Bahrain commission issues brutal critique of Arab Spring crackdown

An independent commission presented its findings to Bahrain’s king, offering the tiny Gulf country a road map for moving beyond the violence of recent months and repairing relations with the US.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

An independent commission in Bahrain today documented abuses by the country’s security forces during Arab Spring uprisings and offered a set of recommendations that could help the oil-rich kingdom restore its image with Western allies.

Before an audience that included the king, dignitaries, activists, and foreign media, the head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) – respected Egyptian lawyer M. Cherif Bassiouni – also decried a culture of impunity among the country’s leaders. Mr. Bassiouni called for another independent body to ensure that changes are made to prevent a repeat of the violence.

How the report is implemented will affect not just the 1.2 million inhabitants of this tiny Gulf peninsula, but the country’s geopolitical future as well. The United States, which houses its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, suspended a $53 million arms sale pending the report’s findings. Acting on the recommendations may be Bahrain’s last hope to put the violence behind it.

“In every crisis, there do come forks in the road,” says Salman Shaikh, head of the Brookings Institution in Doha. “On one path you get to an intensification, and then the other path does offer an opportunity for compromise and to make progress. This report does offer that [opportunity] because we all know that we needed something that would help a new political agreement, and that is first and foremost what is needed.

“If [these] recommendations are taken seriously, then you may well find that you’re able to turn the corner.”

Systemic abuses

The BICI, established June 29 with a budget of $1.3 million, was part of the government’s response to protests that rocked Bahrain since majority Shiite protesters first took to the streets to demand a more representative government in February.

Drawing on 9,000 testimonies, the 500-page report offers an extensive chronology of events, documenting 46 deaths, 559 allegations of torture, and more than 4,000 cases of employees in both the public and private sector being dismissed for participating in protests. It also criticized the security forces for many instances when “force and firearms were used in an excessive manner that was, on many occasions, unnecessary, disproportionate, and indiscriminate.”

For example, hooded men systematically broke into suspects’ houses between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., “terrorizing” the inhabitants, the report says.

Torture is also documented explicitly. Cases of electrocution, stress positions, hanging, beating detainees of the soles of their feet, and verbal abuse were among the violations cited.

Notably, it found that certain abuses, such as destruction of property, “could not have happened without the knowledge of higher echelons of the command structure” – an indication that abuses were systemic.

Bassiouni blamed the Sunni government’s crackdown – which has included such tactics as night raids and the dismantling of religious structures – for exacerbating sectarian tensions in the Shiite-majority country. The report also discredited the government’s arguments that the unrest had been stirred by Shiite Iran.

Speaking immediately after Bassiouni, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa promised to examine the report and use it as a template for reform: “… we are determined, God willing, to insure that the painful events are not to be repeated, but that we learn from them and use our new insights as a catalyst for positive change,” he told the audience. He vowed to set up a committee to examine the report and propose recommendations “urgently.”

( / 23.11.2011)

Lebanon in the Eyes of Palestinian Refugees

“Everyone participated in shedding Palestinian blood, even Arab regimes, so how could you blame individuals?”

The Lebanese public discourse is saturated with negative representations of Palestinians. Rarely do Palestinian refugees get to speak their mind of how they in return view the Lebanese, as people and parties.

Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are perceived as breeding grounds for lawlessness and militancy, too dangerous to enter. The people of the camp are seen either as potential terrorists or wanted criminals.

On the other hand, there is the image that Palestinians have of the Lebanese. For most in the camps, the issue is simple.

“We don’t like those who took part in killing us,” said Fadi Muhammad from Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp.

Muhammad, a college student, named the Lebanese political parties that participated, one way or another, in carrying out massacres against Palestinians. The Phalange party destroyed Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp. The Lebanese Forces committed the Sabra and Shatila massacre and the Amal movement conducted a devastating war on the camps, he said.

Walking through the alleyways of the camp to get to its cemetery, the place is filled with symbolism. Residents of that part of Bourj el-Barajneh suffered the most during Amal’s assault because of its proximity to the airport road.

I asked a group of young men sitting in a cafe by the cemetery about their opinion of Lebanese people. Their responses varied depending on their political affiliations. “I respect Hezbollah, they’re fighting Israel,” said one man. “But I can’t stand the Lebanese Forces and I can’t forget what they and the Amal movement did to us.”

Leaving Bourj el-Barajneh camp and heading to the UNRWA schools by al-Rahab station, a group of high school students mill about at the school gate.

I asked them how they perceive the Lebanese and what image they have of them?

As soon as I asked the question, a debate erupted. They denounced the killing and the hatred but they do not remember anything from these wars because they weren’t alive to see them.

