JFP 5/23: Obama Challenges Israel; Afghanistan call-in day tomorrow
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May 23, 2011
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Pentagon Authorization Before Congress This Week
This week, the House is expected to debate and vote on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) - the bill authorizing spending for the Pentagon. The House is expected to consider amendments to the NDAA that would push towards ending the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, as well as to strip McKeon's "permanent war" authorization language from the NDAA. Many groups working to end the war in Afghanistan have set a call-in day to Congress for Tuesday. We will send out an alert Tuesday morning; please make a note in your calendar that you are going to call Congress tomorrow. We may have access to a toll-free number; in any event, the Congressional switchboard is 202-225-3121. McGovern and Lee are expected to introduce amendments against the Afghanistan war; Conyers and Kucinich are likely to introduce measures limiting or ending the war in Libya. Look for our alert Tuesday morning.
DC Union Station FlashMob: "Move Over AIPAC"
Why We Sail To Gaza
A year ago, solidarity activists tried to break the blockade of Gaza with an international flotilla of ships. The flotilla and the Israeli attack brought attention to the Israeli-U.S.-Egyptian siege of Gaza, dramatically increasing political pressure on the three governments, leading to a partial easing of the siege. Now an even larger flotilla, with the participation of more ships and more activists from more countries -- including, crucially, the U.S. ship Audacity of Hope -- is preparing to set sail in June.
No "Hamas Exception" for Human Rights: A Reply to the American Jewish Committee
JFP replies to a challenge from the American Jewish Committee regarding the Gaza blockade and the freedom flotilla.
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*Action: Tell Hillary to Ensure Safe Passage for US Boat to Gaza
Using Twitter and/or Facebook, urge Hillary to protect the Audacity of Hope. [If you don't use Twitter and/or Facebook, don't worry; more actions are coming.]
William Beeman: Debunking the Top 7 Myths on Iran's Middle East Policies
Professor Beeman takes the Public Radio International program "Tehran Rising" to task for promoting the notion that Iran is behind Bahrain's uprising and other exaggerations of Iran's role in the region.
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1) President Obama, speaking at AIPAC, defended his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel's pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenged Israel to "make the hard choices" necessary to bring about a stable peace, the New York Times reports. Administration officials said it would be up to Obama, during an economic summit next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming UN vote. Some French officials have already indicated that they are leaning toward such an endorsement. "He basically said, 'I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work with, even America can't save you,' " said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator.
Republicans moved swiftly to criticize Obama's Middle East proposal. "The U.S. ought not to be trying to push Israel into a deal that's not good for Israel," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on "Fox News Sunday."
2) Palestinian officials said they would not resume peace negotiations unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts President Obama's 1967 border guidelines, JTA reports. "If Netanyahu agrees, we shall turn over a new leaf. If he doesn't then there is no point talking about a peace process. We're saying it loud and clear," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying Sunday in Ynet.
3) As President Obama is embarking on a course that puts him at odds with Netanyahu, the question is how much of a split the president is willing to make not only with Netanyahu, but with his own Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, the New York Times reports. While Netanyahu reacted sharply to the president's proposal, the reality is that the course Obama outlined Thursday was much more modest than what some of his advisers initially advocated, the Times says. During the administration's debates over the past several months, Ross made clear that he was opposed to having Obama push Israel by putting forth a comprehensive American plan for a peace deal with the Palestinians, as advocated by other advisers, including now-former envoy George Mitchell.
4) The IMF is facing growing pressure from emerging economic powers and campaigners to appoint a non-European as the next IMF head, the Guardian reports. Some IMF insiders agree with the developing countries, the Guardian says.
One former senior official said: "The big danger here is if the Europeans just try to put their person in….Christine Lagarde [France's finance minister]…would be a disaster… Christine Lagarde stands for protecting big banks...she's the most pro-bank bailout of the lot… The Americans are going to try and put in [White House adviser] David Lipton as number two. Lipton is Mr Bank Bailout. He worked for Citigroup. If they put in Lagarde and Lipton, what does that say? We are going with the total bank protection plan. That would be a disaster."
5) The Obama administration appeared to ignore the expiration of the 60 day limit of the War Powers Resolution with regard to the Libya war, the New York Times reports. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who led the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and 2004, portrayed it as a significant constitutional moment. "There may be facts of which we are unaware, but this appears to be the first time that any president has violated the War Powers Resolution's requirement either to terminate the use of armed forces within 60 days after the initiation of hostilities or get Congress's support," Goldsmith said.
A 1980 opinion by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the 60-day limit was constitutional, the Times notes. Such opinions are binding on the executive branch unless they are superseded by the Justice Department or the president. The Justice Department did not respond to a question about whether the 31-year-old memorandum remains in effect.
