Mel Frykberg

Awash in Small Arms and Landmines: The Unseen Dangers Lurking in Libya

TRIPOLI, Sep 14 2012 (IPS) - The revolution might officially be over in Libya but the ground war continues. But one enemy is motionless and often hidden, and Libyans are continuing to pay the price with hundreds maimed and killed.

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West Bank Streets Quiet as Palestinian Authority Suppresses Protests

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is using brute force and intimidation tactics -- similar to those deployed in Cairo -- to suppress pro-Egyptian and Tunisian protests in the West Bank.

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Israeli Handling of the Media Increasingly Brutal

 NABI SALAH, Occupied West Bank, Jul 23 (IPS) - Palestinian activists are being jailed, Israeli activists are under surveillance, and the Israeli military is increasingly targeting journalists who cover West Bank protests.

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Mideast Peace May Rest on the Future of 88 Houses

SILWAN, Occupied East Jerusalem, Jul 5, 2010 (IPS) - Frequent clashes and continuing tension in disputed East Jerusalem could portend a major outbreak of civil unrest, residents fear.

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Palestinian Children Face Daily Attacks While Going to School

AT TUWANI, Nov 23 (IPS) - Being able to travel to school in relative safety is something children all over the world take for granted. But, for Palestinian children living in the shadow of the ubiquitous and illegal Israeli settlements dotting the West Bank, simply walking to school can be a terrifying experience.

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Israel and the EU Clash Over Settlements

RAMALLAH, Jul 13 (IPS) - The Israeli Foreign Ministry's concern over an "unusually harsh statement" by the European Commission over Israel's settlement policy indicates a growing unease between Israel and the EU.

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Israeli Settlers Terrorize Palestinian Villagers

AT TUWANI, West Bank, Mar 9 -- "I couldn't run. My pregnancy was too far advanced and there was nowhere to hide," said Amna Salman Rabaye, 31, as she recalled the terrifying incident several months ago.

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Could Israel Be Charged With War Crimes?

RAMALLAH, Jan 7 (IPS) -- Israel has committed war crimes and should be prosecuted in an international court, says Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza.

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Gaza Carnage Sets West Bank Aflame

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Dec 28 -- Anger, shock and revulsion at the continuing carnage in Gaza has ignited spontaneous demonstrations and riots across the West Bank and Israel, sparking concerns of a possible third Palestinian uprising or Intifadah.

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Israel Expanding Settlements in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, Aug 27 (IPS) -- Israel has published tenders for the construction of 1,761 illegal housing units for Israeli settlers in occupied east Jerusalem alone, according to the Israeli rights group Peace Now.

The expansion plans come despite promises by the Israeli government at last year's peace summit at Annapolis, Maryland (in the U.S.) to freeze all settlement growth.

"Once again this government has shown that its words and commitments are meaningless, and they have no intention of keeping to their word," says Peace Now.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed repeatedly that settlement construction or expansion in the West Bank is contrary to international law and Israel's commitments under the 'road map' peace process.

The road map was a series of peace-building measures proposed by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 and subsequently developed by the diplomatic Quartet of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States.

Ban Ki-moon further urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and to dismantle outposts erected since March of 2001.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, normally a die-hard supporter of Israel, also expressed her concern about the settlement building during her last visit to Israel several months ago.

"It's important to have an atmosphere of confidence and trust," Rice said following talks she held with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. "The United States believes that the (settlement) actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for negotiation."

The new construction should not be allowed to shape future Israeli-Palestinian borders, which remain under negotiation, Rice said. "The United States will not let these activities have any effect on final status negotiations, including final borders."

The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid the transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory.

But even as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was meeting with Abbas in Jerusalem last week in an endeavor to further the peace process, plans for further settlement construction were already under way.

At the beginning of the month, prior to Peace Now's statement, the Israel Lands Authority published tenders for the construction of 130 new housing units in Har Homa, East Jerusalem.

The Har Homa neighborhood and all east Jerusalem settlements were built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel subsequently incorporated the areas into Jerusalem's boundaries in a move not recognized internationally.

In addition to the public announcement of the tenders, there are currently 500 houses already under construction in Har Homa, and 240 in the settlement of Maaleh Adumim in East Jerusalem.

At the same time as the Har Homa tenders were being published, Israeli officials also called for bids from construction companies to build more than 300 apartments in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit near Bethlehem, and about 20 minutes drive from Jerusalem.

This came on top of Olmert's approval at the beginning of the year to build 750 new houses in the Givat Zeev settlement northwest of Jerusalem, and 100 in the Ariel settlement in the northern West Bank.

There are approximately 430,000 Israeli settlers residing illegally in the West Bank.

According to Israeli advocacy group B'Tselem, Israel has established 135 settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) that have been recognized by the Interior Ministry. Additionally, dozens of outposts of varying size have been established.

Sixteen settlements were established in the Gaza Strip and subsequently dismantled in 2005 during the implementation of the 'disengagement plan.'

Land expropriation from Palestinian farmers for the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements has caused undue hardship and economic suffering for Palestinians, and some have initiated acts of civil disobedience in a bid to retain the pieces of agricultural land that have not been confiscated.

The villagers of Bil'in and Ni'ilin near Ramallah in the central West Bank, together with international activists and Israeli sympathizers, have staged weekly protests that have resulted in a number of deaths, arrests and injuries. The most infamous incident was the blindfolding, handcuffing and shooting of Ni'ilin resident Ashraf Abu Rahma.

