$57 million awarded in Kadena noise suit

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.

by Chiyomi "Collaborator" Sumida

NAHA, Okinawa — A Japanese court here Friday ordered the largest compensation award ever in an aircraft noise suit, ending an eight-year battle by neighbors of Kadena Air Base.

The Fukuoka High Court’s Naha branch awarded 5.62 billion yen (about $57 million) to 5,519 residents who claimed their health suffered from noise stemming from the air base’s activities. 

However, the court dismissed the residents’ demand to suspend flight activities from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The three-judge panel also dismissed a separate suit by 21 residents against the U.S. government.

The cases began in March 2000, when 5,542 residents sued the Japanese government, demanding $59.5 million compensation. Lower court decisions were appealed, with the case ultimately winding up in Fukuoka High Court.

During Friday’s proceedings, Chief Judge Yoshinori Kawabe said U.S. military activities at the air base are based on a bilateral pact between the governments and, therefore, are outside the control of the Japanese government. 

But he said there was sufficient evidence to show the residents have long suffered from high levels of noise. The ruling Friday covered almost all the residents, including 1,661 people who were dismissed by the Naha District Court in 2005. 

He turned down an argument by the Japanese government that some residents moved into the neighborhoods with full knowledge there was a noise problem. 

In the ruling, the court criticized the government for not taking measures to fundamentally resolve the problem, leaving residents exposed to noise beyond permissible levels.

The ruling also questioned the effectiveness of soundproofing homes, which results in higher utility bills because the residents are forced to keep their windows closed.

Outside the court, residents and their supporters welcomed the ruling — halfway, at least. "It is a great step forward that the court recovered those who were rejected at the lower court," said Toshio Ikemiyagi, the lead lawyer for the residents. "But it is extremely regrettable that our demand to halt flight operations in the late and early hours was dismissed by the court."

Gen Maeshiro, 70, from Uruma was among about 100 residents and their supporters at a rally following the ruling.

"It was good that the court accepted most of our appeal," he said. 

The Japanese government is fully aware of the gravity of the noise issue, Ro Manabe, Director of Okinawa Defense Bureau of Ministry of Defense said in a comment released following the ruling. 

"We will continue to ask the military to give consideration to minimize the impacts on residents," he said. "At the same time, the government would make further effort to implement proactive measures." 

Eighteenth Wing spokesman Maj. John Hutcheson declined to comment directly on the court’s decision, but said the wing has made and continues to make efforts to reduce noise, from adjusting flying schedules on Japanese holidays and school exams, to installing noise-reducing berms and sound walls around the base.

Similar cases involving U.S. military and Japan Self-Defense Forces bases in Japan, including Yokota Air Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, are in litigation. 

Stars and Stripes reporter Natasha Lee contributed to this story.

Japan's Ozawa Ichiro: Too many U.S. troops in Japan

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.

The rising star of Japanese politics, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa, says he sees no need for most of the U.S. troops in the country.

Ozawa, talking with reporters last week, said Japan could get along with just the U.S. 7th Fleet. The rest of the 47,000 U.S. military personnel could go home, he said, according to Japanese press accounts.

"If Japan is prepared to take care on its own issues that are relevant to itself, then there is no need for the United States to forward deploy to such an extent in Japan," Ozawa is quoted on his party’s Web site. "The Americans’ role should become smaller if Japan has a decent strategy for dealing with global issues and shares greater burdens at least on matters associated with our country." 

Ozawa is expected to be Japan’s next prime minister as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party continues its slide in voter confidence. Recent polls showed Prime Minister Taro Aso has less than a 14 percent favorable rating. 

The LDP was quick to respond, calling Ozawa’s remarks inappropriate at a time he is pushing for new elections.

"The Japanese government thinks that to limit [U.S. troops] to just to the 7th Fleet is unrealistic," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told reporters Thursday.

Ozawa has called for Japan to be more independent of the United States in regional security issues. In 2006, the two sides agreed to realign U.S. troops in the country. According to the agreement, the biggest change would be on Okinawa, which now hosts a bit less than half the troops and 75 percent of the bases solely used for the U.S. military in Japan.

Under the agreement, Marine bases south of Camp Foster would be closed, Marine air operations would be moved to the island’s rural northeast on Camp Schwab, and some 8,000 Marines would move to Guam.

Examine the Pope's words, and there's only one thing to conclude

by Robert Fisk

Benedict will demean other religions to prove Christianity’s ‘superiority’

So it's all the fault of the Pope's satraps. "Vatican advisers blamed for Pope's woes," I was informed by one headline. "A self-imposed cone (sic) of silence surrounds Benedict." And now poor old Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, the solitary German who found himself manning an anti-aircraft gun at the end of the Second World War ("briefly" and "unwillingly", I know) has had some "harsh words" for his advisers because – according to the Vatican – he "had no idea of Bishop Williamson's views before lifting an excommunication order against him last month".

Williamson, I should add, is the disgusting British-born prelate of the Society of Saint Pius X who has said that "not a single Jew died in a gas chamber" in the Second World War. This Cambridge-educated priest says he is prepared to "re-examine" the historical evidence of the Holocaust – but, needless to say, declines to visit Auschwitz. Unsurprisingly, the Vatican has rejected Williamson's mealy-mouthed apology to those who suffered "injustice" at Nazi hands.

Now a lot of folk will go along with the line that the Holy Father is so stupid – so utterly out of touch with Planet Earth and all its Catholic children, so "cut off from the real world" (here I quote a Vatican "insider") – that he has no idea how disastrously his actions are received. Hmmm. Well, I wonder.

For was this not the same Pope who actually visited Auschwitz and – to the understandable outrage of Jewish dignitaries who were present – blamed a Nazi "gang" for the Jewish Holocaust? Before this infallible pronouncement, an awful lot of people thought that the Nazi German nation was to blame for Auschwitz, but old Joseph apparently thought it was a mafia clique in Berlin that murdered six million European Jews. And – here we go again – was this not the same ex-Cardinal Ratzinger (anti-divorce, anti-gay and anti-aircraft, as I always remind myself) who delivered a lecture at Regensburg in 2006 in which he quoted from a Byzantine text which characterised the Prophet Mohamed as evil and inhuman?

Chancellor Merkel, it was, who called up the old boy to point out that pardoning Williamson gave the impression that Holocaust denial was "permissible". The last time a German Chancellor took so serious an interest in the words of the Holy Father, of course, was more than 60 years earlier when A Hitler Esq profoundly hoped that Pope Pius XII would abide by Williamson's line on the Holocaust. That particular pope's silence is well expressed in the sinister black statue of His Holiness in St Peter's Basilica, a bespectacled cadaver that so shocked a Muslim friend of mine that she took 36 photos of the thing "because he looked so evil".

Well, there you go. But I bring all this up today because of a remarkable article by Ralph Coury, professor of history at Fairfield University, Connecticut, which appeared in the latest issue of the Institute of Race Relations' journal Race and Class. The redoubtable professor has combed his way through Benedict's Regensburg peroration, in which the Holy Father quotes the 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus as telling a visitor to "show me just what Mohamed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and human". God, the good Paleologus told his interlocutor, "is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body".

Coury's detailed critique of Benedict's mistakes – his apparent belief, for example, that there is a doctrine of jihad in the Koran – is compelling, but he has also unearthed some revealing interviews in which Ratzinger/Benedict reveals a lot more than he should have done about his own bias against Islam. "There is a very marked subordination of woman to man," he says of Islam in 1996. "There is a very tightly knit criminal law, indeed, a law regulating all areas of life, that is opposed to our modern ideas about society ... above all, Islam doesn't make any sort of concessions to enculturation (sic). Islam is Arab (sic), and anyone who becomes Islamic takes on this form of life."

In Regensberg, Benedict went on to say that Christianity took on "its historically decisive character in Europe" despite "its origins and some significant developments (sic) in the East". These few significant "developments" presumably include a Jew called Jesus and his birthplace in Bethlehem -- which is at least 1,000km from Rome – along with the misadventures of numerous disciples in the Middle East, until Saint Paul headed off to Macedonia and the whole shebang mercifully became a "Western" or "occidental" religion.

Benedict's remarks on the theological significance of Israel on Roman Catholics have themselves been a little odd. "If it has significance for you, it must have significance for us," he told a Jewish leader before he was pope. "One would think that such a small people couldn't really be important," he said of the Jews in 1993. "But I believe there is something special about this people and that the great decisions of world history are almost always connected to them somehow." This is not very comforting.

