Israel to release extremist murderer of Palestinian family

Israeli judges believe that Ettinger is dangerous to be free; however, he is to be freed.

Israeli occupation authorities to release Jewish settler, who burnt Palestinian family last year, causing death of couple and their child.

Ettinger is a grandson of the late notorious extremist Jewish rabbi Meir Kahana, who carried out numerous crimes against Palestinians

Days of Palestine, Jerusalem -Israeli occupation authorities to release Jewish settler, who burnt Palestinian family last year, causing death of couple and their child.

Despite his acknowledgement that he is the mastermind of terrorist acts against Palestinians in occupied West Bank, Israeli state prosecutor decided to release extremist Jewish settler Meir Ettinger from detention.

At the beginning of August last year, Ettinger and his companions stormed the village of Duma in the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus. They set a Palestinian home ablaze and immediately a one-and-half-a-month infant burnt to death and his brother and parents suffered serious burns.

Nearly a week later, Saad Dawabshe, 31 years old, the father of the infant was announced dead. About five weeks later, the mother of the infant Reham Dawabshe, 27, was announced dead. Ali underwent prolonged medical treatment and he is almost OK now, but with some lifelong defects.

Under international pressure, the Israeli occupation arrested Ettinger on August 15, about 12 days after his crime. However, Ettinger was known of leading a terrorist settler group and there was a clear-cut evidence he murdered the family, the Israeli authorities did not charge him.

He was put under administrative detention, a prison term made for keeping Palestinians illegally inside prisons from unlimited periods. After six months, the Israeli defence minister renewed the administrative detention, which ends very soon.

Ettinger is a grandson of the late notorious extremist Jewish rabbi Meir Kahana, who carried out numerous crimes against Palestinians.

Israeli officials as well as Israeli public believe that anyone murders Palestinians is a hero. On March, an Israeli soldier executed an immobile Palestinian youths while bleeding in Al-Khalil.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the killer a hero and said that “executing a wounded Palestinian is an ethical act.”

At the same time, the Israelis took to the streets calling the murderer a hero and demanded he must not be imprisoned and that what happened.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Nakba without end: Memories of shattered Palestinian communities in Syria

A timely, much-needed ethnography of Syria’s Palestinian community, at a time when tens of thousands have been displaced once more

Displaced people from the nearby Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp queuing to receive aid from the United Nations Relief Work Agency in Yalda, south of Damascus

On 15 May 2011, thousands of Palestinian refugees from Syria are marching towards Syria’s long, quiet border with Israel. Even though the protests are not as big as the organisers promised, it is both a symbolic and physical statement.

Stones are thrown, tear gas fired in reply. Some actually make it across, welcomed on the other side by villagers from the Druze town of Majdal al-Shams. One Palestinian refugee, Hassan al-Hijazi, goes further, actually taking a bus to his family’s hometown, Haifa, and proclaiming it “his town”.

Although this is a detail from the early days of the Syrian uprising that often gets missed out, it was of obvious importance to Palestinian-Syrians at the time. The bodies of three martyrs – Obaida Zaghmot, Bashar al-Shihabi, and Qays Abu al-Hayjaa’ – sometimes called the “martyrs of return,” were taken back to their camps in Syria proper and carried aloft, mourned, lionised. Some observers – including former Yarmouk resident Nidal Bitari – have claimed this was a crucial stepping-stone in the Palestinian experience of the Syrian uprising and ensuing civil war. Although many felt compelled to maintain neutrality, people also felt used, Bitari has claimed. “A feeling began to emerge that the regime had used the Palestinians for its own ends, without regard for their safety, to deflect attention from the uprising then gaining ground.”

Each year on 15 May, Palestinians mark Nakba Day, commemorating the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, in what became known as the nakba, or catastrophe.

Reading American University of Beirut (AUB) professor Anaheed al-Hardan’s recently published book, Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities (Columbia University Press, 2016) around this year’s Nakba Day, one is struck by the evolution of the Nakba — not only as a historical event, site of trauma, memory remembered, but also as a term, idea, theory that has developed considerably over time.

Based on 63 interviews conducted in formal or informal Palestinian camps and communities mostly around Damascus and rural Damascus during six months of 2008, the main part of Hardan’s book gives voice to the so-called “guardians of memory”: the “generation of Palestine” who witnessed 1948 first-hand as local residents and native Palestinians, then as refugees.

Hardan charts different categories of Nakba memories; for example, heroic memories, such as how the people of peasant farming village Lubiya (where some of Yarmouk camp’s residents can be traced back to) bought rifles in preparation for the Nakba; or ambivalent memories, that combine a sense of powerlessness with agency. Nakba memories are told and recounted in different ways, too. Hardan explores engendered re-tellings and how that impacts memory.

