The IDF’s Criminal Record Again…

 

Expecting the unexpected in Lebanon—or should we say—the very expected?

By Forward Magazine

The unexpected was for this round of battle on the Lebanese-Israeli border to be between the IDF and the Lebanese Army—and not Hizbullah. The expected was for Israel to strike—four days after the Syrian-Saudi Summit in Beirut—in order to drown all Arab initiatives aimed at protecting Lebanon from slipping into chaos. Israel is setting the stage for a new war with Lebanon—clearly from the blatant violation of UNSCR 1701 and its invasion of Lebanese territory on August 2.

Earlier today, a patrol from the IDF crossed the border into Lebanon and was confronted by the Lebanese Army at the Odeissi village in the South. UNIFEL tried to halt the advancement, with little luck, leading to the death of 3 Lebanese soldiers, the wounding of 4, and according to Hizbullah’s al-Manar TV, the killing of a “senior Israeli officer.” The Lebanese Army, with full support of President Michel Suleiman and Army Commander Jean Kahwaji, has stressed self-defense, blaming the IDF for outbreak of hostilities and placing full support behind the Lebanese Army. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri called on the Lebanese government to take the matter to the Security Council, words echoed from the other side by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that the Lebanese Army had violated UNSCR 1701. All parties are currently waiting for a speech by Hasan Nasrallah, expected at 8:30 Beirut time, to lay out the vision for what will happen in the hours ahead.

For four years, all eyes have been on Lebanon, predicting a new war between the IDF and Hizbullah. All objectives set forth by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were not met: the two Israeli soldiers were not released and far from being annihilated, Hizbullah emerged from that battle, stronger than ever before, morally, politically, and militarily. Several consecutive senior Israeli military officials were forced to resign as a result of that war, including the Chief-of-Staff.

It was reasoned for long that the US wanted that war more so than Israel. The Bush White House wanted to prevent Hizbullah-like groups from emerging in failed states throughout the world; in Pakistan, Sudan, and Iraq. The Pentagon wanted the war to test the pulse of Iran’s military abilities prior to waging war against Tehran. The State Department wanted the war because it had adopted the pro-Western cabinet of then-Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, which had taken a strong Hizbullah position.

Time and again, that war did not happen. Primarily this was because nobody in Lebanon wanted a new round of battle—certainly not Hizbullah. Additionally Israel was not going to venture into another war, where results were not 100% guaranteed against Hizbullah. Israel was not going to go into another war—and not win. In 1973, Golda Meir resigned from her post as Israeli Prime Minister not because Israel lost the war against Egypt and Syria. She resigned because Israel did not win.   

For months now, however, the Israelis have been setting the stage for a new war in the Middle East. It started with a November 2009 accusation that Iranian arms were discovered on a German ship headed for Hizbullah. Then came a fabricated story in mid-April 2010, claiming that Hizbullah was receiving advanced Scud missiles from Syria. More recently Israeli Army Commander Gaby Ashkenazi further provoked the Lebanese fighters by claiming that an earthquake was in store for them next September, when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) names Hizbullah officials in the 2005 murder of Rafiq al-Harriri. Last Thursday, Israeli TV came out with a blatant statement, naming a senior Hizbullah commander in the Harriri Affair. Hizbullah—which has repeatedly said that it does not want war but would be ready for it—refuses all blame for Harriri’s blood, claiming that the STL is an “Israeli project” aimed at targeting the Lebanese resistance. Hizbullah would continue to refuse the STL, its leaders stressed, so long as the international probe refuses to even consider Israeli involvement in the Harriri murder.  What Israel could not achieve through bullets and missiles, Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah was saying, it would try to attain through the STL.

What is happening today brings back strong memories of the war of 2006—an Israeli army desperate to strike back at Lebanon and Hizbullah for having enforced the worse defeat on the Jewish State’s history since its creation in 1948.  

President Bashar al-Assad got on the phone with his Lebanese counterpart Michel Suleiman, expressing his country’s full support for the Lebanese in the hostilities that broke out on the border with Israel.

Echoing the Syrian leader’s words were the people of Syria and the Arab World, who have old and grey watching Israel kill whatever chances of peace and stability emerge in the Middle East.