“I used to hear my parents say that the Lebanese Forces committed the Sabra and Shatila massacre and that my mother survived because she was able to run inside the camp before they were able to get to her,” one student said.

He has never seen a member of the Lebanese Forces in his life and he doesn’t want to “because I don’t know what my reaction would be towards him.”

The zeal among the youth disappeared as soon as I played the devil’s advocate. But aren’t the Palestinians, in the view of the Lebanese Forces, the ones who fought a war in a country that is not theirs? Everyone falls silent trying to recall what their parents had told them.

I left the students and went to the Shatila refugee camp. By the martyrs’ cemetery, the views are not much different. The memory of the massacre is alive not only in the place itself but with the residents themselves.

Here, “it’s all the fault of the Lebanese Forces.” What about the Israelis? “It is normal for the Israelis to kill us, but at the hands of the Lebanese?” they lamented.

“Everyone participated in shedding Palestinian blood, even Arab regimes, so how could you blame individuals?” said Abu Mustafa Taqa, a man in his seventies said.

He fell silent for a little while, as if recalling the highlights of the Palestinian revolution in Lebanon.

“Everyone made mistakes during the war and it’s enough that everybody apologized,” Taqa said.

“Samir Geagea apologized for what happened during the civil war and Abbas Zaki apologized for what we did. That’s why we should open a new page,” he said.

But what about the Amal movement?

“Everyone apologized for what they did during the civil war except Nabih Berri. He did not apologize for what he did to us during the War of the Camps,” Taqa said.

Views of the Lebanese are not limited to those who committed massacres. The Palestinians in the camps remember with gratitude everyone who supported the campaign demanding civil rights for Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese parliament, just as they remember those who didn’t.

In the process of rebuilding Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) drew a negative reaction from many Palestinian refugees. The party moved to block the reconstruction of the camp in 2009, after a war between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam militants decimated it in 2007.

Next to the center of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Shatila camp, Abu Muhammad weighed in on the FPM.

“Even in times of peace, they don’t like us. As if treating us decently will give us Lebanese citizenship and bring about the horror of naturalizing us,” he said, referring to the Lebanese government’s refusal to issue Palestinian refugees citizenship.

“Everyone stood against us when we demanded the right to work. We accepted the law prohibiting us from property ownership even though it is unjust … I don’t understand how General Michel Aoun is Hezbollah’s ally in domestic politics and yet he is against us in the parliament,” Muhammad said.

( / 23.11.2011)

Right-wing Israeli group creates booklet listing businesses that employ Palestinians

A grandson of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, best known for his belief that Arabs should be ethnically cleansed from historic Palestine, is leading a movement to document and boycott all businesses in Israel that employ Palestinians.

The plan was discovered when 19-year old Meir Ettinger was reported to the police for walking around the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and asking merchants whether they employ Arabs. One Palestinian merchant became suspicious that Ettinger may be planning an attack against himself or other Palestinians working at the market, and called the Israeli police.

When police questioned Ettinger, they found that he was working on a booklet to help promote a boycott of Palestinian businesses, and Israeli-owned businesses that employ Palestinians.

Ettinger grew up in the Yitzhar settlement, an Israeli colony in the West Bank known for its extreme right-wing religious views. Many residents of Yitzhar are followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, including Kahane’s grandson Meir Ettinger.

According to Israeli police reports, Ettinger was banned from the market for 14 days, but a few days after that ban, four other residents of Yitzhar settlement were discovered in the same market collecting information for the anti-Arab booklet.

The group calls itself the ‘Hebrew Labor’ project, and organizers say that it has twenty members, all residents of Yitzhar settlement.

The right-wing Israelis organizing the booklet say that they are merely providing a service for Israelis who wish to boycott Palestinians, adding that there is nothing illegal under Israeli law about producing such a booklet.

( / 23.11.2011)

Abbas, Tantawi meet in Cairo

CAIRO (Ma’an) — President Mahmoud Abbas met on Wednesday with Egypt’s head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, field marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, in Cairo, officials said.
The meeting at the ministry of defense in Cairo included discussions on Israel’s settlement-building and recent communications from the Quartet and US about the peace process, PA media reported.
The meeting also focused on reconciliation efforts and its implementation phase with Egyptian supervision, Wafa reported. Abbas thanked Egypt for its efforts in supporting the Palestinian people.

