Archive for September, 2016

UC Berkeley reinstates Palestine course

September 20, 2016

UC Berkeley has reinstated a course on Palestinian history which was suspended last week.

The school’s dean announced the decision after the teacher revised the course description.

“Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis” course was suspended by social science dean Carla Hesse after receiving a complaint from Jewish and civil rights groups that the course syllabus appeared to describe a politically motivated, anti-Semitic class.

Activists protested against the decision saying it threatened academic freedom.

Paul Hadweh, a student who teaches the one unit course, said he wasn’t told that it had been suspended.

“The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me,” Hadweh said. “To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”

The dean said she suspended the class for review after discovering that neither she nor the chair of the ethnic department had seen or approved the course syllabus.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160920-uc-berkeley-reinstates-palestine-course/.

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Israelis pay respects to Peres, Clinton arrives in Israel

September 29, 2016

JERUSALEM (AP) — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton joined thousands of Israeli mourners Thursday who paid their respects to the late Shimon Peres outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, as the country somberly remembered the Nobel-winning politician who helped lead Israel during a remarkable seven-decade career.

Clinton is among the dozens of current and former world leaders, including President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, expected to gather in Jerusalem on Friday for Peres’ funeral. The former Israeli president and prime minister died Wednesday, two weeks after suffering a stroke, at the age of 93.

A senior Palestinian official said that Abbas had decided Thursday to attend the funeral, and will come to the event with a small delegation of top aides, including his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and his security chief Majid Faraj.

In contrast to an outpouring of grief from Western leaders, Arab leaders have remained largely silent over Peres’ death. The reaction reflected general Arab animosity toward Israel, particularly at a time when the peace process Peres helped launch two decades ago has collapsed and anger is high at the hard-line policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abbas was the only Arab leader to express sorrow over Peres’ death on Wednesday. In attending the funeral, Abbas wanted to “send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace, and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres,” the senior official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to the media.

Friday’s funeral is expected to be the largest gathering of world leaders in Israel since the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish nationalist in 1995. Rabin’s killing, coming at the height of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, drew dozens of world leaders, including a large delegation of American officials led by then-President Clinton and his wife Hillary, then-President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the late King Hussein of Jordan and other dignitaries from the Arab world.

Peres’ funeral was also shaping up to be a high-profile affair. In addition to Obama and Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain’s Prince Charles, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and French President Francois Hollande were expected. More than 60 private planes, including the one that carried Clinton on Thursday, were expected to arrive ahead of the ceremony. There was no word on whether the two Arab countries at peace with Israel — Jordan and Egypt — were sending delegations.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 8,000 officers were deployed to maintain order over the mourning period. He said officers were also monitoring social media for potential attackers. Peres’ casket lay in state outside the Knesset, or parliament, on Thursday, as thousands of people lined up on a warm September day to pay their respects. The casket was covered in a blue and white Israeli flag and watched over by a small honor guard. Mourners slowly walked by, snapping pictures and reciting prayers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin lay wreaths beside the casket in a brief ceremony early Thursday. Later in the day, Clinton, escorted by Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, stopped by, staring solemnly at the casket without commenting.

Clinton landed in Israel Thursday morning on the private jet of Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, according to a spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority. Saban is a major donor to the Democratic party and to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Clinton was president when Peres helped negotiate a historic interim peace agreement with the Palestinians in 1993. The following year, Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have said they lost “a true and treasured friend” in Peres. Dr. Rafi Walden, the son-in-law and personal physician of Shimon Peres, said the ex-president left behind detailed plans for Friday’s funeral, including requests that his three children speak, along with Netanyahu, Rivlin, a foreign dignitary and an Israeli cultural figure.

Walden said Peres also requested Israeli singer David D’or sing at his funeral. Walden predicted the song would be the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu,” or “Our Father Our King.” Jews sing the prayer on the Day of Atonement, which falls this year in mid-October.

Peres loved the song. Barbra Streisand sang it to him at a gala marking his 90th birthday. Peres gained international recognition for his Nobel prize, and late in life, became a virtual celebrity as he traveled around the globe preaching a message of peace and coexistence.

While eulogies poured in from the West, reactions in the Arab world, where Peres had a much more checkered legacy, have been largely absent. Many in the Arab world are deeply critical of Peres because of his role in building his country’s defense arsenal, supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank and waging war in Lebanon.

