Whilst peace talks are in progress, Israel kills 31 Palestinians and detained 500


Mahmoud AbbasFatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are going to Cairo to put the latest developments on the issue before Arab foreign ministers.

Member of Fatah Executive Committee Mohammad Shtayyeh has said that Israel has killed 31 Palestinians, arrested 500 and destroyed 208 Palestinian houses since July when the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks resumed.

Speaking to diplomats and journalists in Bethlehem, Shtayyeh said: “The talks aimed at ending the occupation and setting up a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.” He added: “This is against what Israel wanted.”

He said that the international community has agreed on the solution sought by the Palestinians. He accused Israel of jeopardising that solution and “considering talks a tactic before the international community in order to expand settlements.”

Shtayyeh said: “We [Fatah and the Palestinian Authority] are not looking for a makeshift agreement. We are looking for a deliberate and comprehensive one that brings justice to Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, he appreciated the efforts of the US Secretary of State John Kerry being exerted in this issue. He also appreciated the EU and Quartet efforts supporting the two-state solution.

He called for those bodies to develop their stances by boycotting settlements and their products.

On the Arabic front, he also said that Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are going to Cairo to put the latest developments on the issue before Arab foreign ministers.

(Source / 21.12.2013)


By Jafar M Ramini

Jafar Ramini

It’s the Sunday before Christmas.  London is wearing its party frock; the lights are glittering, the bells are chiming; the throng of shoppers are streaming up and down the streets.  Happy and joyous are they all.  And here I am, a Palestinian exile, a grandfather, a father and a husband, trying to bring some of this happy mood into a corner of London that I call my little Palestine.

Amongst all this, my heart and thoughts are with my people back home, going through the most arduous winter on record.  Snow has covered the entire Middle East in the last week or so. Palestinians inside Palestine, in the refugee camps dotted around the Arab world are all at the mercy of the elements. Gaza is not only totally besieged and freezing but is also flooded by sewage, courtesy of the ever merciful Israelis. In the West Bank they decided this harsh winter week was a good time to cut the electricity. After all, the illegal settlers need it more.

I did not deliberately sit down to write a lament or a sad piece, but the situation is very sad and where we are heading is totally lamentable. I refer here to the on going, utterly useless, not to say cringe-making and vomit inducing charade that is still unfolding in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman under the name of ‘peace’ negotiations.

What is it that makes our leaders tread the same path over and over and over again, knowing that it can only lead to disaster?

The path I speak of is the one leading inevitably towards The West in general and to Washington DC in particular. How is it possible that a leader of Palestine can place his trust in the hands of the United States of America when administration after administration, since Harry Truman, has been firmly, subserviently, faithfully on the side of Israel?

In a speech on December 7th, just two weeks ago, the current presiding ‘peace’ negotiator, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, described the US as “the honest broker”. How does that work when, in the same speech, the ‘honest broker’ stated, “I have spent almost 30 years in the US State Senate, and I am proud of my 100% voting record for Israel”?

He went on to eulogize about Nelson Mandela. Maybe he forgot it was Mr. Mandela who said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

But, of course, Mr. Kerry’s over-riding concern is the survival and the security of Israel at any cost to us, the Palestinians. He went on further to say that, “the only way to secure Israel’s long-term future and security will be achieved through direct negotiations that separate Palestinians and Israelis.”

Isn’t this Apartheid, Mr. Kerry?

As if that isn’t enough, Kerry also went on to describe Palestinian Israelis as a “demographic time bomb” and an “existential threat to Israel”.

What are you calling for, Mr. Kerry? A total ethnic cleansing of Palestinians out of Palestine?

Let’s see now what Mr. Kerry actually means by ‘direct negotiation’. According to leaks published by many mainstream Israeli news outlets he means:

·      Demilitarization of the new State of Palestine, under US control.

    Putting the borders between Palestine and Jordan under joint Israeli/Palestinian control.

·      Maintaining an Israeli military presence on the western side of the River Jordan.

·      Installing Israeli early-warning stations on the eastward slopes of the West Bank highlands.

·      Postponement of arrangements for the final status of Gaza Strip. Leaving the Gazans, as ever, besieged and in limbo and bereft from the main body of Palestine.

