Thursday, August 21, 2008

Israel continues to ease West Bank security

Despite Palestinian denials, evidently Israeli easing of restrictions and security checks in the West Bank is real enough and has been proceeding apace. It will continue as long as there is no terror threat. Inasmuch as the easing of security is not in the interest of extremists, that may not be very long.
August 21st, 2008

IDF SPOX: Crossing between Ramallah and its southern villages opened for free passage

As of today, August 21st, 2008, the Bir Nebala crossing, which connects Ramallah with villages to its south, will be open for free passage of Palestinian vehicles. It is the third crossing to be opened this month.

The crossing was opened following security assessments in the Central Command and as part of the relief plan authorized by the Minister of Defence, Mr. Ehud Barak, and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

Approximately 100 IDF checkpoints were removed in the past months in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. In addition, several major crossings were opened for free passage, improving the free movement of the Palestinian population. The Judea Junction crossing, which connects Hebron and the Tarqumiya crossing, was opened for free truck passage on August 7th, 2008 and the Ganot crossing, which connects Nablus and villages to its north, was opened for free passage of vehicles on August 9th, 2008.

Other recently opened crossings include: Rimonim crossing between the Jordan Valley and Ramallah; The Asira Ash-Shamaliyah checkpoint between the Nablus area and the northern Samaria; The A'rava crossing between Jericho and the Dead Sea area; The "Sheep Junction" crossing between Hebron and its northern villages.

The IDF will continue with the easing of restrictions for the benefit of the Palestinian civilian population who are unassociated with terrorism, while doing its utmost to combat terror infrastructures and maintain the security of Israeli civilians.

Can the Iranian nuke project be destroyed?

Alex Fishman argues that the Iranian nuclear project cannot be destroyed because they have developed a "giant infrastructure." But the fact is, they are only still developing it. They do not have an operational nuclear system or nuclear ballistic missile system. The Germans were developing a huge military infrastructure in 1937, but it was not ready yet. An early invasion would have found them unready, and probably would have toppled the Nazi regime. The problem is to find enough targets, which are carefully hidden, that are vital to the nuclear development project, and to gain international legitimacy for strikes that would probably involve numerous civilian casualties, as many of those targets are in populated areas for precisely that reason - to deter a strike.
Alex Fishman
Published:  08.18.08, 16:14 / Israel Opinion
It's not the new Iranian toy satellite that worries Israel's security experts. What bothers them much more is the fact that Iran's "space show" Sunday revealed yet another piece of this giant puzzle, which makes up the strategic threat being built before our eyes.

Every time another trace of what goes on in the Ayatollah kingdom is revealed, it turns out we're facing a giant infrastructure with many arms, starting from the uranium mines and culminating with a nuclear warhead. Those who believe this infrastructure can be destroyed in some kind of aerial strike or another are hallucinating. The regime in Tehran is the only one able to stop this project.
Between the mines and the nuclear labs there are tens of thousands of scientists and engineers, research institutes, and plants involved in producing ballistic missiles. And now, the Iranians exposed their space aspirations.
On Sunday, the Iranians in fact declared that they closed the circle: They already have ballistic missiles, they knows how to enrich uranium using centrifuges or lasers, they may also be advancing on the plutonium track, the plans for a nuclear warhead are already in the works, and now they made a public entry into the satellite era. The intelligence and communication satellites are aimed at serving Iran's nuclear arsenal and making it much more effective.
The satellite launched by the Iranians Sunday is really the beginning of the road. As long as they do not possess the technological capability to fire a 300-400 kg (roughly 650 – 880 pounds) satellite into space, they are still not members of this club. What we saw was the launch of a missile that did not explode upon firing or in the air. This doesn't say much about prospects of future success, but it's a start.

Constant Iranian progress
When Israel fired its intelligence satellites, it in fact showcased its technological capabilities, and its ability to independently produce high-quality missile systems and fire a satellite to a precise spot. This can hint to capabilities that Israel possesses, or not, when it comes to ground-to-ground missiles.

