Middle East Israel seizes 400 hectares of West Bank land – AlJazeera

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US official describes as “counterproductive” Israeli announcement to appropriate land, said to be largest in 30 years.

AlJazeera

The United States has urged Israel to reverse its decision to seize nearly 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank, a move anti-settlement activists termed the largest land grab in 30 years.

Israel announced the massive land appropriation on Sunday in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem just days after Gaza ceasefire.

A Palestinian official said the latest land grab by Israel would cause only more friction after the Gaza war that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead and over 10,000 injured.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” presidential spokesman Abu Rdainah said.

A US State Department official called the announcement as “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians”.

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.

Peace Now group, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, territory the Palestinians seek for a state, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

International criticism

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as “Gevaot”, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

Peace Now said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s and that anyone with ownership claims had 45 days to appeal. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has come under international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several kilometres down the road.

About 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

 

ITV News witnesses aftermath of UN school attack in Gaza

ITV PLAYER

Last updated Thu 24 Jul 2014: Number of deaths go up to 16, plus many others wounded.

ITV News has witnessed the aftermath of an attack on a UN school in Gaza, which has left at least 15 people dead and dozens more injured.

  • Warning: This report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers contains distressing images

Chick here to watch video.

The Beit Hanoun elementary school, which was being used as a shelter, had around 800 people – mostly women and children – inside when the attack took place at 2.30pm today.

UN spokesman Adnan Abu Hassna told ITV News that the Israeli military attacked the school, despite having received the exact co-ordinates of the facility.

But Israel neither admitted or denied responsibility for the attack.

Dan Rivers reported seeing dozens of children lying in “pools of blood” in a local hospital.

 

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Controversy over Red Hot Chili Peppers heats up

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Just as a cultural boycott was enforced on apartheid South Africa, so must one be enforced on Israel.

I was 10 years old when I stole my older brother’s cassette tape of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. In my small town in Massachusetts that fall, I traded in my air guitar for a much cooler air bass, rocking out to Flea’s rhythm on the hit single “Give It Away”. Twenty years later, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are still cranking out great music to a huge fan base and were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On September 10, the Chili Peppers are scheduled to play a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel. The decision has caused quite a stir. More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on the band to cancel its performance in Israel. More than a dozen groups around the world have written letters calling on the band to cancel the show. I work with one of those groups.

Why would I call on a band I loved so much as a child, a band I still listen to today, to cancel a concert?

In 1948, my pregnant grandmother, countless relatives, and 750,000 other Palestinians were displaced from their homeland, making way for the creation of the state of Israel. My grandmother never saw her birthplace again, never picked another piece of fruit from her orchard, but spoke and dreamed of a dignified return until her final breath in 2009. Palestinians continue to languish in refugee camps; four million live under a system of increasingly brutal Israeli occupation, and 1.5 million Palestinians are relegated to second-class status inside of a state that is falsely presented as a democracy.

Boycott, divest and sanction

In 2005, Palestinian civil society, consisting of more than 170 unions, women’s organisations, cultural groups, academic institutions and nearly every other facet of society, called for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the state of Israel until it complied with three basic demands based on international law: an end to occupation, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and equal rights for Palestinians living inside of the state of Israel. Following the ethical, effective, and rights-based approach of cultural boycott against apartheid in South Africa, tens of thousands of voices in support of Palestinian rights have stated clearly: it is time to take action for freedom, justice, and equality.

Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band scheduled to open for the Chili Peppers in Lebanon, cancelled its lucrative slot after band members were asked to pull out of the concert in protest to the Chili Peppers’ decision to play in Israel. A growing list of artists, including Bono, Santana, the late Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello, Cat Power, the Klaxons, the Gorillaz, and the Pixies, have refused to cross the international picket line and have pulled out of scheduled shows. Roger Waters, frontman for Pink Floyd and human rights advocate, said the boycott call is “a perfectly legitimate, nonviolent… political tool” and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated in support of cultural boycott, “Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa… it would be wrong… to perform in Israel.”

