Saturday, May 26, 2012

I fear this terrible massacre will be the beginning of a long civil war in Syria

World View: The chances of compromise were never great, but they now seem to have been killed along with Houla's children

By Patrick Cockburn

".....Both the government and the armed opposition have become stronger in the past six months and neither side sees much reason to compromise. It feels like the beginning of a long war."

Exclusive dispatch: Assad blamed for massacre of the innocents

The war in Syria escalates with the brutal killing of 32 children

Patrick Cockburn, Damascus
Sunday 27 May 2012

"In a massacre of unprecedented savagery that brings Syria close to civil war, some 32 children and 60 adults have been slaughtered in villages in the Houla area of central Syria. Anti-government militants blame pro-regime gunmen for carrying out the butchery in which children and their parents were hacked and shot to death.

The figure for the number of children and adults killed was confirmed in an interview with The Independent on Sunday by General Robert Mood, the head of the team of 300 UN observers which is seeking to reduce the level of violence. "My patrols went into the village," he said. "I can verify that they counted 32 children under 10 killed. In addition, there were more than 60 adults dead."

General Mood would not explain how the villagers died, but horrific pictures posted on YouTube appear to show that they were shot or knifed to death, some having their throats cut. The small bodies of the children were covered in sheets as they were taken by survivors screaming in grief and disbelief from the houses where they had been murdered.

The massacre is the worst single incident in Syria's 14-month crisis because it involved the deliberate murder of children as well as adults. Militants say the perpetrators were pro-regime gunmen, known as the shabiya, who had captured Houla. If true, the shabiya may have been members of the Alawite sect, which is supportive of the government. Alawites inhabit a string of villages south of Houla, which is 25km north-west of Homs.....

The calculated slaughter of Sunni villagers and their children by Alawites brings a new level of violence to Syria and propels it towards sectarian civil war....

The pictures of the dead children of Houla are likely to create an international outcry and underline that the ceasefire arranged by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is foundering. General Mood confirmed yesterday that there was no real ceasefire in Syria........ "

Pierre Piccinin: the Transformation of a pro Assad "anti Imperialist"

Just a few month ago this is what Pierre wrote for CounterPunch:

Furthermore, if the Baath regime is dictatorial and brutal, so are numerous factions of the opposition: an opposition which is seriously divided and made up of groups with conflicting objectives, none of which necessarily represent the Syrian population; for on the one hand there are the radical Islamic factions, who massacre their opponents and commit atrocities against the military (kidnappings, mutilations, decapitations…) but also civilians who refuse to support their objectives. This is why Russia has demanded that any UN resolution must be applied not only to the government forces but to all factions resorting to violence, including those supported by foreign states, specifically France and Qatar.
It would therefore seem that from an Alawite fantasy to the surrealism of the United Nations, Syria as depicted by the mass media certainly bears very little resemblance to the reality of the actual situation.
He was arrested by Assad thugs while in Syria and accused of being a french spy , after seeing the torture, humiliation and inhumanity , he saw the light and became anti regime 
“faced with the horror that I discovered and for each of these men I’ve seen horribly mutilated by barbarians in the service of a dictatorship which I never imagined the daring and the degree of ferocity, I agree with them, I call for military intervention in Syria, which can reverse the abomination of the Baathist regime, even if the country is sinking into civil war if this difficult passage is necessary, it must be attempted, so to put an end to forty-two years of organized terror in proportions which I had no idea.”

appeal to save the life of mahmoud sarsak

An Appeal to save the life of Mahmoud Sarsak

Our brother and son, Mahmoud Sarsak, is a 25 years old professional footballer from Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, today entering his 67th day of hunger strike. We ask you to support Mahmoud and his demand for fair treatment. Your voice can contribute to saving his life and to a little victory against injustice.

Mahmoud has been imprisoned by Israel for the past three years, after being arrested by the Israeli military on 22nd July 2009 at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza while on his way to join the Palestine National Football team for a match in Balata refugee camp in the West Bank.

After his arrest he was transferred to Ashkelon prison where he was interrogated for 30 days, before being given a detention order on 23rd August 2009 under Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law”. Addameer, the Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights group, state that “in practice, the Unlawful Combatants Law contains fewer protections for detainees than even the few that are granted under administrative detention orders in the West Bank”, and allows the Israeli state to hold Palestinians from Gaza for indefinite periods without charge or trial.

Mahmoud started a hunger strike on 19th March 2012 to protest being held without charge or trial, demanding to be informed of the reasons for his three year detention and to be allowed to defend himself, as is his most basic right under international law. After starting his hunger strike he was transferred to Naqab prison on 8th April and then moved to solitary confinement at Eshel prison. On 16th April he was transferred to Ramleh prison hospital as a result of his deteriorating health. He is now on his 67 day of hunger strike, an extremely dangerous milestone that could see his death at any moment.

He is one of over 4400 Palestinians held in Israeli jails in violation of Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of occupied peoples (Palestinians), to the territory of the occupier (Israel). Grave breaches of these Articles are considered war crimes in international law.

Al-Jazeera Video: UN condemns 'brutal' killings in Syria

"UN observers in Syria have visited the town of Houla where nearly 100 people were killed in a massacre. The head of the mission condemned the attack.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan also condemned the killings saying they were an "appalling and brutal" breach of international law.

Al Jazeera's Charles stratford reports."

Al-Jazeera Video: UN confirms killings in Syria's Houla

"Warning: There are graphic images in this report which some might find disturbing.

At least 90 people have been killed during an attack on Houla, a town near the opposition stronghold of Homs.

Dozens of children are among the dead.

Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan reports."

Egypt's inevitable result - or is it?

Activists in Egypt should take notes from the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy and create grassroots infrastructure now.

By Mark LeVine


".....All of which means that the single most important accomplishment of this presidential election, more than who wins it, and of the revolution more broadly, is the institutionalisation of a democratic political system. Voters for Morsi and Shafiq might have done so out of loyalty or ideological commitment, or fear of chaos, but few will stick with their choice if the new leader doesn't manage - fundamentally - to improve the lives and life-chances of Egyptians in the near future. And that is why many movements, especially the more revolutionary groups, have not put their stock in these elections and instead are taking a page from the Brotherhood's playbook and working to begin building relations with the tens of millions of Egyptians who will be the ones to determine how the long-term revolutionary process in Egypt plays out. They have, what Gramsci would call, the "good sense" (buon senso) to think critically about the current political economic dynamics, to sit out a struggle that can't be won, and to plan for a future that could arrive sooner than those currently in power would like to imagine.

Many activists have expressed the belief to me that whoever wins this election will fail to change the still deeply entrenched system, and will either be co-opted or defeated by it (comparisons with Obama's presidency are inevitable). But this may provide an opening for a more radical and pro-worker and human rights agenda to claim a greater share of power the next time elections are held. In the meantime, by presenting themselves as the forces most able to lead the country towards a better future, Morsi and Shafiq, and those they represent, will be held responsible for the almost inevitable failures to come.

If the true revolutionary forces can use the next few years wisely, building roots into the working class in rural as well as urban areas, and developing a political discourse that moves beyond secular/religious and other dichotomies that have long served to divide the population, they will be poised to play a far greater role in Egypt's future than we are seeing today. If this comes to pass, the 2012 presidential election will prove to have been a crucial curve in a revolutionary road that, however depressing events might seem today, is still wide open as it stretches into the future."

UN confirms 'massacre' of children in Houla

International condemnation after at least 90 people, including 32 children, were killed in Syria's Homs province.


"UN leader Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan have condemned a massacre of more than 90 civilians in Syria as an "appalling and brutal" breach of international law.

