Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lova Eliav - long time dove and paticipant of the dialogue with the PLO - dies at 89

Long-time politician and educator Aryeh 'Lova' Eliav passed away on Sunday. He was 89. Eliav was  a senior member of the Labor party for many years, was for some time the party sectary, but fell out about Labour's settlement policy and the policy towards the PLO. Among people from the peace camp outside Israel like me, he will be best remembered as one of the people who started talking with PLO-representatives back in 1974, together with people like Uri Avnery, Matti Peled and Jaacov Arnon (Jaap van Amerongen).
Eliav was born in Moscow and arrived in Israel, then British Mandatory Palestine, with his family at the age of three. At the age of three. At age 15 he joined the Haganah Jewish defense organization, and in 1941 he volunteered for the British army and fought in World War II.
Eliav entered the political scene in 1965, winning a seat in the sixth Knesset with the (first) Ma'arach party, the predecessor of today's Labor. Also he became party secretary. He left Labor a decade later due to his opposition to the foundation of Labour settlemnets on the West Bank. He served as a member of Ya'ad, and then of Sheli, but returned to Labor in 1979 and remained in the party until 1992.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prison sentences for Cairo officials in connection with rockslide in 2008

 Manshiyet Nasr after thedisaster. At the background the slopes of the Moqattam Hills from where the boulders came down.

The deputy governor of Cairo and seven others were sentenced to jail on Wednesday by an Egyptian court over a 2008 rockslide that killed more than 100 people in a shantytown. Critics said the authorities had focused blame mostly on lower level officials for the disaster that triggered complaints from Egyptians who said the government was failing to protect the poor. One in five Egyptians lives on less than $1 a day.

Deputy governor Mahmoud Yassin gor five years, the seven municipal officials three years each in connection with the rockslide in September 2008, when huge boulders crushed ramshackle dwellings in Manshiyet Nasr, a poor area on the eastern outskirts of Cairo. At the time, local residents estimated there were up to 600 bodies that were never recovered.
"Sentences of five and three years are very light and do not indicate a genuine desire to curb negligence and corruption in Egypt," said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University and frequent critic of the government. Rights groups said the state had done too little to move the poor from precarious places such as Duwaiqa. Nafaa said the verdict appeared aimed at deflecting public anger but had placed blame mainly on lower ranking officials and "would not result in any deep change or in improvement of service provision".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

UAE bars 200 Gaza Palestinians from re-entering

Kish, an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf, halfway Iran and the UAE.

Two hundred Gaza residents were denied re-entry into the UAE and are presently stranded on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, they told Ma'an on Monday. "We endure complicated and disastrous living conditions as most the young people can't afford to pay for hotel fees or food," said Hammouda Abu Rida, a Gaza resident currently stranded on the Iranian island.
He and 200 Gaza residents are seeking permanent residency status in the UAE, but were denied entry upon arrival, despite many of them holding contracts with UAE firms. Those currently stranded wre holdesr of temporary permits. They were told to leave the UAE by their employers and would be issued with a permanent residency visa upon their arrival, due to their official work status.

It is not the first time the UAE takes measure like that. Also in August and September 2009 some hundreds of Palestinians, also from Gaza, had been forced to leave. At the same time Lebanese Shi'ites living in the UAE had either not been granted re-entry or had been asked to leave, Reuters reported at the time. It was thought that the expulsion had to do with fears for fundamentalist influences of the UAE rulers. Lebanese sources mentioned that some hundreds of Shi'ite Lebanese had been asked to spy on Hezbollah. UAE sources denied the reports about expulsions.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Iran hangs brother of leader of (Sunni) Jundallah organization

Iran has executed convicted terrorist Abdolhamid Rigi -- the brother of the leader of (the Sunni) Jundallah terrorist group -- in the southeastern city of Zahedan, Press tv reports. Abdolhamid was hanged in a central prison in the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, Zahedan, on Monday after he confessed to playing a role in the assignations of civilians and security forces in the province.
Abdolhamid had also been charged with carrying out armed robberies, bombing operations and drug trafficking.
Earlier confessions made by Abdolhamid confirmed reports that Washington aided and abetted the armed terrorist group in carrying out its terror activities in Iran. In a 2009 interview with Press TV, Abdolhamid revealed that since 2005, his brother had repeatedly met with US agents in the Pakistani cities of Islamabad and Karachi and maintained communication with them through a common link. His brother, Abdolmalek Rigi, the captured ring leader of the Jundallah terrorist group, is also charged with carrying out assassinations and bomb attacks.

Reuters adds: Iranian officials say Jundollah has links to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and support from Pakistan, Britain and the United States. London, Washington and Islamabad deny backing it.Jundollah, which accuses the government of discrimination against Sunnis, said it was behind the October 18 attack -- the deadliest in Iran since the 1980s -- that killed more than 40 Iranians, including 15 members of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran hanged 13 Jundollah members in July last year and one in November in connection with various killings and attacks.
The execution is part of a greater number of recent Iranian executions. On 10 May five Kurdish activists, one of them a woman,  were hanged in the central Evin prison in Tehran. The five, Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Elmholi, and Mahdi Islamian, were members of the Kurdish separatist group PEJAK that says it is fighting for Kurdish rights. PEJAK is the Iranian wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey. On the same day there was a public hanging (photo) of five drugs smugglers in the city of Karaj, at 30 km of Tehran.

Guardian: Israel offered South Africa A-bombs in the 70ties

 Israel described as baseless on Monday reported findings in a new book that it offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa in 1975, Reuters reports.

Britain's Guardian newspaper said documents uncovered by a U.S. academic in research for a book on Israel's ties with South Africa's then-white minority government, provided the first official documentary evidence the Jewish state has nuclear arms.

The Guardian said documents declassified by South Africa's post-apartheid government at the request of the academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, included top-secret minutes of meetings between senior officials of the two countries in 1975.
Those papers, the newspaper said, showed that South Africa's defense minister at the time, P.W. Botha, asked for nuclear warheads and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres, now Israel's president, offered them in "three sizes."
In an official response to the report, a statement from Peres's office said: "Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There exists no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place."
It said there was "no basis in reality for the claims" published in the Guardian and the newspaper's conclusions were "based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts."
According to the Guardian report, the alleged nuclear deal did not go ahead, partly because of the cost.

Speculation about Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation was raised in 1979 when a U.S. satellite detected a mysterious flash over the Indian Ocean.The U.S. television network CBS reported it was a nuclear test carried out by the two countries. But the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in a document written in 1980 and released in 2004, said the United States could not determine "with certainty the nature and origin of the event." South Africa completed its first workable nuclear device in 1979. It eventually had six nuclear devices, which were dismantled by June 1991.

The report in The Guardian is connected to an offer that Peres apparently made to South Africa concerning the sale of ballistic Jericho missiles (see picture). This is what Polakow-Suransky wrote earlier in Foreign Policy (quoted on this blog):
'The Israel-South Africa alliance began in earnest in April 1975 when then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres signed a secret security pact with his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha. Within months, the two countries were doing a brisk trade, closing arms deals totaling almost $200 million; Peres even offered to sell Pretoria nuclear-capable Jericho missiles. By 1979, South Africa had become the Israeli defense industry's single largest customer, accounting for 35 percent of military exports and dwarfing other clients such as Argentina, Chile, Singapore, and Zaire.'

