Siege of Gaza

As I was watching an Internet video that related the story of Gazan fishermen, the word “tragicomic” rolled off my lips. Every tragedy unfortunately spawns its own comedy. This video showed us a fishing trip of a Gazan fisherman who cast his anchor even though he was only halfway through his tea, which he drank from his narrow tea glass. It turned out he had already reached the maritime boundaries drawn by Israel. Fishermen can only venture about 6 km off of the coast.

Thus began the tragic comedy. As I was waiting for the fisherman to throw in his fishing lines and nets, he wore the top half of a wetsuit and underwater goggles. He then jumped into the water with his jeans on.

“The Invisible Wall”

Since they have been entrapped inside this tiny coastal strip and are barred from venturing out into the open sea, they have already depleted the fish stocks, of course. Now they dive in and hunt for the fish that are swimming between rocks and inside sea caves. To adapt, the fishermen have evolved into free-divers.

“The fish shoals are there, but we cannot go there,” said the fisherman in the video, as he pointed forward with his hand. The boats of fishermen who go beyond this “invisible wall” are seized, or even worse, the fishermen get killed in the middle of the sea.

Which law does Israel follow in its conduct? Which legal provisions do Israel’s actions rest upon when it puts these restrictions into effect?

The camera began roaming through a marketplace. The fish that our fisherman just hunted with his harpoon, of course, are absent in this marketplace, as they go to other places for “elite” customers. It is not just fish but also meat that has turned into a major luxury, although the rich can buy and bring meat to their homes.

The video showed a Gazan family. A man spoke in his dejected fury inside a room lit by a candle. His words bore the courage of men and women who had lost everything. “Israel is doing this to us because of Hamas,” he said. He accused both Hamas and Israel. There were seven to eight-hour long brownouts in Gaza every day.

Hospitals’ generators no longer worked, as they had run out of oil. No surgeries could be performed. Dialysis patients treaded on the borderline between life and death. A Palestinian doctor recounted, as our camera roamed through a hospital, how they struggled to find iron and cement through imploring and solicitation to construct the additional unit they needed. Iron and cement were just a couple of the items that were not allowed into Gaza. The list of banned items is exhaustively long. The embargo has eased a little since 2010. Access was granted for kitchen supplies, toys and foodstuffs from that date onward.

No one is in possession of the exact list of items that are not allowed for entry into or exit from Gaza. Israeli officials decide by themselves as to what can or cannot enter Gaza, and sometimes at the last moment.

Israel is giving hell to 1.5 million people before the entire world’s view. Gaza is an open-air prison. Israel goes in and smashes this little place at will whenever it wants to. It keeps a sharp watch over this territory. This is a total siege from the land, air and sea. It reminds me of medieval sieges. This is a siege where the inhabitants of a castle are forced into surrender and they are tamed through starvation.

Make no mistake; I am not of the opinion that Hamas is as pure as lily white. I condemn the fact that Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and readily submit that its fanatic stance has contributed to the Palestinians’ tragedy.

The root of the problem

As far as I am concerned, however, it is Israel’s vigilantism and its constant imposition of double legal standards. The unjust world that it spawned acts like a generator of rage and fury then turns into a bundle of ire and spleen, which, in the end, threatens both its own security as well as that of the entire region. I wish everyone a happy holiday.

*Orhan Kemal Cengiz is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece appeared Nov 7. It was translated into English by Daily News staff.

( / 07.11.2011)

Syrian opposition: Homs a ‘disaster area’

Syrian National Council calls for international action to “stop the massacre” in Homs as reported death toll mounts.

Syria’s opposition has appealed for international intervention in the central city of Homs, one of the focal points of the country’s uprising, calling it a “humanitarian disaster area”.

The appeal, issued by the Turkey-based Syrian National Council, came as activists reported that at least 11 people were killed across the country on Monday, including two children, in an ongoing crackdown on anti-government protesters by security forces.

Activists said that at least eight of the dead were in Homs where hundreds of residents protested against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, adding that government troops stormed several areas and made house-to-house arrests.

