‘Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community…’ — (Newt Gingrich, Fox News. December 10, 2011)
Many “Newts” produce toxins, the rough skinned Taricha, for example, produces enough to kill an adult human, and while all “Newts” go through a metamorphosis from tadpole to lizard, few expected that metamorphosis to reach human form in the person of the front running Republican candidate for President, Newt Gingrich. This Newt avoided the Vietnam War draft while studying for his degrees, then accepted a position as an historian and geographer at West Georgia College, a position he lost when his colleagues denied him tenure. A resourceful man, Newt ran for a congressional seat numerous times before capturing the 6th Georgia district seat in 1979, when the incumbent retired. He resigned his position in 1998 following disciplinary action by his colleagues for 84 ethics violations, having served as House Speaker from 1995 to 1999. Today he’s back, metamorphosed into a presidential candidate willing to spread lies about a people who have lived for 63 years under the brutal occupation of the Israeli military.
Consider his statement to the people of Israel on Jewish Television this past week quoted above. “Remember there was no Palestine as a state.” Omitted was the second part of that statement if the first was to have relevance: “Remember there was no Jewish state.” What existed was a Mandate Government under the control of the United Kingdom that governed this area beginning in 1922 through the authority of the League of Nations following the demise of the Ottoman Empire and later under the continued authority of the United Nations. During the Mandate period, from 1922 to May 15, 1948, the British government attempted to meet its obligations as enunciated in the Balfour Declaration to help in the “establishment of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Command Paper 1922, from the Avalon Project at Yale Law School, underlines this intent: “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare(s) unequivocally that it is no part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” It must be noted here that the Command Paper specifically marks the existence of a Palestine area to which the Jews were immigrating.
“I think we have an invented Palestinian people,” Gingrich continues, forgetting to mention that Dr. Shlomo Sand in his recent book The Invention of the Jewish People, according to Leon Hadar in his review, concludes by,
“Countering official Zionist historiography, Sand questions whether the Jewish People ever existed as a national group with a common origin in the Land of Israel/Palestine. He concludes that the Jews should be seen as a religious community comprising a mishmash of individuals and groups that had converted to the ancient monotheistic religion but do not have any historical right to establish an independent Jewish state in the Holy Land. In short, the Jewish People, according to Sand, are not really a “people” in the sense of having a common ethnic origin and national heritage. They certainly do not have a political claim over the territory that today constitutes Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem.”
In an even more recent book, just published by Pluto Books, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh in an historical review of the ancient lands of Palestine noted that “The kingdom of Judah lasted 341 years (927-586 BCE) while Israel lasted even a shorter 205 years (927 – 722 BCE).” In short, between the two recent studies, Gingrich could have found the truth; but truth is not what Gingrich needed for his interview: he needed a fabrication that would endear him to his audience both in Israel and in the United States as he groveled for monetary support for his campaign at the expense of the Palestinian people.
Consider the reality of the past two thousand years, when this area “between the Jordan and the Mediterranean,” which “has had a history of 6000 years of civilization,” known for a large portion of its history, as the Southern part of the Land of Canaan, has been called, for all these 2000 years, Palestine. As Qumsiyeh reviews this period he concludes, “These people (known to the world as Palestinians) absorbed the religions and various philosophies and changed their allegiances to survive in an ever amorphous world. This world, sometimes violent, sometimes symbiotic was always there.”
“Known to the world as Palestinians”; known to Newt Gingrich as “invented.” So how is it, this historian and geographer, could determine that the people of Palestine did not exist, that they could have removed themselves to “other” Arab lands and left all of Palestine to the Jews? In an unfortunate comment meant to deflect criticism about his reinvention of history, Gingrich made this comment: “Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists,” he said. “It’s fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, ‘Enough lying about the Middle East.” In four words, he turns all Palestinians into “terrorists.” And he justifies this slanderous and invidious judgment by assuming the chauvinistic persona of the brave man who condemns those who lie about the Middle East even as he omits the decision of the Mandate Government to hand over the resolution of the immigrant problem in Palestine to the UN, a decision that resulted in the Partition Plan (1947) dividing that land into two areas, one for Jews the other for the Palestinians who lived there, who had a 71% to 29% majority in the whole of Palestine. Since the Resolution created, numbered 181, divided the land into two, recognizing two peoples contending for the area of Palestine, it recognized as well Palestinians inhabiting the land with heritage going back two thousand years to the Roman era. At the same time, as immigration for Jews materialized through the 1940s, the contrast between indigenous inhabitants and newly arrived immigrants from foreign lands makes ludicrous Gingrich’s comments.