With the Iranians, it's the opposite process. They don't need to hint to anyone they have ballistic missiles: they already showed them. What's new here is the fact the Iranians are not stopping for a moment to build their strategic threat. If international pressures prompt a temporary break in one area - for example, developing nuclear warheads (as the Americans claim) - they boost the pace of progress in other areas, such a satellites, which is a completely legitimate track, or in less legitimate areas, such as uranium enrichment.

After all, ultimately all these tracks will come together at one point. Yet the Western world, captivated in a sort of repression or crazy denial, doesn't really believe it will happen.

This immense Iranian project cannot be stopped by bombing one facility or another. In the early 1980s, there was one core reactor that Iraq received from France. The moment it was destroyed, the project was eliminated. This time around, we are dealing with a monster being built before our eyes and the eyes of the world. Only intense international persuasion could, perhaps, take this project off track.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gaza - Training to be a suicide bomber

How do you train to be a suicide bomber? This evokes the following cartoon image: 

Ha'aretz story:
[Video at site]
The cease-fire agreement struck between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip has brought a semblance of calm to the region, but neither side has stopped preparing for the possible renewal of violence.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad members recently offered TV cameras a rare glimpse into training undergone by women who are prepared to carry out suicide attacks should the Israel Defense Forces reinvade the coastal territory.

The women take as an example Fatma Al-Najar, a 57-year-old grandmother who blew herself up in Gaza in 2006, wounding three soldiers.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Turkey bows to the dark side


Los Angeles Times 

Turkey bows to the dark side

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit is a sign that the West can no longer take Turkey for granted as a staunch ally against Iran.
By Soner Cagaptay
August 19, 2008
ISTANBUL, TURKEY -- Praying in Istanbul's Blue Mosque on Friday, I witnessed firsthand Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's international publicity coup.

Ahmadinejad's visit produced little in terms of substantive policy; the signing of a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline deal was put off. But Ahmadinejad got something just as valuable: a chance to spin his own image, court popularity and bash the United States and Israel.

I've long been fond of the Blue Mosque because it is where, many years ago, I attended my first Friday prayers. Last Friday, though, I felt uncomfortable in the prayer hall, where I found myself in front of God but next to Ahmadinejad, who turned the ritual into a political show.

Departing from established practice of having visiting Muslim heads of state pray in a smaller mosque in Istanbul, the government allowed Ahmadinejad to pray in the Blue Mosque, Turkey's symbol of tolerant Ottoman Islam. With permission from Turkish authorities, he also allowed Iranian television to videotape him during the entire prayer, in violation of Islamic tradition, which requires quiet and intimate communion between God and the faithful. There was so much commotion around Ahmadinejad that the imam had to chide the congregants. Then, as he left the mosque, Ahmadinejad got out of his car to encourage a crowd of about 300 to chant, "Death to Israel! Death to America!"

Even without this behavior, any visit from a leader representing an authoritarian, anti-Western autocracy would have created controversy in Turkey just a few years ago. Not today. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government not only opened the Blue Mosque to Ahmadinejad but accommodated his refusal to pay respects at the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey -- a major violation of protocol for an official visit.

In 1996, when Iran's president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, refused to go to Ataturk's mausoleum, snubbing Turkey's identity as a secular pro-Western state, it led to a public outcry and sharp criticism of Iran. Relations soured. When the Iranian ambassador suggested a few months later that Turkey should follow Sharia law, he was forced to leave the country.

This time, though, the AKP government has taken a different stance, playing down the diplomatic insult. It moved the meeting from the capital, Ankara, to Istanbul and labeled it a "working" meeting rather than an official visit. Yet all sorts of AKP officials flocked to Istanbul to meet with the Iranian president.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan asked the Turkish public to ignore the snub and instead "focus on the big picture." It is the "big picture," though, that is most disconcerting. By extending an invitation to Ahmadinejad, the first such move by any NATO or European Union member country, Turkey has broken ranks with the West. The West can no longer take Turkey for granted as a staunch ally against Tehran.

