Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Idiot and the Arab Spring, by Schrank

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)

From the Medieval Kingdom of Horrors: Saudi woman held by police – for driving

Protesters launch internet campaign to urge repeal of law that says only men can be behind the wheel

By Abdullah Al-Shihri in Riyadh
The Independent

"Authorities detained a Saudi woman yesterday after she launched a campaign against the driving ban for women in the ultra-conservative kingdom and posted a videotape of herself behind the wheel on Facebook and YouTube to encourage others to copy her.

Manal al-Sherif and a group of other women started a Facebook page called "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself", which urges authorities to lift the driving ban. She went on a test drive in the eastern city of Khobar and later posted a video of the experience. "This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country" learn to drive, Ms Sherif says in the video. "At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?"

Human-rights activist Walid Abou el-Kheir said Ms Sherif was detained by the country's religious police, who are charged with ensuring the kingdom's rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings is observed...."

Video: Syrian human rights activist: 'The regime has been rattled by the protests'

Human rights activist and lawyer 'Ameera' (not her real name) describes the situation on the ground in Syria

Mustafa Khalili, Sunday 22 May 2011

Al-Jazeera Video: Exclusive: video of Syrian protests

Exclusive: video of Syrian protests-2

Al-Jazeera Video: Interview: Lina Mansour about attack on Saturday funeral in Syria

Al-Jazeera Video: Robert Fisk on the Middle East peace process

Syria's defiant women risk all to protest against President Bashar al-Assad

They came for the men first, as the security forces of Syria's PresidentBashar al-Assad killed, beat and arrested people protesting against his regime.

Next, they came for the women of Syria's revolution. Despite the threats, however, they refuse to be silenced.

As the violence has become worse, women activists have organised a Friday protest of Free Women showing solidarity with those seized or killed. Women-only protests in towns across the country have led the effort to let the outside world know what is happening in Syria. But they are now being targeted as well, with the same lethal brutality.

Two weeks ago three women were shot dead at an all-women march near the besieged city of Banias. A week later human rights activist Catherine al-Talli, 32, was detained in the Barzeh district of Damascus after being forced off a minibus when it was stopped at a checkpoint by the secret police.

"Reem" – we have changed her name to protect her family – spoke to the Observer from Syria last week. Aged 22, she is expecting her first child in the next few weeks. Her husband, an anti-regime activist, has been arrested twice and is now in detention. Her father was invited to a meeting with a senior member of the regime and detained afterwards.

Reem has been arrested once. In common with activist friends, she expects a knock on her door from the security forces at any moment. She is still ready to risk prison by talking about the murderous repression in her country.

"I have women friends who have been arrested like me," she said. "But then they just go out again to protest. One of my friends was arrested for collecting medical supplies for the people in Deraa. She was beaten at the security branch and they forced her to take off her headscarf. She was held for two weeks and released two days ago.

And the part women are playing has become ever more important. "In some areas," says Ameera, a human rights lawyer, "so many of the men have been killed, arrested or injured it is the women who have been left to protest. The biggest problem is trying to find the people who have disappeared. The security forces won't say where they are, and the families are afraid to speak out."

For some – like Ameera – the threat has succeeded in persuading them to stay at home. She now feels unable to protest. "It feels like you are waiting for your turn to be arrested. I am expecting to be arrested at any moment. I am not scared for myself, but I am afraid for my family."

My Cousin Hakam is missing

He was abducted 3 weeks ago by the Mukhabarat at night , no one knows where he is or if he is alive or dead. I can assure you that he is no Salafi and not affiliated with the Muslim brotherhood.

Syrian regime monsters in Action

It is worth repeating : the violence perpetrated by the fascist Syrian regime is unlike anything I have ever seen paralleled only by the Zionists colonizers of Palestine.

فلاش-حماه فيديو خطير ضرب الامن بعنف لمتظاهر بالعصي 20-5

Top Egyptian cleric: Mubarak deserves mercy. The Al-Azhar Stooge was Appointed by....Mubarak!


"BERLIN (AP) — Egypt's top Sunni Muslim cleric says the country's former president Hosni Mubarak should be granted mercy instead of facing prosecution, a German newspaper reported Saturday.

Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar institution, was quoted by German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung's Sunday edition as saying that "mercy should prevail over justice" given Mubarak's achievements and his poor health.....

This critical situation in the country, he was further quoted as saying, "could force the military to remain in power."

The French-educated el-Tayeb was appointed to his post last year by Mubarak. He had been a member of Mubarak's ruling party but left it after public criticism that the head of Al-Azhar shouldn't also be in politics.

During the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak, el-Tayeb condemned the sit-in in Tahrir square after Mubarak promised concessions. He said the continued protests were not religiously condoned...."

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian mourners attacked by gov't security forces

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - US and Israel: Allies at odds

A So-So Episode

"Secularists Unite to Take on Islamists

By Cam McGrath

"CAIRO, May 21, 2011 (IPS) - Liberal and secular Egyptians at the core of mass protests that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak are scrambling to form a unified political front ahead of critical parliamentary elections in which they will face the better-organised Islamists.

"Time is short, and we are trying to unite the 12 million protesters who took to the streets to topple the old regime," says Gameela Ismail, co-founder of the Madaneya movement to protect Egypt’s civil state. "We welcome all the revolution’s various political forces, but we are against anyone who would bring religion into politics."....

"We are not against religion," Gad says, "but we are against those who would mix religion and politics."

The new liberal party coalition is one of several political alliances in the making....

With just four months until parliamentary elections, many activists think the secular front will need to coalesce further if it is to have any impact. Yet some fear this could narrow the political spectrum, stripping the individual parties of their identity....."

Israel: Investigate Killings During Border Protests

Troops Responded to Stone-Throwing With Live Bullets

Human Rights Watch
May 20, 2011

"(Jerusalem) - Israel should conduct prompt, thorough, and independent criminal investigations into the killings of protesters by military forces on May 15, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Fourteen people were killed during demonstrations in southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank during the annual Palestinian commemoration of "Nakba Day." A fifteenth protester died of his wounds on May 16....

"In a too-familiar pattern, Israeli troops responded to stone-throwing youths with live bullets, with predictably deadly consequences," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The evidence shows a disturbing disregard for protesters' lives."

Because Israeli investigations into alleged serious wrongdoing by its armed forces have a poor record for accountability, the United Nations should monitor any Israeli investigations into the 15 deaths....."

May20 VIDEO – Tahrir Square

From Hossam El-Hamalawy

جمعة رفض العفو عن مبارك

Emperor Obama Vs the Arab people

(Cartoon by Carlos Latuff)

Despite calling for change in some parts of the Middle East, the US president reaffirmed the status quo where it counts.