Nakba was a term first used to describe the events of 1948 by a Damascus-born educator, historian and theorist, Constantine Zurayk. However, it would not take on a fully Palestinian, rather than Arab, connotation until years later; not until the downfall of several  ancien regimes seen as responsible for their part in the catastrophe, as well as the advent of the anti-colonial, Palestine liberation movement during the late 1960s, in the form of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Even then, the present state of nakba – as an event to be remembered – may not have always been the same. Hardan writes how the Oslo Accords, and the realignment of Palestine’s centrifuge away from the diaspora and back to the PLO’s seat in Ramallah and the West Bank, created a sense of “fear” amongst diaspora communities, including Syria’s Palestinians. This fear of being denied the right of return, as it became clear the PLO were willing to give up on millions of Palestinian refugees outside Palestine, sparked what became known as the Right of Return Movement (RRoM) in Syria. We are introduced to some of the characters involved: the late Ghassan al-Shehabi, for example, or grass-roots activists who ran education and awareness days commemorating lost Palestinian villages within camps in Syria.

The RoRM were building towards something and yet – and it will not be the first time –  2011 makes its presence felt.

Introductions scattered through Hardan’s ethnographic studies provide the reader street-view recollections; it might be Hardan’s journey en route to an interview, her abiding memory about where an interviewee, an old woman, was sat on a little chair in the street. They combine past and present – like, “that’s how it was then and I wonder how it is for them now” – and compounds the palpable sense of loss that understandably pervades a book about 1948 and the Syrian conflict’s impact on its descendants.

Reflecting on a picnic near Deraa, en route to an interview, Hardan remembers two “third-generation Palestinian refugee women from Khan Eshieh who learned about the Nakba through schoolbooks, and who nonetheless chose to wear the kuffiya [Palestinian scarf] that day.” She is left wondering about “those who have left the camp, and the others who have seen their families torn apart and scattered by war yet again, some even arriving at the shores of the Ionian and Baltic Seas, to tell of the minute details of the horrors of war.”

We continue to wonder as we read. Last week, pro-government forces besieged 12,000 people in Khan Eshieh, including 3,000 children – with Save the Children warning on Friday that civilians were running out of food and medicine amidst barrel bombs and sniper fire, The Guardian reported.

Palestinian-Syrian displacement, memory and loss is not history, it is happening right now. In recent weeks and months, Yarmouk camp, the beating-heart of the Palestinian-Syrian diaspora, has seen some of its fiercest clashes, this time between Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, in years. Khan Eshieh is besieged. Many other Palestinian camps and communities have been badly damaged and rendered inaccessible, or simply decimated as a result of both internal and external displacement. The Palestinians have become refugees twice.

Reminding us about this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of Hardan’s book. It is an important and timely addition to the growing body of Nakba scholarship, although maybe in places more academic in tone than Dina Matar’s oral history, What It Means To Be A Palestinian: Stories of Palestinian Peoplehood (I.B. Tauris, 2011) or Diana Allan’s ethnography of Shatila camp, Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile (Stanford University Press, 2014).

Hardan is one of the few people actively talking about Syria’s Palestinian community and its post-2011 tragedy at maybe the most crucial time of all. Just last week, UNRWA stated that more than one-fifth of Syria’s Palestinians had now fled the country. Some estimates say as many as 100,000 have taken the death boats to Europe, while hundreds have died en route.

And by looking back at the changing Nakba and its implications on those who experienced it, Hardan shows us how the Palestinians of Syria have, since 2012 especially, experienced a continuation of nakba, a second nakba or, perhaps as Hardan writes in her conclusion, a “catastrophe that the displaced post-Palestine generations now insist far exceeds the Nakba of 1948”.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Geographical distribution of depopulated Palestinian villages

PALESTINE, (PIC)– The attacks organized by the Jewish militia on 15 May, 1948, expelled more than 800,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes in 14 governorates in historical Palestine. The event was later known as “Nakba”, the catastrophe. The Palestinian statistics show that the Jewish gangs, supported by the authorities of the British Mandate, destroyed more than 548 Palestinian cities and villages either partially or completely. The Jewish militias committed brutal attacks against the Palestinian indigenous residents, as the Haganah, Irgun and Stern groups destroyed houses on the heads of their residents and killed farmers in their farms. The Jewish bulldozers demolished a number of Palestinian villages and implanted bushes on the ruins to hide the crimes. Nonetheless, some Palestinian homes are still standing until today, and marching towards them is one aspect of the Palestinian commemoration of the Nakba Day. The Palestinian villages that the Israeli gangs destroyed and expelled their residents from are geographically distributed as follows:

• District of Hebron: 18 villages.
• District of Ramla: 65 villages.
• District of Jerusalem: 41 villages.
• District of Nazareth: 5 villages.
• District of Beersheba: 92 villages.
• District of Baysan: 32 villages.
• District of Jenin: 6 villages.
• District of Haifa: 55 villages.
• District of Safad: 79 villages.
• District of Tiberia: 28 villages.
• District of Tulkarem: 22 villages.
• District of Acre: 29 villages.
• District of Gaza: 47 villages.
• District of Jaffa: 29 villages.

