Donald Trump invests $300 million in Israel (& more Islamic gay-bashing)

July 05, 2006

Also:
* BBC’s internal use of the word “terrorists” for those who threaten the BBC
* Mona Eltahawy on the difficulty of being an Arab journalist
* Reporters Without Borders: Following Hamas pressure, Palestinian press freedom is slipping to the bottom of the world league, behind “free-er” countries like Afghanistan, and is now as bad as Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea

 

CONTENTS

1. BBC’s internal use of the word “terrorists” for those who threaten the BBC
2. Britain’s Channel 4 possibly worse than the BBC
3. Donald Trump to build tallest building in Israel
4. Pope Benedict XVI to visit Israel in the first half of 2007
5. Red Cross admits Israel, ending long exclusion
6. Egypt: Al-Azhar Ulema says suicide bombers “are condemned to hell”
7. Director General of PA TV: “We are going to be a new Somalia”
8. Qaradawi: “Kerry was supported by homosexuals and nudists”
9. Iranian film shows plight of transvestites and transsexuals
10. “A perilous dance with the Arab press” (By Mona Eltahawy, IHT, June 19, 2006)
11. “Power and the press” (Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2006)
12. “Palestinian terrorist sues UK government” (Associated Press, June 21, 2006)
13. “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws used to persecute non-Muslims” (S. Telegraph, June 25, 2006)


[Additional Note by Tom Gross]

BBC’S INTERNAL USE OF THE WORD “TERRORISTS” FOR THOSE WHO THREATEN THE BBC

As a follow up to Monday’s dispatch (Israeli soldier kidnapped? Not on the BBC), in which I noted that the BBC senior management had again rejected recommendations that they use the word “terrorists” for groups that place bombs in Israeli buses and markets, please note that in this internal BBC email (below), sent to everybody at the BBC, the word “terrorists” was used for those people who may threaten the BBC. (I have removed the BBC’s internal phone number and replaced it with 000 so no one outside the BBC can use it.)

From: Safety and Security Information
Sent: 05 June 2006 10:37
Subject: Extra Security In The Current Situation
Importance: High

This is going to everyone

Recent events have shown that the BBC remains a target for protest groups, and we should always be alert to the possibility that activists are likely to consider direct action against the media in general particularly where ‘live’ broadcasting is involved.

Additionally, the threat to the UK from terrorists remains high. We have heightened security in many BBC buildings and we’re reviewing this regularly in close consultation with the police and security services.

We are also asking all BBC staff and the staff of our partners to be vigilant. In particular, if your building has any form of access control system it’s important that no one “tailgates” behind you as you are entering. Intruders can gain access by closely following you before the door or barrier has closed. Please be careful not to let anyone in this way – on foot or by car. If you see this happening, alert a member of security or your line manager immediately; don’t tackle the intruder yourself.

Our additional security level means:
You must wear your ID badge visibly when on all BBC premises. Visitors must be collected and escorted at all times
Parcels must be verified by the recipient on arrival, or the delivery will be rejected
BBC Clubs will allow access to club membership card holders only. Guests or visitors can be admitted if accompanied (at all times), and signed in, by a member
We cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to co-operate if we are to maintain the level of security the police advise – in the end it is for our own safety.
Finally, a reminder about the BBC’s 000 emergency information system. Ring 000 to keep up to date with any current incidents and how you should respond. If you have a mobile, add this number to your phone book.

Thank you for your continued support.
Jeremy Nordberg John Smith
Acting Director, BBC People Chief Operating Officer

BRITAIN’S CHANNEL 4 POSSIBLY WORSE THAN THE BBC

Jon Snow, the highly respected anchor of Britain’s Channel 4 news, outdid himself in an astonishing assault on an Israeli diplomat. It is virtually inconceivable that a leading a journalist would treat a diplomat from any other country with this degree of disrespect.

Among the statements Snow made during the “interview,” he says of the Qassam rockets hitting the Israeli town of Sderot and elsewhere “Rockets – pretty pathetic things, nobody gets injured.” This misinformation has also been repeated in the print press in recent days, including in The Guardian. For photos of some of those Israelis murdered in Sderot by Qassam rockets, see the foot of this page (Dorit Aniso, age 2 and Yuval Abebeh, 4).

You can watch Snow’s “interview” at anti-Israeli websites like these which are trumpeting it (and also provide email addresses): www.mpacuk.org/content/view/2294/1/

-- TG

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

DONALD TRUMP TO BUILD TALLEST BUILDING IN ISRAEL

Following the recent decision by Warren Buffett, the world’s second richest man, to choose the Israeli economy for his first large-scale non-American investment, another American billionaire, Donald Trump, has announced plans to enter the Israeli market. Trump (who, for the record, like Buffett, is not Jewish) is to build a $300 million, 70-story luxury apartment building in Ramat Gan, next to Tel Aviv.

