Tortured, starved and locked up in the dark… heroic British doctor held by Assad’s thugs

 

  • Dr Abbas Khan, from South London, vanished on a mercy mission to Syria
  • Tracked down by distraught mother Fatima who travelled to Damascus
  • ‘He was like a skeleton and could barely walk,’ she says
'Forgotten': Dr Abbas Khan, pictured with son Abdullah, disappeared a year ago on a humanitarian mission to Syria‘Forgotten’: Dr Abbas Khan, pictured with son Abdullah, disappeared a year ago on a humanitarian mission to Syria

A British doctor who disappeared a year ago on a humanitarian mission to Syria has been tortured in a notorious military prison – and was only found after his mother spent months in the war-torn country trying to locate him.

Dr Abbas Khan, 31, an orthopaedic surgeon, was systematically beaten by interrogators and held for eight months in darkness in an underground cell.

At one point his weight dropped to just under five stone.

Married with two young children – six year-old son Abdullah and daughter Rurayya, seven – he was arrested on November 22 after crossing the Syrian border without a visa and treating wounded civilians in a field hospital in a rebel-held district of Aleppo.

For months his fate remained unclear, his plight seemingly forgotten, but his mother succeeded where diplomats and politicians failed, and managed to track him down after travelling to Damascus alone.

Speaking from the Syrian capital on her mobile phone, Fatima Khan said: ‘He was like a skeleton and could barely walk.

‘He told me that he had been through eight months of hell and at times had simply wanted to die. He was getting trouble from both sides.

‘As well as the guards, other prisoners turned on him just because he is British. He told them that he was there to help their mothers and children.’

Mrs Khan, 57, from Mitcham, South-West London, arrived in Damascus in July and has remained there, on her own, ever since, vowing not to return to Britain until her son is released.

Search: He was tracked down by his mother Fatima and is now being held at Adra Prison in DamascusSearch: He was tracked down by his mother Fatima and is now being held at Adra Prison in Damascus

Demonstrating unshakeable determination and driven by what she calls ‘a mother’s love’, she persuaded officials to transfer Dr Khan from Far’ Falastin detention centre just outside Damascus to another jail.

He is now being well treated and she is able to visit him once a week.

‘When I first saw him he was in tears and hugged me,’ she said. ‘He was saying, “Please Mum, please take me home.” ’

Mrs Khan is reluctant to discuss her son’s incarceration in Far’ Falastin in any depth for fear of inflaming an already highly fraught situation.

But Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said yesterday: ‘Conditions in Far’ Falastin have been notorious for years, with detainees often squeezed into rat and lice-infested underground cells known as “tombs” by the guards.

‘The CIA used to send people there as part of its infamous rendition programme. Torture is commonplace. It’s the last place you’d want to end up if you were caught by the authorities in Syria.’

Close: Abbas, right, in teenage years with his mother, now 57, and brother AfrozeClose: Dr Khan, from Stretham, South London, right, in teenage years with his mother and brother Afroze

Back in Britain, Mrs Khan’s other two sons and two daughters have worked ceaselessly behind the scenes to try to secure their brother’s release.

One of the politicians they sought help from was Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, who went to the same school as Dr Khan in Tooting, South-West London.

‘The bravery and determination of Dr Khan’s mother, who has been in Syria searching for her son these last four months, is incredibly moving,’ said the MP.

‘It is a huge relief that she has found her son alive but questions must be raised as to why this couldn’t have been achieved by our Government.

‘I hope the Government will now make a renewed effort to use all diplomatic options available to secure Dr Khan’s release. I will also be raising this matter with the Foreign Secretary again.’

The Foreign Office has no consular relations with Syria, and this has severely impeded its efforts to make progress through diplomatic channels.

‘He told me that he had been through eight months of hell and at times had simply wanted to die’

– Fatima Khan

Syrian Ministry of Justice officials in Damascus have told Mrs Khan that her son was detained because he entered the country illegally and helped treat wounded rebels. But he has not been formally charged.

‘The case is in the hands of a judge, but I have heard that so many times before,’ said Mrs Khan.

‘My wonderful son is an innocent humanitarian worker who risked his life to help others. That is all he ever wanted to do. He is not in any way political; he is a doctor.

‘There must be someone who can help bring him home.’

Dr Khan, from Streatham, South London, is a hand/nerve trauma surgeon.

He spent a year as a training surgical registrar in Carlisle under consultant orthopaedic surgeon Rami Hussein and worked at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex.

In a letter to the Syrian authorities, Mr Hussein said: ‘I got to know Dr Khan very well as a colleague as well as a friend. I found him to be an excellent and caring medical colleague at all times. I can completely vouch for his professional and personal integrity.’

Dr Khan, who was on a six-month sabbatical from Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, arrived in Turkey on November 12.

Initially working alongside the UK charity Human Aid, he spent the first week treating injured refugees crossing the border.

