Archive for September, 2015

Sep 30 2015

To fight extremism

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

In his plan to counter what he called khawarej (the outlaws) of Islam, His Majesty King Abdullah gave prominence to the role of communication in the battle for the heart soul and mind.

Item four of the seven-point plan the King laid out at the UN General Assembly Monday talked about amplifying the voice of moderate individuals.

“It is one of the greatest ironies of our time that extremist voices use advanced media to propagate ignorant ideas. We must not let our screens, airwaves, broadband and social media be monopolised by those who pose the greatest danger to our world. We too must populate our media, and more important, the minds of our young people, with the purity and power of moderation,” said the King.

The battle for the minds is not and should not be limited to the media, however. 

In an excellent analysis, columnist Rami G. Khouri took to task those who have a narrow view of countering extremism without searching for its root causes.

In his article in Al Jazeera America, titled “Beware the hoax of countering violent extremism”, Khouri calls on the global community to search deeper into the role of governments in helping increase terrorism.

“Violent extremism, it turns out, is the consequence of policies of Western and Middle Eastern states, and radical changes by both are required to stem the problem,” he argues, explaining the ongoing violent extremism as “a desperate reaction to political and socioeconomic hopelessness at home and dehumanization from foreign armies”.

While his argument has merit, it can be argued that the present crisis in Iraq and Syria is not the responsibility of either the Obama administration or of King Abdullah. Both were totally opposed to the Bush/Blair war on Iraq that gave birth to the current round of extremism.

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Sep 28 2015

What Does Jordan need to do with its Syrian refugees

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By Daoud Kuttab

As the international community struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis, many are looking at Jordan’s courageous position in absorbing as many as a million and a half Syrians as guests of the Kingdom.

While this hospitality has been duly recognized and rewarded, the longevity of the Syrian conflict is forcing all players to rethink the policy towards the Syrian refugees. What was thought to be a short term crisis which would end with the happy return back to Syria is turning to be a long term conflict that requires more than immediate housing, food and medical aid.

Alexandra Francis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an important study on the issue and has suggested a number of takeaways that Jordan would do well by adhering to. She recommends integration of development and humanitarian aid, maintain protection space for refugees, formalize access to livelihoods and empower local governance actions as they integrate capacity building programs that help deliver services to the Jordanian population as well as to Syrian refugees.

The challenges facing Jordan are made even more acute as the slow but steady political reform process has resulted in a relatively progressive election law that has been welcomed by Jordanian democrats and civil society.

Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951Refugee Treaty and therefore doesn’t have the obligations of turning the temporary guests into asylum seekers. But Jordan is a signatory to the convention against torture which forbids the Kingdom from sending individuals to a country that might torture them.

Court records connected to a recent access to information case raised by Radio al Balad have shown that the issue of refugees is one of the state secrets designated by the Ministry of Interior and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many Syrians are in Jordan and how many have been sent back in contravention of the Torture Convention and in violation of the agreement Jordan has signed with the UN agency responsible for refugees UNHCR. Continue Reading »

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Sep 25 2015

How Palestinian security forces are cracking down on their own people

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

It began as a demonstration against Israel on Sept. 18 following the recent incidents at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but it soon became an internal Palestinian problem that gripped the political and security leadership in Bethlehem.

 The Palestinian police order to quell the protests against Israel suddenly became the focus of public attention because of the police violence against one of their own, the son of a police officer. A video taken Sept. 18 from a nearby restaurant captured Palestinian security members run after, capture and badly beat a Palestinian youth, Mohammad Radwan Hamamreh. His brother was also beaten, and both were arrested and abused on the way to the police station. The video posted on Facebook went viral and resulted in further demonstrations, which included stone throwing later that evening at the site of the Palestinian security headquarters in Bethlehem. Protesters were also recorded on video outside the police headquarters as calling for the ouster of the head of the Palestinian police, Hazem Atallah, and shouting verbal accusations against President Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of being a “coward” and “an agent of the Americans.”

The speed with which the video was uploaded and the ensuing anti-police and anti-Abbas protests brought quick results. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah appointed a high-level investigative committee Sept. 19 headed by Bethlehem Gov. Jibrin Bakri and instructed it to take severe punishment against anyone “who carries out violence against our own citizens.”

The Fatah movement in Bethlehem also pitched in to condemn the attack on the Palestinian youth. Mohammad Masri, the secretary of Fatah in Bethlehem, said that what had happened is contrary to the clear instructions of the Palestinian leadership and security forces. In a public event held Sept. 20, he, along with other Fatah officials, called for the removal of those involved in the police abuse.

In record time, the investigative committee produced what appeared to be impressive results. The National Security Forces Command issued a detailed statement Sept. 20 holding both the abusive policemen and their commanders responsible for the violence against Hamamreh. Nine Palestinian officers and policemen were turned over to disciplinary committees. Five policemen involved directly in the beatings were given an immediate prison sentence of three months, and four senior officers were suspended from the police force pending the end of the proceedings.

