Pro-Palestine activists are to march on the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) annual congress in London, demanding relocation of upcoming European under-21s championships in Israel.
In a press release on its official website on Tuesady, the Innovative Minds (inminds) campaign group said British activists are expected to take part in the march starting from St. Pancras railway station to Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane in London on Friday May 24, when delegates from UEFA’s 53 full member associations are due to gather in the UK’s capital.
The protesters will demand the governing body of football in Europe not hold the European Under-21 championships in Israel on June 5-18 and kick the apartheid regime of Israel out of UEFA.
They will also call for the immediate release of the Palestinian footballers Mohammed Sadi Nimer and Omar Abu Roweis who are kept in Israeli prisons.
Both footballers, who were abducted by Israeli forces in February 2012 raids on their homes, have been tortured at the regime’s interrogation centers.
Mahmoud Sarsak, another young footballer from Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, who had played professionally for the Palestine National Football Team, was incarcerated in Israel for three years without charge or trial.
Upon his release in July 2012 after a three-month hunger strike, he called for a sports boycott of Israel, saying, “I call on all those who spoke out for my release and the release of the Palestinian hunger strikers, to once again show their commitment to justice and equality by insisting that UEFA move their competitions away from Israel.”
- Israel, Hawking and the Pressing Question of Boycott (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Move football tournament out of Israel, says growing campaign (altahrir.wordpress.com)
I can claim to have had a small hand in instigating the legal complaint to the International Criminal Court by the Comoros Islands against the murders by Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara. The Washington Post writes:
In a filing, lawyers from the Istanbul-based law firm Elmadag argued that the events that took place on the Mavi Marmari should be considered as having occurred on the territory of Comoros.
As though this were in any sense a matter of dispute. That crimes committed on any ship outside of territorial waters are under the jurisdiction of the flag state of the ship, is both customary international law of ancient standing and a fundamental provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Ships shall sail under the flag of one State only and, save in exceptional cases expressly provided for in international treaties or in this Convention, shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas.
The Comoros Islands are a tiny state off the East coast of the continent. They are part of the disgraceful system where small or failed states lease out their shipping registers – often corruptly – to western companies who run them, enabling major shipping owners to evade safety, conditions, qualifications and pay regulations of more serious states. Liberia has been the most notorious example. The Comoros government therefore deserves huge congratulation for taking its flag state responsibility so seriously, and so bravely, in taking on Israel.
It is a responsibility Turkey deliberately shed just before the Mavi Marmara was attacked.
There is, in this regard, as I reported from my meetings with organisers and bereaved families of the Mavi Marmara in Izmir two years ago, something extremely disturbing about the case of the Mavi Marmara:
Shortly before sailing, the registration was switched from Turkey to the Comoros Islands. This exempted Turkey from the responsibility of jurisdiction. It also made discussion at NATO much easier for the US; if the Israelis had attacked in international waters a ship flying the flag of a NATO state, that would have been a much more difficult thing for the alliance to ignore.
It turns out that the change was made at the insistence of the Turkish Ministry of Transport. They carried out a number of inspections of the Mavi Marmara prior to the Gaza trip and made repeated demands for changes: mattresses and cushions had to have more modern, fire resistant foam. Internal walls had to be upgraded for fire resistance. Whatever changes were then made, the Ministry found new faults. In the end, the Ministry had said that the Mavi Marmara would be impounded unless it changed its registration, as it could not meet the safety requirements for a Turkish flagged ship.
The strange thing is that the Mavi Marmara had been Turkish flagged for years, and had been running tourist cruises out of Istanbul. None of the faults the Ministry found resulted from any changes, yet none had apparently been a problem on past inspections. The family told me that, before the Mavi Marmara sailed, they had been in no doubt the Turkish government had been deliberately obstructive and had forced the change of flag.
Part of the Turkish state was insistent on giving the Mavi Marmara no protection. You have to ask the question, did these people know in advance the Mavi Marmara was to be attacked? The fatal shootings on board were mostly not random - they were targeted shots to the head of selected people. If Israel had planned this, how long in advance, where did they get their intelligence on who was aboard? If they had assistance from within the Turkish state, of course the Turkish state would want to ensure they did not have legal responsibility over the killings.
Let me be plain. I am not accusing the current government of Turkey. But they inherited a bureaucracy and political establishment riddled, especially at the most senior levels, with ultra-nationalists and relatives and connections of the Turkish military. The Turkish Foreign Office in particular is notoriously ultra and completely penetrated and corrupted by Israel. The Turkish government has had a most difficult job in changing the direction of the country without provoking violent nationalist reaction. That has been a process; and the result is that those apparently in power did not in reality get control of all the levers of power at once.
We are a long way yet from knowing the full truth about the Mavi Marmara: and Israel is not the only place to look.
It is an event ‘of cosmic proportions’, said one Palestinian academic, a befitting description regarding Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israeli academic conference slated for next June. It was also a decisive moral call which was communicated on May 8 by Cambridge University, where Hawking is a professor.
Hawking is a world-renowned cosmologist and physicist. His scientific work had the kind of impact that redefined or challenged entire areas of research from the theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics and other fields of study. This towering figure is also wheelchair-bound – suffering from complete physical paralyses caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease. For Hawking, however, such a painful fact seems like a mere side note in the face of his incredible contributions to science, ones that are comparable to only few men and women throughout history.