The villagers of Ni'ilin have been protesting land expropriation which has seen the size of their village reduced from 5,700 hectares of land in 1948 to 3,300 hectares in 1967, to the present approximate of 1,000 hectares.

Ni'ilin olives farmer Bahjat Mesleh told IPS he had lost about 75 dunams (10 dunums is one hectare) of land to make way for the building of the separation barrier which divides Israel from the West Bank.

"This has cost me about 25,000 dollars, and I am more fortunate than other farmers as I've been able to continue supporting my family by working as a teacher. Not all farmers have been able to continue a livelihood," said Mesleh.

According to B'Tselem, "Israel has stolen thousands of dunams of land from the Palestinians. Israel forbids Palestinians to enter and use these lands, and uses the settlements to justify numerous violations of Palestinian rights, such as the right to housing, to earn a living, and freedom of movement.

"The settlers, on the other hand, benefit from all rights given to citizens of Israel who live inside the Green Line, and in some instances, even additional rights."

The principal tool used to take control of land is to declare it state land. This process began in 1979, and is based on a manipulative implementation of the Ottoman Lands Law of 1858, which applied in the area at the time of occupation.

Other methods employed by Israel to take control of land include seizure for military needs, declaration of land as "abandoned assets", and the expropriation of land for public needs.

Israelis Assault Award-Winning Journalist

Mohammed Omer, the Gaza correspondent of IPS, and joint winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, was strip-searched at gunpoint, assaulted and abused by Israeli security officials at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank on Thursday as he tried to return home to Gaza.

Omer, a resident of Rafah in the south of Gaza, and previous recipient of the New America Media's Best Youth Voice award several years ago, was returning from London where he had just collected his Gellhorn Prize, and from several European capitals where he had speaking engagements, including a meeting with Greek parliamentarians.

Omer's trip was sponsored by The Washington Report, and the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv was responsible for coordinating Omer's travel plans and his security permit to leave Gaza with Israeli officials.

Israel controls the borders of Gaza and severely restricts the entrance and exit of Gazans allegedly on grounds of security. Human rights organisations accuse the Israelis of using security as a pretext to apply collective punishment indiscriminately.

While waiting in Amman on his way back, Omer eventually received the requisite coordination and security clearance from the Israelis to return to Gaza after this had initially been delayed by several days, he told IPS.

Accompanied by Dutch diplomats, Omer passed through the Jordanian side of the border without incident. However, after arrival on the Israeli side, trouble began. He informed a female soldier that he was returning home to Gaza. He was repeatedly asked where Gaza was, and told that he had neither a permit nor any coordination to cross.

Omer explained that he did indeed have permission and coordination but was nevertheless taken to a room by Israel's domestic intelligence agency the Shin Bet, where he was isolated for an hour and a half without explanation.

"Eventually I was asked whether I had a knife or gun on me even though I had already passed through the x-ray machine, had my luggage searched, and was in the company of Dutch diplomats," Omer said.

His luggage was again searched, and security then proceeded to go through every document and paper he had on him, taking down the names and numbers of the European parliamentary officials he had met.

The Shin Bet officials then started to make fun of the European parliamentarians, and mocked Omer for being "the prize-winning journalist".

The Gazan journalist was repeatedly asked why he was returning to "the hell of Gaza after we allowed you to leave." To this he responded that he wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. He was told he was a "trouble-maker."

The security men also demanded he show all the money he had on him, and particular attention was paid to the British pounds he was carrying. His Gellhorn prize money had been awarded in British pounds but he was not carrying the entire sum on him bodily, something the investigators refused to believe.

After being unable to produce the prize money, he was ordered to strip naked.

"At first I refused but then I had an M16 (gun) pointed in my face and my clothes were forcibly removed, even my underwear," Omer said.

At this point Omer broke down and pleaded for an end to such treatment. He said he was told, "you haven't seen anything yet." Every cavity of his body was searched as one of the investigators pinned him down on the floor, placing his boot on Omer's neck. Omer began vomiting, and fainted.

When he came round his eyelids were being forcibly opened and his eardrums probed by an Israeli military doctor, who was also armed. He was then dragged along the floor by his feet by the Shin Bet officials, with his head repeatedly banging on the floor, to a Palestinian ambulance which had been called.

"I eventually woke up in a Palestinian hospital with the doctors trying to reassure me," Omer told IPS.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS that Foreign Minister Maxime Zerhagen spoke to the Israeli ambassador to The Netherlands and demanded an explanation.

The Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv has also raised the issue with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which in turn has promised to investigate the incident and get back to the Dutch officials.

Ahmed Dadou, spokesman from the Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS, "We are taking this whole incident very seriously as we don't believe the behavior of the Israeli officials is in accordance with a modern democracy.

"We are further concerned about the mistreatment of an internationally renowned journalist trying to go about his daily business," added Dadou.

A spokeswoman at the Israeli Foreign Press Association said she was unaware of the incident.

Lisa Dvir from the Israeli Airport Authority (IAA), the body responsible for controlling Israel's borders, told IPS that the IAA was neither aware of Omer's journalist credentials nor of his coordination.

"We would like to know who Omer spoke to in regard to receiving coordination to pass through Allenby. We offer journalists a special service when passing through our border crossings, and had we known about his arrival this would not have happened.

"I'm not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not responsible for the behavior of the Shin Bet."

In the meantime, Omer is still traumatized and in pain. "I'm struggling to breathe and have pain in my head and stomach and will be going back to hospital for further medical examinations," he said.

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