Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict

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Updated 02 June 2022

Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict

Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict
  • US Congressman Sean Casten of Illinois said that a real friend to Israel will tell it when it does wrong, such as in examining the killing of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh
  • Casten urges the reopening of US Consulate to help Palestinians address challenges they face from Israeli settlers and to undermine the influence of Hamas

CHICAGO: American foreign policy has a “blind spot” when it comes to getting accurate information on challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians or achieving peace, Illinois Congressman Sean Casten (D-6th) told Arab News Wednesday.

Elected in 2018 after defeating conservative Peter Roskam, Casten said he saw how the “status quo” provokes extremists on both sides, Hamas and Israeli settlers, during two visits to Israel and later the West Bank.

Casten said he supports a two-state solution but believes it will be difficult to achieve under current circumstances. He stressed that he supports Israel’s right to security in the face of threats from Hamas, as well as the rights of Palestinian civilians, citing the experiences he saw Palestinian farmers face from armed settlers while in Bethlehem last February.

“We had gone in the last time I was there, which was last February. We had gone in and met with several Palestinians. They (Israeli settlers) have got a farm up on the hill above their farm, and it is essentially an outpost with armed settlers who are regularly coming down and shooting their (Palestinian) livestock,” Casten recalled from the trip.

“And we’re sitting there saying we are members of Congress. Why don’t we just walk up? And they were saying no, no… ‘You are going to get shot if you do that, do not walk up there,’ which is weird because normally as a member of Congress, we can go anywhere. We then come back, and we met with Tom Knives, the US ambassador to Israel, who is a lovely guy, and we start telling him about this and it was clear he was not aware of those realities on the ground because as the ambassador to Israel, he cannot travel into that region except in a supervised fashion. And so, we need to have information. We have this blind spot in US foreign policy right now.”

Casten said the situation he saw there reinforced his belief that re-opening the US Consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinian affairs, which is one of the goals of President Joseph Biden, is essential.

“We have Palestinian communities who need representation. They don’t have an embassy anymore. Should we push to create that embassy? That seems like a good thing Congress should do. We’re not taking sides. We are just saying we need to make sure that people [are safe]. We talked to a guy who runs the Hope Flowers School that teaches non-violence in Bethlehem. He doesn’t have anyone to reach out to right now. So, we raise that issue and then we hear, well, ‘Be careful pushing that because as you have seen the Knesset is very divided right now and if you push too hard that might create the rise, the return of the Israeli political right,’” Casten said.

“I am completely in [support] of that (opening the US Consulate). But the challenge is how do we do that in a way that is responsive to the circumstances on the ground there?”

Casten complained that the US understanding of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is dominated by activists on both sides in the US and that a greater effort needs to be made to hear the views of everyone involved to better understand the reality. He said that the US must “understand how it affects the politics on the ground there” in order to address those challenges.

Appearing on “The Ray Hanania Show,” broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, Casten said his experiences showed how one cannot only listen to activists who advocate for their causes but must also hear from others to better understand the hurdles that prevent peace.

“There is so much pressure in our US system to be responsive to US citizens who are advocates for the region. And I think it is so dangerous to only listen to those groups if you haven’t spoken to groups on the ground…I have met with everyone from Prime Minister (Mohammed) Shtayyeh to (President) Mahmoud Abbas to (Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and (Alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid this last time,” Casten said.

“Everybody will tell Americans who are there that the system is very brittle. If you push us too hard, you will see the rise of the right on the Israeli [side], if you push us too hard you will see the rise of Hamas on the Palestinian side. And there is this tremendous pressure that says, ‘Please don’t violate the status quo.’ And yet we all know that the status quo is untenable. I think the surest way to compromise the security of everyone in the region is to continue the status quo where you have a group of people with no property rights and increasingly little hope.”

Casten observed how the recent signing of peace accords between Israel and other Arab states has changed the dynamics of what many Israelis believe is the path to peace.

“The feeling on the ground in Israel, I think there used to be a sense in Israel that there is no path to regional peace without a resolution to the Palestinian issue,” Casten said. 

“And with the passage of the Abraham Accords, with the increasing concerns of a nuclear Iran, the feeling I get on the street when I talk to Israelis over there is that they have almost inverted that until we have regional peace, we don’t need to worry about the Palestinian issue. I don’t know how to solve that. I feel better about our opportunity to solve that when we have more centrist moderate governments. Of course, the Israeli government has been very brittle now for four or five years.”

