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Gaza Corner Archive: Jan 2014-Present
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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.

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)
related:

Ali Abunimah @AliAbunimaha

"In an effort to exploit the Paris attacks for its own gain, PM Netanyahu
was deliberately misleading and inflammatory"

 
Hamas condemned the strike as an
unjustifiable terrorist attack
(World Bulletin, 1/10/15)

Hezbollah chief:
Extremists harm Islam more than cartoons

Hassan Nasrallah says Islamic extremists who behead and slaughter people have harmed Islam more than anyone else in history.
(AP; 1/9/15)

combined excerpt:

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas condemned the killing of 12 people in an attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's offices by two French Islamists.

"(Hamas) stresses that its position on the latest events in Paris is in line with the statement issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars which condemned the attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper
and that any differences in opinion are no justification for killing innocents," Hamas said in a rare statement in French.

Hamas added in its statement that Israelis should be tried for war crimes and condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "desperate attempts to make
a connection between our movement and the resistance of our people on the one hand and global terrorism on the other."

The Palestinians will formally become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 1, when the court could exercise jurisdiction over war crimes committed by anyone on Palestinian territory, without a referral from the U.N. Security Council. Israel is not a member of the Hague-based ICC but its citizens could be tried for actions taken on Palestinian land. Palestinians could also be liable for prosecution for actions against Israelis.

 According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in August. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were also killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the Paris attack to Hamas firing rockets from the Gaza Strip.  Mr Netanyahu had extended his condolences to the
people of France, adding: “If the terrorist fanatics of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda will not be stopped here, [the attacks] will spread all over the world."

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah group says Islamic extremists have insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed more than those who published satirical cartoons mocking the religion. He said Islamic extremists who behead and slaughter people — a reference to the IS group's rampages in
Iraq and Syria — have done more harm to Islam than anyone else in history.  His remarks are in stark contrast to those of Sunni militants from the IS group and Al-Qaida who have called for attacks on Western countries.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called President Francois Hollande to express condolences and condemn the attacks. Mr Abbas assured the French president of "the solidarity of the Palestinian people and leadership with France after this terrorist attack."

A rally in solidarity with France, called for by the Palestinian Liberation Organization,
will be held in Ramallah in the West Bank
on Sunday, at the same time as a huge march in Paris.


Israel's soft power boosts its diplomatic efforts
(Saleh Al-Naami, Middleeastmonitor.com 1/3/15)

related articles:

UN Security Council rejects resolution
on Palestinian state
Bid to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by 2017 garners eight votes,
one short of total needed to pass.

(Al Jazeera , 12/31/14)


Why I want Obama to veto
Abbas' UN resolution on Palestine
(Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, 12/18/14)

combined excerpt:

The UN Security Council has rejected a Palestinian resolution calling for peace with Israel within a year and an end to Israel's occupation by 2017.

The draft resolution called for:

•    Two sovereign states living side by side; Israel and Palestine
•    End of Israeli occupation and establishing the Palestinian state within a time frame of no more than three years
•    East Jerusalem as the capital of the
state of Palestine which will be established on 1967 borders
•    Settle the refugees’ question according to UN resolution 194
•    End settlement activities in West Bank and East Jerusalem and to release all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails

The motion received eight "yes" votes, including from Russia and France, two "no" votes from the United States and Australia, and five abstentions including the UK.

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, derided the resolution.

"It insists that the entire question of Palestine be reduced to the question of the 1967 occupation and that merely ending this occupation would effectively end all Palestinian claims."

"The resolution uses vague, deceptive and in some places outright dishonest language that would deal a devastating blow to Palestinian rights, particularly the right of return for refugees.

"It contained so many compromises in an attempt to avoid a US veto that it was weaker than existing UN resolutions," he said.

Contrary to what some had expected, the ambassadors of Arab countries at the UN failed to secure the necessary nine Security Council votes.  Hearing that two African countries abstained, Nigeria and Rwanda, should not have been a surprise. During the Security Council deliberations during the Israeli war on Gaza last summer, these two countries gave Israel room to manoeuvre and continue its killing and destruction by thwarting all attempts to get a resolution to end its aggression, again by abstaining in the crucial votes.

This is interesting because African countries have traditionally voted in favour of all draft resolutions supportive of Palestinian rights. The significant shift in this position is a result of the Israeli strategy in international relations by which it utilises its development of advanced technology as a diplomatic bargaining tool. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman formulated the simple strategy whereby countries are offered access to Israeli technology in exchange for diplomatic support.  Rwanda has been courted by Israel for a decade or more, spending large sums in order to improve relations with the central African state.

Further east, there is no doubt that one of the resounding success stories of Israel's export of advanced technologies is that India is very keen on improving relations with Tel Aviv. The Hind, India's most popular newspaper, has revealed that the government in New Delhi is on the verge of reconsidering how it votes on international resolutions relating to Palestine.

According to the Hind, there is growing intent among India's leaders to refrain from voting on any issue linked to the Palestinian cause in the international arena. This is a major turning point as India was, until recently, a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which had a default position of supporting the Palestinians. Despite the fact that the bloc no longer exists, the shift in India's international positions will have an impact on the behaviour of other countries. As in Africa, the Indian shift is a result of smart Israeli investments including weapon sales.

Technology has also played a key role in the development of relations between Israel and China. It is true that no one would expect the Chinese to behave like the African countries in international votes, but it is clear that Beijing is showing a great deal of interest in improving relations with Tel Aviv, again due to its desire to benefit from Israel's advanced technology capabilities.

