Archive for the ‘ Arab-Israeli conflict ’ Category

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How Hosni Mubarak Got Filthy Rich

By Rick Newman for US News Money

There are no Mubaraks on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, but there sure ought to be.

The mounting pressure from 18 days of historic protests finally drove Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office, after three decades as his nation’s iron-fisted ruler. But over that time, Mubarak amassed a fortune that should finance a pretty comfortable retirement. The British Guardian newspaper cites Middle Eastern sources placing the wealth of Mubarak and his family at somewhere between $40 billion and $70 billion. That’s a pretty good pension for government work. The world’s richest man—Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim—is worth about $54 billion, by comparison. Bill Gates is close behind, with a net worth of about $53 billion.

Mubarak, of course, was a military man, not a businessman. But running a country with a suspended constitution for 30 years generates certain perks, and Mubarak was in a position to take a slice of virtually every significant business deal in the country, from development projects throughout the Nile basin to transit projects on the Suez Canal, which is a conduit for about 4 percent of the world’s oil shipments. “There was no accountability, no need for transparency,” says Prof. Amaney Jamal of Princeton University. “He was able to reach into the economic sphere and benefit from monopolies, bribery fees, red-tape fees, and nepotism. It was guaranteed profit.”

Had the typical Egyptian enjoyed a morsel of that, Mubarak might still be in power. But Egypt, despite a cadre of well-educated young people, has struggled as an economic backwater. The nation’s GDP per capita is just $6,200, according to the CIA—one-seventh what it is in the United States. That output ranks 136th in the world, even though Egypt ranks 16th in population. Mubarak had been working on a set of economic reforms, but they stalled during the global recession. The chronic lack of jobs and upward mobility was perhaps the biggest factor driving millions of enraged Egyptian youths into the streets, demanding change.

Estimates of Mubarak’s wealth will probably be hard to verify, if not impossible (one reason dictators tend not to make it onto Forbes’s annual list). His money is certainly not sitting in an Egyptian vault, waiting to be counted. And his delayed exit may have allowed Mubarak time to move money around and hide significant parts of his fortune. The Swiss government has said it is temporarily freezing any assets in Swiss banks that could be linked to Mubarak, an uncharacteristically aggressive move for the secretive banking nation. But that doesn’t mean the money will ever be returned to the Egyptian people, and it may even find its way to Mubarak eventually. Other Mubarak funds are reportedly sitting in British banks, and Mubarak was no doubt wily enough to squire away some cash in unlikely places. Plus, an eventual exile deal could allow Mubarak to retain some of his wealth, no questions asked, as long as he and his family leave Egypt and make no further bids for power.

Epic skimming is a common privilege of Middle Eastern despots, and Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were a bit less conspicuous than some of the Saudi princes and other Middle Eastern royals seen partying from time to time on the French Riviera or other hotspots. The family does reportedly own posh estates in London, New York, and Beverly Hills, plus a number of properties around the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, where Mubarak reportedly went after resigning the presidency.

Mubarak also spread the wealth far and wide in Egyptian power circles—another Middle Eastern tradition—one reason he incurred the kind of loyalty that allowed him to rule for a remarkable three decades. Top Army officials were almost certainly on his payroll, which might help explain why the Army eased him out in the end—allowing a kind of in-country exile—instead of hounding him out of Egypt or imprisoning him once it was clear the tide had turned against him for good.

That money trail, in fact, will help determine whether Egypt becomes a more prosperous, democratic country, or continues to muddle along as an economic basket case. Even though he’s out of power, Mubarak may still be able to influence the Army officials running the country, through the financial connections that made them all wealthy. And if not Mubarak, the next leader may be poised to start lining his pockets the same way Mubarak did. For Egypt to have a more effective, transparent economy, all of that will have to be cleaned up. There are probably a lot of people in Cairo who have been checking their bank balances lately.

U.S. Pressure on Mubarak Opens a Rift With Arab Allies

Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon for The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama’s attempt to abruptly push aside Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in favor of a transition government has sparked a rift with key Arab allies Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which fear the U.S. is opening the door for Islamist groups to gain influence and destabilize the region.