Casten said he supports the two-state solution but is unsure how it can be achieved in today’s political dynamics.

“I absolutely support it, and I wish I could tell you that I saw a path to getting it done. I don’t know how you have a democratic Jewish Israel that doesn’t have two states with coherent borders,” Casten said.

“I will also share with you, I have yet to meet an Israeli leader who is committed to the idea that they don’t have complete control of security, which is one and one-half states. And I have yet to meet a leader in the Palestinian authority who doesn’t have a business card that doesn’t have a map that runs from the Jordan to the sea.”

Casten also said he was optimistic in cases like the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh that one could criticize Israel without being anti-Israeli. Palestinian witnesses have said they believed the Palestinian-American citizen was killed on May 11 by an Israeli sniper’s bullet, but the Israelis have resisted that conclusion.

“There are a lot of pressures in our domestic politics. But I think we should be able to manage,” Casten said when asked if responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing will be resolved.

“I have always been partial to that beautiful line of Frederick Douglass when he said that the best friend of the nation is who acknowledges her faults rather than cloak himself in the specious garb of patriotism. He was, of course, talking about America. But I think in the same way, for the United States to be a good friend of Israel, as we are, we also have to be willing to say as your friend, you are not perfect.”

Casten is a scientist, clean energy entrepreneur and CEO who has dedicated his life to fighting climate change. He serves on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is vice chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets.

Casten faces fellow Democrat Congresswoman Marie Newman in the June 28 election primary. Newman did not respond to several requests to appear on the radio show.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C., including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 p.m. on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here

North Korea fires multiple cruise missiles off its east coast, South Korea says

North Korea fires multiple cruise missiles off its east coast, South Korea says
Updated 59 min 51 sec ago

North Korea fires multiple cruise missiles off its east coast, South Korea says

North Korea fires multiple cruise missiles off its east coast, South Korea says
  • North Korea has been ramping up its military tests in recent weeks
  • Pyongyang held a nuclear counterattack simulation against the US and South Korea over the weekend

SEOUL: North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest in a series of weapons tests as South Korean and the US forces conduct joint military exercises.

The missiles were fired at around 10:15 a.m. (0115 GMT) from the North’s South Hamgyong province, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

It was not immediately clear how many projectiles were fired and exactly which type they were.

The military was on high alert and South Korean and US intelligence authorities were analizing details of the missiles, the JCS said.

“We will successfully wrap up our Freedom Shield exercise as planned under firm combined defense posture,” the military said in a statement.

The allies are set to conclude 11 days of the exercises, called “Freedom Shield 23,” on Thursday.

Wednesday’s launches come just three days after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast.

The North has long bristled at exercises conducted by South Korean and US forces, saying they are preparation for an invasion of the North.

South Korea and the United States deny that, saying instead, they have to prepare to defend against North Korean aggression.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Wednesday’s launches could have involved the North’s strategic cruise missiles. “Strategic” is typically used to describe weapons that have a nuclear capability.

North Korea’s last known firing of its strategic cruise missiles was on March 12 when it said it fired two of them from a submarine.

North Korea has been ramping up its military tests in recent weeks, firing an intercontinental ballistic missile last week and conducting what it called a nuclear counterattack simulation against the US and South Korea over the weekend.

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members
Updated 22 March 2023

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members

ISLAMABAD: An overnight raid by Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s capital killed three members of the extremist Daesh group, a Taliban spokesman said on Wednesday.
The regional affiliate of the Daesh group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — has been the key rival of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. The militant group has increased its attacks, targeting both Taliban patrols and members of Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.
According to Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban government spokesman, the operation on Tuesday targeted an Daesh hideout in Kabul and killed three prominent members of the militant group who were plotting attacks during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts at sundown on Wednesday.
“The [Daesh] members used the hideout to carry out attacks in Kabul city and planned to target religious places and civilians during the upcoming month of Ramadan,” Mujahid said. The Taliban swept across Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, seizing power as US and NATO forces were withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.
The international community has not recognized the Taliban government, wary of the harsh measures they have imposed since their takeover — including restricting rights and freedoms, especially for of women and minorities.

