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Month

June 2012

Democracy Now with long sections on Syria

[youtube http://youtu.be/W2kPt8lGB1s?]

Escalating Violence. Part 1 : Face to Face with Syria’s Apocalypse

By Christoph Reuter

Photo Gallery: Disintegration in Syria

Photos
Vedat Xhymshiti/ DER SPIEGEL

The Syrian conflict is becoming increasingly brutal, with eyewitnesses describing horrific scenes of rape and massacres. Both sides have the sense that the end game is approaching, but no one knows how it will play out. The opposition is starting to discuss what kind of Syria they want for the future, but some are uneasy about the growing power of the Free Syrian Army.

A military helicopter has been circling high above our heads for several minutes now, like an angry insect in the midday heat. The pilot seems to be looking for something here between the fields and farm buildings. From the cover of a stand of trees, we have a clear view when the helicopter, a couple of hundred meters away, suddenly drops lower and fires four missiles. It then circles once more, tilted slightly to one side to allow the machinegun operator to fire into the tall fields of wheat, before the helicopter disappears into the milky haze of the horizon.

Thin clouds of smoke rise into the air. One field is on fire. Eleven rather dazed fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) emerge from a house, onto the street in front of the building that now contains three smoking impact craters in a neat row. The fourth missile hit a solid stone wall that surrounds the property, but none struck the house itself, or the group’s vehicle, which is quite visibly parked next to the house. The group’s commander requests that the vehicle itself not be described in any further detail, since “it’s the only one we have.” These FSA fighters have been using the same vehicle for six months.

“The pilot must have seen it,” says Chal, the leader, who is an interior decorator by trade. “Why else would he have aimed here? But then, why aim to the side?”

Later this evening, some in the group will speak of God’s sheltering hand, but the military pilot likely had his own reasons for choosing not to kill the men, while at the same time sending a clear message: I know you’re in there. Ultimately, no one can know what went through that pilot’s mind on June 10, as he flew over the village of Harbal, near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. What Chal’s men do know is that if the pilot had decided differently, they would now be dead. Now they drive off, veering from side to side.

Nightmare of Disintegration

It’s a strange moment in the nightmare of disintegration which Syria is currently experiencing. Fifteen grueling months into the revolution against the country’s dictatorship, an uprising that has become a war, it’s not possible to give a single, unified description of the situation here.

On the one hand, there’s an apocalypse in the form of the regime’s militias, murdering their way through the villages, flanked by government troops and “security” forces issuing orders. Reports published last week by the United Nations and Amnesty International depict torture, executions and the use of children as human shields.

Several doctors and nurses, interviewed separately by SPIEGEL at two military hospitals, reported cases of injured patients being murdered. They talked of corpses of torture victims in cold storage with their ears and noses cut off.

In the north of the country, villages within range of the weapons at Aleppo’s artillery school have been shelled indiscriminately since the beginning of June, as well as attacked by helicopters and fighter jets. In the days around June 10 alone, two dozen civilians died in the area north of Aleppo, and several soldiers and fighters from both sides died in combat.

But at the same time, there’s a pilot who aims off the mark. There are deserting soldiers that no one is trying to stop. Discreet warnings and agreements are made behind the scenes of these battles. Business owners in Aleppo pay both the regime and the rebels, and the FSA kidnaps officers and family members of the torture squads to exchange for prisoners. The regime’s terror tactics are causing its hold on power to crumble.

Looking to a Post-Assad Future

Everyone here is sure things are heading toward an end, but no one knows how it will play out. Here, in the plains around Maraa, in the villages and wheat fields between Aleppo and the Turkish border, the Syrian government ceased to exist months ago.

Occasionally, it does still send in erratic communications, as it did in late May, informing residents that buildings without construction permits would be made legal retroactively. But the rest of the time, what the government sends are bombs.

Yet even as inhabitants of the southern and western parts of the plain are fleeing out of range of the regime’s weapons, and as SPIEGEL experiences first hand in the town of Azaz how helicopters fire at random at people’s homes and the army’s snipers terrorize half the town from the minarets of the central mosque, at the same time just a few kilometers away in a village called Dabiq, representatives from nine towns are meeting to debate, for the first time in their lives, what the Syria of the future should look like.