Joseph Massad

"....Opposition to the United States and Israel in fact is something espoused by the peoples of the Arab world, not by their leaders, who have been insisting for decades that the US and Israel are the friends of Arabs. Indeed the people of the region have been the only party that insisted that US policies and domination in the region and constant Israeli aggressions are what make these two countries enemies of the Arab peoples, while Arab rulers and their propaganda machines insisted on diverting people's anger toward other imagined enemies, which the US conjured up for the region, while making peace with Israel.....

Arabs have clearly taken responsibility and have been trying to remove the dictators that the US and Israel have supported for decades - and which they continue to support. The only parties refusing to take responsibility here are the United States and Israel. Obama's speech, sadly, continues this intransigent tradition....

....The scandal of French collaboration with Ben Ali's and Mubarak's governments until the last minute, especially in "security" matters, has filled world newspapers over the past months, as did the news that both the Egyptian defense minister Muhammad Tantawi (now in charge of the military council governing post-Mubarak Egypt) and army chief of staff Sami Anan spent much of the Egyptian uprising in Washington DC consulting with the Americans on how best to "deal" with the uprising....

America's alleged core principle of religious tolerance and equality is also highly country-specific. Aside from identifying Iraq, a country the US destroyed and where it instituted the most virulent form of religious sectarianism and ethnic hatred in the region, as "a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy",.... But when it comes to Israel, this commitment disappears, as Obama insists that Arabs must "recognise Israel as a Jewish State", and once again threatens Palestinians (as he had threatened them in his Cairo speech) to desist from "delegitimising" Israel's right to be a state that discriminates by law against its non-Jewish citizens on a religious and ethnic basis.....

Obama also remains concerned about Israel's right to exist but not that of the Palestinians....

When Obama speaks of how America's "short-term interests" in the region, at times, "don't align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region", he is peddling the biggest imperial lie of all. America's short- and long-term interests in the region have always been control of oil resources, securing US profits, and defending Israel. Until "winds of change" blow on these interests, the position of the United States as the most powerful anti-democratic force in the Arab World will remain the same, Emperor Obama's speeches notwithstanding."

Our revolt is not Obama's

Barack Obama says he wants change in the Arab world yet insults us with the same old bad policies


Ahdaf Soueif
(An Egyptian short story writer, novelist and political and cultural commentator.)
The Guardian, Saturday 21 May 2011

"This wasn't slipping poison into the honey; it was smearing chemical sweeteners on to toxic pellets. Barack Obama listed what he sees as his country's "core interests" in my country Egypt and my region; his country's "core principles" governing how it will act towards us, and his policies to promote US interests within the frame of US principles. Let's translate the US president's description of his "core interests in the region" into effects on the ground:

"Countering terrorism" has implicated (at least) Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the US's extraordinary rendition programme, turning our governments into torturers for hire and consolidating a culture of security services supremacy and brutality that is killing Syrian protesters today and manifests itself in Egypt as a serious counter-revolution....

In the end, our revolutions are not by or for or about the US. We in Tunisia and Egypt, and soon in Libya, Syria, Yemen, are looking for ways to run our countries to the benefit of our people and the world. We see that democracy is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. "Democratic" systems are failing their people, in Britain, in India, in the US, as millions fall into poverty, banks take precedence over hospitals and universities, the environment is degraded and the fabric of society frayed, the media are compromised, and politico-business scandals are standard entertainment.

The world needs better; and that's what we're working for."

Today's Cartoon by the Syrian Cartoonist Ali Ferzat

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

This new poll asks:

Do you support the deployment of peace keeping forces in Libya?

With about 500 responding so far, 85% said no.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The two swift changes in foreign policy that signal a new Egypt

Egypt has shown independence from the US by improving relations with Iran and changing its approach to Palestine

Ian Black in Cairo, Friday 20 May 2011

"Egypt faces many uncertainties after the revolution, but two surprisingly swift changes in its foreign policy have demonstrated that the post-Mubarak era may produce change for the wider region too.

The foreign minister, Nabil al-Araby, has already overseen significant and assertive shifts on the Palestinian question as well as an easing of decades of tensions with Iran. Both moves signalled greater independence from the US, which gives Egypt $1.3bn in annual aid – more than any other country except Israel....

Overall, the hope is that Egypt will regain the regional clout it lost in recent years due to its subservience to the US – though the relationship with Washington remains vitally important, especially for the military.

"Egypt was very weak and very corrupt," said Osama Ghazali Harb, leader of the Democratic Front party. "But when you have a democratic Egypt and a confident government it can return to its proper place."...."

Torture and imprisonment of Egypt protesters still rife, says human rights activist

Heba Morayef is an Egypt-based researcher for Human Rights Watch

Heba Morayef, Friday 20 May 2011

"The most worrying development of the past few months has been the detentions and trials conducted by the military. It's a very worrying precedent at the very time when people are looking to see how Egypt is going to manage the transitional process in terms of issues of justice and accountability.

The army is presenting itself as taking a strong hand against criminals and thugs, and that resonates with people, but historically this is exactly the kind of rhetoric Mubarak's police state depended on. We need a shift from whoever is governing the country towards the strict application of the rule of law, and that hasn't happened extensively yet....

Arbitrary arrests of protesters by the military have taken place on numerous occasions. At least 85 demonstrators who were detained on 9 March are still in Tora prison [the same jail where Mubarak's sons and other former regime figures are being held]. The military wants to intimidate people not to protest on the street; all of these guys were taken to the grounds of the Egyptian Museum and tortured – beaten, whipped, subjected to electric shocks from stun guns. They weren't interrogated, and the aim was never to extract information from them. Officers told them "you are the ones ruining the revolution, we haven't been home for 60 days because of you". They were tried in groups of 25 at a time, in military court cases which only lasted 30 minutes, then all sentenced to up to five years behind bars....."

Now overthrow the workplace Mubaraks, urges labour activist

Hossam el-Hamalawy is a prominent journalist, activist and blogger whose website covers Egypt's current strikes

Hossam el-Hamalawy, Friday 20 May 2011

"The revolution was against the Mubarak regime but all we've managed to do so far is remove Mubarak himself. The ones running the country right now are Mubarak's generals, who were the backbone of his dictatorship from day one.

Many are therefore disappointed with Egypt's progress – me less so because I never had high expectations from an army takeover. But two things have changed in Egypt in the past 100 days which give me hope, and both relate to the fact that the revolution is unfinished. The first is that mass strikes are continuing. The second is that workers have taken the step of establishing independent trade unions, which I believe are the silver bullet for any dictatorship....

