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, 01 Nov 2014 06:30:09 +0000 MEMO en-gb Belhaj to get his day in British court over torture allegations "Torture is wrong and can never be justified." So said Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of Britain's internal security service.

I was writing a dissertation at the same time on the ethics and effectiveness of torture in modern warfare and seized on her comments as she conveyed in less than a sentence what academia required me to thrash out in over 40,000 words. The director-general of MI5 between 2002 and 2007 always made it very clear where she stands on the issue; she even hinted in her 2012 book Securing Freedom that Britain's spies had been up to no good over Libyan dissidents and had possibly crossed the Rubicon over the issue.

She was right. Some months before her book was published I had already interviewed the leader of the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Tripoli, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, about his own horrific experiences and those of his wife, after they were subjected to rendition, kidnapped and tortured in an operation involving British intelligence officers. While in Libya during that tumultuous time following the demise of Gaddafi, I interviewed at length a number of other rebel leaders and commanders, mainly from the former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who all had tales to tell which involved dirty tricks by British and American intelligence agencies.

It was quite clear back then that Belhaj wanted justice, and while one of his fellow rebels who'd endured similar treatment settled for a cash payout in the belief that his story would never be heard in an open courtroom, Belhaj continued to pursue those who had "dishonoured" him and his wife. She was pregnant at the time of her ordeal.

The response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London was to throw what can only be called "hush money" at the problem. Handing over £2.2m to Sami al-Saadi and his family, who were also forcibly renditioned to Gaddafi's Libya in 2004, the British government tried to persuade others to take the money and go away quietly.

It was a tactic that had already been used when the government tried to sweep torture allegations and British intelligence complicity under the carpet by paying compensation to all of the UK residents and citizens taken forcibly to Guantanamo. No sooner had millions of pounds of taxpayers' money been handed over in that secret deal when documents began to surface revealing that MI6 officers had been at it again, this time in Libya.

In official statements, the ubiquitous spokesman for the FCO confirmed on both occasions that settlements were reached. "There has been no admission of liability," he stressed, "and no finding by any court of [government] liability."

Undeterred at the generosity of Whitehall, Belhaj wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron and offered to drop his case in 2013 for a mere £3 plus an apology from HM Government and an admission of liability. In anyone's view this seemed like a great bargain for the taxpayer; it was rejected.

Now, thanks to a landmark legal decision this week, it looks as though Belhaj will get his day in court when questions about the behaviour of MI6, which was then accountable to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, will have to be answered before a judge. It will be interesting to see if Manningham-Buller is called as a key witness. Without doubt the proceedings with Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar will be watched closely across the Middle East by all intelligence agencies and those who have been wronged.

Allegations and suspicions about illegal behaviour by western intelligence agencies were being investigated by the Outreach Director of human rights group Cage, Moazzam Begg, when he was arrested at the beginning of this year following a trip to Syria. Begg knew that British intelligence had a close relationship with the Assad regime before the eruption of the civil war and he was gathering information following more allegations of complicity in illegal activities. This may now explain his curious arrest, detention and release without trial after the British authorities admitted that they had no case. Begg was declared to be "an innocent man." Quite how much compensation his 7 months inside a high security prison awaiting a trial that never happened will cost the British taxpayer remains to be seen, but it is understood that the former Guantanamo detainee will seek legal redress for what he regards as false imprisonment.

Now that Belhaj and his wife have been given the green light to sue the government over their rendition, abduction and torture in the joint intelligence operation involving both British and American intelligence agencies, other lawsuits from Libyan dissidents may follow. This is a serious blow to both the British government and the security services, given that they wriggled like worms on a hook for two years to avoid prosecution over complicity in the Belhaj kidnapping affair in 2004. In a landmark judgment that could open the floodgates to scores of other wronged Libyans to take legal action, the Court of Appeal in London ruled that neither Jack Straw nor former senior MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen can be protected by state immunity.

It seems, therefore, that we will finally discover the murky side of British intelligence operations and the identity of those in government who signed-off on dirty dealings which may yet prove to have been unlawful. Cori Cryder, a director at the human rights law firm Reprieve, declared that she and her colleagues are seeking to go to trial now. "It's the government that's seeking to avoid the trial," she added.

]]> (Yvonne Ridley) Europe Fri, 31 Oct 2014 14:57:05 +0000
Saudi's support for Houthis; could this be the final nail in the coffin? As seen in all the countries that partook in the Arab Spring and succeeded in toppling their dictator leader, the revolution did not end by the removal of their despotic ruler. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen know this particularly well. The dominating matter which emerged from the Arab Spring is Saudi Arabia and UAE's position regarding the emerging popularity for Political Islam when the populace of the respective countries were allowed to democratically choose who leads them.

Following the toppling of their despotic leaders, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya saw the rise of Political Islam. While Tunisia attained relative stability and the Islamist party, Ennahda, has been partaking in the democratic electoral process since the fall of Ben Ali, Egypt and Libya have not seen a similar calm.

Egypt and Libya have both seen dissimilar instability since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gadhafi respectively, especially Egypt, which has seen the killing of thousands of Egyptians and the incarceration of tens of thousands of others following a bloody military coup which came after only one year of the ruling of the country's first democratically-elected civilian President, bringing back the old regime to rule the nation once again.

Saudi Arabia and UAE's position on the rise of Political Islam became unequivocally evident in Egypt when the two Gulf States, as well as Kuwait, funded the military coup against President Mohamed Morsi, led by then defence minister, Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. A war against the Muslim Brotherhood, of which President Morsi belonged to, became the predominant objective of the aforementioned Gulf States, where the reformist transnational movement was designated a terrorist organisation in the Kingdom on March 7 earlier this year, a major escalation for the country, which, unlike the UAE which has been very outspoken about its opposition to the Brotherhood since 2011, has avoided any kind of comments on the Brotherhood.

During the Egyptian uprising in January 2011, the Yemeni's also erupted in mass protests, initially against unemployment, corruption and economic conditions, but went on to call for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign. In early June of the same year, following the refusal of Saleh to sign a transition agreement brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council, heavy street fighting ensued which included artillery and mortar shelling in which Saleh was injured.

The day following the incident, Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur Al-Hadi took over as President while Saleh fled to Saudi Arabia. The transfer of power was celebrated by the crowds although Yemeni officials insisted that Saleh's absence was temporary. February 2012 saw Presidential elections which saw Al-Hadi officially ending Saleh's 33-year rule and what was considered as the end of the Yemeni revolution.

The situation in Yemen has been relatively nascent since the new president took oath, until recently, when Yemen's Houthis, a Zaydi-Shiite group from Northern Yemen, took over the country's capital, Sanaa. In 2011, the Houthis had participated in the revolution against President Saleh, along with the students, the alliance of Yemeni tribes, Yemeni Congregation for Reform (frequently called Al-Islah), and others.

The Houthis, and their prime partners Iran, are known to be staunch enemies of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but the target of this sudden advance was against the reformist Islamist party, Al-Islah, the main opposition party in Yemen who currently head the government, also considered as Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood.

Rejecting the transitional government formed after the revolution in which the Houthis were left out despite being part of the revolutionary alliance, and feeling that none of their grievances had been addressed, the Houthis continued to expand militarily and were ready to retaliate against the main opposition. Like Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Houthis became powerful and influential after developing themselves militarily. This they were able to do with the help and support of Ali Abdullah Saleh who had beenrumoured to have supplied the Houthis with weapons and money.

The Houthis who were never in a position to openly challenge Al-Islah despite being stronger, now had the support of Saleh and his party, the General People's Congress, brokering an alliance against what was perceived to be a common threat. Indeed, Saleh, from retirement, has made statements hinting at support for the Houthis. In this, Saleh is hoping to restore popularity and pave the way for his son General Ahmed Ali, Yemen's current ambassador to the UAE, to take power.

With the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the forced removal and kidnapping of President Morsi, and the war against the movement and its affiliates in the region, this averted the Houthis attention to the fact that groups such as Al-Islah were finding themselves to be in quicksand, and went in for the kill. Essentially, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, which became associated with Islamic terrorism and radicalism, allowed the Houthis to rise above their former station and firmly define themselves as a new power in Yemen. This they were able to do, not only with the support and backing of former President Saleh, but with the backing of Saudi Arabia and its ally UAE too.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in decades of strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East, based on sectarian and ideological principles, with Saudi Arabia deeming itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world. But it appears that Saudi Arabia's war on political Islam, and more specifically, the Muslim Brotherhood, bears so much importance for the Kingdom that they were willing to compromise on their ideologies and reached a de facto understanding with their biggest rival, Iran, in supporting the Yemeni Shia group against the Islamist party.

Yemen straddles Saudi Arabia's southern border, located on the southern tip of the Gulf peninsula, and with a population of 35 per cent Shia, it would serve as a strategic base for Iran, particularly in its rivalry against Saudi Arabia being "easy prey for Tehran to penetrate and manipulate" the Kingdom. But while this may indeed be another Saudi-Iranian proxy war for the Iranians like that in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, the Kingdom doesn't seem to be playing the same game, or its hatred for the Brotherhood has blinded it of its vision, and in its support for the Houthis, who they had previously gone to war with, it most certainly getting itself in a deep hole.

The Arab world is currently seeing the coming of Shi'ism spread across its lands. Iranian politician and loyalist of Ali Khamenei, Alireza Zakani, boasted that Iran now controls four Arab capitals – Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and now Sanaa. Zakani added that Iran considered the Yemeni revolution to be an extension of the Iranian revolution and that 14 out of 20 provinces would soon come under the control of the Houthis.

The Iranians don't intend to stop there as Zakani stated: "Definitely, the Yemeni revolution will not be confined to Yemen alone. It will extend following its success into Saudi territories. The Yemeni-Saudi vast borders will help expedite its reach into the depth of Saudi land."

The extent that Saudi has gone in its war against political Islam will surely come to bite it with the Kingdom now surrounded by Iranian-led systems. The most likely culprit of the Shia uprising of the Muslim world is likely the Kingdom itself, and with its Eastern Province already heavily populated by Shias, Iran already has a friendly base on the land from which to infiltrate and spread.

Saudi Arabia may have gone too far in its war to rid the world of the Muslim Brotherhood, an objective which was instigated in order that the Saudi monarch may hold on to its authoritarian rule and keep democracy at bay. Its opposition to the Arab Spring and the mere act of the Kingdom opening its doors and hosting dictators, including Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, not to mention its support of the military coup in Egypt and the recent attacks on Libya, and now its support for the Houthis, are clear indications of how openly it leads the counter-revolution against the Arab Spring, opposing any democratic movements and standing by fellow authoritarian allies, old and new.

However, this latest move by the Kingdom may be its final for the game they thought they were playing seems to have reached check-mate.

]]> (Dr Walaa Ramadan) Middle East Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:41:58 +0000
US exceptionalism makes it a poor choice as world leader With a growing list of US military interventions around the world, and their accompanying human rights abuses including the ongoing shame of Guantanamo Bay in the background, it is difficult to imagine a more unsuitable candidate as the leader of the free world than the American president. Indeed, as American hegemony is imposed on the rest of us with increasing frequency, the term "free world" itself has to be called into question. How can the people of the world be "free" when America takes upon itself the "right" to dictate how countries are governed and by whom? Equally, how can the people of America believe that their country is a force for good when it often destroys democracy, using very undemocratic means, in the name of protecting democratic freedoms? The refusal to accept democratic election results in Palestine and Egypt spring to mind as two recent examples.

According to Seumas Milne in the Guardian, "The Middle East is now in an unparalleled and unprecedented crisis. More than any other single factor, that is the product of continual US and western intervention and support for dictatorships, both before and after the 'Arab spring', unconstrained by any system of international power or law." The key word is towards the end of that paragraph. America's "unconstrained" interventions around the world, particularly in the Middle East, take place beyond the scope of the international laws and conventions by which the rest of the world are judged and expected to abide. Far from making the United States an aspirational model for other countries, this in fact makes it a poor choice to be world leader in anything, least of all international politics.

The doctrine of exceptionalism as practised by the US has its roots in its days as a British colony, which fed into the belief that the culture and very nature of the nascent state had unique qualities. Despite the apparent lack of imperial ambitions (in stark contrast to European states), this was supposed to make it able to rule foreigners "benignly". Hence, it soon acquired a number of colonial possessions in the likes of Puerto Rico and Hawaii, among others.

In the modern era, US exceptionalism is manifested in a number of ways; for example, its refusal to allow UN inspections of its America's massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. This policy has been adopted by Israel, despite the General Assembly approving a resolution in 2012 calling on the government in Tel Aviv "to open its nuclear programme for inspection". As usual, the United States was one of six member states voting against the resolution, the others being Israel itself, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. The latter three are so dependent on US aid that their votes against UN resolutions which require Israel to comply with international norms are virtually guaranteed. Canada, of course, has an extremely pro-Israel, right-wing government and is far from the immigrant-friendly state that its own myth making would have us believe. Like his predecessors, US President Barack Obama is blind to Israel's nuclear hypocrisy, which has been called "the elephant in the room", not without reason.

Infamously, the US government has refused to ratify the Rome Statute which founded the International Criminal Court, even though it is a signatory. To do so would oblige American citizens to be subject to international law and open to prosecution for human rights abuses. In refusing to allow its people and, tellingly, its soldiers, to be judged by international standards, America stands alongside Sudan and, surprise, surprise, Israel. The ICC is pursuing the president of Sudan, which has never claimed to be a democratic state in any case, so its own claim to exceptionalism is at least understandable, if not acceptable. The US and Israel, however, both claim democratic status; in fact, this is used to justify any number of undemocratic activities, including alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the US and Israeli governments make every effort not to be judged by international standards. Hypocritically, they often proclaim to be setting democratic norms, which is transparently nonsensical, as is the argument that Israel is held to different standards to other rogue states. This is trotted out regularly by pro-Israel lobbyists seeking to divert world attention from Tel Aviv's ongoing abuse of international laws and conventions, crimes against the people of Palestine and apparent immunity from accountability. Most recently, this was cited by British actress Maureen Lipman as one reason for her not to vote Labour at the next election; party leader Ed Miliband's support for recognition of the state of Palestine is, she claimed, support for a "ludicrous piece of propaganda". She threw in the "anti-Semitism" argument for good measure.

For those of us who believe that international law should be upheld regardless of who breaches its tenets, US hegemony over world affairs, and Israeli influence over US foreign policy (about which see The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by Professors John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt) should be a cause for serious concern. Not only has America no right to claim even a modicum of neutrality as a broker in the so-called peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, it has no right to claim that it is policing the world for the good of everyone else.

America, it must be understood, does nothing unless it is deemed to be in its own interests, which have a nasty habit of matching those of its politicians, often to their benefit. The exception could arguably be its no-questions-asked backing of Israel, but broadly-speaking the rule is that US interests take priority. Such a selfish approach is illustrated by the world oil market. Although not a member of OPEC, the United States has major oil reserves and last week it was claimed that it was holding too much in storage; it is "on track" to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's leading oil producer. Which begs the question, why have successive governments in Washington, influenced heavily by neoconservative ideology, gone to war in order to "protect" oil supplies from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? The answer, of course, are those ubiquitous "US interests" and the fact that exceptionalism is a cornerstone of neocon ideology. Put bluntly, America wants to use oil from the rest of world and, when the sources dry up, as they must, it will have its own oil supplies to fall back on. As is said, very selfish, and that is another reason why it is totally unsuitable to be a role model for the rest of the world.

American, and Israeli, exceptionalism, therefore, is something that we should all question. Israel is not being subject to "one law" while others are judged by another; as a supposed democracy (the "only one in the Middle East", according to its supporters), Israel should be accountable for its actions, as should the United States. Only when international law is truly international in purpose and implementation can we ever expect justice to prevail for all people and all nation states. Until that time, US hegemony should be interpreted for what it is; a practical exposition of the doctrine that "might is right", which is anything but a force for good in an increasingly dangerous world.

]]> (Ibrahim Hewitt) Americas Thu, 30 Oct 2014 18:30:41 +0000
Egypt's Israeli tactics in Sinai An attack against the Egyptian military in the Sinai peninsula on Friday resulted in the death of 31 soldiers. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but reports suggest that the deadly assault was likely carried out by al-Qaida-inspired groups in the area.

The military regime wasted no time taking advantage of the situation to tighten its grip on power. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the military-officer-in-a-suit who came to power on the back of July 2013's military coup against the elected government, declared a state of emergency.

And in a "presidential" decree Monday, he outlined further measures which will make it easier for the military to stamp out its opponents under the guise of fighting a broadly-defined "terrorism".

All state facilities, including universities, roads, bridges and power stations, are now defined as military. This means that military trials for civilians are back, despite the regime's solemn promises to democratise.

While a regime official told The Guardian's Patrick Kingsley that the law was aimed only at "terrorists committing serious crimes against the military and police," in fact it is broadly defined, allowing military trials against civilian opponents of the regime. The same anonymous official tellingly said: "Do you really think that the government will apply those military trials [to] activists without justification?"

The re-defining of areas of the country as "military zones" is closely reminiscent of Israeli tactics against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank. Any time Palestinians mount a protest against the various forms of Israeli occupation (be it the apartheid wall, the settlements or the checkpoints) Israeli soldiers instantly declare the area a "closed military zone". Daring to violate these "zones" is an offence that can result in imprisonment, serious injury or death at the hands of Israeli army thugs.

This is only one of the many parallels, and shared strategies and tactics between the Israeli occupation regime and the Egyptian military regime. This should come as no surprise; both are part of the regional order imposed by US imperial hegemony. Both regimes are generously funded with billions of dollars in US tax payers' money.

Soon after the Sinai attack, Sisi reportedly said that Egypt was fighting "a war of existence". This is another propaganda theme long beloved of Israeli army officers and politicians (who are quite often the same people). Any sign of Palestinian resistance, armed or unarmed, political or diplomatic, is declared as a threat to the very existence of the Israeli entity. Such intense paranoia is a sign that the Israeli project for the region does not have much of a shelf-life.

Reports on Tuesday stated that Egypt has already begun demolishing Egyptian homes in Rafah, near to the Gaza Strip, in order to create a 500m-wide "buffer zone" to protect against the "threat" of weapons smuggling.

Some 580 homes are said to be under threat of destruction. And again: Israel has done the same, in the very same area. During the second intifada, Israeli bulldozers in Gaza cleared out huge areas in the Palestinian town of Rafah (close to Egyptian Rafah, but on the other side of the Egypt-Gaza boundary line). Countless Palestinian homes and livelihoods were destroyed and levelled to the ground, all the name of "fighting terror". The American activist Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by one of these army bulldozers, was only one of the many to die at the hands of the Israelis during that period.

Egypt's military regime has made it a mainstay of their propaganda to agitate against Palestinians in Gaza, scaremongering against them using compliant state media, which frequently indulges in outlandish conspiracy theories. Palestinians in Gaza in general, and Hamas in particular were said to be behind all sorts of ills to befall Egypt since the 2011 democratic uprising that overthrew previous military dictator Hosni Mubarak. This is another parallel with Israel, since anti-Palestinian agitation is the very lifeblood of Israeli politics.

While al-Qaida-like groups in the area are a genuine threat, it can easily be argued that the Egyptian regime's brutal tactics in the region, as well as its enthusiasm for doing Israel's dirty work there have opened the door for these groups.

Until Egypt is restored onto the path towards democracy, fanatic armed groups can never really be defeated. Military solutions of such conflicts cannot suffice without a political settlement.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:39:08 +0000
Defeat could turn out an advantage for Tunisia's Islamists Tunisia is a small country with a big audience. The process of electing a parliament and a president matters, not only because it keeps the democratic process alive, but also for the signals it sends the rest of the Arab world. Tunisia, the cradle of the revolution, keeps on setting the agenda.

But the signals it sends are many and various, and the western audience listens only to what it wants to hear. To a jubilant French media, Nidaa Tounes' victory over Ennadha was the victory of laicite loosely translated as secularism or the separation of church and state over its polar opposite, Islamism. It was the victory of pro-western modernity over religious conservatism, the good guys over the bad.

Ennahda were the bad guys because they should not have won in 2011. Democracy produced the wrong result. Essentially two faced, Ennahda preached the virtues of democracy to the West, while quietly laying the foundations of the Caliphate it wanted all along. Ennahda thus "allowed," or at the very least, did nothing to stop political assassinations of leftists to take place, according to this narrative.

But Tunisia also sends other messages to other audiences. Secularism is not the only hallmark of Nidaa Tounes. The force with the strongest adhesive power binding this heterogenous party together is a negative. Nidaa Tounes is defined by not being Ennahda, or any of the other two parties Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol which shared power with Islamists since 2011.

This is why Nidaa Tounes does not now want to share power with any of the troika. Both Nidaa Tounes and CPR are secular, in the French meaning of the word. The center-left CPR should have more in common with Nidaa Tounes, than the Popular Front, which is composed of communists, marxists and Arab nationalists, and could form one of Nidaa Tounes' coalition partners.

Little of this matters to Nidaa Tounes. Other factors are at play. The party is first and foremost the vehicle of its leader Beji Caid Essebsi, who served under the governments of both Bourghiba and Ben Ali. If this passenger does not go on to win the presidency, there is a real question over the roadworthiness of the vehicle Nida Tounes itself. One of Essebsi's advisers admitted that Nidaa Tounes was the extension of the regimes the revolution has blown away. Anadolu News Agency quoted him as saying: "We are an extension to the Ben Ali regime with one exception and that is the freedom of speech," which was not available (then).

Without Essebsi does Nidaa Tounes exist as a party with a coherent message? And will a coalition formed with a host of minor parties be stable? There is at least the risk that Ennahda could regularly form a blocking majority in parliament, composed of smaller parties that defected to it on single issues.

If the primary battleground of the next parliament will be an economic one, with the new government tempted to make unpopular decisions to lift subsidies, the poisoned chalice of unpopular government in a transition period will have been gratefully passed from Ennahda to Nida Tounes. This could be just what the Islamist party wants.

For Ennahda, a defeat which leaves it the second most powerful political force could be no bad thing. Think of where it came from -- prison and exile and where it is now, a permanent fixture on the Tunisian political scene. This is consistent with other polls measuring the popularity of political Islam even in those Gulf countries which are doing everything they can to bury it.

A poll conducted by the Washington Institute, not a think tank known for its sympathy to Islamism, found the Brotherhood still attracted a "surprisingly large minority" in those countries which moved heaven and hell to suppress it -- 31 percent of Saudis, 34 percent of Kuwaitis, and 29 percent of Emiratis. Hamas, its Palestinian offshoot, scored even higher 52 percent of Saudis, 53 percent of Kuwaitis, and 44 percent of Emiratis.

As Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, professor of political science in the UAE tweeted: "For the percentage of support for the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE to be 29 percent despite all the intensive media, official and unofficial campaign against them, is a percentage that deserves a pause and a thorough reading."

Considering what has been thrown at it in the last two years -- all the money at the command of the Saudis and Emiratis, the media campaign, the arrests, imprisonment and torture, the Brotherhood enjoys a hard and increasingly hardened core of support across the Arab World.

This of course does not help either side to move forward. Most of the money and power is located on the counter-revolutionary side of the fence, while most of the protest is on the other side. As long as that cleavage exists, neither side can triumph over the other. The flame lit in Tunisia and Egypt will not be snuffed out.

There are other messages from this result. The defeat of Ennahda in the parliamentary elections in Tunisia put to rest the myth that once elected Islamists would be unwilling to give up power, that the movement is essentially exclusionary. This was the charge leveled at Mohamed Morsi -- that he could not form coalitions and presided over the Ikwanisation of all the institutions of state, and the charge Nida Tounis leveled repeatedly at Rached Ghannouchi.

The reality is that he has done nothing but form coalitions and make compromises, which cost him dear. He compromised over the inclusion of the word sharia to get the constitution. He voted against a law that would have excluded members of the old regime from taking part in elections. He paved the way for his own apparent defeat. He put the process of getting a constitution through above the result. He weathered in the process, what his own supporters were calling a soft coup.

Ennahda is playing a longer game. This election has turned the charge of exclusionary politics on its head. When in 2011 Ennahda won 89 seats, they took the premiership but gave the two other most important political prizes, the presidency and the head of parliament to secular parties. They need not have, because they were clear winners. The gap between first place and second in 2011 was 60 seats.

This time around the gap between first and second in the parliamentary elections is much thinner -- 15 seats and Nidaa Tounes does not seem to want to share out the goodies. So the question this time around is not whether Ennahda is exclusionary, but whether Nidaa Tounes is. Will the winner attempt to take all this time around? Will it deal with Ennahda as a legitimate political force? Much will depend on the answer.

This article was first published on the Huffington Post. Follow David Hearst on Twitter.

]]> (David Hearst ) Africa Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:33:57 +0000
Four important ways to advance the conversation on Palestine Ben WhiteIsrael's bombardment of the Gaza Strip over the summer prompted an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity for Palestinians in the West, from street protests to expressions of outrage by mainstream politicians. Israel suffered serious damage to its reputation, while support for Palestinians – including through tactics like boycott and divestment – grew.

This occurred in the context of a slowly but steadily deteriorating environment for Israel in countries whose political leaders can still be counted on, by and large, to offer essential diplomatic, military, and economic support. The patience of even Israel's allies has been tested through a combination of a collapsed peace process, a rejectionist Israeli government, and continued settlement construction.

The British Parliament's vote in support of Palestinian statehood may not have much of an impact in and of itself, but this was less a breakthrough and more an indicator of well-established trends that give Israel and its supporters serious cause for concern.

Another recent example came in the shape of former Conservative minister Alan Duncan's speech to the RUSI, where he lambasted Israeli policies in the West Bank as a form of "apartheid." It was reminiscent of a speech in January by another former minister, Labour's Peter Hain, who slammed "Israel's relentless expansion into Palestinian territories" and described Palestinians as "denied their right to self-determination and subject to ruthless violations of their human rights."

Yet despite the progress with regards to the mainstream conversations on Palestine, there are important ways in which the discussion is limited and problematic. Putting it more positively, criticisms or arguments being advanced by Israel's mainstream critics should be affirmed – but then taken further. It is a 'Yes, but actually' approach, and I will give four key examples.

1. Israel's attack on Gaza was 'disproportionate'.

A frequent criticism levelled at Israel's attacks on Gaza were that they were "disproportionate." One example was an op-ed written by British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who wrote on 1 August that "Israel's military action appears disproportionate" and contributed, with the blockade, to "the collective suffering of the Palestinian people." 'Disproportionality' was a criticism echoed by the UK electorate, as well as other commentators and politicians.

Valid criticisms, but even well-intentioned questions about proportionality can obscure the fundamental context of Israeli occupation and Palestinian resistance. To say Israel's attacks on Gaza were 'disproportionate' means there are 'proportionate' attacks of which the critic would approve. It suggests a false symmetry of 'two sides', where the Gaza Strip is presented as a state trapped in a tit-for-tat 'cycle of violence' with its neighbour.

Israel's assault on Gaza was not primarily objectionable because its military tactics and targets were 'disproportionate.' It was objectionable because an occupied, dispossessed people were subjected to yet another act of brutal colonial disciplining by an army that daily enforces an apartheid system, and targets civilian infrastructure in the name of 'deterrence'.

2. The Israeli government is blocking progress in the peace process.

The current Israeli government under the leadership of PM Benjamin Netanyahu includes open opponents of the two-state solution and Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is a government sufficiently beholden to the interests of the far/right-wing and settler movement, so insufficiently motivated to achieve a final settlement even Mahmoud Abbas can accept, that public tensions have emerged between Israel and its strongest ally America.

So yes, the peace process collapsed largely due to Israeli intransigence and provocations. But in fact, the entire framework of the U.S. and Quartet-led peace process is severely flawed, regardless of the Israeli government's position at any given time. Twenty years of negotiations, ushered in by the Oslo Accords, has produced only more Israeli colonisation, and consolidation of a legal system and practical regime of segregation and exclusion.

That's because the so-called peace process has been all about a never-ending process, and no peace – at least, not a peace based on justice. It has shielded Israel from both accountability for its crimes, and from the prospect of the democratisation it so fears. The peace process has sought to supplant international law and norms, not enforce them. In this peace process, Israel has 'security needs', but Palestinians do not. The demands of the coloniser are 'reasonable', and 'pragmatic' – the basic rights of the colonised are 'delusional' and the subject of necessary 'compromise.'

3. Boycotting settlement produce is a helpful step to take.

Settlements are illegal under international law. Settlements are an obstacle to peace. These two statements enjoy a consensus of support amongst world governments and mainstream commentators and opinion-makers. Thus a boycott of goods produced in these settlements has taken off in recent times, and has started to enjoy support even from those for whom anything to do with boycotts has seemed risky or 'radical'. However, if one is genuinely interested in ending and securing accountability for Israel's grave violations of Palestinian rights, then this narrow boycott just isn't enough. Why? Because it is the Israeli government itself that creates and maintains these settlements. Because a whole host of Israeli institutions and companies, from universities to banks, support and are complicit in, the network of colonies that fragment the Palestinian territories and necessitate an apartheid system of control. Indeed, vital steps such as an arms embargo is about ending our complicity. Boycott is based on the facts of Israeli policies, it is requested by Palestinians, and it is about ending impunity.

4. The two-state solution is at risk – or even already impossible – due to Israeli facts on the ground, particularly in the West Bank.

Over the last few years, it has become a truism of even the most mild-mannered statement by Western politicians and diplomats that the 'facts on the ground' are endangering the two-state solution. By which they mean that Israel has colonised the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to such an extent that establishing a genuinely sovereign and viable Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967 could become – or already is – an impossible task.

Again, this is correct, as far as it goes. Israel has indeed absorbed the West Bank into the pre-1967 territory through a network of illegal settlements, infrastructure, water networks, and legislation. And yes, Israel's positions on issues such as the division of Jerusalem are incompatible with a feasible two-state solution. But the question surely is, is this two-state solution even desirable?

Israeli diplomat Eviator Manor declared in Geneva this week that his country is willing to make compromises "to realize the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian State living side-by-side with the Jewish State of Israel." The Jewish State of Israel? Leaving aside whether Manor had been inspired by #JSIL tweets, what are the implications here? Palestinian citizens of Israel will forever face systematic discrimination, while Palestinian refugees will be denied their right to return.

This is what is behind Israel's demand to be recognised as a Jewish state, a demand attracting increasing levels of critical scrutiny – and hence the shift in discourse by Israel lobby groups to earnestly endorse the establishment of a 'Palestinian state' (subject to terms and conditions etc. etc.)

The increased levels of awareness about the Palestinian struggle are to be welcomed – but the conversation and responses have some way to go yet.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:17:41 +0000
Ruthless pragmatism has triumphed over the people's revolutions Nabila RamdaniDemocracy was the key word during the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011. Rather than violent uprisings, they were protests calling for free elections, parliaments and, more generally, a stake in society for millions kept alienated and impoverished. Young people were at the forefront of this largely peaceful movement, which wanted those governing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to adapt to a changing world; in most cases this meant stepping down from power. So it was that the aspirations of ordinary people were placed on the global agenda, and dictators fell.

The primary lesson we have learned in the three years since is that, once challenged, autocracy does not yield quietly to justice and representative government. Burgeoning pro-democracy movements have been usurped by the kind of authoritarians who have oppressed Arabs for generations. Democracy has, in most cases, evaporated as quickly as it emerged.

At the extreme end of the violence are bloodbaths in countries like Syria and Libya. The civil war in the former is an absolute catastrophe. Restrained demonstrations against President Bashar Al-Assad's government early in 2011 were met with a military response by the regime and progressed into an armed rebellion and then into a conflict characterised by the use of chemical weapons. To date the war has claimed up to 200,000 lives, with tens of thousands more made homeless, creating the worst refugee crisis this century. ISIS, the self-styled "Islamic State", now controls large swathes of Syria, just as it is enforcing its medieval barbarism on Iraq, beheading and crucifying people with apparent impunity.

ISIS now threatens to provoke all-out war in the region, as Western states and their Arab allies launch bombing raids on the Islamic extremists' formidable forces. Those taking part in the aerial assaults include countries which just three years ago helped to blast Colonel Muammar Gaddafi out of oil-rich Libya. Now the natural resources of Libya are being fought over by armed vigilantes, as a once burgeoning economy is decimated by constant violence. Those in charge in Tripoli are at present far closer to ISIS than to countries like France, Britain and America.

Egypt, historically the anchor of the Arab World, and a country which was viewed widely as the epicentre of the Arab Spring, is also wracked by in-fighting. For those of us who stood in Tahrir Square at the height of the Arab Spring and followed the progress of the revolution at first hand, it is now a hugely sinister country.

It was just over a year ago, on 3 July 2013, that a military coup toppled Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically-elected president. There has since been an unprecedented crackdown on political dissent. Beyond mass murder, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been arrested and tortured, and the figures are rising all the time. Dissidents have disappeared without trace.

More women have been arrested since the coup than at any other point in Egypt's modern history. In one incident alone, 37 female students from Al-Azhar University were imprisoned after they boycotted final exams in protest at the military takeover. Many have been subjected to torture while in custody, in addition to being sexually harassed and assaulted.

For any journalist who has worked in Egypt, it is particularly shocking to see the authorities clamping down on those trying to expose the truth. Some 166 people working in the media have been arrested by the coup government; newspapers and satellite TV channels have been shut-down without legal justification.

Economically, there has been no improvement at all. More than a quarter of the Egyptian population is now officially living below the poverty line, as the prices of basics such as food and petrol get ever higher. As Morsi languishes in a prison awaiting trial, his successor, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, continues to deliver his own form of "democracy" at gunpoint.

These economic problems are replicated in many MENA states. Oil production in Libya is down almost 90 per cent, while countries like Tunisia are dependent on international aid and poverty rates are spiralling across the region.

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator toppled in 2011 and now in prison, was, like Al-Sisi, a former military man. Both personify the brute force which continues to hold so much of MENA together in 2014.

