Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stoning: Performance Art or Attempt to Harm?

If someone throws a stone at you, is it a statement of performance art, or an attempt to harm you?

From a recent American visitor to the occupied West Bank, at the Aida refugee camp. She came as part of an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation.
The first day of my trip began in the Aida refugee camp. In a cloud of tear gas, I was introduced to Israel’s war. Exiting our tour bus, we saw a few children around my son’s age throwing stones. 
A quarter-mile away, at the 20-foot-high Separation Wall, were two soldiers with machine guns, face masks, helmets and bulletproof vests. The rocks were not reaching even halfway to where the soldiers were. 
Moreover, the children were not exclusively throwing the rocks in the direction of the soldiers. They threw some rocks at a building to their left, like a game of handball that didn’t return; others threw to their right. 
The stones they threw toward the soldiers seemed not to be in aggression aimed at harm, but as a statement of performance art, saying, “With these rocks, we resist your occupation, your apartheid.” Within moments, the soldiers began an attack of tear-gas canisters aimed at the children. The smoke inadvertently engulfed us as well.
From the book Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel, by Haim Watzman (2005), p. 131. Watzman is describing his experiences as an Israeli reservist soldier in the West Bank village of Bani Na'im in May of 1988, during the first intifada. His company has the duty of patrolling Bani Na'im for a month, and their orders are to respond to every hostile action by Palestinians, including painting PLO graffiti on the wall, throwing stones, or putting up Palestinian flags. Watzman was not happy about these orders and at first does not follow them.
During my first outings as commander of a jeep patrol, I tried to take a different approach. I deliberately ignored the graffiti and the flags, and kept as much as I reasonably could on the margins of the sectors I was sent to patrol. The third time out I had stones thrown in my direction from alleyways and rooftops. Over the vocal protest of the soldiers under my command, I disregarded those as well. The fourth time out the stones were bigger and they hit us. That I couldn't ignore. We chased our attackers but they got away.
 I talked it over with Eiger [one of the other soldiers in the company], and what he said made a lot of sense. The young men of Bani Na'im were well organized. They had us under observation and were certainly capable of identifying individual soldiers and commanders. They'd seen that I was avoiding confrontations that other patrols sought out, and they interpreted it as cowardice. So they singled me out as an easy target, and that's why my patrols were getting stoned. Keep up my hands-off policy and I'd soon be the target of a Molotov cocktail, Eiger warned - and that was dangerous. Two soldiers from another unit had been horribly burned by one when their patrol was attacked a few weeks ago.
Stones as performance art? Or stones as attempts to harm? You, my readers, are the judges.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Snow cats in Jerusalem

During the snow a couple of weekends ago in Jerusalem many people became very creative in making snow sculptures - see below the snow cats and snow dogs, along with snow people.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, to Hitler, about the Jews

Another twitter post from Real Time WWII -

Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25, 1941 - Nazis seize Terezin to use as ghetto

I follow the twitter feed for Real Time WWII, and this is today's post: Nazi occupiers of Czechoslovakia have taken over walled fortress of Terezín to use as a ghetto & concentration camp.

Embedded image permalink

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nazi looting of Jews

The Banality of Robbing the Jews

I just saw this article on the New York Times website - about what happened when the Nazis deported Jews from western Europe to the death camps. Their apartments were completely emptied and their property was stolen for the benefit of German soldiers, German families, and to satisfy the avarice of top Nazi officials.
The recent discovery of more than 1,400 prized paintings in the Munich residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, an art collector whose father collaborated with the Nazis, has brought the pillage of the Jews back into the limelight. Yet the bulk of anti-Semitic looting during World War II was at once much more banal and more widespread. 
In Paris, the plunder of Jewish possessions began with the arrival of German troops in June 1940. At first, it applied only to art collections. But as soon as the Final Solution was devised in January 1942, the confiscations spread to the entire Jewish population, most of which comprised poor immigrants from Eastern Europe. Stripping Jews of their belongings was part and parcel of the effort to destroy them; pillage was an essential tool of extermination.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kafranbel: The Syrian Revolution in 3 minutes

So now the UN is destroying the Assad regime's chemical weapons - but what about all the rest of them? We stand by with our hands folded and do nothing. This is a video from the rebel village of Kafranbel that covers the Syrian revolution in three minutes.

For more explanation see this CNN story: In Northern Syria, rebels use satire as a weapon.