Thirty-two men gather in an abandoned office that once belonged to the Baath Party that still nominally rules the country. There are several teachers, an engineer, two construction workers, a photographer, a former police officer, two deserted soldiers, an unemployed man and a couple of students. “What do we want?” is the question bandied about in different forms throughout the evening: An Islamic state? A republic? Or perhaps no government at all? After all, as one man points out: “At the moment, it’s easier without one than it was under the dictatorship.”

These men haven’t seen very much of the world themselves, but they’re familiar with the horror stories related by Iraqi refugees who fled their country’s civil war.

Some of the men were also guest workers in Lebanon and describe how the different religious camps there stand in each other’s way. All the people present agree that their country needs a civil constitution where people are not defined by religion or ethnic background, but by being citizens of Syria. They also agree that candidates for parliament should be selected on the basis of their abilities, not their religious background, and that no president should be allowed to serve longer than eight years.

“And people who hold office must disclose their own financial circumstances,” says the former police officer. “We have to make sure they stay honest.”

‘Too Much Blood on Their Hands’

But this delicate new beginning stalls when one person raises the question of whether the family of one Alawi teacher, who left here months ago, ought to return.

“Of course!” insist some. “She hasn’t done anything to anybody!” But the faces of some of the others harden. “They have too much blood on their hands,” they say.

Not the teacher herself, they say, but “the others.”

The men are unable to come to an agreement on this, or on another question that’s been a contentious issue for months throughout the country, from Daraa in the south to here in the north. “We’re very grateful to the FSA for protecting us,” one man says, attempting to put it diplomatically, “but we don’t want them to take over power!” One of the FSA members in the room, a defected soldier, is offended.

There’s a feeling of unease over the fighters’ growing power, explains Yassir al-Hajji, facilitator of this evening’s experiment, on the way back to Maraa. “We need them, absolutely, but we’re afraid of them.” Until the end of August last year, he explains, state security would turn up in town whenever they pleased and arrest people. Now, he says, not even the army comes to Maraa — the last time was April 10, when the regime’s forces burned down houses and shot up Hajji’s café with their machineguns before retreating half a day later, their tanks loaded down with carpets, mattresses and refrigerators. They left graffiti scrawled on the town’s walls, such as: “You don’t need freedom, instead your mothers need to be fucked again!” It was signed “S.M.F.” — Syrian Military Forces.

The Meaning of Free

Those are a few parting words, perhaps, from a government whose functions are slowly being taken over by Commander Chal, the interior decorator, and by other local FSA leaders. The “Committee for Social Services” which controls the price of diesel, the fire department, the municipal administration — all these are part of the new army whose name Hajji mocks: “Free Army — but what is that supposed to mean, ‘free’? Free to do whatever they like?”

It’s a fine line to walk, and hardly anywhere can this be seen more clearly than in the improvised prison operating out of a former administrative building in Maraa.

In particular, those who have tortured, killed or raped are brought here. They are people who have been — depending on your point of view — kidnapped or arrested after being identified by witnesses.

The man in charge here is a former sergeant who defected from the army, a giant of a man whose nickname is Janbu. After extensive negotiations, we are allowed to see two prisoners. One is a spy for the notorious shabiha militia, a philosophy student who reported on his fellow students for the regime’s intelligence service. The other is a soldier accused of raping female prisoners and beating male prisoners with a club.

After 30 Years In Syria, Outspoken Priest Is Expelled

The Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall'Oglio, shown here at the Syrian Maronite monastery of Deir Mar Musa in 2007, lived in Syria for 30 years before he was expelled Saturday. Dall'Oglio has spoken out in support of protesters who oppose President Bashar Assad.

Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio, shown here at the Syrian Maronite monastery of Deir Mar Musa in 2007, lived in Syria for 30 years before he was expelled Saturday.
Dall’Oglio has spoken out in support of protesters who oppose President Bashar Assad.

June 18, 2012

Syria has expelled an Italian Jesuit priest for his outspoken criticism of the government’s crackdown on a popular uprising. The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio has lived in Syria for 30 years, helping to restore a 1,000-year-old monastery that became a center for Muslim and Christian understanding.

Dall’Oglio’s departure from Damascus on Saturday was sudden. More than a year ago, the government ordered him out, but a campaign on Facebook — “No to the Exile of Father Paolo” — delayed his expulsion.