Violent extremists have taken advantage of the chaos everywhere. Tunisia, at the centre of the civil resistance known as the "Jasmine Revolution" which saw Zine El Abedine Ben Ali deposed in 2011, has suffered numerous terror attacks by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The north of Yemen, which has been as turbulent as ever despite its pro-democracy movement, has been the scene of fierce fighting between government troops and Iran-backed Houthi rebels. American drones "police" the country day and night, the surest sign of a state which the West cannot trust.

Colonialism persists in all but name, with the Western-backed occupation of Palestine remaining as brutal as ever. Illegal settlements continue to grow on the West Bank, while this summer saw another murderous campaign launched by Israel against the civilians of the Gaza Strip. More than 2,100 people, most of them civilians and including hundreds of women and children, were slaughtered while a largely ineffective defensive campaign was carried out by Hamas and other resistance groups. The Islamic Resistance Movement was using unreliable, often home-made rockets, most of which were neutralised by Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defence system. The thousands of innocents killed, maimed and made homeless by Israel's army, navy and air force assaults were mainly unarmed.

There is no democracy in oppression, and the continuing injustice in Palestine sums up the lot of millions of Arabs in the world. Powerful Western leaders have been, for years, prepared to back any "strong man" who ensured stability in the region and thus protected Western interests, the most important of which is the state of Israel. When such despots were threatened during the Arab Spring, America and major European powers switched allegiances in line with whoever looked likely to win power. Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Gaddafi in Libya; all were, at one stage or another, viewed as useful to the West and were embraced as allies. Even Al-Assad, who last year was considered an international pariah for the way he was murdering his own people, is now a crucial power player in the coalition against ISIS.

The narrative is always the same: support a compliant dictator for as long as possible, allow him to be replaced if necessary, and then stand back and do nothing when the new autocracy emerges. America and its powerful allies currently see the biggest threat to their interests to be radical Islam, and yet they pour weapons into Saudi Arabia, the most extreme, radical Islamist state which is spreading its Wahhabi-Salafist doctrines throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The Arab Spring was crucial because it highlighted the cynicism and inconsistency of the West, while also drawing attention to the problems of an area blighted by a range of endemic problems including economic inequality and human rights violations. The pro-democracy movements were never going to solve these issues, but at least the global community is now talking about them. What we have learned beyond doubt over the past three years, however, is that the ruthless pragmatism of power politics and economic self-interest has, in the short term at least, triumphed over the people's revolutions.

Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist, columnist, and broadcaster who specialises in French politics, Islamic affairs, and the Arab World.

]]> (Nabila Ramdani) Guest Writers Wed, 01 Oct 2014 09:32:07 +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.

[widgetkit id=184]

]]> (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
Whose side is Turkey on? Patrick CockburnOver the summer Isis – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – defeated the Iraqi army, the Syrian army, the Syrian rebels and the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga; it established a state stretching from Baghdad to Aleppo and from Syria's northern border to the deserts of Iraq in the south. Ethnic and religious groups of which the world had barely heard – including the Yazidis of Sinjar and the Chaldean Christians of Mosul – became victims of Isis cruelty and sectarian bigotry. In September, Isis turned its attention to the two and a half million Syrian Kurds who had gained de facto autonomy in three cantons just south of the Turkish border. One of these cantons, centred on the town of Kobani, became the target of a determined assault. By 6 October, Isis fighters had fought their way into the centre of the town. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan predicted that its fall was imminent; John Kerry spoke of the 'tragedy' of Kobani, but claimed – implausibly – that its capture wouldn't be of great significance. A well-known Kurdish fighter, Arin Mirkan, blew herself up as the Isis fighters advanced: it looked like a sign of despair and impending defeat.

In attacking Kobani, the Isis leadership wanted to prove that it could still defeat its enemies despite the US airstrikes against it, which began in Iraq on 8 August and were extended to Syria on 23 September. As they poured into Kobani Isis fighters chanted: 'The Islamic State remains, the Islamic State expands.' In the past, Isis has chosen – a tactical decision – to abandon battles it didn't think it was going to win. But the five-week battle for Kobani had gone on too long and been too well publicised for its militants to withdraw without loss of prestige. The appeal of the Islamic State to Sunnis in Syria, Iraq and across the world derives from a sense that its victories are God-given and inevitable, so any failure damages its claim to divine support.

But the inevitable Isis victory at Kobani didn't happen. On 19 October, in a reversal of previous policy, US aircraft dropped arms, ammunition and medicine to the town's defenders. Under American pressure, Turkey announced on the same day that it would allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga safe passage from northern Iraq to Kobani; Kurdish fighters have now recaptured part of the town. Washington had realised that, given Obama's rhetoric about his plan 'to degrade and destroy' Isis, and with congressional elections only a month away, it couldn't afford to allow the militants yet another victory. And this particular victory would in all likelihood have been followed by a massacre of surviving Kurds in front of the TV cameras assembled on the Turkish side of the border. When the siege began, US air support for the defenders of Kobani had been desultory; for fear of offending Turkey the US air force had avoided liaising with Kurdish fighters on the ground. By the middle of October the policy had changed, and the Kurds started giving detailed targeting information to the Americans, enabling them to destroy Isis tanks and artillery. Previously, Isis commanders had been skilful in hiding their equipment and dispersing their men. In the air campaign so far, only 632 out of 6600 missions have resulted in actual attacks. But as they sought to storm Kobani, Isis leaders had to concentrate their forces in identifiable positions and became vulnerable. In one 48-hour period there were nearly forty US airstrikes, some only fifty yards from the Kurdish front line.

It wasn't US air support alone that made the difference. In Kobani, for the first time, Isis was fighting an enemy – the People's Defence Units (YPG) and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – that in important respects resembled itself. The PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which since 1984 has been fighting for self-rule for the 15 million Turkish Kurds. Like Isis, the PKK combines fanatical ideological commitment with military expertise and experience gained in long years of guerrilla war. Marxist-Leninist in its original ideology, the PKK is run from the top and seeks to monopolise power within the Kurdish community, whether in Turkey or Syria. The party's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, the object of a powerful personality cult, issues instructions from his Turkish prison on an island in the Sea of Marmara. The PKK's military leadership operates from a stronghold in the Qandil Mountain in northern Iraq, one of the great natural fortresses of the world. Most of its fighters, estimated to number seven thousand, withdrew from Turkey under the terms of a ceasefire in 2013, and today move from camp to camp in the deep gorges and valleys of the Qandil. They are highly disciplined and intensely dedicated to the cause of Kurdish nationalism: this has enabled them to wage a war for three decades against the enormous Turkish army, always undeterred despite the devastating losses they have suffered. The PKK, like Isis, emphasises martyrdom: fallen fighters are buried in carefully tended cemeteries full of rose bushes high in the mountains, with elaborate tombstones over the graves. Pictures of Ocalan are everywhere: six or seven years ago, I visited a hamlet in Qandil occupied by the PKK; overlooking it was an enormous picture of Ocalan picked out in coloured stones on the side of a nearby mountain. It's one of the few guerrilla bases that can be seen from space.

Syria and Iraq are full of armies and militias that don't fight anybody who can shoot back, but the PKK and its Syrian affiliates, the PYD and YPG, are different. Often criticised by other Kurds as Stalinist and undemocratic, they at least have the capacity to fight for their own communities. The Islamic State's string of victories against superior forces earlier this year came about because it was fighting soldiers, such as those in the Iraqi army, who are low in morale and poorly supplied with weapons, ammunition and food, thanks to corrupt and incompetent commanders, many of whom are liable to flee. When a few thousand Isis fighters invaded Mosul in June they were in theory facing sixty thousand Iraqi soldiers and police. But the real figure was probably only a third of that: the rest were either just names on paper, with the officers pocketing the salaries; or they did exist but were handing over half their pay to their commanders in return for never going near an army barracks. Not much has improved in the four months since the fall of Mosul on 9 June. According to an Iraqi politician, a recent official inspection of an Iraqi armoured division 'that was meant to have 120 tanks and 10,000 soldiers, revealed that it had 68 tanks and just 2000 soldiers'. The Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga – literally 'those who confront death' – aren't immensely effective either. They are often regarded as better soldiers than the soldiers in the Iraqi army, but their reputation was won thirty years ago when they were fighting Saddam; they have not done much fighting since, except in the Kurdish civil wars. Even before they were routed by Isis in Sinjar in August, a close observer of the peshmerga referred to them derisively as 'pêche melba'; they were, he said, 'only good for mountain ambushes'.

The Islamic State's success has been helped not just by its enemies' incompetence but also by the divisions evident between them. John Kerry boasts of having put together a coalition of sixty countries all pledged to oppose Isis, but from the beginning it was clear that many important members weren't too concerned about the Isis threat. When the bombing of Syria began in September, Obama announced with pride that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey were all joining the US as military partners against Isis. But, as the Americans knew, these were all Sunni states which had played a central role in fostering the jihadis in Syria and Iraq. This was a political problem for the US, as Joe Biden revealed to the embarrassment of the administration in a talk at Harvard on 2 October. He said that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had promoted 'a proxy Sunni-Shia war' in Syria and 'poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaida and the extremist element of jihadis coming from other parts of the world'. He admitted that the moderate Syrian rebels, supposedly central to US policy in Syria, were a negligible military force. Biden later apologised for his words, but what he had said was demonstrably true and reflects what the administration in Washington really believes. Though they expressed outrage at Biden's frankness, America's Sunni allies swiftly confirmed the limits of their co-operation. Prince al-Waleed bin Talal al-Saud, a business magnate and member of the Saudi royal family, said: 'Saudi Arabia will not be involved directly in fighting Isis in Iraq or Syria, because this does not really affect our country explicitly.' In Turkey, Erdoğan said that so far as he was concerned the PKK was just as bad as Isis.

Excluded from this bizarre coalition were almost all those actually fighting Isis, including Iran, the Syrian army, the Syrian Kurds and the Shia militias in Iraq. This mess has been much to the advantage of the Islamic State, as illustrated by an incident in northern Iraq in early August when Obama sent US special forces to Mount Sinjar to monitor the danger to the thousands of Yazidis trapped there. Ethnically Kurdish but with their own non-Islamic religion, the Yazidis had fled their towns and cities to escape massacre and enslavement by Isis. The US soldiers arrived by helicopter and were efficiently guarded and shown around by uniformed Kurdish militiamen. But soon afterwards the Yazidis – who had been hoping to be rescued or at least helped by the Americans – were horrified to see the US soldiers hurriedly climb back into their helicopter and fly away. The reason for their swift departure, it was revealed later in Washington, was that the officer in charge of the US detachment had spoken to his Kurdish guards and discovered that they weren't the US-friendly peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government but PKK fighters – still listed as 'terrorists' by the US, despite the central role they have played in helping the Yazidis and driving back Isis. It was only when Kobani was on the verge of falling that Washington accepted it had no choice but to co-operate with the PYD: it was, after all, practically the only effective force still fighting Isis on the ground.

And then there was the Turkish problem. US planes attacking Isis forces in Kobani had to fly 1200 miles from their bases in the Gulf because Turkey wouldn't allow the use of its airbase at Incirlik, just a hundred miles from Kobani. By not preventing reinforcements, weapons and ammunition from reaching Isis in Kobani, Ankara was showing that it would prefer Isis to hold the town: anything was better than the PYD. Turkey's position had been clear since July 2012, when the Syrian army, under pressure from rebels elsewhere, pulled out of the main Kurdish areas. The Syrian Kurds, long persecuted by Damascus and politically marginal, suddenly won de facto autonomy under increasing PKK authority. Living mostly along the border with Turkey, a strategically important area to Isis, the Kurds unexpectedly became players in the struggle for power in a disintegrating Syria. This was an unwelcome development for the Turks. The dominant political and military organisations of the Syrian Kurds were branches of the PKK and obeyed instructions from Ocalan and the military leadership in Qandil. The PKK insurgents, who had fought for so long for some form of self-rule in Turkey, now ruled a quasi-state in Syria centred on the cities of Qamishli, Kobani and Afrin. Much of the Syrian border region was likely to remain in Kurdish hands, since the Syrian government and its opponents were both too weak to do anything about it. Ankara may not be the master chess player collaborating with Isis to break Kurdish power, as conspiracy theorists believe, but it saw the advantage to itself of allowing Isis to weaken the Syrian Kurds. It was never a very far-sighted policy: if Isis succeeded in taking Kobani, and thus humiliating the US, the Americans' supposed ally Turkey would be seen as partly responsible, after sealing off the town. In the event, the Turkish change of course was embarrassingly speedy. Within hours of Erdoğan saying that Turkey wouldn't help the PYD terrorists, permission was being given for Iraqi Kurds to reinforce the PYD fighters at Kobani.

Turkey's volte face was the latest in a series of miscalculations it had made about developments in Syria since the first uprising against Assad in 2011. Erdoğan's government could have held the balance of power between Assad and his opponents, but instead convinced itself that Assad – like Gaddafi in Libya – would inevitably be overthrown. When this failed to happen, Ankara gave its support to jihadi groups financed by the Gulf monarchies: these included al-Nusra, al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, and Isis. Turkey played much the same role in supporting the jihadis in Syria as Pakistan had done supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The estimated 12,000 foreign jihadis fighting in Syria, over which there is so much apprehension in Europe and the US, almost all entered via what became known as 'the jihadis' highway', using Turkish border crossing points while the guards looked the other way. In the second half of 2013, as the US put pressure on Turkey, these routes became harder to access but Isis militants still cross the frontier without too much difficulty. The exact nature of the relationship between the Turkish intelligence services and Isis and al-Nusra remains cloudy but there is strong evidence for a degree of collaboration. When Syrian rebels led by al-Nusra captured the Armenian town of Kassab in Syrian government-held territory early this year, it seemed that the Turks had allowed them to operate from inside Turkish territory. Also mysterious was the case of the 49 members of the Turkish Consulate in Mosul who stayed in the city as it was taken by Isis; they were held hostage in Raqqa, the Islamic State's Syrian capital, then unexpectedly released after four months in exchange for Isis prisoners held in Turkey.

Had Erdoğan chosen to help the Kurds trapped in Kobani rather than sealing them off, he might have strengthened the peace process between his government and the Turkish Kurds. Instead, his actions provoked protests and rioting by Kurds across Turkey; in towns and villages where there had been no Kurdish demonstrations in recent history tyres were burned and 44 people were killed. For the first time in two years, Turkish military aircraft struck at PKK positions in the south-east of the country. It appears that Erdoğan had thrown away one of the main achievements of his years in power: the beginnings of a negotiated end to the Kurdish armed insurgency. Ethnic hostility and abuse between Turks and Kurds have now increased. The police suppressed anti-Isis demonstrations but left pro-Isis demonstrations alone. Some 72 refugees who had fled to Turkey from Kobani were sent back into the town. When five PYD members were arrested by the Turkish army they were described by the military as 'separatist terrorists'. There were hysterical outbursts from Erdoğan's supporters: the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, tweeted that 'there are people in the east who pass themselves off as Kurdish but are actually atheist Armenians by origin.' The Turkish media, increasingly subservient to or intimidated by the government, played down the seriousness of the demonstrations. CNN Turk, famous for showing a documentary on penguins at the height of the Gezi Park demonstrations last year, chose to broadcast a documentary on honeybees during the Kurdish protests.

How great a setback would it be for Isis if it failed to capture Kobani? Its reputation for always defeating its enemies would be damaged, but it has shown that it can stand up to US airstrikes even when its forces are concentrated in one place. The caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on 29 June is still expanding: its biggest victories, in Anbar Province, have given it another quarter of Iraq. A series of well-planned attacks in September saw Isis capture territory around Fallujah, forty miles west of Baghdad. An Iraqi army camp at Saqlawiyah was besieged for a week and overrun: three hundred Iraqi army soldiers were killed. As in the past, the army proved incapable of staging an effective counteroffensive despite support from US airstrikes. On 2 October, Isis launched a series of attacks which captured Hit, a town north of Ramadi, leaving the government holding only a single army base in the area. Isis forces are today very close to the Sunni enclaves in west Baghdad: until now these have remained quiet, though every other Sunni area in the country has been in turmoil. According to Isis prisoners, the Isis cells in the city are waiting for orders to rise up in co-ordination with an attack from outside the capital. Isis might not be able to seize all of Baghdad, a city of seven million people (the majority Shia), but it could take the Sunni areas and cause panic throughout the capital. In wealthy mixed districts like al-Mansour in west Baghdad half the inhabitants have left for Jordan or the Gulf because they expect an Isis assault. 'I think Isis will attack Baghdad, if only to take the Sunni enclaves,' one resident said. 'If they hold even part of the capital they will add credibility to their claim to have established a state.' Meanwhile, the government and the local media doggedly play down the seriousness of the threat of an Isis invasion in order to prevent mass flight to safer Shia areas in the south.

The replacement of Nouri al-Maliki's corrupt and dysfunctional government by Haider al-Abadi hasn't made as much difference as its foreign backers would like. Because the army is performing no better than before, the main fighting forces facing Isis are the Shia militias. Highly sectarian and often criminalised, they are fighting hard around Baghdad to drive back Isis and cleanse mixed areas of the Sunni population. Sunnis are often picked up at checkpoints, held for ransoms of tens of thousands of dollars and usually murdered even when the money is paid. Amnesty International says that the militias, including the Badr Brigade and Asaib Ahl al Haq, operate with total immunity; it has accused the Shia-dominated government of 'sanctioning war crimes'. With the Iraqi government and the US paying out big sums of money to businessmen, tribal leaders and anybody else who says they will fight Isis, local warlords are on the rise again: between twenty and thirty new militias have been created since June. This means that Iraqi Sunnis have no choice but to stick with Isis. The only alternative is the return of ferocious Shia militiamen who suspect all Sunnis of supporting the Islamic State. Having barely recovered from the last war, Iraq is being wrecked by a new one. Whatever happens at Kobani, Isis is not going to implode. Foreign intervention will only increase the level of violence and the Sunni-Shia civil war will gather force, with no end in sight.

Patrick Cockburn is the The Independent's Iraq correspondent. View his profile here. This article was first published on the London review of books.

]]> (Patrick Cockburn) Europe Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:06:51 +0000
Would-be peacocks and tiny red poppies Israeli politicians and spokespersons sound like roosters who think they are peacocks when they boast of "the most moral army in the world," its "surgical strikes," their wonderful "Iron Dome" (paid for by the U.S.), and their status as "the only democracy in the Middle East." From that lofty spot, they spew contempt for "the Palestinian culture of death and hatred" and claim that "Palestinians use their children as human shields." (In this writer's profession, such a statement is known as projection.) The day after ISIS shocked the world with its video of American journalist James Foley being beheaded in cold blood, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu linked Hamas to ISIS—claiming Hamas to be "the enemies of peace; they are the enemies of all civilized countries and I believe they are the enemies of the Palestinians themselves."

Western leaders dutifully parrot whatever the Israeli rooster says. "Hamas has unilaterally and grossly violated the humanitarian cease-fire," intone John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon, who described as "outrageous" and "barbaric" the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier on his way to kill in Gaza. No equivalent words were used to describe the deaths of more than a hundred Palestinians every day during Israel's 50-day assault. But Kerry's words were not enough to satisfy Netanyahu, who warned the secretary of state, "Don't ever second guess me again on Hamas!"

Nor is it only in time of war that the arrogance and entitlement of Israeli politicians are on display: it can be found when they try to intimidate critics with the accusation of anti-Semitism, when they censor mention of the occupation, when they monopolize human suffering through the industrialization of the Holocaust, and when they blur the reality of profound inequalities with the falsehood of rigged "peace talks."

Emulating their political leaders are a growing number of Israelis, whose bragging and incitement to violence have now reached unprecedented levels:

David D. Ovadia, an Israel Defense Forces sniper, boasts of murdering 13 Gazan children in one day and promises to kill more. In pro-war demonstrations, Israelis adopted a vicious new racist chant mocking the killing of children: "tomorrow there is no school in Gaza, they don't have any children left." Israelis wear T-shirts with the image of a veiled pregnant woman who has a sniper target on her abdomen, with the words, "One shot, two kills."

Rabbi Dov Lior from the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement issues a statement endorsing the killing of children and other civilians: "During war we are allowed to punish the enemy population by any punishment we find worthy, such as denying supplies or electricity and also bombing the whole area."

In an Internet post Knesset member Ayelet Shaked called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to "little snakes" and the demolition of their homes. "They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists," said Shaked, adding, "They are all our enemies and their blood should be on our hands. This also applies to the mothers of the dead terrorists who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."

On the Israeli radio program "Hakol Deburim," Prof. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University maintained that "The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped."

Yochanan Gordon posted a column on the Times of Israel website titled, "When Genocide is Permissible." In it he articulated the difference in the Palestinian and Israeli regard for life, and asked, "What other way is there to deal with enemies of this kind, other than to obliterate them completely?"

These statements are not mere rhetoric; they are consistent with the practices of the Israeli occupation forces, especially during the latest war on Gaza.

We Palestinians are like red poppies with their brief and fragile lives. The "international community" has not been impressed with our beauty, however, and has failed to flatter us. On the contrary, we are often told that our reach for liberation is senseless and cannot flower. Nonetheless, we have faith in our collective ability to beautify the bare mountainside and inspire a revolutionary spring among the oppressed of the earth.

The world may call this romanticism, but it is wrong. Palestinians are pursuing justice realistically, aware of the risks involved and the sacrifices demanded. We realize that our lives are irreplaceable and that past wrongs cannot be made right in such a way that returns everything to normal, as if nothing had happened. The people of Gaza seek to meet their basic human needs, to lift the siege, to expand the fishing zone, to live, to farm, to travel abroad, to have access to education and medical care without exposing themselves to oppression and humiliation. For the right to live in dignity, the people of Gaza are willing to risk death. Is it so strange that, for some, death itself is more acceptable than oppression and humiliation? Is it so hard to imagine that, for some, bleeding in the service of attaining dignity is more important than life-giving blood itself? In their yearning for liberation, Palestinians are prepared to make many sacrifices, in keeping with their faith in a just and peaceful afterlife.

In Palestine today, there is grief but not despair, disappointment but not bitterness at a world whose ignorance and moral numbness has permitted so much cruelty to befall us. We realize that the gates of freedom are often opened by injured hands. We have seen that nonviolent and violent resistance alike are met by Israeli violence, making both tactics equally costly in human lives. We have learned that whatever route we seek to liberation, we will not be spared the brutality of the occupation. Palestinians are not following the principle of "An eye for an eye," but of "For the sake of the roses, we bear the thorns." The resistance does not seek revenge, even given the destruction and casualties Israel has visited upon us. The Israeli army has killed and injured thousands of our women and children; our resistance has killed a few dozen of its invading soldiers in order to push them away and obtain freedom.

As a psychiatrist, I provided treatment to injured Gazans admitted to hospitals in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Their most frequent reaction to the enormity of the destruction that has laid waste to their lives was, "Allah is sufficient for us and He is the best disposer of affairs." Betrayed by the "international community," these people have placed their trust in a power that they believe to be higher than that of Israel, the United Nations and the government of the United States. Their profound faith is stronger than Israeli "smart" missiles and the techniques of professional psychiatrists. This is one of the secrets of the short lives and long memories of beautiful red poppies.

Palestinians were once peaceful farmers, until they were displaced and transformed into refugees. When they gathered in peaceful demonstrations, such as on Land Day, the Israelis shot them like hunted birds. When Palestinians threw stones during the first intifada, Yitzhak Rabin instituted a policy of breaking their bones. When some blew themselves and their enemies up to protest Israel's excessive brutality, Israel used the pretext to erect a wall. When Palestinians held free and fair elections to choose their leaders, Israel and the U.S. turned Gaza into a ghetto and an "Island of the Despised." Then Palestinians began to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels in response to the siege (the resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto had tunnels too!).

A Pretext for War

Almost every non-Arab Israeli family has a member who is actively involved in killing our children. Instead of assuming responsibility for the death and cruelty they inflict on us, "enlightened" Israelis want us to listen to their "fear of Palestinian terrorism." But this war cannot be viewed as an isolated event. Gaza's rockets and tunnels are simply the latest pretext, since Israel was founded upon and has been living all along on war crimes. It has destroyed our villages and committed horrific massacres for more than six decades—long before our resistance groups were born.

Israel's ongoing aggression and destruction are meant to bury our hopes alive and force us to acquiesce to the status quo. But even though it is easier to remain oppressed than to aspire to liberation, we Palestinians will not surrender. We will never relinquish our resistance to our oppressors. The Palestinians are not a dead people; we, too, have a "self" to defend in the face of Israel's unremitting dehumanization and aggression. As its Arabic meaning implies, Gaza will remain a thorn in the gorge of the occupation until a free and liberated Palestine is resurrected.

But the fight of the Palestinian resistance to lift Israel's siege is not only a story of pain and agony, despite the horrendous destruction and loss, and despite the world's complacent silence and perfidy. It is also an epic, a saga, a narrative of the courageous acts of heroic and legendary figures who are in truth simply ordinary people: medical and civil defense personnel who worked ceaselessly, journalists who risked grave danger, families who took in the needy and dispossessed to share with them their homes and limited resources.

The Palestinians are holding up despite all. The damage done to Gaza will not dampen our morale or weaken our resolve. There will always be red poppies growing on the tunnel roofs, amid the ruins, in the scorched earth. We will stand in solidarity and protect our poppies from being uprooted. We know that what we must do to be treated as humans is to treat ourselves as well as others in a humane way.

Palestinians are proud to have survived Israel's latest attacks without submitting to a humiliating surrender. Indeed, we look forward to the future, and to many seasons when the beautiful red poppies will fill the mountains and valleys of our beloved land. 

Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist and psychotherapist who cares about the wellbeing of her community—beyond issues of mental health. This article was first published on

]]> (Samah Jabr) Middle East Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:01:32 +0000
Government turns on Sufis after getting rid of Brotherhood The Egyptian government has recently decided to exclude more religious minorities from the political scene having already eliminated the Muslim Brotherhood's presence in quite a frightening way. The new scapegoats for the Egyptian political arena are the some four million citizens who consider themselves loyal to the Refai-Sufi tradition in the country. This particular sect of Sufism has been practicing its own code of law for approximately 118 years.

This war on Sufism in Egypt began with the Ministry of Awqaf's recent decision to remove the Mosque of Sidi Ahmed Al-Refai from under its jurisdiction and place it under the control of the Ministry of State Antiquities. While the Ahmed Refai mosque is a central and key location for all Sufis following the Refai tradition, the Egyptian government now claims the site is of archaeological importance not just to Sufis but also to every citizen of Egypt. Consequently the mosque will no longer be available for public access as a place of holy worship and instead will be considered an important archaeological site for the entire country.

This is not the fist time that the Egyptian government has tried to pull a religious site away from the Sufi community. There was another attempt in 1998 when the council of ministers issued a decision that sought to seize control of any building of archaeological importance within a certain period. Although the Sidi Ahmed Al-Refai mosque was initially among the buildings in question, the government's attempt ultimately failed due to the Sufi community's insistence on maintaining control of their holy shrines. The situation calmed briefly only to ignite again in 2004 when the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities issued decision number 243, ordering the evacuation of the Refai Mosque due to its classification as an important archaeological site. The tourism police were ordered to prosecute all violators and trespassers according to article 117 of the antiquities protection law issued implemented in 1983.

The Sufi community remained steadfast in their efforts during these attempts by declaring that the Refai mosque is a sacred shrine for their followers. The international Sufi community stood by their Sufi brethren in their fight against Egyptian authorities.

On 14 July 2014, the Egyptian authorities issued decision number 164 to the Ministry of State Antiquities where it was decided that: "The Minister of Awqaf has agreed that all occupants must evacuate the Refai Mosque so that it may be handed over to the Ministry of Antiquities".

In addition, the government also decided to confiscate the home of the Refai Sufi Sheikh Tariq Yaseen Al-Refai because he allegedly lived in part of a historically significant mosque. Sheikh Tariq Yaseen Al-Refai responded by saying, "The government has waged a new fight with the Sufis after they were already subjugated under the Muslim Brotherhood's rule, which saw to the destruction of many Sufi shrines. Yet a new government has come to fight the Sufis and our way of thought".

Sheikh Al-Refai called upon the state to resolve this impending crisis though he remained sceptical of state and Brotherhood forces "working together to see to the demise of Sufi thought".

Al Refai directed his statements directly to Al-Sisi when he said: "We participated in the June 30th revolution and we played a very clear role. Four million Sufis came out to the streets to see to the removal of President Morsi from office and in return we ask you to respect and protect our holy shrines. We are a large reason for your being president".

"We do not have a single party that represents us and in spite of this we have never tried to create our own party. Why must the government insist on standing against us? The state must respect the Sufis, their sheikhs and the importance of this mosque", Al-Refai continued.

]]> (Tareq Al-Dib) Africa Wed, 29 Oct 2014 16:45:23 +0000
Lobbying the Lancet: how Israel's apologists smeared 'doctors for terrorism' Richard HortonOver 50 days in July-August, the Israeli army subjected the 1.8 million residents of the fenced-in, blockaded Gaza Strip to an unprecedented assault. 2,131 Palestinians were killed, including 501 children. At least 142 families lost three or more family members in the same incident. Israel's attacks left 11,231 injured, including 3,436 children – many now have permanent disabilities.

The aerial bombing and shelling destroyed or otherwise damaged 55,650 housing units in the Gaza Strip – a third of those were left uninhabitable. 62 hospitals and clinics, 220 schools, and 419 businesses and workshops were also damaged by the Israeli army's firepower.

This "carnage", this "killing of children and the slaughter of civilians", in the words of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, has produced substantial evidence of Israeli war crimes, as documented and reported on by Palestinian eyewitnesses, local NGOs, Israeli groups like B'Tselem and Adalah, as well as international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

A letter in The Lancet

Two weeks after 'Operation Protective Edge' began, a letter by 24 medical professionals was published in medical journal The Lancet, "denouncing" the attack on Gaza. The co-signatories cited the Israeli army's tactics and their impact on the Palestinian population, and the political context in which the assault was taking place. Readers were invited to add their own signatures, and 20,000 did so in just one week (the names are no longer displayed due to concern "about several threatening statements to those signatories, which have recently been posted on social media.)"

The backlash was severe. The Israeli government led calls for the letter to be removed from the journal's website, as Health Minister Yael German attacked the "one-sided and political" text. "Israel did not go to war to kill," she said, even as Gaza was being pummelled by airstrikes and artillery fire. Health Ministry Director-General Arnon Afek slammed the letter as "a radical, one-sided scandal, which borders on a blood libel", and promised: "We will launch a harsh protest against the journal."

Soon a petition was drawn up, declaring a boycott of the Lancet until Richard Horton was dismissed from his position as Editor. Threatening the Lancet and its publisher Elsevier with "various options" including a wider boycott and cancellation of subscriptions, the petition concluded by claiming that the medical journal was "indirectly supporting terrorist organizations."

The petition was widelyshared, with U.S.-based cardiologist Ori Ben-Yehuda gathering support via his email address at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation. Canada's Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies urged a retraction and investigation, while pro-Israel advocacy group 'Scholars for Peace in the Middle East' accused the letters' authors of "financial and intellectual links to terrorism." Horton received numerous other letters, often copying in the journal's ombudsman.

The backlash intensifies

Leading the charge was NGO Monitor, an Israel advocacy group which smears human rights defenders, and whose head Gerald Steinberg has worked for the Israeli government. During the first half of August, NGO Monitor published an item on The Lancet's "history of exploiting medicine for political warfare against Israel", a separate piece on the "anti-Israel campaigners" behind the letter, and a Steinberg op-ed in Israel Hayom under the title: 'Doctors for terrorism.' Yet almost a month on from the original publication of the letter, there was no indication – at least in public – that The Lancet was going to buckle under pressure.

Israel's apologists got their 'breakthrough' when NGO Monitor found that letter author Dr. Paola Manduca had forwarded an email to a Google group on August 14 from fellow signatory Dr. Swee Ang, containing a link to a video by former Ku Klux Klan-leader David Duke. On September 1, NGO Monitor shared this with senior executives of The Lancet's publisher Elsevier, copying in, amongst others, Richard Horton, the journal's advisory board and ombudsman, and "members of the media."

This discovery was publicised on NGO Monitor's website in Hebrew on September 1 and in English on September 10 – but it attracted little attention until a report appeared in the UK's Telegraph on September 22 under the headline: 'Lancet 'hijacked in anti-Israel campaign'.' This article was written by Jake Wallis Simons, a journalist who has quoted from and cited NGO Monitor in previous attacks on Oxfam and Israeli soldiers' whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence. Among the first to share the article after Simons tweeted it out – the Israeli embassy in London and NGO Monitor itself.

Horton heads to Israel

The pressure had become too much, and at the end of September, Horton embarked on a trip to Israel, invited by two senior officials at Haifa's Rambam hospital: Director of Medical Research Karl Skorecki and Director Rafi Beyar. As he embarked on his visit, NGO Monitor continued the pressure, including with an op-ed by Gerald Steinberg in The Jerusalem Post.

The trip was supported by Israel's Health Ministry, and Horton's itinerary included meeting the Minister of Health. According to Rambam, the aim of the visit was to expose Horton to Israel's "multicultural medical institutions" that – imagine! – even "treat people from the West Bank and Gaza." The intention was, they said, "to showcase the diversity of the facility's staff and patients." One wonders if Horton literally had 'Arabs' pointed out to him as he walked around.

The "multicultural diversity" of Israel's hospitals has long been a hasbara talking point. In fact, Rambam itself had already featured on the itinerary of a political propaganda tour – with the active participation of Skorecki and Beyar. Commenting on Horton's visit, Israel's former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon summarised it thus: "thank you Rambam Hospital for beautiful and effective Hasbara."

The visit also included an event with Asa Kasher, author of the Israeli military's 'code of ethics', and "physicians who had worked in the battlefield during the Gaza conflict." However, the highlight of Horton's trip was his own speech, where he expressed regret for "the completely unnecessary polarization" caused by the letter and his horror "at the offensive video that was forwarded by two of the authors." He called the visit "a turning point for me and my relationship with this region."

