Archive for June, 2014

Palestinians rally for solidarity with Israel-held prisoners


RAMALLAH – Palestinians gathered across the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday for rallies of solidarity with Israeli-held prisoners, as peace talks near collapse after Israel refused to free long-serving inmates.

To mark Prisoners Day, thousands were expected to demonstrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has his headquarters, and hundreds took part in early rallies in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip late Wednesday.

“We won’t forget our prisoners — prisoners first!” read banners in Gaza City as demonstrators set off from mosques across the besieged territory.

The prisoners row caused a new deadlock in US-brokered peace talks at the end of March, just a month ahead of their deadline, when Israel reneged on its commitment to release a fourth and final batch of Palestinian inmates.

The Palestinians retaliated by seeking membership of several international treaties, breaking their own commitment under the talks which US Secretary of State John Kerry launched in July.

“Prisoners Day has extra importance this year,” said the Palestinian Prisoners Club head, Abdel Al al-Anani.

“The prisoners issue has become one of global significance, since it is the reason that peace talks have almost collapsed,” he said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement: “The plight of the prisoners reflects the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole.”

A one-day hunger strike was being observed by inmates to mark the annual show of solidarity with the nearly 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Palestinian prisoners affairs minister Issa Qaraqe said.

Around 30 of them have been held being bars since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords with Israel, said a Palestinian legal rights NGO, Adalah.

Israel has so far released 78 of the 104 prisoners it pledged to free during nine months of peace talks, most of them imprisoned since before the Oslo accords.

But it refused to free the final batch, using it as a bargaining chip to convince the Palestinians to extend negotiations until the end of the year.

The Palestinians demand their release before any discussion of an extension.

But Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza, opposes all negotiations with Israel and regards the Palestinian Authority’s meetings with its sworn enemy as “illegitimate.”

“We are sending a message to the Palestinian negotiators: forget this farce, the futile negotiations, and come back to the resistance which freed prisoners,” a Hamas member said in a speech at Wednesday’s rally.

In June 2006, a group of Hamas and other militants snuck into Israel through a cross-border tunnel, seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and took their prisoner back to Gaza the same way.

He was released on October 18, 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Israel is holding 4,881 Palestinian prisoners, including 175 in administrative detention where they can be detained without charge for renewable six-month periods.

Of that number, 183 are minors, B’Tselem says.

Source: Middle East Online.


Jordan releases anti-ISIL Salafi leader

17 Jun 2014

Areej Abuqudairi

Amman, Jordan – Jordanian authorities have released Salafi leader Assem Barqawi, better known as Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, after having served a five-year prison sentence on allegations of jeopardizing state security and recruiting jihadists to fight in Afghanistan.

His release came as a surprise to some after the escalating war in Syria has presented big security challenges to neighboring Jordan, especially amid an increasing number of Jordanians joining jihadist groups inside the war-torn country.

“We did not expect his release. We thought he would be interrogated and held further,” Mohammad Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, head of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafist Movement told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.

Experts and Salafists, however, say that releasing Maqdesi, who has been very critical of violence committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), serves Jordan’s interest as the movement has achieved gains in neighboring Iraq recently and added to Jordan’s security woes.

“Maqdesi is a supporter of al-Nusra front, one of the fighting groups in Syria, which unlike ISIL, does not have any ambitions to take over the region,” said Hasan Abu Hanya, an expert on jihadist movements.

“He is the mentor and father of our curriculum,” Abu Sayyaf told Al Jazeera.

“There is a pressing need for a mentor like him at this time of bloodshed. He is very concerned about the blood of Muslims being shed and their souls and honor,” Abu Sayyaf added.

In a recent statement published to his website, Tawheed, the leader condemned ISIL and called it “deviant” and called on jihadists to follow “the right [path] and stop the bloodshed”.

According to Abu Hanyah, there are more than 2,000 supporters of ISIL in Jordan – an alarming number for the Jordanian authorities.

“If some 4,000 ISIL members turned Mosul upside down, it is very dangerous for Jordan to have such numbers of supporters, given how violent and experienced the movement is,” he said.

Jordanian officials’ concern has been exacerbated after Iraq reportedly pulled out its forces from the Jordanian border on Sunday.

During a meeting with parliamentarians dedicated to discussing the challenges following the situation in Iraq, Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali said that Jordan had built-up its military presence near the Iraq border by sending gendarme forces and additional security forces.

