Friday, November 19, 2004

My former home demolished...

I have recently learned that the apartment I lived in for seventeen years of my life in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will soon be demolished to pave way for more modern buildings. Why you ask? From what I can remember and analyze, the government of Dubai after the death of founder Sheikh Rashid, became more capitalist in nature and overturned many policies such as affordable health care and affordable housing. Several people who cannot afford the escalating rents or standard of living have had to move to shabbier cities, moved out of the country or continue to accumulate debt. For those of you who are unaware of policies of many Gulf countries: expatriates cannot be citizens even if they were born there, like me. We are not allowed to own property nor do we have any guaranteed rights. We all have visas issued in our passports; that too only if the breadwinner of the family earns a certain amount of money as dictated by the government. Many other laborers who do not make the mark, live part from their families for several years. People wonder why I detest the country I was born in, so much: to me, it is an artificial country created for the sole purpose of modernization and tourism for foreigners. It is great for shopping & touring but not living’ since education is not free and other aspects of living are costly, life is pretty miserable unless you earn a lot of money! Compared to the Arabs who live in the Gulf countries, expatriates (mostly Asian from India & Pakistan) are considered as second-class people. It is funny but although I have lived in Minnesota for only five years, I consider it my home more than I ever regarded Dubai as one…

For those of you who love candles, you may be interested in the Jerusalem Candle of Hope: “The Business Council for Peace, a group of American businesswomen, came up with the idea of bringing Palestinian and Israeli women together to make a product that could enhance their mutual understanding and improve their economic condition…A council team, which included Eziba's Amber Chand, traveled to the Mideast and linked an Israeli candle factory in Nazareth that employed Russian immigrant women with a Palestinian embroidery shop in Bethlehem to create the candle…Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Parents' Circle, an organization of Israelis and Palestinians who lost family members in the conflict as well as bonuses for the women's families.”

From the
Associated Press: The Israeli army is looking into allegations that combat soldiers desecrated the body of a Palestinian in Gaza and posed for a picture alongside the ravaged corpse. The army announced the investigation after the Web site of an Israeli newspaper (Yediot Ahronot) released an advance portion of a larger article to be published Friday. The article quotes unnamed soldiers as testifying that they posed for pictures and desecrated the bodies of Palestinians. In general, the military condemned such incidents. But the army challenged the accuracy of some of the newspaper's account. In one incident, the report says, an unnamed soldier described how the body of an unarmed Palestinian killed in Gaza was brought to the army outpost and soldiers posed with the body. They took souvenir photos and gave him the nickname "Inny" for "innocent civilian." Personal note: the similarity to the pictures from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal is worth keeping in mind. Torture & even genocide studies repeatedly show that people who commit such crimes are not necessarily “evil,” but orders from above/authority, bad circumstances like war & poverty, dehumanization of the “other,” all contribute to violations of human rights and crimes against humanity; eg: Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Holocaust, Iraq, etc. On a similar note, from BBC News: “The Israeli military is seeking to exhume the body a 13-year-old Palestinian girl killed by Israeli forces in October…Army lawyers want to examine Iman's body to gather evidence in the case against the officer. Soldiers from the Givati Brigade fired at Iman as she approached an observation post in the Tel Sultan area of Rafah. They believed she was planting a bomb but her family maintained she was on her way to school. The soldiers said the officer walked up to the girl after she was hit and riddled her body with a burst of automatic fire, in an outlawed practice called "verifying the kill". It is not known whether the girl was already dead when he shot her. Palestinian hospital officials said the girl was shot at least 15 times, mostly in the upper body…the girl's family, said they had so far refused the request. Autopsies are seen by many Muslims as shaming and forbidden. "Also, the family does not have much faith in the army," …the army had agreed to have Palestinian and Arab pathologists present should the examination take place. Hundreds of Palestinian children have been killed during the intifada, often in clashes between Israeli troops and stone throwers. The military rarely launches investigations into the incidents.”