The Lancet on probation

The response from Horton's attackers was mixed. NGO Monitor drew attention to what it presented as an expression of regret (although the URL records their original claim that it constituted a retraction), and Steinberg declared himself "impressed". NGO Monitor wasted no time in issuing a series of demands, including the creation of "follow-up mechanisms" and a review of every article related to Israel published by The Lancet since 2001.

Horton's post-trip, "turning point" editorial appeared, in which he expressed opposition to boycott, announced some rather general guidelines for 'political' submissions, and confirmed that The Lancet would "initiate a new partnership to publish a Series on Israel's health and medical research system." This was hailed by NGO Monitor as starting the "rollback of immoral exploitation of medicine vs Israel", but they also pointed out that Horton did not "retract or apologize for his own central responsibility for the mendacious [letter]."

Israeli Health Ministry's Afek praised the editorial as "brave", and Rambam's Skorecki judged Horton's "clear-cut statement of The Lancet's opposition to 'all forms of boycott'" as "especially noteworthy" (an indication of priorities). In his most recent interview, Horton declared that The Lancet would "never publish a letter like that again." The journal's future series on the Israeli health system will, he said, include articles by Rambam staff and the Health Minister.

NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg, meanwhile, will soon address participants of an "educational medical mission" to Israel called 'Responding to the abuse of civilian populations for political goals in an era of asymmetrical warfare'. The tour, coordinated with the Israel Medical Association, will include visits to medical centres, as well as contributions from the IDF, media lobby group CAMERA, and social media hasbara activists. These are busy times for war crimes apologists.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:36:50 +0000
What is Ayatollah Biden apologising for? Jamal KhashogjiThe apology offered to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey by U.S. Vice President Biden is unimportant. What is really important is what he said disclosing that our view of the Syrian situation is still completely different from the American view. This can be summed as follows: Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are of the opinion that the continuation of the Syrian regime is the problem and that it has to be brought down by means of supporting the Syrian revolution so that one of the most important reasons for the birth of ISIS, the subject of the current coalition, is no more. The Americans see things differently. That simply means "the continuation of the Syrian regime". Consequently, it is essential to reconsider the Jedda coalition against ISIS so as to specify its objective before being dragged behind the American vision, which – if we assume it is based on good intention – may just be blurred, or if the intentions are otherwise, may have a different agenda altogether.

The Saudi-American disagreement over Syria is very old, it is as old as the Syrian revolution, which too has become "very old" indeed as it approaches its fourth year. Whereas Saudi Arabia wanted rapid intervention since the first year so as to bring the affair to end and save the Syrians and the region from the woes of war, the American policy was characterised by tardiness and contentment with issuing statements and drawing red lines that were never respected by the regime's head Bashar Al-Asad, and then retraction in the last five minutes. Such a situation angered Riyadh with Washington more than once; that anger was no longer discrete and was leaked to the media more than once. This was one of the reasons why U.S. President Obama visited Riyadh last March. So, will Biden's recent statements reopen the Saudi American wounds?

What was it specifically that which Biden said and managed with it to anger Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in one go? He accused the three countries of being responsible for the rise of extremist groups in Syria including ISIS. In a meeting with Harvard University students he said: "Our allies in the region have been our major problem ... What have the Saudis and the Emiratis been doing? They were determined to bring Asad down and sponsor a Shiia Sunni war by proxy. So, they pumped hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tonnes of weapons to whoever wanted to fight against Asad. Yet, those who received that aid were Al-Nusrah Front, Alqaeda and the radical Jihadists who came from all over the world." He concluded his statement saying: "These countries have realised their mistake and they are now part of the coalition against terrorism." Then he added salt to the wound by likening his country's alliance with Saudi Arabia to the Western alliance with the Soviet tyrant Stalin during the second world war.

We expect to hear such rhetoric from Tehran but not from the U.S. Vice President who is supposed to be part of the White House's close circle of decision makers and should know exactly what Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have done in Syria. It should not have been far away from the sight and hearing of the American intelligence services whose personnel are stationed in the south and the north of Syria. Thus, it would be naïve for the concerned countries to accept his apology that was formulated in a manner that does not negate the disastrous statement and that was aimed only at keeping the coalition against ISIS without offering any explanations about the objectives of the campaign, which have become too vague. They now talk about a war that may last "for weeks or months or years".

There are things about this war and this coalition that ought to cause concern. The first is the failure to specify the enemy, which becomes known only after it is bombed. The bombing has targeted groups other than ISIS and the Nusrah, including groups that are known to be moderate such as the Hazm movement that was trusted by the Joint Operations Room and was enabled to obtain the U.S. made TOW advanced anti-tank rockets. Many of the positions bombed belonged to armed groups that had been fighting against the regime while the bombing of ISIS, which poses a real threat to the civilian population, was delayed when it was on the outskirts of Kobani. Syrian activists are astonished, but they keep quiet because they do not want to be perceived as if they opposed the coalition having repeatedly appealed for foreign intervention to save them from the regime of Bashar Al-Asad and from his army and exploding barrels, which he continues to drop on top of his "citizens". This led to the cracking of the black joke that says that the coalition bombs during the night and Bashar bombs during the day. More than one military expert expected that the coalition airforce to impose a no fly zone over the north of Syria at least to protect coalition planes while carrying out their missions against terrorism. Yet, none of this has happened yet.

Another thing that exposes U.S. inconsistency, which may not after all be an inconsistency if we were to listen once more to the statements of Ayatollah Biden, is the American insistence on rejecting the Turkish proposal to impose a buffer zone and a no fly zone in the north of Syria. This is what President Erdogan has been insisting on as a precondition for joining the war against ISIS in addition to another condition, namely an American unequivocal commitment to the downfall of Bashar Al-Asad as part of the war on terrorism. The aim of the Turkish President is clear; he wants to drag the United States into an intervention that would eventually lead to bringing Asad down and to putting an end to the conflict that has gone on for too long and that is now posing a threat to the regional security of Turkey and the rest of the region.

It is rather strange that America is refusing this legitimate request from its allies. This has not been a strictly Turkish demand; it has also been received from the Saudis. This is particularly significant that Turkey, and perhaps other countries in the region, is not ready to intervene and is willing to be provide the ground force to settle the matter once and for all with ISIS and Bashar together provided international support is available. This is exactly what the Americans asked for more than once. Yet, now they only ask for it against ISIS.

If we were to assume, once again, that they have good intentions, perhaps they are exaggerating concerns, based on previous mistakes in Iraq, that once the state collapses chaos will sweep across the region. As such, and until Obama rearranges his cards and develop his full plan for combatting ISIS, it would be useful for the countries concerned about the rotten Syrian situation, and which have been harmed by it, to put their differences aside and formulate a plan for the day after, for the aftermath of the downfall of Bashar Al-Asad in which the role of each of these countries is determined. This would require reaching an agreement between these states and the modern Syrian opposition on the measures of politically building the new Syria. Only then would it be possible to classify the revolutionaries in accordance with their acceptance of the principles of democracy and their readiness to share power with others or their refusal to do that.

If we do not do that, and so long as the Americans are talking to the Iranians and then apologising, let us then expect an arrangement that will surprise us all. Let us remember that no hostility remains for ever and no friendship remains for ever. Interests are the ones that last.

Published originally in London Alhayat Newspaper on 11 October 2014.

]]> (Jamal Khashogji) Americas Sun, 12 Oct 2014 11:45:28 +0000
Why did Israel target and kill Hebrew speakers in Gaza? Asa WinstanleyWith the eyes of the world's media well and truly off of Gaza and onto the hideous situations in Iraq and Syria, the Palestinian people are once again neglected; their dead go unnoticed.

But the consequences of Israel's latest and deadliest war against the civilian population of Gaza this past summer go on. For seven weeks, Israel bombarded the coastal strip, targeting whole neighbourhoods, wiping out entire families and systematically dismantling civilian infrastructure. The Palestinian resistance factions, who were, on paper, seriously outgunned, stood their ground and fought, killing 64 Israeli soldiers.

Israel acted its customary fashion: massive, brutal and deliberate targeting of the people of Gaza themselves. In the Israeli military and in the increasingly right-wing crucible that is Israeli society, Palestinian civilians are regarded as non-existent. Therefore, it is considered permissible by most Israelis to kill and devastate the population as a whole during Israel's wars. Punish the mothers, as one popular racist Israeli lawmaker put it this summer, since they will only give birth to "little snakes" – her vile way to describe Palestinian babies.

By the end of it in August, 2,139 Palestinians were left dead by Israel's war machine.

According to UN figures, some 75-80 percent of these dead were civilians. With each new war, the proportion of Palestinian civilians to fighters dead seems to rise. Israeli attacks get more and more ruthless. We can no longer speak of "indiscriminate" Israeli attacks against Palestinians civilians, since, with such sophisticated weapons, and with such a consistently high number of Palestinians dead, this must be deliberate.

To go alongside the dead and wounded, there was decimation of Palestinian homes and businesses. The people of Gaza are only now beginning to be able to deal with and recover from this severe collective trauma. They may have dropped out of the headlines, but their suffering goes on.

Out of this devastation, testimonies are beginning to emerge, the likes of which have not been heard before.

Max Blumenthal, a colleague and friend of mine recently headed to Gaza in the wake of Israel's summer war. Avoiding the clichés and sometimes fly-by-night nature of war reporting, Blumenthal spoke to people about the horrors they had seen and the sheer devastation they had been through.

At a talk of his in London last week that I attended, and at his testimony to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine recently, Blumenthal recounted some of the stories Palestinian eyewitnesses had told him. You can watch a video of his talk at the Russell Tribunal here, or read the transcript of his prepared remarks here.

According to several different eyewitnesses he spoke to, offering corroborating accounts of different incidents, it seems that Israeli soldiers were executing a new practice during this latest Gaza war. As Max puts it: "wanton targeting of Palestinian civilians who spoke Hebrew".

One example: "In Khuza'a just east of Khan Younis, multiple witnesses described soldiers gathering locals in the centre of town as they occupied the area on July 23, then asking if anyone spoke Hebrew. When a 54-year-old man stepped forward to answer in the affirmative, they shot him in the heart."

While Arabic is Palestinians' first language, many Palestinians speak at least some Hebrew, especially those who regularly come into contact with Israelis. In Gaza, sealed off from the world for so long, there are far less Hebrew speakers than in the West Bank, and certainly far less than in Jerusalem. But some of the older generation, who still had permits to travel into Israel for work, do speak the language. And many Palestinian prisoners learn the language while in jail.

This targeting is a new phenomenon, to my knowledge. I have never heard of it happening in any sort of systematic way before. Dena Shunra, an Israel expert I asked about this concurred on that.

Why would Israeli soldiers do this? Surely they would find Hebrew-to-Arabic translation useful in issuing orders to Palestinians in their custody.

These are preliminary reports coming out of Gaza that warrant further examination and analysis. But we can start to surmise some possible explanations.

It could have been a wanton act of control, something to keep people in line and afraid. If there were no way for Palestinians to know what the soldiers were planning, they would have been able to keep them guessing for longer.

The idea that occurred to me, however, is one with longer-reaching implications. Over the last few years, with more and more boycott initiatives targeting the state of Israel, and more and more legal cases for war crimes and other acts of oppression against the Palestinians being carried forward in international venues, Israel has become more conscious of its international image.

Such cases almost always draw on Palestinian eyewitness testimonies. That is why the Russell Tribunal, for example, invited Palestinians to testify at its various hearings. Israel has been known to block Palestinian activists from travelling abroad for just such activism, or for punishing them afterwards.

Could it be that Israel was killing Hebrew speakers in Gaza to stop more detailed understanding of Israeli soldiers' war crimes in the Strip?

For now, we simply don't know, but with the emergence of further testimonies over time, the picture may become clearer.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Fri, 10 Oct 2014 10:00:23 +0000
Key shifts in the Arab 'moderates' position on Hamas and Israel Andrew HammondThe Egyptian, Saudi and other Arab "moderates" position on the Gaza war has been presented in most media discussion and political analysis as a striking departure from previous policy and indication of a new shift towards Israel and its view of Hamas, "resistance" and other regional challenges to the global order. The fact is, however, that their Gaza policies are the consequence of over a decade of restructuring of Arab positions to accommodate the United States.

Andrew Hammond is a Middle East policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Islamic Utopia: The Illusion of Reform in Saudi Arabia

Website: or follow him on Twitter: @Hammonda1

Andrew HammondThe Egyptian, Saudi and other Arab "moderates" position on the Gaza war has been presented in most media discussion and political analysis as a striking departure from previous policy and indication of a new shift towards Israel and its view of Hamas, "resistance" and other regional challenges to the global order. The fact is, however, that their Gaza policies are the consequence of over a decade of restructuring of Arab positions to accommodate the United States.

The trend began as a result of Western pressure during the Al-Aqsa Intifada and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Stung by the involvement of 15 Saudi Arabian nationals in the al-Qa'ida attacks on New York and Washington, Riyadh instituted a major effort to convince the US administration it was a loyal ally. One of the first acts in this long apology was the Arab Peace Initiative, which was famously revealed to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman by then crown prince Abdullah without coordination with other Arab states.

At Saudi instigation, the Gulf states' collective position on the conflict gradually shifted. In 2004 for the first time they called for a "viable Palestinian state" living side-by-side with Israel, acquiescing in the US-Israeli view that Israel should not have to give up all of the settlements built in the occupied territories. It also echoed the US-Israeli view that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death removed an obstacle to a resolution of the conflict, declaring "the importance of seizing the appropriate circumstances and opportunity presented" for obtaining Palestinian rights. The 2005 GCC summit welcomed Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and in 2006 it called for an end to "violence and counter-violence", the first such clear position against the traditionally recognized right of resistance to occupation.

2006 was a watershed because of the stance the moderate camp took on the Israeli attack on Lebanon, taking little action to stop the war in its early stages in the hope that Israel would finish Hezbollah off. Saudi Arabia adopted the US line that blamed Hezbollah for the Israeli air, sea and land invasion, decrying the group's "irresponsible adventurism". Hosni Mubarak couldn't even bring himself to call Hezbollah by name, referring to it infamously as al-bita' da ("that thing"). As it became clear Hezbollah was capable of fighting back and winning public sympathy, the regimes panicked. In a US diplomatic document published by Wikileaks, Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal summoned then US ambassador James Oberwetter to demand Washington order a ceasefire. "What is occurring is strengthening Hezbullah, not weakening it," he told him. The scenario was repeated in December 2008 and January 2009 when muted reactions from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others reflected a hope that Israel would finish off Hamas in Gaza. During that war Mubarak's regime first proferred the argument publicly that there was no use in armed resistance, justifying the destruction of tunnels that were a lifeline for Gazans. Then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni's trip to Cairo on the eve of the invasion had the effect of Egyptian approval of the coming carnage. Such was the shift of Arab entrenched unrepresentative regimes towards an Israeli view of managing the conflict.

That Egypt and Saudi Arabia are today on Israel's side when it comes to Hamas has been stated even more publicly than ever, by Israeli officials and US media. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu even talked about "new possibilities" in regional cooperation that would "surprise" many. Except it will not be a surprise at all. Spurred by a common fear of Iranian power, Saudi Arabia allowed several Israeli journalists to enter the kingdom to cover events such as the Arab summit of March 2007, a series of meetings between Israeli officials and Prince Bandar bin Sultan - many of them leaked to media and fervently denied by Saudi state media - began in 2006, and former intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal wrote in July that "arrogant" Hamas was to blame for the latest Gaza war while Qatar and Turkey were complicit in perpetuating it by aiding Hamas in its negotiating position over a ceasefire.

In the United States and other Western nations these positions have been viewed as timely pragmatism in an effort to bring the historic conflict to an end; thus the narrative that allows these Arab states to be termed "moderates". But it's worth noting a few points regarding the evolution of these policies and their impact in the region. Firstly, they are the policies of governments with problematic claims to popular legitimacy. While it's difficult to make absolute judgements, it would be fair to say that, despite the media apparatus available to propagate these views and the growth of state-promoted opinion that seeks to lower the importance of the Palestinian issue (Saudi-owned pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya TV night after night quickly moved on to other news items), they do not reflect popular sentiment across the Arab region. The policies are a product of Western pressure, not honest conviction among their formulators, and this affects their reception among the public.

While Saudi Arabia has its concerns about Iranian support for Hamas and Egypt has its paranoia that Hamas activism will play into Israeli dreams of either forcing some Gazans into Sinai or obliging Egypt to resume control of the territory, both policies are underpinned by a disdain for Palestinians and their struggle for liberty. Since Sadat's pro-Western turn, the Egyptian political elite have developed a racist anti-Palestinian chauvinism, casting Palestinians as Third World rejectionists of a putative march towards modernity led by the Egyptian (police) state. Expressions of anti-Palestinianism in media have never been as vulgar as they have been in recent weeks. As for Saudi Arabia, as a government, it has lost any interest in even superficial support for Palestinian challenge to the West-imposed order. The Saudi Grand Mufti spoke clearly against sympathy protests for Gazans in January 2009, denouncing them as "rowdiness and noise". In a keynote speech before the recent round of ceasefires, King Abdullah equated the "terrorism of groups and states", placing Hamas and Israel on a par, while mentioning neither by name.

The logic of "surrender and reap the economic benefits" prevails, though Arabs instinctively understand that what this means is that corrupt elites can enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary Palestinians' rights. In the shadow of the Arab uprisings of 2011 regimes around the region are more acutely aware than ever of the organic link between Palestinian mobilization against Israel and domestic protest against entrenched systems of rule: one encourages the other, the liberty that Palestinians seek is the liberty denied to many others living under oppressive regimes. The claim made by US commentators such as Thomas Friedman that the Arab uprisings had nothing to do with traditional causes like Palestine was patently untrue. For protesters, the link between the state of rot and decay internally is organically linked to government behaviour externally. The revival of Islamic jihadism through the wars in Syria and Iraq has injected a further element of danger into the equation. Thus, the tenor of rhetoric over Gaza 2014 has been notably higher than four years ago, with the "moderates" more blatantly opposed to Hamas than before and more shrill in their anger at those states which have maintained close ties with it.

]]> (Andrew Hammond) Guest Writers Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:00:00 +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
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
Must we dance to Saudi tune over Muslim Brotherhood? Last February the Prince of Wales paid a formal visit to Saudi Arabia. It was his second in less than a year, and his 10th official trip to the Saudi kingdom.

He spent a cheerful few days. However, by no means all of it was pleasure. As often in the past, his Saudi hosts left the Prince in no doubt as to their opinions on crucial issues. In particular, I understand that the Saudis eloquently articulated their intense bafflement and dismay that the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Saudi Arabia, is nevertheless permitted to operate freely in London.

When Prince Charles returned home, he repeated these frustrations to the Prime Minister, as well as Foreign Office officials. Shortly afterwards it emerged that Sir John Jenkins, British ambassador in Riyadh, had been appointed to investigate the links between the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism.

The timing is telling. Sir John's investigation came only a few weeks after the Saudis themselves had classified the Brotherhood as a terror group. Egypt, whose President Sisi had carried out a coup d'etat against a democratically elected Brotherhood government, had already taken this step. So Britain's investigation gave a certain legitimacy to Saudi assertions that the Muslim Brotherhood uses violence for political ends. Sir John Jenkins, however, has done a thorough job. He has travelled widely across the Gulf and North Africa in his search for the truth. From the Saudi point of view he has been much too thorough.

By last July the report was complete. Sir John, insist Whitehall sources, had discovered no grounds for proscribing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. In theory, that should have been that. Sir John's report should have been published by now, gathered dust and been nearly forgotten. This has not been the fate of the Jenkins document.

The problem is that Sir John failed to reach the conclusion that the Prime Minister, Prince Charles and their vociferous Middle Eastern allies wanted. They had hoped for confirmation that the Saudis had been correct in their assessment of the Brotherhood. Sir John Jenkins's exculpation has caused grave affront to powerful interests, and has led to a long, vicious Whitehall battle that began over the summer, persisted throughout the autumn and shows no signs of ending.

Publication of the Jenkins report as originally written would infuriate the Prime Minister's Saudi allies – and not just them. The United Arab Emirates have long been agitating for the defenestration of the Brothers. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has the Prime Minister's personal telephone number, and does not hesitate to use it to voice the UAE's anxiety that Britain is not taking a firm enough line.

The former prime minister, Tony Blair, is another who has been agitating on behalf of the UAE against the Brotherhood, both in public and (I am told) in person with the Prime Minister. Then there is the £5 billion order of British Typhoon fighter jets, vital to the future of BAE Systems, and to which David Cameron has attached his personal credibility. It has been in suspense since the inquiry began, and observers are beginning to suspect it will go to France instead.

To sum up: the British Arab lobby is in full cry. The presence of this lobby at the heart of government is not widely grasped or understood. Unlike the Pro-Israel lobby (with which it is, nevertheless, very closely allied) there are few obvious institutional structures or pressure points. The British Arab lobby is inchoate. It is powerfully represented at the heart of the British military and intelligence establishments, while its connections with the oil and defence industries remain profound. Relations with the British monarchy run very deep.

The ties are longstanding. Indeed the alliance between the House of Saud and the British can be traced back to Henry St John Philby, father of the traitor Kim Philby, and for many years adviser to the Wahhabi chieftain Ibn Saud, founder of the modern Saudi state.

Britain all but created Saudi Arabia. Thereafter our alliance with the Saudis has been at the heart of our Middle Eastern policy. The Saudi alliance proved invaluable against Nasser of Egypt, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and later on Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The results in the short term have been effective. Over the long term Saudi Arabia has played an essential role in the rise of al-Qaeda and other terror groups. In the past few years it is pretty widely accepted that Saudi financed and supported Isil, which is causing mayhem across much of Syria and Iraq. In an irony of history, Isil may well, in due course, turn its fire on Saudi Arabia itself.

This week the Emir of Qatar is in London. According to advance briefing from 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister was to lecture the Emir on his alleged funding of terror. But the Emir is entitled to feel aggrieved that no such public dressing down has been dealt out to Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf States.

It should not be forgotten that Qatar is hated across the Gulf not because it finances terror, but because it has stretched out the hand of friendship to the Muslim Brothers. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In many ways it is a spiritual movement, there to enable people to apply the principles and norms of Islam to their everyday lives, comparable in some ways to the Christian Democrats in Germany.

There seems no real question that, like other anti-colonial movements, it was involved in violence in its early days. But the organisation now credibly maintains that it has turned its back on violence for several decades. It seeks power through normal political means. In sharp contrast with the autocratic model embraced by the Gulf states, today's Muslim Brotherhood is at heart in almost all countries an attempt to reconcile Islam and democracy.

It is detested by the Saudis and UAE for exactly this reason. Democratic Islam and the autocratic Saudi model are irreconcilable. For the past five years Saudi King Abdullah has been the Prince Metternich of the Arab spring, leader of the counter-revolution, helping to bring about the downfall of the Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere.

I have often spoken to supporters of the Brotherhood about the long years of exile many of them spent in London. It is very moving to learn how profoundly they came to admire the institutions of the British state: parliament, democracy, the rule of law. They all mention their disappointment that British foreign policy has failed to live up to our values.

One of the defining features of our modern foreign policy is the alliance with extreme Sunni Islam. Again and again we overlook its often murderous refusal to tolerate even the faintest intuitions of democracy and human rights, and tolerate its links to terror.

The reason is simple: money, trade, oil, in a number of cases personal greed. The British establishment is hooked on Saudi Arabia. No wonder the rats are trying to get at Sir John Jenkins's report. Next time Prince Charles brings news from his Saudi friends, the Prime Minister should tell him to get lost.

This article was first published on the Telegraph.

]]> ( Peter Oborne) Middle East Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:17:31 +0000
Sisi successfully uses Sinai bombings to tame the media President SisiBefore the attack on the Egyptian army in the north of Sinai last Friday, resulting in the death and wounding of dozens of soldiers, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi did not miss the opportunity to criticise the country's media and accuse it of failing to cooperate with him, as well as hindering the development of the state and intensifying community division.

Over the past two weeks, the media has publicly voiced criticism against Al-Sisi and other officials following number of incidents of neglect and the deterioration of the people's living.

The tension between the two parties reached its peak last Sunday when Al-Sisi criticised the media during a press conference with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. On the same day, the government cut Wael Al-Ibrashi's broadcast while he criticised the government on the "10 O'clock" television show. In addition to this, the media personality, Amr Adib, harshly criticised Al-Sisi and said, in a rare display of candour: "Mr President, if you are not going to change the loser ministers, then you need to be changed, and if you say there are no other qualified ministers, then you are going to be dismissed."

Al-Sisi is a red line

There have been numerous forms of criticism against Al-Sisi in most private Egyptian media outlets owned by businessmen closely associated with the Mubarak regime, in an unprecedented manner since the coup. Privately owned newspapers have also published many articles and reports that harshly criticise Al-Sisi and note that the situation in the state continues to deteriorate.

In response to these criticisms, Al-Sisi's supporters started the hashtag #السيسي_خط_أحمر (The red line lies at Al-Sisi) to express their rejection of what they consider to be an insult to the president.

During Mubarak's reign, it was normal for the media to focus its attacks on the ministers and mayors without referring to the president, but in many instances, the media urged the president to intervene in order to fix something or punish a lacking official. The Egyptian media never held a president responsible or accountable until Mohamed Morsi came to office. He was held responsible for every problem in the state, no matter what is was, and people were called to take to the streets to protest against him because he was the top official in the country.

Since the July 3 coup, the media has always found excuses for Al-Sisi and used the state's difficult situation, the fight against terrorism, and foreign conspiracies to justify this. However, now, most media outlets are directing their attacks at Al-Sisi and are holding him responsible for the mistakes made by the ministers and mayors, emphasising that they will not stop criticising him.

The overthrow of Mahmoud Saad

The situation changed dramatically over the past two days, as the tone of criticism in the media outlets has changed and has been replaced with messages of support and unconditional backing of Al-Sisi in his war against terrorism.

The media production room, which consists of the owners of satellite television stations, issued a joint statement with the state television station, in which it reiterated the media's support for the armed forces and the police in the face of terrorist gangs. They also noted that the journalists would carry out their duties honourably, fight terrorism, and support the state, armed forces, and police in all measures needed to preserve the security of Egypt.

The statement also said that they will not host any guests or allow any journalist to continue work if they doubt the capabilities of the state or criticise its institutions during these difficult circumstances.

The first application of this statement was Al-Nahar television station's decision to axe journalist Mahmoud Saad and suddenly prevent him from presenting his talk show "Akher Al-Nahar".

On Saturday, Al-Nahar issued a statement confirming that it had taken measures with respect to its programmes in order to prevent hosting a number of guests who spread rumours about Egypt and its future and who promote foreign accusations against the country and weaken the morale of the Egyptian army.

This measure was taken in light of demands from the supporters of the regime, including Zamalek Sporting Club President Mortada Mansour, to stop Mahmoud Saad from working, accusing him of treason and conspiracy against the army and police.

No accountability or reproach

For his part, Coptic businessman and owner of OTV (Orascom Television), Naguib Sawiris urged people not to criticise the state, especially the security institutions during this time, justifying this by saying that the terrorists want the Egyptians to disagree with each other.

Al-Sisi had warned the Egyptian people against allowing those he called "the enemies of the state" to infiltrate the Egyptian people and their security institutions and shake their confidence. He asked Egyptians to unite with the political leadership in its fight against terrorism.

The journalists' union also issued a statement in which it announced it would fight for the survival of the Egyptian state and will stand against those undermining its institutions under the pretext of differing with or opposing the government.

Amr Adib, who had demanded that Al-Sisi leave if he fails to resolve the people's problems, transformed overnight into the greatest defender of Al-Sisi. On Saturday, he cried on air and declared to Al-Sisi: "We are all behind you; say bismillah and fight terrorism and we will back you. Do not allow your faith in the Egyptian people to be shaken; we stand together in this time of crisis."

Adib concluded his statement of support for the state with a sentence that summed up the new relationship between the media and Al-Sisi: "There will be no accountability or reproach until after terrorism is eliminated."

Translated from Arabi21, 26 October, 2014

]]> (Ahmed Al-Laithi) Africa Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:42:58 +0000
Critical Points on the Safar Film Festival Rana BakerFor a whole week, from 19 to 25 September, one would indulge in rich filmic evenings, the likes of which one has either forgotten about or been longing to enjoy. The Safar film festival, promoted as the "festival of popular Arab cinema", was inaugurated in 2012 by the Arab British Centre, in collaboration with the Dubai International Film Festival and London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), where the films were screened. While London is well-known for its multiculturalism, it is also famous for its draining work schedules which make evenings such as those of Safar, where one can just sit and enjoy a film with peers and friends, in high demand.

This year, Safar's films raised many important questions ranging between sexuality and the disenfranchisement of the working-class in the contemporary Arab world. Mohamed Khan's Factory Girl, premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2013, was particularly interesting. The film, set in Cairo, follows the story of Hiyam, an impoverished textile factory worker who fell in love with Salah, her handsome middle-class supervisor. Salah, initially attracted to Hiyam, decides to ditch her for another woman from his own social ranking. The narrative is further complicated when Hiyam gets accused, not least by Salah himself, of having violated the sexual codes of her community. Perhaps most striking about the film is the last scene; Hiyam, proven "innocent" of these accusations, stands up in Salah's wedding, and dances with shattering confidence on the stage. Salah's demented and embarrassed face, in stark contrast to the cheery atmospherics of everybody else in the room including the bride herself, announces her triumph and, consequently, his defeat.

The satisfying end of the film perhaps hints at Khan's unmet expectations of the 25 January 2011 revolution, which deposed Hosni Mubarak but left the despotic socio-economic structure ruling the country since the neoliberal reign of Anwar Sadat unshaken. Surely, this is just one possible interpretation of a seconds-long, but captivating scene, in which a big demonstration passes by the café where Hiyam and Salah were having a heated conversation. Overall, Khan's film offers a social critique of Mubarak's Egypt which, as Lila abu-Lughod argues in Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt, marginalised the working-class and promoted a lowly perception of it among Egyptian middle and bourgeois classes.

Although a narrative of class struggle was unfolding on the screen, and regardless of the scorn one develops toward Salah, the ICA cinema room was dominated by middle-class and intellectual elites. One manifestation was the unurprising question aboutthe oppression of Arab women by their culture, except that Khan promptly explained that the oppression of women is not a phenomenon that is peculiar to Arab culture, but to women in each and every country around the world. His answer was met with ringing applause from the audience. However, one could go as far as to wonder how accessible such evenings are to the working-class or illegalised migrants on whose lives films as Khan's directly touch. It is surely not to criticise the organisers of Safar or to judge the ICA for both have done brilliantly in terms of putting the festival together and bringing back to life classics such as Daoud Abdel Sayed's Kit Kat.

This said, it remains important to question the exclusionary nature of festivals such as Safar, and Nour which has just begun, together with the privatisation of the cinema and other cultural and artistic works in and outside London. It is also worth asking to what extent films made about the working-class are seen by them as well as what it means, politically, to have a room full of Arab and Western elites watch a film about a woman the real-life counterparts of whom have probably never been to something remotely resembling the ICA. To be sure, one should be wary of assigning a deterministic value, positive or negative, to artistic settings that produce –or replay- this effect. However, it is interesting to note the artificial collision between the two social strata, which is often avoided by the elites or barely occurs thanks to urban planning and the long-standing neoliberal goal of "cleaning" the cityscape.

The cultural landscape of London is definitely interesting to look at. As anyone who has lived here not for a long time can easily observe, there is always a festival or some sort of cultural, hence political, activity going on. Safar offered its audience critical perspectives on many controversial subjects and, as argued earlier, the festival itself is an interesting subject to discuss and critically engage with. In the meantime, one looks forward to Safar's films next year and to the line-up of other festivals and lectures scheduled for 2015.

Rana Baker is Palestinian from Gaza. She is currently pursuing graduate studies at SOAS, University of London

]]> (Rana Baker) Europe Sun, 26 Oct 2014 13:57:09 +0000
Israel's internment regime Asa WinstanleyWatch the BBC's coverage and it may have you believing that Israel is a small, embattled outpost of modern "civilisation" in the war-ravaged Middle East. A "villa in the jungle," as racist former war minister and Israeli killer Ehud Barak once infamously put it.

After all - the propaganda has it - Israel is a modern democracy, with a thriving tech-led economy, a state that offers democracy and human rights for all. Sure, Israel comes under criticism during the recurrent wars it engages in with its neighbours, and sometimes, indeed, it may even go too far. But after all, Israel is one of us - the "civilised" West. Israel "belongs to the White Man" as Eli Yishai, the former interior minister and fanatic Israeli racist once put it.

But the truth, as so often, is far removed from the mainstream media image.

Every so often some smug liberal will ask the annoying question, Where is the Palestinian Gandhi? Why do the Palestinians not try non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation? And so on, in monotonous fashion.

Those same smug liberals do not bother to inform themselves about the basic realities of Israel's West Bank imprisonment regime.

Palestinian activists, human rights defenders, journalists and academics are frequently picked up off the streets, out of their homes in the middle of the night, in front of their families – Israel's thug soldiers take them off to jail and intern them without trial, often in conditions of torture and isolation.

Military courts then rubber-stamp the actions of Israel's military and spy agencies.

There was one salient example of their regime only this week. Abdullah Abu Rahme, one of the main organisers of popular resistance against Israel's apartheid wall in the village of Bil'in, was convicted by one of the Israeli military's kangaroo courts of "obstructing the work of a soldier". This was in reference to a 2012 incident when Abu Rahme tried to stop a military bulldozer from clearing land on which to build the apartheid wall. According to +972 Magazine Abu Rahme is likely in December to be sentenced for four months in prison for this "crime".

Ghassan Najjar, an activist with the Solidarity Movement for a Free Palestine (SFP -- an ISM offshoot) was taken by Israeli soldiers from his home village of Burin, near Nablus, on 27 August. Najjar is well known locally as unarmed activist against Israeli occupation. For this "crime," Najjar languishes in Israel's prisons, under its "administrative detention" regime – i.e. internment without charge or trial. SFP says he has had been barred from seeing a lawyer apart from one short conference during a military court hearing that extended his detention.

