Tension as controversial Israeli lawmaker visits Jerusalem flashpoint

Tension as controversial Israeli  lawmaker visits Jerusalem flashpoint
Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian man following Sunday’s clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (AFP)
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Updated 13 February 2022

Tension as controversial Israeli lawmaker visits Jerusalem flashpoint

Tension as controversial Israeli  lawmaker visits Jerusalem flashpoint
  • Scuffles break out as far-right MP opens parliamentary office in Sheikh Jarrah

JERUSALEM: Israeli police clashed with Palestinians in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday, as a visit by a controversial far-right Jewish lawmaker inflamed tensions.

Police said two people were arrested as they tried to contain “a violent riot,” in the area of annexed East Jerusalem that has emerged as a symbol of Palestinian resistance against Israeli control of the city.

Scuffles broke out as Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance opened a parliamentary office in Sheikh Jarrah, in what he described as an effort to show support for its Jewish residents.

More than 200,000 Jewish settlers live in East Jerusalem, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Efforts by settler groups to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital, have further fueled hostilities.

Ben Gvir, a Jewish nationalist with a long history of incendiary comments about Palestinians, accused police of failing to react to alleged arson attacks on a settler home in Sheikh Jarrah.

“Jewish lives have become worthless,” Ben Gvir charged in a tweet before his visit.

He told reporters in Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday that he would remain there until police “looked after the security of the (Jewish) residents.”

The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, condemned Ben Gvir’s visit as a “provocative and escalating move that threatens to ignite ... violence that will be difficult to control.”

Tensions that erupted in Sheikh Jarrah last year — as several Palestinian families faced eviction by settler groups — in part sparked the May conflict between Israel and armed groups in Gaza.

Hamas, the Islamists who control Gaza, warned there would “consequences” over Israel’s repeated “attacks” on Sheikh Jarrah.

Palestinians across East Jerusalem accuse Israeli police of using heavy-handed tactics to quell protests. Six people were arrested in the neighborhood during unrest late Saturday.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, in a move not recognized by most of the international community.


Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
Updated 16 sec ago

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
  • Eescalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia
ONCUPINAR, Turkiye: Turkiye’s army needs just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria and such a decision may come at a cabinet meeting on Monday, Turkish officials said, as Turkish forces bombarded a Kurdish militia across the border.
Howitzers fired daily from Turkiye have struck Kurdish YPG targets for a week, while warplanes have carried out airstrikes.
The escalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia. The YPG has denied involvement in the bombing and has responded at times to the cross-border attacks with mortar shelling.
“The Turkish Armed Forces needs just a few days to become almost fully ready,” one senior official said, adding that Turkiye-allied Syrian rebel fighters were ready for such an operation just a few days after the Nov. 13 Istanbul bomb.
“It won’t take long for the operation to begin,” he said. “It depends only on the president giving the word.”
Turkiye has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the YPG, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkiye, the United States and European Union designate a terrorist group.
The PKK has also denied carrying out the Istanbul attack, in which six people were killed on a busy pedestrian avenue.
President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkiye would launch a land operation when convenient to secure its southern border. He will chair a cabinet meeting at 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT).
“All the preparations are complete. It’s now a political decision,” another Turkish official told Reuters, also requesting anonymity ahead of the meeting.
Erdogan said back in May that Turkiye would soon launch a military operation against the YPG in Syria, but such an operation did not materialize at that time.
The first Turkish official said a ground operation, targeting the areas of Manbij, Kobani and Tel Rifat, was inevitable to link up the areas brought under the control of Turkiye and its Syrian allies with incursions since 2016.
Ankara had been in contact with Moscow and Washington about its military activities, the person added.
The United States has told NATO member Turkiye it has serious concerns that an escalation would affect the goal of fighting Daesh militants in Syria.
Russia asked Turkiye to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive. It has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s 11-year war, while Ankara has backed rebels fighting to topple him.
On Monday, the defense ministry said Turkiye’s army had “neutralized” 14 YPG militants preparing to carry out attacks in Syrian areas under Turkiye’s control. It typically uses the term to describe casualties.
The defense ministry said on Saturday three Turkish soldiers had been killed in northern Iraq, where the military has been conducting an operation against the PKK since April.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, having traveled to the Iraqi border area, was quoted as telling military commanders on Sunday that Turkiye will “complete the tasks” of the mission.