( /23.11.2011)

News from Tahrir Square 23.11.2011

Reports say the Grand Mufti of Egypt has called upon the police to lay down their arms and stop shooting at Egypt’s sons. #CNN #Tahrir

RT @RamyRaoof: a brief of what’s going on in #Egypt since 19 November until now to understand the situation #Tahrir

Sickening: A doctor in Egypt was killed after SCAF fired teargas at a hospital. #tahrir

Mashaal arrives in Cairo #Gaza #Palestine

10 canisters of tear gas just fired now #Alexandria

A #tahrir doctor just died from tear gas suffocation

Of the handful of injured protesters, 2 shot w rubber bullets, inc teenager shot in neck in critical condtn #Smouha #Alexandria #Egypt

Grand imam of Al-Azhar urges Egyptian police not to shoot protesters ‘no matter what the reasons’

At least five injured in #Alexandria clashes so far including one in serious condition

Gas supplied by Amerika responsible for over 30 deaths in Egypt. Perish the thought! How can Amerika be accused of doing a thing like that!

Israeli settlements illegal – Ki-Moon

Plans declared by Israel to build new settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories violate international law stated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the secretary-general, such actions “undermine efforts towards peace” and cause “grave concern”.

Ban Ki-moon called on Netanyahu to immediately resume the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of funds received from customs duties and taxes.

( / 23.11.2011)

American and Israeli tear gas canister at Tahrir square.

Tear gas canisters used by the Israeli military are manufactured by the American company Combined Systems Inc and used in Tahrir square. The teargas used by interior ministry troops in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is supplied by a US company. Demonstrators say cartridges retrieved from the scene are branded with the name and address of Combined Systems Inc (CSI). The firm is located in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. It specialises in supplying what it calls “crowd control devices” to armies and “homeland security agencies” around the world. It also manufactures lethal military equipment. Protesters say the CS gas seems more powerful than that used by Egyptian police during the country’s last popular uprising in February. “It’s stronger, it burns your face, it makes you feel like your whole body is seizing up,” one witness said. He added: “It doesn’t seem to be combated by Coke or vinegar.” Experts told the Guardian the gas was likely to be standard CS gas, but the effects could be exacerbated by physical exertion. As well as the effects of the teargas, protesters have suffered grave injuries to their heads and faces from rubber bullets. There are also reports of live ammunition being used. Dozens of people have been taken to makeshift hospitals after inhaling the choking gas fired by the Central Security Forces. The export of teargas to foreign law enforcement agencies is not prohibited. CSI has also sold teargas to the Israeli police, where it has been deployed against Palestinian demonstrators, as well as, reportedly, to the regime of Tunisia’s ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Nevertheless, the revelation that people are being gassed and hurt by US-manufactured projectiles is embarrassing for the Obama administration. “We have seen the illegitimate and indiscriminate use of teargas,” Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Cairo, said, of Egypt’s most recent street protests, as well as the original revolution in February. “There are a few cartridges from Italy but the vast majority are from the USA.” She said teargas did not constitute direct military aid, since it was sold to the interior ministry rather than the army. But she added: “Ideally governments should be verifying who they are selling teargas to.” Morayef said the gas was having a devastating effect on its victims, with everyone left choking, and hundreds forced to seek medical treatment. Protesters have also retrieved 12mm rubber bullet cartridges made in Italy. “One person I know ended up coughing up blood,” she said. Human Rights Watch intended to examine the canisters to discover exactly what kind of gas was being used, she added. Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said police in Cairo were almost certainly using conventional CS gas. “It’s a standard riot control agent which has been around for a very long time,” he said. Hay said its effects were extremely unpleasant. “It’s an eye and respiratory tract irritant, largely. It will also cause skin irritation.” The chemical compound used in CS gas – 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile – was “perfectly legitimate”, with many commercial companies involved in selling it, and domestic governments willing to make use of it in riot situations, he added. US army trials showed CS gas had a far more serious effect on people taking part in physical activity than those sitting passively, sometimes leaving its victims needing intensive care afterwards. The way to get rid of it was “constant irrigation” to wash away the affected areas, Hay said. There was no immediate comment from CSI. The company’s website says it was founded in 1981. It adds: “Combined Systems Inc (CSI) is a US-based firm that supports military forces and law enforcement agencies around the world. CSI is a premier engineering, manufacturing and supply company of tactical munitions and crowd control devices globally to armed forces, law enforcement, corrections and homeland security agencies. “[…] In addition to its military products, CSI markets its innovative line of less lethal munitions, tactical munitions and crowd-control products to domestic law enforcement agencies under its law enforcement brand name, CTS. CSI also supports its wide base of international military and law enforcement customers with its line of non-lethal munitions.”

In 2002 begon Israël met de bouw van een 700 kilometer lange barrière van hekwerk en beton, naar eigen zeggen om Palestijnse terreuraanslagen te voorkomen. De muur staat echter niet op de grens tussen Israël en de Palestijnse Westoever maar grotendeels op Palestijnse grond. Hij snijdt op verschillende plaatsen zelfs kilometers diep de Westoever in.

