Search

band annie's Weblog

I have a parallel blog in French at http://anniebannie.net

Tag

middle-east

The Muslim Brotherhood is caught in Trump’s twilight zone

January 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Published in:

muslim-brotherhood-mb-office-hq-headquartersHeadquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt [File photo]

Headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt [File photo]

yvonne-ridley-5

Yvonne Ridley

@yvonneridley

 

January 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm

The news today is that the United States of America has a new President in Donald Trump. Beyond that, the world of fact and fantasy has collided to create a fake news landscape in which it is going to become increasingly difficult to separate the truth from lies.

It is a twilight zone in which the very worst dirty tricks are currently being employed. Trump has already blamed gullible US intelligence agencies for falling for a Russian dossier compiled by an ex-British spy, in which lurid allegations were made against him.

Although he dismissed the dossier angrily as fake news, it seems that Trump and his administration are selective when it comes to which fake news to believe and which to condemn out of hand. The new Washington set-up is already, for example, being duped into believing fake news about the Muslim Brotherhood. What else can we conclude when we hear that one of the first things he is preparing to do in the White House is to ban the Muslim Brotherhood in the US by declaring it to be a “terrorist organisation”?

The bill to this effect — the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015-16 — has been drafted by right-wing Republican Senator Ted Cruz. It identifies the Brotherhood and three of its offshoots, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), as “terrorist” groups.

Any reasonable person with even a modicum of understanding of the Muslim world knows that this is poppycock. Nevertheless, there are attempts to lump the Brotherhood in the same category as the Taliban, Al-Qaida and Daesh. Those who can differentiate between the ideologies of the latter three will know that from Kandahar to Raqqa, the Brotherhood is regarded as virtually heretical and hence is reviled by their supporters.

There is no doubt that as far as the pro-Israel lobby is concerned, the Brotherhood’s branch in Palestine — the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) – is the Devil’s spawn. This has to be regarded in context, though, because the Zionist lobbyists despise anyone and everyone who gives active support to the Palestinian cause, from families boycotting Israeli produce on the supermarket shelves to peaceful activists on the front line resisting Israeli teargas and bullets to protect olive trees in the occupied West Bank.

When the good people of Palestine held democratic elections and swept Hamas to power in 2006, the movement’s victory so angered the US administration that it funded, along with Israel, an attempted coup by a faction within Fatah; it failed, but the subsequent Israeli-led siege of Gaza has been in place ever since, with Washington’s full approval. America’s response to the movement’s electoral victory sent a warning shot across the region, for the benefit of the dictators and despots clinging to power, that the rest of the Arab world beyond Palestine might also want a taste of freedom and democracy.

It remains to be seen if Trump recognises the dossiers and briefings on the Muslim Brotherhood as fake, or if he will collude with the same Arab dictators and tyrants who have their own agenda as well as a long-distance relationship with the truth, along with their compliant media organisations.

Earlier this month, the Muslim Brotherhood took the unusual step of issuing an official statement decrying the fake news created to demonise the movement. This came after some sections of the media invented a story saying that the remnants of the Brotherhood in Egypt had announced “the militarisation of its movement against the military coup and that it has decided to resort to violence.”

“The General Office of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the group explained, “and all the departments affiliated with it, would like to stress that the group’s position as announced in February 2014, and which has been endorsed by the new Shura Council that was elected in the middle of this past December, of adhering to the revolutionary path in order to break the coup does not mean ‘militarising the revolution’ or heading toward violence.”

This simply means that the Brotherhood “is endeavouring to possess the tools necessary for achieving victory, in their all-encompassing definitions, based on civil resistance that peoples around the world legitimately resort to and that is supported by all the resolutions of international legitimacy in order to get rid of military dictatorship and win their freedom and dignity. This is a path that free nations cannot afford to do without in their endeavour to protect their gains and inflict defeat on the real terrorism that is being nurtured by the despotism of repressive regimes.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to bringing about change in such a troubled region as the Middle East through non-violent means should be commended and welcomed by any and all reasonable people, including those in Washington. However, it seems that the explicit statement is already being ignored by Trump’s advisors. Somebody needs to tell the new US president that his people are lying to him about the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, both in America and overseas.

When dictatorships and rogue states that do not encourage freedom of speech, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, have outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood it should be obvious that this indicates that the movement stands for the sort of values despised by such regimes and trumpeted — no pun intended — by the US and other Western states.

After the Muslim Brotherhood was swept into power in Egypt and Mohamed Morsi become its first democratically-elected leader it sent shock waves throughout the region. If freedom and democracy could come to Egypt, it was believed, then it could happen anywhere; that is why unelected regional heads of state set about spending billions of petrodollars to destabilise the Arab Spring and undermine the fledgling Morsi government in Cairo.

The result is that Egypt’s only democratically-elected president is now languishing in a Cairo hell-hole of a prison under sentence of death. Over the past three and a half years he has been joined by thousands of other political prisoners from the now banned Brotherhood. The Egyptian economy is in a mess and the government of coup leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is propped up by foreign aid.

Ted Cruz’s bill requiring the US State Department to declare the Muslim Brotherhood as a “foreign terrorist organisation” looks very likely to become law just months after outgoing US President Barak Obama hosted a meeting with some senior members of the movement in Washington. A press release from the Texas senator claims that the Brotherhood “espouses a violent Islamist ideology with a mission of destroying the West”, which is contradicted completely by the group’s own statement.

If Trump hates fake news so much he should practice what he preaches; if he’s going to ban anything at all, it should be political statements by Republican ideologues like Cruz which spread false information. He has had a taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lies when confronted with the dodgy intelligence dossier on his activities in a Moscow hotel. In truth, though, while most of us had a snigger at Trump’s expense, the reality is that no one died.

The deployment of misinformation about the Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, has been exploited eagerly by dictatorships with vicious crackdowns on their own citizens, at great cost to liberty and life. The stakes in this issue are high; fake news can be fatal. Now’s the time to put an end to such devious shenanigans. Trump should outlaw them today, and ignore the scaremongering about the Muslim Brotherhood by Ted Cruz or anybody else.

source

 

Advertisements

Palestinians forever changed by Israeli torture

Former detainees who suffered abuse while in Israeli custody say they are struggling to regain a sense of normality.

Jonathan Brown | 05 Apr 2016 11:48 GMT |

Nour Alyan, 27, who says he was held in stress positions for hours while in Israeli detention, displays the paperwork from his five separate arrests [Edmee Van Rijn/Al Jazeera]
Nour Alyan, 27, who says he was held in stress positions for hours while in Israeli detention, displays the paperwork from his five separate arrests [Edmee Van Rijn/Al Jazeera]

Jalazone refugee camp, occupied West Bank – Abed Abu Sharefa’s hand was on the front door of his home in Jalazone refugee camp as Israeli soldiers worked to break through from the other side and arrest him.

The scar under his left eyebrow, where the metal door blew inwards, is still visible seven years on. Abu Sharefa, 25, told Al Jazeera that his right ear still hurts from the beatings he received at the hands of Israeli interrogators early in the 14-month detention that followed his violent arrest.

Abed Abu Sharefa, 25, says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being arrested, detained and tortured by Israeli security forces [Edmee Van Rijn/Al Jazeera]

Abu Sharefa, who has a tattoo of an M16 rifle on his chest, is among dozens of residents of Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah who say they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after being arrested, detained and tortured by Israeli security forces.

Residents of Jalazone, which is near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, are often targeted for arrest amid frequent clashes with Israeli soldiers.

Sitting in front of a rusted electric heater, Abu Sharefa takes long draws from a cigarette as he describes being beaten by Israeli interrogators. He reenacts the stress positions he says he was forced into for long hours while detained in the basement of a compound in Jerusalem.

“Even before I was interrogated, I knew detention would be violent; I’d heard about other Jalazone detainees’ experiences,” Abu Sharefa said. “In one way or another, there is always violence in Israeli detention. I’m afraid to be arrested again.”


READ MORE: Report details ‘inhuman’ treatment in Israeli jail


Abu Sharefa, who was detained twice after his first arrest, says he now has difficulty sleeping. He lifts his hands, palms facing out, to show his chewed nails, which he says he bites incessantly and nervously. He says he frequently considers suicide.

