Palestinians do have options for change and resistance

On November 28, 1947, the CIA predicted accurately the meaning of Truman’s push to partition Palestine: “Armed hostilities between Jews and Arabs will break out if the UN General Assembly accepts the plan to partition Palestine … the resulting conflict will seriously disturb the social, economic, and political stability of the Arab world, and US commercial and strategic interests will be dangerously jeopardized … The poverty, unrest, and hopelessness upon which Communist propaganda thrives will increase throughout the Arab world.”

It has been 20 years since the Oslo process and we can engage in a postmortem analysis of the dozens of failed initiatives and plans for “peace,” or pacification.

Some would tell us our choices are or were limited. Ten years ago, our departed friend Professor Edward Said wrote: “Who is now asking the existential questions about our future as a people? The task cannot be left to a cacophony of religious fanatics and submissive, fatalistic sheep … We are that close to a kind of upheaval that will leave very little standing and perilously little left even to record, except for the last injunction that begs for extinction. Hasn’t the time come for us collectively to demand and formulate a genuinely Arab alternative to the wreckage about to engulf our world?”

Today, seven million of the 12 million Palestinians around the world are refugees or displaced people. There are some 5.8 million Israeli Jews and nearly 6 million Palestinians who live under the rule of the apartheid Israeli state. Half the Jews who live in Palestine/Israel are immigrants.

Israel stole most of the land and now controls some 93 percent of the land of Palestine (before the British invasion and the Balfour Declaration, native and Zionist Jews collectively owned only 2 percent of Palestine).

It is tempting for some people to lose faith in the possibility of liberation and justice after 132 years since the first Zionist colony and 65 years after the 1948 Nakba.

There was a phrase in the 1960s civil rights struggle, “free your mind and your ass will follow.” Surely when we free our minds we will see there are many options, despite the attempt of our oppressors to convince us that our options are gone, save for surrendering or issuing empty slogans.

Surely, we as a people can and do chart a path forward.

What are our options outside of sloganism or defeatism? That is to say, outside of current policies of endless talk or endless negotiations while weak?

The other options are not magical nor new; many have already articulated them in clear visions in countless studies.

Why not revive the original charter of PLO to liberate all of Palestine? Why not democratize the PLO to really represent the 12 million Palestinians around the world? Why not refuse to suppress resistance and instead engage in massive popular resistance throughout historic Palestine?

Why not engage in resistance in areas outside of Palestine? Why not target Zionist companies and interests world wide by economic boycotts and even sabotage? Why not expose and confront the network of Zionist lobbyists that support war crimes and support Zionist control? Why not engage in educational campaigns and media campaigns and lobbying around the world?

Why not build alliances with powerful states that could provide protection or support, like China, Russia or Brazil? Why not promote boycotts, divestment, and sanctions? Why not work through international agencies including the International Court of Justice to bring Israeli war criminals to justice and challenge membership of Israel in the UN and all its agencies? Why not do all the above and even more?

Politicians are reluctant to consider change because they believe they are important. To justify their inaction and lack of backbone, they even lie.

But people can and do force politicians to change. Regardless of how they got into power or the nature of governing systems, leaders cannot afford to ignore strong people demands. But if the people are complacent and ignorant, this is the best scenario for status quo politicians.

We saw changing policies in the Ottoman Empire from support of Zionism to rejection. We saw changes in British policies in response to the Palestinian revolution of 1936 and continuing pressures even recently when the British parliament voted against attacking Syria on behest of Israel.

And we saw the power of resistance in 1987-1991 in challenging both the complacency of leaders in Tel Aviv and Tunisia. Surely we can also learn lessons from the limitations of military might whether in Vietnam in the 1960s or in Iraq in 2003, or Lebanon in 2006, or Gaza in 2008.

More recently we can see dramatic shifts and retreats in issues dealing with Syria and Iran. History is dynamic and not static nor is it to the liking of status quo politicians.

The original Zionist project was for control of the area between the Euphrates and the Nile. Here we are 130 years later and even the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is roughly at parity between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. When Balfour declaration was issued in 1917, there were 650,000 Palestinians in Palestine; today there are nearly 6 million.

Surely this is not a hopeless scenario. After denying our existence, the Palestinian flag now flies around Palestine even inside the Green line. Surely this should not be at the expense of Palestinian flags on security uniforms preventing Palestinians from engaging in resistance or as backdrops with Israeli and American flags in endless negotiations.