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Sep 23 2015

Israel attempts to redefine terrorism, but is its definition too broad?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A troubling anti-terrorism law to replace the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations passed its first reading in the Israeli Knesset by an overwhelming 45-14 vote on Sept. 2. The 100-page piece of legislation had been opposed by the left-wing Meretz Party and the predominantly Arab Joint List, but appears to have the support of the two major Israeli parties, the Likud and the Zionist Camp

For a time, the mandate-era British regulations continued to be used by Israel as the legal basis for collective punishment, such as deportations, home demolitions and administrative detention in the occupied Palestinian territories. In 1999, however, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to “start reducing the number of laws and ordinances that depend on the state of emergency.” An attempt to rewrite the regulations as original Israeli law was made during Tzipi Livni’s tenure as justice minister (2013-14), but the Association for Civil Rights in Israel strongly opposed it. The effort remained mired in the Knesset’s legislative process.

The current draft legislation is so extensive and repressive that Yael Berda, a leading Israeli lawyer and professor of law at Hebrew University, called it “scary and undemocratic” and a “regime change” in an interview with Al-Monitor. In a Sept. 18 Times of Israel article, reporter Marisa Newman outlined eight changes in the law in regard to the Israeli government’s approach to the issue of terrorism. They include an expansion of the definition of terror, a lack of distinction between attacks on civilians versus soldiers and the designation as a terror organization of any nongovernmental organizations, including humanitarian groups, “that assist terror organizations in any way.”

Sympathy with a group deemed a terror organization is severely punishable. Newman wrote, “If done publicly — whether waving a sign at a rally, posting on social media or wearing a T-shirt — the individual will be eligible to serve three years in prison.” The legislation also enshrines administrative detention into Israeli law and gives Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency, wide-ranging powers to hack into private citizens’ computers.

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Sep 18 2015

Tightened security backfires at Al-Aqsa

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The recent violence that erupted at Al-Aqsa Mosque came as no surprise. On Sept. 9, Israel banned two groups of Palestinian Muslims who call themselves the masculine and feminine variants of “Mourabitoun” as illegal organizations. The problem is that in Islamic terminology, every Muslim in Jerusalem who attends prayers at Islam’s third-holiest mosque is a “mourabit,” a term that refers to people holding the fort.

 The condemnation was the equivalent of calling all believers worshipping at St. Peter’s Church part of a criminal organization. The head of the Waqf Department (for religious endowments) in Jerusalem, Azzam Khatib, said in a Sept. 9 press statement that every Muslim who enters Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered a mourabit.

Israel’s security apparatus followed the announcement, made three days before the Jewish New Year, with the renewal of its dilution policy. This policy was explained in detail in a June 30 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) titled “The status of the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy esplanade.” Dilution aims to keep the Palestinian worshippers to a bare minimum whenever Jewish visitors are planning on setting foot in the mosque area. During morning hours until 11 a.m., when non-Muslim visitors are allowed, Palestinian Muslim women are not allowed entry into the entire mosque area, while men are allowed to enter only between 10 and 11 a.m. The entire mosque area is gated and controlled by Israeli police along with token unarmed guards employed by the Jordanian Ministry of Endowments. Continue Reading »

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Sep 16 2015

Response to Israeli provocations should be Palestinian unity

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His Majesty King Abdullah was correct in calling what was happening in Jerusalem this week a provocation. After all, the Israelis had made clear promises to His Majesty to ensure the continuation of the status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque, which led to the return of Jordan’s ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Two of the understandings reached in this regard were clearly violated during the Jewish new year, which led to the escalation of the violence by the Palestinians.

The Israelis had promised to keep the groups of Jews “visiting” the mosque area to a small number, of around five. Jordanian-paid waqf officials tolerated a small increase of up to 15 members of a group, but not more. This week, the groups that were protected by the Israeli security reached 30 at a time.

More important was the makeup of the visiting groups. As it allows tourists to visit the mosque, Palestinians and Jordanians have no problem with Jews visiting the mosque as “tourists”. However, when the visiting group includes right-wing members of Knesset or Cabinet ministers, the visit takes a political/religious meaning.

Individuals like Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel are no curious tourists. They are religious/political ideologues on a mission to prove that the location being visited is not a Muslim religious shrine but that it has “Jewish” ownership. Continue Reading »

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Sep 15 2015

Double victory for Palestine in FIFA qualifying match

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A scoreless soccer game can hardly be considered a victory, but for the Palestinian national team, tying the powerful team from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Palestinian soil was a double victory. Even the leading newspaper in the UAE, The National, described the match as such. On Sept. 8, the Abu Dhabi daily called the results of the historic game, held on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem, a win for the Palestinian team. It is rare to be able to use the word “historic” to describe a soccer match, but the FIFA World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying match between Palestine and the UAE was truly momentous by local standards.

