Prophet Muhammad’s Mercy and Kindness Toward Animals and All Creatures

By Aisha Stacey at

When we mention the religion of Islam, often the first word that comes to mind is peace.  The word Islam is derived from the infinitive sa-la-ma which also is the root for the word salam, which means peace. Islam is a way of life that promotes peace, dignity, respect, tolerance, justice and mercy. All of these qualities are tempered with serenity, or calmness, that comes from submission to Allah. Perhaps the greatest of these qualities is mercy.  It is one of the overriding themes throughout the Qur’an.

وَلَقَدْ جِئْنَاهُم بِكِتَابٍ فَصَّلْنَاهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ

Certainly, We have brought them a Book which We have explained in detail with knowledge – guidance and a mercy to a people who believe.

[Surah Al-A’raf 7:52]

Mercy is that ethereal quality that embodies gentleness, piety, care, consideration, love, and forgiveness.  When these qualities are observable in this world, they are a mere reflection of Allah’s mercy towards His creation.  Allah the Almighty said clearly that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was a mercy for all creation, not just for his family and friends, for the Arab nation, for the people of his generation, or for human beings alone.

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

We have not sent you but as a mercy for all creatures.

[Surah Al-Anbiya 21:107]

Prophet Muhammad was the embodiment of mercy, he showed compassion to all those around him, family, orphans, friends, strangers and even enemies.  He also treated the environment and animals with respect and mercy.  He taught his followers that because animals were part of Allah’s creation they should be treated with dignity and due care.

The traditions of Prophet Muhammad remind us that humankind was put on this earth to be the custodian of Allah’s creation.  Treating animals with kindness and mercy is just one of the responsibilities embedded in that custodianship. Prophet Muhammad’s words and behavior make it clear that causing defenseless creatures pain and suffering is not only completely unacceptable, but we will also be answerable to Allah the Almighty for such actions.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:

مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا عَبَثًا عَجَّ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ فُلَانًا قَتَلَنِي عَبَثًا وَلَمْ يَقْتُلْنِي لِمَنْفَعَةٍ

Whoever kills so much as a sparrow for no reason will have it pleading to Allah on the Day of Resurrection, saying: O Lord, so-and-so killed me for no reason, and he did not kill be for any beneficial purpose.

[Sunan An-Nasa’i, Book of Sacrifices, Number 4446, Hasan]

And he said:

مَنْ قَتَلَ عُصْفُورًا فَمَا فَوْقَهَا بِغَيْرِ حَقِّهَا سَأَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ عَنْهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

If someone kills so much as a sparrow or anything larger without a just cause, then Allah the Exalted will ask him about it on the Day of Resurrection.

It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause?” He replied:

حَقُّهَا أَنْ تَذْبَحَهَا فَتَأْكُلَهَا وَلَا تَقْطَعْ رَأْسَهَا فَيُرْمَى بِهَا

A just cause is that you slaughter it for food, but you should not cut off its head and throw it aside.

[Sunan An-Nasa’i, Book of Sacrifices, Number 4445, Hasan]

Islam expects humankind to treat all animals, including all living creatures – birds, sea creatures, and insects, with respect and dignity.  Prophet Muhammad continuously advised people to show kindness.  He forbade the practice of cutting tails and manes of horses, of branding animals at any soft spot, and of keeping horses saddled unnecessarily [Sahih Muslim]. If the Prophet saw any animal over-burdened or ill-fed he would speak mildly to the owner and say:

اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ فِي هَذِهِ الْبَهَائِمِ الْمُعْجَمَةِ

Fear Allah regarding your animals.

[Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Jihad, Number 2548, Sahih]

However, refraining from physical cruelty is not enough; abstaining from mental cruelty is equally important.  Even a bird’s emotional distress should be treated seriously.  One of Prophet Muhammad’s companions narrates: We were on a journey and during the Prophet’s absence, we saw a bird with its two chicks; we took them.  The mother bird was circling above us in the air, beating its wings in grief. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, returned to us, he said:

مَنْ فَجَعَ هَذِهِ بِوَلَدِهَا رُدُّوا وَلَدَهَا إِلَيْهَا

Who has upset her by taking her children? Give her children back to her.

[Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Manners, Number 5268, Hasan]

In pre- Islamic times, pagan superstitions and polytheistic practices included acts of torture and cruelty to animals.  Islam condemned this and put a stop to all such practices.  When Prophet Muhammad and his companions migrated to Medina, they noticed that people used to cut off camels’ humps and the fat tails of sheep for food.  The Prophet forbade them from doing this and he said:

مَا قُطِعَ مِنْ الْبَهِيمَةِ وَهِيَ حَيَّةٌ فَهِيَ مَيْتَةٌ

Whatever is cut from an animal while it is alive is unlawful carrion.

[Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Food, Number 1480, Hasan]

In Islam, the rules pertaining to slaughtering animals are very strict and fixed.  Protecting animals from pain and undue suffering is paramount:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ الْإِحْسَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَإِذَا قَتَلْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الْقِتْلَةَ وَإِذَا ذَبَحْتُمْ فَأَحْسِنُوا الذَّبْحَ وَلْيُحِدَّ أَحَدُكُمْ شَفْرَتَهُ فَلْيُرِحْ ذَبِيحَتَهُ

Indeed, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything; so if you kill, then kill well; and if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let one of you sharpen his knife so his animal feels no pain.

[Sahih Muslim, Book 21, Number 4810]

Humankind must strike a balance in their treatment of animals. All living creatures were put on this earth by Allah for our benefit.  They are not at the same level as human beings but neither should they be treated cruelly.  It is humankind’s responsibility to see that they have food, water, and shelter from the elements.  Living creatures must not be overburdened, abused, or tortured and doing so will surely result in Allah’s just punishment.  A true believer in Allah demonstrates his or her belief by respecting the entire creation, and Prophet Muhammad’s character and actions are a shining example of respect for all that exists.

( / 01.09.2012)

International socialist organization backs UN statehood bid

President Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had just delivered to UN in September

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Socialist International organization will support the Palestinian request for non-member status in the United Nations, PLO official Nabil Shaath said Saturday.

Shaath headed to South Africa on Monday to participate in the Congress of the Socialist International, which takes place every four years, a Fatah statement said.

Shaath, his deputy Abdullah Abdullah and the Palestinian ambassador in Johannesburg Ali Halima met with leaders of parties participating in the congress and discussed Palestinian political developments.

The Socialist International is the worldwide organization of social democratic, socialist and labor parties and currently brings together 161 political parties and organizations from all continents, its website says.

In early August, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters in Ramallah that the PA would ask to be made a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27.

( / 01.09.2012)

Palestinian farmers fighting to survive

Farmers in the West Bank and Gaza face obstacles to growing and selling crops, increasing their reliance on Israel

Many Palestinian farmers have been forced to rent land from Israeli settlements
Ein Al-Beida, Occupied West Bank – For Palestinian farmer Esam Foqaha, agriculture is more than a profession, it’s a way of life. “Farming is not only a job. It’s our lifestyle and we will do it forever,” Foqaha said.

Foqaha lives in Ein Al-Beida, a Palestinian agricultural village located in the West Bank’s northern Jordan Valley area. With his three brothers, he cultivates about 300 dunams (0.3km) of agricultural land. Most of his produce – tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and other vegetables – is marketed to Jenin, Nablus and other major Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

A member of the Ein Al-Beida Agricultural Union, which represents 70 farmers in the area, Foqaha said a combination of harsh Israeli restrictions on Palestinian farmers, Israel’s near total control of resources, and neglect on the part of Palestinian authorities has made Palestinian agriculture in the West Bank almost impossible.

“Israeli restrictions have a political purpose: to increase the economic reliance of the people on Israel. Some will leave the land and work in settlements instead of farming. They want people to leave,” Foqaha said.

Lack of water and land 

Foqaha’s case isn’t unique. Instead, according to human rights groups, it represents a growing inability among Palestinian farmers to engage in sustainable agriculture in the occupied West Bank.

Almost 63 per cent of arable agricultural land in the West Bank is located in Area C, which according to the Oslo Accords agreement is under complete Israeli military control. Israel controls almost all of the West Bank’s water reserves, and severely restricts Palestinian access.

