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By: Anas Nairoukh

We all go through many experiences in life that leave lasting impressions, especially if they are positive. Thus, when something bad happens, we tend to be haunted – for want of a better term — by it, even though it might make us believe more strongly in the values of righteousness, justice and equality. Indeed, it might make us more determined to strive towards developing such values within ourselves and society.

A short while ago I watched a movie called Captain Phillips, which is based on the true story of Somali pirates attacking a container ship —MV Maersk Alabama — in international waters. I do not accept everything that I watched at face value, but the 2013 movie made me reflect on my own experiences on board the MV Mavi Marmara in 2010. Our ship was part of the Freedom Flotilla trying to help the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

I was one of more than 700 international activists on board six vessels in the flotilla, the largest of which was the Mavi Marmara. Our goal was to stand in solidarity with the people in Gaza, highlight their suffering and break the inhumane and illegal blockade imposed upon them by delivering humanitarian aid. Personally, I had purchased medication and nutrients for children in the coastal enclave, hoping that each item would help to save a life.

Captain Phillips brought back memories of what happened to us. In recalling events of that night ten years ago, I also want to deliver a message to the Israeli commandos who were pirates in all but name. They should watch the film and make note of the similarities between them and the Somalis depicted in the movie. In my view, the Israeli pirates are even worse for attacking unarmed civilians in international waters who had purely humanitarian intentions. The difference between the Israeli criminals and the pirates in the film is that the latter are powerless, yet the Israelis draw their strength from the forces of evil who control world events, albeit temporarily.

Just as at one point the Somali pirates were afraid, I remember that Israel’s so-called “elite” commandos were trembling with fear despite their military strength, weaponry, helicopters and warships. Their eyes betrayed how scared they were even though they wore masks and we were handcuffed.

The Israelis could easily have taken control of the flotilla without using the military option, avoiding the inevitable diplomatic crises with dozens of countries whose citizens were on board. Moreover, that would have saved the lives of the ten martyrs who were shot at close range by cowards in uniform, to say nothing about the dozens who were wounded by the commandos. Stupidly, though, the Israeli pirates insisted on exposing their criminal intent before the entire world. As a result, the Palestinian cause gained even more than it would have if the ships had been allowed to reach the tiny port in Gaza.

Although Israel claims to be a civilised nation, it has unmasked itself on numerous occasions, not least on the night of 31 May 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea; the world knows that it is a terrorist state which uses the might of a modern army, navy and air force against unarmed civilians. On that particular night, such civilians were carrying urgently-needed food, medicine and medical equipment. Nevertheless, they were prepared to defend themselves against Israel’s fully armed commandos — the “elite”, remember — the moment they landed on deck.

As I recall it, some of these commandos wet themselves with fear when we began to defend ourselves and resist their piracy. The navy called this act of piracy Operation Sky Winds, and yet it was damned from the heavens above, a damnation which will continue to haunt Israel, along with the spirit of our martyrs.

The cowards killed nine men in cold blood (the tenth died later of his wounds), who have become heroes. The youngest was 19 year old Turkish-American national Furkan Dogan, who was shot fatally as he lay wounded on deck. Divine justice will prevail eventually; Israel’s earthly impunity will not save it at the end of the day, and the curse of the Mavi Marmara martyrs and the children of Gaza who died because it deprived them of humanitarian aid will haunt the terrorist state. The free world has seen Israel’s ugly face exposed by documentaries such as The Truth: Lost at Sea directed by my shipmate Rifat Audeh, and others.

The cycle of Israeli criminality and savagery continues, the latest example being the killing of an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad Hallaq, whose “crime” was to run away because he was scared. Maybe the message here is that while oppression and barbarity can be found in many places, their ultimate fate is the same. Just as the age of piracy has been consigned to the history books, the age of Israel’s existence will be judged by history as a disgrace and stain upon humanity. It will come to an end, for sure; and sooner than we expect.

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Summary: AMEF webinar on Israeli annexation of West Bank

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The Asia Middle East Forum organized its second live webinar to discuss the Israeli plan to annex parts of the Palestinian West Bank. The event featured a talk by a senior Palestinian political leader from the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Dr. Mousa Abu Marzook.

In his talk, Dr. Mousa Abu Marzook outlines five main themes in connection to the Israeli annexation of the Palestinian West Bank. The themes are: roots of the Israeli settlement, implications of the annexation plan, international and regional positions and the Palestinian strategy of resistance.

Dr. Abu Marzook began his talk with historical and factual backgrounds of the Israeli occupation, and particularly traced the Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank. The talk shows that for many years, numerous Israeli governments erected settlements over the Palestinian territory without disruption. As a matter of fact, the speaker says that Israelis have built about 200 settlements in the West Bank from 1967 to 2017.

