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January 26, 2013

Syria : Harasta in shambles

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BDS Soda Stream

Truth in advertising: SodaStream ad attached to video showing Israelis arresting 18-month-old infant

by on January 24, 2013 12

soda stream arrest
An ad for SodaStream attached itself to this video showing Israeli soldiers arresting a mother and her baby.

Google Ads for SodaStream, the carbonated beverage maker produced in Israeli settlements, seem to be hounding my every move on the Internet these days. That’s most likely because I’m in the midst of working on a nationwide interfaith collaborative boycott campaign against the newest kitchen-tech gadget to hit the American market.

One such appearance recently, however, reached the heights of perfect irony. Were it not so sickening, it could almost be funny: Google placed a SodaStream ad on the bottom of a video that captured Israeli soldiers arresting a young Palestinian woman and her 18-month-old baby.

SodaStream is marketing itself as a holistic and environmentally friendly alternative to established sodas, such as Coca Cola and Pepsi. It’s supposed to help cut down on plastic bottles in landfills and its syrups are supposed to be less expensive and healthier than pop you’d buy in the store. All advertorial hyperbole, based upon one investigation.

The biggest reason Palestine solidarity activists around the world are boycotting SodaStream is because it is produced, in part, in an Israeli settlement, which is built illegally on stolen Palestinian land. Settlements entrench Israel’s colonizing and apartheid  policies by confiscating ever more land, roads and buffer zones meant only for Jewish residents. Because settlements are protected by the Apartheid Wall, checkpoints and Israel’s security apparatus, Palestinians have lost their freedom of movement. Many of them have lost their jobs as a result because they cannot travel into 1948 Palestine anymore, or because the Wall has cut them off from their fields and other livelihoods. As a result, many Palestinians  — including children as young as 12 — work in settlements. They are routinely underpaid and overworked, according to a new study by  WhoProfits.org, an organization that tracks companies that profit from the occupation.

Another reason activists boycott products made in settlements is because these items support the settlement industry, which in turn helps nourish Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine.

Another practice that shores up the occupation is Israel’s random arrest and detention of Palestinians. Currently, more than 4,600 Palestinians are incarcerated illegally in Israeli prisons. Every year, some 700 children, as young as 10 years old, are arrested and processed through Israel’s military court system, according to Swiss-based organization Defence for Children International – Palestine Section. As of December 2012, nearly 180 children were behind bars.

Apparently, 18 months isn’t too young to be jailed. On Jan. 19, Israeli soldiers, acting to help illegal settlers appropriate Palestinian land and olive orchards, arrested Qamar, her mother Rima Ismail Awad, and several others as they attempted to access their land.

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Ma’an News reported that the infant was released that night, while Rima was released the following day.

What kind of democracy takes a baby into custody?

The fact a SodaStream ad appeared on the video of the violent arrest breaches credulity. SodaStream is a product that supports an occupation apparatus that allows for the incarceration of an infant – and indeed thousands and thousands of innocent Palestinians, many of whom are being held without charge or trials.Samer Al-Issawi is one such prisoner. He is in critical condition and near death, after having refused food for 184 days to protest Israel’s use of administrative detention, torture and other human rights abuses.

SodaStream needs to go away, and settlements along with it. Boycott, divestment and sanctions is the one way to make this happen. BDS is a peaceful method to pressure Israel to comply with international law in the absence of global diplomatic or political pressure.

Do you part. Join BDS. Boycott SodaStream. Fight for justice for Palestinian prisoners. And stand in solidarity with Palestinians as they work for their internationally guaranteed right of self-determination.

The interfaith boycott committee, housed within the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, is a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim activists committed to working for justice in Palestine. American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for PeaceUnitarian Universalist for Middle East Justice, Quakers and other Christians groups are involved. We’re gearing up to kick off our campaign on SuperBowl Sunday, when SodaStream plans to have a splashy commercial during the fourth quarter. Get involved by entering a ‘spoof commercial’ video contest, holding a Fizzies For Freedom house party on Super Bowl Sunday, or join our Twitter campaign. For more information and the list of all the fun ways you can help boycott SodaStream, click here.

This post originally appeared on the blog Zatar and Spinach.

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Why the Killing in Syria Is Just the Beginning

The international community’s failure on Syria limits its power to act against the even bigger bloodletting that’s likely to happen down the road.

BY CHRISTIAN CARYL | JANUARY 25, 2013

Earlier this month, the United Nations announced its assessment that 59,648 people have died in Syria’s two-year-old civil war. That headline figure is grim, but U.N. human rights commissioner Navi Pillay made a point of noting that the real number is almost certainly higher. The overwhelming majority of those people were civilians. Far too many of them were children.

Why do I say that? Because the fateful wheel of atrocity and reprisal, so familiar from past civil wars, is gathering momentum. It could hardly be any different, considering the scale of the killing so far. The Assad regime bears full responsibility for launching the carnage. But it does not bear sole responsibility for all the crimes that have been committed, and it will not bear sole responsibility for the crimes that are yet to come.