From them he heard stories of children dying on the streets of Aleppo, then the scene of some of the civil war’s worst fighting, because of a dire shortage of medics.

Innocents: A Syrian youth holds a child wounded by the Syrian Army shelling near Dar al-Shifa hospital in AleppoInnocents: A youth holds a child wounded by the Syrian Army shelling near Dar al-Shifa hospital in Aleppo

Along with two other doctors he decided to cross independently into Syria on November 20.

Unknown to Dr Khan, who brought medical supplies from home, he was entering the country at a time when anti-British sentiment in the Syrian government was running high.

That same day, William Hague angered President Assad and his high command by formally announcing a switch of recognition from Damascus to the newly formed  Syrian National Coalition, which he called the ‘sole legitimate representative’ of the country’s people.

According to his family, Dr Khan spent just 24 hours working at a field hospital in Aleppo, helping only women and children, before being arrested by security forces at a checkpoint on November 22.

He was due to fly home two days later.

At first he was taken to an air force base before being transferred to Far’ Falastin.

His family heard through unofficial channels that he had been detained, but beyond that nothing more.

Notorious: Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said Far' Falastin detainees are often squeezed into rat and lice-infested cells known as 'tombs'Notorious: Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said Far’ Falastin detainees are often squeezed into rat and lice-infested cells known as ‘tombs’

‘We were frantic,’ said his mother. ‘By March I decided that I couldn’t just sit at home doing nothing – I would have to go to Damascus to try to find him.’

Leaving her husband at home as she believed men are more likely to be arrested in Syria, Fatima went  with her 23-year-old daughter Sara, a biomedical science student.

They first went to Beirut in Lebanon to try to obtain a visa for Syria but they were unsuccessful and returned home after several days.

Three months later she received unexpected news: her application had been approved.

‘There was a visa for me but not my daughter. I thought it would be better if I went alone, and as a mother I thought I would be better placed to plead my son’s case.’

Sara said the family failed to persuade her not to go. ‘She was just so determined. It is amazing because she has never been abroad alone before. We are enormously proud of her.’

After checking in to the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus, Mrs Khan headed immediately to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where she endured ‘endless lectures about why Britain was a bad country’.

‘One official I met was really quite angry with me. But I told him that I know nothing of Britain’s policies. My life is about cooking and looking after my family.’

Undeterred, she lobbied officials for days on end, sometimes waiting hours for meetings lasting barely a few minutes.

And she handed over hundreds of pounds to unscrupulous lawyers who made ‘false promises’.

One said he could help if she gave £3,000 to him and £3,000 to a judge.

‘By then I was aware that they were trying to trick me and I reported this man,’ said Mrs Khan.

Eventually, however, she found a sympathetic Ministry of Justice official. ‘He was phoning everywhere and told me to give him 48 hours,’ said Mrs Khan.

Wounded: A Syrian man carries an injured child to a field hospital after an air strike hit homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of AleppoWounded: A Syrian man carries an injured child to a field hospital after an air strike hit homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo

‘After two days I got a call from his secretary telling me to be at the ministry at nine o’clock the following morning and that I would be able to see my son who was being brought from the prison.

‘I was taken to a ground-floor room with a table, two sofas and a few chairs. A judge was there and some security men. After five minutes they brought my son. He was so  terribly thin.

‘He hugged me and said he was sorry and that he would never do humanitarian work again. He asked how his wife and children were and I said they were fine.

‘He didn’t want me to leave and said that they would never release him. I was breathless and threw myself at the feet of the judge, pleading with him to let my son go.

‘But he said that he couldn’t, that there were allegations against him. It was all so upsetting.’

Soon after their emotional meeting, Mr Khan was transferred to Adra Prison in Damascus, where  he remains.

‘He can take showers and cook  his own meals. In the other prison he couldn’t even see what he was eating,’ said his mother.

‘He hugged me and said he was sorry and that he would never do humanitarian work again’

– Fatima Khan

‘It is much better and I can see  him once a week. He has regained strength and weight.

‘It is typical of him that he is helping other prisoners inside. He has asked me for medicines for them, things like paracetamol and antibiotics.’

Mrs Khan continues to press the authorities in Damascus on a daily basis but is running up debts and has now swapped the Sheraton for  a £7-a-night hotel.

‘I boil eggs for breakfast, have some fruit in the afternoon and a piece of chicken in the evening,’ she said. ‘I live simply. All I can think about is getting my son out.’

Dr Khan is one of many doctors who have been targeted in what aid agencies describe as a deliberate campaign by the regime to wipe out health services.

Others detained include the head of first aid for the Syrian Arab  Red Crescent, the leading aid agency in Syria. He was arrested in the same month as Dr Khan but released  in January.

The Foreign Office said in a statement: ‘We are aware of the detention of a Dr Abbas Khan in Syria.

