GroenLinks zegt contract op met fout bewakingsbedrijf

  • GroenLinks zegt contract op met fout bewakingsbedrijf

Het zal je maar gebeuren dat je een politieke partij bent die mensenrechten en eerlijk ondernemen hoog in het vaandel heeft en dan blijk je een bedrijf in huis te hebben dat geld verdient aan mensenrechtenschendingen.

Toch overkwam dat GroenLinks. Het partijbureau in Utrecht bleek te worden bewaakt door G4S. Dat is een internationaal bewakingsbedrijf dat onder felle kritiek staat omdat het in Israel betrokken is bij de bewaking van gevangenissen waar duizenden Palestijnen, waaronder kinderen, onder ontoelaatbare omstandigheden zitten opgesloten. Bovendien bewaakt het bedrijf de roadblocks die Israel op honderden plaatsen in bezet Palestina heeft ingericht, en die de bevolking in een ijzeren greep houden en de Palestijnse economie om zeep hebben geholpen. G4S verdient op die manier geld aan de bezetting en de onderdrukking van Palestijnen.
Toen het partijbestuur daar achter kwam is het contract met dit bedrijf snel beëindigd. Daarmee volgt GroenLinks de internationale oproep tot BDS (Boycot, Divestment en Sanctions). De G4S-sticker verdween snel van de voordeur.

Voor de werkgroep Midden Oosten een reden om een bijeenkomst te houden over BDS. Ook de ABVA-KABO is met dit onderwerp bezig en hield er een conferentie over. Daarom werd bondsbestuurslid Lieuwe de Vries uitgenodigd om te vertellen wat de vakbond verder met BDS gaat doen. Sonja Zimmermann van docP gaf een inleiding over het hoe en waarom van BDS en Guido van Leemput van UCP, een samenwerkingsverband van diverse ngo’s, gaf aan hoe politiek en maatschappelijk organisaties elkaar hierin kunnen versterken. Van het GL-bestuur was internationaal secretaris Marjolein Meijer uitgenodigd om toe te lichten waarom het bestuur de zaken met G4S direct verbroken heeft. “Het was geen groot contract en G4S zal er niet veel armer van worden, maar het gaat ons om het principe: geen zaken doen met een bedrijf dat zo maatschappelijk onverantwoord bezig is”.

Lieuwe de Vries juicht dit toe. “vanuit de vakbond zien wij volstrekt onaanvaardbare arbeidsomstandigheden van de Palestijnse arbeiders in Israelische bedrijven en nederzettingen. Door de verwoesting van de Palestijns economie kunnen de Palestijnen alleen nog maar daar werk vinden. Er heerst kinderarbeid, vakbondsactiviteiten worden niet getolereerd, de lonen zijn beneden elk peil en de arbeiders hebben nul rechten”.
Guido van Leemput voegt daaraan toe dat we vooral niet moeten vergeten dat het ook gewoon verboden is om geld te verdienen aan de bezetting. Onlangs trok Royal Haskoning zich terug uit zo’n besmet project in bezet Palestina op aanwijzing van de Nederlandse regering. Unilever deed dit al eerder. Ook G4S moet dat doen.

De werkgroep Midden Oosten vindt het een krachtig signaal dat G4S is weggestuurd. De werkgroep heeft een brief naar de programmacommissies van de afdelingen in het land gestuurd met suggesties wat je op gemeente- en provincieniveau kunt doen aan mensenrechten, o.a door BDS. Er zijn bijvoorbeeld busmaatschappijen in Nederland actief, die in bezet gebied apartheidsbuslijnen rijden, waar Palestijnen niet in mogen. Veolia (onder de naam Connexxion) en Egged (EBD) bijvoorbeeld. Die kunnen daarom eenvoudig worden uitgesloten van aanbestedingen. En misschien zitten er ook wel G4S-stickers (zie logo hiernaast) op het gemeente- of provinciehuis. Ook die moeten er af zolang dit bedrijf geld blijft verdienen aan de bezettingspolitiek.

