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US court rejects lawsuit challenging NYPD’s spying on Muslims

Press TV – February 21, 2014

A federal court in the United States has rejected a civil rights lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department’s spying activities against Muslims.

On Thursday, the court in Newark in the state of New Jersey ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the NYPD’s intelligence unit had discriminated against Muslims by spying on mosques and other locations in New Jersey.

The 2012 lawsuit was the first to challenge the NYPD’s spying operations against Muslim groups and individuals in the US. It had accused the police of spying on Muslims at several mosques, restaurants and schools since 2002.

The plaintiffs “have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion,” US District Judge William Martini wrote in the decision. “The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies.”

“The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself,” the judge added.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, warned that the ruling could give the green light to more spying on Muslims elsewhere in the US.

“In addition to willfully ignoring the harm that our innocent clients suffered from the NYPD’s illegal spying program, by upholding the NYPD’s blunderbuss Muslim surveillance practices, the court’s decision gives legal sanction to the targeted discrimination of Muslims anywhere and everywhere in this country, without limitation, for no other reason than their religion,” CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy said.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, False Flag Terrorism, Islamophobia | , , , , | Leave a comment

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Destruction

Chaos, Corruption, Grand Theft, and an Experiment

By Felicity Arbuthnot | Dissident Voice | February 19, 2014

On September 12, 2013, Syria’s President al-Assad committed to surrender Syria’s chemical weapons, with the caveats that the United States must stop threatening his country and supplying weapons to the terrorists. He has been as good as his word. The same cannot be said for the US and its boot licking allies.

Three days earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry – who had been killing Vietnamese in the US onslaught on Vietnam as American ‘planes rained down 388,000 tons of chemical weapons on the Vietnamese people  – had threatened Syria with a military strike if the weapons stocks were not surrendered within a week, stating that President Assad “isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”

The ever trigger-happy Kerry was right on the second count.  It can’t be done for two reasons — extracting dangerous chemicals from a war zone is, to massively understate, a foolhardy and hazardous business. Additionally, it seems having received Syria’s agreement, the “international community” and the Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had no disposal plan in place and had not a clue what to do with them, whilst at every turn Syria is blamed.

As ever double standards and hypocrisy rule. According to CNN (October 10, 2013): “The United States estimates it will be at least another decade before it completes destruction of the remaining 10% of its chemical weapons, estimated at more than 3,100 tons.”  And Syria? “U.S. intelligence and other estimates put its chemical weapons stockpile at about 1,000 tons.”  They are believed to be “stored in dozens of sites”, in the circumstances a logistical nightmare and a massive danger to the public and those driving them to be insisting on transporting them anywhere.

CNN also quotes Wade Mathews who had worked on “the U.S. project to destroy its chemical stockpile” who doubted that Syria could meet the deadlines. The US operation, he said, “took billions of dollars, the cooperation of many levels of government – including the military – and a safe environment to make sure the destruction was done safely.  We had a coordinated effort, we had a government that insisted that it be done safely and that the community was protected … I don’t think those things are in place in Syria.”

Having received Syria’s compliance, the OPCW started shopping around for a country – any country it seems – to destroy the weapons. Norway, approached by the US, was first choice. They declined, since the country had no experience in dealing with chemical weapons, the Foreign Ministry website stating: “… Norway is not the most suitable location for this destruction.” The second country approached was Albania, a request which the country’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said also came direct from the United States.

According to the Berlin-based Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, Albania is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and the most corrupt in the Balkans, plummeting from a woeful 95 out of the 176 countries monitored in 2011, to 113 in 2012 and 116 in 2013, on their Corruption Perception Index.

In their end of year Report, the Initiative quotes Transparency International:

In Albania corruption is registering a new physiognomy in a favorable political environment, with characteristics like a new systems for money laundering, financing of political parties from illegal activities, the capture of the state through the control of procurement and privatization, human and narcotics trafficking and the impunity of high State officials before the justice system and the law.

Protestors against the weapons destruction took to the streets in thousands, some wearing gas masks and protective clothing. Protests also took place in neighbouring Macedonia, with rallying outside the Albanian Embassy.

Albania finally rejected with Rana apologetically grovelling to Washington: “Without the United States, Albanians would never have been free and independent in two countries that they are today”, he said referring to Albania and Kosovo and the massive March 24, 1999 – June 10, 1999 NATO and US assault on the former Yugoslavia with depleted uranium weapons which are, of course, both chemical and radioactive. A Science Applications International Report explains re the residue from the weapons:

Soluble forms present chemical hazards, primarily to the kidneys, while insoluble forms present hazards to the lungs from ionizing radiation … short term effects of high doses can result in death, while long term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancer.

