The annual conference of the Green Party of England and Wales this weekend passed a motion endorsing the Stop the JNF campaign and calling for the Jewish National Fund to have its charitable status revoked in the UK.
Motion passed at the Green Party of England and Wales Spring conference on 26th February 2012
- The Green Party of England and Wales condemns the Jewish National Fund for its activities in excluding non-Jews from Israeli land and denounces the organisation for claiming to be an ecological agency.
- The GPEW endorses the international call for action against the JNF and supports efforts to revoke its charitable status in the UK.
- The GPEW will add its name to the list of signatories of the ‘Stop the JNF Campaign’.(http://www.stopthejnf.org/).
As I reported last week, the campaign against the JNF (led by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign) has been making impressive gains recently.
The Green Party has now followed the lead of the Scottish Green Party who made a similar move in October last year. The move is the latest blow to the JNF, which is accused by Palestinian citizens of Israel of ethnic cleansing and maintaining a system of land-apartheid that discriminates against non-Jews. The JNF describes itself as “the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners — Jewish people everywhere”.
Read the full Stop the JNF press release for more details.
- Stop the JNF campaign makes steady gains as Israel charity goes “on the retreat” in UK (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel’s war of attrition, waged on non-Jews (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Make the world a better place: Sign these two petitions. (emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to monitor social media websites and other Internet communications to find criticisms of the department’s policies and actions.
A government watchdog organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), obtained hundreds of documents from DHS through the Freedom of Information Act and found details of the arrangement with General Dynamics. The company was contracted to monitor the Web for “reports that reflect adversely on DHS,” including sub-agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project, stated that “the agency is monitoring constantly, under very broad search terms, and is not limiting that monitoring to events or activities related to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or manmade disasters….The DHS has no legal authority to engage in this monitoring.”
McCall added: “This has a profound effect on free speech online if you feel like a government law enforcement agency—particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to look for terrorists—is monitoring your criticism, your dissent, of the government.”
- Lawmaker Demands DHS Cease Monitoring Blogs, Social Media (wired.com)
- Homeland Security monitors journalists (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Twitter Followers: Yours May Include Homeland Security (news.dice.com)
Supporters of the Olympia Food Co-op before a court hearing on Monday, 27 February. (TESCDivest)
In a major setback for Israeli efforts to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States, a judge in Olympia, Washington today dismissed a lawsuit designed to force the Olympia Food Co-op to rescind its boycott of Israeli goods.
The judge ruled that the lawsuit, brought by opponents of the boycott, violated a Washington State law designed to prevent abusive lawsuits aimed at suppressing lawful public participation. The court said it would award the defendants attorneys’ fees, costs, and levy sanctions against the plaintiffs.
While the lawsuit was brought by several individuals against present and former members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board, it was planned in collusion with StandWithUs, a national anti-Palestinian organization, working with the Israeli government, an Electronic Intifada investigation revealed last September.
“SLAPP” lawsuit designed to chill free speech
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), whose lawyers acted for the Olympia Food Co-op argued that the lawsuit was an example of “SLAPP” – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. In a statement this afternoon, CCR explained:
SLAPPs are lawsuits that target the constitutional rights of free speech and petition in connection with an issue of public concern Although many cases that qualify as SLAPPs are without legal merit, they can nonetheless effectively achieve their primary purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending against a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and can divert attention away from the public issue and intimidate and silence other speakers. Washington State’s Anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 2010 to deter such lawsuits.
Today, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee told a packed courtroom he agreed with that analysis and dismissed the lawsuit, ordering the StandWithUs-backed plaintiffs to pay court costs and legal fees.
The judge also also upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s anti-SLAPP law, which the plaintiffs had challenged, CCR noted. Each of the defendants in the case could be entitled to receive up to $10,000 from the plaintiffs in addition to legal fees.
“We are pleased the Court found this case to be what it is – an attempt to chill free speech on a matter of public concern. This sends a message to those trying to silence support of Palestinian human rights to think twice before they bring a lawsuit,” CCR quoted Maria LaHood, a senior staff attorney as saying.
BDS is a national movement, judge finds
In attempting to overturn the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods, the plaintiffs had argued that the Co-op could only observe “nationally-recognized” boycotts, and that BDS did not fit that description.
According to live tweets of the judge’s statement by Anna-Marie Murano, on behalf of the Palestine Freedom Project the judge found that BDS was “nationally recognized.”
- BDS movement’s strength shown by pro-Israel groups launching defensive “BUYcott” days (alethonews.wordpress.com)
DaitoCrea, Japanese agent of the Israeli cosmetics firm, AHAVA, announced on their Webpage that it has ended all sales of AHAVA products for what it attributed to “financial reasons”. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said that decision is the outcome of direct action and protests.
The company stopped all AHAVA sales starting on January 31, 2012. The victory was that of the persistent efforts of a 2-year campaign conducted by the BDS movement that calls for boycotting all Israeli products made in Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestine.
The Forum added that its activists informed the firm, by direct action and advocacy, of the illegality of AHAVA goods and the suffering it inflicts on the Palestinian people.
An Executive at the DaitoCrea told the Palestine-Forum campaign that the company had no idea about the background of AHAVA when they started dealing with them, and had no idea about the location where AHAVA products are made.
AHAVA – Israel products are made in a settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank; settlements are illegal under International Law.
AHAVA uses Dead Sea minerals and resources while the Palestinians are kept out of the Dead Sea area due to Israel’s illegal policies.
The campaign informed the distributor that AHAVA labels their products as “Made In Israel” while in fact it is made in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied territories.
