January 20, 2012
Posted: 1727 GMT
It was slightly before midnight last Friday when Mahmoud Abu Rahma was walking home from his office at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City. But before he made it to his house he was set upon by three masked assailants. The men stabbed Abu Rahma multiple times in the leg and shoulder while screaming that he was an "atheist" and a "collaborator".
Even as the attack began Abu Rahma says he knew what it was about.
Three weeks ago, on New Year's eve, he published a scathing article on a Palestinian news website titled "The Gap Between Resistance and Governance." In it he took Palestinian political factions to task for their lack of tolerance, rampant corruption, and liberal use of torture and arrests to harass those who criticize them.
"Power and authority with a poor moral foundation are doomed to fail. They will destroy themselves and lead their people to corruption and injustice," Abu Rahma wrote in the essay.
"The people of any nation have a responsibility to criticize those who lead them. We must look in the mirror before we can see ourselves clearly. "
Mahmoud Abu Rahma
Abu Rahma also criticized armed militant groups for endangering the lives of civilians.
The unsparing critique on the powers-that-be in the West Bank and Gaza brought an immediate reaction.
Abu Rahma says he was quickly subjected to a series of threatening email and phone calls and three days after publication a group of masked men entered his building and beat him up.
During the course of the second attack Abu Rahma was able to escape his assailants and get home where family and friends got him medical attention.
The Hamas-controlled Information Ministry in Gaza said in a statement the government was investigating the circumstances of the attack on Abu Rahma and called it a violation of human rights. It also said Gaza authorities respected the right of political expression as long as it conformed with "national responsibility."
But international rights organizations like Human Rights Watch say the governments in both Gaza and the West Bank are complicit in the abuse and harassment of Palestinian critics using both detention and torture as a means of repression.
"Hamas's failure to protect Abu Rahma, who has been a leading voice for human rights in Gaza, sends a chilling message to other human rights defenders," says Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.
"Hamas needs to investigate the attacks against him promptly and thoroughly and to appropriately punish those found responsible."
Speaking on the phone from Gaza, Abu Rahma says he does not know who is behind the "cowardly attack" but says the attempt to silence those looking to improve Palestinian society will not work.
He remains unbowed and said the tremendous outpouring of support following his article and subsequent attacks has only stiffened his resolve.
"I am confident that the Palestinian people will stand together for human rights and self freedom of expression"
January 13, 2012
Posted: 1441 GMT
This week a court in the West Bank City of Ramallah overturned a government ban on the broadcast of a highly popular Palestinian satirical television show called "Watan Ala Watar".
Described as a Palestinian version of the American show, "Saturday Night Live", "Watan Ala Watar" or "Nation on the Edge" served up a weekly offering of cutting political and social satire which spared no one in Palestinian society and angered more than a few in the Palestinian Authority.
Sketches on the shows routinely featured parodies of Palestinian political factions including Fatah and Hamas and offered send-ups of sensitive cultural issues like the enforcement of veils for women in Gaza.
Speaking to CNN about the show in 2009, writer and actor Imad Farajin said that when it came to subject matter there were no sacred cows.
"We talk about Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, and for Arab people to talk about their president through comedy show is not easy, but we did it and I am proud of it," Farajin remarked
The program was pulled off the Palestinian Authority controlled television station in August during the heavy viewing period of Ramadan after a number of Palestinian officials complained that the show unfairly misrepresented them and did damage to their reputations.
August 5, 2011
Posted: 1511 GMT
This week, Israel's Defense Ministry agreed to make an extraordinary payment – an award of almost $150,000 to a Palestinian family in Gaza.
It is the first pay-out to any party claiming harm during the course of Operation Cast Lead – Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza that began at the end of 2008, according to the Ministry and human rights organizations
The settlement was negotiated by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) on behalf of the family of a mother and daughter killed by Israeli soldiers during Cast Lead. The payment is to be made to the family in return for their dropping the claim against the Israeli military.
The family of Riyeh and Majda Abu Hajjaj filed their claim against the Israeli military two years ago – with the help of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem The family claimed that on January 4th, 2009 the mother and daughter were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as they and other civilians evacuated a house in a Gaza city neighbourhood while carrying white flags. The family said they were not able to retrieve the bodies from the scene until two weeks later because of continued fighting in the area.
In a statement to CNN the Israeli Ministry of Defense said the claim was settled out of court "because the Defense Ministry believes that it was exceptional (not reflecting at all on the norm) and justifies the granting of reparation."
May 6, 2011
Posted: 840 GMT
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Will Osama bin Laden's death weaken extremists? Or does it make the region more dangerous, especially for Israel?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: No, it weakens extremists. When the world's number one terrorist, a man who's responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people is brought to justice and is eliminated, it tells terrorists everywhere there's a price and you will pay it and that's good.
