Why Does ISIS Destroy Cultural Heritage? ‘Social Control’ Is Now Emerging as the Dominant Reason

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By Franklin Lamb

Damascus

It is widely recognized that the damage done to our cultural heritage in Syria and to the heritage of those who will follow us, cannot be calculated.  Untold quantities of archaeologically vital artifacts have been looted, sold, displaced and discarded through industry-like efforts. 

Citizens of Syria who are increasingly resisting the “IS Caliphate” and risking their own and their families lives to flee ISIS controlled areas in Syria are often willing to discuss their experiences and to offer instructive insights. 

Among these patriots are regular citizens as well as the stellar nationalist employees of Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) who this observer has interviewed extensively over the past nearly three years as they elucidate why ISIS destroys and loots our irreplaceable antiquities. This observer’s research has been augmented by other eyewitnesses, some who are themselves former jihadists or their victims, to ISIS looting and its distribution of franchises to sell off our shared cultural heritage give witness.

Heretofore, three varying but cogent explanations for ISIS’ rabid destruction of our shared cultural heritage have been commonplace. 

The first identified the well documented Islamic State iconoclastic antipathy towards their and our pre-Islamic past. The second is that the jihadists are generally considered to be profiting hugely from selling our looted antiquities. 

Thirdly there has been some evidence-but not compelling in this observers judgment, that jihadists are destroying our cultural heritage in Syria as ‘publicity stunts’ to get  attention on social media, with some motivated by profit and offering to sell Syrian artifacts via Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.  Meanwhile, according to a US Congressional staffer this week, leftover artifacts are currently being sold by IS to locals at public auctions including but not limited to Raqqa, Mari, Dura-Europos and Deir al Zor.

With respect to the first and second explanations, it is well documented that ISIS has ransacked thousands of artifacts from dozens of World Heritage and archaeological sites in  Syria and that the profits from flogging cheap our cultural heritage helps IS meet its monthly budgets, more than 50% of which goes to pay salaries and multiple relatively generous benefits to its fighters and their families.  

Yet research by this observer on this subject concludes that ISIS looting income, contrary to many claims including a recent one by  CBS News that  reported that ISIS generated “hundreds of millions of dollars” from antiquities transactions, although that figure—which rivals the annual haul of antiquities sold legally throughout the entire world, has not been backed up by probative, material data. 

One expert, Randall A. Hixenbaugh, Director of New York based Hixenbaugh Ancient Art, told a Manhattan conference recently, “We’re looking at objects that are worth hundreds of dollars here. When we say that these antiquities are worth millions of dollars, where is the evidence of this? I think that prompts people to pick up shovels in eastern Syria.       Are we not adding to the problem right now, by hyperbolic assessments of value?”

On May 15, 2015 a raid by American Special Forces on an ISIS safe house in a small village outside Deir ez-Zor killed ISIS leader Fathi Ben Awn Ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi, better known by his nickname Abu Sayyaf who was in charge of  overseeing the excavation of our cultural heritage.    The raid also freed an 18-year old Yazidi slave woman, and captured a trove of documents that revealed far lower amounts from marketing cultural heritage artifacts than earlier estimated.  The raid also uncovered  many USB’s containing documents verifying that our cultural heritage artifacts are for ISIS just a natural resource to be extracted from the ground rather than as “ghanim” a.k.a looted items or spoils of war.

Selling plundered antiquities is frankly not strategic funding for IS compared to oil, banks, taxes and stolen goods. Far from the initial claims that ISIS was making tens of millions or more from stolen antiquities, the true figures are likely far lower. Some antiquities can indeed be sold to the final buyer in Europe, the United States or Asia for large amounts.             But most of the material coming out of the ground in ISIS areas on a daily basis, such as pottery, glassware, coins, and architectural fragments are worth, at most, several hundred dollars at the final point of sale.

The total annual income of ISIS from antiquities is currently calculated by this observer and others who are more expert, at only a few million dollars; compared to, say, oil revenue, which for 2014 was estimated to be between $100 million and $263 million. 

Admittedly hard data is tough to come by and while Archaeologists can no longer visit most of Syria, they do monitor cultural depredation in Syria from the secure vantage point of outer space. Employing pretty amazing high-resolution satellite imagery as Oxford University’s Institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA) is doing as it instructs us and gives us hope for restorations of our cultural heritage in Syria with its One Million Images project.

This observer submits that there is a fourth and even more sinister reason that has not been much considered with respect to the Islamic State brand, which admittedly is an ambitious and seductive vision that has proven to be a fairly major social media success. He posits for dear readers consideration that the destruction and looting of our heritage underpins an intricate scaffolding of intense micro-managed social control over its captive populations, a system that is designed to intensely regulate individual behavior. 

This even applies with respect to where and when to excavate and to loot our antiquities with maps and time and date-stamped permits in hand, at assigned archaeological sites thought worthwhile to excavate and to strip of anything guessed to be of some value.

Recently ISIS has introduced a highly organized control over looting of our cultural heritage which is evidenced by satellite photos revealing neat rows of looting holes on archaeological sites. As noted above, ISIS considers antiquities a natural resource such as oil or gas along with its large-scale operation of theft of personal and real property. Its Department of Precious Resources (Diwan al Rikaz) which controls mines and minerals also now oversees antiquities and issues excavation permits. Diwan al Rikaz demands on average 20% of objects excavated, it also applies a sales tax and uses social media to augment its marketing while relying mainly on obedient citizens to do the excavation work while its fighters perform their jihadist duties elsewhere. Unlike oil extraction, antiquities looting are not a major guaranteed stream of income in fact locally the activity is a bit of a gamble. As in a Los Vegas casino, many can wager but with only a long shot prospect of a high payoff. The vast majority of artifacts currently being unearthed at sites in Syria are of great archaeological importance but little value on the art market.

Increasing its social control by regulating the theft and destruction of our past is now part of a wider and expanding organizing frenzy of the IS.

The ISIS glossy propaganda magazine, now issued in 14 languages, ‘Dabiq,’ named after a key site in Muslim apocalypse mythology,  and which bills itself as a periodical magazine focusing on the issues of tawhid (unity), manhaj (truth-seeking), hijrah (migration), jihad (holy war) and jama’ah (community) frequently features ISIS attacks on Syria’s pre-Islamic heritage sites. 

             Typical of its taunting of those who value culture heritage is Dabiq’s recent comment:

 “Enemies of the Islamic State were furious at losing a ‘treasured heritage.’ The mujahidīn, however, were not the least bit concerned about the feelings and sentiments of the kuffar. (ed: ‘non-believers’). The kuffar had unearthed these statues and ruins in recent generations and attempted to portray them as part of a cultural heritage and identity     that the Muslims of Syria should embrace and be proud of. Yet this opposes the guidance of Allah and His Messenger and only serves a nationalist agenda.”  

 This sort of ISIS iconoclasm mirrors its other social control punishments. Dabiq recently featured a post-card size list of good citizen ‘reminders’ recommending that it be always carried by IS citizens:

            “Death for blasphemy against God, death for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad, death for apostasy against Islam, death to both the penetrator and receiver of gay sex, hand and leg amputations for theft, more than two dozen violations such as drinking wine earn 80 or more lashes, while “highway criminality” brings death by crucifixion.”

Another sign of intensifying social control by ISIS is found in recently issued laws on Hijab wearing in Syria. According to  conversations of this observer with recent women   escapees from IS areas in Syria, all women past the age of puberty must comply with the following social control  rules on Hijabs or face draconian punishments. Specifically, all women in Syria must wear Hijabs that are thick and not revealing. “It must be loose (not tight). It must cover all the body. It must not be attractive. It must not resemble the     clothes of unbelievers or men. It must not be decorative and eye-catching. It must not be perfumed.” 

In the south Beirut Hezbollah neighborhood of Dahiyeh, where this observer currently resides, Shia women are known and appreciated for their attractive often richly colored            head coverings and scarves/hijabs and for their special way of tying them to one side under their chin that is quite distinctive, attractive and often are conscious fashion statements.  This is forbidden for all Muslims in IS areas of Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere ISIS has control of populations on penalty of 80 lashes.

Further tightening social control is evidenced by ISIS which is currently introducing a higher organized and centralized control over looting of our cultural heritage which is evidenced by satellite photos revealing neat rows of looting holes on archaeological sites. 

ISIS considers antiquities a natural resource such as oil or gas along with its large-scale operation of theft of personal and real property. Its Department of Precious Resources  (Diwan al Rikaz) that controls mines and minerals also oversees antiquities and issues excavation permits, takes on average 20% of objects excavated, applies a sales tax and uses social media to augment its marketing which relies mainly on obedient citizens to do the work while its fighters perform their jihadist duties elsewhere.  Artifacts are now also       being sold, according to Syrian citizens who have fled, to locals at public auctions in Raqqa and Deir al Zor.

By controlling antiquities like other resources, ISIS inserts itself into countless holes in the ground. The real goal is not simply cash profit but rather it is psychological control over new ranges of behavior and thought of its subjects which is part of its totalitarian vision of absolute control. ISIS has transformed the pre-Islamic past of Syria into a forbidden zone, a mere natural resource to be exploited. But while the financial profits may be relatively small, more importantly it also offers ISIS yet another way to control the behavior and thoughts of its population, transforming them from captives into dependents of the “Caliphate.”  

Increasingly the Obama administration and its allies are frustrated regarding the subject of the need to protect and preserve Syria’s Endangered Heritage. They remain less than confident that ISIS plundering of our heritage in Syria as part of its intensifying social control in its “Caliphate” can be stopped anytime soon.

Yet at the urging of the White House, last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee worked on  H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act and  favorably reported the measure for full consideration by the Senate.

The original bill which passed in the House of Representative in June 2015 called for the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State as the new United States Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection, commonly referred to in Washington as a “Cultural Czar”.   The new language which was designed to obtain early passage, recommends that the President should establish an inter-agency coordinating committee to coordinate and advance the efforts of the executive branch to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk.”

The mandate of the new inter-agency committee, to be chaired by an Assistant Secretary of State, includes working to protect and preserve international cultural property in Syria while working to prevent and disrupt cultural heritage looting and trafficking in Syria.  

The legislation’s mandate also includes protecting sites of cultural and archaeological significance while seeking to provide for the lawful exchange of international cultural property from Syria.

Franklin Lamb’s recent book, Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An International Responsibility to Preserve and Protect, is available on Amazon/Kindle, Smashwords, and other ebook sites as well as in hard-copy in Arabic and English. Lamb is currently based in Beirut and Damascus and reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com

Just like in Iraq, Syria’s cultural heritage being looted and mainly finishing up in the USA

 

 

Looting has become the greatest threat to our cultural heritage in Syria

http://www.opednews.com/articles/2/Looting-has-become-the-gre-by-Franklin-Lamb-Cultural-Rights_Cultural-traditions_Interpol_Museums-141224-351.html

Franklin Lamb

Kalat al-Numan citadel, Idlib province Syria

Can the worst patrimonial disaster since World War II be stopped?

During the 45 months of the Syrian crisis, war damage inflicted from all sides has created massive damage to our shared global cultural heritage that has been in the custody of the Syrian people for more than ten millennia.

Few would dispute the fact that the level of destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. Unauthorized excavations plunder and the traffic in cultural goods in Syria is a serious and escalating problem and threatens the cultural heritage of us all. Due to illicit excavations, many objects have already been lost to science and society.

Today, the single greatest threat to our cultural heritage in Syria is looting. It is rampant and being done from many sources. One virulent source is Da’ish (IS) and like-minded jihadists who desecrate and destroy irreplaceable artifacts and lay siege to and loot more than 2000 archeological sites under its control in Syria and double that number in Iraq. Jihadists in Syria are estimated to have reaped more than $ 20 million from looted artifacts during 2014 and they rationalize their frenzy of wonton obliteration by sighting religious obligations. Also increasingly active in looting Syria’s cultural heritage are local residents who, with no jobs, income or tangible economic prospects, are increasingly turning to age-old plunder taking advantage of a growing cash market.

The trade in looted Syrian cultural artifacts has become the third largest market in illegal goods worldwide. Current laws at the national and international level are woefully inadequate to prevent the illicit traffic in looted antiquities and even less, effectuate the return of stolen antiquities to their countries of origin. In the 1960s, according to experts, it was a buyers’ market as there were few national collectors interested in Islamic art or other antiquities in Syria. But that that has now dramatically changed since the Gulf countries, Qatar and Abu Dhabi started collecting, it is also a seller’s market.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a crossroads for trade, and culture for countless centuries, has been particularly hard hit. Its vast labyrinthine souk was gutted by fire in 2012. The Citadel, a castle that dates back to 3000BC, has also been damaged, while the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque was toppled by fighting in 2013. But hundreds of other sites have also been looted and shops selling Syrian antiquities dot the Turkey side of the border just w0 miles form Aleppo.

“Syria is the worst-case scenario. It is the worst situation I’ve ever seen. Satellite imagery shows massive, mechanical looting of sites,” says France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums. Palmyra, another ancient settlement founded around 2000BC, has also been partially stripped by illegal excavations and plunder. What is true with respeoct to looting in Syria obtains also in Iraq and Libya.

Last month Syrian authorities confiscated three busts from Palmyra (Tadmor) dating from 200AD that had been hacked off a tomb. But looting and illegal trade in antiquities has been escalating over the past nine months with large numbers of antiquities of dubious provenance being found on the rapidly growing illicit antiquities market. A majority of looted artifacts from Syria are being held in antiquity investment storage pits and other stash-sites for future sale at higher prices once the buyers’ market glut of cultural heritage artifacts dissipates.

One of the main problems with combatting looting is that many looted artifacts end up in someone’s house — as a status symbol. Eyewitness accounts report that reliefs and mosaics looted from archaeological sites in Syria being built into walls above fireplaces in homes in the region and no doubt also in the west. Those to whom these cultural heritage artifacts belongs will never see them again given that the main market for looted antiquities has moved from Europe and the United States to Asia, particularly China, where a ravenous appetite for archaeological artifacts continues to spread.

Looting also threatens to deprive Syria of one of its best opportunities for a post-conflict economic boom based on tourism, which, until the conflict started 18 months ago, contributed 12% to the national income. Partly for this reason it is not surprising that looting carries a fifteen-year prison sentence in Syria. With no end in sight for a regional conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 the prospect for ending looting of Syria’s cultural heritage must be viewed as pretty bleak. Once a site is looted it is largely destroyed it as an archaeological site. The knowledge sought and uncovered that comes with how, with what, and where an object was found, is lost, probably forever.

As documented by a just released assessment of Syria’s Tentative World Heritage sites using high-resolution satellite imagery, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project documents the growing problem in remarkable detail Dura Europos, Ebla, Hama’s Waterwheels, Mari, Raqqa, and Ugarit. The soon to be released second part of the assessment will present the projects finding and analysis regarding Apamea, the Island of Arwad, Maaloula, Qasr al-Hayr ach-Charqi, Sites of the Euphrates Valley, and Tartus (Tripoli).

American experts have claimed this past week that there has been a 150% percent increase in American imports of Syrian cultural property between 2011 and 2013. An investigative report by the German broadcaster NDR documented evidence that Syrian antiquities looted by terrorist groups were being sold through German auction houses. The report revealed how Syrian conflict antiquities were smuggled as handicrafts, laundered with obscuring or outright false documentation, and then sold on the open market. It also exposed the transfer of antiquities to Gulf States, where they were falsely “re-documented” for resale in Western Markets.

There are just a few positive signs that looting Syria’s cultural heritage can be curtailed.

According to Gaetano Palumbo, the World Monuments Fund program director for North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, there is general agreement among many of the top auction houses to be more cautious about what they auction. At the most UNESCO meeting regarding Syria a representative from Christie’s was present and claimed that they are scrutinizing artifacts carefully and not putting anything on sale that is not clearly provenanced. Just last year Christie’s withdrew six works of art in a sale in London that had been stolen. “We work closely in partnership with UNESCO, Interpol, the US Department of Homeland Security and Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit. And we have strict procedures to ensure we only offer works of art which are legal to sell,” Christie’s said in a statement to The National newspaper. Yet, according to Desmarais, these promising signs are offset by a whole range of smaller actors are involved in trading is Syria’s looted cultural heritage and these include some of the smaller auction houses, crooked dealers and the underground internet, known as the darknet.

The International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) Emergency Red Lists which document cultural objects at risk of looting in Syria, include clay tablets that preserve some of the earliest writing in the world, intricate stone carvings and coins, in addition to the dozens of other items. They are expanding their lists for public distribution to governments and law enforcement agencies.

What must be done immediately?

Global awareness of the serous assault on the cultural heritage of all in Syria is growing but much more needs to be done according to France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). “As long as it will be chic and posh for you to have an archaeological piece in your living room that guests can admire, we’ll be talking about this. We need to get this message across that it’s a crime. Collecting looted antiquities is a white-collar crime. People have died for this. People buying looted artifacts from Syria are feeding insurgencies, the purchase of arms, financing of foreign extremists and mercenaries and other types of criminality.”

There are two main agreements that deal with looted and trafficked antiquities. One is the 1970 UNESCO convention, which from an international law perspective is weak and exacts at most a slap on the wrist for violators. A stronger convention is the 1995 UNIDROIT convention. It potentially could enforce more robust international law. Yet, for this very reason far fewer countries have ratified this convention fearing it might target their citizens, auction houses and museums. Moreover, quite frequently the law is different in the source country from which artifacts are looted than in the country to which it’s smuggled or in which it is sold. A defense lawyers dream come true.

Amidst the maelstrom of violence in this region, the 2003 UN a resolution calling on all 197 UN members to stop the trade in Iraqi antiquities without verified provenance also applies to Syria. And the European Union has recently banned the import of antiquities from Syria, but inexplicably this prohibition has not been followed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Interpol has drawn up ‘red lists’ of material known to be stolen from Syria and UNESCO has held workshops on how to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage property from Syria and elsewhere. The workshops include national authorities, Interpol, local community organizations, scholars, artists and local citizens and auger well for enhancing global involvement to combat looting.

A petition signed by many archaeologists and accompanied by 17,000 signatures was sent to the UN in September and a ban is expected in the near future. In addition, a new law in Germany could point the way forward. This will require a certified export license for an antiquity in order to secure an import license. The dealers will inevitably argue that it presumes guilt, but it doesn’t, any more than hygiene certificates for food do. And it won’t be perfect — there will still be forged certificates, but it’ll make a big difference according to Sam Hardy a London based antiquities researcher and blogger.

All countries could help target looting of our shared cultural heritage in Syria in a major way if they adopted the Germany’s law that will oblige dealers and collectors to present an official export license for any ancient artifact showing where the object originated, in order to receive an import license. The German government seeks to cut the supply of illicit antiquities to the market, and thereby cut the flow of money to looting and smuggling mafias and militants.

There is also an urgent need for international support to the institutions in the relevant countries through the provision of training and education programs and financial support. Work to control the border in neighboring countries to prevent the smuggling of cultural property. Provide technical and substantive support to the work of documentation of archaeological sites in the relevant countries.

It is nearly unanimously agreed at the United Nations that it must establish additional controls to prevent smuggling and illegal excavation and to identify and put into effect control mechanisms in each of the 197 UN member states so as to eliminate the trade in looted and smuggled artifacts by encouraging the filling in of gaps in national laws in order to combat and close down channels of smuggling. Another pressing need is to increase the number of specialists who work in customs offices and at airports and seaports. Given the past decade of increased screenings of passengers and cargo searching for drugs, explosives, weapons, hazardous chemicals etc. adding looted antiquities to the list should not be all that problematical for national and international authorities.

There is also a great need for international support for countries through the provision of training and education programs and financial support. Specifically, working to control the borders in neighboring countries in order to prevent the smuggling of cultural property while at the same time providing technical and substantive support to the work of documentation of archaeological sites.

