Western observers reported Monday that the results of Russia’s parliamentary elections were seriously distorted by ballot stuffing and a lack of transparency, which suggests that the ruling United Russia party did even worse than the official count showed.
The election leading and currently governing United Russia Party gets accused of manipulating the votes in its favor. These allegations seem to be based on some dubious youtube videos, anecdotal stories and a small demonstration by some opposition members in Moscow.
There is always a good test when such allegations come up. Do the results of the election fit with the prediction of independent pollsters issued before the election?
Before Sunday’s vote the Associated Press wrote:
A poll released Friday predicts that Vladimir Putin’s party will receive 53 percent of the vote in Russia’s parliamentary election, now a little over a week away.While still a majority, this would be a significant drop for United Russia and deprive it of the two-thirds majority that has allowed it to amend the constitution without seeking the support of the three other parties in parliament.
Russia TV reported:
The All-Russian Public Opinion Centre polls predicts United Russia is set to get between 55-58% of votes, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation 16-19%, the Liberal Democratic Party 11-14% and Fair Russia 6.5-9.5%
Two polls published ahead of the elections showed United Russia is expected to keep its current majority but win no more than 262 seats in the 450-member Duma.
Now let’s look at the election results:
According to preliminary results released by the Central Elections Commission on Tuesday, the United Russia Party got almost 50 percent of the vote which translated into 238 of 450 seats in the Duma. The Communist Party came second with about 20 percent of the votes and a total of 92 parliamentary seats. A Just Russia Party is in the third place with more than 13 percent and 64 seats. The Liberal Democratic Party got 56 seats, while three parties – Yabloko, Right Cause and Patriots of Russia – failed to make it to the Duma.
United Russia’s share of the vote was slightly worse than all the independent polls predicted. If the party or the government it leads really manipulated the election, why would that be the case?
Russia is a big country. It is likely that there were some irregularities in this or that polling station. But given the total result it is not plausible that such were organized or in favor of United Russia.
Stoking up rumors and creating unrest in Moscow is still a wet dream for “western” cold-war warriors, neocons and their “liberal” allies in Russia. They wish back the days of Yelzin when they robbed Russia blind. But as the election showed those times are over and Russians will no longer fall for their false promises.
Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is proposing that all Israeli citizens – especially the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel – should be forced to declare an oath of loyalty to the political ideology of Zionism as a condition for obtaining an ID card.
Danon, a member of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, posted this message on his Facebook page:
I thought about the wording for the loyalty declaration bill: “I hereby declare my loyalty to the State of Israel as a Jewish Zionist and democratic state, and solemnly swear to maintain it values and not to engage in illegal acts against it or against any of its institutions.” I would love to hear your opinions.
Adherence to Zionist ideology a condition for obtaining an ID card
Meanwhile the right-wing website IsraelNationalNews.com quoted Danon explaining the purpose of his bill:
Loyalty to the State is something which should be obvious, but I’m afraid that in the current situation in the Arab sector loyalty has become rare, and in order to preserve this important value we’ll have to make it a condition that ID cards will be given in exchange for a declaration of loyalty to Israel.
The “Arab sector” refers to 1.4 million Palestinians who are survivors and descendants of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, who are nominally citizens of Israel but face extreme discrimination and diminished rights because they are non-Jews.
Danon’s bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to strip indigenous Palestinians forced to live under a state imposed on them by war and conquest of citizenship, quite possibly as a prelude to expelling them to ensure that Israel remains “Jewish.” After all, what kind of “democracy” can Israel be if it forces citizens to swear allegiance to a particular political ideology – Zionism – which negates the rights of those citizens and expresses the state’s racial hatred toward them and intolerance of their very existence?
A bomb went off in Kabul today during a Shia Ashura mourning gathering. Some 55 people wwre killed and over 160 were wounded (video, graphic pictures). This happened near the Abdul Fazl shrine in Murad Khani, Kabul’s old city, and right in front of the Ministry of Defense and the palace. That area should be secure.
Another bomb went off at a Shiite gathering in Mazar-e-Sharif that killed four and injured 16 others today. Another blast took place in Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan, wounding 6 people, though it is not yet known if that one is related.
One source said the Pakistani militant group Sepah-e-Sahaba (also called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) claimed responsibility for the Kabul blast. The group is known for sectarian killings in Pakistan but has up to now not been active in Afghanistan.
Indeed during the last years sectarian killings like this have been quite rare in Afghanistan. The attacks today seem intentionally designed to incite sectarian violence.
After the attack mourners chanted anti-US and anti-Pakistan slogans. In Mazar-e-Sharif a scuffle between Shia and Sunni students at the Mazar University turned violent. Five people were injured before the police intervened.
In an email to the media, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed strongly condemned the bombing of Shiites in Kabul and Mazar and called them an act of their enemies. He blamed the “invaders” for the bombing and claimed they were designed to foment insecurity to extend the foreign presence.
These incidents remind me of the bombing of the al-Askari mosque in Samara, Iraq, in 2006. That bombing, done by people in Iraqi Special Forces uniforms, ignited a brutal sectarian civil war. Then the officials blamed Al-Qaeda in Iraq for that atrocity but others claimed that the U.S. was behind it.