The day before Najjar, Israel abducted retired academic Yousef Abdul Haq formerly of An-Najah university in Nablus. Abdul Haq is allegedly affiliated with the Marxist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. For this "crime" the 73-year-old's home was ransacked at 2 am, and he is still being detained without charge.

In a similar vein, elected PFLP law-maker Khalida Jarrar was in August issued with an internal deportation order by Israeli occupation forces. Soldiers delivered the order to her Ramallah home, ordering her out of the city, expelling her to Jericho, in another part of the West Bank. This was a vindictive action presumably intended to obstruct her activism and educational work in the West Bank and internationally. In this case, international solidarity with Jarrar has had an effect, and the order was effectively withdrawn last month. Her daughter Yafa (a well-known boycott activist in her own right) issued a statement saying: "We believe that this arbitrary and unjust decision would not have been reconsidered without all the international pressure and local pressure that you have contributed to."

Israel's prisons are full of "Palestinian Gandhis". There are many Palestinians committed to resisting Israel in all sorts of ways, be it cultural resistance, popular protests or educational activities. But the mainstream media's obsession with violence is part of the reason that armed resistance will always have a key role to play in opposing Israel.

Israel's very existence is predicated on violence and negation of the Palestinians' very right to exist. This is a state that was literally built on the ruins, ashes and mass graves of those 750,000 Palestinians expelled by Israel in 1948. The long-term outlook for such 19-century-style colonialism in the twenty-first century is not good to say the least.

Meanwhile, Palestinians will continue to resist Israel by any means necessary.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Sat, 25 Oct 2014 10:40:09 +0000
Al-Sisi's presence at the UN took it to a new low President Sisi at the UN General AssemblyOn the first four days of his visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, the coup leader and President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, sat kicking his heels waiting to meet Barack Obama. On the fifth day, he was finally granted an audience with the American president. It was his first official visit as a controversial president and his legitimacy was clearly still open to question.

Obama wasn't alone among world leaders in showing a reluctance to meet Al-Sisi; indeed, only the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II showed any interest. Al-Sisi comforted himself with meeting some of America's legion of ex-officials, such as Henry Kissinger, one of the most prominent theorists and architects of US-Israel foreign policy. The former secretary of state is well-known for his support of the Israeli occupation and has reiterated several positions in favour of the Zionist state, as demonstrated in his bias against Egypt in the 1973 October War.

The Egyptian president also met with Madeleine Albright, another former US Secretary of State (1997-2001) who showed her shameful bias towards the Israelis during the second Palestinian uprising. She was merciless during the Gulf War when, in response to a question about the killing of 500,000 children due to US-led sanctions, she uttered her now infamous reply: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it." Al-Sisi also met with former US President Bill Clinton, and his wife Hillary, another former Secretary of State.

His speech at the UN General Assembly sparked a new round of ridicule against Al-Sisi on Facebook and Twitter, which mocked his linguistic errors and repetition of words and sentences. Despite it being more than a year since his coup which overthrew the democratically-elected Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Sisi opened his UN speech by attacking the movement and criticising Morsi's year in office; the man appears to have an inferiority complex.

In a week which saw 11 Egyptians committing suicide due to financial difficulties, including a 48-year old man who hanged himself on a motorway billboard and an elderly man immolating himself in front of a government ministry, Al-Sisi spoke of his legitimacy and repeated his claim to represent all Egyptians. Some political analysts declared that this was one of the worst speeches ever to be given by an Egyptian leader at the General Assembly.

Nevertheless, the speech was duly applauded by the Egyptian loyalists accompanying their boss. According to the Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Nadia Mustafa, for the president's own entourage to applaud him was "unusual" protocol. Professor Mustafa added that the president's repetition of "I represent all Egyptians, I represent all Egyptians" suggests that "he knows that he only represents himself and the pro-coup people around him."

In stark contrast, in the 2012 General Assembly every delegate was waiting eagerly to listen to the then President Morsi, the first to be elected following the 25 January Revolution. Morsi did not feel the need to emphasise that he was the Egyptian president who represented all Egyptians, because he was there as President of Egypt.

Turkey's newly-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the UN for conferring legitimacy on Al-Sisi and the bloody coup which he led against a democratically-elected president by allowing him to speak at the General Assembly. "We should respect the choice of the people at the ballot box," said Erdogan. "If we want to support coups, then why does the UN even exist?" The international body, he added, should not recognise someone who came to power after killing thousands of his own citizens who took to the streets to demonstrate for their democratic rights.

Erdogan used the four-finger Rabaa sign in remembrance of and solidarity with the pro-democracy supporters who were killed in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya square on 14th August last year. "Those who stay silent about the massacre of children, innocent women and the overthrowing of democratically elected governments by force must share in the responsibility for those crimes," he insisted.

In his first US television interview since becoming president, Al-Sisi was quizzed by CBS presenter Charlie Rose about Egypt's position in the US-Arab coalition's fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and whether the Egyptian Air force will take part. Al-Sisi's immediate response was to smile and ask, "Do you even need the Egyptian Air Force?" Ross replied, "Yes, because the President would not like it to be Americans alone against Muslims." At this, the Egyptian president nodded his head and said, "True, true." Rose, still not getting a clear answer asked again if Egypt would support the strikes, and Al-Sisi laughed. "Give us the Apaches and the F16s that you have been suspending for over a year and a half now." This was a reference to the $1.3 billion annual military aid from the US which was halted after last summer's coup. Al-Sisi emphasised his support for the US air strikes, but reiterated that he expects a resumption of US military aid in return. "The coalition has been formed and we are part of this coalition," he said.

In interviews with the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine, Al-Sisi again pledged his support for the US-led war against ISIS. Asked if Egypt might provide airspace access or logistical support for airstrikes, he said: "We are completely committed to giving support. We will do whatever is required." In a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, Al-Sisi said that the US-led coalition should widen its campaign against extremism beyond Iraq, Syria and ISIS fighters, and fight other militant groups in the region.

Al-Sisi has cited terrorist threats in Libya, Sudan, Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula as mirroring the danger posed to the Middle East and the West by ISIS. Speaking to the Associated Press, he insisted that the actions he took following his ouster of Morsi and the ferocious crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters were to combat militancy and save the country from civil war. He told AP that Egypt is a model for fighting terrorism and that the coalition fighting ISIS should take note.

Despite last month's Human Rights Watch Report which called on the UN to investigate Al-Sisi over the Rabaa massacre in Cairo in which over 1,000 people were killed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met the Egyptian leader in New York; he expressed his "concerns" regarding freedom in Egypt.

The former army general has received much international criticism since he ousted Egypt's first freely-elected president, and the massacres and barbarous crackdown thereafter. It appears that world leaders have still not warmed up to Al-Sisi. They did not rush to greet him at the UN and his speech struck a chord with his own delegation and few, if any, others. However, the fact that he was at the UN General Assembly meeting at all after the killing and torturing of thousands of Egyptian citizens degrades the world body; his presence took the UN to a new low.

]]> (Dr Walaa Ramadan) Americas Sat, 27 Sep 2014 15:35:31 +0000
The West Bank: where Israel's Gaza propaganda falls apart Writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week, regular columnist Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie bemoaned the difficult task facing Israel's supporters internationally, in the aftermath of the devastating, murderous assault on the Gaza Strip.

With the war in Gaza just concluded, Israel's friends in the West are now immersed in the task of making Israel's case to a skeptical public...ours is a media age, and the pictures of destruction in Gaza are hard to overcome.

This already tricky PR challenge has now been compounded, Yoffie wrote, by the Netanyahu's government's decision to declare a chunk of the West Bank as 'state land', a step taken prior to the construction of new settlement housing.

The point of the op-ed was that the land grab is badly-timed and will do Israel's image no favours after the death and destruction in Gaza. But there is a further point to be made here. Developments in the West Bank do not just hinder Israel's post-Gaza PR efforts - they actually directly undermine the 'Operation Protective Edge' hasbara talking points themselves.

Israel insists that the accusation of war crimes in Gaza is a gross misrepresentation of the military's operations. Putting aside the copious evidence of atrocities – families bombed at home, youth killed while watching football in a café, indiscriminate shelling in Rafah, and so on - Israeli policies in the West Bank give the lie to the claim that its government and military have even the minimal respect for international law.

And indeed, the mass appropriation of land outside of Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank is just such an example. Responding to the news, Amnesty International said that "confiscating land for settlements" is not only "illegal under international law" but also leads "to a wide range of violations of Palestinians' human rights on a mass scale". Human Rights Watch pointedly noted:

The ICC statute prohibits, as war crimes, the voluntary transfer by an occupying power of its civilians into occupied territory, the seizure of property unless imperative as a matter of military necessity, and the forcible transfer of the local population of the territory - like Israel's practices in the West Bank. Abbas has repeatedly delayed acceding to the ICC statute.

With condemnation from numerous countries - including strong allies of Israel - it is important to note here that for Israel, its own colonisation priorities, domestic political reasons or, in the words of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, simply the "consensus in Israeli society", all trump international law. Yet in Gaza, we are meant to believe that the Israeli military scrupulously abides by the same standards it is trampling on a few dozen miles away.

Then there is the killing of Palestinian civilians. The Israeli military has produced no end of infographics and conducted numerous 'off the record' briefings - as well as of course, the regular robotic performances by media spokespersons - all in an attempt to 'explain' the mass slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including hundreds of children.

Yet while homes were being pulverised in Gaza, Israeli forces unleashed lethal violence against occupied, unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Bank: according to the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department, 32 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between June 13 and August 26, and another 1,397 injured by the army and settlers.

Implausibly, and disgustingly, Israel tries to justify the killing of children in their homes in Gaza by reference to 'rockets', 'terror tunnels', and the 'terrorist infrastructure' of al-Qassam Brigades. But what about Khalil Anati, the 10-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli forces in al-Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron? Or 19-year-old footballer Mohammed Al-Qatari, and 45-year-old father of three Hashem Abu Maria - both shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank while Gaza burned.

But this is standard for 'The Most Moral Army In the World'. 14-year-old Yousef al-Shawamrah was out picking plants when he was killed by the brave and precise "IDF" - not assembling rockets. Nadim Siyam Nawarah and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh were not firing mortars or digging tunnels when Israeli forces killed them both in May. Yet in Gaza, we are meant to believe that the Israeli military would never deliberately kill civilians - the same way it does a few dozen miles away.

Finally, Israel tells us that it has a responsibility to protect its citizens – that its attacks on Gaza were about 'security' and a right to self-defence. Again, this is easily deconstructed on its own terms - but, instructively, Israel conducts illegal and discriminatory policies in the West Bank on precisely the same basis. There, the absurd disingenuousness of the security excuse is even clearer.

Checkpoints and roadblocks fragment the West Bank as part of a regime of segregation that exists purely for the benefit of the Jewish settlers living in colonies surrounded by citizenship-less Palestinians. Olive groves are demolished, farmers and herders expelled from their land. The Wall, of course, de facto annexes chunks of the West Bank - in the name of 'security'.

Yet in Gaza, we are meant to believe that the Israeli military would never use a ‘security’ excuse as cover for collective punishment and colonial disciplining - the same way it does a few dozen miles away.

The standard Israeli version of events in Gaza is itself refutable. But the propaganda is even flimsier when you consider that, not far away from the fenced-in, battered enclave, the Israeli government and army have been doing exactly what they swear blind they were not doing in Gaza: violating international law, deliberately killing civilians, and carrying out punitive, unchecked colonialism in the name of 'security'.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Thu, 04 Sep 2014 17:30:59 +0000
Resistance to Israeli occupation can and must take many forms Susan AbulhawaPropaganda for world consumption aside, Israelis have never minced their words about their ultimate aim of Eretz Israel, so-called "Greater Israel", from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan. This is alluded to in the Israeli flag, the two blue lines of which each represent a body of water, with only Jews between them, symbolised by the lone Star of David. Their opposition to a viable, contiguous, autonomous Palestinian state has always been explicit and adamant. Everything they've done to-date has been to achieve Jewish dominance in all of Palestine and the region as a whole, demographically in the former as well as economically and militarily in the latter. The Palestinian body and stubborn will to exist have posed the only hindrance to these supremacist aspirations. However, through rapacious construction of illegal Jewish-only colonies, regular military destruction of Palestinian institutions, extrajudicial executions, massive random incarceration, institutionalised oppression in all aspects of life, social engineering and more, Israel has effectively managed Palestinian resistance. All of Israel's wars, except the Yom Kippur War, were initiated by the Zionist state for the purpose of regional hegemony and territorial expansion. Expecting Israel to negotiate in good faith for Palestinian autonomy, therefore, is naive in the extreme. Equally absurd is the belief that world powers, including the United States, are honest brokers for justice which might usher-in even the minimal dignity of demilitarised Palestinian self-determination on the mere 22 per cent of historic Palestine comprising the West Bank and Gaza.

It has been clear to most of us for a very long time that the Palestinian struggle must be waged on the grassroots level, both in Palestine and abroad. Israel's current onslaught on Gaza, a repetition of the carnage inflicted on this seaside prison twice before in the past six years, should remove all doubt that we have to rely solely on ourselves and people of conscience around the world to effectuate our own liberty. As with every national liberation struggle, Palestinian resistance occurs on multiple levels and is evolving constantly in response to ever-unfolding challenges and changing political winds. The reality now is that we cannot wait for world leaders to save us and time is running out. The older generation with indigenous memory, knowledge and wisdom is dying; the land is shrinking under our feet; and it is being sucked dry, making desert what once bloomed. Now, watching Gaza burn and bleed again and again, the national impulse to organise and intensify resistance feels more urgent. What follows, in a top line overview, is an attempt to summarise current and proposed resistance strategies, including boycott tactics, active resistance within Palestine, including sabotage operations, my layperson's grasp of legal pursuits, and the need for an inclusive, representative leadership body.

1. Boycott

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has been one of the most effective Palestinian resistance strategies in recent times. The movement has grown exponentially since its inception in 2005, making huge strides into mainstream discourse and political action around the world. Its success has proven enough of a threat to Israeli hegemony to prompt a well-funded, multi-pronged attack on BDS organisations and individual supporters, including smear campaigns, law suits and surveillance. However, despite the success of BDS internationally, boycott tactics are not well adopted at home within Palestine. It has been suggested that this is due to the post-Oslo logic and ensuing realities in the homeland which have worked to minimise Palestinian national values regarding the struggle for liberation. However, a more likely explanation has to do with the logistics of internal boycott and the lack of local pro-boycott organising. In addition to Mahmoud Abbas's public opposition to boycotting Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and Gaza, are both physically and economically captive, often having no choice but to buy Israeli products. Despite this economic bondage, there is still much that can be done to spur a culture of boycott within the homeland. Spending by Palestinians has been estimated at billions of dollars annually for Israel's economy. Campaigning and organising for the removal of Israeli products, particularly those for which there are local alternatives, could prove to be a fruitful resistance tactic, as it would have an immediate economic impact on some Israeli companies. It would also contribute to fostering less reliance on Israel and greater self-sufficiency.

2. Active and passive resistance, sabotage and "tatbeesh" in the West Bank, Palestine

Active and passive resistance against the Israeli occupation are deeply rooted in Palestinian society. The passive resistance of sumud, or steadfastness, can be found in daily activity, where Palestinians continue to attend school, work, till their lands, marry, give birth and live their lives despite the daily humiliations of endless waiting, checkpoints, colour-coded IDs and license plates, or confinement to a specific radius. Active resistance has been armed and unarmed/non-violent, although the former has diminished greatly in the past decade, with the exception of acts of self-defence by resistance groups in Gaza, including Hamas, the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and Islamic Jihad. Non-violent resistance tactics, while largely invisible, have a long tradition in Palestinian society, where they have developed naturally over the decades, taking many forms. The most widely noted in the west has been the example of weekly protests against Israel's apartheid wall in Bil'in.

Somewhere between these two forms of active resistance are tatbeesh and sabotage. Tatbeesh refers to rock-throwing demonstrations, where Palestinian youth hurl stones at invading Israeli jeeps, tanks and armed soldiers. This tactic, although symbolic, is embedded deeply in Palestinian resistance. However, it is costly in terms of human life, expected (even welcomed) by bored occupation soldiers, and sometimes works to dissipate the anger and frustration of Palestinian youth, which could be harnessed for more strategic resistance.

Unlike non-violent, armed or tatbeesh resistance, sabotage is not widespread; where it happens, it has an impact, even if disorganised or reactionary. Sabotage resistance targets the apparatus of Israeli oppression, taking care not to harm life. In Palestine, this apparatus is vast, encompassing a sophisticated infrastructure of apartheid that relegates the Palestinian natives to encircled, deprived ghettos in order to accord comfort, exclusivity and privilege to Jews. It includes a web of Jewish-only roads connecting Jewish-only colonies with Jerusalem, a network of checkpoints and roadblocks, the 20-foot concrete separation wall, watchtowers and electric fences. These are what lie above ground; below lies a system of pipes that divert Palestinian water to Israel and its illegal colonies. There are cables and other connections that run beneath our feet to maintain these segregated colonies, built on confiscated Palestinian land. This infrastructure curtails Palestinian liberty, movement and access to natural resources; it should be a legitimate target.

The aim of sabotage resistance would be to make it very costly and inconvenient for Israel to maintain the physical framework of apartheid. At a minimum, Palestinians could remove the unmanned roadblocks that wreak havoc for so many communities when they're set up.

3. Resistance within 1948 Palestine

While Palestinians with Israeli citizenship ("1948 Palestinians") have the right to vote in the Zionist state, they are subject to at least 50 racist laws that exclude them from rights and privileges afforded to Jewish citizens, including the right of return, the right to reclaim property, to buy or lease land designated for exclusive Jewish use, to live with his/her spouse in Israel if he or she has Palestinian ID, and more. Although this segment of Palestinian society is often overlooked, the 1948 Palestinians have waged their own resistance against institutionalised Israeli racism and often demonstrate (and are killed) in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank when Israel embarks on military sprees which terrorise the local populations. A recent noteworthy example of resistance includes the inspiring efforts of the villagers of Kufr Bir'em to reclaim their original village. Greater communication, coordination and reciprocal solidarity with 1948 Palestinians is needed.

4. Legal Remedies

Although Israel has waged an absurd "lawfare" campaign against Palestinians and their supporters abroad, by attempting to equate political activism with anti-Semitism, Palestinians have not explored legal options in international courts sufficiently to hold Israel to account for its criminal actions. In 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA) abandoned a rare opportunity to refer an audit of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, as outlined in the UN's Goldstone Report following the 2008-2009 massacre in Gaza, to the UN Security Council for further action. Despite this apparent mistake by the PA, ample legal venues remain viable options for the Palestinians.

In a recent essay, Richard Falk, legal scholar and former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, outlined the potential advantages and challenges to pursuing legal action at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to address Israeli violations of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. According to Falk, despite the associated challenges and pitfalls, "the evidence overwhelmingly supports basic Palestinian allegations" including, among others, the crime of apartheid; "recourse to the ICC remains a valuable trump card in the PA deck... playing it might begin to change the balance of forces bearing on the conflict that has for decades now denied the Palestinian people their basic rights under international law." There have been previous calls to prosecute Israelis at the ICC, but thus far no concrete action has been taken. On the other hand, a July 2014 letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon from legal experts and legal networks called on the UN and contracting parties to the Geneva Convention to take action pursuant to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion, which deemed Israel's construction of a separation wall on occupied Palestinian land to be illegal.

Legal remedies are also available to individual Palestinians who are citizens of other countries. The recent beating of 15-year old US citizen Tariq AbuKhdeir by Israeli police, recorded on camera, raises the possibility of filing civil suits in America against Israel, the greatest single recipient of US foreign aid. Further, based on private correspondence with legal experts, there may be a legal basis for law suits against Netanyahu and the many Israeli ministers and Knesset members who called openly for violence, murder and revenge against Palestinians. Their hysteria fuelled a national clamour for vengeance that led to the beating of AbuKhdeir and the gruesome burning to death of his cousin Muhammad AbuKhdeir. Additionally, there may be a legal precedent for US citizens of Palestinian descent to sue Israeli institutions in respect of stolen property.

Finally, the concept of universal jurisdiction opens endless possibilities to prosecute Israelis for war crimes or companies for complicity in war crimes. The most famous application of universal jurisdiction was the Spanish prosecution of Augusto Pinochet for crimes committed in Chile. The potential (or absurdity) of pursuing such avenues is at least worthy of further discussion and strategising among legal experts and activists concerned with holding Israel to account for its crimes.

5. Inclusive, comprehensive elections for representative unity leadership

Whatever it was or hoped to be, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has become a reactionary, ineffective bureaucracy. It has proven itself woefully incapable of protecting Palestinians from Israeli terror and unable or unwilling to implement or advance resistance initiatives. In fact, the PA's ironclad security coordination with Israel's occupation forces has made Palestinians more vulnerable, and on several occasions it has acted to sabotage promising avenues of resistance. In addition to thwarting action on the Goldstone Report, they have also been a hindrance to the growing success of the BDS campaign, speaking publicly against it.

The PA's rejection of the 2006 election results that replaced Fatah with Hamas members in leadership positions severed the West Bank from Gaza. Since then, the Palestinian populace has longed for what has been termed a "unity government" that would bring Fatah and Hamas together. While uniting these two leading Palestinian political parties is an important step, their coalescence represents neither Palestinian unity nor government. An autonomous government cannot exist under occupation; at most it becomes a subcontractor of the occupation. Nor can Fatah and Hamas alone represent the Palestinian people. For a start, there are other Palestinian parties to be considered. More importantly, voices from other segments of Palestinian society, including refugees, diaspora Palestinians and 1948 Palestinians must be heard and their opinions included. In all of these segments, space (currently unavailable or restricted) must also be carved out for women and the youth. The need to hold truly inclusive national elections cannot be overstated.

Palestine is being wiped off the map. Our communities are dying a slow death of deliberate attrition, neglect and ghettoisation. Israel continues to steal our lands, heritage, homes and history, and while Palestinian resistance is the only reason that its colonial project is still incomplete, time is not on our side. What we do have on our side, though, our truest strength, is truth and the moral high ground of an indigenous people fighting a system of colonial apartheid and ethnic cleansing. All resistance tactics available to us that maintain this fundamental strength should be explored or intensified.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist. She is the author of a bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin, and the founder of a non-governmental organisation, Playgrounds for Palestine.

]]> (Susan Abulhawa) Guest Writers Fri, 01 Aug 2014 09:00:00 +0000
The struggle for collective rights unites all Indigenous peoples from North America to Palestine Dr Sarah MarusekThe UN has declared 2014 to be the "Year of solidarity with the Palestinian people", a move that reflects the rising level of international support for equal rights and justice in Palestine. But while this is certainly a welcome development, we must also recognise that the liberal framework underpinning the UN and international law, which the Palestinian Authority and international activists are both increasingly calling upon, prioritises individual rights and national sovereignty within a bounded geographical territory, whereas the Palestinian cause is actually a struggle for the self-determination of all Palestinians, no matter where they happen to live.

This is why it is so important that communities that have been subject to similar forms of collective oppression throughout history, and which continue to suffer today, are also increasingly mobilising in support of the liberation of Palestine, from South Africa to India to North America. The struggle for collective rights unites all Indigenous peoples, and while the struggle against oppression and for liberation is something universal, when the oppression is collectively based, liberation must also be collectively realised. Thus those seeking universal liberation are uniting in the fight against colonialism and imperialism, the frameworks of collective oppression.

While the American Studies Association dominated the headlines last month after it decided to endorse the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, following the precedent set by the Asian American Studies Association in April 2013, shortly afterwards the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) also announced its support for the boycott campaign.

According to Indian Country Today newsmagazine, the leading independent news source providing a national platform for Native voices and issues, the NAISA declaration of support states that: "As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonisation and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples."

There are many reasons why supporters of Indigenous rights would stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Of course Palestinians are indigenous to the land of Palestine, but we should not forget that this is a movement seeking to empower all those who continue to be collectively oppressed by the colonial and imperial projects, ultimately securing rights for all humans.

The struggle against colonialism and for Indigenous rights in the Americas has been going on for centuries. As Native American author and political activist Ward Churchill testified to the New York session for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in October 2012: "By the beginning of the twentieth century the population of American Indians in North America had been reduced by roughly 95 per cent from the onset of the European invasion some 300 years earlier." The European settlers achieved this mass genocide – the near eradication of all Indigenous peoples of North America – through the systematic killing, displacement and quarantining of Native Americans, as well as the destruction of their livelihoods and ecosystems, leading to disease and environmental degradation.

Churchill stressed that this history of oppression continues, with rampant poverty, unemployment and preventable diseases afflicting many American Indian communities today. This is because the colonial project never really ended: "The status of American Indian peoples as sovereign nations has been recognized 400 times over through the ratification of treaties by the US. Nonetheless, the US has unilaterally asserted jurisdiction over all remaining Indian territories within its claimed boundaries." Furthermore, by repeatedly enforcing policies that undermine the collective aspects of Native American cultures, the US has become more effective at confronting their resistance.

Churchill ended his testimony by saying that much of the American Indian story "will resonate with considerable familiarity among Palestinians. While the particulars are in many respects different, the effects suffered are entirely similar."

Indeed, there is growing level of solidarity between the Indigenous peoples of North America and Palestine. In addition to the NAISA endorsement of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, in December 2012 more than 100 Palestinian activists and 50 solidarity organisations signed onto a statement of support for Indigenous rights and Canada's Idle No More movement in particular, which stands firmly against colonisation, racism, injustice and oppression.

In a recent issue of Jacobin magazine with a special focus on Palestine, the editors argue that: "Building a European state outside of Europe meant the destruction, expulsion, or assimilation of Indigenous people, what the historian Patrick Wolfe has called the 'logic of elimination'." Although they are making a particular point about Palestine here, their argument works just as well for North America. However, the editors also warn us that it is unwise to take this comparison too far. At heart this is not only a question of American and Zionist settler colonialism, but also a global North-South struggle, which means it is similarly a fight against the oppressive forces of global capitalism.

Because as the editors also point out: "Israeli Jews - especially those from North Africa and the Middle East - can also be an oppressed class in historical Palestine. We ignore them at our peril, for any change that doesn't also pass through the prism of the minds of the Jewish working class would be a revolution from above: an imposed decolonisation."

Focusing on the struggle for justice in the periphery highlights the class dynamics and the racial motivations of the settler colonial and imperial projects, universalised by global capitalism, and helps us to confront Israel's "Redwashing" campaign – using Indigenous spokespersons to cover up Israel's on-going occupation of Palestinian land and the violations of Palestinian rights.

Palestinian scholar and activist Sa'ed Atshan suggests that "Redwashing" is yet another part of the government's "Brand Israel campaign, which not only obfuscates the reality of Israeli colonisation but also works to sever Palestinian links with other Indigenous peoples while also aiming to secure Indigenous support for Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine."

That the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls its public relations effort "Brand Israel" is apt, because this terminology illustrates how the campaign parallels the logic of capitalism. Corporations spend vast amounts of resources to shape their public images to generate more capital, all the while exploiting their workforce and the environment. Likewise, Israel spends vast resources to create the illusion that Israel is a democracy to further entrench the Zionist project in Palestine, all the while exploiting a peace process that prolongs the occupation and denying Palestinians their rights.

Furthermore, Israel's efforts to co-opt Indigenous peoples in order to legitimise its occupation of Palestine are often embraced by colonial elites with particular interests. Atshan explains that: "We find colonial elites among Native Americans, for example, pushing for Native participation in the US military to support its imperialist endeavours, while colonial elites among Palestinians, including in the Palestinian Authority, serve as subcontractors for Israeli colonisation."

Although many colonial elites may still live in the geographical periphery, they have symbolically placed themselves in the centre by building fences around their privileges, whereas those who are struggling for a new global politics seek to enlarge the circle of humanity, not contain it. As Atshan told MEMO, "We need to understand the transnational networks in which settler-colonial states are embedded. Too often we look at internal dynamics of settler-colonial states without examining how these states are connected by common and shared and interlinked processes. The global military industrial complex and prison industrial complex come to mind."

By focusing on the global processes at play, this also reminds us that the global struggle is continuous, despite any given political setback. Atshan points out that: "The analogies between the Native American reservations and the fate of Palestinians often assume a static reality of the Native American experience. It takes as a given that the US settler-colonial project has prevailed and that Native American spirits have been crushed. It erases a rich history of Native American resistance and resilience that continues until today." The documentary film Kahsatstenhsera: Indigenous Resistance to Tar Sands Pipelines, produced by Indigenous organiser Amanda Lickers, is a fine illustration of this on-going resistance against global capitalism and for Indigenous rights.

Connecting all of these struggles has never been more urgent. As the Palestinian supporters of Idle No More urge, "Now is the time – from Canada/Turtle Island to Palestine, we must all be 'Idle No More', and take a stand: against colonialism, against occupation, and for self-determination, sovereignty, rights and justice for Indigenous peoples." Indeed, for all peoples.

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Mon, 27 Jan 2014 14:09:48 +0000
We have forgotten Palestine! "We have no more time to waste; enough is enough. We must rise to support Palestine before we lose it in these meaningless negotiations"We Arabs have unwittingly fulfilled the dreams of the Zionists. We have regressed and become distracted with our own internal issues and foolish disputes within the borders of our own countries, and lost sight of our most important issue. Although, Palestine is still in the heart and soul of every Arab, unfortunately we have done nothing effective for it. We are no longer moved by what the Zionists are doing and destroying in the occupied Palestinian territories, nor do we care anymore about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons. We don't even bat an eye when we hear about their hunger strikes or about them dying in Israeli prisons. We are no longer concerned about the excavations and tunnels being dug under the Al-Aqsa Mosque; the first qibla, the third holiest site in Isla and the site from where our beloved Prophet took his night journey. All this is happening before the eyes of the Islamic nation and no one is taking action! We witness the humiliation and torture of our fellow Muslims by the Zionist soldiers on our television screens, and we frown upon it, but we do not get angry; we do not revolt! Where has the passion for Islam gone; where is the anger of the Muslims whose sanctities are being dishonoured?

Is it possible for us to lose sight of all this in favour of our meaningless internal conflicts? Even though it appears we have forgotten about Palestine, is it really possible to overlook it? This question reassures me and gives me a glimmer of hope. Prophet Mohammad's nation must wake up, pull themselves together, and rise again to defend their honour, pride, and dignity; they must liberate Palestine from the river to the sea. I am not one of those people who have been chasing after the mirage of empty negotiations ever since the Oslo Accords in 1992 which were falsely labelled peace talks. This was a way of distracting the Arabs with delusions until they had finished carrying out their evil plans including the completion of settlement construction on seized Palestinian land, and the Judaisation of East Jerusalem with a view to completely take over the entire.

However, we are too busy with our sectarian and denominational disputes that the Salafists consider to be the cause they must fight to the death for. They view this as a holy war, and forget that the true holy war is the war against the Zionists in Palestine as stated by the Quranic verse "[And We said] If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, [you do it] to yourselves." "Then when the final promise came, [We sent your enemies] to disfigure your faces and to enter the temple in Jerusalem, as they entered it the first time, and to destroy all that fell into their power with [total] destruction."

We do not have the luxury of starting new pointless negotiations such as those being planned and prepared for at the moment. It is now being claimed that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, whose term ended years ago, has come to an agreement with the Israeli side to swap land between the two states. Hasn't "Abu Mazen", who is living in a stupor, learned the lessons of the past taught to him by Sharon who is still stronger than him even though he is in an actual coma? Sharon rooted the concept of meaningless negotiations which has now become the chosen method used in Israeli policies which seize, loot and murder, and know nothing of dialogue and peace. Their hands are blood stained because all they have ever carried is a rifle; they have never carried an olive branch, but instead they kill olive trees.

When will the Arabs realise this and wake up? We have no more time to waste; enough is enough. We must rise to support Palestine before we lose it in these meaningless negotiations.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Wed, 08 May 2013 16:52:06 +0000
Unclear international strategy surrounding the battle of Ain al-Arab In recent weeks, Western media has focused on the battle in the city of Kobani (Ain al-Arab), northern Syria, between Syrian rebels and Kurdish factions on the one side and the Islamic State (ISIS) on the other.

Since the United States and its Arab allies initiated their first airstrike against ISIS in Ar-Raqqah, an ISIS stronghold in Syria, the extremist group has dispersed, effectively expanding its presence. ISIS began fighting on new fronts and has recently reached the front lines of the city of Kobani.

The battle has drawn the support of the international coalition against ISIS. Within the city of Kobani, however, there are complex political factors to be addressed as the city enters the global battle against terrorism.

Ain al-Arab, also known in Kurdish as Kobani, is a Syrian city with a majority Syrian Kurdish population but which is also home to Arabs, Turkmen and Armenians.

Since 2012, Kobani has been under the control of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The party was a strong ally of the Assad regime in northern Syria at the start of the Syrian revolution.

Numerous Syrians consider the PYD a "separatist" group and have serious concerns that the PYD intends to establish a "Syrian Kurdistan" in the north of the country. This idea has caused many revolutionaries to be skeptical of the party, questioning whether it has lingering connections with the Assad regime.

The PYD "might have had connections [with the Assad regime], but they cut them because of the regime's silence on the war that ISIS started on Kobani," said Mustafa Ebdi, a Syrian-Kurdish journalist and the managing editor of KobaniKurd.

The PYD has gained control of three major parts of northern Syria, which some believe is a step towards the formation of a "Syrian Kurdistan". The areas comprise: Al-Jazeera, which includes Al-Hasakah and Qamishli, Afrin and its suburbs, and Kobani.

"We used to consider the party as autocratic, because it only accepted its own beliefs, arrested activists, and fought with the media," Ebdi explained, noting that the way the people used to see the PYD has changed since the battle started.

"With ISIS getting closer, things have changed. The party [PYD] is now fighting to protect the city."