Do the Palestinians have a say in any of this, Mr. Kerry? Have they any rights? This appears to be a list Israeli demands. Is this what ‘honest brokering’ American style looks like?

Meanwhile, while he was in South Africa for the funeral of the late Nelson Mandela, Mr. Abbas firmly rejected the campaign in South Africa to boycott and divest from Israel. “We are not calling for the boycott of Israel,” he said.  “We are calling for a boycott of products from the settlements.”  You see, when the shepherd can’t take care of his flock how can we blame the prowling wolf?

Yes, we’re told that our ‘friendly relationships’ with The West and America are a must if we are to achieve our goals. We have to befriend anybody and everybody who will serve our interest. Fine. America is the one and only remaining super-power but when you know that the most powerful country in the world is tucked in bed with your enemy what do you do?
Without American money, arms and total support Israel would not exist. America has proved on many occasions that the survival, security and supremacy of Israel in the region are paramount to her interests. Never forget what Moshe Dayan once said, “ Our friends, the Americans give us money, give us arms and give us advice. We take the money, we take the arms, we ignore the advice.”

This is the latest pronouncement from the ‘peace seeker’, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the American request ‘to refrain’ from the announcement of further settlements in the West Bank and Occupied Territories.

“We are committed to building and expanding settlements,” he said, “Tel Aviv will not be pressured into halting its settlement activities.”

He was very adamant. “We are building and working in full gear,” he stated. “We will build and develop everywhere, including in the settlements.”

 It was as if America had not even spoken.  I can’t help being reminded of Ariel Sharon’s reprimand to his then Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, when Peres cautioned him not to upset the Americans.

“We Jews own America,” said Sharon, “And the Americans know it.”

When your ‘partner in peace’ is not even remotely interested in peace then why carry on? When the so-called arbitrators of peace are openly slanted towards your foe, why keep trusting them? When the facts on the ground speak volumes of their continued occupation, colonization and ethnic cleansing of your people and land, why in God’s name do you continue on this path to oblivion? When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes a duty.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?”

Is it right, Mr. Kerry, that you reward the thief and punish the victim? Is that ‘The American Way’?

British doctors leave for Syria despite Abbas Khan death

Ambulances to be driven into war zone and used as makeshift clinics

Fatima, the mother of Abbas Khan

Fatima and Afrozi, the mother and brother of Abbas Khan, the British doctor who died in a Syrian jail, grieve outside the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut where the coffin of her son was brought by the Lebanese Red Cross.

A convoy of British doctors left the UK for Syria this weekend as aid groups vowed not to be deterred by the death last week of Dr Abbas Khan in a Syrian prison cell.

On Saturday Khan’s body was being transported by the Red Cross into Lebanon, where it will be handed over to the British embassy. Meanwhile, a fleet of more than 40 ambulances carrying medical volunteers and supplies left on an eight-day journey to the war-torn country. Several had “RIP Dr Abbas Khan” emblazoned on the side. The vehicles will be driven into Syria and left there for local medics to use as makeshift health clinics and ambulances.

“It’s really tragic that we lost Dr Khan, but even his family have said there are hundreds dying in Syria every day and so many doctors and medical staff just want to help,” said Dr Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar, from Manchester. “People have been asking, ‘why are we going?’ The question is why aren’t we doing more? The work of UK charities is a drop in the ocean, but I’d rather be part of that than do nothing. The timing of Dr Khan’s death is very deliberate by the regime. They know the holiday season means the aid convoys will be coming and it was a very symbolic act – don’t come or look what we will do.” She will be on board the convoy, which is funded by the Worcester-based charity Al Fatiha Globaland the Aid4Syria campaign.

“We are minimising our own risk as much as we can. We’re no good to anyone dead, but the need is just overwhelming. Doctors and hospitals are being targeted. I was in Aleppo with another convoy eight weeks ago where there used to be 2,000 doctors. Now there are 35.”

Khan, a surgeon at London’s Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, was among dozens of medical staff from around the UK who have been going in and out of Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. He was picked up by Syrian authorities and held captive, being frequently tortured, for over a year.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, said that Khan, 32, took his own life in an interrogation cell, a claim dismissed by the British government and rejected as “utter nonsense” by Khan’s brother, Shah Nawaz, who blame the Assad regime.

