Peace talks

March 22, 2011

EDITOR: Good day to bury bad news

With the world taken with the tragedies in Japan and Libya, not to mention the revolt ongoing in other parts of the Arab world, this seems to Israel an excellent time to punish Gaza cvilians again. You have to ask yourself – do they really want children hurt, bearing in miond they keep singing the praises of their super-accurate weapons? Maybe they do. After all, it is punishment they mete out.

Or maybe they just think children in Gaza are just naturally part of the Hamas fighters. And please do not forget the booksellers, they are also very dangerous, as yoiu shall find out in one of the pieces below.

An interesting fact evident below – in the Guardian report there are no dead in Gaza, only ‘wounded’. The BBC reported 4 dead, and in Al Jazeera the real figure is reported, nine dead. All websites were checked at the same time…

Eight dead in Gaza in Israeli mortar attack: Al Jazeera English

Victims include children and armed fighters, as raids continue in the Gaza Strip.
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2011

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At least eight Palestinians, including children, have been killed in a Israeli raids in the Gaza Strip.

 

 

 

The deaths occurred in two separate attacks on the eastern part of Gaza City on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Two of the dead were aged 11 and 16, and four of them were from the al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad movement.

Four people died when a shell slammed into a family home  in Shejaiya, medical sources told AFP news agency. Several hours later, another four were killed – all of them fighters – in an air raid in the nearby Zeitun neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, the military said it was responding to rocket attacks from Gaza. They also confirmed it had fired mortar rounds towards the eastern outskirts of Gaza City on Tuesday, shortly after four rockets hit Israel, and expressed  “regret” over reports that civilians had been hurt.

It was the third time Shejaiya had been targeted on Tuesday, following an earlier one which wounded one fighter and a burst of tank fire, which left two civilians wounded shortly after dawn.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Gaza, said that more tit-for-tat attacks may be expected.

“Tensions look to be rising here, and violence could increase,” he said.

The latest incident also comes after at least 19 people were wounded in a series of raids on Monday, in the northern town of Beit Lahiya and Gaza City.

Witnesses said a security compound for Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, a training camp north of the city and a brickworks and metal foundry in northern Gaza were among the targets.

Rising cross-border violence has occurred, also increasing tensions between Israel and Hamas and once again raising fears of another large-scale Israeli invasion.

Israeli air strikes wound 19 in Gaza: The Guardian

Seven Palestinian children among those hurt in raids retaliating against Hamas rocket attacks

The Israeli military confirmed one of the raids, saying several Hamas-affiliated militants were targeted in northern Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
At least 19 Palestinians were said to have been wounded in the Gaza strip as a result of air strikes launched by Israel on Monday after militants launched mortars and rockets into Israeli territory.

Among the wounded were seven children, two women and four militants, according to officials from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

Hamas has stepped up rocket fire at Israel after a lengthy hiatus since the war of two years ago, claiming responsibility for the firing of more than two dozen mortars and rockets at the weekend.

The Israeli military confirmed one of the air raids, saying that several Hamas-affiliated militants were targeted in northern Gaza, as well as a tunnel used to smuggle weapons.

Witnesses in Gaza said Israeli warplanes fired a missile after three mortars were shot at Israel, and the Israeli missile landed harmlessly in a bin for animal feed.

Israel fired four other missiles at as many targets later in the evening, aiming at a Hamas security compound in Gaza City, a training camp north of the city, and a brickworks and metal foundry in northern Gaza, witnesses said.

Hamas fired two rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, a day after Palestinian militants fired more than 50 mortar shells into Israel in the the heaviest Palestinian barrage since a major Israeli military offensive in Gaza two years ago. In the evening, militants in Gaza fired another rocket into southern Israel, exploding near the city of Ashkelon. No one was hurt.

Medical officials in Gaza said on Sunday that the bodies of two Palestinian men who were killed overnight along the border had been recovered. The Israeli military said soldiers spotted two Palestinians crawling towards the border with what appeared to be a bomb. Soldiers called on them to stop, and opened fire after they continued moving.

Most rocket attacks from Gaza since the invasion have been carried out by small militant groups, although Hamas claimed responsibility.

Children die in Israeli attack on Gaza, say doctors: BBC

Several Palestinians were also injured in Tuesday’s attack

Four Palestinian family members, including two children, have died in Gaza, in an Israeli artillery strike.

Another 12 people were wounded when an Israeli tank shell hit a home on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said it was an unfortunate mistake, but added that was “the price of dealing every day with the terrorists”.

In a second attack, three people – all members of Islamic Jihad – were killed during an air strike, medics said.

On Saturday, Palestinian militants fired a barrage of rockets over the frontier, prompting Israeli retaliation.

The BBC’s Jon Donnison, in Gaza City, says the exchanges are among the most serious since Israel’s major offensive in the coastal strip between December 2008 and January 2009.

Our correspondent adds that, unusually, the militant wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for at least a dozen of the mortars fired at Israel over the weekend.

In Tuesday’s first attack, a grandfather and two of his grandchildren were among those killed when artillery was fired at a house, reports said.

Witnesses said they were playing football when they died.

The Israeli defence minister said: “We were not glad of it but that’s the price of dealing every day with the terrorists attacking our civilian population from within civilian population on the other side.”

Palestinian emergency services said the second attack struck the Zeitun quarter of eastern Gaza City, AFP news agency reports.

Doctors from the health ministry in Gaza say those who died are believed to have been militants from the Islamic Jihad group.

The latest deaths came a day after Palestinian doctors said at least 17 people were injured in Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

IDF strikes Gaza group about to launch rocket; Hamas says four killed: Haaretz

IDF says Islamic Jihad group was about to launch Grad rocket, the same type that landed in Be’er Sheva last month; earlier in day, four Palestinians were killed when IDF fire struck a building near Gaza City.

An Israeli air strike killed four Palestinian militants who were preparing to launch a rocket from Gaza on Tuesday, Hamas officials said. Four Palestinians were killed earlier in the day when Israel Defense Forces returned fire towards a target in Gaza.

Palestinians survey the scene after IDF fire struck a home in Gaza City March 22, 2011. Photo by: Reuters

The Israel Defense Forces released a statement saying that the air force had fired on a group of terrorists in the northern part of the Strip that were about to launch a Grad rocket at Israel. Israel has stepped up strikes against Gaza militants in response to a surge in rocket and mortar fire at Israel in the past few days.

The IDF said Palestinian militants had launched mortars against Israeli troops earlier on Tuesday and the military shot mortars at the source of the firing.

Palestinian medics said the dead youths from the first attack were aged 12, 16 and 17. The 58-year-old owner of the house was also killed.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an IDF spokeswoman, said the army did not know that civilians were in the area at the time of the strike and stressed that Israel had no desire to raise tensions and hoped that Hamas also didn’t have that intention. “We never operate when civilians are identified,” she said.

Locals said four Israeli tank shells struck the building east of Gaza City.
Israel hit a series of Palestinian militant targets in the Gaza Strip earlier Tuesday, damaging smuggling tunnels and suspected weapons sites.

Palestinian officials said 19 people were wounded in those attacks.

On Saturday, southern Israel was hit by over 50 rockets, of which Hamas claimed responsibility for 10. The Israeli Air Force struck Gaza targets in retaliation for the bombardment.

On Monday, an IAF fighter jet struck a Gaza tunnel running along the border with Israel, as well as Hamas militants in the northern Gaza strip, an IDF statement confirmed.

The IDF spokesperson’s office released a statement saying that the Gaza tunnel was used to smuggle terrorists into Israeli territory with the intent to execute attacks against Israeli citizens.

 

Libya and the suspicious rush to war: The Guardian

After many more deaths we are likely to see the partition of Libya – why has there been such a consensus for this military action?

A French Mirage 2000 jet fighter after returning from a mission over Libya. Photograph: ECPAD/HO/EPA
The House of Commons is debating the government stance on UN resolution 1973, having been invited to give its approval or withhold it. It’s a bit late, as the prime minister made a statement to the Commons on Friday and within 24 hours the bombing had started. We are presented with a fait accompli.

The debate, however, takes place against a background of growing concerns about the nature of the military operation, the intensity of the air strikes, the implications for the whole region, and the real motive behind the Arab League in calling for this in the first place. India is the first country to publicly call for a cessation of air strikes. Others are likely to follow.

UN security council resolution 1973 was heavily trailed as a no-fly-zone resolution. Like most UN resolutions it is very long. It specifically welcomed the appointment of the UN special envoy Abdel-Elah Mohamed Al-Khatib and in its proposals under chapter 7 of the UN charter (mandatory for all member states) demanded a ceasefire, stressed the need to find a solution to the conflict through the UN special envoy, and demanded that the Libyan authorities fulfil their international obligations under humanitarian law.

It’s not until one reaches point 6 of the resolution that the no-fly zone is mentioned, and even then it requests the secretary general to inform the security council of any actions taken in support of the no-fly zone. The rest of the resolution talks of the arms embargo, the asset freeze and the appointment of a panel of experts to consider the operation of this resolution and the implications for international law. The attacks on Libya take place with no assurance that depleted uranium weapons will be banned from the operation and come only a few weeks after Britain stopped trading with Libya and training Libyan security officials.

I welcome the popular demands all across the region, including Libya, for accountable government and an economic strategy that provides full employment for the burgeoning young populations. But abuses of human rights by Gaddafi’s government didn’t start three weeks ago, as any one of the Libyan opposition will attest, and a blind eye was turned to this when Libya said it was no longer developing weapons of mass destruction and British oil companies were encouraged by Tony Blair to strike long-term agreements.

The most likely outcome of this ghastly period is many more deaths, the long-term effects of depleted uranium (if it is being used), and the partition of Libya. With this strategy it is quite conceivable that the east of Libya will be partitioned into a client state centred upon Benghazi, and the west will be a pariah state led by Gaddafi.

One can’t help but be struck by the rush to military involvement by politicians of all countries and all persuasions. The contrast with the western treatment of the rest of the region could not be more stark. The Palestinian people have lived with occupation for 60 years, well over 1,000 died in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, settlements abound and Israel possesses nuclear weapons. I can’t remember anyone calling for a no-fly zone in Gaza in winter 2008-09 when phosphorous bombs were used against a largely unarmed and defenceless civilian population.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter, and the biggest importer of arms from Britain and other countries. The importance of Saudi Arabia to western economic interests cannot be overstated, otherwise why would Blair take such an extraordinary decision as to suspend the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the BAE contracts with Saudi Arabia? Britain is up to its neck in supporting the Saudi monarchy with all the denial of human rights and aggression that the regime has shown toward its opponents. Saudi armed forces have crossed into Yemen in recent times, and last week entered Bahrain to support the king in his suppression of democratic protest.

News today of huge demonstrations and growing isolation of the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, looks like almost a replay of what happened in Tunisia. I asked a young activist in Tunis just a few weeks ago if their revolution was asking for western help, his reply was: “No, we will do it ourselves; the problem with the west is, it never knows when to leave.”

A blow to Israeli Arabs and to democracy: Haaretz Editorial

Extremists are counting on those Knesset members who ignore the inflammatory and racist context from which recent bills arise, and who don’t discern their destructive consequences.

Two or three bills are to be voted on by the Knesset today on second and third reading, each of which is inappropriate in its own right. Taken together, however, just prior to the Knesset’s spring recess, they represent a discordant and worrying summation of the current Knesset session.

The so-called Nakba Law has deliberately vague wording. It would bar entities receiving public funding from organizing or themselves funding any activity “which would entail undermining the foundations of the state and contradict its values.”

Judging by the worldview of MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu ), who initiated the legislation, such a definition is liable to apply to academic conferences and historical research and discussion focusing on various aspects of the War of Independence and the events preceding it. In essence, this is a law designed to shut people up.

The proposed law regarding resident admissions committees in certain small communities has undergone changes and has purportedly been softened. The maximum number of residents in the communities to which it would apply has been lowered to 400 and its application has been limited to the Negev and the Galilee. It is an outrageous bill, which would crudely trample the principle of equality and would limit Arab citizens choices of where to live.

An amendment allowing for the revocation of citizenship of those convicted of espionage or aiding terrorism, which was approved by the Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee, encourages state abuse of power and would transform citizenship from an obvious right to a fragile privilege that the state can revoke at will.

The initiators of the bill have promised that they will attempt to pass the law before the end of the Knesset’s winter session, although even Shin Bet security service officials have argued that revocation of citizenship is a dangerous weapon that is liable to escalate tensions between Israel’s Arab citizens and the state.

It’s possible that such escalation is precisely what the initiators of the bill, both from Yisrael Beiteinu, want; in the constant battle between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu, Arab citizens serve as a convenient punching bag.

The extremists, however, are also counting on those Knesset members who ignore the inflammatory and racist context from which these bills arise, and whom don’t discern the bill’s destructive consequences.

In advance of the vote, each Knesset member must therefore ask himself whether he is ready to take part in a process that will bring Israeli democracy to the edge of the abyss, or whether he will instead foil such a step.

UN: Gaza’s youth ‘denied higher education’ by Israeli blockade: The Guardian

Medicine and engineering among sectors in desperate need of funds and equipment

Youth in the Gaza strip lack educational and employment opportunities thanks to Israel’s blockade, says the UN. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP
The next generation in the Gaza Strip may be less educated, less professional and perhaps more radical because an Israeli blockade has restricted educational and employment opportunities, say UN and other sources.

The four-year blockade has particularly affected youths aged 18-24, limiting access to higher education, academic exchanges and professional development, says Gaza’s education ministry. About 65% of Gaza’s 1.6 million people are under 25, according to UN estimates.

“Higher education in all its forms is absolutely critical to a functioning society and the creation of a future Palestinian state,” UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory Max Gaylard told IRIN, and “to maintain a necessary level of skills in professional sectors, like medicine and engineering.”

Gaza’s unemployment rate – nearly 50% according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) – indicates dire prospects for the rapidly growing and youthful population.

The economic blockade, imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took control of Gaza, has obstructed the import of books, science laboratory and other educational equipment to Gaza, according to the Unesco. Israel allows in limited humanitarian supplies.

The lack of facilities, new information and experiences has caused a marked deterioration of Gaza’s whole educational system. Noor, an English education student at Al-Azhar University, ranked second in Gaza, said she lacked essential books for her coursework and even chairs were missing from lecture halls.

“Our universities are not ready for new generations,” she said. “We only have one laboratory and two computer labs, and it is not enough.”

Enrolment levels at Gaza’s 14 public and private universities and colleges remain high, but conflict and the stringent blockade have seriously undermined access to, and the quality of, higher education, said UNESCO in a report.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza (pdf), “Under the policy of complete closure imposed since June 2007, Palestinians from Gaza who once constituted some 35% of the student body at universities in the West Bank are virtually absent from West Bank education institutions.”

The development of two separate systems due to the Israeli-imposed movement restrictions meant fewer subjects and facilities for Gaza’s university students, said UNESCO.

About 80% of the Gaza population is aid dependent, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and higher education institutions in Gaza are feeling the financial strain.

According to Unesco, students are increasingly unable to pay tuition fees, resulting in drop-outs and postponement of studies.

The inability of students to cover fees has hit Gaza universities hard, since student fees provide about 60% of university running costs, according to Palestinian NGO Sharek Youth Forum (pdf).

“The level of education is being compromised and we have trouble hiring qualified professors and staff,” said Kamalain Shaath, president of the Islamic University, ranked top in Gaza and the West Bank. Half the students at the university, he added, were unable to meet tuition requirements this semester.

Islamic University’s first medical school class of about 50 promising young doctors will graduate this spring, and will be desperately needed in this conflict area, although the university science labs – destroyed during Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead that aimed at ending rocket attacks into Israel – were never rebuilt.

Seven universities and colleges were damaged during the offensive, which ended in January 2009, with six buildings fully destroyed and 16 partially, according to Unesco. As of March 2011, rebuilding has not been possible thanks to the embargo on building materials.

Overcrowding in schools is another problem. About 80% of Gaza’s public schools operate on double shifts, according Gaza’s education ministry director-general, Sharif Nouman. In 2010, only three new schools were built due to lack of building materials, yet another 100 need to be built, he said.

Meanwhile, the internal conflict between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas is putting pressure on the education system, thanks to a lack of communication between the Gaza and West Bank ministries, he added.

The unemployment rate among those aged 15-19 is about 72%, while unemployment affects 66% of those aged 20-24, according to a report in January by the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO). West Bank unemployment rates were 29% and 34% for these age groups, respectively.

When young people graduate they have almost no opportunity to find a job in a company or association. About 70% of industrial establishments in Gaza have closed under the blockade, according to OCHA, while 120,000 private sector jobs were lost in the first two years of closure. A recent easing has allowed the limited export of cut flowers and strawberries from Gaza to Europe.

“When young people graduate they have almost no opportunity to find a job in a company or association,” said Bassam, a multi-media student at Al-Azhar University. Some try to start their own businesses, but “this cannot succeed in Gaza now because of the blockade,” he added.

UN officials in the region have expressed concern that isolating youth in Gaza from broader values and opportunities will backfire. “A rapidly growing society, becoming poorer, that is subject to restrictions on education will encourage extremism in its worst forms,” warned Gaylard.

Deputy director-general of the Israeli ministry of public diplomacy, Danny Seaman, however, said: “Hamas uses access to Israel to perpetrate terror attacks against our civilians and this immediate threat outweighs the concern over increased militancy amongst youth in Gaza.”

Some 71% of university students surveyed by UNESCO reported (pdf) they were not hopeful about the future and almost the same number worried there will be another war.

“Most of my peers want to emigrate,” said Shadi, a 26-year-old physical therapist in Gaza City. “We are isolated and frustrated.”

Netanyahu: Palestinians are not ready for peace with Israel: Haaretz

The prime minister slammed the opposition for saying that they were close to reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians at one point.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed claims by the opposition that they had at one time been close to a peace deal with the Palestinians, saying “Palestinians are not ready for peace with Israel.”

Speaking to the Knesset on Tuesday, Opposition head Tzipi Livni said that Kadima had at one point been close to reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The prime minister responded to Livni’s comments, saying “According to Palestinian publications, they demand the dismantling of Har Homa, Ariel, and Ma’ale Adumim. I assume that you in Kadima are against this. If you are against this, I want to know, where was the agreement?”

Har Homa, Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim are all large West Bank settlements that would be difficult to dismantle if a peace deal was reached with the Palestinians. It has been suggested that instead of dismantling them, Israel would keep them in exchange for giving the Palestinians additional land.

Netanyahu referred to the opposition’s position on refugees saying “I heard from the opposition chair a stance that I completely agree with: not one refugee. So they agreed to this? You were so close?”

If there wasn’t an agreement made with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said, then why does Kadima “attack the government all the time when you know the truth: that you were far from reaching an agreement.”

Military Intelligence monitoring foreign left-wing organizations: Haaretz

IDF officers say special department has been created to monitor left-wing groups that the army sees as aiming to delegitimize Israel; department will work closely with government ministries.

Military Intelligence is collecting information about left-wing organizations abroad that the army sees as aiming to delegitimize Israel, according to senior Israeli officials and Israel Defense Forces officers.

The sources said MI’s research division created a department several months ago that is dedicated to monitoring left-wing groups and will work closely with government ministries. In recent weeks, the head of the new unit has been taking part in discussions in the Prime Minister’s Office about how to prepare for the possible arrival of a Gaza-bound flotilla in May.

The undefined and potentially broad scope of such a venture, which IDF sources say is focusing on how to respond to maritime convoys aimed at breaching Israel’s Gaza blockade, has some Foreign Ministry officials concerned that the army is overreaching.

“We ourselves don’t know exactly how to define delegitimization,” said one ministry official. “This is a very abstract definition. Are flotillas to Gaza delegitimization? Is criticism of settlements delegitimization? It’s not clear how Military Intelligence’s involvement in this will provide added value.”

Military Intelligence officials said the initiative reflects an upsurge in worldwide efforts to delegitimize Israel and question its right to exist.

