Political climate not right for reconciliation, Abbas says

President Mahmoud Abbas attends prayers Ramallah on the first day of Eid al-Fitr on Aug. 19, 2012.

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The current political climate is not suitable for achieving Palestinian reconciliation, President Abbas said Sunday.

Abbas made the comments during an interview with Egyptian daily Roz Al-Yousef. The President noted several factors affecting reconciliation, namely Hamas’ rejection of elections and Israeli plans to enhance the political division.

Hamas aims to add legitimacy to its sole governance of the Gaza Strip, Abbas added, while Israel is keen to present the notion that there are two distinct governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Arab Spring has enhanced the principles of democracy and pluralism in the region and the Palestinian Authority would respect the outcome of elections when held, he added.

Hamas and Fatah signed an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement in May 2011 to end four years of divided governments in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but its implementation has repeatedly broken down.

(www.maannews.net / 02.09.2012)

Argentina launches Islamic chamber of commerce

In a world that continues to change and where economic uncertainty grows, Argentina strengthens trade ties with Middle East and African Muslim nations through the creation of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce.

As part of Argentina´s foreign trade agenda to seek alternative investment scenarios and developments, administration of president Cristina Fernandez has welcomed the creation of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce.

Following a project by the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina and the Argentine-Arab Trade Chamber, the move will allow to foster business integration and cooperation between South America´s second largest economy and 57 Muslim states.

Press TV discussed with assistant secretary of the newly created office Mr. Sumer Noufouri challenges in a world that is changing and offering a “wake-up call” for Islamic developing countries in the Middle East and Africa.

In that sense, Mr. Noufouri pointed out that current value of imports from the Islamic World is of 3 billion dollars while Argentina´s exports totalize 12 billion dollars.

Buenos Aires-Tehran bilateral relation, for instance, have witnessed a profound upturn in trade ties over the past years. Argentine exports to the Persian country have grown soaring more than 70 per cent in 2010 to 1.5 billion dollars.
Regarding African Muslim nations, a trade mission to Nigeria has been officially announced for the upcoming months.

As World Powers fail to find a way out to the international crisis, Argentina´s government coordinate efforts targeting new markets and exploring inter-regional trade opportunities with Islamic nations.

(www.presstv.ir / 02.09.2012)

Rebels hit army HQ in Damascus

* Syrian rebels plant bomb in army HQ

* Government troops raze homes in rebel areas

* Army storms Sunni village, kills 25 men-opposition

AMMAN, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Syrian rebels said they planted bombs inside the Syrian army’s General Staff headquarters in central Damascus on Sunday as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces bulldozed buildings to the ground in parts of the capital that have backed the uprising.

Syrian state television said four people were wounded in what it called a terrorist attack on the General Staff compound in the highly guarded Abu Rummaneh district, where another bomb attack killed four of Assad’s top lieutenants two months ago.

“The operation targeted officers in the Assad army who have been planning and giving the go ahead for the massacres against the Syrian people,” said a video statement by the Grandsons of the Prophet brigade, a division of the Free Syrian Army.

“Bombs were planted inside the army headquarters,” said the video statement, which was broadcast on Arab satellite channels.

But as the rebels demonstrated they could strike at the heart of the security apparatus, residents said army bulldozers moved on al-Zayat and Farouk neighbourhoods to the west, and destroyed at least 20 buildings in the Sunni Muslim areas that have sheltered the insurgents.

In the eastern Damascus neighbourhood of Hazza, footage taken by activists on Sunday showed several buildings on fire. Opposition sources said the army had earlier stormed the area and executed 27 young men.

“Any youth of fighting age seems to have been captured and killed,” said activist Obadah al-Haj, who had fled the area.

Activist video footage from the area showed a young man lying dead beside a yellow taxi, shot in the face. Another dead youth was in the driver seat, blood covering his head and chest.

Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that has dominated power since members of the sect led a military coup in 1963. Assad’s father took power in 1970.

Loyalist forces killed at least 25 men on Sunday when they shelled and stormed al-Fan, a Sunni village in the province of Hama, opposition campaigners said.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said most of the men appear to have been killed by shelling, but an unspecified number were executed when troops stormed the village later. The official state news agency said a military operation on Fan targeted “terrorists who were scaring citizens”.

