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Behind AFP’s Syria coverage

Christian Chaise

Friday 16 March 2018
Nicosia — Every day, dozens of photos taken by stringers in Syria land at the photo editing desk in Nicosia, AFP’s headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa. Sometimes, we get hundreds. Like on March 13, when we got 350. It’s been like this for years.
On March 15, the Syrian conflict entered its eighth year. Since the beginning, AFP has been one of the very few international outlets to maintain constant on-the-ground coverage. To pull this off, we have a network of stringers that we built over the course of several years. This is probably unequalled among major foreign media outlets.

See full article and photos here

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Rest in Peace Stephen Hawking

Rest in Peace Stephen Hawking, one of humanity’s brightest stars. In 2014 he wrote these words about Syria. They ring exactly true four years later. Read his beautiful opinion piece here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/17/syria-abomination-human-intelligence-end-war

The Permutations of Assadism

pulsemedia.org   

Posted on

The history of the past century is littered with episodes of anthropogenic evil: Armenia, the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur. In their aftermaths, reverberated the collective riposte of “never again.” Only to be followed by Syria, awaiting its eventual transcription into modernity’s catalog of barbarism.
Seven years in the making, the internecine conflict has mutated into nothing short of a global catastrophe: culminating in the worst humanitarian tragedy of the postwar period, spawning a refugee crisis of unparalleled proportions, and fermenting a belligerent sectarianism where ‘disaster Islamism’ wound up thriving. As the world looked on in horror and outrage, it simultaneously resigned itself to the conclusion that the Syrian byzantine precluded any objective extrapolation; that it is far too “complicated” to acquire neutral information is invoked with almost chronic exhortation.
A sub-thread to this sophism of withdrawal is a rancid Assadist discourse that has colonized debate in radical circles…

the rest of the article here

Scientists plan to drill into Earth’s mantle for the first time

Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments

In September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country.

The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials. Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders:

Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement.” She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.

She’s right. The submission to Israeli dictates is hard to overstate: As the New York Times put it in December of last year, “Israeli security agencies monitor Facebook and send the company posts they consider incitement. Facebook has responded by removing most of them.”

What makes this censorship particularly consequential is that “96 percent of Palestinians said their primary use of Facebook was for following news.” That means that Israeli officials have virtually unfettered control over a key communications forum of Palestinians.

In the weeks following those Facebook-Israel meetings, reported The Independent, “the activist collective Palestinian Information Center reported that at least 10 of their administrators’ accounts for their Arabic and English Facebook pages — followed by more than 2 million people — have been suspended, seven of them permanently, which they say is a result of new measures put in place in the wake of Facebook’s meeting with Israel.” Last March, Facebook briefly shut down the Facebook page of the political party, Fatah, followed by millions, “because of an old photo posted of former leader Yasser Arafat holding a rifle.”

A 2016 report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms detailed how extensive the Facebook censorship was:

Pages and personal accounts that were filtered and blocked: Palestinian Dialogue Network (PALDF.net) Gaza now, Jerusalem News Network, Shihab agency, Radio Bethlehem 2000, Orient Radio Network, page Mesh Heck, Ramallah news, journalist Huzaifa Jamous from Abu Dis, activist Qassam Bedier, activist Mohammed Ghannam, journalist Kamel Jbeil, administrative accounts for Al Quds Page, administrative accounts Shihab agency, activist Abdel-Qader al-Titi, youth activist Hussein Shajaeih, Ramah Mubarak (account is activated), Ahmed Abdel Aal (account is activated), Mohammad Za’anin (still deleted), Amer Abu Arafa (still deleted), Abdulrahman al-Kahlout (still deleted).

Needless to say, Israelis have virtually free rein to post whatever they want about Palestinians. Calls by Israelis for the killing of Palestinians are commonplace on Facebook, and largely remain undisturbed.

 

As Al Jazeera reported last year, “Inflammatory speech posted in the Hebrew language … has attracted much less attention from the Israeli authorities and Facebook.” One study found that “122,000 users directly called for violence with words like ‘murder,’ ‘kill,’ or ‘burn.’ Arabs were the No. 1 recipients of hateful comments.” Yet there appears to be little effort by Facebook to censor any of that.