And this is what The Guardian reports:
''The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. (...)  Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.
The memo, marked "top secret" and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: "In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere."
But South Africa was years from being able to build atomic weapons. A little more than two months later, on 4 June, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho project had the codename Chalet.
The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: "Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available." The document then records: "Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice." The "three sizes" are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.
 Botha did not go ahead with the deal in part because of the cost. In addition, any deal would have to have had final approval by Israel's prime minister and it is uncertain it would have been forthcoming.

Peres' denial does not sound very convincing to me. Does it?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

New Weapons research group finds toxic substances in Gaza victims

 Gazans look in astonishment at a crater in Gaza City, after Israel bombed a police station, 29 December 2009.  

Findings by the New Weapons Committee confirm earlier found disturbing evidence about the use of toxic materials in weapons used in the 'Operation Cast Lead' that, among other things, could lead to genetic mutations:

PRESS RELEASE - 2010 may 11th
Toxic and carcinogenic metals, able to produce genetic mutations, have been found in the tissues of people wounded in Gaza during Israeli military operations of 2006 and 2009. The research has been carried out on wounds provoked by weapons that did not leave fragments in the bodies of the victims, a peculiarity that was pointed out repeatedly by doctors in Gaza. This shows that experimental weapons, whose effects are still to be assessed, were used.
The researchers compared the quantity of 32 elements present in the tissues through ICP/MS (a type of highly sensitive mass spectrometry) . The job, carried out by laboratories of Sapienza University of Rome (Italy), Chalmer University (Sweden) and Beirut University (Lebanon), was coordinated by the New Weapons Research Group (Nwrg), an independent committee of scientists and experts based in Italy, who is studying the use of unconventional weapons and their mid-term effects on the population of after-war areas. The relevant presence of toxic and carcinogenic metals found in the wound tissues points to direct risks for survivors, but also to the possibility of environmental contamination.
Biopsies of tissues were performed by doctors of Shifa hospital, in Gaza city, who selected and classified the type of wounds. Research was conducted on 16 tissue samples belonging to 13 victims. Four biopsies were taken in June 2006, during the operation “Summer Rains”, while the others were taken in the first week of January 2009, during the operation “Cast Lead”. All tissues were appropriately preserved and then examined by each of the three universities.
Some of the elements found are carcinogenic (mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel and uranium), others are potentially carcinogenic (cobalt and vanadium), others are also fetotoxic (alluminium, copper, barium, lead and manganese). The first ones can produce genetic mutations; the second ones can have the same effect on animals, but they are not proven to do the same on people; the third ones have toxic effects on people ad can affect either the embryo or the foetus in pregnant women. All metals found in high amounts have pathogenic effects on human respiratory organs, kidney and skin and affect sexual and neurological development and functions.
"Nobody – says professor Paola Manduca, spokesperson for the New Weapons Research Group, genetics teacher and researcher at the University of Genoa – had never conducted bioptic analysis on tissue samples from wounds. We have focused on wounds made by weapons that do not leave fragments, as the doctors from Gaza reported on them repeatedly. We wanted to verify the presence of metals that remained on the skin and in the derma. It was suspected that these metals were present in the weapons that leave no fragments, but it had never been demonstrated before. To our surprise even the burns provoked by white phosporus contain high amount of metals. Moreover, the presence of these metals in the weapons implies that they have been dispersed in the environment, in unknown amounts and range; they have been inhaled by the victims and by bystanders, thus constituting a risk for survivors and for people that were not directly hit by the bombing."
The research follows two previous studies conducted by Nwrg. The former was published on december 17th 2009 and statued the presence of toxic metals in areas around the craters provoked by the Israeli bombing on Gaza Strip. The latter was published on March 17th 2010 and it pointed out the presence of toxic metals in hair samples of Palestinian children of Gaza Strip area hit by Israeli bombings. Both point to the presence of environmental contamination, aggravated by the living conditions on the ground and often in shelters exposed to wind and dust, due to the impossibility to rebuild housing imposed by the Israeli blockade to the entrance of needed building materials and tools.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yemen 20 years united - and as divided as ever

Yemen’s president yesterday offered to form a unity government with opposition groups after holding a national dialogue, and announced the release of imprisoned Houthi rebels and southern separatists.

“We call upon all political parties and organisations and all citizens engage in a responsible national dialogue within the framework of the constitutional institutions,” Ali Abdullah Saleh (picture) said in a televised speech last night on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the reunification of North and South Yemen.

“In light of the results of the dialogue, a government could be formed from all influential political forces represented in the parliament,” Mr Saleh said
Southerners have long complained of being marginalised, particularly since they lost the 1994 civil war. Mr Saleh said the Yemeni Socialist Party, which is seeking independence for South Yemen, would be a “main partner in achieving the unity”.

Former Vice President Ali Salim Al-Beidh (picture), who fled the country after the 1994 separation, demanded on the eve of the unification anniversary the U.N. to send a committee to find facts in the south as he accused the Yemeni regime of attempting to wipe out the secessionist movement.
In his statement on the occasion, Al-Beidh said: it is the responsibility of the U.N. and the international community, particularly the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to take serious action towards the case of south Yemen based on respecting the will of the people for independence and recovering their sovereign state.
Moreover, Al-Beidh, who is currently living in Germany, called on the Arab Gulf States and Egypt and Syria to look into the issue of south Yemen with responsibility to avoid tragic consequences that can affect the region amid the current situation in Yemen.
 For his part, the former Prime Minister, who also fled after the separation war, Abu Bakr Al-Attas has said that nothing new came out of President Saleh's address on the 20th anniversary of unification.

Speaking from France and commenting on the address, Al-Attas also called for a federal system to replace the current system picturing the situation in Yemen as rosy.
There should be a federal system for four years and then there should be a referendum to determine the fate of the south, he suggested.
Moreover, he said that all solutions the regime has offered for the current situation in the country make no sense; adding that the call for holding a dialogue with the Yemeni socialist party is aimed at dismantling the party and other political forces in the north and south. 
(What is lacking here is a statement by the Houthi commander Abdel Malek al-Houthi demanding that a UN-fact finding mission also visists the north to collect facts about the way the government is neglecting the northern region and is not fulfilling its obligations under the cease-fire agreement of last Fewbruary, under which all captured Houthi rebels should have been released months ago anyway. Ali Abdallah Saleh's speech was hollow indeed, as he did nothing but repeat former promises about national dialogue and cooperation that have never been kept.)  

Egypt: bogus case against human rights defenders may bode ill for what is yet to come

Human Right Watch reports about a trial that starts today :
The Khalifa court of misdemeanors will begin a criminal trial on May 22, 2010, of the human rights advocates Ahmad Saif al-Islam and Gamal Eid and blogger Amr Gharbeia on charges of defamation, blackmail, and misuse of the internet."These men have for years stood with victims of human rights violations and demanded that security officials be held accountable," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "By prosecuting them on bogus charges, the Egyptian government is harming not only these three men but also all the people they help."
Gamal Eid (l) and Ahmad Saif al-Islam.  Picture below: Blogger Amr al-Gharbeia. (Photos Hossam el-Hamalawy)

