Archive for August, 2015

World Food Program cuts aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan

July 31, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The World Food Program announced new cuts Friday in food aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan, highlighting a growing funding crisis of international agencies helping millions displaced by Syria’s conflict.

A last-minute U.S. donation of $65 million kept food aid in Jordan going for August, though at reduced levels, the WFP said. If no additional contributions come in, half the current food aid recipients would lose all benefits by September.

“This timely contribution has helped us avoid major cuts, but unless other donors step up to the plate, it will be only a matter of months before we face the same situation again,” said WFP’s regional director Muhannad Hadi.

Since the 2011 start of the Syrian conflict, more than 4 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. Jordan hosts 629,000 Syrian refugees, including about 100,000 housed in refugee camps and more than half a million living in Jordanian communities.

Largely unable to work legally, most urban refugees live in poverty. About 440,000 have been receiving WFP food vouchers, a mainstay of support, but the agency has had to reduce food aid repeatedly in recent months.

In August, food aid for the most vulnerable among the voucher recipients, or about 200,000 people, will drop from $28 to $14 per person per month and for the rest from $14 to $7, the WPF said. Food aid for the most vulnerable is secured through November at current funding levels, the agency said. For the rest, it would stop in September.

The agency has expressed concern that deepening poverty will prompt more refugees to pull their sons out of school and send them to work or marry off daughters in their teens. One refugee, speaking before the announcement of aid cuts, said he fears his family of eight will be evicted from their apartment in a poor area of the Jordanian capital of Amman because he can’t pay the rent.

“I don’t know where to go,” said the man, who gave a nickname, Abu Udai, amid concern for relatives remaining in Syria. “I can’t find a job, and work is illegal here.” Urban refugees unable to make ends meet may face a choice between moving to a refugee camp, where aid levels are higher, or returning to Syria, despite the dangers.

The Zaatari refugee camp, established three years ago, is at full capacity and not taking any more newcomers, and the only option would be the newer, Azraq camp. The WFP said those living in the camps will continue to receive $28 per person per month. It said refugees in Lebanon will continue to receive $13.50 per month, the same level as in July.

The agency said it immediately needs $168 million to support refugees through October in the five main countries of the region that are hosting Syrian refugees.

Suspected Jewish extremists burn Palestinian child to death

August 01, 2015

DUMA, West Bank (AP) — Suspected Jewish assailants set fire to a West Bank home on Friday and burned a sleeping Palestinian toddler to death in an attack that drew Palestinian rage and widespread Israeli condemnation. The attack, which threatens to set off another violent escalation, shines a light on the growing lawlessness of extremist Jewish settlers that Israel is either unable or unwilling to contain.

The extremists have for years staged attacks against Palestinian property, as well as mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases. The attacks, known as “price tags” because they exact a price for Israeli steps seen as favorable to the Palestinians, have stirred fear in Palestinians and frustration among critics who say Israel has not done enough to quell the assaults.

“This is a direct consequence of decades of impunity given by the Israeli government to settler terrorism,” said Palestinian official Saeb Erekat. “This is the consequence of a culture of hate funded and incentivized by the Israeli government and the impunity granted by the international community.”

Friday’s deadly attack comes as part of a larger trend of Jewish radicalization — one day after an anti-gay ultra-Orthodox extremist stabbed revelers at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade and two days after Israeli authorities indicted two young Jewish activists for an arson attack on a famous Holy Land church. All have been strongly condemned across the Israeli political spectrum, though the recent spate of attacks has raised fears that a radicalized and violent ultraconservative fringe is growing from within the country’s hard-line national-religious camp.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the attack a “war crime” and said the Palestinians would present it to the International Criminal Court as part of their case against Israel. The extremist attacks, which most recently struck a famous church in northern Israel, have rarely caused fatal injuries, which made Friday’s incident, in which 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was killed and his parents and 4-year-old brother critically wounded, all the more worrying.

Witnesses and the Israeli military said that under cover of darkness, the attackers broke the windows of the family’s home in Duma, a small village near the West Bank city of Nablus. They lobbed a fire bomb into the sleeping family’s bedroom which exploded into a fireball that quickly consumed the home.

The suspects, who fled the scene, scribbled graffiti on the walls reading “Long live the Messiah,” ”revenge” and “price tag,” as well as a Jewish star of David. The military said they were searching for the assailants.

