Articles Bringing you the latest and up-to-date news from the Middle East. We go one step further, facilitating a better understanding of the issues facing the Middle East. Sat, 19 Apr 2014 16:09:50 +0000 MEMO en-gb Israel, settler violence and calculated differentiation Ramona WadiSettler-colonial violence has rarely prompted any condemnation from Israel and its institutions. Regularly dismissed as isolated incidents despite the constant phenomenon and its deleterious effects upon Palestinians, settler violence is sanctioned by the Zionist state. Its perpetrators are regaled with impunity for upholding the historical violence that facilitated the establishment of the settler-colonial state.

However, similar violence unleashed recently against the IDF evoked a firm condemnation. Following the army's demolition of dwelling structures in the West Bank, Jewish settlers stormed the IDF's headquarters, threatening the soldiers and vandalising military equipment and facilities. According to the Times of Israel, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that failure to respond to "nationalist crimes" will threaten Israel's security.

"The nationalist crimes will develop into terrorism, and that would be a significant threat to the state of Israel." Gantz also reverted to common patriotic rhetoric, stating "I am hurt on the behalf of all the fighters in the field, who risk their lives for security, if this is the answer they receive. It is important for society to cherish the soldiers, these people make every effort to ensure [Israel's] security."

Gantz's comments are indicative of selectivity and differentiation with regard to settler violence and the state. Implicit in his condemnations is the disassociation between the Israel's settler-colonial terror and current manifestations of violence, which are inherent, condoned and sanctioned by the illegal state. By focusing solely on "nationalist crimes", Gantz has created an illusion of settler violence as constituting a problem solely for the guardians of the Zionist state.

The omission is necessary to induce oblivion against the multi-layered dynamics of settler violence which, for Palestinians, corresponds to a state-protected echelon that extends and implements relics of the Nakba against the remaining indigenous population. While various Israeli leaders have occasionally deemed it pertinent to issue a statement against settler violence, concretely addressing the provoked terror would entail a thorough rethinking of the history which Zionism enacted, culminating in the establishment and recognition of the illegal state.

According to the weekly reports issued in March by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), settler violence against Palestinians is increasing, citing physical harm including injuries suffered by children due to stoning, damage to property and assaults upon people documenting the violence. Predictably, military forces in the area failed to intervene, thus rendering settler violence a welcome component of the Zionist state's plan to allow for conditions that enhance the possibility of displacing the remaining indigenous population.

The vandalising of IDF facilities and the condemnation disseminated in the media has only served to isolate settler violence from its ramifications upon Palestinians. The permissible differentiation evoked by Gantz isolates the plight of Palestinians dealing with perpetual terror from organised groups originating within settler communities. Just as selective interpretation of violence frames security discourse with regard to Palestinians, the recent attacks on IDF outposts will serve to further the rhetoric of enforcing security, although there is no obvious reference as to the consequences of law enforcement upon perpetrators. Given the impunity granted to settlers involved in local organised terror, the application of security enforcement will remain a vague connotation.

Notwithstanding the contradictions in Gantz's comments regarding the hypothetical damage to Israel's security considering its historical dependence upon aggression for expansion, the recent incident is a sliver of testimony regarding the settler-colonial state's attitude towards the concepts of violence and complicity.

Primarily, the ostensible detachment between the state of Israel and settler violence is a contradiction. The concept of the settler-colonial state is imbued with excessive, premeditated violence aimed at ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians in order to claim the myth of the barren land. Israel has perfected its oppression practices in order to conform to the imperialist expectations that designated the settler-colonial project as "the only democracy in the Middle East". Beneath the illusion, it has advocated for and fomented the continuation of local terror to maintain different and complementary forms of violence that are compatible with the bloodshed characterising the establishment of the Zionist state.

The compatibility between settler violence and the origins of the settler-colonial state is fundamental to the oppressive framework that allows state institutions to embark upon further acts which obliterate Palestinian memory. Just as the planned and committed atrocities described in the Plan Dalet were necessary to establish the settler-colonial state, the incorporation of further violence that emulates the historical oppression of Palestinians is indispensable. Setter violence confirms and extends the Nakba, in coordination with official policy that advocates for the elimination of Palestinian memory and existence in order to safeguard a demographic majority at all costs.

One major discrepancy echoed by Gantz is the dilution of the settler-colonial state as an inherently violent entity through a simplified analysis of its settler population. In his comments, Gantz asserts, "The dangerous and inadmissible extremism is very bad, but does not represent the majority of settlers in the West Bank." For Palestinians, the statement is dismissive of history and their experience of expulsion and massacres, as well as the enforced obliteration of memory through destruction of evidence and perpetual repression of remembrance activities.

However, just as the compatibility of settler violence and the Zionist state has been asserted, the existence of the settler-colonial state is a calculated act of violence against the indigenous population which renders the whole settler population complicit in varying forms of oppression. The lack of evidence regarding obvious criminal activity against Palestinians is irrelevant to the issue of settler-colonialism and its legacies. The appropriation of land and the theft of memory in order to construct an imaginary history necessitate an influx of willing accomplices whose sole presence is enough to act as a deterrent for Palestinian demands to reclaim territory. Settler terror may be personified by unbridled crime, violence and destruction. However, the allegedly peaceful majority performing the role of spectators can hardly be considered harmless or passive, considering the intrinsic role in maintaining demography, as well as hindering a proper and complete implementation of the Palestinian right of return.

]]> (Ramona Wadi) Middle East Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:31:49 +0000
Palestinian Prisoners' Day remains central Asa WinstanleyThursday here in Palestine was Prisoners' Day, and demonstrations of solidarity were held across the West Bank and Gaza. The annual event calls for the release of Palestinian political prisoners from Israel's jails, and freedom from its kangaroo court system of military injustice.

As of 1 March this year, 5,224 Palestinian prisoners were held in Israeli jails, according to statistics from Addameer, a Palestinian human rights group focusing on the issues of prisoners and prisons.

The group said in a press release: "Every year Israel arrests thousands of Palestinians in an attempt to suppress any resistance to its continued occupation and colonization, the result being the imprisonment of approximately 800,000 Palestinians since 1967."

Of these prisoners, 210 are children, 21 are women and 11 are elected members of the Palestinian Authority's legislative organ, the Palestinian Legislative Council (not all of whom are from the Hamas bloc, which in any case was fairly elected to power in 2006).

In its propaganda, Israel likes to portray these prisoners as terrorists, and dangerous, violent criminals. Certainly, many Palestinian resistance fighters are imprisoned, but Israel's West Bank regime of military dictatorship means that it often jails anyone for merely expressing dissent.

Take only one recent case, that of the 20-year-old student Mariam Barghouti. She was detained for almost a week and released on bail Thursday. Her "crime" was merely to attend a demonstration where she translated for journalists. Israeli soldiers proceeded to fabricate charges against her that she had thrown stones – a more-or-less standard procedure for Israeli soldiers.

Mariam's real "crime" in the eyes of Israel was to be a vocal critic of its occupation. She has been released on bail so still faces the faked charges.

Or take Majd Kayyal, the Palestinian journalist arrested on 12 April for the "crime" of daring to travel to another Arab country, Lebanon.

Kayyal had been travelling to attend an anniversary event at As-Safir, the paper he writes for. An activist known for advocating for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Kayyal was put into incommunicado detention as soon as he arrived back from Lebanon. He was denied access to lawyers and Israel's draconian military censor even totally banned the press from mentioning his case (the ban was only dropped after web-based and overseas sources covered the case, at the forefront of whom was The Electronic Intifada, where I am an editor).

It was at one point reported that Kayyal was being investigated by the Shin Bet (Israel's secret police) and was under suspicion of having been "recruited by a militant organization" in Lebanon. The Associated Press reported Thursday that that suspicion had been dropped.

Kayyal has now been removed from jail and placed under house arrest, and his next court hearing is on 22 April. It should be emphasised that Kayyal is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, one of the people Israeli propaganda likes to call an "Arab Israeli". And yet he can be placed under arbitrary detention at the whim of Israel's spy agencies, for a "crime" which a Jewish Israeli would not be arrested for. His real "crime" in the eyes of Israel was simply speaking out for the rights of Palestinians like himself, and encouraging intra-Arab solidarity.

Kayyal, like all Palestinians with the blue Israeli ID, is not a truly equal citizen, simply because he is not Jewish in a "Jewish state".

Barghouti and Kayyal are only two examples of many such non-violent political voices that Israel systematically imprisons and represses. An Addameer report detailed in December how Israel's law and practice effectively criminalizes almost all forms of dissent, regardless of whether the rifle or the pen is used by the resistant.

It is for these reasons and more that the political prisoners will remain at the heart of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Sat, 19 Apr 2014 10:30:52 +0000
Despite Bouteflika win, new generations cry enough Christine PetréOn Thursday the Algerian people went to the polls to cast their vote in the country's presidential elections. As expected, preliminary results indicate that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is heading towards a fourth term in office. However, despite the few surprises, some indications suggest that Algerians may slowly begin to shake the strong ruling politico-military elite.

Official figures suggest that around 51.7% of the 22 million legitimate voters casted their vote on the six registered candidates. Amongst the five candidates who registered against Bouteflika, was main competitor Ali Benflis who after loosing in the 2004 polls disappeared from the political scene for 10 years. While Bouteflika claimed victory on the late Election Day, Benfalis claimed fraud.

However, despite yet another presidential win for Bouteflika there is more than meets the eye in Algeria. While a pale and silent Bouteflika cast his vote from his wheelchair at a school in the El Biar district of Algiers, his fellow country men in Bouira, about 110 kilometres southeast of the Algerian capital, burned two voting centres. In the province's cities of Raffour, Saharij and Mechdallah demonstrators clashed with police in what turned into violent riots wounding around 70 people.

"I am not voting," says 23-year old student Sonia Tènèrè, "nobody in my family is." She is spending Election Day with her family in Bouira where many are boycotting the elections. Tènèrè wants change but argues that it doesn't matter if they vote or not, Bouteflika will win regardless.

Ever since Bouteflika publically announced his decision to run for a fourth term in office, the election process has been impeded by demonstrators defying the capital's ban on protesting, organising demonstrations and sit-ins calling for him to step down.

Many aim their criticism at Bouteflika's old age, 77 years, and fragile health condition, simply questioning his ability to govern the country for another five years. The long-term serving president, in power since 1999, suffered a stroke last year and spent three months in a hospital in Paris. Since then his public appearances have been rare and he has not participated in any of his own election campaigns, not even the party's final rally. Prior to casting his vote on Election Day, Bouteflika only made a public appearance when declaring his re-run for office.

The idea of another term of Bouteflika rule was too much to bear for a group of Algerians who established the apolitical grassroots movement Barakat, 'enough' in Algerian dialect. Established on 1 March the group is calling for democratic change and boycotting both the President and the elections.

Few believed that Barakat would pose any immediate threat to Bouteflika but local analysts considered it a positive development, a symbol of change on the country's stagnant political scene. The National Liberation Front (FLN) has with the backing of the country's military force been in firm control since independence from colonial power France in 1962. William Lawrence, visiting professor at George Washington University and senior fellow at Project of Middle East democracy, believes that even if Barakat may not be able to change anything in the short run the widespread boycott of the election can damage its legitimacy.

Opposition parties considered the decision a robbery of Algeria's chance to fair elections. Bouteflika's electoral history is contested. With a strong support of the military he came to power in 1991, after all six opponents withdrew their participation, receiving about 74 percent of the votes. In the 2009 elections, after amending the constitution allowing him to run for a third term, he received an alleged 90 percent of the votes. Official numbers declared a 74.11 percent turnout but the US embassy estimated the much lower figure of 25-30 percent, a leaked diplomatic WikiLeaks cable revealed.

Despite that Algerian Internet usage is relatively low, compared to neighbouring Arab countries, 3G mobile Internet was only authorized in late 2013, social media has played an important part in mobilisation for example movements such as Barakat. The group uses its Facebook page to continuously inform its members of the latest news regarding for example scheduled protests. On Election Day, Twitter and Facebook was used, not only to mock the elections, but also to share photos and information about election boycotts around the country. Brutal police violence has also been filmed and posted on YouTube throughout the election campaign. According to Amel Boubekeur, a non-resident fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, social media can be an important medium for raising awareness of human rights violations, "but it can not substitute for real debate and grand mobilisation."

A lot of the youth boycotted the elections. "Many of the young people have never voted," says Boubekeur. Some of the new generations, about 70% of the population is under the age 30, are also aiming dissent against the aging politico-military elite, "Le Pouvoir," referring to the senior generals and security officials running the country, Bouteflika at 77 years old, Gaid Salah, the army chief-of-staff at 78 and Tewfik Mediene, head of the intelligence services at 74.

The growing dissent is likely to continue, argues Boubekeur. "The fourth term is going to be an important moment for rising mobilisation," she says and adds, "People are really fed up now." To Boubekeur it is the beginning of something new, "It's the start of a new period where resistance may shift to a more visible occupation of the streets and the Internet; a louder voice of dissent."

However, Bouteflika remains popular. To his supporters he represents stability, and is often recognized for contributing to ending the Algerian civil war in the 1990s that killed around 200 000 people. In spite of some people's desire for change the painful collective memory from the so-called "dark decade" remains an open wound, an endless reminder of a turbulent period that people will avoid returning to at all costs and which has put the country in a state of political apathy.

Le Pouvoir, now trying to secure Bouteflika's succession and a future regime change, might not be as stable as they are trying to put forward.