Heavy artillery clashes erupted between regime forces and presumed army defectors in Homs, activists reported, saying it was the fifth day of a “brutal siege on the brave city”.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon, said: “People there are trying to tell the government that they will not succumb and they will continue to protest until they topple the regime…despite the heavy presence of the security forces.”

More than 110 people have been killed in the past week in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network.

‘Stop the massacre’

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the heavy artillery clashes in Homs left “dozens of dead and wounded in both camps”.

“Shooting could be heard in Homs where neighbourhoods came under heavy machinegun fire at dawn,” the UK-based rights group said, adding “more than 40 explosions were heard”.

In a statement, the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the Arab League to act “to stop the massacre committed by the regime”.

It also called on the international community to send “Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres”.

The Arab League has called for a meeting to be held next Saturday in Cairo to discuss Syria’s failure to implement a peace plan previously announced by the body following talks with Syrian officials.

The League said that the meeting was called because of “the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan to resolve the Syrian crisis”.

US ‘incitement’

In another development, Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, criticised the United States for urging suspected gunmen to not hand over their weapons to authorities under an amnesty offer, Syrian state media reported on Monday.

“Syria considers the US call an encouragement for the armed groups to pursue their criminal acts against the Syrian people and state,” state television quoted Moallem as saying.

According to reports, Moallem made the criticism in letters to his counterparts in Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the Arab League.

On Friday, the Syrian government announced details regarding a week-long amnesty period to begin on Saturday, calling on “citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes, to hand themselves into the nearest police station”.

“The interior ministry assures that those who turn themselves in…will then be freed immediately and it will be considered a general amnesty,” state media said.

However, in a press briefing in Washington DC, Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson, advised Syrians against turning themselves in.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to turn themselves in to the regime authorities at the moment,” she told reporters.

Continued crackdown

In other parts of Syria, soldiers believed to be dissidents clashed in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province, near Turkey, but there was no report of casualties. Soldiers also searched cars for people “wanted” by the regime, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In Damascus province, a 63-year-old man died of his wounds after being shot by security forces the previous day, the rights group added.

Meanwhile, in the coastal city of Banias, the group reported that worshippers leaving al-Radwan mosque had staged a rally calling for the “fall of the regime” and the “execution of the president”.

Forces responded by raiding homes surrounding the mosque.

( / 07.11.2011)

Saudi Defense Shake-Up Changes Minister and Ministry

On November 5, Saudi Arabia announced a series of eagerly expected changes forced by the recent death of Crown Prince Sultan, the heir apparent and long-serving defense minister. The key announcement was that Riyadh provincial governor Prince Salman will now head the Ministry of Defense. Passed over for the job were Prince Abdulrahman, the vice minister of defense who was “relieved” of his post as part of the shakeup, and Sultan’s son Prince Khaled, the assistant defense minister and de facto head of the ministry for the past several years. Khaled, whose forces performed poorly during fighting along the Yemen border in 2009, must now settle for the position of deputy minister.

The role of defense minister in Saudi Arabia is enormously powerful and, at least in the past, hugely rewarding on a personal level as well. Earnings from commissions on the many billions spent on arms contracts made Prince Sultan one of the richest people in the world — wealth he reportedly shared generously with other princes, officials, and Saudi military officers.

The ministry is also to have its role reduced. Formerly known as the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, which included responsibility for Saudi Arabian Airlines, it now becomes just the Ministry of Defense. The kingdom’s flag carrier, which has more than eighty Boeing aircraft either in operation or on order, will now fall under the newly created independent General Commission of Civil Aviation, whose chairman will be the minor prince who held similar responsibilities in the old Defense Ministry.

Prince Salman’s elevation will firm up his reputation as a likely future monarch after King Abdullah (eighty-eight years old) and Crown Prince Nayef (seventy-eight). But Salman himself is already seventy-five, and his health is uncertain. Despite physiotherapy, one of his arms is still largely immobile following a stroke.