When the anti-government demonstrations began last year, Dall’Oglio supported the young Syrians who risked their lives to protest peacefully.

“I am very moved by the face of many youth that have been suffering enormously to achieve their desire of freedom and dignity,” Dall’Oglio said last week from the garden of his home in Damascus as he bade farewell to friends and supporters before his expulsion. “There are so many young persons that are put in jail and tortured, just because they have expressed, nonviolently, their opinions.”

His opinions have finally landed him on the wrong side of the government.

Sectarian Friction

For three decades, he headed a Christian community in an ancient monastery he helped restore in the hills outside Damascus. He invited Muslims and Christians to pray together — and they did — in more peaceful times. But Dall’Oglio says the uprising has strained Syria’s diverse religious fabric.

The government says it protects religious minorities — the Christians, the Alawites and others — against what it says is an uprising of Muslim fundamentalists. Dall’Oglio rejects this picture as simplistic, but acknowledges the tensions.

When asked whether he thinks Christians in Syria are under threat from the uprising, Dall’Oglio is adamant that it is not the revolution that threatens them, but the conflict between the opposition and the regime, and the Alawite community.

“So there is, in some parts of Syria, in a real civil war — we know that,” he said.

Dall’Oglio also knows Syria’s minority Christians have real fears, but he says it is a generational issue. Older Christians have no experience with democracy — not in the family or in the community. Many younger Christians have joined the revolt because, he says, they believe democracy is better protection than the regime’s violence and oppression against the Muslim majority.

“Many Christian youth believe in a better world. We should pay attention to them. Something new has happened,” Dall’Oglio said. “I’ve been with Alawites for democracy, Sunnis for democracy, Christians for democracy — these people are real.”

Dangers, And Violence, Grow

They are real, he says, and in danger. When a young activist, photographer Basil Shehadi, a Christian, was killed by a sniper in the embattled city of Homs, the church in Damascus refused to hold his funeral — a sign of the divisions in the community.

Dall’Oglio arranged to hold the service at his monastery, where he says young activists — Christians, Sunnis and Alawites — mourned the loss and prayed together.

Does he have faith in this uprising now that it has entered a more violent phase?

“I am a monk, and I have taken a position with nonviolence,” he says. But, he adds, “the church I belong to believes in the right of people of self-defense. I will stay faithful to nonviolence, but I won’t be astonished that violence brings violence in reaction.”

Dall’Oglio’s departure comes as the Syrian government has launched a relentless offensive against the armed wing of the revolution. Civilians, no matter their religion, are dying every day. The priest’s supporters say the government is trying to silence a voice for religious tolerance, just as the country slides into civil war.

“It would be better for me to be dead with the martyrs of this country than to go away in exile,” Dall’Oglio says. “I have offered my life for the future of this country, and I wish to stay in full solidarity with them; so I will come back.”

But not, he fears, anytime soon.

“A seriously uncomfortable afternoon” for Israel’s sporting ambassadors in Scotland

football match 2football match 2
According to the Herald on Sunday, “It wasn’t much fun being an Israeli footballer at Tynecastle yesterday. Lashed by the rain, barracked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators – and seven goals down at half-time…against a noisy backdrop of protests about the imprisonment of Palestinian footballers. The Israeli national anthem was jeered, and the players booed…the demonstrators’ chants for Scotland to score 10”

“Free Mahmoud Sarsak” was interspersed throughout ninety minutes of non-stop chanting with “Without guns, you’re rubbish” and multiple versions of “Boycott apartheid Israel”.  The protestors warned the Scottish players of Israel’s habit of calling in an air strike when losing in a fair fight.

Despite incessant heavy rain, an important demonstration in defence of asylum seekers on the same day, and Lothian and Borders Police reneging on a widely-reported agreement with the protest organisers earlier in the week to allow banners into the stadium, over 150 Scots protested without cease for ninety minutes against Israeli internment of Palestinian football players, and the imprisonment and violation of Palestine.  A 2-minute video clip here.