Riham Dawabsheh, the boy’s mother, ran out of the house as she was engulfed by flames and a neighbor, Mohammed Ibrahim Dawabsheh, said he covered her in a sheet to try to extinguish the flames. She, as well as her husband Saed and son Ahmad, were taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment, where they remained in critical condition with severe burn wounds.

Duma residents blamed the incident on Israeli refusal to confront settler violence. “We have no protection,” said Abdel Haleem Dawabsheh, a teacher from Duma, who like Mohammed Dawabsheh is a member of the same clan as the victims. “Settlers burned mosques, cars, trees, attacked people in our village and in the nearby villages but nothing happened to them.”

Israel says it does its best to track down the assailants and has launched recent drives to crack down on the “price tag” phenomenon. In the case of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes arson in June, it arrested two suspects that belonged to an extremist settler youth group.

But critics say Israel doesn’t enforce the law when it comes to settlers because of the political power that the settlers wield in parliament and because they are still perceived in some circles as Zionist pioneers who are settling the land like the vanguards who established the Jewish state.

“This policy creates impunity for hate crimes, and encourages assailants to continue, leading to this morning’s horrific result,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem said in a statement. The group said that in the past three years, Israeli civilians set fire to nine Palestinian homes in the West Bank and flung a fire bomb at a Palestinian taxi. It said no one was charged in any of the cases.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “continued failures to effectively address impunity for repeated acts of settler violence have led to another horrific incident involving the death of an innocent life,” his spokesman told reporters. “This must end.”

Israeli leaders rushed to condemn Friday’s attack, although B’Tselem said those words were mere rhetoric if the attacks were allowed to continue. “I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act. This is a terror attack in every respect. The state of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, said Israel would not allow “Jewish terrorists” to carry out such acts. “We will fight against them firmly and with all means and tools at our disposal,” he said. Settler leaders and their representatives in parliament also distanced themselves from the attackers.

Condemnations also came from abroad, including the European Union, which called for “zero tolerance” for settler violence, while Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, called for the perpetrators to be “promptly brought to justice.” The U.S. State Department urged both sides to “maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions.”

The U.N. Security Council condemned “the vicious terrorist attack,” demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice and encouraged all sides “to work to lower tension, reject violence, avoid all provocations, and seek a path toward peace.”

Israeli opposition leader Issac Herzog said Israel needed to take practical steps including arrest without trial or charge, as is done for Palestinian assailants, in order to stamp out the attacks. “We are dealing with Jewish terror that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said, at the hospital near Tel Aviv where Riham and Ahmad Dawabsheh were being treated. “This phenomenon must be uprooted.”

Other Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, visited the family at the hospital. Herzog compared the attack to the killing last year of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive last summer by Jewish extremists in a revenge attack for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens. The violence eventually spiraled into what later became a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Tensions have been high since last year’s war and with no peace negotiations and the Palestinians taking their case to the international court, incidents such as Friday’s could easily spark wider unrest.

Friday’s attack forced those simmering tensions to boil over, with about 2,000 Palestinian protesters clashing with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Hebron at a previously planned demonstration, the military said. It added that forces fired into the rock-throwing crowd after it did not disperse and “a hit was confirmed,” without elaborating – a reference to someone being shot. Israeli forces shot at another Palestinian near the city of Ramallah, after he hurled a fire bomb at them, the military said. Palestinian hospital officials said he was in critical condition after being shot in the chest.

In Gaza, Palestinian health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said the Israeli military shot and killed a Gazan man who had approached Israel’s security fence. The Israeli military said it did not know the man’s condition, but said troops opened fire at the man’s legs when he and another man neared the fence.

The Israeli military deployed troop reinforcements to the West Bank to quell further clashes and Netanyahu also placed a rare call to Abbas to express his outrage and call for calm. In the village of Duma, the interior walls of the one-floor home were blackened and still radiated heat as Israeli police surveyed the scene Friday morning. A brown couch was covered in white ash as charred debris lay strewn around the property. A second house nearby, which was empty, was also set on fire.

Inside the torched home, relatives scraped through the ash and soot to salvage any belongings. They found a partly burnt photograph of the slain child and his bottle, still one-third full of milk. “I never imagined that this could happen, that someone could come and burn people alive while they are sleeping,” said Hassan Dawabsheh, the slain child’s uncle. “I don’t know what those people were thinking. What do they have inside their hearts and minds?”

Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writers Matt Lee in Washington and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed reporting.

