Biden needs to find the ‘will’ to pursue Israel-Palestine peace, a congressional ally says

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Updated 16 June 2022

Biden needs to find the ‘will’ to pursue Israel-Palestine peace, a congressional ally says

Biden needs to find the ‘will’ to pursue Israel-Palestine peace, a congressional ally says
  • The US must end inaction and convene the stakeholders, who should decide between ‘a one-state option, a two-state option, a federated model, or a Belgium model,’ says Democrat Marie Newman
  • Congresswoman is outspoken critic of Tel Aviv’s policies and human rights violations, including ‘immoral’ home confiscations

CHICAGO: President Joe Biden needs to find the “will” to do the right thing and push Israelis and Palestinians together to achieve peace, one of his strongest supporters in Congress told Arab News Wednesday.

Congresswoman Marie Newman, a Democrat, said the issue of Palestine and Israel is important to her constituents in her former 3rd District, and even more so in the newly drawn 6th District where she is running for re-election in the June 28, 2022 Democratic Primary election.

Newman has been an outspoken critic of the Israeli government’s harsh policies toward Palestinians, including the home confiscations in Sheikh Jarrah and several other human rights violations. But she insisted she supports Israel and the Biden administration, explaining that getting both to do the right thing is not something to be criticized for.

“I wish the answer was yes, Ray, I just don’t think it is there. I think it is not a priority for them. And as much as I scream about it, Rashida screams about it, and Ilhan. There are 10 of us that talk to the State Department regularly about this and it has not been prioritized. We fight, we fight. We fight. Because every fight starts with one person. Then it grows to 10. And then it grows to a thousand. We have to fight,” Newman said.

“It is all about will. We could go in and start peace talks ... and it would take some finessing … because there are many members of Palestine’s various areas that would have to be represented, because there is not just one government entity there. With regards to Israel, we would have to get them to the table. But here is what is important. I am never a fan of forcing what someone’s governmental model should be. Getting them together is the main (aim), convening the stakeholders is our job. The US’ job. If they chose a one-state option, a two-state option, a federated model, a Belgium model, I am okay with it because they chose it as a team. So, let’s let the people who live in the place decide. Let’s not ... I shouldn’t be deciding for them. The American government should not be deciding for them. But it is our job as the leader of the free world to bring them together and to have peace talks and help them get to a place where both can live freely, equally and in justice.”

Newman unseated an entrenched conservative Democrat in March 2020 to represent the 3rd Congressional District which had the largest concentration of Palestinians and Muslims of any of the nation’s 435 congressional districts. Pro-Israel Democrats redrew the district merging it with the 6th District forcing her to face-off on June 28, 2022 with another Democrat, Congressman Sean Casten, hoping Newman might be forced out.

But Newman said the Palestinian, Arab and South Asian Muslim community has doubled in size making the need to speak to Palestinian and Arab needs that much more of an imperative. Newman said nearly 10 percent of the old 3rd District was Palestinian, Arab and South Asian Muslim; the same community in the newly drawn 6th District is “closer to 18 percent.”

Newman praised Biden for supporting many important issues and sponsoring policies to help Americans, but she said the Palestine-Israel conflict is an “additive” issue in his administrative.

“Let’s be very clear. This is additive. Has he done some great things with foreign policies? Is he handling Ukraine well and all those things? But when it comes to Israel and Palestine, we are very conflict-diverse because Israel is a close ally of ours. And it should remain a close ally of ours,” Newman said.

“But let’s be clear. This (supporting Palestine rights) is additive. It is not critical (to Biden). I am saying now is the time to start addressing the issue. Add it to the top of your priority list. It is additive.”

As a result of supporting Palestinian rights, Newman has been attacked as being “anti-Semitic.” The freshman congresswoman has sponsored and supported several pieces of legislation and endorsed resolutions that have criticized Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

She remains resolute despite the personal attacks: “You can’t be afraid to do the right thing. The right thing, is the right thing.” She said it is becoming easier for members of Congress to support Palestinian rights because American attitudes, especially among the younger generation, are steadily changing.

“At the end of the day, what was even controversial five years ago is not controversial now. The sentiment around Palestine and Israel has really gotten to be a much more realistic look at what the state of the situation is. Years ago, people would just say Israel could do no wrong. Everybody wants Israel to be at peace and be prosperous,” Newman said,

“But when the government and the military mistreat the Palestinians, that is absolutely wrong and I will not stand for it. And humanitarian rights are humanitarian rights. And this is not about religion or anything else. This is about treating humans correctly and that is really where all this is rooted in.”