Even more ludicrous and perhaps more frightening, is this man’s willingness to undermine US policy since WWII, a policy that recognized the Palestinian people and their rightful claim to their own state. His convoluted logic would have the United States President negotiate peace with a people he has determined to be terrorists, all of them. He claims that what has been going on is a “delusional peace process”; true enough, but not because the Palestinians haven’t been willing to arrive at peace, but because Israel has had no intentions of recognizing a Palestinian state as the Likud Party Platform declares openly even now, “no state of Palestine west of the Jordan River.” But this fact, neither Gingrich nor the American press nor the Israeli government will acknowledge; it is rather the unwillingness of the Palestine Authority and Hamas to recognize Israel and cease their violence against Israel that prevents peace. But once again, had Gingrich taken the time to read yet another book on the subject, released in the summer of 2010, The Plight of the Palestinians, published by Palgrave MacMillan, he could have read about Israeli intransigence in negotiating peace, “The Problem with Israel,” by Dr. Jeff Halper, an article that recounts 19 different proposals rejected by Israel.
In that same volume, Gingrich could read about the Zionist stated reality that they had no plans to abide by the UN Partition Plan, but rather eradicate all Arabs from the land of Palestine, and that in Jewish documents from the Mandate period: “The challenge of Zionism was to create a Jewish state in a land already inhabited by natives who mostly practiced Islam and Christianity. Early Zionist understood the challenge and contrary to their public pronouncements about “a land without a people for a people without a land” came to see that the natives posed an obstacle to their visions” (Qumsiyeh).
There are 32 chapters in that book that detail Israel’s ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people, all written in the first decade of this century, a veritable catalog of ethnic cleansing to complement Dr. Ilan Pappe’s volume on the same subject, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
Let me close this recounting of Gingrich’s vitriolic commentary by remembering the Palestinians who suffered at the hands of real terrorists during the Nakba, an historical event he must immerse himself in if he is to understand how toxic his offhand commentary is to those who lived through these years awaiting justice. Here are the words of the Zionist’s general:
“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because Geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either … There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” (Moshe Dayan, Address to the Technion, Haifa, as quoted in Haaretz, 4-4-1969)
“Thus began in November of 1947 what is euphemistically called the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the combined forces of the Jewish armies, the Haganah, the Stern, and the Irgun as they drove more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes leaving them destitute, homeless and abandoned without a country in what is now the largest refugee Diaspora in the world.
More truthfully, the plight of the Palestinians that began so ruthlessly in 1947, and is now called the Nakba, was an intentional, calculated campaign to force the Palestinian Arabs out of Palestine, a systematic genocide of a people as defined by the United Nations in its adoption of Genocide Convention, Article II” (The Plight of the Palestinians).
Now that Gingrich knows what to read, will he?
William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His works include Psalms for the 21st Century, Mellon Poetry Press, Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy, The Rape of Palestine, The Chronicles of Nefaria, and most recently in 2010, The Plight of the Palestinians. Contact him at: email@example.com or visit: http://www.drwilliamacook.com.
For approximately five months, the residents of Kufr Qaddoum have united to demonstrate against the illegal Israeli settlement of Kedumim and the Israeli military’s closure of their village’s main road. Kufr Qaddoum, a West Bank village so old that, according to legend, Abraham was circumcised there with an axe, has since 1976 been plagued by Kedumim, a 3,000-inhabitant Israeli settlement that now surrounds the village on five hilltops. Kufr Qaddoum’s main road, which passes through Kedumim to link the village to Nablus, was closed by the Israeli military in 2003.
“The people of Kufr Qaddoum used this road long before the settlements came,” said Murad Shttaiwa, spokesman for the demonstrators. “Before 2003, we could drive through the settlement with no problems. Between 2004 and 2005, after the road was closed to cars, we walked through the settlement with no problems.”
In 2005, the road became closed to foot traffic as well. Before the new, indirect route to Nablus was constructed in 2008, “we used to walk and drive down unpaved dirt roads around Kedumim, but the settlers would still throw stones at cars and people,” Shttaiwa explained. “We would not react to it … for three years, we used to travel on a road made for animals.”
Now that Kufr Qaddoum’s main road is closed to villagers, a 13-kilometer straight journey to Nablus has turned into a 26-kilometer detour through a busy West Bank artery. “Three people have actually died trying to get through the main road,” Shttaiwa said, “because they were ill in ambulances, and the soldiers wouldn’t let the ambulance through.”