Scotland on Sunday reported that “the Israel side…endured a seriously uncomfortable afternoon. A crowd of about 100 protesters had joined the Tynecastle crowd, protesting against the alleged illegal detention of Palestine footballers. It’s a campaign backed by Eric Cantona and was highlighted recently by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and by the world players’ union FIFPro. Not only did the protesters boo the Israeli national anthem, they jeered virtually every time one of the visiting players touched the ball and chanted throughout the match.”

After the final whistle, two Israeli officials accompanied a lone player onto the pitch to thank their two remaining supporters. Unable to control his fury, possibly because there were no military checkpoints or even a torture chamber to deal with those who taunt Israeli soldiers, one of the Israeli officials made a middle-finger gesture to the terraces, very poor from a sporting ambassador.  A complaint will be lodged against this official; Scottish club managers have been disciplined for the same offence.  Full report here

FIFA’s grave concern for Mahmoud Sarsak, FIFPro demands his release

SPSC press release on Israeli detention without trial of Palestinian footballers

Interview with Mahmoud Sarsak’s family

A Syrian voice

KDD said:

I want to bring to everyone’s attention a serious crisis in Damascus which is unfolding. The fact of the matter is that many innocent individuals are ending up being picked up by security services and led to detention in Damascus. This has become increasingly widespread. Personally, I have 6 cousins who have “visited” already, and 2 still under arrest. They were of the merchant class, and I assure you – they went well out of their way to avoid the discussion of politics. They were not pro-revolutionary, as they had business interests at stake. What is the end-game in the eyes of the Syrian regime? It is hard to ascertain.

These actions undertaken by the regime are further extinguishing whatever remaining support they may enjoy in the broader population of Damascus. The plan that they are currently enacting is one that, even if successful, spells out a dangerous course which will firmly place us in the Dark Ages for the foreseeable future.

One of the more astonishing things I recently learned about is with regards to the number of checkpoints and roadblocks set up throughout Damascus. Ride along with this brave reporter showing the number of roadblocks and daily struggles in moving around Damascus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Q7yG1tVjV8

Even if these actions are successful in bringing “security”, how would they eventually be deescalated? It can only remain as so.

Where was the outrage at this shame to humanity?

Operation Cast Lead, from Occupied Palestine

Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada
June 15, 2012

Only two English-language journalists reported from Gaza as it suffered an all-out attack from Israel in late 2008 and early 2009. The War Around Us is a powerful, deeply moving new documentary through the eyes of these two reporters, Ayman Mohyeldin and Sherine Tadros.

Directed by Abdallah Omeish (whose best-known film is Occupation 101), The War Around Us is just 75 minutes long. But that’s enough. Tightly focused and intentionally restricted in its scope and aims, it follows in chronological order the course of the conflict, intercut with post facto interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros. At the time both were reporting for Al Jazeera English. Mohyeldin was based in Gaza, but Tadros was there on an assignment to cover reactions to the election of US President Barack Obama.

With apparently free access to Al Jazeera footage of the attack, as well as images from the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, the film is extremely graphic and disturbing. Scenes include that of a mother and her two dead children lying side-by-side on a hospital floor; another man screaming with grief as the body of his little girl flops on a blanket; young men lying in the courtyard of a police station hit by Israeli air strikes, each with one hand raised as they say the final prayers of the dying. A victim of the horrific burns inflicted by illegal white phosphorous munitions (made in the US, fired by the Israeli military) lies in a hospital bed; huge pools of blood lie clotting on the steps of a school in Jabaliya refugee camp run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

Icy fury
Less graphic but equally devastating is the interview footage. Rima, a beautiful and intensely dignified young mother, tells Tadros how her children no longer say they are afraid of dying — they just want to make sure that they die along with her so they’re not left alone. John Ging, then a leading figure in UNRWA, speaks with icy fury as desperately-needed food supplies burn behind him. And 16-year-old Ahmad Samouni’s face writhes in pain as he describes lying for days surrounded by the bodies of his family, waiting for the Israeli army to allow ambulances to fetch him.

Many viewers are perhaps now inured to the kind of violence we regularly see on YouTube and activist media, but to watch news media footage — where cameramen have often risked their lives to chase the most graphic images, and which has been edited and soundtracked for intensity and impact — for over an hour is hard to stomach, even now.

It is, then, something of a relief that the film intercuts the material from the attack on Gaza with extended interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros. They reflect on the roles and responsibilities of journalists in such a situation, on their “anger” at finding that they were the only mainstream Western journalists reporting from inside Gaza, and on the personal impacts of covering such a horrific story.