The father of two had been promised imminent release. Respect MP George Galloway, who had been preparing to fly out to collect him, said: “The idea of a man taking his own life four days before he was to be released is impossible to believe. We need an explanation.”

On Saturday another Manchester doctor, who did not want to be named and is travelling as part of a second convoy, told the Observer he was on his fifth mission into Syria. “My wife is very upset, but we cannot watch these scenes from Syria on our TV screens night after night and not try to do anything to help. We haven’t told the children what I’m doing and I think this could be my last trip for a while, as really the things you see there are quite unbearable. I cannot begin to explain how people are suffering.”

The forecast is for one of the coldest winters in Syria for 100 years, with more than four million people displaced inside the country and an estimated two million who have fled into neighbouring countries, facing an increasingly bleak existence. There have already been reports of at least six children and dozens of elderly people freezing to death.

The humanitarian crisis and the scale of the violence in Syria has led to criticism of Britain’s position on refugees by the UN refugees agency (UNHCR), which has called this the worst refugee disaster since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The UK has refused to join 16 other major nations, including France, Germany, the US, Canada and Australia, which have pledged a limited number of extra resettlement places to some of the most vulnerable refugees.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said she would be lobbying the coalition government to respond to the UNCHR appeal and allow Syrian refugees into Britain.

Britain currently holds a position of accepting 750 UNHCR-recognised refugees a year, but has not yet responded to the UN call. Pledges from other countries include Sweden for 400 and Germany for 5,000. Cooper is calling for Britain to take at least 500, matching Finland and France, to help ease the crisis. “It is our moral duty to help in the Syrian humanitarian catastrophe,” she said. “Britain must not turn its back on the most vulnerable who need help.”

Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP for Streatham, said he was aware of the family’s frustrations at the handling of the case and has asked foreign secretary William Hague to meet them. The Foreign Office insisted it had been working hard to secure Khan’s release, but had been “consistently ignored” by the Syrian authorities.

In a UN report earlier this year, Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro stated that the deliberate targeting of healthcare facilities in Syria was being used as a “weapon of war”. Her report said: “The pattern of attacks indicates that government forces deliberately targeted hospitals and medical units to gain military advantage by depriving anti-government armed groups and their perceived supporters of medical assistance.”

Directing attacks against hospital facilities or against entities carrying the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems is a war crime.

(Source / 21.12.2013)

Joint UN-Arab League envoy says over 30 nations invited to peace conference on Syria

Joint UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi holds press conference in Geneva.

20 December 2013 – The Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi today announced that more than 30 nations have been invited to attend the long-sought Syria peace conference to be held in Geneva next month.

Mr. Brahimi said invitees to the so-called “Geneva II” conference include the UN, the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States), the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and 26 other countries.

“On Iran, we haven’t agreed yet. But it is no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran,” he told journalists in Geneva following meetings there with the United States and Russia, and then with a wider group of countries.

“But our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran’s participation would be the right thing to do,” he noted, adding that the remaining list of invitees for the 22 January 2014 conference has been agreed to.

The conference, originally scheduled to take place in Geneva, will now be held in two parts, with the opening session in Montreux, and, after a day’s break, moving on 24 January to UN headquarters in Geneva. The conference will bring the Syrian Government and the opposition to a negotiating table for the first time since the conflict started in March 2011.

The goal of the conference would be to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the Government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué, adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on 30 June 2012.

The communiqué lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

Turning to the situation on the ground in Syria, Mr. Brahimi told journalists that he wanted to express his “strong disappointment, and maybe anger and regret.”

“The fighting is intensifying all the time, and aid that is available is not reaching the people who need it,” he added. “Prisoners are … many, many prisoners are detained for no apparent reason. And a lot of people have been kidnapped all over Syria, again for no reason.”

He stressed that access is “very, very important” with UN and partners working on getting aid to about 10 million people out of the 23 million who need help.

Today’s discussions also focused on women, Mr. Brahimi said, and the importance of making sure that their voice about the future of their country is heard.

A meeting on the topic was held yesterday with a larger conference organized by UN Women scheduled for 12 and 13 January.

“We want it to be a Syrian process, not an international process with Syrian participation,” the joint envoy said. “These Syrian women have got to express themselves about their country and the future, and we will make sure how, we will discuss with the Syrian parties, how the voice of the women will be heard during negotiations.”