Taking the closures to court
When the road was first closed in 2003, villagers organized a single demonstration. “It was very peaceful,” Shttaiwa said. “The people left work and came, took their cars to where the barrier is [on the road], and then just sat and talked. We spoke with the soldiers and the soldiers stated to us that the road will eventually be opened.”
When the soldiers’ promise failed to materialize, however, villagers took the issue to court in 2004. After five years of waiting, in November 2010 Kufr Qaddoum finally received a positive response from the Israeli court system, authorizing its Palestinian villagers to use the road again. At that time, however, the Israeli military groundlessly claimed that the road is “unsuitable” and “unsafe” for human traffic. After all legal appeals failed, villagers decided to organize weekly demonstrations in July 2011.
Since then, Kufr Qaddoum has consistently held one of the most tight-knit, well-organized and well-attended Palestinian-led demonstrations against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
Hundreds of villagers, united with international activists and flanked by gas-masked media teams, walk down the main road towards Kedumim week after week, demanding the right to movement. “I’m very happy that a lot of people from the village are coming out for the demonstrations,” said Shttaiwa. “Even during Ramadan we thought people would fall back from protesting, but they still came out in numbers. Even during harvesting, they did not fall back, they still came out in numbers — after the harvest, they would put away their equipment and come out for the demonstrations.”
Funeral for the occupation
At the front line of the demonstration, villagers often stage a telling spectacle. A week before Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, gave a speech to the UN in September, villagers held a mock funeral for the occupation on 16 September, carrying a coffin draped with an Israeli flag.
A video of the demonstration, produced by the International Solidarity Movement, shows villagers setting the coffin ablaze moments before a phalanx of Israeli soldiers opened fire with tear gas (“Kafr Qaddoum September 16 2011,” 16 September 2011).
Later in September, villagers burnt an effigy of Benjamin Netanyahu after holding a mock trial condemning the Israeli prime minister for war crimes (“Kufr Qaddoum demands access,” International Solidarity Movement, 30 September 2011).
Demonstrations in Kufr Qaddoum have been accompanied by everything from a donkey painted with an Israeli flag to a live band from the Netherlands.
As demonstrations show no signs of losing steam, the Israeli military has escalated its attacks on Kufr Qaddoum. A recent report by the Palestinian news agency WAFA indicated that 12 persons — including five Palestinian children — were attacked with heavy tear gas and stun grenades during a weekly demonstration (“Israeli soldiers suppress Kufr Qaddoum weekly anti-settlements march,” 4 November 2011).
“Even though the demonstrations and the barriers are 500 meters away” from the village, explained Shttaiwa, “the soldiers will get closer and closer … [on 11 November], the soldiers got so close they were right outside my house, and the tear gas got inside the house, so my two-year-old son smelled it, and came up to me and said ‘Daddy, my eyes hurt!’”
Aggression gets worse
The military enters the village, in Shttaiwa’s words, because “the protests are getting stronger and stronger, and they want to stop the protests, so they are becoming more violent and more aggressive.” The Israeli military is also conducting frequent night raids into the village. Four days before a protest on 21 October, the army entered the village at night and arrested nine people (“Permission to enter their own lands: Kufr Qaddoum rampaged again by military,” International Solidarity Movement, 21 October 2011).
Though protests focus on the closure of their main road, the villagers of Kufr Qaddoum resist an occupation which touches on all aspects of their lives. More than half of the village’s land, approximately 11,800 dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 square meters), is situated in Area C of the West Bank — an area under the full administration of the Israeli army. Under the carve-up of the West Bank made by the 1993 Oslo accords, Area C includes all Israeli settlements and most of the Jordan Valley.
That means villagers need permission to access their own land from the Israeli District Coordinating Office. Olive harvesters, therefore, are unable to prepare their trees for the harvest throughout the year, and are only given a few days to complete the harvest itself.
Eyal Ha-Leuveni, a researcher with Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, told The Electronic Intifada that it is “very difficult” for Palestinians who own land around the Kedumim settlement to go through the permit process. “First you have to prove your ownership of the land, and this depends on your family history — if one family member was involved in a crime, likely no family member will get a permit,” Ha-Leuveni said. “The permit process can take years, and in the meantime you get a temporary permit, which is very insecure.”
In addition, Palestinian farmlands in Area C are often stolen by settlers. In March 2008, a legal battle, waged by lawyers from Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din on behalf of Kufr Qaddoum residents, helped expose the method of land takeover characteristic of Kedumim and other settlements across the West Bank (“Court case reveals how settlers illegally grab West Bank lands,” Haaretz, 17 March 2008).
