In the video, an elderly Palestinian man can be seen admonishing Israeli occupation soldiers as his home is torn down by a bulldozer.
Beit Hanina’s residents have long been targeted for removal by the Israeli occupation, and home demolitions have been frequent on the pretext that homes are built “without permits.” But as is well-documented, the occupation does not give permits to Palestinians to build on their own land, even as Israeli colonies, illegal under international law, sprout everywhere.
Beit Hanina, which straddles the line between Israeli-declared “greater” Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank, was bissected several years ago by an “apartheid road,” Road 443, built by Israel for the exclusive use of Israelis.
Militant anti-nuclear activists forced French authorities to halt a trainload of reprocessed nuclear waste near the German border today.
The train, en route from a nuclear waste processing site on the English Channel to a storage site in northern Germany, ground to a halt at Remilly junction.
Nuclear privateer Areva, French state rail firm SNCF and police are now deciding how to get the radioactive waste to its destination, given that thousands of activists are expected to try to stop it once it crosses the border.
The train loaded with uranium has been harassed by hundreds of activists since it set off from a depot in Valognes on Wednesday.
Riot police confronted 300 protesters in fields in Lieusaint village outside Valognes and fired tear gas at people waving banners reading: “Stop this radioactive train.”
It was not immediately clear if there were injuries.
Peace Now Slams The Bill As Anti-Free speech Legislation
Israeli sources reported, that the Israeli Knesset passed, in the first reading, a controversial bill dubbed as “libel law” aiming at increasing compensation paid for “libel violations” to NIS 300,000. Israeli Peace Now Movement stated that the bill is a legislation targeting Free Speech in Israel.
The bill is considered an amendment to the Israeli Libel Law, and was passed in the first reading, by 42 to 31 votes by the Israeli Knesset, Israeli Ynet News reported.
Ynet added that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, Member of Knesset (MK), Meir Sheetrit of Kadima party, Trade and Labor Minister, Shalom Simhon, MK Yariv Levin (Likud) and Zevulun Orlev of the Jewish Home Party, voted for the bill.
The Ynet stated that the law calls for increasing the maximum amount of compensation paid by those convicted of “libel violations” by paying the subject of “slander” 300,000 New Israeli Shekels, which at current conversion rates amounts to approximately $80,000. The amount is six times the current amount of libel compensation allowed by current libel laws in Israel.
Also, the bill states that when it comes to statements that are considered libel, released internationally, without giving the subject/s of the claims the chance to defend themselves and to be able to respond to the claims, the offenders can be sued and could be ordered to pay damages that can be as high as 1.5 Million New Israeli Shekels, or approximately $400,000.
MK Zevulun Orlev of the Jewish Home Party, one of the initiators of this bill, stated that he might vote against it in the second reading if it was not revised, explaining that people convicted of murder in Israel are not subject to such high fines.
Orlev said that the way the bill is worded shows a lack of balance when it comes to the protection of free speech and independent media agencies.
Meanwhile, MK Uri Orbach, also from the Jewish Home Party, opposed the bill and stated that it will be an issue of personal profit to MK’s, ministers and officials.
He added that with the high fines, this bill is calling for a person to “prefer to kill than to slander”.
Furthermore, Hadash Party member, MK Dov Hanin, strongly denounced the bill for being “an extreme punishment for publishing a statement that did no harm”.
Hanin added that “this law is suggesting that Israel does what regimes that are barbaric do to punish libel by cutting the tongue of the offender”, the Ynet reported.
Israeli Peace Now Movement stated that the bill is “another crazy anti free speech legislation passed by the Israeli Knesset”.
Peace Now added that “This time the ‘Libel Law’ will completely destroy investigative reporting and exposure of wrong doings by those in power and those with powerful means in Israel”.
When former Vice President (and intelligence chief) Omar Suleiman announced on state television last February 11the transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), millions of Egyptians began celebrating in the streets the culmination of their revolution that rid them of their dictator. The demonstrators’ chant then was “the people and the army are one.” Indeed, the role of SCAF in refusing to crack down on protestors and forcing the resignation of Mubarak proved decisive in the three-week revolt.
