* Kuntar: “I haven’t regretted what I did for even one day”
* Even “pro-American” Lebanese PM Siniora, and parliamentary leader Hariri greet Kuntar with a hug and a kiss in a red carpet reception
* Israel charges an Arab student at the Hebrew University with membership of al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush
* Hebrew University “to readmit” convicted Palestinian terrorist who planned 2002 chemical bomb attack
This is an update to the previous dispatch, A long way from Entebbe: Hizbullah’s triumph, as Israel lets murderers go free (July 16, 2008), and in order to understand the context of this dispatch it is better to have read that one first. There are also various other items below.
1. Kuntar vows to return to his murderous ways
2. Child murderer praised by “moderate” Abbas
3. Abbas meets Islamic Jihad head in Syria
4. Et tu Hariri?
5. Disappointing coverage from the WSJ and IHT
6. Some Arab media criticize Hizbullah
7. German press: “A disastrous deal for Israel”
8. Israeli press criticize deal
9. Letter to the Lebanese people
10. Hizbullah moves into “every town” in south Lebanon
11. Hamas says it has learned from Hizbullah deal
12. Britain bans Hizbullah; Gordon Brown to address Knesset
13. Israel makes arrests in al-Qaeda plot against Bush
14. A different treatment of prisoners
15. P.A. blood libel: prisoners are used for Nazi-like medical experiments
16. Hebrew University to readmit convicted terrorist to the scene of his crime
17. A moderate! At last!
18. Palestinian court sentences “collaborators” to execution by firing squad
19. Iran upholds death sentence against teacher trade unionist
20. “Iran’s brutal labor crackdown” (New York Post, July 17, 2008)
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
KUNTAR VOWS TO RETURN TO HIS MURDEROUS WAYS
Some commentators on CNN’s international network have (amazingly) tried to suggest that released Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar didn’t mean to kill anybody. This is despite the fact that Kuntar keeps on proudly boasting of his killings. In the latest example, Kuntar told Agence France-Presse after his release:
“I haven’t for even one day regretted what I did. On the contrary I remain committed to my political convictions. I feel enormous joy because I have returned to the ranks of the resistance and to my family.” (AFP, July 17, 2007 “Lebanon’s Kantar says no regrets over killings in Israel”)
PRAISING IMAD MUGHNIYEH
Indeed, within hours of his release, Kuntar visited the grave of Hizbullah’s former “operations chief,” Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus last February, and heaped praise on him, pledging to continue in Mughniyeh’s footsteps. Kuntar stated:
“We swear by Allah to continue on your same path and not to retreat until we achieve the same stature [of “martyrdom”] that Allah bestowed on you. This is our great wish. We envy you and we will achieve it, Allah willing.” (Associated Press, July 17, 2007 “Kuntar: I’ll continue Mughniyeh’s legacy”)
(For background on Mughniyeh, who was responsible for the deaths of more Westerners (Americans, French, Argentinians, Israelis and others) than any modern terrorist leader apart from Osama Bin Laden, see “He’s not quite Osama Bin Laden... But he almost is” (Feb. 14, 2008).)
“THE CONFLICT WON’T END”
The next day Kuntar said: “This time yesterday I was in the hands of the enemy (Israelis). But at this moment, I am yearning more than before to confront them and I ask Allah to make this happen soon... Believe me – anyone who thinks freeing the Shebaa farms will end this conflict is delusional.”
(The Shebaa farms are a tiny slither of disputed territory which Syria, Lebanon and Israel all claim.)
Yesterday Kuntar gave an interview to the Nazareth-based Israeli-Arab Radio A-Shams, again vowing that he will join Hizbullah in carrying out future attacks on Israel.
CHILD MURDERER PRAISED BY “MODERATE” ABBAS
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be slightly more moderate than the leaders Hamas, or al-Qaeda, but as I have pointed out many times in previous dispatches on this list, he has hardly proved himself a moderate by any normal meaning of the word, and organizations like the BBC should stop describing him as one.