In addition there is an urgent need to establish controls to prevent smuggling and illegal excavation and to identify and put into effect control mechanisms in each of the 197 member states of the United Nations so as to eliminate the trade in of looted and smuggled artifacts by filling in gaps in national laws in order to combat and close down channels of smuggling. Another pressing need is to specialists who work in customs offices and at airports and seaports. Given the past decade of increased screenings search for drugs, explosives, weapons, hazardous chemicals etc. adding looted antiquities to the list should not be problematical for national and international authorities.

As Dr. Maamound Abdel-Kardar, Syria’s Director General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM)pointed our this month during a Conference on the subject in Berlin, that the international community has yet to effectively join the fight against the looting of our shared cultural heritage. Our global village needs to provide direct aid to the archaeological and cultural institutions of Syria which faces dire consequences from the looting of archeological sites.

The Germans rebuilt Dresden and the Syrians will rebuild Aleppo!

12 December 2014

By Franklin Lamb

Aleppo’s old city

With the Syrian army deep inside Aleppo’s old city

This observer has long sought an extended visit to the old city of Aleppo which is also one of this cradle of civilizations cultural and educational centers. Despite being in a continuing war zone, the visit materialized when security authorities granted permission and assistance to this observer to complete research finalizing more than two years of research across Syria on the subject of Syria’s Endangered Heritage: The Story Of A Nations Fight To Preserve Its Cultural Heritage.

Several visits to damaged archeological sites and quality briefings soon turned a few days into more than a week with more than a two dozen detailed evaluations and analyses during meetings with Syrian nationalists among them, M.B. Shabani, Director of the Aleppo National Museum. Another was with Professor of Islamic Science, Bouthania Chalkhi and a group of her faculty colleagues and researchers at Aleppo’s 80,000 plus student university. Aleppo University, like nearly all of Syria’s institutions of higher learning has paid a bitter price for keeping its classrooms open. On January 15 2013 the School of Architecture was shelled and more than 90 students and visitors on campus were killed. By shocking coincidence, Damascus University’s School of Architecture was similarly shelled only five weeks later on March 28, 2013, killing more than 15 students.

Two military commanders, currently with their troops deep inside the old city near the ancient Citadel, seemed more like college philosophy instructors than military men, as they discussed the massive destruction inside the old city including more than 1,600 khans and souks.

This observer and another American, a special young man from Maryland who is studying Arabic in this region, was guided along with two colleagues on a long nighttime tour and briefing among alleys inside the ancient burned out and blasted medina souk. Sometimes as we paused our army guide would comment on how parts of the souk might be salvageable and how he felt anger at what was wantonly inflicted in the area now under his command. Our military escort advised us that our tour of the remains of this UNESCO World Heritage site was the first such visit allowed since its destruction more than 18 months ago. He even joked that nearly a month ago a team with the BBC was offered a more limited tour but that a famous female BBC Middle East correspondent, one of this observers favorites, turned back after penetrating the warrens by less than 50 yards.

Surely not the first or last time that Yankees have followed up Brits to complete a task, our interpreter from Damascus giggled.

For hours we trudged through the widely reported massive destruction observing the burned detritus of what were formerly historic “khans” which for centuries traded and sold specialty items as noted below. The tour left one in numbed disbelief over the extent of the destruction.

Among the most historic souks in Aleppo’s old city, verified by this observer as having been destroyed on 9/29/2012, all within the burned out covered alleyways of Souk al-Madina, include, but are not limited to the following. This partial list is presented as a condolence to Syrian artisans and citizens whose lives have been deeply, negatively, and irreversibly damaged. Wanton destruction of a significant part of the shared global heritage of us all.

  • Khan al-Qadi, one of the oldest khans (specialized souk areas) in Aleppo dating back to 1450;
  • Khan al-Burghul (Bulger), built in 1472 and the location of the British general consulate of Aleppo until the beginning of the 20th century;
  • Souk al-Saboun (soap khan) built in the beginning of the 16th century was the main center of the soap production in Aleppo;
  • Souk Khan al-Nahhaseen (coppersmiths), built in 1539. The general consulate of Belgium was at this location during the16th century. Before its destruction it including more than 80 traditional and modern shoe-trading and production shops;
  • Khan al-Shouneh, built in 1546 was a market for trades and traditional handicrafts of Aleppine art;
  • Souq Khan al-Jumrok or the customs’ khan was a textile trading center with more than 50 stores. Built in 1574, Khan Al-Gumrok was considered to be the largest khan in ancient Aleppo;
  • Souk Khan al-Wazir, built in 1682, was the main souk for cotton products in Aleppo;
  • Souk al-Farrayin was the fur market, is the main entrance to the souk from the south. The souk is home to 77 stores mainly specialized in furry products;
  • Souk al-Hiraj traditionally was historically the main market for firewood and charcoal. Until its destruction it reportedly included 33 stores mainly dealing in rug and carpet weaving and products;
  • Souk al-Dira’, was perhaps the main center for tailoring and one of the most organized alleys in the souk with more than 60 workshops;
  • Souk al-Attareen for more than a century was the vast herbal market and in fact was the main spice-selling market of Aleppo. Before its destruction it was a textile-selling center with more than 80 stores, including spice-selling shops;
  • Souk az-Zirb was the main entrance to the souq from the east and the place where coins were being struck during the Mamluk (18th century) period. All of its 72 shops featured textiles and the basic needs of the Bedouins;
  • Souk al-Behramiyeh, located near the Behramiyeh mosque had more than 20 stores trading in foodstuffs;
  • Souk Marcopoli (derived from Marco Polo), was a center of textile trading with 29 stores.
  • Souk al-Atiq specialized in raw leather trading with 48 outlets;
  • Souk as-Siyyagh or the jewelry market was the main center of jewelry shops in Aleppo and Syria with more than 100 outlets located in 2 parallel alleys.
  • The Venetians’ Khan was home to the consul of Venice and the Venetian merchants.
  • Souk an-Niswan or the women’s market, was an area where accessories, clothes and wedding equipment’s of the bride could be found;
  • Souk Arslan Dada, is one of the main entrances to the walled city from the north. With 33 stores, the souk is a center of leather and textile trading;
  • Souk al-Haddadin, is one of the northern entrances to the old city. Located outside the main gate it was considered to be the old traditional blacksmiths’ market with more than 40 workshops;
  • Souk Khan al-Harir (the silk khan) was another entrance to the old city from the north and was built in the second half of the 16th century. The silk souk hosted the Iranian consulate until 1919.
  • Suweiqa (small souk) consisted of 2 long alleys: Sweiqat Ali and Suweiqat Hatem, located in al-Farafira district which contained markets mainly specialized in home and kitchen equipment.

One is left distraught over the seeming futility of even contemplating rebuilding this world heritage site. Would it require half a century to reconstruct, as was required in Dresden Germany following three days of firebombing by British and American planes, which began on February 13, 1945?

There are many questions to be answered whether rebuilding would ever authentically restore Aleppo’s old city to what it had been for centuries.

Would “restoration” render it a sterile or glitzy place with the main focus on the tourist dollar? Which countries would help rebuild it and where would the money come from, and could Syria and her experts influence and oversee the reconstruction? One professor of Archeology at Aleppo University asked, “Could a rebuilt Medina souk ever again be ‘my neighborhood, the cherished neighborhood of my youth and of my family over preceding generations?” Many of the individual souks, maybe 12 feet by 10 feet were valued at close of one million dollars and restoration would cost hundreds of millions.

Locating experts in areas amidst fairly intense government security concerns and measures which are much greater than in Damascus was not always easy. It was compounded by the fact of 2 hour per day electricity and water shortages, yet one still had the opportunity to discuss and learn from a cross section of this community including academic, governmental, business and citizen activists.

Three tentative conclusions arrived at by this observer from fascinating and heart felt discussions include one from Professor Lamis Herbly, Chairperson of the Archeology department of Aleppo University. This warm and elegant lady’s eyes welled with tears, being the mother of two youngsters and who worries daily about the safety of her children while insisting that they stay in school despite the dangers, described her and her communities losses. She also expressed the concerns of her academic colleagues that if and when reconstruction begins in the old city of Aleppo that it must be done with utmost care and under Syrian experts’ control. She explained what she meant was that reconstruction in Syria not mirror what was done in Beirut to renovate the ‘downtown’ area which separated Muslim and Christian militia along the ‘green line’ during Lebanon’s 15 year (1975-1990).

One professor declared the reconstruction of downtown Beirut and the filling in of Beirut harbor with thousands of years of antiquities as Saudi financed, behemoth Mercedes Benz earth movers shoved much of Lebanon’s history into the sea to make way for upscale fancy tourist attracting shops catering to rich Gulf tourists (of whom there are very few these days). “So they can buy yet more jewelry and Paris fashions?” she asked. Someone else joined in saying what happened in Lebanon was a cultural crime.

“Downtown Beirut is an obscenity,” one PhD candidate, a young lady who formerly lived near the old city insisted. This student is among those who joined efforts that began nearly two decades ago to preserve and protect one of Aleppo’s two remaining synagogues in the Samoua neighborhood. She vowed that citizens of Aleppo must not and will not allow what happened in Beirut to happen here in Aleppo.

Another concern, discussed with citizens in Aleppo is the often expressed worry over whether other countries that unfortunately had, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, a hand in the destruction of much of Syria cultural heritage would be willing to help with its preservation and reconstruction. This observer, who has studied the subject over the past two years in Syria shared this concern, but sought to assure Aleppo interlocutors that indeed many governments acknowledge with gratitude the work of the Syrian people in protecting our mutual global heritage, in the custody of country’s people for millennia, share their horror over what has happened and indeed want to help as soon as a lasting ceasefire can be achieved. This subject was one of the most frequently raised by both experts and average citizens in Aleppo.

Archeological and restoration experts in Syria tend to agree with international research findings that estimate that despite the vast heartbreaking destruction, looting, politically motivated desecration of countless mosques and churches as well as thousands of years of pagan artifacts, that approximately 96 percent of our shared cultural heritage in Syria can be repaired, restored, or even replicated when no other option in available. What is urgently needed before more damage is infected is a ceasefire or freeze in place and is being discussed by UN mediators. Objects that have been blow up in a frenzy of ignorance and malevolence are lost and irreplaceable. The tens of thousands of illegally excavated and looted priceless antiquities now scattered to private collections and speculators have been routed through, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Iraq and Jordan. They must be returned as part of a massive international antiquities retrieval campaign that should include an expanded role for Interpol, auction houses and governments as well as international institution of the UN. One student at Damascus University told this observer recently that she and fellow students have started an international campaign focusing on auction houses and governments seeking the return of stolen Syrian antiquities. They have named their student led organization: “I’m Syrian and I need to go home. Please help me.”

One of life’s seeming wonderful incongruities is experienced by visitors all across Syria these days. It has to do with the human spirit. Examining and contemplating just the one example of damage to our shared global heritage in Aleppo, as depressing and discouraging as any of the damage done to our shared global culture heritage one might be excused for becoming cynical and even somewhat catatonic as one observes and studies the desecration and destruction here in Aleppo and in so many other areas.

But not the Syrian people. Rather than slump and becoming crestfallen, this observer finds Syrians resolute and even somehow inspiring in their determination to preserve, protect and restore our cultural heritage. Space allows for one example.

This observer spent an afternoon this week next to the glowing fireplace on a cold rainy day in the warm and cozy office of Mohammad Kujjah, Director of the 1924 founded Archeological Institute of Aleppo. I was joined by some of his staff, all experts on preserving archeological treasures. One taciturn scholar sitting next to me, who I thought appeared to be on the verge of nodding off, saddening perked up and squeezed my arm to get my undivided attention. He then proceeded to further light up the bookcase lined office by presenting a brilliant lecture that, were he asked, this observer would entitle something like:

The Germans rebuilt Dresden and the Syrians will rebuild Aleppo!

He began with fascinating comparisons between what was and what was done to Dresden beginning on February 13, 1945 and what happened to Aleppo’s old city on September 28, 2012. Dresden was carpet bombed by 722 RAF and 527 USAAF bombers that dropped 2431 tons of high explosive bombs, and 1475.9 tons of incendiaries. The high explosive bombs damaged buildings and exposed their ancient wooden structures, while the incendiaries ignited them. The massive wooden structures, like in Aleppo, burned to the ground. The resultant firestorms killed an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 people, although the total number is disputed. Dresden, an historic center held no strategic value. The war in Europe was coming to an end, and the city was packed with refugees fleeing the advancing Red Army. It is widely believed that the bombing was a revenge attack for the German bombing of Coventry as well as a show of force.

As he spoke the professor displayed for his guests a large photograph of Dresden taken in early March of 1945. The high explosive bombs damaged buildings and exposed their wooden structures, while the incendiaries ignited them. The massive wooden structures of Aleppo’s old city also burned to the ground.

The archeologist lectured his rapt American audience, seemingly also to the delight of his Aleppine colleagues on how Aleppo reconstruction could be achieved and he spoke of the Syrian peoples will that it shall be done.

All people of good will who accept their personal duty to join the people of Syria in preserving, protecting and restoring our shared global heritage can take solace from what this observer witnessed an exhilarating demonstration of the sublime capacities of our shared human spirit as we help to salvage our cultural heritage.

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Gloves Come Off in Lebanon


Comment:


In General I agree with Mr. Lamb, the Sunni-Shia dispute is political, not religious, therefore, he should have mentioned that arround 30% of Lebanon’s Sunnis are pro-Hezbollah, that the ongoing war in Libya is a Sunni-Sunni war because there is no Shia in Libya. BTW, Mr Lamb covered the Nato war on Libya.


How Mr.  Lamb would explain the ongoing terrorist war on Egypt’s army, on the Suni Kurds in kobani and Irbil  and the Sunni tribes in Iraq??/



Gloves Come Off in Lebanon

Sunni-Shia Bellum Sacrum Fault Lines Deepen
Gloves Come Off in Lebanon
by FRANKLIN LAMB

Mohammad Hussein Fadallah, Husseiniya, South Beirut

Historically, the term “religious war” (Bellum Sacrum) was used to describe various European wars among Christian denominations spanning mainly the 16th to the 18th century such as the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763) which spread widely throughout Europe and on to North America, Central America, the also to the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. There were dozens of other intra-Christian religious wars the seeds of which began to sprout shortly after the death of Jesus Christ.

The Encyclopedia of Wars, by authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, estimate that only 7% of the 1,783 wars they chronicled involve religion. Lebanon is one of these and is still mired in a cold war phase of its 15 year (1975-90) Civil War, from which Lebanon yet to recover. Religious differences are one of the major causes on Lebanon’s many problems today and it is within this context that the mushrooming intra-Muslim war between Sunni and Shia is spreading and intensifying. Sunni comprise approximately 90% percent of the followers of Islam and their increasingly vilified coreligionists, Shia Muslims, 10%. This month Lebanon’s Shia are commemorating Ashoura and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein Ibn Ali at the battle of Karbala in 680 under increased security with additional checkpoints manned by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah forces because Da’ish and al Nursa have announced their intent to target the Shia worshipers.

Many among Lebanon’s older Sunni and Shia generation, report that as youngsters they were not aware of Shia-Sunni antagonisms nor did they harbor animosity with their neighbors. Sometimes inter-marrying, sharing holidays and developing strong friendships with each other. “That is all changed now, perhaps until End Times” according to an employee at Beirut’s Dar al Fatwa in the mixed neighborhood of Aisha Bikar near the American University of Beirut.


The gentleman and his colleague elaborated:

“Everyone alive today in Lebanon and for many generations to come will have their family’s lives negatively affected by the rapidly spreading sectarian hostility. The Sunni-Shia hatred is poisonous—it’s the new political Ebola virus! Can it be eradicated? How can we stop it from engulfing the Middle East or has it already done so?” Another added, “And forget about the Christians! In a few years’ time there will probably not be enough of them left in the Middle East to matter.”


To this observer, the spiraling sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon appears to be coming mainly from Sunni groups and militia who vent a laundry list of complaints against their fellow Muslims. Many but not all stemming from Hezbollah’s involvement in the civil war still raging across the anti-Lebanon mountain range to the east.

Members of the two Muslim sects have co-existed for centuries and share many fundamental beliefs and practices. But there are Sunni-Shia differences in doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organization and are based in part over a political dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad over who should lead the Muslim community. Sunni Muslims regard themselves as the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam and adhere to traditions and practices based on precedent or reports of the actions of the Prophet Muhammad and those close to him. Sunnis venerate all the prophets mentioned in the Koran, but particularly Muhammad as the final prophet. In early Islamic history the Shia were a political faction – literally “Shiat Ali” or the party of Ali and they claimed the right of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and his descendants to lead the Islamic community.

In Sunni ruled countries, for hundreds of years Shias made up the poorest sections of society and today many view themselves as victims of discrimination and oppression as some extremist Sunni doctrines continue to preach hatred of Shia. 

Some argue that the Shia-Sunni Bellum Sacrum is more political than religious. If true, [IT IS TRUE] the mutually destructive conflict now intensifying in Lebanon would share much in common with other religious wars which were basically political conflicts justified in the name of religion. Iran which supports some Shia militias [ Iran supported Suni hamas and Islamic Jihad] beyond its borders is in conflict with some Sunni countries, especially regional neighbors who support Sunni militia. Lebanon’s hemmed population-Sunni and Shia has been put in a difficult situation caught up also in spill-over from the Syrian civil war. Teheran’s policy of supporting Shia militias and parties beyond its borders is essentially matched by the Sunni Gulf states with Shia and Sunni leaders often seem to be in competition as the latter continue to strengthen their links to Sunni governments and movements abroad.


Lebanon is paying a big price. Lawmakers failed on 10/29/2014 for the fifteenth time to elect a new president over a lack of quorum at parliament they will “try again” on 11/19/2014 with likely the same result because those holding power want a deadlock. Only 54 members out the 128 in Parliament showed up, well short of a quorum. The others were instructed to boycott by their parties, including the pro-Hezbollah Change and Reform and Loyalty to the Resistance blocs of the March 8 alliance. Their motive, their opponents the pro-Saudi March 14 alliance claim are purely political. The latest failed session was also boycotted by Speaker Nabih Berri, the Shia leader of the pro- Bashar Assad, Amal militia with Berri insisting he is simply trying to encourage ‘dialogue”.

“It has never been this bad” explains the proprietor of a neighborhood grocery store, agreeing with ever more of his fellow countrymen, as now opening curses both sides in public.

A few brief examples from the past week illustrate the rapidly intensifying Sunni-Shia clash.

As the Hezbollah [ And christian Free Patriotic and Marada movements ] continues boycotting Parliamentary electoral sessions due to disagreements with the mainly Sunni March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, himself a presidential candidate, this week accused Hezbollah of “blocking Parliament in to order to blackmail political blocs into electing, their puppet, Michel Aoun.” Aoun who is as anti-Palestinian as Geagea is, denies media speculation “ that the ongoing obstruction is no longer a political maneuver, but an attempt to target Lebanon’s political system,”

Hezbollah is also being accused of joining the Syrian war and sacrificing Lebanese young men while killing many innocent Syrians solely on orders from Tehran. According to one March 14th Member of Parliament, “No one believes, not even the Hezbollah leadership that Hezbollah is fighting in Syria to protect Lebanon whose people are paying a big price for their adventure. “ Sunni opponents of Shia Hezbollah, including the spokesman for the March 14th alliance claim that “terrorists” or the so-called ‘Takfiries” would never have come to Lebanon if Hezbollah had not invaded Syria and started killing Sunni.” [ Did Hezbollah Invaded Libya and Sinai]

The largely Sunni families of the 27 captive troops and policemen being held for ransom by the al-Nursa front are blaming Hezbollah and the Shia leader of Lebanon’s Internal Security Force, (ISF) Major-General Abbas Ibrahim, for not acting seriously to negotiate their loved ones release from captivity for purely sectarian reasons. On 10/30/14 the families threatened again to escalate their protests and have been burning tires at the Riad al-Solh Square in downtown Beirut while their relatives captors, al-Nusra Front, in increasingly setting up sleeper cells and advocating for the Sunni community in Lebanon is also accusing the ISF director of not being serious are obtaining the release of Sunni captives.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame University – Louaize and Saint Joseph University decided this week to suspend student elections for the current academic year as sectarianism spreads. “The political and security situation in Lebanon, which could impact the campus, will not allow the students to practice their democratic role positively,” USJ board of members said in a statement. Religion is a factor in this conflict also according to campus security guards on the scene trying to maintain order.