The new tower, with 73,000 square meters (785,765 square foot), is set to be the tallest building in Israel, and the average price for each apartment will be $1 million. The luxury building is expected to be called Trump Tower Israel.

At the unveiling of the development last week, Trump said that the real-estate project would become a “landmark for future luxury apartment buildings in Israel.” Trump added that he is “certain Israel is on the right track.”

POPE BENEDICT XVI TO VISIT ISRAEL IN THE FIRST HALF OF 2007

Pope Benedict XVI will visit Israel in early 2007 following an agreement between the Papal nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, and Israel’s Minister of Tourism Isaac Herzog.

The visit is seen as significant both politically and economically as the Pope will bring with him a large entourage of pilgrims. The visit is also expected to encourage other pilgrims to visit Israel later in the year.

The late John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Israel in 2000; he visited sites sacred to Christianity, including the Mt. of the Beatitudes, overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). On this last papal visit, John Paul II was accompanied by 60,000 pilgrims, who spent 420,000 hotel nights in Israel.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, 800,000 Christian pilgrims visited Israel in 2005. 400,000 Christian pilgrims visited Israel in 2004.

RED CROSS ADMITS ISRAEL, ENDING LONG EXCLUSION

The International Red Cross Federation has admitted Israel’s Magen David Adom along with the Palestine Red Crescent, following nearly 60 years of asking by the Israeli society.

An optional new emblem has been adopted so Israel can retain its red star of David instead of having to adopt the red cross or crescent used by the 184 other societies in the global movement. The emblem, dubbed the “red crystal,” was approved over Muslim objections last December.

At a recent International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, a resolution was passed setting up the legal basis for Israel’s admission and making an exception to the rule that societies have to be under a sovereign state so that the Palestinians could join as well.

Magen David Adom had sought membership of the movement since the 1930s but was refused entry on the grounds that it did not use one of the approved symbols.

At the conference an amendment by Muslim states to block Israel joining the Red Cross was defeated. Most other states in the world voted for Israel’s admission, following American lobbying.

“At last Israel has been admitted. This is an extraordinarily exciting evening,” said Bonnie McElveen Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross. “MDA is a world-class emergency response organization and has a great deal of expertise to offer other National Societies and the world during critical times of need,” she added.

EGYPT: AL-AZHAR ULEMA SAYS SUICIDE BOMBERS “ARE CONDEMNED TO HELL”

In a welcome development, the ulema of Cairo’s al-Azhar university, the highest seat of Sunni Muslim learning, last Thursday renewed their criticism of suicide bombers, this time underlining how many Islamists confuse “suicide” with “martyrdom” in defense of ones faith of country. In Islam, they explained, those who commit suicide “are condemned to hell.” In this case they are not considered “true Muslims” even if they are pushed to this dramatic gesture by religious motivations.

DIRECTOR GENERAL OF PA TV: “WE ARE GOING TO BE A NEW SOMALIA”

Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy (who is a subscriber to this email list) has written an important article in the International Herald Tribune, in which she says that “Writing for an Arab newspaper is like playing hopscotch in a minefield.” She points out that “Few newspapers in the Arab world are truly independent. Most are state-controlled or state-owned, or owned by persons very close to the state.” (The article is attached below.)

The second article below examines the situation of the Palestinian media and the current pressure Palestinian journalists are facing from both Hamas and Fatah. Muhammad Dahudi, director general of Palestine TV, forecasts a bleak future for Palestinian media, predicting “We are going to be a new Somalia.”

The third article reports that Palestinian terrorist leader Ahmed Saadat, has filed a lawsuit against the British government alleging that his human rights were violated. For more on Saadat, see “Possibly the most maligned country on the planet is in the news again” (March 16, 2006).

QARADAWI: “KERRY WAS SUPPORTED BY HOMOSEXUALS AND NUDISTS”

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Sunni cleric who lives in Qatar, and who is a close ally of London mayor Ken Livingstone and other European leftist leaders, said in an interview on Al-Jazeera TV that “homosexuals should be punished like fornicators.” He added that John Kerry, who ran for president in 2004, “was supported by homosexuals and nudists.”

Qaradawi, who supports the suicide bombing of Jews, says homosexuals “must be punished.” “The schools of thought disagree about the punishment. Some say we should throw them from a high place. Some say we should burn them. There is disagreement. The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.”

Livingstone and other Western far-leftist politicians, remain close to Qaradawi mainly because of his views against Israel.

IRANIAN FILM SHOWS PLIGHT OF TRANSVESTITES AND TRANSSEXUALS

In spite of Qaradawi’s remarks, there are some divergent opinions in Islamic societies about homosexuality. AFP reports that a new Iranian documentary about the plight of transvestites and transsexuals has been screened before an invited audience of 100 people in Teheran.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the late revolutionary leader, passed a little known religious edict ruling that such operations were an acceptable last resort for patients whose self-image was irreconcilably at odds with their birth sex.

