Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes
A Palestinian protester lifts a national flag amid confrontations with Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank, on May 21, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2021

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes
  • Marie Newman tells taxpayers it is possible to change US foreign policy and speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses

CHICAGO: Illinois Congresswoman Marie Newman told constituents on Sunday they “can make a difference” in strengthening US support for Palestinian rights, and to curb excessive funding demands by Israel.

Newman was one of only nine House of Representatives members who voted against a bill last week giving Israel $1 billion to purchase more short-range missiles for its Iron Dome defense system.

Speaking at the Palestine American Club in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, Newman urged Americans to target donors who give hundreds of millions of dollars to the Senate’s 100 members as a means of forcing change.

“Start talking to senators. Remember, in Congress, in the House of Representatives, we only have the purse that we can deal with. We (members of Congress) can only say yea or nay to money,” Newman explained, noting that the House addresses funding while the Senate and administration addresses policy.

“So, that is why the Iron Dome vote is important, right? It is to say, ‘No, Israel. You can’t have another billion dollars.’ What we have to do is start talking to people who actually make policy.”

Congress voted on Sept. 23 to separate Israel’s Iron Dome vote from the larger and stalled vote to fund American news. The US already gives Israel $500 million annually for the missile defense system under an agreement signed by President Barack Obama in 2016.

Arab Americans denounced Congress for removing the Iron Dome funding vote from the larger spending bill that remains stalled in partisan, political bickering. Another attempt to pass it may not take place until Thursday.

“Instead of passing a bill to address the immediate and critical needs of the American people in the larger spending bill, Congress put Israel above the American people and removed the Iron Dome funding so Israel would not have to wait the way American taxpayers are waiting and suffering,” said Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland, which co-sponsored Newman’s appearance.

“It’s shameful when 420 members of Congress vote so quickly to give Israel, a foreign country, $1 billion. But they can’t seem to find the time or the courage to help American citizens overcome their challenges.”

Newman was among nine members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome appropriation. The nine were immediately attacked by Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan on Monday who said they were “either ignorant or anti-Semitic.”

Newman did not address Erdan’s personal attacks, and instead focused on how US citizens can get their government to reprioritize spending to address their needs.

She said that activists need to focus on the corporations, businesses and individuals who donate hundreds of millions of dollars to Senate members who are responsible for defining so-far failed US policy efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.

“So, you have to start talking to their donors and you have to start making them realize this is an important humanitarian issue, and that everybody is safer in the region when Palestine is safe and free and able to move, and be healthy and prosperous — everybody will be happier,” Newman said.

Newman said she is also working to reinforce communications between Arab and Muslim Americans and the staff of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, announcing the creation of an Arab and Muslim American Council in the 3rd District.

“We have to start talking to the senators and we have to start talking with the administration.”

Newman also addressed the continued human rights “crisis” in Sheikh Jarrah in the occupied West Bank city of East Jerusalem, where Israel is taking homes and property from Christian and Muslim civilians and giving them to Jewish settler organizations.

“I always like to be very clear that this is home theft. When you steal someone’s house and you are a victim, it is called home theft. It is not right here in Chicago. It is not right in Palestine. It is not right in Montreal. It is not right in Hong Kong,” Newman said.

“So, we put together a letter that typically would only be signed by seven, eight or nine members of Congress. But because my team is amazing, and I decided to do a lot of outreach and to be very tenacious, we had 25 members of Congress sign on to the letter.”

Most of Newman’s remarks addressed the needs of the 3rd Congressional District, explaining that she is supporting an infrastructure bill that would provide economic and educational support to families hard pressed by the nearly two-year long pandemic.

“Roads and bridges bring lots of jobs. On the human infrastructure side of the package, it will bring paid leave, universal child care, two years of community college free for young people, middle-aged people or our elders who want to go back to school,” she said.

The proposed spending bill that remains deadlocked in the House would increase deductions for small businesses and reduce taxes between 5-10 percent. She also said that the spending bill provides funding to improve the nation’s infrastructure to improve the environment, and help Americans facing financial and health difficulties.

