Why the Irish support Palestine

Once upon a time, Ireland was a huge supporter of Jewish aspirations in the Promised Land. What happened?

As the world scrambled to respond to Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, the first reaction came from an unlikely source: Ireland. On the morning of June 5, the MV Rachel Corrie, which had set sail from the east coast of Ireland in an attempt to breach the Gaza blockade, was intercepted by Israeli forces. The vessel’s Irish passengers included Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

The ill-tempered diplomatic spat between the Irish and Israeli governments that accompanied the Rachel Corrie’s journey to Gaza is just the latest episode in the countries’ long history of antagonistic relations. Tensions recently escalated again with the Irish expulsion of an Israeli diplomat amid Irish anger over Israel’s alleged use of eight forged Irish passports in the recent murder of a Hamas official in Dubai.

The Palestinian issue has long occupied a place in the Irish consciousness far greater than geographic, economic, or political considerations appear to merit. Perceived parallels with the Irish national experience, however, have inspired an emotional connection with Palestine that has inspired Irish activism in the region up to the present day.

At first, in the 1920s and 1930s, Irish sympathies lay squarely with the Zionists and drew heavily on the presumed parallels between historic Irish and Jewish suffering, as well as the shared traumatic experience of large-scale migration in the 19th century.

Drawing a parallel with their own history of occupation, the Irish also championed the Zionist struggle for self-determination against the British. A correspondent to The Bell, a leading Irish magazine, raged over current events in Mandate Palestine in March 1945: “Never let it be forgotten that the Irish people … have experienced all that the Jewish people in Palestine are suffering from the trained ‘thugs’ ‘gunning tarzans’ and British ‘terrorists’ that the Mandatory power have imposed upon the country.”

But Irish nationalist perceptions toward Israel soon shifted. The country’s own anti-British rebellion led to a traumatic civil war that left six northern counties of the island under the British crown. Once the Zionist movement accepted the partition of Palestine, the Irish began to draw unflattering parallels between Israeli policies and their own divided existence. To many, the Jewish state now looked less like a besieged religious-national community struggling valiantly for its natural rights and more like a colony illegitimately established by British force of arms and intent on imposing itself on an indigenous population.

The renowned Irish novelist Sean O’Faolain, writing in November 1947 as the United Nations debated a partition plan for Mandate Palestine, expressed this sentiment when he rejected the comparison between the Irish and Zionist struggles: “if we could imagine that Ireland was being transformed by Britain into a national home for the Jews, I can hardly doubt which side you would be found.”

Not even the successful Zionist military struggle against the British in the late 1940s did much to alter the view that Israel was “a little loyal Jewish Ulster,” in the words of Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British governor of Jerusalem. Like Ulster, the northern province of Ireland under British control that was seen as a bulwark against Irish nationalism, Israel appeared designed to hold back the tide of Arab nationalism.

The “Vatican factor,” as the writer and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien liked to call the Catholic Church’s influence over Irish social and political life, also affected Irish perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In October 1948, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical, In Multiplicibus Curis, endorsing an “international character” to Jerusalem and its vicinity. From that time, the Irish government adopted the Vatican’s concern for the status of Jerusalem’s holy places and mirrored its call for international supervision of the city.

What to do about Palestine was the subject of regular discussions between high-ranking Irish and Vatican officials. Over dinner in Dublin in 1961, Con Cremin, a senior official in the Irish foreign ministry, advised his dinner guest, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Arthur Lourie, that the issue of the holy places “was a relevant factor” affecting Ireland’s ties to Israel. “[I]t is a mistake to write off the Vatican position,” Cremin continued, “by reference to what might to the normal person seem to be realism.”

As a result, Ireland only extended de jure recognition to Israel in 1963, 15 years after its declaration of independence. By the late 1960s, Ireland was increasingly preoccupied with the fate of the Palestinian Arab refugees, whose numbers had swelled following the Six Day War in June 1967. Speaking in 1969 in the Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament, Irish Foreign Minister Frank Aiken described the settlement of this problem as the “main and most pressing objective” of Ireland’s Middle East policy. By the time Aiken left office later that year, Irish policy was set in stone: There could be no peace without the repatriation of the maximum possible number of Palestinian refugees and full compensation, not merely resettlement, for the remainder.

After Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, successive governments in Dublin have taken the lead in championing the Palestinian cause within Europe. In February 1980, Ireland was the first EU member to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. It was also the last to allow Israel to open a residential embassy, in December 1993.

Israel has responded to this cold shoulder with anger and bewilderment. Speaking on Irish radio in 1980, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin described Irish policy as tantamount to acceptance of the PLO’s “right to destroy the Jewish state.”

Clashes between Irish U.N. peacekeeping troops in Lebanon and the Israeli army and its proxy Christian militias between 1978 and 2000 made relations worse. Forty-five Irish soldiers died while serving the United Nations in Lebanon, and the Irish government blamed Israel directly or indirectly for at least 15 of those deaths, including the April 1980 kidnapping and execution of privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne by the South Lebanon Army, a Christian militia allied with Israel. One Irish politician evoked the general anger when he admitted that he had lost much of his previous sympathy when Israel “commenced to use our volunteer soldiers as target practice.”