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime
Updated 13 min 33 sec ago

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime
  • 6,000 creatives sign statement urging support for art students persecuted for protests
  • Signatories slam ‘increasingly brutal, violent and deadly state crackdown’

LONDON: A group of Iranian creatives has issued a statement to the international community asking it to stop working with cultural groups and institutions with links to the regime in Tehran.

The statement — signed by over 6,000 artists, academics, writers and film directors, based in Iran and abroad — was issued following the mass arrest and incarceration of students across the country for their roles in anti-regime protests following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September at the hands of the morality police.

The statement calls for the international community to “boycott governmental institutions of the Islamic state of Iran and their covert affiliates, and prevent them from having any presence in international arenas of arts, culture and education” over the regime’s “increasingly brutal, violent and deadly state crackdown” that has left at least 300 people dead and around 14,000 in detention.

One of the signatories, London-based curator Vali Mahlouji has also called for direct action by protesters against arts organizations that receive money from Iran.

Mahlouji told The Guardian: “We know that some private Iranian galleries are connected to the money systems of the Iranian state, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council. They need to be boycotted.”

Since the beginning of the protests, art has been used by demonstrators to signal anger at the regime, including red dye being poured into fountains and red nooses hung from trees.

“This is a society saying: We are terrorized,” Mahlouji said. “There is a big performative response: People tying themselves up; red ink being poured on pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic; red paint being thrown at buildings; even urinating outside art galleries which have kept themselves open when artists demanded that they close down.”

Canada-based artist Jinoos Taghizadeh told The Guardian that some art galleries “have been the money-laundering arm of the government” and have “tried to depoliticize (Iranian) artists.”

She added that art students in Iran who defy the regime “were constantly threatened by the police and university security,” but “have been very brave and creative despite all the repressions, arrests, kidnappings,” and that “the performance of their music and protest songs and their publication on social media both encouraged the protesters and brought the voice of protest to other cities and outside Iran.”

Art has also been used as a form of protest against the regime overseas: In October, a group called the Anonymous Artist Collective for Iran set up a display of 12 red banners with images of Amini and the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In London’s Piccadilly Circus, exiled Iranian artist Shirin Neshat displayed a digital protest piece of the same slogan, also showing it at Pendry West Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Neshat said: “We are not just a bunch of oppressed artists trying to get the Western culture to feel sorry for us. We’re teaching them that it is time to wake up and understand that culture plays a big part in the political fabric of our world.

“We see these young people who are completely fearless facing tyranny. You really question your own state of mind as an Iranian who has never been able to live without fear for so many years. It’s extremely hopeful to have these young people who are saying no more fear.”


Iran rejects UN investigation into protests — spokesperson

Iran rejects UN investigation into protests — spokesperson
Updated 36 min 53 sec ago

Iran rejects UN investigation into protests — spokesperson

Iran rejects UN investigation into protests — spokesperson
  • Tehran summoned the German ambassador to protest last week’s UN Human Rights Council decision
  • Foreign ministry spokesman: Western nations were involved in protests that have swept the country

DUBAI: Iran will reject a newly-appointed independent UN investigation into the country’s repression of anti-government protests, the foreign ministry said on Monday, as demonstrations showed no sign of abating.

“Iran will have no cooperation with the political committee formed by the UN Rights Council,” ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.

The UN Rights Council voted on Thursday to appoint a probe into Iran’s deadly crackdown on protests.

