It may be that researchers would want to examine as long ago as the period from the 3rd century BC until the beginning of the 17th century in order to find a regime so frenetically building walls and barriers in a hopeless quest to hold onto stolen lands as we in Lebanon may soon witness in the south of the country. It was back in 221 BC that in order to protect China from the land claims of the Xiongnu people from Mongolia, the Xiongnu tribe being China’s main enemy at that time who sought the return of lands they claimed the Chinese had stolen, that the emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of a wall to guard China’s territorial gains.
Lots of walls have been built throughout history to preserve occupied lands.The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall in England to keeep the Picts out and the East Germans built the Berlin wall to keep the people in.But no regime in history has built, in the span of six decades, the number of walls as the paranoid regime in Tel Aviv has erected. And it plans at least five more “anti-terrorist protective walls” including one slated to begin soon along the Lebanese-Palestine border at the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. And that one may present a problem.
The decision to build a wall “to replace the existing Israeli technical fence” along the Blue Line near the town of Kfar Kila was announced last month by Tel Aviv. The announcement followed a meeting between the Israel military and UNIFIL and both are keeping fairly mum about what it knows about this latest wall but UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh hinted to this observer that the first section will be about half a mile long and approximately 16 feet high.
Some south Lebanon residents are strongly objecting for among other reasons that the high wall will block the scenic views into Palestine. Others are ridiculing the reasons for the wall expressed by the US-Israeli lobby that will ask the American taxpayer to pay for it.
Israel firster, David Schenker, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, set up by AIPAC, told a Congressional hearing recently: “South Lebanon is obviously a very sensitive area [for Israel], being so close to Metula and the possibility of infiltration by Hezbollah and Palestinians is a legitimate concern. The Israeli government believes that a this wall will prevent terrorists from launching direct line-of-sight firing of things like RPGs and mortars. Even the throwing of stones which some tourists visiting the area are in the habit of doing.”
Local observers, UNIFIL officials and experts like Timor Goksel, who worked as UNIFIL’s spokesman for 24 years along the blue line, expressed surprise at why Israel is claiming that Kfar Kila is a particularly dangerous area that needs a wall.
In point of fact the area has not been a particularly hazardous or “sensitive” one historically, even when the PLO controlled the area in the 1970’s. Goksel explained; “In my 24 years’ experience, there were never any attacks there because it’s adjacent to a Lebanese village, so any attack there will make life for the Lebanese difficult. I don’t think anybody has ever thought of doing anything there. Moreover, even if you cross into Israel at Kifa Kula there, you’re not going to come across an Israeli position for a long time, so it doesn’t make sense for anyone to attack from there. What are you going to attack? There’s no target.”
Some local observers are speculating that the real reason Israel wants the barrier in Kfar Kila might be to stop its troops from bargaining for drugs in exchange for weapons and classified military information, as the IDF’s drug problem among its “northern command” soldiers has escalated since the battering it took in the July 2006 war.
Israel’s newest frontier wall will follow the one being erected along the 150-mile boundary between the Sinai and Negev deserts. That wall building project is due to be completed by the end of this year of 2012. Once the Kfar Kila wall is finished, Israel will be almost completely enclosed by steel, barbed wire and concrete, leaving only the southern border with Jordan between the Dead and Red Seas without a physical barrier. But that too, may be walled in the future according to Shenker. He testified that the reason was due to the uncertainty in Jordan and its increasingly wobbly government.
Yet another wall, approximately seven miles from the Mediterranean along the southern border will meet the fence Israel has already been built around Gaza. This wall runs for 32 miles, with a buffer zone, which Palestinians are forbidden from entering, and extends close to 1,000 meters inside the narrow Gaza Strip, walling off more prime Palestinian agricultural land. This “security war” has caged Palestinians inside Gaza but did not prevent the cross-border capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Along the Palestine-Lebanon border, a barrier built by Israel in the 1970s along the boundary was reconstructed, after Israel was forced out of Lebanon in 2000 following a 22-year occupation. This barrier did not prevent Hezbollah in a cross-border ambush in 2006, capturing two Israeli soldiers in order to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Nor did it prevent Hezbollah from firing of thousands of rockets during the ensuing 33-day war in retaliation for Israeli bombing much of south Lebanon.