(Source / 17.11.2013)

Hollande: Israel must make ‘gesture’ on settlements

French President Francois Hollande speaks during a joint news conference with Israel President Shimon Peres at the presidential residence in Jerusalem November 17, 2013.

France expects Israel to make “gestures” over its construction of settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state, President Francois Hollande said in Jerusalem on Sunday.

His remarks came just three days after the entire Palestinian negotiating team resigned in protest over continued Israeli settlement building which is threatening to sabotage the US-backed direct peace talks which began in late July.

“There are still gestures that need to be made (by both sides),” Hollande said, acknowledging that Israel had already taking conciliatory steps by releasing 52 veteran Palestinian prisoners in line with its commitments to the peace process.

“Some gestures have already been started by Israel — the freeing of prisoners,” he said.

“Other gestures are expected, especially in the area of settlements,” he said in remarks to the press with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres.

Hollande said he would raise the issue of “gestures” expected from the Palestinian side when he travels to Ramallah on Monday for talks with president Mahmud Abbas.

Not accepted

The negotiators’ resignation, which has not been accepted by Abbas, came two days after Israel announced its largest-ever batch of 20,000 new settler homes.

But the announcement was quickly scrapped by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on grounds it was creating a needless confrontation with the international community at a time when Israel was trying to get across an urgent message about stopping a nuclear Iran.

Previous direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed just weeks after they began in September 2010 in a bitter dispute over settlement construction.

(Source / 17.11.2013)

Extremist Israeli group enters Al-Aqsa compound under police escort

In an undated photo, Glick indicates to a Jewish tour group where a Jewish temple reportedly used to stand inside the al-Aqsa compound.
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Over 100 Israeli Jews accompanied by police entered Al-Aqsa compound through the Moroccan gate on Sunday afternoon.

The 104 Israeli Jews were described by witnesses as “settlers,” and they included 33 Israeli intelligence officers led by extremist lawyer Yehuda Glick.

Glick was allowed back in Al-Aqsa compound after his 6-month ban was lifted two days ago. He was informed that he would be allowed to return to the compound by Jerusalem District Police Chief Yossi Pariente after serving only one month of his ban.

Glick called on all Jews to visit the compound, and proposed an initiative to schedule daily visits by extremists to the Jerusalem holy site.

Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Jerusalem office of the PA ministry of endowment said “it is obvious that Israeli police are being pressured by extremists to allow Glick to return to Al-Aqsa.”

“Glick is a provocative man, and it is obvious that he is trying to create chaos at Al-Aqsa,” al-Khatib added.

Yehuda Glick is an American-born Israeli and the chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Fund, an extremist Jewish organization focused on “strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Temple Mount.”

Critics charge that the Fund actually leads Jewish tours to the site with the intention of leading Jewish prayer there- currently banned under Israeli agreements- and encouraging Jews to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and build a Jewish temple there.

Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, President of the Council of the Islamic Endowment in Jerusalem condemned the recurrent “settler visits” to the site.

He added that Israeli police had taken control over the compound, but should return that to the Islamic endowment.

Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.

It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

According to mainstream Jewish religious leaders, Jews are forbidden from entering for fear they would profane the “Holy of Holies,” or the inner sanctum of the Second Temple.

Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

(Source / 17.11.2013)

Israeli settlers uproot 106 olive trees near Yatta

HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli settlers raided Palestinian agricultural areas in the southern West Bank overnight, uprooting 106 olive trees in Quwawees area east of Yatta.

Locals said that Israeli settlers destroyed 106 olive trees owned by Abd al-Nabi Makhamra in an overnight attack.

Settlers have recently destroyed trees in the area with ripe olives, in order to prevent Palestinians from harvesting them, locals added.

According to a 2012 report on Israeli settler violence released by the Palestine Center, a Washington-based nonprofit, every year the olive harvest period sees the highest peak in attacks on Palestinian civilians and property.

In 2012, there were 353 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Over 7,500 olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers between January and mid-October in 2012, according to OCHA.