Though some of the most inflammatory and explicit calls for murder are sometimes removed, Facebook continues to allow the most extremist calls for incitement against Palestinians to flourish. Indeed, Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has often used social media to post what is clearly incitement to violence against Palestinians generally. In contrast to Facebook’s active suppression against Palestinians, the very idea that Facebook would ever use its censorship power against Netanyahu or other prominent Israelis calling for violence and inciting attacks is unthinkable. Indeed, as Al Jazeera concisely put it, “Facebook hasn’t met Palestinian leaders to discuss their concern.”

Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents.

But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is. A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.”

As the Times notes, this rationale appears dubious or at least inconsistently applied: Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram. But just consider the incredibly menacing implications of Facebook’s claims.

What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced? As the ACLU’s Jennifer Granick told the Times:

It’s not a law that appears to be written or designed to deal with the special situations where it’s lawful or appropriate to repress speech. … This sanctions law is being used to suppress speech with little consideration of the free expression values and the special risks of blocking speech, as opposed to blocking commerce or funds as the sanctions was designed to do. That’s really problematic.

Does Facebook’s policy of blocking people from its platform who are sanctioned apply to all governments? Obviously not. It goes without saying that if, say, Iran decided to impose sanctions on Chuck Schumer for his support of Trump’s policy of recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Facebook would never delete the accounts of the Democratic Party Senate minority leader — just as Facebook would never delete the accounts of Israeli officials who incite violence against Palestinians or who are sanctioned by Palestinian officials. Just last month, Russia announced retaliatory sanctions against various Canadian officials and executives, but needless to say, Facebook took no action to censor them or block their accounts.

Similarly, would Facebook ever dare censor American politicians or journalists who use social media to call for violence against America’s enemies? To ask the question is to answer it.

As is always true of censorship, there is one, and only one, principle driving all of this: power. Facebook will submit to and obey the censorship demands of governments and officials who actually wield power over it, while ignoring those who do not. That’s why declared enemies of the U.S. and Israeli governments are vulnerable to censorship measures by Facebook, whereas U.S and Israeli officials (and their most tyrannical and repressive allies) are not:

All of this illustrates that the same severe dangers from state censorship are raised at least as much by the pleas for Silicon Valley giants to more actively censor “bad speech.” Calls for state censorship may often be well-intentioned — a desire to protect marginalized groups from damaging “hate speech” — yet, predictably, they are far more often used against marginalized groups: to censor them rather than protect them. One need merely look at how hate speech laws are used in Europe, or on U.S. college campuses, to see that the censorship victims are often critics of European wars, or activists against Israeli occupation, or advocates for minority rights.

One can create a fantasy world in one’s head, if one wishes, in which Silicon Valley executives use their power to protect marginalized peoples around the world by censoring those who wish to harm them. But in the real world, that is nothing but a sad pipe dream. Just as governments will, these companies will use their censorship power to serve, not to undermine, the world’s most powerful factions.

Just as one might cheer the censorship of someone one dislikes without contemplating the long-term consequences of the principle being validated, one can cheer the disappearance from Facebook and Instagram of a Chechen monster. But Facebook is explicitly telling you that the reason for its actions is that it was obeying the decrees of the U.S. government about who must be shunned.

It’s hard to believe that anyone’s ideal view of the internet entails vesting power in the U.S. government, the Israeli government, and other world powers to decide who may be heard on it and who must be suppressed. But increasingly, in the name of pleading with internet companies to protect us, that’s exactly what is happening.

The story behind Ahed Tamimi’s slap: her cousin’s head shattered by Israeli soldier’s bullet

 

Gideon Levy جدعون ليفي גדעון לוי 

 

Just before Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi slapped one of the soldiers who’d invaded her yard, she learned that her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed had been shot in the head at close range

Mohammed Tamimi.

Mohammed Tamimi. Credit Alex Levac

Half a head.