And the “protective walls” rise like mushroom after a summer rain.
Further east from Lebanon, an Israeli barrier has been constructed on the ceasefire line drawn at the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, running between the Golan Heights, which Israel has illegally occupied for nearly 45 years, and Syria. It was here that hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators entered occupied Palestine last May, in the Golan and along the Lebanese border. More than a dozen people were killed and scores injured when Zionist forces opened fire on the unarmed civilians.
A crossing at Quneitra, now operated by the UN, does allow some movement of UN personnel, truckloads of apples, a few Druze students and the occasional Syrian bride in white.
A few miles north of Quneitra is Shouting Hill, where Druze families in the Golan yell greetings across the barrier to relatives in Syria.
Moving south through heavily mined fields and hills, the 1973 ceasefire line is bordered by Israeli military bases and closed military zones, and shells of tanks from past battles, until it connects with the border with Jordan. It then joins with one of Israel’s first walls, constructed in the late 1960s, which now stretches almost from the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea. Most of this line is not Israel’s border, but rather a barrier separating Jordan from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Around a third of the way down this stretch, the barrier joins the infamous huge steel-and-concrete West Bank wall. This runs along or inside the 1949 armistice line, swallowing up tracts of Palestinian agricultural land, slicing through communities and separating farmers from their fields and olive trees. As with its other 18 walls and barriers, the Zionist regime claims it is simply a security measure, but many believe it marks the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, consuming an additional 12 per cent of the West Bank. Approximately two-thirds of its 465-mile length is complete, mostly as a steel fence with wide exclusion zones on either side. According to the current route, 8.5 per cent of the West Bank territory and 27,520 Palestinians are on the “Israeli” side of the barrier. Another 3.4 percent of the area (with 247,800 inhabitants) is completely or partially surrounded by the barrier.
Two similar barriers, the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier and the Israeli-built 7-9 meter (23 – 30 ft) wall separating Gaza from Egypt (temporarily breached on January 23, 2008), which is currently under Egyptian control, are also widely condemned by the international community.
Returning to the subject of the latest wall project, increasingly the Zionist regime opposes discussions, hearings, visits, expressions of solidarity with Palestinians, and even the viewing its garrison state from south Lebanon. Cutting off a view that people throughout history have marveled at represents a continuation of its isolation and xenophobia.
Following the joint meeting at Kkar Kila noted above, UNIFIL Major-General Serra said: “The meeting was called to assist Israel in putting in place additional security measures along the Blue Line in the Kafr Kila area in order to minimize the scope for sporadic tensions or any misunderstandings that could lead to escalation of the situation.”
In fact, the opposite with likely happen. In a recent visit to Ahmad Jibril’s Palestinian camp in the Bekaa Valley, and in discussion with salafist groups in Saida, it’s plain the wall will likely become an object of target practice and strain further UNIFIL and Hezbollah efforts to keep theborder calm.
In a scathing commentary in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, defense analyst Alex Fishman recently wrote: “We have become a nation that imprisons itself behind fences, which huddles terrified behind defensive shields.” It has become, he said, a “national mental illness”.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable c/o email@example.com
Many of the activists who began the uprising in Syria more than a year ago feel their peaceful push for change has been hijacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army. They’re meeting in Cairo today.
By Gert van Langendonck, Correspondent, Sarah Lynch, Correspondent / April 16, 2012
Local Coordination Committees in Syria/AP
Beirut, Lebanon; and Cairo
Syrian activist Mohamed Alloush has fled his native country for Lebanon, but it wasn’t President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime that drove him away. It was the rebels of the Free Syrian Army who ran him out of his hometown of Homs.
