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Egypt’s “state security” still blocks Rafah exit from Gaza

Rami Almeghari | The Electronic Intifada | 26 May 2011

“My father, may he rest in peace, was an Egyptian, my daughters are Egyptians, my grandchildren are Egyptians, my brothers are Egyptians, I am an Egyptian,” an exasperated Salah Zorob told The Electronic Intifada.

“Please look at these papers — here is a court ruling and Egyptian interior ministry documents, proving my Egyptian nationality. Why have they turned me away seven times in three months now?”

Zorob related his story as he rode the bus from Rafah crossing back toward his home in Gaza after his latest failed attempt to enter Egypt. Zorob, 70, was denied access on Sunday.

Zorob has been based in Gaza for the past 16 years and since then has had difficulty staying in touch with his family in nearby Egypt.

During each of his attempts to enter Egypt in recent months, he was turned away by Egyptian officials, but, according to Zorob, given no clear-cut reason.

“Each time they used to tell me, it’s a matter of state security and you are not allowed to cross,” Zorob said. “Why? What have I done so that they treat me this way? Have I committed a serious crime? I have children, I have a wife, I have relatives and I have some real estate in Egypt. This is complete injustice, this is complete injustice.”

As Zorob told his story, his mobile phone rang, and he answered saying briefly to the person on the other end of the line, “Yes, brother, I was turned away.”

Gaza’s only outlet

Rafah crossing in southern Gaza Strip is the only travel outlet for Gaza’s 1.6 million residents. Prior to the tightened Israeli closure of Gaza in June 2007, Egyptian authorities used to allow Gaza residents to cross in and out of Gaza with relative ease.

Until it was overthrown in January, the government of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak closed the crossing except to limited categories of people. These included — provided they had proper paperwork — patients needing medical care, travelers with residency permits in nearby Arab countries, holders of visas for foreign countries and students with permission to study abroad. However, even for those who fall into these categories, permission has been difficult to obtain.

On Sunday, Saleh Zorob wasn’t the only person to return from Rafah disappointed. Muhammad al-Najjar, 46, a UN employee from central Gaza, also tried unsuccessfully to enter Egypt.

“I need a surgery on my eyes in Jordan. I have the visa to Jordan and the medical papers needed, but it is the second time in two weeks that the Egyptian officials have turned me back,” al-Najjar told The Electronic Intifada as he stood in the border terminal on the Gaza side of Rafah crossing.

“As I attempted to cross into Egypt on way to the Jordanian capital, the Egyptian agents told me outright, it is a state security matter and once the state security personnel are back to work, your problem can be solved,” al-Najjar said.

Ziyad Abu al-Najja, 45, is another Palestinian traveler who has attempted to cross at the Rafah terminal twice in the past three months, and had a similar account.

“My 16-year-old daughter and I attempted to cross but in vain. I just need to get the treatment needed for my daughter for a skin condition. Though I have got all the papers needed, they prevented me from crossing for no clear reasons. No one tells you anything,” Abu al-Najja told The Electronic Intifada as he left the Rafah terminal disappointed.

In the central Gaza Strip town of Maghazi, Mahmoud Jouda, a 46-year-old father of two daughters and husband of a Moroccan wife, was back at work as a frozen meat seller after he failed to get out of Gaza to see his wife and children in Morocco.

“The last time I saw my family was back in 2007, shortly prior to the closure of the Rafah crossing, Jouda told The Electronic Intifada as he worked in his shop alongside his son Fakhri, 19. “For the past three months I have attempted to cross into Egypt, in transit to Morocco, yet I have been unable to do so. Whenever I tried to cross, I used to hold all the travel documents needed, such as the visa and the passport, but officials at the crossing have not allowed me to cross, without giving me a clear-cut reason.”

“Every time I asked the officials about the reason, they would tell me, it’s a matter of state security, please go back to Gaza,” added Jouda, who explained that he has brothers and sisters in Egypt and that he had traveled there frequently over the past two decades with no problems.

Empty promises

Last week, Palestinian officials at the Rafah crossing terminal in southern Gaza suspended work unilaterally for one day in protest of the Egyptian-imposed travel restrictions.

Officials told The Electronic Intifada that dozens of travelers have been turned away by Egyptian officials on a daily basis for the last three months.

“The restrictions have increasingly become a matter of concern and embarrassment to us as the Egyptian brothers have previously promised to ease travel restrictions, but we have not seen these promises put into action,” Salama Baraka, an official of the ruling Hamas party in charge of the crossing, told The Electronic Intifada.

“We just hope that they will take the proper decision and reopen the Rafah terminal once and for all without restrictions or conditions,” Salama added.

Some Arab and Palestinian media sources reported this week that on Saturday Egyptian authorities will implement new travel measures for Gaza residents who wish to enter Egypt. This would involve allowing more categories of Gaza travelers through Rafah.