The United Nations has warned again this week that foreign religiously motivated jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale and some with religious motives and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants to global terrorism”. More than 1,500 foreign fighters are streaming into Syria each month, a rate that has increased since US airstrikes against Da’ish (Isis) began last month (9/23/14). The trend line established over the past year would mean that the total number of foreign fighters in Syria exceeds 16,000, and the pace eclipses that of any comparable conflict in recent decades, including the 1980s war in Afghanistan. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights just announced that 560 people have been killed in airstrikes since they began. That group counted 32 civilian deaths, including six children and five women.

The Pentagon estimates that each of the more than 600 US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq costs the American taxpayer approximately $ 9 million which given the claimed “kill count” means each death costs roughly $ 1.4 million each, militiamen or civilians. The rate of jihadists arriving just in Syria, again according to the Pentagon, were 12,000 in July, and 7,000 in March. But other US government’s estimates for just Syria put the jihadist arrival figures at currently 1,500 each month with the numbers accelerating and increasing coming to Lebanon. There are higher estimates according to U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights who rank “Democracy Success Story and Arab Spring Winner” Tunisia as the country contributing the most jihadists currently arriving in the Levant.

As noted above, many of the religiously motivated jihadists are coming to Lebanon, especially up north near Tripoli which has seen heavy fighting between Sunni and Shia backed militia. If one credits their social media, several want to fight Hezbollah which they often label the “Party of Satan” and “Iran’s militia.”

On 10/30/13 Saudi National Guard Minister Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, directing his comments to the KSA’s arch foe Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nassrallah proclaimed that “The parties embracing terrorism in the region have become well-known.” Within minutes Saudi media outlets open with commentary and statements like those currently appearing in Lebanese media outlets such as Naharnet: 

“Yes those supporting terrorism they are the same who killed Rafik el Hariri and the remaining M14 leaders. They are the same who refuse to abide by Lebanese justice and deliver the accused/witness for investigations, they are the same who in order to remain in power, decide to destroy their country and kill their people and allow a huge inflow of terrorist into their land to show a worse alternative.”

Sentiments shared by some in the Sunni community who, unlike during the years following the 2006 July war, and Hezbollah’s widely acknowledged success against the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine, are no longer reluctant to criticize openly Shia Muslims generally and Hezbollah specifically.

Where this all ends is anyone’s guess but a ceasefire in the Syrian conflict, even limited area by area as Washington, Tehran and Moscow are discussing would perhaps help—or, as various analysts and some serious scholars postulate, the latest Sunni-Shia manifestation of Bellum Sacrum may take a long time to control if not resolve. Tens of years or centuries they advise only time will tell.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).


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New Book on UNRWA Brings Palestinian Refugee Problem into Focus

Al-Manar

refugees camp

Edited by Sari Hanafi, Leila Hilal and Lex Takkenberg, American University of Beirut

Routledge, London and New York (ISBN 978-0-415-71504-1)

Reviewed by Franklin Lamb

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established by a UN mandate on December 8, 1949—specifically to deal with the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees following the Nakba, or the establishment of the state of Israel.

In the absence of a solution to this ongoing problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed the UNRWA’s mandate, most recently until June 30, 1917, yet over the years the agency’s objectives and focus have evolved. This new volume, edited by Sari Hanafi, Leila Hilal, and Lex Takkenberg, provides a close up look at how the UNRWA functions while emphasizing the centrality of the Palestinian refugee issue in this region and beyond. Packed with a useful bibliography and numerous footnotes, the book provides a key analysis of the UNRWA’s fieldwork as well as a broad scope of relevant information that probably, one imagines, is unavailable elsewhere. In short, it is a book that is long overdue.

The UNRWA has of course been especially in the news of late following the latest nearly two-month aggression against Gaza, and there is perhaps now more than ever a thirst for greater understanding of this conflict that has dragged on for more than six decades and its impact on those most adversely affected—and from that standpoint, one of the most useful benefits of the volume is the context it provides to the non-specialist about the workings of this unique humanitarian agency, offering a dossier of essential information for researchers, diplomats, mainstream and activist media and, perhaps most importantly, the general public.

Ever since its creation, the UNRWA has been regularly attacked politically by vested interests—whether they be rightwing Zionists across Lebanon’s southern border who consider the agency’s very existence a threat to their continuing occupation of Palestine, or anti-Palestinian politicians in Lebanon itself, casuists and dissemblers still peddling the long-debunked claim that UNRWA promotes tawtin, or naturalization. Attacks of this nature seem to come with the territory. In any event, those of us who’ve advocated civil rights for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, including the right to work, will especially welcome Sergio Bianchi’s chapter on community participation and human rights campaigning, and also Terry Rempel’s overview of the UNRWA’s approach to refugee inclusion and involvement in community affairs. It has been four years since the enfeebled and highly politicized Lebanese parliamentary effort got off to a start with the supposed intention of remedying blatant discrimination against Palestinians—a group who face nearly 60 percent unemployment in Lebanon because they are blocked from working in more than 20 professions. Those of us left bewildered by the sham “reform” effort taken up by Parliament in August of 2010 will find Bianchi’s analysis invaluable for grasping what went wrong.

With regard to Palestinian refugee camps, the book breaks ground with four excellent chapters on camp improvement/reconstruction in relation to community development. One key subject area here is the UNRWA’s embarkation since the turn of the century in the launch of much needed projects entailing large-scale reconstruction (in Jenin, Neirab, and Nahr el-Bared Camps) and improvement (in Talbeyeh and Deheishe). A second crucial area involves the agency’s recognition of the failures of camp administration “from above,” resulting in initiatives to “consult the community” in camp improvement/reconstruction efforts. However, as Sari Hanafi demonstrates in Chapter 6, the UNRWA, as a “phantom sovereign,” has held consultations, but they have often been on an interim or ad hoc basis—and the author advances a strong and compelling analytical criticism of UNRWA for not playing a more significant role in camp governance, especially when the popular committees have obviously failed to do so efficiently. (The reasons for these failures are many, including the committees being appointed and not elected as well as bereft of financial resources and unrecognized by Lebanese authorities.) Still Hanafi illustrates some new, yet modest to date, signs of more substantial UNRWA involvement in camp governance.

Muna Budeiri addresses the subject of perceptions of Palestinian refugee camps as temporary spaces. Many scholars and political commissars in the camps consider that this “temporariness” symbolizes the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. Admittedly, the camps are politically exceptional spaces, but they should not be an exceptional urban space. Budeiri eloquently puts it that refugee camps should not exist as slums, nor as traditional refugee camps, but as a camp cities. Each one of these, in Budeiri’s view, would thus become in essence a “spatial archive” of the Nakba (catastrophe)—but I would add that while labeling cities (Yarmouk, Ain el-Hilweh, etc.) as “camp cities” does indeed preserve the memory of the Nakba, we should be careful not to keep camps in their slum form simply for the sake of memory.

Nell Gabian, in Chapter 11, points out the importance of the new version of UNRWA that insists on the “self-reliance” of the Palestinian refugee (as highlighted in UNRWA’s 2005-2010 and 2010-2015 Medium Term Plans”). However, Gabian demonstrates that refugees perceived the slogan as a “pull back,” and she warns of the danger of a purely technical understanding of self-reliance, one that leaves out the protection and rights of refugees.

In Chapter 13, entitled “Palestinian Refugees and a Durable Solution: A Role for UNRWA,” Rex Brynen offers readers a clear and succinct overview of the broader complexities faced today by the UNRWA as well as the problems confronting the Palestinian refugee community as a whole—both those still under direct occupation as well as those waiting in the diaspora for return. Brynen focuses on the challenges UNRWA faces not just from its political enemies, who blame it for any number of ‘the-sky-is-falling’ woes, but also from a generally under-informed public which views it in a variety of ways—as a link to the more powerful “international community,” or an idea more vague and aspirational, or even as a Trojan Horse, as it is viewed by some—all of which, of course, being popular views held by the public, become subject to interpretation and manipulation for political purposes.

Finally, Leila Hilal’s essay, “Business as Usual? The role of UNWRA in Resolving the Palestinian Refugee Issue,” presents to the reader a very informative and interesting analysis of the role of UNWRA, founded as a temporary emergency humanitarian agency in the late 1940’s, and how over time pressures have forced the expansion of the agency’s activities, while at the same time it has to date resisted engaging publicly in a campaign for durable solutions.

Each of these 14 very readable essays presented in this very remarkable volume—UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees: From Relief and Works to Human Development—is an important contribution that gives all of us a better understanding of the Question of Palestine as well as the  role and work of this vital, lifesaving, enormously successful UN agency. It is a book that will, one hopes and imagines, become an enduring and important resource in libraries internationally and a tool for those actively working to achieve justice for Palestine.

Source: Al-Manar Website

27-10-2014 – 14:05 Last updated 27-10-2014 – 4:0

 

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Will Seif al Islam Lead the Expulsion of the ISIS Affiliate, Al Fajr Libya?

Time Will Tell

Andrei Murakhovsky, a Ukraine-born doctor working in Zintan, said out of Seif al-Islam’s gangrenous fingers, only a small part of his thumb and index finger needed to be removed. (Reuters)

by  Franklin Lamb,

with the Abu Baker al-Siddiq Brigade, Zintan, Libya

A second interview by this observer with Seif al Islam Gadhafi, formerly the heir apparent to his father Moammar, was sought and finally arranged as a follow up to an earlier one focusing of my interest in the Imam Musa Sadr case.

That case involves a great crime against a great man and conciliator and his historic cause, and exposes those who betrayed him in Lebanon and two other countries while swearing their personal devotion and shedding crocodile tears over the past 36 years.

That research is nearing completion and publication awaits DNA results from body samples more credible than the ones offered by the Bosnia laboratory two years ago and immediately demonstrated to be fraudulent.

The story of why that particular lab was chosen and by who goes to the essence of the current stonewalling campaign with respect to informing the public about what exactly happened to Imam Sadr and his partners on 8/3l/1978 in Tripoli, Libya. It also identifies who instructed Gadhafi to kill them over the strong objections from the PLO’s Yassir Arafat who spoke with Gadhafi and tried to save the trio of Lebanese Shia.

But our discussion soon turned to other subject as Seif’s jailers may have taken seriously my joke that if they extended the original 20 minutes I was granted to two hours, I would deliver to them 10 US Visas and they could fill in any names the might choose.

Truth told, of course I could not even get myself a passport renewal as former US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman reportedly sneered at a US Embassy Christmas party a few years back,

“Lamb will serve ten years hard time in the Feds for hobnobbing with terrorists (Hezbollah in those days…who knows today?)  when we get him back home.”  

I admit that Jeff and I both have a problem with Hezbollah.

His is because Hezbollah just may liberate Palestine and mine is that Hezbollah needs to do more in Lebanon and use 90 minutes of Parliament’s time, where it has the power, to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the right to work and to own a home. But that is also another story and Hezbollah continues to report that they are ‘working on the problem but it’s politically complicated.”

Meanwhile, Da’ish (IS) is metastasizing fast in Libya through its main affiliate al Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) and plans to add Tripoli, to its Islamic Caliphate along with Baghdad, Damascus, Amman and Beirut during the coming months and if necessary, years.  This, according to Seif al Islam and representatives of the Zintan brigades based southwest of Tripoli as well as two representatives of other tribes and militia moving toward supporting the still vital Gadhafi regime remnants.

Libya may be the lowest hanging ripe fruit within easy reach of Da’ish (IS) and its growing number of affiliates, according to US Ambassador Deborah Jones during a recent visit to the US Embassy in Malta, to discuss her own problems in Libya which include the 8/31/14 take-over by al Fajr Libya (FL) of the US embassy compound barely a month after it was evacuated and moved to Tunisia for the second time since February of 2011.

Secretary of State John Kerry reassured the media in Washington recently that “the embassy was not really closed, but had moved out of Libya”.  One Religion Professor at Tripoli University joked last week that “Kerry is correct, the US embassy is here but it’s in a state of occultation. We can’t see it but it’s around and watches us.”

A Libyan photographer who was at the embassy compound when Al Fajr Libya (FL) arrived reported that the Da’ish (IS) affiliate had moved into buildings inside the embassy complex claiming that they would ‘protect it’ as they carted off boxes of documents for ‘safe keeping.’ FL is described by a former Dean at Tripoli U. as between al Nusra and Da’ish (IS) with a fragile partnership between the two and presenting to the public “ A Good cop-Bad cop tag-team with differences to be worked out once all the infidels are vanquished.

Libya, as with the Arab Maghreb, is on the cusp of a new wave of Islamist groups, and is moving beyond al-Qaeda of Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Abdelmalek Droukdel, to Baghdadi’s ISIS and its widely perceived logical offshoot ISIM being planted in North Africa and the Sahel. The threat of the Da’ish (Islamic State is already deeply anchored and expanding in the now lawless Libya, according to UN envoy Bernardino León.

Several Libyan organizations recently announced their loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. This has confirmed a speculation that IS has penetrated Libyan public institutions. The Ansar al-Sharia group, affiliated with ISIS, has declared authority during the last several days over the coastal city of Darna which is located strategically between Benghazi and the Egyptian border – just 289 km (179 miles) and 333 km (206 miles), respectively.

Countless militia are forming, merging, changing names and lying low as perceived interests dictate.  Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria was retitled, revitalized and repackaged to enhance its appeal on social media as has the Furqan Brigade of the AQIM in Tunisia. Ansar Al-Sharia is another one becoming very active.

The Uqba bin Nafi Brigade, has just declared allegiance to ISIS as has the Islamic Caliphate in the Islamic Maghreb. al-Ummah Brigade, which operates out of Libyan coasts and airports, another is  Al-Battar is attracting pro-ISIS elements. Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam (the Islamic Youth Shura Council), or MSSI.

According to Libyan sources and journalist Adam al-Sabiri, writing in Al Akbar, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asked these elements to deploy to the Libyan front to counter the attacks by the Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar as part of Operation Dignity seeking to “purge Libya of terrorists.”

Libyan friends, some from three years ago, advise that more people have been killed in the past three years than during the 2011 revolution and they now fear a Somalia-like “failed state” given all the weapons, lawlessness, and growing number of Islamists. The South of Libya has not been spared the lawlessness, as tribal battles continue for control of a lucrative smuggling trade. Friends point out that the country no longer even bothers to celebrate the National Holiday commemorating the 10/23/2011 “total liberation of Libya.”

“It’s a cruel joke” my friend Hinde advised as she explains that many Libyans yearn for the stability of the Gadhafi days. “Maybe wanting to turn the clock back is the same in Iraq and Egypt and Syria?” she wondered.

“The rampant regional, ideological and tribal conflicts are worse than the rule of the dictator,” said Salah Mahmud al-Akuri, a doctor in Benghazi. “Some Libyans are looking back to the old regime.”

Amidst all the chaos, Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni claimed last week that groups loyal to the IS, such as al Fajr Libya, are presently in control of the city of Derna and other Libyan towns and have begun summoning townspeople to public squares to witness declarations of fealty to Da’ish (IS), even beginning their signature public executions.

Libya’s “government” claims that its “army” is preparing to expel Fajr Libya (FL) and retake the capital, as more militia rush to join FL. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani’s said in a statement this week that he gave orders to the government forces to “advance toward Tripoli to liberate it and to free it from the grip of al Fajr Libya”. The Libyan embassy in Washington told a House Foreign Affairs committee staffer that they expect that residents in Tripoli will launch “a civil disobedience campaign until the arrival of the army.”

Walking around the former “Green Square” this observer saw no signs of this rather he observed citizens stocking up on necessities or packing their cars. Later, Thani added, military forces in the strife-torn country “have absolutely united to also recapture Libya’s second city Benghazi from the local IS affiliate, al Fajr Liyba (FL). Leading one to wonder whether the Libyan “army” will fare better than Maliki’s did in Mosul and Anbar.

According to students and staff at Tripoli University, (known as Fatah University during the Gadhafi decades) a few of whom this observer first met in the summer of 2011, and who lived the political events in their country since while some of their friends and relatives, as in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, are preparing to leave and start a new life somewhere.

Hasan, a Gadhafi supporter I was with nearly daily three years ago in Tripoli still curses what, “NATO| did this to our country.  The Gadhafi regime was changing as you know Franklin, but the reformers were prevented from making the changes that Seif al Islam and his associates got their father to agree to.

Remember when Saif said

My father wants to live in a tent where he is most happy and write a history of the Jamahiriya (land of the masses). He will offer advice but have just a ceremonial role out of politics?  You remember that?  We believed Seif didn’t we?. Anyhow,  khalas!, Libya is finished! NATO gave it to Da’ish just as they gave Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to Iran.”

Libya is now moving beyond al-Qaeda of Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Abdelmalek Droukdel, to Baghdadi’s ISIS and its widely perceived logical offshoot Islamic State in the Islamic Maghreb (ISIM-Damis) now expanding in North Africa and the Sahel. Former rebels who fought against Gadhafi have formed powerful militias and seized control of large parts of Libya in the past three years.

Back in mid-august of 2011, the late American journalist Marie Colvin and I stood on the balcony of the Corinthia Hotel opposites the still empty Marriott where some kid was practicing sniping from the roof, at my expense, as I pointed out to Marie a body floating just off the beach of the Mediterranean across the road.

We walked over and examined it and decided while it was dressed in religious garb the man may have been an army deserter; there were increasing numbers in those days, because of his military style boots. We alerted some militia guys driving along the corniche who said they would report the body and before long an ambulance did arrive.

Two of the militia waded out waist deep and pulled in the bloated body to shore, unlaced his tan leather boots while holding their noses from the stench. They then threw the new boots in the back of their pick-up and drove off with no more than a smiling ‘shukran habibis’ (thanks dears). Later that day Marie and I counted a column of 143 pickups with AK-47 jubilant fist waving rebels entering along the coastal road toward downtown Tripoli having come from battles in the east around Misrata.

In the next few days we discussed how there seemed to be countless ‘free-cigarettes, $200 on the first of each month and your personal Kalasnikov’ militia popping up like mushrooms after a summer rain. Three years ago one of their battle cries was “Death to Gadafi—Yes to Freedom!” Today one hears around Tripoli another slogan from the lips of young men many of whom may be the same, chanting, “Death to the kafirs (disbelievers,” or infidels) Yes to Islam!Abas (that’s all!”

Seif el Islam still resides at his cell in Zintan which, even though jail is jail, has been upgraded from when he was captured in the Sahara making his way toward Niger and his finger was cut off as a warning.

Seif, has proposed talks and is ready to participate in bringing together Libya’s warring parties and aiding the transition to what he claims he was working on before the February 17, 2011 uprising in Benzhazi which quickly spread.

Seif’s team would likely include his father’s cousin and confident Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, former Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kane, long-time Libyan diplomat, the widely respected Omar el Hamdi now is Cairo, and Seif’s sister Aisha, now living with his mother and children in the Gulf.

