Thursday, September 30, 2010

Obama tries to bribe Netanyahu into prolonging the building freeze

President Barack Obama has written a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering "a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank associated with the Jewish lobby AIPAC, has revealed this. He writes that according to U.S. officials the letter makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached.
Politico, the blog of the usually well informed Laura Rozen had previous knowledge of Makovsky's publication. Rozen thinks it plausible to assume that Makovsky's revealing of Obama's written had got the green light of epople withing the American government in order to make known the offer Netanyahu has to date turned down -- and thus to encourage him to accept it. Makovsky writes that the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak --  who Makovsky describes as closely consulting with the administration on the draft letter -- thinks Netanyahu should accept the Obama proposal.
Makovsky writes that the efforts of the Obama administration to avert the diplomatic impasse presented by the expiration of an Israeli partial West Bank settlement freeze last weekend, culminated in a draft letter negotiated with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and ultimately sent from President Obama's desk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. 
The letter "guarantees that Washington will not ask for a moratorium extension beyond 60 days," Makovsky writes. "Rather, the future of settlements is to be settled at the table as part of territorial negotiations.
"Second, the letter promises that the United States will veto any UN Security Council initiative -- Arab or otherwise -- relating to Arab-Israeli peace during the agreed one-year negotiating period. And third, Washington pledged to accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them", which among other things seems to include that Israel is entitled to keep a military presence in the Jordan Valley.
The White House declined to comment on the reported Obama letter.
However, Dennis Ross (picture), Obama's most importrant Middle Est man at the National Security Council, told Jewish members of Congress in a briefing on Wednesday, that Netanyahu has expressed his appreciation for the proposed U.S. package that includes "American pledges of support to Israel on certain political and security objectives" -  but had so far rejected it.

University of Johannesburg rejects boycot of Ben Gurion Uni, but not completely

University of Johannesburg

University of Johannesburg professors rejected calls to sever ties with an Israeli university on Wednesday, but called on Ben-Gurion University to work with its Palestinian counterparts, the South African daily Mail and Guardian reports.

Calls for similar academic boycotts to protest Israel's Palestinian policies also have failed in the West.
The South African university's faculty senate met on Wednesday to vote on the proposal, which had been endorsed by anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but instead accepted a compromise without a vote. They asked Ben-Gurion University to work with Palestinian universities on research projects, and to start the collaborations within six months if it wanted to maintain ties with the University of Johannesburg.
UJ Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib said the compromise reflected his institution's values.
"We believe in reconciliation," Habib said. "We'd like to bring BGU and Palestinian universities together to produce a collective engagement that benefits everyone."
The universities have joint research projects and academic exchanges on biotechnology and water purification.
Relations between Ben-Gurion University and Rand Afrikaans University, a formerly all-white university under South Africa's apartheid system, began in 1987. The University of Johannesburg, created in 2005, took over various campuses including Rand Afrikaans University and a university in the black township of Soweto as part of efforts to ensure higher education was transformed with the rest of South Africa after the end of apartheid.
Israel officially opposed apartheid, but its ties with the white government were seen as close. South Africa's post-apartheid government has been a sharp critic of Israel's Palestinian policies. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was among the guests at Nelson Mandela's 1994 inauguration as South Africa's first black president.
Tutu and more than 200 prominent South African academics had supported ending UJ's links with the Israeli institution.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Iranian blogger sentenced to 19,5 years

Almost two years after his arrest the Canadian Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan (35) was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Courts today. News of the stiff sentence was first published by Mashreq website. A source close to the family of Hossein Derakhshan confirmed the news for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, adding that Derakhshan’s family are shocked by the news.  ”Neither the family nor the lawyer knew about the sentence, they read the news online.”
“According to the sentence Derakhshan has been charged with ‘cooperation with hostile states, propagating against the regime, propagation in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, insulting sanctities, and implementation and management of obscene websites,’ and sentenced to 19.5 years in prison, five years’ ban from membership in political parties and activities in the media; and returning received funds in the amount of 30,750 Euro, US$2,900, and 200 British Pounds,” reported the Mashreq website. According to the source referenced in the Mashreq article, Derakhshan or his lawyer Mahdavi can appeal the ruling.
Derkhshan, who was nicknamed the 'Father of Blogging'. lived in Canada and posted from there instructions for Iranians on how to blog in Farsi and how to make websites. He was arrested when he visited this family in Iran in October 2008.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

High Court ruling opens possibility of many more evictions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah

The Al-Ghawi family sitting on plastic chairs opposite their home that has been taken by Jewish settlers. Soon their fate will be shared by more families in Sheikh Jarrah.

A ruling by Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday has opened the door for settler groups to move into dozens more homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Haaretz reports. The justices Yoram Danziger, Esther Hayut and Miriam Naor unanimously rejected an appeal by Palestinians claiming to own a large plot in the western portion of the neighborhood. The court ruled that the custodian general, and other owners, including settler representatives, succeeded in proving they owned the property.
The juridical situation of land ownership in Jerusalem is complicated due to the fact that Israel  - illegally - annexed the Eastern part of the city after it had been conquered in 1967 and applied Israeli law to it. This made it possible for Jews to claim land that they had owned before 1948 (a blatant injustice as Palestinians hav never been in a situation to claim property they owned before in the Western part of the city, let alone in other parts of Israel).
The situation in Sheikh Jarrah is since long tense because of the actions of Jewish settler groups which are in part financied by American millionaires like the casino magnate Irving Moskovitz. The groups call the neigbourhood 'Shimon haTzaddik'  (Simon the Just) after a tomb of a famous rabbi which is located in the area. Settler movements like Ateret Cohanim are constructing 'Jewish only' appartment buildings like on the spot of the formerly famous Shepherd hotel in the area, but also they are taking over homes from Palestinian owners on the ground that before 1948 the places were Jewish owned.
A number of Palestinian families, most of the refugees from the 1948 war, which had been allocated houses by the UN organisation UNRWA in te fifties, last year lost their cases in court. The court recognized Jewish ownership of the places based on rights from before 1948, rights which had been bought by the settler organisations from the previous owners, a society of  the sephardi community of the city. Tensions have risen  since then, as the court  allowed Jewish groups to reclaim homes, thereby allowing them to evict Palestinian families in favor of Jewish ones. Families like the Al Turk and Al-Ghawi since then live in the street in tents, opposite the houses they had been living in for more than fifty years. 
According to the artcile in today's Haartez a group of Palestinians initiated a court case in 1997, arguing that the property on which Jews settled in the 19th century had not been sold to them but leased and that the ownership remained Palestinian. In 2006 the Jerusalem District Court rejected the suit, after which they appealed to the Supreme Court.
Sunday the Supreme Court rejected their appeal and ruled that Jews are the owners of the homes. The ruling, written by judge Danziger, states that the Palestinians failed to prove the terms of the lease between the original owners and the Jews who lived in the neighborhood. Evidence that payments for the lease were made were rejected by the court as constituting evidence that the Jews did not buy the property, according to the paper.

The ruling means that the settlers, whose ownership has been recognized by the Supreme Court, will now be able to initiate proceedings for the eviction of dozens of Palestinian families living on the property. So soon there will be many more families camping in the streets, like the Al-Turk and Ghawi families. Also the settlers  will be able to move ahead with plans to build in the area.
Aryeh King, one of the leaders of the settlement movement in East Jerusalem, said yesterday that in two days three Palestinian families whose leases are ending are expected to be evicted from their homes. The plan is for Jewish families to move in. King also said that he is advancing a project to build dozens of housing units for Jews in the neighborhood.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Was Stuxnet used earlier in Israel's 2007 attack on a reactor in Syria?