Since 1967, 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted in the occupied West Bank, resulting in a loss of around $55 million to the Palestinian economy, according to a report by the PA ministry and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem.

The olive industry supports the livelihoods of roughly 80,000 families in the occupied West Bank.

(Source / 17.11.2013)

Israeli forces attack Palestinian village, injure 40

Israeli troops fire tear gas at Palestinians (unseen) in the occupied West Bank. (File photo)

Israeli troops fire tear gas at Palestinians (unseen) in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli forces have attacked the village of Abu Dis in East al-Quds (Jerusalem) in the occupied Palestinian territories, injuring 40 people including university students.

On Sunday, the village was attacked by Israeli soldiers firing tear-gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets, and stun bombs.

Reports say that those injured included a large number of students from al-Quds University.

Moreover, those wounded have been taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.

The Israeli soldiers also fired sound bombs at the al-Quds University campus.

The Israeli army launches frequent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

On November 7, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli troops at a junction in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

On October 22, clashes broke out between scores of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, situated 12 kilometers west of the city of Ramallah, over the killing of a Palestinian man, named Yusef Ahmed Radaida.

Israeli soldiers shot dead Radaida on October 17, when the Palestinian man crashed a tractor through the perimeter fence of an Israeli military camp in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

According to Palestinian rights groups, over a dozen Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the first half of 2013. Israeli troops also seized nearly 1,800 Palestinians, including women and children, during the same period.

(Source / 17.11.2013)

FINANCING THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION: THE CURRENT INVOLVEMENT OF ISRAELI BANKS IN ISRAELI SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY

In October 2010, Who Profits published a report about the Israeli banks’ involvement in the Israeli occupation. The Israeli banks provide the financial infrastructure for activities of companies, governmental agencies and individuals in the occupied Palestinian territories and the Syrian Golan Heights. As Who Profits’ report shows, it is evident that the banks are well aware of the types and whereabouts of the activity that is being carried out with their financial assistance.

Who Profits’ research identified six categories of involvement of Israeli banks in the occupation:

1.Providing mortgage loans for homebuyers in settlements

Israeli banks provide mortgages to individuals who wish to buy or build housing units in West Bank settlements. The purchased property is used as collateral for the loan. Thus, the bank is facilitating the colonizing of land and is a stakeholder in a settlement property and, in cases of foreclosure, it may fully own that property.

To name a few examples, Leumi Bank provides mortgages for homebuyers in the settlements of Zufim, Ariel and Beitar Ilit; Mizrahi-Tefahot bank provides mortgages for homebuyers in the settlements of Ariel, Beit Arye (Ofarim), Beitar Ilit, Imanuel and Modi’in Ilit.

2.Providing financial services to Israeli local authorities in the West Bank and the Golan Heights

Regional councils, local councils and municipalities of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Golan Heights form part of the associated regime and administer the settlements.  The authorities of this regime depend on financial services provided by Israeli banks. Israeli banks provide loans to local authorities of settlements, which are used for development of infrastructure, construction of public buildings and providing municipal services to the settlements’ residents. Additional services to these local authorities include managing bank accounts, the provision of funds’ management services and funds’ transfer from the government and from other sources, such as grants from the Israel National Lottery (Mifal HaPayis). All grants given by the Israeli National Lottery to dozens of settlements are transferred through Dexia Israel bank.

Dexia Israel also provided a loan for waste management systems in the settlement of Bat Ayin, and a guarantee for a project of the Israeli Ministry of Defense to install lighting around Kdumim settlement. In addition, Gush Etzion regional council receives its State funds through Dexia Israel.

3.Providing special loans for construction projects in settlements 

Israeli banks provide loans for various construction firms for the explicit purpose of constructing housing projects in West Bank settlements. The Sale (Apartments) (Assurance of Investments of Purchasers of Apartments) Law – 1974 ensure homebuyers that a bank vouches for construction project, backs the construction company and protects the buyers’ investments by providing a bank guarantee. Homebuyers’ payments for the property are all deposited in a dedicated bank account, and the bank monitor’s the financial status and the development of the project.