Ban and Annan "condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children" in Houla, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Saturday.

"This appalling and brutal crime, involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force, is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and violence in all its forms," said the statement issued on behalf of the UN secretary-general and the Syria envoy.

"Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account," the statement said.

The UN mission said 92 bodies, 32 of them children aged less than 10, had been found in Houla after the artillery offensive on Friday.

Major General Robert Mood, the mission chief, earlier condemned the "brutal tragedy" after monitors visited the area while residents buried the victims in mass graves.

"Those using violence for their own agendas will create more instability, more unpredictability and may lead the country to civil war," Mood said to reporters in Damascus.

The statements came as the Free Syrian Army said it could no longer commit to the ceasefire brokered by Annan unless there is an immediate solution to regime violence

Torture, displacement and resistance: the story of Salameh Kaileh

JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- He was arrested from his home at 2 a.m.; insulted and mocked by the interrogators for being Palestinian; severely tortured during interrogation; chained to a hospital bed by his hands and feet and denied medical care despite his illness – a pattern drearily familiar to Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. 

There is a small twist in the tale, though. The Palestinian protagonist of this story -- Marxist intellectual and dissident Salameh Kaileh -- was arrested, tortured and eventually deported by the Syrian regime which has long portrayed itself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and the bulwark of resistance to Zionism and imperialism.

In the early hours of April 24, undercover Syrian intelligence officers stormed Kaileh's house in Barzeh, a neighborhood in Damascus, and arrested him. His lawyer Anwar Bunni, human rights attorney at the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, said Kaileh was arrested from his home “without explanation” and that his arrest is yet another attempt at “muzzling” freedom of expression in Syria. 

After spending almost three weeks in incommunicado detention, Kaileh was released and forcibly transferred to Jordan on the eve of Nakba Day. In an interview he gave in Jordan after his deportation, Salameh Kaileh spoke out about the appalling conditions he was subjected to during his time in the Air Force Intelligence Branch in Al Umawiyin district and the military hospital. 

Signs and bruises of the severe beating he faced during interrogation were apparent, but Kaileh maintained that what he experienced was “a tiny fraction” of what other detainees, with whom he shared a cell, went through. 

During interrogation in the Air Force Intelligence, he was questioned about a pamphlet entitled “The Leftist” that was found at his home, but he denied that he had anything to do with printing the pamphlets. 

Kaileh said that he received the worst beatings for a slogan in the pamphlets which reads: “In order to liberate Palestine, the Syrian regime must fall.” The interrogators were particularly angry at this line, Kaileh said, and severely beat him with a wire cable and whipped the soles of his feet with a thin bamboo stick.

It came as no surprise, then, that the Syrian security forces tried to silence Salameh Kaileh even though such an attempt would -- yet again -- make a mockery of the regime’s worn-out, ludicrous propaganda that the Syrian uprising is an imperialist-Zionist conspiracy led by Salafist “armed groups” that targets the regime for its role in safeguarding resistance. 

There are thousands of political prisoners languishing in Syrian jails and torture camps. They are less privileged and fortunate than Salemeh Kaileh; their names and faces are not known to us; they don’t have books to their names; and their cases don’t attract the attention of media outlets and human rights organizations.

What Salameh Kaileh’s case highlights is that the Syrian regime does not distinguish between a Palestinian and a Syrian or between an intellectual and a peasant. Anyone who opposes the regime can be a victim of its systematic torture, arbitrary imprisonment and even pay with their lives. 
Kaileh, however, is certain that the regime will fall: “If you see the resilience of the young detainees, even after suffering horrific torture, you know that this regime is unsustainable.” 

Al-Jazeera Video: Children killed in 'massacre' in Syria's Houla

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian activists decry 'massacre' in Houla

"Scores have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces and loyalists on Houla, a town in Homs province, according to activists.

The Syrian National council has asked the United Nations to take immediate action after what it called a "massacre".

Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan reports."

Al-Jazeera Video: Talk to Al Jazeera - Alaa al-Aswany: 'Egypt, strong but paralysed'

"In Egypt today there are few artists who occupy the crosshairs of politics and art as Alaa Al Aswany.

While continuing to insist he is no politician, Al Aswany recently came out in support of a new political party launched by Mohammed el Baradei intended to present a viable and secular alternative to the parties of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra Conservative Salafi movement that dominate Egypt's new parliament.

On this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, we apeak to Alaa Al Aswany."

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - A showdown between old and new in Egypt

"In Egypt, with almost 50 per cent of those eligible to vote said to have taken part, who have the majority voted for?

Is the battle between the Egyptian old guard and those who fought it for decades still continuing? And what has happened to a revolution that promised to strip away all remnants of what many regarded as the oppressive Mubarak regime?

To what extent do these preliminary results reveal a country bitterly divided? Are the major forces in Egyptian society coming up against each other?"

Real News Video : Egyptians Wait for Election Results

The vote narrows down to Muslim Brotherhood candidate and former prime minister under the Mubarak regime.

More at The Real News

United States of Walmart: The Best Democracy That Money Can Buy, by Khalil Bendib

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)

A Sort of President Awaits Egypt

By Cam McGrath

"CAIRO - Candidates competing in Egypt's first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak was ousted are vying for a prestigious position whose job description – oddly enough – has not yet been written. An unresolved dispute over who will write a new constitution for post-Mubarak Egypt has put the country in the unusual position of voting for a president with undefined authority....."

عزمي بشارة لشباب مصر: الثورة لم تختطف والمعارك الديمقراطية القادمة كثيرة


"دعا المفكر العربي الدكتور عزمي بشارة شباب الثورة المصرية إلى التخلي عن الشعور بالإحباط بعد صدور النتائج الأولية للإنتخابات المصرية، موجهُا خطابه لهم، قائلاً: "لم يأخذ أحد مصر منكم.. والثورة لم تختطف.. و23% لمؤيدي النظام السابق ليس كثيرا".

وأضاف، في تغريده على حسابه الشخصي بموقع "تويتر"، أن الثورة بمصر قامت من أجل الديمقراطية، وليس من أجل أن ينتصر هذا المرشح أو ذاك، ولذلك فقد حققت أول إنجازاتها.

وأوضح أن شفيق لم يحصل على أغلبية أصوات المصريين رغم أن جهاز الدولة معه، ورغم أن المصريين ليسوا جميعًا مع الثورة.

وأضاف: حتى الآن سادت ثنائية جهاز الدولة والإخوان وهذا ليس جديدًا، لكن الجديد هو أن قوى مدنية جبارة نظمت نفسها خلف حمدين وأبو الفتوح، ولا يمكن تجاهلها".

وتابع: أقوى قوتين منظميتن في مصر "أجهزة الدولة القديمة" و"جماعة الإخوان" حصلوا معا على أقل من 50% من الأصوات، كما أن مؤيدى "الفلول" مثلوا فقط نسبة 23% لذلك فمصر بخير، مضيفا أن النتائج حتى الآن تكاد تطبق درسا في علم الاجتماع السياسي، ففي المدن ثورة وتنوع سياسي وفكري واجتماعي، وفي الريف ثنائية التدين وجهاز الدولة.

واعتبر بشارة أن المقدمة لأي تفاهم انتخابي مع حركة الإخوان المسلمين تبدأ بفهمهم أنهم تراجعوا شعبيا الى 25% بسبب اخطائهم وأن عليهم ان يلخصوها كأخطاء، وأنه لا يمكنهم أن يتسلموا 100% من السلطة ب25% من الأصوات، مضيفا ان هذه مسألة لا تحل بالخطب والوعود والكلام المعسول.

