Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:27:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Israel Using Live Ammunition for Palestinian Crowd Controlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:24:39 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139906 Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A Palestinian youth lost his fight for life this week after lying critically injured in Ramallah Hospital for days after Israeli soldiers used live ammunition as a method of crowd control against stone-throwing Palestinians near a Palestinian refugee camp.

“Ali Safi had critical injuries to his kidneys, spinal cord, lungs and spleen,” Dr Sami Naghli, who runs Jelazon refugee camp’s medical relief services, told IPS.

Seventeen-year-old Safi was shot last week by an Israeli sniper armed with a Ruger rifle during clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers.

The bullet which hit him was a 0.22 inch calibre bullet, which is considered less lethal than ordinary bullets of 5.56 mm calibre.“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately” – orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat

There has been a recent increase in the use of this kind of bullet against Palestinian demonstrators by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) despite disagreement within the Israeli military about the use of this controversial weapon for riot control when the lives of Israeli soldiers are not endangered.

The head of Israel’s security department in the Operations Directorate stated in 2001 that the Ruger could not be considered a non-lethal weapon and could only be used in circumstances which justified the use of live fire.

Due to the large number of Palestinians injured and killed by 0.22 bullets, the use of this ammunition was suspended during the second Intifada, or uprising, from 2001 to 2008.

However, they are once again being used by the Israelis and the number of Palestinians seriously injured by them is growing, with at least two deaths in the last several months.

“Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch calibre bullets. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes,” reported Israeli rights group B’tselem in January.

“Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets,” said B’tselem.

The humanitarian organisation has also said it witnessed cases of Israeli soldiers provoking clashes in order to fire live ammunition at protesters.

The reintroduction of this controversial weapon prompted B’tselem to complain to Israel’s Military Attorney General (MAG), who responded confirming that “the Ruger and similar means are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances.”

Dr Naghli told IPS that the Israeli soldiers are also using a kind of bullet which fragments on impact, causing severe trauma and damage to bones, organs and nerves, although he could not confirm if this was a 0.22 or another type.

“During the last three months there have been over 40 wounded from these types of gunshots,” said Naghli.

Over the last few weeks, IPS has witnessed Israeli snipers firing repeatedly at Palestinians during several clashes in the West Bank when stones thrown landed at a distance away from the soldiers presenting no danger.

IPS also visited some of the wounded in Ramallah Hospital and spoke to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat who was treating them.

“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately,” Dr Barakat told IPS.

In a related development, the IDF has also temporarily suspended the use of attack dogs when arresting Palestinians, most accused of stone-throwing.

This follows a video, which went viral and caused an outcry, of 16-year-old Hamzeh Abu Hashem, 16, of Beit Ummar near Hebron in the southern West Bank, being savaged by two dogs as soldiers arrest him.

A subsequent IDF investigation found that while the use of dogs in confrontations “could be justified, in the case in question, the youth could have been arrested using other means.” Abu Hashem has been incarcerated since the incident.

Meanwhile, torture of Palestinians in detention by Israeli security services has been on the rise since the second half of 2014, according to the Public Committee Against Torture (PCAT) in Israel, an attorney representing Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz daily.

“In years past there were a few rare cases of torture. But something has changed,” the attorney told Haaretz.

In all of 2014, 23 Palestinians filed a number of complaints of torture by the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic intelligence agency).

Until 1999, thousands of Palestinian prisoners were tortured every year. PCAT estimates that most Palestinians questioned had experienced at least one kind of torture.

In September 1999, following a petition to the High Court of Justice, the court prohibited the systematic use of torture, but left a small opening for interrogators

This opening applied to cases known as “ticking time bombs” where the use of force is permitted to obtain crucial information.

However, critics have pointed out that what constitutes a “ticking time bomb” is open to interpretation as well as the fact that Palestinian prisoners who have been tortured have sometimes given false information just to stop the torture.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: What if Youth Now Fight for Social Change, But From the Right?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 17:58:42 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139808

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, takes young voters’ support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections as the starting point for looking at how young people in Europe are moving to the right.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

The “surprise” re-election of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections has been met with a flood of media comment on the implications for the region and the rest of the world.

However, one of the reasons for Netanyahu’s victory has dramatically slipped the attention of most – the support he received from young Israelis.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, 200,000 last-minute voters decided to switch their vote to Netanyahu’s Likud party due to the “fear factor” and most of these were voters under the age of 35.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Perhaps the “fear factor” was actually an expression of the “Masada factor”. Masada is a strong element in Israeli history and collective imagination. The inhabitants of the mountain fortress of Masada, besieged by Roman legions at the time of Emperor Tito’s conquest of the Israeli state, preferred collective suicide to surrender.

Israelis today feel besieged by hostile neighbouring countries (first of all Iran), the continuous onslaught by the Caliphate and the Islamic State, overwhelming negative international opinion and growing abandonment by the United States.

Netanyahu played a number of cards to bring about his last-minute election success, including his speech to the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress on Mar. 3, which was seen by many Israelis as an act of defiance and dignity, not a weakening of fundamental relations with the United States.

His support for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, his denial of the creation of a Palestinian state and his show of contempt for an international community unable to understand Israel’s fears led Netanyahu’s Likud party to victory.

In Israel, being left-wing mean accepting a Palestinian state, being right-wing means denying it. In the end, the Mar. 17 vote was the result of fear.“Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s ‘glorious’ past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country … is an easy way out”

Israeli’s young people are not alone in moving to the right as a reaction to fear. It is interesting to note that all right-wing parties which have become relevant in Europe are based on fear.

Growing social inequality, the unprecedented phenomenon of youth unemployment, cuts in public services such as education and health, corruption which has become a cancer with daily scandals, and the general feeling of a lack of clear response from the political institutions to the problems opened up by a globalisation based on markets and not on citizens are all phenomena which are affecting young people.

“When you were like us at university, you knew you would find a job – we know we will not find one,” was how one student put it at a conference of the Society for International Development that I attended.

“The United Nations has lost the ability to be a place of governance, the financial system is without checks and corporations have a power which goes over national governments,” the student continued. “So, you see, the world of today is very different one from the one in which you grew up.”

As Josep Ramoneda wrote in El Pais of Mar. 18: “We expected that governments would submit markets to democracy and it turns out that what they do is adapt democracy to markets, that is, empty it little by little.

This is why many of those of who vote for right-wing parties in Europe are young people – be it for the National Front in France, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the Lega Nord (North League) in Italy, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Germany and Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.

Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s “glorious” past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country, and bringing back to the nation space and functions which have been delegated to an obtuse and arrogant bureaucracy in Brussels which has not been elected and is not therefore accountable to citizens, is an easy way out.

This is a major – but ignored – epochal change. It was long held that an historic function of youth was to act as a factor for change … now it is fast becoming a factor for the status quo. The traditional political system no longer has youth movements and its poor performance in front of the global challenges that countries face today makes young people distrustful and distant.

It is an easy illusion to flock to parties which want to fight against changes which look ominous, even negative. It also partially explains why some young Europeans are running to the Islamic State which promise a change to restore the dignity of Muslims dignity and whose agenda is to destroy dictators and sheiks who are in cohort with the international system and are all corrupt and intent on enriching themselves, instead of taking care of their youth.

What can young people think of President Erdogan of Turkey building a presidential palace with 1,000 rooms or the European Central Bank inaugurating headquarters which cost 1,200 million euro, just to give two examples? And what of the fact that the 10 richest men in the world increased their wealth in 2013 alone by an amount equivalent to the combined budgets of Brazil and Canada?

This generational change should be a transversal concern for all parties but what is happening instead is that the welfare state is continuing to suffer cuts. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), young people in the 18-23 age group will retire with an average pension of 650 euro. What kind of society will that be?

Without the safety net now being provided by parents and grandparents, how can young people in such a society avoid feeling left out?

We always thought young people would fight for social change, but what if they are now doing so from the right?