“God willing, what we have heard will prove true and that I will be able to see my family soon,” Mahmoud Jouda hoped, after finishing up a phone call with his wife in Morocco. She too has been following news of the crossing from afar, anxious to see her Palestinian husband.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

Everything seems possible in “Second Day of Rage”

Marches in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez and a sit-in in Tahrir are among activists’ plans for tomorrow’s day of rage

Ekram Ibrahim | AhramOnline | 26 May 2011

Believing that Egypt has not witnessed revolutionary change, many Egyptian activists and revolutionaries are calling for a “Second Day of Rage” (referring to the first on 28 January) tomorrow at Tahrir square. “I haven’t felt the change; I’m heading to Tahrir,” repeated several activists on social media sites calling for the protest.

Some political forces announced their participation, others refused to take part and very few of those attending agree on the specific demands. The main callers for the Second Day of Rage remain unknown.

Activism criticizing the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) heated up this week as Egyptian bloggers organized a blogging day on 23 May against the SCAF in which more than 375 bloggers participated.

Many of the leading activist groups, including the 6 April Youth movement, the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, Al-Masry Al-Hurr, ElBaradei Campaign, the Egyptian movement for change, the Maspero Copts movement, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth wing and expected presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel have all announced their intention to take part.

Moreover, on the Second Anger Egyptian Revolution Facebook page which is calling for tomorrow’s protest, 27,000 thousand confirmed their participation, five thousand indicated they may be attending and 18 thousand said they would not attend, by the time this article was published. The anonymous group announced they were collecting money to set up a stage in Tahrir square tomorrow so their identity will be revealed then.

The 6 April Youth movement was the first group to call on the Egyptian people to take to the streets, to “put pressure on the SCAF” to ensure the prosecution of former president Hosni Mubarak and other senior officials of his regime.

There is no one demand that unites all participants, but the chief ones are: replacing the military council with a presidential one that would rule the country until the coming elections, designing a new constitution before parliamentary elections, holding former regime figures and above all ousted president Hosni Mubarak accountable through prompt fair trials, releasing all political detainees arrested in the last three months by military police, ending the trials of civilians in military courts, abolishing the emergency law, and lifting censorship from state-owned media.

Regarding the plan for the day, the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth call the day “Friday of political corruption” to begin after Friday prayers at 1p.m. and end by 6p.m. However, 6 April movement and other independent activists are calling for a sit-in ending only when all demands are met.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood and other less influential political groups refuse to take part in the protest. Among those groups are Free Egypt Coalition, Egypt Protesters Coalition, The Egyptian Awareness Coalition, Field Rescue Committee, Islamic Group and Tahrir Youth Party.

A statement released by the MB on the 27 May protest asked: “The Muslim Brotherhood group is very worried about Friday protests and we ask to whom is this anger directed now?”

The statement says the group sees these protests as either a revolution against the majority of the Egyptian people or a dispute between the Egyptian people and the military represented by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). They asked Egyptian people to stop this.

The call for the protest was also rejected by many Salafist groups on Facebook who described the invitation as “a call for incitement and for sabotaging the country.”

For its part, the SCAF used several tactics to prevent people from joining the protest, from sending ousted president Mubarak and his two sons to criminal court, releasing statements on Facebook saying suspicious elements were asking people to protest and playing on the relationship between the people and the army, and finally yesterday arresting activists leafleting about the 27 May protests.

In response to the SCAF statement (56) on Facebook, the Second Anger Egyptian Revolution Facebook group announced they would organize popular committees to protect Egyptian buildings as hospitals and police stations. “We are neither vandals nor suspicious elements; we are creating popular committees to protect the country,” according to their statement on Facebook.

Four activists were arrested yesterday and today while leafleting for the second day of rage. Activists were sent to military police, making people more angry and determined to participate in tomorrow’s protest. “Detaining activists leafleting for protests is similar to what used to take place during Mubarak’s era,” read a press statement issued by the 6 April movement commenting on the arrest of one of its members Wednesday while leafleting for 27 May.

Moreover, Facebook groups opposed to tomorrow’s protests (such as “we are all against second rage”) say protesters should respect the people’s vote against a presidential council, referring to the constitutional referendum on 19 March in which 77.2 per cent of Egyptians voted.

Outside Cairo, some governorates appear ready for Friday’s protest but for different reasons. In Alexandria, youth movements are going to protest for the sacking of the new governor and call for holding the police officers involved in killing protesters during the 25 January Revolution accountable.

In some governorates demands will be focused on dissolving local municipal councils dominated by former ruling National Democratic Party members.

In Suez the organizers of the protests say they will have shields to protect their march which they expect to be the biggest since the ouster of Mubarak. Other popular committees have been formed to protect public properties.

It is not clear how big the demonstrations will be this Friday but both supporters and detractors agree it will not be just another Friday march.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | Leave a comment

Is Fukushima now ten Chernobyls into the sea?

By Harvey Wasserman | May 26, 2011

New readings show levels of radioisotopes found up to 30 kilometers offshore from the on-going crisis at Fukushima are ten times higher than those measured in the Baltic and Black Seas during Chernobyl.

“When it comes to the oceans, says Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceonographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, “the impact of Fukushima exceeds Chernobyl.”

The news comes amidst a tsunami of devastating revelations about the Fukushima disaster and the crumbling future of atomic power, along with a critical Senate funding vote today:

Fukushima’s owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has confirmed that fuel at Unit One melted BEFORE the arrival of the March 11 tsunami.