In May 2010, the campaign held a meeting with officials of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they stated that in is not appropriate for AHAVA to labels its goods as made in Israel while they are made in a settlement.
In 2010, the MUJI beauty products in Japan decided to cancel its plans to open stores in Israel for what they described as “financial reasons”. The BDS movement said that the decision was made after a seven-month campaign against opening the store.
THE BDS movement in different parts of the world is active on different levels, including the boycott of Israeli settlements goods, information about the illegal Israeli occupation, and on cultural and intellectual levels to raise awareness on the Israeli violations against the Palestinian people.
These violations affect every aspect of the life of the Palestinians, and deprive them from their rights in their homeland and their right to their natural resources.
- Israeli SodaStream: Maybe Green, Definitely Not Clean (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- BDS movement’s strength shown by pro-Israel groups launching defensive “BUYcott” days (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- There’s no beauty at this exhibition (londonbds.org)
- A visit to London’s World Travel Market (londonbds.org)
- London BDS 2011 year in review (londonbds.org)
- The INDEPENDENT: Natural History Museum attacked over links to ‘illegal’ Israeli company (londonbds.org)
James Abourezk represented South Dakota in Congress from 1971 to 1979. CNI asked Senator Abourezk about his experiences with the Israel Lobby. In his first response he told of an Israeli plot to assassinate him. In this column he discusses threats to his family, Alan Dershowitz, and Israeli lobbyists embedded in the U.S. State Department:
When I was Chairman of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), we had two bombing incidents. I had no idea who was responsible, but I had a guess. Someone unknown placed a bomb in the doorway of ADC’s Boston headquarters. The staff there called the Boston police, who came and were in the process of disarming the pipe bomb that they found there. If I recall correctly, the police had put the bomb in a metal barrel, and it exploded in the face of one of the police officers, seriously injuring him. We all felt terrible about the policeman being injured and we tried as best we could to console his family. The whole incident was covered by a Boston TV station, and I assume they still have the footage of the explosion on file.
At around the same time, someone unknown firebombed the ADC headquarters in Washington, D.C. I was out of town at the time, but no one was hurt, and I was able to get back in time to accompany the arson expert with the D.C. police department, who showed us exactly where the bomb was thrown and how the fire had spread from that point.
Because we were all gripped with fear of what might be next, I decided to tighten up the security on my home, if nothing more than to calm down my family. I had bought a Rottweiler dog sometime earlier both for protection of my family and of our home. I learned that Rottweilers would automatically attack anyone who came near our home, unless we had introduced the dog to the person visiting. I had a security expert—someone who had once worked as a Secret Service agent in the White House—make recommendations to insure that we would be a difficult target for someone who would wish us harm. We followed his advice and made the house a bit more invulnerable. He also told us that it would be impossible to make any home 100 per cent safe, but we could make it so a potential bomber would be discouraged enough to give up trying.
I also hired a 24 hour guard for the house. The first night the guard, a young man wearing a blue blazer and armed with a weapon situated himself inside, near the front door. At one point during the night, he ran upstairs to our bedrooms and shouted that there was something making noises outside. I suggested that, since he had the gun, that he should check it out, but he wanted me to go with him. So I dressed, took the Rottweiler with me on a leash and the guard and I did a search around the house. Finding nothing we went back in. The guard spent the rest of the night immediately outside my bedroom door, I suspect more frightened that I was, and the next day, I fired the security service.
After the bombing of the ADC headquarters in Washington, I was still extremely nervous about what might happen, but I put on my brave face and held a press conference, announcing to the world that “we would not be intimidated” by these kinds of terrorists, and that we were going to work harder than ever to bring justice to the Palestinians and others in the Middle East who were victims of Israel’s aggression. But I honestly had a hard time staying calm and preventing myself from running out of the room to find a safe place to hide.
What Has Been Your Experience with Alan Dershowitz?
I remember Alan Dershowitz, not as a Harvard Law Professor, but as the person who wrote an op-ed column in one of our national newspapers in which he said that Palestinians need not worry about justice in the Occupied Territories, as the Israeli Supreme Court would always make certain that they were fairly treated. I’ve been reading Mondoweiss online, which has a daily list of Palestinians whose homes are leveled by U.S.-made bulldozers, of land outright stolen by Israeli settlers for the use of the settlers, most of whom come from the United States to live in the West Bank. I know that Dershowitz’s words about the Israeli Supreme Court are a great comfort to those Palestinians in the West Bank who have been killed, maimed, and their property stolen.
A few short years ago when I was in Damascus, I did an interview on Al Manar Television, which is Hizbollah’s channel in Lebanon. During the interview I mentioned that Alan Dershowitz was a “snake.”
There is a pro-Israeli group here in the U.S. which calls itself “MEMRI” which tapes television shows broadcast in the Middle East. They had taped my interview, which I suppose is where Alan Dershowitz heard about my description of him. He thereupon wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post in which he called me an “anti-Semite.” That slur is the favorite of Pro-Israeli Lobbyists and it works a lot of the time, often succeeding in silencing critics of Israel or of its policies.
Later, when I was invited to speak to the ADC gathering in Washington honoring Helen Thomas, who was herself the target of the same smear, I spoke about Dershowitz’s attempt to silence me by calling me an anti-Semite. I told the audience at that dinner that anti-semitism means that the person charged disliked Jews as Jews. I further said that I do not dislike Jews, but I only disliked Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman, the head of the B’nai B’rith, and that my dislike of them had nothing to do with anti-semitism, but with how they operated.
