Syrian opposition agrees to include more Kurds


Members of the Committees for the Protection of Kurdish People in the northeastern province of Hasakeh, August 30, 2013.

Members of the Committees for the Protection of Kurdish People in the northeastern province of Hasakeh, August 30, 2013.
Members of the Committees for the Protection of Kurdish People in the northeastern province of Hasakeh, August 30, 2013.

Members of the Committees for the Protection of Kurdish People in the northeastern province of Hasakeh, August 30, 2013.
Members of rebel brigades flash the sign of victory from the top of a tank on September 13, 2013 at a former military academy north of Aleppo.

Members of rebel brigades flash the sign of victory from the top of a tank on September 13, 2013 at a former military academy north of Aleppo.

AFP – Syria’s Kurds reached an agreement with the main opposition coalition to include more members from the minority in the body, the Kurdish National Council and the opposition said Monday.

The deal reached between the KNC came after months of stalling, as the Syrian National Coalition’s general assembly meeting came to a close.

“The National Coalition and the Kurdish National Council voted in an agreement on Sunday, that will bring in more Kurdish members,” Coalition spokesman Louay Safi told AFP.

“We think it’s important because it builds trust. We want Syria to be a country where equality and political rights are guaranteed for all,” said Safi.

Leading KNC member Bahzad Ibrahim confirmed the Coalition’s general assembly in Istanbul had voted to ratify the deal.

Ibrahim said the agreement will bring more Kurdish members into the SNC, but added that no decision had been reached on how many new Kurdish members the Coalition will have.

But Ibrahim described the vote as “a step forward towards guaranteeing that Syria will be more inclusive and that the opposition can better represent the Kurds.”

The agreement ratified by vote said the “national identity” of Syria’s Kurds would be recognised by the opposition, said Ibrahim.

Though Syria’s Kurds have long been marginalised and oppressed by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, they have also been at odds with the opposition.

Frequent, fierce battles have erupted in majority Kurdish areas in northern Syria, mainly pitting Kurdish fighters against Islamist militants over whom the opposition Coalition has no control.

“While some Coalition members resisted it, the agreement is a step in the right direction. Now the KNC can deal directly with the (mainstream rebel) Supreme Military Command,” said Kurdish Syrian activist Havidar.

“That might mean that better military cooperation between Kurds and non-Kurd rebels” fighting the Assad regime, Havidar added.

While the KNC includes a broad spectrum of Kurdish parties, it excludes the most powerful, the Democratic Party Union, whose fighters control many Kurdish towns and neighbourhoods in northern Syria.

For his part, Safi stressed that “this is not a legal document. It is a political agreement that demonstrates goodwill.”

He added that the country’s official name, the Syrian Arab Republic, remains unchanged for now, though the Kurds have been lobbying for it to be changed to the Syrian Republic.

“The Syrian people will decide on how their state is run after Assad’s regime falls,” Safi said.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

US equipment is being used to detect and demolish Gaza tunnels

US Corps of Engineers

Cooperation between Egypt and the US Corps of Engineers started in 2007 but the tunnel-detection programme was stopped when President Mohamed Morsi took office

Intelligence sources have revealed that the US Corps of Engineers has given a $10 million contract to Raytheon Technologies Company to detect the tunnels underneath the Egypt-Palestine border. The tunnels have been used to import essential goods to the besieged Gaza Strip and are now being destroyed by Egypt’s coup government.

Cooperation between Egypt and the US Corps of Engineers started in 2007 but the tunnel-detection programme was stopped when President Mohamed Morsi took office. “When Egypt’s military regime, which opposes the Hamas-led government in Gaza, ousted Morsi the deal with the Americans was revived,” said the sources.

In 2008, they added, the US supplied the Egyptians with equipment worth $23 million to detect the tunnels, including sensors and remote control vehicles, drilling machines and infrared cameras.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Palestinian girl last had a hug from her imprisoned dad 10 years ago

“I don’t want to grow up without him,” says Zeina, 12, a Palestinian girl from the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of eastern occupied Jerusalem, whose dad has been jailed since she was a baby.

Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI) has released this brief video in which Zeina speaks of her longing to be reunited with her father who is serving a 20-year sentence.

“A big void in my heart”

Zeina’s story highlights the plight of Palestinian children growing up without parents because Israel jails thousands of Palestinian political prisoners who are tried in military courts without due process and frequently based on “secret evidence.”