Houses, hotel and shops approved on land of Islamic cemetery

Jessica Purkiss

Friday, 31 July 2015

Israeli officials have approved the construction of a massive complex which will include 200 houses, shops and a 480 room hotel in Jerusalem. The problem is this; the land that the complex will be built upon is already part of an Islamic cemetery. Although the land cited for the build is already home to a car-park and school, earlier excavations showed that bones and graves remain underneath.

Located just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, the Mamilla cemetery is said to be the final resting place of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions as well as thousands of Saladin’s warriors who helped expel the Crusaders from the Holy Land nearly 1,000 years ago. It was declared by Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry in 1948 to be “one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries”.

The cemetery has however been chipped away at over the years. A previous plan to build a courthouse at the site was rejected by the Supreme Court amid protests a couple of years ago, but a large chunk is covered with Israel’s Independence Park, established to celebrate Israel’s victory in the 1948 war. Seven years ago Jerusalem City Hall approved a Museum of Tolerance over another section of the cemetery. The Supreme Court approved the construction after officials promised that only “a few dozen graves” would be found at the entire site.

However, an investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz showed that this was not the case. It revealed that, amid great secrecy, sometimes throughout the night, an estimated 1,500 graves were unearthed and the human remains inside them were not treated appropriately. One worker was recorded saying: “The skeletons themselves were disintegrating, whatever comes out comes out, if you can put it in a box you do, and if it’s crumbling you leave it.” Gideon Suleimani, an Israeli architect who worked on the Museum of Tolerance excavations told the Haaretz investigation: “They call this an archaeological excavation but it’s really a clearing-out, an erasure of the Muslim past.” Suleimani, has since become a critic of the work, told Middle East Eye that the new plan continued a long-term process. “The policy is to dismantle what is left of Islamic heritage in Jerusalem piece by piece, to clear the area and make it Jewish,” he said.

In Jerusalem, the erasure of the Islamic or Palestinian history is not new. According to Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, many Islamic sites in Jerusalem have over the years been “turned into garbage dumps, parking lots, roads and construction sites”.

East Jerusalem, supposedly the capital of a Palestinian state, was annexed by Israel and declared its undivided capital in 1980. They constructed a wall around it and enforced a strict system of permits, blocking access for many West Bank Palestinians. Since then the Israeli government has embarked on a “Judaisation” project, demolishing endless Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a growing number of Israeli settlers- a bid to stamp the city as the capital of Israel and rid it of its Palestinian identity. The Mamilla plans are another example of this; an attempt to de-Arabise Jerusalem’s history.

Yonathan Mizrachi from Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO that seeks to unpick the role archaeology plays in the Israel/Palestine conflict says it is about reinforcing identity. “It is definitely a question of the identity of the land… to who this land belongs and who has more historical right to this land.” But he doesn’t think that the latest development on the Mamilla Cemetery is a game changer in its history. “The main disruption for the cemetery was done when the people who built the Museum of Tolerance decided to build it on the cemetery- instead of a cemetery actually.” He added: “Our main concern is not necessarily just about more and more development. The main problem from our point of view is on one hand they (the Israeli authorities) are destroying and on the other hand they are not protecting or emphasizing the importance of this cemetery to the public.”

“We definitely feel and think the Israeli Authorities are not emphasizing enough, or taking care of enough, heritage that is not considered to be linked to the Israeli people, and the Mamilla cemetery is definitely one of these examples,” said Yonathan. “What we are demanding from the Israeli Authority is to protect, no matter to what religion the place belongs to. They must be protected because they are all important to the history of Jerusalem.”

The new plans to develop at the site of the cemetery come at a time when things are getting much more tense at another site of great Islamic importance. Arab League foreign ministers will meet in Cairo early next month to discuss clashes involving Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. In recent months, groups of extremist Jewish settlers – often accompanied by Israeli security forces – have repeatedly forced their way into the Al-Aqsa complex. Clashes, which have left many activists injured and arrested, often erupt in protest of increasing Jewish claims to the site.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


French Jewish immigrants flock to Israeli coastal city

July 31, 2015

NETANYA, Israel (AP) — The coastal city of Netanya markets itself as the “Israeli Riviera” and walking along its main pedestrian boulevard, one would be hard-pressed to tell it apart from its twin city of Nice. Barely a word of Hebrew is spoken, and real estate ads, restaurant menus and cafe conversations are mostly in French.