And for more on Kafranbel, see their Facebook page, Kafranbel Syrian Revolution.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Western Wall in 1898, as painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner, "The Wailing Wall", ca. 1898
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was an African American artist (born in Pittsburgh), who spent most of his artistic career in Paris, where he was freed of the anti-Black racism of the United States and was able to pursue his art without constantly being insulted and mistreated. He studied with the painter Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1879-1885, and then in 1891 he went to Paris and spent the rest of his life there.
He visited Palestine twice in 1897 (for six weeks) and in 1898 (for six months). As a result of his visit, in addition to many other biblical scenes, he painted Jews praying at the Western Wall, both men and women. Notice that there's no mehitza (screen to divide men and women at prayer), and that there is a row of women standing right in front of the Kotel, all wearing colorful scarves.
In "Mutual Reflections: Jews and Blacks in American Art," Milly Heyd writes that Tanner
depicted the  site as symbolizing the destruction and hoped for revival of the old Temple, an image that became a visual icon for a specific national struggle, constantly repeated by artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Tanner painted the wall and worshipers with great empathy and an emphasis on the group as well as on the individual: "Nor do I forget the deep pathos of 'Jews' Wailing Place' - those tremendous foundation stones of that glorious temple that stood upon Mount Moriah, worn smooth by the loving touch of tearful and devout worshippers from all over the world, under the scornful gaze of the to-day Turkish conqueror."
This painting is on display at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Some good news from the world of Hebrew manuscripts. The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem is digitizing and will be posting online 1600 manuscripts from the Palatina Library in Parma, Italy.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's National Library says it has signed an agreement with a leading Italian collection to display online some of the world's most important Hebrew manuscripts, making them accessible to the public for the first time. 
National Library Judaica curator Aviad Stollman says it will be digitizing the Palatina Library's collection of about 1,600 documents dating to the Middle Ages. He says the collection includes rare illuminated manuscripts and one of the oldest existing copies of the Mishna, a central Jewish text. 
Stollman said Thursday the manuscripts are on par with Vatican and Oxford collections. He says Israel's library is also negotiating with those institutions to scan their manuscripts 
Stollman said Israel's National Library is seeking to digitize and post online all of the world's Hebrew manuscripts.
Folio from a 13th century Hebrew Bible written in Toledo, Spain.

Are these people crazy???

Speaker of the House Boehner said today that the U.S. Is On A Path To Default, unless President Obama gives in to the Republicans. He said that he wants a "serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up. It would be irresponsible of me to do this." If a conversation is all he wants, why doesn't he just make a phone call? You don't threaten to tear down the house if all you want is a conversation.

Is he serious? It is supremely irresponsible for him to threaten not to raise the debt limit, since not raising it would lead to an economic catastrophe. Doesn't he remember the financial meltdown of 5 years ago? I was just thinking about that the other day. On September 14, 2008, Lehman Brothers was not saved by the Federal Reserve and filed for bankruptcy. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch. AIG was in big trouble, and eventually was saved by the Fed. On September 15, The Dow Jones fell 504 points. On September 28, 2008, the House of Representatives voted no on the plan to bailout the financial industry, and the stock market plunged over 700 points. I remember staring at the graphic of the falling stock market on the Times website in the middle of the afternoon and having the feeling that no one was in charge.

Is this what Boehner really wants? If he has any concern about the financial state of the United States and its standing in the world, he would not be making these threats and he certainly would not carry them out. I had thought that one stable point in the American political system was that the Republicans were the party of business, especially big business. I suppose I should have been disabused of that notion in the fall of 2008 when Republicans opposed bailing out the auto companies. But this is even crazier.

The Wall Street Journal reports:
If U.S. lawmakers fail to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit this month they will cause a “very, very severe recession with no obvious way out,” Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi said Friday.

With the government unable to enact fiscal policies and the interest rates set by the Federal Reserve already near zero, “there would be no policy levers” to use against the resulting recession, Mr. Zandi said in a conference call with clients.

Mr. Zandi’s comment’s echo recent warnings from Wall Street titans like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and from the White House.

The U.S. Treasury has said it will run out of room to maneuver to remain below the $16.7 trillion debt limit “no later” than Oct. 17 unless Congress raises it. That deadline is fast approaching, even as the government entered its fourth day of shutdown because of deep-seated disagreements among lawmakers over spending.

If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, Treasury will have to match its ongoing expenditures to its revenue on a day-by-day basis. Since the government spends more than it takes in, the inability to borrow money will take billions of dollars out of the economy that it injects through daily operations and spending. The situation could also eventually lead to a government default if the Treasury is unable to make payments to its creditors.

Even if the U.S. Treasury were to prioritize debt repayment over outlays for Social Security, Medicare and other payments, investors would grow increasingly nervous about their holdings of government debt securities. “The real unknown is how financial markets will react,” Mr. Zandi said.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Zandi expects to investors to start applying increasing pressure on lawmakers in Washington to resolve the twin fiscal crises. He noted the stock market this week has been “softening,” while the cost of insuring U.S. Treasuries against default has been rising. “If this drags into next week the sell-off will start to intensify,” he said.
In other words, if the government defaults on its debt, what happened in fall of 2008 will seem like a walk in the park.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Western "pacifists" volunteer to become "human shields" for Assad's government

This is the craziest political movement I've seen in many years - western so-called "pacifists" volunteering to go to Syria to defend the Syrian government against possible US airstrikes.
The 'International Human Shields' movement, started by a group of activists in Britain and the US, plans to bring to Syria civilians from countries around the globe, who will try to deter US strikes on the country by staking out potential military targets.

Franklin Lamb, a lawyer recently appointed as the legal adviser for the group said he had been "inundated" with requests from activists including from Canada, France, Italy, the US, and Britain.