Newman insisted that criticizing Israel’s government is legitimate and that she is offended by attacks from pro-Israel extremists and even extremist members of Congress who have labeled her “anti-Semitic.”

She said being called anti-Semitic is “infuriating” and very hurtful to her husband, who is Jewish.

“I think you know that my husband is Jewish. I am called anti-Semitic on social media, members of Congress called me anti-Semitic. It is so upsetting to my husband and his family when that happens,” Newman explained.

“I am saying hey Israel, you cannot steal homes. You cannot disrupt people’s lives. You cannot drag people out of their homes and take their homes away from them. No. First of all, it is incredibly immoral but secondly you wouldn’t allow that in France. You wouldn’t allow that in Canada. You wouldn’t allow that in Korea. Why do you let Israel, without speaking up? So we criticize our ally Israel and say, wow, you have a huge humanitarian rights violation issue here. Huge.”

Newman acknowledged there are some in the Arab and Muslim community who want her to be even tougher in her criticism of Israel, but she said that she works closely with the community to get them to understand the reality of achieving peace.

“Because I am close to the community they understand, now, that I mean that Israel should be free, and be their own sovereign entity and be able to prosper and be their own nation. Israel has a right to exist now, too. I want both of them to live in peace and I think they really understand that,” Newman said.

“I think my ability to understand the complexity and the everchanging nature of what is on the ground there is emblematic. And I think people now trust that I constantly seek information and counsel because it is an everchanging situation. What we don’t want is war. We are pro-peace and pro-justice. And I think the community really understands that is my goal, is that we just want freedom for the Palestinians. The occupation is bad for Israel and Palestine, by the way. It is a horrible thing for both of them. It’s not a sustainable model moving forward. It is completely untenable.”

Newman strongly supported a resolution introduced to Congress in May that recognized the Palestinian “Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe.” Last year, Newman urged Biden to stop Israel’s evictions of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

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 DC 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 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

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UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023

UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023
Updated 54 min 37 sec ago

UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023

UK to remove visa requirement for GCC nationals visiting from 2023
  • ETA is part of the British government’s plan to fully digitize its border by the end of 2025
  • ETA is akin to a multi-travel visa covering extended stays

LONDON: Gulf Cooperation Council nationals will no longer be required to apply for a visa before visiting Britain from 2023, the UK government announced today.

Under Britain’s new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, rolling out next year, nationals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will join Americans and Canadians in benefiting from visa-free travel.

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “This move means that Gulf states will be among the first countries in the world to benefit from ETAs and visa-free travel to the UK.

“Our number one priority is the security of the UK border and by launching ETAs we can ensure that everyone wishing to travel to the UK has permission to do so in advance of travel and refuse those who pose a threat.”

The ETA is part of the British government’s plan to fully digitize its border by the end of 2025 and mirrors the list of nationals who do not currently require visas for short stays or transiting.

Once granted, the ETA is akin to a multi-travel visa covering extended stays but until its introduction, GCC nationals will continue to benefit from access to the Electronic Visa Waiver scheme, which can be completed online before visits to Britain.

Describing the ETA process as “straightforward,” the Home Office said the scheme will “act as an additional security measure allowing the government to block threats” but would also provide individuals “more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel.”

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia
Updated 27 June 2022

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia
  • For centuries, Aceh was the last Southeast Asian port of call for Hajj, known as the ‘Porch of Makkah’
  • Saudi Arabia was one the biggest single aid donors when a tsunami devastated Aceh in 2004 

JAKARTA: As they leave for Hajj, pilgrims from Aceh prepare for a transformative and spiritually moving experience, which for many of them also rekindles a special, centuries-old connection they feel for Saudi Arabia.

The westernmost province of Indonesia, Aceh is the site of the earliest Muslim kingdoms in Southeast Asia, which began to form in the late 13th century. 

It was the last Southeast Asian port of call for pilgrimages to the holiest city of Islam, and in the 17th century court chronicles of Aceh rulers began to refer to it as “Serambi Makkah,” or “Porch of Makkah” — a term that is still used by the Acehnese today.

Now, the opportunity to depart for the real Makkah and perform Hajj is something they look forward to for years, if not decades.

“In Aceh it’s about 30 to 31 years,” Mizaj Iskandar, who has been tasked by the local government with organizing the pilgrimage, told Arab News.

“They are certainly very emotional because they have been waiting for so long,” he said. “By the time they receive the call, they must be moved, happy, and in disbelief. All these emotions you can find in almost all the participants.”