Christine Petré is editor at Your Middle East and a freelance writer based in Tunisia. Follow her work at and on Twitter @ChristinePetre.

]]> (Christine Petré) Africa Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:21:12 +0000
From ethnic cleansing to return: a peace process worthy of the name Miska displacement mapThis week marks the 66th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Miska, a Palestinian village whose roughly 1,000-strong population was expelled in April 1948 by Haganah forces. Located around 10 miles from Qalqilya, Miska boasted 100-200 houses, an elementary school for boys, and a mosque.

The community was targeted and destroyed by pre-Israel Defense Forces (IDF) militias, as part of a policy of "clearing out [the area's] Arab inhabitants". The expulsion of the villagers, according to historian Benny Morris, was carried out "with Haganah/IDF General Staff and/or cabinet-level sanction". Everything was destroyed except the school and the mosque.

A key role in the ethnic cleansing was played by Joseph Weitz, then-senior official in the Jewish National Fund (JNF), who set in motion the "levelling" of the village through his organisation's "branch offices". Touring the area soon after, Weitz wrote in his diary that the valley was "all ours and Jewish hands were working in it".

Most of Miska's refugees ended up in camps in the West Bank and Jordan (see map). Some managed to remain in what became Israel, staying in nearby town Tira. For them, however, citizenship has not meant return.

Under the Absentee Property Law, Miska's former residents who remained inside Israel received the Kafkaesque Israeli classification..."present absentees": they were "present" in the country, but the law constituted them as "absent" for the purpose of property confiscation.

Miska's land is now used for fruit groves by Jewish communal settlements Sde Warbug, Mishmeret, and Ramat HaKovesh. The ruined mosque still remains, but the school building was demolished in 2007 by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA).

The story of Miska, of the displacement of its men, women and children, is similar to that of hundreds of Palestinian villages emptied and levelled by Israeli forces in 1947-'49. Around 90% of all the Palestinians located inside the new State of Israel's boundaries became denationalised refugees.

The massacres, expulsions and demolitions of the Nakba were followed by legislative measures designed to expropriate the lands and properties of the expelled Palestinians, while opening up the country's borders to new Jewish immigrants (many of whom moved into new communities built on the land of destroyed villages). From 1948 to 1953, 95% of new Jewish communities were established on expelled Palestinians' property.

Yet despite the centrality of the Nakba to the entire Palestinian question, it has been marginalised by the official 'peace process', is still denied by some, and is justified by others (and sometimes, incredibly, both denied and justified). On its website's history section, Sde Warburg, one of the Jewish communities benefiting from Miska's land, claims that Haganah forces reached Miska in 1948 "only to find it abandoned by its residents".

Confronting this wall of denial and legislative apartheid, some Palestinians have sought to embark on a process that imagines and realises a return to their lands. In recent years, Israeli organisation Zochrot (Hebrew for remembrance) has coordinated workshops on the practical questions to do with the refugees' return. In 2010, this included representatives of the 'Committee of Miska expellees', living today in Tira.

The workshop, according to a piece in Zochrot's journal Sedek, examined "various issues connected to the return of refugees and expellees and formulated proposals conceptualizing the territorial implications of the return in order to develop a schematic outline for, and suggest a variety of, possible spatial scenarios of return".

Author Einat Manoff wrote how, for Jewish Israelis, "experience has shown that reference to the right of return, as a theoretical concept rather than a practical plan of action, is met with anger, violence, and fear - fear that is often a result of the inability to imagine how the actual implementation of the right of return would appear and to see its inherent potential".

Palestinians from Miska had established their committee in 2005, and conducted a visit to the site of the village to plant tree saplings that were subsequently uprooted by the authorities. The committee persisted, however, holding cultural events in the old school building, prompting Israeli authorities to surround the school with a fence. An ILA spokesperson justified the anti-"infiltration" measure as preventing "future trespassing". Eventually, the authorities sent bulldozers to level the school building.

The work done on Miska, such as Ahmad Barclay's project for Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) imagining a four-stage return to the village, "extends the legalistic approach to the right of return with a projective one that aims to open the political imagination towards the different forms in which a present return could take place". This stands in contrast to the blurring of "return" in "the futile limbo of negotiations". There have been other examples too - see the renewed activism by the Palestinians of Kufr Bir'im.

For years, think tanks and experts have laboured over policy papers and briefings on the two-state solution, proposing increasingly elaborate answers to questions of 'viability', 'transportational contiguity' and the like.

But imagine if these efforts - this time and money - were invested in and focused on creative ways to realise the Palestinian refugees' inalienable right of return. If working groups and policy makers turned to questions of spatial decolonisation, and constitutional models for a democratic state protecting the rights of all its citizens, Palestinians and Jews.

Then we would see that the obstacle to the Palestinian refugees' return, to the decolonisation of Palestine and implementation of the Palestinian right to self-determination, is not, in fact, 'practical', but instead deeply ideological - that the exclusion of an indigenous population from their homeland is motivated by the desire to protect an artificial majority created by force.

This is the work to be done - to transform a past and present of ethnic cleansing into a future of return and restoration: a peace "process" worthy of the name.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:17:04 +0000
Why does the BBC hide the truth about Jerusalem? Amena SaleemThe BBC's reporting around the status of Jerusalem is "of such a low standard it fails to qualify as journalism," say campaigners.

This argument is the basis of the challenge made last week by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and Friends of Al Aqsa (FoA) against the BBC's insistence on referring to the whole of Jerusalem as an Israeli city, in contradiction to international law.

The argument was put forward in an appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office, asking the BBC to make public documents relating to its decision to accept in its reporting that Jerusalem is Israeli.

At the end of 2013, PSC and FoA made a direct request to the BBC asking that it release these documents under a Freedom of Information request. The aim was to find out how and why the BBC Trust had made a decision that referencing Jerusalem as Israeli was not in breach of its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, and what had influenced the Trust's decision.

This request was rejected by the BBC, leading to last week's appeal to the commissioner, which is the next stage in the Freedom of Information process.

In the appeal, both organizations set out the background to the request. PSC had challenged the BBC in 2012 and 2013 over reporting on its online pages and radio broadcasting, where Jerusalem was called an "Israeli city," and no distinction was made between East Jerusalem - which is considered by the United Nations to be occupied Palestinian territory - and West Jerusalem.

BBC "accepts" Israel's facts on the ground

After months of correspondence, the BBC Trust replied to say that its senior editorial adviser, Leanne Buckle, had decided that BBC journalists were justified in ignoring international law and the fact that East Jerusalem is considered to be Palestinian land for the following reason:

"The adviser acknowledged that Israel's sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem was not recognized under international law," the Trust wrote. "However, she considered that Israel had de facto control over the entire city in a political, administrative and military sense. She also noted that Jerusalem was administered as a single entity by the Jerusalem municipal authority which made no distinction between East and West."

Incredibly, with this decision, senior BBC executives and the Trust seem to have accepted Israel's illegal creation of facts on the ground. Moreover, the BBC appears to be making a political decision, behaving in a manner that is far from impartial or politically neutral as demanded by the Royal Charter by which it is governed.

PSC continued its challenge, taking issue with the fact that, in its online country profile of Israel, the BBC refers to its "seat of government" as Jerusalem.

PSC pointed out to the BBC that this formulation implies that Jerusalem is a single entity - when international law and opinion is categorical that West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem are separate territories.

The BBC Trust replied to say that it "took the view that although all Israel's government buildings are in the west of the city, it does not alter the fact they are in Jerusalem."


It is beyond understanding why a major news organization, supposedly independent and supposedly with a journalistic commitment to accuracy, impartiality and integrity in its reporting, is going to such lengths to bypass accuracy and impartiality in order to present Israel's narrative.

And this is why PSC and FoA decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what is behind the BBC Trust's reasoning and decision-making in this instance.

The BBC rejected PSC and FoA's request to release all its documents relating to the formulation of this decision on the basis that Part VI of Schedule 1 of the Act provides that information held by the BBC and other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for "purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature."

The BBC argued that "journalism, art or literature … seems to be intended to cover the whole of the BBC's output in its mission (under article 5 of its Royal Charter) to inform, educate and entertain the public." This, therefore, protects it from releasing the information requested.

However, PSC and FoA argue that the BBC's policy of referring to Jerusalem as an Israeli city neither "educates" nor "informs" the public.

In fact, because international law and international opinion is very clear in stating that Jerusalem is not an Israeli city, but is divided between East and West Jerusalem with Israel's sovereignty over neither sector being recognized, the BBC is actually and actively misinforming the public.

It could further be argued that the BBC is counter-educating the public with Israeli propaganda that all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel rather than providing the facts.

The two organizations argue that the BBC Trust's decision on how the BBC reports on the status of Jerusalem seeks to hide the truth from the public, rather than informing and educating its audiences.

Favoring Israeli claims to Jerusalem

In their appeal to the commissioner, PSC and FoA make the point that the BBC's habit of referring to Jerusalem as Israeli is inaccurate, and therefore cannot be classified as journalism. For this reason, documents relating to the decision should not be considered to be covered by Part VI of Schedule 1 of the Act, and can be released.

The appeal to the commissioner states: "The BBC should be subject to some public scrutiny, for example when it fails its own basic journalistic obligations and produces content of such a low standard it fails to qualify as journalism."

It adds: "Failure to disclose the requested information would not ‘protect the independence of the media,' it would help to carve out a space in which the BBC can subvert its own Editorial Guidelines and facilitate the creation of low quality factually incorrect output that damages the BBC's own long term interests."

By continually referring to Jerusalem - in its entirety - as Israeli, the BBC is not only being grossly inaccurate, it is actively advantaging the Israeli position over that of the Palestinians, and favoring Israel's claim to the whole of Jerusalem. The BBC Trust's decision makes it seem as though it has fallen for Israeli propaganda, which wants journalists to accept that Jerusalem belongs to Israel and to then convey this lie to their audiences.

As PSC's director, Sarah Colborne, says: "To make reference to either East or West Jerusalem, while reporting, would be so easy, and would result in accurate journalism. However, the BBC seems to be more concerned with portraying the Israeli line on the status of Jerusalem, at the expense of accuracy and impartiality, and we want to find out why."

This article was first published on Electronic Intifada.

]]> (Amena Saleem) Europe Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:54:49 +0000
$83 million diamond default: Sotheby's and Israeli war crimes Campaigners outside Sotheby'sLast November, amid a fanfare of international publicity, Sotheby's achieved a world record $83 million for a pink diamond auctioned in Geneva. Four months later, on February 27, Sotheby's disclosed that they were forced to take the diamond, they then valued at $73 million, into their inventory when the consortium of investors led by Isaac Wolf, a New York diamond cutter, defaulted.

There is a lot about this story that doesn't add up; key questions remain unanswered leading to the suspicion of a cover-up.

A brief, but significant new "Risk Factor" included in Sotheby's Form 10-K Annual Report on February 27, 2014, may offer a clue to this turn of events. It warns: "Sotheby's could be exposed to reputational harm as a result of wrongful actions by certain third parties. Sotheby's is involved in various business arrangements and ventures with unaffiliated third parties. Wrongful actions by such parties could harm Sotheby's brand and reputation."

Sotheby's has not explained why they felt it necessary to include this previously unreported risk factor.

According to numerous media reports Sotheby's claimed the buyer of the pink diamond "couldn't pay and defaulted". Isaac Wolf has not given any interviews or responded publicly since the news broke at the end of February.

When asked by JCK magazine why the diamond wasn't sold to one of three under bidders, Sotheby's "declined to comment".

It is difficult to believe that the investors - "financial people" according to Wolf - would have pursued such a high profile target without having sufficient funds or credit available to complete the deal.

The consortium would, presumably, have researched and carefully planned their strategy prior to participating in what was certain to be a highly publicised auction. We know from a televised interview given by Wolf after the auction that the investors valued the diamond, which was crafted by the Steinmetz Diamond Group - a Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) company - at $150 million. The consortium would, therefore, have known how much they could bid and how much each member needed to contribute and still "make a big profit", as alluded to by Wolf.

According to their own calculations, the consortium stood to make a profit of $67 million. If financing the deal was the problem, why couldn't these "financial people" raise the funds or get another investor to partake in such a potentially lucrative transaction?

Given that three under bidders competed to acquire this unique diamond, forcing the price well beyond it pre-auction $60 million estimate, why did none of them step in to acquire the diamond?

The lack of a more detailed explanation from Sotheby's, Wolf and the other bidders raises the question - have investors been spooked by information in the public domain linking BSGR with Israeli human rights violations, information that leads many people to believe BSGR diamonds are de-facto blood diamonds?

Diamonds that are associated with gross human rights violations would not be a good "hedge against inflation and devaluation of currencies" which is what the investors sought. Wolf described the diamond, originally known as the Steinmetz Pink, as "a fantastic hedge".

It is likely that the inclusion of the previously unreported risk factor in Sotheby's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-K filing was spurred by information published in 2013 and detailed in a letter and email sent to Sotheby's for the attention of William F. Ruprecht, President and Chief Executive Officer, and members of the Board of Directors in January 2013.

That letter warned of the potential reputational damage to Sotheby's as a result of their "unique partnership" with the Steinmetz Diamond Group which, through the Steinmetz Foundation, funds and supports a unit of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli military.

The Givati Brigade was responsible for the massacre of at least 21 members of the Samouni family in Gaza, a suspected war crime documented by the UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'tselem.