Syrian reactor under construction before it was hit in an Israeli air attack (the picture was published by US media after the attack)  

The Stuxnet worm that is directed at industrial facilities is still making headlines. First Iran admitted that it's  nuclear agency is trying to combat the computer worm and that it had affected industrial sites throughout the country. Experts believe that there could have been a connection with a mysterious incident at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. Also it seems that Natanz is only working at 60% of its capacity. Experts from the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran met this week to discuss how to remove the malicious computer code, or worm, the semi-official Isna news agency reported on Friday.

Stuxnet  can take over systems that control the inner workings of industrial plants, but no damage or disruption of nuclear facilities has yet been reported. The worm was discovered in July by a firm in Belarus that works with Iranian firms. It has since shown up in a number of attacks - primarily in Iran, Indonesia, India and the US. Isna said the malware had spread throughout Iran, but did not name specific sites affected.

In its report about the worm the New York Times revealed a very interesting sideline. The paper recalled the 2007 Israeli Air Force attack on what was suspected of being a Syrian nuclear reactor under construction.
Accounts of the event initially indicated that sophisticated jamming technology had been used to blind the radar so Israeli aircraft went unnoticed. Last December, however, a report in an American technical publication, IEEE Spectrum, cited a European industry source as raising the possibility that the Israelis had used a built-in kill switch to shut down the radar.
A former member of the United States intelligence community said that the attack had been the work of Israel’s equivalent of America’s National Security Agency, known as Unit 8200.
But if the attack was based on a worm or a virus, there was never a smoking gun like Stuxnet, the paper wrote, by which it meant to say that one might wonder why Stuxnet appeared at so many places when only a few targets were meant to be attacked..Which either indicates that the attack was carried out more sloppily than one would have expected of a  government agency, or just in such a hurry that it was impossible to avoid these side effects.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jewish Boat to Gaza sets sail from ­Cyprus
A boat carrying aid for Gaza's population and organized by Jewish groups worldwide has set sail from Cyprus today at 13:32 local time .
The boat, Irene, is sailing under a British flag and is carrying ten passengers and crew, including Jews from the US, the UK, Germany and Israel as well as two British journalists.
At crisis point in peace talks, Jews, Israelis, call to lift the siege on Gaza, and to end the occupation.
The boat's cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children's toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza's fishing communities and prosthetic limbs for orthopaedic medical care in Gaza's hospitals.
The receiving organization in Gaza is the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, directed by Gaza psychiatrist Dr. Eyad Sarraj.
The boat will attempt to reach the coast of Gaza and unload its aid cargo in a nonviolent, symbolic act of solidarity and protest - and call for the siege to be lifted to enable free passage of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip.
The boat will fly multicolored peace flags carrying the names of dozens of Jews who have expressed their support for this action, as a symbol of the widespread support for the boat by Jews worldwide.
Speaking from London, a member of the organizing group, Richard Kuper of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said today that the Jewish Boat to Gaza is a symbolic act of protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the siege of Gaza, and a message of solidarity to Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace and justice.
'Israeli government policies are not supported by all Jews,' said Kuper. 'We call on all governments and people around the world to speak and act against the occupation and the siege.'
Regarding the threat of interception by the Israeli navy, Kuper said 'This is a nonviolent action. We aim to reach Gaza, but our activists will not engage in any physical confrontation and will therefore not present the Israelis with any reason or excuse to use physical force or assault them.'
Passenger Reuven Moskovitz, 82, said that his life's mission has been to turn foes into friends. "We are two peoples, but we have one future", he said.
Satellite phone on board for contact to the passengers: 00 8821668610337
Media Contact in London for interviewing the Boat's organizers: Yosh, 0044 7816 448307
JNews contact in Israel: Miri 00972 549270796

Passengers and crew for interview:
Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, is a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor. Speaks German, Hebrew and English.
Rami Elhanan, from Israel, who lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict. Speaks Hebrew and English.
Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, is a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Speaks English and German.
Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, is an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace. Speaks Hebrew and English.
Carole Angier, from the UK, is the biographer of the renowned author, Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. Speaks English, French, Italian and German.  
Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat's captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Speaks English.

Dr. Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008. Speaks German and English.
Alison Prager, from the UK, is a teacher and peace activist. She is media coordinator for the boat. Speaks English.
Itamar Shapira, from Israel, is Yonatan's brother, and a member of the boat's crew. Speaks Hebrew, Spanish and English.
Eli Osherov,  Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News.
Supporters: Jewish organizations and individuals from UK, Holland, Germany, US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, Austria, Australia and Israel.
Organizers and sponsors: European Jews for a Just Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK), Juedische Stimme fuer einen gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Germany), American Jews for a Just Peace (USA), Jewish Voice for Peace (USA), Jews Against the Occupation Sydney.

  Visit and join us on Facebook and Twitter (links on site.)

'Cancers and birth defects in Iraqi city Fallujah are worse than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after 1945'

 Fallujah after the American onslaught of 2004.
One of the effects of the British American military campaign in Iraq in 2003 is the dramatic change in health standards and living conditions for the civilan population that last to this day. None however is as dramatic as the effects of the 2004 onslaught of the American marines on the city of Fallujah in 2004. And yet, although a recent epidemiological study shed some light on how very bad the situation really is, almost no media carreid reports about it.
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Their claims have now been supported by this survey, which showed a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait. The study of 711 houses and 4,843 individuals carried out in January and February 2010 by authors Chris Busby and Malak Hamdan was called  “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009,” and  was published in July in the International Journal of Environmental Studies and Public Health (IJERPH). It found also that that the forms of cancer in Fallujah are similar to those found among the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors, who in 1945 were exposed to intense fallout radiation. 
In Fallujah the rate of leukemia is 38 times higher, the childhood cancer rate is 12 times higher, and breast cancer is 10 times more common than in populations in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. Heightened levels of adult lymphoma and brain tumors were also reported. At 80 deaths out of every 1,000 births, the infant mortality rate in Fallujah is more than five times higher than in Egypt and Jordan, and eight times higher than in Kuwait.
Strikingly, after 2005 the proportion of girls born in Fallujah has increased sharply. In normal populations, 1,050 boys are born for every 1,000 girls. But among those born in Fallujah in the four years after the US assault, the ratio was reduced to 860 boys for every 1,000 female births. This alteration is similar to gender ratios found in Hiroshima after the US atomic attack of 1945.
The most likely reason for the change in the sex ratio, according to the researchers, is the impact of a major mutagenic event — likely the use of depleted uranium in US weapons. While boys have one X-chromosome, girls have a redundant X-chromosome and can therefore absorb the loss of one chromosome through genetic damage.

This is an extraordinary and alarming result,” said Busby, a professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Ulster and director of scientific research for Green Audit, an independent environmental research group. “To produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened. We need urgently to find out what the agent was. Although many suspect uranium, we cannot be certain without further research and independent analysis of samples from the area.”
Busby told an Italian television news station, RAI 24, that the “extraordinary” increase in radiation-related maladies in Fallujah is higher than that found in the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the US atomic strikes of 1945. “My guess is that this was caused by depleted uranium,” he said. “They must be connected.”
US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.
In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.
 Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."