Free Shaza Barakat—the only Syrian woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla

Free Shaza Barakat—the only Syrian woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla

 By Forward Magazine, Syria

The only woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla, Shaza Barakat, has been arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and taken to a prison within Israel. She happens to be the only Syrian woman among the hundreds of activists who were attacked by the IDF at 4 am on Monday, where 20 civilians were killed, 15 of whom were Turkish citizens.

Shaza, aged 45, was born in the northern city of Idlib in 1965. She is an amateur scriptwriter who currently works as manager of a computer systems academy in Damascus and had formerly served as an instructor of Arabic at the Pakistani International School of Damascus (PISOD). Shaza, a mother of three, dreams of writing a 30-episode drama about the life of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Her husband said that he had last spoken to her more than 24-hours ago, before the Freedom Flotilla was stormed by the IDF on May 31.

Forward Magazine calls for international solidarity with Shaza Barakat. She needs to be treated in a human and dignified manner, since she was illegally arrested by the Israelis, having committed no crime except help channel humanitarian aid to Gaza. She needs to be released from Israeli captivity and justice needs to be done to the thousands of those who were terrorized by the IDF earlier this week. Our prayers go out to the 20 civilians killed on Monday.

Syrian Cultures: An American Student Perspective

When I touched down at the Damascus airport in June of last year, it was my first time in Syria. Although it was not going to be my first time living in an Arabic-speaking country, I had been told by my friends that this time would be different -and they were right.

After graduating from college a few years ago, I spent time in Yemen, Egypt and Oman studying Arabic and conducting research. My goal in Syria has been to continue to develop my Arabic skills and to learn something about Syrian culture. My coursework at the University of Damascus has been with the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) which operates under the auspices of the University of Texas-Austin in the United States. Courses are aimed not only at teaching students Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial Damascene Arabic but also at helping students understand more about Syrian society and culture. After having lived in Damascus for eight months, however, I have become more aware of Syrian cultures than anything else. Our coursework has required us to be in constant interaction with the Syrian population through conducting interviews, attending lectures, cultural events, watching Syrian television series and interning at a local Syrian company (in my own case, working with the Forward Magazine crew). As a result of this regular interaction with Damascenes and other Syrians that live in the Sham, I have been struck by the way people talk about Syrian ‘culture.’ Damascenes are more than happy to help a foreign student like me learn more about Syria and, thanks to them, I have been presented with a massive range of perspectives and opinions as to what defines Syria and its people.

Obviously, I have no intention of listing those various definitions. Instead, I would like to point out an interesting underlying theme present in virtually all of the answers I received to my questions. People almost always divided their answers into sections, explaining that the answer to any given question depends on a variety of different factors, including but not limited to: hometown, religion, socio-economic level, age and gender. In my opinion, this points to a keen awareness among Damascenes of the various levels of their identity. While most Damascenes I talked to envisioned something called “Syrian culture,” they were quick to point out the pluralist elements of Syrian society. Indeed, they seemed proud of how diverse the Syrian population is and saw the cultures of Syria as part of what defines it as a society.

Avatar: A commentary on the Palestinian saga (Reading between the lines)

Avatar movie (2009) tells the story of Palestine, according to Syrian sales professional, Soud Atassi (Photo doctored by R. Saqr)

Reading between the lines of AVATAR

By Soud Atassi

AVATAR, for many, is just an American movie about war between the humans and some strange creatures that own a strange living forest that is full of life power. The movie shows us that the American army does not care about humanity, shedding light on how the bad decisions of the highest management of the world can ruin the innocents’ homes and history (American effrontery) and how deceived are the American people!

Why pay to watch such a movie when they can see it in front of their eyes, not in imagination, but for real:

Just look at the map,

Mark on Palestine.

Enjoy the movie!

Please go and watch AVATAR and consider that you are looking at a movie about the Palestinian people, whose tree and home have been uprooted –  just like the tree and homeland of the aliens in AVATAR!