Video footage from Fan taken by activists showed women and family members crying over bodies wrapped in white sheets and placed in a row on the floor of a mosque.



As the uprising in Syria has spread, it has taken on a more sectarian bent, with activists saying Assad’s best trained forces from the mostly Alawite Fourth Division and the Republican Guards are spearheading the fight in the capital.

Assad, who is backed by Shi’ite Iran and its Hezbollah Lebanese proxy, has lost control of rural areas in northern, eastern and southern regions and has used helicopter gunships and fighter jets to try to subdue the opposition.

But the aerial bombardment has driven fresh waves of refugees into neighbouring countries, reviving Turkish calls for “safe zones” to be set up on Syrian territory.

With Russia and China blocking action by the U.N. Security Council however and little appetite among Western states, or Turkey itself, for committing troops to secure such zones, there is scant chance they will be set up any time soon.

Rebels said they seized an air defence facility and attacked a military airport in the eastern province of Deir al Zor on Saturday. Video footage showed a walled army command centre in the province coming under attack.

In the southern city of Deraa, which stands between Damascus and Jordan, troops continued razing and bulldozing houses in the old part of the city for a third day after army shelling and aerial bombardment drove 40,000 people from there to Jordan.

Free Syrian Army fighters had left, their light weapons no match to the firepower of Assad’s forces, residents said.

“There are around 20 homes that have been demolished and 200 burnt,” said Ahmad Abu Nabout, a resident of Deraa. “Old Deraa is deserted. Troops cover up their looting by burning the homes or in some cases blowing them up.”

(www.reuters.com /02.09.2012)

French Muslims seek equal rights, respect for Islam: Analyst

Interview with Nabila Ramdani, journalist & writer on Islamic affairs 

We have heard Francois Hollande, during the presidential debate, saying very specifically that they will be under his presidency, if he were to be elected and that is the case now, there will be no privileges for Muslims and that frankly was a statement that shocked the Muslim population in France because they are not asking for privileges but they are asking for equal rights and for the respect of their religion.”

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 5th of July overturned its 2007 ban on the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, which it had previously argued was unsafe and increased the risk of neck injuries.

This is while, in 2011, the Iranian team was disqualified because of wearing headscarves moments before kick-off in the 2012 Olympic qualifying match against Jordan. According to FIFA, more than 29 million women and girls around the world play the game.

Despite the recent decision, female soccer players in France will not be allowed to wear headscarves while playing in international games and domestic competitions. The French Football Federation says it is obliged to “respect the constitutional and legal principles of secularism which prevail in our country and which feature in our statutes”.

In the meantime, some French airports reportedly have begun to ask headscarf-wearing women to take off their scarves for security reasons.

Press TV has conducted an interview with Nabila Ramdani, a journalist and writer on Islamic affairs, to further shed light on the issue. What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.

Press TV: Thank you so much for being with us today. We heard these differences between what the FIFA is deciding, welcoming now the fact that Muslim women participating in the Olympics, they can wear headscarves; in France, still something which seems to be an exception and still they are very, very keen on saying that this is not only in France that it should be done but everywhere. We have seen since the headscarf affairs at the European level, the French being very strong on this that this should be a European policy.

So what is happening? How do you see the causes of all these measures that are at the end against the Muslims and not only the radicals, as it is said?

Ramdani: Well, the International Football Federation has made it abundantly clear that it is allowing for women, sportswomen, to wear the headscarf, overturning a 2007 decision. France’s position is to resist that decision and the crux of the argument is really the protection of secular values.

Now this is a very important point because politicians in France have come to reinterpret the very meaning of the secular concept in fact in a very misleading way, meaning to the suppression of expression belief when in fact secularism is about allowing the expression of various beliefs within a tolerant and indeed a respectful society.

So with France resisting the FIFA decision, it is actually showing that he has a very staunch and indeed disingenuous interpretation of the very concept of secularism.

Press TV: But how do you see it? When we talk about laicite [secularism] very often when it came to the sports issue for example what we heard also in France is, Oh! It has to do with security. This was also the argument that was used by the FIFA before saying that this has to do with security.