Martin Luther King, Jr posed the question: “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”

(Source / 06.10.2013)

Libya wants answers over raid by US commandos

Libya wants answers over raid by US commandos

PM suggests he was not informed of operation to seize alleged al-Qaeda man wanted for East Africa embassy bombings.


Libya has called for an explanation after the US snatched a man it alleges is an al-Qaeda leader during a raid in Tripoli.

Ali Zeidan, Libya’s prime minister, suggested on Sunday that his government was not informed of the plan before US commandos seized Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Liby, in the Libyan capital on Saturday.

“The Libyan government is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen who is wanted by US authorities,” Zeidan said in a statement. “The Libyan government has contacted to US authorities to ask them to provide an explanation.”

Liby is wanted by the US for his alleged role in the East Africa embassy bombings that killed 224 people in 1998. The US had offered $5m for information leading to his capture.

‘Libyan special forces’

Mohammed El-Hadi, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tripoli, quoted Liby’s wife as saying that he was seized as he headed to morning prayer by eight to 10 masked men.

“His wife saw the men getting out of two cars in front of the house … she added that the masked men immediately attacked him before he could get out of his car,” our correspondent said.

“She said she was listening to them and heard some of them speaking in a Libyan dialect … and some information indicated they were Libyan special forces.”

George Little, a spokesman for the US Defence Department, said that Liby was being “lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya”.

The raid in Libya coincided with a failed attempt in Somalia to seize Ahmed Godane, a leader of the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab.

The New York Times quoted an unnamed US security official as saying that the raid in Barawe was in response to the al-Shabaab assault last month on the Westgate mall in Kenya, which left at least 71 people dead.

Commenting on the attack, John Kerry, US secretary of state, warned al-Qaeda fighters that they could “can run but they cannot hide”.

Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, said US sources confirmed they had failed to capture or kill their intended target.

In contrast to Libya’s statement, Somalia’s prime minister Abdi Farah Shirdo said “our co-operation with international partners on fighting against the terrorism is not a secret”.

“Understand me, that fighting is not a secret. And our interest is to get a peaceful Somalia and free from terrorism and problems.”

(Source / 06.10.2013)

Egypt: 28 dead in Cairo clashes

Egyptians wave national flags during celebrations marking the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. At least 28 people were later killed as they tried to converge on a central Cairo square. Photo / AP

Egyptians wave national flags during celebrations marking the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. At least 28 people were later killed as they tried to converge on a central Cairo square.

At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between Islamists and police in Egypt, as thousands of supporters of the military marked the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, overthrown in a July military coup, tried to converge on a central Cairo square on Sunday for the anniversary celebrations, when police confronted them.

At least 26 civilians were killed in Cairo, and two south of the capital, and 94 people were wounded, senior health ministry official Khaled al-Khatib told reporters.

In central Cairo, policemen fired shots and tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters. AFP correspondents saw several suspected demonstrators being arrested and beaten.

Three months after Morsi’s overthrow, followed by a harsh crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood movement, the Islamists had planned to galvanise their protest movement in a symbolic attempt to reach Tahrir Square.

Sunday’s death toll was the highest in clashes between Islamists and police since several days of violence starting on August 14 killed more than 1000 people, mostly Islamists.

After several weeks of relative calm, the Islamists said they would escalate their protests by trying to rally in the symbolic Tahrir Square.

Hundreds of thousands of people had filled the square in February 2011 to force president Hosni Mubarak to resign, and again in July 2013 to urge the army to depose his successor Morsi.

But on Sunday, security forces guarded entrances to the square, frisking people arriving for the anniversary celebrations.

Several thousand people, some carrying pictures of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, waved Egyptian flags as warplanes flew overhead in formation and patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers.

Elsewhere in the city, the air was thick with tear gas and the crackle of gunfire as police confronted several marches heading for Tahrir.

In Delga, an Islamist bastion south of Cairo, one person was killed when Islamists clashed with civilian opponents and police, a health ministry official and witnesses said.

Clashes also erupted in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya, a security official said.

For weeks authorities have been drumming up national fervour in state media, amid the worst political divisions in Egypt’s recent history.

Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi urged Egyptians to unite, saying the country is on the road to recovery.

“As we go through these critical times all Egyptians should stand together, be confident and be optimistic about the future,” he said in a televised address.

Morsi’s opponents demonstrated in their millions in June and July to urge the army to remove him, accusing the Islamist of failing the revolution that brought him to the presidency and concentrating power in the hands of his allies.