But Coury has also traced some very disturbing decisions by Benedict; his post-papal demotion, for example, of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, his distancing himself from the pro-Palestinian Angelo Cardinal Sidaro, John XXIII's secretary of state and a friend of Michel Sabbah, the Palestinian Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; not to mention Benedict's private audience (originally kept secret) with the increasingly weird Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci – whose crackpot statements included the assertion that "Islam breeds hatred" and that Muslims "breed like rats". The details of this extraordinary papal audience with the late Ms Fallaci have never (unsurprisingly) been disclosed.

And what do I make of all this? Well, I don't think the Pope is as innocent as he seems, nor so ill-advised. He sees Christianity as a superior, "Western" religion and is prepared to demean other religions to prove it. I think he knows exactly what he is doing. I think he knows what he is saying. I used to think he was a silly old German. Now I am beginning to suspect he might be a very nasty piece of work.

Spanish court to go ahead with war crimes probe of seven Israeli officials

from Haaretz

A Spanish court announced a decision on Friday to go ahead with a much publicized investigation against senior Israeli officials over alleged war crimes.

Last month, Spanish judge Fernando Andreu launched the investigation against seven current or former Israeli officials, over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed top Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh and 14 other people, including nine children.

The investigation includes former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz, who served as the commander of the Israel Air Force at the time of the targeted assassination of Shehadeh, along with five other Israeli officials.

The judge initially launched the investigation under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain, and other European countries, to reach far beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes. The universal jurisdiction ruling sparked outrage in Israel and elsewhere.

Subsequently, Spanish Foreign Minister said that Spain would act to amend the legislation that granted Andreu the authority to launch the investigation, promising Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that he would take action to prevent such moves in the future.

According to Spanish judicial sources, Andreu decided to continue with investigation after reading material handed over to Spain by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, indicating that Israel is not investigating the incident.

Sniping at the elderly in Khoza’a

by Eva Bartlett

from In Gaza

For 2 months, Walid Abu Arjela and his family haven’t dared to return to their land in Am Almad of Khoza’a village, east of Khan Younis, in the lethal Israeli-imposed “buffer zone”. The land in question, 550 m from the Green Line border, used to be productive agricultural land, as with most of the land now confiscated by the Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the imposition of a “no-go zone” on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. And as with the fertile land of the “buffer zone” from south to north, the land was heavily worked and produced vegetables, grains and fruits for much of the Gaza Strip’s residents and even, before the siege, for export.

On Tuesday, 24 February, Abu Arjela and family hoped to harvest peas and pick the scrubby weeds that donkeys can eat, regular animal feed being on the list of items no longer available in Gaza as a result of the comprehensive, debilitating Israeli, Egyptian and international siege on Gaza.

In other areas of the region east of Khan Younis, farmers tend to employ local youths to work the land, but whereas the Am Almad farmers are a couple hundred metres closer to the border fence from which Israeli soldier shooting comes, they are no longer confident that they can safely practice daily productive farming. The farmers that do dare to return to their land tend to be elderly, small groups of family members.

Such was the case with the Abu Arjelas.

“We haven’t been back to this land for about 2 months,” Mohammed Suleiman Abu Arjela, Walid’s father, explained. Indeed, at the end of November, 2008, he’d stood by his cowshed hoping to work the land that day, explaining that his farm had been twice devastated [First, in September 2006, when Israeli forces entered with bulldozers, destroying 5 dunums (1 dunum= 1000 square metres) of 15 year old olive trees, 2 dunums of orange and lemon trees, the kitchen and the bathroom of his home, the cow shed, with 7 cows inside, and 200 turkeys and 100 bred pigeons in the process. And then in summer 2008, Israeli soldiers returned, killing 15 sheep, destroying 10 tons of animal feed, and filling in the cistern with rubble, destroying the water source.].

The bulldozers which entered near his land that November day prevented he and the handful of other farmers from plowing the land, instead leaving as quickly as their donkeys and tractor would allow.

Small numbers of farmers also dared to go on their land Tuesday, hoping that this might be a day they could safely farm and gather animal fodder. And like the Abu Arjelas, they were mostly elderly men and women and their sons, spread out over a large area.

Roughly five minutes after the Abu Arjelas had reached their land, Israeli forces amassed at the border fence began firing. Four army jeeps and a Hummer stood at the fence. The shots could in no have been considered ‘warning’ shots: they rang clearly past our ears, hit the dirt less than a metre away. They were sniper-style shots.

Immediately, the international accompaniment began to speak through a megaphone, reiterating the peaceful, non-armed nature of all gathered in the fields.

The firing was the most intense in recent weeks, closer than it’s been in New Abassan, which even then was already within metres of heads and feet. We could almost taste Tuesday’s firing, and the distinct ping-whizz sound they make was somehow impossibly loud, so close the shots were.

One of the older women was having trouble walking away, stumbling in her fear. As the shots dug in around her she fell to the ground in terror.

Positioning ourselves between the elderly farmers and the Israeli snipers, we thus accompanied them off the field, many suddenly crouching instinctively when the shots came near.

A few hundred metres away, the Israeli snipers continued to shoot. Another elderly woman had dived in terror behind a rock and adamantly wouldn’t get up. “They’ll kill me, they’ll kill me. Mother…,” she cried in fear.

Gradually, surrounding her we were able to lead her away, she all the while fearfully muttering incoherently.

Down the dirt lane, donkey carts only partially-filled with greens for animal food, the terrorized farmers converged in bewilderment. Most had had enough and were giving up, as the Israeli military plan hopes they will. The plan is transparent enough, and what I’ve seen in my nearly 4 months here is the policy of terrorizing the farmers and residents living near the Green Line into abandoning their homes, their land.

There are a number who defy this institutionalized terrorizing, who will work the land until they die, naturally or at the hands of the well-equipped Israeli army.

And many are giving up, saying enough, choosing safety over livelihoods although the choice is impossible to make. For many of the people living and working in the “buffer zone” the produce they squeeze from the land, and the revenue from the chicken farms that are becoming less numerous with each invasion and attack, is their means of existence.

But in Khoza’a, Mohammed Abu Arjela isn’t ready to give in, despite the odds stacked against his life. “I have two children. I must go back to my fields to work there today. This is our life, what can we do?”

As we stood gazing back to the abandoned farmland, a crop-duster gracefully swooped again to treat crops on the other side of the Green Line. It rose and swooped, the small airplane unhurriedly gliding over nurtured crops which months later will be unhurriedly harvested. Life is not so impossible outside of Gaza.

For video, go here.

Trapped Between the Wall and the Green Line

by Mel Frykberg

“They started smashing down doors at 2am last Wednesday before moving through homes and destroying property,” says the mayor of Jayyus, Muhammed Taher Shamasni.

“Residents were assaulted, money was stolen, computers confiscated, over 60 young men arrested and the village placed under curfew. The Israeli soldiers came into my home and threw the contents of cupboards and closets on to the floor,” Shamasni told IPS.

Jayyus, an agricultural community of 3,500 inhabitants, located in the Qalqiliya district of the northern Palestinian West Bank, was invaded by Israeli soldiers using police dogs and backed by military helicopters.

The village has been the scene of frequent clashes between local youths, their Israeli supporters and international sympathisers on the one hand, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the other. Dozens protesting Israel’s continued expropriation of village land were injured last Friday by Israeli soldiers firing live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas.

Israel started building a separation barrier (a combination of walls, ditches and fences), most of it on Palestinian land, in 2002 to separate the Jewish state from the West Bank. This followed a wave of suicide bombings carried out by Palestinian militants, some of them originating from the West Bank.

While Israel has argued that the wall is primarily for security reasons, the Palestinians and human rights organisations accuse the Israelis of using security as a pretext for both a massive land grab for the benefit of illegal Israeli settlements, and continual human rights abuses.

The route of the barrier deviates significantly from the internationally recognised Green Line, veering off repeatedly into the West Bank where it has swallowed enormous swathes of fertile Palestinian land.

The Green Line was established along the 1949 Armistice line following the first Arab-Israeli war. This was meant to establish the borders between the newly established Jewish state and a future Palestinian state.

The barrier’s total length is 725 km, more than twice the length of the Armistice or Green Line. When completed, approximately 14 percent of the barrier will be constructed on the Green Line or in Israel, and 86 percent inside the West Bank.

Prior to the building of the wall approximately 30 percent of the West Bank was expropriated for Israeli settlements, military zones and nature reserves. Another 10 percent was confiscated and declared a closed military zone in 2002 as construction on the barrier began.

