Al-Aashira Masaa is a popular daily Egyptian call-in show on satellite TV that has viewers around the world. And on July 3, many of them were shocked to hear Mortada Mansour, head of Zamalek, one of Egypt’s top soccer clubs, calling in and slamming the show host for having soccer player Ahmed Almerghani on as one of his guests.
Almerghani sat quietly as Mansour yelled at the host: “Why do you have this boy on?! He doesn’t deserve time on your show! He wasn’t raised right! He’s a traitor!”
A Syrian forensic photographer, who now uses the pseudonym Caesar, documented the death of thousands of detainees in Syria’s brutal prison system. He made more than 55,000 high-resolution images before he fled the country, fearing for his safety, in 2013.
He spoke publicly for the first time in July 2014, when he appeared before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, wearing a blue jacket with a hood to protect his identity.
Dozens of Caesar’s photographs will be displayed again in the halls of Congress on Wednesday.
The exhibition is sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in cooperation with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The graphic images show beaten and bruised bodies, many are skeletal, most with signs of torture. Now, Syrian families are searching the photos online after Syrian opposition groups posted more than 6,000 images in March.
NPR spoke to a member of the group that posted the pictures, as well as a friend who identified a victim, and a lawyer working on a war crimes case. Here are their stories:
Amer fled Damascus two days after his friend, Kutabia, a 40-year-old father of two, was seized by government agents from a bookstore in Damascus. The two friends demonstrated together through 2011. They took even larger risks together, smuggling money and medicine into restive neighborhoods besieged by the Syrian government.
“They invaded on New Year’s Eve at 6 p.m. I was at a café nearby. And when I finished I said, ‘Let’s go and say hi [to Kutaiba].’ I knocked and there’s no one. No lights inside. And I continued home and that’s when I heard that my friend was taken to the detention center or the torture center.
This is where the story begins. Once your friend is detained by the government, you try to figure out where he is.
His parents started to ask. They usually go to people in the intelligence service and the guy will say, ‘I can’t tell you, you have to give me money.’
For two and a half years his parents are paying money. Sometimes they take a couple of thousand dollars and [they] get back and say, ‘He’s alive and well, and says hi to his sons.'”
In March 2015, Syrian opposition groups published 6,000 of Caesar’s photos online. For the first time, Syrian friends and families could search the gruesome photo gallery and identify the victims. Kutaiba’s picture was among the dead, killed within a month of his arrest.
“It was him. His eyes were closed. He had stitches on his forehead like the ones you see in horror movies. And I was shocked. I was in the middle of work. I don’t know what sort of people can do this harm and torture to another person.
I saw his color, and was like, ‘Thank God he wasn’t starved to death.’ He didn’t have his ears taken off or his nose. So, I thought he made them furious enough to kill him right away rather than being tortured on a daily basis. It’s always better to know, is he alive or is he dead.”
Dr. Mohammed Ayash works with the Syrian Association for Missing and Detainees of Conscience, based in Istanbul. In March, the group published some of the Caesar photos online and has organized private showings in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and even in some rebel-held neighborhoods near Damascus. Dr. Ayash is scanning all the images and documenting the dead. It is a grim task made harder still because Dr. Ayash has seen friends and neighbors among the dead.
“We have about 6,700 victims in this website. I am a doctor, I’m not a pathologist, but I describe what I see in every picture. We have children in these pictures. There are older men. There is one woman.
It comes to my dreams sometimes, because of the horrible methods. By torture, by starvation and eye gouging, and it’s very hard for me.
(The work) is very important because we need the families as witnesses in any court. We need families to say, ‘Yes, this is my father and my brother,’ and they were taken and killed by the Assad regime.”
Muna Jundi, an attorney in Flint, Mich., works with United for a Free Syria, a coalition of Syrian-American nonprofit organizations. She was part of a team of Syrians who got Caesar to testify to Congress last year and will be in Washington for the event on Wednesday. She took part in the decision to publish the photos online.
“It was systematic, the regime was using it as a way to quell the revolution.
There’s a lot of missing Syrian people and a lot of people don’t know the fate of their family members. They hear about it through rumors. They pay money to try and find information and really there’s nothing concrete. And unfortunately there’s nothing more concrete than pictures of dead bodies. So the idea was to open up to help people identify their own family members.
For an American audience, I think it was shocking. But the sheer … mass production of this, I think, is what overwhelms. They’ve documented it in such detail.
Syrians inside Syria that had any experience with intelligence [services] automatically knew why the documentation had to happen.
When there’s an order from above, they need evidence that those orders are being carried out. In a highly corrupt government, where you can pay people to release people, they need the evidence. They needed to keep the evidence to show that you told us this is what we need to do, and therefore, this is what we are doing.”