“Abed changed completely,” said Tahani, Abu Sharefa’s older sister. “Sometimes when we tried to speak to him, he didn’t respond, like he had experienced some trauma. He’s still nervous and agitated.”

Mohammad Absi, a psychologist with the Ramallah-based Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre (TRC) who has worked in Jalazone refugee camp since 2009, says he has treated around 100 former detainees who experienced torture, abuse or mistreatment while in Israeli detention.

Someone who has experienced trauma is usually helped and supported by their community, but everyone here is psychologically tired.

Nour Alyan, former detainee

Abu Sharefa’s experience was severe, Absi said, but such anxiety upon release is not uncommon. “Individuals who experience psychological torture or severe stressors manifest symptoms like Abed’s,” he said.

According to Addameer, a Palestinian human rights group, there are currently 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli-administered prisons. There have been hundreds of cases of alleged torture over the past 15 years.

Nour Alyan, 27, has been arrested five times and spent a total of eight years in Israeli prison. He recently replaced the front door of his home in the Jalazone camp for a fourth time, after Israeli soldiers broke it down to arrest him in mid-2014. Alyan was most recently released in February.

Alyan said he was held in stress positions for hours, and in solitary confinement for more than two weeks. Many in the camp – including eight of his cousins – who say they were mistreated while in Israeli custody are now struggling with depression and sleeping problems, he said.

“Someone who has experienced trauma is usually helped and supported by their community, but everyone here is psychologically tired,” Alyan told Al Jazeera.

Psychiatrist Mahmud Sehwail, who founded the TRC, said the consequences of this type of torture are “devastating” for communities.

“Torture does not aim to kill an individual; it aims to kill an individual’s spirit. It aims to alter their mentality and character,” Sehwail said. “In reality, though, torture alters not just a victim, but a victim’s family, their community, and their society.”

With limited rehabilitative resources available and dwindling donor funds to organisations like the TRC, some former detainees have turned instead to “smoking drugs, or alcohol”, Alyan said.


READ MORE: Youngest prisoner in Israeli jail is a 12-year-old girl


Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and HaMoked recently released a reportdetailing abuses against Palestinian detainees at the Shikma facility in southern Israel. Based on affidavits and witness accounts of 116 Palestinians, the report found they were subjected to a variety of abuses, some of which were “tantamount to torture”.

The report found that that such abuse was facilitated by a “broad network of partners” as Israeli justice officials turned “a blind eye”.

Inside Story: Is force-feeding a form of torture?

Israel’s Ministry of Justice maintains that Israeli interrogations “are conducted within the confines of the law and with the aim of pre-emptively foiling and preventing illegal activities aimed at harming state security, its democratic regimes or its institutions”, noting that detention facilities “are under constant and continuous inspection of several internal and external reviewing bodies”.

Since 2001, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, working in concert with Palestinian and Israeli rights groups, has submitted at least 950 complaints of torture to the Israeli Security Agency, at least 95 percent of which were on behalf of Palestinians.

None have resulted in criminal investigations. “The Israeli system protects torture in Shabak interrogations,” the committee’s CEO, Rachel Stroumsa, told Al Jazeera.

“It legalises these interrogations [and] it exempts interrogators from the rule of law … At stake is whether Israel sees itself as a military society, living in fear, acting out of fear, acting in ways it will not be able to countenance later – or whether we see ourselves as a law-abiding society.”

Follow Jonathan Brown on Twitter: @jonathaneebrown

Source: Al Jazeera

Toward a People’s History of the Syrian Uprising—A Conversation with Wendy Pearlman

October 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

In the increasingly disfigured debate about Syria, it is scarcely even remembered that it all began as a popular uprising—indeed, as a nonviolent and non-sectarian one whose goals were dignity, justice, and freedom from a one-family mafia torture state in power for more than four decades.

Wendy Pearlman is out to set that record straight and explain why the Syrian uprising happened in the first place.

Pearlman, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University in Chicago who serves on the faculty of the university’s Middle East and North African Studies Program, is the author of Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada and Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement.

For the last two years Pearlman has been working on a book that she conceives as something of a people’s history of the Syrian uprising. She has interviewed more than 150 Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey about their experiences in the uprising and war. Along the way, she has published a series of powerful articles, among them “Love in the Syrian Revolution”, “Fathers of Revolution” and “On the Third Anniversary of the Syrian Uprising”.

In September, our Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver had the pleasure of co-hosting Pearlman (along with the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy) for a pair of presentations about her book-in-progress. While she was in Denver, I conducted this interview with her for our Middle East Dialogues video series:

Are you Progressive Except for Syria? Take the handy test here!

Posted: 02/26/2015 by editor

pes 3We have all already heard of the phenomenon of PEP (Progressive Except on Palestine), in which those who consider themselves progressives (liberals in the USA) or leftists are pretty liberal on every single issue except the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, their syndrome has been pointed out and diagnosed fully. A lot of them justify this position by saying that supporting the government of Israel is a liberal position. Their problems are not our problem… they need help that we surely can’t provide.

However, there is another phenomenon far more worrisome because it involves those who are Progressive ALSO for Palestine, and that is the case of PES (Progressive Except on Syria). Those who are afflicted by this malady feel safety in numbers, because they are in fact the majority of non-Palestinian supporters of Palestine. They will actually USE the argument of Palestine as justification of their support of Assad, even though his regime has a terrible record regarding Palestinians, (as did that of his father).  They will argue that support of Assad is a progressive (liberal) leftist value. Whether it’s called “selective humanitarianism” “double standards” or “hypocrisy”, it is a dangerous and insidious disease and should be cured. Here is a little test to discover if perhaps YOU are afflicted with this mental illness.

pes 2Do you perhaps suffer from PES without being aware of it? Fear no more! We’re happy to provide you a self-diagnosis test with simple YES / NO replies so that you can discover your own hypocritical stance, and hopefully, be on the path to the cure.