The speaker emphasizes the Israeli annexation of the West Bank is a serious matter as the Palestinian territory has literally become an isolated island or a Bantustan. He explains that the West Bank has been divided into three areas with multiple security and administration authorities. The division can be seen in three parts: Area A (administered by the Palestinian Authority), Area B (under Palestinian civil administration and Israeli security control), and Area C (fully controlled by the Israeli occupation authorities). In addition, Dr. Abu Marzook sees a jeopardy in the association between the annexation plan and Trump-Netanyahu deal (Deal of the Century). The Palestinian leader explains that while the international community agrees on the two-state option in Palestine, the enforcement of the Israeli law in the West Bank means the end of such proposed solution. It eliminates the possibility of establishing a state that includes the West Bank as the area shrinks significantly and it would become smaller ghettos surrounded by the Israeli entity from all sides. Furthermore, the annexation plan has implications over the Palestinian freedom of movement and commercial and economic activities. It also gives the Israeli occupation more freedom to attack Palestinian rights, steal extra Palestinian lands and control water sources and strategic locations, such as halls and mountains.

The head of Hamas’ International Relations Bureau reviews a number of international actors’ positions on the Israeli settlement. First, the official American attitude towards settlement has transformed from labeling the activity as illegitimate, then illegal and later to merely describe it as an obstacle to peace. And finally, the speaker points to the current supportive position of the US administration which he views as completely contrary to the international law.
The European position on settlement seemingly moves to criminalize the Israeli activity. However, the speaker questions the EU effective role over this matter as it could translate its position into, for instance, exerting economic pressure on the Israeli occupation. And he further contemplates that a confusion of EU positions could have negative reflections in the future.

As for the Arab and Muslim worlds, the leader of Hamas acknowledges the firm support of public and highlights the wider rejection of the occupation existence and any normalization of relations with the occupiers among them. The Arab League, Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and individual states declared their disagreements over the Israeli plan, and there remains a hope for more steps.

Dr. Abu Marzook states that Palestinians reject and confront the Zionist plan to implant settlements and settlers. To the speaker, the situation is not easy, considering the alliances and crisis that take place in the region and beyond which ,for him, leads to a lack of influence for the Palestinian political system. Also, the history informs that (Israel) did not adhere to any international resolution. This all guides to the reality that the Palestinian armed resistance constructs the greater impact in the context, as justified by the speaker.

Dr. Mousa Abu Marzook proposes a Palestinian strategy and program to address the current situation, which includes:
– Achieving the Palestinian national unity

– Cancelling the Oslo Accords

– Withdrawing the recognition of (Israel)

– Terminating the Palestinian Authority to push the occupation authorities to endure the responsibility towards the occupied people (while Palestinians would focus on their struggle to get rid of the occupation).

A summary prepared by: Belal Samir.

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Asian Issues

Palestinians, nations dismiss Trump’s one-sided deal

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US President Donald Trump has presented his long-awaited Middle East peace plan, promising to keep Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

Trump’s initiative, whose principal author is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, follows a long line of efforts to resolve one of the world’s most intractable issues.

The 50-page political outline recognises Israeli sovereignty over major illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, something to which the Palestinians will almost certainly object. Trump said Israel would be granted security control of the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank.

Trump said Jerusalem will remain Israel’s “undivided capital”. But he also said under the plan, “eastern Jerusalem” would serve as a capital of a State of Palestine. He did not elaborate on what he meant by eastern Jerusalem. He later said on Twitter the a Palestinian capital could be in parts of “East Jerusalem”.

Trump had already recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the city.

Palestinian Response

Responding to the plan, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Jerusalem is not for sale; all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain. “I say to Trump and Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not for sale, all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain. And your deal, the conspiracy, will not pass,” he said in a televised address from Ramallah in the West Bank.

The chief of the Palestinian Hamas movement, Ismail Haniyeh, stated ‘we reject any agreement, deal or project that undermine the certain rights of the Palestinian people.’

Sami Abu Zhuri, a Hamas official, said Trump’s statement was aggressive and the Palestinians will confront this deal. ‘Jerusalem will remain a Palestinian land.’

International reactions
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, emphasized that Jerusalem is sacred for Muslims and announced: Trump’s so-called peace plan proposing to leave Jerusalem to ‘Israel’ never acceptable.
Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), also slammed Trump’s statements on Jerusalem, saying: ‘No, Trump! Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state and the heart of the Islamic world!’
The foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, posted on Twitter: ‘the so-called “Vision for Peace” is simply the dream project of a bankruptcy-ridden real estate developer. But it is a nightmare for the region and the world. And, hopefully, a wake-up call for all the Muslims who have been barking up the wrong tree.’
In the far east,  the ministry of foreign affairs of Indonesia issued a statement suggesting that the issue of Palestine shall be resolved based on the principles of the “two-state solution” that respects international law and internationally agreed parameters.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry commented on the US proposal, saying: ‘We noted media reports on that and are studying this plan. We believe the Palestine issue should be resolved on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, the principles of “two-state solution” and “land for peace” and other international consensus, which should all be observed.’

Further escalation 

At least 41 people were wounded after the Israeli forces used rubber bullets and tear gas in the Jordan Valley, the Al-Orub refugee camp and Tulkarem, according to the Red Cross.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed popular mobilisations against the deal, as groups including the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas, which has governed the occupied Gaza Strip since 2007, called for mass protests.