The director of the film, Sharareh Attari, has been praised for her “courage and determination” and she hopes her film will inspire more established filmmakers to tackle sensitive subjects.

For more, please see:
english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/B75D9B55-DDAF-44FA-88C5-0E08D31F8373.htm.

The final article in this dispatch takes another look at Christians in Pakistan, who continue to suffer widespread persecution (as barely reported in The New York Times or on the BBC). This email list has for years detailed the persecution of Christians, most recently the article in the dispatch of May 22, 2006, titled “Much of Europe prefers a traditional Muslim woman who keeps her mouth shut.”

I attach five articles below, with summaries first for those that do not have time to read them in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARIES

“YASSER ARAFAT SYNDROME”

“A perilous dance with the Arab press” (By Mona Eltahawy, International Herald Tribune, June 19, 2006)

Writing for an Arab newspaper is like playing hopscotch in a minefield.

From January 2004 until early this year I played my game of hopscotch in a weekly column on the opinion pages of Asharq al-Awsat, the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper that is read across the Arab world.

And then I stepped on a mine. Without warning or notice, fewer and fewer of my columns made it into print. Then my articles stopped appearing altogether. I had been banned.

Nobody tells you that you’re banned from an Arab paper – especially a paper that is supposedly the liberal home of writers banned from other papers, which is how Asharq al-Awsat portrays itself…

Before my ban, Asharq al-Awsat launched a Web site in English. Designed to show Western readers how liberal it was, the site suffered from Yasser Arafat syndrome. Just as the late Palestinian leader’s statements in Arabic and in English were sometimes contradictory, the newspaper in Arabic would abide by the red lines that govern criticism of Arab leaders while in English it ran roughshod over those very same lines…

A column I wrote tearing into the Egyptian regime for allowing its security forces to beat peaceful protesters and to sexually assault female journalists and demonstrators was spiked from the Arabic newspaper and Web site but appeared in its entirety on the English Web site.

Few newspapers in the Arab world are truly independent. Most are state-controlled or state-owned, or owned by persons very close to the state; Asharq al-Awsat is published by a nephew of the Saudi king…

 

“IN GAZA THE SWORD IS MIGHTIER THAN THE PEN”

“Power and the press” (By Matthew Gutman, The Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2006)

… In Gaza, where the sword is mightier than the pen, the media have become the latest battleground in the struggle between the Islamic Hamas and nationalist Fatah parties. So far, no journalists have been seriously hurt in the war to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians, but intimidation compelled some media outlets like al-Hurriya to slash news broadcasts, and has sufficiently frightened some writers enough to cause them to lay down their pens.

In Gaza’s mosques, Hamas clerics are denouncing some media as traitorous, and though Hamas leaders in turn denounce the threats, they have taken no action to stop them. They openly accuse independent and Fatah-related media of courting civil war and in recent weeks, journalists or media outlets deemed to have an anti-Hamas bent have not been merely subjected to phoned or e-mailed death threats. On June 4, assailants sacked the Palestine TV bureau in Khan Yunis, torching expensive satellite equipment…

But intimidation of the Palestinian press is hardly new. Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, clapped in jail dozens of journalists and prominent dissidents who dared speak their minds.

Back then, the rules were clear. “You ran into trouble when you wrote about [Arafat],” says Arabeed…

In 2005, the Palestinian territories ranked 132 in the RWF Worldwide Press Freedom Index, a ranking of press freedoms in 167 countries. That ranking put the West Bank and Gaza ahead of Sudan and Mexico but behind “free-er” countries like Afghanistan.

This year, the Palestinian ranking will slide further down towards the bottom, snugly near Iran, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, says Reporters Without Borders (RWF)…

“I was getting 50-70 death threats a day for three weeks,” says al-Hurriya’s Arabeed. Four of his 32 staffers quit because of the threats, he adds, most of whom received threats of the “I know-where-you-live” variety on their mobile phones.

So in May, after six years of continuous live news coverage, he directed his staff to broadcast only the headlines ripped from news wires…

He is not alone. Muhammad Dahudi, director general of Palestine TV, says he gets 20 calls a day from people calling themselves Hamas militants. They threaten to knee cap, dismember and plug him full of lead for his station’s allegedly biased reporting. When his wife heard a sermon on the radio fulminating against him last week, he realized it was time to change his telephone numbers…

On June 4, gunmen raided the Palestine TV bureau in Khan Yunis, firing off rounds into TV equipment and beating two of the employees, according to news reports…

Many of the 33 Palestinian TV stations, 20 radio stations and 19 or so newspapers have been threatened. It’s not clear exactly how many. The staff at Fatah-affiliated Shabab radio in Gaza is also flooded with death threats, according to its director, Hamza Abu Reisha…