My speech that night was later published on the Counterpunch site, which prompted the ever vigilant Dershowitz, after he had read the speech, to vehemently deny that he had labeled me an anti-semite. The co-editor of Counterpunch, Alex Cockburn, somehow located the old Jerusalem Post column written by Dershowitz, and there it was, plain as day, with him very cleverly saying about me that, when it comes to anti-semitism, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
Here is the relevant portion of Alexander Cockburn’s column, quoting Dershowitz:
“In his [CounterPunch] article entitled ‘Honoring Helen Thomas’ dated November 22, 2010, James Abourezk makes the following statement:
‘I once called Alan Dershowitz a snake on Al Manar television. Al Manar is Hezbollah’s news channel in Lebanon. When he found out what I had said, he wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post, calling me an anti-Semite.’
[That] is a lie. Here is a link to my article to which he refers. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/a-real-snake_b_65194.html?view=print) I challenge him to find the term ‘anti-Semite’ in the article. I also challenge your readers to read the article and judge Abourezk’s credibility. Now I will characterize Abourezk: He is a liar.”
Cockburn went on:
“I duly clicked on the Huffington Post link thoughtfully provided by prof. Dershowitz and indeed, there is no use of the term ‘anti-Semite’ in the column by the noted Harvard law professor, published on September 21, 2007. But since the prof. is a notoriously slippery fellow, I put a couple of sentences from that same column into the google search engine, pressed button A and, hey presto, up came the same Sep 21, 2007 Dershowitz column, printed that same day on the site of the United Jewish Foundation. And lo! there was a final paragraph, omitted from the Huffpost version. Here it is.
‘Well maybe former Senator Abourezk isn’t so different from the late Senator Bilbo after all. He uses the word ‘Zionist’ in precisely the same bigoted way Bilbo used ‘kike.’ [Huffington Post version ends here.]
‘It is true that not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, but just because it is anti-Zionist does not mean it is not also anti-Semitic. If the shoe fits…’ (C2007 FrontPageMagazine.com 09/21/07).
“Anti-Semite”… “anti-Semitic” … A minute difference on which the slippery prof. would no doubt try to hang his hat, but to any impartial observer it’s plain enough that Abourezk’s memory is true. Dershowitz was sliming the former distinguished Senator from South Dakota as an anti-Semite. It’s maybe why Huffington Post dropped the final paragraph as libelous, unless Dershowitz reserved the slime for the version he sent FrontPageMagazine which, the vigilant reader will have noted, was credited as its source by the United Jerusalem Foundation.”
And here is my response to Alex after he found the “anti-semite” article:
Dershowitz is neither a good lawyer nor a good liar. He is trying to slither out of what has become nearly a full time occupation–that of branding any criticism of Israel as coming from someone who hates Jews. That does not work on me, as I’m secure in my anti-racist feelings. I’ve had any number of Zionists who are devoid of any reasonable argument throw the anti-Semitism charge at me. Sorry, but it doesn’t work, and Dershowitz is not clever enough to make the “shoe fit” no matter how hard he tries. Does he think that pointing to an incomplete article reprinted in Huffington Post will do the trick? Obviously he does, which makes his lie even more prominent. That’s a trick that even a first year law student would be smart enough not to try. He’s been caught lying and no amount of his flailing about will make that vanish. I hadn’t realized that it would be that easy getting a job teaching law at Harvard. Had I been, younger and armed with this knowledge I would have applied for the job.
We’ve heard nothing from Dershowitz since that time, but he’s still out there somewhere, apologizing for Israel’s dirty deeds.
Letters of 76 Senators
When Gerald Ford was President and Henry Kissinger was his Secretary of State, the two decided, during U.S. backed peace talks to bring Israel around to U.S. thinking by withholding American aid to Israel. That effort ended quickly when 76 U.S. Senators signed an AIPAC drafted letter to President Ford containing a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Ford if he continued to withhold military aid to Israel. The letter prompted President Ford to give in to the Lobby’s demand and to resume aid to Israel.
What happened leading up to the publication of the letter in the U.S. press is an interesting story. I had dinner with one Senator—who shall go unnamed here—the night before the letter was released to the press. He told me that he had no intention of signing it.
The next day, when the letter appeared in the Washington Post, I asked my friend what had happened.
“Jim, I received phone call after phone call all during the day yesterday, calls from people who had gone beyond just supporting me in my election, but people—lawyers, doctors, professional people and businessmen—who had interrupted their careers to work in my campaign. I couldn’t say no to them, which is why you saw my name on the letter.”
Later, in the Senate cloakroom, a number of us were standing together, talking about the letter. Ted Kennedy spoke first. “I knew that’s what would happen when I was approached to sign the letter, and I don’t like it at all. We should, next time, get together before signing such a letter, and all of us say no at the same time.” What Kennedy was referring to was the Israeli Lobby’s practice of picking off the Senators by going to one Senator, saying, “Senator So- and-so has signed, and you’d better not be the only potential presidential candidate not on the letter.” They would then go to Senator So-and-so and say the same thing. Ultimately, all of the leading Senators—especially those who wanted to run from President—would put their signature on the letter.
Kennedy’s statement was what spurred me to say something, during a mini-debate I had with Hyman Bookbinder before a section of the D.C. Bar Association’s meeting in D.C. We were promoting a book we had written together as a debate on the Middle East—Through Different Eyes—and I mentioned that Senators would cheer on Israel in public but would bad mouth both Israel and the Lobby in private. One lawyer raised his hand and asked, “name just one U.S. Senator who would do that.”
I said, simply, “Ted Kennedy,” hoping he was politically strong enough to resist the Lobby’s counter-attack.