The US military uses depleted uranium, also known as spent nuclear fuel, in armor-piercing shells and bullets because it is twice as dense as lead. Once these shells hit their target, however, as much as 40 percent of the uranium is released in the form of tiny particles in the area of the explosion. It can remain there for years, easily entering the human bloodstream, where it lodges itself in lymph glands and attacks the DNA produced in the sperm and eggs of affected adults, causing, in turn, serious birth defects in the next generation.
The research is the first systematic scientific substantiation of a body of evidence showing a sharp increase in infant mortality, birth defects, and cancer in Fallujah.

In October of 2009, several Iraqi and British doctors wrote a letter to the United Nations demanding an inquiry into the proliferation of radiation-related sickness in the city:or:

“Young women in Fallujah in Iraq are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias.…
“In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 newborn babies, 24 percent of whom were dead within the first seven days, a staggering 75 percent of the dead babies were classified as deformed.…
“Doctors in Fallujah have specifically pointed out that not only are they witnessing unprecedented numbers of birth defects, but premature births have also considerably increased after 2003. But what is more alarming is that doctors in Fallujah have said, ‘a significant number of babies that do survive begin to develop severe disabilities at a later stage.’

According to the authors of “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah,” the Iraqi authorities attempted to scuttle their survey. “[S]hortly after the questionnaire survey was completed, Iraqi TV reportedly broadcast that a questionnaire survey was being carried out by terrorists and that anyone who was answering or administering the questionnaire could be arrested,” the study reports.
In the attack, the US made heavy use of the chemical agent white phosphorus. Ostensibly used only for illuminating battlefields, white phosphorus causes terrible and often fatal wounds, burning its way through building material and clothing before eating away skin and then bone. The chemical was also used to suck the oxygen out of buildings where civilians were hiding.
 The true number of city residents who were killed in the 2004 attack is not known. The city’s population before the attack was estimated to be between 425,000 and 600,000. The current population is believed to be between 250,000 and 300,000. Tens of thousands, mostly women and children, fled in advance of the attack. Half of the city’s building were destroyed, most of these reduced to rubble.Like much of Iraq, Fallujah remains in ruins. According to a recent report from IRIN, a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Fallujah still has no functioning sewage system six years after the attack. “Waste pours onto the streets and seeps into drinking water supplies,” the report notes. “Abdul-Sattar Kadhum Al-Nawaf, director of Fallujah general hospital, said the sewage problem had taken its toll on residents’ health. They were increasingly affected by diarrhea, tuberculosis, typhoid and other communicable diseases.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

IAEA Assemblee narrowly rejects call on Israel to join NPT

 US installed special radar system for the protection of the Israeli nuclear plant in Dimona in the Negev. (Getty images)

Member states of the U.N. nuclear watchdog IAEA rejected on Friday an Arab-proposed resolution calling on "nuclear-armed" Israel to join a global anti-atomic arms treaty. US administration has pledged to shield Israel from criticising at the meeting, pressing countries to vote against the resolution.
An assembly meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year approved a resolution calling on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation treaty.
The general assembly of the 151-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) failed to pass the resolution with 51 against, 46 votes for and 23 abstentions. It had approved a similar resolution expressing concern at "Israel's Nuclear Capabilities" in a close vote at last year's General Conference, as the annual IAEA gathering is known. Several small countries, including some in Latin America such as Costa Rica and Panama, who were absent in 2009 voted against the measure this time. Like last year, Russia and China supported the text.
"It is Israel that singles itself out by standing aloof from the consensus of all the other states in the region which have acceded to the NPT," a Sudanese diplomat told the assembly, speaking for the Arab group. "It stands alone in refusing to place its nuclear facilities under the agency safeguards."

Israel, which most experts estimate that it has at least between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, would have to open all its nuclear facilities under the IAEA's perusal if it signed the NPT.
The 2009 resolution called on IAEA chief Yukiya Amano to prepare a report on how to implement it. Amano published his report earlier this month, saying he had invited Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Arab countries slammed Amano's report as "weak and disappointing, devoid of any substance and not up to the typical level of the Agency's reporting...".
Some states including Turkey often point to Israel's nuclear arms in the region as US, West increase their pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Tutu, Breytenbach, Boesak call for end of J'burg Uni ties with university Beer Sheba

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Unisa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana and author Breyten Breytenbach have added their voices to calls for the University of Johannesburg to sever academic ties with Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The cooperation between the two universities dates from the 1980s, when the local partner was called Rand Afrikaans University. The agreement now under fire involves scientific interaction and was signed in August last year, renewing a controversial apartheid-era collaboration, its critics say.
On Wednesday next week UJ's senate will hear recommendations on the future of the university's ties with Ben-Gurion.
The Mail & Guardian reported in May that the senate had debated the matter then and had asked a senate subcommittee headed by deputy vice-chancellor Adam Habib to make recommendations within three months.
online petition launched after the May senate meeting. It calls for "the suspension of UJ’s agreement with Ben-Gurion" and this week had notched up nearly 200 signatories.
Law professor John Dugard, theologian Allan Boesak, ANC stalwart Kader Asmal, struggle veteran and language-rights expert Neville Alexander, poet Antjie Krog, former Freedom of Expression Institute director Jane Duncan and Wits University sociologist Ran Greenstein are among other recent additions to the petition.

Yemeni army ends siege of Al-Hawta

Yemeni troops on Friday managed to drive al-Qaida fighters from the southern town Al-Hawta after five days of clashes, a senior security official said. However, tribal chiefs in the area said they had negotiated an end to the siege and persuaded the militants to leave peacefully. The chiefs, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, said the army entered the town without fighting after the militants had already left.
Brigadier general Ahmed al-Maqdashi, head of Shabwa security, said the militants fled Friday into the mountains, where the army was chasing after them.
The military, backed by tanks and heavy artillery, laid siege to al-Hawta in the Shabwa province on Monday to retake the town, which was earlier seized by the militants. Between 8.000 and 10.000 residents fled Hawta and the surrounding area after the fighting broke out. Abdullah Atig, a local Shabwa official, said Friday that preparations were under way to bring the people back to their homes. A committee was formed to help them.

Officials have praised the offensive,but Shabwa elder, Hassan Banan, claimed the government had exaggerated the intensity of the fighting to get more foreign aid for its campaign against al-Qaida.

On Wednesday, government forces launched multiple assaults on Hawta but failed to break the militants' defenses. In one attempt helicopters were used. In another attempt, several soldiers were wounded by sniper fire as they tried to mount barricades put up by the militants on Hawta's outskirts.
Shabwa governor Ali al-Ahmadi had said that at least four al-Qaida fighters died. General Al-Maqdashi, the area security chief, said on Wednesday that 28 militants had been arrested.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stuxnet, the software worm that attacks installations, made in Israel to target Iran?

Several media reported lately about a new kind of software malware,  which is able to spy on and reprogram industrial systems. According to some it may have specifically been devised to target nuclear installations in Iran. It was written to attack SCADA systems which are used to control and monitor industrial processes. The worm, called Stuxnet, seems to be extremely complex and sophisticated, which suggests that it could only have been written by a 'nation state', according to some experts.