Now they are saying there is no question of security, we can go ahead with it and France is saying, yes, there is a question of security and there is something we have to distinguish to separate between religion and sports; now it is not only between state and religion; it is between religion and sport.

Is this something which is specific for France or do you see, with this new interpretation, what you are saying is that it is a new interpretation of what the secular system should be?

Does it have to do with Islamophobia? Or is it something which is deeper in the French psyche?

Ramdani: I think that FIFA realized, as was said in the introductory segment to this program, 29 million women and girls play the game around the world. So it has to become more inclusive of all these women and there I say the security argument is fallacious because you can handle security checks in a manner that does not go against the concept of modesty which is involved in Islam.

So it is very important to really assert that very strongly because you cannot ban women or exclude them from practicing sports on the basis of their faith and the FIFA realized that and the French have to come to terms with us.

Press TV: So it could be even counterproductive to see you cannot play and in fact at the end it is discriminatory towards women just not to be able to participate and it was exactly the same situation when it came to schools, just in fact the argument was and the conclusions were exactly the opposite of what was said, excluding women or girls from attending schools when they are wearing headscarf.

Now I have a question about the very specific situation in France because you are talking about the French position; is it the French position or are we dealing with political trance? Because if we look at the last presidential election before President Hollande became the new president, the perception was in for example one of the debates that they had on the primetime TV debate just before the second round, was on one point they agreed, which was the situation about laicite and protecting the secular state from any attempt of what they call communitarianism or what is the Muslim presence and saying we are going to be very tough on these.

As if on this, it is not a question of Right or Left. So whatever the president, the policy is going to continue. Is this true? Or do you see things that could change or are changing in France since the new president is in charge?

Ramdani: Well, we have heard, as you quite rightly pointed out, Francois Hollande, during the presidential debate, saying very specifically that they will be under his presidency, if he were to be elected and that is the case now, there will be no privileges for Muslims and that frankly was a statement that shocked the Muslim population in France because they are not asking for privileges but they are asking for equal rights and for the respect of their religion.

The tone was set by former President Nicolas Sarkozy not only under his presidency, but when he was interior minister.

There is no doubt that Sarkozy’s policy has to be put in the context over wider ascendancy of Islamophobia in Europe and the rise of the far-rights nationalists and Sarkozy was very much a populist president and when he was interior minister, he set the tone effectively when he called young people of north African background ‘scum’, who needed to be washed away with a power hose.

And then he embarked on a series of anti-Muslim measures including the so-called Burqa ban, effectively not allowing women to cover up in the public domain and under the pretext of liberating them; he effectively put them under house arrest.

And it carried on with an onslaught on Halal meat, with the lack of mosques, hence needing to people praying on the streets.

And that set of policies implemented by Nicolas Sarkozy, including a highly divisive national identity debate, which allowed bigots in France to post comments on government websites and very strong anti-Muslim comments on government websites.

At the end of the Sarkozy’s presidency, it led to the ascendancy of the National Front, with one-fifth of the population ending up voting for Marine Le Pen who still is the leader of the National Front in France.

Press TV: So the populist party and the far-right party, but one thing which is important because you said Sarkozy paved the way to this situation but before him even with the Left Party, the Socialist Party; in the 80s, we had exactly the problem that started, in fact everything started in the 80s, in fact before he was in charge.

So the point is that he is following in the footsteps of a policy that was there, even before we were talking about the very strong populist presidents in other countries in Europe and as we are talking about other countries in the Netherlands, even in the UK or in Austria or in Northern European countries, like in Sweden, in Denmark today, it is still specific that we have something which is coming from France.

Some people are saying, when we deal with French Muslims, they are saying this country they are all racists and in fact they do not like Algerians because of the old colonial…, the past, they do not like Islam. So is there something specific in the French laicite? What are the causes of what you are describing right now?

Ramdani: Well, there is no doubt that the root causes are perhaps the wider European concepts and this attempt to root out the Muslim legacy within Europe, turning it into a Judeo-Christian club which is historically wrong of course.