Nine months later, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are back in Tahrir Square and streets across the country. Ironically, their chant is now “The police and the army are one,” in a clear rejection of the violent tactics employed by the police against the demonstrators. In three days of confrontation since November 20 at least forty people were killed and more than 2,000 injured at the hands of the security forces. But this time the Egyptian youth will not pack up and go home. They are determined to reclaim their revolution and force the transfer of power from the military to a real civilian government.
But how did we get from there to here?
Shortly after Mubarak was deposed, SCAF promised to stay in power no longer than six months. It subsequently called for a popular referendum on March 19 that called for parliamentary elections, followed by writing a new constitution, and then presidential elections. Championed by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and other Islamic factions, the public approved the referendum with an overwhelming majority of 77 per cent, although secular parties wanted to first draft the constitution for the fear that Islamic parties would have an edge over them after the elections.
During this brief campaign it became clear to all political trends that the Islamically oriented parties, led by the MB, are better organized, well financed, and have the abilities and skills to mobilize the public to their cause. This fact prompted fear and panic not only from the secular, leftist, and liberal parties within Egypt but also from other Western powers led by the United States.
Furthermore, the traditional secular and liberal parties expressed their concern that if the elections were held soon, the Islamists were poised to win a large share of seats and dictate a new constitution that might curtail some freedoms or favor the application of Islamic laws. Despite the pronouncement by most Islamic parties, including the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the MB, that the constitution writing committee would include all political parties and trends, most secular parties did not believe such assurances.
Throughout the summer most secular and liberal parties pressured SCAF to issue a decree that would impose supra-constitutional principles and thus foist them on the future parliament. The opponents of this argued that, on its face, this practice is undemocratic, usurps the rights of the people, and tramples upon their right to express their free will. They also argue that it is unnecessary since all parties have agreed on the nature of the state, namely to be a democratic and civil one.
Nevertheless, the proponents of this approach pushed hard to impose their vision. Consequently, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Al-Silmi, backed by SCAF, called for a conference of all political parties to approve his plan for the future constitution. But remarkably this document also called for a special constitutional privilege for the military, effectively according it a sovereign status. In effect, it called for its budget to be outside the purview of parliament and for a veto power over any strategic decision by the government. In short, it was similar to the role that the Turkish military played in the country since the military coup of 1960 until Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party was elected in 2002.
The rejection of Al-Silmi’s proposed document was swift and sweeping not only in principle by the Islamic parties, but also from other nationalist and secular parties because of its tilt towards the military. It was a disguised effort to keep the military outside the control and supervision of the future democratic institutions of the state.
But this was the latest episode of SCAF’s many attempts to manipulate the future course of Egypt. Since the very beginning it has been laggard in implementing the objectives of the revolution. The despised emergency laws were never repealed. While changing the name of the security apparatus, much of its senior personnel and tactics were retained. Over 12,000 civilians were charged and tried swiftly in military trials facing harsh sentences, while the most corrupt leaders of the Mubarak regime – including the deposed president and his sons- have been tried grudgingly in slow civilian courts.
Moreover, none of the reforms announced by SCAF came out of its own initiative. It either reluctantly adhered to final court rulings by the judiciary, or yielded to the demands of the people, built up over many weeks, eventually culminating in large demonstrations and sit-ins. To wit:
The sacking of Mubarak’s cabinet in favor of a new government supported by the people. The banning of Mubarak’s corrupt party and confiscating its assets. The dismissal of thousands of corrupt officials from local councils. The trial of senior leaders and ministers of the deposed regime. The opening of the Rafah crossing to ease the blockade on Gaza. Setting definite election dates after many delays. Changing elections laws to include parties’ list as well as individual candidates. Allowing expatriate citizens to vote outside of Egypt. Pointedly, none of these demands, as well as many others, were met without taking the matter to the streets. Often times, their decisions were too little too late, or with ineffective or inconsequential results.