His supporters decried his overthrow a year after his election in Egypt’s first free polls as a violation of democratic principles.

Away from the main squares, Cairo’s streets were largely deserted on Sunday, a public holiday to commemorate the October War, known as the Yom Kippur War in Israel.

The conflict, remembered proudly by the Egyptian army because it caught Israel by surprise, led to the recovery of the Sinai Peninsula in a 1979 peace treaty.

The interior ministry had warned it would “firmly confront” any violence or attempts to disturb Sunday’s celebrations, state news agency MENA reported.

Attempts by Islamists to reach Tahrir on Friday sparked clashes with Morsi opponents and security forces that killed four people.

The Anti-Coup Alliance group’s ability to mobilise large numbers has waned as security forces have arrested some 2000 Islamists, including Morsi himself and several Brotherhood leaders.

More than 1000 people were killed on August 14 when security forces moved in to destroy two large pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, and ensuing clashes in the following days.

(Source / 06.10.2013)

9 Palestinian prisoners serving ‘longest sentences on earth’

NABLUS (Ma’an) — Palestinian organization Ahrar Center for Prisoners Studies and Human Rights revealed Wednesday that nine Palestinian prisoners currently being held in Israeli jails have the “longest sentences” of any imprisoned human being worldwide.

The organization’s director, Fouad al-Khuffash, explained that “there is no other country on Earth that gives open-ended life sentences except the State of Israel, whose laws do not limit the number and length of life sentences given to Palestinian prisoners.”

Al-Khuffash also listed the nine Palestinian prisoners with the longest prison sentences on Earth. Abdullah Ghaleb al-Barghouthy from Ramallah is currently holding the world’s longest sentence. He was detained by Israeli forces on March 5, 2003 and was subsequently sentenced to 67 life sentences in prison.

The remaining eight longest sentences on Earth were given to:

Ibrahim Jamil Hamid, from Ramallah, who was detained on May 23, 2006 and was sentenced to 57 life sentences.

Hussain Abdul Rahman Salama, from Gaza, who was detained on May 17, 1996 and was sentenced to 48 life sentences and 20 years.

Mohammad Attiya Abu Warda, from Hebron, who was detained on Nov. 4, 2002 and was sentenced to 48 life sentences.

Mohammad Hassan Arman, from Ramallah, who was detained on Aug. 18, 2002 and was sentenced to 36 life sentences.

Abbas Mohammad Al-Sayyed, from Tulkarem, who was detained on May 8, 2002 was sentenced to 35 life sentences in prison and 150 years.

Wael Mahmoud Qassem, from Jerusalem, who was detained on Aug. 18, 2002 and was sentenced to 35 life sentences and 50 years.

Anas Ghaleb Jaradan, from Jenin, who was detained on May 11, 2003 and was sentenced to 35 life sentences and 35 years.

Saed Hussam al-Tubasi, from Jenin Refugee Camp, who was detained on Nov. 1, 2002, and was sentenced to 31 life sentences and 50 years.

Al-Khuffash added that the primary reason for the long sentences given to Palestinian prisoners was psychological, as the indeterminate length of the sentences were intended to undermine the will of Palestinian prisoners.

(Source / 06.10.2013)

The second intifada put holes in Israel’s wall of fear

Arabic-language banner features the portraits of 13 males shot by Israeli police

The anniversary of the killing of 13 unarmed Palestinian protesters inside the green line in October 2000 passed by this year without note.

The Palestinian calendar is permeated with anniversaries of uprisings, battles, massacres, fateful declarations and meaningless “independence” days. Despite our continuous pledge to never forget and never forgive, most of these once-paramount occasions have been transformed into fleeting memories — oscillating between irrelevance, fetishism and attempts by factions to exploit them for political gains.

For instance, the thirteenth anniversary of the start of the second Palestinian intifada passed a few days ago, but it breezed by with remarkably little public or media attention. While this is neither surprising nor unprecedented, it is exceedingly disheartening.

Although there are several negative aspects of the second intifada, it remains — for good or bad — a momentous, life-changing event for many Palestinians, particularly those of us born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There are so many lessons we can draw from it, fatal mistakes to rue, and many disappointments and personal traumas to nurse.

One thing is certain, however. The second intifada started out as a mass popular uprising in September 2000, in which unarmed Palestinians from Nazareth to Gaza took to the streets en masse. They faced more than a million bullets, fired by the Israeli army and police in the first three weeks of the intifada alone, and they shattered the pretense of stability that the Oslo accords endeavored to maintain.