“The enemy changes, as does the nature of the struggle, and we have to boost activity in this sphere,” an MI official said. “Work on this topic proceeds on the basis of a clear distinction between legitimate criticism of the State of Israel on the one hand, and efforts to harm it and undermine its right to exist on the other.”

The new MI unit will monitor Western groups involved in boycotting Israel, divesting from it or imposing sanctions on it. The unit will also collect information about groups that attempt to bring war crime or other charges against high-ranking Israeli officials, and examine possible links between such organizations and terror groups.

MI decided to create the unit in the wake of investigations of Israel’s deadly takeover in May 2010 of a maritime convoy aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade, which found that the country’s intelligence agencies failed to provide information that could have helped Israel adequately prepare for the violent resistance that naval commandos encountered aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The unit’s other spheres of responsibility have yet to be clearly defined, but are expected to involve pinpointing the subjects that Israel’s other intelligence agencies should investigate, sources said.

The quality of intelligence information about groups aimed at delegitimizing Israel has improved and the quantity has increased in recent months, said an official in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“There is a demand for such information,” he said. “Officials need information on such topics, and it hasn’t always been available in the past, because there was a lack of awareness pertaining to this topic in the intelligence community. The new unit’s orientation will be to collect information and carry out intelligence research for the Foreign Ministry and other government ministries.

The unit has the support of Brig. Gen. (res. ) Yossi Kuperwasser, the director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry and a previous head of MI’s research division. During the second intifada, he pushed for the intelligence community’s large-scale involvement in public advocacy and diplomatic matters, a stance that was criticized by other MI officers.

Aid industry doing no harm in Palestine?: The Electronic Intifada

Samer Abdelnour,  22 March 2011

Discourses of "aid," "development" and "reconstruction" shield Israel's ongoing occupation and colonial project. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)

The “Palestine Papers” reveal fully the extent to which Palestinians have neither genuine leadership nor a partner for peace. At the foreground is an unrepresentative “authority” prepared to compromise the most fundamental of Palestinian aspirations for an unrelenting colonizer and its imperious supporter. In the background lies a key mechanism enabling Palestinian deprivation: the aid industry.

Palestinians are among the most aid-subsidized people on earth. Anne Le More’s International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo demonstrates how $8 billion of post-Oslo aid made its way to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip between 1994 and 2006 for the purposes of development, building Palestinian Authority capacity and increasingly for emergency relief operations. Much of this, it was claimed, was needed to build the institutions necessary for a two-state peace process and to support socioeconomic development.

However, the aid industry is a key factor in Palestinian de-development. Discourses of “aid,” “development” and “reconstruction” shield Israel’s ongoing occupation and colonial project. A full third of the Palestinian Authority budget is aid-subsidized. In addition to funding a distorted Palestinian political system, the aid industry directly removes from Israel the burden of responsibility for the destruction of Palestinian lives, livelihoods and infrastructure. In doing so, it allows Israel to focus its resources and efforts on the acceleration of Palestinian poverty, the expansion of settlements, the expropriation of Jerusalem and the destruction of Gaza.

The blinders through which most aid industry actors operate serve to de-politicize and de-contextualize Palestinian “poverty.” This was evident at a presentation by a representative of a large UN aid agency at a London-based university in late 2010. The presentation outlined a number of initiatives to feed destitute Palestinians and energize the economy of the West Bank, some being replicas of the organization’s work in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

After the presentation, the moderator made clear that the presenter represents an “apolitical” agency and thus would “not field political questions.” Of course, members of the audience could not resist the temptation to ask “political” questions, probing the possibility that de-politicizing aid plays a role in supporting and expediting Palestinian de-development. To this, the presenter posed a troubling dilemma: “Aid saves Palestinian lives.” Surely, it is not enough for aid to “save” Palestinians from their own “poverty,” so that they can continue to endure a devastating occupation and brutal dispossession. Must the choice be starvation on one hand, and on the other, a marginal survival with the dissipation of national aspirations for self-determination and the right of return?

The agency in question is representative of a majority, but not all, of the international aid organizations, agencies and donor projects servicing Palestinians.

By contrast, two international organizations manage to fulfill significant mandates without de-politicizing their work. The first is the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). Writing on the UNRWA-Palestinian relationship, Randa Farah discusses the way in which the UN agency “is of vital importance to the Palestinian national struggle” (“Uneasy but Necessary: The UNRWA-Palestinian Relationship,” Al-Shabaka, 30 November 2010). UNRWA upholds its obligation to UN resolutions as a mechanism for maintaining Palestinian refugee visibility and collective memory, and as an organization embodying the mandate for refugee rights in absence of a functioning national Palestinian consensus. Of course, in the absence of a final settlement, UNRWA does play a significant role in supporting the limbo in which millions of Palestinian refugees exist.

In stark contradiction to UNRWA’s mandate is the support provided to Israel by its largest donors, the United States and the European Commission. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor ($268 million in 2009), and Israel’s largest trading partner and provider of blind political and military support. Next is the European Commission ($232.7 million in 2009), which plays a significant role in Israel’s economy and supports Israeli military research. Together, US and EU support amount to over half of UNRWA’s annual funding. Within the confines of this donor-UNRWA mandate contradiction, UNRWA attempts to operate with full acknowledgment of the political reality and context in which it works. Importantly, it maintains elements of Palestinian rights and aspirations as part of its core mandate.

Next, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLF) recognizes that the institutions of foreign aid create dependencies where local organizations are unable to exert and promote their own agendas and aspirations. RLF explicitly acknowledges the decades-long failure of the aid industry, and that Palestinian social, economic, and institutional capacity will continue to erode without the support of grassroots and progressive political organizing as well as a Palestinian-owned development agenda.

A large number of Palestinian civil society organizations and individuals embody the aspirations of their people through the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Those who support BDS refuse the colonial project of economic normalization and demand a forum through which to express their socioeconomic and political aspirations. In harmony with BDS standards, international aid organizations too must consider the role they — and their donors — play in driving Palestinian de-development.

The aid industry in Palestine must choose between either the blind subsidizing of oppression, or a recognition and cessation of its support for it by adopting Mary B. Anderson’s Do No Harm framework — an approach for analyzing the interrelations between international aid in conflict contexts and the dynamics of those conflicts — as well as codes of ethics developed by the UN, bilateral donors and international and national nongovernmental organizations. Subsidizing a brutal occupation and illegitimate authority translates into the deliberate crushing of Palestinian aspirations and hence the very tools for creating lasting peace. As the world has witnessed through the “Palestine Papers,” when aid is de-politicized, donors and international organizations are able to pour billions of dollars into a colonial project under the masks of institution building and poverty reduction. Standing in stark opposition to the stated objectives of aid to Palestinians is the reality of subjugation so clearly evoked in Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots”: the facade of a government pandering to an uncompromising colonial project bent on the destruction of Palestinian human rights and national aspirations.

As a first step out of this inadvertent (or intended) collaboration, well-meaning aid workers should embrace the Do No Harm framework within their organizations to ensure that their work does not simply serve to “rebuild” what Israel deliberately destroys. Aid organizations and agencies must seriously rethink the claim that their work is “apolitical,” should immediately publicize the extent of potential harm caused throughout their chain of operations and outline a transparent action plan for eliminating potential harm in their work. Areas for consideration include: securing funds from donor countries that support Israeli military or economic activity, objectifying Palestinian “poverty” through literature and marketing materials, working through or with Israeli state agencies and explicating how aid is employed in relation to Israeli policy and military activity.

Aid agencies must attempt to hold Israel politically, fiscally and morally accountable for past and ongoing destruction rather than contributing to the creation and perpetuation of an illusory Palestinian leadership and Palestinian de-development. Otherwise, massive aid subsidies under the masks of “development,” “reconstruction” and “institution-building” make the aid industry complicit in the deliberate devastation of the people it claims to serve.

Samer Abdelnour is completing a PhD in Management at the London School of Economics. His doctoral research examines nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian response, and the role of community and collective enterprise in postwar peace-building and development in Sudan. A version of this essay was first pubilshed by Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

Village of Awarta faced mass arrests, violence and massive destruction during five days of curfew: Palsolidarity ISM

Posted on: March 20, 2011
19 March 2011 | International Solidarity Movement

During the five day curfew in the village of Awarta, south of Nablus, the Israeli military raided homes and detained around 300 people, the youngest 14 years old. Some of the men were taken to the local boy school were they had to leave their finger prints and DNA and some were taken to the military base at Huwwra checkpoint. According to mayor, Qays Awwad, 55 men are still in Israeli custody. Some of the detainees reported that they had been abused by the soliders while they were detained and handcuffed. It has been reported that a 75 year old woman was handcuffed and had to sit on the ground while the soliders went through her home, and that an 80-year-old woman was beaten by soliders.

Three scandinavian ISM activists were in Awarta during the five day curfew, from saturday afternoon until wednesday noon. From the roofs of people’s houses they witnessed how the Israeli soliders went into homes, arrested men and made the familes wait outside while they raided their homes resulting in large scale damage to property. The ISM activists also visited homes that soldiers had searched to find broken windows, cut fuse-cables, smashed furniture, and polluted drinking water caused by Israeli soldiers.

Hundreds of soldiers entered the village in military vehicles early on the morning of the 12th of march, following the murder of five members of a settler family in the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. According to the soliders, they were searching for the murderer and would continue until they found one. One soldier told ISM activists, ”we will search this village until we find someone.” In the process of ”searching” the houses the sodiers damaged framed pictures, funiture, Tv-sets, gasheaters, smashed holes in floors and walls, stole money and jewlery, and poured liquids over computers. The Israeli forces occupied around 30 houses to sleep in during the four nights they remained in Awarta. In some of the houses they evicted the families who had to seak shelter outdoors or in neighbours homes during the night; in others they forced the families to stay in one room as the soldiers occupied the rest of the house. In occupied houses the sodiers deficated in the rooms and used the famlies bed sheets as toilet paper.

Alot of the houses were ”searched” and wrecked up to three times over five days. The soldiers did not seem to follow any apperent pattern when choosing which house to search or who to arrest, ”It all looked very random ” one activist said. In at least one case, on monday the 14th of march, the soldiers still did not know the name of the man that they had previously arrested and had to ask his family for it. The man that they had arrested was village council member Salim Qawaric. Approxametely 25 soliders entered his house causing severe damage on the family’s property while the family had to wait in the backyard. The following day the soldiers came back and searched the home once again resulting in further damage to the family’s home and property.

The ISM activists were not allowed to take pictures, and when they did it anyway, they soldiers pointed their guns at them shouting: ”Do not take pictures!” One of the activists had her memory card stolen by a soldier who took her camera from her by force.

During the curfew many families ran short of gas, food, water and medicine.

There have been numerous reports of physical abuse. According to eyewitnesses, Mashmod Zaqah, 28, had his hands cuffed behind his back and was blindfolded before he was beaten by at least six soldiers during a period of two hours, periodicly he lost consciousness and couldnt feel his legs or fingers. His family managed to smuggle him to Rafidia hospital in Nablus. He suffers a dislocated shoulder, back injuries, and a badly twisted ankle.

Accourding to eyewitnesses, around 300 israeli settlers, of whom some were masked, entered the village on saturday the 12th of March and threw stones at windows, injuring two Awarta residents by breaking their arms. Villagers tried to protect homes while israeli soldiers responded by shooting teargas at the villagers.

It has been reported that children were bitten by the israeli military dogs that the soldiers had with them. A young physically disabled man was bitten by a dog which resulted in his hospitalisation. Loay Medjet Abdet is now scared to go inside his own home because he believes the dogs will attack him again.

For the activists, it was clear that the repression against Awarta was only a form of collective punishment. When one activist asked: ”Why do you have to punish all this people?” The solider responded with: ”We have to punish these people so they will understand.”

Even though this kind of systematic collective punishment is illegal according to International law, is it frequently used by the Israeli military all over the West Bank and in Gaza.

When medical vehicles tried to access the area they were stopped by Israeli forces. ISM activists went to the checkpoint near Awarta on March 15 and reported that ambulances were being held several hours before they could enter the village. As an occupying force, Israel is obligated under article 56 of the Geneva Conventions not to hinder the work of medical personnel in a conflict zone.

Jerusalem’s bookseller to the stars facing deportation: Haaretz

Munther Fahmi, a Palestinian, was born in Jerusalem and lived there until he was 21, when he left for the United States for 20 years.
By Nir Hasson
Munther Fahmi is a well-known figure in Jerusalem’s diplomatic community and among the city’s foreign press corps. A visit to his small bookstore at the American Colony Hotel is a must for anyone seeking to immerse himself in the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his many and well-known patrons are ambassadors, authors and politicians, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

But it appears all the connections in the world are no match for Israel’s Interior Ministry, which is now seeking to have Fahmi deported.

Fahmi, a Palestinian, was born in Jerusalem and lived there until he was 21, when he left for the United States for 20 years. He married in the U.S. and acquired an American passport.

He visited Israel often and ultimately returned to Jerusalem to live in 1993, though his Israeli residency rights were revoked in the interim.

Like most Arab residents of East Jerusalem who chose not to apply for Israeli citizenship, Fahmi had Israeli residency, but not citizenship. Residency is automatically revoked in the event of an absence of many years or the acquisition of citizenship from another country.

Over the past 17 years, Fahmi has entered and left Israel using his American passport and was generally here on a tourist visa. Whenever the visa expired, he would leave the country and reenter so that it would renew.

A year and a half ago, however, Fahmi was informed by the Interior Ministry that his visa would no longer be renewed and he should leave the country permanently.

All of his requests to reconsider in light of the fact that his family and his business are in Jerusalem were turned down. He also filed a petition to the High Court of Justice seeking legal status here.

The three-judge panel suggested that he withdraw his petition and seek permanent resident status through an inter-ministerial humanitarian committee, which has the authority to consider factors beyond the letter of the law. The court also suggested that Fahmi’s lawyer had raised other issues that the Interior Ministry would consider.

His lawyer cited evidence that the center of Fahmi’s life was in Israel and that this could be attested to by a number of Israeli institutions here, including Haaretz and the Steimatzky bookstore chain.

The Interior Ministry said in response that the matter had been considered by the High Court of Justice and that they accepted the state’s position at that time.

Since then, there have been no new developments, the ministry said, adding that if Fahmi files a request to the inter-ministerial humanitarian committee, the matter will be handled according to procedure.

“One way or another,” the ministry said, “what was provided up to this point was a letter sent less than a week ago, and it will be dealt with, as stated in accordance with procedures.”

A petition to Interior Minister Eli Yishai that has been circulated on Fahmi’s behalf has been signed by hundreds of people, including journalists, publishers and academics. The petition notes the importance of Fahmi’s bookstore as a meeting place for authors, diplomats, journalists and others.

US promoting arms trade mission organized by settlement firm: The Electronic Intifada

Jimmy Johnson,  18 March 2011

The United States Department of Commerce and the US embassy in Tel Aviv are co-promoting the Israel Unmanned Systems 2011 trade mission from 27 March to 1 April. Their partner — and the primary organizer — is Airlift, inc., an aerospace and consulting firm based in the settlement of Talpiot Mizrach (East Talpiot) in occupied East Jerusalem. This raises troubling questions about why Washington is promoting the Israeli arms trade and why it is doing so with a firm based in an illegal colony which explicitly contradicts official US policy as well as international law.

Airlift was founded in 2007 by Marc-Philippe Rudel, a French-Israeli electrical engineer and businessman, to “promote economic cooperation and the establishment of global partnerships.” The company brings foreign arms industry and military officials to Israel for arranged business-to-business meetings, specially tailored seminars, industry workshops and visits to major Israeli armament firms and research institutes. Airlift’s website states that its “offices are located in the heart of Jerusalem” but the address given puts them in occupied East Jerusalem. Airlift’s Spanish subsidiary, Airlift Iberia, was established in September 2010.

Though considered a mainstream Jerusalem neighborhood by most Israelis — including Rudel, judging by his activism in the secular liberal/centrist “Awakening in Jerusalem” movement — East Talpiot is unanimously considered an illegal settlement by the international community including the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the US government whose pronouncements consistently oppose Israeli settlements. However, Washington regularly takes actions — such as the recent veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements — to shield Israel from international condemnation and formerly contributed economic aid that was used directly for settlement infrastructure and construction. Promoting a trade mission with a firm based in a settlement points to the latter as being more representative of US policy, in spite of official pronouncements to the contrary. American sponsorship comes at a time when governments like Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are actively distancing themselves from settlement-related businesses. Requests for comment from the US State Department and Department of Commerce were not answered.

The trade mission’s program includes visits to the facilities of several Israeli arms manufacturers deeply involved in the occupation. Israel Aerospace Industries, Aeronautics Defense Systems, BlueBird Aero Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are all on the schedule for the visiting delegation as well as an “upscale” reception at the US embassy in Tel Aviv. There will also be panels on the market for unmanned systems (drones) and an optional tour on the last day through the occupied Old City of Jerusalem.

Israel is a world-leader in the design and export of unmanned systems, especially unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It also deploys them extensively in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and over Lebanon. This battlefield experience, the history of deployment in service of military occupation, is a key marketing aspect for the tools. The website for the trade mission notes, for example, that BlueBird Aero Systems is an “official supplier of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli Air Force.”

There is already a history of partnerships between Israeli UAV manufacturers and American arms and aerospace firms, some of which pre-date Airlift’s founding. Boeing, AAI and General Dynamics have all signed marketing agreements to promote Aeronautics Defense Systems models in the US. General Dynamics also helps promote Elbit Systems models, and Advanced Ceramics Research and Cubic Advanced Tactical Systems formerly helped market Rafael’s now-discontinued Skylite drone. These firms and others are also engaged in research and development for their own production of UAVs. It is only the US arms industry’s UAVs, in fact, which compete with those from Israel.

This is also not Airlift’s first joint mission with the US Department of Commerce. In January 2010, they jointly organized and promoted the Israel Space 2010 Trade Mission which brought participants from Brazil, Belgium and the US to learn about and engage with many of the same arms manufacturers involved in the pending Unmanned Systems mission. Airlift regularly participates in trade and aerospace events promoted by the French, Brazilian, Canadian and other embassies. Rudel too is a consultant in charge of the aerospace industry sector for the Economic Mission of the Embassy of France.

The promoters are well aware that the same battlefield experience that gives Israeli UAVs a marketing edge is also a potential liability. A document from the 2010 Space Trade Mission available on the US Department of Commerce’s BuyUSA.gov website notes that “geo-political concerns” are “potential obstacles” to Israeli firms tapping international markets more successfully. A recent example of this was Brazil’s hesitancy in buying Israeli UAVs, as revealed by Wikileaks. The 2009 US diplomatic cable notes that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim prepared arrangements to “prevent Brazil [from] having to buy UAVs from Israel, which had become politically sensitive” (15 January 2009 diplomatic cable, Wikileaks). With the increasing activity and popularity of the boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts aimed at ending the occupation, perhaps “potential obstacles” to future sales will prove more formidable.

Jimmy Johnson lives in Detroit and runs www.NegedNeshek.org, a news, data and analysis project researching Israeli arms exports. He can be reached at jimmy [at] negedneshek [dot] org.

Egypt in strong position to raise gas price to Israel: Minister of Petroleum: Ahram Online

Subsidies are the target of new Egyptian minister of petroleum’s agenda, due to popular support; Israel gas subsidies are on the negotiation table but local subsidies are untouched
Monday 21 Mar 2011
Egypt is in a strong position to raise gas price to all importers, Minister of Petroleum, Abdallah Ghurab stated on Monday in a press conference.

Ghurab revealed that Egypt is negotiating with Jordan and Israel to raise export prices. Currently, they receive a generous below-market discount on gas from Egypt, which Egyptians resent, particularly with regard to Israel.

“Public opinion and pressure supports the difficult negotiations we are leading now with Israel” stated Ghurab. The minister declined, however, to unveil the current price of Egyptian exported gas.

He did promise to bow to public opinion by changing the price of gas and announcing shortly an index price. “This will affect our contracts with other importers,” he nailed the point.