More on new leaders from Palestine from NY Times: “Of all the men who would be leaders of the nation that would be Palestine, he is the most popular, his personal story the most compelling, his command of Hebrew and understanding of Israelis the most sophisticated. Yet for Marwan Barghouti, the odds of succeeding Yasir Arafat appear, for now, to be the longest. Mr. Arafat was accused by Israel of terrorism and kept a virtual prisoner in his compound here. Mr. Barghouti was convicted by Israel of terrorism and is an actual prisoner in an Israeli jail, where he is serving five life terms plus 40 years. Still, from prison, Mr. Barghouti, a sharp, charismatic man of 45, is weighing a run for one of the jobs vacated at Mr. Arafat's death, the presidency of the governing Palestinian Authority. The arc of Mr. Barghouti's career - from prisoner to peacemaker to prisoner -tracks the course of Israeli-Palestinian relations. His prominence in the political considerations of Palestinians reveals the generational, institutional and personal crosscurrents roiling Palestinian society since the death of Mr. Arafat. Running through the political chatter among both Palestinians and Israelis since Mr. Arafat died a week ago has been speculation electrifying to both - that Israel would pardon Mr. Barghouti or release him in some sort of prisoner exchange. That possibility is extremely remote, Israeli politicians and analysts say. An Israeli court has found Mr. Barghouti to have blood on his hands. But some Israelis also remember him for his support of a two-state solution and his formerly close relationships with Israeli politicians, including some right-leaning ones…As a Palestinian legislator, Mr. Barghouti was a frequent critic of governance under Mr. Arafat…In internal deliberations, some senior Palestinian officials are arguing that Mr. Barghouti should be the faction's candidate, to emphasize the plight of Palestinian prisoners and to end the mixing of institutional roles under Mr. Arafat. They say the Palestinians should turn the presidency of the Palestinian Authority into a largely symbolic role, like the presidency of Israel, and let Mr. Abbas focus on the more overarching duties of chairman of the P.L.O., which represents the millions of Palestinians overseas as well as those in the West Bank and Gaza. Some Palestinians believe that Israel chose to arrest Mr. Barghouti in April 2002 and then give him a very public trial in order to burnish his credentials as a leader among Palestinians while preventing him from further tarnishing his credentials among Israelis…During this uprising, which began in September 2000, Marwan Barghouti called for violence but insisted that he remained "a politician, not a military man." He said he supported attacks only against Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories, violence that he argued was condoned by international law…In an interview with The New York Times in March 2002, while he was in hiding, Mr. Barghouti said that all his efforts were in pursuit of a lasting peace. Israel had shown that only violence would prompt it to agree to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, he said. He said that by conducting sensational attacks, Fatah had restored its popularity with average Palestinians, who he said were otherwise turning to militant groups like Hamas that were dedicated to Israel's destruction. "We were very brave to fight for peace, and I received a lot of criticism from our side," he said, referring to his support of Oslo. "Now we are brave enough to fight for peace again - but with different tools.'"

From Agence France Presse: “PLO leader Mahmud Abbas stepped up calls Friday to end "armed chaos" in the occupied territories, as the new Palestinian leadership prepares the ground for presidential elections in January. Continued lawlessness is "in the interests of no one," he said, also citing the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory as the biggest obstacle to holding the leadership election, scheduled for January 9. "The Palestinian leadership has opened contacts with different countries so that the obstacles, particularly the occupation, be eliminated so that the election can go ahead normally." Abbas is expected to wrap up talks in Gaza on Saturday, ahead of the intended arrival of outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell for two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Sunday. Fears that Arafat's death last week could worsen the already fragile security situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were underlined Sunday when gunmen opened fire inside a mourning tent for the late Palestinian leader. The gunfight erupted shortly after Abbas, Arafat's replacement as Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman arrived on the scene…so far his track record on security has been marginal. He resigned as Arafat's first prime minister in September 2003, after a bruising row with the late leader on trying to reform the sprawling Palestinian security apparatus. During his brief stint as premier, he also failed to persuade militants to lay down their weapons. Despite securing an agreement among factions to halt anti-Israeli attacks, the ceasefire broke down after just seven weeks. Qorei has also been consistently rebuffed in his efforts to institute a ceasefire by the likes of Hamas.”

An article on Electronic Intifada talks about the obstacles to fair & free elections in Palestine: “Elections are virtually impossible because the area that is supposedly under the Palestinian Authority's administration is not a single, contiguous territory, but rather, 55 different bantustans, surrounded by heavy military fortifications, divided and redivided by Jewish-only access roads, and monitored by a fearsome occupying army that attacks civilians and protects violent settler communities, all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These bantustans are reinforced by an imposing Wall that snakes past people's homes…The occupying Israeli military prohibits any possibility for free elections by prohibiting movement and routinely arresting Palestinians on orders of administrative detention for even the slightest infraction…the international community should not insist upon this. Instead, the international community -- in particular those countries part of the so-called "Quartet" (the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations) -- should insist upon two main conditions that will ensure a free election and a lasting peace, namely the cessation of the occupation and the guarantee of participation of all Palestinians in a free and fair election of a new leadership of the Palestinian people…This includes Palestinian refugees, not only in the occupied territories, but in the diaspora as well. A free election may also demand that Israel release thousands of Palestinian detainees, many of whom are political prisoners in administrative detention, and some of whom may indeed be future leaders.”

Is Afghanistan becoming a narco-state? From the Christian Science Monitor: “An annual United Nations' survey released Thursday in Brussels finds that opium poppies are being grown in record levels across Afghanistan…Opium from Afghanistan this year accounted for 87 percent of world supply, up from 76 percent in 2003. The BBC also reports that during the reign of the Taliban, poppies were grown in only four or five provinces of Afghanistan. That number has grown to 28 out of 32 since the US-led coalition invaded the country in 2002. Radio Free Europe reports that opium is now the "main engine of economic growth" in Afghanistan and "the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples." The UN report says this illegal drug trade accounts for more than $2.8 US billion annually, or "more than 60 percent of Afghanistan's 2003 gross domestic product." …The Seattle Times reports that on Wednesday, US drug enforcement agencies asked Congress for an additional $780 million to fight the "expanding drug trade" in Afghanistan. The US plan calls for eradicating an area five to seven times larger than the nearly 10,000 acres of poppy fields destroyed this year. The destruction is to be offset by more than $100 million in aid to Afghan farmers to plant wheat, barley, corn and other crops and for other rural economic-development projects. The BBC reports that US officials, who were focused on the recently completed presidential elections in Afghanistan until this point in time, feel they are now free to give more attention to the drug problem. Other aids groups have proposed different solutions, including a program to replace opium product with the growth of industrial hemp.”