Kedumim’s local council members would map the “abandoned lands” around the settlements, even if they were outside the council’s jurisdiction, with the aim of taking them over. The council would “allocate” the lands to settlers, who would sign an official form stating that they have no ownership claim; and that the council is entitled to evict them whenever it sees fit, in return for compensating them solely for their investment in cultivating the land.
Kedumim’s former security chief, Michael Bar-Neder, testified that the land “allocation” was followed by an effort to expand the settlement. Bar-Neder said that once the settlers seized the lands, an application would be made to the military commander to declare them as owned by the State of Israel, since under an Israeli “law” covering the West Bank, anyone who does not cultivate his land for three years forfeits ownership of it (“Court case reveals how settlers illegally grab West Bank lands,” Haaretz, 17 March 2008).
It is important to emphasize that Israel’s “laws” regarding the West Bank lack any legitimacy as all Israeli settlements are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. In violation of international law, Israel has seized West Bank land, in the words of Ha-Leuveni, “first by military orders, then by state land, then by private acquisition.”
The area where Kedumim now sits, said Ha-Leuveni, “is land that was first taken by military orders, where the army claimed the land was needed for military needs. Israel abandoned this justification in the 1980s, but it did not return any of this land to Palestinian owners.”
In a process that accelerated throughout the 1980s, West Bank land transferred from military to state ownership. “All the policy of declaring state land,” added Ha-Nuevi, “is an Israeli invention. There are large parts of the ‘state land’ of Qedumim that were owned or at least cultivated by Palestinians before Israel called it state land.”
According to a July 2010 report on Kedumim by B’Tselem, “construction of approximately 59 [Kedumim] units deviated from the ‘state lands’ allotted to the settlement; two permanent structures and 12 caravans were erected on private Palestinian land; and a new neighborhood, comprising some 30 caravans, was built west of the settlement, deviating from the allotted ‘state land.’” (“By Hook and By Crook: Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank,” B’Tselem, July 2010).
In addition, Israel plans to erect a wall between Kedumim and Kufr Qaddoum, which, according to a 2005 report by The Economist, would grab another 5,000 dunams more than the 5,000 Kufr Qaddoum has already lost (“Life in the armpits of Palestine,” 7 April 2005).
Shttaiwa estimated that Kufr Qaddoum has already lost 58 percent of its land to Kedumim, and will lose 80 percent upon completion of the wall. Contrary to the Kedumim security officer’s statement, quoted in The Economist, that “not one centimeter of Qedumim is built on land known for sure to be private,” a 2009 B’Tselem map details that much of Qedumim is built entirely on privately-owned Palestinian land (“Private Palestinian land in the built-up and municipal area of Kedumim,” B’Tselem, 2009).
Illegal appropriation of Kufr Qaddoum land to the settlement
This process of illegal appropriation has plagued Kufr Qaddoum since the establishment of Kedumim in 1976. “Every year the settlement has expanded,” Shttaiwa told The Electronic Intifada. “Since the settlement came it has been expanding, as well as stealing more and more land. Over the years they have also attacked people harvesting their olives, thrown stones at them, and stolen their olives. It has gotten worse in recent years.”
Settler violence, Shttaiwa explained, increased after the first intifada, in which Kufr Qaddoum played a minimal role. “At the beginning we had no problems … [but] now these settlers are known to be pretty violent,” he said. “In the first intifada they killed a male from here and injured another one as well. After the second intifada, they began attacking olive trees.”
Two years ago, settlers spray-painted “This is Israel” and other graffiti upon the burial stones of a Kufr Qaddoum cemetery.
In testimony given to B’Tselem last year, farmer ‘Abd a-Latif ‘Obeid said that over the years, Kedumim settlers have intentionally sabotaged his olive harvest, dumped burning refuse onto his land, and stolen more than fifty dunams to build greenhouses and a park (“Testimony: Israel seizes land and hampers access for farmers near the Kedumim settlement,” B’Tselem, 21 June 2010).
“We’ve been suffering from this situation since 1984,” he states in the report. “All the land seizures, the settler attacks, and the need to coordinate entry are aimed at expanding the Kedumim settlement, which already has a large amount of land, and at taking, little by little, the rest of our land. They force us to neglect our land so it will be easier for them to annex it to the settlement.”
