Two very different Israeli replies to Samer Issawi’s invitation

This week in a public letter, Samer Issawi, the Palestinian prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for eight months, challenged Israelis to visit him in the hospital where he is close to death in order to “stare into … [his] …face,” and by doing so confront the horror of his imprisonment.

I chose to write to you: intellectuals, writers, lawyers and journalists, associations, and civil society activists. I invite you to visit me, to see a skeleton tied to his hospital bed, and around him three exhausted jailers. Sometimes they have their appetizing food and drinks around me.

On Saturday, two markedly different Israeli responses to Issawi were reported.

A group of twelve activists attempted to visit Issawi at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot.  Of the group, only two women, the writer Ilana Hammerman and Chava Lerman, succeeded in approaching the prisoner’s room, although they were prohibited from visiting Issawi by hospital guards who used force to deny them entry.  The police were summoned and evicted all 12 activists, briefly detaining Hammerman and Lerman.

After her release, Hammerman issued this statement:

I have decided on a path of civil disobedience. I have been doing it for some time. I think one can’t hold a dying man in prison, that’s illegal. I refuse to obey these laws. I entirely identify with his struggle.

A different type of response to Samer Issawi’s invitation came from a group of Israeli writers who included A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz.  Instead of going to the hospital, the writers sent a letter to Issawi via Facebook, suggesting he end his hunger strike.  I was not able to locate the letter on Facebook or anywhere else.  This is how Ha’aretz described parts of the authors’ written statement:

‘Please, Samer Issawi, don’t pile more despair on the despair already in existence. Give yourself hope, thus strengthening the hope within all of us,’ it said.

The authors noted that there are ‘new encouraging signs that the negotiations between the sides will resume,’ adding that these measures may secure Issawi’s release alongside other Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

‘We urge you to stop your hunger strike and choose life, because we are committed to tirelessly striving toward peace between the two peoples, who will live side by side forever in this country,’ the authors concluded.

Writer Eli Amir, who has signed the letter, told Haaretz the message is not meant to be ‘patronizing.’

‘We have heard rumors recently that the government is proposing to deport him to one of the European states,” he said. ‘[Issawi] has asked why public officials, authors and everyone else is standing by while he is starving and turning into a skeleton. We are trying to help him regardless of what he has done or his opinions.’

Considering the realities of the horrors and illegalities of the decades- long occupation, the capricious arrests of Palestinians, and the ill-treatment Issawi and thousands of others have experienced at the hands of their Israeli jailers, as well as the inflicting of countless other atrocities upon the Palestinians; I find this letter worse than “patronizing.”

If the esteemed writers did not want to accept the invitation to face Issawi eye-to-eye and symbolically confront the horrors of the occupation, they are not helping by writing that “there are signs of hope” and admonishing him to end his fast because they (the Israeli writers) “are committed to tirelessly striving toward peace between the two peoples, who will live side by side forever in this country.”

Oz and Yehoshua are considered by many in Israel and the United States to be advocates of justice for Palestinians, but very few Palestinians would agree.   Many actually believe, with a great deal of justification, that writers like Oz and Yehoshua are just the liberal face of occupation.

I, personally, can understand that some people may want to advise Issawi to choose life by ending his fast, but I do not feel that these writers should be making this request.   Asking Issawi to break his fast, while refusing to attempt to visit his hospital room and apparently not directly addressing his suffering or that of the of the Palestinian people is insulting.  Issawi and others are willing to sacrifice their lives, at least partly because they see their situation as hopeless.   For this brave stand they have become heroes and symbols of resistance for most Palestinians.

It is not Israeli writers who should be giving the dying prisoner advice.  He is not asking them for it, only for their understanding, solidarity and support for his release from prison.  If they cannot provide that, they should be silent.

If there is any hope emanating from the Israeli side here, it is not coming from the writers’ letter of unsought advice, but from the words, acts and solidarity of the 12 activists who were barred from visiting Issawi.

Samer Issawi was re-arrested for violating the terms of his prison release by traveling outside Jerusalem.  He had been originally freed from prison in the deal for the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza.  Issawi now faces the possibility of serving his original 26- year sentence for what Israel claims were attempted murders and belonging to a terrorist group.  Issawi has been receiving infusions of nutrients during his fast which has allowed him to survive, although his present condition is characterized as life-threatening and deteriorating.

It should be noted that even if the charges are true, Issawi is considered a freedom-fighter by the Palestinians.

Samer Issawi has vowed to continue his hunger strike until he is released or dies.

(Source / 14.04.2013)

Witness accounts of two Tulkarem teens’ killings contradict Israel’s version

Relatives of cousins Amer Nasser and Naji Balbisi, killed by Israeli soldiers, grieve during their funeral in Anabta, 4 April.

On Wednesday last week, four young Palestinians decided to protest against the death of Palestinian prisoner Maysara Abuhamdia, a cancer patient who died of medical neglect while in Israeli custody.

Two of the young men — Amer Nassar, 17, and his cousin Naji Biblisi, 19 — were killed at an Israeli military checkpoint during the protests. Another cousin, Diaa Nassar, 18, was arrested and the fourth young man, Fadi Abu Asal, 20, managed to escape with an injury.