The cost of water is at least three times more expensive for Palestinians than for Israelis living in settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to a report by Israeli human rights group Btselem, titled “Disposession and Exploitation”.

Palestinian farmers are also prohibited from digging new groundwater wells for agricultural purposes, without first obtaining a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration. These permits are rarely, if ever, given and as a result, the Israeli army demolishes new Palestinian cisterns almost immediately. Confiscation of Palestinian water tanks has also been widely reported.

Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley control more than 1.46 million dunams (1,460 square kilometres) of land, or about 90 per cent of the total area. This land is entirely off-limits to Palestinians. In contrast, only about one-eighth of the remaining agricultural lands under Palestinian control (50,000 dunams, or 50 sq km) is cultivated by Palestinians in the area, the Btselem report found.

A 2010 paper cited by a World Bank report found if Palestinians could access 50,000 more dunams of land (50 sq km) and additional water resources in the Jordan Valley for growing high-value vegetables and flowers, they could earn about $1bn annually. With access to an additional 100,000 dunams (100 sq km) of land, about 150,000-200,000 jobs could be created both directly and indirectly.

Zbeidat (right) rents land from Israeli settlements to farm

This lack of accessible physical space has forced many Palestinian farmers, including 58-year-old Abdel Karim Zbeidat, to rent land from Israeli settlements for agricultural purposes. “This is the reality. We don’t have a choice,” said Zbeidat, who has been farming since 1971 in his Jordan Valley village, also named Zbeidat.

He explained that he pays a nearby settlement 15,000 NIS ($3,732) for water, and 5,000 NIS ($1,244) for land access, annually. Overall, the village of Zbeidat used to have access to almost 700 dunams (0.7 sq km) of agricultural land. Due to Israeli land confiscations, the village’s 1,800 residents can only farm 240 dunams (0.24 sq km) of their own land today.

According to the Btselem report, Zbeidat residents have access to 82 litres of water per capita for household use, compared to 411 litres per capita in Argaman, a nearby Israeli settlement.

Earning between 30-35,000 NIS ($7,465-8,709) per year, Zbeidat said he often has to borrow money to support his 10 children. “My work is not covering my family’s needs. 35,000 NIS is nothing,” he said.

Barriers to competition

Israel has imposed a variety of non-trade barriers on Palestinian farmers. For instance, Israel bans certain types of fertilisers in the West Bank on security grounds. Israeli products – which, due to Israeli government subsidies and cheaper production costs, can be sold at lower prices – also flood the West Bank market, making Palestinian goods less competitive.

In turn, Palestinians face a series of hurdles in selling their products in Israel, including most notably having to cross Israeli checkpoints. Often, trucks meet on either side of a checkpoint, and products are exchanged manually.

“The quality of crops decreases because it takes time to transfer the products from the farms to the trucks and to the market. It’s the farmer who pays for that,” farmer Esam Foqaha explained, adding Palestinian products sold in Israel now total about 20 per cent of what they did 10 years ago.

Some international investments in Palestinian agriculture have also had a negative impact on the sector. In the Gaza Strip, for example, Palestinian farmers produce flowers and strawberries for sale in European markets, instead of planting crops that can meet local consumption needs, such as wheat or corn.

“We have to admit that Palestinian agriculture has been annexed to the Israeli economy and the Israeli agricultural sector,” explained Dr Abdellatif Mohammed, Deputy General Director of the Palestinian Agricultural Development Association (PARC).

“They allowed Palestinians to market in Europe, but they did not allow them to market in the West Bank. This represents an important non-trade barrier in front of Palestinian farmers and it is a discriminative one.”

Mohammed said as Israel restricted the number of Palestinians that could enter Israel for work after the Second Intifada, many Palestinians returned to agriculture as either a primary or secondary source of income.

Today, he estimated that 60-70 per cent of Palestinians in the occupied territories financially depend in some way on agriculture. “If you look to Palestinians, where they invest, they invest in buying land. It is part of the culture. It is an honour for the Palestinians to have more land. It is not only wealth; it is honour. The solidarity and the voluntary work, which is part of the Palestinian culture, most of it started and nourished in agriculture,” he said.

