As Obama Was in Cairo, Israel Was Demolishing Homes…

Read this statement by Human Rights Watch that was released late Friday and ask yourself how Washington should react to Netanyahu’s claims that families in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem should be to entitled to “natural growth.” One wonders if the demolitions described below were timed to coincide with Obama’s speech at Cairo University.

Israel: Stop Demolishing Palestinian Homes
West Bank Homes of 18 Families Destroyed; Others Given 24 Hours to Evacuate

(Jerusalem, June 13, 2009) – The Israeli government should immediately stop demolishing Palestinian homes and property in the West Bank and compensate the people it has displaced, Human Rights Watch said today.

Israeli authorities destroyed the homes and property of 18 shepherd families in the northern Jordan Valley on June 4, 2009, displacing approximately 130 people, after ordering them on May 31 to evacuate because they were living in a “closed military zone.” Some of the families whose homes and property were destroyed had been living in their village since at least the 1950s.

“Giving families less than a week to evacuate their homes, without any opportunity for review or appeal, is as heartless as it is unfair,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel should have given these people due process to contest their displacement.”

At 7:30 a.m. on June 4, witnesses said, around 20 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) jeeps, three bulldozers, and several white cars belonging to the Israeli Civil Administration Authority arrived and blocked off the dirt access roads to the shantytown of ar-Ras al-Ahmar. The demolition operation began at 8 a.m. and destroyed 13 residential structures, 19 animal pens, and 18 traditional, underground ovens, according to the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The 18 displaced families included 67 children, the agency reported. Israeli soldiers also confiscated a tractor, a trailer, and a portable water tank that residents used to truck in water, witnesses said.

Members of the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration Authority delivered eviction and stop-construction orders to 30 families, comprising approximately 250 people, at about 5 a.m. on May 31 in ar-Ras al-Ahmar and the nearby community of Hadidiyya, according to witnesses and Tawfiq Jabarin, a lawyer for some of the families. The orders stated that 18 families in ar-Ras al-Ahmar were living in a closed military zone and gave them 24 hours to leave, without any opportunity for appeal.

Israeli authorities had declared the area a closed military zone years ago and could have issued eviction orders at any time. The District Coordination Liaison Office (DCL) of the Israeli Civil Administration told Human Rights Watch that the eviction orders were issued because “it is dangerous to live there. They [the residents] could be hurt by ammunition or military exercises.” The liaison office did not explain the reason for issuing the orders long after the area was declared closed, but this practice is not uncommon, according to Israeli and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations.

Jabarin told Human Rights Watch that after the demolitions on June 4, “most of the displaced moved to a different part of ar-Ras al-Ahmar about 300 meters away, and the army came back again, at night on Saturday [June 6], and told them that they had to leave.” The displaced are depending on emergency assistance, he said.

Under an Israeli military order from 1970, the government may evict persons living in a “closed military zone” without any judicial or administrative procedures. Section 90 of the order states that “permanent residents” can remain in an area later designated as closed, and that eviction orders cannot change their status as permanent residents. However, the Israeli High Court of Justice has ruled that because the shepherds in the area are pastoralists, the term “permanent residents” does not apply to them.

Residents say that ar-Ras al-Ahmar and al-Hadidiyya date from at least the 1950s. The Israeli settlement of Ro’i was built between the two villages in 1978. The two communities and Ro’i lie within “Area C” of the West Bank, over which Israel retains near-total control under the Oslo Agreements of 1995.

“It’s astonishing to see Israel evict Palestinians from their villages in the West Bank, yet again violating the rights of the occupied population, while allowing a settlement which by law should never have been built in the first place, to remain,” said Whitson.

On June 9, Jabarin said, the Israeli High Court of Justice temporarily enjoined the state from further demolitions against the people remaining in ar-Ras al-Ahmar. In al-Hadidiyya, Jabarin said, seven families who received stop-construction orders will have the chance to appeal and to apply for building permits at the hearing.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in December 2006, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition against earlier demolition orders for al-Hadidiyya, because the affected buildings were in an area defined as agricultural in master plans from the British Mandatory period and posed a security threat to the nearby Ro’i settlement. Israeli authorities demolished homes in al-Hadidiyya in February and March 2008, displacing about 60 people in all. Some of the displaced families returned to the area later, but due to repeated evictions over the years, more than a dozen households from al-Hadidiyya have been permanently displaced.

While Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank, may in some cases lawfully require residents to leave their homes, it must not do so arbitrarily and must afford affected persons meaningful due process. Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), among other treaties to which Israel is a party that apply in the West Bank, prohibits arbitrary or unlawful state interference with anyone’s home.

Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian residents of the West Bank, while allowing the construction and growth of nearby settlements, is discriminatory. The prohibition against discrimination is spelled out in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and codified in the major human rights treaties that Israel has ratified, including the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Ongoing home demolitions prevent residents of the West Bank from enjoying the right to adequate housing. In its General Comment 4, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors the compliance of states parties to the ICESCR, held that “the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head or views shelter exclusively as a commodity. Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.”

Some of the displaced people from ar-Ras al-Ahmar were previously displaced. One of Jabarin’s clients, Abderrahim Hossein Bisharat, moved to ar-Ras al-Ahmar after Israeli authorities demolished his home in the nearby village of al-Hadidiyya, twice, most recently in 2008.

Background and Accounts
According to Bimkom, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that specializes in planning and zoning issues, Palestinians in the West Bank commonly build homes without first applying for building permits because the application process is expensive, time-consuming, and usually unsuccessful. Israel denied 94 percent of Palestinian building permit applications in the West Bank between 2000 and 2007, according to the UN (OCHA), and there are approximately 3,000 Israeli demolition orders outstanding in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. In 2009, prior to the demolitions in ar-Ras al-Ahmar, Israel demolished another 27 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, displacing 120 people.

Earlier in May, OCHA reported that Israeli authorities distributed seven stop‐work orders for construction in Khirbet Samra, north of al-Hadidiyya, affecting 35 persons, including 22 children; and six demolition orders that gave 25 persons, including 15 children, in the Qalqiliya governorate a maximum of 48 hours to evacuate. Their homes may be demolished at any time.

Abu Ahmad, a 62-year-old resident of ar-Ras al-Ahmar, was visiting the nearby village of Tammun when a relative called to tell him his home was being demolished. Ahmad told Human Rights Watch he tried to return, but that Israeli soldiers stopped him until 10 a.m., when it was too late. “Of my property, they destroyed a water tank, three sheep pens, and two tents,” he said. “There were 10 of us living there. Now our house is destroyed, and we have nowhere to go. We had to put up a plastic sheet over where our home was.” Abu Ahmad added that he had moved to ar-Ras al-Ahmar after Israeli authorities repeatedly demolished his residence in al-Hadidiyya, most recently in 2008.

Ahmad’s son, Salah Abdallah Bisharat, 28, was living in his father’s household when the demolition was carried out. He told Human Rights Watch that a bulldozer and 14 Israeli army jeeps arrived at the family’s residence at 8 a.m. The soldiers ordered the family to leave their home, entered it themselves, and removed some of the pieces of furniture and set them aside, and then demolished the tents and sheep pens. Bisharat is now living with his wife and three children in a tent 200 meters from the demolition site.

Fathi Khodirat, a fieldworker with the Ma’an Development Center, witnessed the demolitions in ar-Ras al-Ahmar on the morning of June 4. He told Human Rights Watch:

“The soldiers knocked everything down; they even confiscated a tractor that belonged to someone who was just stopping by to collect animal waste to use as fertilizer. But these people can’t leave this area. They depend 100 percent on raising animals. Some of them moved here after their homes were demolished in other villages. Today, they’re still living there, or a few hundred meters away from where they were, and they have nothing.”

Israeli authorities have repeatedly demolished homes and other property in al-Hadidiyya in recent years. Abu Saqqir, a 59-year-old man who was born in the village, told Human Rights Watch:

“In my own case, they’ve demolished my home four times. Now, we just have some pieces of wood and a tent to live in.”

Flickr Deletes Account of Man Posting Torture Photos

San Francisco Chronicle: Man critical of Obama wiped off the face of Flickr

Gawker’s Ryan Tate chronicles how Yahoo obliterated the Flickr account of user Shepherd Johnson after he blasted Obama over a policy on torture photos.