The Syrian regime has not yet indicated whether it will allow the group to enter the country, but it raises the prospect of hundreds of pacifists descending on Damascus, as happened in Baghdad before the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Many of those volunteering to go to Syria also took part in the 'Human Shields' movement that travelled to Baghdad, initially to protect hospitals and schools, and later, key government infrastructure sites.
Notice that last line - "government infrastructure sites." The people who went to Baghdad in 2003 were protecting Saddam Hussein's government. They should have been there to protect the people of Baghdad against Saddam's government.

And how can we call these people "pacifists"? They're not anti-war - if they truly were they would already have been in Syria for 2 1/2 years as "human shields" against the government's attack on its own people. They would have been embedded with the citizens of Damascus who were gassed by the government two weeks ago - men, women, and children.

These people are truly those who believe in the "anti-imperialism of fools." They despise anything - anything - the United States does, and their hatred of the US blinds them to the decades of dictatorship in Syria and the atrocities committed both by Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar.
Ken O'Keefe, an ex-US Marine who gave up his American citizenship in disgust at Iraq war and who became a leader of that Human Shields group, told The Daily Telegraph that he has been acting as an adviser for this Syrian-focused movement. "I have been sharing my experience with Mr Lamb. I have a feeling that if the Syrian government allows it, there would be a huge inundation of volunteers," he said. "The policies of Britain and the US make no sense; we are aligning ourselves with the people who we were supposedly fighting in Iraq." 
Andrew, 33, a Canadian pianist, who did not wish to provide his full name, is one of several hundred people who contacted the group to volunteer themselves as human shields. He told the Daily Telegraph that he is willing to fly himself to Damascus and to die there for this cause. 
"I don't want to see Syria turn into another Libya," said Andrew. "If I had a hand big enough to squash the US tanks then I would. Democracy is America's deadliest export, they use it as an excuse to destroy countries."
The Syrian government is already doing a pretty good job at destroying the country. Hasn't he noticed what they've done to the ancient city of Aleppo?
"I think a movement of solidarity on a global scale could grab the attention of a lot of people. I think if there are that many people in the US who are willing to do that it would send a powerful message. Even if people have to die for it".
This particular group is being invited to Syria by a pro-government Syrian group that has stationed itself on a mountain overlooking Damascus where there is a large military base:
The 'human shield' strategy has also been taken up by some Damascenes. A group calling itself 'Over Our Dead Bodies' has established a sit-in at Qassioun, a mountain overlooking Damascus that is home to both a large military base and state television centre. 
"We think the first target might be Syrian state media," said Ozgret Dandashi, the founder of the group. "Even if the American's attack we will stay here."
The state media? No, the military base!
In the past week some high profile Syrian actors, actresses, and sports personalities have joined the stakeout at Qassioun. Video footage showed Omar al-Hassano, a Syrian basketball player standing on the mountainside with the protesters. 
Some demonstrators have brought along their children. Their cheeks painted in the colours of the Syrian flag, they waved posters of Bashar al-Assad and sang patriotic songs. 
Miss Dandashi said that she and other organisers of the Over Our Dead Bodies movement had been lobbying the Syrian government to convince them to allow their foreign compatriots into the country. 
"We are receiving messages from people in Britain, Italy, Germany and all over Europe who want to be human shields with us here but we have a big problem in getting them visas. We are trying to solve this," she said. 
The Syrian government has launched its own propaganda campaign in recent weeks. Posters are everywhere in Damascus, warning civilians to move away from homes near government ministries.
Wise idea. Perhaps the people on the mountain should follow suit. Get away from the probable target, rather than going to it.
Full-page adverts in local papers warn Syrians to look out for "American spies" in their midst and attributing recent news of defections from the Syrian military as nothing more than "psychological warfare" by the US.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Damascus: What to do to prepare for US airstrikes

From the twitter feed of someone living in Damascus (

  1. 7- took a deep breath and relaxed
  2. 6- Checked car is fueled up
  3. 5- Packed bags of essentials, meds, clothes/PJs, canned food, etc
  4. 4- Went down to shelter, placed candles, flashlights, batteries, first aid kit, blankets, towels, etc...
  5. 3- Opened up all windows in our building staircase
  6. 2- Opened all windows, moved our mattresses into a room with no windows, kept all doors open
  7. 1- Right after Obama's talk finished, we were like the strike is gonna happen any unexpected moment & this is what we did at home:

Monday, August 26, 2013

New York Times: Proof of Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

The New York Times has a detailed report on the nerve gas attack in Syria:
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Thousands of sick and dying Syrians had flooded the hospitals in the Damascus suburbs before dawn, hours after the first rockets landed, their bodies convulsing and mouths foaming. Their vision was blurry and many could not breathe.

Overwhelmed doctors worked frantically, jabbing their patients with injections of their only antidote, atropine, hoping to beat back the assault on the nervous system waged by suspected chemical agents. In just a few hours, as the patients poured in, the atropine ran out.

To avoid contamination, medics stripped new arrivals down to their underwear and doused them with water before taking them inside.

New patients kept coming. One doctor from the town of Kafr Batna likened the scene to a horror movie, with cars bringing in entire families — fathers, mothers and children — all of them dead.

The doctors soon faced a new problem: where to put the dead. Some were covered with blocks of ice to fend off the summer heat, others were wrapped in white sheets and lined up in rows so family members could identify the victims.