Seif has no illusions of returning Libya to the past, but argues that elements of the former regime deserved to be heard. “

We were in the process of making broad reforms and my father gave me the responsibly to see them through. Unfortunately the revolt happened and both sides made mistakes that are now allowing extreme Islamist group like Da’ish to pick up the pieces and turn Libya into an extreme fundamentalist entity in their regional plans.”

With respect to Seifs trials, whether ins the Tripoli courthouse or at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the odds of  either  happening anytime soon, ior at all, are fading as negotiations for an arrangement are reportedly progressing.

A solution is being sought, according to sources at the Justice Ministry in Tripoli because there are many problems with Seifs case which was supposed to begin earlier this year, and the case has been criticized by a number of international actors. Not least for which how Libya and the ICC have handled their cases.

For example, Human Rights Watch has accused the Libyan government of failing to provide adequate legal representation and the ICC it has been unable to compel the Libyan government to allow it access — just one of many challenges to the ICC’s legitimacy in recent years.  Meanwhile it is likely that Seif’s jailers, who increasing respects and admires him, may have other ideas that would enhance their own standing in Libya.

In addition, certain NATO countries are said to be privately discussing with Washington, Paris London and Bonn the idea of finding a role for Seif and certain of his associates and family members in “the new Libya.”

According to Seif, and former regime officials, several NATO countries have sent messages claiming they did not intend for his father to be killed but were searching during the summer of 2011 for a refuge for his father in Africa. Seif does not believe them.

Seif al Islam still has substantial influence among tribes still loyal to Gaddafi as well as former regime officials in the army and government. The delegation Seif could assemble, including Ahmad  Gadaff al-Dam, would benefit from the latter’s still strong connections with Arab governments, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as some European countries.

More on this and other subjects related to Seif and the growing international recognition over the need for  expulsion of Islamists from Libya, and a possible significant role for Seif, are expected to be discussed publicly soon.

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Avoidable Humanitarian Crisis at Lebanon Border Crossing Sparks Anger in Syria

Syrian refugees

Franklin Lamb

Syrian Immigration HQ, Damascus neighborhood of Marjeh

Chest high metal crowd control barriers manned by armed guards—since late September they have stood outside the Arrivals Hall on the Lebanon side of the Masnaa border crossing with Syria. For Syrian and Palestinian refugees fleeing the continuing violence next door and trying to get into Lebanon the message is clear:

almasnaa55Don’t come within 40 meters of the Immigration building, and don’t even dream about coming to the staffed counter with any documents. None of you is welcome. Ninety eight percent of you will not be allowed in, and those who are better leave within 24 hours and have a valid airline ticket to prove your intention to depart.

Over the past few years, this observer has crossed at the Masnaa border crossing fairly frequently. Yet never have I seen such an avoidable humanitarian disaster for families seeking to get out of war-torn Syria. And it is reportedly much the same at the Jordanian border. Many refugees have found themselves squatting here—first in the heat, and now in the cold autumnal nights that increasingly are seeing cold rainfall. No other option seems available to them than to try to enter Lebanon, this as they express the forlorn hope that God in his mercy will help them.

Syrian refugees patiently wait

And so here they sit, bewildered, outside the Immigration building, exhausted, little if any money in their pockets or purses, with their children thirsty, hungry, and often crying. Nearby are the local offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but the staff are overwhelmed, and the fact that Lebanon hasn’t signed the 1951 Refugee Convention doesn’t make things any easier for them. Extending humanitarian assistance to refugees has never been embraced by certain anti-Palestinian politicians in Lebanon, who apparently see no value in it for themselves, but that being said, it is a fact that the sheer numbers of refugees entering Lebanon now has added to pre-existing problems with respect to infrastructure, chronic water and electricity shortages, massive unemployment, exploding sectarian conflicts, and the like.

Mideast-Lebanon-Syria_Horo

All of which can make for some harrowing scenes at the border checkpoint. During this observer’s most recent crossing, a Syrian gentleman sat on the roadside with his wife, five children, and one grandchild, explaining to me how the family had lost everything in Homs. No other choice had they than to try and seek safety in Lebanon, since Egypt and Jordan are refusing entry to Syrian refugees. His oldest child, a lovely girl named ‘Rasha,’ who appeared to be in her mid-20s, sat nursing her infant son as we talked. Rasha’s husband, he informed me, had been killed by a mortar last spring on a day he had gone out shopping for food near the old city of Homs. In desperation, the gentleman suggested that I purchase his daughter and her baby, because he saw no future for them and he could no longer provide a home for them. Plus the baby appeared ill.

After my long explanation of why, for several reasons, this was not possible, he stated his belief that my being an American meant that the Lebanese guards would allow me to enter with Rasha and her baby; they in turn could live with me until the crisis ended, and on second thought, I did not even have to pay him anything. Just save her and her baby. With respect to the Lebanese border guards, his idea was unrealistic. Most Americans do tend to be liked around these parts, and most of us try to be goodwill ambassadors because we love our country and her ideals. But it is not the case that Americans can bend immigration regulations, nor should it be. Before the crisis, Syrians and Lebanese could simply take a road not patrolled, avoiding border crossings and formalities altogether, but these days that is very dangerous.

I gave the gentleman my card and a little money in case his family and he were somehow able to get over the border, and promised him that if they were successful I and friends would try to help. I have heard nothing more from him. But I have learned, from a couple of NGOs, that encounters such as I experienced are not all that uncommon these days, with women and children stuck at the Syrian-Lebanese border being bought and sold—and with bribes sometimes offered, and occasionally paid. The frequency of this is difficult to assess, and the reality may be exaggerated, but certainly not exaggerated are the facts of the increasingly inhumane conditions that Syrian and Palestinian refugees face in Lebanon—a country in which they are denied some of the most basic, elementary rights by the government, and where they also run the risk of harmful brushes with various militias and hooligans.

A man walks in a burnt makeshift Syrian refugee camp after it was attacked by residents of the neighboring eastern Lebanese village of Qsarnaba near Zahle in the Bekaa valley on December 2, 2013. (Photo: AFP / STR)

Discussions I have had—with staff at the central Immigration office in Damascus as well as Syrian human rights associations and Syria-based Arab journalists who have researched and written about this subject—reveal not only a bleak picture of the humanitarian situation, but also a growing level of disgust in Syria over what is happening to their countrymen in Lebanon. Cases of Lebanese discrimination and harassment targeting Syrian refugees, including violations of international customary law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, have become commonplace. In addition, Syrians increasingly are falling prey to violence. Human Rights Watch said it had documented a string of attacks by Lebanese residents against Syrian refugees in August and September. Those interviewed described being stabbed, shot and beaten, and several claimed that they were either too afraid to report the crimes, or that they had and their stories had been dismissed by security forces when they did. HRW said that attacks it documented were most often carried out by private citizens, but in several cases they appeared to have “the tacit support” of authorities, and the international organization has urged security forces and local authorities to step up protection of Syrian refugees.

“Lebanon’s security forces should protect everyone on Lebanese soil, not turn a blind eye to vigilante groups who are terrorizing refugees,” said HRW Deputy Middle East Director Nadim Houry.

One especially taxing problem is the financial cost exacted by Lebanon for Syrian refugees to register a baby. In Syria, anyone from Lebanon, or from any country for that matter, can register a newborn for the equivalent of 1,000 Lebanese lire (around 66 US cents). The process takes around fifteen minutes. But not so in Lebanon. According to a report by the Taanayel General Hospital in central Bekaa, the number of new babies born to Syrian refugees, since March 2011 when the crisis began, has exceeded 15,000, just in the Bekaa Valley alone. In North Lebanon, the UNHCR estimates more than 5,000 births, and the Syrian Embassy in Beirut says there are now approximately 6,000 births per year among displaced Syrians in Lebanon. But for many of these parents, the registration process is nearly impossible.

First they must obtain a certificate from the hospital or midwife indicating the date of birth—generally not a big problem, but then the baby must be registered at the office of the local Muktar. That is if they can prove legal residence, and if the local Muktar is willing to help, which is not always the case. Sometimes he wants a fee, and in some reported cases a bribe, in order to forward the paperwork to the Directorate of Personal Status. If the parents are lucky, their application might then be sent to the Exterior Ministry for another approval, and finally may reach the Syrian Embassy to complete the process of registering the newborn. But the process can be delayed or scuttled along the tortuous procedural path for any number of reasons, including escalating anti-Syrian sentiment in government offices and among certain confessions and political parties. According to one Syrian refugee, the minimal fees charged by Lebanon, plus the traveling back and forth to different offices and locations so as to follow up on the procedures, can cost close to $500, with no success guaranteed. The amount is a fortune for most refugees, but an even greater concern for Syrian parents is having no nationality for their children. Says Joelle Eid, of the UNHCR press office, the offspring risk being added to “the stateless Kurds of Syria, since 1960, whose number of births in Lebanon is currently around 840 children.”

One chilling reason that the Kafkaesque procedures violate basic humanitarian principles is that they are forcing Syrian refugees to smuggle their babies into Syria in bags, since of course the infants would not be allowed to cross the border from Lebanon without full documentation. It is estimated that over the past 24 months more than 50 Syrian newborns, passing through Masnaa, have died from suffocation or drug overdose while being hidden from immigration officials. Parents usually are not sure how much of what drug to give their babies in order to keep them quiet and sleeping as they sneak them through the border, and too many are not waking up—all so that the parents can make it back over the border, back into their perilous, war-torn homeland, so that they may register their children’s births—in Syria, since it’s practically impossible to do so in Lebanon.

It is but one of the current abuses that are causing outrage in Syria and among advocates of human rights everywhere but it is not the only one. Both the UNHCR and HRW are accusing the Lebanese Army of committing “serious” violations against refugees, including in Ersal, where more than 200 Syrian refugees, including minors, were arrested without charge. The arrests took place September 19-24. Other reports accuse the Army of evicting, without any pretense of due process, a large number of refugees living in private homes. Then on September 25, the retaliatory measures reached a peak with a crackdown in the area of Ras al-Jafar, affecting nine informal communities with a total population of around 5000. One report states that during the raids, tents were burned in one of the random communities, completely destroying 96 tents. The raids were coupled with a large campaign of arrests targeting especially males. Some 300-500 people were detained, and while most, though not all, have been released, reports have emerged of physical and verbal assault, intimidation, and humiliation—claims that are corroborated by UNHCR photographs, including of shackled Syrian refugees laying on the ground exposed to the elements.

An Army spokesperson has dismissed as “lies” another allegation about the torching of tents in Ersal last week, yet random raids are becoming commonplace at scores of these “informal tent settlements,” as UNHCR refers to the fetid, sewage-soaked camps—camps which soon will be covered in snow and ice. Often in these camps more than 20 people will live in a tent that is intended for one family. Most of the tents are covered with nothing more than nylon, and more than 50,000 Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley are now living in these kinds of settlements—that’s 50,000 out of a registered total 275,000 in the area.

In addition to these calamities, more than 45 municipalities have imposed curfews on Syrian nationals, a move widely seen as a racist practice and one also in violation of international humanitarian law and the 1951 Convention. HRW comments that the curfews “contribute to a climate of discriminatory and retaliatory practices against” the refugees. Curfew violators are reportedly given a warning or, in some cases, are “taken to the municipality for questioning” where they may be detained for hours.

The reports have fueled anger among lawyers in Damascus, at the Lawyers Syndicate across from the Cham Palace Hotel, where seminars have discussed the legal problems facing Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In addition, the Faculty of Law at Damascus University is considering setting up a legal defense team to help Syrians in Lebanon challenge arbitrary and discriminatory applications of Lebanese laws.

“Syria helped them (the Lebanese) many times during their 15-year civil war and during the 2006 July war!” commented a teacher at a government primary school visited by this observer last week. “We gave them everything they needed. Our government buildings, social services, free medical care, free education, schools, hygienic conditions, peace and quiet, food and sometimes cash stipends. What about us? Is this the Lebanese way of saying ‘thanks’ to the people of Syria?”

She then exclaimed, “Someone must stop these attacks on our families.”

A savvy graduate student in Damascus by the name of “Ahmad” commented to this observer and to his Palestinian friend from Yarmouk camp, who having lost her own home due to shelling, now volunteers helping Syrian refugees forced to live in some of the parks in Damascus, that ISIS (Da’ish) and al-Nusra will almost assuredly be cognizant of these problems, and poised to capitalize on them, as they prepare to extend their caliphate into Lebanon—and he probably has a point.

Among the many reasons Lebanon should immediately desist in the targeting of Syrian and Palestinian refugees is that they are pushing many toward supporting those that the Lebanese government claims to be opposing.

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It’s Not Too Late to Save Syria’s Cultural Heritage

Franklin Lamb

Al-Manar

 

…if we can muster the will

Inside the restored Omayyad Mosque, Old City of Damascus

Syria's cultural heritageAs Marcus Aurelius instructs us: “Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.”

By definition, our shared global heritage, which has been in the custody of the Syrian people for ten millennia, belongs to all of us and for this reason each of us must work to preserve it for our progeny.

The people of Syria are petitioning the United Nations, regional powers, archeologists and our wider global community to, reject, as they themselves do, the rationale of  ‘ unavoidable war-time collateral damage’ in their conflict which today is severely assaulting archeological treasures in their beloved country.  Over the past century, scientific excavations and study of our global heritage in Syria have barely scratched the surface so rich as concentrated are archeological artifacts from a score of empires that have inhabited this land.

Syrians, like the international public are horrified and sickened by the continuing and in some areas, accelerating desecration, illegal excavations, looting and hateful destruction of irreplaceable antiquities.

This observer does not wish to gloss over the alarming media reports on this subject.  Nor my own on-site field investigations over the past nearly three years chronicling and photographing damaged archeological sites across much of Syria. The research project has been part of a volume to be published next month in Arabic and English entitled, Syria’s Endangered Heritage, an International Responsibility to Preserve and Protect, parts of which reveal bleak picture.

But all is not lost.

Indeed much is being done inside Syria, among citizens including students, officials, among them the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) and even to some degree ‘repentant’ former rebels having physical access to archeological sites and valuing their heritage. Many projects are underway today at archeological sites not under the control of fighters on either side of this horrific internecine conflict out of a felt urgent duty to preserve, protect, and even in some instances to reconstruct our endangered global heritage.

Three examples of Syrian archeological sites that were badly damaged since the start of the continuing crisis which began in March of 2011, with details of the damage at these sites reported in the main stream media as well as in some scholarly publications, are the Omayyad Mosque in the Old City of Damascus, the medieval fortress of Crac des Chevaliers near Homs, and the Church of the Holy Belt in the Old City of Homs.  This observer first visited and chronicled damages at these three sites months ago as soon as local fighting ceased and security conditions allowed and having revisited them just recently bears witness to the fact that each is now in the final stages of being repaired/rebuilt and are safe and ready to receive visitors.

The remarkable achievements of wartime Syrian antiquities reconstruction are continuing  because of leadership from committed officials such as Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim of DGAM, noted above, and Syria’s indefatigable Bachir Yazigi, Minister of Tourism and member of Parliament, among many others supported by their dedicated staffs. Partners also in restoration of culture sites are students from Damascus and other Universities and institutes such as Directorate of Archaeological Scientific and Reconstructive Laboratories and citizen volunteers as well as some patriotic business people across the social and political spectrum here.  This observer visited the Damascus Citadel and witnessed the student’s painstaking restoration of a large irreplaceable Mosaic, tesserae (half inch chip) by tesserae. In the course of visiting damaged archeological sites in Syria, this observer has spent time with skilled teams of artifact restoration students repairing antiquities from artwork in Homs to stone arches at Palmyra. Syrian volunteers share a common deep love of their ancient country and they appear to accept a personal obligation to preserve, protect and restore their and our common global cultural heritage. Repair and reconstruction is expanding today at several other archeological sites.


Local Community seeking protection of Syria’s cultural heritage


In Syria today, within government controlled areas scores of community groups are working to preserve our global heritage. One example is a citizen’s national campaign to inform the general public about the value of protecting archeological sites by placing large posters showing endangered treasures.

Below are some example of current posters being posted in public gathering areas:

Workshops on subject such as combating the illicit trafficking in cultural property have been organized, particularly in Damascus and are being attended by interested non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and the local community including researchers, artists and writers as well as by representatives of ministries and department concerned with the protection of Syrian cultural property.  In addition, students and civic volunteers  update daily the Arabic and English website of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) (www.dgam.gov.sy)  with  the latest available information about the archaeological heritage of Syria during the crisis.

“Artisan programs” and art classes, including Mosaic restoration and preserving damaged antiquities have been organized and they seek to connect the public, particularly children and adolescents with nearby archeological heritage sites and local antiquities and artifacts. Classes highlight a range of traditional crafts including mosaics, calligraphy, storytelling, pottery fezzes and sabots (leather sandal and shoe) making.  Rather than simply report the bad news about of this country’s archeological treasures events are frequently organized, as on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of great historic discovery of Ebla, called   “Ebla- History and Archaeology” at the Damascus National Museum, open to the public with youth attendance encouraged.  The event also featured a photo exhibition about the damage to archaeological sites, especially Ebla, one of the themes communicated being the obligation of each citizens to preserve and protect past whether pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or secular.

Social Media


Like everywhere these days Syrian youngsters are increasingly active with social-media and one site frequently contributed to is  https://www.facebook.com/eyesonheritag by the Eyes on Heritage group. This is just one example of people interested in global cultural heritage interacting to protect our shared cultural heritage.

Another Facebook page, growing in popularity in Syria which is now also a YouTube was created by Protect Syrian Archaeology: The Association for the protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA). It is intended news about the threats and damages currently suffered by the Syrian archaeological and historical heritage. It is also designed to alert the scientific community and international authorities, either cultural or political. Additional Facebook pages that promote these themes include https://www.facebook.com/Archaeology.in.Syria/timeline, and Tell me about my Syrian land: https://www.facebook.com/groups/79187561754519 collects stories of Syrian heritage which talk about the traditional themes and customs.

Again not wishing to understate the scope or seriousness of this cultural heritage crisis, there is another reason we should not despair completely or give up hope when witnessing the horrible damage being reported at world heritage sites and to antiquities across Syria because there are some hopeful signs. One concerns Syria’s 28 museums since the outbreak of hostilities, nearly four years ago. During the early summer of 2011, private citizens, museum staffs, government ministries, some members of Parliament and some international and local NGO’s sounded an alarm. They warned that the tragic case of what was reported back in 2003 in Iraq, including ransacking the National Museum of Iraq in Bagdad on April 10, 2003 could be repeated in Syria and they were determined to prevent it. They have substantially succeeded.

The worst damage to Syrian museums has been reported by DGAM staff to be in Deir Atieh and Raqqa in eastern Syria, still under IS (Da’ish) control and therefore a precise assessment is not yet available.   A few artifacts have been stolen from Maarat al-Numan Museum and the Folk Museum at Aleppo, and the museums in Hama. Moreover, despite widespread illegal excavations in Apamia, the Museum has lost only one object due to theft.

Beyond these and other unknown losses, the contents of all of Syria’s other 26 museums are safe for now because their contents were moved before thefts or damage could occur and today their contents are buried deep in temperature and humidity controlled secret vaults in government controlled areas. In addition, citizens in many communities are discretely safeguarding archaeological sites and reporting to local or national authorities attempted thefts or trafficking in stolen artifacts.

Syrians sometimes ask this observer to advise others that they deeply share their horror over much now happening in Syria and the continuing endangerment to our shared cultural heritage. They are very aware that international friends want to help preserve and rebuild damaged sites, retrieve stolen articles now being sold in North America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

Syrians and doing their part and need international help with stopping the international trade in looted Syrian antiquities now being move into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The millions of annual visitors to cultural heritage sites in Syria can resume just soon as a cease-fire can be achieved.