What I have learned in my years as a spoken word performer is that art is not above politics. Reading my work in the Jim Crow South to an all-white audience would not have upended racism, nor would it have sparked a journey of introspection among the masses. The power of art lies with the oppressed, it wrote the freedom songs in South Africa, tuned the humming of prisoners in the H Blocks in Northern Ireland, and laced the chants against despotism in Tahrir Square.

Artists were targeted and shamed when they played Sun City in South Africa and lent aid to the image of the apartheid regime. This is why Boycott From Within, a group of Israelis, has called on the Chili Peppers to cancel their show. When art is used to bolster support for an oppressive state, when it is used to “present Israel’s prettier face” as an official for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaimed in the New York Times, and when it used as a form of propaganda as stated by a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official – “I do not differentiate between hasbara [propaganda] and culture” – it is time for artists to end complicity.

Art alone cannot break down a wall that appropriates Palestinian land and resources, it cannot uproot illegal settlements, it cannot tear down checkpoints that restrict freedom of movement, it cannot release prisoners from administrative detention, and it cannot rebuild water wells. But artists and their art can inspire millions to take conscientious action against occupation and discrimination.

Towards justice

As the Chili Peppers concert date approaches, there are millions of people under Israeli rule who are unable to reach the concert simply because they are Palestinian. The Chili Peppers will not meet with Palestinians who worked in cultural centres attacked by the Israeli army, they will not hear the work of young recording artists who are separated by walls and checkpoints, and they won’t meet with the Palestinian hip hop artist who cancelled his tour because he was denied the right to leave his open-air prison. These details are left out of concert planning, but they are the daily reality for occupied, displaced, and oppressed Palestinians.

While I may not be that young kid strumming my air bass on my parents’ deck in Massachusetts, I still turn up the radio when the Chili Peppers come on. That is what makes writing these words so difficult. It is an easy choice to stand on the wrong side of history, when the history books have yet to be written. It is easy to call a show in Israel just another show when few accurately label Israel an apartheid state. At the moment, it still takes little effort to ignore the plight and call of millions of occupied Palestinians. But it is not the just stand. Martin Luther King once proclaimed, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

King was right. This week, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have the option to bend toward justice or enable oppression.

“Globally, there are hundreds of artists under far greater threat to their freedom and lives who deserve the same attention.”

Pussy Riot members. Photo: Misha Japaridze, file/ AP

There are hundreds of artists who perform under threat to their freedom and lives, who also deserve our solidarity.

After Pussy Riot, artists everywhere must stand up for each other

By Mark LeVine

It’s impossible to know yet whether the wave of international support received by the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot during their just completed trial impacted the verdict in any way. But it’s clear that the plight of the three young women who each now face the remainder of two years’ imprisonment has ignited the passion of US and European artists, from Sting to Madonna, who have publicly called for their freedom.

Western artists can and should support their Russian comrades. But the support received by Pussy Riot is sadly an aberration. As a rule, European and US artists have been strangely – and inexcusably – silent when it comes to recognising the plights suffered by their fellow musicians and performers around the world, where freedom of expression receives little protection, censorship is prevalent and artists routinely face the threat of prosecution and jail from their governments, and more dangerously, threats to their physical safety and even lives by conservative social forces.

Ole Reitov, of the international NGO Freemuse, which advocates on behalf of freedom of expression for musicians and composers – including Pussy Riot – believes the problem is rooted in the reluctance of managers and lawyers to encourage political engagement by their A-list artists. “But even when you reach them, a lot of ‘great names’ have a blind spot in terms of freedom of expression for fellow artists, which was in fact one of the motivations for creating Freemuse.”

System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian agrees, declaring that “too few organisations organise just around musicians”. In his view, “Artistes should boycott performing in countries that do not allow free expression of their opinions. This is one reason System of a Down has never played in Turkey. If we can’t use the word genocide on stage without threats of arrest or worse, it is not a conducive venue for artistic expression.”

In focus: Russia’s Pussy Riot

Certainly, the right to artistic freedom is one of the most basic human rights, enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declare in part: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers… Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

Human rights, but not for artists?

Well-known artistes, including Bono, Adam Yauch, Bruce Springsteen and others, have long lent their name to human rights organisations and campaigns such Amnesty International and the Campaign to Free Tibet. But many have generally remained silent when it comes to supporting fellow artists under threat. If musicians are all “from the same tribe”, as the world music pioneer Manu Dibango put it, the richer members of the tribe have not been nearly as kind to their poorer relations as they ought to be.