This critical revelation confirms that the early stages of that melt-down were set in motion by the earthquake that sent tremors into Japan from a relatively far distance out to sea.

Virtually all of Japan’s 55 reactors sit on or near earthquake faults.  A 2007 earthquake forced seven reactors to shut at Kashiwazaki.  Japan has ordered shut at least two more at Hamaoka because of their seismic vulnerability.

Numerous reactors in the United States sit on or near major earthquake faults.  Two each at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, California, are within three miles of major fault lines.  So is Indian Point, less than 40 miles from Manhattan.  Millions of people live within 50 miles of both San Onofre and Indian Point.

On January 31, 1986, the Perry reactor, 35 miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie, was damaged by an earthquake rated between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter Scale—orders of magnitude weaker than the one that struck Fukushima, and that could hit the sites in California, New York and elsewhere around the globe.

TEPCO has confirmed that at least three of the Fukushima reactors—Units One, Two and Three—have suffered at least partial fuel melts. In at least one case, the fuel has melted through part of the inner containment system, with molten radioactive metal melting through to the reactor floor. A wide range of sources confirm the likelihood that fission may still be proceeding in at least one Fukushima core.  The danger level is disputed.  But it clearly requires still more commitment to some kind of cooling regime that will send vast quantities of water into ocean.

At least one spent fuel pool—in Unit Four—may have been entirely exposed to air and caught fire.  Reactor fuel cladding is made with a zirconium alloy that ignites when uncovered, emitting very large quantities of radiation.  The high level radioactive waste pool in Unit Four may no longer be burning, though it may still be general.  Some Fukushima fuel pools (like many in the United States) are perched high in the air, meaning that their vulnerability remains a serious concern.  But a new report by Robert Alvarez indicates the problem in the US may be more serious that generally believed.

Unit Four is tilting and may be sinking, with potentially devastating consequences.  At least three explosions at the site have weakened critical structures there.  Massive leakages may have softened the earth and undermined some of the buildings’ foundations.  Further explosions or aftershocks—or a fresh earthquake—could bring on  structural collapses with catastrophic fallout.

TEPCO has now confirmed that there are numerous holes in the containment covering Unit Two, and at least one at Unit One.  The global nuclear industry has long argued that containments are virtually impenetrable.  The domes at Fukushima are of very similar design and strength as many in the US.

The health impacts on workers at Fukushima are certain to be devastating.

After Chernobyl, the Soviet government sent more than 800,000 draftees through the seething wreckage.  Many stayed a matter of 90 seconds or less, running in to perform a menial task and then running out as quickly as possible.

Despite their brief exposure, these “liquidators” have suffered an epidemic of health effects, with an escalating death toll.  Angry and embittered, they played a significant role in bringing down the Soviet Union that doomed them.

At Fukushima, a core of several hundred workers essentially sacrificed themselves in the early stages of the disaster.  They courageously entered highly contaminated areas to perform tasks that almost certainly prevented an even worse catastrophe.

David Brenner, the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, said of the workers:  “Those are pretty brave people. There are going to be some martyrs among them’.

“I don’t know of any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war,” said University of Tokyo radiology professor Keiichi Nakaga.

Unfortunately, the toll among Fukushima’s workers is certain to escalate.  As few as two in five being sent into the Fukushima complex are being monitored for radiation exposure.  According the Mainichi Shimbun, just 1,400 workers at Fukushima had been given thorough checkups, with just 40 getting their results confirmed.

Even at that, Japanese officials have raised the allowable dosages for nuclear workers from 100 millisieverts to 250, five times what’s allowed for US workers, and 125 times what reactor workers typically receive in a year.

Some 88% of Japan’s reactor work force are part-timers, sparsely trained and often paid extra money to race into highly radioactive areas and then run out.

But Nobuaki Terasaka, head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, May 16 confirmed some 4,956 cases of internal exposure to radiation among workers at reactors around the country.  Of those, 4,766 were originally from Fukushima and had moved to other sites, but had re-visited the prefecture after the 3/11 disaster.

Some of the stricken workers believe they were contaminated when they returned home for their families, even though they may have stayed only briefly.

Workers at Fukushima itself report spotty testing and dangerous facilities, including a leaky earthquake-resistant building where they took their breaks.  “We had our meals there, so I think radioactive substances came into our bodies,” says one male worker.  “We just drink beer and wash them down.”

A “dead zone” around Fukushima similar to the one surrounding Chernobyl is likely in the making.  According to a report published in the Japan Times, levels of contamination in areas around Fukushima are at least comparable to some around Chernobyl.

But people outside the official evacuation zone are also vulnerable.  Radiation detected in Tokyo, nearly 200 miles away, at one point prompted the Japanese government to recommend mothers not use tap water to mix formula for their infants.

Nonetheless children have been observed attending schools while bulldozers were removing the radioactive soil from their playgrounds outside.  Amidst global protests, the Japanese government has weakened the limits of allowable radiation exposures to children.