Tehran on Monday summoned the German ambassador to protest last week’s UN Human Rights Council decision, based on a resolution co-sponsored by Berlin, to probe Iran’s response to nationwide protests.
It is the third time since the demonstrations started more than two months ago that Tehran has called in Berlin’s representative to the Islamic republic.

Volker Turk, the UN rights commissioner, had earlier demanded that Iran end its “disproportionate” use of force in quashing protests that erupted after the death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16.

Activist news agency HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed in more than two months of nationwide unrest as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors. It said 60 members of the security forces had been killed, and 18,173 protesters detained.

Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters from all walks of life have burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the downfall of Iran’s Shiite Muslim theocracy.

The protests have particularly focused on women’s rights — Amini was detained by morality police for attire deemed inappropriate under Iran’s Islamic dress code — but have also called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The unrest has posed one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical ruling elite since it came to power in the 1979 Islamic revolution, though authorities have crushed previous rounds of major protests.

Iran has blamed foreign foes and their agents for the unrest.

Iran has proof that Western nations were involved in protests that have swept the country, Kanaani said on Monday.

“We have specific information proving that the US, Western countries and some of the American allies have had a role in the protests,” he said, without giving details.

Iran has given no death toll for protesters, but a deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, has said that about 50 police had died and hundreds been injured in the unrest — the first official figure for deaths among security forces.

He did not say whether that figure also included deaths among other security forces such as the Revolutionary Guards.


Jordan’s military thwarts attempts to smuggle drugs from Syria

Jordan’s military thwarts attempts to smuggle drugs from Syria
Updated 28 November 2022

Jordan’s military thwarts attempts to smuggle drugs from Syria

Jordan’s military thwarts attempts to smuggle drugs from Syria
  • 564 palm-sized sheets of hashish, 30,000 Captagon pills, 1 kg of crystal meth seized in 2 days

AMMAN: Jordanian security forces have foiled two attempts to smuggle large quantities of drugs from Syria in two days, the Jordan News Agency reported. 

On Sunday, border guards at the Jaber border crossing, Jordan’s main border crossing with Syria, seized 10,000 Captagon pills and 1 kg of crystal meth hidden inside a truck.

On Saturday, the Eastern Military Zone in Jordan seized 564 palm-sized sheets of hashish, 20,000 Captagon pills, a Kalashnikov rifle and ammunition.   

A source at the Jordanian Armed Forces General Command said frontline surveillance patrols, in coordination with security agencies, tracked an armed group of smugglers illegally crossing into the kingdom from Syria.

Response patrols acted swiftly and applied rules of engagement. Having injured a smuggler, they forced the others to flee into Syrian territory, the source said, adding that the JAF will continue to deal firmly with any border threats, and will foil any efforts to undermine and destabilize Jordan’s security.
 


‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt

‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt
Updated 28 November 2022

‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt

‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt
  • Stands by comment that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste but rather is a crime
  • Says hosting the football World Cup, despite an estimated cost of $220 billion, will not benefit Qatar beyond a few months

DUBAI: While there is no question that staging a major sporting event will “in a real way raise the profile of the country for a relatively short period,” the data suggests it makes no lasting impact on the image of the host country, according to the man credited with coining the term “nation brands” back in the 1990s.

Simon Anholt, founder of the renowned Nation Brands Index, is currently an independent policy adviser to nearly 60 countries around the world, and publisher of the Good Country Index, which ranks nations based on their contributions to people and planet.

His views on the topic have a special significance as Qatar hosts the Middle East’s first World Cup, prompting many to wonder whether the event, the organization of which has cost the Gulf country an estimated $220 billion, will succeed; and what Arab cities such as Riyadh, Dubai or Doha need to do to become the next London or New York.