But more specifically in France, and I go back to the concept of secularism, it has come to mean the suppression of religious expression and that is the fundamental problem because French politicians are hiding behind this excuse to vent the prevalent anti-Muslim sentiments.

What the difference between the 80s and Sarkozy’s era is that Sarkozy made it more brash perhaps using more inflammatory language; he was much more of a provocative president and his cabinet ministers. It was no surprise to hear them come up with racist comments frankly on the regular basis.

Press TV: They normalize these kinds of speeches and it was something which was clear. So now with the new president, because very often Sarkozy was the figure that was really portraying this anti-Islamic rhetoric and normalizing it in the way he was talking about these Muslims and even though sometimes he tried to distance himself from what was done by his own party.

Now if we look at what is happening in France with the new president, with the Socialist Party, where we had signals that things could change and especially because the Socialists were always talking about the fact that, ‘we are close to the suburbs and close to the people’, do you see changes? Or do you hope that something could change? Or are we going to see in different ways and terms and words that are used exactly the same policies?

Ramdani: Well, Francois Hollande who is a Socialist new president clearly seems reluctant to address growing Islamophobia in France and there have been early signs of him not willing to tackle what is an essential problem in France at the moment.

For example he refuses to reverse the so-called Burqa ban; he has an overwhelming majority in parliament; this is a clearly anti-constitutional measure and a highly discriminatory as well.

Press TV: He was supporting it, even he said, ‘I did not vote but I am supporting the fact that it should be back’.

Ramdani: In fact, the Socialists abstained from the vote, with many Socialists being against the Burqa ban and others effectively keeping quiet about it because of that sacrosanct concept of secularism.

But he also refuses to introduce Halal meat in canteens for example, when other faiths have access to meat sacrificed according to their own rituals.

He refuses to allow Muslim woman to swim to have women-only sessions in pools when other women have access to that kind of things.

Press TV: What does he mean? All these measures that he is refusing to change what was done by the previous president and his party, what does it mean? Is it exactly the same vision, exactly the same? Is this Islamophobia?

Ramdani: Very much, sir, we would argue so, because I think more crucially when the appointment of his interior minister is very telling, Manuel Valls is somebody who, before he became interior minister in this new cabinet, was mayor of the city of Evry which was dominantly populated by young people from Arab backgrounds or African backgrounds and he infamously banned the sale of Halal meat in local supermarkets, for example; he infamously said as well that his city needed more white people around.

So this has to do with planning policies and I think what is also very indicative of Francois Hollande’s refusal to tackle Islamophobia is the appointment of a new women’s rights minister who was born in Morocco and then grew up in France and made it through the meritocratic system in France and who set objectives for her ministry and her objectives are very clear, they are very noble and idealistic.

She, for example, wants to tackle prostitutions not just in France but on the European scale, which is a bit idealistic; but also to tackle domestic violence and one wonders if she is minister for women’s rights, surely this includes Muslim women as well who are the most discriminated against and who are frankly waiting for this new socialist government to do something about their day-to-day lives.

The Muslim vote was crucial in electing Francois Hollande; it really made a difference to getting him elected.

Press TV: Maybe because they were against Sarkozy.

Ramdani: But also they believe in Socialist ideals of …

Press TV: Do you think that the majority, because this is something which is an important point for the future?

My sense is talking to French Muslims and people on the ground and that they do not really trust the socialists because they have seen during the 80s policy that were not really tackling social justice, equal opportunities in schools or in the job market. So there is a mistrust towards the socialists.

So mainly Hollande won because the great majority of the people were voting against Sarkozy; this is one of the understandings of what happened.

So do you see, in the future, the French Muslims supporting the socialists? Do they have a future with him?

Ramdani: Well, there is no doubt that Sarkozy was an incredibly unpopular president. He was in fact the most unpopular president in the whole history of the French Republic and he stepped up his Islamophobia in an attempt to hang on to power, leading in the presidential race.

That was not enough for him to be reelected but Muslims do expect from a Socialist government to deal with the day-to-day discrimination against Muslims in particular when it comes to employment opportunities, housing opportunities; really things that affect their day-to-day lives and there is a sense that Islamophobia will actually increase with the negative social effects in the wake of economic austerity measures.