In the video, Zeina says how a large plot of land was confiscated for the construction of apartments for Israeli settlers: “So my dad and some guys from Silwan put up tents and protested. So the police took them all away and against the wishes of the residents of Ras al-Amud the settlement was built.”

Although he is not there, Zeina makes her father a part of her everyday life. Every morning she wakes up to a framed photo of him. She is learning to play the oud at the Palestinian National Conservatory of Music — an instrument her father loves — and the family holds a celebration on his birthday.

But Zeina says that “because dad is not at home and I can’t see him, I feel like something is missing. He has to be there to take care of me so that I can feel stronger and more secure. I feel that there’s a big void in my heart.”

Rare, brief visits to her dad make her feel happy because she is going to see him and sad because he does not leave the prison with her afterwards.

Zeina dreams that her dad will come out of prison when she is still a young girl so that “he can play with me and help me with school. He has never carried me or held my hand or taken me to places. I want him to hold my hand as he walks me to school.”

When Zeina was four years old, a child psychologist asked her to make a drawing from her imagination. She drew a giraffe next to a prison wall. “The giraffe has a long neck and she can reach above the prison wall, check up on my dad and come back and tell me that he is all right,” Zeina explains.

Physical contact denied for 10 years

In response to my request for more information about Zeina’s visits to her father, DCI’s Ayed Abu Eqtaish wrote me that Zeina used to visit her father twice a month for 45 minutes.

Zeina has to talk with her father via a telephone because a glass partition separates them. However, since his transfer to Naqab prison two weeks ago, Zeina can now visit her father only once a month for 45 minutes.

Eqtaish added that the last time when Zeina was allowed to be have physical contact with her father was ten years ago when she was aged two.

Meanwhile the number of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons this year rose from 4,743 in January to 5,071 in August. The number of administrative detainees decreased from 178 to 134.

The number of children detained by Israel increased by two to 195, and the number of detained women increased by three to 13, according to prisoners rights organization Addameer.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Pentagon wins big on F-35 deal with the Netherlands

U.S. officials with the controversial Joint Strike Fighter program racked up a big international win on Tuesday, when the Netherlands picked the American warplane as its next fighter jet.

Amsterdam announced the deal to replace the 37 F-16 fighters with an estimated price tag of $6 billion, according to a statement from Amsterdam.

“After comparing the candidates . . .  and updating the relevant information in 2013, the government has decided, on operational, financial and economic grounds, to select the F-35 as the new fighter aircraft for the Netherlands armed forces,” Dutch government officials said Monday.

The first F-35 fighters configured for Dutch military will begin entering service in 2019, according to the government statement.

That will coincide with final retirements of the country’s F-16 fleet, which is expected to be complete by mid-2020.

Monday’s selection comes after two separate reviews of potential fighter jet options by Dutch military leaders in 2001 and 2008.

After those reviews, Amsterdam found the F-35 to be the “best able to deal with the proliferation of mobile air defence systems and offers vastly improved observation capabilities, which are of great value in any type of mission.”

Finalizing the Netherlands deal comes at a critical time for the F-35 program, which has suffered multiple setbacks on the domestic and international side.

Last May, Australia opted to delay its planned F-35 purchases by two years, citing increased costs and schedule delays in the jet’s development.

The decision to hold off on the anticipated 70-plane purchase will save Canberra $1.6 billion over the next four years, according to reports at the time.

In December of that year, Canada announced plans to restart its fighter competition, after a government investigation found military leaders in the country had misled decision makers in Ottawa on the jet’s costs and capabilities.

Canada and Australia were part of the nine-country coalition who planned to buy mass quantities of the futuristic fighter jet.

The U.S. portion of the F-35 program has recently run into significant hurdles as well.

Pentagon officials in March ordered the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps versions of the plane grounded, after the turbine cracks were uncovered aboard an Air Force version of the jet stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

While the issues were resolved by JSF contractor Pratt & Whitney and the jet was put back on flight status, the warplane’s extreme cost and schedule delays have made it a target for fiscal hawks on Capitol Hill.

Defense analysts argue cancelling the F-35, along with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship and Marine Corps V-22 Osprey, could help the Pentagon cope with severe budget cuts under the White House’s sequestration plan.