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Palestinian Women Victims on Many Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:17:44 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139798 Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Veto Costs Lives as Syrian Civil War Passes Deadly Milestonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:27:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139703 The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As the long drawn-out Syrian military conflict passed a four-year milestone over the weekend, the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) summed it up in a striking headline: 4 years, 4 vetoes, 220,000 dead.

It was a harsh judgment of the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful political body at the United Nations, which critics say is desperately in need of a resurrection."Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history." -- Dr. Simon Adams

The devastating civil war and the sectarian violence in Syria have also displaced over 11 million people – more than half of Syria’s population – with 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Dr. Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for R2P, told IPS Syria is clearly the most tragic failure of the U.N. Security Council in a generation.

“Each veto and the inaction of the Council has been interpreted as a license to kill by atrocity perpetrators in Syria,” he added.

The four vetoes, cast by Russia and China to protect the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, were cast in October 2011, February 2012, July 2012 and May 2014.

Dr. Adams said 220,000 dead is a horrifying indictment of the magnitude of the Security Council’s failure in Syria. “They constitute 220,000 reasons why we need reform of the veto rights of the five permanent members when it comes to mass atrocity crimes.”

The five (P-5) holding veto powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – and each of them has exercised the veto mostly to protect their close allies or their national interests over the years.

Since the creation of the United Nations 70 years ago, the two big powers have cast the most number of vetoes: a total of 79 by the United States and 11 by the Russian Federation (plus 90 by its predecessor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR), while China’s tally is nine, according to the latest available figures.

“The veto costs lives. Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history. They have a responsibility to protect and a responsibility not to veto,” Dr. Adams said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently called for a political solution, said the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart.

They and their neighbours, he said, continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community that is divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction.

Retracing the violent history of the ongoing conflict, Ban recalled that it began in March 2011, when thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform.

But this legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities. Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold, he added.

In what appeared to be a diplomatic turnaround, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has not ruled out a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome,” he said during a television interview Sunday, although the U.S. has been supporting rebel forces trying to overthrow the Assad regime by military means.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, a Hollywood celebrity and Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “People are entitled to feel bewildered and angry that the U.N. Security Council seems unable to respond to the worst crisis of the 21st century.”

She said it is shameful that even the basic demand for full humanitarian access has not been met.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries and international humanitarian agencies are being stretched beyond their limits.

“And it is sickening that crimes are being committed against the Syrian people on a daily basis with impunity. The failure to end this crisis diminishes all of us,” Jolie declared.

Ban said the lack of accountability in Syria has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.

Each day, he said, brings reports of fresh horrors: executions, widespread arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearances as well as systematic torture in detention; indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, including with barrel bombs; siege and starvation tactics; use of chemical weapons, and atrocities committed by Daesh (the Islamic State) and other extremist groups.

Dr. Adams told IPS President Assad and all atrocity perpetrators in Syria belong in handcuffs at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“The U.N. Security Council has failed to end a conflict that has already cost 220,000 lives, but the least they can do now is refer the situation to the ICC so that victims have some chance of justice,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Palestinian Grassroots Resistance to Occupation Growinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 10:02:46 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139700 Unarmed Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during protest near Jelazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Unarmed Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during protest near Jelazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As soon as the truck carrying Israeli dairy products entered Ramallah’s city centre it was surrounded by Palestinian activists who proceeded to remove and trash almost 20,000 dollars’ worth of mainly milk and yoghurt.

The driver of the truck, a Palestinian from the nearby Qalandia refugee camp, and an Israeli employee fainted after watching helplessly.

The goods, already paid for by Palestinian shopkeepers, were smashed up and stomped on before they were spread all over the street in front of the Palestinian police stationed at the traffic circle.

Activists from the Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated Fatah movement are behind a boycott of Israeli goods throughout the West Bank.“The strength of the grassroots organisations’ action against Israel is not going to go away anytime soon and will only continue to grow in strength internationally” – Professor Samir Awad of Birzeit University

The boycott follows the withholding by Israel of millions of Palestinian tax dollars in retaliation for the PA advancing plans to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged Gaza war crimes and abuses in the West Bank.

We have entered the second phase of the campaign which is confiscating and damaging these goods,” said Abdullah Kamal, who is the leader of the campaign.

Several weeks earlier, the campaign had involved Kamal and his associates making the rounds of shops in Ramallah and ordering shopkeepers to rid their stores of Israeli produce and being warned not to purchase any more. Similar moves are under way in other cities of the occupied West Bank.

Although the Palestinian territories are not a huge part of Israel’s domestic market, the move is part of a number of grassroots campaigns of defiance by Palestinians against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza.

“The local boycott by Palestinians is peaceful and a way of exerting some pressure on Israel even if it not very strong,” Professor Samir Awad, a political scientist from Birzeit University near Ramallah, told IPS

“The least Palestinians can do is not finance the occupation.”

A more serious development, from Israel’s point of view, was a recent vote by the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) executive committee in favour of discontinuing security coordination with Israel’s intelligence and security services.

Palestinians have long accused the PA of being Israel’s sub-contractor to the occupation and the Israelis rely on this security coordination to prevent another Palestinian uprising and control armed resistance.

A final decision on breaking off security coordination lies with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The situation on the ground is getting serious and it is possible that Abbas could make this decision before the end of the month,” Fatah member Murad Shitawi told IPS.

“We will not accept the continuing occupation with its economic and security implications,” said Shitawi, who is the coordinator of protests in the northern West Bank village of Kafr Qaddoum, and who was recently released from an Israeli jail.

Every Friday, dozens of villages throughout the West Bank and Gaza take part in protests against Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land and the occupation despite the huge toll this has taken on Palestinians in terms of the number wounded and killed.

Shitawi pointed out that four or five years ago there were only a few villages taking part in regular protests on a weekly basis.

“Now there are many and the protests are not limited to Friday.”

Another act of Palestinian defiance has been the repeated building of protest tents and villages in Area C of the West Bank, 60 percent of the territory, in protest against Israel’s forced removal of Bedouins and other Palestinians who have lived there for centuries.

Israel has designated Area C off limits to Palestinians and exclusively for Israeli settlers, which is illegal under international law.

One of these protest camps near the village of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, has been rebuilt 10 times after Israeli security forces rased it, confiscated equipment and arrested and assaulted activists who had encamped there.

Furthermore, Palestinian grassroots activists are also working in conjunction with their international supporters, and with Israeli peace groups, to up the pressure on Israel as the international Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign continues to strengthen.

A growing number of global businesses, church and university groups and artists are either refusing to visit Israel, do business with Israeli companies involved in the West Bank, or are boycotting Israeli institutions operating abroad.

Israel Apartheid Week, “an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing BDS campaign” was held in a number of capitals across the globe during March.

Israeli peaceniks and grassroots activists have been among some of the most vocal critics of their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, spawning a number of organisations which take part in the weekly protests.

Groups such as Ta’ayush, Breaking the Silence, Ir Amim and Rabbis for Human Rights seek to educate people about the realities of life under occupation.

Some of them also accompany Palestinian farmers trying to cultivate their land under continued settler harassment.

“The strength of the grassroots organisations’ action against Israel is not going to go away anytime soon and will only continue to grow in strength internationally,” Awad told IPS.

“The PA will also continue with its plans to take Israel to the ICC and should Israel continue to withhold Palestinian tax money indefinitely, the PA could collapse and the result would be chaos.” (END/2015)

Edited by Phil Harris

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Middle East Conflicts Give Hefty Boost to Arms Merchantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:03:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139680 Abu Firuz, the commander of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, watches the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, on Dec. 6, 2012. Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Credit: สังฆมณฑล เชียงใหม่/cc by 2.0

Abu Firuz, the commander of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, watches the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, on Dec. 6, 2012. Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Credit: สังฆมณฑล เชียงใหม่/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have helped spiral arms sales upwards to the Middle East, according to a study released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The primary beneficiaries were the United States and Russia, whose overall arms exports show a marked increase through 2014, with China lagging behind, according to the latest figures.“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure." -- Natalie Goldring

Arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – increased by 71 per cent from 2005–2009 to 2010–14, accounting for 54 per cent of imports to the Middle East in the latter period.