Soud Atassi is the Group Sales Manager at Forward Magazine and Haykal Media

Syrian students banned from using supercomputer at KAUST University in Saudi Arabia

Syrian Students banned in KSA, Abdulsalam Haykal, Forward MagazineSyrian students denied academic access to IBM supercomputer at KAUST due to US sanctions

  • Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) honors US political restrictions over internationally-set academic freedoms and integrity

Damascus (October, 2009) –  The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the new world-class research university in Saudi Arabia, has denied 15 students access to cutting-edge technology inside its premises due to sanctions against Syria.

Accordingly, KAUST’s breakthrough IBM supercomputer, called Shaheen (Arabic for falcon), will be allowed for all students from all nationalities except for Syrians. The Shaheen, one of 14-systems around the world and the largest in Asia by far, will be off-limits to Syrian students and researchers in what can be seen as a breach of academic freedom.

In a scoop editorial by Abdulsalam Haykal, CEO and publisher of Forward Magazine in Syria, the writer revealed: “It’s a shame that the 15 Syrian KAUST students are not allowed to use the Shaheen. Why? American sanctions had to be observed in the agreement between KAUST and IBM. Syrian students were told that it was not a KAUST decision, rather one that related to the state of affairs between the US and Syria.”

Haykal continued to say, “KAUST is then forced to bend to politics, and act against academic freedom.”

KAUST breach of academic integrity comes from the fact the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on several occasions that, “[A university] can determine for itself on academic grounds, who may teach, what may be taught, how it should be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”

Forward Magazine, Syria’s leading English monthly and an offshoot of Haykal Media, announced early October it will be lobbying in US and Saudi circles arguing against such “unacceptable academic discrimination.”

Buy Shares in the Syrian Dream

By Abdulsalam Haykal, for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). The original article can be viewed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=26077&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0&isNew=1#.

I spent summers as a young boy in Damascus, while my fellow Syrians were flocking to my coastal hometown of Tartous to savor the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the heat of Damascus, my summers there were always special.

The Damascene diversity was riveting. Every Friday morning, my grandfather let me tag along during his weekend ritual of shopping for antiques. We would stroll along Medhat Pasha, better known as the biblical Straight Street, moving slowly from one shop to another, eyeing the colored-glass vases, rubbing smooth brass plates and ogling intricate pearl-inlay chests.

Grandpa and I laughed a lot as we shopped for antiques. Some of our biggest belly laughs were with Jamil, an elderly Syrian Jew whose shop was near the Al-Efranj Synagogue, an active place of worship even today. We would stop by the monumental Umayyad Mosque, where the faithful gathered for Friday noon prayers. Inside the mosque, Grandpa once lifted me up to peer through the bars of a shrine said to contain the head of John the Baptist, known to Muslims as the Prophet Yahya.

My grandfather, Faisal Sabbagh, loved Damascus’s history. But he was not stuck in the past. When he was not out searching for antiques, Grandpa was a neurosurgeon who had trained at Columbia University and later established Damascus University’s neurosurgery department in 1949. The generations of medical doctors he taught still remember him as their role model.

My other grandfather is still vibrant at 93. A celebrated entrepreneur and a long-time community leader, I’m proud to be his namesake. He articulates his wisdom through witty poetry and fascinating stories, looking down at the prevailing patronizing attitudes. He teases my father about his passion for high-tech photography. Grandpa bought his first camera in France in the late 1920s, long before the era of digital cameras, and took photos of the National Boy Scouts, which he led in Tartous. He rejoices in his memories of the Scouts demonstrating against the French occupation more than 75 years ago, reminding me that all adversity comes to an end sooner or later.

Talk to young Syrians today and you will find that they often have similar family tales of history, tradition, resistance and innovation. Many have roots in far-flung corners of the world. Similarly, people around the globe can trace their roots to Syria, which was considered by some to be the geographic centre of the world, as well as the heart of the historic Silk Road connecting the Asian continent to Europe.

Many visitors confess that they feel “at home” in Damascus. That sense of belonging is due to an amusing anomaly: any visitor can find a Syrian who looks like them! We are a blend of cultures that triumphed over our ethnic and religious identities to form one nation. Yes, we have a distinct Arab identity and a rich Islamic culture. But we also have a powerful Christian heritage, a Mediterranean character, and a proximity to Europe.