The Defense Department is facing $500 billion in spending cuts mandated by the sequester over the next decade. The cuts began in March, and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Tunisia Government Accused of Stifling Press Freedom

"Freedom of Expression is a Red Line" From the National Association of Young Journalists

“Freedom of Expression is a Red Line” From the National Association of Young Journalists

Today’s journalist’s strike in Tunisia comes as media members continue to express concerns over what they consider government efforts to limit press freedoms.

Many of these concerns have persisted since the formation of the government in 2011. These include arrests of journalists, allegations of bias in government appointments to state media outlets, and accusations that laws protecting media freedom are not properly enforced.

Today’s walk-out is not the first to be called by Tunisian journalists over such issues. Last October, they went on strike after a dispute between the government and employees of the state-owned Assabah newspaper regarding the appointment of Lotfi Touati as its head. Employees accused the government of trying to exert control over the media.

Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh criticized the strike in a statement released on Sunday, asserting it was being held for political purposes unrelated to the union’s affairs or freedom of expression.

Arrests of Journalists

The current strike is most directly related to legal actions taken against journalists, specifically the recent detentions of journalist Zied el-Heni and cameraman Mourad Mehrezi.

After filming an activist throwing an egg at the minister of culture in August, Mehrezi was charged with assaulting an official, public intoxication, defamation, and offending public morals according to Ayoub Ghedamsi, his lawyer. He was detained for over two weeks.

El-Heni was detained for three days after asserting that the prosecution fabricated evidence against Mehrezi. El-Heni told Human Rights Watch he is charged with accusing a public official without proof after he said the prosecution used “false evidence to detain” Mehrezi.

While both men have been released, they still face charges and will have to appear in court.

Tahar Ben Hassine, the director of the el-Hiwar Ettounsi television station, was detained and interrogated earlier this month after being accused of conspiring against the state and calling for civil disobedience during broadcasts on the channel this year. He faces charges of attacking and assaulting the head of state, conspiring against Tunisia’s internal security, and incitement to revolt against the state.

These are only the most recent incidents of perceived official interference with media outlets criticizing the government.

In April, BBC Arabic reporter Mekki Helal alleged that a member of president Moncef Marzouki’s office demanded an apology and threatened to sue him after a report accused the staff of abandoning the president and profiting from their positions.

In May, some members of the National Constituent Assembly proposed creating a commission to monitor journalists who insult or defame NCA members.

Blogger Olfa Riahi was placed under a travel ban in January after leaking potentially damaging information about former minister of foreign affairs. Nizar Bahloul, director of the Business News website, was given a four-month sentence for allegedly defaming a former Tunisian ambassador.

In January, Nejiba Hamrouni, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), called these actions attempts “to suppress and terrorize journalists, so that they will impose on themselves self-censorship and will write according to the government’s expectations.”

The ruling Ennahdha party issued a statement Monday asserting that it has no connection with these legal actions involving journalists.

The statement claimed an “absence of any link whatsoever between Ennahdha Party and any judicial decision or action.”

Ennahdha also expressed a commitment to press freedom and called for a “national dialogue on the reform of the legal framework regulating the freedom of expression and publication.”

The statement also called for developing “greater freedoms and rights for journalists” and as well as legal protections to “definitively repeal prison sentences” against them.

The office of President Moncef Marzouki issued a statement Monday calling freedom of expression a “sacred principle,” but also asserting that “no profession or individual is above the law.” While seemingly open to legal action against journalists, the statement said “infringements in the media sector should be dealt with as part of civil proceedings, not criminal proceedings.”

The presidency also said legislation regulating journalism should conform to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the new Tunisian constitution once it is approved.

Delayed Enforcement of Press Freedom Decrees 

Criticism has also been directed at the government’s handling of two decrees issued after the revolution concerning press freedom.

Decree 115 represents a new legal framework governing journalism. It prohibits restrictions on the freedom to disseminate information and protects journalists’ sources. It also abolishes prison sentences for defamation.

Decree 116 provides for the creation of an independent authority to guarantee the freedom of audiovisual communication and issue radio and television licenses.
On Monday, Ennahdha called to “develop the content of Decree 115 towards greater freedoms and rights for journalists and definitively repeal prison sentences” against them.

After the October journalists’ strike, the government pledged to implement these decrees but there were still delays.