  1. Did you protest or complain about the unfairness of the USAelections for any reason but believe that Assad won a landslide victory in free and fair elections?
  2. Do you think that Assad is fighting terrorism?
  3. Do you think that the Palestinian cause is being defended by Assad?
  4. Do you believe that the war in Syria is all about foreign aggression due to their national and pan-Arab stances” and is not a people’s uprising? In fact, you think the whole Arab Spring has got to be “exposed” as an imperialist, western plot.
  5. Do you think that the Intifada in Palestine is legitimate and that the uprising in Syria is manufactured (while of course saying so having been paid guest to Assad’s presidential palace)?
  6. Do you think that the Palestinian cause is being defended by Hezbollah even when they target and kill Palestinian refugees and ignore the growing tensions between Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Hezbollah?
  7. Do you condemn religiously-inspired militias such as ISIS and Al Nusra when they commit murder and use violence against civilians but have not condemned Hezbollah when it commits murder and uses violence against civilians?
  8. Do you think that it was a good idea for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) to shoot on the Palestinians who mourned those killed on Naksa Day 2011?
  9. Have you called Gaza “the world’s largest open-air prison” but don’t agree with the UNHCR claim that Syria’s war “is more brutal and destructive than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has turned into the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.”?
  10. Have you endorsed or thought a No Fly Zone was a good idea for Gaza but reject it as Imperialist meddling or abid to save Al Qaeda if it’s done in Syria?
  11. Do you condemn the Palestinians tortured to death in Israeli prisons (since 1967, a total of 72 Palestinianshave been tortured to death) but have not condemned the 200 Palestinians tortured to death in Syrian prisons since 2011? You naturally probably don’t know about the at least 2100 Syrians who were tortured to deathinside these prisons.
  12. Do the at least 10,000 bodies of prisoners in Syrian regime prisons that were ordered to be catalogued by the regime mean nothing to you since you don’t have details on what the reasons for their deaths could be?
  13. Do you call for release of political prisoners from Israeli jails but do not call for the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Syrian jails?
  14. Have you actually asked for money to bring Gazan children to make a protest for the NFZ but think that asking for a NFZ in Syria is a bid to help Al Qaeda?
  15. Do you think Al Qaeda and ISIS are Mossad / CIA inventions?
  16. Do you protest against the death penalty in the USA: Executions in 2014, 35, but don’t do the same for Iran: executions in 2014, Between 721 and 801 at least.
  17. Do you think it is wrong for the US to provide Israel with armaments because it engages in war crimes but at the same time, think it is justified for Russia to provide the Syrian regime with armaments and military expertsbecause “it’s war against NATO”?
  18. Do you condemn Israel’s “extra judicial killing” but claim that Assad must do everything he needs to maintain power because blocking his actions in any way, even by condemning them “… could end up ousting Assad. It would mean replacing him with pro-Western stooge governance. It would eliminate another Israeli rival. It would isolate Iran. It would be disastrous for ordinary Syrians.”
  19. Have you ever praised Assad’s government because it is secular, or “fighting the enemy of the West”: because after all, you only see the alternatives being Assad or the “Islamic Fundamentalists”?
  20. Did you support Haniyeh and Meshaal until they started waving the Syrian revolution flag?
  21. Do you erroneously refer to the Syrian revolution flag as the “French Mandate Flag” ignoring that even the Assad regime celebrated it as the Independence flag each “Evacuation (Independence) Day on 17 April to celebrate the resistance against the French colonialists?
  22. Do you know the names of at least one Palestinian dissident/political writer but don’t know any Syrian ones?
  23. Do you call the opposition to Assad “Western-backed rebels” either from a Pro-Israel or Pro-Iran standpoint?
  24. Did you protest for Palestinian detainees and even know their names but not do the same for Palestinian detainees in Syrian’s prisons?
  25. Do you know the name of at least one minor arrested or killed by Israel but don’t know the name of at least one minor arrested or killed by the Assad regime?
  26. You have protested against the racist and discriminatory Apartheid Wall and checkpoints in Israel/Palestine but you have nothing much to say about Syrian military checkpoints and sniper-lined checkpoints?
  27. Did you get angry when a US newspaper used a photo of Iraqi deaths, claiming they were Syrian, but when Palestinian supporters use Syrian ones, it’s “illustrating the suffering in Gaza”?
  28. You have protested against Israeli use of phosphorus bombs but you have nothing much to say about the unconventional weapons use by Assad against both opposition fighters and civilians such as barrel bombs andchemical weapons?
  29. Are you critical of the US for intervening in affairs of other countries but think it’s normal for Iran and Russia to be sending troops into Syria to help the regime?
  30. You would never consider Palestine compromising with Israel but you believe that the opposition must compromise with the regime in Syria.
  31. Do you condemn the Saudi monarchy and refer to them as Wahhabis, Salafis, etc., but refuse to recognise that Iran is a theocracy?
  32. Do you think that Assad is simply doing everything he can to protect the minorities in his country?
  33. Do you call the Israeli occupation of Palestine ethnic cleansing but do not speak out against the regime-driven massacres in Syria that are ethnically based?
  34. Do you refer to the Assad regime, Hezbollah and Iran as the “Axis of Resistance” even when they don’t react to Israeli attacks on them?
  35. Do you think the following two statements are both true?
    a. Dissent in the United States is patriotic.
    b. Protesting in Syria is an assault on the State and needs to be quelled.
  36. Do you think the following two statements are true?
    a. Pepper spraying protesters in the USA is a violation of human rights.
    b. The Syrian regime has to use whatever force it deems necessary against protesters, because they protesters have violent intentions.
  37. Do you think that Israel must be brought to the ICC for crimes against humanity but think that the Syrian regime should not?
  38. Do you condemn the USA vetoes on the UN Security Council in favour of Israel but praise the Russian and Chinese ones in favour of Assad both to stop sanctions and to prohibit ICC investigation including three Chinese vetoes on Syria alone out of eight total vetoes in their history?
  39. Do you think the following statements are both true?
    a.Calling a U.S. citizen anti-American or un-American for being critical of the US government is ridiculous, knee-jerk, unintelligent and actually incorrect.
    b.People who are critical of Assad are closet or overt imperialists and want US control over the region.
  40. You do not believe that Russia is an imperialist state while you are certain that Syria is an anti-imperialist state defending itself against imperialist onslaught.
  41. Do you think that Erdogan is seeking to dominate politics in the region in an attempt to restore what was once the Ottoman Empire or even think the US is trying to establish an Islamic State but support Iranian domination and the Shi’a Crescent?
  42. Have you signed petitions against companies such as Soda Stream and Coca-cola but not against weapons provider, the Russian monopoly Rosoboronexport or even the western companies providing the Syrian and Iranian regimes with surveillance equipment that they use against dissidents and opposition?
  43. Do you call innocent victims killed by American drones or victims of war crimes but consider the Syrians and Palestinians killed by Syrian bombs and chemical weapons collateral damage?
  44. Do you reject the USA/UK “War on Terror” but believe that Assad has a right to use whatever means possible tokill whoever he considers as a terrorist in Syria and that Syria is a sovereign nation fighting Al Qaeda?
  45. Have you mentioned the Blockade on Gaza in conversations and know it is illegal and a crime against humanity but don’t feel the same about the Blockade on Yarmouk?
  46. Do you respond to criticism of Assad by pointing out USA human rights violations?
  47. You know the name of USA civilians killed by cops or vigilantes, but you don’t know the name of a single Syrian victim of torture in the Assad prisons.
  48. You have protested for the closure of Gitmo, but you don’t raise your voice or even one eyebrow over theSyrian Torture Archipelago in which “The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture [in the 27 detention facilities run by Syrian Intelligence] that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity.” Moreover, you don’t want to notice that Syria’s government has been cooperating with the CIA extensively in renditions and the torture programme.
  49. You think that Israel should not have nuclear capacity but that Iran should have nuclear capacity. Extra pointsif you support Non-Proliferation. Super extra points if you participated in any No Nukes events in the West or signed any such petitions, super extra and mega extra points if you are against nuclear power.
  50. You believe that the Palestinian struggle is about human rights but the Syrian protests were sectarian and religious-oriented, driven by people who wanted to overthrow and overtake power illegitimately if not in factmanufactured by the West?
  51. Do you believe it’s normal for the Syrian constitution to be amended every time that it serves the Assad familybut the US Constitution is sacred and especially no amendments should be made to limit gun possessionwhether you detest the US government or think it should basically call all the shots around the world?
  52. Do you think that Jews protesting the Israel government are noble people who are fighting for human rights and justice while any Syrian protesting the Assad regime are in cahoots with the Israeli government.
  53. Do you believe that, “We must not in any way call for the removal of President Assad unless he commits acts of terror against us. Assad’s government has committed no such act, thus rendering it criminal for foreign governments to undermine the Syrian regime. You either stand for national sovereignty, or against it. The choice is yours.” While at the same time have supported efforts from the liberals or conservatives to have Obama impeached?
  54. Do you believe that foreign countries helping the Palestinians militarily to win against Israel is legitimate but helping Syrians win against Assad is meddling and think that “any further intervention in Syria would be for U.S. interests, like weakening an ally of Iran, and would encourage Assad’s allies to step up their armament shipments. The carnage would continue, and perhaps increase.”?
  55. Do you reject claims that the involvement of Iran and Russia in favour of Assad is meddling?
  56. Do you think that the entire Syrian war is for the purpose of the US weakening Syria so that it can pursue its own interests in the region but ignore the fact that Russia has enormous interests in Syria that are far more evident?
  57. Have you ever found yourself denying Assad had chemical weapons but also applauding the Syrian regime’s decision to hand them over to Russia as a strong gesture towards peace?

pes 1

How many questions did you answer YES to?

Between 1 and 5? You are headed towards selective humanitarianism, or even are afflicted with Western Privilege Syndrome!

Between 6 and 10? You are dangerously using double standards and believe that human rights aren’t something universal, but allow your ideological or dogmatic prejudices to influence your ethical judgement!

Over 10? You are a dyed in the wool Hypocrite! Maybe you should avoid “current events” altogether, you have no understanding of what human rights and justice mean, you should wash your mouth out before you ever speak about human rights for Palestinians or anyone.