Palestinian Authority neglecting sector

They [the PA] understood the land only as a resource that needs to be farmed, without having this political message behind it.

– Alaa Tartir, Al Shabaka policy advisor

In July 2010, the PA Ministry of Agriculture released its agricultural sector strategy paper for the period 2011-2013. Overall, the PA defined its goal as developing “sustainable and feasible agriculture, that is capable of achieving food security, [that is] competitive in the local and foreign markets” and “[cements] the bonds and sovereignty of Palestinians over their land, there on towards building the state”.

However, many have called into question the PA’s commitment to developing the agricultural sector. According to a report issued by Palestinian policy network Al Shabaka, titled “Farming Palestine for Freedom”, the Palestinian Authority has never allocated more than one per cent of its budget to the agricultural sector. Between 2001 and 2005, more than 85 per cent of the budget went to paying salaries at the PA’s Agriculture Ministry.

“The problem with the PA [is that] they avoid any sort of clashes with the [Israeli] occupational power and because of that, they understood the land only as a resource that needs to be farmed, without having this political message behind it,” said Alaa Tartir, Al Shabaka policy advisor and co-author of the report.

Agriculture’s contribution to the overall Palestinian economy has also dropped, from comprising 13.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 1994 to 5.7 per cent in 2008, the paper found.

“The PA needs to understand the development process differently,” Tartir said. “Farming is not only a project that needs to be profitable. It’s not a project that follows the economic efficiency model. It’s a different sort of investment. It is an investment that is related with identity, it is connected with freedom, with reclaiming land. And you need to understand it in that sense.”

Farming as resistance

Palestinians reported a heightened arrest campaign of leading agricultural employees by Israeli authorities this year. In July, the head of the Union of Agricultural Works Committees (UAWC) in Jericho was arrested in the early morning hours at his home, and held without access to a lawyer on unspecified charges.

It was the third in a string of similar arrests that month.

When asked why agricultural activists have seemingly been targeted, UAWC official Dr Taha Rifaie said Palestinians working their land was “a very clear symbol of resistance.”

“When you work on the land with farmers, it means giving the Palestinian people a better chance to stay on the land,” said Rifaie. “It’s not only a piece of land, it’s homeland. Without land, we don’t have a future.”

Al Jazeera contacted the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank for comment, but did not receive a response by publication time.

Rifaie said the Palestinian Authority must set aside more financial support for Palestinian agriculture if it wants farmers to remain.

While most Palestinian farmers were hesitant to openly criticise PA policies, Esam Foqaha from the village of Ein Al-Beida said farmers don’t expect much from the Ramallah-based government. Still, he urged the PA to help regulate which crops Palestinian farmers are planting, and subsidise them to better meet the needs of the market.

Making trade agreements with Arab Gulf states, Foqaha added, would also help Palestinian farmers to better earn a living.

“If a farmer sees that he is losing money every year, maybe he will leave his land. But we don’t have any choice. We can’t move anywhere else,” Foqaha said. “A farmer in the Jordan Valley is a soldier, a breadwinner, and the main line of defense, but at the same time, the biggest loser. No one is taking care of us.”

( / 01.09.2012)

Military & Settler Vandalism Escalates as Court Battle over South Hebron Hills Heats Up

We continue to follow, report and support the struggle of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank’s southernmost region, to continue living on their ancestral lands which they legally own.

One would think that in an enlightened society such a simple request would be guaranteed beyond doubt. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. For an entire generation, the Occupation regime, aided and egged on by the settlers that regime has introduced into the region, has been trying to uproot a few thousand indigenous residents. The mechanisms have ranged from military edicts, bad-faith legalistic arguments in court, pressure on the ground, and naked violence and vandalism.