For instance, all political parties have been calling for the activation of a law that bans from politics all individuals who were previously engaged in political corruption- effectively excluding all Mubarak’s Nationalist Democratic Party (NDP) officials. But SCAF dragged its feet for months while hundreds of those same NDP officials filed to contest the elections next week either as independents or as part of the lists of six new parties tied to the old regime. Ultimately, this past Monday, just one week before the elections, SCAF issued the Political Corruption Law that would make it almost impossible to impeach any candidate since they have to be disqualified only through the slow Egyptian judiciary.
Meanwhile, SCAF has been vulnerable to the tremendous pressures applied by foreign governments for different motives. Some Arab governments led by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the U.A.E. used their financial leverage to bail out the deposed president by halting or slowing down his trial because of their strong ties to him. In addition, the U.S. and other Western countries insisted that SCAF give specific assurances regarding Western and Israeli interests, as well as secure certain concessions from the political Islamic parties. For example, under U.S. prodding, SCAF demanded and received assurance from the MB in late April that the group would not contest future presidential elections.
By June, SCAF was demanding that the group not advance one of its own to the position of Prime Minister, even if it won the elections. In August, the MB was told yet again that in any future government it should not push for senior posts such as foreign or interior ministries so as not to antagonize the West. While the group reluctantly agreed not to contest the posts of head of state or government, it was extremely dismayed and refused to adhere to further restrictions on its participation in politics.
Last July, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee earmarked $1.55 billion to Egypt on the condition that such aid should in part be used for “border security programs and activities in the Sinai” in order to insure Israel’s security concerns. It also directed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certifies the humiliating demand that the Government of Egypt (supposedly democratically elected) “is not controlled by a foreign terrorist organization, or its affiliates or supporters, is implementing the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and is taking steps to detect and destroy the smuggling network and tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza strip.” Thus, when the Egyptian authorities acceded in late May to the demand by the Egyptian public to open the Rafah crossing and ease the blockade on Gaza, the crossing was closed again within just three days, due to U.S. and Israeli pressure. The status of the Rafah crossing is not currently very different from the Mubarak era.
By late September, SCAF finally set the parliamentary elections date for November 28. But it called for a staggered elections process to be implemented over three stages for the lower house as well as two stages for the upper house, effectively ending the elections process in March 2012. Many political parties and pro-democracy movements voiced their concerns that within such a system (with the banning of international elections monitors), the elections could be manipulated, especially when the same interior ministry (packed by Mubarak’s appointees) would supervise major parts of the electoral process.
To secure free and fair elections, SCAF started tacitly requesting concessions from the major political parties, especially the MB and other Islamically oriented parties. In return for their support of Al-Silmi’s supra-constitutional principles, SCAF pledged to guarantee free and fair parliamentary elections. But the MB and other Salafist parties refused even to show up to discuss the document. Meanwhile, other pro-democracy liberal and youth groups were extremely concerned about the extra constitutional powers given to the military in that document. Fearing the attempted power grab, most political parties and movements were actually united in their rejection, and called for a million-man demonstration in Tahrir square on Friday, November 18, insisting on the restoration of the objectives of the revolution. Recalling the early days of the revolution, hundreds of thousands of people gathered that afternoon not only in Tahrir, but also in other major cities including Alexandria, Suez, and across the Nile Delta.
After the impressive showing by all political factions: Islamic, secular, liberal, leftist, and youth groups, SCAF had no option but to withdraw the document. By Saturday, a few thousand activists from the youth movements that actually ignited the revolution last January, decided to stay in Tahrir square and stage a sit-in to demand the dismissal of the ineffective SCAF-controlled government, headed by Dr. Esam Sharaf since March, and call for the end of military rule.
That evening, for reasons that remain unclear, the security forces decided to evacuate the few thousand demonstrators by force. In doing so, they employed all the Mubarak-era tactics: teargas, rubber bullets, clubs, beatings, mass arrests, pepper spray, and physical and verbal humiliations. But the demonstrators refused to evacuate, fought back, and called for reinforcements after suffering many casualties. Within hours, Tahrir was again filled with tens of thousands of people raising their demands yet again.