“In September last year I had been arrested again by the regime for organizing protests,” says Mr. Alloush, speaking on a cafe terrace in Beirut. “After they released me, I ran into a group of men I knew as members of the Free Syrian Army. I walked up to them and screamed: “You guys have stolen our revolution! You are just as bad as the shabiha,” the pro-regime militia in Syria.
The rebels kept Alloush for four days, after which they told him not to show his face in Homs again.
Alloush is part of the movement of young revolutionaries who began the protests against the Assad regime in March last year in the wake of similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They feel sidelined by the violent turn the conflict in Syria has taken since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed last summer. An armed group comprised mainly of former Army soldiers who defected from the regime, it is also reportedly cooperating with Sunni jihadis from abroad and many brigades have adopted an increasingly sectarian tone.
“Our revolution has been stolen from us by people who have their own agenda,” says a singer who uses the pseudonym ‘Safinas’ because she still lives in Damascus. “We are not violent people. We want to get back to the real thing. It was a clean thing when it started, but it has become something else now. I am against the regime, but I am also against the armed rebels.”
More than 200 peaceful Syrian activists are gathered in Cairo until tomorrow for a conference aimed at uniting revolutionaries around one common goal: returning to the nonviolent protests of last summer. While they acknowledge that the FSA has built up significant momentum, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar calling for the international community to arm the rebels, they see an opportunity for the momentum to swing back to the nonviolent activists if the United Nations cease-fire brokered by Kofi Annan holds.
“Mr. Annan’s plan is our main hope at this point and we are trying to have everybody abide by it,” says Haytham Khoury, a member of the Syrian Democratic Platform, attending Cairo’s conference. “We are contacting other opposition groups, trying to give hope to the people through media” to convey that “this is a very good step toward saving lives and regaining a completely peaceful revolution.”
The Syrian regime suspended military action beginning April 12, but reports of renewed shelling today underscore the fragility of the cease-fire, which is aimed at ending the violence that has killed more than 9,000 since the uprising broke out. With the international community struggling to gain leverage over the regime’s brutal crackdown, some Syrians see the FSA as their only option for freedom.
“Frankly, we’ve given up” on the international community, an activist in Damascus who identifies himself as Mar says via Skype. “You guys have let us down. The FSA is our only hope for salvation now.”
Assad’s government has characterized the uprising largely as the work of armed gangs and terrorists. The activity of the FSA, which has been accused of human rights violations as it fights the regime, has complicated what began as a revolution in which the masses peacefully but persistently demand political reform as Egyptians did in Tahrir Square.
Some say that the Assad regime views political change, rather than armed insurgency, as the greater threat.
“The regime is more afraid of the nonviolent protesters than it is of the armed Islamists. That’s why most of them have been forced to leave the country or are in prison,” says Yara Nseir, who was forced to flee Syria last summer after she had been detained 18 days for distributing leaflets. “They wanted it to become an armed uprising because it allows them to tell the world that they are fighting terrorists.”
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a telling remark at an Istanbul press conference April 13, when he was asked if “the Syrian regime is afraid of their own Tahrir.” He replied, “That is what we have believed from day one.”
‘I told them to their face they are criminals’
Alloush, who fled to Lebanon to escape the FSA, was among the first activists to organize anti-regime protests in Homs when the uprising began in March 2011.
“Back then the regime would have armed troublemakers mingle with the protesters to have an excuse to open fire on us. Well, they don’t need to do that anymore: the Free Syrian Army has provided them with the perfect excuse to go on killing people.”
In February, Alloush went back to Homs clandestinely. He made the rounds of the city’s mosques to persuade the imams there to preach against the use of violence. When the FSA found out he was in town he fled to neighboring Lebanon once again.
Another young Syrian activist, who goes by the pseudonym Yusuf Ashamy, has also drawn the ire of the FSA.