Vying to influence the outcome of events, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have sent public and private messages of solidarity to Mr. Mubarak and his vice president, longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, diplomats said. The messages amount to support for the president and Mr. Suleiman to oversee the transition and to ensure that Islamists can’t fill any possible power vacuum.

The support from Arab states has provided a measure of comfort to Mr. Mubarak, who announced he wouldn’t take part in September’s election. It may in part explain why the Egyptian president rebuffed Mr. Obama’s call for an immediate transition that includes the opposition.

The backlash shows how the turmoil in Egypt is rapidly reshaping U.S. policy in the region. In deciding to set itself against Mr. Mubarak, a U.S. ally for decades, the United States is now facing the disquiet of other friendly Arab governments, who have long provided support for American policy goals. Meanwhile, Islamists in the region, including Hamas and Hezbollah, believe they are on the ascent as U.S. allies falter.

Such a scenario was one that defenders of the Middle East’s status quo warned was possible, and shows how Mr. Obama’s options were all, in some sense, unpalatable. The president was criticized early in the unrest for not clearly favoring antigovernment protesters. Now, having done so, he might have alienated key regional U.S. partners in the fight against al Qaeda and Iran. People familiar with the situation said Israel, the United States’ closest ally, has privately echoed Arab concerns about a U.S. push to kick out Mr. Mubarak, and worries Washington underestimates domestic Egyptian support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties.

It is unclear how much sway the Saudis have with Mr. Mubarak’s regime in Cairo, given that the extent of its financial aid to Egypt isn’t known. The United States gives Cairo about $2 billion a year. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are major trading partners, and experts say Saudi and Egyptian intelligence services have especially close ties.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has harshly criticized Egyptian protesters in a statement carried by the Saudi state news agency, describing them as “infiltrators” bent on destabilizing Egypt and the region, accusing them of “malicious sedition.”

“You don’t need to read between the lines too much to see [the Saudis] are in favor of stability,” said Richard Fontaine, an analyst with the Center for New American Security and a former adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Senior officials from the U.A.E., another key regional ally, have said in recent days that the unraveling of Mr. Mubarak’s government threatens to provide breathing room for Islamic extremists and Tehran. Egyptian security forces have been among the most aggressive in seeking to combat Hamas and Hezbollah, Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups that receive their arms from Iran and Syria.

“What hurts men and women as well as the leadership in Egypt hurts us all, and our standing with Egypt is an urgent need,” U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said on a visit to Iraq this week. “But our disapproval is of certain parties who might try to exploit the situation with an external agenda.”

Another Arab official from a government aligned with Washington said the Obama administration seems to be humiliating Mr. Mubarak, despite his close cooperation over the years. This could lessen the willingness of Arab states to cooperate with Washington in the future, said the official.

“[The Saudis] are at odds with the U.S. position, publicly pushing Mubarak out. And frankly so are we—this isn’t how you handle issues in region,” said the Arab official. “Egypt needs to be treated with respect.”

Mr. Obama took a calculated risk by aligning himself this week with the opposition, which includes the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, a group banned by Cairo and long shunned by Washington because of concerns about its ties to Islamist extremism.

U.S. officials acknowledge that Mr. Obama’s decision to turn on Mr. Mubarak has raised ire in Arab states, which fear the United States could turn up the pressure on them next.

The perception among key U.S. allies in the region is that the U.S. “threw Mubarak under the bus,” a senior U.S. official said. “It is fair to say there is definitely concern.”

Another U.S. official said the Obama administration understood Arab concerns that Islamists might try to take advantage of the Egyptian elections to win power, but said Arab states nonetheless needed to revamp their sclerotic political systems. Officials are reassessing the extent it could engage with Muslim Brotherhood.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said what really matters is the “voices of the Egyptian people.”

Anthony Cordesman, an influential defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played down the impact of outside influences on Mr. Mubarak, whether Saudi or U.S. Mr. Obama, he added, was “one voice among many” and argued that domestic considerations were the biggest factor for the regime in figuring out what to do next.