Maqdesi arrived at his house in Rusaifa town in northern Jordan, which is home to the Salafist movement, yesterday. He refused to give media interviews, but will soon issue a statement, according to Abu Sayyaf.

His lawyer, Majid Liftawi, believes his client is not guilty of any terror charges.

“It was all because of his political beliefs and writings,” he said.

Source: al-Jazeera.


French Jews leave for Israel in increasing numbers

June 19, 2014

PARIS (AP) — Increasing numbers of French Jews are leaving for Israel, citing dim economic prospects and a sense of being caught between an increasingly influential far right and militant Islam. More than 5,000 are on track to leave this year, the most since after the Six-Day War in 1967.

Israel, seeing the influx as a success, is doubling down on its efforts to attract Europeans, planning to dedicate $29 million over two years to bring in new immigrants. France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States — about 500,000, according to rough estimates in a country that has outlawed any official documentation of a person’s religion since the Holocaust.

Since World War II, France has redoubled efforts to make Jewish families feel welcome. But many say dramatic acts of anti-Semitism coupled with France’s stagnant economy — which includes a 25 percent youth unemployment rate, compared with 11 percent in Israel — make a hard choice easier.

Laurie Levy, 26, left in 2013. A native of the southern city of Toulouse, her departure came after attacks by a French-born Islamic radical on a Jewish school and soldiers left seven people dead, including three children and a rabbi. She has given up on a career in French law and left behind her parents and siblings.

In Tel Aviv, she no longer feels the need to hide the Star of David she wears around her neck. But there are other concerns: Her parents are unlikely to uproot themselves and she worries about their future back in France. They, in turn, worry about her, living alone in a different country.

“Life is beautiful here. You work. You go to the beach. You see your friends. You’re not afraid,” said Levy, who now works at an Israeli design firm. “The irony is that I am more concerned about them than they are about me.”

That she was able to switch fields and find a job is a demonstration of Israel’s economic allure. The country annually welcomes 1,000 French youths for a year abroad and 70 percent of them decide to stay in Israel, according to Ariel Kandel, who runs the Jewish Agency for Israel in Paris.

The agency, which works closely with the Israeli government, aims to strengthen ties between Jews in the diaspora and Israel and spends tens of millions of dollars each year to bring Jews to Israel permanently. The $29 million in new spending targets European Jews and another $8 million will help them resettle.

The Jewish Agency cites an influx of immigrants from France and Ukraine, which has been fighting with separatists and seen some anti-Semitic leaflets distributed amid increasing tensions with Russia. France doesn’t pose such a dramatic danger. Its economy is stagnant and joblessness is high, but France has among the world’s strongest social safety nets and highest standards of living.

“Never would anyone have thought there would come a time when Israel would be more attractive than France,” Kandel said. The number of people obtaining French citizenship is down about 45 percent from a high in 2010 and the general mood among French of all faiths is one of deepening pessimism.

French Jews say they have the added burden of watching the rise of an increasingly militant Islam and a revitalized far right. In May, on the eve of Europe-wide elections that saw the National Front party — whose founder has been repeatedly convicted of anti-Semitism — sweep into first place in France, a gunman attacked a Jewish museum in Belgium. The suspect arrested was a Frenchman who authorities say recently returned from fighting with Islamic extremists in Syria.

“They are finding themselves between the extreme right of Europe and the radical Islam of Europe,” said Kandel. The number of French Jews migrating to Israel has been around 2,000 annually since the mid-1990s, decreasing from a peak of 5,292 after the 1967 Six-Day War. At the current rate, the Jewish Agency for Israel says French migration appears set to surpass that peak.

The French government is aware of the increase in departures, Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said. “Emigration is an individual choice and it’s not our place to comment,” he said. Jewish Agency head Nathan Sharansky expects the French number to top out at over 5,000 this year. That would be about 1 percent of France’s total Jewish population, and compares with 3,300 in 2013 and 1,900 in 2012.

With the French economy flat and one in four youths unemployed, the immigration to Israel fits with “a trend in France of young people migrating and trying to find opportunity elsewhere,” he said. David Kadoch is among those on the cusp of departure. Born in a Paris suburb, the married father of two will be joining his two brothers in Israel in August. A network administrator, he’s confident that his skills will translate well in his new home even though he speaks what he laughingly describes as “Biblical Hebrew.”