What is considered a prestigious scientific conference in Israel is hosted by President Shimon Peres, most remembered by Lebanese and Palestinians for ordering the shelling of a United Nations compound near the village of Qana in South Lebanon in 1996. The compound was a safe heaven, where civilians often sought shelter during Israeli strikes. Not that time around, however. 106 innocent people that were mostly children and women were killed and 116 wounded, including UN forces. That harrowing event alone would have sent Peres, then Israel’s prime minister, to serve his remaining years in jail. But of course, Israel is above the law, or so the Israeli government believes and thus it has consistently behaved accordingly in the last 65 years with a price tag of uncountable lives, untold destruction and protracted suffering of entire nations.
Hawking’s response to the boycott call was immensely important. The man’s legendary status aside, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has proved more durable and successful than its detractors – mostly Israel’s apologists – want to believe. Hawking’s decision was also a testament that reason and morality should and must go hand in hand. Israel’s boasting of its scientific accomplishments should mean zilch if such technology is put to work to advance state violence, tighten military occupation and make killer drones available to other countries, thus exporting violence and mayhem. That very ‘science’ was used in abundance in Israel’s latest two wars on Gaza (2008-09 and 2012) which claimed thousands of lives between the dead and wounded.
Cambridge University, perhaps wary of a possible backlash, tried to mask Hawking’s decision as one that is compelled by health reasons, which, of course, was not the case at all. The university eventually retracted the statement, for the British scientist wished to make his decision crystal clear. The UK Guardian newspaper reported on Hawking’s rebuff of the conference, citing a statement by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, as it had coordinated with Hawking’s office:
“We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18-20 June. This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”
Unlike other acts of boycott, sometimes dismissed by Israeli officials as insignificant, this one was manifestly shocking for Israel. Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by the New York Times saying “never has a scientist of this stature boycotted Israel.”
And since it was unexpected, Hawking’s respect of the boycott generated disorganized Israeli and pro-Israeli responses, ranging from demeaning jokes and insults pertaining to his illness, unwarranted accusations and even shaming him for using technology supposedly developed in Israel to combat his deteriorating ALS condition.
Never before has the country lost control over its carefully tailored narrative of its military occupation and violations of human rights in Palestine as is the case these days. While on one hand, Israeli officials speak of ‘peace’, they continue to issue tenders to build more settlements or expand existing ones, all built illegally on Palestinian land. On the very day that Hawking’s decision to boycott the conference was announced, ‘civil administration’ in Israel agreed to the construction of 296 new housing units in the illegal settlement of Beit El, thus entrenching military occupation and ethnic cleansing. Israeli officials and media still insist that there are no links whatsoever between such stark violations of international and humanitarian law and the rising boycott movement. They indefatigably accuse their critics of ‘anti-Semitism’ (which is hardly effective anymore) and warn of attempts at the ‘de-legitimatization’ of Israel, as if they expect the world to remain completely oblivious to its perpetual war crimes, illegal occupation and institutionalized discrimination against non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and Israel.
The dialectics of Hawking’s decision are also important. It is a proof that civil society remains relevant, can be effective and also shows that official venues are not the only platforms in which the occupation of Palestine can be discussed and justly addressed. Nearly 20 years have passed since the Oslo Accords were signed, yet the Israeli occupation seems much more rooted than it was in 1993.
There is little doubt that the boycott movement is in constant growth and not simply because of the recurring news of artists and academics refusing to visit Israel, or take part in Israeli-sponsored events. Equally significant is the existence of strong layers of support being provided by civil society that makes it possible for artists, academics and others to adhere to the call of boycott, without fearing serious repercussions.
It was revealed that a letter to Hawking, aimed at dissuading him from joining the conference was signed by 20 top academics from many universities, including MIT, Cambridge, London, Leeds, Southampton, Warwick, Newcastle, etc. The professors told Hawking they were ‘surprised and deeply disappointed’ that he had agreed to take part in the conference, which is also to be attended by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton, each with his own record of war crimes accusations spanning from Sudan, to Afghanistan, to Iraq.
But criticism of Hawking is not only emanating from Israel and its predictable circle of diehard supporters. It is also coming from some of those who count themselves as members of the Palestinian solidarity camp. The latter group, which is shrinking in number and outreach, argue that boycotting all aspects of Israel’s academic, cultural and political life will play into Israel’s ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘de-legitimization’ arguments.
But can the solidarity movement limit its boycott to the few Israeli companies with links to West Bank settlements and expect to achieve tangible, long term results? Those who think that boycotting the occupation is enough, seem not to understand the nature of the relationship between West Bank setters and the Israeli government. Israel treats the settlements and its well-armed inhabitants as part and parcel of the Israeli state and economy. They are residents of Israel, even if they live near Ramallah. There is no separation whatsoever except for some imaginary ‘Green Lines’ and such. And now with the Apartheid Wall, even that separation is being blurred and redefined.
Palestinians in Gaza or Nablus don’t see any difference between a solider who lives in an illegal Jewish settlement or another who lives inside Israel. They are all capable of committing murder, as many surely have, unhampered by geography or borders. International civil society should not fall into the trap of illusory distinctions. This also makes Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israel-based conference “of cosmic proportions”. It is morally defensible and ethically sound, qualities befitting a formidable man of reason like Stephen Hawking.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father Was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).
- Stephen Hawking Stuns Israel With Conference Boycott (alethonews.wordpress.com)
University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking stunned Israel last week with his announcement that he would boycott the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem, June 18-20.
Hawking was responding to an incongruity: He had been invited to attend an Israeli conference of scientific, economic and political world leaders under the lofty title: ”The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow”.