One of the pilgrims, 58-year-old Kamariah from Aceh Besar regency, could not find the words to describe how moved she was that she would be able to see the Kaaba at the center of the Grand Mosque, Masjid Al-Haram, in Makkah.

“I don’t know how to express how happy I am to see Kaaba,” she said. “It feels like I will never want to leave it.”

Like other pilgrims, Kamariah has been preparing for the journey, especially spiritually.

“Before we go to the holy land, we must have already cleansed our hearts,” she said. “We hope to become good Hajj pilgrims.”

One of Islam’s five pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to only 1,000 people living in Saudi Arabia in 2020. In 2021, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

But this year, as it has already lifted most of its COVID-19 curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million pilgrims from abroad. More than 100,000 of them are arriving from Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. And among them, 2,022 are from Aceh.

“My family and I have not stopped expressing our gratitude to Allah, because we have been called this year to go for Hajj,” Amalia Sabrina, a doctor from Sigli town in the Pidie regency of Aceh, told Arab News.

“I once had a dream of the event that has now taken place, and it feels almost like deja vu to be in the same position as in that dream.”

She arrived in the Kingdom last week and was enjoying the hospitality with which pilgrims have been received.

“Whether it’s the hotel service, food, laundry, service at the shops, or the people,” she said. “Everyone has been friendly.”

Sabrina’s younger brother Miftahul Hamdi, a football player, was also grateful to be in the Kingdom.

“I am so grateful to get this opportunity to go for Hajj this year,” he said. “Aceh is often referred to as a ‘Makkah porch,’ so being able to go for Hajj here is just very fulfilling and makes me feel very grateful.” 

The enthusiasm Acehnese have for the Hajj pilgrimage, a sacred milestone for Muslims, is reinforced by their historical links to Saudi Arabia.

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, said that Islam in Aceh has revolved around Arabia ever since its advent in Southeast Asia. The coastal region also connected the rest of the islands that constitute present-day Indonesia with the Middle East.

“Aceh was a transit point for Hajj pilgrims to go to Makkah from all over the archipelago,” he said. “There’s amazing enthusiasm among Acehnese to go for Hajj.”

What has recently strengthened the bond was the help the Acehnese received from the Kingdom during one of the darkest periods in the region’s history — the 2004 tsunami.

“They are emotionally attached to Saudi Arabia because of the help they received after the tsunami,” Abubakar told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia was one the biggest single donors to the relief response, when the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami devastated Aceh, killing more than 160,000 people — nearly 5 percent of the local population.

Saudi charities helped rebuild houses, medical facilities and the 17th-century Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh — a symbol of religion and identity of the Acehnese.

Nurlinda Nurdin, a radio reporter from Banda Aceh, who performed the pilgrimage in 2006 and spent two months covering Hajj preparations in Saudi Arabia, said that before the journey she would often fall ill, but all her ailments were gone when she was there.

“When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was always healthy. I was fully working, didn’t feel exhausted at all, I was enjoying myself, I was comfortable,” she told Arab News.

“I just felt super close, as if my house was just right behind the mountain. My heart was just at ease.”

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens
Updated 27 June 2022

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens
  • Island nation is struggling with acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines
  • Navy has arrested some 450 people trying to travel abroad illegally this year

COLOMBO: Hundreds of Sri Lankans have tried to leave the country illegally so far this year, the navy said on Monday, as it foiled another such attempt over the weekend amid the country’s worst economic turmoil in decades.

Sri Lanka has lacked the foreign currency to buy all it needs from abroad, and has faced extreme shortages of basic necessities including fuel, food, and lately also medicines. Inflation has skyrocketed in recent months and is now running at 40 percent.

The country of 22 million people last month defaulted on its multimillion-dollar foreign debt, and is struggling to secure new shipments of fuel as it uses its last supply of petrol and diesel to keep essential services running.

In search of better opportunities and as the country inches closer to the brink of collapse, a rising number of Sri Lankans have chosen to partake in illegal migration.

Navy spokesman Capt. Indika De Silva said that 54 people are currently in custody, following a raid conducted on Sunday in Batticaloa district in the country’s east coast.

“This year, the number of migrants has increased manifold due to various reasons such as the present economic stress and the smugglers trying to exploit (the situation) by attracting innocent people toward greener pastures,” De Silva told Arab News.

“We have apprehended some 450 people this year, including this batch, which is double the number arrested the whole of last year.”