Source: Al-Manar Website

11-10-2014 – 12:03 Last updated 11-10-2014 – 12:03
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The US-Led War on Daash and its impact

 د عماد فوزي شعيبي _ الحرب على داعش وانعكاساتها … | الميادين 

من يغذي الارهاب في سوريا والعراق | العالم

بين قوسين _ د محمد نور الدين ، محمد زاهد غول | المنار 

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The “Twice” Betrayed Christians of Ma’ loula

“They insisted that Ma’loula had been betrayed twice—once by their neighbors and a second time by the government, which shortly after town was liberated granted the criminals amnesty. Much bitterness remains over both of these perceived betrayals.”

The author should have checked this claim

Fact check:

The nuns denied the kidnapping claims: Syrian nuns deny kidnapping claims
A group of nuns from the historic Christian town of Maalula in Syria denied they were kidnapped by rebels, in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera news channel on Friday.

The brief video shows the women, apparently in good health and comfortable, dressed in black religious garb in a room. It was unclear who was filming the women, and where they were speaking from.

“A group brought us here and protected us, and we’re very, very happy with them,” one of the nuns said.

Another insisted the group was staying in a “very, very nice villa” and denied claims that the group of women had been kidnapped.

When released the chief nun thanked her kidnapper (Nusra front) and Qatar the sponsor Nusra.
How they dare to talk about a Syrian betrayal knowing that the amnesty granted for the criminals was a part of the deal. listen carefully to the following Videos aired by Aljazerah
 

The Twice Betrayed Christians of Ma’ loula

by FRANKLIN LAMB

The Monastery of St. Thekla, Ma’loula, Syria

It is a truly unique cultural heritage site, the hamlet of Ma’aloula, with Christian sanctuaries and monuments stretching back for more than 16 centuries into the past, yet it has been scarred, traumatized, desecrated and deeply wounded by the war in Syria.

Situated some 40 miles northeast of Damascus, Ma’loula is one of the few places in the world where Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, is still spoken, but its Christian inhabitants feel they have been betrayed, not once but twice in the past year.

Judge by your self who betrayed Maalola

The first betrayal came from some of their Muslim neighbors who have shared the hamlet as good neighbors for 14 centuries. Until now, only ten percent of the pre-conflict population of approximately 4,000 (approximately 3,200 Christians and 600 Sunni Muslims) have dared to return, and there is little potable water and not much electricity.

 

Many of the Christians, mainly Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholics, fled to the Christian quarter of the Bab Touma neighborhood in the Old City of Damascus, and most remain there. Syrian forces retook the area on 4/13/14, four months after al-Nusra and other Islamist rebels overran it. This was after the jihadists had kidnapped 13 Ma’loula nuns and three maids on December 3, transporting them to the nearby town of Yabrud, until their release was negotiated and they were freed last March.

In May of this year, a couple of days after the liberation of Homs, this observer visited the Um al-Zennar Church, also known as the “Church of the Holy Belt,” located in the Old City.

What he witnessed and photographed at the time was the immediate aftermath of a rampage of desecration that had been inflicted on the church. This included the smashing of the altar and pews, the gouging out of the eyes of religious icons, the smashing of religious statues and destruction of paintings of saints, including Mary the mother of Jesus. Other damage included the burning of the nave and sanctuary as well as a still smoldering pile of bibles and religious documents in the courtyard. It was the worst desecration of a place of reverence and worship I had ever seen—until I came to Ma’loula.

The churches and monasteries here had attracted both Christian and Muslim pilgrims before the conflict. The monastery of Mar Thecla in fact has a reputation among believers for miraculous cures. This observer and his companion were given drops of holy water to splash in our eyes for good health and happiness. One can also drink water from the crack in the massive rock cliff that St. Thecla was said to have parted while fleeing the wrath of her family for turning from paganism to Christianity. Some religious scholars claim, and indeed a legend in the early church has it, that Thecla was a chaste and devoted follower of St. Paul. In any event, townspeople claim the water, which flows from the huge split rock, offers a cure for a variety of ailments.

Syrian Tourism Minister Bachir Yazigi has reported that damage and theft to antiquities in Syria, including during the fighting in Ma’loula has amounted to “billions of Syrian pounds” in losses. Included in his calculations are the following examples:

*Many of the old town houses and alleys have been destroyed. Roofs and walls of houses built of stone, in some cases three stories high have collapsed.

*A large number of caves and archaeological cemeteries have been vandalized, sabotaged, and drilled, their doors-smashed and turned into fortified barricades. One of the most damaged caves was on the site of Mar Sarkis, or the Monastery of St. Sergius and Bacchus;

The The Monastery of St. Thecla, including her tomb, has been completely burned, and its holy relics and icons looted, some already surfacing for illicit sale;

One lady from Ma’loula, now living in Damascus, explained to this observer how al-Nusra militants handed citizens “certificates of death” and threatened to harm women and children should the men fail to comply with whatever orders were given to them. She recalled how Christians were told to pay tributes to al-Nusra in order to stay alive.

Al-Nusra militants by the way are being identified as some of the most active dealers of black market antiques of the Middle East. Lebanese media have reported that a great number of ancient icons, crosses, reliquaries, and statues have been smuggled from Syria into Lebanon and then sent abroad. Local smugglers are said by INTERPOL to be moving hundreds of Ma’loula’s antiquities, transporting Christian antiquities to European countries, with the main destinations being Italy and Turkey.

The main entrance to St. Thecla’s Monastery and its main corridor have also been badly damaged and burnt. A fire was set in the Church of St. John the Baptist, located inside the monastery, and its contents—those which were not stolen—have been smashed, including the altar, the crosses, icons and frescos. Extremist phrases were written on the walls of the church, and many of the wall icons were painted over (in the ideology of some extremist groups the icons are forbidden to be seen).

At the nearby Monastery of St. Sergius and Bacchus—constructed in the early fourth century and one of the oldest monasteries in Syria—parts of the western and eastern walls have been substantially damaged by mortar shells. Additionally, the massive dome of the building has been destroyed, apparently hit by shells from different directions, and the bell removed. On the inside, the main marble altar lies destroyed, its wooden cross smashed. Drilling operations were carried out underneath the altar, apparently in search of treasure. All of the movable antiquities and holy items inside the monastery have been stolen, including the most important Maaloula icons.

And at the nearby Church of St. Leontius—the southern wall, the roof and the dome of the building have been damaged from shelling. Inside, the marble tabernacle is destroyed and holy items have been stolen, including the ancient church bell, which is claimed by locals to have been one of the most beautiful-sounding church bells in the world, second only perhaps to the bell at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The crosses have been removed from above the domes of the church, and some of the valuable icons have been stolen, while others were burned. Wooden pews were piled high in the nave and set ablaze, an act of destruction which caused not only the incineration of the pews but which also set alight the wooden ceiling of the church.

No less tragic were the fates of two other world-famous monuments of Ma’loula. Extremists blew up the statue of Christ the Savior, which had adorned the entrance of St. Thecla Convent, as well as the statue of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, which stood on a cliff near the Safir Hotel, a domicile that was commandeered and ended up serving as al-Nusra’s main shelter for many months.

The Church of St. Cosmas and Damian was also destroyed, its altar and wooden iconostasis smashed and its valuable icons stolen. Elsewhere in the hamlet, the Church of St. Barbara was extensively damaged, with whatever valuables not carted off being burned. Even the more modern churches and shrines in the town have been completely looted and destroyed, including the shrines of Mar Saba and St. Thomas and the Church of St. Sherbin.
Throughout the community, what was inflicted by the invaders was wanton, mindless desecration.

Ma’loula is—and was—a beautiful ancient town, renowned for its religious tolerance. Its majority Christian population tried hard to resist the centrifugal pressures of a vicious, sectarian conflict. It failed through no want of trying. The day this observer visited the town, 9/23/14, was by coincidence a religious holiday, and the sisters returned with the orphans for a few hours. There was much joy, even among the ruins, and a bishop explained to me that solace and hope are still extended to the small number of townspeople remaining. As the voices of the few parishioners of St. Thecla flowed for a short while, filling the winding paths and alleys with praises to God and humanity, it seemed almost that even the hundreds of opened and vandalized burial caves on the mountainsides were touched, momentarily, by a sense of majesty and solemnity. And then the Sisters and orphans were parishioners were gone, returning to their hopefully safe quarters in Homs. It is hoped that those quarters will be only temporary, for Ma’loula sorely needs these residents to return to erase the ghost-town feeling of emptiness.

Ma’loula and its citizens urgently need governmental and international solidarity and assistance so as to begin the daunting task of resurrecting this formerly peaceful place of spirituality. A town motto that used to be cherished by the residents was (but is no more): “Everyone is a Christian and everyone is Muslim.”

A couple of local residents who still remain and who seemed to be looking after the town, helpfully supplied much information to this observer during his visit, and after I had spent a wonderful but solemn day in their presence, both gentlemen swore to me that they would never forget, or forgive, the extreme Islamists who had desecrated and substantially gutted their village, along with its sacred sites, or the local Muslims who had been their neighbors but who had joined the rebels and helped destroy the town.

They insisted that Ma’loula had been betrayed twice—once by their neighbors and a second time by the government, which shortly after town was liberated granted the criminals amnesty. Much bitterness remains over both of these perceived betrayals.

The two gentlemen also made a request of me: that as an American I take their story home and tell President Obama and American politicians about what happened here—and to ask for help rebuilding this Christian village.

ED: THE TWO GENTLEMEN STILL BETTING ON OBAMA AND AMERICAN POITIANS!!!!!!!

This report is in response to their request, and to honor my pledge to them that I would. May God protect them.

It was getting late and time to return to Damascus. A warning came from nearby soldiers stationed not far from a Hezbollah camp to be careful using the roads after dark. At this same moment, the five-year-old daughter of one of the townsmen who had toured some of the ruins and church buildings with us, looked up at her father with love and pride—this as the embittered gentleman, who had fought the al-Nusra invaders, shook hands and gazed into my eyes. And for a moment, both of our eyes filled with tears.

“No,” he said, “—no, we ask others to forgive our trespassers, and we must forgive those who trespassed against us. Christ Jesus taught us this. And we must turn the other cheek.”

His is a minority view in the town, I was told, but with those words from the Lord’s Prayer, I watched as this noble man wiped his eyes, and then he squeezed his young daughter’s hand. The five year old looked up at her baba and appeared to understand him, this as he gazed high up into the surrounding mountains, and directly at the mountain top remains of the As Safir Hotel where al Nusra had had its headquarters and from which it had rained mortars and rockets down on the defenseless village.

In the library of the Mar Sarkis monastery, just before leaving, I found a visitor’s book where visitors can write comments. One comment, signed by a lady from Boise, Idaho and still legible, reads:

“This is a very beautiful place to visit and also very inspirational to know that Christians have existed in this area continuously for so many years. May the work here in God’s name continue and help to bring peace and understanding to all people in the Middle East and the world, regardless of who or by what means they choose to worship God.”

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

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Shell-Shocked Syrian Town Freed After Savage Massacre, 291 Days of ‘Islamic Justice’

Al manar

Syrian Defense Minister tours Adra

With the Syrian Army at Adra al-Omalia, northeast of Damascus

In the early hours of Thursday, 9/25/2014, after five days of fierce firefights with advancing Syrian troops, approximately 1,000 Jabhat al-Nusra and Liwa al-Islam (Army of Islam) jihadists quickly assembled their hostages from the basements of more than forty buildings in the industrial town of Adra al-Omalia.

car bombThe town—you could almost think of it more as a neighborhood—is located about 12 miles northeast of Damascus.

Those who had been taken hostage, initially approximately 500 people in all, were in the main government employees, along with Shia, Christian, Kurdish, Ismaili, and Druze residents.

As the Syrian Arab Army closed in last week, the overwhelmed jihadists marched their captives into trenches and underground tunnels, disappearing with them. No one—besides their abductors—knows exactly how many of the original 500 people are still alive, but military sources believe at least some of the kidnapped families were moved in the direction of the town of Douma, which has been the opposition’s strategic base since the start of the Syrian crisis in March, 2011. Douma is also where some of the most important rebel fortifications are situated and fighting continues there.

At any rate, last week’s battle for Adra al-Omalia was a significant turning point. The town is now liberated but the story of what took place here over the past 291 days is presently emerging, and it is a horrifying one.

With a pre-massacre population of over 100,000, Adra housed 600 manufacturing plants and grain silos. It was a key area. In May of 2013, Ziad Badour, Director of Adra Industrial City, told the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), that creative responses to U.S. unilateral economic attacks against Syria had given rise to more than 48,000 job opportunities in the region. He said Adra had received workers from different parts of the country, and had also managed to absorb internal refugees—from Douma, Yabroud and Nabek, as well as from the farms of Ghouta. With inexpensive yet high-quality housing, the quiet town, with its well-maintained streets and sidewalks, became a very attractive destination for workers and middle class residents from Damascus.

Starting on September 21, 2014 government forces advanced upon the town in a three-directional pincer operation from the north, west, and south, and theoretically should have been able to cut off al-Nusra’s western escape route to Douma. But the Army admits now that the extent of Adra’s underground tunnels was previously unknown to them. Some of these trenches and tunnels appeared to be at least one-half mile in length and approximately 14 feet deep by 10 feet wide. One trench the army showed to visitors is connected at the end with a tunnel approximately ¾ mile long. It was probably predictable that rebels would attempt an escape to Douma, still under Islamist control, but no one expected it to happen as quickly as it did. As we toured the area, some soldiers involved in the fight, as well as the Army’s public information officer, “Talal,” a friendly and conscientious Syrian patriot, expressed surprise to this observer over the unpredicted and fast exist by al-Nusra.

The tunnels constructed by the group and its disparate gathering of Islamists from outside Syria are not quite up to the standards of Hezbollah’s south Lebanon and Bekaa tunnels, a half-dozen of which this observer has visited. Nor, apparently, are they up to the standards of the Hamas tunnels which so vexed and aggrieved the Zionist aggressors this past summer. Nonetheless, they are equipped with phone wires, water, bathrooms and electricity as well as areas for cooking, dormitories and IED and bomb-making shops. And in the trenches, which are quite large, one finds transport vehicles such as trucks and minibuses, as well as artillery launchers and 50mm guns mounted on pick-ups. From inside one of the tunnels, the Army confiscated a large cache of weapons, ammunition, mobile devices, and chemicals to make chlorine gas. A Syrian lady friend observed a woman’s bag in the back of one the trucks, perhaps belonging to one of the hostages who were forced to leave in hurry or perhaps it belonged to a woman linked to one of the foreign fighters who tend to acquire a jihadi or slave wife (s) and family. In any case, scattered diapers suggest some babies were born to the Islamists during their occupation of Adra as well.

Not all the tunnels were complete; in fact some were still under construction, and inside one of them more than 50 five-gallon buckets were found. The buckets were all filled with chipped rock—as if the jihadists’ tunnel-digging work had been abruptly interrupted. One Islamist sympathizer explained to this observer that al-Nusra and Da’ish (IS) are the best at building “Iranian model” tunnels because, unlike Hezbollah and Hamas Islamists, who Tehran trains, Syrian Islamists have to adapt their construction techniques. This means building tunnels and trenches very quickly and through solid rock—a much more difficult process than simply hollowing out packed sand, the predominant medium at certain tunnel locations in Gaza and some part of Lebanon.

The occupation of Adra al-Omalia lasted nearly ten months, commencing in December 11, 2013, when fighters from al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, another jihadi group, captured the main employee residential complex, using an old sewer to outflank government forces. Many apartments in the area were quickly burned or gutted with grenades or other explosive devices, the reasoning being that jihadists believed the residents loyal to the government.

What quickly took place was a massacre, and many eyewitness accounts of the events are now surfacing. Mazhar Ibraheem is a doctor originally from the Tartus countryside who has lived in Adra for the past several years and who recalls what happened as the militants infiltrated into the city last December:

“Since the earlier hours of that day, I had heard the crackle of gunfire in front of my house that is in front of a bakery. Then I realized that it was fire being exchanged between the militants and the bakery guards. I escaped with my wife and my daughter, Kristin, to a nearby shelter, where dozens of residents were hiding. Then the armed men found the shelter; they started torturing, killing and investigating, and demanding to know who supports the regime and who works with the government. The militants cut off the hands of the government workers in order to prevent the resumption of their work and to behead some of them and to torture their bodies in front of the children’s eyes.”

The doctor also described the horrific scenes that he, with his family, saw of decomposed, tortured and beheaded bodies, which were thrown all over the streets. His wife said that,

“The armed men were non-Syrians. We lived terrible days, before we could escape with only the clothes that we wore.”

She added:

“We woke up at dawn with the sound of bullets… we saw men carrying black flags of Jaish al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusra. Some of them were singing ‘Alawites we have come to cut off your heads’ song, and this was the song they first sang at the start of the war in Idlib.”

Another eyewitness described the grisly events of later that day:

“The rebels began to attack the government centers, and attacked the police station—where all the policemen were killed after only a brief clash because of the large numbers of the attackers. They (the attackers) then headed to the checkpoint located on the edge of the city before moving to the clinic, where they slaughtered one from the medical staff and put his head in the popular market. They then dragged his body in front of townspeople who gathered to see what was happening. Bakery workers who resisted their machinery being taken away were roasted in their own oven. Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic Front fighters went from house to house with a list of names and none of those taken away then has been seen since.”

When the Syrian army would try to enter Adra the Jihadists would throw women and children from the 20,000 people it captured off the top floors in front of the army.

This observer’s friend, the award winning journalist Patrick Cockburn, published an account of the sheer terror experienced by one Adra family—the Mhala family. The story appeared in the UK Independent on February 9, 2014 and also in Counterpunch.  Mr. Nusair Mahla, a government employee, described to Cockburn the last minutes of the life of his sister, Maysoun Mhala, who was an engineer who used to help families who were displaced by the fighting. It was on December 11, 2013 that the family decided to blow themselves up in their home, including their children Karim and Bishr, as al-Nusra Islamists broke through the door of their dwelling. Earlier that day, Nusair was able to telephone his sister Maysoun, who already at that time could see the militants in the street. “They look so terrifying, and I am afraid,” she told him.

“I was looking out the window and I saw the terrorists kill one of the NDF [pro-government National Defense Force militia] with a big knife.”

Maysoun went on to explain to Nusair that she and her husband, Nizar, planned to try and wedge the door of their apartment shut, but that if this failed and the jihadis broke in, then the whole family had taken a momentous resolution: rather than face torture and inevitable death at the hands of al-Nusra, they would die as a family by detonating grenades. As the Islamists kicked in the door, the family detonated the explosives, killing the father and two sons and blowing the leg off Maysoun. The rebels then dragged Maysoun’s body behind a car around the neighborhood.

On 9/25/14, the day this observer spent in Adra, Nusair, the brother of Maysouon Mhala explained that the four bodies of his family members were found in the apartment the day before and had been “buried decently”.  Stories from Adra residents who survived suggest that the same people who helped the Hasan family, also helped al Nusra to get inside their building. In times of danger some citizens seek to survive via dual and desperately shifting loyalties.

Cockburn isn’t the only one who has reported on the Mhala family’s tragic destruction. Their story was also alluded to by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, in a speech at the opening of the Geneva II Conference on January 22, 2014 in Montreux, Switzerland:

Under the name of a ‘revolution,’ we see a father that is killing himself and his family so he would save them from strangers entering his house. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, and most of you here are fathers of children. Imagine the feeling of a father when he has to kill his own family with his own hand to protect them from monsters that take the form of people and pretend that they are fighting for freedom. This is what happened in Adra. Adra—I think nobody of you have heard of it. Strangers came in. They killed and burnt people. You have not heard anything about it, but probably you have heard about other places where the same thing happened as happened in Adra, and they have accused the state and the Syrian Army. However, when no one could believe this lie any more, they stopped saying anything about it. This is what is being done by states who are the first attackers on Syria after they put aside others who were trying to take the leadership of the country through influence and money, this by using the horrible Wahhabi thought that is being spread in Syria. From this rostrum I tell you, you know, as I know, that it will not stop in Syria.

