‘The Syrian conflict is a very big money machine’

Manaf Halbouni, Syrian artist

Manaf Halbouni tells me that the price of tomatoes in Syria has increased 80 fold since the start of the conflict: “When I left Syria you used to pay five Syrian pounds for one kilo of tomatoes and at the moment it’s around 400… if you want to buy eggs you pay around 500 Syrian pounds. The prices are insane. I really ask myself how they manage to live. The salaries didn’t get higher just the prices.”

Inflation is just one of the tragedies to come out of the war on Syria, along with the constant air strikes, bombs and shootings that terrorise people on a daily basis. Over five million people have fled Syria since the war started in 2011.

As an artist, Halbouni’s response, or protest, against what is happening in his home country has been to build an installation – “a monument against war” – which aims to break our reality so that we consider once again the depths of this tragedy.

The result is three German buses, tipped on their side and secured in place outside the eighteenth century neoclassical monument, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The gate once symbolised the division of the city into East and West and, when the Berlin Wall fell, it represented reunification. Halbouni used original buses from the Bavarian city of Nuremburg that in the past had been used for public transport, the adverts still pasted to the side of them.

“I didn’t want to transport the image of war to Europe one to one because we’re living in peace over here,” says Halbouni. “I just wanted to bring a different feeling to people; usually you see these buses everywhere and you drive them to work and do some other stuff. It’s a different feeling if you see this object you usually use horizontal standing in front of you, you realise something different, especially if you see these buses in a clean place.”

Halbouni was inspired to create the piece in 2015 when he came across an image in theGuardian of three buses that had been turned upright using ropes and manpower in a street in Aleppo. In this position the vehicles formed a shield to protect civilians from regime snipers.

“It was amazing, seeing this will to survive from people,” says Halbouni. “It was a real great symbol of life for me these three buses. People who are probably civilians, not involved in this war, tried to continue their daily lives. This inspired me to cut out the buses in this picture and try to experiment and put them in open spaces around different cities in the world.”

Read more: The million-dollar boat ride across the Mediterranean

The installation was previously erected in front of the Frauenkirche Church in Dresden on the anniversary of the day the allies bombed the city during World War II. It took two years to secure the permission and sponsorship, design the construction and find the buses.

Not everybody was happy with the final product. Halbouni estimates that he received 1,000 pieces of hate mail and a lot of abuse. When the installation was unveiled 400 people stood in the square to shout him down as he tried to explain his work.

The right wing started to cover this and said I am taking their day from them by thinking about other victims of war and they wanted on that day to just remember their own victims. This is really weird because victims are victims and it doesn’t matter where. Because war is always bad

says Halbouni.

“Europe was once at war and most German cities have been destroyed and they rebuilt everything and now [there’s] peace here and it’s a great country,” he continues. “I would also like to transport that there are other parts of the world where this is happening at the moment and I also want to transport a little image of hope to the people like in Aleppo for example, or Syria, and any other places where war is and where cities are destroyed, that war is nothing that will last forever, there will be a day when war will end and people will start to rebuild but it needs time.”

“I saw how a complete city – like Dresden where I’m living – the whole society has been changed during six years,” he adds as an afterthought. “They even don’t have any war. The war is like 4,000 kilometres away, and we had huge changes here. How people think, how people react, and then you have this uprising of the right-wing and the whole city is divided by a problem that is not here. So it’s actually very interesting the changes we’re going through at the moment in Europe.”

Read more: 2 newborns freeze to death in Syria’s Idlib

Halbouni himself is half Syrian, half German and lived in Damascus all his life, studying fine art at university there. He arrived in Germany in 2008 as a student, wasn’t able to go back because of the conflict, and has since lived here through the problems in Syria and amidst the social changes in Germany. “For me at the moment I’m not really accepted, I’m a migrant. For me the logic says OK I’m a citizen of this world because also I’m not Syrian.”

The solution to the Syrian crisis is not just letting all refugees come to Europe, says Halbouni, because most people don’t want to come here – “they’re just coming here because their places have been destroyed and it’s not stopping”. If they could re-enter their cities and start to rebuild they would probably stay there.