548 depopulated Palestinian villages

548 Palestinian villages were depopulated during the Nakba, 1948, rendering more than 800,000 Palestinians homeless.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Hamas: Establishing constitutional court aims to tighten grip on power

GAZA, (PIC)– Member of Hamas Movement’s political bureau Mahmoud al-Zahhar said Tuesday that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to establish a constitutional court would cancel the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary authorities. In a workshop organized by the Movement’s parliamentary bloc, Zahhar considered Abbas’s decision as a means of bolstering his dictatorship and tightening his grip on power. The constitutional court should be established after a consensus decision-making, he underlined. According to the Palestinian constitution, the speaker of parliament, a Hamas member, would take over as president on an interim basis were Abbas to die in office or resign; however, Abbas seeks to name head of the constitutional court instead of him, Zahhar explained. He suggested that the court would be used to retroactively annul laws adopted by the Palestinian parliament since 2006, when Hamas swept Palestinian legislative elections, at the pretext that they were “unconstitutional”.  The decision to establish a constitutional court was aimed at undermining the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament, according to Zahhar. The Hamas leader called on Palestinian factions and national forces to refuse Abbas’s proposed court.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Syria 2.0? US To Begin Arms Transfer To Libya’s Newest Government

The United States and other world powers have said they are ready to provide weapons to Libya’s new unity government. The West is looking to shore up the government to fight jihadists and prevent a refugee influx.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry , center, , Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni , left, and U.N. Libya envoy Martin Kobler attend the ministerial meeting on Libya in Vienna, Austria, Monday May 16, 2016. (Leonhard Foeger/Pool Photo via AP)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry , center, , Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni , left, and U.N. Libya envoy Martin Kobler attend the ministerial meeting on Libya in Vienna, Austria, Monday May 16, 2016.

Major world powers convening in Vienna on Monday said they were prepared to lift a UN arms embargo on Libya’s new unity government to help it secure control over the chaotic North African oil state.

The West and Libya’s neighbors hope a new UN-backed government will be able to dislodge the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and prevent an influx of migrants from crossing the sea to Europe.

“The key question is whether Libya remains a place where terrorism, criminal human smuggling and instability continues to expand, or if we are able, together with the government of national unity, to recover stability,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, summing up the issues ahead of a meeting of top diplomats from 21 countries.

The foreign ministers said in a communiqué they were “ready to respond to the Libyan government’s requests for training and equipping” of government forces.

The approval, including from all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, all but ensures an exemption from a 2011 UN arms embargo for the new unity government. Any lifting of the arms embargo would not apply to other armed groups in the country.

Risky decision

International powers prodding Libyans to overcome their differences had said they would support a new government. However, the decision to partially lift the embargo is risky.

There are concerns over whether the new unity government will be able to keep weapons out of the hands of extremists and a multitude of militias, as well as the potential for human rights abuses.

The new UN-backed unity government led by Fayez al-Sarraj sailed into the western city of Tripoli at the end of March in an effort to bring stability to Libya five years after NATO-backed rebels ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi and the country descended into chaos.

US, allies want to arm Libyan government

The Government of National Accord (GNA) has only very loose control in a collapsed state filled with competing armed groups. It has secured the support of the administration in Tripoli but not a rival parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.

The two rival administrations have been fighting each other for more than a year. A power vacuum has enabled IS to carve out an area of control around the central coastal city of Sirte, where Western intelligence agencies estimate the extremist group has more than 5,000 fighters. Europe is concerned IS could use Sirte to launch attacks on the continent.

“The situation in Libya is extremely bad, I’ll be very frank, economically, financially and security-wise,” said Sarraj, the head of the GNA. “It requires the collaboration of all parties.”

Sarraj said he would submit a proposal to world powers for “assistance on training and equipping our troops.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry said while the US supported exempting the new unity government from an arms embargo it was “a delicate balance.”

“But we are all of us here today supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and that legitimate government is fighting terrorism, that legitimate government should not be victimized by [the embargo],” he told reporters.

‘Stabilization of Libya is key’

To prop up the new government, world powers are also prepared to give humanitarian and economic assistance.

“The stabilization of Libya is the key answer to the risks that we have, and to stabilize Libya we need a government,” said Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who co-chaired the meeting.