Many usual political suspects are expected to speak at the conference, including noted Israeli friends Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Also listed as speakers are Stuart Eizenstat, Larry Summers and David Axelrod. George W. Bush was a speaker for the 2008 inaugural conference.
As a matter of conscience, Hawking will not be there.
What makes this conference such an incongruous event is that it will hold its “Shaping Tomorrow” sessions in close proximity to what is essentially a prison wall built to separate an occupied, entrapped Palestinian population, from the rest of the world.
Is this the future Israel would have us shape? Prison walls enforcing ethnic cleansing?
In his conference withdrawal statement Hawking explained his boycott decision:
“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank”
“However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.
Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”.
The term “boycott” is part of the Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) non-violent campaign, a grassroots movement launched in 2005 to non-violently bring an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and people.
Israel is holding its fifth conference in close proximity to the Israeli-built prison wall that enforces that occupation.
Stephen Hawking has not been known for political activism. His story unfolded in a different arena. It is a story of his enormous personal courage and significant achievement as a physicist and cosmologist.
Hawking, who tells his personal story in “Living With ALS“, has to be the most high-profile invitee yet to boycott an Israeli Presidential conference, an event which in the past has attracted little media attention. Hawking has changed that.
In her 2012 Scientific American essay, “How Has Stephen Hawking Lived to 70 with ALS?”, (on January 7, 2013, he turned 71) author Katherine Harmon provides background both on Hawking and his disease:
The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around-the-clock care.
But like his mind, Hawking’s illness seems to be singular. Most patients with ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who succumbed to the disease—are diagnosed after the age of 50 and die within five years of their diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.
But his disease seems hardly to have slowed him down. Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And he is currently the director of research at the school’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.
Hawking is the sort of high profile public figure whose boycott action is most feared by Israel.
The Guardian takes note of the blow Israel has received to its scientific prestige:
Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.
Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself.
Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organizers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.
That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.
BETHLEHEM – A Facebook page promoting Nakba commemoration events in Jaffa was temporarily blocked overnight, Palestinian activists said Monday.
Fatima Huleiwi, an activist with Jaffa Youth, told Ma’an that it was not the first time that Facebook had blocked the group’s user page.
“When we published material urging people to support hunger striking prisoners, our pages were blocked. Last night the invitation to an event commemorating the Nakba anniversary in Jaffa was also blocked on several accounts for hours,” she said.
Sometimes right-wing Israelis report violations on the group’s Facebook pages, Huleiwi says, and as a result Facebook temporarily blocks the site for several hours.
Jaffa Youth has to send a complaint to Facebook before they eventually unblock the page, she added.
Members of Jaffa Youth will commemorate the 65th Nakba anniversary in Jaffa’s Clock Square from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The event will include artistic activities and public discussions about the Nakba, with Dr. Thabet Abu Ras from Adalah, and Eitan Bronstein from Zochrot, or ‘remembering,’ among the participants.
“We will continue to prepare for this event and will try to make it the most prestigious commemoration of the Nakba in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948,” Mahmoud Abu Arisha, an activist from Jaffa Youth, told Ma’an.
More than 760,000 Palestinians — estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants — were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
Around 160,000 Palestinians, who remained in Israel after 1948, now number around 1.36 million people, or 20 percent of the country’s population.
During Israel’s latest onslaught against the Gaza Strip in November 2012, a major conference was held in Tel Aviv: the 2nd Israel HLS International Conference. Among the most prominent sponsors of the homeland security event were two of Israel’s largest weapons companies, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), both of which cooperate closely with the Israeli military. But the conference also had another grandiosely advertised partner: the European Commission.
As is often the case, this undisguised cooperation between the EU and Israeli military companies went fully unchallenged – let alone noticed – in the European media. Not even the rather conspicuous fact that the EU-sponsored conference occurred simultaneously with Israel’s devastating Gaza assault in which Israel used the equipment of both Elbit and IAI.
The same inability, or unwillingness, by the European media to report such collaboration, let alone deplore it, manifested itself even more prominently in January 2009. A day after Israel’s 22-day long assault on the Gaza Strip, the leaders of six European states, including the UK, France, and Italy, arrived in Israel for a gala dinner, voicing their support for Israel. The dinner was hosted by Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. The European leaders vowed, of all things, to stop the flow of arms to Hamas. Meanwhile, the Israeli strikes on Gaza would kill 926 civilians.
As a trading and co-sponsoring partner, Elbit is among the most disagreeable of all the Israeli military companies. Being at the very core of Israel’s breaches of international law, Elbit is deeply involved in Israel’s drone programs that have targeted and killed scores of civilians, including children. The former president and chief executive of Elbit proclaimed that the company is “the backbone” of Israel’s drone operations. Elbit also provides surveillance equipment to the illegal wall Israel has built in the West Bank. Besides being an instrumental partner of the Israeli air force, it also sells equipment to the Israeli navy.
The EU also funnels funds to Elbit through allocating EU-taxpayers’ money to the company under the umbrella of scientific research. Indeed, another barely publicized yet lucrative form of EU-Israeli cooperation that directly benefits Israel’s private military sector are scientific research subsidies. David Cronin, who has put together a pioneering compendium on the EU’s complicity in Israel’s illegalities, estimates that by the year 2013, Israel will have received EU research grants for more than €500 million. Israel currently takes part in over 800 schemes with European universities and corporations.
The massive EU-Israel bilateral trade remains one of the least talked about, yet among the most crucial enablers of Israel’s ever-continuing breaches of international law.