Saudi Arabia rose to become the second largest importer of major weapons worldwide in 2010–14, increasing the volume of its arms imports four times compared to 2005–2009.

Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said GCC states have rapidly expanded and modernised their militaries – primarily with arms from the United States and Europe.

“The GCC states, along with Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Turkey in the wider Middle East, are scheduled to receive further large orders of major arms in the coming years,” he added.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union provide ready markets for arms transfers.

But those transfers, she pointed out, aren’t always reflected in the SIPRI data. SIPRI’s database focuses on major conventional weapons.

“This means that the light weapons and small arms often featured in recent conflicts are not captured in the SIPRI totals,” said Golding, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

She said the drop in crude oil prices since September 2014 reduces the revenues available to oil-rich nations.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the oil price cuts have had strong effects across the oil-producing nations because of their dependence on oil exports.

For the short term, those effects can be moderated by using the financial buffers that are available to countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

In the past, however, financial pressures have only slowed weapons acquisitions for as long as they have persisted, Goldring said.

“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure,” she noted.

According to the most recent SIPRI data, roughly three-quarters of all countries in the world imported major conventional weapons between 2010-2014. Just 10 countries accounted for roughly half of all imports of major conventional weapons during this period.

Of the top 10 largest importers of major weapons during the five-year period 2010–14, five are in Asia: India (15 per cent of global arms imports), China (5 per cent), Pakistan (4 per cent), South Korea (3 per cent) and Singapore (3 per cent).

These five countries accounted for 30 per cent of the total volume of arms imports worldwide.

India accounted for 34 per cent of the volume of arms imports to Asia, more than three times as much as China. China’s arms imports actually decreased by 42 per cent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.

The new SIPRI data make it clear that the United States and Russia continue to dominate the global arms trade in major conventional weapons.

The United States accounted for 31 percent of the market, up from 29 percent from 2005-2009. Russia’s share increased even more significantly, going from 22 percent of the world market in 2005-2009 to a 27-percent share of the international market from 2010-2014.

“The United States has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

“Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets,” said Wezeman.

He said Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.

Goldring told IPS that although SIPRI notes the significant percentage increase in Chinese exports between the two periods, China is still a minor supplier in comparison to the United States and Russia.

Even with a large increase in its exports, China still only accounts for five percent of the global trade.

The United States and Russia alone account for nearly 60 percent of the world market. U.S. and Russian dominance of the world market is simply not threatened by China, she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Eighty-Three Percent of Lights Have Gone Out in Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/eighty-three-percent-of-lights-have-gone-out-in-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eighty-three-percent-of-lights-have-gone-out-in-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/eighty-three-percent-of-lights-have-gone-out-in-syria/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 23:49:39 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139618 A satellite view of Syria in February/March 2015. Credit Xi Li/Wuhan University

A satellite view of Syria in February/March 2015. Credit Xi Li/Wuhan University

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

A single image can be more powerful, more descriptive and more potent than an entire essay – ‘ a picture says a thousand words,’ as the cliché goes.

So it is in Syria, where despite the undoubted millions of words penned about atrocity after atrocity, bombing after bombing, a newly-released set of satellite images spell out the true devastation wrought on the nation.“People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. Modern technology, which we take for granted, cannot be used. Even the lucky ones with a generator have to ration it." -- Dr. Zaher Sahloul

Since the start of the conflict in 2011, more than four-fifths of lights across Syria have gone out.

With Syria, a coalition of 130 non-governmental organisations, launched the sobering statistic on Thursday. Research by Dr Xi Li, of Wuhan University in China, showed between March 2011 and February 2015, the number of lights visible over Syria has fallen almost 83 percent.

“I have analysed other countries, but Syria is the worst case I’ve ever seen of nighttime lights going out like this,” Li told IPS. “It is very similar to the figures of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda and Syria are the two most impacted and most suffering countries I’ve seen.”

Figures vary nationwide. In Damascus, only 33 percent of lights have gone out; while in war-ravaged Aleppo, Idlib and Al-Raqqah, up to 97 percent of lights have been extinguished.

Li says the astonishing lack of light in the country is due to three factors; the displacement of citizens from towns and cities, the destruction of buildings and their lights, and disruption of electricity supply, all of which have hugely damaging and potentially deadly effects.

“Electricity is one of the basic needs for people, but basic supplies have been cut off. Most people there are living in darkness,” Li said.

Destruction and disruption of power supply is not unfamiliar for Dr. Zaher Sahloul. President of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), Sahloul – a Syrian himself, with family still in the country – and his organisation provide medical care in trauma centres and clinics around the country.

SAMS also provides diesel, to fuel power generators in areas without steady electricity supply. Sahloul said a lack of basic utilities is one of the biggest issues faced by citizens and aid groups looking to assist on the ground, claiming that areas like Ghouta – near Damascus – have been without power for over 860 days.

“Some of the shortages are intentional, by fighting groups. When they circle an area, or start a siege, they cut off the power. Some government controlled areas have electricity a few hours a day, usually after midnight, because of rationing,” he told IPS. “Aleppo and Ghouta have a complete dependence on generators and diesel fuel.”

Sahloul said SAMS provides funding for facilities to purchase diesel fuel, but it is scarce and expensive – up to 12 dollars per gallon, “the highest in the world,” he claims.

“People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. Modern technology, which we take for granted, cannot be used. Even the lucky ones with a generator have to ration it. Many functions have stopped in the cities under siege,” Sahloul said.

“The basic functions of any village, like garbage management, water, bakeries and schools – with no power, how can you do those? It is a formula for disaster.”

Syria has just shivered its way through a harsh winter, with temperatures plunging to -7 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit). Many Syrians battled the cold in tents in refugee camps, or in the shells of destroyed houses, with no way to keep warm. Sahloul’s family was one of those.

“They have been trying to get fuel for months, but have not been able to, so they can’t use the heating in their house,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of displaced people have no heat. There were children dying, freezing to death. Nowadays, nobody can live without electricity.”

Sharif Aly, Advocacy Counsel for Islamic Relief USA, said his group’s recent efforts had also focused on helping Syrians survive a brutal winter without heat, power or even secure shelter. Due to security concerns, Islamic Relief was only able to provide basic blankets and coats in some parts of the country.

“People being displaced have to brave the elements, a very cold winter with snow and ice. There were deaths from freezing,” Aly told IPS. “Our winter work has been to try and provide gas or fuel to families. Hopefully the problems are starting to alleviate with spring, but it has been a big challenge.”

Aly said a lack of electricity, as well as ongoing dangers from gunfire, bombings and other military activity had made providing medical care hugely difficult; but while emergency trauma care for wounds is the most obvious medical emergency, he said psychological and emotional injuries were all but ignored in the region.

“There are huge mental health problems, a lot of psychological impact for these innocent people caught in the conflict,” he said.

“Getting health aid is challenging. We recently started a kidney dialysis service in Lebanon, because due to the situation in Syria and a lack of health services, there is not a lot of opportunity to get good treatment for urgent things like dialysis.”

Sahloul said many members of the medical community are fleeing Syria as the conflict becomes even bloodier. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, addressing a telebriefing on the release of the ‘lights out’ figures, said 2014 was “the bloodiest year yet” of the conflict, bringing the total death toll since 2011 to over 200,000 lives.

“Every physician I know in Syria is thinking about leaving, even in so-called stable areas,” Sahloul said.

“The continuation of violence is adding strain to the medical community. There has been systematic targeting of health facilities by fighting group. There is a flight of doctors and nurses out of Syria.”

A report released Wednesday by Physicians For Human Rights claimed 610 medical staff had been killed in Syria since 2011, with 233 attacks on 183 medical facilities.