Mr. Ashamy was in Tripoli in north Lebanon last month to ask the FSA for help in sending a shipment of medicine to besieged cities in Syria when Human Rights Watch published a report on severe human rights violations by the Syrian rebels.
In an open letter to the leaders of the Syrian opposition, Human Rights Watch cited “increasing evidence of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members.”
“I told them to their face they are criminals if they do such things, and that they know the meaning of the word freedom,” says Ashamy.
Ashamy was told he had better not show his face around Tripoli again if he wanted to stay alive.
“They have ruined everything,” Ashamy says of the FSA. “In the beginning we were all Syrians. But when I was last in Homs [late last year] I found that people there were not even aware of what is happening elsewhere in the country. They see this as a purely Sunni Muslim insurgency, and I was accused of being a spy because my ancestry is Druze. ”
Why the uprising has shrunk
“We are still many who want a peaceful revolution,” an activist who calls herself Celine says via Skype from Damascus. “But since it became an armed conflict, many people who were sympathetic to our cause have dropped out.”
It has also become much more dangerous to stage protests. “These days we only talk to people we know very well,” says Celine.
As a consequence, the protests have become much smaller. Celine describes one recent action.
“We had agreed to meet at a strategic intersection in central Damascus. Some of us set tires on fire, while others chanted slogans. The whole thing lasted no longer than five minutes. Bystanders wanted to join us but we’d already disappeared.”
It may not seem much, “but it is important that our voices are heard. And we make sure that our protests are filmed and the videos are sent out to the media.”
Leaders needed for ‘this sensitive period’
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group, is supposed to provide a channel for working for political change. But even Ms. Nseir, who is the SNC’s spokesperson in Lebanon, says the SNC is seen as too closely aligned with the FSA to present a real alternative to their armed rebellion.
“The SNC claims to be representative of the Syrian people. That’s just not true,” says Nseir. “They talk only about arming the rebels. They never talk about nonviolent resistance and they certainly do not speak for the ramadieen, or grey people, the silent majority who support neither the regime nor the armed rebels.”
Nseir has considered resigning from the SNC, as others have done, “but I was persuaded to stay on and try and change things from within.”
She has set her hopes on the Cairo conference. “We hope to agree on a message that everyone who is against the further militarization of this conflict can get behind,” she says.
“The opposition: They have to solve the problem,” says Ali Ali, a Syrian activist who was heavily involved in planning the nation’s uprising and now resides in Cairo, where he is attending the conference.
“The people who are demonstrating in the streets need to stop the blood and need a real opposition to lead this sensitive period,” he says, adding that like the regime, the opposition is responsible “for the blood that bleeds every day in Syria” and finding a way to make violence end.
“This conference is an arena for all political ideas and visions to meet,” says Syrian activist Orwa Al-Ahmed, now living in Dubai. “Most people are with the peaceful initiative. But to achieve this it requires the involvement of other political leaders and visions.”
The activists are not naïve: they know they cannot turn back the clock to last summer, before the uprising turned violent. But they are still determined to work toward peaceful solutions.
“There is no going back,” says Alloush. “The Free Syrian Army is a reality and we have to accept it. But that does not mean that we have to accept them as the leaders of this revolution. I know these people, and I know that many of them want to turn Syria into an Islamic republic if they get the chance.”
The Syrian opposition has called for mass demonstrations this Friday to test Mr. Annan’s peace plan. One of the conditions of the plan is that the regime allow freedom of assembly.
“We have a tiny window, but time is against us,” says activist Safinas. “We are fighting two regimes and two armies now.”
April 21st, 2012 § Leave a Comment
by Kathy Kelly and Hakim
Two Afghan youth taking refuge together with the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Last weekend, in Kabul, Afghan Peace Volunteer friends huddled in the back room of their simple home. With a digital camera, glimpses and sounds of their experiences were captured, as warfare erupted three blocks away.