Stuxnet was first detected in June by a security firm based in Belarus, but may have been circulating since 2009. Unlike most viruses, the worm targets systems that are traditionally not connected to the internet for security reasons. Instead it infects Windows machines via USB keys - commonly used to move files around - infected with malware.It is believed to be the first-known worm designed to target real-world infrastructure such as power stations, water plants and industrial units.
Once it has infected a machine on a firm's internal network, it seeks out a specific configuration of industrial control software made by Siemens. Once hijacked, the code can reprogram so-called PLC (programmable logic control) software to give attached industrial machinery new instructions. "[PLCs] turn on and off motors, monitor temperature, turn on coolers if a gauge goes over a certain temperature," said Liam O'Murchu of security firm Symantec. who has been tracking the worm for som time.
'Those have never been attacked before that we have seen.'
An industrial control security researcher in Germany who has analyzed the Stuxnet computer worm is speculating that it may have been created to sabotage nuclear installations in Iran, since many of the reported attacks took place in this country.

The high number of infections in Iran and the fact that the opening of the Bushehr nuclear plant there has been delayed led Ralph Langner to theorize that the plant was a target. Langner gave a talk on the subject at the Applied Control Solutions' Industrial Control Cyber Security conference today and published details of his code analysis on his Web site last week.

"With the forensics we now have, it is evident and provable that Stuxnet is a directed sabotage attack involving heavy insider knowledge," he wrote. "The attack combines an awful lot of skills--just think about the multiple zero-day vulnerabilities, the stolen certificates, etc. This was assembled by a highly qualified team of experts, involving some with specific control system expertise. This is not some hacker sitting in the basement of his parents' house. To me, it seems that the resources needed to stage this attack point to a nation state."
Langner does not say he has evidence to support his speculation as to the target, nor does he say exactly what the code is designed to do on the target's system.
The presentation shocked attendees of the cybersecurity conference, Joe Weiss, the organizer of the event, told CNET. As a result, "there are a whole slew of recommendations coming out of this to address control system cybersecurity that had not been addressed before," he said.
"The implications of Stuxnet are very large, a lot larger than some thought at first," Michael Assante, former security chief for the North American Electric Reliability Corp., told The Christian Science Monitor. (IDG News Service also covered the news.) "Stuxnet is a directed attack. It's the type of threat we've been worried about for a long time. It means we have to move more quickly with our defenses--much more quickly."
Richard Silverstein speculates that the worm may have originated in the laboratories of  a special Israeli unit:

''By all accounts. the worm is so advanced, performs so many functions, and operates in such a complex fashion that it can only have been produced by the intelligence agency of a sovereign nation.  We can imagine which nations would have the capacity to mount such an operation and the motivation to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.  The CIA and Mossad (or IDF military intelligence) spring to mind.  My money is either on Israel and a shared operation mounted in some way by both countries.
IDF military intelligence has such a capability, Unit 8200, which analyzes intercepted communications and performs all manner of cyber-warfare tasks.  A recent profile of the group described its operations in some detail though didn’t deal with the question of whether 8200 may’ve been involved in this attack.  Forbes published this warm and fuzzy profile as well making 8200 out to be a real cool version of Silicon Valley. Silverstein's line of thought is easy to follow. Which country is more than any other interested in incapacitating Iran's nuclear capability?
 Photo's: on top the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr, down the uranium erichment facility in Natanz.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

UN-panel: Israeli raid on Gaza Flotilla violated international law

A report by three U.N.-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year.The U.N. Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission concluded that Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there.
The Human Rights Council's report was compiled by former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Desmond de Silva, Trinidadian judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips and Malaysian women's rights advocate Mary Shanthi Dairiam. It is scheduled to be debated in the council on Monday.
The 56-page document lists a series of alleged crimes committed by Israeli forces during and after the raid. The panel concluded that a humanitarian crisis existed in Gaza on the day of the incident in Gaza and "for this reason alone the blockade is unlawful and cannot be sustained in law."
"The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel toward the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality," the report said. It described the Israeli raid on May 31, in which eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American aboard the Mavi Marmara were shot and killed, as "clearly unlawful.
"The raid sparked an international outcry and forced Israel to ease its blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Israel, along with Egypt, imposed in June 2007 after Hamas militants took control of the area.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded late Wednesday by saying the Human Rights Council had a 'biased, politicized and extremist approach'.Israel has instead been working with a separate U.N. group under New Zealand's former Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe that is also examining the incident but has yet to publish its findings."Israel is a democratic and law abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself,' the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas  said the report emphasized that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories violates human rights. He addad that it is necessary 'to translate this report into action and to bring the occupation commanders to trial for the crimes they committed.'.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'The guards of the settlers just shoot'

I don't know if what I'm doing here is permitted at all. But I was really moved by Hagit Ofran's story, her description about what we know and don't know, how sad and stupid, and maddening this story really is, the story of how just another Palestinin was killed - how the authorities at the Israeli side don't give much of a  damn (indeed the guard was released on bail and could go home) so that we know for sure that it will happen again. 
Hagit Ofran wrote it down beautifully (I already wrote something on my blog in Dutch, but she was there and that makes a hell of a difference) and here it is. I promise that I 'm not going to make a habit of copying things this way.     

This morning it happened. The Palestinians were warning, ACRI published a detailed report on that threat and even in Israeli media it was reported. But for the family of Samer Sarhan it will never help. Sarhan, 32 years old, the father of 5 little children and a beloved community leader at the Bustan neighborhood in Silwan, was shot dead by a guard of the settlers near the “City of David” settlement.
When I got there this morning the police has already closed the scene, and prevented people from passing, including the children on their way to school.

I stood with a group of residents that were waiting to hear and see what was happening.

The settlers’ guard, which is funded by the government of Israel, passed earlier this morning in the street with his jeep. Like in many cases, there was some kind of friction between him and Palestinian residents. Sometimes it is due to some settler provocation, and sometimes it’s the Palestinians, in any case this could vary from mutual yellings, cursings, to even hittings or stone throwing. I don’t know what it was this time. The guard claims he was attacked, the neighbors claim it was a provocation of the guard. One thing is clear: the guard was armed, he used his gun (about 10 times) and Sarhan was killed.
We saw the guard reconstructing the crime scene in front of the police camera (I heard that there was an order prohibiting the publication of his name, so I put a picture of the police preparing for the reconstruction).

Unfortunately we will never be able to hear the victim’s version of what had happened. When the word came that Sarhan had died, some young Palestinians gathered and threw their anger and frustration at the policemen in stones. The police reacted with tear gas and sound bombs.
Usually, the police has the means to deal with stoning, without shooting live ammunition. But those private guards, just shoot. It is a kind of an armed militia that the settlers hold, funded by the Israeli tax payers (ironically these include the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem themselves, and also myself…). They are operating independently, with no direct supervision of the police.
I am sure that the head of the Jerusalem police, who visited the site in the morning, is very much concerned about the possible developments and reactions that this killing might lead to. I am also concerned. My city, Jerusalem, might be facing some bad days of riots, tear gas, arrests and violence. The police and the government of Israel is actually allowing the settlers in East Jerusalem to use force that might be deadly not only for people like Sarhan, but also to all of us.
I went to look for some more details about what happened. I got to the stairs where Sarhan collapsed, after running away, wounded, from the guard who apparently came after him.

A young woman was sitting looking at the blood of Sarhan that remained on the floor, and cried quietly. I thought to myself, how easily one can take somebody’s life. This guard will probably go home after giving his testimony. The file against him will be closed with no charge, just like other similar cases, and everything will go back to “normal”.
The Problem is, that the “normal” of Silwan, where there are some 300 settlers, secured by an armed militia is way far from being normal.