Defense Confirms: Rasmea Odeh Targeted for Palestine Activism

2 Comments

Photo by Bill Chambers

By Bill Chambers

The defense team for Chicago Palestinian community leader, Rasmea Odeh, have uncovered new evidence that confirms her alleged immigration fraud case is based on her being targeted for Palestine activism. Yesterday, they filled a motion to dismiss the indictment against her.

Rasmea Odeh was arrested on October 22, 2013 by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and charged with immigration fraud. Allegedly, in her application for citizenship made 20 years ago, she didn’t mention that she was arrested in Palestine 45 years ago by an Israeli military court that had tortured her to confess to bombings in Jerusalem. (For additional background on Odeh’s case, see Rasmea Odeh: Repression of a Palestinian Community Leader.)

In the Chicago courtroom on the day of her arrest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas was seen conferring with the prosecutors. At the time, that was the first clue Odeh’s indictment was related to the case of the well-known Palestinian and anti-war Midwest activists whose homes were raided by the FBI when the U.S. attorney alleged that they had provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations in Palestine.  Eventually a total of 23 activists were subpoenaed, but all refused to testify and were never charged assuming because of a lack of evidence.  Members of multiple organizations were also targeted including the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Palestine Solidarity Group – Chicago, and others. Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas continues to lead this ongoing investigation. Odeh’s supporters could easily presume that Odeh and the case of the 23 were related. Hatem Abudayyeh, Executive Director of the AAAN and one of the activists whose home was raided by the FBI, is also a colleague of Odeh, Assistant Director of the AAAN.

It’s important to note that this ongoing investigation involves activists from multiple struggles including the anti-war movement, Colombia, Cuba, and immigration rights, but it’s primary focus is support for Palestine. Echoing what’s happening to Odeh now, Carlos Montez, a veteran Chicano, anti-war, and immigrant rights activist, whose name appeared on a search warrant of the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis, was indicted in May of 2011 on unrelated charges related to a protest 45 years ago. The charges were eventually thrown out of court. This multi-year investigation that involves targeting social justice movements, in this case Palestine activism, by criminalizing their activity and suppressing any coalition building among different groups has been a trend throughout U.S. Justice Department and FBI history. More on this trend later.

On Wednesday, the Rasmea Odeh defense team confirmed a direct relationship between the investigation targeting Palestine activists in 2010 and the records that led to the indictment of Odeh in 2013. The press release states “Attorneys representing Chicago’s long-time Palestinian community leader, Rasmea Odeh, have filed a motion and brief in Detroit’s U.S. District Court to dismiss the indictment against her. They are doing so on the grounds that the charges are the product of an illegal investigation targeting both Palestine solidarity efforts and organizing in the Palestinian community.”

In the motion to dismiss, Odeh’s attorneys describe the indictment as “the product of an illegal investigation into the First Amendment activities of the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) and intended to suppress the work of the defendant in support of the Arab community of Chicago.” The motion goes on to describe how in January of 2010 the Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox “initiated a request through the office of International Affairs Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from the State of Israel for records of the defendant.” In July 2011, the Israelis sent a set of documents to Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox, supporting the claim that Odeh “had been arrested, convicted and imprisoned by the military legal system imposed by Israeli in the West Bank…Over two years later, with nothing to show for its raids in 2010, Ms. Odeh was indicted for falsely answering questions in 2004 in her naturalization application.”  The defense attorneys also speculate, not without reason, that “the United States Attorney in Illinois, which was the office that initiated the request for the Israeli documents and was carrying out the investigation, apparently passed the case to the office in Michigan, to divert attention from its failed efforts to criminaliize the work of the AAAN in Chicago.”

These are dots that are not difficult to connect. The initial investigation in 2010 broadly targeted activists throughout the Midwest, but primarily focused on Palestinians and Palestine activists in Chicago. During the last four years, the Palestine solidarity movement has grown in numbers and impact particularly through the growth of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement directed at Israel and the proliferation of Students for Justice in Palestine groups on college campuses. With the growth of the movement came the attention of the FBI.

As mentioned above, the FBI has a history of targeting growing social justice movements in the U.S., criminalizing those movements, and preventing coalitions they might form with other communities or organizations. Examples from Church Senate Committee Report on FBI Counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) Programs and other studies of  FBI history include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) accused of being communists and the undermining of attempted coalition building with unions and anti-Vietnam war groups; the Black Panther Party prevented from building coalitions with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and politicized gangs like the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago; and the targeting of the Sanctuary Movement that supported Central American refugees in the 1980s accusing activists of supporting terrorists as a way of undermining the movement’s broad support of faith-based, human rights, and socialist groups.

Several hundred statements of support from unions, human rights, civil rights, and faith-based groups and thousands of supporters from across the country  for the 23 anti-war and Palestine activists seem to have prevented indictments in that case so far. It is not hard to imagine the prosecutors reviewing the evidence they had collected that had failed to convince a grand jury for an indictment, finding Odeh’s file from the Israelis, and deciding to build a case for indicting another leader of Chicago’s Palestinian community. There are few other reasonable explanations for why Odeh would be charged for an alleged offense that occurred 20 years ago on the basis of a prison term resulting from a confession obtained through torture 45 years ago.

“Rasmea is facing up to ten years in jail and deportation. She is a Palestinian who has stood up for the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community in Chicago, and to end the occupation of Palestine as well. Rasmea suffered vicious torture and sexual abuse in Israeli prisons, and the U.S. government is trying to victimize her again,” states Hatem Abudayyeh of the national Rasmea Defense Committee.

Odeh’s defense team will be discussing this motion to dismiss at her next court hearing on September 2 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, at 231 W Lafayette Boulevard, in Detroit, Michigan. The Rasmea Defense Committee and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) – CAIR-Chicago is a member of both coalitions – are organizing a picket line outside the court building at 2:00 p.m. and filling the courtroom for the hearing beginning at 3:00 p.m.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.

2 Responses to Defense Confirms: Rasmea Odeh Targeted for Palestine Activism

  1. sudhama says:

    This article reminds me of something. Jewish American scholar, Norman Finkelstein, made a comment during the recent conflict. He said, “As to how we got to where we are, the general context is perfectly obvious for anyone who wants to see it. A unity government was formed between the PA and Hamas. Netanyahu was enraged at this unity government. (Israel) called on the (U.S. And the EU), to break relations with the Palestinian Authority. Surprisingly, the United States said, ‘No, we’re going to give this unity government time. We’ll see whether it works or not.’ Then the EU came in and said it will also give the unity government time. […]
    At this point, Netanyahu virtually went berserk, and he was determined to break up the unity government. When there was the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers, he found his pretext. […] This is what Israel always does. Anybody who knows the history, it’s what the Israeli political scientist, […] Avner Yaniv (said,) it’s these Palestinian ‘peace offensives.’ Whenever the Palestinians seem like they are trying to reach a settlement of the conflict, […] Israel does everything it can to provoke a violent reaction […] break up the unity government, and Israel has its pretext. ‘We can’t negotiate with the Palestinian Authority because they only represent some of the Palestinian people; they don’t represent all of the Palestinian people.’ And so Netanyahu does what […] Israeli governments always do: You keep pounding the Palestinians, […] trying to evoke a reaction, and when the reaction comes[…] he said, ‘We can’t deal with these people. They’re terrorists.’”
    You’re not anti-Semitic, racist or a self-hating Jew for disagreeing with Israel, just a person of conscience, morals and a good heart.

  2. Jan Boudart says:

    Bill, thank you so much for working on this story, following it and especially for educating all interested people. This is valuable and I hope you feel appreciated. Jan Boudart

Defying the media lies about Syria – finding truth in the body of evidence

Most of us recognise this picture as being from Aleppo. Aftermath of one of the market bombings by the Syrian regime against a civilian population. It circulates also as Gaza, where those who are then corrected, instead of saying, "this is terrible and  a crime against humanity" say instead, "Well, it REPRESENTS the suffering of the Gazans". The point is lost and truth is not served.

WRITTEN BY MARY RIZZO
The question invariably arises when one loses faith in the narratives of the news media: If the mainstream media sets forth aspects of an issue in order to put forth a particular agenda of the dominant or powerful sector of society, and even the so-called alternative media presents its own narrative to push ahead its own ideologies or values and effect the situation with its own “solutions”, where is one to turn to if one seeks to know the truth?

