and Al Jazeera along with other secrets including CIA bids to contact Hamas

• Read the leaked document here

(Seumas Milne, Ewen MacAskill and Clayton Swisher, The Guardian UK, 2/23/15)


Mossad contradicted Netanyahu
on Iran Nuclear Programme

Spy Cables reveal Mossad concluded that Iran was not producing nuclear weapons, after Netanyahu sounded alarm at UN in 2012.

(Will Jordan, Rahul Radhakrishnan, Al Jazeera, 2/23/15)

combined excerpt:

Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document.

A secret cable obtained by Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit and shared with the Guardian UK newspaoper reveals that Mossad sent a top-secret cable to South Africa on October 22, 2012, that laid out a "bottom line" assessment of Iran's nuclear work.

It is part of a cache of hundreds of dossiers, files and cables from the world’s major intelligence services – one of the biggest spy leaks in recent times.

The secret report stated Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad concluded that Iran was “not
performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”. The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment.

Media reports and public comments by senior current and former officials have frequently indicated dissent from within Israel's security services over Netanyahu's alarmist messaging on Iran.

Writing that Iran had not begun the work needed to build any kind of nuclear weapon, the Mossad cable said the Islamic Republic's scientists are "working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment reactors".

Such activities, however, "will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given".

That view tracks with the 2012 US National Intelligence estimate, which found no evidence that Iran had thus far taken a decision to use its nuclear infrastructure to build a weapon, or that it had revived efforts to research warhead design that the US said had been shelved in 2003.

The disclosure comes as tensions between Israel and its staunchest ally, the US, have dramatically increased ahead of Netanyahu’s planned address to the US Congress on 3 March.

The White House fears the Israeli leader’s anticipated inflammatory rhetoric could damage sensitive negotiations between Tehran and the world’s six big powers over Iran’s nuclear programme. The deadline to agree on a framework is in late March, with the final settlement to come on 30 June. Netanyahu has vowed to block an agreement he claims would give Iran access to a nuclear weapons capability.

President Obama will not meet Netanyahu during his visit, saying protocol precludes a meeting so close to next month’s general election in Israel.

The papers include details of operations against al-Qaida, Islamic State and also the targeting of environmental activists.

The files reveal that:

• South Korean intelligence targeted the leader of Greenpeace.

• Barack Obama “threatened” the Palestinian president to withdraw a bid for recognition of Palestine at the UN.

• The CIA attempted to establish contact with Hamas in spite of a US ban.

The cache mainly involves exchanges between South Africa’s intelligence agency and its counterparts around the world. One of the biggest hauls is from Mossad.

The Mossad briefing about Iran’s nuclear programme in 2012 was in stark contrast to the alarmist tone set by Netanyahu, who has long presented the Iranian nuclear programme as an existential threat to Israel and a huge risk to world security. The Israeli prime minister told the UN: “By next spring,
at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move[d] on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

He said his information was not based on secret information or military intelligence but International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports.

Behind the scenes, Mossad took a different view.

The report states that Iran “does not appear to be ready” to enrich uranium to the higher levels necessary for nuclear weapons. Iran has always said it is developing a nuclear programme for civilian energy purposes.

ast week, Netanyahu’s office repeated the claim that “Iran is closer than ever today to obtaining enriched material for a nuclear bomb” in a statement in response to an
IAEA report.

Mossad had been at odds with Netanyahu
on Iran before. The former Mossad chief
Meir Dagan, who left office in December 2010, let it be known that he had opposed
an order from Netanyahu to prepare a military attack on Iran.

The spy chief said it would be a "stupid idea" to attack Iran before other options were considered. "An attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches is not the right way," Dagan had said.

His comments would likely have been informed by his former agency's analysis reflected in the document obtained by Al Jazeera.

Other members of Israel’s security establishment were riled by Netanyahu’s rhetoric on the Iranian nuclear threat and his advocacy of military confrontation. In April 2012, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, accused Netanyahu of “messianic” political leadership for pressing for military action, saying he and
the then defence minister, Ehud Barak, were misleading the public on the Iran issue.


Loud calls to action
follow murder of young Turkish woman
(Selin Girit, BBC 2/19/15)


The murder of student Ozgecan Aslan has led to protests in Turkey (EPA)




Ms Aslan's murder comes amid a dramatic rise in violence against women in Turkey (BBC)




The 20-year-old was killed on public transport as she made her way home (AFP/Getty)

excerpt:

Turkey has been mourning the murder of a young woman for the last week.