Press TV: So, one thing, one last question, but it is not an easy one. If you look at the history and we look at what is happening now, the reality is that there is truly a specificity with France when it comes to dealing with the old colonized people coming from Algeria and this is something which is still in the psyche and in the collective psychology and with Islam.

So when you look at whole thing, you can see years after years and then president after president, it is always the same policies; the changes are very more cosmetic than anything else.

What could be the future for the French Muslims? What could they do in fact now to change something which seems to be rooted in the French psyche?

Ramdani: Well, as you said, it is a very difficult question, but I think it has to come from the top. It has to come from a political will to try and appease what is the biggest Muslim community in Europe.

For example, Algeria celebrated this year its 50th anniversary of independence; one would expect the gesture from the French government to acknowledge a very savage legacy in Algeria.

On the opposite, you had exhibitions in France praising this very bloody legacy; so that it is not conducive to appease relations between not only the Muslim community in France and the politicians and the political class, but, you know, young people from North African background in general.

So that would have been a very easy gesture from politicians to make to bring about more social cohesion.

Press TV: That is not going to happen from the state, it is not going to happen from the top. So what could be done as a bottom-up strategy? Is there something that the citizens could do?

Ramdani: Well, the problem is you talk to Muslims who were born in France; they feel French through and through and the core problems is that they are being denied the French citizenship.

They are always being looked at as the alien, as the foreigner and that is a very daunting situation and it does not help to make them more inclusive.

So again, I think, the solution is political; it has to do with implementing very forcefully anti-discrimination laws.

You cannot get away with discrimination in civilized countries like the UK, for example. Why can you get away with this in an equally civilized society like France?

Politicians need to be held accountable because they are the ones who are giving the example of what should not be done when it comes to their relationship with Muslims.

Press TV: But the point is that by promoting these policies they are winning the election. So if they win the elections with the popular support, what could be the role of the Muslim citizens?

Ramdani: Well, Muslim citizens are increasingly more politicized and their vote count and so they can vote in and out people.

(www.presstv.ir / 02.09.2012)

German Muslims angered over Berlin’s anti-Islam poster

German Muslim groups have censured Berlin’s recent anti-Muslim poster as “collective incrimination” of millions of Muslims in Germany.

German Muslim groups have censured Berlin’s recent anti-Muslim poster as “collective incrimination” of millions of Muslims in Germany.
German Muslims have been infuriated over Berlin’s recent propaganda campaign which depicts Islamic tendencies among the youth as insinuation of their involvement in ‘terrorist activities.’

In reaction to a controversial anti-Muslim poster published by the German Interior Ministry, four Muslim groups strongly criticized the move, saying it was “collective incrimination” of four million Muslims in Germany.

The prominent Muslim groups — the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, the Federation of Islamic Culture Centers and the Islamic Association of Bosnians in Germany – have also terminated their security partnership with the government, based on which the mosques assisted the government to detect terrorist suspects.

The poster portrays photos of the youth of generic Muslim descent with the headline “Missing,” and calls on the German families to contact a government counseling service if they discern any surreptitious action by their sons.

“This is our son. We miss him, because he isn’t the same any more. We are scared we’ll completely lose him to the religious fanatics and terrorist groups,” the poster reads.

Berlin is scheduled to distribute the poster in shopping malls and on the streets from September.

(www.presstv.ir / 02.09.2012)

Prisoner ‘asked to end hunger strike’ in return for medication

Sharawna, 37, from Dura near Hebron, began refusing food on July 1.

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Israeli prison authorities asked a Palestinian detainee to end his hunger strike in return for painkillers to treat chronic back pain, a prisoners group said Saturday.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society said in a report that Ayman Sharawna was taken to Ramla prison clinic hospital with severe back pain and required an injection from doctors.

Israeli prison authorities would not allow doctors to administer the injection unless Sharawna agreed to end his hunger strike action, the prisoner group said.

Sharawna refused to end his strike action.

The 37 year-old from Dura near Hebron, began refusing food on July 1 to demand his release from detention without charge, Addameer prisoners association said in July.

He had been released from Israeli custody under a prisoner swap agreement last October, but was rearrested on January 31.