A first-term member of Congress, Newman was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in November 2020. The district has been held by a Democrat since 1975 and is overwhelmingly Democratic. It was ranked as having the eighth-largest Arab-American population of 50 American congressional districts by The New York Times, and largest concentration of Palestinian-American voters.

‘People threatening Bitar are involved in the port blast’

‘People threatening Bitar are involved in the port blast’
Updated 20 October 2021

‘People threatening Bitar are involved in the port blast’

‘People threatening Bitar are involved in the port blast’
  • Civil society members stage a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show ‘solidarity with the judiciary’

BEIRUT: Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 port explosion, resumed investigations on Tuesday after being notified by the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation of its second decision to reject the request submitted by the defendant in the case of MP Ali Hassan Khalil.

Normal service resumed at the Justice Palace in Beirut after a long vacation. The Lebanese army guarding roads leading to the palace and Ain Remaneh, which was the arena of bloody events on Thursday, over protests to dismiss Bitar from the case. The repercussions of these events have affected the political scene, its parties and the people.

Civil society activists under the auspices of the “Lebanese Opposition Front” staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show “solidarity with the Judiciary carrying out its national duties and support for Judge Bitar to face the threats.”

Speaking on behalf of the protestors, activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said: “A free and sovereign state cannot exist without a legitimate authority, judiciary and justice.”

Abdel Samad urged “the defendants to appear before Judge Bitar, because the innocent normally show up and defend themselves instead of resorting to threats.”

“We have reached this low point today because of a ruling elite allied with the Hezbollah statelet, protected by illegal arms.

“They want to dismiss Judge Bitar in all arbitrary ways and threats because he has come so close to the truth after they managed to dismiss the former judge, hiding behind their immunities because they know they are involved in the crime.”

Abdel Samad claimed that “those making threats are involved in the crime.”

Regarding the Tayouneh events that took place last week, he said: “They took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully, as they claimed, but they almost got us into a new civil war as a result of the hatred and conspiracies against Lebanon.”

Lawyer May Al-Khansa, known for her affiliation with Hezbollah, submitted a report at the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation against the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, Judge Bitar and “all those who appear in the investigation to be involved, accomplices or partners in crimes of terrorism and terrorism funding, undermining the state’s authority, inciting a strife, and other crimes against the law and the Lebanese Constitution.”

Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday night waged an unprecedented campaign of accusations and incitement against the Lebanese Forces party and its leader.    

Nasrallah accused them of being “the biggest threat for the presence of Christians in Lebanon” and said they were “forming alliances with Daesh.”

In a clear threat to Geagea and his party, Nasrallah bragged in his speech of having “100,000 trained fighters,” calling on Christians to “stand against this murderer.”

Nasrallah accused Bitar of “carrying out a foreign agenda targeting Hezbollah in the Beirut port crime” and of “being supported by embassies and authorities, turning him into a dictator.”

During the parliamentary session on Tuesday, no contact was made between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces. However, a handshake was spotted between the Lebanese Forces’ MP Pierre Abu Assi and the Amal Movement’s MP Hani Kobeissi.

Minister of Culture Mohammed Mortada, who represents Hezbollah, said “Hezbollah’s ministers will attend the ministerial session if Prime Minister Najib Mikati calls for one, but the justice minister and the judiciary must find a solution to the issue of lack of trust in Bitar.”

Several calls were made on Monday night between different political groups to prevent escalation and calm the situation.

Efforts are being made to reach a settlement that allows Bitar to keep his position and for defendants in the Beirut port case — who are former ministers and MPs — to be referred to the Supreme Judicial Council for prosecution.

Elsewhere, parliament dropped the proposal of a women’s quota ensuring female participation through  a minimum of 26 seats.

It passed a move to allow expats to vote for the 128 MPs and dropped the decision to allocate six additional seats representing them.

The parliament’s decision angered Gebran Bassil, who heads the Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc. Following the parliamentary session, Bassil referred to “a political game in the matter of expats’ right to vote, which we will not allow to happen.”