“Where was the outrage?”

Mohyeldin, already a seasoned conflict reporter when he was posted to Gaza, is the more political one in his comments. He is patently furious at the Western media for their failure to adequately deliver to their audiences the truth of what he calls in the film “a story of great shame to humanity.” American and British news channels, he says, “neglected the story and then had the audacity to question the only journalists on the ground … they tried to spin it in a way that would marginalize or diminish what was happening.” He condemns the “silence of the international community. Where was the outrage?”

Tadros’s comments are more personal. A newcomer to frontline reporting, she is frank in saying that she will never put herself in that position again. Obviously hugely affected by the mothers and children she interviewed — in their homes and hospital beds — she recounts how, coming home to London after the attacks, she couldn’t hold her one-year-old nephew because she imagined blood seeping through his clothes. She also describes vividly the difficulty of facing death day after day, not from one’s own perspective, but from that of the family, thousands of miles away, who are powerless to help.

Tadros admits that during the attacks, Mohyeldin found her to be a “princess.” But behind-the-scenes footage shows a drained, haggard woman working 19 hours a day, snatching sleep on an office floor, desperate to achieve her role of showing the human impacts of a conflict which much of world was seeing only from Western reports in southern Israel or the insidious lies of Mark Regev and Avital Leibovich, chief mouthpieces for the Israeli government and military.

Specific aim
Ayman Mohyeldin, in a question and answer session following a screening of the film in Amman, acknowledged criticism of the documentary for its focus on two mainstream journalists, rather than telling the story from a Palestinian perspective. Although Mohyeldin has a Palestinian mother, he doesn’t labor this as a claim to authenticity. Instead, he insists that the film has a very specific aim — to speak to Western audiences, to use himself and Tadros, two Western journalists of Arab origin, as a bridge to the sympathies of Western viewers, and to “make people question their own media for not telling [the truth about the attacks].”

Ultimately, The War Around Us is a damning critique — from within the industry — of the Western media’s reporting of Palestine, as well as a powerful tool in the hands of Palestine solidarity campaigners. There is no way to walk away from this film not feeling angry and deeply distressed, but also with a visceral and fundamental grasp on the depth of Israel’s denial of the Palestinian right not only to life and liberty but, in Ayman Mohyeldin’s words, “of the right to aspire.”

For more information and updates, see The War Around Us.

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-author, with Sharyn Lock, of Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.

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When tanks crush children, Syrians must ask: who are we? »

On the first day of June, a child held up a sign during a peaceful protest in the northern village of Binnish in Syria’s Idleb province. His sign asked: “What is the meaning of childhood without freedom?” The question was followed by the opposition’s one-word demand to President Bashar Al Assad: “Leave.”

From the schoolboys of Daraa who were tortured after writing anti-regime slogans on the walls, to 13-year-old Hamza Al Khateeb, who was mutilated and tortured to death, Syrian children have been on the front lines and front pages of the revolution.

Since March 15 last year, hundreds of children have been killed, maimed, detained and tortured alongside tens of thousands of Syrian adults. However, in recent months, Syrian children have faced a more extreme and specialised brutality: close-range and systematic murder in serial massacres across the country.

Last March, in the Homs neighbourhood of Karm Al Zeitoun, two dozen children were viciously stabbed to death along with their mothers by regime-controlled shabbiha from neighbouring areas. On May 25, 49 children were killed in the village of Tal Daw in the Houla region of Homs province. Many of them were slaughtered with knives and butchered with axes. On June 7, in the tiny village of Qubair in Hama province, dozens of children were slaughtered alongside the majority of the village’s residents. Most of the bodies were stolen and the homes were torched, but the bloody traces and eerie silence lingered.

In the aftermath of these massacres, only images remain: as evidence, as witnesses and as cold, calculated messages of terror from the regime to the people.

Several significant, destructive results have emerged from these calculations.

By outsourcing the dirty work to local militias, the regime distanced itself from the monstrosity of the crimes while deceptively placing the perpetrators within the blurry category of “armed gangs”. The massacres amplified the already sectarian-charged environment as once peaceful neighbouring villages suddenly turned violent.