6) U.S.- and NATO-backed rebels who control much of eastern Libya are carrying out what many view as a campaign of retaliation against those once aligned with Gaddafi, according to relatives and rebel commanders and officials, the Washington Post reports. Such targeting raises questions about the character of the government taking shape in eastern Libya and whether it will follow basic principles of democracy and human rights, the Post says. Moreover, such acts could further deepen divisions in Libya's tribal society and diminish the prospects of reconciliation necessary for stability.
7) There is a long, rich history of nonviolent Palestinian resistance dating back well before 1948, writes Yousef Munayyer in Foreign Policy. But it has not yet captured the attention of the West. Munayyer argues that if the West wants Palestinians to use nonviolence, it has to speak up more when nonviolent protests are suppressed with violence. A strategy of nonviolence only works if the world is paying attention and rewarding nonviolence with meaningful action, Munayyer writes.
8) A Massachusetts mom was directly impacted by Middle East protests when her son was shot in the head at a protest against land confiscation in the Palestinian village of al-Nabi Saleh, the Milford Daily News reports. Christopher Whitman's mom says she is "not political," but says what she has learned through her son's experiences makes her want people to know what is happening. "All I'm looking for is for people to realize there is this part of the world where there are a lot of human beings ... we need to keep safe somehow," Robin Whitman said.
9) As President Obama pressed again for peace in the Middle East, AP reported that the US is "quietly expanding defense ties on a vast scale'' with Saudi Arabia, writes Derrick Jackson in the Boston Globe. The AP also reported on an obscure project to create a special elite security force that would fall under the US Central Command. The force would have up to 35,000 members "to protect the kingdom's oil riches and future nuclear sites.'' But no official of the Pentagon or State Department would go on the record to discuss the program. The sheepishness of the Pentagon was mirrored by Obama's failure to mention Saudi Arabia once in his speech Thursday.
Saudi laws still discriminate against women, and women were recently banned once more from municipal elections. The US is boosting aid to such regimes even though it demands far less accountability than it is supposed to. Arms transfers to the Gulf are supposed to be assessed on is whether that country is protecting human rights, but State Department officials admitted to the GAO "that they do not document these assessments."
These arms deals, public and secret, up the ante on Obama to be far more transparent about what our relationship is to a nation that is assisting the Bahrain government in its crackdown on freedom protesters, Jackson writes.
10) Honduras' president Lobo and exiled former president Zelaya have signed a reconciliation accord that provides for Zelaya to return to Honduras and Honduras to return to the OAS, AP reports.
The accord, facilitated by Colombian President Santos and Venezuelan President Chavez, reiterates that the Honduran constitution has a legal process for calling a national referendum on reforming fundamental laws. The accord also calls for no persecution of Zelaya and his supporters, the ex-leader's safe return to Honduras and a guarantee that Zelaya supporters be allowed to participate in Honduras' politics and its 2014 elections as a political party. Chavez promised to monitor the accord and ensure the deal's terms are respected.
1) Obama Challenges Israel to Make Hard Choices Needed for Peace
Helene Cooper, New York Times, May 22, 2011
Washington - President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel's pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to "make the hard choices" necessary to bring about a stable peace.
Mr. Obama, speaking before a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered familiar assurances that the United States' commitment to Israel's long-term security was "ironclad." But citing the rising political upheaval near Israel's borders, he presented his peace plan as the best chance Israel has to avoid growing isolation. "We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace," Mr. Obama said. The world, he said, "is moving too fast."
Administration officials said it would be up to Mr. Obama, during an economic summit in Paris next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming United Nations vote, a prospect that would deeply embarrass Israel. Some French officials have already indicated that they are leaning toward such an endorsement.
"He basically said, 'I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work with, even America can't save you,' " said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
The appearance by Mr. Obama on Sunday punctuated a tense week in which he and Mr. Netanyahu made their separate cases about Palestinian statehood to American audiences. Mr. Netanyahu will address the same group on Monday and will speak before Congress on Tuesday at the invitation of Republican lawmakers.
Mr. Obama's decision to stick to his position, albeit with strong reassurances about America's lasting bond with Israel, is a risky one politically. Mr. Obama is just starting a re-election campaign, and Republicans are doing what they can to present themselves to Jewish voters as more reliable protectors of Israel than the Democrats.
Republicans moved swiftly to criticize his Middle East proposal. "The U.S. ought not to be trying to push Israel into a deal that's not good for Israel," the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on "Fox News Sunday."
Administration officials said Mr. Obama chose to confront Israel on the stalled peace negotiations after his aides calculated that given the historic upheaval under way in the Arab world, the United States and Israel would both benefit from being seen as taking bold steps toward ending the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.
As Mr. Obama himself pointed out, his theme in the speech last Thursday was not extraordinary. American presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have consistently instructed their foreign policy aides to pursue an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians using the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps, as a basis for talks.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, in fact, made such a proposal to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in 2008, as the two sides rushed to complete a peace deal before Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert left office.