“Looking back over the 20-odd years that I’ve been running surveys on this (subject), the evidence is that running or hosting a big sporting event, such as the football World Cup or the summer Olympics, has no impact, generally speaking, on the image of the country, at least not beyond a few months,” Anholt said on “Frankly Speaking,” Arab News’ weekly talkshow.

He added: “Within about six months or so, people would have forgotten about it.

“Occasionally, it can do quite serious damage to the (host) country’s image, if the thing is very controversial or if it shows things about the country that are worse than what people were expecting.”

For Qatar, Anholt said, hosting the World Cup has its upside if “what you are actually looking for is just crude awareness. In other words, you want more people to have heard about the existence of this country, because it’s anonymous.”

He continued: “Then there’s no question that hosting a major sporting event will, just in a real way, raise the profile of your country for a relatively short period.

“And, if you know exactly what you’re going to do to follow on from that immediately afterward, and keep the momentum going and keep the profile high, then that could work as part of a slightly more sophisticated strategy.”

Nevertheless, he cautioned that “believing that just hosting a successful major event will suddenly turn your image from bad into good, or from unknown into super well-known, is just an illusion. It just doesn’t happen.”

Anholt acknowledged that “there can be other valuable effects of hosting a major event” and that “these things are not necessarily a waste of time and money.”

He added: “Particularly the smaller ones can be very useful tactical instruments for countries to engage with the international community.”

In sum, he said: “It’s not a simple, straightforward relationship between hosting an event and the image of the country: It can do you harm. The most common effect is no effect at all.”

Anholt said events such as Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup and the UAE’s successful Mars Mission can do more good for their nation brands than PR or advertising campaigns, but “in the longer term.”

He added: “The mistake is always to expect an immediate return. Your brand is not your message; it’s the context in which your message is received.”

Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup can do more good for the Kingdom’s brand than PR or advertising campaigns, said Simon Anholt. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)

Anholt, while delivering a talk at the Riyadh Book Fair last September, said that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste, but rather is a crime.

Elaborating on the point, he told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen: “You’re saying, if you spend enough money on advertising and it’s good enough advertising, it will work. But what I’m saying is that those tools that work so well for selling products and services, they don’t work for changing the images of countries.”

He added: “All the evidence is that it’s just money burned. Countries are judged by what they do and by what they make, not by what they say about themselves.”

It was recently announced that Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh would host the Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council, a big conference full of world experts who would want to sell their country as the next ideal holiday destination. What, according to Anholt, is the difference between destination marketing and the concept of a nation brand?

He said that the two concepts are separable. “Destination marketing is a very honest and very straightforward marketing exercise. You’ve got a product which is called vacations in Saudi Arabia, and you want to market it to potential tourists, to potential purchasers of that product,” Anholt said.

“Advertising, marketing, online, offline etc, all the conventional tools of commercial promotion are very, very useful to do that. If you do lots of it and you do it well, people will come.

“You can deliberately cause more people to visit your country through effective marketing. There’s no question about that.”

Anholt’s presence at the book fair means he is no stranger to some of Riyadh’s ambitious goals: To double its population by 2030, make huge investments in projects aimed at creating jobs for both locals and expatriates, further expand green cover, and win the bid to host the World Expo in 2030.

What, in his view, does Saudi Arabia need to do so that the capital can become more attractive and grow into another London, New York or Tokyo?

“Making the city into an attractive destination, an attractive product for people to buy into, is really only part of the story,” Anholt said.

“Having a beautiful city or having an attractive destination, or a beautiful nature or a great culture, nice people, is all part of the attraction of a country. 

“But, fundamentally, the thing that matters most is that people should feel glad they are there. It’s got something to do with how they perceive you as a player in the international community.”

Anholt also shed light on why Saudi Arabia — which occupies 57th place on the Nation Brands Index — should not expect quick improvements in its international perception purely on the strength of ongoing domestic reforms or the generous sums of money it gives in foreign aid.