China is interested in Israel's advanced technology to boost its economic capability, especially in industry and agriculture. The Israeli Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, leader of the religious far right-wing Jewish Home Party is trying to spread the message that Israel can utilise its success and superiority in advanced technology to improve its international standing and strengthen relations with influential countries without having to make any concessions to the Palestinians. The Israelis are aware that Beijing is keen on establishing security and intelligence cooperation with Tel Aviv.

In short, Israel's advanced technology developments have become its most prominent soft power tool for boosting diplomatic ties and improving its position in the world, enhancing its own security in the process.

This is almost the complete opposite of the behaviour of the Arab countries, whose bilateral relations with foreign states are not subject to national security requirements. Instead, some Arab countries do not hesitate to play a functional role for the benefit of Israel, usually at the behest of the United States. While Israel plans and builds for its future, the Arab states are very short-sighted and bargain away their future for short-term gains. Israel is using its soft power to great advantage in more ways than one.
Update

The Palestinians had warned that if the UN resolution failed they were prepared to join the International Criminal Court to file suits against Israel.

On Friday in a move that could lead to cuts in U.S. aid the Palestinians delivered to U.N. headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  Washington sends about $400 million in economic support aid to the Palestinians every year. Under U.S. law, that aid would be cut off if the Palestinians used membership in the International Criminal Court to make claims against Israel.

Meanwhile Israel is delaying the transfer of $127m in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians in retaliation for their application to join the Hague-based International Criminal Court, according to Israeli media reports.


Gaza Update: Still reeling
from summer assault
(Patrick O. Strickland, Electronic Intifada, 12/27/14)

Israel violates Gaza ceasefire nearly every day
(Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Intifada, 12/22/14)

As Hamas and Fatah quarrel, Gaza is orphaned
(Amira Haas, Haaretz. 12/22/14)
requires registration


photo by Christophe Gowans

Gaza: One War, One Family.
Five Children, Four Dead
(Sarah Helm, Newsweek, 12/22/14)

combined excerpt:

Israel’s 51-day offensive on the Gaza Strip this past summer. “Operation Protective Edge”, was Israel's third war in Gaza in the last six years.

Home to an estimated 1.8 million Palestinians, Gaza endured unprecedented destruction. Unlike during the 2012 attacks, Israel launched a ground invasion that devastated the Strip.  For Palestinians in Gaza, the war meant “a record number of civilian casualties, the devastation of civilian buildings and infrastructure, and large scale displacement,” according to United Nations monitoring group OCHA (UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Afffairs). Some 100,000 persons are still displaced, living in schools, shelters or with host families.

All across Gaza there is rubble – areas that look like mini Dresdens, or London during the Blitz; bombed hospitals, schools and factories were flattened too including the famous al-Awda biscuit factory, which once employed 400 workers.


Palestinian women walk near the ruins of houses, which witnesses said were destroyed by Israeli shelling during the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the east of Gaza City December 1, 2014. Mohammed Salem/Reuters

OCHA  estimates 2,257 Palestinians were killed, including 1,563 civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians were also killed (including 1 child).

At least 538 children were killed during the attacks (including 3000 injured of whom 1000 have injuries that have paralyzed them.) 1,500 -1800 children are estimated to have been made orphans during Operation Protective Edge.

Israel accused Hamas of using children as “human shields” during the war but the whole Gazan population was a human shield. Wherever Hamas fired its rockets from, when Israel retaliated there was nowhere in this crowded land for civilians to go – no safe havens. “Civilians were at the eye of the storm,” said Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
 
The August ceasefire deal brokered by  Egypt, while never made transparent to the public, reportedly called for the opening of Gaza’s crossings, allowing the entry of reconstruction materials needed to rebuild Gaza’s devastated neighborhoods, the extension of the permitted fishing areas off Gaza’s shore and the relaxation of access restrictions in the areas along Gaza’s perimeter fence with Israel.

These truce conditions are similar to those that ended twelve days of Israeli bombing — claiming hundreds of Palestinian lives in Gaza — in November 2012.

Like its violations of that earlier ceasefire, Israel has violated the August agreement with total impunity.

Here is a brief breakdown:

•    Gaza remains sealed. While the Israeli closure of all of Gaza’s other crossings remains in place, travel through the Rafah crossing with Egypt — the sole point of entry and exit for the vast majority of Gaza’s residents — has also been strangled. On Sunday, approximately 630 Palestinians left Gaza via Rafah after Cairo temporarily reopened the crossing — for only the second time in two months.

Palestinians attempt to enter Egypt at Rafah Crossing
on 21 December.(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

Travel via Rafah is limited to those seeking medical treatment or people holding permits to stay abroad; at the end of last month, there were an estimated thirty thousand people waiting to exit Gaza via Rafah. Amongst them were one thousand patients who include “those with advanced cancer, renal and heart diseases, and orthopedic and ophthalmological needs,” according to the UN monitoring group OCHA.
 
•    Construction materials are not allowed in to Gaza. Though $5.4 billion was pledged at a donors conference in Cairo in October, “reconstruction of Gaza has barely begun” and “even fewer construction materials are now entering Gaza than before the conflict,” according to the humanitarian group Oxfam. Despite the massive scale of destruction — it is estimated that Israel dropped the equivalent of an atomic bomb on Gaza this summer — only one percent of the estimated five million tons of construction materials required have been allowed in to Gaza. “At this rate it would take more than 23 years to meet ‘immediate’ needs alone,” states Oxfam.
 