It is critical that the history and motivations of the PYD be taken into consideration as the international community intervenes and determines which factions to support on the ground. This will be especially important as US funds are allocated to rebels who will lead the next phase and fill the ISIS gap in the north.

Unquestionably, ISIS wants to expand its control over Syria, and Kobani would be a substantial gain for the group. The Kurdish city is the last step in their battle to gain control over the border with Turkey, which has become the escape route for more than 100,000 Syrian Kurds who fled during the first three days of fighting.

"ISIS wants Kobani to complete their control over the border and to get rid of the Free Army and the Kurdish forces," explained Ebdi.

Ebdi, who is currently reporting from within Kobani, told MEMO that Kurdish forces have unified in the fight against ISIS.

ISIS has been attacking Kobani from three sides since they took control of Ar-Raqqah in May 2013.

Turkey and Iraq's Kurdistan

Earlier this week, Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani agreed to send Peshmerga fighters to Ain Al-Arab to "assist the PYD in the fight against ISIS".

Regardless of the fact that they are helping Syrians in their fight against terrorism, this support is still considered a foreign intervention on Syrian soil.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country will allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to join the battle in Kobani, entering Syria through Turkey. This decision signifies a change in Ankara's relations with the Kurds, given the fact that Turkey has viewed PYD as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a party it has been in conflict with for 30 years.

In addition to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has already sent fighters to fight against ISIS in Kobani, led by prominent FSA leader Abdul Jabbar Al-Oqaidi. In a press conference in Ankara last week, Erdogan said he welcomes the FSA to fight in Ain Al-Arab.

"We clearly said that our approach is very positive towards the Free Syrian Army's fighting in Syria. We always said that they were our first preference in Syria," Erdogan said.

The intention of the FSA has always been to maintain Syria as one united country. The FSA has been fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS in Kobani, despite the fact that this involvement might push the regime to advance on the rebels in other areas, such as in Aleppo.

"Syrians, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, are siblings by blood and soil," said Wael Al-Khatib, the general coordinator of a Free Officers group – composed of defected officers from the Syrian military. Al-Khatib told MEMO via Skype that the FSA went to Kobani to deliver a message of unity to the people.

"Our first concern is to keep Syria as one," he stressed.

He said Kurdish forces are not lacking or in need to equipment, ammunition or soldiers.

"To the people of Kobani, our hearts are with you," written on a banner on Thursday in the liberated areas of Homs, central Syria.

International and US involvement

After several weeks of airstrikes by the US-led coalition in and around Kobani, the United States decided to provide aid to Kurdish fighters in the city. Last week, US helicopters dropped weapons, ammunition and medical aid via parachute to the Kurds in the city. Mistakenly, items landed in the hands of ISIS fighters, according to a video published by an ISIS account on YouTube.

The US has been hesitant to arm moderate rebels, concerned that weapons would fall into the hands of extremist groups.

"The West has interests in Syria that are above everyone," explained Al-Khatib. "They [the West] want to accomplish their aims through Kurds not for Kurds."

Recently, an anonymous US senior official told the Washington Post that Syria's rebel forces will be trained by the US military and its coalition partners to "defend territory" that is already in rebel control, and not to defeat ISIS. The official, however, did not mention who would fill the ISIS gap in the future.

Regarding US intervention, the official spokesperson of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Salem Al-Meslet, last week published a statement criticising the US for its "unclear" strategy of arming specific groups rather than arming a national body. According to the statement, the strategy "represents an additional threat to the revolution's path and to the unity and sovereignty of the Syrian territory."

"The West doesn't sympathise with Kurds or others, but they support their own interests," Al-Khatib added.

In another statement, the SNC described the US-led coalition's strategy to be a "selective policy" that would harm the "national interests" of Syria.

The US strategy in Syria, particularly with regards the Kurds, is contributing to the threat of splitting Syria into many states, causing conflicts among Syrians. Ending dictatorships and terrorism in Syria, as the US claims is its intention, must be pursued through the creation of a national army representative of all factions that believe in the principles and values of the Syrian revolution, countering terrorism, and achieving the Syrian people's aim for freedom, justice and dignity.

Abdulrahman Al-Masri is a Syrian freelance journalist. Follow him on twitter.

]]> (Abdulrahman Al-Masri) Middle East Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:52:06 +0000
High security alert as Tunisian elections nearing Shafiq SarsarThree days before the Election Day one policeman was killed and another wounded in an exchange of fire between security forces and Islamist militants in Oued Ellil, a suburb to capital Tunis as security forces were investigating a house believed to be the hideout for a group preparing to disrupt the elections, announced Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui during a press conference. Earlier the same day one civilian was killed when two alleged insurgents were detained in the country's southern city of Kebili, allegedly "preparing operations in the area," declared Aroui. According to local radio station Mosaique FM five soldiers had also been injured in a landmine explosion near the Algerian border.

Despite the pre-election violence Aroui assured the public at a press conference that security forces will guarantee the safety of the elections, "We have escalated the pre-emptive operations to secure the elections," he announced and added, "We want to send a reassuring message to Tunisians: our security forces are ready." However, with only two days to go until Tunisian parliamentary elections security remains on high alert as fear is mounting that extremists will manage to disrupt the country's final democratic step.

Tunisia has become a democratic role model in the region and the Arab Spring's last hope for a successful democratic transition. The Parliamentary Election on October 26, followed by the Presidential vote November 23, mark the country's final step of its democratic process, which began in the end of 2010 with the start of the Arab Spring protests. However, Tunisia, located between Algeria and Libya, both of which have Islamist extremist groups declaring loyalty to the Islamic State, which reject democratic practices and instead aims to establish an Islamic Caliphate, fear a spill over effect.

The already insecure Algeria-Tunisia border region of Kasserine with its, by now notorious, Mount Chaambi, an alleged hideout for radical extremists, has already caused concern about the country's rise in extremist violence since the revolution. Terrorist movement Ansar al-Shariah, which emerged after the revolution, in 2011, is believed to be behind an attack on the US embassy and the American school in 2012, as well as the two political assassinations of leftist politician Chokri Belaid and Mohammed al-Brahimi in 2013. The group has announced allegiance with both the Islamic State's self-described caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Qaeda's Ayman Zawahri. In a statement in July the group also declared war on the Tunisian state.

Another group, the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has threatened the elections in a statement on the group's website.

The group claimed responsibility for an attack earlier this year, during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which brutally killed 14 soldiers at the Mount Chaambi.

Following these attacks Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa raised the national security alert on September 17 due to the increasing militant violence primarily in the border region with Algeria. Islamist political party Ennahdha's leader Rachid Ghannouchi has declared that the Tunisian model of governance is a way to defeat the Islamic State. "The success of the Tunisian experience is in the international interest, especially in the fight against extremism and the fight against Islamic State," Ghannouchi told AFP during an interview.

An estimated 1,500 suspected jihadists have been arrested this year Jomaa told Reuters. The ministry has declared that 50,000 security forces will be deployed for the elections and security is on high alert as reservists have been called up to protect polling stations.

Kasserine region continues to be one of the most affected regions. Yet some of the people living close to the mountain have not seen any trace of radical extremists. "I am not afraid," said Mohsen Dalhoumi who lived with his 12 dogs in a small shack approximately one kilometre from the foot of the mountain. He has never seen anything, "If anyone wanted to kill me they would have done so by now," he concluded. Dalhoumi will not allow the security threat to keep him from voting, "I will vote for my country," he said determined.

However, his closest neighbour, a hundred meters away, Hafsia Yahyaoui, is afraid of a potential attack on Election Day. But despite living close to the notorious mountain she has not yet noticed anything suspicious, "The police came and gave us a number to call if we see something, but I have never seen a thing," she said. Unlike Dalhoumi, Yahyaoui can see no point in voting, arguing that it will not change anything.

A large amount of security personnel has been employed to secure the city of Kasserine ahead of the elections. "Something will happen on Election Day," feared the convinced journalist Ezer Mnasri from Kasserine, adding, "If not on the actual Election Day then some time during the election period."

]]> (Christine Petré) Africa Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:35:12 +0000
Does America want to embarrass Turkey in front of the Arabs? Does America want to involve Turkey in the Syrian swamp? This question does not carry surprises and its answer, whether yes or no, does not signify anything. Senior Turkish officials have made statements to the media saying, our entry into Syria is being likened to Saddam's entry into Kuwait and America's support for us does not prevent Russia from playing the role of America in 1991 and putting Turkey before international courts.

However, questions regarding America's commitment to defend Turkey in the face of any aggression on the one hand and its aggression and harassment of Turkey on the other are all legitimate. It is nothing new for America to harass Turkey and put it in an awkward position politically and in terms of local and international security.

Politically, America was behind the coup staged by the army against the civilian rule in 1980, which disrupted Turkey's renaissance for two decades and put it in a state of political and economic paralysis. Militarily, Turkey discovered, at some point during its war with the PKK, that its enemy is fighting it with weapons from Turkey's ally, i.e. America.

Strategically, America wields the sword represented by the Armenian file from time to time at carefully chosen moments in order to inflict maximum embarrassment and blackmail the Turkish government.

Meanwhile, the "Sevres issue" (in reference to the secret Treaty of Sevres signed during the First World War which aimed to divide Turkey and was exposed by Russian Bolsheviks) controls the Turks' view of America, as they are wary of NATO desires to divide their country. On the other hand, America also has doubts especially after Turkey refused to allow the American army to invade Iraq from its territories.

NATO's answer to this not only concerns the Turks, but the region as a whole, as it is viewed as a danger and as a phenomenon aimed at weakening the state in the region and fragmenting its communities. Such concerns are justified due to the evidence of the events in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

In this phenomenon, Turkey represents the last remaining model that the region can use to re-shape itself and advance once again. The stories of history indicate that a Seljuk or Ottoman-Turkish axis was instrumental in re-shaping the region's communities after each Persian raid, which the Arab societies were an arena for.

Light is shed on the extent of the damage that America allows to be inflicted on Turkey from the strategic value Turkey was given upon its acceptance into America's "club" (NATO) in 1952. For America, the poor agricultural underdeveloped country that was exhausted by WWI was nothing more than a geographic area adjacent to the Soviet Union that it could use to build its military bases and a secular army that has lost its intellectual value and its only job was to pull the trigger in any direction it was ordered to.

America used the Turkish army in its war in Korea in 1953 in order to fight in a country it did not know, against an enemy it had no hostility towards and alongside an ally that was recently its mortal enemy. That same army has immensely changed today, its leader changed, and it regained its affiliation and loyalty to its own country. Its rebellion and rejection of America's request to invade Iraq from its territory in 2003 is a clear manifestation of its new creed.

America's need for Turkey is limited to the state Turkey was in 1952 when it played the role entrusted to it to the best of its ability during the most critical times, i.e. during the Cold War.

America's need for Turkey does not require Turkey to be the sixth ranked economy in Europe and it does not require Turkey's inflation rate to drop from 30 per cent to 7 per cent. It also does not need Turkey to double the average annual citizen income ten-fold, as well as doubling the number of airports and universities in a matter of 10 years. In addition to this, Turkey's free health services reach every village and mountain summit and the network of highways and fast trains extend across its mountains; none of this is necessary to America and its removal is not harmful.

On the other hand, ailing Europe is not pleased with the largest airport in the world moving from Europe to the city of Istanbul and for the youth in the Middle East and Africa to leave Europe's prestigious universities for Turkey, as well as its hospitals. It is also displeased that Turkey has become an economic giant. None of this is a requirement for the West's relations with its Turkish NATO ally.

America has preferred "Turkey's Islam" to the "Arab Islam" and Turkey is not considered to be a fundamentalist giant by Washington. Instead, it is considered a recovered state system and civil society, which, over the past nine decades of the modern state's life, has acted as an incubator in order for its societies to gain cultural rehabilitation and recover its identity after the Sykes-Picot operation, performed in the context of comprehensive social re-engineering of the region.

America's view of the region's communities is in harmony with what the English espionage pillars expressed in the aftermath of WWI, i.e. the war did not achieve its greatest objective in terms of the Islamic East which was eliminating the "Eastern Question" (the name of the West's battle against the Islamic East by dismantling its regional regimes and social structure). The objective was not considered to be complete because these communities posed the same political and social interfaces that were posed during the Ottoman times.

In other words, an event the size of WWI which brought about the first change in the world's political map in six centuries, was unable to bring about complete socio-cultural changes in the region, despite the fact that, as a result of the war, Arab-Turkish relations reached a long dormant social and cultural state. The political and social changes in Turkey today represent a new transformation in these relations.

The Arab political system's self-assessment of its performance is no different than Europe's self-assessment of its performance. Turkey has become involved in Arab affairs, just as Abdel Nasser's Egypt and Saddam Hussein's Iraq were in the past. Its flags are raised in Arab streets instead of their own flags and the names of their leaders are being used to name newborns. More importantly, this is not the work of political or Islamist activists, but that of people far from political influences and political Islam with the most humility in the community.

This is a scene that intimidates and concerns the Arab governments, as they see it as the return of the Ottoman Empire, which wasn't ruled by religion as much as it was ruled by social norms stemming from Islam and a conservative political system. This system maintained the characteristics of the region's communities and this is what societies want from their states, and they find this in Turkey.

Everything that is happening in Turkey today is not consistent with the official regional mood (Arab and Iranian) or the international mood, and everything that occurs inconsistently with their moods are met with their temperaments. Therefore, the Arab's official money is being showered on the secular and spiritual parties and institutions in Turkey that are opposed to the current Turkish government, while American weapons are falling from the skies on the organisations opposed to Turkey which represent an extension of the PKK, which is on America's terrorism list.

Iran's hands are also getting involved in moving the sectarian minorities in and around Turkey and it holding successive international security conferences for planning military activities across the Turkish borders. The "nations of the earth" will participate in these activities and Turkey will look like the black sheep in a white herd.

The main idea of the current official regional scene is there is no place for Turkey in the vicinity of surroundings that are handed over to the rule of militias; there is no place for the state's economy in the vicinity of the black market and smuggling of natural resources; there is no place for a multi-ethnic, multi-doctrinal, and multi-religious majority community in an area of minorities; there is no place for civilised Islam in the face of sectarianism.

There is no harm in removing the current government in Turkey, along with the prosperity and stability it has brought about, and allowing the secularists along with their failures and turbulences to take over, keeping Turkey as mere land in America's eyes. Getting rid of Turkey is an end and harassing it is a means to that end.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 22 October, 2014

]]> (Rabee Al-Hafidh) Europe Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:43:45 +0000
What kind of Palestinian state? The vote last week in the House of Commons to recognise the Palestinian Authority as the "state" of Palestine rallied a large degree of popular support. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign was mobilised around the issue for months in advance, sending out regular updates and constantly lobbying for a Yes vote.

PSC says that 57,808 of their supporters ultimately emailed their MPs to encourage them to vote for Parliament's recognition. The Palestinian Authority's official representatives in London were of course strongly engaged in the same effort.

Despite so many of Palestine's supporters in the UK engaged in raising awareness around the issue, the question must be asked: what kind of Palestinian state would result should this motion ever be implemented in practice?

The vote was of course symbolic, and will have no effect on actually existing UK government policy. But that aside, even were it able to change the government's policy, what changes would result in practice on the ground in Palestine?

The answer to this, unfortunately, is: very little.

It should be a truism by now, but for far too many people it is not, so it bears repeating: the Palestinian Authority is an extension of Israeli occupation. Especially in its "security coordination" role with Israel, the PA acts as the everyday enforcer of Israeli occupation.

PA police violently prevent Palestinian protesters from demonstrating against Israeli settlements, checkpoints, military bases and prisons (all of which are illegal under international law). PA undercover units arrest, harass, jail and torture Palestinian journalists that raise even very timid criticisms of their rule. PA forces arrest and jail dissident Palestinian activists and fighters from opposition parties such as Hamas.

The PA is probably the only entity in the world that has managed to erect much of the necessary apparatus and infrastructure to create a police state, without actually having a state.

The so-called Palestinian Authority has no real authority. The small, restricted and isolated areas of the West Bank that are supposedly PA-controlled are in fact dominated by Israel. PA police forces have standing orders to withdraw to base as soon as Israeli troops roll into town to kidnap Palestinians opposed to their rule.

Under the training regime of American General Keith Dayton, PA troops were told during graduation: "You were not sent here to learn how to fight Israel ... we can live in peace and security with Israel."

While the PA does provide some useful and worthy municipal services to the Palestinians living in the West Bank, these are peripheral to their main role as enforcers of Israel's occupation.

Although opinion of the PA within Israel's political class often appears to be divided, with the right wing often ostensibly critical, the reality is that the PA plays a critical role in reducing the cost of Israel's occupation. And that goes for political and reputational costs on the domestic and international levels, as well as financial costs to the Israeli government and wider economy.

The vast majority of the PA's budget comes from international donors and sponsors. When it comes to Gaza, Israel's vicious and vindictive wars systematically destroy infrastructure, projects often financed by European governments. In the West Bank too, Israel often bulldozes and otherwise destroys projects aiming to improve Palestinian life, which have been sponsored from Europe.

When all is said and done, the PA is ultimately answerable to Israel. A "state" run by the PA will never be anything other than a powerless and fragmented entity in small portions of historical Palestine, closely representing the Bantustans of the South African apartheid era. As with the Bantustans, reintegrated into South Africa after the dismantlement of apartheid, the removal of the Palestinian Authority is a precondition for the liberation of Palestine.

The PA stands between Israeli occupation and Palestinian popular anger. A state in mere fragments of the now-remaining 22 per cent of historical Palestine will be incapable of achieving the fulfilment of rights for the majority of the Palestinian people: i.e. the refugees, and their descendants, who were driven out of Palestine by Zionist militias in 1948. And it will do nothing for the 1.5 million Palestinians who live as second-class citizens in "Israel proper".

In fact, for these far-too-often forgotten, yet vital, components of the Palestinian people, a PA non-state could even damage and engender the advancement of their rights.

While many took heart from the outpouring of support for the Palestinian people in Parliament on Monday, the actual text of the motion should give serious pause for thought.

And the motion was explicitly put forward as a way to save the two-state solution. During the debate on Monday, Grahame Morris MP, proposing, went so far as to claim that the one-state solution is "morally repugnant and politically untenable".

Let us not forget that the one-state solution, so controversial in some circles, is the daring notion that there should be a democratic state for Palestinians and Jews in historical Palestine.

It is easy to propose there should be a Palestinian state, but what kind of state?

As Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement put it in the New York Times last week: "If [a state] is the first step toward recognizing the irrefutable right of the Palestinian people to self determination, then it would be a positive contribution ... But, if it is, as implied, solely meant to resuscitate the comatose version of the 'two state solution' which, as dictated by Israel, omits basic Palestinian rights, then it would be yet another act of British complicity in bestowing legitimacy on Israel's unjust order."

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:54:27 +0000
America's interference in the fate of the Arab nations Mohammad Al-ShinqeetiI was recently visited by two American diplomats in Education City in Qatar who are interested in the political transformations in the Arab region. We had a long talk about the issues of religion, state, sectarianism, the Arab Spring, and the Arab-American relations.

I tried to explain to my two guests that today the region is facing two contradicting approaches to relations with America, despite the fact that those following either approach have strategic relations with the US. The first approach is making sure that the American interests are aligned with the interests of the nations, and it is followed by Qatar, Turkey, and most political forces seeking reform and change, including the democratic Islamist movements.

The second approach is making sure that the American interests are aligned with the interests of the leaders against their people, and is adopted by the counter-revolution states in the Arab world. It has also been adopted by Iran lately due to its efforts to reconcile with the US at any cost, given its need for power and errors of sectarianism.

The first approach was based on a moral and principle position and is founded on the deep understanding of the transformation experienced by the region since the Arab Spring. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the Arab Spring as "a natural flow of history", and this is an accurate description made by an individual who truly understands that what we are witnessing today is an irreversible historical transformation and any American hindrance will only raise the price paid by the people in the form of their blood or money, widen the gap between America and the people, America's loss of its tyrannical friends, and things will ultimately go in favour of the people.

The second approach is based on clinging onto the old saying by the leaders of international forces, "take care of us and we will keep you from the evil of our people. These people will continue to be hostile towards you, and you are better off if we continue to contain them; we are the containers and you are the leaders." This equation has been tried by the West and they have been working by it since their military colonisation ended and was replaced by political colonisation fed and protected by local hands. However, nowadays, this equation has become a thing of the past and has no place in the future.

The eruptive state of the Arab world cannot be contained by weak strategic equations now that the people and their dignity will no longer accept them, and now that they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their freedom, honour and status amongst the nations.

I ended my conversation with the American guests by saying that the US has to choose between the vision of the past based on dependency, which is a vision that has been surpassed by history, and between the vision of the future which is based on camaraderie, which will, in the long-term, serve its interests and ease its reconciliation with the Arab nations from the ocean to the Gulf and the fifth of the world's population who follow the religion of Islam.

Of course, I do not know if they received my message nor do I know how those two young American diplomats influence decision-making in America regarding the Arab countries, but the American war on the region under the pretext of eliminating the Islamic State (ISIS) is not an indication of the Americans changing their mind about the region.

What is clear is that something has attracted the Americans to militarily invade the region almost every decade, as this current war in late 2014 will be the third in the region within less than 25 years taking into account the second invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its first in 1991. If the same happens in the same conditions, then it would indicate that is has become a phenomenon and a steady state, as our physicists would say.

Unlike the American invasion of Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, which ended in the formulation of a new equation in which the two countries were entered in the world of free and booming nations and were liberated from the chauvinistic nationalism and patriotism that ignited WWII and made them close allies of America and the West, the American wars in the Arab region have always deepened the existing impasse and reinforced the reasons that originally led to war, thus ending in completely counterproductive results. These results neither preserve the American interests in the long run and save the Americans from new wars, nor do they impose some sort of viable balance in the region, instead filling it with destruction, desolation, blood and tears.

I wonder, what is the secret behind this huge gap between the fruits of the American wars in the Arab region, and the fruits of its wars in Germany and Japan?

Certainly, the reason is that America's wars on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were wars against the rulers and political elites and not wars against the people.

The Americans took the German and Japanese people into consideration while it fought their leaders. Despite the atrocities committed by America during the war, the ugliest of which was the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America did not seek to control the German and Japanese people after the military defeat, nor did the Americans want to keep them under tyranny or occupation or put them in a state of desperation that was charged with the spirit of revenge. Instead, the Americans helped both nations economically in order to reconstruct their countries and quickly recover from the plight of war, as well as helping them politically in order to establish a democratic system. The invading armies gave the two nations the freedom to choose their leaders and determine their own political fate.

As for the American wars in the Arab region, they are wars on the people, not their leaders, and therefore, the results were the exact opposite to the results of its wars on Germany and Japan. Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein ended up being hung, the Iraqi people are the ones who paid the price for the two American wars on Iraq. They endured a suffocating economic blockade that killed half a million innocent Iraqi children while the dictator remained in power after the first invasion. Then the Iraqi army was dissolved and chaos spread across the country after the second invasion. This was followed by the fragmentation of the Iraqi community and authority was put in the hands of sectarian forces driven by historical hatred that was more concerned with revenge and settling scores than reconciliation and reconstruction.

The Americans hung the man who persecuted the Shias and replaced him with a man who has permitted the bloodshed of the Sunnis. They also killed the man who used chemical weapons against the Kurds but he was replaced with a man who bombed the Sunnis with explosive barrels. Imagine, just for the sake of comparison, that America appointed a new chauvinistic dictator like Hitler after defeating Germany, but a ruler who works for the CIA, or that it appointed a Japanese military dictator that reports to the US Secretary of State, just as Al-Sisi does today. What would the reactions of the Germans and Japanese be? Would WWII have really ended?

The American wars in the Arab countries are endless because they are wars on the people, not the leaders, while its wars on Germany and Japan were wars on leaders, not people, and therefore, the wars ended smoothly and it was impossible to hold grudges once solid friendships were formed.

When the Arab Spring started, which was a popular revolution with purely internal demands and fair political aspirations, the people in these countries never antagonised anyone other than the dictators oppressing the people. However, America immediately enforced the strategy of obstruction and hindering, supporting the revolutions in words but fighting them in actions. It also mobilised all the forces it is associated with in the region in its war on the freedom of the Arab people, including the military officer that is a pawn in the hands of the US, the loyal dictator, the cosy scholar, the cowardly dervish and hypocritical media.

Even when the revolution was against a military official who opposed American policies, such as Gaddafi, America sought to replace him with Major General Khalifa Haftar, a man who openly admits he worked for the CIA for over two decades, as if the blood shed by the Libyans was merely a red carpet laid out for spies and those with no conscience.

The same could be said about Egypt, the revolution which America turned into a mere transfer of power from an old dictatorship loyal to America to a younger murderer who is even more loyal to the US at the expense of the Egyptian people's blood, money, hopes, dreams, dignity and the status of their state among the nations. America then sought to change the course of all the Arab revolutions in the region in which they have no replacement, such as Syria, into a hell and eternal war where there are no winners or losers. Now Sanaa has become another Arab Spring capital that has fallen under America's allies who pulled the plug on the Yemeni revolution before it completed its natural growth, throwing the pre-mature revolution into the hands of the Houthis and Iran.

Despite the ugliness and ignorance of the Russian position regarding the Arab Spring, it was still easier for the Arab revolutions to endure the American position. America's words contradict its actions while dealing with the revolutions of the Arab people. Meanwhile, Russia's arrogance has saved it from hypocrisy, and it openly declared its position against the freedom of the Arab people.

Thus, the Arab peoples rebelling against injustice and tyranny are facing an obvious enemy in Russia and a disguised enemy in America, and it is the disguised enemy that is the most dangerous because of its influence, ability to manoeuvre and use of internal tools. Therefore, the American investment in the Egyptian army led to bloodshed and burned bodies in the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square and its mosque and killed the dream of the free Egyptian people and its youth, just as Khalifa Haftar's relationship with the CIA led to the destruction of Libya, the bloodshed of its people, and the depletion of its revolution and wealth.

As for Syria, the US adopted the Israeli vision that was explicitly expressed by the American strategic thinker with a passion for Zionism, Edward Luttwak. On August 24, 2013, he published an article in The New York Times entitled "In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins", in which he says: "At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests."

He ended his article with a piece of advice to the American decision-makers, saying: "And the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr Assad's forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning."

The upcoming American war on ISIS will not deviate from this evil equation, and will only seek to complete the counter-revolution cycle through Damascus, thus depriving the Syrian people from reaping the fruits of their enormous sacrifices for the sake of freedom and human dignity.

ISIS is only one superficial symptom out of all the deep structural disease that plagues the Arab society. This disease is political despotism and its international backing. The core of the issue is not the ability to destroy an insignificant group like ISIS that may fade after a few days of American bombing, just as Al-Qaeda faded in the Islamic Maghreb after being bombed by the French. The core of the issue is for America to lift its hands from the region and stop toying with the fate of its people and controlling its strategic decisions. It must accept a relationship of camaraderie with the Arabs rather than a relationship of dependency which are prevalent today, and that way, the Arab societies bursting with hope and vitality can get rid of tyranny, overcome its chronic structural contradictions, and achieve dignity and prestige for itself among the nations of the world.

It is not true that America is unable to do anything to tip the balances in favour of liberty over tyranny. The Arab countries are competing to join the American campaign against ISIS and this reveals the extent to which America's options are dependent on the region and the depth of the American strategic penetration into the region.

The truth is that America can do a lot in the region, and it is doing a lot, both directly and indirectly, but it chose the morally and strategically wrong choice. It chose to continue to toy with the fate of Arab and Islamic peoples, hit the Arab and Muslims' points of physical and moral strength, and deprive them from the two most important shields for sovereignty in modern nations, i.e. liberty and arms.

For its evil equation, America uses Arab politicians who still believe in the logic of leaders of caravans and 19th Century ideas of colonialism. They are like "a groups of pirates and bandits intercepting colonial caravans in their countries and offering them their services", as described by Dr Azmi Bishara in his recent article published in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.

The United States can continue to tamper with the fate of our people through its military intervention every decade or so, it can hinder the Arab Spring for a few years and force our people to pay a heavy price for it in the form of their blood and money, and achieve some situational and deceptive tactical gains from all of this, but its selective policies that lack any sense of morals or humanity will have painful consequences sooner or later. America will not be spared from the effects of the Arab volcano, and its hands will be burned by the fire it continues to fuel in our countries every day.

At the end of the day, America will not be able to stop "the natural flow of history" as described by Ahmet Davutoglu, nor can it control the volcanic state reached by the Arab societies.

As for the Arab leaders of the counter-revolution who are in America's orbit, they will remain ignorant until they pay the price for their political selfishness and failure to take into consideration the consequences of their actions. They have severed all religious, national and human ties, and their wishful thinking for America had led them to betray the people of Syria and Libya and plot against the Yemeni people.

In his book Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11, American journalist Thomas Friedman describes America's relationship with the Arab oil producing countries, saying that it treats these countries as if they are "a big gas station to be pumped and defended but never to be taken seriously as a society".

This is an accurate description, but a new development has occurred recently; America began to burn the big gas station after it replaced their oil with shale oil. America will become the largest shale oil producer in the world in 2017. Everything America is doing today is aiming to quickly drain and waste the oil and gas of the Arab states before it is eaten by the flames.

The kings of sectarianism and leaders of the caravans cannot see the fire surrounding them from all sides and they will not see it until after it hits them and engulfs their tents. Will the Arab people remain silent in the face of these injustices, or will they revolt against their leaders who America is using as gloves to wear on their hands while they mess with the fate of the people?

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 23 September, 2014

]]> (Mohammad Al-Shinqeeti) Americas Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:05:55 +0000
Israel's atrocities in Gaza prompt unprecedented political fallout Ben White"Carnage" in Gaza – "the killing of children and the slaughter of civilians". Not the words of a Palestinian spokesperson but rather French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Australia's FM Julie Bishop condemned what she called "shocking" and "indefensible" incidents, with "hundreds of innocent people" killed.

Just two examples of how Israel's strongest allies have criticised the conduct of 'Operation Protective Edge' in unprecedentedly harsh terms. In the UK specifically, there has been an undeniable sea-change in the way that self-declared 'friends' of Israel have drawn a red line – adding their voices of criticism to more vociferous condemnation heard at numerous, large-scale demonstrations.

More on this in a moment. For now let us recap the devastation visited upon the Gaza Strip where, in the words of Human Rights Watch, Israel has killed "very large numbers of civilians" with "advanced weapons". In the most recent update, Gaza's Ministry of Health reported a death toll of 1,893 Palestinians, including 430 children. In one single F-16 strike on July 30, 19 children were killed. A further 9,805 Palestinians have been wounded, including almost 3,000 children. At least 122 families have lost three or more family members in the same attack, killing a total of 652 civilians in those strikes alone.

Many of the wounded are suffering from serious burns, or face life-long disabilities (physical as well as mental). In a fenced-in, blockaded territory, Israel's attacks displaced almost 30 percent of the population. Israel has destroyed or severely damaged more than 10,000 housing units - many more have sustained less serious damage.

Shops, mosques, government buildings, all lie in ruins – the power plant is out of action, and 134 factories were destroyed. A low-end estimate cost of the damage is $5 billion. The health sector is in a state of emergency, while Amnesty International yesterday released evidence of the Israeli military conducting "deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals". Nor were journalists immune: 13 Palestinian media workers were killed during the course of the attack.

The evidence of atrocities is mounting. One of the defining horrors of this attack has been the targeting of family homesclose to 1,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli airstrikes. Reporting on the issue, the Associated Press said that the Israeli military did not respond to repeated requests "to explain in detail why even one of [the homes] was targeted".

Earlier on in the operation, Israeli NGO B'Tselem noted how the Israel military itself had "acknowledged" conducting attacks that were "illegally aimed at homes that were not military targets". A senior officer, commenting on the bombing of a senior al-Qassam Brigades figure's house, said: "You call it a home, we call it a command centre and a military post for all intents and purposes".

As Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard put it, the Israeli military's "combat doctrine...redefines what constitutes a legitimate target for attack" so that it includes "houses belonging to Hamas commanders and operatives" (it should be noted homes have also been hit lacking even this 'link').

Another example of Israel's war crimes – the intense and indiscriminate attack on Rafah on August 1, when the Israeli military killed an estimated 130 Palestinians, mostly civilians, after soldier Hadar Goldin was feared captured. Haaretz referred to "dozens of innocents killed" in a "massive use of force" – another item reported "the demolition of houses with bulldozers and very aggressive artillery, aerial and tank fire". The Givati brigade responsible is commanded by Ofer Winter, who had told his soldiers prior to the ground invasion they were "engaged in a war to 'wipe out' an 'enemy who defames' God."

Then there is the devastation of Shuja'iyya, when IDF officers boasted of "taking off the gloves" and tanks received orders "to open fire at anything that moved". A brutal attack which, in the words of Israeli analyst Ron Ben-Yishai, was the very "essence of the deterrence" sought by Israel in its battering of Gaza. In Khuza'a, Israeli forces fired on and killed fleeing civilians, with a "furious assault" that left "whole streets flattened" and "its nine pieces". And so it goes on.

A report in Haaretz a week ago said that more than 30,000 artillery shells had landed in Gaza, in addition to the then-4,000 "targets" struck by airstrikes. It is vital to recall, when considering the bigger picture of Israel's military operations, that the army's own legal advice strips civilians of their protected status, in what has been described as "a 'targeted assassination' of the principles of international law".

Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for the anticipated legal ramifications of its war crimes – a reasonable expectation given the calls already made by the likes of Amnesty International for an arms embargo, as well as the UN Human Rights Commission inquiry.

According to the Israeli media, for domestic consumption officials describe the damage done to Gaza "as the main deterrent" – but "play down this claim in the international arena", as they are "aware the destruction will have serious political ramifications". On July 10, a military source claimed that when "Gaza residents see the great damage to the Strip", it "will speak for itself".

The Israeli military has already established a team "in case the army is accused of war crimes" consisting of senior army officials, as well as representatives of the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Their remit also includes "organizing a diplomatic and public relations offensive".