The group said the Syrian government “committed the vast majority of these attacks,” responsible for 97 percent of medical personnel killings, including 139 by torture or execution.

Sahloul said the exodus of medical staff has led to the spread of diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis, parasites including lice and scabies, malnutrition, and chronic diseases going untreated due to a lack of access to healthcare and medication.

March 2015 marks four years since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Despite a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, 11 million people displaced, and an untold number of wounded, an end to the violence is not in sight.

“People on the ground are not hopeful. There are rumblings in the NGO community that this could be an eight or 10-year conflict,” Aly said. “There is no expectation of a resolution anytime soon.”

Li, drawing another parallel between Syria and the Rwanda, said he hoped the international community would act before the Syrian conflict became as infamous as the 1994 genocide.

“The international community ignored Rwanda, and after, they regretted it. I don’t want people to have any more regrets after this conflict ends,” he said.

Sahloul expected a similarly grim future.

“In areas like Aleppo, the situation is as bad as always, or even worse. Nobody is optimistic, and nobody is taking the crisis as seriously as they should be,” he warned.

“They are thinking Syria can be contained. It is not contained. This is the tip of the iceberg. If it continues, the situation in the whole region will explode.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gaza Reconstruction, Hampered by Israeli Blockade, May Take 100 Years, Say Aid Agencieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 18:07:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139469 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Despite all the political hoopla surrounding an international pledging conference in Cairo last October to help rebuild Gaza, the reconstruction of the Israeli-devastated territory is apparently moving at the pace of paralytic snail.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the reconstruction of Gaza has been so inadequate that at current rates, aid agencies calculate it will take 100 years just to import enough construction materials.“It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most." -- Catherine Essoyan of Oxfam

“The blockade of Gaza is collective punishment, and donors to Gaza should not just fulfill their pledges but pressure Israel to lift it and Egypt to stop supporting it,” she said.

In several cases, Whitson said, children have died from hypothermia in winter storms due to lack of shelter and heating.

Oxfam International, reaffirming the time frame, said it could take “more than 100 years to complete essential building of homes, schools and health facilities in Gaza — unless the Israeli blockade is lifted.”

Quoting aid agencies on the ground, the London-based charity said Gaza needs more than 800,000 truckloads of construction materials to build homes, schools, health facilities and other infrastructure required after repeated conflicts and years of blockade.

Yet in January, only 579 such trucks entered Gaza. This is even less than the 795 trucks that entered the previous month, Oxfam said, in a statement released here.

Around 100,000 people – more than half of them children – are still living in shelters, temporary accommodation or with extended family after their homes were destroyed. Tens of thousands more families are living in badly damaged homes.

Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam’s regional director, said, “Only an end to the blockade of Gaza will ensure that people can rebuild their lives. Families have been living in homes without roofs, walls or windows for the past six months.”

She said many have just six hours of electricity a day and are without running water. Every day that people are unable to build is putting more lives at risk.

“It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most,” Essoyan said.

Last week, 30 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and humanitarian aid agencies – including Oxfam, ActionAid, Save the Children International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Movement for Peace and Handicap International – said six months have passed since the August 2014 ceasefire ended over seven weeks of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

In a joint statement titled “We must not fail Gaza”, they said: “As UN agencies and international NGOs operating in Gaza, we are alarmed by the limited progress in rebuilding the lives of those affected and tackling the root causes of the conflict.”

The Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralysed, and living conditions have worsened, the groups warned.

Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow. Sporadic rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups has resumed.

Overall, the lack of progress has deepened levels of desperation and frustration among the population, more than two-thirds of whom are Palestinian refugees, they said.

The 30 organisations also included U.N. agencies such as UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), U.N. Women, World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR).

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were 1,976 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 459 children who were killed largely by aerial bombings. In contrast, 66 Israelis were killed, including two soldiers.

The hostilities also left about 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment. Additionally, about 7,000 homes were destroyed and 89,000 damaged.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

Meanwhile, the aid agencies also complained little of the 5.4 billion dollars pledged in Cairo has reached Gaza.

Cash assistance to families who lost everything has been suspended and other crucial aid is unavailable due to lack of funds. A return to hostilities is inevitable if progress is not made and the root causes of conflict are not addressed.

The funds were pledged mostly by the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

The aid agencies said Israel, as the occupying power, is the main duty bearer and must comply with its obligations under international law. In particular, it must fully lift the blockade, within the framework of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009).

“The fragile ceasefire must be reinforced, and the parties must resume negotiations to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. All parties must respect international law and those responsible for violations must be brought to justice.”

Accountability and adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law are essential prerequisites for any lasting peace, the group said.

Also imperative, Egypt needs to open the Rafah Crossing, most urgently for humanitarian cases, and donor pledges must be translated into disbursements.

Under the blockade, Oxfam said, exports of agricultural produce from Gaza have fallen in the last year to just 2.7 percent of the level before the blockade was imposed.

Fishermen are still restricted to an enforced fishing limit of six nautical miles – far short of where most fish are – and farmers are restricted from accessing much of the most fertile farmland.

Gaza continues to be separated from the West Bank, and most people are still prevented from leaving. The border with Egypt has also been shut for most of the past two months, preventing thousands of people from travelling.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Families See Hope for Justice in Palestinian Membership of ICChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 07:38:58 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139457 Sahar Baker (left), with Ahed Baker (right) and sister-in-law in front of their beach camp house, with photographs of the four cousins killed by Israeli gunboats in summer 2014 while playing football on the beach in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Sahar Baker (left), with Ahed Baker (right) and sister-in-law in front of their beach camp house, with photographs of the four cousins killed by Israeli gunboats in summer 2014 while playing football on the beach in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

“I have lost all meaning in life after the death of my child, I will never forgive anyone who caused the tearing apart of his little body.  I appeal to all who can help and stand with us to achieve justice and punish those who killed my child.”

As the tears rolled down her cheeks and with a rattle in her voice, 47-year-old Sahar Baker recalled the last moments of her ten-year-old son Ismail, who was killed along with three of his cousins after being targeted by Israeli gunboats while they were playing football on the beach during the Israeli attacks on Gaza last summer."We will not forget how our children were killed in cold blood without any reason. We hope that the Israeli army commanders will be tried before international justice and that they will be punished for the killing of the children" – Ahed Baker

Sahar’s plea for justice may soon be one step nearer now that the Palestine Government is set to formally join the International Criminal Court (ICC), which deals with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, on Dec. 31, after the U.N. Security Council rejected a Palestinian attempt to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of territories it captured in 1967. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on Apr. 1.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), is reported as having said that a first complaint will be filed against Israel at the ICC on Apr. 1 over the Israeli war against Gaza last year and Israeli settlement activity.

Palestinian membership of the ICC “provides an opportunity to raise the issues on Israel’s use of force based on occupation and crimes against the people and the land in Palestine, where we did not have the capacity before to sue Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki told the press during a visit to Brazil to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Dilma Rousseff at the beginning of January.

The Baker family, who live in a beach camp in Gaza, is now hoping that Palestinian membership of the ICC will open the door for the prosecution of Israeli leaders and army officers for their crimes.

Sahar’s cousin Ahed Baker, father of Zakaria (10) and grandfather of Ahed Atif (9), shares her pain and bitterness. He is still looking for a way to bring the Israeli army to trial for the murder of his son and grandson, another two of the four young cousins killed on the beach. He told IPS that he and his family would do everything possible to ensure that their case makes its way to the ICC.

Sahar Baker holds a photograph of her ten-year-old son Ismail, killed along with three of his cousins during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in summer 2014. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Sahar Baker holds a photograph of her ten-year-old son Ismail, killed along with three of his cousins during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in summer 2014. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

“We will not forget how our children were killed in cold blood without any reason,” said Ahed. “We hope that the Israeli army commanders will be tried before international justice and that they will be punished for the killing of the children.”