•    Exports are not allowed out of Gaza.
    
•    Gaza is under constant Israeli fire. The Israeli military, which monitors movement in the area of the boundary fence, uses deadly force against any Palestinians who dare approach the perimeter areas, where much of the most fertile farmland is located.

Though the August ceasefire deal stipulated that Palestinians would have increased access to the perimeter areas, Israel has “so far not officially announced the boundaries of what they consider a restricted area, thus generating uncertainty and increasing the risks to the civilian population,” states OCHA. Meanwhile, access to fishing waters “is restricted to six nautical miles from the coast.”

Accusations of abandoning the residents of Gaza to a miserable fate were publicly aimed at the UN, the donor nations that still have not transferred the money they promised at the October Cairo conference on Gaza reconstruction to the Palestinians, and the PA.

Transferral of the donations, one Western diplomat told Haaretz, depends on the functioning of the reconciliation government in Gaza. The donors want to be sure the money reaches a leadership it approves of. But the ability and willingness of such a government to function depends on the relations between Fatah and Hamas, and they are now bad, once again.

Last April Hamas gave up the government it led (although its security agencies are still in control),and returned responsibility for the disaster-stricken Strip to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. This included the responsibility for rebuilding the enormous physical, economic and mental destruction caused by Operation Protective Edge.

The rift between the two movements comes in addition to a split within Fatah itself.

Gazans have many reasons to despair. The blockade on the Strip, whose removal was the first, official condition raised by Hamas in the cease-fire negotiations last summer – has become even worse. Gaza students who were accepted for studies abroad, for example, cannot leave.

Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer for Defence for Children's International-Palestine, explained that Israel’s attacks in Gaza have consistently been “characterized by a complete disregard of international humanitarian law.”

Explaining that an estimated half of Gaza’s total population is under eighteen years old, Parker described the summer war’s impact: “Children in Gaza witnessed the killing and maiming of their parents, siblings and other family members, and experienced the systematic destruction of their homes, schools and communities."

Parker also warned that the suffering will continue, particularly for children, as long as Israel’s brutal seven-year blockade on Gaza remains intact.

During the 51 days of Israeli bombing this summer, the unanimous cry from Gaza was not just for the ending of the violence. A return to the status quo of slow suffocation under siege and complete impunity for Israel’s constant violations of Palestinian rights was not tenable. Gaza’s staggering sacrifice — more than one in every thousand of its residents killed — required the fulfillment of basic human rights.

Not only is the pre-ceasefire status quo of Israeli siege still firmly in place, but the secret terms of the United Nations-backed Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism “include onerous controls of building supplies and intrusive monitoring of Palestinian families seeking to rebuild homes destroyed by Israel,” as The Electronic Intifada has previously reported:

Instead of easing its grip since August,
Israel finds that it enjoys more control over Palestinians in Gaza than ever before.




Youth conviction:
Palestinian children describe confinement
in israeli military prisons
(Samer Badawi, dci-palestine.org, 12/20/14)

Defence for Children International i-Palestine (DCI-Palestine) is an independent, child rights organization based in Ramallah dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

excerpt:


"I won't move until I say goodbye to my mother."

"For speaking these words, Diyaa was knocked to the floor of his family home, kicked, and beaten by Israeli soldiers who, two weeks earlier, had done the same to his two friends. It was 3 am, and Diyaa's parents could only watch as their 16-year-old son was dragged to an army jeep, blindfolded, and—like thousands of Palestinian children before him—forced into a military detention center in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

What happened next, according to affidavits given by Diyaa and his friends, fits a pattern of Israeli abuse designed to coerce confessions from Palestinian children. Among the most troubling of their experiences were prolonged periods of solitary confinement.

 "Although it’s true that, in the United States, children and juvenile offenders are sometimes held in solitary confinement—either as a disciplinary measure or to separate them from adult populations—in Israeli military detention, Palestinian children are held in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes," said Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney for DCI-Palestine.

Torture

"Using solitary confinement in this way is conduct that amounts to torture under international law," says Parker. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has explicitly found that solitary confinement, when "used intentionally during pretrial detention as a technique for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession" amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In more than 97 percent of cases documented by DCI-Palestine between 2012 and 2013, "children held in solitary confinement were not properly informed of their right to silence, were denied access to legal counsel and did not have a family member present during interrogation," according to a May 2014 report prepared by the organization. In the same time period, more than three-quarters of child detainees were strip searched, subject to physical abuse, and denied access to food and water.

Isolation, interrogation, and beatings

On the day of his detention, 16-year-old Diyaa remembers being thrown into a windowless cell, where he was to spend the next 15 days. During that time, he emerged only to be escorted to an interrogation room. He estimates that he was interrogated 15 times, for two hours each—all with his feet and hands bound to "a low metal chair."

The interrogator accused Diyaa of throwing stones, an offense that, according to a November 2009 Israeli military order, could carry a sentence of up to 20 years. "I kept saying I wanted to see a lawyer," Diyaa recalls.

"He asked me when I threw stones and with whom, but I did not answer. He interrogated me for about two hours. He did the same the following five days."

On the fifth day, Diyaa relented. "I had to confess to throwing stones because of my horrible detention conditions in the cell. I also thought they would transfer me to a regular prison if I confessed." But even after his "confession," Diyaa was thrown back into his cell. His isolation was to last another 10 days, punctuated by more interrogations and, this time, beatings.