Given that Sotheby's was aware that diamonds crafted by the Steinmetz Diamond Group were generating revenue used to fund and support suspected war criminals and that human rights activists in London had staged protests highlighting the issue outside Sotheby's New Bond Street outlet on two occasion in 2013, they were morally and legally obliged to inform investors and shareholders that the Steinmetz Pink is tarnished by association with gross human rights violation by the Israeli military.

According to media reports, the BSGR group of companies has a unique corporate structure that is controlled by the Steinmetz Foundation, of which the Steinmetz family is the beneficiary. The Steinmetz Foundation continues to "donate to the IDF [Israeli Defence Force]".

A recent Amnesty International report says "trigger happy" Israeli forces kill Palestinians with impunity in a manner that suggests it is carried out as a matter of policy. The criminal actions of the Israeli military are being funded in part by revenue from BSGR companies, including the Steinmetz Diamond Group.

It has recently been revealed that Beny Steinmetz, the Israeli billionaire who is a beneficial owner of BSGR, has sold his stake in the Steinmetz Diamond Group to his brother. According to a leading diamond industry magazine, "a Steinmetz's spokesman denied the sale was connected to an ongoing probe into Steinmetz's African mining interests" - a reference to an international bribery investigation involving BSGR and the granting of iron-ore mining rights in Guinea.

The iron-ore bribery investigation was not directly connected to the Steinmetz Diamond Group. However, the link to suspected Israeli war crimes is undeniable.

The Steinmetz Diamond Group is a major client of De Beers - buying 1-2 billion diamonds every year according to a report in Globes. De Beers' relationship with Steinmetz has already resulted in some potentially damaging publicity for their Forevermark diamond brand. In 2012 De Beers put on display a Forevermark diamond crafted by Steinmetz in the Tower of London in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Human Rights activists held regular protests outside the Tower exposing Steinmetz' links to Israeli war crimes until it was removed. A member of the Samouni family issued an appeal to the Queen for the diamond to be removed. A list of Forevermark Diamantaires published months later in 2013 doesn't include the Steinmetz Diamond Group.

Other moves that appear to be a re-branding exercise to distance the diamond company from the tarnished Steinmetz brand are also underway. The website of the Steinmetz Diamond Group has been taken down in the last few days and is now directing to new site, Diacore - "coming soon" it says.

The Steinmetz-sponsored Garbone marathon in Botswana has recently been renamed the Diacore Garbone Marathon.

The association between revenue from diamonds and Israeli war crimes opens up an appalling view of Sotheby's, Beny Steinmetz and the international jewellery industry.

When someone purchases a diamond from Sotheby's Diamond, or any other jeweller who sells diamonds mined or crafted by a BSGR company, they are helping fund a foundation that donates to the Israeli military.

As pointed out in the letter to Ruprecht, corporate social responsibility necessitates affirmative action by management to protect clients and the company from exposure to moral and legal hazards. Sotheby's failed to alert investors and shareholders to this risk in a timely manner as they are obliged to do under stock market rules.

A vague, two-sentence statement buried in an SEC filing hardly represents a full and frank disclosure of what is undoubtedly a significant risk to Sotheby's brand image. Sotheby's shareholders may yet be left holding a $73 million diamond that cannot be easily offloaded and could face other legal hazards should patrons, investors, shareholders or those damaged by the actions of the diamond-funded Israeli military seek redress.

It remains to be seen if Sotheby's will put the Steinmetz Pink up for auction again this year and what the eventual fallout from this fiasco will be. A more likely scenario might be that the diamond will be donated or loaned to a museum but that too poses a risk as De Beers discovered in 2012.

As 50 per cent of the diamonds sold in the US are processed in Israel, New York diamond dealers will undoubtedly want to keep a lid on this and not draw further attention to the fact that diamonds from Israel are a major source of funding for a regime which is guilty of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law and should, therefore, be regarded as blood diamonds.

However, with the growing public awareness of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it respects international law and Palestinian rights, including the call by Palestinian organisations for people of conscience to reject diamonds processed in Israel, the spotlight of public contempt is likely to focus more closely on the global jewellery industry and its complicity in facilitating the trade in Israeli blood diamonds.

Sean Clinton is a human rights activist from Ireland with a particular interest in Israel/Palestine and the role diamonds play in funding the Zionist project in Palestine. He has authored several articles about the double-standard in the diamond industry which facilitates the trade in cut and polished blood diamonds. Follow him on Twitter: @wardiamonds

]]> (Sean Clinton) Americas Tue, 08 Apr 2014 11:17:18 +0000
The Israeli-Palestinian 'Peace Process': Trapped in a Nash Equilibrium Ian S. LustickIn Stalin's Soviet Union, mention of the great dictator's name in any mass meeting could trigger a standing ovation. This became a problem. In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells the story of a party meeting during which Stalin's name is mentioned. Immediately every functionary on the dais and every person in the hall rose to his or her feet and started clapping. And clapping. And clapping. And clapping. Afterall, who would stop clapping first? Who would reveal less enthusiasm for the Great Leader than everyone else. And so, as the story goes, the applause continued for more than 11 minutes. Finally, one factory director on the dais stopped and sat down. Immediately everyone else stopped, and the meeting resumed. That night the factory director was arrested. After his interrogation he was given ten years in the Gulag and reminded: "Don't ever be the first to stop clapping!"

Political scientists have a name for the predicament of those tired but still clapping communists-a "Nash equilibrium." Named for the Nobel prize winning mathematician John Nash (played by Russell Crowe in the film "A Beautiful Mind"), the stability of this pattern of collective behavior,this equilibrium, is produced by the inability of any of those caught in this predicament with one another to improve their situation by acting unilaterally. Unable to trust or coordinate a simultaneous change of behavior with their "comrades," each clapper prefers to keep clapping, even though weary and with sore hands, to the risks of doing first what each wants someone else to do-be the first to stop clapping. And so the clapping continues until one clapper makes the fatal mistake of trying to improve the situation.

This is a very simple Nash Equilibrium in the sense that each player has exactly the same desired goal-to stop clapping and to get on with the meeting without being shot. But Nash equilibria also appear when there are considerable differences in the specific objectives of the players and considerable asymmetry in their relative power.

With these ideas in mind we can see that In a very real sense the continuous merry-go-round of American orchestrated negotiations involving Israelis and Palestinians toward a "two state solution" is exactly like endless clapping. The fundamental explanation for the stability of a pattern of fruitless negotiations staggering on, failing, then restarting under a slightly different name, failing, starting again under a slightly different name, failing, and so on, is that the four key (but not equal) main players in this "game" are caught in a Nash Equilibrium. That is to say that each player-the US government, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and what may be called the "peace process industry"-has objectives in mind they would much prefer to pursue in this domain than endless and substantively fruitless negotiations; but each player believes it will pay much higher costs trying to pursue those interests than continuing to clap-I mean continuing to pretend that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-one state based on the 1949 Armistice Lines and the other based in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, to which they all pay lip service, is actually being advanced by their efforts.

Right-wing Israeli governments would prefer to be liberated from the Palestinian problem altogether, to see it removed from the agenda. They would prefer a free hand to expand settlements, eliminate any autonomous basis for Palestinian economic activity, squeeze Palestinians out of East Jerusalem, and push as many of them as possible, by immiseration and harassment, out of the West Bank entirely. For them continuing the negotiations to nowhere, with a hollowed out two-state slogan as their official framework, is suboptimal, but acceptable. Under the pretext that negotiations may be reaching a crucial stage, settlement construction or expansion can be encouraged as an urgent necessity and a brave battle to implement Jewish rights in the ancient homeland can be cleverly and rather successfully fought. Meanwhile the Israeli majority that vaguely supports a "two state solution" in return for "real peace" can be held at arm's length. Even the international community has a hard time blaming the Israeli government since, afterall, it is participating with Palestinian representatives, in internationally sanctioned peace negotiations.

American Presidents as different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama would genuinely like to see an American brokered Israeli-Palestinian agreement to end the conflict based on two states living in peace with a shared capital in Jerusalem and a solution to the refugee problem based on generous compensation and symbolic rights of return operationalized via a lottery option. But no President has and almost certainly never will ever find it politically rational to exert the kind of pressure on Israel necessary to compel implementation of the concessions necessary for a sustainable peace. That being the case, serial pursuit of the mirage of a negotiated two state solution has sufficient rewards to justify the humiliations associated with repeated exposure of the weakness of American diplomacy on this issue. Most important in this regard is the protection from attacks by the Israel lobby that official US engagement with an Israeli government in peace negotiations provides. But US administrations also find it convenient to respond to European, third world, and Muslim criticism for Washington's unbalanced policies toward the conflict by using the ongoing "peace process" to justify its "restraint" toward Israel.

Anyone who has read The Palestine Papers, the minutes of negotiating sessions held between Israel, the US, and the Palestinians from 1999 to 2010, can only marvel that Palestinian negotiators can continue to play the maddening game that these talks have become without their arteries popping from the high blood pressure that must result from repeated double-binds, transparent delaying tactics, and betrayals to which they are continuously subjected . Of course the Palestinian Authority would prefer a two state solution based on two real states. But with 636,000 Jews living east of the green line, an Israeli government whose highest priority is to prevent such an outcome, and Washington operating almost entirely as Israel's lawyer, that is obviously unattainable. The (barely) acceptable alternative is to continue the charade of negotiations, moving from frameworks for negotiations that have failed to frameworks that will fail, but by doing so continue to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from the US and Europe that pay the salaries of PA employees, preserve VIP treatment for the Palestinian leadership, and support a half-way decent standard of living for most of those Palestinians living in Area A. If some prisoners can be released and if Israel must constrain at least some of the ruthlessness it might otherwise unleash on Palestinians in Areas B and C, so much the better.

And then there is the peace process industry. Legions of pundits, scholars commentators, funders, and conference organizers have built entire careers around both the hopes and fears that, in any iteration of this process, a peace based on two states could appear. Their speculations, warnings, maps, and advice fill the newspapers, blogging sites, and air-waves. While they themselves do not enforce the cycle of failure of talks, the redesign of the framework for talks, restart of talks, distractions and delays during talks, failure of talks, and so on, their nearly Messianic faith in the immortality of the possibility of the two state solution does protect the entire cycle by discouraging both protagonists and observers from thinking outside the outworn categories of two states to imagine other possibilities, including calling the bluff of those who constantly threaten to end the process. Those working so tirelessly within this industry, especially those who favor creation of two real states, would undoubtedly prefer the successful end of the process to its continuation. However, given the choice between a vanishingly small chance of success and having to develop and adopt an entirely new framework for pursuing values of justice, peace, equality, and democracy in this domain, they prefer the former.

Search for "Stalin" and "clapping" on Youtube and you will find that the Soviets found a solution to the Nash Equilibrium problem. After a sufficiently sustained period of enthusiastic applause by an audience pretending to be giddy with delight with the appearance of Stalin or the sound of his name, a loud bell would automatically sound, triggering immediate silence and allowing the assembled multitude to sit without fear of being sent to the Gulag or shot. No such easy solution is available in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process." It is possible that one of the parties, probably the Palestinians, will stop clapping (and many are likely to be imprisoned or shot as a result), but unless outworn but still hegemonic conceptions are overturned, we'll be hearing lots more clapping for quite some time.

Prof. Ian Lustick is an American political scientist and a specialist on the modern history and politics of the Middle East. He is the Bess W. Heyman Professor of Political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Prof. Ian Lustick is a member of the American Political Science Association, the Association for Israel Studies, the Middle East Studies Association, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

]]> (Prof. Ian S. Lustick) Guest Writers Tue, 01 Apr 2014 05:30:00 +0000
Israeli apartheid week takes US campuses by storm Dr Sarah MarusekThroughout the months of February and March, students and activists around the world are organising activities for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which aims "to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system" and to build support for the "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as part of a growing global BDS movement."

Across the US, so far at least 23 cities have formally announced IAW activities this year, with more groups adding their programmes each day. Because university calendars are not universalised, this means that activities are generally spread out across several weeks.

IAW in New York and New Jersey kicked off last week and will continue into next week. This year's programme includes demonstrations, film screenings and a number of lectures, including talks by renowned journalists Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal, as well as more creative forms of outreach and protest like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) creating a human apartheid wall at Brooklyn College, or the "BDS on Broadway: An anti-Israeli apartheid musical walking tour" organised by the New York chapter of Adalah.

Events will be held in the streets, at churches and on various college and university campuses across New York City, including John Jay College, Brooklyn College, City College, Hunter College, Columbia University, New York University and The New School.

SJP is coordinating many of the campus programmes around the country. As MEMO has previously reported, American students who speak out for justice in Palestine are often unfairly targeted by university administrations, which attempt to silence any critical engagement of Israeli occupation and apartheid. Even lawmakers seek to limit academic freedom when it comes to Israel. For example, city officials threatened to withhold funding from Brooklyn College when its SJP chapter hosted a BDS discussion featuring prominent Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti and respected critical scholar Judith Butler.

Israeli apartheid week takes US campuses by storm - Human Apartheid wallCarlos Guzman, a student activist who has been involved in organising IAW activities in New York City for several years and who is also helping to coordinate the national campaign this year, told MEMO that last year the students at Brooklyn College created a wooden apartheid wall for IAW; however the college administration has since introduced new guidelines that explicitly forbid student groups from using wood or plexiglass to make any type of structure. The students ingeniously responded by creating a human apartheid wall.