There can be little question that the complex ethnic and sectarian makeup of Syria is exacerbating the situation as the bloodshed goes on. Assad family rule in Syria over the past 40 years has rested primarily on the country’s ethnic and religious minorities: above all the Alawites (adherents of an offshoot of Shiite Islam), as well as some Kurds and Christians. Members of the Sunni majority have been largely excluded from power. As those who have borne the brunt of the regime’s injustices, they now form the largest force in the opposition.

Divides are deepening. Though it’s understandably hard to get precise reports, Human Rights Watch has recently documented attacks by opposition forces on a Shiite place of worship and two churches on the outskirts of the city of Latakia, the stronghold of Syria’s Alawite population. The rebels have been criticized in the past for committing abuses against prisoners taken from the pro-Assad armed forces or militias (the notorious shabiha). The growing prominence of jihadist groups among the rebel Free Syrian Army is another source of concern. The worry is that radicals in the opposition are now actively targeting civilians from the groups that have been allied with the government.

Let’s consider the potential scale of the problem: There are some two million Kurds in Syria, plus roughly the same number of Christians. There are two and a half million Alawites. They have been schooled by regime propaganda to believe that they will become the victims of pogroms and ethnic cleansing should their side lose the war. That probably wasn’t true back when their fellow Syrians were peacefully demonstrating for change, but now it’s on the way to becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sunnis account for at least 12.6 million of the population. (They actually make up the bulk of the Syrian regular army’s soldiers, who are right now held at bay by Alawite officers and the shabiha.) As soon as the Assad regime loses the advantages of its air power and its heavy weapons, the Sunnis will be able to make their superior numbers count. Their enemies won’t stand a chance.

The desire for revenge is understandable: the instinct to repay killing with more killing is deeply embedded in the human psyche. But that doesn’t make it right. Retribution and justice are two different things. The first perpetuates the cycle of violence; the second offers at least the hope of wrongs righted in a way that benefits society. And the logic of collective punishment is always fatally flawed. Not everyone in a group behaves according to the instincts of the majority.

But that’s easy for me to say, right? My family hasn’t been shredded by a cluster bomb before my eyes. And you could hardly blame Syrian oppositionists for rolling their eyes when they hear a well-meaning Westerner plead the virtues of non-violence. After all, my government has done virtually nothing to help restrain Assad’s attack dogs. Where do I get off lecturing the Free Syrian Army about right and wrong?

This is, in some ways, just the problem. If the international community had found some way to undertake meaningful action against the Assad regime from early on, we would have far greater credibility with the opposition today, and we would be in a much better position to argue for de-escalation. As things stand now, indications are that the fighters of the Free Syrian Army and their supporters increasingly regard Western governments with contempt. Many see us as de facto allies of the Damascus regime. We should hardly be surprised.

I decided to ask Simon Adams about this. He’s the director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, a New York-based organization founded in 2008 to combat genocide and mass human rights abuses around the world. Last year, he published a commentary in the New York Times arguing that the international community should bring constructive pressure to bear on the Syrian opposition to ensure that atrocities are not committed against groups or populations allied with the regime.

Some critics, as Adams puts it, “raised an eyebrow” at his article, suggesting that he was implying a false equivalence between aggressor and victim. He rejects this, insisting that his group has consistently regarded the Syrian government as the main perpetrator in the conflict, and has assailed its crimes accordingly. “But let’s be clear,” he says. “We’re not on the side of Assad and we’re not on the side of the rebels. We’re against mass atrocities.” And the past inaction of the U.N. Security Council — thanks above all to Russian and Chinese intransigence in opposing any efforts to sanction or condemn Assad’s regime — cannot serve as an excuse for continuing passivity on this score in the months to come.

Adams is not a supporter of military intervention, the consequences of which, he believes, could well end up outweighing the evil it is intended to cure. But he believes that there’s a great deal that can yet be done besides stepping into the fight. Above all else, the Americans, the Europeans, and their allies should start concerted action to establish a mechanism for investigating and punishing abuses once the war is over — applicable to everyone. “You can’t say, ‘War crimes are really bad when committed by our enemies.’ You have to say that they’re bad when committed by anyone. All perpetrators will be held accountable.”

Moreover, the Friends of Syria Group, as well as the countries that are directly aiding the rebels, should make a point of urging the opposition and its fighters toward full compliance with international humanitarian law (not least as a way of distinguishing the rebels favorably from the government). Adams notes that the Free Syrian Army has already created its own unit for war crimes investigations. So far the group has focused on abuses committed by the government, of course, but it could be expanded to provide accountability for the FSA’s own forces as well. Western countries, says Adams, should offer full assistance and support to such efforts, even while pushing for them to be broadened.

I really do wish him the best of luck with that. But it’s hard to be optimistic. As Adams himself points out, the original architects of the expanded international anti-genocide principles back in 2001 — known as the “Responsibility to Protect,” or R2P — foresaw that it would be extremely hard to against mass atrocities in cases where U.N. Security Council members were opposed to acting. That, of course, is exactly what’s now come to pass in the case of Syria.

In any case, it’s time to acknowledge that one consequence of the international community’s failure to press for stronger action in the past is that it leaves us ill-equipped to make the case for preventing the revenge killings that are likely to come. Let’s hope that the Syrian rebels have the wisdom to see the rationale for restraint as the war enters its next phase. They certainly have little cause to listen to our advice.

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