The EU is Israel’s main trading partner with a total annual trade of approximately €30 billion (€29.7 billion in 2012). The volume of the trade is more than ten times that of the US foreign aid to Israel. While it is reasonable to assume that US-Israeli relations will remain intact in the coming years, the EU has the required economical leverage and legal means to exert unprecedented pressure on Israel, compelling it to abide by international law.
According to a 2003 European Commission poll, 60 percent of the EU citizenry sees Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. In this respect, European public opinion is more informed than that in the US. Another factor that makes it feasible for EU to alter its policy towards Israel is that the EU-Israel Association Agreement that governs all trade and cooperation between the EU and Israel states that “[r]elations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”
Hence, whereas a drastic shift in the US-Israeli relations remains an unlikely scenario, the EU has both the informed public opinion required for, and a no-brainer legal case demanding, relatively swift and highly momentous changes.
As of now, however, the EU is both a major client for Israel’s occupation-powered, export-oriented and multi-billion military manufacturing and homeland security sector as well as a major exporter of military equipment to Israel.
Besides the military and homeland security imports from Israel, the EU also continues to violate its own regulations on arms exports. The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports states that the EU is “DETERMINED [sic] to prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression or contribute to regional instability.”
How determined exactly has the EU been in its adherence to this provision? Based on the criteria set out by the EU in the above regulation, Israel is an illegitimate country for arms exports. After all, in addition to violating a whole list of UN resolutions, Israel has been and remains exceptionally committed to violating international law.
Although Israel is an invalid trading partner according to the EU Code of Conduct regulations, the value of licenses granted by the EU over the past decade for arms exports to Israel amounts to billions of Euros.
Whereas 18 of 27 EU member states export military equipment to Israel, the bulk of the total EU exports originate from the major EU states: Italy, France, Germany and the UK, according to Amnesty International’s “Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza.”
In terms of violating EU arms exports regulations, Italy has the most abominable track record. Italy’s biggest defense contractor, Finmeccanica, announced in July 2012, that it had won and signed a $1 billion (€752 million) deal with Israel. Finmeccanica will provide training jets to the Israeli air force, which repeatedly carries out egregious attacks against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and infrastructure.
Out of the total €752 million deal, the most sizable part belongs to Finmeccanica’s subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi which provides 30 M-346 advanced trainer aircraft to the Israeli air force. It is reported that the Italian government played a major role in brokering the contract.
Another EU member state that carries out large-scale military trade with Israel is France. Between 2003 and 2008, France exported more than €521 million worth of weaponry to Israel.
An Amnesty International report from February 2009 revealed that electrical components made in France were found in the rubble of buildings destroyed by the Israeli military during the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre. The components were installed in Hellfire AGM missiles manufactured by the US company Hellfire Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. France also exported specialized equipment for reconnaissance, such as laser systems, to Israel.
Another major arms exporter to Israel is Germany. Germany sold major conventional weaponry to Israel for more than €580 million between 1996 and 2000, including Dolphin Class Submarines, which are assumed to be capable of launching nuclear warheads. In 2000 alone, German weapons trade with Israel was worth more than €130 million. Germany exported torpedoes, armored cars, and parts for the Israeli Merkava tanks used in occupied Palestine.
The UK also exports considerable amounts of military equipment to Israel. In 2009, after Israel had destroyed the Gaza Strip, the UK authorities granted export licenses for electronic warfare equipment, naval radars, and sniper rifles to Israel. In 2009, the then-Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband revealed that the Israeli equipment used in Israel’s murderous and destructive assault against Gaza “almost certainly” contained components that had been delivered by the UK.
In recent years, the UK government has annually licensed arms exports directly to Israel for between €12 million and €36 million. In 2008, UK authorities granted military export licenses for more than €34 million.
Besides these major European powers, one state enjoys exceptional clout as a strict adherent to international law, but has excelled at conducting arms trade with Israel, namely Finland. The total value of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade is €200 million.
In addition to the fact the Finland has conducted more military trade with Israel than a number of much bigger EU member states, what sets Finland apart from all the other arms trading partners of Israel is the severity of domestic criticism the trade has elicited.
A petition signed by more than 250 Finnish dignitaries from the arts, academia, and politics is a telling indicator of the wave of criticism arising from the military trade between Israel and Finland. Among those calling for an immediate discontinuation of all forms of military trade with Israel are the foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and world-renowned expert on international law Martti Koskenniemi.
It merits emphasis that the continuation and, often the mere existence, of the trade has arguably had no support in the Finnish mainstream media.
As the 2003 European Commission poll already revealed, the ever-continuing business-as-usual attitude by the EU to Israel’s actions fully contradicts union public opinion. The freezing of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the seizing of all weapons exports from the EU to Israel – both actions required by EU provisions – could force Israel to finally recognize and respect the rights of the Palestinians.
- Brazil says no to Israeli arms (bdsmovement.net)
The Middle East is treading water these days. Two years of rhetoric about ousting dictators, revolution, freedom, honor, dignity, and democracy – without result – has people on edge, their disillusionment now demanding an outlet.
There are no outlets though. Sensing the fast-growing disenchantment with undelivered promises, even the “bright new leaders” are tightening the reins and demanding compliance.
These new heads of state simply can’t deliver the goods for one main reason: they are just as caught up in global and regional power contests as were their predecessors. Nothing has changed with these uprisings – nothing.