‘For some time we have advised against all travel to Syria where all UK consular services are suspended. Our options for supporting British nationals there are limited.

‘Since the authorities confirmed Dr Khan’s detention, we have been pressing them to allow consular access for our partners, to ensure access for a lawyer and to provide information about any charges against him.

‘We have also met and been in regular contact with his family since they informed us of his disappearance.’

While Dr Khan’s brothers and  sisters believe the Foreign Office ‘is doing all it can’, his mother insists more should be done.

And when she visited her son last week, he told her: ‘Why did my Government not support me? I am a humanitarian worker. You are the only one who has come to help me.’

(Source / 02.11.2013)

80-year-old Palestinian man remembers destroyed village of his youth

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — An 80-year-old Palestinian man recalled memories of the destroyed village of his youth for the TV program, “A memory that never rusts,” describing a landscape destroyed by Zionist forces in the 1948 conflict known in Arabic as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe.

Jameel Deif-Allah Sawalma offered recollections of his long lost village of al-Auja, near Jaffa, before it was overtaken and destroyed.

“Our village plains were wide like a palm, al-Auja river was to our west and our soil was red like a beet,” he said.

“There were no rocks, and we planted it with watermelons, melons, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, sesame, lupine, oranges and lemons.”

Sawalma recalled fishing from the nearby river using hooks and sleeping bills to knock the fish unconscious, as well as the run back home to cook them, while fish traders used large nets to catch the famous Jaffa fish.

He recalls the two schools they had in the village, and how he studied at one until the 3rd grade.

“I used to study maths, Arabic, the Quran and to this day I remember the poems I memorized,” he added, and recited some of the poems he learned decades ago.

Sawalma’s weary memory still holds an image of how al-Auja River meandered through their lands, and how it flooded in the winter. He talked about the red brick houses of the village, the horse-drawn carriages on the dusty streets, and their wooden or metal wheels which he used to repair for a living.

Al-Qaraeen, al-Sawalma, al-Hashasheen, and al-Araysha were the four families in the village, and they used to go to Jaffa and Malbas (near present-day Petah Tikva) to buy goods and sell crops, he said.

Weddings lasted for a week in their village, and they used to sing and the groom would ride a pony throughout the village, he added.

Sawalma concluded with the harsh recollections of the Nakba, when him and his family were forced out of the village and had to march to Qalqiliya and the to al-Far’a refugee camp.

A dream that never leaves him is to return to the river, fish from it and walk in the fields of his village, a place that exists only in memories now.

Around 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes inside Israel during the 1948 conflict that led to the creation of the State of Israel, and today their descendants number around five million, spread across the world.

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Knesset to approve a bill to divide al-Aqsa mosque

 

 

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)– The Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage said that Israeli Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs will submit to the Knesset on Monday a bill to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque temporally and spatially between Muslims and Jews.

The bill came in harmony with an Israeli media campaign aiming to introduce it to the local, regional and international public opinion.

The Foundation warned of the seriousness of the bill especially that it was proposed by the parties participating in the coalition government including Jewish Home and Likud parties in addition to number of MKs representing other Israeli parties.

The Foundation revealed two weeks ago a detailed copy of the proposal according to which Jews would be able to visit al-Aqsa Mosque to perform Talmudic rituals. It has also made several reports in different languages concerning the issue.

The Foundation stressed the urgent need to save al-Aqsa mosque from the Israeli schemes and dangers, calling for intensifying the Palestinian presence in the Islamic religious site.

In the same context, Yediot Ahronot Hebrew newspaper said that Jewish Home party was working to propose legislation which would allow Jews to openly pray on the “Temple Mount” for the first time since 1967.

The Hebrew newspaper stated that such change needs authorization of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thus, Habayit Hayehudi, together with the chair of the Interior Committee, Miri Regev, are looking for a way to authorize such prayer. “The possibilities include changing the law which protects holy locations, so that the Temple Mount will be considered a religious site for Judaism as well,” the newspaper added.

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Hamas: We will never accept surrendering Palestinian rights

 

 

BEIRUT, (PIC)– Hamas movement said that the Palestinian people will always defend the Palestinian land and holy places, and will never accept surrendering any part of the land, sanctities or rights.

This came in a statement by Hamas movement on Saturday marking the ninety-sixth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

The movement added that the “conspiracy” against the Palestinian issue has continued since the Balfour Declaration, through the international silence vis-à-vis the heinous crimes committed by the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people and their land.

“The anniversary of the Balfour Declaration comes this year while the Israeli occupation continues its crimes against our land, our people and our holy places through the settlement and Judaizing plans, the displacement of people, the killings and the siege”, Hamas said.

It stressed that “no one has the right to give up the right of return of refugees to their towns and villages from which they had been forcibly displaced. It is an inalienable and sacred right, and our people will not accept partial solutions as resettlement and the alternative homeland”.