I write from a personal perspective, knowing that the process I underwent with the eruption of the second intifada was one experienced by many Palestinians — specificallyPalestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and live within the green line, Israel’s internationally-recognized armistice boundaries.

Apolitical

Growing up in an apolitical, conservative family, I paid relatively little heed to politics and to the Palestinian cause. Occupation slowly strangles all Palestinians, but the extent of its effect and visibility varies from one area to another.

The few occasions I dared express my abhorrence of the Israeli occupation publicly — without understanding at the time the big words I was using — I would be reproached by my teacher or parents. Even when I summoned up the courage to call a radio show to speak about the anniversary of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, two weeks before the outbreak of the second intifada, I had to hide it from my parents for fear of retribution.

“They will kick you out of school and put us in jail if you criticize this state,” my over-protective father would warn. He had spent his childhood under the Israeli military rule that governed Palestinians inside the green line between 1948 and 1966.

And even though some of my parents’ fears stemmed from excessive paternalism and may have been blown out of proportion, it is not difficult to understand where they were coming from.

After all, Palestinians inside the green line are not gullible enough to buy into the myth of Israeli democracy. They are fully aware of the repercussions that political activism entails. They have witnessed innumerable examples of Israel arresting and persecuting Palestinians simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

The wall of fear erected by Israel since 1948 through a long process of dominance, isolation, soft power and naked violence appeared too solid for Palestinians to dismantle. The second Palestinian intifada, though, caused major holes in this wall, if only momentarily.

No wishful thinking

Remembering the massive demonstrations that took place inside the green line in the fall of 2000 brings shivers down my spine. For once, the talk of national unity was not just wishful thinking or a pointless cliché.

The demonstrations truly brought Palestinians together. Probably for the first time, we as 1948 Palestinians (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) felt relevant and part of the conversation. We did not just watch the news and comment about a Palestine so close, yet so far away from us. We actually made the news.

For many, it was their first encounter with live ammunition and snipers. “For the first time, Nazareth appears on TV for something other than the Christmas mass,” joked a friend at the time.

It was no longer possible for school administrators to silence students. We talked about the events of the second intifada during the first week of October 2000 in class and during breaks. We argued with our teachers, some of whom insisted on lecturing us about the importance of demonstrating in a “civilized” manner.

The funeral processions for martyrs Iyad Loubani, Omar Akkawi and Wissam Yazbak, the three Palestinian protesters murdered by Israeli police in Nazareth, turned into mass protests. Some of my relatives who never cared about politics attended them.

“The killing of these men by the Israeli occupation transcended politics;” “it’s a national cause, they are our sons”: these phrases were often repeated by people from neighboring villages.

Israeli police would kill a total of 13 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators inside the green line over the course of eight days that month, most of them shot in the upper body at close range. There was no criminal investigation launched into the killings, nor were any of the police held to account.

Fallacy of a free press

The strike and protests in October 2000 endowed us with an invigorated sense of national belonging. The coverage of the protests by Israeli media which described protesters as rioters and extremists spreading bedlam dispelled the fallacy that Israel has a free press.

The strong Israeli consensus on the “need” to meet protests with lethal power also proved, yet again, that Israel’s “left” is not essentially different from the right. We understood thatZionism has unleashed a tyrannical, racist regime against Palestinians everywhere, whether they live in Gaza, Jenin or Nazareth.

Unfortunately, the 1 October 2000 anniversary commemorations have become a folklore event, filled with dull speeches by political leaders. The demonstration that marked the thirteenth anniversary in Kafr Manda in the Lower Galilee was almost a copy of most previous anniversary protests in different towns. And the number of demonstrators had decreased.

Any attempt to break from this annual routine is hindered by the internal bureaucracy of theHigh Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, to the dismay of Palestinian youth activists.

Inseparable

The problem does not just lie in the way we mark the second intifada inside the green line, however. Local political leaders and the media tend to refer to the mass protests inside the green line during October 2000 as the “October outburst,” treating them as if they were somehow separate events from the second intifada and as if they were only relevant to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

The October 2000 protests inside the green line were an inseparable part of the second Palestinian intifada. Though short-lived, those protests smashed the barriers which divide Palestinians and isolate 1948 Palestinians from Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.

And the October protests, like the second intifada in general, did not happen solely because of Ariel Sharon’s invasion of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The act of the former defense minister, who would be elected prime minister the following month, was a provocation. But there were long-festering social and political catalysts.