The left side of his face is twisted, swollen, fragmented, scarred; there’s congealed blood by his nose, stitches in his face; one eye is shut, a seam line stretches across his whole scalp. A boy’s face turned scar-face. Some of his skull bones were removed in surgery and won’t be returned to their place for another six months.

Mohammed Tamimi, just 15, and he is already a disabled shooting victim and a released prisoner.

That’s life under the occupation in Nabi Saleh, where people are occupied with the struggle. About an hour after Mohammed was shot in the head at short range by an Israel Defense Forces soldier (or a Border Policeman), his now-better-known cousin, Ahed Tamimi, went to the yard of her house and tried to forcibly expel the two soldiers who had invaded her turf, while the camera rolled. It’s a reasonable assumption that she tried to vent her wrath on the soldiers in part because of the shooting of her cousin an hour earlier.

Mohammed Tamimi, Ahed Tamimi’s 15-year-old cousin who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier.

Only a few dozen meters separate the place where the soldiers shot Mohammed and Ahed’s home; only an hour separated the two events. People in her family relate that Ahed, 16, burst into tears when she heard that her cousin had been shot and was in serious condition. From the window of her home at the edge of Nabi Saleh, a small village near Ramallah, you can see the stone wall that surrounds the luxurious building, under construction, that Mohammed climbed in order to get a view of the soldiers who were still inside. At that point he was shot in the head with one bullet from a distance of a few meters, and fell bleeding to the ground from a height of three meters (nearly 10 feet).

Now Ahed is in detention and Mohammed is recovering from his shattering head wound. This week, Mohammed still didn’t know about the arrest of his cousin, who has become an icon. In view of his condition, his family hasn’t told him.

We meet him in his uncle’s house, which is adjacent to his own home. He speaks softly, occasionally runs his hand across the scars on his head, lies down from time to time on the sofa to rest. He’s in the 10th grade in the village’s coeducational school, where Ahed is a student one year ahead of him. His father, Fadel, is a taxi driver; his mother, Imtisal, a homemaker. Last year, he spent three months in an Israeli prison.

At 2 A.M. on April 24, 2017, soldiers broke into their home by force, entered the children’s room, snatched Mohammed from his bed, handcuffed him and took him into detention. He wanted to get dressed before being taken to prison; the soldiers initially refused but then consented, he says now. Tamimi was suspected of throwing stones at an army jeep that had broken down next to the gas station at the village’s entrance a few days earlier. He was taken to the Etzion police facility for interrogation, which took place without the presence of a lawyer, as the law stipulates. After all, what does the law have to do with the interrogation of a 14-year-old (as he was then) Palestinian boy? Nor did anyone tell him that he had the right to remain silent. At some point, the interrogators also wanted to get him to sign a form written in Hebrew. Since he does not speak the language, he refused. He says that he wasn’t afraid during the questioning.

After three months of interrogations and hearings, Mohammed was sentenced in a plea bargain to three months in prison and a fine of 3,000 shekels (about $860) – the prosecution had asked for a jail term of a year and a fine of 15,000 shekels. Tamimi was released two days later, as by then he had already been incarcerated for three months. Throughout the period, his parents weren’t allowed to visit their son even once. They only saw him in the courtroom, from a distance, but weren’t allowed to speak with him, or even ask how he was feeling. Routine procedure.

Mohammed was released on July 19. What did you find hardest in jail, we ask. The hardest thing for him, he says, was not being able to fall asleep at night for worrying about his family. IDF and Border Police troops raid Nabi Saleh almost every day and night, and Tamimi was concerned about his parents and his brother. Sharef, his 24-year-old brother, and their father, too, have been arrested quite often and also injured. In 2015, for example, a few people who introduced themselves as employees of the Electric Corporation arrived at their home. It was during the day. They turned out to be mista’arvim, undercover soldiers. They locked everyone in the house in one room. Mohammed managed to escape to his uncle’s house next door, and to report that strangers had invaded the house. His cousin, who is also named Mohammed Tamimi – there are apparently about 100 people in Nabi Saleh with that name – says that at first they, too, didn’t know who the interlopers were. They’d come to arrest Sharef, who wasn’t home. The soldiers waited for him. Sharef was sentenced to two months in prison. This situation of the kidnapping of his brother is also part of Mohammed’s childhood memories. Now he wants to lie down to rest a little again.