وقال بشارة عبرصفحته الرسمية على الفيسبوك: "هنالك حاجة لضوابط وضمانات عملية في أي تفاهم مقبل، تبدأ بالتفاهم الآن على مبادئ الدستور، والقضايا الرئيسية في السياسة المصرية مثل الحريات والقضايا الاجتماعية، وتركيبة الحكومة وتنتهي بوجود فريق رئاسي له صلاحيات، هذا كلام يجب ان يوثق ويحصن، بحيث لا يكون من صلاحية البرلمان لاحقا إلغائه بالأغلبية".

وأضاف "في حالة عدم موافقة الإحوان على هذه المشاكل قد يتجند البعض لإنجاحهم ولكن سوف يزداد خوف الكثيرين منهم ومن احتمال تفردهم بالحكم، لانهم يرفضون مثل هذه الاقتراحات، وهم 25%، ولأنهم يفعلون ما يحلو لهم ويراهنون على أخلاق الآخرين. هذا لم يعد يعجب الناس وأصبح يخيفهم".

واختتم بشارة قوله بأن المعارك الديمقراطية القادمة كثيرة، وتبدأ بالدفاع عن حقوق المواطن الاجتماعية والسياسية، وعن الحريات الفردية والثقافية، وتنتهي في التنظيم السياسي للانتخابات القادمة.

Exclusive: Syria grain trade signals alarm for Assad

"(Reuters) - Syria is struggling to meet its grain import needs because of sanctions, raising the risk of bread shortages that could sap public support for President Bashar al-Assad as he tries to snuff out a 15-month-old uprising.

Trade sources said a reluctance among foreign banks, shipowners and grain traders to sell to import-dependent Syria - even though food is not itself subject to sanctions - has forced Damascus into an array of unusually small deals, many arranged by shadowy middlemen around the Middle East and Asia.

On Friday, in what might prove to be a turning point on a path toward a politically corrosive food crisis, government data showed the domestic grain harvest falling well short of target and the state grains agency failing to find a single acceptable offer to fulfill a major import tender it issued last month to buy animal feed for its livestock farmers.....

"While Syria's ally Iran has rather creatively sought to evade its own sanctions noose, Damascus has neither the experience nor the resources available to Tehran with which to play a prolonged cat-and-mouse game," the Atlantic Council's Pham said. "The Assad regime's foreign currency reserves are simply depleting at a rate faster than it can replenish them.""

Egypt's elections do not simply mark a return to the status quo

The political landscape – pitting secular authoritarians against Islamists – looks familiar, but the full picture is more complicated

Jack Shenker in Cairo, Friday 25 May 2012

"For Egypt's election junkies – a nascent breed in a country where the outcome of national polls has usually been known long before the first voter has picked up a ballot paper – it was the ultimate hangover. After an uprising that amazed the world, the overthrow of a brutal dictator, a year-and-a-half of struggles on the street and finally the novel excitement of late-night election results trickling in from counting centres across the nation, the sun rose on a political landscape seemingly unchanged for decades: one pitting a secular, authoritarian establishment against an Islamist opposition. Little wonder that many pro-change activists took to social media asking whether the revolution had been little more than a dream.....

The sense that political Islamists are not necessarily as popular as the headline figures suggest is borne out by a comparison between last winter's parliamentary elections and the current presidential poll – in the populous governorate of Gharbiya for example, the Brotherhood's FJP party actually lost almost 400,000 votes, the implication being that many Egyptians who were willing to give political Islamists a chance in office have been unimpressed with their performance so far, and in the absence of viable electoral alternatives simply decided to stay at home (turnout for this ballot appears to have dropped sharply).....

If next month's presidential runoff does pit Mubarak's former prime minister against the Muslim Brotherhood, the poll will serve as a heavy blow for those who believed these historic elections would symbolise a fresh set of political dynamics across the Arab world.

But beyond the two frontrunners, the ecology of Islamist movements – in Egypt and beyond – remains more complex than Morsi's success at the ballot box might suggest, and it will be those complexities that help determine the future direction of a region still in flux."

A free Egypt’s first task is to rein in the army

by Heba Fatma Morayef
Human Rights Watch

May 25, 2012

".....A lesson from Egypt’s stormy transition is that democratic legitimacy is not built on elections alone, but on laws that protect basic freedoms, including the rights of women and to practise religion. This means insisting on prosecuting sectarian violence against Christians, and allowing minorities such as the Shia, the Bahais and Ahmedis to practise their faiths freely and publicly.

Egypt remains burdened with the repressive laws and institutions that characterised Mubarak’s police state and now has the legacy of a year and half of military rule, characterised by torture, virginity tests and the beating and killing of protesters.

The biggest test for the new president will be to what extent he can push back the generals’ power and what immunities from public scrutiny the army will be granted. With the June 30 military handover to civilians finally in sight, perhaps Egyptians will get some answers to these questions."

The Sacking of a Revolution

What Happened in Egypt’s Presidential Elections?



".......The unofficial results of the presidential elections show that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Muhammad Mursi is headed to a runoff with Mubarak’s last Prime Minister and the anti-revolution candidate, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. They received 24 and 23 percent of the votes, respectively. Meanwhile the two candidates supported by the revolutionary groups, Dr. Abdelmoneim Abol Fotouh and Hamdein Sabahi received 17 and 20 percent respectively, while former foreign minister Amr Moussa was a distant fifth with less than 11 percent.

So what happened and how can one understand these results?

The revolutionaries were divided: There is no doubt that the failure of the revolutionary groups to unify their ranks and field a single candidate or a presidential ticket has cost them the chance to come out on top in this round and head for a runoff. Combined, both candidates received 37 percent, which would have guaranteed them victory in the first round had they run as president and vice president. But despite many efforts towards that end, both candidates refused to concede.....

The Muslim Brotherhood went their own way.....

The military’s candidate and the deep security state......

The regrouping of the fullol......

The role of the Sufis......

The Christian vote........

So what’s next?

It is not clear how the eliminated revolutionary leaders will react to the election results. Although there is no evidence of direct frauds or vote rigging, clearly the role of the state’s authoritarian structures in influencing the outcome, as well as to the use of money to corrupt the political will of Egyptians cannot be denied. But no matter how they respond to the allegations, the elections commission will push ahead with next month’s runoff between Mursi and Shafiq. With the exception of the MB supporters, most people who support the revolution dread the day where they will be faced with the choice between the MB candidate and the fulool candidate.

But no matter what, Shafiq should never be allowed to win. In return for the support of Abol Fotouh and Sabahi supporters, the MB should offer a genuine gesture to the candidates and call for the unity of all the supporters of the revolution. But such offers must be more than empty rhetoric and need to contain meaningful acts of inclusiveness and magnanimity including offering them senior positions such as vice president or prime minister. If the MB thinks that it can win the presidency without the support of the revolutionary groups, it would be totally mistaken. Not only will the majority of Moussa’s supporters end up going to Shafiq, but now that the fulool have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, they will double their efforts and employ more of their old tricks to guarantee a win, with the full backing of the military and state bureaucracy.

Only through regaining the determination of purpose and unity of action of those early days of the unfinished revolution can it remain alive. The MB cannot afford to botch this opportunity yet again. The alternative would likely be another revolution to replace the one that was sadly aborted."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Assad Mercenaries attack protestors in Aleppo

Funeral Procession/Anti Assad protest in Aleppo

For Amir Barakat a child murdered by Assad forces...