As always the question that needs to be asked is: “Cui bono?”
Into who’s plans does this fit and who might believe they would benefit from an additional sectarian aspect in war in Afghanistan? Whoever it is is playing with fire.
Photographs depicting Palestinian lawmakers jailed by Israel are displayed
in the parliament building that was destroyed during Israel’s offensive in Gaza
City, January 29, 2009. (MaanImages/Wissam Nassar)
JERUSALEM – An Israeli military court on Tuesday ordered the deportation of a Palestinian lawmaker from Jerusalem to Ramallah, a statement from the Palestinian Legislative Council said.
Ahmad Attoun, a Jerusalemite, was detained in front of the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem in September.
He had taken shelter in the ICRC building along with another Hamas legislator, Muhammad Abu Teir, and former PA minister Khalid Abu Arafa, after Israeli authorities revoked their Jerusalem residency permits.
In a statement issued in June 2010, after Israel ordered the men to leave Jerusalem, the three Hamas men wrote: “We as sons of Jerusalem have never left it before … we emphasize that we will remain here and never leave it.”
Hamas-affiliated Attoun was released from an Israeli jail in 2009, along with five other Palestinian lawmakers. He had been held for three years.
The ICRC has said it told Israeli authorities that international humanitarian law prohibited the forcible transfer of Palestinian residents from their homes.
The foreign powers intervening in Syria to bring down President Bashar Assad want to speed things up. This has compelled oppositionists to show their hand, stripping them of yet more cards.
It has long been clear that the most influential bloc in the Syrian offshore opposition had effectively joined forces with an American-led western alliance that is hostile to Arab resistance aimed at liberating occupied territory – whether from Israeli or American occupation.
The bulk of these groups used to flaunt their patriotism by accusing the regime of not wanting to recover the Syrian territory occupied by Israel.
But on Friday, the Syrian National Council’s chief spokesman, Burhan Ghalioun, was forced (and there is no other explanation for it) to come clean about the nature of the payback required of the Syrian opposition by its US, Turkish, Gulf, and European supporters.
Ghalioun told the The Wall Street Journal in an interview that under a new opposition-led government, “there will be no special relationship with Iran…Breaking the exceptional relationship means breaking the strategic military alliance.” He added that “Hezbollah after the fall of the Syrian regime will not be the same.” Describing the relationship between the Syrian regime and Iran as “abnormal,” Ghalioun said an SNC-led government would oversee a broad reorientation of Syria’s foreign policy towards an alliance with the principal Arab powers. Syria would remain committed to recovering the occupied Golan Heights from Israel, albeit via negotiations rather than resorting to armed conflict.
What do His Excellency President Burhan Pasha’s remarks mean?
They explain why the word ‘Israel’ was not mentioned in the political program issued by the Syria National Council (SNC). They explain why this program, and the vast majority of statements made by SNC leaders, focus on the domestic situation in Syria, deeming it a priority unconnected to any regional questions. It explains why they speak in general terms of the need for political, economic, and social reconstruction in the manner of March 14 in Lebanon – i.e. in the manner of the unseated Hosni Mubarak, who, along with Zine al-Abidine Ben-Ali, used to justify his foreign policy by claiming he was putting his country’s interests ”first.”
Very well. Burhan Pasha is telling us what he, and a good number of those working for governments belonging to the foreign alliance opposing the regime in Syria, secretly think. They oppose the idea of resistance to liberate the land, and in practice want to achieve peace with Israel. He is telling us that the Camp David, Wadi Araba, and Oslo models provide the right means for dealing with the Israeli occupation. In other words, he is promising his people the same things that the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Palestinians have suffered for the past three decades as a consequence of this isolationist approach. It is an illusory isolationism, and amounts in practice – as in the case of the Lebanese Right – to deferring to the US-led alliance which safeguards Israel’s interests in the region.
Burhan Ghalioun means to say that the Syrian people do not attach undue importance to their sovereignty, independence, or broader Arab national identity. Burhan Pasha is telling us that the New Syria wanted by the Syrian people is one that will aim to indulge the US in Iraq and the region, to relieve Israel of the burden of a Northern Front and the Lebanon and Gaza fronts, and to put the Gulf states – with the US behind them – at ease on two counts. First, with regard to their obsession about the relationship that has evolved between Iran and Syria. Secondly, about the aftermath of Iraq’s impending liberation from the US’ occupation forces and its dominant influence over political decision-making in the country.
There is no need to read between the lines of what Ghalioun said, as some reports sought to do, or add any explanations. He made clear that his outfit will take Syria out of the regional alliance of which it is an essential part – the alliance comprising the resistance and its supporters – and into another alliance, the one currently striving to topple the current regime in Syria. The latter opposes the resistance, and defers to the US and Israel’s demands to deny support to the forces of resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. As for Ghalioun’s desire to turn to the ‘international community’ to recover the Golan Heights, that simply replays the tune of all who sought peace as supplicants, and thus negotiated agreements that brought shame and poverty to over 100 million people.