They will have their work cut out. In recent weeks, Israel's image has taken a battering in Britain. The public has taken a clear stand on what it thinks of the Gaza attack, while politicians and pundits from both the Right and centre-left have condemned the killing of Palestinian civilians. Palestine has shaped the domestic political agenda in a way perhaps never seen before.

'Tory war over Gaza', ran a front page headline in The Times, in the aftermath of Sayeeda Warsi's resignation. A self-defined pro-Israel Conservative MP spoke out against the "swift, and terrible, elimination of so many Palestinian lives, homes, hospitals and schools". Newspapers have focused on the arms trade, as campaigners and senior politicians alike call for an embargo.

From celebrity tweets to Jon Snow's emotional broadcasts – this summer would appear to be a watershed moment in how Israel is perceived, and treated, in the UK. No wonder that the Israeli embassy has almost begged for help in its embattled propaganda drive, while the country's defenders issue desperate-sounding "choose which side you are on"-style pleas.

Take a step back from the summer's bloodshed and remember where things stood in the spring. An intransigent Israeli government was winning few friends abroad, as the US-led peace process died on its feet. Israeli settlements in the West Bank were increasingly the target of mainstream anger and boycotts, as a growing chorus warned that Israeli colonisation policies had made a Palestinian state impossible. BDS campaigns were growing, in trade unions, faith communities, and on campuses.

Israel already stood charged with systematic violations of international law, apartheid, and institutionalised discrimination, even before the barbaric attack on the Gaza Strip. Now with the evidence of new war crimes there for all to see, Israel's isolation will only increase, and, despite the predictable backlash, Palestine solidarity campaigning will take a significant step forward.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:58:06 +0000
Adapt, survive and thrive: UNRWA responds to the Syria crisis Chris GunnessIt was the start of another day for the UNRWA team in Syria. Our convoy entered the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus on 31 January where, as usual, a river of people as far as the eye could see stood waiting for food. A colleague casually snapped a photo, unaware that he had captured an image that was to make history. We posted the picture at and within hours it had gone viral, with 8 million postings in the first 24 hours. It later formed the centerpiece of a social media campaign, in which nearly forty million people clicked to have the image featured on the two highest profile billboards on earth, in New York's Time Square and Tokyo's Shibuya district. In a beautiful act of global solidarity, people on two sides of the planet took "selfies" in front of the giant screens and we whizzed them back to Yarmouk. The message was clear. Yarmouk will not be forgotten. The UN will not neglect your plight.

Months on, though, and with the Syrian conflict now in its fourth year, little has changed in Yarmouk for the 18,000 besieged civilians who live there. That iconic image maintains its force precisely because its epic message is reinforced by the bewildering facts on the ground. More than fifty per cent of the 550,000 UNRWA-registered refugees have been displaced by the conflict in Syria with over half of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps where we work transformed into theatres of war.

Around 53,000 Palestine refugees from Syria have fled into neighbouring Lebanon where two-thirds of the Palestine refugee community is living in poverty and the majority are in camps which are already seriously overcrowded. The options for Palestine refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria have recently become very limited due to increased restrictions at the Lebanese border. Only exceptional cases are allowed to enter Lebanon. Those already there are increasingly vulnerable when their visas have expired after one year and they lack legal status in the country. This is leading not only to more anxiety among these double refugees but also reduced mobility for fear of detention.

Some fourteen thousand Palestine refugees from Syria have registered with UNRWA in Jordan, which despite our advocacy efforts has maintained a closed door policy towards Palestinians from Syria for a year and a half.

We in UNRWA have responded flexibly by adapting our human development work to the multi-dimensional needs of our increasingly displaced target population. Necessity has been the mother of invention. From a pre-war total of 58 functioning school buildings, comprising 118 distinct schools, and 23 health clinics, only 24 UNRWA school buildings and 14 clinics are currently accessible and operational. So we developed a "self-learning programme", shifting education out of our schools where necessary, using print, computers and the UNRWA TV channel, to deliver lessons in all subjects to UNRWA students of all ages. We have also set up dozens of "teaching points" or improvised classes wherever the conflict allows; for example, in 43 non-UNRWA schools in Syria, students affected by the conflict, including those who are not enrolled in schools at all, can be offered an education.

To do this, we drew on the experience of our own UNRWA educationalists and the financial support of our international and local partners. We will soon be distributing approximately 50,000 self-learning packs for the new academic year. Materials will cover basic education for Grades 1-9, targeting the 6-15 age group. UNRWA has also developed an e-portal to provide further interactive learning opportunities for students who cannot access schools. In addition, over forty psychosocial support staff have been employed, trained and deployed to UNRWA classrooms to detect and assist children with special needs. Another 20 counsellors have been recruited and are undergoing training.

All UNRWA schools in Syria are operating under a double shift system. That is with one building opening early in the morning with one set of teachers and students, and then after four hours or so, a completely different set of teachers and kids arrive to use the same building. In some of our schools, there are even triple shifts. It is remarkable that amid the continuing conflict, UNRWA has seen an increase in the number of students attending regular classes, rising from a low of 22,000 to more than 41,000. Before the conflicts there were 67,000 UNRWA students in Syria, so we have much further to go, but results have nonetheless been encouraging. Over 30,000 students passed their end of year exams last year with nearly 8,000 students taking part in supplementary summer classes to help achieve this. We have been catering for the same number of summer class students this year and we believe that success rates will be maintained.

As for the health sector, with nearly half of our health centres destroyed or non-functional, we have established nine "health points" across Syria and intensified services at those clinics which are working. Our health points have allowed us to continue desperately-needed consultations; by moving healthcare out of areas of instability and away from established clinics, UNRWA has also been able to respond to the restrictions on movement that have affected thousands of our patients. In addition, we have re-assigned health professionals to facilities which are housing refugees, such as schools, so in some places UNRWA is able to provide medical services round the clock.

In Lebanon we have responded with equal flexibility. Over seven thousand Palestine refugee children from Syria have enrolled in UNRWA schools where the vast majority are receiving special classes because of differences between the Syrian and Lebanese curricula. The current academic year has been extended for an extra month in those schools where the children from Syria are taught. With the extra opportunity for learning and with the additional support that the self-learning materials provide, these children should be able to integrate into the regular classes of our schools in Lebanon. In anticipation of the long summer holiday months, invitations have been send out for a programme of recreational activities to the families of refugees from Syria, targeting grades 1 to 5.

Also in Lebanon, we have initiated an environmental health programme focusing on water conservation in all 12 camps, as part of our ongoing efforts to improve infrastructure in the camps swollen with arrivals from Syria. In our attempts to respond flexibly to the emergency needs of these new arrivals, we have distributed ATM cards to 15,000 families in Lebanon for support with food and housing bills.

UNRWA achievements in adapting our human development and humanitarian work to the pitiless conflict in Syria speak for themselves, but this has come with a high price. Twelve of our staff in Syria have been killed and 26 are missing. No other aid organisation would have sustained these losses without considering withdrawing from the conflict zone; this is not an option for UNRWA. Our staff are Palestine refugees, and though more than half of our team in Syria have themselves been displaced, we will continue to implement our mandate flexibly and with courage and commitment. As part of our protection mandate we will deliver services as the situation allows, but as part of that same protection mandate, we will also advocate privately and publically for the full enjoyment of the rights of UNRWA registered refugees. Make no mistake, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians just as we have for over six decades since our operations began.

However, do not be deceived by UNRWA's ability to adapt, survive and in some cases thrive. Ultimately, the situation facing the Palestine refugees in Syria and beyond is untenable. There are many Yarmouks, be they under the blockade in Gaza, amid Israeli occupation behind the barrier in the West Bank or in the squalor of the camps in Lebanon. No one chooses to be a refugee, let alone remain one for over sixty years. Palestinians must be granted a just and lasting solution, as is the right of all refugees. According to the internationally-accepted paradigms for resolving the Middle East conflict, this must be based on international law and UN resolutions and it must be reached in consultation with the refugees themselves.

Failure to resolve the status of some five million dispossessed and exiled refugees will continue to deprive this volatile region of peace. As the Syria conflict has shown, and as that iconic Yarmouk image continues to demonstrate, neglect of this often forgotten population which we in UNRWA serve will have catastrophic consequences not just for them, but for a region that has already seen too much catastrophe.

Chris Gunness is the UNRWA Director of Strategic Communications

]]> (Chris Gunness) Guest Writers Tue, 01 Jul 2014 06:00:18 +0000
The Israel-Palestine 'peace process' as a capitalist metaphor Dr Sarah MarusekMEMO published an article recently by Egyptian scholar and diplomat Abdullah Al-Ashaal about what he calls the disastrous "bartering policy" framework of the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, the way this framework is supposed to work is that both parties have their sets of demands and both are expected to make certain concessions.

However, Al-Ashaal makes the important argument that, during these negotiations, "established Arab rights are being bartered, such as security in exchange for freedom, even though the people need both." After all, human rights are inalienable, so how can they be bartered?

Of course, bartering is a system of exchange that predates the money system. Traditionally, it involves trading services or goods between individuals or groups. Al-Ashaal, though, suggests that the Palestinians are "providing one thing in exchange for another" kind of thing altogether, an unequal exchange quite different to bartering in the traditional sense of the term.

For example, he argues that: "The bartering policy started when UN Security Council Resolution 242 was issued in 1967. This resolution linked Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories to the recognition of Israel and normalisation with it."

Here the Palestinians are expected to exchange some rights in order to secure others, even though all are enshrined as rights guaranteed to all humans.

On the other hand, Israel is merely "conceding" to abandon one aspect of its criminal aggression: seizing all of Palestine in 1967. What is a concession for Israel is only the undoing of one illegal and unjust act, without ever addressing the crime of expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their lands during the Nakba in 1948. To put it another way, a burglar cannot enter a house, steal everything inside, and then instead of being held accountable in some way, expect negotiations with the homeowner that result in the burglar returning only some of the items, in what is described as a "concession", while the homeowner is forced to make another kind of "concession" altogether by agreeing to allow the burglar to keep some of the stolen goods. The homeowner ends up surrendering some rightful claims to win others, whereas the burglar concedes only what he or she acquired unjustly.

This is an excellent point that Al-Ashaal is making about the Western sponsored "peace process". Israeli settlements are illegal, so why are the Palestinians expected to give up anything in return for their dismantlement? And why is their ongoing existence even a possibility? This is not a framework for peace, but a framework that sanctions and legitimises Israel's criminal actions.

This is where I would like to diverge slightly from Al-Ashaal's analysis, and suggest that the reason for why this is not the traditional system of exchange is because it is not really bartering at all, but instead something more akin to capitalism.

This may require a creative, and perhaps even unscholarly, leap in manipulating Marxist theory, and so I apologise to those Marxists who will take offence. It is not a perfect comparison; however, trying to make it does help us to understand how both systems are exploitative.

To understand how the "peace process" could be seen as a metaphor for capitalism, we must first start by recognising that Israel has capital and the Palestinians do not.

In capitalism, those with capital, or money, trade in commodities for no other reason than to generate more money. In other words, capitalists are not actually interested in the commodities they trade, but only in selling them to accumulate capital. Furthermore, the accumulation of capital is limitless, which results in cycles of destruction in order to create new markets.

In the capitalist system, the labour that goes into producing these commodities is also a commodity to be bought and sold via wages. Because the accumulation of capital is limitless, capitalists force workers to work longer and harder to produce more commodities in order to generate what is known as surplus value, or profits, resulting in an exploitative system.

Now, Israel is not really interested in Palestinians or their lands. Its concern is expanding the Zionist project. That is why so many Palestinian villages under Israeli control have been completely destroyed and yet the land is now vacant. Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta has meticulously mapped out the villages of every refugee forced to leave Palestine during the Nakba. His findings illustrate how not only has nearly every trace of the native presence been erased from the landscape, which is why this qualifies as ethnic cleansing, but also how most of these lands continue to be uninhabited today and remain under state control. The land is not really the issue, but rather control of the land and the removal of the people. Capital here is sovereignty over Palestine.

|And while Palestinian lands and resources may be finite, Palestinians see Zionism as limitless, especially when during each new round of negotiations Israel changes the parameters for what it will take to establish an independent and autonomous Palestinian state, negating past agreements, all the while expanding settlements and further entrenching the occupation. This is why Israel's demand to the PA has escalated in recent years from asking for recognition as a state, which is a legal definition the Palestinians have already accepted, to recognition as a Jewish state, a religious/racial/political definition the Palestinians refuse to accept, because if they do recognise Israel as a Jewish state, then they would be sanctioning the occupation to be, in fact, endless.

So, in a way, Israel is using the "peace process" to perpetuate a system of creative destruction. By constantly changing the parameters that form the basis of any agreement, the negotiations become endless and the occupation continues indefinitely; all the while Israel maintains its international image as a potential broker of peace, not the perpetual warrior that it is.

Ever since the "peace process" established the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestinians have also been providing the labour that sustains the expansion of Zionism. Israel outsources its policing and security to the PA, which prevents the growth of a resistance movement in the West Bank. International aid to the PA also tries to buy popular support for the negotiations. Meanwhile, the PA's commitment to the negotiations buys additional time for the construction of more illegal settlements, which tragically are sometimes even built by Palestinians themselves. Whenever the PA deviates from this framework, its wages are withheld, as happened when President Mahmoud Abbas lobbied successfully for state recognition at the UN General Assembly.

Furthermore, the Palestinian negotiators are expected to help consolidate the Zionist project by sacrificing Palestinian rights. Indeed, when you think about it, the "peace process" has also rendered Palestinian rights into commodities. Palestinian rights are no longer considered fundamental moral and ethical entitlements that are guaranteed to all humans, but instead commodities to be exchanged, whose usefulness is determined solely by the Zionists in respect to the survival of Zionism. And because certain Palestinian rights are more threatening to Zionism than others, like the right of return, they are given more value and thus become more expensive to acquire at the negotiating table. At the same time, Israel and its Zionist allies force these highly valued "Palestinian commodities" simultaneously into an equal exchange relation with "Israeli commodities", which only undo selected crimes that the Zionist project can persist without.

During this negotiating process, rights that hold qualitative value are disfigured into quantities and things. For example, the right of return is transformed into a negotiable number, say a handful of refugees, and exchanged for maybe dismantling some settlements. Or the significance of Jerusalem is reduced to granting the Palestinians bragging rights to a name, even though the capital of Palestine is pushed into the eastern suburbs, or what US Secretary of State John Kerry calls "greater Jerusalem".

In this way, the right of return, where all humans have the inalienable right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin, which for Palestinians is also enshrined in UN resolution 194, and the rights of equality, citizenship and sovereignty, are no longer non-negotiable human rights, but instead Palestinian commodities to be exchanged for Israeli commodities that undo small parts of, but do not challenge, the oppressive conditions of the Zionist occupation.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Marx's critique of capitalism includes the key observation that the social dimension of commodities becomes obscured. In capitalism, a commodity's value is represented solely by its monetary worth or exchange value, even though it also has significant qualitative value that derives from its use, as well as the social labour that went into making it and the social relations of production in which that labour was performed. As a result, commodities (including labour) are de-historicised, or severed from their history. Fetishising commodities in this way, or only valuing the price tag and the pleasure derived, conceals the exploitative system of wage labour that is required to produce these commodities.

For example, today we do not buy clothing thinking about the unsafe conditions of the factory workers making them, let alone the meagre wages of those who tend the cotton and silk farms, or the sickness of those mixing the industrial dyes. Nor do we consider how many hours without break somebody has to drive in order to deliver the clothing to our local shop. We only look at the price tag and whether or not we like the item; if it will give us pleasure.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, what is being concealed by the "peace process" is the history of Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and 1967, resulting in the forced exile of millions of Palestinians today, and Israel's continued occupation of Palestine ever since. The social relations of occupation are obscured. However, this history is why the right of return is so important for Palestinians. Yes, we all have this right, but it means something very different to refugees than it does to expatriates or people who live where they were born. When the right of return is made into a commodity, the social relations and this history are hidden. What it boils down to is that the historical conditions of Palestinians, who have suffered and continue to suffer from displacement, exile, occupation and oppression, are outside the framework of the "peace process".

And when the dismantlement of settlements is made into a commodity as well, this conceals the racism and violence that have inspired and continued to inspire the Zionist project. The colonial impulse that leads one people to settle on another people's land is left unquestioned, and thus uncontested. Dismantling some of the settlements merely becomes a price that the occupier pays.

While this metaphor is imperfect and has its limitations, thinking about the "peace process" in terms of the capitalist system does help to show us why pursuing peace without equality and justice will never work, just as pursuing political rights means nothing when we are so economically and socially unequal. Thus, in the same way that Marxism calls for a revolutionary movement to dismantle the capitalist system and create a new set of relations based on equality and justice politically, economically and socially, so too must a revolutionary movement undo the framework of the current Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" and replace it with a historicised understanding of what needs to be done to realise equality and justice. Only then will peace ever be achievable.

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Mon, 13 Jan 2014 11:41:33 +0000
The time of false leaders "It is ironic that they used to call it "Mubarak's corrupt judiciary" and yet are now fighting to keep it in place"We live in a time of media and moral laxity so, in Egypt, we must expect the illogical in every aspect of life; yesterday's friend is today's enemy, and yesterday's enemy, who you sought to overthrow with the help of yesterday's friend, is now your friend and the victor that you carry on your shoulders. The television screens are filled with images of this false leader. Moreover, his speeches are given airtime, presenting him with a golden opportunity to enhance his reputation, save face and escape justice. The latter has, in the process, been dealt a deadly blow and is now part of the political bazaar in which the entire country is living. Such schizophrenic behaviour plagues what the media calls "the elite and political forces" but should not block the revolution and its goals.

Since the beginning of the revolution, we have been demanding a cleansing purge of the judiciary, media and Interior Ministry, and the isolation of the Prosecutor General. This demand is still there, as can be seen from the posters hanging in Tahrir Square, which was the stronghold of the genuine revolutionaries before they were infiltrated by the remnants of the former regime. It has now become the den of the counter-revolution, aided by yesterday's friends who share a hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood to the extent that they are prepared to see Egypt sink if it means overthrowing the elected government. Love of country has been outweighed by their hatred for the Islamic movement and their own self-interests.

The scourge of corruption has reached every level of Egypt's institutions, including the judiciary, despite some honourable judges campaigning to liberate their posts from political interference. "Justice is lost in Egypt," said one such judge in Tahrir Square recently. Sadly, though, the same man has joined those who he accused of corruption and has become an icon of the old regime's remnants.

Similarly, we see former members of parliament who presented draft laws to reform the judiciary before parliament was dissolved but who are now shifting to the other side and warning against any action to purge the judiciary. It is ironic that they used to call it "Mubarak's corrupt judiciary" and yet are now fighting to keep it in place.

Other political figures and intellectuals who once called for reform of the judiciary became the first to attend meetings of the Judge's Association even though they used to call them "the den of corruption". They are also calling for the return of the ex-Prosecutor General, the same man who they accused of accepting "gifts" (a euphemism for bribes) from news organisations. Logically, they should be more convinced than ever before of the need for reform, which they demanded in the past. Instead, we see them turning against reform.

This is indeed irrational but it reflects the time in which we live. The political arena is now a circus in which respectable opposition has been turned into sad acrobatics and u-turns by the false leaders we see in Egypt today. Every time we try to reform the country's corrupt administration, they object, claiming that the country is being "Ikhwanified", the Ikhwan being the Muslim Brotherhood. This weapon is used to blackmail the real authorities, which are, unfortunately, giving in to it at the country's expense. When such chicanery is allowed, we are all the losers.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Wed, 01 May 2013 12:05:50 +0000
Egypt, terrorism and Mahmoud Abbas I would first like to begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the families of the Egyptian soldiers that were killed in the Sinai Peninsula. I would also like to offer my condolences to the officers of the Egyptian Armed Forces over the death of their fellow officers following this aggression.

What happened is truly unfortunate and we, in Qatar and the rest of the Arab world condemn and denounce it. We strongly urge everyone to come together and eradicate the causes behind such acts of violence and encouragement of terrorism, whether inside or outside Egypt.

The bombings in Sinai on October 24, 2014 were not the first of their kind and will not be the last. Bombings in this region date back to early 2000, and there have been over 27 bombings that targeted economic, tourist, and military sites including Israeli. In 2004 and 2005, bombings occurred in the Taba area of Sharm el-Sheikh, during the reign of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak, as well as after his reign, during the rule of the military junta led by General Tantawi. There were also bombings during the shortest rule in Egyptian history; that of the elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi, as well as now, during the rule of the field marshal, President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi.

The question is why are all these bombings occurring in the Sinai Peninsula and not in any other parts of Egypt? The answer, according to credible information, is that the residents of Sinai are treated by the state as second-class citizens, at best, or sometimes even as third-class citizens. This area, which covers over 6 per cent of Egypt's total area and has a population of over 500,000 people, has not seen any reconstruction or development. The people of Sinai say that the tourist and economic investment in Egypt have gone to the beaches and coastline and that these resorts only serve a small group of people, and do not reach the Egyptians in Sinai. The state attends only to the central parts of Sinai while depriving the rest from any kind of development. This is an underlying problem of the unrest in the Sinai that needs addressing.

President Al-Sisi is accused foreign parties of being behind the events in Sinai, by which he is referring to the people of besieged Gaza in order to deflect legitimate accusations of neglecting the people of Sinai over many decades. When facing trials and tribulations, corrupt dictatorships normally put the blame on a specific foreign force in order to take punitive measures against such forces. For example, Israel was the mastermind behind the assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London on June 3, 1982. The assassination of the Israeli ambassador was used as a pretext for the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. On June 12, 2006, it waged another war on Lebanon under the pretext of the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by the Lebanese resistance forces in South Lebanon. On June 12, 2014, three settlers were kidnapped in the southern West Bank, and Israel accused Hamas for the kidnapping and used it as a pretext to wage a war on the Gaza Strip that lasted over 55 days.

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in insisting that it was Palestinians in Gaza who carried out this assault against the Egyptian Army is threatening the strip with destruction. Al-Sisi's presence amongst the leaders of the Egyptian armed forces, his combative words combined with the indefinite closure of the Rafah crossing raises the dangerous possibility that they Egyptian regime is preparing Egyptian public opinion for a raid on the Gaza Strip, just like the Israelis.

I say to Field Marshal Al-Sisi, the leader of the coup in Egypt and president of Egypt, the Egyptian army and its soldiers at the crossing that the people of Gaza harbour no hatred and animosity towards them. They also shouldn't believe unverified reports accusing Palestinians for the events in Sinai. These are Israeli reports meant to inflame Egypt and its people. These reports are also specifically designed to bring more pressure on the beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza. The Egyptian army should not be in any doubt that the weapons of the resistance in Gaza and their men have their eyes and guns aimed at Jerusalem, and nowhere else. The people of Gaza are not the ones committing atrocities against the Egyptian army and the security of Egypt; the people of Gaza have supported you and your armed forces in your confrontation against those targeting Egypt's safety and security throughout history.

As for Mahmoud Abbas, he hasn't tired of abandoning the rights of the Palestinian people in general, and especially the people of Gaza. Since the cursed Oslo Accords was signed in 1993, which he was a part of, and until today, Abbas, who was first in the chain of command and then at the top of the PA hierarchy, has not achieved any success for the Palestinian people. His most recent unforgiveable act was to send telegram to the Egyptian president, Field Marshal Al-Sisi, following the recent events in Sinai confirming his support for all the measures taken by Al-Sisi's government in Egypt, including the intensification of the blockade on the Gaza Strip. According to Mahmoud Abbas, he believes that such measures serve the Palestinian cause and Arab national security.

I will end by saying to the people of Palestine, if you want to restore your rights, preserve your unity, and reinforce your strength, look for a leader who puts the interests of the Palestinian people before his own. Abbas is no longer fit to lead you and this is clearly proven by his actions over many years.

Translated from Al-Sharq newspaper, 28 October, 2014

]]> (Dr Mohamed Mesfer) Middle East Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:01:58 +0000
Palestinian options at the United Nations and the International Court of Justice Palestinian flagAt last, it appears that the United Nations General Assembly's (UNGA) 138-9 majority vote in November 2012 to accord Palestine observer state status might finally be bearing fruit. Sweden's announcement that it will recognise Palestine, the House of Commons 274-12 majority vote calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, the decision by Spanish lawmakers to hold a similar vote on recognising Palestine in their parliament, and France's announcement that it will recognise Palestine if negotiations with Israel fail are all steps in this direction.

Unable to end Israel's 47-year occupation through negotiations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took the first incremental steps towards asserting Palestinian statehood in the international arena by acceding to more than a dozen treaties on human rights and humanitarian law, steps that only states can take. He also took steps to reunify the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single political entity under one rule of law, a process that is still underway.

After Israel's 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip this summer, President Abbas announced a plan to end the occupation. In his UN speech, he said that Palestine and the Arab Group at the UN had started to prepare a draft UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that would set a timetable for Israel to end the occupation that would be linked "to the immediate resumption of negotiations between Palestine and Israel to demarcate the borders, reach a detailed and comprehensive agreement, and draft a peace treaty between them".

There is no guarantee that the UNSC will move to a vote. In the case that it does, the United States has indicated that it will veto the resolution. If this happens, President Abbas has threatened to apply for membership in UN agencies and join the International Criminal Court (ICC). An application by Palestine for membership in UN Agencies and the ICC, however, would result in the loss of much needed Congressional funds, not to mention US political support. Israel could also retaliate in myriad ways. Moreover, membership in the ICC could involve delays and legal complications.

Does President Abbas have any other options?

He does. Instead of submitting applications to UN agencies and the ICC in the event of a US veto, President Abbas might consider delaying these moves and ask the UNGA to discuss the steps that member states can take to help end Israel's occupation of Palestine. Should Israel ignore a call from the UNGA to end the occupation, Palestine and the Arab Group could then ask the UNGA to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal responsibilities of states and international organisations to end the occupation.

It will be recalled that when the US vetoed a draft UNSC resolution that condemned Israel's decision to construct the wall in the West Bank in 2003, the UNGA requested an advisory opinion from the ICJ on the legal consequences of its construction. In July 2004, this lead to 14 of the 15 judges to declare in their advisory opinion that the settlements, the wall, and their associated regime are contrary to international law. The court also called on states not to aid or assist Israel in the wall's construction. But because the question addressed to the court in 2003 specifically concerned the wall, the court could not address the larger issue of ending the occupation. In 2003 it was not clear whether a Palestinian state had emerged, and moreover the First Intifada was still underway.

In light of the developments that have taken place in the last decade, President Abbas could ask the UNGA to request a new advisory opinion from the ICJ in the event of a US veto. This time, however, consideration could be given to drafting a question for the UNGA that would: 1) inquire into the legal consequences of Israel's continued occupation and settlement activity in the state of Palestine in light of the UNGA resolution that accorded Palestine observer state status; and 2) provide guidance to the UNGA on the responsibilities of states and international organisations to bring to an end the occupation and Israel's settlement activity.

The question could make reference to the 134 states that have already recognised Palestine, relevant UN resolutions, applicable treaties, and customary international law. Unlike in 2004, this time the court would have its previous advisory opinion to take into account, Palestine's application for membership in the UN, its membership in the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and the UN resolution that accorded Palestine observer state status. The court would also have to hand a plethora of UN reports, including the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

There have been a number of legal developments since 2004 as well. In addition to the International Law Commission's Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, the International Law Commission has drafted Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations. Furthermore, the court would be expected to make reference to the treaties that Palestine acceded to in April 2014. In addition to the 1907 Hague Regulations, the four Geneva Conventions, and Additional Protocol 1, these treaties include the Human Rights Covenants, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

Of course, the question rendered to the court would have to be carefully framed, preferably by lawyers with legal experience and expertise at the ICJ. The emphasis of a question that focuses on legal consequences, the occupation, and Palestine's statehood would be to inquire into the legality of a prolonged occupation that has prevented the Palestinian people from exercising their right to self-determination. The hope is that the court would call for an end to the occupation as a matter of international law in order to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination within their own state. The question formulated for the court could be linked to President Abbas's plan to end the occupation.

There are several advantages of going back to the ICJ as opposed to lodging another application at the ICC. The Palestinians have a good track record at the ICJ. They do not have a good track record at the ICC, which rejected their attempt to grant that court jurisdiction after Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. Although the ICC prosecutor has indicated that the ICC would accept a new application submitted by Palestine to join the court, the final ruling on whether the ICC has jurisdiction would be left up to the judges. Furthermore, the ICC has a mixed record of carrying out investigations or preliminary examinations quickly. Not only would it have to check whether Israel is investigating the crimes that took place in Gaza, it may have to wait for the Israeli legal process to run its course, which would also take time. Additionally, because Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, it has no obligation to co-operate with the ICC; without Israeli co-operation, the process could take even longer. And finally, even if the prosecutor decides to open a full investigation, she would then have to charge and issue arrest warrants for Israelis and Palestinians implicated in crimes under the statute. Yet Israel would be unlikely to hand over any of its nationals to the ICC. With so many possibilities for a stalemate, the ICC route is unlikely to produce the desired results.

In contrast, an ICJ advisory opinion could be produced in a matter of months. The 9 July 2004 advisory opinion on the wall only took the court five months to deliver after it heard the oral pleadings in February 2004. Admittedly, a question on the legal consequences of Israel's continued occupation of Palestine, in light of its new statehood status, would raise more intricate legal issues and might take more time. Even so, it would still be a quicker process than anything at the ICC.

Another advantage that the ICJ has over the ICC is that there is no Congressional legislation that would require the US to withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority in the event that the UNGA requests an advisory opinion from the ICJ, because it is not Palestine that would request the opinion but the UNGA. Moreover, the Palestinians and the Arab Group at the UN would have more control over the question that is formulated for the ICJ, because an advisory opinion is a response to a question that has been rendered to it from the UNGA, which Palestine and the Arab Group can influence.

An opinion that addresses Palestine's legal status and the territories over which Palestine is entitled to exercise sovereignty could help future applications to join the ICC, UN Agencies, and other international institutions. It would also be an opportunity for the court to offer clear guidance on the extent to which Israel is still the occupying power in Gaza (which Israel has disputed since it redeployed its troops in 2005) and provide guidance on the manner in which the Palestinian state came into being in light of the UNGA resolution that accorded Palestine observer state status despite Israel's continuing occupation.

Israel and its allies would find it more difficult to object to a question to the ICJ from the UNGA than a Palestinian application to the ICC. Unlike the ICC, the ICJ cannot try individuals or heads of states for crimes. An appeal to the ICJ could therefore be portrayed as being consistent with a diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated two-state solution by linking it to a need to end the occupation and to stop Israel from building more settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In the event that the UNGA requests an advisory opinion from the ICJ, member states would be invited to give written statements and make oral submissions to the court. As part of this process, member states would have to clarify their legal positions with respect to Palestine's statehood, including explaining what steps the UNGA could take to bring an end to Israel's occupation and settlement activity. Some states may make reference to the manner in which Israel has violated the territorial integrity of the Palestinian state through its construction of the wall in defiance of the court's previous opinion and through its establishment of settlements and by-pass roads. They may also suggest to the court that states and international organisations have a responsibility not to aid or assist Israel in maintaining the occupation and its annexation of Jerusalem, possibly even calling on states and international organisations to consider suspending economic, cultural, and trade agreements with Israel to the extent that these agreements apply to the territories that comprise the Palestinian state. Although advisory opinions are not legally binding in the sense that states are not obliged to comply with them (unless the UNSC determines otherwise), in formulating its opinion, the court would be stating what the law is, which would be binding on states irrespective of the legal status of the advisory opinion.

A favourable and cogent opinion from the ICJ could help shift world public opinion further in favour of Palestinian rights to have a state of their own next to, and at peace with, the state of Israel. At the same time, an advisory opinion may give impetus to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to sit down and negotiate a final status agreement to establish a democratic, contiguous, and independent Palestinian state along the lines of the phased plan to end the occupation that President Abbas plans to present to the UNSC.

In the event that Israel ignores the court and chooses to defy the international community by further entrenching the occupation and building more settlements, those states and organisations sitting on the side-lines would be given a reason and an opportunity to take the moral high ground and insist that Israel respects the court's opinion and the right of the Palestinian people to exercise independence in their own state alongside the state of Israel or face consequences in the form of countermeasures. At that stage, President Abbas could then take steps to join the ICC and UN Agencies.

Victor Kattan is a post-doctoral fellow at the Law Faculty of the National University of Singapore and a policy advisor to Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. He was previously a legal adviser to the Palestinian Negotiations Support Project in Ramallah on secondment from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Jerusalem. Kattan is the author of From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1891-1949 (London: Pluto Press, 2009) and is the editor of The Palestine Question in International Law (London: The British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 2008).

This article was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations

]]> (Victor Kattan) Europe Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:23:02 +0000
The student movement in Egypt over the last century Students during the 1935-1936 uprisingThe world and major media outlets have followed the student activities in Egyptian universities over the past two years, especially in Cairo and Al-Azhar Universities. In this report, Sasa Post will shed light on the student movement taking place in Egypt since early last century and its developments thus far.

1935-1936 uprising

Some historians believe that the student movement started the 1919 Revolution, but what all historians agree on is that the student movement was the fuel behind the independence struggle over the past century.

This uprising is considered the first loud voice from the Egyptian student movement, as the students led this uprising for complete independence from national leaders and parties.

On November 9, 1935, Sir Samuel Hoare announced that Britain considers the 1923 constitution as inapplicable. This statement ignited this uprising that did not subside.

November 13, 1935, was the first day of the uprising when about 2,000 students from Giza University marched to Cairo. According to British authorities, the students were more aggressive than ever before and they were difficult to deal with, unlike previous instances. The demonstrations continued for over the coming days and the government announced that it would close the university several times. Each time, the university was closed for a week at a time, until studies were suspended indefinitely on December 8, but this did not stop the uprising.

On November 14 the demonstration, consisting of approximately 4,000 students, clashed with British police on the famous Abbas Bridge. One student was wounded during the clashes, and another student, Mohamed Abdel-Hakam Al-Garrahy, was killed and his funeral turned into a striking national funeral attended by senior national leaders such as Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha, Sidqi and Mohamed Mahmoud.