The foreign minister of Bahrain issued a tribute to Peres early Thursday, a rarity for an Arab leader. Khalid al-Khalifa tweeted, “Rest in peace President Shimon Peres, a man of war and a man of the still elusive peace in the Middle East.”

Reaction to the death of ex-Israeli President Shimon Peres

September 28, 2016

Quotes from around the world after the death of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and elder statesman of Israeli politics, at age 93.

“A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever. Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace, and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves — to the very end of our time on Earth, and in the legacy that we leave to others. For the gift of his friendship and the example of his leadership, todah rabah, Shimon.” — President Barack Obama

“With the passing of Shimon Peres, Israel has lost a leader who championed its security, prosperity, and limitless possibilities from its birth to his last day on earth. The Middle East has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation and for a future where all the children of Abraham build a better tomorrow together. And Hillary and I have lost a true and treasured friend.

“I’ll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations. He was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation not conflict, economic and social empowerment not anger and frustration, and a nation, a region, and a world enhanced by caring and sharing, not torn asunder by the illusions of permanent dominance and perfect truth. His critics called him a dreamer. That he was — a lucid, eloquent dreamer until the very end. Thank goodness. Let those of us who loved him and love his nation keep his dream alive.” — Former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

“I am more sad than words can express. This is a man who was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply. He was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend. His intellect, his way with words that was eloquent beyond description, his command of the world and how it was changing were extraordinary.

“Though he grew older, his spirit never did. Above all, his commitment to peace and his belief that it was in the interests of the country he adored marked him out as a visionary whose vision was never dimmed or displaced. He saw every setback as a spur to further action and every moment of hope as a sign of what could be done.” — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

“Shimon Peres never stopped trying to reach peace and believing in peace. His hand was always extended to a historic compromise with our neighbors, and even if this compromise tarried, he taught us never to give in to despair, but to cling to hope.” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“Today with deep sorrow we bid farewell to our beloved father, the 9th president of Israel. Our father’s legacy has always been to look to tomorrow. We were privileged to be part of his private family, but today we sense that the entire nation of Israel and the global community share this great loss. We share this pain together.” — Chemi Peres, Shimon Peres’ son

“A giant, a leader and an outstanding statesman has left us. The last of the leaders of the country’s founding. A man who made an immeasurable contribution to Israel’s security, its standing in the world and its efforts for peace. A world statesman, who even during his greatest achievements and until his last days had a great vision for a better Israel and a better world, along with an inexhaustible curiosity of a young man for every emerging innovation and revolution. His memory will be forever bound up with the chronicles of Israel’s history. May his memory be a blessing.” — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak

“Words cannot quantify the tremendous amount that Shimon Peres did for the security of Israel. Shimon Peres shaped the character and values of the Ministry of Defense, led the building and development of the Israel Defense Forces and its strategic capabilities, developed defense relationships between Israel and different countries around the world, and played a key role in the developing Israel’s defense industries.” — Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, Udi Adam

“Barbara and I join Shimon Peres’ countless admirers around the world in saluting his singular life of service — to the universal cause of freedom, to the timeless cause of Israel, to the noblest cause of peace. By his unyielding determination and principle, Shimon Peres time and again helped guide his beloved country through the crucible of mortal challenge. But it was by his innate humanity, his decency, that Shimon inspired the world over and helped pave a path to peace broad enough that future generations will walk it one day, side-by side.” — Former President George H. W. Bush

“Laura and I join the people of Israel and those around the world in mourning the death of Shimon Peres. As a young man, he worked for his country’s independence. For the rest of his life, he led it with a deep and abiding concern for his people and a commitment to freedom and peace. The Bush family will miss Shimon Peres and his grace, dignity, and optimism.” — Former President George W. Bush

“My heart is bleeding.my tears are falling.because President Shimon Peres is no longer in this world. He was a father figure not only to his beloved country of Israel, but also to me, because he was what I imagined my father would have been like. Shimon’s mind was expansive and his heart was compassionate. He was a brilliant statesman, gifted with the ability to listen to others who did not share his views and still remained determined to find a path forward.