The West has shot down the idea of sending in combat troops, but France and Britain have special forces advisers in the country. The United States also has special forces in the country collecting intelligence and is ramping up its drone and air power capability in the region, recently carrying out an airstrike against IS.

Libya descended into chaos in 2011 after NATO intervened to aid rebels seeking to topple longtime ruler Gadhafi. The sudden collapse of the state and presence of massive weapons stockpiles added fuel to regional and tribal rivalries in the oil rich country.

The country’s weapons stockpiles have ended up as far away as Syria, where Libyan jihadists flooded in to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Some battle-hardened jihadists have since returned to Libya.

Libya’s massive weapons caches have also ended up in West Africa, where they helped to strengthen insurgent groups al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Roots of the Conflict: Palestine’s Nakba in the Larger Arab ‘Catastrophe’


On May 15th of every year, over the past 68 years, Palestinians have commemorated their collective exile from Palestine. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine to make room for a ‘Jewish homeland’ came at a price of unrelenting violence and perpetual suffering. Palestinians refer to that enduring experience as ‘Nakba’, or ‘Catastrophe’.

However, the ‘Nakba’ is not merely a Palestinian experience; it is also an Arab wound that never ceases from bleeding.

The Arab ‘Nakba’ was namely the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided much of the Arab world between competing Western powers. A year later, Palestine was removed from the Arab equation altogether and ‘promised’ to the Zionist movement in Europe, creating one of the most protracted conflicts in modern human history.

Despite all attempts at separating the current conflict in Palestine from its larger Arab environs, the two realities can never be delinked since they both go back to the same historical roots.

How Did This Come about?

When British diplomat, Mark Sykes, succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic at the age of 39, in 1919, another diplomat, Harold Nicolson, described his influence on the Middle East region as follows:

“It was due to his endless push and perseverance, to his enthusiasm and faith, that Arab nationalism and Zionism became two of the most successful of our war causes.”

Retrospectively, we know that Nicolson spoke too soon. The breed of ‘Arab nationalism’ he was referencing in 1919 was fundamentally different from the nationalist movements that gripped several Arab countries in the 1950s and 60s. The rallying cry for Arab nationalism in those later years was liberation and sovereignty from Western colonialism and their local allies.

Sykes’ contribution to the rise of Zionism did not promote much stability, either. The Zionist project transformed into the State of Israel, itself established on the ruins of Palestine in 1948. Since then, Zionism and Arab nationalism have been in constant conflict, resulting in deplorable wars and seemingly perpetual blood-letting.

However, Sykes’ lasting contribution to the Arab region was his major role in the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, also known as the Asia Minor Agreement, one hundred years ago. That infamous treaty between Britain and France, which was negotiated with the consent of Russia, has shaped the Middle East’s geopolitics for an entire century.

Throughout the years, challenges to the status quo imposed by Sykes-Picot failed to fundamentally alter its arbitrarily-sketched borders, which divided the Arabs into ‘spheres of influence’ to be administered and controlled by Western powers.

Yet, with the recent rise of ‘Daesh’ and the establishment of its own version of equally arbitrary borders encompassing large swathes of Syria and Iraq as of 2014, combined with the current discussion of dividing Syria into a federation, Sykes-Picot’s persisting legacy could possibly be dithering under the pressures of new, violent circumstances.

Why Sykes-Picot? 

Sykes-Picot was signed as a result of violent circumstances that gripped much of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East at the time.

It all started when World War I broke out in July 1914. At the time, major European powers fell into two camps: the Allies – consisting mainly of Britain, France and Russia – vs. the Central Powers – Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The Ottoman Empire soon joined the war, siding with Germany, partly because it was aware that the Allies’ ambitions sought to control all Ottoman territories, which included the Arab regions of Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Egypt and North Africa.

In March 1915 – Britain signed a secret agreement with Russia, which would allow the latter to annex the Ottoman capital and seize control of other strategic regions and waterways.

A few months later, in November 1915 – Britain and France began negotiations in earnest, aimed at dividing the territorial inheritance of the Ottoman Empire should the war conclude in their favor.

Russia was made aware of the agreement, and assented to its provisions.

Thus, a map that was marked with straight lines with the use of a Chinagraph pencil largely determined the fate of the Arabs, dividing them in accordance with various haphazard assumptions of tribal and sectarian lines.

Dividing the Loot

Negotiating on behalf of Britain was Mark Sykes, and representing France was François Georges-Picot. The diplomats resolved that, once the Ottomans were soundly defeated, France would receive areas marked (a), which include the region of south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq – including Mosel, most of Syria and Lebanon.

Area (b) was marked as British-controlled territories, which included Jordan, southern Iraq, Haifa and Acre in Palestine and the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan.

Russia, on the other hand, would be granted Istanbul, Armenia and the strategic Turkish Straits.