Hapoalim and Leumi banks acted as a guarantor and loan maker to major construction companies such as Heftziba and Shikun & Binui (Housing and construction) that built projects in the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Har Homa. These banks also guarantee the state loans to companies that built the Light Rail in Jerusalem, which connects the Jerusalem settlement neighborhoods with the city center.

4.Operating branches in Israeli settlements

Most of the Israeli banks have several branches in Israeli settlements, through which they provide financial services to settlers and commercial companies in settlements. The bank branches form part of the settlement itself, and are part of the service infrastructure that enables the continued development of the settlements.

5.Providing financial services to businesses in settlements

Israeli banks provide financial services to businesses in the settlements and to businesses whose entire commercial activity is occupation-related. For instance, Israeli banks provide loans and offer bank accounts to factories located in settlements industrial zones. The property of these businesses is often used as collateral for such loans. For example, Mizrahi bank’s subsidiary, British-Israel investments, owns and operates Adumim Mall in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

6.Benefiting from access to the Palestinian monetary market as a captured market

Restricted by the agreements between the PA and Israel, as part of the Oslo process (e.g. The Paris protocol – the economic annex to the Oslo Accords) – the Palestinian monetary market cannot operate a currency of its own. While there are four currencies that can be used in the Palestinian market (Israeli shekel, EU euro, Jordanian dinar and US dollar), the Israeli shekel dominates most of this market, as a derivative of the subordination of the entire Palestinian economy to that of Israel’s. Palestinian banks have to rely on Israeli banks, which serve as correspondence banks, for the transference of funds and Shekel clearing services. However, according to official Palestinian sources, in order to provide these services, Israeli banks demand high cash collaterals of over a billion Shekels, charge high commissions and pose limitations on money transfers. In addition, Israeli banks work only with some of the Palestinian banks; they refuse to work with new banks, which become dependent on other Palestinian banks. Moreover, Israeli banks severed their contractual connections with the Palestinian banks in Gaza and stopped providing any services to them. This had a significant impact on the financial market in Gaza bringing it to the brinks of a total collapse.

The six categories of activity specified herein portray the extent in which banks in Israel are implicated in financing of occupation-related endeavors. In a more general perspective, it can be stated that all most aspects of Israeli control over the occupied territory have a financial foundation. Many financial activities of individuals, organizations, governmental institutions and commercial companies could have taken place without the active support of banks. The findings show that Israeli banks are still benefitung from financial activities in the occupied territories, especially in the settlements industry.

(Source / 17.11.2013)

Thanks, Snowden! Now All The Major Tech Companies Reveal How Often They Give Data To Government

Google has been pumping out a transparency report for years, telling its users how often the feds and local law enforcement ask for information about its users. Up until this year, it was one of the few companies that did so. Then NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden happened. Amid allegations of programs like PRISM and the intel community having backdoor taps to the country’s most popular Internet companies — allegations the companies denied — Silicon Valley’s heavyweights started using transparency as a damage control tactic. Yahoo, Apple, and Facebook released transparency reports for the very first time this fall. Now there is a fuller industry perspective on how often these companies get government search queries and how many of their users are affected.

It is only with Google that we get a compellinghistorical perspective. With the release Thursday of its transparency report for the first half of 2013, it says that requests for users’ information have doubled over the last two years. This chart includes all of the companies’ reports for the first half of this year, with a focus on the United States.* The companies have released them over the last few months; Google’s report was the latest coming out this morning. The chart shows how many requests came in from U.S. feds and po-po, how many users/accounts were included in those requests and the percentage of requests for which the companies actually handed over their users’ data.

The challenge now is that the companies release their information in slightly different ways. Facebook and Apple have ranges because they include secretive National Security Letters in their reports (on the condition that they not be too specific about their numbers). We took the uppermost numbers from their ranges. Meanwhile, Google used to have a separate tallying of their NSLs, separate from other requests but has now been asked not to do that; same goes for Microsoft.