In the past, Turkey stood with the West, especially after the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran. Also, Tehran gave refuge to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which carried out terror attacks in Turkey from bases in Iran. Since the Iraq war began, however, Iran has shifted tactics to win Turkey's heart. While the U.S. delayed taking action, Iran actually bombed PKK camps in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, since the AKP assumed power in Turkey in 2002, bilateral visits with Iran have boomed; Ahmadinejad's trip crowns dozens of visits by high-level officials. Trade has boomed as well, increasing from $1.2 billion in 2002 to $8 billion today. And even though the two countries didn't formalize the deal last week, plans are still going forward for a $3.5-billion Turkish investment in Iranian gas fields -- this at a time when the West is adopting financial sanctions against Iran to cripple Tehran's ability to make a nuclear bomb. If there were any doubts about a Turkish-Iranian rapprochement, they were laid to rest last week: During Ahmadinejad's visit, the two countries agreed to make 2009 an "Iran-Turkey year of culture" -- marked by regular cultural and political programs and exchanges -- to bring the two countries closer.

Ahmadinejad's visit also speaks volumes about the future of Turkish-U.S. ties regarding Iran. According to a recent opinion poll in Turkey, when asked what the country should do in the event of a U.S. attack against Iran, only 4% of respondents said Turkey should support the U.S., while 33% wanted to back Iran and 63% chose neutrality.

As I shared the canopy of the Blue Mosque's divine dome with Ahmadinejad, I could not help but ponder how far Turkish foreign policy has shifted since 2002. Before, Turkey picked allies based on shared values -- democracy, Western identity, secular politics and the principle of open society -- that appeared to reflect the Turkish soul. Iran has not become a pro-Western, secular democracy since 1996, nor have Tehran's mullahs accepted gender equality or the idea of a free society. Yet Ankara has had a change of heart toward Tehran. Years from now, Ahmadinejad's visit to Istanbul will be remembered as the tipping point at which the West lost Turkey, and Turkey lost its soul.

Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a visiting professor at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul.

Free the Arab Prisoners Now!

It is illuminating that Hezbollah becaome Lebanese "heroes" by freeing one terrorist from Israeli jails through a campaign of kidnappings that cost Lebanon over a thousand dead in the Second Lebanon War, while at the same time no Lebanese party has dared to lift a finger to free the Lebanese who have simply disappeared in Syria.
What is wrong with this picture?
Ami Isseroff

Dilemma of the Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails
By: Elias Bejjani
August 19/08

Like parrots, the Syrian Baathist regime's officials keep rhetorically insisting that there are no arbitrarily Lebanese detainees incarcerated in their notorious and Nazi like jails. 
Logically and legally these false allegations and big lies cannot be acceptable unless a United Nations team is formed to investigate the whole matter without any kind of involvement or pressure from both the Lebanese and Syrian authorities. 
For thirty long painful years families of the detainees and Human rights organizations have been calling for the release of all the Lebanese detainees (700 -1000) arbitrarily held in Syria's jails and for the end of this human tragedy. Unfortunately their calls have fallen on deaf ears, complete disregard for laws, disrespect for human dignity, and stony-like consciousness.

The Free people of Lebanon are extremely concerned and frustrated because of the way that their officials have been handling this humanitarian calamity. The Syrian and Lebanese officials' conduct is mostly characterized by complete disregard for human rights, and an apparent shameful contempt for the dignity of the Lebanese citizens.  
Concerned  Lebanese citizens are wondering for how long these officials are going to keep pretending that this predicament does not exist?
Do they really think it will disappear and die without clear knowledge of the fate and whereabouts of each and every detainee?  
The newly elected Lebanese president Michel Suleiman has paid last week an important visit to Syria and met Syria's ruler Bashar Al Assad. The detainees' file topped his agenda as was officially announced.
Unfortunately Suleiman returned home empty handed. Knowing the Syrian regime's vicious mentality of camouflaging and elusiveness, that was not a surprise. The joint Syrian- Lebanese statement that was released after the visit stated that the detainees' file will be dealt with by joint committees. 

It is worth mentioning that committees in Lebanon's and Syria's political dictionaries denotes to graves where taboo files are usually buried.

For the last 30 years this on-going human tragedy has been advocated for locally, regionally and world wide through the highest level of diplomacy.  These efforts forced Damascus in year 2000 to comply partially with the issue and release 54 detainees. Sine then very few releases took place.