(Source / 21.12.2013)

$28 mln raised in UAE for Syrian refugees

Red Crescent chief Mohammed Atiq, quoted by state news agency WAM, said a Friday-Saturday telethon organised by local television collected 102 million dirhams ($27.8 million).

An Emirati campaign to raise funds for Syrian refugees faced with harsh winter conditions in camps in neighbouring states has raised almost $28 million, the Red Crescent announced Saturday.

Red Crescent chief Mohammed Atiq, quoted by state news agency WAM, said a Friday-Saturday telethon organised by local television collected 102 million dirhams ($27.8 million).

The United Nations on Monday appealed for a record $12.9 billion in global emergency aid, half of which is for victims of Syria’s war, which has displaced millions both within the country and across its borders.

The oil-rich UAE, like its Gulf neighbours, has come out in support of the opposition battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

(Source / 21.12.2013)

Mahmoud Abbas accused of being traitor over rejection of Israel boycott

Palestinian president angers activists who have been demanding international sanctions

Mahmoud Abbas

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, made a distinction between Israel within its internationally recognised borders and its settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been accused of being a traitor by activists after publicly rejecting calls for a boycott of Israel.

His unambiguous statement, made in the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death, has fuelled a bitter debate on the legitimacy and efficacy of sanctions over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

However, Abbas distinguished between Israel’s borders and its settlements in Palestinian territories. “We do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements.”

His comments infuriated the boycott movement, which after Mandela’s death has been boosted by comparisons with the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa and the decision last week of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The boycott movement claims it is on a roll, citing a recent EU prohibitionagainst giving grants or funds to bodies with links to settlements, awarning by the British government that firms risk damaging their reputations if they have dealings with Israeli enterprises across the Green Line, and the decision by a Dutch company to sever links with the Israeli water company, Mekorot.

This year Stephen Hawking declined an invitation to a conference in Jerusalem. Even the British consulate in East Jerusalem, home to her majesty’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, operates an informal boycott policy, declining to serve settlement wines, water or other produce at functions.

However, the call for sanctions against Israel and/or its settlements has prompted comparisons with the boycotts of Jewish businesses by the Nazis and their supporters in the 1930s. Some opponents argue that boycotts aimed at the Jewish state can never be free of the taint of anti-semitism.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, set up in 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian civil society organisations, expects next year “to cross even higher thresholds in its drive to isolate Israel, just as South Africa was isolated under apartheid”, said Omar Barghouti, one of its founding members.

The ASA’s decision was “fresh evidence that the BDS movement may be reaching a tipping point on college campuses and among academic associations”, he added. Two other US academic bodies – the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association of American Asian Studies – have also backed the boycott movement.

Barghouti said: “Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support who today explicitly speaks against boycotting Israel only shows how aloof he is from his own people’s aspirations for freedom, justice and equality, and how oblivious he is to our struggle for our inalienable rights.”

Samia Botmeh, a lecturer at Birzeit university in the West Bank and a leading member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said restricting a boycott to settlements was to focus on the consequences, rather than the origins, of the occupation. “Palestinians are angry and feel let down by Abbas’s comments,” she said. “He is contradicting the popular will of Palestinians.”

However, thousands of Palestinians do business with Israel, work in West Bank settlements or in Israel and buy Israeli goods. Imports to Palestine from Israel are worth $800m a year.

“Of course we deal with Israel – everything in our life is controlled by Israel,” said Botmeh. “But there are choices we can make, and we can call on the rest of the world to act.”

Many who abhor Israeli policies towards the Palestinians reject the idea of individual and institutional sanctions. Fania Oz-Salzberger, history professor at Haifa University and daughter of novelist Amos Oz, said she was opposed to “any kind of academic boycott, whether it be of Israel or the settlements, including Ariel [Israel’s settlement university] or any other academic institute in the world, barring extreme situations such as North Korea. Academic and intellectual exchange should operate above political considerations.”

Noam Chomsky supports a settlement boycott, but has said a boycott of Israel was “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”.

Many observers expect the boycott movement to gain momentum should peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians fail to produce a deal. Andreas Reinicke, the outgoing EU envoy to the Middle East, warned last week that momentum in favour of a settlement boycott would grow without a peace agreement.