Salman’s appointment will likely be welcomed across the world by generations of foreign ambassadors to Riyadh, who generally perceived him as easier to deal with and more modern in outlook than other senior princes. But this “modernity” is relative: when then U.S. ambassador Robert Jordan arrived in the kingdom in October 2001, Salman suggested to him that the September 11 attacks had been a “Zionist plot.” The ambassador had to request that CIA briefers visit the kingdom to convince royals, including then crown prince Abdullah and Prince Nayef, otherwise (Jordan related this story during a 2009 Washington Institute Policy Forum; listen to audio of his remarks).

In terms of U.S. policy, Salman now becomes the point man for the detailed negotiations on the $60 billion defense contract reached last year between Washington and Riyadh. The deal is intended to bolster the kingdom’s conventional defenses against the specter of an Iranian nuclear threat. Although a significant portion of the equipment, including attack helicopters, is destined for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) — controlled by King Abdullah’s son, Prince Mitab — Salman will be responsible for absorbing the new materiel on order for the army and air force.

In terms of the often-opaque royal family politics, Salman’s appointment breaks the monopoly that Sultan and his immediate family held over the Defense Ministry while still preserving it as a fiefdom of the so-called Sudairi princes (Salman was a full brother of Sultan). But recent second-tier appointments show that competition is heating up for powerful positions among the grandsons of the kingdom’s late founder, Ibn Saud. King Abdullah’s sons Mitab and Abdulaziz are SANG commander and deputy foreign minister, respectively. And Nayef’s sons Muhammad and Saud serve as deputy interior minister for internal security and head of the crown prince’s court, respectively. Salman’s sons will surely be seeking promotion. But with his father now dead, Prince Khaled has probably been marginalized, a typical fate of other sons of deceased kings or senior princes.

( / 07.11.2011)

US releases frozen 200 USD Million to Palestinian Authority

The US Administration released frozen amount of 200USD million USAID for the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli Newspaper “Yediot Ahronot” reported late Monday.

The head of the US Foreign Affairs Committee, Leena Ros Lethmon, stated that the Obama’s Administration would transfer an amount of 50 USD million security assistance to the P.A along with 148 USD million.

The US Congress has frozen its aid for the P.A when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) decided to submit its full membership bid at the United Nations. The US further threatened to veto the bid.

The US President, Barrack Obama, hasn’t recently talked about punishing Palestinians by freezing the USAID to the P.A, but the Israeli lobby made this step nevertheless the objection of several US and Israeli senior officials, the British Newspaper, The Independent, reported.

The US annually spends some 600 USD million involving health, education and security services for the Palestinian Authority, 50 USD million of which involving the P.A government budget.

“The US threats against the Palestinian UN application is a naïve decision because it is shameful,” added the paper.

The paper further said that the US former President, Bill Clinton, warned the Congress from moving forward in freezing USAID for the P.A because the US body is the closest assembly for supporting Israel in the whole world.

( / 07.11.2011)

Opmerkelijk: een kwart van de PVV-aanhang vindt geweld toegestaan

Dat blijkt uit het rapport The New Face of Digital Populism van de Britse denktank Demos op basis van een online enquete onder de aanhang van populistische rechtse partijen in Europa. Hierbij wordt wel nadrukkelijk de aantekening gemaakt dat het legitimeren van geweld nog niet hoeft te betekenen dat iemand zelf in staat is geweld te gebruiken.

De denktank ondervroeg meer dan tienduizend aanhangers van partijen en organisaties, verspreid over twaalf Europese landen. Ze werden geworven via advertenties op Facebook, waardoor het voornamelijk een onderzoek onder jongeren werd. Twee derde van de ondervraagden was man en jonger dan dertig jaar.

Het onderzoek werd gedaan onder aanhangers van Bloc Identitaire (Frankrijk), the British National Party (VK), CasaPound Italia (Italie), the Dansk Folkeparti (‘Denemarken), the English Defence League (VK), the Front National (Frankrijk), the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), Die Freiheit (Duitsland), Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPO, Oostenrijk), the Fremskrittspartiet (Noorwegen), Lega Nord (Italie), Perussuomalaiset (Finland), Sverigedemokraterna (Zweden) and Vlaams Belang (Belgie).