While it is true that the second intifada can in no way be compared to the first intifada — which was built on grassroots mobilization, self-organization and sustained civil disobedience — it is important to remember that the second intifada was born out of the post-Oslo reality and a radically different Palestinian society.

Opium

Oslo has turned the Palestinian struggle for liberation and self-determination into a bid for quasi-statehood and created a situation where Palestinians were forced to rely heavily on foreign aid and the opium of “civil society.”

Israel’s control of Palestinian water and other natural resources effectively minimized Palestinians’ ability to be self-sufficient. So they left their work in their farms and took jobs with the Palestinian Authority.

Twenty years later, Palestinians continue to pay the heavy costs of the Oslo accords that were forced on them. Israel’s theft of our natural resources has only hastened along with thesettlements and the reliance on foreign aid.

Palestinian Authority leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have overseen a “state-building” project. It has included a rapacious neoliberal onslaught on the economy, the disarming of Fatah’s armed wing, the persecution of other armed resistance factions in the West Bank and the targeting of nonviolent dissidents.

All of this, as well as the geographical separation between Gaza and the West Bank, has meant that any possibility of a sustainable, inclusive grassroots rebellion has become a far-fetched dream.

For Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and its backers, such a rebellion is a nightmare they will do anything to prevent.

If the second intifada has taught us one thing, however, it is that uprisings could happen at the most unpredictable of times and that we should never be deceived by the supposed stability.

(Source / 06.10.2013)

German intelligence: Syria jets stationed in Iran for safekeeping

According to German intelligence the Iranian regime has allowed its ally in Damascus to station its Air Force jets on its territory so they will be safe from possible foreign attack.
Daily Star Lebanon carries a report which states that the German intelligence has cited a source which claimed that Iran had agreed to a deal with Damascus in November of 2012 to allow their ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “to station large parts of his air force on safe Iranian territory and to use them when needed.”

Ynet News also carries this corroborating report from AFP which makes this claim.

The Iranian regime is a close ally of the Syrian regime and has provided it with financial support throughout this two year uprising. Iran’s proxy in the region, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, has openly intervened and sent its forces into the war to fight on the side of Assad on the battlefield. This German intelligence report hints that Iran-Syrian cooperation may even be closer than previously thought.

Parking Syrian jets on Iranian soil would obviously serve to safeguard them from any attack on Syria. The United States threatened to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict following the August 21 chemical attack in Damascus which killed an estimated 1,400 people. However it did not carry out an intervention and instead stood down and allowed the formation of a Russian-brokered United Nations Security Council resolution that is seeing to the international community, under the legal framework of that unanimously approved Resolution, beginning the complete dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

In a recent interview Mr. Assad also claimed that his regime has “not used chemical weapons. This is wrong. And so is the picture you’re drawing of me of someone who kills his own people.”

So far the Syrian conflict has been raging on for at least 30 months and has left an estimated 100,000 dead in its wake.

(Source /  06.10.2013)

Turkish Shias in fear of life on the edge

Sectarian hatred is moving from Syria  into the mainstream  of Turkey’s political life. Patrick Cockburn explains the complex battle lines

The poison of sectarian hatred is spreading to Turkey from Syria as a result of the Turkish government giving full support to militant Sunni Muslims in the Syrian civil war.

The Alevi, a long-persecuted Shia sect to which 10-20 million Turks belong, say they feel menaced by the government’s pro-Sunni stance in the Shia-Sunni struggle that is taking place across the Muslim world.

Nevzat Altun, an Alevi leader in the Gazi quarter in Istanbul, says: “People here are scared that if those who support sharia come to power in Syria, the same thing could happen in Turkey.” He says that the Alevi of Turkey feel sympathy for the Syrian Alawites, both communities holding similar, though distinct, Shia beliefs and the Alevi oppose Turkey’s support for rebels fighting to overthrow Syria’s Alawite-dominated government.

Sectarian faultlines between the Sunni majority and the Alevi, Turkey’s largest religious minority, have always existed but are becoming deeper, more embittered and openly expressed. Atilla Yeshilada, a political and economic commentator, says that “anything [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan says against the Alawites of Syria is full of sectarian innuendoes for the Alevi”.

Alawites who have fled to Turkey to escape the violence in Syria often find they are little safer after they have crossed the Turkish border. They say they dare not enter government-organised refugee camps because they are frightened of being attacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army as soon as it is discovered they are not Sunni.