After his release, Abbas sent a message congratulating Kuntar, who is a Lebanese Druze, not a Palestinian moderate. Kuntar murdered a four-year-old child by bashing her head in. He also killed other innocents.
Unreported by the BBC and other western media, Abbas has made several pronouncements praising Kuntar in interviews on Palestinian TV and radio and to the WAFA (PLO) news agency.
Ziad abu al-Enain, director-general of the Ministry for Prisoner Affairs of Abbas’s “moderate” government and one of Fatah’s senior members, echoed Abbas. He said: “The Palestinians congratulate Hizbullah and its leader and send their best wishes to all the Lebanese people and to all the Palestinians upon the completion of the deal and the release of heroes, headed by the prisoners’ leader, Samir Kuntar.”
Processions were held in the West Bank to mark Kuntar’s release and “heroic acts,” paid for by diverted international donor money.
ABBAS MEETS ISLAMIC JIHAD HEAD IN SYRIA
Last Monday Abbas met the head of the ruthless Islamic Jihad terror organization, Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, in Damascus and discussed plans to coordinate efforts to act against Israel. Reports from Damascus say that Abbas agreed to release Islamic Jihad prisoners held in PA jails in the West Bank, in complete breach of the “road map” and all other promises and commitments that the “moderate” PA has signed.
ET TU HARIRI?
Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese president, accompanied by his entire cabinet, traveled to Beirut airport where a red carpet reception was laid on for Kuntar and the other released terrorists.
Suleiman said at the airport: “Your return is a new victory and the future with you will only be a shinning one.”
Even “pro-American” Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni Muslim, came to pay his respects to Kuntar, as did the Sunni majority leader of parliament, Saad Hariri (whose father Rafik was assassinated by Syria) and Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun. Each gave Kuntar and the other terrorists a hug and a kiss.
The Lebanese government declared a national day of celebration, closing all government offices and banks. Many private businesses closed as well.
DISAPPOINTING COVERAGE FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL AND INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
There was disappointing coverage in the international press. Even The Wall Street Journal called Kuntar a “militant.”
The New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune went as far as to label him a “commando.” “Commando” is a term usually applied to those who rescue hostages, not those who deliberately kill them. The story also suggests that Kuntar’s parents’ divorce provides some kind of excuse or explanation for his brutal murders.
A few western media did run editorials critical of the Lebanese government. For example, in an editorial titled “A Strange Kind of Hero,” The Boston Globe wrote: “There is something morally repulsive in the hero’s welcome given the most famous – or notorious – of the Lebanese prisoners released by Israel... All wars are inhumane. But not all warriors lose their humanity.”
SOME ARAB MEDIA CRITICIZE HIZBULLAH
The London-based Asharq al-Awsat Arab newspaper on Thursday ridiculed the perceived “victory” of Hizbullah, saying it had cost the Lebanese economy $7 billion.
In Lebanon, al-Anwar struck a discordant note, carrying an editorial piece which said it was “shameful to see members of the government in Beirut join the celebrations of Hizbullah.”
The Saudi paper al-Watan pointed out that Hizbullah has yet to disarm and that UN Resolution 1701, which ended the war, has not been implemented.
Several Lebanese blogs criticized the government fawning over Kuntar and pointed out that far more Lebanese prisoners remain languishing in Syrian jails for the “crime” of calling for democracy and the government was doing nothing on their behalf.
GERMAN PRESS: “A DISASTROUS DEAL FOR ISRAEL”
As I pointed out in the previous dispatch, the prisoner swap deal was brokered by Germany, but German media commentators criticized Israel for allowing itself to be blackmailed.
The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote:
“The macabre Israeli-Lebanese deal, which saw living Lebanese prisoners being swapped for the bodies of Israeli soldiers, is a major success for the Shia militia. The prisoner exchange shows who really has the power in Lebanon and who can force archenemy Israel to make concessions: It is Hizbullah, it is Nasrallah. That elevates the radicals’ image in Lebanon, in the Arab world and in the Muslim world.”
“A MACABRE DEAL THAT WEAKENS ISRAEL”
The center-right daily Die Welt wrote:
“That Hizbullah is celebrating the macabre deal as a triumph is understandable – but it is also psychopathic. It shows that human suffering doesn’t count in the fight against Israel and that murder pays. In such an atmosphere, how can one hope for peace – and for the trust necessary for an agreement? Hizbullah uses the fight against Israel to gain power in Lebanon, with the approval of both Syria and Iran.
“The problem is not just that the unequal prisoner swap allows Hizbullah to fudge its designation as a terror group by becoming a recognized party to a war. Rather, it means that terror, kidnapping and murder can be profitable. This situation weakens the Israeli deterrent, rewards abductions and provides imprisoned terrorists with the hope that they might soon be freed.”
“OLMERT HAS ABANDONED A VITAL PRINCIPLE”
The business daily Financial Times Deutschland said:
“When it comes to prisoner exchanges, there was one aspect that was always seen as non-negotiable by the Israeli government: Israel never frees a terrorist who has blood on his hands, no matter what is being offered in return. A country under threat like Israel cannot get around upholding this convention.
“Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has now abandoned this principle by freeing a prominent terrorist in order to secure the remains of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah. What the prime minister wants to present as a triumph of negotiation, is in truth a sign of weakness: Israel can be blackmailed, kidnappings are worthwhile.”
“ISRAEL TURNED OVER A BRUTAL MURDERER AND ITS DIGNITY”
Germany’s leading news weekly Der Spiegel, said:
“Some had hoped that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev still lived. But on Wednesday, a deal negotiated by German intelligence led to Hizbullah handing over two coffins with their remains. In exchange, Israel turned over a brutal murderer – and a bit of its dignity.”
“THE DEAL WAS VITAL FOR THE MORALE OF ISRAEL’S ARMY”
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung opined:
“The image of a country that will do anything to bring its soldiers home, dead or alive, has been restored. That is vital for the morale of Israel’s army, because who would like to be sent to fight in a foreign country if there was a risk that he or she would be forgotten there? Nevertheless, the unequal trade has made Israel more vulnerable. The government in Jerusalem has shown that it can be coerced.”
GERMAN JEWS AGAINST HIZBULLAH CONTACTS AFTER BEIRUT CELEBRATIONS
Dieter Graumann, vice-president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that German politicians and analysts should recognize Hizbullah as a terrorist organization and eschew contacts with its leaders. Graumann added Hizbullah’s “cynical celebrations” over the reciprocal release of Samir Kuntar and four other terrorists showed the Lebanese group “is a ruthless terror organization whose activists and supporters are no freedom fighters but rather cold-blooded murderers.”
ISRAELI PRESS CRITICIZE DEAL
In its editorial today, Israel’s best-selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot, writes:
“When we say that Gilad Shalit must be released at ‘any price,’ we mean the entire price that we will pay. We will set murderers free. We will cause many of them to go back to killing us. We will give impetus to encouraging terrorism and we will go back to dying on buses, in malls and elsewhere. This is as insane as it is immoral.”
The paper continues: “If we do not change the rules of their brutal game, we will continue to be kidnapped and blackmailed. We must try and release Gilad Shalit at any price but the price must be theirs.”
“HIZBULLAH BETTER AT PR THAN ISRAEL”
Ma’ariv suggests that “Hizbullah is much better than the IDF and the other official Israeli bodies in information battles.”
“LEBANON AND HIZBULLAH ARE ONE, AND ISRAEL MUST FIGHT AS SUCH”
The Jerusalem Post writes: “A vital lesson Israeli strategists must draw from this nauseating display of perverted unity: Lebanon and Hizbullah are one. If, heaven forbid, there is another war, the IDF must wage it with ferocity – not on Hizbullah’s terms, but across the Lebanese battlefield.
“Ever since the June 1982 Lebanon War, the Israeli military has allowed itself to be hamstrung in targeting Lebanon. International media coverage of that war, often manipulative and tendentious, along with Western – particularly U.S. – opposition to striking at the country’s infrastructure, made vanquishing our enemies impossible.
“Even among Israelis there was the lingering sense that Lebanon was essentially a peace-loving society taken hostage by violent, unrepresentative factions.
“Ultimately, that assessment reigned supreme, inhibiting the IDF from finishing Yasser Arafat off. Instead the PLO was merely ousted from its Beirut and southern Lebanon strongholds and exiled to Tunisia.
“... Artificial distinctions between ‘Lebanese’ and ‘Hizbullah’ targets were swept away by Wednesday’s display of barbaric unity. Lebanon was revealed in its hostile unanimity. If new conflict comes, Israel must internalize that unanimity of hate-filled purpose, and defeat it decisively.”
“IT HAS BEEN 30 YEARS YET YOU STILL CANNOT DISTINGUISH BETWEEN A NATIONAL HERO AND A CHILD-KILLER”
LETTER TO THE LEBANESE PEOPLE
(Published in the Israeli press in Hebrew.)
Israeli Uri Orbach writes an open letter to the people of Lebanon, whose national hero is a child-killer:
Israel has no disagreement over borders with you, the Lebanese people, yet we certainly have a big dispute when it comes to your moral boundaries. We identified the bodies of our Udi and Eldad within a few hours. And how about you? For 30 years now you have failed to identify who your Samir Kuntar is.
It has been 30 years yet you still cannot distinguish between a national hero and a child-killer. For you, it’s enough that someone killed a Jew, even if it happens to be a young girl from Nahariya, in order for you to welcome him with great honor.
You are celebrating your “victory” and show contempt to our pain. One more triumph like this and you shall be lost. While going from one victory to the next, you are stuck with your misery and fanaticism.
With every proud display and rally for your heroes, you are being taken over the by Hizbullah gang. The fire coming out of this bramble has been eating up Lebanon’s cedars for years now...
HIZBULLAH MOVES INTO “EVERY TOWN” IN SOUTH LEBANON
Hizbullah is bolstering its presence in south Lebanese villages with non-Shia majorities by buying land and using it to build military positions and store missiles and launchers, The Jerusalem Post reports, citing intelligence sources. The decision to build infrastructure in non-Shia villages – where Hizbullah has less support – is part of the group’s post-war strategy under which it has mostly abandoned the “nature reserves,” forested areas in southern Lebanon where it kept most of its Katyusha rocket launchers before the 2006 war with Israel.
Behind the change is the mandate given to UNIFIL by the United Nations after the war. According to the mandate, the peacekeeping force can patrol freely throughout southern Lebanon but cannot enter villages or cities without being accompanied by soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces, which regularly tips off Hizbullah ahead of raids.
Hizbullah has trebled its pre-war missile arsenal, Israeli sources said. It now has some 40,000 short and medium-range missiles inside Lebanon, and UN Security Council Resolution 1701 – the resolution that put an end to the 2006 and provided an expanded mandate for UNIFIL – has been completely ineffective in stopping arms from pouring in to Hizbullah from Syria.
Israel has criticized the Italian and French governments, whose soldiers are meant to stop the smuggling, for not doing so. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni raised the matter last week with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country currently commands the UNIFIL forces; and Defense Minister Ehud Barak phoned French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to discuss the issue.
Israel is dismayed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is presently “hugging Assad, not scolding him” about helping Hizbullah with its arms build-up.
HAMAS SAYS IT HAS LEARNED FROM HIZBULLAH DEAL
Hamas has said it will harden its stance in negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, its young Israeli hostage. Hamas leaders in Gaza told journalists that they would now “insist absolutely” on the release of prisoners who had killed Israeli civilians, and are serving life sentences.
“The deal with Hizbullah proves that patience and fortitude will lead to us seeing celebrations here (in Gaza) similar to those in Lebanon,” said one.
(In other words, by its questionable deal in which Israel received only two corpses from Hizbullah, it will be now be much harder for Israel to secure the release of a live prisoner, Gilad Shalit.)
A Hamas cell that was plotting suicide attacks inside Israel with chemical explosives was arrested in May, Israeli security officials revealed last week.
The cell, the officials said, was involved in manufacturing a bomb belt that was discovered in a Tel Aviv apartment on Yom Kippur, last September, and was designated for use in a suicide attack in the city.
During the investigation, the four cell members (who all come from Nablus) confessed to having built a laboratory in a Nablus apartment building where they experimented bomb building with different chemical materials, such as sulfur and nitric acid.
The four said they used an instruction video that was prepared by a senior Hamas bomb maker who was killed in 2002 during clashes with IDF troops.
BRITAIN BANS HIZBULLAH; GORDON BROWN TO ADDRESS KNESSET
The British parliament last Tuesday ratified a government decision earlier this month to outlaw Hizbullah’s military wing and accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese group of supporting terrorism in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
“It will now be a criminal offence for British citizens to belong to, fundraise and encourage support for the military wing of the organization,” the British Home Office (interior ministry) said in a statement.
The Iranians have been accused by the British and others of using Hizbullah as “sub-contractors” to carry out terrorist attacks in Iraq.
Gordon Brown tomorrow becomes the first British Prime Minister to address the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Brown has been a lifelong sympathizer with the Jewish state, unlike various other senior British politicians.
ISRAEL MAKES ARRESTS IN AL-QAEDA PLOT AGAINST BUSH
On Friday Israel released the names of six Arabs – two of them Israeli citizens and the other four Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem – who had tried to set up an al-Qaeda cell in Israel, and planned to assassinate U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to Israel in May.
Israel’s Shin Bet counter-intelligence agency said one of the suspects – a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – had used his cell phone to film helicopters at a sports stadium in Jerusalem that was used as a landing site for Bush. The suspect then posted queries on websites frequented by al-Qaeda operatives, asking for guidance on how to shoot down helicopters.
The Shin Bet said personal computers seized from several of the suspects contained bomb-making instructions and emails to al-Qaeda operatives abroad.
ISRAEL ARABS “SPIED FOR AL-QAEDA”
In a separate development, earlier this month Israel indicted two of its Bedouin Arab citizens for links to al-Qaeda and for planning attacks inside the Jewish state. The two, from the Negev town of Rahat, were charged on July 9 in the Beersheba District Court in southern Israel.
The indictment filed against them accuses them of gathering information and sending al-Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia and Iraq details of targets in Israel for possible large-scale attack. These included Ben-Gurion Airport, the Ashkelon power plant, the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, the Beersheba central bus station and targets in Eilat.
Both suspects have confessed to the charges, according to news reports.
Last December, two Israeli Arabs from Jaljulya in the “Galilee Triangle” in the north of the country were arrested for aiding al-Qaeda with information on Israeli targets.
A DIFFERENT TREATMENT OF PRISONERS
Samir Kuntar’s and the other terrorists healthy appearance upon release demonstrates how Arab prisoners are treated well in Israel, in complete contrast to the treatment of Israeli prisoners by Hizbullah and Hamas. In prison, Kuntar received frequent Red Cross and NGO visits, completed a social science degree courtesy of Israel’s tax-payer funded Open University, he got married and he received conjugal visits.
Hizbullah and Hamas, on the other hand, have psychologically tortured the families of their hostages, releasing only occasional pieces of misleading information, and have not even been willing to provide “proof of life” let alone allow Red Cross and NGO visits.
Indeed even Lebanese government ministers have lied. For example, in 2006 then Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, were “in good condition” when at least one was already dead and the other very seriously injured.
P.A. BLOOD LIBEL: PRISONERS ARE USED FOR NAZI-LIKE MEDICAL EXPERIMENTS
The Palestinian Authority is intensifying its longstanding blood libel campaign against Israel, falsely accusing Israel of conducting horrific Nazi-like medical experiments on Palestinian prisoners. These fabrications have been featured repeatedly in the Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, which is under the direct authority of “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas.
Among the examples from this month alone:
“[Israel] is instigating slow death... doctors in Israeli prison clinics use the prisoners as guinea pigs for clinical drug testing under the pretense of ‘treatment.’” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 6, 2008)
“Many of the male and female inmates received injections from needles they had not seen before, and which caused their hair to fall out permanently... others lost their sanity, or their mental condition is constantly deteriorating... and some are suffering from infertility.” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 4, 2008)
“The doctors in these prison clinics are using the prisoners as guinea pigs for clinical testing of drugs and treatment-methods.” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 3, 2008)
Abd Al-Nasser Piroanah, the head of the Statistical Department in the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoner and Released Prisoner Affairs, said that “the first to use prisoners for medical experiments were the Nazis, who did it in the detention centers of the German army during WWII.”
For further coverage of this, see this PMW bulletin.
HEBREW UNIVERSITY TO READMIT CONVICTED TERRORIST TO THE SCENE OF HIS CRIME
A radical leftist professor at Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem says he will sponsor a convicted Arab terrorist who stole bomb-making materials from his lab to be allowed back to work in the very same lab.
In 2002, at the height of the wave of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians, Hebrew University doctoral student Adel Hadmi stole 160 liters of acetone – a chemical which is used for making the explosive acetone peroxide – from the Laboratory for Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University where he worked.
Hadmi was convicted of being a member of a terror cell that planned terror attacks against Israelis, and of recruiting other Arabs to the cell. He has now been released from prison, and Prof. Amiram Goldblum has offered him the chance to once again undertake doctoral studies at the very same laboratory the acetone was stolen from.
Goldblum is one of the most radical founders of the “Peace Now” group. Others in “Peace Now” broke with Goldblum after he defended Saddam Hussein’s Scud attacks on Israel. In 1990, after an Arab stabbed and killed three Israelis in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem where Goldblum lives, Goldblum’s neighbors threw stones through his window after he expressed statements apparently “understanding” the murderer.
The laboratory’s previous director, Prof. Avi Domb, has started a campaign to stop Goldblum readmitting Hadmi.
A MODERATE! AT LAST!
“I admire Bin Laden, but would not have sanctioned the 9/11 attacks – except for those on the Pentagon, CIA HQ, and the White House.”
-- Lebanese Sunni cleric Sheikh Maher Hamoud, the imam of Al-Quds mosque in Sidon (Lebanon), speaking to NBN TV on July 7, 2008.
[The above item was first published by myself on the National Review Online on Tuesday, July 15, 2008]
PALESTINIAN COURT SENTENCES “COLLABORATORS” TO EXECUTION BY FIRING SQUAD
On Tuesday, a Palestinian military court (headed by the “moderate” government of President Abbas) sentenced two Palestinians to death by firing squad for supposedly “collaborating” with Israel.
Human rights groups have sharply criticized Palestinian military courts, saying trials are unfair because there is no right of appeal, and arguing they should not try civilians.
At least 65 Palestinians have been sentenced to death by PA courts since 1995. 13 have been executed by hanging or firing squad. Many others were killed while they were in detention, in hospital, on their way to court, or even while they were inside courtrooms.
(... as not covered properly in most western newspapers.)
IRAN UPHOLDS DEATH SENTENCE AGAINST TEACHER TRADE UNIONIST
For details of the death sentence, click here.
I also attach below an article by leading Iranian journalist and Middle East expert Amir Taheri about how Iran’s outlawed trade union movement is growing in importance despite the regime’s brutal attempts to crack down on it.
It comes as little surprise, but is nevertheless disappointing, that it has been left to the populist New York Post to run this editorial, while the supposedly liberal New York Times is more interested in criticizing America and her democratic allies. (Amir Taheri is a long-time subscriber to this email list, as are some of the German newspaper editorialists I quoted earlier in the dispatch.)