The four are residents of Anabta, a village near Tulkarem in the occupied West Bank. Two days after the incident, Abu Asal told The Electronic Intifada what happened. His version of events sharply contradict claims reported in the Israeli media.

Abu Asal was himself arrested by Israeli forces at his family’s home in Anabta on Tuesday, 9 April.

“Hit in the chest”

According to his account, the four walked a few kilometers from their village to the Innab checkpoint, which separates Tulkarem and Nablus, and began protesting there on the Wednesday evening.

Around 9:30pm, they saw a soldier emerging from the checkpoint. “At the same moment the shooting started, and I could not tell if it was the same soldier or another. When the shooting broke out, we started running; Amer was hit in his chest with a live bullet and fell on the ground immediately,” Abu Asal explained.

When he turned to check on Amer Nassar, Abu Asal was shot in the arm. Abu Asal and Naji Biblisi managed to run away from the checkpoint. Diaa Nassar, meanwhile, “took cover behind bricks” opposite the military watchtower and was later arrested by the soldiers, Abu Asal added.

Abu Asal and Biblisi continued running until Biblisi took a sudden turn towards the leather factory, about 500 meters from the checkpoint. Abu Asal continued running straight ahead.

“I do not recall that any of the soldiers was running after us and I do not recall that Naji got hit or showed any signs of pain or injury,” he said. Minutes later, “the shooting stopped and I managed to escape and reach the village,” Abu Asal added.

He ran three kilometers while bleeding; at 10:40pm he called for help. Abu Asal was found and taken to hospital.

“Attacked and arrested”

According to residents of the village who were close to the area, the shooting stopped sometime around 9:45pm. An eyewitness, who did not wish to be named, told The Electronic Intifada: “I saw a soldier approaching Amer’s body and stepping on his wound, which provoked Diaa to come out of his hiding place and try to protect his cousin.”

The witness added, “Diaa was then attacked and beaten by a number of soldiers, and then arrested.” Alaa Nassar, Diaa’s brother, said that “Diaa was taken to al-Jalameh interrogation center [in the northern West Bank] suffering injuries in his arm and leg.”

According to the eyewitness, Amer Nassar was “left on the ground for half an hour bleeding to death. A Palestinian ambulance was prevented from approaching him. Around 11pm, the army handed Amer’s body to the Palestinian ambulance.” As Naji Biblisi was still missing, locals began searching for him.

“At 4am, the Palestinian security forces came to the house and asked me about my son,” his mother Salimeh said. The visit by the security forces was only to confirm that Biblisi’s body was the one found in the backyard of the leather factory by the Israeli army.

“Around 4:30am, the Israeli army handed his body to the Palestinian security forces,” Salimeh Biblisi added. Naji, a gardener, was the eldest of five sons. He had dropped out of school in order to find work so that he could support his ailing father.

The Israeli media reported that Biblisi was hit by a bullet while being chased by soldiers and that his body was found only in the morning.

Killed by sniper?

Locals, however, believe that he may have been killed after the main clash and there is a high probability that a sniper fired the fatal shot. He was shot in the back with a live bullet that penetrated his chest. A large pool of blood was found beside his body. Bloodstains were not seen anywhere else between the place where his body was found and the checkpoint.

“With such a major injury, he would not have been able to walk or move except for few seconds,” explained Dr. Haytham Shadid from Thabet Thabet hospital in Tulkarem, who received the bodies of the two dead men.

The witness to the incident said “there were no soldiers running on foot after Naji and Fadi.” The witness believes that a sniper from the watchtower at the checkpoint shot Biblisi, since he saw a laser coming from the tower, which contradicts the army’s report that Biblisi was hit during a chase.

If the last shots were heard at 9:45pm, then Biblisi was more than likely shot before then. Questions remain about why his body was not handed over to the Palestinian security forces until 4:30 the next morning. Amer Nassar’s body, by contrast, was handed over about an hour after his killing.

There are also questions about whether Amer Nassar may have been left to bleed to death and whether he could have survived if medical attention was provided to him in a swift manner. The eyewitness account that a soldier stepped on his wound — and whether this was a contributory factor in his death — requires further investigation, as well.

This case highlights how Israel’s control of “information” and the lack of prompt and thorough investigations by Palestinian official bodies mean that Israel’s usually dishonest version of events is reported as fact.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that the army is investigating if its rules of engagement were adhered to during the incident (“IDF investigation into the killing of the two Palestinians: the observation station reported a shooting that never happened,” 4 April 2013 [in Hebrew]).

This follows a familiar pattern. When the Israeli military says it is carrying out an investigation, this is frequently interpreted as a message that journalists should wait until the probe is completed before asking further questions.

Time is of the essence here: within a few days, the media will be focused on other stories and journalists will have forgotten about the incident under “investigation.”

No autopsy

Dr. Shadid said that “the time of injury, the time of death, needs further investigation.” An autopsy report is also required, he added.

No autopsy has been carried out on Biblisi. Autopsies usually occur when the Palestinian Authority requests one, in consultation with the family of the person killed.