He said: “Change is not easy, and it’s not quick. We need to change people’s minds. When you’re talking about the whole world, and you’re talking about a vast cultural construct which is the perceived image of a nation, that really is a slow process.

“It’s very disheartening for the first several years. You’re going to find that almost whatever you do that tries to be good and helpful, it’s going to be interpreted in a negative way. But gradually, if you are persistent and strategic about it and, above all, sincere with those gestures, then, over time, it will begin to shift.

”But this is not something that can be fixed overnight, or in a matter of weeks or years. The images of countries take literally generations to form. They don’t come through the media from one day to the next; they come through the whole of the culture that surrounds us.”

Anholt joked that the Nation Brands Index is “one of the most boring social surveys ever conducted,” simply because the rankings change so little from year to year.

Anholt highlighted UAE’s Mars Mission as being better for the country’s brand than traditional advertising.

He added: “It’s because people really, really don’t change their minds about countries. These are the stable building blocks of their world view.”

As someone who has never seen a country rise by more than two places from one year to the next, he explained that “when a country does rise or fall by more than two or three places in the ranking, then that’s really important and it’s really worth analyzing.”

Case in point is Russia, which has plunged 31 places to the bottom of the index in one year.

Anholt used the example to say that, based on his experience running the Nation Brands Index survey since 2005, “international public opinion will not tolerate conflict. The one thing that people all over the world just cannot forgive a country for is being involved in a war.”

He added: “If you reach out and you harm or threaten or insult another group, whether that’s a religious group or another state, public opinion will punish you as a state for doing so.”

Does that mean Israel, which occupies illegal lands as per the UN but has not suffered a plunge in its Nation Brands ranking, is an exception to the rule?

Anholt said the explanation is more complicated in that “Israel doesn’t suffer quite the same because (the occupation) hasn’t just happened right now. It’s a situation which people have been used to for a number of years.”

He pointed out, however, that while Israel is nowhere near the bottom of the index, it is also nowhere near the top.

He said: “Considering the size of its economy, and considering its successes and the connections that it enjoys with other countries, its position in the international community, especially since the Abraham Accords and all the rest of it, you might expect Israel to rank significantly higher than it does.”

Moving on to the UK, Anholt said that chaotic politics is so much the order of the day in world affairs these days, he does not think “just changing prime ministers every few weeks is going to have any long-term effect on the image of the country.”

Even so, he said the image of Britain is on the slide and has been so, barring a few reversals, ever since the Brexit referendum.

He added: “The data very clearly shows the number one reason why people admire a country is because they think it contributes something to humanity and the planet.

“The point about Brexit, as it was understood by most people around the world, was that the UK was withdrawing from its multilateral behavior and wanted to do it on its own. It wanted to be the British Empire all over again. Very predictably, people don’t like that.”

As for the US, he said: “It had always been the number one country, right up until the second term of George W. Bush, when the Americans invaded Iraq for the second time. America was always the most admired country on Earth; now, it never is. It seems to have settled down at about seventh to 10th position.”

Anholt put the twin examples of the UK and US this way: “Aside from invading another country, the only way that you can gradually damage the image of a country is by behaving in a persistently chaotic, turbulent and unfriendly way in the international community, and both the US and the US are proving that from year to year.

“Year by year, their scores slip in the Nation Brands Index.”

Finally, with divisions opening up in British public opinion after the passing of Queen Elizabeth this year, how much did Anholt think she and the monarchy were worth to “Brand UK?”

He said: “If you look at monarchies in pure economic terms, they tend to give quite good value for money.

“They cost taxpayers several millions a year, sometimes many millions a year, to keep them there. But what they actually return to the country’s image in terms of pure brand value is in the order of billions. People love monarchies, especially people who don’t live in monarchies themselves.

“Without the monarchy, the UK would be significantly less interesting to people than it is. It would be significantly harder to attract people to visit its old buildings in its old cities. So, purely in economic terms, royal families appear to give rather good value, as long as they behave in the right way.”