In addition to concerns regarding corruption in Albania – terrorist groups would undoubtedly offer high sums for such weapons – safety might surely have been a consideration. In 2008 an explosion at an ammunition storage depot near Albania’s capitol Tirana, killed 26 people, wounded 300, and damaged or destroyed 5,100 homes. The disaster was said by investigators to be caused by a burning cigarette – in a depository for 1,400 tons of explosives.

Worse, when Albania was pressured to destroy its own chemical weapons stocks, some tons left over from the Cold War.

The U.S. offered to pay for their destruction and later hired some private company which destroyed the weapon capability of the chemicals but otherwise left a horrendous mess.

Hazardous waste was left in containers, on a concrete pad. Inevitably they started to leak.

“In late 2007-early 2008, the US hired an environmental remediation firm, Savant Environmental, who determined the problem was worse than originally thought. Many of the containers were leaking salts of heavy metals, primarily arsenic, lead and mercury.”

Moreover, the conexes – large, steel-reinforced shipping containers – were not waterproof, thus lethally contaminated condensation and water leakage dissolved some of the contaminants which leaked onto the ground.

“Savant Environmental repackaged the waste and placed it in twenty shipping containers. There it sits, visible from space”, on the concrete pad – in the open.

All in all, why was Albania considered?

It is surely coincidence that on October 3, 2013, Tony “dodgy Iraq dossier” Blair, also an enthusiastic backer of Washington and NATO in their Balkans blitz, was appointed as adviser to the Albanian government to advise the impoverished country how to get into the EU. Heaven forbid he might have advised that taking on lethal weapons no one else was prepared to touch, might tick quite a big approval box and made a call to someone somewhere in Washington. This is, of course, entirely speculation.

However, as Pravda TV opined at the time, apart from the sorely needed financial boost: “It will increase the status and prestige of a poor country in Europe, Albania is in Europe’s backyard, in this case it will be going foreground.”

Belgium and France also declined an invitation to dispose of Syria’s weapons, with Ralph Trapp, a consultant in disarming chemical weapons, quoted as saying that “there remain very few candidates” for the task; “the hunt continues” commented The Telegraph (November 18, 2013.)

The trail goes cold as to how many other governments may have been frantically begged to accept cargo loads of poisoned chalices as the US imposed clock ticked, but Italy caved in allowing around sixty containers to be transferred from a Danish cargo ship to a US ship in the Italian port of Giola Tauro, in Calabria, with further consignments also expected to arrive.

The permission caused widespread demonstrations in Southern Italy, the government accused of secrecy and one demonstrator summing up the prevailing mood: “They are telling us that the material carried is not dangerous, but, in fact, nobody knows what is inside those containers.” Not dangerous eh? Does any government, anywhere ever tell the truth?

The Giola Tauro port, which accounts for half the Calabria region’s economy “has been in crisis since 2011”, with 400 workers on temporary redundancies – out of a total workforce of 1300. Not too hard to arm twist, the cynic might think.

The port also suffers from allegations of being a “major hub for cocaine shipments to Europe by the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta mafia.” However, Domenico Bagala, head of the Medcenter/Contship terminal where the operation is planned, countered with: “Since Gioia Tauro handles around a third of the containers arriving in Italy, it is normal that it has more containers that are seized”, adding, “We operate in a difficult territory but we have hi-tech security measures in place.”

Calabria is, in fact, plagued by corruption and organized crime. A classfied cable from J. Patrick Truhn, US Consul General in Naples (February 2, 2008) obtained by Wikileaks stated:

If it were not part of Italy, Calabria would be a failed state.  The ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least three percent of Italy’s GDP (probably much more) through drug trafficking, extortion and usury.

Further:

During a November 17-20 visit to all five provinces, virtually every interlocutor painted a picture of a region … throttled by the iron grip of Western Europe’s largest and most powerful organized crime syndicate, the ‘Ndrangheta.

Moreover: “The ‘Ndrangheta is the most powerful criminal organization in the world with a revenue that stands at around fifty three billion Euros (seventy two billion U.S. dollars – forty four billion British pounds)” records Wikipedia, noting operations in nine countries, on four continents. Arguably, a less ideal transit point than Calabria for a stockpile of chemical weapons would be hard to find.

Of special concern to Carmelo Cozza of the SUL trade union is the port’s neighbouring village of San Ferdinando which has protested the operation: “The schools are right next door!”

However, when it comes to dodgy dealings, organized crime could seemingly learn a thing or two from the EU. Large amounts of Syria’s financial assets, frozen by the European Union, have simply been spirited from accounts, in what the Syrian Foreign Ministry slams as: “a flagrant violation of law.”