Özgecan  Aslan, a 20-year-old psychology student, was stabbed in a minibus while resisting a rape attempt on her way home.  Her bodywas found burned and dismembered. Three men have been arrested in connection with her murder.

Not long after this incident, another woman's dismembered body was found dumped in a bin. Her husband of 17 years admitted to the murder.

Women's rights organisations have for years been trying to raise awareness about the rise in violence against women that has taken place in the last decade.

According to local reports, between 2003 and 2010 there had been a 1,400% increase.

Many women think that this is linked to the policies or rhetoric of the governing party in Turkey, which has its roots in political Islam and has been in power since 2002.
Feminist lawyer Hulya Gulbahar says the murder of Ms Aslan is the last straw.    "The government is constantly making propagandist statements such as 'women and men being different by nature' or 'motherhood being the sacred role of women'. So we are facing a political violence here," she argues.

President Erdoğan has tried to introduce laws to curb abortion and has also advised women to have at least three children.  Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, commented last year that women should not laugh out loud in public.  Last month, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said: "The best career for women is motherhood."

In Turkey, most women's murders are perpetrated by their partners or ex-partners.
Asking for a divorce is one of the main causes leading to murder. However, women get killed for it seems for any reason.

Recent court cases include putting too much salt in food, answering a phone call too late, wearing leggings, looking for a job or having a tattoo done.

The circumstances of Özgecan  Aslan's death have prompted a wave of empathy both on the streets and social media.  Many men thought: "It could have been my daughter, my wife or my girlfriend."
That prompted a wave of empathy. Both on the streets and on social media.
Ms Aslan's name appeared more than four million times on Twitter.  Women started sharing their own experiences of sexual abuse and harassment.

Hulya Gulbahar says that Ms Aslan's murder might be a watershed moment in their struggle to prevent violence against women.

"This society always finds excuses to justify the rape and murder of women. But now there is no excuse to whitewash the murder.  "Women and men from all political backgrounds have been protesting since Ozgecan's death. I think this gives a hopeful message for Turkey."


related stories:
Turkish women share
stories of abuse

(Gemma Newby Blog, BBC, 2/17/15)

excerpt:
The attempted rape and murder of a young woman has electrified social media in Turkey.
And now hundreds of thousands of women are sharing their own stories of sexual abuse.

Turkey rallies over murder of woman
who 'resisted rape'
(Selin Girit, BBC, 2/15/15)

excerpt:

Thousands of people in Turkey have protested the murder of a young woman who allegedly resisted an attempt by a bus driver to rape her.

Police discovered the burnt body of Ozgecan Aslan, 20, in a riverbed in the city of Mersin, on Friday. They have arrested three men in connection with her death - a minibus driver, his father and a friend.

Ms Aslan, a psychology student, was kidnapped on Wednesday on her way home.
The driver allegedly tried to rape her. She reportedly fought him off with pepper spray, but was then stabbed to death. She was also hit on the head with an iron pipe.  The brutality of the murder caused an outcry across Turkey.

At the protest was a gender studies academic who would only give her first name, Zeynep. She thought Ms Aslan's murder was of a political nature too.
"It is the result of the radical Islamic atmosphere created by the government. The men say that women should be conservative. They think if they are not conservative, they deserve this kind of violence," she said.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has its roots in political Islam and has been in power since 2002.

Women's rights organisations say violence against women has risen sharply in the last decade.  Last year alone, almost 300 women were killed at the hands of men and more than 100 were raped, according to local reports.


Turkish President Erdoğan slams women
protesting Özgecan’s murder by dancing
(Hurriet Daily News, 2/16/15)

excerpt:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has harshly criticized some women’s organizations who have protested the killing of Özgecan Aslan by dancing, saying it was not a part of Turkish culture.

What place does this have in our culture? It’s like enjoying death,” Erdoğan said in his first public response to the murder of Özgecan Aslan on Feb. 16.

He was referring to a protest held by a group of women, including Aylin Nazlıaka, a woman lawmaker from the ranks of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who took part in an event to raise their voices against rape, sexual harassment and violence against women by singing songs and dancing on Feb. 14.