The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. One has to find the truth oneself. The truth is indeed “out there”. The problem though is that it is an enormously cumbersome and time-consuming task to get to it, so difficult and depressing, in fact, that too many give up on it and fall back on whatever the media narrative is, even when we know and have the proof that it is full of lies, full of holes or full of propaganda. The truth can be found not in the various narratives of the news media, but in the vast and bottomless well of the body of evidence. To get to the truth, one has to do one’s own digging, sorting, one has to do one’s own thinking. One can only get to the truth on one’s own and only with great determination and persistency.

It is absolutely frustrating to look at the news on TV or read it in the paper and see things that not only “don’t look right” but “don’t feel right”. We claim (well, most of us who are interested in civil justice and world peace) that we are supporters of human rights. But do we realise that often what we feel as a violation of our own rights on our own soil we shrug off as just “the way they do things” when it is on a vast scale in another country. Mass arbitrary arrests, bombing of civilian areas, torture, policies of terror and starvation to subjugate a population are wrong in our own lands as they are wrong in other lands. However, for a very long time, the extent of these policies has been kept hidden from us, that is, our media only reported on institutionalised (policy-based) violations of human rights when at some level our own interests were involved or there has been what is perceived as a connection between “us” and “them”.  Somehow, the bigger the atrocity is, the more distant we feel from it and the easier it is to keep us away from this reality. We accept as well the media narrative, which sometimes is just the echo of the regime or dominant narrative because the truth, the reality is far, far worse than what even our wildest ideas of it could be.

Orphans in Ras al-Ain, survivors of a Syrian regime aerial raid; the winter clothes alone should tell observers to look beneath the "insta-pundit labelling" of the sufferers as Gazans.

There is a reason  why reality is not presented fully to us and why so many populations have been presented as “other”. The people are depicted as deserving of the oppression because they are primitive, not ready for rights and still needed to be controlled by a powerful figure that would take care of their interests, though at times he might be a little rough, he’s probably some kind of oriental despot that we have to learn to live with out of some perverted idea of “relativism”.

We extend our disgust in various ways towards the population and their ignorance. If they voted, they never did it “right”. If they didn’t vote, that was because they didn’t view democracy as a value and therefore if internal movements towards democracy arose, they would be depicted as being driven from reactionary forces abroad who would then throw the rulers out of power and establish their own protectorate. In essence, the individuals and the geographical/ethnic/linguistic/religious groups they belonged to did not have their own agency to affect their own change, and if they are not “willing” to help themselves, it’s very easy to promote the idea that they are impermeable to change or that it has to be imposed from outside if there is going to be any. Otherwise, they get what they deserve.

One of the innocent victims of the bombing of Azaz. The Assad regime kills them an the world lets them dig the dead infants out with their bare hands.  This picture has also circulated with great success as having happened in Gaza.

Only those who  have forgotten (or who haven’t realised) that personal freedom is a right for every human on the planet and that there is a series of rights that belong to every human being in order to truly be considered as being a free individual, regardless of the geopolitical situation in which he or she was born or currently is living will be interested in finding the truth and rejecting the “story”, “spin” or “narrative” that any news providers is giving. News providers don’t appear out of nothing, they obtain their information and disseminate their information according to their own interests. If they support a particular ideology, they will have a bias towards only giving information that supports the tenets of their ideology. If they claim to be media providers that are free of ideological bias and hidden agendas, however, they are going to have to have an ethical code of some sort, they are going to have to follow some kind of criteria for the selection of the material they present.

This is the reason that the only way towards knowing and obtaining the truth is to sort through the body of evidence. We can’t pretend to know everything about everything or even something about everything, but if we are interested in international affairs, if we are interested in civil and human rights, we can’t afford the luxury of laziness. We can’t accept everything that is handed to us as “news” and what IS handed to us under that guise has to be scrutinised very carefully. We have been presented with a multitude of “instant pundits” and experts under various titles who assure us that they have a very consistent response to all the issues they speak about and yet, the only thing they are consistently doing is neglecting the bulk of material that comprises the body of evidence. Their arrangement and analysis of information is sometimes even based on no evidence at all, but mere speculation and repetition of what anyone could recognise as propaganda if they actually look at their sources of information or the repetition of specific images over the course of time.

A body of evidence, on the other hand is not sorted, is not usually accompanied by “analysis” of experts and it has a scientific criteria that we can apply, it has a rationale that we can use to judge and verify its strength. First of all, we have to have access to information that is as close as possible to those affected by events. We unfortunately know that witnesses to events, particularly in the worst and most inhuman situations, are too busy trying to survive or escape than they are in trying to inform the outside world about what is happening to them. Outsiders who make it in often themselves become victims of the same situation, so the number of outsiders must be dramatically reduced in order to prevent complications. But, in situations such as war in Syria, the body of evidence is overwhelming in its immensity. There are literally millions of photographs and videos available to anyone at any time. There are millions of witnesses who are able to tell what is happening instead of just posing for a photograph in their miserable setting of an overcrowded and disease-infested refugee camp. There is actually SO MUCH information that we are numbed by the overwhelming quantity of it… but mostly, it is surprising to find that despite the fact that the consistency and veracity of it (given strength by its size, range, content, precision, directness) is overwhelmingly constant: and almost always pointing in the same direction and the news media still seems to ignore it in favour of its own bias which is that of ignoring the voice and evidence of the oppressed in favour of a different narrative with its own appeal and history.

One of the hundreds of banners by the Kafranbel Media Centre... direct, to the point, and with no need for interpretation.

Since the onset of the uprising, protesters were determined to document the events in every way possible and to disseminate what they gathered outside of Syria. They did not own media providers, they were not part of an information “system”, they simply were providing evidence, most of it videos documenting the events and photographs of places during a protest or march or immediately following a sniper attack, a bombing, and later, a massacre. What has developed in Syria is a multitude of independent media aggregators, the Sham News Network, the Aleppo Media Centre, the phenomenon of the Young Lens photographers, the Kafranbel Media Centre and hundreds of others in every province and town, no matter how small. They collect, subtitle, disseminate and identify the evidence of the hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the war in Syria. They open YouTube channels, Facebook pages and blogs where anyone and everyone, INCLUDING mainstream and alternative media providers can tap into their evidence, and luckily, some outside news aggregators have picked up on their evidence and helped spread it far and wide. The problem is, the media providers that have a long history and prestige or are financed by advertising or political interest groups don’t tell a “sexy” story if it’s just about the (now four-year-long) struggle for survival of a besieged and oppressed people who have the misfortune of neither being of interest to the “imperialists” or the “anti-imperialists”, which are by the way, simply code words to express two variations of reactionary ideological thinking, where individuals don’t have rights, collective rights are also selective and all people can be fit into the prism of the narrative or spin of their administrations, regimes or leaders.

There is no shortage of evidence, the evidence provided meets all the criteria to be accepted as valid, even if it contradicts the story of the mass media, which often just serves as an amplifier of those who have the most power, preserving their interests. There is a clear causal chain that is evident to anyone who decides to access the body of evidence. The causal chain’s importance is heightened by the sheer magnitude of the evidence available. Literally, there are thousands of photographs and videos available that document the enormous quantity of atrocities committed against the people. It is not difficult to corroborate the evidence of the perpetrators of a massacre, and while the “pundits” will take the word of one “anonymous insider” whose words seem to mimic the regime narrative regarding who is responsible for the nerve gas attacks against the populations of the “free” towns that were resisting Assad and often victim to the regime’s violent attacks with more “orthodox” means, they refuse to study the evidence of experts who state that the only possible perpetrator is the regime and produce convincing argument that stands up to scrutiny, likewise corroborated by third party investigators who see more than the films, but have access to the sites or can scientifically test the tissue of survivors.

Infant victims suffocated in their sleep by Sarin in Al Ghouta (at the Arbeen field hospital). The fate of these innocent vicitms was "too horrifying" to be shown, but that all changed when they were recycled as victims of Israel and not of Assad and our indifference.