Last week the EU endorsed the raiding of Syria’a financial assets frozen across Europe and the the transfer of funds to    “ … the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) … a flagrant violation of the international law and the UN Charter and understandings reached by the executive board of the OPCW”, commented a Foreign Ministry source, adding: “the European step violates the resolution of the OPCW executive board adopted on 15th November 2013 which acknowledged Syria’s stance which was conveyed to the Organization, officially stating the inability to shoulder the financial costs of destroying the chemical weapons.”

The theft of Syria’s monies was condemned as a “swindle policy practiced by some influential countries inside the EU at a time when they reject to release frozen assets to fund purchase of food and medicine which is considered the priority of the Syrian state … (meanwhile) the EU allowed its members to arm the terrorist groups which are responsible for bloodshed in Syria … ” the source added.”   It is hard to disagree.

The EU/UN/OPCW has apparently learned well from the UN weapons inspectors and other UN benefits from the Iraq embargo, which bled the country dry from “frozen” assets, to which they helped themselves, as the children died at an average of six thousand a month year after year, from “embargo related causes.” As the UN spent Iraq’s monies, Iraq’s water became a biological weapon, the lights went off and medical and educational facilities largely collapsed. Are UN embargoes the UN’s shameful new money spinner?

So, can things get worse in the black farce which is the chaotic, dangerous, disorganised disposal attempts of Syria’s chemical materials? You bet they can. The companies selected to destroy the chemicals are Finland’s Ekokem and the US subsiduary of the French giant Veolia.

“The most dangerous materials are to be neutralized at sea by the Cape Ray, an American naval vessel specially outfitted for that purpose, which departed its Norfolk, Va., home port on Jan. 27 for the Mediterranean.” (New York Times, February 14, 2014.) A method which has never been tried before, an experiment seemingly to take place in the Mediterranean, not in US territorial waters. “It’s Not Just a Job, It’s An Adventure”, was a US Navy recruiting slogan. Doubt the population of the countries bordering the near enclosed Mediterranean feel quite the same, from Europe to Anatolia, North Africa to the Levant.

Additionally, the inclusion of Veolia as a suitable partner in the whole dodgy venture is in a class of its own. The company has long been involved in waste management and vast transport projects in the illegal settlements in Israel.

In November 2012 Professor Richard Falk, wrote, on UN notepaper, to the (UK) North London Waste Authority who were considering awarding £4.7 billion worth of contracts to Veolia. His letter  quoted in part below, detailing his concerns regarding the company’s compliance with international legal norms, speaks for itself:

I am writing to you in my capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 to urge you not to select Veolia for public contracts due to its active involvement in Israel’s grave violations of international law.

Due to its deep and ongoing complicity with Israeli violations of international law and the strength of concern of Palestinian, European and Israeli civil society about the role played by Veolia, I decided to select Veolia as one of the case studies to include in my report. I have attached the report for your consideration.

Veolia is a signatory to the UN Global Compact, a set of principles regarding business conduct. Yet its wide ranging and active involvement in Israel’s settlement regime and persistent failure to exercise due diligence show utter disregard for the human rights related principles of the Global Compact.

It is my view that Veolia’s violations of the UN Global Compact principles and its deep and protracted complicity with grave breaches of international law make it an inappropriate partner for any public institution, especially as a provider of public services.

Professor Falk concludes:

I urge you to follow the example set by public authorities and European banks that have chosen to disassociate themselves from Veolia and take the just and principled decision not to award Veolia any public service contracts. Such a measure would contribute to upholding the rule of law and advancing peace based on justice.

So a company in breach of international law is being awarded a contract to a UN body (the OPCW) in spite of being condemned by a distinguished UN legal expert and Special Rapporteur.

The final anomaly, for now, as Bob Rigg – former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, and former senior editor for the OCPW and former Chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament – points out:

At present, Israel has a monopoly on nuclear weapons in the middle east. Once the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is complete, Israel will enjoy a near regional monopoly over a second weapon of mass destruction -chemical weapons. In addition to Israel, Egypt is the only regional power with a chemical-weapons capability.

At all levels, lawbreakers rule supreme.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Progressive Hypocrite, Wars for Israel | , , , | 1 Comment

Threats of sanctions against Ukraine look like blackmail – Lavrov

RT | February 20, 2014

Threats of sanctions against the Ukrainian government look like blackmail, and a demand for early elections is a way to force Kiev towards the EU, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The sanctions will only encourage extremists, he added.

Lavrov on Thursday blasted the sanctions against Ukraine, some of which have already been imposed by the US, and are now being eyed by the EU, as “double standards.” Such actions will only encourage extremists to continue violence in the country, he said.

“The [Ukrainian] opposition cannot or does not want to dissociate itself from extremists. The US lays all the blame on the Ukrainian government – this is a double standard,” Lavrov said.

“The EU is also trying to discuss the imposing of sanctions, at the same time there are uninvited missions coming to Ukraine. Such actions resemble blackmail,” the minister said.