Syrian refugees in neighbouring border campsSyrian refugees in neighbouring border camps

Some Alawites have found their way to Istanbul where they are being looked after by the Alevi community. “A month ago we found Alawites wandering the streets of Istanbul and sleeping in parks where they earned a little money selling water and paper bags,” says Zaynal Odabashi, the head of the Pir Sultan Abdal Alevi cultural and religious centre in Gazi district where 180,000 out of a population of 520,000 are Alevi. He says that “we decided to take them in though the governor of Istanbul told us not to”, explaining that some 40 Syrian Alawite refugees are living in large tents at his centre alone and another 400 have been found places to sleep in houses nearby. The three million Syrian Arab Alawites may differ in religious practices from the Turkish Alevi, but they both follow core Shia beliefs such as reverence for the Twelve Imams. They both feel threatened by Sunni militants and know they are easily identifiable as even the poorest house has pictures of the Shia saints on the walls.

“They consider us as non-believers,” says Mr Odabashi, adding: “Of course, our people feel sympathy for the Alawites and we are against Turkey’s involvement in the war in Syria.”

Alawite refugees fed and housed by the Alevi tell grim tales of torture, disappearances and death. On a mat outside a big tent at the Pir Sultan centre lay an elderly looking man who said he is a Turkoman Alawite from Damascus whose district had been captured by the Free Syrian Army that held him and his 12-year-old daughter for up to 27 days.

His frightened eyes darted nervously around as he said his name was Ali Jabar and he was not sure of some details of what had happened to him because he had been blindfolded all the time he was held. His captivity began when there was a ring at his door at midnight and a voice said a neighbour needed to see him, but when he opened the door a man hit him on the head with his gun butt.

He was blindfolded by his captors whom he identified as the Free Syrian Army. They asked him if he believed in Bashar al-Assad and demanded he curse Imam Ali, but he had said: “No, not even if you cut my throat.”

They whipped him and set fire to a plastic bag so molten plastic dripped on to to his back. He rolled up his shirt to reveal half-healed whip marks and burns and took off his shoes to show where several of his toenails had been ripped out with pliers. He expected to be killed, but instead the men who held him threw him out of a car on a country road where he was found by a shepherd. He does not know what has happened to his daughter.

Ali Jabar later met other Alawite Turkomans who had fled from Aleppo and were sleeping in parks in Damascus. They managed to secure enough money to take 42 of them to Turkey in a bus, but they thought it was too dangerous for them to enter Turkish refugee camps. They finally reached Istanbul where they did not know where to go until the Alevi of Gazi offered to help them. Turkish government supporters deny or play down the connection between the Alevi and the Alawites but there is a common bond as both feel endangered by growing Sunni hostility to all Shia sects, regardless of their precise religious beliefs. Dogan Bermek, the president of the Alevi Foundation, a lobbying group mostly made up of better-off Alevi, asserts: “In Syria and in Turkey we are all the same Alevi. The differences between us are only regional because we have developed in different regions without contacts. We are on the same road though it has a thousand paths.”

Syrian refugees in neighbouring border campsSyrian refugees in neighbouring border camps

How great is the danger of Sunni-Shia hostilities that have torn apart Iraq, Syria and Bahrain in the last decade erupting in Turkey? There are marked differences in religious observances between the Sunni majority and the Alevi who do not use mosques, but worship in some 3,000 prayer houses where men and women dance and sing during services. As a large Shia minority under the Ottoman Empire, the Alevi were persecuted and massacred as dissidents and potential sympathisers with the rival Shia Safavid empire in Iran. Oppression of the Alevi was much like that of Roman Catholics in Ireland by Britain from the 16th century on and it continued after the foundation of the modern Turkish state, with at least 8,000 Alevi Kurds of Dersim in the south-east being slaughtered in the late 1930s.

The Alevis became the bedrock of opposition movements in Turkey and make up much of the membership of leftist parties. In 1993 their spiritual leaders, intellectuals and artists held a festival in the eastern city of Sivas to celebrate a 15th-century poet. Trapped in a hotel by a mob of thousands of Sunnis protesting, among other  things, at the presence of the Turkish translator of Salman Rushdie, some 35 people were burned to death without the police intervening.

Three years later there was an assault on Alevis by the police, killing 20 people in the same Gazi quarter where Syrian Alawites are now taking refuge.