Decree 116 was not fully put into effect until May of this year, when membership of the High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (known by its French acronym HAICA) was finalized after months of conflict and negotiations. HAICA is intended to independently oversee and regulate Tunisian broadcast media.

Allegations of Bias in Government Appointments

Since its creation, the HAICA has criticized the government for appointing individuals to run broadcast media outlets that it says are biased in favor of the ruling Ennahdha party.

In August, HAICA asked the government to reconsider a number of appointments. It specifically accused Mohamed Meddeb, who directs all such stations, of having pro-Ennahdha basis and inappropriately interfering in the editorial lines of Tunisian broadcast media outlets.

Meddeb asked journalists on previous occasions to “refrain from covering unauthorized demonstrations and events that can pertain to the security of the country,” according to an August 15 HAICA statement.

Violence and Threats Against Journalists

There have also been concerns about violence against members of the media and accusations by journalists that the government was not doing all it could to prevent such acts.

The Tunis Center for Press Freedom issued a report in January containing allegations that journalists had been physically attacked during the course of their work. It stated that television channel El-Hiwar Attounsi was the most frequently attacked due to its perceived anti-government perspective. The report accused some of the aggressors of being government employees.

The same organization reported that attacks and threats against journalists increased in February following the assassination of opposition political leader Chokri Belaid. The report accused demonstrations organized by the government of featuring anti-journalist slogans and said members of the media had been harmed when security forces attacked demonstrations.

The SNJT and two international journalists’ unions accused the government of culpability for a physical assault on Zied el-Heni in January. The perpetrators allegedly identified themselves as being affiliated with the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, a controversial organization that has been accused of using violence and intimidation to support political goals of the ruling Ennahdha party. The SNJT accused Ennahdha of supporting these “militias” and said that if they did not react strongly they would be complicit in these violent acts.

The same report also claimed that radio transmissions had been jammed following Belaid’s death, and accused the National Bureau of Broadcasting Cooperation for these interruptions.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan have children too, and they are being killed by our drones

The death of a child — any child — is always painful and shocking. The awful gassing of children in Syria breaks the heart and tortures the soul. We all should and must speak up about this outrage.

But the deaths of 178 Pakistani children by American drones must also be acknowledged. We must put an end to killing children in the name of security.

As National Security Advisor Susan Rice has said, “Nations cannot unleash the world’s most horrific weapons against innocent civilians, especially children.” She was talking about chemical weapons, but “death by drone” is equally horrific.

Take one look at the photos of children killed by our drones,provided to me by Noor Beham when I made a trip to Pakistan last year, for graphic confirmation.

According to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, “These weapons kill in the most gruesome possible way. They kill indiscriminately. They are incapable of distinguishing between a child and a rebel.” Again, the quote refers to chemical weapons, but replace “rebel” with “militant” and she could be talking about drones. Whether Syrian or Pakistani, children should not be victims of war.

As the administration calls attention to the terrible killing of children in Syria, I call upon them to acknowledge the killing of children by US drones, and to immediately halt our drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Under lockdown, Palestinians in Gaza fear the worst


Egypt’s military regime is serving up more of the same for Gazans: demonisation, harassment and deportation.

Palestinians are regularly harassed at Eqypt’s airports and border crossings
It has been widely reported that the Palestinian Authority (PA), bereft of a mandate in the West Bank, has succumbed to the pressure from the US administration insisting it return to negotiations. However, little has been said of the PA’s counterpart in Gaza. Also lacking a mandate, Hamas has felt the pressure of the Egyptian political turmoil that stripped it of what some had viewed as an ally in the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

But even less has been said of the ordinary Palestinian women, men and children trapped in Gaza with all links to the outside world effectively sealed. Worse, Gazans have become the target of a campaign of demonisation at a level unseen in Egypt’s contemporary past, culminating in the widespread “accusation” [Ar.] that former President Mohamed Morsi is a Palestinian. But how did this come about?

The Mubarak regime’s policy towards Gaza was generally repressive. It participated in Israel’s draconian siege of the enclave, underway since 2006. Gazans cannot forget the sight of former Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit standing next to his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni when, while visiting Cairo, she declared war on the Strip in 2008.

New hope with Morsi’s election

The transitional rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power after Mubarak’s downfall did not lift the siege on Gaza nor changed the Egyptian political approach towards it. When Morsi was elected, many Palestinians had high hopes that a democratically-elected president would end the blockade on the Gaza Strip and revisit the Camp David Accords.