Mohammed Tamimi with his father, Fadel.

Mohammed Tamimi with his father, Fadel. Credit Alex Levac

After Mohammed was released, he went back to taking part in the village’s regular demonstrations – “because they took our lands,” he explains now. Most of the land of Nabi Saleh either was plundered in order to build the settlement of Halamish, on the other side of the road, or simply cannot be accessed because of the presence of the settlement.

In the past three months, the hand of the Israeli security forces has become even heavier in the village. According to Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, the IDF and the Border Police have raided Nabi Saleh 70 or 80 times in the past three months. Sometimes the soldiers shut the yellow iron gate to the village, so that residents are unable to reach the main road. They do this most frequently in the early morning hours, when the workers head for their jobs, the patients for treatment and the students for school. The village attributes this policy to the new army commander in the region, whom they know simply as “Eyal.”

Friday, December 15, was another unquiet day in Nabi Saleh. It was a week after U.S. President Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem. As on every Friday, a protest march was set to take place. Tamimi relates that he went that morning with a group of his peers to see whether there were soldiers lurking in ambush, ahead of the march, which always makes its way toward the IDF’s fortified watchtower at the village’s entrance. There were five or six youths. A short time later, they saw about a dozen soldiers who’d come from the south and were trying to take cover in an ambush position. Mohammed and a friend shouted to them: We see you! The soldiers hurled tear-gas grenades at them. In the meantime, the marchers were drawing closer.

The military force positioned itself in the “villa,” a splendid but not yet finished wall-enclosed stone structure at the edge of Nabi Saleh, built by an affluent Palestinian exile who lives in Spain. It’s meant to be an alternative-health clinic, but its opening has been delayed because of the situation. Dozens of villagers surrounded the “villa,” knowing there were soldiers within.

Mohammed Tamimi approached the wall of the building, then climbed it. He wanted to see whether there were still soldiers inside, in the wake of a rumor that they had left. But the instant he appeared above the wall, he was shot in the head with a rubber-coated metal bullet from a distance of a few meters. Tamimi managed to see the soldier aim his rifle at him, he recalls, but that’s all he remembers. He fell to the ground and the other youngsters rushed over to him.

Tamimi was unconscious when he was carried to a private car and driven to the clinic in the village of Beit Rima. His cousin Mohammed Tamimi, a student in his 20s, was with him. The cousin relates that his namesake received first aid at the clinic, where the staff suggested that he be taken to the clinic in the town of Salfit. The cousin refused, thinking that because of the severity of the wound, the clinic would not be able to treat him properly. The driver of the Palestinian ambulance warned that if they encountered an IDF checkpoint, the soldiers were liable to arrest the wounded teen.

The soldiers at the checkpoint at the exit from Nabi Saleh ordered the ambulance to stop. Tamimi the cousin recalls that they were aggressive and extremely edgy, and aimed their weapons at him. They saw the boy’s condition; the cousin told them, “You have 30 seconds to decide: Either you take him to an Israeli hospital, or you let us pass.”

Tamimi relates that a military ambulance was parked next to the checkpoint. One of the soldiers consulted with someone via his radio, and then ordered the ambulance to head for Ramallah, declining to allow its patient to enter Israel for medical treatment. “Get going,” the soldier snapped, when Tamimi tried to persuade him to allow his cousin to be transferred to a hospital in Israel.

The ambulance sped toward Istishari Hospital, a new private institution in Ramallah. Mohammed’s parents, who had in the meantime gone to the Nabi Saleh checkpoint in a panic, were turned back by the soldiers at gunpoint, even after trying to explain that their son had been seriously wounded. They had to take an indirect route to the hospital.