Approximately 10,000 Palestinians are trapped in the pockets of territory between the Green Line and the separation barrier. Most Palestinians are unable to cross the Green Line to enter Israel where thousands used to earn a living as well as sell their produce.

Furthermore, many Palestinians in the enclaves are either unable, or have great difficulty, accessing the rest of the West Bank for educational, business, medical or family reasons. They are also required to get permits from the Israelis in order to stay in their homes.

Additionally, the majority of farmers to the east of the barrier are unable to access their agricultural lands in the enclaves between the Green Line and the barrier as the Israelis have refused to issue the requisite permits, on security grounds, needed to reach the land.

The economy of Jayyus has been decimated. Most of the villagers are dependent on the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, bell peppers, avocados, guavas, olives and citrus produce grown there for their livelihoods.

The barrier near Jayyus deviates six kilometres from the Green Line. During its construction the Israelis uprooted 4,000 olive and citrus trees and expropriated 8,600 dunams of land (1 dunam = 0.1 hectares) belonging to Jayyus.

The village’s farmers are separated from 50,000 fruit and olive trees, most of its greenhouses and six ground water wells used for irrigation, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Seventy-five percent of our farm land has been confiscated. Only 18 percent of farmers in Jayyus have been given permits to cross the barrier and reach their land near the Green Line. The others were denied permits,” Sharif Khalid, a farmers’ representative, told IPS.

“Prior to the building of the barrier there were 136 greenhouses in the village. Today there are only 72. Millions of dollars have been lost and many farmers have been forced into bankruptcy,” said Khalid.

Abdul Karim Khalid, a relative of Sharif Khalid, lost both of his greenhouses. With three children to support the family have been dependent on his wife’s salary as a teacher. Women in Jayyus like elsewhere in the Palestinian territories have been forced to earn money in whatever capacity possible.

“The security situation, high rates of unemployment and poverty have forced many women to become the bread winners for their families due to many Palestinian men being killed, imprisoned for political offences or losing their jobs,” said Reem Abboushi, executive director of The Palestinian Business Women’s Association.

The Israeli settlement Zufin was constructed on land belonging to Jayyus in 1989. Another Israeli settlement Nofei Zufin is being expanded on land confiscated from the village.

According to Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem the routing of the separation barrier so far from the Green Line was primarily to “leave areas planned for the settlement’s expansion and for a nearby industrial zone on the Israeli side of the barrier.”

In June 2006, in response to a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, the state admitted that plans for an industrial zone for Zufin had been taken into consideration in planning the route. The court subsequently ordered a revision of the south-east section of the current barrier route.

However, only 2,500 of the 8,600 dunams of land will be returned to Jayyus, and the re-routing of the wall will again destroy more agricultural land and orchards.

In 2003, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Israel to stop construction of the barrier. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague ruled in 2004 that “the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of security or public order.”

Israel planning mass expansion of West Bank settlement bloc

by Akiva Eldar

from Haaretz

Despite the state’s formal commitment not to expand West Bank settlements, a government agency has been promoting plans over the past two years to construct thousands of housing units east of the Green Line, Haaretz has learned.

The plans, which have not yet been approved by the government, were drawn up by the Civil Administration, the government agency responsible for nonmilitary matters in the West Bank. Details of the plans appear in the minutes of the agency’s environmental subcommittee, which were obtained by the B’Tselem organization under the Freedom of Information Act.

The plans propose the initial construction of 550 apartments in Gva’ot, located near Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, followed by construction of another 4,450 units at a later stage. At present, Gva’ot is inhabited by 12 families. The neighboring settlement of Bat Ayin, which has about 120 families, is slated to receive another 2,000 apartments, according to the plans.

Rimonim will get another 254 apartments if the plans are approved, and expansion plans are also in the works for Einav and Mevo Dotan. All three of these settlements are east of the separation fence.

Ma’aleh Adumim has included planned construction in the E-1 corridor in its sewage treatment plans. That corridor, which links Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, is eventually slated to hold some 3,500 apartments.

Nearby Kfar Adumim’s sewage treatment plan predicts that the settlement will double its population “in the coming years,” to 5,600 inhabitants. And in Eshkolot, the Civil Administration instructed the settlement to draw up a sewage plan adequate for a population five times its current one.

A Civil Administration spokesman said that its “environmental subcommittee does not discuss approval for housing units at all, but deals with the professional aspects of the area’s environmental needs, sometimes at the theoretical level.” 


Japan Residents Near US Base Win Damages For Noise Pollution

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.

A Japanese court Friday ordered the government to pay more than $57 million in compensation to residents over noise pollution from a U.S. air base on the southern island of Okinawa. 
More than 5,500 plaintiffs argued that noise from the Kadena Air Base, home to the U.S. military's largest combat air wing, had caused them health problems. 

While the court recognized more plaintiffs would be compensated than in an earlier trial, it turned down for a second time their demand for an end to takeoffs and landings in the early mornings and evenings. 

The Naha branch office of the Fukuoka High Court awarded a total of Y5.63 billion ($57.56 million) to 5,519 plaintiffs living near the base. 

A lower court in 2005 said some neighbors of the base "suffered psychological damages as their sleep gets disturbed by the fierce noise." 

But it only recognized about 70% of the plaintiffs, ordering the Japanese government to pay some Y2.8 billion in compensation. 

The United States stations more than 40,000 troops in officially pacifist Japan under a security alliance reached after World War II. More than half of the troops are stationed in Okinawa. 
The noise pollution - on top of a series of crimes by U.S. servicemen, including murders and rapes - has caused anger in local Okinawa communities and triggered mass protests.

Power of student action forces university to divest its holdings in major arms companies

by Lisa Jones

A THREE-DAY sit-in by students protesting against their university’s investment in major arms companies has ended.

Cardiff Students Against War yesterday finished its occupation of the Shandon Lecture Theatre in Cardiff University’s main building on Park Place after bosses agreed to pull funds out of two companies.

Cardiff University has given students written confirmation that they have divested from the arms trade and have instructed fund managers not to reinvest.

Johnny, a spokesman for the coalition, said: “The mood has been very upbeat throughout. People have felt that what they are doing is really achieving something.

“They felt they’ve made a difference.

“There’s been a buzz around the campus.

“It certainly shows that student activism is on the increase.”

During the sit-in, the 100 or so participants listened to talks from visitors, took part in a live link-up with Gaza and watched documentaries about the conflict in the Middle East. A student spokeswoman, who did not want to be named, said: “The university conceded to our key demand which was to divest from the arms trade. They have sold all their shares in BAe and General Electric and instructed their fund managers not to invest in the arms trade.

“This is a major success for the occupation.

“We’ve been the most successful across the UK. It confirms the power of student action. A lot of us have been campaigning against the arms trade for some time.

“We’ve been consistently ignored by the university. They have forced us to take this action.

“It’s not interested in the will of the student, which is why we were forced to take action.”

The sit-in began on Tuesday when students massed outside their union building with a Books Not Bombs protest, where students brought along a book to signify their support for education, not war.

They claimed the university had money invested in BAe Systems and General Electric, which it accuses of supplying military equipment to Israel.

They were refusing to leave the lecture theatre until their demands were met. They were also calling for Cardiff University to be twinned with Gaza and for five students from the troubled region to be given scholarships at Cardiff University.

It is the 28th such protest to take place on campuses around the United Kingdom.

A Cardiff University spokesman said: “In the course of the last few days the University’s investment managers have divested the University of its holdings in both BAe and the infrastructure arm of General Electric.”

Gush Shalom: This Week's Message

from Gush Shalom


The way to peace
Is to make war
On Hamas –
Thus President Shimon Peres
Berated the Europeans
Who want to start a
Peace dialogue with Hamas.

“War is peace”
Was the slogan of the
Evil tyranny
Described by George Orwell.

Orwell is dead. His vision is
Alive and kicking
In the President’s residence.

Ad in Haaretz, February 27, 2009

Cheques to help us continue the ads to: Gush Shalom, P.O.Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033

Rudd defends Aborigine progress

from News24.com

Sydney - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was forced on Thursday to defend his record on improving the lives of Aborigines, a year after making a historic apology for past abuses by white settlers. 

"Some say that little has happened in the year since the apology, but that is not the case. Progress has been made. Houses are being built," Rudd told parliament, in his inaugural address on tackling Aboriginal disadvantage. 

Acknowledging that the "burden of history" fell most heavily on Australia's original inhabitants, Rudd said the apology had raised expectations that "change would be swift, results sudden". 

"But generations of indigenous disadvantage cannot be turned around overnight," he said. 