Ghalioun also referred in his interview with the American paper to his SNC’s relationship with the Free Syrian Army. He spoke of an agreement to “focus their operations on the protection of civilians and not to perform offensive attacks.” Can we therefore await explanations from him of what is happening on the ground? He went on to declare: “We do not want, after the fall of the regime in Syria, armed militias outside the control of the state.” He might do well in this regard to consider the experience of Libya, during and since the overthrow of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi. He could then teach his students courses on Creative Chaos in the Cause of the Caliphate, by the learned scholar Bin-Belhadj.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of al-Akhbar.
A weapons inventor representing an illegal Israeli settlement will participate in an EU-sponsored conference on scientific research later this week.
Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a retired major-general, is among the speakers listed on the programme for Thursday’s event on “technology terrorism” in Brussels. He is a member of the board of trustees in Ariel University, which is located on occupied land in the West Bank. His resumé also states that he has headed the research divisions of both the Israeli military and its Ministry of Defense.
Although Israel is an active participant in the EU’s science programme, the Union says that firms and universities based in the settlements are not eligible for the programme’s research grants. So I asked the European Commission if it had any difficulties with Ben-Israel’s role in this week’s event, considering his links to Ariel. “To the best of our knowledge, Mr Ben-Israel does not have any direct role in the [‘technology terrorism’] project, apart from being a speaker at the workshop,” Carlo Corazza, a Commission spokesman, replied.
That lame response cannot be allowed to conceal how the EU is ingratiating itself with Israel’s military and political elite. Ben-Israel is regarded as an important strategist on “defense” issues and has received several awards for his work. He has been credited with developing a “C4 system” (to help commanders manage a range of operations) for the Israeli military, as well as Nautilus, a laser system designed to counteract the crude rockets that Hamas and other resistance groups have fired from Gaza and that Hezbollah have fired from Lebanon. Furthermore, he has served on the board of directors for Israel Aerospace Industries, a maker of warplanes used to slaughter Gaza civilians during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009. And I almost forgot to add that he has been a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, for Kadima, the party set up by that mass murderer Ariel Sharon.
Selective focus on violence
Thursday’s event marks the culmination of a €1 million ($1.3 million) project called FESTOS (Foresight of Evolving Security Threats Posed by Emerging Technologies). While most of the money for FESTOS comes from the EU taxpayer, the project is being coordinated by Yair Sharan from Tel Aviv University.
In a newsletter published in February, Sharan said the aim of the project is to assess how “terrorists” are availing of technology and to recommend what policy measures should be taken in response. “New technological horizons are opened to individuals and groups who are ready to abuse technology to accomplish their evil purposes,” he wrote.
It is probably superfluous to add that the project is highly selective. It only examines violence perpetrated in response to oppression and not the routine violence of oppressor states like Israel.
Corazzo tried to justify the project by saying that “FESTOS is not about developing weapons.” He added that developing weapons is not allowed by the EU’s scientific research activities as they belong to a “civilian programme.”
Don’t be fooled by that assurance. No matter what EU officials say, the Union is helping to nurture a “security” industry in Israel that is inseparable from that country’s military and its crimes against humanity.
Last week The Financial Times published a feature about Israel’s technology prowess. It was a piece of thinly-veiled propaganda by the paper’s correspondent Tobias Buck, yet it nonetheless underscored how many of the big shots in Israel’s technology sector were trained in Unit 8200, an electronic espionage division of the Israeli military.
Israel is taking part in 800 EU research projects at the moment, with a total value of €4.3 billion. As a European taxpayer, I don’t recall ever being asked for permission to fund a war machine that is an affront to everything I believe in.
West Bank – “If you don’t look nice, you don’t spend too many hours in front of the mirror,” says Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders and Executive Directors of Israeli NGO, Breaking the Silence.
“What we demand of our society is to look in the mirror, so no wonder no one likes it.”
Breaking the Silence was founded in 2004 by Israeli soldiers and veterans who collect and publish testimonies from soldiers who have served in the West Bank,Gaza and East Jerusalem since September 2000. They also hold lectures and conduct tours in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills area “with the aim of giving the Israeli public access to the reality which exists minutes from their own homes, yet is rarely portrayed in the media.”
The organization states that “cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases…While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny what is done in its name.”
Shaul, 28, is a religious Jew and a Jerusalemite; he served as a combat soldier and a commander in an Israeli infantry unit during the Second Intifada, from March 2001 until March 2004. He grew up in a right-wing family; his high school was in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank near Ramallah, his cousins were settlers in Gaza, and his sister currently lives in a settlement. He is bearded, bulky and speaks English in a North American accent; his mother is American and his father is Canadian.
Shaul says that he always expected to become a soldier but that he had doubts from the very beginning that what he was doing was right. “But when you’re in the military you always find a way to continue because there are always things that are bigger than you – orders, missions – and I think the most important thing is the bond of comradeship.”
Two years of his service was spent in the West Bank, mostly in Hebron, where he did what all Israeli soldiers do in the Occupied Territories, ranging from the banal to the brutal – standing at checkpoints, carrying out house demolitions, firing grenades into civilian areas and using human shields.