On February 11, 2007, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), run by Eid, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), founded by Saif, published a statement alleging that Judge Abdelfattah Murad had plagiarized entire sections of an ANHRI report and reproduced them, without citing the source, in a book he had written. Gharbeia posted the statement on his blog, which viewers commented on.
Three days later, on February 14, Murad filed a complaint against Eid and Saif with the general prosecutor's office, accusing the two men of blackmailing the judge by threatening to denounce him for plagiarism if he did not pay them money.
The general prosecutor investigated this complaint and requested a report from Egypt's Internet Police, which confirmed that the statement had been published on the websites of the two human rights groups and on Gharbeia's blog.
There was no further action until April 2010, when the General Prosecutor‘s Office indicted Saif, Eid, and Gharbeia on defamation charges under articles 303, 306, 307 of the penal code, blackmail under article 327 of the penal code, which carries a penalty of up to six months imprisonment, and "abuse of the internet" under article 76 of the 2003 Communications Law, which carries with it a prison sentence and a fine of up to 20,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$3,541).
The Khalifa prosecutor's office scheduled the first session of the trial for May 22. Both Eid and Gharbeia told Human Rights Watch that the only evidence the prosecutor interrogated them about was the ANHRI statement that alleges that Murad committed plagiarism. It states that portions of the ANHRI report, "Implacable Adversaries: Arab Governments and the Internet," were reproduced in Murad's book, "The Scientific and Legal Principles of Blogs." On April 7, 2007, Eid filed a complaint against Murad under the Egyptian Intellectual Property Protection Act no. 82/2002, but the complaint has yet to be investigated by the prosecutor.
Criminal defamation laws are increasingly viewed as inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression. As the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression noted in 2008, "The subjective character of many defamation laws, their overly broad scope and their application within criminal law have turned them into a powerful mechanism to stifle investigative journalism and silence criticism."
"The prosecutor should never have sent this defamation case to court," Stork said. "In a country where so many human rights abuses are not properly investigated, the government should put an end to the abuse of the justice system to silence critics."
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that this trial is just the latest in a series of attempts by Murad to silence human rights organizations. In December 2007, an administrative court dismissed another case brought by Murad calling for 49 websites of well-known human rights organizations and activists to be blocked because they published information that "tarnished Egypt's reputation." In 2007, a court dismissed another defamation case that Murad had brought against Eid and two bloggers, Manal Hassan and Alaa Saif, because they had accused him of plagiarism, and the decision was confirmed on appeal.
This case coincides with other incidents of government intolerance of peaceful dissent. On April 6, security officials broke up a peaceful protest and arrested over 100 demonstrators. On May 11, the government renewed the longstanding emergency law, which allows for repression of demonstrations and detention without charge or trial, despite the government's promises since 2005 that it would allow the law to expire. And on March 7, the Egyptian daily Al Dustoor published a leaked new draft law on associations that, if adopted, would impose new restrictions on independent organizations and effectively prevent many of the most critical organizations from operating.
"All eyes are on Egypt as it enters a critical election period," Stork said. "The government's performance so far this year bodes ill for human rights in the year ahead."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Egypt: social unrest and political uncertainty

Egyptian workers demonstrate in front of government building in Cairo on 2 May. The workers demanded a rise of the minimum wages to 1200 LE per month (about € 150) in accordance with a ruling from an administrative court in 2008. (Picture Masry al-Youm)

  Unrest at the workplaces is since long a feature of Egypt's economic life. Most salaries - particularly in state enterprises and .among state employees - are ridiculously low. But te past few months the unrest has been visible in the capital Cairo itself. Sit-ins and demonstrations are taking place on a daily basis. Joel Beinin, history professor at Stanford and a long standing expert on the condition's of Egypt's working relations, wrote the following in Foreign Policy:
Since February workers from over a dozen workplaces have sat-in nearly continuously in front of Egypt's parliament.  Each group has its own demands related to wages and working conditions in their workplace.  Collectively, they have established a permanent presence of working-class dissent in downtown Cairo targeting the neoliberal economic policies the government headed by Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif Egypt has implemented with renewed vigor since taking office in July 2004.
The success of the sit-in tactic was established in December 2007, when 3,000 municipal real estate tax collectors occupied the street in front of the Ministry of Finance for 11 days.  They won a 325% salary increase; and their action led to creating the first independent trade union since the government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) was established in 1957.
Since 1998 over 2 million workers have participated in more than 3,300 factory occupations, strikes, demonstrations, or other collective actions protesting low wages, non-payment of bonuses, wage supplements, and social benefits, and private investors' failure to uphold their contractual obligations to their workers.  The protests spiked sharply since the Nazif government accelerated the pace of privatization of public-sector enterprises in 2004.  According to a recent report published by the Solidarity Center, The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt, privatization has usually meant less job security, longer hours, and a lower standard of social services for workers, while ETUF rarely defends their interests.
The character of worker protests has been changing since late March. Supported by NGOs like the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services and the recently established Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, a growing number of workers, are coalescing around the demand for a national monthly minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds(about $215). That proposal was first advanced in 2008 by workers at the giant Misr Spinning and Weaving Co., in the Nile Delta. Security forces prevented Misr workers from striking in support of this demand on April 8, 2008.
The demand for a living minimum wage was revived when Nagi Rashad, a worker at the South Cairo Grain Mill and a leading figure in the workers' protest movement, sued the government over its 2008 decision not to increase the national minimum wage.  The basic monthly minimum wage, equivalent to about $6.35 at the current exchange rate, was established in 1984.  With cost of living increases, it reached nearly $25.00 in 2008.  Bonuses and supplements to the basic wage - if they are paid - make it difficult to calculate actual wages precisely.  Khaled ‘Ali, director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, was the lead attorney on Rashad's case.  On March 30 he won an administrative court ruling ordering the president, the prime minister, and the National Council for Wages to set a "fair" minimum wage reflecting the current cost of living. 
Wages of most Egyptian workers are inadequate to pay for food, clothing, shelter, and education.  Even with two wage earners, the typical monthly wage of textile workers, which ranges from $45-$107 a month, is below the World Bank's poverty line of $2 a day for the average Egyptian family of 3.7 people.  According to the World Bank, nearly 44 percent of Egyptians are "extremely poor" (unable to meet minimum food needs), "poor" (unable to meet basic food needs), or "near-poor" (able to meet some basic food needs).
On April 3 workers rallied in Cairo while a delegation sought to present a copy of the court ruling ordering the government to implement a minimum wage to cabinet members.  After cabinet representatives refused to meet with them, they called another demonstration to support a national monthly minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds for May 2. Hundreds of workers gathered in downtown Cairo that day, demanding that the government implement the court order.  They were confronted by a massive deployment of security forces attempting to intimidate them.
Protesters chanted "A fair minimum wage, or let this government go home" and "Down with Mubarak and all those who raise prices!"  Khaled ‘Ali told the press, "The government represents the marriage between authority and money - and this marriage needs to be broken up."
 Coupled with this widespread social unrest is also a growing uncertainty about Egypt's political future. President Mubarak turned 82 on 4 May and stayed out of sight for a couple of weeks after he underwent surgery in Heidelberg (Germany) in March, whereby his gallbladder was removed. On 6 May he reappeared in public at the occasion of 'Workers day'. In his speech he paid no attention to the actions to raise the mimimum wage of LE 35, but said ominously that wages should be in accordance with the 'levels of production'. Also he argued against constitutional reform, using the same old arguments that he has been using over and over again that   “current delicate circumstances do not allow room for those who fuse change with chaos''.  Those that are “jeopardizing” Egypt’s future, Mubarak warned, “must not ignore the people’s endorsement of constitutional amendments since 2005, and the need for the constitution to be stable and firm.”
His words were believed to be adressed mainly against Mohammed  el-Baradei, the 67 year old former head of the Internatiuonal Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who has said that he wants to be an independent candidate at the upcoming presidential elections in 2011. The present constitution makes that virtually impossible, since it stipulates that presidential candidates have to have present 250 signatures of members of the sitting parliament, a parliament which, of course, is heavily dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Mubarak till now has left open the question whether he himself will be candidate for another period, a vagueness which is believed to be instrumental in keeping open the possibility that his 47 year old son Gamal will follow in his footsteps. On the subject of parliamentary elections, due for the Fall of this year, Mubarak remained vague as well , saying no more than that they will be 'free.and have integrity', which says nothing about the aprties that are allowed to participate. On 11 May, less than a week after Mubarak's speech, parliament prolonged the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1981, for another two years, This time however, it was amended in such a way that it will only be used against acts of terror and drug trafficking. The dfifference with the previous period, during which administrative detention and judgements by special security courts were part and parcel of it, remains to be seen.  .  .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Goldstone critics forget that they live in a glass house

Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan and YItzhak Rabin with in their midst the South African apartheid-prime-minister John Vorster. (Picture Sa'ar Yaacov, 1976).

Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of the book 'The Unpspoken Alliance, Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa', reacted in Foreign Policy to what is apparently a new smear campaign against judge Goldstone, orchestrated by the Israeli Foreign Ministery, with the help of some hired guns (or rather hired pens) among the Israeli press mosquitos and some hasbara friends of the present government. Below I already mentioned our old friend Alan 'The Case for Israel' Dershowitz who likened Goldstone to Josef Mengele, no less.The whole story is about th fact that apparently some people dove into Goldstone's past as a South African judge, during which period he -as a member of a court of appeal - confirmed a number of  death sentences.
Here goes Polakow-Suransky

 The Israeli government has it in for Richard Goldstone. Ever since Goldstone, a Jewish South African judge, issued a report in September charging Israel (and Hamas) with war crimes during the January 2009 invasion of Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attacked him -- and his report -- as a grave threat to Israel's legitimacy.
On Thursday, leading Israeli government officials escalated their campaign against Goldstone, accusing him of sending 28 black South Africans to their deaths while serving as a judge during the apartheid years.
"The judge who sentenced black people to death … is a man of double standards," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin proclaimed. "Such a person should not be allowed to lecture a democratic state defending itself against terrorists." Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon insisted, "This so-called respected judge is using this report in order to atone for his sins," likening Goldstone's statement that he was forced to uphold the laws of an unjust regime to "explanations we heard in Nazi Germany after World War II."
And the newspaper Yediot Ahronoth declared breathlessly -- with nods of approval from Jeffrey Goldberg and Jonathan Chait -- that "the man who authored the Goldstone report criticizing the IDF's actions during Operation Cast Lead took an active part in the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century."
So did Israel's government.
Goldstone's apartheid-era judicial rulings are undoubtedly a blot on his record, but his critics never mention the crucial part he played in shepherding South Africa through its democratic transition and warding off violent threats to a peaceful transfer of power -- a role that led Nelson Mandela to embrace him and appoint him to the country's highest court.
More importantly, Ayalon's and Rivlin's moralism conveniently ignores Israel's history of arming the apartheid regime from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s. By serving as South Africa's primary and most reliable arms supplier during a period of violent internal repression and external aggression, Israel's government did far more to aid the apartheid regime than Goldstone ever did.
The Israel-South Africa alliance began in earnest in April 1975 when then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres signed a secret security pact with his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha. Within months, the two countries were doing a brisk trade, closing arms deals totaling almost $200 million; Peres even offered to sell Pretoria nuclear-capable Jericho missiles. By 1979, South Africa had become the Israeli defense industry's single largest customer, accounting for 35 percent of military exports and dwarfing other clients such as Argentina, Chile, Singapore, and Zaire.
High-level exchanges of military personnel soon followed. South Africans joined the Israeli chief of staff in March 1979 for the top-secret test of a new missile system. During Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli army took South African Defense Force chief Constand Viljoen and his colleagues to the front lines, and Viljoen routinely flew visiting Israeli military advisors and embassy attachés to the battlefield in Angola where his troops were battling Angolan and Cuban forces.
There was nuclear cooperation, too: South Africa provided Israel with yellowcake uranium while dozens of Israelis came to South Africa in 1984 with code names and cover stories to work on Pretoria's nuclear missile program at South Africa's secret Overberg testing range. By this time, South Africa's alternative sources for arms had largely dried up because the United States and European countries had begun abiding by the U.N. arms embargo; Israel unapologetically continued to violate it.(....)
 Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman estimated that the two countries did $400 mllion to $800 million of business in the arms sector in 1986. According to declassified South African documents, the figure was likely even greater: A single contract for modernization of South African fighter jets in the mid-1980s amounted to "approximately $2 billion," and  arms sales in 1988 -- one year after Israel imposed sanctions against the apartheid regime -- exceeded $1.5 billion. As the former head of the South African Air Force Jan van Loggerenberg told me bluntly: "Israel was probably our only avenue in the 1980s."
Polakow-Suransky's main point is that Israel and its apologetics are hyprocritical to say the least when they reproach judge Goldstone that he once functioned under Soutnh Africa's Apartheid's laws. His article 'Gold stones Glass Houses' can be found here.

It's rather sickening these smear campaigns, full of distortions, which so easily forget that Israel itself, sent - in the course of its policy of 'targeted killings'  - hundreds to their death without even a process, many among them innocent bystanders, not to mention the 1200 and 1400 people that were killed in recent nnecesaary wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
But as far as the record of judge Goldstone is concerned, it is worth reading what Richard Silverstein writes to his defense. Silverstein puts him in the context of the South African juridical system at the time. He may not deserve a medal for the fact that he once operated within this system and - together  with others confirmed death sentences. But, and here Silverstein is right, so do American judges, and likening Goldstone's role to those of nazi judges (or Josef Dershowitz does) is simply ludicrous and therefor scandalous. The more so because Goldstone's  critics, as Silverstein quotes from another article by Polakow-Surasky in the Huffington Post,
…Fail to acknowledge Goldstone’s crucial role in facilitating South Africa’s transition to democracy by chairing the investigative Commission on Public Violence and Intimidation from 1991-1994. Among other things, this commission exposed the apartheid government’s links to a so-called Third Force–made up of government security and ex-security operatives seeking to derail peaceful democratic elections.
The Goldstone Commission’s revelations outraged Nelson Mandela, leading him to conclude that F.W. de Klerk’s government had organized covert death squads…Goldstone’s work earned him Mandela’s respect and, in 1994, South Africa’s first black president appointed Goldstone to the Constitutional Court…
Silvestein also points to the fact that it was Goldstone's ruling which overturned the so called Homeland  (Thuisland) policy, which effectively ended the Apartheid. And from somewhere he digs up an opinion of the (black) American federal judge Thelton Henderson who visited South Africa in the eighties, came in trouble over there, and met Goldstone, an opinion which is remarkably favourable for Goldstone. (See Silverstein's blog for all this)
In the meantime the question is: does it matter? And the answer is: Yes it does. All these attempts - concerted attempts  - by functionairies of Israeli ministries and journalists and hasbarists, reveal to which low the Israeli society and estabsihsment have sunk. A level at which critiicism in whatever shape or form has become so threatening that it can only be answered by smearing the crictics, prosecute them, expellt hem from the country, or refuse them to enter it  While looking into the cases in question obviously is no longer a viable option at all. The only democracy in the Middle East is no longer capable of a critical look in the mirror and to invstigate its own flaws and faults. Which is a pity and of course 'a schand'...