Over the years, Sri Lankans have illegally traveled to Australia and other nations for economic and political reasons, but the number increased in recent months as the worsening crisis appears to have also emboldened human traffickers.

“With recent economic hardships, illegal smugglers pitched the business again to get large payments by taking people on this journey. People are also willing to take the risk,” Colombo-based human rights activist, Muheed Jeeran, told Arab News.

Many of them who are headed to Australia were unaware that the government down under has been turning back unauthorized boat arrivals.

“Unfortunately, these vulnerable people don’t know that the Australian government will return them in those boats with their new laws in place,” he added.

“The ultimate winners are human smugglers.”

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’
Updated 27 June 2022

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’
  • 35 percent of UK Islamic centers experience at least 1 religiously motivated attack a year: New study

LONDON: British Muslims fear “an attack at any time,” a leading member of the community has claimed, as new research revealed an increase in anti-Muslim hate crime.

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, in London, which was the target of a fatal terrorist attack in 2017, said the number of cases of Islamophobia in the UK was on the rise.

One person died and several others were injured when a van was driven into pedestrians just yards from the north London mosque on June 19, five years ago.

“Our community still feels the fear and intimidation, and they expect an attack at any time. What happened was not a one off. The situation is even worse than it was five years ago. Islamophobia is on the rise, and no one can deny that,” Kozbar added.

His comments came as a new study found that many mosques throughout Britain had experienced attacks in the last three years.

The report, conducted by the Muslim Engagement and Development group (MEND), analyzed data from more than 100 UK mosques which revealed that 35 percent of Islamic centers faced at least one anti-Muslim attack every year.

Kozbar said: “We don’t even have a definition of Islamophobia yet. We don’t have laws or legislation to protect the community yet. So, we hope the government will take action.”

The MEND study found that theft and vandalism were the most common crimes affecting Muslim institutions.

The latest data reflected other recent statistics showing a wider anti-Muslim trend In England and Wales, where 76,884 racially and religiously aggravated offences were recorded in 2021, up 15 percent from 66,742 in 2020.

MEND regional manager, Nayeem Haque, told Sky News that the figures were “indicative of a wider trend of Islamophobia,” in Britain.

He said: “We believe the Islamophobic narrative being peddled in wider society is to blame for the rise in attacks we’ve seen in the Muslim community.”

Haque pointed out that there was now more anxiety among Muslims about visiting a place of worship.

“But overwhelmingly our community is resilient, and we want to show this message of resilience and that this won’t impact our faith,” he added.

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’
Updated 27 June 2022

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global economic fallout such as soaring energy and food prices has dominated this year’s summit

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany: Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies on Monday pledged to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” by cranking up sanctions on Russia and backing security commitments for Kyiv in a post-war settlement.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global economic fallout such as soaring energy and food prices has dominated this year’s summit of the leaders of Germany, the United States, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Britain.
“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” said the statement.
The statement was issued on the second day of the summit taking place at a castle in the Bavarian Alps, shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed G7 leaders on the war via video link.
In that address, which was not broadcast to the public, Zelensky asked for anti-aircraft defense systems, more sanctions on Russia and security guarantees, a European official said. He also said he wanted Russia’s war in Ukraine ended by the end of the year before the winter sets in.
The G7 leaders said they would continue to coordinate efforts to meet Ukraine’s urgent military needs and were ready to work with interested countries and institutions on sustained security commitments.
It was up to Ukraine to decide on a future peace settlement, free from external pressure or influence, they said, but they stood ready to support an international reconstruction plan, drawn up and implemented by Ukraine in coordination with partners.
This year’s G7 host, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said last week the country needed a “Marshall Plan,” like the US program that rebuilt Europe after World War Two.
“We welcome the Presidency’s initiative to convene with Ukraine an international high-level experts conference, to make progress on a comprehensive reconstruction plan,” the statement read.
The G7 leaders were ready to grant, or had already pledged or provided up to $29.5 billion in 2022 to help Ukraine close its financing gap, the statement said. Between 2014 and 2021, the group had already provided more than $60 billion of support.
The leaders were committed to cranking up the economic pressure on Russian “President (Vladimir) Putin’s regime and its enablers in Belarus, depriving Russia of the economic means to persist in its war of aggression against Ukraine.”
They would also impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for war crimes, exercising “illegitimate authority” in Ukraine or helping Russian efforts that they said increased global food insecurity.
Russia denies committing war crimes in what it calls a special military operation, aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and removing dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say this is a baseless excuse for a war of aggression.