“Just a Child” shows how prison leaves mental scars on Palestinian boy

The photographer experienced Israeli arrest and violence first hand.

Mohammad al-Azza pointed to his right cheek, where an Israeli rubber bullet hit his face, breaking many bones. Only six months after he was shot, the scars were miraculously hard to see.

“The space between the soldiers and me was ten meters,” the Palestinian photographer and filmmaker said. “One of them shouted at me and I didn’t hear him, so I took the camera down and asked him what he said. ‘Don’t take pictures and go inside.’ Usually I don’t listen to them … but this time, I didn’t argue, I just said ‘okay.’ I closed the window and went to close the door of the balcony, and as I was trying to close it I saw a flash, moved my face to the left and was shot through here.”

The 23-year-old Palestinian is from the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem.

This camp hosts the Lajee Cultural Center, where al-Azza began his explorations in photography in 2005, at the age of 15. Soon after he began, Mohammad realized that photography could be his form of resistance to the occupation.

“Before 2005, which is the time they started building the wall, every day I would go with my friends and we would throw stones. And my friend was shot and killed during this time also. When I threw stones at the army, I feel that I was doing something for Palestine.”

“But after I began taking pictures, I said, ‘Okay, I don’t want to throw stones, I want to learn how to take pictures and make films’ … We need people to throw stones and we need people doing other things to resist the occupation.”

“Before I started, especially in the camp, no one knew how to take photos or make films,” he continued.

“At the same time, as you know, the Israeli and international media is more powerful than the Palestinian media — they talk about Palestine in a certain way and don’t give a clear image of our life. So I decided it is the time for us to talk about ourselves, to show the people out of Palestine the truth of what’s happening. So that’s my reason for taking pictures and making films.”


As a young, largely self-taught media maker, al-Azza has created a large body of work focusing on life in Palestine and especially in Aida camp. His photographs and films have been shown internationally, spreading a glimpse of life in Palestine from Palestinian eyes.

The Electronic Intifada caught up with al-Azza in Boston in October, where his photographs were on display at Tufts University and his film Just A Child was screened at the Boston Palestine Film Festival.

Just a Child is a heartwarming short documentary film about the arrest and release of a 14-year-old Palestinian boy, Raghad. The film captures the nine-month wait which his family has to endure as Raghad’s release continues to be delayed.

His mother tearfully shows us his empty bed and the closet she kept neatly organized, explaining that “The most important thing is for him to have his school materials ready, because he loves school.”

In the film, we witness Raghad’s joyful release and return home. Raghad later describes to the camera that before his arrest, he ran into a “sensitive” area near an Israeli militarycheckpoint out of fear and confusion, where he was beaten and arrested.

He feels the impacts of prison after his release, saying, “I don’t like going out, I like staying in my room.” Despite this, Raghad participates in protests in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners after his release.

The film was finished in 2011, and al-Azza and Raghad unexpectedly met again a year later in unfortunate conditions. Raghad, a victim of Israel’s cyclical process of arrest and interrogation, would be back in Israeli prison, and al-Azza would be experiencing his first arrest and imprisonment.

Al-Azza was shot in April 2013 while filming Israeli soldiers as they fired tear gas into Aida camp. Following 17 days in hospital, where he underwent two operations, he spent his first night after discharge in his uncle’s home. That night, the Israeli military raided his own home, searching for him.

“They beat my family”

“They started questioning my brothers and my family, asking, ‘Where is Mohammad?’ At that time I wasn’t ready to be arrested because I was still healing,” al-Azza explained.

“So I didn’t stay at my home for two months. Every day I slept in a different house in Bethlehem until I started to feel better. So the first day I was back home — after two months — they came back to my home and arrested me.”

“They found me, and they beat most of my family. There were so many, maybe 100 soldiers [and] dogs. So they found me and they hit me, they started beating me after they hit all of my family. More than one soldier was hitting me, with guns, with hands. I remember telling them, ‘Hit me wherever you want, but not where I’m hurt, not in my face.’ When they heard that, they continued hitting me, this time in my face.”

Al-Azza was arrested because the military believed he had images and video of the protests in the camp. When he heard this, he laughed, and replied, “I’m a journalist, I have a card for it, so I’m not doing something wrong. What is the problem?”

He was kept in jail for 11 days without charge, and there he was briefly reconnected with Raghad.

“There are different rooms for children in jail, and rooms for people who are 18 and up. When they took me for interrogation, you could see the other rooms. I saw someone waving at me, but didn’t recognize him; he had longer hair than he did in the film,” al-Azza recalled.

“I started to recognize him, and I couldn’t believe he was there. When I was released and returned home, I asked his family and they said, ‘Yes, they came and arrested him again six months after he was released.’”

“I found out that he had been arrested for the same thing as before, they said he was planning to do something in a sensitive area near the checkpoint. In Palestine, when you turn 15 you get your identity card, so after he got his identity card they came back and arrested him.”

At the time of our interview, al-Azza was not sure if Raghad had been released from his second imprisonment.

“I wasn’t scared”

“Show the people, not just the occupation,” photographer urges younger peers.

Al-Azza works with the Lajee Cultural Center to prepare youth for arrest and interrogation through workshops. In recent months, as arrests of Palestinian children have increased, the center has responded by organizing more workshops.

Al-Azza recalls his own experience at Lajee as a child, performing a play about arrest and interrogation, and how this helped him in his own experience years later. “I started to remember that I had seen this before, and really, it helped me so much. I wasn’t scared.”

Today, al-Azza works as an educator with the Lajee center. The organization runs a youth media magazine called Our Voice, the content for which is generated from workshops with youth aged 13 to 23 in refugee camps around the occupied West Bank. The center hopes that the project will expand to include 11 camps in 2014.

“The most difficult thing I find with [the youth] is when you ask them what they want to take a picture of, they say, ‘occupation,’” al-Azza explained.

“I tell them to try to think there is no occupation, just think about life in the camp. Show the people, not just the occupation.”

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Settler-driven archaeology plan threatens to push Hebron family off farmland

Feryal Abu Haikal is determined to stay on her land, despite frequent violent attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers.

Israeli settlers recently began an alleged archaeological excavation on two plots of land surrounding a Palestinian family’s homes in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron.

Feryal Abu Haikal, 68, is a retired school principal and mother of 11. She told The Electronic Intifada that settlers and soldiers arrived on 5 January and razed the orchards her family had farmed for decades. “They ripped out 50 of our almond trees. Some of [the trees] were over 60 years old.”

The Abu Haikal family owns the land, on which its four homes are located. Yet the family has also been renting and farming the neighboring two plots of land — six dunams, or almost an acre and a half — for more than 65 years (a dunam is equal to 1,000 square meters).

Originally belonging to the Islamic Waqf society, a large area of land in Tel Rumeida was rented to a Jewish organization in Hebron during the time of the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948). From that broader area, the organization first rented the two plots of land to the Abu Haikal family.

Following the 1948 Nakba — the forced displacement of Palestinians ahead of Israel’s establishment — the West Bank came under Jordanian control. The two plots of land were placed under the care of the Jordanian government, which continued to rent them to the Abu Haikal family.

Closed military zone

Following Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank, the family continued to rent these plots from an Israeli Jewish religious foundation as protected tenants. In 2002, the Israeli army invoking “security reasons,” built a fence and declared the area a closed military zone.

Israeli settlers claim the two plots of land are home to the burial site of Yishai and Ruth the Moabite, figures present in Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions. Similar to plans in several other areas in occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank, they plan to build an archaeological park.

The Israeli government is financing the project to the tune of an estimated seven million shekels (around two million dollars), according to the Israeli daily Haaretz (“Israeli government funding dig in Palestinian Hebron, near Jewish enclave,” 9 January 2014).

Abu Haikal fears that the settlers have larger plans than what they have publicly declared. “Seven million shekels … it’s not possible they will stop [the excavation project] after just two pieces of land,” she said.

“What kind of project needs seven million shekels from the Israeli cultural ministry? They’re going to excavate throughout all of Tel Rumeida.”

Because the military has erected fences closing off the area, the Abu Haikal family’s homes are only accessible by one narrow entrance. On two sides of the homes are closed military zones they are forbidden from entering, and on the other side is an Israeli military base and settlement.

In Hebron, there is a permanent presence of more than 3,000 soldiers to protect a settler population of only around 600 persons.

Tel Rumeida is situated in the H2 area of the city, which is under complete Israeli military control and puts Palestinian residents in constant contact with both settlers and soldiers. “The problem is not just the number of settlers here. It’s also how they think,” said Abu Haikal.

Violent reputation

Israeli settlers in Tel Rumeida have a reputation as some of the most violent in the West Bank. Among them is Baruch Marzel, a US-born settler and former spokesperson forKach, a right-wing Zionist group that has been deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, the European Union and Israel.

Over the years, Abu Haikal has accumulated several videos and photographs of settlers and soldiers attacking local Palestinian residents, including her children. The scenes include Israeli tanks rolling across her yard and soldiers violently arresting Palestinians.

Around 20 settlers, while working on the excavation, recently “threw rocks and smashed out eight house windows on the first and second floor of our house,” said Abu Haikal. “They also attacked some of our neighbors.”