Turkey and Brazil angry at lack of appreciation for uranium deal with Iran

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (picture) yesterday urged Western countries to seize a fresh opportunity to peacefully resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear program, warning that the talk of sanctions against Tehran despite a compromise formula it agreed to this week would spoil prospects for peace and might provoke the Iranian public against the deal.
But the major powers brushed aside Iran's latest offer to address concerns on its nuclear program and introduced a list of new U.N. sanctions at the UN Security Council. The measures would limit arms sales and allow searches of ships.It also contains further restrictions on Iranian banking.Even as it lists strictures, the sanctions package also "restates the council's commitment to dialogue."  China joined in supporting the resolution, but also warmly welcomed Iran's proposal, leaving its attitude toward the deliberations somewhat unclear, diplomats said. Brazil and Turkey, the countries that brokered the deal with Iran, refused to discuss the package. 

Iran agreed with Brazil and Turkey on Monday to send 1,200 kilograms of its low enriched uranium to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel swap deal to avoid fresh UN sanctions over its nuclear program.
Under the deal, the Iranian uranium would be stored in Turkey, in exchange of which Iran would receive, within one year, higher-enriched fuel rods to be used in a US-built medical research reactor.
But, although the deal mirrors a swap the Western countries asked Iran to accept last October, the US and some of the other world powers involved in the standoff said the deal failed to ease their concerns that Iran is ultimately intending to develop nuclear weapons capabilities.

Davutoğlu, speaking at a press conference for Turkish and foreign media, said Iran agreed to all the conditions that it had been asked to accept last year. The conditions were that the amount of uranium (enriched 3.5 percent) to be transferred abroad should be 1,200 kilograms, that the uranium should be transferred in one batch and that Iran should transfer its uranium stock in advance for the delivery of 120 kilograms of uranium to be enriched by Russia and France up to 20 percent.
“All the three conditions of the international community have been met. There should be no more speculations about it because these are the conditions conveyed to us,” Davutoğlu said. He also said the deal offers a clear timetable on how it will be implemented: Iran agreed to send 1,200 kilograms of its uranium to Turkey within one month after the proposal was approved by the Vienna Group -- consisting of France, Russia, the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The uranium will be kept in Turkey for at most 11 months and it will be exchanged by 120 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent.
Davutoğlu, who said the deal was a result of intense diplomatic efforts and meticulous planning, also announced that Turkey, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, would not support proposals for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran if the Western countries agree to push for them despite the deal.
“If sanctions are to be brought back to the table despite all the hard work we did to prevent the emergence of new suspicions, why did we do all this?” he asked. “Sanctions would spoil the positive atmosphere and may provoke the Iranian public, which is very sensitive about the issue. We will not be part of any effort to that effect.

The paper Hürriyet adds: According to Davutoğlu, U.S. President Barack Obama recently sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarding the negotiations and the quantity mentioned in this letter was exactly 1,200 kilograms. The foreign minister said all relevant parties were kept informed at all stages of the negotiations with Iran and claimed that the early skeptical reactions stem from the fact that a successful deal was not expected. “I think there is no problem with the text of the deal. The problem is that they were not expecting that Iran would accept,” he said. “They had a reflex conditioned on the expectation that Iran will always say no. That's why they were a little bit caught by surprise.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nile Basin nations get impatient with Egypt's refusal to renegotiate water sharing agreement

 Confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers at Khartoum in Sudan.

Seven upstream member countries of the Nile Basin Inititiative (NBI) have decided to go it alone. On Saturday, despite strong Egyptian and Sudanese opposition, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia signed a new water-sharing agreement. The other three countries, Kenya, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to sign the new deal within the next 12 months as allowed by the accord, NBI officials said on Sunday.
However, despite a new agreement being signed, little is likely to change. Egypt is already pushing international donor bodies, such as the World Bank – the main financier of the NBI – to cut funding to the signatories. According to World Bank officials last July in Alexandria, they would not fund any new project without the approval of Egypt. “Egypt is the leading country in this consortium and the World Bank will not get behind any initiative that leaves them out,” a World Bank official said at the time on the sidelines of the NBI conference in the Egyptian port city.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ministers had met in Sharm el-Sheikh on April 13 in another attempt to come to agreement on a water-sharing deal, but Egypt again refused to renegotiate an 80-year-old treaty that ensures they receive the lion’s share of water from the Nile River.According to the country’s MENA state news agency, the 10 nations failed to agree on a new deal, instead saying they will look for closer cooperation instead. This all changed on Saturday as the upstream nations apparently said enough is enough.
Burundi’s Environment Minister was disturbed at the proceedings, blaming Egypt for the lack of a new agreement that would give upstream nations, including his, a larger proportion of water for irrigation and development.
“Egypt is continuing to act as if they can do whatever they want, but the time is soon coming where they will not be able to dictate our water consumption, especially if they treat us this way,” said Minister Degratias N’Duimana.
Ugandan Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba, in her opening speech at the meeting in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh called on her counterparts to sign the agreement without further delay. Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Nasr el-din Allam refused, saying his nation required the treaty to remain the same with expected water shortages coming in the near future.
In February, a senior Egyptian water ministry official said that the Nile Basin nations do not suffer from these shortages and if they do it is because of misuse of the resource.
Saad Nassar, an advisor to the Egyptian agriculture minister, said the Nile Basin countries, in fact, “enjoy huge water resources.” He said the quantity of rain water received by the upstream countries hits 1,800 billion cubic meters and that the quota of downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) hits 73 billion cubic meters annually, 55 billion of which goes to Egypt and 18 billion goes to Sudan.Nassar said that much of the water resources in the Nile Basin countries are excessively wasted, underlining his county’s keenness to make the best use of water for the benefit of both upstream and downstream countries.
The NBI nations met last summer in Kinshasa and Alexandria to hammer out a new agreement, but nothing came from those negotiations, as Egypt’s water ministry wouldn’t budge on its position to maintain its current water consumption. Cairo refused to sign onto any convention without assurances by other members that the country would not lose the 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water they are allowed to use and demanded a veto power over any projects implemented upstream in southern Nile nations.

Attempt at the life of Saleh in South Yemen, north still very tense with occcasional fights

 Yemeni army convoy. Photo Yemen Times Archive.

Yemen is still far from quiet. In the south there was an attempt to kill preisdnet Ali Abdallah Saleh, when his presidenteial convoy was attacked. And in the north, where till February a war with the Houthi rebels was going on, tension is still very high with the possibility that any moment a new round of figfhting coulod start.  
In the attack on the presidential convoy an army official died and four others were injured. Th attack occcurred at Al-Habelain, Lahj, 337 km southwest of Sana’a, according to local sources. One of the armed attackers, Mohsen Abdulla Obaid, was killed and another was injured. A civilian was also injured as a car from the convoy ran him over, according to an official source.
Al-Habelain is one of the strongholds of the Southern Movement which is calling for secession. It has been the site of frequent clashes between soldiers and supporters of the Southern Movement. President Saleh himself was not present during the attack. He had already left for Taiz in a private helicopter. The same source said that soldiers at military positions in Al-Habelain used artillery to attack surrounding areas. People were seen running to take cover. The security force arrested three relatives of Obaid, according to local sources in Lahj.