Yet, how could anyone in their right mind continue to even question or doubt such an obvious massacre as that of Ghouta? How could the proof of the culpability of the regime be in doubt for even one minute when their sponsors and patrons in the UN Security Council vetoed decisions made in Human Rights Commission following a detailed war crimes report to support the effort to bring the matter to the International Criminal Court which would judge the body of evidence in a legal seat and then exercise Justice, which then the world powers would have a leg to stand on when they took positions for or against Assad? By closing their eyes to the evidence, despite how great, consistent, direct, precise and applicable (i.e., bearing all the qualities that give what is known as “strength” to a body of evidence) they are able to hide the truth, but not to stop it being true.

Not only the massacre of approximately 1500 men, women and children by suffocation from exposure to nerve gas, but hidden or distorted are the numerous and well-documented “white weapons massacres” by knives and bayonets that are the signature of the Shabbiha thugs who operate for Assad, terrorising villages and leaving hundreds murdered despite their age, condition or innocence. The massacres of Houla, Banyas, Deir Ezzor and countless others have left in their wake hundreds and hundreds of photographs, videos and eyewitness testimony. If one looks at most of the news media though, you are going to find very little reference made to these events and they are simply not providing information on them, often with the ill-disguised goal of exclusion of the videos or pictures due to “the excessive cruelty of the images”, where they fall into the vacuum of oblivion, where our consciences can’t be reached and therefore our outrage can’t be aroused.

Instead they promote “massacres that weren’t” or at least that have no consistent body of evidence such as the “Adra Massacre” or the “Kessab massacre”. The “Hatla Massacre”, depicted as a sectarian attack against Shi’a Muslims by the agencies of the regime, bears a great deal of evidence that it was an armed conflict between anti-regime and pro-regime fighters with civilians caught in the crossfire and not a premeditated massacre to terrorise the population, though as a result, for a time the civilian population fled, as is the case in the entirety of Syria given the amount of urban warfare involved.

What are the images that people remember from the news? They see a “rebel” (not even a member of the Free Syrian Army) eating a heart, they see a “Christian” crucified by Islamists, and to them, the vision of these two images, out of context and factually incorrect (at least in the case of the crucifixion, the victims were Free Syrian Army soldiers, who by their identification are Sunni Muslims) become “the icons” and the real atrocities that matter. The tens of thousands of photographs of the torture of starved prisoners in regime jails was just a blip on the radar. The atrocities committed against Syrians who are tortured to death for crimes they did not commit are too vast to even contemplate. So, see the pictures, then forget them, that is how it works. It is much easier to bear one image and give it any meaning you want or you have been told. It’s not worth it to differentiate between types of atrocities and their intensity of occurrence.

a composite photo of some of the thousands of Syrian infants slaughtered in every way possible, one of them even wrapped in a Syrian Independence Flag... they finally got some interest when they ceased to be victims of Assad.

But the opposition to Assad, the suffering population has its own iconic images. Millions of them, some of them so familiar to those who have been seeking truth and evidence from Syria for these four years that it comes as a painful shock to see them “recycled” as being Palestinian victims of Israel’s brutal attacks in Gaza. To see the photos cropped to cut out watermarks, Syrian flags or anything that identifies the identity of the victim and the circumstances of his or her death has been a genuine shock and additional accumulation of suffering when one considers that these photos and videos have been shared for years, in the vain effort to inform the world of the situation and the extent of this crime against humanity that is the genocide of the Syrian people, first by Assad’s regime and its infiltrate forces and since the past two years also by the rogue “Islamist” forces that are conducting their proxy wars for the domination of either Iran or Saudi Arabia in the name of their stated objective of the creation of a Caliphate in the Levant.

ISIS, as well as Hezbollah, makes the claim that their enemy is the West, but they are only good at slaughtering and oppressing other Arabs, including Muslims or those who have come to witness and share the information of the besieged and oppressed people, including journalists and human rights workers and volunteers. To the distracted observer, the war is a sectarian war that is now in the face-off stages of secularism vs obscurantism and there is no interest in investigating the facts, but to act “better late than never” against the enemy that is perceived as dangerous to the West, forgetting in essence the actions and objectives of the tyrant whose policies were at the genesis of the entire uprising and who has only consolidated his power in farcical elections that would never be accepted by anyone if they were to happen in their own countries under such condition and lack of democracy or legitimacy. His “election” has given him the perceived license to kill as much and as brutally as possible, and it is a license that he has taken full advantage of.

A roof in Aleppo, again, not surprisinging attracting interest only when it is mislabelled as being the destroyed home of a Gazan.

It is indeed frustrating to realise that the body of evidence proving the total destruction of Syria, its people and its infrastructure, including those who are living in the Palestinian refugee camps who have been subjected to siege, torture, arrest and death no less than their brothers and sisters in Gaza and in the rest of Syria, has been ignored for years, only to be carted out and presented as a different war, a different enemy, a different sponsor. Sometimes the Syrian independence flags that are used by every faction against Assad with the exception of the “black flag Jihadis” are not even cropped out or the subtitles changed. It is with a sickening Orientalism that these victims are passed off as someone more worthy of support, and at least for them, some support has been forthcoming. It is as if Arabs are interchangeable and a defiant Aleppo survivor who painted his ultimate resistance on the ruins of his bombed out roof has become a Gazan. The situation is not identical, though similar, but only one defiant resistant soul is honoured at the expense of another, whose suffering again is buried under rubble and debris. Nothing to see here, move along!

Another iconic image of Syrian grief and suffering,  mislabelled and blamed on anyone but Assad!

There are shameless people who spread pictures and videos that depict persons in a state of shock after their loved ones are carried off dead in blankets among the buildings that were made to explode and collapse on top of them after air raids in civilian areas. The viewer should use a bit of healthy scepticism to realise that in July winter coats are not worn in Gaza and this event is someplace else, the victims are someone else. The perpetrator of such heinous crimes is not Netanyahu but instead it is Assad.

All of this evidence, the weight of which presents a picture that again and again shows the reality of the situation, the true story of what is happening, stripped from agendas and narratives, all of it is there for us to view. It is a deliberate choice we can make to ignore it and take the easy way out of accepting the stories told by the media that are deliberately hiding or altering this information in such a way so that the struggle to know the truth is stifled, and it is out of our hands to effect change in a positive way to those who are suffering (those whose side we have to be on, no matter what other considerations might influence us such as proximity or religious/ethnic affiliation).

If those who survived a massacre decided to document it, and took all the risks linked to that, they did this so that the truth would not be hidden. They did it in the hopes that those who had the power, influence or ability could help and protect them. They did it not because they want to shock us or draw us into a world that has nothing to do with us, but because this is our world already, it is only a short flight away from many of us or even has touched our shores with its outpouring of survivors of unspeakable atrocities. If we refuse to be lazy, we can look for the truth and we can find it. We are no longer bound to being complicit in genocides and then claiming in the same breath, “we didn’t know” and “never again”. It will be never again ONLY if we make it so NOW. Our task is to be an amplifier of the voices of the people, not a substitute or interpreter of them.  We have the enormous possibility of affecting change simply by not keeping information buried or tearing it out of context. If we choose to, we can save lives and make a better world. It’s up to us. Can we be up to the task? Isn’t it a noble goal to seek the truth and serve the truth?

The Syrians know the Media isn't divided into Mainstream or Alternative. Until evidence is all that matters, they will hold the high moral ground.

Syria, 144 refugees stopped in Egypt locked in two rooms with 63 children.

 

a letter written by the detained Syrians in Egypt

Stopped in the middle of the sea by the Egyptian Coast Guard, aboard a boat that was sinking shortly after the start of its journey to Europe. Locked within the premises of a police station in Alexandria, where the police prevent the arrival of relief supplies of Caritas

WRITTEN by STEFANO PASTA, translated by Mary Rizzo

MILAN- Through WhatsApp, we interviewed Syrian refugees held since 14 April in Al Rashid police station in Alexandria, Egypt. Having failed to reach Europe with a barge, they were handed over to the Egyptian authorities, but now risk transfer to the prison of Al Burj , or – even worse – repatriation to Syria.

What is your situation like today?