If there was a lesson to be learned from the ousting of Mubarak, it was that when the people’s demands are denied, the ceiling of their demands are raised. By the third day of this manufactured confrontation, most political groups, with the exception of the MB, were not only protesting in Tahrir Square, but also across Egypt. The angry demonstrators now demanded the complete dismissal of the government, and the ouster of the military council to be replaced with an interim civilian presidential council.
The MB announced that although it supported the demands of the people it would not participate so as not to escalate the dangerous situation with the security forces. In its pragmatic calculation, the MB saw this latest episode as a deliberate attempt by the military to use the induced violence to postpone yet again the elections, which many believed the party would win. Similar to the agreement the MB struck with Suleiman in the days before Mubarak’s ouster, once again the MB thought of its immediate gains rather than the national consensus to force the end of military rule. As it reversed its decision last February within two days due to pressure from the streets, many of its members and supporters in the streets are openly demanding that they participate alongside the other young revolutionaries.
By Tuesday, November 22, SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief-of-Staff Gen. Sami Anan, met with all political parties and prospective presidential candidates. After a five-hour marathon meeting, SCAF capitulated, and agreed to all the demands: To declare an immediate cease-fire; to release thousands of protesters that have been detained since Saturday; to treat all the injured and provide compensations to the families of the deceased; and to bring to justice all those responsible for the violence. On the political demands they further agreed to dismiss the government of Dr. Sharaf and appoint a national-unity government; to hold the elections on time starting next week; to guarantee free and fair elections; and to give a definite date for the transfer to civilian rule by holding presidential elections no later than June 30, 2012.
When Tantawi delivered his speech that evening by promising a new government, keeping the elections date intact, and the end of military rule by next June, people in Tahrir were no longer satisfied. They kept shouting, “You leave, we’re staying,” the same chant that eventually caught up with Mubarak.
The immediate problem now is the total lack of trust between the people in the streets and the military council. The people are tired of the cat and mouse game played by SCAF, where every major demand is only conceded through much struggle. Although it is true that SCAF was instrumental in accelerating the ouster of Mubarak, it is also now quite clear to the revolutionaries that SCAF has had a different agenda that oftentimes conflicts with the objectives of their revolution.
Now the revolutionaries have vowed to stay in Tahrir until SCAF cedes effective power long before next year to a new civilian national-unity government empowered to supervise the elections, supervise the writing of the constitution, and implement all their objectives without any interference or dictation by the military.
Esam Al-Amin can be reached at email@example.com
November 17, 2011
An intrepid journalist defends his first amendment rights against a series of attempts to intimidate him by NYPD officers.
It is worth going back over the Arab press archive of the past six months. Not to compare what everyone has been saying. But to illustrate that the political and media narrative on Syria has been controlled by three groups.
The first group despises all things Syrian – people, government, and institutions. From the day the protests broke out, its members began talking of the “rolling revolution,” the “long-awaited spring,” and the “death-throes of the regime.” They stressed it was all purely peaceful and in the spirit of national unity. Accounts of armed attacks, or of sectarian discrimination and abuses, were dismissed as fabrications.
This group will forever be writing about Syria being sick – not until the country is cured, but until their own dying days. These are the cheerleaders for foreign intervention. They are uninterested in any solution through dialogue. They don’t want anyone to talk to anyone else. They want chaos, blood, bullets, and fire, and spare no thought for the consequences. These characters are either low-level operatives, receiving pay and perks from intelligence agencies in Europe and America, or work as intellectual rent-a-pen for various sheikhs from the oil monarchies. They do not recognize any Syrian opposition group or figure that does not enjoy the sponsorship of France, the approval of the White House, or the blessing of the House of Saud. They only confer legitimacy on those who declare their willingness to see Syria destroyed to put an end to the regime.