“People laugh when I speak Hebrew. I can make myself understood more or less, but I lack any grammar,” he said. Kadoch cited a combination of economic, social and spiritual factors for leaving, including concerns about the future for his two daughters, ages 1 and 3, if Europe returns to its dark past.

“There is a rise in anti-Semitism, there’s a difficult social climate, there’s a horrid economy,” he said of his native land. “From one side and the other, you have people who are hostile to Jews, for completely divergent reasons. And I don’t see how, in this context, history can fail to repeat itself.”

He acknowledged that Israel’s security situation can appear more precarious than that of France, but emphasized that for him, there’s a compelling difference. “The security of Israel at least is handled by people who have the same interests as we do,” he said. “That is not necessarily the case in other countries of the world.”

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer George Jahn contributed from Vienna.

Israel arrests 51 former Palestinian prisoners

June 18, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army has re-arrested 51 former Palestinian prisoners as part of a furious search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said on Wednesday that the 51 were among more than 65 Palestinians detained overnight in the search for the teens. The 51 were part of a group of 1,027 Palestinians released in 2011 from Israeli prisons in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Israel believes Hamas was behind the abduction of the teens, who disappeared last week on the way home from a religious seminary. Lerner says that since the disappearance, a total of 240 Palestinians have been arrested in the West Bank.

Gaza cops trade bullets for laser-tech in training

Gaza City, Palestine (AFP)

April 14, 2014

Security forces in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are using technology to practice shooting on laser simulators, saving money spent on ammunition in the cash-strapped Palestinian territory.

In a converted gym, four uniformed officers aim at targets with Kalashnikov assault rifles converted to fire beams of laser light, whose path is recorded on a computer in a control room and monitored by an instructor.

“Electronic shooting has great advantages,” said Colonel Mohammed al-Nakhala, head of training in Gaza’s National Security organization.

“This is a leap forward in training provided by the interior ministry which saves a great deal of ammunition, money and work,” he told AFP.

The ministry’s training director, Mahmud Shubaki, says the simulators allow trainees to practice extensively before graduating to use of live fire.

“On a real shooting range we are limited by the number of rounds we can fire,” he said.

Shubaki said four Kalashnikovs had been converted to fire electronically and fitted with an air-powered mechanism to simulate the recoil of shooting live rounds.

The 32-year-old Shubaki, who received military training in Algeria, said the new system had cut the cost of a firearms course from $20,000 to $1,000 (14,500 to 720 euros).

But trainee Omar al-Halabi, a 32-year-old lieutenant, said he prefers live fire exercises over the simulator which “feels like a video game”.

Hamas, shunned as a terrorist movement by Israel, the United States and the European Union, seized control of Gaza from the rival Fatah after a week of fierce fighting in 2007 but is undergoing a worsening budget crisis.

The Strip’s borders with Israel are tightly controlled by land, sea and air, and passage across the frontier with neighboring Egypt has been severely restricted since last July when its army deposed Hamas’ ally, president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last month a Cairo court barred the militant Islamic group from operating in Egypt and said it would seek to seize the movement’s assets there.

After Morsi’s overthrow, the army destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the border, reducing the flow of cash to Hamas coffers.

It is now struggling to pay the wages of 51,000 civil servants and budget cuts will no longer be able to spare the security services.

Hamas officials and security personnel, whose fuel bills were in the past paid in full by the government, are now being asked to pay half from their own pockets, security sources say.

And police are moving over more and more to using motorcycles rather than cars because of constant fuel shortages.

The destroyed tunnels were widely used for the import of fuel, food, construction materials and military supplies.

Source: Space War.


Gaza celebrates Erdogan’s victory

Tuesday, 01 April 2014

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took to the streets yesterday evening to celebrate the victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Palestinians described the resounding victory of Erdogan’s party as a kind of “landslide victory” for political Islam when it has a free democratic atmosphere.

Gaza residents respect Turkey because of its outspoken stances against the Israeli-Egyptian, internationally backed, siege on them.

Turkey has refused to restore diplomatic relations with Israel before the latter lifts the siege on Gaza and allows Turkish aid organizations access.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Women keep Jordan’s traditions alive

07 Jun 2014

Women in Jordan earn money by expertly crafting a traditional yogurt sauce called Jameed.