But the 1967 border issue has always been privately understood, not spoken publicly, and certainly not publicly endorsed by a sitting American president.
When Mr. Obama did so last Thursday, he unleashed a furious response from Mr. Netanyahu. The prime minister's office put out a statement in advance of his meeting with Mr. Obama the next day in which Mr. Netanyahu said he expected to hear certain assurances from the president.
"That was Bibi over the top," one administration official said Saturday, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname. "That's not how you address the president of the United States."
Mr. Obama addressed his critics on Sunday, saying, "What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately."
But, he said, "let me reaffirm what '1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps' means." His view, he said, is that "the parties themselves - Israelis and Palestinians - will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967."
"It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation," he continued. "It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years."
Mr. Netanyahu, in his critique of Mr. Obama's earlier remarks, had ignored the "mutually agreed swaps" part of the president's proposal.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, commented on the speech by telephone from the West Bank city of Jericho: "I am waiting to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Does he accept the doctrine of two states on the 1967 line with agreed swaps or not? Before we hear that acceptance, we are just grinding water."
2) Palestinians: Israel must accept 1967 border as basis for negotiations
JTA, May 22, 2011
Palestinian officials said they would not resume peace negotiations unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts President Obama's 1967 border guidelines.
"If Netanyahu agrees, we shall turn over a new leaf. If he doesn't then there is no point talking about a peace process. We're saying it loud and clear," Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying Sunday in Ynet.
Erekat, a member of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party central committee and chief Palestinian negotiator, repeated similar statements to the KUNA Kuwaiti news agency and others, some rebroadcast on Israel Radio. "Once Netanyahu says that the negotiations will lead to a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, then everything will be set," Erekat said according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Erekat said that Israel showed it had rejected Obama's premise of negotiation from the 1967 borders when it approved the construction of 1,500 housing units in eastern Jerusalem a day before Netanyahu left for the United States.
Obama and Netanyahu are both set to speak this week before the United States pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On May 19, in a speech at the State Department on his Middle East policy, Obama called for peace negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps.
3) Obama's Peace Tack Contrasts With Key Aide, Friend of Israel
Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, New York Times, May 21, 2011
Washington - Five days ago, during a closed-door meeting with a group of Middle East experts, administration officials, and journalists, King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians.
From the State Department, "we get good responses," the Jordanian king said, according to several people who were in the room. And from the Pentagon, too. "But not from the White House, and we know the reason why is because of Dennis Ross" - President Obama's chief Middle East adviser.
Mr. Ross, King Abdullah concluded, "is giving wrong advice to the White House."
By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross - Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays - is Israel's friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town.
His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.
But now, as the president is embarking on a course that, once again, puts him at odds with Israel's conservative prime minister, the question is how much of a split the president is willing to make not only with the Israeli leader, but with his own hand-picked Middle East adviser.
The White House would not say where Mr. Ross, 62, stood on the president's announcement on Thursday that Israel's pre-1967 borders - adjusted to account for Israeli security needs and Jewish settlements in the West Bank - should form the basis for a negotiated settlement.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel reacted sharply to the president's proposal, the reality is that the course Mr. Obama outlined Thursday was much more modest than what some of his advisers initially advocated.
During the administration's debates over the past several months, Mr. Ross made clear that he was opposed to having Mr. Obama push Israel by putting forth a comprehensive American plan for a peace deal with the Palestinians, according to officials involved in the debate.
George J. Mitchell, who was Mr. Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, backed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, argued in favor of a comprehensive American proposal that would include borders, security and the fate of Jerusalem and refugees. But Mr. Ross balked, administration officials said, arguing that it was unwise for the United States to look as if it were publicly breaking with Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu and Israel's backers in the United States view Mr. Ross as a key to holding at bay what they see as pro-Palestinian sympathies expressed by Mr. Mitchell; Mr. Obama's first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; and even the president himself.
"Starting with Mitchell and Jones, there was a preponderance of advisers who were more in tune with the Palestinian narrative than the Israeli narrative," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a friend of Mr. Ross. "Dennis balanced that."
In April, Mr. Mitchell, who, one Arab official said, often held up the specter of Mr. Ross to the Palestinians as an example of whom they would end up with if he left, sent Mr. Obama a letter of resignation. By some accounts, one reason was his inability to see eye to eye with Mr. Ross.
"Mitchell wanted something broader and more forward-leaning, and Dennis seems to be taking a more traditional stance," said David J. Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official who has written about the National Security Council.
But, Mr. Rothkopf said, Mr. Obama must now take into account the emerging realities in the Arab world, including a new populism brought by the democratic movement that may make even governments that were not hostile to Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, more insistent on pushing the case of the Palestinians. "Experience can be helpful, but it can also be an impediment to viewing things in a new way," he said.