Vooral de aanhangers van (extreem)rechtse populistische groepen in Engeland en Italie vinden geweld eerder acceptabel om een doel te bereiken. Dit geldt minder voor de Scandinavische en Duitse partijen. (zie tabel, 3e kolom).  Ter vergelijking: 7% van de Nederlandse moslims vindt geweld legitiem (blz 249).

Veel meer dan de aanhangers van andere rechts populistische partijen, is voor de PVV-aanhangers islamitisch extremisme een bron van zorg. 48% van de PVV-stemmers rekent islamitisch extremisme tot de 2 belangrijkste punten van zorg; bij alle andere rechts populistische partijen ligt dat op 40% of ver daaronder.

Demos concludeert volgens Trouw dat Europees extreem-rechts in de lift zit. Radicale partijen en groeperingen zijn met name populair onder jongeren. Afkeer van de islam en immigratie voert bij hen boventoon.

De vermeende dreiging van ‘de islam’ en immigratie is de voornaamste reden voor jonge mannen om zich aan te sluiten bij een radicale groepering. Economische dreiging scoorde aanzienlijk lager.

Velen hebben niets met racisme en noemen tegelijkertijd de islam onverenigbaar met westerse waarden. Radicale partijen spelen daar volgens de extremrechtse expert Matthew Goodwin op in door hun achterban te vertellen dat afkeer van immigranten en moslims geen racisme is als het vooral draait om het verdedigen van de eigen traditie.

Volgens de onderzoekers doet het ‘digitale populisme’ een beroep op de reguliere politici om de zorgen over immigratie en culturele identiteit op te pakken, zonder toe te geven aan xenofobe oplossingen. Mensen moeten worden aangemoedigd om actief betrokken te worden in het politieke en maatschappelijke leven, ongeacht hun politieke overtuiging. Het is belangrijk een krachtig debat met deze partijen en hun aanhangers te voeren en ze buiten te sluiten.

Het rapport komt 3 maanden uit nadat Anders Breivik zijn terroristische daad in Noorwegen pleegde. Alle rechts populistische partijen in Europa namen direct afstand van Breiviks daad. Toch was Breivik actief in hetzelfde Europese netwerk (zie graphic van The Guardian) als veel van deze partijen, waaronder de PVV.

Pogingen van vooral Tofik Dibi om naar aanleiding van Breiviks terroristische actie in het Nederlandse parlement over xenofobie te discussieren mislukten tot nu toe. De Nederlandse regeringspartijen kijken liever weg.

Het hele rapport van Demos is hier te lezen.

( / 07.11.2011)

CIA Drones Kill Large Groups Without Knowing Who They Are

The expansion of the CIA’s undeclared drone war in the tribal areas of
Pakistan required a big expansion of who can be marked for death. Once the
standard for targeted killing was top-level leadership in al-Qaeda or one of its
allies. That’s long gone, especially as the number of people targeted at once
has grown.

This is the new standard, according to a blockbuster piece in the Wall
Street Journal
: “men
believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities
aren’t always known
.” The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they
are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups. The article does not
define the standards are for “suspicion” and “association.”

Strikes targeting those people — usually “groups” of such people — are called “signature” strikes. “The bulk of CIA’s drone strikes are signature strikes,” the Journal’s Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes report.

And bulk really means bulk. The Journal reports that the growth in clusters of people targeted by the CIA has required the agency to tell its Pakistani counterparts about mass attacks. When the agency expects to kill 20 or more people at once, then it’s got to give the Pakistanis notice.

Determining who is a target not a question of intelligence collection. The cameras on the CIA fleet of Predators and Reapers work just fine. It’s a question of intelligence analysis — interpreting the imagery collected from the drones, and from the spies and spotters below, to understand who’s a terrorist and who, say, drops off the terrorists’ laundry. Admittedly, in a war with a shadowy enemy, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

Fundamentally, though, it’s a question of policy: whether it’s acceptable for the CIA to kill someone without truly knowing if he’s the bombsmith or the laundry guy.