There is huge resentment within the Egyptian working class about the neoliberal policies that have impoverished them over the past 20 years, and the struggle for change will be a dramatic one. No doubt the western powers and Arab monarchs who are already deeply unhappy at what they see taking place in Egypt will be even more dismayed at this. But however much pressure they put on the military junta, the pressure of the street can be stronger. The Egyptian people are vigilant about their own revolution."

Video: Army tortured, sexually abused Israeli embassy protesters الجيش في خدمة إسرائيل

From Hossam El-Hamalawy

حديث الثورة .. 20 مايو .. د. عزمي بشاره

حديث الثورة .. 20 مايو .. د. عزمي بشاره - 1

حديث الثورة .. 20 مايو .. د. عزمي بشاره - 2

حديث الثورة .. 20 مايو .. د. عزمي بشاره - 3

حديث الثورة .. 20 مايو .. د. عزمي بشاره - 4

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian police kill more protesters

Robin Yassin-Kassab offers a great critique of Joshua Landis

The Syria Comment website is an indispensable source for news and views on Syria. Unfortunately, it now requires a health warning.

In a recent article Joshua Landis writes that the protestors “failed to provoke a confessional split in the army as happened in Lebanon. Sunni soldiers have not split from Alawis, despite all the talk about “shabbihas,” which is code for Alawis.”

This, as so often in recent weeks, is an example of Syria Comment taking leave of reality in order to slander the uprising. I’ve been following activist websites and facebook pages, and talking to Syrians of a range of backgrounds. I haven’t come across anyone who aimed to achieve a ‘confessional split’ in the army. Of course, the protestors wanted a split in the army, between patriots and the dogs of the state. They wanted Syrian soldiers to refuse to fire on unarmed Syrian people, and it seems in Dara’a they got what they wished for. Nobody wanted a confessional split.

Next ‘shabeeha’ is not code for Alawis. I’ve heard Alawis talk about the shabeeha, and they’re not talking about themselves. The ‘shabeeha’ refers to a specific thuggish militia, which ran smuggling previously and breaks people’s heads now, while trying to spark sectarian fights.

Syria Comment is dedicated to supporting the regime narrative while debunking and discrediting opposition claims. When it focusses on the supposed leaders of the uprising it offers up Ammar AbdulHamid, an expat Syrian linked to neo-conservatives, or bad-tempered Islamists. The intention is to show that the protestors are sectarian savages manipulated by the West. This approach doesn’t account for the Alawis, Ismailis and Druze opposing regime barbarity. Today the Assyrian Christian community threw its weight behind protests. I wouldn’t be surprised if SC now discovers that the Assyrian church represents the Salafi branch of Christianity.

Al-Jazeera Video: Empire - War & revolutions: Europe and the Arab world

Don't Miss it!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Lebanon: Stop Detaining Syrian Refugees

At Least 10 Fleeing Violence Detained, Fear of Forced Return

Human Rights Watch
May 20, 2011

"(Beirut) - Lebanon's security forces should stop detaining Syrian refugees who cross the border into Lebanon to escape violence and persecution in their country, Human Rights Watch said today. Lebanese authorities should instead provide them with at least temporary asylum, and above all refrain from deporting them back to Syria, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch documented the detention by Lebanon's security forces of nine Syrian men and one child since May 15, 2011, allegedly for crossing illegally into Lebanon. Relatives and friends of the 10 told Human Rights Watch that the detained Syrians had fled out of fear of being arrested or shot at by Syria's army and border police. At least seven of them are currently in the custody of General Security, Lebanon's security agency responsible for foreigners, according to relatives and friends. The men have committed no recognizable crimes in Syria that would justify their detention or repatriation, to Human Rights Watch's knowledge.
"Syria welcomed many Lebanese fleeing war back in 2006," said Nadim Houry, Beirut director at Human Rights Watch. "Now it's time to return the favor. Lebanon should be offering immediate refuge to Syrians fleeing death or torture in their country."

Sending asylum seekers and refugees back to Syria is refoulement, Houry added, and would make Lebanon complicit with any harm suffered at the hands of Syria's security services.

Syrians fleeing the towns of Tal Kalakh and Arida started arriving to Lebanon in early May but their numbers have increased since May 14, when Syria's army and security forces intensified their attack on Tal Kalakh. Lebanese mukhtars, locally elected officials, in the border area known as Wadi Khaled estimate that 3,500 Syrians refugees are currently present in their communities....."

My family's village protest against the fascist Syrian regime

شام - حوران - المسيفرة - بمظاهرات جمعة آزادي 20-5
Very proud of them !!

The Epitome of courage vs Coward Syrian security forces

جمعة الحرية - حماة - 20/5/20
اطلاق رصاص حي على المتظاهرين

'23 dead' in Syria crackdown

Witnesses say at least 23 shot, including two boys, in latest protests against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

"Syrian security forces have killed at least 23 protesters in the latest armed crackdown on protesters, a leading Syrian human rights researcher has told Al Jazeera.

Razan Zeitouna said activists had listed names of 23 protesters shot by security forces in Friday's crackdown, adding that a further two victims were yet to be fully identified.

Nine protesters were killed in Maret al-Naiman and Kafr Nabal, suburbs of Hama, nine were killed in Homs, including an 11-year-old boy, four were killed in Berze, a suburb of Damascus, and one person died in Sanamein, near Deraa.

The dead included two boys named Aiham al-Ahmad, 11, and 16-year-old Ahmad Bakr....

"The four secret police officers opened fire on the protesters with machine guns," a witness said.

The attack took place after officers drove police cars into a crowd of about 2,000 demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them, a second witness said.

After hitting several protesters with the vehicles, one of the cars crashed into a wall, prompting the officers to jump out and open fire.

Four other protesters, two of them identified by activists as Raqan Mishrif and Mustapha Ali al-Zakrit, were also killed, while at least seven others were wounded....

Assyrian Christians arrested

News of the shootings came as Syrian security raided the headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Association in Qamishli and arrested 12 of its members, according to two activists who spoke to al-Jazeera.

It was the first crackdown by security forces on the widespread participation of Assyrian Christians in the democratic uprising.

"The new thing this Friday was the large participation of Christian Assyrians," said a Kurdish leader in Qamishli.

"There were hundreds of Assyrians with us and now the security men are arresting leaders from the Democratic Assyrian Organization.

"The regime is so afraid to see that Muslim Arabs and Kurds and Christians are demonstrating together ... This the best answer to the regime which says that Salafists and radical Islamists are behind the demonstrations. Syrians want freedom."....