The significant turning point came towards the end of his service as he began to think about civilian life beyond the military.
“Throughout my service it made sense; there were explanations, titles, logic – it’s only when you take one step out and you see things from a different perspective, that’s when you realize that something is wrong and we have to do something about it.”
Shaul says he didn’t really know what to do so he, “just started talking to [his] comrades about it, and very quickly [he] discovered that they all felt the same.” Shaul said,
The one thing that really shocked us was the realization that people back home had no clue. People back home who were sending us to do a job had no idea what doing the job means. In a way Breaking the Silence operates in a very simple logic; you send us to do the job, we went there, we’ve done it, we’re back, we’re not going to tell you who to vote for, but there’s one thing we demand – that you sit down and listen to what we’ve done.
Shaul, along with former soldiers Avichai Sharon and Noam Chayut, staged an exhibition in Tel Aviv in June 2004 of photographs and video footage taken in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by 65 Israeli soldiers. Shaul explains – “The idea was that – OK, this is insane what’s going on here, we need people back home to know…We didn’t really have any plans, it was a really personal thing, and it was the huge response and impact we had once we opened the gallery, with the fact that we met other veterans from other units who served other places who had the same story, that brought Breaking the Silence to where it is today.”
The Israeli military was rattled by the popularity of the exhibition as thousands of people attended; in the first week they broke into the gallery, confiscated exhibited items and hauled the organizers in for interrogation. However, Shaul says that “once they realized it just brought more attention to us, they left us alone.”
Breaking the Silence
Since the initial exhibition, the organization has grown and developed rapidly. In total Breaking the Silence now does around 400 tours and lectures a year – many of the talks are with young Israelis before they have been drafted, which Shaul claims is the organization’s main target group – “these are people who are still civilians and are not infected by the military – yet.”
Breaking the Silence also writes reports and collects testimonies, usually published anonymously, from Israeli soldiers. Almost 800 people have now testified about their experiences and conduct during occupation of Palestinian territory to Breaking the Silence.
According to Shaul, most of the soldiers that testify are low ranking commanders and officers and they tend to be people from the centre-left politically, although he estimates that 10-15% don’t come from this background. He says that usually people come forward because they had problems during their service that they have to express – “Half of the people who testify, do so because they saw the importance of doing it. There was a lot of pressure on them and then, OK, they’ve done a good thing [by testifying] – goodbye. For another big group, testifying was the first step to becoming political activists. It’s really diverse – different people, different experiences.”
Breaking the Silence knows the details of all those who testify and they claim to double check facts rigorously to ensure that testimonies are accurate, but they usually publish the results anonymously. As Shaul said,
When we started Breaking the Silence, most of the people in the first exhibition were still in service. So we had to keep their anonymity because they violated military law. Actually a lot of these investigations and threats in the beginning were to discover who they were so they could throw them in jail and shut down the project because people would be afraid. Of course there are also social repercussions and legal repercussions [in testifying].
Many of the soldiers that testify are men because they comprise the overwhelming majority of soldiers in combat units. However, Breaking the Silence has recently published a collection of testimonies from female soldiers. Shaul says that this was firstly a new way of telling a similar story but that also “this is a voice that is more silent than others. This is a unique voice and it’s an interesting voice that people must be confronted with…What comes from the testimonies is that usually women need to be worse than the men in order to prove themselves – that they’re one of the gang, one of the guys.”
In one of the testimonies, a female soldier describes how “a female soldier who can lash out is a serious fighter. Capable. A ball-breaker. There was one with me when I got there…everyone talked about what grit she had, because she could humiliate Arabs without batting an eyelash. That was the thing to do.”
The collected testimonies from Hebron show instances of extreme brutality, such as when a soldier wound metal wire so tightly round the hand of a Palestinian that his hand had to be amputated. Many of the stories are accounts of more systemic abuse, often sanctioned and encouraged by superiors, as soldiers randomly search houses, detain and beat up Palestinians and destroy and loot property just to “educate” the Palestinians or to “make our presence felt”.
Several soldiers express their disgust at the violence of the settlers in Hebron, like one who stated, ”I simply hated them…And you feel like you’re serving them. Them and their capacity for violence. There were all kinds of situations there of stark, brute, shocking violence.”
Breaking the Silence conduct tours to Hebron, showing people what life is like for the Palestinians that live in the divided city. Several thousand Israeli soldiers protect between 400-500 Israelis who live in settlements, illegal under international law, in the centre of Hebron. It is the only city in the West Bank that contains an Israeli settlement.
In 1994, Brooklyn-born settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on worshipers as they prayed in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing 29 people and wounding many more. The Israeli authorities responded by effectively punishing the Palestinians by preventing them from accessing many streets and ordering the closure of over 1800 Palestinian shops.
Breaking the Silence explains how settlers frequently abuse and attack Palestinians in the area and how the military harass and restrict the freedoms of Palestinians at checkpoints throughout the Israeli controlled H2 sector of the city. They also show them the empty, shuttered Shuhada Street, once Hebron’s major market area and a vibrant shopping street – now desolate and forbidden for Palestinians to enter.