Egypt exports 4 per cent of their gas to Israel, according to figures released in the press conference by the head of petrol authority, who was appointed ten days ago.

Regarding local subsidies, the minister of petroleum vows to keep the price of gas barrels untouched at LE3, but says, grudgingly “…I find it strange that consumers pay LE15 a barrel to a private trader but refuse to allow the government to raise its original price by [even] one pound.”

Ghurab calculates that the energy subsidy bill, which is currently budgeted at LE72bn will rise by LE10bn to LE82bn, due to a hike in international oil prices.

Egypt produces 700 thousand barrels a day and 6.3m cubic metres of natural gas. “If all of this was sold at market price the government would be rich,” he says. Nevertheless, subsidies will remain untouched “because this is a sovereign decision,” rather than economic one.

Energy subsidies in Egypt are criticised as it benefits the rich more than the poor.

 

 

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March 5, 2011

‘Construction in West Bank settlements quadrupled since end of temporary freeze’: Haaretz

According to data by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, settlers began building over 114 houses during the 10-month settlement freeze, and began construction of over 427 houses since October 2010.
Since the end of the settlement moratorium five months ago, the construction rate in West Bank neighborhoods has quadrupled, data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed Saturday.

According to the data, over 114 housing units that settlers started building during the 10-month settlement freeze have been completed, as well as over 1,175 housing units which were started before the temporary moratorium.

The data also reveals that construction of over 427 housing units has begun since October 2010.

The Central Bureau of Statistics noted, however, that the data is based on partial information, and that there has also been a dramatic rise in illegal construction in West Bank outposts that has not been officially documented.

The data does not include caravans and tents that are often placed in illegal outposts to settle the land.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been on hold since Israel’s 10-month freeze on new settlements expired at the end of September 2010.

Is entertaining dictators worse than normalizing apartheid?: The Electronic Intifada

Nada Elia and Laurie King, 3 March 2011

As revolutions continue to sweep the Arab world, and the days of dictators seem numbered, we are learning a lot about the ties and alliances that have long characterized the west’s dealing with tyrants around the globe. “Stability,” apparently, requires us to make deals with the devil. And so we discover that the United States has long known about the human rights abuses of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, deposed Tunisian president Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But it was willing nonetheless not only to turn a blind eye to these, but even to enable and fund, directly or indirectly, oppressive regimes, for the sake of what exactly? Oil? Corporations? The so-called “peace process?” Iraqi “freedom?” Israel’s security?

And as Arab tyrants are challenged, one by one, social media are abuzz with the embarrassing and numerous compliments and kind remarks that western heads of state, academics, pundits, and entertainers have given these deposed dictators. In a typical statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, said in 2009: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” Apparently, the Clinton-Mubarak friendship goes back about 20 years. Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, a close friend of Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son and fourth in line to the British throne, has been a guest at Windsor Castle and Buckingham palace. The list is long.

But as the people seem determined to overthrow all those oppressive regimes, liberal Americans are openly questioning the wisdom and morality of “dealing with the devil.” In a highly critical segment on Anderson Cooper’s program AC 360, Cooper, a CNN journalist exhibiting an unusual level of courage and integrity among mainstream American media personalities, called out the various US presidents who have welcomed Gaddafi into their diplomatic circles, even as they acknowledged his tendency towards malice and mental instability, best epitomized by Ronald Reagan’s name for him: “the madman of the desert” (KTH: The West and Gadhafi’s regime,” 24 February 2011).

In that same episode, Cooper was critical of American artists Beyonce, Usher, and Mariah Carey, all three of whom gave private performances for the Gaddafis. Carey apparently received one million dollars for performing four songs for the Gaddafis on New Year in 2009. The following year, it was Beyonce and Usher who graced the Libyan dictator’s New Year’s celebration. Cooper asked why artists would perform for tyrants, and suggested that they donate the money they received to the Libyan people.

The news item was quickly picked up by other media. Rolling Stone magazine also ran an article stating that the music industry is lashing out at these artists, and quoting David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire and many other acts, as saying “Given what we know about Qaddafi and what his rule has been about, you have to willfully turn a blind eye in order to accept that money, and I don’t think it’s ethical” (Industry Lashes Out at Mariah, Beyonce and Others Who Played for Qaddafi’s Family,” 25 February 2011).

Amid all this uproar, Canadian singer Nelly Furtado announced on Twitter that she would donate to charity a one million dollar fee she received to perform for the Gaddafi family in 2007 (“Nelly Furtado to give away $1 million Gaddafi fee,” Reuters, 1 March 2011).

Those of us who have long been engaged in Palestine justice activism cannot help but notice glaring double-standards in these denunciations of the various deals with devils. And at this critical point in the history of the Arab world, we must request that our readers begin to “connect the dots” throughout the region. Is entertaining dictators a lesser crime than normalizing Israeli apartheid?

Why hold artists accountable for performing at the behest of tyrants, and let them off the hook for whitewashing Israel’s regime which engages in massive human rights abuses, all subsidized by the United States government?

Why not call out Beyonce, Usher, Mariah Carey, and so many other artists, all of whom have performed in Israel, a state which practices a form of apartheid worse than anything the South African apartheid government had ever done? In 1973, the United Nations General Assembly defined the crime of Apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” As Israel’s official policy privileges Jewish nationals over non-Jewish citizens, creating de facto and de jure discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian people, it is hard to dispute that this supposed “democracy” is in reality an apartheid state.

Many of the discriminatory measures Israel practices today were unthought of in apartheid South Africa. In his powerful essay, “Apartheid in the Holy Land,” penned shortly after his return from a visit to the West Bank, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa” (“Apartheid in the Holy Land,” The Guardian, 29 April 2002).

In 2009, a comprehensive study by South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council confirmed that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories.

That study was inspired by the observations of John Dugard, South African law professor and former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who wrote in 2006: “Israel’s large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassination of Palestinians far exceeded any similar practices in apartheid South Africa. No wall was ever built to separate blacks and whites.” And no roads were ever built for whites only in South Africa either, while Israel continues to build Jewish-only roads, cutting through the Palestinian landscape.

Israel’s form of apartheid includes the crippling blockade of Gaza; the ongoing seizure of Palestinian land and water sources; construction of the West Bank apartheid wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague; the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem; the denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees and discriminatory laws and mounting threats of expulsion against the 1.2 million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship.

And as word inevitably gets out, because we are no longer pleading for permission to narrate, but seizing our right to expose these crimes, Israel is hard at work trying to fix its image, without changing the policies and actions that have tarnished that image. As it cements its apartheid policies, Israel is funneling millions of dollars into burnishing its public image as a culturally vibrant, progressive, and thriving democracy.

Among its PR moves is the cultural “Re-Brand” campaign. Israel is intentionally inviting international artists to such “hip” places as Tel Aviv to mask the ugly face of occupation, apartheid, displacement, and dispossession. If we are to hold artists accountable for their choice of performance venues and income sources — as indeed we should — then we should hold them accountable for complicity in normalizing apartheid no less than for entertaining dictators.

In an important article that appeared in The Grio, Lori Adelman also asks: “Why are black pop stars performing at the behest of dictators?” before making the comparison to Sun City, the extravagant whites-only entertainment resort city in apartheid South Africa. And she reminds her readers of the impact of the Artists United Against Apartheid music project, which contributed one million dollars for anti-Apartheid efforts and, most importantly, raised awareness about the global power of artists to influence political discourse on human rights issues (“Why are black pop stars performing at the behest of dictators?,” 24 February 2011).

Today, there is global awareness of Israel’s numerous crimes. And there is a call for artists to boycott Israel, until the country abides by international law. The call was issued in 2005 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (www.pacbi.org/). In the US, where we live, the campaign is coordinated by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. When we learn of an artist who is planning to perform in Tel Aviv, we contact them, inform them of the reality on the ground (should they need such information), and urge them to reconsider and cancel any concerts they may have scheduled. Many have already done so, including the industry’s biggest names: Carlos Santana, Bono, The Pixies, Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron. Folk legend Pete Seeger also recently announced his support for boycotting Israel.

In what may be the most eloquent statement to date, Costello wrote: “One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament. Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent. … Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way” (“It Is After Considerable Contemplation …,” 15 May 2010).

Today, Artists Against Apartheid are still around, and they are active in promoting the boycott of a country that is practicing apartheid in the 21st century, namely Israel. The question should be, then, if artists boycotted Sun City, shouldn’t they also boycott Tel Aviv? Why the outrage when Beyonce entertains Gaddafi, but not when Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and so many more, entertain apartheid in Israel?

Laurie King, an anthropologist, is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.

Nada Elia is a member of the Organizing Committee of USACBI, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Facebook).

The people of Libya want freedom, Obama wants oil! by Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Winds of Change blow hard

It seems that the general disenchantment with the so-called ‘Two State Solution’ has reached an all time high. This ploy is now seen to be what it has always been – a crude attempt to derail Palestinians from even trying to achieve freedom and equality as well as full political rights, by continuously dangling this mantra in front of them. There has never been such a ‘solution’, as far as Israel is concerned – it was a way of getting international support while enlarging and enhancing its illegal settlements, and acquiring more control over the land and its resources, while oppressing the Palestinian population.

As this understanding is now widely spread, and the talk of a single state is also spreading and advancing, Netanyahu is forced to speak against it. This must be a sign of the growing strength of this tendency.

Netanyahu: Binational state would be disastrous for Israel: Haaretz

Comment comes as Prime Minister expected to present Mideast peace initiative after weeks of intense international pressure over the apparent peace talks deadlock.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected in the coming weeks to put forward a peace initiative in a bid to break through the deadlock in the peace process and extricate Israel from international isolation.

Netanyahu has warned in recent days during closed meetings that “a binational state would be disastrous for Israel,” and therefore it is necessary to undertake a political move that will remove this threat.

In recent weeks the prime minister has come under intense international pressure over Israel’s policies. Europe’s unequivocal stance against Israel at the Security Council vote on the issue of the settlements, the rebuke that accompanied the U.S. veto, and the unpleasant telephone exchange with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week reportedly shook Netanyahu.

Moreover, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations are working together to push through an unprecedented agreement during the Quartet’s meeting in Paris in a week. According to the draft of the agreement that is being passed between the parties, the Quartet will declare that a Palestinian state will be established on the basis of the 1967 borders, with some land swaps.

In some of the drafts East Jerusalem is mentioned as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office say that in recent weeks Netanyahu has been talking with the Obama administration in order to formulate a program that would restart the peace process.

His adviser, Ron Dermer, flew secretly to Washington a week ago and met with senior White House officials. U.S. envoys Dennis Ross and Fred Hoff also visited Israel and met with Netanyahu.

“The prime minister has realized that the political impasse is not working in favor of Israel,” one of Netanyahu’s advisers said.

“Following a few weeks of revolution in the Arab world he is convinced that there are opportunities, not just threats, and that it is important to take advantage of the situation that was created in order to restart the peace process and put an end to the unilateral initiatives of the Palestinians.”

In private talks recently, Netanyahu has reportedly begun discussing the growing threat of a binational state.

“This trend will intensify and become stronger,” Netanyahu told his advisers. “However there are those in Israel who think that one state is a good idea. I think it is a disaster.”

Netanyahu would like to announce his peace plan in a speech in the coming weeks. One of the ideas being considered is that Netanyahu would speak before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Washington for an AIPAC conference in May, but his advisers are trying to move the trip to an earlier date. Discussion of a speech before a joint session was central to the talks between the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House.

A well-positioned Israeli source said that at this stage U.S. President Barack Obama and his advisers are reluctant to run with the idea over fears it has the imprint of talks between Netanyahu’s advisers and Republic Congressmen. Moreover, the White House is not yet convinced that Netanyahu’s speech will have sufficient substance for it to constitute a political breakthrough.

“The prime minister wants to move ahead substantively but he wants to know that he has American backing,” one of Netanyahu’s advisers said. “If the U.S. administration goes with him, he is willing to undertake compromises and take difficult steps.”

A senior source in Netanyahu’s bureau said that the prime minister had held talks about how to proceed forward with a small number of advisers, including ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, in order to avoid leaks. Defense Minister Ehud Barak participated in some of the meetings.

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March 1, 2011

EDITOR: panic stations in Jerusalem

With most of its strategic assets in the Middle East tottering or gone, the west is looking to secure the few left, and especially the Israel/Palestine ‘peace’, which is neither dead nor alive. The warmonger Tony Blair is leading this assault on the Palestinians, trying to get some movement before the Palestinian population joins the other Arab masses in revolt. It is also an attempt to prove to the other Arab nations that the west really cares about Palestine’s future… Fat chance of anything new coming out of this tired kitchen of lies.

Mideast Quartet due in Israel in bid to restart peace talks: Haaretz

Netanyahu refuses to send Israeli representatives to Quartet meeting in Brussels Wednesday, where they will meet with the Palestinians, so Quartet officials to come to Israel in compromise.

Mideast Quartet officials are due to arrive in Israel next week to meet with advisers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to discuss new efforts to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators – the United States, United Nations, Russia, and European Union – will meet in Brussels in order to discuss possible steps to renew the peace process.

Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 4, 2011. Photo by: Moshe Milner

Israeli and Palestinian representatives were invited to the meeting, however Netanyahu decided not to cooperate and not send his adviser and peace talks representative Yitzhak Molcho to Brussels.

The Palestinians, however, have sent Saeb Erekat, who recently resigned from his position as chief Palestinian negotiator.

Netanyahu has voiced his reservations to the meeting, fearing that by agreeing he would open the door to international influence on the terms of the renewed talks.

Netanyahu told the Quartet members that he will only send his adviser Molcho if there would be a joint meeting between him and Erekat, but the Palestinians opposed the idea and demanded separate meetings.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office indicated that Netanyahu had been in contact with the U.S. administration in an attempt to find out the purpose of the Brussels session, and its purported goals, before making his final decision, but did not receive answers.

Netanyahu was about to announce that he plans to completely boycott the meeting, but at the end the sides arrived at a compromise wherein Quarter officials will arrive in Jerusalem next week and meet with Molcho. “At the moment we understood there will not be direct negotiations, we had no reason to fly there (Brussels),” said a source in the Prime Minister’s Office.

In two weeks, a meeting of foreign ministers of the Quartet will take place in Paris, where potential solutions to the core peace issues would be presented. The Russian foreign minister said Sunday that the purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the borders of a future Palestinian state and the security arrangements that Israel is demanding.

EDITOR: Al Araqib, the little symbol of Palestine, destroyed again

Read aout the 18th destruction of this village, by the combined Axis of Zionist evil: the IDF, the Jewish National Fund, and the God TV Channel. Could there be a more bizarre, more toxic combination? This Israeli answer to the regional uprising promises to deliver more anger and frustration about this colonial hub in the heart of the Arab world, continuing its poisonous work supported by Blair, Obama and Berlusconi.

The Israelis keep bulldozing their village, but still the Bedouin will not give up their land: The Guardian

The tiny village of al-Arakib has been torn down by the Israeli authorities 18 times in seven months, but each time the Bedouin rebuild their homes
Harriet Sherwood
The rutted track to al-Arakib leaves the desert highway at a sharp right angle through an unmarked gap in the roadside barrier. It’s easy to miss, to be swept past with the stream of traffic heading through the sun-hardened and windswept landscape of the Negev.

A Bedouin woman among the ruins of her home in al-Arakib after it was torn down by the Israeli authorities. Photograph: AFP

About a kilometre from the main road, you come first to the village cemetery, where the oldest grave dates from 1914, and a corrugated iron barn that serves as the mosque and now a communal kitchen and shelter. Then, across a trough in the land, you see the remnants of the Bedouin village: four simple wooden frames whose tarpaulin covers are continually thrashed by the relentless wind. This is all that’s left of a once-thriving community after a seven-month war of attrition that has pitted the Bedouin villagers against the Israeli army, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and a Christian evangelical television channel called God TV. And the struggle is not over.

Since 27 July, the village has been demolished at least 18 times, most recently last Thursday. Each time the bulldozers and soldiers come at dawn to tear down the makeshift structures that have replaced the 40 concrete buildings that used to house the villagers, the men of al-Arakib rebuild them. Each time their footprint gets a little smaller.

Although the villagers say they have deeds to the land proving ownership since 1906, al-Arakib is “unrecognised” – meaning the state of Israel regards its very existence as illegitimate. Israel declared the land state property shortly after the 1948 war, and in recent years has accelerated efforts to drive the Bedouin into designated townships.

The villagers stand in the way of a government-backed JNF project to encourage Jewish settlement in the sparsely populated Negev and create a forest by planting half a million trees paid for by God TV. Launched in the UK in 1995 but now broadcasting globally from Jerusalem, God TV is part of a Christian Zionist movement that believes the Jews must return to the Holy Land as a pre-requisite of the Second Coming of Christ. In videos posted on its website, founder Rory Alec speaks of an “instruction from God” to “prepare the land for return of my Son”. He takes supporters to the Negev to plant saplings and urges others to make donations to fund the trees the TV channel has pledged to supply.

Afforestation has become a tool of the Judaisation of the Negev, says Oren Yiftachel, professor of political geography at the nearby Ben-Gurion University. The authorities have uprooted thousands of olive trees to replace them with “Jewish trees”. It’s only our trees that matter, he says wryly.

The new saplings, struggling to take root in the arid soil, are visible from the tent where Aziz Sayah Abu Mdagem sips sweet tea brewed in a blackened kettle over a kindling fire. This is our land, he says; we will not give it up. He describes the first demolition as a scene from a battlefield: hundreds of soldiers dragging screaming women and children from their homes before the bulldozers crushed the buildings. Special forces troops on horseback and on motorbikes surrounded the area as helicopters clattered overhead.

A shed housing the village’s chickens was flattened, killing all the birds inside. Trees – olive, citrus and almond – were uprooted. He shows us a collection of rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and spent stun grenades collected from successive demolitions.

Some of the traumatised children have been unable to speak since, he says. They wet their beds, they call out in their sleep. He shows a picture from an album of a pile of rubble. This, he says, is the children’s playground now. Later, he points to fresh furrows ploughed in the baked ground in preparation for tree-planting. “Every day they dig the land closer,” he says.

The JNF says its afforestation plan in the Negev is for the benefit of all inhabitants, but Abu Mdagem finds it hard to see how the destruction of their homes is a positive move for the Bedouin villagers. The JNF acknowledges the donation of trees from God TV but is reluctant to discuss the partnership.

God TV did not respond to a request for comment, but recently posted a message on its website, saying that claims that the evangelical channel is responsible for the displacement of the Bedouin people are false. It says its tree-planting endeavours, which are an “apostolic, prophetic act”, are simply part of “an effort to restore the desert places to the lush green land it once was, preparing the Holy Land for the return of the King of Kings”.

The struggle to save the village has won support from Jewish activists and intellectuals, including the celebrated Israeli novelist Amos Oz. Al-Arakib was, he said, a ticking time-bomb.

In the now near-deserted village, Abu Mdagem shows us the mosque, where mattresses are piled against one wall and cooking utensils line another. This is where the women and children of the village sleep at night, he says. He weaves through the stone-covered mounds in the adjacent cemetery to take us to the oldest grave, which, he says, proves their connection with the land.

During demolitions, the villagers seek refuge among the dead, believing the soldiers will not pursue them on to sacred ground. But recently even that has not proved safe, with shots and tear gas being fired into the cemetery.

“This is our life now,” Abu Mdagem says, threading prayer beads through his fingers. “We live together with the dead people in the cemetery.”

Israeli settlers hit back after army demolishes their West Bank homes: The Guardian

Call for a ‘day of rage’ as hardliners attack Palestinian villages and block roads in Jerusalem
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
A Palestinian woman displays a burnt mattress and other damage allegedly caused by Jewish settlers after a petrol bomb was thrown into her house in the West Bank village of Hiwwara near Nablus. Photograph: Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters
Hardline Israeli settlers have called for a “day of rage” on Thursday in protest at the army’s demolition of an outpost in the West Bank. Settlers also launched attacks on Palestinian villages and blocked main roads in Jerusalem.