Abbas BridgeThe uprising ended with a royal decree dictating the restoration of the 1923 constitution. In addition to this, the students pushed the leaders of the political parties to form a united front. The uprising paved the way for the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 which stipulated the exchange of ambassadors between Great Britain and Egypt, as well as Egypt's right to reject foreign concessions and some other benefits.

The student movement remained active in Egypt and had a date with another uprising; the 1946 uprising.

1946 uprising

The uprising began November 1945 when a group of students announced they were on strike in solidarity with Palestine and Indonesia. The violent events of this uprising began on February 9, 1946, when a large crowd consisting of several thousands of high school students stormed the university campus.

The demands of this uprising was to end negotiations with the British, cancel the 1936 treaty and reject any defence treaty with Britain.

The initial result was the deposition of King Nuqrashi Pasha as prime minister on February 15 and the appointment of Ismail Sidqi in his place. However, this was not a good choice because Sidqi was not popular and did not have a great reputation.

The student movement starting coordinating with worker committees and were successful in forming a front made up of workers and students, calling it the National Committee of Workers and Students. The Committee called for a general strike on February 21, 1946, and since then commemorated it as National Students' Day.

The student movement then announced a popular strike on March 4, and the masses responded to this strike, and clashes erupted between the British troops and students, 23 protesters were killed and 120 wounded. In Alexandria, demonstrators lowered the British flag at the headquarters of the British constables and attacked a British warship, killing two soldiers and 28 Egyptian citizens as well as wounding 342 other Egyptians.

Results of the uprising

  1. The appointment of Clement Attlee as British Prime Minister on March 8, 1946, as well as the withdrawal of British forces from Cairo and the Nile Delta, instead stationing themselves at the British base in the Suez Canal.
  2. The student pressured the government to unilaterally end negotiations with the British, which was achieved in 1951 by Prime Minister Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha.

As a consequence of the uprising, clashes later occurred between the students and British forces, resulting in the death of several students. After the 1948 war in Palestine, the student movement turn another turn, taking up weapons and engaging in clashes between the police and students. During these clashes, the students killed the director of Cairo security Salim Zaki with a bomb.

The student movement continued in their path until the July 1952 Revolution occurred, independence was achieved and Egypt was ruled with an iron fist. The students then entered a new phase of struggle and covert action.

The student movement in the Nasser era

The revolution considered any violation of it, with the aim of solving matters, hostility and opposition. This prompted Abdel Nasser's statement that universities were against the revolution because some university professors had different opinions than him regarding the management of some educational issues. When the Revolutionary Command Council cemented its authority, Abdel Nasser took an unprecedented step by collectively expelling university professors.

The student movement completely stopped during Abdel Nasser's reign and was not resumed until the 1960's at the hands of governmental organisations such as the Arab Socialist Union and the Youth Organisation. As for the other elements, they headed towards secret operations.

February 21, 1968, a new uprising

This uprising broke out after the June 1967 defeat at the hands of Helwan workers immediately after the announcement of the military court's ruling in the case of the military aviation officers accused of negligence during the June war. The demonstrators believed that the rulings were too lenient.

Thousands of students from major universities in Cairo and Alexandria participated in the uprising and it coincided with February 21, which is Egyptian Student Day, adopted during the 1946 uprising. The Cairo uprising alone resulted in the death of two workers and the wounding of 77 citizens, as well as 146 police officers. Some 635 people were also arrested and some vehicles and buildings were destroyed in the capital.

In total, approximately 100,000 Egyptian university students participated in this uprising, and the situation was dealt with by the leadership. Abdel Nasser also gave his famous speech to the students, who would not have allowed such an uprising if it weren't for the June 1967 defeat.

The most important result of this uprising was the spread of the spirit of self-confidence amongst the student masses and extending it to new student leaderships that were not supportive of the regime. Another result was the re-emergence of organised political currents within university campuses.

1968: Another uprising

New student turbulences began during the same year in November due to the announcement of a new education law that was not accepted by the students. The uprising began with protests by high school students in the city of Mansoura and, on the next day, the students continued to demonstrate and headed towards the Directorate of Security, which resulted in clashes. This led to the death of three students and a farmer as well as the wounding of 32 protesters, nine police officers and 14 soldiers.

News of the bloody events of Mansoura University reached Alexandria University, so leaders of the student movement from the engineering faculty launched massive protests and clashed with police forces. Some 53 policemen and 30 students were wounded, and the head of the Faculty of Engineering Union Atef Al-Shater and three of his colleagues were arrested.

The governor of Alexandria went to the Faculty of Engineering students and tried to convince them not to escalate the situation, but they held him inside the faculty and did not allow him to leave until Al-Shater and his colleagues were released. Impacted by the uprising, the parliament discussed the problem of the new law in a meeting held the day after the governor of Alexandria was detained.

November 25 witnessed a strike in Alexandria and large-scale protests which ended with clashes with the police, resulting in the death of three students, 12 parents, and a 12-year-old student, a total of 16 deaths. In addition to this, 167 protesters and 247 policemen were arrested, while 462 people were arrested, 78 of whom were released because they were under the age of 16 and 19 of whom were released for other reasons. The rest remained detained pending investigation.

Abdel Nasser

Fifty public transportation buses were smashed in 1968, along with 270 tram windshields, 116 traffic lights, 29 stalls, 11 shop windows and a number of public transport and private vehicles and lampposts. The sit-in staged by the Faculty of Engineering ended without achieving any significant results because of the lack of food during the days of Ramadan and power outages suffered by the protestors, as well as the withdrawal of the union leader from the sit-in and the governor's threat to evacuate the building by force.

Those who were arrested during the sit-in were transferred to the courts for trial, but ultimately, no trials were held. After three months of being detained, the students were released but their leaders were sent for military service.

The Sadat era

Students began to complain about Sadat in Egyptian universities in 1971 when he announced that it was the year of reckoning with Israel, but did not fight Israel, and then announced that the next year was a "foggy" year and that he would not fight. This led to the outbreak of the final uprising in Egyptian universities, the 1972 uprising.

The uprising's leaders were immediately arrested. These leaders included Marxist students as well as some Nasserists. The pro-Sadat trends inside university campuses had the opportunity to use violence against the opposition and condemn their policies. Public meetings began with the uprising's leaders and there were many publications, magazines and clashes with the security forces off campus until Cairo University was shut down following a decision issued by President Sadat himself.

In general, events occurred in more than one Egyptian university, but what was strange this time was that previously, the uprisings began in Cairo and were joined by Alexandria. However, this time, Cairo was joined by Alexandria, Ain Shams, Assiut, Al-Azhar and Mansoura.

This uprising is considered the last real uprising of an Egyptian university. At the time, Sadat launched an attack on specific students, calling them out by name, such as Ahmed Abdullah Rozza, who was only 22 years old.

The October war put the student movement in Egypt in different situations and events, and it marked the end of the strong student movement in Egypt. With the emergence of the multi-party policy, students and their leaders joined new political parties.

The time of student uprisings of course ended when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came to power after Sadat was killed in the early 1980s, however the student movement continued to react to the political events in Egypt and the Arab world. Such reactions include the student participation in the mass demonstrations in support of the first and second Palestinian Intifadas as well as their participation in the mass demonstrations in protest to Egypt's troops participating in deterring Iraq in the early 1990's. The student movement also emerged in 1998 to condemn Egypt's position on America's bombing of Iraq and in March 2003 after the invasion of Iraq, masses of students demonstrated in condemnation of the Egyptian position on the invasion and they stormed Tahrir Square.

The common factor between all of these demonstrations is that they did not have as much impact as their predecessors, as these demonstrations were unable to evolve into a true uprising as the previous ones had. The previous demonstrations were able to achieve significant political gains for the country, whether in the face of the British occupation or in the face of successive governments.

Translated from, 18 October, 2014

]]> (Abdulrahman Nasser) Africa Tue, 21 Oct 2014 17:42:20 +0000
The UK and al-Qaeda agree on perpetual war Asa WinstanleyBritish jets began bombing Iraq yet again last week. Another war against this beleaguered country, an Arab country that has been decimated and torn apart by decades of Western-imposed war. These wars have included a vicious and protracted civil war, one that seems to perpetually bubble under the surface, re-erupting periodically.

But the civil war between religious factions in Iraq is a historically new phenomenon, one introduced to the country by the 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq. In fact, American policy governing Iraq during the years of direct occupation very consciously sought to stoke religious sectarianism and deliberately perpetuate civil war -- the classic colonial divide-and-rule tactic.

The Americans established sectarian death squads not long after they took over in Baghdad. This bore resemblance to US policy in Latin America in the 1980s, when the spectre of "Communism" was used as a bogey to put the people of the region back under the American boot. Many of the US-backed dictatorships there were death-squad, torture regimes.

But in Iraq, this policy had a religious dimension. So-called "special police commando" units set up under the lead of retired US colonel James Steele (a veteran of US dirty wars in Central America) were in fact mostly composed of the vicious Badr organisation, a sectarian Shia militia. Their Sunni victims were systematically tortured, sometimes within earshot of their US handlers.

A joint investigation by BBC Arabic and The Guardian broke open that story last year – yet this inconvenient little fact of history has been totally ignored in the pathetic media debate over how "we must help" in Iraq.

This US policy helped rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group which ultimately today is known variously as the "Islamic State," ISIS or ISIL. al-Qaeda's main targets were Shia pilgrims and other non-Sunni civilians. The protracted civil war, which peaked in 2006, at its height saw headless bodies turning up in ditches or at roadsides every single day.

So the civil war introduced to the country by the Americans and the British was no accident. It was deliberately instigated and perpetuated. A divided Arab world is good for US hegemony, and gives Israel more breathing space in which to continue its various crimes and conspiracies against the people of the region.

As the bombs dropped on Iraq this week, David Cameron warned it would go on for years: "This mission will take not just months, but years, and I believe we have to be prepared for that commitment."

While Cameron has also been agitating for the British bombing campaign to be extended to "Islamic State" positions in Syria, the vote passed in the Commons explicitly ruled that out without a further debate and vote (mainly because opposition leader Ed Milliband did not agree to it). But US warplanes have been hitting Syria, along with some token forces from the reactionary Arab monarchies. The attacks on ISIS in Syria also targeted al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

In one respect, a Nusra Front spokesperson sounded very similar to Cameron: "We are in a long war," Abu Firas al-Suri wrote online, according to The Guardian. "This war will not end in months nor years, this war could last for decades," he said.

Both al-Qaeda and its Western opponents appear to agree on the prospect of perpetual war in the Arab world.

This is a holdover from the "War on Terror" that began in 2001, when, in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September attacks, some American and British leaders would talk about a 50-years war against "the threat of radical Islam".

But the whole "War on Terror" propaganda line got somewhat stale, with the public at large in Britain becoming more and more cynical, especially after the deeply unpopular war against Iraq (which was a disaster for Iraqi civilians, killing as it did over a million people).

In this respect ISIS has been a boon for US and Israeli control of the region. As long as those sides are fighting each other, they pose no threat to us, so the thinking goes.

Quite a common theory amongst many Arabs is that the US and Israel actually created ISIS as a way to cause chaos in the region, and allowing the Americans to step back into Iraq. While there is no real evidence to back up that theory, with the amount of very real conspiracies targeting the region it is no wonder people suspect it. What is for sure is that the Americans created ISIS in the sense that they established the conditions in which ISIS arose – in both Iraq and Syria (with US military aid going to "rebel" groups that was mostly fanatical fundamentalists).

Henry Kissinger reputedly once said of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s that he wished both sides could lose. Neither government was friendly to American interests. Today, such thinking still represents Israeli and American policy in the region.

Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, summed it up last year: "Let them both [sides] bleed, haemorrhage to death: that's the strategic thinking here. As long as this [civil war] lingers, there's no real threat from Syria."

Never-ending war for the region is good for powerful interests. It keeps arms manufacturers in business; it keeps western intelligence services operating; it keeps the heat off Israel, since Arabs are busy fighting each other; and it also helps fanatics like al-Qaeda and "Islamic State" to perpetuate their twisted vision, since both thrive in conditions of war against the west.

In this way, fanatics on all sides agree. The victims are the ordinary people of the region.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Thu, 02 Oct 2014 14:21:53 +0000
You can't take terrorism away from the terrorist Abdul Sattar QassemNowadays, America is intensifying its efforts for what it calls combatting terrorism. It is working very hard to establish an international coalition consisting mainly of Arab countries to combat terrorism, especially the Islamic State organisation (ISIS).

It is apparent that America is speaking against terrorism extensively and is making many accusations against others of being terrorists, as if it is far from it; as if it has nothing to do with the spread of terrorism on a global level and always acts like a trustee for the world. America is continuously issuing decisions classifying others and describing them as either terrorists or supports of terrorism, and through its actions, America is sending the world a message that it is the innocent party and that the others are criminals.

The definition of terrorism

There has been a long debate over the definition of terrorism in the international arena, and America had always tried to determine the definition, refusing to hold an international conference to reach an internationally accepted explanation. Arab countries, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Syria during the rule of Hafez Al-Assad, tried to push for holding such a conference, but America always refused, fearing that the definition would include the behaviour of other countries, mainly Israel.

America wanted to monopolise the definition of terrorism in order to remain in possession of the dominant political opinion in the world, refusing to discuss a scientific definition of the term. Therefore, internal American institutions, such as the State Department, Department of Defence, and the White House determined their own definitions, focusing on terrorism being a violent act committed by armed organisations in order to achieve political objectives.

The US' definitions reflect the American perspective, which basically antagonises all liberation movements in the world, and seems to also antagonise the freedoms of nations and individuals. It usually resorts to political and philosophical grounds in order to justify this hostility, which quickly turns into armed action and wars.

Liberation movements constitute a legitimate target for America's financial, military, security, and political attacks, and the definition of terrorism needed to be formulated based on American policies, as well as the policies of its supporters, both European and Arab. Therefore, the American definition is rejected and does not address or resolve the problem of terrorism in the international arena.

Terrorism is any violent or nonviolent act committed, either directly or indirectly, by a force that would deprive others of their rights or prevent them from obtaining their rights. Force is an essential element in this definition, but it does not have to be used directly in order to inflict physical or direct harm. It could be used to threaten, intimidate, impose economic or financial sanctions, or create an atmosphere of psychological fear that is in one way or another deterrent, with the ultimate goal of seizing the rights of others by controlling them, deprivation, or preventing them from taking the necessary steps to obtain their rights.

This definition excludes all actions that can be carried out by organisations or countries in order to restore rights that have been violated or riches that have been looted. Also, those defending themselves and protecting their rights have every right, while those who violate the rights and freedoms of others do not have the right to take such actions.

Based on this definition, colonialism is considered terrorism and the traditional colonial powers have violently colonised nations and looted their wealth, and continue to do so in a variety of creative means. The US is the greatest source of terrorism in the world because it acts as a bullying and thuggish official carrying its weapon on its back and causing death here and there without any sense of responsibility.

The United States represents the largest extent of Western colonialism in the form of cultural and intellectual control over nations and by using military and economic weapons against those who do not want to offer loyalty and obedience to it. The actions of the United States confirm that it is a Nazi state making silky humanitarian statements.

Hitler wanted to dominate the world using the force of arms and force the superiority of the Aryan race over the entire world, and the United States is doing no less in this regard, except that its military appetite is less than that of Nazi Germany.

America went to Vietnam for no apparent reason and it killed people, destroyed homes, and burned trees and stones. Then it headed to Afghanistan and wreaked havoc, its actions resulting in the spread of jihadist Islamic organisations everywhere, and the reason it went to Iraq ended up backfiring.

Did the jihadist organisations - labelled as terrorist organisations - just emerge automatically or as a reaction, or did someone create, fund and arm them? History will answer this question, and the United States is in the defendant's dock now. Who else created incitement amongst the Sunnis and Shias in the Arab and Islamic world and created a suitable environment for mass murder and crime other than the United States and its Arab agents?

Tyranny is terrorism

Based on this definition, political tyranny is terrorism because it uses forces against citizens in order to repress, extort and prevent them from expressing themselves and choosing the governing system as they see fit. Tyranny uses force, the force of its security agencies, to oppress people, terrorise them and strip them of their rights. Most Arab governments fall within this category.

The Arab governments have spread corruption, tyranny, defeat and humiliation in various parts of the Arab world, making the Arab states violated areas and their wealth looted. Even now, after all the suffering the Arabs are going through, the majority of Arab governing systems still do not recognise the freedom of their people, nor do they value their rights, and the peoples' wealth is being squandered on the gambling tables.

Tyranny is the embodiment of injustice and injustice generates a reaction that gradually develops into violence, and of course, injustice breeds oppression, and oppression breeds vengeance, and there is no stronger expression of vengeance than bearing arms. The Arab regimes have oppressed the people so much that civil wars have ignited, and these wars are still coming to the Arab countries in which people still haven't fought yet.

But, who sponsored these oppressive Arab governments and supported and encouraged them? It was the colonial powers, particularly the United States. The US is the sponsor of Arab oppression, and it provided all the support to the Arab security agencies in order for them to be able to continue to repress the people and keep them under control.

America has violated our countries, ignited strife within them, and recruited many of our children to serve it and the tyrannical regimes under the pretext of democracy and human rights. Given that I am a Palestinian, I see American's policies take shape every day, as they oppress and disregard the rights of the Palestinians, carried out by Palestinians who loudly voice nationalist slogans.

Before its temporary military withdrawal from the Arab countries, the Western colonial powers entrusted the task of controlling the Arab peoples to agents that follow their orders, while the colonial powers monitor and supervise them from afar. The colonial powers found that the best way to keep the Arab peoples fragmented and weak is by appointing ignorant weak rulers who are influenced by their own interests and the interests of their tribes and put them before the interests of the Arab nation.

In the eyes of the colonial powers, the Arabs must be kept weak and marginalised so they do not rise and rebuild their civilisation and then pose strong competition to the Western civilisation. The West has been so successful in this that it even reached the point that the Arab rulers were not satisfied with merely fragmenting the Arabs into tribal fiefdoms, but they also took measures to hit the national unity within every Arab country in cooperation with the Western colonial powers. Thus, the hopes for Arab unity have been crushed and now all the Arabs hope for is that a single city or village remains unified.

The Sykes-Picot agreement fragmented Arab countries, such as Syria and Iraq, but the Arab dictators tore them apart and continue to provoke internal strife by failing to acknowledge the Arabs' right to freedom and dignity.

Terrorism is necessary in order to keep the Arab individual terrified, cowardly, and afraid for their livelihood. Therefore, it was necessary to utilise huge budgets for the Arab security agencies in order for them to commit heinous acts against the Arab citizens. Israel also had to be supported in order for it to remain the greatest power in the Arab and Islamic region and in order to spread terror everywhere. Hence, the formation of the Arab-Israeli alliance was inevitable in order for the terrorist forces in the region to join forces. If I had to explain the reasons for the emergence of jihadist organisations in the region, I find that the Arabs' defeats at the hands of Israel the greatest generator of such organisations.

The terrorism state

Since the 1970s, America has been trying to keep accusations of terrorism away from Israel, and this is perhaps the primary reason behind America's refusal to discuss a universal definition of terrorism. America strongly suggested strange religious interpretations were behind the provocation of internal strife, especially amongst the ranks of Sunni Muslims, and therefore, it is not unusual for there to be Sunni jihadist organisations described as terrorists.

Arab countries have cooperated with the United States and promoted demonic religious ideas, causing Islam to be viewed by many nations in the world as a bloody and misguided religion. Instead of Islam being a key factor in unifying the nation, it has, in some cases, become a factor causing fragmentation.

Israel is the biggest den for terrorism in the world, and if it weren't for its existence, none of these wars in the Arab and Islamic region would have broken out, nor would there have been bloodshed, destroyed homes and perished souls. Israel is operating under the sponsorship and support of the United States.

Why are the Palestinian people still living in refugee camps under harsh conditions? Why does Gaza remain under siege? Why are some of the Palestinian people still under occupation? The reason for all of this is Israel and those who support it in the East and the West.

Occupation in itself is terrorism, and America, as well as several Arab regimes, provides various types and forms of support to the occupation. Israel's actions on many levels, including its prevention of the Palestinians from moving freely, to depriving them of their rights to water, construction and reconstruction, are all classified as terrorism.

If the world wants to combat terrorism and eliminate the presence of terrorist parties in the region, it must first start with Israel, followed by the Arab regimes loyal to Israel.

America, along with those participating in its most recent terrorist campaign, all have the wrong address and the wrong target. Israel is the first address for terrorism and such terrorism wouldn't be able to go on if it weren't for the support of America. Would America begin with combatting itself and its protégé before addressing ISIS and the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups?

There are Arab and Islamic countries in the region now looking for American support to confront the organisations classified as terrorist organisations, and to these countries I say that you are replacing one form of terrorism with another more severe form of terrorism; it is like wanting to forcefully get rid of one criminal by using the master of all criminals. I also say to these countries: Stop. America is not an assistant or a helper, it is dependent and a burden, and those who support terrorism will not eliminate it.

If the Arab countries are going to get rid of terrorism, they must first recognise the freedom of Arab citizens and change their political situations as required by such recognition. Secondly, they must stop supporting Israel which will never stop igniting sedition and wars.

Translated from Al-Jazeera net, September 22, 2014

]]> (Abdul Sattar Qassem) Americas Tue, 23 Sep 2014 15:18:45 +0000
Premeditated murder: the Shuja'iyya massacre and Israeli criminality Ben White65-year-old Ahmed Suleiman Akram al-'Atawai and his 10-year-old grandchild Tala were running from Israel's onslaught on Shuja'iyya. As they fled, they were hit by Israeli artillery shells, and died.

They were among the dozens of victims Sunday, when Israeli forces pulverised the Gaza City district. Some, like Ahmed and Tala, were cut down in the streets; others were killed when shells hit their homes. A paramedic, killed as he attempted to rescue the wounded. The 'Ayad family, hit by a missile from an Israeli warplane, killing ten, including three children.

Palestinians and reporters who visited the scene reported scenes of total devastation. An estimated 72 were killed Sunday in Shuja'iyya, including "at least 17 children". Amnesty International described the impact of "intense Israeli bombardment", with "more than 200" wounded as "civilians were forced to flee under fire". A man who went back to look for his family was shot dead by Israeli forces in front of human rights observers.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) doctors working in Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City reported that "women and children comprised most of the wounded" arriving Sunday morning. Audrey Landmann, MSF medical coordinator in Gaza, said Israel's ground offensive has meant "indiscriminate" bombing, and noted that "those who die are civilians".

The shocking fact is that these dozens, hundreds, of personal horror stories are the result of deliberate decisions taken by the Israeli army. On the day of the attack, IDF officers boasted that they were "taking off the gloves". Even as the ground offensive got underway late Thursday, Israeli tanks had "received an order to open fire at anything that moved".

The targeting of Shuja'iyya, according to veteran military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai, was about the Israeli army "cementing itself in the enemy's psyche as a beast one should not provoke". It is this "objective", he wrote, that "is the essence of the deterrence" sought by Israel.

As images emerged of the massacre, an Israeli army officer "expressed concern that the level of casualties in Shuja'iyya could erode [international support]...and create diplomatic pressure to end the operation sooner than expected". A similar sentiment was expressed by Israel Hayom's military correspondent, who admitted that the "high civilian death toll" in Shuja'iyya could have a detrimental effect on the Israeli operation's "international legitimacy".

Even as Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel tried to dismiss claims of a "massacre", he acknowledged that "the intensity of [Israeli] fire increased only after the force had sustained many casualties". This echoes a report by right-wing Israeli news service Arutz Sheva, that "heavy casualties" dealt to Israeli soldiers contributed to "a furious response by the IDF". In other words, the killing of civilians in the name of revenge and deterrence.

Israeli "commanders in the field" predicted that "if fighting continues", the "level of destruction" in Shuja'iyyeh "may reach that seen in the Dahiyeh neighborhood in Beirut in 2006". There, Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure in what became known as the 'Dahiyeh doctrine'. Note that the day before, Harel had called Shuja'iyya "not particularly significant from a military perspective".

The Israeli media blithely dismissed any concerns about the massacre "from a legal standpoint", on the basis that the army had warned Shuja'iyya's residents in advance. This is not just grossly inadequate – it is itself evidence of war crimes. As Amnesty International stated yesterday, "issuing warnings to evacuate entire areas does not absolve Israeli forces of their obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law".

This point was also made by Israeli NGOs in a joint statement which emphasised how "sending alerts or providing warnings to residents does not transform them, or their homes, into legitimate military targets, and does not exempt the army from its duty to avoid executing indiscriminate attacks in the area". Israel's "cynical use of legal terms" to justify "death and destruction" received further specific condemnation by Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem.

In fact, those groups had warned ahead of time, even as the IDF was dropping leaflets and issuing evacuation orders, that such a step could very likely presage an attack that would "cause extensive, mortal harm to civilians and much property damage". The military, they wrote, "must not assume that all residents have indeed left their homes", as they said was done during Operation Cast Lead.

There is also a similarly disturbing precedent from Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, when Israel justified an attack in Qana on the basis that Hezbollah used the area for missile launches, and, that the IDF had warned residents in advance to leave. Human Rights Watch, among others, slammed this argument, saying that notice of an impending bombardment "does not give [the IDF] carte blanche to blindly attack".

Thus whether it is the targeting of family homes, or the indiscriminate shelling of neighbourhoods like Shuja'iyya, Israel's attacks on Gaza – including the justifications for them – are taking the shape of repeated war crimes and urgently need to be treated as such.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:03:03 +0000
Negotiations and reconciliation Hani Al-MasriAfter the US president announced the need to stop the Palestine-Israel negotiations for a while in order to reflect on what has happened and study the alternatives suggested by both parties, which would, according to American predictions, push both sides back into negotiations because the alternatives are far worse than negotiations, the picture remains unclear. This is because there are several scenarios, including Netanyahu's threat to resort to taking unilateral measures in the West Bank, the agreement on a new formula to resume negotiations, or keeping the current situation the way it is.

Stopping negotiations represents an indirect recognition of the failure of the efforts made by Secretary of State John Kerry over the past nine months. Kerry began his efforts by seeking a final agreement over the conflict; then, after Israeli inflexibility, along with an unprecedented increase in settlement expansion, he began working towards reaching a "framework agreement", which is considered more than a declaration of principles but less than a peace treaty. After his second attempt failed, he focused all his efforts on agreeing a formula that would allow the extension of negotiations so that the end result would not be a vacuum filled with options, alternatives and other parties, causing the decline of America's role, which has dominated the so-called "peace process" since its inception.

Kerry also failed to achieve such a formula amid unconfirmed reports that he will not seek to continue his efforts and will leave the matter to his successor because the extension of the negotiations requires an agreement dictating a freeze in settlement expansion. The Israeli government is refusing to do this, fearing that if it agrees it will lead to its collapse.

Despite the cessation of negotiations, the US administration confirmed that it will not quit in its efforts towards reaching a peace treaty because doing so would harm American interests and influence in the region, as well as Israel's. Ending negotiations would open the door to Palestinian reconciliation and the restoration of national unity. This could be achieved on the basis of adopting alternative strategies to those in place at the moment that would strengthen the Palestinians' position against Israel, whether or not the negotiations are resumed, in the event of a Palestine-Israel flare-up.

The negotiations are not expected to make any substantial breakthrough in the coming months, as the current Israeli coalition government is taking an extreme and inflexible position that prevents the resumption of talks and thus any progress. In addition to this, it is unlikely from now until the midterm US Congressional elections scheduled for early November that Washington will announce its vision for resolving the conflict, nor will any pressure be put on either side. Instead, the US administration may decide to manage the conflict and prevent the situation from deteriorating into an all-out war. However, if, and it's a big if, it wants to take serious action, it will not do so until after the November elections because the influence of the pro-Israel lobby will be less on the administration during the second half of the final term in office of the president.

Obama has appeared to be unimpressed by Netanyahu on more than one occasion, and this could drive him to impose an agreement if things do blow up in the already explosive region, or if the potential is there for a popular uprising once the Palestinian position at the UN is complete or a boycott of Israel grows. However, if this does not happen, then Obama will think twice before putting any real pressure on the Israeli government.

The recent "Shati refugee camp declaration" was a very important step because it opened the door to Palestinian reconciliation, but the question that this poses is simple: is it merely a bridge to overcome the growing crisis experienced by Fatah and Hamas that will end once the crisis ends, or is it the beginning of the path towards adopting new strategies after reviewing past experiences, learning lessons from history, and taking local, Arab, regional and international variables into account?

It is imperative to review the strategies that have been adopted so far and which have not realised the Palestinian goals of independence, refugees' return, self-determination and equality. They have instead led to the deepening of the occupation, the expansion of settlements, construction of the Apartheid Wall, aggression, the blockade (especially in the Gaza Strip), division and the marginalisation of the Palestinian cause. This is all despite strong indicators of its presence, such as the steadfastness and unity of the people in the country, multiple forms of resistance, right of return conferences, the protection and development of national identity, and the growth of the boycott of Israel. To this must be added solidarity with the Palestinian cause from the international community, which passed the UN resolution to recognise the Palestinian state with the approval of 138 countries.

If the Palestinian reconciliation was placed within the context of adopting a new path it could combine all strong cards and pressure by re-structuring all wings of the national movement and rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organisation institutions to include the full political spectrum. This has to be built on national and democratic foundations, as well as real partnership in what can be called "the pillars of the ultimate national interests". In ending the bilateral negotiations under the auspices of the US without any references or time limits, and without Israel's commitment to stop all forms of creating "facts on the ground", not just stopping settlement expansion, as well as making the occupation costly for Israel and its supporters, then the world will not be able to make any moves. If the US did take unilateral steps, they would undoubtedly be in Israel's favour, as we noticed in the "framework agreement" Kerry tried to promote. However, the Israeli government sabotaged the agreement because it wants even more, and preferred settlement expansion over everything else.

Palestinian reconciliation, which has finally started after seven years of division, is under the umbrella of the "Oslo Accords" as the national reconciliation government will be sticking to the president's programme. This includes a clear commitment to the Middle East Quartet's conditions, which are unfair to the Palestinians, without Israel's commitment to any of them, despite the fact that it is a colonialist, settler, occupation state.

As such, the reconciliation did not close the door to bilateral negotiations, and we may witness a resumption of the talks if the Israeli government shows some flexibility by releasing the fourth batch of prisoners imprisoned before the Oslo Accords as agreed. This could be either with or without another new batch of prisoners. In addition, if the Israeli government agrees to some form of settlement freeze, it could open the door for the Palestinians to go back to the negotiation table. However, this will be difficult, as I have mentioned earlier, since the current Israeli government is the most extremist government since the founding of the state, and its extremism prevents it from taking positions that serve its own interests because of the belief that it will achieve more by being inflexible.

If the situation continues in this way, the Palestinians will depend on the Israeli government's extremism and patriotism to achieve anything. This will be the worst possible scenario because they should rely first and foremost on their own efforts, rallying all Palestinian energy with a joint vision capable of changing the balance of power. This will put Palestinians in a position where we can force Israel and its supporters to fulfil our national and individual rights.

If the Palestinians are united by one vision and one programme, they will be able to unite the Arabs, the free people of the world and all those keen on keeping the region from even further conflict; the current unrest is surely more than enough.

]]> (Hani Al-Masri) Guest Writers Sun, 01 Jun 2014 06:00:00 +0000
What will it take for the US to cut military aid to Egypt? Sarah MarusekEver since the 3 July military coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected government, the world has stood back to witness the Egyptian authorities' brazen attempt to cleanse an entire community from Egypt's population.

As an American citizen I have to ask: how many Egyptians need to be killed, injured, arrested and tortured, and how many families torn apart and destroyed, before the US will take decisive action against Egypt's post-coup military regime?

And I am not the only American asking this question.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Times newspaper published an editorial under the headline "Stop coddling Egypt's military". The editors argue that: "It's increasingly evident that the military rulers of Egypt are determined to intimidate and silence their political opponents, whether they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood or secular Egyptians who believe the generals are betraying the spirit of the 'Arab Spring'. Yet the Obama administration continues to entertain the pious hope that Egypt is on the road to an inclusive democracy."

The editors criticise the US response to the continued crackdown as being "polite to the point of pusillanimity", and conclude that, "Clearly the current policy of trying not to offend [Egypt's military] isn't working."

One week earlier, the Washington Post newspaper published a similar editorial, in which the editors denounce the Egyptian authorities' criminalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement was designated a terrorist organisation on 25 December.

The Post's editors lament how "Egypt has abandoned the path to democracy," calling this a "tragedy" and asserting that: "The time has come for stronger US protests and action. To remain timid in the face of repression will invite only more."

So why is the Obama administration not acting? After all, the US is supposedly a global superpower, and we have spent billions of dollars buying Egypt's friendship.

Well, if we take a closer look at the two countries relations, we see that Egypt has never really been a client state of the US, and in fact the relationship is quite the reverse.

Military aid and "peace"

In February 2012, when Egypt's military-led government under SCAF indicted 16 Americans working for non-governmental organisations in Egypt on charges of receiving foreign funds to foment unrest, US officials were quick to decry the move, and threatened a halt to American military aid to Egypt. In fact, 40 senators sent a strongly worded letter of warning directly to the former head of Egypt's military, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee, warned the Egyptian military that, "the days of blank checks are over."

And yet the following week, the rhetoric coming out of Washington was remarkably softened. According to the Atlantic magazine, officials had initially been so caught up in their outrage over the charges against Americans, including the son of the US Secretary of Transportation, that they did not think about how cutting Egypt's military aid would have implications for their best friend in the Middle East, Israel.

Egypt is currently the fifth largest recipient of US aid in the world, and cumulatively second only to Israel. Foreign aid to Egypt was negligible until the mid-1970s and only ballooned after Egypt signed the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978. Since the mid-1980s, Egypt has received annually about $1.3 billion in military aid, while Israel received $1.8 billion until the year 2000, after which military aid to Israel fluctuated between $2 to $3.1 billion.