The improvised map consisted not only of lines but also colors, along with language that attested to the fact that the two countries viewed the Arab region on purely materialistic terms, without paying the slightest attention to the possible repercussions of slicing up entire civilizations with a multifarious history of co-operation and conflict.

The Sykes-Picot negotiations concluded in March 1916 and was official, although it was secretly signed on May 19, 1916.

Legacy of Betrayal

WWI concluded on November 11, 1918, after which the division of the Ottoman Empire began in earnest.

British and French mandates were extended over divided Arab entities, while Palestine was granted to the Zionist movement over which a Jewish state was established, three decades later.

The agreement, which was thoroughly designed to meet Western colonial interests, left behind a legacy of division, turmoil and war.

While the status quo it has created guaranteed the hegemony of Western countries over the fate of the Middle East, it failed to guarantee any degree of political stability or engender economic equality.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement took place in secret for a specific reason: it stood at complete odds with promises made to the Arabs during the Great War. The Arab leadership, under the command of Sharif Hussein, was promised complete independence following the war, in exchange for supporting the Allies against the Ottomans.

It took many years and successive rebellions for Arab countries to gain their independence. Conflict between the Arabs and colonial powers resulted in the rise of Arab nationalism, which was born in the midst of extremely violent and hostile environments, or more accurately, as an outcome of them.

Arab nationalism may have succeeded in maintaining a semblance of an Arab identity but failed to develop a sustainable and unified retort to Western colonialism.

When Palestine – which was promised by Britain as a national home for the Jews as early as November 1917 – became Israel, hosting mostly Europeans settlers, the fate of the Arab region east of the Mediterranean was sealed as the ground for perpetual conflict and antagonism.

It is here, in particular, that the terrible legacy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement is mostly felt, in all of its violence, shortsightedness and political unscrupulousness.

100 years after two British and French diplomats divided the Arabs into spheres of influence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement remains a pugnacious but dominant reality of the Middle East.

Five years after Syria descended into a violent civil war, the mark of Sykes-Picot are once more being felt as France, Britain, Russia – and now the United States – are considering what US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently termed ‘Plan B’ – dividing Syria based on sectarian lines, likely in accordance with a new Western interpretation of ‘spheres of influence.’

The Sykes-Picot map might have been a crude vision drawn hastily during a global war but, since then, it has become the main frame of reference that the West uses to redraw the Arab world, and to “control (it) as they desire and as they may see fit.”

The Palestinian ‘Nakba’, therefore, must be understood as part and parcel of the larger western designs in the Middle East dating back a century, when the Arabs were (and remain) divided and Palestine was (and remains) conquered.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

What’s next for Egypt’s journalists?

Journalists protest against restrictions on the press and to demand the release of detained journalists, in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo, May 4, 2016

CAIRO — On May 1, and in a historic first, security forces stormed the Journalists’ Syndicate to detain and arrest journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud El-Sakka. Subsequently, following demonstrations by hundreds of journalists chanting “Journalism is not a crime” in front of the office of the attorney general, an emergency meeting was held by the General Assembly of the Journalists’ Syndicate on May 4, which resolved to boycott all news relating to the interior minister, publish his photo in a negative context only and call on the presidency to apologize to all journalists for the storming of the syndicate’s office.

The head of the syndicate’s Freedom Committee, Khaled El-Balshy, who took part in drafting these General Assembly resolutions, spoke with Al-Monitor about the repercussions of the syndicate’s woes with security agencies and the problems faced by the Egyptian press at what he calls a critical stage.

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  Why have many journalists called on the presidency in particular to apologize for the storming of the syndicate’s office?

El-Balshy:  The assembly considers the entire regime responsible for violating the syndicate’s sanctity, and not just the security forces. What really offended journalists was the siege imposed around the General Assembly during its meeting, with roads closed and thugs mobilized to assault journalists. As such, what occurred went beyond a mere security decision. The assembly’s resolutions were drafted in such a way as to include calling for an apology from the government, but attendees insisted that the apology come from the presidency.

Al-Monitor:  What is your opinion about the president ignoring the crisis during his speech that preceded the assembly’s meeting?

El-Balshy:  The ongoing violations targeting journalists cannot endure without the knowledge of the head of state. These acts are systematic and the entire regime is responsible for them. Claiming ignorance and failing to intervene to resolve them is — in my opinion — tacit approval to say the least.

Al-Monitor:  Why did the syndicate decide to publish the interior minister’s photos in a negative context, instead of simply resolving to refrain from publishing his name?

El-Balshy:  The purpose was to show that he was the minister who attacked the freedom of the press. It also served to express the anger of journalists against his conduct. I reject the decision being characterized as harassment, for journalists are the ones who were truly harassed.

Al-Monitor:  To what extent do newspapers abide by the syndicate decisions?