Nine dead in bomb attack in Iranian city Mahabad

Nine Iranians have been killed and 20 wounded in a bomb attack on a military parade in the north-western Kurdish town of Mahabad, local media report.
Most of the dead and injured were women and children watching the parade, the reports say.
A provincial governor blamed Kurdish separatists for the attack, according to Iranian news agencies.
There have been reports of Kurdish political activists being arrested, tried and executed in recent months.
Western areas of Iran have a sizeable Kurdish population, and border areas of northern Iraq and eastern Turkey where Kurdish militants have long been active.

Protests in Egyptian cities against possible emergence of a Mubarak-dynasty

Some three hundred demonstrators, including politicians and activist from groups of various political backgrounds, demonstrated on Tuesday against the possibility that president Hosni Mubarak (82) will be succeeded in next year's presidential elections by his son Gamal (46). The potesters gathered meters away from Abdin Square in downtown Cairo, near Abdin Palace, the presidential residence. Those present included representatives of several protest movements, including the Democratic Movement for Change, 6th April, Kefaya, Youth for Change and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as those from the Ghad, Karama, Naserite and Wafd opposition parties.
All were there to express their discontent with the regime of President Hosni Mubarak and voice their objection to an anticipated presidential bid by Mubarak's son. 'We have enough of you and Jimmy,'  they chanted, referring to Gamal by his nickname.
“We came here in memory of Orabi’s demonstration against Khedive Tawfik, in which he made him his famous statement: ‘We will not be inherited anymore’,” said George Ishak, a founder of the pro-democracy Kefaya movement. Ishak was referring to celebrated Egyptian patriot Ahmed Orabi, who in 1882 led a famous nationalist protest against a prohibition on Egyptian peasants from joining the national army.
“We stand against Gamal Mubarak’s lust for power," said MP and Karama Party head Hamdin Sabbahi. "We'll keep up popular pressure until we achieve transparent elections--otherwise we'll engage in civil disobedience."
For three hours, protesters chanted anti-Mubarak slogans and set fire to pictures of the younger Mubarak, w'hich bore the slogan 'Len tahkamna', You are not going to govern us'. Labor union activists also came to show their rejection of the notion of presidential inheritance from father to son. "In the name of Egypt's workers, I declare that we've seen poverty in Mubarak's time. We don't need more of this regime," Kamal Fayoumi, an activist laborer from Mahala, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

There was a heavy turnout of riot police. At least ten activists were seized by plainclothes police working alongside conventional officers. A photojournalist from independent daily Al-Shorouk was beaten by police, who seized the film from his camera. An Al-Jazeera photojournalist was also among those taken by police officers, who could be seen ejecting his video tapes.
Dozens of local residents and shopkeepers, meanwhile, watched the protest from the doors of their shops or from balconies.

Only meters from the gathering, a few dozen supporters of Gamal Mubarak gathered near the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)'s headquarters in Abdeen. In the (smaller) picture a pro-Gamal supporter is seen who rather pathetically holds a banner with the text 'Gamal Mubarak is a hero'.
The demonstration got lots of attention of the Egyptian blogosphere, where the day was called 'Oraby day'. Bloggers reported that demonstrations took place in the cities Alexandria and Port Said as well. It seems that some arrests were made in Alexandria, whereas people that had been rounded in Cairo were released lateron in a Cairo suburb.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thousands flee fighting in Yemeni Shabwa province

Between 8,000 and 12,000 civilians have fled their homes in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa because of heavy fighting between government forces and suspected Al-Qaeda militants, according to Yemen's Red Crescent. Three Al-Qaeda militants and two soldiers have died in the clashes that erupted Sunday in the town Al-Hawta.
The town seems to have been shelled and houses and two mosques seem to have been destroyed.Those displaced have fled to nearby towns or provinces, the majority staying with relatives in highly cramped conditions, the Red Crescent said in its report, calling for urgent food and medical supplies.The clashes seem to be rather similar to the battle in Lawdar (Abyan province) last month when thousands also fled their homes.

 Yemeni special forces. It was reported from several souces that the special forces are being trained by American special units.

Al-Qaeda said Monday it is holding a senior security officer and gave the government 48 hours to release two militants. The group said it is holding Saada province's deputy director of political security, Colonel Ali Mohammed Saleh Al-Hussam, who was kidnapped near his home on 26 August.
What prompted the fighting is not known. But it seems somewhat suspicious that it coincides with a visit of president Obma's top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and US discussions about an aid package for Yemen. Brennan visited Yemen Monday and discussed cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda, the White House said. Brennan met President Ali Abdullah Saleh and delivered a letter from Obama expressing US support for a "unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.
The fighting also coincides with a meeting of the international Friends of Yemen group, which was set up in January to assist the country with its multiple problems. The group is due to hold its first official meeting in New York on Friday.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two car bombs in Baghdad kill more than 40, wound 135

At least 40 people have been killed Sunday in three car bomb explosions that went off almost at the same time in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. One bomb went off in the busy Adan juncture in the northwestern Kadhimiya district as people were heading to work. Nineteen people were killed in the blast, near an office of the national security ministry, and 65 wounded.
Seconds later two car bombs exploded in the western Mansour district and killed 21 people and wounded at least 70 outside the Zarzour kebab restaurant and the office of the phone company Asiacell. The latter office was completely destoyed. It seemed that the targets of both bombs were civilians.
In Fallujah, once an insurgent stronghold, a suicide bomber in the center of the city killed 6 persons and wounded 14. The attack may have been retaliation for a joint Iraqi Army and US military sweep of the city center in search of an ‘al-Qaeda’ leader last Wednesday, in which a firefight broke out that left 7 civilians dead.
A father and son were killed when a magnetic bomb was attached to their car in Ghazaliyah in western Baghdad. Three rounds of mortars landed in the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to many foreign embassies and government building, but without causing casualties or damage.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Iranian HumanRights Activist gets six years

An Iranian court has sentenced a prominent human rights activist to six years in prison, an Iranian news agency has reported. LINA news agency said on Saturday that Shiva Nazar Ahari was convicted of gathering and plotting to commit crimes against the Iranian state, propaganda against the establishment and waging war against God, a crime punishable by death under the Islamic Republic's Sharia law.
Nazar Ahari, the 26-year-old founder of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters in Tehran, was arrested in December on her way to the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the spiritual adviser of the Green movement which opposed the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, last June.
In addition to the jail term, she has to pay a $400 fine or face 74 lashes, Mohammad Sharif, her lawyer said.
Sharif vowed to appeal the verdict, saying there was "no legal basis for this charge".
She was also arrested shortly after the disputed June 2009 presidential vote and released only after spending three months in Tehran's Evin prison, where dozens of activists and journalists are still being held.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reporters Without Borders appeals to Syria to free blogger Tal al-Maloukhi