The movement reiterated its adherence to all forms of resistance, particularly the armed resistance considering it the only strategic option able to deter the occupation, achieve the stolen rights, liberate the land and holy sites and release the prisoners, calling on the Palestinian Authority to stop “the futile negotiations” and security coordination with the occupation, which form a cover for the continuation of settlement activity and Judaization projects.

Hamas called for ending the division and developing a unified strategy to confront the Israeli schemes and projects that aim to liquidate the Palestinian cause.

It urged the leaders of Arab and Islamic countries, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to shoulder their responsibilities towards Palestine, Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, the prisoners and the refugees and to put an end to the occupation crimes.

It also called for protecting the Palestinian refugees, providing them with decent life in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and not to drag them in the ongoing conflicts in those countries.

Hamas called on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the 1948 occupied territories to continue to confront the occupation and its plans.

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Israel to drill for oil in the West Bank

A large reserve may lie under Israel and the occupied territories, but Palestinians are unlikely to reap the benefits.

The oil field could stretch as far as 250 square kilometres
Nazareth, Israel – Israeli investors had reason to celebrate last month with the news that Israel may soon be joining the club of oil-producing states, in addition to its recent finds of large natural gas deposits off the coast.

Shares in Givot Olam, an Israeli oil exploration company, rallied on reports that it had located much larger oil reserves at its Meged 5 site than previously estimated.

The company, which says it has already sold $40m worth of oil since the Meged field went operational in 2011, now believes that the well is sitting on exploitable reserves of as much as 3.53 billion barrels – about a seventh of Qatar’s proven oil reserves.

Only one cloud looms on the horizon. It is unclear how much of this new-found oil wealth actually belongs to Israel. The well sits on the so-called Green Line, the armistice line of 1948 that formally separates Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.

 http://bcove.me/l92olzdq
Empire – Israel & Palestine peace

According to Palestinian officials, Israel has moved the course of its concrete and steel separation wall – claiming security – to provide Givot Olam with unfettered access to the site, between the Israeli town of Rosh Haayin and the Palestinian village of Rantis, north-west of Ramallah.

Dror Etkes, an Israeli researcher who tracks Israeli activities in the West Bank, said the Meged site was “a few dozen metres” inside the Green Line.

Israel and Givot Olam, however, have made access difficult, arguing that Meged 5 is affected by an Israeli military firing range next to it on the other side of the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory. In the past, Israeli media have been barred from filming or photographing the site.

Etkes, however, said he was unaware of any military training ever having taken place at the firing range.

But what seems clear is that the oil field extends over a very large area, with much of the reserves believed to lie under Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Oil in the occupied territories

Although the Israeli energy and water ministry declined to comment publicly on Meged 5, a senior official privately told Al Jazeera that the field extended at least 125 sq km, and possibly as much as 250 sq km.

According to the Oslo accords, Israel is obligated to coordinate any exploration for natural resources in shared territory with the Palestinian Authority, and reach agreements on how to divide the benefits.

Ashraf Khatib, an official at the PA’s negotiations support unit, said the Meged oil field was part of Israel’s general “theft of Palestinian national resources”.

“The problem for us is that the occupation is not just about settlements and land confiscation. Israel is also massively profiting from exploiting our resources. There’s lots of money in it for Israel, which is why the occupation has become so prolonged,” he said.

If there are reserves of oil under the occupied territories, then absolutely Israel must talk to the Palestinian Authority about any exploration being undertaken to extract them.

Gidon Bromberg, Friends of the Earth Middle East

Last year, when Meged 5’s reserves were believed to be 1.5 billion barrels – less than half the current estimates – Jamil al-Mutaur, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority, threatened to sue Israel in the international courts for its unilateral operations at Meged.

Gidon Bromberg, director of environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East, said his group would submit questions to the Israeli government about Meged 5.

“If there are reserves of oil under the occupied territories, then absolutely Israel must talk to the Palestinian Authority about any exploration being undertaken to extract them,” he said.

The expectation of a dramatic increase in future profits for Israel from drilling at Meged 5 comes shortly after the World Bank issued a report arguing that Israel was destroying any hope that a future Palestinian state could be economically viable.

Israeli ‘chokehold’ of Area C

According to the World Bank, Israel’s occupation is preventing the Palestinians from exploiting key natural resources, either by plundering them for itself or by making them inaccessible to Palestinians through movement restrictions and classifying areas as military zones.

The World Bank report did not include the Meged oil field among the Palestinian natural resources it listed. A spokeswoman said there had not been enough data available for its researchers to assess the significance of the oil field.

In the report, the World Bank focuses on a large area of the West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo Accords, which continues to be under Israel’s full control and where Israel has built more than 200 settlements.