It would be hours before officials in Washington woke up on Wednesday to learn the extent of the massacre. President Obama, who had recently returned from a weeklong vacation and planned a quiet day at the White House before departing for a two-day bus tour across New York and Pennsylvania, was told of the attack in the Oval Office that morning during his regular intelligence briefing.

The White House issued a cautious public statement about the attacks from a deputy spokesman shortly before noon, but behind the scenes the president and his national security team were grappling with the urgency and enormity of the event: the largest mass killing of the Syrian civil war, and most likely the deadliest chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein’s troops killed thousands of Kurds with sarin gas during the waning days of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Interviews with more than two dozen activists, rebels and doctors in areas near the attack sites, as well as an examination of more than 100 videos and photos of the aftermath, back up this assertion.

Report from Doctors Without Borders about nerve gas attack in Syria

I just received this email from Doctors without
Borders (because I'm a donor).

As you may have heard, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports of serious medical casualties are at the center of news stories about the alarming situation in Syria. As a Doctors Without Borders supporter, we want you to have the latest information.

Here is what we know: three hospitals in Syria's Damascus governorate that are supplied by Doctors Without Borders reported to us that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms such as convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress, in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21.

These patients were treated using Doctors Without Borders-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms. So far 355 of those patients reportedly displaying neurotoxic symptoms have died.

Due to security concerns, no Doctors Without Borders staff have been able to visit the hospitals who reported these symptoms to us, but the accounts come from medical facilities with which Doctors Without Borders has had strong, effective and reliable collaborative relationships. We are neither able to confirm the cause of the illnesses and deaths nor establish who may be responsible, but the reported symptoms, the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, and several other factors, strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.

Unfortunately, when medical personnel treat patients exposed to a neurotoxic agent, they too are at risk of becoming ill. Sadly, the doctors in one of the hospitals reported that 70 out of 100 volunteers suffered symptoms after direct contact with patients and that one person has died.

Here is what we're doing now: While we are calling for a thorough, independent investigation, Doctors Without Borders has continued our lifesaving work in Syria and assisting Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. We are now trying to replenish the empty stocks of atropine to the facilities that reported the attacks and we are dispatching 15,000 additional vials to other facilities in the area. Treatment of patients with neurotoxic symptoms is being fully integrated into medical strategies in all of our programs in Syria.

The medical and humanitarian response in Syria is already pushed beyond its limits, with hundreds of thousands of men, women and children already killed, injured and displaced. The medical infrastructure in the country has been crippled by the deliberate destruction of hospitals and other medical facilities.

The extent of Doctors Without Borders' response so far – operating six hospitals and four health centers and providing supplies, advice and support to places we cannot access – is only made possible due to dedicated supporters like you.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Will Obama finally intervene in Syria?

A Tweet by the Guardian:
My friend Raphael Geller writes on Twitter:

Mahir Zeynalov, a Turkish journalist who writes for Today's Zaman, reports:
Haaretz reports that:
Washington announced Friday that four U.S. destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea would be moving closer to the coast of Syria. The destroyers are armed with Tomahawk missiles that can accurately strike military targets in Syria.
A possible scenario from Mahir Zeynalov:
It is my understanding that Obama decided to strike Syria and will do it in coordination with Britain, France and Turkey.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013 
Turkey will help funnel arms to Syria, rebels will be trained in Jordan while U.S. will strike key targets with Tomahawks.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013
Patriot missile batteries in Jordan and Turkey will serve as a limited no-fly zone in northern and southeastern Syria.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013
Kurdistan may invade northern Syria to neutralize Nusra and Ansar al Sham with PYD militants. Barzani said cross-border campaign imminent.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013 
It is much easier to impose naval embargo and strike from warships because Israel earlier destroyed Russian anti-ship Yakhnot missiles.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013 
Fred Kaplan's column in Slate, Obama’s Guns of August (a provocative title), provides a couple of scenarios for what US intervention could mean.
It seems likely that President Obama will bomb Syria sometime in the coming weeks.

His top civilian and military advisers are meeting in the White House on Saturday to discuss options. American warships are heading toward the area; those already there, at least one of which had been scheduled for a port call, are standing by. Most telling perhaps is a story in the New York Times, noting that Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for action in Syria. 
In that conflict 14 years ago, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Serbia, were being massacred by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. President Bill Clinton, after much reluctance, decided to intervene, but couldn’t get authorization from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia—Serbia’s main ally—was certain to veto any resolution on the use of force. So Clinton turned to NATO, an appropriate instrument to deal with a crisis in the middle of Europe.

The parallels with Syria are obvious. In this case too, an American president, after much reluctance, seems to be considering the use of force but can’t get authorization from the U.N. because of Russia’s (and China’s) certain veto. The pressures to act have swelled in recent days, with the growing evidence—gleaned not just from Syrian rebels but also from independent physicians’ groups and U.S. intelligence—that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, killing more than 1,000 civilians.