4) IMF under growing pressure to appoint non-European head
China and Brazil call for end to status quo in decision on who will succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the IMF
Graeme Wearden and Dominic Rushe, Guardian, Thursday 19 May 2011 18.18 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/may/19/imf-pressure-appoint-non-european-head
The International Monetary Fund is facing growing pressure from emerging economic powers and campaigners to appoint a non-European as Dominique Strauss-Kahn's successor, following the resignation of the imprisoned IMF managing director.
China and Brazil have demanded that the succession process be handled in a fair and open way, and are calling for an end to the status quo under which a European has led the IMF since its creation in 1945.
The IMF has yet to reveal how Strauss-Kahn's replacement will be chosen but in a letter to the G20 group of the world's largest economies Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, said: "If the Fund wants to maintain its legitimacy, its managing director must be selected after broad consultation with the member countries."
A global group of anti-poverty campaigners said that the troubled state of the global economy made it imperative to select the best possible candidate from a worldwide pool. "It is time for the European and US governments to finally end the sordid, tacit deal between the two regions that has maintained a de facto northern leadership at both the Fund and the World Bank," said Bhumika Muchhala of the Third World Network.
There are equally trenchant opinions among IMF insiders. One former senior official said: "The big danger here is if the Europeans just try to put their person in. For example, Christine Lagarde [France's finance minister]. That would be a disaster. The Europeans have their heads in the sand again and if they do it, there will be bad fallout."
"Christine Lagarde stands for protecting big banks. I know people like what she said to Jamie Dimon [chief executive of JP Morgan Chase] at Davos but she's the most pro-bank bailout of the lot.
"The Americans are going to try and put in [White House adviser] David Lipton as number two. Lipton is Mr Bank Bailout. He worked for Citigroup. If they put in Lagarde and Lipton, what does that say? We are going with the total bank protection plan. That would be a disaster."
Under the voting system used by the IMF, America and Europe have been able to ensure that a European candidate runs the IMF while an American citizen takes charge at the World Bank. The eurozone debt crisis, which has seen the IMF contribute to the bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Ireland, has led many emerging market countries to believe that the next head of the IMF should not come from the EU.
5) Deadline Passes for U.S. Forces in Libyan Conflict
Charlie Savage and Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 20, 2011
Washington - With NATO officials expressing increased confidence on Friday that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's military position in Libya was weakening, the Obama administration appeared to ignore a statute requiring hostilities to cease after two months if Congress had not authorized them to continue.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 says that a president must terminate military operations 60 days after notifying Congress that he had introduced armed forces into actual or imminent hostilities. The Libyan operation reached that deadline on Friday.
But Pentagon and military officials said the United States' participation in the Libyan mission was going forward unchanged. That includes the intermittent use of armed Predator drones to fire missiles at Libyan government forces, as happened on Thursday and Friday, they said.
Late on Friday, the White House released a letter from President Obama to Congressional leaders defending the Libya operation. While he did not directly ask for a resolution authorizing the action or concede that it was necessary, he expressed support for the idea of a legislative endorsement.
While Congressional leaders have signaled little institutional interest in enforcing the resolution, there are signs that a political controversy is starting to pick up.
On Wednesday, six Republican senators sent a letter to Mr. Obama noting the imminent deadline "for you to terminate the use of the United States armed forces in Libya." They asked "whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution."
On Thursday, Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a similar letter to Mr. Obama stressing that the country was about to reach the War Powers Resolution deadline, which he portrayed as a "critical juncture."
And on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union also wrote to Mr. Obama expressing its "profound concern" that he was about to violate the War Powers Resolution, and arguing that he had no legal authority to use military force in Libya.
Administration officials offered no theory for why continuing the air war in Libya in the absence of Congressional authorization and beyond the deadline would be lawful. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who led the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and 2004, portrayed it as a significant constitutional moment.
"There may be facts of which we are unaware, but this appears to be the first time that any president has violated the War Powers Resolution's requirement either to terminate the use of armed forces within 60 days after the initiation of hostilities or get Congress's support," Mr. Goldsmith said.
Several parts of the resolution have been repeatedly challenged by presidents. But a 1980 opinion by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the 60-day limit was constitutional. (The law allows presidents to extend the deadline by 30 days if necessary to protect the safety of forces as they withdraw, which does not appear to apply to an air campaign.)
"The practical effect of the 60-day limit is to shift the burden to the president to convince the Congress of the continuing need for the use of our armed forces abroad," the 1980 memorandum says. "We cannot say that placing that burden on the president unconstitutionally intrudes upon his executive powers."
Such opinions are binding on the executive branch unless they are superseded by the Justice Department or the president. The Justice Department did not respond to a question about whether the 31-year-old memorandum remains in effect.
