I don’t normally post about events in my home country, but this has got to be an exception. Dexia – a bank which has been giving me some grief lately about my own account – seems to be rather more friendly disposed towards Israeli thieves of Palestinian land, despite earlier public assurances that it would ‘no longer’ support them. But then, who has ever believed a word of what the bullish and boorish corrupt ex-Belgian PM, subsequently member of the board at AB-Inbev and Dexia Jean-Luc Dehaene says? Read on to the last paragraph, though, to see another sign of Israel’s imminent demise – even shareholders of European banks are now starting to get concerned about being associated with the vicious apartheid regime. IPS reports: ‘Jean-Luc Dehaene, a former Belgian prime minister and now Dexia’s chairman, announced last year that the bank had not approved any new loans to authorities located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank since June 2008. This week, however, the Israeli human rights group Who Profits from the Occupation? obtained documents that contradict Dehaene. These papers give details of loans worth a total of more than eight million shekels (two million dollars) to the Shomron regional council, which covers 30 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and to Gush Etzion, a bloc of settlements near Bethlehem. All of the loans were authorised by Dexia Israel between April and December 2009. Earlier this month Who Profits? published details of a separate loan of 6.8 million shekels (1.8 million dollars) to the local authority in Gush Etzion. Earmarked for a water treatment plant, that loan was issued at the end of May last year — a fortnight after Dehaene’s announcement. (more…)
Archive for May, 2010
Some interesting new developments have come to the webworld.
Nicholas Noe, an American academic and analyst based in Beirut, has for years now been running a subscription service called Mideastwire, translating articles from the Arabic press into English on a daily basis. Recently, he has started posting highlights and quotes from these translations on an informative blog, which you can find here.
Rather more surprisingly, a group of Syrian and Israeli ‘bloggers, academics, political analysts, journalists, and businesspeople’ have been debating how peace could be achieved between their respective countries, and have drawn up a list of what both sides consider to be the main obstacles to peace. Their website further aims to offer an ‘online discussion arena intended for raising and debating ideas central to the Arab-Israeli peace process’. Onemideast.org can be found here.
The Middle East Political and Economic Institute is a new organisation based in Bucharest, Rumania, aiming to ‘promote greater understanding of the Middle East, its diverse culture, languages and people, and to create links between individuals, institutions and communities’. They recently approached me to write an article on the Laïque Pride march for secularism and the associated movement. The story, which contains an interview with Kinda Hassan, one of the five organisers of the march, is online from today on MEPEI’s website here. Quote: ‘The worst outcome, something we absolutely want to avoid, is that we as ‘secularists’ would end up as the nineteenth sect, where people who refuse any religious identity would become a separate ‘millet’. This would miss the point completely, and this is an actual existing danger.’
I almost forgot to present this little nugget to you. After realising the IDF is more adept at terrorising unarmed civilians in occupied territories and bombing civilian infrastructure from high up in the sky than actually battling trained and (lightly) armed fighters, its command has come up with a new strategy to defeat Hezbollah: ‘Israeli moves to arrest Lebanese shepherds have now taken a new turn after army units crossed the Israeli pullout line in the south and “kidnapped” 185 goats in the area of al-Shahel on the outskirts of the town of Shebaa. A Lebanese army communiqué said Wednesday the Israeli soldiers took the goats to the occupied Palestinian territories. However, after contacts between the army command and U.N. peacekeepers stationed in the south, Israel returned the goats to Lebanon.’
Some interesting and (relatively) non-political pieces that have recently been published on Lebanon: AFP talks about the Ottoman and French-era laws that were never scrapped in Lebanon (reminiscent of that British law that still requires cab drivers to keep horse fodder in their cars): ‘The thousands of women parading along Lebanon’s sunny beaches this summer in skimpy bikinis or strolling the city’s pavements in miniskirts or shorts will all technically be breaking the law. More than 60 years after the tiny Mediterranean country gained independence from France, its penal code is still bogged down with archaic laws, some of which date back to the Ottoman Empire. “Some laws have not been amended for decades,” Judge John Azzi, an advocate for women’s rights, told AFP. “It is as though nothing has changed” since Ottoman and French rule over Lebanon, when the country’s laws were passed, Azzi added. One 1941 law, for example, still prohibits women from donning a two-piece and hitting the beach. Their punishment? A fine of 250 Lebanese-Syrian pounds — a currency that no longer exists.’