Human rights' atrocities inflicted by the Syrian regime on the Lebanese peaceful citizens are not new; they have been unfolding on almost a daily basis during the years of the horrible Syrian occupation (1976-2005) of Lebanon.
The Syrian invading army had fought vigorously with many Lebanese and Palestinian factions, groups and parties. Its Intelligence Services had abducted many citizens from all across Lebanon. Some were abducted for being members of parties opposing the Syrian hegemony, while others for taking up an armed struggle against them. In addition, hundreds of Lebanese soldiers and citizens are still currently held arbitrarily in Syrian Nazi-like jails for years without any knowledge of their whereabouts.
The procedures used by the Syrian army and intelligence to abduct Lebanese citizens are as follows:
1-Directly kidnapped by the Syrian forces in Lebanon and transferred to Syria.
2-Indirectly kidnapped by militias and armed individuals collaborating with Syria.
3-Held by Lebanese internal security and then handed over to the Syrians illegally.

According to a pile of testimonies delivered by Lebanese citizens released from Syrian jails and documented by Human Rights' Organizations, the abducted went through the same routine criminal interrogative procedures. After being arrested and questioned for hours or days at times under torture and abuse, they are either let go, or transferred to Syria for more questioning, lasting at times for months or years.  They could be held indefinitely unless someone with some political clout intervene on their behalf and set up their release.
However, a great number of the detainees remain held for questioning for years. Once the questioning is over the detainees are transferred to one of the many notorious Syrian jails without any kind of trial nor the presence of a lawyer. They then undergo a series of torture and abuse that differs in intensity according to their charges.
They are stripped of their names and instead given numbers. Those who dare to utter their names are harshly punished.  Their detention is kept secret, and no information whatsoever is given to the detainees' families, to the Red Cross or to the Human Rights International organizations.
For the last 30 years Syria has continuously refused to allow the Read Cross or any of the international Human Rights' organizations to visit its jails. The Syrian authorities has also been adamantly refusing to issue a list with the names of the detainees held in its jails.

The detention conditions in all the Syrian jails is far from humane.  The rooms are dark with no sunlight. No proper sanitation facilities; detainees have to relieve themselves inside the room. Very poor hygienic conditions, food is the left over crumbs and very few lucky detainees escape malnutrition, asthma, heart problems, cancer, tuberculoses and many other health threatening diseases.
Charges inflicted on the detainees were always the same; collaboration with Israelis against Syria, or spying for an opposition party such as the Lebanese forces, Free Patriotic Movement and other Lebanese opposition groups. Such atrocities have never been reported that bad anywhere in the whole world according to statements issued by lawyers and scholars worldwide.

The security agreement signed between Lebanon and Syria under the so-called brotherhood collaboration does give in any of its articles the Syrian army any right to abduct or jail any Lebanese for questioning inside or outside Lebanon.
According to an earlier Lebanese-Syrian agreement drafted in 1951, Lebanon reserves the right to reject the extradition of any individual to the Syrian authorities even if he was a Syrian citizen. The individual will have to undergo his trial in Lebanon in compliance with its laws. All agreements signed between Syria and Lebanon do not allow such Syrian atrocities.  All the practices that the Syrian army and its intelligence services had conducted in Lebanon are illegal and were practiced against all local and international laws.
The Syrian regime will not put an end to this 30 year ongoing dilemma unless the whole file is referred to the United Nations. This regime knows no mercy and pressure is the only language that its officials comprehend. Accordingly, we call on the Lebanese officials, politicians and human rights NGOs to work seriously on handing over this file to the United Nations. All free world countries should come to the rescue of our living Lebanese victims in those notorious jails and spare no effort in pressuring the Syrian regime to put an end to this human dilemma.
Elias Bejjani

Middle East: Georgia on everyone's mind

In the Middle East, many of us have Georgia on our minds. A flood of articles have tried to read various meanings into the Russian invasion of Georgia for the Middle East. It will take a while to sort the wheat from the chaff.

For Israelis, the most obvious lesson is supposedly that the US abandoned its ally, Georgia, when the going got tough, as Yoel Marcus notes. However, firstly, those who have been following my writing know that I have been warning about Israeli over-dependence on the United States for a long time (eg United States Mandate for Palestine). The folly of relying exclusively on a single foreign ally is self-evident, and does not need illustration. On the other hand, the Russians are supposedly withdrawing from Georgia (though the withdrawal is not so evident). The opera is not over until the fat lady sings. Who is to say that US and NATO pressure did not help to bring about this withdrawal, if it happens? It should also be noted that despite prior Israeli support for Georgia, Israel was not very forthcoming with military or other practical aid in the present crisis. One is reminded of the proverb about people who live in glass houses.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Religious police, good grief !