White House officials spent Thursday working on new language the U.S. president might use to make his demands on Mr. Mubarak more forceful, according to outside advisers. Much of the administration’s attention was on the treatment of journalists in Cairo. U.S. officials suspect regime element might have been behind the attacks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Mr. Mubarak to “immediately” begin talks with opposition leaders on handing over power to a transitional government. “I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt’s opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Middle East experts say the goal of creating a new transitional government is not yet in reach. The Egyptian military would have to become more assertive to “control the arena,” said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“This will require the military to undergo an overnight conversion to democracy promoters. That’s more than a stretch in the current circumstances,” Mr. Indyk said.

Administration officials are anxiously awaiting events Friday, a traditional day of protest in the Muslim world. “Friday could be a ‘Tiananmen moment,’ ” said Mr. Indyk. “If that happens, there will be no orderly and peaceful transition, just a bloody and long confrontation.”

—Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

Third World Thugs and Dictators- A History of Self Serving Interests

By Manzer Munir, Pakistanis for Peace

What is it about power and its hold on a person? Not just the common man, but even the most noblest and patriotic of men have let its allure defy the loyalty to their county’s best interests. They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The recent events in Egypt have proven this axiom quite aptly as we are witnessing history in the making with the protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

There is a popular, grassroots, and mostly peaceful uprising against the repressive and longtime authoritative administration of President Hosni Mubarak. Only the fourth president in the history of the modern day republic of Egypt, Mubarak was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War against Israel and served as the Commander of the Air Force as well as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Having served nearly 30 years, he is the only leader most people in Egypt have ever known where more than half the population is under 25. Long seen by the outside world as a model of stability in the volatile neighborhood of the Middle East, Mubarak’s policies of continuing the peace treaty with Israel signed by his predecessor Anwar Sadat, belied the fact that at home in Egypt he had employed many heavy handed and authoritarian tactics to quell dissent at various times in his 30 year rule.

But what may have appeared as strengths to the outside world were weaknesses at a domestic level. Mubarak came to be seen by the average Egyptians as presiding over policies that increased unemployment and also raised the cost of living for many already struggling people. For many, the economic reforms had come to be equated with corruption, as many political leaders were mixing  family business interests with their official roles, and corruption at the highest levels has fully become entrenched in all levels of Egyptian society, much like in many developing countries.

Another example of the measure of cronyism and despotic rule practiced in Mubarak’s Egypt that showed contempt for the democratic aspirations of the common man was his grooming of his son Gamal for eventual leadership of Egypt. It was no surprise in the international community that for the last 8 years Mubarak was exposing his son to more and more official state functions and visits, having most recently brought Gamal to Washington for the opening of Middle East peace talks in the fall of 2010.

Now in the last few weeks, after protests in another North African Arab country of Tunisia that saw the toppling of the 24 year reign of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mubarak’s iron grip on power seems a lot less secure to Egyptians who have been bolstered by the ouster of Ali, another notoriously corrupt and dictatorial ruler of Mubarak’s ilk.

It has become common place to see time after time, in developing countries across the world, but especially in Africa and Asia, autocratic and corrupt rulers who either seize power in military coups or are initially elected in some democratic way, only to hold on to power any way they can. Whether the ruler be Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has held power of that country since 1980 and who despite having lost even the last few rigged elections, has remained defiantly in power. One could also point to another African leader, Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast who refuses to step down from power after having lost the elections of his country in November of 2010 to Alassane Ouattara. Despite losing the election he sits in the presidential palace in the capital Yamoussoukro, still refusing to listen to the world community and even personal pleas from President Obama to relinquish power to the victor of the Ivory Coast elections, Alassane Ouattara.

An Indonesian friend mentioned to me that what is happening in Egypt is exactly how the Indonesians got rid of Suharto, who had come to power and control over Indonesia 32 years prior in large part due to his service and rank in the military.

Examples of such greed for power, money and influence as well as the disregard for the health and well being of their nations are more commonplace in the developing world than in the industrialized nations. It is not to say that in European and western countries there have not been cases of greed and corruption.  However, when the stability and very health of a country’s political system was severely tested, as in my homeland of the United States, a president like Richard Nixon resigned from power, however embarrassingly and went off quietly into history, rather than hold on to the last vestiges of power and control over a sinking country and its national spirit.