Except now the stakes are higher than before. A recession-bound West, the fast-rising BRICS and their respective regional allies are locked in a competition to consolidate power and influence in this important region before it finds its bearings.
The relatively new influencers on the Arab scene like Qatar and Turkey have recognized this as a unique opportunity to slip into region-wide leadership roles. For the entrenched old hands – Washington, Riyadh, Paris, London – a race is on to prevent the region from shrugging off their decades-long dominance and embracing the anti-imperialism of the Resistance Axis.
The result has been an onslaught of interventions. Every tool in the arsenal has come out to play. Money, espionage, propaganda, weapons, assassination and that old colonial trick: divide-and-rule.
The main game is still the old battle of the blocs, Iran versus the United States, with everyone else filing in line behind their team. There have been a few surprises thrown into the mix: the newcomers like Turkey and Qatar have moved over to the US side; the BRICS, however, have lent their considerable clout to team Iran. Iraq has moved behind the latter formation and Hamas still doesn’t know where to stand so it straddles the two.
This is not a game for the faint-hearted, and it permeates every major social, economic, and political decision in the region today. Want a new electrical plant outside Cairo, Beirut, or Kirkuk? Good luck choosing a national supplier who doesn’t offend. IMF loan? Allowing over-flights or passage for ships? Inking a trade deal? Formulating a new constitution? Scheduling a football match?
Mideast states are now paralyzed and polarized over such things, and governance has come to a standstill. But in this paralysis lies a dangerous volatility: a backlash in the brewing, a pressure cooker about to blow.
The Backlash Against Neo-Islamists
After decades of oppression and marginalization by pro-West, secular dictatorships, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and similar Islamist parties have catapulted to power and prominence in several states. Quite counter-intuitively, however, these Islamist governments appear to have lined up behind the US bloc, eager to please, or at least placate, the very powers that colluded in their oppression.
It is an unnatural marriage, and the longer this union endures, the more estranged Islamist parties will become from their domestic constituencies – in much the same way as their autocratic predecessors.
There is volatility in this balancing act between the two blocs, as groups like Hamas have come to discover. But for the new Islamist powerhouses in “post-revolution” states, yet another volatile contest is being played out to their detriment, this time on an entirely regional level: Qatar versus Saudi Arabia – or Sunni versus Sunni.
For years the Ikhwanists have been backed by the Qatari arrivistes, who are a thorn in the side of the other, larger Wahhabi state in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, for their own part, are throwing dollars and clout behind Salafists in all the countries where they intend to counter the influence of the Ikhwan and similar parties.
But Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now aggressively exporting their very personal competition to other Arab states – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Palestine – creating what I believe will evolve into a ferocious backlash among local populations, even as they reap the rewards of direct financial investment from these two Gulf states.
This competition has drawn in others like the UAE, Jordan, and Kuwait, appalled at the Qatari push to Ikhwanize the region. And it has turned the Arab League positively cannibalistic, devouring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states like Libya, Syria, and Palestine that it once pledged to protect.
Qatar finds support from AKP-led Turkey in this fight, but the two are a cause for concern in the United States, which secretly suspects that Ikhwanists are harder to control than Saudi-backed Salafists. Much of this fear is because that lynchpin of all US foreign policy calculations, the state of Israel, borders Ikhwan-heavy Egypt, Gaza, and Jordan – none of which have yet sufficiently proven their loyalty to the idea of Israel’s regional hegemony.
But the biggest victim of the Saudi-Qatari competition to influence the direction of political Sunnism is likely to be political Islam itself.
The rise of political Islam – once an inevitable byproduct of democratization – arrived too hard, too fast; too aggressively championed, organized, and weaponized by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Now, not only have the mentors lost credibility and support, but so have many of their political protégés in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Palestine.
Volatility? We haven’t even started.
What yesterday’s global powerbrokers seek from the incoming class of political Islamists is the maintenance of the status quo, including, among other things, embracing Israel and rejecting Iran. But an open pledge of allegiance to Israel is impossible for the Ikhwan and similar parties – their very legitimacy comes in part from denouncing the legitimacy of the Zionist experiment in Palestine.
Nothing tested their limits as dangerously as last November’s eight days of rocket-volley between Gaza and Israel. Each passing day drove home the fact that, despite their standard rhetoric to domestic and regional constituencies, Islamist heads of state in Turkey, Egypt, and Qatar were rendered paralyzed – and mute – as the Israeli army pounded Gaza.
Instead, it was firepower, training and strategic planning by Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria that propped up defiant Palestinians through those dark hours. The unexpected arsenal of rockets that countered Israeli aggression came from Hamas’ Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other smaller resistance groups, who became the heroes of that conflict.
Not one missile, bullet, or slogan came from the three new Qatari, Turkish, and Egyptian “Sunni kings” vying for power on the coattails of the Arab uprisings.
Had the battle gone on for another week or two, the entire Middle East might have been reconfigured in its aftermath. Never have the Israelis so quickly signed a ceasefire agreement.
The global battle of the blocs and the inter-regional Sunni power struggle crossed paths in that Gaza battle. In it, the US bloc and political Islam exposed their vulnerabilities. Both groups are currently upholding – against a tidal wave of popular sentiment – systems, values, and institutions that were supposed to be swept away by honor-and-dignity revolts. Any incident that highlights this fact can serve as a springboard for a backlash against the interests of the West and its Islamist allies in the region.
The Backlash Against Sectarianism
Shia versus Sunni. Christianity versus Islam. Vilifying the “other” is common in conflict, especially when there exists some historic animosity or tension between sects, nationalities, and communities.