Havat Gilad, a hilltop settlement near Nablus built without government authorisation, was destroyed early on Monday, sparking clashes between activists and soldiers, in which the army fired rubber bullets and teargas canisters. The outpost’s occupants vowed to rebuild the settlement.

Later, hardline settlers burned tyres and blocked roads in Jerusalem and smashed the windscreens of Palestinian cars in the West Bank. Homes and cars in two Palestinian villages were attacked on Tuesday in what settlers described as “price tag” action in retaliation for Israeli government measures against settlements.

Flyers calling for further action on Thursday were distributed. They urged a “day of rage following the pogrom on Havat Gilad and the ongoing destruction on the hilltops … no more silence”.

Demolition of the outpost follows international pressure on the Israeli government to curb settlement building, to encourage a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. A UN security council resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem won the support of 14 out of 15 countries, including the UK. The US used its veto for the first time under President Barack Obama to block the resolution.

The Israeli government decided this week to dismantle all unauthorised outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land, in a move which is likely to spark further clashes. However, it will simultaneously begin moves to make official unauthorised outposts built on West Bank land under Israeli control. All settlements in occupied territory are illegal under international law.

An Israeli soldier who lives at the Havat Gilad outpost held a press conference in Jerusalem to say that he would not return to military duty. “The [Israeli Defence Forces] sent troops to destroy my home and to shoot at my friends,” he said. “I do not intend to return to the army until I finish rebuilding the ruins.” The IDF said it viewed his actions as grave.

In whose name does Dutch FM Rosenthal speak?: The Electronic Intifada

Rifat Odeh Kassis, 1 March 2011

In recent months, a number of Latin American countries have publicly expressed their recognition of Palestinian statehood. Given that a Palestinian state doesn’t yet exist, this recognition also amounts to supporting the Palestinian right to statehood. For Israel and defenders of its policies around the world, the “snowball effect” of nations recognizing this right is, unsurprisingly, unnerving.

One such defender is Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. In an 8 February interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rosenthal argued why he believes international support for a Palestinian declaration of statehood “does no good” (“Dutch FM: Recognition of Palestinian state does no good”).

But what strikes me most about the interview is not the straightforwardness of his opposition. Rather, I am struck by what his opposition barely manages to mask: the hypocrisy of his rhetoric on “negotiations” and “democratic values;” a repressive attitude toward what he characterizes as “inflammatory language regarding Israel” within the EU; a betrayal both of the Netherlands’ strong record of commitment to international law and of his responsibilities as the representative of that commitment; and, ultimately, a glimpse of the hypocritical and increasingly repressive policies seen in the EU toward victims and critics of the State of Israel.

Part of what Rosenthal clearly opposes is a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Dutch policy is also changing along these lines: the Dutch parliament recently passed a resolution that calls for the government to oppose EU recognition of a Palestinian state. But Rosenthal doesn’t utter a word of objection to the unilateral steps taken by Israel.

Israel has illegally annexed East Jerusalem, demolished Palestinian homes there and elsewhere (and even entire towns — the military recently destroyed the Bedouin village of al-Araqib for the 18th time). It has confiscated vast amounts of Palestinian land to build its apartheid wall — the route of which was illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague — and to protect terrain for illegal settlements. In violation of international law, it encourages its civilian population to inhabit those settlements (which have eaten away at more than 40 percent of the West Bank), practiced brutal detention policies, restricted freedom of movement and other fundamental liberties, tried children in military courts, put the Gaza Strip under a state of permanent siege and killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza (including 352 children) during its winter 2008-09 bombardment.

The list of unilateral acts — the list of crimes — goes on and on. Rosenthal claims to oppose decisions taken by governments without balanced, negotiated political processes. But if this were really true, he would understand the need to bring Israeli officials and military officers responsible for such crimes to the International Criminal Court in The Hague instead of defending
Israel’s actions in The Jerusalem Post.

Yet Rosenthal not only defends Israel in the Israeli press; he is also doing so under the auspices of, and with the responsibilities endowed to him by, his own parliament. Indeed, as The Jerusalem Post states, “Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, was characterized recently by Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwartzenberg as one of the two most active supporters of Israel among EU foreign ministers.” And he defines himself as “among the ones” in the EU who “regularly try to warn against unnecessary inflammatory language” and its “disproportionate” application to Israel. He recommends a “restrained attitude” to his EU partners when it comes to potential initiatives regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; he staunchly disagrees with the suggestion that Israel’s image within the EU is “the lowest it has been in decades,” saying that there are many “balanced conclusions vis-a-vis the Middle East peace process.”

Such “restraint” not only condones policies that flagrantly violate international law and human rights, then, but also seeks to prohibit other EU countries from engaging in positive, proactive initiatives that might bring the conflict closer to an end. He is an influential proponent of the increasingly hypocritical EU stance on the Israeli occupation. This stance praises the meaningless concessions wrung out of diplomatic efforts (as Rosenthal praises Israel for becoming more “lenient” with respect to goods from Gaza, at the urging of the Dutch government) without recognizing that these band-aids only serve to prolong our occupation and subjugation.

Moreover, by defending Israel’s injustices through public office, Rosenthal thus makes his own country a partner in their perpetuation. The Dutch people are well-admired throughout the world as prioritizing human rights and international law; they, then, are being damaged and degraded by Rosenthal’s audacity. The Dutch people must know that their foreign minister is sacrificing the image of The Netherlands for the sake of Israel — that he is working hard to represent Israel’s interests while tarnishing those of his own country — and they should reject this insult, this injury.

While Rosenthal describes part of his work as to “warn” against “unnecessary inflammatory language” toward the Israeli state, this actually amounts to a justification of the government’s right to censor, repress criticism and create political blacklists. Rosenthal’s rhetoric and policies go hand-in-hand with those of Zionist lobbies like NGO Monitor and CIDI (The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel), which bully, harass and defame civil society groups exposing the truth about the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses. (It is worth mentioning that a CIDI board member, Doron Livnat, is the director of Riwal, a European company that produces access equipment and rents large-scale cranes for construction sites, and which has assisted in building the wall and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Riwal’s headquarters in Dordrecht, Netherlands, was raided and searched by the Dutch National Crime Squad after Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, levied criminal complaints against its activities.)

For instance, NGO Monitor recently slammed ICCO, a Dutch international development organization, for financing The Electronic Intifada. (ICCO is also under fire from CIDI for supporting the Olive Tree Campaign “Keep Hope Alive,” realized by the YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative. NGO Monitor vilified The Electronic Intifada and condemned ICCO by association. Rosenthal’s response? “I will look into the matter personally,” he said. If ICCO’s funding proves to be true, “it will have a serious problem with me,” he warned.

Is this the level that Rosenthal — not to mention the lobbies who share his tactics of finger-pointing, threats and repression — has stooped to? Persecuting organizations and publications that support human rights and social justice for Palestinians as “delegitimizing” and “anti-Semitic,” publicly smearing them and seeking to sabotage not only their work but also their rights to free speech and free press? This is an appalling position for a democratic representative to have, ostensibly part of an apparatus designed to uphold those rights in the first place.

These targeted campaigns led by European lobbies against Palestinian and Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), publications and advocacy groups are particularly chilling in light of similar campaigns being initiated in the Israeli Knesset: specifically, its moves to establish a committee for investigating the funding sources of certain (politically targeted) NGOs. In his interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rosenthal declined to comment on whether this initiative was “undemocratic,” saying “There is no reason to hide anything. I am in favor of transparency,” and “a vivid and lively civil society, where NGOs are a part of it, is very important.”

Rosenthal’s ongoing contradictions, and their echo within the policies of European governments, are astonishing. He claims to support transparency, not to mention the vividness and liveliness of civil society, while only acting repressively against groups and individuals he disagrees with. He says, free of irony, that the presence of NGOs in civil society is “very important,” when he supports a smear campaign against NGOs in his own civil society. And he praises the ideals of civil society itself while simultaneously practicing another campaign — silence — when it comes to Israel’s repression of the NGOs whose existence he finds so valuable in abstract.

Foreign Minister Rosenthal’s pronouncements on the Israeli government are so blind, so brazen, so hypocritical and so unjust that I am sometimes surprised he can utter them comfortably in his own name. But when we consider his vocal and prominent role in the parliament of his own country, and in the political arena of others’, it is especially important for all communities and individuals he attempts to represent (Jewish, Israeli, Dutch, European, etc.) to say loud and clear: “Not in our name.”

Rifat Kassis is International President of Defence for Children International (DCI) and General Director of its section in Palestine. He is also Coordinator and Spokesperson of Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth.

EDITOR: Israel is joining the regional wave of delusional leaders

The last few weeks have proven beyond any doubt that most of the rulers in the Middle East are not just brutal tyrants, but are also not connected to the real world, living in a separate, delusional layer of their own projections. Below is proof that Israel is part of this trend.

Deputy FM warns Islamist regimes could take over Arab world: Haaretz

Danny Ayalon warns that the anti-government uprisings in Arab countries could follow model of ‘Hamas in Gaza’ and ‘Hezbollah in Lebanon.’

Democratic uprisings that have already unseated long-standing autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and are threatening to topple Moammar Gadhafi in Libya may be taken over by Islamist groups, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Tuesday.

“The fear is that they will be hijacked, (following the) the model of Iran, the model of Hamas in Gaza, the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ayalon said during a visit to Brussels.

To stave off an Iran-like scenario, Ayalon urged the European Union and other international players to reach out to “genuine” pro- democracy groups, such as the January 25 movement that organized protests in Egypt.

Egypt’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, described his comments as “a blatant and clear event of interference in foreign affairs.”

Ayalon suggests “Israel would object to the Muslim Brotherhood being part of a future government and would work on banning the group from standing in any upcoming elections.”

In a statement on their website, the group also said it had “long renounced violence.”

The deputy FM said Israel would have no qualms with dealing with an Egyptian government supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, as long as the party renounced its radicalism.

“For us it is not a matter of titles, it is a matter of policies, and if the policies are peaceful policies, I think that we will welcome any Egyptian representative,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the uprisings proved that the Arab-Israeli conflict was not the most serious issue for the region.

“The real major problem of the Middle East, which is now so glaringly evident, is the dysfunctionality of the Arab societies,” he said, pointing to unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, lack of female empowerment and “rights of any kind.”

Rebels form military council in Libya’s Benghazi: Ahram online

Anti-Gaddafi forces form military council in the East and defend city in the West. Int’l pressure steps up as Gaddafi plans more attacks, using elite squad

Defected Libyan soldiers stand guard with their weapons outside an army base in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya, (AP).
Anti-regime leaders in Benghazi said Tuesday they have formed a military council in the eastern Libyan city which has become the hub of efforts to topple Moammar Gaddafi.

The council, comprising officers who joined protesters against Gaddafi’s rule, will liaise with similar groups in other freed cities in the east but it was not immediately clear if there were plans for a regional command.

“A military council was formed last night,” said Salwa Bughaighi, a member of a coalition of organisers who earlier this week set up a civilian council to run the city’s municipal affairs.

She said the list of members of the military committee had not yet been finalised but it did not include General Abdel Fatah Yunis, a former interior minister who sided with protesters in Benghazi.

The former minister gained respect among any protesters after he defected to their side during the fighting in Benghazi.

The council would liaise with similar organisations in other freed cities in the east, Bughaighi said.
Fathi Terbeel, a prominent lawyer who is also a member of the coalition, said there were still disputes over the membership of the council and added it was still unclear when a regional command would be established.

“There are still reservations over the names. The people are favouring officers who joined the revolution from the start and did not hesitate,” he said.

Gaddafi faces growing pressure both at home and from the West following a show of defiance by the veteran leader the US dubbed “delusional.”

Pro-Gaddafi loyalists tried to retake a key city near the capital overnight.

Government opponents in rebel-held Zawiya repelled an attempt by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi to retake the city closest to the capital in six hours of fighting overnight, witnesses said Tuesday.

The rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli.

A similar attempt was made by pro-Gadhafi forces Monday night to retake the city of Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli. Rebel forces there repelled the attackers.

“We will not give up Zawiya at any price,” said one witness. “We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero.”

Gaddafi, Libya’s ruler of 41 years, has already lost control of the eastern half of the country since protests demanding his ouster began two weeks ago. He still holds the capital Tripoli and nearby cities.

The witnesses said youths from Zawiya were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gaddafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Gaddafi has launched the most brutal crackdown of any Arab regime facing a wave of anti-government uprisings spreading quickly around the Middle East. International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.

The US moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation’s skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the US and the UN. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the US and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

“Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone,” she added. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: “We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets” to deal with Gaddafi’s regime.

Gaddafi laughed off a question from ABC News about whether he would step down, as the Obama administration is demanding.

“My people love me. They would die for me,” he said. ABC reported that Gaddafi invited the United Nations or any other organisation to Libya on a fact-finding mission.

Gaddafi’s remarks were met with derision in Washington.

“It sounds, just frankly, delusional,” said US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. She added that Gaddafi’s behavior, including laughing on camera in TV interviews amid the chaos, “underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality.”

On Monday night, an Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Gaddafi force massed on the western edge of Zawiya, with about a dozen armored vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Gaddafi’s sons who commands it. US diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.

“We were able to repulse the attack. We damaged a tank with an RPG. The mercenaries fled after that,” said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

He said Gaddafi called Zawiya’s influential tribal leader Mohammed al-Maktouf and warned him that if the rebels don’t leave the city’s main square by early Tuesday, they will be hit by warplanes. “We are expecting a major battle,” the resident said, adding that the rebels killed eight soldiers and mercenaries Monday.

Another resident of Zawiya said he heard gunfire well into the night on the outskirts of town.

In Misrata, pro-Gadhafi troops who control part of an air base on the city’s outskirts tried to advance Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.

No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.

The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Gaddafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.

An Empire of Lies: Counterpunch

Why Our Media Betray Us
By JONATHAN COOK, February 28, 2011
Last week the Guardian, Britain’s main liberal newspaper, ran an exclusive report on the belated confessions of an Iraqi exile, Rafeed al-Janabi, codenamed “Curveball” by the CIA. Eight years ago, Janabi played a key behind-the-scenes role — if an inadvertent one — in making possible the US invasion of Iraq. His testimony bolstered claims by the Bush administration that Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, had developed an advanced programme producing weapons of mass destruction.

Curveball’s account included the details of mobile biological weapons trucks presented by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, to the United Nations in early 2003. Powell’s apparently compelling case on WMD was used to justify the US attack on Iraq a few weeks later.

Eight years on, Curveball revealed to the Guardian that he had fabricated the story of Saddam’s WMD back in 2000, shortly after his arrival in Germany seeking asylum. He told the paper he had lied to German intelligence in the hope his testimony might help topple Saddam, though it seems more likely he simply wanted to ensure his asylum case was taken more seriously.

For the careful reader — and I stress the word careful — several disturbing facts emerged from the report.

One was that the German authorities had quickly proven his account of Iraq’s WMD to be false. Both German and British intelligence had travelled to Dubai to meet Bassil Latif, his former boss at Iraq’s Military Industries Commission. Dr Latif had proven that Curveball’s claims could not be true. The German authorities quickly lost interest in Janabi and he was not interviewed again until late 2002, when it became more pressing for the US to make a convincing case for an attack on Iraq.

Another interesting disclosure was that, despite the vital need to get straight all the facts about Curveball’s testimony — given the stakes involved in launching a pre-emptive strike against another sovereign state — the Americans never bothered to interview Curveball themselves.

A third revelation was that the CIA’s head of operations in Europe, Tyler Drumheller, passed on warnings from German intelligence that they considered Curveball’s testimony to be highly dubious. The head of the CIA, George Tenet, simply ignored the advice.

With Curveball’s admission in mind, as well as these other facts from the story, we can draw some obvious conclusions — conclusions confirmed by subsequent developments.

Lacking both grounds in international law and the backing of major allies, the Bush administration desperately needed Janabi’s story about WMD, however discredited it was, to justify its military plans for Iraq. The White House did not interview Curveball because they knew his account of Saddam’s WMD programme was made up. His story would unravel under scrutiny; better to leave Washington with the option of “plausible deniability”.

Nonetheless, Janabi’s falsified account was vitally useful: for much of the American public, it added a veneer of credibility to the implausible case that Saddam was a danger to the world; it helped fortify wavering allies facing their own doubting publics; and it brought on board Colin Powell, a former general seen as the main voice of reason in the administration.

In other words, Bush’s White House used Curveball to breathe life into its mythological story about Saddam’s threat to world peace.

So how did the Guardian, a bastion of liberal journalism, present its exclusive on the most controversial episode in recent American foreign policy?

Here is its headline: “How US was duped by Iraqi fantasist looking to topple Saddam”.

Did the headline-writer misunderstand the story as written by the paper’s reporters? No, the headline neatly encapsulated its message. In the text, we are told Powell’s presentation to the UN “revealed that the Bush administration’s hawkish decisionmakers had swallowed” Curveball’s account. At another point, we are told Janabi “pulled off one of the greatest confidence tricks in the history of modern intelligence”. And that: “His critics — who are many and powerful — say the cost of his deception is too difficult to estimate.”

In other words, the Guardian assumed, despite all the evidence uncovered in its own research, that Curveball misled the Bush administration into making a disastrous miscalculation. On this view, the White House was the real victim of Curveball’s lies, not the Iraqi people — more than a million of whom are dead as a result of the invasion, according to the best available figures, and four million of whom have been forced into exile.

There is nothing exceptional about this example. I chose it because it relates to an event of continuing and momentous significance.

Unfortunately, there is something depressingly familiar about this kind of reporting, even in the West’s main liberal publications. Contrary to its avowed aim, mainstream journalism invariably diminishes the impact of new events when they threaten powerful elites.

We will examine why in a minute. But first let us consider what, or who, constitutes “empire” today? Certainly, in its most symbolic form, it can be identified as the US government and its army, comprising the world’s sole superpower.

Traditionally, empires have been defined narrowly, in terms of a strong nation-state that successfully expands its sphere of influence and power to other territories. Empire’s aim is to make those territories dependent, and then either exploit their resources in the case of poorly developed countries, or, with more developed countries, turn them into new markets for its surplus goods. It is in this latter sense that the American empire has often been able to claim that it is a force for global good, helping to spread freedom and the benefits of consumer culture.

Empire achieves its aims in different ways: through force, such as conquest, when dealing with populations resistant to the theft of their resources; and more subtly through political and economic interference, persuasion and mind-control when it wants to create new markets. However it works, the aim is to create a sense in the dependent territories that their interests and fates are bound to those of empire.

In our globalised world, the question of who is at the centre of empire is much less clear than it once was. The US government is today less the heart of empire than its enabler. What were until recently the arms of empire, especially the financial and military industries, have become a transnational imperial elite whose interests are not bound by borders and whose powers largely evade legislative and moral controls.

Israel’s leadership, we should note, as well its elite supporters around the world — including the Zionist lobbies, the arms manufacturers and Western militaries, and to a degree even the crumbling Arab tyrannies of the Middle East — are an integral element in that transnational elite.

The imperial elites’ success depends to a large extent on a shared belief among the western public both that “we” need them to secure our livelihoods and security and that at the same time we are really their masters. Some of the necessary illusions perpetuated by the transnational elites include:

— That we elect governments whose job is to restrain the corporations;
— That we, in particular, and the global workforce in general are the chief beneficiaries of the corporations’ wealth creation;
— That the corporations and the ideology that underpins them, global capitalism, are the only hope for freedom;
— That consumption is not only an expression of our freedom but also a major source of our happiness;
— That economic growth can be maintained indefinitely and at no long-term cost to the health of the planet;
— And that there are groups, called terrorists, who want to destroy this benevolent system of wealth creation and personal improvement.

These assumptions, however fanciful they may appear when subjected to scrutiny, are the ideological bedrock on which the narratives of our societies in the West are constructed and from which ultimately our sense of identity derives. This ideological system appears to us — and I am using “we” and “us” to refer to western publics only — to describe the natural order.