Although Israeli settlers assault Tel Rumeida’s residents on a near-daily basis, the Israeli military has only bothered to arrest Palestinians.

As the settlers uprooted their almond trees on 5 January, Abu Haikal’s nephew Sami was arrested after entering the excavation area. Soldiers told the family he had broken the law by going into a closed military zone.

“The settlers attack Palestinian homes, throw stones, and often physically beat up Palestinians, including women and kids,” said Issa Amro, coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group that raises awareness about Israel’s activities in the city.

Goal of displacement

He told The Electronic Intifada that the areas of the city under the most pressure right now are Tel Rumeida, Shuhada Street and the Ibrahimi Mosque.

“In these areas, the soldiers are arresting kids, detaining them and giving them a hard time. It’s putting more pressure on us … for the goal of displacing Palestinians here.”

An Israeli soldier allegedly threatened to kill a Palestinian schoolgirl near the Ibrahimi Mosque as she was making her way home, reported Ma’an News Agency last week (“Hebron schoolgirl says Israeli soldier threatened to kill her,” 15 January 2014).

Hamed Salem, the chairperson of Birzeit University’s archaeology department, spoke to The Electronic Intifada about Israel’s use of archaeology to implement expansionist policies.

“This is one of the many illegal excavations taking place,” Salem said, referring to the digs in Hebron.

“Archeology as propaganda”

Rather than being a legitimate archaeological project, Salem noted, it is about “the settlers’ political agenda. They are using archaeology as propaganda to justify their presence” in Hebron.

Salem added that the archaeological park in Tel Rumeida “comes from the same idea” as other excavations used by Israeli settlers and authorities to displace Palestinians.

In Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, an Israeli settler organization has established the City of David, a state-funded archaeological park.

In Khirbet Susiya, a village in the South Hebron Hills, Palestinian residents were expelledfrom their original lands in 1986 after Israel declared the area an archaeological zone. Today, they live only a few hundred meters away, dwelling in caves and shaky wooden structures that are frequently bulldozed by Israel’s military.

For Tel Rumeida, the expansion of settlements will translate into more settlers, soldiers and violence against Palestinians. Yet Abu Haikal promised that her family is there to stay.

“I love Tel Rumeida,” she said “It’s in my blood. I’d rather die than leave.”

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Hope Springs in Syria?

How Local Cease-fires Have Brought Some Respite to Damascus
Children play in Damascus, November 6, 2013.

Children play in Damascus, November 6, 2013.

There is reason for pessimism about this week’s conference in Geneva on the Syrian civil war. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown that he cannot be dislodged through force, and the rebels insist that they have no interest in any plan that does not involve his immediate departure from office. Meanwhile, the country has been ripped apart by violence, around a third of the population has fled home, and, before the United Nations stopped counting in July, at least 100,000 people had died.

There is still a chance for some kind of normalcy, though. In recent months, local efforts to end the violence and aid the starving have led to numerous small-scale cease-fires in the Damascus suburbs of Barzeh, Moadamiya, Bibilla, Bait Sahem, and Dumayr. Peace could spread if the negotiators in Geneva create a credible plan to promote and oversee similar cease-fires across the country. Perhaps thinking along those lines, Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, said last week that the regime is willing to work on “security arrangements” with the rebels in Aleppo.

So how would these cease-fires work? Although rebels with radical ideologies currently seem to dominate the scene, most Syrians have more everyday demands — dignity and freedom. This group, which is bent on the dismissal of Assad but not on the wholesale dismantling of Syrian state institutions, has proved willing to strike deals in certain conditions. In many cases, those conditions involve starvation. One of the Assad regime’s favorite strategies during the civil war has been cutting off rebel-held areas that are close to regime strongholds from the rest of the country. Some neighborhoods, such as Moadamiya, were sealed off (even to food supplies) for more than a year, leading to an untold number of deaths. Under pressure from residents, last month rebels there accepted a cease-fire with the regime in exchange for food supplies.

Such cease-fires vary from one area to another, but they mostly involve negotiations between regime officials who have connections to the area and residents and rebels. As a condition of the deal, rebels generally get to keep their light weapons, but must hand over their heavy weapons to the regime (many rebels say that they were not using the heavy weaponry anyway, since they did not have the ammunition for it). In addition, local fighters agree to push out non-local fighters, and security duties are handed over to local rebels. In that sense, the accords represent less a victory for the regime than a recognition of local rebels’ strength and popular backing. After the deals, regime officers are usually left with one or two checkpoints (often also stocked with rebel fighters) and are prevented from taking too hands-on an approach to policing.