Brooklyn-based activist Naomi Allen took part in the action and reported to MEMO that: "Brooklyn College SJP brought an apartheid wall to campus, a brilliant visual aid to the Israeli occupation for students who had never seen such a thing before. While about 20 students stood holding hand-made panels with pictures and slogans about the occupation, human rights and equality, others handed out Palestinian loss of land cards and flyers explaining what the apartheid wall means to Palestinians and how it disrupts their lives, threatens their livelihoods and steals their land. Hundreds of students, passing on their way to class, stopped to look and ask questions, to take flyers and express their amazement."

Other notable IAW events that have already been organised in US cities include activists demonstrating in Washington DC outside the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, by far the most powerful arm of the Israel Lobby in the US.

Students at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York created an apartheid wall highlighting 58 Israeli laws in particular that discriminate against Palestinians in the occupied territories, the structure physically emulating the actual apartheid wall that encloses the West Bank.

Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights at the University of Washington in Seattle launched their own version of an apartheid wall on campus in collaboration with the Chican @ Student Movement to draw the connections between the apartheid wall in Palestine and the Mexican-American border wall. As the Electronic Intifada reported earlier this month, one of the two main contractors for Israel's apartheid wall won a multimillion dollar contract in February from the US Department of Homeland Security to provide surveillance systems along the Mexico-US border that were tested on Palestinians.

And in Cambridge, Massachusetts the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee launched a testimony campaign, posting notices on the doors of Harvard undergraduate student halls, asking questions like, "How have you experienced apartheid?" or "What does apartheid mean to you?" The university's student newspaper reported that "Black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim, Jewish, working class, gender minority, disabled and Palestinian students [were] asked to grapple with a problem that exists not only" in Palestine and South Africa, "but also right here at home." As Carlos Guzman noted, this was an "engaging way of connecting struggles and making people think about what apartheid means to them and how they personally experienced discrimination in some way."

For more information or to announce your event, visit the USA IAW Facebook page.

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]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Thu, 06 Mar 2014 11:07:02 +0000
An anonymous source '...sadly, professionalism has been lost amid billions of banknotes which have transformed the pen...'Anyone who denies that the Egyptian media, in both its visual and written form, is suffering from a professional and moral crisis is either too stubborn and proud or deceitful and glorifies unrighteousness to promote it as the truth. This has caused the cards to be mixed up and unrighteousness is now promoted as the defence of the right of media, which is demanded by everyone. It may be repetitive to mention that the freedom of thought and speech (which has now become a deplorable term due to the fact it is used by so many manipulative tongues that know nothing other than the language of lies, deceit, and incitement) is one of the foundations of democratic systems used to reveal corruption or immorality. However, all this is happening under the umbrella of law, which unfortunately is absent from Egypt. Following the glorious January revolution, Egypt has become a victim of the media funded by foreign countries that resent the revolution and are afraid that it will spread to their own counties and dethrone them. Moreover, such countries do not want to see Egypt regain its strength and glory and reclaim its historical and pioneering role in leading the Arab and Islamic nations. As such, billions of dollars are being pumped into establishing newspapers and opening television stations at a time when several factories and companies have been closed down and thousands of workers let go.


The media invasion in Egypt has also brought in new rules and creative media methods that utilise unsporting, criminal and internationally illegal weapons that violate media laws and norms. They were also inspired by Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels' saying "Give me media with no conscience; I will give you people who are unconscious." This is the path they took and were able to achieve quick success in the beginning of the invasion after dressing Mubarak's corrupt journalists in the robes of revolution and perseverance, even after they had praised him throughout the revolution. This process of clearing reputations was just the beginning of the brainwashing of the people, easing into their main goal for which the current media invasion was launched, which is to ultimately take over the people's consciousness and form new ideas against the revolution turning it from the people's revolution into a conspiracy carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood to seize control of the country.

These ideas have emerged in foreign-funded newspapers that are rewriting the history of the revolution and using their smart bombs to hit the body and mind of the revolution and ultimately kill it. In their new version of the story, they write that those who overthrew Mubarak were not Egyptians but members of Hamas, the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, who opened the prisons, destroyed buildings and killed the supporters of the revolution. This immoral and unprofessional nonsense is a disgrace to the revolution; a waste of martyrs' blood and a disregard of the people wounded and disabled during the revolution who sacrifices greatly for the sake of a greater cause – the freedom and dignity for the Egyptian people. However, this misguided media that promotes lies and fabrications does not care about such causes and reports such falsehoods by quoting "anonymous sources". This is the new fad that has plagued the media in light of this obnoxious media invasion which has completely distanced it from professionalism. A basic rule of professionalism is to verify a story from at least two sources before even thinking about reporting it. However, sadly, professionalism has been lost amid billions of banknotes which have transformed the pen, which God Almighty swore by, into a tool for the propagation of lies and delusion and the spread of discord in the country. Under the banner of such "anonymous sources", corrupt newspapers report artificial battles between the presidency and the various state institutions; sometimes the battles are with the army, and at other times with Al-Azhar or with the police, etc. The purpose of this is to turn all parts of society against the elected President, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, who also haven't been spared from these "anonymous sources".

Media which blurs and distorts facts must be addressed by the honourable people of this admirable profession. I realise that there are positive attempts from some colleagues protective of the profession, and whose hearts are saddened by this decline and fall of their colleagues who have stained the profession as a whole. They are now trying to pick up the pieces and set things right, however how can these diligent attempts succeed when those controlling the media are the students of "Goebbels" who taught them to lie. Moreover, millions of pounds are being used to blind them and turn them into political leaders after abandoning the profession and indulging in politics only for the purpose of overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood. The irony lies in the fact that they are the ones who have fallen after the people have seen the truth of their ways and their ugly faces were shown, but the Muslim Brotherhood will not fall; (And the unbelievers schemed but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers.)

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Wed, 22 May 2013 16:02:14 +0000
Do Arab states really engage with human rights? Arab spring revolution at Tahrir SquareWith growing demands for "bread, freedom and social justice" across the Arab Spring countries, many have started to question the status of human rights in the region and, more specifically, whether Arab states actually have any engagement with them in any meaningful way. Brutal clamp-downs and massacres by state security services have been accompanied by international support for regime changes, from the likes of French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and British Prime Minister David Cameron among others.

Both have urged the international community to "shoulder" demands for rights and regime change in order to further democracy and the application of international human rights, although critics point to the sub-text that this is merely an excuse to cover their collective fear of Islamist groups coming to power in the Middle East. At the beginning of the Arab Spring revolutions, Cameron told the Daily Telegraph that if Western governments did not provide support to people defending their rights, prolonged chaos in the region would breed Islamic extremism and accelerate the pace of immigration by North Africans to European countries. Such support would thus be "good for us back at home". It is clear that the morality of human rights can fall short of genuine conviction when faced with political interests.

There appears to be an inherent Western bias in UN human rights bodies and many accusations have been made about Arab states' "sloppy" engagement with human rights. In a talk this week by Fateh Azzam, former UN Regional Representative for the region, founder of Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship and Senior Policy Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, he scrutinised these allegations and dismantled misconceptions about Arab states' motivation to improve human rights.


Azzam determined that in terms of legal obligations vis-à-vis human rights in Arab states, they are there. If we look, for example, at the 21 members of the Arab League, engagement and ratification can be detected, especially with regards to conventions covering women and children's rights.

However, if we look at the most important part - the implementation of conventions – there is some inconsistency. States have to report periodically to the bodies responsible for the treaties, each of them with a committee of experts appointed by states but acting independently and not as representatives of the states charged with the implementation of regulations to meet human rights goals. In the reporting process there are major issues over delays, especially from Arab states; some have delays up to 13 years. Half of the states in the region are "seriously late" presenting their reports, Azzam pointed out. On the reporting of civil and political rights ten of the states were delayed by a minimum of two years. Reports on women's and children's rights are almost never late.

All of the conventions also have Optional Protocols, most of which require states to accept individual complaints about abuses of the various treaties to be submitted to state governments. Very few Arab states have signed the Optional Protocols allowing individuals to file complaints and raise issues, suggesting that they are not ready to subject themselves to international scrutiny.

There are 36 working groups mediating between NGOs and states. They aim to ensure that national legislation and the implementation of rights correspond with UN treaties signed and international human rights law. "There is a very patchy engagement by the mandate holders of the working groups on human rights," Azzam said. "They don't seem to accept that there is criticism and that we are going to do something about this." Frankly, he noted, some of the correspondence was a waste of time. You have to receive permission to enter a country to see if implementation of specific issues has been carried out; this could be done by a Special Rapporteur. There are also open invitations, which gives the representative the liberty of visiting more freely but only five Arab states have signed up to this within the past five years. Transparency in implementation of the ratified treaties and respect for them is very rare.

Palestinian rights

There has been an increase in the number of issues raised about Palestinian rights through UN mechanisms, especially in Lebanon. Many recommendations on behalf of the UN have been made concerning the treatment of Palestinian refugees and the dire consequences when fundamental rights are lacking. Government responses are always very defensive; Lebanon has rejected all recommendations, on the grounds that "they [the international community] don't understand what it's like in Lebanon with millions of refugees", explained Azzam.

Despite constituting a quarter of the total Lebanese population, there is still no system in place for refugees for a regional approach to deal with the issue. According to refugee law, the longer a person has refugee status the more rights they should accrue with regards to social and economic life and their long-term requirements. As MEMO's previous reports show, this is not the case in Lebanon.

How serious do the Arab states take their engagement with human rights?

According to Azzam, the way that the Arab states engage with UN human rights mechanisms is no different from the rest of the world. However, whether they are doing this because of real commitment to the human rights issue is debateable.

The Arab states' discourse on human rights has changed, from being more or less redundant to seeing the vacuum filled by faith-based, usually Islamic, civil society organisations. Welfare and the protection of civilians was regarded as a Western liberal construct forced upon all other states. As the human rights paradigm grew more important in international relations discourse, the Arab world could not maintain this position.

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam was developed in 1990 in order to respond to the increasing legitimacy of the human rights paradigm, effectively setting out how the Arab states see human rights in accordance with Islam. This more or less failed to accommodate either.

Now, the Arab states are trying to conform to international human rights law and mechanisms and engage fully. "They are trying to do what they want to do, within the limits of what they think [the UN] will accept," claimed Azzam. There is a commitment to human rights, but "our way, let us do it our way" he recounted from his recent meeting with a regional monarch. This is mainly due to a commitment to "cultural traditions".

Moral and political interplay within the UN system is very extensive and there is always the underlying assessment of western influence and to what extent it is a product of Euro-American ideological history. The UPR (Universal Periodic Review) reports and recommendations, civil and political rights concerns were raised twice as frequently by international NGOs and four times more by non-Arab states, than they were by national/regional NGOs and Arab states respectively. In response to these recommendations, Arab states were more or less silent and entirely silent on the issues of the physical security of citizens, including protection from torture, Azzam's latest report said.

Could the UN play a bridging role for Arab states and human rights?

There is a sense that the UN is more optimistic and willing to enforce rights but it is a complex organisation. Nevertheless, argued Azzam, UN agencies and programmes on the ground have the capacity to play a bridging role between local states and human rights.

Further, as they are obligated to create an annual report for each country, UN agencies need more engagement with states. "In looking at what treaties they are obligated to implement, a part of the plan has to be that the UN helps the state to achieve this through legislation," Azzam said. "We do this with the support of expert NGOs, research centres, human rights activists; that's the bridging role, I am thinking about."

The UPR is a relatively new mechanism established in 2006 by the UN General Assembly of the UN as a function of the Human Rights Council; every four years the states are reviewed individually, and all concerned parties and stakeholders may contribute to this review, following up each state's improvements. This function will, according to Azzam, assist states in bridging between human rights and the state, as it is more action-oriented and merges together human rights mechanisms in the UN.

Why should we deal with Arab states regionally rather than individually?

Azzam believes that there is a sense that states can help each other, in the context of the region: "We are a unity, and it is different if we coordinate with for example Amnesty or HRW, whether we find it useful or hampering in furthering human rights; we feel it is very important."

Regional coordination has fluctuated over the years and there are disagreements, but in the end some of the common issues in the Gulf and Levant are shared.

In this regard, many discussions have taken place recently on many levels about an Arab Human Rights Court, but nothing has yet materialised. Discussions took place during the review of an Arab Human Rights Charter where all human rights activists wanted this court to be created, "but the states would not hear of it!" The most they would accept, said Azzam, was a committee. Although there is a Latin American commission, and an African and European court, the Arab states decided not to go ahead.

"The real issue with the establishment of an Arab court is this concept of sovereignty and being willing to submit your decision-making and the way you run your state to regional or international scrutiny," Azzam explained. "Having someone else telling you how to run your state is problematic."

The Arab states are very defensive of their sovereignty and the human rights paradigm has cut into that sovereignty, particularly since the start of the Arab Spring. "We have common issues and can mediate between the often Western-centric nature of the global UN discourse on human rights, and what some would designate ‘cultural traditions', inhibiting their enjoyment." Furthermore, added Azzam, identity is in some sense involved as human rights concerns are frequently shared amongst these states, and could be answered most effectively in cooperation. "We speak the same language- not Arabic- but the same language of human rights."

]]> (Henriette Johansen) Middle East Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:13:14 +0000
Has the third Arab liberation movement failed? Dr Zafarul-Islam KhanThree diplomats sat in the French consulate in Beirut in May 1916 while the First World War raged and agreed on a secret plan to divide the Middle East among their countries. They represented Britain, France and Imperial Russia. After the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, Russia withdrew from the scheme. Britain and France stayed committed and soon after the end of the war, divided the countries among themselves under what is known as "Sykes-Picot Agreement". The Arabs, who had been promised freedom by the British, revolted and were eventually placated with the creation of the Emirate of Transjordan (now Kingdom of Jordan) and Kingdom of Iraq to be ruled by the sons of the leader of Arab Revolt, Sharif Husain of Mecca.