In the midst of the disaster, the owners of the Indian Point reactors have announced their refusal to upgrade fire protection systems. New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman says more than 70% of the plant remains unprotected, which he says is a “reckless” practice.  Schneiderman accuses federal regulators of being too cozy with the plant’s owners.  Schneiderman and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo want the two IP reactors shut.

Over the weekend only four of Germany’s seventeen reactors were operating, but the country suffered no apparent energy shortages.  Prime Minister Angela Merkel has ordered seven older reactors shut, and the rest to be closed by 2011.  But six of the newer ten closed for various technical reasons.

More than 20,000 Swiss citizens rallied todemand an end to plans to build new reactors there.  The Swiss government has now confirmed it will not build new reactors, another major blow to the industry, this time resulting in the cancellation of plans for at least three projects.

Japan is standing by its decision to build no more reactors, while China has put some 28 proposed projects on hold.  China’s reaction to Fukushima will be crucial to the future of nuclear power, as it is by far the largest potential market for new reactors.  Though prevailing winds head the other way, Fukushima is relatively close to China, and some fallout has been detected there.

The Obama Administration has still produced no comprehensive monitoring of radioactive fallout coming to the United States and has provided no guidance as to how American citizens can protect themselves, except to say not to worry.   Polls now show more Americans opposing new reactors than favoring them, and grassroots opposition is fierce.

But the industry is pushing ahead with demands for $36 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors, with a preliminary vote expected soon in a House Appropriations Subcommittee.  Nuclear opponents are asked to call the White House and Congress steadily through the 2012 budget process.

Also, today (May 26) may see a vote in a Senate committee on a CEDA plan that would provide still more money for new nukes.  Safe energy advocates are urged to call their Senators asap.

The International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations, has announced it sees no health effects at Fukushima.  The pronouncement  comes as no surprise from an agency whose mandate is focused on promoting atomic energy.

The IAEA has consistently low-balled death toll estimates at Chernobyl and regularly ignores industry critics.  The pronouncement comes as the agency begins a long-term study of Fukushima’s health effects.  Meanwhile, a French watchdog agency has urged that 70,000 more people be evacuated from the Fukushima area. Coming from France, among the world’s pro-nuclear nations, the warning is a grim reminded of how deadly the contamination surrounding Fukushima must be.

But for all the focus on land-based contamination, the continuing flood of radioactive materials into the ocean at Fukushima could have the most problematic long-term impacts.  Long-term studies of radiological impacts on the seas are few and far between.  Though some heavy isotopes may drop to the sea bottom, others could travel long distances through their lengthy half-lives.  Some also worry that those contaminants that do fall to the bottom could be washed back on land by future tsunamis.

Tokyo Electric has now admitted that on May 10-11, at least 250 tons of radioactive liquid leaked into the sea from a pit near the intake at Unit 3, whose fuel was spiked with plutonium.  According to the Japanese government, the leak contained about 100 times the annual allowable contamination.

About 500 tons leaked from Unit 2 from April 1 to April 6.  Other leaks have been steady and virtually impossible to trace.  “After Chernobyl, fallout was measured,” says Buesseler, “from as far afield as the north Pacific Ocean.”

A quarter-century later the international community is still trying to install a massive, hugely expensive containment structure to suppress further radiation releases in the wake of Chernobyl’s explosion.

Such a containment would be extremely difficult to  sustain at seaside Fukushima, which is still vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis.  To be of any real use, all six reactors and all seven spent fuel pools would have to be covered.

But avenues to the sea would also have to be contained.  Fukushima is much closer to the ocean than Chernobyl, so more intense contamination might be expected.  But the high radiation levels being measured indicate Fukushima’s most important impacts may be on marine life.

The US has ceased measuring contamination in Pacific seafood.  But for centuries to come, at least some radioactive materials dumped into the sea at Fukushima will find their way into the creatures of the sea and the humans that depend on them.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Nuclear Power | Leave a comment

Fact-checking Netanyahu’s Speech

IMEU | May 25, 2011

NETANYAHU: “You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it.”

REALITY: For more than 43 years, Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, a population now numbering 4.36 million people. Except for a few thousand Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, this population has no voice in Israeli national policy despite being subjected to long-term Israeli occupation. As well, 1.2 million Palestinians are citizens of Israel and subject to more than 30 laws which discriminate against them solely based on their ethnicity, rendering them second or third-class citizens in their own homeland.

NETANYAHU: “Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights.”

REALITY: Along with the more than 30 discriminatory laws mentioned above, more than one-third of the Palestinian citizens of Israel are internally displaced persons, uprooted from their homes by Israeli forces in 1948 and to this day not permitted to return. Furthermore, in Israel, government resources are disproportionately directed to Jews and not to Arabs, one factor in causing the Palestinians of Israel to suffer the lowest living standards in Israeli society by all socio-economic indicators. Most non-Jewish children attend schools that are “separate and unequal” in comparison to those attended by Jewish Israeli children. Many towns in Israel with a majority Palestinian population lack basic services and receive significantly less government funding than do majority-Jewish towns.

NETANYAHU: “A nuclear armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

REALITY: Despite maintaining an official position of “nuclear ambiguity,” Israel is widely-recognized as possessing nuclear weapons – as many as 400 – thus being the first, and only, regime to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.