In addition, Kufr Qaddoum suffers from the socio-economic effects of occupation. A 2007 report by the Jerusalem-based Land Research Center estimates that, since 2002, 75 percent of Kufr Qaddoum’s residents became unemployed after construction of Israel’s wall in the West Bank and closure of Kufr Qaddoum’s main road shut out many possibilities for income generation in Israel and Nablus (“Closing of Israeli roads in Kafr Qaddum village,” Land Research Center, 7 February 2007).
Now, almost half of Kufr Qaddoum’s residents depend on foreign aid for living, and emigration has reached a record high of 10-15 percent of the total population.
“Everyone is affected”
The demonstrations in Kufr Qaddoum are a long-overdue response to the suffering the village has endured for decades. The whole village comes out to demonstrate — college students who are tired of paying 20 shekels ($5) a day to get to take an extended detour to school in Nablus; farmers who are tired of living in fear, tired of seeing their olive trees burnt, their land stolen, their livelihoods ruined; villagers who demand the right to move freely down a road that is their own.
“In Kufr Qaddoum and throughout Palestine,” Shttaiwa explained, “we do not have demonstrations for the sake of the demonstration itself. None of us likes to be dead, or likes to smell tear gas, or likes to damage his house. We only want our rights. We always say to the Israeli army, ‘give us our rights and we will not go for demonstrations. Leave our land and we will not go to demonstrations.’ That is our message in Palestine.”
Ben Lorber is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement in Nablus. He is also a journalist with the Alternative Information Center in Bethlehem. He blogs at freepaly.wordpress.com.
JERUSALEM – Israeli authorities officially inaugurated a new military checkpoint on Monday at the main entrance to the Shufat refugee camp in north Jerusalem.
Israeli forces had clashed on Sunday with youth in the camp on Sunday, as residents protested against the construction of a checkpoint which they say will cut the 45,000-strong community from the rest of the city and control their movements.
Shufat is the only Palestinian refugee camp within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and is administered by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights slammed the encirclement of Shufat on Monday.
“This crossing, deep in Palestinian territory, is part of Israeli policies aimed at cutting Jerusalem off from the West Bank, and perpetuating Israel’s annexation of the city in violation of international humanitarian law,” a press statement said.
Multiple narratives of sectarian strife, resilient resistance to the regime, and conspiracy are circulating in Homs, home to the latest scene of confrontation between the regime and the forces of the uprising
Homs – It has been called the “capital of the revolution,” and the world’s eyes have turned towards it. The city is Homs in western Syria – the hotbed of the Syrian uprising.
The images emerging from Homs of evening protests, where the camera focuses on hundreds of protesters swaying to their festive songs, do not resemble the city during the day. Garbage piles up everywhere and the smell of destruction and blood is in the air.
Walls are painted and repainted with slogans and counter-slogans, and a sense of solemnity weighs down all political discussions.
The graffiti on major streets is covered with black paint, suggesting that it is against the regime. But you can see the anti-regime graffiti on side streets and it includes both obscene insults and reasonable political discourse.
Young conscripts stand behind their sandbag barricades, their fingers on the trigger, keeping an eye out for snipers or rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) shells.
Young men in neighborhoods and side streets observe every suspicious move. Attempts to engage them in conversations fail. Suspicion and fear of their interlocutors’ identity prompt them to answer by referring everything to a divine will: “God is with us and with righteousness. He will not fail us.”
Hassan, whose parents own a shop in the city market, takes most things humorously. But today he said, “The regime is to blame for everything that has happened. The protests were non-violent and their demands were clear. The regime used violence and brought men from other sects to put us down. This is a sensitive issue for us. We cannot accept death and stay silent, we are giving them a taste of their own medicine.”
Hassan does not want to talk about what will happen after the regime is toppled or the reason why a lot of people from other sects have not joined the protest movement.
For him, they are nothing but tools that the government uses against protesters. “We will topple the regime and we’ll have a transitional period like Egypt and Tunisia,” he insists.
One opposition activist from al-Zahraa neighborhood says the sectarian crimes “were committed by security forces in Homs to instigate trouble between Sunnis and Alawites.”
He is certain beyond any doubt that all those who died in Homs from the other sect were killed by the security forces and its gangs to instigate cross sectarian killing. But he says protesters are “aware and cautious against any efforts to drag them into sectarian violence.”
Osama, a graduate from a medical institute and a regime loyalist, says sectarian strife became a reality “since Tamam al-Mahmoud and his two companions were killed, after he was forced to confess that he brought snipers from Hezbollah to Homs and Hama.”
“Tens of sectarian crimes have been committed since the beginning of the uprising by armed men who have been embraced by the protest movement. All the protesters know that these armed men are the ones killing, setting up checkpoints, and kidnapping people,” he continued.