For an Arab soccer team to agree to cross borders controlled by a country with which they are officially at war takes courage, and in this case, reflected genuine support and solidarity with the Palestinian people. UAE coach Mahdi Ali echoed his support for holding the match in an interview with the Emarat Sports website on Sept. 8, saying, “As Emiratis, we consider ourselves victorious just by being in Palestine, which I wish to see as a free and independent state.” After the game, Ali, along with a small group of administrative officials, visited and prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Ensuring the visit to Palestine was not easy. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, had been exerting great effort to have official home games played in Palestine. After confronting difficulties with Israeli officials during the FIFA congress held in Zurich on May 29, he was assured that games would not be blocked. FIFA guaranteed Rajoub that the Israelis would not put restrictions on visiting teams or on the movements of Palestinian team members, in particular players from Gaza. Continue Reading »

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Sep 11 2015

Abbas big loser in Palestinian National Council postponement

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The lead story Sept. 9 in the Ramallah-based pro-PLO daily Al-Ayyam summarized what had been happening since the unexpected Aug. 22 resignation of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and nine members of the PLO’s Executive Committee. In short, the article detailed the increasing calls to postpone the planned Sept. 14 meeting of the Palestinian National Council, identifying all the relevant Palestinian factions that had sent written requests to Salim Zanoun, speaker of the PNC, calling for a delay. Three of Al-Ayyam’s five main opinion columns reflected on what had happened and why postponement was necessary to avoid a much deeper split among the Palestinians.

The writing on the wall had begun to appear weeks earlier, when Zanoun, also a former judge and prominent Palestinian jurist, voiced his opposition to efforts by the Executive Committee to manhandle the PNC. On Aug. 24, Zanoun had rejected moves by Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, and by Abbas to apply Clause 14-c of the PLO bylaws, which allows for a meeting of the PLO’s highest legislative body without a quorum in the case of a “force majeure.”

Meanwhile, on Sept. 7, Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, responded with an initiative citing the need to prepare for the PNC meeting, which he suggested be held in a location where all PNC members could attend, away from Israeli pressures and the travel restrictions imposed by the occupation. That same day, the PLO Executive Committee met, agreed to request a postponement and signed a letter to Zanoun to this effect. Continue Reading »

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Sep 09 2015

Palestinian President Playing Musical Chairs

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By Daoud Kuttab

Mahmoud Abbas holds many titles.

He is the head of the Fateh movement, chairman of the PLO’s executive committee and president of the state of Palestine. Technically and legally, the Palestine Liberation Organization is superior.

The state of Palestine, declared a non-member state in the UN in 2003, is subservient to the PLO. In mere numbers, the state of Palestine, under occupation and lacking sovereignty except in large West Bank cities, is not as important as the PLO, which represents some 12 million Palestinians inside and outside Palestine.

But the PLO is an empty shell. It was originally made up of guerrilla movements that have since been silenced, and its offices around the world have been replaced by embassies of the state of Palestine. Hanan Ashrawi was one of 10 members of the PLO’s executive committee who resigned two weeks ago. She said that PLO agencies (except the negotiating department) get no or very little budgets.

The resignation, orchestrated by Abbas and his aides, was aimed at triggering an extraordinary session of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO’s parliament in exile. The idea was to trigger clause 15 B of the PLO by-laws that calls for an emergency meeting without the need for a quorum. Abbas wanted to have the meeting in Ramallah and wanted to get the entire 18-member committee, which includes his latest rival, Yasser Abed Rabbo, replaced by some of his loyalists. Continue Reading »

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Sep 09 2015

News stories one may have missed

Published by under Articles

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By Daoud Kuttab

Unless one is a news junky and follows all local news religiously, one probably missed three important issues related to the media freedoms in Jordan.

They include the three main media stakeholders, the government, media owners and the public. I will leave the juiciest story last.

The prime minister issued a memo Tuesday to all relevant government ministries and departments, urging all to adhere to the Access to Information Law and providing the ministries with a template form that the public can fill out in order to seek information.

The memo, based on the 2007 law (Jordan was the first Arab country to introduce such a law) orders officials to comply with requests within the legal 30-day period and in case a document is not released, give the reason for the rejection.

On the same day, UNESCO launched the Jordan Media Index, a lengthy, well-researched report that assesses Jordan’s media status in five key categories.

Guy Burger, the head of UNESCO’s freedom of expression department, praised the report, calling it one of the best, “if not the best”, of its kind.

Burger said that free media are necessary for democracy, and urged Jordan to improve its legislative framework to give more freedom to the press in order to encourage democratic discourse. Continue Reading »

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