From left to right: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah at the White House on 1 September 2010. (AFP)
It was an image for the history books. At least that’s what the five world leaders would like to have thought as they strutted down the red carpeted hall of the White House recently with their heads held high. Forming a well-choreographed and symbolic flying “V,” the US president led the way, flanked by his counterparts representing Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt. These men in suits wanted to show the world that they’re ready to plow through any and all obstacles that stand in the way of peace in the Middle East.
It’s a picture that bears a striking resemblance to one taken a decade and a half earlier when then US President Bill Clinton led the same nations’ representatives down the the same red-carpeted hall at the White House. All one needs to do is replace those leaders with their successors, save the Egyptian president who was present in both. Another historic image — although one most have probably forgotten — that also sought to send the message that peace is on its way.
And yet here we are, 16 years later, with the highly anticipated peace still on its way, or so we’re told. A closer look at the five representatives in the picture should help explain why it’s yet to arrive.
Spearheading the group is Barack Obama. Despite running a campaign built around the slogan of “change,” the US president has shown that when it comes to the Middle East his policies barely differ, if at all, from those of his predecessors. Not only has he continued the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan while arming and supporting the most brutal and undemocratic autocracies around the region, but he has also been sure to maintain the US’ “special friendship” with Israel regardless of the ongoing injustices the latter commits on a daily basis.
Next to him is Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. As leader of the country who receives the most aid from the US, Netanyahu has not only continued the occupation and the siege of Gaza, but he refuses to slow down — not to mention end — the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank through settlement construction and land theft. If left unchecked, Netanyahu’s aggressive rhetoric and actions toward nearby nations will most likely spark another regional Israeli-led conflict before he leaves office.
But more importantly than understanding these two nations whose roles in the Middle East should come as no surprise to anyone by now, is understanding the “other” side represented in Washington: the Arab governments.
At the forefront is the supposed representative of the Palestinian people, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In recent years, the PA’s most notable governing role has been its repression of an already oppressed people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. To quell any popular protest by Palestinians against the Israeli occupier, the PA has used its American-supplied and Israeli-approved weaponry and riot gear, and arrested and beaten Palestinians who voice their dissent. This was most clear during Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09 and after the more recent attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla when Palestinian protestors in Ramallah and elsewhere were prevented from taking to the streets. Only two weeks ago, after a car full of Israeli settlers were killed in the occupied West Bank, the PA waged an arrest campaign rounding up hundreds of Palestinians in the occupied territory in a move that has been condemned by numerous Palestinian human rights organizations.
More importantly than the above, is the question of the Abbas government’s legitimacy. Recently, the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Abbas’ spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudaineh as saying: “President Mahmoud Abbas came to power through free, democratic and authentic elections supervised by more than two thousand international and Arab monitors.”
One has to first wonder how “free” and “democratic” elections can be when held in a territory under foreign military occupation. Moreover, the majority of Palestinians are living in a forced state of exile and were not invited to cast their ballots. But for the sake of argument, let’s take Abu Rudaineh at his word.
Abu Rudaineh seems to contend that those elections, held in January 2005, somehow granted the PA president with an unlimited mandate. However, the term was limited, and Mahmoud Abbas was elected by voters to serve four years in office, meaning that his elected mandate as president of the PA expired more than a year and a half ago.
In a move out of the autocratic ruler playbook, Abbas’ term was extended by the PA’s “emergency powers” out of fear that he would be replaced by someone from a rival party — most likely from the more popular Hamas movement — should new elections be held. Ironically, the most recent “free” and “democratic” elections held in Palestine were in 2006, when Hamas defeated Fatah, taking the majority of seats in parliamentary elections. It’s no surprise that Abu Rudaineh made no mention of this event in his statement.
Despite being elected by the Palestinian people living under occupation, Hamas has been subjected to boycott by the US and the PA and the area of governance it has been confined to laid siege to by Israel and Egypt. While Hamas hasn’t been ideally democratic in its governing of the besieged Gaza Strip, its continued ostracism by Washington, Israel and the PA sends the message that when it comes to peace talks, democracy need not apply.
This message was reinforced through the presence of the two other Arab leaders at Abbas’ side.
