Thursday, July 2, 2009

How To Help the Palestinians

June 24, 2009 6:30 AM
by Khaled Abu Toameh

The leaders of the Palestinian Authority do not want the international community to hear anything about massive abuse of human rights and intimidation of journalists that its security forces are practicing almost on a daily basis in the West Bank.


They do not want the world to see that, with the help of the Americans and some Europeans, they are building more prisons and security forces than hospitals and housing projects for the needy.


They want the US and the rest of the world to continue believing that peace will prevail tomorrow morning only if Israel stops construction in the settlements and removes a number of empty caravans from remote and isolated hilltops in the West Bank.


The Palestinians do not need a dictatorship that harasses and terrorizes journalists, and that is responsible for the death of detainees in its prisons. In the Arab world we already have enough dictatorships.


The Palestinians do not need additional security forces, militias and armed gangs. In fact, there are too many of them, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


American and European taxpayers' money should be invested in building hospitals, schools and housing projects. Investing billions of dollars in training thousands of policemen and establishing new security forces and prisons will not advance the cause of peace and coexistence.


There is no doubt that many Palestinians would love to abandon the culture of uniform and weapons in favor of improved infrastructure and medical care.


As for the international media, it's time to abandon the policy of double standards in covering the Israeli-Arab conflict. For many years, the mainstream media in the US and Europe turned a blind eye to stories about financial corruption under Yasser Arafat. The result was that Arafat and his cronies got away with stealing billions of dollars that had been donated to the Palestinians by the Americans and Europeans.


Back then, many foreign journalists said they believed that the stories about financial corruption in the Palestinian areas were "Zionist propaganda." Other journalists said they would rather file an anti-Israel story because this way they would become more popular with their editors and publishers.


Recently, a Palestinian TV crew was stopped at a checkpoint in the West Bank, where soldiers confiscated a tape and erased its content.


This incident, hardly received any coverage in the mainstream media in the US and Europe.


The reason? The perpetrators were not IDF soldiers, but Palestinian Authority security officers. And the checkpoint did not belong to the IDF; it was, in fact, a Palestinian checkpoint.


The story of the detention of the TV crew -- which, by the way, belonged to Al-Jazeera and the erasure of the footage did not make it to the mainstream media even after Reporters Without Borders, an organization that defends journalists worldwide, issued a statement strongly condemning the assault on the freedom of the media.


"Journalists must be able to work freely," Reporters Without Borders said. "The erasure of this video footage proves that the Palestinian security forces try to cover up their human rights violations. This incident should be the subject of an enquiry by the Palestinian Authority."

Walid Omari, the head of the Qatar-based satellite TV station's operations in the West Bank, told Reporters Without Borders that his crew was preparing a report on the death of a detainee at the Palestinian Authority detention center in Hebron that might have been the result of torture.

"We were the only ones to investigate this case and we did it despite strong pressure from the Palestinian Authority," Omari said.

Al Jazeera's Hebron correspondent went with a cameraman to the victim's home in the village of Dura, where they interviewed the family and filmed the body.


As they were returning to Hebron in a vehicle displaying the word "Press," they were detained by Palestinian Authority security forces at a checkpoint and taken to a police station, where the video footage they had just recorded was erased. They were allowed to go after an hour.


One can only imagine the international media's reaction had the TV crew been detained by Israeli security forces. Anti-Israel groups and individuals would have cited the incident as further proof of the "occupation's brutal measures" against the freedom of the media.

Moreover, it is highly likely that Israeli human rights organizations like Betselem would have dispatched researchers to the field to investigate the incident had IDF soldiers been involved.


Yet foreign journalists and human rights activists working in Israel and the Palestinian territories either chose to ignore the story or never heard about it simply because it was lacking in an anti-Israel angle.


One can also imagine how the media and human rights organizations would have reacted had a Palestinian died in Israeli prison after allegedly being tortured.


Haitham Amr, a male nurse, was detained by the Palestinian Authority's US-backed and trained General Intelligence Force on suspicion of being affiliated with Hamas. He was one of more than 700 Palestinians who are being held without trial in West Bank prisons that are run by security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


These security forces, which are being referred to by many Palestinians as the Dayton Forces [a reference to ret. US general and security coordinator Keith Dayton], claimed that Amr was killed after he jumped from the second floor of a building where he was being held in Hebron. The family and human rights organizations insist that Amr died as a result of severe torture.


If the Palestinian Authority really had nothing to fear, why did it send its police officers to detain the TV crew and confiscate the tape? Is the Palestinian Authority trying to hide something?


True, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad hold more moderate views than Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal.