There were no kidnappings before armed conflict broke out. Kidnappings became common with the rise of armed groups who took over the streets. At the same time, regime loyalists accepted the rules of the game and started kidnapping people from the other side too – tit for tat.
There are no reliable figures for the number of people who have been kidnapped. The disappeared represent the most pressing issue for al-Zahraa and other adjoining neighborhoods.
Wasim Ibrahim’s cousin who lived in al-Zahraa neighborhood was kidnapped, but she was freed less than two days later. “Do we wait for the government to bring back our girls and young men while it is unable to protect its own forces or liberate them if they get kidnapped?” says Ibrahim confidently.
“All we had to do was kidnap two girls from Jib al-Jandali neighborhood and my cousin was set free. If they kidnap two of our girls, we will kidnap five of theirs. They are to blame for starting this cycle of kidnappings,” he says.
Kidnapping, which is used to exert pressure and to strike a balance of “terror” between the two sides, has raised the profile of a particular social group – the elders.
Even state media has started to use the term in reference to attempts to free kidnapped individuals, with help from security forces and elders.
Ahmad, a university student, does not deny that there are, in his pro-regime neighborhood, people who kidnapped and killed citizens from the other side. But he does say it was done in retaliation, or to exchange them.
“When the government does not protect us and we become the whipping boy or fall guy, then we will carry arms to protect ourselves. If the government arrests a wanted armed man or a member of the opposition, they kidnap a man or a woman from our sect to use them in an exchange. This is the reality of the Syrian revolution. Your problem is with the regime, why take it out on us? And then you blame us if we stand with the regime?” Ahmad said.
Rakan is a driver from Baba Amro who advised me not to go into the neighborhood without getting some sort of guarantee from the “rebels,” but denied knowing any of them personally.
“We want to be safe. When I pass by a rebel checkpoint, I tell them may God protect you and grant you victory, and when I reach an army checkpoint, I tell them may God protect you and grant you victory. That is the only way to protect myself,” he explained.
Noureddine who lives in Jib al-Jandali, a neighborhood controlled by armed groups, says it is “not possible to have a free opinion here. Non-violence and the dream of political change and ending tyranny have turned into the nightmare of armed groups who are presenting themselves as protectors of the demonstrations.”
“No one wants to believe the story of the armed groups until one of their children is killed by mistake or on purpose. Our lives have turned into hell because of them,” he said.
Noureddine’s words upset his friend Yasser, a secular member of the opposition. Yasser believes the security forces are “responsible for everything, they are the ones who played the sectarian card to prevent the protests from expanding and the presence of armed men from the beginning of the crisis forced them to acquiesce to the demands of the people. The protest movement followed [the incendiary Muslim cleric] al-Arour because he stood with the revolution from the get go.”
Yasser criticized all media outlets that have not “covered the work done by secular and leftist activists, especially the Nabd Coalition for Syrian Civil Youth, whose members play a big role in Homs by taking part in the demonstrations and easing some of the sectarian tensions.”
Abu Khaled, from the large and well-known al-Bakara tribe in Syria, left Aleppo to live in Homs twenty years ago.
“Simply put, these guys are hooligans, no more no less. They raise signs demanding protection against Muqtada al-Sadr fighters and members of Hizb al-Shaitan [party of the devil]…which is what they call Hezbollah. And they raise signs thanking the Lebanese Future Movement – it seems they receive money from them,” he said.
“I am a regular guy. I was happy to see Hosni Mubarak fall because he was a foreign agent, but Bashar Assad is a good guy. He is a nationalist and against Israel…I support him and refuse to insult him. But for me, denouncing Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, is a grave sin because he has dedicated his life to fighting Israel and only a foreign agent or a crazy person would offend him in such a way,” Abu Khaled added.
Statistics regarding the number of casualties in Syria since the outbreak of the uprising reveal that almost a third have fallen in Homs, the birthplace of many Syrian presidents. The opposition, confident of its victory, often says that the next president will also hail from that city.
Tensions in Homs had reached boiling point about two weeks ago, when the city fell into chaos for a few hours and dozens became victims of revenge killings across a number of neighborhoods.
These reprisal attacks were ignited by the execution of four people in al-Zahraa neighborhood, near the Khaled bin al-Walid mosque, as Arab satellite channels were broadcasting false news that it was being shelled.
The crime coincided with attacks on security checkpoints disrupting movement between neighborhoods. News of the killings spread among people angered over the loss of loved ones, exacerbating an already tense situation in the city and leading to 51 deaths, half of whom fell in al-Zahraa neighborhood and its surroundings.