Tamimi’s condition looked serious; he was suffering from intracranial bleeding. Both his cousin and his father say now that they were certain he wouldn’t survive. Specialists were summoned, and they decided to operate. No one knew then how much brain damage he had sustained. A Facebook request for blood donations brought many people to the hospital. The surgery lasted six hours, through the night. Photographs of the boy lying unconscious in the hospital, hooked up to tubes, were disseminated on the social networks the next day. About 24 hours later, Tamimi began to regain consciousness and could soon identify those around him. Now everyone is calling it a miracle.

Mohammed Tamimi was discharged to his home about a week later. As far as is known, he suffered no motor or cognitive damage.

The IDF Spokesman’s Unit this week told Haaretz: “On Friday, December 15, disturbances erupted, involving some 200 Palestinians who set tires alight and threw stones at IDF forces near the village of Nabi Saleh. The troops used crowd-dispersal methods to break up the gathering. We are aware of the claim by the District Coordination and Liaison Office that a Palestinian was injured and evacuated for medical care in the village.”

Tamimi is cuddling next to his father, who’s come back from work and is fawning over his son. The boy soon drifts off. The neighboring house on the hill, the home of Ahed Tamimi, is deserted. Ahed and her mother, Nariman, are in detention. The father, Bassem, is with them in court, to boost their spirits when the serious indictment against them is read out.

 



Merci à Ha’aretz
Source: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.833157
Date de parution de l’article original: 05/01/2018
URL de cette page: http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=22392 

Facebook And Israel Officially Announce Collaboration To Censor Social Media Content

 

www.activistpost.com

By Whitney Webb

Following Facebook’s censorship controversy over a world famous photograph of the Vietnam War, Facebook has agreed to “work together” with Israel’s government to censor content Israeli officials deem to be improper. Facebook officially announced the “cooperative” arrangement after a meeting took place between Israeli government ministers and top Facebook officials on September 11th. The Israeli government’s frenzied push to monitor and censor Facebook content it deems inappropriate follows the viral success of BDS, or Boycott, Divest, Sanctions, a global non-violent movement that works to expose Israeli human rights violations.

The success of BDS has struck a nerve with Israel, leading its government to pass legislation allowing it to spy on and deport foreign activists operating within Israel and Palestine. Israel has also threatened the lives of BDS supporters and has lobbied for legislative measures against BDS around the world. They are now seeking to curtail any further BDS success by directly controlling the content of Facebook users.

However, Facebook’s formal acknowledgement of its relationship with Israel’s government is only the latest step in an accord that has been in the works for months. In June of this year, Facebook’s Israel office hired Jordana Cutler as head of policy and communications. Cutler is a longtime adviser to Netanyahu and, before her recent hire at Facebook, was Chief of Staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Facebook may have been intimidated into the arrangement by Gilad Erdan, Israeli Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs, and Information, who threatened to enact legislation, in Israel and abroad, that would place responsibility on Facebook for attacks “incited” by its social media content. Erdan has previously said that Facebook “has a responsibility to monitor is platform and remove content.”

In addition, as the Intercept reported in June, Israel actively reviews the content of Palestinian Facebook posts and has even arrested some Palestinians for posts on the social media site. They then forward the requests for censorship to Facebook, who accepts the requests 95% of the time.

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An Israeli Soldier with “Revenge” written across his chest took to Facebook to incite retaliation against Palestinians after 3 Israeli teenagers were killed. His post was not censored by Facebook and was praised by the Times of Israel.

In what is an obvious and troubling disparity, Facebook posts inciting violence against Palestinians are surprisingly common and Facebook rarely censors these posts. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald, this disparity underscores “the severe dangers of having our public discourse overtaken, regulated, and controlled by a tiny number of unaccountable teach giants.”

With Facebook arguably functioning as the most dominant force in journalism, its control over the flow of information is significant. The fact that a private company with such enormous influence has partnered with a government to censor its opponents is an undeniable step towards social media fascism. Though social media was once heralded as a revolutionary opportunity to allow regular people to share information globally and to politically organize for grassroots change, allowing governments to censor their opposition threatens to transform it into something else entirely.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below and share this news!