The BBC carries a piece by Natalia Antelava on the rather careless way in which Lebanese and Beiruti politicians and project developers -Hariri’s Solidere in the lead – are destroying this once beautiful city:‘”They have destroyed my city,” says Joe Kodieh, resident of Beirut and theatre director whose latest play deals with the loss of the city’s architectural heritage. “Beirut survived the war, but it’s not going to survive peace. What survived two decades of war, we are destroying now, in the name of modernity,” Mr Kodieh says. Across Beirut, hundreds of high-rise buildings have replaced old buildings. The city’s architectural heritage is being wiped out because there is no legislation to protect it. “What’s happening is very sad, but it’s not in our power to stop it,” says Rasheed Jalekh, representative of the Beirut municipality. “The municipality can only stop construction if we own buildings, but we don’t and we don’t have the money to buy them.” Mr Jalekh says that a handful of buildings could still be saved, if only parliament passed legislation that would protect them. But for decades Lebanon’s leaders have been preoccupied with political wrangling and crises, and issues like architectural heritage have struggled to get attention. Politicians have also failed to come up with a comprehensive urban development plan for Beirut, which has resulted in chaotic and disorganised construction.’
And some political pieces: not that there is any burning or breaking news about it, but (more…)
Johann Hari of the Independent – I have said it before and I will repeat it – is one of the sadly very few journalists out there in the mainstream who combines the will and intellectual honesty to go to the roots of a problem with the literary skill to express his ideas concisely and in a language everybody can understand. He writes on a wide range of subjects, but tackles them all from the same steadfastly rational and independent but committed point of view, showing the connections between various problems and situations and connecting the dots that link the various pieces of news which the prime time news anchor is working so hard to disconnect in our minds. An excellent illustration is this recent piece in which he compares islamist condemnations of Danish cartoonists with the catholic church’s protection of peadophile rapist priests – in the process uncovering the very similar lines of anti-liberal thought shared by the islamists and those christians who demand ‘respect’ for the Vatican: ‘Let’s state some principles that – if religion wasn’t involved – would be so obvious it would seem ludicrous to have to say them out loud. Drawing a cartoon is not an act of aggression. Trying to kill somebody with an axe is. There is no moral equivalence between peacefully expressing your disagreement with an idea – any idea – and trying to kill somebody for it. Yet we have to say this because we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should “respect” conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that’s exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What’s the difference?
This enforced “respect” is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions – even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put paedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger – who claims to be “infallible” – was at the heart of this policy for decades.’
Central state authority has never amounted to much in ‘outlying’ areas of Lebanon, and in the Bekaa valley specifically, family clans are known to take the law in their own hands as a matter of course, but in the Chouf mountains the kind of mob lynching that took place last Thursday is not a common phenomenon. An Egyptian man who had killed two elderly people and two of their grandchildren (reportedly in a particularly gruesome way and prompted by no more than the refusal of the man to mediate in the Egyptian’s rejected marriage proposal) was taken to the scene of the crime for a re-enactment when an angry crowd of villagers tore him from the darak‘s hands and stabbed and beat him. When the police took him to a hospital, they then proceeded to drag him out of intensive care, tied him to the back of a car and got dragged him back to the village of Ketermaya, where they hung his body on a telephone pole using a meathook… Before we get all paternalistic about this, let it be known that the average Lebanese is as shocked by this brutality as everybody else, even when Egyptian and Syrian immigrant workers are generally not held in high esteem in this country. This fact probably did play a role in the lynching though – if only because the guy has no family in Lebanon to avenge him and so the risk of starting up a wider feud is very low. Nevertheless, ‘Lebanon’s embassy in Cairo has asked Egypt for protection after receiving an anonymous pledge to avenge the lynching of an Egyptian by villagers near Beirut last week, a Lebanese official said Monday.’ Claims in the Israeli media, on the other hand, that this was an ‘orchestrated’ event in response to the recent conviction of Hezbollah agents in Egypt are not very likely – first because this kind of thing is not Hizbullah’s style or habit at all, and secondly because Ketermaya is a predominantly sunni village. Very graphic and uncensored pictures taken by the Daily Star’s Mohammed Zaatari of the ‘event’ can be seen here and here and here.