Palestinian leaders have long waved the card of membership of the ICC as a form of pressure on the Israeli government in their attempt to secure a Palestinian state.

However, apart from its political and legal benefits, Palestinian membership of the international court has created some serious implications for the Palestinians.

Israel has already frozen the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of tax funds owed to it. These funds are generally allocated for the salaries of Palestinian public employees and government operating expenses in Gaza and the West Bank, and the freeze is hampering the functioning of the Palestinian Unity Government and undermine the already weak public sector in Palestine.

Israel has also indicated that further ‘punitive’ steps will be taken soon against the Palestinians as a result of joining the ICC. Membership of the ICC thus appears to be the start of a new lengthy battle for Palestinians.

Some Palestinian human rights centres, including the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza City, are now working against the clock to compile documentation on the numerous cases of civilians who were killed during last summer’s Israeli war against Gaza, to be able to submit all the documents required for the ICC to investigate war crimes in Gaza and hold Israel accountable.

“Over the long years of occupation, there has been no equity for civilian victims and this, in my point of view, was a key reason that Israel waged three wars in less than five years. In fact, it has been due to the absence of justice and a sense that occupation is immune to accountability,” Issam Younis, Director of the Al Mezan Centre told IPS.

“Going to the ICC will bring justice to victims through international justice and ensure that there are no repeated offences of occupation without accountability,” he said.

According to Palestinian human rights advocates, membership of the ICC carries two overlapping purposes for Palestinian people and their leaders.

For the Palestinian people, of Gaza in particular, it not only opens an important door to achieving justice but also helps to criminalise the entire Israeli occupation establishment and its vicious atrocities against humanity.

For the Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, it seeks to strengthen the political, legal and diplomatic status of Palestine at the international level and pressure Israel to accept the creation of an independent Palestinian state in future negotiations.

What underpins the two goals is a historical desire for real justice and protection. Whether the ICC can deliver, only time will tell.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”"Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict." -- climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139398 Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson
PHILADELPHIA, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gazan Fishermen Dying to Survivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:03:34 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139389 Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea laps gently onto the white sandy beach near Gaza City’s port. Fishing boats dot the beach as fishermen tend to their boats and fix their nets.

However, this scenic and peaceful setting belies a depressing reality. Gaza’s once thriving fishing industry has been decimated by Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory since 2007.

Approximately 3,600 Gazan fishermen, and their dependents, estimated at over 30,000 people, used to rely on fishing for a living.

Fish also provided a basic source of food for Gaza’s poverty-stricken population of over 1.5 million people.“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families” – U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Following the blockade of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s fishermen have had to depend on aid to survive.

Mustafa Jarboua, 55, the father of 10 children from Shati refugee camp, sits on the beach near his boat mending his nets. He has been a fisherman for 17 years and has witnessed the fishing industry’s decline since Israel first started placing restrictions on the fishermen in the early 2000s, culminating in the 2007 blockade.

“Before the blockade I used to earn about NIS 2000-3000 per month (500-750 dollars),” he told IPS.

“Now I’m lucky if I can earn NIS 500-600 (126 -152 dollars) a month because we can only fish a few days each week depending on when there are sufficient fish.

“The shoals closer to shore have been depleted with most of the better quality fish at least nine miles out to sea. I have to rely on money from the Ministry of Social Affairs to survive.

“I can’t afford meat and have to buy second-hand clothes for my children. Buying treats on holidays is no longer possible,” said Jarboua.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “in the late 1990s, annual catches from the Gaza Strip’s four fishing wharves located in Rafah, Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah and Gaza City averaged more than 3,500 tonnes and generated an annual income of over 10 million dollars.”

The already dire situation was exacerbated during last year’s July-August war with Israel, reducing the area in which the fishermen can fish to six nautical miles. After the Oslo agreement in 1993, the distance had been 20 nautical miles.

However, fishermen are still being shot at and killed and injured even within that 6-mile nautical zone.

Jarboua pointed to his boat and showed IPS the bullet holes where the Israeli navy had fired on him while out to sea.

Others fishermen have had their boats destroyed and been arrested, Jarboua’s friend Fathi Said, also from Shati camp, told IPS that his brother had been arrested by the Israelis several weeks ago while only five nautical miles out to sea.

Sami Al Quka, 35, from Shati had his hand blown off when the Israeli navy shot at him while he was within the approved fishing zone.

Brother Ibrahim Al Quka, 55, said he used to earn about 50-100 dollars a day before Israel’s blockade.

“Now on a good day I only earn about 30 dollars and then I can buy food for my family for a few days. After that I have to rely on the United Nations to survive,” Al Quka told IPS.

Oxfam GB confirms the fishermen’s claims: “Even when fishing within the six mile restriction, fishermen face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen – nearly as many as in all of 2013.”

OCHA reported in its weekly Humanitarian Report in mid-February that “incidents involving Israeli forces opening fire into the Access Restricted Areas (ARAs) on land and at sea continued on a daily basis, with at least 17 such incidents reported during the week.”

“In at least two incidents,” said the report, “Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats reportedly sailing within the Israeli-declared six nautical mile fishing limit, forcing them ashore.

“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families.”

Gaza’s farmers are also unable to access their land near the borders with Israel which is imposing “security zones” of up to 1.5 km in some of Gaza’s most fertile land. Dozens of farmers have been shot and killed or injured after trying to reach their farms.

The Gaza Strip’s dense population is crammed into an area 6-12 km wide by 41 km in length.

Gaza’s struggling economy has been further battered by Israel’s almost complete ban on exports, including manufactured goods and agricultural products which formed a major part of its economy, and imports.

“Severe trade restrictions on both imports and exports have stifled the private sector, forcing several thousands of businesses to close in the past few years,” according to the ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector‘ report produced by the Palestinian Government, European Union, World Bank and the United Nations.

“Since the economic blockade (which Egypt has now joined) was put in place in 2007, exports from Gaza have dropped by 97 per cent,” added the report. “Even companies that are still operating can only produce at high risk and with limited profit, due to elevated production costs, widespread power cuts and the almost complete ban on exports.”

“The basic needs of Gazans are not being met,” Arwa Mhanna from Oxfam told IPS. “Poverty is deepening, vital services have been affected and livelihoods crippled. The situation is moving towards more violence and further humanitarian tragedy.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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All-Out War in Libya Predicted without Further Peace Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:28:46 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139386 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Libya is teetering on the edge of all-out war, with a brutal stalemate and misery for civilians predicted unless a recent minor diplomatic breakthrough can be built upon.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organisation working to prevent and resolve conflict, warned Thursday of a “dramatic turning point” in the “deteriorating internal conflict,” with a descent into social radicalism predicted.

“The most likely medium-term prospect is not one side’s triumph, but that rival local warlords and radical groups will proliferate, what remains of state institutions will collapse… and hardship for ordinary Libyans will increase exponentially,” the ICG said in a report, ‘Libya: Getting Gevena Right.’

“Radical groups… will find fertile ground, while regional involvement – evidenced by retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes – will increase.”

The ICG called on parties to the conflict to continue negotiations commenced in Geneva in January, which ended with no resolution but a commitment to extend talks.

Claudia Gazzini, ICG’s Libya Senior Analyst, said any full-scale war would likely descend into stalemate.

“Libya is split between two sides claiming increasingly threadbare legitimacy, flirting with jihadi radicals and pursuing politics through militia war backed by foreign powers,” she said.

“[The] Tobruk and Tripoli authorities are equally matched, and cannot defeat each other. To save the country they must negotiate a national unity government.”

On Feb. 20, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said “a political solution to the current crisis must be found quickly to restore peace and stability in the country and confront terrorism.”

The conflict in Libya – between the elected government of Libya, based in Tobruk, and forces aligned to its opposition party, based in Tripoli – has been ongoing since May 2014. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant) forces entered the conflict in October, taking control of areas in eastern Libya.