On the court front, residents have last week achieved what seems like a minor victory. The Occupation regime now insists that “only” 8 Massafer-Yatta villages be evacuated and destroyed, instead of the 12 that the original 1999 edict declared to be part of an IDF “firing range”. According to lawyers who represent the residents, during the court battle the regime offered this reduction from 12 to 8 in exchange for stopping the struggle. Now the regime has been (apparently) forced to do so in exchange for nothing. The regime probably sees now that its flimsy – no, outrageous – arguments that it can declare a “firing range” over an entire stretch of populated land and pretend the people there have never existed, has very little chance of winning the day, even in the skewed playing field of Israel’s own courts. Therefore, it perhaps tries to appear more “rational” and “reasonable” by excluding 4 villages from the count. The High Court has responded by erasing the original 12-village petition, and inviting plaintiffs to resubmit an adjusted one for the 8 villages within several months, without any impact on their petition rights.

That victory noted, the IDF still controls the region very tightly, and has continued to try and inflict misery and intimidation upon residents, in the hope that they leave of their own accord. This summer’s campaign has started, as reported here, withsweeping evacuation and demolition decrees, in apparent violation of the pending court case. Now, during the first week of August the IDF raided two of the 4 villagesremoved from its evacuation edict! Then, on August 7 it raided Jinba village, which is among the 8 still included in the court case. Images of this “heroic” use of military might and resources against defenseless civilians, are below.

The pictures were taken in Jinba by Btselem activists, and transmitted to us by Guy Butavia. The raids were implemented using helicopters, which landed and took off in the village 6 times.

The cave dwellers’ hamlet of Jinba is one of the largest and oldest of this type of locality in the cave region of the South Hebron Hills\Massafer Yatta region. This being summer, many children who normally stay in Yatta during the school year (because no adequate secondary school exists in the cave-dwelling region) were in the village. The residents’ sheep, as usual, were also around, receiving the military’s attention as well:

Intimidation alone was not enough for the brave soldiers, so they also tossed out the contents of some closets, and spilled large jugs of milk and cream.

Amira Hass reported this raid on Haaretz, but apparently that newspaper’s English mirror is now attempting again to charge a premium for reading the only somewhat-independent mainstream Israeli source for news on the Occupation.

Then, on August 16, the region’s settlers once again pitched in. As Operation Dove reports:

In the afternoon of August 16th some Palestinians discovered that an olive grove situated in Humra valley had been recently destroyed during the night, according to a Palestinian. Thirty olive trees were broken or severely damaged. The olive grove belongs to a Palestinian family that lives in Yatta, a Palestinian town close to At-Tuwani. The area in which the olives trees were cut is located in front of Havat Ma’on, an illegal outpost.

The amount of Palestinian trees tore down and damaged [in the region] since January 2012 rises to 97: a largest number is located in Humra valley. The olive grove’s destruction represents several problems of subsistence for Palestinians. Operation Dove has maintained an international presence in At-Tuwani and South Hebron Hills since 2004.

Once again, the settlers and the military Occupation prove in action that they are two arms of the same beast: the beast of nationalist supremacy, dispossession and violence. In addition, over the past few days the military has confiscated private Palestinian vehicles in the region, under the pretext of “unauthorized driving inside a firing range.” The Occupation makes a joke of the concept “issue pending court decision”, and uses its power on the ground to intimidate and forcibly drive people off their land.

So far, the residents, aided by concerned citizens of Israel and around the world, have remained determined to stand up for their rights.

( / 01.09.2012)

Gaza not a threat to Egypt’s security, Haniyeh says

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — The Gaza Strip is not a threat to Egypt’s security, prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday.

Haniyeh made the comments while meeting with a security delegation in the coastal enclave, a statement said.

The Gaza premier applauded Egypt’s treatment of the Palestinian people and Gazans in particular, adding that Gaza can be a source of security and cooperation for Egypt.

Relations between Egypt’s new government led by President Muhammad Mursi and Hamas had deteriorated since an attack in which gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers on the Israeli border in early August.

Egypt closed the Rafah crossing and moved to seal myriad smuggling tunnels with Gaza on suspicion they might have been used by militants who shot dead the soldiers.

( / 01.09.2012)

IOF quells two marches in Beit Ummar and Yatta in al-Khalil


AL-KHALIL, (PIC)– The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) suppressed on Saturday two marches against the segregation wall and settlements in the towns of Beit Ummar and Yatta in al-Khalil south of the occupied West Bank.

The IOF soldiers assaulted participants in the weekly march of Beit Ummar organized on the confiscated lands of the citizens near Karmi Tsur settlement, North of al-Khalil.