Most Palestinians get their news from al-Jazeera, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Still, with 29% using it as their primary news source, Palestine TV is no small prize…

Fatah is also not above pressuring the media. Following an assassination attempt on the Palestinian general intelligence chief on May 20, Fatah members prevented foreign and local crews from filming the intelligence headquarters and even stole some crews’ film at gunpoint. The Foreign Press Association of Israel and the Palestinian territories issued an official complaint… Then on May 22, three cars parked in the al-Jazeera lot in Ramallah were torched by Fatah…

 

AHMED SAADAT SUES UK GOVERNMENT

“Palestinian terrorist sues UK government” (Associated Press, June 21, 2006)

A Palestinian terrorist leader held by Israel filed a lawsuit against the British government for pulling wardens out of a West Bank prison that was later stormed by Israeli forces, his lawyer said.

Attorney Kate Maynard said she had filed papers on behalf of Ahmed Saadat alleging his human rights had been violated…

Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claims his human rights were violated by the March withdrawal of British wardens from a prison in Jericho where he was held…

Saadat was accused by Israel of masterminding the 2001 assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi…

 

“KERRY WAS SUPPORTED BY HOMOSEXUALS AND NUDISTS”

“Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Homosexuals should be punished like fornicators but their harm is less when not done in public” (MEMRI, June 5, 2006, www.memritv.org/Transcript.asp?P1=1170)

Following are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on June 5, 2006. (For space reasons, there is no full article.)

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Kerry, who ran against Bush, was supported by homosexuals and nudists. But it was Bush who won [the elections], because he is Christian, right-wing, tenacious, and unyielding. In other words, the religious overcame the perverted. So we cannot blame all Americans and Westerners.

But unfortunately, because the Westerners – Americans and others – want to flatter these people on account of the elections, a disaster occurs. In order to succeed and win the elections, he flatters these people, rather than saying to them: No, you are sinning against yourselves, against society, and against humanity. This is forbidden. Instead of leveling with them, people flatter them to win their votes. This is the disaster that has befallen humanity…

Interviewer: How should a homosexual or a lesbian be punished? We mentioned the story of the people of Sodom and how Allah punished them, but how should someone who commits this abomination be punished today?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: The same punishment as any sexual pervert – the same as the fornicator… The schools of thought disagree about the punishment… Some say we should throw them from a high place, like God did with the people of Sodom. Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement… The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.

Interviewer: For homosexuals and lesbians – the punishment for a woman who favors women, and for a man who favors men.

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Lesbianism is not as bad as homosexuality, in practical terms…

Interviewer: Should a man be punished for having homosexual tendencies?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Yes, he should.

Interviewer: Or maybe he should be punished only for committing this sin?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: He should be punished just like a fornicator. What is fornication? It is a sexual perversion. A perversion cannot possibly be innate…

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: This is the calamity of societies. When sin and abomination are concealed, they don’t cause much harm… But the calamity becomes widespread, when it stops being a secret and becomes public… We are not hostile towards these people. On the contrary, we pity them. But we do not want to give them an opportunity, like the Westerners, who consider this a normal phenomenon, and it has become widespread, I’m sad to say.

 

“PAKISTAN IS BECOMING A FUNDAMENTALIST STATE”

“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws used to persecute non-Muslims” (By Massoud Ansari in Lahore and Michael Hirst, The Sunday Telegraph, June 25, 2006)

By rights, the Pakistani Christians Asif Masih and Amjad Masih should be celebrating. Released from prison last month after their life sentences for blasphemy were overturned by Pakistan’s supreme court, they are enjoying their first taste of freedom for seven years. But in the country’s increasingly fundamentalist climate, the two feel as imprisoned now as they ever did, forced into hiding for fear of attacks by Muslim extremists.

The two cleaners from Jhang district, 300 miles south of Islamabad, were jailed by a Faisalabad court in 1999 under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, having been wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran. Because the law can be invoked on the word of just one witness, it is frequently manipulated by Muslims to settle scores or rouse religious tensions…

Amjad’s story is all too familiar for Pakistan’s vulnerable Christian minorities, who make up less than three per cent of the predom-inantly conservative Muslim population of 160 million. Unlike Christian communities in the Middle East, who are generally prosperous, Pakistani Christians are mainly poor – most trace their ancestry back to the “untouchable” Hindu Chuhra caste.

In many areas, they have suffered violence orchestrated against them and their churches. In February, 400 people attacked a church in the southern city of Sukkur after accusations that a Christian had set fire to a Koran. In 2002, Muslim hardliners threw grenades into a church on Christmas Day, killing three girls…

… Despite calls for reform, Ajaz-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s religious minister, has insisted that even if 100,000 Christians lost their lives, the blasphemy law would not be repealed.



