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Honoring my friend: A tortured Bahraini journalist taking on the courts

A female Bahraini officer has been acquitted by a court in Manama on charges of torturing a local journalist working for a French TV and radio station.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes, reporter Nazeeha Saeed claimed:

You can read the full commentary by the CPJ here.

On Thursday, Nazeeha told me she is disappointed by the decision.

I know Nazeeha quite well.  When I traveled to Bahrain to cover the start of the unrest there, I hired her as my local producer/fixer/translator.  I find her to be efficient, honest, reliable and open-minded.  She took me to the right places, told me what areas to stay away from, and helped me get voices from both sides: the opposition and the monarch loyalists.

I knew that Nazeeha had been intimidated in the past by Bahraini security, and as the country was drawing more and more media attention for its crackdown on a Shia uprising, journalists were becoming a particularly thorny issue. Reporters like myself could come, do our job, and then leave. But the people we worked with are stuck, often paying the price.

Nazeeha assures me that what she endured (months after I left) had nothing to do with the work she did with me. But I remember the South Asian cameraman and editor I worked with fearing for his life, and the possible repercussions of his work. And I remember Nazeeha standing bold in the face of police – and foreign troops (invited by Bahrain) – knowing that Bahrain is HER country, and her rights are HER rights.

In an age of quick, 24-hour international news, we all want coverage from everywhere at every moment. Journalists like me have the honor of hopping from place to place, hearing snippets of each story and conveying it in the simplest of terms to a global audience. In terms of  flow of information, that, I believe, is of great benefit.  But the real heroes of international news are people like Nazeeha.

Human rights group have already seen Bahrain’s court system to be a sham. And those who are following the uprisings in Bahrain have seen the forceful crackdown to be what it is: unjustified.  The rest can see for themselves.

So why is the U.S., or Turkey, or neighboring Qatar – so busy with toppling Syria’s Bashar Assad – not doing anything to stop it?  That...

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WATCH: Ukrainian Summer harvest, Arab Spring unrest

The Ukrainian government has warned that wheat growers might not be able to meet quotas for international contracts, sparking speculation over the prices of corn, a frequent substitute.

KIEV, UKRAINE – The shortage has been blamed on dry weather in Southern Ukraine during the months of June and July, right before the start of harvesting season. Officials were quick to explain that inventory from the previous year would help fill the gaps between the 4 million tons needed for export commitments, the 12.5 million tons consumed by the domestic market, and the 15 tons harvested in 2012. That failed to persuade speculators who feared the domino affect of a shortage of wheat, the basic ingredient in bread.

In 2008, when Ukraine – a top-ten exporter of wheat – fell short of its production demands, it triggered food riots in Africa, including Senegal and Egypt. Two years later, fearing another shortage, Ukraine – and neighboring Russia – restricted the export of wheat for three months. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan account for a quarter of the global wheat supply used for bread, with much of it going to the Middle East and North Africa. In 2010, the shortage of Ukrainian wheat caused food prices to soar in Egtypt, stoking unrest in the streets that served as the precursor to the Arab Spring.

The recent announcement by the government in Kiev has left some worried about a repeated crisis in prices, and the possible effects of such a rise.

WATCH:


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WATCH: Settler helps Palestinians acquire building permits

KHIRBET ZAKARIA, WEST BANK – A group of Jews from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc worked for more than half a year to get building permits for their neighbors in the Palestinian village of Khirbet Zakaria. Recently, they learned they had succeeded.

Israeli authorities announced they will issue new permits for the village, the first time since the 1967 occupation began. (A village school and a few others had been retro-actively authorized, though they are the exception rather than the rule.) The effort was led by Eliraz Cohen, a poet and peace activist from the Gush Etzion, who has come out in the past against the two-state solution and in favor of a single state for Israelis and Palestinians with an equal federal system.

Construction in the West Bank areas that are controlled by the Israelis is restricted in quantity, both to Jews and Palestinians, but while the Israeli Jews living in settlements often get permits to build, the Palestinians living in neighboring villages outside of the settlement almost never get the proper documentation. Their challenges to denied permits go through the Israeli court system, and after months or years (and expensive legal fees) they are almost always unsuccessful.

All of which makes this story more unique.

Read Also:
A settler’s argument for the right of return


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WATCH: Palestinian women-only list makes bid for municipal council

Palestinian voters in the West Bank are casting their ballots for the first time in six years, as part of the occupied territories elect municipal council officials in nearly one-hundred towns and villages.

HEBRON, WEST BANK – On Saturday, Palestinians went to the polls in an election that is being closely watched by the Palestinian Authority and by the international community. The vote for municipal councils is seen as a precursor for parliamentary and presidential elections, even though Hamas, the Islamic militia-cum-political party that controls that Gaza Strip, is boycotting the vote. Hamas insists the elections, which have been delayed on numerous occasions since their originally scheduled date in 2010, should not take place before Palestinian reconciliation.