“In World War II Dresden was totally destroyed, it was totally wiped out in the Second World War [but then] it just took two days and people entered again and started work. Because they didn’t have to fear that there would be killing again and the war stopped some months after. In Syria it’s totally different, once an air strike comes in you’re not sure if they’re coming in again and [it’s been like that for] six years. It’s a different situation and you need to give people hope, you need to say OK, the war has stopped, and now we can start our life again.”

It’s difficult to predict when this will be because the Syrian conflict, says Halbouni, has not been in the hands of the Syrians for at least four years. “The end will come but actually at the moment I’m still not seeing the big players decide to end it. The Syrian conflict is a very big money machine. Global interests, arms. It’s just about money and power. I heard that a lot of European companies already have contracts over there for rebuilding, even after the war a lot of people are going to earn a lot of money over there.”

“Syria has already been turned into parts where different people are acting,” he adds. “You have now Turkish places, Iranian places, Russian places. There are places where the Turkish army entered, they already started to rebuild and they opened Turkish banks everywhere.”

One of the challenges after the war stops will be rebuilding the country and uniting the people again after they have lived in what Halbouni describes as a “mafia state”.

Monument will help go some way towards helping people understand this: “For the audience it’s just having this moment of thinking about our peace and how precious our peace is.”

“I just wish an end for this war. At least to give the civilians a little bit of peace where nowhere is being bombed, no one is shooting each other, so they can start rebuilding the country again. That would be the greatest actually.”

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Israel detains Palestinian minor in Jerusalem

Israeli forces brutally arrest a Palestinian teenager

Israeli occupation forces arrested a Palestinian child during raids on various areas in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem yesterday.

According to Palestinian sources, Israeli military forces arrested 13-year-old Hossam Zeitoun after raiding his family’s home in the town of Silwan.

They also raided and searched a number of Palestinian houses, destroying property. No arrests were reported.

The coordinator of the Popular Committees Against the Wall and Settlements in the southern West Bank, Ratib Al-Jabour, said that a group of illegal settlers attacked Palestinian farmers from the Raba’i family while they were ploughing their land and harvesting crops.

Read: ‘Israel judiciary protecting perpetrators of crimes against Palestinians’

He added that settlers assaulted Palestinian farmers by beating them, wounding Fadel Ahmed Jibril in the foot.

Palestinians often come under fire from Israeli occupation forces and settlers who throw stones at them. A culture of impunity means no one is brought to task for attacks against Palestinians.

(Source / 25.11.2017)

US did not propose peace plan, it is blackmailing us, claims PLO’s Erekat

Saeb Erekat

Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on October 13, 2015

The Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation Executive Committee has claimed that Washington has not proposed a peace plan and is actually “blackmailing” the Palestinians, Safa news agency reported on Friday.

“We have continuous meetings with the US administration, but have not received anything official to date,” explained Saeb Erekat in a televised speech broadcast from Washington. “All that is being said by the media are not leaks, but expectations. Unlike its predecessors, the current American administration has not announced that it is adopting the two-state solution and opposing [Israeli] settlements.”

The veteran official noted that the Palestinians told the Trump team that they would only accept the two-state solution and work out the final-status issues according to international resolutions as the basis for any future agreement.

Meanwhile, he accused the US administration of “blackmailing” and attempting to punish the Palestinian people. He noted that there are 27 draft laws currently in Congress covering punitive measures against the Palestinians, including one calling for a halt to financial assistance and another calling for the US embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

With regard to the PLO office in the US, Erekat pointed out that its licence expired on 18 November but it has not been renewed by the State Department.

Read: Netanyahu is redefining ethnic cleansing not pursuing genuine peace

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Abbas denies investigations into aide’s alleged corruption

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a central committee meeting of Fatah Movement in Ramallah, West Bank on 13 September 2017

The Palestinian Authority President has denied that investigations are taking place into corruption allegations made against his close aide Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Safa news agency reported on Friday.

Al-Habbash is the Chief of the PA’s Judges and Mahmoud Abbas’s adviser on religious and international Islamic relations. He is accused of graft and using his positions to further his own objectives.