In Barza, roads have been reconstructed and new buildings have sprung up.

It is true that these cease-fires are shaky. Some have collapsed even before they launched, as was the case in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp, where the regime continued to shell despite its promises and the rebels went back on the offensive. But some of the cease-fires have been quite successful. In Barza, for example, roads have been reconstructed and new buildings have sprung up. Since the cease-fire was reached two weeks ago, food supplies from the government have also started to stream back in.

For its part, the regime has no official position on the cease-fires — and some within the leadership protest any accord with the rebels. Tellingly, however, the Syrian army has mostly voided marching back into cities where deals have been struck. “The regime has been good so far and has kept its word for a change,” says Rahaf Shami, an activist from the town of Harasta. Presumably, it knows it has no other choice.

Limited local cease-fires, fragile though they are, can still serve as models for ending the Syrian civil war. Jihad Makdissi, a former Foreign Ministry spokesman who resigned in 2012, told me that “the blockade imposed around each area” has “made it very hard for people inside to refuse a deal.” And that, he says, goes both ways. In areas surrounded by the government and areas surrounded by the opposition, “the same tactic is used, of course on different scales. There were cases of hunger death. This is a war and unfortunately civilians are paying the highest price.” Those civilians, whether on the side of the regime or the rebels, are ready for peace.

For now, the likeliest targets for piecemeal accords are areas such as Qaboun, outside of Damascus, and several neighborhoods in Homs such as Waar, where shelling and months of siege have destroyed infrastructure and starved the population. Other places, though, will be harder. Towns such as Douma, for example, are home to more prominent rebel groups. These groups are well funded enough to provide aid to residents and fighters, so are under almost no pressure to accept aid from the Assad regime.

Local cease-fires likely offer the best chance for peace in the short term. They also open up space to negotiate a long-term solution in Syria. If the fighting dies down, the parties can more easily come together. But whether such arrangements are viable will hinge on one question: Will Assad stay in power? Assad supporters often argue that he has fought for his survival and won, and that the political opposition has to accept that fact. Further, others, such as former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, contend that Assad is indispensable in the fight against extremism. According torecent reports, European intelligence agencies even met with the Assad regime, which shared information on Western extremists in Syria.

But, practically speaking, a peace deal that leaves Assad in power is a nonstarter. Unless he goes, any internationally backed deal will likely make the conflict worse. For one, despite what his backers say, Assad is not really able to fight extremism in Syria or hold the territories he lost. It is unthinkable that the Syrian army could simply roll back into rebel-liberated areas to police them. Throughout the war, the regime has left the bulk of its army in the barracks, relying instead on special loyalist forces and militias. If Assad deployed his regular Sunni-majority forces to the front lines, he would risk mass defection or desertion. In other words, without international intervention — for which there is no appetite — it is hard to imagine how the weakened regime will be able to establish control over liberated areas. In other words, when Assad told the AFP this week that it is “unrealistic” for the opposition figures to become ministers in a future government, he should really consider whether it is realistic for his forces to establish control over the country again.

That is not to say that the opposition leaders with whom the international community is negotiating could easily hold territory after a peace deal, either. The rank and file would reject, for example, any blanket accord that leaves Assad in power. These fighters could then just join more extreme forces. Unlike the regime’s army and militias, rebel groups are highly autonomous. The rebel group Ahfad al-Rasoul, for example, was wiped out by the al Qaeda–affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Raqqa in August, yet their franchises around Hama sit in the same trenches against Assad. Any deal more favorable to the rebels is likelier to lead to a stable outcome than one favorable to the regime.

On balance, case-by-case local cease-fires will be favorable to the rebels, and therefore more sustainable. That is why, at Geneva, the negotiating parties should focus on two tasks. First, they need to lay the groundwork for the spread of limited cease-fires nationwide. They can do that by reaching a deal that puts local leaders and rebels in charge of security and policing their own areas. That would bring the armed opposition forces into the state institutions. Such measures of local autonomy would reassure rebels across the country that their fate, and that of the country, will not be decided by fiat.

Second, they need to think carefully about Assad’s future. It might not be practical for Assad to leave power before the two sides agree on a governing body to lead the transition, but without his eventual departure from office, peace is unimaginable. With the rise of radicals in Syria, it is natural that intelligence agencies look to him as a potential bulwark against extremism. However, he is more of a liability than an effective partner. As long as Assad is in power, al Qaeda and other extremist forces can claim legitimacy in the fight against his regime. It would be shortsighted, then, for the international community to try to build a postwar Syria in which Assad plays any role. The best strategy would be to build peace in Syria, neighborhood by neighborhood, and to prepare for Assad’s departure.