Turkey president Erdoğan:
Women are not equal to men
(BBC, 11/24/14)

excerpt:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said women cannot be treated as equal to men, and has accused feminists of rejecting motherhood.

"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," he told a meeting in Istanbul. "It is against nature."


The ugly truth about Israel's actions in Gaza
(Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 2/5/15)
Haaretz requires registration


Smoke, dust and debris rise over Gaza City after an Israeli strike on August 8, 2014,
during the 51-day Operation Protective Edge. Photo by AP


Head of UN inquiry into Gaza war resigns
over Israeli allegations of bias
Israeli allegations over consultancy work he did for the PLO
behind decision to step down, William Schabas says.

(Reuters, Haaretz, 2/3/15)


combined excerpt:
(mostly from Gideon Levy opinion piece)


What a huge diplomatic achievement: Israel has succeeded in getting the Canadian law professor William Schabas to resign from his post as head of a UN inquiry panel into potential war crimes in Gaza.

Through persistent surveillance, Israel’s intelligence and propaganda branches revealed that Schabas had once received a $1,300 fee from the PLO. Conclusion: he sold his soul to the devil.

Professor Schabas, regarded as an authority on international law, said it had not occurred to him that having been paid $1,300 by the P.L.O., for consulting on the statute of the International Criminal Court, would be an issue. “I wrote a small paper of a technical nature,” he said. “I do this all the time. I’ve acted for all kinds of governments and organizations and individuals.”

The professor also said that he had been subjected to a stream of vulgar and violent emails and several death threats.

One needs a great deal of chutzpah and arrogance to dig anew into the pasts of Israel’s critics in an effort to assassinate their character, as in the case of Richard Goldstone, merely because they dared to criticize the state. As far as Israel is concerned, the fate of anyone who criticizes the country is sealed. He’s an anti-Semite, anti-Israeli, greedy or driven by ulterior motives.

In Israel’s eyes there’s no such thing as conscientious individuals who are genuinely and truly shocked by its acts.  As far as Israel is concerned, there are no justice-seeking people of law, or simply decent ordinary people, who were aghast at what it did in the Gaza Strip last summer.
But the truth is just the opposite.

 It was impossible not to be appalled by what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did in Gaza last summer — unless you’re a propagandist, a liar or a racist. In any case, it’s impossible to support Israel in view of what it is doing to the Palestinians. Nor is there a way to be an international law expert and sympathize with what Israel is doing.

Professor Schabas, the commission and a 12-member staff proceeded with their work, albeit forced to hear witnesses and experts in Geneva and Jordan because Israel refused to allow the investigating teams to visit Israel or the occupied West Bank. They could not enter Gaza from Egypt because of the deteriorating security situation in northern Sinai.

A B'Tselem report (click for  49 pg PDF file report) released last week (“Black Flag: the legal and moral implications of attacking residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, summer 2014”) recounted what had so rapidly been forgotten: war crimes.

B’Tselem investigated 70 cases of bombarding residential buildings, in which 606 people were killed in their homes or near them, over 70 percent of them children, women and elderly people. The mind boggles. The most moral army in its most immoral spectacle yet, with the missiles aimed at buildings’ rooftops and all its “warnings.”

The victims’ blood is crying out. But not in Israel. Here the propaganda and media have done their job. In the election campaign there’s no mention of the most important event in the outgoing government’s term. Even the opposition dares not mention it. The (centre-left political alliance ) the Zionist Camp knows it would have done the same (“in the war on terror there’s no coalition and opposition,” Zionist Camp candidate Isaac Herzog said last week).

Even the fate of 20,000 people who still remain homeless, about half a year after the bombardment, in Gaza’s winter, is of no concern to anyone here. They’re Palestinians.

Soon the report of the panel without Schabas will be released. It won’t be “balanced,” as Israeli propaganda is demanding, because the situation is far from being balanced. The five Israeli citizens and 67 soldiers who were killed will likely be mentioned in it, as will the thousands of rockets fired at Israelis. But even with the panel’s new, “balanced” head, the report will mention that in the summer of 2014 Israel committed atrocities beyond all proportion in the Gaza Strip. There’s just no other fair way to describe it.

related editorial:


excerpt:

Professor William Schabas’ resignation from his post as head of the UN panel to investigate the war in Gaza is seen in Israel, inexplicably, as a huge diplomatic achievement. Now, Israel believes, it will be treated in a more balanced way by the panel’s new head, Mary McGowan-Davis, who once wrote a more agreeable report about Israel.