Not only are such threats “inappropriate,” but also will aggravate the conflict in Ukraine, Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, has said.

There is “no doubt” there is a “plain coup attempt” going on in Ukraine, with armed rioters widely using firearms, the spokesman added.

“We strongly condemn the actions of radicals and extremists, who are mostly responsible for violence and bloody riots. Serious responsibility also lies with the opposition, who have been unable to fulfill the agreements reached with the government,” Lukashevich said.

The so-called Maidan leaders must “immediately stop bloodshed” and “continue seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis without threats or ultimatums,” he stressed.

Moscow is not interfering in the internal conflict in Ukraine, Lukashevich said, adding that there are plenty of “false flag reports,” such as Russian riot police taking part in quelling the riots, which are distributed over social networks and by “some politicians.”

“As regards to the accusations of Russia, there is a proverb saying that guilty mind is never at ease. We are deeply concerned with what is happening and how the Western states are commenting on it and are trying to affect it. In Western media, the situation is presented in an extremely perverted way, some simple mantras are hammered into heads like that the West is calling on the government to keep its hands off Maidan,” Lavrov said.

However, the Western politicians and media prefer not to go into detail on what is happening on Maidan.

“Police pelted with Molotov cocktails, the killings, the seizure of buildings – none of that is being commented on or explained,” the minister said.

The individual sanctions that the US and the EU are trying to impose are “absolutely illegitimate” from the point of view of the international law, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The only legitimate sanctions can be imposed by the UN Security Council, the ministry stressed.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Death Toll Rises in Venezuela; Opposition Demonstrators Say They’re Fighting a War of “Attrition”

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim | Venezuelanalysis | February 19, 2014

Merida – Anti-government demonstrations turned deadly again today, following yesterday’s arrest of far right leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Lopez heads the right-wing Voluntad Popular (VP) party, and was arrested yesterday on charges including inciting crime and homicide. Earlier today the attorney general Luisa Ortega stated that whether or not Lopez will remain in custody is yet to be determined. However Ortega stated that the government “guarantees and respects the human rights” of Lopez.

Around one hundred supporters rallied today outside a court in Caracas, where his hearing was expected to take place. However, the hearing was moved to a military jail at the last moment due to government concerns for Lopez’s safety. Lopez’s lawyer has claimed the move is illegal.

Violence continued today in the wake of the arrest, with at least two more reports of deaths.

One person was reportedly killed by gunfire and four others injured in Ciudad Guayana, Bolivar state during street clashes. Two of the injured also sustained gunshot wounds, according to local media. Thousands of industrial workers had marched in support of the government through the city earlier today. According to a report from Ultimas Noticias, the deadly clashes occurred after “motorbike riders” tried to break an opposition barricade.

Student and model Genesis Carmona  has also died in a medical centre after being shot during clashes in the Carabobo state capital, Valencia.

An armed group also attacked Carabobo’s headquarters of the government owned energy company Corpoelec earlier today. A captain of the National Guard (GNB) was hit by a bullet during the incident.

Another person was injured by gunfire yesterday when opposition groups attacked the Carabobo offices of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), according to Governor Francisco Ameliach.

“I call upon our membership to not fall into confrontation,” Ameliach stated yesterday.

Three others were injured yesterday when groups armed with Molotov cocktails attacked a government building in Tachira state. Security forces reportedly battled with opposition groups for around two hours.  The state’s socialist governor Vielma Mora described opposition attacks in the state as a “low intensity war”. Mora stated that security forces in the state capital San Cristobal have been targeted by hit and run attacks from assailants firing from vehicles. Journalists are also being targeted by armed groups, according to Mora.

The governor also said there have been reports of armed groups charging toll fees at roadblocks around the state.

In Caracas one person was injured when opposition groups threw rocks at public transport last night. Transport minister Haiman El Troudi announced via Twitter that the incident prompted the cancellation of another bus route. Previously, on Monday seven bus routes were cancelled due to vandalism and opposition attacks.

In a meeting with transport workers today, the minister stated that sixty buses in Caracas have been attacked, and five in other parts of the country. El Troudi condemned the attacks, stating that the perpetrators are “looking to generate an … escalation of unrest”.

Today the Caracas mayor Jorge Rodriguez announced that the government is developing a plan to rehabilitate public spaces damaged by recent opposition demonstrations.

State media have also reported that a sick elderly woman died in the early hours of the morning after her ambulance was impeded from accessing a nearby medical centre by an opposition roadblock. Luzmila Petit de Colina was 70 years old, and suffered from a chronic illness, according to Correo del Orinoco. Her daughter hosts a program on the state-owned channel VTV. Today communication minister Delcy Rodriguez expressed “solidarity” with Colina’s family.

Five trucks were also torched last night in Lara state, according to government sources.