A second attempt to throw away the Sykes-Picot yoke started shortly after the Second World War and countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt witnessed coups and popular revolts. New dictatorships emerged while the old systems, essentially supported by foreign powers, remained intact. New elites, including a military ruling class, emerged while masses continued to lead a life of penury, bereft of civil and political rights.

Iran finally managed to break free of the Sykes-Picot yoke in 1979, but Arab countries had to wait for another three decades. The long overdue movement started in Tunisia in December 2010 and soon spread to many corners of the Arab World. Its biggest success was in Egypt where the movement to topple the long-entrenched military ruler (Air Marshal) Hosni Mubarak started on 25 January 2011 and finally succeeded in toppling him after 18 days of violent protests. But the reins of power did not fall into the hands of the protesters or institutions as there were no institutions worth their name with the exception of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) which hastened to take over the state and effectively ruled from February 2011 to June 2012.

The military rule in Egypt was established in July 1952 by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser. Over the years, the army and army officers seized most of the positions of power in Egypt, directly or indirectly owning and controlling more than 50 percent of the Egyptian economy. The 2011 popular revolt challenged this status quo.

A new parliament was elected in a free and fair election in January 2012 but in June, SCAF dismantled it on technical grounds using a court verdict which found flaws in the electoral law.

On 24 June, 2012, Dr Mohammed Morsi, a university professor belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), was elected as President defeating the army's nominee. The new President tried to resurrect Parliament by issuing on 8 July a decree which was struck down by the constitutional court the very next day.

On 26 December, 2012, President Morsi signed a constitution approved by 63.83 percent of the voters in a free and fair referendum. But it still remained heavily in favour of the army, e.g., a military officer was to be the defence minister (art. 195) and the National Defence Council was to have a majority of military commanders (art. 197). This effectively gave the military a veto over any national security or sensitive issue.

The fact is that President Morsi was not allowed to rule even for a single day. The "deep state" frustrated all his attempts to control the system. This deep state comprises of the military, the ministry of interior and the General Intelligence Directorate in addition to the Mubarak era technocrats including the judiciary.

SCAF had bestowed upon itself extra-constitutional powers vide a constitutional addendum issued in July 2012. In August, President Morsi froze this addendum and retired the generals who had signed it. But his choice of the new military leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, was catastrophic. Morsi was fooled by the general's show of piety and submissiveness while the latter was fully committed to the interests of the Army and the Mubarak State which was still fully intact.

Soon an orchestrated street and media campaign was started by the deep state. SCAF had already placed the media in the hands of the "liberals" who had been routed in the parliamentary elections. State and private media including the mass-circulation government-owned newspapers and TV channels started an unprecedented daily campaign to ridicule and abuse the President and his team. Rogue and liberal elements rushed to the streets in frequent protests. "Black Bloc," the secret militia kept by the interior ministry, started a reign of terror, extortion, attacks, murders and bombings to induce popular unrest as the first priority of any nation is peace and security. A managed scarcity of essential goods was launched under which the supply of crucial items like bread, petrol and electricity became erratic and scarce. Mubarak regime's hand-picked judges started overruling the new regime's decisions and overturning presidential decrees.

While the deep state with the help of the judges was moving fast to dismantle the Shoora Council (upper house of Parliament) and the Constituent Committee drafting the constitution, President Morsi stepped in to protect his government from an impending serious vacuum by signing the Constitutional Declaration of 22 November, 2012, which protected his decrees from judicial review until the next parliament was elected and the new constitution was passed. He also ordered re-trial of Mubarak officials accused of murder, terror and causing injuries to protesters, after they had been summarily acquitted en masse by the Mubarak era judges.

Now, at the behest of the deep state, many "liberal" members of the Constituent Committee resigned, street protests started and even the Presidential Palace was besieged. Soon, on 26 April, 2013, Tamarod (Rebellion) movement started in Cairo's Tahrir Square and claimed to have collected signatures of 22 million Egyptians demanding removal of President Morsi.

This situation allowed SCAF, late in June, to openly intervene giving to the government and opposition one week to find a solution for the impasse. Soon, on 1 July, this ultimatum was reduced to 48 hours and, finally, Egypt's first freely-elected President was deposed two days later. He was detained along with all his close aides, advisors, prime minister and members of the cabinet.

Now, millions of supporters of the deposed President and opponents of a fresh bout of military regime started street protests and camped at hundreds of spots across the country, especially at Cairo's Rabia Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares. The protests at both these huge squares were mercilessly broken on 14 August 2013, killing at least 638 persons (2600 according to the field hospital in the square) and injuring around 7000 persons. During an earlier attack on the Rabia camp on 4 July, 70 persons were killed. Pro-Morsi protesters observed a "Day of Rage" at Cairo's Ramses Square where 173 protesters were mercilessly murdered by the security forces.

Many more have been killed in police attacks on peaceful mass protests which have continued ever since, in all parts of Egypt on a regular basis despite a ban on holding demonstrations without a police permit.

According to a conservative estimate, at least 3,000 protesters have been killed by the Egyptian army and police since President Morsi was toppled.

Despite these grave violations, human rights activists and tweeterati in Egypt and West have maintained an eerie silence if not actively supporting the army in its bid to crush and eliminate all opposition and criminalise the MB and its political wing (Justice & Freedom Party - JFP) which had won four successive elections and a referendum.

Judiciary fully supported the police and army's bid to crush all protests and put every possible opponent behind bars. According to official figures, 16,000 MB leaders, workers and supporters are in jails, while an Egyptian human rights organisation has put the number of the arrestees at 22,000 which includes hundreds of women and minors and around 3000 MB leaders and workers. The detainees also include hundreds of journalists including three Aljazeera journalists who are accused of "terror" charges simply because they had met MB leaders.

The army-appointed council of ministers banned MB within the country and without on 25 December, 2013, declaring it a "terrorist group" and accusing it of all violent activities in the country. MB's political wing, JFP, too, was banned. All their assets including bank accounts have been seized.

On 25 March, a court in Minya startled the whole world by sentencing 528 persons to death for killing a police officer although the officer's widow has told media that the killers of her husband are freely roaming on the town's streets. The whole court proceedings took some half an hour over two days. During the second session, the defendants and their lawyers were not allowed into the court-room! The same judge (Saeed Yusuf) had earlier acquitted all police officers accused of killing anti-Mubarak protestors. This verdict has been condemned all over the world. UN Commission for Human Rights said it is against international law and has no parallel in modern history. Amnesty International said this verdic offers the worst example of the incompetence of the Egyptian judicial system, while London Guardian said this verdict is a death sentence for the Egyptian democracy.

The fact is that this verdict was part of a consistent process. Earlier, in February 2014, three Alexandria courts had sentenced a group of protesters to 945 years in jail and a fine of 0.5 million Egyptian pounds. Then, on 19 March, a Cairo court sentenced 26 persons accused in the so-called "Suez Cell" to death while one person was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. They were accused of sabotaging the Suez Canal. More sentences against 682 MB members will be announced on 28 April. They are all supporters of President Morsi and are accused of unlawful assembly, setting a police station on fire and membership of an illegal organisation.

In a further escalation, the Public Prosecutor on 26 March ordered the trial of 919 supporters of President Morsi in Minya. They include the Leader (Murshid) of MB, Muhammad Badie who is accused of inciting people. President Morsi and thousands of his supporters and MB leaders and workers are being tried now. Morsi himself is charged of treason and communication with "enemy" (Hamas)! To deprive the accused any opportunity to grandstand for a nationwide audience, the proceedings are not televised and the accused are produced in well-insulated steel and glass cages.

The coup leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, who got himself elevated to "Field Marshal," has now announced his candidature for the presidential elections which will be held on 26-27 May. His announcement was instantly greeted on the Facebook with the hashtag "Intakhibu al-'Ars" – Elect the Pimp – which went viral and was seen and supported by millions within hours. But the field marshal's winning the elections is a forgone conclusion as no serious rival will be allowed to contest.

Seemingly, the counter-revolution in Egypt is complete by now. The old regime is fully back in the saddle thanks to full US, Israel and Gulf support. They were all, for different reasons, wary lest a popular, honest and enlightened movement takes roots in a key Arab country which was to have serious repercussions for the whole region.

The Egyptian deep state has succeeded in unravelling the 25 January revolution, sending a message in the region that Arab Spring has been buried, that political power flows not from a constitution but from the barrels of guns. To ensure that masses do not rise again, the main political force has been criminalized and ruthlessly crushed. A "demon" has been created as seen earlier in Argentina and Algeria. MB is accused of involvement in terror, which the movement fervently denies saying that the authorities are using "terrorism" to suppress dissent. Non-MB opponents of the regime too have been arrested on a large scale.

The road ahead for the field marshal is not paved with flowers. His ruthless tactics can hardly help his regime tide over a difficult economic situation which has already claimed the putschists' first prime minister. Generous Gulf aid to the tune of some US$ 17 billion can hardly shore up a corrupt and kleptocratic system. Ever-rising unemployment, inflation, capital flight and absence of tourists will soon push the masses to the streets and the generals will have no place to hide.

It is still too early to write the epitaph of the 25 January Revolution. Sykes-Picot legacy is yet to be dismantled.

A shorter version of this article appeared in DNA, Mumbai, on 16 April 2014.

]]> (Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan) Africa Wed, 16 Apr 2014 08:48:46 +0000
The real delegitimisation: Apartheid Israel targets Palestinian citizens' political activism Ben WhiteLast week, Palestinian activist Muhammad Kanaaneh was due to address Tel Aviv University students at an event marking Land Day, a commemoration of the bloody state repression of anti-land expropriation protests in 1976. However, following pressure by right-wing Zionist activists, university authorities stepped in to ban Kanaaneh from delivering his speech on campus.

The opposition to Kanaaneh's lecture, including from Members of the Knesset, was on the basis that he was a so-called "convicted terrorist", apparently jailed for "involvement with" or "passing on information to" Hezbolllah. But few bothered to examine the claims being made about Kanaaneh, or look beyond the shouts of 'terrorist'. To do so would be to reveal another side to this affair, beyond the repression of Palestinian political activism at Israeli academic institutions.

When Kanaaneh was arrested in February 2004, he was the then-General Secretary of Abnaa al-Balad ('Sons of the Land'), a political movement mainly operating within the pre-1967 borders amongst Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. It rejects participation in the Knesset and supports a single, democratic state in all of historic Palestine.

Abnaa al-Balad's activists have frequently been targeted by the state, something which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the State of Israel's decades-long history of cracking down on those challenging its settler-colonial system of privilege and exclusion.

Kanaaneh and three others were prevented from meeting with family or lawyers for three weeks, a Shin Bet-imposed gag order maintained for a month after the arrests. Interrogation methods included "tying them to their chairs; depriving them of sleep...[and] providing them with inaccurate, misleading information about their basic legal rights." Denied, as leading legal rights group Adalah put it, "their most basic rights", Kanaaneh and his comrades experienced conditions in pre-trial detention harsh enough to prompt a hunger strike.

Despite public noise from security officials about ties to Hezbollah, Kanaaneh was ultimately indicted and convicted on the basis of a single charge of 'contact with a foreign agent' - a reference to a meeting with a Palestinian activist in Jordan. The Haifa district court sentenced him to two and a half years, later successfully appealed by the prosecution and raised to four and a half years. He was duly released in 2008 and welcomed home with much celebration from friends and activists.

Now by coincidence, on the same day Tel Aviv University banned Kanaaneh's lecture, Nazareth District Court convicted former MK Said Naffaa of "visiting an enemy state and meeting with a foreign agent". Naffaa had been charged in relation to a 2007 trip by a Druze delegation to Syria that he helped organise. The visit had not received Israeli Interior Ministry approval despite Naffaa's initial application for travel permits.

Naffaa represented Balad in the Knesset 2007-2013, but in 2010 was stripped of his parliamentary immunity by committee vote, in order to facilitate the state's charges against him. Naffaa pointed out that after his delegation to Syria, "a delegation of Christians went, and no one was prosecuted", also citing "a number of visits by Jews to rabbis' graves in Iraq, religious visits by Muslims to Saudi Arabia and religious trips by Christians and Circassians".

An editorial in Haaretz at the time described the targeting of Naffaa as "an warn off others", with "the law barring MKs from visiting Arab countries...imped[ing] their efforts to engage in public activity on behalf of their voters". The then-chair of the committee that removed Naffaa's immunity had previously urged a "serious decision" about whether Arab parties "can continue to sit in the Israeli parliament, even while they operate against the country".

The common thread in these and other cases is the politically-motivated targeting of Palestinian citizens by the state, under the framework of 'security' offences. One of the most serious examples is Ameer Makhoul, currently serving a nine-year sentence after being convicted of spying for Hezbollah. 18 months before his arrest, and as Palestinians in Israel protested the Gaza massacre, Israeli security officers told Makhoul that "next time" the community leader would "have to say goodbye to his family since he will leave them for a long time".

