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June 18, 2012

“A seriously uncomfortable afternoon” for Israel’s sporting ambassadors in Scotland

football match 2football match 2
According to the Herald on Sunday, “It wasn’t much fun being an Israeli footballer at Tynecastle yesterday. Lashed by the rain, barracked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators – and seven goals down at half-time…against a noisy backdrop of protests about the imprisonment of Palestinian footballers. The Israeli national anthem was jeered, and the players booed…the demonstrators’ chants for Scotland to score 10”

“Free Mahmoud Sarsak” was interspersed throughout ninety minutes of non-stop chanting with “Without guns, you’re rubbish” and multiple versions of “Boycott apartheid Israel”.  The protestors warned the Scottish players of Israel’s habit of calling in an air strike when losing in a fair fight.

Despite incessant heavy rain, an important demonstration in defence of asylum seekers on the same day, and Lothian and Borders Police reneging on a widely-reported agreement with the protest organisers earlier in the week to allow banners into the stadium, over 150 Scots protested without cease for ninety minutes against Israeli internment of Palestinian football players, and the imprisonment and violation of Palestine.  A 2-minute video clip here.

Scotland on Sunday reported that “the Israel side…endured a seriously uncomfortable afternoon. A crowd of about 100 protesters had joined the Tynecastle crowd, protesting against the alleged illegal detention of Palestine footballers. It’s a campaign backed by Eric Cantona and was highlighted recently by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and by the world players’ union FIFPro. Not only did the protesters boo the Israeli national anthem, they jeered virtually every time one of the visiting players touched the ball and chanted throughout the match.”

After the final whistle, two Israeli officials accompanied a lone player onto the pitch to thank their two remaining supporters. Unable to control his fury, possibly because there were no military checkpoints or even a torture chamber to deal with those who taunt Israeli soldiers, one of the Israeli officials made a middle-finger gesture to the terraces, very poor from a sporting ambassador.  A complaint will be lodged against this official; Scottish club managers have been disciplined for the same offence.  Full report here

FIFA’s grave concern for Mahmoud Sarsak, FIFPro demands his release

SPSC press release on Israeli detention without trial of Palestinian footballers

Interview with Mahmoud Sarsak’s family

A Syrian voice

KDD said:

I want to bring to everyone’s attention a serious crisis in Damascus which is unfolding. The fact of the matter is that many innocent individuals are ending up being picked up by security services and led to detention in Damascus. This has become increasingly widespread. Personally, I have 6 cousins who have “visited” already, and 2 still under arrest. They were of the merchant class, and I assure you – they went well out of their way to avoid the discussion of politics. They were not pro-revolutionary, as they had business interests at stake. What is the end-game in the eyes of the Syrian regime? It is hard to ascertain.

These actions undertaken by the regime are further extinguishing whatever remaining support they may enjoy in the broader population of Damascus. The plan that they are currently enacting is one that, even if successful, spells out a dangerous course which will firmly place us in the Dark Ages for the foreseeable future.

One of the more astonishing things I recently learned about is with regards to the number of checkpoints and roadblocks set up throughout Damascus. Ride along with this brave reporter showing the number of roadblocks and daily struggles in moving around Damascus:

Even if these actions are successful in bringing “security”, how would they eventually be deescalated? It can only remain as so.

Where was the outrage at this shame to humanity?

Operation Cast Lead, from Occupied Palestine

Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada
June 15, 2012

Only two English-language journalists reported from Gaza as it suffered an all-out attack from Israel in late 2008 and early 2009. The War Around Us is a powerful, deeply moving new documentary through the eyes of these two reporters, Ayman Mohyeldin and Sherine Tadros.

Directed by Abdallah Omeish (whose best-known film is Occupation 101), The War Around Us is just 75 minutes long. But that’s enough. Tightly focused and intentionally restricted in its scope and aims, it follows in chronological order the course of the conflict, intercut with post facto interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros. At the time both were reporting for Al Jazeera English. Mohyeldin was based in Gaza, but Tadros was there on an assignment to cover reactions to the election of US President Barack Obama.