The young Syrian blogger Tal Al-Mallouhi has been detained arbitrarily by the Syrian intelligence services ever since she was summoned on 27 December 2009 for questioning about some of her blog entries. No charge has been brought against her and it is not known where she is being held.
Mallouhi, who was a high school student and 18 years old at the time of her arrest,  kept three blogs in which she criticised Arab and Syrian international policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, a partnership between the European Union and Mediterranean basin countries. (The picture shows her with one her blogs with anti-Israeli poems).
Her mother insisted that she knew nothing about politics in a letter to President Bashar Al-Assad pleading for release. The family did not publicise her arrest because they were hoping to obtain her release through discreet negotiations with the authorities.
 Reporters Without Borders, which is one of the organisations which try to come to her rescue,  calls for an immediate end to this arbitrary detention. Mallouhi must be tried in a transparent manner if she really did commit a crime or else she must be freed at once, sauys RWB.
The organisation, which has Syria on its list of “Enemies of the Internet” because of the level of online censorship and the persecution of those who dare to express their views freely online, underlines that at least five journalists and bloggers or cyber-dissidents are currently in Syrian detention. Journalist Ali Al-Abdallah, who should have been released on completing a 30-month jail sentence on 16 June, continues to be held because of an article posted online at the end of 2009 in which he criticised the Islamic Republic of Iran’s religious system and Syria’s relations with Iran.
Firas Saad and Habib Saleh, two cyber-dissidents who were arrested in May 2008, and Kamal Sheikhou ben Hussein, a human rights activists and cyberdissident who was arrested on 25 June 2010, are all still being held.
Tareq Byasi was released on 16 August on completing a three-year jail term on charges of “attacking the nation’s soul” and “undermining national sentiment” for allegedly posting an article criticising the Syrian security services on an Internet forum. Arrested in July 2007, he was initially given a six-year sentence in May 2008, but it was quickly commuted to three years.

Darfur destroyed: Sudanese perpetrators break the silence

Sudanese talk about the involvement of Sudan with the massacres in Darfur. Involvement at the highest Sudanese levels that is.

Darfur Destroyed: Sudan's perpetrators break silence from Aegis Trust on Vimeo.

Egyptian Ghad-party joins election boycot, but opposition remains divided

 El-Baradei (right) with Saad al-Katatni, leader of the parliamentary block of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimin) , at a common press conference under the banner of the Ikhwan (file photo). 

Egypt's opposition Ghad party said on Tuesday it would join Mohamed ElBaradei in boycotting November parliamentary elections.  "We respect the opinion of ElBaradei in the boycott," Ghad chairman Ayman Nour said after his party voted overwhelmingly against participation. "This man is a great weight in the process of change, and we respect him."
 Last week, former chief of the UN Internationale Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, a potential candidate for president, said the elections would be rigged and anyone participating in them would be going against the national will. A boycott of parliamentary elections could raise the stakes for a presidential vote in 2011, analysts say. It is widely believed that president Mubarak, 82, will cede his place to his son Gamal, 46, although till now this is officially being denied.
The liberal Ghad party hopes that a united opposition to the vote would deny legitimacy to the ruling party, and representatives of Egypt's Kefaya movement and the communist party joined it at Tuesday's meeting. But Egypt's opposition force remains divided, with the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest opposition bloc with 88 seats in parliament and nationalist liberal Wafd party, saying they will participate in elections.Calls for an election boycott in November grew louder after an upper house vote in June saw Mubarak's ruling party sweep most seats. Rights groups' complained of abuses, while the government insisted the vote was fair. In the absence of a united front, however, the boycot will remain virtually meaningless. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Photoshopping the (old) Egyptian way

On the blog of  Zeinobia (Egyptian Chronicles) I found these pictures and I could not withstand the temptation to copy them. Zeinobia explains that the (government) newspaper Al Ahram Today devoted full two pages about the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and Egypt's alleged role in it. She paid no attention, as Egypt does not have any role in the talks whatsoever and this is the usual propaganda nonsense the Egyptian state media produce from time to time to aggrandize their master.
But someone directed her attention to the photo. And yes, when we compare Al Ahram's photo with the original, taken at the first meeting of Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas on 3 September in the White House,  we see that Mubarak, who on the original  - old man as he is - was lingering somewhat behind, was put in the forefront by the paper. The caption on the photo reads: 'The road to Sharm al-Sheikh', suggesting in a way that Mubarak is leading the others. It is as in  the old days of Nasser, is Zeinobia's comment. When Al Ahram would change the facts as much as it could and nobody paid attention.

Amnesty: widespread torture and tens of thousands without trial in custody in Iraq

About 30,000 detainees are held without trial in Iraq although the Iraqi authorities have failed to provide precise figures. Ten thousand of those were recently transferred from US custody as their combat troops ended operations in Iraq. The US did that without asking guarantees against torture or ill-treatment.
 Torture is widely used in Iraq to obtain 'confessions'. In many cases these are already prepared by interrogators and detainees are forced to sign while blindfolded and without reading the contents.
Prepared confessions are often used as the only evidence against detainees when they are brought to trial, including in cases where the charges incur the death penalty.
That is what Amnesty International reporst in a report tahtw as released on Monday. Several detainees are known to have died in custody, apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment by Iraqi interrogators and prison guards, who regularly refuse to confirm their detention or whereabouts to relatives.
 More than 400 detainees were held in the secret prison at the old Muthanna airport, whose existence was revealed publicly in April 2010. Several of the detainees held there told Amnesty International they were detained on the basis of false information that Iraqi security forces obtained from secret informants.
They had been held without any access to the outside world and some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation, apparently to make them confess to involvement in bombings or other crimes that could incur the death penalty.
Hundreds of prisoners are reported to have been sentenced to death, and some have been executed, after being convicted on the basis of "confessions" which they said were false and had been signed under torture or other duress.
Methods of torture include beating with cables and hosepipes, prolonged suspension by the limbs, administration of electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, breaking of limbs, removal of finger and toenails, asphyxiation and piercing of the body with drills, and psychological torture such as threats of rape.
Thousands of people also continue to be detained despite judicial orders issued for their release, and a 2008 Iraqi Amnesty Law, which provides for the release of uncharged detainees after between six and twelve months.
The report also highlights long term detentions in the northern Kurdistan region by the Asayish – Kurdish security police.
Amnesty asks the Iraqi government to show the political will to uphold the human rights of all Iraqis, in accordance with their international obligations, and to stop the torture and other gross abuses of detainees’ rights. It also asks for the release of detainees who have been held for long periods without recognizable criminal charges or for them  to stand trial in accordance with  international standards.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Turkey's referendum: big step towards more personal freedoms

In many media there seems to be a question mark whether the outcome of Sunday's  referendum about  changes to the Turkish constitution was a change towards more democracy or towards more sharia. The 26 amendments, which were welcomed by no less than 58% of the voters, were called 'controversial' by media like the Dutch Volkskrant or the British Guardian. This seems to be an echo of the arguments of the Turkish opposition, spearheaded by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey's main opposition party, the secularist Republican People's party (CHP). Kilicdaroglu called the changes the end of secularist Turkey.
The government of Recip Tayyep Erdogan, however,  said it would give Turkey a democratic constitution fit for EU membership and mark a break with the country's baleful legacy of military coups. Also the European commission welcomed the results. 'These reforms are a step in the right direction as they address a number of longstanding priorities in Turkey's efforts towards fully complying with the accession criteria,' the commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fule, said in a statement.