The Pan-Arabists of the Middle East are celebrating the US-Iranian deal along with all the Progressives of the world. Every spin is being put on this deal to make it look like a guarantee for peace in our time, that somehow the Iranian regime’s desire for a nuclear bomb has been curbed. In exchange, however, the world has offered Syria to Iran on a platter. We’re told by reasonable people that of course, “no deal is perfect”. What they won’t say is that the “imperfect” bits are Syria, and that the millions of people who can’t go home anymore, and the hundreds of thousands who have died in the last four years, are directly a result of Tehran’s actions.
I didn’t always used to think like this. You’re reading the blog of a bitter and disillusioned man who once cheered for Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 war and believed that Tehran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’ was the region’s only hope. I changed my mind because Syrians were being murdered by the thousands, their legitimate claims dismissed, and their uprising brushed off as a terrorist uprising by a tinpot dictator who would not have survived had it not been for the help of Tehran and Hezbullah. The pan-Arabists were blasé about the news. We were brutalised and the world did nothing. We were tortured, and the world did nothing. We were starved, and the world did nothing. The world looked away when Syria started.
Whilst I write this I am thinking about a young Syrian boy I shook hands with in Turkey. Well, we didn’t shake hands. He shook my hands, I shook the stump of his arm because his hands were blown off by a Syrian regime missile strike. The Iranian deal means more bombs, more bullets, and more militias will be sent to Assad, and the easing of sanctions means more money will be used to prop up his economy and keep him in power. That’s why I’m not enthusiastic about the deal with Iran. That’s why I’m angry and biased. I don’t know, maybe I’m not thinking straight; I’m too ’emotional’.
I’m sorry that Syrians are inconvenient, that we’re not being killed by the right type of enemy for you people. I’m sorry we haven’t received your stamp of approval. Pan-Arabists are cheering a deal with Iran, because, as they keep reminding us, Israel is the real enemy; Palestine the real goal. Never mind the untold misery, guts and excrement that we are being forced to crawl through in the name of this mythical liberation that hovers on our horizon like a promised paradise for the wretched of the world. Syria is “complicated”. Syrians are only to be felt “sorry for”, like the victims of some flood or an earthquake. From your glass towers in Dubai you intellectual pan-Arabists can toast a deal with Iran, and celebrate the fact that nothing has been allowed to deviate your attention from the lofty goal of “liberating Palestine”.
Posted: 11 Jul 2015 02:10 AM PDT
We don’t even realise that the Middle East is dead, that there existed before all this noise pollution a region that had a very different view of the world, of its place in it, and a hope for the future that the soldiers killed. We think we have inherited something, but in reality we are all squatters in the mansions of people long gone. We dress up with the clothes they left behind, dine in their halls, and pretend to understand the books in their libraries or the art on their walls, like children play-acting at being adults, but we don’t get it. We have no idea.
On June 29th, 2015, the Israeli navy boarded and seized the boat “Marianne” in international waters, some 100 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza. 18 passengers on board were taken against their will to Israel, and the boat was towed by the Israeli navy to the port of Ashdod. Greta Berlin, a founding member of the Free Gaza Movement talks about the latest attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Author of “The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza” tells Salon what he saw in the rubble of a land under seige
If for whatever reason you are one of the very few people on this Earth who wants to go into, rather than get out of, the Gaza Strip, you may want to know what to expect.
Because although it’s been just a bit less than a year since the Israeli-Gaza conflict of 2014 — or “Operation Protective Edge,” as the Israeli Defense Force called it — came to a halt, you shouldn’t expect to find a society rebuilding. No, according to “The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza,” the new book from Max Blumenthal, the journalist behind 2013′s incendiary “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” what you’ll see instead is mountains of rubble, barely any less than there was at the conclusion of the war.
Based on his contacts in Gaza as well as his own first-hand reporting, Blumenthal’s book does two things, neither of which are especially welcome in U.S. politics and the mainstream media. Blumenthal not only provides a methodical breakdown of the run-up to the conflict — one that differs in crucial respects from the narrative most commonly found in American media — but also offers a more detailed accounting of what was happening behind the fog of war. He also tries to answer some of the still-vexing questions about the war: Why did it last so long? Why so many civilian casualties? And what was even accomplished?
Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Blumenthal to discuss the book, the history of Gaza many Americans don’t know, why he believes the war was an almost deliberate result of longstanding Israeli policy, and why he believes it won’t be the last. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
You argue that last summer’s war cannot really be understood in isolation, that one has to see it in a larger context. For example, why do you think the situation today is a consequence of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005?
The withdrawal of religious nationalist Israeli settlers (who numbered about 9,000) from the Gaza Strip was celebrated by liberals, because they saw these fanatics being forced by Israeli troops from an area that Israel [had] occupied. This actually should have been a scenario, this unilateral withdrawal, that anyone who had any concern for the people in the Gaza Strip would have opposed, because the agenda was very clear and out in the open. It was to remove [Israel] from the obligations of the Geneva Convention regarding the Gaza Strip, to claim that it was no longer occupied.