NETANYAHU: “In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.”

REALITY: The United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and numerous other international bodies and governments recognize the Gaza Strip, West Bank (which Netanyahu refers to as Judea and Samaria) and East Jerusalem as territories occupied by Israel. Israel’s own Supreme Court has also judged the West Bank to be under “belligerent occupation” by Israel. While the Jewish people are not occupiers, the State of Israel certainly is.

NETANYAHU: “We’ve helped the Palestinian economic growth by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable.”

REALITY: While some checkpoints and roadblocks have been removed, in 2010 the United Nations documented 505 Israeli-imposed “closure obstacles” remaining in the West Bank, as well as “extremely limited” Palestinian access to East Jerusalem, other West Bank areas on the western side of the Separation Wall, and to the fertile agricultural lands of the Jordan Valley, thereby severely impeding Palestinian freedom of movement in the occupied
West Bank. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip remains under a severe Israeli-imposed blockade, causing one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, with more than half of the population living with food insecurity, and an inability to construct some 40,000 necessary housing units.

NETANYAHU: “In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli prime ministers to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six-Day War.”

REALITY: As leaked documents show, during peace talks Palestinian negotiators have consistently offered concessions beyond the international consensus. Meanwhile, Israeli negotiators, at Camp David for example, demanded sovereignty or long-term control over 20% of the West Bank, and all of Jerusalem except a few distant Palestinian suburbs. During his speech, Netanyahu also claimed to be willing to make “a far-reaching compromise,” while at the same time claiming occupied East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and most illegal settlements for Israel, rejecting the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and demanding a demilitarized Palestinian state. Such proposals by Israeli leaders are quite the opposite of “generous” or “far-reaching.”

NETANYAHU: “They continue to educate their children to hate.”

REALITY: An investigation into Palestinian school textbooks by George Washington University Professor Nathan Brown found this often-propagated claim to be inaccurate, stating, “Indeed, the textbooks often take on the same kind of awkwardness adults often assume when addressing subjects they would prefer to avoid…In short, far from inciting schoolchildren, the books generally treat sensitive political questions as tangential.”

NETANYAHU: “[T]he Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.”

REALITY: All refugees have an internationally recognized right to return to areas from which they have fled or were forced, to receive compensation for damages, and to either regain their properties or receive compensation and support for voluntary resettlement. This right derives from a number of legal sources, including customary international law, international humanitarian law (governing rights of civilians during war), and human rights law. In the specific case of the Palestinians, the right to return was affirmed by the United Nations Resolution 194 of 1948.

NETANYAHU: “Throughout the millennial history of the Jewish capital, the only time that Jews, Christians and Muslims could worship freely, could have unfettered access to their holy sites, has been during Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.”

REALITY: Since 1993, Palestinians living in the West Bank – both Christian and Muslim – have been forbidden by Israel to enter East Jerusalem (also in the West Bank) without a permit. Since 2007, they have also had to negotiate passage through Israel’s Separation Wall and accompanying checkpoints. The United Nations reports that access to East Jerusalem – and its holy sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Haram al-Sharif – remains “highly restricted” by Israel. The U.S. State Department has noted that the Israeli government does not recognize non-Jewish holy sites and as a result, “many Muslim and Christian sites are neglected, inaccessible, or threatened by property developers and municipalities.” The report also remarked that “government discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued,” and Israel has “severely restricted the access of most Muslims from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem to the Haram al-Sharif.”

NETANYAHU: “In recent years, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and from Gaza.”

REALITY: While Israel unilaterally removed its illegal settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the area remains occupied by Israel, as acknowledged by the United Nations, theUnited States, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others. As the occupying power, it is responsible for the welfare of civilians it is occupying. Instead, residents of the Gaza Strip have been suffering for years under a harsh, Israeli-imposed blockade, as well as catastrophic Israeli invasions in 2006 and 2009.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | 1 Comment

The BBC’s New Censors

By AFSHIN RATTANSI | CounterPunch | May 26, 2011

Now, the BBC is even trying to stop the politicisation of British youth!

The BBC has released a statement proclaiming that late night music shows were not the place for political controversy – young people might be listening. It came after the deliberate censorship of a rapper “Mic Righteous” who had dared to utter the words “Free Palestine” in his set. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign called the edit an “extraordinary act of censorship”, asking why the BBC did not ban the song “Free Nelson Mandela”, back in 1984. On the artist’s Facebook page, there is talk of how just the phrase “Gaza Strip” was censored by the BBC.

As the bodies were buried after more U.S. and British-backed Israeli fire on Palestinians commemorating the stealing of their land, one didn’t expect much from the British broadcaster that banned charity appeals to help the casualties of Gaza. The BBC explicitly objected to alms begged for by the likes of ActionAid, the British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children.

BBC News presenters are usually slavish in their support for U.S. policy, explicitly or in the way they frame questions. Just the posture of the BBC’s Andrew Marr betrayed how unprofessional was his exchange with President Obama when gifted an exclusive interview. Mar asked “In your speech on the Middle East you took the, to many people, surprising step of talking about the 1967 borders. Is that where America now stands?” Obama replied on the lines that Palestinians needed a place to stay and later continued to pour scorn on Fatah’s alliance with Hamas.