For Mubarak, the question should be asked how can this soldier of the uniform can look in the mirror the last few days knowing that every passing day that there are riots in the streets of Cairo, he is undermining the sovereignty, nationhood and the very peace of his motherland. A person like this obviously cares more about their place in history than the well being of their people, their institutions, and their country.

Sooner or later, the chants will get loud enough to be heard outside Mubarak’s residence in the presidential Heliopolis Palace and the people will undoubtedly ask: “Oh Mubarak can’t you see? Time to join Ben Ali.”

Manzer Munir is a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, who is a Sufi Muslim and is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you join the official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to be informed of the latest articles  here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

 

Egypt Restores Internet as Turmoil Escalates

By Cecilia Kang for The Washington Post

Egypt restored Internet access on Wednesday, after a one-week blackout for Web and cell phone users to try to stem civil unrest.

The nation was the second ever to completely shut its citizens off of the Internet. Burma made a similar move in 1997. As the turmoil accelerates, experts say, the move has failed to affect what began as a Web campaign but continued even after the government block.

As of about 11:29 a.m. Cairo time, all major Egyptian Internet service providers appeared to have reopened connection to their domestic customer networks in a global routing table, network expert Renesys Group said in a blog.

Web sites such as the Egyptian State Information Service have been restored. The Wall Street Journal reports that cell phone service MobiNil also is back up.

U.S. Web sites such as social network Facebook were available again to Egyptians.

“We’re pleased that Internet service has been restored and the five million people who use Facebook in Egypt can continue using our service to connect, learn, and share,” said Andrew Noyes, spokesman for Facebook.

The restoration comes as opposition groups and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak have clashed in street confrontations Wednesday. Mubarak said he would not seek reelection, but anti-government protesters have called for him to step down immediately.

“One of big questions is does it work for a government to shut off the network entirely? I think the answer is no,” said John Palfrey, a co-director of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Alaa Abd El Fattah, an Egyptian activist and blogger in South Africa, said at first people organized on social media sites such as the Facebook page “We are Khaled Said.” The page documented the brutal death of a Egyptian blogger who exposed police corruption. There, opposition groups organized initial demonstrations. But predicting a clampdown on networks, Fattah said that anti-government activists, many of whom were young and politically engaged for the first time, switched to proxy technology that would allow them to access the Internet without being identified. They used low-end Nokia phones with Opera browser, which automatically serves as a proxy for users. And they passed along demonstration plans with pamphlets and by word of mouth.

“This movement started online but continued through many other avenues,” said Fattah.

Andrew McLaughlin, former White House deputy chief technology officer, said the shutdown shocked nations who had seen Egypt as a proponent of mobile and Internet technology. It serves as a key regional hub that operates several critical underwater fiber cable systems used for communications for many neighboring nations.

“The implications of shutting down the Internet are huge from an economic point of view,” McLaughlin said. “The idea that transportation grid ground to halt, you couldn’t access your bank or move money around and the entire communications systems was shut down is insane.”

Rejoicing at being given a digital voice again, Egyptians burst back onto the Internet. On Twitter, human rights activist Dalia Ziada wrote that she had over 500 e-mails in her e-mail.

Numerous accounts on Twitter also show that social the networking site and others may still be blocked in Egypt. When the government began to target communications services, they first hit Twitter and Facebook on Jan. 25. Two days later, the Egyptian government, with an Internet adoption rate of about 30 percent, entirely shut down access. Cell phone services were blocked intermittently throughout the last week.

Reports from Twitter indicate that 3G, mobile Web and BlackBerry services are online again for some people. Vodafone Egypt, which released a statement about restoring mobile phone service on Jan. 31, has not commented on its mobile Web service.

With the service restored, Egyptians began to give personal reports of clashes between Mubarak supporters and dissenters, which turned violent in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Egypt Unrest

As reported by the BBC

A massive demonstration is due to be held in Cairo as protesters step up their efforts to force President Hosni Mubarak from power. Organisers say they hope one million will come onto the streets in what is expected to be the biggest show yet. A rally is also planned in Alexandria. Egypt’s powerful army has vowed it will not used force against the protesters.

Meanwhile, new Vice President Omar Suleiman says he will hold cross-party talks on constitutional reform. Mr Mubarak reshuffled his cabinet on Monday to try to head off the protests, replacing the widely despised Interior Minister Habib al-Adly.