But Abbas and Fayad do not enjoy enough credibility among their own people, largely due to their open ties with Israel and the West. The security and financial support that the Americans and Europeans are giving to the Palestinian Authority is nothing but a bear hug.


That is perhaps why they chose to ignore the story about the male nurse whose family says was tortured to death by security officers who receive their salaries from US and European taxpayers' money.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As expected: Iran Jews gripped by fear in wake of post-election violence

Last update - 03:29 01/07/2009       
Iran Jews gripped by fear in wake of post-election violence
By Karmel Melamed, The Jewish Journal
During the recent uprisings in Iran following the June 12th elections in that country, I have been approached by dozens of individuals asking me what is going on in Iran's Jewish community today.
The simple answer is pure fear, an emotion which is nothing new to Jewish minorities who have lived and somehow survived massacres, pogroms, as well as forced conversions in Iran for the past 2,700 years.
Since the current crisis broke out in Iran, I have had scores of Iranian Jewish activists and leaders repeatedly remind me to "watch" what I write about with regard to the government in Iran.
They fear that what is said by our community in the U.S. may possible jeopardize the lives of the Jews living in Iran.

Al Qaeda threatens France for perceived anti-burqa stance

Story Highlights
  • Threatening statement posted on radical Islamic Web sites
  • Statement threatens to take revenge "by every means and wherever we can"
  • French lawmakers to consider whether burqa threatens French secularism
  • Panel set up after President Sarkozy says burqa not welcome in France

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Al Qaeda threatened to "take revenge" on France "by every means and wherever we can reach them" because of a debate in France over whether the burqa, a traditional Islamic woman's covering, violates French law, according to a statement posted on radical Islamist Web sites.

A woman wears traditionnal Muslim dress in Venissieux, near Lyon, France.

A woman wears traditional Muslim dress in Venissieux, near Lyon, France.

"We will not tolerate such provocations and injustices, and we will take our revenge from France," said the statement, signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, calling himself "commander of al Qaeda in North Africa [Islamic Maghreb]."

The statement is dated June 28, five days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy controversially told lawmakers that the traditional Muslim garment was "not welcome" in France.

A day later, the French National Assembly announced the creation of an inquiry into whether women in France should be allowed to wear the garment.

A cross-party panel of 32 lawmakers will investigate whether the burqa poses a threat to the secular nature of the French constitution. They are due to report back with their recommendations in six months.

The al Qaeda statement accused France of "organizing its ranks to fight a new blatant war against our sisters wearing the burqa."

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the statement, which also accused the French of "committing all of these grievances in a time when we see their women flooding our nations, filling our shores, poorly dressed and nude in a deliberate defiance to the feelings of Muslims and in clear contempt to the teachings of the Islamic faith, traditions and norms."

"Our Muslim brothers in France in particular and in Europe in general are increasingly troubled by the practices of the French politicians and their leaders, and their constant harassments of our people regarding the burqa issue," said the statement.

"Yesterday they targeted the veil, today the burqa and maybe tomorrow their evil hands could be extended to defame our pillars of faith, like praying, fasting or the pilgrimage," it added.

Sarkozy made the statement last week, in an address to parliament.

"The problem of the burqa is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman's freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burqa is not welcome in France," Sarkozy said.

The right of Muslim women to cover themselves is fiercely debated in France, which has a significant Muslim minority but also a staunchly secular constitution.

In 2004, the French parliament passed legislation banning Muslim girls from wearing head scarves in state schools, prompting widespread Muslim protests. The law also banned other conspicuous religious symbols including Sikh turbans, large Christian crucifixes and Jewish skull caps.

Last year, France's top court denied a Moroccan woman's naturalization request on the grounds that she wore a burqa.

Between 5 and 10 percent of France's population of 64 million is Muslim, according to CIA estimates. The country does not collect its own statistics on religion in accordance with laws enshrining France's status as a secular state.

France is not the only European Union country to consider banning the burqa. Dutch lawmakers voted in favor of a ban in 2005, although the government at the time left office before legislation could be passed.

Bleak for Jews of Iran

"On the eve of the Khomeini Revolution, 80,000 to 100,000 Jews lived in Iran . Today, there are still more Jews in Persia than any other Islamic state. Despite the dangers and threats, about 25,000 Jews (it is difficult to accurately assess their numbers) still remain and show no signs of budging. In this regard, there is no difference between the Jews of Europe and the Jews of the Orient, as significant portions of both groups refuse to learn from the lessons of the past." (Prof. David Menashri, Tel-Aviv University)

Today 250,000 immigrant olim from Persia (Iran) live in Israel and as noted 25,000 remain in Iran as do thousands who stayed on in Germany and Poland - and other European countries where they have been persecuted.