"One of the jailers used to beat me whenever I knocked on the door to ask for something," Diyaa told DCI-Palestine. "He would come to the cell with another jailer, tie my hands and feet, and kick me hard while I was on the floor, and punch me on my stomach and head without any mercy."

Forced confessions

The aim, it turned out, was to extract another confession—for a specific stone-throwing incident to which Diyaa's friend had, according to the interrogator, already admitted.

But in sworn testimony to DCI-Palestine, Diyaa denied any involvement in the incident:

"The interrogator said that my friend Thabet accused me in his statement of throwing stones with him at a settler car, that the car overturned and the passengers were injured. I told him that was not true, and that I was at the local supermarket when I heard about the incident."

Diyaa's friend Thabet, it turns out, had just admitted to stoning a car carrying residents of an illegal settlement near his hometown of Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But the 16-year-old's "confession" came after four days of solitary confinement and abuse.

 According to Thabet, an Israeli interrogator told him: "If you don't confess, I'll have both of your parents arrested, brought here to this room, and killed."

"I was scared they would actually do what they said they would do about arresting and killing my parents," Thabet told DCI-Palestine. "So I confessed. I confessed to throwing stones several times at a settler car, and the stones hit the car and overturned it, and that the passengers were injured, as I [recall]."

Fending for themselves

Until their "confessions," Diyaa, Thabet, and a third friend—17-year-old Bashar, also accused of stone-throwing—were left to fend for themselves, deprived of family visits and legal counsel. Parker says this, too, is part of a pattern of Israeli abuse:

"[Child detainees] are often denied access to an attorney until after being subjected to several days of prolonged interrogation and isolation," according to Parker. "The apparent goal," he says, "is to obtain a confession" at all costs.

"This pattern of abuse by Israel is grave," said Richard Falk, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Falk, who is also a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, called Israel’s use of solitary confinement against children "inhumane, cruel, degrading, and unlawful; and, most worryingly, it is likely to adversely affect the mental and physical health of underage detainees."

Widespread abuse

According to the cases DCI-Palestine documented in 2012 and 2013, some 20 percent of Palestinian child detainees were subjected to solitary confinement during their interrogations. Any "confessions" extracted by this practice are suspect, say legal experts.

"Israeli military court judges rarely exclude confessions or other evidence extracted from coercive interrogations," says Parker. "Palestinian child detainees are denied access to counsel, ill-treated and tortured, and then find themselves before a military court process that falls drastically short of international juvenile justice standards."

As of September, DCI-Palestine recorded 182 Palestinian children in Israeli detention. Since 2000, an estimated 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.

Samer Badawi is a freelance contributor to Defense for Children International Palestine. Based in Washington, DC, he spent the summer reporting in Gaza for +972 Mag. Follow him @samwithaner.



Turkish Government Refuses
Humanitarian Aid to Yezidi Refugees
(Amy L. Beam, KurdistanTribune.com, 9/21/14)

note:  Amy Beame reported live during Gaza Corner 12/13/14

Conditions in 11 Yezidi Refugee Camps in Turkey
(Amy L. Beam, KurdistanTribune.com, 9/17/14)


Urgent call from Kobane Canton government
to UN and international community
(12/4/14)

(original link no longer exists)

excerpt:

The attacks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) on Kobanę, a Kurdish town in northern Syria, have been ongoing since the 15th of September. As a result of the war, large parts of the city and the surrounding villages have been destroyed and devastated. The humanitarian emergency is exacerbated due to the de facto existing embargo. Since all routes to Kobanę are blocked, it is not possible for humanitarian supplies to reach the city. Due to the plight of refugees from Kobanę located in Turkey, more and more people are returning to Kobanę.

The biggest problem is the lack of clean drinking water. After the start of the popular uprising in Syria, the water supply line to Kobanę, which is being centrally controlled by the state, has been discontinued. The population in Kobanę thereof has built an alternative water line to Kobanę. As a result of the attacks conducted by the terrorist militia called Islamic State, this self-constructed water supply line has also been destroyed. Currently, the people from Kobanę obtain their water from the few existing wells. However, this does not involve potable water. It is therefore only used for cleaning and hygiene matters. Drinking water is currently only available in closed PET-bottles. Yet, the stocks are low and won’t be sufficient for much longer. Similarly, there is a lack of food, especially of wheat and flour with which at least the basic needs of sustenance could be met. The bread production site, which was managed by the city administration, has fallen under the control of the ISIS with all its flour stock.

Another problem is the power supply. Since power supplies too are directed by the central government, there has been a power cut for 2 years now. Until the attacks of the ISIS, the population provided electricity via generators. However, ISIS has attacked and destroyed the fuel depot for the generators. Also, there is a lack of winter clothing, especially with jackets and shoes. When people fled their villages, they had to leave all their belongings behind.

Further, medical care proves to be a serious problem. The existing three hospitals were all destroyed. Currently, an abandoned house functions as a temporary location for patient care and is managed only by a volunteer doctor. However, due to the lack of medicine it is not possible to treat many diseases. Although some medical equipment is available, they cannot be used in important operations since the power supply, which is required for these devices, is non-existent.  Rotting corpses and the bombing provide an acute risk of epidemics. Due to the constantly ongoing attacks of the IS and the lack of technical material, it is not possible to remove the corpses.

We estimate that the people of Kobanę can only survive another month with the existing stock of food, water and heating oil. However, the influx of people from Turkey returning to Kobane makes it difficult to give a detailed prognosis. Yet above all, the drinking water supply poses a huge problem. Therefore, we aim to appeal to the international public and community with this letter.