Hard Line Failure in Nuke Talks

US Position in Iran Negotiations Driven by Israel

By Gareth Porter

"Negotiations between Iran and the United States and other members of the P5+1 group in Baghdad ended in fundamental disagreement Thursday over the position of the P5+1 offering no relief from sanctions against Iran.

The two sides agreed to meet again in Moscow Jun. 18 and 19, but only after Iran had threatened not to schedule another meeting, because the P5+1 had originally failed to respond properly to its five-point plan.

The prospects for agreement are not likely to improve before that meeting, however, mainly because of an inflexible U.S. diplomatic posture that reflects President Barack Obama’s need to bow to the demands of Israel and the U.S. Congress on Iran policy....."

Egypt Election: Muslim Brotherhood Candidate Could Face Mubarak’s Ex-Prime Minister in Runoff

Democracy Now!

"Preliminary results from Egypt’s first-ever competitive presidential election indicate there may be a runoff between Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, and Ahmed Shafik, the former prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The elections appear to have been relatively free and fair, with voter turnout estimated at around 40 percent. While official results will not be announced until Tuesday, Morsi appears to be in the lead. The two candidates competing for second place are Shafik, the anti-revolutionary former prime minister, and Hamdeen Sabahi, a longtime protester of the Mubarak regime. We get an update from Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo....."

Al-Jazeera Video: Egyptian vote counting begins

Al-Jazeera Video: Israeli public opinion turns against Sudanese migrants

"Hundreds of Israelis took to the streets in south Tel Aviv on Thursday to protest against the mass migration from Sudan as a result of the strife in the African nation.

Some Israelis now want the government to tighten the rules on immigration, and to even send the migrants back home.

Tensions have been building for months as migrants are blamed for an increase in burglary and crime.

The protesters shouted "Sudanese go home" - a reference to the thousands of Sudanese who have travelled through Egypt to Israel. Many were smuggled into the country via the Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli politicians are now responding to this fear and anger, with the interior minister trying to push a mass-expulsion order through the courts.

Al Jazeera's Sue Turton reports from Tel Aviv."

Real News Video : Egypt Votes

Egyptians go to the polls in the first presidential elections since the fall of Mubarak, but are free and fair elections possible under military rule?

More at The Real News

The mediation mirage in Palestine

By Nicola Nasser
Asia Times

".....The International Crisis Group, in an executive summary on May 7, concluded that the US-led mediation efforts have "become a collective addiction … And so the illusion continues," adding: "All actors are now engaged in a game of make-believe: that a resumption of talks in the current context can lead to success; that an agreement can be reached within a short timeframe; that the Quartet is an effective mediator, …" On April 26, the American Jewish newspaper Algemeiner described the "Middle East Quartet" as "An Institutionalized Failure."

Israel, the US and the Quartet mediators are all winners in this "make-believe" non-delivering mediation; the Palestinian people are the only losers.

Palestinians have had enough and now saying enough is enough: Peace is a mirage, peace-making is a failure, peace process is a sham, peace mediators are a fake, and if all the parties involved can enjoy the luxury of "addiction" to the status quo, Palestinians cannot; their survival is at stake."

Brotherhood man promises Islamic law in Egypt

"(Reuters) - When he joined the race for Egypt's presidency just five weeks ago, Mohamed Mursi was mocked as the Muslim Brotherhood's uncharismatic "spare tyre" after its first-choice candidate was disqualified.

But the 60-year-old engineer came first in the opening round, according to a Brotherhood tally after most votes were counted, thanks to a campaign that showed off the unequalled political muscle of Egypt's oldest Islamist movement.

The run-off on June 16 and 17 with second-placed Ahmed Shafiq, who served as deposed leader Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, gives Egyptians a stark choice[ Some Choice!] between a military man linked to the past and an Islamist whose conservative message appeals to some and alarms others in this nation of 82 million......"

Families of Syrian rebels killed in their homes, says UN

Friday 25 May 2012

"Government forces executed entire families in their homes as part of the crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, UN investigators have found.

Both President Assad's troops and opposition fighters were committing gross human rights violations despite a six-week-old ceasefire, but the security forces were responsible for most crimes documented since March, the UN report released yesterday said.

Government abuses included the heavy shelling of residential areas, executions and torture. Syrian forces routinely drew lists of wanted persons and their families before blockading and then attacking a village or neighbourhood, the report said. Children were frequently among those killed and wounded during attacks on protests and the bombardment of towns and villages. "Entire families were executed in their homes – usually the family members of those opposing the government such as the family members of Colonel Riad al-Asaad," it said, referring to the extended family of the head of the Free Syrian Army......"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Accessing Gaza through an Underground Tunnel: My Saga!

By Dr. Khalil Nakhleh

"Opening remarks
1. I was invited on 15 February to visit Gaza by a small organization called “Gaza Exchange Program”, the moving force behind which is Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj. I accepted the invitation on the same day. The date of the visit was set for 30 April – 6 May.

2. After being informed of the documents I hold, the organizers proposed two options through which I could enter Gaza. The first option: to enter through the official crossing point at Rafah (al-Ma’bar), which meant that I would fly from Tel Aviv to Cairo, and be driven from there by car to Rafah. This required me to visit the US Embassy in Cairo a day before (since I would be traveling on my US passport) in order to give me a letter clearing them from any responsibility, while in Gaza. It required also pre-coordination with Egyptian mukhabarat. The second option: to enter through the underground tunnels, which required pre-coordination with the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) of the Gaza government, but without any coordination with the American or Egyptian authorities.

3. I opted for the second option right away based on the principle that I, as a Palestinian, should not require external coordination, especially with our enemies, to interact and deliberate with my people, wherever they are, on important issues that affect our collective future. My organizers took upon themselves to do the necessary coordination with the Gaza authorities. This was done during the month of April.

4. All communications with me were through emails and telephone. I received a scanned copy of an entry permit from the MoI valid for 30 days; a lecture was arranged for me at the Islamic University in Gaza (IUG); samples of my earlier writings were requested and sent; a scanned copy of my US passport; and names and numbers of all necessary contacts in Gaza responsible for my visit. At this moment, early on, I was impressed, and worried at the same time, by the level of openness, overtness, and normalcy of the whole process. On the other hand, I kept reiterating to myself that I was not on a secret mission; I was going to lecture to university students, and to hold discussions in an open small seminar with concerned young people on pressing issues of “development”, which I addressed in my most recent book. Accordingly, I reserved my flight for 30 April.