Several Palestinian sources and mass media also revealed Habbash’s wealth over the past few days and how he used his position to recruit close relatives and give them senior positions within the authority. The reports gave details of how he has bought villas, apartments and other real estate across the occupied West Bank, and allege that he has “faked” ownership documents.

A statement from Abbas’s office accused all such reports of being “fabricated” and “baseless”, and called for journalists and the media to be “precise” and “cautious” when they deal with this issue. They should, insisted officials, depend on well-known PA sources when they report such matters.

Read: The resumption of PA security coordination with Israel is no surprise

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Susiya under renewed threat of demolition by Israel

Khirbet Susiya

A Palestinian man sits outside his tent in the southern West Bank village of Khirbet Susiya

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Palestinian village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron Hills area of the southern occupied West Bank, is under renewed threat of expulsion by the Israeli state, according to a statement from international activists working in the area.The activists released a statement on Saturday saying that on Wednesday, November 22, the Israeli State Attorney’s Office announced that within 15 days, it would demolish some 20 buildings in the village, representing approximately one-fifth of the total number of buildings in Susiya.Israel claimed that the buildings were constructed in violation of a judicial order, though the Palestinians in Susiya deny such claims.“In accordance with international law, Israel has no right to change the local legislation, including local practices relating to property and settlement, unless there is a clear security need to do so,” the statement said.Susiya is considered “illegal” by the Israeli state and has been embroiled in legal battles with the Israeli state for years. The village is located in Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control, where Israel refuses to permit Palestinian construction.Rights groups have pointed out that this policy lines up with Israel’s goals of expanding Israeli settlements throughout Area C while depopulating Palestinian villages there.In the case of Susiya, many of the village’s 200 residents have ties to the land that predate the creation of the state of Israel, and Ottoman-era land documents to prove it. However, the village lies between an Israeli settlement and Israel-controlled archaeological site, making them a target for Israeli demolitions.“The day residents are expelled from their land will seal their fate as a farming community with a unique tradition. It will also seal the fate of their farmland, as settlers from the adjacent settlement will gradually invade their land without the law enforcement authorities taking any action to prevent them,” the statement said, adding that “this is precisely what has already happened to 400 dunams (100 acres) of land that belonged to neighboring communities.”Susiya’s attorney, Quamar Mishriqi-Assad, co-director of Haqel: In Defense of Human Rights, said that “the demolition of one-fifth of the village is an extreme step that will damage the most basic humanitarian needs and the very humanity of those involved, without it even having been proved that they have violated the law.”Assad pointed out that the demolition will leave 100 people, half of them children, without shelter just as winter weather has begun to settle in.“Israel is guided neither by law nor justice, but by the desire to evacuate the area,” Assad said, adding that “over the years, residents have attempted to regulate their residence of their land, however, all their requests for permits, appeals, and a plan have been rejected – not even a single building has received a permit.”

(Source / 25.11.2017)

BDS Gulf Holds its First Regional Anti-normalisation Conference

25 NOV
5:39 AM

Last week, BDS Gulf held its first regional anti-normalization conference in Kuwait City, with a broad participation of speakers, organizations, activists and political figures from the entire Gulf region. The conference, which was followed by workshops focused on campaign strategies and a practical regional action plan, made several recommendations regarding anti-normalization and activating BDS campaigns in the Gulf summarized below.



In response to G4S’ complicity with Israel’s regime of oppression and its active involvement with the Israeli police forces, the conference called for launching a unified regional campaign targeting G4S’ contracts and bids in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

G4S is considered a strategic target for BDS Gulf as it plans to build on the milestone achieved when the Kuwaiti Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS) divested its shares from the company last year. Additionally, G4S has lost dozens of contracts in Jordan and Lebanon over the past two years, giving the campaign in the Gulf a more fertile ground to build on the successes of the #StopG4S campaign in the Arab World.

Despite the sale of its Israeli affiliate, which continues to trade under the “G4S Israel” name and uses the G4S logo, the company still holds 50% of Policity Ltd. which was contracted by the Israeli police to build and operate Israel’s National Police Academy, inaugurated in January 2015. Located in a 55-acre plot in Beit Shemesh, the National Police Academy combines all of Israel’s police training under one roof, replacing 20 facilities throughout the country.