While recognising that "progress is slow", Rudd told parliament 80 houses had been finished or were near completion in the remote outback, with four new township leases meaning 4 200 new homes could soon be built and another 4 800 upgraded. 

The prime minister defended the continuation of the previous conservative administration's controversial "intervention" policy, which saw police and troops deployed in remote Aboriginal towns. 

"With more night patrols, less alcohol consumption and more safe houses, families say they are feeling safer," he said. 

Controversial payments 

Rudd also stood by the quarantining of Aboriginal welfare payments. 

"I know that income management is controversial, but we have maintained it for a simple reason - it has been shown to work in many communities," he said. 

"It helps to protect vulnerable groups such as women, children and the elderly by enabling the purchase of food and other essentials." 

Australia's original inhabitants, with cultures stretching back many thousands of years, Aborigines are believed to have numbered around a million at the time of white settlement but there are now just 470 000 out of a population of 21 million. 

They are Australia's most impoverished minority, with a lifespan 17 years shorter than the national average and disproportionately high rates of imprisonment, heart disease and infant mortality. 

Rudd has committed himself to halving the gaps in infant mortality, overall life expectancy, literacy and numeracy achievement and school completion rates within 10 years. 

He made a number of funding commitments in his speech, including $58m to tackle third-world ear and eye conditions in Aboriginal communities and $564m for the construction of children and family health centres. 

Rudd also appointed a co-ordinator general to oversee his reform agenda. 

Aboriginal activist and 2009 Australian of the Year Mick Dodson said the government needed to engage the indigenous community, and address low levels of trust and co-operation. 

"Resettling the relationship is going to require... a genuine development approach to every aspect of closing the gap," said Dodson. 

'Committed to following evidence' 

"At last it appears we are committed to following the evidence, and all of the evidence already shows that imposed solutions don't work because the people whose lives are affected don't own them." 

Rudd's apology, delivered last February, was received with a standing ovation both inside and outside parliament. 

He repeatedly used the word "sorry" and referred to "past mistreatment" and wrongs which the original Australians endured after British settlers arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788. 

Thursday's address was the first of what Rudd has promised will be an annual parliamentary "report card" on progress in reducing Aboriginal disadvantage.

Soldiers kneecap 17 year old Khoza’a girl

by Sharon Lock

We went to see 17 year old Wafa Al Najar, who was shot yesterday, in Naser Hospital today in Khan Younis. In Palestinian tradition, both her family and neighbours were keeping her company. But they were able to do little for her, and while they all at once told us the story of her shooting and of Khoza’a, their village (where Israel has been accused of war crimes in the recent attacks) Wafa sobbed intermittently in pain.

During the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, somewhere between Dec 27-30, Wafa’s 20 year old brother, Jihad Ahmad Al Najar, died in a Cairo hospital, evacuated there after he was shot in the head. Then, like thousands near the border, her family’s Khuza’a home was one of 163 local homes destroyed by the Israeli army. (The army also bulldozed 1500 denems of farmland there.) Yesterday at about 4pm, for the first time, Wafa (already with her arm bandaged after a fall on the school stairs) her mother Amal (Hope), and her brother Shahdi, ventured out to see their home’s remains.

Wafa was 70 metres from her home, and and 800 metres from the border fence. Her mother and brother were 300 metres away from her. There were 3 shots, a neighbour who was 900 metres away says they were fired from two army jeeps and he saw a soldier shooting from the top of one. The first two bullets hit the ground beside Wafa. The third destroyed her kneecap, and she collapsed to the ground. Amal immediately thought she was dead. Shahdi tore off his white shirt to wave at the soldiers and began to move towards his sister.

“Don’t go! She’s dead! Come back!” his mother cried. And the soldier began to direct further shots at Shahdi and his makeshift white flag and he couldn’t continue, so he phoned for the ambulance. The ambulance was there within ten minutes, but before it got there, the jeeps had left and Shahdi was able to reach his sister and meet the ambulance with her in his arms.

Is there often shooting from the Israeli soldiers across the border into Khuza’a, we ask?

“Kulyoom!” everyone choruses - Every day. The various villagers tell us about life in Khoza’a.

“Along the border, there are normally two jeeps and a tank every 500 metres. And every 2 1/2 km, there is a gate they can drive tanks through to our side if they want to. And they have put microphones on the border fence, so they can play the sound of barking dogs at us, and shout at us, as well as the shooting.”

“We often see women soldiers,” someone adds.

“In the January war here, 25 were martyred (killed) and 70 injured. In the first days the army didn’t let the ambulance reach us so people died from small injuries. But before that, in the past five years, we had 130 killed in Khoza’a by Israel - from shooting, from attacks.”

Various people starting talking about the Khoza’a school. It was built in 2003, after the Oslo accords, exactly one mile from the border, as a result of an agreement between Yasser Arafat and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Prior to that, the children had 8 km to walk to get to a neighbouring school.

Since then, it’s been bombed twice and occupied by Israeli soldiers at least once. This is a school that serves 380 girls, 400 boys, and 800 pre-schoolers, by starting at 6.30am and finishing at 6.30pm, holding two school shifts. But currently, the shooting directed at it is so intense that the kids spend a lot of their time on the floor, and only a handful of lessons happen each day.


“The reason the Israeli army gives publicly is, because resistance fighters are firing from behind the school.”

And are they?

“No.” Everyone is very clear on that point.

“In the past, lots of people from Gaza would come to visit Khoza’a. It is the eastern most point of Gaza. And the Najar family is one of two very big, very well respected families here.”

“It took us 8 years to build our house. We only lived in it for 9 months. And we so wanted to see what was left of it. I just had to see it.” says Amal. “Other people had walked into that area since the war, but we hadn’t, not til yesterday.”

Why did she and Shahdi and Wafa go yesterday in particular?

“We heard there were internationals in the area.”

Oh no. E, EJ, and I look at each other, hearts sinking. We clarify.

They didn’t have any particular information - it was just a rumour - there were internationals around, maybe that meant a delegation of important people, maybe that meant something was arranged with Israel via the Red Cross, maybe that meant it was safer than a normal day, maybe things for once would be ok.

But they weren’t. Because the internationals were us. Getting shot at with the farmers. Just like a normal Khoza’a day. Only for Wafa, so much worse.

A couple of people want to tell us something else. Something they want in Khoza’a. EJ translates again. They have a lot of doctors and other health care workers living there, they say. Maybe as many as 30. Beside Wafa’s bed now are two of them, a young male nurse and another young man who volunteers here at Nasser. And everyone is hoping that maybe, one day soon, some funding organisation from the outside world would help them build a Khoza’a hospital.

They have it exactly right. They have a much better chance that some country, some international organisation somewhere, will give them money for a hospital to treat their wounded closer to home, than that any country, any international organisation anywhere, will stand up to Israel and protect Khoza’a’s children from being wounded in the first place.


Headlines for February 26, 2009

from Democracy Now!

CIA Director Backs Pakistan Attacks, Rendition

Meanwhile Panetta reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to continue several Bush administration policies in the so-called war on terror. Panetta told reporters the U.S. will continue controversial drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians. He also said the U.S. will continue to practice “rendition”—the kidnapping and sending of foreign suspects to other countries. And he said that while interrogators will have to abide by the Army Field Manual, President Obama can still approve harsher techniques using war-time powers.

Palestinian Factions Hold Unity Talks

In Egypt, members of the leading Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have begun reconciliation talks. The two sides are discussing forming a Palestinian unity government and the release of hundreds of prisoners held by both sides. The U.S.-backed Fatah controls the West Bank while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. The sides were due to meet earlier this year but the talks were pre-empted by the Israeli attack on Gaza.

Israel Bombs Gaza, Blocks Food Aid

Meanwhile Israeli warplanes have launched new attacks on smuggling tunnels near Gaza’s Egypt border. A resident of Rafah said her family narrowly escaped injury.

Resident: “Planes bombed, rockets fell near the house. My husband with the children were in the car just five minutes before the strike. They would have been attacked if they had stayed in it.”

Meanwhile the Israeli government is facing new international criticism over its latest refusal to allow aid into the Gaza Strip. The aid group Mercy Corps says Israel is blocking a ninety-ton shipment of macaroni into Gaza. Much of Gaza’s one point four million population relies on humanitarian aid. The U.S. is expected to pledge around $900 million dollars for Gaza at a donors’ conference beginning on Monday. All of the money would go to non-governmental organizations.