Getting in
My flight on Air Sinai from Tel Aviv to Cairo on Monday morning, 30 April, was scheduled to leave at 12:00 noon; it was about 30 minutes late. We arrived at Cairo airport at about 2:00 pm, Egypt time. As an Israeli citizen, I exited from Tel Aviv on my Israeli passport, and I entered Egypt on my American passport. This is the only way I could travel.
After I came out of customs, I saw four taxi drivers holding names of persons for whom they were waiting. I veered towards them in search of my name, but it was not among them. My heart sank for a minute; I was calm, however, but panic was about to set in! At that moment, my designated driver, whose name and cell number I was carrying, came in with my name and identified me. Without wasting anytime, he picked up my suitcase, directed me to his car, and we started heading northeast in the direction of Rafah (on the Egyptian-Palestinian border—keep in mind that Rafah is an artificially divided city on both sides of the border).
It was a drive of about 4-5 hours (450 km). I tried to learn everything about “Sayyid” (my driver), and he about me. Often I had to repeat my question or comment because of difference in our spoken Arabic dialects, which rendered some word usages too incomprehensible to both of us. (I am a Palestinian from Galilee, and he’s an Egyptian from Al-Said—Lower Egypt.). Nevertheless, I learned that he grew up in various regions of the Sinai desert because his father was the chief engineer for putting in the railroad tracks for the “Hijaz Line” in the early thirties under the British occupation. I felt reassured, particularly as it began to get dark, that he was familiar with the region in which we were driving, and that he spoke the local vernacular. Most of the road northeastward, after clearing the Egyptian city of Ismailiyya, was dusty, to a suffocating degree, with sand in the air—a desert—until we got to the city of El-Arish on the shore of the Mediterranean. From there we continued towards the city of Rafah, not to the official Crossing point between Egypt and Gaza, but to the “tunnel area”, which we reached around 5:45 pm.
Whereas the official Rafah Crossing is clearly marked with Egyptian flags, visible structures and signs, the entrance to the “tunnel area” is buried in the sand, and decipherable only to the knowledgeable; neither my driver nor I possessed this needed knowledge! Finally, we reached, as close as we could, the general tunnel area, and waited for instructions from my organizers on the Palestinian side.
In a way, it was tantamount to arriving at the right “terminal” in the airport, so to speak, but without any “gate” information, i.e., which of the nearly 1,700 tunnels we’re “scheduled” to take so that we can meet in the right place with our people on the other side. As we approached, Sayyid suggested calling my contact on the other side. I called twice as we waited on the Egyptian side. A “committee”, we were told, was convening to decide which tunnel to “allocate” for my crossing, since I had a formal entry approval from the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior—Gaza Government. Fearing that it would become dark soon, and I won’t be able to cross, and may had to stay overnight on the Egyptian Rafah side, Sayyid decided to seek the advice of his local tribal contacts. He did, and someone by the name of “Abu Khalid” met us there soon after. After a brief discussion he proposed the “right” tunnel to take, which, I assumed, it was based on considerations of familiarity, safety and reliability? He knew it by the name of its owner/operator (a privately-owned). He directed us to the “mouth” of the tunnel. There, we encountered two men sitting on plastic chairs in the sand, without any appearance of urgency, sipping coffee or tea comfortably, around the “mouth” of the tunnel. Hovering around them were two or three young men. One of them had a Vespa-like motorcycle (referred to locally as “tuk tuk”), ready to service us. Our local guide explained the situation and my urgency to cross before it gets dark, since my people are awaiting my arrival on the other side, and that I had an official entry permit (which I pulled out almost on cue!). One of the men made a couple of contacts on his Jawwal (presumably to their men at the other end); and then they approved my crossing into their tunnel. It was a “commercial” transaction, for which I knew I had to pay $100 each way. Immediately, we conveyed this info to our “organizers” on the Palestinian side. At last, I was very relieved to know that I was cleared to enter through “their” tunnel. No pictures were allowed; my mobile with camera was withheld at the beginning, and returned to me at the end of the ride.
Now, how to get to the other end of the tunnel? Hop on “doktoor” on the tuk tuk behind the “driver”. “What about my suitcase,” I asked, “the driver holds it in front of him,” the explanation came. I hopped in behind him, but I was in a very precarious position, with my satchel on one shoulder, and my permit in one hand, as if expecting checkpoints on the way!
The instructions to the “tuk tuk” driver were to take me to the “well” (al-Bir) at the end of the tunnel. We zipped through the 750 meters length of the tunnel on a pressed sand and white dirt path, but with numerous bumps and potholes. The path was wide enough, and high enough for cars, or big animals, to drive or gallop through (one-way). The walls and the ceilings were of pressed mud and cement, protected with mesh wire, and lit by electric lights on small poles on both sides, spaced, what looked like every 10-15 meters. Afraid of falling off, I pressed hard on the driver’s waist, without uttering a word. Neither did he. It became obvious later that the driver of the “tuk tuk” was mute.
The “well”, or Al-Bir, at the end of the tunnel, is a big circular open shaft, about 40 meters deep, where natural light from the Gaza sky could be seen. Filling the complete diameter of this shaft is a wooden platform elevator operating by side pulleys, wide enough to transport people, cars, animals, animal-drawn carts, cement, gasoline, etc. As we arrived to Al-Bir, a maintenance crew of 4 young men was fixing the platform. The atmosphere was non-challant and normal. I did not feel any sense of urgency, or that they were on some sort of a military mission; they were joking and laughing with each other and taking their time. Sometimes they were serious. But they appeared like a normal maintenance crew, taking their job seriously. Every now and then, they asked me questions about where I was from, and why did I come through the tunnel not the official crossing (al-Ma’bar), etc. When I said I am a Palestinian living now in Ramallah, one asked “where in Ramallah do you live?” “I lived there until ‘Al-Khityar’ (Abu Ammar) died; I was in the presidential guard,” he made a point to tell me, and to indicate, perhaps, that he was (or is) Fateh? We waited in Al-Bir, 40 meters underground for about 20-30 minutes until the crew completed the maintenance chores. During this time, electricity went out and the entire tunnel was pitch-black for a few seconds until generators kicked in without delay.
Now the elevator-platform is ready for operation. I was ready and elated to be lifted up with my suitcase. Before I did, I handed the “tuk tuk” driver a few Shekels for his trouble! Once on top, my contacts/organizers were waiting with broad smiles that I made it safely. A policeman from the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) was sitting there on a plastic chair “checking” those coming in. He was told I was Palestinian and had a permit from the MoI, and he was shown that piece of paper, which, in full daylight, and without ability to read English, one can hardly decipher! He motioned me in. A car drove us to Gaza City, and that was it.