That makes the comparison process a little clunky, but one big takeaway is that Yahoo gets far broader information requests from the government than other tech companies, resulting in a comparable number of data requests affecting a significantly higher number of users. And Apple’s low number suggest that law enforcement is more likely to go to your mobile carrier than your mobile device maker for intel. Unfortunately, from a data perspective, companies such as Verizon and AT&T don’t do transparency reports. When we did get a little peek in 2011, the numbers were pretty astonishing, as noted by Chris Calabrese of the ACLU. “[A]ccording to disclosures they’ve made to members of Congress, law enforcement sought information from them on a mind-blowing 1.3 million users in 2011,” he wrote over at the ACLU blog.

There’s currently a bill being pushed by Sen. Al Franken, and supported by the tech giants, that would bring more transparency to government information requests, particularly the number coming from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which infamously ordered Verizon (and likely other phone companies) to hand over call records for millions of customers. The tech companies contend that if users could see how often they’re actually getting requests for info, they’d be less freaked out by the NSA stuff.

Sources:

Google
Apple
Yahoo
Facebook
Twitter
Microsoft

* Changed chart included in post initially to reflect Microsoft and Skype numbers for 2013.

(Source / 16.11.2013)

Power cuts force Gaza’s youth to study in dark

Boys read by candle light

Yusri Balaha and his brother find it very exhausting to read by candle light.

GAZA (IRIN) — Since the beginning of November, Gaza’s only power plant has been shut due to shortages of industrial diesel. The result has been a major increase in power outages for Gaza’s nearly 1.7 million inhabitants, with electricity now absent for approximately half of each day.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the occupied West Bank and Gaza, James W. Rawley, has said the shutdown and fuel shortages will “impact all essential services, including hospitals, clinics, sewage and water pumping stations.”

The plant was only reopened last year after rehabilitation following an Israeli airstrike in 2006. According to the Gaza Energy Authority, it generates approximately 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity supply, the rest coming from Israel (120 megawatts) and Egypt (27 megawatts).

Since June, a security clampdown on the Egyptian side of the border has drastically cut the importation of fuel through tunnels, and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, in the West Bank, has stopped sending fuel because of a dispute over taxes.

To get an idea of the impact of the outages on Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, IRIN met with the Balaha family in Beach Refugee Camp.

“Electricity cuts in Gaza have always been severe, but now it is at a whole new level,” Fuad Balaha said in his ill-equipped barber shop in the heart of the refugee camp. There are few comforts for the handful of customers, and now even electricity is a luxury. “It is very difficult, and we are expecting things to get worse if nothing happens to fix the situation.”

Huge debts

Young man grooms another man sitting in barber shop chair

Fuad Balaha’s business has further suffered wtih increased power outages.

Fuad is married with a four-month-old baby and a family of 18 people, including his mother, brothers and widowed sister, who all depend on his small shop. His father died six months ago.

Huge debts hang over him because of his and his brother’s wedding, and the family also needed to take out loans over the past seven years to pay for the construction of their home.

With electricity out during much of the day, he often tells potential customers to come back later. “When outages were lasting eight hours, I was making between 50 and 60 shekels [nearly $15] a day, but now the power is off for 12 hours … This diminishes my revenue to 30 to 40 shekels, which is making a tight situation much worse.”

It is just before six in the evening in the Balaha family home, an unfinished three-story building in a crowded part of northern Gaza City, a few kilometers from the shop.

“We only have candles”

Fuad’s mother, Enshirah, 55, lights a candle as the shadows begin to lengthen, something that comes quicker as winter approaches. She keeps an eye on the load-shedding schedule from the power company to make sure candles are pre-positioned when the lights go out.

“We only have candles. Our generator was damaged a few years ago, and we could not fix it because it is expensive. And even if it is working, where can we get or how can we pay for fuel? So, we depend on candles.”

A major concern for the Balahas, and many other families, is the fire risk the candles pose. “I double-check them, because I heard about accidents and fires [that have] occurred in Gaza,” Enshirah said.