Demands
* The establishment of a corridor for humanitarian aid under the control of the UN.
* International delegation of experts to examine the situation in Kobanę.
* Securing drinking water and food supply.
* Sending international teams of doctors for medical care.
* Technical equipment for the reconstruction of the city.

Related article:
Akın Ünver on Turkish Foreign Policy Challenges
(Foreignpolicyblogs.com, 10/27/14)

3 key excerpts:

1) Turkey made three absolutely vital, high-risk decisions since 2011 – Morsi, Assad and Kobani – and all of them failed colossally.

2) Ankara believed that even if it saved Kobani, the collapse of its peace process with the Kurds would be inevitable.

3) I (Akın Ünver) still personally favor Turkish aid to Kobani; first, because a conflict with ISIS is inevitable – and second, saving Kobani would enable Ankara to start the next Kurdish peace process from an advantageous position.

Akın Ünver is an assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul and an energy and political risk consultant. Dr. Ünver is a widely recognized expert on Turkish foreign policy and Kurdish issues.


Peter Clifford Online

Excellent blog that keeps up-to-date on developments in Syria and Iraq with focus on Kobane

Related Videos:

1) Rojava (aka Syrian Kurdistan)
Syria's Secret Revolution
Produced by BBC "Our World"

2) Kobane: The little city that stood up to ISIS
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, outlines the features of the fight against Ithe Islamic State in the closely watched battleground city of Kobane.

3) A rare view from inside Kobane
produced by independent journalist Lindsay Snell who was one of the first of the international media inside Kobane after the Islamic State assault

 
The Unholy City
(Uri Avnery, 11/21/14)

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer. He is a former member of the Knesset and the founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. He writes a weekly column published in several countries and is the author of many books, including 1948: A Soldier’s Tale—The Bloody Road to Jerusalem, Israel’s Vicious Circle and My Friend, the Enemy.
Born in Germany, Avnery fled Nazi Germany with his family. As a youth, he joined the Irgun Zionist terror gang, which he later quit to become a leading peace activist in Israel.

Related article:
Rage in Jerusalem
(Nathan Thrall, 11/21/14)

Uri Avnery excerpt:

In its long and checkered history, Jerusalem has been occupied by dozens of conquerors.

Babylonians and Persians, Greeks and Romans, Mamluks and Turks, Britons and Jordanians – to mention just a few.

The latest occupier is Israel, which conquered and annexed Jerusalem in 1967.

(I could have written "East Jerusalem" – but all of historical Jerusalem is in today's East Jerusalem. All the other parts were built in the last 200 years by Zionist settlers, or are surrounding Arab villages which were arbitrarily joined to the huge area that is now called Jerusalem after its occupation.)

This week, Jerusalem was in flames - again. Two youngsters from Jabel Mukaber, one of the Arab villages annexed to Jerusalem, entered a synagogue in the west of the city during morning prayers and killed four devout Jews, before themselves being killed by police.

Jerusalem is called "the City of Peace". This is a linguistic mistake. True, in antiquity it was called Salem, which sounds like peace, but Salem was in fact the name of the local deity.

It is also a historical mistake. No city in the world has seen as many wars, massacres and as much bloodshed as this one.

All in the name of some God or other.

Jersalem was annexed (or "liberated", or "unified") immediately after the Six-day War of 1967.

That war was Israel's greatest military triumph. It was also Israel's greatest disaster.

The annexation was presented to us (I was a member of the Knesset at the time) as a unification of the city.

In fact, what happened in 1967 was anything but unification.

If the intent had really been unification, it would have looked very different.

Full Israeli citizenship would have been automatically conferred on all inhabitants. All the lost Arab properties in West Jerusalem, which had been expropriated in 1948, would have been restored to their rightful owners who had fled to East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem municipality would have been expanded to include Arabs from the East, even without a specific request. And so on.

The opposite happened. No property was restored, nor any compensation paid. The municipality remained exclusively Jewish.

Arab inhabitants were not accorded Israeli citizenship, but merely "permanent residence". This is a status that can be arbitrarily revoked at any moment – and indeed was revoked in many cases, compelling the victims to move out of the city. For appearance's sake, Arabs were allowed to apply for Israel citizenship. The authorities knew, of course, that only a handful would apply, since doing so would mean recognition of the occupation. For Palestinians, this would be paramount to treason. (And the few that did apply were generally refused.)

In practice, East Jerusalem remains occupied territory.

Mayor Teddy Kollek who was elected two years before the annexation and Moshe Dayan, then the Defense Minister, believed in keeping the Palestinians quiet by giving them all possible benefits, except freedom.

A few days after the occupation of East Jerusalem Moshe Dayan removed the Israeli flag which had been planted by soldiers in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Dayan also turned the de facto authority over the Mount over to the Muslim religious authorities.

Jews were allowed into the Temple compound only in small numbers and only as quiet visitors. They were forbidden to pray there.  They could, after all, pray to their heart's content at the adjoining Western Wall (which is a part of the compound's ancient outer wall).

The government was able to impose this decree because of a quaint religious fact: Orthodox Jews are forbidden by the rabbis to enter the Temple Mount altogether. According to a Biblical injunction, ordinary Jews are not allowed into the Holy of Holies, only the High Priest was allowed in.

As a result, the first few years of the occupation were a happy time for East Jerusalem. Jews and Arabs mingled freely. It was fashionable for Jews to shop in the colorful Arab market and dine in the "oriental" restaurants. I myself often stayed in Arab hotels and made quite a number of Arab friends.