Throughout the Oslo Accords era and the post-Oslo era, Irish governments continued to provide the Palestinian cause with valuable, if not unlimited, support. Speaking before the Foreign Policy Association in New York City in September 2000, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern explained that the “moral dimension” of international affairs was the “first and foremost” reason for Irish involvement. As citizens of a small, neutral country on the margins of Europe, the Irish public’s primary interest in foreign affairs relates to international law, human rights, anti-imperialism, and a proud history of engagement with the United Nations. This worldview, combined with a healthy appetite for the freedom-fighter slogans and anti-colonial language that left previous generations weak at the knees, explains the ongoing attachment to the Palestinian “underdogs.”

The Irish fixation with Palestine continued even after the optimism of the Oslo era was long past. In June 2003, Brian Cowen, then Ireland’s foreign minister, visited Yasir Arafat during the height of the Second Intifada — and even after Israel refused to host foreign dignitaries who met the Palestinian leader while visiting the region. Cowen’s visit came at a time when terror was at an all-time high and when the U.S. government, a majority of Israelis, and significant sectors of the Palestinian population had lost faith in Arafat’s capacity to lead the Palestinians to statehood. But Cowen spoke for many in Ireland when he described Arafat as “the symbol of the hope of self-determination of the Palestinian people” and praised him for his “outstanding work … tenacity, and persistence.”

Irish NGOs continue to work actively to translate public support for Palestinian rights into action. Ireland can claim one of the most organized and effective chapters of the international Palestine Solidarity Campaign. In 2004, it submitted a petition to the government signed by 12,000 members of the public and 52 members of parliament, members of the European Parliament, senators, and independent politicians calling for a boycott of Israel. Since then, it has undertaken a number of high-profile campaigns to isolate and delegitimize Israel, including an attempt to get Aer Lingus, an airline partially owned by the government, to cancel flights to the Holy Land. It has been ably supported by the Irish Anti-War Movement, an umbrella body for activist groups that organized a rowdy picket at the Israeli Embassy in Dublin during the flotilla crisis.

The Irish government, which is committed to following Europe’s agreed-upon Palestine policy and keen on expanding trade and research and development links with Israel’s high-tech sector, will never break ranks with its EU partners and endorse an economic, academic, or cultural boycott of Israel. But there is almost total unanimity across all political parties that Israel is to blame for the ongoing failure to find peace. Not even the partisan political climate that has existed since the economic meltdown of 2008 has dented consensus on this point.

Israel’s appointment of Lord David Trimble, a former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, as one of the foreign observers into the flotilla affair has little chance of shifting public opinion on this issue. Despite earning the admiration of many in the Irish nationalist community for his role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, he comes from a Unionist tradition, which calls for Northern Ireland to retain its political ties to Great Britain, which has always been viewed as pro-Israeli.

Many Unionists identify with Israel as an isolated community, surrounded by hostile forces and lacking international support. Their pro-Israeli sentiments also are a reaction to Irish Republican support for the Palestinian cause. In the 1980s, a mural in a nationalist area of Belfast depicted armed Irish Republican Army (IRA) and PLO members under the slogan: “IRA-PLO one struggle.” Despite peace, these cleavages still run deep: In response to the Second Intifada, northern Protestant areas flew the Israeli flag, and Catholic areas raised the Palestinian national colors.

Up to the present day, Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, which has elected representatives in the Irish and British parliaments and shares power in Northern Ireland, has continued to be a virulent critic of Israel. In 2006, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the party’s international affairs and human rights spokesperson in the Dublin parliament, described Israel as “one of the most abhorrent and despicable regimes on the planet.” This May, he was one of three Irish politicians prevented by authorities from leaving Cyprus to join the Gaza-bound flotilla.

The Irish tendency to view the outside world in terms of local obsessions is still with us. The powerful political narrative connecting Ireland to Israel and Palestine continues to inspire its people, and their government, to action. And in the eyes of many Irish, the “little Jewish Ulster” still sits at the heart of the many problems plaguing the Middle East.

(www.foreignpolicy.com / 23.05.2011)

Magisch Marokko en de Arabische lente

De Marokkaanse politie pakte zondag de actievoerders die ondanks het betogingsverbod op straat kwamen hard aan. In Rabat probeerden de betogers samen te komen op het plein voor het parlement. Het Marokkaanse regime – bevreesd voor een Tahrir- scenario – deed er alles aan om dat te vermijden.
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Dat Marokko geassocieerd wordt met magie in de andere Arabische landen is geen geheim. Maar nu gebeuren er écht wel vreemde dingen in dat koninkrijk. Op 26 april stierven 5 leden van de 20 februari-beweging in Guercif toen ze onderweg waren naar een vergadering van die revolutionaire beweging in Rabat. Een ongeluk?

Op 28 april bliezen onbekenden een café op in één van de meest toeristische plekken van Marokko. De balans: 16 doden, bijna allemaal westerse toeristen. ‘Het werk van de geheime dienst!’, fluisteren vele Marokkanen. De vraag is nu: welk belang hebben ‘terroristen’ bij een aanslag op Marokko?

De enige die nu belang lijkt te hebben bij een destabilisatie van Marokko door terreur is de Marokkaanse staat zelf en buitenlandse contrarevolutionaire elementen. Die kunnen de schuld in de schoenen schuiven van de 20 februari-beweging omdat zij het land zouden hebben gedestabiliseerd met hun betogingen.

