Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict

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Updated 24 June 2021

Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict

Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict
  • Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson, 62, worked for a US Special Operations task force in Iraq and had top secret clearance
  • Thompson started speaking with a Lebanese co-conspirator with Hezbollah ties in 2017 and later developed romantic feelings for him

CHICAGO: Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan said the US needs to return to the role of being an “honest broker” if there is to be peace between Palestinians and Israelis during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday.

Pocan said America needs to redirect more than $50 billion used to fund the war in Afghanistan now that the last US troops are departing the country 20 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A diehard supporter of Israel, having participated in many tours of the country sponsored by pro-Israel organizations, Pocan said he broadened his understanding of the conflict and sympathies when he visited Palestinian areas to see the real challenges they face.

Pocan said the US should continue to support Israel, providing help for programs like the Iron Dome missile defense system, but must also recognize the suffering of Palestinian civilians, and that illegal Israeli settlements are a part of the conflict.

 

“If we can get back to that point where we are seen as an honest broker by everyone, we can then use that influence of the US to try to bring about peace,” Pocan said.

“That doesn’t mean dictating solutions because it has to be decided in the region, but it does mean we can help bring people together and that is the role that the US can best do.”

Pocan, of Wisconsin’s second congressional district, said he is encouraged by the recent ouster of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, and believes the Palestinians need to hold elections. He explained people can still support Israel while criticizing the policies of the government, such as the expansion and building of new settlements.

“Seeing a broader perspective of the same very small region really made me realize that if you are ever going to have peace in the region, you have to treat everyone with respect and dignity,” Pocan said, adding he supports the broader issue of human rights for all.

“You have to have some fairness and rules, and you have to have a different attitude than I think we currently have in the region, or else you will never … achieve a peaceful solution.”

Pocan said there is a need for the US government to play a more neutral role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, to address the concerns of both sides fairly.

 

“What we need to do as a country is to get back to a position, and certainly in the last four years we were not in that position, of being able to bring sides together to try to negotiate peace. Every time there is a new illegal settlement you’re going to make it harder to get to peace. For everyone who professes to want a two-state solution that often says we are going to go back to this 1967 map with land swaps, if you have more illegal settlements, one you are displacing more Palestinians, but two you are going to have a harder time to get to that map to work for everyone,” Pocan said.

“But then, when you see the treatment, when you see a road with a giant (line) down the middle with one side for Israelis to drive on and the other side Palestinian … I think you look at these things and see a lot of things that are happening that will not lead to a peaceful solution. What I found, and I have said over and over again, (is) the vast, vast majority of people in both Palestine and Israel want peace.”

Pocan said that one “fundamental problem” is that the Gaza Strip is “basically an outdoor prison” which is controlled by Israel with 98 percent of the water undrinkable, and the majority of people living on food assistance from the UN. Members of the US Congress have not been permitted to enter Gaza during the past decade, he complained.

American taxpayers, who provide more than $3.8 billion in assistance to Israel every year, need to see and hear about the challenges that face Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.

 

“Anywhere else, we would be having (an) outcry like we do in Yemen and other countries that have similar situations and yet this is a normal practice in the region, but it is anything but normal,” Pocan said.

“Most people don’t know about it. They hear about bombs coming in from Gaza and they hear about Israel responding with bombs. But what they don’t hear are some of the other specificities that are going on on the ground that, I think if people knew about — and people are watching closer, because of the black Lives Matter movement — I think people are seeing that if you treat people inhumanely you are going to have a bad outcome.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is in the US, it’s in Colombia, it’s in Yemen or it’s in Palestine and Israel. We just have to use human rights as a real high measuring tool that we expect human rights and dignity for everyone as an absolute minimum standard.”

Pocan said he supports Israel on many fronts, including providing funding and technology for the Iron Dome which was built to intercept rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. But Pocan also said that with the Iron Dome protecting Israelis, there is no need for widespread retaliation.

 

“If a missile does come or a rocket does come from Gaza and you take it out in the air, no one has been injured and there is no need for additional retaliation. The problem is right now in what we just saw when there is missiles from Gaza, they used our support with the Iron Dome but then they also sent 20 times the number of missiles and displaced a hundred thousand people and killed dozens of children and hundreds of people. That isn’t the intention of de-escalation,” Pocan said.