One journalist from Homs commented on what happened by saying: “Whoever was in the wrong place at the wrong time was killed.”
Each side claims that they had to engage in kidnapping to rescue their daughters and sons, who have been captured and are being held in neighborhoods belonging to rival sects.
Each side believes that the other party is behind the mayhem, while their own are patriotic and committed to national unity.
Narrative and counter narratives extend to events that took place all the way back in April, including the killing of a brigadier-general in the army. The general, believed to be Abdu Tallawi, was killed with his children and nephew while passing through an agitated neighborhood.
There are two accounts of what happened to him and his family, and they differ about the victim’s sect. Regime loyalists say that he was killed by takfiris – hardline Islamists who accuse other Muslims of apostasy – because he belonged to Alawite sect.
The protesters insist that he is a member of the Tallawi family from Homs and that he was killed by security forces to accuse the opposition and destroy their reputation. Some even claim that he was shot because he refused to fire at protesters.
The third account is ignored due to the extreme polarization of opinions in the city. The brigadier-general was killed because he was in a military vehicle, even though he had his kids with him.
Whoever killed him was not concerned with his sect but with directing a blow to the regime, thus provoking an even harsher crackdown, which, in turn, would drag the protest movement into a cycle of violence with the state.
South Korean prosecutors say an American soldier has been charged with raping a South Korean teenager at her residence in the capital Seoul.
Pvt. Kevin Robinson was accused of raping the 18-year-old girl in her rented room in Mapo in the early hours of the morning on September 17, Yonhap news agency reported.
The 21-year-old private allegedly broke into the girl’s room while she was sleeping and sexually assaulted her before leaving with her laptop computer.
US 8th Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter said the suspect was transferred to the custody of South Korean authorities.
The soldier has reportedly denied the charges, but prosecutors said they have secured DNA evidence of the rape.
Last month, another soldier was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for brutally raping a 17-year-old South Korean girl.
About 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea. Crimes committed by US troops based in the South are a sensitive subject.
Several major anti-US demonstrations have been held in the country to protest the presence of American troops in South Korea.
Extremist right-wing Israeli settlers broke into a closed-off military zone in between the West Bank and the Jordanian border, at the site thought to be where Jesus was baptized.
On Monday, right-wing Israeli protesters barricaded themselves in buildings at the site of the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River, which is a holy site for Christians around the world.
They hung banners with photos of the right-wing Jewish leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who called for the “Jewish state to expand beyond the Jordan River into the state of Jordan and all the way to Iraq.”
The protesters say they are sending a message to the Jordanian government to stay out of Israeli affairs. This is a reference to the statement made by Jordan’s King Abdullah Monday that he hoped Israel would choose not to demolish a bridge in Jerusalem.
The bridge in question is an historic structure that leads to the al-Aqsa mosque, which is the third holiest site in the world for Muslims. Israeli authorities closed the bridge on Friday, sparking outrage among Muslims around the world.
The attack occurred at the Jordan River, on a closed military zone separating the West Bank and the Jordanian border, and both Jordanian Authorities and the Israeli Army have stated that the Israelis did not cross the border, but were approximately only a few hundred metres away.
Those protesters in question were from a group known as the ‘Hilltop Youth’, numbered around thirty, and were quickly removed from the area by the Israeli army and police.
In a separate incident, around fifty Settlers invaded the Efraim Regional Brigades military barracks near Qalqilia, setting several fires, throwing molotov cocktails and stones, which led to damage to buildings and vehicles.
Over a hundred settlers also attacked the Brigade Commanders car, and threw stones at passing Palestinian cars, on the main road near the settlement of Ramat Gilad.
The string of attacks comes as tension mounts over the impending dismantlement of numerous illegal outposts within the West Bank by the Israeli authorities.
A planned conference in support of the Bahraini uprising caused a stir among opposition activists after it was revealed that prominent pro-Israeli figures were invited to attend.
“Americans for Democracy and Human rights in Bahrain,” a conference organized by the Institute for Gulf Affairs, was supposed to be held in Washington Wednesday.
An informed opposition source said that the conference has been postponed but didn’t disclose the reasons behind the change of plans.
The goal of the conference was to shed light on the ongoing human rights violations occurring in Bahrain, especially as they are receiving very little media attention in the Arab world.
According to the Institute for Gulf Affairs website, the event was intended to be a follow up to a previous conference held in Beirut last summer.