Ahmed Abu Hashem, the secretary of the National Committee against the Wall and the Settlements in the town, said in press releases that the Israeli soldiers used tear gas and stun grenades to attack the demonstrators injuring a number of them.

The demonstrators raised slogans in solidarity with the hunger striking prisoners, especially prisoner Hassan al-Safadi, and in rejection of the Jewish settlers continued attacks in different parts of the West Bank.

The Israeli troops also suppressed on Saturday another anti wall and settlements march in the region of Al Hamra in a village eastern Yatta, south of al-Khalil.

Ahmed Rabi, one of the participants in the march, told PIC’s reporter that “the residents of the village organized the march in collaboration with community organizations and foreign peace activists”.

He said that the residents wanted to protest the settlers’ recent attacks in Masafer Yatta after they had uprooted more than 100 olive trees and sprayed toxic substances on the citizens’ plantations under the protection of Israeli soldiers.

Ahmed added that the soldiers quelled the march and used force to disperse protestors.

( / 01.09.2012)

Renewed shelling reported near Syrian capital

Assad forces shell neighbourhoods in Damascus and Aleppo as new fighting rages between Syrian troops and rebels in Homs.
Syrian government troops have shelled neighbourhoods of Damascus after overnight clashes with rebel fighters, who launched deadly attacks on the military elsewhere in the country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said the bombardment of the southern neighbourhood of Tadamon in the capital early on Saturday followed street fighting with rebels there.

Another activist group, the Local Co-ordination Committees, said troops also shelled the nearby neighbourhood of Hajar Aswad.


Syrian regime forces have been able to recapture most areas of the capital that rebels seized in a July offensive, though opposition fighters continue to stage attacks using hit-and-run tactics in areas where they enjoy popular support, and recently claimed to have shot down a helicopter.

Meanwhile, gun battles between Syrian troops and opposition forces are being fought in the country’s biggest city, Aleppo.

There were also reports of new fighting in Homs, where an explosion occurred in a heavily built up area of the city on Saturday. Parts of Homs have remained under siege by government forces for the last three months.

In Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border, rebel fighters captured the main air defence building, the Observatory said, adding that “preliminary reports” suggested they had seized ground-to-air missiles that could boost their ability to down government aircraft.

The assault late on Friday came after a rebel attack on the Abu Zohur air base in Idlib province in the northwest, where the Free Syrian Army said it downed a MiG warplane shortly after takeoff earlier this week.

In their assault in Abu Kamal, rebel fighters also captured 16 air defence personnel and attacked the nearby Hamdan air base, the Observatory said.

The seizure of the defence headquarters was a “major coup” for the rebels, the Britain-based watchdog’s director Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency, adding that it sparked retaliatory shelling in the town of some 60,000 people that killed at least five civilians.

They were among a total of 125 people killed in violence nationwide on Friday – 74 civilians, 29 soldiers and 22 rebels, according to the Observatory’s figures.

The rebels claim to have destroyed a dozen aircraft on the ground in their attacks on air bases in recent days as they seek to counter the government’s use of MiG warplanes and helicopter gunships against them.

Russia not ‘holding onto regime’

With the insurgency intensifying, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said calls by Western and Arab governments for President Bashar al-Assad to unilaterally pull back his troops amounted to a demand for “capitulation” that they had no right to make.

In talks with Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi in Tehran on Friday, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said that Assad’s regime must stop using its heavy weapons.

But Lavrov said on Saturday that such calls were “completely unrealistic”.

“When our partners say that the government must stop first and withdraw all its soldiers and weapons from cities, and only then call on the opposition to do the same, well, this is a completely unworkable scheme,” he said.

“Either people are naive or it is some sort of provocation,” he added.

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Lavrov stressed that Moscow, an Assad ally that maintains a military base in the coastal city of Latakia, was not trying to support Assad or his government but basing its policies on the daily situation on the ground.

“We are not holding on to any regime or any individuals in the Syrian situation. We are simply basing our position on what is realistic,” he said.

Both Damascus and Aleppo, the largest city, have seen persistent fighting between troops and rebels in a conflict that has now claimed more than 26,000 lives since March last year, according to the Observatory’s figures.