There is no question that the Egyptian people as a whole remain passionately committed to Palestine and its people, despite the best efforts of the feloul.

Yet once in power, it became apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood lacked a clear political vision. On the home front, they failed to make even limited progress in realising the demands of the January 25 revolution. The economy nearly collapsed and security worsened. Radical Islamist Takfiri groups increased their hold in the Sinai and Israel appears to freely wander through the area.

The Brotherhood’s slogans against Israel and the United States disappeared after they came to power and instead it adopted a position well to the right of the political spectrum, with a commitment to international agreements, a special relationship with the US, and loans from the International Monetary Fund.

As for Israel, Morsi sent a very friendly letter to President Shimon Peres describing him as a “dear and great friend”, and expressing his “strong desire to maintain and strengthen the cordial relations” – this while almost all the tunnels to Gaza were being shut down and the Rafah Crossing functioned at a snail’s pace.

The Morsi presidency took credit for brokering a ceasefire agreement to end the short, violent conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions in November 2012, that killed more than 160 Palestinians, mostly civilians. But it did not hold Israel to its commitments, which included lifting the blockade against Gaza. The Palestinian leadership in Gaza was bitterly disappointed because it felt it had successfully stood its ground against the Israeli onslaught and had expected political gains as a result.

Same old policy

Instead, Morsi cashed in on his “victorious” mediator role to further his goals at home.  Just three days after the war on Gaza ended he issued his notorious Constitutional Declaration giving himself powers unprecedented in Egyptian modern history.

In short, the Brotherhood continued Mubarak’s policy towards the Palestinian cause and especially towards Gaza. It never dared to challenge what human rights organizations and the United Nations have condemned as collective punishment, even though it takes place on Egypt’s border.

The Egyptian military regime, in power since July 3 is now demonising everything Palestinian. The Gaza Strip faces a far harsher blockade affecting all the crossings and the destruction of the tunnels. An unprecedented incitement campaign is underway in several Egyptian media outlets, especially those financed by businessmen affiliated with the Mubarak regime and some Gulf countries hostile to the January 25 revolution. Palestinians are regularly excoriated on Egyptian TV. In the Arab media, some commentators are gleeful over the fate awaiting Gaza’s Palestinians while others assert that Hamas is meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs and call on the Egyptian Army to launch a military attack against the Gaza Strip.

Demonising Palestinians

The Palestinians, being the weakest link in the Arab chain, have once again become the target of the Egyptian authorities’ security complex. They are regularly harassed and deported at Egyptian airports and crossings, even if they are simply transiting to and from Gaza.

This chauvinistic campaign to hold Gaza responsible for most of Egypt’s ills – from the fuel shortages to terrorism in the Sinai – serves the feloul (remnants) of Mubarak’s regime, who are now in full resurgence.

No evidence has been found of Palestinian involvement in Egypt, including the Sinai. Even if there had been, the collective punishment the Egyptian authorities are applying against the Palestinians of Gaza violates international law. Notice that Egypt never imposed any restraints on Israelis visiting Egypt despite, for example, the killing of five Egyptian soldiers in an Israeli airstrike in 2011.

There is no question that the Egyptian people as a whole remain passionately committed to Palestine and its people, despite the best efforts of the feloul. Several intellectuals and politicians have publicly protested the media campaign targeting the Palestinian people.

We seek an Egypt that is pluralistic and democratic with full sovereignty over its territory, an Egypt that honours the principles for which so many laid down their lives in the 2011 revolution and that does not scapegoat its Palestinian brethren in Gaza.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Russia FM: West manipulates Syria deal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Western governments of “rewriting” the Geneva agreement on Syrian chemical disarmament after they called for a speedy UN resolution which would permit military action if the Assad government broke its word.

Lavrov said on Monday that Britain and France are trying to toughen up the ambiguous wording of the agreement on Syrian disarmament which he reached with his American counterpart John Kerry in Geneva at the weekend.

According to the interpretation of the deal, there could be no immediate punitive action under Chapter Seven of the UN charter if Damascus failed to comply. A second resolution would be needed.

He added that the plan that Russia agreed to follow did not involve any automatic use of military force against Syria unless sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

Lavrov stressed that the exact details of the terms for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile are yet to be determined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), while the future UNSC resolution is to endorse the decision of that organization rather than enforce particular terms on its own. This is part of the agreement the US and Russia reached, he said.