Vorige week, zondag 15 mei, werd Oussama el Khlifi brutaal aangepakt door ‘onbekenden’. Hij werd bewusteloos achtergelaten op de grond en foto’s van zijn bebloed gezicht gingen de wereld rond. El Khlifi is één van de gezichten van de 20 februari-beweging. Hij trad vaak op als spreekbuis voor de democratische revolutie in Marokko.

Ook nodigden de zes Golf-monarchieën Marokko uit om lid te worden van de GCC (Gulf Coorperation Council), een clubje van corrupte pro-Amerikaanse monarchieën die geobsedeerd zijn door de Iraanse dreiging. Deze koningen en emirs leiden aan chronische amnesie omdat ze vergeten zijn hoe ze de oorlog van Saddam Hoessein tegen Iran acht jaar lang financieel en diplomatisch hebben gesteund.
Een tweetal maanden geleden aborteerden deze Golf-landen de revolutie in Bahrein en bezetten ze dat eilandje.

Het is vreemd dat Marokko wordt uitgenodigd door een select clubje ultrarijke monarchieën dat zich op duizenden kilometers van Rabat bevindt. Marokko bedankte wel voor de eer, maar het laat wel zien hoe goed de relatie is met de Golf-landen. Het feit dat Qatar, waar de hoofdzetel van de Arabische zender Al Jazeera gevestigd is, één van die GCC-landen is, zal ongetwijfeld invloed hebben op de berichtgeving van Al-Jazeera.

Op naar een Marokkaans Tahrirplein

Bij vorige manifestaties in Marokko viel op hoe afwezig de ordetroepen waren. Dat was om aan te tonen hoe erg Marokko wel verschilde van de andere Arabische landen en dat het Marokkaanse regime alles behalve repressief was. Helemaal lukte dat niet. Ook de vorige betogingen waren verboden en er vielen telkens gewonden.
Maar deze keer trad de politie fors op en probeerde in alle grote steden van bij aanvang de betogers te verjagen en schrik aan te jagen.

In Rabat probeerden de democratische demonstranten van op verschillende plaatsen het plein voor het parlement te bereiken. De meeste betogers zijn nooit weggeraakt. De buurten werden omsingeld en de politie gebruikte geweld om de betogers tegen te houden en een herhaling van de bezetting van het Tahrirplein te vermijden.

Opgejaagde betogers zochten hun toevlucht in het gebouw van de UMT, de belangrijkste Marokkaanse vakbond. Ze probeerden daar zoveel mogelijk mensen samen te brengen door een sit-in, maar de omsingeling van de politie was te strak, zo vertelde een ooggetuige ons. Even probeerde de politie het gebouw ook binnen te vallen, maar dat is mislukt.

En ook andere betogingen werden volgens het traditionele draaiboek ontbonden. Rond kwart voor zes lokale tijd vielen de ordetroepen de demonstranten aan in de Sebata-wijk in Casablanca. In Tanger bezetten de ordetroepen het Mkaada-plein om te verhinderen dat de aangekondigde mars van daar zou beginnen.

Ook in andere steden zoals Tetouan, Fès, Oujda, Mohamadiyya, en Agadir werden de demonstraties op gewelddadige manier onderdrukt.

Verboden betogingen

Dat de Marokkaanse regering deze betogingen zo hard aanpakte is geen verrassing. De premier Abbas el Fessi had geen toestemming gegeven voor deze acties. Vóór 20 februari zei diezelfde el Fessi nochtans dat Marokko een democratie was. Hij voegde er zelfs aan toe dat het recht op betogen één van de verworvenheden is van een democratie. Het geduld raakt echter op bij de Marokkaanse elite. Ze hoopten door een passieve, haast ongeïnteresseerde houding, de 20 februari-beweging een stille dood te laten sterven. Dat is niet gebeurd en de boodschap van de revolutionaire jongeren wordt steeds populairder.

Daarna toonde men hoe barmhartig en goed de Marokkaanse monarch wel niet was. Hij zou de grondwet hervormen en hij liet tientallen politieke en andere gevangen vrij waaronder de bekende salafistische preker Mohamed al-Fizazi. Hij was één van de duizenden Marokkanen die gearresteerd werden na de aanslagen van Casablanca in 2003 en werd veroordeeld tot een levenslange gevangenisstraf.

Nu zijn vrijlating dankte al-Fizazi onmiddellijk de koning. Niet veel later raadde hij de Marokkanen aan om achter Benkiran te staan – ja, ja, ineens is democratie niet meer iets voor ongelovigen! -. Benkiran is de demagogische leider van de getolereerde islamistische pro-monarchie partij van Marokko, de PDJ.

De grootste islamistische partij, Adl wal Ihsan, is tegen de monarchie en wordt dus onderdrukt. Andere islamistische gevangen konden een filmpje uploaden via Youtube waarmee zij duidelijk maakten dat zij nog bestonden. In tegenstelling tot al-Fizazi hadden zij geen lovende woorden voor Mohamed VI. Is het verrassend dat zij niet zijn vrijgelaten?

Welke richting?