Attorney: Gitmo Conditions Worsen

Another attorney for Guantanamo Bay prisoners is claiming conditions have worsened sharply since President Obama took office. Ahmed Ghappour says Guantanamo guards are acting even more aggressive before Obama’s year-long deadline to shut the prison down. Ghappour said he’s heard recent accounts of beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding hunger-striking prisoners. Other attorneys including military lawyer Yvonne Bradley have made similar claims since Obama ordered Guantanamo’s closure.

Diego Garcia: The Other Guantanamo

by David Vine

first published April 3, 2008

On the small, remote island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean halfway between Africa and Indonesia, the United States has one of the most secretive military bases in the world. From its position almost 10,000 miles closer to the Persian Gulf than the east coast of the United States, this huge U.S. air and naval base has been a major, if little known, launch pad for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the past year, the Bush administration has made improvements that point toward its use in a possible attack on Iran. The administration recently admitted what it had long denied and what journalists, human rights investigators, and others had long suspected: The island has also been part of the CIA’s secret “rendition” program for captured terrorist suspects. 

While few know about the base on Diego Garcia – it has long been off-limits to all non-military personnel -- even fewer know how it came into being. To create the base, the United States, with the help of Great Britain, exiled all the indigenous people of Diego Garcia and the surrounding Chagos Archipelago. Between 1968 and 1973, U.S. and U.K. officials forcibly removed around 2,000 people, called Chagossians, 1,200 miles away to islands in the western Indian Ocean. Left on the docks of Mauritius and the Seychelles with no resettlement assistance, the Chagossians, whose ancestry in Chagos dated to the 18th century, have grown deeply impoverished in exile. 

Diego Garcia has become another Guantánamo in more ways than one: The product of years of deception and lies, a far more secretive detention facility than the Cuban prison, the cause of immense suffering and pain for an entire people, Diego Garcia has become mark of shame for the United States that must be repaired. 
Creating a Base, Expelling a People

The Chagossians’ ancestors first settled the previously uninhabited Chagos Archipelago in the late 18th century when their ancestors were brought from Africa and India as enslaved and indentured laborers to build and work on coconut plantations run by Franco-Mauritians. Over nearly two centuries, this diverse group developed into a distinct, emancipated society and a people known initially as the Ilois – the Islanders. While far from luxurious, their life by the mid-20th century was secure, generally free of want, and featured universal employment and numerous social benefits, including regular if small salaries, land, free housing, education, pensions, burial services, and basic health care in islands described by many as “idyllic.” 

That is until the late 1950s, when U.S. military officials identified Diego Garcia as a perfect location for a base. In many ways, the original idea for Diego Garcia presaged the “lily pad” basing strategy of today: Facing a wave of decolonization, national security officials worried about rising local opposition to overseas U.S. bases and the threat of eviction posed by local governments. At the same time, officials increasingly wanted to introduce U.S. military forces into the Indian Ocean as a way to exert control over the Middle East and surrounding areas of the decolonizing world. Their solution was what the U.S. Navy called the “Strategic Island Concept,” a plan to identify small strategically located islands with small local populations that the United States or its western allies could acquire as future base sites and that would be insulated from any local threats. Quickly Diego Garcia emerged as a prime target for acquisition given its relative proximity to potential conflict zones from the Persian Gulf to southern Africa and southern Asia, space for harboring an armada of ships and an airstrip, and a small, little known population whose removal would generate little attention. 

In 1960, the U.S. Navy began secret conversations with the British Government about Diego Garcia. Over the next several years, U.S. officials secured British agreement to turn the island into a military colony, called the British Indian Ocean Territory, and, as classified documents show, to provide “exclusive control” of Diego Garcia “without local inhabitants.” 

The two governments finalized the deal with a 1966 “exchange of notes” that in key respects resembles the recent “declaration of principles” on the future U.S. military presence in Iraq signed by the Bush administration and the Iraqi cabinet: it effectively created a treaty but circumvented all congressional and parliamentary oversight. Separate secret agreements provided for $14 million in undisclosed U.S. payments to allow Britain to create the territory and to take those “administrative measures” necessary to deport the Chagossians. 

Those “administrative measures” meant that beginning in 1968, islanders leaving Chagos for vacations or medical treatment on the island of Mauritius were barred from returning to their homes and marooned 1,200 miles away. British officials next began restricting supplies to the islands, and by the turn of the decade more Chagossians were leaving as food and medicines dwindled. In cooperation with U.S. officials, the British meanwhile designed a public relations plan aimed at, as one official put it, “maintaining the fiction” that the Chagossians were transient contract workers rather than people with roots in Chagos for five generations or more. 

In 1971, the U.S. Navy began construction on Diego Garcia and ordered the British to complete the removals. First, U.K. agents and U.S. soldiers on Diego Garcia herded up the Chagossians’ pet dogs and gassed and burned them in front of their traumatized owners. Then, British agents forced the people to board overcrowded cargo ships and left them on the docks in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Upon arrival, the Chagossians received no resettlement assistance and soon found themselves living in what a 1975 Washington Post article called “abject poverty.” Numbering around 5,000 today and still in exile, most remain deeply impoverished. 
Wars for Oil and Global Dominance

While the Chagossians were being exiled, the Pentagon sold Diego Garcia to Congress as an “austere” communications facility. As its planners had always envisioned, however, it soon expanded dramatically. It was pressed into service almost immediately as a base for reconnaissance planes in the 1973 Israeli-Arab war. In the years that followed, the base played a central role in the first large-scale thrust of U.S. military strength into the Middle East. 

After the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Presidents Carter and Reagan developed a “Rapid Deployment Force” (RDF) at bases in the region to respond to any future threats to U.S. and western oil supplies. As a main hub for the RDF, Diego Garcia saw the “most dramatic build-up of any location since the Vietnam War.” 

Subsequently, the RDF transformed into the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which came to lead three wars in Iraq and Afghanistan directly related to securing U.S. and global oil supplies and maintaining the regional and global dominance of the United States. Diego Garcia played a critical role in each war. During the first Gulf War, Diego Garcia sent 18 prepositioned ships from its lagoon loaded with weaponry and supplies to outfit thousands of marines massing in Saudi Arabia while serving as a launch pad for long-range bombers attacking Iraqi forces. 

After the 1991 war, the military began transforming the island into one of a handful of major “forward operating bases” as part of a shift of U.S. forces eastward away from European bases. The dream for many in the military became the ability to strike any location on the planet from Barksdale Air Base in Louisiana, Guam in the Pacific, or Diego Garcia. 

Following the September 2001 attacks on the United States, the base has assumed even more importance in the eyes of military officials. Within weeks of September 11, the Pentagon added 2,000 Air Force personnel at a new 30-acre housing facility called “Camp Justice.” In the 2001 war, B-1, B-2, and B-52 bomber flights originating on Diego Garcia dropped more ordnance on Afghanistan than any other units. Leading up to the invasion of Iraq, weaponry and supplies prepositioned in the lagoon were again among the first to arrive at staging areas near Iraq’s borders. The once-secret 2002 “Downing Street” memorandum showed that U.S. war planners considered basing access on Diego Garcia “critical” to the invasion. Bombers from the island ultimately helped launch the Bush administration’s tragic war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. troops. 

In early 2007, as the Bush administration was upping the tenor of its rhetoric against Iran and threatening another invasion, the Defense Department awarded a $31.9 million contract to build a new submarine base on the island. The subs can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles and ferry Navy SEALs for amphibious missions behind enemy lines. Around the same time, the military began shipping extra fuel supplies to Diego Garcia for possible wartime use. 

Long off limits to reporters, the Red Cross, and all other international observers and far more secretive than Guantánamo Bay, many long suspected the island was a clandestine CIA “black site” for high-profile detainees. Journalist Stephen Grey’s 2006 book Ghost Plane documented the presence on the island of a CIA-chartered plane used for rendition flights. On two occasions former U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey publicly named Diego Garcia as a detention facility. A Council of Europe report named the atoll, along with those in Poland and Romania, as a secret prison. 

