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Israeli Atrocities against Palestinians and International Response

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“Palestinian lives matter” Brussels: 4497 pairs of shoes to symbolize the 4497 people killed in Gaza since 2009

The world’s media is castigating Israeli soldiers who killed unarmed Palestinians on April 20, 2018 in the wake of Great March of Return in Gaza. This action coincides with the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The uproar in the international community has only begun, as the plight of the Palestinians, who live in a de facto prison run by Israel, has come into sharp focus with these actions, and social media has put the conflict under a magnifying lens.

The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation Council (OIC) has also been urging the international community and the UN to play their due role for a peaceful settlement of the Palestine issue in line with relevant UN resolutions and international human rights laws. For its part Pakistan has also displayed its unwavering solidarity with its Palestinian brothers and called the attention of the slumbering human rights organizations to the abominable use of force by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinians who been rendered homeless in their own home and has unequivocally condemned the controversial and illegal US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In the same vein, in Brussels, 4497 pairs of shoes (representing Palestinians killed by Israelis in the last decade) were laid out on the square outside the EU Foreign Affairs Council as ministers are meeting to discuss their response to the recent massacre of unarmed Palestinian protestors.

In a video posted in The Irish Post, May 25, Irish shoppers quickly acted to remove Israeli products from shelves in a boycott action.

However, Israel’s persecution of Palestinians remains unabated. On May 27, as reported in B’Tselem, an entire Palestinian community of 32 families, Kan Al-Ahmar, is being forcibly transferred from their West Bank homes.

It was in defense of such a Palestinian neighborhood that American Rachel Corrie (a 23-year-old peace activist with the International Solidarity Movement) was killed on March 16, 2003, by an Israeli soldier operating a bulldozer to demolish the home of a Palestinian pharmacist. She had courageously stood in front of the home to stop the bulldozer, but lost her life instead.

“These deaths are preventable. They are us. We are them,” Rachel Corrie said in a speech as a young girl.

(Demolishing civilian homes violates Articles 2 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 33, 53, and 54 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions.)

For the most part, the international community has shamefully ignored the plight of Palestinians, and the ongoing genocidal war of Israel against them. It only came out 14 years later after Arafat’s death in 2004, that he had been assassinated, poisoned with polonium (probably by the Mossad). The United States has supported Israel with financial aid and military aid. International businesses have profited from the occupation of Palestinians.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is considering a report, “Who Else Profits” which blacklists Israel and the international businesses that have played a crucial role supporting occupation and settlement, deeming it a criminal business activity violating human rights.

In March of this year, Trump cut off more than half of $65,000,000 humanitarian aid pledged to Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA). He demanded that the Palestinians stop sending payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and to the families of those who had died.

The U.S. Congress is split on passing a law against anti-Semitism, a law which would jail Americans for 20 years for the crime of criticizing Israel. Anyone criticizing Israel’s war against Palestine gets accused of anti-Semitism, which I consider a red herring to deflect accountability for murder. Just because Jews have been persecuted, doesn’t make their persecution of Palestinians acceptable. Persecution is persecution. It’s always wrong.

If the U.S. Congress passes such a law, it should be immediately struck down as being unconstitutional, as it is a huge move against freedom of speech.

Today, May 29, 2018 the Israeli Navy stopped a Palestinian flotilla attempting to sail from Gaza to Cypress. 22 Palestinians were arrested, including Palestinian patients and students. This was an act of desperation as some Palestinians do not have access to needed medical care.

Not everyone in the international community has looked the other way. Two previous freedom flotillas were launched to assist the Palestinians. On May 31, 2010 a flotilla of international peace activists sailed from Turkey for the Gaza strip. Israeli’s navy troops intercepted the six ships, five of which surrendered without incident, but nine of the activists on the sixth ship were killed when they were boarded. At the time, Turkey branded Israel a terrorist state.

A second flotilla was intercepted October 5, 2016, 35 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. International women activists, including Nobel Peace prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, were arrested.

The Israelis launched Operation Protective Edge against the Gaza Strip in 2014, killing over 2,000 Palestinians, including over 50 children. That Israel suffered little or no consequences to these actions has given Palestinians a sense that Israeli soldiers act with impunity.

Following are excerpts from Noam Chomsky’s 2005 book, Middle East Illusions, as he describes the history of the conflict, and possible outcomes.

“The participants in the Palestine tragedy of the past half century perceive it as a national conflict: Jews against Arabs.”

“Sooner or later, at some moment the international situation will be unfavorable. That moment, if it arrives, will be the end of Israel, though the catastrophe will be far greater in scale.”

“The Palestinians have suffered a severe historical injustice in that they have been deprived of a substantial part of their traditional home.”

Chomsky explains how this impasse cannot be resolved through the use of force (see Chapter 2, “A Radical Perspective”. He set forth two alternatives, “The first is the continuation of the national struggle between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, both sides locked into the losing strategy that I have already discussed. This will lead either to the physical destruction of the Palestinians, or to a much wider—probably nuclear—war, with unpredictable consequences… The only other alternative… is the establishment of a Palestinian state in the currently occupied areas. He adds, “I suspect that only extreme pressure from the great powers could lead Israel to accept a truly independent Palestinian state.”

Chomsky describes a third way, one which embraces social change brought about by local forces in both societies, a movement in which people no longer identified themselves as Jews or Arabs, but people committed in a common effort to achieve social justice, freedom, and brotherhood.

Finally, a long-range process of transition to a peaceful society requires an armistice and agreement to shun violence as a tool to achieve goals. What is required is the grace that comes from women’s involvement in changing to a way of life that allows everyone involved (Israelis and Palestinians) to thrive.

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Middle East

Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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