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law
Updated 20 October 2021

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law
  • Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting President Erdogan in 7 years

STRASBOURG, France: Europe’s top human rights court on Tuesday called on Turkey to change a law regarding insulting the president under which tens of thousands have been prosecuted, after ruling that a man’s detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.

Vedat Sorli was given a suspended 11-month jail sentence in 2017 over a caricature and a photograph of President Tayyip Erdogan that he shared on Facebook, along with satirical and critical comments.

There was no justification for Sorli’s detention and pre-trial arrest or the imposition of a criminal sanction, the European Court of Human Rights court said.

“Such a sanction, by its very nature, inevitably had a chilling effect on the willingness of the person concerned to express his or her views on matters of public interest,” it said.

The criminal proceedings against Sorli were “incompatible with freedom of expression,” the court added.

Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.

In 2020, 31,297 investigations were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Ministry data. Those numbers were slightly lower than the previous year.

Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations were launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.

In a prominent case earlier this year, a court sentenced pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas to 3-1/2 years for insulting Erdogan, one of the longest sentences over the crime, according to Demirtas’ lawyer.

The court said Turkey’s law on insulting the president affords the head of state a privileged status over conveying information and opinion about them.

It said the law should be changed to ensure people have the freedom to hold opinions and impart ideas without interference by authorities in order to put an end to the violation it found in Sorli’s case.

10 diplomat summoned

Separately, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of the US and nine other countries to protest a statement they issued that called for the release of imprisoned philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala.

Kavala, 64, has been kept behind bars for four years, accused of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government through the 2013 nationwide demonstrations that started at Istanbul’s Gezi Park. He has also been charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government in connection with a failed military coup in 2016.

The ministry said the ambassadors were told that “the impertinent statement via social media regarding a legal proceeding conducted by independent judiciary was unacceptable.” Turkey rejects the attempt to “politicize judicial proceedings and put pressure on (the) Turkish judiciary,” it continued.

“Turkey is a democratic country governed by the rule of law that respects human rights, and it was reminded that the Turkish judiciary will not be influenced by such irresponsible statements,” the ministry added.

Israel violates international law ‘because it can,’ UN Security Council told

Israel violates international law ‘because it can,’ UN Security Council told
Updated 20 October 2021

Israel violates international law ‘because it can,’ UN Security Council told

Israel violates international law ‘because it can,’ UN Security Council told
  • US/Middle East Project called for the Palestinian leadership to stop repressing ‘their own people’
  • Israel PR slammed the security council meetings on the Middle East and said the focus should be on Iran instead

NEW YORK: Israel pursues policies in violation of international law and of UN resolutions “Because it can — no tangible cost or consequence is attached,” the UN Security Council heard on Tuesday. 

Daniel Levy, president of US/Middle East Project, told council members of the need to address what he called “an accountability deficit when it comes to Israel’s action” as it is one of the core understandings that should guide the peace process forward.

“If the unlawful and peace negating politics of Israel continue to be met with impunity, there should be no expectation of positive change.

Also to be considered is “a legitimacy deficit in Palestinian politics,” Levy said.

“The Palestinian Liberation Organization must become fully representative, inclusive and by extension better able to demonstrate strategic agency and to negotiate. 

“Palestinians have a right to elect representatives to their national institutions. That requires a Palestinian leadership decision, as well as supportive, not preventive, steps by Israel and the International community.

Israeli activists of the Rabbis for Human Rights organization help Palestinian farmers harvest their olive trees in Burin village in the occupied West Bank, on Oct.19 2021. (Photo by Menahem Kahana / AFP) 

“We also cannot ignore or condone when existing Palestinian self-governing authorities on the ground with their limited mandate repress their own people.”

Palestinian politician, activist, and scholar Hanan Ashrawi told the ambassadors that everything must be viewed in the context of occupation. 

The security council’s inability to assert its authority, Ashrawi said, has allowed “this injustice to become a perpetual tragic, human modern political and legal travesty.”