For the second group, all is pure darkness. They refuse to admit that there is any problem with the Syrian regime, or accept that it has any genuine opponents. For them, the protests were merely the product of conspiracies hatched during the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. The poor of Deraa, Idlib, and the Hama countryside, and the local activists of Damascus, Homs, Latakia, Riqqa, and Deir al-Zour, were simply misled youth who didn’t know what was good for the country and had no right to do what they were doing. No right to object to the presidency staying in the same family for 40 years; or the corruption rife in every public and private institution; or security men who live by humiliating and blackmailing people; or the relentless suppression of anyone who speaks out or differs.
This group argued that the regime wants reform, and therefore deserves support. But it never questioned the regime about how, with whom, and when this reform could be brought about. In practice, this group did not oppose the repression unleashed against protesters and citizens. It made no distinction between them and gangsters in the pay of foreign powers intent on destroying the country.
But there is also a third group that can see the difference. They understand that a legitimate struggle has been underway, which compels the regime to begin a transition to an inclusive order (one governed by law rather than connections); which puts on trial those who have spewed corruption for decades; kicks doors and windows open to let out the stifling stench of suppression; closes down the political penitentiaries; enables the people to participate effectively in rebuilding state and society; and stops illegal fortunes being accumulated through fraud, embezzlement and influence-peddling.
Nobody but those engaged in such a struggle can grant or deny it legitimacy. The people in the street can tell who is genuine, just as they can tell who is a crook, opportunist, or foreign agent. Similarly, they can differentiate between the sincere people in the state who want true reform, and the spooks, contortionists, and chameleons.
From day one, this group noted that Syria is unlike any other country, and that Bashar Assad resembles neither Hosni Mubarak, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and Muammar Gaddafi, nor the kings of Bahrain and the House of Saud, the emirs of Qatar or Kuwait, or the sons of Zayed. This group said Syria was different, not only because of its internal dynamics and sectarian, ethnic, and political diversity, but also because of what it represents. For decades, Syria has been the linchpin of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For the past decade, it has been the hub of the struggle against the new Western colonization of our countries. Since the June 2006 war, it has been the decisive player in an ongoing confrontation with Israel which is approaching a critical phase, whether Israel’s allies want that or not. Most importantly, Syria today is key to the changes anticipated after the unravelling of American plans in the region – with the US forced to withdraw its troops from Iraq, reorganize its entire military presence in the Gulf, and prepare to beat a safe retreat from Afghanistan too. This is a moment when regional rulers allied to the US can sense the approach of payback-time – to their peoples, this time, and not just the American colonizer. And Israel, most of all, can appreciate the implications of a strong and cohesive axis stretching from Iran, via Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, to Palestine.
From day one, this group cautioned the regime and its opponents not to be arrogant, and that all-out confrontation on the streets would mean heading toward civil war. This warning was sounded many times. But the regime’s enemies have taken to trumpeting it, now that it has turned into a threat by the West – which seeks civil war as an alternative to a foreign war on the regime in Damascus.
From day one, this group appealed for ways to be found to bring about a historic reconciliation, which would allow the honest opposition – and a big section of the public throughout the country – to say that the protests have begun producing results. These would include alterations to the structure of the regime, leading to free elections that set in motion a real and determined process of change, unstoppable by either security or corruption. Such a reconciliation would enable the regime to help itself by ditching the problematic part of the legacy with which it was burdened. It could thus preserve the components of strength that Syria has developed over the years, while ushering in a new era of political, economic, and cultural development, thus laying solid foundations for Syria to chart its course, unmoved by American threats or Israeli wars.
Syria’s Arab and Western detractors have suffered a significant setback of late. By marching the Syrian opposition through a minefield, scattering and dismembering it, they have prevented it from developing into a national opposition. They have been hijacked by the West. They can no longer proclaim their commitment to independence. Their conferences, activities and statements are now funded by external parties that seek to forcibly colonize them. This section of the opposition does not go in much for reflection or self-criticism about its role in the 1980s. Rather, they think the time has come for revenge. And they see bloodshed as the only route to achieving their objective – exclusive power, to be attained by wiping out the other.