A month ago, her daughter and grandchildren were sleeping in the home when a candle on the television fell over and started a fire. Her daughter woke up because of the smoke, and the family escaped.

Enshirah’s other worry is making sure there is at least some light so her grandchildren can study. “It is a hard mission” she said, “but we have to do that to keep them studying.”

“Miserable”

Yusri, 14, joins his younger brother at a low, small table, where they hunch around a single candle, preparing for the next day’s classes. Yusri, Fuad’s orphaned nephew, is helped by his uncle Mohammed, 24, who graduated from university three years ago but is currently unemployed.

“I try to do everything possible to finish reading when power is available, or use the daylight,” said Yusri. “The situation has affected me a lot recently. The darkness hasn’t left me much space to revise well. Midterm exams are coming up soon.”

When the power is off, he sleeps early, or stays outside the house for a while. His television and playing time has been limited. The whole family feels strained by the cuts, with few activities possible after hours.

Like Fuad, Mohammed is married and has a baby daughter. As his wife heated tea for him on a small gas cooker, he said, “This is not a life at all. It is miserable in all ways.”

His search for employment has not been successful. Longer power outages, in addition to ongoing gas and fuel shortages, are “making our life unbearable,” he said.

“It is the main question in Gaza now. What we need — as an essential right — is living healthy and sound, in a decent way. We want this to be a place where my baby, family and Palestinians can live with dignity.”

Pitch black

As soon as electricity comes on, there is a rush in the house to get all the postponed chores finished. Enshirah takes charge, preparing to bake, filling the tanks when water is available, washing, cleaning and cooking. “Sometimes we manage to finish, but in many cases we cannot, because of the short time of connection,” she said.

“We do not have a water pump to push the water up. We do not have a generator. What we have are candles and a fireplace to cook and heat water for domestic use, so my sons and grandsons collect and bring wood which we use.”

She added, “Sometimes, when power is off, we send the kids with clothes to wash them in my family’s house a few blocks away when they have some water and electricity available.”

Later in the evening, Fuad returns to his shop, where he uses a charged battery to help him through the power outage. When he returns home, the area is still pitch black.

(Source / 16.11.2013)

Israeli border village backs Syria’s Bashar al-Assad

 

Jamal Silwan lives in Ghajar, a village whose residents largely say they are Israeli while their loyalties lie with Syria. The war in Syria is never far from their minds: 'We hope this will end and there will be peace so everyone can live together – Jews, Muslims and Christians,' Silwan says.

Jamal Silwan lives in Ghajar, a village whose residents largely say they are Israeli while their loyalties lie with Syria. The war in Syria is never far from their minds: ‘We hope this will end and there will be peace so everyone can live together – Jews, Muslims and Christians,’ Silwan says.

There is a picturesque valley that runs alongside Ghajar in the Gholan Heights, where a small but fast-moving river provides a soothing soundtrack that for a while makes you forget this is one of the most tense international borders in the Middle East.

The village, where the the locals have a tradition of painting their homes in various pastel colours, sits on the junction where three regional rivals converge: Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

“This is a Syrian village,” one of the town’s elderly residents, Syed Silwan, told me. Like everyone in Ghajar, Silwan is Alawite, a Shia Muslim minority centred in Syria. But, like almost everyone else, Silwan holds Israeli identification.

 

Ghajar-Israeli-side-StoffelGhajar sits at the junction of Lebanon, Syria and Israel, with the border running right through its main square.

This village of 2,500 has a complicated history. When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, the United Nations decided that the international border ran right through Ghajar’s main square. Lebanon claims part of the territory, but the residents here feel no allegiance to the government in Beirut. All of those I spoke to on a recent visit say they are Israeli, while their loyalties lie with Syria.

Especially to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s embattled president, who is also Alawite.

Bashar al-Assad’s odds of survival growing

So, in Ghajar, something strange has happened: Israeli citizens vehemently support the leader of a nation that Israel is still at war with.