Area C, comprising nearly two-thirds of West Bank territory, includes most of the Palestinians’ major resources, including land for agriculture and development, water aquifers, Dead Sea minerals, quarries, and archaeological and tourism sites. It is also where much of the Meged reserves are likely to be located.

Israel’s energy and water ministry is led by Silvan Shalom, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a supporter of Israel’s settlement programme in the West Bank.

Naftali Bennett, who is the trade and industry minister and the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has repeatedly called for Israel’s formal annexation of Area C.

According to the Bank’s research, the Palestinian Authority could generate at least $3.4bn in extra income a year if given full control of Area C – though that figure does not take account of the expected boom in oil revenues.

The World Bank spokeswoman said the figure was “very conservative” as there were some resources, such as the oil field, for which its researchers had not been able to collect data.

Nonetheless, even the income from resources identified by the World Bank would increase the PA’s GDP by a third, reducing a ballooning deficit, cutting unemployment rates that have reached 23 percent, easing poverty and food insecurity and helping the fledgling state break free of aid dependency.

But none of this could be achieved, said the Bank, as long as Israel maintains its chokehold on Area C – or what the Bank calls “restricted land”.

The PA is facing a $2bn deficit and desperately needs to invest in major projects taking advantage of our natural resources. That is the only way to end the PA’s dependence on international aid.

Ashraf Khatib. Palestinian Authority official

Mariam Sherman, the World Bank’s director in the West Bank and Gaza, said: “Unleashing the potential from that ‘restricted land’ … and allowing Palestinians to put these resources to work would provide whole new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth.”

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, revived peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians this summer after promising the PA that it would help raise $4bn to invest in the Palestinian economy, much of it directed at projects in Area C.

However, the World Bank report suggests that Israeli movement restrictions in Area C and its refusal to issue development permits make ventures there too risky for Palestinian investors.

Khatib said: “The PA is facing a $2bn deficit and desperately needs to invest in major projects taking advantage of our natural resources. That is the only way to end the PA’s dependence on international aid.”

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has said he is pursuing “economic peace” with the Palestinians in the occupied territories in lieu of diplomatic advances. The PA, by contrast, characterises Israel’s policy as one of “economic warfare” against Palestinians.

Israel’s long-standing policy towards resources in the occupied territories suggests it is unlikely to honour its obligations under international agreements on the spoils from the Meged oil field.

Etkes said: “The reality is that Israel is enjoying the economic fruits of the occupation by exploiting resources that belong to the Palestinians.”

Previous resource extractions

In the case of the region’s main aquifers, which lie under the hills of the West Bank, Israel has demolished hundreds of Palestinian wells to maintain its exclusive control over water resources. Settlements and military bases have been located over the main extraction points.

A report by al-Haq earlier this year showed that Israel took 89 percent of the total water withdrawn from the West Bank aquifer, leaving the Palestinians with only 11 percent. As a result, Israelis had on average 300 litres of water a day each, compared with just 73 litres for Palestinians – below the 100 litres per capita recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Regarding another key resource, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that a dozen Israeli firms should be able to continue extracting stone for construction from West Bank quarries, because Israel’s occupation was no longer considered temporary but had become “prolonged”.

The ruling was widely criticised by legal experts, who argued it ignored prohibitions on resource theft in international law, including the 1907 Hague Convention.

The PA has estimated the annual value of the stone quarried by Israel at $900m.

Meged 5 would not be the first time Israel has been found to have plundered its neighbours’ oil reserves.

In 1975 it emerged that Israel had been drilling at the Abu Rudeis field following its occupation of the Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 war. The oil field supplied two-thirds of Israel’s domestic needs before Israel was forced to hand back the wells to Egypt.

Israel continued to try to exploit Sinai’s oil, drilling further south at the Alma field but had to return those wells too when it signed the Camp David peace agreement with Egypt in 1979.

Hundreds of sites inside Israel and the occupied territories were surveyed for oil in subsequent years without significant success – until the Meged find.

Israel’s announcement in recent years of discoveries of large natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean has increased tensions with neighbouring countries, especially Lebanon, which has claimed that Israel is drilling in areas where maritime borders are disputed.

Two deposits, named Tamar and Leviathan, are expected to make Israel a gas exporter by 2016.

The Palestinians have located their own significant gas field just off the coast of Gaza. In 2000, the then Palestinian president Yasser Arafat declared the site “will provide a solid foundation for our economy, for establishing an independent state”.

However, Israel has repeatedly stymied efforts to extract the gas, arguing that the profits would be used to fund terrorism. Instead, the Palestinians have continued to be dependent on Israel for meeting their energy requirements

Since 2009 Israel has also violated the Oslo accords by reducing Palestinians’ access to Gaza’s maritime waters, from 20 nautical miles to three.