This article (Facebook And Israel Officially Announce Collaboration To Censor Social Media Content) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and TrueActivist.com

Top Image Credit – http://www.wb7.hk

 

First Christmas abroad ;-(

source

 

 

Like many others, we were filled with excitement and expectation about our first Christmas abroad. Neither of us could have imagined that this simple dream would turn into our worst nightmare.

On Christmas Eve in a local pub at Durham, Durham, my Palestinian friend and I were harassed, insulted, and physically assaulted for by a group of British men we had never met before.

At around 8pm on Christmas Eve, we went to the local pub called ‘The Happy Wanderer’. As soon as we entered into the pub we became aware of being stared at by some men standing at the counter which made us very uneasy.

Soon after we sat down at a table, a man around 40s stepped out his group and made his way towards us. Without any invitation or introduction whatsoever, he took a seat next to us and blurted out: “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” Not knowing what his intention was, we told him that we’re from Egypt and Palestine, to which he instantly replied: “EGYPT, PALESTINE. SO, YOU ARE ALL MUSLIMS… ARE YOU SUICIDE BOMBERS?”

Within the next half an hour, this strange man hurled at us all sorts of horrible insults without any provocation. For example, he asked us what you are doing here. We mentioned that we are postgraduate students at Durham University He replied you must be so rich then! At one point he stood in the middle of the bar and repeatedly shouted at us to ‘GET OUT OF THE PUB!’. While the man was insulting us for no reason at all nobody in the pub did or said anything to stop him. Not wanting to cause any disturbances, all I did was smiling at home and said: ‘Okay, thank you.’
We were so humiliated and helpless at the same time. It got to the point that we realized that we could not stay in the pub any longer for fear that something bad would happen, and still no one (including the people working at the bar) cared enough to interfere.

When the young girl bartender finally seemed to be approaching us, we felt a sense of hope surging over us, but she stopped at the next table and started collecting the empty glasses without looking at us. No words of comfort, no apology, nothing.

Only one young man from that group came to us and apologized. He told us that the man insulting us was ‘a good man, but jut had couple of drinks’ as if that could justify all the harassment and insults we had endured helplessly.

As we stepped out of the pub we immediately became apprehensive because the same man and his mates were standing outside. All we wanted was to get out of that place and away from these people. It was Christmas after all and we just wanted to have a good time. However as soon as we walked past that man he screamed at us: “Fuck Allah, Fuck Mohammed, and Fuck Islam”.

My friend walking a few steps behind me responded to him by smiling and saying “Merry Christmas to you and I hope you enjoy your night.” The next thing I knew another man from the group hurled his pint glass with all the force he had into my face. With a split second I tilted my head which miraculously saved me from getting struck.

After this violent act which took us by great surprise I told them that “I am calling the police now” and shouted at them to “STAY AWAY” again and again while they were chasing after us. My friend took out his phone and told them he was going to film them.

They followed us to the other side of the road and it was then we both sensed that we were in danger but with no way to escape. I shouted to my friend who was behind me to watch out and it was at that moment I saw the same young man who apologized to us in the pub on behalf of his friend attacking my friend. He sprang forward and punched my friend hard in the face. I saw my friend falling backwards onto the ground with a thump. I saw the men kicking him over and over all over his body.

It was dark but I could see people walking by. I screamed at them to ask for help. I shouted “please somebody call the police!” while running towards my friend who was lying on his back, badly wounded.

When he finally managed to get away from them, my friend was no longer able to walk and fell down and lost consciousness. I stood next to him, appalled and shaking with outrage. The only woman who stopped to help took my phone and called the police. These people who assaulted us still tried to spring at us. I screamed at them to back off. Eventually they went back to the bar and had fled before the police arrived.

It was like I was living my worst nightmare. And the hardest part is witnessing my friend being beaten to death in front of my eyes. We went to the pub to celebrate our first Christmas and left with injuries, pain, tears and rage. Why and how did it happen to us?!