In Merida, opposition groups continued to erect barricades around the city. Eight demonstrators were arrested in the Andean city last night, according to El Universal. The right-wing newspaper reported that the demonstrators had been involved in “non violent protests” yesterday. Photographs circulating in local media show opposition groups manning roadblocks of burning garbage yesterday afternoon.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, hard-line opposition demonstrators at one barricade told Venezuelanalysis’s Ewan Robertson today that they are fighting a war of “attrition” against the government.

“We’re sunk in misery, corruption, so we want Maduro’s resignation now, that’s why we’re here,” one demonstrator stated.

“Either we get tired first, or they get tired first,” said another. According to the demonstrator, the group’s strategy is to block as many roads as possible “day and night”.

“There are two points of view. As the constitution orders, the government logically has to guarantee the free flow of transit. But the constitution also establishes that we have the right to protest,” he continued.

The demonstrators denied they have firearms, and blamed security forces and pro-government groups such as the Tupamaros of causing violence. Venezuelanalysis has previously observed opposition groups using small arms in Merida. The group spoken to by Venezuelanalysis today were visibly armed with  rocks and what appeared to be Molotov coacktails.

One of the demonstrators also explained that they have adopted a strategy of retreating when security forces arrive, only to return once the police or GNB leave the area.

“We retreat, if they pass firing, we throw stones. When they’ve gone we come out and block everything again. That’s how we’re going,” he stated.

An opposition group in the same area clashed with riot police later in the afternoon. When two personnel carriers arrived on the scene, demonstrators threw rocks at officers, before retreating up the road. They continued to hurl rocks as police cleared the road.

While the clashes took place, Chavistas gathered in Merida’s central square, Plaza Bolivar with music, comedy and speeches from student groups condemning the violence.

An opposition roadblock in central Merida today. (Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis)

Demonstrators armed with rocks and blocking traffic. (Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis)

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Tide slowly turning at the New York Times

By Jonathon Cook | February 20, 2014

A decade ago, I wrote a commentary for the International Herald Tribune (now the International New York Times) arguing that Israel’s wall that was then just starting to be built in the West Bank was really a land grab. Difficult to believe now, but in those days that was a controversial opinion.

The paper then received the “largest postage in our history”, as an editor told me – possibly not surprising as the Anti-Defamation League, a Zionist organisation, had urged its followers to complain and had even published a template letter of condemnation on its website to help them. The result: the paper published a whole page of letters attacking me and dropped me as a writer.

So it is with some pleasure I see that the same paper has again been overwhelmed with letters following three recent articles on BDS in both the NYT and INYT : Omar Barghouti making the case, and Jodi Rudoren and Roger Cohen attacking it, the former implicitly and the latter explicitly.

What’s so different this time is that the INYT’s letters page is dominated by readers backing Barghouti and attacking Rudoren and Cohen. Not only that, but the arguments used to support BDS are intelligent and well-informed, while the few letters attacking BDS sound tired and formulaic.

The fact that the NYT has allowed the BDS debate into its pages is a triumph for the cause. That its international sister publication (and the NYT website) has then allowed its letters page to be dominated by BDS supporters is another small landmark.

We can mark a further victory when the NYT itself publishes a page of such letters. The time cannot be far off.

www.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/opinion/the-case-for-the-israel-boycott.html?_r=0

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil moves to end tension over land disputes

BRICS Post | February 20, 2014

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government is taking measures to avert a confrontation over disputed territory between Amazon Indian tribes and farmers who are believed to have encroached on their historic lands.

It says it will begin to forcibly evict non-indigenous people occupying reserves and protected forests who have been ordered off the land by local courts.

The disputes go to the heart of the delicate balance between economic growth and conservation as companies pursue forest and mineral expansion into the traditional Amazon forest heartland.

In mid-January, Brasilia redeployed hundreds of soldiers and police, backed by tanks and helicopters, to enforce a June 2013 court order to evict nearly 7,000 farmers and ranchers from the Awá-Guajá reserve in the northeastern state of Maranhão.

Earlier this week, the government said it hoped to have all farmers and ranchers evicted from the area by April. There are concerns that recent clashes between indigenous peoples and ranchers could have a spillover effect into more states.

Last June, Minister of Justice Jose Eduardo Cardozo ordered the deployment of an elite military unit to Sidrolandia in southern Mato Grosso state, after indigenous peasants were killed by landowners’ employees.

The number of land disputes – and the ensuing violence, seizures and confiscations – have increased in the past several years, a 2012 report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) said.

“Problems facing the indigenous population include murders, death threats, lack of health care and education, and delays in registering land ownership,” CIMI says in its report.

In the meantime, Rousseff has promised to suspend demarcating borders in disputed zones and said new rules will soon be in place.