More broadly, these examples are part of a picture of harassment that affects every level of political activism: from a Member of Knesset taken to court after participating in a West Bank protest, to a 23-year-old student in Haifa placed under house arrest for his social media updates. Palestinian activists under military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, of course, are detained without trial, tortured, and killed. A picture of repression that undermines Israel's 'democratic' propaganda, and shows the extent to which an apartheid regime will go in order to protect an unjust system.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Sun, 13 Apr 2014 11:24:54 +0000
Israel's doomed 'lawfare' strategy Asa WinstanleyA report in the Jewish Chronicle last week stated that a "secret conference" had been held in London whose aim was to combat the "delegitimization of Israel". The three-day event was reportedly held amid heavy security and was attended by representatives of Israel's spy agencies and by Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.

"Delegitimization" is the Israeli propaganda term for Palestine solidarity activism, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. And it seems pretty obvious from the amount of conference detail reported by Marcus Dysch (who himself is incredibly hostile to BDS) that the conference is not really much of a secret, and that its Israeli organisers very much want it to be known of.

"We will draft and lobby for legislation that will withhold government funding from academic institutions that boycott Israel," World Jewish Congress president, and right-wing American billionaire Ronald Lauder reportedly told conference delegates.

Also participating in the conference were several British Zionist groups heavily involved in pro-Israel lobbying efforts, including previous legal strategies against BDS.

All this, taken together with recent action led by the Academic Friends of Israel to nullify student democracy at King's College London Student Union, where students had strongly voted in favour of BDS last month, could be indicators of a new wave of anti-Palestinian "lawfare" in the UK. It seems they have learned few lessons.

"Lawfare" is an Israel strategy to use courts around the world to intimidate Palestine solidarity activists into backing down or from implementing decisions of boycott Israel. A little over a year ago, the strategy received a huge setback in a British tribunal, when Ronnie Fraser's case against the University and College Union (for merely discussing BDS) was ruled "devoid of any merit" and "an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means".

Nonetheless, there seems to still be appetite for the strategy. Should activists and other supporters of Palestine be worried? Yes and no.

There's no doubt that lawfare can be extremely costly as lawyers fees soon rack up. The UCU eventually won the case with flying colours, but it was strung out over years, and must have racked up substantial costs. Indeed, the union is, justifiably, still seeking back its legal costs from Fraser – who although only lone a retired college lecturer, was backed to the hilt by some of the most powerful pro-Israel forces in the UK.

There's also the psychological factor, the intimidating affect that litigation can have, especially for activists with few resources. Dysch report from this supposedly "secret" conference is a clear attempt to intimidate: "We have the resources. We have the intelligence. Most important, we have unbound determination".

However, I maintain that lawfare is a doomed strategy in the long run.

Although that last reported quote from Lauder was probably meant to sound intimidating (especially with the article's multiple references to Israeli "intelligence") it actually reads more like preaching to toe choir: the die-hard anti-Palestinian faithful are still trying to convince themselves.

Israeli lawfare represents at its heart, a movement that has so thoroughly lost the debate it has to increasingly resort to bullying tactics. It's another indicator that BDS opponents just don't get it.

In those circles, there is a perception that Israel's case is so self-evidently correct that the only problem is explaining it in the correct way – an image problem. Hence the failed "Brand Israel" strategy of a few years ago.

If Israel has an image problem, it's only because it ultimately has a morality problem. As long as it tortures Palestinian fathers to death, and leaves millions of people whose lives it controls without some of the most fundamental human rights, Israel will continue to have an "image problem".

As long as millions of Palestinian refugees are refused their inherent right to return to their homes in current-day Israel, for the crime of simply not being Jewish, the Palestinian struggle will continue. "Lawfare" is just a finger in the dam.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Sun, 13 Apr 2014 11:14:37 +0000
Will justice come from London? Fahmi HuweidiWhat we wished would happen in Egypt has come true in London. I was among those whose voice grew coarse from calling for conducting an impartial investigation of the terrorist acts committed in the country in order to identify the perpetrators and to hold them legally and politically accountable. Something of the sort was achieved when we received the news from London earlier this week reporting British Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to conduct an investigation into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain, after it had been classed a "terrorist" group in Egypt , Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

According to the reports from the French news agency AFP, who quoted Cameron's spokesperson, the decision was made in order "to make sure we fully understand what this organisation is, what it stands for, what its links are, what its beliefs are in terms of both extremism and violent extremism, what its connections are with other groups, what its presence is here in the United Kingdom."

I do not imagine the British government overlooked or was oblivious to the movements and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in London, especially since many of its members have been living in the UK for years, and some hold British citizenship and have their rights guaranteed by law.

Most Muslim Brotherhood members in the UK are Egyptian, but there are some from other Arab and Islamic countries and they are all under constant observation. Reports from Britain have said that the decision was taken in response to pressure from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in context of the efforts made by the three countries to persecute the Brotherhood and end their activities. Despite this, this decision is particularly important and cannot be ignored, especially as the Saudi government had put similar pressure on the British government, led by John Major in the 1990's, when it wanted two Saudi activists (Saad Al-Faqih and Mohammed Al-Massari) expelled from the UK. The Saudi government threatened to cancel an arms deal with the UK worth $70 billion (known as the Yamamah Deal), but these efforts were unsuccessful as the two activists still reside in Britain.

The decision made by Cameron is significant for four reasons. First, the investigation is being conducted without prior prejudice, meaning that it seeks to determine whether or not the group has extremist tendencies or practices terrorism and does not aim to prove a preconceived accusation.

Secondly, the investigation is being conducted in a country that respects the freedom of expression and the law has firm roots guaranteeing a sufficient degree of integrity and impartiality. Thirdly, the borders between the judiciary and politics are clear, bearing in mind that the judiciary has issued many rulings that oppose and challenge the country's politics.

Fourthly, there are many strong independent institutions in Britain that are able to rectify any deviation or suspicion in the conduct of the government or its official institutions.

The newspapers have reported that the committee formed by Cameron will be headed by the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and one of the committee members will be an ambassador who worked in Cairo.

Some newspapers have pointed this out to hint that the head of the committee or its members may be sympathetic towards Saudi Arabian, Emirati, or Egyptian policies and this is a possibility, but it is not very troublesome because the views of the committee's members may be limited, and they will be governing by the limits of the law.

Moreover, the committee's report will be discussed in the House of Commons, and it will therefore be presented before the recess. Although the preparation of the report may take several months, the British government will not be willing to ruin its reputation in respecting freedoms and the law just to please other friendly countries, and it will try to reconcile its interests and principles as much as possible.

We cannot help but decide that this important and vital issue was not fairly investigated in Egypt, and that all related decisions have been politically supported by the security reports. I will not tire from reminding everyone of the conclusion made by the legal fact-finding committee in Egypt investigating the January 25 revolution, headed by Judge Adel Koura, the former President of the Court of Cassation, and how the report was ignored because it accused the police of violence. The events during that period were then adapted in the reports of security agencies, which expressed political ideas rather than an impartial and objective investigation.

Press reports have talked about the British telling the Saudis that their government cannot issue a ruling condemning any political faction and accusing them of extremism or violence unless an investigation is made supporting this claim and providing evidence. This is an indirect reference to the difference between a democratic state ruled by law and other states ruled by whims who regard politics as being above the law. Due to this, I would argue that the British investigation is very important because, at worst, it will not stray far from the truth and justice, and this is the right way forward.

]]> (Fahmi Huwaidi) Europe Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:35:15 +0000
American feebleness in the face of the Israelis Muhannad ZulfikarThe reaction of the United States to disparaging comments by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon was termed by the Israeli press as "unprecedented" and "the harshest ever". Ya'alon had declared in an open gathering that the US was "feeble" in its response to the Russians and thus liable to terrorism. An anonymous White House spokesperson claimed that Ya'alon was threatening Tel Aviv's ties with Washington.

What was particularly astonishing about this was that the American response was made anonymously. A prominent member of Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet used a university speech as a platform to humiliate the United States and the only thing that the Obama administration could offer in return was a rather pitiful, anonymous statement. To his credit, US Secretary of State John Kerry later denounced Ya'alon's speech as "not constructive"; an understatement by any standards.

Israel has for a long time, as Gulf News stated, "been biting the hand that feeds it." It is now the right moment to stop feeding it. Israeli politicians have no hesitation about insulting America time after time, acknowledging, in effect, that the US will turn a deaf ear. If there is a nation that makes America look feeble, it is definitely not Russia; it is Israel. How the Middle East strategies of the world's only superpower can be held hostage by a small, racist and aggressive government thousands of kilometers away is beyond comprehension.

The exclusivist link between Tel Aviv and Washington is atypical. It breaches every one of the values of equality, freedom and justice which Americans stand for and seek to exemplify; this will haunt the US for years to come when justice and peace ultimately prevail, which they surely will. The Israelis are participating in a losing war and face growing isolation from the rest of the world. It is surprising that the Americans opt to stand firm on this drowning wreck of a state.

The coming generations will question how and why the United States, contrary to international law and community, stood by the bigoted policies of a brutal government that squashed an entire nation. It is important to remember apartheid South Africa and what happened to it.

The earlier that the United States acknowledges this, the better for everyone it will be, not least America and its citizens.

]]> (Muhammad Zulfikar) Americas Sat, 22 Mar 2014 13:30:15 +0000
Palestinians call for protests against US military aid to the Israeli occupation Dr Sarah MarusekSince the US-sponsored peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel recommenced last summer, Israeli forces have: authorised the approval of several thousand illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; launched the construction of twice as many illegal housing units as in the previous year; forcibly dispersed a peaceful protest camp in the Jordan Valley; violently suppressed the nonviolent demonstrations that happen weekly throughout the occupied West Bank; demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and structures, with demolitions now at an all time high, leaving entire families homeless and exposed to the cold; arrested hundreds of Palestinian children and thousands of adults to be held without charge or tried in Israeli military courts; and killed dozens of Palestinians in raids in the West Bank and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, which also injured several thousand.

In addition, Israeli settlers living illegally in the occupied Palestinian territories have carried out countless attacks against Palestinians, for example uprooting olive trees, burning cars and painting racist graffiti on homes, mosques, churches and schools. According to the Associated Press, UN figures published in January show that the annual rate of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled over the last eight years.

Meanwhile, Palestinians were responsible for the deaths of six Israelis throughout all of last year; and militant groups in Gaza, a territory that the UN has warned may soon become uninhabitable due to the draconian siege imposed by Israel, consistently fired rockets at Israel, none of which caused any significant damage or injuries. In December, militants also planted a bomb on a bus near Tel Aviv, with no injuries reported.

Of course, all suffering is painful, but the systemic nature of Israel's violence against the Palestinians and the suffering caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine is extreme.

And yet, the US Congress has decided to place conditions on US aid to Palestine, not Israel, when it passed HR 3547. Furthermore, the bill HR 3868, or the "Palestinian peace promotion and anti-incitement act," aims to further cut development aid to the Palestinian Authority, apparently because it has not done enough to confront incitement against Israel at a time when Israeli forces and settlers are committing daily crimes and humiliations with impunity.

To provide one example of the power imbalance, according to Haaretz newspaper, Israeli police recently summoned a Palestinian photographer who lives in occupied East Jerusalem for incitement because he posted on his Facebook page that the mayor of Jerusalem is "the mayor of the occupation". The Israeli newspaper suggests that this view of East Jerusalem is more than justified when the Israeli authorities expel Palestinians from their homes, settlers illegally take over Palestinian neighbourhoods and Palestinian houses are demolished.

The new legal efforts to restrict US development aid to Palestine illustrate why so many people also say that Washington is an occupied city: the actions of US politicians clearly indicate that their primary allegiance is to the government of Israel.

US development aid to Palestine is currently about $440 million annually, slightly less than previous years allegedly due to budgetary constraints. This aid is subject to a wide range of restrictions and conditions to make sure that the Palestinian Authority spends it in a manner that Washington and Tel Aviv fully approve of.

On the other hand, US military aid to Israel is $3.1 billion annually, and with supplemental programmes, despite the budget cuts, this year US military aid to Israel amounts to at least $3.6 billion. Furthermore, the Congressional Research Service notes that: "Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel receiving benefits not available to any other countries; for example, Israel can use some US military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers. In addition, US assistance earmarked for Israel is generally delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year, while most other recipients normally receive aid in instalments."

But despite the vast discrepancies that already exist between US aid policy towards Israel and Palestine, some American lawmakers have decided that it is appropriate to further undermine the Palestinian position while the US-brokered negotiations are unfolding.

The Times of Israel newspaper reports that HR 3547 is a package of several appropriation bills, one of which seeks to limit aid to Palestine by guaranteeing that: "the Palestinian Authority is acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence and security cooperation with Israel." The US Congress approved HR 3547 with the federal budget at the end of last year.

Subsequently, the bill HR 3868 was introduced. According to the Congressional Research Service, this bill is more targeted and "expresses the sense of Congress that the Palestinian Authority has not lived up to its agreements with Israel to end incitement and should do more to prepare the Palestinian people for peace with Israel." HR 3868 has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it currently awaits further discussion.

The emergence of these two bills while negotiations are taking place under US auspices illustrates that American lawmakers are not interested in brokering a peace that even remotely resembles a just peace. However, they also appear at a time when Washington is becoming more and more isolated in its unquestioning support for Israel. The international community, and increasingly Western corporations, officials, churches, academics, artists and citizens, are voicing their concern and joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as called for by Palestinian civil society.

Now, Palestinians are also calling upon Americans and internationals to protest against US military aid to the Israeli occupation on what is known as America's Tax Day, 15 April. The call from the Popular Committees of Palestine, which coordinate the nonviolent resistance against Israel's apartheid wall and illegal settlements, can be accessed here.