Karak, Jordan – Nouf al-Jarajreh, better known as Um Faisal, has become a national icon for making Jameed, a Jordanian specialty consisting of balls of salted and dried yogurt, made with sheep or goat milk.

The yogurt acts as a key ingredient in Jordan’s famous lamb-based dish, Mansaf, which symbolizes Bedouin hospitality. Jordanians say the country’s Bedouin citizens invented Jameed so that they would have something to offer their guests year-round.

“Our Bedouin ancestors are generous people and their main concern was to provide guests with something to eat,” said Um Faisal, as she sipped cardamom-flavored coffee beneath an arch of grapevines in her garden.

After her husband’s alleged death by gunshot in Iraq, where he worked as a truck driver, 20 years ago, she became the sole breadwinner for her eight children.

“If life turns against you, you have to turn to your skills,” she told Al Jazeera. “I began making Jameed to sell it.”

Now, the 70-year-old uses modern technology to make the traditional dish, and producing enough to meet orders from hundreds of clients.

Abu Mahmoud, a local farmer, delivers fresh sheep’s milk to Um Faisal every day during the early hours of the morning. Jameed’s busy season runs between March and May, and according to local folklore, the city of Karak is known as the best place to make it.

The secret lies in the quality of milk that sheep produce in Jordan’s southern governorate, Um Faisal explained. “Here, [Karak] herds get to eat some herbs like Artemisia and Achillea, which makes the milk taste better,” she said, as stirred the milk in steady circles with a big wooden spoon.

Once foam forms on top of the milk, Um Faisal switches the stove off and lets it cool. She then works on perfecting homemade yogurt – made by mixing the milk with active cultures and some ready-made yogurt – which she later leaves to ferment for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, she opens plastic buckets of already-made yogurt from the night before and pours them, with some ice, in a whirlpool washing machine for about 20 minutes. “Ice is crucial here as it picks up butter very well,” Um Faisal explained.

Decades ago, before washing machines existed, women would use a piece of goat leather, known as Sigaa, and hung it between two wooden sticks. “By moving Siqaa back and forth, butter would form from the mixture of yogurt and cool water brought from the well… It was really hard work for us,” Um Faisal said.

This year, Um Faisal has upgraded to a locally-designed washing machine, specifically used to produce Jameed in large quantities. As the machine swirls, butter begins to build in the middle, and the yogurt turns into a creamy liquid known as Shaneenah.

Um Faisal’s daughter, Lamya, brings out cotton sheets, which they fill with the liquid after it had cooled. During the busy season of Jameed, the 29-year-old beautician takes some time off from work to help her mother. “I can only help with simple things as I have not mastered the art of making Jameed yet,” Lamya said.

They fill several bags carefully and slowly without wasting a drop. After they filled each bag, they squeeze all the juice and then rope it. “This is important to drain all the whey,” Um Faisal said.

Finally, Um Faisal lines Jameed balls in rows on the table in her veranda, which is covered with a clear, cotton cloth. “I would leave them to dry here for a few days before taking them out,” she said. “Jameed is sensitive to heat and dust, especially during its first few days.”

During Jameed season, her terrace space functions as a drying and display space. She has trays of Jameed lined up to dry and to sell for clients, and says that she can make up to 100 balls of Jameed per hour.

Um Faisal has produced an average of 5,000kg of Jameed every year for the past 20 years, she says. She has regular clients who buy it every season, and who recommend her work to others.

An increasing number of women have begun producing the traditional food for extra income.

“In recent years, selling Jameed has become a major source of income for several families, especially those headed by women,” said Wesal Qsous, president of Women of Shihan Mountain Association.

“We have seen that women turn their basic knowledge and home kitchens into a workstation to survive financial hardships,” she said.

Fahmi Zubi, a member of the Jordanian anthropologists society, says changes to the economic situation of families have made certain social behavior acceptable.

“It used to be terribly shameful if a Bedouin sold Jameed and that is why families made enough to save for them and for their guests,” he told Al Jazeera.

“But economical systems have evolved from self sufficiency and bartering to capitalism, certain social norms and values have changed,” he added.

Despite increasing demand for Jameed, Um Faisal is concerned about keeping the tradition of making Jameed alive. “It has become commercialized as more people make it to live off it,” she said. “Maintaining good quality is the key challenge, as more elderly die without training youngsters to do that.”

Source: al-Jazeera.