But correspondents say that the army’s statement has been a major blow for President Mubarak, and appears to have encouraged protesters.

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, in Cairo, says that the feeling that change is coming in Egypt is getting stronger. Too much has happened too quickly to go back to the way things were before, he says.

At least 100 people have been killed across the country since protests began a week ago following an internet campaign and partly inspired by the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia last month.

Egypt has since cut off internet in the country and text messaging services have been disrupted. Google announced late on Monday that it is operating a special service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages by dialing a phone number and leaving a voicemail.

Some protesters defied the curfew and continued to camp out in Tahrir Square through the night, saying they will stay there until Mr Mubarak’s 30-year-long rule ends. 

The protests in Egypt are posing a policy dilemma for President Obama’s administration, which has now despatched an envoy, former US ambassador Frank Wisner, to Cairo

One of them, Tarek Shalabi, told the BBC that groups were camped out in tents or sleeping out in the square, and described the atmosphere as “overwhelming”. “We’re here because we want to make a statement. We’re not going until Mubarak steps down,” he said.

He said a stage had been set up where people could go up and make speeches, read out poetry or sing or chant political slogans. “It has a festive feel to it,” he said. We all have one thing in common. We all hate the current regime,” he said.

Another demonstrator, 45-year-old lawyer Ahmed Helmi, said: “The only thing we will accept from him is that he gets on a plane and leaves”. On Monday, the Egyptian army said it respected the “legitimate rights of the people”.

In its statement, carried on Egyptian media, the military said: “To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people… have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people.”

Our correspondent says the announcement is absolutely critical because it takes away a huge measure of uncertainty from the mind of any potential demonstrator. Whatever happens next, this will change the Middle East, our correspondent adds. In his statement, Mr Suleiman said the president had ordered new government policy to be outlined “in the next few days”.

The review would include “clear and definite policies” to tackle unemployment, poverty, corruption and the cost of living, the statement said.

There would also be new elections in some districts where there was evidence of irregularities in last November’s parliamentary poll.

Meanwhile, the US state department has despatched a special envoy to Cairo, former ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner.

Concerns have also grown about the economy, as global oil prices on Monday topped $100 (£62) a barrel amid fears of the ongoing unrest.

Israel Fears Unrest in Egypt Could Jeopardize Peace Treaty

By Robert Berger for The Voice of America

The unrest in Egypt is sending shock waves throughout the Middle East, including in neighboring Israel.

Israel is extremely concerned about the situation in Egypt because President Hosni Mubarak has preserved the peace treaty between the two countries for 30 years. Israel considers the treaty a strategic asset, and it fears that a regime change in Egypt could put the peace agreement in danger.

Israeli analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem says an Egyptian government led by opposition groups or the Muslim Brotherhood would take a harder line on Israel.

“It might be a hostile regime to Israel that will not respect the peace treaty with Israel and will cancel it, abolish this agreement, and we will go back to a situation of hostility between Israel and Egypt,” said Ben-Menachem.

That would complicate Israel’s situation strategically, because it already shares two borders with hostile elements: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  And Ben-Menachem believes neighboring Jordan could be next.

“This can create the domino effect, and this fall of the regime in Egypt can also continue to Jordan, and also with Jordan we have another peace treaty,” added Ben-Menachem.  “And if this will happen, if there will be a strategic change in the Middle East, that will not be for the benefit of the State of Israel.”

While the treaty between Egypt and Israel is often described as a “cold peace,” Ben-Menachem says Israel values its relationship with President Mubarak and sees him as a bridge between Israel and the Arab world.

Visiting Each Other’s Holy Places in North America

By Habeeb Ali for Common Ground News Service

I can see your stares! I get them every time I say we are twinning our mosques and synagogues this month. “Really?” people ask, jaws dropping.

For the third year, this exercise of interfaith exchange has progressed in good faith. Synagogues agree to twin with nearby mosques, with congregants visiting each other during Jewish Sabbath and Muslim Friday prayer services and, in some cases, inviting guest speakers or jointly carrying out a community service project like doing a Hanukkah and Eid party together.