“So, when I call things out like that I am supportive of something that is a core part of the defense that they have, that the US gives, but I also expect it to be used in the manner we intended. And if it is not then it is appropriate to call out the misuse.”

Pocan said that peace can only be achieved if both sides want peace and if the US resume its former role as “an honest broker” in dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Pocan also called for a “smarter use” of American funding to address the needs of the American people. Noting the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan, the more than $50 billion used to support the US presence in Afghanistan should be “redirected” to address issues such as healthcare, jobs and climate change.

He said the money should be redirected towards “things that are … a real threat to the country,” such as responding to the coronavirus disease pandemic, which he called the “biggest threat the US has faced” since 2019.

“We spend too much on the Pentagon, period,” Pocan argued. He said former President Donald Trump increased the US defense budget by 20 percent without allowing an audit or oversight of spending, adding “there is obviously a lot of waste and fraud.”

Pocan was speaking on “The Ray Hanania Radio” show on the US Arab Radio Network, which is sponsored by Arab News. The show is broadcast live every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit and on WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C.

All of the show’s interviews are podcast and available at ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.

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Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Israeli surface-to-surface missiles killed three people near the Syrian capital Damascus on Friday, state media said quoting a military source.
“The Israeli enemy carried out an aggression... that led to the death of three martyrs and some material losses,” Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted the source as saying.
The missiles came from the Israeli-occupied Golan heights and were intercepted by the Syrian air defenses, the military source said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the three people killed were officers and that four other members of the air defense crew were wounded.
The Israeli strikes targeted Iranian positions and weapon depots near Damascus, the monitor said.
A fire broke at one of the positions near the Damascus airport, where ambulances were seen rushing to the site of the strikes, according to the Observatory.
The latest strike follows one on May 13 that killed five people in central Syria, and another one near Damascus on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government troops as well as allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
Updated 21 May 2022

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a “new republic”, through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country’s 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited “national dialogue” – at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country’s major actors.


Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
  • The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust

PARIS: Sandstorms have engulfed the Middle East in recent days, in a phenomenon experts warn could proliferate because of climate change, putting human health at grave risk.
At least 4,000 people went to hospitals on Monday for respiratory issues in Iraq where eight sandstorms have blanketed the country since mid-April.
That was on top of the more than 5,000 treated in Iraqi hospitals for similar respiratory ailments earlier this month.
The phenomenon has also smothered Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with more feared in the coming days.
Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere, that can then travel hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers.
Sandstorms have affected a total of 150 countries and regions, adversely impacting on the environment, health and the economy, the World Meteorological Organization said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN agency WMO has warned of the ‘serious risks’ posed by airborne dust.

• The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments.

• They also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

“It’s a phenomenon that is both local and global, with a stronger intensity in areas of origin,” said Carlos Perez Garcia-Pando, a sand and dust storm expert at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
The storms originate in dry or semi-dry regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China.
Other less affected areas include Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust.
The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.
“Dust particle size is a key determinant of potential hazard to human health,” the WMO said.
Small particles that can be smaller than 10 micrometers can often become trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and as a result it is associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia.
The most at-risk are the oldest and youngest as well as those struggling with respiratory and cardiac problems.
And the most affected are residents in countries regularly battered by sandstorms, unlike in Europe where dust coming from the Sahara is rare, like the incident in March.
Depending on the weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances, at times picking up bacteria, pollen, fungi and viruses.
“However, the seriousness is less than with ultrafine particles, for example from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” says Thomas Bourdrel, a radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg and a member of Air Health Climate collective.
Even if the sand particles are less toxic than particles produced by combustion, their “extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, especially among the most vulnerable,” he said.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic micrometers in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” said Garcia-Pando.
The sandstorms’ frequency and intensity could worsen because of climate change, say some scientists.
But the complex phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and is affected by a cocktail of factors like heat, wind and agricultural practices, Garcia-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could persist, even rise,” he said.
With global temperatures rising, it is very likely that more and more parts of the Earth will become drier.
“This year, a significant temperature anomaly was observed in East Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia, and this drought affects plants, a factor that can increase sandstorms,” the Spanish researcher said.


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
Updated 20 May 2022

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
  • "The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumours that they spread and lies they tell," Guards commander Hossein Salami said
  • Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies

DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.