The massacres also left a physical vacuum in neighbourhoods and villages. Surviving families, terrified for their children, left their homes and land behind and chose to live as refugees in safer areas. These territorial gains serve the regime, carving sections of Syria into havens exclusive to Assad regime supporters. As one activist from Hama said: “They are pushing us east of the Orontes River.”

Such loaded claims seem outlandish until you map out the massacres and realise you can pinpoint the locations of future massacres in specific areas of Homs, Hama and Latakia. Another activist said: “We are 20 massacres away from an opposition-free Syrian coast.”

The recent United Nations Security Council report Children and Armed Conflict details accounts of “grave violations against children” by the Assad regime since March last year. These violations include children being among the civilians targeted by regime shells and bullets aimed at residential areas and peaceful protesters. Refugee families have been shot at while trying to flee across the borders to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Children as young as eight have been threatened, interrogated and tortured. Some have also been abducted from their homes and used as human shields on regime tanks entering opposition towns.

The report also included the Free Syrian Army’s practice of recruiting people under 17 to bear arms and serve as assistants in field clinics. While these violations are deplorable, they are in no way – as some morally bankrupt pundits have suggested – equal to the violence committed by the regime.

Last spring, there was a widely spread rumour about a sectarian chant that explained the “true” intentions of the revolution: “We will send the Alawites to the grave and the Christians to Beirut.” It would be inexcusable if it were ever chanted. But it never was. This invented chant instilled fear among minorities who were warned of their future if the Assad regime falls.

Misplaced fear has led to the emergence of the “ultra-Alawites” in Homs, who call Mr Al Assad “Sunni” for being too weak and compassionate when dealing with the enemy.

As a Syrian, it is extremely difficult to hear terms like “cleansing”, “extermination”, “sectarian conflict” and “civil war”. It is even more difficult to look at children’s corpses wrapped inside bloodied blankets, lined side by side like dolls. And I wonder, who are these gruesome images for?

The regime knew these crimes would be recorded and the images would spread. The opposition’s documentation became the regime’s warning signals for the darkness ahead. After decades of “fear of the unknown” tactics, the graphic pictures are the new terror tactic of choice for the regime. If the people decide to not fear the unknown, let them fear the (horrific) known.

It is tempting to view these images as abstractions of violence. I found myself staring at the smooth white curvature of a broken skull, or the pinkish-grey twists spilling out the back of a boy’s head. But these gory details distract from a more important narrative. What was this little girl thinking before the knife pressed against the thin skin of her neck? How many times did it have to pass back and forth before it killed her screams? And what about this infant girl with her long eyelashes and gold earrings? I want to imagine her in deep, peaceful slumber, but a sharp piece of bone juts out of a deep cut along her forehead. It is from the axe that hit her tiny face without mercy. Did she feel pain? Was she frightened?

And what was the Syrian man thinking while holding the knife against the neck of a girl he knew, or wielding an axe above the head of the baby daughter of his neighbours? Did he really believe they needed to be killed so that he would survive?

The regime likes to blame Al Qaeda or unknown foreign elements for these crimes. But these are not Al Qaeda’s tactics. In fact, there are few historical precedents for systematically murdering children by hand, one by one. Far from just instilling fear, these ruthless massacres and their traces confront every Syrian with questions as devastating as the images: who are we as a people? What have we become? And how did we get here?

Mr Al Assad’s supporters may be disillusioned by his weakness. But his cold words to his disloyal dissidents in his latest speech were very clear. His actions were even clearer: You either follow us like sheep, or we will slaughter your children like sheep.

I used to feel awe at the courage of children like the boy in Binnish. They used to give me hope for the future. Maybe one day they will again. For now though, after studying the gruesome aftermath of butchered innocence, I want to tell this little boy to go home, to be safe. But the truth is, Syria’s children are not safe – not in their homes and not in the street, not in a protest and not in their sleep.

The revolutionaries made a choice to face death instead of humiliation, but the children made no such choice. They were killed in the most heinous ways imaginable so their deaths would bring ultimate humiliation to their families. The regime is gambling that their images will be weapons of future hate and instruments of irreparable sectarian tears in Syrian society.

