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


Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
Updated 58 min 23 sec ago

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
  • The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy
  • All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision

PARIS: A Paris court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing to Italy 10 former left-wing militants, including some former Red Brigades members, convicted of domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences.
The crimes in connection with which they were convicted include the 1980 killing of a Carabinieri paramilitary general and the kidnapping of a judge in the same year.
All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision as judges deliberated on Italy’s extradition request following the activists’ arrests and police questioning a year ago.
The Paris Court of Appeal said in a statement it rejected Italy’s extradition request for each member of the group of 10 men and women, but didn’t explain its reasoning.
Wednesday’s ruling can still be appealed at France’s highest court.
Italy’s justice ministry said in a statement it respected the French judicial process as they await to hear the assessments of the ruling by the Paris attorney general, who is the only one authorized to appeal the court’s decision to deny the extradition of each of the 10 convicted militants.
“I am waiting to know the reasons behind the ruling that denies all extraditions without distinction,” said Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
“This is a long-awaited ruling for the victims and the entire country, which concerns a dramatic and still painful page in our history,” Cartabia said.
The French presidency said it will not comment on the court’s ruling.
The unwillingness of French authorities to detain convicted Italian former left-wing militants living in France has long been a thorny issue between Paris and Rome.
Italy has sought the extradition of around 200 convicted former militants believed to be in France over the years.
Italy’s far-left Red Brigades group killed about 50 people in a terror campaign in the 1970s and ‘80s.


Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
Updated 29 June 2022

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
  • The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth and bold tax cuts
  • Otokita was elected to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo

TOKYO: Shun Otokita, member of the House of Councilors, believes that relations with the Middle East is important for Japan.
Otokita is the chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).
The ritzy Ginza district in Tokyo was part of his campaign trail where he gave his support to candidates, Kiyoshi Nakajo and Yuki Ebisawa, and appealed to passers-by saying, “We will stamp down the liar LDP.”
The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth, bold tax cuts and economic stimulus measures, as well as the elimination of the 1 percent GDP limit for Japan’s defense budget. The party sees a need for greater defense spending and military capabilities.
Otokita, 38, was elected to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 2013 and to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo. He serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense and sees the Middle East as an important ally.
“Our relationship with Middle Eastern countries will become increasingly important due to soaring energy prices,” Otokita said. “I will do my best to continue building Japan’s diplomatic relations with them as well as with Asia and Europe.”
 


Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
Updated 29 June 2022

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
  • Noor Mohammad, 48, departed from his home in Ghazni province in early May
  • He was stranded in Iran after failing to obtain Iraqi visa to continue journey by land

KABUL: A pilgrim from southeastern Afghanistan, who became a social media sensation when he embarked on a bicycle journey to Makkah last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored flight.

Noor Mohammad departed from his home in Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to cover more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the holy city of Islam by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered him assistance in getting a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old refused, wanting to go the extra mile in fulfilling the sacred obligation.

Little did he know that soon the help would be needed when after three weeks he got stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border city of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me Iraq’s visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, as he described his further attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

That was when he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi through WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped with the stay in Iran and return back to Kabul.”

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials took care of his departure. His flight was reportedly covered by acting Interior Minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close aide of Anas Haqqani — the minister’s brother and senior Taliban leader — told Arab News.

“The ministry of Hajj processed my passport on an urgent basis,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents were processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, said. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake wreaked havoc in eastern Afghanistan, killing an estimated 1,150 people last week.

He has been praying for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I get to Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make it easy for the families who lost loved ones and their houses,” he added. “I am going to ask him to solve all problems of Afghans.”


British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
Updated 29 June 2022

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
  • One million people will perform Hajj this year
  • Sarah Rana said she feels “special and honored” to be performing Hajj next month

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man reads the Qur'an at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 

An employee hands out umbrellas at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to help beat the heat. (@ReasahAlharmain)

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”

The Kaaba can be seen at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.

A woman supplicates at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”


Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
Updated 29 June 2022

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
  • Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena
  • He spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates' Court

LONDON: A man was remanded in custody Wednesday after appearing in a London court charged with the murder and attempted rape of a woman who had been walking home alone in east London.
It was the latest in a string of similar incidents that have heightened concern over the safety of women and girls on the British capital’s streets.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena, who was attacked after a night out in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday.
McSweeney, who is also charged with attempted rape and robbery, spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates’ Court.
In a statement, Aleena’s family mourned her death and called for an end to violence against women. They highlighted the killings of other women who were targeted by strangers in London and elsewhere.
The family expressed sympathy to the families of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and others who were killed in recent months and whose deaths prompted widespread protests calling for more protection for women and girls.
The family said Aleena, a law graduate who was training to become a lawyer, “walked everywhere” and “believed that a woman should be able to walk home.”
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, 10 minutes from home,” their statement said.
Police said Aleena suffered serious head injuries, confirmed in a post-mortem examination.
McSweeney was denied bail and remanded in custody until he is due to appear at London’s Central Criminal Court on Jul. 27.
A march remembering Aleena is planned in Ilford on Saturday.