Given that a lot of Breaking the Silence’s work focuses on Hebron, to what extent is the city paradigmatic of the occupation?
“I think it’s the advocates of the status quo – the people who want to maintain the occupation, who try to make us think that Hebron is an extreme case,” said Shaul. “I don’t think it’s an extreme case , I think that Hebron is a gift from God. Two square kilometers where you walk for half a day and you actually understand how the West Bank works. Hebron is a microcosm of the West Bank. If you zoom out of Hebron, it’s the West Bank. Different policies you see in Hebron you can find all over. Hebron is more visual, more dense – but not extreme.”
The military and Israeli society
The military is a powerful and deeply rooted presence in Israeli society and culture. The writer Arthur Nelson claims that, “Israelis see their army as a great leveler. All teenagers are drafted, and those who serve undergo a rite of passage that forever links them with the national struggle and the national state.” Nelson points out that “Israel is a young country but the civil identification with army culture within it has been grounded in four major wars and two Intifadas.”
Despite the preeminence of the military, Shaul disputes the claim that Israeli society understands the reality of occupation and impact on the lives of the Palestinians.
I think this is one of the biggest lies of Israeli politics and Israeli society is that ‘everybody knows’ – almost no one knows. The amount of people that have the experience that I have – meaning being a combat soldier in the occupied territories in these specific years, is very very low. We’re basically talking about a few dozen thousand.
How does he explain the reluctance in Israeli society to discuss or examine what is being done in their name – is it a lack of information or do people mostly ignore the information that they have available to them?
It’s a mixture of everything. Of course Israeli society doesn’t want to know but still not everything is out there, people are not forced to confront it. Very deep inside there is a lot of optimism in the work of Breaking the Silence and a sense that we believe there is a significant minority of Israeli society that, if given the information and put in a corner, that they will have to choose whether they can stand behind this reality [the occupation] or not, they will choose our answer, which is ‘no’.
Shaul admits that “Israelis are not standing in line to listen to [Breaking the Silence],” and does not really expect them to.
“We don’t really fit into the categories of ‘human rights organization,’ ‘anti-occupation organization,’ ‘peace group’ – we don’t really fit easily into these, but out of all these groups, Breaking the Silence is the most mainstream group and I think that has a lot to do with who we are – we’re all ex-combat soldiers, in a way we’ve earned the right to speak out.”
‘The problem is the political mission…’
Breaking the Silence has taken a clear stand against the occupation of Palestinian territory, although Shaul is quick to point out that they don’t offer any political solutions. However, Shaul insists that in his view, the problem is political and systemic.
We don’t believe that the problem is the military. The problem is the political mission that the military gets”. He says that explains why Breaking the Silence doesn’t take the “mainstream human rights approach of ‘let’s identify the human rights violation, let’s identify the perpetrator, let’s make them accountable’. The problem with that is, if you actually want to put in jail every soldier that abused Palestinians, all soldiers would be in jail. It’s not that we all murdered innocent Palestinians – no. But, no one who served there has clean hands and that’s the story. There’s no way to change it if you don’t change the political mission…when you control people against their will, without giving them rights, the only way to rule them is that they will be afraid of you…if they get used to a level of fear then you have to increase it and that’s how the occupation woks, it’s very simple. So you can have a lot of investigations, as many as you want, and you can have a lot of hours about classes about morality and international law but at the end of the day when you are there to make sure that these people don’t have rights and these people do have rights, there’s no nice way of doing that, no legal way of doing that and that’s the story. In a corrupt reality, in an immoral reality, there’s no moral way to behave.
We ask Shaul if claiming that it is the political system that causes soldiers to commit crimes, is a way of excusing what happens and denying individual responsibility?
No, no, no” Shaul replied – “It’s not that I think I’m not responsible for what I’ve done. Look, when they called us in for interrogation in 2004 [after the exhibition in Tel Aviv] I was interrogated for like seven hours. I had the right to remain silent and not incriminate myself, but I said everything I can say in seven hours. Probably the list of my crimes, to talk about the stuff that I’ve done, would take more like 50 hours but I signed – I’ve used human shields, I’ve fired grenades into civilian neighborhoods…the reason why they don’t put me on trial was because putting me on the bench would mean putting the system on the bench…I think in that sense, the most political thing that I can do is to be put on trial – that’s when my message will be proven.
While there is a danger in posing that Israeli soldiers are victims of a political system, at the expense of the Palestinian victims of their crimes, Shaul said,
I didn’t say [Israeli soldiers] were victims – I said that any soldier – it doesn’t matter what his background, his socio-economic background, his age – being put in this reality, he will behave this way. I didn’t say he was a victim. We don’t see ourselves as victims. If I murdered an innocent person and I can’t fall asleep, that doesn’t make me a victim. I am a victimizer.