Sadeq Ameen Abu Ras, the Prime Minister Deputy for Interior Affairs, said that he was a target of an assassination attempt in Shabwa, 458 km from Sana’a. Abu Ras told the AFP that an armed group targeted his convoy and fired at them. Locals in Shabwa said the he was targeted when he was attending a festival in Azzan, Shabwa, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of unification.

 The destrcution in the northern capital Sa'ada was considerable. The text on this daamaged wall reads:  'This is the destruction that was the work of American and Saudi planes.'

In the north of the country tension remains high after a cease fire was concluded in February. The government’s conditions for the truce included the Houthis’ withdrawal from official buildings and abandoning military posts they had seized; reopening roads; returning weapons seized from security services; freeing all military and civilian prisoners; respecting the law and the constitution and pledging not to attack Saudi Arabia. But since the truce was struck, the two sides continued to exchange accusations of breaching the ceasefire.

Yemen’s interior ministry on Tuesday accused the rebels of kidnapping four soldiers in the northern province of al Jawf and on Monday two Yemeni soldiers and an unstated number of Houthi fighters were killed in northern Amran province, the first such clash since the February 12 agreement. Although sporadic clashes between the rebels and neighbouring tribes loyal to Yemen’s government have been reported since the truce was enforced, this was the first clash with the army.

Reports from the field are showing the three-month-old truce is under severe pressure.“The situation is very tense and everyone’s hand is on the trigger. A seventh wave [of fighting] is eminent at any time,” said a soldier who has visited Sa’ada this week.Also there are reports that the Houthi rebels have occupied schools. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) expressed concerns over the reports. “Unicef is deeply concerned about reports that schools in the northern governorate of Sa’ada were occupied by armed men, and that children are denied their right to education,” Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s representative in Yemen, said in a statement last Wednesday.  According to the education ministry office in Sa’ada, only about 30,000 of the 121,000 children once enrolled in Sa’ada’s 725 schools are now attending classes. About 213 schools were damaged during the conflict.
The Houthi rebels, however, denied they are using schools as bases in Sa’ada province in order to press the government to release northern prisoners who are still held by Sanaa. “It is not true we are occupying schools. What shall we do with schools? Such information is groundless,” said Mohammed Abdulsalam, the rebel spokesman, by phone from Sa’ada. “How can we occupy schools to demand the release of our prisoners? This is ridiculous. The government is reluctant to operate the schools and send teachers back,” he added.

US not satisfied with the deal Iran reached with Brazil and Turkey over its uranium

Left to right: Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Iranian foreign minister Manoucher Mottaki, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. (Photo AFP).

The United States is not satisfied with the surprise deal about Iran's uranium that was worked out on Sunday in Tehran during talks by the presidents and foreign ministers of Iran, Brazil and Turkey. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a statement that the deal did not address some of the principal issues the US has with Iran's nuclear programme, which it says could be a cover for building atomic weapons.
"The United States and international community continue to have serious concerns," he said. "Iran said today that it would continue its 20 per cent enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Furthermore, the joint declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran's willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear programme."
 The US criticism largely mirrored that of European Union governments earlier on Monday. A spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, welcomed the deal but said that the bloc still had "serious concerns" about Iran's nuclear programme.

Correspondent Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times reported that Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iranian state television that a letter describing the deal would be sent to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency within a week. "After a final agreement is signed between Iran and the Vienna group, our fuel will be shipped to Turkey under the supervision of Iran and the IAEA," he told journalists on the sidelines of a conference of developing nations. "Then we will dispatch 1,200 kilograms [2,640 pounds] of 3.5% enriched uranium to Turkey to be exchanged for 120 kilograms [264 pounds] of 20% enriched uranium from the Vienna group."  The Vienna group consists of Russia, France, the U.S. and the IAEA.
 The deal was brokered during an 18-hour session Sunday by leaders of Brazil and Turkey during a visit to Tehran. A joint statement was signed by the foreign ministers of all three countries and witnessed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, state radio reported. Afterward, Ahmadinejad called on the West to return to talks.
"Following the signing of the nuclear fuel swap deal, it is time ... to enter talks with Iran based on honesty, justice and mutual respect," Ahmadinejad said, according to Reuters.

The deal appears to build upon an IAEA proposal last year that was endorsed by the Obama administration and Western powers.  Iran was to send around 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium to Russia to be further refined and afterward to France to be converted into 20%-enriched fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor. The compromise was to serve as a way of drawing Iran's supply of nuclear material below the threshold for building a bomb and to create an atmosphere for a broader deal between the West and Iran.
That deal faltered when Iran appeared to back away, with political factions in Tehran accusing the West of trying to swindle Iran out of its stockpile. A few months ago, upping tensions with the West, Iran began producing its own 20% enriched uranium, a move that diplomats and nonproliferation experts worried could bring Iran closer to the highly enriched uranium needed to fuel an atom bomb.

But many questions remain about the new deal. Only a handful of countries, including France and Argentina, are said to have the capacity to create the specialized fuel plates for the Tehran medical reactor, built by the United States before Iran's 1979 revolution.
Turkey does not enrich uranium. Though Mehmanparast said Turkey has agreed to serve as the venue for the fuel exchange, it remains unclear whether it would serve as a guarantor for the low-enriched uranium or whether the material would be shipped to a nation with refinement capacity such as Russia, Brazil or France.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Liar without borders