It ended with Marr saying “Well talking has been very enjoyable, Mr President. Thank you so much.” It was no wonder that this speaking truth to power session ended with President Obama replying “Thank you so much. I enjoyed it.”

How lame Evan Davis, a BBC Today program presenter, was when he quizzed U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder. He asked just one question about Londoner, Shaker Aamer, who is being held hostage in Guantanamo. Holder replied that it was being looked into and Davis didn’t have time for a follow up on the kidnapped UK Muslim who has spent many of his more than nine years in solitary.

The Muslim community in the UK have long given up on the Corporation for fair news. As for those conscious of the “ethnic cleansing” and continued violence against Palestinians, the BBC is an enemy organization.

It wasn’t always so. When I worked for Today, the BBC’s estimable Middle East Correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, hadn’t been mauled and censured by his bosses for daring to say that Zionism had an “innate instinct to push out the frontier” or that Israel was “in defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own.” At Today, back in 2003, there was urgency about revealing the lies that got Britain into the Iraq War. Vindication has come thanks to the UK’s Major General Michael Laurie who has finally written to the British Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq to explain that Tony Blair’s Press Secretary, Alastair Campbell has been lying to the Inquiry.

Campbell – now a frequent guest on BBC shows – denied to the Inquiry that the genesis of the UK’s WMD 2002 dossier was about persuading Britons to war. But now we know from the horses’ mouth that the UK intelligence services were corralled into providing a case for war: ‘I and those involved in its production saw it as exactly that, and that was the direction we were given,’ Laurie writes. How a Chilcot Inquiry filled with establishment figures will eventually adjudicate is anyone’s guess. Campbell has already tried to rebut things by writing to Sir John Chilcot, saying “I do not know and have never met Major General Laurie, and was not aware of any involvement he might have had in the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD.”

What is interesting now are the actions of the very same BBC personnel who were so keen to rubbish Andrew Gilligan and his source, David Kelly, the late government scientist. They are clamouring for credit. Gilligan was fired from the BBC for his story. Rod Liddle, the editor who recruited Gilligan (and myself) had been fired for an article he wrote that expressed doubts about a right-wing march in London. There followed a great interim period with veteran BBC journalist, now retired, Bill Rogers. Then Kevin Marsh was hired. He didn’t last long and was moved sideways to become ‘professor of journalism’ and was subsequently found to be editing Gilligan’s Wikipedia entry to try and damage his reputation and also the reputation of former editor, Rod Liddle. These shenanigans are illustrative of the how some managers at the BBC are more interested in seeking plaudits than stories – and this on a programme that is one of the main forums for British cabinet ministers (and U.S. Attorney Generals) to be held to account to millions of people. I was on the desk on Marsh’s first shift and while I expressed disbelief about the latest arrests of law-abiding Muslims, his first reaction was to believe guardians of the war on terror. It was the London “Ricin Plot” – something that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell would cite at the UN to build the case for war on Iraq. No ricin was, in fact, ever found.

There are many around the world that still have a soft spot for the BBC and the idea that journalism in Britain has been protected from the worst excesses of U.S.-style ‘big money’ hackery. What was surprising about coverage from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, though, was that U.S. reporters were the ones to gauge the mood of young revolutionaries far better than their BBC counterparts. It seemed that those from cable operations like Fox and CNN were far more in tune with assessing who was right and who was wrong, even though the revolutionaries were against U.S.-puppet regimes. American networks are more even-handed in covering the on-going uprisings albeit that they never cover the brutality of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Many BBC correspondents look either lazy or neo-colonial. In contrast, American colleagues abroad report with a refreshing insouciance.

When peace protestors who sought to break the siege of Gaza were killed by Israel’s forces, the BBC was quick to support Zionism with the use of embedded reporters on their ‘Panorama’ programme. Regulatory authority over the BBC is different to all other broadcasters in the UK. The BBC Trust launched its own inquiry into Panorama and found, overall, the programme was both accurate and impartial. It did find that there should have been more detail on what the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called summary executions.

Journalists in the UK, these days, are much more likely to be tuning in to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky news operation than the BBC, making the Corporation seem more and more of an expensive irrelevance when it comes to news. They are also tuning in, like U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the new satellite channels like Al Jazeera English, Russia Today and, who knows, Press TV. There was a small gathering of such journalists at the London Frontline members’ club, the other day, for an annual members’ party. This year, it was under the shadow of those who had flown in for a memorial to two photojournalists killed in Libya. The club is perhaps most famous around the world for hosting press conferences by Julian Assange, still subject to curfew because of publishing the work of whistle-blowers on his Wikileaks site. Upstairs, the BBC was conducting a seminar for independent producers about the kind of programming it wanted for its news operation. A BBC Worldwide press release, this month, reveals their latest commission – a partnership with the chemicals giant, DuPont:

“DuPont announced its sponsorship of a new BBC series..The television program will examine the future of business by looking at companies around the world that are making the greatest progress in their sectors and influencing the way people will live in the future.”