Old news but astonishing:
Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue
Mecca city governor, Prince Abdulmajeed bin Abdul Aziz, visits the fire-damaged girls school
The Mecca city governor visited the fire-damaged school
Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.

In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.

About 800 pupils were inside the school in the holy city of Mecca when the tragedy occurred.

Saudi hospital staff carry a victim of the girl school fire to an ambulance in Mecca
15 girls died in the blaze and more than 50 others were injured
According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.

One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".

The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.

"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.

Relatives' anger

Families of the victims have been incensed over the deaths.

Most of the victims were crushed in a stampede as they tried to flee the blaze.

The school was locked at the time of the fire - a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes.

The religious police are widely feared in Saudi Arabia. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation, and ensuring prayers are performed on time.

Those who refuse to obey their orders are often beaten and sometimes put in jail.

Virtue or Vice? Maged Elhayek, a veterinarian, says the ban on selling dogs and cats is a bid to stop people from 'acting Westernized.'
Caryle Murphy

In dog-walking, Saudi virtue police see vice

In Riyadh, theories that the practice can encourage flirting revives a ban on buying and selling cats and dogs.

By Caryle Murphy | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

from the August 12, 2008 edition

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - A complaint about the "phenomenon" of dog-walking recently landed on the desk of Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz.

This practice was "becoming more and more acceptable and ... being taken advantage of by some young men in a way that conflicts with the rules and regulations of Islam," according to the protest from Othman al-Othman, head of Riyadh's religious police.

The young men, it seems, were being young men. They were "using cats and dogs to make passes at women and pester families," Mr. Othman told Al Hayat newspaper.

Prince Sattam, acting governor of Riyadh Province, responded by ordering city officials to begin enforcing a 1994 religious edict banning the sale of dogs and cats, because the prophet Muhammad had encouraged Muslims to refrain from trading in the animals, according to an officially circulated memo.

Although the ban does not prohibit walking your dog or owning a pet, Al Othman told Al Hayat that "if a man is caught with a pet, the pet will be immediately confiscated. And the man will be forced to sign a document pledging not to repeat the act."

For days after, the no-pet-in-public ban – consistent with the often heavy-handed efforts by the Saudi religious police to control the lives of ordinary people –was mocked in newspapers and blogs around the world.

Saudi-born veterinarian Maged Elhayek says he took a "panicky" call from a US Army vet asking if foreigners would still be allowed to take their pets out of the country.

Mr. Elhayek says that the religious edict goes beyond what the prophet Muhammad said. "First of all, he only discouraged people from selling dogs, he didn't prohibit it," said the vet. And there was no mention of cats in that advice.

The religious police "are trying to stop people from buying cats and dogs so they wouldn't act like a Westernized nation," says Elhayek. "I don't know what they're really after. You cannot stop people from being opened up to the world."

At the Life and Nature pet store, the ban was met mostly with derision.

"What kind of logic is this?" asks teenager Abdulaziz A. Al Bahassan, cradling his cat, "Dallah," in his arms. "What about little kids who like cats and dogs? They're not going to use them to flirt with girls, so why are they banning these people from buying?"

"I'm prettier than the dog, if I want to flirt with women, I'd just use myself!" says young Mohammed Al Anezi. "I wouldn't need the dog."

He adds that "there should be nothing wrong with buying a cat or dog. It should be normal."

Abdelaziz Al Yousef, who has a German shepherd named "Rocky," predicted that the ban would be "a big failure."

Upstairs in the store, university student Rabah Al Shuwaier, her face completely veiled in black except for her eyes, was visiting the vet with two of her six kittens: Snow white "Sugar" and light brown "Caramel."

"I know that having a pet at home and taking care of it is permissible under Islamic law," Ms. Shuwaier said. "But I'm not sure about the ruling on selling and buying cats and dogs. They wouldn't say it's wrong unless they had a reason to."