It's high time to devote a few lines to Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard and Bar Ilan, a former defense lawyer of celebrities like Mike Tyson (accused of rape) and O.J. Simpson (double murder), a self appointed defense lawyer for the Case of  Israel, about which he wrote a book with the same title, and one of the most skilled and thoroughly experienced liars of our time.    
 It's a miracle how Dershowitz, one way or other, manages to be constantly in the news these days. Hardly has he refused Benyamin Netanyahu's offer he was not supposed to refuse, namely to become Israels next representative (and defense lawyer?) at the United Nations  (check the Coteret blog, where you'll find a translation of a column in which author Meir Shalev wrote mocks this fact) or he attires attention because of the column he himself wrote in the Jerusalem Post about the bar mitzvah of Judge Goldstone's grandson in Johannesburg. Remember that Goldstone initially took the decision to stay away, because the Zionist Federtion of South-Africa intended to use the ocaasion to hold a demonstration against him?  In his column Deshowitz does not just twist the truth a bit, he compoletely turns it upside down. In his version it is not the South African Zionist Federation that politicized the occasion of this bar mitzva, oh no, it was judge Goldstone himself.
So now it turns out to be Richard Goldstone - author of the notorious Goldstone Report - who is politicizing his grandson's bar mitzvah. Jewish authorities in South Africa didn't "ban" Goldstone from the synagogue at which his grandson was being bar mitzvahed, as Goldstone and his supporters had alleged. A small group of protestors had said they would exercise their right of expression to picket Goldstone. Though they clearly had the right to do so, most Jews in South Africa and elsewhere - including me - were uncomfortable with the idea of picketing a grandfather attending his grandson's bar mitzvah. It was Goldstone who decided not to attend and instead to publicize the matter   
So far, so hypocritical and completely untrue. But this comes next:
The South Africa Board of Deputies have now persuaded the protestors to pick a different time and place to show their disdain for Goldstone. The matter should have been put to rest, with Goldstone quietly attending the bar mitzvah. But Goldstone won't let it go. He has attacked the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, who was instrumental in working out a compromise where the protests would be called off and Goldstone would agree to meet with Jewish leaders. Goldstone escalated the dispute by writing a letter to the local newspaper complaining that "the Chief Rabbi would so brazenly politicize the occasion of my 13-year-old grandson's bar mitzvah to engage in further personal attacks on me."
Here the distinguished defender of O.J.Simpson and Israel overlooks the fact that Goldstone wrote the letter BEFORE the Board of Deputies changed its mind and together with the chief rabbi decided to call the picked line off. Dershowitz continues:
But it was Goldstone who brazenly politicized the bar mitzvah by mischaracterizing the Chief Rabbi's statement and using it as an excuse to continue the controversy about the bar mitzvah. The alleged "personal attack" by the Chief Rabbi consisted of a statement that every synagogue "should welcome in a tolerant and nonjudgmental way all who seek to enter and join in our service and pray to God."
The Chief Rabbi also exercised his own freedom of speech to express his opinion - an entirely accurate one - that the Goldstone report "has unfairly done enormous damage to the reputation and safety of the State of Israel and her citizens."
Was the Chief Rabbi obligated to remain silent about the report until after the bar mitzvah? It would have been irresponsible of Rabbi Goldstein to say nothing in the face of the evil represented by the Goldstone report and its biased authors. Is it not enough that he curbed those who wanted to protest in front of the synagogue? It is Goldstone who is using his grandson's bar mitzvah as a shield against legitimate criticism, just as he has used his "jewishness" as a shield against criticism of the Goldstone report. 
 Oh yes, Goldstone, by his initial decision to stay away and not politicize his grandson's bar mitzva uses this bar mitzva as a shield against legitimate criticism.... Only with the pliable logic of someone who is so used to mold the facts as he sees fit that he completely lost sight of reality, might one reach a conclusion like that. But Dershowitz is not yet finished. Remember that the South African Board of Deputies changed its mind after a lot of publicity abroad, among which was a letter by over 30 rabbis? This is how Dershowitz qualifies them:
Goldstone has not complained about another group of rabbis who have politicized his grandson's bar mitzvah in an effort to support the Goldstone report and its mendacious conclusions. A group of rabbis, many of whom have long records of anti-Israel activism, authored a "Rabbinic letter" to Goldstone congratulating him on his grandson's bar mitzvah and using the occasion to make virulently anti-Israel claims, including the blood libel that Israel deliberately targeted innocent Palestinian civilians without any military purpose. (....) These "rabbis for Hamas" have no shame and no credibility. They exploit their rabbinical status to support any conclusion that undercuts self defense Israeli actions without regard to the evidence and without regard to the truth.
Not surprisingly, the worst of these rabbis (and that's saying a lot), Michael Lerner, after attempting to politicize the bar mitzvah by offering his anti-Israel synagogue for the event, has decided to honor Richard Goldstone with Tikkun Magazine's "Ethics Award." I guess all it takes to be honored by Tikkun is to pass Lerner's litmus test of lying about Israel.   
 The man is really completely out of his mind, a liar without borders. What is worrysome,  is that his words have an effect. After this publication in the Jerusalem Post, some people attacked the house of rabbi Lerner, left slogans on the walls and glued pamphlets to it with a powerfull glue.
Cartoon: Latuff)

And hardly had we digested this morally corrupt column in the Jerusalem Post, or there was the news that Dershowitz this past Saturday received a honorary degree from the University of Tel Aviv. Richard Silverstein translated the motivation of the university:  
Professor Dershowitz…is one of the truly great American lawyers…He receives this honor because of his reputation as a sterling jurist, a well-respected public figure, a true and dear friend of Israel, international authority in criminal law, for his twenty-year advocacy for civil and human rights and for being a fanatical defender of them, and for his hundreds of articles and books which merited wide distribution.
[He receives this honor] as a sign of appreciation for his passionate and convincing defense of the State of Israel in his books, his interviews in the international media and university campuses; and for his unique ability to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism with sophisticated argumentation; and for his active and thought-provoking discussion of the Middle East conflict.
His thought-provoking discussion of the Middle East conflict? It is really more a way of discussion that raises the eyebrows, or rather someone's hairs. It suffices to visit the website of Norman Finkelstein - or read his book 'Beyond Chutzpah'  to see to what extend Dershowitz twisted the facts, plagiarized the notorious Joan Peters and her book 'From Time Immemorial' which is caraterized asl a worthless fraud by 99% of  academia, to realize the 'scientific' standards that Dershowitz represents. By reading his 'Case fo Israel', or  taking note of the way he slanders, distorts and manipulates facts, one start to understand how it was possible that he defended about 15 murderers in the US and got 13 of them off the hook, while at least a number of thme (he himself seems to have admitted that it was even 'most of them') were in fact guilty. And this is the kind of guy that the today's Israeli leaders deem fit to receive honorary doctorates or represent the country in fora like the United Nations...

And Dershowitz marches on. At a conference at Tel Aviv university on Tuesday he accused left wing Jewish intellectuals to slander Israel in such a way that it causes more harm than Islamic and pro-Palestinian movements. He called it 'legal terror' and a 'strategic threat' and he singled  out US intellectual Noam Chomsky as particularly dangerous because he creates a hostile atmosphere in the US and on American campuses. 

Dershowitz is really unbelievable, obnoxious, nauseating, someone who goes on and on, as indefatigable and  subtle as the bulldozers with which Israel builds its Sepration Barrier. It is a phenomenon and it is frightening, because deep down I'm convinced that he is merely a symptom of the deepening rift between right and what could be called liberal, enlightened/progressive/left within the Jewish communities. A rift that may already be beyond repair, or soon will be.

PS. The latest news in today's Haaretz is that about 80 staff members of Tel Aviv university in a letter to the university's president ask that the university distances itselfs fromt Dershowitz' speech on Saturday, at the acceptance of his honorary doctorate, in which he named  faculty members who, as he called it, hurted students and harmed the interests of the state. What specifically angered the academics was that he called two TAU-staffers (Anat Matar and Rachel Giora) by name. For more background see Jerry Haber's blog  

PS2. There was still one point I missed: Dershowitz in an interview with Israeli tv compared judge Goldstone to Joseph Mengele, th 'Angel of Dreath' at Auschwitz where he did the sections for the gas chambers, because Goldstone was an appeal judge in Soujt Africa during the apartheid era and in that quality  confirmed a number of death penealties. It probably isn't the finest page on Goldstone's curriculum, but compare him for that reason to Mengele is simply outrageous. Here is the video:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

String of attacks make more than 100 victims in Iraq - police and army favourite targets

 Soldiers on the site of an explosion in a bus in Iskanderiya, 50 km south of Baghdad.

More than 100 people have died and 350 been wounded in a series of shootings and suicide bombings in Iraq - the worst day of violence there this year.
The central city of Hilla saw the deadliest attack, where two car bombs exploded in quick succession at the entrance to the textile factory in Hilla, just as workers boarded buses to go home in the middle of the day.
Later, as bystanders and emergency services rushed in to help the wounded, a suicide bomber detonated explosives causing a third explosion.At least 45 people were killed and more than 140 were wounded.
The serirs of violent attacks started at dawn on Monday, when gunmen with silencers fitted to their weapons drove up to checkpoints across Baghdad, killing at least seven police and army officers.
Oteher attacks were a double suicide bombing in a crowded market in the small town of Suwayra, south of Baghdad, killed at least 11 people and wounded more than 40;  three car bombs in the southern city of Basra, which killed at least 20 people and wounding dozens more. There were also attacks in Iskanderiya, south Baghdad, and in Mosul, north of the capital. In the western city of Fallujah, four separate bombs killed four people, while 10 police officers were wounded after explosives were planted outside their homes. Security forces were the apparent target of much of the assault, with patrols and checkpoints manned by local and federal police, as well as the Iraqi national army, all being hit.
Official figures show that 328 people were killed in Iraq in April, slightly fewer than a year ago. The conclusion must be that guerrilla opposition to the US imposed order remains very strong. The government usually blames the violence on Baathist forces and Al-Qaeda (of which in recent weeks a number of its cadres have been arrested) But whoever is behind these attacks, it is clear that the armed opposition is able to perform a string of coordinated attacks and shows that it is capable of  harming  security forces,  checkpoints and even policemen at their homes. .    .