El-Balshy:  Approximately 80-90% of the newspapers adhered to the decision, for all the newspapers have representatives who voted for the assembly’s resolution. As for Al-Ahram newspaper, the issue went beyond noncompliance to reach the level of deception and the inaccurate conveyance of events at the assembly. Attendance was in the thousands, while the newspaper reported that a small number of people attended, intimating that the syndicate’s General Assembly was a fiasco.

Al-Monitor:  What does the syndicate expect from the parliament in this regard?

El-Balshy:  We are in contact with journalist lawmakers in parliament. They have put forth proposals relating to the crisis and can use their parliamentary tools such as hearings and summons in that regard. We shall support their efforts as long as they serve syndicate interests and comply with General Assembly resolutions.

Al-Monitor:  Are there anti-regime forces that are exploiting the syndicate’s crisis with security forces?

El-Balshy:  The syndicate stated that it rejects all attempts to exploit the General Assembly and has issued a decision calling for an investigation of a few Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated satellite channels broadcasting the assembly proceedings live. But I refuse to focus on this matter at the expense of the more important issue of journalistic unity.

Al-Monitor:  How do you respond to accusations that the syndicate’s board exploited the crisis for electoral purposes?

El-Balshy:  Does fending off such accusations require that we remain silent vis-a-vis the trespasses being committed against journalists? If that were the case, then I would not want to win the elections. We are tasked with defending the rights of our colleagues, and what we are currently experiencing seems to be an attempt to silence us — which will never happen.

Al-Monitor:  What escalatory steps will the syndicate take if the state refuses to respond to the General Assembly resolutions?

El-Balshy:  We may go on a general journalists’ strike or refrain from publishing or editing. These are proposals to be discussed by the next assembly.

Al-Monitor:  How do you characterize the conduct of some of the president’s supporters gathered around the syndicate?

El-Balshy:  They have assaulted 15 journalists. This conduct is systematic and not isolated. Under the protection of the security forces these people gather daily to hurl insults at and perform acts of aggression against journalists, while the same security forces prevent journalists from entering the syndicate.

Al-Monitor:  Are you accusing the security forces of complicity in facilitating the carrying out of such abuses?

El-Balshy:  I am certain that the security forces are complicit with them against journalists, and we have filed formal charges in that regard with the office of the prosecutor general.

Al-Monitor:  What is the syndicate board’s stance vis-a-vis journalists with close ties to the security forces?

El-Balshy:  The Journalists’ Syndicate is predicated on diversity. Members are completely within their rights to consider our position erroneous. What is more important is to focus on the wider picture and abide by the decisions of the General Assembly. But journalists who work against their syndicate and violate the law and the Charter of the Press shall be subject to sanctions as per the bylaws of the syndicate.

Al-Monitor:  How do you respond to accusations that the syndicate harbored fugitives?

El-Balshy:  People espousing said position based it on a distorted view of events and people judge issues in the context of the information at their disposal, their culture and personal interests. We seek to enforce the law, not violate it. We want to stop the violations of the law and the constitution perpetrated against journalists. We therefore defend the right of our colleagues to remain free and not be subjected to assault. We defend their right not to be tortured during or after their arrest.

We were not informed of the decision to apprehend Amr Badr and Mahmoud El-Sakka when the latter sought refuge at the syndicate’s office. Their lawyers came and we began contacts to have the arrest warrant enforced in the context of safeguards guaranteeing their rights. The storming of the syndicate was a violation of the law; we are keen on enforcing the law and we seek the establishment of a state of law.

Al-Monitor:  How do you view the call made by the “Rectify the Course” front to withdraw confidence from the syndicate’s board?

El-Balshy:  They have the right to do whatever they deem appropriate. The doors of the syndicate are always open for them to meet, and if they succeeded in having confidence withdrawn from the current board, then that would mean that we erred and must resign immediately.

Al-Monitor:  What obstacles do journalists face in Egypt while performing their jobs?

El-Balshy:  The 2015 report of the syndicate’s Freedom Committee recorded 782 violations against journalists, ranging from arrest [29 journalists are currently incarcerated], destruction of equipment, barring the publication of articles by 14 journalists and barring people from practicing the profession, as well as other obstacles faced by institutions such as barring their publication, prohibiting them from printing newspapers and storming their head offices.

Al-Monitor:  What are the types of charges that led to the incarceration of journalists?

El-Balshy:  There are 22 cases related to practicing the profession. Some colleagues have been charged with criminal offenses and accused of belonging to banned organizations despite their holding journalist credentials and carrying press-related equipment — colleagues who have yet to be released. We must take into account that the investigative department at the Ministry of Interior is anti-press and is exercising added pressure on journalists.

Al-Monitor:  What is the ceiling beyond which freedom of the press may not go?