But since the onset of the Arab uprisings there has been a concerted effort to escalate the Shia-Sunni divide and link it wholesale to an Iranian-Arab one.
With the loss of its dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Washington wasted no time in formulating a divide-and-rule strategy to preserve its regional interests. The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) for the Middle East jump-started the task by initiating a secret exercise to divide Arabs and Iranians in March 2011.
Gulf-backed media channels dove headfirst into exaggerating the threat from Iran, while hardline clerics issued increasingly belligerent fatwas against the Shia. Against this backdrop, Shia civilians began to be targeted with violence throughout the region – with very little outcry or objection from the international community, so successfully have they been conflated with a “threatening” Iran and Hezbollah.
But as Christians began to be targeted, assaulted, and killed in Egypt and Syria, the issue of sectarianism exploded beyond the old, more common storylines, and has made avoidance of this subject impossible.
Dragging the sordid issue of sectarianism – which is invariably accompanied by extremism – into the light has had an interesting effect on regional discourse: most Arabs don’t want to be part of it in much the same way they rejected al-Qaeda a decade ago.
A recent Pew Research Center poll of Muslims worldwide reveals, among other things, that 85 percent of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa view religious freedom for people of other faiths to be “a good thing.” A majority of Muslims are “somewhat or very concerned” about Islamic religious extremism, while a minority of Muslims view Shia-Sunni tensions to be a problem at all. The poll indicates that religious strife remains a major cause for concern among Muslims in many MENA states, and that perceived hostilities between Muslims and Christians are on the high side in Egypt, but low in Lebanon, another country that has experienced these hostilities.
But even as sectarian tensions flare in various countries, the headlines do not tell the whole story. Many Arabs are rejecting these divisions, some of which is attributable to the shocking new level of violence now associated with sectarianism:
From Egypt to Kuwait, Bahrain to Syria, young Arabs are hearing – many for the first time – about women being raped because of their sect; about the cutting of heads, the hacking of limbs, the burning of bodies. This is not yesterday’s segregation of sects; this is the stuff of horror movies and genocidal sprees.
The backlash here has already begun. As violent sectarianism rises, so too does the realization that there is another discourse on the rise besides Shia versus Sunni or Muslim versus Christian.
Simply put, there is a new paradigm forming in the region that didn’t exist when it was just Iraq suffering the consequences of violent sectarian carnage: Today, throughout the Middle East, “sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians are increasingly facing down “anti-sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians. The re-framing of this issue is crucial in undermining sectarian strife. It offers millions an alternative communal identity to the one that always forces them to “defend sect first.”
Interestingly, one communal identity they are tending to embrace is a national identity, i.e., “I am Bahraini, not Shia or Sunni.”
In Bahrain, despite efforts to paint a two-year popular uprising as an “Iranian project” pitting the majority Shia population against a minority Sunni government, Bahrainis hoist their national flag at every opportunity to defy the negative sectarian characterizations of their “national” democratization project.
In Lebanon, where sectarianism is boiling in reaction to events in neighboring Syria, each incident has so far been thwarted by inter-sect efforts on a national level, and a growing desire among the population to empower the “national” army.
In Syria, widespread revulsion against what has to be the most violent manifestation of sectarianism in the region has morphed into a new language to define the conflict there: Instead of being pro or anti-government/opposition, many Syrians are now underlining their allegiance to Syria first. Despite the international media’s partiality toward framing the Syrian conflict as a sectarian one, many pro-government and pro-opposition figures tend to reject this characterization outright. This is certainly notable among pro-government Syrians, many of whom have undergone a hasty conversion from political apathy to intense nationalism in a short time, and who reject being defined as “pro-Assad.”
“It is too limiting,” says one staunchly secular Syrian about that definition. “This is about my country and keeping it whole – it is not about a person or a government,” says another, an observant Sunni who backs her national army’s efforts to weed out mostly Islamist rebels.
The irony is that the very “sectarianism” encouraged by competing Islamists and their allies in pursuit of political objectives in the region may have spawned the backlash to hasten their demise. Nationalism has long been the enemy of political Islam in the Middle East, and nationalism can once more bury it.
Throughout the Arab world, minority sects and non-sectarian groups are being thrust together to protect against the more zealous elements of political Islam, giving form to important civil coalitions that will form the backbone of new grassroots opposition movements in these countries – previously a position held almost exclusively by Islamists.
The backlashes are here, now. They will target all the interventionists clinging on to the status quo, and those keeping progress at bay. They may grow incrementally and tentatively – or they may explode onto a national or regional stage one fine day. “More of the same” will only hasten their arrival.
And it’s okay. These “backlashes” will be the revolutions you thought we already had.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
Pro-Palestine campaigners from across Britain are to stage a protest in London later this week on Nakba Day, marking the 65th anniversary of evicting Palestinians from their homes by Israelis.
The demonstration is planned to be held at 1 p.m. across Downing Street on Wednesday May 15 in coordination with international rallies around the world.
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) will be also hosting a series of Nakba Week events between 11 and 17 May, including a speaking tour by Palestinian rights activist Mousa Abu Maria in Belfast, Cork, Limerick and Dublin.
Another protest rally dubbed “End the ongoing Nakba-Palestine’s catastrophe” and organized by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), will be held outside the British Parliament on May 18.
Palestinians refer to the May 15, 1948, occupation of Palestine as the “Nakba Day,” which means the Day of Catastrophe in Arabic, to mark the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland almost 65 years ago.