Het is duidelijk dat de Marokkaanse revolutie gisteren in een stroomversnelling is geraakt. De vakantieperiode nadert en met uitzondering van Libanon is het zomertoerisme voor geen ander Arabisch land zo belangrijk als Marokko. De Marokkaanse regering is doodsbang dat miljoenen Marokkanen – vaak in het bezit van een westers paspoort – zich wel eens zouden kunnen mengen in de revolutie.

Daarom dat de 20 februari-beweging kost wat kost monddood moet gemaakt worden en de koning zijn hervormingen zo snel mogelijk wil afronden. In ieder geval kwam gisteren aan het cliché dat Marokko een uniek land is een einde.

De reactie van de 20 februari-beweging zal nu van doorslaggevend belang zijn. Zullen zij zich laten intimideren door de talrijke orde- en geheime diensten? Of zullen zij blijven vechten voor een democratisch Marokko? De 20 februari-beweging lijkt voor de tweede optie te kiezen. Volgens de democratische beweging is de repressie olie op het vuur.

“Ondanks de intimidatie zetten bewoners hun deur open voor wegvluchtende betogers. De politie was nochtans vooraf langsgekomen om hen te vragen niet buiten te komen tijdens de betoging”, vertelde een ooggetuige ons.

De 20 februari-beweging hoopt nu nog meer bewegingen en partijen aan hun kant te krijgen en plannen nieuwe betogingen.

(www.dewereldmorgen.be / 23.05.2011)

Melody Moezzi: Islam, Women and Culture

Melody Meozzi is an inspirational Iranian writer, activist and attorney.

Melody’s first book, War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims, brings together the stories of twelve young people, all vastly different but all American, and all Muslim.

Melody is a United Nations Global Expert with the UN Alliance of Civilizations and has worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reporting to the U.S. Congressional Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Melody shared her views on Islam, women and culture with Safe World founder, Chris Crowstaff.

INTERVIEW

There is a ‘western’ perception that Islam and women’s oppression inevitably go together. And may be especially Shia Islam. Is that a myth?

Melody-Moezzi4I think it’s a huge myth. Sharia law for example is not based as much on the Qur’an as it is on the Sunnah, which means that there is much more room for interpretation. Only the Qur’an is accepted as divine revelation. The Sunnah, on the other hand, are handed down by one person to the next via oral tradition, and as such, there have been many miscommunications. Furthermore, as a general rule, Shi’as don’t give as much weight to the Sunnah ans many Sunnis to.

“Human being are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!”
Saadi

Obviously anybody can interpret anything the way that they want, to perpetuate misogyny or whatever else they want to perpetuate. And, throughout history, many all over the world, of all different religions and ethnicities, have done so. Definitely.

But the basis of Islamic law is that you can’t force it on anyone.

I think people assume that Shias are more radical in some way and, as a Shia, I fully disagree with that. We have saints that are women, for example. Shia Islam has a great deal of respect for women.

On top of that, there’s a notion of martyrdom and so forth. In a lot of Shia movements – there’s a real interest in the reinactment of the Battle of Karbala which established Shi’ism in a lot of ways. And there’s a strong degree of liberation theology that lies within Shi’ism, which doesn’t as much lie within Sunniism.

For me I consider myself very culturally Shia. But the Q’ran specifically teaches over and over not to separate your religion.
So that separation of Shi’ism and Sunniism is not a spiritual reality for me – it’s more historical and political and, as I say, cultural.

Islam is one faith. Whether you’re a Shia or you’re a Sunni or whatever sect you belong to, first and foremost you’re a Muslim. And nobody can judge whether somebody is Muslim except for God.

It’s very obvious that any religion can be used for oppression – and many religions have been used as tools of oppression throughout history.
Could you say a bit about Islam and women’s rights?

I think it’s really important that Muslims are willing to stand up and talk about Islam and women and women’s rights. I think it’s really important to shatter those myths and help raise awareness.

I think society and governments in particular will use whatever they can to perpetuate misogyny, to perpetuate sexism, and they’ve done so. If they didn’t have religion, they would have used – and they have used – political systems and political thought in order to do that.

People argue that, without religion, the world would be wonderful. There will be no war. I fully disagree. We’ll find reasons to disagree and divide ourselves, whether it’s based on religion or based on something else. And that has something to do with the human psyche and I don’t think, particularly, with religion.

Definitely people would find some tool to oppress people with.
But, as a women’s rights organisation particularly, we do get ‘how can you defend Islam because it oppresses women? Look at how the women have to live.‘

It’s very funny that you have this notion of oppression, even with people who are familiar with laws in so-called Muslim countries.

They see women who are covering their hair or their bodies and immediately the assumption is that there is some male figure that’s forcing this to happen. In many situations, that’s not the case. This is a choice by a Muslim woman or a Jewish woman to cover. And I think it can be very liberating in those cases.

I think in the US, in Europe in particular, you see a focus on women’s bodies that you don’t in some of these Muslim countries.
Being naked doesn’t make you free.

There is a presumption that ‘if I can where a bikini then I must be free’. And I agree. You need to be given that option.

But you also need to be given the option to wear whatever you want and to cover if that’s what you choose to do.