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes
Updated 22 March 2023

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes
  • US forces would be allowed to stay in western Palawan province, which faces the South China Sea
  • Philippine president: Moves were meant to boost the country’s coastal defense

MANILA: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday defended his decision to allow a larger United States military presence in the country as vital to territorial defense despite China’s fierce opposition and warning that it would “drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife.”
The Marcos administration announced in early February that it would allow rotating batches of American forces to indefinitely stay in four more Philippine military camps in addition to five local bases earlier designated under a 2014 defense pact of the longtime treaty allies.
Marcos said without elaborating that the four new sites would be announced soon and they include areas in the northern Philippines. That location has infuriated Chinese officials because it would provide US forces a staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan.
The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in any future confrontation over Taiwan. America’s moves dovetail with Philippine efforts to shore up its territorial defense amid a long-seething dispute mainly with China in the South China Sea.
Aside from the northern and southern Philippines, Marcos told a news conference without elaborating that, under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, US forces would also be allowed to stay in western Palawan province, which faces the South China Sea. He underscored that the moves were meant to boost the country’s coastal defense and added in reply to a question that opposition to the US military presence by some local Filipino officials had been overcome.
“We explained to them why it was important that we have that and why it will actually be good for their province,” Marcos said, adding most of those who had objections had come around “to support the idea of an EDCA site in their province.”
Governor Manuel Mamba of northern Cagayan province, where American forces may be allowed to stay with their weapons in up to two Philippine military camps, said Marcos has the prerogative to make the decision but he remained opposed to it. He had earlier expressed fears that allowing the Americans to base in Cagayan, which lies across a sea border from Southern China, Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, could turn his province into a key target of the Chinese military if a conflict involving the US military breaks out over Taiwan.
“It is the president’s call, not mine,” Mamba said. “But I maintain my stand against any foreign forces stationed in my province. Still, I am against EDCA sites in my province.”
US and Philippine officials have said that American-funded construction of barracks, warehouses and other structures to be used by US forces and contractors would generate much-needed local jobs and boost the economy. The US presence would help the Philippines respond to natural disasters, enhance combat-readiness and help deter Chinese aggression in Asia.
China, however, has repeatedly accused Washington of taking steps to contain it militarily and of driving a wedge between Beijing its Asian neighbors like the Philippines.
“Creating economic opportunities and jobs through military cooperation is tantamount to quenching thirst with poison and gouging flesh to heal wounds,” the Chinese embassy in Manila said in a recent statement. “Such cooperation will seriously endanger regional peace and stability and drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife and damage its economic development at the end of the day.”
US forces have intensified and broadened joint training, focusing on combat readiness and disaster response with Filipino troops on the nation’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.
Next month, the allied forces are to hold one of their largest combat exercises, called Balikatan — Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder — which will include live-fire drills. One planned maneuver involves US and Philippine forces firing rockets to sink a mock enemy ship in waters facing the South China Sea, the Philippine military said.
If the ship-sinking exercise proceeds as planned, it would likely draw an angry reaction from China, which claims the strategic waterway virtually in its entirety and has turned seven disputed reefs into missile-guided island bases to defend its territorial claims.

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan
Updated 22 March 2023

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan
  • Every region in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago seems to have its own way to mark the start of Ramadan

JAKARTA: Millions of Muslims in Indonesia are gearing up to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on Thursday, with traditions and ceremonies across the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country amid soaring food prices.
From colorful torchlight street parades to cleaning relatives’ graves and sharing meals with family and friends, every region in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago seems to have its own way to mark the start of Ramadan, highlighting the nation’s diverse cultural heritage.
The country’s religious affairs minister on Wednesday evening will try to sight the crescent moon to determine the first day of the holy month. If the moon is not visible, as expected, the first day of Ramadan will be a day later. Most Indonesians – Muslims comprise nearly 90 percent of the country’s 277 million people – are expected to follow the government’s official date.
Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic group, Muhammadiyah, which counts more than 60 million members, said that according to its astronomical calculations Ramadan will begin on Thursday.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse from sunrise until sunset. Even a tiny sip of water or a puff of smoke is enough to invalidate the fast. At night, family and friends gather and feast in a festive atmosphere.
The fasting is aimed at bringing the faithful closer to God and reminding them of the suffering of the poor. Muslims are expected to strictly observe daily prayers and engage in heightened religious contemplation. They are also urged to refrain from gossip, fighting or cursing during the holy month.
Although Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, its Ramadan traditions have been influenced by other religions. Nyadran is a Javanese ritual heavily influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism that involves visiting ancestors’ gravesites to pay respect.
Each year, thousands of villagers who live on the slopes of Mount Merapi in Central Java visit cemeteries to welcome Ramadan. In the ritual, people clean and decorate gravesites and make prayers and offerings. They bring various foods in bamboo containers that they eat together after praying.
In other regions on the main island of Java, including in the capital, Jakarta, Muslims also mark the holy month by cleaning their relatives’ graves, scattering flower petals on them and praying for the deceased.
After evening prayers, many boys and girls across Jakarta parade through the streets of the densely populated neighborhoods to welcome the holy month. They carry torches and play Islamic songs accompanied by the beat of the rebana, the Arabic handheld percussion instrument.
People in Indonesia’s deeply conservative Aceh province celebrate the beginning of Ramadan with Meugang festivities by slaughtering animals such as oxen or buffalo, as well as smaller animals like chicken and ducks. The meat is then cooked and shared with family, friends and even the poor and orphans in a communal feast that aims to bring the community together.
Hundreds of residents in Tangerang, a city just outside Jakarta, flock to the Cisadane River to bathe in a tradition that involves washing one’s hair with rice straw shampoo to welcome the holy fasting month with a symbolic spiritual cleansing.
Islam follows a lunar calendar, so Ramadan begins around a week and a half earlier each year. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the joyous Eid Al-Fitr holiday, when children often receive new clothes and gifts.
Indonesia’s Trade Ministry has said prices of imported staple foods including wheat, sugar, beef and soybeans have increased sharply this year as a result of rising global commodity prices and supply chain disruptions, particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But many people say the rise in prices not only impacts imported foods but also local commodities like rice, eggs, chili, palm oil and onions. Gas and electricity prices have also gone up. Many blame the government for this.
Some Muslims worry how they will cope financially during Ramadan this year.
“Prices are going up every week. How come the government cannot help with this? Anything to do with cooking is rising,” said Yulia Ningsih, a mother of two who lives in Jakarta. “I worry that rising food and energy costs will impact Ramadan celebrations.”

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father
Updated 22 March 2023

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father
  • Father reveals in a TV interview how he walked in on his son slicing his arms

DUBAI: A British son reportedly self-harmed over false sex abuse allegations that a 22-year-old woman made against his father.

Eleanor Williams was earlier sentenced to eight and a half years’ jail when a British court convicted her of perverting justice after she falsely accused businessman Mohammed Ramzan, from Cumbria, of leading an Asian grooming gang.

Ramzan and other men were victims of false allegations and rape and abuse claims made against them by the 22-year-old via a Facebook post. The social media post included graphic images of injuries she alleged that she had sustained.

On Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported that Ramzan and Jordan Trengove, another innocent man who was a victim of the woman’s allegations, had been pushed to the brink of suicide.

In an interview with 5 News, Ramzan, a father of four, shared the agonies that his family has been through due to the false allegations. He said that he almost took his own life and revealed how he walked in on his son self-harming one evening.

Media reports cited Ramzan telling TV journalist Dan Walker how he found his son slicing his arms.

“I have gone to use the loo, his room’s next door, there’s lights on and I walked in, and you see your son and ... because we were all keeping each other strong, but we weren’t exposing anything how it was affecting.”

The 43-year-old businessman was falsely accused by Williams of grooming her from the age of 12, putting her to work in brothels in Amsterdam and trying to sell her.

“And there was a point of where everybody, my sons wanting to move out, and I was like, ‘No, we’re not,’” the father was quoted as saying.  

“And my son he turned around and goes, ‘You know, you Dad, you’re known as a paedo. Everyone claims, everywhere on social media, my friends, this is a horrible town, why have you moved us here?’”

Ramzan went on to say that he once smashed a bottle and tried to slice his neck in front of his family and a friend, who grabbed his hand and stopped him.

The accused had also given the police an account of being taken to Blackpool, where she alleged Ramzan threatened her and where she was taken to different addresses and forced to have sex with men. 

Ramzan said that his family would remain in Barrow but admitted he was concerned that far-right supporters on social media were still saying that Williams’ claims were true. 

The family have decided to start a campaign to change the UK’s social media laws, and are looking at setting up a foundation as they work to “move forward.” 

Ramzan also plans to sue police and the Home Office over the torment that the investigation caused him.