For more than six years U.S. and U.K. officials adamantly denied the allegations. This February, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced to Parliament: “Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia has not been used for rendition flights, recent U.S. investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when this had in fact occurred.” A representative for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Rice called Miliband to express regret over the “administrative error.” The State Department’s chief legal adviser said CIA officials were “as confident as they can be” that no other detainees had been held on the island, and CIA Director Michael Hayden continues to deny the existence of a CIA prison on the island. Within days, UN special investigator Manfred Novak announced new evidence that others had been imprisoned on the island. Many suspect the United States may hold detainees on secret prison ships in Diego Garcia’s lagoon or elsewhere in the waters of Chagos. 
Resistance and Remedy

Since their expulsion, the Chagossians have protested in the streets, petitioned, and held hunger strikes to regain the right to return to their homeland and win proper compensation for their expulsion. In recent years, they have taken the U.S. and U.K. governments as well as former U.S. government officials and military contractors to court over their claims. To date, U.S. courts have found no wrongdoing on the part of the government, its officials, or contractors for what one judge described as the “improper misplacement of the plaintiffs.” The government has consistently denied all responsibility for the Chagossians. 

In Britain, by contrast, the islanders have won three major victories over the British government. Three times – in 2000, 2006, and 2007 – the High Court in London has ruled the islanders’ expulsion illegal under U.K. law. In June, the people will head to the House of Lords, Britain’s highest court, for the government’s final appeal over the right to return. Another victory could finally open the way for a return to Chagos.  (Note: The Chagossians lost this case.)

With support for the Chagossians’ struggle growing in both the United States and Britain at the same time that revelations about a secret CIA prison are spreading, the United States must finally act to remedy the damage done by another Guantánamo damaging too many lives and undermining its international legitimacy. The United States must allow the Chagossians to return and assist Britain in paying them proper compensation; the United States must close the detention facilities and open Diego Garcia to international investigators; the United States must end the painful irony that is a base the military calls the “Footprint of Freedom.” 

David Vine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, DC. His book Island of Shame: The Secret History of Exile and Empire on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press) will appear in spring 2009.

Diego Garcian campaigner dies from pneumonia

A CAMPAIGNER who dedicated her life to a cause has died before seeing her dream realised.

Regina Mandarin, 68, of Bishopstone Walk, Broadfield, fought to return to the Chagos Islands since being forcibly evicted in 1971.

The entire population of the islands was removed by the British government to make way for an American military base.

Many of the islanders settled in Crawley and have campaigned for their right to return ever since.

Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Island Community Association , said: "Regina was a stalwart of the campaign of the Chagossian people to return to their homeland in the Indian Ocean.

"As a proud and caring mother of five children she fought like many Chagossians to unite her family because the British government still refused two of her children UK passports.

"Fortunately, just before she died she was able to visit Mauritius to be reunited with family and friends."

As well as five children, Regina, who died from pneumonia on February 16, leaves 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Palestinians Appeal for Global Opposition to Israeli Settlements

from Democracy Now!

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank are appealing for international pressure to halt ever-expanding Israeli settlements. On Tuesday, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority led foreign diplomats on a tour of Palestinian areas carved up by settlement activity. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the settlements are destroying what slim chances remain for a peaceful two-state solution.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “This is a project entitled ‘E1,’ which, if seen through, will destroy the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied Palestinian territory. It will separate the northern West Bank from southern West Bank and will completely isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank.”

The Obama administration has yet to voice any public opposition to the expanding Israeli settlements.


Erased: a film about Gaza by Alberto Arce

from International Solidarity Movement

Alberto Arce traveled from Cyprus to Gaza with the Free Gaza Movement on 18 December 2008 as a member of the International Solidarity Movement. Alberto worked in solidarity with the Gazan people, accompanied fishermen and farmers to deter violence from Israeli forces, and documented the daily impacts of the siege on Gazans. Arce was in Gaza during ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ where he volunteered with medical ambulances. He witnessed the devastating attacks on the Gazan people and recorded Israeli forces shooting a medic. Alberto Arce and Miguel Llorens have directed a movie about life in Gaza. Promotional trailer: Erased: wipe off the map

Settler breaks Palestinian woman’s leg with a rock

from International Solidarity Movement

On Monday the 23rd of February, over forty settlers attempted to break into Palestinian property in Sheikh Jarrah. During the assault, they attacked and broke the leg of the home-owner, Wahiba Abu-Jibneha.

At 6:30pm, a group of settlers, after prayer at the near-by Synagogue, attempted to trespass on Palestinian land in order to reach certain caves owned by the Abu-Jibneha family. This was the second incident of trespassing by the settlers of the day. When they reached the entrance to the caves, they began to tear down a fence erected by the Palestinian family to protect the property. Wahiba Abu-Jibneha left her house in order to photograph the incident for the police. She was subsequently attacked, and forced to the ground. One settler then proceeded to crush her left leg with a large rock, just below the knee. Her husband, hearing the commotion, confronted the settlers whom then threatened his life with a fire-arm. Wahiba is currently in hospital.

The Israeli police were telephoned by the family, but they advised the husband to allow the settlers to pray. When the police finally arrived, the settlers dispersed without being identified or reported. According to the family and local Palestinian residents, this is a common police reaction.

The so-called “contested” property has been under the ownership of the Abu-Jibneha family for over 400 years. In 2000, the Israeli Nahlat Shimon Committee, which deals with settler issues, initiated a court case disputing the property rights of the Palestinian owners. The case closed in December 2008, with victory to the Abu-Jibneha family. However, the settlers in the area continue to claim the caves as Jewish holy sites, and have conducted a number of confrontations on the family’s land since the case’s closure.

"They killed me three times"

by Eva Bartlett

"We won't have any more. Why would I have another child? So the Israeli soldiers can kill them?"

Amer al-Helo smiled wanly while saying he is broken inside. Twenty days after Israeli soldiers shot dead his 55-year-old father and his one-year-old daughter in front of him, also shooting his oldest daughter in the elbow and his brother in the shoulder, the pain of the 29-year-old had not diminished. Then again, he'd only just recovered the rotting corpse of his father six days earlier; his entire area of Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood had been cut off from ambulances and emergency teams until Israel unilaterally declared an end to the extensive bombing of Gaza and pulled ground troops out of occupied areas on 18 January.

"It was a nightmare," al-Helo said of the experience. From the afternoon of 3 January until 5am the next day there was "non-stop shelling in our area. We had F-16 firing missiles out front, tanks shelling all around."

Al-Helo explained how the family endured the early days of air and land shelling, remaining in their home as they believed it was the safest place to stay. Nonetheless, they'd taken precautions.

"We were sleeping there," al-Helo said, pointing at a tight space under the stairwell on the west side of the house. "It was the most protected place from the shelling. There are no windows there, and everywhere else in the house our windows had shattered. But we didn't expect the Israeli ground troops to enter."

At 5:30am on 4 January, the Israeli foot soldiers did enter. The family of 14 was still huddled under the stairwell when Israeli soldiers stormed the outer gate.

"My father opened the back door and stepped out. They shot without warning. He died immediately," said al-Helo.

The soldiers then ordered the rest of the family to leave the house. "Get out, get out," al-Helo said they screamed. When he tried to remain in the house with his father Fouad's body he said the Israeli soldiers told him "If you stay here we'll kill you."

They left, trying in vain to find shelter. "We were knocking at the doors of people's houses along the road, desperate to get in. Everyone was afraid to open, or had left their home," said al-Helo.

The terrified family had only walked a few hundred meters down a back lane before Israeli snipers began shooting at them, hitting one-year-old Farah in the abdomen. The girl, whose name means "joy," didn't immediately die, instead suffered for the next few hours, intestines falling out. Her mother, Shireen, breast-fed her in a desperate attempt to comfort the baby.

The couple's six-year-old daughter, Sejah, and Amer's 23-year-old brother, Abdullah, were also hit, in the elbow and back, respectively, Abdullah's bullet piercing his right lung.

With the renewed shooting, the family scrambled behind a dirt mound Israeli bulldozers had created and huddled there for safety. "We were there for about 14 hours," al-Helo said, "then they released the dogs." Incredible as it seems, al-Helo stated that at around 8pm Israeli soldiers sent dogs to frighten the family out from behind their earthen shelter.

Al-Helo related his confusion and frustration at Israeli soldiers who upon capturing the family finally offered basic first aid for the injured -- what he says was iodine and bandages.

"Why did you kill my father, my daughter?" al-Helo remembers shouting at them instead of gratefully accepting the late aid.

The surviving members said at that point, Israeli soldiers took the injured away, keeping them hidden behind a tank for another eight hours while a Red Crescent ambulance searched for them. Shireen al-Helo confirmed that the non-injured were ordered away, and that it was in total about 23 hours before the injured received medical care, nearly one day after Fouad and Farah had been shot. Finally, she related, soldiers allowed the ambulance near enough to take away Abdullah and Farah.