This atmosphere changed gradually. The government and the municipality spent a lot of money to gentrify West Jerusalem, but Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were neglected, and turned into slums. The local infrastructure and services degenerated. Almost no building permits were issued to Arabs, in order to compel the younger generation to move outside the city borders. Then the "Separation" Wall was built, preventing those outside from entering the city, cutting them off from their schools and jobs.

Political oppression grew. Under the Oslo agreements, Jerusalemite Arabs were allowed to vote for the Palestinian Authority. But then they were prevented from doing so, their representatives were arrested and expelled from the city. All Palestinian institutions were forcibly closed down.

Then an additional disaster occurred. Secular Israelis are leaving Jerusalem, which is rapidly becoming an Orthodox bastion. In desperation they decided to oust the Orthodox mayor and elect a secular businessman. Unfortunately, he is a rabid ultra-nationalist.

Nir Barkat behaves like the mayor of West Jerusalem and the military governor of East Jerusalem. He treats his Palestinian subjects like enemies, who may be tolerated if they obey quietly, and brutally suppressed if they do not. Together with the decade-old neglect of the Arab neighborhoods, the accelerated pace of building new Jewish neighborhoods, the excessive police brutality (openly encouraged by the mayor), they are producing an explosive situation.

The total cutting-off of Jerusalem from the West Bank, its natural hinterland, worsens the situation even more.

To this may be added the termination of the so-called peace process, since all Palestinians are convinced that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the future State of Palestine.

This situation needed only a spark to ignite the city. This was duly provided by the right-wing demagogues in the Knesset. Vying for attention and popularity, they started to visit the Temple Mount, one after the other, every time unleashing a storm. Added to the manifest desire of certain religious and right-wing fanatics to build the Third Temple in place of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, this was enough to create the belief that the holy shrines were indeed in danger.

Then came the ghastly revenge-murder of an Arab boy who was abducted by Jews and burned alive with gasoline poured into his mouth.

Individual Muslim inhabitants of the city started to act. Disdaining organizations, almost without arms, they started a series of attacks that are now called "the intifada of individuals". Acting alone, or with a brother or cousin whom he trusts, an Arab takes a knife, or a pistol (if he can get one), or his car, or a tractor, and kills the nearest Israelis. He knows that he is going to die.

The two cousins who killed four Jews in a synagogue this week – and also an Arab Druze policeman – knew this. They also knew that their families were going to suffer, their home demolished, their relatives arrested. They were not deflected. The mosques were more important.

Immediately after the Synagogue killing, the Israeli choir of politicians and commentators went into action. They did so with an astonishing unanimity – ministers, Knesset members, ex-generals, journalists, all repeating with slight variations the same message. The reason for this is simple: every day the Prime Minister's office sends out a "page of messages", instructing all parts of the propaganda machine what to say.

This time the message was that Mahmoud Abbas was to blame for everything, a "terrorist in a suit", the leader whose incitement causes the new intifada. No matter that the chief of the Shin Bet testified on the very same day that Abbas has neither overt nor covert connections with the violence.

Binyamin Netanyahu faced the cameras and with a solemn face and lugubrious voice – he is a really good actor – repeated again what he has said many times before, every time pretending that this is new recipe: more police, harder punishments, demolition of homes, arrests and large fines for parents of 13-year old children who are caught throwing stones, and so on.

Every expert knows that the result of such measures will be the exact opposite. More Arabs will become incensed and attack Israeli men and women. Israelis, of course, will "take revenge" and "take the law into their own hands".

For both inhabitants and tourists, walking the streets of Jerusalem, the city which is "joined together", has become a risky adventure. Many stay at home.

The Unholy City is more divided than ever before. 





Illustration by Sam Kalda for BuzzFeed

My Last Day In Yemen
Yemen was like a home away from home for me — until the day I was nearly abducted in broad daylight, and narrowly missed suffering a grim fate similar to other journalists drawn to covering, and living in, the Middle East.
(Gregory D. Johnsen, Buzzfeed 11/16/14)

Gregory Johnsen is a Michael Hastings National Security Fellow and author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda and America's War in Arabia.

excerpt:

Cairo was exotic but crowded and Jordan’s eastern desert was drab and dreary, more volcanic rock than sand. But Yemen was different. Vibrant and stark, it felt like the underside of a rainbow. Sanaa had character and a wild, intoxicating charm.

I was 24 years old and I was hooked.

I went back to Yemen again and again over the next several years, neglecting my Ph.D. dissertation to write a book about the country and cobbling together grants for visits. In late 2012, after the Arab Spring
and the uprisings that forced Salih to step down, I scheduled another quick trip. I had lived through the revolution in Cairo, and
had seen the expectations of change and a better life inflate and then burst leaving everyone more confused than ever. Yemen had changed as well. No one seemed to know the rules anymore. Salih was out and security was evaporating. There was a mad scramble for power that fall, and for the first time I felt physically unsafe. It was just a feeling, impossible to quantify, but I couldn’t shake it.

Western embassies issued travel warnings, but they were as vague as everything else. Yemen was bad — maybe not Iraq bad — but the speculation kept getting worse.
Still, earlier this spring I decided to go back one more time. I pitched it to my editors as a three-story trip. But in my mind, it was a final farewell. I was getting married in a few months, and I wanted to move on.. On March 6, I boarded the plane for my last trip to Yemen.