“[Assad] is the most capable leader for Syria. He is strong,” Silwan said, as he fingered a set of orange prayer beads.  “God willing, he will survive.”

Inside Syria, on both sides of the war that has raged for more than two and a half years, there is a growing acceptance of the reality that Assad’s chances of survival are improving.

The United States, Canada and European powers have long called for the Syrian president to step down, to end the conflict, which is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people and displaced some six million.

But Assad and his regime have turned the tide of nearly two years of advances by rebel forces. Syria’s military has retaken key towns, including this week Hejeira, a suburb south of the capital Damascus. Hejeira had been held by the opposition for more than a year.

Syria’s main opposition alliance, the National Council, recently softened its position, agreeing to participate in peace talks even while Assad is still in power, something it had steadfastly refused until just a few days ago.

In Ghajar, resident Amin Moussa sees Assad’s position strengthening. “He is doing well. He is still in power and these days he is the stronger force.”

There aren’t many businesses in Ghajar. There’s one restaurant, where the specialty is falafel. A lone postman delivers the mail. There’s a mobile phone shop, of course, as staying in touch with the outside world is critical.

‘We ask God to finish this war’

Moussa runs the phone shop. His brother studied medicine in Damascus, before returning to practice in Israel. Amin says he considered leaving Ghajar, but choose to stay: this is home, he says.

The Moussas have many relatives still living in Syria. “The war there has made it harder to reach our relatives on the phone,” Moussa said while sipping coffee. “Watching this all on TV, it’s very, very bad there.”

United Nations peacekeepers patrol the frontier between Lebanon, Israel and Syria here. White watch towers rise over the metal fences erected by Israel.

The villagers say the fighting inside Syria is too far away to hear the bombs and mortars exploding. But they know all too well that the war there is dangerous, and shows no sign of ending.

“We ask God to finish this war. Children, old people are dying,” said Jamal Silwan, who was born in Ghajar 72 years ago. “We hope this will end and there will be peace so everyone can live together – Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

(Source / 16.11.2013)

Gaza marks anniversary of Israel attack

Palestinian families seek justice after 2012 assault on the Gaza Strip killed more than 100 civilians.

Gaza Attack2
In the Gaza Strip, 1.7 million people are packed in an area of 365 square kilometres

 

Ahmed Jamal al-Dalu’s life changed in an instant last November. Nothing has been the same for the 29-year-old since an Israeli warplane dropped a bomb on his family’s three-storey home in Gaza City, killing ten members of his family.”We never expected that one day our home would [be attacked],” Dalu told Al Jazeera over the phone from Gaza City. “We didn’t expect that my mother, my sister, my brother, his wife, his children… they would go like this in one second.”

The Dalu family home was completely levelled by an Israeli air strike on November 18, 2012, during the last major Israeli military offensive into Gaza, dubbed “Operation Pillar of Defence”. Ten members of the family – five children, four women, and the father of four of the children – were killed along with two neighbours, while nine others were injured. Only Ahmed’s father, Jamal, and his younger brother, Abdallah, survived because they were not in the house when the bomb struck.

Ahmed was studying civil engineering in Turkey when the attack happened. A friend called to tell him the news, and he said he spent two days in a Turkish hospital for shock before rushing back to Gaza. “[My friend] called me and he told me there is an Israeli airplane that attacked your home by F-16 bomb. When I heard that, I didn’t believe it. I called our home but no one answered,” he said.

Human Rights Watch called the bombing “a clear violation of the laws of war”. It was the deadliest single attack during the entire Israeli operation.

Now, Ahmed says, “my little brother needs care, and my father also needs a lot of support. I’m feeling like I became the father and the mother and the sister for both of them. I’m trying to make them forget, but we cannot forget.”

‘Threat of death’

The Israeli military offensive on Gaza began on November 14, 2012 with an air strike that killed Ahmed Jabari, a top Hamas military commander, in Gaza City. The Israeli army later posted on Twitter: “Ahmed Jabari: Eliminated”. Israel justified the eight-day assault as a response to rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israeli cities.