Two or three days later, Ted Kennedy called me and said, “Abourezk, what the hell have you done to me?” I guess Ted had underestimated his own political strength, or at least, did not want any of it diluted in a tiff over the Middle East. And he for sure did not want to spend his time defending himself from the Israeli Lobby.
Getting help from the lobby
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1948, at age 17, immediately after I graduated from High School. After training in San Diego, I was ordered to Japan to become a member of the occupation. I was stationed on quasi-shore duty in Japan, actually aboard a non-propulsion barracks ship tied up in the heart of Tokyo, on the Sumida River. The ship was essentially the barracks for members of the Admiral’s staff. Early on in my tour there, the Kodokan Judo University in Tokyo sent a few Judo instructors to our ship in order to recruit students for their Judo school. The delegation included the then world champion, Ishikawa-san, and a slightly built man in his eighties, named “never fall Mifune.” We converted a large empty cabin on the ship into a Judo room, with mats on the metal floors to break our falls.
There I learned the essence of the art of Judo—using your opponent’s strength and momentum against him in order to win.
That lesson was very useful in helping me get a Committee assignment I wanted while in the Senate. When North Carolina’s celebrated Senator Sam Ervin retired from the Senate after masterfully chairing the Senate Watergate Committee, I decided to try for his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Jim Allen, from Alabama, also decided to try for the seat. But he was senior to me so it was obvious to everyone that I had an uphill battle.
With the lessons I learned studying Judo in mind, I caught David Brody, one of the Israeli Lobbyists, in the corridor, telling him that I was trying for the Judiciary Committee seat that Sam Ervin was vacating. I casually mentioned that if I didn’t get on Judiciary, I would then try for Foreign Relations. That, I knew, would get his attention.
Although I never saw any evidence of the Lobby’s actions, even though Allen was senior to me, I surprisingly got the most votes from the Senate Steering Committee, which makes Committee assignments. So I later thanked Dave Brody for his help, but he never acknowledged that he had done the job.
It is difficult to describe how deep into the U.S. Government the Israel Lobby is embedded, but occasionally signs of the depth of its penetration become obvious. I can cite two instances where it was more than obvious.
I received a call one day from a career State Department diplomat, someone I had met during a trip I had made to the Middle East. He was my “control officer” when I was in Egypt on that trip, the diplomat whose job it was to stay with me during my stay there.
His call came out of the blue, at least two or three years after having met him in Cairo. He sounded both desperate and frantic, telling me he had to come to my apartment to talk to me about something.
When we met, he was totally different than when I had met him in Cairo, then a very suave professional diplomat. The day he came to my apartment he was both nervous and frantic, telling me that someone had to do something about the Israeli Lobby. They were “everywhere” in the State Department, he said, leaning on anyone who had anything to do with the Middle East. By that, he explained, he had witnessed both Lobby representatives and Israeli officials working over U.S. diplomats in every kind of setting, that is, he saw them doing so in restaurants, in State Department offices, virtually everywhere. All he wanted to do, he said, was to stop it, and he didn’t know how. I had to confess that I didn’t either.
I’m not certain that anyone in Washington, D.C. knows the total amount of money and favors our government gives to Israel, largely due to its Lobby. Aside from the several billions of dollars in aid that goes from our Treasury to Israel, there are a great number of top secret contracts that we sign with the Israeli government that could not stand the light of day should they be disclosed. I do remember that our taxpayers funded the “Arrow” air defense system Israel has now to deter incoming rockets and missiles.
I also knew about Israeli Aircraft Industries having an office at the airport in Wilmington, Delaware, presumably to handle air force contracts between Israel and the U.S. government. Why else would there be such an office in Delaware?
Other avenues for the Lobby to Pursue?
After I left the Senate and began practicing law in Washington, D.C. I was retained by a very wealthy Palestinian who had spent a number of years attending schools in the United States. He received a PhD from Columbia University in New York, and had spent a lot of time making money and investing it in real estate in various parts of America, as well as in Europe. He was married to a Palestinian woman and they had two sons, both of whom were born in New York during his schooling there.
My client was building a satisfying life, traveling in Europe and the United States to tend to his business interests, until, one day, he was surprisingly denied entry into the United States. He was accused of being a member of the PLO. Other than all Palestinians considering themselves belonging to the Palestinian liberation movement, he had never done anything that would brand him as a terrorist. He suspected that someone who was an enemy had deliberately told the U.S. government that he was a PLO member, hoping to cause him problems.
This was during the Reagan Administration, so my first move was to hire a Republican law firm to help lobby for a visa for him. He not only had business interests in the United States, but his two sons were both in college here, so not being allowed to come into the U.S. was a decided handicap.
Aside from the law firm charging great amounts of money for whatever time they spent on his case, the lawyer assigned to his case was ultimately never able to get him cleared to enter the U.S. Finally, the lawyer/lobbyist told my client that he had a Jewish partner in the firm who was well connected in Israel, and would be able, he said, to travel to Israel to plead his case and to obtain Israel’s approval for his entry visa into the United States. He was told that the cost would be extra for the service.
My client looked at him, dumbfounded, and to his credit, said that he would prefer not to enter the U.S. if it came to relying on the Israeli government’s intervention to get him a visa.