Sharawna has stopped taking all sugar and vitamin supplements since Eid al-Fitr and is now only drinking water, the prisoners group said.

Amnesty International warned on Friday that two other prisoners on hunger strike, Samer al-Barq and Hassan Safadi, “are in grave danger as their health deteriorates.”

Both are protesting Israel’s renewal of their administrative detention orders, al-Barq since May 22 and Safadi from June 21.

(www.maannews.net / 02.09.2012)

Settlers are to Occupy a Room in a Palestinian Home in Ras El-Amud

For the settlers of Ras El-Amud in East Jerusalem, even 15 sq.m. room in an inhabited Palestinian apartment is enough in order to create facts on the ground. According to the court’s ruling, starting from tomorrow, September 2, the settlers are allowed to occupy one room at the Hamdallah family house in East Jerusalem. One who doesn’t know the story of the settlement in East Jerusalem may ask why would the settlers insist on entering such a small room in a Palestinian house and spend thousands of Shekels in many years of legal struggle. However, in East Jerusalem, this is how it works: This way, the life of the Hamdallah’s will become even more miserable, and with time, so hope the settlers, they will give up and leave the house. As soon as they leave, the settlers may replace the house with 20 new housing units.

The Hamdallah house and the settlement in Ras El-Amud

The Hamdallah house is a strategic spot for the settlers, it is adjacent to Ma’ale Zeitim A, a settlement of 50 units, that was completed in 2003, and Ma’ale Zeitim B of another 60 units that was completed last year. The third phase of the settlement, Ma’ale Zeitim C, of another 20 units, is planned to replace the Palestinian home. As long as the Hamdallah family stays at home, this plan cannot be implemented.

Tomorrow, The war of attrition against the Hamdallah’s, is about to enter another very hard period for the family. Starting from tomorrow, there are going to be settlers in their house, coming in and out, bringing guards, maybe arranging events or provocations, and the family will need to digest and try to live normal life.

Implementing the “Right of Return” for Jews
The settlers base their claim on the fact the land was owned by Jews before 1948, and now should return to the original Jewish owners. The Palestinian family managed to convince the judge that they have full rights in the house due to the long time that passed since the settlers got the ownership and the date when they first started the eviction procedures in court. However, few years ago, the settlers claimed that one room of the house was built after the limitation time and therefore, should pass to their hands. Two weeks ago the court ruled that the 15 sq.m room and a few meters of the backyard, belongs to the settlers and starting of tomorrow, they are allowed to move in.

To me, it is another example of how the occupation affects our moral judgment and even threatens the very legitimacy of our basic claims. Israel has been rightfully claiming that the solution for the Palestinian refugees issue will not be solved by implementation of the full right of return to the properties they lost in the 1948 war, because this would undermine the right of the Jews for self determination. However, the settlers, with their messianic fight to take over Palestinian properties, are ready to use the “right of return” argument for Jewish properties that were lost during the 1948 war, while prevent such a right from the Palestinians.

(settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com / 02.09.2012)

Visit Israel at your own risk, warn many Western countries

The latest travel advisory warns tourists that Israel periodically conducts military operations in the West Bank and Gaza with no prior notice, and advises travelers to avoid demonstrations.

Travel advisories to Israel. 

Travel advisories to Israel.

Israel has long starred in other countries’ travel advisories, and reading these warnings isn’t particularly flattering.

The warnings about terror attacks are predictable: Most countries urge their citizens to stay alert while visiting Israel and to avoid certain areas, such as Gaza, the Lebanese and Egyptian borders, and sometimes the West Bank – though no country has yet included a warning about the Iranian threat.

But many of these warnings also paint Israel as a primitive, crime-ridden country, full of bad drivers, religious extremists and even undrinkable water.

The most detailed and, it seems, important travel advisory is the American one, as many other countries refer their own citizens to it. This advisory, last updated it three weeks ago, focuses heavily on security. It offers a detailed survey of recent incidents along the border, as well as information about terror attacks in Jerusalem and rocket fire from Gaza. It warns that Israel periodically conducts military operations in the West Bank and Gaza with no prior notice, advises travelers to avoid demonstrations and exercise maximum caution in crowded places, and tells visitors to the Golan Heights to beware of land mines.