Yet human rights groups documented several cases of indiscriminate Israeli shelling of civilian areas, and accused Israel of severe violations of international law. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 1.6 million people crammed into just 365 square kilometres. For its part, Israel said armed Palestinian groups often launched their attacks from civilian areas, “creat[ing] particular operational difficulties for the IDF commanders responsible for making targeting decisions in such a challenging environment”.

A ceasefire was declared on November 21, after an Egyptian-brokered agreement set out terms to end Palestinian rocket fire and slightly ease Israeli restrictions on Gaza. But the damage had already been done.

“Palestinian civilians lived under extreme fear and threats to their lives due to direct attacks on civilians and their property throughout the Gaza Strip. There was no safe place and the threat of death was felt by everyone with no exceptions,” read a statement issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).

Gaza Attack1
Human rights groups have criticised Israel’s bombing of densely populated areas

 

According to PCHR figures, 171 Palestinians were killed in eight days. Sixty percent of them – or 102 people – were civilians, including 35 children and 14 women. Another 625 civilians were injured. Six Israelis were killed during the fighting, including four civilians.

Gaza’s infrastructure was also heavily damaged: 126 houses were completely destroyed, and schools, mosques, cemeteries, health and sports centres, and media institutions were also hit, among other structures. It was the largest Israeli military operation into the besieged Gaza Strip since “Operation Cast Lead”, the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive that killed 1,419 Palestinians.

No investigation

After the dust settled, the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) denied a request to open a criminal inquiry into the killing of members of the Dalu family.

An MAG investigation found that the attack was aimed at “a senior terrorist operative and several other terrorists”. The report, released in April 2013, called the Dalu family members’ deaths “unfortunate” but said steps had been taken to reduce the chance of harming civilians.

“Various precautions had been taken in order to reduce the possibility of collateral damage to uninvolved civilians in the course of the attack,” said an Israeli military spokesperson, “including the choice of ammunition used, and that the operations staff had not foreseen that as a result of the attack, collateral damage would be caused to uninvolved civilians to the extent alleged. In light of these findings, the MAG found that the incident does not raise suspicion of the commission of a criminal offense… As a result, the MAG decided that there was no basis to open a criminal investigation or to take any additional measures.”

PCHR has criticised what it says is Israel’s lack of accountability. Of the 1,046 complaints submitted by the group to the Compensation Officer of the Israeli Ministry of Defence from 2009-12 urging Israel to initiate civil claims on behalf of Palestinian victims of the Israeli military, PCHR received only 16 replies related to 26 cases.

“One year passed [since Operation Pillar of Defence] and there is no accountability and there is no [Israeli intent for] accountability,” PCHR Director Raji Sorani told Al Jazeera, pointing to amendment eight to Israel’s civil tort law, which exempts Israel from liability for damages caused to a resident of enemy territory during “combat action”.

“This leaves no doubt whatsoever that even the slight opportunity left [to take Israel to court] has been deleted entirely. It’s one more drastic, legislative and legal setback. [It’s] intentional by the state of Israel, blocking the system for Palestinian victims,” Sorani said.

For his part, Ahmed says he doesn’t expect justice to come from an Israeli court. “What do they want from Gaza? What do they want from these people? Why are these people paying? They are paying and they will pay again.”

‘Nothing has changed’

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited an Israeli army unit near the Gaza border to mark the anniversary of last year’s operation, which he credited with lowering rocket fire from the Gaza Strip by 98 percent.

“In the end, this deterrence is achieved by the enemy’s knowing that we will not tolerate attacks on our communities and our soldiers, and that we will respond in great strength. This is the foundation of our deterrence,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.

But for Ahmed, who just had his first child, Israeli justifications for the attack that killed most of his family are too little, too late. “When my son will ask me, ‘where is my grandmother?’, what I can tell him now?”

“After one year that this happened, nothing [has] changed in Gaza for us, for our family,” said Ahmed. “Nothing [has] changed. The situation is getting worse – not for us only, but all the Palestinian people.”

(Source / 16.11.2013)