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Egypt PM pledges no return to military rule

Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi poses at the end of a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 23, 2014.

In Davos, Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi faces an enormous challenge heading his country’s official delegation at the Annual Meetings of the World Economic Forum.

Accompanied by his Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy, Finance Minister Ahmed Galal, Investment Minister Osama Saleh and veteran ‘Davosian’ Amr Moussa (formerly the Secretary General of the Arab League and currently chairman of the Egypt’s Constitutional Assembly), the delegation is here to convince a gathering of the world’s most influential movers and shakers that Egypt is back on its feet and open for business.

However, as Egypt prepares to celebrate the third anniversary of the Jan.25 revolution which ousted the Mubarak regime, the mood in Davos was slightly skeptical on whether the 2011 revolution has actually achieved its goals.

One of the major concerns was the fact that Egypt’s first post-Mubarak elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammad Mursi, was also ousted in a counter-revolution which took to the streets last summer. Ever since, Egypt has witnessed the rise of its military strongman, General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi. In Davos, PM Beblawi publically endorsed Sisi as a candidate for presidency.

Speaking at the Annual Meeting, Bebalwi compared Sisi to De Gualle and Eisenhower, referring to the French and American war heroes, adding that Sisi is “under popular pressure” to run for the presidency.

“Those that are pushing Sisi to run are not the military camps, they are people in the streets, women in the first place,” Beblawi said.

“Don’t forget he is a handsome man,” he added.

No return to military rule

Following an intense morning that began with a briefing with media leaders, a public speech, several meetings and a lunch where the 77-year PM entertained a number of Arab and international investors, Al Arabiya News caught up with el-Beblawi as he was about to enjoy a much-deserved afternoon coffee break.

Given his earlier statements regarding Sisi, an obvious question to ask the interim Prime Minister was if Egypt was in fact returning to military rule.

“This is something people have in their minds, in their imagination. I’ve been in the cabinet for about six months, I haven’t felt any time that I am run by the military people,” he said.

“I told you my conviction and I promised prior to my assuming a public office, that I think Egypt after January 2011 is immune to military dictatorship and military rule. On the contrary, people are much more in command than ever before.”
As he sipped his black coffee, I asked the PM what he felt were people’s concern and what was the vibe that he got in response to his attempt to re-introduce Egypt to the business community at Davos.

“I feel they are interested, they are asking questions, they want to know more. Still they have questions in their minds but there is a great interest definitely into what is going on and the future of the development in Egypt,” said the Prime Minister.

Indeed, many Arab investors and business executives who Al Arabiya News spoke to prior to the interview did signal that they are considering a return to the Egyptian market. However, an overwhelming concern was the perception that all the decisions and initiatives that the Beblawi cabinet is putting in place might be only temporary, considering that the government is transitional.

“No, no, no. What we are doing is basically put the ground [work] for the future, during this transitional period that the constitution was accepted. This is not something to be looked upon as something of temporary importance. All we are doing is trying to reform the legal environment, to put the grounds for a much more investment-friendly legal environment,” Beblawi said.

“We have put a law of anti-corruption which is the major concern of many people, … so we are very much concerned to lay the grounds, not to take temporary measures. On the contrary, we are trying to look into the heart of the problems rather than looking to find temporary solutions,” the PM added.

GCC relations and Egypt’s public image

Throughout the day, Beblawi repeated that Egypt is thankful for the financial support it has and continues to receive from neighboring Gulf countries.

When asked if he means all Gulf countries, the PM said that Qatar was an “exception” as it has given enormous political and financial support to Muslim Brotherhood.

“Qatar is an exception, not only in Egypt, I think Qatar’s behavior is rather different from the rest of the [Gulf] countries,” Beblawi said.

“All their relations, they have a rather different stand, and they must have their own reasons,” he added diplomatically.

Beblawi mentioned more than once what he described as “contradiction” between how the 2011 revolution, which ousted President Mubarak, and the 2013 revolution, which ousted President Mursi, were received.

In his interview with Al Arabiya News, PM Beblawi admitted that Egypt has made several mistakes when it came to dealing with the media and public opinion.

“We (the government) thought that it is enough to work and not to speak to people, and we discovered to our dismay that we should have talked more to the people, to know what we are doing,” he commented reflectively.

“We started to do this only recently, only after the last couple of weeks. Our failure to give enough attention to the media and the public opinion was another mistake we did.”

Asked about imprisoned journalists, the Egyptian PM explained that for foreign journalists to operate, they need to register and follow the country’s rules and regulations. He added that the proper legal procedures were being followed and that those concerned will be represented by a lawyer.