Disastrous hygienic conditions are dangerous due to a broken sewer. We are 144 persons living in two rooms measuring only a few meters, one room for women and one for men. We sleep on the ground and we cannot wash. We try to keep calm, but when it happened a few days ago there were moments of tension between us, the police prevented the visits for that day and suspended the coffee and the food brought from outside by Caritas Alexandria. The boys and men are still able to resist in some way, but the women and children are really at the limit; there are two women with heart problems who finished their medicine and they need to get out immediately.

What is the situation of children?

There are 44 children under the age of 12, while the total number of children is 63. There are a few who are trying to play with water bottles and they are the only ones who can get distracted for a moment. At night, however, they find it difficult to sleep. As of yesterday, almost all of them have developed a sort of skin disease that no one can identify. Two children of one and two and a half years, alone with his mother because his father was killed in Syria, were suffering particularly yesterday , they were taken to the hospital five times because they suffer from asthma and staying in this place of detention is equivalent to sleeping in a garbage dump. We are also concerned about another 4 year old girl, suffering from cardiac difficulties, who had begun to complain about the chest pain already in the midst of the sea.

Why did you flee from Syria?

Many of us have fled to avoid conscription in the army of Assad, others are activists against the regime who are risking their lives. Then there are families who have fled their homes because they could not survive in some cities, people are dying of hunger because of the siege of the regular army (regime army), which does not allow the entry of food. There is no bread and milk for the children, while the rice when one can find it, costs almost twenty dollars a kilo. Life like that is simply impossible, that’s why we escaped.

Have you talked with a lawyer or with international authorities?

No, none of us was able to speak with a lawyer or has received a sheet with the written reasons for why we are being detained. We met a lawyer named Ahmad, who initially presented himself as belonging to UNHCR, but then he began to terrorise us by threatening to have us repatriated and he revealed that he works for Egyptian National Security.  This is our greatest fear, because it would be tantamount to a death sentence; also return to Lebanon would be very dangerous, since it has already happened that Hezbollah has handed over some refuges to Assad. After a week from the meeting with Ahmad, presented to us is a UN official, at least this is what he is telling us, along with an interpreter, in which we explained how we ended up in the police station.

How did it happen?

What happened before our arrest was a nightmare. We were ready to face the Mediterranean to reach Europe and we had entrusted ourselves to smugglers, who treated us badly, screaming profanities and threatening to beat us with bars, even children. With small boats, we were taken in groups on a larger boat, where we were parked at sea for seven days waiting for it to fill up to 250 people. When we were ready to leave, the same smugglers noticed that the boat was about to sink. It was the worst time since we left Syria: we could die and nobody would know. Then, after a fight broke out between the smugglers on the boat and the organisers were on the ground, we were able to convince them to bring us back; we passed the Coast Guard, but no one saw us. Once on the beach, we ourselves went to the Egyptian authorities, asking for help, but since that day, April 14, we were all arrested, including children.

Have you heard of other refugees detained in Egypt?

Of course, we have detailed information because they are members of our own families. The wife of a man who is here at Al Rashid is held in another place, then we know where the traveling companions arrested with us are. In the police station in Al Montazah there are 22 people, 55 in Chabrakhit and an unknown number – but with so many children – in Miami.

What are you asking for?

We call for the respect of Article 33 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits any member country the repatriation (refoulement ) of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened . We ask UNHCR and the European embassies (we initiated contact with the Austrian one) to be able to apply for asylum. We ask the Europeans: would you like your children to have the Mediterranean as their graves? Open a humanitarian corridor, let us save our lives legally.

thank you to Nawal 

source

Voices from Damascus: ‘We Expect Nothing from the United Nations’

The photos and video circulating of yesterday’s alleged chemical gas attack in the east Damascus suburb of Ghouta are haunting. In some, dead bodies, including those of children, are lined up shoulder to shoulder on the floor. In others, volunteers go from victim to victim, pouring water onto the faces of those still alive.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other watchdog groups have claimed the attack was carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime; the Observatory put the number of dead at 1,400 and climbing. If so, it will be the largest recorded chemical attack since a 1988 hit on Iraq’s Kurds by ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. The missiles containing the gas are believed to have been launched from areas of Damascus controlled by the regime.

“A huge number of people in Ghouta are dead, doctors and witnesses are describing horrific details that look like a chemical weapons attack, and the government claims it didn’t do it,” Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement. “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is to let United Nations inspectors in.”

At the time of the attack, United Nations inspectors were in central Damascus, but have not been allowed access to the attack site. HRW said that “whether or not chemical weapons were used, the attack left a large number of civilians dead, and those responsible for unlawful killings should be held to account. The government should give the United Nations chemical weapons inspection team currently in Damascus immediate access.”

Syria Deeply spoke with witnesses in Ghouta about what they saw, and their low hopes that the attack will trigger international intervention in the conflict.

Ghazwan, 28, doctor:

We have previous experience dealing with chemical attacks, but not on this scale. It was shocking to see such a large number of children and women. It was the first time we have seen a chemical attack like this. We couldn’t deal with all these numbers – about 800 injured arrived here in [neighboring] Douma, and we only have a few medical stations and doctors. We gave mechanical ventilation for some who couldn’t breathe, and it is important to give atropine shots, which is the antidote for sarin.

People can help in this situation by washing the injured. We had a lot of volunteers. The situation in Douma was good in in the end, thank God. Only 17 dead from 800.

The main mission was to rescue people. If you want to go there you have to wear masks to protect yourself from chemical weapons, and we only have a few. We get them from the Free Syrian Army.

Yesterday there were a lot of people coming to Douma for treatment. Most have been discharged. A few were suffocating and are getting medical ventilation. The acute state of chemical injuries only lasts 24 hours. That is the critical period. Now most of them are being taken care of back in their homes. A lot of them were scared to go home, but they have no place else to go.

One of the survivors told us that he fainted and then found himself in Douma. They took him to the field hospital. Some survivors told us that they were walking in the streets and seeing bodies everywhere, before they fainted. Some were dead, others were choking.

I’ll be frank with you: Most people I’ve seen today and yesterday don’t expect anything from the international community. They’ve expected too much in the past, so they don’t care too much about this.

Abu Adel, a member of the Information Office in Jobar, the eastern district of Damascus that borders Ghouta:

The atmosphere is incredibly tense. People are wary of a repeat scenario. Now there is heavy shelling with all kinds of weapons, mortar fire and warplanes, and surface-to-surface missiles hit the district in the morning. Now the neighborhood is surrounded by tanks from several directions, and there have been attempts to storm it.

The rebels are doing a major escalation and responding by shelling regime military locations.

We expect nothing from the United Nations.

Abu Ahmed, Moadamiyet al-Sham media center:

Four days ago, the regime [started] to shell Moadamiyet al-Sham with rockets and mortars [launched from] from the Mezzeh military airport. [There were also] tanks and artillery fire [at] the Fourth Division headquarters in the mountains of Moadamiyet.

There was no shelling the night before the attack. Yesterday, when people were leaving the mosque after dawn prayers, they heard seven strange sounds like whistles. The sounds of the explosions were unusually soft.

The rockets had come from the direction of Mezzeh and targeted the area of Zeitouna mosque. Nearby, [there] is a kindergarten.

The worshippers went to the scene to find their families [in a state that looked like] sleeping. People were wounded. Among the wounded were paramedics and doctors. All were passed out.

The ambulance took people to the field hospital. There were 103 people killed, including 17 children, and 305 wounded. Some are still unconscious. One child died today.

People have severed all of their hopes [that] the world [will intervene]. We have nothing but God. But if the inspectors are serious, then they must go to Moadamiyet immediately. They must make serious decisions and not just issue condemnations.

The regime has used every weapon, and now it is [using] chemicals. It is taking its revenge on the cities that have remained steadfast [opposition strongholds] despite all of the bombing and destruction. This is the last resort of Assad, after exhausting every means of suppression. This is vengeance.

source

Why is the Egyptian regime demonizing Palestinians?

                    on August 19, 2013 13

Palestinians know that if Cairo sneezes then Palestine, especially Gaza, is first to get the flu. Indeed, Gaza often serves as a tool of regime policy, as was the case during the Mubarak years and during the short-lived government led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and is still the case with the current regime since July 2013.