Land disputes, and often the violent confrontations that ensue, have for decades posed challenges to Brazil’s government.

Advocates from the Landless Farmers Movement have for the past three years pressured Rousseff to expedite land redistribution to landless and indigenous farmers.

Rousseff is herself also being pressured by landowners.

In April 2012, Brazil’s Congress caved in to land lobbyists and voted greater flexibility regarding how much forest land farmers are required to conserve.

While Brazilian laws since 1965 call for protection of forests – including some 13 per cent of the land allocated as preserves for indigenous populations, the Congress vote weakened the means to enforce them.

There was no provision, for example, that forced landowners to reforest land that they had already cleared.

Although Rousseff vetoed portions of the bill, including a segment that issued amnesty to illegal loggers, and sent it back to Congress for a rewrite in May 2012, deforestation has dramatically surged since.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saudi forces kill two anti-government protesters in Qatif

Al-Akhbar | February 20, 2014

A Saudi court has jailed seven protesters for up to 20 years for joining a demonstration and chanting anti-government slogans in the kingdom’s Eastern Province, local media reported Thursday.

The Eastern Province, where Qatif is located, was the site of frequent Shia-led protests between February 2011 and August 2012.

A specialized court in Riyadh on Wednesday sentenced the young defendants to between six and 20 years in prison and imposed travel bans of the same duration as their jail terms.

They were convicted of “taking part in protests,” “chanting slogans against the state,” and “possessing and making Molotov cocktails,” according to local newspapers.

The court in the ultra-conservative kingdom also sentenced one of the defendants to 80 lashes for consuming alcohol.

The defendants said they would appeal.

Protests first erupted in the province of eastern Saudi Arabia in March 2011. Since then 10 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

The Eastern Province is home to many of the kingdom’s minority Shias, who have long complained of discrimination in a country that hews to the rigid Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.

Shias say they are passed over for government jobs, that some of their neighborhoods lack investment afforded to Sunni districts and that powerful government-paid clerics publicly denigrate their faith. The authorities deny discrimination.

Fighting intensified after the arrest in July 2012 of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, considered to be a driving force behind the protests.

However, tensions eased in August that year when seven dignitaries from Qatif hailed a call by King Abdullah for the creation of a center for Sunni-Shia interfaith dialogue.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture, Video | , , , , | Leave a comment

Analysis: EU aid to Palestinians — help or hindrance?

IRIN –  19/02/2014

JERUSALEM — The European Union has long been one of the most reliable foreign sources of humanitarian, economic and political aid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), providing 426 million euros ($575 million) in 2013 alone.

In 2011, overall overseas development aid to the OPT was worth $2.5 billion, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Much of this aid to the Palestinian people is focused on a single long-term objective, according to EU officials — the building up of the institutions of a future democratic, independent and viable Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.

But with limited progress so far in the current US-brokered peace talks and the wider aim of the realization of a Palestinian state, some in the more austerity-minded EU are starting to wonder if the aid is being well spent, when humanitarian crises in Syria and Mali are in need of greater funds.

“By now there is no Palestinian state. The point is: what are we funding here? Are we helping Israel to maintain the occupation, or are we actually helping Palestinians to build independence?” Caroline du Plessix, a French political scientist specialized on EU policy towards the two-state-solution, told IRIN.

“EU member states are today much more aware than before that their aid has not made possible the creation of an independent Palestinian state,” she said, adding: “The EU is trying to figure out what the best strategy may be. Member states need to show that their policy is reaching its ends and is effective. But if the main solution still is the two-state-solution and we are not really going in that direction, this policy is not sustainable and cannot go on for ever.”

Carrot and stick

A substantial reduction in EU aid seems unlikely at the moment. Such a move would have dramatic consequences for the Palestinian economy and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families.

“There will be a price to pay if these negotiations falter,” the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, said in late January. In December 2013, an EU official was cited in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying that the EU may cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if peace talks fail, while “some people suggested giving the money to other countries, like Syria, Mali and other places around the world.”

On the other hand, EU foreign ministers are making unprecedented offers, setting out a very substantial set of incentives designed to encourage both parties to finalize a peace agreement.

“These incentives aim at boosting prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians by increasing access to European markets, facilitating trade and investment and deepening business and cultural ties,” EU-representative John Gatt-Rutter told IRIN, adding: “Therefore, at this stage our approach is one of encouraging both parties to seize this unique opportunity provided by the peace negotiations.”

“In spite of donor fatigue in Europe we will not see more than a limited gradual reduction — say 10 percent a year — in European aid if negotiations fail because European leaders do not want to trigger major instability or a humanitarian crisis,” Ofer Zalzberg, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told IRIN.

Building the state to come

Of the 426 million euros provided by the EU to Palestinians in 2013, 168 million was Direct Financial Support to the PA under the so-called PEGASE-mechanism.