Syria and its capital, Damascus, are sometimes themselves thought of as antiquities, remnants of an illustrious civilization that never quite made it to the present. But for the thousands of us born in the 1960s and 1970s, Syria is a very different nation than even a decade ago. We often feel we have an unprecedented opportunity to flourish.  We are committed to the rebirth of the “Syrian Dream”, empowered by a distinct sense of belonging and sense of duty.

Syria is an ancient nation propelled by a new, technology-savvy generation of young entrepreneurs. We have a vision of what we can be and have set the course to implement it. Countless people in government, civil society, business and the quiet heroes among ordinary citizens work hard against all odds, as we seek to be makers—and not only seekers—of peace. In a world as unstable as ours today, it makes sense to buy shares in this Syrian Dream!

At a recent World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan, I, along with 200 young adults from around the world named as Young Global Leaders, shared our stories and plans for a better world. I had an opportunity to tell government officials, entrepreneurs and activists about the contemporary global perspective that now thrives in Syria, nurtured by a heritage that gives Syrians the confidence to advance into the 21st century.

At the Dead Sea, I also realized I was not just a proud citizen of Syria, but also a proud citizen of an ever-changing world–just as my grandfathers intended me to be.

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* Abdulsalam Haykal is a Damascus-based media and technology entrepreneur and a social activist. In 2009, he was selected to be one of 200 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Setting the example to boycott boycotting

45758-resized-un-racism-conferenceLast year, on March 14, The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Isesco) called on all 50 of its member states to boycott the Paris book fair. Why? Because the French had dared to choose Israel as its guest of honor. In the ultimate act of shooting itself in the foot, the organization not only denied authors and publishers the chance at international review and recognition, it also failed to provide a counterpoint to the Israeli perspective highlighted at the fair. Whatever your stand on Israel is, the fact that no Muslim country was there offered them a free pass to promote their own ideas unchallenged.

Similarly, the international community was outraged when Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was denied a visa to Dubai this past February. The UAE’s reasoning was that denying this player passage to the Dubai Championship would be an effective method to protest the Israeli agression against Gaza at the turn of the new year. Instead, the country was fined, faced incredible censure, and was forced to take in Andy Ram if it wished to continue holding their international competition.

Boycotts and denial of access are simply ineffective ways of protest. They limit communication, and therefore understanding and agreement. While they occasionally have some short-term success, the resentment it creates in the side that was bullied into submission lasts for so long, it will pounce on whatever chance it can take later on to gain retribution, often in the most destructive manner possible.

Why should Muslim countries act any different, however, when the US, Israel, Canada, and the EU, supposedly the paragons of “liberal” and “democratic” countries in the world, don’t provide a better example? Today, April 19, 2009, the US has confirmed that it will not be attending the UN forum on racism in Geneva next week, because of disagreements on how the guiding document views Zionism. This follows similar confirmations from Canada and Israel, as well as serious discussions on behalf of the EU to do the same.

The US decision should hardly come as a surprise to most Muslims, many of whom had their hopes somewhat dampened when President Barack Obama practically promised Jerusalem to Israel, a decision that was not his to make. However, we are still shocked that an administration that is taking pride in its willingness to engage with both those the country agrees and disagrees with, would do something so self-destructive.

What have the past few weeks of international good will visits by the US President and his staff amounted to, then? Why has President Obama ruined all the good faith he has worked so hard to create, over one article within the document, one the forum intends to discuss, and is nowhere near final?

Also, since the president and his government are supposed to be so forward-looking, why is it that they can’t see that not attending is a disadvantage for activism against racism in America as well? The US may be proud to have elected its first African American president, but that is not the end of racism in the United States. There are so many issues it could help resolve concerning those disadvantaged because of prejudice in the US, which can only come by attending these conferences. It can help flesh out African American, Arab and Muslim American, Asian American, Latino American, and other American minority group issues, as well as maybe voicing their extreme disapproval on the “Zionism is racism” segment of the document in person. Camping out in the White House just makes it look like he’s hiding, something President Obama cannot afford to do at this point.