An attempt is currently being made to plunge Syria into a roving civil war. The chosen means are to inflame sectarian, confessional, and political tensions (while accusing the regime of seeking to raise them); to prohibit any contact, dialogue, or national reconciliation; and to ensure continued bloodshed by all available methods. The aim is to exhaust Syria, to make it easy prey should any external predator opt to move in for the kill.
This endeavour is being led by a collection of governments, states, and groups that have no other goal than getting rid of the regime. They will stop at nothing, whether disabling the state and starving the people, setting every corner of the entire country ablaze, attempting to assassinate the regime’s people, or stoking sectarian and confessional strife by whatever infernal means.
On the other side, the Syrian regime needs to build walls around its country, rather than itself. An historic government initiative is long overdue at this difficult and complicated juncture, to make it possible for the well-intentioned people to be called off the streets, to confound Syria’s external foes, and to isolate their clients inside and outside the country. The fact that the world has come to appreciate the scale of the conspiracy against Syria does not prevent if from seeing the internal problem that exists. The regime should be thinking full-time about how best to launch such an initiative. It will never be too late.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of al-Akhbar.
Bahrain’s king vowed reforms on Wednesday after a commission of inquiry found that his security forces used “excessive force” and tortured detainees in a March crackdown on peaceful protests.
King Hamad commissioned the report to investigate allegations of government misconduct and human rights abuses against protesters, democracy activists, and opposition figures.
On Wednesday he vowed there would be reforms.
“We will introduce and implement reforms that would please all segments of our society,” the Ben-Khalifa said after the findings were released.
He also expressed “dismay” at the mistreatment of detainees.
“We do not tolerate the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. We are dismayed to find that it has occurred, as your report has found,” he said.
Responding earlier to the findings of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, an official spokesman also said the government accepts the criticisms.
“The government welcomes the findings of the Independent Commission, and acknowledges its criticisms,” a statement said.
“We took the initiative in asking for this thorough and detailed inquiry to seek the truth and we accept it.”
The report also acknowledged that the commission did not find proof of an Iran link to the unrest, dispelling widespread allegations by Gulf leaders that Iran played a role in instigating the mainly Shiite protests.
“Evidence presented to the commission did not prove a clear link between the events in Bahrain and Iran,” said Cherif Bassiouni, the commission’s lead investigator.
The peaceful mass demonstrations which rocked the kingdom earlier this year were violently crushed as government forces used live ammunition and heavy-handed tactics to scatter protesters.
Bassiouni said the death toll from the month-long unrest reached 35, including five security personnel. Hundreds more were injured. [...]
In March, Bahraini security forces boosted by some 1,000 Gulf troops crushed the month-long uprising in Manama’s Pearl Square, epicenter of the peaceful anti-government movement. … Full article
The United States plans to retain more than 700 American forces in Iraq after the US withdrawal from the country by the end of December 2011.
According to Iraqi officials, Baghdad had reached an agreement with Washington to allow 740 so-called US trainers stay in the country after the December withdrawal deadline, Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported on its website on Wednesday.
The news comes despite weeks of gestures by Iraqi officials who vowed no agreement could ever be reached to keep US troops in the country.
The agreement comes after President Barack Obama announced in October that the US military presence in Iraq would end at the timetable agreed by Baghdad and his predecessor Gorge W. Bush’s administration.
“There are no talks any more about this issue and the final total number of US trainers is 740,” said a senior Iraqi security official referring to months of informal talks between Iraq and US officials on the issue.
“Most of them are civilian weapons contractors, and just a few are military officers.”
Talks between Baghdad and Washington ran aground over legal immunity for US troops if they stayed on as trainers, which many Iraqi officials opposed as politically implausible.
A US military official had earlier said about 700 civilian trainers were to remain, together with 157 military personnel and a force of up to 25 marine guards at the massive US embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
The US State Department will also have a massive “private army” of thousands of military contractors.
The US trainers will be stationed in Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra, Nassiriya, Besmaya, Taji and Arbil, according to Iraqi officials.
The US troops do not enjoy immunity, but they will be considered as part of the US embassy delegation in Iraq, they noted.