On one end is Hosni Mubarak who has ruled Egypt under suffocating “emergency laws” (sound familiar?) since 1981 when he became president. Although friendly with the US and Israel, Mubarak runs one of the most brutal and corrupt dictatorships in the region. With a leadership dependent on — and one of the main beneficiaries of — US aid, Mubarak’s mukhabarat (intelligence service) tolerates no dissent. Many of those who have tried to challenge his rule have joined the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Egypt’s jails, where torture and abuse are well-documented and commonplace.
Pictured opposite Mubarak is Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein. Although Jordan is often hailed in the US as a “modern” and “moderate” state, there is little democracy to speak of there. Parliament, which has very little power, was dissolved last year half way through its term without any explanation, and elections delayed until this November will be held under a law widely criticized by opponents and passed by cabinet decree under “emergency provisions.” Draconian laws on the press and nongovernmental organizations severely limit freedom of speech and association, and political activists carry out their work in the ubiquitous shadow of the country’s security services.
It’s no coincidence that both of these men are considered two of the US’ strongest allies in the Middle East. Both continue a US-backed policy of “peace” with Israel despite that policy having little to no support from their populations.
That said, the image of the five men at the White House can easily be dissected as the following: a dictator, a monarch, a puppet and two heads of government responsible for the region’s only military occupations — not the best ingredients for making world peace.
Although not invited to the White House, the numerous grassroots movements across the Middle East present the best hope for bringing peace and justice to this region. And it’s those increasingly popular movements that people around the world concerned with the fate of the Middle East should support. In the meantime, let the puppets and their masters walk on red carpets in Washington while the real change is made by those with their feet on the ground.
Matthew Cassel is based in Beirut, Lebanon and is Assistant Editor of The Electronic Intifada. His website is http://justimage.org.
- UNRWA can’t meet enrollment demand because of ban on construction materials
- UNRWA needs to build 100 schools, none built since 2007 closure
- UNRWA schools have specialized curriculum on human rights and critical thinking, not available in government schools
Despite Israel’s promise to ease the closure of the Gaza Strip, the Gaza school year opened this week with a severe shortage of classrooms. While for the first time in three years Israel has allowed the import of school supplies for government schools in Gaza, the almost absolute ban on the import of construction materials has left students with lots of pens and notebooks but without classrooms.
UNWRA needs 100 new schools to meet the enrollment demands of the children of Gaza. But despite the “easing” of the closure, building materials for the construction of schools have not been approved to enter Gaza since 2007. Therefore, UNRWA has had to turn away 40,000 children eligible to enroll in its schools for the academic year that began yesterday. Students at UNRWA schools study a specialized curriculum in human rights and critical thinking, not available in government schools. Furthermore, according to UNWRA records, students in its schools score 20% higher than government school students on international aptitude tests.
Students being turned away from UNRWA schools is only one consequence of the classroom shortage in the Gaza Strip. To deal with the shortage of classroom space, students in most of Gaza’s schools study in two shifts, in classrooms with up to 50 students, and sometimes oversized metal containers are used as classrooms, with three children seated at desks designed for two.
Onerous bureaucracy, limited capacity of crossings
Construction of a standard school requires an estimated 220 truckloads of building materials, or 22,000 truckloads for 100 schools. The only crossing Israel allows to open, Kerem Shalom, can accommodate just 250 truckloads per day, mostly for food and basic humanitarian supplies. Despite promises, Israel has yet to approve a single truckload of construction materials for UNRWA’s schools and has agreed to “negotiate” coordinating materials for just 8 out of the 100 needed schools. Since the “easing” of the closure, Israel has allowed just 240 truckloads of construction materials monthly for all uses, compared with more than 5,000 trucks monthly before the closure (4% of pre-closure levels).
According to UNRWA’s Gaza Director John Ging: “The right to education is a basic right of children everywhere. For the children of Gaza, realization of that right depends on the continued construction of schools, because all of the temporary measures and substitutes have already been exhausted”.
For an information sheet on the changes in the closure policy since the June 2010 cabinet decision, see: Unraveling the Closure of Gaza.
State legislators are beginning to challenge one of the ironclad tenets of public pension policy: that states cannot legally reduce pension benefits for current and future retirees. Lawmakers in Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota voted earlier this year to limit cost-of-living increases they previously had promised to thousands of current and future retirees, who courts historically have protected from benefit reductions. Not surprisingly, retirees in each state have filed lawsuits asking judges to restore their annual benefit increases to what they were previously.