6) Libyan rebels accused of reprisal attacks
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, May 21
Benghazi, Libya - The men were armed and wore black ski masks. In broad daylight, they grabbed Adil Ali el-Aghouri from in front of his house last month, beat him, took him to a rebel military base and threw him in a prison cell.
Ever since, his relatives say, Aghouri has been held without charge or access to a lawyer. His only crime, they say, was to serve in the feared internal security police under Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi; they insist that he committed no atrocities.
"He's in prison not because he broke any laws, but by the power of the gun," said Aghouri's brother, Muhammad. "This is about revenge."
With Libya essentially divided in half by conflict, the U.S.- and NATO-backed rebels who control much of the east are carrying out what many view as a campaign of retaliation against those once aligned with Gaddafi, according to relatives and rebel commanders and officials. Such targeting raises questions about the character of the government taking shape in eastern Libya and whether it will follow basic principles of democracy and human rights. Moreover, such acts could further deepen divisions in Libya's tribal society and diminish the sort of reconciliation vital for stability in a post-Gaddafi era.
Both Egypt and Tunisia, where authoritarian leaders were ousted by popular uprisings, are striving to revise laws and struggling with how to deal with the former members of their regimes. Human rights activists note that Libya's rebels have had to organize a state, including a new judicial system, in just three months during wartime.
But critics fear the Libyan rebels are going down the same path as Gaddafi - whose government is notorious for carrying out arbitrary arrests, torture and executions without trial - months after launching an uprising based in large part on their outrage over such injustices.
Some critics, including top officials working with the rebel council that runs eastern Libya, also point out that countless Libyans worked in Gaddafi's government, many just for the paycheck. Those who committed serious crimes have probably fled rebel areas by now, they argue.
"There have been a lot of mistakes, even though the intentions are good," said Jamal Benour, a judge who is in charge of justice issues for the rebel transitional council. "We need to have a proper judicial process, to build trust in law and order. Now, maybe we've lost part of the credibility of the revolution. . . . Some might say that what Gaddafi did in his regime is happening now under the revolution."
Rebel commanders have created a wanted list and placed suspects under round-the-clock surveillance. Secret militia units raid houses without court warrants and often interrogate suspects for hours. Those released have to sign a document stating their loyalty to the revolution.
As many as 30 civilians are being held at various rebel military bases around Benghazi without due process of law, said human rights activists, judges and prosecutors. In recent weeks, at least seven former members of the internal security police have turned up dead, their bodies riddled with bullets. Although it is not known who killed them, many suspect that they died at the hands of rebel-affiliated death squads.
At a rebel military base in Benghazi, rebel fighters acknowledged that they were rounding up and holding prisoners. They said it was necessary to target and detain civilians because they believed that a "fifth column" of Gaddafi loyalists was trying to retake power within the city, which has become the rebels' de facto capital.
"On the front lines, you can see Gaddafi's people. Here, you can't see the ones in the fifth column," said Muftah Mahmoud, a rebel fighter in charge of security at the base. "They stab you in the back."
Mahmoud said detainees are held for three days and then handed over to Benghazi's prosecutors for trial. But the city's chief prosecutor, Ali Wanis, said in an interview that he had never received a single case. He described the detentions as "secretive."
When told of this, Mahmoud shrugged and acknowledged that "the main thing is to keep these people in a secure place until the revolution is over."
Unlike Gaddafi's regime, the rebels have given human rights groups, nongovernmental organizations and family members access to the detainees and in most cases appear to be treating them humanely.
But at the same time, in the absence of the Gaddafi-era police and security apparatus, volunteer militias are patrolling the streets, making arrests with no formal legal authority. This, said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, "heightens the risk of vigilante justice and abuse at point of capture."
"Rule of law has to begin now, or bad habits may become entrenched and later codified as a way of maintaining power," said Malinowski, who recently interviewed detainees in Benghazi.
So far, the rebel leadership has been unable to rein in the militias under one authority. It also has not set clear rules governing who can be arrested and what their rights are in detention.
7) Palestine's Hidden History of Nonviolence
You wouldn't know it from the media coverage, but peaceful protests are nothing new for Palestinians. But if they are to succeed this time, the West needs to start paying attention.
Yousef Munayyer, Foreign Policy, May 18, 2011
[Munayyer is executive director of the Palestine Center.]
Last weekend, as tens of thousands of unarmed refugees marched toward Israel from all sides in a symbolic effort to reclaim their right of return, the world suddenly discovered the power of Palestinian nonviolence. Much like the "Freedom Flotilla," when nine activists were killed during an act of nonviolent international disobedience almost a year ago, the deaths of unarmed protesters at the hands of Israeli soldiers drew the world's attention to Palestine and the refugee issue.