In a lot of these countries, we don’t have the same incidences of eating disorders, for example, and the same obsessions with extreme body weight, for example.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a level of superficiality. There is. But there isn’t the same level of obsession. In that sense, I would say, in the Middle East, we are freer in certain respects. This isn’t a black and white issue – it’s not as if women’s rights are sufficiently respected in the West either. It’s just again, there are different things oppressing us in the West – the media that sexualises girls as young as ten, the fashion industry airbrushing white, blond already-emaciated models and presenting them to us as the paragons of beauty, and of course our consumer-driven culture.

In Iran, it’s the government more than anything else that doles out the discrimination. Different mechanisms, but they all have the same goal of keeping women subjugated with irrational images and ideologies.

There’s also this image that the women are all shut away behind doors and the men are in charge and the women are not allowed to do anything and that’s all because of Islam.
But I wonder if this is patriarchy making its stamp on Islam? Are there examples which show that this does not actually represent Islam – that this is patriarchy?

You have to realise that Islam came about after Christianity and after Judaism. And you now have very reformed movements in those religions.

“The Prophet said that women hold dominion Over sages and over men of heart,
But that fools, again, hold the upper hand over women,
Because fools are violent and exceedingly froward.
They have no tenderness or gentleness or amity…”
Rumi

We have in Islam now more reforms, whatever you want to call it. Of course you had the Islamic Rennaisance.

When the prophet Mohammad came to Saudi Arabia – at the time, women were treated like property. Infant girls were buried alive. He stopped that from happening. You would say that’s so barbaric and of course he would stop it, but it took someone like him to do that. So he was dealing with a culture in a time that was very backwards.

I think what is a huge problem right now is that people are confusing culture for religion.

There are some cultures that really do oppress women of course. But those cultures aren’t Islam and they don’t represent Islam.

I think if you look to the Sufi poets, for example, and what they taught. Islam is a very personal thing, like any religion.

Rumi has a poem where he says ‘there are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground’. And I think we need to recognise the diversity within Islam and how beautiful that is and what that achieves.

In terms of the oppression of women, that’s one of the things that the Prophet Muhammad came to Arabia to stop. I think the idea that the Prophet Mohammed had when he came to Saudi Arabia was to improve the situation, not just with respect to women’s rights, but with respect to human rights in general in the area. It was a grim time so obviously there was more to be done and now we just need to continue moving forward.

As much as I support and look up to women who cover and wear Hijab – for whatever their reasoning is, as long as it’s a choice of their own – I think as time goes on, as we’ve seen with Christianity and Judaism as well, this won’t be something that defines Muslims. The garb alone won’t be something that defines Muslims so much, and people will better realise that what defines us as Muslims, or Christians, or Hindus, or Jews, isn’t our choice of attire or our public devotions, but rather, what defines a person of any faith is what lies in her heart, and NO ONE but God Himself can ever fully know that.

Do Muslims generally recognise Sufism as Islamic?

Sufism is a form of Islam – whirling dirvishes for example. It’s very much based on mysticism and that God is love and that the goal of life is to unite with the divine.

Iranians especially are very proud of Rumi. And Hafez is another sufi poet and the Divan of Hafez – his main collection of writings – is considered the best interpretation of the Qur’an by a lot of Iranian Muslims.

And some people put it side by side with the Qur’an, and see some of his poems as being direct interpretations of the Qur’an. For Iranians, Rumi, Hafez, Saadi, the poets, are how we understand Islam and if you want to know what Iranian Islam is like then you need to understand where Sufism and Sufi poetry comes from.

With regard to Iranian law – the Iranian constitution seems quite reasonable, until you read the clause in it relating to ‘Islamic Principles’, which seems very much open to interpretation.
What do you feel, as an attourney and as a Muslim, about this clause?

Many of the provisions, as you say, are reasonable, but are then followed by ‘unless it violates Islamic Principles’ and the truth is none of the things they’ve outlawed – under such clauses – truly violate Islamic principles.

What violates Islamic principles is the pseudo Islamic Republic – because to have a regime that isn’t secular and to have a regime that claims to represent Islam is anti-Islamic.

Because in order to be a Muslim you have to form the proper intention. And you can’t form the proper pure, independent intention, in a regime that claims to be Islamic but isn’t – and is forcing its misinterpretations of Islam upon you.

So I think it’s sort of very difficult to be a Muslim inside of Iran – and to practice the way that you would practice as a Muslim and make your own independent choices, which is necessary in order to be a Muslim.

The Qur’an teaches specifically that there should be no coercion in religion.

In a theocratic state of any kind there’s coercion. Whether that’s in Iran, whether that’s in Israel, is irrelevant. If there’s a state that claims to be a state that follows a religion, I don’t think that state is a viable one currently in the world.

When they suddenly bring in these laws that you mustn’t wear make-up or you mustn’t show any hair under your scarf, is that actually written down in black and white or is it a bit vague?

There are laws that are written down that they don’t enforce and there are laws that are not written down that they do enforce – and of course there are laws written down that they also do enforce.

A lot of what goes on in the streets with respect to morality laws, they’re not very well enforced because you can’t enforce them on the entire population.

A lot of hijabs that the women where in Iran are pretty much like a headband at this point. It really doesn’t cover your hair. Their hair seems to fall out the front and back. You know they’re very consumed with the way they look and their Monteux, the jackets that the women wear, are becoming shorter and tighter and they’re really fighting in these very small ways against the regime.