An increase in anti-Semitic attacks by Muslim extremists in France, home to the world’s third-largest Jewish population, has spawned an unprecedented wave of immigration to Israel. Netanya, with its seaside chic and established French-speaking community, has become their top destination.

Last year, for the first time, France was Israel’s top source of immigrants, according to the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit group that works closely with the government and acts as a link for Jews around the world. A record 7,200 French Jews arrived in 2014, double the number from the previous year. Of those, about 2,000 came to Netanya, a Mediterranean city whose beaches remind many new arrivals of their Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian origins.

The surge, which marked the first time in Israeli history that more than 1 percent of a Western country’s Jewish population immigrated in a single year, came even before the shooting rampage that killed four Jews in a Paris kosher supermarket in January and devastated the community’s already shaky sense of security.

For Fanny Rhoum, a 33-year-old mother of two whose children went to school across from the Hyper Cacher, the supermarket where the attack happened, that was the tipping point. Three days after the attack, she came to Israel to start planning her move.

“We had become paranoid … every event brought our departure closer,” she said Wednesday upon receiving her Israeli ID card in Netanya, just two days after arriving on a special flight from Paris with another 200 immigrants.

“Here we get the feeling that we can protect ourselves. There we have the impression that we are on our own and if, God forbid, something happens we will have to manage.” Seated nearby, 63-year-old Jeanette Malka said she waited for her retirement to move to Israel and now hopes her children and grandchildren will join her. “It’s no place to raise Jewish children,” she said of France. “We like Netanya a lot. We feel at home here.”

Her husband, Chaim, was clearly relishing wearing his small black skullcap — something he said he feared to do in public in Paris. Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, when 6 million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. Jews have been targeted in Belgium, Denmark and other European countries, but France has seen the worst of it. Jews have increasingly reported assaults and intimidation, mostly from Muslim extremists. While some attacks have been linked to anger at Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, most have been of an anti-Semitic nature.

France’s Jewish community of 500,000 is the largest in Europe. Though Jews make up less than 1 percent of the population, French officials say more than 50 percent of all reported racist attacks in 2014 were directed against them.

Ariel Kandel, the Jewish Agency’s director of French immigration, said many immigrants also come to Israel out of Zionist fervor or for economic reasons. Unemployment has hovered around 10 percent in France since 2009, compared to less than 5 percent in Israel.

But while annual migration numbers have historically hovered between 1,000 to 2,000, he said the exodus kicked off after the 2012 shooting attack against a Jewish school Toulouse that killed three children and a rabbi.

“After that, I just couldn’t stay there anymore,” said Ida Mardoukh, a 45-year-old mother of three who moved from Toulouse to Netanya. “There are attacks in Israel too, but this is home. At least here we can live as Jews.”

Following the January killings at the kosher supermarket, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to Paris and openly urged the country’s Jews to move to Israel. The Jewish Agency reports that 2015 has already seen a 10 percent bump from last year’s record numbers.

European Jews are divided on the question of immigration to Israel. While maintaining close ties to Israel, their community leaders have urged people to stay in their homelands. The trend has also been deeply troubling for the French government, with top officials pleading with Jews to stay and warning that a mass migration of the community would be seen as a failure of the republic.

France takes pride in its inclusiveness and the Jews’ 2,000-year history in the country. It was the first country in Europe to grant Jews full civil rights, in the immediate wake of the 1789 French Revolution. It has had two Jewish prime ministers, and former President Nicolas Sarkozy has Jewish ancestry.

Arriving in Israel, the French immigrants have brought some of that history with them — as well as a French sense of style, culture and food. Nowhere is that more on display than in Netanya, affectionately known as the French “bubble.” Entire neighborhoods have become French-speaking and the busy central promenade is regularly bustling with cafe dwellers, smoking, drinking coffee and eating croissants. Bakeries offer authentic baguettes and brioches, and French music plays as the sandy beach beckons in the background.

“They want to be near the sea and near their families,” explained Kandel, of the Jewish Agency. Freddo Pachter, who heads Netanya’s French absorption project, said the city has embraced them fully, well aware of their particular needs. Most of the newcomers speak nothing but French, and the city has adjusted accordingly, launching a French language website and ensuring there are French speakers in schools and workplaces to help ease the transition.

Unlike previous waves of refugees, Pachter said the French immigrants were mainly educated professionals with strong Zionist ideals. “Israel wants to invest in them because it knows that they will stay and it’s a long-term investment,” he said. “They are like fresh blood for the body.”

Associated Press producer Audrey Horowitz contributed reporting.