Lawmakers, state retirement systems, public employee unions and others in the pension policy arena are closely watching the outcome of the legal challenges. If the courts do not reinstate the retirees’ benefits, a flood of states could follow the lead of Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota. The reverse also would be true. “If the plaintiffs are successful, it may discourage legislators in other states from attempting to diminish benefits,” says Keith Brainard, research director at the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, among other officials, favor scaling back pension benefits already promised to current employees and retirees. And a lively debate on the issue is underway in Illinois, where lawmakers reduced the cost-of-living adjustment for newly hired workers. Interest is keen everywhere: Lawmakers from around the country packed a session on modifying public pension benefits at the recent annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Louisville.
Up to now, states trying to trim the rising cost of worker retirement benefits have taken the legally safer — and politically easier — approach of targeting benefit cuts at newly hired employees. Steps states have taken this year include increasing the amount employees contribute toward their own pensions, raising the retirement age and adjusting the formula upon which benefits are based.
But many state lawmakers and pension administrators have concluded that cutting benefits for new employees alone will not save enough money in the short term to keep pension plans solvent over time. So they are searching for ways to zero in on the benefits of current retirees and employees.
Colorado lawmakers, facing projections showing the state’s pension system would run out of money within 30 years, approved a package of benefit reductions that lowered the annual 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees in 2010 to zero. In future years, the increase will be set at 2 percent, barring another sharp decline in investments. If the changes stand, the average retiree would lose more than $165,000 in benefits over the next 20 years, the retirees say in court papers.
South Dakota reduced the cost-of-living increase from 3.1 percent to 2.1 percent this year; future-year amounts will be tied to how well the system’s investments perform in the market. Minnesota eliminated a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase and set it at between 1 and 2 percent for its different employee pension funds.
Case law and state constitutions
History is on the employees’ side. State statutes, constitutions and case law consistently define a public pension as a contract between the state and its employees that cannot be impaired. For example, Alaska’s state constitution makes it clear that “membership in employee retirement systems of the state or its political subdivisions shall constitute a contractual relationship. Accrued benefits of these systems may not be diminished or impaired.” Eight other states protect workers in their constitutions. They are Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, New York and Texas.
In states without constitutional guarantees — Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota fall into this category — statutes and court cases consider retirement benefits an unbreakable contract between the state and workers. That same protection is in the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says: “No state shall … pass any … law impairing the obligations of contracts.”
Courts have determined that cost-of-living increases, which keep pension income on pace with inflation, are part of a worker’s benefits that cannot be diminished. (Generally, increasing benefits faces no legal hurdles.) The principle of safeguarding the purchasing power of pension income through a cost-of-living adjustment is well established. Social Security, the federal government’s retirement program, instituted automatic annual cost-of-living increases in 1975. The amount of the increase has averaged about 3.3 percent a year, although for the first time in 2010, there was no increase because the consumer price index did not rise.
The Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota lawmakers are hoping that the courts will agree that the current financial turmoil facing states imperils public pension systems as never before and calls for a new approach. If legislatures are not permitted to cut retirement costs now, the argument goes, the ability of the public pension systems to pay future benefits will be jeopardized.
“If we don’t reduce these automatic pension increases, the entire fund is poised to go bankrupt,” Republican Josh Penry, minority leader of the Colorado state Senate, told the Denver Post. “Think United [Airlines]. Think GM. That didn’t work out well for the company or the retirees.”
Attorneys for the states say in court filings that limiting cost-of-living increases was justified, and actuarily necessary. “There can be no dispute that preserving the solvency of PERA [The Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association] is a legitimate governmental interest,” Colorado officials argue. Minnesota’s pension legislation “was reasonable and necessary to maintain and restore the financial stability of Minnesota’s public pension plans,” say the state’s pleadings.
Managing market swings
Although Colorado lawmakers and state pension officials blame much of the retirement fund’s current financial troubles on investment losses suffered during the 2007-09 recession — the median decline for funds nationally was 25 percent in 2008 — the truth is that Colorado lawmakers failed to make their annually required contributions to state pension funds in good times and bad. They also boosted retiree benefits without considering future costs.
Colorado’s pension fund was fully funded in 2000. Eight years later, before the recession hit, Colorado fell to 70-percent funded and was heading down further, according to a report released in February by the Pew Center on the States, which publishes Stateline. Most pension specialists recommend a funding level of 80 percent or higher.