Less than two years ago, only two EU countries – Britain and Denmark – backed the labelling of goods originating in settlements as such in order to allow consumers to make informed choices. Now 14 EU states support the move. “There is movement in this direction,” he said.

(Source / 21.12.2013)

Israeli analyst: Night raids should ‘continue for years’ after peace

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A military analyst said Friday that night raids and arrests in the West Bank “should continue for years” even after the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

“The Palestinian opposition to the night arrests does not matter,” military and security correspondent Roni Daniel told Israeli Channel 2. “Night arrests should continue for years even if there is a peace agreement.”

Daniel added: “We arrest stone throwers. If we stop detaining them, the stones will turn to bullets.”

Issa Qaraqe, Palestinian Authority minister of prisoners’ affairs, told Ma’an that the PA completely rejects this view.

During US-moderated peace negotiations with Israel, Qaraqe said the US proposed a continued Israeli security presence in the Palestinian state after a peace agreement is reached.

The Israeli military carries out nightly raids on villages in the West Bank, in which soldiers regularly enter houses after midnight and detain Palestinians, often minors.

Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 children between 12 and 17, mostly boys, at a rate equivalent to “an average of two children each day,” according to a March report by the UN Children’s Fund.

The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

(Source / 21.12.2013)

Egypt sends Mursi to trial in third case


A still image taken from video released by Egypt's Al Watan newspaper shows what the newspaper says is ousted former Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi speaking to unidentified individuals whilst in prison. REUTERS/Al Watan Newspaper via Reuters TV

A still image taken from video released by Egypt’s Al Watan newspaper shows what the newspaper says is ousted former Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi speaking to unidentified individuals whilst in prison.


Police use tear gas to break up pro-Mursi rally in Alexandria

(Reuters) – Egypt’s deposed Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, and 129 others including members of Hamas and Hezbollah, were referred to trial on Saturday on murder and other charges related to a mass jail break during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

These are the third set of charges brought against Mursi since he was ousted by the army in July amid street protests against his rule and they intensify the relentless repression of his Muslim Brotherhood group in the months that followed.

Earlier this week, the prosecutor ordered Mursi and 35 other Brotherhood leaders to stand trial in a separate case that charges them with plotting with foreigners including Hamas and Hezbollah to carry out a terrorist conspiracy against Egypt.

Those charges, described as “risible” by the Brotherhood, could result in the death penalty for Mursi and his colleagues.

On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed concern about the charges against Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders in a phone call with army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who ousted Egypt’s first freely elected leader.

Sisi is widely seen as the person most likely to win a presidential election expected next year were he to run. The next stage in the army’s transition plan is a mid-January referendum on a new constitution.

The security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters in the streets and arrested thousands more. The government accuses the group, previously Egypt’s best-organized political and religious movement, of turning to violence and terrorism – charges the Brotherhood denies.

In a three-page statement, investigating judge Hassan al-Samir described the new case, relating to prison breaks during the anti-Mubarak revolt, as “the most dangerous crime of terrorism the country had witnessed”.

Samir said he had uncovered a “terrorist plan” hatched by the Brotherhood long ago and carried out with foreign players including Lebanon’s Shi’ite militant Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas group which rules the Gaza Strip.

Mursi was one of those who escaped from prison after being rounded up with other Brotherhood leaders after the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak broke out on January 25, 2011.

In a telephone interview with Al Jazeera immediately after he left prison, Mursi said the jail had been opened by locals with no instructions from Brotherhood leaders. He said he and other Brotherhood leaders had not fled and were looking for representatives of the prosecution to report what had happened.

Samir’s statement did not name the accused Hezbollah or Hamas members. A judicial source said 68 of them belonged to Hamas. At least one Hezbollah operative jailed in Egypt escaped during the chaos in 2011. He then fled to Lebanon.

An ideological cousin of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas had been part of an alliance including Hezbollah until the Arab Spring uprising redrew the political map of the region. Mursi’s opponents demonized the Palestinian group during his year in office, accusing it of scheming against Egypt.


Mursi and his comrades, including Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, were charged with killing and kidnapping policemen, attacking police facilities and carrying out the prison break.

After protests against Mubarak began, the prosecutor said, the Brotherhood, extremist groups and more than 800 militants who had infiltrated from Gaza staged attacks on police before assaulting three prisons to release their allies.