And even the men are wearing tighter tee-shirts and there have been comments about men plucking their eyebrows – you know they’re really getting involved in this minutae.

My grandmother, when she lived in Iran, in the ‘80s and early ‘90s – she went around and refused to wear a Hijab and whenever somebody came up to her she would just say:
“I’m too old to be sexy – if you’re getting aroused by me there’s something wrong with you”.

So do morality rules apply to men as well? Do they also have restrictions on their clothing and appearance?

There are rules that apply to men as well.

Technically they shouldn’t even be wearing tee-shirts but they do and they seem to get away with that.

If they wear black tee-shirts they can usually get away with it more.

Sometimes people will get trouble. But it just becomes very difficult to enforce these kinds of dress codes. Particularly when such a large majority of the population is completely ignoring them.

(asafeworldforwomen.org / 23.05.2011)

Abbas: No Hamas or Fatah figures in new government

AMMAN, Jordan (Ma’an) — President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that Israel and the US had misinterpreted the unity deal as ushering in a government of Hamas and Fatah figures, as the new body would solely include non-partisan technocrats.

At a press conference in Amman following the president’s meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Abbas also credited the royal with influencing US President Barack Obama’s Thursday statement in support of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders.

Abbas said Obama’s statement that the basis of the Palestinian borders were the armistice lines prior to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 was made “thanks to the efforts of King Abdullah II of Jordan during his latest visit to the US.”

But the president also reacted to recent comments by the US premier focusing on Hamas’ position towards Israel, saying the May deal between the movement and its rival Fatah had been misunderstood by Israel and the US as paving the way for both movements to dominate a new government.

“The government will be built of nonpartisan figures, and will not include affiliates of any Palestinian faction,” Abbas said.

Response to US, Israel ‘spat’ over 1967 borders

The day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived for a trip to the US, Obama said in a speech reflecting on protests across the Arab world, “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

Netanyahu immediately condemned Obama’s stance as leaving Israel “indefensible,” leading to an awkward meeting between the premiers on Friday.

However Obama also said in his Thursday speech that the unity deal between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas posed “profound and legitimate questions” for Israel.

“How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” he said, referring to international pressure on Hamas to formally state their recognition of Israel.

Israeli officials had slammed the unity agreement, with Netanyahu warning that Abbas must choose between “peace with Israel or peace with Hamas.”

But Abbas said Monday, “this is neither Hamas, nor Fatah government. It is my government and will follow my strategies,” he added.

Abbas and King Abdullah also discussed the agenda of the next meeting of the Arab follow up committee, the official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA said, as well as the new Palestinian government.

With government members yet to be announced following the unity deal, Abbas insisted that “reconciliation is at hand, and we are currently working on the technocrat government.”

(www.maannews.net / 23.01.2011)

Army builds fence around Izbat Al Tabib

This morning at about 9am the Israeli army entered the village of Izbat Al Tabib with construction vehicles and began to build a large barbed wire fence along the side of the village separating it from highway 55 which runs parallel. The International Solidarity Movement joined with men, women and children from the village in attempting to peacefully resist the construction but were violently beaten back by the army who used stun-grenades and pepper spray, resulting in the hospitalisation of one man and the arrest of another. Throughout the day more and more military and police arrived until by the afternoon demonstrators were outnumbered by a ratio of about 3:1. Despite the protest of the village, the army succeeded in building approximately 200 metres of fence, containing and isolating the village with an ugly and imposing wire structure and annexing their agricultural land. It is unclear at the moment whether the army will return to expand the fence further into the village land.

This is the second time this month that the Israeli military has violently entered Izbat Al Tabib, injuring and arresting those present. On 1st May the military entered the village with a bulldozer and other heavy machinery and began to level land for the fence. As the villagers and internationals protested the invasion, the army beat and arrested three ISM activists and threw a 60 year old woman from the Michigan Peace Teams to the ground, breaking both of her wrists and causing a head injury. The army then returned during the night a few days later and evicted internationals from a protest tent that the village had erected on the proposed site of the fence construction. They confiscated the tent and the property that was inside it and raided three houses in the village, detaining those inside and destroying property.

Izbat Al Tabib is located east of Qalqiliya in area C of the northern West Bank. It was built in the 1920s and is home to 247 inhabitants. Due to its location, Izbat Al Tabib is extremely isolated: it is the fifth poorest village in the West Bank and villagers have already lost 45% of their land to the illegal annexation wall. Farmers are forced to apply for permits to access areas of their land which are located near to the highway, however these are rarely given and when they are it is only to one farmer at a time.

The village was notified on 3rd April of the Israeli Civil Administration’s plan to build the fence under the pretext of preventing stones being thrown from the village onto passing cars. The village filed a compliant against this decision but it was rejected. The village Major Bayan Tabib says

“This was an arbitrary decision meant to isolate the village and part of the Israeli effort to take it over. Israeli forces have threatened more than once to displace our people.”

Soldiers construct fence
Soldiers construct fence
Ambulance arrives to treat the injured
Ambulance arrives to treat the injured
Soldier brandishes pepper spray
Soldier brandishes pepper spray

(palsolidarity.org / 23.05.2011)

Netanyahu and the one-state solution

Israel’s unwillingness to compromise on key issues might annul a two-state solution, making only power-sharing viable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address US legislators on Tuesday. He will, no doubt, tell members of Congress that he supports a two-state solution, but his support will be predicated on four negative principles: no to Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 borders; no to the division of Jerusalem; no to the right of return for Palestinian refugees; and no to a Palestinian military presence in the new state.