'Azadi Friday' (the Kurdish word for freedom)

...."All Syrians agreed to use the Kurdish word for freedom today, in solidarity, as the regime is trying to divide Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians in the area," he said.

"The regime is also trying to accuse the Kurds of working for foreign interests and of working towards a separate Kurdistan, which is not true.""

A Sample of Fresh Videos From Inside Syria, Documenting Protests Against the Bloody Regime on Friday May 20, 2011.

شام - ادلب - المسطومة - حرب حقيقية بجمعة آزادي 20-5

شام - حمص - الرستن - مظاهرات جمعة الحرية 20-5

شام - القدم - مظاهرات جمعة الحرية 20-5

شام - حمص - تلبيسة جمعة الحرية 20-05-2001

شام - حمص - تلبيسة - كلمة أحد الأعيان 20-5

شام - حمص - بابا عمرو - اسلام و مسيحية بيوم الحرية 20-5

شام - درعا - بصرى الشام بمظاهرات جمعة آزادي 20 5

شام - كوباني - مظاهرات جمعة آزادي الحرية 20-5 ج1

شام - حماه - ابطال العاصي بجمعة آزادي 20-5 ج3

Al-Jazeera Video: Interview: Robert Fisk on Obama speech

Real News Video: Palestinian Activist Says Obama Speech "Irrelevant"

Omar Barghouti: The US continues to oppose Palestinian basic rights, Arabs will make their own democracy

More at The Real News

Real News Video: Is Obama with Street Vendors or Elites?

Phyllis Bennis: Obama presents neo-liberal reforms for Egypt and support for Israel as a Jewish State

More at The Real News

Did Obama’s Mideast Speech Signal U.S. Shift on Israel-Palestine? Democracy Now! Roundtable

"In a major speech on the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and on the Arab Spring, President Obama said a Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders, the first time a U.S. president has explicitly taken this position. The Israeli government immediately rejected Obama’s comments, calling the 1967 borders "indefensible." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the United States today and will meet Obama at the White House. We host a roundtable with author Norman Finkelstein, Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the lobby group J Street...."

Unity is Not Compromise: Towards a Real Palestinian Strategy

By Ramzy Baroud
Palestine Chronicle

"....Palestinians didn't celebrate unity out of love for Hamas or Fatah. Rather they were eager to see a sound Palestinian strategy that could revitalise Palestinian energies everywhere towards one common goal: freedom. The freedom Palestinians want is based on Palestinian political constants, enshrined in international law. Any deviation from such understanding for limited political and factional gains will turn the prevailing sense of joy into grief, and celebrations into protests."

Egypt's crackdown now wears camouflage

Egypt's military has seized on post-revolution fears to disappear thousands into its opaque prisons.

By Evan Hill

"The Israeli embassy in Cairo – the first of its kind and one of only two in the Arab world – sits on the top floor of an unremarkable 15-storey office building near the Nile, a short drive south and across the river from the revolutionary epicentre of Tahrir Square. From the roof, a poll protrudes and makes a right angle high above Ibn Malek Street. Fluttering from the poll is one of the most hated symbols in the Middle East: the Star of David.

Thousands of Egyptians protested below that flag
on Sunday afternoon, the 63rd anniversary of Israel's independence. They wanted their post-revolution government to hear their demand that Egypt break ties with Israel, but instead they ran into a harsh post-revolution reality: The unchecked power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces....

The military's new sweeping law enforcement power, sometimes used in coordination with the internal security apparatus, sometimes against it, and sometimes not at all, has thrown public life in Egypt into disarray.

'We have a right to know where he is'

Though activists agree that the military has arrested and imprisoned thousands of Egyptians since the revolution, no one knows the exact number. The army does not let lawyers or relatives regularly visit prisoners, nor does it notify next of kin – or anyone, for that matter – when it has detained someone.

Some case records are maintained, but their level of detail is unclear. Some activists say the army may be holding as many as 10,000 people. The Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters, a coalition of human-rights groups, believes at least 5,000 trials have been held...."

A day of mourning: Past and present

On May 15 2011, it became clear that Israeli guns may kill individuals, but cannot destroy a renewed Palestinian revolt.

By Lamis Andoni

"Sunday May 15 witnessed the killing of 20 Palestinians who were demonstrating inside the Occupied Territories or trying to cross the Israeli "borders" with Lebanon and Syria - but it's not the first time that the Israeli army has shot at Palestinian refugees trying to return to their homeland.

Although the Palestinian marchers were staging a symbolic return to their homeland on the 63rd anniversary of their dispossession (an-Nakba), many of their ancestors had made real attempts to physically go back to their homes, and were shot or killed by the Israeli army in the process.

In the years that followed the 1948 Nakba ["catastrophe"] - and those following the occupation of the rest of Palestine in 1967 - many Palestinians crossed the barbed-wire fences to see their homes, or spend time in the orange groves - few succeeded, and scores of others were killed.

The revival of a strong collective movement worldwide affirming the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland is partly inspired by the Arab revolutions which empowered Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians, to challenge the Israeli denial of their national rights.

Many of the young people taking part in the Nakba marches around the world have never even been to Palestine, yet they refuse to give up or forget. They joined hands with the older generation - still carrying the keys to their homes - in a moving, even deadly, show of renewed determination to reclaim their rights and restore their identity.

The movement, which has its roots in more than a decade of activism, is a strong expression of rejection of the Oslo negotiations - something Israel has used to not only expand its colonisation of Palestinian lands, but also to put an end to the Palestinian refugees' right of return.....

If the marches on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba show anything, it is that just as those in the wider Arab world are awakening to their human rights and freedoms, the Palestinians - especially the new generation - are now courageously reclaiming their rights, and those of their ancestors. It is a new era, where, though Israeli firepower may still kill individuals, it will never kill the idea that is manifesting into a renewed Palestinian revolt."

What Obama could not possibly say

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times

"The true intent of the dodgy "dignity versus dictator" rhetoric of Barack Obama's Middle East "reset" speech lies in a simple tally: Israel mentioned 28 times and a big zilch for Saudi Arabia. Don't watch this United States president's lips for the truth that a US-Saudi-Israeli counter-revolution is on to smash the Arab revolt, or that "It's all about the oil, stupid"......

So let's start with a fact. For US President Barack Obama, Saudi Arabia is not in the Middle East. Maybe the House of Saud has relocated the deserts and the oil to Oceania without telling anyone.....

....Obama tried to rewrite history by inscribing Washington at the heart of the Arab-wide push for democracy. It may fool Americans. It didn't fool the Arab street.