I have personally taken students to the synagogue. One young Pakistani-born boy marveled at how cordial Jews were and how familiar the service is. One Palestinian girl at first refused to enter the synagogue but after meeting a warm female rabbi, left saying how different it was from what she’d thought.

Many people wonder about the term “Twinning” to describe the event. But the history of the Muslims genealogically is an ancestral path that leads to Ishmael, a son of Abraham, while that of the Bani Israel, the Quranic term for the Jewish people, leads to another of Abraham’s sons, Isaac.

So we’re children of two brothers – a good reminder actually – since around this time Muslims commemorate Abraham’s story during the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on Eid al-Adha.

Twinning was initiated to encourage a better understanding between Muslims and Jews living in the West, regardless of political inclinations, with a more direct opportunity to have a dialogue about their faith traditions specifically.

In Toronto, in addition to Jewish visits to hear imams’ Friday sermons at mosques and Muslim visits to hear the Torah read in synagogues, the Noor Cultural Centre – which promotes cultural education and bridge-building in the Muslim Canadian community – has organized a weekend-long educational study conducted by Rabbi Dr. Reuven Firestone and Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub. The focus of the study is to reach out to students of both communities and discuss images of war and violence in Jews’ and Muslims’ scriptural texts.

According to Walter Ruby, the man behind the scenes at the New York-based Centre for Ethnic Understanding: “Twinning has brought together thousands of Muslims and Jews to jointly promote tolerance, understanding, education and goodwill in an effort to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”

It has grown from a mere 50 places joining hands last year in North America to more than 100 mosques and 100 synagogues in 22 countries on four continents.

Normally hosted the first weekend in November, Twinning events also take place throughout the month, providing meaningful exchanges for Muslims and Jews to understand each other’s faith – or participate in community initiatives, no matter how creative or how basic, like simply having a rabbi and an imam chat over coffee.

In Toronto, Dr. Barbara Landau plays a key role in promoting the Twinning and works to ensure such events are not limited only to November.

Landau is a friend and long-standing peace activist in Toronto among Jews and Muslims. She has participated in missions to conflict areas in the Middle East to share how Canadians can serve as role models. She has worked tirelessly with others, including her co-chair at the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, Shahid Akhtar, since 9/11 to see that young people in our communities understand each other and work on common projects for the goodness of humanity.

“The Weekend of Twinning has time and time again shown us that Jews and Muslims can not only live together peacefully as neighbors, but also partner together to build a better community at-large,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and lead organizer of the Weekend of Twinning.

And, with many more mosques and synagogues notifying her of their willingness to participate in the event, Landau is optimistic that next year’s Twinning weekend will be even bigger and better.

Arab Guilty of Rape After Consensual Sex with Jew

By Jo Adetunji and Harriet Sherwood for The Guardian

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

Although Kashur was initially charged with rape and indecent assault, this was changed to a charge of rape by deception as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not “a classical rape by force,” the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish.

The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” they added.

The court ruled that Kashur should receive a jail term and rejected the option of a six-month community service order. He was said to be seeking to appeal.

Segal said: “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.”

Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, was quoted as saying: “I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?

“Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.”

Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s population, but relationships between Jews and Arabs are rare. There are few mixed neighbourhoods or towns, and Arabs suffer routine discrimination.

Israeli MPs are considering a law requiring prospective Israeli citizens to declare loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state”. Many Arabs would balk at swearing allegiance to a state which they see as explicitly excluding or marginalising them.

Dan Meridor, a deputy prime minister in Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, is opposed to the proposal. “Why does every bill need the word ‘Jewish’ in it – to show the Arab citizens that it doesn’t belong to them? Then we’re all shocked when they radicalise their stance.

“The majority doesn’t need to remind the minority that it is in fact a minority all the time,” he added.

Analysis: Turkey Looks East, Snarling Key US Goals

By Steven R Hurst for The Associated Press                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    President Barack Obama scored two key foreign policy victories this week _ a new round of U.N. sanctions on Iran even as he kept Israeli-Palestinian talks on life support after the Israeli attack on Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza.  The unintended costs may be heavy.

Both issues threaten key alliances with Muslim Turkey. And both test the ability of the U.S. and Israeli to cope with Ankara’s move out of the Western and NATO orbit toward largely Islamic regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. That matters because the United States is losing sway with its longtime NATO anchor, a democracy that bridges Europe to Asia and the Middle East.