The fighting has subdued, but thevideo gives us a glimpse into chronic anxieties among civilians throughout Afghanistan. Later, we learned more: Ghulam awakens suddenly, well after midnight, and begins to pace through a room of sleeping people, screaming. Ali suddenly tears up, after an evening meal, and leaves the room to sit outside. Staring at the sky and the moon, he finds solace. Yet another puzzles over what brings people to the point of loaning themselves to possibly kill or be killed, over issues so easily manipulated by politicians.
I asked our friend, Hakim, who mentors the Afghan Peace Volunteers, if ordinary Afghans are aware that the U.S. has an estimated 400 or more Forward Operating Bases across Afghanistan and that it is planning to construct what will become the world’s largest U.S. Embassy, in Kabul. Hakim thinks young people across Kabul are well aware of this. “Do they know,” I asked, “that the U.S. Air Force has hired 60,000 – 70,000 analysts to study information collected through drone surveillance? The film footage amounts to the equivalent of 58,000 full length feature films. The Rand Corporation says that 100,000 analysts are needed to understand ‘patterns of life’ in Afghanistan.”
Hakim’s response was quick and cutting: “Ghulam would ask the analysts a question they can’t answer with their drone surveillance, a question that has much to do with their business, ‘terror’: “You mean, you don’t understand why I screamed?”
Two days ago, “Democracy Now” interviewed Hakim about on-going U.S. military occupation in Afghanistan. “If we don’t address the agreements that the U.S. and Australian governments and other governments are making for a long-term war strategy in Afghanistan,” Hakim observed, “we are heading for an increase in violence in this part of the world, in South Asia, perhaps perpetual war, more serious than the Kabul attacks.”
Analysts could better understand patterns of life in Afghanistan by mixing with Afghans in their homes and along their streets, unarmed.
The analysts would spend less tax-payer money but possibly obtain a genuine perspective on everyday life in Afghanistan. If they interacted with Afghan people instead of surveying them from the air, they’d be better equipped to study ‘terrorism,’ their supposed intent.
What if U.S. analysts could feel the frustration Afghans feel as convoys of trucks bearing fuel and food for U.S. soldiers drive past squalid refugee camps where children have starved and frozen to death (250 die of starvation every day; 40 froze to death since January, 2012 ).
Hakim again: “They would understand quickly, even through cursory study by one ‘non-analyst,’ that Afghans are just as infuriated by U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses as U.S citizens are by their own police pepper-spraying college students.
They would understand that just as U.S. citizens can’t even imagine living under the barrel of the Mexican army, Afghan citizens, including of course those labelled ‘insurgents’, dislike foreign guns. No number of Special Ops forces staying on perpetually beyond 2014 can make Afghans like foreign guns. This is what the U.S. Afghan Strategic Partnership War Agreement will do with at least 4 billion U.S. tax payer dollars a year spent just on Afghan security forces.”
16 year old Ali understands that the agreement being readied for the NATO summit won’t accomplish foreign troop withdrawal. This creates what for some is deadly distrust. Ali knows that a long-term foreign military means that the firing and killing will continue. “It’s tit-for-tat,” says Hakim, “U.S. soldier-for-Talib, dollars-for-rupees, and all those insensible human decisions that occasionally make Ali cry. But, the military and militant apparatus does not have human ears. It has bombs. So, when the recent Kabul attacks were going on, as seen in the very human moments in the video clip, the Afghan youth crouching in the refuge of a room were assured and delighted to hear from Voices activists, from across the miles, calling to ask how they were.
‘Ah! Someone cares. Someone listens.’
The monthly Global Days of Listening conversations which the youth have had with ordinary U.S., European, Middle Eastern and Australian citizens have helped change their lives person-to-person, overcoming the cold impersonal ‘shoosh’ of overhead rockets and under-running bloodshed.
Every day, Ghulam studies, cooks, washes the dishes and lives, very normally. But some nights, in the stupor of nightmares, Ghulam shouts subconsciously, out of ear-range to the million-dollar intelligence spies, ‘What kind of world is this that still insists on signing war agreements?’