But what is the importance of a more balanced inquiry leader, as long as Israel refuses to cooperate with the inquiry panel?

Israel’s main argument is against the United Nations’ double standard in investigating its deeds. The state claims that as long as the United Nations is not investigating states like Syria or North Korea, it should not make demands of Israel.

But a state that frequently compares itself to European states and to the United States cannot hold both ends of the stick. A state that wants to be treated like a Western state must respect the international institutions, rather than place itself in line with the most abominable states to demand “justice.”

Israel’s position regarding the UN inquiry would have gained more legitimacy had it tried to speed up its own investigations into Operation Protective Edge, including those launched by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the state comptroller. But the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee suspended its inquiry.


Frederike Geerdink: Dutch journalist facing five years in prison in Turkey for 'terrorist propaganda' after highlighting the struggle of the Kurds
(Chris Green, The Independent UK, 2/3/15)

related articles:

Dutch journalist says she is doing her job. Turkey says she is helping terrorists
 includes audio interview w/ Frederick Geerdink
(PRI's The World, 2/6/15)

Turkey indicts Dutch reporter
over PKK 'terror propaganda'
(Umut Uras, Al Jazeera, 2/3/15)

In Washington, Turkish minister highlights
press freedom, bans critical journalists
(Mahir Zeybnalov, Today's Zaman, 2/6/15)

combined excerpt from above headlined stories:

Frederike Geerdink,  a Dutch journalist based in southeastern Turkey has been officially indicted by Turkish prosecutors for spreading "terrorist propaganda" on social media.  The charge refers to tweets and Facebook posts as well as her weekly column on Diken, an independent Turkish news website.

Geerdink is charged with spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has been fighting against the Turkish state since mid-1980s. She is facing one to five years in prison.

In the past years, many local journalists, mostly ones with Kurdish origins, have been arrested under the same law.

Dore note: According to the Comittee to Protect Journalists, Turkey was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2012 and 2013. China was number one in 2014.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently claimed “there is no freer press, in Europe or elsewhere in the world, than in Turkey”.

Geerdink settled in Istanbul in 2006 before moving to Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south-east, where she has documented the Kurds’ struggles. Geerdink says she's essentially being charged for doing her job as a journalist.

To date, the long-running insurgency by PKK militants demanding greater autonomy in Turkey has left an estimated 40,000 people dead. A ceasefire with Turkey was agreed in 2012, but talks have stalled in recent months. Ms Geerdink said that as a journalist, the subject was too important for her ignore.

“I’ve always been interested in identity issues – I think that’s eventually what human rights boil down to,” Geerdink said. “The Kurdish issue is the biggest that Turkey has, it is the country’s biggest problem, so for a journalist it’s very relevant.

"For the Kurds, they have not been able to live their identity for more than a century now, being suppressed.”

The rub is in how Turkey views Kurdistan. "Now, 'Kurdistan' is not an official country," Geerdink notes, "but Kurdistan is known for a struggle for human rights that is going on here. And this struggle is framed in Turkey as 'terrorism.'"

Geerdink claims she's the first Western journalist since the 1990s to face this kind
of government action. Part of the problem, she says, may be that she started writing in Turkish in the past year, and not just in English and her native Dutch. "And that is getting on the state's nerves."

Some might be tempted to return home rather than face the prospect of spending years in a Turkish jail. But Ms Geerdink said she has no intention of leaving and intends to fight her case – which may drag on for more than a year – as a matter of principle.
 
“I hope it will draw more attention to the Kurdish issue,” she said. “Everybody is supporting me, but today 16 Kurds were taken into custody for putting a table on the street and starting a signature campaign for the freedom of [the jailed PKK founder] Abdullah Ocalan.

“This is happening every day in the south-east of Turkey, and it doesn’t get a lot of attention. This anti-terrorism law is being misused on a very, very big scale.”

President Erdogan claims press in Turkey
is freer than anywhere else in the world
(Ben Tufft, the Independent UK, 12/14/14)

excerpt:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, claimed “nowhere in the world is the press freer than it is in Turkey”.

Mr Erdogan defended his regime's record on press freedom stating that "the press is so free in Turkey that one can make insults, slanders, defamation, racism and commit hate crimes that are not tolerated even in democratic countries."