Yet the PA only tends to request autopsies when Israel agrees that one should be carried out or in high-profile cases — such as the recent death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat in Israeli custody. In the Jaradat case, the PA did not release the full autopsy report; it merely announced the conclusions at a press conference.

There have been a number of other cases in which Palestinians have been killed without the causes of death being properly investigated.

For example, Muhammed al-Salaymeh from Hebron was killed by the Israeli military in December 2012. He was shot with several live ammunition bullets.

A video released by the army raised many doubts about the explanations offered by the Israeli military, but no autopsy or further investigation was conducted by the PA.

The previous month Rushdi Tamimi, from the village of Nabi Saleh, was killed by the Israeli military. He was shot with live ammunition in the back after being injured from a rubber bullet. He was declared dead at a Ramallah hospital.

The Israeli army also said then that it was investigating the case. This probe could take forever.

These cases and many others should be thoroughly investigated by Palestinian and international bodies so those responsible for killing Palestinians are held accountable.

(Source / 14.04.2013)

Rare Palestinian banknote bought for almost $100,000 in London

The 100-pound Palestinian note, issued in 1929, is extremely rare and has attracted great attention at the auction.

An Arab buyer in London has paid £65,000 (almost $100,000) for a rare Palestinian banknote that was auctioned this week in the British capital.

The note, which was offered by Spink Auctions on Thursday, appeared for the first time in 40 years and was on sale with another 1,690 rare notes, many of them Palestinian.

The notes go back to the years between 1929 and 1944, before the creation of the state of Israel. Many of the other notes were from the Gulf, some dating back to the early stage of the Saudi Arabian state and others issued from Qatar, Dubai, and Kuwait.

The 100-pound Palestinian note, issued in 1929, is extremely rare and has attracted great attention at the auction, Ayman Abdou, an expert in rare banknotes said this week.

“The price which the note was sold at is not actually that expensive,” he told Al Arabiya.

“At the time, this note could have bought an entire plot of land in the most beautiful parts of Palestine,” Abdou said.

Abdou also said the note was particularly special because it remained in good condition, adding that its serial number is “A000000.”

“The notes that have zeros are usually very rare. They are printed to be distributed amongst central banks across the world. This means it had been rare since the day it was issued,” he said.

Spink did not name the names of its sellers and buyers for confidentiality, and so the identity of the Arab buyer has not been revealed.

Hundreds of people from the Gulf come to London every year to take part in auctions, according to the executive director of Spink, Barnaby Faull.

“They are usually interested in rare objects that come from different parts of the world. People from Qatar and Dubai in particular are mainly interested rare banknotes,” he told Al Arabiya.

(Source / 14.04.2013)

Gaza farmers destroy goods bound for Europe

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Farmers in the Gaza Strip on Sunday destroyed three tons of rotten herbs and spices that were to be shipped to markets in Europe before Israel closed the border crossings.

Muhammad Zuweid, a marketing official in Gaza, told Ma’an that three tons of mint, sage, basil, and tarragon were ready to be exported to Europe and waiting at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

After days of closure, the goods expired and became unsafe to use, he said.

Moreover, the herbs are not heavily consumed by local markets. The available amounts exceed the needs of the local markets, which is why they were selected to export abroad.

He explained that the tarragon herb is not used locally, but it is usually exported abroad. Salvia officinalis, or garden sage, was being prepared for export for the first time this year.

Israel closed Kerem Shalom and the Erez passenger crossing on Monday after militants in Gaza fired a rocket across the border.

On Thursday Israel said it would open the Kerem Shalom crossing for four hours on Friday to allow food and gas into the Gaza Strip.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley said Wednesday that the closure was hitting food supplies and would have “serious” effects if continued.

“In response to a deteriorating security situation in and around Gaza … Israel has announced a series of heightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip, including closures of the Kerem Shalom crossing,” Rawley said.

“These measures are resulting in the depletion of stocks of essential supplies, including basic foodstuffs and cooking gas, and undermine the livelihoods and rights of many vulnerable Gazan families,” he said in a statement.

“If these restrictions continue, the effect upon the Gaza population will be serious.”

(Source / 14.04.2013)

Fear stalks Muslims in Myanmar

Eyewitnesses to a massacre at an Islamic school say it was carried out by Buddhists, and many contend it stems from a coordinated effort with ties to the top

Mon Hnin, a 29-year-old Muslim woman from Meiktila, in central Myanmar, spent the night of March 20 with her daughter and mother-in-law hiding in terror in the bushes on the fringes of her neighbourhood.

KILLING FIELDS: Right, the madrasa where more than 40 Muslims were killed on March 21.

A wave of murderous anti-Muslim riots led by Buddhist extremists had exploded earlier that day in the dusty town with a population of 100,000 people, located 130km north of the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Like the houses of many other Muslims in the town, the one belonging to Mon Hnin, whose name has been changed for security reasons, had been destroyed by a Buddhist mob in the Mingalar Zay Yone quarter and she and her relatives had to take refuge in the first place they could find.