(Source / 23.01.2014)

“Geneva II” and the US Regime-Change Drive in Syria



Wednesday’s opening of talks on the Syrian crisis was dominated by the Obama administration’s insistence that the purpose of the “Geneva II” discussions was to remove President Bashar al-Assad and install a pro-US puppet government.

In the manner of a colonial overlord, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared, “We see only one option, negotiating a transition government born by mutual consent.”

Kerry made clear that “mutual consent” meant an outcome dictated by American imperialism. “That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government,” he continued. “There is no way, no way possible, that a man who has led a brutal response to his own people can gain legitimacy to govern.”

Such thuggish arrogance is the trademark of US policy in every region of the world. Any government that is viewed as a hindrance to the pursuit of the geopolitical interests of the American ruling class is targeted for destabilization or overthrow, through covert or overt means. As Kerry spoke, extreme right-wing and fascistic forces in the Ukraine backed by the US and its allies in Western Europe escalated protests aimed at bringing down a government considered to be too closely tied to Russia.

In Syria, Washington has spent nearly three years seeking to use violence to carry out regime change. The US and its allies in Europe, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have financed an insurgency dominated by Islamic fundamentalist elements that have committed atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities. The conflict has produced more than 100,000 casualties and displaced millions. It threatens to develop into a region-wide civil war.

The US campaign in Syria follows the illegal US wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, which have devastated the two countries and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. It comes on the heels of the US-led war to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya.

The Obama administration brazenly cloaks its campaign in Syria in the rhetoric of democracy and human rights. Responding to comments by Syrian officials—who protested the insistence that they hand over power to the so-called “rebel” forces—the State Department denounced the regime for engaging in “inflammatory rhetoric” and failing to “lay out a positive vision for the future of Syria that is diverse, inclusive and respectful of the rights of all.”

Last September, the Obama administration was on the verge of launching a military assault against Syria, but ultimately pulled back after failing to forge an international coalition as it had in Libya in 2011, and in the face of broad popular opposition. In a last-minute tactical shift, Washington agreed to a Russia-brokered deal involving the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. The “Geneva II” talks make clear, however, that Washington has not backed away from its basic strategy.

The modus operandi of American imperialism in the pursuit of its interests consists of thuggery and lies. The latest escalation is based on a well-timed allegation that the Assad regime carried out “industrial scale killing,” including the torture and murder of 11,000 detainees. The American media has been full of lurid allegations that stem from a report commissioned by Qatar, which has played a leading role in bankrolling Islamist militias within Syria. All of the supposed evidence is derived from the allegations of an operative codenamed “Caesar” who has been working with Syrian opposition groups since September 2011.

The testimony of “Caesar” on the situation within Syria has as much credibility as the tales of Iraqi chemical weapon mobile laboratories provided by the exiled opposition agent “Curveball” and promoted by the White House on the eve of invasion of Iraq 11 years ago.

As the US prepared for war in the late summer of last year, Kerry and other senior administration officials charged that a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta was the responsibility of the Syrian government. The gas attack came shortly after Kerry met with Syrian opposition figures, who had been experiencing months of military setbacks and were desperate for more direct military assistance from the United States.

Washington’s claims that the gas attack was carried out by Syrian forces have been thoroughly exposed as lies. A UN chemical weapons inspectors’ report last month detailed numerous sarin gas attacks carried out by opposition militia forces, including several confirmed attacks within days of the Ghouta killings. Also last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh exposed the Obama administration’s manipulation of intelligence on the incident.

Now two American experts—former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Theodore Postol—have authored a report further demolishing Washington’s claims. Using a map of Damascus released by the White House on August 30 last year, which detailed the different areas then controlled by government and opposition forces, Lloyd and Postol concluded that the chemical weapons had to have come from within 2 kilometres of the target, and that every possible launching point was in rebel-held territory. Syrian government and military forces could not have been responsible.

Postol told McClatchy News Service: “My view when I started this process was that it couldn’t be anything but the Syrian government behind the attack. But now I’m not sure of anything. The administration narrative was not even close to reality.”

The latest allegations against Syria are no more credible than the sarin gas lies.

The cynicism of US foreign policy, and the threadbare pretense to be promoting democracy and human rights, are further exposed in the ongoing events in Ukraine. Opposition protests aimed at unseating the Russian-aligned government have been orchestrated by the US and Germany, both of which remain unperturbed by the leading role played by fascist organisations within the opposition. These groups are the direct descendants of the anticommunist proxy forces that worked with the Nazis during the occupation of Ukraine in the Second World War and helped carry out the genocide of the Jews in the country.