El-Balshy:  When it comes to freedoms, this is the worst time ever for Egypt’s press. Here I am not talking about individuals or institutions that cannot be criticized, for freedom of the press requires that journalists be free to act and that they be safe from assaults when they criticize a certain individual or institution. This has to be a collective act but the climate today is anti-criticism, with criticism barred against certain institutions such as the army. Currently the judiciary is attempting to afford itself the same type of immunity from criticism; we are facing a reality where journalists must — each within their own capacity — confront the institutions about which they write.

Al-Monitor:  What is your opinion about the Unified Draft Law on Regulating the Press and Media?

El-Balshy:  The law satisfies 80% of the aspirations of journalists. Said ratio differs from one journalist to the other, and the provisions relating to freedoms favor the rights of journalists. I have reservations, though, about some provisions relating to the press sector, whereby the law failed to advance a mature stance vis-a-vis the electronic press, despite the latter being a natural progression of our profession.

Al-Monitor:  To what extent do some state agencies control press institutions?

El-Balshy:  Of course some state agencies do control press institutions, for censors are again stopping printing presses due to certain materials that they object to. Such control is detrimental to the profession and to creativity, as restrictions create apprehension in the minds of journalists. A climate of freedom, on the other hand, is positively reflected on newspaper distribution, for — after the January [25] Revolution — many newspapers were being published and distribution was immense. But professional standards and distribution levels diminished when the press devolved into several similar versions of a single newspaper, with employment conditions markedly deteriorating for journalists.

Al-Monitor:  When will e-journalists be allowed membership in the Journalists’ Syndicate?

El-Balshy:  We are working on drafting a new law that would recognize them. One of the key recommendations of the syndicate’s fifth congress was to work toward having them included. I hope to see the law amended this year.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

‘The Nakba continues’: Israeli forces conduct multiple raids across the occupied West Bank

Israeli military vehicle

File photo of Israeli military vehicle

Israeli forces raided multiple neighborhoods across the occupied West Bank overnight Saturday, detaining at least three Palestinians, launching tear gas canisters and stun grenades, and setting fire to olive trees, as Palestinians around the world commemorated the 68th anniversary of the Nakba.

In the northern district of Qalqiliya, dozens of Palestinians suffered from tear gas inhalation, and several trees caught fire when clashes erupted between local youths and Israeli forces in the village of Kafr Qaddum. Coordinator for a popular resistance committee in the village Murad Shtewi said the Israeli army “turned Kafr Qaddum’s sky into a cloud of poisonous gas” after firing tear gas heavily and randomly. Dozens of olive trees in the area caught fire from Israeli forces-fired tear gas and stun grenades. Shtewi added that civil defense vehicles were prevented from reaching the fire because Israeli forces had closed the roads with dirt berms, forcing firefighters to walk up a hill to control the fire.

To the south in the occupied West Bank district of Hebron, Israeli forces raided the downtown, al-Khila, and al-Thahir areas of the village of Beit Ummar, detaining one Palestinian. Local activist Muhammad Ayyad Awad said Israeli forces raided the house of Ibrahim Abd al-Hamid Abu Maria, and detained his son Abd al-Nasir, 19. In the southern district of Bethlehem, abnormally excessive use of force by Israeli forces was reported during an overnight raid in al-Azza refugee camp.

Locals reported a night of chaos marked by at least three explosions and two sets of exchange of fire while Israeli forces showered the camp with tear gas.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an Israeli forces detained two Palestinians near Bethlehem and one next to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank overnight. She added she was looking into the reports of clashes in al-Azza and Kafr Qaddum.

Saturday night’s raids come as Palestinians around the world commemorated on Sunday the 68th anniversary of the beginning of the Nakba, or catastrophe, when 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced during the creation of the state of Israel.

Many perceive the 1948 atrocities – marked by the destruction of 531 Palestinian towns and villages as well as 33 massacres by Israel – as just the beginning of a Nakba that has continued unabated to this day.

“Since 1948, Israel has employed deliberate and systematic acts of violence, colonialism, and destruction at the expense of the Palestinian people, their rights, lands, and resources,” Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said in a press release published Saturday titled, “The Nakba continues.”

Israel’s systematic dispossession and forced displacement of the Palestinian people entered a new era in 1967, when Israel illegally occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, creating another 430,000 Palestinian refugees, according to the PLO.

The decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territory is marked by near-nightly raids by Israeli forces into Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, with more than 90 search and arrest operations conducted per week since the start of the year, according to UN documentation.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Hamas: We will not recognize Israel, our goal is liberating Palestine

GAZA, (PIC)– Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, renewed its refusal to recognize Israel and stressed on resistance as a way towards liberation. It also emphasized the role of the Arab and Muslim Nation as a strategic dimension of the liberation project.  In a statement on the 68th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba which was marked on Sunday, Hamas asked the Arab regimes to host Palestinian refugees and treat them with respect until their return to their homeland, Palestine, and not to make them seek new refuge again in other countries.  Hamas also called on Fatah Movement along with other Palestinian factions to confront security coordination with Israel and the oppression taking place in the West Bank. Hamas also called on Fatah movement to positively respond to Hamas’s offer of reconciliation.  The resistance Movement, Hamas, also called for practicing pressure on the Israeli leadership in order to end its siege and aggression on Gaza as well as to halting its field executions in the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem.

(Source / 17.05.2016)

Palestine commemorates the painful anniversary

68 years since the Nakba

Palestinians started on Sunday the commemoration activities of the 68th anniversary of Nakba in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the 1948 occupied territories, and in the diaspora. Today marks the anniversary of the displacement of the Palestinian people from their original towns and villages in historical Palestine, where the Jews settled in Palestine since then, and set up their usurper entity, through dozens of massacres that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians over the years of conflict. Sirens were sounded for 68 seconds on 12 pm. on Sunday, in various Palestinian cities, to usher in the activities of the 68th anniversary of Nakba “March of Return” in Nablus Hundreds of Palestinians in the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank participated on Sunday in the March of Return, to commemorate the Sixty-eighth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. The march began from Faisal Street headed by the Return Ship, a symbolic ship pulled by a horse, boarded by Palestinian children in the Palestinian traditional dress, to show their attachment to the right of return to their ancestral homeland. Participants in the march raised the Palestinian flag, symbolic keys of their original houses they left forcibly and the names of Palestinian towns and villages from which their grandfathers were forcibly expelled in 1948. They also chanted slogans expressing their attachment to the right of return and refusal of resettlement. The march ended with a rally in Shuhada (Martyrs) Square, organized by the Supreme National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba Day. The festival included a number of events, including chanting the oath of return, refusal of resettlement and alternative projects. In a speech of the National Committee and factions and institutions, Jihad Ramadan said that the Nakba will remain a blot on the conscience of humanity. He said that the massacres that happened during the Nakba exceeded the Nazi war crimes. The Israeli entity and the criminal Zionist gangs should be held responsible of every drop of blood spilled since the Nakba, he elaborated. Ramadan stressed that the right of return and compensation according to international Resolution no. 194 is not a favor from anyone, but it is a right that will never be expired. He warned of UNRWA policies aimed at ending its services to millions of refugees to evade its legal, political, and moral obligations, saying that this violates the rights of the Palestinian people and targets the Palestinian cause. A massive march in Gaza All the national and Islamic forces in Gaza participated on Sunday in a mass march to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, stressing the right of return, which cannot be forsaken. The march kicked off from the Unknown Soldier Square in downtown Gaza, to the United Nations office, calling on the world to provide justice for the Palestinian people and give them their rights guaranteed by all international norms and laws. In his speech in which he represented the national factions, head of the Department of Refugee Affairs in the PLO and member of the Central Committee of Fatah, Zakaria al-Agha, confirmed that the right of return is an important constant of the Palestinian people’s constants, “a constant that all Palestinian factions, without exception, agree on and that cannot be waived”. Agha pointed that the broad participation of all spectrums of the Palestinian people in the commemoration of the Nakba confirms that the Palestinian people are steadfast and strongly attached to their land, despite the continuing occupation schemes against them and their cause. He added, “The Zionist occupation is wrong if it thinks that when adults who lived the Nakba die, the young will forget the Palestinian cause”. He went on to say, “All of Palestine is for the Palestinian people, and they will never accept any substitute for their homeland,” stressing that the Palestinian people will remain steadfast and resisting occupation until they get their land and all their rights back. The Fatah leader stressed that the Palestinian unity is the basis of the nation’s unity in the face of the Israeli intransigence and the growing settlement activity. “It is the only way to meet the challenges and keep our legitimate goals of return and self-determination”, he said. Agha called for the immediate implementation of the reconciliation agreement to form a national unity government that includes all national forces and factions, calling on them to shoulder their responsibilities to work to restore cohesion to the Palestinian people and end the division. “Train of Return” in Bethlehem The national and Islamic factions in the city of Bethlehem, south of the occupied West Bank, also announced the kick off the commemoration activities of the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. “Nakba Train”, which was made by Palestinian activists in cooperation with the global network of refugees and displaced persons, is scheduled to take off in a mass rally from the Doheisheh refugee camp, south of the city, to the Aida and Ezza refugee camps, north of the city.  The marchers will gather in the downtown area before proceeding to the flashpoint with the Israeli occupation on the southern entrance of Jerusalem.

(Source / 17.05.2016)