Getting out
The exit leg of the trip was long and worrisome:
Because my return flight from Cairo to Tel Aviv on Sunday, 6 May, was set for 9:00 am Cairo time, and to avoid driving from Rafah to Cairo through Sinai at night, I decided to leave Gaza City the day before, Saturday, 5 May, as soon as I finished my lecture at the Islamic University (IUG).
It was arranged for a taxi to pick me up at 12:30 from IUG and to take me directly to Hammam (my Palestinian “tunnel” organizer), who was waiting for us at the Gaza Mental Health Program “chalet” on the beach, not far from Al-Zawaydeh (the middle part of Gaza). There, we had to wait for about 30 minutes for Abu Nasrallah, originally a Bedouin from the Rafah area (and our effective and indispensable “key” for the tunnel procedure.) He met me at the tunnel opening when I entered. He’s Hammam’s reliable contact. (Dr. Eyad was very active behind the scenes in organizing my trip.). The plan was that I’ll be accompanied to the “mouth” of the tunnel in Rafah with Hammam, Abu Nasrallah and Paul (of the inviting organization).
We arrived at the tunnel area in Rafah about 40 minutes later. We were led to the office of “Central Operations, the Borders’ Commission” of the Ministry of the Interior in the Gaza Government. Government offices are closed on Fridays and Saturdays, we were told. This office had a skeleton staff of one—a very nice young man, with a cute smile, dressed in black shirt and black trousers, no evidence of any gun to his waist, but he could not (or would not) take any personal responsibility for the decisions he had to take. This situation spelled disaster for us!
I showed my documents: (1) the permit from the MoI to enter Gaza, (2) My US passport stamped in Egypt with an entry visa, and (3) my return ticket. He recorded my data, which he had a hell of a time deciphering, on a loose sheet of paper. He kept repeating my name as “Khalil Abu Nakhla—ad-daktoor!”. I kept on correcting him every time he called someone with the information, but he kept repeating the same thing. Also, my accompanying team in the office kept correcting him and telling him: “Ad-Doktoor Khalil Nakhleh is an important doktoor and professor, and he came to lecture at the Islamic University!”
The young man kept trying to call “his superiors” for authorization. He said that all my information was in order, but he could not “authorize” me to cross in his own capacity. The person, or persons, he was trying to call had their Jawwals (Palestinian cells) turned off. He said he was sorry for this, but he could not do anything about it! In the meantime, we sat in his office on a very wide dusty bed (with no sides or pillows for back support), constantly shifting our bodies for comfort, searching and hoping to keep our backs straight. We were very hot; dust and more dust everywhere. The cab driver sat in his cab and waited for us. All of us waited and hoped for the Jawwal on the other side of the signal to turn on! We assumed this was the reason for the delay.
We became very intolerant with the non-challant attitude and indecisiveness. My team kept repeating “Ad-Doktoor had to leave today; otherwise he’ll miss his flight tomorrow morning to America.” He had the ticket in front of him, on the dusty and bare desk, showing, for anyone, who could read English, that my flight was to Tel Aviv not to America! He kept apologizing for delaying us, and insisted that he needed authorization, and he could not take the responsibility on his own to let me through. He said perhaps his superior was sleeping. We said: “why don’t you wake him up; if he’s sleeping nothing gets done?”.
We consulted among ourselves on how to nudge the decision process. I asked Hammam whether we should call al-Zahhar, with whom I spent 3 hours two days earlier at Eyad’s house. I suggested that Hammam call Dr. Eyad and ask him to find a way to nudge the process. Hammam did. Eyad called and asked us to wait for his call! Certainly, we were not going anywhere!
In the meantime, we had been sitting, fidgeting, sighing ... and Abu Nasrallah making his Islamic supplications, recalling Koranic verses, intermingled with Arabic jokes to release tension ... As we “sat” there, a colleague of our indecisive young man, from another MoI office next door, came in and, after hearing the story and that my papers were in order, he urged our young man repeatedly: “khalas, authorize the crossing of ad-Doktoor so he can be on his way”. This, however, was to no avail on the claim that he needed authorization from his superiors. Suddenly, and without receiving any external calls, or any indication that he received the “needed” authorization from his superiors or anybody, he decided to let me cross ... just like that! We got up after nearly two hours; thanked him, and followed, in our taxi, his colleague, in his jeep, towards the “mouth” of the same tunnel through which I came in.
Entering the tunnel was no problem at all, no delay. The platform elevator was level with the ground, where the passengers—I and two full-size, horse-pulled carts, awaited and ready to board. The carts, with their horses and drivers, loaded side by side on the wooden platform, followed by my suitcase on one of the carts. “Yallah doktoor, hop on,” I was instructed, and I gladly obliged, relieved that the ordeal was basically over. Down the 40-meter shaft we were lowered: I, two young men, two horses, two carts on four wheels each, and my suitcase. As we reached the ground, one of the carts proceeded ahead of us, while my driver asked me to hold on tight. The only way I could hold on tight was to lay flat on the dirty cart hanging on my suitcase. (Keep in mind that I was coming directly from giving a lecture at the university with a white shirt, dressing dark pants, suit jacket ...). I held on tight for my life with great fear at times of falling, as the horse trotted most of the 750 meters of the tunnel, jerking my body right and left, until we got to the opening on the Egyptian side, where I let a big sigh when I could see the natural light!
I got out from the tunnel with my suitcase, shoulder satchel, jacket, pants, shirt, and hair, all full of white powdery sand and dirt; thirsty and without anything to eat since 6:00 am. By now, it was about 5:00 pm.
A young boy was asked by the tunnel operator to help carry the suitcase of al-Hajj (me) to the wire gate signaling the entrance, a distance of 20-30 meters. The young boy dragged my suitcase in thick dirt and sand, and placed it outside the gate, which they closed behind me.
Now, I stood alone with my suitcase immediately outside the gate, with no sign of Sayyed, my driver who transported me from the airport to Rafah a few days back, and whom I expected to see waiting for me at the gate, especially since he is reliable, and we had called him the night before and informed him about the arrangements. We had asked him to be there about 2:30 pm, but I arrived about 3 hours late. What to do now? I stood at the entrance gate, in an unknown and potentially hostile territory, with an overwhelming sense of panic. I felt I was standing in a mafia-controlled territory, as the sun was gradually disappearing. This is an area under the total control of Bedouin tribes, marauders, traders and transporters of every commodity for which there is demand and pay, between the two sides of Rafah. There is clearly no control of the Egyptian central authority here. On the contrary, these people are overtly opposed to the presence of any symbols of central authority. The last two days, the area witnessed armed confrontation between the northern Sinai tribesmen and Egyptian police and army. Police posts were attacked with RPG’s and some were ambushed, which resulted in several injuries and one dead. They don’t hide their deep mistrust and hostility towards the Egyptian police and army, and they express openly their desire to establish an “Islamic Salafist Imarah” in this region.
As I stood there, I tried desperately to call Sayyed on his mobile to no avail. I could not get hold of him. He was praying. After about 30 minutes, which seemed forever, he showed up, and sped with me towards Cairo airport, dodging the hot spots of confrontation and burning tires on the main access road, and clearly rushing to avoid driving in the dark in northern Sinai.
He dropped me off at about 10:00 pm at Novotel airport hotel, in which I had reserved a room the night before. All I needed at that minute was to have a decent place where I could have a nice hot bath, a meal, a bottle of wine, a tv with good reception, clean sheets, and sleep. That I did, until I was awaken at 6:00 am to ready myself to catch my flight back to Tel Aviv!

Observations at-large
I will start with observations of little things, compared with Ramallah:
1. Observable on the streets are old, run-down cars, with more pollution; absence of fancy, new, late model cars observable on the streets of the “imaginary bubble” called Ramallah. On the other hand, animal-pulled carts (donkeys, mules and horses), abound on the streets of Gaza to transport rubbish, building materials, cases of water and soft drinks, vegetables, etc. Most often, they are “driven” by younger boys; in some cases, middle-aged women were “driving” their donkey-pulled carts with some home-grown vegetables to peddle at different stops.

2. Popular foods (falafel, humus, fool, etc) are much cheaper than in Ramallah; in my experience, the price is about one-third what I am used to in Ramallah. In one instance, I walked to the “popular food” shop across the street from the apartment where I stayed, to get some falafel and humus for lunch. When I asked about the cost of the falafel, he told me “seven for one Shekel”. My shock was obvious from my body reaction. The owner said: “clearly you are not from here”. No, I answered, “I am Palestinian from Galilee but living in Ramallah”. “How much is it in Ramallah,” he asked, “generally, three for one Shekel,” I answered.

But, when the average person has no money, this seems to be the only affordable quick food. On the other hand, the only available commercial bread is the tiny, white-flour, tasteless, cardboard-like, “kmajeh”, which young people refer to as “bitah”! I looked hard to find other kinds of bread, dark, or whole wheat, etc, hoping in my exuberance of visiting Gaza in spite of all kinds of restrictions, to stumble upon “taboun” bread, but to no avail.

3. Unless you were planning to shop at the new mall, it was almost impossible to walk around with denominations bigger than 50 Shekels. Small shops cannot handle bigger denominations, and have no small change.

4. During my stay, electricity was interrupted every day, during the day, sometimes for 7-8 hours; often it came back late during the night. So, one had to plan when to charge mobile phones, what to keep, or not to keep, in the refrigerator, when can you heat water on the gas stove for coffee or tea, if you don’t smoke and don’t walk around with a box of matches or a lighter, etc. Not to mention, of course, if you’re hoping to keep up with your favorite TV show...