It was a very long and sleepless night. After the outrageously violent attack, my friend and I spent the rest of the Christmas Eve moving back and forth between the police station and the hospital. My friend was left with terrible injuries and bruises all over his body and suffered a concussion (I’ve included here a picture of his leg and a picture of the pub).

This is not what we expected for our first Christmas in the UK. This is not what we expected for being international students in Durham. This is not what we expected at any point in our lives. Who deserves to get almost beaten to death for doing nothing, for just being who we are, or in this case, for wishing you a merry Christmas???

We will not be silenced. We will not give up our rights, and we will proceed with legal action and hold them accountable for what they have done in every possible way. Most importantly, what’s been done to us could have happened to any other international students here in Durham. That’s why we believe that awareness must be raised, our voices must be heard, and justice must be served.

We will not tolerate racist and religious hate crime.
Durham will stay a safe place and one of the most students’ friendly cities in the UK.
#hatecrimeindurhum
Photo Credits: Newcastle Chronicle

The Guardian view on Putin in Syria: victory and desolation

www.theguardian.com

Vladimir Putin went on a victory lap of Syria and the Middle East this week, intent on showcasing his ability to secure the upper hand against the US in the region. On a surprise visit to a Russian airbase on the Syrian coast, he demonstratively embraced the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose hold on power Russia’s military intervention has all but saved. “Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Mr Putin told a detachment of Russian soldiers. “You are coming back home with victory.”

Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where Russia had announced earlier this year that a ceasefire would take hold, children living under siege are starving. Despite the “de-escalation” deal, Syrian government forces continue to pound the area, backed by Iranian and Russian allies in an attempt to score a decisive victory. These two scenes spoke volumes about Russia’s calculus, and about the realities it has helped create on the ground. That the Russian president has now announced a substantial troop withdrawal must be taken with a barrel of salt. Similar pledges have been made before and remain unfulfilled. On Tuesday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would retain a sizable force in Syria to fight “terrorists”. Russia’s definition of “terrorism” in Syria is like that of the Assad regime, which equates it to political opposition.

Mr Putin is keen to speak of victory. In Moscow he has announced that he will run for re-election next year. Bringing back some of the Russian forces – who are reportedly deployed alongside thousands of Kremlin-connected private contractors – can only be good for his political prospects. Russian casualties in Syria are a closely guarded secret, as are the financial costs of the operation. In geopolitical terms Mr Putin’s war in Syria has been a profitable investment for the Kremlin. He has capitalised on western strategic disarray and America’s reluctance to get drawn deeper into the conflict, an instinct that predated the volatile Donald Trump. After Syria, Mr Putin travelled on to Cairo, where he met Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, demonstrating Russia’s new clout in a country that since the 1970s has had privileged ties with the US. There is now talk of Russian military aircraft being able to use Egyptian bases.

It is no small irony that Mr Putin has claimed victory over Islamic State: the bluster does little to hide the fact that his forces focused much more on targeting the anti-Assad opposition than they did the jihadi insurgency. The retaking of Raqqa was not a Russian accomplishment, but the result of a Kurdish-Arab ground offensive, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.
None of this has prevented Russia from claiming the diplomatic high ground. By changing the balance of forces and catching the west off guard when he sent forces in 2015, Mr Putin has built up his leverage. Whether he can deliver a peace plan is, however, a different question. The signs are that the Russian president would prefer to sideline, if not entirely obstruct, UN-sponsored talks in Geneva. It helps that these discussions have been convened in the hope, rather than the expectation, of peace. He has explored other formats, alongside Iran and Turkey, but these are complex partners. Iranian-controlled forces have grown more dominant in Syria than Mr Putin perhaps initially anticipated. It is also true that UN resources will be needed when – and if – Syria’s reconstruction is one day contemplated.

Geopolitical power games have not ended in Syria, nor has the fighting. In eastern Ghouta, according to the UN, 137 children, including babies, are in urgent need of medical evacuation. By propping up a dictator who starves and massacres his own population, Mr Putin surely owns the desolation in Syria, as much as he controls military bases. Russia has returned to the Middle East, but its responsibilities in the bloodbath are equally on display.

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