The vote took place on the 30th anniversary of a 1980 putsch that ushered in a military government that introduced the current constitution. Addressing a gathering of triumphant AKP members, Erdogan hailed the outcome as a 'defeat for the 12 September coup' and said it would unite Turkey. 'This is not an AKP project,' he said.
It seems that Erdogan and his AKP, which for its islamist heritage is still mistrusted in some circles, are right. The former constitution was passed under martial law and made of the army and judiciary the keepers of Turkey's secular character, but this was done at the expense of many personal freedoms. It we look at the a summary of the most important changes (here below and taken from Turkey's Todays Zaman newssite)  we see that they reinstate several important personal freedoms like the right to protection of personal information, the right to acces to official files, more labour rights like the right to strike for political purposes, and the right for members of parliament to retain their seats after a party is banned (a sort that befel several  Kurdish parties in the past and which the AKP itself escaped only narrowly).  
What might happen is that the army - which used to oversee the secular nature of its officers and cadres very strictly and  used to discharge merciless anyone of them with islamic leanings, now might gradually become more open to believers, as it would harder for the army to lay them off. Also there will be important changes to the judiciary, which will make them somewhat less independent. The Constitutional Court will be increased from 11 to 17 members, with some of the appointed by parliament, while also the important Board of Judges and Prosecutors, which oversees the appoinment of judges and prosecutors in the country,  will be increased from seven to 22 members. These measures may - to a certain extend - likewise increase the islamic influence a bit in the sense that being a believer will no longer disqualify people for a career in the judiciary. It might be a step away for the rigorous Kemalist past during which state and religion were divorced in a rather rigorous, top down imposed way, to a more relaxed situation. Still it would be a far cry away from imposing sharia,  which in no way is promoted by the AKP. 

Some key issues in a package of 26 reforms to Turkey’s military coup-era Constitution voted on in Sunday’s referendum:
Military -- Gives officers fired by the military the right to appeal. Redefines the jurisdiction of military courts, empowers civilian courts to try military personnel for crimes against state security or against the constitutional order -- such as coup attempts. Opens the way for the prosecution of Turkey’s 1980 military coup leaders.
Equality -- Strengthens gender equality and bars discrimination against children, the elderly, the disabled and veterans.
Privacy -- Recognizes the right to protection of personal information and access to official personal records.
Freedoms -- Restricts travel bans imposed on individuals.
Labor -- Allows membership in more than one union in a workplace. Recognizes the right to collective bargaining for civil servants and other state employees. Removes bans on politically motivated strikes.
Parliament -- Ensures elected lawmakers stay in Parliament if their political party is disbanded by a court decision.
Constitutional Court -- Increases the number of judges on the Constitutional Court from 11 to 17 and gives power to Parliament to appoint some of them. Recognizes the right of individual appeals to the court.
Judiciary -- Increases the number of members on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which oversees the appointments of judges and prosecutors in the country, from seven to 22. Opens the way for appeals of decisions to remove

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Claude Chabrol est mort

Dans le journal Le Monde d'aujourd'hui:

Le cinéaste Claude Chabrol est mort, dimanche matin 12 septembre, à l'âge de 80 ans. Le réalisateur du Beau Serge, de Violette Nozière, de La Cérémonie ou encore de Merci pour le chocolat avait reçu la Caméra de la Berlinale 2009 pour l'ensemble de sa carrière.
 Figure de la Nouvelle Vague avec Fraçois Truffaut et  Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, amateur de polars et d'humour grinçant, adorait croquer les travers de la bourgeoisie de province, avec ses scandales étouffés sous une respectabilité de façade, n'hésitant pas à forcer le trait jusqu'à la limite de la noirceur absolue.
Licencié ès lettres, il participe en tant que critique de cinéma au lancement de la Nouvelle Vague en écrivant dans les Cahiers du cinéma de 1952 à 1957, aux côtés de François Truffaut et Jacques Rivette.

Claude Chabrol s'impose rapidement en tant qu'auteur, réalisateur et producteur de films. Le Beau Serge (1957), avec un nouveau venu, Jean-Claude Brialy, obtient le prix Jean Vigo et le grand prix du Festival de Locarno en 1958 et Les Cousins remportent en 1959 l'Ours d'or du Festival de Berlin. Il divorce pour épouser la comédienne Stéphane Audran qui sera l'une de ses interprètes fétiches (La Femme infidèle, Le Boucher, Juste avant la nuit).
Avec Violette Nozière (1978), célèbre empoisonneuse parricide dans les années trente, il contribue à révéler le talent de l'actrice Isabelle Huppert. Claude Chabrol lui confiera le rôle principal dans cinq autres films dont Unie Affaire de femmes (1988), La Cérémonie (1995) et Merci pour le chocolat (2000, Prix Louis Delluc, élargissant sa galerie de "monstres", mais aussi Madame Bovary.
Plus légers, Inspecteur Lavardin  et Poulet au vinaigre, ses polars provinciaux tournés avec le comédien Jean Poiret, connaîtront un vif succès. L'ensemble de sa carrière (plus de 80 films pour le cinéma et la télévision) a été couronnée par le Prix René Clair de l'Académie française (2005) et le Grand prix 2010 des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques.

Et j'ajoute que moi, je l'ai admiré beacoup. Il faisait part de mon histoire personel. Comme ces collegues Trufaut et Godard. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

'The ideal is one state for Palestinians and Jews but I don't see it happen now'

On the New Left Project Jany Stern-Weiner has a long and very interesting interview with Gideon Levy of the newspaper Haaretz (which I found via the Mondoweiss blog).She met him in London where he presented his new book 'The Punishment of Gaza'.  Levy is one of the few voices in Israel that with great regularity speak out against chauvisnist and nationalist tendencies, militarism, attacks at the freedom of speech and stigmatization of the Palestinians. Here I copy part of the interview, but the whole piece is absolutely a must read.  You'll find it here