It took three long months for Obama to finally deal with the al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain - without ever mentioning their masters Saudi Arabia. He let the Bahraini rulers off the hook with a State Department-issued velvet glove, at the same time deviating into a Riyadh/Tel Aviv-approved script blaming the evil of all evils Iran....

So to make a story short, here's a concise New Middle East Obama policy. We support "our" bastards (dictators) who are sophisticated enough to beat, arrest and kill their own people in the low hundreds (Bahrain). We get slightly annoyed by "our" war on terror collaborators who crudely beat, arrest and kill their own people also in the low hundreds (Yemen). We're strongly inclined to ditch our support for unreliable, Iran-aligned dictators who beat, arrest and kill their own people in the high hundreds (Syria).

We unleash war - via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a weaponized arm of the United Nations - over unreliable oil-wealthy dictators who beat, arrest and kill their own people in alleged thousands (Libya). And we remain absolute mute about "our" monarchical bastards who pre-empt the possibility of democratic protests (Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia) or invade their neighbors to smash ongoing peaceful protests (Saudi Arabia).......

Obama's set of conditions for the Palestinians sounded like a press release from Tel Aviv; against the reunion between Hamas and Fatah, against the planned Palestinian bid for statehood during the UN General Assembly in September. Nothing on sprawling, already existing settlements in the West Bank, just a call for Israel to cease "settlement activity" (what's that? A cousin of "kinetic military activity"?) No wonder Israeli media is spinning all this as a Netanyahu victory......

How could Obama's leadership possibly admit live, to the whole world, that a US-Saudi-Israeli counter-revolution has been on since late February to smash the great 2011 Arab revolt - as Asia Times Online has been reporting?.....

How could Obama possibly admit, as professor of Arab politics at Columbia Joseph Massad has been one of a few to point out, that "the US-supported repression in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and in the United Arab Emirates goes hand in hand with the Euro-American-Qatari intervention in Libya to safeguard the oil wells for Western companies once a new government is in place"?

And how could Obama possibly admit that the defining struggle of these times is the great 2011 Arab revolt against the US/Saudi/Israeli counter-revolution?......."

Lots of rhetoric – but very little help

Then we had to hear what America's 'role' was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role

By Robert Fisk

"It was the same old story. Palestinians can have a "viable" state, Israel a "secure" one. Israel cannot be de-legitimised. The Palestinians must not attempt to ask the UN for statehood in September. No peace can be imposed on either party. Sometimes yesterday, you could have turned this into Obama's forthcoming speech to pro-Israeli lobbyists this weekend. Oh yes, and the Palestinian state must have no weapons to defend itself. So that's what "viable" means!

It was a kind of Second Coming, I suppose, Cairo re-pledged, another crack at the Middle East, as boring and as unfair as all the other ones, with lots of rhetoric about the Arab revolutions which Obama did nothing to help...... A creature from Mars would think that the man had helped to bring about the revolutions in the Middle East rather that sat primly to one side in the hope that the wretched dictators might survive.

There was some knuckle-rapping to Bahrain (no revolution there, of course) and there was not a word about Saudi Arabia, although I rather fancy its elderly king will be on the blower to Obama in the next few days. What's all this about change in the Middle East?........

Is Obama just talking too much? I fear so. He was cashing in, bathing in his own words as he did in his miserable performance when he got the Nobel Peace Prize for Speechmaking.

And then, I guessed it before he said it, he compared the Arab revolutions to the American revolution. We hold these truths to be self-evident, etc, etc. That many Arabs fought and died to be free of us than to be like Americans was quite lost on him. And then we had to hear what America's "role" was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role. But that's Obama for you. Always searching for a role.

Well, this weekend is Netanyahu's weekend and the Israeli settlements – more were flagged only hours before Obama spoke – will go on as before. And by the time Obama ends up swearing eternal loyalty to the Israelis, the Arabs will forget yesterday's posturing. And the reference to the "Jewish state" was obviously intended to make Netanyahu happy. Last time I went there, there were hundreds of thousands of Arabs who lived in Israel, all of them with Israeli passports. They didn't get a reference from Obama. Or maybe I was just imagining."

Violence 'used to force Shia out' of Sunni kingdom

Island state's ruling elite are set on a campaign of persecution, say religious leaders. Our writer on a nation divided

By Patrick Cockburn

"...The severity of the crackdown in Bahrain is mystifying, say local politicians in the Gulf. "I expected the King to try to stay above the conflict rather than wholly join the Sunni side," said one political leader.

The pro-democracy protests were milder in Bahrain than in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya or Yemen and demonstrators made only limited demands for a change of regime. But the Saudi and al-Khalifa royal families appear to have panicked after the fall of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. "The explanation for what happened is that the Saudis flipped," said one observer.

The Sunni kings of the Gulf rule in the only place on earth where absolute monarchies are still the norm and are paranoid about any threat to their status. Though there is no evidence of Iran's interference in Bahrain, they believe much of their own propaganda about it manipulating the pro-democracy protests. In reality the Bahraini Shia look to Najaf in Iraq for religious leadership. They have so far insisted that the Bahraini Shia response should be non-violent, but warn that this restraint cannot go on for ever."

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - UAE's foreign mercenaries

Includes Phyllis Bennis

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Middle East: Obama weaves an uncertain path

The US is not on the side of reform if to be so collides with a core strategic interest

The Guardian, Friday 20 May 2011

"It was billed as a big speech on the Middle East, the assumption being that if you are the president of the United States and you devote 45 minutes to the topic, the course you set will axiomatically influence events on the ground. This is even less the case than it ever was. Barack Obama promised a new beginning to the Arab world in a speech in Cairo two years ago. He called for a new relationship with the Arab world and for Israeli settlements to stop, and nothing happened. Millions of Egyptians and Tunisians rose up against their dictators, and something did.

It continued to happen on Sunday when thousands of Palestinians left their refugee camps in Lebanon and marched on the Israeli border. Yes, it suited the embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to play the Palestinian card by allowing a group of 200 to rush the barbed wire on the Golan Heights. But no, this was not merely manipulation. It turned out to be a commemoration of Nakba Day unlike any other, and one in which the barbed wire of the Israeli border temporarily lost its deterrent value. In Cairo thousands gathered outside the Israeli embassy to demand the expulsion of the ambassador, the first time this has happened in living memory. The era of speeches and summits may have passed. It is what happens on the ground that once again has the power to reshape the region.......

The leaders of Fatah and Hamas were obliged to reconcile by the forces stirring the Palestinian street. The negotiators of Fatah had stopped negotiating, and the fighters of Hamas had stopped fighting. Both had to respond to a simple idea: if one million Egyptians can fill Tahrir Square demanding Palestinian rights, why can't Palestinians, who taught the Arab world how to mount insurrections, and mounted two intifadas of their own? This will create its own reality as the months pass. Mr Obama was right to say that the status quo is untenable. He has yet to see how many aspects of his policy maintain it."