Today, the neo-fascists are hailed as potential statesmen by senior US officials. Just a few weeks ago, Senator John McCain publicly met with the notorious anti-Semite and leader of the Svoboda (Freedom) Party, Oleg Tyagnibok.

The crises in Ukraine and Syria testify to the Obama administration’s willingness to recklessly promote extreme right-wing forces to advance the predatory economic and geostrategic interests of the American ruling class.

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Syrian Coalition Calls for Setting a Specific Timeframe for Geneva II Negotiations.

Louay Safi, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition stresses that there must be a specific timeframe negotiations at Geneva II. “Trust can be built only through the regime’s recognition of Geneva I Communique which calls for the forming of a transitional ruling body with full powers.” Abdul Rahman Al Haj, a member of the Syrian National Council, questioned the likelihood of acceptance of the regime’s delegation system to set a specific timeframe for negotiations, citing Moallem’s exceeding of the time allotted for him during the opening of the conference. Hajj also said that “the Assad regime is still ignoring that for Syrians, time is blood, and is trying to exploit time to win the negotiations.” Safi slammed Bashar Jaafari’s remarks that they came to Geneva II as a fulfillment of the promise they made. “Coming to Geneva should not be an end in itself. Rather, it is a means to achieving a political solution that puts an end to tyranny and stops the killing machine that left hundreds of thousands of victims.” Moreover, Safi criticized Jaafari’s remarks that accused some delegations to Geneva as “ambassadors of terrorist organizations, not diplomatic delegations representing their countries.” Safi said that this is “a proof that the Assad regime is still living in political illusions and lies it mad. The international community must realize that terrorism is now a pre-made charge used by the Assad regime against whoever has a different opinion, whether from people or from foreign countries.”
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 23.01.2014)

Egypt to Strip “Palestinian” Hamas Leaders of Egyptian Citizenship

Why do they have Egyptian citizenship you might ask, if they’re really members of the ancient Palestinian nation? (est. 1991) It’s because they are Egyptians.

Much of the so-called Palestinian Arab leadership consists of Egyptians.

Arafat was born in Cairo in 1929, before Israel was even founded as a modern state. Mahmoud Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, who was planning to vote in the Egyptian election, is set to lose his Egyptian citizenship.


And then there was Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad who has a tendency to state inconvenient truths.

Personally, half my family is Egyptian. We are all like that. More than 30 families in the Gaza Strip are called Al-Masri [“Egyptian”]. Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis.

Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called Al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian. Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are a part of you.

Joan Peters’ important book From Time Immemorial had already documented much of this. And it’s why the left has spent a great deal of time trying to discredit Peters and her book.

Because if the so-called Palestinians are really nothing more than Egyptian and Syrian migrants, then the legitimacy of their cause falls apart.

The (1831-1840) conquest, by Egypt’s Mohammed Ali, was solidified by a flow of Egyptian and Sudanese migrants settling empty spaces between Gaza and Tul-Karem up to the Hula Valley. They followed in the footsteps of thousands of Egyptian draft dodgers, who fled Egypt before 1831 and settled in Acre. The British traveler, H.B. Tristram, identified, in his 1865 The Land of Israel: a journal of travels in Palestine (p. 495), Egyptian migrants in the Beit-Shean Valley, Acre, Hadera, Netanya and Jaffa.

The British Palestine Exploration Fund documented that Egyptian neighborhoods proliferated in the Jaffa area: Saknet el-Mussariya, Abu Kebir, Abu Derwish, Sumeil, Sheikh Muwanis, Salame’, Fejja, etc. In 1917, the Arabs of Jaffa represented at least 25 nationalities, including Persians, Afghanis, Hindus and Balochis. Hundreds of Egyptian families settled in Ara’ Arara’, Kafer Qassem, Taiyiba and Qalansawa.

“Ibrahim Pasha, Palestine’s Egyptian conqueror, had left behind him permanent colonies of Egyptian immigrants at Beisan, Nablus, Irbid, Acre and Jaffa. Some 500 Egyptian soldiers’ families established a new quarter [in Jaffa], and that was only one among countless similar situations.

This was always about the Muslim physical and cultural colonialism of the land of the indigenous Jewish population.

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Abbas ‘seeks $1B deal with Russia on Gaza natural gas field

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 23 (UPI) — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in Moscow on a four-day visit seeking to secure a $1 billion deal with Russia to develop a natural gas field off the Gaza Strip,

The move would expand what appears to be a determined Russian push into the energy-rich Eastern Mediterranean, Russian media reports indicated.

Russia signed a 25-year agreement with Syria’s embattled regime Dec. 25 that gives Russia’s state-controlled Soyuzneftegaz exclusive exploration, development and production rights over 850 square miles of Syrian waters, Moscow’s first real foothold in the booming Levant Basin.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the basin, which covers Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus and the Gaza Strip, contains at least 123 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.