But where can Obama turn for the legitimacy of a multinational alliance? Nobody has yet said, but a possible answer is, once again, NATO—this time led perhaps by Turkey, the alliance’s easternmost member, whose leaders are very concerned by the growing death toll and instability in Syria just across their southern border..... 
Let’s say that Obama agrees that NATO could be the key force of an air campaign in Syria—and that enough NATO members agree to go along. (In Kosovo, every member of the alliance, except Greece, played some kind of role.) 
What would be the war’s objectives? This is the crucial question of any military intervention. It should be asked, and answered, before a decision is made to intervene—along with a calculation of how much effort might be needed to accomplish those objectives and whether the cost is worth the benefit.... 
If Obama does use force in Syria, he will do so because of clear evidence that Assad’s regime has killed lots of civilians with chemical weapons. Two considerations will likely drive his decision, if it comes to that. First, he has drawn a “red line” on this issue, publicly, at least five times in the last year, and failure to follow through—especially after the latest revelations—would send confusing signals, at best, about U.S. resolve and credibility. Second, failure to respond would erode, perhaps obliterate, the taboo that the international community has placed on chemical weapons (especially nerve gas) since the end of World War I. I suspect that this factor may be more pertinent to Obama, who takes the issue of international norms very seriously. 
So the No. 1 objective of a U.S. air campaign against Syria would be the seemingly limited one of deterring or preventing Assad’s regime from using chemical weapons again. However, Obama’s top generals and intelligence officers would likely tell him that they can’t do much to fulfill this mission. They probably don’t know where the remaining chemical stockpile is located, so they wouldn’t be able to destroy it. And the notion of using military force to deter some future action is a bit vague: It’s unclear whether it would have any effect on Assad. Obama would also have to specify the additional damage he’d inflict if Assad ignored the message, and he’d have to be reasonably sure ahead of time that that damage would be enough to deter him from taking the dare. 
A more extravagant, but possibly more feasible, target of an air strike might be Assad’s regime itself—with the objective of destroying it or at least severely weakening it....

More on Syria

Guardian article on - Did Assad's ruthless brother mastermind alleged Syria gas attack?
[M]aher al-Assad has in many ways played a more decisive role in the country's civil war than his elder brother, commanding its most formidable military division as it claws back losses and leading the defence of Damascus against an opposition that remains entrenched on the capital's outskirts. The question many Syrians are asking, after last week's revelations of an apparent chemical attack on civilians in rebel-held areas, is what role the president's brother may have played in the atrocity.

Maher has remained a senior member of the Ba'ath party's central committee and a central pillar of a police state that, despite the ravages of war and insurrection, remains one of the most effective in the world.

As the trajectory of Syria's war has wobbled throughout the past year, opposition gains in parts being offset by regime advances elsewhere, the 4th Armoured Division Maher commands has been a chief protagonist on behalf of the regime. He has acted as division commander since at least 2000, and at the same time leads Syria's other premier fighting force, the Republican Guards. Both units have been at the vanguard of the war since its earliest days, and were active again last week as loyalist forces launched their biggest operation yet to root out rebel groups from the capital.
It was while this operation was under way that thousands of residents of east Ghouta were exposed to what scientists increasingly believe was a nerve agent, possibly sarin. Attempts to pin down who was responsible for the attack are now the subject of a global intelligence effort that has already started to zero in on loyalist military units as the likely suspects.

Additional proof of nerve gas attack in Syria from Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders, which both has medical personnel in Syria and gives support to medical facilities in the Damascus area, reports that thousands suffering neurotoxic symptoms treated in hospitals supported by MSF.
Brussels, 24 August 2013 - Three hospitals in Syria's Damascus governorate that are supported by the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have reported to MSF that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died.

Since 2012, MSF has built a strong and reliable collaboration with medical networks, hospitals and medical points in the Damascus governorate, and has been providing them with drugs, medical equipment and technical support. Due to significant security risks, MSF staff members have not been able to access the facilities.

“Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” said Dr Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations.

Patients were treated using MSF-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms. MSF is now trying to replenish the facilities’ empty stocks and provide additional medical supplies and guidance.

“MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr Janssens. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events—characterised by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers—strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons.”

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Nostalgia for the good old days of Stalin: John Wight on homophobia in Putin's Russia