The destruction of the stockpiles would be the responsibility of the Syrian government and the CWC, the Russian minister pointed out, but international community may be required to provide “additional international personnel” to provide security at the sites where the weapons would be scrapped.

Lavrov said it may be time for the West to force the Syrian opposition to attend the planned Geneva conference. He was speaking in Moscow after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

The US threatened to use military force against the Syrian government over the alleged use of chemical weapons near Damasucs in August. The threats came after years of support of militants in Syria by Washington and its allies.

Syria denies having any role in the suspected sarin attack, saying it was a provocation of the opposition militants aimed at securing US military help.

Russia brokered a deal with Syria, under which it applied for membership in the CWC. Joining the international organization involves destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal.

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Palestinian family trapped in home as blaze raged in Israeli chemical plant

Smoke billows from an Israeli industrial park on 13 September, several days after a major fire.

Small flames were still burning and smoke was blowing into the downwind neighborhood ten days after a massive explosion in an illegal Israeli industrial area on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Tulkarem in the occupied West Bank.

According to the Arabic-language al-Fajer TV News, the explosion took place around 11pm on Thursday, 5 September and the fire broke out at a nylon factory. Israeli occupation forces fired tear gas canisters on local youth that gathered at a junction near the factory.

Cell phone videos and photos captured by local residents show that flames ranged between 10 and 15 meters in height.

“They [Israeli firefighters] only put out the fire that was edging towards other Israeli factories,” Abdelhadi Salman, whose three-story home sits on the street in front of the factory, told The Electronic Intifada.

Gesturing to a completely charred and blackened plot of farmland in front of the factory, Salman said that the fire that had spread to Palestinian land was not extinguished until Palestinian firefighters were allowed to approach the scene much later.

“We would have died”

Eyad al-Jallad lives approximately 100 meters from the factory.

“When people came outside after hearing the explosion to see what was happening, soldiers attacked them with tear gas,” al-Jallad said. “With the smoke and the tear gas everywhere, we had to stay inside and seal the windows.”

Because Israeli soldiers were blocking the junction in front of their house, al-Jallad’s family was trapped inside. “If the fire had spread any further and caught my house on fire, we would have died,” he added.

The industrial area, known as Nitzanei Shalom, is located close to Israel’s wall in the West Bank and is built on confiscated Palestinian land. The 12 factories located there fall withinArea C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control as a result of theOslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s.

The first factories were moved to the area in the 1980s following public outcry against pollution in cities inside present-day Israel.

One of the factories is run by Geshuri Industries, a pesticides and fertilizer manufacturer that was originally located in Kfar Saba, a city in the Central District of Israel. That location closed as a result of a 1982 Israeli court order.

Another firm, Dixon Gas Company, moved to Tulkarem after being ordered to close its location in Netanya, a city in Israel some 15 kilometers away.

Constant pollution

Giving an example of the practices of the factories, al-Jallad said: “When they clean the gas pipes, they leave them open in our direction. Everyone here is suffering from these factories. This is not the first time there was a fire — it’s the third. But this one was the worst so far.”

“After these fires, no one comes to clean up,” al-Jallad added.

The constant pollution has also damaged local farmland, as documented on video by the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq.

“We used to be able to plant on our farmland three times a year, but now we are only able to do it once a year and we have to use unnatural amounts of fertilizers,” al-Jallad said. “Look at the land: it’s just dry dirt now. We can hardly use it.”

report published in 2007 by a joint project between the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem and the Land Research Center confirms that “the wastewater flowing from these factories is a major element contributing to the depletion of the fertile soil and plants.”

“Factories of death”

Another nearby resident, Suheil Salman, told The Electronic Intifada that “local businesses, landlords and farmers are struggling. The fumes and the waste from the factories are killing us. We call them ‘factories of death.’”

All of the local residents interviewed by The Electronic Intifada blamed the chemical factories for Tulkarem’s elevated cancer rates and other illnesses, most of which are respiratory conditions.

They also said that the factories are always closed for the day when the wind blows in the direction of the Israeli side of the West Bank wall.

A 2003 study conducted by An-Najah University in Nablus concludes that Tulkarem has the highest rates of lung cancer in the West Bank due to fumes from the industrial area. It states that the areas most affected by lung cancer were Jenin and Tulkarem (“Lung cancer and associated risk factors in the West Bank,” June 2003 [PDF]).