Minnesota lawmakers also slid on their pension fund payments. Their pension system’s funding level dropped from 101 percent in 1999 to 81 percent in 2008.
“The Legislature was cutting off funds and starving the pension system,” says Stephen Pincus, a Pittsburgh attorney representing the retirees in all three states. “They shouldn’t now be able to cry there’s no money in the pension system. They had a large hand in creating the crisis.”
South Dakota offers a twist. The state Legislature has been one of the best in the nation at financing its public employee pension system over the years; it was 97-percent funded in 2000 and 2008, according to the Pew report. Lawmakers even increased benefits two years ago. The state retirement system investments did lose more than 20 percent in value in 2008, but gained as much in fiscal 2010.
Pincus says that makes South Dakota’s targeting of current employees and retirees suspect. “There’s no crisis in South Dakota,” he says. “They had one bad year. So they’re going to shore up their pension fund by cutting benefits to those who already receive them?”
Rob Wylie, executive director of the South Dakota retirement system, counters that when the funding level fell to 76 percent after the 2008 losses, it triggered for the first time a state law requiring the pension system to take immediate steps to return the funding level to 100 percent. Savings gained from reducing benefits for newly hired employees would have taken too many years for the system to catch up, Wylie says. So after consulting with retirees the pension board chose to ask lawmakers to trim the cost-of-living increase.
“We could have reversed the increase in the funding formula we approved in 2008,” says Wylie. “But the retiree groups said can you find another way to slow the growth in costs without decreasing the formula? So we did.”
Asked why states are taking the risky strategy of aiming at current retirees, Robert Klausner, a Florida attorney who specializes in public pension law, says many state officials believe they have less to lose in the courtroom by challenging pension protections than taking no action at all. “The belief is that if the employer [the state] prevails, it will have been worth the political risk,” Klausner says. “And if they lose, they will be no worse off than before.” Klausner adds that legislatures are taking the politically-difficult step and letting the courts be the “bad guy” if they overturn the law. Retired judges are among the plaintiffs in Colorado and South Dakota.
The first case to be heard is the one in Minnesota, where a September 15 hearing is scheduled on a motion for summary judgment that will be filed by the state. Colorado’s Supreme Court already has sided once with retirees, saying in a 1961 ruling, “Whether it be in the field of sports or in the halls of the legislature it is not consonant with American traditions of fairness and justice to change the ground rules in the middle of the game.”
Meredith Williams, executive director of the Colorado retirement system, says he is confident the state can prove that the system’s current and future financial stress will compel the court to allow the cost-of-living rollback. “PERA has been upfront about the challenges we face,” he says.
See related stories:
Pension overhaul treats lawmakers, other state workers differently (7/29/2010)
In graying West Virginia, a mountain of retiree health bills (7/13/2010)
In some states, pension pain yields budget gains (5/20/2010)
In New Hampshire, a new way on retiree health costs (5/12/2010)
Vermont’s pension experiment (3/25/2010)
States tackling public employee retirement benefits in 2010 (2/19/2010)
—Contact Stephen C. Fehr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stateline Staff Writer John Gramlich contributed reporting to this piece. Photo illustration by Danny Dougherty, Stateline.
For days the headline in US and even world news has been whether or not a fanatic Christian preacher from a tiny Florida church will or will not burn the Moslem Koran in protest to the announced plans to build a mosque 400 meters from the site of the World Trade Twin Towers. Conveniently, the drama was focused on the 9th anniversary of the collapse of three (not two as widely believed) towers on September 11, 2001. Now details about the real estate group that is allegedly ready to invest $100 million in the mosque construction suggest that the entire drama is being deliberately orchestrated. The question is by whom to what ends?
In a move to maintain high drama, on September 10, bombastic New York real estate wheeler-dealer Donald Trump made public his offer to buy out the prime owner of the proposed Islamic Center for “patriotic” reasons. The deal was reportedly rejected categorically by Hisham Elzanaty, an Egyptian-born businessman who says he provided a majority of the financing for the two buildings where the center would be built. Here is where it begins to become interesting.