According to the Washington Institute, military aid to Egypt was initially tied to US aid levels to Israel, which is why the figures remained proportional up until 2000, when the launch of the second Palestinian intifada altered the equation. Two other factors also contributed to the shift. The first is that by the turn of the millennium, Egypt was no longer isolated in the region as a result of its neighbourly relations with Israel. The second is that by then, the US had phased out its economic aid to Israel, allocating part of it instead for military use.

Is it aid or blackmail?

Still, continued US aid to Egypt remains an unwritten condition of the Camp David Accords, and since the January 2011 revolution in Egypt, the Israel Lobby has repeatedly voiced its concern that if the aid were to dry up, then the peace treaty would be in jeopardy.

So it is not surprising that despite being subject to the harshly worded threats, Egypt continued to prosecute the American NGO workers, a political slap in Washington's face, all the while receiving US military aid. All 16 Americans, along with 27 of their Egyptian peers, were eventually convicted and sentenced in absentia in June 2013.

This case is interesting for two reasons. One is that it highlights how US aid to Egypt is meant first and foremost to please and protect Israel. The second is that the Egyptian military regime knows this, and thus acts with impunity. The case against the 16 American NGO workers illustrates that. But so does the history of US economic aid to Egypt.

The US has always employed its foreign aid as a political tool, and its economic assistance is handled by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Both during the Cold War and in the neoliberal era, USAID projects have come with conditions strongly favouring free markets and privatisation. But interestingly, in the case of Egypt, scholar Bessma Momani argues that: "the Egyptian government perceived the aid programme as an entitlement for signing the Camp David Accord, where equality of treatment between Egypt and Israel was supposedly guaranteed. In consequence, USAID found that the aid at its disposal did not give the organisation any real influence to induce Egypt to alter its economic policies."

Writing in 1997, scholar Duncan Clarke also noted that Egypt views the American funds as its entitlement for making peace with Israel, thus despite the massive amounts of US aid to Egypt, "The remarkable absence of vigorous, reliable Egyptian advocates of the US is particularly striking." In 1991, the US and its allies even agreed to forgive half the $20.2 billion debt that Egypt owed to them, in thanks for Egypt's support during the Persian Gulf War. Nevertheless, Momani suggests that during this time, the Egyptian government was still not willing to alter its economic policy enough for Washington's liking.

Continually frustrated by Egypt's unwillingness to "reform" its state driven economy, in 1993 the US decided to privatise its economic aid to Egypt. Momani describes how Cairo and Washington set up a "Presidents' Council" consisting of 15 American and 15 Egyptian corporate representatives to manage private American investment in Egypt as an alternative to official US government aid. Oil executives along with major US multinationals comprised the American team, while companies that had well-established connections with the Egyptian elite and were close to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made up the Egyptian team, which was headed by Mubarak's son Gamal.

In this way Egypt's rulers successfully transformed the US's ideologically driven neoliberal policy into a crony trade relationship that directly profited the Mubarak regime.

How US aid to Egypt works

There are other aspects of the bilateral relationship that also limit Washington's options.

All US military aid to foreign countries is deposited into an account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as part of the Foreign Military Financing programme, which is run by a division of the Pentagon called the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). Nearly all countries have to spend the funds the US allocates each year, but Egypt is allowed to place orders on credit, which means that Egypt usually has a backlog of orders before the annual aid is even dispersed. The only other country granted this privilege is Israel.

The Washington Institute cites estimates that Egypt currently has about "$4 billion in outstanding contractual commitments to be paid by cash-flow financing". In other words, Egypt has run up a $4 billion debt to satisfy its rapacious appetite for American-made weapons and military equipment, and all at the expense of US taxpayers, whose money is being funnelled into the pockets of American weapons manufacturers.

That's why throughout the recent crackdown, the contracts never stopped coming in. According to the Politico web site, the day of the coup the US Army asked for information from contractors interested in building and upgrading F-16 bases in Egypt. And less than one week after the Egyptian security forces massacred and wounded thousands of anti-coup protesters in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda Squares, "the US Air Force awarded a contract to General Electric to upgrade the Egyptian air force's fighter jets. The deal, worth nearly $14 million, is to extend the lives of 18 engines used on F-16s and other fighters."

The argument goes that cutting military aid to Egypt would mean that US companies would not get paid for the orders they are processing and this would negatively impact the US economy, resulting in job losses. However, maintaining the aid while stopping the delivery of the American-made weapons and military equipment is a possibility.

A report published by Businessweek magazine last August noted that, "Once the work is completed and the contractor is paid, it's up to the DSCA to deliver the equipment to Egypt." And according to the report, as of August the agency was not delivering anything.

This included helicopters, fighter aircrafts and tank kits.

The magazine pointed out that: "This wouldn't be the first time the US withheld military equipment it's sold to a foreign country. In 1972, Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi paid $70 million for eight C-130 Hercules aircraft. After political tensions arose and relations between the US and Libya became strained, Washington simply decided not to deliver the planes. To this day the aircraft are still sitting outside Lockheed's plant in Marietta, Ga."

However, according to Al-Jazeera America, after the Obama administration announced in early October that it would suspend some military assistance to Egypt, "nearly 2,000 tons of critical US military equipment continued to flow to Egyptian ports." Although there was a delay in the shipment of some fighter jets, other equipment, including several kinds of vehicles used for crowd control, missile systems and spare parts for tanks, helicopters and fighter jets, among other items, continued to depart from eastern US ports to Egypt.

And then there is "war on terror"

So if the aid was supposedly halted, what is the catch?

One problem is that the Obama administration has repeatedly vowed to continue its provision of weapons and military equipment to help the Egyptian authorities fight "terrorism" in the Sinai, which shares a border with Israel.

Another is that the shipments mainly contain spare parts. As Al-Jazeera America points out, during the 1980s and 1990s, US military aid "led Egypt to phase out its Soviet-made arsenal, replacing most of its military equipment with higher-end US products." Since then, Egypt has amassed an arsenal of American-made weapons and equipment, including thousands of tanks and the fourth-largest fleet of F-16 fighter aircrafts in the world.

"There's no conceivable scenario in which they'd need all those tanks short of an alien invasion," Shana Marshall of the Institute of Middle East Studies at George Washington University joked to American National Public Radio.

So while Egypt is not in need of more weapons, the existing equipment does get worn out and continues to require a constant supply of spare parts, which the US freely provides. And Marshall also told Al-Jazeera America that: "there's a lot of pressure on Congress [from the defence industry] to maintain those production lines in their own districts."

This helps to explain why so many members of Congress, including Eliot Engel of New York, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed "concern" when the Obama administration announced that it was withholding selected aid in October.

That said, some members of Congress did actively lobby to end military aid to Egypt while the country was under the leadership of President Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, after all, always did entertain the possibility of rethinking the Camp David Accords. Of course, these officials failed to realise that during Egypt's short-lived democracy, US military aid went directly to Egypt's military, and not to the civilian government.

In any case, there is public support for an aid freeze. A Pew Research survey in August found that "51 per cent of Americans believe the US should cut off military aid to Egypt to pressure the government there to end the violence against anti-government protesters." And this number would likely be higher if Americans knew that the dispersal of military aid to Egypt could continue while the deliveries of the weapons are halted, weapons which could then even be sold to other parties for a profit, thus ensuring that American jobs are not lost.

So what is the prognosis for US military aid to Egypt? Is it even possible for the US to follow the European Union's moral lead and suspend the export of all equipment that could be used by the Egyptian military regime in its ongoing campaign of repression?

Although in October President Obama suspended the delivery of some military equipment to Egypt pending the election of a civilian government, Washington still refuses to call the events surrounding 3 July a "coup", a determination that would automatically halt all US military aid to Egypt in accordance with US law. And significantly, right after President Obama announced the suspension, Egypt hired a new Washington lobby firm.

Thus it should be no surprise to hear that before going on winter recess, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill on 18 December "that would allow the US to resume its full $1.6 billion aid relationship with Egypt by granting President Obama the power to waive [the federal law on the coup restriction] based on national security," as reported by the Associated Press. Only a few days before the Senate committee passed this bill, three right wing House Republicans travelled to Cairo to visit General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi: Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Considering that for Washington, US national security is mainly defined by two key concerns, Israel and the global war on "terror", and that the three House Republicans have a particular obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is no wonder that Egypt's interim authorities subsequently declared the movement a terrorist organisation.

And yet the new US law also aims to ensure that: "Egypt continues to implement the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, is fighting terrorism, is allowing the US Army to transit the territory of Egypt, is supporting a transition to an inclusive civilian government, is respecting and protecting the political and economic freedoms of all Egyptians, is respecting freedom of expression and due process of law, and finally, is abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly.

While none of these conditions are anything particularly new, Hussein Haridy, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, has declared the bill "a blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Egypt" that must be firmly rejected by the interim authorities.

So despite Egypt's continued human rights abuses and the calls from the American media for Washington to take action, US military aid to Egypt will probably continue to flow. Indeed, considering that in November Egypt negotiated a multi-billion dollar weapons deal with Russia, financed by the petrol dollars of the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the historical imbalance of power between the US and Egypt in the latter's favour, it seems more likely that if the aid were ever to be cancelled, then it would be the Egyptian authorities making that decision, not Washington.

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Mon, 06 Jan 2014 11:58:44 +0000
The bitter medicine needed for recovery "...the people must be told the truth in order to help them make the difficult choices and so that they are prepared to accept them out of hope for ending this crisis..."The World Bank envoy packed their bags and went back to where they came from, following negotiations with the government and meetings with leaders of the opposition that seemed to have stalled, for reasons unknown to me. Especially since we all know that the leaders they met have expressed their opposition to President Mohammad Morsi's rule and their desire to overthrow him in any way possible. They made several attempts and played all their cards in order to achieve this goal, and after the factional card was burned and buried in its cradle, all that was left was the economic card in their attempt to rock the presidential seat, convinced that they would be able to use it to seize the seat.

They do not care about the hard-working Egyptian citizens suffering in light of the economic crisis in the country, or their need for this loan in order for the Egyptian economy to recover and receive the stamp of approval that would attract investments in Egypt, open new job markets, and alleviate the unemployment crisis in the country. All this irritates these leaders because it will support President Morsi's rule through the support of the people who will begin to see the fruit of their revolution and the blessings of its country. Therefore, they refused the loan and frankly announced this after their meetings with the World Bank representatives. Matters got mixed up and unfortunately, their hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood became stronger than their love for their country. During a meeting, one of them even said let Egypt burn for the sake of overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood!

Therefore, I am astonished at the World Bank's insistence on accepting such individuals, despite the fact that negotiations should be made with the government because it is the only party dedicated to making the agreement. However, because matters are not as transparent as they should be, we do not know exactly what the World Bank's terms and conditions are. This has led to several rumours about ending the subsidisation of goods, especially those relating to energy, such as diesel fuel and gasoline, as well as an increase in electricity prices. The government is denying this, although they should have addressed the people frankly through the Prime Minister, Dr Hesham Kandil, with regard to the reality of the economic crisis suffered by the country. They also should have implemented short-term and long-term solutions to resolve this crisis, much like a doctor frankly telling their patient about the severity of their disease and prescribing the bitter medicine needed to treat them. The bitterness of this medicine would turn into sweet honey because the hope for recovery has alleviated the bitterness of the medicine, the opposite of which would have happened if the doctor did not tell the patient the truth, and they refused to take the medicine and preferred to die.

Therefore, the people must be told the truth in order to help them make the difficult choices and so that they are prepared to accept them out of hope for ending this crisis and escaping the bottleneck the Egyptian economy has been stuck in for years; it will then be able to emerge and begin its modern renewal. What we want is real hope, not false hope that deceives the people. The Prime Minister, Hesham Kandil, is required to tell the people what Churchill told the British people after WWII "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat to build Great Britain." The people must be involved in the government's negotiations with the IMF in order for them to be an asset and support the government's negotiations, and so it does not impose impossible conditions that become a burden on the Egyptian citizen.

We wouldn't have wanted this loan if it weren't for the chaotic mess left behind by the former regime that seized the country's treasures; the burden inherited by this regime, headed by its President, Dr Morsi, who is working day and night to save Egypt; may God help him and Egypt.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Tue, 23 Apr 2013 09:39:45 +0000
Hard winter in store for Gazans after summer of destruction Gazans are facing a hard winter without adequate shelter after a summer of destruction. Gaza emerged from the recent assault over July and August in tatters: over 2,000 Gazans had lost their lives, 100,000 people had their homes destroyed and the public infrastructure was in pieces. As temperatures drop, their situation looks all the more precarious.

Last December, after days of relentless rain, sections of Gaza were transformed into lakes. While photographs of Jerusalem engulfed in snow made the headlines, the hundreds of damaged homes in the besieged strip did not. This December, tens of thousands of Gazans will still be homeless as a result of the Strip's summer bombardment by the Israeli military.

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the UN's agency for refugees (UNRWA) is concerned how the population will cope: "In Gaza, people are facing a potentially very difficult winter." He said: "Remember the snow last year, when this melted, there was water as far as the eye could see. Now we have a looming appalling winter and public infrastructure has been destroyed on an industrial scale."

Donors recently pledged 5.4 billion dollars to rebuild Gaza, but the reconstruction effort, despite the funds, will largely hinge on a United Nations-brokered mechanism to monitor and supervise the process. Truckloads of cement, steel and gravel that Israel allowed into Gaza on Oct. 14, in what the Israeli ministry of defence claimed was a "pilot" test for the mechanism, still sits in the warehouse. Meanwhile, UNRWA and humanitarian aid agencies are working around the clock to ensure Gazans are prepared for the winter.

The mechanism plans to monitor the import, storage and sales of building materials in an attempt ensure that they will not be used to rebuild the tunnel network leading to Israel or for militants to make rockets. Israel justifies the blockade which has strangled Gaza for the past seven years on the grounds of security and any plans to bring large bulks of building materials have to include a plan to safeguard these concerns for Israel to agree.

According to details leaked to the Guardian, under the mechanism, basic goods, such as cement, steel and gravel, are considered "dual use" materials and require a military application, video cameras will be installed in warehouses and inspection teams will be created. This has led to criticisms that it will potentially create a new restrictive monitoring regime.

These concerns may be well grounded. For example, under the mechanism, Palestinian homeowners who require building materials will have to register their ID number, address and family status on a database. This database will be available to Israeli officials, including its intelligence agencies, and Israel will be given forty-eight hours to object to any name on the list. In essence, it would seem the UN has given Israel the power to say who can and cannot rebuild their homes. The personal information which will be gathered and made available to intelligence agencies will also not instil confidence in the Palestinians who are already too well acquainted with the dark side of Israeli intelligence.

For large-scale works – including schools and factory reconstruction – imports would be covered by the UN's most stringent counter-terrorism rules, with Israel being asked to process all "project submissions", albeit within an agreed time. This effectively gives Israel the right to approve or potentially veto major building projects, including their location. Some say this will simply put the UN in charge of continuing Israel's blockade. They also say it legitimizes Israel's control over the Strip.

Despite the concerns, Gunness remained hopeful: "We welcome the mechanism and hope it is up and running yesterday." He added: "The mechanism is however not a substitute for lifting the blockade. Eighty percent of Gaza is aid dependent and that number is rising. The underlying cause of this is the occupation."

While he expressed gratitude for the funds pledged at the donor conference, he says the only way that they will not have to keep asking for more money is if countries put the appropriate pressure on Israel.

Oxfam has said that under the current restrictions and rate of imports it could take more than 50 years to build the 89,000 new homes, 226 new schools and the health facilities, factories and water and sanitation infrastructure that people in Gaza need.

Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam Regional Director echoed Gunness' words: "Five years ago donors gathered in Egypt, just as they do now, to pledge billions of dollars for Gaza's reconstruction after the 2009 war. Five years later, more than half of the destroyed homes still hadn't been rebuilt due to restrictions." Essoyan stated: "Unless donors step up pressure to end the blockade, many children made homeless by the recent conflict will be grandparents by the time their homes and schools are rebuilt."

"Winter is coming and people without homes cannot afford to wait," she added.

]]> (Jessica Purkiss) Middle East Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:09:54 +0000
Will Qatar withdraw its funds from London in the wake of the Telegraph's campaign? HarrodsBritish newspaper The Telegraph, and its sister paper The Sunday Telegraph, have recently published a series of reports linking Qatar with support for terrorism around the world, including on account of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. This despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is not designated a terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom or in the European Union.

The paper has sought to lump together the Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and even ISIS, so as to leave Qataris open to charges of supporting and financing terrorism. Arabi21 has monitored the articles and the reports published by the London paper's weekly and Sunday editions, and found that the newspaper published seven reports on the same subject within two weeks.

An analysis shows that the target is not limited to the Muslim Brotherhood or efforts to ban their activities within Britain. Rather, the objective is actually to link the state of Qatar with funding terrorism around the world. For example, one article said: "Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya which is collaborating with armed militias that wage war in order to topple the secularists and remove them from power."

It is worth noting that one of the seven reports was titled 'Harrods shoppers are buying into terror'. The Harrods department store in central London is the most prestigious and expensive store in all of Europe, and has nothing to do with politics. The store is owned by the state of Qatar, one of its many investments in Britain.

The Telegraph report highlighted a small protest organised in front of the store by pro-Israel activists, who accused it of funding terrorism and called for a boycott of the store. This is the story around which the Telegraph report was weaved.

The reports, all authored or co-authored by senior correspondent Robert Mendick, are as follows:

This series of articles is reminiscent of a U.S.-focused propaganda campaign exposed recently by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept. According to the report, hostility between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has produced a new campaign in the West "to demonize the Qataris as the key supporter of terrorism."

While "the Israelis have chosen the direct approach of publicly accusing their new enemy in Doha of being terrorist supporters", the UAE has opted for "a more covert strategy: paying millions of dollars to a U.S. lobbying firm – composed of former high-ranking Treasury officials from both parties – to plant anti-Qatar stories with American journalists." Greenwald noted that this "more subtle tactic has been remarkably successful, and shines important light on how easily political narratives in U.S. media discourse can be literally purchased."

The information published by The Intercept followed on from, and confirmed, an earlier report in The New York Times:

The United Arab Emirates have retained an American consulting firm, Camstoll Group, staffed by several former United States Treasury Department officials. Its public disclosure forms, filed as a registered foreign agent, showed a pattern of conversations with journalists who subsequently wrote articles critical of Qatar's role in terrorist fund-raising.

The report contextualised these efforts as the result of "an unlikely alignment of interests, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel", that sought to depict Doha as "a godfather to terrorists everywhere."

Should the seemingly politically-motivated reports in The Telegraph, a paper close to the ruling Conservative party, indicate a broader and more serious attempt to provoke a crisis between Britain and the Qatari government, then billions of pounds of investments and strategic interests could be in jeopardy.

In November 2013, Centrica, which owns the biggest energy supplier to British households British Gas, signed a £4.4 billion deal with Qatar to import liquefied natural gas (an amount equivalent to 13 per cent of Britain's annual residential gas demand). There are also diverse Qatari investments in the stock exchange, real estate and retail, and any withdrawal or relocation of investments would have a significant impact on the UK economy.

Translated form Arabi21, October 21, 2014

]]> (Muhammad Abd Al-Salam) Europe Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:38:28 +0000
Egyptian students begin new revolutionary year Dr Walaa RamadanSaturday October 11 signalled the start of the new academic year in Egyptian universities, delayed this year by the authorities from September to mid-October to allow them time to prepare their security forces for the expected demonstrations. The new academic year compares with the preceding year by the heightened reign of power and influence by the military coup regime, which has used nothing but brute force to attain this stronghold.

After witnessing the persistence, resilience and determination of Egypt's students in the previous year, Egyptian security forces sought to increase their grip on the youth who, since the coup, have not withered in their resolve to stand in opposition to the bloody military coup which removed the nation's first democratically-elected president. In its crackdown against the president's party and supporters, the coup government has taken the life of thousands and imprisoned tens of thousands more.

Civil liberties?

The security forces were not satisfied by the increased security measures they had implemented in the previous academic year which included an increased police presence on campuses, the arrest of students, the exclusion of pupils and faculty members from universities and the premature end to the academic year. However, the regime have applied further repressive security measures for the current year including deploying a private security firm, Falcon, to provide security services for 12 universities across Egypt, with security dogs, metal detectors; the fitting of surveillance cameras across campus to help identify any student who partakes in any anti-coup protests; the issuing of instructions to university presidents to permanently expel any student who has been found participating in any demonstration within the university, without referral for investigation or disciplinary action; the removal of university presidents who oppose the coup despite not having any record of violations; and the issuing of a decree appointing deans and university presidents by the coup leader personally and preventing any elections for the appointment of new presidents. In June, coup leader Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi issued a presidential decree that allowed him to directly appoint university and faculty deans.

Student informants and spies seem to be used by university officials. Indeed, in an interview on the Egyptian channel Al-Nahar, Hussein Uwaida, head of teaching staff at Al-Azhar University, claimed that he had recruited spies from amongst the students for the benefit of the university and national security and that he oversees and supervises them.

In a television interview the country's Higher Education Minister Al-Sayed Abdul Khaliq vowed to "immediately" expel any student or faculty member who was proved to have taken part in a protest. He threatened that the actions that would be taken against the "the perpetrators of acts of violence and rioting, and those participating in demonstrations" would make them regret their participation in any demonstration. As well as requesting that all footage from the surveillance cameras be analysed promptly, he demanded that all social media activity also be monitored to identify students involved in protests from photographs and videos posted on the various sites.

Meanwhile, in another television programme, the President of Mansoura University Mohamed El-Kenawy warned that the police would respond to any gathering immediately "in a decisive manner, in a way greater than anyone can imagine". Later he said: "Do not tell me about freedom of expression."

The deployment of Falcon

Diaa Sawy, deputy head of Youth Against the Coup, said: "Falcon is a militia which the government uses to clamp down on students on university campuses." On Sunday, anti-regime student movements from 20 universities across Egypt took part in "The students are back" campaign. This led to clashes between the police and students in Al-Azhar, Cairo and Ain Shams universities, resulting in the security firm withdrawing its personnel. This followed a day in which the riot police fired tear gas and students broke down security fences in Al-Azhar and Cairo universities.

Egyptian universities with Falcon security:

  • Cairo
  • Ain Shams
  • Helwan
  • Al-Azhar
  • Alexandria
  • Beni Suef
  • Zagazig
  • Mansoura
  • Assiut
  • Fayoum
  • Banha
  • Minya

Falcon receives five million Egyptian pounds ($0.7 million) monthly to provide security for the 12 Egyptian universities and is the same security firm that was used for safeguarding the campaign headquarters of the former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik in 2012, and of current President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi in 2014, who still employs Falcon security officials. The Chairman of Falcon's Board of Directors was a military intelligence agent when the department was headed by Al-Sisi, and is thought to have a close relationship with the president, according to political analyst Muhammad A-Quddosy.

The choice of Falcon, which was set up in 2006 and owned by a number of big regime personalities such as business tycoon Naguib Sawiris and former intelligence officer Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, has brought about much condemnation from human rights and student organisations. The Arab Organisation of Human Rights (AOHR) has called for all contracts between the Higher Education Ministry and Falcon and its affiliate the Commercial International Bank be terminated.

In a statement, AOHR said the involvement of the security firm will only ignite further tension from the students who have been practising their rights of protesting peacefully, and that the corrupt regime is endeavouring to turn universities into police camps and this will only further exacerbate political tensions.

Beware of the students' rage

Students have been mobilising and fighting lengthy battles to obtain court orders to remove the police presence, put in place by previous dictators Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, from universities. Police were expelled from campuses following the January 25 revolution, and were replaced with alternative security personnel affiliated with each individual university. Following the massacres in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares in August 2013, students erupted into raging protests resulting in unprecedented retaliation by police and security forces who shot hundreds and arrested thousands, without any distinction between males and females.

The students' increased rage can be attributed to the incarceration of approximately 1,800 students and 60 university faculty members who are being held in military prisons for their opposition to the current coup regime. There are also approximately 200 university students and faculty members who have been killed in the past 16 months; heads of universities are selected by authorities; any student political activism has been banned; universities have become military barracks; spies and informants have been appointed from within university campuses; students who criticise Al-Sisi are threatened with expulsion; and there is a continued policy to repress any anti-regime activities.

In a statement, Students Against the Coup said that the university protests are ongoing as "a new revolutionary year" begins, in pursuit of freedom and the release of their detained classmates, and in retribution for those killed on university grounds in the past year.

Following the withdrawal of Falcon's staff, police and security forces were back on the scene and used their previous techniques against the unarmed students. Tear gas and firearms were used to contain and disperse the ongoing protests.

To date, since the beginning of the academic year, over 232 students have been arrested during police raids against anti-government protesters including 60 who were detained in one day in Alexandria University where students were trapped in the vicinity of the Department of Engineering surrounded by armed police who opened fire leaving them seriously injured.

A further 60 student activists were arrested in their homes by uniformed police, plainclothes officers and heavily-armed special forces units the night before the start of the new academic year.

"This mass arrest of students is a pre-emptive strike on free speech and free assembly," Joe Stork, deputy director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, said. "Universities should be safe zones for the exchange of ideas, including political debates."

In response to the student anti-coup protests, the Minister of Religious Endowments in the coup government Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said that any student or university member who incites or funds violence must feel the full force of the law. He added that there is no space in universities for opposition to the rule of the country.

Ahmed Shobeir, a former Egyptian football player and a television presenter, suggested that universities should be closed for a year to deal with the students' anti-regime activities. Meanwhile, the Egyptian writer and thinker Youssef Ziedan wrote on Facebook: "If tomorrow there's no decision to close Al-Azhar University and suspend classes in some of the departments for two years, we will greatly regret it."

The revolution is very much still alive

The student movement is and always will be an indication of the state of the country. Today in Egypt, as long as the students are active and protesting then the revolution is ongoing. Indeed, the fuel of the revolution is the blood and soul of those that have been martyred for the sake of the nation's freedom and dignity, and until the aims are met, the calls will not cease.

With the presence of a private security firm, guard dogs, security gates, armed personnel, surveillance cameras, high fences surrounding university grounds, on university campuses, it is clear that Al-Sisi does not want to hear the voices of the students shouting "down, down with the military rule" and is trying his best to suppress them.

The killing or arrest of those who oppose the regime with the intention of restricting or stifling political dissent will not silence nor destroy the idea and the resolve of what thousands have given their lives for since January 25, 2011, that of freedom, democracy, justice and an honourable dignified life.

University grounds are, and always be, the source of all political action, and will continue to be a mirror that reflects fascist attempts to limit individual, political and academic freedoms. Indeed, it will be the students, as it has always been, who are capable of humiliating the country's authorities. By standing against the regime's tool, Falcon, and forcing them to withdraw from university grounds in just six hours, they did just that, and there is no sign of them withering or quietening down anytime soon.

Facing such a generation which is adamant to fulfil its dreams and hold on to its liberty, a generation which toppled a historic dictator within days and has since resolved to give their lives to achieve maintain the freedoms they fought for, there is no doubt that Egypt will be liberated.

]]> (Dr Walaa Ramadan) Africa Fri, 17 Oct 2014 19:06:31 +0000
British bombs will help ISIS recruit Asa WinstanleyToday, Friday 26 September, the House of Commons is slated to take yet another vote on yet another war in Iraq. This time, the putative bombing campaign (already started in both Iraq and Syria by the Americans) would target the so-called "Islamic State", the fanatical terrorist organisation which controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

With support from the official opposition of Labour's Ed Milliband, the vote looks likely to pass. The Islamic State is the bad guy de jour, having apparently replaced Al-Qaeda some time ago. The terrorist network once led by the late Osama Bin Laden now seems rather tame in comparison to the horrors of the Islamic State, with whose hideous exploits the papers and lurid TV channels regal us with on an almost daily basis.

So, launch a few good bombing campaigns at the Islamic State and the threat will be eradicated, or at least combated, right?

There is a problem with the whole scenario currently being put forward by the British government. Or rather, several problems.

What is missed in the whole current rush to bomb Iraq (yet again) is the role that American and British bombs (and other forms of "intervention") had in creating the Islamic State in the first place, on both of its main fronts: Iraq and Syria.

The subject of the "Islamic State's" interminable re-branding efforts is already tiresomely covered elsewhere, so I won't revisit it. While that debate usually centres around whether to call it IS, ISIS, ISIL, or something else, what is usually forgotten is that the group was formerly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later, the Islamic State of Iraq.

This group simply did not exist before the US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. It could never have got a foothold under Saddam Hussein. But the casual dismantling of the country under the US occupation, combined with the sectarian conspiracy at its heart (arming sectarian death squads), led to the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and ultimately to what is now the Islamic State. The Americans created the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State. Once again, much like Osama Bin Laden, the Islamic State is a chimera of the Americans' own making.

And the same goes for the Islamic State's other main arena of operations: Syria. The Islamic State now controls large and important areas of Syria - including lucrative oil resources, which it uses to help finance itself.

But it was not always this way. Much like in Iraq, such fanatical groups found it hard to gain any traction in Syria. Before the civil war started in March 2011, the Islamic State was still just the Islamic State of Iraq and was unheard of in Syria.

Although there were popular protests against the corrupt Assad regime, this was quickly undermined by outside powers and their desire to overthrow the state by force of arms. The Saudis, the Turks, Qatar, the Americans – all threw in money and arms at rebel groups they hoped would be friendly to their interests. Guns fairly sloshed around the country. In one way or another, many of these ended up in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq, who had entered the country re-branded as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. For its part, the Iranian government armed the other side, sending weapons and military trainers to the Syrian government.

And now we are in 2014, and the US-Israeli strategy for the region seems clearer than ever to be a deliberate one of destabilisation. The US prefers a weak Syrian government, far less able to oppose Israel. But it doesn't want Assad's regime decisively defeated – fearful of the Islamic extremists likely to replace it.

In a similar vein, the US prefers a weak Iraqi government, all the better to control it. In fact, the sectarian system used to elect Iraqi governments was deliberately designed, under the aegis of direct US occupation, to result in a weak and divided state, highly susceptible to US imperial influence, which continues to have a decisive role in the country even after most of its troops have left.

As Patrick Cockburn, the best western journalist currently working in Iraq and Syria, put it: "US air power did not win the war in Afghanistan and is even less likely to do so in Iraq or Syria." Far from removing the Islamic State, American and British bombing is only likely to encourage recruitment. The people likely to suffer most from this are the long-suffering civilians in Iraq and now Syria.

The British and American governments should try something new: keeping their noses out.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Fri, 26 Sep 2014 10:24:58 +0000
Obama's strategy solidifies Arab chaos Ahmed Al-GaoudFor the past two weeks the international media has focused on a speech given by US President Barack Obama about his strategy for tackling ISIS. The so-called Islamic State has been expanding at an alarming rate and now poses a threat to many of the Middle East's unstable regimes especially its kingdoms. In reality, Obama's speech did not introduce anything new or address new ways on how best to counter the increasing threat that ISIS poses to the region.

The speech was based largely on intelligence and information that aims to emphasise the use of certain media-speak for this issue and the jargon centres on the idea of terrorism. The use of such terminology is hardly a matter that preoccupies the minds of the people but greatly concerns intelligence agencies that function within the orbit of American hegemony.

Obama wanted to point out that the policies and practices of Arab dictatorships and regimes are the main reason for the presence and export of terrorism in the Middle East. As such, one can conclude that terrorism is actually a defence mechanism or attempt to survive. Many Arab regimes have provided logistical support or statistical information in the war against ISIS. While this is supposed to be led by the United States, the Arab states participate at a distance, among them Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates; all are contributing to the fight through providing funds or soldiers on the ground.

The US president failed to mention the problem that gave rise to the creation of ISIS in the first place; the violent practices carried out by Arab dictatorships are far worse than ISIS in their effects on their own people. In Iraq, it was the sectarian and racist government led by Nouri Al-Maliki that allowed ISIS to prosper. Maliki's government has used barbaric violence and state terrorism to respond to the demands of the Iraqi people, not to mention the marginalisation of the Sunni population. Moreover, ISIS found fertile ground in Syria due to the military response of Bashar Al-Assad to demonstrations calling for political reform and the subsequent nationwide conflict, in which crimes against humanity have been committed by regime security forces. One must also note that the unfortunate situation found in both Iraq and Syria is in part due to the counter-revolutionary efforts sponsored by the Gulf's largest countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both have worked tirelessly to counter the popular "Arab Spring", which has led to an unprecedented level of violence that many characterise as terrorism.

America's strategy against ISIS includes conducting a series of airstrikes whilst training Iraqi forces and what the American president described as "moderate" fighters in Syria. In this way, the US administration seeks to equip regional forces with the ability to fight ISIS because any air war must be coupled with "boots on the ground" to achieve the ultimate objectives.

Obama mentioned that the war against ISIS would follow America's anti-Al Qaeda tactics in Somalia and Yemen. In both countries the US is using drones, which kill more innocent people than the actual intended targets. Both examples demonstrate how the US has ignored Arab sovereignty and that this approach will not only prolong war and conflict, but also cause more harm than good for the people of the Middle East.

Although the president spoke of training and providing support for the moderate forces that are fighting against the Syrian regime, he failed to explain why the US has stayed more or less silent while Assad continues to commit war crimes. The only time that America broke its silence was when the regime used chemical weapons against its own people. Washington was forced to speak out due to fears for the safety of its Israeli ally. It is America's silence and inaction which have caused Syria to become fertile ground for armed terrorist groups.

Sadly, Obama's speech did not suggest anything new to deal with the current crisis in the Middle East. His US-led international coalition against ISIS will ensure continued chaos in the region; this is evident by the fact that America and the international community failed to do anything about the chaos until it began to affect western interests, such as the supply of oil and Israel's security. Western priorities have been made clear by the treatment of the revolutions in Syria and Libya as well as the popular struggle against the sectarian regime in Iraq.

]]> (Ahmed Al-Gaoud) Americas Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:26:15 +0000