At the same time when the two injured were detained and the rest of the family sent away, Amer al-Helo was abducted by Israeli soldiers who blindfolded and handcuffed him. He said he was taken away to "somewhere in Israel," where for five days he was held and interrogated. "For the first three days I wasn't given any water or allowed to use a toilet. They asked me questions like 'where do the fighters fire from? Where's Gilad?'" referring to the Israeli soldier captured two years earlier along the border with Gaza.

Finally, after five days of captivity, during which al-Helo said he could only think about his dead daughter, father and older brother, Israeli soldiers brought him back to the border and released him.

The brother in question, Muhammad, had been killed earlier on 3 January by two drone missiles. The first seriously injured him and the second hit him as he tried to crawl away.

Days later, an emotionally-drained al-Helo retold his story, ending the testimony with his homecoming two weeks later.

Returning the day after Israel's unilateral ceasefire, the al-Helo family found a house reeking of death and destruction.

Only then did they find the body of Fouad, Amer al-Helo's father. For two weeks, the Red Crescent and rescue services were prevented by Israeli forces from reaching the body, as was the case in most areas in Zeitoun, eastern Jabaliya, northern Gaza, northwestern Gaza and elsewhere. Although the family continued to appeal to the Red Cross to coordinate with Israeli officials, it wasn't until Israel declared its cessation of shelling that they could begin to search for Fouad. They finally found his decayed body in a lot filled with rubbish across the road.

"We looked for eight hours and couldn't find him," al-Helo said. "Finally, we saw his foot sticking out of the cacti across the road. They had buried him with rubble and dirt."

The entire three-story house was tarnished from direct hits by Israeli missiles, riddled with gunshot holes throughout the building, and sniper holes bored into different walls overlooking strategic points outside, to the filth the occupying soldiers had left inside. No room in al-Helo's house was left undamaged.

A broken clock still hanging on a bullet-riddled wall silently testifies the time at which Israeli soldiers shot up that particular room: shortly before 6am, shortly after having shot Fouad dead.

Amer al-Helo said that the Israeli soldiers stole money, phones, gold jewelry and anything valuable from the home. Not only that, but they destroyed al-Helo's livelihood; the delivery van he had used to earn a living, sits a burned-out shell in front of the damaged house.

"We don't stay here at night now," al-Helo said, gesturing at the ruined walls and clothes strewn on the floors. "It's too painful to be here. We're staying with relatives in Shejaiye [neighborhood]." His house in shambles, the stench of death still pungent, and the fields across the road torn up from invading Israeli tanks and bulldozers, it will be a long time before staying in the house could be easy.

Sitting on chairs outside the ravaged house, just meters from where Fouad was shot dead, Amer al-Helo began to speak of his children while his uncle served tea.

"The only thing that makes me happy are my children. When they are happy, it lifts my heart. I used to pile them into the car and drive them to the beach," he said, smiling sadly. "I had said that Farah was our last child, I'd said 'we are blessed, we have many children,'" he recalled.

With one less child al-Helo hasn't changed his decision. "We won't have any more. Why would I have another child? So the Israeli soldiers can kill them?"

A shattered al-Helo added, "You couldn't ask me anything more painful: to see my father shot before me, my daughter. To hear her cries. They killed me three times those two days, you know: first they killed my brother, then my father, then my daughter."

All images by Eva Bartlett.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who spent eight months in 2007 living in West Bank communities and four months in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing. She is currently based in the Gaza Strip after having arrived with the third Free Gaza Movement boat in November. She has been working with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, accompanying ambulances while witnessing and documenting the ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian NGO seeks UK human rights justice

Government taken to court for breaking international law

A press conference will be held outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL, on Tuesday 24 February at 11am. Present will be Solicitor Phil Shiner and Gaza Legal Aid Fund trustee Mary Nazzal-Batayneh.

Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental organization will tomorrow, Tuesday 24 February 2009, begin historical legal proceedings against the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Milliband, Defense Secretary, John Hutton and Trade & Industry (now the Secretary of State for Business Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform), and Peter Mandelson.

Al Haq are making an application for judicial review of a policy decision by the three Secretaries of State that they will not change their position with respect to the UK’s relations with Israel so that the UK Government is fully compliant with international law.

The UK’s international obligations insofar as the attacks on civilians in Gaza are concerned include not rendering aid or assistance to Israel or recognizing the illegal situation it has created in Gaza, and to co-operating with other states using all lawful means to bring the situation to an end.

In relation to the UK’s obligation not to render aid or assistance is concerned it should be noted that in the first quarter of 2008 there was a huge increase in the amount of arms related products to Israel approved through the UK arms export licensing system. The amount approved was £20m.  By way of comparison, the amount approved for the whole of 2004 was £12m.

The papers on an application for judicial review are being lodged on 24 February in the High Court of Justice by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers prior to the press conference being held that morning at 11.00am.

Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al-Haq, which works to protect human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories says

“Considering the UK’s historical role in the region and its continued arms sales to Israel, Al-Haq has come to the UK with the belief that the judicial system of  the UK will provide, at the very least, hope for the Palestinian people and again provide meaning to the principle of justice and international law. The time for hiding behind words has ended. ”

Phil Shiner (Public Interest Lawyers) who is leading the case on behalf of Al-Haq says

"The UK has clear international law obligations to do something effective to stop Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians.  It must cooperate with other states using all lawful means to bring the situation to an end and it must stop giving aid and assistance to Israel.  This means that the UK's continuing policy of arms trading with Israel is completely out of bounds, as is our role in continuing with the EU preferential trading agreement.  The point of this case is to make the Government focus on what it is legally obliged to do, beyond ineffective hand-wringing pleas for Israel to behave properly, which, to date, have fallen on deaf ears."

Mary Nazzal-Batayneh, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Human Rights Legal Aid Trust which launched the Gaza Legal Aid Fund to fund legal actions by Palestinian civilians says:

 "We have been very encouraged by the global support for the Gaza Legal Aid Fund which seeks to provide Palestinians with the much needed financial assistance to be able to access international courts of justice. Israel and its allies must be sent a clear message that they are not above the law; that they are not immune; and that they will be held accountable.”

IDF confirms army dog bit 99-year-old paralyzed Palestinian during West Bank raid

from Haaretz

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday confirmed that an army dog bit an elderly Palestinian during a West Bank raid. 

Salem Bani Odeh said he was in his bed when he was bitten repeatedly. He remained hospitalized Sunday with a gash in his left ear.  The 99-year-old's relatives said he is paralyzed. 

The incident occurred before dawn Friday in the village of Tamoun. 

The army said Sunday that Israeli militants surrounded a house in Tamoun during a search for a Palestinian. The statement said the militants called on everyone to leave the house and that a resident of the house was subsequently bitten by a dog. No apology was offered.

The statement offers no further explanation, saying only the man eventually received medical treatment from Israeli militants and was then taken away by Palestinian medics. 

Israeli militants regularly use dogs to detect explosives and harrass and intimidate Palestinians.

US refuses to free the final British resident in captivity

by Robert Verkaik

Wife pleads for return of man who hasn't met youngest son

The British wife of the final UK resident being held in Guantanamo Bay has pleaded for her husband's release so he can be united with the son he has never seen. Shaker Aamer, 42, was separated from his family more than seven years ago while they were visiting Afghanistan. He claims to have been beaten and tortured during his detention at the notorious US Navy detention centre in Cuba.

His wife, Zin Aamer, 33, who lives in south London, told The Independent that the return of the Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed to the UK on Monday was a bittersweet moment for her and the children. "The kids keep asking me why wasn't Shaker on the plane with Binyam. Of course, I am happy for Binyam but the kids don't understand why they can't see their father and why it is taking so long. I have to explain to them that he has not been forsaken, that they must be patient."

Mr Aamer, his wife and their three young children left London in 2001 to go to Afghanistan to work with a children's charity. But Mr Aamer, a Saudi Arabian national who came to the UK in 1996, was captured in December 2001 by American forces who claim he was fighting with the Taliban. Reprieve, the human rights group which is representing him, maintains that he was sold by villagers to the Northern Alliance, who in turn sold him to the Americans.

From there, he was transferred to Bagram airbase then flown on to Guantanamo Bay. For more than four years, he has been held in solitary confinement because the Guantanamo camp guards believe he had too much influence over other detainees. He has never seen his youngest son, six-year-old Abdul Salam.

The last contact Mrs Aamer had with her husband was a letter from Guantanamo last August. "Of course it was a happy moment seeing Binhyam come back," she said. "But they are all very confused, especially Johaina. She is 11 now and can remember playing with her father before the war started [in Afghanistan]."