The next day, she witnessed something far worse than the destruction of her property, as she told Spectrum at a non-governmental refugee camp near Meitktila where she now lives with about 3,400 other Muslim refugees. The bushes where Mon Hnin, her daughter and her mother-in law had hidden the previous night are not far from a local madrasa _ an Islamic school _ where one of the worst episodes of the violence took place. According to several eyewitnesses, that morning a Buddhist mob attacked the school killing at least 30 students and four teachers.

Mon Hnin said she saw about 30 policemen arriving in trucks about 8am. From her vantage point, she saw how the students and teachers of the madrasa gave up to police the weapons they had improvised to defend themselves. She claimed that a group of them was offered the chance to be evacuated from the area in police trucks, but they were attacked by the mob before reaching the vehicles.

One of those she saw being killed was her husband, a halal butcher who was stabbed to death. The policemen in the area did nothing to stop the carnage. Shortly afterwards, Mon Hnin, her daughter and mother-in-law were given shelter in the house of a Buddhist neighbour.

From March 20-22, this dusty garrison city was engulfed by the worst communal violence in Myanmar since the anti-Muslim pogroms that took place in Rakhine state in June and October of last year.

The trigger of the violence was a brawl between the Muslim owners of a gold shop and two Buddhists who tried to sell a gold hair clip on the morning of March 20. Several different, and often contradictory, accounts have emerged of the incident, but there is no doubt that a Buddhist mob responded by hurling stones at the shop and ended up wrecking the building.

That evening the riots became deadly when about 5.30pm a monk was attacked by four Muslim men who torched him alive. The monk died in hospital that same evening. Just a few hours later the city was on fire when groups of Buddhists unleashed their fury on Muslims and their properties under the gaze of security forces, who for two days watched the violence without taking any action.

Many witnesses have confirmed the failure of the police to prevent the violence. One of them is Win Htein, the local MP of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. Win Htein, a former army officer who spent 20 years in jail for his political activities and used to organise security for ”the Lady” after her release from house arrest on November 2010, told Spectrum in the ramshackle local NLD office that he witnessed the carnage in front of the madrasa.

”I saw with my own eyes two people already dead and five more put to death in front of me.”

He said he tried to protect the Muslims, but was threatened by the mob. Then he called the chief minister of Mandalay Division, Gen Ye Myint, and told him what was happening. ”He said he’d already given orders to the police to take action, but there was no action at all,” Win Htein said.

It took a further day before the army stepped in and restored some order in the city. By then, at least 42 people had been killed and more than 60 were injured. Those are the official estimates, but the real figures are likely to be considerably higher, considering that at least 30 people died in a single incident at the madrasa.

BADGE OF HATE: 969 stickers on sale in Yangon.

One local reporter who witnessed the carnage, told Spectrum that she arrived at the scene at 5pm and saw a pile of several dozen corpses just metres from the madrasa. When she went back four hours later, the pile had been set on fire.

On March 21, the young reporter saw and filmed a group of Buddhists slit the throat of a Muslim man, before dousing him with petrol and setting him on fire. She continued recording despite being told to stop, but eventually had to flee the scene when six or seven Buddhist men chased her, hitting her on the back.

The reporter said that during the time she was in Meiktila, from March 20-22, she saw only Buddhists carrying weapons and the violence was fundamentally one-sided, with the Muslims always on the receiving end.

Win Htein said the attacks were spontaneous and perpetrated by Buddhist residents of the city, but others witnesses claimed the attackers were unknown to them and seemed to be following a well coordinated plan.

Three weeks after the riots, the Muslim quarters of Meiktila are large wastelands of destroyed buildings and charred cars, resembling the aftermath of a war or natural disaster, and where the poorest inhabitants of the city scavenge for scrap to sell. More than 18,000 residents, most of them Muslims, have been displaced by the violence and most of them are now living in government-controlled camps. The camps are off-limits to journalists, but there are also unofficial camps like the one where Mon Hnin lives.

The government has announced plans to rebuild the destroyed houses within two months, but few believe in its ability or even its willingness to do so. Many Muslim refugees fear their situation might become permanent, as happened to the Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state, in western Myanmar. Unlike the Rohingya, however, the Muslims of central Myanmar are officially recognised as citizens of the country.


After Meiktila, the anti-Muslim attacks spread to other parts of central Myanmar, getting dangerously close to the the nation’s largest city, Yangon. In the Bago region, the pattern of violence against Muslim people and property was repeated in no less than 14 villages.

More than 80 refugees from Minhla, a town with a population of about 100,000, are now living in a mosque in Yangon after fleeing a wave of attacks on March 27.

Ko Maung Win (not his real name), a teacher at the local mosque recounted how a mob of Buddhist extremists attacked the mosque shortly after afternoon prayer. Nobody was killed or injured during the attacks.

FOMENTING DISCONTENT: Ashin Wirathu, famous for his inflammatory anti-Muslim speeches, at the Maseyein monastery in Mandalay.

He and other refugees from Minhla told Spectrum that the attacks came out of the blue, without any prior threat or warning. They said, however, that relations between the two communities had steadily soured after a monk visited the city at the end of February and gave a speech telling Buddhists to shun Muslim people and their shops. A woman who owned a grocery store in the market, and is now one of the refugees in the mosque, said she lost many Buddhist customers after the speech. Nevertheless, when the attacks started she was given refuge in the home of a Buddhist neighbour.