Salesmen at the pet shop said they'd received no official notification of the ban.

The Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, as the religious police are formally known, did not respond to e-mailed questions about its dog-walking concerns from the Monitor.

More than a week after Al Hayat newspaper disclosed the ban, no Saudi official had come forward to clarify that the written version does not include dog-walking, or to explain how people can now acquire dogs and cats.

The officials' absence is partly explained by the grand bargain that the ruling royal family has with the Saudi religious community: In exchange for the clerics' support, the royal family allows them a free hand in many areas, particularly ones deemed minor in the larger scheme of things.

Meanwhile, the ruling family retains its prerogative to implement changes in more important issues. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, for example, has taken important initiatives in interfaith dialogue and the issue of women entering the workforce despite clerical opposition.

Arab culture has generally considered dogs unclean, and Saudi religious authorities have advised against having them as household pets.

But dogs are increasingly seen as attractive pets and Saudis, especially the well-off, are keeping household animals of all kinds, said veterinarian Elhayek, administrator of Riyadh's Advanced Pet Clinic.

Ten years ago, the majority of his clients were Western pet owners. "Now it's almost 50-50," he says, with Arabs accounting for half.

Elhayek notes that Islam's holy book, the Koran, has a story about a group of believers who slept in a cave for 300 years with their dog.

In addition, revered stories about the prophet Muhammad tell of him commending people who saved lives of dogs by quenching their thirst.

"Now don't come and tell me that dogs are a yucky creature," says Elhayek. "They're a beautiful creature and the more I know people, the more I love my dog."

Cats have always been popular pets among Arabs, who as children learn about the prophet Muhammad's companion "Abu Huraira," or "Father of the Kitten," so-called because he carried one around.

Elhayek says that his understanding is that the government's order contains no prohibition on walking dogs in public, which is rare anyway in the capital, which has few parks and green spaces.

"Everybody who lives in Riyadh ... should not be afraid of walking their dogs out in the streets, because nobody's going to do anything to them," Elhayek says. "It's not illegal, it's not against the law."

Muslim father burns Christian daughter alive
Man slices out girl's tongue, ignites her after 'heated debate on religion'

Posted: August 13, 2008
9:54 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A Saudi Arabian Muslim father cut out his daughter's tongue and lit her on fire upon learning that she had become a Christian.

The child became curious about Jesus Christ after she read Christian material online, the Gulf News reported.

Her father read of her Internet conversation, detached her tongue and burned her to death "following a heated debate on religion," according to an International Christian Concern report.

The father is employed by the muwateen, or Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The muwateen are police tasked by the government with enforcing religious purity. The man has been taken into custody, and his identity has not been released.

The ICC pointed out the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported textbooks at the Saudi Arabian government school in Northern Virginia teach, "It is permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate (a convert from Islam)."

Saudi Arabian oil money is used to export Wahabbism – a version of Islam said to be least tolerant toward non-Muslims – to other nations, including the U.S., ICC notes.

 ICC president Jeff King said, "Saudi Arabia has to treat Christians with the same respect that it wants Muslims to be treated in other countries. It has to stop exporting hate and persecution against Christians in other countries."


The self-appointed moral guardians of Yemen

An alliance of Yemeni religious scholars and tribal leaders has decided to watch and   safeguard the morals and values of the society through holding annual meetings rather than permanent committees, which were strongly criticized before being established.

Under the slogan "It's the guards of virtue who will protect the ship from drowning," the clerics and tribesmen – the self-appointed guardians of virtue – decided to hold a yearly conference, called "The meeting of promoting virtue and combating vice."   They backed down from a previous proposal submitted to President Ali Abdullah Saleh last May, for establishing virtue committees (religious police) and for monitoring the activities of individuals  and institutions by banning any vice-related activity such as selling alcoholic drinks, night clubs, hotels, restaurants, or massage centers.

The clerics and tribesmen retracted from establishing their committees of promoting virtue and combating vice after strong criticisms from journalists, writers and politicians, who viewed the job of such committees as the responsibility of the state.       