Voor deze ‘muur’ wordt Palestijnse grond onteigend, olijfbomen worden gekapt en huizen gesloopt. Dorpen raken omsingeld. Tienduizenden Palestijnen zijn afgesneden van hun families, akkers, scholen, ziekenhuizen en andere voorzieningen. De muur annexeert grote delen van de Westoever en maakt een levensvatbare Palestijnse staat onmogelijk. Op 9 juli 2004 bepaalde het Internationaal Gerechtshof dat Israël alleen op eigen grond een veiligheidsmuur mag bouwen. Op Palestijns grondgebied moet de muur worden afgebroken en de schade gecompenseerd. Toch bouwt Israël gewoon verder.

Volgens artikel 90 van de Nederlandse grondwet moeten onze regering en parlement het internationaal recht bevorderen. Het Burgerinitiatief ‘Sloop de Muur’ vraagt de Tweede Kamer om de regering te dwingen sancties tegen Israël in te stellen, liefst samen met andere EU landen. Ten minste moet de militaire samenwerking met Israël worden beëindigd en nauwere economische samenwerking worden afgewezen.

Daarom: Sloop de Muur!

Teken voor sancties tegen Israël.

( / 23.11.2011)

Yemeni President Signs Power-Transfer Deal

SAN’A, Yemen—President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen agreed to step down on Wednesday after 33 years in power, becoming the fourth Arab leader swept away by protests this year and launching his violence-wracked country into a new era of uncertainty.


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signs a deal on Wednesday agreeing to exit power.

The agreement transfers power to vice president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi within 30 days, kicking off a process that will elect a new president within three months and hand significant power to opposition parties, according to Yemen state television and opposition officials.

Protesters massed in San’a’s central Change Square following the announcement, angrily denouncing the agreement’s provision of immunity from prosecution for Mr. Saleh. Protesters demanded that Mr. Saleh be trailed and his immunity be stripped, and blamed the country’s established opposition parties for letting the leader escape after months of bloodshed they say killed more than 1,000 people.

“No immunity to the killer Saleh,” they shouted. “We will not go home until justice prevails.”

Regional Upheaval

Track events day by day in the region.

Photos: Uprising

The best images of 2011’s Arab Spring.

Yemen has been ravaged by violence and lawlessness in recent months, as forces opposed to Mr. Saleh fought battles against his allies in the streets of the capital. Amid the chaos, militant Islamist groups, including some sympathetic with al Qaeda, have expanded their sway in the south of the country.

“We are sorry for what happened in Yemen and we were hoping that transfer of power would take place democratically,” Mr. Saleh said in a speech after inking the deal in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. “The differences created problems for national unity and destroyed what was built in the last couple of years.”

Beginning in January, Mr. Saleh faced large youth demonstrations calling for his resignation. In recent months, long-time allies among Yemen’s traditional tribal power brokers turned against him. After he was seriously injured in a June assassination attempt and taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment, he agreed to sign on to the power-transfer deal, negotiated by Arab states in the Persian Gulf.

But until Wednesday, he had repeatedly backed out of opportunities to finalize the agreement. He returned to Yemen several months ago and appeared to dig in further.

The poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen nonetheless sits in a strategically critical location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, where one-fifth of the world’s oil exports transit to world markets. The country has been a critical, if sometimes fitful, ally of the U.S. in fighting al Qaeda, which has established a foothold in the country as its base in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan have come under pressure.

It is unclear what caused Mr. Saleh to fly unannounced to the Saudi capital of Riyadh to finalize the agreement in front of Yemeni opposition leaders, officials from the Gulf states and several Western allies and an envoy from the United Nations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters after a phone call with Mr. Saleh that the president would soon fly to New York City for medical treatment. The nature of the treatment wasn’t immediately clear.

Mr. Hadi, who has served as Mr. Saleh’s vice president for 17 years, is now expected to form a national reconciliation government, bringing on board politicians from all factions. Half the ministers are expected to be members of the former ruling party and its allies, while the other half will be chosen from the traditional opposition.

Mr. Hadi will preside over a military Council to prepare an overall restructuring of the armed forces, ensuring that no faction has the monopoly over the strategic state institution. The vice president, who hails from the country’s south, is generally accepted by opposition factions as a credible person to lead after Mr. Saleh.

The agreement doesn’t lay out a formal role for the youth protesters who have demonstrated continuously for nine months, demanding not just Mr. Saleh’s ouster but also sweeping political reforms. The agreement stipulates that the government will have to open a dialogue with the youth aimed at ensuring their demands are met.

On Wednesday, young protesters in San’a vowed to continue their watch. “Our revolution will start today,” they shouted. “Saleh’s fall is Step One.”

( / 23.11.2011)