Israeli police forces are regularly condemned by human rights organizations for committing egregious violations of international law, including war crimes against Palestinians under Israel’s military occupation.

Policity, the company owned and operated by G4S, is responsible for at least 40% of the training instruction of Israeli police, amounting to about 40,000 hours in the current contract. The training provided by National Police Academy includes crowd control, house raids, interrogation techniques, target shooting and undercover operations — repression tactics aimed exclusively at Palestinians.

Additionally, in July, video evidence showed cars with the G4S logo supplying the security systems used by the Israeli government to restrict Palestinian access to the al-Aqsa mosque. FST Biometrics, the company that was expected to supply the smart surveillance cameras that Israel then planned to install at the doors of al-Aqsa Mosque, is a partner of AMAG Technology, a company owned by G4S.  


Ethical investment and procurement legislations

The BDS Gulf conference, which was welcomed by the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament and attended by a number of parliamentarians from several GCC countries, called for the adoption of national laws and regulations that would require private entities and public institutions alike to exclude companies complicit in Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid from bids and contracts.

Such companies include G4S, Alstom, Hyundai Heavy Industries, HP, among others, especially those that are anticipated to be listed on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ database of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlement regime in the occupied territory.


Divestment of sovereign funds  

The conference called upon public and sovereign funds, akin to the PIFSS in Kuwait, to divest their shares from international companies that are targeted by the BDS movement for their complicity in the occupation. Moreover, the conference recommended the publication of an investment screen, including a list of companies that are involved in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, to guide institutions as to which companies should be considered for divestment.



On a broader level, the conference was widely regarded as a timely step to reaffirm the massive popular support in GCC countries for Palestinian rights and strengthening public and popular opposition to any possible change of policies towards normalizing relations with Israel in the region.

The BDS Gulf conference reminded GCC states of their legal obligations to hold Israel to account through the imposition of sanctions including by ending military trade and actively seeking the expulsion of Israel from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), FIFA and other international forums.

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Israeli Soldiers Abduct A Palestinian Near Jenin

25 NOV
6:30 PM

Israeli soldiers invaded, Saturday, Rommana village, west of the northern West Bank city of Jenin, and abducted one Palestinian. The soldiers also caused many others to suffer the effects of teargas inhalation, in an earlier invasion.

Media sources in Jenin said the soldiers abducted Ahmad Waleed Abu Bakr, 25, while he was walking back home after heading to a local store.

Earlier at dawn, several army jeeps invaded the village, and fired many gas bombs at local youngsters, who hurled stones at them, causing many Palestinians to suffer the effects of teargas inhalation.

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Rabbi Urges Israeli Military to ‘Finish Off’ Wounded Palestinians

25 NOV
5:52 AM

A Jewish rabbi has urged Israeli occupation forces to “finish off” wounded Palestinians who carry out resistance attacks, and to refrain from providing them with medical treatment or first aid, leaving them to bleed to death.

The right-wing, Rabbi Baruch Marzel, who lives in an illegal settlement in Hebron, claims that “since the Elor Azarya affair, terrorists are not killed and soldiers do not finish the job and do not make sure that the terrorist is dead.”

However, according to the PNN, the facts on the ground indicate that Israelis have been continuously targeting unarmed Palestinians. The most recent incident was when a member of the Givati Brigade killed a young Palestinian man, Mohammed Musa, 29, and left him to bleed to death. His sister Latifa Musa, 33, was wounded, which forced the brigade’s leadership in the occupied West Bank to reprimand the soldier and dismiss another officer.

Elor Azarya shot Abdul Fattah Al-Sharif as he lay motionless on the floor in occupied Hebron on 24 March 2016. After pulling the trigger Azaria said: “He deserved to die.”

Marzel also told Israel’s Channel 7: “The terrorist is evacuated by [Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical service] MDA to our hospitals and receives treatment for hundreds of thousands of shekels alongside the wounded Jew.

The time has come for the Israeli government to stop humiliating its victims and the people of Israel. The terrorist must not be treated. A terrorist must die as soon as he comes to harm Jews.”