PEGASE helps the PA to meet its recurrent expenses through paying salaries, pensions and social allowances to people in extreme poverty, and through supporting essential public services and revitalizing the private sector through policy reforms, institution-building and strengthening the relations between Palestinian enterprises and European counterparts.

The funds are transferred directly to individual beneficiaries like 55-year-old Nabila from the Qaddura refugee camp. “I get 750 shekels ($210) every three months, have a disabled son, and my husband died 10 years ago. How can I move on?” she told IRIN at the Ramallah district office of the PA’s Ministry of Social Affairs.

“There is poverty and we get tired of this situation,” she said, adding though that restrictions on movement (caused, for example, by the Barrier and numerous Israeli checkpoints allegedly set up for security reasons) highlighted a greater problem that aid would never solve.

“How do you want to solve this problem? Why do we have to be in this miserable situation?”

In addition to the direct financial support, humanitarian aid is provided through the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), which spent 35 million euros in 2013 on areas such as humanitarian coordination, legal assistance and emergency response to demolitions and evictions.

Propping up the status quo

EU aid faces the same challenges as non-governmental aid groups have faced — that by providing support they may inadvertently be playing a political role by helping prop up the status quo, giving life-support services that should normally be provided by Israel, as the occupying power.

“EU funding is strategic. Its main aim is to prevent instability. It is thus scared of the PA’s breakdown,” said Caroline Du Plessix.

For Sami Abu Roza, former economic policy adviser to the Palestinian president, this system of dependency has a bitter political aftertaste.

“If you take away the good intention behind the money, aid is a substitute for not having real remedies,” he told IRIN at the PA’s Ministry of Education, where he currently works.

The EU’s approach to solving the conflict, he says, is part of a larger trend he calls “peaceconomics”, the feeding of an illusionary idea that institution-building and economic aid can contribute to real progress, while the actual political causes behind the difficult situation are side-lined and remain unresolved.

Ashraf Azzam sits in the ruins of his house in eastern Gaza City in Jan. 2013 after it was destroyed in an Israeli attack in Nov. 2012. (Ahmed Dalloul/IRIN)

‘Patronizing’ attitude

“The EU’s attitude towards Palestinians is patronizing, as if money was the only thing Palestinians needed,” he said, adding: “They are sacrificing real solutions for economic aid, building a smoke screen around the real problems.”

“Palestinians know that any money coming to Palestinians is political. But they also know that the world won’t stop paying for Palestinians under occupation. That’s the strange kind of peace Palestinians live in.”

In an attempt to decrease the political dependence from aid, the Ministry of Education has implemented a new mechanism, the Joint Financing Agreement, which has been running for about three years.

With aid money flowing from the German KfW Development Bank, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Belgium, directly into a pool at the treasury of the PA’s Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education has full ownership of the money and decides how and where it is spent.

“It’s a small path to independence, towards political independence,” Abu Roza said.

But for one senior official in the Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, the notion of independence remains unreal.

“We don’t have control of our own borders, no taxation, and all of Area C is under Israel’s control. What economic independence are we speaking of?” he said, adding that the PA was not created to become a social entity providing salaries and services to Palestinians. “Its aim was political, and so are our problems.”

‘Aid has not helped to fulfill Palestinians dreams’

Some anomalies in the EU’s funding to the PA emerged recently in a report of the European Court of Auditors (ECA), which criticized the EU’s paying of salaries to Palestinian civil servants in the Gaza Strip “who no longer work.” The report suggested financial assistance “be discontinued and redirected to the West Bank.” Hamas, which took control [won elections] of the Gaza Strip in 2007, is classified by the EU as a terrorist group.

So the EU continues to support the former PA structure in Gaza with salary payments even though the PA no longer has any control: The political cost of stopping funding is seen as too great.

From 2008 to 2012, the average number of civil servants and pensioners whose salaries were at least partly paid by the EU rose from 75,502 to 84,320, about half of the PA’s 170,000 civil servants and pensioners.

During the same period, the average monthly PA wage bill for EU-beneficiaries rose from 45.1 million euros to 62.9 million euros, an increase of 39 percent.

But at the same time, contributions to PEGASE for Civil Servants and Pensioners fell from 21.3 million euros (47 percent of total pay to eligible beneficiaries) in 2008 to 10.4 million euros (16 percent) in 2012, mainly due to reductions in contributions from donors, such as Spain.

These pressures point to a new funding environment in which the PA is finding it increasingly difficult to pay salaries and pensions on time.

The UN Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) faces similar challenges. This year it has a deficit of $65 million in its core budget and struggles with declining international funding. The EU is UNRWA’s largest donor.

“Aid has not helped to fulfill Palestinians dreams, nor did it lead to sustainable development. Independence is today further away than 20 years ago,” Alaa Tartir, program director of the Palestinian Policy Network, told IRIN.