You close the introduction to your book with a tribute to the courage of Ha’aretz editors in standing by your writings and continuing to publish them in an atmosphere of increasing intolerance and chauvinism. How unique is Ha’aretz in this regard? I notice, for example, that B. Michael appears to have disappeared from Yedioth Ahronoth [Israel’s largest-circulation daily] after his columns criticising ‘Cast Lead’.
He was just fired. He didn’t ‘disappear’, he was just fired. [See here]
So is the Israeli media quite jingoistic in its coverage generally? How unique is Ha’aretz?
It is very clear to make the division between Ha’aretz and all the rest. It’s a very, very clear division – nobody can argue about this. The Israeli so-called democracy would look entirely different if Ha’aretz didn’t exist, while any other newspaper or TV outlet could disappear tomorrow and there would be no change. Ha’aretz is really the last outpost in the Israel media keeping democracy alive. But Ha’aretz, as you know, is a relatively small newspaper, quite elitist, and it doesn’t approach the masses. All the rest are commercial, free, professional, but when it comes to issues like the occupation, all the media, except for Ha’aretz, recruited itself – nobody recruited it, it recruited itself, voluntarily – to collaborate with the occupation, to dehumanise systematically the Palestinians, to demonise and to spread fears that are often totally artificial and exaggerated. The media in Israel is playing a fatal role, mainly in maintaining the occupation and the nationalistic and militaristic emotions and sentiments in the Israeli society. I think it’s a criminal role that the Israeli media as a whole is playing, really except for Ha’aretz – not because I work for Ha’aretz, but Ha’aretz is really the only sane voice around.
Why do you think the rest of the media “recruited itself” to supporting the occupation?
No censorship – no governmental one, no military one, almost nothing, no pressures of that kind. It’s only about trying to please the readers, it’s only about commercial factors – commercial considerations. To please the reader, not to bother him, not to frustrate him, not to make him furious. And this is the most dangerous kind of bias, because there is no resistance against it – it is voluntary, it is not imposed on anyone, everyone is happy. The government is happy, the readers are happy, the publishers are happy, everyone is happy about it, and so there will be no resistance.
Ha’aretz has significant influence outside of Israel. Is it influential within Israel too?
Traditionally, yes. Ha’aretz was always the most influential newspaper in Israel, because the elite reads it and it traditionally had an influence not only on politicians and the economic elite, but also on other media. I think this influence has decreased in a way, but it’s still there – Ha’aretz still plays a role, it’s not being marginalised, not at all. So the influence of Ha’aretz is much wider than its circulation in Israel. And also the fact that it’s being read all over the world through the website, gives Ha’aretz a special position also within Israel, because people are aware that everyone in the world who has an interest in the Middle East is reading it. This gives Ha’aretz a lot of power within Israel, because they understand that it has influence outside. So from this point of view, Ha’aretz still has its influence – but let’s not exaggerate about it.
Dealing with ‘48
I’ve noticed a shift in your own writings, which seem to have become increasingly radical in their criticism. I’m thinking in particular of a recent column in which you argued that “[d]efining Israel as a Jewish state condemns us to living in a racist state”, and urged people to “recognize the racist nature of the state”. Has there been a shift in your writings, do you think, and if so, what’s behind it?
It’s not a shift, it’s a process. My views became more and more radical throughout the years, in contrast to the opposite stream of the entire society – the more Israel becomes nationalistic, the more the government becomes violent and aggressive, like in ‘Cast Lead’, like in the Second Lebanese War, like with the flotilla, all those developments put me in a much more radical position, obviously, because there is much more to protest against. So yes, I am becoming more and more radical, but you can’t put a finger to say one day I became a radical. It’s an ongoing process.
Would you accept the label ‘anti-Zionist’ to characterise your views?
It depends what is ‘Zionism’. Because Zionism is a very fluid concept – who can define what is Zionism? If Zionism means the right of the Jews to have a state, I am a Zionist. If Zionism means occupation, I’m an anti-Zionist. So I never know how to answer this question. If Zionism means to have a Jewish state at the expense of being a democratic state, then I am anti-Zionist, because I truly believe those two definitions are contradictory – ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’. For me, Israel should be a democratic state.
So would it be right to say that you support a state for Jews, but not a ‘Jewish state’ in the sense of a state that artificially maintains a Jewish majority?
Absolutely. It should be a state for Jews that will be a just state, a democratic state, and if there will be a Palestinian majority, there will be a Palestinian majority. The idea is that Jews have to have their place, but it can’t be exclusively theirs, because this land is not exclusively theirs.
This brings us nicely to the ‘liberal Zionists’, of whom you’ve been very critical. You have written that “[a] left wing unwilling to dare to deal with 1948 is not a genuine left wing”. Firstly, in terms of the Palestinian refugees – do you have a view about whether they should be permitted to return?
First of all, something must be very clear – the problem must be solved. And as long as their problem will not be solved, nothing will be solved. Those hundreds of thousands of refugees cannot continue, generation after generation, to live in their conditions. They have rights. Now on the other hand, you can’t, and you don’t want, to solve the problem and to create a new problem. Full return means creating new refugees. The place I live in Tel Aviv belonged to a Palestinian village. If the owners of this village will come back, I will have to go somewhere else. All Israel is originally Palestinian – if not its villages then its land, its fields… almost all of it belonged to the Palestinians. So if you do a total return, you create a new problem. And also there are very few precedents in history in which everyone was allowed to return to his original home decades after the war. But it must be solved.
I think there could be a solution, but it requires Israel to have good will – which it doesn’t have. It would involve, first of all, Israel recognising its moral responsibility. That’s the first condition. It’s about time for Israel to take accountability for what happened in ’48 and realise and recognise that there was a kind of ethnic cleansing, and expelling 650,000 people from their lands was not inevitable and was criminal. I think that taking responsibility will be the first step. Second step, Israel has to participate in an international project of rehabilitating the refugees – some of them in the places where they live. The third stage, obviously, is full return to the Palestinian state, if there will be a Palestinian state. And the last stage should be a symbolic, limited return also into Israel. It goes without saying, Israel has absorbed within the last few years one million Russians, and half of them were not Jewish. Why can we absorb half a million non-Jewish Russians and not absorb a few hundred or tens of thousands of Palestinians, who belong to this place, whose families are living in Israel? So that’s the way I see it.
Do you have a preference – two-states against one state? And if you prefer a two-state settlement, what is that preference based on? For example, my ideal outcome would be a bi-national or one-state solution, but I think that for now the most just solution that can be achieved is a two-state settlement. So if you have a preference for a two-state settlement, is that because you think it’s the most just settlement, period, or merely the most just settlement that can realistically be achieved in the foreseeable future?
First of all, I totally agree with the way you phrased it, I couldn’t phrase it better. The ideal, the utopia? One state for Palestinians and Jews, with equal rights, a real democracy, with real equality between the two peoples. The problem is that I don’t see it happening now, and I’m very afraid that a one-state would become an apartheid state. The two communities are very – there is a big gap between them. We have to realise that the Jewish community in Israel is more developed today, more rich, and to immediately mix both societies will create a lot of friction. There is also a lot of bad blood between the two communities. I don’t see it working, and for sure I don’t see it working in equal terms. So the only other solution left is the two-state solution. The problem is that it’s starting to become too late for this, because to evacuate half a million settlers – who will do it? No one. So I’m quite desperate. And the other solution, which I think will be the most probable, will be all kinds of artificial solutions - of half a Palestinian state, on half the land…this will not last, and this will not solve anything.
‘Liberal Zionism’
I’ve just finished reading Yitzhak Laor’s ‘Myths of Liberal Zionism’, which is obviously very critical of the ‘Zionist Left’. What do you think of the politics of people like David Grossman, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and Meretz? Do they offer a sufficiently radical critique of Israeli policy, and if not, why is their critique so compromised?
First of all, I had Oz and Yehoshua at my home for dinner a few weeks ago, so I have to be very cautious in what I say, but I am very critical about this kind of thinking. You can add [Israeli President] Shimon Peres and Labor to this. This is the typical Israeli hypocrisy, and I in many ways appreciate [Israel’s far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman more than Shimon Peres, because with Lieberman, at least, what you see is what you get. It’s very clear what he stands for. With people like Shimon Peres or Meretz – and I don’t say they are identical – or Oz and Yehoshua and Grossman, they want to eat the cake and leave it complete, as we say in Hebrew. This doesn’t work.
I think they lack courage, some of them. Others, like Shimon Peres, are hypocrites who talk about peace and do the opposite. I think that Oz and Yehoshua and Grossman, who I know very well personally, mean well. But in many ways they are still chained in the Zionistic ideology. They haven’t released themselves from the old Zionistic ideology, which basically hasn’t changed since ’48 – namely, that the Jews have the right to this land, almost the exclusive right. They are trying to find their way to be Zionistic, and to be for peace, and to be for justice. The problem is that Zionism in its present meaning, in its common meaning, is contradictory to human rights, to equality, to democracy, and they don’t recognise it. It’s too hard for them to recognise it, to realise it. And therefore their position is an impossible position, because they want everything: they want Zionism, they want democracy, they want a Jewish state, but they want also rights for the Palestinians… it’s very nice to want everything, but you have to make your choice and they are not courageous enough to make the choice.