The Mubarak regime’s policy towards Gaza was generally repressive. It participated in Israel’s draconian siege of the enclave, underway since 2006, and was fully complicit in Israel’s brutal offensive against Gaza in 2008-9. Former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was standing next to his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni when she declared war on Gaza during her visit to Cairo in 2008.

Aboul Gheit went so far as to threaten to break the legs of the Palestinians of Gaza if they “encroached on Egypt’s national security” after they breached the border wall with Egypt, seeking to buy medicines and other necessary supplies in Al-Arish City. Naturally, such a repressive policy had to involve demonization of the Gaza Palestinians, painting them all as members of Hamas.

Hamas had great expectations of change after the downfall of the Mubarak regime, including the permanent opening of the Rafah Crossing and the free passage of people and goods, thus eliminating the need for the tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt. Some optimists further hoped that the efforts for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah would finally bear fruit, given that the Mubarak regime had been biased towards Fatah.

However, the transitional rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power after Mubarak’s downfall did not lift the siege on Gaza or change the Egyptian political approach to Palestine. The tunnels continued to ply their trade to compensate for the massive shortage of supplies blocked by Israel. The Rafah Crossing was partially opened for very limited periods of time, depriving 1.7 million Palestinians of the basic right of freedom of movement.

The high hopes were therefore deferred until the Egyptian presidential elections. Palestinians believed that a democratically elected president would have the power to take sovereign decisions and implement the nationalist and Islamist position of ending the blockade on the Gaza Strip, revisiting the Camp David Accords, and responding to the Palestinian Call For Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions until Israel abided by international law. Some even believed that the newly elected president’s first trip abroad would be to Gaza. Ironically, the first visit Mohamed Morsi made after his election was to Saudi Arabia, which had been hostile to the Egyptian revolution; a visit to Gaza was never in the cards.

In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was unable to rise to the challenge of government. They came late to the January 25 revolution, seeking first to appease the Mubarak regime. They then forged a temporary alliance with the SCAF and endorsed some of its most violent actions, including the October 2011 assault on peaceful demonstrators, many of them Egyptian Copts, protesting the demolition of a church in Upper Egypt. Once in government, they lacked a clear political vision; one could have easily mistaken the president’s speeches for a Friday sermon or an address by a tribal leader.

On the home front, the Brotherhood failed to make even limited progress in realizing the demands of the January 25 revolution for bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity. The economy nearly collapsed and security worsened. Radical Islamist Takfiri groups increased their hold in the Sinai and Israel appears to freely wander through the area, to the extent of reportedly abducting a Palestinian there this June. Despite this reality, the Gaza Palestinians are forced to pay the price of any criminal act that takes place in Sinai.

The Brotherhood’s slogans against Israel – such as “we shall march to Jerusalem in our millions” – and the United States disappeared after they came to power. Instead, it adopted a pragmatic position well to the right of the political spectrum. Pragmatism meant a commitment to international agreements, a special relationship with the U.S., loans from the International Monetary Fund, and diplomatic ties with Israel.

There was no attempt to abrogate the 1979 peace treaty nor even to put it to a popular referendum. On the contrary, a few months into his term, Morsi sent a very friendly letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres regarding the appointment of the new Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv. He described Peres as his “great and good friend” and expressed his “strong desire to develop the cordial ties” between the two countries. Meanwhile, the blockade against Gaza was tightened: Almost all the tunnels were shut down and the Rafah Crossing functioned at a snail’s pace.

The Morsi presidency took credit for brokering a ceasefire agreement between Palestinian factions and Israel in November 2012 but failed to intervene to hold Israel to its commitments, including lifting the blockade against Gaza. The fact that Morsi’s Egypt did not stand by Gaza during that short but ruthless war that killed more than 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, was a bitter disappointment to the Palestinian leadership in Gaza, especially as Palestinian fighters had successfully stood their ground against the Israeli onslaught and had expected political gains as a result.

Instead, Morsi capitalized on his “victorious” mediator role to achieve his aims at home. Just three days after the war on Gaza ended he issued his notorious Constitutional Declaration giving himself powers unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history.

In short, Mubarak’s policy toward the Palestinian cause and especially toward Gaza was passed on to the Brotherhood, which did not dare challenge the crime against humanity taking place on Egypt’s border – a crime that human rights organizations and the United Nations have condemned as collective punishment with some saying it amounted to slow genocide. The victimized Palestinians were asked to be “understanding” of the transitional period that the Brotherhood needed and not to demand the impossible, as if opening the Rafah Crossing for the passage of people and goods was an impossibly heroic act.

The Egyptian military regime in power since July 3, 2013 is now demonizing everything Palestinian. The Gaza Strip is facing a far harsher blockade affecting all the crossings, including an almost complete closure of the Rafah Crossing and destruction of the tunnels. An unprecedented incitement campaign is underway in several Egyptian media outlets, especially those financed by businessmen affiliated to the Mubarak regime and some Gulf countries hostile to the January 25 revolution. Palestinians are regularly excoriated on Egyptian TV. Some commentators are gleeful over the fate awaiting Gaza’s Palestinians while others assert Hamas’s involvement in Egypt’s internal affairs and call on the Egyptian Army to launch a military attack against the Gaza Strip. Some even “accuse” Morsi of being of Palestinian origin.

Once again, the Palestinians have become the target of the Egyptian authorities’ security complex: They are the weakest link in the Arab chain and have no strong government to represent them. They are regularly harassed at and deported from Egyptian airports and crossings, even if they are simply transiting to and from Gaza. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has issued no statement calling on the Egyptian government to alleviate the stifling blockade or ensure decent treatment of Palestinian passengers. On the contrary, the PLO and particularly Fatah are rejoicing over the Brotherhood’s downfall and the difficulties this will pose for Hamas. Meanwhile, the Gaza government now faces an impasse and has no idea how to respond.

There is no doubt that this chauvinistic campaign to hold Gaza responsible for all of Egypt’s ills – from the fuel shortages to terrorism in Sinai – serves the feloul (remnants) of Mubarak’s regime, who are now in full resurgence. It is very disturbing that Egypt’s progressive voices have been silent in this regard, with some notable exceptions, even though all Palestinians, at both the official and popular levels, have condemned the terrorist acts in Sinai.

Moreover, no evidence has been found of Palestinian involvement in Egypt, including Sinai. Even if there had been, the collective punishment the Egyptian authorities are applying against the Palestinians of Gaza violates international law. By contrast, Egypt did not cut diplomatic ties with Israel, threaten military intervention, nor impose any restraints on Israelis visiting Egypt despite the many Israeli crimes against Egypt since the Camp David Accords, including the killing of five Egyptian soldiers in an Israeli airstrike in 2011.

Besides, isn’t Sinai a problem of Egypt’s making? Everyone knows that Mubarak’s regime neglected the Sinai, treating its population as second-class citizens and denying them essential services even though they are Egypt’s first line of defense. Gaza is a natural extension of the Sinai Peninsula and is therefore also part of Egypt’s national security. It is vital that the valiant Egyptian revolutionaries that brought down the Mubarak regime stand up to that regime’s feloul and their counter-revolution, which is using Palestine as a scapegoat.

There is no question that the Egyptian people as a whole remain passionately committed to Palestine and its people, despite the best efforts of the feloul. This spirit was captured in the statement issued by several intellectuals and politicians protesting the media campaign targeting the Palestinian people, demanding that the government clarify “Egypt’s policy and commitments toward the Palestinian people,” and calling on the government to preserve “all the rights of Palestinians in Egypt.”

The Egypt we want and the Egypt we need is a pluralistic, democratic and free Egypt with full sovereignty over its territory from its western border with Libya to its eastern border with Palestine, an Egypt that honors the principles for which so many laid down their lives in the January 25 revolution.

This article was first published by Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.

About Haidar Eid

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University. He has written widely on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including articles published at Znet, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, and Open Democracy. He has published papers on cultural Studies  and literature in a number of journals, including Nebula, Journal of American Studies in Turkey, Cultural Logic, and the Journal of Comparative Literature.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