No single woman attended the one-day meeting held on Tuesday July 15 by the tribesmen and the Sunni religious scholars.  The meeting was chaired by the tribal leader, Sadeq Abdullah al-Ahmar – sheikh of Yemen's most influential tribe, the Hashed – and cleric Abdul Majeed al-Zandani, who is accused by the United States of supporting terrorism.

Most of the nearly two thousands male attendees were students of Al-Eyman University, a religious university run and owned by al-Zandani. The rest of the attendees were Salafi clerics and tribesmen. No prominent politicians from the Islamist party Islah attended the meeting except Sheikh al-Zandani, who has his own Salafi current inside the party. The politicians of Islah refused the demand of establishing committees for virtue, saying that it was only a political trick from the president Saleh to divide the Islah party, the largest opposition party on the one hand, and divide the opposition alliance which includes the Islah Islamists, Socialists and Nasserites on the other.

"Talking about committees for virtue has political reasons behind, aiming to mix the cards and confuse political life in an official attempt to divert the attention from its helplessness and corruption of the government, and thus holding others responsible for its faults including weakening the effectiveness of the official bodies and working outside the constitution and law," said the alliance of the three parties in a statement issued three days before the meeting of the clerics and tribesmen.

The clerics and tribesmen demanded the government to take its responsibility for protecting the virtue by closing hotels, night clubs and tourists' places and the non-Islamic banks, which deal with "reba" (interest), and the shops that sell alcoholic drinks and hotels that show pornographic movies.

In Yemen, alcoholic drinks are sold secretly except in the few five-star hotels where it is sold openly to mostly foreign customers. In the capital Sana'a, there are no public night clubs except in the three five-star hotels. But in the southern coastal city of Aden, there are about ten public night clubs. 

In the capital Sana'a, two restaurants serving wine and one massage centre were closed by the prosecution one hour after the meeting of the tribesmen and clerics on Tuesday July 15.

"It is not the orders of the committee for virtue, it is the orders of the prosecution," said the policemen who closed the restaurants to reporters who were banned from taking photos.  

The organizers of the meeting, which had no specific program distributed to the attendees, especially those who came from outside Sana'a, a book containing all the articles written by journalists against the committee of virtue since early last May, when the proposal was submitted. The book is entitled The Committee of Virtue and Writings of Destruction and Ruins. 

"The daring of journalists reaches to the extent of ridiculing the Sha'ria law and religion," one of the speakers yelled while the book was distributed.

At the end of meeting, the clerics and tribesmen formed a follow up committee chaired by Sheikh al-Zandani with the tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar as his deputy.  The participating clerics and tribesmen demanded that the name of their chairman Abdul Majeed al-Zandani be dropped from the US and UN terror list.




Sunday, August 17, 2008

The strange case of the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Lately it has become the fashion to threaten that if Israel does not agree to Palestinian peace terms, a one-state solution or a binational state will be the only solutions, or to put these solutions forward as the best solutions.

Ahmed Qurei made this threat not long ago:

The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the '67 borders," Qureia said.

"If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership [would be] one state, a binational state," he added at the meeting held in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Sari Nusseibeh noted with much less enthusiasm that such a "solution" would have to be considered. He told Akiva Eldar in a Haaretz interview:

"I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but to the extent that you discover it's not practical anymore or that it's not going to happen, you start to think about what the alternatives are...

Nusseibeh says the struggle for a one-state solution could take a form similar to some of the nonviolent struggles waged by oppressed ethnic groups in other places.

"We can fight for equal rights, rights of existence, return and equality, and we could take it slowly over the years and there could be a peaceful movement - like in South Africa," he notes. "I think one should maybe begin on the Palestinian side, to begin a debate, to reengage in the idea of one state."

Nusseibeh, who apparently disregards Israeli rights in Jerusalem entirely, also bases his thesis on the assumption that Palestinians have given up on the demand for return of refugees as he has proposed. From that point of view, the Palestinian proposals appear to be a reasonable choice for Israel, and the alternative one state solution would be a less desirable one. An alternative for Israel to fear in fact. But the Palestinian Authority insists that they have not given up the demand for refugee "rights" and Israel is not going to abrogate all national rights in East Jerusalem, and Israel may have in mind quite a different "one state solution." 

Continued at Palestine & Israel: One state and binational state 'solutions' are frauds