He was a voice of reason who also happened to have the sensibility of a poet.thoughtful and soft-spoken, but his words echoed loudly around the world. I adored Shimon.and I’m so grateful that I was able to spend some time with him over the years, and sing for him at his 90th birthday celebration in Israel. Thank god his spirit, his wisdom, and his ideals will live forever.” — Barbra Streisand

“My friend Shimon had a very rare human quality: He had the ability to change.

When I met Peres in the early 70s, he was in my eyes a banal hawk. Supporting settlers, a settler lover, a security man, the more land the better, the more power the better. He changed before my eyes … into an enthusiastic and stubborn believer in Israeli-Palestinian peace and Israeli-Arab peace.” — Israeli author Amos Oz

“The Last of the Mohicans has left us. He was one of the founding fathers, or founding sons, and all his generation is gone. Shimon is the last who remained.

“I also was very close to him when he was around (Israel’s first prime minister David) Ben Gurion. I remember the entire group of younger people who were around the old man. Shimon was the last. They are all gone. It’s a kind of feeling of losing your father. Because he is a father of modern Israel.” — Peres’ biographer and former political adviser Michael Bar Zohar

“President Peres believed that the best way to serve the State of Israel and to deliver security to the Israeli people was through peace with the Palestinians. We can only honor his memory with a daily commitment to reconciliation, preserving and advancing his vision for a two-State solution.” —European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

“The world has lost a true legend and statesman. Shimon Peres was a gift to the country he helped establish and lead, and a persistent voice for the cause of peace. President Peres’ countless contributions to the world earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, Congressional Gold Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While we join the State of Israel and people around the globe in mourning his death, we also give thanks for his incredible life.” — U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan

“Shimon Peres’ story was the story of modern Israel — a saga of daring, dynamism and wisdom. With all of his heart, this farmer, fighter, author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, prime minister and president worked to guide his nation into a secure and confident future. I valued his friendship. He was an intellectual resource who personified the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.” — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

“My wife Lucy had the honor of visiting Shimon Peres a few months ago, at the Peres Centre for Peace. He told her the secret of perpetual youth was to ensure that your list of dreams always remained longer than your list of achievements. On that test, Shimon Peres remained the youngest of leaders.” — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

“On behalf of the entire New York Jewish community, we deeply mourn the passing of Shimon Peres, one of the greatest Jewish leaders of our time. President Peres was one of the extraordinary visionaries of our age, a towering Zionist hero of deep courage who devoted his life to serving and defending Israel and the Jewish people.” — Eric S. Goldstein, CEO, UJA-Federation of New York.

Shimon Peres witnessed Israel’s history, and shaped it

September 28, 2016

JERUSALEM (AP) — At every corner of Israel’s tumultuous history, Shimon Peres was there. He was a young aide to the nation’s founding fathers when the country declared independence in 1948, and he played a key role in turning Israel into a military power. He was part of the negotiations that sealed the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, garnering a Nobel Peace Prize. He was welcomed like royalty in world capitals.

But only at the end of a political career stretching more than 60 years did Peres finally win the widespread admiration of his own people that had eluded him for so long. He died at 93 early Wednesday, his son, Chemi, confirmed at the hospital where Shimon Peres had been treated for the past two weeks.

Peres began a new chapter at age 83, assuming the nation’s presidency following a scandal that forced his predecessor to step down. The job cemented Peres’ transformation from down-and-dirty political operator to elder statesman.

“After such a long career, let me just say something: My appetite to manage is over. My inclination to dream and to envisage is greater,” Peres told The Associated Press in an interview on July 15, 2007, moments before he was sworn in as president.

He said he would not allow his age, or the constraints of a largely ceremonial office, to slow him down. “I’m not in a hurry to pass away,” Peres said. “The day will come that I shall not forget to pass away. But until then, I’m not going to waste my life.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement mourning the passing of Peres. He said he will convene his Cabinet for a special session later in the day. Former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said they had “lost a true and treasured friend” with the death of Shimon Peres. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush also issued statements of mourning, as did former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

As president, Peres tirelessly jetted around the world to represent his country at conferences, ceremonies and international gatherings. He was a fixture at the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, where he was treated like a rock star as the world’s rich and powerful listened breathlessly to his every word, on topics ranging from Mideast peace to nanotechnology to the wonders of the human brain.