Israeli forces have wiped nearly 500 Palestinian villages and towns off the map, leaving an estimated total of 4.7 million Palestinian refugees hoping for an eventual return to their homeland more than six decades later.
On May 13 last year, Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day outside Downing Street in London, carrying placards reading, “free Palestine,” “end ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem,” and “end the siege on Gaza.”
- Commemorate Nakba Day and Continue Work for Palestinian Rights (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Despite threats, students to commemorate Nakba at Tel Aviv University (altahrir.wordpress.com)
A former general in the Uruguayan army, Miguel Dalmao, has been found guilty of a murder dating back to 1974, when the country was under military rule.
Dalmao was sentenced yesterday to 28 years in prison by the Uruguayan Supreme Court of Justice in what has been celebrated as a victory by human rights advocates and former political prisoners in the country.
The 61-year-old has been imprisoned since 2010 while the case was being processed. His victim was an imprisoned communist militant Nibia Sabalsagaray, aged 25, who was also a professor of literature. The court heard that her death was the result of torture carried out by Dalmao.
The case has suffered delays due to a heart condition suffered by Dalmoa, who is currently receiving treatment in hospital.
Baldemar Taroco, Vice President of the Association of Ex Political Prisoners of Uruguay, said, “Violations of basic rights took place during the dictatorship. Dalmao committed crimes against humanity.”
Taroco also described the sentence as a “victory against state terrorism” and said that if these types of crimes are not punished then the country runs the risk of seeing them repeated.
An expiry law, which has prevented many crimes during the dictatorship from being brought to justice, “remains a wall” against more than 100 allegations of “murder, disappearance, and rape”, added Taroco.
Miguel Langón, Dalmao’s counsel, said that he hoped for the acquittal of the former dictator after reportedly submitting an appeal. “I hope the Court of Appeal corrects this mistake, there is a high possibility that Sabalsagaray committed suicide. It is clear the killing has not been proven,” he told local press outside the court.
The Ministry of Defence has not commented on the ruling, nor have any military officials, many of whom are ex-soldiers who served during the time of the dictatorship.
“On the latest Israeli aggression on Syria:
Unfortunately, the Israelis talked of their “enemy’s enemy” and “friend’s friend”. Isn’t the Israeli enemy the benchmark? Isn’t this rudimentary? This is part of our Islamic lexicon.
Of course there were objectives behind Israel’s attacks which it sought to realize. I want to define this reality so I can discuss the nature of the [Syrian] response and so that we can understand it.
One of its objectives, especially over the past two years— its objective and that of others— is to remove Syria from the military equation in the struggle with Zionist enemy. First of all, Syria hasn’t made a peace agreement with Israel as other Arab states have. Although there is a hudna (truce), everyone knows—the enemy knows this more than friends do—what Syria offered resistance movements for tens of years now and especially over the past few years, particularly the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements. If the day comes when our brothers in the Palestinian resistance will declare on their pulpits what they used to admit in private meetings, they will say that no Arab regime has offered us what the regime of Bashar al-Assad offered us.
The Israeli knows that one of the most important sources of strength for the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine is Syria. This is why they want to remove Syria from the [military] equation and they want to besiege the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. What this siege means is that any material or moral or military support from whoever supports the resistance must end. The Israelis said they won’t allow the transfer of any weapons which could upset the balance of power with the resistance into Lebanon. Now they are saying they will prevent the resistance’s military capability from growing, meaning we won’t even allow you to increase the weapons you currently have. So they struck Damascus and its environs, in order to tell Syria—and we should read this part carefully so we understand the nature and scope of the Syrian response—that the continuation of support for the resistance and the transfer of capabilities will spell the demise of the regime and a declaration of war on Syria. Therefore, the real objective behind the latest attacks is the subjugation of Syria and breaking the will of its leadership, army and people and to permanently remove it from the resistance equation.
By the way, everything you heard in the media about 200, 300 and 400 [Syrian army] martyrs, is all lies. Unfortunately, we heard on [Arab] cable tv takbeer [cries of Allahu Akbar] and jubilation, because Israeli planes were bombing Syrian facilities or locations or bases. This is very sad. According to the reliable information I have, those killed were 4 or 5 martyrs from the Syrian army who were guarding these places.
So these were their objectives. How should one respond? First of all, one must thwart the aims of the aggression. This is the minimum response for resistance and mumana’a movements, and if possible, to turn the magic on the magician. And this is what the Syrian leadership did. There are some well-meaning people who want Syria to bomb occupied Palestine for reasons related to morale, and some hateful people who want it to bomb occupied Palestine so that war can break out between Israel and Syria and let all hell to break loose.
The first [Syrian] response: You Israelis are saying that the aim behind your aggression was to prevent the resistance’s military capability from growing, so the first response is that if you consider Syria to be a weapons’ conduit for the resistance then know that Syria will continue supplying the resistance with weapons. This is a huge strategic decision. More than this, if you are claiming that the aim behind your aggression was to prevent the resistance’s military capability from growing, then Syria will provide the resistance with game-changing weapons that it did not possess before. This means upsetting the balance of power.
Show me one Arab regime which would dare to openly supply the Palestinian resistance with so much as a rifle, let alone a game-changing rocket. And then we have a leadership which was bombed just two days ago which says I want to give them weapons they don’t even have. This is Syria’s strategic response, and it is much more significant than firing a rocket or launching an attack on occupied Palestine.