In reality, Palestinians are also resisting against censorship across Western societies, because politicians and the mainstream media rarely focus on the stories of the occupied. As Iyad Burnat, head of the Bil'in Popular Committee against the Wall, explains: "Most of the American people are unaware that the Palestinian people live under the Israeli occupation rule, and are also unaware of what is happening to the Palestinians, from killing to destruction to theft of land, and building of settlements and building of the apartheid wall." The censorship is due to the disproportionate influence of the Israel Lobby, so "the American and European media do not show the true suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation, and all of that under the explicit support of the US government."

Furthermore, whenever Palestinians do try to raise their voices to communicate their oppression they are brutally suppressed. After Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the authorities passed "Order No. 101" or the "Order regarding prohibition of incitement and hostile propaganda actions". According to +972 Magazine, this order dictates that any assembly, vigil or procession of ten or more people requires a permit from the local Israeli occupation forces commander and imposes ten years' imprisonment on violators. While the order applies to all Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestinian territories under full Israeli military control, Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli civil law.

This means that under occupation, it is illegal for Palestinians to protest against their occupation, while Israeli settlers are granted extraterritorial rights to openly demonstrate in support of their illegal settler movement. Furthermore, Israel uses American weapons funded by US taxpayers to ensure that the Palestinians remain silent.

Israeli forces regularly use overwhelming force to suppress any form of protest inside the occupied Palestinian territories, turning nonviolent demonstrations into clashes where "non-lethal weapons" result in mass casualties and even death. Indeed, a recent report by Amnesty International entitled "Trigger-happy: Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank" finds that Israeli forces often resort to "unnecessary, arbitrary and abusive" force against nonviolent protesters. Burnat describes how in his village "peaceful demonstrators were killed by weapons made in America." This is powerfully documented in his brother's Oscar nominated film Five Broken Cameras.

Burnat continues: "Many peaceful demonstrators were killed in many places in Palestine by American-made weapons, and many international activists have been participating in these demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians; some were wounded or detained and in some cases were killed like Rachel Corrie, who was deliberately driven over by an American-made bulldozer while trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes." The call for internationals to join Palestinians in their protest against US military aid to Israel is a call to end the Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.

Although resistance is a long and difficult struggle, Palestinians also know that justice is inevitable. The BDS movement and the tax day protests aim to make Israel's occupation of Palestine unprofitable, using similar tactics that helped to dismantle South Africa's apartheid regime. Waiting for peace is no longer an option—direct action is required. As Burnat notes, "The last country to stand against the discriminating regime in South Africa was the US, and it is the only country that has not yet boycotted the Israeli occupation."

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Tue, 04 Mar 2014 16:47:55 +0000
S is for Sanctions Hugh LanningIt is often forgotten that BDS is a three letter word. To achieve real success and a free Palestine we need to make progress on every front: B, D and S. Unfortunately, life never follows neat lines but, hopefully, BDS is a linear progression, getting stronger all the time. In the UK we are doing well, going from B to D, but next we need to get to S and S is for Sanctions.

One of the problems of London being described as a hub of BDS by Israeli political "think-tank" the Reut Institute (1), is that other countries think you know the answers. Of course you don't; but you can talk of our experience in this country.

B is for Boycott

Boycott action is most often individual in-actions, leading to collective ends. Not buying settlement goods, leading to supermarkets not stocking them. It is an opportunity for mass campaigning; it is a call to individuals or corporations not to do something but to make the choice not to.

There is a growing set of boycott successes, with significant individuals like Stephen Hawking refusing to go to Israel; the TUC's largely successful campaign aimed at having settlement goods removed from British supermarkets; the Co-operative's decision to stop using suppliers which operate in illegal Israeli settlements; the closure of Ahava's flagship store in London; and the takeover of G4S's AGM by shareholders demanding that it pull out of its contracts with Israeli prisons, settlements and checkpoints. The list is growing ever longer. Current campaigns are focussed on SodaStream and its high-profile stockist, the John Lewis Partnership; G4S and its bid for the BBC contract; and getting Sainsbury's to end its indifference to Palestine and adopt an ethical policy similar to the Co-op's.

D is for Divestment, or is it Disinvestment?

Divestment is about trying to get institutions to make a decision to withdraw support for Israel. The aim is to take investments out of certain companies, not to award contracts to or have contracts with complicit firms. This demands another range of tactics.

Along with Omar Barghouti and others, I recently took part via Skype in a grass-roots conference in San Francisco. It was a great local initiative, talking about Veolia, coming to grips with it both as a bad employer and as a complicit firm. I explained to the conference that in my experience there are three strands to a successful divestment campaign.

The first is putting the legal and technical arguments to those involved in the decision-making process, in particular giving those politicians who are supportive of BDS the information they need. In Britain there are a range of legal constraints on decision-makers which limit severely what you can do by way of political lobbying. For example, much is made of commercial confidentiality, so much so that individuals on the decision-making panel might not even know the names of the companies involved in the tender.

In this context the key message that we focus on is "grave political misconduct", which is one of the issues that can be used legitimately. Below is an example of how this was framed in a recent local campaign:

"Veolia is a company which is complicit in Israel's occupation. The Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying power from transferring its own civilians into occupied territories and goes on to prohibit significant alterations to the infrastructure. What Veolia does in Israel is not a marginal act. It has a contract with Israel, and it makes profits by breaking international law. It is a very clear case of grave professional misconduct, and we consider that Veolia should be excluded from any future tenders on those grounds."

The focus is to give decision-makers a framework within which they can, legally, make the decision we want.

Secondly, it is campaigning with the workforce inside the company. The workers will be worried about their futures, naturally so. The task is to convince them that it is in their long-term interests to campaign to get, in this case, Veolia out of Israel and for the company to stop operating illegally; to convince them that the reputational damage is going to be a greater risk eventually. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is now running campaigns with workforces in Veolia and BT (British Telecom), and with the unions in G4S, and hope to launch a campaign soon. These are campaigns not against the workforce, but with them. It is not a boycott; it is a campaign to get the company to withdraw from illegal contracts, because it's in their own best interest to do so.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the community campaign, which is normally the driving force. It is the building of a coalition of activists, students, faith groups and politicians. The aim is to build pressure on the company and the decision-makers and to generate publicity. The timetable of the contract decision-making process quite often gives a clear focus for campaign activity.

These three strands need to work in unison, reinforcing each other. When the final decision comes, if it is not to award the contract to Veolia or any other complicit firm, it is important to claim the victory: the decision is always said by such companies to be for some other reason.

S is for Sanctions

As the successes demonstrate, the solidarity movement is good and getting better at both boycott and divestment. Our weakness has been at a national political level. This is about shifting the political paradigm; getting inside the tent and trying to move to a tipping point when we can make governments start to act. The recent EU guidelines on research funding in relation to the settlements is a first tentative step in this direction.

On the face of it the guidelines are not that controversial. They were explained by European diplomats as merely bringing together in a single place existing regulations. The core principle is that EU money should only be spent on EU programmes within boundaries recognised by the EU. The self-evident point was that the settlements, being illegal and on occupied land, do not fit within any definition of where EU money should go.

The publication of the guidelines did not require new approval, as they were based on settled policy; but they unleashed a torrent of diplomatic anger from Israel, with support from John Kerry and the US. Much to their surprise, there was no mood in Brussels to shift on the guidelines themselves. You could detect an almost physical frustration and annoyance with Israel as it assumed a right to be able to tell the EU how it could and should spend its money. It is still the recipient of large sums of money not destined directly to the settlements.

How do we make this shift happen?

The solidarity movement needs to be bigger, broader and deeper across the globe. Organisations such as the PSC need to be bigger; to have the additional resources and capacity to take the campaign to ever higher levels. This will mean increasing membership and raising funds from supporters of Palestine, not for humanitarian aid, but for political action.

The alliances also need to get broader, including not just activists and trade unions, but also a broad range of politicians, community groups and faith organisations, and tapping into the growing empathy amongst students.

Finally, support needs to be deeper. In unions it needs to go from being national policy to regional and local-level action. The PSC is holding a conference for trade unions at the TUC in April to discuss how this can best be done. Within the Labour Party unions and branches that are affiliated need to raise Palestine as an issue. A Labour Party constituency I visited recently had not discussed the issue in 25 years, assuming it to be controversial, only to find that they all agreed that they supported Palestine. The debate on Palestine needs to be generated not just in the Labour Party but in all political parties, including parties of the left, where there is often no strong tradition of supporting the Palestinians. Given the shift in public opinion, it is not a debate we should be reluctant to have.

Building broad local alliances will be critical if the solidarity campaign is to grow and multiply. It will be local pressure that will help bring national parties into line, not only with their own grassroots, but with public opinion as well. In most Western European countries there is public support for Palestine.(2) This is not reflected by governments who seem stuck in a time warp believing that to do anything that could be viewed by Israel as hostile would be unpopular. The reality, though, is that many people are bemused as to why Israel is allowed to break international law, abuse Palestinian human rights, hold nuclear weapons and defy the UN with seeming impunity.

One of the reasons for this is that the Palestinian voice, unlike that of the Israelis, is not heard to anything like the same extent within the corridors of power. As a consequence governments hear a distorted, Israeli-filtered version of public opinion that does not reflect what the majority of people are actually saying and thinking. This imbalance is amplified further by media reporting that believes almost without question what one side says, namely Israel, whilst routinely doubting and challenging any Palestinian account of events. So how do we help make the Palestinian voice heard?

Soft Power

Action will speak louder than words. It will be through the twin arms of BDS and the solidarity campaign on the outside and non-violent resistance within Palestine. Resistance is the key component without which nothing else is possible, but when put together with BDS they become a formidable force which is beginning to worry Israel more and more.

This is the soft power of which Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine, speaks; a soft war about reputational damage. The most recent example was SodaStream, for which we have to thank Scarlett Johansson for transforming a campaign that started in the back streets of Brighton into a global phenomenon. Her parting company with Oxfam was an inevitable consequence, but how good was it for SodaStream? Would you pay for an ambassador whose very fame brought down on you more opprobrium than ever before?

Israel is increasingly concerned about BDS as was revealed by its recent decision to establish a ministerial task group to fight campaigns. However, this worry has not been enough so far to change one jot what Israel is doing on the ground.

A moral case for action

To do that we need to get governments to act and this will not happen until we challenge the moral legitimacy of Israel's actions. We have moved from "it is not nice what they are doing" to "it is wrong, it is against the law"; but we need to get to "it is not acceptable and will not be tolerated".

We will have to demonstrate not just a legal but also a moral case and it is in this context that racism is Israel's Achilles Heel. Its policies are based on racism, with different laws along with separated and segregated people, roads and water. The Wall is a monstrosity in a modern age that the world is silent about. In contrast to the Berlin Wall, when Ronald Reagan famously told Gorbachev, "If you want peace... tear down this wall!" In contrast, Israel is being allowed to build an apartheid reality with different rights for the different peoples who live under its effective control between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

To make such a moral case our campaign in support of Palestine must be an anti-racist campaign, making anti-racism the basis of all our actions. Historically, opponents of Israel's actions have always been attacked as anti-Semitic. Our challenge is to make anti-racism a strength not a weakness. This is not a tactical ploy; it is because it is morally right. However it will mean that Israel cannot routinely get away with decrying all opponents as anti-Semitic. This will enable us to expose properly Israel's racist agenda. That is why the PSC has made "Challenging Israel's racism and Apartheid" its overarching theme this year. It is going from defence to attack. It is about making Israeli racism and apartheid policies toxic. It is about making companies not wanting, for good commercial reasons, to be complicit with Israel's illegal and morally indefensible actions.

It is crucially about making it impossible for governments to justify inaction; forcing them to make a moral judgement that they can no longer condone Israel's actions. Sanctions can mean many things. To date it has been encouragement and incentives for the Israelis; punishment and sanctions for Palestinians. It is becoming "guidance" to firms and institutions. This is not enough; governments need to make clear to Israel that there will be consequences for its behaviour. There is much that governments have the power to do, from funding and commerce and, in particular the arms trade.

The challenge is to break through the glass ceiling of inaction that, however well we do in bringing Palestine's plight to the world's attention, the US and Israel, with the support of the EU, have so far always succeeded in imposing. The only way that seems to have realistic prospects of success is the twin track strategy of Palestinian non-violent resistance coupled with a truly global solidarity campaign based around BDS. S is not only for Sanctions, but also for Success.


(1)Building a political firewall against the Assault on Israel's Legitimacy - London as a Case Study, Reut Institute, November 2010. Accessed 18 November 2013
(2) 2013 Country Ratings Poll, 22 May 2013, conducted by GlobeSpan/PIPA. Accessed 18 November 2013

Hugh Lanning is a British pro-Palestinian activist and former trade union official. He was the Deputy Chairman of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), one of Britain's largest trade unions, until May 2013. He has been the Chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) since 2009, and in 2013 was named a vice chair of the group Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

]]> (Hugh Lanning) Guest Writers Sat, 01 Mar 2014 07:00:12 +0000
Oh Jerusalem! We have stopped counting on the Arab leaders to do anything but have high hopes of the Arab people to wake from their long slumber and rise in support of Jerusalem and liberate it from Israeli desecration.It has been 46 years since we lost East Jerusalem; Israel seized control of it in 1967, annexing the eastern half of the city illegally almost straight away. Israel celebrates this painful memory by holding an annual celebration in which it emphasises that Jerusalem is the "permanent capital" of the state. Each year, Israelis rub more salt into our wounds by erasing the city's Arab and Islamic landmarks, falsifying its history and "Judaising" the occupied territory.