The world shouldn't have been so surprised. The truth is that there is a long, rich history of nonviolent Palestinian resistance dating back well before 1948, when the state of Israel was established atop a depopulated Palestine. It has just never captured the world's attention the way violent acts have.
As Jewish immigration into Palestine increased and the implementation of the Balfour Declaration became more apparent, Palestinians who feared marginalization (or worse) under a Jewish state continued to resist. In the early 1930s, numerous protests and demonstrations against the Zionist agenda were held, and the British mandatory government was swift to crack down. The iconic image of Palestinian notable Musa Kazim al-Husseini being beaten down during a protest in 1933 by mounted British soldiers comes to mind.
It wasn't until nonviolent protests were met with severe repression that Palestinian guerrilla movements began. After the 81-year-old Husseini died a few months after being beaten, a young imam living in Haifa named Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam (the namesake of Hamas's military wing) organized the first militant operation against the British mandatory government. His death in battle with British soldiers sparked the Arab rebellion that began in 1936 and lasted until 1939.
The first phases of this revolt began with nonviolent resistance in the form of more strikes and protests, and the economy ground to a halt for six months when Palestinian leaders called for a work stoppage. This was put down harshly by the mandatory government, according to British historian Matthew Hughes, including the bombing of more than 200 buildings in Jaffa on June 16, 1936. The repression of both violent and nonviolent Palestinian dissent significantly destroyed the capacity of Palestinian society, paving the way for the depopulation of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel a decade later.
During the Nakba, which is what Palestinians call the period of depopulation from 1947 to 1949, nonviolent resistance became harder to see again, as armed conflict and violence dominated headlines. But one anecdote, which hits close to home, suggests that thinking about nonviolent resistance in the Palestinian context requires broadening our conventional understanding of the concept.
My hometown, Al-Lyd, (which is today called Lod), was besieged by Haganah troops in mid-July 1948. As part of Operation Dani, Al-Lyd and the neighboring town of Ramla were depopulated of tens of thousands of Palestinians. At the time, the city was filled with at least 50,000 people, more than twice its usual population, because it had swelled with refugees from nearby villages. After the siege, my grandparents were among the 1,000 original inhabitants who remained. They and many others refused to flee during the fighting and hid in the city's churches and mosques. Unlike their neighbors, who were hiding in the Dahmash mosque where scores of refugees were massacred by Haganah troops, they managed to survive and walk out of their refuge into the destroyed ghost town they called home.
We tend to think of nonviolent resistance as an active rather than passive concept. In reality, even though the majority of the native inhabitants were depopulated during the Nakba, thousands of Palestinians practiced nonviolent resistance by refusing to leave their homes when threatened. Today, through its occupation, Israel continues to make life unbearable for Palestinians, but millions resist the pressure by not leaving. This is particularly notable in occupied Jerusalem, where Palestinians are being pushed out of the city. For those who have never lived in a system of violence like the Israeli occupation, it is hard to understand how simply not going anywhere constitutes resistance, but when the objective of your oppressor is to get you to leave your land, staying put is part of the daily struggle. In this sense, every Palestinian living under the Israeli occupation is a nonviolent resister.
The first and second intifadas were very different. In the first intifada of the late 1980s, Palestinians employed various nonviolent tactics, from mass demonstrations to strikes to protests. Even though the vast majority of the activism was nonviolent, it is the mostly symbolic stone-throwing that many remember. The Israeli response to the uprising was brutal. In the words of Yitzhak Rabin, then the Israeli defense minister, the policy was "might, power, and beatings" -- what became known as the "break the bones" strategy, depicted in this gruesome video. Mass arrests also ensued, and according to the NGO B'Tselem more than a thousand Palestinians civilians were killed from 1987 to 1993. Thousands more were injured or crippled at the hands of Israeli troops. Yet, only 12 of the 70,000 Israeli soldiers regularly posted in occupied territories during the intifada died in the four-year uprising, clearly demonstrating the restraint with which Palestinian dissent was carried out.
The second intifada, which began in 2000 after a decade of negotiations yielded only more Israeli settlements, violence was used much more readily, including armed attacks. Yet while the acts of violence by both sides were more likely to feature in the headlines, many Palestinians were still employing nonviolent means of resistance; protests and marches, many at nearly daily funerals, were commonplace. It is during this period that the seeds of present-day nonviolent resistance in Palestine were planted.
Before we can think about whether nonviolent resistance is likely to factor heavily in the next chapter of the Palestinian struggle, we must first consider its aims. Nonviolent resistance, like armed resistance, is a tactic or tool primarily used to draw attention to a cause. The difference between the two is, of course, more important than the similarities. While armed resistance is likely to draw more attention to a cause by grabbing headlines, it's also likely to bring with it plenty of negative attention. Nonviolent resistance is far less likely to make it into the international news, though when it does get coverage, it's usually overwhelmingly positive. But a strategy of nonviolence only works if the world is paying attention and rewarding nonviolence with meaningful action.