The Journal reports that the CIA’s willingness to strike without such knowledge — sanctioned, in full, by President Barack Obama — is causing problems for the State Department and the military.

As we’ve written this week, the high volume of drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas contributes to Pakistani intransigence on another issue of huge importance to the U.S.: convincing Pakistan to deliver the insurgent groups it sponsors to peace talks aimed at ending the Afghanistan war. The drones don’t cause that intransigence. Pakistan’s leaders, after all, cooperate with the drones and exploit popular anti-American sentiment to shake down Washington. The strikes become cards for Pakistan to play, however cynically.

The State Department is sick of it. It fears the rise of really anti-American leadership in Pakistan, riding into power on a wave of outrage over the drones. The Journal reports that earlier this year, the State Department gained greater say over targeting. So did the military, which fears Pakistan cutting off the supply routes to Afghanistan that run through its territory.

The CIA is still in control. Not only has it beefed up its drone patrols to 14 “orbits,” each consisting of three Predators or Reapers, but it’s moved many of its drones out of Pakistan and onto Afghanistan bases.  That’s a statement of unilateral control, even as it gives the Pakistanis a bit more insight into drone operations.

“It’s not like they took the car keys away from the CIA,” an anonymous senior official tells the Journal. “There are just more people in the car.”

And the basic question — Who should be targeted? — hasn’t changed. The default answer, to put it bluntly, is: Whomever the CIA can. Clive Stafford Smith, a human rights lawyer, points to a consequence: A young man named Tariq was killed in a drone strike with his 12-year old cousin, Waheed Khan, while driving their aunt home.

Tariq was a good kid, and courageous,” Stafford Smith writes. “My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government.”

As long as the CIA — now backed by the military and the State Department — has a free hand to wage the secret drone war in tribal Pakistan, it will continue to bottle up al-Qaida and its allies, degrading the threat they pose. They will also kill more
Tariqs and Waheeds. And because the drone war remains a classified CIA program, the CIA will not have to account for its actions to anybody, least of all the U.S. or Pakistani publics.

( / 07.11.2011)

Report: Israel plans 50,000 homes in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israel’s Jerusalem municipality plans to build more than 50,000 new homes in the city’s occupied eastern sector over two decades, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

A study commissioned by Israel’s Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat to address housing shortages in the city, obtained by Hebrew daily Maariv, shows designs for 60,718 housing units in the city, with the majority — 52,363 homes — planned for East Jerusalem.

Most of the city’s land available for construction lies in the eastern sector, with West Jerusalem lacking viable sites, the study says. Israel annexed East Jerusalem — regarded as the capital of a future Palestinian state — in a 1967 war, and its control over the area is not recognized by the international community.

According to Maariv, the study shows:

– 23,628 homes have already been approved, 20,263 in East Jerusalem and 3,365 in the west.

– 13,824 are pending review, 12,819 in East Jerusalem and 1,005 in the west.

– 23,266 housing units are still in planning stages, 19,281 in the east and 3,985 in the west.

Of these, the municipality plans:

– 10,366 homes in northern East Jerusalem, including illegal Israeli settlement Pisgat Zeev and Palestinian town Beit Hanina.

– 5,239 homes in southern East Jerusalem, including Gilo settlement and Palestinian district Beit Safafa.

– 4,886 new units in central eastern Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and Jerusalem’s Old City.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Jerusalem municipality told Maariv the construction of tens of thousands of homes over the next 20 years will “allow young couples and families to purchase apartments in the city.”

The vast majority of land on which Jerusalem is built, including the settlements in the city’s occupied eastern sector, is state land, and the property built on it can be purchased by anyone who is an Israeli citizen, or who is Jewish.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, very few of whom have Israeli citizenship, must first obtain a special permit to purchase land or property there. Rights groups say such permission is virtually unheard of.

( / 07.11.2011)