The violence has not yet reached Yangon, but in some of its Muslim neighbourhoods there is an almost palpable tension, particularly at night. Since the attacks in Meiktila, the residents of Mingalar Taungyungnunt, the main Muslim quarter of the former capital, have set up barricades and conduct nightly street patrols.

Muslim communities are abuzz with rumours, especially after the fire in an Islamic school in Yangon that claimed the lives of 13 children in the early hours of April 2. Few people believe the official line that the fire was accidental. The haste of the authorities to say it was, and their inability to find any eyewitness accounts further contributed to people’s suspicions.

Neighbours interviewed recently in the quarter said that, under the cloak of dark, people roam the streets in cars shouting threats and insults. Many of them are afraid that during the annual Songkran-like water festival there might be an attack similar to those in Meiktila and Bago. Many men sleep only a few hours a night, as they have to work at day and patrol the streets in the evening. Every entrance to the neighbourhood from the main streets is blocked with makeshift barricades manned by local men.

All of the men interviewed by Spectrum were keen to emphasise that their relations with an overwhelming majority of Buddhists have always been and continue to be peaceful and friendly. They put the blame on ill-defined groups of ”Buddhist terrorists”.

Like many other Muslims around the country, the residents of Mingalar Taungyungnunt feel unprotected and abandoned by local authorities and the central government. During two visits to the quarter at night, only a minimal police force could be seen on the streets.

”We don’t know who these people are, but we are not afraid. If they attack us, we will fight back,” said a young man in one of the barricades.

The anti-Muslim sentiment finds its expression in a campaign called 969, which encourages Buddhists to shop only in Buddhist outlets and calls for a defence of Buddhism in Myanmar against the supposed threat of a Islamisation. The campaign is named after the ”three jewels” of Buddhism _ the nine attributes of Buddha, the six attributes of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the Sangha. There are many 969 stickers in shops, taxis and cars around Yangon and other cities.

The most visible face of the 969 movement is Ashin Wirathu, a monk from Mandalay who is famous for his anti-Muslim speeches. The boyish-looking 45 year old with a calm demeanour and soft voice was jailed in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim riots and released under an amnesty in 2012. Spectrum met him in Masoeyein, a monastery in Mandalay whose monks are famous for their political activism.

Sitting beneath several huge portraits of himself, Ashin Wirathu explained the ”Muslim conspiracy” which, according to him, threatens to engulf Myanmar.

A man full of contradictions he seems consistent only in his criticism of and dislike for Islam. He denied at first that he mentions Muslims in his speeches at all, but later admitted that he does speak about them, but only because he wants to inform people of the reality.

At one point he even claimed that 100% of rapes in Myanmar are committed by Muslims, disregarding the fact that the army is known to use rape as a weapon in its wars against ethnic insurgents.

He traced his anti-Muslim activism to 1996, when a Muslim who had converted to Buddhism gave him a supposed ”secret message” circulated among Myanmar Muslims laying out their conspiracy to Islamise the country. The message included a plan to marry Buddhist women in order to convert them, and taking over the economy. Ashin Wirathu also warned that if Myanmar Buddhists do not take action, by 2100 the whole country will resemble the Mayu region of Rakhine state, an area mostly populated by Muslim Rohingya.

WHIRLWIND OF HATE: The destroyed Mingalar Thiri Muslim quarter in Meiktila.

Ashin Wirathu recognised that Buddhists have committed acts of violence, but refused to admit that his incendiary speeches have anything to do with them. He also refused to acknowledge that his discourses incite hatred towards Muslims, stating that he is just ”informing the public”.

He even claimed that, should people listen to him, no Buddhist would engage in violence, despite the fact that he gave one of his trademark speeches in Meiktila just four months before the recent violence. Eventually, as a solution to the ”Muslim problem”, he presented a simple formula: ”Buddhists can talk with Muslims, but not marry them; there can be friendship between them, but not trade.”

Ashin Wirathu’s words enjoy widespread publicity in the country and he is well supported by the Buddhist community, which reveres monks as the ultimate depositaries of wisdom. According to Win Htein, the NLD MP from Meiktila, Ashin Wirathu’s speeches are shown in the buses operated by companies owned by the military.

In a house in Meiktila, Aye Aye Aung, a 43-year-old Buddhist woman who owns three shops in the town, showed Spectrum a DVD of one of Ashin Wirathu’s speeches in which he warns against the Muslim conspiracy. She also showed us the weapon, a knife tied to a long iron bar, that her husband made the day the violence started to defend his family and property against possible Muslim attackers. She said that she was willing to let Muslims live in Meiktila, but they should be completely segregated from the rest of the population.

Ashin Wirathu claimed that 969 is a grass-roots movement without funding from powerful or wealthy people. Its publicity stickers are printed and distributed by ordinary people who act out of concern for their country, he said.

Despite his claims, several vendors at Mandalay market said the stickers are distributed by monks from Ashin Wirathu’s monastery.