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Half of Arab Jerusalem Population Works for Jews

An Aerial view of the Old City of Jerusalem

A new study published in Jerusalem on Friday showed that 50 percent of the workforce in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem works for Jewish businessmen, saying Jews prefer them because “they work for lower wages and for longer hours than their Israeli counterparts.”

The study, by Israeli and Arab researchers Marik Shtern and Ahmed Asmar, was published by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research under the title “Behind the Glass Ceiling”, in which working relations between Israelis and Palestinians are documented.

The researchers said that although the Arabs of East Jerusalem have not given up their Palestinian nationalism, their integration into Israeli society is increasing.

There are more high school graduates according to the Israeli curriculum, more are choosing to study at Israeli universities, more marriages are taking place between couples from East Jerusalem and Arab Israelis (Palestinians of 1948) and more are adopting western lifestyles.

Above all, the workers of East Jerusalem form a large part of the labor market in the the western side of the city, revealing racial discrimination against the Arabs.

Through a series of interviews, questionnaires and focus groups, Shtern and Asmar draw a complex picture of formal and informal ties between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem workplaces, both in periods of quiet and during waves of terrorist attacks.

Often, the picture contains contradictions. For example, the study found that Jews are comfortable interacting with Arab employees whereas the Arab workers often feel exploited.

It turns out that in many workplaces Arab employees are banned from speaking Arabic. In most joint workplaces it is also forbidden for Jews or Arabs to “talk about politics.”

Shtern and Asmar call it “the mechanism of survival and preservation of the common place of work from the implication of infiltration of political conflict into it.”

The alternative for many of the workers is getting to know each other better through Facebook and WhatsApp.

The research shows that tension prevails at the time of religious-nationalist confrontations and operations, and then Jews and Arabs fear the use of public transportation.

The research has interesting data, showing that about 49 percent of the Arab workforce in east Jerusalem, some 35,000 people, are employed in the Jewish job market.

Most Arab employees in Jerusalem come from a society in which 82 percent of families live below the poverty line and which features one of the highest school drop-out rates in the country (36%). City infrastructure in Arab neighborhoods – sewage, water, roads – is also for the most part substandard.

For east Jerusalem Arabs, the Jewish job market in the city is a lifeline. While Jewish employers pay Arabs less money for longer hours than Jewish employees, the Arabs are still taking home more pay than if they would be working in the east of the city or in Palestinian-controlled territories.

The figures show that Arabs comprise 71 percent of workers in the construction sector and 57 percent of workers in public transportation. Arabs also make up 40 percent of workers in the hotel and restaurant industries, 20 percent of workers in municipal healthcare and welfare and 46 percent of employees in water, sewer, and cleaning services.

(Source / 25.11.2017)

Hariri: We are Committed to Revolution’s Principles & Serious About Establishing a Transitional Governing Body Without Assad

Head of the delegation of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Nasr al-Hariri stressed that the forces representing the revolution have united themselves and can now begin direct negotiations with the Assad regime in order to launch political talks on the basis of UN resolutions.

Hariri told a news conference in Riyadh Friday that the opposition was going to Geneva to hold direct talks and was ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table.”

Hariri reaffirmed the opposition’s commitment to the fundamental principles of the Syrian revolution and said they were serious about establishing a Transitional Governing Body (TGB) without the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad. He called for UN supervision of any talks to resolve the conflict in Syria.

Hariri pointed out that Russia’s proposal to hold a conference in the city of Sochi did not serve the political process, adding that all talks on Syria should be held under the UN auspices.

Hariri called on the international community, including Russia, to concentrate all efforts to serve the political process according to international resolutions in Geneva under UN auspices so as to save time and reach the desired solution.

Hariri noted that the upcoming round of negotiations in Geneva should be direct and serious as well as according to a clear agenda, calling for all issues to be put on the negotiations table.

Hariri said that the Riyadh II meeting was an important step that had put the international community to the test as there was no longer an excuse preventing the Assad regime from engaging in direct negotiations to bring about political transition according to the international resolutions.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department / 25.11.2017)