Reliable numbers of casualties have not been released. A U.N. Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) report in December 2014 stated only that “hundreds” had been killed in preceding months, including 450 people in Benghazi and 100 people in western Libya.

The website libyabodycount.org, which claims to assemble death tolls from media reports, states 2,825 people were killed in Libya in 2014, and 380 have been killed in 2015.

UNSMIL said in December at least 215,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict.

In January, representatives of the fighting factions met in Geneva for two rounds of talks. ICG said it was the first time since September 2014 such negotiations had taken place, with talks focusing on what form a Libyan unity government would take.

The ICG urged the U.N. to push for further talks, as well as to ask “regional actors who contribute to the conflict by providing arms or other military or political support – notably Chad, Egypt, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates… to press their Libyan allies to negotiate in good faith in pursuit of a political settlement.”

Jean Marie Guehenno, president of ICG, said organising further negotiations was essential in staving off deterioration in the conflict.

“January’s UN achievement in bringing the Libyan sides together for national unity talks in Geneva offers a glimmer of hope. This breakthrough should encourage the UN Security Council to unite,” he said.

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Syria’s “Barrel Bombs” Cause Human Devastation, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 22:18:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139328 A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The warring parties in the brutal four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians and triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times,” continue to break every single pledge held out to the United Nations.

Despite Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plea for a political rather than military solution to the country’s ongoing civil war, both the Syrian government and the multiple rebel forces continue to escalate the conflict with aerial attacks and artillery shelling, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs.” -- Nadim Houry

But the worst of it, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in report released Tuesday, is the use of locally improvised deadly “barrel bombs.”

By examining satellite imagery, HRW said, it has identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in 10 towns and villages held by rebel groups in Daraa and over 1,000 in Aleppo between February last year and January this year.

“These impact sites have damage signatures strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Damages that possibly result from the use of rockets, missiles, or fuel-air bombs are also likely in a number of instances,” the group said.

According to HRW, barrel bombs are unguided high explosive weapons that are cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums, gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters usually flying at high altitude.

Asked if the explosives in the barrel bombs originate either from Russia or China, two strong political and military allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations Director of HRW Philippe Bolopion told IPS: “We are not in a position to say where the high explosive is coming from but barrel bombs are pretty primitive and made from commonly found materials.”

With the 15-member Security Council deadlocked over Syria, there is little or no hope that Russia and China, two members with veto powers, will ever relent or penalise the Assad regime despite several resolutions.

“We certainly hope they will stand by their own resolution and impose consequences on the regime for thumbing its nose at the Security Council,” Bolopion said.

Asked if protests by HRW and other human rights organisations will be an exercise in futility, he said: “Sadly, when thousands of civilians are being slaughtered, we have to continue to place the Security Council, and Russia and China in particular, in front of their responsibilities, no matter how futile it may sound.”

Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said: “For a year, the Security Council has done nothing to stop Bashar al-Assad’s murderous air bombing campaign on rebel-held areas, which has terrorized, killed, and displaced civilians.

“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs,” Houry said.

The Security Council is expected to meet Thursday for its next round of reporting on resolution 2139 of Feb. 22, 2014, which demanded that all parties to the conflict in Syria end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

In a statement released Tuesday, HRW said non-state armed groups have also conducted indiscriminate attacks, including with car bombs and explosive weapons in government held areas.

The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the government as well as rebel groups implicated in widespread or systematic indiscriminate attacks, HRW said.

The government attacks have led to the death and injury of thousands of civilians in rebel-held territory, according to HRW researchers.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a local monitoring group, has documented 609 civilian deaths, including 203 children and 117 women, in Daraa from aerial attacks between Feb. 22, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015.

During the same period they have documented 2,576 civilian deaths in Aleppo governorate from aerial attacks, including 636 children and 317 women.

While deaths from aerial attacks are not exclusively from barrel bombs, residents from rebel-held territory in Daraa and Aleppo told HRW that barrel bombs account for a majority of air strikes.

Last week, Ban appealed to all parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to provide a reprieve for the long-suffering civilians of Syria. An immediate de-escalation is a much needed step towards a political solution to the conflict, he added

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council last week that the Syrian government has committed to suspend all aerial attacks and artillery shelling over the entire city of Aleppo for a period of six weeks.

This is in order to allow the United Nations to implement a pilot project of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid starting with one district in Aleppo and building incrementally to others.

Ban said Security Council resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas in Syria, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and expects the Syrian government to follow through on its commitment.

The secretary-general also appealed to all armed opposition groups in Aleppo to suspend their shelling of the city.

He pointed out that the last four years of war have led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the greatest refugee crisis of modern times and created an environment in which extremist groups and terrorist organisations such as ISIL/Daesh flourish.

The secretary-general recalled Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 and stressed that there is no military solution to this conflict.

“This is a political conflict. Ending the killing, reversing the increasing fragmentation of Syria requires a political process, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 2012, that addresses the deep roots of the conflict and meets the aspirations of all Syrians,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Discrimination by Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-discrimination-by-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:02:19 +0000 Rana Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139302 For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Rana Allam
CAIRO, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

In November 2013, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Egypt as the worst of 22 Arab states with regards to women’s rights.

Several people argued that any country strictly following Islamic laws should rank lower, because Egypt and many other Arab and Muslim countries are not strict in following Islamic Sharia (religious laws), like in cutting off the hand of a thief, for example. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it.

However, Egypt – along with most Muslim countries – incorporates a list of laws based on Islamic Sharia. Some of these are indisputable Sharia laws while others are based on individual interpretations, and both are indeed discriminatory.

Suffice to say that in the second highest ranking Arab state in the survey, Oman, women inherit 50 percent of what men do, a man can divorce his wife for any reason while a woman needs grounds to file for divorce, and there are no laws against female genital mutilation.

The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries come in the personal status laws.

Regardless of whether these laws are Islamic Sharia compliant or not, they are presented as such and thus are non-negotiable.

With the many interpretations of Islamic text, it falls on the legislators and the (so-called) Muslim scholars to enforce what laws they “understood” from the text. These laws should be revised if we are to enforce gender equality, here are some examples:

–          Polygamy is legal for men only.

–          A man can divorce his wife with no grounds and without going to court, while a woman has to have strong reasons for divorce, must convince a court of law of some ordeal about her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce. A new law introduced in Egypt in 2000, called Khula law where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds, but then she has to forfeit her financial rights and reimburse her husband the dowry (and any gifts) paid when contracting the marriage.

–          A woman inherits half what a man inherits.

–          In some Muslim countries, like the UAE, a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s in court. In most Muslim countries, if a contract requires a certain number of witnesses, a woman is counted as “half” a man.

–          There is no set minimum age for marriage in Islam, so some countries like Sudan can marry off a 10-year-old girl, and in Bahrain, a 15-year-old, however, in Libya the minimum age is 20.

–          A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.

–          In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognised in the laws.

–          Abortion is illegal unless there is risk to the mother’s life and even this has to be with the husband’s consent.

It is one thing to fight culture and an intimidating environment and another thing to have sexist laws, where even in a court of law, a woman has no equal rights. For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation, prevalent aggressions and complete impunity with regards to violence against women.

Amnesty International titled its latest briefing on the subject “Circles of Hell: domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt.” Women in Egypt must not only fight such culture, but must also deal with discriminatory laws.

Muslim men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, while women can only divorce by court action. A man need only say the words “I divorced you” and then register the divorce.

Actually, an Egyptian Muslim man may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her, he can register the divorce (regardless of her consent or attendance), and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her. On top of this, there is such a thing as a “revocable divorce” which means the husband has the right to revoke the divorce at his own accord during the waiting period and without having to sign another marriage contract.

Such a waiting period is only a woman’s burden. She has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced, and such waiting period is nonexistent for men.

Adding insult to injury, Egypt has an “Obedience Law”. This law stipulates that a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the marital home without his permission.