He also became Israel’s moderate face at a time when the nation was led by hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Peres sought to reassure the international community that Israel seeks peace, despite concerns over continued settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and the paralysis of negotiations under Netanyahu. Still, while Peres never tired of speaking of peace, he tended to avoid strident criticism of Netanyahu.

It was his 1994 Nobel Prize that established Peres’ man-of-peace image. He proudly displayed the prize — which he shared with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — on the desk of his presidential office.

As foreign minister, Peres secretly brokered the historic Oslo interim peace accords with the Palestinians, signed at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993. Accepting the award, he told assembled dignitaries that “war, as a method of conducting human affairs, is in its death throes, and the time has come to bury it.”

Despite the assassination of Rabin, the breakdown of peace talks, a second Palestinian uprising in 2000, wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and Netanyahu’s continued re-elections, Peres maintained his insistence that peace was right around the corner.

“I’m sure I shall see peace in my lifetime. Even if I should have to extend my life for a year or two, I won’t hesitate,” he said in a 2013 interview marking his 90th birthday. Peres was born Shimon Perski on Aug. 2, 1923 in Vishniev, then part of Poland and now in Belarus. He moved to pre-state Palestine in 1934 with his family, where he changed his surname to Peres, or songbird, in Hebrew. Relatives who remained in Poland, including his grandfather, a prominent rabbi, were killed when Nazis set a synagogue on fire during the Holocaust. Peres often spoke lovingly of his grandfather in speeches. The actress Lauren Bacall was a cousin.

Still in his 20s, Peres rose quickly through the ranks of Israel’s pre-state leadership, and served as a top aide to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, after independence in 1948. Peres once called Ben-Gurion “the greatest Jew of our time.”

At 29, he served as director of Israel’s Defense Ministry, and is credited with arming Israel’s military almost from scratch. He later worked with the French to develop Israel’s nuclear program, which today is widely believed to include a large arsenal of bombs.

Still, he suffered throughout his political career from the fact that he never wore an army uniform or fought in a war. Peres was elected to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in 1959, serving in nearly all major Cabinet posts over his long career. As finance minister, he imposed an emergency plan to halt triple-digit inflation in the 1980s. He also was an early supporter of the Jewish settler movement in the West Bank, a position he would later abandon.

But he had trouble breaking into the prime minister’s post, the top job in Israeli politics. He was hampered by a reputation among the public and fellow politicians as both a utopian dreamer and a political schemer.

He ran for prime minister in five general elections, losing four and tying one, in 1984, when he shared the job in a rotation with his rival Yitzhak Shamir. His well-tailored, neck-tied appearance, swept-back gray hair and penchant for artists and intellectuals seemed to separate him from his more informal countrymen. He never lost his Polish accent, making him a target for mimicry.

One of the lowest points of his political career came in 1990, when he led his Labor Party out of a unity government with Shamir’s hardline Likud on the strength of promises from small factions to support his bid to replace Shamir.

At the last minute, several members of Parliament changed their minds, approving a Shamir government without Peres and Labor. The incident became known in Israeli political lore as Peres’ “stinking maneuver.” Rabin scorned him as a “relentless meddler” and in 1992 replaced him as party leader.

The two eventually repaired their relationship and worked together on pursuing peace with the Palestinians. After Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish ultranationalist opposed to Israel’s peace moves, Peres became acting prime minister.

But he failed to capitalize on the widespread sympathy for the fallen leader and lost a razor-thin election the following year to Netanyahu. In one famous incident, an angry Peres rhetorically asked a gathering of his Labor Party whether he was a “loser.” Resounding calls of “yes” rained down on him.

Peres would later blame a wave of suicide bombings for his defeat. He described his visit to the scene of a deadly bus explosion in Jerusalem, where people started screaming “killer” and “murderer” at him. “I knew that I lost the election,” he said.

He suffered another humiliation in 2000 when he ran for the presidency, a largely ceremonial position elected by Parliament. Peres believed he had wrapped up the election, but the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party broke a promise to him and switched its support to Likud candidate Moshe Katsav. Peres was a loser once again.

Even so, he refused to quit. In 2001, he took the post of foreign minister in a unity government led by his rival Ariel Sharon, serving for 20 months before Labor withdrew from the coalition. In Peres’ final political defeat, Labor overthrew him as party leader in 2005, choosing instead the little-known Amir Peretz.