With apparently free access to Al Jazeera footage of the attack, as well as images from the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, the film is extremely graphic and disturbing. Scenes include that of a mother and her two dead children lying side-by-side on a hospital floor; another man screaming with grief as the body of his little girl flops on a blanket; young men lying in the courtyard of a police station hit by Israeli air strikes, each with one hand raised as they say the final prayers of the dying. A victim of the horrific burns inflicted by illegal white phosphorous munitions (made in the US, fired by the Israeli military) lies in a hospital bed; huge pools of blood lie clotting on the steps of a school in Jabaliya refugee camp run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

Icy fury
Less graphic but equally devastating is the interview footage. Rima, a beautiful and intensely dignified young mother, tells Tadros how her children no longer say they are afraid of dying — they just want to make sure that they die along with her so they’re not left alone. John Ging, then a leading figure in UNRWA, speaks with icy fury as desperately-needed food supplies burn behind him. And 16-year-old Ahmad Samouni’s face writhes in pain as he describes lying for days surrounded by the bodies of his family, waiting for the Israeli army to allow ambulances to fetch him.

Many viewers are perhaps now inured to the kind of violence we regularly see on YouTube and activist media, but to watch news media footage — where cameramen have often risked their lives to chase the most graphic images, and which has been edited and soundtracked for intensity and impact — for over an hour is hard to stomach, even now.

It is, then, something of a relief that the film intercuts the material from the attack on Gaza with extended interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros. They reflect on the roles and responsibilities of journalists in such a situation, on their “anger” at finding that they were the only mainstream Western journalists reporting from inside Gaza, and on the personal impacts of covering such a horrific story.

“Where was the outrage?”

Mohyeldin, already a seasoned conflict reporter when he was posted to Gaza, is the more political one in his comments. He is patently furious at the Western media for their failure to adequately deliver to their audiences the truth of what he calls in the film “a story of great shame to humanity.” American and British news channels, he says, “neglected the story and then had the audacity to question the only journalists on the ground … they tried to spin it in a way that would marginalize or diminish what was happening.” He condemns the “silence of the international community. Where was the outrage?”

Tadros’s comments are more personal. A newcomer to frontline reporting, she is frank in saying that she will never put herself in that position again. Obviously hugely affected by the mothers and children she interviewed — in their homes and hospital beds — she recounts how, coming home to London after the attacks, she couldn’t hold her one-year-old nephew because she imagined blood seeping through his clothes. She also describes vividly the difficulty of facing death day after day, not from one’s own perspective, but from that of the family, thousands of miles away, who are powerless to help.

Tadros admits that during the attacks, Mohyeldin found her to be a “princess.” But behind-the-scenes footage shows a drained, haggard woman working 19 hours a day, snatching sleep on an office floor, desperate to achieve her role of showing the human impacts of a conflict which much of world was seeing only from Western reports in southern Israel or the insidious lies of Mark Regev and Avital Leibovich, chief mouthpieces for the Israeli government and military.

Specific aim
Ayman Mohyeldin, in a question and answer session following a screening of the film in Amman, acknowledged criticism of the documentary for its focus on two mainstream journalists, rather than telling the story from a Palestinian perspective. Although Mohyeldin has a Palestinian mother, he doesn’t labor this as a claim to authenticity. Instead, he insists that the film has a very specific aim — to speak to Western audiences, to use himself and Tadros, two Western journalists of Arab origin, as a bridge to the sympathies of Western viewers, and to “make people question their own media for not telling [the truth about the attacks].”

Ultimately, The War Around Us is a damning critique — from within the industry — of the Western media’s reporting of Palestine, as well as a powerful tool in the hands of Palestine solidarity campaigners. There is no way to walk away from this film not feeling angry and deeply distressed, but also with a visceral and fundamental grasp on the depth of Israel’s denial of the Palestinian right not only to life and liberty but, in Ayman Mohyeldin’s words, “of the right to aspire.”

For more information and updates, see The War Around Us.

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-author, with Sharyn Lock, of Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.


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