Meanwhile, in Hebron, an all-female slate – thought to be the first in the Arab world – is contesting seats for the West Bank’s most populous city. Headed by Maysoun Qawasfi, a mother of five children aged 7 through 20, she recruited ten other women – as young as 26 years old – to join her. An impressive speaker (in both Arabic and English), Qawasmi works a full-time job for the Palestinian news agency Wafa. She has invested a few thousands of dollars of her own money in the campaign, believing that women can make a difference, particularly in the religiously conservative city of Hebron.

Some have dubbed Qawasmi’s efforts as part of a growing “women’s spring,” though much of it appears underground. Inspired by the so-called “Arab Spring,” a growing number of women in the Middle East are calling for greater gender-equality and representation. Many of them communicate online, making Qawasmi’s public call for involvement even more significant.

Qawasmi says she was a strong person even before the “Arab Spring.” She insists women’s rights are theirs to take, and is determined to fight on her behalf, on her daughters’ behalf, and on behalf of women everywhere.

On Thursday, the last official day of campaigning, I spent the day with Qawasmi in Hebron, a city burdened by Palestinian bureaucracy, and divided and constrained by Israeli occupation. Even as we spoke, Israeli military jets flew overhead. Qawasmi believes that the existing guard – the men – have failed to bring about the changes that Palestinians need, from jobs, to education, and an end to the occupation.

It’s unclear how well her “Women’s List” party will do. It consists of eleven candidates vying for...

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WATCH: Israeli Democrats canvass American voters for Romney

The U.S. presidential race is entering its last two weeks.  On Friday, President Barack Obama picked up a surprising endorsement from the Salt Lake Tribune, the official newspaper of the capital city of the predominantly Mormon state of Utah. Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, seemed like the natural choice, but as the Tribune noted, Romney does not deserve a chance.

On Monday, the two candidates will face-off in the third and final debate in as many weeks. This one will focus on foreign policy, an issue that of vital importance for many people living outside of the United States, but most of whom do not have a chance to vote in the American elections. In Jerusalem, a group of Romney supporters are trying to show they still matter. Ahead of the last debate, they spent the night calling Jewish voters in Ohio and Florida – so-called swing states – and urging them to vote for Romney.

Here is why:


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WATCH: Tensions mount on Turkey-Syria border

AKCAKALE, TURKEY — It has been nearly a week since a Syrian mortar shell landed on a Turkish home just across the border, killing five members of the same family. The incident brought a swift response from Turkey, and a promise by the government in Ankara that it would not hesitate to strike back, which it has done nearly every day since.  But a growing role for Turkey in the Syrian conflict may also mean some tricky navigation through political and diplomatic waters.  

Turkey continued sending additional tanks and troops to its border with Syria, enforcing those already there, with their gunner facing south and ready to fire. Turkey’s response to the stray shelling from the Syria side has, thus far been, proportional, and it has been from its own side of the border. But parliament’s approval last week of the deployment of troops to “foreign countries” could pave the way for a future ground incursion.  And added bonus, some say, is an opportunity for Turkish troops to strike at Kurdish rebel bases inside Syria.

But public anger over the death of five Turkish civilians killed  near the border has not really morphed into greater support for a military action.  And for Turkey, a front-line at the border would create a wide range of logistical problems. Turkey and Syria share a 900 kilometer border that was artificially drawn-up by the West after World War I.  Much of the land on both sides is flat, giving neither side a clear topographical advantage, and making it difficult to predict where the next spillover might to be.  Additionally, a larger role for Turkey in Syria could put Ankara on a collision course with Moscow – which is backing Assad, but also supplying Turkey with much of its natural gas.  It might also distance leaders in Ankara from key allies in Baghdad and Tehran. And it could create problems with Washington, which as a NATO member, may find itself dragged into a conflict it has thus far opted to stay out of.

Meanwhile, Ankara finds itself alone on stage, and the government has been frustrated by what it sees as the lack of international support for action. One theory is that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has to act tough, to secure Turkey’s role in the region – whatever shape it takes. Another suggests Turkey is being baited into the conflict, against its will. But the theory that...

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Pro-Palestinian activists disrupt Israeli cultural event - again

In Berlin this week, a concert performed by the mostly-octogenarian Israeli choral group, Gevatron, was interrupted by pro-Palestinian activists. The individuals donned red shirts and shouted slogans, while unfurling banners and signs and confronting the audience attending the benefit for the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The group that posted the video, DirectActionBerlin, just opened their account last week, putting up – you guessed it – just one video. I was tempted not to even post about this, lest this forum gives this stunt – or others like it – any more attention or publicity than I think they deserve. But I felt the need to express, in my opinion, how counterproductive acts like these are.  And on a personal note, I am sort of sick of them.

First all, we get it: you have access to a printer and an iPhone.  And unlike the elderly Germans attending the concert who probably went back to their bridge games and told their friends about those hooligans who caused their blood-level to rise, you will run back to your computer and tweet/Facebook/blog about what you did.  Technological advantage goes to you. Check.

What next?  The display and set-up reeked of self-publicity (though this one will likely not suffer the same criticism that Mona Eltahawy’s– “if you are on twitter, that’s M-O-N-A” — spray painting incident did.) The girl screaming when someone grabbed her arm was so Over The Top, it actually reminded me of my high school drama teach, who once told me, “If you are ever in a car accident, even a small one, and someone hits your vehicle, just open the door and fall out. Her scream was so orchestrated for dramatic effect. But, in opinion, it was B-movie acting at best.

So it was a stunt for your own promotional purposes. And you got your attention in HaaretzYnet and probably a few other places (including, now, +972). But who were you targeting? Ah yes, those Jewish National Fund tin cans – that were knocked over on the way out — where every Jewish American child (and, I guess German Jewish child), at one point or another, dropped a quarter in the can around the time of his or her bar/bat mitzvah. Clearly, you’ll argue, that money was going towards the occupation, and those trees that the JNF vows to plant are actually furthering Jewish roots...

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WATCH: Atonements and Apologies, 5773

Every year around this time – the Jewish High Holy Days – I send out a note of reflection. This year, I’ve made use of my resources and friends and put the whole thing to video!

However, if you are still inclined to read, here is the text…

Hello and Shana Tova. A Happy New year to all of you. Each year, in the ten days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana and the Holy Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jewish people traditionally reflect on the year that has passed. For the last few years, I have written down my thoughts, and shared them with you, my family, my friends and my community.

I can say, without any hesitation, that this has been quite a year, full of highs and lows, surprises, and even some disappointments. Some of my dearest friends had some of the dearest children, and some of my dearest friends lost some of their dearest loved ones. If I am talking about you, I am sure you’ll know, and you’ll also know that I share in your greatest joys and in your deepest sorrows. The world seems to have gotten a lot more complicated: the decisions so small, the consequences so big.

They say every action has a reaction … but often, they are not so easy to see.

Can we be aware of the consequences? …not just those at arm’s length, but those at nuclear arm’s length, as well?

Can we inform each other responsibly – through traditional media and social media – without simply feeding the hype?

This last year, I carried with me the message of a true friend who once said to be me, “be a well, not a fountain.” By default, I’m a talker … listening comes less naturally. But this year, I had the pleasure of meeting some fascinating people in some fascinating corners of the world. They told me their stories, I listened, and shared them with you:

A Syrian man my age waiting on the Turkish border for his elderly parents fleeing the violence to come join him. I was there when they arrived after one month. The father – barely walking – cried as he uttered the words, “It was a living hell.”

The CEO who spoke modestly of his success and revealed a sincere hope that a humble union...

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Asia-Pacific leaders promise to liberalize regional trade at APEC gathering

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA — They gathered, they spoke, they made their positions known, one by one.  Leaders representing 21 economies from the Asia-Pacific region vowing, once more, to ease the barriers that can often make trade more difficult and more expensive.  

They came, they saw, they conquered

The event was rather diplomatic: lots of handshakes, formalities, photo-ops and smiles. But some, including the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – representing the American delegation – came out swinging:

Indeed, “protectionism” was a dirty word, while “free trade” was the battle-cry. Though Clinton mentioned no country by name in her attack – she’s more diplomatic than that – it was assumed by most that she was referring to China, whose leaders she just visited in Beijing, and whose president spoke just hours earlier.

For his part, the Chinese President Hu Jintao announced his intentions to rebalance his country’s economy, and promised a transition of power in China – due in the coming months – won’t change that commitment.  Hu urged the some five-hundred CEOs from the region also attending APEC, who represent the private sector, to help with China’s reform:

There were some notable successes. Among them, a renewed commitment to more eco-friendly trade that saw a list of “green goods” expanded to include fifty-four groups. Goods included in those groups will see their tariffs cut to 5% by the year 2015.  There was also lots of talk of finding new ways to get food in and out  of countries, by means that are quicker, easier, and cheaper.  This fell under the mantra of food security, a particularly sensitive issue in a year when drought has affected three significant exporting countries: the U.S., Australia, and the host country Russia.  More than 80% of U.S. arable land was affected by this year’s water shortage, with production of corn dropping to levels not seen since 1995 and the price of the staple good rising (in some cases) by 25%. It is estimated that Americans spend only ten percent of this post-tax income on consumable goods (i.e. food), and though they likely noticed a change in the price of corn, it won’t “make or break” them.

However, in some of the other members’ economies – namely, developing countries in Asia which rely on importing U.S. crops – a change in the American price meant more people on this side of the Pacific going hungry. So,...

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Canada shuts Iranian embassy, expels officials

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA — The Canadian government has became the latest country to crack down on the Islamic Republic of Iran, announcing a cut in diplomatic relations.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, in Russia’s Far East port city for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Week, issued the following statement before departing for India:

Baird also noted that all Canadian diplomatic staff in Tehran have left or have been instructed to leave the country within five days. His staff refused to expand on his comments.  However, a senior political officer at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last week said, informally, that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally considers Israel’s security and interests a priority in Canada’s foreign policy.

The Iranian government accused Ottawa of bowing to British and American influence and warned it may swiftly retaliate.

Relations between the two countries have been strained for nearly a decade following the death in 2003 of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist while in police custody.  They have reached a record low under the leaderships of Harper and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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WATCH: Roee Ruttenberg report from Turkey-Syria border

My intention on Saturday, when filing this report, was to post it during Clinton’s visit.  A few hours later, I was detained by police and only released this morning.

Admittedly, the information in it is not as timely, but I still thought it worth sharing.

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+972 blogger detained in Turkey while reporting on Syria

This post has been updated. Roee was released at around 4 a.m. local time. 

I am writing this from a Turkish police center in Ceylanpinar. Located in eastern Turkey along the border with Syria, it is in Urfa province and it’s population is mostly ethnic Kurdish.

My television crew and I were filming along the border about the Kurdish divide and Turkish fears in Ankara about a power vacuum in northern Syria.

Two secret police spotted us filming from a rooftop the Syrian town – in full Kurdish control, meaning no Syrian troops or rebel fighters in sight.

It is unclear to me if we will be just detained and then let go, or actually arrested. (I would imagine the latter would be preposterous because we didn’t really do anything, and also because today the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting in Istanbul and meeting with the country’s top leaders. It would be rather untimely to have Turkish police arrest an American journalist trying to cover from Turkish soil the conflict in neighboring Syria. Especially just as Washington pledges $5.5 million in “non-lethal aide” to help the rebels win their war against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a cause which aligns with Turkish interests.)

I guess it can’t be all that bad, since the police are letting me write this post on my iPhone while they try to figure out why I also have an Israeli passport.  And while my detention is annoying, if for no other reason than losing valuable filming daylight, it does highlight Turkish edginess in this part of the country. Ankara fears that Kurds in eastern Turkey may be emboldened by chaos in northern Syria, political autonomy for Kurds in northern Iraq, and anti-Turkey sentiment – backed by Tehran, in northwest Iran. These are all ethnically Kurdish areas which separatists envision as a future, united state.

In recent weeks, Turkish troops killed more than one hundred Kurdish fighters in eastern Turkey, who they argued are being armed and backed by Kurdish terrorists across the border in Iraq. No doubt the offensive was also meant to send a message to Kurds in northern Syria to think twice before exciting their brethren across the border.

Oh, time to go back in to the Police Chief’s office. Wish me luck.

8:18 p.m.:

Still in the Ceylanpinar police station. They just let me turn on my phone,...

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Making suggestions on Romney's behalf

In some of the articles covering the visit to Israel by the presumptive Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Israeli and international media suggested that Romney suggested (yes, lots of suggestions happening here) Israeli culture was somehow superior to Palestinian culture. 

I read and read and re-read the articles, including the one to which I linked above by Barak Ravid of Israel’s publication Haaretz, waiting for a quote proving that these were Romney’s comments. However all I found was a stretch of the imagination in an apparent jab against Romney (who I imagine won’t be getting Haaretz‘s endorsement any time soon). Ravid and others, including the Washington Post and the Associated Press, did include the usual comments-of-outrage provided by the resigned-then-reinstated-then-resigned-then-reinstated chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who does not miss an opportunity to voice his indignation when prodded by journalists.

Romney is quoted as saying:

As you come here and you see the GDP [gross domestic product] per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. … Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.

Ravid notes that Romney cited “an innovative business climate.” This could be because Romney’s top foreign policy advisor is Dan Senor, author of “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” Senor is also a former Bush administration official and the brother of the head of AIPAC’s Jerusalem office, Wendy Senor.

I feel no need to defend Romney nor his overseas blunders, which +972’s Mairav Zonszein intelligently points out. But I do feel the need to protect accuracy. And articles like these fail to include support for the accusations against Romney. They are based solely on the interpretations of his words, or as they are being called, his “suggestions.” In my opinion, that makes them either incomplete or inaccurate, and that has consequences. It can, for example, snowball in a flurry of rhetoric, which now includes reaction from China and Iran.

In the Haaretz article, Ravid rightly notes that previous...

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