Ashin Gambira, a former monk and leader of the 2007 ”Saffron Revolution” is one of Ashin Wirathu’s main critics. He said the monk is breaking the Buddhist precept of ”right speech”, which exhorts followers in part to avoid saying anything that could prove harmful to others. According to him, anti-Muslim sentiment was actively promoted by the army during its five decades of dictatorship and the hatred is now ”instilled in the minds of the people” to such a degree that it would not take much of an effort to ”revive it at any moment”.

It is a mystery who is behind the campaign and Ashin Wirathu, but many believe they enjoy the financial support of powerful people. There are also claims that they are following the plans of hard-line elements in the military who are unwilling to renounce their power and are posed to create unrest to reassert their position. The fact is that the authorities have allowed him to go around the country preaching his hatred at a particularly delicate time.

Ashin Pum Na Wontha is a 56-year-old Buddhist monk with a long history of political activism dating back to 1988. He now belongs to the Peace Cultivation Network, an organisation established to promote understanding between different faiths and communities.

In a recent interview conducted at his monastery in Yangon, he told Spectrum that Ashin Wirathu is a merely a puppet ”motivated by his vanity and thirst for fame”.

”Wirathu and the 969 movement receive financial support from the cronies,” he said, referring to a group of about 30 rich men linked to the military and the government who control the nation’s economy. Several Muslim businessmen have huge assets and, according to Ashin Pum Na Wontha, the cronies would like to get their hands on them.

He said he also believes the military is involved in the violence, as a way to destabilise the country and have the chance to present itself as the sole institution capable of re-establishing the law and order. According to his analysis, the military does not want to recover full power, as it had following the 1962 coup of Gen Ne Win, but to ”go back to 1958”.

In that year, Ne Win took power temporarily from U Nu, the first prime minister of Myanmar, and established a caretaker government that lasted 18 months. At that time, the army was able to present itself as the defender of democracy and stability in the country.

Inter-religious and communal tensions had long existed in Myanmar before Gen Ne Win took full power in 1962. Anti-Indian and anti-Muslim riots exploded in Yangon in 1930 and 1938 due to the resentment of the Myanmar people towards Indians who had entered the country with the arrival of the British colonisers. As today, the riots were often incited by Buddhist nationalist monks.

Ne Win and the military junta that replaced him played this religious ultra-nationalist and racist card for the entirety of their rules. Muslims and other non-Buddhists were barred from the upper echelons of the army and, almost immediately after Ne Win’s coup, he expelled hundreds of thousands of Indians from the country.

He also fostered a sense of a Myanmar identity strongly linked to ethnicity and religion, which has been the breeding ground for waves of anti-Muslim violence, like this most recent one, which threatens to spiral out of control and spread to large parts of the country.

LAST DEFENCE: Barricades manned by Muslim residents in Mingalar Taungyungnunt, the main Muslim quarter in Yangon. Following the violence in Meiktila, residents there have begun conducting patrols at night.

LUNCHTIME LULL: Most of those displaced by ethnic violence are in government-controlled camps, however others are in unofficial camps such as this one.

(Source / 14.04.2013)

Israel spy agency Mossad threatens to assassinate Hamas officials


Members of Hamas security forces march during a graduation ceremony for new recruits in Gaza
Israeli regime’s spy agency, Mossad, has threatened to assassinate officials of the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas.

Israel Radio quoted a Hamas spokesman as saying that Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, has sent warning messages to Gaza officers and security forces, threatening to assassinate those fighting against the regime.

The threats came after Hamas said last week that its security forces arrested a number of people on suspicion of espionage for certain Western and Arab spy agencies in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Lafi, a Hamas security chief, said that half of those arrested “have confessed to being collaborators.”

“The Gaza Strip is swarming with Western intelligence agencies, such as the American, British, French and German services,” Lafi said, adding that certain Arab spy agencies were also operating in Gaza.

The official added that Hamas had a “list of collaborators who will be arrested once the time for them to repent has run out.”

In mid-March, Hamas Interior Ministry warned those spying for the Israeli regime that they would be pursued without mercy if they did not turn themselves in by April 11.

(Source / 14.04.2013)

220 world dignitaries demand UK to apologize for Balfour Declaration


images_News_2013_04_12_campaign_300_0[1]CAIRO, (PIC)– 220 Palestinian, Arab, and international personalities signed a memorandum demanding the UK to apologize for the Balfour Declaration.

The International Campaign to demand Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration said in a press statement on Thursday that the signing of the memo took place during a conference held in Cairo from April 4 to 6, in the presence of a group of dignitaries from around the Arab and Muslim world.

The campaign added that the signatories to the petition were parliamentarians, scholars, academics, journalists, politicians, researchers, heads of associations, doctors, engineers and writers, from different Arab, Islamic and Western countries.

International Campaign to demand Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration has been officially launched in London on January 19 during an academic conference organized by the Palestinian Return Center.

The campaign aims to collect one million signatures within five years to be submitted to the British government to demand it to apologize to the Palestinian people for the Balfour Declaration.