Sunday, May 9, 2010

PLO agrees to indirect talks PA-Israel. US aims at direct talks

The PLO Executive Committee on Saturday announced that it had given the green light to Abbas to begin indirect negotiations with Israel. Abbas also met with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell to discuss the manner in which the so-called proximity talks would be conducted. 
The United States welcomed the PLO's decision. Mitchell will meet with Abbas again Sunday in Ramallah before returning to Washington. But senior U.S. officials have told their Palestinian counterparts that Washington believes direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians must begin as soon as possible.The Obama administration has informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that it will not unveil mediation proposals or a Middle East peace plan before the start of direct, substantive talks between the two sides on final-status issues, a high-level Israeli official said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday after a meeting in Ramallah between Abbas and Mitchell that the discussions would be held over the four months allotted to address final-status issues such as borders and security arrangements. "The issues of Jerusalem and the settlements are part of the 1967 borders, so they will be discussed and negotiated," Erekat said.
Erekat said that during their meeting, Abbas gave Mitchell a letter outlining the Palestinian Authority's position on proximity talks and the issues it wants to discuss. Abbas would head the Palestinian negotiating team himself, Erekat said, adding that the Palestinians view the talks as aimed at "The end of the occupation and creation of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel along the 1967 borders."
The talks appear to represent a U.S.-brokered compromise that meets both the Palestinian demand to address the issue of borders, and Israel's condition to discuss security arrangements. Both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators recognize that the two issues are intimately linked, and that any proposal or statement on either matter is likely to significantly influence any resolution on the other.

Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the decision to resume peace talks, urging that they be held unconditionally and lead swiftly to direct negotiations between the two sides. At a cabinet meeting on Sunday he said that direct talks were needed in stead of poxinmitry talks. "It is impossible to make peace at a distance," he said. 
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the U.S. administration expects Israel to do its part in facilitating U.S. efforts to advance the stalled peace process. "An essential condition for improving relations with the U.S. is taking steps that prove Israel is seriously committed to making decisions on the Palestinian issue once they reach the negotiating table," Barak said at a conference at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
"That will be judged by deeds, not by how much we smile at the White House. A comprehensive peace plan is needed, one that Israel stands behind. I'm not sure that that is possible with the current government," Barak said.

"Without an agreement, we will be subject to international isolation, and we will suffer a fate similar to that of Belfast or Bosnia, or a gradual transition from a paradigm of two states for two peoples to one of one state for two peoples, and some people will try to label us as similar to South Africa. That's why we must act," Barak said. If both sides are willing to make brave decisions, he said, "it will be possible to get to direct negotiations and a breakthrough toward an agreement."
In talks last week with Netanyahu and Barak, Mitchell asked that Israel make confidence-building measures over the next few weeks, both to build up PA institutions and encourage the Palestinians to shift more quickly to direct talks. A senior official in Jerusalem said Israel would take such steps in the coming weeks. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iraqiya angry after shiites form coalition, Sistani reported to be in role of broker

The Iraqiya coalition, which won the most seats in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary poll,  has alleged an alliance between Iraq's two main Shia blocs is an "Iranian orchestrated" sectarian move.
"Iranian finger prints are obvious in the way the alliance was formed and announced," Haidar al-Mulla, a spokesman for Iraqiya, told Al Jazeera.
The Sunni-backed list led by Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister, also accused Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent PM, and his allies of clinging to power at the expense of Iraqi people."We will never be part of a sectarian government. Iraqi people refused sectarianism when the majority of them gave their votes to our list, which includes all Iraqi factions, religions, ethnicities and sects," al-Mulla said.
Khalid al-Asadi, co-founder of al-Maliki's State of Law list, denied the allegation. "Actually, those who describe our alliance [with the Iraqi National Alliance] as sectarian are sectarian themselves," he told Al Jazeera."We consider this accusation a kind of sectarian incitement. We are patriots who promote a civil state in Iraq."
The two Iraqi blocs' agreement stipulates that Ali al-Sistani (photo), an Iranian-born cleric in Iraq who holds the highest rank among Shia scholars, would have final say in any dispute between the parties.
 The new Shia alliance remains four seats short of the 163 needed to form a parliamentary majority but is still likely to take office. A big question mark, however, is who is going to be the new prime minister. The Sadrists of Muqtda al Sadr, which retain 38 seats in the Iraqi National Alliance, have a problem with the incumbent prime minister Nuri al Maliki, because he used the Iarqi army in 2008 to disarm teh Sdarist forces..  
According to full preliminary results from the election, State of Law won 89 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives while the INA, led by Shia religious groups, won 70 seats. 

The Kurdish Alliance, made up of Iraq's autonomous northern region's two long-dominant blocs and holding 43 seats, has  previously said it would join the coalition once the two main  parties sorted out their differences.
The final number of seats gained by each party could yet change, however, as electoral authorities are conducting a recount of votes in the key Baghdad constituency, which accounts for 70 parliamentary berths.
In addition, nine election-winning candidates are awaiting a ruling on whether or not they will be allowed

Israel won't react to UN-call for nuclear free M-East

Israel has no plan to review its nuclear policies, a government official said on Friday, playing down efforts by world powers at a U.N. non-proliferation conference to promote a Middle East free of atomic arms, Reuters reports. Hoping to win Arab backing for sanctions against Iran, the United States and other permanent U.N. Security Council members on Wednesday called for ways to be found to implement a 1995 initiative that would guarantee nuclear disarmament in a region where Israel is widely assumed to have the only such weapons.
The declaration followed campaigning by Egypt to focus attention, during this month's nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference, on non-signatory Israel, which has set peace with all its neighbors as a precondition for joining the pact.
"There is nothing new here, and no reason for a change of direction on our part," a senior Israeli official told Reuters.
Egypt, which heads a powerful bloc of non-aligned developing nations, has circulated a proposal to the NPT's 189 signatories calling for a conference by next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons, with all regional countries taking part. The United States and Russia, with the support of Britain, France and China, have been negotiating with Egypt to come up with an acceptable compromise proposal, Western diplomats say. U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher told an audience of delegates and reporters on Wednesday it was hard to imagine negotiating "any kind of free zone in the absence of a comprehensive peace plan that is running on a parallel track."
 Reactor at Dimona in Israel

 Iran, an NPT signatory whose uranium enrichment has stirred Western fears of an illicit bomb project -- despite Tehran's denials -- spurns the Jewish state.The Obama administration's outreach to Iran has prompted some analysts to predict the United States will reassess its 40-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward an Israeli arsenal that is believed to include some 200 atomic warheads -- a grievance and perceived threat among many Arabs and Muslims.But the Israeli official said the administration's attitude on this matter was so far "identical" to the line taken by its predecessors.