Shaul believes that some soldiers should be put on trial while others should not, but quickly adds “that’s not the story – I don’t really care about that. What I care about is to put society on trial. In most cases society cleans itself by putting soldiers on trial. How does it work? Very simple – once in a while someone, somehow, forces the army to admit about one event and stories pop up in the media about how ‘a soldier looted something here,’ ‘a soldier shot there.’ But always it’s being framed as ‘there’s another exceptional case, there’s another rotten apple.’ This soldier, who did that specific thing, to that specific Palestinian, in that specific place…’let’s court martial him and send him to jail and our conscience as a society is clean because we treat our bad apples.’ In a way usually when soldiers are sent to jail, the judge goes like this with the hammer,” motioning as if to strike a table top. “he basically washes us as a society, and I think this is our problem.”
But by not seeking justice for specific crimes, is there the danger that the Palestinian victims of the crimes are neglected?
Shaul replies, “Of course we don’t seek justice because I don’t know what that justice is. Who says that law is the solution for everything? No doubt that I feel better in the language of moral and immoral, than in legal and illegal. So what? We just feel as people that were there it is our moral obligation to speak out and tell the truth – that’s it.”
The future of Breaking the Silence
Shaul is highly critical of the Israeli media and says that Breaking the Silence has been struggling to get it’s voice heard. ” We see ourselves as journalists” he says – “If the Israeli media would do their job there would be no need for us. We’re basically doing what journalism’s about – exposing corruption to the public…I think Israeli journalists are first of all Israeli and these things don’t sell newspapers and people don’t want to be disrupted by this usually. There is a limit to how much you can report about the same thing. It’s been going for 45 years. It’s not news.”
Shaul is also concerned about the raft of recently proposed laws by the Israeli government that threatens the existence and funding of Israeli NGOs – ” These laws need to be looked at within a greater umbrella of other legislation that was passed and some that was not passed, of trying to shrink the space of Israeli civil society. From political appointments in the supreme court, up to libel cases. This is a regime change more than simply passing anti-democratic laws. In terms of human rights organizations, most of the laws are not really there to pass, they are there to shut down people and dominate the discourse and the debate.”
Nevertheless, Shaul feels that the organization has achieved many things.
“For me the most important is that, if you had come to me seven and a half years ago and told me that I would be sitting here and almost 800 people had testified to Breaking the Silence, I would probably laugh in your face. That’s 800 people who are saying the truth about what the occupation is.”
In terms of changing the practices of the Israeli military does he think Breaking the Silence has made an impact? ” God forbid – I don’t think we can do that. We maybe want to change the practice of the military, meaning from an occupation army into a defense army but that’s a different story.”
BETHLEHEM – The number of Palestinians displaced by Israeli demolitions this year has already more than doubled that of 2010, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said Monday.
Research by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees found that 990 people — including 507 children — have lost their homes so far this year, Gunness told Ma’an. In 2010, 445 people — including 235 children — were displaced by Israeli demolitions.
He said 515 Palestinian structures have been demolished in the West Bank this year, of which 22 were in East Jerusalem.
“The loss of a home in normal times is highly destabilizing, but in the context of occupation and annexation it often becomes lastingly traumatic, especially for children,” Gunness said.
“The United Nations calls on the Israeli authorities to abide by their obligations under international law, of which these displacements and demolitions are a clear violation.”
A report by the Diakonia resource center for international humanitarian law says Israel’s civil administration systematically destroys Palestinian structures built without Israeli permission in the 62 percent of the West Bank designated Area C under the Oslo Accords.
The destruction of any civilian object during occupation is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations” and even then, only if the structure is used solely by militants, Diakonia says.
The ongoing diplomatic tug of war between Syria and the Arab League took an unexpected turn Monday with rumors of a potential breakthrough. A positive outcome would signal a major political – not procedural – change of heart at the Arab League, whose earlier dealings with Syria showed little room for compromise.
Last week, the Arab League broke with its own charter for the second time this year, voting to impose far-reaching economic sanctions on member-state Syria, eight months after backing a no-fly zone over member-state Libya.
The charter, which was written in the early post-colonial period, placed great stock in the inviolability of “a state’s independence, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.”
Article V of the League’s charter clearly stipulates: “Any resort to force in order to resolve disputes between two or more member-states of the League is prohibited. If there should arise among them a difference which does not concern a state’s independence, sovereignty, or territorial integrity [my italics], and if the parties to the dispute have recourse to the Council for the settlement of this difference, the decision of the Council shall then be enforceable and obligatory.”
A recently-departed senior Arab League official told me: “We have taken strong measures before only in relation to foreign policy issues or disputes between Arab countries. But on these last two occasions, this is a historic departure in relation to the practice of the Arab League. For the first time measures were taken against an Arab country because of its internal situation – the way a government is treating its own people.”
He continued, “When people are dying I don’t care about reconciling this with the charter – that’s my priority. If there are legal issues that contravene, I’m happy to bend them.”
But what about the tens of thousands of civilians slaughtered in member-state Somalia this year alone, with nary a peep from the Arab League? Or of the League’s non-intervention policy in Yemen and Bahrain, where protests continue to this day?
So why did the League single out Syria for sanctions?