Balfour’s Apartheid Legacy ~ by Stuart Littlewood

By Stuart Littlewood | 5 November 2011 | Redress

Stuart Littlewood charts the British lies and duplicity, manifested most blatantly in the Balfour Declaration whereby Britain promised to give something it did not own (Palestine) to someone who had no right to have (the Zionist settlers), and the resulting bloodshed, pain and injustice.

Arthur Balfour​‘s infamous “Declaration” was written 94 years ago this week. Palestinians, of course, don’t need reminding.

And to mark the anniversary Israel ordered its warships to carry out yet another act of piracyon peaceful, innocent shipping carrying humanitarian relief to the imprisoned people of Gaza.

British duplicity

Let’s cast out minds back – Stephen Ostrander’s simple verse cuts through all the rhetoric to the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For centuries long
our land enslaved
by Turkish kings
with sharpened blade.

We prayed to end
the Sultan’s curse,
the British came
and spoke a verse.

“It’s World War One,
if you agree
to fight with us
we’ll set you free.”

The war we fought
at Britain’s side,
our blood was shed
for Arab pride.

At war’s end
Turks were smitten,
our only gain,
the lies of Britain.

The country called Palestine was “liberated” from Turkish Ottoman rule after the Allied powers, in correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon and Sharif Hussein ibn Ali of Mecca in 1915, promised Arab leaders independence in return for their help in defeating Germany’s ally.

“In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad…”Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, 1916-19

However a Jewish political movement, Zionism, was finding favour among the ruling élite in London, and the British government was persuaded by the Zionists’ chief spokesman, Chaim Weizmann​, to surrender Palestine for their new Jewish homeland. Hardly a thought, it seems, was given to the earlier pledge to the Arabs, who had occupied and owned the land for 1,500 years – longer than the ancient Jews ever did.

The Zionists, inflated by the notion that an ancient Biblical prophecy gave them the title deeds, planned to push the Arabs out by bringing in millions of Eastern European Jews. They had already set up farm communities and founded a new city, Tel Aviv, but by 1914 Jews numbered only 85,000 to the Arabs’ 615,000.

Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration of 1917​ – actually a letter from the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to the most senior Jew in England, Lord Rothschild – pledged assistance for the Zionist cause, ignoring the consequences to the native majority.

Calling itself a “declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations”, it said:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing and non-Jewish communities…

Balfour, an ardent Zionist, wrote:

In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land.

He later wrote the introduction to a book published in 1919, History of Zionism 1600-1919 by Nahum Sokolow, in which he said: “Conversations I held with Mr Weizmann in January 1906 convinced me that history could not thus be ignored, and that if a home was to be found for the Jewish people, homeless now for nearly nineteen hundred years, it was vain to seek it anywhere but in Palestine.”

Some opposed the idea. Lord Sydenham​ warned:

The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country may never be remedied. What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend.

The American King-Crane Commission of 1919 thought it a gross violation of principle. “No British officers consulted by the commissioners believed that the Zionist programme could be carried out except by force of arms. That, of itself, is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist programme.”

And the scheme was heading for serious trouble for another reason. A secret deal, called the Sykes-Picot Agreement, had been concluded in 1916 between France and Britain, in consultation with Russia, to re-draw the map of the Middle Eastern territories won from Turkey. Britain was to take Jordan, Iraq and Haifa. The area now referred to as Palestine was declared an international zone.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration and the promises made earlier in the McMahon-Hussein letters all cut across each other. Was it really a case of the left hand not knowing what the right was doing in the confusion of war?

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 Lenin released a copy of the confidential Sykes-Picot Agreement into the public domain, sowing seeds of distrust among the Arabs. The unfolding story, from the start, had all the makings of a major tragedy. Subsequent crimes – on both sides – flow from this triple-cross.

Apartheid and occupation: “in practice there is little difference”

At Cambridge Arthur Balfour read moral sciences, but much good it did the poor Palestinian Arabs he helped dispossess.

Described as born lazy, aloof and having an attitude problem, he was convinced of his personal superiority and wished to keep the vulgar world at arm’s length. Balfour famously said: “Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all.”

He was said to be a man who would make almost any sacrifice to remain in office. In this case, he sacrificed the Arab homeland. In 1922 the League of Nations put Palestine under British mandate, which incorporated the principles of the Balfour’s Declaration.

How have things turned out?

John Dugard​, a professor of international law and former Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, explains@@ on Aljazeera the differences and similarities between apartheid South Africa and apartheid Israel.

Of course, the regimes of apartheid and occupation are different. Apartheid South Africa was a state that practised discrimination against its own people. It sought to fragment the country into white South Africa and black bantustans. Its security laws were used to brutally suppress opposition to apartheid. Israel, on the other hand, is an occupying power that controls a foreign territory and its people under a regime recognized by international law – belligerent occupation.

However, in practice, there is little difference. Both regimes were/are characterized by discrimination, repression and territorial fragmentation (that is, land seizures).