The job of sanctifying these assumptions — and ensuring they are not scrutinised — falls to our mainstream media. Western corporations own the media, and their advertising makes the industry profitable. In this sense, the media cannot fulfil the function of watchdog of power, because in fact it is power. It is the power of the globalised elite to control and limit the ideological and imaginative horizons of the media’s readers and viewers. It does so to ensure that imperial interests, which are synonymous with those of the corporations, are not threatened.

The Curveball story neatly illustrates the media’s role.

His confession has come too late — eight years too late, to be precise — to have any impact on the events that matter. As happens so often with important stories that challenge elite interests, the facts vitally needed to allow western publics to reach informed conclusions were not available when they were needed. In this case, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are gone, as are their neoconservative advisers. Curveball’s story is now chiefly of interest to historians.

That last point is quite literally true. The Guardian’s revelations were of almost no concern to the US media, the supposed watchdog at the heart of the US empire. A search of the Lexis Nexis media database shows that Curveball’s admissions featured only in the New York Times, in a brief report on page 7, as well as in a news round-up in the Washington Times. The dozens of other major US newspapers, including the Washington Post, made no mention of it at all.

Instead, the main audience for the story outside the UK was the readers of India’s Hindu newspaper and the Khaleej Times.

But even the Guardian, often regarded as fearless in taking on powerful interests, packaged its report in such a way as to deprive Curveball’s confession of its true value. The facts were bled of their real significance. The presentation ensured that only the most aware readers would have understood that the US had not been duped by Curveball, but rather that the White House had exploited a “fantasist” — or desperate exile from a brutal regime, depending on how one looks at it — for its own illegal and immoral ends.

Why did the Guardian miss the main point in its own exclusive? The reason is that all our mainstream media, however liberal, take as their starting point the idea both that the West’s political culture is inherently benevolent and that it is morally superior to all existing, or conceivable, alternative systems.

In reporting and commentary, this is demonstrated most clearly in the idea that “our” leaders always act in good faith, whereas “their” leaders — those opposed to empire or its interests — are driven by base or evil motives.

It is in this way that official enemies, such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, can be singled out as personifying the crazed or evil dictator — while other equally rogue regimes such as Saudi Arabia’s are described as “moderate” — opening the way for their countries to become targets of our own imperial strategies.

States selected for the “embrace” of empire are left with a stark choice: accept our terms of surrender and become an ally; or defy empire and face our wrath.

When the corporate elites trample on other peoples and states to advance their own selfish interests, such as in the invasion of Iraq to control its resources, our dominant media cannot allow its reporting to frame the events honestly. The continuing assumption in liberal commentary about the US attack on Iraq, for example, is that, once no WMD were found, the Bush administration remained to pursue a misguided effort to root out the terrorists, restore law and order, and spread democracy.

For the western media, our leaders make mistakes, they are naïve or even stupid, but they are never bad or evil. Our media do not call for Bush or Blair to be tried at the Hague as war criminals.

This, of course, does not mean that the western media is Pravda, the propaganda mouthpiece of the old Soviet empire. There are differences. Dissent is possible, though it must remain within the relatively narrow confines of “reasonable” debate, a spectrum of possible thought that accepts unreservedly the presumption that we are better, more moral, than them.

Similarly, journalists are rarely told — at least, not directly — what to write. The media have developed careful selection processes and hierarchies among their editorial staff — termed “filters” by media critics Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky — to ensure that dissenting or truly independent journalists do not reach positions of real influence.

There is, in other words, no simple party line. There are competing elites and corporations, and their voices are reflected in the narrow range of what we term commentary and opinion. Rather than being dictated to by party officials, as happened under the Soviet system, our journalists scramble for access, to be admitted into the ante-chambers of power. These privileges make careers but they come at a huge cost to the reporters’ independence.

Nonetheless, the range of what is permissible is slowly expanding — over the opposition of the elites and our mainstream TV and press. The reason is to be found in the new media, which is gradually eroding the monopoly long enjoyed by the corporate media to control the spread of information and popular ideas. Wikileaks is so far the most obvious, and impressive, outcome of that trend.

The consequences are already tangible across the Middle East, which has suffered disproportionately under the oppressive rule of empire. The upheavals as Arab publics struggle to shake off their tyrants are also stripping bare some of the illusions the western media have peddled to us. Empire, we have been told, wants democracy and freedom around the globe. And yet it is caught mute and impassive as the henchmen of empire unleash US-made weapons against their peoples who are demanding western-style freedoms.

An important question is: how will our media respond to this exposure, not just of our politicians’ hypocrisy but also of their own? They are already trying to co-opt the new media, including Wikileaks, but without real success. They are also starting to allow a wider range of debate, though still heavily constrained, than had been possible before.

The West’s version of glasnost is particularly obvious in the coverage of the problem closest to our hearts here in Palestine. What Israel terms a delegitimisation campaign is really the opening up — slightly — of the media landscape, to allow a little light where until recently darkness reigned.

This is an opportunity and one that we must nurture. We must demand of the corporate media more honesty; we must shame them by being better-informed than the hacks who recycle official press releases and clamour for access; and we must desert them, as is already happening, for better sources of information.

We have a window. And we must force it open before the elites of empire try to slam it shut.

This is the text of a talk entitled “Media as a Tool of Empire” delivered to Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, at its eighth international conference in Bethlehem on Friday February 25.

Rebel-held city near Tripoli celebrates battle win: The Independent

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Residents of the rebel-held city closest to Libya’s capital passed out sweets and cold drinks to fighters today and celebrated with a victory march after they managed to repel an overnight attack by pro-Gaddafi forces.

“Allahu Akbar (God is Great) for our victory,” residents of Zawiya chanted as they paraded through the city’s main square. Some carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the rebels’ side.

Witnesses said pro-Gaddafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city 30 miles west of Tripoli. They said there the last of several assaults by the Gaddafi loyalists came at around 3am.

“We were worried about air raids but that did not happen,” said one resident.

The Zawiya rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.

“We will not give up Zawiya at any price,” said one witness. “We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero.”

The witnesses in Zawiya said youths from the city were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gaddafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Since the revolt against Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule began two weeks ago, his regime has launched the harshest crackdown in the Arab world where authoritarian rulers are facing an unprecedented wave of uprisings. Gaddafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country and at least two cities close to the capital — Zawiya and Misrata. He still holds the capital Tripoli and other nearby cities.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 110,000 people, mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighbouring countries and thousands more are arriving at the borders.

International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days. The US moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation’s skies to protect its citizens from their ruler. The Obama administration is demanding that Gaddafi relinquish power immediately.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the US and the UN The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the US and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

Pro-Gaddafi forces also tried on Monday night to retake opposition-held Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 miles east of Tripoli. Rebel forces there also repelled the attackers.

In Misrata, pro-Gaddafi troops who control part of an air base on the city’s outskirts tried to advance on Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.

No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.

The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Gaddafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.

In Zawiya, an Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Gaddafi force massed on the western edge of the city on Monday night, with about a dozen armoured vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Gadhafi’s sons who commands it. US diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.

“We were able to repulse the attack. We damaged a tank with an RPG. The mercenaries fled after that,” said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

He said Gaddafi called Zawiya’s influential tribal leader Mohammed al-Maktouf and had warned him that if the rebels don’t leave the city’s main square by early today, they will be hit by warplanes.

Residents of Tripoli said the city was calm today but that some residents were anxious over what is seen there as a growing chance of foreign intervention.

“People are worried about foreign intervention,” said one resident. “Many Libyans see this as a conspiracy that will lead into dividing Libya to an eastern and western sectors. There will be massacres.”

Today, Gaddafi’s regime sought to show that it was the country’s only legitimate authority and that it continued to feel compassion for areas in the east that fell under the control of its opponents.

A total of 18 trucks loaded with rice, wheat-flour, sugar and eggs left Tripoli for Benghazi, the country’s second largest city 620 miles east of the capital. Also in the convoy were two refrigerated cars carrying medical supplies.

The convoy was met with a small pro-Gaddafi demonstration as it made its way out of Tripoli. “God, Gaddafi, Libya and that’s it,” chanted the demonstrators.

“The state is very generous with the people,” said 22-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud as he watched the convoy.

In Benghazi, the epicentre of the opposition-controlled east, activists said they had no objection to the imposition of a no-fly zone over eastern Libya, but were divided whether to accept relief from the Gaddafi regime.

“Gaddafi’s air force is a serious threat to us,” said lawyer Nasser Bin Nour. “We will welcome a no-fly zone on Gaddafi’s warplanes over the whole of Libya. The only thing we object to is foreign troops on Libyan soil.” said Bin Nour, who said many in the city would not oppose shelling the positions of pro-Gaddafi forces by foreign warships or planes.

Another Benghazi activist, Najlaa al-Manqoush, echoed Bin Nour’s comments on foreign aid, but pointed out that accept the relief supplies sent today by the regime would help Gaddafi’s propaganda machine.

“We reject any attempt by the regime to beautify its image in the media,” she said. “We are much smarter than that. We accept all the aid they send us from friendly nations, but not from Gaddafi.”

 

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February 24, 2011

EDITOR: When will Palestine arise?

The turbulence in the Arab world has so far hardly touched Palestine, despite some marches in support of the Egyptian revolution, which were brutally suppressed by the PA. When thinking about those parts which need urgent change, Palestine comes high on the list, and its people have proven many times capable of disturbing the plans of their oppressors. The open democratic structures of the first Intifada were unique for their time, and stand behind much which has taken place over recent weeks. Why then has change evaded Palestine?

In an article full on political insight and careful analysis, Ali Abunimah confronts the need for change in Palestine, and the serious obstacles on the way. What is suggested here may well be anathema for many in Palestine, but is presenting the depth of the problem, and the need to deal with it rather than tamper at the edges with makeup. This is a bold attempt at new thinking, and it should be dealt with by proper discussion of the options available to the Palestinian people in regaining their land and autonomy.

Toward Palestine’s ‘Mubarak moment’: Al Jazeera online

The Palestinian Authority should dissolve itself, as it is acting in Israel’s interest, writer says.
Ali Abunimah  24 Feb 2011

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The slow collapse of Palestinian collective leadership institutions in recent years has reached a crisis amid the ongoing Arab revolutions, the revelations in the Palestine Papers, and the absence of any credible peace process.

 

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction has attempted to respond to this crisis by calling elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the PA presidency.

Abbas hopes that elections could restore legitimacy to his leadership. Hamas has rejected such elections in the absence of a reconciliation agreement ending the division that resulted from Fatah’s refusal (along with Israel and the PA’s western sponsors, especially the United States) to accept the result of the last election in 2006, which Hamas decisively won.

But even if such an election were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it does not resolve the crisis of collective leadership faced by the entire Palestinian people, some ten million distributed between those living in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank, inside Israel, and the worldwide diaspora.

A house divided

There are numerous reasons to oppose new PA elections, even if Hamas and Fatah were to sort out their differences. The experience since 2006 demonstrates that democracy, governance and normal politics are impossible under Israel’s brutal military occupation.

The Palestinian body politic was divided not into two broad political streams offering competing visions, as in other electoral democracies, but one stream that is aligned with, supported by and dependent on the occupation and its foreign sponsors, and another that remains committed, at least nominally, to resistance. These are contradictions that cannot be resolved through elections.

The Ramallah PA under Abbas today functions as an arm of the Israeli occupation, while Hamas, its cadres jailed, tortured and repressed in the West Bank by Israel and Abbas’ forces, is besieged in Gaza where it tries to govern. Meanwhile, Hamas has offered no coherent political vision to get Palestinians out of their impasse and its rule in Gaza has increasingly begun to resemble that of its Fatah counterparts in the West Bank.

The PA was created by agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel under the Oslo Accords. The September 13, 1993 “Declaration of Principles” signed by the parties states that:

“The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the “Council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”

Under the agreement, PA elections would “constitute a significant interim preparatory step toward the realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements”.

Small mandate

Thus, the PA was only ever intended to be temporary, transitional, and its mandate limited to a mere fraction of the Palestinian people, those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accords specifically limited the PA’s powers to functions delegated to it by Israel under the agreement.

Therefore, elections for the PLC will not resolve the issue of representation, for the Palestinian people as a whole. Most would not have a vote. As in previous elections, Israel would likely intervene, particularly in East Jerusalem to attempt to prevent even some Palestinians under occupation from voting.

Given all these conditions, a newly elected PLC would only serve to further entrench divisions among Palestinians while also creating the illusion that Palestinian self-governance exists — and can thrive — under Israeli occupation.

A decade and a half after its creation, the Palestinian Authority has proved not to be a step toward the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” but rather a significant obstacle in the way of achieving them.

The PA offers no genuine self-government or protection for Palestinians under occupation, who continue to be victimized, killed, maimed and besieged by Israel with impunity while Israel confiscates and colonizes their land.

The PA never was and cannot be a stand-in for real collective leadership for the Palestinian people as a whole, and PA elections are not a substitute for self-determination.

Dissolving the PA

With the complete collapse of the “peace process” — the final push given by the Palestine Papers — it is time for the PA to have its Mubarak moment. When the Egyptian tyrant finally left office on February 11, he handed power over to the armed forces.

The PA should dissolve itself in a similar manner by announcing that the responsibilities delegated to it by Israel are being handed back to the occupying power, which must fulfill its duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

This would not be a surrender. Rather, it would be a recognition of reality and an act of resistance on the part of Palestinians who would collectively refuse to continue to assist the occupier in occupying them. By removing the fig leaf of “self-governance” masking and protecting from scrutiny Israel’s colonial and military tyranny, the end of the PA would expose Israeli apartheid for all the world to see.

The same message would also go to the European Union and the United States who have been directly subsidizing Israel’s occupation and colonization through the ruse of “aid” to the Palestinians and training for security forces that act as Israeli proxies. If the European Union wishes to continue funding Israel’s occupation, it ought to have the integrity to do it openly and not use Palestinians or the peace process as a front.

Dissolving the PA may cause some hardship and uncertainty for the tens of thousands of Palestinians and their dependents, who rely on salaries paid by the European Union via the PA. But the Palestinian people as a whole — the millions who have been victimised and marginalised by Oslo — would stand to benefit much more.

Handing the PA’s delegated powers back to the occupier would free Palestinians to focus on reconstituting their collective body politic and implementing strategies to really liberate themselves from Israeli colonial rule.

New leadership

What can a real collective Palestinian leadership look like? Undoubtedly this is a tough challenge. Many older Palestinians recall fondly the heyday of the PLO. The PLO still exists, of course, but its organs have long since lost any legitimacy or representative function. They are now mere rubber stamps in the hands of Abbas and his narrow circle.

Could the PLO be reconstituted as a truly representative body by, say, electing a new Palestine National Council (PNC) — the PLO’s “parliament in exile”? Although the PNC was supposed to be elected by the Palestinian people, in reality that has never happened — in part due to the practical difficulty of actually holding elections across the Palestinian diaspora. Members were always appointed through negotiations among the various political factions and the PNC included seats for independents and representatives from student, women’s and other organizations affiliated with the PLO.

One of the key points of disagreement between Fatah and Hamas has been reform of the PLO in which Hamas would become a member and receive a proportional number of seats on the organization’s various governing bodies. But even if this happened, it would not be the same as having Palestinians choose their representatives directly.

Yet if Arab countries which host large Palestinian refugee populations undergo democratic transformations, new possibilities for Palestinian politics will open up.

In recent years, “out of country voting” facilities were provided for large Iraqi and Afghan refugee and exile populations for elections sponsored by the powers occupying those countries. In theory, it would be possible to hold elections for all Palestinians, perhaps under UN auspices — including the huge Palestinian diaspora in the Americas and Europe.

The trouble is that any such elections would probably need to rely on the goodwill and cooperation of an “international community” (the US and its allies), which has been implacably opposed to allowing Palestinians to choose their own leaders.

Would the energy and expense of running a transnational Palestinian bureaucracy be worth it? Would these new bodies be vulnerable to the sorts of subversion, cooptation, and corruption that turned the original PLO from a national liberation movement into its current sad status where it has been hijacked by a collaborationist clique?

I do not have definitive answers to these questions, but they strike me as the ones Palestinians ought now to be debating.

Inspirational boycott

In light of the Arab revolutions that were leaderless, another intriguing possibility is that at this stage Palestinians should not worry about creating representative bodies.

Instead, they should focus on powerful, decentralized resistance, particularly boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) internationally, and the popular struggle within historic Palestine.

The BDS movement does have a collective leadership in the form of the Boycott National Committee (BNC). However, this is not a leadership that issues orders and instructions Palestinians or solidarity organisations around the world. Rather, it sets an agenda reflecting a broad Palestinian consensus, and campaigns for others to work according to this agenda, largely through moral suasion.

The agenda encompasses the needs and rights of all Palestinians: ending the occupation and colonisation of all Arab territories occupied in 1967; ending all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel; and respecting, promoting and implementing the rights of Palestinian refugees.

The BDS campaign is powerful and growing because it is decentralized and those around the world working for the boycott of Israel — following the precedent of apartheid South Africa — are doing so independently. There is no central body for Israel and its allies to sabotage and attack.

This might be the model to follow: let us continue to build up our strength through campaigning, civil resistance and activism. Two months ago, few could have imagined that the decades old regimes of Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak would fall — but fall they did under the weight of massive, broad-based popular protests. Indeed, such movements hold much greater promise to end Israel’s apartheid regime and produce a genuine, representative and democratic Palestinian leadership than the kinds of cumbersome institutions created by the Oslo Accords. The end of the peace process is only the beginning.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a policy advisor with the Palestinian Policy Network, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

The Courageous people of Libya, by Carlos Latuff

 

EDITOR: They have forgotten nothing, and have learnt nothing, from decades of the conflict

Israel has only one modus operandi, it seems. They know how to bomb, kill and burn, and this they do with numbing regularity. The fact that it never change anything long term is neither here nor there; they continue to do this, as if it is the only option open to them. In the end, this inability to see further than than the gunsight will bring about the fall of the Zionist empire.

IDF targets Hamas in Gaza after rocket strike on Be’er Sheva: Haaretz

Air strike reportedly targeted car belonging to Hamas in Rafah; strike comes after long-range Grad missile hit Be’er Sheva on Wednesday.

The Israeli Air Force targeted a car belonging to Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, one day after the town of Be’er Sheva was hit by long-range Grad rockets fired from the Strip.

Hamas officials said Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle in the Al Salaam area of Rafah, killing one person and wounding several others.

The Israeli military confirmed the airstrike and said the targets were terror operatives.

Two Grad rockets were fired at Be’er Sheva on Wednesday evening, with one of the rockets hitting a house in a residential neighborhood. This marked the first time Be’er Sheva was hit since the Gaza war in 2009.

The IDF released a statement after the retaliatory airstrike on Thursday, saying they “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers, and will continue to respond harshly to terror.” The statement reiterated that they hold Hamas responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the strip.

An Israeli airstrike was also carried out on Wednesday in response to the rockets fired on Be’er Sheva. Palestinian sources reported that the airstrike in eastern Gaza City wounded three Islamic Jihad militants.

According to an IDF spokesman, the extensive overnight strike was part of the army’s aim to “determinately and forcefully defend against those who attempt to harm Israeli citizens.”

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February 22, 2011

EDITOR: The Butcher of Tripoli goes on the rampage

It has become crystal clear that Gaddafi, apart from being the longest surviving tyrant in the world, is also criminally insane, and capable of the most terrible atrocities if left to his own devices. He now has nothing to lose, as no government is likely to give him refuge, not even Saudi Arabia. In that situation, he will fight the whole Libyan people to the bitter end.

It may be certain that he will lose this battle, but at what cost? Isn’t the responsibility of the UN to step in and stop the massacre? This inane organisation seems unable to act on every single issue it touches, and its arcane regulations, such as those governing the Security Council, are of another age, and represent a skewed value system of the old empires. Never has there been a more urgent case to intervene in recently, but this seems totally out of the question, sadly. While Gaddafi is murdering his people, the UN is talking about sanctions.