It turns out according to investigations by various New York newspapers that the property is registered not in the name of Elzanaty, but of an entity called Soho Properties, a real estate company at 552 Broadway, New York, New York. According to their website Soho Properties was founded by Sharif El-Gamal in 2003. The website describes their activities: “We are a company focused on pursuing the real value in real estate investments, especially when pricing dislocations create value-driven opportunities. Soho Properties unlocks the value in an investment by successfully executing various strategies, which include re-tenanting/repositioning assets, renovations, aggregations, developments and participating in unique opportunistic situations.” 1
Who is Sharif El-Gamal then? It seems, according to various New York police records and the research of a Florida private detective on behalf of clients who claim to have been defrauded by the El-Gamal group, that Sharif El-Gamal has a rather dubious background, for someone who is the mogul of a $100 million real estate deal. Sharif is in a partnership with his brother, Sammy El-Gamal, and Nour Mousa, nephew of Amr Moussa, an Egyptian diplomat and the Secretary General of the Arab League.
In November 2009, it was reported that the firm spent $45.7 million to buy 31 West 27th Street in New York City, a 12-story 10,000 m2 office building. El-Gamal said: “We just bought it for the income. It’s got great long-term leases, and the financing was really attractive.” In a depressed New York real estate market, the El-Gamal brothers seem not to be such shrewd businessmen. They reportedly bought it from the Witkoff Group, which had bought the building in 2006 for $31.5 million, during the boom in New York real estate.2
Then in July 2009, Soho bought the 47–51 Park Place building on the site of the planned Cordoba House, now referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” and “Park51”, to allegedly build a $100 million, 13-story, glass and steel Islamic cultural center and mosque that is in the planning stage. Soho Properties paid the owner $4.85 million in cash for the property.
Waiters into real estate tycoons
The question being asked is where did the large sums of money come from for the two El-Gamal brothers? It seems they are anything but your typical New York millionaire real estate tycoons.
According to an article in the New York Post, Hisham Elzanaty, one of the money men behind the developer of the “Ground Zero” mosque was sued for allegedly defrauding an insurance company for nearly $1.8 million, according to court documents. Elzanaty, who reportedly owns medical companies that operate out of a building in the Bronx, allegedly billed State Farm Insurance for unnecessary tests related to automobile accidents that would maximize the insurance payout, the court papers say. Elzanaty, who was reportedly a “significant investor” in mosque developer Sharif el-Gamal’s $4.8 million mosque project, was also ordered to repay $331,000 after an audit showed Medicaid had overpaid him. 3
According to Florida private investigator Bill Warner and to various New York reports, there is an investigation ongoing into Sammy and Sharif El-Gamal of the SOHO Properties by the New York State Dept of Licensing in Manhattan for non-payment of apartment rental deposits to customers that were supposed to be in escrow.
Court records from Florida to New York State reveal that Sharif and his younger brother, Samir “Sammy” El-Gamal, 35, a partner with him in his company SoHo Properties, both have a history of numerous tax and debt issues, dating from at least 1994 to the present. In one case, a NY Police officer arrested Sharif in 1994 for “promoting prostitution.” He pleaded guilty to a mis-demeanor of disorderly conduct. In another instance, Sharif told a court he didn’t hit a tenant from whom his brother and he were trying to collect back rent. He said to police, the tenant’s “face could have run into my hand.” 4
The brothers’ background does not suggest billionaire real estate project preparation. Sharif waited tables at the restaurant Serafina, while Sammy waited tables at Tao. Then Sharif worked as a waiter at Michael Jordan’s, named after basketball star. But he, ostensibly a devout muslim, was fired for arriving reeking of alcohol, among other things. This is around when Sharif started acquiring a criminal record, say people familiar with his career.5
The geopolitical manipulation
The entire ‘911’ Mosque controversy has been made into world news by CNN and other select media. The US head of the military command in Afghanistan, General Petraeus got into the fray with a plea to the Florida pastor not to burn Korans, a move which naturally led several other wanna-be preacher bigots to say they too planned to burn Korans on the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center event. The President, Barack Obama, got into the act by praising the building of the mosque as a symbol of Americans’ religious freedom and tolerance.
At the end of the day it all fueled a “Clash of Civilization” tension across America, and had the convenient effect, whether the mosque is built on the site or not, of reinforcing the US Government version of the collapse of the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001, namely that the destruction was carried out by two commercial hijacked jets being deftly rerouted into the two towers. And that the Boeing jets had been allegedly hijacked by 19 Arab students, armed only with paper box cutters, who had just been trained at a Florida flight school to fly small Cessna-size private planes. By keeping alive the myth of the “Second Pearl Harbor,” as George W. Bush once called 911, perhaps some people such as Barack Obama or General Petraeus hope to keep attention on the need for US military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, or even spreading the war beyond Afghanistan.
One interesting question in the entire business is who put up millions of dollars for the sleazy El-Gamal brothers’ Soho Properties to pay $5 million cash for the property and to buy the other property for $46 million? Did the very established Witkoff Group, whose head, Steven Witkoff was selected as “Man of the Year” by The Jeffrey Modell Foundation in 1998, and who do major deals from London to New York not do a due diligence research on their new potential clients? Or is this all play money games using intelligence agency or other fake companies to create the explosive scenario at the anniversary of 911? These are some of the interesting questions to ask.
1 Soho Properties, accessed in http://www.sohoproperties.com/pdfs/SP3rdQ08Newsletter.pdf
2 Dana Rubenstein, SoHo Properties Buys Chelsea Building for $45.7 M., The New York Observer Real Estate, November 9, 2009, accessed in
3 Tom Liddy, Ripoff Mosque Man Sued, New York Post, September 4, 2010.
4 Asra Q. Nomani , Rift Imperils Ground Zero Mosque, August 30, 2010, Yahoo News, accessed in
The mysterious death of British weapons inspector David Kelly could be linked to the controversial invasion of Iraq in March 2003, according to a group of experts.
The invasion of Iraq was carried out under the pretext that the country’s ruler at the time, Saddam Hussein, was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), deployable within 45 minutes.
Kelly began one of the most explosive episodes in British politics when he communicated his doubt about the issue to a number of journalists, including Andrew Gilligan.
On July 17, 2003, Dr. Kelly was found dead. The Hutton Inquiry into the highly suspicious case was sealed as suicide.
Over the past seven years, there have been numerous calls for a new inquiry. The largest and most persistent calls came from two groups of doctors and former doctors who argue the manner of Kelly’s death does not seem to match known evidence.
Gilligan, who has since become one of the key figures in the Kelly investigations, has accused the British Labor Government for exaggerating the claims for going to war with Iraq.
Gilligan’s main source for his allegations against the government of Tony Blair was none other than Kelly himself.
“I came across him as somebody with an expertise in the field, I was covering Iraqi biological and chemical weapons,” Gilligan told Press TV about his first meeting with Kelly.
Gilligan said that Kelly had doubts over one of the key pieces of intelligence that had underpinned the WMD dossier. “The source was not regarded by Kelly and other experts as reliable.”
Gilligan says Kelly’s death came as a shock to him. “He didn’t strike me as the suicidal type. He had been a weapons inspector in Iraq for goodness sake; he was perfectly well used to confrontation and pressure.”
One of the strongest cases for an alternate theory of what happened to Kelly has come from a Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, whose 2007 book on Kelly’s points to murder and not suicide.
Lord Howard, a former Conservative Party leader, says a new inquest would be the only way to clear up any lasting doubts.
However, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark has so far resisted calls to re-open the case and make public the records that were sealed by Lord Hutton for a period of 70 years.
Retired doctor David Halpin recently held a meeting with a group of lawyers concerning the case. He says they are looking for ways to push for a fresh inquiry into the case.
When Press TV asked Halpin about the importance of investigating the true nature of Kelly’s death, he quoted leader of the enlightenment in England John Locke, “Where the law ends, tyranny begins.”
During a march, Bassem Abu Rahma, unarmed, was shot and killed.
Despite the current facade of yet another round of fake peace talks, the Israeli government and its professional apologists remain in a panic. Hardly a week passes by without complaint that Israel “is being isolated” or that it is facing a campaign of “delegitimization.” In February of this year the Reut Institute, an Israeli group-think tank, published a remarkably delusional, ahistorical piece of propaganda masquerading as a scholarly report and warning of an internationally concerted effort that seeks to “erode” Israel’s diplomatic status which “may develop into a comprehensive existential threat within a few years.” (*) In essence, any organization or individual that dares criticize Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in particular is a de facto member of this dreaded network of delegitmization. As with all Israeli hasbara (explanation), the Reut Institute blames primarily the Palestinian victims and secondarily those who report or publicize their plight.
Since then, various Israeli officials have dutifully echoed the report’s supposed findings. Thus, in the June 21st edition of The Jerusalem Post we are informed by the outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriella Shalev that Israel is “the most isolated, lonely country in the world.” “The biggest threat to [Israel’s] existence is not Iranian nuclear proliferation,” the article goes on, “but international attempts to delegitimize it.” Note how both Shalev and the article’s author repeat verbatim the Reut Institute’s apocalyptic language and assumptions. Even more recently, the long-disgraced and discredited Tony Blair has used the exact same language. The delegitmization of Israel is an “affront” not only to Israelis but to those “everywhere, in every part of humanity, who share the values of a free and independent human spirit” said Blair in a speech at a conference on, yes, the delegitimization of Israel.
But where precisely is the hard evidence of this malicious campaign of isolation and delegitimization? It certainly does not come from the American government. On July 16, 2010 the U.S. State Department’s Andrew J. Shapiro proudly announced that “For Fiscal Year 2010, the Administration requested $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history.” Furthermore, “Congress fully funded our request for FY 2010, and we have requested even more – $3.0 billion – for FY 2011. These requests fulfill the Administration’s commitment to implementing the 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years.” A conservative study published two years ago by Washington Report on Middle East Affairs puts the total amount of U.S. official direct aid to Israel from 1949 to 2008 at nearly $114 billion. Perhaps, then, Europe is the culprit? Not according to Robert Fisk who recently wrote that Israel has all but officially become a member of the European Union. Fisk cites the work of David Cronin who concludes that “Israel has developed such strong political and economic ties to the EU over the past decade that it has become a member state of the union in all but name.”
As American and European governments clearly remain committed to rewarding Israel regardless of its crimes, what then is really frightening the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East and the world’s fourth most powerful military machine? The great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once famously wrote: “All that you have done to our people is registered in notebooks.” But even Darwish could not have known how prophetic his words would be. For today what is being done to the Palestinian people is not only being documented by scholars and journalists, but also by Palestinians themselves on YouTube, Google video and a myriad other video-hosting websites, independent online journals, human rights organizations and blogs. Today we can see for ourselves the continuing colonization and ethnic cleansing in Palestine, online, in context and without censorship. Although one can cite literally hundreds of such examples across all of historical Palestine, I will concentrate on only three recent cases.
Case 1 – The village of Bil’in
A clear case of colonialism, what is happening in Bil’in, a village of about two thousand residents located in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, is a microcosm of what is happening over the whole of the West Bank. Since 2005 its residents have been organizing weekly, non-violent marches protesting Israel’s illegal annexation wall which has separated the villagers from 60 percent of its farmland. Recently the villagers have been joined by Israeli citizens as well as other internationals. Inevitably the protesters are then attacked by Israeli Occupation Forces often resulting in injuries and even death. On April 17, 2009 during a march, Bassem Abu Rahma, unarmed, was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. This wanton act of murder, fully documented on video, was dismissed by an Israeli judge one year later. Bil’in is in an area which is nominally under Palestinian control yet there is no accountability, no law, and whatever the Israeli state orders is the new reality. Anyone still naive enough to ask questions like, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” should begin looking in Bil’in—there are some two thousand Gandhis there.
Case 2 – Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem
According to international law East Jerusalem is a part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As such, the Israeli state has no right to transfer any part of its own population into these territories, nor does it have any right whatsoever to remove any of its residents. In 2008 alone the Israeli state revoked the legal residencies of 4,577 Palestinians in East Jerusalem leaving them vulnerable to forcible removal by Israeli Occupation Forces. As seen in several extraordinary reports by Sherine Tadros and Jacky Rowland of Al Jazeera, the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has fallen victim to this continuing ethnic cleansing, “house by house, family by family.” Palestinians are literally being forced from their homes in tears, their possessions thrown into the streets, as they watch helplessly while Jewish settlers move in under armed Israeli protection. What we are seeing here is not the result of some natural disaster but a consequence of deliberate Israeli government policies which are supported and funded by American and European governments. When Tony Blair pontificates on “shared values of a free and independent human spirit,” one wonders if he has ever set foot in East Jerusalem?
Case 3 – The village of Al-Arakib
Located in the Naqab (Negev), Al-Arakib, a village of some 300 Palestinian Bedouins, has been destroyed several times within a span of three months. Despite the fact that they are Palestinian citizens of Israel, the state refuses to recognize their legal land claims which date to the Ottoman period. Indeed, Al-Arakib is but one of some 50 Palestinian Bedouin villages which Israel does not recognize as legal. In the summer of 2010 the Israeli government decided to make an example of Al-Arakib and, as shown by Max Blumenthal in several shocking reports, destroyed the village on five separate occasions leaving its residents homeless and destitute. As seen in Blumenthal’s video footage, the emptied homes are ripped to pieces by bulldozers and tractors as the villagers sit outside and watch. In one particulary disgraceful demolition, Israeli high school students are brought in and allowed to enter and deface the home-owners’ left-over belongings before the homes are then destroyed. Israel’s excuse, that it needs the villagers’ land for forestation projects, is deeply cynical and hollow. How perverse are Israel’s constant cries for “security needs” as it violently uproots its own Palestinian citizens.
The work of those such as Jacky Rowland, Sherine Tadros, Max Blumenthal and many others stands in marked contrast to the supine, corporate journalists who continuously parrot tired Israeli propaganda. It is beyond comprehension how mainstream North American media largely ignores Palestinian non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation. Of course, what we are seeing today is nothing new to Palestinians who have experienced dispossession and expulsion for over 62 years; what is new is merely the methodology: Byzantine Israeli “laws” targeting Arab neighbourhoods and villages, annexation walls and barriers separating villagers from their farm land and water resources, and then diverting those same resources to nearby illegal Jewish colonies.
One does not have to be an expert in international law or hold multiple post-graduate degrees to know right from wrong. Ordinary people know ethnic cleansing and colonialism when they see it; they understand its profound evil and inherent violence. This is especially true for many people from the so-called “Third World” where colonialism and its ensuing brutality remain fresh in their collective memories and experiences. These video images are being watched time and again by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Their content is unforgiving, their effects are visceral. Indeed, however much one is aware of the historical background, it takes a certain kind of callousness to watch and not be moved by the plight of Palestinians at the hands of their colonizers.
In reality, honest, contextual reporting on its own will not bring justice to the Palestinian people. However, when combined with the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), the attempts to break the brutal siege of Gaza, as well as the movement to implement international law, suddenly the Israeli government, long accustomed to committing its crimes with impunity, takes notice. Nothing frightens any state elite and its professional apologists more than an increasingly conscious, politically engaged and questioning citizenry. More specifically, nothing frightens the colonizer more than the de-colonized mind. The tide of mass consciousness is turning and, as the once-segregated U.S. south, the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa learned not so long ago, no military however powerful, and no state however repressive, can stop it.
(*) See Reut Institute document.
Over 100 rounds of live ammunition were fired at peaceful protesters in a Tuesday demonstration in the Gaza strip. The protest at the Erez border area near Beit Hanoun yesterday included Palestinian activists from the Local Initiative group, local residents and 4 members of the International Solidarity Movement who marched into the site of the recent fatal Israeli incursion. The demonstrators had a view of the area where only a few days earlier, a Grandfather Ibrahim Abu Sayed and his 17 year-old grandson were killed by Israeli tank shelling.
The peaceful demonstration was joined by several young Palestinians, who were also protesting their right to their land, much of which is now lost or out of bounds by the Israeli imposed “buffer-zone.” This buffer-zone is 300 metres wide and stretches along the entire border fence on the frontier with Israel. According to the recent United Nations Report “Between the Fence and a Hard Place” the violence used to restrict Palestinians from accessing their land covers areas up to 1500m from the border fence, meaning that over 35% of Gaza’s most agricultural land is in a high risk area causing severe losses of food production and livelihoods.
On a previous demonstration, the activists had managed to partly remove a barbed wire fence, which had prevented them from entering their own farm land. This was met by an Israeli incursion days later, in which tanks and bulldozers unearthed a huge trench in front of the fence, about one kilometre long, three meters deep and two meters wide.
Having marched to the wire fence, 100 metres from the border wall, the demonstrators chanted and waved flags, planting one Palestinian flag beyond the wire fence. They had brought shovels and begun to refill the trench, when the Israel army suddenly opened fire around them. Under heavy shooting with live ammunition, the participants stood their ground, communicating through a megaphone, some crouching low for cover amidst the gunfire that came within 5 metres.
“We attend these demonstration because of the huge border area that takes Palestinian land”, eighteen year-old Hussam told us. “We don’t want it to be separated from our own land, it’s farmland and people are killed for trying to harvest it. Because of that we came to make them feel secure again.”
The shooting created an atmosphere of terror and fear among the demonstrators, as they had no safe cover in the forcibly neglected area… Full article