Or their images could be reminders of what Syrians fight – a spiteful regime that is willing to kill its most innocent for absolute power. Only Syrians will decide whether they can mend what has been torn. Until then, we will continue to add images of slain children to our collective history.

Amal Hanano is the pseudonym of a Syrian-American writer. On Twitter: @amalhanano

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Mohamed ElBaradei warns Egypt it is letting a ‘new emperor’ take over

  • Nobel laureate blames Muslim Brotherhood and revolutionary youth for letting the generals engineer cou
egypt mohamed elbaradei

Mohamed ElBaradei speaking to protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in January last year, when he hailed a ‘historic day’. Now he says Egypt is suffering more than under Hosni Mubarak. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA

Egypt is suffering under worse conditions now than under Hosni Mubarak‘s dictatorship, Mohamed ElBaradei has told the Guardian, and it is on the brink of allowing a “new emperor” to establish total domination over the country.

He gave a withering assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which dominated the now defunct new parliamentary assembly and whose presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, will face a run-off against Mubarak’s last prime minister in elections this weekend.

ElBaradei said political Islamists had tried to take “the whole cake” for themselves following the overthrow of Mubarak last February, and as a result Egypt’s ruling generals had been able to engineer an assault on the revolution.

“We are in a total mess, a confused process that – assuming good intentions – has led us nowhere except the place we were at 18 months ago, but under even more adverse conditions,” said the Nobel laureate, who withdrew from the presidential race this year arguing that a fair vote could not be held while the country remained in the grip of a military junta.

“We are going to elect a president in the next couple of days without a constitution and without a parliament. He will be a new emperor, holding both legislative and executive authority and with the right to enact laws and even amend the constitution as he sees fit.”

On Thursday two hasty constitutional court decisions by Mubarak-appointed judges appeared to strike a hammer blow at the revolution, in effect dissolving the democratically elected parliament and overturning a law that would have barred members of the old regime from running for high office.

The rulings came less than two days after the ministry of justice extended the powers of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf) and its soldiers to arrest and investigate civilians, a move Amnesty International labelled as “the legal sanctioning of abuse”.

ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear weapons inspector turned prominent Egyptian dissident, predicted Ahmed Shafiq – Mubarak’s last prime minister and the man seen by many as an embodiment of the old regime – would emerge victorious from the poll.

“Shafiq as president of the ‘new Egypt’ is an oxymoron,” said the 69-year-old. “In this scenario the new president would be backed by Scaf and political authority in the country will continue to be held by Scaf, but I think it most likely that he is the one that is going to win.”

ElBaradei confirmed he would not be casting a vote but refused to formally endorse the growing boycott campaign – because, he argued, the failure to turn it into a mass movement could hand a propaganda boost to the regime.

At times ElBaradei has been viewed as an opposition figurehead who occupied the rare position of being able to command respect from revolutionaries, secular liberals and political Islamists. On Friday, though, he spoke out against a catalogue of revolutionary mismanagement on all sides, with his harshest words reserved for the Muslim Brotherhood – whose role in the past year’s “transition process” has led many pro-change activists to blame political Islamists for empowering the military and being sucked into an electoral game designed to give the old regime a façade of democratic legitimacy.

Scared

“The Brotherhood have not served themselves well — they have scared people right, left and centre with some of the extremist views put forward from them and other Islamist groups,” said ElBaradei.

“The Brotherhood should have realised that the vote they got at the parliamentary elections was not a true reflection of their support in the street – it was the product of a specific set of political conditions at the time. They should have reached out to other segments of society and built a broad coalition but they haven’t done that – they started by saying we want to be part of big cake but they ended up wanting to have the whole cake for themselves. And that created a backlash, which will be visible in the next couple of days. People have called on them to withdraw from the presidential race, but they insist on going forward – why?”

He also argued that revolutionary momentum had been stalled by the failure of young protesters to embrace institutional leadership – wading into a thorny debate over the relative merits of horizontal and “leaderless” political change about which many activists feel strongly.

“The mortal mistake was that from day one the youth never agreed on a unified demand and never agreed to delegate authority to a group of people to speak on their behalf,” said ElBaradei.

“They were very happy, and we understand that, to say the revolution is leaderless and that every one of us is the revolution. But they ended up being crushed by [armoured personnel carriers] and massacred at [the TV building] Maspero.