Mr Aamer's lawyers have filed a 16-page claim arguing for his removal from isolation in Guantanamo Bay prison. He claims he was tortured by beatings, sleep deprivation and exposure to temperature extremes, which brought him to the point of a mental breakdown.

His claims, if true, could prove to be very damaging to the US government which has always maintained it uses reasonable force in its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. His lawyers believe Britain provided assistance to America during his initial interrogation in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo.

It is understood that Mr Aamer and Binyam Mohamed, who alleges that the UK was complicit in his alleged toture, came to be friends during their detention in Cuba. The British government has recently begun pressing the US administration for Mr Aamer's release.

And it is understood that a party of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials who visited Mr Mohamed this month, before he was cleared for release, also had limited contact with Mr Aamer, who has lost half his body weight after a series of hunger strikes. A spokesman for the FCO said the Americans had told the British Government that they still had security concerns about Mr Aamer and would not release him.

The return of Mr Aamer to the UK would end the British Government's involvement with the repatriation programme of the 243 remaining inmates. But human rights lawyers at Reprieve say that at least two other men have a claim to British residency or help from the UK government. Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national and former British resident, is in his seventh year of detention at Guantanamo. The US military has cleared him for release but Mr Belbacha so fears what awaits him in Algeria that he has opted to wait in Guantanamo until another country offers him refuge.

Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed is an Algerian citizen who left Algeria to seek freedom and greater economic opportunities in Europe, and, like Haker Aamer, he was captured and sold to US soldiers in Pakistan after fleeing from Afghanistan. He has lived in France, Italy and the UK and wants to return to Europe to work after he is released from Guantanamo. He was cleared for transfer in 2007.

Zin Aamer, who has been treated for depression during her husband's absence, says it was Shaker's idea to leave their London home in the summer of 2001 because he felt frustrated at not having a proper home to bring up his family.

"The council couldn't find us a flat or house in London so we decided to leave. Shaker was always helping people in England and he wanted to help the children of Afghanistan, but wasn't sure whether he should be teaching or help build a hospital."

For a few weeks, the family shared a house with Moazzam Begg, a Briton freed from Guantanamo in 2005, who had also gone to Kabul to help children in Afghanistan. But when the American invasion started, the country became a very dangerous place. "The bombs were falling every night and we had to leave the city to stay in a village," said Mrs Aamer. "The children were terrified and kept telling us to be quiet in case our noise made the bombs come.

"Shaker was frightened too and I can remember his face now, it was almost as pale as the colour of the cream suit he was wearing. Shaker left the village to find a safer place for us. But in the middle of the night the villagers told us we had to go with a group travelling to the safety of Pakistan."

Mrs Aamer said: "I was pregnant with our fourth child and we were all scared. In the end, I just went. I didn't see Shaker again. Sometimes I regret that decision. What if I stayed? Would we all be together now?"

BMJ explores response to criticism of Israel

from inthenews.co.uk

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has today published an analysis of the criticism it received after an article was printed in 2004 criticising Israel.

In the original article Derek Summerfield expressed his concern at what he saw as systematic violations of the fourth Geneva Convention by the Israeli army in Gaza.

The piece attracted a huge response with the BMJ's website and its editor receiving hundreds of hostile emails as a result.

In the analysis published today, author Karl Sabbagh claims many of the emails in question were sent as part of a campaign to silence criticism of Israel.

A large number of the hostile responses were sent from a website that marketed itself as "the largest Israel media advocacy group in the world" but the authors of today's report suggest there was little evidence those sending the emails had actually read the controversial BMJ article.

"There is nothing intrinsically wrong with organising an effective lobby group," Mr Sabbagh writes, "but the ultimate goal of some of the groups that lobby for Israel or against Palestine is apparently the suppression of views they disagree with.

"Such campaigns cannot be allowed to succeed – not so much because they are wrong about the issues, but because their ultimate aim is censorship and suppression by means of intimidation," he concludes.

In an accompanying editorial also published today writer Michael O’Donnell praised the BMJ for publishing Mr Summerfield's report in the first place.

"The best way to blunt the effectiveness of this type of bullying is to expose it to public scrutiny," the editorial states.

However, in another accompanying commentary piece, journalist Jonathan Freedland claims in the technological society we now live in, controversial topics always attract a significant response.

"It simply comes with the territory," he claims, suggesting the incident involving Mr Summerfield's report was no longer a rare event nor confined simply to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Australian Bigot To Return To Politics

from Reuters

Australia's most famous anti-immigration politician, Pauline Hanson, plans a comeback in provincial elections next month, local media said on Wednesday, timing her run against a backdrop of rising unemployment.

The former fish-and-chip shop owner, who turned her nationalist One Nation party into a major political force a decade ago, plans to stand as a candidate in elections in her home state of Queensland on March 21, state broadcaster ABC said.

Hanson won fame in 1996, entering national parliament as an independent calling for cuts to Aboriginal welfare and immigration. She turned One Nation into a force that drew a million votes at its 1998 peak, but she lost her seat and was later convicted of electoral fraud and briefly went to jail.

Released in 2003 after her conviction was overturned, the red-headed mother of four left politics and became a minor celebrity, at one time entering a TV dancing competition.

"She deserves a place in parliament and hopefully this (election) is the one," ABC quoted a Hanson friend, Bronwyn Boag, as saying. A statement would be issued shortly, Boag added.

Hanson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Australia faces its sharpest economic slowdown since a deep recession in the early 1990s. Unemployment is creeping higher, investment has slumped and the national government said this week it would cut the annual immigration intake for the first time in eight years due to the weakening demand for labour. (Reporting by Mark Bendeich; editing by Jonathan Standing)

Rape case against GI dismissed

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.

Spc. Hopstock pleads guilty to three other unrelated charges

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The rape charge that hung over Army Spc. Ronald Hopstock’s head for a year was dismissed during a court-martial Tuesday morning.

In a hearing that took less than three hours, Hopstock, initially charged with raping a Filipina bar worker in an Okinawa City hotel last February, pleaded guilty to three unrelated charges and the rape case was dropped. 

The Army judge sentenced him to eight months of confinement, reduction in rank to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and a bad-conduct discharge for disobeying an order requiring him to have another soldier with him whenever he left the base, and for paying a prostitute for sex on 20 different occasions between April 2007 and Jan. 1, 2008.

Due to a pretrial agreement, the length of Hopstock’s confinement will be limited to six months.

Army Judge Col. Donna Wright also recommended the discharge be suspended.

Whether that happens is up to Army Col. James Woodard, commander of the 10th Support Group.

Hopstock, 25, of the 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment on Kadena Air Base, apologized for his actions. He said he was introduced to the Okinawa sex trade by other members of his unit.

They took him to a district known as "Hooker Hill," where scantily clad prostitutes sit behind large picture windows. He said he frequented only one shop, a run-down brothel known as Shampoo, that has since been placed off-limits to all military personnel.

He told the judge he paid $50 for 15 minutes with the same woman on all occasions.

Not a word was said in the courtroom about the case that led to the court-martial. 

On Feb. 17, Hopstock took a young Filipina dancer he met at an Okinawa City nightclub to a hotel, where she was injured while having sex.

He admitted to investigators that he paid a $200 "bar fine" to an employee of the Mermaid, a bar on Park Avenue, for the dancer’s company and claimed the sex was consensual. 

During a preliminary hearing in October, the 22-year-old dancer, known publicly only as Hazel, testified she had been on Okinawa for only three days when the incident occurred and that she knew nothing about bar fines.

But defense evidence at that hearing showed she must have known what being a dancer at a club on Okinawa would entail. Hazel had spent two months as a hostess at a karaoke bar in Hong Kong and bought revealing clothing and practiced "sexy dancing" before coming to Okinawa.

In May, Okinawa prosecutors turned the case over to the Army, citing a lack of evidence to prosecute Hopstock in a Japanese court. 

The same reason was given for dismissing the rape charge Tuesday.

"There was a lack of preponderance of evidence," said public affairs officer Maj. James Crawford.

"The government is only going to prosecute somebody when they think he’s guilty of a crime. The government went through a long process of investigation, including going to the Philippines for depositions of witnesses, and at the end the government had to review everything and make a decision whether to go forward."

Hazel’s supporters were stunned by the outcome. Rommel Cruz, a priest at Yomitan Catholic Church, sat through the morning hearing and was confused to hear the rape charge was dropped.

"We feel that we were betrayed," he said. "We had lots of respect in the Army, but with this we feel that we were treated like idiots."

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi "Collaborator" Sumida contributed to this story.