In his second term, President Bush has the chance to replace three-four justices in the Supreme Court, which is a crucial move since these are lifetime appointments. From NY Times: “Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican under attack by some conservatives as too liberal to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee, won the unanimous backing of the panel's Republicans on Thursday, a move that appears to guarantee that he will become chairman when the new Congress convenes in January…Mr. Specter, a supporter of abortion rights, remarked that the Senate would be unlikely to confirm "judges who would change the right of a woman to choose.'' …He vowed to consult his colleagues on legislation before the committee, including bills that would limit certain lawsuits, an issue he has not always championed. He promised not to use the committee to bottle up constitutional amendments, an allusion to the proposed amendment banning gay marriage, a measure Mr. Specter has said he opposes. But perhaps the most significant part of the statement involved the filibuster, a tactic that Democrats have used to block some of President Bush's more contentious judicial nominees. A filibuster can be broken with 60 votes, but Republicans will have only 55 seats in the new Senate. "It is my hope and expectation that we can avoid future filibusters and judicial gridlock with a 55-45 Republican majority and election results demonstrating voter dissatisfaction with Democratic filibusters,'' Mr. Specter wrote. "If a rule change is necessary to avoid filibusters, there are relevant recent precedents to secure rule changes with 51 votes.''… Reporters asked Mr. Specter if he had been pressured into issuing the statement. The senator insisted he had not and took pains to say that he was not taking a position on changing filibuster rules.”

More on voting fraud during the elections, this time from renowned Berkeley University: “Today the University of California's Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team released a statistical study - the sole method available to monitor the accuracy of e- voting - reporting irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000-260,000 or more excess votes to President George W. Bush in Florida…The research team formally disclosed results of the study at a press conference today at the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center, where they called on Florida voting officials to investigate. The three counties where the voting anomalies were most prevalent were also the most heavily Democratic: Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, respectively. Statistical patterns in counties that did not have e-touch voting machines predict a 28,000 vote decrease in President Bush's support in Broward County; machines tallied an increase of 51,000 votes - a net gain of 81,000 for the incumbent. President Bush should have lost 8,900 votes in Palm Beach County, but instead gained 41,000 - a difference of 49,900. He should have gained only 18,400 votes in Miami-Dade County but saw a gain of 37,000 - a difference of 19,300 votes…The research team is comprised of doctoral students and faculty in the UC Berkeley sociology department, and led by Sociology Professor Michael Hout, a nationally-known expert on statistical methods and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center.”

On Fallujah from Informed Comment: “Among the justifications given by the US for its campaign against guerrillas in Fallujah was that it would prepare the way for elections in January. It was said that elections could not be held as long as major cities were not even in government control. It seems likely, however, that the Fallujah offensive has so deeply alienated the Sunni Arab populace of Iraq, which is probably 4 million to 4.5 million strong, that it has ensured that they will boycott the polls as American-sponsored…Al-Hayat says the radical Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah group announced Thursday that it would blow up polling stations on election day, and called on Muslims to boycott the American-sponsored elections…The heightening of sectarian tensions was underlined recently when Shiites in Basra formed the Fury Brigade, aimed at using paramilitary means to protect Shiites from Sunni Arab attacks in the Latifiyah / Mahmudiyah area south of Baghdad. The Furty Brigade insisted that the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, and the al-Azhar Seminary/ University in Cairo, issue formal legal findings (fatwas) that it is wrong for a Sunni to kill a Shiite…The Guardian speculates that pressure is now building to postpone the elections. This move is supported by the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni fundamentalist group still more or less committed to encouraging Sunni participation. Its leader, Muhsin Abdul Hamid, predicts a near-complete Sunni Arab boycott if the elections are held in January…In contrast, the major Shiite parties insist that the electoral timetable be adhered to. They are following the line of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, that elections must be held as early as possible at all costs, to produce a legitimate Iraqi government. They say that if the elections are not held in some places of the Sunni Arab heartland, that is not important. But they are wrong. The Americans crafted the election as a national one, in order to make it more difficult for strongly local and sectarian political forces to do well. The party lists that fare best will be those with strongest national support. The down side of this plan is that if a major constituency, such as the Sunni Arabs, boycotts, then they will get virtually no seats and the legitimacy of the resulting parliament would be weakened…Al-Hayat reports that the Allawi government threatened some mosque preachers with arrest if they continued to agitate against participation in the elections and to instigate violence against the multinational troops.”