Despite the contradictions in EU aid policy, it is clear that without EU aid the humanitarian situation in OPT would worsen significantly.

“If we reach a condition where there is no more aid for PA employees, who will fill this gap? This will have a severe humanitarian impact,” said Tommaso Fabri, head of the Jerusalem office of Doctors Without Borders.

One beneficiary of the EU’s direct assistance to the PA is 49-year-old Said Samara, a teacher at the Secondary Boarding School in Ramallah.

“As a teacher, I hope that this aid will continue. But as a teacher, and for my students, I also need some hope for an independent Palestinian country,” he said.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel continues military violence against Palestinian fishermen in Gaza waters

By Charlie Andreasson | International Solidarity Movement | February 19, 2014

Two fishermen paddle a small boat off the Gaza coast. (Photo by Charlie Andreasson)

Palestinian fishermen paddle a small fishing boat, or hasaka, off the Gaza coast. (Photo by Charlie Andreasson)

Gaza, Occupied Palestine – Three Palestinian fishermen were arrested and had their boats and gear confiscated by occupation forces on Tuesday, 11th February, in two separate incidents, despite the fact that they were well within the Israel-permitted zone and could not be classified as security threat to the State of Israel, its civilians or its military.

Mohamed Sleeby, 42, paddled out early in the morning in his hasaka with his son, Ahmed, 16, from the beach at Shati, north of Gaza City. Mohamed’s is a smaller hasaka without an engine, four meters long, and can only fish close to shore. While they pulled on their nets about half a nautical mile from the shore, Israeli patrol boats approached. When they started shooting, other Palestinian fishing boats nearby fled.

“It was like a horror movie,” Mohamed said. “I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, they were right in front of the hasaka with aimed guns and masked faces. They shot into the water right next to us and ordered us to strip completely naked and swim, one at a time, towards them. It was humiliating to stand there completely naked in front of them, stripped of all humanity, with my son at my side. But I dared not disobey.”

Despite his fear, Mohamed asked that his son be spared. The soldiers shouted at him to shut up. They shot near his son, even though he held his hands outstretched while waiting for his turn to step into the cold water. Once they were pulled onto one of the patrol boats, they were given clothes, but hoods were also pulled over their heads. They were taken to a waiting, larger military boat outside the zone allowed by Israel to Palestinian fishermen. Even with shackles on the hands and feet, they were forced to kneel on their knees. Fadel Al-Sultan, 25, was also on board. Earlier that morning, he had also been detained, and had his small hasaka without an engine seized, less than half a nautical half from the shore.

In Ashdod, they all underwent health checks, were photographed holding their results and their personal details on sheets of paper, and were accused of having been outside the permitted zone. Fadel, who had previously been captured twice while fishing, was threatened with being sent directly to jail without trial if he was caught again. As with previous detentions of Palestinian fishermen, the interrogators focused on collecting information about government buildings and their staff in Gaza, on possible contacts with insurgents and on personal networks. Unlike previous detentions, they also asked where any fish farms were located on land. Later they were transported to Erez, where a new hearing began with Mohamed Sleeby, his skin was checked for traces of explosives and attempts were made to recruit him to the Israeli intelligence service.

“He [the lone interrogator] knew everything about me,” Muhamed said. “He knew I did not pay taxes on electricity. He offered to pay them, promised I would get my hasaka and nets back, and even said I would get a little money. He said I should not be afraid, that I am in good hands and that no one but me, him and God would know anything about this, that I ought to think about my family and not miss the chance. But I cannot do that to my brothers and neighbors. He said I should think about it and that he would contact me by phone. But how can he do that? I was left with my clothes in the hasaka they seized. No, I would rather starve than help the ones keeping us in poverty.”

Fadel Al-Sultan. (Photo by Charlie Andreasson)

Fadel Al-Sultan. (Photo by Charlie Andreasson)

Muhamed Sleeby and Fadel Al-Sultan’s answers on why the Israeli military attack the fisherman so close to the shore, even though they can pose no threat to the State of Israeli or its residents, were consistent. “They want to make life even more difficult for us,” they say, “to prevent us from supporting ourselves.” Fadel also says that to get better catches, they need to go 7-8 nautical miles from the coast, but that is impossible because Israel has limited them to six nautical miles. But even that limit is irrelevant, as they are attacked so far inside it that they all have to fight for the small catches along the beach. Those who have to paddle out to fish are now competing with larger boats forced toward the shore.

In January, thirteen attacks have been carried out by the Israeli military against Palestinian fishermen. At one time the occupying power decreed a six-nautical mile limit, at another three miles, but it has consistently attacked far within three nautical miles from the coast. Both these attacks and the limits are violations of international law.

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment