Dutch opposition parties boycotted a parliamentary delegation to the Middle East in February after parties supporting the right-wing government insisted on going ahead with the visit despite an Israeli government ban on allowing the lawmakers to visit the besieged Gaza Strip.
Following the uprising that overthrew former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and after Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman blocked a proposed visit to Gaza, all parties opposing the right-wing government preferred to postpone the visit.
In spite of the tradition of deciding on such official parliamentary visits on the basis of consensus, right-wing and Christian parties decided to proceed on their own and their visit from 22 to 28 February became a right-wing junket.
In 2009, the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs decided to plan an official visit to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan. Egypt was to have been the focus of the visit given the important role of the country in the region.
But after the dissolution of the Egyptian parliament by the transitional military government, the Dutch parliamentarian delegation lost its major counterpart. After Lieberman refused permission for the delegation to visit Gaza, opposition parties called for the delegation to be postponed so that it would not become unbalanced.
The visit by the exclusively right-wing parties pours more oil on the fire started when Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal attacked Dutch donor organization ICCO for its support to The Electronic Intifada last November.
In Jerusalem, the parliamentarians were briefed on Dutch subsidies to human rights and development organizations by the Israeli extreme right organization NGO Monitor, which was behind the attack on The Electronic Intifada.
This report shocked Kees Van der Staaij, an MP from the SGP (Reformed Political Party), which states on its website that its positions are based on the Bible. Van der Staaij said he would approach Rosenthal for “clarification” about the financial support from Dutch civil society groups ICCO, Oxfam Novib, Cordaid and the Dutch representation in Ramallah to organizations that “act against the State of Israel” (“Nederlands geld ingezet tegen Israel,” Reformatisch Dagblad, 25 February 2011).
Citing the NGO Monitor report, Van der Staaij tweeted that organizations that characterized Israel as an “apartheid colonial regime” should receive no funding.
Meanwhile, all four opposition parties held the opinion that a trip to the Middle East without stops in Egypt and Gaza is unbalanced. Alexander Pechtold of Democrats 66 said of the right-wing MPs, “Let them justify their decision to the voters and taxpayers. The trip could have been easily postponed by half a year.” Harry van Bommel of the Socialist Party characterized the decision as “undesirable and anti-social.” Labor Party representative Nebahat Albayrak, chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, announced her intention to take up the issue with the chair of parliament, Gerdi Verbeet (“Oppositie boycot Kamerreis naar Midden-Oosten,” de Volkskrant, 17 February 2011).
By pushing through the delegation against the long-standing tradition of decision-making by consensus, Dutch far-right parliamentarians have turned the visit into a private outing that was paid with public funds.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.
Walid Al-Saqaf: Yemeni people’s demand to end dictatorship is irreversible
Yemeni opposition groups are taking to the streets, demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been in power for 30 years.
Press TV interviewed journalist Sarah Marusek regarding the popular uprising in Yemen.
Press TV: Do you think it’s too late for Saleh announce a referendum on constitution? If he thinks that a new constitution and new parliamentary system is the right decision, why hasn’t he made it before and he’s making it now while facing these protests. Do you think it’s not going to work?
Marusek: That is a very good question. I think whether or not, Western interests have a role in this most recent decision. Certainly it has been very unfortunate that a lot of attention has not been focused on Yemen over the last several weeks because these protests have continued regularly. The weapons that the Yemenis are using against their own people are often supplied by the UK and the United States. I think this is incredibly worrying and I’ve been very upset that I haven’t seen more attention being paid. All eyes are focused on Libya and perhaps that is strategic from Washington and London’s perspective. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be asked from both governments. Why they are continuing to support such an autocratic government that uses violence regularly. This is not just over the protests. It has been over the past several years. They have been using British weapons to attack their own citizens, particularly in some of the areas that are trying to obtain some autonomy. So I think that this raises a lot of questions. Now all of a sudden the president is willing to create a new constitution. There have been efforts for many years in Yemen to try and alter the system. So I would really look upon this with a lot of skepticism and whether or not it’s going to achieve anything and at this point whether the critical mass have proven in Yemen that it’s time for Saleh to step down.
Press TV: The stance was raised in some comments that may be taken by Yemen’s neighboring countries or its allies including Saudi Arabia which is facing its own protests. Do you think the likes of Saudi Arabia or the governments in Bahrain are closely watching the events in Yemen, and how do you think they will be taking a stance? What stance would you think they would be taking considering the way President Saleh is facing these demonstrations?
Marusek: I certainly think they are watching very carefully. I believe Bahrain obviously has its own situation that is really reaching critical mass as well. We are starting to see some protests in Saudi Arabia, and I think that not only are they watching what is happening in Yemen with their eyes, but they are also calling Washington probably hourly trying to press the United States to put pressure on Saleh to handle things correctly, and to look for ways of framing the situation so this empowers the dictatorships in the region because they certainly do not want to step down; any of them. In my opinion, one of the really heinous ways they are doing this and this is not something new; it’s something that has been happening for a while now. But we see it happening more and more now in Libya and Yemen. It’s the so-called threat of al-Qaeda that is being thrown out there. It’s being used to justify mass violations of human rights and violence. It’s often used to generate support from Western publics to continue this repression of populations. I think that Saudi Arabia is guilty of these things and I think that Yemen is guilty and certainly Gaddafi is going crazy with accusing al-Qaeda for everything, which is quite interesting. He usually blames al-Qaeda for atrocities that his own militias are performing on the Libyan people.
Press TV: Is the Yemeni government prepared to end the discrimination against the people in Yemen? If he is going to stay in power until 2013 while the people have been calling for the entire regime to go along with him; to let go of the three decades of power he has been clinging to; do you think that these moves are going to appease the protesters or do you think we are going to see these protests carry on and this new constitution and national unity government proposal not be accepted with President Saleh in the middle of it?
Marusek: That is a very good question and I think we all have to just wait and watch. I would think that looking at the history of oppression against the organized opposition — the political opposition that’s been attempting to gain some sort of say in the government in Yemen for the last several years, and the continued oppression against them is one thing. We know that the system right now excludes them. It has excluded them from elections. It has excluded them from decision making. Then the other part of this equation is that many of the protesters actually started off and their youth are not organized. They are not part of the formal opposition and political opposition movement. So you have two different blocks who only have recently joined together to demand (in some sort of union) the same thing. So whether or not this decision by Saleh is going to divide the people on the streets right now, that is a really good question. My hunch is that it won’t and people will demand more than what he is offering, and just be incredibly skeptical that he will be able to carry through and offer anything to people he’s been marginalizing and oppressing for so many years now.
DAMASCUS — Hamas expressed absolute dismay at recent statements for British foreign secretary William Hague in which he falsely accused the movement of strangling democratic freedom of opinion.
Hamas said in a statement on Wednesday that it came to rule via the ballot box with the free will of the Palestinian people, which the European Union and the USA refused to recognize or deal with.
Hamas reiterated that it was committed to elections as the means to choose a legitimate leadership for the Palestinian people.
Such (Hague) statements reflect a British and a western crisis that attempt to evade the responsibility toward lifting the oppressive, unethical siege on the Gaza Strip, it elaborated.
The movement said it was keen on holding free, honest elections as a fruit of national concord and not according to the Oslo team whims and wishes.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The land research center in the occupied city of Jerusalem said it documented more than 25 violations committed by the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) and Jewish settlers during last February.
13 serious violations against Palestinians’ right to housing took place during this reporting month, most notably, the forcing of a citizen to demolish his home by himself in Sur Bahir area at the pretext of unlicensed construction.
The center’s report affirmed that the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) and settlers continued assaulting, demolishing and seizing homes and property of Palestinians by forces in order to expand settlements and evacuate the holy city from its native people.
The IOF returned to reoccupy the roof of a building in Baten Al-Hawa neighborhood in Silwan district in order to protect Jewish settlers and help them attack the residents, while the settlers are still occupying the houses of three Palestinian families known as Hanoun, Ghawi and Kurd and launching repeated attacks from these houses on their displaced rightful owners and other residents of the neighborhood.
During the month, about 80 olive, almond, apricot and fig trees were uprooted by Israeli military bulldozers in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The IOA declared its intention to build 13 settlement units in place of Palestinian homes and Al-Maqa area in sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and endowed lands belonging to the families of Al Saadi and Al Maghrebi, according to the report.
The IOA also wants to turn Qalandia airport into an industrial zone and build 154 settlement units at the expense of Shufat and Beit Hanina territory in the holy city.
Palestinians worshipers were prevented many times especially during Fridays from entering the Aqsa Mosque for prayers and the IOF used force to attack Palestinian protesters injuring one of them in his hand.
Among the violations reported by the center that one settler driving a car ran over a Palestinian child in Silwan district and others physically assaulted two young men in west Jerusalem and killed one of them.
While little attention has been paid by the press, Colombia just reached an ignominious benchmark – it is now the country with the largest population of internally displaced persons in the world, surpassing The Sudan which had held this position for the past several years. Colombia, with a population of around 44 million, now has 5.2 million internally displaced persons, meaning that almost 12% of its population is displaced – most of them by violence, and a disproportionate number Afro-Colombians and indigenous.
As a report by the Colombian human rights group CODHES notes, half of the 5.2 internally displaced were displaced during the presidential term of Alvaro Uribe, and as a direct consequence of his “counterinsurgency program” – a program funded in large measure by the U.S. As CODHES noted, in a significant proportion of the municipalities impacted by this program, there has been large-scale mining and cultivation of oil palm and biofuel. CODHES is clear that this production is directly responsible for the violent displacement of persons from their land Indeed, it appears that the “counterinsurgency program,” as many of us has said for years, was in fact largely intended to make Colombia safe for multi-national exploitation of the land at the very expense of the people the program was claimed to be helping.
The proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is also intended to do the very same – to protect the rights of multi-national corporations over the basic human rights of the Colombian people. For example, the Colombia FTA would privilege the very palm oil production which is leading to the mass displacement of people. Even more frightening, as The Nation Magazine explained in a detailed article, entitled, “The Dark Side of Plan Colombia,” around half of the palm oil companies are actually owned and controlled by paramilitary groups, meaning that the FTA will directly aid these groups by incentivizing their crops.
As the Washington Office on Latin America recently noted, the FTA’s agricultural provisions will also undermine the livelihood of Colombia’s rural inhabitants who will not be able to compete with the subsidized, cheap food stuffs which will be able to flood the Colombian markets duty-free under the FTA. Indeed, we have seen this before, in Mexico where NAFTA led to the impoverishment and displacement of 1.3 million small farmers, and in Haiti which lost its ability to feed its own people with its rice production after Clinton’s free trade policies with that country.
And indeed, Bill Clinton apologized to the Senate last year over these very free trade policies, saying: “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. . . . I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” And yet, the current administration, with Bill Clinton himself cheering it on, is pushing the same failed free trade policies for Colombia.
Meanwhile, the labor rights situation in Colombia remains dismal. Thus, according to the Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS), fifty-one (51) trade unionists were killed in 2010, and 4 unionists (including 3 teachers) have already been killed this year. See, story. The 51 unionists killed in 2010 matches precisely the number of unionists killed in 2008 when President Obama vowed to oppose the Colombia FTA based upon his concern that unionists face unprecedented violence in that country. The same concerns should motivate President Obama to oppose the FTA now.
The continued violence against trade unionists in Colombia led the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to inform leaders of the EU, who are considering a similar free trade agreement, that the Colombian administration’s attempts to sell the agreement on the claim that labor and human rights are improving in Colombia are in fact a sham. In the words of the ITUC, “intensive lobbying campaign at the European Parliament by the Colombian Government is an attempt to mislead the international community.” The ITUC urges the international community not to be fooled by the Colombian government’s campaign and to continue to reject a free trade agreement with that country. Hopefully, the Obama Administration will take heed of such warnings.
Dan Kovalik is Senior Associate General Counsel of the United Steelworkers.
JERUSALEM — An Israeli court issued a decision last week allowing Israeli settlers to take part of a Palestinian family home in the Rad Al-Amoud neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem.
The court decision came after an 11-year battle between the Hamdella family and American-Israeli billionaire Irving Moskowitz, who purchased the property in 1990 from a Jewish group claiming to own the land.
The Hamdella’s have lived in the home since 1952. An earlier decision from the court ordered that they evacuate buildings on the property built in 1989, including a shed and a storehouse. The order included a room in the front of the house, which the family said had not been built at the same time.
On Monday, settlers will move into the evacuated rooms and buildings, member of the Fatah revolutionary council Dimitry Delyani said.
He explained that the court decision gave Moskowitz rights to part of the home, adding “the courts would never treat a West Jerusalem family in this way.”
“The home will be turned into an outpost, the settlers will bring in armed guards in order to make life for the Hamdellas unbearable,” he said.
US-led forces have shot and killed a cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai after an attack on his house in Kandahar province’s Dand district in southern Afghanistan.
US Special Forces arrived in helicopter in Karz village and stormed the house of Haji Yar Mohammad Khan on Wednesday night, Press TV has learned.
“Haji Yar Mohammad Khan was martyred in the operation,” said Governor Hamdullah Nazek.
Nazek, however, declined to provide further details. He pointed out that further investigations are underway.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother and head of Kandahar’s provincial council, has also confirmed the killing.
Meanwhile, people took to the streets in Kandahar, chanting anti-US slogans to protest another US-led attack on civilians in the village of Jiri.
Earlier on Wednesday, German troops based in northern Afghanistan killed a civilian woman and injured another during an exchange of fire.
“German troops patrolling Chahar Dara district opened fire on civilian houses yesterday afternoon,” Sayedhkhili said.
Civilian casualties in war-ravaged Afghanistan rose substantially during 2010, according to a new United Nations report. The annual report on civilian deaths showed 2,777 fatalities last year, an increase of 15 percent from the previous 12 months.