FULL ARTICLES

“WRITING FOR AN ARAB NEWSPAPER IS LIKE PLAYING HOPSCOTCH IN A MINEFIELD”

A perilous dance with the Arab press
By Mona Eltahawy
International Herald Tribune
June 19, 2006

www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/19/opinion/edelta.php

Writing for an Arab newspaper is like playing hopscotch in a minefield.

From January 2004 until early this year I played my game of hopscotch in a weekly column on the opinion pages of Asharq al-Awsat, the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper that is read across the Arab world.

And then I stepped on a mine. Without warning or notice, fewer and fewer of my columns made it into print. Then my articles stopped appearing altogether. I had been banned.

Nobody tells you that you’re banned from an Arab paper – especially a paper that is supposedly the liberal home of writers banned from other papers, which is how Asharq al-Awsat portrays itself.

Sadly, my experience is not unique. When I told a veteran Egyptian journalist that I had not been officially notified of my ban, he reminded me that he found out about his removal as editor of a newspaper in Egypt when he read about it in another newspaper.

Another Egyptian journalist told me he’d been “lucky”: The editor of a newspaper he used to write for actually confessed to him that the Egyptian regime had called the Saudi prince who publishes the paper and requested that my friend be banned.

That is probably what happened in my case. Since Egypt’s parliamentary elections last year, which left President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party in firm control of the legislature, the Egyptian regime has been settling scores with opponents, particularly those who support a small but vocal reform movement that has organized unprecedented street protests in Cairo.

I had moved back to Cairo from New York last year for four months to document and to take part in that reform movement, and devoted many of my weekly Asharq al-Awsat columns to it.

At the end of my stay, just before I left Egypt to return to New York, I was summoned to State Security because of an article I wrote criticizing the fraud and violence in the parliamentary elections. The summons was intended as a “we are watching you” warning.

Over the past two months, the Egyptian regime has brutally cracked down against democracy activists and journalists, beating and imprisoning many of the men and women I wrote about. Several of the detainees have accused security forces of torturing them in jail.

The trouble with Asharq al-Awsat, beyond its disturbing acquiescence to Arab regimes, is that it claimed a liberalism that was patently false.

Before my ban, Asharq al-Awsat launched a Web site in English. Designed to show Western readers how liberal it was, the site suffered from Yasser Arafat syndrome. Just as the late Palestinian leader’s statements in Arabic and in English were sometimes contradictory, the newspaper in Arabic would abide by the red lines that govern criticism of Arab leaders while in English it ran roughshod over those very same lines.

A column I wrote tearing into the Egyptian regime for allowing its security forces to beat peaceful protesters and to sexually assault female journalists and demonstrators was spiked from the Arabic newspaper and Web site but appeared in its entirety on the English Web site.

Few newspapers in the Arab world are truly independent. Most are state-controlled or state-owned, or owned by persons very close to the state; Asharq al-Awsat is published by a nephew of the Saudi king.

The major red lines at Asharq al- Awsat could be quite simple – in descending order they were the Saudi royal family, Saudi Arabia’s allies in the Gulf (Qatar, a rival, was considered fair game) and then Saudi Arabia’s other Arab allies.

Within such a hierarchy of red lines, the Egyptian regime can indeed pull rank and demand that Asharq al- Awsat silence a critic.

So why did I even bother writing for Asharq al-Awsat? After I left news reporting and switched to opinion writing after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I didn’t want to address just a Western audience. When it comes to reform and the fight against religious militancy, the primary conversation must be among us Arabs and Muslims – hence the need to wade into the minefield that is the Arab press.

It is gratifying to know that Arab regimes and compliant newspapers consider some of us annoying enough to ban, but equally sad to consider the many gatekeepers that stand between us and our fellow Arabs.

 

“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN INDEPENDENT PALESTINIAN MEDIA OUTLET”

Power and the press
By Matthew Gutman
The Jerusalem Post
June 22, 2006

www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1150885828068&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Throughout his 20 years in journalism, Majdi Arabeed’s only weapon was his mouth. But these are hard times for Palestinian journalists, both courted and condemned as the war for public support intensifies. So Arabeed, the owner and manager of Gaza’s al-Hurriya Radio, has bought a gun, he says, plunking an AK-47 on his desk as evidence.

Death threats from militants claiming to represent the Islamic group Hamas strong-armed Arabeed to order al-Hurriya’s reporters off the streets, arm himself and hire the two most mountainous bodyguards money can buy.

Hamas may have won the January elections, but it is currently locked in a power struggle with the former ruling party, Fatah, which has left about 20 people dead – including a dazzling array of top Palestinian security commanders – and dozens wounded in the past two months.

In Gaza, where the sword is mightier than the pen, the media have become the latest battleground in the struggle between the Islamic Hamas and nationalist Fatah parties. So far, no journalists have been seriously hurt in the war to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians, but intimidation compelled some media outlets like al-Hurriya to slash news broadcasts, and has sufficiently frightened some writers enough to cause them to lay down their pens.

In Gaza’s mosques, Hamas clerics are denouncing some media as traitorous, and though Hamas leaders in turn denounce the threats, they have taken no action to stop them. They openly accuse independent and Fatah-related media of courting civil war and in recent weeks, journalists or media outlets deemed to have an anti-Hamas bent have not been merely subjected to phoned or e-mailed death threats. On June 4, assailants sacked the Palestine TV bureau in Khan Yunis, torching expensive satellite equipment.

But intimidation of the Palestinian press is hardly new. Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, clapped in jail dozens of journalists and prominent dissidents who dared speak their minds.

Back then, the rules were clear. “You ran into trouble when you wrote about [Arafat] or national security, that’s all,” says Arabeed.

Arafat’s bullying of the press sought to check criticism against him. He used the state-run media to tighten his white-knuckle grip upon his triumphant return to the West Bank and Gaza as part of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords. For over a decade the Palestinian press was the sole domain of the Fatah party, and many media outlets are still headed by secular or Fatah-affiliated journalists or Fatah technocrats. They all became experts at navigating the group’s hierarchy and maneuvering around the shoals of the PA’s various intelligence branches.

During Arafat’s time, says Lynn Tehini, the Middle East desk officer for Reporters Without Borders, a journalists’ rights watchdog, reporters knew the risks. They also knew their adversaries: the IDF and Arafat’s intelligence forces.

A 1996 Palestinian law sought to protect journalists and enshrine the rights of free speech but did little to prevent self-censorship, says Basem Ezbidi, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank. And a 10-year-old piece of toothless legislation passed by a lame duck Palestinian parliament does little to protect journalists now feeling their way through a new, Hamas-dominated government.

Reporters Without Borders say they fear unsanctioned violence against reporters could erupt spontaneously; and the situation is only getting worse.

In 2005, the Palestinian territories ranked 132 in the RWF Worldwide Press Freedom Index, a ranking of press freedoms in 167 countries. That ranking put the West Bank and Gaza ahead of Sudan and Mexico but behind “free-er” countries like Afghanistan.

This year, the Palestinian ranking will slide further down towards the bottom, snugly near Iran, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, says Tehini. As opposed to those countries, where the government strangles freedom of expression and the press reports only official government propaganda, in the Palestinian territories, control is too diffuse, explains Tehini.

“Here, you have little gangs and each thinks about his own interests,” Tehini continues. “Hamas does not control the gangs that threaten journalists… There is anarchy there and the situation is very volatile.”

Hamas’s wresting control of the media mirrors Arafat’s tactics, but its strategy is long term, says Ezbidi. Controlling the content of information beamed to Palestinians is part of the crusade to Islamicize them.

The three ingredients for control of the Palestinians are guns, the media and money, says Muhammad Yaghi, an expert in Palestinian politics and a columnist for the Palestinian al-Ayyam newspaper. Hamas has guns and is smuggling more in, is fortifying its presence in the media. But it lacks cash – the United States, Israel and other nations have boycotted Hamas and frozen the government’s funding. For its part, Israel refuses to release tens of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenue to the Hamas government, depriving it of a key source of power.

Ghazi Hamid, the Hamas government spokesman, says the threats are the work of “troublemakers, ” not genuine Hamas militants. However, in an interview in his Gaza office, he accuses “those media of trying to increase the hatred” between the factions. To solve the impasse, he says his government is working on a document to set out reporting guidelines for editors.

Mediation with the Hamas government may be too late for some.

“I was getting 50-70 death threats a day for three weeks,” says al-Hurriya’s Arabeed. Four of his 32 staffers quit because of the threats, he adds, most of whom received threats of the “I know-where-you-live” variety on their mobile phones.

So in May, after six years of continuous live news coverage, he directed his staff to broadcast only the headlines ripped from news wires.

“It would be irresponsible to keep reporters in their beats,” he explains.

Known for their eye-witness coverage, his reporters had covered Hamas-Fatah clashes too zealously, and are now all paying the price, he says.

On June 1, al-Hurriya’s reporters returned to the airwaves, but something was different. Arabeed ordered them to omit any mention of Hamas. So if Prime Minister Ismail Haniya holds a press conference announcing a government decision, al-Hurriya will note the decision but won’t report where it came from. Arabeed concedes that this is bad reporting, but contends it’s the only way to continue reporting and avoid more trouble.

When advertising flags, Arabeed helps shoulder al-Hurriya’s $300,000 a year running costs. He doubles as a cameraman for Israel’s Channel 10 and also owns an advertising agency. An FM station, al-Hurriya is broadcast in the West Bank and Gaza and is the second most popular station in the West Bank and Gaza after the Voice of Palestine, according to a poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

But these days, the station feels more like a speakeasy than a major news organization. A visitor rides an elevator to the 13th floor in one of downtown Gaza’s few skyscrapers. He buzzes an intercom. Through a peephole, a guard gruffly demands the purpose of the visit. The door creaks open – there is no door handle. Inside, aimless reporters hang around and smoke. Sound technicians – the only people working – twist dials and slide levers on a huge sound board, cross-fading one jaunty pop song into another.