Israel discriminates against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in favour of half a million Israeli settlers. Its restrictions on freedom of movement, manifested in countless humiliating checkpoints, resemble the “pass laws” of apartheid. Its destruction of Palestinian homes resembles the destruction of homes belonging to blacks under apartheid’s Group Areas Act. The confiscation of Palestinian farms under the pretext of building a security wall brings back similar memories. And so on. Indeed, Israel has gone beyond apartheid South Africa in constructing separate (and unequal) roads for Palestinians and settlers.

Apartheid’s security police practised torture on a large scale. So do the Israeli security forces. There were many political prisoners on Robben Island​ but there are more Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

Apartheid South Africa seized the land of blacks for whites. Israel has seized the land of Palestinians for half a million settlers and for the purposes of constructing a security wall within Palestinian territory – both of which are contrary to international law.

The “running sore” Sydenham warned of has been festering for 94 years, crippling the Middle East and turning the Holy Land into an abomination. Balfour and his clueless pals in the corridors of British power clearly had no idea of the true purpose and base methods of Zionism

(Source / 14.04.2013)

Report: Israel arrested 100 Palestinians last week

images_News_2013_04_14_westbank_300_0[1]RAMALLAH, (PIC)– A Palestinian statistics report said that Israeli occupation forces (IOF) nabbed 100 Palestinian citizens in the West Bank over the past week.

The report published by Hamas on Sunday said that most of those arrested were taken from Al-Khalil governorate where 26 citizens were detained.

It said that the other detainees were taken from Nablus, 17, Qalqilia, 15, Jerusalem, 12, Jenin, 8, Ramallah, 7, Bethlehem, 6, Tulkarem, 5, and Salfit, 4.

The report pointed out that the list included three women, two of whom were mothers of prisoners who were detained during visits to their sons, and five who were released from Palestinian Authority jails.

(Source / 14.04.2013)

No clear frontrunner to replace Fayyad

RAMALLAH (AFP) — Palestinians were on Sunday mulling the prospect of a new prime minister after Salam Fayyad resigned following months of tension with president Mahmoud Abbas.

The resignation of the US-educated economist, who won international acclaim for his state-building efforts, came despite US efforts to head off the crisis, with Secretary of State John Kerry making a personal intervention late on Friday.

It also came just days after Kerry made a fresh push to revive long-dormant peace talks with moves to revive the West Bank economy.

Speaking in Tokyo, Kerry expressed regret over Fayyad’s resignation on Saturday night and urged Abbas to find the right person to take on the tough job and work with Washington.

“Would I prefer that he weren’t leaving? Sure, because you have continuity,” he said, noting Fayyad had “made a huge difference” and expressing hope Abbas would find “the right person to work with him … and to work with us, and establish confidence.”

Abbas accepted Fayyad’s resignation at a brief meeting at the Muqataa presidential compound in Ramallah, but officials said he had asked the 61-year-old to stay on in a caretaker role until a new premier can be appointed.

So far, there is no clear frontrunner to take up the post which has been held by Fayyad since 2007.

Possible successors include Mohammed Mustafa, head of the Palestine Investment Fund, and businessman and former economy minister Mazen Sinokrot who has good relations with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Abbas himself could also take on the role within the framework of a “national unity government” as foreseen by a reconciliation agreement between the Islamist movement Hamas and the president’s Fatah movement.

Rumors that Fayyad would either resign or be told to step down by Abbas have been rife in recent weeks after long-standing differences between the two came to a head over the finance portfolio.

Fayyad, a political independent, had come under increasing criticism as the Palestinian Authority lives through its worst-ever financial crisis, with Fatah openly deriding his economic policies as “confused”.

Long-running tensions between Fayyad and Abbas came to a head six weeks ago over the resignation of finance minister Nabil Qassis, with Fayyad accepting it while Abbas did not.

Fayyad himself was finance minister for five years from 2002, and after being appointed premier in 2007 he continued to hold both portfolios until Qassis took over in May 2012.

He was deeply unpopular with Fatah, with a top official from the party’s Revolutionary Council on Sunday expressing relief at his departure.

“Fatah is relieved over Fayyad’s timely resignation which was inevitable,” said secretary general Amin Maqbul, saying his government had “failed miserably” to steer the economy through the economic crisis.

Commentators said the problem stemmed from the fact that Fayyad did not belong to Fatah.

Abbas’ PA is in the grip of its worst-ever financial crisis due to a shortfall in promised foreign aid and Israel’s withholding of tax monies for several months, although that decision was recently reversed.

On the street, opinion over his resignation was divided.

“I’m against Fayyad’s resignation because I consider him to be one of the best economists, and the Palestinian government has lost him,” said 23-year-old Raed al-Khatib from Ramallah.

“The economic crisis is not just about the Palestinian people, everyone is suffering, even the Europeans.”

Others said it was a chance to bring in a new face.

“I’m optimistic,” said 53-year-old Mohammed Amin from Jerusalem. “People here are tired and are suffocating (from the crisis) and, God willing, the next person will bring people some economic relief.”

Although there was no comment from Israel, Haaretz newspaper said senior political figures “expressed much regret” over Fayyad’s departure.

“Without Fayyad guarding the public coffers, it’s not certain that the countries currently providing the Palestinian Authority with aid will continue to do so,” it said.

(Source / 14.04.2013)