According to one analyst, Anais Antreasyan, the most plausible interpretation of Israel’s actions is that it hopes eventually to “integrate the gas fields off Gaza into the adjacent Israeli offshore installations”, thereby “blocking Palestinian economic development”.

In the view of Atreasyan and others, Israel’s aim is to prevent the emergence of the kind of independent Palestinian economy that would follow if the Palestinians were able to tap lucrative income streams from the gas fields off Gaza and the likely oil under the West Bank.

“This way,” Khatib said, “Israel can more easily keep the Palestinians struggling from day to day, just to survive economically.”

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Analysis: Can Oslo’s failed aid model be laid to rest?

 

Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat at the Oslo Accords signing
ceremony on Sept. 13, 1993.
Overview 

Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, the donor community has invested more than $23 billion into “peace and development” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), making it one of the highest per capita recipients of non-military aid in the world. However, aid has not brought peace, development, or security for the Palestinian people, let alone justice. Al-Shabaka Guest Author Jeremy Wildeman and Program Director Alaa Tartir examine the origins of the present aid-for-peace model as well as its effects on socio-economic conditions and pull together the many critiques of the Oslo economic model.

The authors argue that donors are reinforcing failed past patterns associated with the so-called peace dividends model while making only cosmetic changes to their engagement. Indeed, donors do not appear ready to change an approach dominated by policy “instrumentalists” who ignore and reject outcomes that do not match their pre-determined values instead of upholding international law on Palestinian rights and international development principles that strive to “do no harm.” They underscore the alarming possibility that the Oslo aid model may serve too many interests to be dismantled and conclude with an assessment of what will be needed for change.

The Invention of the Oslo Economic Model 

In 1993, soon after the first Oslo agreement was signed the World Bank laid out an economic plan for the Palestinians called An Investment in Peace. This plan was meant to guide major bilateral donors on how to disburse their aid in support of the peace process. It would do this by building institutions, fostering open and free markets, trade, investment, and financial liberalization, advancing good governance and regional economic integration. It also encouraged economic integration with Israel, at the same time that it was supposed to be preparing Palestinians for independence. In addition, a semi- autonomous Palestinian authority would be established to police Palestinians in the OPT in lieu of the Israeli military.

Closer economic integration with Israel was one of the main “successes” of the plan, beginning with the establishment in 1994 of the Paris Protocol as an annex to the Oslo Accords. The Paris Protocol created a customs union under which the Palestinian Authority (PA) would implement the Israeli trade and tariff policy and gave Israel the right to change policy and simply notify the PA of such changes. The Protocol regulated taxation, trade policy and established a Joint Economic Committee to manage the agreement. Under the Protocol’s customs envelope all foreign aid donated to the Palestinians had to pass through Israel, which was free to tax it. An Israeli negotiator involved in designing the protocol said it “basically legalized the forced marriage of the two economies since 1967.”

An Investment in Peace is a neoliberal policy plan which parallels other programs developed by international financial institutions for the developing world in the 1990s. Based on elements of the conventional wisdom of the Washington and Post-Washington Consensus, it ignored the fact that the Palestinian territories were under a longstanding military occupation, which gave neoliberalism in the OPT its own particularity and flavor. The philosophical rationale for the World Bank plan was to improve Palestinians’ standard of living and encourage them to participate in the peace process by cashing in on peace dividends.5 This rationale remains the same today: invest more money to make Palestinians feel better economically to make it easier for them to compromise politically.

As a result, Palestinians in the OPT have become one of the highest per capita recipients of non- military aid in the world. International aid disbursements to Palestinians totaled around $22.7 billion between 1993 and 2011, averaging $360 per capita annually. Aid inflows increased from an annual average of $656 million between 1993 and 2003 to over $1.9 billion since 2004. In fact, international aid increased by 17 times between 1993 and 2009 and the amounts disbursed from 2008 to 2012, during the term of former prime minister Salam Fayyad and further entrenchment of the neoliberal approach which came to be known as “Fayyadism,” exceeded the total amount of aid received between 1994 and 2005. At the peak of aid flows to the OPT in 2008-9 only Liberia and Timor-Leste had a higher level of aid as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)

Is One Person’s Failure Another’s Success? 

The World Bank’s Investment in Peace, which shaped how foreign aid has been disbursed to the Palestinians over the previous two decades, failed spectacularly in achieving its own goals: sustaining economic growth, fostering peace and establishing an independent Palestinian state. Nevertheless, the World Bank continues to exercise incredible influence over the aid process and to recommend the same policies, although some of these have become even more impractical over time, for example those set out in the Bank’s 2012 growth report, that we have previously critiqued.