The second strategic response, which is no less important or dangerous, is to open the Golan front—opening the door to the popular resistance on the Golan front. In this war you have launched on Syria, the threat has been turned into an opportunity.
Let us set the third response aside for now. To go back to the first response, we the resistance in Lebanon announce that we are ready to receive any sophisticated weaponry even if it is game-changing and we are ready to protect this weaponry and use it to defend our people, country and sanctities.
As for the second response, just as Syria stood by the Lebanese people and supported its popular resistance materially and morally until this resistance was able to liberate South Lebanon, we in the Lebanese resistance declare that we will stand by the popular Syrian resistance and offer it our material and moral support, as well as cooperation and coordination, in order to liberate the Syrian Golan.
[Chuckling] The third response is a huge deal so we won’t discuss it now.
All the latest events and responses and positions taken by the Syrian leadership suggest that it is a leadership with nerves of steel, that it is a very wise leadership which is managing the battle with the Israelis with a strategic mind and not in an emotional or impassioned manner. This is how the resistance and mumana’a axis has foiled all schemes in the region since the 1990s.
Whoever wants to retrieve Jerusalem, whoever wants to achieve Palestinian rights and realize Palestinian aspirations, should know that this won’t be achieved in the Arab league or the UN or the Organization for Islamic Cooperation or anywhere else. The only choice has always been resistance and remains so.
Oh Palestinian and Arab people who reject Israeli hegemony, you will not find anyone to stand by your side except he who has stood by your side for tens of years. Protect those who stood by you, protect the sources of strength in your axis. Any serious effort to find a political solution in Syria which refuses to allow Syria to fall into the hands of the US, Israel and the takfiris is effectively the battle for Palestine, the battle for Quds, the battle for the Aqsa mosque.”
- VIDEO | Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (Full Speech English Voice-Over) – May 9, 2013 (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has announced that it will create a united defence body to promote democratic stability among its member countries.
Military delegates of Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador concluded a two day meeting yesterday in Quito, and agreed on creating the first South American Defence College (ESUDE) – a safety training centre with the aim of turning “the regions into a zone of peace”.
UNASUR has said that the idea behind the project is to “eliminate outdated visions that have formed our military, with manuals and taxes from foreign powers.
“The goal is to start from scratch and consider a defence doctrine, without starting from the premise of opposing countries. It is important to define our role in the military, to assume responsibility for prevention, border control or emergency responses.
“We want to create a body of higher and postgraduate education to create a regional identity for civilians and our military, and to avoid interference of other countries or geopolitical zones,” a UNASUR spokesperson said.
The ESUDE proposal paper will be presented at the next meeting of the executive body for the South American Defence Council in Lima, Peru on the 16th and 17th May. Members who attended yesterday’s meeting in Quito will meet again during the second week of July in Buenos Aires, to define the Esude proposal.
One of the issues that is expected to be up for debate in the following meetings is the level of participation in the armed forces from each country.
The initiative already has the support of other member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and Uruguay.
- UNASUR Urges Respect for Venezuela’s Electoral Results (venezuelasolidarity.co.uk)
- U.S. refuses to recognize Maduro’s presidential win in Venezuela polls (panarmenian.net)
Three activists, including an 83-year-old nun, who broke into a US nuclear weapons facility in Tennessee were convicted on Wednesday of interfering with national security.
In what The New York Times labeled the biggest security breach in the history of the atomic complex, the trio broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, 2012 and defaced a uranium processing plant.
The Y-12 facility has been in operation since 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, and today is responsible for both the production and maintenance of all uranium parts for the entire US nuclear weapons arsenal. Over the years, the facility has also been the target of nonviolent anti-nuclear protests.
Now, a jury in Tennessee has charged the three protesters with sabotaging the plant, with a second charge of damaging federal property.
Defense attorneys for the three activists – Sister Megan Rice, 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, 64 – maintained that the prosecution had overreached.
“The shortcomings in security at one of the most dangerous places on the planet have embarrassed a lot of people,” defense lawyer Francis Lloyd said.
“You’re looking at three scapegoats behind me,” he added
Defense attorneys also noted that, once the three refused to plead guilty to trespassing, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, the prosecution introduced the charge of sabotage, which carries a maximum prison term of twenty years. They believed the higher charge should have been dismissed.
According to the Associated Press, which provided details of the court proceedings, the three activists have no remorse for their actions, and were pleased to have reached one of the most secure areas of the facility.
Prosecutor Jeff Theodore noted that the trio’s fate could have been far worse, as that area of the facility allowed guards to use deadly force.
“They’re lucky, and thank goodness they’re alive, because they went into the lethal zone,” said Theodore.
The three defendants spent two hours inside Y-12, during which time they hung banners, cut through security fences, strung crime-scene tape and sprayed “baby bottles full of human blood” on the exterior portion of the facility.
Boertje-Obed, who is a house painter from Duluth, Minnesota, explained why they sprayed the blood.
“The reason for the baby bottles was to represent that the blood of children is spilled by these weapons,” he said.
While inside the most secure portion of the facility, the three activists managed to hammer off what is described as a “small chunk” of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
During cross examination, Sister Rice stated that she wished she had not waited so long to stage a protest within the plant.
“My regret was I waited 70 years,” she said.”It is manufacturing which can only cause death.”
Prosecutors argued that the breach of security was serious, and caused the plant to shut down for two weeks as security staff were re-trained and defense contractors replaced.
Meanwhile, federal officials maintain that there was never any danger of the three activists reaching materials that could be detonated or used to construct an improvised bomb.