The atmosphere in the Middle East and North Africa today is electric. Thanks to the scenes of peaceful protesters ousting dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, belief in nonviolent people power is at an all-time high. But for Palestinians to continue making the same decision, they have to believe they will succeed. If nonviolent Palestinian protesters are crushed by force and their repression is met with silence from the Western states that support Israel, many might choose an alternate path. That's why the U.S. response to the Nakba Day protests -- pointing the finger at Syria instead of criticizing Israel for shooting unarmed demonstrators -- is so disappointing.
If ever there were a moment for Palestinians to overwhelmingly embrace nonviolence, that moment is now. The new media environment has created space for peaceful Palestinian voices that would never have been heard in the past. Many nonviolent protests continue to take place regularly: from the aid flotillas and convoys, along with repeated demonstrations against buffer zones in Gaza, to protests against the separation wall in Bilin, Nilin, Nabi Saleh, and al-Walaja; to demonstrations against home eviction and demolition in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan; to regular marches in refugee camps inside and outside of Palestine.
But Western governments need to end their silence. By condemning Palestinian violent resistance while failing to condemn Israel's repression of nonviolent resistance, Israel's allies -- above all the United States -- are sending the dangerous message to young Palestinians that no resistance to Israeli occupation is ever acceptable. The fact that the nonviolent protest of the Arab Spring has come to Palestine is not a threat. It's a historic opportunity for the West to finally get it right.
8) Palestinian protest reaches Marlborough
Julia Spitz, Milford [MA] Daily News, May 19, 2011
As the Obama administration grapples with what protests in the Middle East mean to America, a Marlborough mom has seen what they mean to her son. Not that she wanted a glimpse of a piece of his detached scalp.
"I did not need to see that," Robin Whitman said of the photo someone gave her son after he was injured in al-Nabi Saleh, a small village near Ramallah in the Palestinian West Bank where protests against land confiscation have been held each Friday for more than a year.
"Many people who were at the protest came to see how I was and even had a gift given to me from the village ... which was the piece of my head (that) was knocked off by the tear gas canister" shot by Israeli soldiers, Christopher Whitman said in a posting on mondoweiss.net Friday. "It's frightening when your child calls you from 8,000 miles away and says, 'I'm OK, but ... I got shot in the head,' " Robin Whitman said this week.
"At one point, the blood loss was so extreme the places in my body that were farthest from my heart (fingers, knees) began tensing to a point of no control," her son said of the injury. He was out of the hospital and able to speak to a reporter Tuesday morning.
The weekly protests have recently started to turn violent, he said in a Democracy Now radio interview.
"The village only has about 500 people, yet every week there's a massive amount of injuries," he said. "The village has only about 500 people, yet every week there are almost 30 injured. So, we're talking about 8 percent of the village every week is injured engaging in nonviolent protest. We're mostly talking about people that are under the age of 12 and over the age of 55 who are just asking and protesting for their rights to not have their land taken away to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territories."
"From what I understand, he's not an active protester," Robin Whitman said. "They tend to have international students at the back of the crowd taking pictures or videotaping. They are more observers. "There are probably thousands of international students lending credence to the fact there are atrocities happening to people there."
Christopher's parents visited him in February and learned a little about his new world, said his mother. "You go past villages and think, 'I could never live here,' and yet you hear children laughing and you think, 'Wow.' How long will the innocence last? Not long enough.
"The conflict isn't between people. It's between governments," she said.
And although she says she is "not political," what she has learned through her son's experiences makes her "want people to know what happens on the other side of the world. "Every religion started there" in the Middle East. "Everybody's got roots there.
"It puts on a pretty face at Christmas and Easter," when tourists flock to the holy cities, "but other times, people are being attacked.
"All I'm looking for is for people to realize there is this part of the world where there are a lot of human beings ... we need to keep safe somehow."
9) US Arms Sales At Odds With Words
Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, May 21, 2011
On the same day President Obama pressed again for peace in the Middle East, the Associated Press reminded us that the United States cannot help itself from flooding the region with the instruments of war, reporting that the nation is "quietly expanding defense ties on a vast scale'' with Saudi Arabia.
How vast? The part that has been highly publicized is the new $60 billion arms sale made to the Saudis because of the ongoing threat of Iran. The deal sends Saudi Arabia 84 new F-15s and upgrades to 70 F-15s. It also sends them about 180 Apache, Black Hawk, and Little Bird helicopters, as well as anti-ship and anti-radar missiles. In officially announcing the sale last fall, Andrew Shapiro, the US assistant secretary of state for political affairs, said the sales were part of "deepening our security relationship with a key partner with whom we've enjoyed a solid security relationship for nearly 70 years.''
But there are other emerging aspects of the security relationship the Obama administration is not so candid about. The AP also reported on an obscure project to create a special elite security force that would fall under the US Central Command. The force would have up to 35,000 members "to protect the kingdom's oil riches and future nuclear sites.'' It would be separate from Saudi Arabia's military and its national guard and would involve tens of billions of dollars in additional military contracts. But no official of the Pentagon, the State Department, or the Saudi embassy would go on the record to discuss the program.
The sheepishness of the Pentagon was mirrored by Obama's failure to mention Saudi Arabia once in his speech Thursday at the State Department. Obama urged fresh Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, praised the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, harshly denounced Libya and Syria, and cajoled Yemen and Bahrain to loosen up on their people. Obama criticized in general the "corruption of elites'' and pushed for women's rights in health, business, and politics. He said, "the region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential.''
Saudi Arabia is well-known for the elites who still continue to suppress women's potential. Only 31 percent of women ages 25-54 are in the workplace, compared to 96 percent of like-aged men, according to the International Labor Organization. While modernization and international pressure have led to women being more than half of the country's college students, they do not have equal access to classes and facilities, according to Freedom House, the advocacy group that has tracked levels of freedom since World War II. Despite scattered appointments of female officials in government, business, and television news, laws still discriminate against women, and women were recently banned once more from municipal elections scheduled for later this year.
The United States is boosting aid to such regimes even though it demands far less accountability than it is supposed to. A Government Accountability Office study last fall found that the State Department and the Defense Department "did not consistently document how arms transfers to Gulf countries advanced US foreign policy and national security goals.'' Among the policy criteria that arms transfers are supposed to be assessed on is whether that country is protecting human rights, but State Department officials admitted to the GAO "that they do not document these assessments.'' The report concluded that the gap in accountability meant "Congress may not have a clear understanding'' of direct commercial sales of arms to the Gulf region.''
Most experts assume that Obama remains mute on Saudi Arabia because it has the largest oil production capacity in the world and its strategic importance against Iran. But these arms deals, public and secret, up the ante on Obama to be far more transparent about what our relationship is to a nation that is assisting the Bahrain government in its crackdown on freedom protesters. Even as Obama praised the people of North Africa who have risen up for human rights "in the face of batons and sometimes bullets,'' he is sending yet more bullets, planes, and missiles to nations that fall far too short on human rights.
10) Accord looks to heal Honduras' political wounds
Freddy Cuevas, Associated Press, Mon May 23, 2:15 am ET
Tegucigalpa, Honduras – Honduras' president hopes to heal the political wounds from the June 2009 coup, having signed a reconciliation accord that lets exiled leader Manuel Zelaya come home and emphasizes the right of Hondurans to call for a public vote on possible constitutional revisions - the issue that led to Zelaya's ouster.
President Porfirio Lobo met with Zelaya on Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, to put their names on an agreement that is aimed at ending Honduras' political crisis and paving the way for the country to rejoin the Organization of American States. Both men smiled when they shook hands. Lobo called the signing "a very important day for Honduras," saying the accord is "for the millions of Hondurans who choose to live in peace and harmony."
He also urged his countrymen to recognize that it will be good for the country for Zelaya to come home. "Return to Honduras without any fear because you will be treated with the respect due a former president," Lobo told Zelaya.
Zelaya praised the accord, which was worked out by Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. "I am pleased to come to sign a reconciliation agreement for the democracy of the Honduran people ... Do not be afraid of democracy," Zelaya said.
Zelaya was toppled by Honduras' military after he defied a Supreme Court order to cancel a national referendum asking voters if Honduras should change its constitution. Opponents charged that Zelaya was trying to get around a constitutional provision limiting presidents to a single term. He denied that was the aim.
Now Lobo is backing the idea of Hondurans considering changes in the country's governmental system, something Zelaya argued is needed to improve the lives of the poor.
The Cartagena Accord reiterates that the Honduran constitution has a legal process for calling a national referendum on reforming fundamental laws. The accord also calls for no persecution of Zelaya and his supporters, the ex-leader's safe return to Honduras and a guarantee that Zelaya supporters be allowed to participate in Honduras' politics and its 2014 elections as a political party. It further provides for respect for human rights and an investigation of possible rights violations.
Chavez, a strong supporter of Zelaya who was not able to be in Cartagena because of a knee injury, promised to ensure the deal's terms are respected. "We will be monitoring very closely that the agreement is fulfilled because we know there will be forces inside and outside Honduras who are going to try to boycott the accord," the Venezuelan leader said.
Zelaya, who has been living in exile in the Dominican Republic, said last week that he plans to return to his homeland Saturday.
OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza issued a statement saying the accord "opens the way to return Honduras to the hemispheric organization." He said the deal would be presented to the OAS's permanent council Monday. Honduras' return to the OAS is expected to be made official during the organization's general assembly in El Salvador June 5-7.
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