A delirious sideshow to the mass protest in the Arab world, has been the Arms Sales Circus, headed by the trapeze artist David Cameron, and appearing in various capitals offering more armaments to all and sundry, and especially to the tyrants still left. And they will need the arms, of course, if they are to resist the people’s struggle to topple their bizarre regime. Excellent performance by Cameron and Co., all devoted to the task of selling death and destruction. Not to be missed!

The Guardian Feb 22, 2011, by Steve Bell

Defiant Gaddafi vows to fight on: Al Jazeera online

In televised speech, Libyan leader blames youths inspired by regional events for uprising and vows to die a “martyr”.
22 Feb 2011
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has vowed to fight on and die a “martyr”, calling on his supporters to take back the streets from protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech on state TV.

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and turban, spoke on Tuesday from a podium set up in the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by US air raids in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said.

“Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down … This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post.”

“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn.”

He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters. “You men and women who love Gaddafi …get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs … Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”

Gaddafi said “peaceful protests is one thing, but armed rebellion is another”.

“From tonight to tomorrow, all the young men should form local committees for popular security,” he said, telling them to wear a green armband to identify themselves. “The Libyan people and the popular revolution will control Libya.”

The speech, which appeared to have been taped earlier, was aired on a screen to hundreds of supporters massed in Tripoli’s central Green Square.

At times the camera panned out to show a towering gold-coloured monument in front of the building, showing a fist crushing a fighter jet with an American flag on it – a view that also gave the strange image of Gaddafi speaking alone from behind a podium in the building’s dilapidated lobby, with no audience in front of him.

Speech highlights

Shouting in the rambling speech, Gaddafi declared himself “a warrior” and proclaimed: “Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world”.

Among the other points made by Gaddafi in his speech:

He called on the people to catch what he called drugged young people and bring them to justice.

He called on the people to “cleanse Libya house by house” unless protesters on the streets surrendered.

He warned that instability in Libya “will give al-Qaeda a base”.

He cited the examples of attack on Russian parliament and China’s crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, saying that the international community did not interfere.

He said he could do the same in Derna and Bayda.

He offered a new constitution starting from Wednesday, but this would come with dialogue, not by collaboration with the enemy.

He blamed the uprising on Islamists who wanted to create another Afghanistan, and warned that those in Bayda and Derna had already set up an Islamic Emirate that would reach Benghazi.

He said that the country’s youth was drugged and did not know anything; they were following the Islamists’ leader and their leaders would be punished with death in accordance with the Libyan law.

Just hours after Gaddafi’s speech, Libya’s interior minister, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, announced his defection and support for what he called the “February 17 revolution”.

In a video obtained by Al Jazeera, he was seen sitting on a his desk and reading a statement that also urged the Libyan army to join the people and their “legitimate demands”.

Gaddafis’ hidden billions: Dubai banks, plush London pads and Italian water: The Guardian

Libya’s oil wealth has been siphoned out of the country by a powerful elite – including Gaddafi and his nine children

An oil well in Shahara, Libya, 2004. Libya is Africa's fourth-largest oil producer, but analysts say much of the wealth from its reserves has been stolen. Photograph: Benjamin Lowy/Corbis

The Gaddafi family could have billions of dollars of funds hidden away in secret bank accounts in Dubai, south-east Asia and the Persian Gulf, much of it likely to have come from Libya’s vast oil revenues, according to analysis by leading Middle East experts.

Professor Tim Niblock, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, has identified a “gap” of several billion dollars a year between the amount Libya makes from its oil reserves and government spending – a shortfall he expects has contributed greatly to the wealth of Muammar Gaddafi and his nine children.

“It is very, very difficult to work out with any degree of certainty just how much they have because the ruling elite hides it in all sorts of places,” said Niblock, who is also vice president of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). “But at the very least it would be several billion dollars, in whatever form and it could potentially be a lot higher although I wouldn’t want to predict just how much it might be.”

Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank and president of BRISMES, agreed that it was difficult to establish the extent of the Gaddafis’ wealth but said he “would be surprised if it didn’t run into billions”.

Where the Gaddafis have hidden their vast funds is anybody’s guess, although Niblock expects that most of it is “in bank accounts and liquid assets in Dubai, the Gulf and south east Asia” rather than in relatively transparent countries such as the UK, where the Libyan state has invested in London properties and in companies such as Pearson Group, owner of the Financial Times.

In addition to squirrelling away much of their income, the Gaddafis have spent fortunes over the years “propping up” various African regimes, with Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, widely acknowledged to be among the biggest recipients, Niblock said.

In the 1990s Gaddafi is thought to have given money to the Zaghawan tribe in Darfur, “and I suspect some of them are among the African mercenaries fighting the civilians in Libya,” Niblock added.

Libya’s breakneck growth has enabled the country to build up myriad investments overseas. In addition to the Gaddafis’ private holdings, the state is thought to have invested close to £61.8bn in assets across the globe.

Their investments in the UK include an eight-bedroom home in Hampstead, north London, with a swimming pool and suede-lined cinema room. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s second son, bought it in 2009 for £10m.

Most of the state’s investments are made by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a so-called sovereign wealth fund set up in 2006 to spend the country’s oil money, which has an estimated $70bn of assets. LIA bought 3% of Pearson last year for £224m, making it one of the group’s biggest shareholders, and had a 0.02% stake in RBS, although this has been sold in the past few months.

The fund’s UK property investments include Portman House, a 146,550 sq ft retail complex in Oxford Street, London, which houses retailers such as Boots and New Look, and an office at 14 Cornhill, opposite the Bank of England in the City.

Aside from the Hampstead home, which is not primarily an investment, the only two direct investment projects that the Gaddafi family are known to be involved with both involve water.

In 2009, when Silvio Berlusconi hosted the summit of G8 leading economies, he invited the Libyan leader as a special guest. Speeding towards the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila, which Berlusconi had chosen as the venue, Gaddafi’s motor cavalcade stopped in a remote town by a river at the bottom of a deep gorge.

Not many people find their way to Antrodoco, let alone a “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution”. Such was the welcome he received that shortly afterwards a Libyan delegation returned to the town to announce that the colonel wanted to plough money into it.

Agreement was reached on a complex involving a luxury spa hotel and water bottling plant. Last September, Antrodocoís mayor, Maurizio Faina, said the €15m (£12.7m) scheme was “firming up”.

Whether it survives the current turmoil in Libya, however, remains to be seen. A similar question mark hangs over the established, if struggling, spa town of Fiuggi, south of Rome where pope Boniface VIII, among others, took the waters. In January, the Corriere della Sera reported that Gaddafi’s family had formalised a proposal to sink €250m (£211m) into a conference centre with an airstrip and a complex that, once again, involved a spa and a water bottling plant.

The paper said the deal was being brokered, not through Libyan channels, but by the Italo-Iraqi chamber of commerce. Fiuggi’s mayor, along with his counterpart from Antrodoco, was a guest at a party thrown by Silvio Berlusconi in honour of the Libyan leader when he visited Rome last September.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi have a famously warm personal relationship. Less well-known, however, is the fact that Berlusconi is in business with one of the Libyan state’s investment vehicles.

In June 2009, a Dutch-registered firm controlled by the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, took a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a Paris-based film production and distribution company. Quinta Communications was founded back in 1990 by Berlusconi in partnership with Tarak Ben Ammar, the nephew of the late Tunisian leader, Habib Bourguiba.

The Italian prime minister has a 22% interest in the company through a Luxembourg-registered subsidiary of Fininvest, the firm at the heart of his sprawling business empire. Last September, the Libyans put a director on the board of Quinta Communications to sit alongside Berlusconiís representatives.

Libyan investors already hold significant interests in several strategic Italian enterprises. They reportedly own around one per cent of Italy’s biggest oil company, Eni; the LIA has an acknowledged 2% interest in the aerospace and defence group, Finmeccanica; Lafico is thought to retain more than 2% of Fiat and almost 15% of a quoted telecommunications company, Retelit.

The Libyans also own 22% of the capital of a textile firm, Olcese. Perhaps their best-known investment is a 7.5% stake in the Serie A side Juventus. But undoubtedly the most controversial is another 7.5 per cent interest in Italyís largest bank, Unicredit.

Last September, the bank’s chief executive, Alessandro Profumo, walked out after a row over his willingness to let the Libyans build up that stake. The Northern League, Berlusconi’s key allies in Italy’s rightwing government, was known to be particularly queasy about the emergence of such a powerful Libyan presence.

Experts say if Gaddafi is overthrown, the investments made by Libya’s various state funds would probably be unaffected, since any new government would have far more pressing matters to attend to, and any sudden movements could damage their reputation for the future.

However, it is thought likely that a new regime in Libya could look to freeze the assets of the Gaddafi family, as the new government in Egypt did with the assets of Hosni Mubarak and his family. Since most of these are held in liquid form – and in country’s outside Europe and the US – this would have no significant ramifications for business, they argue.

UK interests

About 150 British companies have established a presence in Libya since the US and Europe lifted economic sanctions in 2004, after the country renounced terrorism, ceased its nuclear weapons programme and handed over two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case.

The most high profile have been the oil companies, keen to tap Libya’s vast reserves of fossil fuels. In a deal brokered in 2007 by Tony Blair, BP signed a £560m exploration agreement allowing it to search for oil and gas, offshore and onshore, in a joint venture with the Libya Investment Corporation. Shell is also exploring for oil in Libya as western companies seek to capitalise on a country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and substantial supplies of gas.

High street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Monsoon and Accessorize have also set up in the country to serve the growing middle-class population, as oil revenues have “trickled down” into the broader Libyan population.

Companies such as AMEC, an engineering firm, and Biwater, a waste treatment company, have supplied services to Libya, which is using its oil revenues to reshape the country through an infrastructure spending spree that will cost about £310bn over the next decade.

British exports to Libya have soared to about £930m in recent years, while the business momentum in post-sanctions Libya is so great that the economy managed to grow by about 5% last year, while much of the rest of the world struggled.

Many British and foreign companies – including M&S, BP and Shell – are evacuating staff from Libya and it could be some time before they return.

by Carlos Latuff

Bahrain protesters back in action: Al Jazeera online

Tens of thousands march in the first organised demonstration since unrest broke out in the Gulf Arab nation.
22 Feb 2011

”]
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Bahrain in the possibly biggest demonstration since unrest began last week.
Demonstrators circled the Bahrain Mall and the financial district of Manama, the capital, in a march to the heart of the protest at Pearl Square.

“We want the fall of the government” was the most common chant among the mainly Shia Muslim protesters who accuse the Sunni rulers of discriminating against the island’s Shia majority.

Led by opposition groups such as Wefaq and Waad, it was the first organised demonstration and followed spontaneous protests by a rising youth movement relying on social media.

Helicopters hovered overhead but security forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week.

“Some want the [ruling] family out but most [want] only the prime minister [to quit],” Abbas al-Fardan, a protester, said.

“We want a new government, the people need to rule the country.”

Opposition demands

The widow of one of the seven people killed in a crackdown on protesters read a statement outlining the opposition’s demands, which centre on the current government’s resignation and the replacement of the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty with a constitutional monarchy.

The statement also demanded an immediate, “impartial” probe to identify and try those behind the killings and reiterated opposition calls for the formation of a “national salvation” government.

“We don’t have a problem if elections bring a Sunni or a Shia ruler,” Saeed, a protester, said.

“The most important thing is to have egalitarian distribution of wealth among both communities.”

Shias account for about 70 per cent of the population but are a minority in Bahrain’s 40-seat parliament.

The al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, and the family dominates a cabinet led by the king’s uncle, who has been prime minister since independence in 1971.

Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition Haq movement, had vowed to return to Bahrain on Tuesday from London where he is based.

He is one of 25 people on trial since last year over an alleged coup plot but a statement by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Monday hinted that the trial would be shelved, allowing Mushaimaa an unhindered return.

But a friend of Mushaimaa said the opposition leader had been unable to board his flight to Bahrain from Beirut where he had landed earlier for a planned stopover.

State media said the king had ordered the release of convicted prisoners whose names would be released on Wednesday and a stop to ongoing court cases.

The US praised Bahrain’s leadership on Tuesday for having announced steps towards opening a national dialogue, releasing political prisoners and permitting peaceful demonstrations.

“We commend the steps taken by King Hamad as well as Crown Prince Salman and others to restore calm to Bahrain, to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place,” PJ Crowley, the state department spokesman, said.

“We view recent announcements to launch a national dialogue and the release of political prisoners as positive steps towards addressing the concerns of Bahraini citizens.”

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February 14, 2011

The Greatest Knockout of All, by the great Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Boycott is biting, and Israel is fighting back with undemocratic legislation

It has taken a few years to build the BDS movement, and much remains to be done in the different countries around the globe. nonetheless, its effects are now clear, and Israel is fighting back with another undemocratic and unconstitutional law, badly worded and without any basis in law, either Israeli or international. The attempt here is to frighten and punish anyone who criticises the Israeli occupation and its ravages.

Calls grow for free Egypt media: Al Jazeera online

Pressure is mounting to rid state media of loyalists of Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president.

Pressure is mounting for Hosni Mubarak’s appointees to be removed from Egypt’s state media.

During the recent pro-democracy protests state television broadcast propaganda for the government and now some fear it may not be impartial during the country’s transition to democracy.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reports from Cairo.

Protecting Israel from its citizens: Haaretz

The parliamentary investigative panel to examine organizations’ funding sources actually have no interest in questions of legality and constitutionality. All they want is to delegitimize protest and political opinions, and to scare us.
By Avirama Golan
On Tuesday, a Knesset committee is due to approve on second and third readings the bill combating boycotts against Israel – another hysterical proposal by the right wing and Kadima MK Dalia Itzik designed to protect our weak and tiny country, which is being attacked from within and without.

“This law,” explain the architects of the proposal, “is designed to protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular from academic, economic and other boycotts that are imposed on the country, its citizens and corporations, due to their connection to the State of Israel.” The law is designed to protect “the area under Israeli control, including Judea and Samaria.” According to the bill, “It is forbidden to initiate a boycott against the State of Israel, to encourage participation in it or to provide assistance or information in order to promote it.”

There is no problem, therefore, with a boycott by ultra-Orthodox consumers against supermarkets that open on Shabbat, or against a merchant whose sons serve in the Israel Defense Forces, even if it leads to their economic collapse. There might also not be a problem in boycotting fur exporters, for example. The only offense is “a boycott against the State of Israel,” and in effect against the settlements, whose products are the object of most boycotts in Israel and the world over.

That being the case, the bill – which is certainly not constitutional (we can make an endless list of freedoms that it undermines ) – opposes even international agreements that Israel has signed. First among them is the agreement to join the OECD and the agreement with the European Union. These require that products be marked, distinguishing the Israeli economy from that of the territories.

But even someone who believes that a consumer boycott is legitimate while an academic boycott is a despicable tool that harms Israeli education’s soft underbelly – someone who doesn’t move a single stone from the wall of the occupation – can’t support legislation that involves a consumer boycott directed only at the settlements, or silences anyone who demonstrates or speaks against them.

This is what will happen if the bill passes – and its chances are considerable despite the protest of many organizations, headed by the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. A “talkbacker” on the Internet who complains, for example, about the economic burden caused by the settlements can expect a lawsuit from a settler who can claim that the comment promoted a boycott of his products. The writer will be fined at least NIS 30,000 and the plaintiff won’t have to prove the link between what is written and the damage. Not to mention writers of articles and people who express opinions on radio and television.

Bizarre? Not compared to the next article: “If the interior minister sees someone who is not a citizen or a resident of Israel acting in contradiction to Article 2, or if the cabinet has decided by a majority of its members that such a person is imposing a boycott against the State of Israel, the interior minister is allowed to request the district court to deny that person the right to enter Israel for a period of at least 10 years.” So what? Will Ken Loach beg to be allowed to attend the Haifa Film Festival and be denied entry?

In other times we could depend on the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to reject such embarrassing texts out of hand. Not now. Questions of legality and constitutionality, freedom of expression and human rights are now dwarfed in light of the goal, whose distorted definition “protection of the State of Israel” justifies the means.

Behind this declared objective hides a more problematic one. The initiators of the glorious legislation of recent years – the Nakba law, the loyalty law, the community-admission-committee law, the denial of citizenship law (“the Bishara Law” ), the parliamentary investigative panel to examine organizations’ funding sources – actually have no interest in questions of legality and constitutionality. All they want is to delegitimize protest and political opinions, and to scare us.

Although Israelis find it hard to see the connection among the laws, which ostensibly refer to different issues and communities, the violent rape of the law book caused by this legislation has destructive results. And these results – which are collapsing the foundations of Israeli democracy – will harm everyone in the end, without distinction.

EDITOR: Connections are made

The Tahrir Square victory has become a rousing symbol for Arabs everywhere, including inside Israel’s Green Line borders. Below a young Palestinian student is voicing his clear criticism of western and Israeli voices which through a deeply Orientalist view, have argued for the denial of freedom to the Egyptians and Arabs elsewhere.

The resurrection of pan-Arabism: Al Jazeera online

The Egyptian revolution has resurrected a new type of pan-Arabism, based on social justice not empty slogans.

The Egyptian revolution has resurrected pan-Arabism but this is not the pan-Arabism of previous generations [GALLO/GETTY]
The Egyptian revolution, itself influenced by the Tunisian uprising, has resurrected a new sense of pan-Arabism based on the struggle for social justice and freedom. The overwhelming support for the Egyptian revolutionaries across the Arab world reflects a sense of unity in the rejection of tyrannical, or at least authoritarian, leaders, corruption and the rule of a small financial and political elite.

Arab protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people also suggest that there is a strong yearning for the revival of Egypt as a pan-Arab unifier and leader. Photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president, have been raised in Cairo and across Arab capitals by people who were not even alive when Nasser died in 1970. The scenes are reminiscent of those that swept Arab streets in the 1950s and 1960s.

But this is not an exact replica of the pan-Arab nationalism of those days. Then, pan-Arabism was a direct response to Western domination and the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Today, it is a reaction to the absence of democratic freedoms and the inequitable distribution of wealth across the Arab world.

We are now witnessing the emergence of a movement for democracy that transcends narrow nationalism or even pan-Arab nationalism and which embraces universal human values that echo from north to south and east to west.

This is not to say that there is no anti-imperialist element within the current movement. But the protests in Egypt and elsewhere promote a deeper understanding of human emancipation, which forms the real basis for freedom from both repression and foreign domination.

Unlike the pan-Arabism of the past, the new movement represents an intrinsic belief that it is freedom from fear and human dignity that enables people to build better societies and to create a future of hope and prosperity. The old “wisdom” of past revolutionaries that liberation from foreign domination precedes the struggle for democracy has fallen.

The revolutionaries of Egypt, and before them Tunisia, have exposed through deeds – not merely words – the leaders who are tyrants towards their own people, while humiliatingly subservient to foreign powers. They have shown the impotence of empty slogans that manipulate animosity towards Israel to justify a fake Arab unity, which in turn serves only to mask sustained oppression and the betrayal of Arab societies and the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian pretext

The era of using the Palestinian cause as a pretext for maintaining martial laws and silencing dissent is over. The Palestinians have been betrayed, not helped, by leaders who practice repression against their own people. It is no longer sufficient for regimes in Syria and Iran to claim support for Palestinian resistance in order to stifle freedom of expression and to shamelessly tread on human rights in their own countries.

Equally, it is no longer acceptable for the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas to cite their record in resisting Israel when justifying their suppression of each other and the rest of the Palestinian people. Young Palestinians are responding to the message of the movement and embracing the idea that combatting internal injustice – whether practised by Fatah or Hamas – is a prerequisite for the struggle to end Israeli occupation and not something to be endured for the sake of that struggle.

Events in Egypt and Tunisia have revealed that Arab unity against internal repression is stronger than that against a foreign threat – neither the American occupation of Iraq nor the Israeli occupation galvanised the Arab people in the way that a single act by a young Tunisian who chose to set himself alight rather than live in humiliation and poverty has.