Did Obama’s big speech offer any hope for Palestine?

Obama Endorses 1967 Borders for Israel” as part of a “Broad Speech Rejecting Status Quo in the Middle East” – that was the instant spin on the front of The New York Times website within minutes of the president speaking.

But while President Barack Obama laid out in a little bit more detail a US “vision” of what “peace” would look like in his much anticipated speech on US policy in the Middle East and North Africa, there was precious little new.
Moreover, the speech affirmed that the United States will not take any effective action to advance its vision of a two-state solution.
The president covered broadly the uprisings in the Arab world and the American response to them, but I will look at the sections on Palestine – not necessarily in the order of delivery, but by theme.
The 1967 lines

What the president actually said was:
We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
There is a world of difference between “the 1967 lines” and “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” It is sort of like the difference between “a true story” and a Hollywood movie “based on a true story.”
As the Palestine Papers showed, US-brokered negotiations for years were predicated on trying to reach such a result, and despite unprecedented Palestinian concessions agreeing to allow Israel to annex most of its settlements, no agreement could be reached.

Although it is true that the Obama administration previously adamantly refused to mention the term “1967 lines,” its doing so now is couched in such a vague formula that it does not contradict President George W. Bush’s April 2004 pledge on behalf of the United States to support Israel’s annexation of its West Bank settlements.

Moreover, as Palestinian Authority (PA) “chief negotiator” Saeb Erekat recently told The Electronic Intifada, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas remains fully committed to “land swaps” to allow Israel to keep its settlements even if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state “on the 1967 line.”

Bahrain's 'revenge drive' against protesters

A Clean Start? By Dave Brown

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - Syria: Mass graves and slayings

Al-Jazeera Video: Interview with Christopher Stokes, MSF, on abuse of medical personel in Bahrain

"The next part of al Jazeera's exclusive report on Bahrain is an interview with Christopher Stokes, from MSF, on the subject of the abuse of medical workers as part of the government's crackdownon dissent."

Al-Jazeera Video: Security forces target Bahrain medics

"The second part of Al Jazeera's exclusive report on Bahrain looks at the abuse of medical workers as part of the government's crackdown on dissent."

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story: Egypt's clash of religions

"Inside Story, discusses with Michael Mounir, a Coptic activist and lobbyist; Sharif Abdel Kouddous, a correspondent at Democracy Now!; and Rabab El-Mahdi, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo."

Report from Syria

From Angry Arab

"A Lebanese comrade who works in Syria sent me this (I cite with his permission): "I spent the day...first the road to there was normal, nothing special, on the way back there were two checkpoints before Damascus. Intelligence guys, young with their dirty looks and clothes, you would think the regime is smarter than that even in PR. I mainly spoke to 3 colleagues who are from Dar3a and surroundings. They know me so they are comfortable to talk and share details. The main point the 3 confirmed separately is Aljazeera coverage is not even 10 % of the truth !! they confirmed the story of the mass grave found, the media spoke of 1 but they are 4-5 so far. People even saw when the bodies were being disposed. All these stories about confessions is bullshit, they know some of the guys who appeared on TV. They were put in prison and forced to say what they said Even the images of people throwing rice on the army as it left Dar3a were staged, they can confirm from the people's accent (not from Dar3a) and even the location of these images, close to govt headquarters. The 4th division (Maher Asad) is in Dar3a as it was reported. The big and somehow strange story is the 4 and 5 division fought each other ! but not cause of dissent but because how the 4 division treats the other army divisions. Apparently they bombed each other with tanks !! and literally hundreds of them were killed. People saw how they came with trucks and bulldozers to take the bodies. The stories about army being killed is either army killing army or security killing army.One guy said, the point of no return was crossed like 2 weeks ago. They are hopeful that it will pick up soon in Allepo where students on campus there are the ones who are trying at the moment. Two of them criticized a bit the people in Damascus and Allepo (one called them cowards) Three of the arrested in Da3ra in the mosque were christian doctors. The Sunni families fleeing Dar3a were taking cover at christian families around the city, so the stories of Salafis and religious fantaticism is so untrue in that region. The regime is playing this card in Homs and Banias where they are arming the A3lawee areas surrounding the Sunni centers. There are thousands of prisoners in Dar3a, and a security officer at each door, that is why it has calmed down a bit lately.The events at the Golan border last Sunday... Initially they wanted the Palestinians (7000-8000) to carry Bashar pics and Syrian flags but they refused and only carried Syrian flags.
One of the guys had to take out his family ouf of Dar3a because they were literally eating old stale bread at the end after 2 weeks of heavy curfew. They all confirmed that there was no party leading the events, no muslim brotherhood, no Khadam, nothing. They are all weak. it is just a popular revolt where in each area, people are calling the shots. We drove back yesterday night, all seemed fine on the surface but I had the feeling that it is all brewing and there is much more to come soon. it cannot go on like this. that is all I remember now, but they will be giving me more info from now on."

Before Obama's Speech, A Few Thoughts on a New Middle East Policy

President Obama has the chance to completely retool U.S. policy in the Middle East in the context of the Arab Spring - but it doesn't look likely that he will.

By Phyllis Bennis

"The Obama administration faces a huge contradiction in trying to craft a new policy for the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring.

They are trying to position the U.S. as a friend of the newly democratizing forces, while at the same time refusing to give up the policy of support for those on top, who imposed dictatorships and occupations across the Middle East, to protect U.S. interests in oil, Israel, and strategic stability. Now it is the people of the region who are creating new democracies from below – and it is long past time to change how the U.S. relates to them...."

Real News Video: What Obama Should Say About Middle East Policy

Ilan Pappe: President Obama should announce he will break with US unconditional support for Israel

More at The Real News

Video: Syria protests against Bashar al-Assad continue

In the wake of US-imposed sanctions, Syrians take to the streets across the country shouting anti-government slogans

The Guardian

Video: Egypt 100 days after the revolution: 'A mini-Mubarak in every institution'

One hundred days after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's prospects are clouded by insecurity, economic worries and sectarian violence. Four Egyptians [One of them is Hossam El-Hamalawy] outline their views of their post-revolutionary country

Mustafa Khalili, Richard Sprenger and Simon Hanna, Thursday 19 May 2011

The old bear of the Assad regime is falling

Syria's people no longer fear the state violence machine. The only legitimacy they will accept now is from the ballot box

Ali al-Hajj
(Ali al-Hajj is a blogger based in Syria writing under a pen name.), Thursday 19 May 2011

"These days wherever you go on the streets of old Damascus you can hear whispers anticipating the fall of the Assad regime. No one knows how. No one asks how....