What did that new footing do for Israel?
It enabled it to establish a panopticon-style system, where it controls the exterior; the sky, the sea; and can place the Gaza Strip under a very high-tech siege, a robotically-controlled siege. Secondly, it allowed Israel to retrench its control of the major settlement blocks around East Jerusalem. They received a letter from George W. Bush [requesting] the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and guaranteeing these gigantic settlements on top of the Palestinian aquifer — which cut deep into the heart of the West Bank and will eventually separate the West Bank from itself — will remain in permanent Israeli hands under any US negotiated peace agreement. That’s point number two.
And point number three?
Point number three is that withdrawal, in the words of then Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, allows the military more “freedom of action” in the Gaza Strip. If there aren’t Jewish Israelis in the Gaza Strip, that allows you to start using 150-mm artillery shells during these barrages of the border regions; that allows you to use 2,000-pound fragmentation bombs. As soon as the withdrawal took place, you started seeing the use of experimental weapons, like dime weaponry. Gaza started to become a laboratory for the Israeli weapons industry, and for the entire mechanism of control that Israel’s trying to market and export to the word as field-tested.
I just want to make one more point: we have to understand to what the Gaza Strip is, in the grand scheme of things — not just since 2005, but since 1948.
What do you mean?
Seventy-two to 80 percent of the Gaza Strips’ population qualify as refugees. That means that they are the descendants of people who, during “the Nakbah,” between 1947 and 1948, were forcibly expelled from what is now Israel. These people can’t be allowed to return to their homes under the Right of Return — which is guaranteed to them under UN Resolution 194 — because they’re not Jewish. If they come back, Israel’s Jewish demographic majority will be compromised.
That is how the rulers of Israel, who also rule all Palestinians, see it. They see the population of the Gaza Strip as a demographic threat. So the Gaza Strip is a human warehouse for a surplus population — it’s anachronistic in the modern world. A population is being warehoused because they are of the wrong ethnicity. That’s why the Gaza Strip resists. To me, that is really the essence of the crisis.
Your mentioning the demographic angle brings me to Arnon Soffer, whose colleagues nicknamed him “The Arab Counter.” Who is he? Why is he important?
Arnon Soffer is a chief adviser on demographic engineering — i.e., how to forcibly engineer a Jewish majority in areas under Israeli control — to successive Israeli governments. He conceived of not only the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, but also the separation wall. In each case, he said that they wouldn’t lead to greater national security for Israel, but they would lead to the maintenance of a Jewish [demographic] majority. He’s obsessed with maintaining a threshold of 70 percent. His last name, Soffer, means “counter” in Hebrew; so his colleagues at Haifa University refer to him as “Arnon, the Arab Counter.”
He anticipated that his policy recommendations would reduce Israel’s national security, all in the name of maintaining a demographic majority?
Listen to his words. As he was explaining the need for the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, he said, “When 2.5 million people live in a closed off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. These people will be even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane, fundamentalist Islam. Pressure at the border will be awful; it’s going to be a terrible war. If we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
He said that to the Jerusalem Post — and this is when he was a close adviser to Sharon. Sharon credited Soffer with convincing him to disengage [from the Gaza Strip]. It was printed in Israel, but not in the U.S.. I don’t endorse Soffer’s racist language or ideology, but what he said has come true. What we saw last summer with Operation Protective Edge was the fulfillment of his bloody prophecy: “kill, and kill, and kill every day.” That is what the Israeli army did for 51 days.
What caused last summer’s conflict? What lit the spark and caused that 51-day war?
The war was an extension of an ongoing campaign to destroy the Palestinian national movement. It’s what the Israeli sociologist Barruch Kimmerling called “politicide,” which is the destruction of an entire political identity. He’s extrapolating out of the term “genocide,” which is the destruction of an entire people. I think it’s a really accurate distillation of the long-term Israeli strategy.
I don’t think that Israel has any intention of physically exterminating Palestinians by the hundreds of thousands. It simply wants to eliminate them as a national movement, and make them into wandering Arabs who are either confined to Bantustans in the West Bank; a human warehouse in the Gaza Strip; fourth class citizenship and providing menial labor in Israel proper, or just simple refugee status. But with no political leadership, and no nationalistic goal.
Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith.
|Posted: 04 Jul 2015 05:32 AM PDT
African migrants face countless struggles in Israel, from racism to discrimination to outright hatred. I’ve been reporting (for the Guardian and The National) on some of their lives when they leave the Jewish state and end up in South Sudan and across Africa.
Israel houses many African migrants in the Holot detention centre in the Negev Desert. A recent Haaretz editorial outlined the inhumanity of the situation:
I recently interviewed an African migrant, via email, and the full transcript of our conversation appears below. His story is repeated thousands of times across Israel: