Arab Spring, French Autumn by Burak Bekdil

  • In Erdogan’s Turkey, “protestors” could hold signs honoring the terrorists who had perpetrated the Paris attacks, as well as Osama bin Laden. No one was prosecuted under the articles of the Turkish Penal Code that regulate “praising crime and criminals.”


  • The two Turkish leaders do not hide their ambitions of building a “mildly Islamist” Sunni regime in Syria. Hoping that “mild Islamists” may one day morph into secular, pro-democracy crowds is an extremely dangerous deception, designed to advance Islamism. “Mild Islamists” often morph into jihadists.

  • It is the same Turkey that President Barack Obama said at the G-20 meeting was “a strong partner” in fighting IS. Have a nice sleep, Mr. President!

Alain Juppé, former French prime minister (1995-97), once said: “I would like to stress this point without reservation: France sees the Arab Spring as auspicious. The Arab Spring holds out tremendous hope — hope for democracy and the rule of law, hope for peace and stability, hope for better future in which every person can pursue goals commensurate with his or her needs, talents and ambitions.”

Ten years ago, in October and November 2005, a series of riots took place in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities. Rioters burned cars and public buildings at night. The rioters were mostly young immigrants from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa who declared Islam as an inseparable part of their identity.

The French government declared a state of emergency, but the riots resulted in three deaths (of non-rioters), many police injuries and nearly 3,000 arrests.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (then prime minister) easily diagnosed the reason for the riots — in his usual Islamist way: “I told [the French] before,” he said. “The [Islamic] headscarf ban has triggered these riots.” Nothing could convince Erdogan that bad men might be doing bad things in the same of Islam.

Nine years after those French riots, a big group of bearded fellows started to behead “infidels” and release their videos, invade and plunder large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, where they declared “sharia rule,” and then “an Islamic caliphate.”

Around the same time, when the death toll in Syria and Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) was at several thousand, Erdogan, ironically in Paris, and after a meeting with French President François Hollande, accused “those who try to portray [IS] as an Islamic organization….”

He then lectured his Paris audience: “Mind you, I am deliberately avoiding the use of the acronym ISIS [because it contains the word ‘Islamic’]. I use the name ‘Deash’ [sic] because these are terrorists.” Funny, there was no such word or acronym as “Deash.” There is, though, “Daesh” (“ad-dawlah al-Islamiyah fil- Iraq wa ash-Sham”). It was a nice try by Erdogan, but not quite smart enough. The Arabic acronym “Daesh” also contains the word Islamic (“al-Islamiyah”).

Erdogan preferred not to get the Islamic message as, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, forcefully reminded everyone after the Paris attacks “as though name-calling addresses these real issues…”

Back in January, Muslim crowds appeared before prayer time in front of a mosque in Istanbul’s super-devout Fatih district. They were there to hold funeral services (in absentia) for the Kouachi brothers, the terrorists who had killed 17 in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

The worshippers at the mosque then held a demonstration with a banner and placards:

“If freedom of expression has no limits, be prepared for our freedom to commit actions with no limits.”

“We are threatening (you)! Do you dare?”

“We are all Kouachi” (in what appears like the Turkish response to the Charlie Hebdo slogan “Je suis Charlie”)

In a similar eulogy, members of the Aczmendi Lodge in Istanbul conducted funeral prayers for the Kouachi brothers and praised them as “martyrs.” And a billboard in the eastern town of Tatvan read: “Salute to the Kouachi brothers who avenged the Messenger of Allah. May Allah accept your martyrdom.”

Protestors in front of an Istanbul mosque hold signs honoring the terrorists who perpetrated the Paris attacks, as well as Osama bin Laden, January 16, 2015. (Image source: DHA video screenshot)

In Erdogan’s Turkey, “protestors” could hold signs honoring the terrorists who perpetrated the Paris attacks, as well as Osama bin Laden. No one was prosecuted under the articles of the Turkish Penal Code that regulate “praising crime and criminals.”

Your columnist wrote here at that time: “Ironically, Turkey’s systematic euphemizing of Islamist terrorism comes at a time when the country itself is exposed to the risk of being a target of the kind of men Turks praise as martyrs … [Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu should be able to understand that if a terrorist decided to strike Turkey in the name of jihad, his name will not be Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Nine months later, the Islamic State came to Ankara. On October 10, 2015, two IS suicide bombers killed over 100 people in the heart of the Turkish capital. Despite evidence, Erdogan and Davutoglu tried to portray the attack as “cocktail terror” involving not just “Daesh” but also Kurdish and leftist groups. It was self-deception at its best: Muslims do not resort to terror and violence.

Any Western support for what Erdogan and Davutoglu wickedly call “mild Islamist groups” in Syria will only further expose the free world to the risk of jihadist attacks. The two Turkish leaders do not hide their ambitions of building a “mildly Islamist” Sunni regime in Syria. Hoping that “mild Islamists” may one day morph into secular, pro-democracy crowds is an extremely dangerous deception designed to advance Islamism. Anyone can morph into a different ideology. But “mild Islamists” often morph into jihadists.

Erdogan’s Turkey will never change for the better. Sadly, it is the same Turkey that President Barack Obama said at the G-20 meeting was “a strong partner” in fighting IS. Have a nice sleep, Mr. President!

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Arab leaders stay as far as possible from these miserable holding-pens.

  • It was not Abbas’s meeting with the Arab Idol contestants that sparked a wave of denunciations from Palestinians. Rather, it was his failure to set foot in any of the refugee camps surrounding Beirut or in other parts of Lebanon.
  • Abbas knows very well that if he had so much as set foot in a refugee camp in Lebanon, it might have been the last step he would ever take.

  • The residents of the refugee camps are furious with their leaders, who have kept them there for decades, lying to them about a mythical return to their forbears’ homes in Jaffa, Haifa, Acre and Ramle. That is the real reason Abbas and other Arab leaders stay as far as possible from these miserable holding-pens.

What could possibly be said against a leader who supports and encourages art, especially music, singing and dancing of youths? A leader who does so, particularly one from the Arab world, should be commended for such efforts.

The catch: except when a leader says that supporting singers and musicians takes precedence over solving basic problems facing hundreds of thousands of his people.

Take, for example, the case of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently visited Beirut for talks with Lebanese leaders on a wide range of issues pertaining to bilateral relations and the status of more than 500,000 Palestinians living in extremely harsh conditions in numerous refugee camps throughout Lebanon. Many of the camps have long been “no-go zones” for the Lebanese security forces; this situation has turned them into bases for anarchy, lawlessness and a home for various rival armed gangs, which sometimes kill each other.

During his three-day visit to Lebanon, President Abbas held a series of meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and scores of Lebanese government officials and politicians. He also met with some representatives of the Palestinian community in Lebanon. Abbas, however, steered clear of any of the refugee camps, where Palestinians are deprived of basic rights, particularly employment.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) meets in Beirut with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (right), on February 23, 2017. (Image source: RT video screenshot)

Striking to many Palestinians was that Abbas did find time to meet with three young men participating in the hugely popular Arab Idol show, based on the British show Pop Idol. One of the contestants, Yacoub Shaheen, is from Bethlehem, while the second, Ameer Dandan, is an Arab citizen of Israel, from the Galilee. The third contestant, Mohammed Alazaki, is from Yemen. (Shaheen, a Palestinian Christian, won the television song contest).

It was not Abbas’s meeting with the Arab Idol contestants that sparked a wave of denunciations from Palestinians. Rather, it was his failure to set foot in any of the refugee camps surrounding Beirut or in other parts of Lebanon. Many Palestinians suspect that Abbas timed his visit to Lebanon so that he could meet with the Arab Idol contestants and be there when the identity of the winner was announced. They noted that Abbas is a big fan of the television show and has been closely following it for the past few years. His son, Yasser, and several senior Palestinian figures often travel to Beirut to attend Arab Idol. On his visit to Beirut, Abbas also found time to meet and exchange jokes with the famous Emirati singer Ahlam, who is also one of the judges on the Arab Idol show.

Abbas’s enthusiasm for the singers and the Arab Idol show is downright heartwarming. Many Palestinians, however, were left wondering about compassion for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Lebanon and who are being exposed to apartheid, discriminatory laws and severe restrictions that have turned their refugee camps into ghettos. Time on these diplomatic visits is rather limited: how, they wonder, did Arab Idol contestants and Ahlam the singer and judge make the cut, and the suffering compatriots did not?

Sufian Abu Zayda, a top Fatah official from the Gaza Strip, commented:

“From my point of view, there is no problem with President Abbas’s care for art and singers, including following the Arab Idol show or any other program. Nor is there a problem if President Abbas devotes time for a meeting with the esteemed singer, Ahlam. The problem is that Abbas is not the president of Sweden or Norway that he can afford so much time on a television show. Is it conceivable that a Palestinian president would visit Lebanon for talks with Lebanese officials without going to see his people in the refugee camps, some of which are very close to the studios of Arab Idol?”

Abu Zayda’s views have since been echoed by a large number of Palestinians, who see Abbas’s intentional ignoring of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as part of the Palestinian leadership’s long-standing policy of turning its back on the plight of its people and preferring to deal with “trivial” issues. While Abbas was in Lebanon, armed clashes erupted between Abbas loyalists and followers of his chief rival, Mohammed Dahlan, in the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp. At least one person was killed and three wounded in the confrontation.

Abbas, in fact, had no time to deal with the deteriorating security situation in the refugee camp because he was too busy thinking about who would win the Arab Idol contest (Palestinians argue his preferred candidate was Yacoub Shaheen from Bethlehem).

“We thought President Abbas and the entire Palestinian leadership came to Beirut to discuss the tragic conditions of the Palestinians in the refugee camps,” wrote a number of Palestinians on social media. “But we soon discovered that the real purpose of the visit was to attend Arab Idol. What a disgrace!”

Referring to Abbas’s obsession with Arab Idol, other Palestinians launched a hashtag on Twitter: #AbbasFollowUsToo. The goal of the campaign is to express Palestinians’ disappointment with their leaders’ carelessness and disdain.

Palestinian leaders have long ignored the plight of their people in Lebanon and other Arab countries. In Lebanon, the living conditions of the Palestinians are unquestionably inhumane. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Palestinians in Lebanon

“do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in as many as 20 professions… Around 53 percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon live in 12 refugee camps, all of which suffer from serious problems, including poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing conditions and lack of infrastructure.”

Abbas, however, is nothing if not savvy. He knows very well that if he had so much as set foot in a refugee camp in Lebanon, it might have been the last step he would ever take. So he was smart to stay away from the refugee camps, where his people bleed and which have become militia bases for armed gangs that are affiliated with so many groups, including his own Fatah faction.

Yet, it is not only Lebanese refugee camps in which Abbas feels a bit edgy. Similar camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are also teeming with bitterness. The residents are furious with their leaders, who have kept them there for decades, lying to them about a mythical return to their forbears’ homes in Jaffa, Haifa, Acre and Ramle. That is the real reason Abbas and other Arab leaders stay as far as possible from these miserable holding-pens. That is also why Palestinian leaders do not care if Lebanon or any other Arab country treats Palestinians as second- or third-class “citizens” (Palestinians in any case cannot be citizens because, with the exception of Jordan, Arab countries deny them the right to citizenship). And that is why Abbas would rather spend time with Arab singers and Arab Idol contestants than confront those he betrays on a daily basis — people being subjected to real apartheid and discrimination in Lebanon.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.

Apple just posted the best quarter in corporate history.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Apple posted the biggest profit in corporate history last quarter after selling a record number of iPhones.

Apple (AAPL, Tech30) sold 74.5 million iPhones in the last three months. That helped Apple’s profit soar more than 37% to $18 billion. That’s larger than Gazprom’s $16.2 billion profit during the first quarter of 2011 — the previous profit record posted by a corporation.


Apple also posted a stunning $74.6 billion in sales, up nearly 30% from the same period last year. That’s not close to a global corporate record, but it’s the best quarterly revenue Apple ever posted.

“Interest in Apple products is at an all time high … shattering our high expectations,” said CEO Tim Cook on a conference call with analysts. “This volume is hard to comprehend.”

Shares of Apple soared 9% in premarket trading.

Mac sales grew about 15% to a record 5.5 million. Apple said iTunes sales also hit a record high, while iPad sales continued to slump, falling 18% to 21.4 million

But the story was the iPhone.

Cook noted that Apple sold an average of 34,000 iPhones every hour.

The iPhone is already the single best-selling gadget of all time. But this past quarter, the iPhone outsold some gadgets made by entire industries.

The whole TV industry sold fewer than 60 million televisions last quarter, according to IHS. The tablet industry sold just 54 million tablets, IDC reported.

In fact, the iPhone very nearly outsold the entire PC industry. Computer makers sold fewer than 84 million desktop and laptops last quarter, according to Gartner. That’s every HP (HPQ, Tech30), Lenovo, Mac, Dell — everything.

Related: Can Apple live up to the iHype?

Apple had never sold more than 51 million iPhones in a quarter, which it accomplished a year ago. But that was before the deal with China’s biggest mobile provider, China Mobile (CHL), which went into effect in the first quarter of 2014.

That deal benefited Apple in a big way last quarter. Apple’s China sales soared 70% last quarter.

Making such gigantic inroads in China was once believed impossible. Apple’s brand did not hold the same cache as some Chinese smartphone makers, including Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei. And those brands heavily discount their phones, making them far more accessible to the masses than Apple makes the iPhone.

Apple also rolled out the new iPhone 6 to other countries last quarter faster than it had in previous years, helping Apple boost its iPhone sales. The iPhone 6 is available in 130 countries. Apple also said its supplier efficiencies helped the company manufacture 7 million more iPhones than it had expected to make last quarter.

Related: Microsoft sales soar … no thanks to Windows

But the iPhone’s expected success isn’t solely due to China, the global market or supply chains.

The iPhone 6 has proven extremely popular with customers who were holding out for a bigger Apple smartphone. The 4.7-inch screen competes much better with some larger Android smartphones, and the superior camera has helped some would-be defectors stick with the iPhone brand.

The new iPhone didn’t just grow Apple’s smartphone volume — it also grew revenue by convincing customers to spend more money on their devices. The even giant-er, $100-more-expensive iPhone 6 Plus has also helped drive sales, accounting for about a quarter of all iPhones sold last quarter, Nomura Securites analyst Stuart Jeffrey believes (Apple doesn’t break out iPhone 6 Plus sales separately).

Even better for Apple, Jeffrey expects that about half of all customers spent an extra $100 on their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices to upgrade to 64 gigabytes of storage — four times the amount of the standard 16 GB model. Last fall, Apple doubled the storage size of its mid-tier iPhone. Previous editions had just 32 GB of storage, so customers jumped at a good value.

All the good iPhone news is why Apple posted a record quarter: About two-thirds of Apple’s sales and earnings come from the iPhone.

But Apple has more potential billion-dollar products on the way. Tim Cook announced Tuesday that the Apple Watch will go on sale in April.

Related: Apple Pay won’t add to Apple’s profit

Anti-Semitism on California Campuses by Richard L. Cravatts

  • The problem on campuses across the country is that pro-Palestinian activists, in their zeal to seek self-affirmation, statehood, and “social justice,” have waged an extremely caustic cognitive war against Israel and Jews.

  • Being pro-Palestinian on campuses today does not necessarily mean that one is committed to helping Palestinians be productive, live well, build a free and open nation or create a civil society with transparent government, a free press, human rights, and a representative government.
  • What being pro-Palestinian seems to have come to mean is continually denigrating and attacking Israel with a false historical narrative and the grotesquely misused language of human rights. What is claimed to be anti-Israel sentiment often rises to the level of raw anti-Semitism.
  • It is enough to make Jewish students, whether or not they care about Israel at all, uncomfortable, unsafe, or even hated on their own campuses.

The California university system seems to have the dubious distinction of being the epicenter of the campus war against Israel. The situation that has apparently reached such intolerable levels that the Board of Regents of the University of California (UC Regents) was forced to take some action. This effort resulted in a study entitled the “Final Report of the Regents Working Group on Principles Against Intolerance.” The study attempts to establish guidelines by which any discrimination against a minority group on campus would be identified and censured. The report, however, specifically focused on the thorny issue of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism as a prevalent and ugly reality throughout the California university system.

The report examined a range of incidents that occurred during the 2014-15 academic year. It cited unfortunate transgressions that “included vandalism targeting property associated with Jewish people or Judaism; challenges to the candidacies of Jewish students seeking to assume representative positions within student government; political, intellectual and social dialogue that is anti-Semitic; and social exclusion and stereotyping.”

The problem on California campuses, and on campuses across the country, is apparently that pro-Palestinian activists, in their zeal to seek self-affirmation, statehood, and “social justice” for Palestinians, have waged — presumably as a tactic in achieving those ends — an extremely caustic cognitive war against Israel and Jews. That, however, appears to be just part of a larger, more invidious intellectual jihad against Israel led by some of those in the Muslim world together with some Western elites who also wish to weaken, and ultimately destroy, the Jewish state.

Being pro-Palestinian on campuses today, it turns out, does not necessarily mean that one is committed to helping the Palestinians be productive, live well, build a free and open nation or create a civil society with transparent government, a free press, human rights, and a representative government.

Being pro-Palestinian on campus today involves very little that actually benefits or makes more likely the birth of a new Palestinian state that will live side by side in peace with Israel. What being pro-Palestinian seems to have come to mean is continually denigrating and attacking Israel with a false historical narrative and the grotesquely misused language of human rights.

The moral uprightness that anti-Israel activists feel in denouncing what they perceive to be Israel’s supposedly “racist,” “apartheid” character, combined with its purportedly being an “illegal occupier of stolen Muslim land,” has manifested itself in ideological assaults against Zionism, Israel, and, by extension, Jews in general.

Of great concern to those who have observed the invidious byproduct of this radicalism, including the Regents Working Group, is the frequent appearance of what is claimed to be anti-Israel sentiment, which often rises to the level of raw anti-Semitism, when criticism of Israel bleeds into a darker, more sinister level of hatred. It is enough to make Jewish students, whether or not they care about Israel at all, uncomfortable, unsafe, or even hated on their own campuses.

Being pro-Palestinian on campus today seems to have come to mean continually denigrating and attacking Israel with a false historical narrative and the grotesquely misused language of human rights, which often rises to the level of raw anti-Semitism. (Image source: Hamas on Campus video screenshot)

A 2014 study commissioned by then-UC President Mark G. Yudof, to measure the climate faced by Jewish students, found that

“Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”

If anything, since that study was written, matters have gone from bad to worse. This latest report only affirmed Yudov’s earlier findings, and stated more specifically, that

“Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California. Most members of the University community agree with this conclusion and would agree further that the University should strive to create an equal learning environment for all students.”

The reference to anti-Zionism being henceforth prohibited as unacceptable speech or behavior received immediate and thunderous denunciation from, not surprisingly, those very groups and individuals who have been the worst perpetrators — groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Student Association, Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups, students and faculty who supposedly support human rights. They have been joined in their outrage by supposedly “free speech advocates” and others who feel that guidelines proscribing speech about a topic that many see as merely political is contrary to the notion of academic free speech — not to mention unconstitutional in seeking to censor people’s speech at all.

However, the guidelines crafted by the Regents were not cobbled together for the purpose of criminalizing or suppressing free speech. One of the difficulties pro-Israel groups and activists have had in making the Regents see the necessity of a workable code for gauging what is, and what is not, anti-Semitism has been the difficulty university officials themselves have had in knowing when pro-Palestinian activism on their campuses has become something more in keeping with the elements of classic anti-Semitism. For that very reason, pro-Israel groups had encouraged the Regents to incorporate in their report the working definition of anti-Semitism used by the U.S. Department of State, which defines anti-Semitism existing as

“Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis; drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions; … applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; … denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist…”

These are exactly the type of attitudes and accusations expressed regularly on California campuses.

If the UC system adopts the use of the State Department’s working definition of anti-Semitism, and incorporates it into the “principles against intolerance,” does that mean, as critics of the principles have suggested, that the free speech of pro-Palestinian activists will be suppressed, censored, or punished? Not even slightly.

Pro-Palestinian students and faculty can continue to sponsor virulent “Israel Apartheid Week” events, promote annual divestment and boycott resolutions against Israel, construct mock “apartheid walls,” hang blood-strewn Israeli flags, accuse Israel supporters of being racist and genocidal, give tacit support to the murder of Jews by being apologists for Palestinian terror, and continue to chant “Long live Intifada.” They can continue supporting murderous Arab campaigns against Israeli civilians, and chanting, “Palestine will be free, from the River to the Sea” — meaning that a new Palestinian state should displace Israel, not exist in peace beside it. They will still enjoy their constitutionally-protected right to speak freely and in whatever manner they choose, even if that speech is corrosive, factually defective, hate-filled, biased, historically-inaccurate, defamatory, and what is usually defined as “hate speech.”

The existence of the “principles against intolerance” and the working definition of anti-Semitism will not prevent anyone from spewing forth whatever intellectual sewage he or she chooses. But, importantly, administrators will finally have the ability to identify instances when pro-Palestinian activism crosses the line into anti-Semitism. They can then publicly and immediately condemn that speech when it occurs, just as they regularly — and appropriately — do if a hangman’s noose is found on campus, or slurs are made against gay students, or if students wear little sombreros at a tequila-fueled off-campus party, or if, in those rare instances, Muslim students are characterized as supporters of terror.

University administrators have been reluctant to identify and condemn anti-Semitic behavior and speech when it occurs. Armed with the State Department’s working definition and the other language in the “principles against intolerance,” school officials will, without moral or ethical qualms, be able to stand up against intolerance when directed at Jewish students and other pro-Israel members of the campus community, as in the past they have been unwilling or unable to do.

Pro-Palestinian activists have been trying to elevate the Palestinian cause by degrading Israel and its supporters with virulent language, slanders, blood libels, and racist inversions of history and fact. As former Harvard president Lawrence Summers put it, they have unleashed forms of expression that are “anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.”

That is the issue here, and why it is both necessary and important that, in the effort to help Palestinians achieve statehood and promote their cause, another group — Jewish students and pro-Israel individuals on American campuses — do not themselves become victims in a struggle for another group’s self-determination. This is a situation that leaders on campuses, at least, can now prevent from taking place.

Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, is author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews, and president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

and US governments are swapping playbooks in their determination to suppress resistance among those who already are among the most powerless.

The Isra

The US military has been holding more than 100 men in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge or trial since 2002 – a practice which has long been a hallmark of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. And now Israel appears poised to re-institute the practice of force-feeding – labelled torture by both the World Medical Association and the UN Human Rights Commission – which has been employed by the Americans running the Guantanamo facility since it first opened.


 

In both cases, the goal is to render these individuals invisible, by prohibiting one of the oldest tactics of nonviolent resistance – the hunger strike.

 

“Hunger strikes are very much about power,” says Fran Buntman, a professor of sociology at George Washington University and author of a book about Nelson Mandela and his imprisonment on Robben Island. “It’s the attempt of powerless people to exert some power over their circumstances, and governments don’t like people contesting their power. Part of the point of imprisoning people is to have control over their bodies, and the last thing the administration wants is for the detainees to take that power back.”

 

The American ‘gulag’: Guantanamo

 

Of the nearly 800 individuals incarcerated in the Guantanamo prison since the launch of the so-called war on terror, 149 remain today, held in conditions widely labeled inhumane and without the opportunity to see or challenge the evidence that sent them there. Even the US government agrees it has no grounds to hold 78 of the men, having cleared them for release as far back as 2009. Yet they continue to be held behind bars, often in isolation, as their children forget them, their wives leave them and their parents die without seeing them.

 

While tactics such as force-feeding make it more difficult to sustain resistance, it is communication blackouts such as those imposed by the Obama administration on the Guantanamo hunger strike that wreak the greatest damage.

 

A year ago, I travelled to Yemen with a delegation from Codepink: Women for Peace, to account for 58 of the men held despite a US agreement that they should be released. There, we talked to a number of relatives who had family members who were emotionally and physically wasting away in Guantanamo. Among them was the cousin of Abdulhakim Ghalib Alhaq, who had been promised his freedom by US President Barack Obama to no avail. He was just 17 in 2001 when he left Yemen for Pakistan to study Islam, his family told us. Two months later, he disappeared. When they learned that the teenager had been seized along with five others in a house raid and was now in Guantanamo, his parents’ health deteriorated. 

 

“When we are permitted phone calls,” said his cousin, Qaid, “our news is mostly about deaths – first his father, then his mother and grandmother. He is losing everything familiar to him while he is behind bars.”

 

Just one month before our trip, Obama had renewed his long-neglected pledge to close America’s “gulag” – shamed by the detainees’ resort to a tactic used throughout history to publicise and protest oppression, the hunger strike.

Jonathan Hafetz, an associate professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, wrote recently that, “The reality is that hunger strikes … have an unparalleled ability to focus the world’s attention on the ongoing plight of men whose situation is so desperate they would rather starve themselves than go on living in legal limbo.”

 

However, although the hunger strike and the resulting publicity forced Obama to re-focus on their plight, only 12 detainees have been released since then – none of them Yemenis. Meanwhile, it is estimated that only 17 of the men have had the stamina required to maintain their strike, given the military’s brutal approach to force-feeding.

 

In court papers filed on May 21, attorneys for Pakistani detainee Ahmed Rabbani reported that he had contracted a chest infection from the procedure, causing him to vomit blood repeatedly. They alleged that Rabbani endured several botched force-feeding attempts, including one in which the tube was pointing up, rather than down into his throat, causing him to feel as if the device was being pushed into his brain. In another attempt, Rabbani’s airways were blocked when the liquid he was fed pooled in his throat, preventing him from breathing. The same week, US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler issued an order requiring the government to release videos of another detainee, Syrian Abu Wael Dhiab, that were taped when he was removed from his cell and force-fed. It will mark the first time that individuals not affiliated with the US government have seen the videos.

Israeli prisons for Palestinians

 

According to the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, there are currently 5,271 Palestinians being held as political prisoners in Israeli jails – including 192 without trial or charge (euphemistically called “administrative detention”), including eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

 

On April 24, around 120 of the administrative detainees launched the first collective hunger strike since the last one in 2012. (There have been numerous hunger strikes in the intervening period, but they all have been waged by individuals primarily seeking their own release, and typically were only partial in nature.)

 

In 2012, nearly 2,000 Palestinian prisoners refused to eat for approximately a month (with some fasting for as long as 77 days). One of their demands, granted in an agreement mediated by Egypt that brought the strike to a close, was a limitation on administrative detention in exceptional circumstances, as required by international law. However, since that time, Addameer reports that Israel has actually increased its use of the practice.

 

Today, Khaled Waleed of the UFree Network, which is coordinating a supportive petition drive, reports that the hunger strike has spread to virtually all of the administrative detainees as well as many other prisoners – bringing the total participants to an estimated 1,500. Their demand: Release of all those currently held in administrative detention unless they are charged and receive a fair trial, and an end to the practice going forward.

 

A May 22 letter to the United Nations secretary-general, demanding international pressure on Israel to obey international law, has been signed by 18 organisations, including Defense for Children International and the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights.

 

So far, reports indicate that more than 100 of the striking Palestinian political prisoners have been hospitalised, and prison authorities have retaliated with a number of repressive measures, including solitary confinement, denial of attorney visits, arbitrary transfers, late-night raids and disruptive, violent inspections.

 

However, the Palestinian hunger strikers may soon face a more serious challenge – the same struggle imposed on the Guantanamo detainees. In May, the Israeli Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would allow district courts to authorise physicians with the state’s prison service to treat detainees against their will. Although opposed by the Israeli Medical Association, the state healthy ministry and attorney general have already vetted the bill. If it is approved by the full Knesset, force-feeding will become legal and could soon be unleashed as another form of punishment on the striking prisoners.

 

George Annas, a bioethicist at the Boston University School of Public Health, wrote last year in the New England Journal of Medicine that the forced feeding of a person who is able to decide for himself “is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault”.

 

That is exactly the point, and the intent. Despite the feigned desire to save prisoners’ lives, the real game, as Buntman pointed out, is power. But while tactics such as force-feeding make it more difficult to sustain resistance, it is communication blackouts such as those imposed by the Obama administration on the Guantanamo hunger strike that wreak the greatest damage.

David Remes, an attorney who gave up a lucrative corporate-law business to specialise in representing Guantanamo detainees, says he does not believe that prisoners have to literally starve to have an impact, but a hunger strike – or any other act of willful disobedience – must be “sustained, broad-based and well-publicised”. Sustained public support for hunger strikers has forced results before, and it can work again.

 

Pam Bailey is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who has travelled extensively to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Yemen and Pakistan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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