Israel too is struggling to avoid Turkey’s threatened estrangement _ a break that would cost the Jewish state its only Muslim military ally. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Israel after its establishment more than six decades ago. The widening fissures in both alliances likely carry heavier psychological than strategic implications for the time being, particularly for Israel.

Here’s why. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “suddenly is the most popular politician in the Arab world and he doesn’t speak a word of Arabic,” asserts Henri Barkey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Erdogan’s popularity grew exponentially after the Israeli commando raid on a Turkish-sanction flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza. Muslims across the Middle East are holding him up as a hero for his tough talk against the Jewish state in their midst. That’s a stunning reversal. Turks, who migrated into modern day Turkey from Central Asia centuries ago, had always been seen in the Arab world as heirs to the Ottoman empire that had oppressed Arabs for 400 years.

Erdogan received a thunderous reception from fellow Muslim leaders Thursday at the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum that opened with calls for an international investigation of the May 31 Israeli raid that killed eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American teenager. Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002 in a landslide victory, a clear shift away from Turkey’s secular traditions that were established in the modern state, the post World War I and shrunken remnant of the Ottoman Empire.

The political shift was a clear precursor of Turkey’s move toward a more comfortable and powerful place in the Muslim world, despite continued efforts for membership in the European Union. Erdogan has since taken to championing the Palestinians’ cause, often more loudly than their fellow Arabs. That had badly strained Israeli-Turkish relations even before the crisis that blew up around the Gaza aid flotilla.

Then there was Turkey’s insertion of itself into the effort to move Iran away from uranium enrichment and its alleged program to build a nuclear weapon. After Iran rejected a deal to swap nuclear fuel last fall, the United States was determined to impose a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Tehran. Washington had the backing of fellow U.N. Security Council members France and Britain all along and was on the verge of announcing that Russia and China also were on board.

Turkey, with help from Brazil, suddenly announced that it had revived the swap deal and that Iran had agreed. That agreement, more than a half year after initially rejected by Iran, was deeply flawed.

And the next day the United States said a new sanctions package had unanimous support from all five permanent Security Council members. It thanked Turkey for its efforts but said the train had already left the station. When the council voted earlier this week, only Turkey and Brazil cast no votes. Those did little but register protest since neither country holds a veto.

In spite of its rhetoric and obstructionism, Turkey does not appear ready any time soon the break fully from the West. It has vast interests intricately woven into NATO and the European Union. Turkey has a customs union agreement with its top trading partner, Europe, and wants to become part of the EU. But there is no doubt that the tone in Turkey’s foreign policy is changing.

Although the United States has been its chief ally since the Cold War, Turkey opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq through Turkish soil, triggering tensions with Washington. Until the late 1990s, Turkish relations with Iran were tense, with its secular, westernized government accusing Tehran of trying to export its radical Islamic regime to this predominantly Muslim but secular country. Today, Turkey wants to build deeper trade ties with Iran.

Erdogan also is building support for next year’s election by playing the Islam card _ one that appeals heavily to traditionalist, rural and Muslim voters who make up the vast majority of the electorate. “This is not being driven by foreign affairs,” said Jonathan Adelman, professor at the University of Denver. “Erdogan is winning points at home _ going back to the country’s Muslim roots.”

Deaths as Israeli Forces Storm Gaza Aid Ship

As reported on BBC

More than 10 people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says. Armed forces boarded the largest vessel overnight, clashing with some of the 500 people on board. It happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in international waters.

Israel says its soldiers were shot at and attacked with weapons; the activists say Israeli troops came on board shooting. The activists were attempting to defy a blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. There has been widespread condemnation of the violence, with several countries summoning the Israeli ambassadors serving there.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries” and called for a “full investigation” into what happened.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Canada, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington on Tuesday to return to Israel, officials said.

Earlier, he expressed his “full backing” for the military involved in the raid, his office said. The White House said the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the storming of the aid ship.

A spokesman said US officials were “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.

‘Guns and knives’The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday. Israel had repeatedly said the boats would not be allowed to reach Gaza.