-- Tom Gross
MULLAHS V. WORKERS
Iran’s brutal labor crackdown
The New York Post
By Amir Taheri
July 17, 2008
A YEAR ago last Saturday, Ali Khamenei ordered the abduction of trade-union leader Mansour Osanloo. In so doing, Iran’s top ruling mullah hoped to kill in infancy the independent trade-union movement that Osanloo had launched in 2005 with the help of colleagues among bus drivers and conductors in Tehran.
A year later, Osanloo is still in prison, sentenced to five years on a charge of “undermining the security of the Islamic Republic.” Yet the free-union movement that he inspired has spread like wildfire.
Transport workers in Tehran and its suburbs have refused to disband their union and rejected the mullahs that Khamenei appointed as their leaders.
Workers in the auto, construction and petrochemical industries have set up their own independent unions, as have teachers, miners, dock workers and bakers. The Workers Organizations and Activists’ Coordination Council, an umbrella group for the free unions, now boasts more than 700 groups across Iran with almost 2 million members.
Earlier this month, the 6,000 workers of the Haft-Tapeh sugar plantation and refinery, the Middle East’s largest, announced their own independent union after a year of strikes and demonstrations that led to violent clashes with security forces and the arrest of 20 trade unionists.
Osanloo is kept in the dreaded Evin Prison, where the Islamist regime locks up those it fears most. In a statement relayed by his family, he accused the authorities of “systematic mistreatment, insult and abuse.” Suffering from an eye infection and a heart condition, the union hero isn’t permitted proper medical care.
Despite “intense psychological pressure and physical hardship,” he has refused to call for a dissolution of independent unions and a return to mullah-controlled “Islamic labor associations.”
Labor is fast emerging as the biggest threat to the mullahs’ rule.
Over the last year, the country has witnessed hundreds of strikes, including some involving tens of thousands of workers. The regime has responded with brutal repression, organizing armed thugs known as Ansar Hizbullah (Supporters of Hizbullah) to break strikes, beat up strikers and abduct trade unionists.
In the latest incident, Hizbullah gangs in April attacked striking workers at the Kiyan Tire Factory at Char-Dangeh with electrical batons, injuring dozens and abducting more than 100.
WOACC has also reported at least 20 “suspicious deaths” over the last year, workers believed to be victims of Hizbullah killers. The Ministry of Islamic Labor has classified the deaths as “work-site incidents.”
No one knows quite how many workers are under arrest; WOACC estimates 4,000-plus. Thousands more are picked up for a few hours or a few days, beaten, bullied, warned and released. “Every day, millions of people go to work in Islamic Iran in a state of fear,” says a WOACC activist. “Basically, terror is the principal instrument of social control in this country.”
The regime isn’t relying on violence alone to crush the workers’ movement. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has presented legislation to abolish most rights won by Iranian workers over the last 100 years. The reasoning is a claim that Islam doesn’t recognize a division of the community of the faithful into employer and employee and rejects international labor codes “invented by Zionists and Crusaders.”
Ahmadinejad’s administration has also lifted most legal limits on “contract work.”
Rajab-Ali Shahsavari, an independent unionist and leader of the Association of Contractual Workers, reports that more than 85 percent of private-sector workers now labor on short-term contracts lasting just a day to a month. “This is slavery in the name of Islam,” Shahsavari says. “In Iran today, workers are worse off than slaves in ancient times.”
The regime also is trying to isolate the labor movement by accusing some of its leaders of hidden ethnic or ideological agendas. For example, it has accused Mahmoud Salehi, the popular imprisoned union leader in Kurdistan province, of being “a closet Communist” and a “Kurdish secessionist.” These charges are so ridiculous that it hasn’t dared actually bring them – even in the mock trial it organized against him.
Sadly, the struggle of Iran’s workers against one of the world’s most evil regimes has yet to receive the attention it deserves from the major democracies, including the United States. With one or two exceptions (including The Post), the US media seem to have ignored what could be the biggest story in Iran.