The woman is this case has 30 days to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, a judge may not be convinced of course. If she fails to file such objection, and does not return home, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce – if she was ever granted one. Naturally, such proceedings delay her divorce lawsuit, and risk a just financial settlement.

Although legislators in Egypt have always cited Islamic Sharia when enforcing such strict personal status  laws, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws stray far from Islamic teachings and are outrageous.

The issue is such a taboo that no one even dares mentioning it. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it, if you catch her “red-handed” committing adultery.

Laws pertaining to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of sexism and discrimination:

–          A married woman would be charged with adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. A married man would only be accused of adultery if he commits the crime in his marital house; otherwise there is no crime and no punishment.

–          The punishment for a married man (who committed the crime in his marital home) is imprisonment for six months, but women are given a sentence of two years in prison (regardless of where the crime took place).

–          If a married man commits adultery with a married woman in her marital house, he would merely be an accessory to the crime.

–          If both are unmarried, and the female is over 18, he receives no punishment, while she may face charges of prostitution.

–          If a married man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, and kills her and her partner, he does not face intentional murder charges or even manslaughter, he only gets a sentence as low as 24 hours. If a wife catches her husband red-handed and kills him, she immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence as the judge sees fit.

Not only do we have to fight taboos, sexist culture, violence on the streets and at home, gender-bias in every police station, court of law or place of business, but we also have a long way to go to at least have equality in the eyes of the law.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Negev Bedouin Resist Israeli Demolitions “To Show We Exist”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 09:07:18 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139270 Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
AL ARAQIB, Negev Desert, Israel, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Lehavim Junction in the northern Negev in Israel has been the backdrop to protests against home demolitions in Bedouin localities for the past four and half years.

Every Sunday, inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib and their supporters stand behind a large banner reading ‘Stop Demolishing Al Araqib’ in English, Arabic and Hebrew. To the rhythm of clapping hands, the younger ones shout slogans into the PA system, ‘Jews and Arabs can live together’, ‘Stop demolishing our homes’.

Last month, the ‘unrecognised’ village of Al Araqib was demolished for the eightieth time in four and half years. Despite the absence of a ruling adjudicating ownership of the lands of Al Araqib, the state is planting a forest on the Al-Turi Arab Bedouin tribe’s ancestral lands.“Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses” – Michal Rotem, Arab-Jewish NGO Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF)

“The newspapers here don’t write about Al Araqib,” Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi, a young inhabitant of Al Araqib told IPS. “These weekly protests are a way to show that we exist. It is part of our sumoud (steadfastness), our resistance.”

Once in a while, a sympathetic driver passing the junction honks the horn in support, a sign of the niche interest that the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev still arouses in the wider Israeli public.

And yet according to a recent report titled ‘The House Demolition Policy in the Negev-Naqab’, published by the Arab-Jewish Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) non-governmental organisation, the situation in Al Araqib is far from unique.

NCF advocates for civil equality in the Negev-Naqab and is the only NGO methodically documenting house demolitions affecting Bedouins. They counted 859 in the twelve-month period between July 2013 and June 2014

The level, it confirms, has remained virtually unchanged in the past four years and the high numbers “attest to the incompetence of the state in offering durable solutions” to the crisis affecting the region.

Since the Prawer Plan bill ‘to regulate Bedouin settlement’ was frozen at the end of 2013 following mass outcry from the Bedouin community, NCF claims that “in the absence of a legislated plan”, the government is using home demolitions as a policy to limit Bedouin land rights and still implement its vision of development for the Negev.

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother's house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother’s house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Development for whom and at what cost is the question posed in the NCF report. “The state does not need this land for development,” Michal Rotem who co-authored the report, told IPS.

“They just want it clear,” she said. “Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses.”

Bedouins are indigenous to the Negev, are Israeli citizens and number roughly 220,000, or 30 percent of the region’s population. About 140,000 of them have been forcibly urbanised and live in seven failing townships planned by the government in the 1960s and 70s, as well as in ten ‘recognised’ villages.

The remaining 80,000 live in 40 localities that are not recognised by the state, do not appear on any map and are at constant risk of demolition, as is the case with Al Araqib.

As Rotem explained, these communities often pre-date the state of Israel but a policy of nationalisation of land turned their inhabitants into ‘invaders’ of state land. “Imagine,” she said, “a state came, legislated its new laws and declared all of the Bedouin community in the Negev criminals, that’s what happened.”

In the past forced urbanisation was offered as the only path to becoming ‘not criminals’, but today those who did urbanise have very little to show for what they gave up.

The NCF report reveals that 54 percent of all demolitions in the period assessed took place in ‘legal’ localities. This means that no provisions were made to accommodate the lifestyle or the natural growth of the Bedouin community, which has the highest fertility rate in Israel.

“This completely contradicts state plans,” Rotem told IPS. “First they tell Bedouins to live in recognised localities and then they go and demolish there too.”

Jalal Abo Bneah is a field coordinator with NCF. He lives in the ‘unrecognised’ village of Wadi Al Nam and knows all too well how these ‘contradictions’ affect people’s lives.   “For example,” he told IPS, “the government wants to move the 15,000 people of Wadi al Nam to the township of Segev Shalom. But there is barely enough space in the township for the people already living there. How is this going to work?”

Abu Bneah stressed that there is growing dissatisfaction amongst the Bedouin community with unilateral governmental plans that ignore their needs. “They show no respect for anyone. Not for the people in the recognised localities nor for the ones in the unrecognised villages. Where do they want us to go?” he asked.

Last October, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted a number of concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Israel. For example, it stressed that the state refrain from executing demolitions based on discriminatory planning policies and that it consult Bedouins on plans regarding their future.

Abo Bneah welcomes pressure from global actors but given the current right-wing political climate in Israel, he holds little hope that change will come soon.

In the meantime, to counteract state efforts to erase the Bedouin, NCF has launched a website that seeks to set the record straight regarding the true topography of the Negev. The ‘Arab Befouin Vilages in the Ngev-Naqab’ project puts all 40 ‘unrecognised’ villages on the map of Israel, something the state has so far refused to do.

The website allows visitors to learn basic facts about each village, such as date of establishment, number of inhabitants or distance from public services and to see photos of the homes, the nature or the inhabitants. The residents themselves will soon be providing more images, especially documenting demolitions

Just like the weekly demonstrations at Lehavim, the ‘Arab Bedouin Villages project’ helps make the Bedouin more visible, their experience of state power public and their narrative of the past known, but there is more work ahead says Abu Bneah.

“There is still a lot of ignorance out there, especially among the Jewish public,” he stressed. “They still think we took the lands of the state and that is not true.”

For Mariam and the others in Al Araqib, being told by their state that the Bedouin do not exist or that they are ‘criminal invaders’ only makes their commitment to sumoud stronger. “We are here and we are not going anywhere,” Mariam said. “This is our land and, until we live, we will stay.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 11:28:59 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139195 Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian  youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 15 2015 (IPS)

Fourteen-year-old Malak al Khatib, one of the youngest Palestinian detainees and one of only a handful of girls, was released from an Israeli prison on Feb. 13 into the arms of emotional family members and supporters after being incarcerated in an Israeli prison for two months on “security offences”.

Details of what happened to the Palestinian minor were made public only after an Israeli gag order on the case was lifted on appeal after a global campaign for her release.

The slightly built, dark-haired girl, from the town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested in December last year and later charged with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. However, al Khatib says the confessions were coerced under duress during interrogation."[Palestinian] children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member" – UNICEF

Al Khatib was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, a suspended sentence of three months and fined 6,000 shekels (approximately 1,500 dollars).

According to volunteer organisation Military Court Watch, 151 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli detention for “security offences” in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.

The group added that 47 percent of these children were being held in jails inside Israel in contravention of the Geneva Convention because this limits the ability of family and legal representatives from the West Bank and Gaza to visit them.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) says that in December last year 10 Palestinian children aged between 10 and 15 were incarcerated. However, children as young as eight have also been arrested by Israeli soldiers or police. According to DCIP, Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank.