Sixteen days later I was done. I had my three stories. But I didn’t want to leave, not yet. Something was still missing. Instead of flying home early, I compromised: One more story.

I already knew the one I’d do. Mine was a tragedy that started with a Guantanamo interrogation.

The detainee, Adnan Abd al-Latif, was a mentally unstable man who had suffered severe brain damage as a result of a car crash in 1994. Twice he had been cleared for release, but each time something went wrong and he remained locked in his cell. 
On Sept. 10, 2012, he committed suicide.
He had been in Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade.

Latif’s case seemed to get at all the horrors of that lost decade: a handicapped man who confused al-Qaeda with a Yemeni village of the same name, locked up as the worst of the worst.

He was a man with a history and a family, and I wanted to write about them, to tell his story.

Since arriving in Sanaa I had been working with Shuaib, a young fixer and friend, who knew how to get things done in a country where nothing worked.

(fast forward to later in story)

Shuaib wanted breakfast.  Stepping up onto the sidewalk, Shuaib bumped into a soldier who was coming out of the restaurant, catching his windbreaker on the man’s rifle. “Sorry,” he mumbled, as he reached over to untangle his jacket. The man just looked at him, taking in Shuaib’s youth and his slight frame. And then he saw me. I was used to it, the attention and the double takes. Yemenis tend to stare at obvious foreigners, observing them as if they were under glass. But this time the lack of words was disconcerting. We were in the man’s space, inches from his face with Shuaib’s jacket hooked on his rifle. The whole thing was too intimate for silence.

That was it, a few seconds on the street before breakfast. It was nothing and he was no one, a soldier with a gun in a country that had plenty of both. We were already past it.
He wasn’t.

Fifteen minutes later, the man was waiting for us. I saw him as soon as we left the restaurant: Ten yards up the road next to another man in a military uniform. Both of them were young, and both had guns.
The first man, the one Shuaib had bumped into, crossed the space between us surprisingly quickly and grabbed his arm.

“Who is this?”

“He’s my friend,” Shuaib replied.

“Is he a foreigner?”

“Yeah,” Shuaib said. “He’s an American researcher.”

“OK,” the man said, pulling Shuaib toward the street. “Come to the base with us. We need to ask you some questions.”

“Sure, why not,” Shuaib shrugged.

Somehow the other man had circled around behind me. Grabbing my arm, he started pulling me toward the street. My eyes followed my body and I saw the yellow-and-white taxi: driver inside, back door open. And then I knew.

I had played through this scenario dozens of times. Get in the car and you’re kidnapped, resist and you’re dead.

When the moment came, my body didn’t give me a choice. I couldn’t get into the car.

I jerked my arm back. The man pulled harder, and we were scuffling. There was no punching or screaming, none of the things I would have imagined, just a weird one-armed tug-of-war over a few yards of asphalt. I was older and stronger, but he had a gun. His hand slipped down past my wrist, catching on the backpack that I had slung over one arm. For a second, I thought about dropping the backpack and running. But it had $600, my passport, and all my notebooks from two weeks of work. I tugged.

Dropping Shuaib’s arm, the (other) man grabbed for his gun. That’s when I thought he would start shooting. Shuaib moved fast, escaping up the street and scrambling for cover. The second man let go of my backpack to chamber his own bullet, and then I was running too.

I remembered to zigzag as I ducked into a different restaurant and headed for the back. My plan was to run through the kitchen and escape out the back and then make a big loop back to the American Institute, where I was staying. I made it to the rear of the restaurant, but as I tried to go through the kitchen, one of the Yemeni workers blocked me.

“Mamnu‘a” he said.

“Forbidden,”

I was trapped.

end of excerpt

note:  Click here to read the full story.


Israel bans renowned doctor and human rights activist Mads Gilbert from entering Gaza for life


Dr. Gilbert has volunteered at al-Shifa hospital during three wars,
treating thousands of patients [AP]

related stories:


combined excerpt:

Mads Gilbert, an outspoken Norwegian doctor and activist who treated patients at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital during Israel’s assault on the Palestinian territory this summer, has been denied access to Gaza "indefinitely" by Israeli authorities.

Gilbert said on Friday that he was turned away from the Erez border crossing when attempting to return to Gaza in October, despite having all the legitimate paper work.

"To my surprise I was denied access by the Israeli military," he said. "When I asked the reason they informed me that it was a security issue."

Gilbert said that when he asked for a fuller explanation, he was told to "leave the premises or the police would be called".

The 67-year-old, who has been involved in solidarity work with Palestinians for decades and volunteered at al-Shifa on and off for 17 years, has been a vocal critic of Israel's military campaigns and its occupation of Palestinian territory.

During the seven-week conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement that left nearly 2200 Palestinians dead, Gilbert frequently spoke to international media, including Al Jazeera and Democracy Now, about the situation at al-Shifa hospital, which was overwhelmed with civilian casualties.

During the recent war, Gilbert accused Israel of committing "state terrorism at a very sophisticated and very high level,” and said its army was "using a wide variety of sophisticated modern weapons against a basically naked civilian population.

BBC aired an interview with Gilbert, conducted at al-Shifa hospital.  The interviewer began asking him to respond to Israel’s claims that it was not targeting civilians, that it was only attacking Hamas militants. Gilbert called the claim “an absolutely stupid statement” and explained that, among the hundreds of patients he had seen at that point, only two had been fighters. The “large majority” were women, children, and men civilians. “These numbers are contradictory to everything Israel says,” he reported.