Recently a 16-year-old boy was arrested when he read a statement critical of the ruling AK party and the president, implicating him in corruption. It was claimed the teenager had "insulted" the president.
The boy was released pending a trial, but could face up to four years in jail if convicted.

Johann Bihr, a spokesman from Reporters Without Borders, (pdf file, see pg 8) said "Turkey ranked 154 out of 180 in our 2014 Press Freedom Index.


Kurdish victory in Kobane defeat for Turkish policy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressly
ruled out the northern Iraq model for Syria's Kurds.


(comprehensive analysis by Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor.com, 1/29/15)


People gather to celebrate in the Kurdish-dominated city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey
after Kurdish forces took control of the Syrian town of Kobani, Jan. 27, 2015.
(photo by Reuters/Sertac Kayar)


  Rift between PM, President grows
following Kobane statement
(Today's Zaman, 1/26/15)

Summary:

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's recent praise for Kurds who  resisted an armed siege by the Islamic State in the Syrian border town of Kobani has been taken as a sign of a growing conflict with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who claims that any sympathy and assistance for Kurdish groups fighting in Syria amount to support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Kobane is liberated from Islamic State Siege
(Opinion by Dore Stein, 1/27/15)


(Spelled Kobane in Kurdish regions and Kobani in the West)

During September and October of 2014 Gaza Corner focused on the siege of Kobane where the Islamic State was poised to commit a genocidal Kurdish massacre.

After a 134 day siege, Kobane was liberated on January 26.  This was a result of sustained US air strikes and determined resistance from the disciplined Kurdish forces.

The Syrian Kurds practice an egalitarian society unlike any place I know. People are treated as equals. There are no gender or class distinctions. There is religious tolerance. This victory is a watershed moment in Kurdish history. The Kurds are one of the indigenous peoples of this region and the largest stateless people in the world.

The destruction in Kobane resembles what happened to Gaza over the summer. Refugees cannot return to Kobane in meaningful numbers because of a lack of food, medicine, housing, electricity etc. World powers and humanitarian agencies are needed to assist the rebuilding of Kobane.  Turkey should not block humanitarian corridors as it has done in the past.

Contrary to a report from NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman during  All Things Considered on January 27, the significance of Kobane surviving as a Kurdish canton cannot be overstated.

Tom Bowmans's report on Kobane
 (3:55, click above to listen)

At the end of the interview, Tom Bowman concludes with the statement: "...hundreds of air strikes for a small town."

Is Bowman suggesting this 'small town' did not justify the large commitment of US air strikes?

This 'small town' Kobane had served as a last refuge for Syrians of all faiths fleeing IS and the Syrian military.  Its population more than doubled to a half million as desperate Syrians from Raqqa, Homs and elsewhere sought safe haven in Kobane.

When IS captured Mosul during the summer and acquired a vast array of modern American heavy weaponry, the calculus changed. The US re-entered Iraq militarily and started bombing IS which forced a strategic retreat into Syria. IS had previously tried to capture Kobane but had been rebuffed for two years. But with their newly acquired massive weaponry, IS set their sights on Kobane again. Capturing Kobane was more than symbolic as it would enable IS to control much of the Syrian/Iraqi 510 km border with Turkey.

IS faced stiff resistance once again. Because of its military advantage, IS eventually controlled a majority of Kobane.
A genocidal massacre was imminent as Kobane was nearing collapse.  The Kurds were running out of food and ammunition.  The US had turned a blind eye up until that point. But at that moment the US strategy changed 180 degrees. An air strike campaign was initiated to assist the tenacious Kurdish fighters.   US C-130 cargo planes also dropped desperately needed aid and weapons.

Why the change?

Remember IS had been acquiring territory at a frightening pace and had not faced meaningful resistance. IS already occupied Mosul and Raqqa. Yet the Kurds had fought off IS with mostly rifles against tanks, rockets and mortars for more than a month.

The US noticed.

The US needs competent fighting forces on the ground in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds are an obvious choice to be part of the answer.
The US already witnessed the Syrian Kurdish militias YPG and (female) YPJ, and the PKK secure a human corridor for the initial rescue of the Yezidis off Sinjar Mountain in Iraq. This is something the Iraqi army and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga were not able to do.