Since Erdogan won his first general election in 2002 there has been less state violence. But during the protests that started in Gezi Park in Istanbul this summer, all five of the demonstrators killed across the country came from the Alevi community.

This is probably as much a token of their prominence in protests as it is of the police targeting them. It is also a sign that Alevi anger is growing because of memories of past violence against them; discrimination which turned them into second-class citizens and lack of state recognition or support for their religion.

I attended a meeting in an Alevi prayer house called a Cem in Umraniye district on the Asian side of Istanbul, where Alevi activists were setting up an organisation to fight for their rights. Complaints about discrimination abounded: an attempt to set up a joint Sunni mosque and Alevi prayer hall in Ankara was condemned as an attempt to assimilate them and as unworkable because the Alevi would be singing when the Sunni were praying. A delegate said Alevi did not fast at Ramadan but at another time of year, making cohabitation in the same building difficult. There was a lack of state education about Alevi beliefs and resentment at Sunni slanders about their religion.

“The government doesn’t treat us as human beings,” said one delegate. “We pay taxes but we don’t get anything back.”

Resentful though the Alevi are at their treatment, they are at least dealing with a powerful government capable of meeting many of their demands. Mr Erdogan has no difficulty in apologising for events like the Dersim massacres carried out on behalf of a secular authoritarian state in the past. The Alevi do not forget past persecution, objecting to the government’s intention to name the third Bosphorus bridge after Selim the Grim, an Ottoman Sultan of the early 16th century regarded as an ogre by the Alevi, whom he slaughtered by the thousand. Not all the reasons are negative for the greater Alevi sense of identity and willingness to be more vocal in demanding their rights: Turkish security forces under Mr Erdogan are less violent  than they used to be and protesters are less likely to be imprisoned or harassed by the state.

But the Sunni-Shia civil wars exploding in Syria and Iraq are deepening sectarian differences among the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.

Turkey is no exception to this trend, has a large Shia minority and is close to the heart of the turmoil. There is already talk of the “Pakistanisation” of Turkish provinces like Hatay and Mardin, which are used by al-Qa’ida-linked groups fighting in Syria as their rear bases. Turkey’s open border policy for rebels means that the Syrian war is spilling across the frontier.

Successful though Turkey has been politically and economically in the past decade, the long battle for power between the AK party and an authoritarian, secular state has created lasting divisions in society. The rising political temperature in Turkey and the region makes rising sectarian differences ever more explosive.

(Source / 06.10.2013)

Olive trees in Palestine: The story of a drop

NOV 4, 2007

This article was originally published by This Week in Palestine and is republished with permission.

olive-trees-jerusalem-2.jpg

Rows of centuries-old Palestinian olive trees grow on the terraced hillsides of Jerusalem’s famed Mount Of Olives.

Its fruits gloss under the warm sunshine of April, hiding beneath the evergreen leaves, its fragrant cream-coloured flowers and graceful appearance is a symbol of peace, prosperity, dignity and love. A symbol of life, tradition and legacy …a symbol of Palestine. With each of its sturdy stems and fresh green leaves that burst their way towards the bright blue sky, comes a story of life …a story of Palestine.

For thousands of years our ancestors have been passing on this sacred tree, the Palestinian olive tree, with all that it symbolizes, to their children and grandchildren. Many stories were told under its shade, and perhaps one can indulge in its old greyish branching pattern to look for truths about life. Palestinians therefore grant special attention and admiration to their beloved olive tree, for it lives within their psyche and represents that sacred figure that was mentioned in all religious books, extolled by poets, and represented by artists in various ways throughout history.

All of this attention within its symbolic context pushed Palestinians to widely plant it. Palestinians plant this tree in all areas. It is planted from heights that reach up to 900m all the way down to the Jordan Valley at 250m below sea level. In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians have planted ten million trees over 898,262 dunums (around 225,000 acres). This area represents 54% of the total planted agricultural land and the trees constitute about 80% of the total rain-fed productive trees in Palestine. As for the Gaza Strip, about 22,452 dunums have been planted with olive trees. Palestinians continue to plant around 10,000 new olive trees each year in the West Bank where most of the new plants are from the oil-producing variety and 25% of their output ends up as olive oil.

The olive tree is known to have important social and economic impacts during its harvest season, with its ability to gather a large number of working hands, especially among women, when Palestinian families including children, women, men, students and the elderly all gather in their olive groves to harvest their trees while bringing alive Palestinian traditions and folklore with cultural evenings and activities.