However, it is not only the large numbers of Palestinian children arrested which is of concern to human rights organisations but also their treatment during incarceration.

In 2013, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was attacked by Israeli critics after releasing a report title ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, which slammed the Israeli authorities for using “intimidation, threats and physical violence to coerce confessions out of Palestinian children.”

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said.

IPS spoke to two Palestinian boys from the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah, who were beaten, abused during interrogation and jailed on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and settlers.

One hundred heavily armed Israeli soldiers, their faces masked, broke down the door and stormed the home of Khalil Khaled Nakhli, 17, in the early hours of Aug. 11 last year, terrifying his six younger brothers and sisters.

“My arm was broken after the soldiers beat me as they arrested me. They accused me of throwing stones at Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement near Jelazon camp,” Nakhli told IPS.

Nakhli was taken to an Israeli prison where he was roughed up during interrogation and eventually sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, despite refusing to admit to the charges against him.

The home of Nakhli’s friend Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, was similarly stormed in the early hours of Sep. 7 last year. This time the soldiers used explosives to blow the door open.

Safi was left bloody and his skull fractured when the arresting soldiers used the back of their guns to club him on the head. An inch-wide indentation, where the hair refuses to grow, remains on Safi’s skull to this day.

“I was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment even though they failed to force me to confess to anything,” said Safi.

Their treatment has only further angered the boys. “We all feel bitter at the way we were treated and this exacerbates our anger at living under occupation,” Safi told IPS.

Palestinian minors are treated harshly in comparison with how Israeli minors are treated following arrest.

“Two children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who are accused of committing the same act, such as stone throwing, will receive substantially different treatment from two separate legal systems,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a recently released report titled ‘One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank’.

“The Israeli child will be afforded the extensive rights and protections granted to minors under Israeli law. His Palestinian counterpart will be entitled to limited rights and protections, which are not sufficient to ensure his physical and mental wellbeing and which do not sufficiently meet his unique needs as a minor,” said the report.

Moreover, in many cases, the criminal law applying to Palestinian minors is stricter and even more severe than the one applied to Israeli adults.

“If Malak al Khatib had been arrested for violent activity as an Israeli child she would have received certain rights. These were denied to her for being Palestinian,” ACRI spokesperson Nuri Moskovich told IPS.

Decades of ‘temporary’ Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.

“A series of military decrees, legal rulings and legislative amendments have resulted in a situation whereby Israeli citizens living in the Occupied Territories remain under the jurisdiction of Israeli law and the Israeli court system, with all the benefits that this confers,” said ACRI.

“By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to much stricter military legal law – military orders that have been issued by Israeli generals since 1967.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139180 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

As the Iranian nuclear talks hurtle towards a Mar. 24 deadline, there is renewed debate among activists about the blatant Western double standards underlying the politically-heated issue, and more importantly, the resurrection of a longstanding proposal for a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the Israeli obsession to prevent neighbours – first and foremost Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt – from going nuclear, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS, “This is primarily the work of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built his political career on fanning the flames of fear, and saying that Israel has to stand pat, with a strong leader [him] to withstand the challenges.”"If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons - except for Israel." -- Bob Rigg

And this is the primary motivation for his upcoming and very controversial partisan speech before the U.S. Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, which has aroused a tremendous amount of opposition in Israel, in the American Jewish community and in the U.S. in general, he pointed out.

Iran, which has consistently denied any plans to acquire nuclear weapons, will continue its final round of talks involving Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (collectively known as P-5, plus one).

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the United States and Israel, both armed with nuclear weapons, a rhetorical question tinged with sarcasm: “Have you managed to bring about security for yourselves with your atomic bombs?”

The New York Times quoted the Washington-based Arms Control Association as saying Israel is believed to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

The Israelis, as a longstanding policy, have neither confirmed nor denied the nuclear arsenal. But both the United States and Israel have been dragging their feet over the proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told IPS the U.S. government conveniently ignores its own successive National Intelligence Estimates, which represent the consensus views of all 13 or so U.S. intelligence agencies, that there has been no evidence, in the period since 2004, of any Iranian intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

“If Israel is the only nuclear possessor in the Middle East, this combined with the U.S nuclear and conventional capability, gives the U.S. and Israel an enormously powerful strategic lever in the region,” Rigg said.

He said this is even more realistic, especially now that Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) have been destroyed. They were the only real threat to Israel in the region.

“This dimension of the destruction of Syria’s CW has gone strangely unnoticed. Syria had Russian-made missiles that could have targeted population centres right throughout Israel,” said Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament.

A question being asked by military analysts is: why is Israel, armed with both nuclear weapons and also some of the most sophisticated conventional arms from the United States, fearful of any neighbour with WMDs?

Will a possibly nuclear-armed Iran, or for that matter Saudi Arabia or Egypt, risk using nuclear weapons against Israel since it would also exterminate the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories? ask nuclear activists.

Schenker told IPS: “I believe that if Iran were to opt for nuclear weapons, the primary motivation would be to defend the regime, not to attack Israel. Still, it is preferable that they not gain nuclear weapons.”

Of course, he said, the fundamental solution to this danger would be the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

That will require a two-track parallel process: One track moving towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the other track moving towards the creation of a regional regime of peace and security, with the aid of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), within which a WMD Free Zone would be a major component, said Schenker, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

As for the international conference on a nuclear and WMD free zone before the next NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, scheduled to begin at the end of April in New York, he said, the proposal is still alive.

In mid-March, the Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East initiative will convene a conference in Berlin, whose theme is “Fulfilling the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference in View of the 2015 NPT Review Conference”.

It will include a session on the topic featuring Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the conference, together with governmental representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

There will also be an Iranian participant at the conference, said Schenker.

Rigg told IPS Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted nuclear weapons from the outset. Israel was approved by the new United Nations, which then had only 55 or so members. Most of the developing world was still recovering from World War II and many new states had yet to emerge.

He said the United States and the Western powers played the key role in setting up the U.N.

“They wanted an Israel, even though Israeli terrorists murdered Count Folke Berdadotte of Sweden, the U.N. representative who was suspected of being favourable to the Palestinians,” Rigg said.

The Palestinians were consulted, and said no, but were ignored, he said. Only two Arab states were then U.N. members. They were also ignored. Most of today’s Muslim states either did not exist or were also ignored.

“When the U.N. approved Israel, Arab states attacked, but were beaten off. They did not want an Israel to be transplanted into their midst. They still don’t. Nothing has changed. ”

Given the unrelenting hostility of the Arab states to the Western creation of Israel, he said, Israel developed nuclear weapons to give itself a greater sense of security.

“If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons – except for Israel,” he added.

Not even Israel argues that Iran has nuclear weapons now.

“A NW free zone in the Middle East is simply a joke. If Israel joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it would have to declare and destroy its nuclear arsenal.”

The U.S. finds excuses to avoid prodding Israel into joining the NPT. The U.S. is effectively for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but successive U.S. presidents have refused to publicly say that Israel has nuclear weapons, he added.

Because of all this, a NWF zone in the ME is not a real possibility, even if U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are at each other’s throats, said Rigg.

Schenker said Netanyahu’s comments come at a time when the 22-member League of Arab States, backed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, since 2002, presented Israel an Arab Peace Initiative (API).

The API offers peace and normal relations in exchange for the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem.

This doesn’t mean that the danger of nuclear proliferation isn’t a problem in the Middle East, said Schenker.

“As long as Israel has retained a monopoly on nuclear weapons, and promised to use them only as a last resort, everyone seemed to live with the situation. ”

The challenge of a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme would break that status quo, and create the danger of a regional nuclear arms race, he noted. Unfortunately, the global community is very occupied with the challenge of other crises right now, such as Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“So it is to be hoped the necessary political attention will also be focused on the challenges connected to the upcoming NPT Review conference, and the need to make progress on the Middle Eastern WMD Free Zone track as well,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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