Arabeed concedes that morale is low. Lines are etched deeply on his brow – in person he looks older than his 40 years. He has filmed countless demonstrations and dozens of clashes between Israel and the Palestinians and has nine bullet wounds to show for it. The last shooting was captured on Channel 10 news in January 2005.

“But I never thought the next bullet might come from a Palestinian,” he says.

He is not alone. Muhammad Dahudi, director general of Palestine TV, says he gets 20 calls a day from people calling themselves Hamas militants. They threaten to knee cap, dismember and plug him full of lead for his station’s allegedly biased reporting. When his wife heard a sermon on the radio fulminating against him last week, he realized it was time to change his telephone numbers.

Two days after the violence erupted on Gaza’s streets in early May, Dahudi gathered his 57 reporters for a talk.

“I reminded them of the first rule of journalism – stay alive. Then I told them to be extra sure there’s no bias in their work.”

The talk proved futile. On June 4, gunmen raided the Palestine TV bureau in Khan Yunis, firing off rounds into TV equipment and beating two of the employees, according to news reports.

Palestine TV is a branch of the Palestinian Authority Information Ministry – a body now controlled by Hamas. Complaints to his superiors at the ministry were met with advice that he should be more favorable to Hamas, says Dahudi. He then dialed PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to complain. The president told him to keep his head down; there wasn’t much else Abbas could offer.

Many of the 33 Palestinian TV stations, 20 radio stations and 19 or so newspapers have been threatened. It’s not clear exactly how many. The staff at Fatah-affiliated Shabab radio in Gaza is also flooded with death threats, according to its director, Hamza Abu Reisha.

Unlike al-Hurriya’s Arabeed, Dahudi refuses to change Palestine TV’s programming, arguing that his satellite station gives all Palestinians a chance to be heard. Crinkling his nose, he says “that would be bad journalism.”

His phone began ringing day and night after Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Dahudi’s Palestine TV of fomenting civil war in an interview with the Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel, al-Jazeera.

“I called [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] to complain,” says Dahudi. “He just told me to be careful.”

Most Palestinians get their news from al-Jazeera, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Still, with 29% using it as their primary news source, Palestine TV is no small prize.

“This is the big game,” says Hazen Abu Shanab, a communications lecturer at Gaza’s Al Azhar University. “Both parties want to control the media.”

Abu Shanab, a Fatah-affiliated academic who frequently writes op-ed articles, has reduced his own writing by 90%.

“I prefer to be killed fighting the occupation, not publishing an article,” he adds.

Gaza’s atmosphere is dense with the rhythmic popping of assault rifles punctuated by the thunder of a grenade or IDF artillery battering Kassam launch positions in Gaza’s north.

Caught in the churning violence and intrigue, the Palestinian audience’s appetite for news has grown. Some are beginning to notice the diluted news broadcasts.

One of them is Mahmud al-Hozandar, who owns one of Gaza City’s renowned humous spots.

“We listen every half hour. We need to know what’s going on.” Hozandar listens to the secular al-Hurriya and the Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa radio stations to hear both sides. “That’s the only way you can know the truth,” he says.

But with al-Hurriya hobbled, he feels cheated out of a major source of news.

“But then again, there is no such thing as an independent Palestinian media outlet,” he says.

Abu Shanab agrees, saying Gaza feels more like Baghdad these days. But unlike many others, he hasn’t been threatened.

Neither has Muhammad Abu U’un, director of the Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa radio. In a telephone interview, he seems astonished by the threats to his colleagues.

“We have had no intimidations. We are doing very well in Gaza these days,” he says. “Who would threaten us,” he wonders aloud.

Fatah is also not above pressuring the media. Following an assassination attempt on the Palestinian general intelligence chief on May 20, Fatah members prevented foreign and local crews from filming the intelligence headquarters and even stole some crews’ film at gunpoint. The Foreign Press Association of Israel and the Palestinian territories issued an official complaint.

Then on May 22, three cars parked in the al-Jazeera lot in Ramallah were torched. Fatah members claimed revenge for the satellite channel’s failure to cover one of its rallies, according to wire reports.

Dahudi forecasts a bleak future ahead for the Palestinian press.

“We are going to be a new Somalia,” he predicts. “Welcome.”

 

PALESTINIAN TERRORIST SUES UK GOVERNMENT

Palestinian terrorist sues UK government
The Associated Press
June 21, 2006

www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1150885821626&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

A Palestinian terrorist leader held by Israel filed a lawsuit against the British government for pulling wardens out of a West Bank prison that was later stormed by Israeli forces, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Kate Maynard said she had filed papers on behalf of Ahmed Saadat alleging his human rights had been violated.