In case you thought the nonsense about "pinkwashing" was limited to castigating Israel for being a relatively decent place to live if you happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, while at the same time giving a pass to the multitude of anti-gay Arab regimes - I give you John Wight on the Stalinist British blog, Socialist (dis)Unity. He's angry at Stephen Fry for writing an open letter calling on Britain to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia. Fry is calling for this boycott because of the recent passage of Russian anti-gay legislation that bans "homosexual propaganda." A short excerpt from his letter:
Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma.
So how does Wight respond to Fry?
Many societies remain uncomfortable with homosexuality. In our own country gains in LGBT rights and equality are a relatively recent phenomenon. Whether we like to admit it or not, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity are still viewed as two sides of the same coin in some societies, feeding a misplaced understanding of homosexuality as solely a lifestyle choice motivated by hedonism. It is seen as a corrupting and corrosive influence on social cohesion as a consequence. There is of course nothing wrong with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. The freedom to choose any lifestyle a person so wishes, as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others, is rightly deemed sacrosanct in a healthy society.
Homosexuality as a "lifestyle choice"? What is Wight talking about? He sounds like the religious right in the US, which views acting on same sex attraction as a sinful "choice" that should be resisted. I'm not sure, myself, that sexual orientation (not "lifestyle") is as genetically based as some people argue it is, but it has always seemed to me to be something deeply rooted in one's personality, not something chosen. The lack of success of so-called "eparative therapy" (trying to turn gay people straight) is testimony to the lack of choice. This is a man of the left? He sounds like someone who is longing for the days when homosexuality was thought of as a bourgeois deviation not found in healthy socialist societies like the Soviet Union! (Shades of Ahmedinejad denying that there were any gay people in the pure Islamic Republic of Iran!)
But social attitudes are inevitably buttressed and influenced by cultural traditions, which differ across the world and are the product of specific histories and inevitably develop at different rates of progress. These factors cannot simply be abstracted in favour of a western-centric approach on the part of liberal commentators and activists in Britain.
Why is Wight defending Putin's Russia? As a socialist, shouldn't he be opposed to Putin and everything he stands for: authoritarianism, suppression of dissent, alliance with the deeply reactionary Russian Orthodox Church? Why is he defending regressive "cultural traditions"? 

And note that snuck into his supposed tolerance for different cultural traditions is the statement that they "develop at different rates of progress." This implies that there is, or should be progress, toward something - in this case, the greater acceptance of homosexuality that is found in Britain and other western countries. So he knows that he's apologizing for an anti-gay policy, but he's cloaking it in the language of respect for different cultural traditions.

There's a good comment on the blog criticizing Wight, from someone calling themselves "Loony Lefty":
I find this piece profoundly disturbing. Sexual orientation is not a “lifestyle choice”, it is a fundamental element of people’s self-identity. Describing it as a “lifestyle choice” is incredibly dismissive. 
And to advocate that we should cut Russia some slack because homophobia is part of their culture is not only deeply patronising, it is an entirely false argument. I grew up as an Afrikaner in Apartheid South Africa, where it was part of my culture to believe that black people were subhuman. Is that an acceptable belief? Absolutely not. It was part of my culture, but I’m sure (at least, I would hope!) that no-one on SU would have opposed our exclusion from international sport. And I somehow doubt that anyone here would have argued against our exclusion from the Olympics by arguing that black people in SA weren’t suffering on the scale of the Holocaust.

Yemen Was Once a Powerful Arabian Kingdom Run by Jews

Jacob Mikanowski in Tablet has a really interesting article on a Jewish kingdom in Yemen just before the rise of Islam: Yemen, the Crucible of al-Qaida, Was Once a Powerful Arabian Kingdom Run by Jews. The title of the article is dumb (al-Qaida isn't mentioned in the article, nor was Yemen in fact the crucible of Al-Qaida), but the contents are really worth reading if you want to know something about Jews in the Arabian peninsula.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Over a hundred Palestinian prisoners to be released - almost all murderers

The Israeli government will probably be releasing over a hundred Palestinian prisoners (almost all of them murderers) as part of the process of restarting the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and their names have just been released. (The decision has to be voted on by the cabinet, and according to Haaretz, Netanyahu may have a hard time getting enough people to vote for the releases). It's painful to see who some of these people are:

In the fall of 1988 Jumaa Adem and Mahmoud Kharbish killed Rachel Weiss and her three children (Ephraim, Raphael, and Netanel) and David Dolorosa, who tried to save the lives of the four. They died in a molotov cocktail attack on the vehicle in the Jordan Valley. I remember this - I was in Israel then, during the first intifada.

In 1989 Israeli Prize Laureate Menahem Stern was murdered in the Valley of the Cross as he was walking to National Library on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. I was also in Israel at the time. His murder was especially painful, because he was a great scholar of Second Temple Jewish history. These are some of his publications (list from Wikipedia):
  • The Great Families of the Period of the Second Temple (1959)
  • The Documentation of the Maccabee Rebellion (1965)
  • Greek and Latin authors on Jews and Judaism/ edited with introductions, translations and commentary by Menahem Stern. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, (c1974-c1984)
  • Studies in the History of the People of Israel in the Period of the Second Temple (1991, published posthumously)
  • The Reign of Herod (1992, published posthumously)
  • Hasmonean Judea in the Hellenistic World: Chapters in Political History (1995, published posthumously)
Mahmoud Issa, who led the terrorist cell that kidnapped and murdered Border Guard officer Nissim Toledano on December 12, 1992 (The ynet article has the date wrong). I remember this murder too. I was in Israel for the year doing research for my dissertation, and I was sitting in the Scholem Library when the word came that Toledano had been killed. He had been kidnapped with the aim of exchanging him for Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, who was in an Israeli prison. When the deadline for the exchange passed, Toledano was killed by his captors.

Note: Ynet has just published the complete list in Hebrew:,7340,L-4410284,00.html.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jerusalem from Har Gilo

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine took me up to the top of Har Gilo (Mt. Gilo), which is just south of Jerusalem, across the Green Line (the border that used to exist between Israel and Jordan from 1949 to 1967). As my last post notes, Israeli settlements on the other side of the Green Line are not recognized as legitimate by any other state, but that has not stopped the Israeli government from either deliberately planning them or allowing them to be built. Har Gilo is right next to the Palestinian village of Walaje. Israel has almost entirely enclosed Walaje with the separation wall, even though since 1967, Walaje is within the Israeli-defined Jerusalem municipal boundaries.