Olive oil is a basic component of the daily meals of Palestinians. Every morning most families gather around the traditional breakfast of zait and zaatar, olive oil and ground thyme that are mopped up with fresh kmajbread. Olive oil is also a strategic Palestinian product of the national economy. It is of high standards in terms of taste, smell and colour. Olive production is the number one product in terms of overall agricultural production, taking up 25% of total agricultural production in the West Bank.

Olive wood is known to be the best kind of wood for creating simple sculptures and shapes, such as gifts and souvenirs which are appreciated by tourists and foreigners visiting the Holy Land. Its wood is also widely used as a main heat source in homes throughout the Palestinian territories.

The glory of this sacred Palestinian plant shines in the darkness of the Israeli occupation. And for many, it represents that beacon of hope for a better future. For many decades now, the Palestinian territories have been witnessing an acute conflict that has stripped them of their most basic life requirements. Especially since the outbreak of the second Intifada and the domination of violence, poverty and despair, Palestinians strive to hold on to what is left of their traditional economic, social, and cultural resources.

The Israeli occupation has specifically targeted this plant due to its symbol of identity for Palestinians and its economic benefits. Since the second Intifada, more than half a million olive trees have been uprooted from Palestinian lands. Palestinian resistance or sumood means Palestinians producing olive oil although the occupation limits their movement and forbids them from reaching their lands. “Sumood” is Palestinians producing olive oil although the racist Apartheid Wall prevents farmers from harvesting their olives and uproots trees anywhere near it.

But in the end, Palestinians do produce olive oil and always will. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), together with other non-profit agricultural organizations, has always supported farmers by providing them with the appropriate markets that would receive their crops. For some years now, the UAWC has been exporting Palestinian olive oil to various European and Asian countries, making it possible for people to directly support the Palestinian farmers’ struggle and persistence, just by enjoying that drop of fresh, pure Palestinian olive oil.

(Source / 06.10.2013)

Israel’s Supreme Court to discuss an appeal against Zoabi

Hanin Zoabi

The Arab Knesset member, Hanin Zoabi, was attacked in a previous hearing by Jewish extremists

Israel’s Supreme Court is to convene on Tuesday to discuss an appeal calling on the Attorney General to prosecute Knesset Member, Hanin Zoabi, for taking part in the Freedom Flotilla in 2010.

The appeal was filed by the former right-wing Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari and the extremist activist Itmar Ben-Gvir. The hearing will be headed by Judge Asher Grunis while advocate Hassan Jabareen from Adala will represent Zoabi.

Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir had filed the appeal even though a previous decision by the Attorney General had officially closed the case against Zoabi due to lack of evidence.

The Supreme Court had also overturned a previous decision that disqualified her from running for elections on the grounds of her participation in the Freedom Flotilla.

Commenting on the disqualification complaint, Judge Salim Jobran said: “Participation in the Flotilla alone does not rise to the level of dangerous expression on supporting armed struggles.”

Lawyer Jabareen pointed out that the new appeal: “Does not mention the fact that local criminal laws are not applied on Zoabi in this case as the Flotilla was seized in international waters.”

He further added that the petitioners did not bring enough evidence that Zoabi had used violence against anyone during the operation on board the Flotilla to support their argument.

Zoabi, meanwhile, said: “Those who killed the nine activists and imposed a blockade on Gaza should be convicted. The culprit here is the Israeli government not Hanin Zoabi.”

The Arab Knesset member was attacked in a previous hearing by Jewish extremists. When asked whether she would attend the new hearing or not, she answered: “Yes, I would. I am not representing myself, but all my people.”

(Source / 06.10.2013)

UNESCO condemns Israel’s violation of Palestinian cultural heritage

UNESCO Meeting RoomUNESCO’s Executive Board adopted on Friday six decisions strongly condemning the Israeli aggressions against Palestinian cultural and historical heritage.

The decisions were filed by the State of Palestine and Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom to UNESCO’s 192nd Session of the Executive Board.

A majority of the members voted in favour of the decisions, which strongly condemned Israeli aggression against the cultural and historical heritage of Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem and Gaza.

Voters expressed their deep concern about Israel’s continuing illegal excavations in and around the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.

Meanwhile, the Organisation strongly condemned Israel for not permitting a UNESCO delegation of experts to visit the violated heritage places in the occupied city of Jerusalem.

Israel’s representative to the Organisation strongly condemned the decision and described UNESCO’s policy was biased “against Israel.”

(Source / 06.10.2013)