A video of Muallem’s full speech is available here.

The section on what took place in Adra begins at about 7:24. At about 22:19, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attempts to cut the Syrian foreign minister off, saying he has exceeded his time limit. Muallem’s speech was later denounced by the State Department’s Jen Psaki as “inflammatory.”

Let Ban Ki-moon and Psaki come to Adra.

Visitors arriving in Adra now see widespread damage to buildings from the warring parties. Army units will take the next few weeks to comb the city and remove explosive devices and car bombs, often found planted in parks and squares and at entrances to buildings.

As this observer was meandering along some streets within the just-liberated area, he stumbled, almost literally, upon the remains of a dozen fighters along the side of a destroyed truck. He reported the shocking discovery to some soldiers, standing on their tanks nearby, who then called an officer over. The bodies appeared to have been in the same spot for many months, maybe soldiers lined up and machine gunned. Their skin was baked dry, leathery, like what one sees in photos of mummies. Someone had covered them a long time ago with blankets or sheets that were now caked with thick dust and oil soaked.  All wore military uniforms and a few had rings on their fingers and their hair appeared baked and brittle–maybe by months in the hot sun, one soldier speculated.

The site was more than a little numbing, but due to the priority of Army engineers in searching for booby traps—and due to the fact that the bodies themselves could be booby-trapped—the corpses could not be removed immediately. Later on that same day, however, as it began getting dark and I and my friend were preparing to return to Damascus, I made a point to check the area again, this time relieved to see two ambulances parked nearby—and that the bodies had finally been removed.

In taking Adra al-Omalia and expelling the armed militants from it, the Syrian Army has made a significant gain. The government now controls International Highway 5, which connects to Jordan in the south, runs north up through Damascus to Aleppo and Turkey.

It remains to be seen how soon the terrorized residents can return to their homes and begin rebuilding their lives.

Source: Al-Manar Website

01-10-2014 – 09:52 Last updated 01-10-2014 – 9:52

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Syria: Engaging the Opposition with More than Weapons

Franklin Lamb

Al-Manar

Tadmon and Kafr Sousa neighborhoods, Damascus

Damascus CountrysideTo my knowledge this observer has never been-nor likely ever will be-accused of being particularly astute and certainly not the least bit prescient.  Yet, the more Syrians I meet in Damascus neighborhoods –seemingly from a fairly broad spectrum of political views, I am changing some earlier assumptions and tentative judgments about ’”this interminable Syrian war.”  While any sort of a timetable to end this horror is not yet discernible, the beginnings of putting much of it behind this ten millennia birthplace of civilization may be fairly imminent.

Eighteen months ago, more than a dozen neighborhoods in the Damascus suburbs were engaged in moderate to intense fighting between rebels and the Syrian army. Today, only four neighborhoods are under fairly heavy fire, Jobar, Daraya, al-Qabun and Yarmouk.  In most of the others, the government and rebels appear to be seeking an accommodation of sorts.

Residents from Tadmon as well as some Damascus University students offered this observer some examples of how both sides of the civil war are trying to work positively with their sworn enemies despite the conflict approaching its fourth year.

One major quality of life necessity is electricity in our homes. Supplying power to its areas is a major concern of both sides in this conflict. Frankly even the current Syrian system appears far better than in Lebanon which regularly sees road blockades and burning of tires to protest the nearly half century of incompetence and indifference of politicians in delivering as few as six hours of daily electricity and that depending on which area and which confession controls relevant cabinet ministries.  In these days of civil war in Syria the government delivers power two hours on and two hours off and full power during the night from 10 pm to 10 a.m.  Not too bad by Levant standards.  Even rebel groups in an increasingly number of neighborhoods, and to a lesser extent in the countryside, get government power. In some rebel neighborhoods electricity is being delivered to residents 24/7.  This is achieved by militia stealing power via cables they run to other neighborhoods.

They quite often seem to get away with it but occasionally they fight among themselves as happened earlier this month in Al Qudsayya when a dozen or so Nusra fighters routed around 50 FSA types caught hooking up wires under neighborhood buildings. Nusra and the FSA fight over a myriad of issues and especially over high-rise buildings.  Tall buildings are at a premium for obvious reasons including being desirable for sniper nests and mortar launchings.  Many neighborhood clashes occur in full view of army checkpoints that control neighborhood egress.  Whether or not the army has orders not to interfere or engage with militias, they reportedly often do.  Militia and army commanders, if not on exactly friendly terms, sometimes meet and parley as deemed necessary in an effort to create and maintain neighborhood peace. This practice appears to work for the benefit of both sides and is reportedly spreading, particularly around Damascus.

When rebel factions fight one another, as they often do and endanger a neighborhood, the army appears increasingly ready to will “mediate.”  If their orders to end the residents endangering fight are not immediately followed the army can and often does cut power to all sides until they receive pledges to honor the governments ‘recommendations.”

Rebel and government “contracts” as the locals call them, cover many subjects, some seemingly odd if not very bizarre.  One example. As news reports suggest the government’s policy is to pacify the neighborhoods so refugees can return and it has made remarkably progress around Damascus despite an increase in rebel mortar firings into Damascus from approximately 6 per day a year ago to as many as 23 per day currently.

It is reported on good authority from eyewitnesses, that certain army checkpoints  will actually allow armed militiamen to  pass through army checkpoints freely if they will head to Jobar or Duraya or other ‘fighting fields”  to challenge the army there and keep local peace in their local community.  Some do.  Last week, according to a student who lives in al-Qabun, there was a potentially serious problem but it was solved at one of the periodic meetings between rebel leaders and army officers. The unusual problem was that when a dozen or so rebels headed to the army checkpoint to go fight the same army near Jobar they were observed carrying two AK-47’s each.  The local army commander was livid because by the expressed terms of an earlier agreement each rebel fighter could only safely pass and return through the neighborhood army checkpoint if he was carrying only one AK.  The rebels protested complaining that they need two, always fight with two and it was no big deal for the army to let them pass. The army insisted on only one AK-47 per rebel fighter and threatened to not only stop rebels from exiting and entering their neighborhood but that if they did not keep the earlier agreement the army would attack the rebel positions, presumably with artillery or airstrikes.  This caused panic among the local civilians, many of whom have relatives in the FSA, Nusra, and even Da’ish. Long story made short, the rebels listened to their parents and relatives as well as to the reasoning of the army and finally agreed that they would carry only one AK-47 each thru the army checkpoints on route to fight the army a few kilometers away. According to two eyewitnesses to these events, all sides shook hands at the checkpoint as the rebels handed their second AK-47’s to the army for “safe keeping.”  An unwritten rule between the army and their sworn enemies en route to try to kill them is that if the rebel gets killed the army checkpoint guys gets to keep his weapon. This is not to say the army and the rebels are in league, but the Syrian government is working to secure the neighborhoods and does not want to resort to bombing if they can obtain their objectives by other means. One hears of many ‘contracts’ being made among sworn enemies around Syria in order to try to end this slaughter.

Another brief example.  Last week saw the doors of 17,486 of Syria’s  22,192  public schools open their doors. This according to Dr. Farah al-Mutlak, Deputy Minister of Education of the SAR, who generously gave this observer his time to discuss the current challenges for children in Syria. The gap of approximately 4,500 schools between the above figures is caused by the fact that 2,613 of Syrian schools, as of opening day were controlled by rebels including Da’ish.  688 former schools are now being used to house homeless refugees, 1,385 are war damaged and currently can’t be used. The figure was higher but over the past year the government has been able to repair 435.  In addition, approximately 128,000 children are attending “school clubs” in particularly volatile areas of Syria. This year alone, 72,000 children in Syria and 587,000 child refugees have received psychosocial support.

Excited and sometimes apprehensive children by the thousands are arriving for the new school year and according to Janet Hasan, Principal of the Salahedine Primary and Middle School in the Mezzeh neighborhood of central Damascus which was among those this observer visited, her school which normally teaches 600 girls now has 1,436. Class size has traditionally been 30 students of average.  Today class size at Salahedine School is 60 students per class.

94% of last years graduating class at Sahahedine public school passed their Baccalaureate exams opening the doors to university and higher education.

Yet despite severe overcrowding the classes appear very well organized and when the results of last June’s Baccalaureate were announced 94% of Principal Hassan’s students passed.    According to dedicated educator Hasan and some of her faculty this observer meet with,  due to the crisis attending school is enormously important for the children to experience at least some love and normalcy with peers and authority figures while learning about more than  only the obvious effects of war on their lives.

Principal Janet Hasan, with her dedicated faculty is working to normalize her school while inspiring her 1,400 students during the current conflict…

If militias are in control  of an area with a public school,  efforts are being made by both parties to keep it peaceful and toward this goal the government and the militia, “cooperate” with the exception of Da’ish (IS) who have set up essentially Madrassas that do not teach anything  much at all-but memorizing the Koran.  Da’ish forbids teaching music, dancing, studying philosophy, western literature or other ‘secular subjects.’   Al Nusra does not, unlike Da’ish, insist on a Madrassa type education in public schools which so far are a big success this new year and working to the benefit of the children and their exhausted and often destitute families.

Virtually every educator, government official and critic of the Assad regime with whom this observer has discussed what the Syrian government is doing to provide quality education for youngsters these days  have agreed that all sides, except Da’ish, are trying at different levels to cooperate to help Syria’s cherished youth. All also express abhorrence at what is happening to Syrian school children forced to take refuge in Lebanon. In Lebanon, there’s simply no space in many schools nor much political will left to help Syrian or Palestinian refugees plus the education system is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of child refugees. Around 80 percent of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon don’t attend school, according to Save the Children and UNHCR.

One positive sign is that partly due to the Syrian Ministry of Education seeking international help, more than $316m was pledged this week, according to Dr. al-Mutlak, to support Syrian children affected by the conflict.  This assistance is part of a UN-led initiative to alleviate the impact of the crisis on young people. Despite this wonderful and much needed help a funding gap of more than $ 200 million remains.

Another issue that both sides are trying to resolve at citizens request is to open the neighborhoods on the weekends so residents can move around.  Currently in as many as a dozen Damascene neighborhoods  the rebels prevent residents from leaving their area on Friday because they believe they should pray and stay at home.  Some militias close the neighborhoods they control during both Friday and Saturday. Both sides have indicated that a mutually agreed resolution may be near so residents can head to the beautiful parks and old city for sightseeing or visit friends and family.

There is growing evidence here that the government and the rebels are trying to collaborate in various ways in order to save and entire generation of their children from being denied education due to the ravages of ongoing civil war. This massive catastrophe for Syria and the region can be ended if the above noted trend continues.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-leb.com).

Source: Al-Manar Website

27-09-2014 – 17:16 Last updated 27-09-2014 – 7:16

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So called “Free Syrian Army” are neither free, Syrian or an army

As for the Free Syrian Army, now dubbed by some in the Obama Administration as the “National Coalition—kind of like the National Guard”—it is viewed by many here as corrupt, manned to a large extent by lowlifes and thieves. The “Free Syrian Army,” as one pithy adage has it, is neither free, nor Syrian, nor an army. And at least in Barzeh (Damascus suburb), at any rate, it is also viewed as being for sale to the highest bidder.

Franklin Lamb 

Changes are underway in Damascus’s suburban neighborhoods. In some of these neighborhoods there are few families’ left—only fighters. But in others, residents are trickling back in (or in some cases never even left) despite the danger. Here in these areas, those who have chosen the armed opposition route fall are grouped roughly in the following percentiles: 70% FSA, 25% Al Nursa, and, as of now, relatively few, Da’ish (IS).

During meetings with young men from the Barzeh neighborhood, an area maybe five blocks by eight blocks, this observer learned of approximately 700 FSA fighters in the neighborhood, 110 from al Nursa, compared with only 7 or 8 Da’ish fighters. The latter do not appear very active in community matters, but reportedly keep their eyes peeled watching what the other militia are up to. Even so, Dai’sh still recruits and sends applicants to other locations for military training, this while promising that within two months the Islamic State will attack central Damascus.

At the same time, desertions among the rebels are reportedly on the upswing in these areas, and some of the FSA and al-Nusra fighters are splitting off to join Da’ish. It seems that some of these young militia members—pretty much like youngsters everywhere—simply want to play for a ‘winning team’ or in the ‘big leagues,’ and Da’ish is still a strong magnet for ‘tryouts.’ Al-Nusra and Da’ish fighters both claim they are eager to fight Hezbollah—and Western forces—who they believe will show up sooner or later. And many of them exhibit an attitude similar to that of a European jihadist who recently remarked to this observer, “Let’s get it on. And the world will itself judge who are the best fighters, we who believe in Allah or the kuffers (disbelievers).”

Another disturbing attitude, all too frequently expressed in Damascene neighborhoods, is the desire of many of these young men, many of them from “good” families, to sacrifice themselves and become martyrs to their various causes. Residents report that some of the most promising students—majoring in subjects like medicine, law, engineering, computer science, business and other professions—are disaffected and see no future for themselves. And while many are deeply religious, a surprising number appear not to be.

Overwhelmingly the rebels come from areas where outsiders are few. This observer’s friend of more than three years, whose name I withhold for his security, has lived most of his life in Barzeh and knows many of the militia guys. He reports that currently there are only two foreign fighters in Barzeh, one from Algeria and the other from Saudi Arabia. And he expressed shock to me that a friend of his from childhood—who joined al-Nusra 18 months ago and had since become one of its local leaders—had suddenly disappeared. A few days later, my friend got a ‘what’s up’ message from Turkey and learned that his friend had shaved his beard, changed his style of clothing, and left Barzeh without telling anyone. Now he reports that he wears shorts and swims during the day on the Turkish coast and no longer has any desire to fight anyone.

Many among al Nusra and other rebel groups, it seems, are trying to leave Syria and go somewhere, anywhere, that might offer them a positive future of some sort—because they see the war in Syria as being a long one. And in this respect they are no different from the war-weary, exhausted, traumatized Syrian population in general. With very few jobs and nearly ten million displaced from their homes—and with some 3 million living as refugees in neighboring countries—what one finds here on the one hand is a growing desire to get out, to establish, sadly, a new life elsewhere, in a land other than the one they most love. Yet on the other, significant numbers of fairly hard-core al-Nusra fighters, as noted above, are quitting that militia in order to join the winning team—Da’ish. It is a combination of social factors pointing to what the Iranians have already made note of: that Obama’s strategy of trying to fight Da’ish and the Syrian government at the same time is probably doomed to failure.

Some Syrian analysts, whose views this observer credits, identify two trends that appear to be developing in Syrian neighborhoods controlled by violent militia. One is the growing resistance by the local population to being intimidated and abused by the occupying gunmen—while another is the role the Syrian government is playing in engaging in dialog, usually privately, with the rebels, and offering what some locals here refer to as “contracts.” These are proposals of ceasefires of varying scope in order to help give some hope and help to the increasingly besieged population.

Also, neighborhood attitudes toward militia in areas around Damascus are dramatically changing. This observer is advised by fighters from Barzeh that as recently as 12-18 months ago, maybe 80% of the citizens supported the FSA, while some backed al Nusra or other groups. Today militia support is estimated at less than 40%—and dwindling. Even those who still back the armed gangs are weaker in their support and no longer respect the militia or defer to them as before. Increasingly neighborhood residents are confronting the rebels on neighborhood streets via ‘citizen committees.’ They are showing up at rebel checkpoints or headquarters to complain or demand respect and an end to arbitrary street “justice.” Reasons for this include abhorrence of brutality, exhaustion, disillusionment, as well as demonstrable efforts by the Syrian government to increase and maintain services while trying to make important and long overdue changes. Even many rebels are said to credit the government for its willingness to be flexible and to make “contracts” with them to improve the lives of the besieged population.

For example, when families return to their homes after having fled, nearly all find that their flats have been broken into and personal property stolen, and they sometimes discover some of their stolen items being sold in neighborhood ‘jihadist souks.’ According to one resident of Barzeh, computers and plasma TV’s are among the most commonly stolen property. By contrast, “neighborhood watch” citizen groups seek the return of stolen goods and demand that the militias stop the thievery.

Also people are increasingly calling for a return to Syrian secularism, and they may actually be making some progress on this point. Unlike Da’ish, al Nursa does not insist that people attend a mosque for prayers—while the FSA is relatively secular. Nursa does require that women wear hijabs in neighborhoods under its control, and the first two times a woman is caught without one she is issued a warning. The third time she risks a public whipping. This observer is advised that many younger women, despite the risks, will remove their head scarves the moment they cross out of rebel-held areas, sometimes in plain view of those manning the checkpoints, leaving the neighborhood at this point, traveling to downtown Damascus for work or other purposes. It’s not dissimilar actually to what one finds among many Iranian women, particularly students at Tehran University, who openly admit, often with grins, to giving the local “morality police” a hard time when demands—for instance to adjust their headscarves so as to reduce the amount of hair visible—are made by roving “purists.”

As for the Free Syrian Army, now dubbed by some in the Obama Administration as the “National Coalition—kind of like the National Guard”—it is viewed by many here as corrupt, manned to a large extent by lowlifes and thieves. The “Free Syrian Army,” as one pithy adage has it, is neither free, nor Syrian, nor an army. And at least in Barzeh, at any rate, it is also viewed as being for sale to the highest bidder. Moreover, the residents here, though increasingly vocal about jihadist militias, seem to hold actually more respect for al-Nusra, despite its Islamist extremism, than for the Western-backed FSA.

Late word just received by this observer from his friend, the aforementioned son of Barzeh: yesterday he, too, snuck across the Syrian-Turkey border in search of a new life-somewhere until peace returns to his beloved Syria.

Da’ish (IS), FSA and al Nursa Compete for Dwindling Support

 Barzeh neighborhood, Damascus
by FRANKLIN LAMB

Syria, map of DamascusChanges are underway in Damascus’s suburban neighborhoods. In some of these neighborhoods there are few families’ left—only fighters. But in others, residents are trickling back in (or in some cases never even left) despite the danger. Here in these areas, those who have chosen the armed opposition route fall are grouped roughly in the following percentiles: 70% FSA, 25% Al Nursa, and, as of now, relatively few, Da’ish (IS).

During meetings with young men from the Barzeh neighborhood, an area maybe five blocks by eight blocks, this observer learned of approximately 700 FSA fighters in the neighborhood, 110 from al Nursa, compared with only 7 or 8 Da’ish fighters. The latter do not appear very active in community matters, but reportedly keep their eyes peeled watching what the other militia are up to. Even so, Dai’sh still recruits and sends applicants to other locations for military training, this while promising that within two months the Islamic State will attack central Damascus.

At the same time, desertions among the rebels are reportedly on the upswing in these areas, and some of the FSA and al-Nusra fighters are splitting off to join Da’ish. It seems that some of these young militia members—pretty much like youngsters everywhere—simply want to play for a ‘winning team’ or in the ‘big leagues,’ and Da’ish is still a strong magnet for ‘tryouts.’ Al-Nusra and Da’ish fighters both claim they are eager to fight Hezbollah—and Western forces—who they believe will show up sooner or later. And many of them exhibit an attitude similar to that of a European jihadist who recently remarked to this observer, “Let’s get it on. And the world will itself judge who are the best fighters, we who believe in Allah or the kuffers (disbelievers).”

Another disturbing attitude, all too frequently expressed in Damascene neighborhoods, is the desire of many of these young men, many of them from “good” families, to sacrifice themselves and become martyrs to their various causes. Residents report that some of the most promising students—majoring in subjects like medicine, law, engineering, computer science, business and other professions—are disaffected and see no future for themselves. And while many are deeply religious, a surprising number appear not to be.