5. I walked up and down Omar al-Mukhtar street, one of the main, and at one time fancy, streets in Gaza city. When the electricity was out, every shop, small or big, had a running small generator by the door. The noise is deafening; and combined with the heat and dust of the day, the noise pollution is overbearing.

6. Tap-water is salty. I would brush my teeth in the morning, and I have the constant taste of salt in my mouth until I had a chance to eat or drink bottled water. Of course, this water is undrinkable. But who can afford bottled water? How does the average person, who has no money and cannot afford to go to restaurants, manage?

7. Long cues of cars are frequently observable in front of gas stations, waiting for cheaper Egyptian gasoline and solar (mazoot) to arrive. Next to the cars, I observed another long cue of empty tin cans and gallon jugs waiting to be filled, so they can be sold on the black market for some profit (which is illegal; taking pictures of these cues is also illegal). The price of the Egyptian gas is less than half the price of the Israeli gas. I observed this phenomena also in northern Sinai district, as I entered and exited Gaza.

8. Not readily observable are young “professional technocrats” walking around with their name tags, attached to blue ribbons, and dangling down from their necks, as is the common scene in many Ramallah streets. A few “NGO types” can be observed, mainly near fancy hotels and meeting halls, but not abundantly.

9. Walking the streets, during day or night, I never feared for my personal security. Nor did I notice signs of armed groups, or such menacing scenes. I felt the place was quiet.
Some observations of the bigger things:
10. Readily observable is the presence of a big and clear chasm in geography, thought and speech simultaneously. The Gaza Strip appears to be a world in its own. Unity of Gaza and the West Bank is illusory. It appears to me that, more and more, Gaza is extending southwards, through language, social and human relationships, economic interests, daily interactions, and tyranny of religious thought, etc, and connecting with northern Sinai. As observed, northern Sinai district exists in a sort of “imaginary self-rule”, detached from the central authority and in confrontation with it.

11. I began wondering about the implications of such geographical and emotive fragmentation, and the role and planning of Zionist colonization in fueling such disintegration in order to control the available energy resources in the entire area. I also began questioning our contribution in feeding this fragmentation and disintegration, the more we insist on seeking a solution based on the partitioning of Palestine, and disregards its historical wholeness.

12. There are allusions that current society in Gaza is undergoing a “Talibanization” process, evidenced by the insistence of the Ministry of Education to introduce “Sharia” classes, required at the basic education level. Drew my attention, in this context, a big sign affixed to the wall of the police training academy (that was shelled at the beginning of the war on Gaza), stating in bold calligraphy: “The liberation generation will emerge from the mosques”.

13. One is very impressed by the resilience and creative steadfastness shown by the average people of Gaza in their daily adaptation to the most difficult and oppressive living conditions and environment. It was very clear to me that there was a prevalence of positive feeling of interactive human solidarity and concern to each other, which exceeds by leaps and bounds what I observe in Ramallah."

Egyptian Voters on the Promise, and Limits, of Historic Election: Sharif Kouddous Reports From Cairo

Democracy Now!

"Voters are heading to the polls for the second day in Egypt’s first competitive presidential election following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 15 months ago. The first day of voting saw numerous reports of minor violations, but was largely hailed as free of fraud and violence. Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister and now a leading candidate, was swarmed by protesters outside his polling station who hurled shoes and debris at him. Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous and videographer Hany Massoud spent the day traveling to polling stations around Cairo speaking to voters about their choices for president and their concerns in the election...."

Al-Jazeera Video: Egypt to hold second round of parliamentary election

"In just a few hours time, polls open again in Egypt for a second day of voting in the country's first free presidential elections.

Fifty million Egyptians are eligible to cast their ballots and so many turned out on the first day polling hours were extended.

Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna reports from Cairo."

Al-Jazeera Video: Amnesty criticises UN Security Council

"In its annual report Amnesty says the Security Council should have taken stronger action on the crisis in Syria.

Amnesty is recommending reform at the Security Council so a veto won't be able to stop action in cases of gross human rights violations.

Al Jazeera's Dominic Kane reports."

Al-Jazeera Video: Returning Lebanese tell of kidnapping

"Several members of a group of Lebanese Shia Muslim pilgrims caught up in a kidnapping in Syria have returned to the Lebanese capital, sources say.

The 34 female pilgrims arrived at Beirut's airport on Wednesday. They were travelling with at least 11 men and a Syrian driver, who were abducted on Tuesday in the the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and are still being held.

The Free Syrian Army says it was not involved in the kidnapping.

Rula Amin reports from Beirut, where she spoke to the wife of one of the abducted."

Egyptians Vote in Historic Elections while Under Military Rule

Millions of Egyptians cast their ballot in what has been hailed as the country's first and free presidential elections

More at The Real News

Sunni and Shia, by Khalil Bendib

Emad Hajjaj on Egyptian Elections

Egypt's revolution won't end with the presidential election

Beyond Tahrir Square Egypt's uprising is one that intersects with grassroots struggles in Europe: that's what the elites fear most

Jack Shenker, Wednesday 23 May 2012

"....Contrary to popular perception, Egypt has been a nucleus of radical dissent throughout its history, and certainly long before the anti-Mubarak uprising exploded. Just ask the residents of Kafr el-Dawwar, site of a barely reported insurgency in 1984; or the farmers of Sarandu, who in 2005 fought armed thugs and riot police attempting to seize their plots in accordance with a new Mubarak-promulgated "liberalising" land law. The difference now is that those agitating for transformation know that the winds of revolution are behind them, transforming what could otherwise be purely "local" or "parochial" concerns into a sustained and collective assault on the status quo.....

But is this month's vote the all-encompassing final product to be spat out at the end of the creaking revolutionary factory line, now that the "Tahrir youth" have been supposedly muted? That's what the revolution's enemies are hoping. They are likely to be proved wrong."

How Osama re-elects Obama

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times

"The release of hundreds of pages of government documents reveal that Kathryn Hurt Locker Bigelow was given unprecedented access to top-level sources for the movie she is making on the SEAL raid in Pakistan that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Essentially, this will be a Hollywood 90-minute multi-million dollar campaign commercial selling President Barack Obama as a macho commander-in-chief....."

Cairo's women have their say – but they have lost all their faith in the revolution

This election is all about giving women humble roles in society and leaving the important jobs to men

By Nabila Ramdani
Thursday 24 May 2012

"Awomen-only voting station on the west bank of the River Nile is an obvious place to gauge the state of female empowerment in post-revolutionary Egypt. Thousands of determined voters trooped in and out of the converted school in the Aguza district of Cairo yesterday in what looked like an inspiring symbol of a truly democratic, enlightened republic choosing its own president for the first time in its history. The truth is far less inspiring, unfortunately.

As I chatted to women of all ages, classes and professions, it soon became obvious that most have no faith whatsoever in the post-Arab Spring order. Not only do women make up less than 2 per cent of the new Egyptian parliament, but all of the 12 candidates standing to become head of state are men......

Since then, the patriarchal nature of Egyptian society has won through. Islamists and two men who were ministers in Mubarak's government are on course to win through to the second round of voting. The military, meanwhile, continues to receive complaints about sexual harassment and worse, as it uses attacks on women to reinforce its authority. Incidents such as forced "virginity tests" and savage beatings are known to have taken place over the past year.

"Women's rights have been reversed since Mubarak was deposed," said Amal Mattar, 19, a mother of two who was voting for the first time. "We vote with hope because women have so much to offer, but the Islamic parties believe men are far better placed to run society. Plans have already been put forward to reduce the age at which women can marry to 14, while everything is being done to keep them in the kitchen."......"