VERJEE: Was President Obama right not to release the photo?
NETANYAHU: He probably has his reasons. I haven't seen the photos but I think it's immaterial (ph). I don't think that anyone really questions the fact that Osama bin Laden has been killed. I think that's a safe fact.
VERJEE: Who would you consider today, the world's most dangerous man, the biggest threat to the world's security after bin Laden?
NETANYAHU: The biggest threat is the possibility of the militant Islamic regime will acquire nuclear weapons or that nuclear weapons will acquire a militant Islamic regime. The first is called Iran. If the Iranian regime gets atomic bombs, it'll change history.
VERJEE: Do you think Ahmadinejad is the biggest threat?
NETANYAHU: I think he's a big threat. I think his boss, Khamenei is a bigger threat. Iran is (ph) the country and he's infused with fanaticism - he wants to get the whole lot – he calls us Israel, "the little Satan" because America is "the great Satan" and I hope that Europe and Britain aren't offended because they're a middle-sized Satan. So all these statements have to be eliminated and, if necessary, they're developing atomic bombs for that affair (ph).
VERJEE: So why haven't you taken action, a targeted action against Iran if you're convinced it needs to be eliminated?
NETANYAHU: Well, because one of the things that we've looked at is the leadership of the international community, led by the United States, to force that regime to stop its nuclear bombs program. I think the sanctions might work if the international community makes it clear that there's a credible military option if the sanctions don't work. And I think that the coupling of those two things - economic sanctions and a military option if sanctions don't work - that's the only thing that will make this regime stop. And I hope to see that determination (ph) in place.
VERJEE: There's a government now that represents all Palestinians in a unity government. Why won't you accept that?
April 17, 2011
Posted: 955 GMT
An Italian humanitarian activist and journalist who was kidnapped in Gaza has been found dead and one person is in custody, the Hamas Interior Ministry said Friday in a statement.
Police investigating the case learned where 36-year-old Vittorio Arrigoni was being held and went to the location, where they found the body, the statement said.
An autopsy revealed that he had been killed hours before police entered the location, it said.
The grisly outcome came hours after a video was posted on YouTube showing a man identified by his colleagues as Arrigoni. A black blindfold covered his eyes; his right cheek appeared red as though it had been hit; his hands appeared to be bound behind his back. A hand belonging to someone outside of the view of the lens appeared to be grasping his hair on the back and pointing the captive's head toward the camera. Read more...
April 5, 2011
Posted: 1942 GMT
Thousands gathered in the West Bank Tuesday in memorials for noted Israeli Palestinian actor, director, and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis.
Mer-Khamis, 53, was gunned down Monday outside the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp – an institution he helped found to introduce Palestinian children to the performing arts.
His death at the hands of an unknown masked gunman, sent shock waves through Jenin and the artistic community in both the West Bank and Israel where his work in local theatre was well-known.
Born to an Israeli-Jewish mother and a Palestinian Christian father, Mer-Khamis believed theatre and music could be used to empower Palestinian children to fight against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
The theatre opened its doors in 1988 in the middle of the first Palestinian intifada and amidst several closures, attacks, and robberies managed to stay in operation teaching thousands of Palestinians children.
In a 2008 video Mer-Khamis described the Freedom Theatre project as “a venue to join the Palestinian people for their struggle for their liberation”
“We believe that the third intifada, the coming intifada should be a cultural intifada with theatre, music, cameras and magazines.” he said.
“We hope this theatre will generate a political artist movement of artists who will raise their voice against women discrimination, against children discrimination, against violence, unnecessary violence against civilians, to bring back a just cause – we are not terrorists. To me freedom is The Freedom Theatre"
Palestinian police say they have arrested several men in connection with the shooting but have not named a suspect.
The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was quick to condemn Mer-Khamis’s death saying “This despicable crime will not be tolerated under any circumstances; it constitutes a severe violation of our principles and values and goes against our peoples’ morals and beliefs in co-existence.”
Mer-Khamis is survived by his wife and two children from a previous marriage.
In a testimonial to their former mentor a group of current Freedom Theatre students wrote “your children are going to stay, following your path on the way to the freedom battle, and we will go on with your revolution’s promise, the Jasmine revolution.”
March 26, 2011
Posted: 900 GMT
Jerusalem (CNN) - In the latest chapter of an unfolding story that reads like a spy thriller, a Palestinian engineer who was allegedly abducted by Israeli intelligence services in the Ukraine over a month ago will be kept in custody for at least another week after an Israeli court ruling.
