Inside the Middle East
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
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"

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Filed under: Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Human Rights •Palestinians •West Bank

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January 11, 2012
Posted: 1632 GMT
New houses are seen in West Bank Israeli settlement of Qedar, on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Getty)
New houses are seen in West Bank Israeli settlement of Qedar, on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Getty)

As Israelis and Palestinians attempted to give peace a chance this past week with a second Jordanian sponsored meeting of the two sides, a new report issued by an Israeli settlement watch dog organization is likely to further dim the unlikely prospect of any breakthrough between the parties.

Tuesday, the anti-settlement activist group Peace Now released a new report citing a 20% increase in the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The report found that the number of plans for new Jewish homes in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem was at its highest number in a decade with over 3,600 housing units approved and preliminary plans made for another 2660.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Peace Now director, Yariv Oppenheimer, said, 2011 "will be remembered as the 'year of the settlers' regarding construction in the West Bank" and claimed the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was jeopardizing the possibility of a two-state solution.

The Israeli government described Peace Now’s figures as exaggerated and spokesman Mark Regev offered this pointed retort:

"The current Israeli government has been attacked by the leadership of the settlement movement for being the "worst government in Israel's history" when it comes to settlement construction. And it is indeed true that we have shown more restraint on the issue of settlement than any previous Israeli government. We initiated the unprecedented ten-month settlement moratorium and even since the conclusion of that moratorium we continue to exercise great restraint."

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Filed under: General •Israel •Palestinians •Peace Talks •West Bank

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August 5, 2011
Posted: 1511 GMT
The Abu Hajjaj family home in Gaza
The Abu Hajjaj family home in Gaza

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."

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Filed under: Gaza •Hamas •Human Rights •Israel •Palestinians

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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: Probably.


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?

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Filed under: Hamas •Iran •Israel •Netanyahu •Palestinians •Video

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March 29, 2011
Posted: 1643 GMT

In the preceding post we wrote about the controversy over the Facebook group page that called for a third Palestinian intifada.  Now Facebook has pulled down the page in question. For more read our story here.

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Filed under: Israel •Palestinians •Social Media

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March 28, 2011
Posted: 1724 GMT
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a company event November 15, 2010 (Getty)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a company event November 15, 2010 (Getty)

After publicly calling for the removal of a Facebook page it said promoted "wild incitement," the Israeli government says it is now satisfied that the social media giant is effectively monitoring the "Third Palestinian Intifada" group page for compliance with its terms of service.

Gal Ilan, a spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, told CNN that following a letter of complaint sent last week to Facebook founder and chairman Mark Zuckerberg by Minister Yuli Edelstein, the internet company had done a better job at policing and removing content that in some instances promoted "the killing of Israelis and Jews and the 'liberating' of Jerusalem and of Palestine through acts of violence."

In that letter Edelstein wrote:

"As Facebook's CEO and founder you are obviously aware of the site's great potential to rally the masses around good causes, and we are all thankful for that. However, such potential comes hand in hand with the ability to cause great harm such as in the case of the wild incitement...I turn to you with the request that you order the immediate removal of this Facebook page. I write to you not only in my capacity as Israel's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs who is charged with monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, but as someone who believes in the values of free speech, and knows that there is a difference between freedom of expression and incitement. "

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Filed under: Israel •Palestinians •Social Media

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March 18, 2011
Posted: 1505 GMT

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with Piers Morgan(Getty)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with Piers Morgan(Getty)

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."

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Filed under: CNN Coverage •Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Israel •Netanyahu •Palestinians •West Bank

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January 27, 2011
Posted: 724 GMT

We did this interview with the Quartet's envoy Tony Blair the day after Al-Jazeera released new leaked documents detailing British involvement in supporting the development of Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, some of which have been involved in human rights abuses including torture of prisoners according to various human rights organizations. Blair also takes aim at the Qatar-based news network for the way the documents have been released.

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Filed under: Human Rights •Palestinians •Video •West Bank

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January 23, 2011
Posted: 719 GMT
The view of the concrete barrier separating Gaza and Israel from the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing.(CNN/Kevin Flower)
The view of the concrete barrier separating Gaza and Israel from the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing.(CNN/Kevin Flower)

It's an experience I had heard described dozens of times before; a frequent occurrence for Palestinians and an unwelcome rite of passage for some members of the international media covering the Middle East conflict.

But if I thought during my four-and-a-half years serving as CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief I had dodged this particular indignity, I was wrong.

"I need you to take off your sweater and your shirt," came the request from the man on the other side of the glass.

I was in a small fluorescent lit, concrete-walled room with a large picture window. The floor was comprised of a metal grating revealing another dank concrete room below.

Behind the glass sat a casually dressed man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. He spoke to me through a microphone.

"Take your clothes off and put them in the container behind you," he told me in Hebrew-accented English.

I stood motionless in the bleak room in a state of shock.

I knew exactly what was happening, but it was still difficult to believe – I was being strip-searched.

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Filed under: CNN Coverage •Gaza •Israel •Palestinians

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January 3, 2011
Posted: 1408 GMT
Scene from film Secular Quarter #3. (courtesy Jerusalem 2111/David Gidali)
Scene from film Secular Quarter #3. (courtesy Jerusalem 2111/David Gidali)

Palestinian soldiers and United Nation's tanks look on as utlra-orthodox Jews protest in the streets....Smoke billows from the windows of the Knesset as protestors participate in a rebellion to overthrow the government....The walls of the Old City are painted red and adorned with the logo of the country's largest cable television company....

These are just a few of the controversial visions of what Jerusalem may look like a century from now as expressed by filmmakers in the recent International Animation Competition.

Organized by an Israeli city planning organization the competition asked directors to submit one to three-minute films that portrayed an "urban sci-fi vision of the city of Jerusalem" a hundred years from now. Contest organizer Daniel Wiernik, said they received almost a hundred submissions from 10 different countries, though the majority of the films came from Israel.

All of the contestants were required to post their work on-line where after an initial round of public voting the most popular films were screened by a panel of judges including famed Avatar and Titanic producer Jon Landau and German film director or Wim Wenders.

Ranging from the utopian to the dystopian the films offer an interesting variety of visions and commentary on the future of one of the world's holiest and most divided cities. While many of the films offer grim and sobering predictions for the city Wiernik said he was surprised at how many were optimistic considering the genre requirement.

The winning short, Secular Quarter #3, was created by Israeli filmmakers David Gidali and Itay Gross and depicts a ghettoised Jerusalem where the city's population is separated by huge iron walls inter-connected by large domes covering swaths of the city. As night approaches aircraft hover over the city lifting the walls and allowing the a face to face encounter between a black-hatted ultra-orthodox Jewish male and a young and a tattooed secular female.

The duo, who are film students in Los Angeles, took home a ten-thousand dollar prize for their efforts.

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Filed under: General •Jerusalem

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