Press freedom watchdogs demand release of Palestinian broadcaster

The Guardian

"Press freedom watchdogs have called on the Israeli military to release the director of a Palestinian TV station who was detained last Thursday (17 May).

Israeli soldiers arrested Baha Khairi Moussa, who runs the Palestine Prisoner Channel, a satellite broadcaster based in the West Bank. They also confiscated the station's equipment.

But the reason for his arrest remains a mystery, as do his whereabouts. Both the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) have called for his release.

The Palestine Prisoner Channel, which began broadcasting a month ago, features reports and interviews with Palestinian prisoners on their status and condition in Israeli jails.
The arrest occurred days after about 2,000 Palestinian prisoners waged a month-long hunger strike for more rights in the Israeli detention system....."

Israelis attack African migrants during protest against refugees

Twelve arrested after protesters go on 'unbridled rampage' targeting African workers and looting shops serving refugees

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Thursday 24 May 2012

"Demonstrators have attacked African migrants in Tel Aviv in a protest against refugees and asylum-seekers that indicates an increasingly volatile mood in Israel over what it terms as "infiltrators".

Miri Regev, a member of the Israeli parliament, told the crowd "the Sudanese are a cancer in our body". The vast majority of asylum-seekers in Israel are from Sudan and Eritrea.

Around 1,000 demonstrators took part in the demonstration on Wednesday night, waving signs saying: "Infiltrators, get out of our homes" and "Our streets are no longer safe for our children." A car containing Africans was attacked and shops serving the refugee community were looted....."

Report 2012: No longer business as usual for tyranny and injustice

Strong Arms Trade Treaty needed as UN Security Council looks unfit for purpose

Amnesty International
24 May 2012

"The courage shown by protesters in the past 12 months has been matched by a failure of leadership that makes the UN Security Council seem tired, out of step and increasingly unfit for purpose, Amnesty International said as it launched its 50th global human rights report with a call for a strong global Arms Trade Treaty later this year.

Failed leadership has gone global in the last year, with politicians responding to protests with brutality or indifference. Governments must show legitimate leadership and reject injustice by protecting the powerless and restraining the powerful. It is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General.

The vocal and enthusiastic support for the protest movements shown by many global and regional powers in the early months of 2011, has not translated into action. As Egyptians go to the polls to vote for a new president, it looks increasingly as if the opportunities for change created by the protesters are being squandered.

“In the last year it has all too often become clear that opportunistic alliances and financial interests have trumped human rights as global powers jockey for influence in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Salil Shetty.

The language of human rights is adopted when it serves political or corporate agendas, and shelvedwhen inconvenient or standing in the way of profit.”....."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why have Pro Palestinian voices ignored Salama Keela?

Salama Keela, a Palestinian, an Arab, a Marxist, an anti-Zionist and an anti-imperialist, had been living in Syria up till a few weeks ago after having been uprooted from occupied Palestine in the late 70s. He is known to always be principled and straight up having never compromised nor bowed down to pressures. When the Assad regime jailed him few weeks ago in Syria , there was an uproar to his arrest, petitions were signed, some alternative Arab media covered his arrest in shock (Al-Akhbar and Angry Arab blog).  Keela was exiled a second time from his second home Syria to Jordan where he revealed in detail the ordeals of his arrest, the reasons behind it, how he was tortured, beaten, how he was forced to pee on himself and watch two of his mates die  in front of his eye due to torture in a hospital.

The whole story was disturbing but the account he gave of his hospital stay was the most chilling. There have been many stories of Syrians being killed, tortured, humiliated, and treated in the most inhumane ways while in government hospitals. Only those of us who care about the revolution believed these stories, the doubters, cynics, sectarians, and/or regime/resistance supporters all denied/down played the horror taking place even when faced with evidence whether it be youtube videos or Amnesty reports. These doubters would either pull the "how can you know this is not fabricated" excuse or in the case of
staunch Palestinian supporters who blog for Al-Akhbar what is happening
in syria is nothing more than a conspiracy with hollywood special effects !!

Salama stated that he wished he was never taken to the hospital !! Imagine a hospital bed has become a more brutal, ruthless and painful place than a prison cell. This is what ordinary Syrians face on a regular basis, that was what Salama tried to tell the world...Strangely no one from the pro Palestinian media reported what happened to him. Not Electronic Intifada , not Al-Akhbar , not Ali Abunimah, not Sari Makdissi none of them. Those very same voices have always pointed out-rightfully so- the double standards in the western and gulf media in their coverage of Palestine and how dissident voices are marginalized never to be heard and how important stories are constantly ignored with no coverage.

Now imagine that Salama was detained by Israeli forces, beaten and tortured in Israeli hospitals,  had witnessed the death of 2 fellow Palestinian prisoners due to the Israeli torture. Do you believe that Electronic Intifada would have just simply ignored it? Would Abunimah or Makdissi not tweet about it ? I ask because I need to make sense of how the pro Palestinian voices would not practice what they preach and ignore such a huge story that merits at the least some attention. Salama is not only a Palestinian who was tortured by the Syrian regime, but a human being who was gravely mistreated and tortured by an oppressive authority for daring to voice his principles.  Ironically the voices that most listen and cover the oppressed and are ignored by the mainstream chose to ignore him. 

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Do you believe that the increased tension in Lebanon is due to deliberate agitation?

With 2,500 responding, 91% said yes.

Egypt Votes: Sharif Abdel Kouddous Reports from Cairo on Historic Post-Mubarak Election

Democracy Now!

"A historic election is underway as Egyptians head to the polls for the first presidential election since their ouster of Hosni Mubarak. For the first time in the country’s history, the winner is not a foregone conclusion. We go to Cairo for an update from Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. Despite predictions of a high turnout, Kouddous says concerns remain over the role of Egypt’s military rulers: "Many say that we cannot have a president without a constitution. ... The president is essentially being elected without knowing exactly what authorities he will have vis-à-vis the military, vis-à-vis cabinet, vis-à-vis the Parliament. And many of these young revolutionaries ... say that any president that comes will be a puppet for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, will not have any real power, and that the real struggle will continue to be in the streets."....."

Al-Jazeera Video: Security tightened along Syria-Turkey border

Al-Jazeera Video: Mike Hanna reports on Egypt's election

Al-Jazeera Video: The role of religion in Egypt's election

"Two of the main contenders for Egypt's presidential election are or were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports from the group's stronghold of Beni Suef, to find out what impact religion is likely to have on the vote."

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - What kind of leader do Egyptians want?

Palestine's Future in Safe Hands

By Ramzy Baroud
Palestine Chronicle

"The commemoration of the Nakba needs to be more than a ritualistic event; the remembrance should be integrated into a clear and comprehensive national project aimed at offsetting the harm wrought to generations of Palestinians.....

While Oslo has been dead for over a decade — ever since Palestinian masses revolted in the Second Intifada in 2000 — those who formed the new government once more reiterated their commitment to the ‘peace process’. Following a Palestinian letter to Israel’s prime minister, the latter dispatched an envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, who delivered to Abbas a counter letter. “Israel and the Palestinian [National] Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal,” read a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office (Jerusalem Post, May 12).

Palestinian history is now evolving in two opposing directions. One is stuck in the past, reproducing the same statements and referencing the same tired but fruitless language of peace, ‘confidence building’ and compromises. The other direction is being followed by protesting prisoners and thousands of people in refugee camps, behind Israel’s apartheid walls and all over Palestine. It is the latter, not former, that will eventually define the future of Palestine. Their discourse is the one that has defined every Palestinian generation, from before the Nakba to the present day."