Other countries offer similar warnings – though Belgium, surprisingly, defines Israel’s security situation as “relatively good.”

But many advisories go way beyond security problems. Britain, for instance, warns its citizens against giving their passports to anyone in Israel, since it is currently investigating Israel on suspicion of fraudulently using British passports in the 2010 assassination of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

“This has raised the possibility that your passport details could be captured for improper uses while your passport is out of your control,” it says. “The risk applies in particular to passports without biometric security features. Only hand your passport over to third parties, including Israeli officials, when absolutely necessary.”

Other countries warn of problems at Ben-Gurion Airport. Austria, for instance, tells travelers to expect problems with airport security personnel when entering and leaving Israel.

The American version is much more detailed: “U.S. citizen visitors have been subjected to prolonged questioning and thorough searches by Israeli authorities upon entry or departure … U.S. citizens have been detained and/or arrested at the airport and at other border crossings on suspicion of security-related offenses. Members of religious groups have been monitored, arrested, and deported for suspicion of intent to proselytize in Israel.”

Moreover, some travelers have had “laptop computers and other electronic equipment confiscated at Ben-Gurion Airport. While most items are returned prior to the traveler’s departure, some equipment has been retained by the authorities for lengthy periods and has reportedly been damaged, destroyed, lost or never returned … Israeli security officials have also requested access to travelers’ personal email accounts or other social media accounts as a condition of entry.”

But wait, there’s more

Many countries warn travelers about Israel’s dangerous drivers, including Australia, Britain and Ireland. “Driving in Israel is erratic,” says the Australian version. “The road fatality rate in Israel is very high.”

“Aggressive driving is commonplace, and many drivers fail to maintain safe following distances or signal before changing lanes or making turns,” concurs the U.S. version. “Overtaking on high-speed undivided two-lane roads is common and results in frequent accidents. Drivers are also prone to stop suddenly on roads without warning, especially in the right lane.”

Ireland adds a warning about frequent speed traps and high fines.

Most countries devote special warnings to Jerusalem, and especially its ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Spain says Jerusalem has “returned to normal,” but still warns travelers to be extra careful there. Other countries are less upbeat. The U.S. and France both warn against using public transport in the city, for fear of terror attacks; Austria advises against public transportation throughout the country.

“Demonstrations in religious neighborhoods occur regularly and sometimes result in clashes between residents and the local police,” Canada warns. “Traffic may also be disrupted … Assaults on visitors who are traveling in cars or immodestly dressed have occurred in Jerusalem’s Old City and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods on Sabbath.”

Australia warns that public displays of affection at religious sites or in Haredi neighborhoods can spark anger. The British version is blunter: “If you choose to enter ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, be aware that local residents can react strongly to anyone (particularly women ) whom they deem to be dressed in an inappropriate manner. For women this would include wearing trousers. On Shabbat (from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday ) these neighborhoods are blocked off and you should not attempt to drive into them. If you do, local residents may stone your car.”

Most countries note that Israel’s crime rate isn’t high, but add several caveats: Canada says car theft is high; Britain warns of the theft of passports, credit cards and valuables; the U.S. warns of purse-snatching and car break-ins.

Japan offers a nonstandard list of places to avoid. It is headed by Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood, where it claims drugs and dubious characters abound. At night, it adds the city’s Neve Sha’anan neighborhood to the list, citing foreign workers, sex shops and high crime. And don’t walk alone at night on Allenby and Ben Yehuda streets, or in Old Jaffa, it warns.

Japan’s advisory includes a long list of places where Japanese tourists have had their valuables stolen, and claims that serious crime is also on the rise: Israel’s per capita crime rate is 2.1 times Japan’s for murder, 6.7 times Japan’s for theft and 7.2 times Japan’s for sexual offenses, it says.

Canada, Japan and Austria even warn their citizens not to drink tap water in Israel; Austria urges caution when eating fruits and vegetables as well. And France warns against visiting farms and open-air markets – while reminding travelers to “wash their hands frequently” to avoid germs.

(theuglytruth.wordpress.com / 02.09.2012)