“I hope that they have learned the lesson and I think people are now talking about getting organised under a unified leadership and engaging the new president to find a way of working together, preparing themselves for future elections and push for national reconciliation.”

The call on young radicals to engage with the new president – particularly if it is Shafiq – is likely to be ignored by many revolutionaries, some of whom believe the only solution is to return to mobilisation on the street. But ElBaradei said that the broader population was fatigued with violent clashes and insisted that a process of national reconciliation was necessary to drive the revolution forward.

“Not co-operating with the new president and saying he has no legitimacy will be difficult because he will have been selected by ballot,” he said. “Either we try that or we have to get into a process of national reconciliation, where people say ‘well this isn’t what we wanted, the process has been screwed, but for the sake of the country we need to find a formula to coexist together’. It’s the question the revolution will face in the next few weeks.

“People are tired,” he continued. “I’m not sure street protests will get a lot of support from the rank and file after the elections – people want so-called stability.

“I think we need national reconciliation for the sake of the people in whose interests the revolution was staged – the 50% of Egyptians who are below the poverty line and who have seen nothing good coming out of the revolution. In fact, for them things have got worse.”

See also Democracy Now here :
A Judicial Coup in Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood-Controlled Parliament Dissolved, Military Gains Power

“Initiative in Upper Nazareth: $10,000 to every Arab family that leaves”

Submitted by Ben White on Wed, 06/13/2012 – 10:07

The chair of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party headed by Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, in Upper Nazareth has called for a campaign to pay Palestinian citizens to leave the city.

As reported by HaKol HaYehudi (‘The Jewish Voice’) – and translated here – Alex Gedalkin has suggested that $10,000 be paid to every family that would sell its house “and leave town forever”.

Justifying his proposal, the Yisrael Beiteinu activist explained that such a move would “benefit everyone” by “avoid[ing] needless friction in the city and maintain[ing] the Jewish character of Upper Nazareth”.

The report also notes that the Mayor of Upper Nazareth “praised the initiative but stressed that the municipality cannot provide assistance for legal reasons.” Mayor Gapso has previously explained that he is “all for a democratic Upper Nazareth, but first of all a Jewish one.” In 2010, a message from the mayor on the city’s website stated: “Just as [David] Ben-Gurion and [Shimon] Peres said in the 1950s that the Galilee must be Jewish, we say the same about Nazareth Illit [Upper Nazereth]…The primary goal is to put the brakes on the demographic deterioration.”

Built to Judaize Nazareth

By way of providing further context, the following is an extract from my book ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy’:

Having confiscated land ‘in the public interest’ in the mid 1950s, the Israeli government created Upper Nazareth, overlooking Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. In 1953, a government official acknowledged that ‘making Nazareth a partially Jewish city’ would be ‘a colonizing act with difficulties’, but its importance was also clear. The director of the IDF Planning Department said that the role of Upper Nazareth would be to ‘emphasize and safeguard the Jewish character of the Galilee as a whole’, while according to the Northern Military Governor, the final aim of the settlement was to ‘swallow up’ the Arab city through ‘growth of the Jewish population around a hard-core group’.

In a 1957 letter reproduced in a publication marking the Jewish town’s thirtieth anniversary, the then Prime Minister, Ben Gurion, wrote that ‘the new settlement must be a Jewish town that will assert a Jewish presence in the area’. In the mid 1960s, an Israeli newspaper article described the creation of Upper Nazareth as a governmental decision ‘to impose on Arab Nazareth a Jewish town … whose purpose – whose basic, primary, and even sole purpose is ‘to break’ Arab autonomy in the region and in this city, and later, to create a Jewish majority’.

Today, while Upper Nazareth’s 50,000 inhabitants occupy 42,000 dunams, down the hill in Nazareth, 70,000 Palestinians are forced into just 14,000 dunams: four times as crowded. Yet ironically, it is precisely this lack of room for expansion that has forced those Palestinians who can afford it to move to Upper Nazareth. This is the context for more recent efforts intended to consolidate the city’s ‘Jewishness’, like the announcement in June 2009 of a new ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood ‘to counter Arabs moving in’. A month later, Rabbi Dov Lior, chair of the Yesha Rabbis Council, called for ‘the public to act to “Judaize”’ Upper Nazareth.

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