Overwhelmingly the rebels come from areas where outsiders are few. This observer’s friend of more than three years, whose name I withhold for his security, has lived most of his life in Barzeh and knows many of the militia guys. He reports that currently there are only two foreign fighters in Barzeh, one from Algeria and the other from Saudi Arabia. And he expressed shock to me that a friend of his from childhood—who joined al-Nusra 18 months ago and had since become one of its local leaders—had suddenly disappeared. A few days later, my friend got a ‘what’s up’ message from Turkey and learned that his friend had shaved his beard, changed his style of clothing, and left Barzeh without telling anyone. Now he reports that he wears shorts and swims during the day on the Turkish coast and no longer has any desire to fight anyone.

Many among al Nusra and other rebel groups, it seems, are trying to leave Syria and go somewhere, anywhere, that might offer them a positive future of some sort—because they see the war in Syria as being a long one. And in this respect they are no different from the war-weary, exhausted, traumatized Syrian population in general. With very few jobs and nearly ten million displaced from their homes—and with some 3 million living as refugees in neighboring countries—what one finds here on the one hand is a growing desire to get out, to establish, sadly, a new life elsewhere, in a land other than the one they most love. Yet on the other, significant numbers of fairly hard-core al-Nusra fighters, as noted above, are quitting that militia in order to join the winning team—Da’ish. It is a combination of social factors pointing to what the Iranians have already made note of: that Obama’s strategy of trying to fight Da’ish and the Syrian government at the same time is probably doomed to failure.

Some Syrian analysts, whose views this observer credits, identify two trends that appear to be developing in Syrian neighborhoods controlled by violent militia. One is the growing resistance by the local population to being intimidated and abused by the occupying gunmen—while another is the role the Syrian government is playing in engaging in dialog, usually privately, with the rebels, and offering what some locals here refer to as “contracts.” These are proposals of ceasefires of varying scope in order to help give some hope and help to the increasingly besieged population.

Also, neighborhood attitudes toward militia in areas around Damascus are dramatically changing. This observer is advised by fighters from Barzeh that as recently as 12-18 months ago, maybe 80% of the citizens supported the FSA, while some backed al Nusra or other groups. Today militia support is estimated at less than 40%—and dwindling. Even those who still back the armed gangs are weaker in their support and no longer respect the militia or defer to them as before. Increasingly neighborhood residents are confronting the rebels on neighborhood streets via ‘citizen committees.’ They are showing up at rebel checkpoints or headquarters to complain or demand respect and an end to arbitrary street “justice.” Reasons for this include abhorrence of brutality, exhaustion, disillusionment, as well as demonstrable efforts by the Syrian government to increase and maintain services while trying to make important and long overdue changes. Even many rebels are said to credit the government for its willingness to be flexible and to make “contracts” with them to improve the lives of the besieged population.

For example, when families return to their homes after having fled, nearly all find that their flats have been broken into and personal property stolen, and they sometimes discover some of their stolen items being sold in neighborhood ‘jihadist souks.’ According to one resident of Barzeh, computers and plasma TV’s are among the most commonly stolen property. By contrast, “neighborhood watch” citizen groups seek the return of stolen goods and demand that the militias stop the thievery.

Also people are increasingly calling for a return to Syrian secularism, and they may actually be making some progress on this point. Unlike Da’ish, al Nursa does not insist that people attend a mosque for prayers—while the FSA is relatively secular. Nursa does require that women wear hijabs in neighborhoods under its control, and the first two times a woman is caught without one she is issued a warning. The third time she risks a public whipping. This observer is advised that many younger women, despite the risks, will remove their head scarves the moment they cross out of rebel-held areas, sometimes in plain view of those manning the checkpoints, leaving the neighborhood at this point, traveling to downtown Damascus for work or other purposes. It’s not dissimilar actually to what one finds among many Iranian women, particularly students at Tehran University, who openly admit, often with grins, to giving the local “morality police” a hard time when demands—for instance to adjust their headscarves so as to reduce the amount of hair visible—are made by roving “purists.”

As for the Free Syrian Army, now dubbed by some in the Obama Administration as the “National Coalition—kind of like the National Guard”—it is viewed by many here as corrupt, manned to a large extent by lowlifes and thieves. The “Free Syrian Army,” as one pithy adage has it, is neither free, nor Syrian, nor an army. And at least in Barzeh, at any rate, it is also viewed as being for sale to the highest bidder. Moreover, the residents here, though increasingly vocal about jihadist militias, seem to hold actually more respect for al-Nusra, despite its Islamist extremism, than for the Western-backed FSA.

Late word just received by this observer from his friend, the aforementioned son of Barzeh: yesterday he, too, snuck across the Syrian-Turkey border in search of a new life-somewhere until peace returns to his beloved Syria.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com). 

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

32 Years after the Sabra-Shatila Massacre

Al-Manar

Franklin Lamb

Shatila Camp

They are beginning to arrive at Shatila Palestinian camp in Beirut this weekend.

“They” being people of good will from around the world, many of whom annually visit Martyr’s Square in Shatila as well as some of Lebanon’s 11 other Palestinian Refugee Camps. It is the 32nd anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and commemorative events are scheduled all next week.

The arrivals will find the camps overflowing even more so than usual, for this year they hold most of the approximately 90,000 Palestinian refugees who have been forced to flee the fighting in Syria. Just last month, 378 more Palestinians fled Yarmouk, Syria’s largest camp, due to clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposing his rule. Reportedly, the latest exiles diverted themselves to Turkey since Lebanon; in flagrant violation of International humanitarian law now bars Palestinians escaping the violence in Syria.

Established during the Nakba 66 years ago, the Palestinian camps in Lebanon—initially intended as “temporary”—have undergone a 400% population increase over the years, and today they are literally overflowing with nearly a quarter of a million desperate Palestinians and Syrians.

Palestinians have tried to stay out of the Syrian conflict, but some young men are increasingly being heavily lobbied by various pro and antigovernment militia. One particularly aggressive recruitment program is that run by IS, or DA’ISH. Sinister forces know that in Lebanon, unlike in the other 197 UN-member states,

Palestinians are not allowed basic civil rights, including the right to work or own a home. Barred from employment in nearly 70 professions, Palestinians are denied rights that are even granted to foreign nationals arriving in Lebanon for the first time.

Be that as it may, international guests come to Lebanon at this time each year to pay tribute to the approximately 3,500 civilians who were slaughtered or ‘disappeared’ in the massacre orchestrated and overseen by Israel’s military under the command of Ariel Sharon. Though certainly an historical event that stands out in many people’s minds, the Sabra-Shatila butchery was in reality only one of more than 60 massacres carried out against Palestinian civilians by a 19th century colonial enterprise whose settlers still occupy stolen homes and lands.

A partial list of the genocidal bloodlettings of the past would include the following:

  • Qibya (1953), (where 70% of the victims were women and children, and, like Gaza this summer, schools and mosques as well as civilian homes were specifically targeted)
  • Khan Yunis (1956)
  • Rafah (1956)
  • Cave of the Patriarchs (1994)
  • Al-Khisas, Safed (1947),
  • Balad al-Shaykh, Haifa (1947)
  • Jaffa Town Hall (1948)
  • Sa’sa, Safed (1948)
  • Al-Husayniyya, Safed (1948)
  • Deir Yassin, Jerusalem, (1948)
  • Ein al Zeitun, Safed (1948)
  •  Lydda (1948)
  • Al-Kabri, Acre (1948)
  • Tantura, Haifa (1948)
  • Arab Suqrir, Gaza (1948)
  • Al-Dawayima, Hebron (1948)
  • Safsaf, Safed (1948) (70 people executed)
  • Eilabun, Tiberias (1948)
  • Hula, Lebanon,(1948)
  • Arab al-Mawasi, Tiberias, (1948)

In addition to the above, there have been more than ten massacres in Lebanon, including two in Qana (1996 & 2006), and a second one in Hula (2006). All have been documented by international scholars, including some Israelis, while some have been documented by UN agencies and NGO’s.

The international supporters of Palestine who arrive this weekend and next week will have a full schedule. They will meet with Palestinian NGO’s, listen to eyewitness accounts from Gaza, including from Al-Shifa Hospital, the medical facility that was at ground zero in the latest Zionist aggression. They will also hear a report on the US Israeli lobby, which seems  to regard the deaths of  scores of Palestinian children as mere “collateral damage.”

As for the 50-day onslaught against Gaza, a professor at the US Army War College in Washington DC, who teaches at the School of Strategic Land Power,  recently remarked to this observer,

What the Israelis did in Gaza was not collateral damage.” He went on to add:  “As members of the military we are ordered to stay out of politics but I can tell you as professionals most in the Pentagon detest what Israel does with our governments support and US arms. And this has been the case for many years.  The Pentagon regularly supplies those who teach at the War College with data on many military subjects. Recently  received analyses make plain beyond question that  every Israeli commander who ordered these operations in Gaza knew well before the first rocket or tank shell was fired that two thirds of the victims of these ‘operations’ would be women and children. That a huge crime in my book. To claim ‘collateral damage’ is frankly bullshit dished out to the public and Congress.”

The delegations will also take a tour of the Palestinian camps, including a visit to the furthest camp from Palestine—Nahr al Bared, up north near Tripoli—as well as the one closet to the occupied homeland, Al Rashidiyeh, in the south, which during the 1970s intensely resisted the Zionist occupation just a few kilometers away.

Meetings with local politicians will also be on the agenda, as well as with representatives from the resistance spectrum, and Hezbollah will actually host a dinner and facilitate a tour along the northern border of Palestine that will include a visit to the notorious Al Khiam Prison, where Zionist forces paid Lebanese collaborators to jail and torture their own countrymen as well as Palestinians. They will visit the nearby are Fatima Gate and the ‘Maroun el Ras’ garden, providing a view of some of the villages in Occupied Palestine, and where in 2010 Israeli forces killed more than two dozen people —the true owners of the land—during “land day” solidarity celebrations on the Lebanese side of the ‘blue line’.

The highlight of the week’s activities will include a meeting with families of the Sabra-Shatila survivors. Many of these survivors have, over the years, become good friends with the returning visitors, and there are often mutual hugs and tears at the large public gathering at Martyr’s Square on the edge of Shatila Camp. Below where they will gather rests the remains of hundreds of civilians—men women and children—Palestinian, Lebanese and foreigners—all butchered during the more than 43 hours of non-stop slaughter carried out during the night under Israeli fired flares.

What most will not examine, and likely will not even be aware of, is the increasing anger and frustration in the camps, particularly among the young. Palestinians are very sophisticated politically. Some say they get sound insights with their mother’s milk. Others will tell observers that it has become genetic, that they have the ability to grasp instantly the difference between those who only claim to be supporters of the resistance but do little and those who genuinely are.

The history of liberty and human rights is the history of resistance. It is resistance—in 1000 forms if necessary—and nothing else, that will achieve full return for Palestine’s legitimate inhabitants. Who in Lebanon will make a genuine effort to support that resistance and achieve elementary civil rights from Parliament for Palestinian refugees in the coming months is not clear.

 But one thing is certain: the resistance will continue. It will continue because there is something sacred about it, because for those who have experienced displacement and occupation, the land never ceases beckoning to them. Or as Franz Fanon put it, 

“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

Compare Fanon’s words to those of David Ben Gurion, who said in 1948:

“We must do everything to insure they (the Palestinians) never do return.” 

Assuring his fellow Zionists they had nothing to worry about on that score, Ben Gurion added,

 “The old will die and the young will forget.”

Of the two, Fanon is clearly the more astute observer of human nature.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

Did Israel Offer ISIS $10 Million to Free Steven Sotloff?

Franklin Lamb

Though details are not yet fully known to this observer, reliable sources who have contact with DAASH report that the Islamic State rejected frantic Mossad efforts to buy the release of American journalist Steven Joel Sotloff.

SotloffThis much is credited with a fair amount of certainty. On 8/1/13 Steven Sotloff, born and raised in Florida, checked into Room 303 of the Hotel Istanbul in the small border town of Kilis in southern Turkey. Three days later on 8/4/13, shortly after checking out of the hotel and heading to the border to take the Kilis-Aleppos highway south into Syria, Mr. Sotloff and his “fixer” were abducted at a check point manned by unknown jihadists.

Ben Taub, an acquaintance who met Sotloff in Kilis and whose account of that meeting is reported in the Daily Beast, describes a conversation the two had over beer in the town’s only bar.

“Sotloff told me he was sick of being beaten up, and shot at, and accused of being an Israeli spy. Just the day before, Turkish police had hit and pepper-sprayed him for taking pictures at a protest in a nearby city. He told me he wanted to quit reporting for a little while, at least on (the) conflict in the Middle East, and maybe apply to graduate school back home in Florida. But first he wanted one last Syria run. He said he was chasing a good story…”
What is not reported by Taub, but which is mentioned by my own sources, is that the ‘fixer’ set the American journalist up and sold him for cash to rebels fighting the Assad regime. The ‘fixer’ is also accused of stealing, nearly nine months later, the Mossad ‘down payment’ entrusted to him for delivery to the jihadists holding Mr. Sotloff.

At the same time the US Zionist lobby has been intensively lobbying the Obama administration to bomb IS forces in Iraq and Syria, Israeli agents were reportedly talking with IS about obtaining Mr. Sotloff’s freedom and offering $10 million to DAASH as part of a release deal.

Over the last 48 hours Mr. Sotloff’s ‘fixer’ has reportedly disappeared from public view, and is no doubt himself being hunted and marked for death as Israeli and perhaps American agents track him.

This is not the first time, nor likely will it be the last, that Westerners or others seeking to report on events here—or who simply show up in exciting places to bear witness or do good—have gotten themselves into a fix. New arrivals around here often are unaware that the ‘war economy’ along the Turkish-Syria-Iraq border these days means that just about anything, or anyone, is up for sale at the right price. There is plenty of buyer’s cash available, and that attractively pushes profits up even higher. Even sworn enemies regularly do business—either through agents or sometimes even directly—with criminal gangs and others, and the commodities run the gamut from oil, arms, counterfeit US $ 100 bills, an array of drugs, women, children, would-be jihadists and just about every other tangible asset you can think of—this while simultaneously they fight each other nearby and pledge devotion to Allah and loyalty to “humanity.”

Mr. Sotloff, who was in Libya during June of 2011 and covered parts of the Libyan civil war from Benghazi and Misrata, was accused by the Gadhafi regime of being a Mossad agent.  IS also reportedly had come to believe this is what he was as well, based apparently upon information derived from their prisoner during interrogations, which likely included torture. Mr. Sotloff had lived in Israel from 2005 to 2008, according to Israelis who knew him. He studied for a year at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, a private college north of Tel Aviv, and played on the local Raanana Roosters rugby team. He returned to Israel more recently for at least one visit. It was not clear when he obtained citizenship, but that is relatively easy under Israel’s Law of Return, which encourages Jews from around the world to immigrate.

Steven Sotloff held both American and Israeli citizenships, according to the Zionist Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Times of Israel has reported that Sotloff moved to Israel in 2008 to finish college, and while threre reporting throughout the Middle there he never shared the fact he was Jewish, opting instead to tell them he was a secular Muslim. “He sometimes even chose to tell people that he was of Chechen origin, and that Sotloff –was a Chechen name.

US security analyst Gordon Duff reports that Mr. Sotloff was an IDF veteran. Sotloff’s nationality was kept secret until U.S. and United Kingdom officials verified the authenticity of the ISIS execution video. Governments involved said the secrecy surrounding Sotloff’s Israeli citizenship was necessary to avoid further endangering the journalist’s life while it was in the hands of IS extremists.

Yet, being accused of working for a foreign government these days in this region is not uncommon. This observer has been accused of being a CIA agent while at the same time also of being a supporter of the Lebanese national Resistance led by Hezbollah and Hamas. Many around these parts simply do not understand why someone from a ‘safe and prosperous country’ would be over here if he was not being paid by some government’s security services. Many don’t understand Americans or what patriotism means to most of us.  For a majority of Americans it’s not a question of “My country right or wrong!” as the bleats of the John McCain-Lindsay Graham’s insist.  Rather it’s a question of, as Commodore Stephen Decatur  put in back in April of 1816, having returned from the Barbary Wars in off  Libya,  as some historians argue,  the first post–Revolutionary war hero:  “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; but if wrong, to be set right.”

Americans I cross paths with around the Middle East, love their country, recognize we have many problems of our own back home, but they want to change their governments policies toward this region and to support the Palestinian cause while seeking to end US government complicity in Zionist  crimes against Palestine.

With respect to the claimed Mossad offer, ISIS reportedly balked at the proposal for several reasons, including the one stated publicly, i.e. the US bombings of ISIS fighters in Iraq. But an additional reason, reported to this observer, was the most recent Israeli aggression against Gaza:

“Think of this execution as also a gesture to the Palestinian Gaza Resistance. As the Zionists do not put any value on other than Jewish lives, let them taste justice. No Jew, Christian or Muslim who works for Mossad or who works to confiscate one inch of Arab land will be treated with respect. They will taste Allah’s punishment.”
Was the fact that Mr. Sotloff was Jewish and had written for the Jerusalem Post a factor in his savage murder? Possibly. In today’s Middle East line-up, one’s religion unfortunately is sometimes of paramount importance in determining if one lives or dies.

Accounts from family and friends in Florida suggest that Steven Sotloff was a decent enough man, and he may have been what he appeared to many to be—an individual caught up in a Middle East maelstrom for which few these days are prepared, and in which even fewer—scarcely anyone in fact—ought reasonably indulge themselves in feelings of confidence about their own personal security.

Source: Al-Manar Website

05-09-2014 – 10:56 Last updated 05-09-2014 – 10:58

 

_________________________________________

Dr. Franklin Lamb is Director of the Sabra Shatila Foundation. Contact him at: fplamb@sabrashatila.org. He is working with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign in Lebanon on drafting legislation which, after 62 years, would, if adopted by Lebanon’s Cabinet and Parliament grant the right to work and to own a home to Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugees. One part of the PCRC legislative project is its online Petition which can be viewed and signed at: petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html.

Lamb is reachable at fplamb@palestinecivilrightscampaign.org.

Franklin Lamb’s book on the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, International Legal Responsibility for the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, now out of print, was published in 1983, following Janet’s death and was dedicated to Janet Lee Stevens. He was a witness before the Israeli Kahan Commission Inquiry, held at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in January 1983.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

SOS: Hospital Ships Needed to Save Gaza’s Children

Franklin Lamb

The statistics are just beginning to be analyzed—by UN agencies and a myriad of NGO’s whose mandates include salvaging young lives from the nearly incalculable ravages of the five-week (and counting) Zionist aggression upon Gaza. It is of course the third aggression in six years against the 1.8 million Palestinians, sardine-canned into what is increasingly referred to as history’s largest open air prison, but the outcome this time is looking particularly cruel and grim.

As the Netanyahu regime announced (on 8/10/14) that its attacks on Gaza would continue, increasing numbers of obscene calls—for Israel to “finish the job” and “go all the way” etc.—are floating in the Zionist state’s malodorous public echo-chamber, emanating from such figures as the Knesset’s deputy speaker, who advocates driving Palestinians into the Sinai desert and resettling Gaza with Jews.

In Khuza’a “the Israeli military had trapped at least 32 people in a home and then prevented the Red Cross from evacuating them before shelling the area,” reported Lebanese-American journalist Roqayah Chamseddine. Hoping for safe haven, the people in the house sought refuge in the basement of a neighbor’s home, where they found additional families already inside.

“By that point we were 120 people, 10 men and the rest women and children,” Kamel al-Najjar recalled for Human Rights Watch.