The US did not publicly credit the Kurds for the initial Yezdi rescue because of not wanting to offend Turkey who considers the PKK and their Syrian cousins terrorists. When Turkey joined NATO, the US and EU obliged Turkey by adding the PKK to the global terrorist list. The PKK has launched attacks inside Turkey for 30+ years due to Turkey's oppression of the Kurds since the creation of Turkey.

The Kurdish struggle has nothing to do with the US or the EU.

'Terrorist' is a manipulated label in geopolitical linguistics.

All indigenous resistance movements are labelled terrorist by the governments they oppose.  American revolutionaries who founded the United States were considered terrorists by the British and so it goes.

The decision to assist the Kurds in Kobane with air strikes was also helped by sympathetic Western media coverage which is enamored with Kobane's egalitarian society and female fighters.

Turkey did nothing to prevent the fall of Kobane until late in the siege. Tom Bowman's assertion that Turkey provided a weapons corridor for Kobane's Kurds provides zero context. Since the start of the 134 day siege, Turkey vetoed any form of weapons being sent to the YPG/YPJ in Kobane. Only when the US pressured Turkey did President Erdogan finally relent and allow Iraqi Peshmerga forces to cross into Kobane with desperately needed heavy weapons.

Turkey does not want Kurds or IS on its border. It likely wished IS and the Kurds would destroy each other.  When that did
not occur,  Erdogan hoped the Iraqi Peshmerga or the Free Syrian Army would control Kobane which also did not develop. But Turkey also knows it would face massive unrest from its large Kurdish population (22%) if Kobane were to fall. Thus they reluctantly allowed Pershmerga heavy weaponry to enter Kobane which was an important element in the ouster of IS from Kobane.

Tom Bowman's piece also fails to convey the historical significance of the liberation of Kobane. Kurds are an indigenous people of the region and comprise the largest stateless population on earth. In 1920 The Treaty of Sevres, signed between the Ottoman Empire and Allied forces, envisaged the creation of a Kurdish state. The plan was annulled after the Turks won its war for independence.  In 1923 The Treaty of Lausanne established the boundaries of Turkey and divided the Kurds among Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Kobane is part of the ancestral land of the Kurds. Kobane has become a symbol that has unified the Kurds of Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran and renewed hopes that its homeland, Kurdistan, ('Nishtiman') promised in 1920 is still possible.


Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter & Fergusion Reps
Take Historic Trip to Palestine

Leaders from American racial justice movements
connect with Palestinians living under occupation


excerpt:

Representatives at the forefront of the movements for Black lives and racial justice have taken a historic trip to Palestine this week to connect with activists living under Israeli occupation.

Black journalists, artists and organizers representing Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), and more joined the Dream Defenders for a 10-day trip to the occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.

Ahmad Abuznaid, Dream Defenders'  legal and policy director and a co-organizer of the delegation, said that the goal of the trip was to make connections.

“The goals were primarily to allow for the group members to experience and see first hand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians, but also to build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation,” wrote Abuznaid. “In the spirit of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and many others, we thought the connections between the African American leadership of the movement in the US and those on the ground in Palestine needed to be reestablished and fortified.”

Abuznaid said the trip represented a chance to bring the power of Black organizing to Palestine.

The delegation met with refugees, Afro-Palestinians, a family that was kicked out of their house by settlers in East Jerusalem, and organizations representing Palestinian political prisoners, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said apartheid is what immediately struck her about what she saw on the ground.

“This is an apartheid state. We can't deny that and if we do deny it we are apart of the Zionist violence. There are two different systems here in occupied Palestine. Two completely different systems. Folks are unable to go to parts of their own country. Folks are barred from their own country.”

Community organizer Cherrell Brown said she saw many parallels between state violence against Palestinians and Black Americans.

“So many parallels exist between how the US polices, incarcerates, and perpetuates violence on the black community and how the Zionist state that exists in Israel perpetuates the same on Palestinians,” Brown said.

Brown also commented that the struggles are not the same.

“This is not to say there aren't vast differences and nuances that need to always be named, but our oppressors are literally collaborating together, learning from one another - and as oppressed people we have to do the same,” she said.

Hip-hop was a unifying force for the delegation, Pargett said, commenting that Palestinians have been inspired by hip-hop in the US and use it as a tool to amplify their own voices.