The problem with Netanyahu’s approach is not so much that it is informed by a rejectionist worldview. The problem is not even Netanyahu’s distorted conception of Palestine’s future sovereignty, which Meron Benvenisti aptly described as “scattered, lacking any cohesive physical infrastructure, with no direct connection to the outside world, and limited to the height of its residential buildings and the depth of its graves. The airspace and the water resources will remain under Israeli control…”

Rather, the real problem is that Netanyahu’s outlook is totally detached from current political developments, particularly the changing power relations both in the Middle East and around the world. Indeed, his approach is totally anachronistic.

Netanyahu’s not-so-implicit threat that Israel will continue its colonial project if the Palestinians do not accept some kind of “Bantustan solution” no longer carries any weight. The two peoples have already passed this juncture.

The Palestinians have clearly declared that they will not bow down to such intimidations, and it is now clear that the conflict has reached an entirely new intersection.

At this new intersection, there are two signs. The first points towards the west and reads “viable and just two-state solution”, while the second one points eastward and reads “power sharing”.

The first sign is informed by years of political negotiations (from the Madrid conference in 1991, through Oslo, Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis) alongside the publication of different initiatives (from the Geneva Initiative and the Saudi Plan to the Nussaiba and Ayalon Plan), all of which have clarified what it would take to reach a peace settlement based on the two-state solution. It entails three central components:

1. Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 border, with possible one-for-one land swaps so that ultimately the total amount of land that was occupied will be returned.

2. Jerusalem’s division according to the 1967 borders, with certain land swaps to guarantee that each side has control over its own religious sites and large neighbourhoods. Both these clauses entail the dismantlement of Israeli settlements and the return of the Jewish settlers to Israel.

3. The acknowledgement of the right of return of all Palestinians, but with the following stipulation: while all Palestinians will be able to return to the fledgling Palestinian state, only a limited number agreed upon by the two sides will be allowed to return to Israel; those who cannot exercise this right or, alternatively, choose not to, will receive full compensation.

Israel’s continued unwillingness to fully support these three components is rapidly leading to the annulment of the two-state option and, as a result, is leaving open only one possible future direction: power sharing.

The notion of power sharing would entail the preservation of the existing borders, from the Jordan valley to the Mediterranean Sea, and an agreed upon form of a power sharing government led by Israeli Jews and Palestinians, and based on the liberal democracy model of the separation of powers. It also entails a parity of esteem – namely, the idea that each side respects the other side’s identity and ethos, including language, culture and religion. This, to put it simply, is the bi-national one-state solution.

Many Palestinians have come to realise that even though they are currently under occupation, Israel’s rejectionist stance will unwittingly lead to the bi-national solution. And while Netanyahu is still miles behind the current juncture, it is high time for a Jewish Israeli and Jewish American Awakening, one that will force their respective leaders to support a viable democratic future for the Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. One that will bring an end to the violent conflict.

(english.aljazeera.ne / 23.05.2011)

Plea to our representatives – Free Gaza Movement and Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human

Greta Berlin:  We do love the letter. We wrote it!! It’s from Free Gaza Movement. This plea should be sent to all representatives from all countries. Please use..Translate it and send it out. We really appreciate it.. Thank you everyone.. Greta

Dear xxxx

On behalf of the Free Gaza Movement and Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human, I am writing to ask for your support for the flotilla to the occupied Gaza strip, set to sail in the second half of June.

This is the second large-scale citizen-to-citizen humanitarian and human rights initiative to be launched by international grassroots groups.

At least ten ships with dignitaries, doctors, professors, artists, journalists, and activists as well as construction supplies and humanitarian aid will sail from ports in Europe to Gaza in an act of non-violent civil disobedience to persuade the international community to fulfill its obligations towards the Palestinian people and end Israel’s four year illegal blockade of Gaza and overall policies of control of Palestinian lives throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.

On her recent visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel, Valerie Amos, OCHA’s Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator called for ending the blockade, however she did not offer any methods for doing so. While our flotilla may not provide a long-term solution, last year’s flotilla opened the subject of Gaza on the world stage and put considerable pressure on Israel to change its policy on Gaza – something the international community had failed to do for 3 years. While that change was welcome, it was not nearly enough, and the awful humanitarian situation persists, as does the illegal blockade – identified as such by the International Committee of the Red Cross following last year’s flotilla.

The Free Gaza Movement was established in late 2006. Since 2008, through the donations of thousands of supporters from around the world, we have sailed to Gaza nine times. Five times we succeeded in breaking Israel’s blockade and bringing internationals, including Palestinians and Israelis, into the besieged territory in solidarity with those trapped.

In May 2010, the first Freedom Flotilla sent seven vessels to Gaza carrying nearly 700 passengers from 36 different countries. Israeli commandos attacked the boats, shot and killed nine passengers, injured over 50 and imprisoned all aboard.

Undeterred, Freedom Flotilla II, including the Turkish-flagged vessel, Mavi Marmara, is returning. Organised by 14 national groups and international coalitions, and carrying approximately 1000 ‘freedom riders’ [1] we are determined to break Israel’s ongoing collectively punishing blockade.