Turkey has been pressing for the establishment of safe havens inside Syria to stem the mounting exodus of refugees, and reacted with frustration when its calls fell on deaf ears at the UN Security Council on Thursday.

But on Friday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that any such move would require UN backing and would be far too risky without the prior establishment of a no-fly zone.

Turkey is home to more than 80,000 refugees and thousands more have been stranded on other side of the border waiting to be accommodated in camps yet to be built by the Turks.

Meanwhile, the new UN-Arab Envoy to Syria is preparing to hold meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Lakhdar Brahimi is taking over the position after Kofi Annan resigned in early August.

Afterward the former Algerian diplomat and the head of the UN, Ban Ki-moon plan to discuss the Syrian conflict at the general assembly.

( / 01.09.2012)

Arrigoni’s murder trial: Answers not just a verdict

Vittorio Arrigoni sent daily dispatches to Italian media from the Gaza Strip during Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead.’

There was once a young man from a very small Italian town called Bulciago who wished to change the world. As soon as he finished his exams, he began his quest. He traveled near and far, and when he arrived in Jerusalem in 2002, he knew he had found his calling.

In 2008, that young man, Vittorio Arrigoni, sailed the high seas on a small boat. His purpose was to help end the siege imposed on a long-suffering population living in the tiny Gaza Strip. In a journal entry that was recently published in a much anticipated book, Freedom Sailors, Arrigoni wrote:

“History is us; History is not cowardly governments; with their loyalty to whoever has the strongest military; History is made by ordinary people.”

Vittorio’s history sees “ordinary people” as actors who can change the world: courageous sailors who can challenge great military powers, doctors dashing through borders and saving lives, writers, teachers, speakers, musicians and people from all backgrounds.

Vittorio’s middle name was Utopia, but his was hardly a utopian undertaking. It was very much real, and Vittorio was himself charting the way for others.

Once in Gaza, he was determined to see his mission through to the very end, despite having many compelling reasons to leave. In September 2008, he was injured by the Israeli navy as he accompanied Palestinian fishermen in Gaza’s territorial waters. A month later he was arrested — or more likely, kidnapped — by the Israeli military, and subsequently deported.

A month later he returned, just in time to report on the so-called Operation Cast Lead. This was a one-sided war on Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009, following the failure of the siege to achieve Israel’s political objectives. The 22-day war killed over 1,400 people and wounded thousands more.

Vittorio was there to witness it all. As many turned the war off and on through their remote controls, Vittorio was accompanying ambulances in middle of the night, comforting the wounded, weeping with the bereaved, calling on the world to help, and surviving the war himself.

He sent daily dispatches to Italian media, blogged on his website and wrote to friends the world over. His book, Restiamo Umani (Stay Human) offers a glimpse into the courageous man’s experiences. In his first entry, he wrote as an Italian activist. By the end, he was a Palestinian man besieged in Gaza.

In the eyes of some, he was dangerous. A US-based far-right website called for his murder. It was not Vittorio the person that alarmed Israel, but the notion of what he and others like him symbolized — a challenge to the predictability of a conflict between a powerful oppressor and a powerless but defiant oppressed.

As far as Israel was concerned, an idealist from a northern Italian town had no business being in Gaza, where people are indefinitely caged in an open air prison. Neither Vittorio nor any other international activist was supposed to disturb the inhumane experiment.

Yet, Vittorio’s story had a most unexpected twist. In April 2011, he was kidnapped and murdered. His murderers were Palestinians from Gaza, commanded by a mysterious Jordanian character whose origins and motives remain unclear. It was a horrifying, anti-climactic end to a story that was never intended to turn so wrong.

It took Palestinian society a long time to reconcile with the fact that Vittorio’s murderers were in fact Gazans, while others gloated with triumph. Vittorio’s very detractors were leading a media war defaming Palestinians, international activists and the supposedly misguided Italian who believed that the ordinary could change history.

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, historian Geoffrey Alderman stated: “Few events — not even the execution of Osama bin Laden — have caused me greater pleasure in recent weeks than news of the death of the Italian so-called ‘peace activist’ Vittorio Arrigoni.” Pleasure at the killing of a peace activist is fully consistent with Israel’s ceaseless efforts at “discouraging” international activists from showing solidarity to Palestinians.

Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since the breakup with rival Fatah in 2007, seemed genuine in its attempt to capture Vittorio’s killers. An investigation quickly pointed at Salafi groups, Tawhid and Jihad, Army of Islam and others.

A manhunt followed, leading to the killing of a Jordanian citizen, Abbad al-Rahman al-Brizat, and Palestinian refugee, Balal al-Omari. Others were captured, and in September 2011, a trial began.

The trial of Vittorio’s alleged killers has not exactly been a model of transparency. On Sept. 4, a verdict is scheduled to be handed down to four men accused of involvement in the murder. Al-Brizat, the Jordanian man, was perhaps the most important key in the trial. He is gone now, and allegations that his true aim was to exchange Vittorio for an imprisoned Salafi leader, Hisham al-Saedni remain unverified.

Just 11 days before Vittorio’s murder, another activist, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was murdered in Jenin, in the West Bank. The timing of the killings is puzzling and suggests a larger plot. Hamas and other Palestinian officials suggested hidden Israeli hands in both the vile acts, but the thread is yet to be found and unraveled.

Earlier this month, Hamas freed al-Maqdissi — the man the supposed Jihadists wanted to free — citing lack of evidence. A few days later, following the murder of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai, it cracked down on his group. The plot here starts to thicken beyond the ability of any straightforward narrative to explain all the missing links.

On Sept. 4, four men will be awaiting the verdict of a Gaza military court. But much more will be on trial that day, not least the credibility of Gaza’s legal system. Many questions will need to be answered to truly understand what is transpiring in the Gaza Strip, and who is behind the hidden agendas.

The killing of Vittorio was intended to not only kill him as a person. It was also meant to destroy the very idea that sailed with him and his friends to Gaza in 2008: that ordinary people are history and that they, and only they, will eventually make the difference in a world ruled by sheer interests and military might.

Yes, justice for Vittorio Utopia Arrigoni is paramount, but we expect the Gaza government to hand down more than a verdict, but answers to those trying to kill Vittorio’s dream — along with our humanity.

( / 01.09.2012)

Moroccan Households Pessimistic about Future

Casablanca, Morocco
Moroccan households are showing less optimism regarding economic developments and their own financial situation.  They report reduced savings and ability to purchase consumer durables.  According to the results of the latest confidence survey conducted by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning (HCP), the consumer confidence index (LCI) continues to decline.
During the second quarter of 2012, the index fell by more than 5 percentage points year-on-year and 2.2 points compared to the first quarter of this year.  This is the third consecutive quarterly decline in the LCI, which registered 80.7 points in the second quarter against 82.9 points in the previous quarter and 85.8 points a year ago.

An analysis of this index shows a decline in almost all its various components.  The households expressed concern about the overall standard of living.  Their opinion on prospects for the standard of living deteriorated in the second quarter as compared both with the previous quarter and the same quarter of 2011.  However, the HCP noted that economic data shows that the standard of living actually improved over the past quarter, though it has deteriorated since the second quarter last year.

Households also are not optimistic about the future of unemployment.  In the second quarter of this year, 64.4 percent of households expect an increase in the number of unemployed.  This indicator has deteriorated by 4.5 points from its level a quarter earlier and 2.6 percentage points compared to the same quarter last year.

The erosion of household optimism is also evident in their evaluations of their own financial situation, their intention to buy durable goods, and their savings.  As Moroccans become less likely to be able to meet their needs using their income, they are forced to increase their use of debt.  Less than 58 percent of households said that they adjust their expenditures to their income, with 36.6 percent intending to borrow or dip into their savings, and only 5.5 percent reporting adding to their savings.  Only 82 percent of households expect to be able to spare money for their savings, a proportion that has held steady over the past months.

Similarly, a large portion (about 58 percent) of households felt that the time is not opportune to purchase durable goods, while 20.4 percent disagreed.  This represents a decline in this indicator, which was down nearly 5 percentage points from the previous quarter, but is still slightly higher, compared to the same period last year.

( / 01.09.2012)