The Foreign Office said it was aware the legal claim had been lodged. A High Court judge will decide whether the case can proceed.

Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claims his human rights were violated by the March withdrawal of British wardens from a prison in Jericho where he was held.

British and US monitors supervised the prison under an unusual 2002 agreement.

Minutes after the monitors withdrew, 1,000 Israeli troops stormed the prison, seizing Saadat and four of his alleged accomplices in the 2001 assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister. The raid left three Palestinians dead and sparked reprisals against foreigners in the Palestinian territories.

Britain’s then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at the time that the 14 British and U.S. monitors had been withdrawn because of threats to their security.

Maynard accused the British government of acting “with complete disregard for the lives of Mr. Saadat and the other prisoners by giving (Israel) advance notice of their withdrawal and then telling them as they left.”

Saadat was accused by Israel of masterminding the 2001 assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. He was arrested by Palestinian police, though never charged, but was held in the Jericho jail anyway, partly to protect him from being targeted by Israel.

Four men seized with Saadat are being tried by Israel for Zeevi’s murder, but the attorney general Mazuz ruled there was insufficient evidence charge Saadat. He is awaiting trial by an Israeli military court on several other terrorism-related charges.

 

THE CONTINUING PERSECUTION OF PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws used to persecute non-Muslims
By Massoud Ansari in Lahore and Michael Hirst
The Sunday Telegraph
June 25, 2006

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/06/25/wpak25.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/06/25/ixnews.html

By rights, the Pakistani Christians Asif Masih and Amjad Masih should be celebrating. Released from prison last month after their life sentences for blasphemy were overturned by Pakistan’s supreme court, they are enjoying their first taste of freedom for seven years. But in the country’s increasingly fundamentalist climate, the two feel as imprisoned now as they ever did, forced into hiding for fear of attacks by Muslim extremists.

The two cleaners from Jhang district, 300 miles south of Islamabad, were jailed by a Faisalabad court in 1999 under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, having been wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran. Because the law can be invoked on the word of just one witness, it is frequently manipulated by Muslims to settle scores or rouse religious tensions.

Asif, 30, and Amjad, 36, who are not related – Masih is a generic term used to describe Christians in Pakistan – said police made the Koran-burning allegations after the pair refused to pay bribe money in 1998. Their first appeal was rejected on May 23, 2003, and they were finally freed last month.

Amjad’s wife, Kausar, said: “It has been a tough period for my family, but I am afraid the real tough time starts now, as the extremists can attack Amjad or somebody else from the family.”

In jail, the two men were kept in solitary confinement for their own safety, following the murder of another blasphemer in a women’s prison in 2003. Meena Munir, a local human rights activist, claimed they were just as much at risk having been released.

“Once a person is charged with blasphemy, he is considered condemned even if he is acquitted,” she said. The families of the two men now face poverty, as employment prospects are bleak for anyone remotely associated with an alleged “blasphemer”.

Amjad, his wife and their four children are now being looked after by the Bishop John Joseph Shaheed Trust, a charity set up in memory of a clergyman who committed suicide outside a court to protest against the blasphemy laws.

Amjad’s story is all too familiar for Pakistan’s vulnerable Christian minorities, who make up less than three per cent of the predominantly conservative Muslim population of 160 million. Unlike Christian communities in the Middle East, who are generally prosperous, Pakistani Christians are mainly poor – most trace their ancestry back to the “untouchable” Hindu Chuhra caste.

In many areas, they have suffered violence orchestrated against them and their churches. In February, 400 people attacked a church in the southern city of Sukkur after accusations that a Christian had set fire to a Koran. In 2002, Muslim hardliners threw grenades into a church on Christmas Day, killing three girls.

Worsening the situation for indigenous Christians is the perceived link between them and the Western world that is now demonised by extremists.

“Pakistan is becoming a fundamentalist state,” Nasir Saeed, the London director for the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a Pakistani charity, told The Sunday Telegraph. Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Roman Catholic human rights body, has criticised the authorities for failing to prosecute Muslim militias, whom it claims have murdered at least 23 alleged blasphemers.

But defending those facing blasphemy charges is dangerous in itself. Joseph Francis, the co-ordinator for CLAAS in Lahore, said he had received death threats from al-Qaeda-linked groups for taking up such cases in the courts.

Although President Pervez Musharraf promised in 1999 to restrict the application of the blasphemy law, he withdrew, under pressure from fundamentalist groups, settling instead on various rhetorical statements deploring religious intolerance.

In another case, Ranjha Masih was jailed for life for allegedly knocking over a board with Koranic verse. His wife, Rasheeda, said, “We always respect all the prophets of God and would not disrespect religious scripts.”

Despite calls for reform, Ajaz-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s religious minister, has insisted that even if 100,000 Christians lost their lives, the blasphemy law would not be repealed.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.