Despite both the suggestive evidence and the firm belief of residents that the chemical factories are taking a serious toll on the health of Palestinians in Tulkarem, there is little to no reliable research examining the relationship between pollution from the industrial zone and increased rates of cancer and other illnesses.

Suheil Salman said, “We all get respiratory inflammation, pneumonia, inflammation in our eyes. Most of the people who lived in the area moved out. Many people have been diagnosed with cancer in recent years.”

On the night of the fire, Fulla, who lives in a nearby neighborhood, had to close the windows and the air conditioner so that her family could sleep. “My brother has asthma … my mother had swollen and teary eyes, and my sister was coughing badly,” Fulla, who asked that her full name not be used, said.

“We’ve been suffering from these factories for as long as I can remember,” she said, adding that her father died of lung cancer in 2010. “The doctors used to always ask him if he lived near the Geshuri factories.”

Israel’s ongoing occupation has resulted in a slew of environmental abuses.

Ubiquitous military installations, illegal Jewish-only settlements and major corporations operating in East Jerusalem and the wider West Bank have left a permanent ecological footprint on the landscape by damaging and stealing Palestinian natural resources — primarily water and land. Israeli settlers regularly attack Palestinian farmers and set ablaze entire orchards of olive trees.

According to an audit conducted by Israel’s Ministry of Industry between 2006 and 2010, in the West Bank there approximately 20 industrial zones under Israeli administration. Regarding these industrial zones, the state comptroller noted a “continued failure for years of the lack of substantial supervision and enforcement in the field of safety and hygiene in Israeli factories in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank], which has to point to ongoing disregard for human life.”

“Your problem — you deal with it”

“Successive Israeli governments have provided incentives to Israeli businesses to start operations beyond the Green Line,” Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq, told The Electronic Intifada, referring to the armistice line marking the boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank.

“Such incentives may include financial benefits such as tax cuts and subsidized water,” Jabarin added. “Although Israel has extended its civil laws and jurisdiction to all settlements … rarely are they held accountable for violations of the obligations incumbent on them.”

Palestinian laborers who work in Israeli businesses in the West Bank are not entitled to minimum wage or permitted membership in Hisdarut, Israel’s official labor union — although they are obliged to pay membership dues.

Tulkarem’s chemical factories are no exception. Corporate Occupation, a project that tracks corporate complicity in Israel’s occupation, published an interview with two Palestinian workers from Nitzanei Shalom in 2010. Ahmad and Rashid stated that Palestinian trade unions have not been allowed access to the area since 2008 (“The buds of peace?”).

Between 2002 and 2008, Rashid told Corporate Occupation, “three workers have died — in 2000, 2002 and 2008 from burns sustained from gas-related fires at the factory.”

According to Al-Haq’s Jabarin, “International law clearly prohibits Israel, as an occupying power, from appropriating land located in the West Bank. Israel is also prohibited from constructing infrastructure that primarily benefits its own economy.”

Jabarin also added that Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of Palestinians and to ensure “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living.”

Yet several attempts to challenge the chemical factories have so far proved fruitless.

“Whenever we try to have the factories closed down, the answer is always the same: [the pollution] is only on Palestinian land — your problem, you deal with it,” said Fulla.

“We’ve taken the issue to the [Israeli] courts, we’ve had demonstrations, we’ve tried to raise awareness. There’s no hope because they think Palestinian lives are worth less than theirs.”

(Source / 17.09.2013)

Israeli forces detain 2 young men in Beit Ummar

HEBRON (Ma’an) – Israeli forces raided the southern West Bank town of Beit Ummar in the Hebronarea early on Tuesday morning and detained two young men, a local spokesman said.

Muhammad Ayyad Awad, a spokesman of the local Beit Ummar committee against settlements, told Ma’an that Israeli troops ransacked the home of Yousif Hasan Ikhlayyil and detained his son Aktham, 21.

Awad highlighted that Aktham had served four years in Israeli custody. His brother Ahmad had served four and a half years and had been detained again seven months ago without trial.

Separately, Israeli forces raided the home of Hisham Abu Mariyya and detained his 17-year-old son Zein.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed seven arrests across the occupied West Bank including two in Beit Ummar.

(Source / 17.09.2013)