In this map (a screenshot from Google Maps), the 1949 armistice line is represented by the dotted grey line.

After the 1967 war, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and a good deal of other land north and south of the city, including where Walaje is. This map shows the post-1967 municipal boundaries. I've marked where Har Gilo is. It's from PASSIA (Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs).

And here are some of my photographs from the visit to Har Gilo. The first two are of Jerusalem north from Har Gilo.

In the top of the photo you can see the Chords Bridge, at the western entrance of Jerusalem.

The hideous tall building in the center of the photograph is of the tower from the Holyland apartment development, surrounded by less tall but equally ugly buildings. Several people have been convicted of corruption in the building of the development.
On the horizon, the left hand tower is part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at Mt. Scopus. The right hand tower is on the Mt. of Olives.

We're looking north towards the Jerusalem Zoo. The low building with a domed roof close to us is of the aviary.
Part of Walaje. Notice the high concrete wall - this is the separation wall, cutting of Walaje from the rest of Jerusalem.
Another photo of Walaje, also showing the separation wall, and beyond it, a large cleared area - for what, I don't know.
A view from Har Gilo towards the west, I think - I don't know what the hill we're looking toward is.

I took this photo on our way back to Jerusalem because I wanted a picture of the misty hills going off in the distance. I'm not sure what this view shows.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New EU guidelines limit funding to pre-1967 borders of Israel

The EU has just issued new guidelines for funding entities in Israel which restrict grants to the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel. This means that it will not fund anything based in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights. On the other hand, there will be no bar to funding anything involving the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Below are the guidelines, as published today in Haaretz.



on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since
June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards


1.  These guidelines set out the conditions under which the Commission will implement key requirements for the award of EU support to Israeli entities or to their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. Their aim is to ensure the respect of EU positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. These guidelines are without prejudice to other requirements established by EU legislation.

2. The territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 comprise the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

3. The EU does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over any of the territories referred to in point 2 and does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory(1), irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law(2). The EU has made it clear that it will not recognise any changes to pre-1967 borders, other than those agreed by the parties to the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP).(3) The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council has underlined the importance of limiting the application of agreements with Israel to the territory of Israel as recognised by the EU.(4)

4. These guidelines do not cover EU support in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments awarded to Palestinian entities or to their activities in the territories referred to in point 2, nor any eligibility conditions set up for this purpose. In particular, they do not cover any agreements between the EU, on the one hand, and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation or the Palestinian Authority, on the other hand.
On the territorial application of the EU-Israel Association Agreement see Case C-386/08 Brita  [2010] ECR I-1289, paragraphs 47 and 53. 
Under Israeli law, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are annexed to the State of Israel, whereas the Gaza Strip and the rest of the West Bank are referred to as 'the territories'. 
See inter alia  the Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on the MEPP adopted in December 2009, December 2010, April 2011, May and December 2012. 
The Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on the MEPP adopted on 10 December 2012 state that 'all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967'.

5.  These guidelines apply to EU support in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments within the meaning of Titles VI, VII and VIII of the Financial Regulation(5) which may be awarded to Israeli entities or to their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. Their application is without prejudice to specific eligibility conditions which may be laid down in the relevant basic act.

6. These guidelines apply:
(a)   for grants – to all applicants and beneficiaries, irrespective of their role (sole beneficiary, coordinator or co-beneficiary). This includes entities participating in the action on a no-cost basis(6) and affiliated entities within the meaning of Article 122(2) of the Financial Regulation. This does not include contractors or sub-contractors selected by grant beneficiaries in conformity with procurement rules. As regards third parties referred to in Article 137 of the Financial Regulation, in the cases where the costs of financial support to such third parties are eligible under a call for proposals the authorising officer responsible may, where appropriate, specify in the call for proposals and in the grant agreements or decisions that the eligibility criteria set out in these guidelines also apply to the persons that may receive financial support by the beneficiaries.
(b)   for prizes – to all participants and winners in contests;
(c)   for financial instruments – to dedicated investment vehicles, financial intermediaries and sub-intermediaries and to final recipients.

7. These guidelines apply to grants, prizes and financial instruments managed, as the case may
be, by the Commission, by executive agencies (direct management) or by bodies entrusted
with budget implementation tasks in accordance with Article 58(1)(c) of the Financial
Regulation (indirect management).

8. These guidelines apply to grants, prizes and financial instruments funded from appropriations of the 2014 financial year and subsequent years and authorised by financing decisions adopted after the adoption of the guidelines.
 Regulation (EU, Euratom) No. 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No. 1605/2002, Official Journal of the EU L-298 of 26 October 2012. 
6 In which case the Israeli entity will finance its participation with funding from other sources, but will nonetheless be treated as a beneficiary and may therefore have access to know-how, services, networking and other opportunities developed by the other beneficiaries as a result of the EU grant. 