Johnson, of Virginia man, is none too pleased with the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009, otherwise known as the bill that would allow the Obama administration to withhold torture photos. Johnson apparently expressed his disdain for Obama’s support of the law on the White House’s official Flickr photostream. The comments were deleted. Johnson posted more comments, including another Flickr user’s photo of a naked bleeding detainee lying on the floor (warning: graphic). Without warning or explanation, the site erased Johnson’s handiwork along with his account and his 1,200 photos, many of which he did not back up.

Read the rest here.

(Jeez, I hope mine don’t bother them.)

Obama’s War Crimes in Pakistan

So far the empire’s new war in Pakistan has accomplished, well… nothing good.

They aren’t even pretending to hunt for bin Laden and Zawahiri as part of the excuse for demanding the Pakistani army invade the North-Western territories of the country, so far they have completely failed to find the “Taliban” leaders they claim to be trying to get, but instead have succeeded only in created a living nightmare for over 3 million refugees and counting.

At least it won’t be hard to find excuses for the next intervention…

Ron Paul on Tiananmen Resolution: Let’s Tend to Our Own House

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) delivered this on the House floor this afternoon:

I rise to oppose this unnecessary and counter-productive resolution regarding the 20th anniversary of the incident in China’s Tiananmen Square. In addition to my concerns over the content of this legislation, I strongly object to the manner in which it was brought to the floor for a vote. While the resolution was being debated on the House floor, I instructed my staff to obtain a copy so that I could read it before the vote. My staff was told by no less than four relevant bodies within the House of Representatives that the text was not available for review and would not be available for another 24 hours. It is unacceptable for Members of the House of Representatives to be asked to vote on legislation that is not available for them to read!

As to the substance of the resolution, I find it disturbing that the House is going out of its way to meddle in China’s domestic politics, which is none of our business, while ignoring the many pressing issues in our own country that definitely are our business.

This resolution “calls on the People’s Republic of China to invite full and independent investigations into the Tiananmen Square crackdown, assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross…” Where do we get the authority for such a demand? I wonder how the US government would respond if China demanded that the United Nations conduct a full and independent investigation into the treatment of detainees at the US-operated Guantanamo facility?

The resolution “calls on the legal authorities of People’s Republic of China to review immediately the cases of those still imprisoned for participating in the 1989 protests for compliance with internationally recognized standards of fairness and due process in judicial proceedings.” In light of US government’s extraordinary renditions of possibly hundreds of individuals into numerous secret prisons abroad where they are held indefinitely without charge or trial, one wonders what the rest of the world makes of such US demands. It is hard to exercise credible moral authority in the world when our motto toward foreign governments seems to be “do as we say, not as we do.”

While we certainly do not condone government suppression of individual rights and liberties wherever they may occur, why are we not investigating these abuses closer to home and within our jurisdiction? It seems the House is not interested in investigating allegations that US government officials and employees approved and practiced torture against detainees. Where is the Congressional investigation of the US-operated “secret prisons” overseas? What about the administration’s assertion of the right to detain individuals indefinitely without trial? It may be easier to point out the abuses and shortcomings of governments overseas than to address government abuses here at home, but we have the constitutional obligation to exercise our oversight authority in such matters. I strongly believe that addressing these current issues would be a better use of our time than once again condemning China for an event that took place some 20 years ago.

Grim Milestone: 5,000 GIs Dead in Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

Among the six U.S. servicemember deaths so far reported in June, one soldier has become the 5,000th casualty of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the six U.S. servicemember deaths so far reported in June, one soldier has become the 5,000th casualty of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Icasualties.org the wars have cost at least 4,308 lives in Iraq and 695 in Afghanistan. The official count from the Department of Defense, however, has the total number of deaths at 4,996 in both military campaigns. The D.O.D. figures often lag slightly behind those reported in the mass media.

These figures include both combat and non-combat deaths, as well as those servicemembers killed outside the main theaters of action. In some cases, however, a servicemember who may have died months or years later of wounds received during service might not be included in official figures.

Military Families Speak Out noted the milestone in a press release published today. The antiwar group, which was formed by military families in 2002, asked President Obama to swiftly end the wars, as promised during last year’s presidential campaign. However, as the U.S. Congress returned from a weeklong Memorial Day break yesterday, the lawmakers’ main war concern was not ending either campaign, but in finalizing a new war funding bill for the president to sign.

President Obama originally asked for $84.3-billion to continue the wars. Both chambers then added their own items, bringing the final tally for the House to $96.7-billion and the Senate’s to $91.3-billion in additional funding.