And so even now, as artistes – most recently, including Madonna – are flocking to support Pussy Riot, they continue to ignore the plight of other artistes presently in jail. If you go to the Freemuse website, you can see how many artists are under threat and how broad the range of countries is in which their rights are repressed. According to their latest estimate, violations are occurring in some 120 countries, with Afghanistan, Cameroon, China, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Somalia, and Turkey among the most repressive.

As I discussed in a column last month on the plight of Moroccan rapper El Haked, well-known artists continue to perform in countries where others have been jailed in much the same manner as the members of Pussy Riot, without saying or doing anything on their behalf. It’s easy to support a cool riot girl band in a country that is a traditional adversary of the “West” and where a primary concern seems to be women’s rights, but when it comes time to support a rapper jailed by a “friendly” Arab monarch, suddenly even the most extroverted singers seem to get stage fright.

Writers take the lead

We can compare the lack of uniform support for fellow musical artists to the far more developed and coherent support for writers world-wide by fellow members of their craft – as embodied in the organisation PEN, the world-wide association of writers, which for ninety years has acted “as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views”.

PEN is run by journalists and writers, who are generally more articulate and well connected to their writing colleagues than musicians. Musicians have neither the organisation nor social and political power (or often education) to similarly promote their interests. Even the most political artists, from Marcel Khalife to Rage Against the Machine, focus on broader political issues rather than their fellow music-makers.

At the level of the music business, it’s even harder to get people involved, since, as a “business” – especially one whose century-old model is crumbling beneath it – music industries in most countries need airplay on government-controlled radio stations and support to fight against piracy, to stay afloat. This situation provides little incentive to rock the political boat.

As one activist put it, rarely you might get a music executive such as Richard Branson who will sign the Sex Pistols and use their political “infamy” to help sell records and brand his company as hip and cutting edge, but such figures are increasingly rare these days in the mega corporate-dominated music industry.
Putin weighs in on Pussy Riot case

The problem is that, as long as long as artists, and the music industry more broadly, don’t take this seriously at the organisational and institutional levels (when is the last time that the Grammy Awards, ASCAP, BMI, SECAM, or even the X-Factor or American Idol ever mentioned artists under threat?), musicians will continue to face the same and even graver threats to their freedom as Pussy Riot, without anyone in the wider world taking notice or helping to publicise their plight.

A uniform code of conduct, now

In order to change the dynamics, musical artists, singers, composers, producers, arrangers, engineers, DJs, managers and music industry professionals need to together adopt a universal code of conduct that will ensure that they are aware of the situation in all countries in which they work, perform and sell their products and provide a standard set of guidelines and references for behaviour to prevent the continuation of the present situation, in which some artists get global attention to their plight while others suffer in silence.

Such a code could include the following provisions:

A declaration of support for all artistes who engage politically. As Madonna put it in supporting Pussy Riot, “art should be political”, and even artists who aren’t willing to put themselves on the line benefit when there is greater freedom for their colleagues to do so. The musical community must no longer sit idly by and allow fellow musicians to face such challenges and threats alone.

Artists need to stay abreast of developments affecting fellow artists and music industry professionals around the world and use their often extensive social media, concert and other appearances to help publicise specific threats or actions as they arise.

They should develop much more coordinated relations with organisations, such as Freemuse, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, to ensure that they are aware of threats to artists in countries in which they are touring, recording, or otherwise appearing professionally, and to use all means available to support them and call attention to their plight while in these countries.

Artists need to encourage their fans to become more involved in the plight of musicians globally and in their own countries, and educate them about the dangers of censorship and how to fight it.

Most important, artists need to support all artists who are being persecuted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political affiliations, non-violent social and political activities, or expression of personal, social or political views, even when their views might not agree with their own.

Boycotts, a divisive issue

There is one issue that will no doubt divide artists and that is the call to refuse to perform in a country in response to its policies on various issues. Here the obvious example is the BDS, and specifically boycott, campaign against Israel, which has led some big name artists to cancel performances in the country in protest of its ongoing occupation.