Palestinians are far worse off today than they were in 1993 using any economic or political criterion. According to the income-based definition of poverty, 50% of Palestinians lived in poverty in 2009 and 2010, 38% in the West Bank and 70% in Gaza. The World Food Program has found that 50% of Palestinian households suffer from food insecurity. Unemployment has been stuck at around 30% since 2009, with 47% unemployed in Gaza in 2010 and 20% in the West Bank. The unemployment rate for Palestinian youth under 30 is particularly alarming at 43%. The income and opportunities inequality gap continues to widen not only between the West Bank and Gaza, but also within the West Bank. Manufacturing and production capacities continue to erode.6 Meanwhile the agriculture sector that once drove the Palestinian economy remains sorely neglected: Since the PA’s establishment and the application of An Investment in Peace-guided aid programs, the amount allocated to the agriculture sector did not exceed 1% of the total PA annual budget between 2001 and 2005 and the agricultural sector’s contribution to GDP dropped from around 13.3% in 1994 to 5.9% in 2011. Furthermore, around 85% of the tiny budget allocated to agriculture went to Agriculture Ministry staff salaries.

Public debt has doubled, while private debt has ballooned because of easier access to credit. At the macro-economic level, the celebrated economic growth of 7.1% in 2008, 7.4% in 2009 and 9.3% in 2010 was an aid-driven jobless growth that excluded Jerusalem and simply reflected an economy recovering from a low base. Instead, Palestinians have become completely dependent on foreign aid to sustain their isolated enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza, a captive market based on aid money used to buy most of its needs from Israel. NGO-aid induced inflation, personal debt and rising cost-of-living have been linked to the stalled peace process – a process that has steadily seen life for Palestinians get worse and aspirations of self-determination recede.

At the political level, the PA, which administers a large proportion of the aid lacks both de jure and de facto sovereignty. Israeli settlement building and the confiscation of Palestinian land accelerated dramatically after Oslo, as did Israeli closure policies limiting Palestinian entry to work in Israel or move freely within the OPT and with the rest of the world, a primary factor in the steep decline of the Palestinian economy. Daily Israeli armed raids have resulted in the death, disability, and the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Palestinians. The deductions from the wages and salaries of the Palestinian workers in Israel between 1970 and 1993 – which totaled 16.5 billion Israeli shekels – are still benefiting the Israeli economy. The PA has been powerless to fight for these workers’ rights or the lost revenue to its treasury. In the final analysis, aid is being used to sustain a failed peace process as well as the Israeli occupation itself.

It comes as no surprise that there is broad agreement in the literature that aid has failed the Palestinian people. However, there is disagreement as to why aid has failed and we have identified four schools of thought. One group can be termed “instrumentalist” and argues that the fundamentals of An Investment in Peace are sound and the model should be maintained but simply needs to be better applied. This group tends to sanitize the Israeli occupation and the settler colonial nature of the Israeli state. It ignores Israel’s remarkably consistent policies towards Palestinian land and people since a time that predates the formation of the state of Israel. It also lays a disproportionate amount of blame on the PA for the failure of aid to achieve results.

This group includes researchers at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and many bilateral government donor agencies. The instrumentalist approach helps to explain why the model adopted in 1993 with An Investment in Peace has not changed after two decades of conflict and economic collapse. A second group, the “critical instrumentalists,” do focus on the occupation as the main obstacle to peace and development. However, they share the instrumentalist faith in the ability of policy to bring about positive change.

The third group consists of critics of the Oslo aid model. Many in this group assert that the aid model is itself a part of the occupation, because it is designed in a way that subverts Palestinian development while reinforcing and subsidizing the Israeli occupation, along with longstanding Israeli policies dating back to the 1948 Nakba and beyond. For critics, development is not policy to be implemented, but domination to be resisted, because in the case of Israel-Palestine the hidden intent behind development aid is to reinforce the occupation.

There is a fourth group not often considered when analyzing the impact of aid: The neo-colonialists, who consider aspects of foreign aid to have been a success. Particularly in the West Bank, Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation has largely been mollified and Israel’s policy aims have largely been achieved. This perspective is highly influential, especially in the United States, where it is very effective in aligning itself with Israeli government interests while largely defining American aid policy toward the Palestinians. For example, organizations such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy have since at least the 1980s been advocating an approach to aid that provides economic incentives to Palestinians in return for their giving up rights.

The impact of the neo-colonialists is perceptible. A June 15, 2012 Congressional Research Service report spelled this out when it noted that aid for the Palestinians has been intended, over the years, to support at least three major U.S. policy priorities: Combating terrorism against Israel; encouraging Palestinian peaceful coexistence with Israel while preparing Palestinians for self-governance; and meeting humanitarian needs to prevent further destabilization. The first point has been expanded to include opposition to a Palestinian bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations and to any initiatives aimed at increasing international recognition outside of the “peace process.”