Syria's people face that most violent and bloodthirsty of Middle Eastern regimes, yet take to the streets every Friday with bare hands and chests, affording tanks and snipers a simple chance to shoot to kill. The people defy all the complex and carefully organised regulations put in place by the Assad regime to prevent demonstrators from reaching squares, and to forestall the emergence of an equivalent to Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The Syrian people think the time for change has come, and they cannot go back. They do not fear the state violence machine. They will not accept reforms promised by a regime in broad daylight, then disregarded come nightfall. All credibility and legitimacy has been lost.....

[A Good Comment, Until You Read This Last Sentence:]
...but also Israel, which no longer trusts a regime that subjects its people to all forms of violence and lawlessness.[WTF??]"

Hidden Hands Stoke Sectarian Strife

By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

"CAIRO, May 19, 2011 (IPS) - Recent Muslim-Christian clashes have renewed fears of sectarian conflict in Egypt. But many local analysts - along with wide swathes of the public - believe sectarian tensions are being stoked by elements loyal to the ousted Hosni Mubarak regime in possible coordination with Israel.

"Whoever is fanning the flames of sectarian conflict has two objectives: to distract attention from the ongoing prosecution of Mubarak and his henchmen, and to derail what's being described as the Third Intifadah," political activist Mugahid Sherara told IPS....

While the twin incidents were initially attributed to local Muslim-Christian rivalries, it later emerged that the violence had been largely instigated by outsiders.

"Initial investigations confirm that the events in Imbaba were planned and instigated by hired ruffians, not religious zealots," Justice Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz al-Gindi announced on May 11. He went on to blame the incidents on an ongoing "counter-revolution aimed at destroying national unity."....

"The men who torched the church looked like professional thugs, not religious extremists. They weren't from around here. It looked pre-planned," one Coptic eyewitness, preferring anonymity, told IPS. The eyewitness added that frictions between the neighbourhood's Muslims and Christians had been "previously unheard of."

The May 11 edition of state daily Al-Missa quoted local Coptic clergymen who described the events as "a conspiracy."....

Numerous local commentators blame the mounting sectarian tension on "remnants of the former regime," which, they say, have a vested interest in derailing post-revolutionary Egypt's transition to democracy. A number of commentators, including prominent political figures, have also alluded to a possible Israeli role in the recent sectarian flare-ups.

On Mar. 15, Deputy Prime Minister Yehia al-Gamal, appointed by the ruling SCAF following Mubarak's ouster, warned of a "counter-revolution directed by elements of the former regime and Israel, which… is currently working against Egypt's interests."....

On the following day, prominent political commentator Fahmi Howeidi asserted that "the possibility of Israeli involvement (in the ongoing sectarian strife) cannot be ruled out." Israel, he wrote in independent daily Al-Shorouk, "was badly frustrated by the ouster of Mubarak, who Israel officials had publicly described as a 'strategic treasure'."

Notably, last November, former head of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yadlin openly bragged about Israel's success in "promoting sectarian tension" in Egypt. "We have succeeded in promoting sectarian and social tension there so as to create a permanent atmosphere of turmoil," Yadlin was quoted as saying in the Hebrew- and Arabic-language press....."

Egypt: Victims of protest violence deserve justice

19 May 2011

"The Egyptian authorities must provide justice to all of the victims of violent repression that took place during mass anti-government protests earlier this year, Amnesty International said in a comprehensive report into abuses that led to at least 840 deaths.

The release of Egypt rises: killings, detentions and torture in the '25 January Revolution' comes two days before former Interior Minister Habib El Adly goes on trial on charges arising from the killings of protesters.

The organization said that while the Egyptian authorities have begun holding accountable some of those accused of responsibility for serious human rights violations, many victims of security forces' brutality are at risk of being excluded from efforts to deal with the legacy of the violence.

"The trial of the senior figures suspected of being responsible for the outrageous use of excessive force against peaceful protesters is an essential first step," said Amnesty International. "But the authorities' response to victims must go much further than this."

"Families of those who were killed, as well as all those who were seriously injured or subjected to arbitrary detention or torture, including at the hands of the military, should expect that the authorities will prioritize their needs."

"That means giving them the truth about what happened, providing them with appropriate reparation, and making sure that all those responsible are brought to justice."

Amnesty International’s report provides damning evidence of excessive force by security forces to try to disperse and suppress protests against former President Hosni Mubarak, showing flagrant disregard for life. Many protesters died as a result of shots to the upper body, including the head or chest, pointing to deliberate targeting of protesters posing no threat, or at the very least to reckless use of firearms.

Over 6,000 people were also injured in protests, some of them permanently...."

Download Report (pdf, 120 pages)

President's fine words may not address the Middle East's real needs

In a keynote speech today, Barack Obama will try to redefine America's relationship with the Arab world. Our writer is sceptical

A GREAT COMMENT (posted in full)
By Robert Fisk

"OK, so here's what President Barack Obama should say today about the Middle East. We will leave Afghanistan tomorrow. We will leave Iraq tomorrow. We will stop giving unconditional, craven support to Israel. Americans will force the Israelis – and the European Union – to end their siege of Gaza. We will withhold all future funding for Israel unless it ends, totally and unconditionally, its building of colonies on Arab land that does not belong to it. We will cease all co-operation and business deals with the vicious dictators of the Arab world – whether they be Saudi or Syrian or Libyan – and we will support democracy even in those countries where we have massive business interests. Oh yes, and we will talk to Hamas.

Of course, President Barack Obama will not say this. A vain and cowardly man, he will talk about the West's "friends" in the Middle East, about the security of Israel – security not being a word he has ever devoted to Palestinians – and he will waffle on and on about the Arab Spring as if he ever supported it (until, of course, the dictators were on the run), as if – when they desperately needed his support – he had given his moral authority to the people of Egypt; and, no doubt, we will hear him say what a great religion Islam is (but not too great, or Republicans will start recalling the Barack Hussein Obama birth certificate again) and we will be asked – oh, I fear we will – to turn our backs on the Bin Laden past, to seek "closure" and "move on" (which I'm afraid the Taliban don't quite agree with).

Mr Obama and his equally gutless Secretary of State have no idea what they are facing in the Middle East. The Arabs are no longer afraid. They are tired of our "friends" and sick of our enemies. Very soon, the Palestinians of Gaza will march to the border of Israel and demand to "go home".