The Syrian deal gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a way into a region whose resources have barely been tapped and is becoming a strategic energy source that will transform regional economies and open up new supplies of natural gas to Europe.

Moscow also is maneuvering to get a stake in the gas bonanza in Israel.

The Jewish state began production at its Tamar field off Haifa, with reserves of 8 trillion cubic feet, March 30 and the much bigger Leviathan field is scheduled to go onstream in 2017.

The Israelis, who decided in 2012 to export 40 percent of their natural gas, are discussing with nearby Cyprus, currently in the exploration stage, whether to jointly export gas via undersea pipeline to Turkey, and then to Europe, or build a liquefication plant to ship it by tanker.

Israeli press reports indicate the Russians are interested in a partnership in Leviathan, which contains an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet with the consortium that discovered the Israeli fields, Noble Energy of Houston, Texas, and its main Israeli partner, The Delek Group.

Russia has close relations with Cyprus, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago. These revolve primarily around the island’s offshore banking system which has become a key depository for the funds of Moscow’s oligarchs.

Gazprom, the world’s biggest energy conglomerate, is heading the Russian talks with Israel and Cyprus. Although no major breakthrough appears imminent, Israel and Cyprus have not decided whether they will cooperate on exports or whether they will use pipelines or liquefication.

Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency says Gazprom hopes to secure the Gaza contract, but it’s not clear how far negotiations have gone.

Nor was there clarification on what control Abbas’ Palestinian Authority might have over Gaza.

The Palestinian movement split in June 2007, when the fundamentalist Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, leaving Abbas’ Fatah movement, founded in the 1960s by the late Yasser Arafat, holding the West Bank.

Relations between Abbas and Hamas are strained, although there has been talk of reuniting and securing a Moscow deal for Gaza’s gas field might promote that, and possibly bolster peace prospects with Israel.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and opposes the 1993-94 Oslo Accords that Arafat signed, supposedly ending the Palestinians’ war against Israeli occupation.

The Gaza gas field was discovered in 2000 by British Gas, which later became Britain’s BG Group. But it was never developed because of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, in October, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Israeli and Palestinian governments, meaning Abbas’ PA, were in talks on developing the field.

Blair is the Jerusalem-based representative of the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — that oversees efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Although the Gaza field is dwarfed by Israel’s fields to the north, with reserves currently estimated at 30 trillion cubic feet, it has enough gas to supply the Palestinians for up to 12 years.

No progress on these talks has been reported. On Jan. 6, Israel’s Delek Group said it had signed a deal with the PA to provide the West Bank — excluding Gaza — with 167.7 billion cubic feet of gas over 20 years once Leviathan starts producing.

Delek’s deal with the Palestine Power Generation Co. is the first of its kind. Jordan, which borders the West Bank and signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, is expected to sign on as customer for Leviathan gas too.

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Israeli settlers, accompanied by Border Police, break into house near il-Ibrahimi Mosque

On 23 January 2014, two Israeli settlers, accompanied by three Israeli IMG_0002Border Police broke into a room of the derelict al-Sharif house near the il-Ibrahimi mosque.  They used electric tools as well as picks and the Border Police appeared not only to be protecting them, but also offering advice about how to enter the derelict building as well cross over the roof of the structure to get to the Gutnick Center.

The settlers opened a passage from the building to the street that leads to the mosque, creating a new link between the area of Avraham Avinu settlement and the Ibrahimi Mosque.

A local resident called the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee when he saw the settlers and an employee came to the site and took pictures of them working.

The house belongs to Palestinian owners and the settlers were trespassing.  Furthermore, the settlers were violating a previous court order that prohibits settlement activities in this particular building.

Various incidents involving settlers in this area adjacent to the Ibrahimi mosque over the previous year have led the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to believe that Hebron settlers are about to establish an outpost near the Ibrahimi mosque.

(Source / 23.01.2014)

Israeli forces detain 8 in overnight raids

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces arrested six people in Bethlehem in overnight raids Thursday, residents said

They were among eight that Israel said were arrested across the West Bank.

Locals said that Ismail Ali Deriya, 20, Nael Naim Thawabta, 19, Yousif Khalid Takatka, 19, Nabil Hussein Takatka, 18, and Amir Khalil Sabbah were all detained from their homes in Beit Fajjar village south of Bethlehem.

Jihad Khalil Obayyat, 17, was seized in a village east of Bethlehem, residents said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said eight Palestinians were detained overnight.

(Source / 23.01.2014)