She discounted talk of confidence-building between Israel and the Palestinians as “there can be very little confidence under occupation. 

“The policy of confidence-building measures is misguided because occupation brings only contempt, distrust, resentment, and resistance. The oppressed cannot be brought to trust or accept handouts from their oppressor as an alternative to their right to freedom.”

Another attempt at spreading misconception is the constant call for “balance in an unbalanced situation,” Ashrawi said. 

“The mindless refrain that Israel has a right to defend itself while the Palestinian people are denied such a right is perverse, and that the occupier’s violence is justified as self-defense while the occupied are stigmatized as a terrorist. 

“Peace is not achieved by normalizing the occupation, sidelining the Palestinian question, or rewarding it by repositioning Israel as a regional superpower. 

“Such an approach maintains in place the causes of regional instability while enabling Israel as a colonial apartheid to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine.” 

Israel’s permanent representative to the UN Gilad Erdan strongly criticized Ashrawi’s presence at the security council meeting.

“A spokesperson for Palestinian leadership was invited to represent civil society,” giving a platform to what he called “Palestinian rejectionism.”

Erdan slammed security council meetings on the Middle East for what he called disregarding “the real threat to regional and global security: Iran. 

“Iran has assembled six armies of terrorist proxies in the region and by allowing the Ayatollah regime to continue with the severe violation of their international commitments, these six terror armies will soon have an Iranian nuclear umbrella.”

Before the meeting began, Erdan told reporters in New York that such meetings have the sole aim to “bash Israel” and are a “waste of everyone’s time.

“The security council members help dig the ditch of conflict deeper,” he said.

Erdan called on council members to “stand up to Iran and demand that Palestinian leadership abandon their culture of hate. This is the only way to transform the region into a paradise of progress, prosperity, and peace.”


UK, Arab League concerned over Iran’s nuclear program

UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office James Cleverly meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League. (Twitter/@JamesCleverly)
UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office James Cleverly meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League. (Twitter/@JamesCleverly)
Updated 20 October 2021

UK, Arab League concerned over Iran’s nuclear program

UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office James Cleverly meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League. (Twitter/@JamesCleverly)
  • UK minister for Middle East and North Africa met separately with Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister
  • All sides also affirmed their countries support the Libyan political process

LONDON: The UK shares concerns over Iran’s nuclear program with Arab countries, a government official said on Tuesday.
Tehran has stopped honoring some of its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal and has been holding up negotiations aimed at reviving the landmark accord that scales back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, sparking concern from the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
The comments were made during a meeting in London between the UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, James Cleverly, and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League.
The meeting dealt with developments in the region, including Iran, Syria and Libya, where Cleverly affirmed his country supports the Libyan political process.

Earlier on Tuesday, Cleverly met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, where he praised Egypt’s role as “a key mediator in regional conflicts, and a leading partner on climate” change.
He also congratulated Shoukry on Egypt’s nomination to host the next UN climate change conference (COP27), adding he looked forward to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attendance at the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow next month, and his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I also thanked Shoukry for Egypt’s ongoing engagement in Hamas-Israeli talks,” which “played a leading role in securing the cease-fire,” Cleverly said.
The UK and Egypt also agreed on the importance of Libya sticking to its elections timetable, he added.

(With AFP)

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
Updated 19 October 2021

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 14 Houthi targets, also destroying six military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it carried out 14 attacks targeting Houthi militia members in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said 48 Houthis have been killed and six military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
“We will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations,” the coalition said in a statement.
This is the ninth consecutive day that the coalition has announced strikes around Marib, reporting a total of more than 1,200 Houthi fatalities.
The previously announced bombings were in Abedia about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Marib — the internationally recognized government’s last bastion in oil-rich northern Yemen.
The strikes reported Tuesday were closer to Marib.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers from the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
According to a government military official on Tuesday, fighting between the two sides “continues on a number of fronts but there are no major advances or changes on the ground in recent hours.”
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)