After being held for over 30 days in an Israeli jail under mysterious circumstances, Dirar Abu Sisi's incarceration will last at least one more week after a judge in a Petach Tikvah court Thursday granted an Israeli government request to keep Abu Sisi behind bars in order for the state to produce evidence against him.
"This request means that Israel does not have, even after 34 days of interrogation, sufficient evidence to indict Dirar Abu Sisi with any offense under Israeli law and under these circumstances we argue that he should be released, " Abu Sisi's attorney Smadar Ben-Natan told CNN following his court appearance.
Read the rest here
March 18, 2011
Posted: 1505 GMT
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out the possibility that his government would ever negotiate with a Palestinian government that included the Islamist group Hamas.
“Can you imagine a peace deal with Al Qaeda? Of course not.” Netanyahu told Morgan in Jerusalem. “What am I going to negotiate with them? The method of our decapitation? The method of their exterminating us? Of course not"
The vocal opposition from Netanyahu comes amidst Palestinians efforts to end the bitter political divide between their two main political parties.
Wednesday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he was ready to visit the Gaza Strip immediately in an effort to end the internal political division between his Fatah party and the Hamas faction which rules in Gaza.
That move followed an invitation from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh who extended the invitation to Abbas as tens of thousands of protestors both in the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets demanding political unity.
Israel has long rejected the idea of direct negotiations with Hamas which it regards as a terrorist organization but Netanyahu’s comments signal what appears to be a new Israeli push to prevent Abbas from striking deal that would include Hamas in any future Palestinian government.
Friday’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Israeli officials were working to convince the United States and other nations that any Hamas role in a government would attest to the Palestinian’s lack of interest in peace.
The division between Fatah and Hamas began in 2006 when the Islamist party won parliamentary elections and worsened a year later when Hamas seized power in Gaza from Fatah in a violent coup. Repeated attempts at negotiating a political rapprochement have failed .
While few are holding their breath that this latest effort at reconciliation will bear fruit there is considerably more pressure being brought to bear on both factions. Taking a page from protestors in Egypt and Tunisia internet savvy Palestinians have been using social media to organize increasing numbers to demonstrate publicly for reconciliation.
Independent lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti says recent demonstrations represent a new and important youth movement in Palestinian society.
"What you see is the beginning of change, what you see is the voice of the young people and the silent majority among the Palestinians which are pressuring both Fatah and Hamas to end this terrible division, to end this internal competition about an authority which does not exist because it is all under occupation," Barghouti said. "You see the voice of the Palestinian majority asking for democracy back and asking for unity, which is the only way to end occupation and the suffering of the people."
November 9, 2010
Posted: 1906 GMT
Following our post (see below) on a Fars News Agency report about Hamas extending an invitation to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit the Gaza Strip, we were finally able to get in touch with Hamas official Dr. Ahmed Yousef.
Yousef told us that in fact no written invitation had been made to the Iranian leader and that his comments to the news agency had been misunderstood.
Yousef said President Ahmadinejad was indeed welcome to come to the Gaza Strip as were all Arab and Muslim leaders to see the impact of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.
He said this blanket invitation was made through the Arab League and the only leader who had responded thus far was the organization's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, who visited Gaza this past June.
Posted: 1523 GMT
Fresh off the success of his controversial visit to Lebanon, it appears that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will now be weighing whether or not to make another diplomatic visit – this time to the Gaza Strip.
According to semi-official Iranian news agency Fars, the Hamas government in Gaza has extended an official invitation to the Iranian leader to visit the coastal strip in order to "boost resistance moral" of the territories 1.5 million Palestinian residents.
Hamas official Ahmed Yousef told Fars “We invite (President) Ahmadinejad to pay a visit to the Gaza Strip, and we are confident that the visit will have extraordinary importance”
Yousef told Fars he hoped that a trip by the Iranian leader would inspire Gazans in the same way it did for Lebanese.
Lacking the same enthusiasm would be Israel which has long accused the Iranian regime of providing weapons and cash to Hamas which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
"Perhaps he could be smuggled in through the tunnels with weapons" deadpanned Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor who said he did not expect an Ahmadinejad visit to take place, despite the invitation.
Israel and Egypt control the land, sea and air approaches to the territory and it would be unlikely that the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak , which has not enjoyed the friendliest of relations with Iran, would allow such a visit.
For his part Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who represents a rival Palestinian political faction, will not be supporting a visit either. He recently told CNN that both Iran and Hamas were impeding the peace talks with Israel.
"Hamas and whoever is standing behind Hamas – meaning Iran – is slowing the peace process. Yes, yes, Iran is pressuring Hamas not to be part of any agreement, so that they can use Hamas as a negotiations card in their talks with the international community and especially with the United States."