This year, Israel celebrated the establishment of illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, making the point of only inviting non-Arab Israelis to move there; Arabs are still a majority of the city's population. The government has also allowed Jewish settlers to enter the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque under police protection, and have allowed Israeli police officers to wear their uniforms in the mosque, although this was prohibited in the past. Moreover, this year, Israel has continued its rogue actions by arresting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein; this is a dangerous escalation in an attempt to silence any critical voice calling for the defence and protection of the religious sites in Jerusalem.

All this has occurred without any external Arab interference. Even the statements of condemnation, which the Arabs are known for using to conceal their weakness and failure to do anything, have not been made. It is as if they have abandoned their religious, moral and national responsibilities and have surrendered to the oppressive Israeli occupation. Have the Arab leaders forgotten that Jerusalem is an Arab and Islamic issue before a Palestinian issue? Where has the Islamic passion gone; where has Arab chivalry gone? The Israeli occupation is desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Grand Mufti is arrested before their eyes, and they do not stir or bat an eyelid. They stand by silently while the Arab territories are seized, historical structures are demolished and Arab street names are "Judaised" by Israel's occupation authority in an attempt to establish "facts on the ground" that will be difficult to change. Since the complicit international community has been silent in the face of all these violations, do not wait for them to support us in our cause; their position on Israel is linked to America's unshakeable backing of Israel and its blind advocacy of any measure the Netanyahu or any other Israeli government takes.

However, we cannot blame the US; all the blame and shame is on the weak, corrupt Arab regimes which have dropped the Palestinian cause off of their list of priorities and forgotten their religious and national duties. Instead, they have chased after their personal interests; some fearing for their throne, others fearing for their emirate and sheikhdom; and yet others trading the Palestinian cause for the preservation of their presidency. It is painful and lamentable that these kings and presidents have behind the scenes contact and relations with the Israeli enemy, and work on gaining their approval ultimately to please America, which guarantees their place on the throne, forgetting that God gives power to whom he pleases, and takes it away from whom he pleases, not America or Israel.

We have stopped counting on the Arab leaders to do anything but have high hopes of the Arab people to wake from their long slumber and rise in support of Jerusalem and liberate it from Israeli desecration. The youth of our nation should mobilise to protect Jerusalem in their millions; the true struggle is in the Holy Land, as foretold to us by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). One day Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea, and Zionism will be no more. Until then, we must all do all that we can to protect Jerusalem and its people from Israel's brutal occupation and oppression.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Thu, 16 May 2013 15:45:00 +0000
The Iraqi elections: Nouri Al-Maliki and his opponents Nouri Al-Maliki The Iraqi parliamentary elections will be held on April 30th at a time when the political arena continues to be marked by an increasing number of conflicts and fragmentation. A number of political blocs are being formed due to many factors, the most prominent of which are the policies of President Nouri Al-Maliki and his investment in the Iraqi state in a way that benefits his Islamic Dawa Party. At the same time, Al-Maliki has also deepened rifts among his political opponents and has worked to link them with cases marked by corruption and laziness. On the one hand, this tactic eliminates any sense of real competition between Al-Maliki and his opponents and, on the other, he has succeeded in bringing about their moral and political downfall.

Al-Maliki has also invested a great deal of effort in ensuring that he is the sole decision-maker on issues pertaining to the Iraqi military and state security. He did this in order to trap his political opponents who could not have been eliminated in any other way.

These factors are what have brought Iraq to the crucial stage of legislative elections, which will decide who will be the next prime minister. The people have issued a number of complaints about the deteriorating state of security, the lack of public services and the rampant corruption at every level of the administrative and political pyramid of Iraq. It is easy to see that there is a strange sense of fragmentation and hatred among all classes and groups of the people.

The Iraqi political scene has changed greatly from what it was in 2009 and 2010. In the upcoming 2014 election, some 9,200 candidates will compete for 328 parliamentary seats. These candidates represent 36 political coalitions and 71 political entities, most notably the rule of law, the citizen's bloc, the liberal bloc, the united bloc for reform and Iraqi Arabs and Kurds.

This political reality highlights clearly the fact that larger electoral blocs are being divided into smaller groups. Even the current prime minister's electoral bloc finds itself without its major allies in the current campaign. Yet, Al-Maliki continues to deny that his party represents a political bloc because that would deprive him of the chance to win the election. Maliki instead chooses to exclude his opponents by claiming that he represents the majority, which is something that he tries to remind the people frequently.

Ammar Hakim and Muqtada Al-Sadr, the leaders of the Citizens' and Liberal blocs respectively, recently emerged from beneath the Shiite alliance's umbrella. They have opted to form a new alliance with Ayad Allawi and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in an effort to form the largest parliamentary bloc and prevent Al-Maliki from staying in office for a third term under the pretext of majority rule. Forming a new and successful majority bloc will afford these leaders the opportunity to manage the country's affairs.

As for Iran, it has tried, and continues to try, to revive the Shiite political alliance so that it may be able to single out and influence Iraqi politics. However, the Iranian initiative was stalled due to Al-Maliki's belief that he can control things through the ballot box. He continues to take advantage of three factors: US support for Iran's current position, the use of public money in an effort to win over certain tribal and political figures, and the use of excessive force to paralyse all other political opponents and their efforts to mobilise in the current period.

Despite all that is going on in the political scene, Iran has not stopped trying to send its high-ranking political personalities to Iraq. Among these is Iran's proactive ambassador in Baghdad and a key player in the region, General Ghasemi Soleimani, both of whom engage in regular meetings with Ayad Allawi, Barzani and others.

Despite Iran's support for Al-Maliki and the Dawa Party, it has also listened strategically to his opponents' concerns in case they win the election. Allawi, who is a leading candidate with the potential to win, said recently that Iran has taken on positive new initiatives with Iraqi politicians that are based on dialogue as opposed to ultimatums. Iran's efforts to engage in a dialogue with the Iraqi political scene anticipate multiple political outcomes instead of placing all bets on Al-Maliki.

Yet, it seems that Iran will continue to support the current prime minister nonetheless and will re-evaluate its position in light of alternative outcomes should the need arise. After all, Iran knows that the Supreme Islamic Council remains weak and that Sadr's group is undergoing a great deal of chaos due to a lack of political leadership and rampant corruption. The Sunnis in Iraq are also in a weak position due to their lack of political leadership and reference points on the one hand and their inability to maintain a firm grip on security in a number of key provinces such as Al-Anbar, Diyala, Nineveh and Salahuddin.

Finally, the Kurdish leadership also finds itself divided between the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Barzani, and the Patriotic Union, led by absentee Jalal Talabani. The latter is known for signing treaties with Al-Maliki and the Dawa Party whereas Barzani will be among those who make solid political gains on the ground (as in Kirkuk or other disputed territories) or through legislation.

The main problem when it comes to the Iraqi parliamentary election is its dependence on a single hypothesis, which centres around Nouri Al-Maliki and the question of whether he will remain in power or not. Al-Maliki is the reason why the majority of political blocs are now weak and lack true political leadership and this is the problem that occupies the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

They have made Nouri Al-Maliki their main cause and, through this, the main questions in society centre on the prime minister's sectarian party. Thus, many are placing their bets on the possibility that he will achieve yet another political victory although this is due to a lack of political leadership in other blocs and parties, which are chosen by Iraqis. The main goal behind this parliamentary election is to achieve the largest victory possible for Iraq's Shiites.

So far, the only bloc that can stand in opposition to Al-Maliki's government is the United Bloc, which is the largest Sunni Coalition to challenge the current government since the Iraqi Bloc in the 2010 election. However, due to its lack of political experience (as an opposition group) not many Iraqis will vote for it because they are unable to imagine how the group will lead the Iraqi people.

In this case, the dramatic effect of Allawi, the man who won the previous election according to a poll published by the Washington Post, no longer exists and he is expected to experience a heavy loss. The poll attributed Allawi's failure to the people turning their backs on him after his victory four years ago because Al-Maliki agreed to step down from his role in forming a new government only if he was given a job with absolutely no meaning or precedents.

The United Bloc's president and parliamentary speaker Osama Najafi accused Al-Maliki of orchestrating and implementing this scheme in an attempt to blackmail Iraq's Sunni population and keep them from participating in the elections and from bringing about any true demographic changes. In an interview with a Turkish news agency, Najafi said, "Al-Maliki's scheme is being implemented in sectarian militias and what's worrying is that they are operating under the auspices of the security sector, which is supposed to protect all people regardless of religious or sectarian affiliation."

Najafi also claimed that the demographics and geography of Baghdad have changed greatly because, he claims, "whole areas in the city have been abandoned". If Najafi's claims are true, this means that the capital has fallen victim to election scheming.

The 2014 parliamentary election could be an important turning point in Iraqi history if the results lead to real changes in the country's leadership. If the public trust in the election is lost and there is no peaceful transfer of power the only possible alternatives are military operations, which would undoubtedly open the door for regional intervention in the country and widespread violence in the Arab and non-Arab areas.

As such, I believe that it is in the interest of the Shiites before anyone else to avoid re-electing Al-Maliki because his presence on the political scene will only give way to more sectarian strife and tension between equal citizens of the Iraqi state. One must look beyond the US administration's stance on the Iraqi leadership because those who concern themselves with this matter support the policies that were brought about by the 2003 US-led invasion.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 15 April 2014

]]> (Fares Al-Khattab) Middle East Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:44:21 +0000
Welcome to Egypt, 2014 Fahmi HuwaidiFrom whichever angle you look at it, the situation in Egypt is unbelievable. It is unfathomable that three years after the Egyptian revolution, for which 1,000 martyrs paid with their lives, torture has become prevalent in our society. The re-emergence of torture not only constitutes a serious violation of human rights and dignity, but also marks the return of the Mubarak regime and the security state. It also keeps the revolution from going down in history as a significant mark of progress and marks a huge victory for the counter-revolution.

Nor does it make sense that people have grown accustomed to such violations which are now normal daily news items. What is even worse is that torture and killing are justified and celebrated by some citizens. The security state continues to deny that torture takes place despite the fact that eye-witness accounts are being published on social networking sites on a daily basis. Many of the "official" versions of events seek to spread falsehood about the victims whereas most of the accounts published online come from the victims themselves, their families and their lawyers, and many would not think to discount such evidence of state wrongdoing.

What is no less dangerous than torture, which is a crime against humanity in every sense of the word, are the online voices that no longer question or deny the state's claims. Anyone who reads such comments made in response to accounts of torture, imprisonment or death sentences, will be shocked by the degree of brainwashing and lack of social consciousness; some people even claim that it is the victims of torture who violate the law and that death, torture and tyranny are deserved punishments that fit the alleged crimes.

This type of thinking brings to mind the Nazi ideology of 1940s Germany, in which no one blamed or questioned the regime for its belief in the superiority of the Aryan race and its attempt at the ethnic cleansing of the state. The problem lies in the fact that such blatantly racist ideology had many supporters in German society. We find ourselves facing a similar situation in that the revolution that was launched against tyranny in 2011 somehow paved the way for a quasi-Nazi movement in 2014 Egypt.

Ironically, the concept of abolishing the Other and accepting a policy that seeks to eradicate outsiders is promoted on a daily basis in a time when official political discourse claims that it does not seek to exclude anyone. The contradiction here lies in the fact that any group or organisation that affiliates itself with the authorities will not be excluded whereas those who oppose the regime's vision are regarded as outsiders.

Surprisingly, the circle of those who support torture, hate speech and exclusivity is not limited to ordinary folk but has come to include a number of the elite who have abandoned their moral values. They have chosen instead to side with the authorities by remaining silent (and thus, they believe erroneously, neutral) on the matter of its gross violations.

I have read and heard some of the opinions of those who seek to justify these violations and practices under the pretext of the law, which is what compels me to remind them that the text which allegedly justifies such actions is dependent on three contextual factors.

The first is that circumstances must require such a response; state violence should not be subject to a political whim or fraud. The second factor is that the need for such actions should not be contradictory in nature or exaggerated, meaning that violence should not be without limits but should be proportionate to the confrontation or threat. The third and most important is that the taking of such action benefits society in that the end goal remains legitimate and noble by all reasonable measures.

The surprises continue as certain political figures announce their intentions to run in the upcoming presidential elections without making the slightest reference to the large festering wound plaguing our society - the ongoing human rights violations and the thousands of victims languishing in both known and unknown prisons. Palestinian-Egyptian poet and scholar Tamim Barghouti wrote in Shorouk Newspaper that the Egyptian revolution has been destroyed and replaced by a disturbing form of fascism so that Egypt now resembles Idi Amin's Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa's Central Africa, Muammar Gaddafi's Libya and Pol Pot's Cambodia. That is a damning indictment.

In a matter of a few months, since the "glorious June 30th revolution", Egypt has given birth to four massacres, one of which is considered to be the worst in the country since the late 18th century. There have also been 23,000 politically-motivated arrests, including those of women and underage girls. Egypt is now a place where a puppet can be accused of terrorist activity, a bird has been imprisoned as a spy because a field tracking device was found on its leg and a "miraculous scientific discovery" has been revealed with the state in possession of a device that converts diseases into balls of meat which can be consumed by the masses... It really does beggar belief. Welcome to Egypt, 2014.

Translated from Shorouk newspaper, 14 April, 2014

]]> (Fahmi Huwaidi) Africa Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:19:16 +0000