JAMES ABOUREZK is a board member of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and is a contributor to CounterPunch and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate. His e mail address is: email@example.com
- As anti-BDS attacks mount, students feel unsafe but U of Penn President maintains shameful silence (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Heads of states and representatives of 70 countries gathered on Friday 2/24/2012 in Tunisia in what they propagandized as “Friends of Syria Conference”. They came together, each has his own individual agenda different than the others’, yet they all agreed on one common goals; the removal of the present Syrian Bashar al-Assad’s political regime, the division of Syrian society into conflicting sectarian minorities, and the establishment of a new pro-Western/pro-Zionist and anti-Iran/anti-Hezbollah/anti-Palestinian regime similar to those in other Arabic Statelets such as Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen and other Gulf States.
Frustration and helplessness were highly apparent in the speeches and decisions of the major players in this conference. The frustration was due to the failure of Libyanizing Syria, the failure of all political pressures on Syria during the last eleven months, and the failure of Syrian armed militias to gain any popularity within the country and to affect any division within Syrian governmental institutions. The highest frustration came due to their failure of manipulating the United Nations and the Security Council against Syria because of the Russian and Chinese vetoes against any UN resolution attempting to legitimize any foreign military intervention in Syria.
Since its independence from the French mandate in 1946, Syria had marched slowly, though faster than many other Arab states, towards political reforms, human rights, freedom and economical growth. Syria has been governed by a constitution since 1973 unlike many Arab states that are still ruled by oppressive authoritarian absolute familial tribal monarchies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia who pretend to call for democracy in Syria. Like all other Arab ruling regimes in the region Syria has need for more improvement. Yet foreign induced rebellions and civil wars would bring chaos, destruction, and more authoritarian regimes (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya) rather than steady gradual reform. Syria had moved towards such gradual reform during the last eleven months, further than what most Arab States had gone for the last forty years.
Syria had played a major positive role in the Arab World. It was a major founder of the Arab League in 1945 and had supported many of the Arab causes especially the Palestinian cause. In 1975, Syria got involved in the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war in an attempt to preserve peace. Syrian troops left Lebanon in April 2005, allowing the Lebanese to form their own independent government. Syria and Iran supported Hezbollah’s struggle against Israeli occupation of Lebanon until liberation in 2000 when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. In 2006, Israeli aggressed Southern Lebanon in an attempt to wipe out Hezbollah; some Arab States stood utterly silent while Qatar and Saudi Arabia cheered on, but Syria kept arming Hezbollah and hosted thousands of Lebanese refugees. Syria had also hosted around two million Iraqi refugees after the 2003 American occupation and destruction of Iraq. When Israel sent all its military might in December 2008 to destroy the already besieged, impoverished, and hungry Gaza, Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia cheered on again; Gaza Palestinians and the democratically elected Hamas did not receive help from any Arab state except Syria.
Although Syria accepted, and joined in, the American alleged fight against global terrorism (Al-Qaeda), its leaders had rejected and opposed the American New Middle East Project bringing on itself American anger. This anger intensified when Syria joined Iran in military and economical alliance. This alliance brought on also the hostility of Gulf States notably Saudi Arabia and the American base host, Qatar.
Syria has been a main resistance and oppositional front against the Zionist expansionist dream, a major opponent to the American hegemonic plans for the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, and an important ally to Iran that is considered a major enemy by USA and Israel. To get rid of Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel needs to weaken Syria. To control the oil-rich Gulf region the USA needs to get to Iran through Syria. There arose, therefore, in the West a decision to destroy the Syrian secular state, to divide it into smaller conflicting sectarian regions, to displace or co-opt the Syrian national elite, and eventually to install a pro-Western/pro-Zionist regime similar to that in Qatar and Saudi Arabia or at least an American-compliant Islamic republic similar to that in Tunisia and Egypt. Qatar and Saudi Arabia became the instruments used to manipulate the Arab League towards regime change in Syria.
Since Syria is free from American domination (it does not depend on American financial aid, does not buy weapons from any Western country, and it is not dependent on any Western economy or trade agreement), it becomes very difficult for any Western interference to affect a regime change. So a sinister plan was put together to urge Syrians to revolt against their government. This plan was called “Arab Spring”. It was hoped that Syrians would be encouraged to revolt against their government after witnessing the seemingly successful revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.1
To avoid the fate of Libya, the Syrian regime hastened to speed up reform. The regime lifted the state of emergency right away, declared measures for reform, cooperated with the mandates of the Arab League to the surprise of other Arab leaders, allowed Arab observers in the country, and called for dialogue with the opposition within Syria and later in Russia, and finally introduced a new, more democratic constitution and offered it to the masses for a referendum. The majority of the Syrian people countered the anti-regime demonstrations with massive pro-regime demonstrations. But the protesters and the movers behind them have evidently much more far-reaching goals in mind. They had refused all the compromising gestures offered by the regime, and demanded regime change before any dialogue. I wonder whom are they going to engage in dialogue with if the regime is not there!
When demonstrations did not gain popularity, the extremists of the opposition were pushed towards forming what is called Free Syrian Army (FSA) to commit violent acts, whose objective is to draw in armed security forces including the deployment of tanks and armored vehicles in order to give the Security Council the justification of foreign military intervention under NATO’s “Responsibility to Protect” mandate. Sophisticated weapons were smuggled in through Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The FSA attacked government institutions, police and army personnel, murdered some demonstrators, and bombed facilities and infrastructure in order to accuse security forces of these acts. Some were trained and armed by Qatari, Turkish, and British special operations units, who have been fighting in Homs alongside the rebels. Captured Turkish officers confessed to being trained in Israel according to Syrian MP Khaled el-Abbod. Members of the Turkish Parliament Human Rights Committee declared that Syrian militias are being trained in guerilla warfare in camps in Antioch, Turkey. The unfortunate FSA were not a match for the well-trained and well-equipped Syrian security forces. Some of them got killed in battle, others were captured, and many of them are now dropping weapons and surrendering to the army. Their leaders are urging their foreign operatives to seek a cease-fire, thus we witnessed the so-called Friends of Syria Conference calling for a cease-fire to allow alleged humanitarian aid to reach needy civilians (militias).
It is important to recognize that the Syrian opposition is comprised of at least two major factions: the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC). The SNC, whose leaders are outside of Syria in Europe and the US, was established in Istanbul, Turkey and seems to be the driving force behind the Free Syrian Army. It calls for the immediate and non-negotiable end of Bashar el-Assad’s regime and the establishment of a western-style democracy. The SNC calls for and welcomes Western intervention, and many of its leaders had openly called for Western and even Israeli military intervention. The SNC is supported by many Western countries and has been recognized on February 24 as “a, but not the only, representative” of the Syrian people.
The NCCDC, which was formed at a congress in Damascus, is largely based inside Syria with few members abroad. It is more moderate in its oppositional approach than the SNC. The NCCDC is strongly opposed to Western intervention although it is open to Arab intervention. It believes that the best solution to the Syrian crises is through dialogue with the Syrian regime in order to achieve a peaceful transition to a democratic rule. Although the NCCDC had, initially, sent a delegation to what is called the “Friends of Syria” conference it boycotted the conference criticizing it of hijacking the will of the Syrian people through imposing and legitimizing who represents the people, and of escalating calls for military intervention.
The Friends of Syria Conference was doomed to failure since the planning. Thousands of Tunisians picketed the conference calling it “Friends of Israel” conference, denouncing the attendees, and chanting for Syria. Saud bin-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, withdrew from the conference complaining of its inefficiency because it did not support his call for foreign military intervention to protect the Syrian people by ousting al-Assad’s regime. His hypocrisy is so apparent in his oppressive absolute familial monarchy that is murdering demonstrators daily in Qatif and Awamiyah demanding justice, freedom, and democracy. Saudi Interior Ministry’s Prince Naif bin Abdulazziz described these demonstrators as terrorists and threatened to use an iron fist against them. Close to 25% of Saudis, according to official consensus, are living under the poverty line; a scandalous fact in a super rich oil-producing country, where all citizens could live leisurely had their rulers not horded the oil revenue for themselves. (Check youtube’s poverty in Saudi Arabia). Saudi’s alleged support for democracy does not appear in its sending the Peninsula Shield Forces to savagely murder freedom-seeking Bahraini peaceful demonstrators. Saudi’s sympathy for other Arab citizens was not apparent when its leaders cheered on Israeli troops attacking South Lebanon in 2006 and in late 2008 when Israeli phosphorous bombs rained on helpless hungry Palestinian children in Gaza Strip.
Thrown by Syria’s cooperation with the mandates of the Arab League and by the failure of his financing of terrorist armed militias (Free Syrian Army) and their recent calls to be saved from the attacks of the Syrian army by demanding a cease-fire, Hamad bin Jassim, the Prime Minister of Qatar, called for safe passage in Syria for what he claimed to be humanitarian aid to needy Syrian people, a ploy he used in the past in Libya’s case to smuggle weapons and to justify NATO’s military intervention. He also called for the formation of a joint international and Arab military force to intervene in Syria. It is known to many that Qatar, the host of the largest American base, has been playing a major pro-American/pro-Zionist role in the region. This role could be seen in the destruction of Libya, in oppressing the Bahraini freedom-seeking demonstrators, in arming the so-called Free Syrian Army, and lately in manipulating the Palestinian (Fatah/Hamas) reconciliation efforts. According to Al’alam TV reports, Saudi Prince Talal bin-Abdulaziz, the brother of Saudi king Abdullah bin-Abdulaziz, has exposed a Zionist-Qatari conspiracy to subdivide Saudi Arabia into smaller chunks, to destroy Syria and its regime, and to designate a part of Saudi northern desert as refugees camp-ground for Palestinians who will be evicted from occupied Palestine. It is worth noting here that the internet is full of pictures of Hamad bin Jassim and his absolute monarch Hamad bin Khalifa warmly shaking hands with Israeli criminal leaders such as Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni.
The Tunisian position had caused some French and Qatari resentment even days before the conference convened. Tunisia wanted to invite, in particular, Russia and China, stating that without them the conference would have no real value. Also Tunisia, alongside Iraq, Lebanon, and Sudan, rejected Qatar’s request to recognize the SNC as the only legitimate representative of Syrians. At the opening of the conference, Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian president, rejected the idea of any military intervention in Syria and called for the formation of an Arab-only peace keeping force in Syria accompanied by political efforts to convince al-Assad to leave the country by offering him judicial immunity and political asylum, such as in Russia.
The Western countries, including the USA, have not yet found a suitable heir to al-Assad. Therefore, none of them is volunteering any of its troops as a peace keeping force or calling for any military solution. They wanted to spare their troops by having a Libyan-style civil war where Arabs fight Arabs. The contrasting division between the different Syrian oppositional groups was not encouraging either. The only things they could offer are accusations of, and warnings to the al-Assad regime. President Obama threatened that he would use “every tool available to stop the slaughter in Syria,” calling for further international pressure on al-Assad’s regime. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had nothing to offer except false predictions that al-Assad’s regime is getting closer to collapse. Obama and Clinton left it to pro-Zionist senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman to call for “tangible actions” to be taken, such as providing Syrian opposition (SNC and its FSA) with weapons, intelligence tools, and aerial drone surveillance to “ensure that the Syrian people have the means to protect themselves against their attackers”.
Meanwhile al-Assad’s regime is moving along with political and social reforms. A draft of a new constitution was offered to the people in a referendum to be voted on Sunday 2/26. This draft deletes Article 8 of the old constitution stating that the Ba’ath party is the only ruling party in the country. It also offers a state system based on political pluralism, multiple political parties, political rule exercised through democratic vote, and assures the independence and free functions of executive, judicial and legislative powers. It also provides that society will be based on solidarity and respect for the principles of social justice, freedom, equality and preservation of human dignity of every individual, and that citizens have equal right and duties without discrimination based on sex, origin, language, religion or creed. It also ensures the freedom of press and publications as well as the independence of the media. Similarly, women are provided all opportunities that will enable them to contribute fully and effectively in all avenues of the country including political, economic, social, and cultural life.
Most importantly, the new constitution also stipulates that the presidency will be open to candidates above 40 years old who will be elected by universal and secret elections, with a seven-year term limit, with the option for a second term only if voters deem it worthy.
Despite calls for boycotting the referendum, by 5:00 pm Syria time it was estimated that between 70-75% of the population had a taste of their new democratic right to vote. Peaceful achievement of democracy is triumphing in Syria.
- Please read detailed analysis of the Arab Spring in previous article: “The Snake Behind the Arab Spring.”
Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala and now living in the US. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Syria has made its first major democratic reform by holding a national referendum to decide on a new constitution and electoral process in the country.
Press TV has interviewed Mr. Wadah Al-Khatib, a political analyst in Damascus about the national significance and international consequence of Monday’s public referendum in Syria that would enable the formation of a democratic parliament. What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: As the Syrian people are trying to bring about changes in the country, in your perspective why are outside entities continuing to interfere in this process?
Al-Khatib: First all, outside entities have no business interfering in a referendum on a constitution in any country. I think it’s just a sample of the type of strong interventionist policies that the US has been carrying out for a good part of the 20th century and the beginning of this century.
Outside parties that are against the referendum on a new constitution have been defined by your report – we’re talking about the Persian Gulf monarchies most of which have no constitutions and the whole process of voting does not exist and countries that have historically not been very good friends of the Syrian people or of the other Arabs.
And the US, for example, not approving or not accepting the concept of a referendum on a constitution, that contradicts its very foundations on which the US was created.
I think it’s more about what they don’t want to see in Syria, which is a move towards a political process that involves various spectrums of opinion of the Syrian society. I think they do not want to see this under the current leadership and this is why they’re not happy.
Press TV: Let’s look at US officials from the president down, they have openly said that they will use all means available to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. What do you think that means? Do you think that includes bombings, assassinations, creating chaos – what do you get from that phrase, ‘all means available’?
Al-Khatib: It could mean, in a different time, military intervention. We’re talking in 2012 in a rather difficult election year for President Obama. It will be interesting to see how the US would try to intervene or the possible ways during the ensuing months. In a couple of months Mr. Obama will be very busy just trying to keep himself in office.
The US has been intervening in this crisis from the very beginning we think through the provision of funds and training in arms to various members and various armed groups that have been working and functioning in Syria and I think in the very near future we’re going to see evidence of that.
I think at this point what we’re hearing from the US is nothing but political posturing in an election year. The conference we saw in Tunis a couple of days ago was a perfect example – Secretary of State Hilary Clinton avoided any direct reference to military intervention during the conference, which made the Saudi foreign minister not very happy.
So, I think the Americans will be very loud in the next few months, but I seriously doubt that they will actually commit the mistake at this point of being militarily on the ground or even trying a bombing campaign.
Press TV: Let’s look at the concept of people putting Syria first – Let’s look at the violence that we have seen inside of the country and probably the question for many would be; a legitimate opposition, would they be involved in also the type of violence that we have seen?
We know that at least 2,000 security personnel are among the dead and it would seem that a nationalist of any country that they really would not benefit from this type of chaos. What is your take in general on that so-called opposition during this?
Al-Khatib: I think a legitimate opposition would seek a transfer of power through the ballot box. The fact that there are certain people who claim to be a so-called national opposition have been trying through violent means to change the government and to smother the country really discredits their claim for a more democratic say that they’re trying to create.
I think there are people in Syria who are opposed to the government and who seek in peaceful ways to express their opposition and this is the only legitimate opposition that anyone can think of.
People who carry guns and kill those who disagree with them are hardly entitled to speak about democracy and to seek a change of government and unfortunately we have seen a lot of this in Syria in the last 11 months. But I have to say that in the last couple of weeks the security situation has improved dramatically up to the referendum held today.
- Syrians head to polls in referendum on new constitution (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- ‘Some Arab states against political solution to Syria unrest’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- China: US has no moral right to ‘protect’ Arabs (rt.com)
Syria’s Interior Minister has announced that 89 per cent of those who took part in the referendum have voted in favor of a new constitution. The new law puts an end to five decades of one-party rule among other reforms put forward by President Assad.
Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar announced the results of the referendum at a press conference on Monday.
According to the minister, out of 14,580,000 Syrians eligible to vote some 8,376,000, or about 57 per cent, actually came to the polling stations and voted, RT’s Maria Finoshina reports from Damascus.
Al-Shaar said that the opposition groups tried to hamper the vote in some troubled areas like Homs and Idlib. Armed rebels did not allow some people to get to the polling stations he said.
Those who live in such troubled regions had a chance to vote at polling stations which had been set up out of areas where clashes with the armed opposition still continue. Syrians who live in neighboring countries voted at stations set up near the borders.