Peres subsequently followed Sharon into a new party, Kadima, serving as vice-premier and maintaining that post under Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert. He was able to attain the presidency when Katsav was forced to step down weeks before his term ended to face rape charges. Katsav was later convicted and sent to prison.

Seeking to stabilize the cherished institution, Parliament turned to Peres and elected him president. Peres cultivated an image as a grandfatherly figure, frequently inviting groups of children and teens to the presidential residence. He embraced social media and promoted Israel’s high-tech industry in meetings with top officials at Google, Facebook and other major companies.

Peres also launched his “President’s Conference,” which became an annual high-powered gathering in Jerusalem of artists, thinkers and business leaders from around the world. Derided by critics as extravagant and unnecessary, the gathering drew some of the world’s most powerful personalities. The 2013 conference also became a 90th birthday party, with figures such as Bill Clinton, Barbara Streisand and Robert DeNiro in attendance.

He also exhibited a humorous side. When he left the presidency in 2014, he appeared in a video his granddaughter produced where he jokingly tried out new jobs including a supermarket cashier, gas station attendant and standup comedian — peppering his comments with puns and visionary slogans.

Asked about his secret to longevity, Peres said he never dwelled on the past. “What happened until now is over, unchangeable. I’m not going to spend time on it. So I am really living in the future,” he said. “I really think that one should devote his energies to make the world better and not to make the past remembered better.”

Peres’ wife Sonya died in 2011. He leaves a daughter, Tsvia Valdan, a university professor, and two sons, Nehemia, a leading Israeli venture capitalist, and Yonatan, a veterinarian. Peres represented “the essence of Israel itself,” President Barack Obama said.

“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves. My friend Shimon was one of those people,” he said. “A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever.”

Aron Heller contributed from Jerusalem.

World leaders mourn Peres, praise him as a man of peace

September 28, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — Current and former world leaders mourned the passing of Shimon Peres early Wednesday, praising him as a patriot, visionary statesman and man of principle who was deeply committed to pursuing peace in a region that has mostly eluded it.

President Barack Obama called Peres “the essence of Israel itself,” noting he had fought for Israel’s independence, worked its land and served Israel in virtually every government position, including three stints as prime minister.

Peres, who died early Wednesday at the age of 93, was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize after he secretly brokered the historic Oslo interim peace accords with the Palestinians a year earlier. He shared the prize with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“I’ll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations,” former President Bill Clinton said in a statement. “He was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation not conflict, economic and social empowerment not anger and frustration.”

Peres, who served in the largely ceremonial role of president from 2007 to 2014, represented a moderate face of Israel after the more hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 2009. Peres sought to reassure the international community that Israel seeks peace despite stalled negotiations under Netanyahu. He remained active at his peace center, which sponsored programs promoting Israel-Arab coexistence, until weeks before his death.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who also worked as a Mideast peace envoy, said Peres’ “commitment to peace and his belief that it was in the interests of the country he adored marked him out as a visionary whose vision was never dimmed or displaced.”

Peres’ had a major stroke two weeks ago that led to bleeding in his brain. He was sedated and on a respirator during most of his hospitalization, but his condition suddenly worsened. Netanyahu issued a statement mourning the passing of Peres and said he would convene his Cabinet for a special session later in the day. After that, a special committee was to meet to prepare arrangements for a funeral that many international dignitaries and leaders from around the world are expected to attend.

Former President George H. W. Bush noted Peres’ “innate humanity, his decency,” while his son, former President George W. Bush, noted that his family “will miss Shimon Peres and his grace, dignity, and optimism.”

Palestinians launch drive against Facebook ‘censorship’

30 September 2016 Friday

Palestinian activists have recently launched a campaign to boycott Facebook after the popular social-media platform blocked several Palestinian accounts and deleted numerous posts — at Israel’s request — for alleged “incitement”.

Earlier this week, campaigners — using the hashtag #FBCensorsPalestine — called on supporters to refrain from posting on Facebook between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Jerusalem time) on Sept. 25.

Hussam al-Zayegh, the campaign’s Gaza-based spokesman, told Anadolu Agency that the initiative had been launched in response to what he described as Facebook’s “pro-Israel bias”.