This does not mean that Arabs do not care about the occupied people of Iraq or Palestine – tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands have taken to the streets across Arab countries at various times to show solidarity with Iraqis and Palestinians – but it does reflect the realisation that the absence of democratic freedoms has contributed to the continued occupation of those countries.

The Arab failure to defend Iraq or liberate Palestine has come to symbolise an Arab impotence that has been perpetuated by the state of fear and paralysis in which the ordinary Arab citizen, marginalised by social injustice and crushed by security apparatus oppression, has existed.

When they were allowed to rally in support of Iraqis or Palestinians it was mainly so that their anger might be deflected from their own governments and towards a foreign threat. For so long, they put their own socio-economic grievances aside to voice their support for the occupied, only to wake up the next day shackled by the same chains of repression.

All the while, both pro-Western and anti-Western governments continued with business as usual – the first camp relying on US support to consolidate their authoritarian rule and the second on anti-Israel slogans to give legitimacy to their repression of their people.

But now people across the region – not only in Egypt and Tunisia – have lost faith in their governments. For make no mistake, when protesters have gathered in Amman or Damascus to express their solidarity with the Egyptian revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, they are actually objecting to their own rulers.

In Ramallah, the protesters repeated a slogan calling for the end of internal Palestinian divisions (which, in Arabic, rhymes with the Egyptian call for the end to the regime), as well as demanding an end to negotiations with Israel – sending a clear message that there will be no room left for the Palestinian Authority if it continues to rely on such negotiations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, millions of Arabs poured onto the streets determined to continue the liberation of the Arab world from the remnants of colonial domination and the creeping American hegemony. In 2011, millions have poured onto the streets determined not only to ensure their freedom but also to ensure that the mistakes of previous generations are not repeated. Slogans against a foreign enemy – no matter how legitimate – ring hollow if the struggle for democratic freedoms is set aside.

The protesters in Cairo and beyond may raise photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, because they see him as a symbol of Arab dignity. But, unlike Nasser, the demonstrators are invoking a sense of pan-Arab nationalism that understands that national liberation cannot go hand-in-hand with the suppression of political dissent. For this is a genuine Arab unity galvanised by the common yearning for democratic freedoms.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

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February 11, 2011 Page 2

EDITOR: The unbelievable has now happened

After 18 days of amazing and bloody struggle by millions of Egyptians, the fall of the Pharaoh, dictator for over three decades, has made millions of Egyptian happy beyond words, as well as many millions elsewhere. This is the end of the bloody chapter in the history of Egypt, the heart and soul of the Arab world. This will not only affect Egypt, but the whole Arab world.

The dictators and undemocratic regimes in the whole Middle East can now work out what will happen to them, following Tunisia and Egypt. The North African remaining tyrants should prepare their nests in Saudi Arabia, though how safe is that? Maybe Tel Aviv might be safer for ex-tyrants?

The leaders elsewhere are well advised to start working out their exit plans. Those depending on their secret and brutal police forces have only themselves to blame if their people start taking to the streets, which they surely will. The PA should be especially worried, in the wake of the Palestine Papers and the Egyptian Intifada, as should the other leaders east of Cairo.

The Tunisia and Egypt days of struggle have now brought a new force to the Middle East – people’s power. Those who are frightened of Arab democracy, such as the UK, US and Israel, should now think thrice before they support the remaining tyrants. People have long memories, and while the Egyptian Revolution was enacted without violence on the part of the the protesters, the incoming democratic government of Egypt is totally unlikely to continue the Mubarak policies and support Israel by joining its cruel blockade on Gaza, or its brutalities elsewhere in Palestine. The Israelis may well start working out how to continue living in the Middle East without killing thousands every year. It will be necessary for them in the near future.

As far as the US is concerned, this period has shown more than clearly the shallowness, stupidity and criminality of its policies in the Middle East. Will they change? Quite unlikely, I think. All the mistakes they have made in all parts of the world have never taught them anything, it seems; they just love to repeat the same mistakes in new locations.

The next weeks and months are going to be anything but simple or srtaight forward, for sure; despite the great difficulties still facing the young revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, they are nonetheless likely to succeed in changing the narrative and socio-political discourse in the whole region. Those who lost their fear will find their power.

The 25th of January, 2011, will again be a historical date, a new beginning. Today we are all Egyptians!

Mubarak resigns – live updates: The Guardian

• Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has resigned
• Vice-president announces the army council holds power
• Cheers and fireworks as protests turn to celebrations

Egyptian anti-government protesters wave flags as they celebrate in Tahrir Square Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
6.50pm GMT: In this audio you can hear the emotion in the voice of veteran activist Ahmed Salah, as he shared what today means to him:

It brought tears to my eyes several times. I mean I have always had faith that we will win but this is remarkable. It’s like, how many days? We started on the 25th … and we won. That couldn’t have been imaginable just even a week ago, 10 days ago, that we will actually be free.

6.43pm GMT: More on vice president Joe Biden’s remarks on Egypt today:

This is a pivotal moment in history. This is a pivotal moment not just in Middle East history but in world history.

On Fox News though they have a different view. One presenter said it was the biggest event since “victory in Iraq”.

Carl Bernstein – the Watergate guy – says it’s on the scale of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

6.35pm GMT: The White House now says that Obama’s statement will take place at 3pm ET / 8pm GMT / 10pm EET.

6.29pm GMT: A spokesman for Egypt’s military has just appeared on television to read a new statement.

Read aloud in a flat monotone, the statement said that the supreme council of the armed forces was “currently studying the situation” and will issue further statements to clarify its position.

The military also had a farewell message for Mubarak:

“The supreme council of the armed forces is saluting President Hosni Mubarak for all he has given in sacrifice in times of war and peace.”

And it had kind words for the protesters:

“The supreme council of the armed forces is also saluting the spirits of those who were martyred.”

Note that the army’s statement made no mention of vice president Suleiman – interesting in the context of the Ahram Online report mentioned below. Further analysis of what this all means when we get the full text.

6.25pm GMT: The New York Times’s Lede blog alerts us to an intriguing report from Ahram Online, the English-language arm of the state newspaper Al Ahram, that “both of last night’s addresses by Mubarak and Suleiman were in defiance of the armed forces”:

Maj. Gen. Safwat El-Zayat, a former senior official of Egypt’s General Intelligence and member of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, asserted, in an interview with Ahram Online, that the address delivered by President Mubarak last night was formulated against the wishes of the armed forces, and away from their oversight. He claimed that Vice Preisdent Omar Suleiman’s address, which came on the heels of Mubarak’s address, was equally in defiance of the armed forces and away from its oversight.

El-Zayat said that represented a deep cleavage between the armed forces and the presidential authority of both Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.

6.18pm GMT: My colleague Hazem Balousha sends this from Gaza City:

Hamas is calling on people to rally tonight all over Gaza to celebrate the resignation of Hosni Mubarak and his regime. People are patrolling the streets and raising Egyptian flags. Some Hamas fighters have fired into the air since it was announced that Mubarak stepped down.

6.13pm GMT: The White House has announced that Barack Obama’s statement on Egypt, scheduled for 1.30pm ET (6.30pm GMT) has been delayed, and the venue has been switched from the press briefing room to the Grand Foyer as the administration prepares to ramp up Obama’s response.

This is Richard Adams in Washington DC taking over live blogging duties.

6.08pm: Here’s a video of the full statement from the vice president Omar Suleiman.

Turn off auto-refresh at the top of this page to watch the full video.
It’s fair to say he doesn’t look very happy.

6.00pm: It can’t be very often that Amnesty International is joining in the celebrations of an army taking power but this has not been an ordinary day. Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

I congratulate the protesters for their extraordinary courage and commitment to achieve fundamental change. Persistent attempts to put down peaceful protests have not only failed but redoubled the determination of those demanding change. The way Egyptians have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand dignity, human rights and social justice has been an inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere.

The departure of one man is not the end. The repressive system that Egyptians have suffered under for three decades has not gone away and the State of Emergency remains in place. Those in power must grasp this opportunity to consign the systematic abuses of the past to history. Human rights reform must begin now.

5.58pm: Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor has been analysing what comes next.

On the army:

Rule by the military can only be temporary. Mubarak’s exit, the dissolution of what is seen as an illegitimate parliament, constitutional reforms and abolition of the emergency laws are all non-negotiable. If those reforms are achieved then Egypt will have witnessed a real revolution – beyond the removal of a stubborn 82-year-old president long past his sell-by date.

It seems clear from the events of recent days – especially the confusion and contradictory messages on Thursday — that the army is divided. If it moves solely to protect its own privileged position, and that of the big businessmen who have done so well out of their links with the regime – then the system will not open up, at least not without large-scale repression and bloodshed.

On the implications for the wider Middle East:

Egypt’s extraordinary change matters first for Egypt’s 82m people. But what happens in the Arab world’s most populous country matters for many millions of other Arabs, who also suffer from unemployment, inequality, corruption and unresponsive, unaccountable governments – and share the language in which it is being covered in media such as al-Jazeera and social networking sites that official censors cannot easily block.

Other authoritarian regimes, shocked first by the uprising in Tunisia and now in Egypt, have been trying to pre-empt trouble by promises of reform, sacking ministers, maintaining subsidies or raising wages to buy off critics and defuse tensions. The symptoms are visible from Yemen to Jordan, from Algeria to Syria.

On the implications for the US:

Egypt remains a vital asset in allowing US military overflights, as the guardian of the strategically vital Suez canal, and a loyal ally in the regional confrontation with Iran. Mubarak has played a key role in supporting the western-backed Palestinian Authority and containing the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip, not least because of its affinity with the banned Muslim Brotherhood – whose likely future role in a freer Egyptian political system is a key and much-discussed issue both at home and abroad.

The events of the last 18 days have forced Obama to shift away from stability to embracing if not promoting democracy – to the evident discomfort of other conservative Arab friends, especially the Saudis. Jordan and Yemen share those concerns – fearing that unconditional US support for them may now also wane.

This is a picture from yesterday when anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square shouted in anger after the first by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
5.54pm: Joe Biden, the US vice president, who initially defended Mubarak, saying he was not a dictator and should not stand down, said: “This is a pivotal moment in history… the transition that’s taking place must be an irreversible change”

There has been reaction from other leaders.

The British prime minister David Cameron called for a move to “a move to civilian and democratic rule” . He said the departure of Mubarak offered Egypt a “really precious moment of opportunity”. Speaking on the steps of No 10, he said the new government should start to put in place “the building blocks of a truly open, free and democratic society”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “Today is a day of great joy. We are all witness to historic change. I share the joy of people on the streets of Egypt.”

5.49pm: The Nobel peace prize winner and Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei has been talking to Al Jazeera in the last half and hour.

“This is the emancipation of Egypt. This is the liberation of the Egyptian people,” he said in a phone interview with the broadcaster’s English-language news channel. “It’s a dream come true,” said El Baradei, who added that it was the Egyptian people who had been able to restore their “humanity and independence.

Asked what happens next, he replied: “What I have been talking about and proposing is a transition period of one year. We would have a provisional council, a transition government, preferably a provisional council including a person from the army and civilians, but the main idea would be that the army and the people would work together for a year up to the point where we could have a free and fair election.”

He said his message to the Egyptian people was: “You have gained your liberty, you have gained the right to catch up with the rest of the world. Make the best use of it you can and God bless you.”

5.48pm: There has s been a jubilant response in Lebanon and Tunisia, the Associated Press reports:

Moments after Egypt’s vice president Omar Suleiman made the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation, fireworks lit up the sky over Beirut. Celebratory gunfire rang out in the Shiite-dominated areas in south Lebanon and in southern Beirut.

On Al-Manar TV, the station run by the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah faction, Egyptian anchor Amr Nassef, who was once imprisoned in Egypt for alleged ties to Islamists, cried emotionally on the air and said: “Allahu Akbar (God is great), the Pharaoh is dead. Am I dreaming? I’m afraid to be dreaming.”

In Tunisia, where a successful uprising expelled a longtime leader only weeks earlier, cries of joy and the thundering honking of horns greeted the announcement. “God delivered our Egyptian brothers from this dictator,” said Yacoub Youssef, one of those celebrating in the capital of Tunis.

5.47pm: Amr Mousa, an Egyptian, and the secretary general of the Arab League, who has previously hinted that might stand for presidency, has given his reaction:

I look forward to the future to build a ntional consensus in the coming period. There is a big chance now and a window has opened after this white revolution and after the president’s concession.

Asked if he was interested in being president, he said: “This is not the time to talk about that … As an Egyptian citizen, I am proud to serve my country with all the others at this stage, to build a consensus of opinion.”

5.46pm: Our political correspondent Allegra Stratton says the UK has already been considering the prospect of an asylum application from Mubarak:

The UK’s national security council (NSC) has considered what happens if Hosni, his wife Suzanne or or their son Gamal Mubarak, indeed any of the president’s family, would like asylum in the UK. Remember Gamal has a five-storey house in Knightsbridge.

A government source says that the Foreign Office is aware that the UK’s government’s new position on the middle east – hands off, welcoming of change – would be troubled if the UK were to also grant any asylum requests to Mubaraks or indeed other deposed Arab leaders.

The text from the NSC meeting, held last week, says: “The NSC is working on predicting where and when events might occur next. There is a low risk that former heads of state and members of regimes might seek refuge here. Many have the documentation and money to get here, and some will have links to the UK. Each request will be considered, in consultation between the Home Office and Foreign Office, on a case by case basis.”

So, cautious language, but the source says they are thinking about what their position will be as and when any request comes through. There will be a question mark over exactly what the FCO and Home office could do given Suzanne was born in Wales and is thought to have British citizenship.

5.42pm: In what has turned out to be a momentous day, here is a summary of events.

President Hosni Mubarak has resigned and handed over power to the army. His vice president, Omar Suleiman, said in a short TV address: “In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency. He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state.”

Protests turned to celebrations around Egypt. “Cairo erupts in celebration as 18 days of defiant protest finally delivers a revolution after 24 hours of euphoria, dashed hopes and victory,” our correspondent Chris McGreal wrote from outside the state TV centre. “There was a complete eruption of humanity, I have never seen anything like it. The world’s biggest street party has really kicked off here,” said Jack Shenker from outside the presidential palace.

But there are still questions over what happens next. The army is now in charge and it has yet to make its intentions clear.

Protesters celebrate President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
5.28pm: Our correspondent Chris McGreal was outside the Egyptian state TV building when the historic announcement was made. In this audio report, he says:

They were completely stunned. When this very brief announcement came from the vice president Omar Suleiman, he simply said “Mubark’s gone”, there was a a pause. Then a ripple went through the crowd and they went wild. Some fell onto their knees praying, people were weeping instantly. They were hugging each other, chanting in unison, “Mubarak’s gone”, words to that effect. There was joy, euphoria, call it what you want. I think people couldn’t quite grasp that this revolution that they’d led fro 18 days had finally delivered.

But Chris warns there will now be close scrutiny of the army:

Of course there will be a sobering up. Not many people are thinking of what the military role means and of course once the military is in the saddle so to speak, people will be looking to it to actually deliver. They will be wanting to see, for instance, the dissolution of parliament, the lifting of the state of emergency, all the kind of things they have been demanding as well as Mubarak’s resignation. I think they’re feeling newly empowered, I think people realise the can hold parliament to account of bring it down and if it’s seen to be not delivering they may well be back out on the streets.

5.20pm: There are reports that the Egyptian army is to make another statement soon.

5.19pm: Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, has been quick to instill a note of caution:

But the game isn’t over, and now a word of caution. I worry that senior generals may want to keep (with some changes) a Mubarak-style government without Mubarak. In essence the regime may have decided that Mubarak had become a liability and thrown him overboard — without any intention of instituting the kind of broad, meaningful democracy that the public wants.

Senior generals have enriched themselves and have a stake in a political and economic structure that is profoundly unfair and oppressive. And remember that the military running things directly really isn’t that different from what has been happening: Mubarak’s government was a largely military regime (in civilian clothes) even before this. Mubarak, Vice President Suleiman and so many others — including nearly all the governors — are career military men. So if the military now takes over, how different is it?

Mubarak resigns as Egypt’s President, hands power to army: Haaretz

Massive crowd in Cairo square at center of protests explodes with joy following announcement by Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Friday after 30 years as president and handed control to the military, bowing down to an historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands.

The massive crowd in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square exploded with joy, embracing, weeping and waving Egyptian flags, and car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million in joy after Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national TV just after nightfall.

The people have brought down the regime,” chanted the crowds in the square.

“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” said a somber Suleiman. “He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state. God is our protector and succor.”

Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young supporters were among the organizers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press: “This is the greatest day of my life.”

“The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said, adding that he expects a beautiful transition of power.

A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest opposition group, said Egyptians had achieved the main goal of their popular uprising after Mubarak’s resignation.

“I salute the Egyptian people and the martyrs. This is the day of victory for the Egyptian people. The main goal of the revolution has been achieved,” Mohamed el-Katatni, former leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, told Reuters.

Katatni said the Brotherhood awaits the next steps to be taken by the Higher Military Council, which has taken charge of the country’s affairs after Mubarak’s decision.

Earlier in the day, a ruling partly official reported that Mubarak and his family left Cairo for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, proving he is giving up his presidential powers.

Protesters seeking Mubarak’s overthrow moved overnight to the Ittihadiya presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis for the first time since demonstrations began on Jan. 25.

EDITOR: The final stage of the revolution seems to be here! (those lines were written in the early morning…)

In another facile speech, Mubarak has clarified beyond any doubt, that he is not in touch with reality. Omar Suleiman, his sidekick and servile deputy, is not much more connected either. Both seem to think that they can spout more lies and get the demonstrators home, and continue with their corrupt regime, by promising democracy by September. The Egyptian people know – it is now or never!

Meanwhile, on the farm in Washington, the animals are in disarray… not quite decided if they prefer democracy to ‘stability’ they keep swivelling like a weather-vane gone out of control. It seems that Obama is listening to both sides, and keeps changing his mind on a daily basis. Two things are now clear:

1. The US administration is not well-informed (they don’t seem to have Al Jazeera on the White House channels…) and is not clear about what is happening in Egypt. This may sound incredible, but there is no other expalnation to their bizarre switching of policy.

2. The US administration is also not clear and have not decided what they want out of this situation – do they prefer to see the dictator continue and choke the Egyptian people, or do they risk allowing democracy in Egypt to develop? The choice is difficult for a governemnt which has supported dictators and and brutal occupations as far as memory goes, and not just in the Middle East. Do they want ‘stability’, or do they want to foment unrest and be the arbiter?

This situation is most dangerous for the whole Middle East, now moving at enormous speed to modernise and democratise, after decades of corrupt and brutal regimes. In the end, the US seems just as confused as Mubarak about the direction of events.

All over Egypt, the millions are now rising without fear, witha single voice. We have just heard that Mubarak and his family has run away, apparently to Sharm El Sheikh. Well, it is not far from there to Saudi Arabia. The revolution is on its to victory.

Report: Mubarak, family leave Cairo amid persisting unrest: Haaretz

Al Arabiya says beleaguered Egyptian president leaves for Sinai of Sharm el-Sheikh as protesters call on the military to take action to push Mubarak out.

The Al Arabiya report came as Egypt’s powerful military backed Mubarak’s plan to stay in office until September elections earlier Friday, enraging hundreds of thousands of protesters who deluged the squares of Cairo and Alexandria and marched on presidential palaces and state television – key symbols of the authoritarian regime.

The army’s show of solidarity with the president was a heavy blow to protesters who called on the military to take action to push Mubarak out after he announced Thursday night that he would hand most of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but remain in office.

The Armed Forces Supreme Council, the military’s highest body, depicted itself as the champion of reform in its latest statement. Trying to win the trust of an angry and skeptical population, the army promised to make sure Mubarak lifts hated emergency laws immediately once protests end. Mubarak and Suleiman had only given a vague timetable for ending the law – when security permits.

Still, the profound disappointment that Mubarak did not step down on Thursday turned to rage on Friday and protests escalated.