After dawn and without warning (no polite leaflets or knocks on the roof apparently), Israel struck the house, killing three people and wounding 15 others.

The toll of the war on Gaza’s children has been “catastrophic,” according to UN agencies. At least 450 have been killed, and those not having their physical bodies buried have found their innocence entombed. It is another casualty in the war—a war against all things daring to live and resist in Gaza. According to Chamseddine:

child slaughtering

“Israel has forced the children of Gaza to lay flowers atop headstones, and watch helplessly as coffins that are filled with not only their most beloved family members, teachers, neighbors, and friends but also their most treasured memories, lullabies, lessons learned and those that will never come, descend into the belly of the earth. Their lips will memorize and form prayers for the dead and the stars that defied the siege that flickered freely high above them will be snatched from their skies,”

Increasingly it is being heard from Gazans that “Israel has stolen everything beautiful in our lives,” and Israel’s barbarity confirms this sentiment.

Middle East analysts point out that it is difficult to recall a time in modern history when there has been so much sustained slaughter of this region’s civilian population, with more than two-thirds of the victims being women and children. For the past year, UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations have lamented a simple reality—that there is not a sufficient level of international aid to save lives and treat those in need of emergency and longer term medical care.

But now something is changing.

The horrors we have just witnessed, especially with respect to traumas inflicted on children, is producing, as should be the case, a major and rapidly growing international focus on salvaging young lives. Descriptions and evaluations of the consequences of Gaza wars are being published and urgently discussed. Some analysts and government officials, including Pentagon planners, are calling for a ‘Medical Marshall Plan,’ to save Gaza’s children. One proposed first step is the dispatching of a humanitarian support group of hospital ships that would sail to Gaza without further delay.

What can and must be done, by the United States and other countries with the naval and medical capacity to do so, is to organize a Hospital Ship flotilla to break the siege of Gaza, to anchor offshore, and to begin caring for the medical needs of all, with a special focus on children and their psychological well-being. Call it a Mercy Mission. Initially it could include the following countries—all well known for their hospital ships with up-and-running medical staffs: the USA, UK, France, China, Russia, Spain, Argentina, and Australia. Within this group of nations are ships with hundreds of patient beds and fully stocked pharmacies. Moreover, it is a group not likely to be interfered with by those who have imposed the inhumane blockade of Gaza (and of course it even includes some of their collaborators in the region), but perhaps most importantly, every country on the list possesses one or more hospital ships that are fully staffed and available to act.

France is reportedly ready to join such an effort and is also working on a related crisis—in Iraq, where it plans delivery of first aid equipment “in the coming hours,” according to the office of Francois Hollande. The French president has “reaffirmed the will of France to stand by the side of civilian victims of continued attacks” in Iraq, and his spokesmen said that “France will do the same thing for Gaza.”

“The European Union is called upon to also take necessary measures with great urgency to respond to immediate humanitarian needs,” the spokesman added.

Hundreds of EU citizens, with their specialized skills in fields of pediatric medicine and child psychology, are reportedly ready to help the children of Gaza. Two fully stocked and staffed American medical ships, the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort, could contribute greatly to the effort. Each ship’s hospital is a full floating medical treatment facility, containing 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed patient capacity, digital radiological services, medical laboratory, pharmacy, optometry lab, and intensive care ward; each also has a dental clinic with full services, CT scanner, and two oxygen-producing plants.

Helicopter landing decks are available as well, for patient transports, and the ships also have side ports that could take on patients from Gaza fishing boats and other crafts at sea. In addition to these two mammoth-sized medical vessels, dozens of other US Navy ships also have hospitals on board. For example, in one year, the medical department of the USS George Washington handled over 15,000 out-patient visits, drew almost 27,000 lab samples, filled almost 10,000 prescriptions, took about 2,300 x-rays, and performed 65 surgical operations—and nearly 100 other US ships are capable of doing the same.

aid

Just one example with respect to capacity is illustrative. In April of this year,  the USNS Comfort—a converted 70,000-ton tanker—sailed from Norfolk, Virginia carrying 900 doctors, nurses, and engineers, including staff from the U.S. military, civilian agencies, non-government charities, and even foreign navies. The ship is designed to be deployed quickly for four month intensive full service medical assistance; yet similar capacities obtain in certain other US ships and in foreign navies as well. All of these resources must be put to immediate use to save Gaza’s children.

Looking at the longer term, the Pentagon should seriously consider ordering a sufficient number of catamaran transports and shallow-draft littoral ships to fill out the flotilla, vessels capable of delivering aid by sea via the relatively shallow Gaza coastline. The success of breaking the siege of Gaza will likely give impetus to a UN Security Council decision to construct a seaport for Gaza, perhaps with a shipping channel to Cyprus.

Similarly, the UK hospital ship, RFA Argus, designated as a ‘Primary Casualty Receiving Ship,’ is moored in Falmouth, England, and is also uniquely designed for this type of humanitarian crisis; and  it, too, is reportedly ready to sail once given the green light by Downing Street.

RFA argus

Five Hospital ships are urgently needed along Gaza’s shoreline at the following locations: opposite Jabaliya and North Gaza, Gaza City, Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah, as shown in the map below

map

Although attacking a hospital ship is clearly a war crime, the Israeli pattern of targeting medical facilities in Gaza is well known, and threats from the settler movement and the right wing Likud Party to “sink any ship that enters Gaza waters if judged to be aiding the terrorists” must be taken seriously. Yet one imagines the occupation regime would have to think carefully about sinking another US Navy vessel as it did in 1967 with the repeated bombing of the USS Liberty.

Instead of recycling raw combat power, the White House can best meet the demands of a war-weary American public through an emphasis on missions such as those the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are designed for. Poll after US public opinion poll reveal that Americans believe their humanitarian values are best reflected when our navy is tailored for delivering humanitarian aid to places like Gaza, and not by delivering munitions to occupying colonial regimes.

 

Source: Al-Manar Website

12-08-2014 – 12:03 Last updated 12-08-2014 – 12:03

A Nail in Zionism’s Coffin?

The Slaughter Must End
by FRANKLIN LAMB
Shatila camp, Beirut No sooner had the latest ceasefire announced on 8/1/14 for 8 a.m. local time, planned to extend for 72 hours began, than it collapsed. This according to the Gaza health ministry which reported this morning that more than 30 Palestinians were killed and dozens were injured in an Israeli attack near the southern town of Rafah. If a genuine ceasefire does go into effect, the pause will allow both sides’ fighters to regroup and re-arm. But what of the civilian population of substantially destroyed Gaza? Presumably many will try to visit their bombed homes to retrieve some belongings as we have seen in Syria and Iraq, and many will try finding a place to hide such an UNWRA school. Others may simply stay in their homes or and wait to die. For the invading Zionist forces, they are insured of plenty of munitions during and after any ceasefire because the Obama Administration is supporting Israel’s aggression in the Gaza Strip by allowing it to tap local US arms stockpiles. They will be able to resupply themselves with 40mm grenades and 120mm mortar round stocks that the Pentagon claims “need to be refreshed”. This according to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary who rejected out of hand this week’s Amnesty International’s demand that “the US government immediately end its ongoing arms deliveries to Israel which are providing the tools to commit further serious violations of international law in Gaza.” Earlier, the US Senate, by a vote of 100 to 0, passed a resolution drafted by AIPAC expressing support for Israel’s attack on Gaza and saying not a word about Palestinian deaths. The Resolution reads in part: “The United States Senate reaffirms American support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel.” Separately, US politicians were working in Congress to provide millions of dollars in additional funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile shield. The US Senate Appropriations Committee added $225m for Iron Dome to a spending bill intended mainly to provide money to handle an influx of thousands of Central American children across the US-Mexico border. One Congressional staffer emailed this observer that

“It is not that Iron Dome is all that effective, it fails 75% of the time, but Congress is under pressure to be seen as supporting Israel and we’ve got to be seen doing something before we adjourn for five weeks.”

As a sop to AIPAC, on 7/31/14, the White House announced that it “strongly opposes” a Republican-crafted emergency spending bill, in part because it contains no funds for an Israeli missile defense system and other necessities. The Senate earlier in the day began debating a $3.5 billion supplemental spending measure that would send $225 million in emergency dollars to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense program. The White House voiced its opposition to the House version claiming it “does not include funding for the Department of Defense to support the government of Israel’s request for critical defense needs.” On 7/31/14, Mr. Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, reminded Rear Admiral Kirby whose comment is noted above, that, “It is deeply cynical for the White House to condemn the deaths and injuries of Palestinians, including children, and humanitarian workers, when it knows full well that the Israeli military responsible for such attacks are armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment bankrolled by US taxpayers.”

Palestinian children stand in the back of a truck as families leave their neighborhoods to safer locations amid continuing Israeli bombardment of Khan younis

Despite all the American governments’ current display of massive support for Israel, survival of the apartheid regime is not at all assured. Specifically, Europe, South America, and parts of Asia’s skyrocketing antipathy towards Israel are more than just bluster. Israelis are correct in thinking that they can no longer count on public opinion in Europe or even, to a lesser extent, on the American public. The latter is increasingly pressuring their Zionist bought politicians, admittedly still on a modest scale that they cannot stay in office much longer as Israel continues its descent more deeply into a pariah state as an outcast in international society. A recent Gallup poll found a majority of Americans less than 30 years of age believe Israel’s actions in Gaza unjustified and criminal. This is because younger Americans have grown up witnessing a US armed and propped up Israel brutally occupying the West Bank and killing Palestinians while invading Lebanon many times, killing more than 30,000 over between 1948 and 2006. In aggregate, Americans still see Israel favorably but in smaller numbers while more are viewing Israel as illegitimate and as a 19th century colonial enterprise with no legitimate place in a civilized international society. “Delegitimisation”, says Einat Wilf, a former Israeli parliamentarian and one of the authors of a three-year, as-yet-unpublished study of the topic at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in Jerusalem, is becoming “a strategic threat”. As Robert Fisk pointed out this week,

“Gaza, which is being so graphically covered by journalists that our masters and our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic, but fear of their own television viewers and readers – ordinary folk so outraged by the war crimes committed against the women and children of Gaza that they are demanding to know why, even now, television moguls and politicians are refusing to treat their own people like moral, decent, intelligent human beings.”

From Antwerp to Warsaw, demonstrators’ placards have ranged from criticism of Israeli policy (“1,2,3,4, Occupation No More”) to condemning Israel itself (“5,6,7,8, Israel is a Terror State”). A growing percentage of the world’s population is coming to the conclusion that the regime occupying Palestine is a mistake and that history must be corrected. As the Economist recently reported, France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish and Arab populations, is experiencing tensions which may be no surprise given their large numbers. But its extent—attacks on synagogues, raids on Jewish shops—has been shocking nonetheless. Even in Oslo, the Jewish museum closed its doors.

Specifically, Europe, South America, and parts of Asia’s skyrocketing antipathy towards Israel are more than just bluster. Israelis are correct in thinking that they can no longer count on public opinion in Europe or even, to a lesser extent, on the American public. The latter increasingly are pressuring their Zionist bought politicians to stop funding the Apartheid regime or they cannot stay in office much longer as Israel descends more deeply into a pariah state, an outcast in international society. United Nations school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, Frankly, it comes as no great surprise then that many Jews feel that the world is against them and believes that criticism of Zionist apartheid Israel is just a mask for antipathy towards Jews. In this they are very wrong. Let them visit the Middle East, in peace, and they will learn quickly that the rejection here is not at all about Jews, but only about Zionism as a fascist, racist creed. What people of good will reject in the Middle East as elsewhere, is an antiquated movement that promotes a chosen people’s right to steal the land of others concept while ethnically cleansing Palestine’s indigenous population. A movement that encourages chants among school children of “Death to Arabs” and whose settler population increasing organizes ‘fun-days’ events including watching Zionist forces slaughter Arab children in Gaza and teachers giving out balloons and ice cream during the entertainment and leading the children in singing hate filled songs International public opinion matters. And much of it relating to the carnage being inflicted by those illegally occupying Palestine is right. The international public is increasingly aware that what is happening in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty. Having created a huge open-air prison in Gaza, on the West Bank, PM Netanyahu now claims that Israel cannot relinquish security control of the West Bank for fear of Islamist attack. Meaning that the Zionist occupiers intend to consolidate their illegal occupation, thus withdrawing all hope from Palestinians. This region and increasing the global community is planning for a post-Zionist Middle East and how best to achieve it without further suffering. The Zionist regime can stop the slaughter in Gaza and withdraw from Palestinian lands through agreement with international norms and UN Resolutions, or, sooner or later it will very likely cease to exist. Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

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Solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza begins in Lebanon’s Camps

Franklin Lamb

UN ESCWA HQ, Beirut

 As the latest Zionist aggression continues unabated in its slaughter of the defenseless population of Gaza (for the fourth time in ten years, no less!) one of course might simply sit back and hope for the improbable—that the global community will act to end it. But this is no more likely, and maybe even less so, than have been the prospects for bringing justice to Palestine through the never-ending “peace process” of the past 40 years. Persistent Resistance, in its countless forms, is the only thing that will achieve dignity, an end to the occupation, and the right of Full Return for nearly nine million Palestinians.

As history instructs, the Zionist colonial enterprise had its apologists in Lebanon well before 1948. In fact, there are still plenty around today, yet at the same time, it must be said that the latest ‘lawn mowing’ in Gaza has generated an unusual amount of verbal support for Palestine across the political spectrum here.

A couple of examples. On 7/21/14 the program “Palestine…You Are Not Alone” was broadcast simultaneously on all of Lebanon’s main television channels in an expression of support for Palestinians facing the Zionist aggression that to date has killed nearly 900 and maimed or wounded more than 4500. The Lebanon TV initiative brought together for the first time networks with radically different views, including the official TeleLiban, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, LBC, MTV, NBN and others. Lara Zaaloum, executive director of LBC’s news show, said the 30-minute report was “the fruit of a shared effort” that aims to “salute the Palestinians and their children.”

Even Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, son-in-law of Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement (both men are known for their anti-Palestinian and anti-Syrian-refugee rants) claimed a desire to have Lebanese diplomats work for a formal condemnation of the Israeli aggression. According to Beirut’s As Safir newspaper, Bassil is preparing a “legal study” that will be sent to the concerned international bodies documenting Israeli crimes in Gaza.

Then on 7/23/14, the March 14 Al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement) parliamentary bloc organized a well-attended solidarity press conference of MPs in the garden outside the office of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Downtown Beirut.

“We are here to tell the world that we are standing by Gaza, by every Palestinian, and by occupied Palestine whose land has been ravished,” said former Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. “Your wounds are ours, and you are fighting on the behalf of all of us. We do not forget the Palestinian people’s right for freedom, dignity and peaceful living.”

Others have also spoken up, including Hezbollah Secretary General Hassah Nasrallah.

Sayyed Nasrallah during Al-Quds day ceremony

“Hezbollah will stand with the Palestinian people’s uprising and whose resistance is in our heart, willpower, hope and destiny,” said Nasrallah on 7/19/14—and on Al Quds day, 7/25/14, Hezbollah was to hold a rally at which Nasrallah is scheduled speak yet again on the need for solidarity with Palestinian refugees. Many from Lebanon’s camps will be attending that event because in the camps Hezbollah’s words are listened to—they have been for the last quarter century, ever since the party announced its existence, pledging in an “Open Letter” to seek dignity for all Palestinians everywhere and to improve their daily lives.

Not to be outdone, Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani vowed that the Islamic Republic will also do all in its power to help the Palestinians.

Iran strongly supports the Palestinian refugees as well as unity among Muslims” Larijani announced at a meeting with ambassadors of Islamic countries. “We take it upon ourselves to stand by and help the oppressed Palestinian people wherever they are, wholeheartedly, one way or another.”

The Iranian Foreign Minister and Iran’s embassy in Beirut have been advised that the most direct, realistic and significant way to help the Palestinian people is to voice support for Palestinians in Lebanon being allowed the elementary civil right to work—a right they enjoy in Gaza and virtually every other country but are denied here. Support for “the sacred cause of Palestine” was often expressed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini and continues to be voiced today by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, and were Iran and its allies to negotiate something on behalf of the Palestinians, who are 90% Sunni, it would go a long way toward healing the tragic and deepening Shia-Sunni divide. And the help Palestinians most need in Lebanon, where Larijani and his political allies have major clout, is with being allowed to seek employment—same as any other refugee or foreign visitor who arrives.

Solidarity with their countrymen in Gaza is being shown by many Palestinian students in Lebanon as well, and this week 404 such students took the noble, humanitarian step of donating tuition grants that had been awarded to them by the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program for the present semester. Each of the students paired off individually with a countrymen of theirs, one identified as a fatality in Gaza, donating their tuition money in that person’s name to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, in care of Dr. Mads Gilbert. And more than a few of these students have expressed the hope that those offering mere verbal support to the Palestinian cause might use their political power, and perhaps 90 minutes of their Parliament’s time, to grant Palestinians in Lebanon the means of survival until they can return to their homes in Palestine.

As for Lebanese politicians, a pledge to end the discrimination against Palestinian refugees would give meaning and credibility to their encouraging words. Allowing camp residents the chance to work would additionally help Palestinian family members back in Gaza, and would also serve to build Lebanon’s weak economy. But the fact is that many, though not all, Lebanese politicians deal the Palestinian card for personal gain; financial and political human rights slogans are selectively regurgitated according to narrow political interests, and then just as selectively disregarded when their other interests might benefit. A student from Ain al-Hilweh camp, one of those who donated her scholarship to her Gaza countrymen this week, put it this way:

These words politicians offer us are nice and we thank them. But we have heard them for so many years while the speakers have kept us without dignity and by denying us the right to work. Even the Zionist occupiers let us work. What kind of Resistance are the Lebanese politicians talking about? Does it mean Resistance to our most basic civil right to work and to care for our families? All we ask of Lebanon is to let us work just like every other country allows refugees to work and try to feed their families.

The fact of the matter is that hollow words from Lebanese and regional politicians may sound nice coming across on TV or in the newspapers, but they do little for Gaza and nothing for the families stuck in Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps without the basic human right to work. The malnourished, sardine-canned populations have been added to by thousands of refugees from Syria, and the camps in the process have become squalid and festering with disease, and amongst the people there the political posturing of leaders is increasingly being scoffed at. Some of these very same politicians still pat themselves on the back for the fake August 2010 Parliamentary initiative that eliminated a work permit application fee for Palestinians. But the application fee was never the problem to begin with, and the initiative left all the other Kafkaesque barriers to employment in place. As a result, not ten Palestinians have benefited in the four years since its passage, and the Ministry of Labor has not even tried to implement the phone labor law amendment.

The Palestinian community in Lebanon consists of descendants of the 750,000 people ethnically cleansed by Zionist colonials during the 1948 Nakba as well as the more than 300,000 forced from their homes in the 1967 Naksa. And they are in need of help. By simply doing the right thing, Lebanon has an opportunity to shed much of its self-garnered disgrace and international opprobrium over this issue; it has the opportunity to help heal the Shia-Sunni wound, improve the national economy, diminish the prospects of an intifada building in the desperate camps, and avoid the increasing likelihood of an international BDS movement against it as a consequence of its violations of human rights laws. Ninety minutes of Parliament’s time is all it would take. And it would do more for the people of Gaza and their families in Lebanon than all the tropes, platitudes, and hollow words that invariably fade without the faintest trace of a wind.

Gaza isn’t the only open air prison; Lebanon has 12 of its own. And the people there are denied the most elementary right to apply for a job in more than 50 professions. Worth noting also is that the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 could mandate a cut-off of all American aid to Lebanon due to ongoing violations of their human rights. Solidarity—credible, genuine solidarity—is within our grasp; let us reach for it.

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