St. Louis-based rapper and activist Tef Poe said his experience in the camps connecting through hip-hop was the best day of his life.

related story:

Video:
Naima Shaloub Sings Ferguson-Gaza Blues
(Electronic Intifada, 1/24/15)

Naima Shaloub:  This video  captures the first live performance of this song on November 28, 2014 at The Sound Room in Oakland, as well as various clips from moments in Gaza, Ferguson, Oakland, and elsewhere.

Written and sung by Naima Shalhoub,
Bouchaib Abdelhadi - Oud
Jeremy Mitchell - Drum kit
Timothy Wat - Piano
Video editing and music performance filming by The Pixel Pushrs
Film clips from various sources.

I’ve learned, seen and felt the systemic connections between the racial oppression of Palestinians in Palestine, as well as the racism against and mass incarceration of Black people in the United States for quite some time.

In August, however, when the attacks on Gaza were happening at the same time as the Ferguson protests and the wider call to draw attention to police brutality against Black and brown people, the grief was overwhelming. As an artist, I couldn’t help but write a song attempting to draw the connections between the two.

Both peoples experience oppression stemming from the global prison-industrial complex. It is no coincidence that Gaza is the largest open-air prison while the United States has rampant incarceration rates and death rates of Black and brown people.

The histories of slavery and colonization continue to haunt and fuel the present. I felt called to write something that tells somewhat of a story of the deep contradictions at present as well the lives lost in the name of so-called “security” and “democracy.”

Being an Arab American, I have an intimate relationship with contradictions, with living in a country that sponsors the oppression of many. Nina Simone said that “it is an artist’s duty to reflect the times.” I take that call seriously and just hope to join the choir of many who came before me that really put their life on the line with their music in the name of justice, freedom and love.

I work weekly with a group of incarcerated women in San Francisco county jail facilitating music sessions in hopes to create a safe space behind bars that intervenes on the isolation and confinement of the prison-industrial complex and offers a place where incarcerated women can express and share their voices and creativity. My debut album Borderlands will be intersecting with this work. I’m currently working on it and plan to record and release it by early summer.

A Message From the Dispossessed
(Opinion by Chris Hedges, Truthdig.com, 1/11/15)

excerpt:

The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam. It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.

We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it.

If you spend time as I have in Gaza, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan, as well as the depressing, segregated housing projects known as banlieues that ring French cities such as Paris and Lyon, warehousing impoverished North African immigrants, you begin to understand the brothers Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, who were killed Friday in a gun battle with French police. There is little employment in these pockets of squalor. Racism is overt. Despair is rampant, especially for the men, who feel they have no purpose. Harassment of immigrants, usually done by police during identity checks, is almost constant. Police once pulled a North African immigrant, for no apparent reason, off a Paris Metro subway car I was riding in and mercilessly beat him on the platform. French Muslims make up 60 to 70 percent of the prison population in France. Drugs and alcohol beckon like sirens to blunt the pain of poor Muslim communities.

The 5 million North Africans in France are not considered French by the French. And when they go back to Algiers, Tangier or Tunis, where perhaps they were born and briefly lived, they are treated as alien outcasts. Caught between two worlds, they drift, as the two brothers did, into aimlessness, petty crime and drugs.

Becoming a holy warrior, a jihadist, a champion of an absolute and pure ideal, is an intoxicating conversion, a kind of rebirth that brings a sense of power and importance. The converts believe they live in a binary universe divided between good and evil, the pure and the impure. As champions of the good and the pure they sanctify their own victimhood and demonize all nonbelievers. They believe they are anointed to change history. And they embrace a hypermasculine violence that is viewed as a cleansing agent for the world’s contaminants, including those people who belong to other belief systems, races and cultures.

When you sink to despair, your religion is all you have left. Muslim prayer, held five times a day, gives you your only sense of structure and meaning, and, most importantly, self-worth. And when the privileged of the world ridicule the one thing that provides you with dignity, you react with inchoate fury.

It is dangerous to ignore this rage. But it is even more dangerous to refuse to examine and understand its origins. It did not arise from the Quran or Islam. It arose from mass despair, from palpable conditions of poverty, along with the West’s imperial violence, capitalist exploitation and hubris.

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian War for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard.

Hamas Condemns Charlie Hebdo attacks
(Agence France-Press, 1/10/15)