However, a closer look at the names of the participants raised questions about how far the opposition was willing to go in order to be heard?
Among those invited by the organizers to attend, for example, are Elliot Abrams, US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Simon Henderson from the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs, all of whom are well-known for their unswerving support for Israel.
Other invitees include Bahraini human rights activists and opposition figures who have a reputation for being moderate, in addition to US officials, European Union representatives, and international law associations.
Many have raised the obvious question: How could Bahraini opposition members participate in the same conference as individuals who are well-known for their blind Israeli bias?
A quick survey by al-Akhbar of a number of Bahraini opposition figures who have been invited to the conference revealed that many were not aware that influential Zionists will be attending.
But most of the Bahrainis, in fact, confirmed that they will not be attending the conference, either due to conflicts in their schedules or because of the presence of Zionists.
Some, however, went so far as to say that they have no problem with getting the support of such people if it serves the Bahraini cause.
Conference organizer Ali al-Ahmed, a well-known Saudi dissident, also received his share of criticism.
The notorious Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi’s participation in the conference was also questioned by some of those invited. Chalabi, known for his close ties with the US, had organized a previous pro-uprising conference about Bahrain in Beirut.
Al-Akhbar was not able to contact former Wefaq MP Khalil Marzouk to ask him whether he will be attending the conference.
However, opposition sources confirmed that Khalil Marzouk “would never participate in a conference attended by Zionists.”
Human rights activist Nabil Rajab said that he had received an invitation to participate in the conference, but that he would not be attending due to other commitments.
It is worth noting that Rajab did not know who the participants in the conference were and was surprised when he found out. He said that it was most likely that his colleagues didn’t know this information either.
As for al-Ahmed, Rajab said that his role is organizational and that the Bahraini opposition turned to him because he runs the US-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, which is licenced to hold such a conference in Washington.
US-based activist Hussein Abdullah, however, does not accord any importance to the critics of the conference, saying the US is filled with “Jews.”
Upon correction and explanation that the problem was “not with Jews but with Zionists, for many Jews support human rights causes,” Abdullah said, “I am willing to speak in any forum and defend the rights of Bahrain, whether that forum is attended by Zionists or even by the devil.”
Abdullah prefers to look at the positive side, suggesting that such a conference would embarrass the Bahraini regime.
“The regime accuses us of being Iranian agents. How can this be true if we are participating in a conference along with supporters of Zionism?” he asks.
Abdullah added that Abrams would not be attending the conference, saying that “an invitation was extended to him but he turned it down.”
He pointed out that other participants from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were also planning to attend, along with a representative from the Bahrain foreign ministry.
An invitation was also sent to the Bahraini embassy, and a prominent businessman was assigned to attend the conference to represent the regime.
US ‘Occupy’ protesters have successfully shut down California’s Oakland port, as the movement continues to gain strength across the country.
Protesters successfully blocked trucks arriving at the port of Oakland California on Monday, in an attempt to block the entrance of goods serving the capitalist class in the country, the Occupy California website reported.
Port workers were sent home following the shutdown.
The latest developments follow efforts by protesters to block several of the busiest West Coast ports.
Meanwhile, demonstrators severely disrupted traffic at ports in Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Portland, and Long Beach.
Protesters called the coordinated rallies a response to the dismantling of Occupy encampments by US police across the country.
Protests have been led by Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who sustained a head injury during an Occupy Oakland rally in October.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began when a group of demonstrators gathered in New York’s financial district on September 17 to protest against the unjust distribution of wealth in the country and the excessive influence of big corporations on US policies.
Despite the police crackdown and mass arrests, the Occupy movement, which grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, has now spread to many major US cities as well as to Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and other countries.
Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the think tank created by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to “do AIPAC’s work but appear independent,” has yet another one of its modest proposals for Washington:
Because the FSA is an increasingly important player that will likely influence the outcome of events in Syria, the United States and its partners should make contact with its members and learn as much as possible about the group. Questions concerning its nature, its potential as an armed force, and the role of Islamists can be resolved through such contact as well as intelligence work. If the results are positive, then the FSA should be assisted wherever outside aid would be both possible and effective. Arms, advice, training, and money could be provided through clandestine channels, if nothing else. These modest steps could help provide the Syrian people with a means of self-defense, give the United States additional influence on the situation, and put further pressure on the regime and its forces, perhaps hastening the conflict’s end.
If Washington had any sense, or the independence to act on it, they’d tell WINEP to get their masters in Tel Aviv to “help” the Syrian people themselves if they are so concerned about their welfare.