9.  As regards the place of establishment of Israeli entities:
(a) In the case of grants and prizes, only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible.
(b) In the case of financial instruments, only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible as final recipients.

10.  The place of establishment is understood to be the legal address where the entity is registered, as confirmed by a precise postal address corresponding to a concrete physical location. The use of a post office box is not allowed.

11. The requirements set out in section C:
(a)   apply to the following types of legal persons: Israeli regional or local authorities and other public bodies, public or private companies or corporations and other private legal persons, including non-governmental not-for-profit organisations;
(b)   do not apply to Israeli public authorities at national level (ministries and government agencies or authorities);
(c)   do not apply to natural persons.


12.  As regards the activities/operations of Israeli entities:
(a)   In the case of grants and prizes, the activities of Israeli entities carried out in the framework of EU-funded grants and prizes will be considered eligible if they do not take place in the territories referred to in point 2, either partially or entirely.
(b)   In the case of financial instruments, Israeli entities will be considered eligible as final recipients if they do not operate in the territories referred to in point 2, either in the framework of EU-funded financial instruments or otherwise.

13. Any activity or part thereof(7) included in an application for an EU grant or prize which does
not meet the requirements set out in point 12(a) will be considered as ineligible and will not be considered as part of the application for the purpose of its further evaluation.

14.  The requirements set out in section D:
(a)   apply to activities under point 12 carried out by the following types of legal persons: Israeli regional or local authorities and other public bodies, public or private companies or corporations and other private legal persons, including non-governmental not-for-profit organisations;
(b)   apply also to activities under point 12 carried out by Israeli public authorities at national level (ministries and government agencies or authorities);
(c)   do not apply to activities under point 12 carried out by natural persons.

15.  Notwithstanding points 12-14 above, the requirements set out in section D do not apply to activities which, although carried out in the territories referred to in point 2, aim at benefiting protected persons under the terms of international humanitarian law who live in these territories and/or at promoting the Middle East peace process in line with EU policy.(8)
7 For example, these could be nation-wide projects to be implemented in Israel, which involve both activities within pre-1967 borders and activities beyond pre-1967 borders (e.g. in settlements).  
8 For example, these could be activities under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility and/or the Partnership for Peace programme. 

16. Each Israeli entity referred to in points 11(a)&(b) and 14(a)&(b), which applies for an EU grant, prize or financial instrument, shall submit a declaration on honour as follows:
(a)   In the case of grants and prizes, the declaration will state that the application of the Israeli entity is in accordance with the requirements under points 9(a) and 12(a) of these guidelines, while also taking into account the applicability of point 15 thereof.(9) For grants, this declaration will be drafted in accordance with Article 131(3) of the Financial Regulation.
(b)   In the case of financial instruments, the declaration will state that the application of
the Israeli entity as a final recipient is in accordance with the requirements under points 9(b)
and 12(b) of these guidelines.

17. The declarations under point 16 are without prejudice to any other supporting documents required in the calls for proposals, rules of contests or calls for the selection of financial intermediaries or dedicated investment vehicles. They will be included in the package of application documents for each concerned call for proposals, rules of contests and call for the selection of financial intermediaries or dedicated investment vehicles. Their text will be adapted to the requirements relevant for each EU grant, prize or financial instrument.

18. The submission of a declaration under point 16 that contains incorrect information may be
considered as a case of misrepresentation or a serious irregularity and may lead:
(a)   for grants – to the measures set out in Article 131(5) and 135 of the Financial Regulation,
(b)   for prizes – to the measures set out in Article 212(1)(viii) of the Rules of Application
of the Financial Regulation(10) and,
(c) for financial instruments – to the measures set out in Article 221(3) of the Rules of Application of the Financial Regulation.

19. The Commission will implement these guidelines in their entirety, and in a clear and accessible manner. It will notably announce the eligibility conditions set out in Sections C and D in the work programmes(11) and/or financing decisions, calls for proposals, rules of contests and calls for the selection of financial intermediaries or dedicated investment vehicles.

20. The Commission will ensure that the work programmes and calls for proposals, rules of contests and calls for the selection of financial intermediaries or dedicated investment vehicles published by the bodies entrusted with budget implementation tasks under indirect management contain the eligibility conditions set out in Sections C and D.

21. In order to clearly articulate EU commitments under international law, taking into account relevant EU policies and positions, the Commission will also endeavour to have the content of these guidelines reflected in international agreements or protocols thereto or Memoranda of Understanding with Israeli counterparts or with other parties.

22. The award of EU support to Israeli entities or to their activities in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments requires engagement with Israeli entities referred to in points 11 and 14, for example, by organising meetings, visits or events. Such engagement will not take place in the territories referred to in point 2, unless it is related to the activities referred to in point 15. 
9 In the case of Israeli public authorities at national level (ministries and government agencies/authorities), the declaration will contain an address for communication purposes that is within Israel’s pre-1967 borders and that complies with point 10.  
10 Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No. 1268/2012 of 29 October 2012 on the rules of application of Regulation (EU, Euratom) No. 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union, Official Journal of the EU L-362 of 31 December 2012.  
11 Subject to the outcome of the comitology procedures that may be required by the relevant basic act.