Iran is now again ruled by Islamic priests and has shed it's pre-Islamic past, becoming a religious caste society which penalizes non-Muslims and imposes strict religious law and inequity on it's women.

During the reign of the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Iran was a national, secular royalty. It had excellent relations with Israel and it's policies were favorable to the West and dissent was quickly squelched with it's hated secret police, the Savak.

"By the 1970s, Iran 's Jews formed the most affluent and most educated community per capita in the Jewish world." (Menashri)

The Shah did away with the special tax (Jizah) on Jews. The Jews did very well under the Shah but that has hardly been the history of Jews in Iran (in spite of those who try to tell us otherwise). There are many researchers who have documented the treatment of Jews and other minorities. An example are the mass conversions of 1839 (see Professor Bernard Lewis, "The Jews of Islam)

Shiites, though a minority in the Muslim world, a majority in Iran, have been much less tolerant - of the Jews pursuant to the informed writing of Lewis. Professor Lewis is a respected and also an acclaimed writer, just as Edwin Black is and neither one are considered foolish nor sloppy with their research.

Dr. Heshmat Kerman, Chairperson of the Iranian American Jewish Federation writes:

"Over 2,000 years of Iranian Jewry constitutes a unique phenomenon. In the ancient period, the Jews had a certain degree of autonomy and even maintained their own armed force . For practical purposes, the establishment of the community can be traced back to 733 BCE. There was also a substantial amount of immigration during Cyrus's time. Already with the Scroll of Esther, we have a depiction of the Jewish people and anti-Semitism." (Kerman)

"Compared to the illustrious days of the ancient period, the last 500 years have witnessed a noticeable decline in the status of the Iranian Jewry. The government of Shah Ismael implemented extremely rigid Muslim religious codes with respect to the Jews. These laws had a detrimental effect on Jewish property, status, and honor, impoverishing the Jews and stripping them of their rights." (Kerman)

"The arrival of the Alliance Israelite Universelle to Persia in 1896, the legislative revolution of 1907, and especially the rise of the Reza Shah dynasty brought tidings of hope to the community. Other communities ~W refugees from other countries - moved to Iran: the Bucharian Jews in the 1930s and the Ashkenazi Jews, notably the "Teheran children," during the 1940s. As noted above, their conditions improved under the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi; the Jews prospered in a wide array of fields, including the economy, culture, and education. Needless to say, the miraculous founding of the State of Israel inspired Iran's Jews and enhanced their communal life. The Jews left the ghetto and dispersed among the affluent neighborhoods. The community board was freely elected, and the community ran its own schools, hospitals, and institutions, including their first senior-citizens home. A younger, more educated generation began to manage the community's affairs. A fair share of Jews secured positions in the Iranian academia and sciences. Moreover, the number of Jewish students enrolled in institutes of higher learning was well above the national average." (Kerman)

"However, the Islamic revolution put an end to this halcyon age , as under the new regime there is no longer any room for Judaism. Many have departed to Israel, the United States, and other countries. The remaining Jews face heavy pressure to convert, especially its younger members. In addition, the old anti-Jewish legislation has returned: for example, only a member of the Muslim faith may inherit property; a Muslim that kills a heretic may redeem himself and procure his freedom for $2,500; and travel abroad is restricted." (Kerman)

"It is one of the many paradoxes of the Islamic Republic of Iran that this most virulent anti-Israeli country supports by far the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country." ( Sephardic Studies )

"While Jewish communities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have all but vanished, Iran is home to 25,000 - some here say 35,000 - Jews. The Jewish population is less than half the number that lived here before the Islamic revolution of 1979. But the Jews have tried to compensate for their diminishing numbers by adopting a new religious fervor." (ibid)

Jews in Germany didn't believe their neighbors would become part of the killing machine either. That is the way it is in Iran. Many of the Jews have lived there longer than their Iranian neighbors. In some respects some feel more Iranian than Jewish. But, that won't save them.

"I sat among a group of Iranian soldiers watching "Lebanon, My Love" ("Lobnan eshq-e man") in a movie theater in Shiraz. Of the two general types of Iranian action films -- killing Iraqis and killing Israelis -- it was the latter. People cheered as the Hezbollah members infiltrated into the southern Lebanon security zone and ambushed the Israelis. Every time a Zionist was killed, there would be loud cheers. When the "freedom fighters" approached an unsuspecting Israeli, those around me would shout "kill the Jew!" in anticipation." (From "Freedom, within limits" published in February 1997 by "Forward" in New York. See also "Singing the blues" about Iranian Jews in the 19th century.)