Russian Orthodox Church organises against Pussy Riot punks

As of now, there are few if any calls for artists to boycott performances in a country besides the Palestinian BDS call, and artists such as Tankian, who have a special commitment to a particular issue such as the Armenian genocide or Tibet. As one A-list manager explained to me: “The most important thing for most artists first is to be heard, and boycotting goes directly against that.”

While politically engaged artists such as Jello Biafra came to support BDS after examining all the arguments, less militant artists have been turned off by the sometimes aggressive attempts to persuade them. For the record, Pussy Riot supporter Madonna played Israel on May 31, while the Chili Peppers are scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv in September.

But if calls for boycotts were to multiply – if, for example, there was a call to boycott Russia by activists in response to the jail sentences handed down against Pussy Riot – artists would be in a very difficult situation.

Today more than ever, artists survive on touring rather than selling records. If a group tours globally the chances are high that they will perform in a fair number of countries with problematic records on issues such as freedom of speech (China, Russia, Morocco, Poland, Dubai, Turkey, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Cameroon and many other countries come immediately to mind).

And of course, for “anti-imperialist” artists there would be little choice but to boycott the US and most NATO countries – some 50 countries presently contribute troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, for example – as well as Russia and China, given their clearly imperialist foreign policies.

Such a list would, of course, leave very few countries left to tour.

Because of this, it is unlikely that most artists will begin agreeing to boycott systemic human rights violators; nor is it that clear that citizens in such countries would prefer artistes to stay away until the situation improves (in Morocco, for example, most activists I’ve spoken with do not advocate boycotting its famed festivals – with the exception of the giant Mawazine festival, which is clearly used as a propaganda tool by the government).

Moreover, artists from smaller global south countries who literally must survive on a few prestigious festivals each year would find it practically impossible to boycott them on political grounds, no matter how sympathetic they might be to the plight of local artists.

Ultimately, individual performers will have to determine whether the situation in a particular country is serious enough for them to sacrifice the income and experience of performing there in order to support fellow artists or oppressed citizens or occupied peoples.

But particularly today, when the internet and social media have made it so much easier to spread the word about oppression to fans and the broader public, it’s no longer excusable for artists to remain silent most of the time, and only lend their support when the world is already watching or the artists involved are particularly media-friendly. Certainly many Russian artists feel this way. As dance-pop artist Sasha Gradiva explained when she heard I was writing this column: “I feel a deep connection with these girls… and would welcome the creation of a community of artists and musicians whose aim was supporting artists who have been persecuted because of their art.”

I’m sure the members of Pussy Riot were thrilled that Madonna wore a balaclava in their honour at her Moscow concert, and that Red Hot Chili Peppers donned Pussy Riot t-shirts at their Russian concerts (we’ll see if the Chilis show a similar concern for Palestinian prisoners – inclusing artists – when they perform in Israel). But, globally, there are hundreds of artists under far greater threat to their freedom and lives who deserve the same attention.

It’s time to pull the mask off music censorship globally; if the trial of Pussy Riot can encourage greater attention and solidarity from privileged Western and global artists to the plight of their comrades living in the cultural and political trenches, the group will truly have earned their place in the pantheon of musical, and political, heroes.

Published by Al Jazeera

About the author:

Mark Levine is professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine and distinguished visiting professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh.

His book, Heavy Metal Islam, which focused on ‘rock and resistance and the struggle for soul’ in the evolving music scene of the Middle East and North Africa, was published in 2008.

In focus: Russia’s Pussy Riot

Published on Aug 7, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish

In Moscow, the trial of the activist-feminist group known as Pussy Riot continues into its second week. The case has captured both domestic and international attention, with the Russian opposition rallying around them as an anti-Putin symbol. Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan takes a closer look at what these women are all about.

Russian Orthodox Church organises against Pussy Riot punks

Published on Apr 22, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish

Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers have turned out in the Russian capital Moscow for a prayer to support the controversial Church in what it perceives to be an attack on its authority.

They refer to a confrontation involving Pussy Riot, a local punk rock band who took over the capital’s main cathedral to sing their songs in a political statement in February.

Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reports from the Russian capital.