“We turned the cameras on everyday heroes,” said DuPont Chair and CEO Ellen Kullman.

“The first story..highlights the collaboration between local Tennessee farmers, Genera Energy and DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, corn cobs, stalks and other forms of sustainable biomass. Farmer Brad Black, whose farm has been in his family since 1820, said, “This land is as important to me as one of my kids.”

The BBC, a multinational infamous for the dioxins of Delaware not to mention the napalm of Vietnam and the commissioning of a new generation of journalists, all in holistic embrace.

But criticism of the BBC in the newspapers here is usually in the free market context of questioning the morality of a tax on TV sets – not conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, the British Sunday Times splashes a story about one of the channels for which I make programmes. In the article, Iranian-funded Press TV is called “The Enemy Within” and the channel – broadcast in the UK via the Sky platform – is under attack for casting doubt that everyone in Britain was so enamoured of the Royal Wedding. The channel has been under attack from the broadcast regulator, OFCOM, for calling the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara ‘a massacre’. OFCOM said that the content of a show “could be interpreted as being highly critical of the actions of the Israeli government and its military forces.” Well, golly gee.

In fairness, OFCOM did reject complaints against Peter Kosminsky’s drama about Palestine, “The Promise.” Much to the chagrin of British Zionists, OFCOM concluded its report with the startling observation that “just because some individual Jewish and Israeli characters were portrayed in a negative light does not mean the programme was, or was intended to be, antisemitic.”

It will be up to the BBC Trust’s new chairman, Lord Patten to make an urgent review of the Corporation’s policies on ethics in the light of the vindication about Iraq and continuing conflicts of interest amongst its staff that look set to endanger the lives of the BBC’s correspondents, around the world.

~

Afshin Rattansi, author of “The Dream of the Decade”, is an independent TV producer and commentator and can be reached on afshinrattansi@hotmail.com.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | 2 Comments

Bahrain Sentences Four People for ‘Protesting’

Al-Manar - May 26, 2011

A military court in Bahrain has sentenced four protesters to one year in prison for taking part in anti-government protests, a human rights group says.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said on Wednesday that in a series of closed-door trials in Bahrain’s military courts, three of the four defendants were convicted a day earlier on charges of participating in anti-government protests, the Associated Press reported.

The fourth Bahraini protester was ruled guilty on Wednesday for possessing pamphlets calling for the overthrow of the country’s ruling system.

The rights group has also raised concerns about a 15-year-old boy being tried in the same court. He faces charges of “rioting” and gathering in a group of more than five people without authorization.

Meanwhile, regime forces raided a women’s salon in the Bahraini island of Sitra on Wednesday.

In Diraz, one Bahraini person was also arrested by regime forces after being dragged out of his house.

The Bahraini regime has unleashed a massive brutal crackdown on protesters since the beginning of the demos since February.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture | Leave a comment

Campaign to vilify Gaza flotilla underway in Europe

David Cronin – The Electronic Intifada – 25 May 2011

A campaign of vilification against the flotilla that will soon try to break Israel’s siege of Gaza appears to be gathering momentum in Europe.

Over the past few weeks newspapers in the Netherlands have published articles alleging that some Dutch organizers of the flotilla are “terror supporters.” The main focus of these smears was Rob Groenhuijzen, chairman of the Netherlands Gaza Foundation, who was imprisoned for radical activities more than thirty years ago.

In the annals of political violence, Groenhuijzen — convicted of being a threat to the Dutch state — probably merits no more than a footnote. Red Youth, the left-wing group to which he was linked in the 1970s, carried out several bombings but never killed anyone. The renewed interest in his past, Groenhuijzen argues, is a sign of desperation on the part of Israeli diplomats and the network of lobbyists who wish to prevent the flotilla from setting sail.

“They don’t have the political or legal means [to stop the flotilla] and that’s why they try to criminalize the flotilla’s participants,” he told me.

Unfortunately, the government in The Hague has proven receptive to the anti-flotilla campaign. A Dutch office of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (known by the acronym IHH) was recently placed on a national list of banned organizations.

Uri Rosenthal, the Netherlands’ foreign minister, gave a circuitous explanation for the ban in an interview with The Jerusalem Post (“Dutch government places IHH on terror list,” 1 May 2011). He hinted that the assets of IHH Netherlands were being frozen because it had transferred money to IHH representatives in Germany, who were suspected of funding Hamas.

The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) is the most influential Zionist lobby group in the Netherlands. A member of the CIDI’s staff told The Electronic Intifada that “We are not campaigning [against the flotilla] as such. It’s just that we don’t agree with the idea of a flotilla. We don’t think it is in any way conducive to solving the problem. We have pretty much the same stance as the one the [Dutch] government has taken.”

The IHH has announced that it will be sending a ship filled with medicines, construction materials and other essential goods to Gaza on 31 May. That date will be exactly one year after Israeli troops boarded the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged ship, in international waters, killing nine peace activists.