It is pretty obvious that the situation for Jews remaining in Persia (Iran) is very bleak and they would do well to heed history and leave.

Hank Roth

Iraqi celebrations of US departure turn into a real blast

Iraqis partied to celebrate the departure of American troops from Iraqi cities, but the terrorists had a different sort of blast in mind - the kind made by car bombs.  We could see this coming of course, but nobody wanted to think about it or take the precautions needed to save lives.
At least 25 people have been killed by a car bomb at a market in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, officials say.
The attack came as Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of US troops from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion.
Iraqi and US troops have been on alert for attacks during the pullback, which was declared a national holiday.
Ten days ago more than 70 people were killed in a truck bombing in Kirkuk - the deadliest attack in over a year.
Police Brig Gen Sarhat Qadir told the Associated Press news agency at least 40 people had been wounded in the latest blast, caused by an explosives-laden vehicle parked near the crowded market.
Volatile mix
Kirkuk, about 250km (155 miles) from Baghdad, was also the scene of two suicide bombings last month, in which 14 people were killed.
The city is the centre of northern Iraq's oil industry, and home to a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and members of the Turkmen community.

Sunni insurgents and groups including al-Qaeda remain active in the area despite security improvements in other parts of the country, correspondents say.
Both American and Iraqi commanders have warned they expect al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.
Despite their pullback from cities and towns, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.
Hours before the Monday night deadline for the withdrawal, four US soldiers were killed in combat in Baghdad.
US commanders have said security and stability is improving, and that Iraqi forces are now ready to take over security operations.
Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad's streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.
The pullback comes two years after the US "surge" of extra troops between February and June 2007, which saw US troop levels in Iraq reach about 170,000.
US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iran police clash with 3,000 protesters in Tehran

Last update - 21:02 28/06/2009       
Witnesses: Iran police clash with 3,000 protesters
By The Associated Press
Riot police clashed with up to 3,000 protesters near a mosque in north Tehran on Sunday, using tear gas and truncheons to break up Iran's first post-election demonstration in five days, witnesses said.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that some protesters fought back, chanting: Where is my vote? They said others described scenes of brutality - including the alleged police beating of an elderly woman - in the clashes around the Ghoba Mosque.
The reports could not immediately be independently verified because of tight restrictions imposed on journalists in Iran.
North Tehran is a base of support for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has alleged massive fraud in Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election and insists he - not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - is the rightful winner.
Sunday's clashes broke out at a rally that had been planned to coincide with a memorial held each year for Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, who came to be considered a martyr in the Islamic Republic after he was killed in a 1981 anti-regime bombing.
It was Iran's first election-related unrest since Wednesday, when a small group of rock-throwing protesters who had gathered near parliament was quickly overwhelmed by police forces using tear gas and clubs.
Iran's standoff with the West over its crackdown on opposition protesters escalated Sunday after authorities detained several local employees of the British Embassy in Tehran - a move that Britain's foreign secretary called harassment and intimidation. The European Union condemned the arrests.
Iranian media said eight local embassy staff were detained for an alleged role in post-election protests, but gave no further details. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said about nine employees were detained Saturday and that four had been released.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Corfu, Greece, issued a statement Sunday condemning the arrests and calling for the immediate release of all those still detained. The 27-nation bloc also denounced Iran's continuing restrictions on journalists.
# They make clear to the Iranian authorities that harassment or intimidation of foreign or Iranian staff working in embassies will be met with a strong and collective EU response, the statement said.

Report: Iran has arrested UK embassy staff members

The arrests are reminiscent of the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis. Evidently that is one of the rewards of engagement with Iran. Actually, as many as 150 may have been killed in Iran, and not 17, which is the more or less official government figure cited below by BBC. The EU has threatened a stiff response. The French will send a note. The British will keep a stiff upper lip.

Iran 'arrests UK embassy staff'

Tehran has blamed the US and UK for post-election unrest
Iran has detained eight local staff at the British embassy in Tehran on accusations of having a role in post-election riots, local reports said.
The embassy has not yet confirmed the report from the semi-official Fars news agency, which did not name its source.
Relations between the countries are strained after Tehran accused the UK of inflaming unrest, which London denies.
Some 17 people are thought to have died in street protests after the disputed 12 June presidential poll.
Tehran has expelled two British diplomats in the past week, and the UK has responded with a similar measure.
There is no independent confirmation of the latest arrests.
"Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody," Fars said, without giving a source.
The UK Foreign Office said in London: "We have in the last few days received a number of, sometimes confused, reports that British nationals or others with British connections have been detained. We continue to raise them with the Iranian authorities."