In 2008 and 2009, Gilbert treated Palestinians who had been wounded by Israel’s use of experimental and illegal chemical weapons, including white phosphorous, dense inert metal explosives (DIME) munitions, and flechette shells. In
July 2014, in the midst of Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza, Gilbert spoke with Electronic Intifada, revealing that he saw indications of renewed use of DIME weapons and flechettes.

Dore note: Flechettes are described as illegal under rules of humanitarian law. The way they’re described is they explode in the air above a target, sending out a cone of thousands of tiny steel darts, small darts. DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives)  weapons are banned under international law and "kill their victims through the amputation of limbs in a way that resembles an automated saw. As for those who are able to survive, they are vulnerable to cancer because [the weapons] contain carcinogenic tungsten," according to a report  by Al Jazeera.

Dr. Gilbert told Al Jazeera he was informed that the ban was "infinite without any time limit".

Medical Aid for Palestinians, a UK-registered charity, which has been working in the occupied West Bank and Gaza for over 20 years and supports al-Shifa hospital, called the ban on Gilbert "deeply concerning" and reiterated that, "following the recent conflict, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza require specialised surgical treatment and it is imperative that the right to health is unimpeded".

Dr. Gilbert said he had been invited by the Gaza Health Ministry, which had requested his assistance to research the impact on healthcare of the Israeli bombardment.

Before Operation Protective Edge commenced in early July 2014, Gilbert toured medical and health facilities and individual homes in Gaza, researching for a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) report on the dire state of the strip’s health sector.

He wrote of “overstretched” health facilities, widespread physical and psychological trauma, “a deep financial crisis,” a lack of needed medical supplies, and a “severe energy crisis.” He also noted the “devastating results of the blockade imposed by the Government of Israel,” with rampant poverty, a 38.5% unemployment rate, food insecurity in at least 57% of households, and inadequate access to clean water. All of these already extreme ills were only exacerbated by the July-August Israeli assault on Gaza, an onslaught that left roughly 2,200 Palestinians dead, including over 1,500 civilians, more than 500 of whom were children.

Gilbert is not the only one Israel has recently prevented from entering Gaza. In August, just after the end of its military assault, Israel refused to allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the world’s leading human rights organizations, from entering the strip, impeding them from conducting war crimes investigations.

Denouncing his entry ban as a limitation of freedom of expression, Gilbert said it appeared the Israeli government "doesn't want the effects of their continuous attacks on the civilian population in Gaza to be known to the world".

"Telling the world about the burdens of the Palestinians in Gaza is considered a security risk," he said, adding that in a larger perspective, the ban was not about him, but about the Gazans' right to international assistance.

He vowed to continue to challenge Israel
and called for political pressure to be exerted to lift the "long overdue" siege of Gaza.

"There is no way we’re going to accept that medical and humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza shall be denied just because the Israeli government has decided so. I will not give up travelling to Gaza as long as they have medical needs," he said.




While the legislation is being justified on the grounds that prayer calls often produce "intolerable noise",
it is bound to prompt accusations of religious intolerance (Photo: Rex Features)


excerpt:

Israeli Right-wingers have revived highly contentious plans that could effectively silence the Muslim call to prayer, known as the adhan.

In a move that risks stoking already simmering tensions in Jerusalem between Jews and Arabs, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition Robert Ilatov, a parliamentarian with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, is sponsoring the bill with the support of Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister who is also the party's leader.

While the legislation is being justified on the grounds that prayer calls often produce "intolerable noise" that disturbs many citizens' sleep, it is bound to prompt accusations of religious intolerance and prejudice against Israel's Muslim minority.

"Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Israel, in the Galilee, the Negev, Jerusalem and other locations in central Israel suffer on a regular basis from noise that is caused by muezzin [prayer caller] calls in mosques," the bill states.

Around 20 per cent of Israel's population are Arabs, most of them Muslim, meaning the adhan is a familiar sound five times a day - including before dawn - despite the country's de facto status as a Jewish state.

Mr Ilatov suggested that freedom of religious worship was trumped by the right to peace and quiet.

"Freedom of religion and worship is a universal freedom to which everyone is entitled in every democratic state, and of course in Israel," he told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "This does not mean that additional rights can be trampled, such as the right to conduct a normal daily routine that includes peaceful and uninterrupted sleep during the night."

The proposal comes against the backdrop of a clampdown by security forces in Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem which have witnessed almost nightly scenes of unrest in recent months following the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian by Jewish vigilantes seeking revenge for the killing of three Israelis in the West Bank.


excerpt:

The Israeli parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to suspend Haneen Zoabi, a legislator representing the state’s large Palestinian minority, for six months as a campaign to silence political dissent intensified.

It is the longest suspension in the Knesset’s history and the maximum punishment allowed under Israeli law.

At a press conference, Zoabi denounced her treatment as “political persecution.”

“By distancing me from the Knesset, basically they’re saying they don’t want Arabs, and only want ‘good Arabs.’ We won’t be ‘good Arabs,’” she said.

The Knesset’s confirmation of Zoabi’s suspension comes as she faces a criminal trial for incitement in a separate case and as the Knesset considers stripping her of citizenship.

But Zoabi is not the only Palestinian representative in the firing line. Earlier this year the Knesset raised the threshold for election to the parliament, in what has been widely interpreted as an attempt to exclude all three small parties representing the Palestinian minority. One in five citizens of Israel belong to the minority.

In addition, it emerged last week that a bill is being prepared to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, the onl