At least 50 police and prisoners were killed in the raids in which at least 20,000 criminals escaped, Samir’s statement said.

The accused were also charged with kidnapping four policemen and holding them in the Gaza Strip. It also said the men had “appropriated animal and poultry livestock” from the prisons.

The judicial source said Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent cleric based in Qatar, was among the accused.

The charges brought against Mursi and the Brotherhood this week formally implicate them in violence against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the desert territory bordering Israel where militant attacks spiked after Mursi’s overthrow.

Some 200 soldiers and policemen have been killed since then.

The cases also bring formal charges against members of Mursi’s presidential staff who had been held without charge since July. These include Essam El-Haddad, his national security adviser, who is accused of divulging state secrets to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Haddad and another presidential aide, Ayman Ali, were both transferred to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Cairo on Saturday, a security official said.

The army-backed authorities have in recent weeks also charged secular activists in connection with protests organized in defiance of a new law that restricts the right to assembly.

In a move criticized by activists as an escalation against dissenters, the police raided the offices of a prominent rights organization this week, holding five activists for nine hours and arresting another sought in connection with protests.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that the Egyptian security forces had “expanded their harassment of political activists”, saying the government was targeting voices demanding “justice and security agency reform”.

(Source / 21.12.2013)

Jerusalem prisoner enters 26th year in Israeli prison

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — A Palestinian prisoner from Jerusalem named Bilal Ahmad Yousef Abu Hussein, 44, has entered his 26th year in a row in Israeli jails.

Hussein was detained on Dec. 20, 1988, during the First Intifada, and was sentenced to 38 years in prison. He was 19 at the time of his detention.

He was jailed first at Jalbou prison and later moved between several other prisons.

Hussein is originally from al-Fariq neighborhood in Jabal al-Mukaber area in Jerusalem.

Some 5,200 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails as of October 2013, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs. Another 1,280 are in Israeli prisons for being inside Israel without permits.

Since 1967, more than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, representing 20 percent of the total population and 40 percent of all males in the occupied territories.

Under international law, it is illegal to transfer prisoners outside of the occupied territory in which they are detained, and the families of Palestinian prisoners’ face many obstacles in obtaining permits to see their imprisoned relatives.

(Source / 21.12.2013)

Palestinians thirst for water treatment plant

Polluted water and lack of treatment plants have hurt the environment as well as human health in the West Bank.

Polluted water in the West Bank has caused skin diseases and respiratory difficulties
Salfit Governorate, Occupied West Bank – Khaled Sabra stands next to a broken cement wall across from his house in the Palestinian village of Bruqin. Last winter, the rains caused the stream running below the wall to rise until it overflowed, flooding Sabra’s house and other homes in the centre of the village.

The water also carried sewage and industrial effluent from the Palestinian village of Salfit and the Israeli settlements of Ariel, Ariel West and Barkan.

Community members had to break the wall so the polluted water could recede from their homes and the street. The effects of the pollution, however, remained even as the contaminated water flowed away.

All of Sabra’s seven children and his wife have allergies, respiratory difficulties and skin diseases, he says as he rolls up the sleeve of his young daughter’s dress to show the scabbing from a rash. The doctor keeps prescribing medications and treatments, but they are unaffordable and, Sabra says, not a solution for the source of the ailments: the polluted water.

Many of Bruqin’s 4,200 residents, as well as those of nearby villages, are experiencing similar health issues due to the polluted water, according to the village’s mayor, Nafez Barakat. In response to a petition from the Bruqin municipality, the Palestinian Authority recently approved plans to build a two-kilometre-long pipe to move the wastewater running through the village centre.

But Jamal Al-Deek, the mayor of the downstream village of Kafr Al-Deek, is not satisfied with this plan. “If you want to cover two or three kilometres, it’s not a solution. You make a problem for another village,” he says. “We need a complete solution. Make a treatment plant.”

A treatment plant could serve all seven Palestinian villages in the area. It would protect residents and the surrounding agricultural areas from the pollution and provide water for agriculture.

The treatment plant that never was

Plans to build a treatment plant have been in the works since 1994, according to Adel Yasin, director of the wastewater department at the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA). The plant was supposed to be the first constructed in the West Bank under Palestinian control.