From: Agencies, AMEF

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Palestinian affairs

Opinion: Why Hamas wants Palestinian elections to be held

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By: Dr Mohammad Makram Balawi

In September last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared at the UN that he is calling for an election to be held in Palestine. The aim is to elect 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council which was, according to many experts, dissolved unconstitutionally by Abbas on 22 December 2018. Although the rule of the court appointed by Abbas is that the PLC election should be held within six months of the previous Council’s dissolution, it took him nine months to express his intention. According to the law, the poll should be held 90 days from the date of the presidential declaration.

Abbas is 85 years old and has been President of the Palestinian Authority since 15 January 2005. Since his statement at the UN he has been busy consulting Palestinian factions on how to organise the election and where. As with the 2006 elections — the last to be held — only those Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem are expected to vote, disenfranchising more than 50 per cent of the Palestinian people; that is, those who live in the diaspora. Although many Palestinians demand that a presidential election should follow the legislative vote, it is not yet confirmed if Abbas agrees to that or not. His term of office actually expired in 2009.

PA spokespeople have said that the election is to renew the legitimacy of the Palestinian government and strengthen democracy, yet Abbas chose only to dissolve and organise an election for the PLC, which was dominated by his political opponents in 2006 when Hamas won 57.6 per cent of the seats. It is said that Abbas had to make this declaration under pressure from his European sponsors, but he is not really concerned with elections because, other than his unwillingness to make his position as president a point for discussion, he does not have enough unity within his own faction, Fatah, and that might fuel more internal differences if elections are conducted.

Moreover, an opinion poll conducted by the PSR on 17 December shows that Abbas has lost the support of the majority of the people. This comes as no surprise, due to the PA’s broken promises which prevent it from achieving independence; the high level of corruption; security coordination with the Israeli occupation; the failure to face Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and the annexation of what is left of the West Bank, which is supposed to be the promised Palestinian state; and the feeling among Palestinians generally that Abbas represents an incompetent and aging leadership for an overwhelmingly young nation.

Many analysts argue that Abbas did not want to object to Europe’s election demands, so he hoped that either Hamas or Israel would refuse to accept them, and save him from embarrassment in front of his European friends. To his surprise, when he dispatched the Chairman of the Central Elections Commission, Dr Hanna Nasir, to the Gaza Strip, Hamas and other Palestinian factions endorsed his election call almost unconditionally.

The agreement included one condition that will be refused by the Israelis, though, which is to allow Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote within their city. This condition was put by the PA and almost all of the factions in order to stress the Palestinian right to Jerusalem and the unity of the Palestinian people. Israel, which is keen to stress the Jewish and Israeli identity of the occupied Holy City, cannot allow Palestinian elections in Jerusalem. Insisting on this condition, therefore, will almost certainly mean that there will be no elections after all.

It is said that Abbas will not be the only one to benefit from this, because Hamas will as well. According to this argument, the de facto government in the Gaza Strip will not risk losing its authority in the territory to an elected government, which basically ignores the fact that the movement won the 2006 elections fairly and squarely. Hence, Hamas outsmarted Abbas by accepting his call for elections, almost unconditionally, because the movement knows that he and his movement are not in a good position to fight a PLC election, and even if Israel agrees to allow Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem, Abbas will eventually find some reason to abandon the process.

There are, though, other reasons to make me believe that Hamas needs this election. The most important of these is the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip for the past 13 years which has destroyed the infrastructure and imposed unimaginable pressure on the public to the extent of making Gaza an “unliveable” place. Compounding the problems are the high rate of unemployment; the chronic shortage of medicines; the difficulty of movement outside the enclave; repeated Israeli military offensives and incursions; and pollution. The strategy of the blockade is to make the people in Gaza rise up against Hamas, but it has failed miserably in this respect.

Nevertheless, the blockade has made the life of the Palestinians in Gaza tragic and kept Hamas — which is basically a liberation movement, remember — busy in trying to solve everyday problems and thus distracted from its main mission. Governing people under an international embargo is no picnic, as Hamas discovered after it won the elections in 2006. That is why the movement actually handed over the government to Fatah in 2017, which was supposed to be followed by parliamentarian and presidential elections, but they have never materialised.

The second important reason why Hamas needs this and other elections to be held is the complete conviction prevalent among its rank and file that for geographic and strategic reasons, liberation cannot be done from Gaza alone, regardless of how strong it becomes. It has to be led from the West Bank. Due to security cooperation between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority, though, Hamas’s ability to address the public, let alone carry out major resistance operations, has declined drastically. The movement is thus hopeful that the results of the anticipated election could bring a more pro-resistance Palestinian Legislative Council, or at least could harness the PA’s security cooperation with the occupation and provide a better environment for national work.

If a presidential election is also held, then it would be a golden chance for Hamas to get rid of Abbas and his legacy; from the Islamic movement’s perspective, anybody would be a better Palestinian President than Abbas. If not, and only the PLC election is conducted, then even if Hamas does not win in the West Bank and Gaza, nobody will venture to disarm the Palestinian factions in Gaza, as Hamas and other factions have declared their opposition to such a move. According to this calculus, therefore, if the election is held, Hamas will emerge a winner, even if it does not win a single seat in the Palestinian parliament.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author.

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