• Amnesty International has called Israel’s closure of Gaza “a collective punishment and violation of international law” that has left four out of five Palestinians dependent on humanitarian aid. [2] The International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict have called the blockade a violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power towards the civilian population of Gaza.

• In May 2008, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu denounced the Gaza blockade as an “abomination” and said that the international community’s “silence and complicity…shames us all.”

• As early as October 2006, Prof. John Dugard, then UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), stated: “Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key”. Israel still controls Gaza by land, sea and air. However we believe that it is the international community, held to account by civil society that holds the key to ending the blockade. And, from previous experience, it is only when this issue is forced into international consciousness do any tangible results materialize.

Pages upon pages of reports have been researched and published. Countless statements have been made and calls issued. And yet, for 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, the reality remains the same. Israeli governments have proven time and again their willingness to ignore such diplomatic entreaties when there is no pressure involved; when there has been firm pressure, Israel has often yielded to the will of the international community. On Gaza, the consensus is clear, yet the pressure has not materialized, except in the wake of the first Freedom Flotilla. The next flotilla will generate even greater pressure around the world, and your support will help amplify not only the voices of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the human rights campaigners challenging a brutal blockade regime at sea.

We hope we can count on your support for our forthcoming mission and public advocacy for human rights and respect of international law.

Yours sincerely

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

[1] Human rights initiatives from Turkey, Spain, Greece, Norway, Sweden, France, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the USA own vessels either singularly or in coalition with others

[2] Amnesty International Annual Report 2010

[3] The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, September 2009, p276 and ICRC release, ‘Gaza Closure: not another year!’, June 14th 2010

( http://www.freedomflotilla.eu/en/news/announcements/112-we-are-getting-ready-to-sail          / 23.04.2011)

Asking Obama to Protect Gaza Relief Ship

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who has signed on to participate in a new attempt to bring relief supplies to Palestinians living in Gaza, asks President Barack Obama to intercede with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow the ship, “The Audacity of Hope,” to reach its destination.

Open Letter to President Obama

By Ray McGovern (for the passengers and crew of “The Audacity of Hope” to Gaza)

May 19, 2011

Dear Mr. President:

Your speech on the Middle East earlier today emboldens me to claim your protection as we set out to put flesh on your rhetoric. Fifty of your fellow citizens will be sailing on “The Audacity of Hope” to Gaza next month.

You spoke eloquently today about “times in the course of history when the action of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.” And you lamented “failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people.”

We, the passengers and crew of “The Audacity of Hope,” sailing to Gaza in June together with the 2nd International Freedom Flotilla, represent ordinary Americans determined to speak to the aspirations of the 1.5 million ordinary Gazans yearning to be free.

We will be delivering thousands of letters of support and friendship from other ordinary Americans who are persuaded, as Dr. King put it, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I write you for assurance of your support and protection as we try to embody your rhetoric. You emphasized that “the United States supports a set of universal rights,” and that this U.S. support is “not a secondary interest.” It is, rather, “a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions.”

Bold words. With respect to the situation in Gaza, though, perhaps you will agree that it hardly suffices to bemoan the fate of one “Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza,” who, as you put it, has a “right to feel angry.”

That Palestinian and his dead daughters are four, but 1,400 Gazans were killed by Israeli forces in December 1998-January 1999 — and 1.5 million Gazans remain deprived of the universal rights of which you spoke.

Gaza is a sequestered, crowded open-air prison, in which Israel keeps “inmates” at a subsistence level of existence. This amounts to the kind of collective punishment banned by international law and is enforced by an equally illegal Israeli naval blockade.

Many Americans have long been puzzled that you choose to exempt Gazans from your concern about universal rights, and have tired of waiting for a cogent explanation. So we ask you to look upon our voyage to Gaza as our attempt to implement your rhetoric about what ordinary citizens can do — not only to “speak” but to act to meet the broader aspirations of the ordinary people of Gaza.

On May 20, you will have an opportunity to inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of our intention to sail to Gaza next month. You have probably already been briefed on Israel’s far-flung diplomatic and propaganda offensive to prevent our boat and the other boats of the international flotilla from embarking for Gaza.

Indeed, the Israelis may be emboldened by your lack of response to the killing of nine passengers, including an American citizen, on the 2010 relief flotilla and the wounding of dozens of other peaceful passengers. This year we expect you to speak up for us beforehand.

And please do not try to pretend that $3 billion of our taxes — our annual gift to Israel — cannot be translated into the kind of leverage that will spare “The Audacity of Hope” from harm at the hands of the “Israeli Defense Forces.”

Finally, allow me to suggest talking points not likely to be included in your briefing papers. These points transcend rhetoric and spring from a faith heritage you share with Netanyahu. They deal with the doing of justice, the preoccupation of the prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Before your meeting, have a look at what Isaiah says about “proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners” and how Jesus of Nazareth repeats that, word for word, eight centuries later. Think about it, and be prepared to put justice above politics.

Please let us – and the world – know how the discussion goes.

Yours truly,

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early 1960s and then as a CIA analyst for 27 years. In the early 1980s, he prepared and presented, one-on-one, the President’s Daily Brief. He now works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.

(consortiumnews.com / 23.05.2011)