A water treatment plan could protect agricultural areas from the effects of pollution 

The project received approval from Israeli authorities in the mid-1990s, and construction began in 1998 with funding and support from the German development bank KfW.

But two months later Israeli soldiers came and ordered work to stop, recalls Saleh Afaneh, head of the technical department in the Salfit municipality. The Israeli military cited security reasons for stopping the construction but did not provide any further explanation, Yasin adds.

In 2002, Israel gave approval for the treatment plant to be built in a second location, but plans were put on hold when it was found that treated water from the plant would mix with polluted water from Ariel just 20 metres downstream.

Through the Joint Water Committee (JWC), a Palestinian/Israeli body managing water-related issues in the West Bank, the Israelis proposed connecting Ariel to the Salfit plant. The Palestinians rejected this option because they saw it as granting implicit recognition to the settlement, according to Yasin.

The second option was to build a pipeline to bring Ariel’s sewage across the Green Line for treatment in Israel. The Palestinians approved this project in 2008. Five years later, Israel has yet to begin construction on the pipeline – so the project to build a wastewater treatment plant for Salfit remains on hold.

Not just Salfit

Starting in 1996, the PA named the construction of wastewater treatment facilities as one of its top development priorities, according to a 2009 report by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. Today, only two plants have been built, although projects for at least three more are in various stages of implementation.

Politicking and deadlock in the JWC have delayed development, according to Eyad Yacob, a former member. The committee has only met once in the past two years and not approved any projects. Projects also often need additional approval from the Israeli Civil Administration, further slowing the process. And in the past, Israel has approved the construction of facilities only if Palestinians allow settlements to connect to them as well, according to B’Tselem.

For Palestinians, this pits environmental and health concerns against fundamental political principles. “We don’t wish to have any cooperation between Palestinians and the settlers,” Yasin explains.

Environmental effects

The failure to develop adequate wastewater treatment infrastructure has led to the pollution of fresh water resources in the West Bank. The five streams Palestinians in the West Bank have historically relied on for drinking water and irrigation are now flowing with sewage, says Malek Abualfailat, a project manager at Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME). Palestinians and Israeli settlers both contribute to this pollution.

West Bank Palestinians lose water and land

Thirty-three percent of Palestinian wastewater is released directly into valleys without treatment while 65 percent is collected in cesspits that leach into the ground, according to a 2011 PWA report.

Many Israeli settlements treat their wastewater before releasing it into nearby valleys. But, in several settlements such as Ariel, wastewater treatment facilities do not always function or treat sewage to adequate levels, according to Youval Arbel, a project director at FoEME.

Additionally, many highly polluting factories have moved into settlement industrial zones, such as Barkan and Ariel West, to take advantage of a lack of regulation.

In recent years, Nitzan Levi says, the problem with pollution from settlements has improved. Levi is the director general of the Municipal Association for Environmental Quality in Judea, a settler environmental group. He and others have pushed to close regulatory loopholes and enforce environmental standards at a local level.

Even so, the combined effect of Palestinian and Israeli water pollution is threatening to contaminate the Mountain Aquifer, which is located beneath the West Bank and part of Israel. A 2004 report by FoEMEcalled the Mountain Aquifer the “largest and most significant groundwater reservoir in the region”.Palestinians are almost entirely reliant on it for fresh water and it is also a water source for Israeli population centers.

In areas close to Tulkarem and Qalqilia, in the northeastern West Bank, wells tapping into the aquifer have been closed because they reached levels of pollution above safe drinking standards, Arbel says.

The threat of polluting the aquifer, according to the FoEME report, is “one of the most severe environmental problems threatening Palestinians and Israelis”.

More immediately, the pollution is reaching Palestinians through the food chain. In the Salfit area, for example, animals drink from polluted streams and graze in areas nearby. “I don’t drink milk or eat meat from this area anymore,” said Afaneh, the engineer overseeing the Salfit project.

In the absence of a solution, Palestinian residents like Khaled Sabra are left to live with the short-term consequences as a broader environmental crisis waits on the horizon.

When he moved to Bruqin in 1987, Sabra said, “it was the most beautiful area in the country”. Now, the situation is insufferable. “Where else can I go?” he asks, as he stands holding his daughter’s hand by the polluted stream running in front of his house.

(Source / 21.12.2013)