“What are you waiting for?” one protester yelled in the face of an army officer outside Mubarak’s main palace, Oruba, in northern Cairo, where a crowd of demonstrators grew to more than 2,500. “Did you pledge your allegiance to the president or the people?” another shouted.

It was not known if Mubarak was in the palace, one of at least three in Cairo, or even in the capital. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of barbed wire, but soldiers did nothing to stop more people from joining the rally.

The march on the palace were the first by protesters who for nearly three weeks have centered their mass demonstrations in Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square.

More than 10,000 tore apart military barricades in front of the towering State Television and Radio building, a pro-Mubarak bastion that has aired constant commentary supporting him and dismissing the protests. They swarmed on the Nile River corniche at the foot of the building, beating drums and chanting, Leave! Leave! Leave! They blocked employees from entering, vowing to silence the broadcast.

Soldiers in tanks in front of the building did nothing to stop them, though state TV continued to air.

Egyptians hold ‘farwewell Friday’: Al Jazeera online

Pro-democracy campaigners march on state television and presidential palaces, as army calls for normal life to resume

Massive crowds have gathered across Egypt, including hundreds of thousands of protesters in and around Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square, calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to stand down.

Pro-democracy activists in the Egyptian capital marched on the presidential palace and state television buildings, while many also gathered at Liberation Square, on Friday, the 18th consecutive day of protests.

At the state television building, thousands have blocked people from entering or leaving, accusing the broadcaster of supporting the current government and of not truthfully reporting on protests.

“The military has stood aside and people are flooding through [a gap where barbed wire has been moved aside],” Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the state television building reported.

He said it was not clear if they planned to storm the building, but said that “a lot of anger [was] generated” after Mubarak’s speech last night, where he repeated his vow to complete his term as president.

“The activity isn’t calm, but there are a lot of people here who are tired of not having their demands met,” he said.

Outside one presidential palace where protesters had gathered in Cairo, our correspondent reported that there was a strong military presence, but that there was “no indication that the military wants to crack down on protesters … in Cairo”.

She said that army officers had engaged in dialogue with protesters, and that remarks had been largely “friendly”.

Tanks and military personnel had been deployed to bolster barricades around the palace.

Reports indicate, however, that Mubarak and his family have left Cairo, bound for an as yet unconfirmed destination, though Mohammed Abdellah, a spokesman of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, told the AFP news agency that the president was bound for his residence at the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh.

In Tahrir Square, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered, chanting slogans against Mubarak and calling for the military to join them in their demands.

Our correspondent at the square said the “masses” of pro-democracy campaigners there appeared to have “clear resolution” and “bigger resolve” to achieve their goals than ever before.

He also said, however, that protesters were “confused by mixed messages” coming from the army, which has at times told them that their demands will be met, yet in communiques and other statements supported Mubarak’s staying in power until at least September.

Army statement

In a statement read out on state television at midday, the military announced that it would lift a 30-year-old emergency law but only “as soon as the current circumstances end”.

The military said it would also guarantee changes to the constitution as well as a free and fair election, and it called for normal business activity to resume.

Many protesters, hoping for Mubarak’s resignation, had anticipated a much stronger statement.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tahrir Square said people there were hugely disappointed and vowed to take the protests to “a last and final stage”.

“They’re frustrated, they’re angry, and they say protests need to go beyond Liberation [Tahrir] Square, to the doorstep of political institutions,” she said.

Protest organisers have called for 20 million people to come out on “Farewell Friday” in a final attempt to force Mubarak to step down.

‘Anything can happen’

Hossam El Hamalawy, a pro-democracy organiser and member of the Socialist Studies Centre, said protesters were heading towards the presidential palace from multiple directions, calling on the army to side with them and remove Mubarak.

“People are extremely angry after yesterday’s speech,” he told Al Jazeera. “Anything can happen at the moment. There is self-restraint all over but at the same time I honestly can’t tell you what the next step will be … At this time, we don’t trust them [the army commanders] at all.”

An Al Jazeera reporter overlooking Tahrir said the side streets leading into the square were filling up with crowds.

“It’s an incredible scene. From what I can judge, there are more people here today than yesterday night,” she said.

“The military has not gone into the square except some top commanders, one asking people to go home …I don’t see any kind of tensions between the people and the army but all of this might change very soon if the army is seen as not being on the side of the people.”

Hundreds of thousands were participating in Friday prayers outside a mosque in downtown Alexandria, Egypt’s second biggest city.

Thousands of pro-democracy campaigners also gathered outside a presidential palace in Alexandria.

Egyptian television reported that large angry crowds were heading from Giza, adjacent to Cairo, towards Tahrir Square and some would march on the presidential palace.

Protests are also being held in the cities of Mahala, Tanta, Ismailia, and Suez, with thousands in attendance.

In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Mubarak said he was handing “the functions of the president” to Vice-President Omar Suleiman. But the move means he retains his title of president.

“I have decided to stick… by my responsibility in protecting the constitution and the people’s interests until the power and responsibility are handed over to whomever the voters chose next September, in free and fair elections,” the president said.

Halfway through his much-awaited speech late at night, anticipation turned into anger among protesters camped in Tahrir Square who began taking off their shoes and waving them in the air.

‘Go home’

Immediately after Mubarak’s speech, Suleiman called on the protesters to “go home” and asked Egyptians to “unite and look to the future.”

“Youth of Egypt, heroes of Egypt, go back to your homes and businesses. The country needs you so that we build, develop and create,” Suleiman said.

“Do not listen to tendentious radios and satellite televisions which have no aim but ignite disorder, weaken Egypt and distort its image.”

More than 1,000 protesters moved overnight towards the presidential palace in the upscale neighbourhood of Heliopolis in central Cairo.

Union workers have joined the protests over the past few days, effectively crippling transportation and several industries, and dealing a sharper blow to Mubarak’s embattled regime.

The US and EU said the announcement to transfer some powers to the vice-president was grossly insufficient and falls short of genuine reforms demanded by the people.

“The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient,” Barack Obama, the US president, said in a statement

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February 11, 2011

EDITOR: The final stage of the revolution seems to be here!

In another facile speech, Mubarak has clarified beyond any doubt, that he is not in touch with reality. Omar Suleiman, his sidekick and servile deputy, is not much more connected either. Both seem to think that they can spout more lies and get the demonstrators home, and continue with their corrupt regime, by promising democracy by September. The Egyptian people know – it is now or never!

Meanwhile, on the farm in Washington, the animals are in disarray… not quite decided if they prefer democracy to ‘stability’ they keep swivelling like a weather-vane gone out of control. It seems that Obama is listening to both sides, and keeps changing his mind on a daily basis. Two things are now clear:

1. The US administration is not well-informed (they don’t seem to have Al Jazeera on the White House channels…) and is not clear about what is happening in Egypt. This may sound incredible, but there is no other expalnation to their bizarre switching of policy.

2. The US administration is also not clear and have not decided what they want out of this situation – do they prefer to see the dictator continue and choke the Egyptian people, or do they risk allowing democracy in Egypt to develop? The choice is difficult for a governemnt which has supported dictators and and brutal occupations as far as memory goes, and not just in the Middle East. Do they want ‘stability’, or do they want to foment unrest and be the arbiter?

This situation is most dangerous for the whole Middle East, now moving at enormous speed to modernise and democratise, after decades of corrupt and brutal regimes. In the end, the US seems just as confused as Mubarak about the direction of events.

Mubarak got the chair, the Egyptain people got the power, by Carlos Latuff

BREAKING NEWS!

Protesters outraged over Mubarak address, vow to continue revolution: Ahram online

Ahram Online, Friday 11 Feb 2011

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir sq and downtown Cairo this evening to celebrate what they believed was the imminant stepping down by President Hosny Mubarak were dumbfounded, then outraged as Mubarak finally addressed the nation on TV. Though Mubarak concluded his address by announcing the transfer of his powers to the vice president, he repeatedly asserted in the course of the address that he will remain in power until the end of his term in September.
Chanting “down with Mubarak”, “down with the regime”, the protesters vowed to mainting their occupation of Tahrir sq and their demonstrations until they bring Mubarak and his regime down, once and for all. They expect to bring millions to the streets in Cairo and across the nation in tomorrow’s Friday of Decision protest.

Egypt: A new wave of workers strikes and sit-ins: Ahram Online

Mass protests demanding change have triggered a fresh wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins across the country Wednesday, spotlighting long-ignored economic demands
Wednesday 9 Feb 2011

Workers in Cairo joined thousands of state employees on strike Thursday in spreading labor unrest that has pumped further strength and momentum into Egypt’s wave of anti-government protests. Writing in Arabic on placard center-left reads “Increase basic pay” and on placard center-right “End of work pension: 60 months. Infection risk pay: 100 percent. Rule No. 48 replacing rule No. 47.” (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Related
Five Suez Canal companies workers go on strike, no major disruptions witnessed yet

Demonstrations and strikes across Egypt

Steel and Canal shipyard workers strike in Suez continues
Following the “Million Man” demonstrations and mass strikes that escalated across Egypt on Tuesday, a new wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins also spread on Wednesday.
Ahram Online has been receiving continuous reports of strikes breaking out in both public and private companies across the country, many of which are still being confirmed. At the time of publishing, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) had confirmed the following:

More than 2000 workers started a strike in Helwan’s silk factories and circulated the office of the company’s chairman demanding his exclusion.

Thousands of workers have started a strike in Helwan’s coke factories demanding higher wages and full-time contracts.

In Mahala’s Spinning and Weaving factory, hundreds started a sit-in in front of the administration building.

In Kafr El-Zaiat hospital, 1500 nurses started a sit-in demanding their late wages.

Four hundred workers in Suez’s Egypt National Steel Factory started an open strike demanding higher wages.

In Menoufeia, more than 750 of Schweppes factory workers started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

More than 800 of the spinning and weaving workers in Menoufeia started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

In Cairo, 200 workers from the General Committee for Drug Supervision started a sit-in demanding full time contracts and higher wages.

Apart from the demands calling for democratic reforms that have triggered Egypt’s mass protests, social and economic needs have been at the core of the country’s political unrest in recent years.

Although a 2010 court ruling demanded that a new minimum wage be set, the government promised to set a minimum of only LE400 per month (about $70), allowing tensions to soar.

Catapulting, by Carlos Latuff

Egypt’s Mubarak refuses to quit: BBC

President Mubarak addressed the nation in a television broadcastContinue reading the main story
Egypt Unrest

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has said he will stay in office and transfer all power only after September’s presidential election.

His comments in a national TV address confounded earlier reports that he was preparing to stand down immediately.

Mr Mubarak said he would delegate some powers to Vice-President Omar Suleiman, but the details of this remain unclear.

Thousands of anti-government protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square reacted angrily to his announcement.

There were chants of “Down with Mubarak”, and protesters waved their shoes in disgust. Thousands were reported to be heading towards the presidential palace some distance away.

The BBC’s Paul Adams, in Tahrir Square, said the mood contrasted dramatically with the celebratory, almost party atmosphere that existed in the hours running up to President Mubarak’s televised address.

Mr Mubarak had previously pledged not to stand in September’s poll, and said he would stay on to oversee a process of constitutional change.

Negotiations between the government and opposition groups have made little progress, with protesters disillusioned at plans for reform put forward by Mr Mubarak’s government.

Continue reading the main story
At the scene

Yolande Knell
BBC News, Tahrir Square, Cairo
This was the third time that President Mubarak has disappointed anti-government protesters since this uprising began by refusing to step down.

At the same time as he said on state television that he felt “pain in my heart for what I hear from some of my countrymen”, huge crowds of Egyptians were yelling “Be gone” and waving their shoes in dismay.

Mr Mubarak did try to reach out to young people, praising them and promising that the blood of their “martyrs” would “not go down the drain”. He restated his commitments to constitutional reforms and a peaceful transition of power in September’s election. He mentioned handing some powers to his vice-president, crucially without expanding on this point.

Some parts of this speech were condescending, with the president addressing Egyptians as “a father to his children”. He also answered rumours he had left the country by stating: “I will not separate from the soil until I am buried beneath it.”

Anger looks set to increase with more demonstrations already planned to follow Friday prayers. Many people chanted “tomorrow, tomorrow” as they left Tahrir Square.

The Egyptian ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, suggested Vice President Suleiman was now the “de facto head of state” following Mr Mubarak’s speech, but this has not been confirmed.

In his address, Mr Mubarak said: “I express a commitment to carry on and protect the constitution and the people and transfer power to whomever is elected next September in free and transparent elections.”

Directly addressing protesters “in Tahrir Square and beyond” in what he said was “a speech from the heart”, Mr Mubarak, 82, said: “I am not embarrassed to listen to the youth of my country and to respond to them.”

He apologised to the families of protesters killed in clashes with the security forces in recent weeks, and said those responsible for their deaths would be punished.

Mr Mubarak added that the country’s emergency laws would only be lifted when conditions were right, and said he would ignore “diktats from abroad”.

He also appeared to call for the end of protests against his 30-year rule that began on 25 January.

“Egypt has gone through difficult times and we cannot allow these to carry on,” he said. “The damage to our economy will lead to a situation in which the youth calling for reform will be the first to be affected.”

‘Go home’
Mr Suleiman, speaking after Mr Mubarak’s address, said the protests had had an effect, and a process of constitutional change would now go ahead.

He added that President Mubarak had empowered him to preserve security and stability in Egypt, and restore normality – and he urged the protesters to return home.

“Youth of Egypt: go back home, back to work, the nation needs you to develop, to create. Don’t listen to radio and TV, whose aim is to tarnish Egypt,” he said.

Activist Mustafa Naggar, responding to the leadership’s statements, said: “The street is fed up with Mubarak. If Mubarak leaves the country, he will help to calm the crisis. If he continues, he will lead Egyptians into chaos.

“Plans for tomorrow stand. We will march in the millions to Tahrir Square and other locations.”

Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the United Nations atomic watchdog, tweeted: “Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now.”

Among the first reaction from the US – a key ally of Egypt – was a statement from Senator John McCain, in which he described President Mubarak’s announcement that he will remain in power as “deeply unfortunate and troubling”.

He added: “The voices of the Egyptian people are growing louder and more unified, and they are not demanding partial transfers of power or minor adjustments to the current government.”

US President Barack Obama has convened a meeting with his national security team at the White House following President Mubarak’s speech. The US government had in recent days stepped up its call for the protesters’ concerns to be addressed.

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Baroness Ashton, said: “The time for change is now. President Mubarak has not yet opened the way to faster and deeper reforms.

“We will pay close attention to the response by the Egyptian people in the coming hours and days.”

Earlier, the secretary-general of the Mr Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, had said the right thing for the president to do would be to step aside – and that he did not expect Mr Mubarak to be president on Friday.

At the same time, Egypt’s military announced it was standing ready to “protect the nation”. State news agency Mena reported that the high council of the armed forces was in continuous session “to protect the nation, its gains and the aspirations of the people”.

Defiant Mubarak refuses to resign: Al Jazeera online

Egyptian president vows to remain in office until his term ends in September, and not bow down to ‘foreign pressure’.

Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, has refused to step down from his post, saying that he will not bow to “foreign pressure” in a televised address to the nation on Thursday evening.

Putting to rest widespread speculations that he will quit, Mubarak announced that he was delegating some authorities to his new vice-president, Omar Suleiman, a close confidante.

In a much anticipated speech, Mubarak said he had put into place a framework that would lead to the amendment of six constitutional articles (including articles 77, 88, 93 and 189, and the annulment of article 179).

“I can not and will not accept to be dictated orders from outside, no matter what the source is,” Mubarak said.

He said he was addressing his people with a “speech from the heart”.

Mubarak said that he is “totally committed to fulfilling all the promises” that he has earlier made regarding constitutional and political reform.

“I have laid down a vision … to exit the current crisis, and to realise the demands voiced by the youth and citizens … without undermining the constitution in a manner that ensures the stability of our society,” he said.

Mubarak said he had “initiated a very constructive national dialogue … and this dialogue has yielded preliminary agreement in stances and views”.

A state of emergency, which has been in place since Mubarak took power 30 years ago, remains in place, though the president promised to lift it as some unspecified point in the future.

“I will remain adamant to shoulder my responsibility, protecting the constitution and safeguarding the interests of Egyptians [until the next elections].

“This is the oath I have taken before God and the nation, and I will continue to keep this oath,” he said.

Mubarak said the current “moment was not against my personality, against Hosni Mubarak”, and concluded by saying that he would not leave Egyptian soil until he was “buried under it”.

Mubarak’s comments were not well-received by hundreds of thousands gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square and in other cities, who erupted into angry chants against him. Pro-democracy protesters had been expecting Mubarak to resign, and their mood of celebration quickly turned to extreme anger as they heard the president’s speech.

Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Liberation Square said the “mood completely altered as the president progressed with his speech”, with protesters expressing “frustration and anger” at him.

Hundreds took off their shoes and waved them angrily at a screen showing Mubarak’s speech, shouting “Leave, leave!”

Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition figure and former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, responded to the speech by saying “Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now”, on the microblogging website Twitter.

‘Go back home’

Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, addressed the nation in a televised address shortly after Mubarak’s speech, and called on protesters to “go back home” and “go back to work”.

”]He said he had been delegated by the president “the responsibilities to safeguard the stability of Egypt, to safeguard its … assets … to restore peace and security to the Egyptian public, and to restore the normal way of life”.

He said that a process of dialogue with the opposition had yielded positive results, and that “a roadmap has been laid down to achieve the majority of demands”.

The vice-president said that steps had to be taken to “safeguard the revolution of the youth”, but also called for protesters to “join hands” with the government, rather than risk “chaos”.

He told Egyptians “not [to] listen to satellite television stations, whose main purpose is to fuel sedition and to drive a wedge among people”.

Army meeting

Earlier, the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces had met to discuss the ongoing protests against Mubarak’s government.

In a statement entitled ‘Communique Number One’, televised on state television, the army said it had convened the meeting response to the current political turmoil, and that it would continue to convene such meetings.

Thurday’s meeting was chaired by Mohamed Tantawi, the defence minister, rather than Mubarak, who, as president, would normally have headed the meeting.

“Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation… and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people,” the statement.

Tens of thousands poured into Tahrir Square after the army statement was televised. Thousands also gathered in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, our correspondent there said.

Earlier, Hassan al-Roweni, an Egyptian army commander, told protesters in the square that “everything you want will be realised”.

Hassam Badrawi, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), told the BBC and Channel 4 News earlier on that he expected Mubarak to hand over his powers to Omar Suleiman, the vice-president during his address.

“I think the right thing to do now is to take the action that would satisfy … protesters,” Badrawi told BBC television in a live interview.

Ahmed Shafiq, the country’s prime minister, also told the BBC that the president may step down on Thursday evening, and that the situation would be “clarified soon”. He told the Reuters news agency, however, that Mubarak remained in control, and that “everything is still in the hands of the president”.

However, Anas el-Fekky, Egypt’s information minister, denied all reports of Mubarak resigning from early in the day.

“The president is still in power and he is not stepping down,” el-Fekky told Reuters. “The president is not stepping down and everything you heard in the media is a rumour.”

Mubarak met with Suleiman, the vice-president, at the presidential palace ahead of his address.

Protesters expected resignation

Mahmoud Zaher, a retired general in the Egyptian army, told Al Jazeera earlier in the day that Mubarak’s absence from the army meeting was a “clear and strong indication that [Mubarak] is no longer present”, implying that the Egyptian president was not playing a role in governance any longer.

”]Protesters had earlier responded to statements from political leaders as indicating that they had been successful in their key demand of wanting Mubarak to step down.

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has played a key role in helping protesters get organised, said on the microblogging site Twitter on Thursday evening: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.”

Ahead of the speech, Jacky Rowland, our correspondent in Tahrir Square, described the atmosphere as “electric”, with “standing room only” in the central Cairo area. She said that thousands gathered there were “celebrating a victory which has been anticipated, rather than actually achieved”.

In Alexandria, Jamal ElShayyal, our correspondent, said the atmosphere turned “from joyous to now furious” as Mubarak completed his speech.

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