Ostensibly, it is because Damascus refused an Arab League observer mission to Syria, but that is not exactly true. The Syrians counter-proposed a series of amendments to the mission “Protocol” to accommodate their sovereignty concerns. It was the League that rejected these outright on November 27, although they appear to have reopened negotiations quietly in the past few days.
Consider this: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – now effectively at the helm of Syrian issues in the Arab League – spent seven months negotiating an exit for the despotic Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh.
When asked about double-standards in the treatment of Syria versus other Arab member-states, the recently-departed senior League official admitted, “I think the position taken by the Arab countries in relation with Bahrain is a very sad one – we should have been more firm.”
On Yemen however, his response was curious, “Yemen – it is being handled by the GCC, and doesn’t need the Arab League’s help right now.”
But the same players refused to spend even seven days on Syria. The League dropped the sanctions gauntlet a mere three days after Syria offered its amended proposal, claiming these would “affect the core of the document and would radically change the nature of the mission.”
But is that true? Would Syria’s amendments sink the project as some League members alleged?
Much ado has been made about Syria’s amendments in Arab League statements, but other than a brief reference to a couple of provisions in Al-Hayat newspaper, these have not been made public.
Below is a much more comprehensive outline of Syria’s counter-proposal obtained from a well-connected, non-Syrian source. There is little in the document that could not have been negotiated to accommodate both Syria’s desire to maintain sovereignty in this process and the Arab League’s determination to carry out its mission:
Syria’s Amendments to the Arab League Monitoring Mission (November 2011)
“An independent mission is to be formed, composed of Arab military and civilian personnel nominated by Arab states and organizations involved in human rights and the provision of protection to civilians, to be sent to the Syrian Arab Republic. It will be known as the Arab League Monitoring Mission and operate within its framework. It is assigned with monitoring implementation of the Arab plan for resolving the Syrian crisis and providing protection to Syrian civilians.”Syrian amendment:
“An independent Mission is to be formed, composed of Arab military and civilian personnel nominated by Arab states, to be sent to the Syrian Arab Republic. It will be known as the Arab League Monitoring Mission and operate within its framework. It is assigned with monitoring implementation of the clauses of the Arab plan for resolving the current crisis in Syria. The Syrian side will be provided with a list comprising the names, status, ranks and nationalities of the Mission’s members.”
“The Mission will start work immediately after Syria signs this Protocol. It will initially dispatch a delegation consisting of the Head of the Mission and an adequate number of monitors (between 30 and 50), supported by an appropriate number of administrative staff and sufficient security personnel to provide personal protection to members of the Mission.”
“The Mission will start work immediately after Syria signs this Protocol. It will initially dispatch a delegation consisting of the Head of the Mission and an adequate number of monitors, supported by an appropriate number of administrative staff.”
Clause II – Subclause
“The number of monitors will be determined by the Head of the Mission, in consultation with the Secretary-General, in accordance with his assessment of the Mission’s requirements to perform its task of monitoring the Syrian government’s compliance with its commitments to protecting civilians in the fullest manner. The Secretary-General may call on technical assistance and observers from Arab, Islamic and friendly states in carrying out the tasks assigned to the Mission.”
“The number of monitors will be determined by the Head of the Mission, in consultation with the Secretary-General and in coordination with Syria, in accordance with his assessment of the Mission’s requirements in performing its task of monitoring the Syrian government’s compliance with its commitments in the fullest manner. The Secretary-General may call on technical assistance and observers from Arab states in carrying out the tasks assigned to the Mission.”
Clause III, Subclause 3
“To verify the release of those detained due to the current events.”
“To verify the phased release of those detained due to the current events who were not involved in crimes of murder or acts of sabotage.”
Clause III, Subclause 4
“To confirm the withdrawal and evacuation of military and armed forces from cities and residential areas which witnessed, or are witnessing, demonstrations and protests.”
“To confirm the withdrawal and evacuation of military and armed forces from cities and residential areas.”
Clause III, Subclause 7
“The Mission will have full freedom of movement, and the freedom to make whatever visits or contacts it considers appropriate, in relation to matters pertaining to its tasks and modus operandi with regard to the provision of protection for civilians.”
“The Mission will have full freedom of movement, and the freedom to make whatever visits or contacts it considers appropriate, in relation to matters pertaining to its tasks and modus operandi, in coordination with the Syrian side.”
Clause IV, Subclause 2
“Access and freedom of movement will be granted to all members of the Mission to all parts of the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic at the times specified by the Mission.”
“Access and freedom of movement will be granted to all members of the Mission in coordination with the Syrian side.”
Clause IV, Subclause 5
“To guarantee that no person, or member of their family, will be punished, harassed or compromised — in any form whatsoever — as a result of having contact with the Mission or providing it with testimony or information.”
“To guarantee that no person will be punished or subjected to pressure — in any form whatsoever — as a result of having contact with the Mission or providing it with testimony or information.”
In addition, the Syrian government wanted the following two points added to the Protocol:
1.“This protocol is valid for two months from the date of signature, renewable with the consent of both sides”
2. “The Syrian government will not incur any financial costs as a result of the Mission performing its task.”
If some of these provisions were problematic, the Syrian authorities seemed willing to find a possible compromise. When Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem contacted Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby a few months back, it was “to try to gain some time to find a way out of this crisis,” according to a Syrian source.
A senior Arab League official who would not speak on the record, claims that the Syria initiative was steered away from its original form by “some of the ministers who didn’t like the direction and started dictating certain ideas that they knew Syria would not accept.”
Qatar, whose Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani chairs the Arab League’s committee on Syria, could have produced a more constructive outcome, if it wished.
Instead, says the official, the “Protocol” to create a League observer delegation was forwarded with an “ultimatum” in a short time, which we have never experienced in the history of diplomacy at the Arab League.
Why not do this right? This is needed not only for Syria – why not a plan for everywhere in the region?”
“The whole process was meant to gain a refusal, to move to the second stage of this game,” warns the official.
What is this next stage? Al-Thani himself may have offered that answer when he hinted that the League could seek international intervention “if the Syrians do not take us seriously.”
Nobody is guiding the Arab League’s actions today more than this one-man Qatari show.
Qatar stands out as the one Arab nation to have formulated a proactive plan to deal with these revolts. It has thrown money, clout and military force behind ensuring desirable outcomes. So far its goal appears to be two-fold: backing Islamists to replace secular regimes, and thwarting the influence of all other competing regional power centers while it goes about its plans.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, its long-term rival in the Persian Gulf, the tiny Emirate kingdom is not trying to thwart change at all. Rather, it is proactively leading a selective strategy to remake the wider Middle East in its own image.
The Arabic-language press was agog with the tongue-lashing Al-Thani delivered his Algerian counterpart at a Syria-related Arab League meeting on November 12:
“Stop defending Syria because when your turn comes you may need us!” he allegedly roared at Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci when the latter registered an objection.
Yet the Qatari PM managed to feign regret in public when he announced last weekend, “Today, we are very sad to hold such a meeting as the Syrian government has not signed the observer mission.”
The League needs to start as it means to continue. Consistent, lawful and devoid of double standards.We are witnessing a dangerous willingness in the global political elite to circumvent rule of law, territorial integrity and sovereignty to jostle for positioning in the new emerging Middle East order.
Tolerating aerial bombardment of civilians by foreign forces and dragging the body of a deposed head of state through the streets are an indication of creeping lawlessness – much of which appears to be tacitly accepted by the “international community.”
This is unquestionably a new era in the Arab League. The organization is being thrust into a regional decision making role – without any history of competence or effectiveness – during a time when the Arab world is experiencing seismic shifts. Is the Arab League capable of rising to this challenge? Or will it remain an institution that rubber-stamps the policies of its most powerful members?
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
In a December 2 letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Watch wrote that
the Security Council must end its shocking silence on Syria’s atrocities. It must take urgent action to protect the civilian population before thousands more are beaten, tortured and killed.
A few lines later, the NGO undermined its purported concern for Syrian civilians when it condemned the UN Human Rights Council for
its policy of supporting Syria’s cynical and transparent ploy each year to condemn Israel for alleged violations of human rights, which should not be repeated this March.
The letter did not mention, however, that UN Watch is affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, a key component of the Israel lobby.
In February, the pro-Israel NGO organised 70 non-governmental organisations to send letters to President Obama, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon demanding international action against Libya invoking the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine.
Clearly buoyed by that “humanitarian” success in North Africa, UN Watch is now determined to “protect” Israel’s nearer Arab neighbours.
Several nuclear experts have repudiated the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program, saying it is misinformed, misleading and merely a hype created by the media, Press TV reports.
In its November 8 report, the IAEA accused Tehran of activities aimed at developing nuclear weapons before 2003 and speculated that these activities “may still be ongoing”.
Robert Kelley, former IAEA director and nuclear engineer, says he was “quite surprised” by the lack of new information in the report, further stressing that the report is “highly misleading.”
Kelley says the IAEA report draws its material from a single source, a laptop computer. The laptop, he says, was allegedly supplied to the IAEA by a Western intelligence agency, “whose provenance could not be established.”
Tehran has rejected the report as “unbalanced, unprofessional and prepared with political motivation and under political pressure by mostly the United States.”
“There is nothing (in the IAEA report) that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb,” says Greg Thielmann, former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst.
“Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report,” Thielmann adds.
On Saturday, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said the IAEA report bore greater resemblance to a “PR exercise than a serious nuclear effort.”
Churkin cited the manner in which the report “was played up in the media and then leaked to the press, containing very little information,” about Iran’s nuclear program, as proof of this public relations maneuver.
In its November 18 resolution against the Islamic Republic, the IAEA Board of Governors voiced “deep and increasing concern” about Tehran’s nuclear program, and called on Iran and the IAEA to intensify dialogue to resolve the dispute over the Iranian nuclear energy program.
The resolution, however, stopped short of reporting Iran to the UN Security Council or setting Tehran a deadline to comply.
The United States, Israel, and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program and have used this pretext to push for the imposition of sanctions as well as to call for an attack on the country.
Iran, however, refutes such allegations as “baseless” and maintains that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA, it has every right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
In addition, the IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but has never found any evidence indicating that Iran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.