When foreign aid to Palestinians is analyzed from a neo-colonial perspective, it may not be failing at all. With an increasingly subdued Palestinian population in the West Bank governed by a pliant PA, Gaza locked up and surrounded by an impenetrable blockade, and Palestinians in Jerusalem being squeezed out, aid may actually be a great success. It encourages Palestinians to give up any kind of resistance to the Israeli occupation and keeps them fed and subdued, and Israel can apply a financial boycott when they resist these processes. Meanwhile, Israel swallows up the OPT without having to foot the costs of those living under occupation.

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Israel kills four Hamas fighters in raid on Gaza tunnel

GAZA CITY: An Israeli raid to destroy a Gaza tunnel ignited clashes in which tank fire killed four Hamas commanders and five Israeli soldiers were wounded, both sides said on Friday.

In one of the deadliest flareups in Gaza since an October 2012 conflict, warplanes carried out an air strike after Palestinian lobbed between one and three mortar shells into southern Israel. Neither attack caused any further casualties. Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas are under increased pressure from both Israel and Egypt, which has destroyed hundreds of similar tunnels in the south of the besieged Palestinian enclave used to bring in fuel and other goods.

The closures by Egypt forced authorities to shut down Gaza’s sole electricity plant early on Friday, causing widespread power outages, Hamas said.

The Israeli military said the fighting erupted on Thursday night when an explosive device went off as troops were clearing a tunnel from Gaza into Israel, allegedly to be used as a springboard for militant attacks.

Five soldiers were wounded, the army said.

In response, “the soldiers opened fire and directly hit a terrorist,” and Israeli warplanes struck “an additional terror tunnel located in the southern Gaza Strip,” it said.

Palestinian officials said four local commanders of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, were killed by tank fire. Rabieh Barikeh was killed instantly and Khaled Abu Bakr died of his wounds overnight, according to the officials, who said the commanders were carrying out surveillance along the frontier east of the town of Khan Yunis when they came under fire.

The bodies of Mohammed al-Qassas and Mohammed Daoud were discovered later. At Barikeh’s funeral on Friday, some 2,000 Hamas supporters holding up the movement’s flag and shouting “revenge against Israel.”

During the exchange, Hamas TV said, three mortar shells were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. The Israeli army reported only one, which it said struck an open field. “Any Israeli incursion on our land, will not pass without paying the price, & Gaza will be as always a graveyard for the invaders,” the Qassam Brigades warned in a tweet on Friday afternoon.

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Bahrain police summons top opposition leader

Bahrain’s Al-Wefaq opposition group leader Sheikh Ali Salman, seen during a press conference in the village of Zinj, west of Manama, on July 4, 2013
DUBAI (AFP) — The Bahraini police on Saturday summoned the head of the main opposition faction for questioning, the group said, as tensions persist in the authoritarian kingdom.

The summons was delivered to Ali Salman’s house in the morning, the opposition Al-Wefaq association said in a statement, adding it was not clear why he was being called in for questioning.

“It is believed to be part of a campaign of political blackmail and revenge against the peaceful opposition that is demanding democracy and rejects tyranny,” the statement said.

The summons comes just over a week after Al-Wefaq’s leading figure Khalil Marzooq was released from jail at the opening of his trial for inciting terrorism.

Marzooq, a former MP, was arrested in September after being summoned for questioning and later charged by the general prosecutor with “promoting acts that amount to terrorist crimes”.

On September 29, a court sentenced 50 opposition members, including a top Iraqi cleric, to up to 15 years in jail for forming the February 14 Coalition clandestine group, which is blamed for most of the opposition protests that lead to confrontations between security forces and opposition members of Bahrain’s Shiite majority. All of the opposition members sentenced were Shiite, while the ruling al-Khalifa family is from the island’s Sunni minority.

The group is believed to be the main force behind the protest movement that erupted on February 14, 2011 before it was dispersed in a mid-March deadly crackdown.

At least 89 people have been killed in Bahrain since the Arab Spring-inspired protests erupted, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Demonstrators frequently clash with security forces in Shiite villages outside Manama.

Bahrain, a strategic archipelago just across the Persian Gulf from Iran, is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet and Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling al-Khalifa dynasty.

(Source / 02.11.2013)

Official: Israel to imprison 4 men for alleged Hamas involvement

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — An Israeli court on Thursday issued detention orders for four Palestinian men who were accused of being affiliated with Hamas, a committee official told Ma’an.

Ahjad Abu Asab, the director of the Jerusalem prisoners’ families committee, said that the court ruling called for the 42-month imprisonment of Haitham Shukri Mohammad Tahaa, a 44-year-old father of five.

Tahaa’s prison sentence in al-Ramla begins on Jan. 15, 2014, Asab said.

Additionally, he said that Abdul Rahman Owis, 51, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Ashraf Atiya Zaloum, 36, and Mohammad al-Atrash from Beit Safafa were also sentenced to 6 months in prison, he added.

The court decision comes three days after Israel released 26 veteran prisoners in conjunction with US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians.

The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which East Jerusalem forms a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

(Source / 02.11.2013)