Israel says its soldiers boarded the lead ship in the early hours but were attacked with axes, knives, bars and at least two guns.

“Unfortunately this group were dead-set on confrontation,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC.

“Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear,” he said.

Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident. Israel says 10 of its soldiers were injured, one seriously. A leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement, Raed Salah, who was on board, was among those hurt.

Audrey Bomse, a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, which is behind the convoy, told the BBC Israel’s actions were disproportionate.

“We were not going to pose any violent resistance. The only resistance that there might be would be passive resistance such as physically blocking the steering room, or blocking the engine room downstairs, so that they couldn’t get taken over. But that was just symbolic resistance.”

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.

Al-Jazeera TV reported from the same ship that Israeli navy forces had opened fire and boarded the vessel, wounding the captain. The Al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, saying: “Everybody shut up!” Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”.

He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”.

Turkey, whose nationals comprised the majority of those on board, accused Israel of “targeting innocent civilians”. “We strongly denounce Israel’s inhumane interception,” it said, warning of “irreparable consequences” to the two countries’ relations

She said there was “absolutely no evidence of live fire”. Israel is towing the boats to the port of Ashdod and says it will deport the passengers from there.

Turkish TV pictures taken on board the Turkish ship leading the flotilla appeared to show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers.

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.

Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”. He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”.

“We strongly denounce Israel’s inhumane interception,” it said, warning of “irreparable consequences” to the two countries’ relations. Turkey was Israel’s closest Muslim ally but relations have deteriorated over the past few years.

In Turkey, thousands of protesters demonstrated against Israel in Istanbul, while several countries have summoned Israeli ambassadors to seek an explanation as to what happened.

Greece has withdrawn from joint military exercises with Israel in protest at the raid on the flotilla. Israel had repeatedly said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”.

Israel says it allows about 15,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week. But the UN says this is less than a quarter of what is needed.

Temporary Halt in Bombings

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January 19, 2009, Israel announced a cease-fire after 22 days of utter
chaos and destruction in Gaza.  Twelve hours later, Palestinian
militants followed suite and declared a week long cease-fire.  More
than 1300 people have died of which 1% are Israelis.
Earlier, a summit hosted  by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, called on International leaders to
discuss the crisis and its resolutions.

Also present were Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and UN
chief Ban Ki-moon.   Although no concrete resolutions came at the end
of the summit, each side did make its own unilateral declaration of
a cease fire.  Still far from any permanent peace agreement the Israelis and
Palestinians each declared their demands.  Israel demands a complete
halt to the missile attacks on their Southern border by Hamas or any
Palestinian militants.  Hamas wants Israel to withdraw from the Gaza
strip within a week and to remove all bans and allow access to
humanitarian needs.  Or as stated by Charles Clayton, the national
director of World Vision Jerusalem, an aid group, an “18-month
blockade of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza,” needs to come to an
end.  And he added that this blockade has “devastated the economy,
halted services, aisraels-wailing-wall2nd rendered the people of Gaza entirely dependent on
humanitarian aid.”  In the near future, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has planned
a meeting in Jerusalem.  Leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Italy,
Spain and the Czech Republic are expected to attend.  What, if any,
positive outcome will be reached at this meeting, remains to be seen.  As always, unless all sides are true and honest at the negotiating table, there will not be any lasting peace between these two long warring tribes of the children of Abraham.  Pakistanis for Peace calls on its Jewish and Muslim brothers in both countries to sit down and make an ever lasting peace with the help of perhaps the most important American President since FDR coming into office in Washington DC on Tuesday January 20, 2009. These two groups of people need to realize that with Secretary Clinton and President Obama on board, they have true allies in Real and Everlasting Peace and Never a better time than now to attain it. The Jews and the Muslims greet each other the same way when they meet their families or friends on the street. They say “Shalom” and the Muslims say “Salaam”. Both mean “Peace” in Hebrew and Arabic. Interesting that such a common word and form of greeting and salutation can be so uncommon in the lands of Jesus. Let’s continue to hope for peace in the region on the eve of this historic presidency in the United States across the Atlantic.

President Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States

President Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States

 

As  reported by Manzer Munir in Orlando, FL USA and Taneem Ali and M. Lameesa Ali in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

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