Although the 2010 attack was condemned by top-level representatives of the European Union, supporters of Israel wasted no time trying to convince the EU that the IHH should be outlawed. On 4 June last year, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) issued a statement calling for the IHH to be placed on the Union’s list of terrorist organizations (“European Jewish Congress wants Turkish Islamist group IHH banned in Europe,” World Jewish Congress, 4 June 2010).

The case made by the EJC rested entirely on the conclusions of a 2006 paper by the Danish Institute for International Studies, which accused the IHH of having contacts with al-Qaeda (“The Role of Islamic Charities in International Terrorist Recruitment and Financing,” Danish Institute for International Studies, 2006 [PDF]).

The arguments made to justify labeling the IHH as “terrorist” in that paper included the group’s involvement in “large and raucous protest rallies” ahead of the war against Iraq in 2003. “Even after the initial US invasion of Iraq, the IHH has continued to bitterly oppose the presence of Western troops in Mesopotamia,” that report noted, implying there was something unreasonable about abhorring wars of aggression.

Although the EU has not (yet) bowed to the Israel lobby’s pressure by banning the IHH, it has effectively called for the flotilla not to go ahead. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in May this year “I do not consider a flotilla to be the right response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza” (“Catherine Ashton EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs …”).

Dror Feiler, a spokesman for the Swedish Ship to Gaza, explained that “When Baroness Ashton says the flotilla is not a proper act, I would ask her what is a proper act? The blockade of Gaza is considered collective punishment.”

“Collective punishment is forbidden according to international law,” Feiler added. “When you see such acts go on for four years, you cannot as an international citizen be silent. It is our duty to act. Ashton is trying to continue with passivity, probably because of Israeli pressure. The EU’s politicians seem to be letting themselves be intimidated. They seem to be letting Israel dictate how to act.”

Ashton’s comments followed those of Ran Curiel, Israel’s ambassador in Brussels, who described the flotilla as “clearly a political provocation since there’s no need for a flotilla to aid Gaza” (“Israel’s EU Ambassador: Flotilla ‘Political Provocation’,” Israel National News.com 11 May 2011). Curiel added that “You can pass whatever you want to Gaza through normal channels.”

His assurance was dishonest. The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) has documented how a piecemeal easing of the blockade over the past twelve months has not halted the deterioration of health services in Gaza. “The persistent restrictions on the importation of medical supplies and equipment, and on the movement of health staff between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, hinder the provision of quality health services,” UNRWA says in its newly published annual report (“The Annual Report of the Department of Health 2010,” 2011 [PDF]).

“Supplies of electricity, fuel and other consumables for the maintenance of the basic health infrastructure have not significantly improved since the adjustment of the blockade. Hospital treatment is increasingly curtailed because of the inability of hospitals to run procedures when they have limited access to electricity supplies, spare parts and equipment,” UNRWA adds in the report. … Full article

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Solidarity and Activism, Wars for Israel | Leave a comment

US To Fund Four More Iron Dome Defense Systems For Israel

By Kevin Murphy – IMEMC and Agencies – May 26, 2011

US President Barrack Obama’s administration is to fund the purchase of four more anti rocket systems for the Israeli military. The US will help fund the short range anti rocket “Iron Dome” missile defence system as part of the $200 million Obama military aid initiative to Israel.

US Army Lieutenant Patrick O Reilly announced that the US is to fund the purchase of four more Iron Dome batteries in a statement to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Defence Subcommittee.

The mobile devices are used to intercept and destroy rockets before they hit their target. So far two such devices have been set up in Ashelkon and Beersheba, towns close to the Gaza strip.

Israel claims that the mobile system first successfully intercepted rockets on the 7th of April, fired from Gaza, and has since intercepted seven more.

The batteries cost $50 million per unit and are developed and produced by Israeli state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Barrack Obama in his speech to AIPAC promised that the US would go “beyond” its regular military aid to Israel in the future.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Militarism, Wars for Israel | Leave a comment

Inauguration Ceremony For Jewish Only Settlement In East Jerusalem

By Kevin Murphy - IMEMC and Agencies – May 26, 2011

Israeli government Ministers have inaugurated a new Jewish only settlement in East Jerusalem. A ceremony including Jerusalem mayor Mayor Nir Barkat and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan officially opened the Ma’aleh Zeitim settlement, in East Jerusalem’s Ras al-Amud neighbourhood.

Speeches during the ceremony focussed on maintaining Jerusalem as an undivided whole under Israeli control. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat commented that “Israel without Jerusalem or Zionism without Zion are like a body without a soul. We, as the government of Israel, are committed to strengthening Jerusalem and keeping it whole and united, and continuing to build in all parts of the city.”

A counter protest was organised outside the inauguration by Israeli and Palestinian activists. One activist, Israeli Tzila Goldberg, succeeded in gaining access to the ceremony and interrupting it. Goldberg called the Ministers in attendance “war criminals”.

The timing of the event, one year after families began to move into the development ,will be seen as significant given recent statements by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

The ceremony punctuated Netanyahu’s speech to US Congress, in which he expressed his view that Israel would not give up control of occupied East Jerusalem as part of any peace deal.

The settlement is funded by Jewish American millionaire Irwin Moskowitz.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | Leave a comment

   

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