According to al-Zayegh, the world’s most popular social-networking site is actively working to undermine Palestinian activists and journalists who rely on Facebook to help spread their message.

Earlier this month, Facebook signed an agreement with the Israeli authorities that will — among other things — allow the latter to monitor all Palestinian content posted on Facebook and delete whatever posts, pages or personal accounts that are deemed objectionable.

According to Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Facebook administrators have complied with some 95 percent of the Israeli authorities’ requests to date.

“We demand that the Facebook administration clarify the agreement signed with Israel, which we believe targets freedom of opinion and expression,” al-Zayegh said.

The agreement, he went on to assert, directly contributes to the persecution of Palestinian activists — both on the ground and in cyberspace.

Al-Zayegh and his fellow campaigners intend to push ahead with the initiative until all its demands have been been met.

“We will not stop our campaign until Facebook withdraws from the agreement and respects international laws and standards safeguarding the freedom of opinion and expression,” he said.

Next Friday, according to al-Zayegh, members of the campaign plan to stage a demonstration outside Facebook’s New York headquarters to press for their demands.

Accounts blocked

Recently, the Facebook accounts of 12 administrators and editors at two leading Palestinian news agencies — Shehab News Agency and the Al-Quds News Network — were deleted without prior notice or warning.

Mohamed al-Zaneen, an editor at Shehab News Agency, told Anadolu Agency that he had not been able to accesses his account for more than five days.

“I believe this step was taken after the agreement was struck between the Facebook administration and Israel,” al-Zaneen said, adding that his account had also been blocked during Israel’s 2014 war on the Gaza Strip.

According to officials at the two news agencies, dozens of letters were sent to the Facebook administration asking why the pages had been blocked.

Facebook later restored the blocked pages and apologized for what it said had been a “mistake”.

Global audience

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, over 120 Palestinians — including 20 women — have been detained by the Israeli authorities for alleged “incitement to violence” on Facebook.

Due to a lack of evidence, most of these were held under Israel’s policy of “administrative detention”, which allows “suspects” to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian MP and leader of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, told Anadolu Agency that Palestinian activists — through the use of social media — had recently succeeded in bringing Palestinian suffering before a global audience and exposing the crimes of Israel’s decades-long occupation.

This was especially the case, Barghouti noted, during Israel’s devastating military onslaught against the Gaza Strip in 2014 and the subsequent third Palestinian “intifada” (“uprising”).

“Palestinian activists have succeeded in winning a large part of public opinion over to the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Israel now sees these social-media activists as a major threat to its international image.”

Barghouhti went to assert that Israel’s policy of arresting Palestinians for alleged “incitement” over posts made on social media “will not deter young Palestinian activists from exposing the occupation’s ongoing crimes”.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/palestine/177954/palestinians-launch-drive-against-facebook-censorship.

UN: Fighting displaces 100,000 in central Syria in 8 days

September 07, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Intense fighting between Syrian government troops and insurgents in Syria’s central Hama province displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September, the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the highway to Damascus.

The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011.

In a “flash update ” on Tuesday, OCHA said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate. Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. Dozens of schools in rural areas of Hama province were also turned into shelters.

A shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, the U.N. agency said. Most of those fleeing left towns and villages in government areas as the rebels advanced. They feared a violent government response to the insurgent offensive, according to Ahmad al-Ahmad, an activist from Hama. “Wherever the regime is driven out of an area, it ends up destroying it,” he said in a text message to The Associated Press.

In at least one airstrike last week, government warplanes struck a van carrying displaced people fleeing Suran, a town north of Hama city, activists said. The government says it is targeting “terrorists.”

OCHA said the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year. Of those, 4.8 million are refugees with nearly 7 million displaced internally.

In London on Wednesday, Syrian opposition leaders unveiled a plan for a political transition designed to bring an end to the war. It called for the departure of President Bashar Assad after six months and for elections to be held after two years.

The High Negotiations Committee envisaged a three-phase plan, beginning with six months of negotiations with Assad’s government to develop a signed agreement on the “basic principles” of the transition process.

This would be followed by the establishment of a transitional government body and the departure of Assad “and his clique,” according to HNC chief Riad Hijab. The HNC called for U.N.-supervised elections to be held 18 months thereafter. Hijab conceded there were formidable obstacles hindering the implementation of this plan.

Keaten reported from Geneva.