“We are satisfied with the results,” al-Shaar said, as cited by Finoshina. “The Syrian people have made their choice.”
The adopted constitution includes 14 new and 47 amended articles. The reforms put forward by President Assad are designed to stop the bloody uprising and pave the way for free elections in the country.
An unprecedented referendum on a new draft constitution took place in Syria on Sunday. Syrians took an active part in the crucial vote and the officials said turnout was very high.
Despite the fact that the opposition boycotted the referendum, calling it an empty gesture, and called for mass protests, there were no public order violations in Damascus during the vote.
Western politicians considered the referendum to be a farce, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it “a cynical ploy” and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle describing it as a “sham vote.”
Meanwhile, on Monday the European Union has slapped the Syrian government with its toughest set of sanctions yet. They include an asset freeze on officials, and a ban on importing precious metals and minerals from the country.
More than a year since the uprising in Syria began, violence is still raging on in some parts of the country, including the flashpoint city of Homs, where dozens were reported killed during the weekend.
- President Assad Sets Date for Constitution Referendum, Russia Welcomes (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Palestinian prisoners advocacy group Addameer announced on Twitter yesterday that Israel had renewed administrative detention orders against Palestinian writer Ahmad Qatamesh for an additional six months. This is the third consecutive administrative detention order issued against Qatamesh.
The Palestinian writer and academic has been held without charge since 21 April 2011, when Israeli soldiers raided his family’s home, holding his family members hostage at gunpoint until Qatamesh, who was not home at the time, surrendered himself.
Ahmad’s daughter, Hanin Ahmad Qatamesh, described in harrowing detail how Israeli soldiers raided her family’s home in the middle of the night, searching for her father, in an article for The Electronic Intifada.
Ahmad Qatamesh’s wife Suha Barghouti, a human rights activist, told The Electronic Intifada: “It’s so clear that he is there [in Israeli prison] because of his ideas and political activism. He is a prisoner of conscience and he is there because of political reasons.” […]
News of Israel’s renewal of the detention orders against Qatamesh comes on the heels of a historic hunger strike made by Palestinian administrative detainee Khader Adnan. Adnan waged a 66-day-long strike to protest his being detained without charge. He ended his strike after Israel agreed to not renew his detention orders and release Adnan on 17 April.
Another Palestinian administrative detainee, Hana al-Shalabi, is entering her twelfth day of hunger strike. Like Adnan, this is not the first time Israel has arrested her and held her without charge or trial; she was arrested in September 2009 and subjected to solitary confinement, abuse and sexual harassment, according to an Addameer profile of al-Shalabi. A military court hearing confirming the administrative detention order against al-Shalabi is due to be held later today, according to Addameer.
There are more than 300 Palestinians currently being held without charge or trial under administrative detention orders, including at least twenty out of 132 members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council.
Suha Barghouti and Ahmad Qatamesh (photo courtesy of Suha Barghouti)
Addameer has a toolkit for activists to put pressure on Israel to release Qatamesh, and encourages supporters to write to Qatamesh in prison (Ahmad Qatamesh, Ofer Prison, Givat Zeev, PO Box 3007, via Israel).
Addameer also has a profile of Qatamesh which includes information on how Israel had previously been held in administrative detention for five and a half years, and the impact that his imprisonment has had on his family:
Ahmad was first arrested in 1992 in front of his three-year-old daughter. Following his arrest, he was detained for more than a year – during which time he was tortured – before being placed in administrative detention in October 1993, despite the Military Judge ordering his release. Ahmad’s detention orders were repeatedly renewed for the next five and a half years, despite a lack of evidence purported against him. Due to pressure from international campaigns, Ahmad was finally released in 1998, becoming one of the longest-serving administrative detainees held without charge in Israeli prison. His memoir, I shall not wear your tarboosh [fez], accounts his experiences of being tortured while in detention.
Ahmad’s extensive detention and arrests have been extremely difficult for his wife, Suha, a board member of Addameer and the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and his daughter, Haneen, a university student at the American University in Cairo. Suha recalls of his most recent arrest, “A few days ago, when they arrested my husband, I found out that there are very deep marks on my daughter’s spirit. She was three years old at that moment [when they arrested her father in 1992], and the marks are still there. When the soldiers told her that [they] arrested her father again, she almost collapsed.” Suha and Haneen hoped that Ahmad would be released before Haneen’s graduation in January. The event was very important to Ahmad, particularly because he feels as though he was not able to watch his daughter grow up for much of her childhood.
More than ten years after he was released from his previous detention, it had not occurred to Ahmad’s wife Suha that they might have to suffer through the same ordeal once again. The torment of his arrest is made even worse by the uncertainty of administrative detention and not being able to prepare for his release, as the family is already all-too-familiar with the prison authorities’ practice of renewing administrative detention orders every six months. She condemns his imprisonment as a prisoner of conscience, arrested for his ideas and political activism, and calls on the international community to continue to assert pressure on his behalf.
Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold detainees indefinitely on secret evidence without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. In the occupied Palestinian West Bank, the Israeli army is authorized to issue administrative detention orders against Palestinian civilians on the basis of Military Order 1651. This order empowers military commanders to detain an individual for up to six month renewable periods if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can be continued indefinitely.
- Hana al-Shalabi on hunger strike against renewed administrative detention (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- B’Tselem reports sharp increase in the numbers of Palestinians being held in administrative detention (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Minister of Detainees Calls for Boycott of Military Courts (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Valiance in the Face of Cruelty (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Speaker Of Palestine Parliament Receives Six Months Administrative Detention (alethonews.wordpress.com)