We got a signal of this on the Syrian and Lebanese borders on Sunday. What will the Israelis do? Kill the Palestinians in their thousands? And what will Mr Obama say then? (He will, of course, "call for restraint on both sides", a phrase he inherited from his torturing predecessor).

I rather think that the Americans suffer from what the Israelis suffer from: self-delusional arguments. The Americans keep referring to the goodness of Islam, the Israelis to how they understand the "Arab mind". But they do not. Islam as a religion has nothing to do with it, any more than Christianity (a word I don't hear much of these days) or Judaism. It's about dignity, honour, courage, human rights – qualities which, in other circumstances, the United States always praises – which Arabs believe they are owed. And they are right. It is time for Americans to free themselves from their fear of Israel's lobbyists – in fact the Likud Party's lobbyists – and their repulsive slurs of anti-Semitism against anyone who dares to criticise Israel. It is time for them to take heart from the immensely brave members of the American-Jewish community who speak out about the injustices that Israel as well as the Arab leaders commit.

But will our favourite President say anything like this today? Forget it. This is a mealy-mouthed President who should – why have we forgotten this? – have turned down his Nobel Peace Prize because he can't even close Guantanamo, let alone bring us peace. And what did he say in his Nobel speech? That he, Barack Obama, had to live in the real world, that he was not Gandhi, as if – and all praise to The Irish Times for spotting this – Gandhi didn't have to fight the British empire. So we will be treated to all the usual analysts in the States, saying how fine the President's words are, praising this wretched man's speechifying.

And then comes the weekend when Mr Obama has to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest, most powerful lobbyist "friend" of Israel in America. Then it will be all back to the start, security, security, security, little – if any mention – of the Israeli colonies in the West Bank and, I feel sure of this, much mention of terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. And no doubt a mention of the killing (let us not use the word execution) of Osama bin Laden.

What Mr Obama doesn't understand however – and, of course, Mrs Clinton has not the slightest idea – is that, in the new Arab world, there can be no more reliance on dictator-toadies, no more flattery. The CIA may have its cash funds to hand but I suspect few Arabs will want to touch them. The Egyptians will not tolerate the siege of Gaza. Nor, I think, will the Palestinians. Nor the Lebanese, for that matter; and nor the Syrians when they have got rid of the clansmen who rule them. The Europeans will work that out quicker than the Americans – we are, after all, rather closer to the Arab world – and we will not forever let our lives be guided by America's fawning indifference to Israeli theft of property.

It is, of course, going to be a huge shift of tectonic plates for Israelis – who should be congratulating their Arab neighbours, and the Palestinians for unifying their cause, and who should be showing friendship rather than fear. My own crystal ball long ago broke. But I am reminded of what Winston Churchill said in 1940, that "what General Weygand called the battle for France is over. The battle of Britain... is about to begin."

Well, the old Middle East is over. The new Middle East is about to begin. And we better wake up."

Nakba day: we waited 63 years for this

The remarkable bravery of refugees on Nakba day was the first act of a Palestinian summer

AN EXCELLENT COMMENT (posted in full)
Karma Nabulsi
The Guardian, Thursday 19 May 2011

"It was the moment for which we had all been holding our breath for decades – for 63 years to be precise. Palestinians everywhere watched the unfolding scene transfixed and awed. The camera followed the movements of a small group of people advancing from the mass of protesters. They were carefully making their way down a hill towards the high fence that closed off the mined field separating Syria from its own occupied territory of the Golan that borders historic Palestine, now Israel.

They were mostly young Palestinians, drawn from the 470,000-plus refugee community in Syria: from Yarmouk refugee camp inside Damascus, from Khan el-Sheikh camp outside it, from Deraa and Homs refugee camps in the south, from Palestinian gatherings all over the country.

Slowly, and in spite of the shouted warnings from the villagers from Majdal Shams about the lethal landmines installed by the Israeli military right up to the fence, these remarkable ordinary young people – Palestinian refugees – began to both climb and push at the fence. We were going home.

It was a profoundly revolutionary moment
, for these hundreds of young people entering Majdal Shams last Sunday made public the private heart of every Palestinian citizen, who has lived each day since 1948 in the emergency crisis of a catastrophe. Waiting, and struggling, and organising for only two things: liberation and return.

What made this moment and others like it across the region so radical in gesture, democratic in purpose, and universal in intent? It brought the entire world suddenly face to face with the intimate and immediate in the very human struggle for freedom of each Palestinian, whether refugee or not. Sixty-three years ago the entire body politic of the people of Palestine was violently destroyed and dispersed. All Palestinians, whether refugee or not, share that terrible history – it is what unites us.

This is the shared experience we commemorate every year on Nakba Day: the year-long expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that began in 1947 and continued straight through 1948 into the terrible snowstorm winters of 1949, creating what is now the world's largest refugee population.

On Sunday, this moment of return was enacted simultaneously in Haifa and among Palestinians displaced inside Israel, on the borders of Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Gaza, in the West Bank near the Qalandia refugee camp – wherever the more than 7 million stateless Palestinian refugees now live, very near their original villages and towns. Just out of sight, over the hill, across the border.

This basic injustice has yet to be addressed by any of the schemes currently on the table to solve the Palestinian issue. For this is not about the reconciliation of political parties, the search for a state or the establishment of two, negotiations or the lack of them, the enfranchisement of a third of our people over the disenfranchisement of the rest.

Indeed, what happened on Sunday was not the plan of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, nor that of Fatah or Hamas; it most certainly wasn't the American, European or Israeli plan for dealing with the Palestinian people. Like the rest of the Arab people who have taken their fate into their own hands – and in doing so provided lessons and models in the meaning of democracy and citizenship to the rest of the world for years to come – the Palestinians have demonstrated, quite perfectly and with great courage, what it is to be fully human, and how to hold on to one's humanity in spite of more than six decades of violent oppression.

Activists living in Majdal Shams had not been expecting them, and were completely surprised to see the dozens of buses pull up on the other side of the valley. Organised largely on the phone and internet, many of these young Palestinian refugees, mostly university students, didn't even know each other.

They certainly didn't know what was about to happen to them. Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition at the protesters, who were armed only with the deeds to their property, or ageing photographs of their parents' farms. One young man carried his grandmother in his arms.

Qais Abu Alheija (from Houd, Haifa district), Bashar Ali Shahabi (from Lubya, Tiberias district), Samer Khartabeel (from the town of Tiberias), Abadah Zaghmout (from the village of Safsaf, Haifa district – an effort to save his life at the clinic of Golan for Development in Majdal Shams failed): all died on Sunday in the Golan, walking home. The Palestinian spring has certainly arrived: this is just the beginning, and summer is on its way."